Category Archives: Nature and Grace

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 12

Question: What About Vatican II?

  • Vatican II teaches: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of him who was to come, namely, Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear,” Gaudium et spes, art. 22.
  • This is no explicit declaration, in unambiguous words, that human nature has an essential desire for beatific vision. Although some have taken it to be such, de Lubac knew better.
  • And, as is argued above at length, if it were such a declaration, then Vatican II would imply that a meaningless world is possible. This is hardly a likely outcome of Vatican II.
  • In fact, the Church has already condemned the notion that there is an exigence for beatific vision rooted in human nature itself (Pascendi, art. 37). Further, the Church teaching implies that affirming the gratuity of grace depends on affirming a merely natural order (Humani generis at DS 3018).
  • A key principle of magisterial interpretation is that clearer, unambiguous statements help us interpret unclear, ambiguous statements. The prior tradition is clear and unambiguous, and Vatican II is not. Ergo, we read Vatican II in light of the former clarity.
  • A few textual observations as well.
    • Vatican II is clearly speaking of the historical order of things: first Adam, last Adam. But this order includes not only nature but also grace.
    • I, the concrete man, am not just a bare essence, untouched by grace. Under God’s providential care, I am a resultant complexity. However, there are principles to that complexity. To assign a causal root in nature to the resultant complexity may be premature. For example: concrete me, I am a theology professor. This is indicate who I am. I am married to a lovely woman. This is indicate who I am. However, to say that I was born with an essential desire to be a theologian would be far fetched. In fact, there would lurk here a logical fallacy: If X is true of the whole, then X is true of the part. [Response: Not necessarily! Hence, not valid.] X is the team; therefore, I, who am part of the team, am the team. [Response: Nonsense.]
    • Concerning the issue at hand: Because God’s grace has so subtly penetrated every fiber of my being, arousing in me inevitably a desire that cannot be slaked unless I find Him, does not mean that my desire for beatific union with Him is an essential desire, that is, a desire caused simply by my nature. It lies deep within me. This is because his grace awakens it. He is capable of awakening love!
    • Vatican II is teaching an item of crucial existential import that has to do with my concrete existence now in all its complexity. It is not contradicting the Tradition.

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 11

Last of all, let us note some Magisterial authorities in the matter. I make reference to D (= old Denzinger numbering; you can find the references in Sources of Catholic Dogma) and to DS (= new Denzinger numbering; you can find these in 43rd edition through Ignatius Press, Latin-English). All Catholic theologians need the Denzinger text in their libraries.

