Part II - Chapter II
God Gives to All the Just the Grace Necessary for
Observance of the Commandments, and to
  All Sinners the Grace Necessary for Conversion


Three Camaldolite Monks at Prayer and Meditation - by MAGNASCO, Alessandro - from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

God does not command impossibilities;
but by commanding He admonishes you both to do what you can,
and to ask for that which is beyond your power,
and by His help enables you to do it.

Council of Trent

 

Chapter II
God Gives to All the Just the Grace Necessary for
Observance of the Commandments, and to
All Sinners the Grace Necessary for Conversion

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Doctor of the Church
1759

 

Proofs

If then God wills all to be saved, it follows that He gives to all that grace and those aids which are necessary for the attainment of salvation, otherwise it could never be said that He has a true will to save all. "The effect of the antecedent will", says Saint Thomas, "by which God wills the salvation of all men, is that order of nature the purpose of which is our salvation, and likewise those things which conduce to that end, and which are offered to all in common, whether by nature or by grace". It is certain, in contradiction to the blasphemies of Luther and Calvin, that God does not impose a law that is impossible to be observed. On the other hand, it is certain, that without the assistance of grace the observance of the law is impossible; as Innocent I declared against the Pelagians when he said, "It is certain, that as we overcome by the aid of God, so without His aid we must be overcome".  Pope Celestine declared the same thing. Therefore, if God gives to all men a possible law, it follows that He also gives to all men the grace necessary to observe it, whether immediately, or mediately, by means of prayer, as God gives Grace for Salvation.

The Council of Trent has most clearly defined: "God does not command impossibilities; but by commanding He admonishes you both to do what you can, and to ask for that which is beyond your power, and by His help enables you to do it" - Session 6, Cap. 11. Otherwise, if God refused us both the proximate and remote grace to enable us to fulfill the law, either the law would have been given in vain, or sin would be necessary, and if necessary would be no longer sin, as we shall shortly prove at some length.

 

Teaching of the Fathers of the Greek Church

And this is the general opinion of the Greek Fathers:

Saint Cyril of Alexandria says: "But if a man endowed as others, and equally with them, with the gifts of Divine grace, has fallen by his own free will, how shall Christ be said not to have saved even him, since he delivered the man and gave him the necessary aid to avoid sin". How, says the Saint, can that sinner, who has received the assistance of grace equally with those who remained faithful, and has of his own accord chosen to sin, how can he blame Jesus Christ, Who has, as far as He is concerned, delivered him by means of the assistance granted to him? Saint John Chrysostom asks: "How is it that some are vessels of wrath, others vessels of mercy"? And he answers, "Because of each person's free will; for, since God is very good, He manifests equal kindness to all". Then, speaking of Pharaoh, whose heart is said in Scripture to have been hardened, he adds, "If Pharaoh was not saved, it must all be attributed to his will, since no less was given to him than to those who were saved". And in another place, speaking of the petition of the mother of Zebedee's sons, on the words, "It is not mine to give, etc", - Matthew 20:23, he observes: "By this Christ wished to show that it was not simply His to give, but that it also belonged to the combatants to take; for if it depended only on Himself, all men would be saved".

Saint Isidore of Pelusium: "For God wills seriously, and in all ways, to assist those who are wallowing in vice, that He may deprive them of all excuse".

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem: "God has opened the gate of eternal life, so that, as far as He is concerned, all may gain it without anything to hinder them".

But the doctrine of these Greek Fathers does not suit Jansenius, who has the temerity to say that they have spoken most imperfectly on grace: "None have spoken in grace more imperfectly than the Greeks". In matters of grace, then, are we not to follow the teaching of the Greek Fathers, who were the first masters and columns of the Church? Perhaps the doctrine of the Greeks, especially in this important matter, was different from that of the Latin Church? On the contrary, it is certain that the true doctrine of  faith came from the Greek to the Latin Church; so that, as Saint Augustine wrote against Julian, who opposed to him the authority of the Greek Fathers, there can be no doubt that the faith of the Latins is the same as that of the Greeks. Whom, then, are we to follow? Shall we follow Jansenius, whose errors have already been condemned as heretical by the Church; who had the audacity to say that even the just have not the grace requisite to enable them to keep certain precepts; and that man merits and demerits, even though he acts through necessity, provided he is not forced by violence; these are all his other errors springing from his most false system of "the delectation relatively victorious".  . . .  

