Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”

Jun 23rd, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Recently Michael Horton reviewed Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life. Michael is the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation, co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, and one of the most well-known and well-respected Reformed figures today. For this reason, when Michael speaks or writes about a theological matter, many Reformed Christians assume that what he says is accurate. And in his review of Malick’s film, Michael offered some rather poignant criticisms of Catholic doctrine. So I think it would be worth discussing those criticisms.

For Michael the film is fundamentally about nature and grace. Toward the beginning of the film, the narrator defines the terms ‘nature’ and ‘grace’ in the following way, as Michael describes:

Toward the beginning—I think it may be the opening spoken lines, the narrator says that “there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace.” “Nature is willful, it only wants to please itself, to have its own way.” On the other hand, “grace” is “smiling through all things.” According to the way of grace, “the only way to be happy is to love.”

It is very important to note that these are not the Catholic definitions of these terms. In Catholic theological anthropology, human nature is not selfish or sinful; human nature is good. Christ received our human nature, and yet was without sin. Moreover, even at the level of human nature, the only way to be truly happy (with the natural happiness proportional to man’s nature) is to love both God and neighbor. That is, even if God had not given grace to Adam and Eve prior to the Fall, their happiness would still have required love for and justice to God as their Creator, and love for and justice to each other. Religion is a natural virtue, pertaining fundamentally and first to human nature, for we know by nature that our Maker is due adoration and gratitude. By nature mankind is inclined to worship his Creator, and this religious disposition has been present in every culture, even when it has been distorted through ignorance and sin. Grace does not destroy religion, but perfects, informs, and elevates it. Hence grace is not opposed to the natural virtue of religion. (Cf. “Angels trapped in stinkin’ flesh.”) Similarly, because man is naturally a social animal, virtuous friendship is necessary for natural human happiness, on account of human nature. Even by nature alone we are happier when we pursue the common good, than when we focus only on our own well-being.1

Some Reformed Christians think Catholic anthropology makes nature evil because in Catholic theology some additional divine gift (over and above the gift of human nature itself) is necessary to ameliorate what the Catholic tradition calls ‘concupiscence, i.e. a disordered inclination toward sin.’ (Cf. CCC 2515, 1264) In other words, the Reformed argument is that since concupiscence is a flaw or defect, and since Catholic theology maintains that without an additional gift (called ‘integrity’) from God, humans will have concupiscence, therefore Catholic theology treats human nature as inherently flawed or defective. It is worth pointing out in reply first that in Catholic theology concupiscence is not the absence of grace. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all those who come to living faith have grace in their hearts, and yet they still have concupiscence. Concupiscence is due to the absence of the preternatural gift of integrity, which is one of three preternatural gifts. (See Fr. Hardon’s explanation of the preternatural gifts.) This preternatural gift of integrity is shown to be not intrinsic to human nature by the fact that otherwise we could not lose it without ceasing to be human. But Adam did not cease to be human when he sinned, nor are we a different species from Adam.

Why is integrity not intrinsic to human nature? Because man is both body and soul, and matter by its nature cannot be intrinsically ordered to the good as such, as reason is. That inability is not a defect in matter; it is merely a natural limitation of matter. For example, arrows are not naturally ordered to their target, but this is not a defect or imperfection in arrows. Similarly, not being the Creator is not a defect or imperfection in creatures; it is a limitation that necessarily accompanies being a creature. So likewise, not being intrinsically ordered to the good as such is not a defect or imperfection in matter; it is merely an intrinsic limitation of matter. And therefore the need for the preternatural gift of integrity, in order for there to be no concupiscence, is not an indication that human nature is imperfect or flawed.2

Michael knows that the film narrator’s way of defining nature and grace is not the Catholic way of defining these terms, but he does not point this out, or explain how nature and grace are distinguished in Catholic theology. He writes:

Basically, the nature-grace thing is told with a pretty Roman Catholic twist, too. Malick, who was raised in the Bible belt (interestingly, Waco), attended an Episcopal school and went on to study philosophy at Harvard and Oxford (Magdalen College, with philosopher Gilbert Ryle as his supervisor). Reformed theologians have been tweaking Roman Catholic tails for some time now over the way in which the latter seems to turn everything into a nature-grace instead of a sin-grace problem. Briefly put, Rome teaches that grace elevates or perfects nature, raising it from its imperfect natural state into a supernatural condition. A perennial Reformed objection is that this makes nature—creation—inherently flawed and demands that it becomes something other than what God created it to be in order to be truly “good.” And that also means that grace is the infusion of divine goodness and love into the soul, to raise the creature from being trapped in earthly (material) things.

Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this ‘tweaking,’ as he puts it. The distinction between nature and grace is not the distinction between sin and grace. They are two different distinctions, precisely because nature is not sin; that would be Manicheanism. And it is quite possible that the dualistic philosophy Michael perceives in the film is a kind of Manicheanism. But the Catholic distinction between nature and grace is not Manichean dualism. To deny the distinction between nature and grace is to deny the Creator-creature distinction, because grace is a participation in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4. cf. Summa Theologica Q.110 a.2.) Since Michael believes that grace is undeserved divine favor in response to human sin, and that nature is what God created, Michael himself does not believe that nature is grace. Of course Michael believes that everything God has created is an undeserved gift. But he does not believe that God’s undeserved divine favor toward us in response to sin is the same thing as human nature. So, we’re agreed at least that nature and grace are not the same thing. And therefore Michael gains no advantage in pointing out that the Catholic Church distinguishes between nature and grace, since he too distinguishes between them.

Michael, however, seems to think that in Catholic theology there is only a nature-grace problem, not a sin-grace problem. But in fact, if Adam and Eve had never sinned, they could not have entered into heaven without grace. Claiming otherwise leads to Pelagianism, as Barrett Turner explained in “Pelagian Westminster?.” The problem with Pelagianism is not fundamentally a sin problem; it is that heaven is infinitely above our human nature, and we cannot attain that supernatural end without grace. But that does not mean that there is not a sin problem in the post-Fall condition. Yes, there is a sin problem, and that is why Christ came, to make atonement for our sins. (cf. “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”) But we do not have to choose between a Pelagian notion of salvation prior to the Fall, and a denial of the Fall. Hence we can affirm both a nature-grace ‘problem’ and a sin-grace ‘problem.’ And these two problems interpenetrate in our human history, because Adam, by sinning, both forfeited the grace he had been given, and incurred a debt of punishment he could not pay. Hence we not only need grace, as Adam and Eve did before the Fall, we also need forgiveness, which they would not have needed had they not sinned.

When Michael says, “Briefly put, Rome teaches that grace elevates or perfects nature, raising it from its imperfect natural state into a supernatural condition” he makes “imperfect” the antithesis of “supernatural.” But that’s not a justified assumption. Not to be in a supernatural condition, is to be in a natural condition, not necessarily an imperfect condition. That grace perfects what is imperfect does not entail that grace only perfects what is imperfect. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were not imperfect or flawed, and yet prior to the Fall they needed grace in order to attain the beatific vision.3 The fact that the creature is not by nature proportionate to seeing the inner Life of God is not a “flaw” or “imperfection” in the creature; it is a necessary result of the Creator-creature distinction. Creatures are finite; God is infinite. God alone has the beatific vision by His nature; man does not have the beatific vision by his [i.e. man’s] nature. And that is why man can attain the beatific vision only by a gratuitous divine gift in addition to our nature. In order for creatures to enter into the divine Life of the Holy Trinity, those creatures must be elevated by being made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). To deny that is either to reduce the divine nature to the level of creatures, or to elevate man’s nature to the very nature of God, and thus deny the Creator-creature distinction.4

As for Michael’s claim that the Catholic doctrine of grace “demands that [nature-creation] become something other than what God created it to be in order to be truly ‘good,'” this is a misunderstanding on Michael’s part. In Catholic doctrine, everything is good according to its nature. But, only God is Goodness itself, from which everything else derives its goodness, as Jesus taught in St. Mark 10:18 and St. Luke 18:19. The goodness of a creature is not equivalent to the goodness of God. To be elevated by grace is not [necessarily] to go from not good, to good; it can be (as it was when God bestowed grace on Adam and Eve and all the angels, prior to any sin) an infinite elevation from a natural finite good, to a participation by that creature in the divine nature which is infinite Goodness. But that elevation does not destroy man, or make him something other than what God made him to be. Grace does not distort, negate, corrupt or obliterate nature. Grace elevates nature while preserving nature, and this elevation was something God planned all along. From the beginning He made man with the purpose of bringing man into the fullness of perfect communion in agape with the three divine Persons of the most Holy Trinity.5

