Here is the whole article of saint Thomas Aquinas where he explains the difference between the “general help of the Grace of God” and the “particular help of the Grace of God” (see previous post, on saint Theresa of Avila) followed by a short comment that explains the practical point of it, in continuity with the previous posts.
Remember that we are addressing a very specific issue in the theology of the Prayer of the heart, in order to understand theologically what is the exact difference between the two types of graces: the one that allows us to offer ourselves to God (“Prayer of Recollection” according to Theresa of Avila) and the one that takes us and put us in God Himself (“Prayer of Quiet”).
Here, in green, is Saint Thomas’ Article taken from the Summa Teologica I-IIae Q. 109, A.6:
Can a man prepare himself for Grace
by himself and without the external aid of grace?
Saint Thomas gives first a series of 4 false objections. They seem right and convincing, but only apparently. They all have a flaw that he will show subsequently:
1: It would seem that man, by himself and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace. For nothing impossible is laid upon man, as stated above (A, ad 1). But it is written (Zech. 1:3): “Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you”; Now to prepare for grace is nothing more than to turn to God. Therefore it seems that man of himself, and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace.
2: Further, man prepares himself for grace by doing what is in him to do, since if man does what is in him to do, God will not deny him grace, for it is written (Mat. 7:11) that God gives His good Spirit “to them that ask Him.” But what is in our power is in us to do. Therefore it seems to be in our power to prepare ourselves for grace.
3: Further, if a man needs grace in order to prepare for grace, with equal reason will he need grace to prepare himself for the first grace; and thus to infinity, which is impossible. Hence it seems that we must not go beyond what was said first, viz. that man, of himself and without grace, can prepare himself for grace.
4: Further, it is written (Prov. 16:1) that “it is the part of man to prepare the soul.” Now an action is said to be part of a man, when he can do it by himself. Hence it seems that man by himself can prepare himself for grace.
Then saint Thomas opposes to these objections the “right teaching” saying:
On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 6:44): “No man can come to Me except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him.” But if man could prepare himself, he would not need to be drawn by another. Hence man cannot prepare himself without the help of grace.
Saint Thomas develops the “right teaching”:
I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold:
– the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.
– There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.
For in these two ways do we need the Divine assistance, as stated above. Now that we need the help of God to move us, is manifest. For since every agent acts for an end, every cause must direct is effect to its end, and hence since the order of ends is according to the order of agents or movers, man must be directed to the last end by the motion of the first mover, and to the proximate end by the motion of any of the subordinate movers; as the spirit of the soldier is bent towards seeking the victory by the motion of the leader of the army—and towards following the standard of a regiment by the motion of the standard-bearer. And thus since God is the First Mover, simply, it is by His motion that everything seeks to be likened to God in its own way. Hence Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “God turns all to Himself.” But He directs righteous men to Himself as to a special end, which they seek, and to which they wish to cling, according to Ps. 72:28, “it is good for Me to adhere to my God.” And that they are “turned” to God can only spring from God’s having “turned” them. Now to prepare oneself for grace is, as it were, to be turned to God; just as, whoever has his eyes turned away from the light of the sun, prepares himself to receive the sun’s light, by turning his eyes towards the sun. Hence it is clear that man cannot prepare himself to receive the light of grace except by the gratuitous help of God moving him inwardly.
He then addresses each of the first 4 objections int he light of the central teaching he just stated:
Reply to Objections
1: Man’s turning to God is by free-will; and thus man is bidden to turn himself to God. But free-will can only be turned to God, when God turns it, according to Jer. 31:18: “Convert me and I shall be converted, for Thou art the Lord, my God”; and Lam. 5:21: “Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted.”
2: Man can do nothing unless moved by God, according to Jn. 15:5: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” Hence when a man is said to do what is in him to do, this is said to be in his power according as he is moved by God.
3: This objection regards habitual grace, for which some preparation is required, since every form requires a disposition in that which is to be its subject. But in order that man should be moved by God, no further motion is presupposed since God is the First Mover. Hence we need not go to infinity.
4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above.
Let us see in detail saint Thomas’ answer: “I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold” He will then explain the two graces:
1- The main Grace, the infused one: one is the one we need and await in order to “enter in God” (merit eternal life). This is the particular help of the Grace of God that introduces us in Him.
2- and the other grace is the one that prepares us to it, that leads us to it, that helps our free will to choose God, go toward Him in order to receive his grace. This the “general help of the Grace of God”, that leads us to the “border” or “meeting point”, that “prepares us”, makes us ready to receive the Main grace. As one can see, the second leads to the first one. One cannot separate the “prayer of recollection” and the “prayer of quiet”. One is ordered to the other. Let us now re-read saint Thomas in his key passage:
the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.
Without this Grace we cannot be introduced in God, drink God, “enjoy God” and “operate rightly” in Him. This is the Main Grace we need from God.
Now, how can we receive this grace? This is the central issue of this 6th article. Do we need to help from God to receive the Main infused supernatural Grace? This article is a key article. Because our spiritual life is about receiving “Grace upon Grace”, and the question is: how can we receive the Grace? How can we prepare ourselves? Here comes saint Thomas reply:
There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.
This is the key word: “a gratuitous gift of God”. This gratuitous gift is constantly given, to everybody, it is the “general help of the grace of God” that saint Theresa of Avila mentions (see previous post). We can complete this with his reply to the 4th objection: “4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the [general] help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above.”
As we can see: it is our part to prepare ourselves in the sense of: “to go inwardly” as he stated, to get closer to the meeting point were we are supposed to receive the main grace (in the diagram below the meeting point is the surface of the water). Moving ourselves and offering ourselves to God is done by the “General help of the grace of God, represented by the arrow (1-) in the diagram below:
These are all together central and practical issues. They are not only the “theology of Grace”, they are as well the “economy of Grace” (i.e. Spiritual Theology) and its application in our Spiritual Life. In this article we see how “theory” is the theory of a practical issue, we see how all the theory is invited to become flesh in us. These notions saint Thomas is teaching us are Pearls, Divine Seeds of the Word of God.