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Sanctifying Grace

1. When the sinner co-operates with actual grace, the Holy Ghost enters his soul and confers on it a brightness and beauty which claim the friendship of God. This indwelling beauty of the soul is due to the presence of the Holy Spirit and is called “sanctifying grace.”

Iron placed in a fire becomes heated, and glows like the fire itself; so the Holy Spirit, entering into a soul and dwelling there (1 Cor. vi. 19), gives it a new nature, a light and glory which we call “sanctifying grace.” That God is drawn to men by their co-operation with His grace appears from God’s own words: “Turn ye to Me. . . . and I will turn to you” (Zach. i. 3). Sanctifying grace is like a new garment, so it is represented by the wedding-garment and the parable of the supper (Matt. xxii.), and of the prodigal son (Luke xv.). “The soul acquires a great beauty by the presence of the Holy Spirit,” says St. John Chrysostom. “He who enters into the state of grace, is like a man bowed down with infirmities and age, who, by a miracle, has been transformed into a beautiful youth dressed in purple and carrying a sceptre.” “If,” says Blosius, “the beauty of a soul in the state of grace could be seen, mankind would be transported with wonder and delight.” Just as a palace must be beautifully furnished when the king comes to dwell in it, so the soul of man must be made into a beautiful temple by the Holy Ghost before God can dwell in it. After the resurrection the appearance of the body will be determined by that of the soul. “Let us therefore,” says St. John Chrysostom, “give all our care to the soul; for this is the true interest of our bodies, which otherwise will perish with the soul.” Sanctifying grace is not merely a gift of God (Council of Trent, 6, 11), but God gives us of His Spirit (1 John iv. 13). The Holy Ghost penetrates us through and through like fire; He is not in us merely like a ray of sunshine in a room. In consequence of this supernatural beauty the soul is enriched with the friendship of God. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi says that if a man in the state of sanctifying grace knew how pleasing his soul is to God he would die of excess of joy. We are, in consequence of sanctifying grace, no longer the servants of God but His friends (John xv. 15). The expression “friendship” implies of itself a certain likeness; and this elevation from the state of sin to that of friendship with God is called “justification” (Council of Trent, 6, 4), or regeneration (John iii. 5; Tit. iii. 4-7), or the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new (Eph. iv. 22). Examples: As soon as David, Paul, and the prodigal son repented, they received the Holy Ghost and the gift of sanctifying grace; otherwise they would never have accomplished their great sacrifice. David and Saul spent many days in fasting and prayer, and the prodigal son faced the humiliation of returning to his father’s roof. It is quite certain that whoever has perfect contrition receives the Holy Spirit even before confessing. Thus the patriarchs and prophets had sanctifying grace in consequence of their penitential spirit, and their belief in a Saviour. We know, too, that the Holy Spirit resides in some men even before Baptism, as in the case of the centurion Cornelius, and the people assembled in his house (Acts x. 44).

2. Usually, however, the Holy Spirit makes His entry on the reception of the Sacraments of Baptism or Penance.

The sinner under the action of the Holy Ghost begins to believe in God, to fear Him, to hope in Him, and love Him; then to bewail his sins, and finally decides to seek the means of grace in the Sacraments of Baptism or Penance. Then only is his conversion perfect. And actual experience goes to prove that Baptism or a general confession is in most sinners the beginning of a new life. Even in children their baptism is the beginning of a new spiritual life.

3. When the Holy Spirit enters into us, He brings with Him a new spiritual life.

God is the God of life, and His presence diffuses life. His presence in our souls is like the presence of the soul in our bodies. Our souls have a natural life of their own, and by means of the intellect and the will learn to appreciate the true, the beautiful, and the good. But this natural life, compared with the life imparted by God, is like the statue compared to its living original. This divine life is acquired by the soul when the Holy Spirit takes possession of the soul with His grace, and it enables the soul to know, love, and enjoy God; this is the supernatural life. Just as Elias (3 Kings xvii.) and Eliseus (4 Kings iv.) restored the dead children to life by measuring their bodies over that of the child, mouth to mouth, hand to hand, member to member, so does the Holy Ghost breathe the divine life into us, giving us to see with His sight, to work with His power; and thus our soul is born to a new life (1 Pet. i. 3, 4). Grace is, in the words of Our Saviour, “a fountain of water springing into life everlasting” (John iv. 14). “A heavenly seed is sown in us,” says St. Peter Chrysologus, “destined to spring up to everlasting life. We are of a heavenly family, and Our Father is throned in heaven. See to what heights grace has raised thee!” While our bodies decay from day today, our souls become daily more full of the strength of youth by virtue of grace (2 Cor. iv. 16). Even in our bodies God’s grace lays the germ of everlasting life: “And if the spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you; He that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of His spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. viii. 11).

The following are some of the effects of the Holy Spirit when He acts upon us by His grace:
1. He purifies us from all mortal sin.

