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, July 5, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Nature v. Supernature

IT MIGHT BEHOOVE US TO REVIEW the issue of nature and grace and their relationship.Traditionally, Catholic moral thinking has distinguished between the order of nature and the order of grace (or supernature).  The former is accessible by nature; the latter accessible by God's revelation.

Catholic thought has struggled to maintain the dignity and the "good" of both orders, with ultimate preeminence given to the supernatural life or life of grace, though not at the exclusion of the natural order.  The traditional formula has been the grace improves, supplements, or improves nature.  These insights are expressed variously: gratia supponit naturam; gratia elevat naturam; gratia perficit naturam, etc.

Although speculatively one may think of the state of pure nature (natura pura) and a natural end, as a result of the divine solicitude, man really has no natural end since he is called to the supernatural dignity of being incorporated into Christ and living in communion with God.  However, some--in their well-intentioned zeal to emphasize the grace of Jesus Christ, sola gratia--deprecate nature to the point where one wonders what it was that existed that God intends to save. There has been a tendency among the advocates of la nouvelle théologie to emphasize the supernatural life and supernatural call of all men.  With this emphasis, some have expressed concern that the natural life of man (reason, universal law, etc.) has been given short shrift.

For example, purporting to hale back to St. Thomas's original conception, Henri Cardinal de Lubac in his famous book The Mystery of the Supernatural argued that Thomas de Vio (Cardianal Cajetan) (1469-1534) had erred in understanding the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas to nature and grace.  According to de Lubac, Cajetan--though he believed that nature was an order full and complete within itself--did not believe nature ordered to God as First Cause.  Man had no natural desire for God.  Only grace provided the knowledge of God and, what is more, only grace gave the desire for God.  Man as man, i.e., man in the state of pure nature alone, had no in-born desire for God.  Any desire for God was the result of divine prompting: actual grace.**

 Henri de Lubac, S.J.

This error of Cajetan--so de Lubac argued--found itself handed down in Catholic thought, including such luminaries such as Domingo Bañez and Francisco Suarez.  (The Jesuit scholar Karl Rahner called this division between nature and grace "the mortal sin of Jesuit theology."*)  The unfortunate result according to de Lubac and others was that Catholic moral thought was double-layered.  There was a natural life (with its own end) and a supernatural life (with its own end) that was spread upon the natural life like a blanket.  The result was what de Lubac called the "bitterest fruit" of this error, namely the marginalization of the life of grace and of the Christian faith.  In de Lubac's mind in contributed to a secular view of man.

What sort of happened is the the life of nature gave all the norms for human living, and the supernatural life of grace was sort of the fuel, impetus, or motive. Extrinsically, there was nothing to distinguish Catholic morality (based upon natural moral law) from non-Catholic morality (based upon the natural law).  The Christian discipleship, the call of God in Christ, the supernatural life of grace became, as it were, a footnote, an afterthought.  "Grace changes nothing in regard to the materiel nature of the [moral] act.  It only determines whether the act is also sanctified or not."  Steck, 98.

In opposition to this, de Lubac maintained that man was fundamentally and naturally oriented to God: there was a natural desire for union with God.  This natural desire was satisfied by Jesus Christ and the grace he offered.  Unfortunately, this emphasis ran the risk of either making all human life supernatural or making the life of grace natural. 

*Cited in Steck, 189 (citing Karl Rahner, "Nature and Grace," Theological Investigations, vol. IV (London: Darton, Longman & Todd 1966), 100).
**The Protestant Reformers in particular deprecated nature, many of them seeing nature as something that was completely and totally ruined by the Fall.  This notion of total depravity resulted in a real deprecation of the natural moral law, of reason, and of natural virtue.  Stressing the Augustinian grace strain, the natural virtues without grace were nothing less than "splendid vices."

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