Thursday, September 26, 2013

Natural law or supernatural law?


When you blur a real distinction between any two things A and B, you invariably tend, at least implicitly, to deny the existence of either A or B.  For instance, there is, demonstrably, a real distinction between mind and matter.  To blur this distinction, as materialists do, is implicitly to deny the existence of mind.  Reductionist materialism is, as I have argued in several places (such as here), really just eliminative materialism in disguise.  There is also a clear moral distinction between taking the life of an innocent person and taking the life of a guilty person.  To blur this distinction, as many opponents of capital punishment do, is to blur the distinction between innocence and guilt.  That is why opposition to capital punishment tends to go hand in hand with suspicion of the very idea of punishment as such.

The eliminativism can go in either direction.  If there really is no distinction between mind and matter, then you could take this to mean that mind per se is unreal and what really exists is just matter.  But of course, you could equally well take it to entail that matter is an illusion, and opt for idealism rather than materialism.  If there really is no morally important distinction between the guilty and the innocent, then you could reject punishment altogether.  But you could equally well conclude (since in practice we can, after all, hardly avoid punishing evildoers to some extent) that not only the guilty, but the innocent too, might sometimes be punished if the consequences of doing so are good enough. 

A real distinction that is all too often blurred in theology is that between the natural and the supernatural -- between the limited relationship with God that is our natural end and the gratuitous, supernatural gift of the beatific vision; between the knowledge of God’s existence and nature that is available to philosophical reason, and that which is given only in revelation; and between the natural law and supernatural virtue.  One way to blur this distinction is to collapse the supernatural into the natural -- for example, to reduce God to a symbol, and Christian charity to a mere political program for social justice.  This, as Karl Barth famously put it, is not to speak of God at all but merely to speak of man in a loud voice, a kind of virtual atheism.

But another way to blur the distinction is to go in the other direction, absorbing the natural into the supernatural -- a tendency to be found in Catholic Nouvelle Théologie writers like Henri de Lubac and, it seems, in David Bentley Hart.  Where morality is concerned, the tendency is, as we’ve seen recently with Hart, to denude the notion of natural law of significant content, so that it is only through the lens of revelation that one can clearly see what the natural law requires and only via grace that one can to any extent obey it.  (I do not say that this is exactly what Hart himself thinks – though it seems to me he did not make it clear exactly what he thinks – but only that this is the direction in which his recent remarks about natural law tend.)

But a law that cannot be known from the nature of things, but only via special divine revelation, is not the natural law.  And a law that we could never have obeyed anyway is not a law for whose violation we can be held responsible.  To make knowledge of and obedience to the natural law essentially dependent on grace is to make of it something supernatural.  It is also to fail to do justice to the facts.  When an ill and tired pagan mother is moved by the tears of her crying child to come to its assistance at the expense of her own health and comfort, the love that moves her is real love, not some counterfeit.  Socrates’ self-control was truly virtuous.  Aristotle really was wise.  Confucius really was noble.  Plato had a genuine love for the good, and Plotinus for the divine.  Examples can easily be multiplied.  To deny that such virtue really is virtue, despite its having arisen apart from Christian revelation, would simply be to deny the obvious.

This is not Pelagianism, first because it has nothing to do with our attainment of the supernatural end of the beatific vision; and second, because even the highest degree of natural excellence attained by the pagans is flawed, like a beautiful Greek statue that has been chucked violently down the stairs and had various bits and pieces busted off of it.  (And of course, the operation of the natural order no less than the supernatural presupposes the conserving and concurring action of God.)  The virtue of the pagan qua pagan, however real, is never without serious defect and never extends beyond the natural order.  It can never get him an inch closer to the beatific vision, even if it makes him more suited to the natural knowledge of God that the great pagan philosophers had, albeit in an imperfect way. 

When one denies all this and absorbs the natural into the supernatural, implying that the only real virtue is Christian virtue and the only real theological knowledge is revealed knowledge, the sequel is to move in one of two opposed further directions.  The first is to condemn non-Christian thought and culture as without value, and to deny that there is any common moral and theological ground on which the Christian might win over the non-Christian.  The salvation even of the most apparently noble pagan comes to seem like a long shot at best, since even his apparent goodness is regarded as essentially just evil in disguise.  This makes of Christianity something repulsive and inhuman, unattractive to the non-Christian, not because he hates the good that Christianity upholds, but because he hates the refusal of such a Christianity to acknowledge the good to be found in nature and in human civilization. 

The alternative, opposite tendency is to affirm the evident good to be found in non-Christian thought, culture, and everyday life, but then to conclude that it must “really” be a result of grace, and that in some way non-Christians must “really” be Christians without realizing it, or at least would opt to become Christians if only they realized they should.  Their natural virtue, in other words, must “really” be supernatural even if they don’t know it.  The Christian merely has the “fullness” of the very same thing the non-Christian has, and the salvation of all well-meaning non-Christians seems certain.

Absorbing nature into grace thus tends to lead either to the Christianity of the rigorist, the prig, the holy roller, the buckle-shod puritan; or to the Christianity of the laxist, the bleeding heart, the universalist, the sandal-wearing bearded fruit-juice drinker (to borrow a choice phrase from Orwell).  Naturally, the Aristotelian-Scholastic theologian -- who insists on upholding the real distinction between nature and grace, the natural and the supernatural -- adopts the sober middle position between these extremes, and his shoes are both sensible and agreeably stylish. 

Again, I am not saying that Hart -- or de Lubac or like-minded thinkers for that matter -- would want to go to either of the extremes in question.  The trouble is that when one blurs the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, it is difficult to show how one can avoid them.

In recent decades some Christians seem to have taken a view that amounts to a bizarre amalgamation of both extremes -- a notion to the effect that non-Christians are more or less incapable of any natural virtue, and yet somehow are certain to be saved precisely for that reason.  Pope Benedict XVI, when still Cardinal Ratzinger, described this sort of attitude in his 1991 talk “Conscience and Truth.”  He recounts a conversation he had with someone he describes as “a strict Catholic who performed his moral duty with care and conviction” yet who expressed what Ratzinger characterizes as a “disquieting” view.  I’ll quote the entire relevant passage:

In the course of a dispute, a senior colleague, who was keenly aware of the plight to being Christian in our times, expressed the opinion that one should actually be grateful to God that He allows there to be so many unbelievers in good conscience. For if their eyes were opened and they became believers, they would not be capable, in this world of ours, of bearing the burden of faith with all its moral obligations. But as it is, since they can go another way in good conscience, they can reach salvation. What shocked me about this assertion was not in the first place the idea of an erroneous conscience given by God Himself in order to save men by means of such artfulness—the idea, so to speak, of a blindness sent by God for the salvation of those in question. What disturbed me was the notion that it harbored, that faith is a burden which can hardly be borne and which no doubt was intended only for stronger natures—faith almost as a kind of punishment, in any case, an imposition not easily coped with. According to this view, faith would not make salvation easier but harder. Being happy would mean not being burdened with having to believe or having to submit to the moral yoke of the faith of the Catholic church. The erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace, the normal way to salvation. Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth. Man would be more at home in the dark than in the light. Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction. If this were the state of affairs, how could faith give rise to joy? Who would have the courage to pass faith on to others? Would it not be better to spare them the truth or even keep them from it? In the last few decades, notions of this sort have discernibly crippled the disposition to evangelize. The one who sees the faith as a heavy burden or as a moral imposition is unable to invite others to believe. Rather he lets them be, in the putative freedom of their good consciences.

End quote.  Now the attitude Cardinal Ratzinger was criticizing is deeply perverse and delusional, and I think it is in fact even worse than his remarks indicate.  The cardinal was making the point that the Catholic faith is a benefit rather than a burden, a source of moral knowledge and strength which, naturally, can only aid rather than inhibit one’s salvation.  But notice that the moral teachings his interlocutor was concerned with were no doubt the usual ones that the Church’s critics revile her for upholding -- the condemnation of abortion and the defense of traditional sexual morality.  And these teachings are not strictly speaking matters of faith in the first place, but matters of natural law.  They are good for human beings as such, whether or not they are Catholic and even apart from our supernatural end.  And they can be known and at least imperfectly followed even apart from faith in divine revelation.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s colleague seems to have conflated the natural law with the supernatural virtues.  Since the non-believer lacks the latter, he must (so the reasoning seems to go) also lack any capacity for the former; and since he lacks that capacity (so the reasoning apparently continues) he cannot be held responsible for living up to the natural law.  How much farther could one get from the teaching of St. Paul in Romans 1 and 2, according to which sinful pagans are “without excuse” given the law that is “written on their hearts”?  (And note that it is precisely sexual immorality that Paul puts special emphasis on as a sign of their decadence.)

If a non-Christian finds the Church’s teaching on sex too austere -- teaching a Plato, Aristotle, or Plotinus would have easily seen the logic of, whether or not they would agree with every last detail of it -- then the problem runs far deeper than any difficulty with Christianity per se.  It reflects a kind of alienation of modern people from their own nature.  And if someone not only disagrees with, but viscerally despises the directives of natural law -- despises what would be necessary to fulfill him even if the supernatural gift of the beatific vision had never been offered him -- it is perfectly ludicrous to think he is likely to attain even his natural end, let alone the supernatural end of the beatific vision.  Modern secularists are surely in graver spiritual danger than the ancient pagans, who, for all their faults, at least could see that the existence of God was demonstrable and understood the broad outlines of natural law. 

The modern secularist, or at least the educated modern secularist, needs to be brought up to the level of the ancient pagan before he is likely to take Christian revelation seriously.  He needs a renewed understanding of the nature on which grace builds and apart from which faith, revelation, and the supernatural falsely seem to float in mid-air, without a foundation in reason or reality.  He needs natural theology and natural law -- natural theology and natural law grounded in the truths even the pagans knew, natural theology and natural law as articulated and defended within Scholasticism, within Thomism -- and he needs it now more than ever. 

100 comments:

Bedarz Iliaci said...

