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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 4

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR APPEARS to have been convinced that the concept of pure nature had to be abandoned as an inadequate theological concept. In his book on the theology of Karl Barth, he sets forth his understanding of the Catholic position on the nature/supernature complex, but his understanding of it appears to deviate from the inherited Thomistic synthesis.

[T]he concept of a pure nature cannot be exactly specified. Based on the belief that it is possible to give a clear exposition of interwordly structures in their eidos, at least up to a certain point, some people then think they have discovered purely natural and purely isolable relationships. Then they feel justified in continuing this construction and likewise in drawing conclusive boundary lines, even going so far as to specify the relationship of this hypothetical "being" to God and its ultimate fate! But it is obvious how questionable the results of this are. For were do we get the right to understand these interwordly structures as if they were disengaged from transcendence? How can you drain marriage, for example, or the whole of mortality of its concrete relation to God and the Last Things? The only end we know in our de facto world is our supernatural one. So how can we so blithely maintain that the world possesses a self-sufficient definitive ground of fulfillment apart from this end? Only God, God alone, can have the final word. The fact that grace is free in its relation to nature does not suffice for making pure nature so governing a concept.

In this excerpt, Balthasar correctly states that the concept of nature cannot be exactly specified. But, then, what can? There is nothing it seems that can ever be exactly comprehended if for no other reason that we don't know God's mind on the matter. But that's not the point. With that sort of standard, we would be relegated to agnosticism in knowledge. There is even a little "irrationalism" in Balthasar in taking this view. Long, 72.

Creation of Man and Woman
Fresco by Giusto di Giovanni Menabuoi (ca. 1390)
Baptistry of the Cathedral, Padua, Italy.

The point is that the concept of pure nature can be sufficiently specified to be intelligible, that it can be recognized as an ontological reality. While we will never know pure nature since God saw fit to order nature from the beginning by raising it up with supernatural grace to another order, God did not by all that terminate the internal integrity of the natural order. Nor does it mean that nature is now meaningless, as it retains its own order and its own end separate and apart from the end with which it has been endowed through grace. Nature was not destroyed when God joined with it sanctifying grace. "To be further ordered," Long notes, "is not not to be, nor is is to be naturally unknowable." Long, 73.

Interesting is Balthasar's challenge to the reader: "For where do we get the right to understand these interwordly structures as if they were disengaged from transcendence?" It is interesting because of what is implied or what is assumed. It assumes that "pure nature" is "disengaged from transcendence," that man, in his nature, is not ordered toward the transcendent. But this materialist atheonomic notion of human nature is foreign to Catholic tradition. Pure nature has its own order, an order that has a relative albeit not absolute ordering to God; after all, pure nature retains its spiritual (rational) character which reaches upwards as well as outward. Through reason alone, that is as part of a specific part of his nature, man can know God as First Cause, and he can recognize that this God-as-First-Cause is worthy of veneration, to be prayed to, and even adored. More, even the free will of man--a natural faculty--achieves its freedom while being acted upon by God. Therefore, both in his intellect and in his will, natural man--though, granted, it is a hypothetical or abstracted concept since in the concrete or de facto world we do not see it alone--is ordered toward God. It is this denuded notion of human nature--a notion which is wrong--which lies at the heart of the Balthasarian discomfiture with the notion of pure nature. "Balthasar possesses a non-theonomic concept of nature, and so to overcome this one must hotwire nature to grace." Long, 75. Had he comprehended the theonomic aspect of man's nature--theonomic even without sanctifying grace--he might have been less defensive and more open to traditional thought on the matter. The problem was that Balthasar did not, and in his anxiety or "overweening exigency to avert the dangers of naturalism" he ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Balthasar's defensiveness shows itself in hyperbole (or, as Long puts it, it "surpasses hyperbole"): "The only end we know in our de facto world is our supernatural one," Balthasar says. The "only end"? Taken literally, of course, this is untrue. We know many ends that are not the final end, the finis ultimus. When we wake up in the early morning and stumble toward our kitchen to get a cup of coffee we must certainly know, even through our fog, that we have the intent of pouring ourselves a cup of coffee. From this most mundane of ends to the end of knowing God as First Cause, many knows myriad ends that are other than the supernatural one.

Balthasar's statement is more than hyperbolical. It is also inaccurate in a theological sense since we do not know de facto our end, for we shall only know our end when we achieve the beatific vision. What is de facto known, and this through Revelation, is that God created our nature with its specific order and end, and that he conjoined with it at the time of our creation, a supernatural destiny, one of predicated on unmerited grace, a sanctifying grace that included with it the promise of Heaven of the beatific vision of God. Moreover, man's natural end must be known, for if it is not, then man cannot know who he is and what he has received by being given the gift of sanctifying grace. It is man's natural end which defines who he is as a species. Additionally, as Long shows, to suggest that there is no such thing as human nature throws a potential wrench in the works of the entire Nicean and Chalcedonian Christological construct. How can we say that there are two natures--man and God--in the person of the Christ when we don't know what the nature of man is? It would seem that the analogia fidei would have warned Balthasar that he ought not to have taken the extreme position that it was impossible to know what human nature is.

The Balthasarian dismissal of pure nature has more than doctrinal ramifications. It has some serious effects upon morality, which is particularly our focus. As Long observes:

To hold that human nature is not intelligible in its species in distinction from grace . . . is also to imply that no definitive distinction can be made between our natural rational participation in the eternal law that is know as the natural law and that essentially higher participation of the eternal law which is that of the lex nova [new law] and gratia [grace].

Long, 74.

Such an empty concept of nature has two undesired effects. First, it empties nature out of any ontological thickness and seems to make it more a "remainder of dialectics," a leftover of theological arguments of days of yore. A hangover from too much drinking of the wine of scholasticism, from which la nouvelle théologie was supposed to be the much-needed Alka-Seltzer. Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh what a relief it is!

But this eagerness to escape the clutches of neo-scholasticism, this effort at relief, if careless or hurriedly done so that essential truths are neglected or denied, has serious consequences for the notion of analogical thinking, so central to Sts. Augustine and Thomas:
[I]f there is no distinct ratio or nature, there is nothing to be treated analogously in any traditional sense of the term, and the resultant construction is a dialectical orchestration perhaps closer to Hegel than to Augustine or Aquinas.
Long, 74.

Worse, the Balthasarian dismissal of pure nature as a pipe dream actually works against what he is trying to do: protect the supernatural end of man. "[T]he effect of the unilateral suppression of nature in behalf of grace is the implicit reductio of grace to the natural level." Long, 74. In the long run, it serves to naturalize grace, which means to cheapen it.

In case someone were to accuse Long of being unfair to Balthasar, we can just let Balthasar keep talking. It is unquestionable that, as Long puts it, "Balthasar undertakes the decisive and final rejection of natura as primordial revelation in preference for a more controllable variable of natura as merely the minimum prerequisite to grace, 'createdness as such' and the 'antechamber that is not of itself the grace of participation.'" Long calls these the "capstone" paragraphs in Balthasar's formulation of the Catholic position on nature and grace in his Theology of Karl Barth.

