"It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience."

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more."

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP





In this second part we shall consider: first, final impenitence; secondly, good death; thirdly, the unchangeableness of the soul, whether in good or in evil, after death; fourthly, the knowledge which the separated soul has; and fifthly, the particular judgment.

Since our life in eternity depends on the state of the soul at the moment of death, we must here speak of final impenitence. By contrast, we speak of deathbed conversion.

Impenitence is the absence, the privation, of that contrition which alone can destroy in the sinner the moral consequences of his revolt against God. These consequences are destroyed by satisfactory reparation, that is, first, by sorrow for having offended God, secondly, by an expiatory compensation. As St. Thomas [45] explains, these acts of the virtue of penance are demanded by justice and charity toward God, and also by charity toward ourselves.

Impenitence is the absence of contrition or of satisfaction. This impenitence can be either temporal, lasting throughout the course of our present life, or final, existing at the moment of death. [46]

Dispositions toward Final Impenitence

Temporal impenitence is the cause of final impenitence. Final impenitence presents itself under two different forms: impenitence of fact, the simple absence of repenting, and impenitence of will, namely, the positive resolution not to repent. In this last case we have the special sin of impenitence, which, in its final development, becomes a sin of malice. In illustration, think of a man who signs an agreement to
have no religious funeral.

There is certainly a great difference between these two forms. But, if a man is seized in death in the simple state of impenitence of fact, this state is for him one of final impenitence, even though it has not been
directly prepared by a special sin of hardening of heart.

Temporal impenitence of will leads directly to final impenitence, even though at times the Lord, by special mercy, preserves the soul from final impenitence. The soul on this road perseveres in sin, deliberately and coldly. It repels all thought of penance which might deliver it. Thus, as St. Augustine says, it is not only a sin of malice, it is also a sin against the Holy Spirit, that is to say, a sin which contradicts directly that which would save the sinner. [47]

The sinner, therefore, must do penance at the proper time, for example, at the time of Easter Communion, otherwise he falls from impenitence of fact into impenitence of will, at least by a deliberate omission. One cannot stay long in mortal sin without committing new mortal sins which accelerate his downfall. [48]

Hence we must not put off the time of repentance. Scripture urges us to do penance without delay. "Humble thyself before thou art sick." [49] St. John the Baptist [50] unceasingly urges the necessity of repentance. Jesus, too, from the beginning of His ministry, cries out: "Repent and believe the gospel." [51] Again He says: "Except you do penance, you shall all perish." [52] St. Paul writes to the Romans: "According to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works." [53] In the Apocalypse word comes to the angel of Pergamus: "Do penance ! If not I will come to thee quickly." [54] This is the visit of divine justice, if one has not paid attention to mercy.

The degrees of temporal impenitence are numerous. [55] Passing from forms of impenitence which are least grave, but which for that reason are already very dangerous, we find those who are hardened by culpable ignorance, who are fixed in mortal sin, in a blindness that makes them continually prefer the goods of today to those of eternity. They drink iniquity like water. Their conscience is asleep because they have gravely neglected to instruct themselves in their numerous duties. Further, we have those who are hardened by neglect, who, though they are more enlightened than the preceding and more culpable, do not have the energy to break the bonds which they themselves have forged, bonds of luxury, of avarice, of pride, of ambition. They do not pray to obtain the energy they lack. Finally we have those who are hardened by malice, those, for example, who never pray, who are in revolt against providence, on account of, say, some misfortune. Further, free livers, who are sunk in their disorders, who blaspheme, who become materialistic, who speak of God only to insult Him. Lastly, sectaries who have a satanic hatred of the Christian religion and cease not to write against it.

There is a great difference between these classes, but we cannot affirm that, to arrive at final impenitence, we must start with the hardening of malice, or at least with the hardening that comes from neglect or voluntary ignorance. We cannot affirm that God does mercy to all other sinners who are less culpable. Neither must we say that all those who are hardened by malice will be condemned, because divine mercy at times has converted great sectarians who seemed to be obstinate in the way of perdition. [56]

The Church Fathers and the great preachers have often threatened with final impenitence those who put off their conversion from day to day. [57] After such long-continued abuse of God's grace, will they ever have the efficacious grace necessary for conversion?

Return Difficult but Possible

Return is difficult. Hardening of heart supposes blindness of mind, and a will carried on to evil, with feeble movements toward good. The soul no longer derives profit from good advice, from sermons, it no longer reads the Gospel, no longer frequents the church. It resists even the warnings of genuine friends. It falls under the indictment of Isaias: "Woe to you that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits! " [58] This condition is the consequence of sins often reiterated, of vicious habitudes, of criminal entanglements, of erroneous reading. After such abuse of grace, the Lord may refuse a sinner, not only the efficacious succor of which every sinner is deprived at the moment when he falls, but also the grace, proximately sufficient, to make obedience possible.

