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Lecture VII: Grace


The Christian doctrine of God's grace is a complicated and confusing subject, more so than is always realized. If a man grows up in the catholic tradition of theology, and only reads about it in works written from that standpoint, all is clear and straightforward. Another man, confining himself to expositions by protestant divines, may be equally untroubled. It is when one reads both that the trouble begins. How can the same word mean such different things in different traditions of Christian theology? Is it merely a terminological dispute about the meaning of a word? Or is there some deeper issue at stake?

So far as the use of the English word is concerned, it would be true, I think, to say that in protestant theology its associations are with those of the German Gnade, in catholic with those of the Latin gratia. Both look back to the Greek charts of the New Testament. We will take our start from that.

The background of St. Paul's use of the word is the language of inscriptions commemorating the gifts of emperors or other benefactors. It brings with it a sense of gracious favour bestowed by a sovereign. What St. Paul does is to substitute for a drinking fountain or city charter the specifically Christian content of the benefaction. ‘Grace for St. Paul signifies the generous love or gift of God by which in Christ salvation is bestowed on man and a new world of blessings opened.’1 But, as we have seen, this gift of forgiveness and reconciliation has a dynamic effect in the recipient. ‘In this fellowship of forgiven sinners he found a psychological release that issued in what St. Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit”.’2 Hence

The term ‘grace’ is also used by St. Paul with reference to the Divine influence or influences which operate from within the Christian nature. The gracious initiative of God in salvation appears as taking effect in human hearts in immanent fashion and under differentiated forms.… It seems best then to say that St. Paul, keeping steadfastly to the original sense of the word, thinks of the grace of God as becoming effectual in various ways, now as giving men a new status, now as conferring various special gifts, now as inspiring to fresh tasks and responsibilities.3

For convenience I will call the use of the word for God's gracious activity in giving forgiveness, or a new status, or any spiritual gifts, St. Paul's primary sense; its use for ‘the Divine influence or influences which operate from within the Christian nature’ his secondary sense.

In the development of catholic theology the predominant emphasis in the use of the word gratia came to rest on this second sense. Just how or why this came about it is impossible to determine. It may be connected with the fact that in the New Testament there is a similar ambiguity with regard to the Holy Spirit: there are passages which imply a personally active He, and passages which could be paraphrased as the power of God working within creation.4 The fact that the doctrine of the Spirit developed along the lines of the He passages may help to explain how what the It passages stood for found a home in the doctrine of grace.

In St. Augustine, St. Paul's twofold use is continued. The word gratia expresses both the graciousness of God the giver and the gift of God's power working in man. In its widest reference all God's action, creative as well as redemptive, is gracious; but as a technical term in specifically Christian doctrine, grace is relative to sin. It is (i) God's redemptive activity in Christ, and (ii) the power of God working for his restoration in fallen, sinful man. Where the thought is of God's gracious activity, the emphasis is on the gratuitousness of God's saving work. Carried to its logical conclusion, this would produce an antinomy, a doctrine of predestination inconsistent with the biblical revelation of God as righteous love.5 Where the thought is of the power of God working in human nature, the problem involved is that of the relation of God's grace to human freedom. To meet this latter problem St. Augustine draws a distinction between the liberum arbitrium, with which man is endowed by nature, and the libertas which may come as a gift of God's grace in Christ. By his liberum arbitrium a man can choose between different acts, but owing to his sinful nature his will is too weak to do what is good. God's grace strengthens the will, enabling it to do the good, and this freedom to do the good is libertas. Last year, when analysing our experience of freedom, I distinguished between what I called freedom (a) and freedom (b).6 These two distinctions have so much in common that at this point St. Augustine gives a clear instance of the manner in which Christian dovetails into natural theology. But of that more later.

Since grace is God's love in action, the thought of God acting, of St. Paul's primary sense, is never entirely absent in later catholic theology. But in mediaeval scholastic elaborations of the doctrine the thought is more and more of his secondary sense. St. Thomas Aquinas' detailed analysis of grace as gratis data, gratum faciens, operans, co-operans, praeveniens, subsequens7 presupposes this approach. Moreover, increasing attention was being paid to the question of the means whereby the grace of God is received by man. There was a parallel growth, with similar elaboration, in sacramental doctrine. The two lines of thought should not, indeed, be called parallel. They were closely interwoven, and sacraments came commonly to be spoken of as ‘means of grace’.