When Michael says, “And that also means that grace is the infusion of divine goodness and love into the soul, to raise the creature from being trapped in earthly (material) things,” he seems to be implying that believing in infused grace entails a kind of gnoticism in which humans are pure spirits trapped in earthly bodies. One problem with this claim, for Michael, is that Reformed theology also believes in infused grace for sanctification. (If I don’t say that, JJS will have an embolism; see comment #621 and following.) But, regardless of the Reformed position on the infusion of grace for sanctification, it simply does not follow from the proposition “God infuses grace into human hearts for salvation” that therefore “humans are spirits trapped in earthly bodies.” We are by nature rational animals, but Christ in His gratuitous benevolence and mercy has condescended to give to us through the sacraments He established in His Church a participation in His divine Life. This is what eternal life is, a participation in the supreme happiness that is God’s own Life.6 That we are given this divine gift does not imply that we are mere spirits, or that we are not animals. One does not have to be an angel in order to receive through infusion a participation in the divine life.

Next Michael writes:

Something of this almost dualistic view of nature and grace forms the philosophical backbone of this story.

That might be so, but the Catholic teaching concerning nature and grace is not dualistic. It does not deny our embodiedness. We receive the grace of Christ through material sacraments precisely because we are animals; this is why sacraments are necessary for our salvation. (Cf. Summa Theologica III Q.61 a.1.) Grace builds on nature, and elevates it; grace is not opposed to nature, and does not destroy nature. So we do not have to choose between nature and grace. We choose between nature-without-grace and nature-with-grace. Nor is it dualistic to affirm the distinction between good and evil, between God and creature, or between what the Didache describes as the way of life and the way of death.

Michael next writes:

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it’s provoked by the film itself. Intentional or not, the movie exhibits some of the deep ontological flaws in Roman Catholic theology. It’s not just a doctrine here or there, but a worldview in which nature tends toward evil and grace, rather than being God’s favor toward sinners on account of Christ, is a cosmic-metaphysical substance infused into the world to make it, well, less worldly.

It is strange to hear a Calvinist blame “Roman Catholic theology” for believing that nature tends toward evil. Among possible rejoinders that refer to the ‘T’ in TULIP, I wish only to point out that the shoe is on the other foot.7 Michael apparently disapproved of the film’s portrayal of nature, but instead of allowing the film’s portrayal of nature to challenge or revise his Calvinistic conception of fallen human nature, he seemingly projected his own theology of fallen nature onto the Catholic Church, and then accused this theology of “deep ontological flaws.”

The Catholic conception of nature is not that nature tends toward evil. All creatures are by nature and providence ordered to their Creator, who is the Good.8 Nor in Catholic doctrine is grace a “cosmic-metaphysical substance.” Grace is not a substance at all, but a participation in the divine nature.9

Lastly, he writes:

The nature-father vs. grace-mother business is underscored also by the powerful, arbitrary, and destructive forces of cosmic evolution in the stunning vignettes scattered throughout. At least in a lot of popular Roman Catholic devotion, Mary is larger-than-life, like the mother in this film. Wrapped in eternal light with angels in an assumption-like scene, the mother says, “I give you my son.” This is rather different from the biblical gospel, where the Father is the one who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….”

Michael treats the nature-father vs. grace-mother antithesis as though that is either a Catholic teaching or is at least implied by the Catholic distinction between nature and grace. But it should not be necessary to point out that Catholic theology in no way pits grace against nature, or God the Father against Mary, or identifies God the Father with [fallen] nature. God created nature and it is good.

God chose Mary to be the means by which He would send His Son into the world, so that we might be redeemed through Him. Grace therefore comes to us from God the Father, since He sent Christ. But at the same time, and without any contradiction or competition, grace comes to us through Mary, precisely because grace comes to us from Christ, and Christ comes to us from Mary. The notion that nature-is-evil-and-opposed-to-grace, which Michael took away from the film, is not Catholic, but Marcionite. In Marcionite theology, the Father of Jesus is not the Creator of nature, and therefore the grace that comes from Jesus is placed in opposition to nature. But it was the Church at Rome that excommunicated Marcion around AD 144.10 Catholicism is not Marcionism. If Malick’s Tree of Life contains a Marcionite theology of nature and grace, this should not be mistaken for (or assumed to be) the Catholic doctrine of nature and grace.

Catholicism is known for its both-ands, and here too, in Michael’s closing line he presents what for Catholics is a false dilemma. He points out that in the film, the mother says, “I give you my son.” That is different from the Biblical gospel, he claims, in which it is God the Father who gives us His Son. But why does Michael see these as at odds? The Church Fathers teach that Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, and in time begotten of the Virgin Mary. From God the Father He receives His divine nature, and from Mary He receives His human nature. Did Mary not give permission for the shepherds to adore her Son at the stable in Bethlehem? Did the Magi barge their way in, against her will? Or did the baby Jesus rise up and bid them to bow before Him? Surely not. She gave her Son to them then, and later to the whole world when she stood at the foot of the cross.11

The notion that Christ cannot also be Mary’s gift (or should not also be thought of as Mary’s gift) is a form of docetism that abstracts Jesus from Mary as His maternal source and from the Holy Family. I know that Michael is not a docetist, but there is no good reason for anyone who affirms orthodox Christology to dismiss or disparage the notion that Christ comes to us from Mary, and that Mary, as His Mother, also gave Christ to the world. Marcionism seeks to disconnect Christ from matter, from Eden, and from the Creator. It is precisely in Mary that the Marcionite heresy is defeated, not only because Mary as the Daughter of Zion shows Christ to be the Son of David and the Seed of the Patriarchs, and not only because Mary as the Second Eve shows Christ to be the Redeemer promised in the Garden by the Creator, but also because from Mary and in Mary the natural (i.e. human nature) and supernatural (i.e. divine nature) were made one in the eternal Person of Christ. Mary thus safeguards the truth that the God who made nature is the same God from whom we receive grace.12

  1. See, for example, books 8 and 9 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. More could be said here, especially in relation to Ayn Rand’s notion of the ‘virtue’ of selfishness. []
  2. Cf. “Aquinas and Trent: Part 7.” []
  3. Cf. “Pelagians Westminster?.” []
  4. See Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters, (Sapientia, 2010). []
  5. See Daniel Keating’s Deification and Grace. []
  6. Cf. “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life.” []
  7. For example, see Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason for a Reformed critique of St. Thomas Aquinas for allegedly failing to recognize sufficiently the fallen nature of man’s intellect. In “Aquinas and Trent: Part 3” I explain the four wounds of nature resulting from sin, according to St. Thomas. []
  8. See, for example, what St. Thomas says in the Summa Theologica regarding “Whether the End of the Government of the World is Something Outside the World.” []
  9. See “Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.2. []
  10. See “Marcionites.” []
  11. Cf. “Mary as Co-Redemptrix.” []
  12. See Lux Veritatis, written on the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus. []
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  1. Bryan, thank you for this.
    When I first read Horton’s review, I could not believe it. It was such a misrepresentation of the Catholic doctrine. You have done a good job clearing this up.

    When I first learned about the Catholic teaching on nature/original justice/original sin a light went on and I realized all of the spiritual problems this solved for me as a Christian.

    1st – As a Reformed Christian, I had been accustomed to thinking of myself as “totally depraved,” and understood that nothing proceeding from me could be construed as pleasing to God. This, however, wrecked havoc with the whole schema of assurance in Reformed theology. Whether you hold to the “syllogismus practicus” or to the more mystical conception of Calvin, both are vitiated by the Calvinist view of human nature. How can I derive any assurance either from my works or from my interior life if both are totally depraved? If I really hold to TD, then I must hold out the possibility that I am deceiving myself at every turn and what I think of as saving faith is actually presumption. In my own life, and (I think) in the tradition, this leads to a kind of bi-polar spirituality of vacillating between presumption and despair. The Catholic doctrine, by contrast, stuck me as so gloriously objective and liberating. Original sin as a privation of original justice, not as the destruction of nature or the infusion of some evil principle into nature. And hope (not assurance), based on the objective reality of the sacraments, as the foundation for the spiritual life.

