Surnaturel: The System of Pure Nature

Yet if a number of theologians continue to see in St. Augustine the ancestor of Baius and Jansenius, it is not always that the oppositions we have tried to highlight escape them entirely. Rather, it seems to us that they misunderstand the precise point of doctrine which makes heresy out of Baianism and Jansenism. Their error is less historical than doctrinal. Indeed, there are many theses in our two "Augustinians" that they hold in common with their Doctor, while they are contested by other theological schools. But it would still be necessary to know whether these theses are condemnable. If, for example, the heresy of Baius and Jansenius consists, as has been maintained, in not admitting "a purely rational morality," or in having a "dynamistic" notion of charity, or in thinking that original sin is something other than a pure subtraction of grace leaving nature absolutely "untouched" and rendering, as it were, man to his normal state, or even that the soul, "by an effect of the creative act, is the image of its author, as creatures without reason are its remains," then, yes, St. Augustine is their authentic teacher, and St. Augustine was wrong. But, historically questionable, these comparisons do not concern the essence of Augustinianism, nor especially the essence of the condemned doctrines which claim to be based on it.

There is one idea at least, we maintain, which, commanding all those we have just enumerated, makes them integral and forms a single block, certainly heterodox: it is the idea that the primitive state of Adam was a state of nature, inasmuch as the state of pure nature, conceived by theologians, would be an impossibility. But is this not an Augustinian idea? Baius did little more than systematize it, while waiting for Jansenius to insist on it in his turn. This idea, which had remained more or less latent until then, only became fully aware of itself in the course of the sixteenth century, following a declared opposition to the theology of the School. From then on its venom burst forth, and it was necessary to pronounce anathema against it. On the other hand, it became easier to preserve oneself from it: "it was one of the best fruits of the Baianist controversy to establish, once and for all, the possibility of what is called the state of pure nature," the dangerous germs of Augustinianism thus being nipped in the bud.

Perhaps we are not sufficiently concerned about whether, by such a verdict, the whole Christian tradition, with St. Augustine, the Greek Fathers in the lead, and to a certain extent St. Thomas himself, would not be in danger of being rejected from orthodoxy. But without going back further, for the moment, than the time of Baius himself, it is possible, we believe, to show that this idea of "pure nature," such as modern theology understands it, is a systematic idea, legitimate undoubtedly and perhaps useful, but recent, to which in any case the traditional dogmas defended by the condemnations of St. Pius V and Urban VIII are not necessarily linked.


Let us first reread the seventy-nine propositions condemned by St. Pius V in 1567: there is not one of them whose contrary affirmation, or simply supposition, asserts the concrete possibility of an order of things in which man, left by the Creator to his own forces or enjoying "natural" help, could have claimed only an inferior destiny, limiting his reasonable wishes to a "natural" happiness. There is not even the need to have recourse here, as one has the right to do for the exegesis of certain propositions, to the concluding formula of the Bull, from which it is at least negatively evident that each proposition is not necessarily bad in itself, separately from the others, but only when taken as a whole of the system from which it was extracted. The other censures, without having the same authority, are also significant by their silence on this subject. The Sorbonne's censure (1560) is mainly concerned with theories concerning free will and sin; those of the Spanish faculties are aimed at various articles, without any concern to link them together: Eucharist, indulgences, the pope, the Council of Trent, predestination, etc. Obviously, "pure nature," defined as we have said, was not of much concern to Baius's first opponents. Moreover, Baius himself had hardly spoken of it. The famous proposition 55e (or 53e), taken from the De peccato originali, only questions concupiscence and the gift of integrity, i.e. it only relates to the original state of man, as Baius explains very clearly in his Apology to Pius V in 1569 and in his Declaration of 1570 before the Faculty of Louvain. It is also clear from the Explicatio given by the Faculty itself, and everyone understood it that way. The De meritis operum, in which it is doubtless appropriate to recognize the major work of our author, shows, as we have seen, a profound misunderstanding of the supernatural conceived as the divinization of man; but not for a moment is there any question, in one sense or another, of a world with all-natural horizons or forces which would be opposed to the world chosen by the Creator. Such a hypothesis only surfaces in the eighth chapter of De prima hominis justitia, where Baius combats it in passing: but the Bull of condemnation has retained nothing of it, and one can agree with Baius on this criticism without adopting his positive conceptions.

