TAKEN FROM Christian Perfection and Contemplation According to St. Thomas Aquinas
and St. John of the Cross

by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Copyright 1937, Herder Book Co., 1937
Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1937

The Practical Consequences of the
Doctrine of St. Thomas on Grace

Page 3

Lastly, this doctrine of the efficacy of grace confirms our charity toward God and souls. This charity is a friendship based on God's communication to us of the divine life through grace. Therefore the more intimate and efficacious the grace which is given us, the more we should love God and correspond to His love. "Not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us." [61] The Master Himself said to His Apostles: "You have not chosen Me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit: and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in My name He may give it you." [62] And in the exercise of the apostolate, because he believed in the potent efficacy of grace, St. Paul wrote: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? . . . But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present . . . nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." [63]

Christ said to His heavenly Father: "Those whom Thou gavest Me have I kept.  . . . Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me.  . . . And I have made known Thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me, may be in them, and I in them." [64]


These words of our Lord are fully realized on earth only in the mystical life, the prelude to the life of Heaven. And the great theology of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on grace thus reaches the loftiest orthodox mysticism, if care is taken not to lessen its meaning.

No power is gentler than the infallibly efficacious grace of God. It diffuses itself gently in the soul which begins to will; the more the soul wills and the greater its thirst for God, the more it will be enriched. When God becomes more exacting and wishes pure crystal where there has been only sin, then He will give His grace in abundance that the soul may correspond to His demands. He Himself said: "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly." [65] The purified soul ends by praising the power of God: "The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength. I shall not die, but live: and shall declare the works of the Lord." [66]
We are not surprised to find this doctrine in the works of the greatest masters of the spiritual life. St. Bernard says: "Grace is necessary to salvation, free will is equally so; but grace in order to give salvation, free will in order to receive it.  . . . Therefore we should not attribute part of the good work to grace, and part to free will. It is performed in its entirety by the common and inseparable action of both; entirely by grace, entirely by free will, but springing completely from the first in the second." [67]
St. Bonaventure is of the same opinion: "Devout souls do not seek to attribute to themselves in the work of salvation some part that does not come from God. They recognize that all issues from Divine grace." [68]

Tauler speaks of the efficacy of grace as St. Thomas does. In The Imitation of Christ we read: "Never esteem thyself to be anything because of thy good works.  . . . Of thyself thou always tendest to nothing: speedily art thou cast down, speedily overcome, speedily disordered, speedily undone. Thou hast not whereof to glory, but many things for which thou oughtest to account thyself vile; for thou art much weaker than thou art able to comprehend." "For I am nothing and I knew it not. If I be left to myself, behold I become nothing but mere weakness; but if Thou for an instant look upon me, I am forthwith made strong, and am filled with new joy." "From Me, as from a living fountain, the small and the great, the poor and the rich, do draw the water of life; and they that willingly and freely serve Me, shall receive grace for grace. ...Thou oughtest, therefore, to ascribe nothing to thyself, nor attribute goodness unto any man, but give all unto God, without Whom man hath nothing. I have given thee all, and My will is to have all again.  . . . This is the truth whereby vainglory is put to flight, and if heavenly grace enter in and true charity, there will be no envy or narrowness of heart, neither will self-love busy itself. For Divine charity overcometh all things and enlargeth all the powers of the soul." "O most blessed grace, that makest the poor in spirit rich in virtues.  . . . Come Thou down unto me, come and replenish me early with Thy comfort, lest my soul faint for weariness and dryness of mind.  . . . This alone and by itself is my strength; this alone giveth advice and help; this is stronger than all enemies, and wiser than all the wise.  . . . Without this, what am I but a withered branch and an unprofitable trunk, meet only to be cast away? Let Thy grace, therefore, O Lord, always go before and follow me, and make me continually intent on good works." "I am to be praised in all My Saints; I am to be blessed above all things, and to be honored in all whom I have thus gloriously exalted and predestined without any merits of their own. [69] . . . These all are one through the bond of love.  . . . They love Me more than themselves.  . . . For being ravished above self and self-love, they are wholly absorbed in the love of Me, in Whom also they rest with full fruition." [70]


Whenever St. Teresa touches on the question of grace, her doctrine is similar to that of St. Augustine and St. Thomas. [71] St. John of the Cross always assumes the truth of this doctrine. [72]

St. Francis de Sales states this doctrine in the following terms: "The chains of grace are so powerful, and yet so sweet, that though they attract our heart, they do not shackle our freedom.  . . . Our yielding to the impulse of grace is much more the effect of grace than of our own will, and resistance to its inspirations is to be attributed to our will alone.  . . . 'If thou didst know the gift of God.' " [73]

Good spiritual authors, no matter to what theological school they belong, are led to the same doctrine by the loftiness of the subjects with which they deal. [74]

All the difficulties of the mystery of grace are solved practically by humility. Bossuet says: "Behold a terrible danger for human pride. Man says in his heart: I have my free will. God made me free, and I wish to make myself just.  . . . In my free will, which I cannot harmonize with this abandonment to grace, I wish to find something to cling to. Proud foe, do you Wish to reconcile these things, or rather to believe that God reconciles them? He reconciles them in the way He wishes, without releasing you from your action and without ceasing to demand that you attribute to Him all the work of your salvation, for He is the Savior, and He said: 'I am the Lord; and there is no savior besides Me' (Is. 43:11). Believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and all difficulties will vanish." [75]

As is evident in the passages quoted from the writings of St. John of the Cross, this great doctrine of St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas, manifestly turns souls toward the loftiest mystical union, which is none other than the fullness of the life of faith.  . . .

