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Appendix III | Grace and Nature In East and West

I suggested in Chapter Nine above that both the post-Reformation confrontations between Catholics and Protestants in the West and also the earlier confrontation between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism may, as regards their theological aspects, involve very basic questions about the nature of the relation between God and man, the doctrine of creation and, arising out of that, the doctrine of grace and the supernatural. I also suggested that if the relation between God and man is of the kind that I have represented it as being, if man, as a creature, is not a rounded off and finished essence but is, by his very dependence on God, inherently open to fresh and unpredictable influxes of the Creator's activity, the way may be open for a new and hopeful reopening of the matter in the ecumenical field. With this in view I propose to consider in some detail two short discussions of very different types, both of which appeared on the Continent as long ago as 1954, in French and German respectively, and in this country in English translations in 1961.


The first of these, published under the title of The Theology of Grace and the Oecumenical Movement, was compiled by two Professors of the University of Louvain, Canon C. Moeller1 and Mgr G. Philips, from the proceedings of a conference held at the monastery of Chevetogne in 1953, in which the chief participants were two Roman Catholics (Mgr Philips and Fr Walty, O.P.), two Eastern Orthodox (Dr J. Meyendorff and M. A. de Ivanka) and two Protestants (Pastor Bruston and Pastor P. Y. Emery). Apart from the intrinsic interest of their contributions, the presence of the two Orthodox scholars was of special value as immensely widening the theological range of the discussion; for, on the one hand, the objections which Protestants have traditionally felt against the Catholic doctrine of grace (namely, that it postulates a change in man which is inconsistent with his creaturely character) apply far more strongly against the Orthodox doctrine, while to the Orthodox the Catholic teaching about created grace seems not to provide for a real transformation at all and to be merely a slightly less extreme version of Protestantism. The stage was therefore set for a very searching and vigorous argument, but, as far as one can tell from the Report, it seems to have been both good-tempered and constructive.

The Report begins by taking the three terms ‘deification’, ‘created grace’ and ‘extrinsic grace’ as characteristic of the respective viewpoints of Orthodoxy, Catholicism and the Reformation. Catholics, it remarks, ‘usually get no further than the over-simplified picture of justification in Protestantism which hides the sinner under the cloak of Christ, but leaves him in his sin’. Protestants, on the other hand, condemn the Catholic doctrine that grace is an infused habitus, a created reality, for turning grace into ‘a “thing” that is at man's disposal, like a kind of accumulator of a divine energy with the human will operating the switchboard’.2 The Orthodox, in their turn, reject the whole notion that something can be both supernatural and created, ‘affirming that only God can give God, and that no created reality, whatever it may be, can be commensurate with him’;3 it is added that the Orthodox theology of grace as ‘deification’ interprets this whole process as affecting the whole being, body no less than soul, and that the most characteristic version of this theology is Palamism.4 This approach, it is remarked, is particularly bound up with Christology and ecclesiology, while Western theology has thought of grace much more in terms of pneumatology, starting from the gift of the Spirit; Peter Lombard seems in fact to identify grace with the Holy Spirit tout court. ‘While, therefore, Eastern theology is chiefly preoccupied with finding out what, in God, makes him able to give himself, that of the West is concerned particularly with what it is, in man, which allows him to receive God.’5 So the scholastics worked out a view of created grace as a habitus in the very substance of the soul; and this emphasis on the soul, so sharply contrasted with the Eastern notion of the transfiguration not only of soul but also of body, is carried further by the Reformers, whose theology ‘brings into prominence all the wickedness of our nature, and arrives at a theology of imputation and of a grace which is extrinsic and whose realisation is deferred until the last days.’6 ‘Any theology of grace must insist both upon the primacy of God who justifies and sanctifies man, and at the same time on the reality of regeneration.’7 It is suggested that here the argument is mainly between Catholics and Orthodox on one side and Protestants on the other, though attention is also drawn to Père Bouyer's argument that ‘the Reformation principles, sola fide, sola gratia, soli Deo gloria, are, in the positive sense in which the first Reformers advocated them, profoundly biblical and catholic.’8

After this introductory display of the field to be covered, the first main chapter is devoted to an account of the Orthodox approach. ‘The starting point for the theology of deification is the real and deifying presence of Christ in the world and in the Church.’9 Salvation is the assimilation of human nature to God, and this is a work that only God can do. Palamism is thus, in one aspect, a theological reaction against neo-Platonism. The whole point of the Palamite distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies is that it makes for a real deification of the creature; no creature can receive the divine essence, but to receive the divine energies is nevertheless to receive God. With reference to the famous controversy between Palamas and the Calabrian monk Barlaam, we are told that ‘Palamas wants to reconcile the impossibility of knowing God, who is beyond all being, hyperousios, with the fact that he is communicated in the “divine energies”; and this conception he opposes to that of Barlaam, whom he considers too “humanist”, too preoccupied with the “discovery of the divinity present in every spiritual soul”, in the neo-Platonic fashion.’10 So, with regard to the ‘hesychast’ spirituality, which is the counterpart in prayer of the Palamite theology, we are told that ‘the hesychast is not contemplating his own image but the glory of God about his soul and also about his body; the hesychast is not seeking a spiritual state, but Christ living in him.’11 If only our Niebuhrs, Brunners and Auléns had recognised this how much less ready they might have been to condemn all forms of Christian mysticism as essentially pagan!12 The Report goes on to say that the Orthodox consider that this doctrine of the uncreated energies rules out the Western notion of created grace as a habitus, which is both supernatural and created; but it goes on to suggest that what that doctrine maintains is expressed by the Western distinction between the natural and the supernatural and it repeats the point that East and West are really concerned with different questions, the East with the question what it is in God that enables him to give himself, the West with the question what it is in man that enables him to receive God. Later it will be shown how the Western doctrine was evolved in a particular philosophical and theological situation which explains its peculiar character, but the Report concludes its discussion of Orthodoxy by expressing the opinion that, while the Palamite doctrine, in spite of its neglect of the notions of fides obscura and of the basing of faith upon authority, is fundamentally reconcilable with Catholic orthodoxy, it provides a much more obstinate nut for Protestants to crack. While granting that the doctrine preserves the absolute primacy of God and appreciating its likeness to the thought of Peter Lombard, with whom Luther himself expressed sympathy, they will be unhappy about the idea that man can ‘participate’ in the divine life and even less attracted by the part which the Sacraments are alleged to play in the process of deification. But the final point is made that opposition to neo-Platonism has played much the same part in the East as opposition to Pelagianism in the West, namely in stressing the absolute primacy of God.

At this point I will interrupt my discussion of the Report to remark that the thought of Gregory Palamas may turn out to be very much more important in the ecumenical sphere than has yet been recognised. We are fortunate in having two admirable books about him from the pen of Dr John Meyendorff, the long and authoritative scholarly Study of Gregory Palamas and the exquisitely produced and illustrated little book St Grégoire Palamas et la Mystique orthodoxe, which is none the less reliable and is in fact a comprehensive guide to the whole Orthodox tradition of spirituality. The impression which one derives is, surprisingly enough, that, whatever may be true as regards verbal idiom and the strictly philosophical setting, there is a fundamental dogmatic and religious agreement between St Gregory Palamas and St Thomas Aquinas. This impression may be justified by some specific examples.

