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Taken from PROVIDENCE, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P.

Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur, 1937




One of those vital questions that should be of the deepest interest to every soul, no matter what its condition, is the question of a happy death. On this subject St. Augustine wrote one of his last and finest works, the Gift of Perseverance, in which he gives his definite views on the mystery of

By the Semi-Pelagians on the one hand and Protestants and Jansenists on the other, this vital question has been understood in widely different, even fundamentally opposite, senses. These two contrary heresies prompted the Church to define her teaching on this point more precisely and to declare the truth in all its sublimity as the transcendent mean between the extreme errors.

A brief summary of these errors will give us a better appreciation of the truth and a clearer understanding of what the grace of a happy death really is. We shall then see how this grace may be obtained.

The doctrine of the Church and the errors opposed to it

The Semi-Pelagians maintained that man can have the initium fidei et salutis, the beginning of faith and a good desire apart from grace, this beginning being subsequently confirmed by God. According to their view, not God but the sinner himself takes the first step in the sinner's conversion.

On the same principles the Semi-Pelagians maintained that, once justified by grace, man can persevere until death without a further special grace. For the just to persevere unto the end, it is enough, they said, that the initium salutis, this natural good will, should persist.

It amounted to this, that God not only wills all men to be saved, but wills it to the same extent in every case; and further, that precisely the element which distinguishes the just from the wicked---the initium salutis and those final good dispositions which are to be found in one and not in another, in Peter and not in Judas---is not to be referred to God as its author; He is simply an onlooker.

It meant the rejection of the mystery of predestination and the ignoring of those words of our Lord: "No man can come to Me, except the Father, who sent Me, draw him" (John 6:44), words that apply both to the initial and to the final impulse of our hearts to God. "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), our Lord said. As the Second Council of Orange recalled against the Semi-Pelagians, St. Paul added: "Who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?" (1 Cor. 4:7); "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5). If this is true of our every thought, still more true is it of the least salutary desire, whether it be the first or the last.
St. Augustine, too, pointed out that both the first grace and the last are in an especial way gratuitous. The first prevenient grace cannot be merited or in any way be due to a purely natural good impulse, since the principle of merit is sanctifying grace, and this, as its very name implies, is a gratuitous gift, a life wholly supernatural both for men and for Angels.
Again, the final grace, the grace of final perseverance, is, as St. Augustine pointed out, a special gift, a grace peculiar to the elect, of whom our Lord said: "No one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father" (John 10:29). When this grace is granted, he added, it is from sheer mercy; if on the other hand it is not given, it is as a just chastisement for sin, usually for repeated sin, which has alienated the soul from God. We have it exemplified in the death of the good thief and that of the unrepentant one.

For St. Augustine the question is governed by two great principles. The first is that not only are the elect foreseen by God, but they are more beloved by Him. St. Paul had said: "Who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?" (1 Cor. 4:17.) Later on we find St. Thomas saying that "since the love of God is cause of whatever goodness there is in things, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will a greater good for one than for the other" (Ia, q. 20, a. 3).

The other principle, formulated by St. Augustine in express terms, is that God never commands the impossible, though in commanding He admonishes us to do what we can and to ask for grace to accomplish what we ourselves cannot do: Deus impossibilia non jubet, sed in jubendo monet et facere quod possis et petere quod non possis. These words, taken from his De natura et gratia, [1] are quoted by the Council of Trent [2] and bring out how God desires to make it really possible for all to be saved and observe His precepts, and how in fact He does so. As for the elect, He sees to it that they continue to observe His precepts until the end.

How are these two great principles, certain and beyond dispute, to be intimately reconciled? Before receiving the beatific vision, no created intellect, of men or of Angels, can perceive how this can be. It must first be seen how infinite justice, infinite mercy, and a sovereign liberty are reconciled in the Deity, and this requires an immediate vision of the Divine essence.

