De Lubac and Lonergan on the Supernatural
Moloney, Raymond, Theological Studies
HENRI DE LUBAC'S WORK HAS SEEN RENEWED INTEREST over the past ten years. The occasion for this interest was the centenary of his birth in 1996, and it has continued with articles marking the 60 years since the publication of his major works. In particular, one sees evidence of a continuing fascination with the thorny issues of nature and grace as first raised by de Lubac in his controversial book, Surnaturel. (1) In this work de Lubac put forward his approach on the cusp of a paradox between fulfilment and gratuitousness--fulfilment of nature and gratuitousness of grace--that has left aspects of his approach still unresolved and inviting comment even today. (2) In this article I draw into the discussion the views of Bernard Lonergan, bringing to bear some reflections that benefit from the progress of a later theology.
In his study of the supernatural de Lubac wrote with passion. He considered that the issue he wanted to raise went to the heart of the Catholic Church's confrontation with the secularism of his day, and notably with the two great atheistic ideologies, Naziism and Marxism, which had set the agenda for the tortuous history of most of the 20th century. His passion was all the more profound in that he proposed that the prevailing theology of the supernatural in Catholic schools carried within it a fatal flaw that left the Church all the more exposed to these adversaries, if not actually contributing to the mentality that lay behind them. He identified this flaw in the way "many could see salvation only in a complete severance between the natural and the supernatural." (3) For him this rather refined point of theology was central to issues being played out in the concrete life and apostolate of Christians. (4)
The background to this position lies in de Lubac's study of patristics, and in particular in his conviction that his teaching was in line with that of Augustine: "You have created us, Lord, for yourself, and our hearts will find no rest until they rest in you." (5) De Lubac saw this teaching passing into the great theologians of the 13th century, in particular Thomas Aquinas. They expressed this tradition by speaking of a natural desire for the vision of God. This phrase was the shibboleth for de Lubac's position.
Through a complicated history, which de Lubac traces in the first part of Surnaturel, an alternative approach began to emerge later in writers such as Cajetan and Suarez, according to whom any desire on our part for the vision of God could only be supernatural, not natural. This was the view that came to predominate in Catholic schools until challenged in the 20th century by a number of scholars, of whom the standard-bearer was de Lubac himself. He did not have an easy time in throwing down the gauntlet to the entrenched Scholasticism of the day. For a time he was suspended from teaching by his order, but after spending the 1950s under a cloud, he emerged in the 1960s as a leading peritus of Vatican II, which he always maintained had endorsed the basic thrust of his position, especially in its teaching in Gaudium et spes on the sacred character of all human life and activity. (6)
THE HYPOTHESIS OF PURE NATURE
The first of the two issues I present from this controversy concerns the notion of a state of "pure nature," which the received teaching of the schools considered to be necessary for the definition and vindication of the notion of the supernatural. This position saw the world in terms of what de Lubac called a dualism or a "two-tiered" universe. There is the reality of human nature defined by its orientation to a natural end in a state of natural beatitude. This is what Scholastics referred to as the state of pure nature. At a certain stage, if not from the beginning, this state was subsumed into the supernatural destiny revealed to us in the Bible. At the same time, our natural being remained as the foundational level of our existence. This latter level of being, according to this view, is perfectly intelligible in itself without any need of recourse to the supernatural. In such a universe, grace and the supernatural are seen as additions from beyond human nature to a nature perfectly indifferent to them. This is what Maurice Blondel, de Lubac's precursor in this argument, had called an unacceptable "extrinsicism," since grace and the supernatural are here understood as realities clearly extrinsic to human nature. (7)
De Lubac set out to challenge this dualism. He saw it as downgrading the faith and as contributing to the secularism of the day. It constituted support from the Catholic side for a notion of humanism as per se secular, and it reduced faith and grace to the status of being simply desirable additions to our humanity. Against this dualism de Lubac affirmed that in the present world order there is only one possible end for human nature: seeing God. He considered this conviction to be the teaching of not only Augustine but also of Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Scotus, summed up in the phrase "the natural desire for the vision of God."
Two key points support de Lubac's approach. First, he stresses the ways the spiritual nature of the human being marks us out among created natures. "There is nature and nature," he writes. (8) "We cannot apply univocally to it [human nature] any of the patterns of thought which we generally use to define relationships between beings in this world." (9) Elsewhere he writes: "The human spirit does not desire God as an animal desires its prey. It desires him as a gift." (10) In this de Lubac was deliberately opting, in his own phrase, for a "mystical view" of the constitution of the person. (11) In opposition to what he called the Aristotelian view of nature and the human person, which he saw as too delimited and enclosed within its own order, he claimed to ground his own approach on the biblical and patristic doctrine of the human spirit created in the image of God and summoned by the divine Spirit to its destiny. (12)
The second key point behind his biblical and patristic emphasis is that "nature" is to be taken here more historically than ontologically. For Augustine "nature" refers to that state in which we are born (nati), whether that state be one of grace or not. In this approach there is a significance that does not at first appear. In considering the question of our ultimate destiny, de Lubac has moved from the essential to the existential order. For him the issue is not about what our destiny has to be in virtue of our finite nature as such, or what it might be in another world order, but about what it actually is in the only world order known to us, which is also the one revealed to us in the sources of the faith.
This is a point about which de Lubac has often been misunderstood and misrepresented. Some critics said he maintained that God could not have created a purely natural spiritual being. (13) This has never been his position. He holds that the state of pure nature is impossible within the only world order known to us. The opinion attributed to him by such critics would be directly contrary to the teaching of Humani generis and has always been explicitly excluded by de Lubac, even before the encyclical was written. (14)
However, in his account of the development of the notion of pure nature, de Lubac traced how the idea of a purely natural fulfilment of the human race gained significance. This aspect was central to the establishment of the notion of pure nature as a self-contained reality, which he saw as closed in on itself and therefore conceivable as quite independent of any supernatural order. He conceded that the notion of such a natural end was mentioned by Aquinas, but, in de Lubac's view, it was mentioned only to be set aside …
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Publication information: Article title: De Lubac and Lonergan on the Supernatural. Contributors: Moloney, Raymond - Author. Journal title: Theological Studies. Volume: 69. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2008. Page number: 509+. © 2009 Theological Studies, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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