The Immaculate Conception: A Gift for You

Filippino Lippi, The Annunciation (1491)
Filippino Lippi, The Annunciation (1491)

One of the tragedies of the Protestant Reformation is that it resulted in a lot of Protestants squeamish about talking about the Virgin Mary, and a lot of Catholics squeamish about talking about grace and predestination (in both cases, out of a fear of the other side’s perceived excesses). In reality, if you want to know what God’s predestination looks like, look to the Virgin Mary. And you can’t understand Mary without understanding predestination.

If you pay attention, you’ll often see that on Marian feast days, the Church will include a reading from St. Paul about grace and/or predestination. For example, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the Second Reading is from Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. […] In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.

In other words, Mary isn’t chosen because she’s so great, she’s so great because she’s chosen. That’s a message that both Protestants and Catholics should be able to get behind. The same God who, through His grace makes us into brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (making us holy in the process), by a singular grace kept Mary from all sin for her unique role as a mother to Jesus Christ.

Fr. Mitchel Zimmerman, in his homily today, pointed out that it would be easy to fall into envy – God preserved Mary from all sin, but lets the rest of us suffer through struggling (and often failing) in the fight against sin. St. Augustine makes a similar point in a commentary on John 5:1-18, after Jesus goes to Bethesda, where a large number of the sick were, and healed one of them: “There lay so many there, and yet only one was healed, while He could by a word have raised them all up.”

But in both cases, the grace shown to a single individual isn’t just for their private good, but for the good of all of us. Some people are given more than others – more gifts, more talents, and even more grace – but what’s given is given for sharing. Underlying the surface level inequality is Divine justice, for “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

The Virgin Mary is given more graces than any creature in history, because she has the most special and unique role, as the Hinge of the Incarnation, the Woman from whom Jesus Christ takes Flesh, the Woman who conceives, bears, births, and raises Jesus Christ, mothering Him, serving Him, and following Him even to the Cross. For nine months, she was His sanctuary and His earthly Temple.

God preserves her from sin, so that the Ark of the New Covenant will be a spotless and pure abode for Our Lord. In exchange for the much that she has been given, much is expected. This is fulfilled in her ready responsiveness to Christ, but it doesn’t stop with the end of her earthly life. After all, the Virgin Mary is given to the world for all of us, because she’s given to the world for the sake of Jesus’ mission. And that mission is ongoing. So it is because God chose Mary from all eternity, purified her, and brought about the Incarnation (and our subsequent salvation) through her free cooperation that we can count on her to continue to give freely and generously from the wealth of graces which she has received. Santa Maria, Immaculata, ora pro nobis!

27 Comments

  1. Isn’t there also an Orthodox objection to the I.C.? I forgot if we are in agreement with our Eastern brethren on this matter or not (and before anyone brings up Aquinas *yes* we do not need to be reminded that Aquinas had his issues with this concept also).

    a.d. vi non. dec.

    1. The Orthodox view on the I.C. hasn’t ‘developed’ to the extent that the Catholic view has. One of the reasons possibly is the difference in understanding of Original Sin. The Latin understanding of Original Sin was more fully developed because of the Pelagian controversy, which never affected the Eastern Churches, so consequently Eastern theologians didn’t see much point in a detailed definition of Original Sin, other than to acknowledge ‘that we are all sinners “in Adam” and left it at that’.

      For a fuller treatment of this, read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2010/12/in-honor-of-the-immaculate-conception.html

      From at least the sixth century, three Marian feasts were celebrated in the Eastern Churches in addition to Christmas: the Annunciation on March 25, the Nativity of Our Lady on September 8, and the Dormition on August 15. In the seventh century, an additional feast was celebrated – the Conception of St. Anne on December 9. This refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of St. Anne. The Church does not celebrate a feast, unless it is celebrating something sacred. And thus already in the seventh century we see the recognition of the sanctity of the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne.

      All that has happened in the Western (Latin – Catholic) Church is that the theology behind these feasts was developed, usually in response to some or other heresy or inadequate/incorrect understanding arising from debate.

      Blessed John Duns Scotus, (c. 1266 – 1308) brought the Western understanding to a climax in his eloquent explication and staunch defence of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

      “We can therefore say that it was possible that the Blessed Virgin was not conceived in original sin. This assertion does not diminish in any way the universal redemption of her Son, as we have outlined above. We can furthermore confirm this, since the passion of Christ was immediately and principally ordered to delete original guilt as well as actual guilt, in such a way that all the Trinity, since it had the foresight of the merits of the passion of Christ, applied them to the Virgin and preserved her from all actual sin, and also from all original sin.”

      His theology is the basis for the Church’s official declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception found in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, by Pius IX, who solemnly defined it an article of the Faith on December 8, 1854.

      This link – http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/12/marys-immaculate-conception/ – gives a really comprehensive treatment of the Immaculate Conception.

