What is the Source of Sanctity?

Sanctity or holiness is one of the principal attributes of the Catholic Church.  One reason this is so is because it is present in all three parts of the Church, namely, the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.  Yet, what is the source of this sanctity common to the Saints in Heaven, the holy souls in Purgatory, and the souls of the just here below?  The first extrinsic Source of their sanctity is none other than the infinitely holy Triune God.  Acting through Their numerically one divine nature, the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity not only, at the beginning of time, brought all creatures into existence out of nothing, but also presently preserve all creatures in existence, and sovereignly direct them to their divinely ordained ends.  Further, to bring us human beings to share in Their Beatific Vision, the same three Divine Persons have made available to us, through the instrumentality of Baptism and the other Sacraments, a created participation in Their very nature and life.  This latter reality is commonly called “sanctifying grace” or “habitual grace.”  And it is this great gift which is the first intrinsic source of sanctity in its possessor.       

By infusing sanctifying grace into the essence of a human soul, the Triune God causes many marvelous effects to result in that soul.  One of these effects is a change known as justification.  According to the Council of Trent, justification is a change “from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.”  Here we see that the infusion of sanctifying grace simultaneously cleanses a man’s soul from Original Sin and causes him to be an adopted son of God.  Indeed, it is because sanctifying grace is essentially a created participation in the very nature and life of the Deity that every man who receives it ipso facto becomes an adopted son of God.  With this great truth of adoptive divine filiation in mind, the Apostle writes to the Ephesians: “You are now no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are citizens with the Saints and members of God’s household” (2:19).  

Additionally, the infusion of sanctifying grace causes the soul thus blessed to be a veritable temple of the Blessed Trinity.  To be sure, God is in all His creatures insofar as He preserves them in existence, knows them comprehensively, and contains them by His unlimited power.  Yet, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, “since the rational creature, by knowing and loving, attains to God Himself by its own operation, God, according to this special mode, is said not only to be in the rational creature, but also to live in him as in His temple.” 

Just as the man who receives the Holy Eucharist becomes a living tabernacle of the Incarnate God for as long as the appearances of bread and wine survive within him, so, in a similar way, the man who receives God’s sanctifying grace becomes a temple of the Blessed Trinity for as long as this created participation of the Deity remains within him.  And just as the Eucharistic Lord may in some way reveal Himself experientially to the communicant who has cultivated a deep friendship with Him, so too the Divine Persons sometimes make themselves known experientially to Their friends in whom They dwell.  Describing her awareness of the Three Divine Persons within her soul, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity writes: “My only devotional practice is to enter ‘within,’ and lose myself in Those Who are there.  I feel God so alive in my soul that I have only to recollect myself in order to find Him within me.  That is the secret of all my happiness.” 

In addition to the aforesaid effects, sanctifying grace endows its recipient with many supernatural virtues and gifts and, thus, with the ability to perform supernatural actions.  When a human soul is infused by God into a human body, the various powers of the soul (e.g., the intellect, will, sense powers, etc.) naturally flow from the soul as from a principle and it is by these powers that a man thinks, wills, senses, and so forth.  Similarly, when God infuses sanctifying grace into the essence of a human soul, various supernatural virtues and gifts (e.g., the theological virtues, the infused moral virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit) naturally flow from sanctifying grace as from a principle and it is by these virtues and gifts that a man performs supernatural acts of faith, hope, charity, and so forth.  

Such then are but some of the marvelous effects which result from sanctifying grace informing the soul of a human person.  These effects manifest the great dignity of this divine gift found in the souls in Heaven and Purgatory as well as in the souls of the sons of God here below.  Indeed, so great is the dignity of this first intrinsic source of sanctity that Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange can say without hesitation: “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.”  


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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