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Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac

Not Everything is Grace


Fr. Bernard Mulcahy

Twentieth-century Catholic theology was strongly affected by Henri de Lubac’s claim that the western theological tradition went awry by allowing that one could have an adequate idea of human nature without reference to humanity’s supernatural end. According to de Lubac, the culprits were early modern scholastics, and their mistake was the idea of pure nature. Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac: Not Everything Is Grace contributes to the current literature criticizing de Lubac’s thesis. Specifically, it offers an explanation for its enduring power and popularity with particular attention to the contemporary Radical Orthodoxy movement.


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1. Pure Nature and the Challenge of Integralism 1


  1. Pure Nature and the Challenge of Integralism “IN EVERYTHING GOD works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28). This is what St Thérèse of Lisieux meant when she said, famously, that “every- thing is grace.”1 However, there are other contexts in which it is important to affirm that not everything is grace. This dissertation is about a theological dis- pute involving some of those other contexts, the dispute over the idea of pure nature. In this study we will explore the Thomistic notion of pure nature and ex- amine the opposing idea of Catholic integralism, as developed by the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896–1981) and later by the lay Anglican theologian John Milbank (b. 1952). We proceed in this introductory chapter under the following six headings: 1. Defining Pure Nature 2. Objections to the Notion of Pure Nature 3. Defining Integralism 4. The Integralist Challenge of Henri de Lubac 5. The Integralist Challenge of John Milbank 6. The Plan of this Study Defining Pure Nature “Pure nature” is a term which became common in the scholastic tradition, particularly among Thomists. When it was first used, and by whom, is un- known. St Thomas Aquinas, in any event, does consider human being and action under the formality of the purely natural (in puris naturalibus) as we shall see in chapters three and four, below. Not Everything is Grace   2 We may draw a working definition of pure nature from the writings of...

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