Sanctifying Grace

Reading Zaehner on nature mysticism. References to Sanctifying Grace leave me feeling uncomfortable. What is sanctifying grace? I believe it to be the relationship between God and the person. What is the difference between the relationship of God to the person in Sanctifying Grace and his relationship to the person who has no SG? We need a definition of person and soul. God is the ground of being and therefore relates to each being in an ontological sense. This relationship is not normally perceptible.

As Person and Subject, God relates to persons in a personal way. This, likewise, is not normally perceptible. Is this relationship what is meant by SG? Are the various kinds of mystical experience perceptions of this relationship?

What does it mean not to be in a state of Grace? Does being in a state of Grace mean openness to Being? This entails living authentically and relating to others with openness and love. If so, there are no, conscious at least, obstacles to the development of the relationship between being and Being.

Does not being in the sate of grace mean being egotistical and selfish, closed to Being, seeing others either as threats to one’s ego, or as opportunities to be used, manipulated, exploited or possessed? In which case there is no understanding of the unity and interdependence of being, nor of the dependence of being on Being. Individuals are seen as unitary and fragile, competing for existence in an, if not hostile, at least an indifferent universe. Such people cannot develop as persons because their basic orientation is closed and inward looking. They are not able to take the risk of opening themselves in love to achieve transcendence and, ultimately, what Christians call salvation. Not unless something jolts them out of their blindness.

My unhappiness with the term sanctifying grace is that it reifies and makes almost a commodity of what is, essentially, a relationship. Not to be in SG is to refuse to recognise and respond to Being. Traditional Catholic theology would limit this relationship (SG) to the sacraments. Individuals come into existence (are born) and have, of necessity an ontological relationship with God. The personal relationship, if that is what SG is, only comes into existence at Baptism. This relationship is then deepened and developed only through repeated reception of the sacraments.

It seems to me improbable in the extreme, given the nature of God and the nature of the human person, that the personal relationship between them should be conditioned by and limited to the rituals of an institution which has only been in existence for a fraction of human history and has never touched more than a fraction of people. Theologians talk about SG as a unique gift which derives from God alone. It is not something naturally human. St. John, on the other hand is quite clear that to love (he makes no qualifications) is to know God, ‘for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.’ (1John 4:7)

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