First, the famous controversy between Palamas and Barlaam about the uncreated light. Whether Barlaam knew the works of his contemporary William of Ockham is doubtful, and there appears to be a difference of opinion about his knowledge of ‘Thomism’; Meyendorff tells us that Barlaam's first theological essays were directed against ‘the Latin theology which for him was identified with that of “Thomism”’,13 while the Report says that he ‘had no knowledge of Thomism, whatever has been alleged’14 (the two statements are perhaps not irreconcilable). What seems to be clear is that he was a professed nominalist: ‘Barlaam, who fled in the West from the intellectual realism of the Thomist scholasticism, threw himself in the East against the mystical realism of the monks.’15 In fact, Meyendorff tells us, his two great tenets were nominalism and essentialism; and these are the two great betes noires of Thomism, as M. Maritain and M. Gilson have taken such pains to make clear to us. If the Eastern Church, under the leadership of Palamas, had not firmly suppressed this nominalist movement, Meyendorff somewhat pointedly maintains, it would have been led into ‘a crisis like that which the Christian West has undergone, namely the neo-paganism of the Renaissance and the Reformation of the Church in conformity with the new nominalist philosophy.’16

Viewed from this aspect, the doctrine of the divine energies can appear even to a Western in a less baffling light. Recent commentators have seen the heart of St Thomas's thought to lie in its firm hold upon the principle of existence (esse) in contrast to the primacy given to the principle of essence by both his opponents and his more pedestrian disciples.17 Now, according to Meyendorff, it was precisely to counteract the essentialist trend that Palamas developed his distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies; and it is noteworthy that, just as many modern Thomists have hailed St Thomas as the true existentialist, Meyendorff gives this honourable title to St Gregory. It would, of course, be rash in the extreme to identify the divine existence in Thomism with the divine energy in Palamism; nevertheless it would be a fascinating and really important question for investigation whether Thomas and Gregory were not ultimately concerned with the same theological and religious question, even if they expounded it in terms of divergent metaphysical systems. Admittedly, the Palamite insistence upon the basic unknowability of God seems at first sight to be contrary to the Thomist doctrine that God is supremely intelligible. Nevertheless, some Thomists, such as Fr Victor White, O.P.,18 have discerned in Aquinas an agnosticism that has scandalised some of their less intrepid colleagues, while, on the other hand, M. Vladimir Lossky has argued that the Palamite doctrine, while ascribing to God in his essence an unknowability exceeding that asserted by Plotinus, holds him to be wholly communicated in the energies by which he deifies us. And, even if we cannot simply equate existence with energy, perhaps we can see a difference between essence as it is understood by Aquinas and by Palamas, and the reconciliation may lie along this line.

Again, this apophaticism, this stress on the negative way in our approacn to God, which is so characteristic of Palamas and of Eastern theology and spirituality generally, is it so very different from what we find in St John of the Cross? And if M. Maritain is able to allay our fears in the case of the great Spanish Carmelite by a skilful application of Thomist epistemology and a discreet distinction between the language of theoretical and of practical theology,19 may not the Palamites be performing the same task when they assure us that God, though inaccessible in his essence, imparts himself fully in his energies? Would St John of the Cross in fact have found the hesychasts uncongenial, even if they might have found his own brand of apophaticism somewhat violent? Is not the revival of hesychasm in modern Orthodoxy strikingly paralleled by the revival of contemplative prayer in the West, and may not both be different species of the same generic response to a situation which is common to Christians of both East and West today? And may it not be significant that both of these are accompanied by a recovery of the sense of the Liturgy and a movement for more frequent communion? I am not sure that the answers to these questions are as simple as one would like them to be, but they seem to me to be the kind of questions that theologians ought to be investigating.

One final aspect of the importance of Palamas in the present ecumenical setting must be stressed. Dr Meyendorff shows how clearly and radically Christian Palamas's theology and spirituality are, in spite of the neo-Platonist mould in which they are cast. (Perhaps he is not altogether fair in contrasting Palamas as sharply as he does with Evagrius. The suggestion has been made that Palamas is supremely successful in reconciling the Evagrian and Macarian traditions, and if this is so he is all the greater.) Thus, he insists that progress in the Christian life is the fruit of the sacrament of baptism and that it takes place within the sacramental life of the Church; that the whole man, body and soul together, is deified by grace through his union with Christ, in contrast to any Plotinian flight of the alone to the alone. Even the Palamite doctrine that the light that streamed from Christ on the mount of Transfiguration was no created radiance but the uncreated energy of God—a doctrine which will seem to many Westerners to be somewhat remote and speculative—was concerned to emphasise that the whole of Christ's human nature, and not only his soul, was united to the Person of the Divine Word, so that his body itself was the instrument of the Divine Person. And there is a fundamentally biblical emphasis in Gregory which was to stand Orthodoxy in good stead in the face of the Platonic revival associated specially with the name of Gemistos Plethon. Such emphases as these in Palamism are surely in tune with the most vigorous insights of religious thought in the West today, and it may well be that Eastern Orthodox spirituality had remembered them when the West had largely forgotten them.

We must return from this digression to the Report of the Chevetogne conference. The chapter on Eastern Orthodoxy is followed by a long and detailed historical exposition of the development of the Western concept of ‘created grace’. This is not altogether easy reading, but it is significant as manifesting a growing recognition by many Roman Catholic theologians that a great many difficulties may be removed if theological formulations are carefully located and assessed in the context in which they took their rise and are not simply interpreted in the light of later and sometimes unsatisfactory developments. As comparable examples we might mention Fr Tavard's careful consideration of the relation between Scripture and Tradition as discussed by the Council of Trent,20 Fr M. Bévenot's discussion ‘“Faith and Morals” in the Councils of Trent and Vatican I’,21 and Dr Gustave Thils's study of the relation between the Papacy and the Episcopate as conceived at the First Vatican Council.22 (On this last issue it is interesting to notice the usefulness which has been discovered in the Declaration of the German Episcopate of 187523 and which may well have influenced the teaching on collegiality in the Constitution De Ecclesia of Vatican II.) On the general question, Fr P. Fransen, S.J., has condemned the flippancy with which conciliar and other official texts are sometimes used as material with which to bombard the enemy, with little attention to their original context and purpose,24 while Dr Hans Küng has stressed the complementary point that even the most solemn dogmatic statements, just because they are made in a particular context to deal with particular problems, have necessarily a certain limited and historically conditioned character, so that ‘it is the serious duty of theologians to see all theological formulae and dogmas against the background and in the context of revelation in its entirety, in both Old and New Testaments.’25

So the Chevetogne Report points out that the notion of grace as a habitus became explicit in connection with the development of the theology of infant baptism, when the question was raised as to what can be the ‘grace’ which is given to an infant who is incapable of performing an act. However, the phrase ‘created grace’ does not appear until about 1245, in the Summa of Alexander of Hales, although the idea of it seems to occur in Alan of Lille in the latter half of the previous century. Earlier thinkers, such as Augustine, speak only of the contact of the Creator with the creature, with no mention of any created intermediary, and Peter Lombard's identification of charity with the Holy Spirit looks like a throw-back to Augustine. However, the Report penetratingly remarks, what Peter failed to see was that a habitus of love could be at the same time a direct participation of the Spirit; but at any rate he knew of no created habitus.

It is with the great scholastics such as St Bonaventura and St Thomas that the doctrine of created grace becomes prominent, and it is pointed out that Bonaventura had two reasons for promoting it. First, he was concerned to rule out any Pelagian doctrine of the righteousness of human works: ‘If there were no created grace, one might think that man by his own works gives himself grace.’26 And, secondly, ‘the love of God, giving itself, is effective, producing a change in man. Consequently, the disposition, the created habitus, is the result of the presence of the God of love.’ And Bonaventura is quoted as asserting: ‘Habere est haberi, to possess (a habitus) is to be possessed by God.’27 Side by side with these two admirable reasons, it is remarked that two others, less fortunate, can be discerned in the scholastics and can be traced back to St Albertus Magnus. First, Tor an act to be meritorious, a man must in some sense be master of it; for an act to be his own, a man must be able to act as he wants.’28 Secondly, there is the highly misleading image of God and creation as separated by a kind of gulf, which needs to be bridged by an intermediary, and created grace claims to perform this function.29 However, the Report replies, the created habitus must not be thought of as an ens completum, inserted between man and the Spirit; it is an ens dynamicum, that is to say, a dynamic entity which exists only through the direct and continuous action of God who is present in the soul and disposes it to receive him. The risk of ‘turning grace into a thing’ is thus not to be dismissed as a myth, but the risk can be avoided, and St Thomas does in fact avoid it.