 

Teaching of the Fathers of the Latin Church

But since the Greek Fathers do not satisfy Jansenius, let us see what the Latins say on this subject. But they in no wise differ from the Greeks.

Saint Jerome says, "Man can do no good work without God, Who, in giving free will, did not refuse His grace to aid every single work". Mark the words "did not refuse His grace for every single work".

Saint Ambrose: "He would never come and knock at the door, unless He wished to enter; it is our fault that He does not always enter".

Saint Leo: "Justly does He insist on the command, since He furnishes beforehand, aid to keep it".

Saint Hilary: "Now the grace of justification has abounded through one gift to all men".

Innocent I: "He gives to man daily remedies; and unless we put confidence in them and depend upon them, we shall never be able to overcome human errors".

Saint Augustine: "It is not imputed to you as a sin if you are ignorant against your will, but if you neglect to learn that of which you are ignorant. Nor is it imputed as a sin that you do not bind up your wounded limbs, but [mark these words] that you despise Him Who is willing to cure you. These are your own sins; for no man is deprived of the knowledge of how to seek with benefit to himself". In another place: "Therefore if the soul is ignorant what it is to do, it proceeds from this, that it has not yet learned; but it will receive this knowledge if it has made a good use of what it has already received; for it has received in this that it can piously and diligently seek, if it will"; [mark the words] "it has received power to seek piously and diligently".

So that every one receives at least the remote grace to seek; and if he makes good use of this, he will receive the proximate grace to perform that which at first he could not do. Saint Augustine founds all this on the principle, that no man sins in doing that which he cannot help; therefore, if a man sins in anything, he sins in that he might have avoided it by the grace of God, which is wanting to no man: "Who sins in that which cannot in any way be helped? But a man does sin, therefore it might have been helped". "But only by His aid, Who cannot be deceived". An evident reason, by which it becomes quite clear . . . [that when we speak of the sin of the obstinate], that if the grace necessary to observe the Commandments were wanting, there would be no sin.

Saint Thomas teaches the same in several places. In one place, in explaining the text, "Who will have all men to be saved", - 1Timothy 2:4, he says, "and therefore grace is wanting to no man, but [as far as God is concerned] is communicated to all; as the sun is present even to the blind". So that as the sun sheds its light upon all, and only those are deprived of it who voluntarily blind themselves to its rays, so God communicates to all men grace to observe the law; and men are lost simply because they will not avail themselves of it. In another place: "It belongs to Divine Providence to provide all men with what is necessary to salvation, if only there be no impediment on man's part" - [De Ver. q. 14, a. 2]. If, then, God gives all men the graces necessary for salvation, and if actual grace is necessary to overcome temptations, and to observe the Commandments, we must necessarily conclude that He gives all men either immediately or mediately actual grace to do good; and when mediately, no further grace is necessary to enable them to put in practice the means [such as prayer] of obtaining actual proximate grace. In another place, on the words of Saint John's Gospel, "No man cometh to Me", etc., he says, "If the heart of man be not lifted up, it is from no defect on the part of Him Who draws it, who as far as He is concerned, never fails; but from an impediment caused by him who is being drawn". Scotus says the same: "God wills to save all men, so far as rests with Him, and with His antecedent will, by which He has given them the ordinary gifts necessary to salvation". The Council of Cologne in 1536: "Although no one is converted except he is drawn by the Father, yet let no one pretend to excuse himself on the plea of not being drawn. He stands at the gate, and knocks by the internal and the external Word".

