Treatise on Nature and Grace

Treatise on Nature and Grace

Treatise on Nature and Grace

Treatise on Nature and Grace

Synopsis

Treatise on Nature and Grace by Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715), first published in 1680, is one of the most celebrated and controversial works of seventeenth-century philosophical theology. This major text, last translated into English in 1695, is here made available to a new generation of readers in an entirely new translation, with a substantial scholarly introduction. The central argument, that God governs the realms of nature and of grace by simple, constant, and uniform `general wills', not through `particular providence', had fundamental repercussions within the contemporary debates on the nature of divine grace and of salvation, contradicting the claims of the Calvinists and Jansenists that God wills the individual salvation of an elected few. Hailed as a work of genius by Bayle and Leibniz, the Treatise was to have a profound and far-reaching influence on the development of eighteenth-century thought through the theory of the just and justifiable `general will', which re-emerged in secular form in the work of Rousseau.

Excerpt

I do not understand anything, Sir, in the judgement of your friends concerning the work which I am sending you. the author of this Treatise does not rest his argument on the authority of St Augustine: thus he abandons this holy Doctor. Do you think that this is a just conclusion? Do the defenders of transubstantiation abandon the Council of Trent, because they make no use of its authority in order to convince the Calvinists? Do those who write against the Socinians abandon all the Fathers and all the Councils, because they use only Scripture and reason against their adversaries? But, Sir, why do they stop with St Augustine only? the author of the Treatise cites therein no Father and no Council: does he then abandon, according to your friends' principles, all the Fathers and all the Councils? Certainly men who are authors are much to be pitied, if they concern themselves with the judgements of men: for what can be more unreasonable and more unjust than that of your friends--who, none the less, pass for equitable and sincere people? the author, as you will see, Sir, avows that his main plan is to make God lovable to men, and to justify the wisdom of his conduct in the minds of certain philosophers who push metaphysics too far, and who, in order to have a powerful and sovereign God, make him unjust, cruel, and bizarre. He believes himself obliged to speak reasonably in order to convince these people, who, as you know, pride themselves on understanding this language perfectly. and since it is a matter of making understood the truths which are taught by Scripture, he often makes use of terms from that same Scripture; for it was necessary that the mind compare that which Scripture teaches us with that which reason reveals, in order to strengthen and maintain oneself in the faith by seeing truth. But, Sir, in this work, he ought not to rest his thought on the authority of the Fathers for several reasons.

Firstly, because the greater part of those to whom he speaks would not have deferred to it very much--not only because they do not feel for the Fathers all the respect which is due them, but also because they know well enough that one can say whatever one likes to . . .

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