  2. “The Virgin Mary is given more graces than any creature in history”.

    One of the graces that was provided to Mary, was the ability to patiently suffer even as Jesus suffered both physically and spiritually, pretty much throughout their entire lives. In this, Mary and Jesus were living examples and models to which the poor and suffering throughout history could look up to for their own imitation and consolation. St. Simeon declared this would be so, only days after Christ’s birth, when he said: “Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce”. And the days and years after this prophesy was declared we see that it proved to be true in their lives.

    So, if some seem envious of the great blessings or graces that the most Blessed Virgin Mary received from God, they might also recall all of the great and many sufferings that accompanied those same graces.

  3. Thanks for this article!

    I hadn’t thought of how the Immaculate Conception, with its implications regarding predestination, could function as a bridge to Protestants who like to focus on predestination. That’s a very perceptive observation! It’s an interesting ironic twist–to take a doctrine that would be one of the ones most naturally repellant to Protestants and show how it naturally illuminates and illustrates a doctrine many of them hold dear.

  4. I understand the point of this article theoretically, but it somehow to me seems to lessen Our Lady to merely say “Mary isn’t chosen because she’s so great, she’s so great because she’s chosen.” I am not disputing the point of the article, but can someone please help me combine her predestination with my veneration of Blessed Mary for her completely free cooperation with the Holy spirit–Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, let it be done to me according to thy word” and all of her magnificent qualities she shows in the Bible?

    1. All of Mary’s magnificent qualities are gifts of God’s grace and she would be the first one to tell you that. It’s no slight to her or to God to acknowledge that she is God’s masterpiece and that God can sure make Holy people.

    2. H Wilnot,

      I think the Catholic Encyclopedia sums up the dilemma of predestination, which regards the Blessed Virgin Mary, also….pretty well with this statement, and with my emphasis in caps and brackets:

      “This HYPOTHETICAL DECREE […of God] reads as follows:

      Just as in time eternal happiness depends on merit as a condition, so I [God] intended heaven from all eternity only for foreseen merit. — It is only by reason of the infallible foreknowledge of these merits that the hypothetical decree is changed into an absolute: These and no others shall be saved.

      This view not only safeguards the universality and sincerity of God’s salvific will, but coincides admirably with the teachings of St. Paul (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8), who knows that there “is laid up” (reposita est, apokeitai) in heaven “a crown of justice”, which “the just judge will render” (reddet, apodosei) to him on the day of judgment. Clearer still is the inference drawn from the sentence of the universal Judge (Matthew 25:34 sq.): “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat” etc. As the “possessing” of the Kingdom of Heaven in time is here linked to the works of mercy as a condition, so the “preparation” of the Kingdom of Heaven in eternity, that is, predestination to glory is conceived as dependent on the foreknowledge that good works will be performed. The same conclusion follows from the parallel sentence of condemnation (Matthew 25:41 sq.): “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat” etc. For it is evident that the “everlasting fire of hell” can only have been intended from all eternity for sin and demerit, that is, for neglect of Christian charity, in the same sense in which it is inflicted in time. Concluding a pari, we must say the same of eternal bliss. This explanation is splendidly confirmed by the Greek Fathers. Generally speaking, the Greeks are the chief authorities for conditional predestination dependent on foreseen merits. The Latins, too, are so unanimous on this question that St. Augustine is practically the only adversary in the Occident. St. Hilary (In Ps. lxiv, n. 5) expressly describes eternal election as proceeding from “the choice of merit” (ex meriti delectu), and St. Ambrose teaches in his paraphrase of Rom., viii, 29 (De fide, V, vi, 83): “Non enim ante prædestinavit quam præscivit, sed quorum merita præscivit, eorum præmia prædestinavit” (He did not predestine before He foreknew, but for those whose merits He foresaw, He predestined the reward). To conclude: no one can accuse us of boldness if we assert that the theory here presented has a firmer basis in Scripture and Tradition than the opposite opinion.”

      More can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12378a.htm

      1. Al:

        Good afternoon – been offline awhile taking care of a son down with an illness, thankfully getting better. Margo,I know you can relate.

        “Generally speaking, the Greeks are the chief authorities for conditional predestination dependent on foreseen merits.”

        Very interesting statement. Have any references to share? As well, an example of St. Augustine being on the other side of the fence here?

        Thanks!

        1. Hi AK,

          The Greek Fathers were all the Father that wrote in Greek, that is: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Peter of Sebaste, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus.

          If you need some quotes from these on predestination you can find some of them in the link here (…as these quotes are too lengthy to post in the comments, here):

          https://bjorkbloggen.com/2012/05/08/quotes-from-old-church-fathers-supporting-free-will-and-objecting-to-the-sinful-nature/

          Regarding Augustine, I don’t have much info. But, I bet that Craig Truglia has a boatload? 🙂

          Best to you,

          – Al

          1. I might add, that Mark Hausum seems to be an expert on the subject as is easily seen if you open his link regarding predestination, below.

