Paris, January 29, 1656
Just as I had sealed up my last letter, I received a visit from our old friend M. N-. Nothing could have happened more luckily for my curiosity; for he is thoroughly informed in the questions of the day and is completely in the secret of the Jesuits, at whose houses, including those of their leading men, he is a constant visitor. After having talked over the business which brought him to my house, I asked him to state, in a few words, what were the points in dispute between the two parties.
He immediately complied, and informed me that the principal points were two — the first about the proximate power, and the second about sufficient grace. I have enlightened you on the first of these points in my former letter and shall now speak of the second.
In one word, then, I found that their difference about sufficient grace may be defined thus: The Jesuits maintain that there is a grace given generally to all men, subject in such a way to free-will that the will renders it efficacious or inefficacious at its pleasure, without any additional aid from God and without wanting anything on his part in order to act effectively; and hence they term this grace sufficient, because it suffices of itself for action. The Jansenists, on the other hand, will not allow that any grace is actually sufficient which is not also efficacious; that is, that all those kinds of grace which do not determine the will to act effectively are insufficient for action; for they hold that a man can never act without efficacious grace.
Such are the points in debate between the Jesuits and the Jansenists; and my next object was to ascertain the doctrine of the New Thomists. “It is rather an odd one,” he said; “they agree with the Jesuits in admitting a sufficient grace given to all men; but they maintain, at the same time, that no man can act with this grace alone, but that, in order to do this, he must receive from God an efficacious grace which really determines his will to the action, and which God does not grant to all men.” “So that, according to this doctrine,” said I, “this grace is sufficient without being sufficient.” “Exactly so,” he replied; “for if it suffices, there is no need of anything more for acting; and if it does not suffice, why — it is not sufficient.”
“But,” asked I, “where, then, is the difference between them and the Jansenists?” “They differ in this,” he replied, “that the Dominicans have this good qualification, that they do not refuse to say that all men have the sufficient grace.” “I understand you,” returned I; “but they say it without thinking it; for they add that, in order to act, we must have an efficacious grace which is not given to all, consequently, if they agree with the Jesuits in the use of a term which has no sense, they differ from them and coincide with the Jansenists in the substance of the thing. That is very true, said he. “How, then,” said I, “are the Jesuits united with them? and why do they not combat them as well as the Jansenists, since they will always find powerful antagonists in these men, who, by maintaining the necessity of the efficacious grace which determines the will, will prevent them from establishing that grace which they hold to be of itself sufficient?”
“The Dominicans are too powerful,” he replied, “and the Jesuits are too politic, to come to an open rupture with them. The Society is content with having prevailed on them so far as to admit the name of sufficient grace, though they understand it in another sense; by which manoeuvre they gain this advantage, that they will make their opinion appear untenable, as soon as they judge it proper to do so. And this will be no difficult matter; for, let it be once granted that all men have the sufficient graces, nothing can be more natural than to conclude that the efficacious grace is not necessary to action — the sufficiency of the general grace precluding the necessity of all others. By saying sufficient we express all that is necessary for action; and it will serve little purpose for the Dominicans to exclaim that they attach another sense to the expression; the people, accustomed to the common acceptation of that term, would not even listen to their explanation. Thus the Society gains a sufficient advantage from the expression which has been adopted by the Dominicans, without pressing them any further; and were you but acquainted with what passed under Popes Clement VIII and Paul V, and knew how the Society was thwarted by the Dominicans in the establishment of the sufficient grace, you would not be surprised to find that it avoids embroiling itself in quarrels with them and allows them to hold their own opinion, provided that of the Society is left untouched; and more especially, when the Dominicans countenance its doctrine, by agreeing to employ, on all public occasions, the term sufficient grace.
“The Society,” he continued, “is quite satisfied with their complaisance. It does not insist on their denying the necessity of efficacious grace, this would be urging them too far. People should not tyrannize over their friends; and the Jesuits have gained quite enough. The world is content with words; few think of searching into the nature of things; and thus the name of sufficient grace being adopted on both sides, though in different senses, there is nobody, except the most subtle theologians, who ever dreams of doubting that the thing signified by that word is held by the Jacobins as well as by the Jesuits; and the result will show that these last are not the greatest dupes.”