It is, of course, important to distinguish between the intended meaning of theological doctrines and the understanding of them which finds expression in popular religion. Where this is obscured, confusion ensues, and out of the heat of controversy may come curious results. The impression produced on my mind by what little I know of the theology of the later Middle Ages and the Reformation is that the divergence between catholic and protestant doctrines of grace is due to something of this kind.

In my youth, brought up as an Anglican, south of the Border, I had always thought of the Reformation as a revolt against religious formalism in the interests of morality, a re-assertion of the teaching of Isaiah i or Amos v. 18–24. It was with surprise that I discovered what doubtless the learned Scots had known all along—that it was something far deeper and more far-reaching than this, a re-assertion of Augustinian anti-pelagianism in which morality is coupled with formalism as the enemy. The antithesis to justification by faith is justification by works, and morality, no less than rites and ceremonies, comes under the heading of works.8

There seems little doubt that, whatever may have been the intended meaning of the catholic doctrine of grace and sacraments, what was taught and practised as the Christian religion often expressed a degenerate form of it which provoked a prophetic revolt against formalism, and that this led on to discovery of the danger of pelagianism in emphasis on morality. What was commonly taught and practised was held to imply that a man could earn his salvation by the correct performance of sacramental acts through which grace would work in his soul like medicine in his body. Catholic sacramentalism being by this time largely bound up with the doctrine of grace as God's power working in man, in their revolt against it the Reformers went back to St. Paul's primary sense of the word charis and insisted that this was not only the truth but the whole truth.

I take Grace here strictly for the favour of God, as it should be taken—not for a quality of the soul, as is taught by the more recent of our doctors.

We take this term gratia in the simplest way, by following the phrase of Scripture, to the effect that Grace is favour, mercy, free kindness of God towards us. The gift is the Holy Spirit Himself, which He pours into the hearts of those on whom He has taken pity. In short, Grace is nothing but the pardoning or remission of sin. The gift is the Holy Spirit regenerating and sanctifying our hearts.9

In Reformation theology the word grace is no longer used for the regenerating and sanctifying work of God in men's hearts. That is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Man's part is simply to accept by faith God's promise of forgiveness in Christ. This acceptance of God's promise is the faith that justifies. It is a momentary act. However often it may be repeated, it is on each occasion all or nothing. The Reformers rejected the scholastic doctrine of the development of fides informis into fides caritate formata because, like the doctrine of grace as something working in man to achieve salvation, it implied for them a trust in work-righteousness as contrasted with the simple acceptance of the once-for-all accomplished gracious activity of God in Christ.

Another aspect of their teaching is the doctrine of imputed righteousness as against all ideas of infused righteousness or infused virtue. To say that the repentant believing sinner is in any sense made righteous reintroduces the notion of salvation achieved by human progress. A man is justified when he accepts the word of God telling him that his sins are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

But what of the act of faith by which the sinner accepts God's forgiveness? Must not that be his own act, so that at least to that extent he co-operates in his justification? Even this element of synergism is excluded, for the sinner's response of faith is itself a gift of the grace of God. Carried to its logical conclusion, as in Calvin's doctrine of double predestination,10 this brings us up against the same antinomy that threatened St. Augustine.

A further corollary, drawn by some Reformers, is the repudiation of all natural theology. To quote from Professor Hermelink:

The God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, is the unconditionally gracious God. He alone is this… and conversely: the God of the Bible is only known when He is known thus.… Where the sola gratia is not known or acknowledged, there we have not Christian but heathen knowledge of God.11

So much for the way in which the word grace has come to have such different meanings in different theological circles. Is it simply a difference in the use of words? Or does this express some more substantial disagreement? And what, for us, is the truth of the matter?