As I read him, Hart is talking of a milieu that lacks all convictions about supernatural. Now the natural realm is both grounded in and points towards the supernatural realm, and it suggests that for those lacking supernatural convictions, they would also lack convictions about the Natural Law. To these people, all Law appears as Revelation.

In other words, to the people that do not see nature pointing towards God, to them Nature does not mean anything, there is no Natural Law that they are able to read. And thus the dictates of Natural Law, they interpret as dictates of Revelation.

These people are not pagans. The pagans were immersed in supernatural.

rank sophist said...

Interesting article. One point, though:

between the limited relationship with God that is our natural end and the gratuitous, supernatural gift of the beatific vision

Our natural end is the beatific vision. Aquinas himself states this in numerous passages, in keeping with the Christian tradition up to that time. To put it simply: Aquinas holds that all men are naturally directed toward the beatific vision, but that we cannot achieve it without gratuitously bestowed grace. Later Thomists--following Suarez, if I remember correctly--denied this, certainly, but their position was an innovation and an unfaithful interpretation. Despite being an imperfect thinker, de Lubac was responsible for a truly great reform in 20th century Thomism when he recovered Aquinas's actual position--one right up there with Lonergan's refutation of "premotion".

Thomas said...

Dr. Feser,

You have accused de Lubac of collapsing nature into grace in a number of posts-without ever offering the reader anything but the conclusion that de Lubac effects this collapse. Those who have read Lubac will see no resemblance to the caricature you keep presenting.

Anonymous said...

I think the main reason the 'modern educated secularist' can't take Christian revelation seriously is because they've read the Bible. The god of the OT is obviously a monstrous lunatic. The NT asks people believe in a guy who magicked tap dancing fish into existence, sent demons into pigs and flew off into a another dimension after coming back to life. It's painfully ridiculous. Christians are like children who run around waving Superman comicbooks citing the comicbooks as evidence of Superman's existence.

Thomas said...

I should also add that Lubac's position on the natural-supernatural distinction is just the historical position of Aquinas.

Matthew said...

Anon, you slay me. Do be charitable, though. Feser was clearly talking about serious metaphysical obstacles to educated and serious readers.

I don't think Feser meant to say that Thomism could cure the intellectual allergies and willful stupidity of the new atheist set.

Anonymous said...

Even Christians find Christianity embarrassing. All you have to do is quote their Bible and watch them squirm. It's really the best way to debate a Christian. Just quote the Bible and watch a stream of sohistries, lies and cries of "you've misrepresented it!".

Anonymous said...

Anonymous1,

I think your characterization begs a demonstration lest it be called a caricature.

Love,
Anonymous 2

Edward Feser said...

rank sophist and Thomas,

You are, of course, aware that your claims about what Aquinas "really said" on this subject are highly controversial. Putting those claims forward matter-of-factly (as nouvelle theologie types are wont to do) rather obscures that, but doesn't make it any less true.

Anonymous,

Evidently you've got some beef with the Bible as such. Fine, whatever, but that isn't what this post is about. No threadjacking please.

BenYachov said...

>Even Christians find Christianity embarrassing. All you have to do is quote their Bible and watch them squirm. It's really the best way to debate a Christian. Just quote the Bible and watch a stream of sohistries, lies and cries of "you've misrepresented it!".

But Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and other ancient eastern Christians don't believe in the Protestant doctrine of Perspicuity(ie the idea the Bible is plain and clear & doesn't require Tradition & a divinely appointed interpreter protected by the Holy Spirit).

So basically any verse you cite to us to prove a point contrary to Faith and Moral is by definition a "misrepresentation".

So you are wasting your time & our time here Anon1.

Go find some Young Earth Creationist Baptists to pic on.

You are out of your league here son.

BenYachov said...

additional:

Feser said no threadjacking.

I respect The Feser. But I trust I made my point.


cheers

Charles said...

Quote: "The modern secularist, or at least the educated modern secularist, needs to be brought up to the level of the ancient pagan before he is likely to take Christian revelation seriously. He needs a renewed understanding of the nature on which grace builds and apart from which faith, revelation, and the supernatural falsely seem to float in mid-air, without a foundation in reason or reality. He needs natural theology and natural law -- natural theology and natural law grounded in the truths even the pagans knew, natural theology and natural law as articulated and defended within Scholasticism, within Thomism -- and he needs it now more than ever."

Actually, rather than brought up to speed, the modern secularist needs to strip away all of the incredibly byzantine and unnatural theories, concepts and systems of thought to remove the plank that keeps them from seeing what a little child could affirm, without having read Socrates. Secularism has used the intellect for means other than truth, but avoiding it. Scholasticism is great, in general, and Thomism, in particular. But I don't think studying the Schoolmen is all that stands between a secularist treating divine revelation seriously and chucking it to the side of the road.

Thomas said...

Dr. Feser,

I would say that Lubac's historical work puts the matter to rest (though of course it is now the majority view among historians of medieval thought), but I get the sense that you've not read de Lubac.

Your method of talking about de Lubac it's to attribute to him a position he did not hold, while entirely omitting his arguments. It reads like the only de Lubac you know is the one presented in polemics against de Lubac.

I ask you this on another thread and you did not answer: have you actually read de Lubac? Are you actually familiar with the arguments he makes?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for a thought-provoking article. I was interested in the following comment of yours:

"The virtue of the pagan qua pagan, however real, is never without serious defect and never extends beyond the natural order. It can never get him an inch closer to the beatific vision, even if it makes him more suited to the natural knowledge of God that the great pagan philosophers had, albeit in an imperfect way."

First, even if one accepts an absolute distinction between the natural and the supernatural, I see no inherent reason why one could not practice the natural virtues almost perfectly. Due to the weakening of the will and darkening of the intellect that resulted from the Fall, absolute natural perfection is impossible, but it in no way follows from this that pagan virtue is never without serious defect.

Second, I would have to take issue with your claim that the virtue of a pagan, qua pagan, "never extends beyond the natural order" and "can never get him an inch closer to the beatific vision."

A pagan philosopher may have a genuine longing, qua pagan, to know the nature of God, Whom he recognizes to be infinite. Such a pagan may also have a desire to do whatever God wants him to do, and may even long for a life after death, in which he can commune with his Creator. Someone who is open to the Infinite in this fashion cannot fairly be described as possessing virtue which is confined to the natural order. Would it not be fairer to describe such a person as having an implicit desire for supernatural faith?

Finally, are you seriously contending that there is really a qualitative distinction between the love such a pagan may have for God and for his fellow human beings, and the love that a Christian has for God and for his fellow human beings? Are we to say that the Christian's love is of an altogether different kind? Because if we cannot make such a clear-cut distinction - and in practice, it's extremely difficult for us to distinguish between the two sorts of love - then it is no longer possible to maintain that a pagan's virtue "can never get him an inch closer to the beatific vision."

I am certainly not suggesting here that a pagan can accomplish anything good without God's grace. What I am saying is that a man's very longing for the Infinite is itself a sign of the presence of God's grace.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"Someone who is open to the Infinite in this fashion cannot fairly be described as possessing virtue which is confined to the natural order. . . . What I am saying is that a man's very longing for the Infinite is itself a sign of the presence of God's grace."

How does a virtue made possible only by supernatural grace count as "the virtue of a pagan, qua pagan"?

Brandon said...

It reads like the only de Lubac you know is the one presented in polemics against de Lubac.

Or, you know, since the polemics by Garrigou-Lagrange, Boyer, and the like were not just name-calling, it could be that Ed is just convinced by the arguments of Garrigou-Lagrange et al. that, however much he may try to avoid it, de Lubac is committed to something that is for all practical purposes a collapse of the categories. You do know that happens, right? That reading de Lubac doesn't magically make people agree with him?

This sort of discussion cannot occur on the vague general level you are keeping it; if you want to raise specific arguments, raise them, otherwise it's very difficult to see why you're wasting everybody's time. So Ed mentions in passing that de Lubac's position gets too close to collapsing the natural into the supernatural, and you say it obviously doesn't; and what has anyone else learned? Absolutely nothing of importance. And suppose Ed does answer your question about which of de Lubac's works he has read; what will anyone else have learned from getting a list of Ed's reading in nouvelle theologie? Nothing whatsoever of importance. If you're going to pursue this line of argument, at least tell us which argument or passage you think Ed is overlooking (or has not read -- it really makes no rational difference whatsoever which it is).

Step2 said...

...and his shoes are both sensible and agreeably stylish.

The only proof I'll accept are recent photographs, because that's how I roll. :)

Craig Payne said...

"(And of course, the operation of the natural order no less than the supernatural presupposes the conserving and concurring action of God.)"

Dear Dr. Feser: It seems to me that in this parenthetical concession, you are conceding some of your argument. I agree that we cannot collapse nature and the supernatural; however, remember the great title of Hittinger's book "The First Grace"? Even natural law is "natural" to us only because of the action of a supernatural God and the natural order of His gracious creation. It is, in other words, still of God's grace that we can "naturally" recognize the natural law.

I agree that someone--a virtuous pre-Christian, for example--can recognize the natural law without necessarily recognizing its ultimate Cause. But wouldn't we as Christians find it difficult to divide up the effect and cause in that way?

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

You are, of course, aware that your claims about what Aquinas "really said" on this subject are highly controversial.

This is certainly true, but the same could be said about the passage I quoted above.

In any case, I don't personally think that there's much reason for the controversy. Aquinas is very clear-cut about the issue. To take one example:

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than "that He is"; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man's happiness consists (ST IIa q3 a8)

Aquinas3000 said...

Aquinas' argument there establishes a conditional, inefficacious and elicited desire for to know God as he is in Himself as the author of the natural order. Pretty much all Thomists agree on that - even de Lubac's opponent Garrigou Lagrange. However one can also see it as a suasive argument made to support what we know by revealed truth as Aquinas discusses in I, Q 32, a 1 ad 2.

