HEIGHTS OF HAPPINESS
The little boy who is just tasting the first delicious morsels of independence, his curls gone, wearing a real shirt with his own tie and a pair of trousers with a real belt, looks down the long dreams of youth to great goals, great ends, to the time when he will be a man. The old man with death’s door almost within reach of his fingers, turns his head and looks back regretfully, dreamingly, smilingly, at the beginnings of life, to the days when he was a boy. It is the natural thing to do, for if there are to be any beginnings of human life, of human action, there must be a goal, an end; and if we are to understand the end we must look back to the beginning.
In the beginning of this book we considered the end, the goal of human life. Now approaching the end of this volume, to understand it all we must look to the beginning, which is also the end. At the start of this long study we saw that the key to the ceaseless activity of men and women was desire. Because the object of desire is attainable but not yet attained, we act; and in that action, progressing toward the object of desire, we have a foretaste of the happiness that the attainment of that object of desire will bring. All men act for one thing — to obtain the object of desire, to be happy.
Meaning of human life: Key to human activity — desire and happiness
Human life is accurately stated as a search for happiness. But because the objects men have desired have so seldom brought them happiness, it has become the attitude of our age to emphasize the quest and shudder at the thought of attaining the goal. Men are happy in a way while the hunt for happiness is going on. When they stand with the quarry at bay, with sensible pleasure, riches, power or fame in their hands, then there is not happiness but disillusionment, disgust, despair at such an ending to human life, to human action. Really today the friend of the neo-pagan is he who wishes him not success but failure, for success is the end of the quest and only in the quest is happiness found. The reason for this is that the quest has been limited to the world around or beneath man, to the world within man, the world of his body or his soul, but never extended to the world above man, to the infinite world of divine perfection. However great the goods of these worlds of nature, they are puny substitutes to an intellect thirsting for supreme truth, to an appetite that only the universal good will ever satisfy.
The natural and happiness; the supernatural and happiness
In the beginning of this study we determined the goal which alone would bring men happiness, a goal no less than the eternal vision of God Himself. It is an impossible goal if we look only at the powers of man’s nature, as San Francisco is out of the range of our ears if we forget the radio or the telephone which makes it possible to hear a voice across the continent. Without help we cannot possibly hear someone speaking so far away; without help man cannot possibly attain the one goal that will give him happiness. And the help by which God is brought within range of the hands of men, the help by which the actions of men can lift those same men up to the vision of God, is called grace — the subject of our present chapter.
Grace and meaning of human life
As the bridge spanning the gap between the supernatural and the natural, grace is all-important to the individual man, for it is only by bridging this gap that happiness is possible. Grace should have an eminent place among the great Catholic truths. It has. Indeed just a glance at its relation to the great truths of our Faith is sufficient to bring out even more clearly its tremendous importance in human life. It was grace that was lost by original sin. Grace was the immediate fruit of the Incarnation and Redemption. It is the means of the justification of the sinner, the immediate fruit of the sacraments and the purpose of the whole sacramental system which continues the work of Christ in supplying the souls of men with this life-giving gift. The priesthood exists for the Mass and the sacraments and so for grace. Progress in grace is spiritual progress, perfection. With grace comes the whole supernatural equipment of virtues and gaffs of the Holy Ghost; with the loss of grace most of this equipment is lost. Mortal sin is the destruction of grace and the death of the soul. The subject of grace enters deeply into our Mariology, particularly today when Mary’s position as co-Redemptrix and channel of all grace is being brought out more clearly. Grace is the means by which we live a divine life, yet the understanding of grace makes impossible the absurdities of pantheism; it is grace which lifts us to the heights of God, lets us live the life of God, yet leaves God God and man man.
There is no end to this. Yet St. Thomas treated this enormous subject adequately, scientifically, with profound beauty in just six questions of his Summa Theologica, one of the shortest of his tracts.