    3. Mary is indeed praiseworthy because she cooperated with God’s grace. In saving her from sin, God did not work without her, as if she were an inanimate object being dragged along.

      One of the things that people have the hardest time with in terms of predestination is wrapping our minds around the idea that the righteousness of the saints is, at the same time, fully a work of their free will AND fully a work of God’s grace. Mary’s praiseworthiness is not diminished because her holiness was fully a work of grace, and yet because it was a work of grace all the glory goes ULTIMATELY to God for it. All our rightful honoring of Mary ultimately terminates in glorifying God.

      Regarding whether or not predestination takes into account foresees good works, my own opinion is that this is a somewhat pointless question. Both positions are true in different ways. The advocates of “unconditional predestination” are simply saying that there is nothing good foreseen in the future lives of the saints that is not itself a result of God’s grace, and so in that sense God’s predestination of all the good in our lives is not conditioned on something coming from us that God is not the source of. The advocates of “conditional predestination” are simply pointing out that no one will go to heaven without first being made righteous, and so God’s predestination of anyone to heaven takes into account the fact that they will be righteous (because God has made them so).

      The important thing is to remember the things we CAN’T say as Catholics. We can’t say that God saves anyone without their free will, as if they are taken to heaven without righteousness or as if they are somehow dragged into righteousness without their will. On the other hand, we can’t say that anyone ever makes any good choices of will without those choices being gifts of the grace of God. If we stay within these boundaries, we will do well. We honor Mary because she cooperated with grace, and we praise God because his grace preceded her cooperation and brought it about.

      (For those who are interested in the evidence for my assertions here, I’ve written up an article here -http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-necessity-of-unconditional.html- that goes into it in some detail. I’ve also written up more about conditional and unconditional predestination here – http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2016/05/clearing-up-some-concerns-about-molinism.html)

      1. Hi Mark,

        Your link, above, is awesome and your blogsite is awesome as well. I will bookmark and study your many articles in the future. Thanks for sharing them!

    4. Precisely because Mary is a handmaid of the Lord has she been chosen. She has no other vision of herself except as God’s instrument, his willing vessel, his humble servant; she blesses Him as her creator even as He chooses her to be Blessed. I see the process as an intertwining spiral…like a woman’s hair braid….there is God working with Mary and Mary working with God, almost a simultaneous and similar movement, as in the Trinity, with all moving and responding as if intertwined.

  5. I see what you have done here! Clever! Your best work is when you tap into philosophical implications. It is a great idea to explore.

    I am growing in my appreciation of Mary. Growing up on the conservative side (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), I did not hear much about Mary. When I started to read Luther for myself, I was shocked how highly exalted he treated Mary. “Who is this ultra Cathoic monk?!?!?!” One Lutheran pastor colleague said that all of Jesus’ humanity came from Mary, so we should appreciate her more. Blessings to you all in this season of joy and waiting.

    1. It is sometimes noted that in the Magnificat, her great song of praise to God, Mary appears to make a prophecy concerning the honor that would be paid to her in future ages, here in Luke 1:46-48 — “And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

      1. We can understand this saying of Mary even more clearly if we add the context that both the angel Gabriel and Mary’s cousin St. Elizabeth provide, throughout the whole ‘annunciation’ narrative. That Mary was singularly blessed by God is undeniable and is witnessed by a careful consideration of these scriptural statements:

        1. An angel not only says to her, but defines her inherent nature, in his greeting to her with these words: “Hail, Full of Grace”.
        2. An angel confirms her undeniable union with God by saying: “…the Lord is with thee”.
        3. An angel reveals the truth of her undeniable greatness and uniqueness in comparison to others saying: “..blessed art thou among women.”
        4. An angel reassures her a second time concerning her intimate union with the eternal God, saying to her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.”
        5. An angel prophesies to her that she will be an eternal ‘queen mother’ by her royal and divine association as mother of God’s Son, Jesus, proclaimed this by saying:

        “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.”

        It should be noted the ancient institution regarding ‘queen mother’:

        “In the monarchy of King David, as well as in other ancient kingdoms of the Near East, the mother of the ruling king held an important office in the royal court and played a key part in the process of dynastic succession. In fact, the king’s mother ruled as queen, not his wife.” (Catholic Answers)

        6. An angel says that God, The Holy Spirit, will be working in her in unknown and magnificent ways: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee”.

        7. Then, shortly after, Elizabeth proclaims by the Holy Spirit that Mary is singularly blessed: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

        And finally,

        8. At the mere voice of Mary, Elizabeth experiences an amazing and joyful miracle inside of her. Elizabeth also notes that she herself is not worthy to be in the presence of the ‘Mother of God’, saying : “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

        ****************************************************************

        Now, with all of these scriptural proofs, what Christian in the world should complain about Catholics honoring Mary… and, moreover, recalling all of these incredible words on a daily basis, by the recitation of the Holy Rosary?

