The two greatest mercies of God—His law and His grace
August 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – With the sweet name of mercy being so much abused today in the Church, we are in danger of forgetting the two greatest mercies that God has in fact given to us.
The first is the Law. By this, I mean the Divine Law that enunciates and clarifies for us the natural moral law by which human persons are required to live and outside of which they cannot be either virtuous or happy, in this life or in the world to come.
The second is the grace to live the law. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, what Christ has brought us is not a new law in the sense of a new content that differs from the natural moral law, but rather, the gift of the Holy Spirit by which we fallen creatures are empowered to live that law, day in and day out. This is the delicious fruit of the Passion and the magnificent gift of Pentecost: we who, by our own power and efforts, are doomed to fail, are lifted up by God’s help to a life of fidelity to His commandments.
Why are these the two greatest mercies?
For human action, two things are required. First, we must know where we are headed so that we can choose the right path to reach it. Second, we must have the strength to follow that path, or, to put it more simply, the will, the inclination, to set out towards our goal. It is not enough to have knowledge if we are weak or powerless to act according to it; it is not enough to have energy or will power if we don’t know what direction to go in.
As a result, God, in His special care for us, rational creatures made in His image and likeness, has provided both the knowledge of what we should do (and should not do), and the interior motivation to carry it out (or, in the case of evil, to refrain from carrying it out).
We may see in the sign of the Cross a reminder of this truth. When we start “In the Name of the Father,” we place our hand on our forehead: the Father is the origin of all truth, and in His Light we see light. Then we bring our hand to our heart, “and of the Son,” as if to say: “May my heart be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; may I love what He loves, desire what He desires.” Then we touch each side of our torso, from one shoulder to the other, as if to say: “May the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, surround me and make me live the the truth I have seen, make me actually do the good I have desired.”
Throughout the Christian centuries, heretical trends have perverted these mercies. Some, embracing antinomianism, reject the Law as an enslaving imposition and seek for a freedom or a toleration that ends up destroying itself and harming those around us who must suffer from the consequences. Others, on the contrary, hold to the Law in its externals only, making it into a loveless fixation with propriety and respectability.
We see the former alive and well today in clergy and theologians who oppose the Gospel to the Ten Commandments, or who see the Christian path as one of simultaneous sinning and righteousness (as Martin Luther did). We see the latter in anyone who does not see love for God and for neighbor as the very heart of law-abidingness, and therefore does not see that the most crucial work for us to be doing, day in and day out, is begging the Lord for the grace to live in His truth. Without that grace, there is no righteousness; without that grace, there is no salvation.
It is not the one who is an activist, always seeking the next great conquest in the public sphere, who has grasped the primacy of God’s law, nor is it the relaxed exponent of “anything goes” or the nonchalant trumpeter of “God is Love” who has awakened to the severe mercy and the transformative grace of God. It is rather the one who is found in the temple of God, begging Him for the knowledge of His law and the grace of His charity with which to live it out. He or she will be there, in that temple, either literally or figuratively, at the break of day, throughout the day, in the evening, at night.
This is the telltale sign that one has hearkened to these two great mercies, and has understood what is required if we are to know and live the law of the Lord.