On Grace and Nature

The central mystery of our faith is the mystery of the Incarnation. The norm of Catholic orthodoxy has always been and will always be the doctrine that Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. All heresy consists in some deviation, explicit or implicit, from this dogma. The baby in Mary’s arms is the omnipotent and eternal God, by whom all things were made. This is the most precious truth we communicate to our Catholic children as soon as they can understand its terms, and they receive it instantly in simple vision. There are no heretics among the children. And as long as they preserve the simplicity of their vision, their faith is safe. But it is a very delicate simplicity, like the delicate simplicity of the eye, such that, if it is ever lost, if the child grows to be involved in intellect and distorted in outlook, he can lose that vision of the Child-God, and therefore lose the faith. It is the way every innovator and every leader of heresy lost the faith, from Arius to Nestorius to Eutyches, and from Luther to Calvin to Knox. This is the one point all the proud intellectual leaders of heresy today agree in missing — people like Barth, Niebuhr, Oxnam, Nash, and Sherrill — because God “has hid these things from the wise and the prudent and has revealed them to little ones.”

Jesus is not God and man by way of a partnership; He is the God-Man, by way of hypostatic union: the union of two natures in one undivided person. The Word did not become the lofty aspirations of a man; the Word became flesh and blood and bones. God did become man indeed, and the result is one Christ; for if the result is two Christs, or if one nature consumed the other, then the Incarnation would have failed to make its point, and there would be no real union of the two natures. When Jesus walks, He is God walking, and when He raises the dead, He is very man calling the dead back to life with a human voice. It is true to say of God, now that the Incarnation has actually occurred, that He ate and slept and was crucified. It is equally true to say that one of our race has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven with power and majesty, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father; and that one of our girls stands right at this very moment before the throne of the Blessed Trinity, Queen of Heaven, elevated above the nine Choirs of Angels, to be their Mistress and their Queen, in real flesh and blood. The Incarnation is not man lost in God as in a nirvana, for man is never more found, never more evident than in Jesus.

It is according to this norm and pattern that we must understand the relation of grace to nature. For our life of grace is our birth into the divine life. We become by adoption what Christ is by nature, namely, we become the children of God. This adoption is physical not moral, and certainly not a mere legal fiction, for it is said in John: “And he give them the power to become children of God.” Therefore the effect of the presence of Christian sanctification in our souls is to give us a new life, a new nature, even, in a sense, a new person, so that we can truly say with St. Paul: “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

Some one will now object, saying: “Does this mean that through Christian sanctification one becomes another Christ? Another GodMan? Is not the Incarnation something unique?” And the answer is that the Incarnation is unquestionably something unique for there is only one Christ, “yesterday, today, and the same for ever.” But still it is true that the Christian becomes the same Christ; he becomes another of the same. But Christ had the Beatific Vision from the moment of his conception, so says the objector. Do we receive the Beatific Vision in Baptism? And again the answer is yes, for in Baptism we receive the Beatific Vision in seed, which is nothing else than the gift of faith, by means of which gift we become divine, begin to possess the power to know God as God knows Himself and all things in Himseif. However, consonantly with his condition of a wayfarer, and as long as this mortal life lasts, the Christian knows what he knows in faith, not clearly and permanently, but darkly as in a mirror.

Now Lucifer, the arch-enemy of the Incarnate God, is constantly trying to confuse us in our vision of the God-Child. And there are as many ways of misconceiving the Incarnation as there are heresies and schisms. But heresy need not start as an explicit pronouncement contradictory to an already defined dogma. Every heretic throughout history tried to use the language of orthodoxy, and if the faith could be sufficiently protected and preserved by the letter of a formula, there would be no heresies in the world. This is why there is need for eternal vigilance to preserve the faith, and why ultimately every individual Christian including the Pope is responsible for the preservation of the faith in his own soul. It cannot be done from the outside. Even God chose to respect our human freedom in this matter, for He never forces the faith on an unwiiling mind. Hence it is that receiving and preserving the faith are human achievements, for the act of faith is always a meritorious act.