        Actually, that Catholics undeniably honor Mary in this way, and on a continual basis, is a proof of the truth of the Catholic Faith. And, sublimely, if fulfills the prophesy of Mary herself when she said: “From this day all generations will call me blessed”.

  6. The blog at Strange Notions ( https://strangenotions.com/) has a new article by philosophy professor Dennis Bonnette. He discusses the scientific understanding of motion and hints its extrapolation to ‘being.’

    Can that discussion shed insight on Mary’s will/predestination? Is it perhaps our perception that is an issue? Is there really some difference between God’s predestination vs. man’s (or Mary’s) free will cooperating with God’s grace? If so, what is the nature of that difference? I confess I don’t know.

    1. Margo,

      After reading a lot about predestination and justification in the last few days, probably about 5 hours or more from the links above, it seems to me that certain Protestants put way too much emphasis on it. Early Church writings( ..such as the Didache, and ‘Apostolic Constitutions’, reveals that most Christians had almost no interest in such theoretical concepts in the first few centuries of the Church, but rather the emphasis was on the practical side of living and practicing the Christian life; that is, how best to follow what Jesus Christ instructed us to do. And this is actually the main theme in the New Testament, and especially the Gospels. It seems to me that an over concern for predestination and justification might even harm or counter-act normal Christian faith and the practice of the Christian virtues in many ways. And this is because what Jesus mainly taught to us in HIs Gospel was things such as “pray always that you enter not into temptation”, “give and you shall receive”, “forgive and you will be forgiven”, “watch and pray”, “keep my word”, “love your neighbor”, “love God with all your heart”, “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”…and many other such statements that teach us to be active in living our faith life. This is not to say that theological thought, and even speculation on topics such as predestination isn’t of value, but at the same time it shouldn’t interrupt the actual charitable deeds and good living habits that Jesus commands us to practice on a daily basis. This seems to be the bulk (99%?)of the Gospel message, and what actually gets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the actual living, praying and practicing of the Christian faith, and not just the theoretical speculation on the mechanics of the faith, that makes us disciples of Christ. And the definition of disciple even connotes someone who is disciplined in his teachers’ admonitions and practices.

      I really don’t understand how Protestants can consider such doctrines concerning predestination to be so vital to the faith? I would think that living out the faith and actively loving and serving God is the primary focus of Christianity. I think, at least, certain saints such as St. Francis, St. John Bosco, St. Anthony Claret, St. Peter Julian Eymard, and others, would agree with me. But, that’s just my opinion.

      1. Al,
        I understand and agree with your basic point. Our intellectualizing may become a rationalizing or a puzzle which some seek to ‘solve’ rather than accept ‘in good faith.’ A narrow focus on intellectualizing may in fact lead away from the most important encounter of faith–fulfilling its promise by living for, in, and with the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord. Happy Advent to you and yours.

        1. Thanks, Margo.

          Sometimes it’s hard to enunciate complex theological points, and especially on a topic such as predestination, that is inherently mysterious and somewhat akin to discussing the details of the ‘big bang’ theory. And I think Catholics give it about the right attention, and relatively few saints and theologians in history tried to delve into it much, and mostly due to apologetic motives ( i.e.. St. Augustine and Pelagius), wherein it is a virtuous act to try to correct the obvious theological errors of others. So, in this case the in depth study of predestination can actually be a loving deed, so to say, and this is good. But, for any church to put it as a top theological priority and make it a pillar of one’s faith, as many Protestants do, seems bizarre to me. And the reason is, because the first and most important commandment we should diligently follow is, as Jesus teaches: “…thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength.” …and a preoccupation with psycho-analyzing Gods eternal motives regarding who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t seems to detract from the filial love and respect we are to always to have for ‘Our most loving Father who art in Heaven’.

          And, if predestination was indeed a pillar of the Christian faith, I wonder why in my attending Mass thousands of times, and listening to so many homilies and sermons, I can’t remember one time that the priest specifically spoke on the theme of predestination. Not even once. So, I think the Catholic Church is right in putting such theological subjects as ‘predestination’ in its own particular place, and on a ‘lower rung of the rack’ of theological topics to consider…and rather, giving more weight and focus on guiding it’s flock to the more important items of the Christian life, such as the continual practice of loving God, our eternal Father, with all of our hearts and minds; and loving, imitating and following His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to the extent of our abilities and on a daily basis. This is the thrust of Christ’s Gospel message, and I think the Catholic Church got the priorities right.

          Just some musings. And wishing you, also, a very holy Advent and Christmas Season.

          1. Just curious. Has any other reader here ever heard a sermon or homily at Mass by a priest or deacon on the details regarding predestination? And how many times in your years of attending Mass?

  7. St. Alphonsus on Suffient Grace and Prayer in God’s universal will in Christ to save all, in relation to man’s freedom.

