From the Three Ages of the Interior Life.
THE SEED OF ETERNAL LIFE IN US
THE SEED OF ETERNAL LIFE IN US
The immediate vision of God, of which we have just spoken, surpasses the natural capacity of every created intellect, whether angelic or human. Naturally a created intellect may indeed know God by the reflection of His perfections in the created order, angelic or human, but it cannot see Him immediately in Himself as He sees Himself.(14) If a created intellect could by its natural powers alone see God immediately, it would have the same formal object as the divine Intellect; it would then be of the same nature as God. This would be the pantheistic confusion of a created nature and the divine nature.
A created intellect can be raised to the immediate vision of the divine essence only by a gratuitous help, by a grace of God. In the angel and in us this grace somewhat resembles a graft made on a wild shrub to enable it to bear good fruit. The angel and the human soul become capable of a supernatural knowledge of God and a supernatural love only if they have received this divine graft, habitual or sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature and in the inner life of God. Only this grace, received in the essence of our soul as a free gift, can render the soul radically capable of essentially divine operations, can make it capable of seeing God immediately as He sees Himself and of loving Him as He loves Himself. In other words, the deification of the intellect and that of the will presuppose the deification of the soul itself (in its essence), whence these faculties spring.
When this grace is consummated and inamissible, it is called glory. From it proceed, in the intellects of the blessed in heaven, the supernatural light which gives them the strength to see God, and in their wills the infused charity which makes them love Him without being able thereafter to turn away from Him.
Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life; and with sanctifying grace we received infused charity, which ought to last forever.
This is what our Savior told the Samaritan woman, as St. John recounts: "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who He is that saith to thee: Give Me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water. . . . Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst forever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting." (15) If one should ask whether these words of our Lord belong to the ascetical or the mystical order, the question would seem unintelligent; for, if our Lord is speaking here of the life of heaven, all the more do His words apply to the close union which prepares the soul for that life.
St. Thomas says: "He who will drink of the living water of grace given by the Savior will no longer desire another, but he will desire this water more abundantly. . . . Moreover, whereas material water descends, the spiritual water of grace rises. It is a living water ever united to its (eminent) source and one that springs up to eternal life, which it makes us merit." (16) This living water comes from God, and that is why it can reascend even to Him.
Likewise, in the temple at Jerusalem on the last day of the feast of tabernacles, Christ stood and cried in a loud voice: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture saith: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (17) He who drinks spiritually, believing in the Savior, draws from the source of living water, and can draw from it not only for himself but also for other souls to be saved.
On several occasions, as we have already remarked, Jesus repeats: "He that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life." (18) Not only will he have it later on, but in a sense he already possesses it, for the life of grace is eternal life begun.
It is, in fact, the same life in its essence, just as the seed which is in an acorn has the same life as the full-grown oak, and as the spiritual soul of the little child is the same one that will eventually develop in the mature man.
Fundamentally, the same divine life exists as a germ or a seed in the Christian on earth and as a fully developed life in the saints in heaven. It is these who truly live eternal life. This explains why Christ said also: "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day." (19) "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say: Behold here or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you." (20) It is hidden there like the mustard seed, like the leaven which causes the dough to rise, like the treasure buried in the field.
How do we know that we have already received this life which should last forever? St. John explains the matter to us at length: "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. And you know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in himself."(21) "These things I write to you, that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God." (22) Jesus had said: "Amen, amen I say to you: If any man keep My word, he shall not see death forever." (23) In fact, the liturgy expresses this idea in the preface of the Mass for the Dead: "For to those who believe in Thee, Lord, life is only changed, not taken away"; on the contrary, it reaches its full development in heaven. All tradition declares that the life of grace on earth is in reality the seed of glory. St. Thomas delights also in saying: "For grace is nothing else than a beginning of glory in us." (24) Bossuet often expresses himself in the same terms.(25)
This explains why St. Thomas likes to say: "The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe." (26) The slightest degree of sanctifying grace contained in the soul of an infant after baptism is more precious than the natural good of the entire universe, all angelic natures taken together included therein; for the least degree of sanctifying grace belongs to an enormously superior order, to the order of the inner life of God, which is superior to all miracles and to all the outward signs of divine revelation.(27)
The same supernatural life, the same sanctifying grace, is in the just on earth and in the saints in heaven. This is likewise true of infused charity, with these two differences: on earth we know God not in the clarity of vision, but in the obscurity of infused faith; and besides, though we hope to possess Him in such a way as never to lose Him, we can lose Him here on earth through our own fault.
In spite of these two differences pertaining to faith and hope, the life is the same because it is the same sanctifying grace and the same charity, both of which should last forever. This is exactly what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "If thou didst know the gift of God. . . thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him. . . . He that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst forever: but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting." (28) By the light of this principle we must judge what our interior life should be and what should be its full, normal development that it may be the worthy prelude of the life of eternity. Since sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts are intrinsically ordained to eternal life, are they not also ordained to the mystical union? Is not this union the normal prelude of the life of eternity in souls that are in truth completely generous?
15. John 4: 10-14.
16. Commentum in Joannem, 4:3 ff.
17. John 7:37 f.
18. John 3:36; 5:24, 39; 6:40,47,55.
19 John 6: 55.
20. Luke 17:20f.
21. See I John 3: 14 f.
22. Ibid., 5: 13.
23. John 8: 51.
24. See IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 3 ad 2um; Ia IIae, q.69, a.2; De veritate, q. 14, a.2.
25. Meditations sur l'evangile, Part II, 37th day, in Joan. 17: 3.
26. See Ia IIae, q. I 13, a.9 ad 2um.
27. Ibid., q. II I, a. 5: "Gratia gratum faciens is much more excellent than gratia gratis data"; in other words, sanctifying grace, which unites us to God Himself, is very much superior to prophecy, to miracles, and to all the signs of divine intervention.
28. John 4: 10-14.