International Catholic University


Nature and Grace

Lesson One: The Natural Desire to see God - History

The Catholic Faith teaches that grace perfects nature. Grace does not destroy nature. There is some part of the human soul then, which is naturally capax Dei (capable of God). This capacity is affirmed at the very beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: 'The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God.'" (CCC #27) This truth is expressed in the famous saying of St. Augustine, also quoted at the beginning of the Catechism, "You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (CCC #30)

All Catholic theologians are in agreement as to this truth. The problem comes with the explanation of just what the source of this capacity for God is which the Catechism terms in the title of the section where these quoted texts occur, "The Desire for God". The truth that man has a natural capacity for God is directly contrary to modern philosophical ideas on this subject, which stem from Rationalism and Fideism, that faith, God and the supernatural order are alienations of man from himself. Communion with the Trinity is treated as some very esoteric question which has nothing to do with ordinary Christian life. Dorothy Sayers in a mock test she made up about what Christians are popularly held to believe asked, "What is the Holy Trinity?" She answered in the name of the modern world, "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult -- nothing to do with daily life or ethics." [Italics added]

The italics in the last phrase are very important for they denote a general opinion that communion with God is not really important to the perfection of the life of most people. Vatican II spoke very eloquently against this tendency in Catholic spirituality to split grace from morals and lay spirituality from the spirituality of contemplative religious and priests in the chapter which the Council Fathers entitled, "The Universal Call to Holiness". Theologians have generally been at pains to point out that since grace is a perfection of nature, each Christian receives the same sanctifying grace. God does not give seeds so that they will not become flowers, and in the same way he does not give grace so that some will experience the heights of contemplation and others have to be satisfied with a lesser spirituality. "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity." (CCC n.2013)

Though this doctrine has been clearly enunciated by the Church in every age, in the last four hundred years there has been great difficulty in explaining why all men must be called to the perfection of charity. This was because of a famous solution given to the question of the perfection of nature by grace by a Dominican cardinal who was a great theologian at the Council of Trent named Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) Cardinal Cajetan wrote a massive commentary on the Summa Theologiae in which he addressed the subject of the desire of man for God. His conclusion was that if one hypothetically examined the powers of the human soul: intellect, will, passions and body, there was not necessary capacity in them for grace. He thought this because he interpreted the desire for God to be in the will, a moral desire. If this were in some power of the human soul, then, Cajetan reasoned, God would be forced to give man grace, a monstrous conclusion. Cajetan called this hypothetical state, the state of pure nature.

Yet, Cardinal Cajetan was very much aware that it is defined doctrine that man cannot be happy with anything on this earth. Only the Vision of God in heaven can be the end of man. How can one explain this if there is no natural power in man, which must be completed in God? Cajetan taught that man was not created hypothetically, but historically. The Council of Trent had defined that man was created in grace. For Cajetan, this was the reason man was called to the Vision of God.

It was the creation of man in grace which is the explanation for his need for heaven. Cajetan therefore hit upon a solution, which has come to be known as the solution of the two ends of human life.

He taught that if you examine the powers of man in the abstract, then there is no ordering of man to the Vision of God. Man could have been happy knowing God only through his effects as the pagan philosophers knew him. This state was called the hypothetical state of pure nature. In fact, man was not created in this state. The Council of Trent defined that man was created in the "state of holiness and justice". This historical creation of man in the state of grace gave human nature a completely different end than it would have had if God had created man only in the State of Pure Nature. Thus, there are two ends to human nature, a hypothetical one which has never actually existed and the real end which order man to the supernatural.

Despite the fact that the Commentary of Cajetan on the Summa was considered problematic even when it was first published, this solution held sway for much of the next four hundred years. From the point of view of Aristotelian philosophy, this solution makes no sense. It is not possible for a single nature to have two ends. Either the ordering to grace would have to bring forth a different nature than the nature of man, or the nature, which was pure, would not be human nature. Not only that, but there was a strange interpretation of spirituality which grew up in the post-Tridentine era that the laity were called to the active virtues and contemplative religious to deep prayer. The Church never taught this, but this Laicist spirituality had a lot of popular credibility.

Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J. made it his life mission to resolve this problem. In 1950, he published a famous book called Surnaturel in which he criticized the traditional solution of Cardinal Cajetan. He believed that this separated nature from grace too much. For his criticism, he himself was much criticized and even silenced by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from writing on this question. Pius XII wrote an encyclical called Humani Generis in which he maintained that, "Others destroy the true 'gratuity' of the supernatural order, since they think that God cannot produce beings endowed with intellect without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision." Some thought that this was ordered against the opinion of Fr. DeLubac, but this was not the case. Pius XII removed the prohibition on Fr. DeLubac and he reprinted a revised edition of his book in two volumes. These were published in English as: Augustinianism and Modern Theology and The Mystery of the Supernatural.

In the first of these volumes, Fr. DeLubac criticizes the solution of Cajetan by applying it to the difficulties the Church had in answering the Jansenist heresy. This is because Jansenism was an error about grace, which was based on a strange interpretation of the works of St. Augustine. The principal work of Jansen was called Augustinus. Fr. De Lubac is correct in the devastating criticism he launches against the traditional solution of Cajetan. In the second volume he gives his solution. This is more problematic. According to his solution, man can be considered in three ways. As pure nature, which is theoretical and abstract, as an individual concretized essence and as elevated to grace. The peculiar distinction between the abstract and concrete essence of man has no foundation in philosophy and shows a strange nominalism and voluntarism.

The last important person to write on this question takes up where Fr. DeLubac leaves off. This is Karl Rahner, S.J. In an article entitled "Concerning the Relationship between Nature and Grace", Rahner gives his solution which is very close to that of Fr. DeLubac. According to him, there are also three components in this problem. There are (a) the state of nature ordered to grace; (b) the state of nature without this ordering and (c) grace. When asked to define what nature would be like without an ordering to grace he says that this is a "remainder concept (Restbegriff)." If one tried to examine this nature, "there is no way of telling exactly how his (man's) nature for itself alone would react, what precisely it would be for itself alone."

These modern solutions have the advantage of avoiding the solution of Cajetan, which creates two natures. Though they are motivated by the intention to relate grace more closely to nature, they are worse as they place a third and alien body between the two. The problem is basically that they look on the desire of man for the Vision of God as a desire of the will and so somehow they must divorce this desire from the nature of the powers of the soul in order to find a place for the gratuity of grace. They have been accused of destroying grace, but what they actually destroy is nature.

The key to the solution to the problem is to place the desire for God as an aptitude of the intellect and not an appetite of the will. St. Thomas expresses it thusly: "Although man is naturally inclined to an ultimate end, yet he cannot attain that end by nature but only by grace and this is because of the exalted character of that end."

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