While we do not need to describe it in great detail, this image of the servant who has been simultaneously clothed in the grace of friendship captures the contrast between nature and grace. Nature is to be sought in that minimum that must be present in every possible situation where God wants to reveal himself to a creature. And that minimum is expressed by the term analogia entis. If there is to be revelation, then it can only proceed from God to the creature--to a creature that precisely as a creature does not include revelation in its conceptual range. The "nature" that grace presupposes is createdness as such.

We shall call this concept of nature the formal concept of nature. This minimum is therefore the presupposition of all grace because its necessity must be prior to the facticity of any and all revelation. As revelation takes place, nature is set off from it as the antechamber that is not, of itself, the grace of participation. When the inconceivably free event of grace occurs, it becomes simultaneously clear how truly gratuitous this frees of all gifts really is and how much it does not have to be.

This notion of Balthasarian scarequote "nature" is thin indeed. It is a concept where nature is a "mere dialectical limit concept or posit." Long, 79. But one has to ask, is human "nature" nothing but "createdness" as such? So the nature of man which allows him to enjoy the gift of grace is "createdness as such," the same createdness of a rock, a scarecrow, a carrot, and a dog? How is man's nature capax Dei, capable of God, if it just "createdness as such"? Balaam's ass enjoyed the same, and surely it isn't in heaven?

So [for Balthasar] nature is merely a negation of the participation of grace, an empty place for grace, generically [not specifically] necessary prior to the gift of revelation and yet vacuous: blank Newtonian space for the reception of the revelata.

Long, 77.

Manifestly, we have here no concept of human nature as something integral in itself, an ontologically positive object, with its own relative, proportionate end. But there has to be something more to human nature than "createdness as such" to be a meaningful repository or recipient of that grace. In man, God wrought more than "createdness as such," God wrought man, man with a specific nature.

What that specific nature is is what Balthasar appears to have decided not to divine. No, not even not divine. It appears that nature is something Balthasar decided not even to understand.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 3

THERE IS A TENDENCY TOWARD REDUCTIONISM of nature in Hans Urs von Balthasar's understanding of nature within the greater question the nature/supernature complex.

The theological concept of nature is primarily a negative one: it draws a boundary line. It can only be distilled into a pure state through a process of subtraction, because God's initial creation was already supernatural to begin with and continued to remain so after the Fall.

The greater of what Balthasar states here is unobjectionable. It is true that, in the light of Revelation, we know our nature both prelapsarian and postlapsarian was created with the supernatural life already bound with it by God's own plan. But these comments suggest almost as if everything is taken up into the supernatural sort of as if the natural salt dissolves into a supernatural sea. This is precisely the sort of monophysitistic image that is provided by the notion of distilling. You have to boil out the alcohol of the supernatural life, and the dregs that you are left with after subtracting out the supernatural is what nature is. It is a residue.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

There seems to be a conceptual disorder here. It is as if for Balthasar nature is not "first" in being, but the admixture of natural life and the supernatural life of man are together "first" in being. However, as Long states, it appears essential to maintain that "created nature is ontologically prior to the reception of grace even if the two are temporally simultaneous, because it requires a created receiver of grace to receive grace." Long, 67. Long's greatest grievance in the paragraph about is the image of "subtraction." He insists that a proper conceptual feel of nature would view the process of visualizing nature prescinded from grace would be a process of "abstraction," and not one of "subtraction." For Balthasar, it seems that nature is nature only when combined with grace, but nature is nature whether it had been combined with grace or not.

Now common sense claims to know what nature is. But the more exactly it tries to grasp it, the more difficult--nay impossible--it becomes to isolate it neatly from the other dimension: supernatural grace. But it is equally difficult to espy the negative effects on the realm of nature of the loss of grace. The question, for example, how far "ignorance and hardship belong to natural existence," how much concupiscence, disease, death (and the forms that death takes) are the result of sin or are part of the definition of being human and animal; but also questions about marriage, community, the State, our relation to a God who might not have revealed himself in in his personal, interior life, the necessity for prayer in a natural state (which many people deny, for good reasons), the eschatological fate of the soul, resurrection of the body, Last Judgment, eternal bliss: all such questions addressed to pure nature are simply unanswerable.

There are four great grievances against this paragraph. First, is the suggestion that distinguishing nature from grace is more than just difficult, but "impossible." To suggest that there is no understanding of nature apart from grace, that it is "impossible," is simply an untenable proposition. This theological despair at knowing nature apart from grace simply does not accord with Catholic tradition which has always felt itself able to abstract a notion of pure nature, a nature that hypothetically could have existed without the gift of sanctifying grace in which it was actually in history bound. The Catholic tradition also has seen nature has having its own integrality and end, even apart from grace, albeit subordinate to the grace and the supernatural end to which it is lifted up. There is in nature a capax Dei, a specific sort of potentiality of obedience (potentia obedentialis),* one which reason is able to distinguish and to grasp as something intelligible. Certainly, there is no real question of "impossibility."

The fault is apparent when Balthasar suggests that nature-apart-from-grace knows no necessity of prayer, that reason would not alone compel nature to worship God as First Cause. But this denial is given harsh treatment by Long:

[T]his denial is utterly contrary to right reason. As Aguinas shows with masterful orthodoxy, public worship and prayer is owed to the Creator from whom every public and private benefit is derived, and the virtue of religion falls under the natural good of justice . . . . Balthasar . . . has somehow missed the presence of the natural knowability of God as Creator . . . and the datum that from this natural knowledge devolve natural duties in justice to God.

Long, 69.

This agnosticism of nature-apart-from-grace that Balthasar seems to advocate has significant practical results, especially in the area of natural law. Granted, some of the questions are unknown to and unknowable to nature: the Fall, Redemption, the Resurrection, Eternal Life. These are matters that are part of the revelata, that are revealed and are mysteries beyond nature's reason of which nature is ignorant. But certainly not all of these areas is nature or nature's reason ignorant. Insofar as nature is unknown, then the natural law is unknown, and this is exactly what Balthasar seems to be saying: "[Q]uestions about marriage, community, the State . . . addressed to pure nature are simply unanswerable." The difficulty of some of these questions--especially the further one gets from fundamentals--is acknowledged by all in the field, but the impossibility? What this position suggests is there is a complete inability of Christians to speak with non-Christians on the matter of the practical life. Dialogue on the moral life basis of reason is in vain. We are forever caught in the shoals of a moral fideism. This is contrary to the practice of the Church and her understanding of herself as custodian of the natural moral law, a law that is founded upon the nature of man.
[A]ll such questions [about marriage, community, the State, etc.] will be unanswerable for someone who has jettisoned the doctrine of the adequatio of mind and thing in behalf of a modal supernaturalization of nature so complete as to suggest that, apart from its ordering to grace, there is nothing in the real order present to be known.
Long, 70. This is a radical error, an one which seems to have infected the great Balthasar.