    I also think the Reformed conception of nature has wrecked havoc with public theology in America, as denigrating to natural law. The Puritans institutionalized the interior struggle I mention above by restricting the franchise to those who could attest their election. We know where that led, historically. In the antebellum south, Presbyterian theologians taught that slaves should not follow their consciences since these were unreliable. The civil war itself was not unrelated to these issues. Evangelical historian Mark Noll has done great work documenting the damage done by this view nature, sin, and grace in American History, and its impact on the civil war. (See his book America’s God.) Finally, modern liberalism is itself a sort of bastard son to the Reformed view of nature as early liberals sought to find extra-biblical justifications for moral progress in the face of the slavery debate.

    In the face of all of this, the Catholic view of nature and grace was for me a gift from heaven.

    Thank you again for your fine article,

    David Anders

  2. What I find interesting about this interplay is that neither the Catholic view nor the Reformed view stop, inquisit, and observe how their views are philosophically justified as philosophy.

    What evidence do we have that the species homo sapien sapiens had any of these preternatural gifts at any point of its history that would give him the ‘integrity’ you imagine, and then, at some point these were lost? Furthermore, when you speak of ‘nature’, is this to the genus or the species?

    How ‘moral’ is it that man incures a ‘debt of punishment’ from a deity? Is this not the monetizing of ‘sin’ and humanity? Is it at all tenable that this is a front for the ‘money changers in the temples’ (in any of the ancient religious systems)? Where are the ethics here? If it’s wrong and immoral in terms of other systems, than it should be wrong in terms of Christ’s payment (though it puts away any notion of further bloody sacrifices) since the logic and principle is still one and the same, and I’m glossing over and lumping together either the Reformed penal view or the Catholic satisfaction view, since both would have to satifactorily answer the question of the morality behind debt sacrifice.

    In my opinion, these two systems, in constant argument, are in dire need of reflection and asking the question of how they are capable dialoguing with modern man and the present scientific issues, not necessarily what is speculative, but things that we know adequately in: paleontology, geology, archaeology (did Exodus ever really happen, or is it simply projected memory?), ethics and morality (e.g. how well does YHWH really fit the metaphysics you’ve constructed?), anthropology, and of course philosophy.

  3. Bryan,

    Great post. I do hope Michael interacts with you. I heartily recommend that our Reformed friends read the late Father Hardon’s “History and Theology of Grace”. I think the following quote from Luther, as quoted by Father, just about sums it up, “Martin Luther said, “The scholastics argue that original righteousness was not a part of man’s nature but, like some adornment, was added to man as a gift… Let us rather maintain that righteousness was not a gift which came from without, separate from man’s nature, but that it was truly part of his nature, so that it was Adam’s nature to love God, believe God, to know God. These things were just as natural for Adam as it is for the eyes to receive light” ( Luther’s Lectures on Genesis, Father John Hardon, A History and Theology of Grace pg. 14).

  4. Very edifying, Bryan!
    I have a question seeking clarification:
    In discussing concupiscence, you state that “matter by its nature cannot be intrinsically ordered to the good as such, as reason is,” and so our bodies are not ordered by nature toward God. Later you say “All creatures are by nature and providence ordered to their Creator, who is the Good.” I see a conflict between these statements, for the case of material creatures (those without spiritual souls), unless God’s providence toward them includes gifts beyond their nature. Can you clarify?
    Thanks,
    Nathaniel

  5. Berossus,

    The Catholic teaching on grace, that it is a gift surpassing, though not opposed to, nature, cannot be “philosophically justified as philosophy” because the Catholic doctrine of grace is not philosophy. Rather, this doctrine is an authoritative interpretation of divine revelation, and must be received by faith.

    However, just as grace does not destroy nature, faith does not destroy reason, and it is possible, by means of reason, both to discern motives for faith and, within certain boundaries, to obtain a less inadequate understanding of the mysteries of faith, both in relation one to another, and in relation to those things that are known by means of the various branches of human science.

    Therefore, I agree with what you write in your concluding paragraph. There are many books, both new and very old, as well as some good, scholarly websites (all new, of course!) dedicated to just those kinds of inquiry. This website, however, is dedicated to “interplay,” that is, constructive and critical dialog, between Protestants and Catholics, in order to better understand one another, and in the hope of one day being reunited in full communion. To that end, we mostly discuss divine revelation, as this is received and defined by the Catholic Church and the various Protestant (especially Reformed) communions, respectively.

    Andrew

  6. Berrosus,

    You wrote:

    What I find interesting about this interplay is that neither the Catholic view nor the Reformed view stop, inquisit, and observe how their views are philosophically justified as philosophy.

    It is not charitable to assume that persons whose views you seek to understand haven’t stopped to think about, justify, or arrive at their positions from the available evidence. The better way to approach this is simply to ask your interlocutors how their position or claim is justified. But, there is no philosophical justification for (as in ‘demonstration of’) truths exclusive to sacred theology. Sacred theology is a distinct science from philosophy.

    What evidence do we have that the species homo sapien sapiens had any of these preternatural gifts at any point of its history that would give him the ‘integrity’ you imagine,

    I didn’t ‘imagine’ this. This is Catholic theology. I already gave the evidence in the article. We are human and have concupiscence. Adam was human without concupiscence prior to his fall. And death [and concupiscence] came into the world through Adam’s sin. That integrity is distinct from human nature follows from those three truths.

    Furthermore, when you speak of ‘nature’, is this to the genus or the species?

    Species.

    How ‘moral’ is it that man incures a ‘debt of punishment’ from a deity?

    “How x is it?” questions are asking for a degree or percentage. There is no quantity to the standard of morality itself. Incurring a debt of punishment to the divine Law-Giver for injustice is intrinsic to morality, not a matter of degree. So a “How x is it? question is not applicable here. The rightly formed question would be something like: Why does man incur a debt of punishment for disobedience, and how does that fit with moral principle x?

    Is this not the monetizing of ‘sin’ and humanity?

    No. We have been created and given a probationary period, in which our choices merit reward or punishment. This is what makes our present choices meaningful. See the link at footnote 6. There is no more opportunity for merit or demerit in the life to come.

    Is it at all tenable that this is a front for the ‘money changers in the temples’ (in any of the ancient religious systems)?

    If by “Is it at all tenable that x?” you just mean “Can someone believe or hold x?” then sure. People can believe anything.

    Where are the ethics here? If it’s wrong and immoral in terms of other systems, than it should be wrong in terms of Christ’s payment (though it puts away any notion of further bloody sacrifices) since the logic and principle is still one and the same,

    I might be able to answer your question if I knew what the “it” referred to in “If it’s wrong ….”

    . . . the morality behind debt sacrifice.

    The morality ‘behind’ debt sacrifice is just morality. There is only one morality. As for the debt of punishment, I have explained that in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 5.” Questions about the debt of punishment should be posted on that thread, so that this thread stays on-topic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Nathaniel (re: #4)

    I thought someone might ask this question, and I thought about including the answer in the post, but the post was already long. Non-human material creatures are ordered to the good, but not as such. They are ordered to the good by way of imitation, and by divine providence. Plants and [non-human] animals, for example, are not capable of directing their own actions toward the good, because they lack reason. But by their nature they are directed to particular goods (i.e. surviving, growing, flourishing, reproducing) and in this way they imitate God in certain respects, because those are imitations of His perfect being and goodness. Being ordered to the good by way of imitation is not sufficient to prevent concupiscence, because every disordered appetite is still aimed at a good, and in that respect still imitates God who is Goodness.