As we know, these principles laid down by St. Augustine against Semi-Pelagianism were in substance approved by the Second Council of Orange. Thus it remains true that the grace of a happy death is a special grace peculiar to the elect.

At the opposite extreme to Semi-Pelagianism, Protestantism and Jansenism distorted the first principle formulated by St. Augustine by rejecting the second. On the pretext of emphasizing the mystery of predestination, they denied the all-embracing character of God's saving will, maintaining also that in some cases God commands the impossible, that at the moment of death it is not possible for all to be faithful to the divine precepts. We know what the first proposition of Jansenius was, [3] that certain of God's commandments are impossible for some even among the just, and this not merely when they are negligent or have not the full use of reason and will, but even when they have the desire to carry out these precepts and do really strive to fulfill them: justis volentibus et conantibus. Even for them the carrying out of certain precepts is impossible because they are denied the grace that would make it possible.

Such a proposition must drive men to despair and shows how wide is the gulf separating Jansenism from the true doctrine of St. Augustine and St. Thomas: Deus impossibilia non jubet. This grave error involves the denial of God's justice and hence of God Himself; a fortiori it denies His mercy and the offering of sufficient grace to all. Indeed it means the rejection of true human liberty (libertas a necessitate), so that finally sin becomes unavoidable and is sin no longer, and hence cannot without extreme cruelty be punished eternally.
From the same erroneous principles, Protestants were led to declare not only that predestination is gratuitous, but that good works, in the case of adults, are not necessary for salvation, faith alone sufficing. Hence that saying of Luther's: Pecca fortiter et crede fortius: sin resolutely, but trust even more resolutely in the application of Christ's merits to you and in your predestination. This is no longer hope, but is an unpardonable presumption. Jansenism and Protestantism, in fact, oscillate between presumption and despair, without ever being able to find true Christian hope and charity.

Against this heresy the Council of Trent defined [4] that "Whereas we should all have a steadfast hope in God, nevertheless (without a special revelation) no one can have absolute certainty that he will persevere to the end." The Council quotes the words of St. Paul: "Wherefore, my dearly beloved -(as you have always obeyed. ..), with fear and trembling work out your salvation. ...For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish according to His good will" (Phil. 2:12); "He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed, lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). He must put all his trust in the Almighty, who is alone able to raise him up when he has fallen and keep the just upright in a corrupt and perverse world. "And he shall stand: for God is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4).

And so the Church maintains the Gospel teaching in its rightful place above the vagaries of error, above the extreme heresies of Semi-Pelagianism and Protestantism. On the other hand, the elect are more beloved of God than are others and, on the other hand, God never commands the impossible, but in His love desires to make it really possible for all to be faithful to His commandments.

It remains true therefore, as against Semi-Pelagianism, that the grace of a happy death is a special gift [5] and, as against Protestantism and Jansenism, that among those who have the use of reason they alone are deprived of help at the last who actually reject it by resisting the sufficient grace offered them, as the bad thief resisted it, and that in the very presence of Christ the Redeemer. [6]

This being so, how are we to obtain this immense grace of a happy death? Can we merit it? And if it cannot be merited in the strict sense, is it possible for us at any rate to obtain it through prayer? What are the conditions that such a prayer must conform to?

These are the two points we wish to develop, relying especially on what St. Thomas has written about them in Ia IIae, q. 114, a. 9.

Can we merit the grace of a happy death?
Are we able to merit it in the strict sense of the term "merit," which implies the right to a Divine reward?

Final perseverance, a happy death, is no more than the continuance of the state of grace up to the moment of death, or at any rate it is the coincidence or union of death and the state of grace if conversion takes place at the last moment. In short, a happy death is death in the state of grace, the death of the predestinate or elect.

