Wikipedia Errors on Sanctifying Grace
A series of articles on Wikipedia errors on Catholicism
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.

[Wikipedia Errors:   Papal Infallibility | Immaculate Conception | Original Sin | Venial Sin | Mortal Sin | Sanctifying Grace | Roman Catholic Dogma]

Sanctifying Grace
(July 2, 2009)

The topic of sanctifying grace pertains directly to salvation. Whoever dies in a state of sanctifying grace is saved and has eternal life in Heaven. Whoever dies without sanctifying grace is lost and has eternal death in Hell. Yet this is one of the most poorly written articles on Catholicism. The article itself even acknowledges that it is poorly written.

"This article or section has multiple issues. Please help improve the article or discuss these issues on the talk page.

"* It needs additional references or sources for verification. Tagged since January 2009.
"* Its neutrality is disputed. Tagged since January 2009.
"* Its neutrality or factuality may be compromised by weasel words. Tagged since January 2009."

Should you really seek knowledge about Catholic teaching from an article that begins by admitting that it is inadequate to the task?
Instead, you should consult these sources:
The Catholic Encyclopedia on Grace:
and on Justification:
The Summa Theologica on Grace:

Most of this Wikipedia article consists of paragraph after paragraph of a colloquial explanation of grace, with numerous differing and sometimes contradictory points of view on the topic merged into one article. The article is long and much of it does not focus on Catholic doctrine, so this review will ignore the many errors in sections not specifically on the Catholic view.

Only the section called "Grace in Catholicism" and the appropriate portions from "Shared Concepts in Grace" are reviewed below.

From the section called "Shared concepts of grace":

Wikipedia: "Catholics maintain that mankind is born in a state of sin. This is a consequence of original sin; a sinful nature is inherited; explained as a result of the fall of man through the first sins of Adam and Eve in Eden. Some who reject the story from Genesis as history still agree that humans are born in sin, but the meaning and connotation of this phrase varies widely. The original state of grace enjoyed by the once-good people God created has been lost, for them and for their descendants. The West characterizes this situation by saying men are born having forfeited any claim to salvation…."

This paragraph is highly inaccurate. Mankind is conceived without sanctifying grace, with a fallen human nature; only in a limited sense can this be termed a state of sin, since the person has not yet committed any personal sin. Human nature is not properly called sinful; the human nature that is inherited is still essentially good, created by God who never creates evil or sin. Again, it is not accurate to say that humans are born in sin, at least not without some specific explanation (which is here lacking). The expression "the meaning and connotation of this phrase varies widely" has the effect of nullifying the preceding assertion of the Wikipedia article. Also, the people created by God are not "once-good" or formerly good; human nature remains good, and the natural law remains inherent in that good nature, allowing reason to understand good from evil. The term "The West" apparently refers to the Catholic Church, as if the editor were ignorant that the Church has an Eastern Rite, which includes several Eastern Churches. The Church does not 'characterize a situation', but rather She teaches true doctrine. Neither is it correct to say that men are born having forfeited any claim to salvation. As so often happens in these articles, some editor attempted to explain a doctrine entirely in colloquial language.

From the section called "Grace in Catholicism":

Wikipedia: "Grace is not just God's loving kindness, favor or mercy, but God's divine life itself, which enables the work of Christ to flow through us."

This sentence is not theologically coherent. Like so many sentences and paragraphs in Wikipedia on Catholicism, the sentence seems to have been written and re-written by several different persons, each of whom had a substantially different understanding of the concept being described.

Catholic theology does not define grace as God's mercy or His loving kindness; love, mercy, and grace are distinct but related concepts. Grace is a result of the mercy and love of God, not the mercy or love of God per se.

Although grace is correctly described as a type of participation in the Divine Nature of God, the claim that grace is "God's divine life itself" is a substantial distortion of correct doctrine. The term "God's divine life itself," in the Catholic view, would refer to the very Nature of God. But grace is an effect in the souls of human persons (and in the spirits of Angels); grace is neither a created thing which can exist on its own, nor is it the uncreated Divine Nature. St. Thomas asks "Whether grace is a quality of the soul?" and he answers in the affirmative: "thus the gift of grace is a quality." (Summa, I-II, Q. 110, A. 2). Now as the Council of Trent taught (see quote below), some graces are merited; but it would be absurd to claim that we can merit God's Nature itself.

The phrase "enables the work of Christ to flow through us" is theological nonsense. It is a sentence that combines a series of common theological phrases, but in a way that is theologically incoherent.

Wikipedia: "Justification is by grace alone, through faith working in love."

Again, this sentence is an amalgam of various phrases used in theology, but put together in an incoherent manner. If justification is obtained through faith and love, then it is not by grace alone; so the sentence contradicts itself.

Also, the Council of Trent taught that the Sacraments are necessary for justification:

On The Sacraments In General, Canon IV. "If any one says that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; -- though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema."

Wikipedia: "The essence of grace is that it is a freely offered gift, normatively given through the sacraments, particularly baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and reconciliation[citation needed]."

