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Grace...as understood in the EOC vs the RCC


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#1 Bill Turri

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 02:56 PM

Grace: What It Is and What It Does | Catholic Answers

That was given to me by a Catholic as a quick answer about what grace is. Obviously it's not a theological treatise but a quick pamphlet-style summary. Still there are some major issues that appear to me, having just spent several weeks reading about, and discussing, the Barlaam/Palamas issues and the split over "created" vs. "uncreated" grace. A few relevant snippets of the article:

[...] there are two kinds of grace, sanctifying and actual [...] Sanctifying grace stays in the soul. It’s what makes the soul holy; it gives the soul supernatural life. More properly, it is supernatural life.
Actual grace, by contrast, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It’s transient. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside, so to speak. It’s a supernatural kick in the pants. It gets the will and intellect moving so we can seek out and keep sanctifying grace


This seems to me to speak of two "kinds" of grace, neither of which actually conveys God to us in any direct sense. The "actual" grace is a push from the outside, that remains outside. The "sanctifying" grace comes down from above and is infused into us, adding to our nature (hence supernatural) which by itself is unfit for heaven. The sanctifying grace is infused, but it's additive.

This seems to be a model something like "do this...get that." God gives the push, then I do something...God responds by adding grace to my soul, which enables me to do greater things...which God rewards with even more grace, and so forth. Is that more or less accurate? I can see how, then, it's logically possible for one to be rewarded with so much grace that it's more than what they "need," and this can go over into the treasure of merit, and all that.

As I'm coming to understand the Orthodox position, God's grace isn't just a push from without, nor is it a "stuff" that is added within. It's...God. God working with us...co-operating...is not so much "man does this, God gives grace" but "man and God work together in all things, neither adding to the other, but rather both working harmoniously toward the same end of salvation. Christ's divine nature didn't add to his human nature, it worked perfectly with it. Christ's divine will didn't add to his human will, or take it beyond its limits, but it worked perfectly with it. And if our individual salvation is perfect incorporation into the Body of Christ, such that we become by "grace" what Christ was by nature(s), the ultimate goal of salvation by grace, is to become in the same perfect synergy with God that Christ has between his two natures--theosis. In this view, it makes no sense to say that any grace could "spill over" or be "super-abundant" because one can go no further than perfect union between the human/divine natures, lest one actually go further than Christ's own hypostatic union...which would be an absurdity.

If you want to live in the deep blue sea, you need equipment you aren’t provided with naturally; you need something that will elevate you above your nature, something super- (that is, "above") natural, such as oxygen tanks. It’s much the same with your soul. In its natural state, it isn’t fit for heaven. It doesn’t have the right equipment, and if you die with your soul in its natural state, heaven won’t be for you. What you need to live there is supernatural life, not just natural life. That supernatural life is called sanctifying grace. The reason you need sanctifying grace to be able to live in heaven is because you will be in perfect and absolute union with God, the source of all life (cf. Gal. 2:19, 1 Pet. 3:18).

So what is "perfect and absolute union with God" in a Catholic sense? Over against what I feebly tried to describe earlier, which may very well not be properly phrased in an Orthodox context?

Once you have supernatural life, once sanctifying grace is in your soul, you can increase it by every supernaturally good action you do: receiving Communion, saying prayers, performing the corporal works of mercy. Is it worth increasing sanctifying grace once you have it; isn’t the minimum enough? Yes and no. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. It’s easy to fall from grace, as you know. The more solidly you’re wed to sanctifying grace, the more likely you can withstand temptations.

I keep thinking back to the Catholic priest who once described to me the "Grace Meter." Do good works, and grace goes up. Sin, and grace goes down. Sin mortally and the meter is smashed. Receive reconciliation, and the meter is working again but back to zero. Another Catholic (layman) described it as "a treadmill to heaven."

So again this all seems like transactions, as though grace were a substance, or a currency, rather than a real and direct encounter with the energies of God. Grace erases or wipes away sins...or compensates for debt...something like a cleaning agent or perhaps a bank transaction, rather than inwardly purifying the nature that is really there, something like fire burning away the impurities from iron.