For St Thomas, we are told, grace is a reality but it is not an object. If the Spirit dwells in a man, the man is changed and the habitus results from this. No antecedent habitus is needed: the habitus has no cause but God himself, in the very moment in which he gives himself. And it is ‘an active tension set up by God at work in man… nothing less than the will of God expressing itself unceasingly within the complex reality of the being of man.’30

Why, then, it is asked in conclusion, did Luther go back to Peter Lombard and accept only uncreated grace? As in other sixteenth-century issues, nominalism was the villain. For the late scholastics, such as Biel and Ockham, the habitus ‘could not but be something separated from God, shut off inside the closed system of humanity, with God removed to an arbitrary and inaccessible transcendence. Because nominalism could conceive of no real contact between the creature and the Creator, it presented the habitus as an intermediate being, a separate entity in itself, possessed by man apart from the influence of grace.’31 The consequence was that, in order to rule out Pelagianism, Luther rejected the very notion which had been originally introduced for that precise purpose. But he would not have rejected Bonaventura's Habere est haberi and, in spite of his repudiation of the doctrine that grace produces a habitual transformation in us, he did recover from elsewhere the idea of a real transformation of man by grace.

The final episodes of the story are related very briefly. Trent made no use of the terms habitus or gratia creata, so the field is left clear. Later theology concentrated more and more on gratia creata, and indeed on actual rather than on habitual grace. However, the idea of gratia increata, the indwelling of the Spirit, began to come back and now everything is ready for a synthesis.32

The synthesis (described accurately as ‘brief’) is outlined in the following chapter. The dualism between created grace and indwelling is emphatically excluded, as is the notion of the infinite ‘gulf’. Five positive points are made. (1) God's love is effective, therefore grace makes a change in man; he becomes a ‘new creature’. (2) The change lasts; grace increases simply because the union with God grows closer and deeper. (3) God acts directly in the habitus; there is no ‘object’ between the man and God. (4) The vitalism of the habitus: God is present in an exchange which leaves our free will unimpaired: ‘He makes us act… without its being possible to say that God alone acts.’33 (5) Merit must be properly understood, and three things need to be stressed: (i) it is an ontological quality, ‘not a “cheque” presented in exchange for something else’;34 (ii) it is personal, ‘one's “merits” are not rewarded because one is in credit on a sort of moral bank account, but because of what one is;35 and (iii), as Trent taught, when God crowns our merits, he crowns his own gifts.

Two final points are made. The first is that the personal character of the relations between man and God needs to be emphasised much more than in the past. I heartily agree; it has always seemed to me that most of the discussions since the Reformation about divine premotion and human freedom, and about predestination and merit, have been vitiated from the start by an image of divine and human activity as two quasi-mechanical forces, to be compounded by something like the parallelogram-law, rather than as the activities of a personal Creator and a personal creature; the unhappy history of the Congregation De Auxiliis is perhaps the most glaring example of this. Secondly, it is suggested that more attention needs to be given to the idea of participation, a union which is not to be thought of merely in terms of either efficient or exemplary causality but rather of active presence. And finally, the term ‘created grace’, for all its venerable past, is called in question as having acquired a number of secondary and unfortunate meanings, and strong recommendation is given to a phrase which Fr de la Taille used in a slightly different connection, actuation créée par acte incréé. This is extremely difficult to render succinctly in English, as the English order of words separates the adjectival and participial functions of créée, which are combined in the French, but what it is intended to state is that there is a real created actuation, not a mythical one, and that it is created by the uncreated act which is God himself.

After this long and detailed statement and reinterpretation of Catholic doctrine the Report passes on to consider Justification in Protestant theology. It does this very briefly, giving as its excuse that Père Bouyer has already shown, in his book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, that the view of Protestant doctrine held by most Catholics is a sheer caricature. For Reformation theology, it says, grace cannot be thought of as a thing; it is inseparable from the person, God, who gives himself. Grace has three aspects, justification, sanctification and redemption. Justification and sanctification are inseparable, for we receive them together, but they must not be confused, for justification is absolute, perfect and extrinsic, while sanctification is relative, imperfect and intrinsic. A footnote calls attention to the danger of separating the two stages, making justification God's part and sanctification man's part. Trent did not consider sanctification, and much of what it attributed to justification the Reformers attributed to sanctification instead. Calvin's stress on the external and imputed character of justification was intended to make it clear that God's act is a free gift and eschatological in nature; the realisation of redemption is still to come. Reformed theology is ill at ease with ‘theology of glory’. For Calvin, the foundation of the Christian's life is the union of God with man and its direct result is sanctification by the Spirit. Reformed theologians dislike terms like ‘merit’, but they would accept the term ‘created grace’ as equivalent to the statement of Phil ii. 13 that God works in us both to will and to work. The conclusion is that ‘sanctification is real and internal. And justification and sanctification are in fact inseparable, as complementary aspects (not parallel), one external and one internal, of the same act.’36 We may note that there is not any explicit reference to the doctrine of Lutheranism, or any suggestion that on the matter in question it might in any way differ from that of the Reformed tradition. It was perhaps both a strength and a weakness of the Conference that its Protestant membership was apparently purely Calvinist.

There follows a very short chapter stressing that both Orthodoxy and Protestantism have insisted on the fundamentally trinitarian nature of grace. This is asserted as being no less true of Catholicism, and a fine passage is quoted from Trent in support, but the post-Tridentine manualists are trounced for neglecting it. The final chapter of the Report realistically opens by remarking that, while the discussion has shown there to be a much greater basic agreement than a superficial or polemical approach would reveal, nevertheless ‘infinitely deeper divisions appear’ at the same time.37 These are then investigated with frankness and sympathy. They fall under the three heads of Philosophical Systematisations, Original Sin and Christology.

The section on Philosophical Systematisations is extremely stimulating, rather complicated and no doubt in some respects controversial. The different traditions describe the change that justification brings about in man in different ways: for the Orthodox it is a divine life, for Catholics a holy life, for Protestants a battle against sin and the devil. For Orthodoxy the encounter between God and man is ‘synergism’, for Protestants an ‘enduring creation’, for Catholics ‘actuation créée par acte incréé’. But there is no contradiction in this, only a difference of emphasis. What is more serious is that Catholicism thinks in terms of the nature of man, Protestantism in terms of grace given to the sinner. Catholicism contrasts natural and supernatural, Protestantism sin and grace. The Orthodox are alleged to incline to the Protestant view; this seems to me to be highly questionable, true as it is that the Palamite doctrine of the energies leads them to a different view of the relation of grace to nature from that of the Catholic West and to a dislike of the word ‘supernatural’.

The dispute between East and West is now seen in terms of Platonism and Aristotelianism. Aristotelian anthropology, we are told, sees man as a self-sufficient unity enclosed in himself; his elevation to a supernatural state would be elevation to a condition which he cannot attain in his natural state and so would imply the production of a supernatural, but created, quality to give him the ability to perform supernatural acts. Platonist anthropology, in contrast, sees man as capable by nature of reaching the highest degree of spiritual life. The Orthodox tend to think in terms of Platonism; Catholics, in their bad periods, in terms of Aristotelianism, though the main scholastic tradition has made use of both. This somewhat loaded statement is redressed by the assertion that it is better to use only Platonism than, as in the case of the decadent scholastics, to use only Aristotelianism. It seems to me that the characterisation given of Aristotelian anthropology needs very considerable qualification. No doubt Aristotelianism can be Christianised to do what is alleged, but I should have thought that the authentic Aristotelian doctrine would make it impossible for man to be supernaturalised in any way whatever. For Aristotle, just because every nature, including man's, is a self-sufficient unity, whatever it can become is given in it from the start; for it, to be supernaturalised would be to be destroyed. If, however, we hold the Christian doctrine of creation—and I have argued in this book that this is in fact the doctrine to which we are led by reflection upon the contingent character of finite beings—we hold that man's nature is not a self-sufficient unity, for it depends for its very existence upon the creative activity of God and, in virtue of this very dependence, is open to fresh influxes of this creative activity which, without contradicting the nature it already has, can elevate it to a higher order of existence.38 St Thomas, I think, says this, at least implicitly, but I think his power to say what Aristotle did not say came not from Plato but from Christianity.

