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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grace, nature, and Ignatius

I don't really understand the concept of grace, so when I saw this article - The Ignatian Paradox by W. W. Meissner SJ MD - which mentioned it in connection with Ignatius of Loyola, I thought I'd post part of it. I've snipped a lot, so best to read the whole thing.


The Ignatian Paradox
The Way, 42/3 (July 2003), pp. 33-46
W. W. Meissner

MOST JESUITS AND MANY OTHERS who have experienced the Spiritual Exercises, whether as retreatants or as retreat-givers, have encountered the Ignatian paradox: the effectiveness of the Exercises depends both entirely on one’s personal effort and at the same time entirely on divine grace. The familiar Ignatian formula says ‘Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you’. More recently, it has been claimed that the authentic version of the saying is yet more provocative: ‘So trust God as if the success of things depended only on you, not at all on God. Yet so bend every effort as if you are about to do nothing, but God alone everything’.(1) However, even the more familiar version raises issues of interest to any student of Ignatian spirituality, and it is these that I shall explore here .........

We can see grace as enabling us to become more fully human and to live more ethically, morally, and spiritually in the love and service of God. (21) The paradox carries us back to the fundamental Thomistic principle: gratia perficit naturam. Grace does not replace or override the resources of human nature, but ‘perfects’ them. It works in and through natural human capacities, strengthening, facilitating, enabling them to do what is ultimately in the self’s best interest: to live a good spiritual life and to attain the love of God. Divine loving intervention through grace, therefore, does no violence to the human subject, but works its effects in and through the inherent powers of the soul.

While Aquinas speaks of grace as perfecting or completing human nature, the underlying assumption concerning the experience of grace is that grace and nature remain separate orders of existence. As Roger Haight, expounding Rahner’s theology of grace, explained the matter:

"Scholasticism assumed that what human beings experience in the world is simply nature. In the Scholastic view, grace and the operation of grace do not enter into consciousness. ‘Nature alone and its acts are the components of the life which we experience as our own.’ Grace and all that belongs to the supernatural realm are purely ‘ontic’ structures, components of being, and do not enter into natural human or psychological experience. The result is that nature and grace (the supernatural) are seen as two layers of reality that scarcely penetrate each other. Grace thus has no part in a person’s everyday experience of concrete living." (22)

Rahner developed this understanding of grace. He argued for what he called the ‘supernatural existential’, and for a corresponding obediential potential of human nature as regards grace. In Rahner’s view, grace is universally experienced, but not normally as grace ......

In fact, such a division or discrimination between the effects of grace and those of nature would seem to be alien to the Ignatian perspective and contraindicated by the Ignatian paradox. The question for Ignatius is not whether grace or nature is effective in the production of spiritual effects, but rather how such effects result from the combination of grace and nature. There is no way we can conclude that a specific action or course of action is entirely within human capacity without the influence of grace; nor, conversely, can we say that such an action is the effect of grace without human activity. What the paradox affirms—the synergism between grace and nature—is balanced by what it denies. And this denial can at times be even more challenging. If it is false and misleading to believe that we can achieve good works and win our way to virtue and salvation without the help of grace, it is equally false and misleading to think that grace and divine intervention will soothe our pains, solve our problems, ease our burdens, answer to our desires, resolve our conflicts and uncertainties, without a commensurate effort of desire, will and action on our part. On these terms, then, God, if you will, helps those who help themselves ......

Ignatius allowed little room for illusion—his God could not serve as any kind of opiate and basis for illusions of the betterment of the human condition. The vision called for the realisation of Christ’s kingdom in this world—and to this extent it carried with it elements of a vision of a more hopeful, even millennialist, future as embodied in the triumph of the kingdom of Christ. But the vehicle lies in the human response to divine initiatives, in devotion to the cause of Christ and self-immolating service—not in any transforming action of God exclusive of human participation and cooperation. The theme echoes the Ignatian paradox—we depend totally on God and his sustaining grace for any effectiveness or achievement, but we act as though the outcome was totally dependent on our own initiative and effort.