61. See 1 John 4:10.
62. John 15:16.
63. Rom. 8:35, 37-39.
John 17:12, 24, 26.
65. John 10:10
66. Ps. 117:17.
De gratia et Libero arbitrio, chaps. 1 and 14. Cf. Dict. Théol. art. "Saint Bernard," col. 776.
68. see II Sent., dist. 26, q. 2.
69. We find the same doctrine in St. Thomas, Ia, q. 23, a. 5.
70. Bk. IV, chap. 4, no. 2; chap. 8, no. 1; chap. 9, no. 2; chap. 55, no. 5; chap. 58. These passages are from The Imitation of Christ (edited by Brother Leo, F.S.C., 1926). They are quoted by permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers.
71. The directing thought of St. Teresa is found in St. Paul's words, "It is God Who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will" (Phil. 2:13). In chapter 21 of her Life she writes: "Why His Majesty doeth this is, because it is His pleasure, and He doeth it according to His pleasure: even if the soul be without the fitting disposition, He disposes it for the reception of that blessing which He is giving to it." After examining why a certain soul reaches contemplation and perfection more rapidly than another, she concludes: "In short, the whole matter is as His Majesty wills. He gives His grace to whom He pleases" (Life, chap. 22). "God bestows His favors when He pleases, after the manner He pleases, and on whom He pleases. Being Master of His goods, He can bestow them thus without wronging anyone" (The Interior Castle, fourth mansion, chap. 1).

In the account of her conversion (Life, chaps. 8, 9), she says: "I used to pray to our Lord for help; but, as it now seems to me, I must have committed the fault of not putting my whole trust in His Majesty, and of not thoroughly distrusting myself.  . . . There was no one to give me life, and I was not able to take it. He Who could have given it me had good reasons for not coming to my aid, seeing that He had brought me back to Himself so many times, and I as often had left Him.  . . .I  implored Him to strengthen me once for all, so that I might never offend Him any more.  . . . I had a very great devotion to the glorious Magdalene.  . . . I seem to have made greater progress; for I was now very distrustful of myself, placing all my confidence in God. It seems to me that I said to Him then that I would not rise up till He granted my petition. I do certainly believe that this was of great service to me, because I have grown better ever since" (Life, chap. 9). "Now our Lord set me at liberty, and gave me strength also to use it" (Life, chap. 24). As someone has well said. in the face of this formidable mystery, against which so many heresies have arisen, and over which there have been so many sad controversies, even among true children of the Church, the Seraphic Virgin bows with serenity and gratitude. "O my God," she exclaims, "well is it for me that Thou didst not leave such a wretch as myself at liberty to fulfill or to frustrate Thy will. Mayest Thou be blessed forever, and may all creation praise Thee" (The Way of Perfection, chap. 32). "The more difficult things are to understand, the more devotion they inspire in me, and this in proportion to their difficulty" (Life, chap. 28).
72. The Spiritual Canticle, Part IV, stanza 38: "On that day of eternity, that is to say, before creation, and according to His good pleasure, God predestined the soul to glory, and the degree that it would occupy there. From that moment this glory became the property of the soul, and that in so absolute a manner that no vicissitude either temporal or spiritual can radically remove it; for what God has given gratuitously to the soul cannot fail to remain its property forever." In The Ascent (Bk. II, chap. 5): "God disposes freely of this degree of union (mystical), as He disposes freely of the degree of the Beatific Vision." In the Prayer of the Inflamed Soul, he says again: "For if Thou dost await my works, O Lord, in order thus to grant me what I ask, give them to me, perform them in me, and join thereto the pains Thou art willing to accept from me."
73. Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. II, chap. II. The author says in the same chapter: "Grace is so gracious and so graciously seizes on our hearts to draw them, that it in no way offends the liberty of our will; it touches powerfully but yet so delicately the springs of our spirit that our free will suffers no violence from it."
74. Father Grou, S.J. (Maximes spirituelles, 2d maxim) writes as do the most faithful disciples of St. Thomas: "Grace alone can free us from the slavery of sin and assure us true liberty; whence it follows that the more the will subjects itself to grace, the more it will do all that depends on it to become absolutely, fully, and constantly dependent, the more free it will be.  . . . Thus for the will all consists in putting itself in the hands of God, in using its own activity only to become more dependent on Him.  . . . Is not our salvation incomparably more certain in God's hands than in our own? And fundamentally what can we do to save ourselves except what God enables us to do?" Cf. also Father de Caussade, S.J.. L'abandon
à la Providence, Bk. III, chaps. 1,2; and Father Lallemant, S.J., La doctrine spirituelle, 4th principle, "La docilité au Saint-Esprit," chaps. 1. 2.
75. Bossuet, El
évations sur les mystères, 18th week, 15th elevation.