Is "There, but for the grace of God, go I" good Catholic theology?


#1

Awhile back I listened to the entirety of Fr. Corapi’s “The Teaching of Jesus Christ” series (which was great). But during the series, Father numerous times repeated the statement, to the effect of, when I am tempted to judge others for the sin they have committed, I can remember to say to myself “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

I thought it was a really good saying at the time. But recently it came to mind again and I wanted to look up where the statement came from and found that it is attributed to a heretic from the Protestant revolt. So now I am wondering if it is actually good Catholic theology.

Perhaps I am interpreting the statement wrong. But my question is this: is it by the grace of God that some people are more likely to fall into one sin than another? That is, does God preserve some people from a tendency to commit certain sins but not others? Obviously He preserved our blessed mother from all tendency to commit sin. And it seems from human observation that some people are more likely to commit some sins than others (predominant faults, etc.) but what can I grasp in official Church teaching that actually talks about God’s grace giving some people and not others a tendency to not commit certain sins?

I hope that makes sense. Thanks for any input.


#2

It’s fine.

Just don’t try to parse it (or any other aphorism) too closely.

We can do no good work apart from Christ. (We can be “nice” but not “good.”)


#3

Hiyas:)

I see it also as a way to consider our Blessings not just sin.
Example: Some boy pushes me out of the way to get on the ice first…the ice breaks and the boy gets back to shore but wet…There but by the grace of God,go I.


#4

My mom would often say this phrase when I was growing up and I would complain about someone at school doing something to me or saying something mean or just generally getting under my skin and she'd explain that not everyone has the benefit to be raised in a household where they learn manners, tact, etc. My family is Protestant but I don't know if my mom knows where the phrase actually came from. So, like the poster above me, I think of it more in terms of the blessings I have that not everyone does and not to judge.


#5

It is rock solid Catholic teaching. If you don’t believe me, read the Catechism:

“With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. …” (CCC 301, emphasis mine)

The Catechism quotes from Wisdom chapter 11 as a supporting reference. Here’s the passage from Wisdom, from my RSV:

“For you love all things that exist,
and you loathe none of the things which you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord who love the living.” (Wis. 11:24-26 RSV, emphasis mine)

(As an aside, I find it funny that the ultimate source for this saying is one of the Deuterocanonicals, and yet the saying itself is attributed to a “heretical Protestant,” someone who likely rejects the Canonicity of said Deuterocanonicals.)

In short, every breath I take is a gift from Almighty God. I am ultimately dependent wholly on His Mercy for my continued existence.


#6

For some unsettling reason, I can't find a source online...But I have always been taught that St. Philip Neri is the person who originated this quote, as he watched someone being led to their execution.

Am I the only one who thought it was St. Philip Neri?! :confused:


#7

[quote="brittrossiter, post:5, topic:179674"]
It is rock solid Catholic teaching. If you don't believe me, read the Catechism:

"With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. ..." (CCC 301, emphasis mine)

The Catechism quotes from Wisdom chapter 11 as a supporting reference. Here's the passage from Wisdom, from my RSV:

"For you love all things that exist,
and you loathe none of the things which you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord who love the living." (Wis. 11:24-26 RSV, emphasis mine)

(As an aside, I find it funny that the ultimate source for this saying is one of the Deuterocanonicals, and yet the saying itself is attributed to a "heretical Protestant," someone who likely rejects the Canonicity of said Deuterocanonicals.)

In short, every breath I take is a gift from Almighty God. I am ultimately dependent wholly on His Mercy for my continued existence.

[/quote]

I agree with what you wrote, but I'm not certain that the point I am getting at is properly addressed. Maybe I can clarify.

God gives us grace. He gives us actual grace to repent and turn to him, or to do some other good thing. We are sanctified by sanctifying grace, that is, made holy. But what part does grace have in keeping us from committing sin? Is it grace that helps one person not murder while another one does? Did I receive special "grace" that makes it easier for me to not steal things than others? In summation, and disregarding even "grace" as the means, does God make some people less likely to commit certain sins than other people? Or is out likelihood to commit sin a result of things that did or did not happen to us in our life? I guess the question is: resistance to commit certain sins: is it intrinsic to our soul (directly imputed by God) or extrinsic (caused by events that God allowed to happen to us)? The example I keep thinking of is our lady, who was "full of grace" and thus had not the tendency to commit any sin.

Maybe virtue comes into the picture. Do some people have "imputed" virtue from God? Or is all virtue a result of practice?

Maybe I just made things muddier.

Thanks again for your input. Catechism, Bible verses, Church doctor quotes always appreciated.


#8

God’s grace strengthens us, both practically and spiritually. You have to participate though by being open to God’s will and accepting the grace. We’re certainly capable of “rejecting” the graces that God sends our way…

Maybe virtue comes into the picture. Do some people have “imputed” virtue from God? Or is all virtue a result of practice?

Maybe I just made things muddier.

Thanks again for your input. Catechism, Bible verses, Church doctor quotes always appreciated.

No, virtue isn’t *imputed *. You’re correct that we develop virtue with practice and…with God’s grace. You can reject what God’s giving you or you can accept it and let it help you to be better. Make sense?

So…any takers on the St. Philip Neri question? :smiley:


#9

I heard one of my teachers condemning such a statement years ago, and wondered over the years what he disliked about someone saying this. I decided finally that he was condemning the pride that makes some people think that they are spiritually superior. But, personally, I also thought that it can come out of humility, to think that without God's help we will fall, and that by ourselves we cannot be saved or even live a good life.


#10

I take it as an acknowledgement that ALL goodness has its source in God. Whatever goodness there is in me came from him. We have to remember that lest we be tempted to be proud of how good we are compared to another.

Why did that other guy choose to sin? I dunno, and it isn't for me to judge. If not for the Grace of God I'd be doing far worse. I think that is all it is saying.

It's important not to dwell too much on free will when it comes to others. It's hard enough to figure ourselves out!


#11

I think that is a good point… that the whole point of saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is not to compare my holiness with another human being (because that would be pride…) but rather in all humility to acknowledge that apart from God I can do nothing good

In Christ,
Zachary


#12

Yes, it is Catholic teaching. You can find the same thought in The Imitation of Christ.


#13

abenassi,

I know where you are coming from. I have also had difficulties with this saying. Because it sounds great from the perspective of giving God the credit for whatever sins we have avoided, that is true and a good thing to do.

But when it comes down to it, what are you are saying about the other person? It sounds as if one is saying that God did not give them sufficient grace to avoid whatever sin, which we know isn’t true, because God gives sufficient grace to everybody. In saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” – it is as if only with a lack of grace, could someone commit “such and such” sin.

I don’t like what that seems to imply. It seems to me that it would be more accurately expressed, “There but for the accepting of God’s grace go I”— but then, it would be self righteous.

Therefore, probably just better to say nothing, and go pray. :wink:


#14

It is fine. It is actually an antidote to spiritual pride, in that it would normally be in the context of someone finding out that another has done something wrong, and rather than look down on that person with an “I’m holier than that person” attitude, this thought helps us to realize that we are just as capable of sinning similarly, and that it is entirely possible that we may commit the same fault.


#15

well its better than 'whats for ye ‘ll not go by ye’ that we get here in Scotland :smiley:


#16

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