Grace Alone Conquers
This is the motto of Trinity House from the Latin Sola Gratia Vincit.
What does it mean. Is it a strategy? Shall Trinity House win the Cup at New College Franklin this year by means of grace? Shall we through grace rise up triumphant over our brothers and sisters? Is grace the master strategy?
No. The meaning of our motto is far richer, far more glorious than a plan of success. The motto is itself attributed to St. Augustine, although the source of this attribution remains a bit obscure. The closest reference I have found is in a version of his On Continence in which the translator offers it as a section heading. I have not been able to locate it in any reliable versions of the text itself.
The full quote is given, “the law detects, grace alone conquers sin.”
Nevertheless, in this motto is something more than strategy. It expresses the truth of the human heart which grace alone ultimately wins. Grace conquers sin not because it is more forceful, but because it alone possess the key to the heart, it alone speaks the language of love.
Attracted by pomp and glamour, lured by the lust of the flesh, hardened in disappointment, disobedience, and self-seeking, the human heart is finally only truly conquered by grace.
Why is this?
First, grace if freedom. Grace is the Prodigal Son’s father letting him go without remonstrance. Grace is the birthday gift for the child who has been moody and rude all year long. Grace is the setting of two ways before Israel, a way of life and a way of death. Grace seeks the human heart, the whole of man, and so it cannot be satisfied or achieve its end by entrapping, manipulating, or enslaving its beloved. In such victory, grace would lose the very object it sought to gain
Second, grace is acceptance. Grace sees us for who we truly are and is not ashamed of us. Adam and Eve experienced shame, but God was not ashamed. He could look upon them with unbroken kindness and love, despite their wickedness and folly. Grace is the father who need not measure his own success by the manliness of his son. Such a father bestows manhood upon his son in this act of acceptance. And such a son learns manhood more truly in the light of this acceptance than from any regime the father might contrive. In his fathers acceptance, a son will enter into manhood and strive to be a man throughout his life. And in his striving, he will delight in the struggle which is nothing more than living before the face of his father whom he is becoming more and more like.
Finally grace is the free gift of self, true self, sacrificially given for the sake of love. In grace we realize that we have not just been given a gift, but that someone has made a gift of himself to us. For this reason, we do not always see grace right away. We see the flashy gadget someone buys us, but do we see what it cost them. Did it truly cost of them? We see only over time the great effort and sacrifice that those who love us make, day in day out, to bless us. Such sacrifices, when they are given freely in a spirit of love, win our hearts.
Hearts of Grace
Grace in this light cannot be a strategy. Grace alone is the freedom, acceptance, and gift which speaks to us in the inner man. These characteristics of grace ensure that in conquering it sets us free, in confrontation it draws near in love, in giving, it gives freely and generously, abundantly more than we could have hoped for. In this light, we might also sense why grace must begin and end in God.
Trinity House, this year may we indeed conquer by grace, and so may our own hearts and the hearts of all those we meet be conquered, in freedom, acceptance, and love.