I keep thinking back to an explanation I heard (from an Orthodox iconographer) about halos in icons. In Eastern art, the icon shines from within a person, while in Western art, it rests above the person--added from above, but never really joined.

Thoughts from anyone? Am I misunderstanding things?

#2 Mary Lanser

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 03:44 PM

You're right. This is not a theological treatise. Remember the stories of hedge witches? They were medieval healers who could help with common ailments and extract a tooth and help with some preventative remedies, but they were not the worldly and well educated adepts of the middle ages who had knowledge of the world's pharmacopeia. They were local and homespun and limited in what they could do, though the provided essential services to the ill and the ailing.

Well this tract is something that would be handed out by a religious "hedge witch" to a generally even less well informed populace.

The state of Catholic catechesis, particularly with regard to the subject of grace, is deplorable. I suppose I should be happy that they do this much.

All grace is internal. St. Teresa of Avila, reformed saint of Carmel and Doctor of the Church, likens grace to a boundless aquifer in the soul and as we are able to receive from that aquifer, the water flows through us like a river.

At the time of our baptism the veil or barrier that has prevented that grace from flowing in us is lifted and will remain lifted as long as we do not completely darken the soul with sin.

What that tract refers to as sanctifying grace is the illuminating grace of baptism that makes it possible at all for that veil to be lifted. Prior to baptism the soul lived in darkness, though not devoid of grace, for our very breath is dependent upon the grace of God to sustain it, and we are, still by grace, able to exercise a natural virtue.

All the idea of actual grace is trying to convey is that each and every good thought, word or deed that we exercise is possible because of God's graces and our cooperation with them.

This grace called actual grace is different from the grace to do and be good outside of Baptism. The grace of goodness outside of Baptism, that sparks our natural virtues, is sufficient to any given task at hand, but is not efficacious in that it does not allow us to participate in the divine life.

The graces called "actual" allow is to participate in divine life, as we live day to day, after Baptism. The grace called sanctifying allows us to participate freely in God's graces in the first place.

None of these graces are substantially "different"...We simply make distinctions in talking about grace so that we can see the various gifts that God has for us, in his Providence and by his Will, and how we work within their influence and support.

There's more but I may have said too much already. So I will stop here and wait to see what comes.

In Christ,

Mary

#3 Bill Turri

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Posted 03 May 2012 - 01:02 PM

You're right. This is not a theological treatise. Remember the stories of hedge witches? They were medieval healers who could help with common ailments and extract a tooth and help with some preventative remedies, but they were not the worldly and well educated adepts of the middle ages who had knowledge of the world's pharmacopeia. They were local and homespun and limited in what they could do, though the provided essential services to the ill and the ailing.

Well this tract is something that would be handed out by a religious "hedge witch" to a generally even less well informed populace.

The state of Catholic catechesis, particularly with regard to the subject of grace, is deplorable. I suppose I should be happy that they do this much.


Interesting you say that. This came from Catholic Answers, which is generally promoted by many Catholics (EWTN, etc.) as the be-all, end-all of Catholic education and apologetics. But I often have found their material rather...well...hedge-witchy :) So I take it that you don't see this tract as wrong so much as incomplete?

All grace is internal. St. Teresa of Avila, reformed saint of Carmel and Doctor of the Church, likens grace to a boundless aquifer in the soul and as we are able to receive from that aquifer, the water flows through us like a river.

At the time of our baptism the veil or barrier that has prevented that grace from flowing in us is lifted and will remain lifted as long as we do not completely darken the soul with sin.



How does this jive with the more legal understanding that the guilt of original sin, for which we are justly condemned to hell, is also forgiven? You seem to be explaining this in more "therapeutic" or existential terms, whereas I'm accustomed to hearing Catholics speak primarily in terms of a guilt being forgiven (but usually in apologetic arguments against Protestants over the nature of baptism...so maybe it's skewed in a particular direction).

