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The Many Forms and Facets of Grace

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

There are many ideas describing Grace. Catholicism divides it into two forms, St. Augustine divided it into four and John Wesley, after describing Grace as both God's pardoning love and the power or energy of God's Spirit, divided it into three.

Catholicism St. Augustine John Wesley
Sanctifying Prevenient Prevenient (Preparing)
Actual Cooperating Justifying (Accepting)
Available (Sufficient) Sanctifying (Sustaining)
Effective (Efficient)

  • Sanctifying Grace
  • The action of Grace that cleanses the soul operational between conversion and death. This is what makes the soul holy, giving it supernatural life. It is an internal form of Grace in Catholicism that is permanent but can be lost through the commission of mortal sin; in Wesleyan tradition this is the action enabled by Justifying Grace enabling us to lead grace-filled lives.
  • Actual
  • An external form of Grace that is impermanent and enables Sanctifying Grace; this acts on the soul from the outside. The purpose of Actual Grace is directed to the production of Sanctifying Grace.
  • Prevenient Grace
  • The action of Grace that precedes the possibility for virtue; operational between conception and conversion, it comes before or preceding human decision, and before the knowledge of Christ.
  • Cooperating Grace
  • The action of Grace that enables a relationship with God which gives humans the will to be virtuous.
  • Available Grace
  • Prior to the Fall, Grace was available and enabled virtue through personal will.
  • Effective Grace
  • The action of Grace that brings human expression of free will into confluence with God's will--this is the manifestation of freedom.
  • Justifying Grace
  • God's acceptance of us as we are which in turn enables our acceptance of God as well as of ourselves. Operational at the moment of conversion--acceptance of the Call of Prevenient Grace, this brings us to Christ.

What does this all mean? First, Grace is a broad concept and I have given you a cursory glance at deep ideas. Further discussions of Grace are beyond the scope of this article and even scratching the surface would in the least send me into unnecessary tangential discussions. Clearly there are many interpretations of Grace and all I can offer is my own. Acts of goodness (virtue, righteousness, works) are a byproduct of accepting Grace; they are the effects rather than the cause. Grace is a divine and not a human concept. It exists with and through God; it preceded humanity and will continue to exist after we are no more; like God it is eternal. We use Grace to refer to the unmerited favor of God, but we also use forms of the word to refer to beauty of form, sound, movement etc. I believe that the universe is built upon the foundation of Grace as is shown through the beauty of its form and movement, a beauty that is present within Christianity and other faiths, a beauty that is present within everything. I believe that Grace expands to fit us all and then points us inward to our relatedness--our unity. In this sense it is the Mandorla, the overlapping area of two adjoining circles where heaven and earth meet. Jesus is the man and Christ is the savior; the Mandorla is the point of Christ--the integration of Divinity (God the Father) and Jesus the man.


The Three Graces of Classical Mythology

The Graces, also known as the Three Charities, were the characteristics of loveliness and the personifications of joy. They initially represented sweetness and the beauty within nature, their roles later expanded to include everything beautiful which ranged from instilling civility and social etiquette such as courtesy, beneficence, decorum, and charm to good will, happiness within life, purity, gratitude, creativity, fertility and poetry. This is not to mean they were the sole guardians of these things, but that they were responsible for the beauty inherent within them.

Grace is unmerited favor; it is Gods' attitude toward us. Literally attitude means an angle of attack; God's angle of attack is akin to killing with kindness. The benefit that is Grace is Acceptance; God accepts and embraces us as we are and enables us to spread God's gift to others. This includes a kind gentleness that embraces the recipient in acceptance and love. It is without judgment. But even so, your MLCer will resist, argue and project. Grace on your part will not stop the crisis. It is your challenge to learn, feel and become Grace in the face of animosity. It is your challenge to give without receiving and without expectation--positive or negative. Be grace-filled because it cleanses your soul and enables you to love and forgive.

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