    In His providential government of the world, God gives these creatures a place in the order of things such that their actions lead toward the good (cf. Summa Theologica I Q. 103 a.2) through increasing the good of other things (e.g. a man eating an orange) and the common good. But in this respect these creatures are not intrinsically ordered to the good as such; rather, they are ordered to the good by the order of things into which they are placed and providentially governed. The preternatural gift of integrity was part of that divinely established order by which the lower appetites were ordered to the good. Without that gift, those lower appetites are not naturally ordered to the good, but must be mastered and trained so that virtues develop in them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Bryan – thank you so much for this helpful post. As one who counted Michael Horton as one of his heroes when I was a Reformed Christian, it saddens me to see such a brilliant and godly man misrepresent Catholic teaching on these distinctions. I pray he is made aware of your article and is able to reflect and dialogue with you on this topic. What a great blessing it would be to see Dr. Horton come to understand and appreciate Catholic theology on grace and nature! Hope all is well for you and your family. in Christ,

    Casey

  9. Hello Casey,

    It is great to hear from you. And if I haven’t told you already, congratulations on returning to the Church this Easter!

    On Thursday I left a note on the White Horse Inn blog, letting Michael know about my post, so I assume he is aware of it. For Protestants and Catholics to be reconciled, we first have to understand each other, so that we aren’t criticizing straw men, and talking past each other when working out our disagreement. So, my primary purpose in this post is to clear up Reformed misunderstandings of the Catholic teaching on nature and grace. My hope and prayer is that Michael and I (and all Protestants and Catholics) can be united in faith and sacraments, and visible ecclesial government. In my experience, what allows the division to persist is a superficial understanding of the other position, and a lack of determination to get to the very bottom of the disagreement, by way of sustained, diligent, charitable, dialogue. The easiest thing in the world is to retreat to talking amongst ourselves, and criticizing the other side from a disengaged distance (e.g. third-person), not in second-person dialogue. And doing that is a sign that we really don’t want to resolve the disagreement, that we’re not determined to end this almost-500 year division. I’m not saying that Michael is doing that, but in my experience, that sort of thing happens quite often.

    Michael was one of my heroes too when I was in seminary. When he came to Covenant Seminary to preach back in 1995, I brought one of his books to chapel, and asked him to sign it for me, which he graciously did. And I still have it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Michael, however, seems to think that in Catholic theology there is only a nature-grace problem, not a sin-grace problem.

    This seems wanting. I think it might be more accurate to say that Horton, to the extent that he represents Reformed Christianity, understands two categories: creation and redemption. Nature-grace is creation, and sin-grace is redemption. Reformed Christianity and Catholic Christianity understand different things about both. Re the first, Reformed Christianity understands that creation, or nature, is at once very good in its essence but totally depraved in its condition. It doesn’t need grace for its essence but for its condition. And it understands Catholic Christianity to hold that nature is not only conditionally but also essentially flawed, needing grace in both cases. Re the second, Refomed Christianity understands that redemption is by faith alone apart from works. And it understands Catholic Christianity to hold that redemption is by faith and works.

    I understand all of that is disputable, but it really isn’t accurate to say that Horton thinks that in Catholic theology there only a creation issue. He understands there is a redemption issue. It’s actually what still divides Rome from Geneva (and Wittenberg).

  11. Steve,

    Here’s what Michael wrote that led me to say that he seems to think that in Catholic theology there is “only a nature-grace problem, not a sin-grace problem:”

    Reformed theologians have been tweaking Roman Catholic tails for some time now over the way in which the latter seems to turn everything into a nature-grace instead of a sin-grace problem. (emphases mine – BRC)

    If he had said “some things” rather than “everything,” or if he had said “in addition to” rather than “instead of,” then I would agree with your criticism of my statement.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Steve Zrimec: Reformed Christianity understands … Catholic Christianity to hold that nature is not only conditionally but also essentially flawed …

    The Catholic Church does not teach that nature is flawed in its essence – that is something that Bryan’s article has explicitly denied:

    In Catholic theological anthropology, human nature is not selfish or sinful; human nature is good. Christ received our human nature, and yet was without sin.

    Most certainly, the Catholic Church teaches that the condition of creation (i.e. this passing world) is in a sorrowful state – it is in a state of being where it is in bondage to decay because of the sin of Adam. The Catholic Church teaches that, since that is what the scriptures teach:

    Therefore as sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin … Romans 11:12

    For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:19-23

    The Catholic Church teaches what the scriptures teach – Adam’s sin, and his consequent fall from grace, brought death and the bondage to decay into all creation. In regards to the human nature transmitted to the progeny of fallen Adam, that human nature is not in a condition of “total depravity” as a consequence of Adam’s sin, rather, the Catholic Church teaches that “human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin …”. Adam’s fall from grace resulted in “the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice … it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.”

    IOW, the Catholic doctrine of original sin teaches that natural childbirth in this fallen world (what is born of the flesh) brings about a child whose nature is transmitted in a fallen condition, a condition that is deprived of the supernatural grace of original justice and without the preternatural gifts of bodily immortality, integrity and infused knowledge.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity

    402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.

    404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

    405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    THE HOPE OF THE NEW HEAVEN AND THE NEW EARTH

    1042 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:

    The Church … will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.

    1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:

    For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

    1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.

    Steve Zrimec: Reformed Christianity understands that creation, or nature, is at once very good in its essence but totally depraved in its condition. It doesn’t need grace for its essence but for its condition.

    What, exactly, was the condition of the cosmos and of humanity before the Fall? Are you claiming that Calvinism teaches that when Adam fell from grace, and that the whole of creation was brought to a “totally depraved” condition because of Adam’s fall from grace? The Catholic Church teaches that the cosmos will be restored to its original (pre-Fall) state when men receive their resurrected bodies.

    Are you saying that Calvinism teaches that for the cosmos to be restored to its original state where it is free from the bondage to decay, that supernatural grace must be given by God to man before the cosmos can arise to its pre-Fall condition?

  13. This subject, well put by Bryan, is where I believe the whole Reformation stems. It is a failure to understand and/or consistently carry out the grace-nature distinction. When Luther and Protestants object to the Catholic grace-nature distinction, the “alternative” they propose or unconsciously espouse is often a form of Manicheanism and/or Pelagianism (as the article notes).

    What gives me great hope about this subject is that when it’s presented, along with the troubles the ‘alternate’ options propose, the reasonable mind cannot but assent to it, and seeing there are many honest and truth seeking Protestants, this is a great gateway for conversions.

  14. Bryan, a few questions about your post:

    1) By the term ‘original justice,’ and the term ‘integrity,’ I take you to mean the same thing. In the link you provided, Fr. Hardon states that,
    “The gift of integrity is equivalent to exemption from concupiscence. It is called “integrity” because it effected a harmonious relation between flesh and spirit by completely subordinating man’s lower passions to his reason.”

    Is this correct? If so I take you to mean that ‘original justice’ is a preternatural gift.

    2) You said,
    “But in fact, if Adam and Eve had never sinned, they could not have entered into heaven without grace.”
    I am confused by this. Here is my understanding of the original state of man in relation to God as well as his final one. Man, in the garden before the fall, did actually commune with God face-to-face. God walked and talked with man such that man was fully in the presence of God even while on earth (Genesis 3:8). In other words, heaven and earth were joined and one. With the fall God removed himself from the Garden, and from earth, and so heaven and earth thus separate in some sense; but not completely (that would be hell). And in His gracious plan of redemption we will one day finally be reunited with our bodies in the resurrection, the curse will be lifted, and heaven and earth will once again be united into one, and we will once again see God face-to-face, physically. And so in this scheme, when we say ‘heaven’ now, we mean that place where God dwells in his fullness, and those who have died and gone there, are there before God but only spiritually, not physically.

    Now maybe some or all of what I just said is wrong according to Tradition, or maybe not wrong but just conjecture, but when you say that “if Adam and Eve had never sinned they still could not have entered into heaven without grace” are you saying that there was some other destination/state of existence called ‘heaven’ awaiting Adam and Eve after their earthly, Garden, pre-fall, communion with God? I have always assumed that if Adam and Eve had not sinned then their physical existence in the Garden, in communion with God, would have continued for eternity, so that to say they “could not have entered heaven” makes no sense. Thoughts?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  15. As a convinced Reformed seminarian working through nature-grace issues and having read Meredith Kline, a fellow student and I discussed how his views do not seem to vitiate against a Roman understanding of nature-grace.

    The first example I can think of is Kline’s discussion of Adam. He says that in the time of the probationary period there would have been Megapolis–the city which Adam would have populated and grown. But this Megapolis would have been incomplete until the end of the probationary period because when the probationary period was over, that is when Metapolis would have come down from Heaven and completed Megapolis.