Now heresy begins by being something merely implicit. It begins when those who had already received the gift of the faith in Baptism begin to do and to say things not exactly compatible with the faith. Christ comes to us in terms of an absolute challenge and never stays with us nor abides in our lives on terms of equality with other absolutes. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” He says to the church of Laodicea: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot, I would thou wert cold or hot. But because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” And Christ does keep His word to the letter with those who are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, for although the Church is guaranteed by Him to last to the end of time, no Christian individual or nation was given such a divine guarantee.

Look at the multitude of nations which were Catholic at one time. teaching their children the love of God and of the Blessed Virgin, going to Mass, and receiving the Holy Eucharist, who are now back in the darkness of heresy and unbelief. Egypt, at one time the site of the second Catholic Patriarchate, and the seat of a most brilliant school of theology, the country of Anthony of the Desert, and of Cyril and of Catherine of Alexandria; and Syria where the faith was first to spread, and where the faithful were first to be called Christians, the site of two great Catholic Patriarchates and of several schools of theology, the country which sent innumerable saints and martyrs shooting like stars to the heaven of glory; and even Palestine, the very land of. the Redemption, Our Lady’s own country; Asia Minor, Persia, and Iraq; North Africa, where at the Conference of Carthage in 411, 286 bishops from North Africa alone met with 279 Donatist bishops to settle the Donatist controversy; Constantinople, the second Rome, the pearl of the Orient; Greece, Russia, Germany, England. All these nations as nations have lost their vision of the God-Child, and have fallen back into the snares of the powers of darkness. How did this come about? And what caused Our Lady to walk out on them, leaving them lost in their iniquitous ways; Our Lady, who was willing to see her Divine Son die on the cross before her eyes for the sake of their salvation? This must ring a warning to Catholic liberals, who are too anxious to befriend the enemies of their King and their Queen, whose loyalty is divided between the Faith and other absolutes.

The faith is never lost overnight; certainly not in a whole Catholic community. Christ did not say to the people of Laodicea: “As soon as you get lukewarm I will vomit you,” but He says “I will begin to vomit you.” For Christ is a merciful and patient King, and His faith is not an imposed tyranny but the supreme good freely embraced through the assistance of the grace of God. Being truly as fond of His human nature as of His divine nature, of His temporal generation from Mary as of His eternal generation from God the Father, Jesus loves to make His triumph as much a human achievement as a divine conquest. I do not think that the end of the world will happen according to the prophecy of Robert Hugh Benson, where everything human proves ineffectual and comes to utter failure, and where God has to interfere finally in the manner of Deus ex machina . I would like to think of it more in terms of a triumphant crusade which converts the world.

And why isn’t the Church converting the world? Because of liberalism. Liberalism is perhaps the greatest crisis that ever confronted the Church; it is the salt having lost its savour. Liberalism is the reason why the Church is in a state of paralysis, why the loyalties of the faithful are divided, and why the chalienge of Christ is not evidently the world’s supreme issue. Liberalism is not a definite doctrine yet; this is why it is not too easy for the Church to define it as a heresy. Catholic liberals are constantly repeating the formulas of orthodoxy with manifest deliberateness and lack of spontaneity. But all the same, liberalism is a way of thinking and of doing things utterly incompatible with the faith. For to a Christian every word and every thought is either in harmony or else in discord with the faith. A glitter in the eye can manifest our vision of the Child-God, when a glimmer could have betrayed a weakness. And when one act incompatible with the faith piles up on another, it is easy to see that the faith is slipping away and that its gift is about to be withdrawn. Every new day is a new joyful challenge for the Christian. Every new moment offers a new and a singular opportunity to express the faith and to confess it in a new way; and once that opportunity is missed, it is never to be repeated. When a Catholic meets with a heretic, an enemy of Christ and of His Church, to drink tea in his garden and talk about anthropology, that Catholic must answer for that hour before the throne of God on the day of judgment. That liberal Catholic has not only lost one opportunity to attack the forts of the enemies of Christ and perhaps even win souls for Him, but he even incurs the danger of losing the faith in his own soul. This act does not follow from the vision of the Child-God as a premise.