    Reconciling the teachings of the Doctors of the Church as they approach these same Truths from different angles.

    Excerpts from The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection (though the entire should be read by those who can; some heading titles are supplied here — SH)

    See https://youtu.be/MDCbJ4vnMNg

    “GOD Wishes All Men to be Saved and has provided all graces in the life, death and resurrection of Christ

    “God loves all things that he has created: For Thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things that Thou hast made. 2441 Now love cannot be idle: “All love has a force of its own, and cannot be idle,”2442 says St. Augustine.

    Hence love necessarily implies benevolence, so that the person who loves cannot help doing good to the person beloved whenever there is an opportunity: “Love persuades a man to do those things which he believes to be good for him whom he loves,”2443 says Aristotle. If, then, God loves all men, he must in consequence will that all should obtain eternal salvation, which is the one and sovereign good of man, seeing that it is the one end for which he was created: You have your fruit unto sanctification; but your end eternal life. 2444

    This doctrine, that God wishes all men to be saved, and that Jesus Christ died for the salvation of all, is now a certain doctrine taught by the Catholic Church, as theologians in common teach, namely, Petavius, Gonet, Gotti, and others, besides Tourneley, who adds, that it is a doctrine of the faith. 2445 1

    DECISION OF THE CHURCH

    With reason, therefore, were the predestinarians condemned, who, among their errors, taught (as may be seen in Noris, Petavius, and more especially in Tourneley) that God does not will all men to be saved; as Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, testifies of them in his first letter, where he says, “The ancient predestinarians asserted that God does not will all men to be saved, but only those who are saved.”2446 These persons were condemned, first in the Council of Arles, a.d. 475, which pronounced “anathema to him that said that Christ did not die for all men, and that he does not will all to be saved.”2447

    They were next condemned in the Council of Lyons, a.d. 490, where Lucidus was forced to retract and confess, “I condemn the man who says that Christ did not suffer death for the salvation of all men.”2448 So also in the ninth century, Gotheschalcus, who renewed the same error, was condemned by the Council of Quercy, a.d. 853, in the third article of which it was decided “God wills all men, without exception, to be saved, although all men be not saved;”and in the fourth article:

    “There is no man for whom Christ did not suffer, although all men be not redeemed by the mystery of his Passion.”2449 The same error was finally condemned in the 12th and 13th Propositions of Quesnel. In the former it was said: “When God wills to save a soul, the will of God is undoubtedly effectual;”in the latter: “All whom God wills to save through Christ are infallibly saved.”2450

    These propositions were justly condemned, precisely because they meant that God does not will all men to be saved; since from the proposition that those whom God wills to be saved are infallibly saved, it logically follows that God does not will even all the faithful to be saved, let alone all men.

    This was also clearly expressed by the Council of Trent, in which it was said that Jesus Christ died, “that all might receive the adoption of sons,”and in chapter iii.: “But though he died for all, yet all do not receive the benefits of his death.”2451 The Council then takes for granted that the Redeemer died not only for the elect, but also for those who, through their own fault, do not receive the benefit of Redemption. Nor is it of any use to affirm that the Council only meant to say that Jesus Christ has given to the world a ransom sufficient to save all men; for in this sense we might say that he died also for the devils.

    Moreover, the Council of Trent intended here to reprove the errors of those innovators, who, not denying that the blood of Christ was sufficient to save all, yet asserted that in fact it was not shed and given for all; this is the error which the Council intended to condemn when it said that our Saviour died for all. Further, in chapter vi. it says that sinners are put in a fit state to receive justification by hope in God through the merits of Jesus Christ: “They are raised to hope, trusting that God will be merciful to them through Christ.”2452

    Now, if Jesus Christ had not applied to all the merits of his Passion, then, since no one (without a special revelation) could be certain of being among the number of those to whom the Redeemer had willed to apply the fruit of his merits, no sinner could entertain such hope, not having the certain and secure foundation which is necessary for hope; namely, that God wills all men to be saved, and will pardon all sinners prepared for it by the merits of Jesus Christ. And this, besides being the error formerly condemned in Baius, who said that Christ had only died for the elect, is also condemned in the fifth proposition of Jansenius: “It is Semi-Pelagianism to say that Christ died or shed his blood for all men.”2453 And Innocent X., in his Constitution of a.d. 1653, expressly declared that to say Christ died for the salvation of the elect only is an impious and heretical proposition.

    2. THE CELEBRATED TEXT OF ST. PAUL

    On the other hand, both the Scriptures and all the Fathers assure us that God sincerely and really wishes the salvation of all men and the conversion of all sinners, as long as they are in this world. For this we have, first of all, the express text of St. Paul: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2454 The sentence of the Apostle is absolute and indicative—God wills all men to be saved. These words in their natural sense declare that God truly wills all men to be saved; and it is a certain rule, received in common by all, that the words in Scripture are not to be distorted to an unnatural sense, except in the sole case when the literal meaning is repugnant to faith or morals.