This is the best way to harmonise the texts I believe. Because you also have to take into account such passages as de Veritate Q14 a 2:

Man, however, has a twofold final good, which first moves the will as a final end. The first of these is proportionate to human nature since natural powers are capable of attaining it. This is the happiness about which the philosophers speak, either as contemplative, which consists in the act of wisdom, or active, which consists first of all in the act of prudence, and in the acts of the other moral virtues as they depend on prudence.

The other is the good which is out of all proportion with man’s nature because his natural powers are not enough to attain to it either in thought or desire. It is promised to man only through the divine liberality: “The eye hath not seen...” (1 Cor. 2:9). This is life everlasting. It is because of this good that the will is inclined to give assent to those things which it holds by faith. Thus the Gospel according to St. John (6:40) reads: “Everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth in him may have life everlasting.”

The issue is not so straightforward as people might like to think.

monk68 said...

If I may add a thought or two to this discussion:

What characterizes natural knowledge as distinct from revelation, is that natural knowledge is that which can be had on the basis of God’s act of creating and conserving the cosmos; whereas, revelation (supernatural knowledge of the interior life of God or the possibility or grounds of our participation in that Life) requires, and is predicated upon, acts of God *beyond*, or in addition to, that which is entailed in His creation and conservation of the cosmos per se.

Likewise, what distinguishes our natural end from the gratuitous gift of our supernatural end (participation in the interior life of God), is that the former is what would be possible on the basis of God’s creating and conserving the cosmos per se (inclusive, obviously, of created human nature); whereas, the later is only possible on the basis of gifts given (divine acts) *beyond*, or in addition to, those entailed in God’s creation and conservation of the cosmos per se.

Moreover, what distinguishes natural virtue from supernatural virtue is that the former pertain to the development of habits in accord with the capacities of human nature latent in God’s act of creating and sustaining the cosmos (inclusive, obviously, of created human capacities); whereas, the later pertain to the development of habits in accord with capacities which are only received within human nature by gifts given (divine acts) *beyond*, or in addition to, those entailed in God’s creation and conservation of the cosmos.

In all cases, the dividing line between the natural and the supernatural pertains to that which falls within the continual act of cosmic creation and conservation per se, and that which requires divine activity beyond, or in addition to, creation/conservation. The distinction is real and not merely noetic. God’s act of creation and conservation is not identical to His acts of self disclosure, distribution of divine grace and its attendant capacities and ends, and distribution of habits corresponding to such grace-induced capacities and ends.

However, distinction does not necessitate disjunction. Hence, the fact that there is a real distinction between the natural and the supernatural (in the orders of end, knowing, and virtue), such that we can think and speak of them in separation, does not mean that the natural and supernatural order are, or ever were *separate* in reality. Grace elevates nature, true enough; but we naturally tend to think in terms something like this: “first comes nature, and then (implicitly later) along comes grace to elevate it”.

But that is to mistake the order of knowing for the order of being; to treat something which is arrived at sequentially in our thinking (nature first, revelation/grace second) as occurring sequentially in reality – a classic and common mistake. Grace elevates nature because grace *is always* elevating (or trying to elevate) nature. Nevertheless, that grace may have always accompanied nature in the order of being, does not do away with the real distinction between the two. Therefore, it is right to maintain a noetic distinction between the two (since we seek to adequate the mind to reality). I, for one, think that Dr. Feser is perfectly correct with respect to the negative consequences which often (if not inevitably) arise from either denying or glossing such distinctions. To stay balanced, we simply need to remember that distinction does require disjunction.

-Pax

monk68 said...

OOPs - edit to that last sentence:

". . . distinction does **NOT** require disjunction."

Thomas said...

Robert,

I am not faulting Dr. Feser for rejecting De Lubac's theology; I'm faulting him for not knowing what it is to begin with.

Dr. Feser incorrectly states that de Lubac "absorb[s] the natural into the supernatural ...." As anyone has read de Lubac knows, de Lubac does explicitly holds (with Aquinas) that man's end is two-fold and that between the two there is a real distinction. See, e.g., De Lubac's Duplex Hominis Beatitudo.

It's rather like criticizing Richard Dawkins for believing in intelligent design. Not only is it a bad argument, but it shows he's not familiar with the subject matter.

Brandon said...

I think, to add a point to Aquinas3000's comment, that it's also important to keep in mind that we're dealing with a dispute that by its nature requires close analysis of long stretches of text, and lots of them. Supporters of de Lubac often point to particular conclusions as obviously making their point (de Lubac himself, it should be said, did not have this luxury, and usually at least tries to go farther); but (part of) the argument of Garrigou-Lagrange and others was that if you go back and look at the arguments that lead to these conclusions (and therefore in light of which they have to be understood) one often finds that the arguments seem to require that the conclusions be taken in a weaker or looser sense than de Lubac needs. Whether this is right in any given case or not, it's not a matter of the commentators and Garrigou-Lagrange and others simply failing to have read (say) book 3 of the SCG: on the contrary, the source of the dispute is that they've read it quite closely and think that, all things taken into account, passages like that in SCG 3.57 are saying something weaker than de Lubac says it is, particularly when other passages from elsewhere are taken into account.

Edward Feser said...

Thomas,

I am well aware that de Lubac does not explicitly deny that there is a distinction between nature and grace -- just as you are surely well aware that his critics hold that he implicitly does so, or at least takes a view which threatens to do so. I should have thought it obvious that this latter claim, about what his position tends toward (whatever his intentions) is what I had in view in the post. Or at any rate, it should have been clear enough to a charitable reader.

Brandon said...

Dr. Feser incorrectly states that de Lubac "absorb[s] the natural into the supernatural ...."

No, Thomas, Ed says:

Again, I am not saying that Hart -- or de Lubac or like-minded thinkers for that matter -- would want to go to either of the extremes in question. The trouble is that when one blurs the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, it is difficult to show how one can avoid them.

And previously, his claim about de Lubac was qualified in that he did not say that de Lubac absorbed one in the other but that the tendency was found in him.

rank sophist said...

Aquinas3000,

Aquinas' argument there establishes a conditional, inefficacious and elicited desire for to know God as he is in Himself as the author of the natural order.

What he's stating is that we have a natural desire to see God in his essence ("for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause")--the sight of which is the beatific vision, as he clarifies in related articles.

Because you also have to take into account such passages as de Veritate Q14 a 2:

This is one of the major flaws of traditional Thomism: the assumption that Aquinas's works are like Scripture, in that they're non-historical and free from self-contradiction. Supposedly an early work like the Sentences or the DV is wholly united with a late work like the ST, and so we must find an interpretation that harmonizes both. Aquinas, though, was not perfect. His thought developed over time, like any man's. What he says in the ST in many ways contradicts what he says in the DV, for example. Treating his works as one equally important and self-coherent opus leads to bizarre errors.

Brandon said...

This is one of the major flaws of traditional Thomism: the assumption that Aquinas's works are like Scripture, in that they're non-historical and free from self-contradiction.

And yet you're the one who keeps citing prooftexts as obviously proving your point. This very argument makes everything you've said on the subject here useless: it becomes impossible to determine what any of the passages in question means for Aquinas's views without contextualizing them in the history of his oeuvre, which you most certainly are not doing.

Aquinas3000 said...

Yes I know it is a desire to see God in his essence which we know is in fact the beatific vision. That tells me nothing new.

Sure, but then someone could argue that Thomas was right earlier on and then wrong later on. So what's the point saying "Aquinas is very clear about this.." As soon as someone points out he is not clear then you are basically saying "oh, well not those quotes, he clearly moved on from that." So then all that matters to you is what the last thing Aquinas said.

I hold the position I do not because I think Aquinas is infallible or could never change his mind but because there is I think a way to harmonise all the texts. Those statements can be read as per a suasive proof as I noted.

Brandon said...

On a matter distinct from the disputes above, I've sometimes thought it interesting that the passages that make de Lubac's position most plausible are almost all passages in which Aquinas's comments on happiness are clearly heavily influenced by Boethius; whereas in many of the passages that most plausibly cause problems for de Lubac's view the major influence is Aristotle. I'm not sure it breaks down into a Platonistic Thomas / Aristotelian Thomas divide, quite, but it's an interesting question how much one's tendency to read Thomas a little more Platonistically or a little more Aristotelianly might influence what one finds plausible in either de Lubac or his critics.

Aquinas3000 said...

The only way to really sort the issue out as one friend has pointed out is to work it out from first principles and good metaphysics just as Aquinas himself would have wanted us to do rather than wage a textual war. Though both issues can be treated.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

And yet you're the one who keeps citing prooftexts as obviously proving your point. This very argument makes everything you've said on the subject here useless: it becomes impossible to determine what any of the passages in question means for Aquinas's views without contextualizing them in the history of his oeuvre, which you most certainly are not doing.

The ST, as one of Aquinas's final works, represents Aquinas's thought at its most developed point. Further, the ST passage I cited is part of a web of related articles at the beginning of IIa--I simply appealed to it as a summary of the position he lays out in those articles.

And my contributions to this debate so far include 3 brief posts and 1 "prooftext", so I'm not quite sure what you're talking about there.

Aquinas3000,

Sure, but then someone could argue that Thomas was right earlier on and then wrong later on. So what's the point saying "Aquinas is very clear about this.." As soon as someone points out he is not clear then you are basically saying "oh, well not those quotes, he clearly moved on from that." So then all that matters to you is what the last thing Aquinas said.

It's completely possible that Aquinas was right earlier and wrong later. Maybe Thomists after Suarez discovered the true doctrine that no Church Father or previous scholastic had deduced. I really don't think this is the case; but, since we're talking about the meaning of what Aquinas said rather than the truth or falsity of what he said, none of that is relevant. (For what it's worth, though, I doubt that the DV passage you cited means exactly what it seems to mean. The DV has chronic issues with vagueness.)

