A simple yet difficult question: What is Grace?

This may seem like a simple or silly question. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and I know that Grace is a share in the life of God. The Catechism also states that is God’s favor. But, what is it? What is a share in God’s life? What is it like? What is it capable of? What is it made of? I do not mean to ask these questions as if I’m discussing a physical substance, for God is pure Spirit (other than Christ) and we can never fully comprehend God. It might not be possible to know the answer to this question on this side of heaven. We might not know in heaven, but I find this to be an essential question to ask. What is the share of God’s life that we all wish to receive?

Grace is a supernatural gift. Internal actual grace is an illumination of the mind or an inspiration of the will. Sanctifying grace includes also the Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In particular there are two important dogmas associated with grace (wording of Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma):

  • There is a supernatural intervention of God in the faculties of the soul, which precedes the free act of the will.
  • There is a supernatural influence of God in the faculties of the soul which coincides in time with man’s free act of will.
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Grace is God’s favor and mercy, freely given, not earned.

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The old online Catholic Encyclopedia has four separate articles on Grace:

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When we receive GOD’s Grace HE shares with us some kind of gift Catholics speak of the Gifts of the Spirit. The 7 virtues.
Whether HE pours an overabundance or a little it does not matter we are given one or more of the virtues.
It is hoped that we USE these gifts and produce fruits which in turn can increase the virtue in us.
But GOD can also give us specific charisms or talents, which we should use for HIS glory.
So in general any gift that we perceive we have received from GOD we can describe as “Grace”


Thank you for your responses. I apologize, I think I worded my question poorly. Grace is a share in God’s life, it is an illumination of the mind, and the gifts from God. But what is God’s life? I know we call it Grace but what is it? I apologize if this question doesn’t make sense, I’m not sure how else to word it.

Grace is a mystery. When we speak of grace, we can only speak about it.

The economy of salvation, God willing and working for my salvation, is God’s work, God’s free gift, and God’s grace in me. Grace is the power of God in me that enables me to express his goodness. My response to this grace within me is a free response. I can choose to negate the effect of grace, and this is sin.

Christ teaches me that salvation is primarily a transformation of my attitude, a change of heart. My attitude drives my affections, and my affections drive my behaviors.

If I, through grace, can transform my attitude to be Christ-like, then my affections and behaviors will also be Christ-like. My transformation begins by denying the voice within that calls me to self-centeredness, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness" (Mark 7 20:22).

Grace is God’s self-communication [the “supernatural existential”], a fundamental dimension of being human, affecting all people at all times. If we deny grace, the impetus to be and do good, then we sin. The source of sin, like grace, is a mystery. When presented with a moral decision, a decision that has good or bad outcomes, how free are we to choose? There are three possibilities and three theologies. In the presence of a decision to do good or evil, humans are 1) free to choose, neither being influenced by grace or evil (Pelagius), 2) not free, but propelled to evil (Augustine), and 3) not free, but overpowered by grace (Rahner).

St. Augustine’s response to Pelagius’ doctrine that humans freely choose evil, is that human beings do not ever enjoy a condition of pure indifference in the exercise of freedom. Rather the corruption of human nature by sin entails a predisposition to evil, a bias toward it, which precedes and forms choice.

Karl Rahner argues that the indwelling grace inherent in our nature is the stronger force. For Rahner, original sin is a reality, but it is never equal to the lure of transcendence. Original grace is more powerful than original sin. The theologies contradict.

A sinful act, according to Rahner, is all the more culpable because we are not completely free to sin, but must, in the first moment, overcome the overpowering “supernatural existential” impelling us to do good. Having rejected natural grace, we are now at Pelagius’s free-to-choose location, and then, in the second moment, we choose to sin. Rahner would have us struggle to sin, whereas Augustine has us struggle to be good. Pelagius says it is an even bet.

The Church agrees with Augustine.

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Thank you for the response! This definitely helped with my question!

Simply put, I consider it to be the power, might, love, forgiveness etc of God

There are two kinds of supernatural graces, namely, sanctifying grace and actual grace. I believe here you are referring to sanctifying grace which as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is “an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love.” Actual graces are transient. The habitual gift of sanctifying grace makes us partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Sanctifying grace is some supernatural created likeness to the divine nature which God super-adds to the natural being of our soul. Using scholastic philosophy and metaphysics and Aristotle’s ten categories of being, sanctifying grace is a ‘form’ in the third category of ‘quality’ which are accidental forms. Forms are immaterial and are distinguished from matter. So, sanctifying grace is an immaterial creation from God (an accidental form) which he super-adds to the natural being of the immaterial/spiritual soul. Sanctifying grace is not material in nature but formal or immaterial. Such are also the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These are also created formal/immaterial gifts that God bestows upon our souls. Virtues are habits and are also placed among Aristotle’s ten categories of being in the category or genus of ‘quality’ which is an accidental form.

The share in God’s life that we all wish to share is essentially beatitude, happiness, complete fulfillment of which God is the infinite source. The happiness that results from the beatific vision comes essentially from the perfect operation or end of our soul’s highest powers, namely, the intellect and will. Through our intellect, we will know or ‘see’ Truth itself and by our will we will love the Good itself and thus participate after a manner in God’s own life which involves the operations of his intellect and will, or understanding and knowledge/truth of his own being and love of that truth, his own being and goodness.

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God already sustains us physically:
For in Him we live and move and have our being.“ Acts 17:28

But in our spiritual and moral life He allows us to be apart from Him even as this separation is abnormal, disordered-and lethal. It’s the state that Adam chose, however, and the state we’re born into now, not even knowing God as we come to enter this non-Edenic world. We’re here to learn that:
Apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

To be with God is to live a life of grace, to know Him even if only partially in this life (cf 1 Cor 13:12). It’s to walk with Him, to experience His presence in or behind our decisions, our insights, our chastisements, our faith and hope, our love for Himself and others. It may involve subtle stirrings, or knock-your-socks-off profound movements of His involving mystical experiences: epiphanies, locutions, visions, etc. It’s His hand, His love, expressing itself in and through us as we, hopefully, allow His will to be done in our lives. It’s much more than His favor and mercy; it’s Him, our life-blood, living and moving and having it’s being within us, in our spiritual world as He already necessarily does in our physical world without our consent or participation or even perception and knowledge in that case.

Throughout this life on earth, however, there will be obstacles and challenges to a full, continuous, participation in this divine life, including our own pride that opposes Him by its nature. It’s a good and worthy struggle and journey, however, with the goal to move ever nearer to Him. Grace is communion with God in some form or another, at His discretion and by His action, whether experienced in an ongoing manner or as individual occurrences that have specific purposes. It’s also called a quality, issuing from God’s love, given to the soul. And that probably didn’t answer your question.

That deserves a prize for succinct accuracy.

A bit too succinct to be accurate IMO, missing out on a large part of the whole enchilada.

Grace is also an inspiration of the will. The life of God is identical with his nature.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

460 The Word became flesh to make us " partakers of the divine nature ":78 "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God."79 "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."80 "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."81

78 2 Pt 1:4.
79 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
80 St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
81 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc . 57, 1-4.

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