  • See the condemnations of Pelagius (DS 371ff): Grace is not owed to man.
  • Condemned proposition of Michael Baius in year 1567 “The elevation and exaltation of human nature unto a participation of the divine nature were due to the integrity of the first condition, and thus should be called natural, not supernatural.” DS 1921. Here, we see Holy Mother Church condemn the proposition that grace is due. Now, if the category “due” is absolutely empty, then the condemnation is effectively meaningless and a waste of time; the same can be said of many of the condemnations that follow.
  • Condemned prop of Baius = “Absurd is the opinion of those who say that man from the beginning, by a certain supernatural and gratuitous gift, was raised above the condition of his nature, so that by faith, hope, and charity he cherished God supernaturally” (D 1023 / DS 1923)
  • Condemned prop. of Baius = “The integrity of the first creation was not the undeserved exaltation of human nature, but its natural condition” (D 1026 / DS 1926). Here, we have an important reference to the natural condition.
  • Condemned prop of Baius = “The fact that having lived piously and justly in this mortal life even to the end of life we attain eternal life, should not be imputed to the grace of God, but to the natural order instantly ordained in the beginning of creation by the just judgment of God; neither in this recompense of goods is regard paid to the merit of Christ, but only to the first institution of the human race, in which it is ordained by the natural law that by the just judgment of God eternal life is paid for obedience to His mandates” (D 1011 / DS 1911) Baius effectively denies a purely natural end, asserting that the only end man can have is beatific union with God.
  • Pius VI, Auctorem fidei, art. 16: “… in so far as, understood comprehensively, it [a proposition in the synod of Pistoia, not magisterial] intimates that that state [of integrity and holy justice] was a consequence of creation, due to man from the natural exigency and condition of human nature, not a gratuitous gift of God – false” (D 1516 / DS 2616).
  • Pius VI, Auctorem fidei, art. 17: “… insofar as, under the deceitful mention of the name of the apostle, it insinuates that death, which in the present state has been inflicted as a just punishment for sin by the just withdrawal of immortality, was not a natural condition of man, as if immortality had not been a gratuitous gift, but a natural condition” (DS 2617)
  • Pius VI, Auctorem fidei, art. 19: “… insofar as it generally intimates that man became a transgressor through the nonobservance of the law that he was powerless to observe, as if ‘he who is just could command something impossible, or he who is pious would be likely to condemn man for that which he could not avoid’ [citing Pistoia] is false, scandalous, impious, and condemned in Baius.” This is a very important condemnation. It teaches, conversely, that God supplies creatures with the capacity to fulfill their duties. In fact, the category is dynamical debitum naturae.
  • Pius X, Pascendi, art. 10: The modernist thesis goes beyond the old error: “The question is no longer one of the old error which claimed for human nature a sort of right (ius) to the supernatural order.”
  • Pius X, Pascendi, art. 37: Some hold falsely “there is in human nature a true and rigorous need (exigentia) for the supernatural order”.[1]
  • “The saintly Doctor describes another order of things set above nature and eluding the grasp of reason, an order which man would never have suspected unless the divine goodness had revealed it to him…” (art. 17, Pius XI Studiorum Ducem).
  • Pius XII, Humani generis (1950): “Others destroy the true ‘gratuity’ of the supernatural order when they say that God is not able to establish beings gifted with intellect without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision.” (DS 3018)

[1] Nos iterum oportet, non desiderari e catholicis hominibus, qui, quamvis immanentiae doctrinam ut doctrinam reiiciunt, ea tamen pro apologesi utuntur; idque adeo incauti faciunt, ut in natura humana non capacitatem solem et convenientiam videantur admittere ad ordinem supernaturalem, quod quidem apologetae catholici opportunis adhibitis temperationibus demonstrarunt semper, sed germanam verique nominis exigentiam.

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 10

I consider de Lubac’s discipleship of Ockham down into these loveless depths a rather serious “cost” for his thesis. But it is an inexorable cost. This horrific possibility is the hidden foundation on which de Lubac builds the gratuity of grace. So horrible is the foundation that few theologians even suspected it laid at the root of his effort to shore up the gratuity of grace.

In short, in the face of the issue of the gratuity of grace, de Lubac has two routes he takes. On the one hand, he simply implies that grace is in fact due (unless we sin). The implication is against the faith.

On the other hand, he contends that there is no such thing as dynamical debitum naturae. This contention implies that God could create an utterly meaningless world, a world in which innocents are damned. But how does the implication square with the wisdom of God? How does it square with revelation? Wisdom reveals: “You love all things that exist and you loathe none of the things which you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it”? Wis 11:24.

Finally, if we totally gut the category of dynamical debitum naturae we have no viable way to identify the precise gratuity of grace. If everything is utterly gratuitously given, what constitutes the specific gratuity of grace? After all, the Church’s faith is that grace is gratuitous in contrast to what is required. But if there is nothing to which to contrast grace’s gratuity, how can we specify that gratuity? Is the Church howling out meaningless statements when she makes the contrast?