To be sure, there are any number of theologians who do not hesitate to come forth with a ready-made answer to all these questions. One should once more bear in mind, however, that it would only occur to theologians in their work as theologians to pose such a question. But as soon as they come up with something remotely pertinent to this questions, they inevitably give us a "system of pure nature," that is, merely a pale, phantasmagoric double image, a hollow phantom of the real, existing world order. The success with which this pale film was lade over the real order has only meant "the loss of feeling for the infinite qualitative different between grace and nature."

One senses here a bit of the chauvinism of the agnostic in this paragraph, a chauvinism where the agnostic holds himself superior for his ability to grasp that he knows nothing certainly. The chauvinism of the agnostic seems unbecoming in a Catholic. It is a different virtue than the humility of the man who knows that there is truth, that he has got a little bit of it, although he is never fully the master of it. Is the man who says that all men are bound by the natural moral law never intentionally to take the life of an innocent man regardless of the gain an ignoramus with "ready-made" facile answers? Is the man who insists that marriage is, by natural law, an exclusive union between one man and one woman someone who can be brushed off as one with "ready-made" answers?

The language here is hostile. Those who claim to prescind an order of nature from the complex of nature and grace wherein God has put nature simply come out with a "hollow phantom," a "pale phantasmagorical double image." Granted, it may be that Balthasar is concerned with assuring the preeminence of the supernatural life of man, but the best way to preserve the preeminence of the supernatural life is not by deprecating the natural life of man, as it is the natural life of man which is taken up, raised, lifted up and made to bloom, in the life of supernatural grace which God, in his infinite largess, has deigned to give to man. To acknowledge a natural life in man does not mean the supernatural life is demoted or seen as "only a kind of Doppelgänger." Long, 71. These are non sequuntur. There is no reason that a balanced, articulated view of nature and supernature cannot be maintained, one that fully respects the integrity of the natural order and the preeminence and marvel of the supernatural calling which draws the nature into the very bosom of the Trinitarian life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


*For the concept of obediential potency, see our blog postings Natura Pura: Human Nature Unaided, Natura Pura: St. Thomas in a Nutshell, Part 1, Natural Pura: St. Thomas in a Nutshell, Part 2, and Balaam's Ass and Stained Glass: The Concept of Specific Obediential Potency.

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.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Balthasar's Theological Vacuoule, Part 1

EVEN THE REDOUBTABLE Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,* unquestionably one of the great Catholic theologians of the 20th century, shared in de Lubac's error on the distinction between nature and grace. De Lubac was not alone in his conflation of the orders of grace and of nature with the resulting deprecation of the order of nature. In his book Pura Natura, Steven A. Long shows convincingly that Balthasar's famous analysis of the Protestant theologian Karl Barth contains a deficient ("deeply flawed"), if at times, inconsistent notion of nature and grace, one that has abandoned the Thomist doctrine that accords both human nature and divine grace a separate, real order, with real separate ends, and attempts to reconcile them by subordinating, or perhaps better, superordinating, the natural to the supernatural. Steven A. Long's critique of Balthasar's work is respectful, even apologetic, but withering. It is perhaps this error in Balthasar's work, and the similar error in de Lubac's work, that explains, until rescued by John Paul II's encyclical Veritatas splendor, the weakness of Catholic moral theology over the last generation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Long focuses on Balthasar's work The Theology of Karl Barth.** Since the Protestant theologian Karl Barth was so uniquely hostile to the doctrine of the natural law, Balthasar's treatment of Barth would be an opportune condition for investigating Balthasar's own viewpoint, particularly the second chapter of section three of that work, entitled "The Concept of Nature in Catholic Theology." Long calls it the "mother load of Balthasar's rich reflections on nature and grace." Long, 54. In Long's view, nature for Balthasar is merely a "postscript," indeed, maybe not so much as that, perhaps more like "the equivalent of a theological vacuoule or empty Newtonian space, a placeholder for grace." Long, 55.

The best approach for synopsizing Long's critique is to identify those portions of Balthasar's work that are criticized, identify those portions with which Long is critical by number, and then summarize Long's observations of those portions.

[A]s a created being of nature, man has no other goal than the supernatural vision of God. It is essential to realize that Thomas does not regard this as a hypothetical goal. Indeed he knows of a finis naturalis, meaning a fulfillment corresponding to the immanent structure of human powers. But he sees this fulfillment either as a goal for this life as opposed to the next, in the Aristotelian tradition, the ideal of the seeker after wisdom. Or he sees it as the cognition verpertina [evening knowledge] [sic] [should be vespertina] as opposed to a cognitio matutina [morning knowledge], in the Augustinian tradition where this distinction first arose. Or finally, he might have meant it in the sense of a distinction between the praemium essentiale [essential reward] and praemium accidentale [accidental reward] internal to a supernatural glory. But Thomas never entertains, even hypothetically, a final goal that could be unmoored from the supernatural vision of God. According to his medieval presuppositions, it would have been impossible for him even to make the conceptual distinction implied by this problem.

"But Thomas never entertains, even hypothetically, a final goal that could be unmoored from the supernatural vision of God." This, of course, is a conspicuous error. St. Thomas explicitly "entertains . . . hypothetically" precisely this. In his Quodlibetal questions (I, q. 4, a. 3, resp.), St. Thomas says in no uncertain terms: *** "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." There are other examples which Long cites to and quotes. Long, 57. On this "strategic point" it appears Balthasar has "accepted an erroneous reading" of St. Thomas. Long, 57.

More generally, the three various interpretations of what St. Thomas may have meant by positing a natural end of man do not do justice to the Thomistic teaching, though they are not inconsistent with it. They just do not seem to go far enough to touch what St. Thomas intended. St. Thomas plainly sees the natural order as have a final end that specifies who man is, and and end that is wholly valid, entire, ontologically thick, and integral in itself, even though, by God's free gift, it is raised into the supernatural life. This rich understanding of what St. Thomas envisioned for the nature of man, particularly its theonomic nature, seems to be lacking or at least not entirely embraced by Balthasar. There is already a discomfiture with a theonomic order in nature. Whatever ordering or end is in nature is immanent, which suggests no natural ordering with the transcendent without recourse to supernatural grace.