What that tract refers to as sanctifying grace is the illuminating grace of baptism that makes it possible at all for that veil to be lifted. Prior to baptism the soul lived in darkness, though not devoid of grace, for our very breath is dependent upon the grace of God to sustain it, and we are, still by grace, able to exercise a natural virtue.

All the idea of actual grace is trying to convey is that each and every good thought, word or deed that we exercise is possible because of God's graces and our cooperation with them.

This grace called actual grace is different from the grace to do and be good outside of Baptism. The grace of goodness outside of Baptism, that sparks our natural virtues, is sufficient to any given task at hand, but is not efficacious in that it does not allow us to participate in the divine life.

The graces called "actual" allow is to participate in divine life, as we live day to day, after Baptism. The grace called sanctifying allows us to participate freely in God's graces in the first place.


So are these graces actually God, or are they something created as a sort of medium between God and man? I think I read in the other thread about "unmerited favor" that Catholics understand that graces/energies are uncreated, but the effects or experiences of them within a human being are created.

None of these graces are substantially "different"...We simply make distinctions in talking about grace so that we can see the various gifts that God has for us, in his Providence and by his Will, and how we work within their influence and support.

There's more but I may have said too much already. So I will stop here and wait to see what comes.

In Christ,

Mary


I appreciate your response and your help in understanding this! I do not want to misunderstand nor misrepresent the Catholic position. I've heard as many explanations for Catholic doctrine, as there are Catholics I've listened to (and honestly that's often true of any belief system, including Orthodoxy). Could you elaborate some on the link between grace (flowing like a river, per Teresa of Avila above) and the idea of merit being bestowed upon a person in response to good works (done with the assistance of grace)...with merit being accrued such that it's possible to actually accrue more than is needed, and hence lead to a treasure of "superabundant" merits, indulgences and all that? If theosis is becoming united to Christ, then how can one ever be super-abundantly united to Christ? I'm sure I"m misunderstanding something and I look forward to learning more.

Thanks! And God Bless.

#4 Mary Lanser

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Posted 03 May 2012 - 03:27 PM

Dear Bill,

Today is a rush for me, but I wanted to acknowledge your note and let you know that I can give it more attention later today or tomorrow morning. There are a couple of cautions that I will give you in advance.

When I came here to interact on this Forum, I came to discuss the spiritual life. I don't actually do apologetics and don't really appreciate contemporary Internet apologetics very much because the tendency is to separate theology-spirituality-doctrine and not deal with it as a whole piece. Some are better than others but in the main... Also I have recently promised that I would not engage in Catholic apologetics here, which is fine with me for the reasons I just mentioned.

That does not mean that I cannot answer some of your questions here and perhaps direct you to other sources. Some of the response to your comments is explicitly contained in this tendency to separate these issues into discreet packets out of context of Scripture, Tradition and Life in general. Many things cannot be adequately explained in a set of brief questions and brief responses. There are also regional and historical explanations. I gave you a bit of that in my private note to you yesterday. The dissolution of the monastic life in Europe and in England and the separation of the laity from the influence and life of the monastics has had a creeping negative effect on this very issue of wholeness in teaching. It is why Orthodoxy must be sure to continue their good work in building strong monastic presences and make sure the faithful are exposed to it.

And then there is the situation where we are all a little bit like the six blind monks and the elephant...and that reality cannot be resolved save by time and study and giving great care to the desire to imitate Christ as loyal sons and daughters of, in this context, Orthodoxy.

When I come back I will address the last part of your note here and add a suggestion for reading and then we'll see where it is proper to go from there...or if it is proper.

In Christ.

#5 Mary Lanser

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 01:34 AM

Mary:

All grace is internal. St. Teresa of Avila, reformed saint of Carmel and Doctor of the Church, likens grace to a boundless aquifer in the soul and as we are able to receive from that aquifer, the water flows through us like a river.