Grace considered in itself:
A man in perfect health has little thought for or appreciation of his splendid health. A short tour through a hospital will awaken him to his fortunate condition. So a statement of the importance of grace win. our agreement, but it does not drive that importance deep into our souls as does a momentary consideration of man’s condition without grace. Physical sickness makes apparent the value of health; spiritual sickness makes vividly evident the necessity of grace.
Necessity of grace: For man without grace
Let us put to one side that purely hypothetical state of humanity — the state of pure nature in which man would have had all that nature demands but would never have known anything of the supernatural or preternatural gifts. Our interest is with man as he is today and that means with man in the state of fallen nature, the state of man with the sickness of sin on his soul and his nature injured by being stripped of the preternatural gifts by which God had supplied the defects inherent in the very elements of which man is made. What is the condition of man in this state without grace?
What is such a man like? If we desire to know this man, or any man, the intelligent way to go about the investigation is not to ask what does he look like, how does he part his hair or what kind of a smile has he, but rather to get down to essentially human activities. What does he know? What does he aim at, what does he will? What can he do? If we can answer these questions we know a man thoroughly.
The answers to all these questions about a man in the state of fallen nature are extremely easy. Without grace in the sense of supernatural help, certainly he cannot know supernatural truth. A cat has no knowledge of mental hygiene and no one is in the least surprised; such things are above the nature of the cat. Much less can a man of his own natural powers know supernatural truths, for these are not only above his nature, they are above all nature. Since reason is the guide holding the hand of appetite and steering its blind steps, appetite stops at the wall of the supernatural along with its guide, reason. If a man cannot know supernatural things, of course he cannot aim at them, cannot desire them. Much less can he do any supernatural work, for his work contains no more than flows into it from the principles of all human work, the intellect and will.
All in all, fallen man without grace is much more helpless in the supernatural order than is the infant crying for the moon and refusing to be satisfied with anything less than the moon. Man cannot be satisfied with any goal less than the supernatural, yet, left to himself, he cannot even know of his supernatural goal; he can know only his own restless discontent. As we look into this more closely, the haplessness of man becomes more and more apparent. Ho cannot produce the smallest act meritorious of eternal life, for there is less proportion between his natural acts and eternal life than between the child’s high-chair and the fiftieth story of a modern skyscraper. Without that supernatural help of God which is actual grace he cannot even prepare himself for the grace that will establish some proportion between his acts and eternal life, any more than the child not yet conceived can prepare itself for life.
While apparently very comforting, it would actually be disastrous if we could turn from this picture of our helplessness in the supernatural order to a picture of easy efficiency and perfection in the natural order. This latter is the picture our modern world is trying so hard to bring to life by breathing a steady flow of words upon it. But it remains a figment of our imagination. Even in the natural order of things we make a sorry job of human life without grace. Look what we do with the ten commandments. True enough there is no one of them that cannot be observed; but to observe all of them, taken collectively, is too much. That is a work for a healthy nature. Fallen nature is not healthy, it is sick with the sickness of sin, naked with the loss of the preternatural gift”. A sick man cannot do the day’s work measured out by an efficiency expert for a healthy man, nor can he eat the meal designed by the expert chef for a healthy appetite; no more can a sick nature keep the commandments that were carefully proportioned to a healthy nature. Granted that there is no mortal sin that cannot be avoided, that fallen man can avoid all mortal sins for a time — this much is demanded by the very nature of sin — still it is impossible for him to escape mortal sin for any length of time.
Look at the case dispassionately for a moment. This man is sick and his sickness has not been healed by grace. Consequently his will is not totally subject to God. We have within ourselves a parallel to this in the sense appetite which is not totally subject to reason. How long can we go without some movement of that sense appetite contrary to reason? The fact is that such a man’s heart is not firmly fixed on God and where sudden action is demanded that action will be moulded by the end that is firmly fixed in his heart.
