We seek to understand grace as it was and is in the Incarnate Person, Jesus the Christ. Before we can ask specifically of His grace, we must first look at grace itself. St. Thomas approached the subject likewise, for after treating of God (Summa Part I), he treated of man.
Man is made for an end, as is established at the beginning of part II of the Summa. But “Man is called to an end by nature that he cannot attain by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end.” And so, after treating of Law, Grace is discussed. We must, in the words of Christ, “go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) We must briefly look at grace as Thomas presented it earlier in his Summa (First Part of Part II,Q.109-114), for that background is assumed in the Summa Part III.
GRACE IN GENERAL
Grace is a participation in the life of God. (CCC n. 1997) To understand grace, we may divide it in different ways: we can look at created and uncreated grace. We may also make a distinction between actual grace, sanctifying grace, and charismatic grace. All of these, we will see, are present in Christ, and it is His divinity as person yet complete human nature that will determine the manner of each.
As the ancient axiom goes, “Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” The key here will be that Christ, as divine Person, has uncreated grace as His very nature, but the true human nature of Christ is not by nature divine, and thus the soul of Christ must receive created grace to be graced as human.
Basically, infinite and eternal grace is simply the love and favor of God in His very essence. This grace is uncreated and exists because God is Love. Actual grace could be viewed from this standpoint, since God is pure act, but as it relates to the creature, it is temporally applied. In its application to the particular person, it is created, or rather, this application is “created.”
(I will try to address this relation of God to creatures and creatures to God in another article. For now it may be helpful to ponder what Thomas says of it briefly HERE – Q. VII: ARTICLE VIII-XI. I do not deny that this can be difficult to understand, especially for one not use to the scholastic form of objection, answer, and reply)
While actual grace moves the creature (though not in rejection of the creature’s free will), it does not adhere to the rational being, and causes no change in being in the person. In this, it differs from sanctifying grace, in that sanctifying grace is an accident of the soul, and thus causes a real change in the person. Sanctifying grace makes one pleasing to God, and this true change, this sharing in the life of God, the divine nature, is what Catholics understand as imparted righteousness, as opposed to the reformed view where grace is simply divine favor without a real change or adherence of a metaphysical accident in the person sanctified by it.
CHRIST AND GRACE
Christ possessed both created and uncreated grace. In the first place his soul was united to the word of God and the closer anything is to a cause acting on it the more it is affected. In the second place Christ’s human soul needed to know and love God in the most intimate way and hence needed disposing to that by grace.
Grace as True Man
His human soul is not by nature divine but shares in divinity, that is to say, it is graced. To be able to act perfectly through his human nature he needed grace as disposition to perfect that activity. In conformity with his nature as human, created and finite, the Man Jesus needed created grace, and sanctifying grace. This sanctifying grace did not cause a “change” in Him the way it does in us, for He, as human, received this grace in full at the moment of the creation of His human nature. It is nevertheless real sanctifying grace, an accident of the real human soul of Christ, and gives Him conformity to God, as human, in a similar way to the saints and the blessed in heaven, although in the most perfect way possible.
Grace disposes the souls nature and virtues dispose its powers and just as the powers derived from the souls nature so the virtues derived from its grace. As a result of this grace, Christ had many of the gifts of grace. Indeed, He had all of them and in their perfection, except when a gift would be contrary to His eternal union with God and His possession of the beatific vision from the start. For example, since he enjoyed God fully from the first moment of his conception in the beatific vision, he did not have the theological virtues of faith and hope, for if faith is toward what is unseen, there was nothing unseen to Him that He would need faith. Faith gives way to vision for us in heaven, and for Christ, this was already His state.
A gift such as love, perfect charity, He had in a created way in His human soul in the most perfect way possible, and this is distinct from His eternal charity as God. In contemplating these truths, we must always remember that He had two wills and two intellects, in conformity with His true divinity and true humanity. And so, His charity as human, for example, always worked in perfect conformity with His eternal love as God, but still distinct from it.
Jesus and his humanity shared our situation before his death. In this He was a pilgrim on the way to heaven as well as one already enjoying the beatific vision. So when he knew and announced things beyond what he would know as man he was as man prophesying. He therefore could be said to have the gift of prophecy. This would be an example of a charismatic grace in Christ. [Of course, Christ’s Incarnation itself was for others, not for Himself, as this is how we typically understand charismatic graces.] Many other gifts were His as well, as long as these are understood in reference to His humanity.
Grace reaches its full limit in the incarnate Christ both intensively and extensively.
The grace of Christ can be looked at in two ways. As the son of God and the person of a divine nature His grace is infinite because the word himself is infinite and is the source of that grace. But as existing in a created subject which is Christ soul, and humanity in total, it is finite, although it is given the most perfect way possible to any human being. As perfect it can in some way be called infinite even here.
No one can conceive of a greater unity between the thinking creature and God in that their union be in one divine Person. Christ’s grace reaches the highest measure of created grace. But the union itself in the Person is one of uncreated grace. This union was discussed in Question 2, but must be briefly reiterated for its relevance here. In his exposition of the tenth article of this question, Fr. LaGrange sums it up:
It seems that the union did not take place by grace, because grace is an accident inhering in the soul of everyone in the state of grace; whereas the hypostatic union is substantial, as stated above, and belongs exclusively to Christ.
Reply. This union did not take place by created grace, which is an accident, and an habitual gift inhering in the soul, but it took place by uncreated grace, which is the gratuitous will of God doing something without any preceding merits on the part of the beneficiary of the gift.
There is no greater unity than the uncreated union of the three Divine Persons of the One True God. That said, we may say that there is no greater [created] union than that of the Incarnation, and this not on the part of the things united, but on the part of the Person in Whom they are united. This perfect union takes place by grace.
GRACE OF HEADSHIP OVER THE CHURCH
Christ as man is head of the Church, says St. Thomas. With this, “as man” must not be understood to mean that it’s by reason only of his human nature. It must be taken as man subsisting in the divine person. The human nature of Christ is an instrument united with his divine nature so he is in his totality head of man, both of their souls and of their bodies.
In fact Christ is head of all men but in various degrees. He is head in a special way of the elect. He is head of all potential members of the Church. Some of these will be actual members, that is, the elect, and some of these will never be actual members. We may also differentiate his headship over those in heaven, in purgatory, those on earth in a state of grace, and those on earth who have faith that are not currently in a state of grace. Furthermore, because Christ came to save all men, even though some will not be saved, He is in some way head of them all.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:15-20)