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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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2. Nature and Secularity in Pre-Thomistic Theology 21


2. Nature and Secularity in Pre-Thomistic Theology WHERE DID the idea of pure nature originate? For Henri de Lubac and his heirs the usual answer is that pura natura was invented by Cardinal Cajetan in the early 16th century.1 In this chapter I propose another answer, namely that the idea of pure nature, though not the term itself, is at least as old as Hellen- istic Christianity. I shall present this investigation under four heading: 1. The Term and Idea of “Nature” in Hellenistic Philosophy and in Scripture 2. Pure Nature and the Doctrines of Election and Separation 3. Christian Assimilation and Difference in the Roman Empire 4. Spatial Metaphors: the World vs. the Holy, the Ecclesial, and the Monastic “Nature” in Hellenistic Philosophy and in Scripture We begin with the word nature itself, to consider how the remarkable idea it denotes became part of early Christian (and, before that, of Jewish) thought. The word “nature” comes into English, from the Latin natura, inheriting a meaning developed in Greek around the word physis. Like natura, physis is from the verb that means “to grow” or “to be born” (nascor in Latin, physo in Greek), and designates what is born or grows spontaneously. More philosoph- ically, nature points to the principle by which particular things are what they are: so we say this or that quality or behaviour is natural when we mean it cor- responds to what something is. It is in the nature of cats, but not ducks, to...

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