The Splendors of Grace

Author: Mattias Joseph Scheeben


by Matthias Joseph Scheeben

UP TO now we have sought to explain the marvelous and mysterious union with God which grace works in us by comparing it to the different relations which unite men to one another; however, we have found that this union is incomparably more intimate and more perfect than any such relations. We would be concealing the greatest and most consoling mystery of all if we did not add that grace does not merely effect a union similar to though superior to human relationships, but that it makes us one with God by the most perfect unity, that it merges us in Him so to speak, uniting us with Him in a single whole, in one body and in one spirit.

The relations existing between a father and his child, between a man and his wife, are only bonds of kinship and of mutual alliance; they do not effect a real, permanent and perfect union of body. Similarly, the relation existing between friends forms but an imperfect bond of reciprocal sympathy, not an actual union of spirits. It is in fact impossible for the union of two human beings to be more intimate than those just mentioned; for since they are finite and limited creatures, they cannot mutually compenetrate each other. God, on the contrary, in His infinite simplicity and perfection can unite Himself to the angels and to men as does fire to the object which it penetrates with its heat and light, as does the soul to the body which it vivifies. Remaining distinct from God, the creature is made one with Him in some such manner as body and soul, members and head are one in us.

That is the true and full import of the words of the Apostle: "But he who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with him" (1 Cor. 6:17). He is one spirit, not only by unity of affection and sentiment, but by a unity of being and life. It is of this unity that the Son of God spoke when, after the Last Supper, He said to His Father: "And the glory that thou hast given me, I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them and thou in me; that they may be perfected in unity" (John 17:22f.). For this oneness He had prayed shortly before: "Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who through their word are to believe in me, that all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20f.)

The ineffable union of nature and of being which exists between God the Father and God the Son is, according to Christ's constant and formal teaching, the true exemplar and the source of our union with God. The Son, however, is not merely related to and similar to the Father; He is one with Him as the branch is one with the tree, as the ray with the light, as the stream with its source. We too, therefore, are called to be one with God, if not as perfectly as the Son, at least in a manner similar to Him. We are to be one with Him not only by kinship and resemblance, but by a union so intimate that we form as it were one being with Him.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, attempting to explain this, says that God has granted us, in imitation of the union which exists in the Blessed Trinity, a twofold true and real unity with Himself, each of which presupposes and represents the other: namely, union of spirit with the Son of God in His divine nature, and union of body with the same Son of God in His human nature. In His human nature the Son of God makes us, not only by affection and sentiment, but in reality, into a single mysterious body with Him of which He is the head; similarly, He wishes to make our soul one spirit with His divinity.

Let us first consider our union with the holy humanity of Christ and hear what St. John Chrysostom says of it:

"For we though many, are one bread, one body," says the Apostle (1 Cor. 10:17). Why then do we still speak of participation and community? We are the very body of Christ Himself. For what is the bread upon the altar? The body of Christ. And what do they become who receive it? The body of Christ. Not many bodies, but one body. As bread is composed of numerous grains of wheat, which, though they continue to exist, no longer appear as separate grains and are indistinguishable in their common Unity, so are we united to one another and to Christ. For you are not nourished by one body, and your neighbor by another, but all of you are nourished by the Same. That is why the Apostle adds: "We are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread."

St. Cyril explains his thought in the following manner:

Who will tell us the power and the significance of this mysterious sacrament? Why is it given to us? Is it not that it may make Christ live in us corporeally, by our eating of and our communion with His sacred body? For St. Paul writes "that the Gentiles are joint heirs, and fellow members of the same body, and joint- partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" (Eph. 3:6). But how are they incorporated in Him? Having been favored with the possession of this sacrament, they have become one body with Him, like each of the Apostles. For what other reason, else, did Paul call his members, or rather those of all Christians, members of Christ? "Know you not that your members are the members of Christ? Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?" And our Savior Himself has said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abideth in me and I in him." It is important to note that Christ, according to His own words, wishes to be in us not only by a certain relation of love, or of sentiment, but by a real union. For as two pieces of wax, placed together and mated, coalesce into a single whole, so is Christ united to us and we to Him by our partaking of His body and blood.

