“Everything is Grace”

Benedict XVI spoke of St. Paul in a Sunday noon address last June, saying Paul is at the same time strong and humble, intimately persuaded that everything is God’s doing, everything is grace. Cardinal George also mentioned the phrase last November.

Which makes me wonder, who coined this phrase? Going back a hundred years, Therese of Liseaux and Robert Louis Stevenson, who were contemporaries, uttered the same words. Stevenson wrote in a poem, Everything is grace. We walk upon it. We breathe it. We live and die by it. It makes the nails and axles of the universe.

This phrase has been attributed to Augustine, but what he really says is often misquoted. Here is the actual wording in his work,  “City of God,” chapter 10 of book I:

These are the considerations which one must keep in view, that he may answer the question whether any evil happens to the faithful and godly which cannot be turned to profit. Or shall we say that the question is needless, and that the Apostle is vaporing when he says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God?”

In chapter 10, Augustine speaks of the sack of Rome and the ensuing famine.  He suggests that some good comes out of evil.  Of course, we can qualify this and state the obvious – that such good does not justify the evil to begin with.  Tragedy is simply an opportunity for the righteous to bear witness to the faith and grow in grace.  Augustine was quoting Paul, whom he calls “the Apostle” in the “City of God.”  Here is the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-28

Now, if you speak to a theologian or scripture scholar trained in the Dominican tradition, they will object forcefully to the phrase “everything is grace.”  That is because Aquinas wrote that such was not the case.  Aquinas, thinking along Aristotlean lines, argues that God created creation prior to the reception of grace by the created.  For Aquinas and the scholastics, grace requires a subject and object.  God has to create the object before it can participate in grace.  Therefore, not “everything is grace.” In addition, Aquinas correctly states that man is not, by nature, fully graced. If he were, he would either be God or be in perfect union with God. But original sin precludes this.

No argument here.  But the phrase “everything is grace” is not a statement on the nature of the world or man. It is an expression of faith that the opportunities to participate in God’s grace abound, sin notwithstanding. As St. Paul writes in Romans 5:20, Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did abound all the more.

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