The more I think about these historic controversies, the more it appears that in both camps the theologians were wrestling with the same baffling problem in the Christian faith. Under the pressure of the circumstances of the time they adopted different expedients in their attempts to frame doctrinal statements about it. But the problem was the same for all, and at bottom all were trying to say the same thing. This can be shown most clearly by setting out in tabular form the three beliefs which all were concerned to maintain:

1. Man's salvation is God's gift, freely given through the crucified and risen Christ.

2. Man's moral responsibility to God is such that we cannot rightly think of his being ‘mechanically’ or ‘physically’ saved irrespective of his own personal character.

3. Being God's free gift, salvation is not in any sense earned or received as a reward of his own merit.

How can the second of these be reconciled with the first and third? How can we maintain both that a man's salvation depends on the kind of life he lives and also that it is a free gift of God which must not be thought of as earned by his own merits? In a few minutes we must squarely face this question as a problem for ourselves. But first let us see how it is posed in the two schools of thought that we have been considering.

In catholic theology the evangelical doctrine that salvation is by God's free gift and must not be thought of as earned finds expression in the teaching that God's action in the sacraments is ex opere operate. This phrase is often misunderstood; it is thought that the operans is the earthly minister and that God's grace is said to be secured by the right performance of ritual acts, a combination of pelagianism with magic. It may be that this error was indulged in by ignorant catholics who thereby gave ground for attacks on the phrase by protestant critics. But to one who knows from the inside what the phrase is intended to mean it is otherwise. The operans is God. ‘Sacramental worship is to him a bulwark against pelagianism; it is the kind of worship in which the importance of the human element is at its minimum; what gives their meaning to the services of Baptism and Holy Communion is the belief that it is Christ who in Baptism incorporates the new member into that fellowship of forgiven sinners which is His mystical body on earth, it is Christ who in the Eucharist takes the bread and wine to be His means for continuing the ministry on earth begun at Bethlehem. The important thing about the service he has been attending is not what he was believing, thinking, or feeling like, but what God has done: ex opere operato.’12

Even when rightly understood this might open the door to carelessness in the matter of moral responsibility. So it has to be balanced by the teaching of requirements in that field.

What is required of persons to be baptized?

Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and Faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.

What is required of them who come to the Lord's Supper?

To examine themselves, whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death; and be in charity with all men.13

In protestant theology the substitution of preaching the Word for the administration of sacraments as the central act of worship expresses the personal and ethical character of the Christian religion. A preacher addresses a man as a responsible person, calling upon him for an act of decision, for the response of faith. This is balanced by the doctrine that the faith which finds expression in the response is itself the free gift of God. Again, what is most important is what God is doing. Faith to the protestant is ex opere operato in the same sense as are sacraments to the catholic.

Underlying all forms of the doctrine of grace there is the problem of reconciling the ethical and personal character of the Christian religion with man's utter dependence on God's free gift of salvation.


Let us set this problem in the context of what we have learned of God's way with His creation. We have seen reason to think that His central purpose is to create a community of persons endowed with genuine freedom, that this spatio-temporal universe, with its combination of orderliness and contingency, is both the medium through which they are brought into existence as individualized centres of consciousness and also provides the environment and material for their growth in freedom. The extent of its infection by evil is the measure of His concern to create genuinely free persons. The steps He takes to counteract the evil are such as to set forward, and not to vary, His creative purpose: men are rescued from the chain of their sins by a method which depends on winning their free response and enlisting them to share in His work of ridding His creation from evil in all its various forms.

Once again we are face to face with the fundamental mystery of our existence, a puzzle not peculiar to Christian faith but confronting all who do not stop short of drinking deeply enough to discover it.14 Our thinking starts as the attempt to make sense of the universe of our experience. Step by step we are led on to the postulate that we are being created into persons destined for perfection in freedom. We who are Christians have faced the issue that any kind of creation involves a voluntary limitation of the divine impassibility, and a consequent antinomy in our doctrine of God.15 When we embrace this postulate as a matter of faith—when, that is, we take it as the view of the nature of things by which we pledge ourselves to try to live16—we begin our Creed by saying that we believe in God Almighty. To anyone who might say that God could not create without ceasing to be God we should reply that we believe His omnipotence to be expressed in His ability not only to create at all but to create free persons, and that we are encouraged to persist in this belief by the fact that it is the postulate required to make sense of what actually exists and happens.

