Apropos Gilson: grace in Novo Millennio

Gilson says that the first duty of the Christian philosopher is to refuse to pay homage to the world. The world he defines as the refusal of the grace of God. “The ‘world’ is just this refusal to participate in grace which separates nature from God, and the intelligence itself is of the world insofar as it joins with it in rejecting grace.”

John Paul II devotes a brief section of the Letter to a reminder about the dependence upon grace:

If in the planning that awaits us we commit ourselves more confidently to a pastoral activity that gives personal and communal prayer its proper place, we shall be observing an essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primacy of grace. There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5).

The recognition of grace is central to learning at the school of prayer. For “it is prayer which roots us in this truth. It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness.”

Gilson understood the root of a Catholic education is the orientation of the mind towards God and the higher truth. This leads me to think about the opening definition or characterization of a Catholic University in Ex corde as a community based upon joy in the truth. Joy. Why are the Catholic universities so often joyless in the pursuit of truth? Is it the absence of the orientation towards divine truth as mediated by the Church? Augustine spoke much about the joy in truth. Whence comes joy? From the grace of God poured out into our hearts, as he often quotes St Paul, Romans 5.5. In Spirit and Letter Augustine says, for example, “unless he also take delight in and a feel a love for it, he neither does his duty nor sets about it nor lives rightly. . . . God’s love is shed into our hearts.” §5 Or he speaks of a delight that “grows from root of love.” Spirit and Letter §26 In a man redeemed “a delight in holiness will prevail over every rival affection.” Spirit and Letter §63 The old man, Adam, rules at Catholic universities, replete with such rival affections. Where is the new man, the man redeemed?
John Paul II will finish the Letter speaking about communio, and we will discuss this section in future posts. The communio is based upon the delight in the truth, a delight discovered in grace. As Peter Brown remarks: “Augustine came to view ‘delight’ as the mainspring of human action. Two things should be underlined in this very early explanation of human motivation. First, Augustine recognizes something of the role of feelings in the analysis of moral action: these affections occur in the will, not in some separate power, but they are not initially controllable by the moral agent. One may accept or reject their stimulation but he cannot initiate these flashes of delight. Some delights are produced within us by objects that appear attractive in our perceptions; others are the products of divine grace. In the second place, Augustine admitted in the Retractations that he did not fully realize, or explain, the importance of divine grace, in this early period (A.D. 388-395) but it is clear from the text that we have just read that he knew, even at this time, that high-minded delight is somehow sparked in man’s consciousness by God’s gift of faith and grace.”

There is the missing key to the renewal of Catholic education. “High-minded delight is somehow sparked in man’s consciousness by God’s gift of faith and grace.” To return to John Paul II’s exhortation for the new millennium — he says it is when we experience a “disheartening sense of frustration” as did the apostles when their nets were empty, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (Lk 5:5), then we may at last come to “the moment of faith, of prayer, of conversation with God, in order to open our hearts to the tide of grace and allow the word of Christ to pass through us in all its power: Duc in altum!” 

As this millennium begins, allow the Successor of Peter to invite the whole Church to make this act of faith, which expresses itself in a renewed commitment to prayer.


Join us!

* indicates required