Without grace, then, even those precepts of the Natural Moral Law which are the ten commandments are going to be violated. And without grace fallen man in the state of mortal sin has slipped, or rather plunged, into a smooth-sided well. He can do nothing to raise himself from the depths of sin if he remains unaided by the grace of God. What has he done by his sin? He has destroyed the splendid lustre of the soul, perverted the order of nature by averting his will from God, and incurred a debt of punishment by his offence against God. Auto-suggestion, will power, legislative action or scientific research can be of no aid to him here. That splendid lustre of the soul, the effect of the streaming light of human and divine reason, came to him by grace; only through grace can it be restored. It was by grace that he could turn his will to God, his supernatural goal; it is only by grace that he can now turn back to that same goal. It is God Who has been offended and Who is the judge of men, only God can do anything about the punishment due to sin.
For man in the state of grace
Turning from these gloomy wards of the spiritual hospital, we wonder how men can be so intent upon getting along without God and His grace. A turn about the ward of the convalescents, while decidedly more cheerful, only brings the importance of grace home to us more keenly. Here we have men with that same sick nature but partially healed by the grace that has removed sin from their souls, though they still bear the infirmities consequent on the loss of the gifts first given to human nature. In other words here we find ourselves. We are supernaturally alive by the habitual or sanctifying grace in our souls, we have all the infused virtues, so we know supernatural truths, we aim at the supernatural goal, we love God for Himself above all things. With no more than this, what do we act done supernaturally? The answer is: nothing at all.
Nature of grace: A supernatural quality
Habitual grace gives us life, the remote principle of action, but not action itself; it does not overcome the difficulties in the way of getting things done, it is not a licence freeing us from constant dependence on the first mover. It brings us into the world of the living, but if we are to get things done, if we are to take steps towards the goal of eternal happiness, we must have yet more grace — the grace of action or actual grace. If we are to do good, if we are to avoid sin, if we are to persevere in the friendship of God to the end of life, then we must have actual supernatural help from God.
All this sounds difficult, perhaps even a little harsh, somehow a reflection on the dignity and independence of man. It seems so only because we know so little about man and so very little about God; or rather because the truths that we know so certainly have not been allowed to penetrate into the depths of our being where their full meaning would become an integral part of us. We could tell this whole story of man’s utter dependence on God in the supernatural order by simply pointing to that same dependence in the natural order. Both could be summed up by saying that it is a contradiction in terms to suppose that man or any other creature can for a moment, in the least of his actions, escape from the causality of the first cause.
In the natural order we do not give life to ourselves; that life must be traced to the source of all life, to the source of all being, to the first cause. In the natural order we actually get things done, we eat meals, we take walks, we think and love. But we do not do any of these things alone. True enough they are our actions; but we are the secondary causes. Along with us, step by step, moves the first cause upon which not only the actions but our very ability to cause those actions depend at every instant. More simply, there is only one utterly independent being and that being is God. To escape from our dependence on Him means the annihilation of that action because from Him alone is everything of reality. That dependence on God is not a reflection on the dignity, the independence, the personal responsibility of man. Rather that dependence is the sole explanation of man’s dignity, of his mastery over his own actions.
Exactly the same is true in the supernatural order. We do not give ourselves supernatural life; that life must come from the Author of all life. Our supernatural actions are not ours alone; we depend on God here as we do in the natural order. Grace is nothing more than the action of the first cause in the supernatural order, the help by which it is possible for men to be and to operate in the order that is proper to God alone.
If we keep that parallel with the natural order in mind we have an exact notion of the nature of grace. We have already seen the natural dependence of man several times in the course of this work: in the first volume, in treating of the will of God, of the will of man and of the government of the world by God; in this volume in treating of the acts of the intellect and will. It is a fundamental dependence that in its simplest terms is an insistence on the self-evident truth that a realization of potentialities is not brought about by the unaided subject of that realization. Or, even more simply, a man does not give himself perfections which he does not possess.
