Oecumenical Grace: Roman Catholicism and Created Grace

augustineWe begin with St Augustine of Hippo. Of course. His reflections on the mystery of grace have been determinative for Western Christianity. He taught the Latin Church that from beginning to end the Christian life is completely dependent upon the gratuitous love, mercy, and power of God; but he also directed the Church down paths which have subsequently proven deleterious to the preaching of the gospel—the massa damnata, absolute predestination, limited atonement, infant damnation. The past 1500 years, as Henri Rondet remarked, may be understood as a purification of Augustine’s legacy. The purification began with the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529, continued with St Thomas Aquinas and the subsequent debates between Bañez and Molina on the nature of grace, received clarity with the magisterial condemnation of Jansenism, and intensified with the 19th and 20th century rediscovery of the Eastern Fathers. Martin Luther, in his own way, also contributed to the purification. With the Roman Catholic Church’s confession of the universal salvific will of the God, so clearly enunciated in the decrees of Vatican II, the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II, and the Lutheran/Catholic Agreement on Justification, the purification would seem to be complete. Augustine’s theological greatness remains, but his reflections on grace have been integrated into a wider and more ecumenical Roman Catholic vision.

If the Eastern Fathers speak of the deification of the whole man in Christ, St Augustine speaks of the Holy Spirit indwelling the heart of the believer, thus bringing him into the divine Love that is God the Holy Trinity. We are called, says Augustine, to love God and our neighbor de Deo, for it is the Holy Spirit who loves in us and through us. As Charles Mœller and Gérard Philips explain: “God causes us to believe and hope through the virtues of faith and hope; but He makes us love ‘through God’; it is God in us who loves our neighbor. In this sense we can talk of ‘uncreated grace’ in the thought of Augustine” (The Theology of Grace and the Oecumenical Movement, p. 12). Augustine’s concern is the gift of the indwelling Spirit who makes sinners righteous. He has no explicit understanding of grace as a habitual, created state. One of his favorite texts is Romans 5:5: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us.” In his insightful chapter on Augustine in The Dynamics of Grace, Stephen J. Duffy writes, “Charity is the indwelling and operation of the Spirit, not a created quality of the person” (p. 115). “It is not surprising, then,” he concludes, “that ‘Love and do what you will’ is the final summation of Augustine’s teaching on grace, for that love is the dynamic love of the Spirit within transforming the human heart and freeing the will to order its many loves” (p. 104). To be made righteous by the Spirit, therefore, is nothing less than deification, as the Doctor of Grace clearly states:

It is evident, therefore, that He called men gods because they were deified by His grace and not because they were born of His substance. For He justifies, being just of Himself and not from another; and He deifies, being God of Himself and not by participation in another. But He that justifies does also deify, because by justifying He makes sons of God. For, “He has given them power to become sons of God.” If we are made sons of God, we are also made gods; but this is by grace adopting, and not by nature begetting. (Ennar. in Ps. 49.2)

The baptism of infants always poses a problem for theologians. How can the Holy Spirit come to indwell those who are incapable of saving faith? Augustine wrestled with this question throughout his career. He finally appears to have concluded that while by baptism infants are truly filled with the Spirit, but because of their spiritual and moral incapacity, they do not yet possess him in love. “Baptized infants are already indwelt by the Spirit,” Mœller and Philips write, “but this indwelling is not yet in actuality” (p. 12).

In the 12th century Peter Lombard reasserted the Augustinian view in his Four Books of Sentences: “The Holy Spirit is the charity by which we love God and neighbor.” The authors elaborate:

In I Sent. distinc. 17, Lombard states that there is no virtue of charity, for it is replaced by the person of the Holy Spirit. The Master of the Sentences does not, of course, deny that it can be properly said that a man makes an act of love. The acts of faith and hope, he says, come from the virtue present in us, but the act of love comes from the Spirit Himself, without there being in man a habitus of love.