If indeed, as some claim, Baius's main error had consisted above all in denying this "pure nature" and thereby undermining the foundations of dogma, we would be faced with a strange problem: how could the innovator not have had, at least somewhat, the feeling of innovating? The statements in which he claims to deliver nothing other than the pure doctrine of the Ancients are frequent, and we have seen above what misunderstandings he may have sincerely believed. But at such a precise point, how could such a total illusion be explained? Or how could such an essential truth be so generally disregarded in orthodox theology?

In reality, the idea of "pure nature" lacked the antiquity and doctrinal importance that some recent theologians too readily assume. It had only recently entered theology, and was far from having acquired the right to a place in it in the eyes of all. Nor was it conceived by religious concerns. Its origin was mainly philosophical. It was first of all, it seems, one of those numerous abstractions which medieval speculation had liked to forge since the time of William de la Mare, one of those numerous products of the "potentia Dei absoluta" enumerated by the new schools. The dogma of grace was not especially interested in it. Cajetan, the first, followed almost immediately by his confreres Koellin and Javelle, had given it access to Thomistic thought and had made theological use of it, claiming that the natural desire to see God existed, according to St. Thomas, only in man as the theologian considers him, that is to say, elevated to a supernatural end and enlightened by revelation. This is not only said by opponents of the new idea, such as Prudentius or Macedo. It is its warmest supporter, Suarez: “Cajetanus et moderniores theologi tertium consideraverunt statum, quem pure naturalem appellarunt, qui, licet de facto non fuerit, cogitari tamen potest ut possibilis” [Cajetan and the modern theologians considered a third state, that is a purely natural one, even though it did not exist in fact, it was conceivable and possible]. Nor do other theologians of this time take the change, and they do not in general attribute to St. Thomas what belongs to the very individual Cajetan. The same people who rally to the positions of the great cardinal sometimes recognize that his interpretation of the Summa is not rigorously objective. Sestili, taking up this whole story at the end of the nineteenth century, wrote: “Cajetanus certe primus in quaestionem dubium injecit[Cajetan is certainly the first to have introduced doubt into this question]. In fact, neither Capreolus, Louis de Blois, nor Savonarola make the slightest allusion to this "pure nature" as yet. Savonarola's Triumphus crucis, which was to be reprinted so often in the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and which the College of Propaganda was to adopt as its official textbook, teaches that no other end can be conceived of for the reasonable creature than that to which his desire leads: the vision of the divine essence; outside of this, there is no beatitude. And more than half a century later, at the very time of the Council of Trent, Cajetan's idea had hardly made any progress, as the work of his colleague Dominic Soto and some others testify.


