(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.
This article is one of father Philippe's most well known, and where he powerfully shows just how profound and essential a basis realistic philosophy is for the depth and vivacity of our christian life. All father's work in philosophy culminates in his ground breaking insight into what he spoke of with precision as the "human person" - his philosophy was therefore one not just of form, or substance (as thomist scholasticism, though not St.Thomas himself, is), but also of finality and life: man in all his dimensions, neither reducing him to a dry definition nor belittling him by amputating his existence of its radical, metaphysical depth. This deep and realistic understanding of man allows Philippe to offer a fresh and renewed perspective on how grace is given and recieved. Indeed, if our human nature grows and develops into the radically unique human person each one of us is, then how does grace sanctify that person we are and become? Grace presupposes nature... Grace cooperates with the human person we are, and a child of God is the gradual fruit of a gift of God to each of us, a gift of a kind that recreates us with our full cooperation.
Nature, person and grace
Br. Marie-Dominique Philippe, o.p. (1912-2006)
In theology it is very important to try and pin-point what has traditionally been called the relationship between grace and nature (we will return to this expression further on). This question has been discussed a great deal between Dominicans and Jesuits, and particularly concerning the various different interpretations of Thomas Aquinas. It is a question of capital importance and which reappears in every period of history, along with the disputations it gives rise to. The latter remain above all arguments between schools of thought, and which the Church recently experienced once again with the much talked of discussion begun by Father de Lubac's work on the Surnaturel1 [supernatural]. We do not intend to treat this question as a discussion between schools of thought, but rather to consider it afresh, starting from its very source. It is indeed an indispensable question and has immense consequences on the whole of our Christian life: all ways of seeing Christian life are grounded in a theology of the relationship between grace and nature.
Faith and intelligence: theology
The first consequence of this issue is obviously on the relationship between faith and the intelligence - a relationship which is fundamental for having a clear understanding of what theology is. The encyclical Faith and Reason reminds us that theology involves a cooperation of the intelligence with faith. This invites us to ask ourselves how faith can assume the human intelligence. Faith takes root in grace and the human intelligence in the human soul, i.e. the human intelligence is a capacity of the human soul. To ask the question of the possibility of a cooperation between faith and the intelligence, and to ask what the nature of this cooperation is, would seem to be the major, fundamental question for the theologian, indeed, the question to which he constantly returns.
Our brother, Fr. Marie-Dominique Goutierre's latest book is on the first letter of Saint John. Here is the introduction, translated to English. How is it possible for what John writes about God to be given to us as the Word of God? While the Gospels offer us the words and gestures of Christ Himself, the letters come to us from the Church's first theologians. How does the Holy Spirit, given to us by Jesus that we might enter more fully into His Revelation, enable us to unfold and truly discover, beyond a modern perspective on interpretation, the mysteries of what God said and who He is?
Thank you, father!
God is light, God is love
A theological reading of the first letter of St. John
By Marie-Dominique Goutierre
(Editions Parole et Silence, 2012)
After the Last Supper Jesus promised to His Apostles that He would send them the Paraclete. And He does so through the Cross, by fully becoming the Lamb of God: “I am telling you the truth: it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16,7); Jesus’ departure, the offering of His life in love, is the sine qua non condition for sending the Paraclete. Now, Jesus surrenders His life, lays down His soul, at the Cross. Because He had promised, and because it was a promise of love, Jesus could not delay in sending the Paraclete to those He had said He would send Him to, and first of all, in love’s haste, to His Mother and His beloved disciple.
The last priestly act of Christ is to entrust His soul into the hands of the Father, an offering of love of His human life, performed in this ultimate initiative: “After Jesus had taken the wine he said, 'It is fulfilled'; and bowing his head he gave up His spirit.” (Jn 19,30) What Jesus had taught when He revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd is fully accomplished here: “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.” (Jn 10,17-18) And Jesus becomes the instrument for the sending of the Holy Spirit Paraclete after His death, after He has become the Lamb who was as though slain (Ap. 5,6), the victim of love par excellence.
I'd like to recomend the following book, The Silent Struggle. A remarkable story of triumph over abuse and anorexia, by Sr Marie-Therese of the Cross. (Redemptorist Publications, 2008)
Sister also offers powerful explanations of why the last recovery program she tried worked and the personal steps that preceded it and paved the way to it. Through her narrative and her insightful observations and reflexions the reader learns much about the human person in the complexity of heavily damaged conditioning and how a human understanding of that is needed. One also sees how her Faith in Christ was the deepest answer to the suffering and the ultimate reason to recover her true self, though she experienced no miracle cure (rather, the love and intelligence of a few people who helped her). It's an easily readable book, written in a very personal style, and the author remains discreet in her explanations of the abuse she suffered.
Annorexia is a powerful illness and one which is often overlooked or misunderstood... this book has for me been an essential deepening of my understanding of it and what one can sometimes do to help those suffering with it. Above all, it's a rare witness to a very real and full recovery from such a devastating condition and the suffering that it veils; a recovery she made with her fellow sisters, priests and doctors... a powerful exemple of how Faith and intelligence need to work together in the setting of friendship - friendship with Christ and with brothers and sisters on the Way!