Men and women come into existence at the human stage of the creative process, the stage, that is, at which God wills the development of individualized personal freedom. The process we are trying to understand is one in which we are ourselves involved, in which we have to play our part. It is a process which moves through phases which as they stand are illogical, whose meaning is a meaning for the action that must be taken if they are to be rendered intelligible as contributing to its intelligible end.

Looking out on this process from our position within it, ‘What’, we must ask, each one of us, ‘is our Creator's will for us?’ He has given us our freedom (a), the opportunity of considering different possible lines of action and choosing between them, in order that we may grow in freedom (b), the unimpeded activity of those whose freedom finds expression in devotion to the welfare of the city of God. ‘How can I’, each one of us must ask, ‘how can I, at one and the same time, obey the divine command which bids me develop my individual self hood, and also acknowledge that my only true way of life is that of complete surrender to the will of God?’ He must answer: ‘I am God's creature. Whatever being I have I draw from Him as His gift. He is not only giving me what I need to grow into the fullness of being that He wills for me; He is also giving me whatever ability I have to receive and be nourished by what He is giving. Whenever I draw a breath or lift a finger I am making use of the power of the Holy Spirit put at my disposal. “Put at my disposal.” Note these words. For this same God has revealed Himself as willing me to use the powers of body and mind which He gives me to make decisions and to take actions for which I am willing to be held responsible. There may be times when He deliberately leaves me to make up my own mind in situations where the issues are not clear. My surrender to His will must take the form of accepting the treatment that He thinks good for me. It is in making my own decision and acting upon it that I shall be most completely surrendered to His will, and in my decision and action His creative power will be most fully expressing itself in my life.’

Except in the reference to the Holy Spirit I have not in this drawn anything from specifically Christian theology. I have expressed what a man might say when speaking from within his experience of creaturehood on the basis of my last year's exposition of natural theology. To be specifically Christian he would have to add that he receives from God not only his existence, his ability to think, decide and act, his responsibility for his decisions and actions, and a world in which he can give effect to his decisions and himself grow by the making and acting on them—not only these, but also the access of fresh freedom and power that comes from sharing in his Lord's victory over the forces of evil. My present point is that, quite apart from this specifically Christian element in our belief, the nature of the universe, at the human stage of the creative process, is such as to involve in the relation between creature and Creator, between man and God, the apparent inconsistency which we have discovered in Christian expositions of the doctrine of grace, both catholic and protestant. It is no good trying to find some point of view from which this inconsistency can be seen to be something else in disguise, or to find some way of stating the doctrine in which it can be explained away. Together with contingency and evil, the paradoxical character of our relationship to God has to be accepted as one of the realities of our present condition, accepted as incidental to God's giving effect to His will to create persons endowed with genuine freedom. On this I would make three further remarks.

1. The apparent contradiction in the doctrine of grace is due to our being at a stage in the creative process at which irrationalities can occur, at which situations can arise which need to be changed in order to become intelligible. In our present condition, self-assertion and self-surrender appear as contradictory terms. We need continually to be reminding ourselves that this is not because of any intrinsic contradictoriness in them. In the life of God, the blessed Trinity, each Person finds His full self-expression in self-giving in responsive love. In the perfected city of God each finite created person will similarly find his full self-expression in the devotion of himself to the welfare of all. We shall reach the fullness of freedom only when we have become such that this contradiction, like that between can't and won't, has disappeared.17 Meanwhile we, at the receiving end of the process, have to struggle for the reconciliation of the two. God, from His end, gives what we need for our growth in freedom.18 His manner of giving is adjusted to the needs of creatures for whom there is still this contradiction to be overcome. Thus we see why in the language of traditional theology, both catholic and protestant, grace is relative to sin.

