"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"When the devil has failed in making a man fall, he puts forward all his energies to create distrust between the penitent and the confessor, and so by little and little he gains his end at last."

St Philip Neri

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"Every man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars."

Thomas á Kempis

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St Alphonsus de Liguori  (1696 - 1787)


PRAYER - The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection (cont)


by St Alphonsus de Liguori

Part II: Which proves that the Grace of Prayer is given to all and which treats of the Ordinary Mode in which this Grace operates

Ch 2.  Jesus Christ died to save all men

That Jesus Christ, therefore, died for all and each of mankind, is clear, not only from the Scriptures, but from the writings of the Fathers. Great certainly was the ruin which the sin of Adam occasioned to the whole human race; but Jesus Christ, by the grace of Redemption, repaired all the evils which Adam introduced. Hence the Council of Trent has declared that Baptism renders the soul pure and immaculate; and that the sin which remains in it is not for its harm, but to enable it to gain a higher crown, if it resists so as not to consent to it: "For in the regenerate God hates nothing . . . they are made innocent, immaculate, pure, and beloved of God. . . . But this holy synod confesses and feels that concupiscence or the fuel [of sin] remains in Baptized persons; but as it was left for our probation, it cannot injure those who do not consent to it; nay rather, he who contends lawfully [against it] shall be crowned." Thus as St. Leo says, "we have gained greater things by the grace of Christ than we had lost through the envy of the devil."

The gain which we have made by the redemption of Jesus Christ is greater than the loss which we suffered by the sin of Adam. The Apostle plainly declared this when he said, "Not as the offence, so also the gift. For where the offence abounded, there did grace more abound." [Rom. 5 15, 20] Our Lord says the same: "I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." [John 10: 10] David and Isaias had predicted it: "With Him is plentiful redemption.-----She hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins." [Ps. 129: 7; Is. 40: 2] About which words the interpreter says: "God has so forgiven iniquities through Christ, that men have received double-----that is, very much greater good, instead of the punishment of sin which they deserved."

Now that our Saviour, as I said, died for all, and that He offered the work of His redemption to the Eternal Father for the salvation of each one, the holy Scriptures assure us of the following:

1. The testimony of holy Scripture

"The Son of Man came to save that which was lost." [Matt. 18: 11] "Who gave Himself a redemption for all." [1 Tim. 2: 6] "Christ died for all, that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but to Him Who died for them." [2 Cor. 5: 15] "For hereunto we labour and are reviled, because we hope in the living God, Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful." [1 Tim. 4: 10] "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." [John 2: 2] "For the charity of Christ presseth us, judging this that, if one died for all, then all were dead." [2 Cor. 5: 14]

And to speak only of this last text, I ask, how could the Apostle ever have concluded that all were dead, because Christ died for all, unless he had been certain that Christ had really died for all? And the more, because St. Paul uses this truth as an argument for the love which it should kindle in us towards our Saviour.

But by far the best passage to exhibit the desire and wish which God has to save all men, is another text of St. Paul: "He that spared not His Own Son, but delivered Him for us all." [Rom 8: 32] The force of this passage is increased by what follows: "How hath He not also with Him given us all things." [Ibid.] If God has given us all things, how can we henceforth fear that He has denied us the election to glory, always on condition that we correspond [to His grace]? And if he has given us His Son, says Cardinal Sfondratl, how will He deny us the grace to be saved? "Here he clearly instructs us" [he is speaking of St. Paul] "that God assures us that He will not refuse us the less after He has given the greater; that He will not deny us grace to save ourselves, after giving His Son that we might be saved."

And in truth, how could St. Paul have said that God, in giving us His Son, has given us all things, if the Apostle had believed that God had excluded many from the glory which is the one good and the one end for which they were created? Has then God given "all things" to these "many," and yet denied them the best thing-----namely, eternal happiness, without which [as there is no middle way] they cannot but be eternally miserable? Unless we would say another thing still more unseemly, as another learned author well observes------namely, that God gives to all the grace to attain glory, but then refuses to allow many to enter on its enjoyment; that He gives the means, and refuses the end.

2. The teaching of the holy Fathers

For the rest, all the holy Fathers agree in saying that Jesus Christ died to obtain eternal salvation for all men.

St. Jerome: "Christ died for all; He was the only one Who could be offered for all, because all were dead in sins."