At the time of our baptism the veil or barrier that has prevented that grace from flowing in us is lifted and will remain lifted as long as we do not completely darken the soul with sin. How does this jive with the more legal understanding that the guilt of original sin, for which we are justly condemned to hell, is also forgiven? You seem to be explaining this in more "therapeutic" or existential terms, whereas I'm accustomed to hearing Catholics speak primarily in terms of a guilt being forgiven (but usually in apologetic arguments against Protestants over the nature of baptism...so maybe it's skewed in a particular direction).



Bill: How does this jive with the more legal understanding that the guilt of original sin, for which we are justly condemned to hell, is also forgiven? You seem to be explaining this in more "therapeutic" or existential terms, whereas I'm accustomed to hearing Catholics speak primarily in terms of a guilt being forgiven (but usually in apologetic arguments against Protestants over the nature of baptism...so maybe it's skewed in a particular direction).


Mary: The guilt of original sin is not personal guilt. Even the original Latin word is not "culpa" when referring to Adam's progeny. Culpa indicates a personal guilt and is used with reference to Adam. The Latin used in the discussion of original sin with respect to mankind since Adam is "reatus" which has the meaning of "a liability incurred"...In other words we are all liable for the consequences of Adam's sin. The "poena" or "punishment" for the ancestral sin is the loss of original justice. Baptism renews our capability for living a life in Christ. Essentially it is not a legal understanding but one of relationship lost and relationship regained.

I was taught that from very early on in my childhood. I learned it at home and I learned it at school. I learned it later again in formation in a religious order.

In Christ.

#6 Mary Lanser

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 03:49 AM

Could you elaborate some on the link between grace (flowing like a river, per Teresa of Avila above) and the idea of merit being bestowed upon a person in response to good works (done with the assistance of grace)...with merit being accrued such that it's possible to actually accrue more than is needed, and hence lead to a treasure of "superabundant" merits, indulgences and all that? If theosis is becoming united to Christ, then how can one ever be super-abundantly united to Christ? I'm sure I"m misunderstanding something and I look forward to learning more.

Thanks! And God Bless.


In order to discuss this in any way that would be truly instructive, I would have to go deeply into a discussion of the history of this teaching. I don't think that would be in the spirit of this Forum.

So briefly, there are no merits except the merits of Jesus Christ.

When one lives a life of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, a life of virtuous imitation of Christ, those graces are not the "possession" of anyone but Jesus. What we have is His, and we "have" anything at all by our participation in the divine life.

IF you begin with these premises then you will have a better chance of understanding the historical record.

Also I would note that one should not judge a principle by how often it is exercised in the breach. To draw that idea through logically, you could wind up condemning the Ten Commandments on the grounds that nobody holds to them with any predictable regularity.

The Gospels have a number of examples of Jesus teaching a lesson by using examples of material goods. There is a precedence for it in the Gospels.

If I can be of further assistance...

In Christ,

M.

#7 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 03:46 PM

Bill, I have briefly addressed some of your questions in this comment in a related thread. I do not doubt that popular Catholic explanations of grace, both in parishes and on the internet, approximate what you have described; but no matter how popular they may be, they also distort the understanding of grace as presented by the best Latin theologians (whether ancient or modern). I commend to you E. L. Mascall's essay "Grace and Nature in East and West" and my blog review of the book The Theology of Grace and the Oecumenical Movement.

To make matters even more difficult, Catholic theology has changed dramatically over the past sixty years. The single most influential Catholic theologian of this period is Karl Rahner, who is absolutely clear on uncreated grace: grace is nothing less than "God's self-communication in love." Rahner writes:

God does not bestow merely a certain kind of saving love and intimacy, or a certain kind of saving presence. ... God does not confer on man merely created gifts as a token of his love. God communicates himself by what is no longer simply efficient causality. He makes man share in the very nature of God. He constitutes man as co-heir with the Son himself, called to the eternal life of God face to face, called to receive the direct vision of God, called therefore to receive God's own life. Here we really reach the heart of the Christian conception of reality.