In any case, as I said to Brandon above, the ST shows Aquinas at his most developed. It contains Aquinas's definitive statements on most issues. That he said it "last" is not important: if he had suffered a severe intellectual decline after this work and had produced book after book of incoherent nonsense, we would not take these as what Aquinas "really said". The point is simple enough: the ST is Aquinas's most mature work, and his position on man's natural desire for God in that work is both clear and detailed; so we should take this as Aquinas's definitive statement on the matter after a lifetime of thought. The fact that ST IIa q1-5 gels with tradition up to that time is another important point.

Aquinas3000 said...

Yes but we don't even agree with you about how to interpret those passages from the Summa as I have already indicated.

That passage from the DV is not vague at all whatever issues you think the DV might have. At least it shows that it wasn't something invented later on.

Gene Callahan said...

"But of course, you could equally well take it to entail that matter is an illusion, and opt for idealism rather than materialism."

Ed, I've read quite a few idealist philosophers, but I've never read one who claimed matter is an illusion. That is certainly not Berkeley's position, to cite just one example.

Thursday said...

I see a problem here with the definition of natural and supernatural. Paganism whether of the more philosophical type of Plato, Aristotle or Plotinus has an awful lot of supernaturalism in it, as that word is commonly understood. I'm not generally a fan of Richard Carrier's work, but he does nicely elucidate what we normally mean when we use the terms natural and supernatural.
See here.

What I think our host is doing here is confounding the supernatural, by which we typically mean that there are irreducibly personal aspects to reality like gods, souls, purposes etc., which is common to both paganism and Christianity, with revelation, which is something only Christians have.

On the other hand, the tendency of modern thought is to reduce everything to material causes and not to see anything irreducibly personal in the world at all, except maybe, maybe a Cartesian soul and/or a rather distant deity, which a view of reality that is not shared by either pagans or Christians.

As for Hart, I don't think he is at all saying that we need revelation to understand why, say, gay marriage is wrong, but we do need to see the universe as enchanted, i.e. as filled with irreducibly personal entities, whether gods, purposes, souls etc. to understand that position.

Thursday said...

In other words, there is a fundamental disagreement about what reality is like, so appeals to it cannot resolve anything.

Thursday said...

Should be "whether of the more philosophical type of Plato, Aristotle or Plotinus, or just plain polytheism or animism"

Thursday said...

Now, it may be possible that there are arguments which start from premises about reality which everyone, even moderns, recognize and still prove that there are irreducibly personal or supernatural aspects to reality.

In any event, supernatural does not necessarily mean revealed.

Tony said...

It reads like the only de Lubac you know is the one presented in polemics against de Lubac.

Thomas, I have not read any works by de Lubac (except maybe a short article printed in Communio, just possibly), pretty much all I have seen are snippets - sentences and paragraphs quoted by others in various places. Nearly all of those quotes were from people quoting him with admiration, believing that these quotes show how right a position is, etc. And almost invariably from these quotes my impression is that de Lubac tends to smother the distinction between natural and supernatural, if not explicitly then implicitly. It may be that he explicitly confirms agreement with the "twofold ends" in one place, but then implicitly undermines that agreement with other material that would short circuit (for example) the grounds for the twofold ends being real. Whatever the totality is, the commentators did not just make it up that his work trends in the direction of confusing the natural with the supernatural.

jeronim said...

Dr. Feser (and others), what do you think of bilocation and teleportation of saints?

Thank you

Brandon said...

The ST, as one of Aquinas's final works, represents Aquinas's thought at its most developed point. Further, the ST passage I cited is part of a web of related articles at the beginning of IIa--I simply appealed to it as a summary of the position he lays out in those articles.

As Aquinas3000 notes, this doesn't get you anywhere whatsoever. (1) The Summa is not magically exempt from contradiction any more than separate works in Aquinas are; it is the work of several years over a vast number of topics, and it is not difficult to find points on which at least some scholars have claimed development even within the Summa itself. Nor, as Aquinas3000 already pointed out, does the Summa's being last automatically make it better. Everything you said about the corpus as a whole can be said about the Summa in particular. (2) The ST is not, in fact, the best work for supporting a de Lubac-style position; the SCG is. It's not difficult to find passages in the ST that were part of the foundation for opposition to de Lubac, right in the midst of discussing beatitude, e.g., 2-1.5.8 (cp. 1.2.1 ad 1), which is precisely the sort of thing Garrigou-Lagrange and others were talking about when they said that the natural desire in question was formally for happiness in general and only materially for the beatific vision specifically (an interpretation of these passages which they could support by noting that Aquinas quite clearly distinguishes the questions of happiness as that to which we all tend and of that in which happiness necessarily consists). And that's only one example. If you really took your criticism seriously then (a) you would have to eliminate the possibility that Aquinas pulled back from his strongest statements, which seem to be in the SCG; and (b) even if we stay with the ST, it's simply not the case that the ST provides no foundation for an alternative, and weaker, reading. Do you honestly think that the critics of de Lubac, and the commentators he was criticizing, had never read the Treatise on Happiness? That it just somehow slipped their minds that Aquinas talks about beatitude there, so they just missed all the passages to which you are pointing? I find it very difficult to believe that you could possibly be that ignorant; and yet, this is really what your argument has to imply.

When Aquinas3000 quoted a text, for instance, it was to recognize a difficulty and give an indication of why he thinks the diverging texts can be coherently harmonized. (Which, incidentally, you never actually addressed; the fact that Aquinas can in principle contradict himself does not itself imply that there is no consistent position harmonizing the diverse strands on this topic, nor does it change the fact that earlier texts are evidence for how to interpret later texts until shown otherwise, nor the fact that the ability to build a harmonizing interpretation on St. Thomas's own terms would in and of itself be a form of evidence, needing to be addressed, that any development on the topic was not fundamental.)

Everyone in the discussion except you and Thomas has been saying that the textual problem here is very difficult and cannot be given an easy answer; you are the only one who has been quoting particular passages as obvious proofs; and you have now all but conceded that you are getting the obviousness only by ignoring countervailing texts. How you expect anyone to take this argument seriously, I don't know.

Johannes said...

Pius XII, 1950 encyclical "Humani Generis", points 2-3:

For though, absolutely speaking, human reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world, and also of the natural law, which the Creator has written in our hearts, still there are not a few obstacles to prevent reason from making efficient and fruitful use of its natural ability. The truths that have to do with God and the relations between God and men, completely surpass the sensible order and demand self-surrender and self-abnegation in order to be put into practice and to influence practical life. Now the human intellect, in gaining the knowledge of such truths is hampered both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful.

It is for this reason that divine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race, may be known by all mean readily with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error.[1]

1. Conc. Vatic. D.B., 1876, Cont. De Fide cath., cap. 2, De revelatione.


Johannes said...

Regarding the debate started by de Lubac on the relationship between nature and grace, this clarification may be necessary:

De Lubac’s position may very well be incorrect, but it cannot be accused of denying or blurring the Creator-creature distinction, on the grounds that being naturally ordered to a supernatural end is proper only to that which is divine by nature. Because “ordered to” has two possible meanings: “able to attain” and “in need of”, and de Lubac meant only the second whenever he spoke of human nature being ordered to the supernatural.

This quote from de Lubac makes this point evident:

“Between nature as it exists and the supernatural for which God destines it, the distance is as great, the difference is as radical, as that between non-being and being: for to pass from one to the other is not merely to pass into ‘more being,’ but to pass into a different type of being. It is a crossing by grace of an impassable barrier. … In short, for Christians created nature is no kind of divine seed. . . . The longing that surges from this ‘depth’ of the soul is a longing ‘born of a lack’ and not arising from ‘the beginnings of possession.’” (The Mystery of the Supernatural, 83, 84)

The issue being debated is whether a rational nature that has been given the capacity and suitability ("the obediential potency") to be raised by God to participation in the divine life and subsequent attainment of the Beatific Vision (in short "the supernatural"), has as a result a rigorous necessity for the supernatural in order to achieve true happiness.

It is critical to note that true happiness is not the same as ultimate happiness. Nobody discusses that the Beatific Vision is the only possible ultimate happiness. What is in question is whether a created rational being can be truly happy in an everlasting state consistent with his nature as created, contingent being, i.e. an unending transit from potency to act, an unending development.

IMV, the best demonstration that such state of "everlasting natural happiness" is a valid theoretical possibility comes from Spanish theologian and longtime professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University Juan Alfaro (1914-1993), whose concept of "obediential potency" is a kind of "via media" between the "absolute desire" of de Lubac and the mere "non repugnance" of Cajetan and Garrigou-Lagrange.

The good news is that his key work on the subject is online:

Alfaro 1957. "Trascendencia e inmanencia de lo sobrenatural". Gregorianum Vol. 38, p. 5-50.

http://books.google.com/books?id=XsnS9PibDQIC

The bad news (i.e. for most readers of this blog) is that he wrote in Spanish. BTW, the word "creaturalidad" in that work, meaning "creatureness", has been coined by Alfaro. Don't look it up in a dictionary.

A much shorter presentation of Alfaro's thesis is in his "Nature and grace" entry in Karl Rahner-edited "Sacramentum Mundi". In Spanish, it is in the 1st 3 paragraphs of section 4 of:

http://mercaba.org/Mundi/4/naturaleza_y_gracia.htm

"I ask the Rabbi the meaning of life. He tells me the meaning of life... But, he tells it to me in Hebrew. I don't understand Hebrew. Then he wants to charge me six hundred dollars for Hebrew lessons." (Zelig)

Thomas said...

Dr. Feser,

De Lubac explicitly affirms a distinction between nature and grace. Over and over again.

For example, just to take his brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace (Ignatius Press 1984), de Lubac states that the "supernatural remains forever unnaturalizable ...," it is "that divine element which man's effort cannot reach (no self-divinization!) ...." (41). Or again, "between our human nature and our destiny [i.e., the supernatural] there lies an 'infinite disproportion.'" (32) Over and over again, de Lubac emphasized this "infinite disproportion" between the orders of nature and the supernatural.