As metals are purified by fire from their dross, so are our souls cleansed of their sins when penetrated by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Sanctifying grace and mortal sin are incompatible. The Holy Spirit dwells in all who are free from mortal sin, and the evil spirit in those who are guilty of mortal sin. Although the grace of God brings a cure to the soul of man, it does not cure the body; in his flesh is left the remains of sin, or concupiscence. Thus in great saints even, there remains the inclination to evil against which must be waged a lifelong struggle. Hence the words of St. Paul: “I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good” (Rom. vii. 18). “Concupiscence,” says St. Augustine, “may be lessened in this life but not destroyed.” It remains with us as an object lesson of the deadly effects of sin, and to give occasion, by our resistance to it, of gaining merit in heaven.

2. He unites us to God and makes us into temples of God.

He who has the Holy Spirit is united with Christ, like the branches with the vine (John xv. 5). In the words of St. Gregory Nazianzen, our nature is united with God by the virtue of the Holy Ghost, like a drop of water poured into a measure of wine; it acquires the color, the taste, and the smell of the wine. The Holy Spirit makes us sharers of the divine nature (2 Pet. i. 4). “By the action of the Holy Spirit,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “we are transformed into gods”; and St. Maximus: “The Godhead is conferred on us with grace,” and “As iron glows when heated in the fire, so is man changed by the Holy Spirit into the Godhead” (St. Basil; St. Thomas Aquinas). Hence men are often called gods (John x. 34; PP. Ixxxi. 6). Lucifer and the first man wished to be as God, but independently of Him. God wills that we should strive to be as He is, but in union with Him. The presence of the Holy Ghost makes us temples of God. “The Holy Spirit,” says St. Augustine, “dwells primarily in the soul, and gives it its true life; and since the soul is in the body, the Holy Ghost dwells therefore in our bodies.” St. Paul insists on this point: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. iii. 16); “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. vi. 16). In the Our Father we say “Our Father, Who art in heaven”; “the heaven,” says St. Augustine, “is the just man on earth, because God dwells in him.” Christ Himself said that the Father and He would take up their abode with the man who loves Christ (John xiv. 23).

3. He illumines the mind, and makes the divine and moral precepts possible.

He strengthens our faculties of the intellect and will, just as a ray of sunlight passing through a crystal turns it into a mass of light. More especially does He give the light of faith (2 Cor. iv. 6), and kindle the fire of divine love (Rom. v. 5). In short He gives the three theological virtues (Council of Trent, 6, 7). He also makes us able and willing to co-operate with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit; that is, He gives us the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. Just as iron softens in the fire, so the soul of man under the influence of the Holy Spirit is inclined to good works; this we see exemplified in St. Paul, for hardly had the Holy Ghost acted upon him when he asks: “Lord, what wilt Thou that I do?” (Acts ix. 6.) Through this inclination of the will towards what is good, the moral virtues are present as possibilities; practice is all that is required to make them facts. Thus the whole spiritual life is changed, and we see how far apart is the inner life of a saint and that of a worldling. The latter thinks only of his own satisfaction in eating, drinking, the pursuit of ambition and pleasure; in short, he loves the world. The man in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, directs his thoughts for the most part to God and tries to please Him; that is, he loves God. He can say with St. Paul, “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. ii. 20). Such a man despises the things of this world, and whatever be his sufferings he enjoys peace from within and unspeakable consolation; for the Holy Ghost is the Comforter (John xiv. 26).

4. He gives us true peace.

Through Him man acquires the peace which surpasses all understanding (Phil. iv. 7). The man who has the light of the Holy Ghost in him is like a traveller performing his journey in sunshine and fair weather; quite otherwise is the case of him from whom that light is cut off by the clouds of sin; he is like the unwilling traveller, forced to make his way through wind and storm.

5. He becomes our Teacher and Guide.

He instructs us in the teachings of the Catholic Church. The unction which we have received from Him teacheth us of all things (1 John ii. 27). Whoever has not the Holy Ghost may indeed study the truths of the Christian religion, but their significance escapes him; it is an unfruitful knowledge. Just as a book cannot be read in the dark without the help of a light, so the Word of God is unintelligible without light from the Holy Ghost. Though it is quite true that whatever the Holy Ghost imparts to us is free from error, yet we require to be certain that what we have received is indeed imparted by the Holy Spirit. Hence, no matter what a man’s lights may be, he must keep fast hold of the teaching of the Church; and whoever fails to do this has not the Holy Spirit in him (1 John iv. 6). The Holy Ghost is our Guide, “leading us,” says Louis of Granada, “as a father who leads his child by the hand over a difficult path.” Those who are in the grace of God are led in a special manner. Such can say: “No longer do I live, but Christ lives in me.” It is in this manner that the just have the kingdom of God within them (Luke xvii. 21).