To pose such a hypothesis, to maintain that a graceless order of nature or creation is at least possible, only became urgent for theology when a heretic wanted to make the fluid bond between nature and the supernatural a forced and juridic one.(1) This happened when Baius chose to derive a de jure compulsory right to grace understood as a strict requirement (debitum) from nature based on the de facto configuration of both orders, which were linked because of free grace, not necessity.(2) This conclusion gave birth to 'natural theology' in the modern sense of the term, that is, to a theology of "natura pura."(1)

(1) If Balthasar suggests that the first time the hypothetical notion of nature prescinded from a supernatural order came in response to Baius in the 16th century, he is clearly wrong. As Long observes and prior postings on this subject have made amply clear, St. Thomas entertained the concept of pure nature, a natura pura, in distinguishing between the natural orders and the supernatural orders which, at his creation, were joined in man. Therefore, this hypothetical conception is at least as old as the 13th century.

(2) Having erred on the position of St. Thomas, Balthasar appears to suggest that the notion of a hypothetical possibility of a "graceless order of nature or creation" first came to pass in opposition to the heresy of the Franciscan theologian Baius or Michel de Bay (1513-1589), a heresy called Baianism. Some of Baius's false propositions were condemned in the papal bull issued by Pope St. Pius V, Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567), which condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Gregory XIII in his bull Provisionis nostrae (1579). Baianism, whose critical errors stem from the relationship between nature and grace within the contexts of man's Creation, Fall, and Redemption, seems to be a confused and unacceptable amalgam of unreconciled Pelagianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Socinianism, which, of course is defining one ism with four isms and is not very helpful. But the topic of Baianism is for another day, since it is Balthasar we look at in this post.

Though Balthasar is correct enough when he states that grace cannot be considered a necessity of nature, but a free gift to nature, that may not be enough fully to quench the Baian flame. That the gift of grace may be free and not a necessity of nature, does not quite fully answer the question of, as Long puts it, "there is a necessity of justice that it [grace and supernatural life] be given." Long, 58. Is grace like oxygen, a free gift and yet an evident necessity to our nature? Withholding oxygen from a man would seem a punishment, perhaps even an injustice. Similarly, is withholding grace from man a punishment, or even an injustice? This would seem to be the conclusion if supernatural beatitude is man's natural end.

*I call Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) "redoubtable" because he is a formidable Catholic theologian and was deeply loyal to the Magisterium if at times, as may befit a speculative theologian, on edge, perhaps even with a foot over the boundary [I refer here to his controversial and "apocatastastical" Was dürfen wir hoffen (What Dare We Hope?) and Kleiner Diskurs über die Hölle (A Little Discourse on Hell)]. Balthasar was Swiss, having been born in Lucerne, and grew up in a Catholic family. He was a brilliant, cultured man, steeped in European classics, with a great love for music ("my youth was defined by music," he wrote), had a passion for Mozart, and had perfect musical pitch. (At one point in his life, he gave away his record player and entire works of Mozart because he had memorized the entire corpus and could picture both the scores and hear the music in his mind with completely fidelity.) He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928, and, dissatisfied with the state of Thomistic scholasticism ("languishing in the desert of neo-scholasticism," as he put it) ventured, through the influence of de Lubac, "beyond the scholastic stuff to the Fathers of the Church," and into the nouvelle théologie. Balthasar was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1936. His ventures in the at first distrusted nouvelle théologie, his support of the mystic Adriene von Speyr (for whom he was confessor), and his other activities found disfavor with his Jesuit superiors, and he postponed his annual vows to the Jesuits and later left the order in 1950. His post-Jesuit career met with practical difficulties which he eventually overcame. He devoted himself to teaching and to writing. His writings were prolific and immense in scope and in subject matter. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his fifteen-volume trilogy, Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Ästhetik (The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics). He was a peritus for the second Vatican Council, was a member of the papal International Theological Commission from its establishment in 1969, and was the founder of the St. John's Community (Johannes Gemeinschaft) and its publishing house. He also was a founder of the international Catholic journal Communio. In 1988, Balthasar was chosen by John Paul II to be a cardinal, but, two days before his elevation, on June 26, 1988, he died.
**Karl Barth was inveterately hostile to the concept of natural law. We have written about this in our postings, Karl Barth's Response to Natural Law: Nein!, Karl Barth's Tin Ear: Notes, But No Melody (which drew the ire of Barthian George Hunsinger), and Karl Barth: Rubbing Out the Image of God in Man.
***Sed quia possibile fuit Deo ut hominem faceret in puris naturalibus, utile est considerare ad quantum se dilectio naturalis extendere possit. Quod., I, q. 4, a. 3, resp.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toward a Recapture of Nature in its Fullness

FOLLOWERS OF ST. THOMAS linked God's knowledge of vision (his scientia visionis) with the knowledge of future free acts of man; they were loathe to separate them. This foreknowledge in God, the Thomist argued, necessarily implies a congruent act of God's will or divine decree that such free act happen. The future free act is known by God in virtue of, in fact in that very decree; accordingly, no future act can exist unless God has also decreed its existence.

The fact that man's freedom operated under the divine causality did not bother the Thomist. Thomists felt secure with the notion that human freedom was created freedom, and so, being created, human freedom was to be measured relative to created causes or relative to divine causality. For St. Thomas Aquinas no man was free from divine causality. Human freedom, therefore, was exercised within the umbrella of divine causality or divine providence. In short, there was no concept of freedom from God or outside of God. Freedom was always seen as under God. In fact freedom from God or freedom outside God, was not seen as freedom at all, but as a fall into the abyss of slavery, and a vain one at that, for no one could outrun our outmaneuver God and his providence. A man could be relatively and yet truly free, and nevertheless be fully under the rule of God: "[B]ecause the same act of free choice is reduced to God as to a cause, it is necessary that whatsoever happens from the exercise of free choice be subject to divine providence. For the providence of man is contained under the providence of God, as a particular cause under a universal cause."* Even more directly: "[I]t is not repugnant to liberty that God is the cause of the free act of the will." Et sic non repugnat libertati quod Deus est causa actus liberi arbitrii. De malo, q. 3, a. 2, ad 4. See Long, 38-39.

God as First Cause: End of Human Nature

Molina, however, thought that the Thomist doctrine subverted man's freedom, and human freedom was a highly regarded commodity in the Renaissance. Pico de Mirandola had already published his famed Oration on the Dignity of Man, the manifesto of the Renaissance. With respect to future events, therefore, Molina sought to find some means to explain how God can know a future free act before it happens and yet assure that that act occurs freely, without being decreed or caused by God. Molina thus attenuated the causal role of God in the area of human liberty. While he tried mightily to reconcile human freedom and providence, Long--a committed Thomist--sees Molina "falling as it were by accident into the error whereby freedom is defined in respect to God rather than with respect to its finite and contingent effects." Long, 39.

In analyzing the concept of human freedom, Molina distinguished between different kinds of knowledge in God. In God, this knowledge is one and simple; however, this knowledge may be distinguished in reference to the objects of that knowledge. There are, Molina says, such things as necessary truths, which are naturally known, and which even God cannot change. An example would be the truth that bachelors are not married, or circles are round. These really are not at issue when it comes to the foreknowledge of future events. They are prevolitional, or perhaps better, supravolitional, i.e., they were outside of the will of God because God, by their very nature, could not change these truths. By definition, these truths are established by the way things are and have to be. God could not causes these things to be other than what they are. They were outside God's causality.