St. Ambrose: "Christ came to cure our wounds; but since all do not search for the remedy . . . therefore He cures those who are willing; He does not force the unwilling." In another place: "He has provided for all men the means of cure, that whoever perishes may lay the blame of his death on himself, because he would not be cured when he had a remedy; and that, on the other hand, the mercy of Christ to all may be openly proclaimed, Who wills that all men should be saved." And more clearly still in another place: "Jesus did not write His will for the benefit of one, or of few, but of all; we are all inscribed therein as His heirs; the legacy is in common, and belongs by right to all; the universal heritage, belonging wholly to each." Mark the words, "We are all inscribed as heirs of Heaven."

St. Leo: "As Christ found no one free from guilt, so He came to deliver all."

St. Augustine, on the words of St. John, "For God did not send His Son to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him," says: "So, as far as it lies with the physician, He came to heal the sick man." Mark the words, "as far as it lies with the physician." For God, as far as He is concerned, effectually wills the salvation of all, but [as St. Augustine goes on to say] cannot heal the man who will not be healed: "He heals universally, but He heals not the unwilling. For what can be happier for thee, than, as thou hast thy life in thy hands, so to have thy health depend on thy will?" When he says "He heals," he speaks of sinners who are sick, and unable to get well by their own strength; when he says "universally" [omnino], he declares that nothing is wanting on God's part for sinners to be healed and saved. Then when he says, "as thou hast thy life in thy hands, so thy health depends on thy will," he shows that God for His part really wills us all to be saved; otherwise, it would not be in our power to obtain health and eternal life.

In another place, "He who redeemed us at such a cost, wills not that we perish; for He does not purchase in order to destroy, but He redeems in order to give life." He has redeemed us all, in order to save us all. And hence he encourages all to hope for eternal bliss in that celebrated sentence: "Let human frailty raise itself; let it not say, I shall never be happy. . . . It is a greater thing that Christ has done, than that which He has promised. What has He done? He has died for thee. What has He promised? That thou shalt live with Him."

Some have pretended to say that Jesus Christ offered His Blood for all, in order to obtain grace for them, but not salvation. But Petrocorensis will not hear of this opinion, of which he says: "O disputatious frivolity! How could the wisdom of God will the means of salvation, without willing its end." St. Augustine, moreover, speaking against the Jews, says: "Ye acknowledge the side which ye pierced, that it was opened both by you and for you." If Jesus Christ had not really given His Blood for all, the Jews might have answered St. Augustine, that it was quite true they had opened the side of our Saviour, but not that it was opened for them.

In like manner, St. Thomas has no doubt that Jesus Christ died for all; whence he deduces that He wills all to be saved: "Christ Jesus is mediator between God and men; not between God and some men, but between Him and all men; and this would not be, unless He willed all to be saved."

This is confirmed, as we have already said, by the condemnation of the fifth proposition of Jansenius, who said, "It is semi-Pelagianism to assert that Christ died or shed His Blood for all men." The sense of this, according to the context of the other condemned propositions, and according to the principles of Jansenius, is as follows: Jesus Christ did not die to merit for all men the graces sufficient for salvation, but only for the predestined; or, in Jansenius's own expressed words. "It is in no way consonant to the principles of Augustine, to think that Christ our Lord died or shed His Blood for the eternal salvation either of unbelievers, who die in their unbelief, or of the just, who do not persevere." Therefore the contrary and Catholic belief is as follows: It is not semi-Pelagianism, but it is right to say that Jesus Christ died to merit not only for the predestinate, but for all, even for the reprobate, grace sufficient to obtain eternal salvation in the ordinary course of Providence.

Further, that God truly, on His part, wills all men to be saved, and that Jesus Christ died for the salvation of all, is certified to us by the fact that God imposes on us all the precept of hope. The reason is clear. St. Paul calls Christian hope the anchor of the soul, secure and firm: "Who have fled for refuge to hold fast the hope set before us which we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm." [Heb 6: 18]

Now in what could we fix this sure and firm anchor of our hope, except in the truth that God wills all to be saved? "With what confidence," says Petrocorensis, "will men be able to hope for God's mercy, if it is not certain that God wills the salvation of all of them? With what confidence will they offer the death of Christ to God, in order to obtain pardon, if it is uncertain whether He was offered up for them?"