2. Towards the end of my eighth lecture last year I was saying that the task of parents and teachers is to help those entrusted to their care to grow up into men and women who will shoulder the responsibility for their own decisions and actions, that ‘over and over again we have to be asking the question: “Is this particular person, at this particular moment, in need of being constrained to conform, so that he may learn what it feels like to behave in the right way? Or does he need to be left free to make up his own mind, to learn to take responsibility, even at the cost of making a mess of things?”’ In the following lecture I suggested that it may help to throw light on the existence of certain kinds of evil to think of God caring for His creatures after the analogy of a father making provision for the upbringing of his sons and daughters.19 In the third lecture of the present series I was explaining further the sense in which we Christians speak of God as our Father.20 Now I would ask: is there any father among us who in the exercise of his fatherhood has not had personal experience of precisely that paradoxical relationship to son or daughter which is implied by the Christian doctrine of grace? In our ordinary earthly experience we know what it is to want to encourage our children's growth in individual self hood and freedom, standing by to do what we can to retrieve the errors which we deliberately leave them free to make. God has revealed Himself as caring for us in this way. In the thought of His fatherhood lies the clue to our understanding the operation of His grace.

3. It will help us to carry further this attempt to think of God's grace by analogy from our experience of personal relationships. When we are thinking of it in St. Paul's secondary sense of the word, as ‘the divine influence or influences which operate from within the Christian nature’, it is only too easy to slip into drinking of grace as a sub-personal something given by God to work on its own, as a doctor may give a patient a bottle of medicine to be taken three times a day after meals. Unnecessary obscurity has been caused by well-meaning but misguided attempts to picture the irresistible efficacy of God's grace by illustrations drawn from the sequence of cause and effect in the physical world, speaking, for example, of grace as flowing from some reservoir through divinely appointed channels into the human soul, channels from which its entry may be blocked by sin until the free passage is restored by penitence and absolution. One can appreciate and respect the pious intention of nourishing faith and devotion by such similes, but the danger of their use outweighs its value. It opens the door to abuses in sacramental doctrine and practice such as in the later Middle Ages developed to the point of provoking the reformation revolt. What is more important for us now is the hindrance it opposes to any intelligent understanding of the doctrine of grace itself. So long as we are thinking in these terms we can find no light on the problem of how at one and the same time an act can both be caused by God's grace and also be the expression of a man's own free will.

It is not so in the realm of personal relationships. We may not be able fully to understand it, but we find no difficulty in accepting as a reality in our experience the fact that one man can help another to be and do what he himself wills to be and do. We know what it means for a man to say ‘I could never have been what I am, were it not for so-and-so coming into my life’—speaking with heartfelt gratitude of the coming of so-and-so.

We have to distinguish between two kinds of influence which one man has in the life of another. There is, of course, the ‘undue influence’ which in a court of law may be held to invalidate a will. This is called undue because it disregards a man's freedom in the sense of his right to run his own life; it is a psychological conditioning which works upon him in a manner similar to the causal efficacy of drink or drugs. In contrast with this there is the influence which approaches him in a fully personal manner, winning him to actions for which he is fully responsible. Here we must make a further distinction, not concerned with the mode by which the influence is exerted but with the end to which it is directed. A man who allows himself to come under the influence of an evil-minded person and be led into evil paths will not have the same ground for gratitude as one who is being strengthened in his devotion to goodness. For, as I was arguing last year, the one course leads to the loss of freedom (a) in slavery, the other to growth in self-control and freedom (b).21 It is this last kind of influence which we must take as our starting-point when trying to think about God's grace in St. Paul's secondary sense of the word. It is the only one which is consistent with His central aim to create a community of persons perfected in their freedom. It has two characteristics of importance for our inquiry.

(i) We know quite well what it means for a man to say ‘I could never have been what I am—’ or ‘I could never have done this deed’—but for so-and-so. We know this from the inside, with an understanding deeper than what understanding we have of the sequence of events in the physical world observed by the natural sciences.22 And our experience goes to convince us that what the man says may be literally true, that left to himself, by his own strength alone, he could not have been or done what he refers to. I say ‘may be’, because men can be mistaken: in some cases it may be true, in others not. It is enough for my point if there are any in which it is true, and I am convinced that there are.

