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It Is Not Impossible to Observe the Divine Law

5. Man having lost his free will, the sectarians say that it is impossible for him to observe the precepts of the Decalogue, and especially the first and tenth commandments. Speaking of the tenth commandment, " Thou shalt not covet," &c., won concupisces, they say it is quite impossible to observe it, and they found the impossibility on a fallacy. Concupiscence, they say, is itself a sin, and hence, they assert that not alone motions of concupiscence, in actu secundo, which precede consent, are sinful, but also movements, in actu primo, which precede reason, or advertence itself. Catholics, however, teach, that movements of concupiscence, in actu primo, which precede advertence, are neither mortal nor venial sins, but only natural defects proceeding from our corrupt nature, and for which God will not blame us. The movements which precede consent are at most only venial sins, when we are careless about banishing them from our minds after we perceive them, as Gerson and the Salmanticenses, following St. Thomas, teach, for in that case the danger of consenting to the evil desired, by not positively resisting and banishing that motion of concupiscence, is only remote, and not proximate. Doctors, however, usually except movements of carnal delectation, for then it is not enough to remain passive, negative se habere, as Theologians say, but we should make a positive resistance, for, otherwise, if they are any way violent, there is great danger of consenting to them. Speaking of other matters, however, the consenting alone (as we have said) to the desire of a grievous evil is a mortal sin. Now, taking the commandment in this sense, no one can deny that with the assistance of Divine Grace, which never fails us, it is impossible to observe it. If one advertently consents to a wicked desire, or takes morose delectation in thinking on it, he is then guilty of a grievous, or, at all events, of a light fault, for our Lord himself says: " Follow not in thy strength the desires of thy heart" (Eccl, v, 2); " Go not after thy lusts" (Eccl. xviii, 30); " Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, so as to obey the lusts thereof" (Rom. vi, 12). I have used the expression a light fault, because the delectation of a bad object is one thing; the thought of a bad object another: this delectation of thought is not mortally sinful in itself, but only venially so; and even if there be a just cause, it is no sin at all. This, however, must be understood to be the case only when we abominate the evil object, and besides, that the consideration of it should be of some utility to us, and that the consideration of it should not lead us to take pleasure in the evil object, because if there was a proximate danger of this, the delectation would, in that case, be grievously sinful. When, then, on the other hand, concupiscence assaults us against our will, then there is no sin, for God only obliges us to do what is in our power. Man is composed of the flesh and the spirit, which are always naturally at war with each other; and hence, it is not in our power not to feel many times movements opposed to reason. Would not that master be a tyrant who would command his servant not to feel thirst or cold? In the law of Moses punishment was imposed only on actual external crimes, and hence the Scribes and Pharisees drew a false conclusion, that internal sins were not prohibited; but in the New Law our Redeemer has explained that even wicked desires are forbidden: " You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt, v, 27, 28). This stands to reason, for if we do not reject evil desires, it would be very difficult to avoid actual external sins; but when these desires are rejected, they are a matter of merit to us, instead of deserving of punishment. St. Paul deplored that he was tormented with carnal temptations, and prayed to God to free him from them, but was answered that his grace alone was sufficient: " There was given to me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me, which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me, and he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee, for power is made perfect in infirmity" (II. Cor. xii, 7, &c). Mark here, " power is made perfect," which proves that when evil desires are rejected, they increase, instead of weakening our virtue. Here we should also take occasion to remark, that the Apostle says that God does not permit that we should be tempted beyond our strength: " God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able" (I. Cor. x, 12).  

6. They also assert that it is impossible to observe the first commandment: " Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart." How is it possible, says Calvin, for us, living in a state of corruption, to keep our hearts continually occupied with the Divine love? Calvin understands the commandment in this way, but St. Augustine(l) does not, for he counsels us that we cannot observe it as to the words, but we can as to the obligation. We fulfil this commandment by loving God above all things, that is, by preferring the Divine Grace to every thing created. The angelic Doctor, St. Thomas (2) teaches the same. We observe, he says, the precept of loving God with all our hearts, when we love him above every tliing else: " Cum mandatur, quod Deum ex toto corde diligamus, datur intelligi, quod Deum super omnia debemus diligere." The substance of the first commandment, then, consists in the obligation of preferring God above all things else, and, therefore, Jesus says that " he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt, x, 37).  And St. Paul, confiding in the Divine Grace, says that he is certain that nothing created could separate him from the love of God: "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (Rom. viii, 38, 39). Calvin (3) not alone taught the impossibility of observing the first and and tenth commandments, but even that the observance of any of the others was impossible.  

