Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 5

BALTHASAR RANKS HIMSELF WITHIN the historical range of prior efforts at defining the relationship between nature and grace. He views himself as a within the moderate wing, but what is really telling is that he puts the traditional Thomistic teaching at the extreme.

The range of views stretch all the way from Ripalda to Billot: at one extreme is Ripalda's version, according to which every act, no matter how remote from or misdirected toward it is with respect to our supernatural goal, is borne up by grace (entitative). The middle ground is occupied by those systems (with varying emphases) in which a nature that functions at first purely naturally is "intercepted" at some point by grace and directed to its supernatural end. Finally there is the other extreme--and extreme it is, as it has hardly any adherents, or even could have, for that matter--which leaves room for a full-blown (if subordinate) finality of pure nature in the de facto world order (as in Billot).

It is remarkable that Balthasar should rank Billot's Thomistic views as "extreme" and without "any adherents," in that Billot's rendition of the relationship between nature and grace was traditionally Thomistic. More than being Billot's "extreme" view, it was "as a matter of prosaic fact the reading of most of the Dominican commentators--and the preponderant number of Jesuit commentators [including Billot]--of Aquinas." Long, 80. It is, in fact, not Billot's view that is in the minority, but, at least when a historical and doctrinal perspective is taken into consideration, the view of de Lubac and Balthasar which decidedly is the odd man out. Long, 80. It is almost axiomatic Catholicism to maintain that "[n]ature and natural ends, do not suddenly vanish upon the promulgation of the lex nova, because grace does not destroy, but perfects nature (i.e., nature and the hierarchy of natural ends actually exist)." Long, 80.

Louis Cardinal Billot
Extremist in Nature and Grace?

Balthasar persists in his attack on the concept of pure nature:

It only confuses things when we try to equate fallen human nature with some "pure nature" that stands outside the order of grace, quite apart from the fact that this hypothetical concept of pure nature cannot be given any content and thus is unsuited to serve as a model for a condition of nature that actually does obtain.

It is true that human nature is fallen, at least in the light of Revelation we recognized it, although we see its consequences about us every day. But Balthasar here confuses two related, but distinct senses of "pure nature." Pure nature--natura pura--can be used in a narrow sense to refer to human nature in a state or in a condition that lacks supernatural grace, that is nature as fallen. But pure nature--natura pura--can also be used to refer more broadly to human nature as human nature "in precision [abstracted from] from supernatural grace but is then affirmed in all the varying states in which it may be found." Long, 81. In other words, pure nature may be understood in a manner other than mere hypothetical. Pure nature in this more general sense, then, can include prelapsarian human nature, post-lapsarian human nature, both before Christ's coming and after Christ's redemptive death. It includes the nature that, following Christ's redemptive death, is restored to sanctifying grace in baptism. It would include the hypothetical human nature as it would have existed if God not joined it de facto with grace, and includes the de facto human nature, human nature as it in fact exists, which has both its natural order and its supernatural order. The term nature has myriad senses since human nature is found in a variety of historical (or hypothetical) conditions: "The condition of pure nature is only a hypothesis; but human nature simpliciter--pure nature in the sense of all that defines human nature as such--is found in all who have the nature, irrespective [of] the condition in which they have it, regardless of the with what impairment or blessings they enjoy it." Long, 81. That understanding of human nature, though Balthasar seeks to distance himself from it and mark it extreme, is behind the authentic teaching of St. Thomas.

After his extensive treatment of Hans Urs von Balthasar's tendentious treatment of the Catholic position on nature and grace, Long concludes:

In Balthasar's theology, nature, it appears is to remain a geometric point fit only to terminate the line of grace but having no magnitude of its own. This is a position that is not properly speaking the error of fideism, but is nonetheless perhaps more serious precisely because it is so distortive of the categories in terms of which fideism is identified. For the incredibly powerful and soaring elements of Balthasar's theology, it is this Achilles' heel that most imperils his achievement, by way of causing the subtle and profound dislocation of its foundational elements.

Long, 83. Balthasar's deficient view of human nature may explain why, despite his monumental output, he "never intensively and extensively develops moral theology." Long, 83. How could he? He stripped human nature of any and all of its content, leaving an empty shell, nay, not even an empty shell, a shadow, no, not even a shadow, a small, insignificant point, a dot, a pinprick. And you can have more luck figuring out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, than figuring out how to build a natural moral law from the point of a pin.

*By Ripalda, Balthasar is referring to the Spanish Jesuit theologian Juan Martínez de Ripalda (1594-1648). Ripalda joined the Jesuits in 1609, taught philosophy at Monforte and theology at Salamanca. From Salamanca he was called to Madrid where he taught moral theology at the Imperial College. Eventually, he was named censor to the Inquisition and became the confessor for the famous Conde de Olivares, minister of King Philip IV. He was an opponent of Baius.
**By Billot, Balthasar means the French Jesuit Louis Cardinal Billot (1846-1931). Between 1879 through 1882, Billot taught at the Catholic University of Angers. He took his final vows as a Jesuit in 1883, while at the Jesuit Scholasticate of the Isle of Jersey where he taught. In 1885, Billot became a professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In 1909, he was named a consultor to the Holy Office. Billot was an advocate of Thomistic scholasticism, and was a moving force in drafting the encyclical
Pascendi Dominici Gregis of Pope St. Pius X. Billot was created Cardinal in 1991 by Pope St. Pius X. In 1923, he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Eventually, his strong support for the conservative movement Action Française led to disagreements between him and Pius XI who condemned the movement. It led to his resignation of the cardinalate in 1927. Billot therefore died at age 85, a simple priest at the Jesuit Novitiate of Galloro, near Ariccia, at the age of 85.

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