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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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6. Henri de Lubac and Pure Nature in the 20th Century 147


6. Henri de Lubac and Pure Nature in the 20th Century AS THE PRECEDING chapters show, there is ample reason to assume that Christian theology has long been at home with the theory and practice of con- sidering human nature apart from the gifts of grace and without reference to any supernatural telos. In early modern times, however, and in the wake of the upheaval of the Reformations, the Jansenist movement, as we have indicated, came to mistrust scholastic distinctions between human nature in itself and human nature in relation to the life of grace. At issue was the technical notion of pure nature, as well as the Baianist proposition that, before the sin of Ad- am, our first parents lived in graceless existence in which they could, by the exercise of their natural powers alone, merit heaven or hell. In condemning Baianism and Jansenism, the Catholic Church—as de Lubac rightly observes— did not approve any scholastic terminology of pure nature, or even forbid the rejection of such theological language. Henri de Lubac’s dispute with this ter- minology centres around the historical question of whether notions of pure nature were authentically traditional and Thomistic, and on whether such ideas do or do not contribute to anti-religious secularism. For a further evaluation of de Lubac’s position, three considerations are necessary: first, the acknowledgement of his theological aims; second, his in- terpretation of Thomas Aquinas; and third, the historical context of his thought. The last of these is of the greatest...

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