We now see why the Second Council of Orange declared it to be a special gift, [7] why, too, the Council of Trent declared the gratuitous element in it by saying that, "this gift cannot be derived from any other but from the One who is able to establish him who standeth that he stand perseveringly, and to restore !Iim who has fallen." [8]

Whatever we are able to merit, though it comes chiefly from God, is not from Him exclusively; it proceeds also from our own merits, which imply the right to a Divine reward. Hence we feel that the just must humbly admit that they have really no right to the grace of final perseverance.

St. Thomas demonstrates this truth by a principle as simple as it is profound, one that is now commonly received in the Church 9 (cf. Ia IIae, q. 14, a. 9). We may profitably pause to consider it for a moment; it will serve to keep us humble.

"The principle of merit," says St. Thomas, "cannot itself be merited (principium meriti sub merito non cadit)"; for no cause can cause itself, whether it be a physical cause or moral (as merit is). Merit, that act which entitles us to a reward, cannot reach the principle from which it proceeds. Nothing is more evident than that the principle of merit cannot itself be merited.

Now the gift of final perseverance is simply the state of grace maintained up to the moment of death, or at least at that moment restored. Furthermore, the state of grace, produced and maintained by God, is in the order of salvation the very principle of merit, the principle rendering our acts meritorious of an increase in grace and of eternal life. Apart from the state of grace, apart from charity whereby we love God with an efficacious love, more than ourselves, with a love founded at least on a right estimation of values, our salutary acts have no right to a supernatural reward. In such case these salutary acts, like those preceding justification, bear no proportion to such a reward; they are no longer the actions of an adopted son of God and of one who is His friend, heir to God and coheir with Christ, as St. Paul says. They proceed from a soul still estranged from God the last end, through mortal sin, from one having no right as yet to eternal life. Hence St. Paul writes (1 Cor. 13:1-3): "If I have not charity, I am nothing . . . it profiteth me nothing." Apart from the state of grace and charity, my will is estranged from God, and personally therefore I can have no right to a supernatural reward, no merit in the order of salvation.

Briefly, then, the principle of merit is the state of grace and perseverance in that state; but the principle of merit cannot itself be merited.

If the initial production of sanctifying grace cannot be merited, the same must be said of the preservation of anyone in grace, this being simply the continuation of the original production and not a distinct divine action. So says St. Thomas (Ia, q. 104, a. 1 ad 4um): "The conservation of the creature by God is not a fresh Divine action, but the continuation of the creative act." Hence the maintenance of anyone in the state of grace can no more be merited than its original production.

To this profound reason many theologians add a second, which is a confirmation of it. Strictly condign merit (meritum de condigno) or merit founded in justice presupposes the Divine promise to reward a certain good work. But God has never promised final perseverance or preservation from the sin of final impenitence to one who should keep His commandments for any length of time. Indeed it is precisely this obedience until death in which final perseverance consists; hence it cannot be merited by that obedience, for otherwise it would merit itself. We are thus brought back to our fundamental reason, that the principle of merit cannot be merited. Moreover, with due reservations, the same reason is applicable to congruous merit (meritum de congruo), that merit which is founded in the rights of friendship uniting us to God, the principle of which is again the state of grace. [9]

What it all comes to is this, that God's mercy, not His justice, has placed us in the state of grace and continues to maintain us therein.

The just, it is true, are able to merit eternal life, this being the term, not the principle of merit. Even so, if they are to obtain eternal life, it is still required that the merits they have won shall not have been lost before death through mortal sin. Now no acts of charity we perform give us the right to be preserved from mortal sin; it is mercy that preserves us from it. Here is one of the main foundations of humility.

Against this doctrine, now commonly accepted by theologians, a somewhat specious objection has been raised. It has been said that one who merits what is greater can merit what is less. Hence, since the just can merit eternal life de condigno and since this is something more than final perseverance, it follows that they can merit final perseverance also.

To this St. Thomas replies (Ibid., ad 2um et 3um): One who can do what is greater can do what is less, other things being equal, not otherwise. Now here there is a difference between eternal life and final perseverance: eternal life is not the principle of the meritorious act, far from it; eternal life is the term of that act. Final perseverance, on the other hand, is simply the continuance in the state of grace, and this, as we have already seen, is the principle of merit.