Natural bread too is united to the body of him who eats it; but since it is a dead and perishable bread it cannot transform the bodies of the partakers into its own substance nor unite them with itself into one body. The body of Christ, on the contrary, is a living, indivisible, and imperishable bread. And It unites with Itself the bodies of those who have received It, assumes them into Itself, makes them Its members and fills them with the fullness of divine life. It nourishes us as the vine nourishes the branches with its sap, gives them its vital force and animates them. Thus is established between us and Christ a mysterious supernatural unity, a unity like that between a body and its members, between a vine and its branches.

The union of our body with the body of Christ is, however, only a figure of and the means to attain the union which grace effects between our soul and His divinity. Just as we become really one body with Christ, thus truly do we through grace become : because the body of which the Son of God is the head is animated by the same Spirit that animated the Son of God Himself.

Once again let us hear what St. Cyril has to say:

Speaking of spiritual union we shall, following the same plan, declare that in receiving His Spirit, namely, the Holy Spirit, we are in some manner commingled with one another and with God, and united into a single whole. Taken individually we are many, and Christ pours forth into the heart of each His Spirit and that of His Father. But that Spirit is one and indivisible; and He accordingly so unites the spirits of men, which are separate in themselves, that in Him they all appear as one spirit. As the power of the sacred body of Christ makes one body of those in whom It enters, so does the Spirit of God by His indwelling unite all into a spiritual unity. St. Paul therefore exhorts us: "Bear with one another in love, careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, even as you were called in " (Eph. 4:2f.). For, if the one Spirit dwells in us, the one Father of all will be in us, end as God, will through His Son unite to Himself and to each other all who have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.

We are, then, in very truth made one spirit with God, not as if the substance of our soul had ceased to exist, but because it is so intimately united to God that with Him it so to speak forms but one whole, In the human body too the members and the head, the body and the soul, are distinct in substance; nevertheless they are truly one because they form one whole, they are not to be separated. We become one with God because, according to the words of our Savior, . As iron is in the fire and the fire in it, and as the fire completely penetrates the iron and seems to consume it so that one no longer knows whether to call it iron or fire, so it is with ourselves and God. The fire of Divinity penetrates our soul and absorbs it to such an extent that it seems to become identified with God Himself.

This explains more fully and completes what we said earlier about the by grace. We had said that the soul is divinized by a supernatural resemblance to God; we now add to that resemblance a mysterious unity with God which is inseparable from it.

The deification of the creature does not consist solely in the greatest possible similarity to God, but also in a most intimate union with Him. By rising above itself to God, the creature assumes a God-like quality and sloughs off its imperfections; similarly, in the supernatural union with God, it lays aside its natural isolation and self-dependence, in order that it may no longer live in and for itself, but in God and with God. In the sacred humanity of Christ too we distinguish a twofold kind of deification: the first consists in the personal union of the humanity with the eternal Word whereby it belongs to God, exists in Him and for Him; the other consists in its transfiguration by the communication of divine grace and glory. We, of course, cannot become completely one with God in unity of person as did the humanity of Christ; nevertheless, our union is so intimate that, in a supernatural manner, we truly exist in God and for God, and this union can have as its adequate exemplar only that which exists between the Divinity and the humanity of Christ.

Moreover, divinization by resemblance presupposes divinization by union, and includes it. A shoot of an inferior species cannot come to resemble a more noble plant except by being grafted on it; the branch of the vine cannot be like the plant and participate in its life except by remaining in it and becoming one with it. Thus we too cannot become perfectly like God and participate in His life unless we are in a supernatural manner received into His bosom and become one with Him.

