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.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Natura Pura: Misunderstanding St. Thomas--Source Texts

RENAISSANCE OR CAJETANIAN* CORRUPTIONS to the genuine teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas is how the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac interpreted the received Thomistic teaching on human nature and divine grace. In fact, it was not Renaissance or Cajetanian corruptions in the received teaching, but the "modern presumptions" in de Lubac's notions of nature that steered him wrong. Even Homer nods, and in this important area de Lubac, a son of Loyola, a faithful son of the Church, a first-class theologian, peritus to the Vatican II, and a Roman Cardinal nodded. And many have nodded following him.

Like many institutions, many beliefs, and many philosophical concepts--like the Cathedral of Notredame where the cult of reason replaced the worship of the divine and a statute of liberty replaced the Virgin Mary--the notion of "human nature" has been a casualty of the Enlightenment. As a result of the prejudices and biases of Enlightenment thinkers, in particular their rejection of Aristotelian teleology and their "deific view of freedom," any theonomic principle in the concept of human nature was excised or amputated. This, of course, had huge effects on the understanding of natural law--which was predicated or built upon the concept of human nature. Tinker with the understanding of human nature and you tinker with natural law. That is why many of the "natural law" theories following the Enlightenment are not natural law theories at all, but cheap imitations or shadows of traditional natural law concepts. This denudation of the concept of human nature is what led Hume into believing that nature's "is" could never yield to nature's "ought." The nature he criticized as unable to yield values, was not the nature of St. Thomas Aquinas, but was a sort of empirical, mechanistic shell of nature. Whatever "nature" the naturalistic fallacy was based on was not the "nature" of the natural law of St. Thomas. I suppose if the great skeptic Hume nodded, we ought not be too surprised that the great believer de Lubac nodded. After all, though one was a skeptic and the other a believer, and both had quiet impressive brains, they were both made of flesh.

Henri de Lubac, S.J.

But the Enlightenment concept of nature, if accepted, affected more than the doctrine natural law. It also affected the relationship between human nature and divine grace. It robbed human nature of any integrity and independent meaning, and so robbed human nature of any end proximate or proportionate, and subordinate to, the finis ultimus, which was, in the Christian view, the supernatural end of the beatific vision revealed in the Gospel. And this inadequacy in the concept of nature robbed human nature of any significance in the nature/grace synthesis, which caused a great disequilibrium. Though he tried to keep upright, de Lubac lost his balance in the disequilibrium.

In seeing how de Lubac stumbled, it is important to focus on the Thomistic source texts. We cannot possibly quote them all, but we can quote enough of them to indicate the problem requiring reconciliation wherein de Lubac failed. First, St. Thomas clearly posits a natural end of man, a natural finis or telos in nature to know God, and suggests further that this natural desire for God cannot have been placed in us in vain. There are also other texts which clearly state, however, that man's end is supernatural, that the end of man is the beatific vision of God. It is these two kinds of texts that must be reconciled if we are to understand the Thomistic doctrinal synthesis.***

In his Summa contra gentiles, III, 25, St. Thomas states that rational substances, man of course being one of them, have the end of knowing God, and so there is a natural desire for God. The entire chapter in the Summa contra Gentiles is too lengthy to quote (the entire Chapter, in both Latin and English can be accessed here), but it is manifest that St. Thomas sees that there is an ultimate end in man's nature to know God. As an example, we take the conclusion of n. 10.

Est igitur ultimus finis totius hominis, et omnium operationum et desideriorum eius, cognoscere primum verum, quod est Deus.
It is therefore the ultimate end of all men, and all their operations and desires, to know the first truth, which is God.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 3, a. 8 also states very clearly that there is a natural desire for God in human nature.

Si igitur intellectus humanus, cognoscens essentiam alicuius effectus creati, non cognoscat de Deo nisi an est; nondum perfectio eius attingit simpliciter ad causam primam, sed remanet ei adhuc naturale desiderium inquirendi causam. Unde nondum est perfecte beatus. Ad perfectam igitur beatitudinem requiritur quod intellectus pertingat ad ipsam essentiam primae causae. Et sic perfectionem suam habebit per unionem ad Deum sicut ad obiectum, in quo solo beatitudo hominis consistit, ut supra dictum est.If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than "that He is"; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man's happiness consist.

From this principle that man has a natural desire as a result of his nature to know God, the teaching of St. Thomas in his Summa theologiae, I., q. 75, a. 6 becomes important. In the context of discussing whether the human soul is incorruptible, St. Thomas enunciates the standard principle that natural desires are not in vain.

Naturale autem desiderium non potest esse inane.But a natural desire cannot be in vain. end.

In his Compendium theologiae, Chapter 104, too lengthy to quote here entire, St. Thomas repeats the notion that no natural desire is in vain.

Impossibile est autem naturale desiderium esse vanum..It is impossible therefore that a natural desire be in vain.

Given the natural desire of man to know God, and given that it cannot have been placed in us in vain, there has to be some purpose or significance in this natural desire, so that it is not merely subsumed into man's supernatural destiny and thereby becoming meaningless. What these texts say, then, is that man's nature has an end that is reflected in a natural desire to know God and that it is not something vain. Man's nature, therefore, has a role in guiding him and in giving meaning to his life, and that nature has, as it were, a finis, a telos, an end. It is not, however, the finis ultimus, the final end of man, since we have also to consider the "supernatural texts," wherein St. Thomas clearly insists that man's end is supernatural, and not limited to the natural.

The following texts, the "supernatural texts," seem clearly to posit differences between natural and proximate ends and supernatural ends.