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 9

We can count the cost immediately. To throw away the category dynamical debitum naturae is to assert the possibility of a meaningless world. That is, to say that there is no such thing as dynamical debitum naturae is to say that there is no requirement of divine wisdom such that any world must be such that its chief parts – intellectual creatures – are capable of reaching a meaningful end. It is to say that God can create intellectual creatures and not see to it that they can and do attain meaningful completion. It is to say that, even without their sinning and even with their obeying natural law and God’s directives, a meaningful end can be per se impossible for them to attain. That is to say, even should they do well and not sin, eternal life for them would be impossible. And what is the “frustration” of such a creature? De Lubac has already said it: The Pain of the Damned. Everlasting Hell! So, de Lubac holds that is possible that God create a creature that remains innocent, even does well, and yet is damned eternally by God.

Here, de Lubac is following the thought of the voluntarist William of Ockham, who abolished all dynamical debita naturae and clung statically only to definitional debita naturae. For Ockham, “If the finite goodness of a created nature does not constitute a decisive reason for God to love it enough to create it, the fact that certain conditions are required for its finite flourishing does not combine with divine self-love to generate an overriding reason to situate the nature in advantageous circumstances either.”[1]

Ockham takes his principle to its conclusion: God could in justice refuse eternal life to one whom he has made deiform through charity. Moreover, God could damn such a one, even though he has actually kept God’s precepts:

“Punishment is owed [to the sinner] because God has thus ordained it. For, as God creates any creature by his mere will, so by his mere will he can do with his creature whatever pleases him. For, just as, if someone were always to love God and do all the works acceptable to God, God could annihilate that person without injury [to his justice], so after all those works God could give him, not eternal life but eternal punishment, without injury [to his justice]. And the reason is that God is no one’s debtor, but whatever he does to us, he does out of mere grace. Therefore, by the fact that God does something, he has done it justly. For it is obvious that Christ never sinned, yet he was punished most vehemently unto death.”[2]

For Ockham, this is the way to secure the gratuity of grace. Since nothing other than essence is owed (if the creature is freely created), therefore anything beyond essence is utterly gratuitous.

[1] Marilyn McCord Adams, “Ockham on Will, Nature, and Morality” in The Cambridge Companion to Ockham, ed. Paul Vincent Spade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 264.

[2] William of Ockham, In IV Sent. (Reportatio), q. 5 (Opera theologica, vol. 7 [St. Bonaventure, NY: 1984], 55:11–21). See also William of Ockham, In I Sent. d. 17, q. 1 (Opera theologica, vol. 3 [St. Bonaventure, NY: 1977], 452:1–5, 453:11–22, 454:12–17). One must hold this thesis “so that God may be necessitated by nothing to confer eternal life on anyone. Thus, this opinion greatly diverges from Pelagius’s error” (In I Sent., d. 17, q. 1 [Opera theologica, vol. 3, 454:26–455:2]).

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 8

On the other hand, de Lubac had another, contradictory, explanation that few critics saw.

He argued that there is no such thing as dynamical debita naturae. He completely abolished the category! He states,

“Every demand [i.e., dynamical debitum naturae] must be banished.”[1]

Therefore, he concludes, grace is absolutely free. It need not be given. If it is given, it is out of pure and free love.

Let us be quite clear: De Lubac abolishes the category absolutely. For him, sin has nothing to do with the abolition of the category. For him, it is erroneous to admit any debt in either order, even if men were without sin.[2] Hence, he admits implicitly that even his own above solution (that the just God could not frustrate de Lubac unless de Lubac sinned) is erroneous. Let us hear de Lubac at length and precisely:

“God could have refused to give himself to his creatures, just as he could have, and has, given himself. The gratuitousness of the supernatural order is true individually and totally. It is gratuitous in itself. It is gratuitous as far as each one of us is concerned. It is gratuitous in regard to what we see as preceding it, whether in time or in logic. Further—and this is what some of the explanations I have contested seem to me not to make clear—its gratuitousness remains always complete. It remains gratuitous in every hypothesis. It is for ever new. It remains gratuitous at every stage of preparation for the gift, and at every stage of the giving of it. No “disposition” in the creature can ever, in any way, bind the Creator.”[3]


It now sounds as though de Lubac has made grace both relevant and free! Incredible! Dance and sing. He has met the demands of both norms in this theological issue. Or has he? If he has, at what cost?

