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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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3. Thomas Aquinas on Mortality, Infused Virtues, and Limbo 49


3. Thomas Aquinas on Mortality, Infused Virtues, and Limbo TO SHOW THE place that the idea of pure nature has in the theology of Thomas Aquinas we shall consider six topics: three in the present chapter, and three more in chapter four. In order, the six topics are human morality, the necessity of the infused virtues and gifts, limbo, kingship, natural law, and the epistemology of the sciences. Before proceeding with the first of these, however, it will be advantageous to recall an exceedingly fine distinction that Thomas Aquinas makes concern- ing “nature” and “the natural.” As we shall see, Thomas repeatedly discrimi- nates between the specifically or essentially natural (nature as essence) and the intrinsically natural (nature as condition or as an individual’s non-specific principle of motion). At times, this distinction appears as a discrimination between what belongs to the form (essential nature) and matter (intrinsic na- ture) of a given substance. Aquinas articulates this distinction most explicitly in his Christology, as we see in his interpretation of Cyril of Alexandria in Summa theologiae 3, q. 2, a. 1. In the text, we find Thomas asking whether the union of God and man in the Incarnation occurred “in a nature” (in natura). The trend of the objections is to say that the union did indeed occur in a nature. This trend is at least su- perficially consistent with the doctrine of Cyril, who proposed that “we should not think of two natures” in Christ, “but of one nature (mia...

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