As to future events, Molina distinguished two sorts of events and the knowledge of God had arising out of them. Molina divided future events into contingent events and conditional future contingents or futurabilia. Contingent events were those which depend upon God's will alone, and the knowledge God has of these is absolutely free. When a contingent event is involved, God is the primary cause of it. An example of this would be God creating Adam. God could have or could have not created Adam, and that fact that God created Adam makes it true. And so this event is known by God because God caused it.

There is, however, in Molinist thought a concept of knowledge that relates to a situation that is midway between contingent truths and necessary truths. There are future events which, given certain conditions, would exist, but because of future conditions, will not, in fact, exist. These are events that depend upon the autonomous choice of the creature and relate to the future. These events involve futurabilia (future subjective contingents) or futura conditionata (future contingents). God is not their primary cause. Like the necessary truths they are prevolitional, outside of God's will and providence. The creature is their primary cause, so, from the divine perspective they are caused by secondary causes. They are outside God's causal order.

These future contingent events are known by God through what Molina, in his distinctive doctrine, called "middle knowledge" (scientia media). These events (called counterfactuals)** need not be come to pass, and if come to pass they do so not through God being their primary cause, but they come to pass depending on the choice of the creature.

The classic source text of this sort of knowledge is in the Gospel of Matthew:
Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes . . . And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Matt. 11:21, 23.

God as Trinity: Man's Supernatural End

God knows through "middle knowledge" what would have happened in Tyre and Sidon and Sodom had miracles or mighty works been done there. Because God has this knowledge, Molinists say God has some control (but not total control) over the future. God knows through "middle knowledge" infallibly that, if Adam enters the store on April 5, he will buy galoshes instead of Wellingtons. He knows that if Adam were to enter the store on April 4, he would buy Wellingtons instead of galoshes. If God wants Adam to buy Wellingtons instead of galoshes, he will work things out (if He can and if He wills) so that Adam does not go to the store on April 5, but instead on April 4. In this manner, God achieves what he wills, but man remains entirely free and autonomous. God does not cause Adam to chose galoshes over Wellingtons on April 5. The cause of that choice is entirely Adam's autonomous. But God decrees the circumstances*** so as to achieve the result he wills without interfering with the freedom of his creature. The point is that "middle knowledge" represents God's knowledge without control. That means that within this middle knowledge there is no law.

And that's where the rub is. What Molina's theory does, unfortunately, is to exclude, at least speculatively, a huge part of man's activity outside of the causal order and providential governance of God, that is, outside his law. "The Molinist account unwittingly carries the implication that the domain of human action is outside divine providence insofar as outside divine causality." Long, 39. Molinism, especially if taken out of its Christian context, therefore leads to a concept of human freedom that focuses on freedom with respect to God rather than to the contingent and finite effects of God's providence, that is, secondary causes. And it is this theory that has led theologians not rooted in Thomistic doctrine to see freedom as necessarily meaning freedom, not from secondary causes, but from God's causality. Whether a cause is "contingent [and hence free] or necessary [and hence determined] is a function of that cause's relation to God." Long, 38. "That is, it is assumed that, to be free, a cause must possess the liberty of indifference with respect to divine causality." Long, 38. In fact, Long suggests that the "libertarian account of freedom as an absolute capacity outside of the governance of the omnipotent God is prevalent even among believers."**** Long, 39.

The Molinist proposition in the hands of the secular political or moral philosopher becomes a wicked notion indeed:
[I]f the human will is not subject to divine providence, then it is not ruled and measured by the eternal law. . . . Hence, if we affirm the theonomic conception of natural law, we need also to affirm that the human will is autonomous [of God] neither in being nor in action, but is moved to its act from without [by God], yet in such a manner that this motion is truly its own motion. That is to say that the very motion that is received by the will from God is that whereby it moves itself in free self-determination. Like existence itself, the positive substance of may action is most my own, yet also most a gift.
Long, 40. Ultimately, if we believe that the natural law participates in the eternal law (that is, is thenomic), we must believe that the human freedom is relative freedom, created freedom, and is a true freedom that is exercised under the Providence of God. Providence extends only to where there is power and no further. Wherever God's power is not exercised, that is, where there is freedom from God's causality, there can be no providence and no law.

Molina erred by creating an envelope of human freedom from God, and, while that thought may not have borne ill fruit while the social body was healthy and vigorous with Christian mores, it, like some sort of virus, waited until the body was weak to flare up into a feverish concept that man is not free unless he is free from God. To be sure, Molina had patched up his system with the notion of scientia media or middle knowledge. "The formulation of Molina has sadly outlived the profound Christian context of his work, which limited the ill effect of this formulation and prevented its worst implication from being drawn." Long, 39. This concept, in any event, is contrary to the received tradition. Its implication is that human action is outside divine providence, since, to be free, it would have to be outside of divine causality; that is, human freedom would have to be outside of the eternal law.

For Steven A. Long, Molina's "negative treatment of the dependence of human freedom on divine causality seems in historical terms to be one large stride in the direction of undifferentiated libertarianism of a sort that implies that the created will is a being a se," to itself, that is, self-regarding and autonomous. The consequence of such a position is disastrous:

A separate jurisdiction of human liberty is thus created that is literally beyond divine governance, so that it becomes difficult to imagine what difference even divine revelation could make to the situation.

Long, 41.

So it would appear, that the Molinist tradition as well as the Enlightenment positions "each carved out," in their various ways, "a dominion for natural human agency as absolutely independent of God. . . . tend[ing] toward making the natural realm--and particularly the natural realm of human agency--an utterly separate jurisdiction sealed off from providence." Long, 41.

The position is disastrous, as I said, because it spells the death knell for a traditional notion of natural law as a participation in the eternal law:
Within such a world, natural law, far from being what it was for St. Thomas--namely, nothing other than the rational participation of the eternal law--becomes instead the demarcation of a realm outside the governance of the eternal law. Natural law becomes, as it were, the "stalking horse" of secularism and naturalist reductionism. A more complete inversion of the character of the doctrine of the natural law cannot be imagined--indeed a transvaluation of all values. . . .

The convergent implication of secular and Molinist thought seems indeed to be the loss of nature and natural order as theonomic principles, and the loss of natural law as nothing else than a participation of eternal law. Once this theonomic character of natural order and natural law are lost, then sustaining the distinction of nature and grace simply formalizes the boundaries consequent upon the loss of God.
Long, 41, 43.

It really doesn't matter, then, whether a theologian speaks of the autonomy of man from God's causality, or whether the materialist speaks of there being no such thing as God's causality, or whether a Kantian speaks of both man's autonomy and the "causal closure" of matters physical to matters metaphysical. In any event, whether a corrupt Molinist, an Enlightenment thinker, or a Kantian, God no longer is ruler of man and of his day-to-day life. God in all three cases is banished. If God is not dead, he is irrelevant. This is practical atheism in its three strains.