I acknowledged that they were a shrewd class of people, these Jesuits; and, availing myself of his advice, I went straight to the Jacobins, at whose gate I found one of my good friends, a staunch Jansenist (for you must know I have got friends among all parties), who was calling for another monk, different from him whom I was in search of. I prevailed on him, however, after much entreaty, to accompany me, and asked for one of my New Thomists. He was delighted to see me again. “How now! my dear father,” I began, “it seems it is not enough that all men have a proximate power, with which they can never act with effect; they must have besides this a sufficient grace, with which they can act as little. Is not that the doctrine of your school?” “It is,” said the worthy monk; “and I was upholding it this very morning in the Sorbonne. I spoke on the point during my whole half-hour; and, but for the sand-glass, I bade fair to have reversed that wicked proverb, now so current in Paris: ‘He votes without speaking, like a monk in the Sorbonne.’” “What do you mean by your half-hour and your sand-glass?” I asked; “do they cut your speeches by a certain measure?” “Yes,” said he, “they have done so for some days past.” “And do they oblige you to speak for half an hour?” “No; we may speak as little as we please.” “But not as much as you please, said I. “O what a capital regulation for the boobies! what a blessed excuse for those who have nothing worth the saying! But, to return to the point, father; this grace given to all men is sufficient, is it not?” “Yes,” said he. “And yet it has no effect without efficacious grace?” “None whatever,” he replied. “And all men have the sufficient,” continued I, “and all have not the efficacious?” “Exactly,” said he. “That is,” returned I, “all have enough of grace, and all have not enough of it that is, this grace suffices, though it does not suffice — that is, it is sufficient in name and insufficient in effect! In good sooth, father, this is particularly subtle doctrine! Have you forgotten, since you retired to the cloister, the meaning attached, in the world you have quitted, to the word sufficient? don’t you remember that it includes all that is necessary for acting? But no, you cannot have lost all recollection of it; for, to avail myself of an illustration which will come home more vividly to your feelings, let us suppose that you were supplied with no more than two ounces of bread and a glass of water daily, would you be quite pleased with your prior were he to tell you that this would be sufficient to support you, under the pretext that, along with something else, which however, he would not give you, you would have all that would be necessary to support you? How, then can you allow yourselves to say that all men have sufficient grace for acting, while you admit that there is another grace absolutely necessary to acting which all men have not? Is it because this is an unimportant article of belief, and you leave all men at liberty to believe that efficacious grace is necessary or not, as they choose? Is it a matter of indifference to say, that with sufficient grace a man may really act?” “How!” cried the good man; “indifference! it is heresy — formal heresy. The necessity of efficacious grace for acting effectively, is a point of faith — it is heresy to deny it.”
“Where are we now?” I exclaimed; “and which side am I to take here? If I deny the sufficient grace, I am a Jansenist. If I admit it, as the Jesuits do, in the way of denying that efficacious grace is necessary, I shall be a heretic, say you. And if I admit it, as you do, in the way of maintaining the necessity of efficacious grace, I sin against common sense, and am a blockhead, say the Jesuits. What must I do, thus reduced to the inevitable necessity of being a blockhead, a heretic, or a Jansenist? And what a sad pass are matters come to, if there are none but the Jansenists who avoid coming into collision either with the faith or with reason, and who save themselves at once from absurdity and from error!”
My Jansenist friend took this speech as a good omen and already looked upon me as a convert. He said nothing to me, however; but, addressing the monk: “Pray, father,” inquired he, “what is the point on which you agree with the Jesuits?” “We agree in this,” he replied, “that the Jesuits and we acknowledge the sufficient grace given to all.” “But,” said the Jansenist, “there are two things in this expression sufficient grace — there is the sound, which is only so much breath; and there is the thing which it signifies, which is real and effectual. And, therefore, as you are agreed with the Jesuits in regard to the word sufficient and opposed to them as to the sense, it is apparent that you are opposed to them in regard to the substance of that term, and that you only agree with them as to the sound. Is this what you call acting sincerely and cordially?”
“But,” said the good man, “what cause have you to complain, since we deceive nobody by this mode of speaking? In our schools we openly teach that we understand it in a manner different from the Jesuits.”