But as the branch merges with the tree and no longer lives by itself or for itself but belongs wholly to the tree, so are we also, as it were, absorbed into God and exist no longer for ourselves but for Him and in Him: it is no longer we who exist and live; it is God who lives and operates in us. Thus is prepared and initiated in us the great mystery which, according to the words of the Apostle, constitutes the highest perfection of created nature, namely, . God then is all in us, not only because He has created us, not only because as the work of His hands our whole being is completely dependent upon Him and declares His glory, but because He has drawn us wholly into Himself and has poured Himself out in us. Like a stream of wine absorbing a drop of water God has taken us up and united us to Himself. He has incorporated us, so to speak, into Himself; He bears us in His bosom as He does His only Son with whom He is perfectly one.

Let us not hesitate to lose ourselves in this ineffable union with God. For though we are lost in an unfathomable abyss, it is an abyss not of annihilation and darkness, but an abyss of greatest glory and happiness. Let us lose ourselves in order that we may find ourselves in God, or rather that we may kind God Himself in all His glory and beatitude. The more we belong to God, the more He is ours: the more we live in Him and for Him, the more He lives in us and for us. Can we call the branch lost when it is grafted to a nobler tree and drinks the same life from the same root, whereas, if separated from the tree and left to itself, it would wither or, as a wilding, would have but a stunted existence? On the contrary, it can now boast not only of the life which it draws from the tree, but also of the life and perfection which trunk and roots possess for themselves. So may we too, united to God by grace, not only derive for our portion a ray of the divine glory, not only channel off into our soul a small stream of the divine life, but we may regard the divine Sun itself, the fountain of divine life, as our very own; we can rejoice in the personal perfections of God as if they were fully ours.

Being thus divinized in a twofold manner, we likewise enjoy a twofold participation in divine beatitude: first, by beholding the beauty and glory of God as He Himself sees and enjoys it, and secondly, by possessing this same divine beauty and glory and calling it our own, through grace, thus imitating God who possesses it by nature.

With what love for God should we be inflamed when we behold ourselves united so intimately to Him? However great the love may be which unites two persons by reason of mutual similarity or kinship, that love is without doubt immeasurably greater and more intimate which unites with indissoluble bonds the different parts that form a whole, as the head and members, the soul and body. For in such a case there exists, as St. Paul explains so beautifully, the most intimate and indivisible union and community: "That there may be no disunion in the body, but the members may have care for one another. And if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it, or if one member glories, all the members rejoice with it" (I Cor. 12:25f.). For each loves himself in the others and the others in himself. How great then, must be our love of Christ, whose body and members we arc. He is the head by whom we are much more ennobled and from whom we experience far more good than from the head of our own body. How profound, too, must be our love of the Holy Spirit, who animates our soul far more truly than our own soul animates our physical body.

Because of their intimate and living union, the soul becomes so dear to the body that, even though they have not mutually communicated their natures, the two cannot be separated except by violence and with great distress. Its union with God, however divinizes the soul and plunges it entirely into the ocean of glory and of the divine beatitude; as a union of spirits, moreover, it is incomparably more intimate than any union of body and soul ever can be. How much the more, then, must our union with God bind us to Him with strongest ties? Should we not therefore seek to guard it with the greatest care, and at all costs, and be unspeakably grieved if, not exterior violence, but our own will severs and destroys this union with the sword of sin?

If a spirit, created outside a body, and perfect in every respect, would of its own accord and out of pure compassion unite itself to a lifeless body abandoned to corruption, to become one with it, to give it life and movement and to preserve it from imminent dissolution, with how much love and gratitude ought not that body, if it were capable of acknowledging the benefit, receive the spirit. But what is the condescension of such a spirit compared to the mercy which God shows us when He Himself enters into our forlorn, miserable and helpless souls; when He speaks to us the beatifying word "life," which in an instant calls forth in the soul blissful beauty and immortality? Yet, what gratitude do we show Him, what love do we give in return? And a thousand tongues and a thousand hearts would not suffice to praise and love a Lord and Father so merciful!