(ii) In such a case, a man will neither feel nor think that the help he has received has set him aside and taken out of his hands the running of his own life, that what he has become or done is not the expression of his own will and his true self. The ground of his gratitude is his conviction that he has received help which has given him an increase of the kind of freedom that is really worth having.

From one another we can receive help which enables us to be and do what otherwise we could not, and this in a way which does not infringe but increases our freedom. This may be mysterious. Indeed, it is mysterious in the sense that we do not understand, so to speak, how it works. But it is no more mysterious than the way in which cause produces effect in the physical world. We observe the one process from the outside; we experience the other from the inside. Our difficulty about the doctrine of grace largely arises from our being under the influence of a science mystique which can be as destructive of clear thinking as the Bible mystique we were reviewing in my first lecture. We behave as though to say that God's grace is necessary for a man to be and do what he should is to predicate the kind of causal necessity operating in the physical world, a necessity inconsistent with freedom. We behave as though we have to translate our experience of personal relations into terms of sub-personal happenings in order to render it intelligible. When we emancipate ourselves from this illusion we can surely see that in our experience of personal influence at its best we have precisely the analogy we need to lead us towards the understanding of God's grace in St. Paul's secondary sense of the word. When a man ends a letter with such a phrase as ‘with my love’, or ‘X sends you his love’, no one supposes that he is enclosing something like a bottle of medicine or a box of pills. It is in this way that we think of God giving His grace to be a divine influence which operates from within the Christian nature. Can we, by following this line of approach, come to think of sacraments as ‘means of grace’ in a way which will conserve what they stand for in catholic devotion and be immune to suspicion of pelagianism or magic?


In his book The Protestant Era23 Professor Paul Tillich discusses, as though he were giving an exhaustive list, three possible types of sacramental theory. He first dismisses what he calls the ‘symbolic-metaphoric’ view on the ground that it does not involve any ‘necessary, intrinsic relationship’ between the material element and the spiritual reality. ‘The act of baptism is thus a visible representation of the idea of baptism. Obviously, other pictorial actions could serve as representation of the same idea, such as passing through fire, going down into a cave and the like.’ He then rejects the ‘ritualistic’ interpretation of the element on the similar ground that it makes the relation between, e.g., water and baptism ‘merely accidental. The connecting of the two is dependent on a divine command. Because of this command, water acquires its sacramental significance as soon as it is employed in the properly celebrated rite of baptism’. He comes down in favour of ‘a realistic interpretation’, which

explicitly raises the question as to whether there is not a necessary relationship between water and baptism. It questions Luther's view that water is ‘simply water’, although accepting his repudiation of the magical conception of the sacraments. A special character or quality, a power of its own, is attributed to water. By virtue of this natural power, water is suited to become the bearer of a sacred power and thus also to become a sacramental element. A necessary relationship between baptism and water is asserted. This realistic conception seems to me to be adequate to the true nature of the sacrament. It rejects the idea that there is a merely arbitrary connection between the idea and the material element.

From much that I have said already it will be clear that this discussion seems to me to be misconceived, to be mistaken in its use of the words ‘realistic’ and ‘ritualistic’, in its positive grounds for affirming the one view and in its negative grounds for rejecting the other.

For Tillich the ‘realistic’ view rests upon an attempt to establish a connection between the material and the spiritual realities in the sacrament on the basis of a definition of the material in terms of an analysis of its constituent elements. To repeat what I said last year of this method of definition, ‘while it may increase our ability to harness the forces of nature to our own ends, (it) takes us further and further away from understanding the things and events of the world we have to live in’.24 And while the dismissal of the so-called ‘ritualistic’ view as implying a ‘merely accidental’ connection dependent on a divine command may be justified on that description of it, if this be so, Tillich's list is not exhaustive. He has omitted any mention of what emerges from God's revelation of Himself in nature and history to be the true basis of sacramental theory and practice.