 

Testimony of Holy Scripture

Nor did the Fathers speak without warrant of the Holy Scriptures; for God in several places most clearly assures us that He does not neglect to assist us with His grace, if we are willing to avail ourselves of it either for perseverance, if we are in a state of justification, or for conversion, if we are in sin.

The door has no outside latch,
it must be opened by us from inside
 

"I stand at the gate and knock; if any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the gate, I will come in to him" - Apocalypse 3:20. Bellarmine reasons well on this text, that Our Lord Who knows that man cannot open without His grace, would knock in vain at the door of his heart, unless He had first conferred on him the grace to open when he will. This is exactly what Saint Thomas teaches in explaining the text; he says that God gives every one the grace necessary for salvation, that he may correspond to it if he will: "God by His most liberal will gives grace to every one that prepares himself: Behold I stand at the door and knock. And therefore the grace of God is wanting to no one, but communicates itself to all men, as far as it is concerned". In another place he says, "It is the business of God's Providence to provide every one with what is necessary to salvation". So that as Saint Ambrose says: "The Lord knocks at the gate, because He truly wishes to enter; if He does not enter, or if after entering He does not remain in our souls, it is because we prevent Him from entering, or drive Him out when He has entered: Because He comes and knocks at the door, He always wishes to enter; but it is through us that He does not always go in, nor always remain".

"What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard, that I have not done to it? Was it that I expected that it should bring forth grapes, and it hath brought forth wild grapes?" - Isaiah 5:4. Bellarmine says on these words, "If He had not given the power to bring forth grapes, how could God say, "expected?" and if God had not given to all men the grace necessary for salvation, He could not have said to the Jews, 'What is there that I ought to have done more"? For they could have answered, that if they had not yielded fruit, it was for lack of necessary assistance. Bellarmine says the same on the words of Our Lord: "How often would I have gathered together thy children, . . . and thou wouldst not"? - Matthew 23:37. "How did He wish to be sought for by the unwilling, unless He helps them that they may be able to be willing"?

"We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple" - Psalm 47:10. On this Saint Bernard observes: "Mercy is in the midst of the temple, not in any hole and corner, because there is no acceptance of persons with God; it is placed in public, it is offered to all, and no one is without it, except he who refuses it".

"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and patience, and longsuffering? Knowest thou not, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?" - Romans 2:4. You see that it is through his own malice that the sinner is not converted, because he despises the riches of the Divine goodness which calls him, and never ceases to move him to conversion by His grace. God hates sin; but at the same time never ceases to love the sinful soul while it remains on earth, and always gives it the assistance it requires for salvation: "But Thou sparest all, because they are Thine, O Lord, Who lovest souls". - Wisdom 11:27. Hence we see, says Bellarmine, that God does not refuse grace to resist temptations to any sinner, however obstinate and blinded he may be: "Assistance to avoid new sin is always at hand for all men, either immediately or mediately [i.e., by means of prayer], so that they may ask further aid from God, by the help of which they will avoid sin". Here-----we may quote what God says by Ezekiel: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" - Ezekiel 33:11. Saint Peter says the same: "He beareth patiently for your sakes, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance" - 2Peter 3:9. If, therefore, God wishes that all should actually be converted, it must necessarily be held that He gives to all the grace which they need for actual conversion.

 

Obstinate or Hardened Sinners,
and the Abandonment of Them by God

I know well that there are theologians who maintain that God refuses to certain obstinate sinners, even sufficient grace. And, among others, they avail themselves of a position of Saint Thomas, who says: "But although they who are in sin cannot through their own power avoid putting or interposing an obstacle to grace, unless they are prevented by grace as we have shown; nevertheless, this also is imputed to them as a sin, because this defect is left in them from previous sin-----as a drunken man is not excused from murder committed in that drunkenness which was incurred by his own fault. Besides, although he who is in sin has not this is his own power that he altogether avoid sin, yet he has power at this present moment to avoid this or that sin, as has been said; so that whatever he commits, he commits voluntarily; and therefore it is properly imputed to him as sin".  From this they gather that Saint Thomas intends to say that sinners can indeed avoid particular sins, but not all sins; because in punishment for sins previously committed, they are deprived of all actual grace.