But to return to the Report. The Reformers adopted Platonism with their exclusive emphasis on the uncreated source of justification and sanctification. But why did they not go the whole way and accept the whole process of deification, which begins in faith but will be manifested in glory? Whatever they may say, it is not because of their loyalty to the Bible, for the Bible stresses the present reality of the risen life of the Christian and does not simply defer it to the last day. Two reasons are given in the Report. The first is that they received their Platonism—and their biblicism—from Augustine, but from that side of Augustine which was narrow and distorted—the Augustine who was concerned with Pelagianism, original sin and concupiscence. Faced with scholasticism in decay, the Reformers accepted this outlook as more biblical and Christian, but in so doing they left out all that the Greek fathers had and that Augustine, as they saw him, had not. The second reason is that the ‘Augustinian Platonism’ of the Reformers is fettered by a system of philosophy that was neither Platonist nor Aristotelian, namely the agnostic nominalism of Ockham. For nominalism, any participation in the divine life is impossible, all being is reduced to what is perceived.39 However this may be (the Report concludes) the points which fundamentally separate Protestantism on the one hand from Catholicism and on the other from Orthodoxy are a too pessimistic view of man's sin (deriving from St Augustine) and a exaggerated fear of the biblical idea of the participation of the sanctified creature in the very life of God.

So the Report passes on to Original Sin, and here it suggests that Protestantism has been satisfied with a far too negative opposition to Pelagianism and that this has led to a purely futurist eschatology, for which, instead of man enjoying here and now the beginning of his deification, he is merely waiting in the certainty of faith for an event wholly in the future. (It is added that the ‘realised eschatology’ of such Protestant scholars as Dr C. H. Dodd has done a good deal to counteract this.) And finally it is suggested that there is a deep cleavage in the matter of Christology. Here, I believe, there is something of real importance, which we in Britain have tended to ignore, mainly no doubt because Protestant Christology here has tended to be of a rather special type and to owe little to the Reformers. Briefly, the point made is that, for all its awe-inspiring insistence upon the work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in salvation, there is a tendency to ignore the part played in our present salvation by the manhood of Jesus. The manhood seems in its exaltation to have ‘become Spirit’; ‘we wonder whether the glorified manhood of Jesus has not been unconsciously allowed to evaporate into a kind of mysterious and irresistible force exerted by God alone’,40 the ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ which ‘breatheth where he will’. In fact, it is suggested, there is found in Protestantism an oscillation between two kinds of kenosis, a ‘Nestorian’ kenosis during our Lord's earthly life, in which his deity is absorbed by his humanity, and a ‘monophysite’ kenosis after the Ascension, in which his manhood is absorbed by his divinity and the divinity acts on the justified sinner without any intermediary.41 Hence the fear on the part of Protestants of the place which is held in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy by the Church and the sacraments, as the means by which man is given a present union with the manhood of Christ and of his real transformation in Christ by that union.

I have given this fairly full account of the Report of the Chevetogne conference because, in spite of the rather heavily Catholic bias of the concluding section, it provides an admirable example of the sort of thing an ecumenical conference ought to be and also to have achieved a great measure of success in the task which it set itself to perform. There was clearly a real determination on the part of all the participants not simply to repeat the battle-cries of the past, to score debating points against their opponents or to whitewash their own traditions, but to face honestly all the historical facts, whether comforting or embarrassing, to understand accurately and sympathetically the real theological and religious positions lying beneath the various verbal formulations, and to assess them in the light of their relevant contexts. It was perhaps a pity that neither Lutheranism nor Zwinglianism was adequately represented and that the Protestant position was stated almost entirely in Calvinist terms. I think also that Anglican representatives, had any been present, might have had something of value to contribute. I have at various places indicated points where I think the Report is probably wrong in its judgments. But it does go further in bringing into the open the basic issues in divided Christendom than anything else that I have seen. And although it was published more than seventeen years ago I think it might, both for its form and its content, well be made compulsory reading for all persons taking part in ecumenical discussions.


I shall now turn to another discussion of a very different type, but, in my view, of equal importance, namely the two essays on Grace in Fr Karl Rahner's Theological Investigations, volume I.

Karl Rahner, is, of course, one of the best known of German Roman Catholic theologians today. He combines an intense reverence for the living magisterium of the Church with an unsparingly critical attitude towards much of its recent and current theology; he is the bitter enemy of the textbook mind. There is something ironical in the fact that he was until recently the editor of Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum, for no one could be more opposed than he to what has sometimes been called ‘Denzinger theology’, that is, the attitude which settles all theological questions by looking up the passages from official utterances that someone else has assembled and repeating them without reference to their original context or to the Church's tradition as a whole.42 He writes, as will be clear from the discussion of his ‘transcendental Thomism’ in Chapter Four above, in a difficult idiom largely derived from the existentialist thinker Martin Heidegger. Nevertheless the issues with which he is concerned (and one is sometimes tempted to wonder whether there are any with which he is not!) are fundamental both to the Christian religion as such and to our present ecumenical situation. Seven volumes of his most important essays are in course of publication under the title Theological Investigations. Here I shall consider at length the two essays in the first volume entitled ‘Concerning the Relationship between Nature and Grace’ and ‘Some Implications of the Scholastic Concept of Uncreated Grace’. These were both written with direct reference to matters of current theological controversy within the Roman communion, but their implications are extremely wide and a consideration of them will usefully supplement the previous discussion of the Chevetogne conference. They are highly technical in their thought and terminology, and neither the author nor the translator makes any concessions to the untrained reader; the latter may prefer to derive the essence of Rahner's position from the first essay in his small volume Nature and Grace.

The first of the two essays begins from a question which has much exercised the minds of Roman Catholic theologians in the present century, namely, how it is possible to reconcile two apparently equally firmly grounded doctrines: (1) that man has a natural desire for the vision of God and it is impossible that a natural desire should be ultimately unachievable;43 (2) that man's elevation to the supernatural order, which culminates in the vision of God, is entirely gratuitous and beyond the reach of man's natural powers. A very full survey of the solutions that have been offered appeared in English in 1947 in Dr P. K. Bastable's book Desire for God. Beginning with an analysis of St Thomas's texts and the interpretations of his commentators Cajetan, Sylvester of Ferrara and John of St Thomas, Bastable then gave a historical account of the problem from its adumbration in the thirteenth century to the present day, with specially detailed attention to the views of Scotus and Suarez. The final chapter, on the present century, after mentioning the work of P. Rousselot, G. de Broglie, J. Maréshal and G. Laporta, discussed the very interesting book by Fr James O'Mahoney, O.S.F.C., The Desire of God in the Philosophy of St Thomas. It was not possible for Bastable to turn his attention to the important work by Père H. de Lubac, Surnaturel: Etudes historiques, which was published in France in 1946. The third part of this book is on the origins of the word ‘supernatural’ and, although Fr de Lubac carefully limited himself to a strictly historical account, his results were taken by certain avant-gardistes, especially those whose outlook became known as the ‘nouvelle théologie’, as implying that the whole of the traditional teaching of Western Catholic theology about nature and supernature was mistaken; they received, though not by name, a firm rebuke in the encyclical Humani Generis in August 1950.44

As Rahner points out, the nouvelle théologie reproached the teaching about nature and grace in the average textbook for its ‘extrinsecism’, that is, for viewing grace and the supernatural order as a mere super-structure, imposed upon nature by God's free decree, so that the potentia oboedientialis of nature for grace implied a simple freedom from contradiction which excluded any organic relation between the two orders. Rahner, while dissociating himself from the nouvelle théologie, which was taken as holding that God could not have created rational creatures without designing them for the beatific vision, endorses its criticism of the textbooks and of ‘the average teaching on grace in the last few centuries’. He condemns this last for a number of reasons. First, it assumes that human nature is sharply circumscribed and that we can know precisely what it is like. Secondly, it makes man's supernatural vocation and the gift of grace a kind of disturbance of man's nature, an attempt ‘to force something upon him (however elevated this may be in itself) for which he is not [already] made’.45 And Rahner very pertinently asks, how can I know that everything I encounter in my existential experience of myself does simply belong to ‘nature’ and would also exist if I were not called to supernatural communion with God, seeing that to experience grace is not necessarily to experience it as grace (that is, to know that it is grace that I am experiencing)? Again, on the ontological plane, if we hold, as Christian theism does, that what man concretely is depends utterly upon God, how can we be content to say that God's ordination of man to a supernatural end is simply a juridical decree and does not penetrate to man's ontological depths?