But liberalism is about to pronounce its word of heresy, a word which has already hesitated long enough in the throat. Heretofore it has been the trick of liberals merely to ignore or evade the strong doctrines of the Church which do not fit in with their way of life. The heresy of liberals might well crystallize in their misconception of the relation of grace to nature. Liberals would like to think that there are two things in a Christian, the thing of grace and the thing of nature, as if the life of grace in us leaves something of us untouched. This seems to justify their habit of talking about religion in generic terms and their routine of meeting on common platforms with the enemies of their faith, suggesting at least implicitly that there are things in which they agree more important than The Thing in which they differ. And when the Catholic liberal justifies his cowardice in not making his faith the decisive issue of his friendships and of his enmities by quoting that “Faith is a gift,” he is assuming that if faith is a gift then it cannot be at the same time a human achievement. As if God could not elevate my act to make it His divine act without stopping it from being mine! As if my finite efficacy can limit His infinite efficacy! As if nature must be annihilated in grace! As if God could not use His Eucharistic child to be the instrument of His supernatural action but must do it by mysterious channels aside from nature! As if God is to blame for the obstinacy of those who refuse the gift of salvation when it is clearly extended to them by Christ Himself acting through the members of His Mystical Body who eat His Flesh and drink His Blood! As if Christ could not say to Peter: “flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven,” while at the same time and in the same breath congratulating him for confessing Him: “Blessed art thou, Simon BarJona.”

Indeed, the supernatural life of grace, which flows to us from Christ, as from a vine to the branches, does not make us less human, but more human. We all blame an ungenerous person who perversely refuses to recogniee goodness, generosity and heroism. Such a man is at least equally blameable when the victim of his obduracy is God Himself. At least this is what God thinks when He sends these men to hell. On the other hand, tke Catholic needs all our love and loyalty when he perseveres amid trials and temptations, even though we can say that the author of His supernatural courage is God. It is typical of Catholic liberals that they are nicer than God towards unbelievers, and not even fair towards their fellow Catholics. You can tell a liberal by his un-Catholic loyalties. In our time, General Franco has offered us a very excellent criterion for the issue of liberalism. The man who defended the faithful against the enemies of the Church, who preserved the faith for his nation and upheld the hope of Christians in all Europe and throughout the World is universally betrayed by Catholic liberals. They are willing to make a front with his enemies (who are invariably enemies of Christ) and always in terms of absolutes other than Jesus and Mary.

Consider with what care Christ regards the natures of things which He uses as instruments and means of supernatural activity. The water of Baptism remains water exactly as we know it, the most essential condition of life, and continues to do its work as water, namely, the work of washing and of refreshing. And when Jesus comes to us to be our nourishment, to supply our deficiency in person and in substance, what is more fitting than that He should come under the appearance of bread and wine? And could He not shunt our usual ways of instruction and teach us divine truth by immediate illumination? And yet He does it by a book. He could certainly lead His Church by signs in the sky and guard it in the truth by flaming letters inscribed among the stars; and yet He leads us by one of our men, the way every human society is guarded and led. He does not need nobility from our earth, being the Eternal King of Glory; He could have snubbed our hierarchies and our dynasties. And yet, in order to be our King in human terms also, He is descended from our noblest dynasty, from David through eighteen kings.

This is God’s pattern in dealing with nature. The angels elevated to the state of grace, remain angelic, and man remains human. Grace is a new life which animates us body and soul as the soul animates the body. It informs the form in us with God’s own life, and therefore, informs also the body. Our free acts which are autonomous as far as the natural order is concerned, become like potency for the act of God, Who makes them divine while keeping them human. And although we could never have inferred our supernatural destiny from our natural powers, yet as soon as the supernatural life of grace comes, we know for the first time why God the Father creates in nature what God the Son elevates in Grace.