But we answer that here Saint Thomas is not speaking of actual, but of habitual or sanctifying grace, without which the sinner cannot keep himself long from falling into new sins, as he teaches in several places. And that he means the same in the passage just quoted is clear from the context . . .  Moreover, in the course of the chapter he says: "For when the mind of man has declined from the state of uprightness, it is manifest that it has fallen from its relation, 'order' [ordo], to its true end.  . . . Whensoever, therefore, anything shall have occurred to the mind conducive to the inordinate end, but improper for the true end, it will be chosen, unless the mind be brought back to its due relation, so as to prefer its true end to all others; and this is the effect of grace. But while anything repugnant to our last end is the object of our choice, it puts a hindrance in the way of the grace which conducts us to that end; whence it is manifest that, after sinning, man cannot altogether abstain from sin, before he is brought back by grace to the due order. And hence the opinion of the Pelagians is shown to be absurd, that man, being in sin, can without grace avoid [fresh] sin". And then he goes on with the sentence quoted above: "But although they", etc., of which our opponents make us. So that, in the first place, the intention of Saint Thomas is not to prove that some sinners are deprived of all actual grace, and therefore, being unable to avoid all sin, they do commit sin, and are worthy of punishment; but his intention is to prove against the Pelagians that a man who remains without sanctifying grace cannot abstain from sinning. And we see that he is here certainly speaking of sanctifying grace, for this is that which alone brings the soul back to the right order. It is of this same sanctifying grace that he intends to speak, when he says immediately after, "Except he be prevented by the assistance of grace"; by which he means that if the sinner is not prevented-----that is, is not previously informed [informato]-----by grace, and brought back to the right order of holding God to be his last end, he cannot avoid committing fresh sins. And this is the meaning of the Thomists-----for instance, of Ferrariensis [Silvestre] and Father Gonet-----in their comments on this passage. But, without having recourse to other authors, it is quite clear from what Saint Thomas himself says in his Summa, where he discusses the same point, and brings forward the identical reasons in the same words as in the 160th Chapter of his book Contra Gentes; and there he expressly says that he is only speaking of habitual or sanctifying grace.

And it is impossible that the holy Doctor could have meant otherwise, since he elsewhere teaches that, on the one hand, God's grace is never wanting to anyone, as he says in his commentary on Saint John: "But lest you might suppose that this effect was consequent on the removal of the true light, the Evangelist, to obviate this opposition, adds, that was the true light which enlightens every man. For the Word enlightens, so far as He is concerned, because on His part He is wanting to no one, but wishes all men to be saved. But if anyone is not enlightened, this is the fault of the man who turns himself away from the light that would enlighten him". And, on the other hand, he teaches that there is no sinner so lost and abandoned by grace as not to be able to lay aside his obstinacy, and to unite himself to the will of God, which he certainly cannot do without the assistance of grace: "During this life there is no man who cannot lay aside obstinacy of mind, and so conform to the Divine will". In another place he says, "So long as the use of free will remains to a man in this life . . . he can prepare himself for grace by being sorry for his sins". But no one can make an act of sorrow for sin without grace. In another place he says, "No man in this life can be so obstinate in evil but that it is possible for him to co-operate to his own deliverance". "To co-operate" necessarily implies grace to co-operate with.

In another place he observes, on the text of Saint Paul, "He wills all to be saved". "Therefore the grace of God is wanting to no man; but, as far as it is concerned, it communicates itself to all". Again, on the same words, "God, so far as He is concerned, is prepared to give grace to all men.  . . . Those, therefore, only are deprived of grace who permit a hindrance to grace to exist in themselves; and, therefore, they cannot be excused if they sin". And when Saint Thomas says, "God is prepared to give grace to all", he does not mean actual grace, but only sanctifying grace.