But return to God is still possible. The sinner, even though hardened, receives remotely sufficient graces, for example, during a mission or during a trial. He can begin to pray. If he does not resist, he receives efficacious grace to begin praying effectively. This is certain, because salvation is still possible, and, against the Pelagian heresy, conversion is not possible except by grace. If the sinner does not resist this last appeal, he will be led from grace to grace, even to that of conversion. The Lord has said: "I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." [59] St. Paul says: "God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." [60]

Return is always possible. Calvinism indeed says that God destines certain souls to eternal damnation and that consequently He refuses them all grace. The truth, on the contrary, says with St. Augustine and the Council of Trent: "God never commands the impossible, but He warns us to do what we can, and to ask of Him the grace to accomplish that which we of ourselves are unable to do." [61] Now there lies on the hardened sinner a grave obligation to do penance, and this is impossible without grace. Hence we must conclude that he receives from time to time sufficient graces that he may begin to pray. Salvation is still possible.

But if the sinner resists these graces, he steps into quicksand, where his feet sink down when he attempts to emerge. Sufficient grace blows from time to time, like a fresh breeze, to renew his forces. But if he continues to resist, he deprives himself of the efficacious grace which is offered in sufficient grace as fruit is offered in the blossom. Hence when, later on he wishes for that efficacious grace, will he have that succor which touches the heart and converts him in truth? Difficulties grow greater, the will grows weaker, graces diminish.

Temporal impenitence, if it is voluntary, manifestly disposes the soul for final impenitence, although divine mercy at times saves the sinner, even on his deathbed.

Impenitent Death

It is possible to die in the state of mortal sin, even though the thought of such a death has not presented itself to the spirit. Many die suddenly, and we say, looking at their abuses of graces, that they have been surprised by death. They did not pay attention to warnings received beforehand. They have not had contrition, or even attrition, which with the sacrament of penance would have justified them. Such souls are lost for eternity. Here we find final impenitence, without any special previous refusal of the last grace.

If, on the contrary, death is foreseen, we are met with an impenitence that is final. This last rejection of grace, offered before death by infinite mercy, is a sin against the Holy Spirit, which takes on different
forms. The sinner shrinks back from the humiliation involved in acknowledgment of his sins, and chooses consequently his own personal evil. At times he even scorns the duty of justice and reparation before God, scorns the love which he owes to God by the supreme precept: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind." [62] These terrible lessons show us the importance of repentance, a state quite different from remorse, which can continue to exist in hell without the least attrition. Condemned souls do not repent of their sins as guilt against God, though they see that for these sins they are punished. They hate the pain which is justly inflicted. They hate the worm of remorse which arises from their sin. They are at war with everything, especially with themselves. Judas had remorse and anguish, but he did not have repentance which gives peace. He fell into despair instead of confiding in infinite mercy and asking pardon. [63]

It is terribly dangerous to put off conversion. Father Monsabre [64] dwells on this subject: "First, in order to profit by our last hour, we must foresee it. Everything conspires to hide this moment when it arrives: the sinner's own illusions his negligence, the lack of sincerity on the part of those who surround him. Secondly, to profit by this last hour, if he foresees it, he must wish to be converted. But it is greatly to be feared that the sinner does not wish this. The tyranny of habit gives to his last acts a character of irresolution. Calculated delays have weakened his faith, have blinded him to his own state. Hence even the last hour does not move him, and he dies impenitent. Thirdly, to profit by this last hour, even if he wishes for conversion, the conversion must be sincere, and for this the soul needs efficacious grace. Yet the delaying sinner counts rather on his own will than on grace. If he does count on grace, he does so with a cowardly look toward the mercy of God. Will he thus reach a true regret for the offense done against God, to a genuine and generous act of repentance? The sinner who delays may forget what penitence is, and runs great risk of dying in his sin. Hence the conclusion: Seize the grace of repentance now, lest you lack it then when you must have it to decide your eternity." [65]

Deathbed Conversion

Deathbed conversion, however difficult, is still possible. Even when we see no sign of contrition, we can still not affirm that, at the last moment, just before the separation of soul from body, the soul is definitively obstinate. A sinner may be converted at that last minute in such fashion that God alone can know it. The holy Cure of Ars, divinely enlightened, said to a weeping widow: "Your prayer, Madame, has been heard. Your husband is saved. When he threw himself into the Rhone, the Blessed Virgin obtained for him the grace of conversion just before he died. Recall how, a month before, in your garden, he plucked the most beautiful rose and said to you, 'Carry this to the altar of the Blessed Virgin.' She has not forgotten."

Other souls, too, have been converted in extremis, souls that could barely recall a few religious acts in the course of their life. A sailor, for example, preserved the practice of uncovering his head when he passed before a church. He did not know even the Our Father or the Hail Mary, but the lifting of his hat kept him from departing definitively from God.

In the life of the saintly Bishop Bertau of Tulle, friend of Louis Veuillot, a poor girl in that city, who had once been chanter in the cathedral, fell first into misery, then into misconduct, and finally became a public sinner. She was assassinated at night, in one of the streets of Tulle. Police found her dying and carried her to a hospital. While she was dying, she cried out: "Jesus, Jesus." Could she be granted Church burial? The Bishop answered: "Yes, because she died pronouncing the name of Jesus. But bury her early in the morning without incense." In the room of this poor woman was found a portrait of the holy Bishop on the back of which was written: "The best of fathers." Fallen though she was, she still recognized the holiness of her bishop and preserved in her heart the memory of the goodness of our Lord.