“What I complain of,” returned my friend” “is, that you do not proclaim it everywhere, that by sufficient grace you understand the grace which is not sufficient. You are bound in conscience, by thus altering the sense of the ordinary terms of theology, to tell that, when you admit a sufficient grace in all men, you understand that they have not sufficient grace in effect. All classes of persons in the world understand the word sufficient in one and the same sense; the New Thomists alone understand it in another sense. All the women, who form one-half of the world, all courtiers, all military men, all magistrates, all lawyers, merchants, artisans, the whole populace — in short, all sorts of men, except the Dominicans, understand the word sufficient to express all that is necessary. Scarcely any one is aware of this singular exception. It is reported over the whole earth, simply that the Dominicans hold that all men have the sufficient graces. What other conclusion can be drawn from this, than that they hold that all men have all the graces necessary for action; especially when they are seen joined in interest and intrigue with the Jesuits, who understand the thing in that sense? Is not the uniformity of your expressions, viewed in connection with this union of party, a manifest indication and confirmation of the uniformity of your sentiments?
“The multitude of the faithful inquire of theologians: What is the real condition of human nature since its corruption? St. Augustine and his disciples reply that it has no sufficient grace until God is pleased to bestow it. Next come the Jesuits, and they say that all have the effectually sufficient graces. The Dominicans are consulted on this contrariety of opinion; and what course do they pursue? They unite with the Jesuits; by this coalition they make up a majority; they secede from those who deny these sufficient graces; they declare that all men possess them. Who, on hearing this, would imagine anything else than that they gave their sanction to the opinion of the Jesuits? And then they add that, nevertheless, these said sufficient graces are perfectly useless without the efficacious, which are not given to all!
“Shall I present you with a picture of the Church amidst these conflicting sentiments? I consider her very like a man who, leaving his native country on a journey, is encountered by robbers, who inflict many wounds on him and leave him half dead. He sends for three physicians resident in the neighboring towns. The first, on probing his wounds, pronounces them mortal and assures him that none but God can restore to him his lost powers. The second, coming after the other, chooses to flatter the man — tells him that he has still sufficient strength to reach his home; and, abusing the first physician who opposed his advice, determines upon his ruin. In this dilemma, the poor patient, observing the third medical gentleman at a distance, stretches out his hands to him as the person who should determine the controversy. This practitioner, on examining his wounds, and ascertaining the opinions of the first two doctors, embraces that of the second, and uniting with him, the two combine against the first, and being the stronger party in number drive him from the field in disgrace. From this proceeding, the patient naturally concludes that the last comer is of the same opinion with the second; and, on putting the question to him, he assures him most positively that his strength is sufficient for prosecuting his journey. The wounded man, however, sensible of his own weakness, begs him to explain to him how he considered him sufficient for the journey. ‘Because,’ replies his adviser, ‘you are still in possession of your legs, and legs are the organs which naturally suffice for walking.’ ‘But,’ says the patient, ‘have I all the strength necessary to make use of my legs? for, in my present weak condition, it humbly appears to me that they are wholly useless.’ ‘Certainly you have not,’ replies the doctor; ‘you will never walk effectively, unless God vouchsafes some extraordinary assistance to sustain and conduct you.’ ‘What!’ exclaims the poor man, ‘do you not mean to say that I have sufficient strength in me, so as to want for nothing to walk effectively?’ ‘Very far from it,’ returns the physician. ‘You must, then,’ says the patient, ‘be of a different opinion from your companion there about my real condition.’ ‘I must admit that I am,’ replies the other.
“What do you suppose the patient said to this? Why, he complained of the strange conduct and ambiguous terms of this third physician. He censured him for taking part with the second, to whom he was opposed in sentiment, and with whom he had only the semblance of agreement, and for having driven away the first doctor, with whom he in reality agreed; and, after making a trial of strength, and finding by experience his actual weakness, he sent them both about their business, recalled his first adviser, put himself under his care, and having, by his advice, implored from God the strength of which he confessed his need, obtained the mercy he sought, and, through divine help, reached his house in peace.
The worthy monk was so confounded with this parable that he could not find words to reply. To cheer him up a little, I said to him, in a mild tone: “But after all, my dear father, what made you think of giving the name of sufficient to a grace which you say it is a point of faith to believe is, in fact, insufficient?” “It is very easy for you to talk about it,” said he. “You are an independent and private man; I am a monk and in a community — cannot you estimate the difference between the two cases? We depend on superiors; they depend on others. They have promised our votes — what would you have to become of me?” We understood the hint; and this brought to our recollection the case of his brother monk, who, for a similar piece of indiscretion, has been exiled to Abbeville.