Cardinal Gotti justly contradicts those who say that God keeps ready at hand the aids necessary for salvation, but in matter of fact does not give them to all. Of what use would it be to a sick man [says this learned author] if the physician only kept the remedies ready, and then would not apply them? Then he concludes [quite to the point of our argument] that we must necessarily say, "God not only offers, but also confers on every individual, even on infidels and hardened sinners, help sufficient to observe the Commandments, whether it be proximate or remote".

For the rest, Saint Thomas says that it is only the sins of the devils and the damned that cannot be wiped out by penance; but, on the other hand, "to say that there is any sin in this life of which a man cannot repent is erroneous, because this doctrine would derogate from the power of grace" - Summa Theologica. If grace were wanting to anyone, certainly he could not repent. Moreover, as we have already seen, Saint Thomas expressly teaches in several places, and especially in his comment on Hebrews 12, that God, as far as He is concerned, refuses to no man the grace necessary for conversion: "The grace of God is wanting to no man; but, as far as it is concerned, communicates itself to all". So that the learned author of the Theology for the use of the seminary of Peterkau says, "It is a calumny to impute to Saint Thomas that he taught  that any sinners were totally deserted by God".

Bellarmine makes a sound distinction on this point, and says that for avoiding fresh sins every sinner has at all times sufficient assistance, at least mediately: "The necessary and sufficient assistance for the avoidance of sin is given by God's goodness to all men at all times, either immediately or mediately.  . . . We say "or mediately" because it is certain that some men have not that help by which they can immediately avoid sin, but yet have the help which enables them to obtain from God greater safeguards, by the assistance of which they will avoid sins". But for the grace of conversion, he says that this is not given at all times to the sinner; but that no one will be ever so far left to himself "as to be surely and absolutely deprived of God's help through all this life, so as to have cause to despair of salvation".

And so says the theologians who follow Saint Thomas-----thus Soto: "I am absolutely certain, and I believe that all the holy Doctors who are worthy of the name were always most positive, that no one was ever deserted by God in this mortal life". And the reason is evident; for if the sinner was quite abandoned by grace, either his sins afterwards committed could no longer be imputed to him, or he would be under an obligation to do that which he had no power to fulfill; but it is a positive rule of Saint Augustine that there is never a sin in that which cannot be avoided: "No one sins in that which can by no means be avoided". And this is agreeable to the teaching of the Apostle: "God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will also make with the temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it" - 1Corinthians 10:13. The word "issue" means the Divine assistance, which God always gives to the tempted to enable them to resist, as Saint Cyprian explains it: "He will make with the temptation a way of escape". And Primasius more clearly: "He will so order the issue that we shall be able to endure; that is, in temptation He will strengthen you with the help of His grace, so that ye may be able to bear it". Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas go so far as to say that God would be unjust and cruel if He obliged anyone to a command which he could not keep. Saint Augustine says, "it is the deepest injustice to reckon anyone guilty of sin for not doing that which he could not do". And Saint Thomas: "God is not more cruel than man; but it is reckoned cruelty in a man to oblige a person by law to do that which he cannot fulfill; therefore we must by no means imagine this of God" - [In 2 Sent. d. 28, q. 1, a. 3]. "It is, however, different", he says, "when it is through his own neglect that he has not the grace to be able to keep the Commandments", [De Ver. q. 24, a. 14] which properly means, when man neglects to avail himself of the remote grace of prayer, in order to obtain the proximate grace to enable him to keep the law, as the Council of Trent teaches: "God does not command impossibilities; but by commanding admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask for that which is beyond your power; and by his help enables you to do it" - Session 6, Cap. 11.

