Who is in the State of Grace?

Only God can see the soul, and know who is in the state of grace, and who is not. However, in some cases, we can know with the certitude of human knowledge, not absolute certitude, who is in the state of grace, to one degree of knowledge or another.

A baptized infant is in the state of grace, certainly, unless the Sacrament of Baptism were given so improperly that it was not valid. The priest who baptizes, and is well-taught on the conditions for validity, can know with near certitude, that the baptized infant is in the state of grace.

And since young children cannot understand morality well enough to commit an actual mortal sin with full knowledge and full deliberation, the baptized child remains in the state of grace for at least some number of years after baptism as an infant.

A devout Catholic might commit an actual mortal sin, and might realize that the act is an actual mortal sin — though it can be quite difficult to know if knowledge and deliberation are full. So he or she might know, though not with certitude, that they lost the state of grace. And if the devout Catholic repents out of love of God and neighbor, with great sorrow and prayerfulness, he or she might know, with a degree of certitude that is not absolute, that they have returned to the state of grace. In particular, though, it can be hard to know if one’s contrition is imperfect or perfect, and so the Church rightly requires us to go to Confession — which Sacrament forgives sins even when contrition is imperfect. But after making a good confession, a devout Catholic may know, with a degree of certitude that is high, but not absolute, that they have returned to the state of grace.

A holy person might understand, through grace and prayer, that they are in the state of grace. This knowledge is not absolute. But it is not as if a devout person can have no knowledge and no idea at all as to whether they are in the state of grace. A holy person will know which sins are still on their conscience, and will understand what perfect contrition is like.

Can we know if other persons are in the state of grace?

To some extent, but not with absolute certitude, we can know with the ordinary surety of human knowledge, that some persons are in the state of grace, or are not. The unbaptized infant is not in the state of grace, and the baptized infant is in the state of grace.

Among adults, wicked cruel dictators, whose grave sins are public knowledge, can be known with the ordinary surety of human knowledge to be in the state of unrepented actual mortal sin. And persons who are very holy Catholics, such as Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II — during their lifetimes — can be known with the ordinary surety of human knowledge to be in the state of grace. But for the most part, among adults who are not at either extreme of great wickedness or great holiness, we cannot be sure.

Many Catholics think themselves to be in the state of grace when they are not. And many non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian believers, and unbelievers are in the state of grace without realizing it. And that is what our Lord taught us.

{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Many bishops, priests, religious, theologians, and teachers of the faith are not in the state of grace. They are like the Pharisees of old. They have positions of leadership and teaching in religion, but they are unrepentant from grave sins.

I can’t know which of my theological opponents are in the state of grace and which are not. But I notice that very many teachers of the faith undermine and contradict the Gospel and the Magisterium at every turn, and many radically reinterpret Church teaching to suit their own desires. So I cannot believe that they are all in the state of grace.

{21:23} And when he had arrived at the temple, as he was teaching, the leaders of the priests and the elders of the people approached him, saying: “By what authority do you do these things? And who has given this authority to you?”

{21:28} But how does it seem to you? A certain man had two sons. And approaching the first, he said: ‘Son, go out today to work in my vineyard.’
{21:29} And responding, he said, ‘I am not willing.’ But afterwards, being moved by repentance, he went.
{21:30} And approaching the other, he spoke similarly. And answering, he said, ‘I am going, lord.’ And he did not go.
{21:31} Which of the two did the will of the father?” They said to him, “The first.” Jesus said to them: “Amen I say to you, that tax collectors and prostitutes shall precede you, into the kingdom of God.
{21:32} For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Yet even after seeing this, you did not repent, so as to believe him.

People who have committed objective mortal sins, figuratively tax collectors (greed) and prostitutes (sexual sins), may be in the state of grace by a sincere but mistaken conscience, or invincible ignorance, and by love of neighbor. On the other hand, so many Catholic leaders behave with self-exaltation and with contempt toward anyone with a different set of beliefs, that I cannot believe they are all in the state of grace.