But, it is insisted, one who can merit the end can merit also the means to that end; but final perseverance is a means necessary to obtain eternal life and, therefore, like eternal life, can be merited.

Theologians in general reply by denying that the major premise is of universal application. Merit, indeed, is a means of obtaining eternal life, and yet it is not itself merited: it is enough that it can be had in other ways. Similarly, the grace of final perseverance can be obtained otherwise than by merit; it may be had through prayer, which is not directed to God's justice, as merit is, but to His mercy.

But, it is further insisted, if final perseverance cannot be merited, neither can eternal life, which is only the consequence of this. From what has already been said, we must answer that anyone in the state of grace may merit eternal life only on condition that the merits he has gained have not been lost or have been mercifully restored through the grace of conversion. Hence the Council of Trent states (Sess. VI, cap. 16 and can. 32), that the just man can merit eternal life, si in gratia decesserit, if he dies in the state of grace.

We are thus brought back to that saying of St. Augustine and of St. Thomas after him: where the gift of final perseverance is granted, it is through mercy; if it is not granted, it is in just chastisement for sin, and usually for repeated sin, which has alienated the soul from God.

From this we deduce many conclusions, both speculative [10] and practical. We shall draw attention only to the humility that must be ours as we labor in all confidence to work out our salvation.

What we have been saying is calculated from one point of view to inspire dread, but what we have still to say will give great consolation.

How the grace of a happy death may be obtained through prayer

What are the conditions to which this prayer must conform? If, strictly speaking, the gift of final perseverance can- not be merited, since the principle of merit does not merit itself, it may nevertheless be obtained through prayer, which is directed not to God's justice but to His mercy.

What we obtain through prayer is not always merited: the sinner, for example, who now is in the state of spiritual death, is able with the aid of actual grace to pray for and obtain sanctifying or habitual grace, which could not be merited, since it is the principle of merit.

It is the same with the grace of final perseverance: we cannot merit it in the strict sense, but we can obtain it through prayer for ourselves, and indeed for others also (cf. St. Thomas, Ibid., ad 1um). What is more, we can and indeed we ought to prepare ourselves to receive this grace by leading a better life.

Whatever the Quietists may have said, failure to ask for the grace of a happy death and to prepare ourselves to receive it argues a disastrous and stupid negligence, in curia

For this reason our Lord taught us to say in the Our Father: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"; and the Church bids us say daily: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

Can our prayer obtain this grace of a happy death infallibly? Relying on our Lord's promise, "Ask and you shall receive," theology teaches that prayer made under certain conditions is infallible in obtaining the gifts necessary for salvation, including therefore the final grace. What are the conditions required that prayer shall be infallibly efficacious? "They are four," St. Thomas tells us (IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 15 ad 2um): "We must ask for ourselves, the things necessary for salvation, with piety, with perseverance."
We are, in fact, more certain of obtaining what we ask for ourselves than when we pray for a sinner, who perhaps is resisting grace at the very moment we are praying for him. [11] But even though we ask for the gifts necessary for salvation, and for ourselves, prayer will not be infallibly efficacious unless it is made with piety, humility, and confidence, as well as with perseverance. Only then will it express the sincere, profound, unwavering desire of our hearts. And here once again together with our own frailty, appears the mystery of grace; we may fail to persevere in our prayer as we may fail in our meritorious works. This is why we say before Communion at Mass: "Never permit me, O Lord, to be separated from Thee." Never permit us to yield to the temptation not to pray; deliver us from the evil of losing the relish and desire for prayer; grant us that we may persevere in prayer notwithstanding the dryness and the profound weariness we sometimes experience.

