An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


God’s love freely given to humanity for salvation. The term is from the Latin gratia, a “gift or favor freely given,” translating the Greek NT charis. Various themes concerning grace have been emphasized since the NT. The Pauline epistles present grace as unmerited and effective as God’s forgiving love for humanity. The Johannine scriptures present grace as God’s indwelling of humanity. The western church has generally followed the Pauline emphasis in terms of grace as God’s forgiveness of sin and healing of humanity for salvation. The eastern church has generally followed the Johannine emphasis of grace as bringing about divinization and human participation in the divine life for salvation.

Augustine urged that grace is necessary to free the human will from bondage to sin, making it possible to choose the good. Augustine’s teaching contradicted Pelagianism, which considered human nature to be able to achieve salvation without special divine assistance, and Semi-Pelagianism, which considered humanity to be capable of initiating the process of salvation that would subsequently be perfected by grace. Aquinas also urged that union with God is impossible for humanity without the help of divine grace. He noted that grace is inwardly received and transformative for new life. Luther emphasized that grace is God’s absolutely free gift, and not the result of human works. Lutheran thought came to understand justification in terms of imputed righteousness in which the person remains inherently sinful. Calvinist understandings of grace minimized the role of human freedom, emphasizing God’s predestination of the elect for salvation and the irresistibility of grace. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Council of Trent emphasized the transforming effect of grace in human life and the important role of active human cooperation in salvation.

Anglican theology, notably represented by Richard Hooker, has emphasized the gratuitous nature of grace and the importance of participation in the economy of God’s salvation, especially as known in the life of the church where grace is sacramentally represented and made known. The Catechism notes that grace is “God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.” By grace God “forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” The Catechism also states that the sacraments and other sacramental rites of the church are means of grace (BCP, pp. 857-860).

The term can also refer to a concluding prayer at the Daily Office, or a prayer of thanksgiving or blessing before a meal. See Grace, The.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.