And yet you claim that de Lubac tends to deny precisely the distinction he declares explicitly and repeatedly to be infinitely disproportionate! And you do so without reference to anything de Lubac has actually said; without presenting de Lubac's arguments to your readers; without demonstrating or even indicating how de Lubac, despite what he actually argued, really (implicitly) denies this distinction.

That is why I say I doubt you have read Henri de Lubac. You have given your readers no reason to think otherwise.

CJ Wolfe said...

Ratzinger's colleague sounds exactly like the "Grand Inquisitor" from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov!

Thomas said...

Brandon,

See the response to Dr. Feser above. Let's be specific, since de Lubac's position changed over the years. Which writings of de Lubac's have you found the "tendency" to deny a distinction between nature and the supernatural?

CJ Wolfe said...

In the story Ivan tells in Bros. K, the Grand Inquisitor says this to Christ:

"then I will stand up and point out to Thee the
thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: 'Judge us if Thou canst and darest.' Know that I fear Thee not."

Scott said...

@Thomas:

"[In w]hich writings of de Lubac's have you found the 'tendency' to deny a distinction between nature and the supernatural?"

I know next to nothing about de Lubac, but your own link (PDF here provides this:

When the idea of "pure nature" was fully formulated, this text was one of those invoked in order to authorize—supposedly in the name of St. Thomas Aquinas himself—this new doctrine (la nouvelle doctrine) of a "purely natural order." . . . At the very least, however, we can say that this text does not lend itself to expressing the doctrine of two "orders" in the sense that we understand it today[.]

I don't have any trouble seeing why his critics would regard such a view as implicitly threatening to assimilate the natural order to the supernatural (or nature to grace), which is all Ed needs for what is pretty obviously his point.

At the very least, however carefully de Lubac distinguishes between nature and supernature, it seems clear that his intent in doing so is to argue that there's no indepdendent "natural order"—an interpretation for which I have no trouble finding proponents (not necessarily authoritative, of course, and not offered here as such) in a quick Google search (e.g.. here and here, the latter of which characterizes de Lubac's view as "supernaturalizing the natural").

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Scott,

In Duplex Hominis Beatitudo, de Lubac is presenting texts by St. Thomas Aquinas--not presenting his own view. And he's not saying that Aquinas denies a distinction between two orders, but rather that he makes the distinction differently that certain of his (much later) interpreters.

The first link that you present says that exact opposite of what you think it does (it critiques de Lubac for regarding nature as too independent).

And the second link, if you had read further, argues that de Lubac criticized thinkers like Rahner, who emphasized continuity between the natural and supernatural.

We can't all be as diligent and accurate readers as Henri de Lubac was; but that doesn't mean we have no obligation to read with care.

Scott said...

"We can't all be as diligent and accurate readers as Henri de Lubac was; but that doesn't mean we have no obligation to read with care."

Perhaps you should take your own advice here. I read both of those links all the way through and I was pretty obviously not in any way attempting to engage (or even present) their arguments; my sole interest was in their understanding(s)/exposition(s) of de Lubac's own view and intent.

From the strictly expository section of the first source:

De Lubac always insisted that the relation of nature and supernature was a paradox.&nsp;. . . The point can be broadened: There is nothing that is 'purely natural.' Since all is created, the 'supernatural' (if we wish to retain the terminology) is always already present within ordinary creation.

I think that's sufficient to make my point—which, again, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the source thinks de Lubac is right or wrong, or goes on (as he does) to critique his later work for "put[ting] us back several steps," or anything else of that sort.

(I've already quoted the single most relevant phrase from the second, and if you had "read with care" you might have noticed that it came from fairly far into the piece.)

But if this is the way you prefer to argue, I'll be happy to leave you to the tender mercies of others.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your question. I argued above that a pagan philosopher may have a genuine longing, qua pagan, to know the nature of God, Whom he recognizes to be infinite, but I added that a man's very longing for the Infinite is itself a sign of the presence of God's grace. You then asked how a virtue made possible only by supernatural grace could count as the virtue of a pagan, qua pagan.

I would answer that a desire to know the nature of a thing - be it God or an atom - is a virtue of human reason, which a pagan possesses. I would add that for human beings, having supernatural grace is the "default" human condition - meaning that a human being who lacks it is abnormal, in the same way that a three-legged sheep is abnormal. Sin (whether actual or original) is not a normal feature of the human condition.

Irrespective of what Aquinas or de Lubac actually held, I would take issue with the claim that man has a natural end which is distinct from his supernatural end. I would ask: what is this natural end? The only answer I have seen given is: the knowledge of "God as he is in Himself as the author of the natural order." That's a contradiction in terms. God as the author of the natural order is not God as he is in Himself, because creation is not an essential attribute of God, but a free choice on His part. Knowing God as Creator tells us nothing about His essence. But it belongs to the nature of a rational being (when that nature is functioning normally) to desire to know the essence of whatever it knows to exist. Human reason is certainly capable of knowing that God exists. Hence a desire to know the essence of God is a normal and natural desire on our part (and on a pagan's part), even if it presupposes God's grace. Such a desire is (at least implicitly) a desire for the Beatific Vision.

In DV 14.2 Aquinas writes that man's supernatural end is "out of all proportion with man's nature because his natural powers are not enough to attain to it either in thought or desire." If he simply means that we can't attain this end simply by thinking about it or wanting it, then of course he's right. But if he means that we are incapable of either thinking about or desiring this end by virtue of our natural powers, then I would answer that our desire for this end is indeed a natural one, even though it is a desire we can only feel when under the influence of supernatural grace.

Ty said...

Hello,

I've been lurking here for ~7 months now. This blog has been a Godsend. I had almost fallen into the abyss of fideism, but then I discovered the treasures of the classical tradition and am now comfortably Catholic and able to defend my faith.

Mostly.

I still have a hard time going from classical theism to Catholicism. I know that all the characteristically Catholic moralisms regarding sexuality and personal immortality can be defend apart from Revelation, so this doesn't come from a hedonistic inner demon tempting me with sensual delights.

I realize that much of modern biblical criticism is chock full of rationalism, naturalism, and a cynical level of suspicion towards sacred writers. The first two are wrong qua classical theism, and the last is basically a dogma in secular historiography, not just in biblical studies.

Some dogmata of secular historiography:

1. The inerrancy of ancient non-religious historians wherever they contradict some religious account of an event. This is probably a subconscious holdover from when the historical-critical method was developed--Dem cunning priests and clergymen can't be trusted, ya know?

2. If something is recorded in Scripture or another religious text and mentioned nowhere else, then it's something the writer made up, whereas if an ancient secular historian mentions one tradition cited nowhere else, it's a witness to something that might have otherwise been forgotten.

3. If a narrative has a theological structure, then that structure was imposed on it and didn't really happen.


This and a refusal to consider any miracle claims makes me take "higher criticism" with a pound of salt, but traditionalist responses to it always seem naive, or to assume the authority of the Church before proving it. I'm not sure how one goes about verifying miracles that happened 2k years ago, and while NT Wright's approach is promising, I still have a feeling of "eh" after reading it. Any advice?

donjindra said...

Ed, as an "educated modern secularist" I certainly do not deny natural law if it's defined as truly natural. All animals have a nature and we humans are not exempt. It's generally better we conform to our natures than not (contra Paul, something good does indeed reside in the flesh).

Nevertheless, I believe:

1) Our natures are complex and not always easily discerned.

2) Revelation will never reveal our natures. Only empirical study will do that.

3) Nature needs no salvation.

4) "Supernatural" help (or belief in such) has never improved our ability to conform to our natures.


Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

Thank you for your explication. I don't have time for a longer reply on the matter and I'm not sure one is required, so I'll leave it to Ed to respond further if he wishes.

I will observe in passing, though, that it's possible to see your reply as an illustration of Ed's point: "Their natural virtue, in other words, must 'really' be supernatural even if they don’t know it." That's not to say your reply has no merit, of course—merely to note that it tends to confirm that Ed is right about at least one of the tendencies he describes, whether that tendency is good or bad.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Scott,

I certainly wouldn't ask you to read me with the care that someone like de Lubac deserves, but you quote a blog post in which Peter Leithart says that de Lubac denies the natura pura in order to disprove my statement that de Lubac distinguishes between natural and supernatural orders.

I hate to state the obvious, but of course de Lubac denies that pure nature exists within the created order (as a concrete actuality not a logical possibility). That doesn't undermine the fact that de Lubac distinguishes the natural and supernatural orders--declaring them "infinitely disproportionate"!

Nature and the supernatural can be co-implicated without dissolving the distinction, just as created being and uncreated being, contingent and absolute existence, accident and substance are distinct even though the former depends on the latter (respectively).

It seems you did not read what I wrote. I can't fault you for that, you'd be better off taking the time to read de Lubac himself, and not just skimming a few googled articles! I would prefer a good debate on de Lubac; I just want it to be about, you know, de Lubac.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Just to clarify, I don't mean the natural and supernatural have the same relationship of dependence as contingent and absolute existence (and so on), just that a relationship of dependence does not collapse such distinctions.

Scott said...

@Thomas M. Cothran:

"[Y]ou quote a blog post in which Peter Leithart says that de Lubac denies the natura pura in order to disprove my statement that de Lubac distinguishes between natural and supernatural orders."

No, I didn't; in fact I expressly acknowledged that de Lubac distinguishes between those orders.

But I wouldn't dream of presuming to tell such a diligent, accurate, and careful reader what I did quote it as evidence (not "proof") of—particularly one who's taken such obvious care to understand Ed's point!—so I'll just let you reread it until you get it.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Scott,

At what point did you think anyone would contest that de Lubac denies the natura pura? Everybody knows that. (It's a bit like breaking the news that Marx is a communist in a political debate.) Maybe you could explain how that's relevant to the dispute about whether de Lubac absorbs the natural into the supernatural?

Scott said...

@Thomas M. Cothran:

"At what point did you think anyone would contest that de Lubac denies the natura pura?"

At what point did I give you the impression that I was expecting anyone to contest it?

