One of the teachings of the Catholic Church is that grace perfects nature. God gives an individual gifts and talents, which are only perfected through and in His Life, which is grace. This grace is completely gratuitous. There is the nature that God perceives which is primordial and full of grace. God restored nature to grace in the Crucifixion. Nature did fall from grace but was restored.
However, nature was, is and will be in grace, including one’s own grace. Grace is transcendent by God’s design. Sanctifying grace transforms the soul. It is permanent unless on commits mortal sin. One loses both justification and sanctification when one commits mortal sin. One can deny this, or not believe, but this fact is objectively true.
So, when people read beyond their grace level, and even when they are not in sanctifying grace, they can be totally deceived. For those of you who have followed my old blog, you know I wrote about the different types of grace. You can re-visit those posts.
As a quick reminder, these graces are sufficient grace, prevenient grace, actual grace, efficacious grace, sanctifying grace, gratia inspirationis, or strengthening grace, and habitual grace. One can also refer to operative and cooperative grace, which come under actual grace, and subsequent grace, which includes efficacious and sufficient grace.
However, I want to concentrate on “illuminating grace”, the grace which informs the intellect, in this post.
This grace, gratia illuminationis, is a grace of the mind, when the truths of salvation come to a person, and when I state that the intellect is illumined, I mean that this grace is an operative grace and also a cooperative grace. The graph below from Garrigou-Lagrange may help.
Why I am writing about this with regards to not getting ahead of one’s true level of grace is that one can mar God’s work in the soul by not being realistic. For example, a person can be given a great grace and miss the opportunity because he or she is waiting for something which was read in a book.
Let us look at this graph.
One’s intellect is moved by grace for a particular end, as graces are specific, not amorphous, as in Protestant teaching. One may be reading St. Teresa of Avila and miss a particular grace from God about a personal sin, or personal relationship, not covered in her writings. Both the operation and the cooperation on one’s part may be totally overlooked.
One could be looking for a grace of the Illuminative State, which would be an infused state of understanding as much as possible on this earth, and as much as God wants a person to know, the knowledge of God, the workings of the virtues, and the constant awareness of the Indwelling of the Trinity. Because one read about this, one could be praying and expecting this grace, when in truth, the person would be in greater need of the grace of the illumination of the mind regarding conversion and purgation of the intellect. Therefore, when one is plunged into purgation, one is confused, thinking that one should be in a state of understanding, when all seems dark and obscure. What one was expecting through reading could have been more important to a person than the grace given, and now spurned.
Although a book by a saint, or even this lowly post, can help a person move to a different awareness of holiness, it is the grace given which allows that person to move, to have the operation within one’s soul and to cooperate. One must know and one must will movement towards God–cognitive and willing go together through strengthening grace.
Thus, a person discovers his wife has betrayed him, he can turn to God and ask for knowledge of God’s love and then forgive his spouse. Choosing to will the good of the other follows knowledge. But, if one is only looking at mystical writers, one will miss the daily turning towards God in the trials of life, thinking that these moments and movements are not graces, which, if true charity arises, these are.
Again, my example yesterday of people in a Teresa of Avila sharing group learning about the Mansions, but not looking at the grace being given to lead them out of contraception, false beliefs, the grace called sufficient. Sufficient grace gives one the power to repent, and efficacious grace leads to that repentance. If one is reading about the higher graces, one may miss responding to the grace at hand. If one does not cooperate with sufficient grace, one will not be given efficacious grace.
Can reading holy books lead to repentance? Of course, but reading beyond one’s grace level will not necessarily lead to repentance, as one is thinking one is holier than the basic level of conversion.
St. Thomas Aquinas really explains this clearly when discussing prevenient and subsequent grace.
Now there are five effects of grace in us: of these, the first is, to heal the soul; the second, to desire good; the third, to carry into effect the good proposed; the fourth, to persevere in good; the fifth, to reach glory. And hence grace, inasmuch as it causes the first effect in us, is called prevenient with respect to the second, and inasmuch as it causes the second, it is called subsequent with respect to the first effect. And as one effect is posterior to this effect, and prior to that, so may grace be called prevenient and subsequent on account of the same effect viewed relatively to divers others. And this is what Augustine says (De Natura et Gratia xxxi): “It is prevenient, inasmuch as it heals, and subsequent, inasmuch as, being healed, we are strengthened; it is prevenient, inasmuch as we are called, and subsequent, inasmuch as we are glorified.”
Sometimes, one must slow down and go back to the basics, learning how God works at the various and lowest levels of the spiritual life, before tackling the big questions of mystical Illumination and Union.
One cannot skip the steps towards saintliness.