    St. Bonaventure writes precisely to our purpose when he says, “We must hold that when the Apostle says, God wills all men to be saved, it is necessary to grant that he does will it.”2455 It is true that St. Augustine and St. Thomas mention different interpretations which have been given to this text; but both these Doctors understand it to mean a real will of God to save all, without exception.

    “I have no intention here of blaming the opinion that men are predestined to glory previously to the prevision of their merits; I only say that I cannot understand how those who think that God, without any regard to their merits, has elected some to eternal life, and excluded others, can therefore persuade themselves that he wills all to be saved; unless, indeed, they mean that this will of God is not true and sincere, but rather a hypothetical or metaphorical will.

    I cannot understand, I say, how it can be maintained that God wills all men to be saved, and to partake of his glory, when the greater part of them have been already excluded from this glory antecedently to any demerit on their part. Petavius says, in defence of his contrary opinion, What was the use of God’s giving to all men the desire of eternal happiness, when he had excluded the majority of them from it antecedently to any demerits of theirs?

    What was the use of Jesus Christ’s coming to save all men by his death, when so many poor creatures had been already deprived by God of all benefit therefrom? What was the use of giving them so many means of salvation, when they had been already excluded from the attainment of the end?

    Therefore, adds Petavius (and this is a most weighty reflection), if this ever was the case, we must say that God, who loves all things that he has created, yet in creating mankind did not love them all, but rather utterly detested the greater part of them, in excluding them from the glory for which he had created them. It is certain that the happiness of a creature consists in the attainment of the end for which it was created.

    On the other hand, it is certain that God creates all men for eternal life. If, therefore, God, having created some men for eternal life, had thereupon, without regard to their sins, excluded them from it, he would in creating them have utterly hated them without cause, and would have done them the greatest injury they could possibly suffer in excluding them from the attainment of their end, that is, of the glory for which they had been created—“For,” says Petavius in a passage which we abridge,

    “God cannot feel indifferent between love and hatred towards his creatures, especially towards men, whom he either loves to eternal life, or hates to damnation; but it is the greatest evil of man to be alienated from God and to be reprobate; wherefore, if God wills the everlasting destruction of any man’s soul, he does not love him, but hates him with the greatest hatred possible, in that kind which transcends the natural order.”2469

    And by this eternal ruin or “everlasting destruction,”he does not mean the positive damnation which God destines for certain individuals, but simply the exclusion from glory; since in fact, as Tertullian says, of what use would it ever be to us that God had not created us for hell, if in creating us he had separated us from the number of his elect? since the separation from the elect necessarily implies the loss of salvation, and therefore damnation; since there is no mean between them. “For what,”says Tertullian, “will be the end of the separated? Will it not be the loss of salvation?”2470

    Whence Petavius concludes

    —“Wherefore, if God loves every man with a love which is antecedent to their merits, he does not hate his soul, and therefore he does not desire the greatest evil to him.”2471 If, therefore, God loves all men, as is certain, we ought to hold that he wills all to be saved, and that he has never hated any one to such a degree, that he has willed to do him the greatest evils, by excluding him from glory previously to the prevision of his demerits.

    Unfathomable to the Human Intellect

    Unfathomable Divine Mystery of the Divine will and the Precise Aspects and Workings of Its Relation to Human Freedom Through Suffient Grace. Only in the Beatific Vision Will We See Its Full Splendor, Justice and Harmonies.

    Still,

    …this matter of predestination is so profound a mystery, that it made the Apostle exclaim: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!

    For who hath known the mind of the Lord? 2472 We ought to submit ourselves to the will of God, who has chosen to leave this mystery in obscurity to his Church, that we all might humble ourselves under the deep judgments of his divine Providence. And the more, because divine grace, by which alone men can gain eternal life, is dispensed more or less abundantly by God entirely gratuitously, and without any regard to our merits. So that to save ourselves it will always be necessary for us to throw ourselves into the arms of the divine mercy, in order that he may assist us with his grace to obtain salvation, trusting always in his infallible promises to hear and save the man who prays to him.

    Part II Which proves that the Grace of Prayer is given to all, and which treats of the Ordinary Mode in which this Grace operates

    Chapter II GOD COMMONLY GIVES TO ALL THE JUST THE GRACE NECESSARY FOR THE OBSERVANCE OF THE COMMANDMENTS, AND TO ALL SINNERS THE GRACE NECESSARY FOR CONVERSION

    I 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 St. 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.”2542

    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.”2543 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 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.”2544

    Otherwise, if God refused us both the proximate and remote grace to enable us to fulfil 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…

    Sufficient Grace

    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.”2601

    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.”2602 And so say the theologians who follow St. 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.”2603

    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 fulfil; but it is a positive rule of St. 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.”2604

    And this is agreeable to the teaching of the Apostle: But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be templed above that which you are able; but will also make with the temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it. 2605

