God’s gift of individual grace is not egalitarian
All human beings, regardless of their religion, nationality, or circumstance, receive a sufficient amount of grace to be saved. God actively desires our salvation; it is incumbent upon us to respond to Him. At the same time, however, it is undeniable that God gives more grace to some than to others. St. Paul explains that “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7), to which St. Thomas Aquinas adds that “what is given in measure, is not given to all equally. Hence all have not an equal grace.”
This may strike us as unfair of God, but the varying quantity of supernatural grace conferred on each person mirrors the varying range of natural gifts each person has received. In the natural order, there are an immense range of personalities and abilities among people: some are intellectual geniuses, quick-witted and funny, and physically attractive; others are sickly, have physical ailments and intellectual processing difficulties. In the same way, there is a range of grace received among people in the supernatural order: some are inclined to prayer, to service of others, and to moral living; others struggle daily to relate to God and to keep His commandments.
The parable of the talents (Matt 25: 14-30) provides an insight into God’s diffusion of His grace. The owner of a property entrusted three of his servants with five, two, and one talent, respectively. (One talent, a monetary sum, was worth more than 15 years of wages.) Then, after a long absence, the owner summoned the three servants to settle their accounts with him. The ones who received five and two talents had each doubled their master’s money. The second servant, although his total money was far less than that of the first, heard the same commendation as the first servant from the owner: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter the joy of your master.” But the third servant, fearing his master’s wrath if he were to lose the money, had buried the single talent and returned it to him in full at the reckoning. The master reprimanded him for not using his money, claiming that he at least “ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” The master then ordered this servant’s talent seized from him, and given to the other one with 10, and he ordered the servant cast “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Grace, we learn analogously from this parable, is given to each person as God sees fit.
Excerpt from Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism, by David G. Bonagura, Jr. Published by Cluny Media (2019), from Chapter 5, “Living the Catholic Faith,” pp.110-111, www.clunymedia.com Used with permission.
DAVID G. BONAGURA, JR., is an adjunct professor of classical languages at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York, and an adjunct professor of theology for the Catholic Distance University. He has published scholarly articles in Antiphon, New Blackfriars, and Nova et Vetera, and has written popular essays, articles, and reviews for The Catholic Thing, First Things, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.