Author Topic: "There but for the grace of God go I"  (Read 12713 times)

Offline Jayne

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"There but for the grace of God go I"
« on: April 23, 2016, 09:18:12 AM »
There is this saying: "There but for the grace of God go I" and I am wondering if this comes from a Catholic source or is compatible with Catholic teaching.  The idea is that when one hears of a person who has committed a serious or shocking sin, instead of thinking "I am better than he is" that one recognizes that God gives us the graces we need to avoid sins.  For example, having a good up-bringing, having a certain temperament or character traits, or simply not facing certain temptations can affect what sins we commit or not.  These are not things that we chose.  When they help us to avoid sin, these are blessings from God to be grateful for, not reasons to feel proud of not sinning.  They are not reasons to look down on others who have not been so blessed.

A related idea is that God judges us taking such things into consideration.  For example, God would expect more from an intelligent and gifted person raised in a good Catholic home than a person without those advantages.  In God's eyes, such a person might be worse than a person without those advantages who committed objectively worse sins.

Anyhow, these ideas seem Catholic to me, but I cannot think of a Catholic source for them.  Does anyone know of any writings of Saints about this sort of thing?
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
 
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Offline Bernadette

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2016, 09:22:36 AM »
Luke 12:47-48

[47] And that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. [48] But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.
"Though she be but little, she is fierce." A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III Scene ii
 
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Offline LouisIX

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2016, 07:15:33 PM »
That's right. Whatever good we have, we have because God gives to us gratuitously, so who are we to boast in ourselves?

1 Corinthians 4:7
"For who distinguisheth thee ? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received ? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"
IF I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 
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Offline dellery

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2016, 07:19:29 PM »
Authoritative sources from the Catholic Church would be nice, instead of context-less Bible verses that people will interpret however they want.
Rise up, O Lord, in thy anger: and be thou exalted in the borders of my enemies. And arise, O Lord, my God, in the precept which thou has commanded: and a congregation of people shall surround thee. The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed. Their memory hath perished with a noise: but the Lord remaineth forever.

And  you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

"One thing that I am sure of, and which I can answer truthfully, is that whatever the contingencies that may arise here, wherever I am there will be no Communism."
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Offline LouisIX

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2016, 07:22:11 PM »
Authoritative sources from the Catholic Church would be nice, instead of context-less Bible verses that people will interpret however they want.

What other way is there to interpret that?
IF I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 
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Offline dellery

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2016, 07:26:10 PM »
What other way is there to interpret that?

I didn't say there was more than one way to interpret it. I said people interpret Scripture however they want.

Mathew 16:18 doesn't leave much room for interpretation but people manage to anyway.
Rise up, O Lord, in thy anger: and be thou exalted in the borders of my enemies. And arise, O Lord, my God, in the precept which thou has commanded: and a congregation of people shall surround thee. The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed. Their memory hath perished with a noise: but the Lord remaineth forever.

And  you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

"One thing that I am sure of, and which I can answer truthfully, is that whatever the contingencies that may arise here, wherever I am there will be no Communism."
 - Generalissimo, Francisco Franco
 

Offline LouisIX

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2016, 07:26:49 PM »
Quote from: St. Thomas' Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:7
200. Then he assigns the reason why one should not be puffed up against another, saying: For who sees anything different in you? This can be interpreted in two ways: in one way so that it means, “Who distinguished you from the mass of the damned?” You cannot distinguish yourself; hence you have nothing in you as a ground for exalting yourself. Of this distinction Ps 43 (v.1): “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from an ungodly people.” It can be understood in another way: Who sees anything different in you to make you superior to your neighbor? This is something you cannot do; hence you should not exalt yourself above him. Of this exaltation Sirach (33:11) says: “In the fullness of his knowledge God distinguished them and appointed their different ways.” But there is no distinction among men, insofar as they are Christ’s faithful, because “we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Rom 12:5); “God put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Ac 15:9).