A certain licentious writer, Armand Sylvestre, promised his mother when she was dying to say a Hail Mary every day. He kept his promise. Out of the swamp in which he lived, he daily lifted up to God this one little flower. Pneumonia brought him to a hospital, served by religious, who said to him: "Do you wish a priest?" "Certainly," he answered. And he received absolution, probably with sufficient attrition, through a special grace obtained for him by the Blessed Mother, though we can hardly doubt he underwent a long and heavy purgatory.

Another French writer, Adolphe Rette, shortly after his conversion, which was sincere and profound, was struck by a sentence he read in the visitors' book of the Carmelite Convent: "Pray for those who will die during the Mass at which you are going to assist." He did so. Some days later he fell grievously ill, and was confined to bed in the hospital at Beaune, for many years, up to his death. Each morning he offered all his sufferings for those who would die during the day. Thus he obtained many deathbed conversions. We shall see in heaven how many conversions there are in the world, owing to such prayers.

In the life of St. Catherine of Siena we read of the conversion of two great criminals. The saint had gone to visit one of her friends. As they heard, in the street below, a loud noise, her friend looked through the window. Two condemned men were being led to execution. Their jailers were tormenting them with nails heated red-hot, while the condemned men blasphemed and cried. St. Catherine, inside thehouse, fell to prayer, with her arms extended in the form of a cross. At once the wicked men ceased to blaspheme and asked for a confessor. People in the street could not understand this sudden change. They did not know that a near-by saint had obtained this double conversion.

Several years ago the chaplain in a prison in Nancy had the reputation of converting all criminals whom he had accompanied to the guillotine. On one occasion he found himself alone, shut up with an assassin who refused to go to confession before death. The cart, with the condemned man, passed before the sanctuary of Our Lady of Refuge. The old chaplain prayed: "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who had recourse to thy intercession was abandoned. Convert this criminal of mine: otherwise I will say that it has been heard that you have not heard." At once the criminal was converted.

Return to God is always possible, up to the time of death, but it becomes more and more difficult as hardheartedness grows. Let us not put off our conversion. Let us say every day a Hail Mary for the grace of a happy death.


45. IIIa, q.84, a.5; q.85.
46. Bossuet, Defense of Tradition, Bk. XI, chaps. 4-8
47. IIa IIae, q. 14.
48. Ibid., q109, a.8.
49. Ecclus. 18:21.
50. Luke 3:3.
51. Mark 1:15.
52. Luke 13:5.
53. Rome 2:5.
54. Apoc. 2:16.
55. Ia IIae, q.76-78; IIa IIae, q.15, a.1. Dict. Theol. Cath., "Impenitence".
56. St. John Bosco came to the bed of a dying Freemason. This Freemason said to him: "Don't speak to me of religion. Otherwise here is a revolver whose bullet is for you and another one whose bullet is for me." "Well, then" said the saint, "let us speak of something else." Then Bosco spoke to him of Voltaire, relating the
latter's life. Toward the end of his account, Bosco aid: "Some say that Voltaire never repented and had a bad death. This I do not say, because I do not know." "You mean," said the Freemason, "that even Voltaire could repent?" "Oh, certainly." "Then I, too, could repent." Thus this man who was in despair seems to have had a good death.
A prison chaplain, a holy priest, while assisting a condemned criminal who would not go to confession, ended his words as follows: "Well, then, if you wish to be lost, just be lost." When beatification was in question, this chaplain, by reason of this word, was judged unworthy of beatification, since he seemed to
doubt the mercy and possibility of return to God.
57. Cf. St. Ambrose, De poenitentia, chaps. 10-12; St. Jerome, Epist. 147, ad Sabinianum; St. Augustine, Sermons 351, 352; St. John Chrysostom, Nine Homilies on Penitence, P.G., XLIX, 277 ff.; St. Bernard, De conversione ad clericos; Bossuet, Sermon for the First Sunday of advent.
58. Isa. 5:20-21.
59. Ezech. 33:11, 14, 16.
60. 1 Tim. 2:4
61. Denz., no. 804.
62. Luke 10:27.
63. IIa IIae, q. 13, a.4; IIIa, q. 86; a. 1; Contra
Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 89.
64. Easter Retreat at Notre Dame, 1888, 3rd instruction.
65. Let us not forget that attrition, which disposes us to receive the sacrament of penance and justifies with that sacrament, must always be supernatural. According to the Council of Trent, attrition presupposes the grace of faith and of hope, and must detest sin as an offense against God. Denz., no. 798. Now this presupposes, probably, as in the baptism of adults, an initial love of God as the source of all justice. Denz., no. 798. We cannot detest a lie without loving the truth, we cannot detest injustice without beginning to love justice and Him who is the source of all justice.