    I mention this is because it actually speaks to the nature-grace relationship. It seems that at least in Klinean protology (which Dr. Horton teaches) Adam lacks something. In an ironic turn, in the Klinean system the thing Adam lacks is his obedience and in the RC system it is God’s gracious gift(s) (What Bryan calls preternatural gifts–I am unfamiliar with this term so if my analyses is wrong let me know. Is it all three of the preternatural gifts that are missing or just the one, “integrity”?).

    This lacking doesn’t make his nature evil or make being a creature bad, but it does mean that the nature Adam possessed before the Fall was not sufficient for him to enter Heaven (Megapolis). It is at this point where I find Horton’s critique of RC theology applicable to his own position. The fact is, it seems inevitable that nature lacks something (whether works or God’s grace) to enter before the presence of God if given the Klinean and RC positions.

  16. I ought to clarify my first comment. Kline overtly disagrees with the RC nature-grace paradigm. What I meant is that his system (imo) does not provide an argument against Rome’s teachings on nature and grace given his discussion of Megapolis and Metapolis. It seems that Kline finds himself in a similar position but roots the problem as a legal one (not fulfilling the CoW) as a condition for nature to not reach Metapolis.

  17. Here is a comment I made elsewhere:

    The Pelagian error was that Adam didn’t have super-added grace and thus nothing to ‘fall from’ since nature cannot change…the Protestant error begins with Pelagius’ error, but says when Adam ‘fell’ nature itself was changed into ‘sin’.

    All things that exist are *good* in their *nature*, since God holds everything in creation in existence. God cannot hold something *evil* in *nature* in existence, for that would require Dualism (competing powers). St Augustine struggled on this very issue before his conversion (since he was associated with Manicheanism), and talks about this in his Confessions:

    For corruption harms, but, unless it could diminish goodness, it could not harm. Either, then, corruption harms not, which cannot be; or, what is most certain, all which is corrupted is deprived of good. But if they be deprived of all good, they will cease to be. For if they be, and cannot be at all corrupted, they will become better, because they shall remain incorruptibly. And what more monstrous than to assert that those things which have lost all their goodness are made better? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be. So long, therefore, as they are, they are good; therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil, then, which I sought whence it was, is not any substance; for were it a substance, it would be good. For either it would be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good, or a corruptible substance, which unless it were good it could not be corrupted. I perceived, therefore, and it was made clear to me, that Thou made all things good, nor is there any substance at all that was not made by You
    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110107.htm

    Evil is simply an abusing of good or a degrading of good. Evil is akin to darkness. Darkness doesn’t exist, it is simply the *absence* of Light. Similarly, evil is the privation of good. When it comes to man’s human nature, it is always ‘good’, though with the lack of sanctifying grace man is by definition unrighteous. When sanctifying grace enters man’s soul, he becomes (super-naturally) righteous.

    Human nature itself, while good, has had it’s physical and spiritual appetites confused, this is concupiscience (but this only is sin if *acted* upon, James 1:13-15). As an example, take the body’s desire for food. The body naturally needs food and the individual is to take pleasure in eating, but after the fall these desires went out of harmony, such that man now desires more food than he needs (but it only becomes the actual sin of gluttony if he acts on those desires).

    This is essentially how Rom 7b is to be understood. When Paul says things like “sin dwelling in me” (depending on how it’s translated), this is not to be taken in the sense a black blob of evil is literally living in him (for that is heresy). Instead, it’s to be understood in the sense of concupiscience, such as described above, and older translations like the KJV actually use the term “concupiscience” in Rom 7. The person without the Indwelling of the Spirit is a slave to sin in that they’re spiritually dead in sin apart from having sanctifying grace (i.e. God’s Love and the Holy Spirit in one’s soul Rom 5:5). The person dead in sin can do no super-natural good at that point, since their works are merely on the natural level. They are not continually sinning, but their ‘good works’ have no value in God’s sight for they are not done in a relationship with Him.

  18. Aaron (re: #14),

    You wrote:

    1) By the term ‘original justice,’ and the term ‘integrity,’ I take you to mean the same thing.

    No, they are not the same thing. Integrity is one of the preternatural gifts, whereas ‘original justice’ comprehends both sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts. When Adam sinned, he lost not only sanctifying grace, but also all the preternatural gifts.

    In the link you provided, Fr. Hardon states that, “The gift of integrity is equivalent to exemption from concupiscence. It is called “integrity” because it effected a harmonious relation between flesh and spirit by completely subordinating man’s lower passions to his reason.”

    Is this correct?

    What Fr. Hardon says about the gift of integrity is correct. The gift of integrity is the preternatural gift by which a harmonious relation is effected between the passions and reason.

    Next you wrote:

    Here is my understanding of the original state of man in relation to God as well as his final one. Man, in the garden before the fall, did actually commune with God face-to-face. God walked and talked with man such that man was fully in the presence of God even while on earth (Genesis 3:8). In other words, heaven and earth were joined and one.

    To be truly and perfectly united to God, is to be united to Him in such a way that one cannot fall away. St. Augustine wrote, “For how can that be truly called blessed which has no assurance of being so eternally, and is either in ignorance of the truth, and blind to the misery that is approaching, or, knowing it, is in misery and fear?” (City of God, XII.13) A union with God that could be lost, would not yet be heaven, because it would not be a perfect happiness. The beatific vision is the vision of God that cannot be lost, and is thus a perfect happiness. The saints presently in heaven have that kind of union with God, presently enjoying eternal happiness as such, not merely temporary happiness. Pope Benedict XII wrote:

    And after such intuitive and face-to-face vision and enjoyment has or will have begun for these souls [i.e. those who die in grace], the same vision and enjoyment has continued and will continue without any interruption and without end until the last Judgment and from then on forever. (Benedictus Deus)

    So that can’t be what Adam and Eve had prior to their sin in the Garden, because otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to sin, nor would their time there have been a period of probation. They did not have the beatific vision; they had faith, which is seeing through a glass darkly.

    And so in this scheme, when we say ‘heaven’ now, we mean that place where God dwells in his fullness, and those who have died and gone there, are there before God but only spiritually, not physically.

    Except that heaven is not a place; God is not physical but spirit (John 4:24), and so union with God is spiritual, not spatial. Pope John Paul II taught about this quality of heaven in one of his Wednesday audiences (see here).

    You wrote:

    when you say that “if Adam and Eve had never sinned they still could not have entered into heaven without grace” are you saying that there was some other destination/state of existence called ‘heaven’ awaiting Adam and Eve after their earthly, Garden, pre-fall, communion with God?

    Yes, heaven (i.e. the beatific vision) is what awaited them if they faithfully obeyed God, in the faith, hope, agape and sanctifying grace they had received. And hell is what awaited them if they sinned and remained unrepentant. For this reason also, all the angels initially did not possess the beatific vision (because if they had, none could have fallen away). According to St. Thomas, the beatific vision was the reward given to those angels who obeyed in grace. (See Summa Theologica I Q.62.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. RefProt,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that in Kline’s theology, Adam lacks something before the Fall, namely obedience, and eschatological glory. And so your point is a good point. If, according to Michael, lacking grace entails that nature is “inherently flawed” and demands that nature become something other than what God created it in order to be truly good, then lacking obedience would likewise entail that nature is “inherently flawed” and demand that it become something other than what God created it in order to be truly “good?” The state of mere innocence at the first moment of creation would therefore be inherently flawed, given the logic of Michael’s criticism of the Catholic position. And likewise, acquiring obedience would be becoming something other than the purely innocent and obedient-less creature God created.