The word ‘ritualistic’ suggests that the connection depends on the correct performance by an earthly minister of a rite in obedience to a command given by Jesus Christ in Palestine some nineteen hundred years ago. This ignores the fact that for the Christian believer Jesus Christ is not merely the historic figure who once upon a time gave commands which now we obey in pious memory; He is the crucified, risen, ascended, living Lord, the ‘same yesterday, to-day and for ever’, whose present activity gives its meaning and reality to all our religious practice, and in particular to the sacraments. We believe the water of baptism to be sanctified to the mystical washing away of sin because we believe Him to be present and to take it and make it so. We believe the bread and wine of the Eucharist to be His body and His blood because we believe Him to be present, alive and active, and to take these material elements to be the vehicle of His continuing redemptive activity in and through His earthly body, the Church; taken to be for Him here and now in His present ministry what the body taken of the substance of His earthly mother was for Him in the opening years of that ministry from Bethlehem to Calvary.

Here note two things. First, that the definition of what is meant in this context by such words as ‘body’ and ‘blood’ is not in terms of analysis of their structure but of their function, defined in the same way as we define a pen to be a thing to write with and a chair a thing to sit on. And note, secondly, that in our belief He who takes these elements to be His body and His blood is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. Nothing can more truly be said to be itself than that which the Creator of all things takes it and makes it to be.

It would wander too far from the course of these lectures to discuss detailed questions of sacramental theology: whether, for example, there is any sense in which the Eucharist can rightly be called a sacrifice, or the sacrament reserved for the communion of the sick or as a focus of devotion. I will say this much. If, as I am maintaining, the ground of our sacramental doctrine is the belief that the living Lord takes the elements to be what He wills them to be in His own use of them, these questions must be considered as concerning what use we may believe Him to will to make of them.25

Last year, when we set out on our attempt to make sense of the universe of our experience, we found ourselves driven to postulate a Creator, and to hold that ultimate explanations must be in terms of His will and purpose. To-day the attempt to make sense of the sacramental practice of the Christian Church has driven us along the same road. What gives to the sacraments their meaning and their mode of reality is the use that the living Lord makes of them. In this way we come to a right understanding of them as ‘means of grace’. Grace is the word we use for God's activity in Christ towards sinful men, and the sacraments are means of which He makes use in the course of His gracious action.

Now a further point. We have seen that between God and His creatures there can be two kinds of relationship: one-sidedly personal, as pictured in the analogy of the potter and his clay, and mutually personal.26 We have also seen that we men and women are in process of being created into persons: we come into existence as the self-consciousness of our bodies, and have to take over the running of our bodily life as a matter of personal responsibility.27 Hence at any moment of our earthly life, God stands to us in a mixed relationship. In so far as our behaviour is sub-personal, it is one-sidedly personal: personal on His side, impersonal on ours. We are the clay in the hands of the potter. In so far as we are capable of personal response, of obedience or disobedience, of love or hatred, it can be, and often is, mutually personal. Since our growth into existence as persons is one of those ongoing processes of scientifically knowable change of which we cannot expect to be able to get a clear picture or logical definition of cross-sections,28 the same is true of the changing gradations in God's modes of relationship to us. All we can say is that God is personally at work in us promoting our growth in freedom into the persons that He wills us to be.

God's grace is God at work within us, influencing the direction of our lives. Since His central aim is the development of our growth in true freedom, we can rely on Him not to exercise that kind of ‘undue influence’ which in despite of our personality seeks to control our behaviour by sub-personal conditioning. This being so, we need have no hesitation in including in our definition of God's grace His activity in us at the sub-personal level, working on and in us after the manner of the potter and his clay. His action is always fully personal, directed towards building us up into creatures capable of taking over the running of our own lives as responsible persons.

If this be true of God's relationship to us in His creative activity, it is surely equally true of His redemptive activity in Christ. The emphasis on the ex opere operato activity of Christ in catholic sacramental theology is an attempt to express the truth that He is active at the sub-personal as well as the personal level. If in baptism the true agent is Christ Himself, in whose name His Church is baptizing His children, what limits can we set to His activity in their lives, nourishing their unconscious, sub-personal life with all that they need to become capable of conscious, personal faith when they come to years of discretion? When I come in penitence and faith to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, I cannot limit the divine activity in me to that of which I am consciously aware. He bids me do this in remembrance of Him. So far all is mutually personal. But when I come, my personal response at its best is poor and meagre. Only too often it is not at its best, but is the response of one who is sleepy, or wandering in thought. My faith has to be shown in trusting God through Christ to give me all the sub-personal growth I need to constitute me a person and enable me to make the personal response of faith. He uses the sacrament to send me forth into the world bound more closely to Himself as a member of the body in which He is carrying on His redemptive work.