7. They object, first, that St. Peter said, in the Council of Jerusalem: " Now, therefore, why tempt you God to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear" (Acts, xv, 10). Here the Apostle himself declares that the observance of the law is impossible. We answer, that St. Peter here does not speak of the moral, but of the ceremonial law, which should not be imposed on Christians, since the Hebrews themselves found it so difficult, that very few of them observed it, though several, however, did so, as St. Luke tells us that St. Zachary and St. Elizabeth did: " They were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord, without blame" (Luke, i, 6). (1) St. Aug. 1. de Sp. &Lit. c. 1, & l. de Perf. Just. Resp. (2) St. Thom. 2, 2 qu. 44, art. 8, ad. 2. (3) Calvin in Antid. Con. Trid. Sess. vi, c. 12.  

8. They object, secondly, that text of the Apostle: " For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not" (Romans, vii, 18). Now, when he says "that there dwelleth not in me that which is good," he tells us that the law cannot be observed; but we should not separate that passage from what follows: " that is to say, in my flesh." What St. Paul means to say is, that the flesh is opposed to the spirit, and no matter how good our will may be, we never can be exempt from every movement of concupiscence; but these movements, as we have already said, do not prevent us from observing the law.

9. They object, thirdly, that St. John says: " If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I. John, i, 8). We answer that the Apostle does not mean by that, that it is impossible for us to observe the commandments, so that no one can escape falling into mortal sin, but that on account of the present weakness of corrupt nature, no one is exempt from venial sins, as the Council of Trent declared (Sess. vi, cap. 11): " Licet enim in hac mortali vita quantum vis sancti, et justi in levia saltern, et quotidiana, quæ etiam venialia dicuntur peccata, quandoque cadant, non propterea desinunt esse justi."  

10. They object, fourthly, that St. Paul says: " Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us" (Gal. iii, 13). Therefore, say our adversaries, Christ, by the merits of his death, has exempted us from the obligation of observing the law. We answer: It is quite a different thing to say that Christ has freed us from the malediction of the law, since his grace gives us strength to observe, and thus avoid the malediction fulminated by the law against its transgressors, and to assert that he has freed us from the observance of the law, which is totally false.  

11. They object, fifthly, that the Apostle says, in another place: " Knowing this, that the law is not made for the just man, but for the unjust and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners" (1. Tim. i, 9). Joining this passage with the other just quoted, they say that our Redeemer has freed us from the obligation of observing the Commandments, and that when he told the young man (Matt, xix, 17), " If you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the Commandments," he only spoke ironically, as much as to say, " Keep them if you can," knowing that it was quite impossible for a child of Adam to observe them. We answer, with St. Thomas (4), that the law, as to the directive power, is given both to the just and to the unjust, to direct all men as to what they ought to do; but as to the co-active power, the law is not imposed on those who voluntarily observe it without being constrained to observe it, but on the wicked who wish to withdraw themselves from it, for it is these alone should be constrained to observe it. The explanation of the text, " Keep the Commandments," given by the Reformers, that Christ spoke ironically, is not only heretical, but totally opposed to commonsense and Scripture, and is not worth an answer. The true doctrine in this matter is that of the Council of Trent (5): " Deus impossibilia non jubet, sed jubendo monet, et facere quod possis, et petere quod non possis, et adjuvat ut possis" (Sess. vi, c. 13). He, therefore, gives to every one the ordinary Grace to observe the Commandments, and whenever a more abundant Grace is required, if we pray to him for it, we are sure of obtaining it.  

12. This was the answer of St. Augustine to the Adrometines, who objected to him, that if God does not give us sufficient Grace to observe the law, he should not chastise us for violating it: " Cur me corripis? et non potius Ipsum rogas, ut in me operetur et velle" (6). And the Saint answers: " Qui corrigi non vult, et dicit, Ora potius pro me; ideo corripiendus est, ut faciat (id est oret) etiam ipse pro se." Therefore, says St. Augustine, although man does not receive efficacious Grace from God to fulfil the law, still he should be punished, and commits a sin by violating it, because, having it in his power to pray, and by prayer obtain more abundant assistance to enable him to observe it, he neglects to pray, and thus does not observe the law. (4) St. Thom. 1, 2, qu. 96, art. 5. (5) Ap. St. Aug. dc Corrept, et Grat. t. 10, c. 4, n. 6, in fine. (6) St. Aug. ibid, c. 5, n. 7.  It would be quite otherwise, if it were not granted to all to pray, and, by prayer, obtain strength to do what is right. But another efficacious Grace is necessary to pray, and, in my opinion, St. Augustine would not have answered the Adrometines rationally, that man should be punished if he did not pray for himself, for they might in that case answer him, how can he pray, if he have not efficacious Grace to pray? 

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