In his Summa Theologiae, Ia q. 75 a. 7 ad 1 (addressing the question of whether the soul of man is of the same species as that of an angel, specifically the argument or objection that the human soul is of the same species as that of an angel since something's nature is defined by its end, and both angel and human soul have eternal happiness or beatitude as the same end, an end which is supernatural) touches on man's supernatural end. In concluding that an angel is a different species from man's soul, St. Thomas distinguishes between man's natural end and his supernatural end.

Ad primum ergo dicendum quod ratio illa procedit de fine proximo et naturali. Beatitudo autem aeterna est finis ultimus et supernaturalis.This argument proceeds from the proximate and natural end. Eternal happiness is the ultimate and supernatural end.

Clearly, St. Thomas has here given man both a natural end and a supernatural end. The teaching is repeated in his book addressing the human soul, Quaestiones de anima, a. 7, ad. 10

Quo ea quorum unus est finis proximus et naturalis, sunt unum secundum speciem. Beatitudo autem aeterna est finis ultimus et supernaturalis.Things having one and the same proximate and natural end are one and the same specifically. However, eternal beatitude is an ultimate and supernatural end.

Similarly, St. Thomas in his Quaestiones disputate de veritate, q. 14, a. 10, ad. 2, makes it clear that man's destiny is supernatural, not natural.

Quod ab ipsa prima institutione natura humana est ordinata in finem beatitudinis, non quasi in finem debitum homini secundum naturam eius, sed ex sola divina liberalitate.In the very beginning of creation human nature was ordained to beatitude, not as to an end proper to man by reason of his nature, but given him solely by divine liberality.

It is manifest that St. Thomas has taught that man has both a natural end and a supernatural end. How, and in what manner, does man have both? The key to the reconcilement is to have a proper understanding of human "nature," for what we understand by human "nature" allows us better to understanding what is above that "nature," that is what supernatural and the product of sanctifying grace in union with that nature.

Two different kinds of texts have tangential importance to the question because they provide guidance. They are corollaries to any proper Thomistic synthesis. If our understanding of the relationship between nature and grace does not sit comfortably with the following, we have a sign that we have gone awry, or that at least we have not grasped St. Thomas's synthetic view. The first of these is the notion that--ex hypothesi--man could have been created in a state of pure nature lacking any supernatural aid of grace.** This we found distinctly state in St. Thomas's Quodlibetal Questions I, q. 4, a. 3, resp.

Sed quia possibile fuit Deo ut hominem faceret in puribus naturalibus, utile est considerare ad quantum se dilectio naturalis extendere possit.But because it was possible for God to have made man in a state of pure nature, it is useful to consider how far natural love could be extended.

Finally, we must consider the teaching of St. Thomas in his De malo (On Evil), q. 5, a. I, ad 15. Specifically, we must accept the notion that since the supernatural life that God has provided us as a gift is entirely unmerited, it would not be considered an injustice if God would not have provided it, but would have allowed man to state within his natural state alone. (As an aside, that is why, irrespective of whether the limbo exists or does not, there is no question of an injustice on the part of God if he were to place unbaptized children there, since they would enjoy natural happiness and their natural end, something much more than they would enjoy on earth.)

[Q]uod homo in solis naturalibus constitutus careret quidem visione divina, si sic decederet; sed tamen non competeret ei debitum non habendi. Aliud est enim non debere habere, quod non habet rationem poenae, sed defectus tantum; et aliud debere non habere, quod habet rationem poenae.Man endowed with only natural powers would be without the divine vision if he were to die in this state, but nevertheless the debt of not having it would not be applicable to him. For it is one thing not to be bound to have, which does not have the nature of punishment but of defect only, and it is another thing to be bound not to have, which does have the nature of punishment.

De Lubac's treatment of the supernatural and of the nature/grace question according to Long completely focuses on one set of texts and "more or less passes by" those that are inconvenient, "save when generically suggesting that these other sources of Thomist reservations regarding his thesis are Renaissance corruptions concocted by [the great 15th/16th century Thomistic commentator] Cajetan." Long, 16. Long insists that this is a "conspicuous" "speculative omission" in the "historical insight of the scholars of la nouvelle théologie" which caused "theological difficulties" in the area of natural law and the relationship between nature and grace. Long, 228, n. 13. Long suggests, cryptically and without elaborating, that de Lubac may have been a victim of the neo-scholasticism of his early days:
That the pedagogic and heuristic limits of the scholastic project to which he was exposed may accidentally have contributed to kindling such mistrust in a mind as cultured and learned as de Lubac's constitutes a tragedy within the twentieth-century history of Thomism. Yet, the omission to which this mistrust led, is with the distance of time, difficult to deny.
Long, 16.

*Cajetan (Gaetanus)--not to be confused with St. Cajetan (1480-1547), the founder of the Theatines--is a reference to Thomas Cajetan, also known as Tomaso de Vio (1469-1534), an Italian cardinal and influential commentator of St. Thomas. He is best known for opposing the teachings of Martin Luther when he was the Pope's legate in Wittenberg.
Compare de Lubac's statement in his The Mystery of the Supernatural where, in respect to the hypothesis that one may have a "humbler destiny," that is a natural one alone, "as something imprinted upon me, in my nature as it is," is, as "[m]ost people would agree . . . by hypothesis, impossible." (quoted in Long, 225, n. 7). But this is precisely what St. Thomas suggests is possible! This should have warned de Lubac that his understanding of St. Thomas was not quite right.
***The relationship between the natural end and the supernatural end was handled by the early neo-scholastic Cardinal Mercier. For his treatment of the issue, far different from de Lubac's treatment, see Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 5: Contemplation of God as the Ultimate Good.

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