    But, as you noted, Kline is still in the Reformed camp on nature and grace. He thinks heaven is the natural end of man because man is made in the image of God. The problem with this is that a glorified spirit-body (as we see of Christ after His resurrection) does not seem to be man’s natural end. Likewise with the Ascension. It seems to be specifically supernatural. Similarly, nothing about the Transfiguration looks like our natural end. How does anything about our nature suggest that its natural culmination involves our faces shining as the sun and our garments shining with brilliant light? It would be like saying that the natural end of an oak tree is for light to shine out of it. We would say rather that such an event is a supernatural event, because it does not belong to the nature of an oak tree for light to shine out of it. But the primary problem with the notion that heaven is our natural end is, as I explained in the post, that it either reduces heaven to something other than sharing in the divine nature, or it treats man as having the divine nature by his (i.e. man’s) very [created!] nature, thus obliterating the Creator-creature distinction. Being made in the image of God does not mean that our nature is the divine nature, and therefore does not mean that heaven is our natural end. Heaven is the supernatural gratuitous gift God offers to us, infinitely above our nature.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. @ Aaron G # 14

    We know that Adam did not see God “face to face” because Gen 2:18 states that Adam was lonely and that God made him Eve so he wouldn’t be alone. If Adam would have been with God “face to face” he could not have been lonely because he would experience a state of ontological completion not the state which scripture says.

    In Genesis, the particular friendship with God that Adam has prior to the fall was not enough for Adam. Eve wasn’t created to provide for Adam that which God could not provide, but rather she was created to be his helpmate. Helpmate in doing what? In moving from his preternatural created state to his supernatural teleological end where he could see God face to face. Eve exists as the one who Adam can give his life to in a natural way and thus mirror, and later participate in (through Christ’s elevating of marriage to a sacrament), God’s act of giving participation and co-operation in His own divine life to man. Man’s supernatural end is particiaption in the divine life, a life which is the giving and recieving of charity. This is why marriage is the type of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and that relationship is salvation which culminates in mystical union of God and man.

    @RefProt #15-16

    That is very….interesting. What you wrote sounds like it is drawing a bit from the field of comparative religion. I think if you enjoy what Meredith Kline has to say you would enjoy even more so Mircea Ellade’s THE MYTH OF THE ETERNAL RETURN and THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE.

    In the Catholic concept of things pre-fall Adam is not lacking anything. He is a perfect human, exactly as God wished Him to be, and completely capable of arriving at his natural end through the use of his natural faculties. The issue is that God didn’t create Adam to have a natural end but rather a supernatural end. Thus it is not what is lacking (for Adam is perfect according to nature) but it is that which has yet to be given, (supernatural grace by which God elevates man into his teleological end), thus Adam is not yet perfected according to charity.

  21. Bryan (re: #18)

    Thanks for your response.

    In relation to the preternatral gifts and sanctifying grace, I take it that the presence of these need not be essential to human nature, otherwise we would no longer be human in our present condition. So was original justice present in Jesus as the new Adam, only He did not sin as Adam did? (This may have already been covered, if so I apologize).

    You wrote:
    “heaven is not a place…and so union with God is spiritual, not spatial.”
    and
    “heaven (i.e. the beatific vision) is what awaited them [Adam and Eve] if they faithfully obeyed God, in the
    faith, hope, agape and sanctifying grace they had received.”

    Three things:
    1) if heaven is in no way spatial then where is Jesus’ physical bodily now?
    2) if heaven still awaited Adam and Eve even if they had not sinned, and heaven is not physical as you say, then at what point, and how, would Adam and Eve have lost their physical bodies (death having not entered creation) such that they could enter the non-spatial heaven?
    3) is the final state of all things (what the Book of Revelation calls the New Heaven and the New Earth) in any way a physical existence?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  22. Thanks for the response Bryan,

    Do you mind further explaining this statement at the end of your comment,

    “But the primary problem with the notion that heaven is our natural end is, as I explained in the post, that it either reduces heaven to something other than sharing in the divine nature, or it treats man as having the divine nature by his (i.e. man’s) very [created!] nature, thus obliterating the Creator-creature distinction. Being made in the image of God does not mean that our nature is the divine nature, and therefore does not mean that heaven is our natural end. Heaven is the supernatural gratuitous gift God offers to us, infinitely above our nature. ”

    What do you say the natural end of man is? In # 18 above you said,

    “Yes, heaven (i.e. the beatific vision) is what awaited them if they faithfully obeyed God, in the faith, hope, agape and sanctifying grace they had received. And hell is what awaited them if they sinned and remained unrepentant.”

    Is Heaven the “supernatural gratuitous gift God offers to us, infinitely above our nature” or is it predicated on faithful obedience? I understand that the latter statement was made in actually affirming that even if Adam and Eve were obedient they still would not have merited heaven so perhaps you can connect the dots for me.

  23. RefProt: … (What Bryan calls preternatural gifts–I am unfamiliar with this term so if my analyses is wrong let me know. Is it all three of the preternatural gifts that are missing or just the one, “integrity”?).

    To understand what the Catholic Church is teaching about the consequences of the Fall, let us define supernatural gifts and how they differ from the preternatural gifts, and the relationship of grace to integrity:

    A supernatural gift may be defined as something conferred on nature that is above all the powers (vires) of created nature. When God created man, He was not content with bestowing upon him the essential endowments required by man’s nature. He raised him to a higher state, adding certain gifts to which his nature had no claim. … Some of these are absolutely supernatural, i.e. beyond the reach of all created nature (even of the angels), and elevate the creature to a dignity and perfection natural to God alone; others are only relatively supernatural (preternatural), i.e. above human nature only and elevate human nature to that state of higher perfection which is natural to the angels. The original state of man comprised both of these, and when he fell he lost both. Christ has restored to us the absolutely supernatural gifts, but the preternatural gifts He has not restored.

    The absolutely supernatural gifts, which alone are the supernatural properly so called, are summed up in the divine adoption of man to be the son and heir of God. … [divine adoption] is of a thoroughly intimate character, raising the creature from its naturally humble estate, and making it the object of a peculiar benevolence and complaisance on God’s part, admitting it to filial love, and enabling it to become God’s heir, i.e. a partaker of God’s own beatitude. … Divine adoption is a new birth of the soul … This regeneration implies the foundation of a higher state of being and life, resulting from a special Divine influence, and admitting us to the dignity of sons of God. … As a consequence of this Divine adoption and new birth we are made “partakers of the divine nature” … The whole context of this passage and the passages already quoted show that this expression is to be taken as literally as possible not, indeed, as a generation from the substance of God, but as a communication of Divine life by the power of God, and a most intimate indwelling of His substance in the creature. Hence, too, the inheritance is not confined to natural goods. It embraces the possession and fruition of the good which is the natural inheritance of the Son of God, viz., the beatific vision. ”

    … It may be well here to say a few words on the preternatural (relatively supernatural) gifts bestowed on our first parents, which are sometimes confused with the supernatural gifts properly so called. In the beginning God exempted man from the inherent weakness of his nature, i.e. the infirmities of the flesh and the consequent infirmities of the spirit. He made man immortal, impassible, free from concupiscence and ignorance, sinless, and lord of the earth. These privileges are beyond man’s nature, but not beyond that of some higher creature (e.g. the angels); hence they are preternatural (praeter naturam). The Fathers look upon them as a glorification of nature, applying the words of Psalm 8:5-9. In point of fact these gifts were not conferred apart from the supernatural gifts; a preternatural state is, however, conceivable, and the separability of the two sets of gifts is clear from our now possessing the supernatural without the preternatural gifts. “Although distinct and separable, unite into one harmonious and organic whole. The Fathers look upon this union in the original state of man as an anticipation of his state of final beatitude in the vision of God, so that grace bears to integrity the same relation which the future glory of the soul bears to the future glory of the body. Integrity and grace, when combined, elevate man to the most perfect likeness with God attainable in this life; they dispose and prepare him for the still more complete likeness of eternal life”.

    Ref. Catholic Encyclopedia, article Supernatural Gifts

    In the above Catholic Encylopedia article, we have a more expanded list of the preternatural gifts than that given by Fr. John Hardon in the article that Bryan hyperlinked. From the Catholic Encyclopedia article cited above: “He made man immortal, impassible, free from concupiscence and ignorance, sinless, and lord of the earth. These privileges are beyond man’s nature, but not beyond that of some higher creature (e.g. the angels); hence they are preternatural” …).

    Father Hardon, in his Pocket Catholic Dictionary defines Impassibility, Preternatural, Preternatural Gifts, and Integrity as:

    IMPASSIBILITY. Quality of the glorified human body in being free from every kind of physical evil, such as sorrow or sickness, injury or death. It may be defined as the impossibility to suffer and to die (Revelation 21:4). The inherent reason for impassibility consists in the perfect compliance of the body and emotions to the soul. (Etym. Latin in-, not + passibilis, able to suffer; impassibilis, incapable of suffering.)