Grace is that supernatural help by which it is possible for a man to realize his potentialities for life and action on a supernatural plane. If we look first at the grace which brings supernatural life to man, we see it most accurately in terms of God’s love for us. There is a vast difference between human and divine love. With us it is a case of stumbling along until we find goodness to attract and hold our love; we are merely discoverers of the goodness we love, not its creators. With God, where outside of Himself can He find goodness that has not its source in Himself? His love must create the goodness which He loves. So in the natural order we find the effect of His divine love always a positive goodness; concretely the effect of that divine love is the individual nature of every creature existing with all that belongs to that creature. So in the supernatural order, that same divine love does not discover goodness, it produces it; first supernatural life, then all the supernatural equipment of virtues and helps which makes the fulfilment of that supernatural life possible. That supernatural life, the effect of divine love in the supernatural order, is grace; and that grace is not an outburst of poetry, a figment of imagination, an idle hope, but a reality, a positive good, a good as positive as life itself, for that is precisely what it is — a participation of an infinite life.
In the essence of the soul
God, of course, is the only supernatural substance, the only substance that is above and totally beyond the natural order. Everything else supernatural belongs to what the philosophers call the class of “accidents”. That is, grace does not walk the streets or loll in an easy chair; like colour in a child’s cheeks, or a smile on a man’s face, it cannot exist alone, it must exist in something else. It is an ” accident” modifying, qualifying the very principle of life within us, the very essence of the soul; qualifying it to such an extent as to make that same soul the principle by which we move and live on the level of divinity. Unlike the virtues which enable us to operate on that level, grace gives the much more fundamental requirement of life itself. Grace is not a virtue, not to be confused with the virtues, but rather the foundation and source of the supernatural virtues much as the soul itself is the foundation and source of life, of our faculties, of our operations in the natural order.
That is the type of grace which we call habitual or sanctifying, the grace without which the soul is supernaturally dead. It is a very personal gift whose direct object is to bring life to this individual, to make this man holy and pleasing to God. Before continuing with this personal angle of grace, it might be well to point out, passingly, another class of graces given not primarily for the sanctification of the one receiving them but for the sanctification of others.
Division of grace: Given for the salvation of others
Rather than personal graces, these are apostolic in their character, effecting the things most necessary to apostolic activity: a full knowledge of divine things, a confirmation of this divine doctrine through deeds that only God can do or knowledge that only God could have, and finally a fitting proposal of these truths to others. Among such graces are the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of miracles, and so on. In other words, the apostle as such is an instrument of God bringing salvation to others; if the greatness of his works tempts him to pride, a momentary consideration of the other instruments God has used in this work — the high priest who prophesied in moving form the death of Christ and the talking ass of Balaam — will bring home the realization that these works are God’s works done through him not primarily because of his great goodness but because of God’s great love for souls.
Given for personal sanctification: Habitual
To get back to the personal angle of grace, it is evidently not sufficient that we exist. We have work to do, things to get done, steps to take, for in the supernatural as well as in the natural order it is equally true that we carve out our own destiny with the tools of our own human actions. In the natural order, the smooth motion of God is the cause not only of the note that pours from the throat of a bird, but also of the sweetness of that note, of the necessity with which it springs from the bird’s instincts. The same divine motion is the cause of the note that pours from the human singer’s throat, and at the same time is the cause of the sweetness of the note and the freedom with which it is produced. In a word, that divine motion is the cause of whatever reality there is in action. In the supernatural order the divine motion preparing us for action, moving us to action, producing the action with us, is called actual grace.
Actual: sufficient and efficacious
This divine movement which is actual grace is not to be understood in terms of extrinsic assistance, like an extra oarsman furnishing just enough more power to give the boat headway, or an extra horse whose help makes possible the pulling of a load too heavy for one alone. It is more far-reaching than that. It is an intrinsic movement in the order of first cause which, in its own order, is the cause of the action yet leaves our causality intact, indeed produces or makes possible our causality.
It is a movement, then, that flows into our very faculties and through our faculties into the effect, the actual action. If this divine movement gives us the proximate dispositions for action, bringing us to the point where action is immediately possible to us, it is called sufficient actual grace; it is the grace given to every man born into the world and the grace that is found at the root of every supernatural action. Over and above this, a distinct divine movement bringing about the realization of this proximate power of action, bridging the gap between the power to act and action itself, must be had for every supernatural action. That distinct divine movement is called efficacious actual grace. Both intrinsically affect the faculties themselves, both are complete and efficient in their own order — the one in the order of potentiality, the other in the order of actuality — both, like all divine motion properly affecting men, leave intact, indeed guarantee and cause, the ability and freedom of man to produce his own actions.
