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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pura Natura Persona Non Grata Est: Unwanted Nature

BOTH BALTHASAR AND DE LUBAC display an intolerance with the notion of nature in the abstract, preferring to emphasize "concrete nature" or nature as it is found de facto, joined with grace. To them, the fact that God conjoined grace onto nature concretely, de facto, makes any reference to a nature prescinded from grace a sort of will-o'-the-wisp or ignis fatuus. When nature was joined to grace before the Fall, nature was "so comprehensive and irradiating" that it seems almost senseless to talk about nature without grace. After the Fall and the loss of grace, the nature that was left was so impoverished so as to seem senseless to talk about as well. It's ever more senseless to talk about nature in a hypothetical state. So the upshot is its always pretty much useless to talk of pure nature. Nature alone was never to be found; it is at best a hypothetical half-a-chimera, a soulless monster, a mythical stump. So if we are to talk of nature, we must talk about it conjoined to grace since it so overwhelmed nature as to make it nothing separately of it. We may talk of grace: sola gratia. We may talk of nature-and-grace: natura cum gratia. We may not talk of nature alone: sola natura. Sola natura is something whispered in the dark corners, sort of like one may say sotto voce to one's friends of the mad man in the room, "he's a little weak in the head." Alone, nature is a persona non grata. Nature, it is true, is invited to the La Nouvelle Théologie Ball, but only on account of his pretty wife, Grace, and only if he comes with her, and only if he never leaves her side.

St. Thomas Aquinas and his followers were less uppity, more inclusive, and much more hospitable with their invitees. Nature was invited to the theological party alone. True, he appeared with his wife, Grace, but he was able to be talked to without her. Nature would have been invited even if--hypothetically--he had never been married to Grace. But Nature, though married to Grace, was still his own person. Thomists love Nature. Thomists love Grace. Thomists love Nature-and-Grace. Thomists loved the man, the wife, and the man-and-wife married.

The difference in attitude with respect to human nature between the proponents of la nouvelle théologie and classical Thomists is significant. How did this come about? Steven A. Long speculates that it may stem from a distrust toward abstraction and a fascination with the concrete which was prevalent in the 1950s (e.g., Gabriel Marcel?) and which informed the leaders of that movement. Regardless of how it came about, it seems to be against the flow of traditional Catholic theology. As Long notes, the fact that a Christian has the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity does not alienate himself from being human. A Christian--like Adam before the Fall, like Abraham after the covenant, like Moses after the Law, can say along with the pagan Terentius: "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto!" I am human, nothing human is alien to me! Grace--whether that grace be the original grace or the healing grace of Christ obtained in baptism--does not alienate us from our human nature. Nor does it transmute it into something substantially other than it was before.* It certainly does not destroy--rather it repairs, perfects, lifts up--the human nature that was there before. And this principle "quite simply and absolutely requires that human nature receive its species from the hierarchy of its connatural proportionate ends." Long, 85.

Long uses an interesting example to prove his point that human nature is not transmuted by grace, and even when human nature is "full of grace" it remains human nature, it has some content that remains "neutral" to the existence of grace or the lack of it. (One says "neutral" meaning in reference to supernatural life of grace, not "neutral" as to God, since both nature and grace are ordered, in their different ways, to God.) Consequently, we may say that Christ had a human nature every bit as much as "Fred the bookie," or, for that matter, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot.

Echoing the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:15), the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer in the current Mass states that Christ was in nostra condicionis forma est conversatus per omnia absque peccato. Christ was like "a man like us in all things but sin." It is de fide that Christ was fully man, as he was fully God. Was Christ's human nature less because it was conjoined hypostically to the nature of God? Similarly, Mary was, according to the Angel Gabriel, κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitōmenē), gratia plena, "full of grace." (Luke 1:28) Was Mary's nature any less human on that account?