It was this practical atheism that led de Lubac to "overstress teleology" and adopt the erroneous doctrine that human nature has not real natural end, but only an ultimate supernatural end, the beatific vision. De Lubac refused to keep man within the "terrestial cage" where he had been placed, a cage stored somewhere outside of the loving reach or knowledge of God. Long, 42-43. De Lubac was, in some sense, right. He was right to try to re-inject teleology in nature. He was right to want to try to tie the natural order into the divine one. But he was wrong in trying to "shoehorn" the supernatural order into the natural order, as if stuffing food down the gullet of a goose to change goose liver into foie gras. What de Lubac did was nothing less than a sort of theological gavage or force-feeding, making nature into something it was not intended to be. It did not solve the problem, the loss of the theonomic principle in nature, but confused it. Nature's theonomic order in its own right, separate and apart from the theonomic order in the supernatural calling of man, is not established by the de Lubacian solution. "[T]he loss of the theonomic character of natural order and law in its own right and not merely by analogy of attribution with supernatural order is an error of decisive importance." Long, 45.

What then is really needed, the de Lubacian proposal being wrong?

[T]he greatest need of contemporary thought is to rediscover the theonomic character of natural law, and more extendedly of natural order as such--which will require a vigorous return to metaphysics, natural theology, and ontology of nature.

Long, 47. This is the only medicine for the problems of the day. It is the answer to the fideist, the fundamentalist, the rationalist, the nihilist, the empiricist, the scientist, the materialist, the atheist, the agnostic, the relativist, the espouser of excessive human autonomy, the fatalist and determinist, the deist, the pantheist. Let the dead bury their dead theories. Let us, on the other hand, recapture the Thomist synthesis, the delightfully true balance, between the natural order, which is ordered ad unum Deum, to the First Cause, and the supernatural order, which, presupposing the natural, is ordered ad Deum unum et trinum, to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one true and only God, to which Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and whatever man holding whatever varietal of religion and philosophy of his own device, is called to worship into perfect freedom.

*S.T. I, q. 22, a. 2, ad 4. (Sed quia ipse actus liberi arbitrii reducitur in Deum sicut in causam, necesse est ut ea quae ex libero arbitrio fiunt, divinae providentiae subdantur; providentia enim hominis continentur sub providentia Dei, sicut causa particularis sub causa universali.); Hastings; see also S.T., I, q. 14, art. 9.
**This is the Achilles Heel of Molinism, the metaphysical status of "counterfactuals." Counterfactuals are writtten in the form, if x, then y, an antecedent and a consequent. If the antecedent is false, then how can the counterfactual consequent be regarded as true. Where is the metaphysical ground of the counterfactual being a truth that can be known if its antecedent is false?
***This, as Long notes, "treats the divine causality like that of a creature, neglecting the dependence of all created reality in being and action upon God." Long, 39. It also requires man to be autonomous from God so as to be considered free. It ignores the difference between being free as to secondary causes (finite and contingent effects, what Long calls elsewhere "terrestrial requirements"), versus being free as to primary causes (God).
****This raises another problem for Molinists that critics point to. Are we really free if our acts are determined by the circumstances into which we are placed? This is the so-called "determinism of circumstance." Long, 40.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Plunder of Nature: Outside and Inside the Household

THE CONCEPT OF NATURE HAS BEEN DESPOILED by the barbarians of thought who styled themselves the enlightened ones. They have destroyed the outside structures, much like they burned churches and shattered their stained glass windows. They pillaged the interior, melted down the holy vessels, and spent what was valuable. What they left after their intellectual vandalism was a concept of nature in shambles. Ruins of nature, built by an unknown and unknowable architect who cared no longer for his structure. Ruins of nature, without the hearth of a spiritual soul or the smell of incense. Ruins of nature which no longer served a purpose, and end, for the altars of the natural temple of the Holy Spirit had been rent in twain. The human "nature" these men left to the world, was not the human "nature" that the men before them had known. These--we may count Hume, and Kant, and Comte, and Austin, and Bentham among them--left about as much of nature standing as the French Revolution left of the great monastery of Cluny, or the Revolutionists' children in the Old World left of the Coventry Cathedral in England or their children in the New World left of Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan. After these dismantlers, these inconoclasts of nature got done, what was missing? In a word, the theonomic principle of nature.

Urakami Cathedral after the Atom Bomb

But one may also identify what they left and what they substituted:
  • They of deistic (Tindal) or pantheistic (Spinoza) persuasions severed nature from God, and saw nature as a "separate jurisdiction from divine authority and governance," no longer tied to any theistic account.

  • Secular theories of progress and of morality, mainly utilitarian (Beccaria, Mill, Bentham), without regard to God or revelation were promoted.

  • A reductive, materialistic and mechanical and non-teleological view of nature (Bacon), one that could be studied, and in fact could only legitimately be studied, by empirical methods alone (Locke).

  • A rejection of any metaphysical thought, in both speculative and moral thinking, including any suggestion that God might be known through nature (analogia entis) or that any objective morality could be known through nature (analogia boni).
The problem of nature-in-shambles that confronted de Lubac cannot be placed entirely at the feet of secularist thought, though without doubt, especially if the intention of removing the theonomic in nature is considered, the lion's share belongs there. The problem, at least in Long's view, contains an ecclesiastical component. He sees the problem as a being the "convergent implication of [both] secular and Molinist thought." Long, 43.

The reference, of course, is to the Spanish Renaissance Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina (1535-1600). Long blames Molina for the current trend among Catholic theologians to "view free human action as standing outside divine governance and causality," an idea which, of course, is "incompatible with the understanding of nature as a theonomic principle." Long, 37. This is hardly what Molina--a commentator of St. Thomas Aquinas, part of the religious corps of of St. Ignatius, and loyal Catholic--would have intended. So how, in Long's view, did this come about?

Luis de Molina

At heart, the problem stems from Molina's emphasis on human liberty,* and his particular effort at reconciling this broad libertarian view of human liberty, on the one hand, with the concepts of God's providence, foreknowledge, predestination, and grace, on the other.

Now, the problem of reconciling human freedom, on the one hand,and God's providence and foreknowledge and the efficaciousness of grace, on the other, is, to put it mildly, knotty. And to outline both the Thomist view and the Molinist view on the matter and contrast them would, to do the matter justice, take a book in itself. This is hardly a matter to be handled in a blog posting.

But we shall try, beginning with our next post.