Perhaps this seems a little abstract; but with a moment’s thought the practical consequences of these abstract truths assume tremendous importance. Thus it is immediately evident that grace is not something to be nonchalantly tossed away like a half-smoked cigarette when there is a full pack in our pocket. It is not something that can be ordered by telephone, purchased in a shop or imported at our commands; it is not to be found, stumbled over, grown in a garden or inherited. It is not the result of industry, a quick wit or ready speech. Rather it is something that can come from God alone — it is a gift of God that once lost can be regained only by another outburst of generosity on the part of the divine Donor. Grace is supernatural; it exceeds the power of all nature, even the combined powers of everything in nature. It can come only from the Author of the natural and the supernatural.
Causes of grace: God’s part in grace
Our part in grace is enough to set us towering above all other creatures in the world and yet is humble enough to keep us very close to God. We can prepare ourselves for habitual or sanctifying grace, we can increase that grace in our souls; we do both by our own actions, yet can do neither one nor the other without the help of actual grace, without the movement of God. In this case, as in every action of man, there are two sides to the story, two truths to be taken into account, two angles, both strictly accurate, both rigidly true, but neither able to be considered alone without distorting the truth. It is strictly true that we love, learn, talk, and so on; it is we who are doing these things, these are our actions, proceeding under our control, and for them we are wholly responsible. It is equally true that God causes our loving, our learning, our talking and the rest. If we look only at our part in all this, we are looking only at the activity of the secondary causes which is totally inexplicable considered in itself. If we look only at God’s part in all this, we are neglecting half the truth, even neglecting part of the truth of God’s activity, namely the causality of the secondary causes and their freedom.
Man’s part in grace
In the supernatural order we prepare ourselves for grace by our own actions proceeding from our free will, under our control. They are ours. But we are only seeing half the truth if we do not see that these actions are also God’s, that behind our causality is the causality of the first cause, necessary for every instant of our causality. Looked at from our side, we prepare ourselves for grace; looked at from God’s side, God prepares us for grace. Both sides are true. A statement of only one side, whichever it be, is only a half-truth with all the falseness of a half-truth.
Putting the same thing briefly, we can say that even in our preparation for sanctifying grace we are men and God is God. Because we are men and not God, every step of that preparation depends not only on our free will but on the divine supernatural movement that is actual grace. Bringing it down to the concrete, a man has committed mortal sin and so lost sanctifying grace; by his acts of sorrow for sin and of love for God, his determinations to make amends and seek forgiveness, he is preparing himself for sanctifying grace. But these very acts of preparation spring not only from the free will of the singer but also from the supernatural movement of God which is actual grace.
We need grace badly, in fact our dependence on it is complete. That is saying no more than that our dependence on God is complete, a dependence that does not stop at the natural order but is equally true of the supernatural. Of course we cannot produce grace, in fact nothing in nature can. Grace must always remain a completely free gift of a generous God. The fact that the love of God for us has driven Him to incredible generosity which, coupled with the infinite merits of a God-man’s death, has put grace practically at our convenience in no way changes the gratuitous character of this gift. True enough Christ established the sacraments as channels down which pour the graces His death has won for us, true enough we have only to stoop and drink, true enough it is easier to get grace now than it is to get bread or water; but the supreme truth behind all this is that only an extravagant divine love could have devised so precious a gift and only the uttermost limits of that divine extravagance could have put that gift within reach of the hand of the stuttering child, the doddering old man at the point of death, the rich and the poor, the learned and ignorant, the sick and the healthy.