Any Catholic would know the answer to these questions. Yet the point seems to have eluded the indisputable great minds of de Lubac and Balthasar and those who came after them and followed them, so preoccupied were they with an "overweening exigency to avert the dangers of naturalism" that the danger apparently blinded them. It was as if scared of a bugbear they ended up backing up into a murderous psychopath. It is plain that the human nature we shared with Christ, which nature was hypostatically united with God the Son, the human nature we shared with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was full of grace and the first of the redeemed and indeed the Co-Redemptrix, is something much more than the Balthasarian "createdness as such." And while the mode of being of human nature may differ between Christ, Mary, Adam before the Fall and after the Fall, St. Peter, Fred the Bookie, and Hitler and Pol Pot, "the definition of human nature as such" does not.

Indeed, we must be able to know that human nature exists, that it is more that mere "createdness as such," and it must be something intelligible, and meaningful, and ontologically significant even if speculatively abstracted from grace. If human nature is not something meaningful--even apart from grace--then the very foundation of the Christian faith is imperiled. Human nature was assumed by God in the Incarnation, and if "human nature" is a figment of thought, a posit, an insignificant point in an infinite line, a will-o'-the-wisp in the theologian's mind, then the entire doctrine of the Incarnation, from Nicea, through Chalcedon, through Vatican II, becomes unintelligible. "[A]nything that impedes or contradicts this" doctrine, such as the advocates of la nouvelle théologie including de Lubac and Balthasar seem to do in this area, "impedes and contradicts the most foundational truth of Christianity." Long, 87.

It must be possible for us to know what "human nature" as assumable by God designates. When we say that Christ had everything that we have by nature, but not sin, we close in on the datum that there is content of human nature that is neither simply a function of grace nor of sin. That the content of human nature is not merely "createdness as such" is manifest in the fact that we can identify that which must be true of Christ owing to the formulation in question that Christ has everything in our nature save sin and what it implies.

Long, 87. Abstraction, then, is not the horrendous evil it is thought to be. Indeed it is "a sign of the ordering of the human intellect to the universe of truth." Long, 88. And though the knowledge gained from abstraction alone (abstractio totius) is not the whole truth and requires also focus on the concrete instantiations of the abstract, it is not knowledge to be shunned. In other words, we must never think concrete alone. We must not think abstract alone. We must think both abstractly and concretely, someway far away from the nominalism of Ockham and the idealism of Plato, somewhere in the moderate realism of Thomas. In man, we have both universal and particular, and both universally and particularly ought we think of man to gain the entire picture of him.

It is in fact the case that man has been bequeathed by God both nature and grace, both silver and gold. It does not do God any justice to shun his gifts. We do not become more appreciative to our benefactor, nor are we more rich, because we disclaim one bequest in favor of another bequest, disclaim the silver and accept the gold. "If someone wishes to say that the bequeathal of nature is part of a wider story," the Thomist would agree. But the "wider story does not annul but presupposes" the story within the story, "the proportionate ordering of nature," a nature with its own proportionate end which defines man as man, and reveals us important truths about him, and, indeed, allows us to access truths about God using analogical reasoning.**

In the realm of the natural law, the error of Balthasar and de Lubac is threatening indeed since "there are truly essential elements in moral theology that cannot be cognized without reference to the hierarchy of proportionate natural ends," that is, human nature. The price for denying human nature is high. We lose the ability to engage in "profound theological treatment of the role of natural virtue and natural law within the life of grace--a natural virtue and law presupposed by the Gospel itself." Long, 97. In the end, we may be unfaithful to the Gospel if we eviscerate nature.

The point is we cannot have a moral theology without human nature, a human nature with its proportionate end. Morality does not relate to "mere relations of the 'zero point' of a natural vacuole to the beatific good, but rather involve[s] the essential mediation of subordinated teleologies." This of course requires us to recognize that "in the given order," in the de facto reality in which man finds himself--originally created in grace, but fallen, and yet redeemed--"there is indeed a natural end that is proportion to human nature," human nature alone.