A contemporary of Baius and his colleague at Trent, Soto wrote his treatise De natura et gratia only a few years before Baius put his hands on his opuscules. Speaking of man “in puris naturalibus mente concepto,” [conceptualized mentally as reduced to a state of natural endowment] he is careful not to suggest that such a state should be held to be attainable because of the dogma of the supernatural. It is a convenient fiction, he modestly explains, which nothing prevents from being imagined, although nothing of it is found in Scripture or in the Fathers. In short, he almost apologizes for introducing it, as a working hypothesis: “concipere illum tamen animo et effingere nihil vetat, clarioris disputationis gratia” [However, there is nothing to prevent us from conceiving it in our own mind and outlining its portrait to make the discussion clearer]. One thinks of Kant's "intellectus archetypus" [intellectual archetype], which plays such a large role in the Critique without its realization being declared possible. Moreover, in the very way in which a Soto conceives this man “in puris naturalibus” [in pure nature], there is a difference with what he was to become in later speculations! It is man as the ancient philosophers saw him,  “qualem penitus philosophi agnoverunt[quite as the philosophers have recognised it], deprived of his transcendent finality and of the superior faculties by which he is constituted, according to the teaching of Scripture and the Holy Fathers, in the image of God. He is a "homo physicus" who, if we realize him by fiction, will have as his sole ideal to live according to reason, that is to say—for the word "reason" is equivocal—to contribute in his own way to the smooth running of the city, without any open perspective on an afterlife. Apparently, therefore, he is a simple "animal politicum" [political animal]: laws, ordinances, and magistracies are made for him. In the end—if he really existed—he is a man like us, but condemned, through lack of light, to deceive himself about his true end. Soto knows very well that there is really only one final end for man, the one posited by St. Augustine when he cried, "Fecisti nos ad te, Domine" [You made us for you, Lord!]. He also knows the inaccessible elevation of this end: "extra supraquç omnem lineam et ordinem naturae conditae, eo quod Deus infinitus sit; omnis autem creatura, limitata, ab iliaque adeo perfectionis abyssu infinitum distans" [Outside and above every limit and order of created nature, because God is infinite, while every creature is limited and infinitely far from that depth of infinite perfection]. Therefore it requires, not, doubtless, in order to tend to it by virtue of a natural inclination or "innate appetite," but in order to conceive it effectively and desire it with an illicit desire, a supernatural light, which the ancient philosophers lacked. It is for this reason that more than one theologian—"etiam in schola sancti 'Thomae” [even in the School of St Thomas]—speaks of it as "finis supernaturalis" [supernatural end]. However, while understanding their point of view, Soto prefers to avoid this novelty of vocabulary on his own account. Since the vision of God is the object of an appetite of nature, since it is for every man, whether he knows it or not, the real end of his nature, it is better, it seems to him, to continue to say that it constitutes our natural end: "finis ille, simpliciter nobis naturalis" [This end which is simply natural to us]. If this language is rather that of Scotus than that of St. Thomas, Soto is nevertheless aware that he is expressing by it the thought of both, and the way in which the Cajetans, the Koellins and the Javelles had affected to fight Scotus while at the same time misrepresenting St. Thomas, naturally committed the defenders of authentic Thomism to this procedure, which the history of ideas fully justifies.

In his Commentary on the Sentences, which he published at the very end of his life (1557-1560), Soto also appealed to the traditional doctrine of the image of God. When God said: "Let us make man in our image and likeness," he was referring to our very nature. By this he placed in us not only a capacity, but by that very fact a natural inclination, and as St. Augustine once repeated so emphatically, he who is made in the image of God is made normally to see God, "nam simile naturaliter appetit suum simile" [For the like seeks its like naturally]. As we can see, Dominic Soto still does not break with the essential position of St. Augustine and St. Thomas—as well as St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus—who had never envisaged as possible for man or for any spirit an end at once transcendent and natural, which consists in a knowledge of God other than the beatific vision. His fiction of a man "in puris naturalibus mente excogitatum" [that it is represented in the mind as reduced to its natural qualities] remains close to the man of Aristotle as described repeatedly by St. Thomas—except for the very abstract assumption of his position in being. On the other hand, he admits that we speak of two ends for man: one, which is proportionate to his created nature and which he can attain by himself; the other, which exceeds all proportion and which consists in the eternal life. Only, again like St. Thomas, he sees in this double finality not a possible double orientation, but an actual duality. It is not a question of ambiguity or essential indeterminacy, prior to the divine choice. In man as he is realized, the two ends coexist, both are to be achieved. But the first is subordinate to the second. Only the second end deserves the name of truly final end, and only it transcends the earthly horizon. In a word, in our language, there is no transcendence without the supernatural.

Bellarmine, for his part, without explaining much about what a "natural" last end would be for man, nevertheless asserts, against Baius, that such an end would have been possible:

Quamvis intellectus non potest non esse capax visionis Dei, potuit tamen Deus hominem ordinare tanquam ad finem ad cognitionem earum rerum quae naturaliter agnosci possunt, sicut oculus vespertilionis est naturaliter capax visionis solis et posset solem videre si a Deo juvaretur, interim tamen non est creatus nisi ad videndam tenuissimam lucem nec aliud videt. [Although the intellect cannot fail to see God. God could, however, have ordained man by giving him for his end the knowledge of those things which can be known naturally, just as the eye of the bat is naturally capable of seeing the sun; and he could see it if God helped him to do so, but, until this happens, he is created only to see a very pale day, and sees no other thing].

But, in saying this, he is aware that he is putting forward a relatively new opinion, a freshly developed theological explanation: for this initiator of "positive theology," whose custom is to proceed by authorities, and who does not refrain from doing so on related points in the same work, gives no reference here.