1) For a convenient and illuminating discussion of the historical issue, summarizing and developing insights of Gaston Fessard and Hugo Rahner, see J. P. M. Walsh ‘Work as if Everything Depends On—Who?’ The Way Supplement, 70 (Spring 1991), pp. 125-136.

21) In more traditional terms, such grace would have been categorized as actual and sanating grace. For an attempt to explain how Rahner transformed the standard post-Tridentine understandings of grace, see Philip Endean, Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 32-67.

22) Roger D. Haight, The Experience and Language of Grace (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), p. 126.



Blogger Fran said...

I need to come back and read this when I have more time, later today.

Crystal my friend - who truly understands grace? I know I don't!

I posit that it must be entered into more than understood, as with so many concepts that are completely counter-intuitive to our human brains.

Your blog is so thought provoking; it is a sign of your curiosity and your generosity. I like that - it is very Catholic and catholic, both big and little c.

Thank you.

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Great post - I will read the article later.

I agree with Fran – we use words to explain an experience that we already participate in because of Christ’s initiative.

One pet peeve – please don’t cite Wiki!!!! (BTW, the article has many inaccuracies – too many to get into right now.)

As an alternative I propose the “Modern Catholic Dictionary” by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. which is available on the web here:

Here’s the definition of Grace from Fr. Hardon’s dictionary”

GRACE. In biblical language the condescension or benevolence (Greek charis) shown by God toward the human race; it is also the unmerited gift proceeding from this benevolent disposition. Grace, therefore, is a totally gratuitous gift on which man has absolutely no claim. Where on occasion the Scriptures speak of grace as pleasing charm or thanks for favors received, this is a derived and not primary use of the term.

As the Church has come to explain the meaning of grace, it refers to something more than the gifts of nature, such as creation or the blessings of bodily health. Grace is the supernatural gift that God, of his free benevolence, bestows on rational creatures for their eternal salvation. The gifts of grace are essentially supernatural. They surpass the being, powers, and claims of created nature, namely sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and actual grace. They are the indispensable means necessary to reach the beatific vision. In a secondary sense, grace also includes such blessings as the miraculous gifts of prophecy or healing, or the preternatural gifts of freedom from concupiscence.

The essence of grace, properly so called, is its gratuity, since no creature has a right to the beatific vision, and its finality or purpose is to lead one to eternal life. (Etym. Latin “gratia”, favor; a gift freely given.)


10:39 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


BTW, how does one post a link in this comment box? I can't seem to do it?



10:50 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thank you, you're always so kind. I don't hink I'm generous but I am curious :)

1:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the definition and the link.

Actually I really like Wikipedia because despite its sometime inaccuracies, it's somewhat more objective than private sites. A blog post by Duke NT professor Mark Goodacre - In Defense of Wikipedia.

At the bottom of this post's page, under the comments already posted, you should see the words (hot) ...

" Post a Comment
Links to this post:
Create a Link "

And if you click on "create a link" a new box will pop up.

If you can't see that, like you were not able to see the little trash can, then it might be that your browser can's see it and you could just flail about with you cursor until you jit something hot, or you could try a different browser.

1:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, dopey me - I misunderstood you.

The way to make a hot link in the com box is the same way you make one elsewhere. You write this, but use the < and > instead of me using here ( and ) ....

(a href = "http://whatever")the part you want to show up(/a)

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Thanks - let me try it now:


2:15 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hmm... let me try again:

text that turns into the link

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Ahh - I guess I'm being dopey now:
Fr. Hardon Catholic Dictionary

2:22 PM  
Blogger Fran said...

Oh Crystal, don't be so sure of that. I find that you are both!

4:29 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

Brief drive-by comment on this post: very cool.

9:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam :)

9:13 PM  

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