These questions are put by Rahner with the utmost ruthlessness. ‘If’, he insists, ‘God gives creation, and man above all, a supernatural end and this end is first “in intentione”, then man (and the world) is by that very fact always and everywhere inwardly other in structure than he would be if he did not have this end.… We admit the basic contention that there is widely prevalent in the average teaching on grace an extrinsecist view which regards this as being merely a superstructure imposed from without upon a nature in itself indifferent with regard to it. It would seem to be a genuine concern of theology to put an end to the extrinsecism.’46 Nevertheless, Rahner rejects the view attributed to the nouvelle théologie, that this inner reference of man to grace is a constituent of his nature in such a way that his nature cannot be conceived without it. Everyone, he says, agrees that grace is unexacted, that is, that nature cannot demand grace as something ‘owed’ to it. At this point the argument becomes extremely involved and is by no means easy to follow. Play is made with the attractive suggestion that, where personal being is concerned, it is of the very nature of personal being that it is ordained to personal communion with God in love and yet must receive this love as a free gift. This view, however, is reluctantly abandoned for reasons which need not be given in detail here.47 Rahner holds, indeed, that God creates man ‘in such a way that he can receive this love which is God himself, and that he can and must at the same time accept it for what it is: the ever astounding wonder, the unexpected, unexacted gift.’ But, he adds, characteristically and realistically, ‘ultimately we only know what “unexacted” means when we know what personal love is, not vice versa: we don't understand what love is by knowing the meaning of “unexacted”’.48 And, secondly, God must create man in such a way that, when man accepts this free gift, he can accept it as a real partner, for all its ‘unexactedness’. This, says Rahner, is all we need say ‘kerygmatically’, that is, when we are preaching the Gospel. But, when we talk theology, we need to remember four things:

1. Man must have a real ‘potency’ for grace, and must have it always. He is always being addressed and claimed by the Love which is God himself, and this ‘potency’ is the most inward and authentic characteristic of man. ‘The capacity for the God of self-bestowing personal Love is the central and abiding existential of man as he really is.’49

2. Man must be able to receive this love as what it is, namely a free gift. So this ‘central, abiding existential’ is itself to be characterised as unexacted, as ‘supernatural’. Man must therefore be something more than this existential, for if it were simply coextensive with his nature, it would be unconditional in its essence.

3. So we must distinguish what man always is into (i) this unexacted real receptivity, the supernatural existential, and (ii) what is left over when this is subtracted from the substance of his concrete quiddity, his ‘nature’. ‘Nature’ as contrasted with the supernatural (not, we must notice, nature in the sense of the content of the concrete contingent entity) is thus a ‘remainder-concept’, a Restbegriff. And, since we know man only as the concrete being who is the object of God's love, we can never state with precision just what the content of his ‘nature’ in this sense is, even though we may approximate to it by philosophical concepts such as animal rationale.

4. Hence, we need not, with de Lubac, scorn the concept of potentia oboedientialis. Man's spiritual nature has an openness for the supernatural, which is a real inner ordination and not a mere non-repugnance and yet is conditional. What we must guard against is simply identifying this openness with the inner dynamism of man's nature as we find it, for in this the supernatural may be already at work, as Revelation will subsequently reveal to us. It is suggested that the scholastic concept of nature as applied to man has owed too much to the model of what is sub-human. Man has indeed a nature and it has an end assigned to it; but we must not conceive it on the model of a pot in relation to its lid or a biological organism in relation to its environment.50 Nature is, in fact, a highly analogical concept and to see what it means for man we must look at man as he is and as God deals with him.

These, then, are the main features of Fr Rahner's discussion; he is the first to admit that he has not answered all the questions. And I suggest that, even if we are not particularly attracted by either his scholasticism or his existentialism, we should be ready to welcome his outlook as a whole. He is determined to insist upon the sheer gratuitousness of grace and the supernatural; man's ordination to union with God in the beatific vision is a sheer gift of God which man can neither claim in his own right nor attain by his natural powers. On the other hand, it is not a disturbance but a fulfilment of his natural constitution, and it is something for which God has ordained him and ordains him continually. Furthermore, grace is essentially personal; to be in grace is to be the object of the love of the God who is himself Love, and in any notion of grace as either a quasi-material substance or a quasi-mechanical force is firmly excluded. And, while Rahner is obviously opposed to the extrinsecism which has, rightly or wrongly (the Chevetogne conference would say ‘on the whole wrongly’), been attributed to Protestantism, he is even more obviously opposed to the extrinsecism of the Catholic manualists, with their mental image of nature as being passively manipulated by grace. There is much here that theologians of other communions should be ready to welcome. But we shall, I think, see even more clearly the relevance of Rahner's approach to the issues raised at Chevetogne when we go on to consider his second essay, which is concerned with uncreated and created grace.

His purpose here is stated with disarming modesty; it is simply to enquire whether within the concepts of scholastic theology it may not be possible to obtain a better definition of uncreated grace than has hitherto been achieved, and any intention of introducing new concepts, such as those of a more personalist metaphysics, is disowned. But where this will lead we shall see.

The starting-point is the doctrine of grace in the New Testament, and particularly in St Paul. For St Paul, we are told, man's justification and renewal is seen as endowment with the Pneuma hagion, the Holy Spirit, who is given to us and dwells in us. This, however, does not exclude but rather implies a created effect of the gift of the Spirit. It is pointed out that, while in many Pauline texts, the pneuma is the personal Spirit of God, there are others in which ‘our’ pneuma is clearly a supernatural principle in the sanctified man and is not just our nous or our psyche; and this second sense of pneuma is seen as following from the first and not vice versa. Thus ‘for St Paul, man's inner sanctification is first and foremost a communication of the personal Spirit of God, that is to say, in scholastic terms, a donum increatum; and he sees every created grace, every way of being pneumatikos, as a consequence and a manifestation of the possession of this uncreated grace.’51 In contrast, the ordinary scholastic teaching sees God's pneuma as being present in us because we possess created grace. However, the Fathers, especially the Greek fathers and among these St Irenaeus in particular, quite clearly see ‘the created gifts of grace as a consequence of God's substantial communication to justified men.’52

Rahner makes no attempt to gloss over the apparent contradiction. ‘However diverse they may be among themselves,’ he writes, ‘it is true of all the scholastic theories that they see God's indwelling and his conjunction with the justified man as based exclusively upon created grace.… Uncreated grace (God's communication of himself to man, the indwelling of the Spirit) implies a new relation of God to man. But this can only be conceived of as founded upon an absolute entitative modification of man himself, which modification is the real basis of the new real relation of man to God upon which rests the relation of God to man.’53 (We must remember that, for scholastic philosophy, any relation between God and a creature is real in the creature but only ‘logical’ in God, that is to say, it involves a change in the creature but no change in God.) Now can the outlook of Scripture and the Fathers on the one hand and that of scholastic theology on the other be reconciled? This is Rahner's problem.