Our whole life is thus shrouded in mystery. Everyone of our salutary acts presupposes the mystery of grace; everyone of our sins is a mystery of iniquity, presupposing the Divine permission to allow evil to exist in view of some higher good purpose, which will be clearly seen only in heaven. "The just man liveth by faith" (Rom. 1:17). We need help to the very end, not only that we may merit, but that we may pray even. How are we to obtain the necessary help to persevere in prayer? By bearing in mind our Lord's words: "If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name" (John 16:23-24).

We must pray in the name of our Savior. That is the best way of purifying and strengthening our intention, and will do more than the sword of Brennus to turn the balance. We must ask Him besides to make personal intercession on our behalf. This intercession of His is continued from day to day in the Holy Mass, wherein, as the Council of Trent says, through the ministry of His priests He never ceases to offer Himself and apply to us the merits of His passion.

Seeing that the grace of a happy death can be obtained only through prayer and not merited, we should turn to that

1. Chap. 43. n. 50.
2. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum. n. 804.

3. Aliqua Dei praecepta hominibus justis volentibus et conantibus, secundum praesentes qual habent vires, sunt impossibilia, deest quoque illis gratia qua possibilia fiant. Denzinger, n. 1092.
4. Sess. VI, cap. 13, and canon 16: Denzinger, nn. 806, 826.
5. The Council of Trent defined, Sess. VI, can. 22 (Denz. n. 832): "If anyone saith that the justified either is able to persevere without the special help of God in the justice received; or that with that help he is not able: let him be anath- ema." (Cf. nn. 804, 806.) The terms of the Council-"the grace of final perseverance is a special assistance"-must be rightly understood if all ambiguity is to be avoided. There is no necessity for a new action on the part of God, for, as will be pointed out shortly, conservation in grace is simply the continuation of its original production, not a new action. So also from the point of view of the soul, it is enough for the habitual grace to be preserved; there is no need for even one new actual grace, as happens in the case of the child that dies soon after baptism without ever making an act of the love of God. But, according to the Councils of Orange and Trent, what is a special gift, one granted to some and not to others, is the coincidence of the state of grace with death: the fact that grace is preserved up to that moment instead of God's permitting a fall. This coincidence of the state of grace with death is a great favor and is from God: when it is granted, it is the divine mercy that grants it, and in this sense it is a special gift.
6. The Council of Trent says again, Sess. VI, cap. II, 13 (Denzinger, nn. 804, 806): "God commands not impossibilities. ...All ought to place and repose a most firm hope in God's help. For God, unless men be themselves wanting to His grace, as He has begun the good work, so will He perfect it (in them), to will and to accomplish" (Phil. 2: 13).
 7. Adjutorium Dei etiam renatis et sanctis semper est implorandum, ut ad finem bonum pervenire vel in bono possint opere perdurare (Denzinger, n. 183).
8. Quod quidem (donum) aliunde haberi non potest, nisi ab eo qui patens est cum qui stat statuere ut perseveranter stet, et cum qui cadit restituere (Denzinger, n. 806).

9. It is a matter of discussion among theologians whether the gift of final perseverance can be the object of this congruous merit, which is founded not in justice but in the charity uniting us with God, in jure amicabili, in the rights of friendship existing between God and the just.

The best commentators of St. Thomas, relying on the principles formulated by him, state in reply that final perseverance cannot be the object of strict congruous merit, since the principle of this merit is a continued state of grace, and the principle of merit, as we have seen, cannot be merited.

Moreover, congruous merit strictly so-called, founded as it is in the rights of friendship, in jure amicabili, obtains infallibly the corresponding reward. God never refuses us what we have merited in this way, at any rate for ourselves personally. From which it would follow that, once come to the use of reason, all the just by their acts of charity would merit the gift of final perseverance and would in fact persevere to the end, which is not the case.