    The word “issue”means the divine assistance, which God always gives to the tempted to enable them to resist, as St. Cyprian explains it: “He will make with the temptation a way of escape.”2606 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.”2607 St. Augustine and St. Thomas go so far as to say that God would be unjust and cruel if he obliged any one to a command which he could not keep. St. Augustine says,

    “It is the deepest injustice to reckon any one guilty of sin for not doing that which he could not do. 2608 And St. 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 fulfil; therefore we must by no means imagine this of God.”2609 “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,”2610 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.”2611 St. 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.”2612

    Elsewhere he says, “Finally, if no power is given them to abstain from their works, we cannot hold that they sin.”2613 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?”2614 Again, “No one, therefore, is answerable for what he has not received.”2615 Again, “No one is worthy of blame for not doing that which he cannot do.”2616

    Other Fathers have taught the same doctrine. So St. Jerome, “We are not forced by necessity to be either virtuous or vicious; for where there is necessity, there is neither condemnation nor crown.”2617 Tertullian: “For a law would not be given to him who had it not in his power to observe it duly.”2618 Marcus the Hermit:

    “Hidden grace assists us; but it depends on us to do or not to do good according to ourstrength.”2619 So also St. Irenæus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Chrysostom, and others. Nor is there any difficulty in what St. 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.”2620

    …[for] how can sin be imputed to a man who must sin in some way or another?

    Elsewhere, “All the misfortunes of unbelievers spring from too great an attachment to the things of life. This sickness of heart weakens and darkens the understanding, and leads to eternal ruin. If they would try to heal their hearts by purging them of their vices they would soon receive light, which would show them the necessity of joining the Catholic Church where alone is salvation” — http://www.olrl.org

    We also hold, as we said before , that efficacious grace is necessary for the observance of the commandments; but we say that for actual prayer, whereby we may obtain efficacious grace, the sufficient grace which God gives to all the faithful is enough . And thus we do no violence to the truth that God’s commandments are not impossible to any one; since every man, by means of the sufficient grace only, can perform such an easy thing as prayer; and by means of prayer he will obtain the assistance of gratuitous efficacious grace, which is necessary for the actual performance of difficult things—such as the observance of the commandments.

    Otherwise, if sufficient grace were not enough for actual prayer, and the addition of efficacious grace were always necessary, and if this were denied to any man—as, in fact, efficacious grace is denied to many—I cannot see how the commandments of God could be said to be possible to such a person, and how God could demand of him the observance of his law (at the time when he denies him even the efficacious grace to enable him actually to pray), and how with justice he could condemn him to hell for not observing

    …And hence we can easily understand the axiom universally received in the schools: “To him who does what in him lies, God does not refuse his grace.” 2746 That is, to the man who prays , and thus makes good use of the sufficient grace which enables him to do such an easy thing as prayer, God does not refuse the efficacious grace to enable him to execute difficult things.

    Habert, Bishop of Vabres and Doctor of the Sorbonne [says,] We think, further, that ‘sufficient grace’is a grace that disposes for efficacious grace, since from a good use of it God afterwards grants to the created will the grace that performs the complete effect.”2752 He had said before that “all Catholic Doctors, of all schools, have professed, and do profess, that a real inward grace is given, which is capable of persuading the will to consent to good, though, on account of the free resistance of the will, it sometimes does not persuade it thus to consent,”2753 and for this doctrine be quotes Gamaches, Duval, Isambert, Perez, Le Moyne, and others. Then he goes on: “The assistance, therefore, of sufficient grace disposes us for the reception of efficacious grace; and is in some sort efficacious, namely, of an incomplete effect, obtained first remotely, then more nearly, and at last proximately—such as is an act of faith, hope, love, and, mixed with these, one of prayer…

    Gaudenzio Bontempi in like manner demonstrated that sufficient grace obtains efficacious grace by means of prayer, which is given to all who will avail themselves of it…Dominic Soto asks, “Why of two persons whom God is most ready and desirous to convert, one is drawn by grace, and not the other?”And he answers: “No other reason can be given, except that one consents and co-operates, while the other does not co-operate.”2767

    So, to verify the proposition that it is in a man’s power to persevere, it is necessary to grant both that he can, without needing any further grace, obtain by prayer the assistance requisite for perseverance; and, also, that with only the sufficient grace common to all, without need of any special grace, he can actually pray, and by prayer obtain perseverance; otherwise it could not be said that every man had the grace necessary for perseverance, at least remotely or mediately, by means of prayer.”