Since throughout His action is wholly personal, there is nothing of magic or superstition in the belief that through the sacraments God is nourishing the sub-personal life of His creatures. To deny it would involve the pelagianism of asserting that by its own efforts creation can struggle upwards to personality and only then has need of the grace of God. Moreover, this belief makes provision for the religious nurture of all sorts and conditions of men. Whatever the stage of their development in physical age or spiritual sensitiveness, there is a place for them in the sacramental life of the Church which there would not be if the only offer made to them were the demand for the response of fully personal faith, all or nothing.

There is nothing of magic or superstition in this. But the moment we allow ourselves to forget God's paramount concern for our growth in true freedom the door is opened to both. Forgetting that His purpose in the sacraments is to engender and nourish our fully personal faith, we may content ourselves with a mechanical reliance on the kind of help appropriate only to the sub-personal elements in us, whether or no we go so far as to substitute ritual correctness for moral responsibility.

A degeneration of this kind in the sacramental theology of the later Middle Ages provoked the Reformation revolt against the catholic doctrine of grace. The resulting controversies have been confused by failure to recognize the mixed character of God's relationship to us men at our stage in His creative process. Often, for example, when the doctrines of justification by faith and baptismal regeneration are opposed as alternatives between which we must choose, it is assumed that they are rival descriptions of God's activity and His requirement of response in relation to the same stage of human development. If they are not, if they belong to different stages in the divine creative and redemptive activity, and the temporal order of a man's becoming is not to be ignored as irrelevant to our thought and treatment of him, this is not so. The one reminds us of the heights of personal response to which God calls us, the other of how His love encompasses all sorts and conditions of men.

  • 1.

    W. Manson, in Whitley: The Doctrine of Grace (London, 1932), p. 43.

  • 2.

    Above, p. 100.

  • 3.

    W. Manson, op. cit., pp. 47, 49.

  • 4.

    See my Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 77 ff.

  • 5.

    On this, see W. Temple: Nature, Man and God (London, 1934), pp. 400–3.

  • 6.

    Vol. I, pp. 171 ff.

  • 7.

    Summa Theologia, II, i, 108 ff.

  • 8.

    See, e.g., R. Otto: Religious Essays (Oxford, 1931).

  • 9.

    Quoted from Luther and Melancthon by H. Hermelink in Whitley: op. cit., pp. 179–81.

  • 10.

    Institutes (1559), III, xxi.

  • 11.

    In Whitley: op. cit., p. 210.

  • 12.

    Quoted from address in O. S. Tomkins: The Third World Conference on Faith and Order (London, 1953), p. 114.

  • 13.

    From the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer.

  • 14.

    See above, pp. 48, 87. Also Vol. I, p. 133.

  • 15.

    Vol. I, pp. 152, 227.

  • 16.

    Vol. I, p. 105.

  • 17.

    Vol. I, pp. 185–8.

  • 18.

    Vol. I, pp. 152–3.

  • 19.

    Vol. I, pp. 189, 205 ff.

  • 20.

    Above, p. 61.

  • 21.

    Vol. I, pp. 184–8.

  • 22.

    Vol. I, p. 138.

  • 23.

    London, 1951, pp. 106 ff.

  • 24.

    Vol. I. pp. 159, 164.

  • 25.

    I have discussed these questions further in my Essays in Christian Philosophy (London, 1930), Essay IX.

  • 26.

    Vol. I, pp. 165 ff., 205.

  • 27.

    Vol. I, pp. 161 ft, 180 ff., 234 ff. And above, pp. 80 ff.

  • 28.

    Vol. I, p. 174.