This opinion is inspired by faithfulness to St Augustine, albeit subject to a considerable misunderstanding. Struck by the text ‘God is love’ Lombard tries to give due weight to the transcendence of love; he has failed to see that it is possible to speak of a habitus of love that is at the same time a direct participation of the Holy Spirit. In any case, Lombard knows nothing of any created habitus. Richard Fishacre, an Oxford Franciscan, followed Lombard in this opinion and even spoke of a parallelism between the hypostatic union and union with the Spirit in grace; this theory is curiously reminiscent of Palamas. (p. 15)

The Lombardian thesis was subsequently discussed, analyzed, and rejected by the great scholastics. In what sense is it correct to say that the Holy Spirit directly loves in and through us? Do we not participate in this act of love? Must not the bestowal of uncreated grace necessarily entail a modification of human nature? Thus enters the controverted notion of a created habitus disposing an individual to the love of God and enabling union with the transcendent Deity.

Medieval scholasticism adopted the term habitus to signify a permanent disposition of the soul and stable orientation. A habit can be innate or acquired; but in the case of supernatural union and the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), it is infused directly into the soul by God, adapting the human being for deifying union with God. The habitus thus becomes the enduring principle of spiritual life within the believer. The scholastics came to refer to this habitus as created grace; but it must not be seen as a thing or entity. It refers, rather, to the modification of human nature effected by the Spirit that enables the tabernacling of the Spirit within the human being. The habitus is a dynamic reality that only exists through the direct and continuous action of God. Think of a pitch-black room. We turn on a light and the walls, floor, and ceiling are illumined. The turning on of the light and the illumination of the room are simultaneous. The Holy Spirit is the light; the illumined room is created grace. But this poor example does not capture the essential point, though. Underlying scholastic reflection is the Latin conviction that because of humanity’s finitude and sinfulness, human nature must be elevated if human beings are to participate in the divine nature. God accomplishes this ontological change by bestowing sanctifying grace, which makes possible supernatural union; but it may also be said that he accomplishes this change by giving the Holy Spirit, who regenerates the soul at the moment of gifting. Created grace is the result of the coming of the indwelling Spirit and at the same time its condition.

The authors devote a couple of paragraphs to St Bonaventure:tumblr_ot4jgaogVY1qfvq9bo1_1280.jpg

The two principal foundations of St Bona­venture’s view are very remarkable, for they show that the idea of created grace is in no way opposed to the primacy of God in saving and justifying in a permanent action. The first is that we must speak of a created habitus, in order to emphasize the fundamental impotence of man, and exclude the righteousness of works. Whereas later, scholasticism and the notion of created grace were attacked in order that Pelagianism might be the more surely avoided, the fact is that the historical development of the idea came about primarily as the result of an effort to avoid Pelagianism: St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas both say that if there were no created grace, one might think that man by his own works gives himself grace. Created grace, therefore, manifests the indigentia hominis; that is why a man must be given a disposition to receive justification.

This reasoning implies that created grace is not in any sense considered as a sort of ‘autonomous possession’ of a man, permitting him in a way to do without the continual saving activity of God; on the contrary, it is always produced by God Himself, ‘present in the soul.’ This view of the matter is also found in St. Bonaventure—and it provides the second foundation of his reasoning. Arguing this time from the point of view of God, St. Bonaventure explains that the love of God, giving itself, is effective, producing a change in man. Consequently, the disposition, the created habitus is the result of the presence of the God of love. In other words, gratia creata is the result of the continual influence of the divine light; the soul possesses the Spirit, or rather, is possessed by Him. St. Bonaventure sums all this up in the striking formula, which succeeds in avoiding any ambiguity, ‘Habere est haberi, to possess (a habitus) is to be possessed by God.’ (pp. 17-18)

The intent of created grace, therefore, is to clearly assert the regeneration of the human being by grace: man becomes a new creation indwelt by God himself. Three points in particular should be noted. First, behind the scholastic formulation of created grace lies an anti-Pelagian concern: God himself must prepare the human being for deifying union. Second, created grace is not a created “thing” which a human being possesses. It is a disposition given to the sinner that allows him to freely receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Third, created grace is itself caused by the Spirit, who effects the change of man by his tabernacling presence. In Bonaventure’s words: “To enjoy God means to possess Him. Hence together with grace which, by its God-conforming nature, leads to the enjoyment of God, there is given to man an uncreated Gift, the Holy Spirit, to possess whom is indeed to possess God Himself” (Breviloquium V.1.4)

To the inevitable question “Which comes first, grace or Grace?” perhaps the proper scholastic answer is, yes.