*In Molina's Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providentia, praedestinatione et reprobatione. The controversy caused by the publication of this work resulted in Pope Clement VIII institute a special board of inquiry called the Congregatio de Auxilia, which met at least 181 times. The commission eventually drew up a list of propositions and in 1607 prepared a bull to condemn 42 propositions of the work. However, the bull was never published, as the Pope at that time, Paul V, decided to postpone the condemnation, and, in fact allowed the opinions of Molinism and Thomism to be held. In any event, despite surviving condemnation, the Jesuit order got the picture of the general disfavor toward Molinism and the General of the Jesuits at the time Acquaviva decreed in 1613 that the Jesuits should teach the Congruism of the Jesuit Francisco Suarez and refrain from teaching Molinist theories. In the late 1800s, the theories of Molina enjoyed revival. See generally Hastings, Selbie, Gray, eds., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 8 (s.v. "Molinism")

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Balaam's Ass and Stained Glass: The Concept of Specific Obediential Potency

THE NOTION OF OBEDIENTIAL POTENCY is a central concept to traditional Christian anthropology. Man's nature--that which defines him specifically--is in potency to supernatural grace, a potency which is actualized by the obedience of faith and all such obedience of faith entails (e.g., baptism). De Lubac appears to have limited his notion of obediential potency as "susceptibility to miracle," which is one manner in which the term was used by scholastics, including St. Thomas himself. But de Lubac seems to disregard, nay, in fact reject,* the concept in its other sense, that is as the conceptual carrier for "the fundamental question of the relation of nature to grace." Long, 28. (In this latter sense, to distinguish it from its former generic sense, it is often called "specific obediential potency.") According to Long, the same tendentiousness is found in the Thomist Etienne Gilson for whom the concept of obediential potency "was tantamount to the idea of a mere extrinsic and miraculous transmutation of nature." Long, 28.

Balaam's Ass: Nature Transmuted

Restricted to the sense of susceptability to miracle, the concept of "obediential potentiality" is clearly deficient to explain the relationship between human nature and the supernatural life. There is a huge difference between Balaam's ass speaking (a miraculous transmutation of asinine nature) and man's capax Dei, his natural capacity to be receptive to, and elevated by the divine aid and "speak in tongues" so to speak. If kept to this denotation alone, it is an inadequate carrier of that relationship. If man were transmuted by grace, he would no longer be man. If man was not man until he was transmuted by grace, then he would not have been man before. But what is remarkable is the rejection of both Gilson and de Lubac of the term "obediential potency" as the concept of man's passive receptivity to divine grace. It was as if these two greats had never read St. Thomas!**

Had they but seen, Gilson and de Lubac would have realized that St. Thomas and his commentators were, in their exposition of obediential potency, describing the contours of the very mystery that they themselves sought to understand. For man's nature is not transmuted but elevated, and so must first be elevable by divine grace: the very meaning of specific obediential potency as opposed to generic obediential potency.

Long, 33. What are these contours? Long summarizes succinctly:
[W]hile a human person cannot know and love God in direct vision and embrace without supernatural aid, with such aid the human person may partake in intrinsically supernatural divine friendship, and this is the specific notion of obediential potency as applied to the relation of grace to nature. It is a wholly passive potency, which yet presupposes as its subject some determinate nature that is such that, when aided by the active agency of God, ti may achieve a certain specific range of actuation. It is because of man's essentially spiritual nature that he has an obediential potency to the supernatural life.
Long, 35. In describing the concept of specific obediential potency, Long uses an image which is worth noting.***

Stained Glass Window, Lincoln Cathedral
Symbol of Man's Obediential Potency

The similitude of the stained-glass window illumined by the sun's rays well bespeaks the character of the doctrine of obediential potency as applied to the relation of nature and grace. The stained-glass window, were it cognizant, could not "know what is was missing" were it never to irradiate its bright colors under the influence of the sun. It would be a window, still, and function as part of the structure--though it would, in a given respect, not be fulfilled. It would be what it is, not fail to be a part of the whole structure of which it would form an integral part, nor lack its own participation in the good of the whole as a specific perfection. Yet its nature stands properly revealed only under the extrinsic causality of the sun's illumination: seeing it so illumined, we know what stained glass truly is for.

Long, 34. That is what nature is called to be: a window through which the grace of God shines, and by which we are promised a future union with God as Trinity.

Long attributes Gilson's and de Lubac's error, not to any bad faith or ordinary ignorance, but to their being diverted by what they perceived as a Scylla and a Charybdis through which they had to negotiate. On the one hand, they had a legitimate concern that grace not be a "vermiform appendage," that is, something that is merely superadded to human nature, but which does not elevate or perfect it (which is how the Lutherans sort of see grace--simul iustus (grace) et peccator (nature). On the other hand, they had a concern (which was mistaken in Long's view) to preserve the existence of a supernatural desire in human nature.

It is this latter concern, which Long believes was an illegitimate concern, a siren call, that ultimately drew both Gilson and de Lubac and many after them into the shoals of error.
*Long quotes a letter from de Lubac's Mystery of the Supernatural: "the simple idea of potentia obedientialis conceived not 'to express the condition in which God's gift places us of being able to become children of God,' but to account for the possible of miracle, is not adequate as a definition of the relationship of human nature to the supernatural." Long, 30.
**How did they miss it?
It should be said that when something passive is fashioned to acquire different perfections from different ordered agents, there is a difference and order of passive powers in the recipient responding to the difference and order of the active powers of the agents, because the passive power responds to the active. Thus, it is that water or earth have a potency according to which they are moved by fire, and another insofar as they are fashioned to be moved by the heavenly body, and yet another according to which they can be moved by God. For water or earth can become something in virtue of a supernatural agent that they cannot become by the power of a natural agent. For this reason we say that in every creature there is an obediential potency, insofar as every creature obeys God in receiving whatever God wills. There is in the soul a potency fashioned to be actuated by a connatural agent, and in this way it is in potency to acquired virtues. In another way there is a potency in the soul which is fashioned to be actuated only by the divine power, and in this way the infused virtues are potentially in the soul.

Ad decimumtertium dicendum, quod quando aliquod passivum natum est consequi diversas perfectiones a diversis agentibus ordinatis, secundum differentiam et ordinem potentiarum activarum in agentibus, est differentia et ordo potentiarum passivarum in passivo; quia potentiae passivae respondet potentia activa: sicut patet quod aqua vel terra habet aliquam potentiam secundum quam nata est moveri ab igne; et aliam secundum quam nata est moveri a corpore caelesti; et ulterius aliam secundum quam nata est moveri a Deo. Sicut enim ex aqua vel terra potest aliquid fieri virtute corporis caelestis, quod non potest fieri virtute ignis; ita ex eis potest aliquid fieri virtute supernaturalis agentis quod non potest fieri virtute alicuius naturalis agentis; et secundum hoc dicimus, quod in tota creatura est quaedam obedientialis potentia, prout tota creatura obedit Deo ad suscipiendum in se quidquid Deus voluerit. Sic igitur et in anima est aliquid in potentia, quod natum est reduci in actum ab agente connaturali; et hoc modo sunt in potentia in ipsa virtutes acquisitae.
Alio modo aliquid est in potentia in anima quod non est natum educi in actum nisi per virtutem divinam; et sic sunt in potentia in anima virtutes infusae.
St. Thomas, De virtutibus, q. 1 a. 10 ad 13.
***He quotes from his article, "On the Possibility of a Purely Natural End for Man," Thomist 64 (2000): 236.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Natura Pura: St. Thomas in a Nutshell, Part 2

