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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 2

CONTINUING FROM OUR LAST POSTING with Steve A. Long's critical analysis of the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's misconstruction of nature and grace and their relationship in the latter's work The Theology of Karl Barth, we initially focus on a text that seems to have a grasps of the two different orders along traditional lines. In this context, Balthasar is speaking about St. Augustine's contribution to the nature-and-grace issue:

But he [St. Augustine] was quite well aware, as were all the Fathers, that this unity [between the natural life and supernatural life] that was the foundation of Adam's existence was itself no necessary synthesis but a de facto one. It belongs to the very essence of the creature that it must indeed be a creature, but not a creature who has been exalted to a new order by grace; by nature a creature is the "servant" but not the "friend" of God.

These sorts of comments are clearly within Catholic orthodoxy, and, though inconsistent with some of his other statements, indicate for Long Balthasar's "rectitude and orthodoxy of intention." Long, 61. There is no suggestion whatsoever that Balthasar sees that nature requires of God grace by the necessity of justice in such a manner that it would be unjust for God to have withheld sanctifying grace speculatively from man at his origin. In fact, elsewhere he touches upon the problem of such a concept. If nature without grace led to beatitude, "then we could conceive of a creature to whom God would have to be gracious. And that would mean that it would no longer be a creature." The "necessity" of grace to nature is a de facto and not de jure one, a "necessity" that God imposed upon himself by the sheer gratuity of supernatural life given to man above and beyond his natural life at his origins. Whatever fault with find with Balthasar's doctrine the area of nature and grace, that fault is unintentional.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Similar statements suggest the same conclusion. Witness, for example, the following unimpeachable understanding of the Thomistic concept:

God's real world order is the de facto unity of two materially distinguishable and distinct orders that can be differentiated in analysis but are still not separate in reality.

So it is clear that Balthasar sees sanctifying grace not as a natural endowment, but as a free gift of God to man. But the proposition that sanctifying grace is a gift of God and not a natural endowment does not quite reach the essential point in the relationship between nature and grace. This position could allow for grace and supernatural beatitude to be the only natural end of man. And therefore it does not exclude the implication that God may be under the necessity of justice to provide sanctifying grace and the beatific vision, a position that would appear to have been condemned by Pius V in his Bull Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567) against Baius. The only way to assure that one does not fall into the condemned proposition that sanctifying grace is something owed us in strict justice and without which nature would be penalized is to maintain, in addition to the principles that grace is gratuitous and not a natural endowment, that nature has a end distinct from the end of supernatural grace. There must be a natural end and a supernatural end or else we would seem to lapse willy nilly into Baianism.

In the absence of the affirmation of the existence and intelligibility of a proportionate natural end distinct from supernatural beatitude, it appears that a necessity of justice comes to pertain to the need of man for grace, even if this derivative-implied consequence is not desired. And it is necessitation in justice, and not merely as contrary to free and personal act, that is rejected in the Church's anathematization of the error of Baius.

Long, 62. Though it is true that as God willed it, we are in fact created with nature and sanctifying grace jointly, and so unrepented sin leads to punishment in the form of loss of the beatific vision, this was not necessarily so, but so only because God determined at the inception of man's creation to join the two. Had God decided not to link sanctifying grace and the beatific vision in man at his creation, there would have been no punishment therein.

Unfortunately, Balthasar it seems disdains or is at least highly distrustful of any abstraction of pure nature from the "complex in which it will be found, and from its mode of existence." Long, 63.

Above all, it is quite obvious, and it is becoming ever more striking, that when we use this concept [of pure nature]--which expresses the essence of what it means to be a creature--it cannot be neutral in either its philosophical or theological usage.

It is true that "nature" understood theologically (in the light of revelation) will be understood in a manner differently than when understood philosophically (in the light of reason alone), and so we are not dealing with a "neutral" term "hovering" over both theology and philosophy. "There are," after all, "more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in . . . philosophy." No one in the orthodox Christian patrimony would have thought otherwise.

But this philosophical understanding of nature is not to be given short shrift. Indeed, the supernatural end of man cannot be known without the natural end of man. Why? Because the very distinction of supernatural presupposes knowledge of the natural. Something is "super" nature. "One cannot contrast two things where only one is to be found." It takes two to tango, and these two dancers in the life of man as God in fact created him, are his nature as known by reason (philosophy) and his "supernature," the sanctifying grace which will afford man beatific vision and the knowledge and union with God, as known by faith (theology). Nature, then is not "the theologian's posit; it is God's effect," which is to say, it is not something merely assumed, postulated, contrived, or figmental, but something altogether real, something with "ontological density." Long, 64.

It is a mistake of tremendous proportions to reject the notion of man's "pure nature" as being something real, albeit something that in God's dispensation, is ordered by gift to a supernatural destiny. The result is to define nature negatively, as "not grace." Nature is something more than "not grace."

It is also an error to use "Hegelian" dialectic to suggest through fuzzy reasoning that nature has not its own end separate, albeit subordinate to, man's supernatural end, but is in some way already on the way to the supernatural as if it is intrinsic to it. The fog in this sort of thinking is visible: nature is not grace, but nature is "not grace," and so we may define nature in relation to grace; consequently, we may say that nature is on the way to be grace. Cf. Long, 66. This dissolution of being and nature, which are substantive concepts, into relational terms is erroneous.
Nature as such is not on the way to grace save insofar as under the actual ordering causality of grace itself--which is true of man's creation in grace! But this does not negate but affirms the distinct and intelligible divine gift of nature.
Long, 66.

The positive definition of grace can only be given through grace itself. God must himself reveal what he is within himself. The creature cannot delimit itself in relation to this Unknown reality. Nor can the creature, as a theologically understood "pure" nature, ever know wherein it specifically is different from God. Only the light of revelation can draw this distinction and make this clear--not a philosophy that ascends from the world to God, or even (especially!) the mysticism of a Plotinus.

While it is true that "(sanctifying) grace can only be given through grace (of revelation) itself," Balthasar seems to elide the equally necessary truth that there is, in addition to the grace revealed by grace, an "aboriginal gift," namely, "created nature," a nature that has an ontological density, an intelligibility graspable by reason alone without although not to the exclusion of grace. In the order of creation, it is possible to "delimit" oneself in relation to God the unknown. We can obviously distinguish between creature and Creator, even though we may have no positive knowledge of the Creator as something other than that He is First Cause, pure Act, and we are not. This is a delimitation.


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