This exchange is futile; so far, despite your snide remarks about other people's lack of diligence in reading, I don't think you've correctly construed a single thing anyone has said. The last word is yours if you want it.

Tony said...

I'm not sure how one goes about verifying miracles that happened 2k years ago,

Ty, there is no way to "prove" a miracle happened as an actual historical event if you mean "prove" in the scientific sense, because it is inherently unrepeatable. But you can subject miracle accounts to the same tests that we subject historical accounts to for genuineness and validation. And at least some of the miracles of history stand up quite, quite well to those tests. If we accept the accounts of Julius Caesar, or if we accept parts of some of the ancient historians (Plutarch, Josephus) we ought to accept parts of the Bible as being validated.

For example, (going strictly by memory here, and that's not all that good) there is a passage in John's gospel that recounts a pool of water (well, fountain?) that nobody knew existed for real. Then about 10 years ago they dug it up and its location makes sense from the passage.

Another aspect of testing that the Gospels pass is motive: if a person benefits personally from an account of wonders, you have to take it with a grain of salt. But if the teller visibly (a) gives up worldly benefit; (b) lives a life of heroic virtue; and (c) would rather go to his death - cheerfully - than repudiate the account, then these facts attest to the teller's authentic belief in the account he is giving. There are other ways too.

You can get more from this link and it's associated links.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2012/07/alleged_historical_errors_in_t.html

and here

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/12/timothy_mcgrew_on_the_gospels.html

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

The Summa is not magically exempt from contradiction any more than separate works in Aquinas are; it is the work of several years over a vast number of topics, and it is not difficult to find points on which at least some scholars have claimed development even within the Summa itself.

I've noticed such points myself while reading the ST, at least when comparing (for example) IIa to IIb. That's a bit different, though, from comparing q1-5.

It's not difficult to find passages in the ST that were part of the foundation for opposition to de Lubac, right in the midst of discussing beatitude, e.g., 2-1.5.8 (cp. 1.2.1 ad 1), which is precisely the sort of thing Garrigou-Lagrange and others were talking about when they said that the natural desire in question was formally for happiness in general and only materially for the beatific vision specifically

I wouldn't say that's the obvious reading of that passage. Here's an alternative reading. To me, Aquinas's argument is simple: all desire that their wills be wholly fulfilled (which is the beatific vision, per ST IIa q3 a8), but only a few understand how this comes about. That is, the beatific vision is desired unconsciously by most and consciously only by some. In either case, it remains our natural end. This meshes nicely with ST IIa q1 a6 ro3.

Do you honestly think that the critics of de Lubac, and the commentators he was criticizing, had never read the Treatise on Happiness?

Obviously not. But bad hermeneutics can make the clear invisible. I have no doubt that alternative readings of the passages I cited exist, but I don't think they're convincing if one takes a more historical approach to Aquinas, which places him in the context of the Christian thinkers he was interpreting. From that angle, a strictly two-tier approach would be an incoherent leap; but, from the angle of traditional, self-referential Thomism, it may seem to be the obvious conclusion.

the fact that Aquinas can in principle contradict himself does not itself imply that there is no consistent position harmonizing the diverse strands on this topic, nor does it change the fact that earlier texts are evidence for how to interpret later texts until shown otherwise

True enough. I could have done a better job responding to his point there.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Scott,

I suppose my last word would be to read Henri de Lubac yourself. Here's the Amazon Link to de Lubac's works, if you're interested. I'd start with his book on Augustinianism and move from there to the Mystery of the Supernatural.

If you end up disagreeing with him, I hope you will have good reasons for doing so.

Aquinas3000 said...

The beatific vision is not our natural end even if we can desire it by a inefficacious, elicted, conditional desire. Otherwise it would be due to us. In the present order the natural end is taken into or subsumed into the supernatural end - you can't achieve one without the other.

As a Catholic I also have to take into account what Pius X says in Pascendi Dominici Gregis when discussing what he calls "moderate modernism":

"And here again We have grave reason to complain that there are Catholics who, while rejecting immanence as a doctrine, employ it as a method of apologetics, and who do this so imprudently that they seem to admit, not merely a capacity and a suitability for the supernatural, such as has at all times been emphasized, within due limits, by Catholic apologists, but that there is in human nature a true and rigorous need for the supernatural order. Truth to tell, it is only the moderate Modernists who make this appeal to an exigency for the Catholic religion." PDG 37.

That's all we are trying to say - there is a desire for God elicted by the intellect to know the first cause in itself. But it is a vellity. The difference is not over whether there is a natural desire - both sides affirm. It is over how to understand it. Also to appreciate it in such a way that man's supernatural end doesn't wipe out the natural end which is proportionate to his nature.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Aquinas 3000,

Is there any textual reason in Aquinas to think that the desire for the ultimate end is "proportional" to nature? My recollection is that Aquinas denies this, holding that grace is necessary.

Aquinas3000 said...

If by the ultimate end you are referring to our supernatural end then I would certainly agree that grace is necessary.

Aquinas3000 said...

By the way, the actual way to properly work this issue out is not through some historical critical study of Aquinas' works but rather - as he would himself encourage us - to think through the matter on its own merits.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Aquinas 3000,

The reason I'm asking is that some of the later interpreters (e.g., Cajetan) invoked the principle from De Caelo that a thing's natural end must be proportionate to its nature (roughly, I'm going from memory.)

That is often part of the argument for why the natural desire seeks imminent ends, and I'm trying to figure out if that's a part of your argument or not.

Aquinas3000 said...

Yes, I would argue there is a natural end proportionate to man's nature but it is in the present order taken up into his supernatural end as 5 is contained in 10 to use a very rough analogy.

But there can be an inefficacious, conditional, elicited desire to know in himself which Aquinas uses as a suasive argument to confirm what revelation teaches us - that we are in fact ordered to a supernatural order by God's grace.

That something only desires (not by a conditional etc desire) but simply that which is porportionate to its nature you don't need to go to the later interpreters. It is right there in the Summa such as in I, Q62,a 2.

The angels stood in need of grace in order to turn to God, as the object of beatitude. For, as was observed above (Question 60, Article 2) the natural movement of the will is the principle of all things that we will. **But the will's natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature**. Therefore, if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle. Thus it is clear that fire has a natural tendency to give forth heat, and to generate fire; whereas to generate flesh is beyond the natural power of fire; consequently, fire has no tendency thereto, except in so far as it is moved instrumentally by the nutritive soul.

Now it was shown above (12, 4,5), when we were treating of God's knowledge, that to see God in His essence, wherein the ultimate beatitude of the rational creature consists, is beyond the nature of every created intellect. Consequently no rational creature can have the movement of the will directed towards such beatitude, except it be moved thereto by a supernatural agent. This is what we call the help of grace. Therefore it must be said that an angel could not of his own will be turned to such beatitude, except by the help of grace.

Aquinas3000 said...

So when people like Augustine say "you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" - presuppose that we are all being moved and prompted by grace to such a desire. That's always been taken into account by the traditional thomists. In my view there is a ready way to integrate all of this once you get the principles right. And Thomas is not in my view contradicting himself not merely from one work to another but within the Summa itself. To me the question is not "is there a natural desire?" or "can man have a twofold end?" The answer is yes to both but it is just a matter of explaining it properly (which to be honest is something I'm quite limited to doing within a combox).

Scott said...

@Thomas M. Cothran:

"Here's the Amazon Link to de Lubac's works, if you're interested. I'd start with his book on Augustinianism and move from there to the Mystery of the Supernatural."

Thanks for the link and the recommendations. I'll check them out.

"If you end up disagreeing with him, I hope you will have good reasons for doing so."

For the record, my own contribution here (such as it was) had nothing to do with agreement or disagreement with him, and I told you from the get-go that I knew next to nothing of de Lubac. What I said (and all I said) was that, based on your own link, I don't have any trouble seeing why his critics would regard such a view as implicitly threatening to assimilate the natural order to the supernatural (or nature to grace), which is all Ed needs for what is pretty obviously his point.

No hard feelings; this particular conversation just didn't work out well, that's all.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

It seems to me, though, that Aquinas does not apply the principle in the case of human being.

For example, he says "[E]ven though by his nature man is inclined to his ultimate end, he cannot reach it by nature but only by grace, and this owing to the loftiness of that end." In Boethius de Trinitate, q. 6, a. 4 ad 5. (I do realize one has to be careful in quoting Aquinas' commentaries, so let me know if I'm being tonedeaf to genre.)

And I agree that the substantive issue is not one of interpreting Aquinas, but doing justice to the nature/supernatural distinction. For some reason this controversy is impossible for me to resist.

Ty said...

Ty, there is no way to "prove" a miracle happened as an actual historical event if you mean "prove" in the scientific sense, because it is inherently unrepeatable. But you can subject miracle accounts to the same tests that we subject historical accounts to for genuineness and validation. And at least some of the miracles of history stand up quite, quite well to those tests. If we accept the accounts of Julius Caesar, or if we accept parts of some of the ancient historians (Plutarch, Josephus) we ought to accept parts of the Bible as being validated.

--I agree with the first two sentences, but the rest trouble me. There are several problems if we’re going to follow historical criticism to the letter:

1. The Gospels are missing most criteria that would make them “1st class primary evidence” of early Christianity. Even if they were written by eyewitnesses, they were not signed by eyewitnesses, which doesn’t cut it.

2. We have nothing written by Jesus. Is this overkill? Maybe. But it’s how historical criticism is applied to every other document, so you’d have to critique an aspect of the method wholesale—which isn’t out of the question.

3. Relics make better evidence than narratives. We have plenty of narratives but no relics. This is also an assumption of historiography in general, so it’s not question-begging to apply it to the Gospels.

4. Primary sources > secondary sources > tertiary sources.

5. I do think that Luke and Mark were written by some Luke and some Mark, since those two weren’t big shots in early Christianity. Forgeries would be “signed” by higher profile witnesses, like Peter or Mary, which is exactly what happened. I don’t have any qualms about Matthean or Johannine authorship either, but to assume it is cheating.