OBEDIENTIAL POTENCY IS AN APT if technical word to describe human nature as we find it in the light of revelation: that is, human nature with the capacity or potential of being linked with grace and the promise of life in union with God. The term obediential potency* (potentia obedientialis or potentia obedientiae) is the human person's inherent opennesss to revelation and to a relationship with God through grace. It is a receptive and passive quality in human nature, not an active positive quality, a fittingness, an aptitude, an ability to receive: hence a potentiality, not actuality. Grace is extrinsic to human nature inasmuch as it is not contained within it or does not arise out of it. The grace is obtained or actualized, not through self-effort or self-engendering, but received from and through another, namely God, by the obedience of faith, hence it is obediential. Human nature is thus potentially receptive to the grace of God. Human nature is able to receive the grace of God without insult. Human nature is raised by grace, but not fundamentally changed into something different. Nature "is the preamble to grace and not merely its postscript," and yet, within the context of supernatural finality, human nature may also be said to be "a placeholder for grace." Long, 23.

Human nature is therefore more than a "vacuole or pure naught, lacking proportionate created integrity and unknowable apart from the beatific vision."** Long, 22. It has its own dignity, its own realm, even its own proximate and natural end. In St. Thomas's view, "there is a proximate and natural end, defining of the species, which is distinct from and inferior to the final end of supernatural beatitude." Long, 23.

Human nature is not free of God. Human nature is, from its inception, theonomic, "the impress of the ordering wisdom of God." Human nature remains ordered to God even "in precision from grace," that is, even if grace is taken out of the picture, "but along an infinitely lower trajectory than that of supernatural grace, so that only with divine aid may these natures be elevated within the higher arc that passes into the very mystery of God Himself." Long, 25. The "natural is not an arena of autonomy from God." Long, 25. Indeed, the natural law which is part and parcel of human nature--it is a wholly natural law--"obligates man to receive whatsoever God deigns to reveal." Long, 23.

Photo of the body of 23-year old actress Evelyn McHale, May 1, 1947, R.I.P.,
After jumping from the Empire State Building
Both life and altitude lost

As a result of God's providential plan to unite nature and sanctifying grace, nature is, in a sense, ordered to a higher end. That is why original sin did more than merely sever the supernatural life from man and relegate him to the natural. Man did not fall from a supernatural life to pure nature. Because our nature was fundamentally ordered to the supernatural life of grace, the Fall both damaged that relationship and damaged nature, though accidentally and not substantially.

Just as a man who climbs up the Empire State Building and then jumps loses something more than the height he had attained (namely, his life), so nature as concretely further ordered in grace is profoundly harmed when grace is lost (although, again, accidentally, in regard to the vigor of its motion to the end, and not essentially: fallen man is yet human), precisely because it has itself been ordered through grace toward the more exalted beatific end. But the very idea of the supernatural is not the idea of a merely natural completion.

Long, 23-24. It would be an error to argue that, since grace and nature are distinct, harm to human nature could not occur following the loss of grace pursuant to the Fall. Such an argument neglects the "causal efficacy of grace." Long, 24. "Once ordered in and by grace at creation, thereinafter human nature will be vain and frustrated apart from the supernatural end. That is, human nature, as created [originally] in sanctifying grace, is as such remotely ordered to the supernatural end by this fact." Long, 24. The "causal efficacy of grace," however, does not transmute human nature; that is, it does not change us from one species to another. We would have been human had we been created without sanctifying grace. We are human though we were created with sanctifying grace. We are human though we have lost sanctifying grace. And we are human even when, through Christ's Redemption, we have regained sanctifying grace. The human thread is constant, though perhaps to some extent frayed, regardless of whether it is, or is not, immersed in sanctifying grace.

Long--and the entire corpus of Catholic patrimony--demands a synthesis between human nature and supernatural grace that respects them both:
[A] synthesis wherein the natural mode of participation of the eternal law is transcended by the nobler participation of the eternal law in supernatural grace. That the teloi*** of these participations are distinct, are materially but not formally the same--God as principle of created nature as opposed to God revealed in Himself (for there is infinitely more in God than merely being "principle of created nature," just as there is more in Einstein than being "man wearing a raincoat"****)--is essential to the integrity of St. Thomas's teaching.

Likewise, that the natural desire for God represents an obediential potency whereby the active agency of God may elevate man to achieve distinctive supernatural friendship indicates that the lower participation of the eternal law is presuppposed to the higher.
Long, 25.

This is all of great significance to the relationship between the natural law and grace. The natural law is a participation in the eternal law. Likewise, the life of grace is a participation in the eternal law. The natural law is transcended through grace, but in no wise is it transmuted, suppressed, abrogated. There is, and there never can be, any contradiction between life according to the natural law and life according to grace because they are both participations in the one and the same eternal law. There is, and there never can be, opposition between Law and between Grace.

Henri de Lubac, however, threw a wrench in the works. And one of the ways this occurred was through his thought regarding the concept of obediential potency, which is a subject we will address in our next posting.

*The term is used by St. Thomas Aquinas, among other places, in De virtutibus, q. 1, a. 10, ad 13 (in tota creatura est quaedam obedientialis potentia, prout tota creatura obedit Deo ad suscipiendum in se quidquid Deus voluerit) [in every creature there is an obediential potency, insofar as every creature obeys God in receiving whatever God wills] and in the Summa Theologiae, III, q. 11 a. 1, co. (Est autem considerandum quod in anima humana, sicut in qualibet creatura, consideratur duplex potentia passiva, una quidem per comparationem ad agens naturale; alia vero per comparationem ad agens primum, qui potest quamlibet creaturam reducere in actum aliquem altiorem, in quem non reducitur per agens naturale; et haec consuevit vocari potentia obedientiae in creatura.) [Now it must be borne in mind that in the human soul, as in every creature, there is a double passive power: one in comparison with a natural agent; the other in comparison with the first agent, which can reduce any creature to a higher act than a natural agent can reduce it, and this is usually called the obediential power of a creature.]
**As Long argues by the analogy of faith (analogia fidei), human nature has to have some natural significance outside of the supernatural, or the whole construct of the council of Nicea with respect to Christ's human nature is senseless. Long, 22.
***Plural of the Greek word telos, meaning "end" or "purpose" or "goal."

****For the meaning of this image (Einstein in raincoat/man in raincoat), see our prior posting on this subject, Natura Pura: St. Thomas in Nutshell, Part 1.