Each can prepare himself for sanctifying grace, can increase that grace in his soul. To each God gives grace in proportion to the preparation made by the help of that divine movement. It is strictly true that to a man doing his best, doing what is in him, God does not deny grace; the very doing of his best is already an evidence of the rain of grace falling on the soil of his soul. As one’s preparation is more intense, greater than another’s, so is the sanctifying grace in the soul of one greater than the sanctifying grace in the soul of another, even though all sanctifying grace has the same great goal of sanctifying men, uniting them to God, bringing them to their goal.
The angle at which we hold our heads, the beatific look on our faces or the grave majesty of our steps is not proof of our possession of grace. Such things might be due to rheumatism, falling in love, or tight shoes. There is no proof of our possession of grace. Always we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Short of a special revelation of God we cannot be absolutely certain of having sanctifying grace. But we can be fairly sure from such signs as our refusal to give temporal things preference over divine things when a choice is necessary, from our not being conscious of mortal sin, from our joy in the things of God.
Effects of grace: Justification: Nature
When we come to the effects of grace within us we step into the field of drama. The fulfilment of the age-old dream of men, the dream of becoming line God, could not be otherwise than dramatic. Whether we look at this first effect of grace — justification of the sinner — as a soaring to divine heights, a turning to the streaming light of divine wisdom, a revulsion from the ugliness of sin and a swift flight back to God, or as the declaration of peace and reconciliation between God and the rebel sinner, we have drama. It is the drama of impossible accomplishment plucking down the stars, the drama of sunrise conquering night, of escape from darkness and slavery into freedom and light, the drama of the prodigal son and his father’s unquestioning pardon. The infusion of grace and the forgiveness of sin are two sides of the same picture, like the coming of light and the dispelling of darkness. It is a motion from sin and to God in which our free will plays an enormous part. Looked at from God’s side there is the infusion of grace, the turning away from sin, the turning to God and finally the remission of sin; from our side there is the remission of sin, the turning away from sin, the turning to God and the infusion of grace. Actually it is one and the same motion looked at from different angles, a motion which takes place in an instant though its preparation may be fast or slow.
However we look at it, the justification of man must always stand out as one of the greatest works of God. Indeed from the side of the thing actually done — giving men a participation in the divine life of God — it is the greatest work of God. It is, in a very real sense, even greater than the glorification of man in heaven, for there is much less proportion between the life of grace and the sinner to whom it is given than between the life of glory in heaven and the saint who has earned that glory. Even creation, the greatest work of God considering the manner in which it was accomplished, i.e. because it was a work produced from nothing, had as its final effect only the world of nature. Grace has as its effect the supernatural, exceeding the natural and any combination of the natural by the distance between the things that are proper to God and the things that are proper to His creatures.
Yet this greatest work of God, this work which can be produced by God alone, which lifts men up to the heights of God fulfilling their wildest hopes, has by the mercy of God become so ordinary, so much the usual thing, the common way in which God’s providence works, that it cannot be classed as a miraculous work. This is a tremendous truth. Raising the dead, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind — all these are miracles and all are child’s play in comparison with the forgiveness of sin. But they are extraordinary, outside the usual run of the providence of God. This, the greatest work, is become an ordinary thing which, please God, we shall never take for granted.
Merit: Nature and existence
The second effect of grace is hardly less astonishing, the effect of merit. By it we can actually earn the increase of grace and the reward of heaven by our own actions. By it we have a right in justice to the things of God. It is almost as though a father were solemnly to engage his five-year-old son as his secretary, putting his name on the payroll and each week give the boy wages with a completely serious face. But this is no game. This is solemn fact. Of course there can be no strict justice between God and ourselves, for strict justice demands equality; but there is a real Justice established by the ordination of God Himself by which our childish works through grace are turned into works which demand full payment from God. We work according to our nature extolled by grace, and God rewards us according to His nature. He goes even further and allows us to merit where we have not this claim in justice, where our claim is based only on friendship, on His generosity, on the fittingness of the request we make.