[1] Henri Cardinal de Lubac, Augustinisme et théologie moderne, no. 63, Théologie (Aubier, 1965), 47.

[2] See Mystery, 183f.

[3] Mystery, 236f. See also Augustinianism, 233; and Mystery, 84–86 and 130.

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 7

Ok, we have laid the laborious groundwork for assessing de Lubac’s thesis. How much labor this has required! How much thought! Not mere emotive guesswork. We are seeking the truth, not simply our (unformed, often ill-begotten) feelings about it. Let us now examine his thesis.

De Lubac says that we as human have but one meaningful end, beatific union with God. More precisely, he said that human nature as such has but one meaningful end, beatific union with God.

The theologians at the time were up in arms over this statement. Why? Because they realized that we need grace in order to attain vision. But whatever is required in a thing that it be able to attain its meaningful end is a (dynamical) debitum naturae. Ergo, they concluded, on de Lubac’s supposition, grace must be a debitum naturae.

In point of fact, de Lubac sometimes implies that grace is just such a required thing. Let us read his own words:

“As a result—at least so it seems—how could the just and good God frustrate me, if it were not I who by my own fault turned myself away from him freely?”[1]

De Lubac here implies that grace is a debitum naturae. Why? Because debitum pertains to justice. The rhetorical question “How could the just God frustrate me” implies that God in justice could not frustrate me, unless sin be brought into the picture. But remember, we are thinking precisely and scientifically here. We must abstract from all our personal traumas, desires, emotions, etc., in order in a manly way to think this through. We are considering human nature as such.

Now, if – abstracting from sin – God could not in justice frustrate me with regard to X, then the things requisite for X are debita naturae. De Lubac therefore asserts that grace, which is necessary for beatific union with God, is a debitum naturae. But to hold that grace is a debitum naturae is to contradict the faith of Holy Mother Church. This is why so many theologians criticized de Lubac, and severely.

Pius XII, of immortal memory, in his must-read encyclical, Humani generis, art. 26, (1950), had this to say:

“Others destroy the true ‘gratuity’ of the supernatural order when they say that God is not able to establish beings gifted with intellect without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision.” (DS 3018).

[1] Le mystère, p. 80. See also “Le mystère du surnaturel,” 91.

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 6

So far, nothing of great interest. We are however approaching our game.

Finite things are not their ends. Finite things are oriented towards ends, towards flourishing. If each finite thing is oriented to its end, if it would be meaningless if it could not obtain that end, then there are requirements (concerning its flourishing) that if it be made, it be wisely made. Short of these requirements obtaining, it would not be wisely made. Hence, these requirements are debita naturae.

For instance, if I am to start an espresso business, I would need to amass the materials: cups, saucers, spoons, napkins, sugar, beans, grinders, water, the machine (the glorious espresso machine!). I would need to hire people, to rent space, to advertise, etc. So, let’s say I have the business up and running. But let’s say that I have absolutely no interest or intent that the business flourish. Let’s say I just want “there to exist a business”. But I make no provision for its flourishing. Nor do I intend to make provision. Everyone on the planet would say, “You are nuts.” Moreover, considering all the employees I have mobilized for this event, considering their dependence upon this initiative for their well-being, they would add, “You are a rotten, stinkin’, no-good….” And they would be right.

In our moving, messy world, things are not for their mere essence; things are not for their mere existence; rather, things are dynamically ordered. Moreover, they are ordered not only to any ongoing activity but to a specific flourishing. Things “crest out” as it were, reach their maturity / apex. The orange tree reaches for a certain range of height; it does not keep growing indefinitely. It reaches that maturity and then begins its cyclic enjoyment of its maturity, producing sweet nectar year after year until it grows too old to sustain this maturity.