He begins by stressing the intimate relation that there is between grace in general and the beatific vision. The life of glory is not a mere reward for the life of grace; it is the definitive flowering and ‘disclosure’ of the life of divine sonship already possessed. There follows an extremely elaborate exposition of St Thomas's doctrine of knowledge in good German existentialist terms. I am not sure that all Thomists would accept all the elements of Rahner's exposition as faithfully reproducing the teaching of their master or that they would feel that his teaching necessarily gained in clarity and cogency by being expressed in the language of German existentialism. The function of this exposition in regard to the whole movement of the argument is, however, clear. It is to show, first, that the relation between man and God which pertains in virtue of man's knowledge of God in the beatific vision, brings about no ‘accidental, real, absolute modification’ in either of its terms;54 secondly, that it must therefore be a relation in the order not of efficient but of formal causality; and, thirdly, that this must be true of the relation of grace in general and not only of the glory of heaven, since, as has already been established, there is an essential homogeneity between grace and glory. Thus Rahner is able to state the final solution of his problem:

God communicates himself to the man to whom grace has been shown in the mode of formal causality, so that this communication is not then merely the consequence of an efficient causation of created grace. Thus it becomes clear that the proposition no longer holds good which maintains that man has uncreated grace because he possesses created grace; on the contrary, with Scripture and the Fathers, the communication of uncreated grace can be conceived of under a certain respect as logically and really prior to created grace: in that mode namely in which a formal cause is prior to the ultimate material disposition.55

A number of incidental points are then made. It is stressed that this very formal account says nothing about the positive character of either grace here or glory hereafter. Again, we are told that the union of grace as an ontological fact is prior to and independent of any actual awareness of it. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the position which has been argued is equally consistent with a traditionalist doctrine of the divine indwelling, in the line of St Thomas, Suarez, John of St Thomas or Gardeil (in itself a fairly wide range of choice!), or with a more personalist metaphysics which some contemporaries may prefer. Appeal is then made to texts of some of the great scholastics—Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure and St Thomas, and, of course, Peter Lombard—to show that Rahner's view is not so novel as it might appear to be and that it is at least adumbrated already in the tradition. Even Trent is pressed into service: ‘Created grace is seen as causa materialis (dispositio ultima) for the formal causality which God exercises by graciously communicating his own Being to the creature. In this way the material and formal causes possess a reciprocal priority: as dispositio ultima created grace is in such a way the presupposition of the formal cause that it can itself only exist by way of the actual realisation of this formal causality.’56 And finally Rahner argues that his introduction of formal causality as the guiding concept makes it possible, without denying the venerable principle that all the acts of God ad extra are acts of the one nature and not of the Persons separately, to hold that, in the life of grace, the Persons have dealings with us that are genuinely different for each, and are not different, so to speak, in a merely ‘honorary’ sense or, to use the technical term, merely by ‘appropriation’. A similar case was put forward in 1944 by Père Lucien Chambat, in his book Présence et Union, where it was argued that, not only on the level of grace but also on that of nature, the principle of the acts ad extra as acts of the one nature applies only in the order of efficient causality and that in the order of exemplary or formal causality creation is an extension into the created order of the processions of the divine Persons. The point may be recommended to the attention of Eastern Orthodox theologians, for it is one of their constant, and perhaps not altogether unjustified, complaints against the West that, from the time of Augustine, it has given the unity of the divine essence priority over the Trinity of the Persons and has in consequence fundamentally ‘depersonalised’ the Godhead and developed a spirituality in which the Trinity comes in only as an afterthought.57

It may be interesting, before passing on, to give a brief glance at the discussion of sanctifying grace in M. Jacques Maritain's magnum opus, The Degrees of Knowledge. Maritain, as is well known, is or believes himself to be a Thomist pur sang and for him the commentator par excellence is John of St Thomas. The basic problem about grace is nevertheless the same for him as for the writers whom we have already considered. ‘How can we thus be made gods by participation, receive a communication of what belongs properly to God alone? How can a finite subject formally participate in the nature of the Infinite?’ ‘Thomists’, he replies, ‘give this answer: the soul is thus rendered infinite in the order of its relation to the object. A formal participation in deity, which would be impossible were it a question of having Deity for its essence… is possible if it is a matter of having Deity as object.’58 No doubt an Eastern Orthodox will be tempted to protest that this is no genuine deification at all; grace means participating in God, not just knowing him. We must, however, remember that, for an Aristotelian such as Maritain, to know an object is, in a certain mysterious way, to become it: ‘intentionally’, of course, and not ‘entitatively’, but nevertheless really and not just metaphorically. And Maritain, who is not only an Aristotelian but also a Catholic, presses this principle very far indeed, when, having made use of St Thomas and the Thomists in his investigation of the degrees of rational knowledge, he brings in St John of the Cross as the great doctor of supra-rational knowledge and mystical contemplation. ‘By an intuitive vision of the Divine Essence’, he writes, ‘the beatified creature will receive—with no shadow of pantheism—infinitely more than the most daring pantheism can dream of: the infinitely transcendent God himself, not that wretched idol-God mingled with the being of things and emerging through our efforts, which pantheism and the philosophy of becoming imagine, but the true God who is eternally self-sufficient and eternally blessed in the Trinity of Persons. By vision, the creature becomes the true God himself, not in the order of substance, but in the order of that immaterial union which constitutes the intellectual act.59

And this transformation, which is to reach its fulness in heaven, begins here on earth, in the life of grace.

Sanctifying grace [writes Maritain] is an inherent quality, an ‘entitative habit’ which is the very rich seed (placed in us, even here below, according to the mode of a nature or root principle) of that operation which is the Beatific Vision.… It is new spiritual nature grafted on to the very essence of our soul, and demands as its due to see God as he sees himself. Just as our thinking nature has as its proportionate object the being of things material like ourselves; just as the angelic nature has as its proportioned object spiritual essences: so, too, does this supernatural spiritual principle have as its connatural object the subsistent Supernatural and render us proportionate in the depths of our being to an essentially divine object.… That is how grace, while leaving us infinitely distant from pure Act [i.e. God] (in the order of being) is still (in the order of spiritual operation and relation to its object) a formal participation in the Divine Nature. A seed of God: semen Dei. There is nothing metaphorical in this, nothing merely moral: it is a ‘physical’ reality, as the theologians say, that is, an ontological reality, all that is most positive and effective, the most solid of all realities.60

The transforming character of this supernatural knowledge of God is emphasised when Maritain goes on to point out that it is what the scholastics call ‘knowledge by connaturality’; this is exemplified by the very deep knowledge which a man may have of chastity, not by knowing a lot of facts about it, but simply by being chaste.61

As we confront God, there is no other way of going beyond knowledge through concepts except by making use, in order to know him, of our very connaturality, our co-nascence, as Claudel would say, or our co-birth with him. What is it that makes us radically connatural with God? It is sanctifying grace whereby we are made consortes divinae naturae. And what makes this radical connaturality pass into act; what makes it flower into the actuality of operation? Charity.62

All this is, of course, a matter of created grace, though Maritain does not adopt the phrase, but it is in the closest possible relation to the uncreated grace, which is God himself.

The effect of our being elevated to the state of grace is a new mode of God's presence within us, one that theologians call the mission of the Divine Persons and the indwelling of the Trinity in the soul.… This special presence… of itself, and in virtue of its own proper energies,… is a real and physical (ontological) presence of God in the very depths of our being. How? In what respect? As object! Not now as an efficient principle whose primary causality gives being to everything in the soul, but as term towards which the soul is inwardly turned, turned back, converted and ordered as to an object of loving knowledge…, not just any knowledge and love; no! but a fruitful, experimental knowledge and love which puts us in possession of God and unites us to him not at a distance, but really.63

It must, I think, be admitted that Maritain here follows the traditional scholastic line that uncreated grace is causally subsequent to created grace and not vice versa: God's presence in the soul, as we have just seen is described as an effect of our elevation into the state of grace. Again, his assertion that we become divine ‘intentionally’ in virtue of our supernatural knowledge of God is prima facie very different from the suggestion of Rahner and Chambat that the divine Persons are present in the soul in the mode of formal causality, though it is not perhaps necessarily contradictory to it. In any case, he is perfectly clear about the theological issue which is at stake, namely the doctrine of a real participation of God by man which does not destroy man's creaturely status. Whether his philosophical account of this is altogether successful is an important issue but a minor one.