Principle and conditions of merit; manner
Whether we merit in justice (ex condigno) or from the generosity of God (ex congruo), the two elements of merit must always be present: the grace of God which is the principle of merit and our human actions, the actions proceeding under our control to our goals. This merited reward, in other words, is ours. Though we receive the principle by which we can merit from God as a starting-point, it must be our actions that complete the work of meriting, it is by our own tools that we carve out even our supernatural destiny. When we speak of grace here, it is of course sanctifying or habitual grace that we mean. The sinner who has lost this grace, praying here and now by the help of actual grace, merits only in a very, very wide sense, a sense so wide as to mean that what is given to him will be entirely from the extravagant love of God.
First grace for self and others; increase of grace
Grace is the mysterious alchemy by which the base metal of our actions is turned into gold. With that gold, in our own right, we purchase the kingdom of heaven. We can merit eternal life in real justice. We can merit the end or goal of our supernatural life here on earth, but of course we cannot merit the beginning of that life any more than a man can give birth to himself, for that beginning is grace itself, the principle of merit. We might, by the help of actual grace, put in some claim on the mercy of God for this grace for ourselves; in possession of habitual grace, we can put a more serious claim on the friendship of God for this first beginning of grace for others. But our strict meriting, our meriting in justice, is done only for ourselves and we must have habitual grace before we can so merit.
Final perseverance; Temporal goods
If we can merit the end of supernatural life, of course we can merit the means to that end; that is, we can and do merit a constant increase in grace, charity and the virtues, we can and do merit temporal goods to the extent in which they are necessary to the task of saving our souls. But we cannot merit that special gift which is called final perseverance, a gift which extends from the beginning to the end of life, taking in the whole sweep of our activities from the first instant of grace to the culmination of grace in glory. It is something too big for any one act or any series of acts in the order of grace, for it embraces the whole of that order; something so big, in other words, that it must come wholly from the one Being Who is responsible for the whole of his order of grace, as He is for the whole of the order of nature.
Perhaps we can put all this more clearly by contrasting it again with natural things. Irrational creation does the will of God, but does not merit; the result of its necessary fulfilment of the natural physical law is its own perfection. Men without grace obeying the Natural Moral Law merit some reward, for their obedience was free, personal, their very own; but they do not merit supernatural reward by purely natural actions. Man in the state of grace fulfilling the will of God, because of the double principle of grace and free will merits eternal life with God and the means to that life by his own actions.
Conclusion: Grace and the natural world; Grace and the natural man
In the attempt to sum up this doctrine of grace briefly we can do no better than continue the contrast with nature. The smallest degree of grace is infinitely more precious than all the beauty, order and riches of nature, indeed than all of nature thrown together; it is a gift above nature, a gift belonging to the supernatural, exceeding by its very essence the whole of the natural order. Consequently it is a gift that can come only from God. It is the bridge by which man steps from the world of nature into the supernatural world; so it is a gift transforming the world of nature for man. In the light of this gift, it is much more evident to man that nature is his servant, his tool, not something to fall in love with, to attempt to be satisfied with, to which he is chained or dedicated. Nature is a stepping-stone into the realms of the divine.
Grace and human action
In the light of this gift all of human life, all of human action, takes on new meaning, tremendous significance. There is no poverty, drabness, failure, misery or despair in human existence that can compare with the poverty, drabness, failure, misery and despair of sin, for sin means the loss of grace. Anything short of sin is incapable of robbing human life of its high romance, its tense drama, its high hopes. With grace there is no insignificant human action; nothing can be insignificant that echoes in eternity. There is no unimportant human being. There is no meaningless human life.
Grace and human happiness
With grace there is no place for slavery, for irresponsibility, for brutish plunging into the sensible in an attempt to escape humanity. By grace man reaches his supreme dignity, a participation of the life of God; not a confusion with divinity, not a loss of his personal existence, personal activity, personal possibilities, but rather a full realization of all these that here and now gives a foretaste of that happiness which will be had fully when grace reaches its climax in glory, in the glory of the vision of God. This is the end which was the beginning and which is an eternal beginning, the beginning of a supreme act that never reaches its termination.