Given contemporary scholarship, some of which is questionable, the gospels date from ~40 years about the crucifixion. This isn’t too bad, actually—but it’s not ideal, either.

Gilbert Garraghan maintains that oral tradition may be accepted if it satisfies either two "broad conditions" or six "particular conditions", as follows:[9]

Broad conditions stated.

The tradition should be supported by an unbroken series of witnesses, reaching from the immediate and first reporter of the fact to the living mediate witness from whom we take it up, or to the one who was the first to commit it to writing.

There should be several parallel and independent series of witnesses testifying to the fact in question.

Particular conditions formulated.

The tradition must report a public event of importance, such as would necessarily be known directly to a great number of persons.

The tradition must have been generally believed, at least for a definite period of time.

During that definite period it must have gone without protest, even from persons interested in denying it.

The tradition must be one of relatively limited duration. [Elsewhere, Garraghan suggests a maximum limit of 150 years, at least in cultures that excel in oral remembrance.]

The critical spirit must have been sufficiently developed while the tradition lasted, and the necessary means of critical investigation must have been at hand.

Critical-minded persons who would surely have challenged the tradition — had they considered it false — must have made no such challenge.

How do these apply to the Gospels?

What about the miracles of Hino, and so on?


As for the fountain, I knew about that. :)


The rest of your post brings up interesting points, and I'm inclined to agree with them, but they're so idiosyncratic qua historical criticism in general that I can't help being skeptical.

Aquinas3000 said...

You would have to wonder why it is not the same deal for an angel. However, the man point was to show that Aquinas used that principle - it was not something from Aristotle only taken on only by later commentators.

Regarding that quote though, very interesting. I'm going to ask a friend of mine who has written a lot on this issue. For if you read the objection he is replying to he doesn't even seem to be referring to the beatific vision but knowledged of separated substances (Sed homo naturaliter est ordinatus ad cognitionem substantiarum immaterialium sicut ad finem) which would be the angels. Curious.

Yes, it's a very interesting subject! Maybe in 300 years time it will be resolved ;)

Tony said...

Here’s what I seem to recall Thomas saying about man: man’s end is to know. The only possible absolute fulfillment of that end that fills it with no room for still better fulfillment is to know Being itself, Truth itself, directly; so all other acts of knowledge leave him incomplete in respect to his capacity.

However, speaking not absolutely but simply, man’s nature is to know, and THAT end can be fulfilled by knowledge. In especial, the knowledge of immaterial truth, his own spiritual nature, and all that can be understood from that, is suited to his intellect in a special way: it is FITTING to his intellect, and it can be achieved under the natural powers of the intellect. All knowledge is a sort of fulfillment, and higher knowledge (of the immaterial) is a higher fulfillment. Therefore, the knowledge that man can come to through the natural powers of his intellect operating naturally DOES act as fulfillment of his end. And in contemplation pursued naturally, he can achieve knowledge of God in a way suited to the natural capacity of the intellect.

Although man desires to know God, he cannot desire the BV in the proper sense unless he can see it is a possibility. Thus unless he receive revelation, he cannot operationally desire such fruition. Indeed, the act of seeing God as He is, is not an act suited to our intellect in its natural state, we must be lifted up by the light of glory in order to be fitted to receive the BV. Thus the BV is the only thing that can fulfill our desire to know absolutely in every respect all at once, and yet not an end that is suited to the intellect in its natural state.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Aquinas 3000,

I do know that one has to be very careful when quoting from Aquinas' commentaries, because Aquinas often channels the ideas of those he comments on with relatively little of his own views. And I really know little about his commentary on Boethius, so it's certainly not a knock down proof.

And regarding Aquinas angelology, I will have to plead utter ignorance!

Aquinas3000 said...

No problme. I have benefited simply from you pointing it out and have something further to look into myself.

Anonymous said...

Even as a Christian, I think you're largely correct in your critique of so many Christian biblicists. The comic book concept is priceless and I will be using this to condemn this glaringly deficient epistemology regularly. Thank you. That said, I think there are more thoughtful and consistent epistemological approaches to Christianity, but you highlight so well the danger of the biblicist's approach I'd rather not distract from that right now.

Brandon said...

See the response to Dr. Feser above. Let's be specific, since de Lubac's position changed over the years. Which writings of de Lubac's have you found the "tendency" to deny a distinction between nature and the supernatural?

Thomas, do you always misrepresent what people are saying when responding to them. You misrepresented Ed's actual claim about de Lubac, and now you misrepresent my comment, which was -- as anyone can read -- about what Ed was actually saying, and not about "what I found" about de Lubac. If you aren't going to do the people to whom you are responding the courtesy of actually reading what they say and trying not to read into them whatever issues you feel like, then you should at least do de Lubac the courtesy of not associating his name with tactics that could easily be misread as dishonest.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Brandon,

Perhaps I should be clearer. Dr. Feser argues that de Lubac (along with Hart, who, since he is alive, can speak for himself) has a "tendency" to "blur the distinction" between the natural and the supernatural, "absorbing the natural into the supernatural."

One who has read Henri de Lubac knows that he holds that between the natural and supernatural order there is an "infinite disproportion."

So: given that (1) Feser is attributing a position to de Lubac that de Lubac supposedly tends toward or implicitly holds, and (2) De Lubac explicitly rejects that position, it seems to me that there is only one way for Feser's claim to have any credibility: he has to show that de Lubac's theology, despite explicit contradictions elsewhere in his corpus, lead to the conclusion that de Lubac's own summaries of his position are wrong and Feser's are right.

But--and here is my initial point--nowhere does Feser summarize de Lubac's argument (fairly or otherwise). This doesn't just mean that his use of de Lubac as a sort of bogeyman is unjustified; it means that his readers, some of whom don't know any better, receive a caricature of de Lubac.

In short, if someone claims that a tendency is found in a certain writer who explicitly denies it, it is more than fair to ask where it is found.

Clear enough?

Ty said...

"Even as a Christian, I think you're largely correct in your critique of so many Christian biblicists. The comic book concept is priceless and I will be using this to condemn this glaringly deficient epistemology regularly. Thank you. That said, I think there are more thoughtful and consistent epistemological approaches to Christianity, but you highlight so well the danger of the biblicist's approach I'd rather not distract from that right now."

Who are you responding too?

Brandon said...

rank sophist,

I missed your comment earlier. I think that's fair enough; as I said, I think it's a complicated issue, and there certainly are things that could at least be argued in the direction you suggest.

Brandon said...

Thomas,

I can only assume, if you are as enthusiastic a reader of de Lubac as you claim to be, that you are not so utterly ignorant of the dispute between de Lubac and his critics as not to grasp the fact that his critics regarded the basic thesis about natural desire as itself blurring the line between the natural and the supernatural, and did not see de Lubac's own attempts to avoid this as entirely successful. I mean, how could you possibly understand the course of de Lubac's arguments while simultaneously missing one of the primary points of contention that made de Lubac's claims on the subject controversial in the first place? Whose credibility is really in question here, that you repeatedly argue as if you didn't even know what criticisms of de Lubac's basic theses de Lubac's later arguments were developed to argue against, and against which they would have to be measured? And you do realize that, while it's entirely reasonable of de Lubac to think he succeeded, it is still open to others to think he hasn't?

In any case, none of this justifies your sneering insinuations, which cannot be covered by "I was just not being clear". I'm sympathetic to de Lubac myself, although I think there are serious problems with certain aspects of it, mostly having to do with what is providentially due to natural desires; had you just asked Ed the grounds of his claim or pointed to your reasons for disagreeing, but you weren't even interested in doing that; indeed, even now, you apparently can't prevent yourself from trying to turn an argument that should be about defending de Lubac into one that's about smearing Ed, as if Ed's credibility were particularly a matter of any importance to the question of whether his claim is actually right (no offense to Ed, of course, but I think he would say himself that his credibility is not a matter of utmost concern to the subject in question).

Glenn said...

Thomas,

That Dave the Driving Instructor knows running a red light is illegal does not serve to adequately counter eyewitness reports that he has, at times, run a red light.

Likewise, that de Lubac was aware of and noted multiple times the infinite disproportion between the natural and supernatural does not serve to adequately counter eyewitness reports (i.e., conclusions drawn and articulated by intelligent readers) that he did, at times, blur the distinction he himself was aware of and noted multiple times.

True or false:

Even though de Lubac knew that there is an infinite disproportion between the natural and the supernatural, and even though he many times asserted as much, he also at times blurred the distinction between the natural and the supernatural.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Glenn,

You will notice I asked Dr. Feser on this and other parts of his blog whether he is in fact an "eyewitness," to use your metaphor, to de Lubac's work. (I won't question that Feser is intelligent and a good philosopher.)

Can we at least agree on this much: if one is going to publish a criticism of an author, one should be directly familiar with that author's own words, and not the portrayal of that author by one who disagrees with him? Or, at the very least, that the former is far superior to the latter?

I have to admit, I'd never thought that anyone would disagree with this, but let's at least get that straight so we don't talk past each other later on.

Edward Feser said...

Thomas,

You really need to get a grip. I haven't "argued" anything vis-a-vis how to interpret de Lubac. The post wasn't even about him in the first place. I only mentioned him in passing, and only to cite what is -- as you well know -- a view about the implications of his work which is widely held, not some weird invention of my own. Indeed, as you well know, de Lubac's Surnaturel was the occasion of such controversy that Pius XII's apparent shot across de Lubac's bow in Humani Generis led to his being under suspicion for a time (though of course he was eventually rehabilitated) and to him having to modify his statement of his position.

So, while as a de Lubac enthusiast you might find it rhetorically and politically useful to pretend that I have manifestly gotten him wrong, that is not true to the facts and it is you who are misrepresenting the interpretive situation to readers who are unfamiliar with it. Had you merely said: "Feser's brief characterization of de Lubac's position reflects a common view, but many of us de Lubac admirers think that properly understood his position doesn't really have that implication," and left it at that, that would have been perfectly reasonable. Instead we get this weird series of tirades (not only here but even, I see, on your own blog!) about something that is not even the main point of the post.