Grace is sometimes merited (see below), and so it is not always a free gift. Even when grace is a free gift, this aspect does not describe the very essence of grace, but only one point about that grace. The Council of Trent taught that the Sacraments are necessary for the grace of justification, and so the use of the term 'normatively' here is contrary to Catholic teaching. Also, all the Sacraments provide grace to the recipient, not only Baptism, Eucharist, and Confession. [A citation cannot be found for this sentence from Wikipedia because it is not a correct expression of Catholic teaching.]

Wikipedia: "Man does not earn or deserve or merit grace and as such, cannot claim it as a right."

This heretical claim, that grace is never merited, contradicts the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent:

Decree on Justification, Canon XXXII: "If any one says that the good works of one who is justified are in such a manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him who is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life, -- if so be it, however, that he departs in grace, -- and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema."

Material heresy is not uncommon in Wikipedia articles on Catholicism. But more often, the paragraphs are better categorized as theological non-sense, rather than heresy. Notice also that this article on grace appears to be written by either Protestants who reject the teaching of the Council of Trent, or by Catholics who are ignorant of that teaching; it is almost as if the editors were trying to refute what that Council taught.

Wikipedia: "Sanctifying grace is the divine life that infuses our soul at justification (normatively at baptism) and, through the spirit of adoption, transforms the sinner into a holy child of God. As such we participate in the Divine Childship of Jesus Christ. With this divine childship comes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (who is the divine personification of the bond of love between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ). Sanctifying grace is a permanent part of the soul as long as one does not reject one's adopted childship by committing a mortal sin, which severs one's bond to the Father. However, God is infinitely merciful, and sanctifying grace can always be restored to the penitent heart, normatively in the sacrament of reconciliation."

There are numerous problems with the above paragraph. Perhaps the main problem is that numerous theological words and phrases are used without being defined, and are combined in a way that is inaccurate or even nonsensical. It seems as if one or more editors were using phrases without really understanding what those words mean. The phrase 'divine childship' is used; it is not so much that this phrase is wrong, but that the way that it is used is without understanding. There is no clear and concise definition, for numerous terms, in this article, including 'spirit of adoption,' and 'indwelling,' and 'justification,' and 'normatively.'

It is not correct to say, about the Sacraments of the Catholic Faith, that these are merely normative. It is not correct to describe the Holy Spirit as "the divine personification of the bond of love" between Father and Son. It is not accurate to say that sanctifying grace is permanent, and then to describe how it can be lost and regained. Sanctifying grace is habitual grace; sanctifying grace is a continuation in a state of grace. But sanctifying grace does not become permanent until the Beatific Vision of God is attained in Heaven. The article fails to distinguish between actual mortal sin and objective mortal sin. The article states only that the bond to the Father is cut by mortal sin, as if the bond to the Son and Spirit were not affected. It is not sufficient for the restoration of sanctifying grace after actual mortal sin for the heart to be penitent; other conditions are required.

The article never really defines justification, and different parts of the article, apparently written by different persons, use the word in different ways. The rest of the article is also poorly written, with numerous inaccuracies and errors. The article correctly compares and contrasts sanctifying grace with actual grace. But actual grace is not properly defined, and the Wikipedia article on actual grace is only two sentences (as of July 3, 2009), paraphrased without any understanding from a Catholic Encyclopedia article.

Correct Teaching on Sanctifying Grace:

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Sanctifying grace 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. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification." (CCC, n. 2000).

Sanctifying grace is also called justifying grace; sanctifying grace is the grace of justification. The term justification refers either to the process of obtaining sanctifying grace, or to the continuation in the state of sanctifying grace. The terms sanctifying grace and habitual grace are synonymous. Sanctifying grace is a habitual, i.e. a continual, state of being. Actual grace is the assistance of God to do good; this assistance occurs before, during and after every good act. A justified soul is good in the eyes of God. For those sinners who were conceived with original sin, justification entirely removes the effects of original sin in body and soul, and the corporate guilty of original sin, leaving only concupiscence (a tendency toward sin).

The soul that possesses sanctifying grace is justified; justification occurs when the soul receives sanctifying grace. Justification means that the soul is good in the eyes of God, due to the continued effect on the soul of the Divine Nature of God, which is called the presence or indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and is also called a type of participation in the Divine Nature. The Spirit is present in the sense that He acts continually in the justified soul, but He is not contained within the soul.

When sanctifying grace is received, the soul is infused with the three theological virtues: love, faith, hope. Sanctifying grace makes us the adopted children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are called 'adopted' because Jesus is the Son of God in the Divine Nature by eternal procession from the Father, and we are not children in that much greater sense. Sanctifying grace allows us to participate in the Divine Nature, in the sense that we have grace, an effect in the soul that is directly caused by the Divine Nature

But both actual grace and sanctifying grace are a quality of the soul (St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 110, A. 2.) This quality enables the soul to do good (actual grace) and to be good (sanctifying grace), because grace is the direct effect on the soul of the Divine Nature. The principle cause of grace (both kinds) is the Holy Spirit (Summa, I-II, Q. 112, A. 1).

The Virgin Mary received sanctifying grace at her Immaculate Conception; she was preserved from the effects of original sin in body and in soul. The effect of original sin on the soul is the lack of sanctifying grace. Jesus received sanctifying grace in his soul when his soul was created, which was the same moment as the creation of his body, and the same moment as His Incarnation (when his Divine Nature was joined to His human nature).

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