6. He inspires us to do good works and makes them meritorious for the kingdom of heaven.

Just as the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of the deep, and created plants, animals, and men, so too does He hover over the souls of men, bringing forth fruits that are to last forever. As the flower expands when touched by the sun, so is the heart of the most hardened sinner expanded by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and breathes out the perfume of virtue and piety. The Holy Ghost is ever active, like fire, and always inciting to good works. As the wind keeps the windmill ever in motion, so the Holy Spirit is ever moving the heart of man. And He makes our actions meritorious. As the soul raises our ordinary and merely animal operations to the level of rational and intellectual acts, so the Holy Ghost elevates the acts of our soul to a supernatural and divine plane. The Holy Ghost is, as it were, the gardener of our souls. A gardener grafts a good branch on to an uncultivated stork, which then brings forth sweet fruit, in place of its former sour and poor fruit; so the Holy Ghost engrafts upon us.

a branch from Christ, the tree of life, and we bear no longer our merely natural fruit, but supernatural. When we are in the state of grace, we are the branches united with the vine, Jesus Christ (John xv. 4). Good works done in the state of mortal sin obtain for us only actual graces to help towards our conversion.

7. He makes us children of God and heirs of heaven.

When the Holy Ghost enters our souls it is with us as with Christ at His baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him; God the Father receives us as His well-beloved children, and the heavens are opened to us; we have no longer the spirit of slavery, but the spirit of adoption of sons whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. viii. 15). All who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (Rom. viii. 14). If we are sons of God, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, joint heirs with Christ (Rom. viii. 17), for children have a claim to their heritage from their parents. “We know if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Cor. v. 1). The Holy Spirit will remain with us forever (John xiv. 16). “To be numbered among the sons of God,” says St. Cyprian, “is the highest nobility.” Such is man’s privilege when in the state of grace, but like the uncut diamond, all the glory of his soul is not yet visible. Well might David cry out: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye just” (Ps. xxxi. 11). He who has the Holy Spirit has the greatest of kingdoms, the kingdom of God in himself (Luke xvii. 21). Alas! that so many men should neglect this, their privilege, and give themselves up to the lusts of their flesh, the food of worms.

4. Sanctifying grace is secured and increased by doing good works and using the means of grace offered by the Church; it is lost by a single mortal sin.

Sanctifying grace can always be increased in the soul: “He that is just let him be justified still; and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still” (Apoc. xxii. 11). By good works the sanctifying grace which we have received may be confirmed and increased in us (Council of Trent, 6, 26). Thus, for example, St. Stephen was a man “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts vi. 5). Stones and weeds pre vent the sun from reaching the earth and giving it increase; so do our sins hinder the Holy Ghost from acting on our souls; hence they must be removed by the sacraments of confession and communion; and as the soil must be prepared, so must our souls be nourished with the teaching of Christ in order to receive the action of the Holy Ghost. This was the case even with the apostles. One mortal sin is enough to rob us of sanctifying grace, for it is by mortal sin only that the soul is separated entirely from God. “God never deserts him who has once been sanctified by His grace, unless He Himself be first deserted.” Hence the warning of the Apostle: “Extinguish not the Spirit” (1 Thess. v. 19). In the instant of committing mortal sin, storm clouds arise between God, the Sun of justice, and our souls, the brightness of which is at once extinguished. With the departure of the Holy Ghost are united the darkening of the understanding and the weakening of the will. “When the sun goes down,” says Louis of Granada, “the eye is darkened and can no longer make out objects. So when the light of the Holy Ghost is taken from the soul, it is filled with darkness, and loses the knowledge of the truth.” Whoever has lost sanctifying grace can recover it by means of the Sacrament of Penance, but not without an earnest effort; for the wicked spirit has entered into such a man and has taken with him seven more spirits more wicked than himself (Matt. xii. 45). It is impossible for those who were once illuminated and are fallen away to be renewed again to penance (Heb. vi. 4-6).

5. He who has not sanctifying grace is spiritually dead and will suffer eternal ruin.

St. Augustine says that as the body without the soul is dead, so the soul without the grace of the Holy Spirit is dead for heaven. He who has not the Holy Ghost sits “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke i. 79); he cannot understand the things of the Spirit, for they are to him foolishness (1 Cor. ii. 14). He who has not on the wedding-garment, that is, sanctifying grace, is cast into outer darkness (Matt. xxii. 12). And as the branch which is not united to the vine withers and is cast into the fire, so is he cast off who does not remain united to Christ by His grace (John xv. 6). If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is not of Christ (Rom. viii. 9).

6. No one knows for certain whether he have sanctifying grace or will receive it at the hour of death.

Man knows not whether he is worthy of love or hatred (Eccles. ix. 1). Even St. Paul says of himself: “I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified” (1 Cor. iv. 4). Solomon even became an idolater before his death; and St. Bernard warns us: “Even if a man have the light of grace and the love of God, let him remember that he is still under the open sky and not in the house, and that a breeze may put out this holy light forever.” “We carry our treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. iv. 7), and in the words of Theophylact, “Our hearts are like earthen vessels, easily broken and prone to spill the water in them; so may the Holy Spirit be lost by one sin.” No wonder St. Paul warns us: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. ii. 12). We may indeed have confidence that we are in the grace of God, but without a special revelation we cannot have absolute certainty (Council of Trent, 6, 6). It may be surmised from the good works which a man does that he is in the grace of God, for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit (Matt. vii. 18).


This article, Sanctifying Grace is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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