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:
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.
[...] 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 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.
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?
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).
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."
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.
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?