To return to Fr Rahner. No doubt to many English readers a discussion such as his will seem to be artificial, over-subtle and speculative in the extreme, but I think they will do him a grave injustice if they fail to appreciate its significance. For it provides an example, which is all the more impressive because its author deliberately writes in the idiom of traditional scholasticism (even if it is a scholasticism liberally spiced with existentialist seasoning), of the fact that many of the most vigorous Roman Catholic scholars of the present day are anxious to get back behind the frequently restricted and pedestrian formulas of the post-Tridentine manualists into a wider realm in which the special insights of Patristic and later Eastern Christian thought and spirituality can be brought in to correct the distortions and resolve the deadlocks of both Catholic and Protestant thought in the West, without simply writing off as a dead loss either the genuine achievements of Protestantism or the tremendous intellectual triumphs of medieval scholasticism. And this is a truly ecumenical and irenical task.


I shall conclude this discussion by emphasising, as I did at the beginning, that behind it there lies, as its necessary presupposition, the doctrine of the essential openness of created being to fresh influxes of the creative activity of God. That doctrine, as I believe, rests on sound rational grounds, and it is on such rational grounds that I have argued for it in the body of this book. Nevertheless, it can, I think, rightly be called a Christian doctrine, for it took its rise in the setting and atmosphere of a Christian culture and emerged from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and I very much doubt whether it could have appeared, at least with the same clarity, in any other setting. There is nothing incoherent or inconsistent in this; the rational grounds of a doctrine are one thing, its historical and cultural setting another. Upon this distinction rests the validity of the notion of a Christian philosophy or of Christian philosophies for which M. Étienne Gilson has so long and so eloquently argued. And here I shall show, in more detail than was possible in the limits of a lecture, how this Christian doctrine of the character of created being steers a middle course between a Parmenidean view which belittles the essentially changing nature of a finite world and a Heraclitean view which refuses to recognise any element of permanence in it.

Dr Josef Pieper, in his little book The Silence of St Thomas, has stressed, against the Sartrian existentialists, the concern of Christian theism to defend the doctrine of ‘natures’, that is, the view that the beings of which the world is composed (and in particular human beings) are not purely fluid and indeterminate, but have, for all their striking differences and their manifold potentialities of development, definite ontological and moral structures, so that we can say that certain modes of behaviour are proper to them and certain others improper. Indeed, Pieper argues that it is only by theism that the concept of natures can be effectually defended. ‘It is superficial, unreasonable and even absurd’, he writes ‘to maintain that there is a “nature” of things, anterior to existence, unless one holds at the same time that things are creatures.’64 I thoroughly sympathise with his defence of natures against the Sartrians, but I think it must be recognised that there is a doctrine of natures, and a very ‘high’ doctrine at that, which is no less atheistic than Sartrianism; I have referred to it in my ninth lecture.65 It is the doctrine which, in various forms, was common in the ancient pagan world, and it may be briefly characterised as the doctrine of natures as ‘closed’. For the pagan Platonist a number of rabbits looked more or less alike and behaved in much the same way because they were embodiments (numerically different and varying in perfection) of the ideal rabbit which was laid up in heaven while its copies scampered through their burrows or nourished the frames of their captors. For the pagan Aristotelian there was no ideal rabbit, but there was a form of rabbithood which was variously instantiated in the individuals. But for both every being had a nicely rounded-off nature which contained implicitly everything that the being could ever become; if only you could know what the nature really was—if you could discover its real definition—you could in principle deduce everything that the being was or ever could be. There were problems about development and decay—genesis and phthora—and about monstrous or deformed specimens, but these could be solved with a little ingenuity. In this sublunar world forms were only participated very imperfectly, or else the trouble was due to matter, which was not only the principle of individuation but was also fundamentally unintelligible and introduced an element of untidiness wherever it was found. In spite of this, whatever any being could possibly become was implicitly in it from the start. If it changed, this could only be either because its form was being actualised more fully, as when a puppy becomes a dog, or because, in consequence of its material element, the opposite was happening, as when senility sets in, or because one form was being substituted for another and the nature was being changed into a different one, as when a mouse is eaten by a cat. What Greek thought could not have tolerated, because it simply could not have understood it, would have been the idea that a being could become more perfect in its kind by acquiring some characteristic which was not implicit in its nature before. For every being was thought of as ontologically self-contained and incapsulated; it was the master of its fate and captain of its soul, as long as it existed at all.

Now Christian theism, as I have said above, is very much concerned to defend natures, but it has quite a different view from paganism as to what to be a nature is. For paganism, things, unless they are transient condensations in a perpetual flux, have determinate characters because each is incapsulated in itself; for Christian theism they have determinate characters because God has made them that way and because he continually preserves them. For paganism, to be a being is simply to be a being; for Christianity, to be a being is to be the continual recipient of the creative activity of God. As I have written elsewhere:

Christian metaphysics has a clear grasp of the fact that the ultimate question about finite beings is not why they are the sort of beings that they are but why they exist at all. And the answer which Christian theism gives to that question is that they exist simply because they are being incessantly created, conserved and energised by God, because they are radically dependent upon the creative activity of a Being who is entirely perfect and self-existent.

This does not mean that finite beings are lacking in reality; on the contrary, they have all the reality that finite beings can have. They are real but dependent beings, exercising real but dependent energies; they have nothing that they have not received, but they have not received nothing. Nor does this mean that they have no genuine community of nature with one another. On the contrary, when God creatively thinks of two beings in the same way, this constitutes a common nature for them.66

From this fundamental fact that finite beings are creatures it follows that they are, as I have argued in my text, essentially open to the creative activity of God. Because they are not self-existent they are not ontologically incapsulated; to be a finite being is to be open to the power and love of God, who, without annulling or removing anything that he has given can always, if he sees fit, give more.

Now I do not think it can be denied that many Catholic writers, while of course admitting that finite beings exist only because God has made them, have talked about their natures as if he had not. While perfunctorily asserting that grace perfects nature, they have only too often looked upon the orders of nature and grace as virtually isolated from each other, rather like two flats on adjacent floors separated by a soundproof ceiling. Or, to change the metaphor, they have spoken as if the sole function of nature in relation to grace was to provide a kind of platform upon which grace can perform a supernatural dance. It is not surprising then that man's natural desire for the vision of God becomes a complete mystery and an embarrassment. If, however, we give full weight to the essential openness of nature to the divine activity, recognising that all finite beings are necessarily incomplete, so that they would collapse into utter nonexistence but for the incessant conserving activity of God, we can surely see that nature is not just a platform upon which grace performs but the medium in which grace works. Only so can we do justice to St Thomas's twin assertions that grace both presupposes nature and perfects it.67

One of the consequences of this is that the Christian's attitude before God should be one that combines gratitude and contentment with expectancy and wonder; for whatever God has given us in the way of grace is more than we had any right to demand, and, whatever he has given us, it is always in his power to give more. There is in fact a double openness of nature for grace. At every stage there are a vast number of possibilities for further supernaturalisation, any (or none) of which God may choose to actualise; and whatever stage we have reached, there are an infinite number of further stages to any of which God may take us if he sees fit. It is in the light of such considerations as these that I should wish to interpret such a fine passage as this from M. Maritain:

In supernatural operations, two activities are joined, but not juxtaposed: the activity of nature does not initiate what grace completes; from the beginning, nature acts as elevated by grace. If the roles of nature and grace in supernatural operation, in the vision of God in heaven and in the act of theological virtues here below, were divided, then there would be a mechanical addition. No! Precisely because our very essence and our natural powers of action are themselves docility and potentiality with regard to God, our supernatural acts emanate verily from our very depths, from the very roots of our soul and of our faculties. But they so emanate only inasmuch as the soul and its faculties are lifted up by grace and its energies, inasmuch as they are borne by these infused qualities to possibilities absolutely inaccessible to their nature alone.68