It is no good, by the way, to keep repeating that de Lubac does not deny and even affirms a difference between the natural and the supernatural. Yes, I know that, as all of de Lubac's critics do. What is at issue is whether he can consistently maintain that position given his overall view. (Compare: reductive materialists explicitly affirm that mind is real, and just claim that it can be reduced to matter. But that doesn't show that their views don't implicitly entail that mind is unreal.)

But again, the post isn't even about de Lubac per se in the first place. You've let us know that you disagree with the criticism often lodged against him. Great, thanks for sharing. Now get the bee out of your bonnet.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Ed,

I didn't mean to upset you to such a degree--or lead you to think I'm somehow a Lubacean (I'm not). I was rather hoping for an argument rather than an emotional reaction about some of your claims in this and other posts.

From your comment, am I to understand that the comments section is limited to a single main point, and that ancillary or supplementary points with which we might disagree are off limits? Or can I continue to talk about the merits of your characterization of de Lubac in this and other posts where he is discussed at greater and lesser lengths (e.g., 1, 2)? Your blog, your rules; I'll follow them.

Edward Feser said...

I didn't mean to upset you to such a degree-

I was rather hoping for an argument rather than an emotional reaction

Wow. Project much?

I don't mind if you discuss de Lubac. While he wasn't the main subject of the post, his views on this subject are obviously on topic. My point was just that you were treating the post as if it were about him, and in particular as if it were doing anything other than merely alluding, in passing, to a widely held view (with which you are of course free to disagree) about the implications of his position.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Ed,

Part of the reason I wasn't contesting your portrayal of Hart (picking up on de Lubac instead) was that I think you characterized him correctly. (If anything, you could have gone farther.) Also, your post refers to an older post in which de Lubac was more central.

I'll happily grant the issue of de Lubac and the Lubacean interpretation was not the primary point of your post. I do not ever recall suggesting otherwise. But judging by the discussion in the comments, people found the supernatural debate the most interesting. If you wish to join in or post more, for what it's worth, I would be interested in your arguments on the subject.

Edward Feser said...

Thanks, Thomas, peace -- Ed

rank sophist said...

Aquinas3000,

The beatific vision is not our natural end even if we can desire it by a inefficacious, elicted, conditional desire. Otherwise it would be due to us.

I'm not sure this follows. That X is something to which we are naturally directed does not entail that we deserve X, nor that we can achieve X by our own power, nor even that we can comprehend X. It simply means that we have an innate desire that another may choose to fulfill or not.

But the will's natural inclination is directed towards what is in keeping with its nature. Therefore, if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle.

I think the best way to interpret this is to appeal to Aquinas's twofold distinction of the last end. From ST IIa q1 a5:

We can speak of the last end in two ways: first, considering only the aspect of last end; secondly, considering the thing in which the aspect of last end is realized. So, then, as to the aspect of last end, all agree in desiring the last end: since all desire the fulfilment of their perfection, and it is precisely this fulfilment in which the last end consists, as stated above (Article 5). But as to the thing in which this aspect is realized, all men are not agreed as to their last end: since some desire riches as their consummate good; some, pleasure; others, something else.

In other words, the will of the angels was naturally directed toward the beatific vision (i.e. perfect happiness) even though they could not achieve or even understand the beatific vision without grace. That is, they desired it without understanding what it was that they desired, in the same way that men desire perfect happiness but seek it in creation. It is impossible to will the beatific vision specifically without knowing of it by grace, but we all will it "trivially", so to speak, by nature.

Anonymous said...

Ed,

You need to blog more about human biodiversity:

http://www.humanbiologicaldiversity.com/

It's what all the high-IQ kids blog about.

Anonymous said...

At heart, a human being is not the slightest bit different from the reptiles, the birds, the former dinosaurs, the elephants, the plants, the trees, the wind, the sky, the microbes.
Apart from their function in conditionality, all beings are the same.
Human beings are not uniquely to be saved.
It is not that only human beings are full of "soul" and everything else should be chopped up and eaten for lunch! If you examine beings other than the human, feel them, are sensitive to them, enter directly into relationship with them, you discover that they are the same, and not just the bigger ones,but the mosquitoes too.
At heart, human beings are manifesting a potential that is in all and that is inherent in conditional existence itself. Whether this potential is exhibited or not, whether it is made human or not, makes no difference whatsoever to the Divine Self-Condition.
All is One.
All are the same.
All equally require Divine Compassion, Love, and Blessing, the thread of Communion with the Divine made certain and true and directly experiences. All, including the very worst of human beings

Anonymous said...

There is no self-knowledge process for real without being willing to have everything be true of you. And in fact,every thing IS true of you. Everything! It is all there. There are no exceptions. It is all there in the conditional process of the so-called entity. All the potentials are there.

You know the saying, "But for the Grace of God go "I" - in the same circumstance you would do the same. Be gratefull you are not put in such a position. If anybody did it, you could have done it. If anybody else suffered it, you could have suffered it. Anything anybody else will or has suffered could yet be suffered by you. So who is pure or has the right to be self-righteous about anything?

Just think of all the things you have atributed to yourself over time, both positive and negative. It is all fiction, it is nonsense. It is just patern patterning.

The totality of humankind is your biography.

The appearance of being pure is a double-minded sales job.

Brandon said...

It is impossible to will the beatific vision specifically without knowing of it by grace, but we all will it "trivially", so to speak, by nature.

Between this point and the previous point about what is due, it starts to sound very much like a Suarezian active obediential potency, though.

Goldenrush Apple said...

Wow. Most of these anon responses ... wow.

Tony said...

In other words, the will of the angels was naturally directed toward the beatific vision (i.e. perfect happiness) even though they could not achieve or even understand the beatific vision without grace. That is, they desired it without understanding what it was that they desired, in the same way that men desire perfect happiness but seek it in creation. It is impossible to will the beatific vision specifically without knowing of it by grace, but we all will it "trivially", so to speak, by nature.

No, I don't that follows from what St. Thomas said. First of all, the angels were created in and with sanctifying grace from their first moment, so they knew what they were choosing for (or against). You can't put them into some "state of nature" from which they choose God without hope in the BV.

Second, to will it "trivially" seems to do the same work as to will "happiness" but to will that in which happiness does not actually consist - and that willing gets a man damned to hell. If a man chooses pleasure as his last end as "that for the sake of which" all else shall be chosen, then he repudiates God and does not implicitly choose the BV. Rather, when a man without revelation chooses "a due end", i.e. the highest good of which he is aware, the God known to him naturally, such choice is not contrary to grace, is not contrary to the BV, and is consistent with his having grace even if not aware of it. Thus he implicitly desires the BV, but he is explicitly only aware of a desire something like "to know God as closely as may be possible", which nothing tells him to consider as being face-to-face direct knowledge.

Unknown said...

The Christian merely has the “fullness” of the very same thing the non-Christian has, and the salvation of all well-meaning non-Christians seems certain.

Couldn't the first part of that sentence be true without the second part being true? For example, if the "fullness" were necessary for entrance into Heaven, then well-meaninged non-Christians would certainly not have an automatic pass.

Steven Long said...

I just read this for the first time and am in profound concurrence. Moderns are in an inferior situation vis a vis the ancient pagans, in that they suffer from anti-realism regarding nature both speculatively and practically, and so need these impediments to be removed in order to be capable of integral assent to the Church's teaching.

John Lamont said...

Ed,

You have vigorously defended Thomist metaphysics. How do you reconcile your acceptance of these metaphysics with holding that there is both a natural and a supernatural end of man? On this theory, the supernatural end of man is a gift of grace, and might not have been given. The alternative view is that the supernatural end of man is constitutive of human nature, but that the attainment of this end is impossible for any created power, and is necessarily a gift of grace if it occurs. Both these positions imply that grace is needed for salvation.

The problem with saying that the supernatural end of man is a gift of grace is that in Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics, the ultimate end of a thing - its final cause - corresponds to its formal essential cause. An essential nature specifies a particular final cause. So if two things have different final causes, they have different essential natures. This is basic Aristotelianism. This means that changing a species' final cause entails changing its essence. This makes dubious sense, since there is no way in which one species an change into another - there is nothing to be preserved in the change. This fact about a change of final cause implying a change of essence means that it is impossible to say that any individual of a given essence can have its final cause changed. So there is no sense in saying for an individual that his supernatural end is a gift of grace. That implies that the individual in question could have had a different end; but this is impossible, because having a different end means having a different essence, and thus being a different individual. Similarly there s no sense in saying that a species - the human race - receives a supernatural end as a gift of grace, because having a different end means having a different essence and being a different species.

These obvious philosophical considerations have been obscured in the theological debate because the notion of end that corresponds to a nature has not been distinguished from the notion of end that belongs to a desire or an action. St. Thomas's remarks about a natural desire for the beatific vision are irrelevant to his position on the end of man, because such a desire is one desire among others, and determines (if it is acted upon) part but not all of man's activity; whereas the end of man governs all desire and activity.

Of course you can say that you are using the term 'ultimate end' in a different sense from the Aristotelian one when you discuss this theological issue, but then in what sense are you using it? What justifies this introduction of a new sense? And what is the end of man in the old, Aristotelian sense?

John Lamont

Bill McEnaney said...

I'm not splitting hairs, I hope. But strangely, in a post partly about blurred distinctions, Dr. Feser never distinguishes among the kinds of grace. Although he doesn't mention the difference between, say, sanctifying grace and God's help, they're relevant kinds of grace. Even a pagan needs God's help when he's still a pagan. If God didn't sustain him, he, the pagan, would get annihilated. Protestants I've met define grace as unmerited favor, a definition I haven't found in any Catholic theology manual. And what Protestant would say that God shows it to anyone by merely keeping him alive?