201. – Then he dismisses an apparent reason. For someone could be distinguished from good or from evil men, because he is better than they on account of the blessings he has, such as faith, wisdom and the like. But the Apostle excludes this, saying: What have you that you did not receive? As if to say: Nothing; for all blessings come from God: “When you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (Ps 104: 28); “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chr 29:14). From this he draws his conclusion, saying: If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? Accordingly, a person boasts as though he did not receive, when he boasts in himself and not in God, as those mentioned in Ps 49 (v.6): “Men who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches.”
IF I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 
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Offline Miriam_M

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2016, 03:24:52 AM »
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bradford

The Writings of John Bradford, Aubrey Townsend, notes this in his preface:[9]
The familiar story, that, on seeing evil-doers taken to the place of execution, he was wont to exclaim, "But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford," is a universal tradition which has overcome the lapse of time.
— vol. 2 (1843) p. xliii

The tradition of attribution of the phrase to Bradford dates to at least the early 19th century, as it is found in A treatise on prayer by Edward Bickersteth (1822):

The pious Martyr Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, exclaimed, "there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford." He knew that the same evil principles were in his own heart which had brought the criminal to that shameful end.
— p. 60

While the phrase, or its attribution to Bradford, cannot be traced to before 1800, Townsend notes that there is a 17th-century attribution of a similar sentiment to Bradford, demonstrating how "by the sight of others' sins, men may learn to bewail their own sinfulness". According to this tradition, Bradford, "when he saw any drunk or heard any swear, &c., would railingly complain, 'Lord I have a drunken head; Lord, I have a swearing heart.'"[10]

But there are other attributions for the phrase "there but for the grace of God"; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (in the voice of Sherlock Holmes) attributes the phrase to Richard Baxter (1615-1691) in The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1891):

Why does fate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such a case as this that I do not think of Baxter's words, and say, 'There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.'"

The phrase has also been attributed to John Newton (1725-1807)[11] and in Catholic tradition to Philip Neri (1515-1595)
 
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Offline Gardener

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2016, 08:36:07 AM »
Really surprised no one has mentioned 1 Cor 15:10 yet, as it's almost a paraphrase (perhaps even the source) of the quote in question:


Quote
[1] Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; [2] By which also you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. [3] For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: [4] And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: [5] And that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven.

[6] Then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. [7] After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. [8] And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time. [9] For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. [10] But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
1 Cor 15


St. Thomas elucidates:

Quote
908. – Therefore he says first: of myself I am nothing, but what I am, I am by the grace of God, i.e., from God, not from me: “Of this gospel I was made a minister” (Eph 3:7). And he says, what I am, because without grace a man is nothing: “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries” (1 Cor 13:2). But how he used and executed his state he shows, saying: and his grace.

909. – Here he shows, first, how he used that grace, namely, for good; therefore he says: toward me was not in vain, i.e., idle, because he used it for that for which it was given to him: “Lest somehow I should be running in vain” (Gal 2:2). Secondly, he manifests how he exceeded others; therefore he adds: on the contrary I worked harder than any of them, i.e., than any of the apostles singly, by preaching, because no one preached in so many places and announced Christ. Hence he says: “So that from Jerusalem to Illyricum I fully preached” (Rom 15:19) and even as far as

pain – by working, because although he, as the other apostles, could require expenses necessary for them, yet he particularly wished to seek his expenses from the labor of his hands, as he says in 2 Th (3:8): “Night and day we have worked with our

ands – by enduring tribulation”; for none of the apostles endured such persecutions and tribulations as he mentions in 2 Cor (11:23): “With far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings. Thirdly, he shows the efficacy of use, because this was not from himself alone but from the instinct and help of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he says: though it was not I alone acting but the grace of God, which is with me, which moves the will to this: “Thou has wrought for us all our works” (Is 26:12): “God is at work in you both to will and to work” (Phil 2:13). For God not only infuses but He also moves us to use the graces infused well, and this is called cooperating grace.
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/english/SS1Cor.htm#151

Today's Propers, in part, so pertinent:

Quote
EPISTLE James 1:17-21
Beloved: Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature.
You know, my dearest brethren. And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger. For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God. Wherefore, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Quote
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Ps. 65:1-2, 16
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing a psalm to the glory of His name. Come and hear, all you who fear God, the great things the Lord has done for me, alleluia!

"And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" - St. Maximilian Kolbe
 
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Offline Greg

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2016, 08:57:29 AM »
In that case, surely someone who is raised in an orphanage and abused by their carers but goes on to live a productive life untainted by scandal is better than a person who had two Catholic parents, a good Catholic home and yet still became a sodomite swinger for 15+ years.

You can't have it both ways.  If a troubled upbringing is an mitigating factor, then it must also mean you are a better person if you don't let it lead you into a world of sin and depravity but instead overcome it.  And some people do exactly that.

It's not just the grace of God, that stops you falling into depravity, one must also cooperate with one's own will and not wish to fall, or resist falling.