And so Mœller and Philips explicate the position of Aquinas:

The love of God works effectively—a man is changed if the Spirit dwells in him; the habitus is the result of this; there is no question, therefore, of a habitus being required in advance, or produced by any other causality than that of God Himself at the very moment He gives Himself. One must speak in this case of a reciprocal causality, an idea that expresses the unbreakable union between God sanctifying and the soul really changed by God’s entering it. In other words, the idea of created grace simply expresses the reality of regeneration; it is in no way an intermediate reality, a thing, complete in itself, which man possesses as his own. …

St. Thomas realizes that this habitus (this dunamis) operates like a kind of continuous impulse, and that the idea presents certain difficulties—it is neither a simple action, nor a temporary impulse on a particular occasion, but a continuous impulse from which actions result. In other words, the habitus is an active tension set up by God at work in man; and this is not intermittent but continuous; it is like a pattern formed of one unbroken line and not a series of separate figures. What is involved is not a series of actual graces (there is very little suggestion of this in Western thought in the Middle Ages), but rather, if one might use the term, an ‘impelling disposition’; better still, the habitus is nothing less than the will of God expressing itself unceasingly within the complex reality of the being of man.

It will be seen that underlying these ideas of Aquinas is the theory of the participation of the soul in the divine life, through the continual action of God. He conceives not of an inert object, or fixed state, cut off, as it were, from its source in God, but a permanent dynamism, built into the very foundation of our being, and causing there a permanent disposition (an inherent disposition, in the words of the Council of Trent); but which has no reality except through the presence and activity of God Himself. (pp. 19-21)

To phrase the matter somewhat differently, created grace is a personal mode of being, being-in-another, life in God.

Under the influence of nominalism, late medieval reflection reduced the created habitus to a “thing” sitting between God and man, precisely what Eastern Orthodox theologians have long feared about the notion. “Because nominalism could conceive of no real contact between the creature and the Creator,” Mœller and Philips explain, “it presented the habitus as an intermediate being, a separate entity in itself, possessed by man apart from the influence of grace” (p. 21). Martin Luther saw this nominalist reification of created grace as intrinsically Pelagian and rightly protested. Salvation requires that we commune with God, not with a created object. Trapped in the same nominalism, however, Luther found it difficult to articulate an ontological transformation of man by the gift of grace.

(Go to “Catholicism and the Divine Life“)

This entry was posted in Grace, Justification & Theosis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Oecumenical Grace: Roman Catholicism and Created Grace

  1. Mina says:

    Excellent elucidation of historical beliefs on grace. Seems to further the path of the “complimentary” theory of contemporary theologians between Palamas and Aquinas, rather than oppositions.

    One thing about Palamas that I find confusing is this “hypostatic union” by grace. When I think of “hypostatic union” the way St. Cyril and the Oriental Orthodox tradition explains it, I find that to try to bring about this idea of hypostatic union between man and God a bit odd, troubling at worst.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I found the authors’ comment about Fishacre’s theory (“this theory is curiously reminiscent of Palamas”) curious.


    • ddpbf says:

      Because its precisely point of divergence between dyophysites and miaphysites. In which way Christ is both God and man. We believe Christ, second Person of Trinity took full human nature.


      • Mina says:

        Miaphysites also believe the second person of the Trinity took full human nature. It was actually Miaphysites who first explicitly say this. So I don’t understand the divergence you are talking about.

