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A dangerous error, which has unfortunately also penetrated into the sanctuary of the Church, is the notion of progress, unfolding in history, in our objective relation to God, wherein it is assumed that God is drawing mankind closer to Himself in the course of history without the individual knowing anything about it. This is especially a fruit of Teilhardism.
It is very important to understand that no man can attain eternal beatitude without his own cooperation. 27 “Qui te fecit sine te, non re justificat sine te,” says St. Augustine. 28 (“He who created you without you does not justify you without you.”) Even though the cooperation of the individual is only a tiny factor in comparison with the infinite mercy of God — the redemption through Christ's death on the cross, the reception of sanctifying grace at baptism — nevertheless, this cooperation with grace — obedience to the commandments of God, faith, hope, love, the imitation of Christ — is a factor of decisive importance.
The Gospel leaves no room for doubt that God treats man as a partner, and that our behavior, our response plays a decisive role in our sanctification, and through it, in the glorification of God, and finally in our eternal beatitude. Christ said, “Truly, I say unto you, if your justice is not greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Further, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father, who is in heaven.”
It is obviously impossible to enumerate all the passages in the Gospels which point out the importance of our obedience to the commandments of God and of our love of God and neighbor. This is indeed the meaning and essence of Revelation: that God speaks to us as persons, and as persons we thereby become acquainted with supernatural truth and give the response which God wishes us to give to this truth: our faith. It also belongs to the meaning of Revelation that we become acquainted with the commandments of God and obey them. It belongs to the meaning of the Revelation in the God-Man Jesus Christ that His adorable holiness shine resplendent upon us, and that we follow and imitate Him. Faith, hope, and love should blossom in us and that requires — apart from the gift of grace, the communication of the divine principle of life in baptism — our free cooperation. We do not, therefore, reach eternal beatitude without having anything to do with it. When we think of all other creatures, such as plants and animals, we realize that everything happens to and through them without their free cooperation. They are not personal creatures; a revelation to them would have no point. They possess neither the capacity for true knowledge and true understanding, which belongs to man alone, as a person, nor do they have a free will.
Now it is important to understand which things even in human life issue from God alone, without man's cooperation, and which things require free cooperation. “Qui fecit te sine te,” says St. Augustine. That we exist, our life as persons, that we possess the capacity for knowledge and freedom of will: all these are pure gifts of God, which we receive. Here it would have no meaning to speak of our cooperation. The action of Providence in our lives is also completely independent of us. When a person thinks of all the circumstances of his life, of all the situations into which he has been led without having had a hand in the matter, he catches a glimpse of an enormous network of things which came into being without his assistance: which parents he had, which brothers and sisters, in which environment he was allowed to grow up, how he is physically put together, whether he is infected during an epidemic or not, whether he meets persons of whom he had previously known nothing, but who afterwards play a decisive role in his life. In the entire dominion of Providence we are dealing with pure dispensations of God, in which no cooperation is present on our part, and which are forthcoming without our playing a conscious part in them. The special graces which God gives the individual person are also pure gifts.
It is impossible to treat in detail here everything in our lives which is a pure gift of God, in the sense that it presents itself without our knowledge and without our cooperation. There would naturally be many levels to distinguish here. There are for instance many things which lie completely beyond our power, which in principle occur without our having anything to do with their occurring and others, which in principle can come about through our cooperation (for example, the encounter with other persons, as when one expressly seeks someone whom one has heard of). We could also distinguish the things which, though they are pure gifts, still come into our experience, such as the inspirations of an artist, a great love for a particular person, the grace to feel the presence of God, to experience a burning, ardent love for Christ. These are all gifts, but not things which happen without our having anything to do with their coming to us. And besides these there are many gifts which appeal to us for a right response.
The main distinction is perhaps here: which things occur without our having anything to do with their occurring, which only intrude into our conscious life when they are fully real? Consider, for example, a sickness which develops for a long time unnoticed, or numerous occurrences in our bodies. Everything which invades our consciousness, though it take place without us and our cooperation, is nevertheless known by us, addresses itself to our consciousness and, what is more, appeals to us for a response. But we cannot go into further detail here concerning this problem, which is most interesting in itself. For us the decisive fact is that there is no morality without our free cooperation, and that nobody can partake of eternal beatitude without his own cooperation; and indeed, that the Revelation of God must be heard and grasped, that it addresses itself to our consciousness and is an appeal for our cooperation — a cooperation which is required for sanctify and eternal beatitude, which brings “fear and trembling” over us.
The notion that in the course of history humanity is being drawn nearer to God by “progress” in history is based on a Hegelian error which we discussed in detail in The Trojan Horse: we are never drawn nearer to God without our having anything to do with it, and without our noticing it. Every instance of being drawn nearer to God is something which can only have reference to the individual; it may refer to many individuals at the same time, but never to humanity, or to a community. Here, too, we encounter the Hegelian error of depersonalization, of the primacy of the community over the individual person, which leads him, for example, to regard the state as a higher entity than the individual person.
Here an especially dangerous invasion of Hegelian historicism presents itself: the notion that being drawn nearer to God takes place through the alleged progress in history, “over our head,” as it were.
27. Obviously I am thinking here of adults, who have the use of reason and of their free will. A small child, in whom this is not yet present, can certainly participate in eternal beatitude without his cooperation if he is baptized.
28. St. Augustine: Semiones (de Script. N.T.) CLXIX. XI, 13.