“But,” I resumed, “how comes it about that your community is bound to admit this grace?” “That is another question,” he replied. “All that I can tell you is, in one word, that our order has defended, to the utmost of its ability, the doctrine of St. Thomas on efficacious grace. With what ardor did it oppose, from the very commencement, the doctrine of Molina? How did it labor to establish the necessity of the efficacious grace of Jesus Christ? Don’t you know what happened under Clement VIII and Paul V, and how, the former having been prevented by death, and the latter hindered by some Italian affairs from publishing his bull, our arms still sleep in the Vatican? But the Jesuits, availing themselves, since the introduction of the heresy of Luther and Calvin, of the scanty light which the people possess for discriminating between the error of these men and the truth of the doctrine of St. Thomas, disseminated their principles with such rapidity and success that they became, ere long, masters of the popular belief; while we, on our part, found ourselves in the predicament of being denounced as Calvinists and treated as the Jansenists are at present, unless we qualified the efficacious grace with, at least, the apparent avowal of a sufficient. In this extremity, what better course could we have taken for saving the truth, without losing our own credit, than by admitting the name of sufficient grace, while we denied that it was such in effect? Such is the real history of the case.”
This was spoken in such a melancholy tone that I really began to pity the man; not so, however, my companion. “Flatter not yourselves,” said he to the monk, “with having saved the truth; had she not found other defenders, in your feeble hands she must have perished. By admitting into the Church the name of her enemy, you have admitted the enemy himself. Names are inseparable from things. If the term sufficient grace be once established, it will be vain for you to protest that you understand by it a grace which is not sufficient. Your protest will be held inadmissible. Your explanation would be scouted as odious in the world, where men speak more ingenuously about matters of infinitely less moment. The Jesuits will gain a triumph — it will be their grace, which is sufficient in fact, and not yours, which is only so in name, that will pass as established; and the converse of your creed will become an article of faith.”
“We will all suffer martyrdom first,” cried the father, “rather than consent to the establishment of sufficient grace in the sense of the Jesuits. St. Thomas, whom we have sworn to follow even to the death, is diametrically opposed to such doctrine.”
To this my friend, who took up the matter more seriously than I did, replied: “Come now, father, your fraternity has received an honor which it sadly abuses. It abandons that grace which was confided to its care, and which has never been abandoned since the creation of the world. That victorious grace, which was waited for by the patriarchs, predicted by the prophets, introduced by Jesus Christ, preached by St. Paul, explained by St. Augustine, the greatest of the fathers, embraced by his followers, confirmed by St. Bernard, the last of the fathers, supported by St. Thomas, the angel of the schools, transmitted by him to your order, maintained by so many of your fathers, and so nobly defended by your monks under Popes Clement and Paul — that efficacious grace, which had been committed as a sacred deposit into your hands, that it might find, in a sacred and everlasting order, a succession of preachers, who might proclaim it to the end of time — is discarded and deserted for interests the most contemptible. It is high time for other hands to arm in its quarrel. It is time for God to raise up intrepid disciples of the Doctor of grace, who, strangers to the entanglements of the world, will serve God for God’s sake. Grace may not, indeed, number the Dominicans among her champions, but champions she shall never want; for, by her own almighty energy, she creates them for herself. She demands hearts pure and disengaged; nay, she herself purifies and disengages them from worldly interests, incompatible with the truths of the Gospel. Reflect seriously, on this, father; and take care that God does not remove this candlestick from its place, leaving you in darkness and without the crown, as a punishment for the coldness which you manifest to a cause so important to his Church.”
He might have gone on in this strain much longer, for he was kindling as he advanced, but I interrupted him by rising to take my leave and said: “Indeed, my dear father, had I any influence in France, I should have it proclaimed, by sound of trumpet: ‘BE IT KNOWN TO ALL MEN, that when the Jacobins SAY that sufficient grace is given to all, they MEAN that all have not the grace which actually suffices!’ After which, you might say it often as you please, but not otherwise.” And thus ended our visit.
You will perceive, therefore, that we have here a politic sufficiency somewhat similar to proximate power. Meanwhile I may tell you that it appears to me that both the proximate power and this same sufficient grace may be safely doubted by anybody, provided he is not a Jacobin.
I have just come to learn, when closing my letter, that the censure has passed. But as I do not yet know in what terms it is worded, and as it will not be published till the 15th of February, I shall delay writing you about it till the next post. I am, &c.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53