Since we are one body with Christ and one spirit with God, since we are in God and God in us, we should also live in God and let Him live and operate in us, that we may exclaim with the Apostle: "It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). For all the members live by the life of the head, and the heart lives by the life of the soul united to it. The divine heart of Jesus, from which courses the life-giving stream of the precious blood throughout the body, and which harbors the plenitude of the Holy Spirit and of the divine life, is likewise the hearth and the fountain of life for His entire mystical body, so that all of us may be one heart and soul with Him. The different members of the body do not each have a heart of their own, but all receive the sap of life from one and the same heart. Similarly each of us should surrender his own heart to plunge it into the heart of Jesus and to merge it with His that it may beat and act only in Him, seek its nourishment nowhere else but in His heart, and no longer live but in Him and by Him.

A celestial life will expand in our heart if it renounces itself in order to be absorbed in the heart of Christ, if it no longer follows its own beatings and impulses but those of Christ. There will then take place in us in a mystical yet very real manner that which our Savior deigned to reveal to several of His saints, when He took their heart from their breast and placed His own in its stead!

The union with God and with Christ effected by grace possesses, moreover, the further mysterious privilege of making us These are all likewise one body with Christ and one spirit with God; with them we constitute a single great body of which Christ is the head and which is vivified by the Spirit of God. "One body, one Spirit," says the Apostle (Eph. 4:4). "For though we are many, we are nevertheless one body in Christ, and members one of another" (Rom. 12:5). "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). In view of this union in Christ all distinctions of person among men disappear, because all are joined together in one great whole, as the grains of wheat are united to form one bread. Even the great distinction of nature which separates us from the angels becomes insignificant, for like them we are one spirit with God, and even our body, which makes us inferior to them, has the sublime dignity of being one body with Christ.

The union among ourselves, moreover, should, like our union with God, mirror the exceedingly intimate union that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit, who, in St. Augustine's phrase, is the bond of unity between the Father and the Son, embraces us all and unites us most intimately to each other, as the soul unites the different members of the body. As a chain of gold, He unites us to God and to Christ, but also to all the choirs of angels, to the college of the apostles, to the legions of martyrs, confessors and virgins. In Him we all cohere, mutually compenetrating each other, belonging one to the other.

What joy to belong to this vast, intimate communion of saints, and in it to possess, conjointly with the countless multitude of the blessed, all their glory and happiness! In a body each member has its own special aptitudes, but these do not for that reason belong less to the body and to all other members. We can, by the same token, therefore rejoice in the wisdom of the Cherubim, the flaming charity of the Seraphim, the dignity of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the prophetic vision of the prophets, the miracles of the confessors, the purity of the virgins. We may boast of these as our very own, for all proceeds from the same Spirit who dwells in us, and therefore all belongs to us as to the members of the same body. If, therefore, the possession of the body of a single saint is precious to us, how much the more ought we to prize our communion and fellowship in the Spirit of God with all the saints and heavenly spirits!

How greatly, on the other hand, are they to be pitied who through blind and foolish passion separate themselves from this -blessed fellowship and join with the enemies of God, with the outcasts of humanity, with the inhabitants of hell! How deeply they have fallen. They were precious jewels in the hand of God, from whom they received their beauty and worth, and now they lie in filth. They were links, beautifully wrought by God's own hand, in that golden chain of saints with which God is pleased to adorn Himself; and their beauty and brilliance were but enhanced by the brilliance of every other part of that chain; and now they are fettered to one chain with the fratricide Cain and the traitor Judas. They were precious stones in the crown of God; now they are the joy of the devil who contaminates and pollutes them, who inserts them in the crown of his own horrible triumph.