    PRETERNATURAL. That which is beyond the natural but is not strictly supernatural. It is preternatural either because natural forces are used by God to produce effects beyond their native capacity, or because above-human forces, angelic or demonic, are active in the world of space and time. (Etym. Latin praeter, beyond + natura, nature.)

    PRETERNATURAL GIFTS. Favors granted by God above and beyond the powers or capacities of the nature that receives them but not beyond those of all created nature. Such gifts perfect nature but do not carry it beyond the limits of created nature. They include three great privileges to which human beings have no title -infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, and bodily immortality. Adam and Eve possessed these gifts before the Fall.

    INTEGRITY. Honesty or trustworthiness. The quality of being virtuous. Wholeness of character without duplicity or internal conflict of interests. (Etym. Latin integrare, to make whole; to present something in its entirety.)

    To sum up; the preternatural gifts are special gifts given by God to man that elevate his human nature above that which essential to his human nature. Strictly speaking the preternatural gifts are not supernatural in their essence. (That which is super-natural is that which is above the natural)

    The preternatural gifts that have been named so far include, integrity (see Bryan’s post # 7), impassibility, bodily immortality, infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, freedom from sin, and lordship over the earth.

    The supernatural gift that is received by the Sacrament of Baptism is the uncreated grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows the Christian to partake of the divine nature of God.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

    RefProt: I mention this is because it actually speaks to the nature-grace relationship. It seems that at least in Klinean protology (which Dr. Horton teaches) Adam lacks something. In an ironic turn, in the Klinean system the thing Adam lacks is his obedience and in the RC system it is God’s gracious gift(s) (What Bryan calls preternatural gifts–I am unfamiliar with this term so if my analyses is wrong let me know. Is it all three of the preternatural gifts that are missing or just the one, “integrity”?).

    RefProt, am not sure that I understand your question. Are you asking what was Adam lacking because of the Fall, or are you asking what grace did Adam lack before the Fall. What Adam lost from the Fall are both the preternatural gifts and the supernatural gifts. What Adam lacked before the Fall was the supernatural grace that would have allowed him to behold the beatific vision.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Man’s first sin

    397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

    398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.

    The CCC is saying that Adam and Eve were “constituted in a state of holiness” – i.e. in the state of original justice, Adam and Eve possessed supernatural grace, and that gave them a holiness that they did not possess by nature. In their original state of being, Adam and Eve and all their progeny were destined (predestined) to become fully “divinized”, that is, all men and women were predestined to receive a further increase of supernatural grace, an increase of supernatural grace that would have allowed all men and women to behold the beatific vision.

    RefProt:[Kline] says that in the time of the probationary period there would have been Megapolis–the city which Adam would have populated and grown. But this Megapolis would have been incomplete until the end of the probationary period because when the probationary period was over, that is when Metapolis would have come down from Heaven and completed Megapolis.

    God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply before they fell from grace, so it stands to reason that there would have been an increase of human beings dwelling in the Terrestrial Paradise had Adam and Eve been obedient to God and not eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. My personal opinion is this, even in the Terrestrial Paradise, that there is nothing that man could ever have done by his own effort, out of his human nature alone, that would have put God into the position where God owed the gift of the beatific vision to mankind as a just wage due man’s works of righteousness. Had the Fall not occurred, the increase of grace that would have brought about the beatific vision to mankind could only have been received as a gratuitous gift from God to mankind.

    If I understand Calvinism correctly, it radically departs from this view. In Calvinist thought, Adam was not constituted in a state of grace before the Fall. Instead, Adam was in a Covenant of Works with God, and Adam would have earned the beatific vision. God would have owed the gift of the beatific vision to Adam as the just wage due Adam’s righteous works, works which Adam would have done out of his human nature unaided by grace. That is why many Christians object to the Calvinist’s “Covenant of Works” soteriology, as it teaches pre-Fall Pelagianism.

    See the CTC article ”Pelagian Westminster?” where Barrett Turner writes:

    I instead propose instead that Calvinism is closer than Catholicism to the teachings of Pelagius with respect to the fundamental relationship of man to God in the primitive state. Through the doctrine of the Covenant of Works, as articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Reformed tradition approaches Pelagius’ conflation of nature and grace before the Fall of Adam and Eve.

    … What was at stake in the Pelagian controversy was more than just whether man needs grace after the Fall to obtain this vision of God. What is often missed in the controversy is an additional element, namely, whether man needed grace even in the Garden to obtain eternal blessedness.

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/pelagian-westminister/

  24. Aaron, (re: #21)

    You wrote:

    In relation to the preternatral gifts and sanctifying grace, I take it that the presence of these need not be essential to human nature, otherwise we would no longer be human in our present condition.

    Right.

    So was original justice present in Jesus as the new Adam, only He did not sin as Adam did?

    Christ had sanctifying grace, and the preternatural gifts of integrity and infused knowledge. But He did not have the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, so that He could suffer for our sake.

    1) if heaven is in no way spatial then where is Jesus’ physical bodily now?

    It is at the right hand of the Father. But we should not think of that spatially, as though God the Father is sitting in a chair somewhere in space, and Jesus is sitting adjacent to Him. These spatial terms are metaphors. To sit at the Father’s right hand means to be closest to Him, in the most honored and exalted position. When Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, He did so for our benefit, not because He was going into outer space, but because we learn and grasp things through our senses. The sky is not closer to heaven than is the ground. So Jesus did not have to go into the clouds to get to heaven. He ascended from the ground into the clouds in order to show us His exaltation above the earth, and above every power. His spatial ascension was to teach and show us His exaltation above every other power, His going away from us for a while (for us to expect His return), and His present reign with the Father. St. Thomas writes:

    The more exalted place is due to the nobler subject, whether it be a place according to bodily contact, as regards bodies, or whether it be by way of spiritual contact, as regards spiritual substances; thus a heavenly place which is the highest of places is becomingly due to spiritual substances, since they are highest in the order of substances. But although Christ’s body is beneath spiritual substances, if we weigh the conditions of its corporeal nature, nevertheless it surpasses all spiritual substances in dignity, when we call to mind its dignity of union whereby it is united personally with God. Consequently, owing to this very fittingness, a higher place is due to it above every spiritual creature. Hence Gregory says in a Homily on the Ascension (xxix in Evang.) that “He who had made all things, was by His own power raised up above all things.” (Summa Theologica III Q.57 a.5)

    And the Catechism, quoting St. John of Damascus, writes:

    Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: “By ‘the Father’s right hand’ we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified.” (CCC 663)

    And elsewhere he writes:

    “We do not speak of the Father’s right hand as of a place, for how can a place be designated by His right hand, who Himself is beyond all place? Right and left belong to things definable by limit. But we style, as the Father’s right hand, the glory and honor of the Godhead.” (De Fide Orth. iv)

    So we should not think of Jesus holding His breath in space somewhere, or on another planet. His glorified body is exalted ‘above’ (see how we are limited to spatial terms) the whole universe, in a way that we do not understand. Pope Benedict said last year, “All of us today are well aware that by the term “Heaven” we are not referring to somewhere in the universe, to a star or such like; no. We mean something far greater and far more difficult to define with our limited human conceptions.” (source)

    You wrote:

    2) if heaven still awaited Adam and Eve even if they had not sinned, and heaven is not physical as you say, then at what point, and how, would Adam and Eve have lost their physical bodies (death having not entered creation) such that they could enter the non-spatial heaven?

    Entering heaven does not require losing one’s physical body. Jesus did not lose His physical body when He was resurrected, or when He ascended. He was still flesh and blood, after His resurrection. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39) But His body was transformed. “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. ” (1 Cor. 15:44) What is not divinized cannot enter into heaven; hence St. Paul says, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor 15:50)

    3) is the final state of all things (what the Book of Revelation calls the New Heaven and the New Earth) in any way a physical existence?

    Yes, just as Jesus still has flesh and bones, so will we in the resurrected state, but our bodies will be divinized, i.e. spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44). As for the rest of the physical creation, the Catechism says:

    For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:

    For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

    The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ. (CCC 1046, 1047)

    Creation would not wait with eager groaning for its destruction; it waits with eager groaning for its freedom and restoration in the eschaton.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  25. RefProt, (re: #22)

    You wrote:

    What do you say the natural end of man is?

