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Class 19

Erratum on the relationship of the nature and supernature

On the level of our nature, there is a natural desire to see God, perceived by philosophy. There is a natural tendency toward God, the cause and final end of everything. This natural desire is not sufficient to guarantee our meeting with God, but only expresses our hunger for God. In itself, this hunger doesn’t enable us to commerce with God; this comes through grace, which is a supernatural gift. There is no transfer from nature to grace on the basis of our own efforts. The second synod of Orange (529) says that the capacity to strive for God comes from grace as it is necessary. Trent repeated this, saying it is not possible to believe "as it is necessary" without grace. Vatican I says that it is possible to know God as Creator by reason with difficulty and prone to error, but that God directs us to the supernatural end. God is to be accepted in our spiritual life not only as the end of our natural desire to see God, of our philosophical curiosity, but also as our supernatural end. The supernatural life is not just a philosophical curiosity, but is the inner life of God which has been given to us. In the supernatural life, the natural desire to see God is transformed from within by grace.

Here is the error. It is not just a case of grace responding to the natural desire, for we strive to God as to our supernatural end. So we have to say that on the natural level we have a very hazy notion of God, other than he is the creator and end. God grants us the grace (himself, his Son, the Holy Spirit) to transform the natural desire from within. So it is a question of grace transforming nature so that we can reach out to God in a way which is supernatural, not just grace responding to nature. The faith, hope, and love we have are gifts of grace which transforms our natural desires. De Lubac criticized those who used to argue on the basis of a hypothetical "pure nature" upon which the supernatural level would be a crowning achievement. De Lubac showed that this interpretation led to the conclusion that the natural level was sufficient, and hence led to Deism and atheism. Many of the philosophical positions of the 18th century in France mirrored theological statements from the 17th century. A piece of wood is in obediential potency to become a statue; you can’t make a statue out of water, and wood cannot become a statue on its own. God comes to transform our natural desire to see God, which is not a deformation of our nature. Grace isn’t sending us elsewhere. It is a confirmation of the desire we have, and directs us, as is necessary, to the loving God who engages in a commerce with us. The concept of "pure nature" can be of help uniquely when he discuss whether God could have created us in a state of self-sufficiency. We can ask "what would have happened if?" questions, to help us understand the gratuity of grace.

But how de we defend the gratuity of grace, in light of God’s wanting us to be saved. Metaphysically speaking, God is not forced to give us grace. Nothing in Him forces him to act in this way. So we can envisage a nature to which God would not have given grace. If we look at the issue theologically, God is forced to give grace because he is tied by his love and promises that all men be saved.

So nature is transformed by grace, not just the complement. "Sicut oportet" from the Second Council of Orange distinguishes between the philosophical pursuit and the following of God in faith.


In moral theology, we are reflecting on the presence of God through grace in human action. We have to find an explanation between Pelagianism and supernaturalism, that nothing or everything depends uniquely on God. Sola fides held that everything was grace, as did quietism, which held that our actions had no value. The Catholic position is that our actions have true value when they grow out of faith and are anointed with grace. We are sanctified by grace which transforms our nature and allows us to undertake acts wherein the presence of God is made visible. How can we describe this reality? The early Fathers used the term deification, of the restoration of the divine image, of the vision of God, the wonderful exchange, the participation in divine life. Augustine spoke about God’s charity and our response. Medieval theology tried to make this more explicit by the concept of habitus. This term is a translation of the Aristotelian hexis to describe the real transformation conducted by God when he gives himself to us. When habitus is perceived interpersonally between God and man, it expresses the theological anthropology of the believer. This reality is expressed by the pagan Aristotle, taken from philosophy to explain theology. In the modern theological manuals, the personalist dimension of grace was lost. Moral action was described naturally, and then they added a section on grace. The habitus became a crypto-Pelagian term. This was a deformation and misunderstanding of the medieval doctrine. Hence habit and virtue took on a bad connotation and were rejected. We need to find today a term to describe this experience.

If people use traditional terms, these terms acquire a meaning. If the experience behind the terms is lacking, they can evoke false connotations. Today there is a thrust toward subjective terms. The Christian East doesn’t use the term habitus, and the Protestants think its Pelagian. The term habitus appeared in theology, however, with the theological virtues and describes the fecundity of the new life given to us by God. This implies that we need to be changed in the depth of our being, not just our actions. Abelard said that God creates a new state in us without giving himself, that grace is a thing created but has no personal intervention of God. Lombard protested, saying that God, and not some reality distinct from God, is sanctifying us, and hence erred saying charity is the Holy Spirit. In making this claim, Lombard pushed to the extreme the anti-Pelagian logic of Augustine. Saint Thomas rejected this Lombardian theory and Trent followed him. We cannot identify charity with the Holy Spirit because it leads to pantheism, like putting a drop of whisky in the ocean. If charity is identified with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit forces action in us, and we are puppets. The supernatural gifts are created, not identified with God though they come from God. Grace is a new qualification of our inner being. It is not identical with God. So Saint Thomas’s definition is personalistic and dynamic.

