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Braine on de Lubac

February 20, 2009

While over at Theogothic  a survey of John Milbank’s take on Calvin is being presented I thought I would point everyone to a good critique of Henri de Lubac – this is pertinant since the Rady-O folks are heavily influenced by his interpretation of Thomas’s “natural desire” for the beatific vision. Although I am not an expert on de Lubac and his critics I do understand a few of the critiques from his RC brethren:  de Lubac reads Thomas through a Scotist lens and emphasizes will over intellect, he goes too far in his union of nature and grace – they almost seem identical, he confuses “nature” and “person” in a way that makes human nature liable to change.

David Braine offers a thorough assessment of these critiques and of de Lubac’s apparent mistakes. Braine notes that many of those who criticize Henri de Lubac’s interpretation of Thomas’s teaching in the Summa contra gentiles (3.LVII.iv), quod omnis intellectus naturaliter desiderat divinae substantiae visionem, every intellect has a natural desire for the vision of the divine substance, have not sought to clarify his definition of the word “nature.” Braine lays most of the blame for this misunderstanding upon de Lubac:

de Lubac did not have the gift of using analytical philosophy in the service of theology in the way exemplified in St. Thomas. He therefore makes the mistake of regarding human nature, if realized in an order of providence distinct from the actual order of providence within which we actually come into existence and live, as a specific difference between two natures which are only generically the same. Instead, maintaining the use of the term “nature,” or phusis, exemplified in Aristotelian and most later philosophical usage, he should have said that supernatural finality is something given to persons in virtue of a relation, rather than it gives them a distinct nature. (Braine, “The Debate Between Henri de Lubac and His Critics,” Nova et Vetera, Summer 2008, p. 552)

Where de Lubac spoke of a a supernatural finality “inscribed upon human nature” he should have said “inscribed upon human persons.” The reason for this is that human nature in its abstract philosophical sense is a definition of the quiddity (whatness) of the species “human.” It is not an essential characteristic of human nature that it have supernatural qualities. In his effort to prove that Suarez’s hypothetical world of pure nature never really existed he allows the pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme of confusing nature and the supernatural. Concerning the critique that de Lubac puts too much emphasis on the will in man’s supernatural calling, Braine agrees while being charitable to what he thinks was the essence of de Lubac’s argument:

When it is said that “the soul is naturally capable of grace,” we should say that it is the person as made with intellect and will, and thereby in the image of God, who is being said to be thus capable […] It is only by beginning from the recognition of the person as the primary subject of predication where human beings are concerned, and then by thinking of the soul as the human intellectual principle in the person, and by thinking of intellect and will as aspects of this principle, rather than as powers predicated of it, that we can avoid the idea of the natural desiderium for the vision of God as an exercise of the power called will, elicited by some logically prior exercise of the power called the intellect. (Ibid., p. 556.)

Braine agrees with de Lubac’s critique of Cajetan in the sense that the later considered the desire for the vision of God to be “natural” only secundum quid (in a certain way) and unnatural simpliciter. Braine notes that St. Thomas held the opposite opinion, using the word “natural” to refer not to some hypothetical world of pure nature but to God’s actual order of providence. Therefore, since the real world is the world that is ordered by God’s providence Thomas can say that the desire for the vision of God is natural. This means Thomas gives primacy to the theological perspective whereas Cajetan gives primacy to the natural. Thus, de Lubac is correct in critiquing the notion that man has two distinct ends, one natural, the other supernatural. Finally, Braine seeks to clarify de Lubac’s interpretation of Thomas while offering a critique:

de Lubac’s exegesis of St. Thomas in regard to the natural desire (desiderium) for the vision of God does not appear to be sustainable. If we look at St. Thomas, and examine typical texts in which the “natural desire (desiderium) for the vision of God” is spoken of, such as SCG III, c. 50, it is evident that St. Thomas is speaking of a natural desire which is conditional upon knowledge of the existence of God as cause of all things …. it is a natural desire which can in principle be satisfied, though only through supernatural assistance, and in the actual order of providence under which the whole of creation exists throgh the divine gifts of grace and glory will always be satisfied, unless some obstacle is put to receiving these gifts by the will of the creature which can only hope with those who have reached the age of reason. (Ibid., p. 568.)

In essence, Braine is arguing that de Lubac did not mention the fact that Thomas believed that the natural desire of man for the vision of God is not fulfilled naturally. Thomas believed that in order for man to attain this his final end he needs the added supernatural qualities which lift the soul up to God. Rather than disrespect the memory and life’s work of such a great scholar as Henri de Lubac, Braine includes within his critiques many principles of the former’s theology that still remain valid. Overall his clarifications and critiques of de Lubac and his critics are very helpful and important, especially in regard to those who have been influenced by this proponent of the Ressourcement, some of whom have continued to confuse nature and the supernatural.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. theogothic permalink
    February 20, 2009 8:26 pm

    Interesting that he connects de Lubac with Scotus. Milbank said de Lubac was one of the greatest thinkers of the age, and Milbank also said that the fall of man coincided with Duns Scotus.

    I’m sure the RO guys have some big problems, but they also helped me in tremendous ways. Until then, I thought the only proper way to read Aquinas was to read him through the eyes of Norman Geisler. RO really helped out. They also helped out in a number of ways.

  2. theogothic permalink
    February 20, 2009 9:30 pm

    apologies for the redundancy in my above post. I sound like a 15 year old praise band baptist.

  3. February 21, 2009 8:18 am

    Yeah, the Scotus connection was made by critics back in the 40s when Le Surnatural was first published. Braine seeks to give more substance to de Lubac’s argument instead of dismissing it as an erroneous Scotism. I agree that the Rady-O folks have said some helpful things. I really enjoyed “Truth in Aquinas” and Pickstock’s use of the esse/essentia distinction to explain Thomas’s theology of transubstantiation (even though she gets a bit carried away) in “After Writing.” And of course there are problems – which is why I added my two cents in this post. I advocate a “take the good, trash the bad” policy. Pax Domini!

  4. February 21, 2009 3:19 pm

    For anyone interested in a bit of the history of the nouvelle theologie, as it was termed, Aidan Nichols presents a good survey here:

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