Grace: What it is & What it does
from Catholic Answers (San Diego: Catholic Answers)
If you went through CCD, you at least remember that there are Two (2) Kinds of
Grace, Sanctifying and
Actual. That may be all you recall. The names being so similar, you might have the
impression Sanctifying Grace is nearly identical to Actual
Grace. Not so!
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Sanctifying Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Sanctifying Grace stays in the Soul. It's
what makes the Soul Holy; it gives the Soul
Supernatural Life. More properly, it is Supernatural
Actual Grace, by contrast, is a Supernatural
Push or Encouragement. It's Transient. It doesn't Live in the Soul, but Acts on
the Soul from the Outside, so to speak. It's a
Supernatural kick-in-the-pants. It gets the Will and
Intellect moving so we can Seek Out and Keep Sanctifying
Imagine yourself transported Instantaneously to the Bottom of the Ocean. What's the very First
Thing you'll do? That's right: Die. You'll
Die because you aren't equipped to live underwater. You don't have the right Breathing Apparatus.
If you want to live in the Deep Blue Sea, you need equipment you aren't provided with Naturally -- you need something that will
Elevate you above your Nature, something Super - (that is, "above") Natural, such as
It's much the same with your Soul. In its Natural State it isn't fit for
Heaven. It doesn't have the right equipment, and if you
Die with your Soul in its Natural State,
Heaven won't be for you. What you need to live there is Supernatural Life,
not just Natural Life. That Supernatural Life is called
Sanctifying Grace. The reason you need Sanctifying
Grace to be able to live in Heaven is because you will be in
Perfect and Absolute Union with God, the
Source of all Life (cf. Galations 2:19, 1Peter 3:18).
If Sanctifying Grace indwells your Soul
when you Die, then you have the Equipment you need, and you can live in
Heaven (though you may need to be Purified
First in Purgatory
(cf. 1Corinthians 3:12-16). If it doesn't indwell your Soul when you
Die -- in other words, if your Soul is
Spiritually Dead in the
State of Mortal Sin (1John 5:16-17) -- too
bad for you. You then have to face an Eternity of
Spiritual Death; the utter
Separation of your Spirit
from God (Ephesians 2:1, 2:5, 4:18). The
Worst Part of this Eternal Separation will be
that you yourself would have caused it to be that way.
You can obtain Supernatural Life by yielding to Actual
Graces you receive. God keeps giving you these
Divine Pushes, and all you have to do is go along.
For instance, He moves you to Repentance,
and if you take-the-hint you can find yourself in the Confessional, where the
Guilt for your Sins is Washed-Away
(John 20:21-23). Through the Sacrament of Penance, through your
Reconciliation to God, you receive Sanctifying Grace.
But you can lose it again by Sinning Mortally (1John 5:16-17).
Keep that word in mind: Mortal. It means
Death. Mortal Sins are Deadly
Sins because they Kill-Off this Supernatural Life,
this Sanctifying Grace. Mortal Sins
can't coexist with the Supernatural Life, because by their Nature such
Sins are saying "No!" to
God, while Sanctifying Grace would be saying
Venial Sins don't Destroy Supernatural Life,
and they don't even Lessen it. Mortal Sins Destroy
it outright. The Trouble with Venial Sins is
that they Weaken us, making us more Vulnerable to
Grace is a Gift from God
(Transient, comes and goes)
(Permanent, lives in Soul, lost by Mortal Sin)
When you lose Supernatural Life, there's nothing you can do on your own to
regain it. You're reduced to the merely Natural Life again, and no Natural Act can Merit a
Supernatural Reward. You can Merit a Supernatural Reward only by
being made able to Act above your Nature, which you can do only if you have Help.
To regain Supernatural Life, you have to receive Actual
Graces from God. Think of these as Helping
Graces. Such Graces differ from Sanctifying
Grace in that they aren't a Quality of the Soul and don't abide in it.
Rather, Actual Graces enable the Soul to
perform some Supernatural Act, such as an Act of
Faith or Repentance. If the Soul
responds to Actual Grace and makes the appropriate
Supernatural Act, it again receives Supernatural Life.
Sanctifying Grace implies a Real Transformation of the
Soul. Recall that the Reformers denied that a Real Transformation takes place. They said
God doesn't actually Wipe-Away our Sins.
Our Souls don't become Spotless and
Holy in themselves. Instead, they remain Corrupted,
Sinful (full of Sin).
God merely throws-a-cloak over them and treats them as if they were
Spotless, knowing all the while that they're not.
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Life and Virtues
The Supernatural Virtues of Faith,
Hope and Charity are also Lost (along with Sanctifying Grace)
through Mortal Sin.
