Writings by Germain Grisez and Peter Ryan, S.J.
Edited By Peter J. Weigel
How Can the Beatific Vision Both Fulfill Human Nature and Be Utterly Gratuitous?
PETER F. RYAN, S.J.
Christians believe that human beings are called to supernatural fulfillment in the beatific vision. To reach it, we must be elevated by grace. The supernatural is no mere theological category. Scripture itself speaks of our call to become “sharers in the divine nature,” “children of God,” and makes it clear that this calling is utterly gratuitous, entirely above God’s gift of our natural being.
At the same time, the beatific vision plainly must, in some sense, fulfill human nature—or, as I shall put it, be naturally fulfilling. We must be capable of receiving it. In fact, receiving it must be good for us; otherwise, we could not be interested in it. Unless we are better off receiving it than not, we would have no reason to accept the offer of the beatific vision—and Christians believe that we do have such a reason.
How can the beatific vision be both naturally fulfilling and utterly gratuitous? One might respond that the issue should pose no problem, because Christians have always believed that we cannot be fulfilled apart from God and that he freely gives himself to us. However, while faith makes it clear that heavenly beatitude is both utterly gratuitous and naturally fulfilling, theology should explain how that is possible.
This teaching of faith might seem so obvious as to preclude theological problems. Indeed, certain expressions of that teaching suggest that it poses no problem. We...
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