Grace - Encyclopedia

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GRACE (Fr. grace, Lat. gratia, from gratus, beloved, pleasing; formed from the root cra-, Gr. xav-, cf. xaipw, xap,ua, xapcs), a word of many shades of meaning, but always connoting the idea of favour, whether that in which one stands to others or that which one shows to others. The New English Dictionary groups the meanings of the word under three main heads: (1) Pleasing quality, gracefulness, (2) favour, goodwill, (3) gratitude, thanks.

It is in the second general sense of "favour bestowed" that the word has its most important connotations. In this sense it means something given by superior authority as a concession made of favour and goodwill, not as an obligation or of right. Thus, a concession may be made by a sovereign or other public authority "by way of grace." Previous to the Revolution of 1688 such concessions on the part of the crown were known in constitutional law as "Graces." "Letters of Grace" (gratiae, gratiosa rescripta) is the name given to papal rescripts granting special privileges, indulgences, exemptions and the like. In the language of the universities the word still survives in a shadow of this sense. The word "grace" was originally a dispensation granted by the congregation of the university, or by one of the faculties, from some statutable conditions required for a degree. In the English universities these conditions ceased to be enforced, and the "grace" thus became an essential preliminary to any degree; so that the word has acquired the meaning of (a) the licence granted by congregation to take a degree, (b) other decrees of the governing body (originally dispensations from statutes), all such degrees being called "graces" at Cambridge, (c) the permission which a candidate for a degree must obtain from his college or hall.

To this general sense of exceptional favour belong the uses of the word in such phrases as "do me this grace," "to be in some one's good graces" and certain meanings of "the grace of God." The style "by the grace of God," borne by the king of Great Britain and Ireland among other sovereigns, though, as implying the principle of "legitimacy," it has been since the Revolution sometimes qualified on the continent by the addition of "and the will of the people," means in effect no more than the "by Divine Providence," which is the style borne by archbishops. To the same general sense of exceptional favour belong the phrases implying the concession of a right to delay in fulfilling certain obligations, e.g. " a fortnight's grace." In law the "days of grace" are the period allowed for the payment of a bill of exchange, after the term for which it has been drawn (in England three days), or for the payment of an insurance premium, &c. In religious language the "Day of Grace" is the period still open to the sinner in which to repent. In the sense of clemency or mercy, too, "grace" is still, though rarely Used: "an Act of Grace" is a formal pardon or a free and general pardon granted by act of parliament. Since to grant favours is the prerogative of the great, "Your Grace," "His Grace," &c., became dutiful paraphrases for the simple "you" and "he." Formerly used in the royal address ("the King's Grace," &c.), the style is in England now confined to dukes and archbishops, though the style of "his most gracious majesty" is still used. In Germany the equivalent, Euer Gnaden, is the style of princes who are not Durchlaucht (i.e. Serene Highness), and is often used as a polite address to any superior.

In the language of theology, though in the English Bible the word is used in several of the above senses, "grace" (Gr. Xapcs) has special meanings. Above all, it signifies the spontaneous, unmerited activity of the Divine Love in the salvation of sinners, and the Divine influence operating in man for his regeneration and sanctification. Those thus regenerated and sanctified are said to be in a "state of grace." In the New Testament grace is the forgiving mercy of God, as opposed to any human merit (Rom. xi. 6; Eph. ii. 5; Col. i. 6, &c.); it is applied also to certain gifts of God freely bestowed, e.g. miracles, tongues, &c. (Rom. xv. 15; i Cor. xv. 10; Eph. iii. 8, &c.), to the Christian virtues, gifts of God also, e.g. charity, holiness, &c. (2 Cor. viii. 7; 2 Pet. iii. 18). It is also used of the Gospel generally, as opposed to the Law (John i. 17; Rom. vi. 14; i Pet. v. 12, &c.); connected with this is the use of the term "year of grace" for a year of the Christian era.

The word "grace" is the central subject of three great theological controversies: (I) that of the nature of human depravity and regeneration (see Pelagius), (2) that of the relation between grace and free-will (see Calvin, John, and Arminius, Jacobus), (3) that of the "means of grace" between Catholics and Protestants, i.e. whether the efficacy of the sacraments as channels of the Divine grace is ex opere operato or dependent on the faith of the recipient.

In the third general sense, of thanks for favours bestowed, "grace" survives as the name for the thanksgiving before or after meals. The word was originally used in the plural, and "to do, give, render, yield graces" was said, in the general sense of the French rendre graces or Latin gratias agere, of any giving thanks. The close, and finally exclusive, association of the phrase "to say grace" with thanksgiving at meals was possibly due to the formula "Gratias Deo agamus" ("let us give thanks to God") with which the ceremony began in monastic refectories. The custom of saying grace, which obtained in pre-Christian times among the Jews, Greeks and Romans, and was adopted universally by Christian peoples, is probably less widespread in private houses than it used to be. It is, however, still maintained at public dinners and also in schools, colleges and institutions generally. Such graces are generally in Latin and of great antiquity: they are sometimes short, e.g. " Laus Deo," "Benedictus benedicat," and sometimes, as at the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, of considerable length. In some countries grace has sunk to a polite formula; in Germany, e.g. it is usual before and after meals to bow to one's neighbours and say "Gesegnete Malzeit !" (May your meal be blessed), a phrase often reduced in practice to "Malzeit" simply.

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