So we need a robust notion of human nature. Without it, moral theology becomes impossible. "For how should a geometric point dictate to people anything with respect to their ethical lives . . . [a]nd if . . . moral norms cannot be derived from a geometric point, even less can they be understood in their human meaning merely by referring to scriptural teachings, because these teachings themselves presuppose a prior natural frame of reference." If we reject such a thing as human nature, we will be left with neither natural law or divine law, and we will be left with no means to speak to those outside the household of faith, or even those within the household of faith, about what is right and what is wrong. The Church's moral teachings if not based upon human nature would appear to be "a violent intrusion of arbitrary power," a "raw assertion of ecclesial power," a product of ecclesiastical or magisterial fiat. Long, 100. Pure positivism. While no one would accuse that de Lubac or Balthasar were morally base or of advocating such extreme positions--indeed they led exemplary, virtuous lives, and were faithful disciples of the Church--that does not relieve their doctrine of its natural implications:
[T]hey never observed that denial of the ontological density of natura in its own right could hardly imply anything other than an antinomian rejection of all moral objectives and precepts defined by natural ends subordinate to the final end of supernatural beatific vision. . . . We are not perched before utter nonbeing and God as though no created order encompassed us and demanded our regard, appreciation, and fidelity. Rather, the grammar of our assent to God weaves into its fundament all those subordinate natural teleologies that are further ordered in and by grace, and in such fashion that the whole sublunary order of proportionate natural teleology is thereby affirmed as well.
Long, 100.

The insights of de Lubac and Balthasar into scripture and the Fathers of the Church and a whole slew of other topics ought not to be jettisoned, but their doctrine on nature and grace needs to be corrected. The error is not a matter of no import, an error of which it may be said de minimis non curat doctrina, but is an essential one for life within the Church and without it. Nature must be recaptured. Nature must not be abandoned to the materialist scientist who looks at it as matter to be played with, something to be tortured on a rack like a sadistic boy might do with a lizard, with utterly no reference to God as Creator or God as its end. Nature must not be neglected in favor of Grace alone. It is time for a new synthesis, which is really nothing more than a deepening of the old. When Christ restored all things in him (Cf. Eph. 1:10), all things did not become nothing, all things remained things, albeit things restored. It's time to recapture nature and restore it to Christ and correct both the error of the materialists and the new theologians.

To do so, however, will require something preliminary to the Gospel, something preliminary to Grace. To recapture Nature, we have to use natural means which perhaps shall then, through grace, leads to supernatural aids. To get purchase onto the cliffs of the praembula fidei, however, we need to use the climbing shoes and climbing gear of reason. And here we enter into the realms of philosophy, where our tools are those of reason. And to make progress, we shall have to shed our analytical philosophies and get back on a regime of rigorous training and monitored diet of a realistic philosophy. As Virgil guided Dante through the realm of Hell, in this venture St. Thomas should be our guide.
*Grace was traditionally viewed as a superadditum or a particularly penetrating and profound accident superadded to nature. For all its transforming power, it did not essentially or substantially change nature. One must understand the term "accident" in the way the scholastics understood it. Something that is "accidental" is not by that fact alone unimportant. As Long defines it, an accident, especially one such as grace and the infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, "is a further articulation of substance [in this case human nature] . . . and . . . a new an higher principle of action participating in the eternal law more profoundly than does the natural law (without, for all that, replacing the natural law)." Long, 85, 248 n. 44. Since both nature and grace participate in the eternal law, it follows that true nature and true grace, like reason and faith, do not contradict it each other, but complement each other. It is a lie of fundamental proportions to suggest that the lex naturalis is opposed to the lex gratiae, since they both participate in the lex eterna.
**Indeed, the refusal to concede to human nature any ontological density and to treat it as "createdness as such" has an effect upon our knowledge of God. "Both at the level of the being common to substance and the categories, and at the level of the analogy of creature to God, the negation of the ontological density of nature is thus liable to introduce dialectical distortions into our contemplation of God." Long, 95. Worse, as Long suggests it eviscerates natural theology and even the doctrine of creation. Long, 100-03. It also implicates apologetics and thaumaturgical thought. Long, 104-05. Even history is affected by the deprecation of naure. Long, 105-06. "[N]ot only will there be great deprivation internal to theological contemplation and within the Catholic life when natura is treated as a mere Cartesian coordinate, but there will also be a corresponding deprivation in every area of the Church's engagement with the world." Long, 106.

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