Let us not foolishly deprive ourselves of our own greatest good by separating our souls from the grace and the fellowship of the saints. Rather, following the advice of the Apostle, let us be "careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3), thereby realizing among ourselves the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. Every day of our life we should strive for a more intimate union with God and His saints by becoming more worthy of their company, so that the bonds which unite us to them will daily be drawn more close.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves, in God and in Christ, loving him as a member of Christ's mystical body, we must needs str1ve to unite him more closely with our common head, with the Holy Spirit, and finally also with ourselves. Thus we shall be cooperating to the best of our ability in that great work which is the end of all creation, viz., in the words of St. Paul, , and only by so doing can we enjoy that perfect happiness which perfect unity with the saints and with God can alone give us.

For it is precisely by this unity that our joy in the beatifying vision of heaven shall be multiplied and infinitely increased. Listen to St. Anselm, how in holy ecstasy he describes this happiness:

Human heart, poor heart, tried by so many tribulations, overwhelmed by so many sufferings, how you would rejoice if you possessed all the good things prepared for you in heaven! But ask your innermost self if you could manage to contain all this joy. Now imagine, further, that some one else, whom you love as yourself, had this same happiness; your joy would be doubled, for you would not rejoice less for him than for yourself! And if two or three, or many more had the same good fortune, you would rejoice for each as for yourself, since you love each one as yourself. In that perfect love, then, of numberless angels and saints, where each loves every other no less than himself, each will rejoice for all others individually as much as for himself. And if the heart of man will be incapable of containing the joy of its own good fortune, how can it be enlarged to contain so many and such great joys? Since, moreover, our joy at the fortune of another is measured by the love we have for him, and since we shall all in the beatific vision love God incomparably more than we can possibly love ourselves and our fellow saints, how infinitely greater will be our joy at the happiness of God than at our own or that of our fellow creatures! And if our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul, are unequal to contain the fullness of divine love which shall be granted us in heaven, how can they suffice for the joy that shall be ours? My God and my Lord, my Hope and the Joy of my heart, tell my soul if this is the joy of which You spoke through Your Son: "Ask and you shall receive thee your joy may be full." For I have found a joy which is full, and more than full. For though the heart, the mind, the soul, and the whole man are filled, there still remains a superabundance of joy. That joy then will not wholly enter into those who rejoice; rather, those who rejoice will enter wholly into it (, 25, 26).

Hearing these words and meditating upon them, we ought to discover in our heart a lively desire for entering into communion with God and His saints. Do we not owe God constant and heartfelt gratitude that by His grace He has called us to so sublime and close-knit a union with Himself? Were we to think a little more frequently, and more deeply, about our great vocation of life-union with God, we would certainly not ever again through mortal sin throw away so lightheartedly the treasure beyond compare, sanctifying grace.


1 It is with lively satisfaction that we hereby offer to our readers some pages from the works of Matthias Joseph Scheeben, the foremost theologian of the nineteenth century, whose writings did more than those of any one else to prepare the dogmatic foundations for the liturgical movement. Within the last score of years there has been a remarkable growth of what only can be called a Scheeben cult. Pope Pius XI himself publicly delivered an eloquent appreciation of Scheeben's theological merits on the occasion of the centenary celebration of his birth. His most representative work is the -a classic which urgently awaits English translation. (A French translation was announced in the May 1939 Issue of , but we have been unable to secure any further information about the matter.) The present essay is from an earlier, popular work, translated into English in 1885 by a monk of St. Meinrad's Abbey under the title of (Benziger), which went through three editions but has now long been out of print. These pages represent a new and modernized version of Book II, chapter 12, in which the author stresses that our union with God cannot be explained as merely moral, but is, rather, organic, with an intimacy far exceeding our most sanguine speculations. More extended commentary and more strictly theological reasoning on the subject can be found in the chapters on the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the Church, and Christian Justification, of the author's . We are indebted to Fr. Michael Porter, O.P., of Oakland, Calif., for sending us this translation.-ED.

(Taken from November 28, 1943 issue of "Orate Fratres".)

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