        To say that we have a “hypostatic union” with God is like saying I become by nature a person of the Trinity. That is why the term is troubling when used in a manner of what we become by grace. When a hypostatic union occurs, there is “one hypostasis” of humanity and divinity. Are you saying that we too become one hypostasis of the Son?


        • ddpbf says:

          Not, hypostatic union is union on personal level. Hypostasis is person. Divine and human nature are united in Person of Logos. That is Chalcedonian Christology.


          • ddpbf says:

            Ps where did you understand that I imply we are one hypostasis wit Son? It was just stated in this article that Peter Lombard wrote about paralelisms between hypostatic union and union with Spirit.


          • Mina says:

            My dear friend,
            Natures have hypostatic union, not persons. Two persons do not have a hypostasic union. The hypostatic union of Christ is when the full humanity and full divinity are in one hypostasis.

            So how would you explain St. Gregory Palamas saying we have a hypostasic union with the Holy Spirit?


          • ddpbf says:

            Mina, where did I said, persons have Hypostatic union. Its rather one Person, Who unites two natures in His Person. Also where did you came to conclude Palamas wrote something like it?


        • Mina says:

          Okay, let’s start all over, because I seem to be misunderstanding something in this side conversation.

          First to answer your question on the Palamite idea. According to the article, Fr. Kimel quoted an author saying: “In any case, Lombard knows nothing of any created habitus. Richard Fishacre, an Oxford Franciscan, followed Lombard in this opinion and even spoke of a parallelism between the hypostatic union and union with the Spirit in grace; this theory is curiously reminiscent of Palamas.” I have actually heard this parallel before being ascribed to St. Palamas. I have not read Palamas himself (only read what others say about Palamas, such as His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos), and I do not wish to attack Chalcedonian tradition or fathers. I was saying that the way the quote made it seem like there was a hypostatic union between members of the Church and the Holy Spirit “by grace”.

          I will read a quote from a secondary source thought that quotes Palamas to perhaps reveal some of the confusion:

          “For just as the divinity of the Word of God incarnate is common to soul and body, since He has deified the flesh through the mediation of the soul to make it also accomplish the works of God; so similarly, in spiritual man, the grace of the Holy Spirit, transmitted to the body through the soul, grants to the body also the experience of things divine, and allows it the same blessed experiences as the soul undergoes” (Gregory Palamas, The Triads, The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press 1983, p. 51).

          I personally do not see this quote of parallel as St. Palamas saying that the grace is hypostatically united to us, but another quote seems to make it all the more curiously unclear:

          “The Principle of deification, divinity by nature, the imparticipable Origin whence the deified derive their deification, Beatitude itself, transcendent over all things and supremely thearchic, is itself inaccessible to all sense perception and to every mind, to every incorporeal or corporeal being. It is only when one or another of these beings goes out from itself and acquires a superior state that it is deified. For it is only when hypostatically united to a mind or body that we believe the divinity to have become visible, even though such union transcends the proper nature of mind and body. Only those beings united to It are deified ‘by the total presence of the Anointer’; they have received an energy identical to that of the deifying essence, and possessing it in absolute entirety, reveal it through themselves. For, as the Apostle says, ‘In Christ the fullness of the divinity dwells bodily’ (Colossians 2:19)” (ibid., pp. 87-88).

          So now, which mind or body exactly is the divinity “hypostatically” united to? Is he talking about Christ or about any “incorporeal or corporeal being”. This is where the confusion comes in. Perhaps, you know more than I do that nowhere does St. Palamas believe we as humans are hypostatically united with the grace of the Holy Spirit. So that’s where my confusion lies.