{18:9} Now about certain persons who consider themselves to be just, while disdaining others, he told also this parable:
{18:10} “Two men ascended to the temple, in order to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
{18:11} Standing, the Pharisee prayed within himself in this way: ‘O God, I give thanks to you that I am not like the rest of men: robbers, unjust, adulterers, even as this tax collector chooses to be.
{18:12} I fast twice between Sabbaths. I give tithes from all that I possess.’
{18:13} And the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing to even lift up his eyes to heaven. But he struck his chest, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
{18:14} I say to you, this one descended to his house justified, but not the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Many Catholics today consider themselves to be just while disdaining others. And the above parable does not move them to repentance. They are just like the Pharisee, who was praying in the temple, but was not in the state of grace (the state of justification). Then, again, the repentant tax collector was in the state of grace because he was sorrowful for his sins. He was saved by his humility, while the Pharisee was condemned for his pride.

I see the very same thing today. Many Catholics, especially certain conservative Catholic leaders, “consider themselves to be just, while disdaining others.” I suppose that more than a few of them are not in the state of grace. And yet many Catholics listen to them and are led by them.

Do not be deceived by anyone who claims that only believing and practicing Catholics are saved, or only believing and practicing Christians are saved, and few others. The teachings of Christ clearly tell us that many non-Catholics are saved, by the grace and mercy of God, and that many believing and practicing Catholics are not saved, because of their pride, their disdain for non-Christians, and their unrepented grave sins (for which they devise many theological rationalizations, as I have described in many previous posts).

{14:16} So he said to him: “A certain man prepared a great feast, and he invited many.
{14:17} And he sent his servant, at the hour of the feast, to tell the invited to come; for now everything was ready.
{14:18} And at once they all began to make excuses. The first said to him: ‘I bought a farm, and I need to go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:19} And another said: ‘I bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to examine them. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:20} And another said, ‘I have taken a wife, and therefore I am not able to go.’
{14:21} And returning, the servant reported these things to his lord. Then the father of the family, becoming angry, said to his servant: ‘Go out quickly into the streets and neighborhoods of the city. And lead here the poor, and the disabled, and the blind, and the lame.’
{14:22} And the servant said: ‘It has been done, just as you ordered, lord, and there is still room.’
{14:23} And the lord said to the servant: ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel them to enter, so that my house may be filled.
{14:24} For I tell you, that none of those men who were invited will taste of my feast.’ ”

Catholics are the invited guests of the feast. Now Christ is not saying that no Catholics will taste of the feast of Heaven. Rather, he is warning us that we are not automatically allowed into the feast by being Catholic. We must be in the state of grace, which is the state of loving God and neighbor. Many Catholics will not enter Heaven, but will be tortured forever in Hell. For of those to whom more is given, more will be expected.

Who are “the poor, and the disabled, and the blind, and the lame”? They are persons who commit objective mortal sin, which are not also actual mortal sin, and persons who commit actual mortal sin, but then repent. They are persons who are spiritually poor, blind, disabled, and lame, since their consciences mistakenly allow them to commit objective mortal sin, or because they often fall into actual mortal sin. Yet they can be saved by invincible ignorance, by a sincere but mistaken conscience, and by repentance when the commit actual sin.

And notice that, in the parable, many of the guests at the feast are in this category. Therefore, many persons who are not Catholic and not Christian nevertheless enter into Heaven. Again I say, many, not few, non-Christians will be saved, according to the parables of Jesus.

Then who are the ones in the highways and hedges? They are prenatals, infants, and young children who die at that young age, who are figuratively compelled to enter the feast, as they are given the state of grace prior to death as a free and undeserved gift (just like us all). They are also persons who lived very sinful lives, and who repented at the very end of their lives. They enter the feast despite having not lived a life of holiness or service to God.

And again, these are also many. So it is not true that prenatals, infants, and young children go to the limbo of Hell. Nor is it true that persons whose lives are marred by innumerable objective mortal sins cannot be saved.

Is it mainly or only Catholics or Christians who go to Heaven? No, certainly not. The mercy and grace of God saves very many non-Christian believers, unbelievers, and grave sinners.

A same-sex married couple might die and go to Heaven, by way of Purgatory, if they had a sincere but mistaken conscience about their sexual sins and if they truly loved others. An atheist or agnostic might die and go to Heaven, by way of Purgatory, if they had a sincere but mistaken conscience and if they truly loved others.

But the many Catholics I see exalting themselves, treating anyone who disagrees with malice and denigration, even mistreating the Roman Pontiff, and acting as if they were the judges of all, I think it is very likely that many of them will be thrown into Hell for the great harm they did to so many souls by sins against religion.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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