Friday, October 1, 2010

Senior Thesis: First Article

This being my senior year, I am embarking upon what will be my magnum opus, that is, my Senior Thesis. This yearlong project is supposed to test and manifest my ability to engage in academic discourse at a high level, i.e. can I run with the big guys. Although I do not begin to write my thesis until next semester, this semester entails much research and analysis. This is the first of many papers I will write this semester evaluating those resources that I might potentially use for my thesis.

For clarification, my thesis topic is over the classic discussion over the relationship between nature and grace as presented by Henry de Lubac, a French theologian. De Lubac’s theology was very influential in Vatican II and the 20th century. In some respects, this debate has long since been over, but has flared up again in the recent years. If you do not understand some aspects, particularly terms, do not feel bad, and please feel free to ask. I am still learning as well.

The Autonomy of nature is creaturely dependence on the Creator”[1]

In the article “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace: a note on some recent contributions to the debate”, Dr. Nicholas J. Healy addresses three essential questions: (1) has there been an “over extension of the principle that the ‘end of nature must be proportionate to nature’”; (2) “is there a supernatural finality imprinted on our nature, prior to grace”; and (3) has de Lubac interpreted St. Thomas Aquinas’ texts correctly?[2] Due to brevity and interest, this assessment will merely cover what are seen as two shortcomings in the explication of the first thesis, ending with a question on the nature of ontology in light of Healy’s arguments.

Looking to the first thesis, Healy upholds the gratuity of grace through the recognition of the “twofold gift”: “What we have received in order to be,” (esse) and “what we received in order to be holy,” (grace).[3] This means that man has a natural desire to see God (only attainable through “deifying grace”), to whom he is fitted to receive by his creation in the image and likeness of God.[4] Healy more openly describes this under the title of the “capax Dei” which “is not yet grace, but defines our nature itself as a non-anticipating readiness for God’s gracious and unmerited self-communication in Christ.”[5] Healy concludes this section with a discussion of man qua creature, saying that the existence of pura natura directly undermines creation ex-nihilo, since it appears to make irrelevant the creation or gift of our very being.[6] It is here that I believe Healy missed out on a key point: that on which this Aristotelian axiom is predicated, namely, an eternal world. It appears that Aristotle’s axiom as “a final end in its own order”[7] only holds up in this non-Christian worldview. This axiom can still hold ground in a world created ex-nihilo, yet only as “an imperfect ‘beatitude,’ terrestrial and temporal, immanent to the world itself.”[8] Much more could be said here in conjunction with Healy’s statement: “Christ reveals the original purpose and meaning of creation itself—reveals…the nature of nature.”[9] In this way, Christ gives an end to all ends, a telos to all teloi.

This recognition of esse as gift allows Healy to maintain our single and final end as the beatific vision, stating that “just as created essence has no prior claim to God’s bestowal of esse—since it does not exist prior to that bestowal—the natural desire to see God…does not constitute a ‘demand’ or an ‘anticipation’ of grace.”[10] Rather, our natural desire is “ a receptive readiness” hidden in the depths of our very being. Healy develops this further, but it seems that an opportunity was missed here to root the theory in the concrete through an analogy. Thus, I wish to supply one.

Take the case of a child and his relation to his parents, or better yet a child and his relation to his father—rhetorical overtones should be noted. The father, in a way, gives to his child the very gift of being through the act of creation. The child receives this gift and begins immediately to “demand” the charity of his father. In fact, he cannot survive without it. It could be said that the care of the father is necessary to the fulfillment of the child’s end, for in this case the child cannot even maintain its very lively hood, let alone some kind of natural happiness. In addition, society recognizes this “right” of the child, creating such things as Child Protective Services. Yet, this “right” in no way challenges the praiseworthiness or the gratuity of the father’s love for his son. Although an imperfect image as all images are, the truth and proper understanding of autonomy is expressed. As Healy states: “Our natural desire for God entails a renunciation both of self-sufficiency and of demand…happiness [is] only in the context of a friendship that is gratuitous.”[11] Relating back to the analogy, the child must give up absolute autonomy, for it is the very reality of his situation, and he must also stop demanding, since he must realize the very gift of his existence. Is this latter part not the very goal of parenting? This, then, is the plight of man that his end is beyond his capacity to fulfill and thus looked for in another.[12] “Self-sufficiency” and “demand” are replaced with “receptivity” and “gratitude” as exemplified by Mary, and sought after through the offering of Christ, our “friend” through whom we may reach fulfillment in the Father.[13] Although Healy shows the validity of aid from other sources such as friends in the attainment of an end, even using Aristotle to do so, he does not explicitly tie the concept to Christ. Christ is that friend on whose merit we attain the fulfillment of our nature by our cooperation in grace. “For what we do by means of our friends, is done, in a sense, by ourselves” (Nicomachean Ethics, vi, 13).[14] Much more could be said here.

Having said of all of this to bolster Healy, there seems to be one great oversight in the article, that is, the treatment of ontology. As Hütter is quoted, there is an “intrinsic ontological openness” of the first gift, esse, to its reordering by the second gift, grace, to man’s supernatural perfection.[15] In this, the neo-scholastic model, it is clear what is meant by an ontological change incurred in such sacraments as baptism, that is, a “higher supernatural end…given with the second gift of deifying grace.”[16] It remains to be seen, however, what these sacraments as ontological changes mean, if “human nature itself has only one final end” that is hidden in the depths of our natural desire to see God. Are these sacraments merely this revelation of light into the darkened places of our being or is it the reconstitution of our very being?


[1] Nicholas J. Healy, “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace: a note on some recent contribution to the debate,” Communio 35 (Winter 2008): 535-64; 563

[2] Ibid 537

[3] Ibid 540, citing Augustine, De Trinitate, V, 15.

[4] Cf. Ibid 541

[5] Ibid 542

[6] Ibid 546

[7] Ibid 551

[8] Ibid 554; citing de Lubac, “Duplex hominis beatitudo,” 603

[9] Ibid 545;

[10] Ibid 547

[11] Ibid 548

[12] Cf. Ibid 561; citing Aquinas ST I, q. 62, a. 4.

[13] Cf. Ibid 561-62

[14] Cf. Ibid 547-48.

[15] Cf. Ibid 549; citing “Desiderium Naturale,” 102-03

[16] Ibid 551

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