          Second, when I acknowledged this confusion or trouble I had in understanding St. Palamas, you replied “Because its precisely point of divergence between dyophysites and miaphysites. In which way Christ is both God and man. We believe Christ, second Person of Trinity took full human nature.” So, I don’t know what you think Oriental Orthodox Christians believe, but from where I stand I see no divergence. So, perhaps, this is a misunderstanding of St. Palamas on my part, and I would appreciate elucidation, as I am always open to correction on this issue, as in any other issue I’ve been presented with. But I appreciate that if you’re going to assume Miaphysites believe something, let me know exactly what you think Miaphysites believe so that I can appreciate where you’re coming from and perhaps set the record straight on what Miaphysites actually believe, since I am a Copt after all, and well read in the Christological debates and history.

          God bless.


  2. Wow. I need to chew on this because my head is running in circles.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As is mine, quite frankly. 🙂


      • kosseyja says:

        Fr Kimel,

        Concerning “an ontological transformation of man by the gift of grace.”

        Do we really need to assert an ontological change in believers for this present age? Might this be characterized as a spiritual transformation—with radical behavioral consequences?

        Belonging to Christ Jesus is a transfer of ownership to new life under grace. Being united to the risen Jesus, believers may walk in newness of life through the Spirit.

        “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation” seems to represent a Spirit-enabled transformation more than a scientifically observable ontological condition.



        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          John, I guess it all depends on what one means by “ontological” and “spiritual” I’m sure we would agree that the kind of transformation we are talking about is not something that can be validated by empirical observation and the scientific method.

          If we speak of a transformation through the indwelling Spirit, are we speaking of a change that goes to the core of that person’s being? Are we speaking of a change that truly unites the person to the divine life of God? If yes, why not use “ontological”?

          In any case, according to scholastic apprehension, human nature is incapable in its own powers of fulfilling its supernatural end. Hence God must provide that which is lacking. I think that is what is behind the notion of created grace. Consider this reflection from Henri de Lubac:

          The supernatural, one might say, is that divine element which man’s effort cannot reach (no self-divinization!) but which unites itself to man, “elevating” him as our classical theology used to put it, and as Vatican II still says (Lumen Gentium, 2), penetrating him in order to divinize him, and thus becomign as it were an attribute of the “new man” described by St Paul. While it remains forever “un-naturalizable”, it profound penetrates the depths of man’s being. In short, it is what the old Scholastics and especially St. Thomas Aquinas called (using a word borrowed from Aristotle which has often been completely misunderstood) an “accidental form” or an “accident”. Call it an accident, or call it a habitus, or “created grace”: these are all different ways of saying (even if one thinks they need various correctives or precisions) that man becomes in truth a sharer in the divine nature. (A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace, pp. 41-42)

          I’m not a scholastic myself, so this is not the language I use when trying to speak of theosis. I prefer to stay closer to the language of Scripture and the Fathers. But I think I can se why the scholastics adopted this language—namely, they could not simply say, with Peter Lombard, that the Holy Spirit indwells the person and loves in the person. That still leaves the person “unchanged.” The habitus was their way of saying that when God communicates his grace, human nature is changed, healed, and elevated.

          So is this a spiritual change or an ontological change? Both? 🙂


          • Fr Kimel,

            I appreciate your considered and very kind response to my question. Habitus resonates with me more than created grace. I also tend to prefer resolving paradoxes with both–and over either–or analyses.

            Marianne Meye Thompson (1999) pointed out a number of “calling” expressions in Romans, such as “called to belong to Christ Jesus (1:6); “called to be holy”(1:7); “called children of the living God.” She concludes that the divine initiative “does not imply that God has given the Gentiles a new name, but that in adopting them as heirs of God has granted them a new status as part of a new family (9:7, 11, 26).”

            Believers/Christians gain a new relationship with Christ Jesus by the miracle of becoming joined/bonded to him through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we can coin the term, “onto-Christic” to highlight the derivative quality of ontological–spiritual change for what God has accomplished in the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit.



  3. ddpbf says:

    By the way, nominalism also saw Grace (Divine energy from Palamas and St Maximus’ works) as other God. See Adrian Forteacue’s comments about Hesychism and Palamas. (He wrote article on Palama in Catholic Encyclopedia)


Comments are closed.