And Cardinal Sfondratl says, that if God had elected some to eternal life, and excluded others, we should have a greater motive to despair than to hope; seeing that, in fact, the elect are much fewer than the damned: "No one could have a firm hope, since he would have more grounds of despair than of hope; for the reprobate are much more numerous than the elect."

And if Jesus Christ had not died for the salvation of all, how could we have a sure ground to hope for salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ, without a special revelation? But St. Augustine had no doubt when he said, "All my hope, and the certainty of my faith, is in the Precious Blood of Christ, Which was shed for us and for our salvation." Thus the Saint placed all his hope in the Blood of Jesus Christ; because the faith assured him that Christ died for all. . . .

Ch 3.  Children who die without Baptism

Here it only remains for us to answer the objection which is drawn from children being lost when they die before Baptism, and before they come to the use of reason. If God wills all to be saved, it is objected, how is it that these children perish without any fault of their own, since God gives them no assistance to attain eternal salvation? There are two answers to this objection, the latter more correct than the former, I will state them briefly.

First, it is answered that God, by antecedent will, wishes all to be saved, and therefore has granted universal means for the salvation of all; but these means at times fail of their effect, either by reason of the unwillingness of some persons to avail themselves of them, or because others are unable to make use of them, on account of secondary causes [such as the death of children], whose course God is not bound to change, after having disposed the whole according to the just judgment of His general Providence; all this is collected from what St. Thomas says: Jesus Christ offered His merits for all men, and instituted Baptism for all; but the application of this means of salvation, so far as relates to children who die before the use of reason, is not prevented by the direct will of God, but by a merely permissive will; because as He is the general provider of all things, He is not bound to disturb the general order, to provide for the particular order.

The second answer is, that to perish is not the same as not to be blessed: since eternal happiness is a gift entirely gratuitous; and therefore the want of it is not a punishment. The opinion, therefore, of St. Thomas-----is very just, that children who die in infancy have neither the pain of sense nor the pain of loss; not the pain of sense, he says, "because pain of sense corresponds to conversion to creatures; and in Original Sin there is not conversion to creatures" [as the fault is not our own], "and therefore pain of sense is not due to Original Sin;" because Original Sin does not imply an act. [De Mal. q. 5, a. 2]

Objectors oppose to this the teaching of St. Augustine, who in some places shows that his opinion was that children are condemned even to the pain of sense. But in another place he declares that he was very much confused about this point. These are his words: When I come to the punishment of infants, I find myself [believe me] in great straits; nor can I at all find anything to say." [Epist. 166, E. B.] And in another place he writes, that it may be said that such children receive neither reward nor punishment: "Nor need we fear that it is impossible there should be a middle sentence between reward and punishment; since their life was midway between sin and good works." [De Lib. Ar. 1, 3, c. 23] This was directly affirmed by St. Gregory Nazianzen: "Children will be sentenced by the just judge neither to the glory of Heaven nor to punishment." St. Gregory of Nyssa was of the same opinion: "The premature death of children shows that they who have thus ceased to live will not be in pain and unhappiness."

And as far as relates to the pain of loss, although these children are excluded from glory, nevertheless St. Thomas, [In 2 Sent. d. 33, q. 2, a. 2] who had reflected most deeply on this point, teaches that no one feels pain for the want of that good of which he is not capable; so that as no man grieves that he cannot fly, or no private person that he is not emperor, so these children feel no pain at being deprived of the glory of which they were never capable; since they could never pretend to it either by the principles of nature, or by their own merits.

St. Thomas adds, in another place, [De Mal. q. 5, a. 3] a further reason, which is, that the supernatural knowledge of glory comes only by means of actual faith, which transcends all natural knowledge; so that children can never feel pain for the privation of that glory, of which they never had a supernatural knowledge.

He further says, in the former passage, that such children will not only not grieve for the loss of eternal happiness, but will, moreover, have pleasure in their natural gifts; and will even in some way enjoy God, so far as is implied in natural knowledge, and in natural love: "Rather will they rejoice in this, that they will participate much in the Divine goodness, and in natural perfections." And he immediately adds, that although they will be separated from God, as regards the union of glory, nevertheless 'they will be united with Him by participation of natural gifts; and so will even be able to rejoice in Him with a natural knowledge and love." [In 2 Sent. d. 33, q. 2, a. 2]