But that isn't the Catholic View. We believe
Souls really are Cleansed by an Infusion of the
Supernatural Life. Paul writes of us as "a New Creation"
(2Corinthians 5:17), "created after the likeness of God in True Righteousness and
Holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Of course, we're still subject to
Temptations to Sin -- we still suffer the effects of Adam's
Fall in that sense (what Theologians call "
Concupiscence") -- but God removes the
Guilt from our Souls. We may still have a tendency to
Sin, but God has removed the
Sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to
get dirty again.
Our Souls don't become something other than
Souls when God cleanses them and pours
His Grace into them (what the Bible refers to as "infused"
[= "poured"] Grace
cf. Acts 10:45, Romans 5:5, Titus 3:5-7); they don't cease to be themselves. When
Grace elevates Nature. Our Intellects are
given the New Power of Faith, something they don't have at the merely Natural Level. Our
Wills are given the New Powers of Hope and
Charity, things also absent at the merely Natural Level.
Justification and Sanctification
Let's move on. We've mentioned that we need Sanctifying Grace in our
Souls if we're to be equipped for Heaven.
Another way of saying this is that we need to be Justified.
"But you were Washed, you were Sanctified, you were Justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in
the Spirit of our God" (1Corinthians 6:11). Unlike Protestants, who misunderstand
Scripture's teaching about Justification and confuse things by separating
Justification and Sanctification, the
Catholic Church has always recognized that in Scripture,
Justification and Sanctification are
Two (2) Ways of speaking about the Same Thing. You're Justified (made
Righteous by God's Grace) so long as you're
Sanctified (made Holy by
His Grace). You cease to be
Justified when you cease to be Sanctified.
The Protestant misunderstanding of Justification lies in their claim that
Justification is a merely a Forensic (i.e. purely Declaratory) Legal Declaration by
God that the Sinner is now
"Justified". If you "accept Christ as your personal Lord
and Savior", He declares you
Justified, though He doesn't really
make you Justified or
Sanctified -- your Soul is the same as before -- but you're eligible for
You're expected thereafter to undergo Sanctification (don't make the
Mistake of thinking Protestants say
Sanctification is unimportant), but the degree of Sanctification you
achieve is, ultimately, immaterial to the question of whether you'll get to Heaven.
You will, since you're Justified, and
Justification -- as a purely Legal Declaration -- is what counts. Unfortunately, this scheme is a Legal Fiction.
It amounts to God telling an Untruth
by saying the Sinner has been Justified while all along
He knows that the Sinner is not
really Justified, but is only covered under the
"cloak" of Christ's Righteousness.
Can Justification Be Lost?
Most Fundamentalists go on to say that Losing Ground in the Sanctification
Battle won't Jeopardize your Justification. You might
Sin Worse than you did before "getting saved", but you'll enter
Heaven anyway, because you can't undo your
Justification, which has nothing to do with whether you have Supernatural Life
in your Soul.
Calvin taught the Absolute Impossibility of Losing Justification.
Luther said it could be Lost only through the Sin of Unbelief -- that is,
by Undoing the Act of Faith and Rejecting
Christ -- but not by what Catholics
call Mortal Sins.
Catholics see it differently, of course. If you
Sin Grievously, the Supernatural
Life in your Soul Disappears, since it can't co-exist with
Serious Sin. You then Cease to be
Justified. If you were to Die while
Unjustified, you'd go to Hell. But
you can become Re-Justified by having the Supernatural
Life Renewed in your Soul, and you can do that by responding to the
Actual Graces God sends you.
Acting on Actual Graces
He sends you an Actual Grace, say, in the
form of a Nagging Voice that whispers, "You need to Repent! Go to Confession!" You do,
your Sins are Forgiven, you're
Reconciled to God, and you have
Supernatural Life again (John 20:21-23). Or you say to yourself,
"Maybe tomorrow," and that Particular Supernatural
Impulsion, that Actual Grace, passes you by. But Another is always on the
way, God never Abandons us to our own
Stupidity (1Timothy 2:4).
Once you have Supernatural Life, once Sanctifying
Grace is in your Soul, you can increase it by every
Good Action you do: receiving Communion,
saying Prayers, performing the Corporal Works of
Mercy. Is it worth increasing Sanctifying Grace once you have it -- isn't
the minimum enough?
Yes and no. It's enough to get you into Heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain
itself. It's easy to Fall from Grace, as you
know. The more solidly you're wed to Sanctifying Grace, the more likely you can withstand
And if you do that, you maintain Sanctifying Grace. In other words, once you achieve
the Supernatural Life, you don't want to take it easy. The minimum isn't good enough
because it's easy to Lose the minimum. We must continually seek God's Grace, continually
respond to the Actual Graces God is working
within us, inclining us to turn to Him and do Good.
This is what Paul discusses when he instructs us: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have
always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own Salvation with Fear and Trembling; for
God is at work in you, both to Will and to Work for His Good Pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be
Blameless and Innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as
Lights in the world, holding fast the Word of Life, so that in the Day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in
vain" (Philippians 2:12-16).