Leo XIII: Lessons on Nature and Grace

Nature is the foundation on which grace builds, the potential that grace actualizes. Thus, nature is more “inalienable” than grace. It is primordial and foundational.

On the other hand, grace is more excellent. Rather, the man with grace is what God wants; it is the man fully alive. (It is not “grace” that God wants, but the man graced.)

There are natural virtues and supernatural virtues. Some so extol the natural virtues that the supernatural virtues seem to be left aside, not to have a home, to be ancillary, secondary – afterthoughts. This is all wrong.

Pope Leo XIII condemns them in his Testem benevolentiae“It is hard to understand that those who are imbued with Christian wisdom could prefer natural virtues to supernatural ones and ascribe to them a greater efficacy and fruitfulness” (DS 3343).

Related to this perverse esteem for natural over supernatural virtues is the esteem for “active” over contemplative virtues. The pope continues: “From this kind of contempt for the evangelical virtues, wrongly called passive, it was likely to follow that a disregard for the religious life would also gradually pervade minds. And that this is commonly the case with the champions of the new opinions, we gather from some of their sayings about the vows that are pronounced in religious orders. For they say that these vows are very remote from the spirit of our time inasmuch as they restrict the field of liberty; that they are suited to weak souls rather than to strong ones; and that they have absolutely no value to foster Christian perfection and the good of human society, but are rather an obstacle and a hindrance to both.” DS 3345.

The pope condemns this “Americanist” ideology.

It is great that people want to cultivate natural virtues. “But there is one thing that is necessary, Martha, and Mary has chosen the better part.” Our Lord decidedly favors the supernatural virtues and the contemplative over the active. The Holy Church decidedly esteems the religious life over other forms of life. The Holy Church decidedly esteems the monastic life over the active religious life.

Do we need a variety of callings in the Church? Without question. Yet, there is a greater rank in terms of finality and excellence in the contemplative religious traditions. If we lose sight of this, we will set our compasses wrong and follow out a trajectory of “workaholism”. Too much work. Not enough prayer.

Society today thinks it has no use for monks. So did the so-called Reformation. But in fact we need the monks and the nuns. We need those who live seemingly useless lives, dedicated solely to God. We need to see that this life is but a passing act of preparation for the final act of consummation. Here we have no lasting home. What are we doing, carving out heaven on earth? So perverse. So short-sighted. We want heaven on earth and heaven after earth. Thus, our minds are divided. We are not simple of heart. We go on consuming, eating, journeying, … and banking on God forever. What about contempt for the world and love of God? What about “zeal for your house will consume me”? What about “the single of heart”?