Whether Rahner's understanding of grace would satisfy Orthodox concerns I do not know, but clearly it cannot be accused of reducing grace to a created reality. See Francis Caponi's essay "Karl Rahner: Divinization in Roman Catholicism," in Partakers of the Divine Nature (ed. Christensen and Wittung). Unfortunately, Orthodox theologian have not yet engaged contemporary Catholic theologians like Rahner, Balthasar, and Fransen on grace and participation in the divine life of God.

What this all means is that the popular Orthodox polemic that Western theology cannot speak of theosis and a true participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity cannot be sustained--or perhaps more accurately, cannot be sustained at least for some Catholic presentations of grace. I doubt it can be sustained for Aquinas and Bonaventure (see, e.g., Anna Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas), and it certainly cannot be sustained for contemporary Catholic theology (see, e.g., Stephen Duffy, The Dynamics of Grace). Orthodox theologians may still wonder how it is possible to speak of participation in the divine nature without a distinction between the divine essence and energies, but that does not mean that Catholic theologians like Aquinas and Rahner do not intend to speak of grace as God's self-communication of himself to creatures.

#8 Mary Lanser

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 05:20 PM

One of the most thorough treatises on the spiritual life of grace, according to western lights, comes from a Spanish Dominican, Fr. Juan G. Arintero, OP. and is a two volume work called The Mystical Evolution written between the 1890s and early 1900s. Dominican Father Jordan Aumann is the translator of the two volumes in English and the author of the following text, available on-line. I present these texts if only to soften and clarify the idea that Catholic teaching has changed dramatically over the centuries, or that the reorientation of the 20th century came strictly out of the conversations among the systematic theologians of the universities, mid-1900s. In actuality the change came directly out of the religious and ancient spiritual praxis of the Catholic Church.

http://www.domcentra.../st/default.htm

http://www.domcentra...st01.htm#nasost

What is now called spiritual theology has been designated by various names throughout the history of theology. Some have called it simply spirituality; others have named it spiritual life; devout life; supernatural life; interior life; mystical evolution; and theology of Christian perfection. The terms first used and still commonly used to designate the systematic theology of the spiritual life are ascetical theology and mystical theology, although these words do not have the same meaning for all theologians.


The word ascetical comes from the Greek askeein, meaning to practice or exercise in order to acquire a skill, especially an athletic skill. Later the word came to mean the study of philosophy or the practice of virtue, and it was used in this sense by Greek philosophers. St. Paul uses the word only once, in Acts 24:16, but he frequently draws the comparison between the practices of the Christian life and athletic exercises (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:28; gimnazein in 1 Tim. 4:7-8, Heb. 5:14, and 12:11 designates spiritual striving). Among the early Christians the name ascetics was given to those who observed continence under the vow of chastity, from which it was ultimately applied to the practices of the monastic life. It seems that a Polish Franciscan named Dobrosielski introduced the word ascetical into the Latin usage of western theology in 1655, and between 1752 and 1754 the Italian Jesuit Scaramelli used the term in contradistinction to the older word mystical.


The term mystical, also from the Greek (mystikos), originally referred to secret or hidden rites known only to the initiated. The noun mysterion is used in the Book of Daniel and also in the Deuterocanonical books; in the New Testament it is used by St. Paul to signify a secret of God pertaining to man's salvation, the hidden or symbolic sense of a narration, or anything whose activity or power is hidden. The adjective mystical is not found in the New Testament or in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers; it was introduced only in the third century, and with the passage of time it assumed three meanings: liturgically, it referred to religious cult; exegetically, it signified an allegorical or a typical interpretation of Scripture as distinct from the literal sense; theologically, it meant a more profound knowledge of the truths of faith -- knowledge not shared by all.