Saint Augustine repeats his decision in many other places that there is no sin in what cannot be avoided. In one he says, "Whether there be iniquity or whether there be justice, if it was not in the man's power, there can be no just reward, no just punishment". Elsewhere he says, "Finally, if no power is given them to abstain from their works, we cannot hold that they sin". Again, "The devil, indeed, suggests; but with the help of God it is in our power to choose or to refuse his suggestions. And so, when by God's help it is in your power, why do you not rather determine to obey God than him"? Again, "No one, therefore, is answerable for what he has not received". Again, "No one is worthy of blame for not doing that which he cannot do".

Other Fathers have taught the same doctrine. So Saint Jerome, "We are not forced by necessity to be either virtuous or vicious; for where there is necessity, there is neither condemnation nor crown". Tertullian: "For a law would not be given to him who had it not in his power to observe it duly". Marcus the Hermit: "Hidden grace assists us; but it depends on us to do or not to do good according to our strength". So also Saint Irenaeus, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Chrysostom, and others.

Nor is there any difficulty in what Saint Thomas says, that grace is denied to some persons, in punishment of Original Sin: "To whomsoever the assistance of grace is given, it is given through simple mercy; but from those to whom it is not given, it is withheld justly in punishment of previous sin, or at least of Original Sin, as Augustine says". For, as Cardinal Gotti well observes, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas are speaking of actual proximate grace to satisfy the precepts of faith and charity, of which, indeed, Saint Thomas is speaking in this place; but, for all this, they do not intend to deny that God gives every man interior grace, by means of which he may at any rate obtain by prayer the grace of faith, and of salvation; since, as we have already seen, these holy Doctors do not doubt that God grants to every man at least remote grace to satisfy the precepts. Here we may add the authority of Saint Prosper, who says, "All men enjoy some measure of heavenly teaching; and though the measure of grace be small, it is sufficient to be a remedy for some, and to be a testimony for all".

Nor could it be understood otherwise; for if it were true that any had sinned for want of even remote sufficient grace, withheld through Original Sin being imputed to them as a fault, it would follow that the liberty of will, which by a figure of speech we are said to have had in the sin of Adam, would be sufficient to make us actual sinners. But this cannot be said, as it is expressly condemned in the first proposition of Michael Baius, who said, "That liberty which caused sin to be voluntary and free in its cause-----namely, in Original Sin, and in the liberty of Adam when sinning-----is sufficient to [cause] formal sin [in us], and to make us deserve punishment". Against this proposition we may make use of what Bellarmine said, that to commit a personal sin distinct from the sin of Adam a new exertion of free will is requisite, and a free will distinct from that of Adam, otherwise there is no distinct sin; according to the doctrine of Saint Thomas, who teaches, "For a personal sin, absolute personal liberty is requisite". Further, with respect to the Baptized, the Council of Trent has declared that in them there remains nothing to condemn: "God hates nothing in the regenerate; for there is no condemnation to them who are truly buried with Christ by Baptism unto death". And it is added that concupiscence is not left in us as a punishment, "but for our trial; and it cannot harm those who do not consent to it". On the contrary, the concupiscence left in us would do exceedingly great harm to man, if, on account of it, God denied him even the remote grace necessary to obtain salvation.

From all this, several theologians conclude that to say that God refuses to anyone sufficient help to enable him to keep the Commandments would be contrary to the faith, because in that case God would oblige us to impossibilities

. . .  this doctrine, that a man when fallen sins, not having liberty to do otherwise than to choose what sin he will commit, and is necessitated to commit some sin, justly offends Monsignor de Saleon, Archbishop of Vienne, who, in his book Jansenismus Redivivus, writes as follows: "Who will endure to hear that a man once fallen, being deprived of grace, can enjoy no other liberty than that of choosing one sin rather than another, being necessitated to sin in some way". So that a criminal condemned to death, who has no other liberty allowed him than to choose whether he will die by the sword, by poison, or by fire, may be said, when he has made his choice, to die a voluntary and free death. And how can sin be imputed to a man who might sin in some way or another? The 67th of the condemned Propositions of Baius is as follows: "Man sins damnably even in that which he does through necessity". How can there be liberty, where there is necessity to sin? Jansenius answers, that the liberty of will, which by a figure of speech we are said to have had in Adam's sin, is sufficient to make us sinners. But this too was condemned in Baius' first proposition, "That liberty;" etc., as we have seen above.

