The Personalist Project

Anyone who wades into Christian personalism (especially in the John-Pauline articulation) soon encounters what Damian Fedoryka calls “the hermeneutics of the gift.” Personal life can only be adequately understood and lived when it is recognized and received as a gift. We do not make ourselves; we cannot account for our existence; we can only accept it (or not) as a gift.
The due response to a gift is gratitude. And gratitude involves a sincere desire to “make a return”. Hence the essential vocation of personal life: the call to give ourselves in love, as we have received ourselves in love.
It is the same in the religious life of persons. We cannot save ourselves through works. We cannot earn our redemption. It comes through Grace. But it does not follow that works are unimportant. Works of love are the way we express our gratitude for the gift we have received.
Here is Ferreira again speaking of this key theme in Kierkegaard [emphasis in the original]:

Indeed, in Kierkegaard’s journals we find a lovely formulation of this dual commitment: he writes that Christianity is “grace, and then a striving born of gratitude.” The implication is that our effort is important, although it cannot be meritorious in the sense of entitling us or giving us a right to something from God. Kierkegaard is assuming here the importance of a distinction between what I can deserving something from someone in the sense of having a right or entitlement to it and what I call being gratefully receptive to it; that is, we may not have deserved or merited some good thing given to us, but we can do something to prepare ourselves for an appropriate reception of the gift, to embrace it gratefully, or to appropriately express our gratitude through the exercise of love.

Comments (2)

Scott Johnston

#1, Jan 30, 2010 3:05am

I totally agree with the primacy placed in these thoughts on grace and gratitude. But, I hope you don’t mind if I suggest an important Catholic addendum.

While Catholicism teaches the primacy of grace and that we do not earn or independently merit salvation, we do—by grace—have the opportunity to participate in the salvation won for us and for others by Christ, through our sanctified works. A soul in the state of grace does merit eternal rewards, not originally, but in the derivative sense of sharing in Christ’s work of redemption.

This, to me, is one of the most significant distinctions between a Catholic and a Protestant understanding of life in Christ, and this is why I mention it. It is true that we do not deserve salvation—even the greatest Saints. But, living a graced response to salvation by Christ for a Catholic involves not only a stance of grateful receptivity (as important and necessary as this is!), but also an eager embrace of a personal, active participation in the salvific work of Christ, in and through our own sanctified work. The “new law” implanted in us by Christ gives us a new power in potential, via the Holy Spirit, to share in the work of our own salvation and the salvation of others. In my own psyche, this is something different (and wonderfully complementary!) to the appropriate emphasis on grateful receptivity.

To me, the active, personal participation aspect of our entry into redemption is extremely valuable and life-changing, and alongside the appropriateness of a grateful response, provides an additional, profound reason why our works are important and filled with an immense dignity when done in the state of grace!

Scott Johnston

#2, Jan 30, 2010 3:10am

And just to add one more thought, it is instructive to consider the Church’s teaching on the treasury of merit. Indulgences (which are every bit as real in the faith of the Church today as in years past contrary to the understanding of many Catholics) would not be possible, at least not in the manner as explained by the Church, without the treasury of merit built up by the saints (both capital and small ‘s’) as they participate(d) freely in the redemption won by Christ. How great is the desire of our Savior to bestow value, meaning, and dignity to the things we do in union with His love!

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