In short, each thing is ordered to its flourishing. In this flourishing is where we find the meaning of the thing. If you were to say, “It just exists; it does not flourish and is not tending towards flourishing,” you’d be presenting some imaginary nonsense. Even the Oxygen has its tendencies. Boom! (But especially living things.)

With respect to this requirement, we speak of dynamical debita naturae. These are: The requirements in a thing such that it be capable of attaining meaningful flourishing and so be wisely made. For a man, that he has the seeds of truth in his intellect and the seeds of virtue in his will; that he is vital energy in his body, a certain threshold of motive power, etc.; ultimately, that he can use his powers, with these seeds, in order to attain meaningful flourishing – constitute dynamical debita naturae.

(Rambling Philosophical Aside: Now, to assert that there is such a thing as dynamical debita naturae is not a mere analytic judgment of an essence taken statically. It requires an insight into finite being, the insight traced above. Namely: Finite being is dynamical. To put it succinctly: To assert the truth of dynamical debita naturae requires a grasp of essence (first act) as ordered to flourishing (second act). In the end, this may well constitute an analytic judgment, provided we do not (mis)take analytic judgments for statements such as “Every XY is X.” Certainly, if the judgment is “synthetic,” the synthesis is in the order of the real; it is not the knower’s contribution to the constitution of either sensation or experience. )

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 5

The kinds of debita naturae are twofold: Definitional and dynamical.

Definitional debita naturae are those that pertain to its essence. If there is to be a man, then there must be an animal, a rational thing, a rational animal. That there is such a thing as definitional debita naturae rests on the principle of non-contradiction. You cannot assert X and not-X at the same time, in the same respect. If you say, “There exists a man,” you cannot simultaneously say, “There is not a rational thing”. The statement “There is a man” yields also these: “There is an animal”; “There is a rational thing”; and “There is a rational animal”. These requirements are definitional; hence, they are definitional debita naturae.

(To the sophistical, albeit interesting while at the same time distracting, objection that this requirement is tautological, my response is that it (the objection) is based on a failure to understand logic and the nature of human predication and for that matter human understanding itself. If I were a computer or an angel, the objection would stand. Computers only correlate without understanding. For a computer, the requirement would look as follows: Every XY is an X. [More precisely, Everything that is X and Y is X.] The statement is tautological. And a computer would waste its time with such a line-item. But the proposition is deeper than the stupid statement XY is X. Humans think under aspects and relate them to one another in judgments. This requires reaching universals with insight. Computers may “class” items under items, but they do not reach universals with insight. Men join (X is Y) and separate (X is not Y) these insights in judgment. The angel, however, does not think in discursive chunks; hence, it would waste its “time” with any human sentence at all. I however, am neither angel nor computer, but a man. But let’s save such philosophical ramblings for another post. For a summary response, buy and study Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic. For a sophisticated response, see Henry P. Veatch, Two Logics and just about everything else he ever wrote on logic.)

A Bite in de Lubac’s theory on Nature and Grace? Part 4

Back to de Lubac. The dogmatic requirement here is that grace is a gift that is unowed to the existing person, qua simply human. This is a requirement of the faith. Challenge it and we are no longer theologians. (No longer Catholic theologians, that is.) Why not? Because theology does not prove the mysteries of faith; it embraces them. It may prove the preambles of faith, but not the mysteries. These are its starting point. Therefore, all theologians must hold that grace is unowed to the existing person, qua simply human.

What does it mean to be “unowed”? It means that it is the opposite of what is owed. Now, that is owed to a creature which is required so that its (the creature’s) existence is intelligible, meaningful, wisely brought about.

Principled theology, as it developed through time, calls such a requirement “debitum naturae,” a thing due to a nature. This requirement is hypothetical. It rests on the existence of the nature, in this case the human person. But as we also confess – and can prove rationally – the world is created freely. God need not have created man. So, the requirement in debitum naturae runs thus: IF there is to be a man (freely created), THEN such and such are required so that he be wisely made.