Do you want to try this cannabis joint?

Do you want to fornicate?

Do you want to stop drinking after you're already feeling tipsy?

Do you want to drive 1 hour to mass on a cold wet day?

If it was purely the grace of God, then there would be no merit on our part for avoiding sin or making the right choices with our will.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2016, 09:01:42 AM by Greg »
 
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Offline Jayne

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2016, 10:03:53 AM »
In that case, surely someone who is raised in an orphanage and abused by their carers but goes on to live a productive life untainted by scandal is better than a person who had two Catholic parents, a good Catholic home and yet still became a sodomite swinger for 15+ years.

You can't have it both ways.  If a troubled upbringing is an mitigating factor, then it must also mean you are a better person if you don't let it lead you into a world of sin and depravity but instead overcome it.  And some people do exactly that.

It's not just the grace of God, that stops you falling into depravity, one must also cooperate with one's own will and not wish to fall, or resist falling.

I agree. We have to cooperate with grace and there is merit for doing what it right.

But we never know, even about ourselves and certainly not about anyone else, how much of any given right action comes from grace and how much from our will.  It is best for us to assume, however, that it was all grace.  It just isn't spiritually healthy to think about oneself as virtuous and meritorious. 
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
 
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Offline Miriam_M

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2016, 10:31:14 AM »
Really surprised no one has mentioned 1 Cor 15:10 yet, as it's almost a paraphrase (perhaps even the source) of the quote in question:
Yes, I knew there were scriptural references, but was also aware that there were additional secular sources (as well as St. Phillip Neri), and wasn't sure if that was common knowledge.
 

Offline Bernadette

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2016, 10:44:42 AM »
It just isn't spiritually healthy to think about oneself as virtuous and meritorious.

I think that it can be healthy and beneficial to recognize one's own virtues, as long as one recognizes that they come from God, not from one's own worthiness, and that without God's generosity one wouldn't have them. Also, this recognition of one's own virtues (and the other blessings one has received) should lead to increased gratitude and desire to serve God more perfectly. St. Teresa addresses this point in her works. She also emphasizes the fact that of ourselves we are so weak that we often fail in virtues that we usually think we have.
"Though she be but little, she is fierce." A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III Scene ii
 
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Offline misericonfit

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2016, 10:55:44 AM »
In that case, surely someone who is raised in an orphanage and abused by their carers but goes on to live a productive life untainted by scandal is better than a person who had two Catholic parents, a good Catholic home and yet still became a sodomite swinger for 15+ years.

You can't have it both ways.  If a troubled upbringing is an mitigating factor, then it must also mean you are a better person if you don't let it lead you into a world of sin and depravity but instead overcome it.  And some people do exactly that.

It's not just the grace of God, that stops you falling into depravity, one must also cooperate with one's own will and not wish to fall, or resist falling.

Do you want to try this cannabis joint?

Do you want to fornicate?

Do you want to stop drinking after you're already feeling tipsy?

Do you want to drive 1 hour to mass on a cold wet day?

If it was purely the grace of God, then there would be no merit on our part for avoiding sin or making the right choices with our will.
But to be able to merit is itself a gift of God - as St Augustine makes clear. What do we have, that we have not received ? We can only give to God in the Mass from His gifts to us. To persevere is a grace. To desire to do good, is a grace. To begin to do good, is a grace. To persevere in doing good is a grace. To end a good act well, is a grace. To have opportunity to do good is a grace. To wish to do good is a grace. To resolve to do good is a grace. To co-operate with God's grace is a grace. God owes no-one the grace of membership in the Mystical Body, nor the grace of predestination to glory, nor confirmation in grace, nor the grace of conversion, nor restoration from sin - all these come, not from any obligation God has to any of us, but from His Goodness and Mercy and Grace. In so far as God has any obligation to creatures, it is because He has graciously condescended to take on obligations to us, by freely and graciously entering into a covenant relationship with us in Christ. 

So in a very important way, all is indeed of grace.
Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or possess Thou hast bestowed upon me; to Thee I give it all back and surrender it wholly to be governed by Thy Will. Give me love for Thee alone, with Thy grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

- St Ignatius Loyola.
 
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Offline mikemac

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Re: "There but for the grace of God go I"
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2016, 10:58:32 AM »
It's kind of ironic that there is also a current running thread titled "All is Grace".
http://www.suscipedomine.com/forum/index.php?topic=14260.0
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