Congruism (congrua, suitable, adapted) is the term by which theologians denote a theory according to which the efficacy of efficacious grace (see Grace) is due, at least in part, to the fact that the grace is given in circumstances favorable to its operation, i.e. “congruous” in that sense. The distinction between gratia congrua and gratia incongrua is found in St. Augustine where he speaks of the elect as congruenter vocati (Ad Simplicianum, Bk. I, Q. ii, no. 13). The system known as Congruism was developed by eminent Jesuit theologians at the close of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth. All Molinists regard actual grace as being really identified with super-natural action, actual grace of will, technically called inspiration, being an act of will. This act invariably begins necessarily, and may become free at a certain point in its duration; so, however, that, should it become free, there will be no complete break in the individuality, but only a modification of the action; the original necessary motion continuing in a modified form after the point where freedom commences has been reached. An actual grace of will which is merely sufficient never gets beyond this point. Whenever the motion does get beyond and become free, it is called an efficacious grace; the term being applied, not merely to the second stage of the action, wherein it is free, but even to the first stage, wherein it was necessary, with a tendency, however, to continue after the crucial point where freedom begins. This tendency to continue as a free act is found in the grace which remains merely sufficient, in the sense that the second, or free, stage may be, but is not, reached in that case; whereas, in the case of efficacious grace, the second or free stage is actually attained.
Hereupon the question arises: what is the precise reason why, of two motions which may be supposed to be similar in every respect as far as their intrinsic constitution is concerned—to be of the same intensity as well as of the same kind—one does not last beyond the critical point where freedom begins, whereas the other does? It is of the essence of Molinism that this is due in part to the will itself continuing to act under the Divine grace or not continuing. To which Bellarmine adds that grace which proves efficacious is given by God to one who, He foresees, will use it freely; whereas He foresees no less surely, when giving a grace which remains merely sufficient, that it will not last in the recipient beyond the initial or necessary stage of its duration. Congruism further insists that the motion passes into the free stage when the circumstances are comparatively favorable (congruous) to it; but when they are comparatively adverse (not congruous), it will not continue, at least as a rule. The circumstances are to be deemed favorable or unfavorable not absolutely, but comparatively, that is, in proportion to the intensity of the grace; for it is plain that, no matter how adverse they may be, God can overcome them by a strong impulse of grace such as would not be needed in other less stubborn cases; and, vice versa, very powerful Divine impulses may fail where the temptation to sin is very great. Not that in the necessary stage of the motion there is not sufficient energy, as we may say, to continue, always supposing freedom; or that it is not within the competence of the will, when the crucial point has been reached, to discontinue the motion which is congruous or to continue that which is not so. The will can continue to act or can abstain in either case; as a rule, however, it continues to act when the circumstances are favorable to that precise form and intensity of motion, thereby becoming efficacious; and does not continue when the circumstances are unfavorable, thereby proving a merely sufficient grace.
To anyone who reflects on the way in which the will is influenced by motives it must be obvious that any movement or tendency that may arise towards a particular object, whether good or evil, is more or less likely to continue according as it harmonizes or conflicts with other motions or tendencies towards objects which are incompatible with the first. The whole theory of reflection or meditation is based on this truth. Concomitant states, in sympathy with the motions of grace, make the favorable or congruous circumstances in which these motions operate; just as a tendency towards vice, if accompanied by other appetites favorable to its working, must be deemed congruous or fortunate as regards the circumstances in which it intervenes. Jansenists, Augustinians, Molinists, Determinists, all should and do agree, therefore, in admitting the strengthening influence of a number of confluent motions and, conversely, the weakening effect on any tendency of a simultaneous tendency in an opposite direction. So far all are Congruists; the difference being that whereas Jansenists and Determinists do not admit that the will is free to resist the stronger combination of motives; and while Augustinians proclaim this in words but seem to deny it in reality; all Molinists maintain that the will can effectually cease to tend towards an object, even though it should be proposed as more perfect than what is seen to be incompatible with it; provided always this more perfect object is not presented as absolutely or infinitely perfect in every way. The will is likely to be drawn, and almost invariably is drawn, by the stronger, i.e. more congruous, motive; it is not, however, drawn of necessity, nor even quite invariably, if Molinism is true. In this, which is the only psychologically intelligible sense of Congruism, Molina, Lessius, and all their followers were Congruists just as much as Suarez or Bellarmine.
All true Molinists admit and contend that, antecedently to the concession of grace, whether merely sufficient or efficacious, God knows by scientia media whether it will actually result in the free action for which it is given, or will remain inefficacious though sufficient. All likewise admit and proclaim that a specially benevolent Providence is exercised towards the recipient of grace when, with His knowledge of conditional results, God gives graces which He foresees to be efficacious, rather than others which He foresees would be inefficacious and which He is free to give. Bellarmine (De Gratiae et Lib. Arbitrio, Bk. I, ch. xii) seems to accuse Molina, unjustly, of not admitting this latter point. Difference of opinion among Molinists is manifested only when they proceed to inquire into the cause of the Divine selection: whether it is due to any antecedent decree of predestination which God means to carry out at all costs, selecting purposely to this end only such graces as He foresees to prove efficacious, and passing over or omitting to select, no less purposely, such as he foresees would be without result if given. Suarez holds that the selection of graces which are foreseen to prove efficacious is consequent on and necessitated by such an antecedent decree, whereby all, and only, those who will actually be saved were infallibly predestined to salvation, and this antecedently to any foreknowledge, whether of their actual or merely conditional correspondence with the graces they may receive. The great body of the theologians of the Society of Jesus, as well as of other followers of Molina, while admitting that individuals, such as St. Paul, may be, and have been, predestined in that way, do not regard it as the only, or even the ordinary, course of Divine Providence. (See Predestination.)
Though this difference of opinion has really nothing to do with Congruism, it is probably the main reason why Billuart and other opponents of Molinism have maintained that Suarez and Bellarmine differ from Molina and Lessius not merely as regards predestination, but also as regards the nature of efficacious grace; that the opinion of Suarez is the only true Congruism as distinguished from the pure Molinism of the others; and that Congruism in this sense was made obligatory on all the schools of the Society by Acquaviva, the fifth general (1613). The precise bearing of his decree has been rather hotly disputed, Father Schneemann, Cardinal Mazella, and others maintaining that it did not in any way command a departure from the teaching of Molina. Pere de Regnon candidly, and rightly, admits that it did; not as regards the nature of efficacious grace but only as regards predestination. (See Congregatio de Auxiliis; Grace; Predestination; Luis De Molina; Suarez.)