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.)
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.
Recall the norms with which we began above. The first norm is a dogmatic consideration of which to take account. Good old dogma. Ever hear that word of late? “But you’re being fuddy-duddy. A real bore. Pouring cold water on our fun. Reminding us of grumpy Dad.” Nonsense. Well, maybe the grumpy part. But forgive me; let’s overlook what is per se accidental to the wisdom of theological science. Let’s get over our emotionalism, our shallow appeal to mere affectivity for a moment. After all, when the car starts to spin out of control on the highway, we’re all glad our Dad is driving, and not an emotivist. When the ship founders, and the captain examines the map and the stars, only the emotivist will complain. (Emotivist = someone who judges the truth of propositions by how they make him feel, not by the requirements of truth.)
Dogma is our pointer in theology. If theology does not begin and end with dogma, what is it? Philosophy? Only if it is based in sound principles and proceeds with valid argumentation. What is it theology it has not dogma? Sociology? Only if it meets the requirements of that science, and provided these requirements are soundly drawn. What is theology without the absolute and undying foundation of dogma? Usually, theology without dogma is either (a) a tour of some theologian’s own opinions, often emotively embraced, or (b) a smorgasbord tour of sundry theologians’ opinions, once again often emotively embraced.
Our Lord asks, “What do you seek?” Are we seeking Truth? The Psalmist exclaims: Your Face, O Lord; Your Face I seek.
What is his own solution / alternative? De Lubac contends that human nature has an essential desire for the beatific vision of God. By “essential desire” he means one that arises simply because the nature exists. But every essential desire is absolute, and its permanent non-fulfillment would constitute frustration of the one who desires. In this case, permanent non-fulfillment would constitute the “pain of damnation”.
“In me, a real and personal human being, in my concrete nature—that nature I have in common with all real men, to judge by what my faith teaches me, and regardless of what is or is not revealed to me either by reflective analysis or by reasoning—the “desire to see God” cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering. To deny this is to undermine my entire Credo. For is not this, in effect, the definition of the “pain of the damned”?
Therefore, de Lubac concludes, when God offers the grace by which this desire can be fulfilled, it corresponds to my very essence, its inmost desire. Quite obviously, if de Lubacs’ thesis is correct, grace is very relevant to human happiness!
The question is, is the thesis true? Does it lead to unacceptable consequences?
Mystery, 54; see also ibid., 54–57, and “Le mystère du surnaturel,” 91f.
The relationship between Nature and Grace: This is a thorny topic. It may sound abstract at first, but I assure you it is very concrete and relevant, although the adequate adjudication thereof requires hard abstract work.
There are two norms in the issue. First, grace is an utterly free gift; it is “unowed”. Second, grace is utterly relevant for human happiness. I will explain each of these norms as we proceed.
Henri de Lubac’s theory of nature and grace has dominated theological circles for 50-60 years. And at first blush it sounds very attractive. De Lubac begins by criticizing a certain other approach and then offers his own.
The other approach he describes as extrinsicist. As he presents it, this extrinsicist approach makes grace irrelevant to human happiness. It presents man as perfectly capable of achieving natural happiness, even in the present order, without grace. Its view of natural happiness is earthly and not heavenly, temporal not eternal, bodily not spiritual, etc. The result of the thesis, de Lubac contends, is that those who bought it eventually came to find religion a burden, an extrinsic “hoop” that has nothing to do with real progress and human interests. So, the ultimate conclusion of those who bought the thesis was that religion is actually in the way of human progress, an obstacle, a shackle. “We’d better overthrow it,” they said. Hence, atheism. Under de Lubac’s gifted pen, the narrative is quite powerful, and those who do not pay sufficient attention to logic and the principles of the faith are easily swept, with good hearts, into the current of his narrative.
Of course, whether or not the approach that he presents as so terrible in fact ever existed is another question. Whether his criticism is consistent and fair remains a question. My concern here is not to examine the alternative that he criticizes but to examine his own solution.