    The natural end of man according to his nature as rational animal is to know and love God, but only as God can be known by the natural light of reason, not by grace and divine revelation. That is, the natural end of man is to know God as Creator, but not as Father. We know God as Father (and ourselves as His sons in His Son) only by grace. But God can be known as Creator by the natural light of reason. (This is why all men are without excuse.)

    Is Heaven the “supernatural gratuitous gift God offers to us, infinitely above our nature” or is it predicated on faithful obedience?

    Both. The very offer of heaven, even on the condition of faithful obedience, is the offer of a supernatural gratuitous gift. Without having been given grace, no amount of obedience on the part of Adam and Eve would have made them suitable for heaven, or merited the reward of heaven. That’s the Pelagianism error that Barrett wrote about in “Pelagian Westminster?“. But by having been given grace (i.e. a participation in the divine life) their actions were proportionate to the vision of God, and have that supernatural end as their reward.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  26. Aaron G: Here is my understanding of the original state of man in relation to God as well as his final one. Man, in the garden before the fall, did actually commune with God face-to-face. God walked and talked with man such that man was fully in the presence of God even while on earth (Genesis 3:8). In other words, heaven and earth were joined and one. With the fall God removed himself from the Garden, and from earth, and so heaven and earth thus separate in some sense; but not completely (that would be hell). And in His gracious plan of redemption we will one day finally be reunited with our bodies in the resurrection, the curse will be lifted, and heaven and earth will once again be united into one, and we will once again see God face-to-face, physically. And so in this scheme, when we say ‘heaven’ now, we mean that place where God dwells in his fullness, and those who have died and gone there, are there before God but only spiritually, not physically.

    What you are saying, I have heard before, but the garden of Eden is not the heaven or paradise where God dwells in his fullness. Adam and Eve did not dwell in that heaven before the Fall. In the Jewish mind, there was more than one heaven (paradise).

    I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 2 Cor. 12-2

    Terrestrial Paradise: The name popularly given in Christian tradition to the scriptural Garden of Eden, the home of our first parents (Genesis 2). … St. Paul describing one of his ecstasies tells his readers that he was “caught up into paradise”. Here the term seems to indicate plainly the heavenly state or abode of the blessed implying possibly a glimpse of the beatific vision. The reference cannot be to any form of terrestrial paradise, especially when we consider the parallel expression in verse 2, where relating a similar experience he says he was “caught up to the third heaven”.

    Reference, Catholic Encyclopedia article Terrestrial Paradise http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14519a.htm

    What heaven did the Word of God descend from when he became incarnate in this fallen world? Jesus says this to Nicodemus:

    No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.
    John 3:13

    Nicodemus, a Jewish rabbi, would have been expecting the Prophet Elijah to descend from heaven to announce the coming of the Messiah. So this question naturally arises: Where did the Prophet Elijah go when he ascended from this earth, and is he ever coming back to this earth to witness for the Messiah? Remember, the gates to the heaven where God dwells in his fulness had not yet been opened by Christ’s death and resurrection when the Prophet Elijah ascended into the heavens.

    The Fathers of the Church teach that Enoch and Elijah have been taken from this world by God, and brought back to the Terrestrial Paradise (the garden of Eden), a place that was not destroyed by Adam’s sin, but is instead, a physical place that still exists in its uncorrupted glory. Adam’s sin caused him to be cast out of the garden of Eden – Adam’s sin did not cause the destruction of the garden of Eden:

    The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden … and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. Gen 3:23-24

    The Church Fathers teach that Enoch and Elijah will return to this fallen world as the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3.

    Taylor Marshall : Enoch and Elijah as the Two Witnesses of the Book of Revelation

    http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2008/12/enoch-and-elijah-as-two-witnesses-of.html

    …Many have sought to identify the two witnesses. Some say Moses and Elijah and some Preterists state that these two witnesses represent all the prophets and John the Baptist (e.g. Chilton). However, the Church Fathers identified them as “Henoch and Elias” or “Enoch and Elijah” (Augustine). The reason for this is that Enoch and Elijah are the two Old Testament saints who were assumed into Heaven prior to death. Neither of them died. Their future death will be a martyrdom under the hand of the eschatological Antichrist.

    This fact is confirmed by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologiae:

    Reply to Objection 2. Elias was taken up into the atmospheric heaven, but not in to the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the saints: and likewise Enoch was translated into the earthly paradise, where he is believed to live with Elias until the coming of Antichrist. (Summa theologiae III, q. 49, a. 5)
    Saint Thomas teaches that these two men are not in empyrean heaven (i.e. the supernatural realm) but are in the atmospheric heaven (outer space?). Whatever the situation, they are waiting for their encounter with the Antichrist. At least that’s what Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas teach–and it’s difficult to argue with them.

    [Aside to Taylor Marshal: Aquinas is saying that Enoch and Elijah were translated into the earthly paradise, that is into the Terrestrial Paradise, or the garden of Eden. Aquinas says that the earthly paradise is not the “ the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the saints”. Enoch and Elijah are not dwelling in outer space, they are dwelling in a parallel universe, so to speak, a physical place apart from this universe, but joined to this universe in a mysterious manner according to St. Hildegarde.]

    “When Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, a wall of light was raised around it, and the Divine Power effaced from it all marks of their sin. It was fortified, as it were, by this great light so that no enemy could reach it; but by this God also testified that the transgression which had taken place in paradise should in time be effaced by His mercy. Paradise still exists, a region of joy, blooming in all its pristine loveliness, and imparting abundant fruitfulness to the sterile earth. As the soul communicates life and strength to the body it inhabits, so the earth receives from paradise her supreme vitality; the darkness and corruption of sin, which shroud this miserable world cannot entirely check its influence.”
    Reference: St. Hildegarde, Scivias, Lib. I., visio II.

    As Taylor Marshall points out, the Church Fathers teach that Enoch and Elijah will be killed in Jerusalem, resurrected from the dead after three days, and then Enoch and Elijah will then ascend into heaven in a cloud. (Revelation 11:3-12).

    The point of all this? Enoch and Elijah were born of the flesh in this world, therefore they were born in a state of original sin, and hence they can suffer and die. If Enoch and Elijah are now, as the Church Fathers teach, dwelling in the garden of Eden, then the garden of Eden cannot be the heaven where mortal men cannot enter. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that Son of man, has descended from a different heaven than the dwelling place that the Prophet Elijah ascended to, which is the paradise where Adam and Eve dwelt before the Fall.

  27. Bryan,

    What is that book by Dr Feingold about Nature and Grace that you highly recommended a few months ago?

    Thanks.

  28. Hello Nick,

    See footnote #4.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. This line of thought got me thinking:

    Is Hell the “natural” end of man, or is it a supernatural end?
    If it is a supernatural end, who puts man there, since man can’t achieve a supernatural end by himself?

  30. Jonathan, (re: #29)

    No, hell is not the natural end of man. Nor is hell the supernatural end of man (the supernatural end of man is the beatific vision). Only God is supernatural. Hell is not the end of man at all. Hell is the consequence of man’s free choice to cut himself off from the divine life, the divine love, and the divine light. Men choose to separate themselves from God, and God allows them then to have what they have chosen. What makes hell hell, is a privation, and man himself makes this privation, by a free choice. Hell is in that sense ‘where’ man puts himself by his choice to make himself his own God. Man by nature is oriented to God as his natural end, to know and love God according to the natural light of reason. And by grace man is oriented to God as His supernatural end, to see God face to face, and know Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as God knows Himself. But neither by his human nature nor by divine calling is man oriented to hell. (That’s why I said above that hell is not the end of man at all.) Hell is the everlasting condition for some, on account of their free choice, but it is not their natural or supernatural end. To be an end is not merely to be where something happens to come to be; it is the goal to which something is ordered, either by nature or by supernatural invitation that builds on (and is in line with) the natural end. Persons living in mortal sin are, in a sense, on the path to hell. But they are not ordered to hell; it is precisely because they are ordered to God that to stay on the path to hell is to act against their true happiness, and against their orientation (as creatures made in the image of God, and called by grace) toward union with Him.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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