Nevertheless it remains true that the grace of a happy death may be the object of congruous merit understood in a wide sense, this being simply the impetratory value of prayer, which is founded not in justice or the rights of friendship, but in the liberality and mercy of God.
10. Since the grace of final perserverance is not merited, it is not because God has foreseen our merits that He bestows it upon us; from which it follows that predestination to glory is also gratuitous: it is not ex praevisis meritis, as St. Thomas says (Ia, q. 23, a. 5). If anyone wishes to maintain that it is ex praevisis meritis, then at least he must say that it is not "from merits foreseen as persisting unto the end apart from a special gift," ex praevisis meritis absque speciali dono usque in finem perdurantibus.
11. Nevertheless, if many of us are praying for the conversion of the sinner, or if our prayer continues not merely for days but for months and long years, it becomes more and more probable that God desires to hear us, since it is He Who makes us persevere in our prayer.


By St. Charles Borromeo

  IN THE NAME of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I, a poor, unhappy sinner, make this solemn declaration before thee, O beloved Angel, who has been given me as a protector by the Divine Majesty:

1. I desire to die in the Faith which the Holy, Roman and Apostolic Church adheres to and defends, in which all the Saints of the New Testament have died. I pray thee, provide that I may not depart out of this life before the Holy Sacraments of that Church have been administered to me.

2. I pray that I may depart from this life under thy holy protection and guidance, and I beseech thee, therefore, to assist me at the hour of my death and to propitiate the Eternal judge, whose Sacred Heart was inflamed with most ardent love for sinners upon the Cross.

3. With my whole heart I long to be made a partaker of the merits of Jesus Christ and His holy Mother Mary, thine exalted Queen, and I pray thee, through the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross, to mitigate the agonies of my death and to move the Queen of Heaven to cast her loving glance upon me, a poor sinner, in that dreadful hour, for my sweetest consolation.

O my dearest Guardian Angel! Let my soul be placed in thy charge, and when it has gone forth from the prison of this body, do thou deliver it into the hands of its Creator and Redeemer, that with thee and all the Saints, it may gaze upon Him in the bliss of Heaven, love Him perfectly and find its blessedness in Him throughout eternity. Amen.

[From the St. Joseph Directory]

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Trone of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homege to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

Say for nine consecutive mornings for anything you may desire. It has seldom been know to fail.

This prayer was found in the fiftieth year of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1500's it was sent by the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into batle.

Whoever reads this prayer or hears it or caries it, will never die a sudden death, nor be drowned, nor will poison take effect on them. They will nor fall into the hands of the enemy nor be burned in any fire, nor will they be defeated in battle.

Make this prayer known everywhere.

Imprimatur Most Rev. George W, Ahr.
Bishop of Trenton.


O HEART of Mary, ever Virgin! O Heart the holiest, the purest, the most perfect, that the Almighty hath formed in any creature; O Heart, full of all grace and sweetness, throne of love and mercy, image of the adorable Heart of Jesus, Heart that didst love God more than all the seraphim, that didst procure more glory to the most Holy Trinity and all the Saints together, that didst endure for love of us the bitter Dolors at the foot of the Cross, and dost so justly merit the reverence, love and gratitude of all mankind, I give thee thanks for all the benefits which thou hast obtained for me from the Divine Mercy; I unite myself to all the souls that find their joy and consolation in loving thee. O Heart most amiable, the delight and admiration of the Angels and the Saints, henceforth thou shalt be to me, next to the Heart of Jesus, the object of my tenderest devotion, my refuge in affliction, my consolation in sorrow, my place of retreat from the enemies of my salvation, and, at the hour of my death, the surest anchor of my hope. Amen.

O HOLY Mother of God, glorious Queen of Heaven and earth! I choose thee this day for my Mother, and my advocate at the throne of thy Divine Son. Accept the offering I here make of my heart. May it be irrevocable. It never can be out of danger whilst at my disposal; never secure but in thy hands. Obtain for me at present the gift of true repentance and such graces as I may afterward stand in need of, for the gaining of everlasting life. Amen.





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