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grace and the garden

Grace gives us the means to grow into who we are supposed to grow into, to become a better version of ourselves, to move in the "God and Us" chart away from the "Us" column and toward the "God" column.

the garden

Practically speaking, how does grace work in us? I think grace works by helping us peel back the filters and burdens of the hard shell of ego, foisted upon us when we took that bite from the apple. No I don't mean the Apple logo with its missing bite I mean the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our old pets Sunny the golden retriever and Bunnelda the bunny rabbit are not concerned with questions of good and evil, but all people are, past a certain age. Clearly we do not speak in terms of good and evil until we are old enough to have constructed a context for it, identifying for whom something might be good or evil: good for me, good for you; bad for me, bad for you. The understanding of good and evil comes with the territory of self-awareness and is a product of the evolutionary rise of consciousness, and thus ego, the thing that separates us from the other life forms on the planet.

the point of the incarnation

Aquinas makes some very interesting points concerning this separation, connecting creation in general with the Incarnation. He says that God modeled creation after his own concept of himself (i.e., the Son), indicating that creation, too, would become self-aware. Secondly, he says that uniting the Son with humanity fitted God's plan for humanity, for we were intended all along to "share the image of his Son" (i.e., to be moved out of the "Us" column towards the "God" column), becoming self-aware in a better, happier way. Thirdly, he says that the Incarnation "fitted the sin it was remedying: for Adam sinned by craving knowledge, and man is brought back to God by the Word of true wisdom." (3A 3, 8) Our first crack at self-awareness got us part of the way, but not all the way, to where we should be, and the remedy and path forward for us is modeled in the life of Christ.

You could say that the incarnational take on human consciousness (and ego) looks on it as a preliminary, insufficient state that needs evolving into something better, a flawed state of affairs that needs healing and a push into the future (e.g., redemption), for which Christ is the means, by modeling how to be both self-aware, divine and divinely happy. Remember that Aquinas defines sin as those actions that serve to block our path to becoming who we are supposed to become; from this point of view, the rise of consciousness itself could easily be considered such a planetary act (i.e., an original sin), an act in need of a planetary redemption to get us to the next stage in our evolution.

Does Aquinas speak in terms of ego and the rise of consciousness? No, he uses the imagery of Genesis since that's what he knew; if he were alive today, I expect he would render it differently. But however you see it, the phenomena are the same. Humanity is by its very nature flawed; call it original sin or call it the framework of human consciousness. We are both "out of the garden" and stuck in space-time with egos through which we must navigate existence. It is from this we are redeemed and the means by which we mend and repair this sorry state is grace.

grace

Let's look again at what exactly Aquinas means by grace. He says that grace happens in our soul, and when it does, we are changed, as in a healing. He says it does five things:

first, it heals the soul,
then it prompts us again to seek our true good,
it helps us to actually do the good we seek,
to persevere in our actions,
and finally to "come to glory."

Quoting Augustine, he says "It leads by healing and follows on when what is healed lives and grows." (1a2ae, 111, 3) And when it happens, Aquinas says grace modifies our very natures “through a kind of rebirth or recreation taking place in the nature of our soul.”

Christ is our source for this healing grace, both in his teachings and his life as a model, and in the legacy of community and sacrament that we have inherited.

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The Son is "the Father's concept of himself in whom the Father knows himself. In knowing himself in the Son, says Aquinas, the Father also knows his creatures, and 'his single Word expresses not only the Father but creatures as well' (Ia, 34, 4)."
-Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas, p 306

 

"The object loved is present in the lover even as the object known is present in the knower."
(Ia, 27, 2).

 
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