In the fourth century the expression mystical theology is found in the writings of Marcellus Ancyranus; in the fifth century, in the writings of Marcus Eremita; and the expression was introduced into western theology at the beginning of the sixth century by the PseudoDionysius, author of De mystica theologia. By this time the word mystical designated not only the superior and deeper knowledge formerly known as gnosis but also an experiential, intuitive knowledge of the divine. Gradually the word was identified with contemplation, and treatises on the subject tended to become more abstract and scientific.


John Gerson (1363-1429), chancellor of the University of Paris, made a further distinction in his treatise, On Mystical Theology, Speculative and Practical, and speculative mystical theology was extended to include the whole theology of the spiritual life, from first conversion to the full experience of the mystical life. Early in the 1750s Scaramelli introduced the distinction between ascetical and mystical theology, and the latter was again restricted to the study of contemplation and the extraordinary mystical graces. In modern times two Dominicans, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and John Arintero, defended and restored the traditional teaching: there is but one path to Christian perfection, though it admits of ascetical and mystical stages, and the mystical life is not the result of extraordinary graces but the normal development and perfection of the grace received by every Christian at baptism. Vatican Council II made this same doctrine its own when it stated:

The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: "In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). For he sent the Holy Spirit to all to move them interiorly to love God with their whole heart, with their whole soul, with their whole understanding, and with their whole strength (cf. Mark 12:30), and to love one another as Christ loved them (cf. John 13:34; 15:12) .... It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love .... The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one -- that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God's Spirit and, obeying the Father's voice and adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory.(1)



#9 Mary Lanser

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Posted 06 May 2012 - 06:20 PM

So are these graces actually God, or are they something created as a sort of medium between God and man? I think I read in the other thread about "unmerited favor" that Catholics understand that graces/energies are uncreated, but the effects or experiences of them within a human being are created.



Yesterday I happened across a small pamphlet in my library, Everything is a Grace, written in the early 1950s by Very Rev. Father Anastasius of the Holy Rosary, OCD before he became the Father General of the OCD in the early 1960s. The section that I quote below is part of his discussion of 'actual' grace. He defines sanctifying/justifying grace as the grace of baptism, and then goes on to talk about the continuous action of God's grace in our lives. This is not new teaching. It is the age old teaching of the monastic life passed down from generation to generation. There's nothing in these kinds of spiritual counsels that even hints at divine grace being something other than man's share of or participation in the divine life.


"Considering the matter from this point of view, Providence is no longer the bitter and mysterious law which weaves our lives of few joys and much sorrow; nor is it that kind of dark nightmare which tortures us with the problems of evil and of suffering, but rather Providence is transfigured into the eternal proclamation of a constant flow of merciful grace in our souls. And in life, through the medium of Providence, everything is, in reality, grace.

The gestures of external Providence: life, death, family, country, suffering, joy, social struggles, adversities, study, work, everything, in short, from cradle to grave, uncovers an offering of immeasurable graces.

The gestures of internal Providence: Illumination of the mind, movement of the will, emotions and feelings, the light of knowledge, the struggles of conscience, the battles of the heart, optimism in life, the oppression of the passions and of sin, in short, everything which man knows, experiences and suffers in the depths of his being, attest with consoling certitude to the presence of graces and indeed of graces capable of making our lives victorious for all eternity.

We have it then that through internal and external divine Providence, in a manner more or less immediate, grace is offered [to each one of us individually by name to feed us as we live out our own individual part in divine Providence] in one continuous flow.

However, every offer poses the alternatives of acceptance or rejection. In our case, everything is reduced to this: accept Providence and make good use of grace or reject Providence and waste it."



#10 readerdavid@stjohnroc.com

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 02:27 AM

I sometimes listen to Catholic talk radio and hear them talking about "graces" and I wonder what they mean.  I have only ever heard of grace (singular).  Anyone here know if there is a difference?



#11 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 07:28 AM

What is grace?  My understanding is that grace is the energy or energies of God.  It is given to us through the Holy Spirit. It is God's love through which we are better able to live and strive for enosis with Him.   The word in Greek is char-as/es  which means joy, happiness, various  qualities in a person that make him better in all ways.






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