 . . . in the Holy Scriptures God is often said to do what He only permits; so that if we would not blaspheme with Calvin, and say that God positively destines and determines some persons to sin, we must say that God permits some sinners, in penalty of their faults, to be on the one hand assailed by vehement temptations; which is the evil from which we pray God to deliver us when we say, "Lead us not into temptation", and, on the other hand, that they remain morally abandoned in their sin; so that their conversion, and the resistance they should make to temptation, although neither impossible nor desperate, is yet, through their faults and their bad habits, very difficult; since, in their laxity of life, they have only very rare and weak desires and motions to resist their bad habit and to regain the way of salvation. And this the imperfect obstinacy of the hardened sinner which Saint Thomas describes: "He is hardened who cannot easily co-operate in his escape from sin and this is imperfect obstinacy, because a man may be obstinate in this life, if he has a  so fixed upon sin, that no motions towards arise, except very weak ones". On the one side, the mind is obscured, the will is hardened against God's inspirations, and attached to the pleasures of sense, so as to despise and feel disgust for spiritual blessings; the sensual passions and appetites reign in the soul through the bad habits that have been acquired; on the other side, the illuminations and the callings of God are, by its own fault, rendered scarcely efficacious to move the soul, which has so despised them, and made so bad a use of them, that it even feels a certain aversion towards them, because it does not want to be disturbed in its sensual gratifications. All these things constitute moral abandonment; and when a sinner has once fallen into it, it is only with the utmost difficulty that he can escape from his miserable state, and bring himself to live a well-regulated life.

In order to escape, and pass at once from such disorder to a state of salvation, a great and extraordinary grace would be requisite; but God seldom confers such a grace on these obstinate sinners. Sometimes He gives it, says Saint Thomas, and chooses them for vessels of mercy, as the Apostle calls them, in order to make known His goodness; but to the rest He justly refuses it, and leaves them in their unhappy state, in order to show forth His justice and power:

"Sometimes", says the Angel of the Schools, "out of the abundance of His goodness He prevents with His assistance even those who put a hindrance in the way of His grace, and converts them. And as He does not enlighten all the blind, nor cure all the sick, so neither does He assist all who place an impediment to His grace, so as to convert them". This is what the Apostle means when he says that God, "to show forth His anger, and to make His power known, endured with much patience, vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory" - Romans 9:22-23. Then he adds, "But since out of the number of those who are involved in the same sins, there are some to whom God gives the grace of conversion, while others He only endures, or allows to go on in the course of things, we are not to inquire the reason why He converts some and not others". For the Apostle says, "Has not the potter power over the clay, to make of the same mass one vessel to honor; and another to dishonor? [Ibid., 21]

We do not then deny [to bring this point to a conclusion] that there is such a thing as the moral abandonment of some obstinate sinners, so that their conversion is morally impossible; that is to say, very difficult. And this concession is abundantly sufficient for the laudable object which our opponents have in defending their opinion, which is to restrain evil-doers, and to induce them to consider, before they come to fall into such a deplorable state. But then it is cruelty [as Petrocorensis well says] to take from them all hope, and entirely to shut against them the way of salvation, by the doctrine that they have fallen into so complete an abandonment as to be deprived of all actual grace to enable them to avoid fresh sins, and to be converted; at any rate, mediately by means of prayer [which is not refused to any man while he lives . . .], whereby they can afterwards obtain abundant help for placing themselves in a state of salvation: since the fear of total abandonment would not only lead them to despair, but also to give themselves more completely to their vices, in the belief that they are altogether destitute of grace; so that they have no hope left of escaping eternal damnation.