We are not united hypostatically like Christ, not does Saint Thomas reify grace. We are elevated to a new status, but we experience it as something that is our own. To be divine, our action must also be fully human. The good that we do are like cones, not Christmas tree ornaments. The theology of the habitus is an expression of our conscious and grace-flowing self. When Saint Thomas speaks of the habitus, it is clear that it is a transformation within us. When Ockham appeared, the habitus had no value, because God can condemn the just and save the sinner. Suarez understood the habitus as an external assistance which doesn’t influence the act from within. The Thomists described a reified habitus, something natural sprinkled with Holy Water. In contemporary reception, we have the further difficulty because of the positivist thinking. The empirical sciences don’t perceive the spiritual character of man. It is easier to speak of the concept of the infused virtue than of the actual virtue within us. Behind the language of theological personalism there is often hidden a notion of extreme divine transcendence, and so the lack of a true understanding of grace leads to the Protestant solus Deus. There is a difference between God and man in Catholic thought, but not an unsurpassable distance. God is close.

We must show the created but supernatural grace is a meeting of the Holy Spirit with the soul. Saint Thomas is using an Aristotle concept to show the evangelical truth that God is active within our soul and body. It is not enough to know how to live well, but we have to be disposed well so that the right choices will be made at the right moment. The divine presence within us helps us to coordinate our being in a habitus so that we can make good choices.

Habitus is hard to translate because the English habit suggests a custom, a routine. Aquinas explains it by se habere, to have oneself in a way which is chosen. It’s not mechanical. What is mechanical is the result of rational reflection and decision. The possession of a habitus allows mature action. It denotes a permanent disposition toward good or evil in action and in being. A habitus is a second nature, giving character to the person who possesses it. In the Acting Person, Wojtyla says that the subjectivity of man — that man is not just an object or a cog in a machine — requires the involvement of the entire human subject in decision making. Not all people who do good things have virtues, a good habitus. Many do good and evil things without being virtuous or vicious. They’re moved by external determinisms, and they never acquire the habits, for they lack the conscious choice of the free will. People who do good are pushed by events, not pushed by personal initiative. A virtuous person is unpredictable. The truly virtuous person invents responses according to new situations, adapting to the new situations by prudence. It is a question of being creative in goodness, not just conscientious. A creative vicious person will be a great saint after his conversion. A person who has not attained the creativity of true habitus will be bland.

We were created by God to live a life of true virtue, but only the creative goodness truly reflects God. The alternative is a failure to mature. There’s no capacity to adapt to the novel situation. He will have difficulty to transcend evil situations. The habitus grants stability to the movement of the faculties. The action is speedy — we respond quickly. The person with the habitus acts spontaneously and there is an authenticity in the response. To be authentic doesn’t mean being spontaneous in the sense of not planning anything. The Acting Person distinguishes between authentic and inauthentic attitudes. Solidarity and opposition are authentic attitudes, whereas conformism and escape are inauthentic attitudes. It can be the some people are spontaneous in conforming or escaping, but are not authentic. Actions should be done speedily, with facility, and with pleasure. In the virtuous person, this process is done quickly, and there is pleasure. Disordered action can give a fleeting pleasure, but it doesn’t lead to joy.

Entitative versus operative habits

The entitative habits grant quality to being without being necessarily dispositive to action, e.g., health, grace, or original justice. They deal directly with our being. Operative habits respond to our faculties. The habitus can exist only in a being which has a potentiality. The operative habits can be in our intellect, will, emotions. The body and the senses can be subject to the habits only to the extent they are under the control of reason and will. There are no habits in animals, only quasi-habits, for it not an action of the reason and the will. The habit is on the side of the trainer of the animal. The operative habits are developed by repeated action, by repeatedly qualitatively better actions (like learning to play the piano). There is no limit to the growth of the habitus. The intellectual habits of knowledge and science may become more deeply rooted in the subject, and the knowledge can become more extensive and more rooted. The moral habits grow by becoming more and more rooted in one’s being. They must cover all situations in order to be true. If you’re unjust to anyone regularly, you’re not just.

The infused habits are given by God in grace. Grace is an entitative habit in the core of our being, whereas the gifts of the Holy Spirit are operative habits in the faculties. They grow through action. Grace is gratuitous, but God expects good action to follow, trusting in him. The category of the habitus as it’s given by God and demonstrates how God is present in our actions, show how God liberates us in our actions to show forth his love. The first manifestation of this love of the Father is at Christ’s baptism, and this manifestation must shine forth as light in man so that men seeing good works may give praise to our Father in heaven. People should praise God, not us, by our good actions. We shouldn’t be jealous we didn’t receive the praise. God needs, begs, for free human choices so that his love may be manifest. God wants all our efforts to make himself visible. The mystery of the cooperation of grace within the liberty becomes clearer in the eyes of loving people. The practical question we face is the elucidation of the laws of the development of this divine love. How can divine life grow? Saint Thomas, when describing the virtues, is writing in the context of the whole Summa. He describes 50 virtues one-by-one, and each could be discussed on a purely natural plane, abstracting from grace. But this is a reduction of the thought of Saint Thomas. He is showing us the dynamism of grace in concrete action. We cannot view it totally philosophically. We have no special language to describe what is divine. We use human language to describe the virtues, but in the context of faith. Saint Thomas’s description of the virtues can be applied to the acquired virtues. This description is an analogate of the divine action, manifested in good human action. So we must view virtues in the context of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the ultimate end of man, of the moral law (although the virtues refer principally to what flows from within, unlike the precepts focusing on the acts). The study of the virtues precedes the study of moral law. In the determination of what to do, it is not the precept of the moral law which gives the decisive notion — for this points out the faulty directions — but from the creative recognition of the good which flows from within. Too much focus on the moral law reduces virtue and creativity.

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