    Again, it is strongly recommend that the entire treatise be read by those who can for an even fuller and more comprehensive appreciation of the Church’s teaching on Christ’s universal salvific will of God in Christ and its reconciliation with man’s liberty to either accept and pray for more light, or to reject and lose the possibility of efficacious graces unto salvation. — SH

    See:

    https://youtu.be/pjN67FGFvbI

    (Papal approval)

    St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church

    “No ecclesiastical writer has ever received more direct, positive and formal approbation than that accorded by the Holy See to the moral writings of this Doctor of the Church. While still alive, four Po(Papal approval)

    “No ecclesiastical writer has ever received more direct, positive and formal approbation than that accorded by the Holy See to the moral writings of this Doctor of the Church. While still alive, four Popes expressed their admiration of his prudent doctrine. (…)

    In 1831, Pope Gregory XVI enhanced this approbation when he decreed that professors of theology could safely teach **any opinion** of St. Alphonsus, and that confessors, without weighting reasons, could safely follow him – ***simply on the fact that St. Alphonsus said so***.

    Each of the thirteen predecessors of Pius XII in the chair of Peter has in some way or another recommended, approved or exalted the ‘Moral Theology’ of the Patron of confessors. In his Apostolic Brief of April 26, 1950, Pope Pius XII alludes to some of them. «By his learned writings, especially his ‘Moral Theology,’ he dissipated the darkness of error with which Jansenists and unbelievers have cloaked the world» (Pius IX). He was «the most illustrious and benign of moralists» (Leo XIII).

    «He illumined obscurity, made doubts plain and clear, and in the maze of over-strict and over-lax theological opinions, he hewed a path which directors of souls can tread in safety» (Pius IX).

    To this chorus of pontifical voices, Pope Pius XII felt, he said, constrained to add his own, declaring St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori the celestial Patron of both confessors and moral theologians. For, as the Cardinals and bishops of Spain and Austria declared in their petition for his Doctorate, «the Moral Theology of St. Alphonsus has given back to the Sacred Tribunal of Penance the mercy and the kindness of the Sacred Heart.» We priests therefore, when hearing confessions, will do well to imitate the example and practice the teachings of this great Patron of Confessors. In particular, we should avoid severity, impatience, unkindness, and haste. Let us give the people time enough to make their confession and say their act of contrition, and be kind to them; and let us never fail in that sympathy which should be the outstanding characteristic of an ‘alter Christus’.” (Source: Homoletic and Pastoral Review: New Patron of Confessors, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Vol. LI, No. 6, March 1951, Fr. Galvin J. J. C.SS.R., 1951, p. 511)
    (Pius IX)

    “During his exile in Naples, Pope Pius IX, in his veneration for St. Alphonsus, determined to make a pilgrimage to the Saint’s tomb. On 8 October, 1849 he celebrated Mass at the altar beneath which lie Alphonsus’ venerated remains; after which he knelt down and exchanged his pastoral ring for that which encircled the Saint’s finger.” (Source: Catholic, 2005, p. 10)
    pes expressed their admiration of his prudent doctrine. (…)

    In 1831, Pope Gregory XVI enhanced this approbation when he decreed that professors of theology could safely teach **any opinion** of St. Alphonsus, and that confessors, without weighting reasons, could safely follow him – ***simply on the fact that St. Alphonsus said so***.

    Each of the thirteen predecessors of Pius XII in the chair of Peter has in some way or another recommended, approved or exalted the ‘Moral Theology’ of the Patron of confessors. In his Apostolic Brief of April 26, 1950, Pope Pius XII alludes to some of them. «By his learned writings, especially his ‘Moral Theology,’ he dissipated the darkness of error with which Jansenists and unbelievers have cloaked the world» (Pius IX). He was «the most illustrious and benign of moralists» (Leo XIII).

    «He illumined obscurity, made doubts plain and clear, and in the maze of over-strict and over-lax theological opinions, he hewed a path which directors of souls can tread in safety» (Pius IX).

    To this chorus of pontifical voices, Pope Pius XII felt, he said, constrained to add his own, declaring St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori the celestial Patron of both confessors and moral theologians. For, as the Cardinals and bishops of Spain and Austria declared in their petition for his Doctorate, «the Moral Theology of St. Alphonsus has given back to the Sacred Tribunal of Penance the mercy and the kindness of the Sacred Heart.» We priests therefore, when hearing confessions, will do well to imitate the example and practice the teachings of this great Patron of Confessors. In particular, we should avoid severity, impatience, unkindness, and haste. Let us give the people time enough to make their confession and say their act of contrition, and be kind to them; and let us never fail in that sympathy which should be the outstanding characteristic of an ‘alter Christus’.” (Source: Homoletic and Pastoral Review: New Patron of Confessors, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Vol. LI, No. 6, March 1951, Fr. Galvin J. J. C.SS.R., 1951, p. 511)
    (Pius IX)

    “During his exile in Naples, Pope Pius IX, in his veneration for St. Alphonsus, determined to make a pilgrimage to the Saint’s tomb. On 8 October, 1849 he celebrated Mass at the altar beneath which lie Alphonsus’ venerated remains; after which he knelt down and exchanged his pastoral ring for that which encircled the Saint’s finger.” (Source: Catholic, 2005, p. 10)

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