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Grace and the human person (II)


(Nature, Person and Grace by Br. M.-D. Philippe o.p., continued...)

Grace presupposes nature...

The classic expression, which Saint Thomas himself uses, is that "grace presupposes nature1". This is very true: the child we baptise is already alive; whether he is baptised the day he is born or a month later, he is both cases alive with human life. Grace therefore presupposes human nature. Birth to the life of grace presupposes birth to human life. What's more, a child is born with "sin of nature2", i.e. original sin and its consequences. He can do nothing about it. As a descendent of Adam and Eve, as one of the human race, he bears the weight of it. But through baptism he is ransomed by the blood of Christ; baptism confers christian grace upon him which wipes away original fault and gives him the virtues of faith, hope and charity. This grace which he is given through baptism makes him capable of recieving Jesus in the Eucharist which enables his baptismal grace to fully flourish: he becomes a living being who finds his nourishment in the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. Thanks to baptism, he is capable of living of the Word of God through faith. The Word of God acquires meaning for him and eventually, growing in wisdom and love, he is able to put his whole intelligence at the service of his faith. We do this every day: when we pray or study theology we put our intelligence at the service of our faith. And the more our intelligence is awake the stronger our faith is and the more our theology, which comes from this cooperation of faith with the intelligence, is capable of being aware, beautiful, great, alive.

By reflecting on the relationship between grace and human nature we will be able to go further in precision and say that human nature is in "obediential potentiality3" with regards to grace. This means that, on the one hand, human nature is capable of recieving sanctifying grace, or christian grace (which gives it a special and elevated noblesse since, through grace, man becomes a son of God4, a child of the Father5); and on the other hand that human nature does not of itself have a positive disposition to recieving grace: grace is freely given, human nature is not of itself actively ordered towards to it.

From there we can go on to say that, on the one hand, grace is not "according to nature", but also that it is not against nature, i.e. it "does not eliminate nature6". It is "above nature7" and perfects it.

Grace is not "according to nature" because to be according to nature is to go no further than what nature can acquire by itself, respecting what it is and what it can acquire by itself according to the demands of its proper finality. It is in this way that we can, by nature, develop our intelligence: our intelligence is "according to our nature"; likewise we can, by nature, develop our love: human love is "according to nature", it finalises nature within its proper horizon.

At the same time, "grace does not eliminate nature", it is not against nature. It offers us a supernatural finality which is not contrary to nature, which does not destroy nature. It is "above nature". Indeed, grace has a finality of its own which is to make of us children of God; it shows us that our Father in Heaven is the Father of Jesus who saves us and that, by the Cross, Jesus gives us this grace with a view to us one day living what God Himself lives eternally, i.e. entering into the beatific vision which is a face-to-face with God8.

Grace enables us to live a life superior to our human life and it enables our human nature to develop, become clearer and bring about things greater than what is conform to it. The flourishing of our supernatural life through grace does not go against nature but rather remains within the profound direction its finality offers it. This is what we see when we understand that the relationship between nature and grace has a repurcussion on the intelligence in its relationship with the faith and on the will in its relationship with hope and charity. Here we understand how grace is not against nature but rather assumes the natural finality of the human person by transforming it, raising it up through a divine finality9. This is why to define grace as a habitus is all well and good - since it shows that grace presupposes nature - but is not enough for it does not sufficiently show grace's proper role from the standpoint of finality.

1 Saint Thomas uses this expression in particular to show that faith presupposes intelligence: QUOTE (Summa Theologica (ST), I, q.2, a.2, ad 1). See also ST, I-II, q.99, a.2, ad 1. 
2 "..." ST, I-II, q.81, a.1
3 "..." (ST, III, q.11, a.1) To show this Saint Thomas uses artistic activity: wood does not of itself become a statue; it does so through the artist who considers the matter he is to work on and transforms it according to his project, his idea. Wood is in obediential potency with regards to the statue.
4 "..."(Ga 4, 6-7). "..."(Ro 8, 14-16). Ref. also He.12, 4-11; Mt.5,9; Lk.20, 36; Jn 10, 34-36.
5 "..."(1 Jn 3,1).
6 ST, I, q.1, a.8, ad 2.
7 "Gratia est supra naturam humanam" (ST, I-II, q.110, a.2, ad 2)
8 "..."(1 Co 13, 12). "..."(Ex 33, 11; ref. 34, 10)
9 This is what Saint Thomas means when, speaking with regard to Christ about the beatific vision, he asserts that for man it is "secundum naturam" in so far as the human nature is "capax", capable of it through its spiritual soul created in the image of God (ref.III, q.9, a.2, ad 3).
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