The writers whom I have mentioned are only some among the many Roman Catholic scholars who have in recent years explored afresh the theology of grace. Rahner himself, in his small book Nature and Grace, gives a formidable list of some others.69 I shall conclude this discussion with a brief summary of the typical and conciliatory book by Fr Robert W. Gleason, S.J., published in 1962 under the simple title Grace. In contrast to the manuals, he stresses the importance of discussing sanctifying grace before actual grace, and not vice versa. Sanctifying grace, he insists, is not a thing but a participation in the life of God himself; therefore it must be investigated in terms of its own nature, rather than in terms of sin. Grace is an absolute quality which is a transcendent relation to God actuating us; de la Taille's phrase actuation créée par acte incréé is a translation into philosophical terms of the doctrine of the Greek fathers. The Incarnation sets up an ontological relation between Christ and all humanity, but this is only a fundamental or radical filiation, whose completion requires grace through the sanctifying action of Christ's humanity in the sacraments, especially baptism. Nevertheless, the grace of Christ operates hiddenly even in pagan man. It is often difficult, Gleason says, to know whether the Councils of Carthage and Orange are speaking of sanctifying or of actual grace; not until the later works of St Thomas was the distinction satisfactorily drawn. Fr Gleason adds excellent appendices on Eastern Orthodoxy and Lutheranism; owing to his Occamism, we are told, Luther could neither unify his insights with the rest of Christian tradition nor even remain true to them.

In looking back on this discussion, it would be too much to claim that we have seen how to reconcile the fundamental differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, but we have perhaps been able to see more clearly what these differences really are. And the witness of Eastern Orthodoxy has shown pretty clearly that there are other points of view of which both Catholics and Protestants in the past have been totally ignorant. To have achieved this is not to have brought about reconciliation, but it is perhaps to have brought it nearer, and this in itself is something for which we ought to be grateful.

  • 1.

    Canon Moeller has since become Sub-Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

  • 2.

    op. cit., p. 1.

  • 3.

    ibid., p. 2.

  • 4.

    For a brief account of Palamism, cf. my Via Media, pp. 157ff; for longer discussions, V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, ch. iv; P. Sherrard, The Greek East and the Latin West, pp. 36ff; though this last writer has been accused of exaggerating the extent to which the Palamite doctrines occur in earlier writers than Palamas. However, in support of the view criticised, cf. G. Habra, ‘The Sources of the Doctrine of St Gregory Palamas’, Eastern Churches Quarterly, XII (1958).

  • 5.

    ibid., p. 3.

  • 6.

    ibid., p. 4.

  • 7.


  • 8.

    ibid., p. 5 (L. Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism).

  • 9.

    ibid., p. 6.

  • 10.

    ibid., p. 7.

  • 11.


  • 12.

    Cf. E. Brunner, Man in Revolt, ch. v (c) and App. I; R. Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, I, ch. x; G. Aulén, The Faith of the Christian Church, p. 280.

  • 13.

    St Grégoire Palamas et la Mystique orthodoxe, p. 90.

  • 14.

    op. cit., p. 6.

  • 15.

    op. cit., p. 91.

  • 16.

    ibid., p. 103.

  • 17.

    Père B. Montagnes, O.P., has even brought this charge against the great commentator Gajetan (La Doctrine de I'Analogie de I'Etre d'après Saint Thomas d'Aquin (1963)).

  • 18.

    Cf. God the Unknown, chh. i-iii.

  • 19.

    Cf. The Degrees of Knowledge, ch. viii.

  • 20.

    Holy Writ or Holy Church, ch. xii.

  • 21.

    Heythrop Journal, III (1962), pp. 15ff.

  • 22.

    Primauté pontificale et Prérogatives épiscopales: ‘Potestas ordinaria’ au Concile du Vatican (Louvain, 1961). Cf. also his L'Infaillibilité Pontificale (Gembloux, 1969).

  • 23.

    Commented on, e.g., by H. Küng, The Council and Reunion, App. I.

  • 24.

    ‘The Authority of the Councils’ in Problems of Authority, ed. J. M. Todd.

  • 25.

    The Council and Reunion, pp. 163f, 165.

  • 26.

    op. cit., p. 17.

  • 27.

    ibid., pp. 17f.

  • 28.

    ibid., p. 18.

  • 29.

    The idea of the ‘gulf’ has also misled a good deal of thought about the natural as distinct from the supernatural order, and it has been conceived as bridged by ‘creation’. Cf. A. Sertillanges, L'Idée de Création, p. 46; E. L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science, p. 134.

  • 30.

    op. cit., p. 20.

  • 31.

    ibid., p. 21.

  • 32.

    Cf. P. Fransen: ‘History bears out the contention that the notion of created grace is not entitled to the central place which it has usurped in the treatise of grace. Prior to the eleventh century, generations of orthodox theologians thought and wrote without ever so much as mentioning created grace.… Undeniably “created grace” has meaning, though it is not an independent entity, and still less something that becomes our possession, that we can dispose of at will or glory in before God as the fruit of our own strength and endeavour. Created grace, seen in its inner nature, belongs to a higher unity. It is to be thought of only within and not next to or apart from the mystery of the trinitarian indwelling in us’ (The New Life of Grace, p. 98).

  • 33.

    ibid., p. 27.

  • 34.


  • 35.


  • 36.

    ibid., p. 33.

  • 37.

    ibid., p. 37.

  • 38.

    Cf. ch. ix supra. I have shown the implications of this fact in some detail in chapter iv of my book The Importance of Being Human.

  • 39.

    Cf. my Recovery of Unity, pp. 23ff.

  • 40.

    op. cit., p. 48.

  • 41.

    This criticism might seem to apply more accurately to Luther than to Calvin.

  • 42.

    Cf. the remarks of Fr P. Fransen, S.J., in his essay on ‘The Authority of the Councils’ in Problems of Authority, ed. J. M. Todd, p. 69, and especially the excursus on ‘The need for the study of the historical sense of conciliar texts’ (ibid., pp. 72ff). Cf. pp. 25f supra.

  • 43.

    Cf. S.c.G. III, li.

  • 44.

    Denz. 2318; Denz.-Schoen. 3891.

  • 45.

    Theological Investigations, I, p. 300.

  • 46.

    ibid., pp. 302f.

  • 47.

    I must confess that in my review of Rahner's book in the Church Quarterly Review (CLXIII (1962), p. 129) I quoted Rahner in support of this view. Repeated reading of an extremely obscure paragraph has, however, convinced me that I was mistaken and that his view, while superficially similar, is, as will be seen above, different.

  • 48.

    op. cit., p. 310.

  • 49.

    ibid., p. 312.

  • 50.

    I would again refer to chapter iv of The Importance of Being Human, where the implications of this fact are worked out in some detail. It is perhaps a weakness in Rahner's discussion that he does not make more explicit use of the distinctively Christian doctrine of creation.

  • 51.

    op. cit., p. 322.

  • 52.


  • 53.

    ibid., p. 324.

  • 54.

    The reason given (pp. 328ff) is that the only relation between God and a creature which implies an absolute created determination is its relation to God as its creative cause, and that, in the beatific vision, since (on Thomist doctrine) God's essence takes the place of a species intelligibilis, there is no created effect. Rahner refers in a footnote to his Spirit in the World.

  • 55.

    op. cit., p. 334.

  • 56.

    ibid., p. 341.

  • 57.

    Cf. V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 64ff; K. Rahner, The Trinity, passim.

  • 58.

    op. cit., p. 254.

  • 59.

    ibid., p. 255.

  • 60.


  • 61.

    S. Th., II, II, xlv 2c. Cf. I, i, 6 ad 3, where it is called knowledge per modum inclinationis.

  • 62.

    op. cit., p. 260.

  • 63.

    ibid., pp. 257f.

  • 64.

    op. cit., p. 98.

  • 65.

    Cf. p. 145 supra.

  • 66.

    The Importance of Being Human, p. 56.

  • 67.

    S. Th., I, i, 8 ad 2; I, ii, 2 ad 1.

  • 68.

    op. cit., pp. 256f.

  • 69.

    op. cit., pp. 32f.