These lines of Bellarmine's are thirty years later than Soto's De natura et gratia. They are taken from a lecture given in Leuven itself, around 1576, in order to refute Baius. But even outside the small clan of Baianists, they would have been far from unanimous. If Baius, for example, declared himself scandalized by the doctrine of the theologians of his time who admitted in man two different loves of God: a love of God as the author of intellectual nature and a love of God considered as beatifying this same nature, is it not obvious that the distinction established between "Deus auctor et Deus beatificator" [God the creator and God the beautifier] was still in common use? Now this distinction, which is St. Thomas's own distinction, does not accord with the distinction, postulated by the theory of "pure nature" and since then so widespread, between the God author of the natural order and the God author of the supernatural order.

In addition, we have for information on the opinions of a notable part of the theologians of this period, and on the most accredited doctrines, a document of primary importance, the Roman Catechism. It had been published in 1566, the year before Baius was condemned, at a time when his doctrines had long been a source of concern. It is known that this work, without being an official document of the Church (it is mistakenly called the Catechism of the Council of Trent), nevertheless enjoys a great authority. Written by Thomistic theologians, it reflects the opinions of this school on controversial points. It is true that, according to some Protestant historians, St. Pius V's condemnation was a revenge taken by the Jesuits for the publication of the Roman Catechism, which was the last manifestation of Augustinianism within the Catholic Church: between 1566 and 1567, the Catholic Church was mislead, and it was at this precise date that it became Pelagian. But such a judgement, which is less a matter of history than of polemics, does not detract from the value of the testimony given by the Catechism on the doctrines then held to be traditional in the Church. There is no echo of a duality, at least in law, between natural creation and supernatural ordination. Moreover, various indications are directly contrary to it. Is it about beatitude? It is twofold: one essential, which consists in seeing God; the other accidental, which is a consequence of the first, and which consists in the possession of accessory goods. Do we want to know why the name of Father is appropriate to God? It is because he created us in His own image, thus adorning us with a singular benefit, which He did not grant to any other living being: clearly, what we would call today the supernatural vocation of man, his ordination to a higher destiny, is already contained entirely, for the writers of the Catechism, in the gift of a rational nature. Was this revelation necessary? Yes, we are told, and this answer is not based on a pessimistic thesis; the consideration of original decay with the blindness it must have entailed is not a factor: but in no case can man's reason suffice to enlighten him as to his final end, since it is above him. Here again, a close correlation is established between the idea of salvation, which is the attainment of a supernatural end, and the idea of the creature made in the image and likeness of God, i.e. endowed with a spiritual nature. Finally, in order to describe "the state of integral nature," the Catechism expresses itself in terms which, it seems, leave no room for doubt about the essential end of man:

A principio Deus proprii boni appetitionem creatis rebus ingeneravit, ut naturali quadam propensione suum quaererent et expeterent finem, a quo illae numquam, nisi objecto extrinsecus impedimento, declinant. Haec autem initio fuit in homine expetendi Deum, suae beatitudinis auctorem parentemque, eo praeclarior et praestantior vis, quod is compos esset rationis atque consilii. [From the beginning, God gave rise in created things to an appetite for their own good, leading them by a kind of natural propensity to seek to know and attain their own end, from which they never deviate except when an impulse opposes them from without. Now this appetite has served as a starting point in man to seek God, the author and father of his beauty; it has been a force all the more marvelous and effective because man is endowed with reason and reflection].


This testimony is clear. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to those who know the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. Without doubt it is that of a Catechism, that does not enter into the details of theological hypotheses. But the traditional simplicity of its formulas allows us to think that its authors remain attached to the simplicity of traditional doctrine. Some fifty years later, Suarez, who espoused the contrary opinion, supported by Bellarmine and a few others, was under no illusion as to the antiquity of this opinion. His language shows that he felt that it was still a personal inference rather than a transmitted assertion. He endeavored to find titles for it, especially in St. Thomas, by means of an interpretative exegesis, but this was to come to the point of modestly declaring: "Assertio, ut opinor, communis est theologorum, licet eam magis supponant quam disputent." [This is, in my opinion, a common assertion of theologians, although it is more of a hypothesis than a discussion]. He himself, undertaking to remedy this deficiency, resorts to an argument apparently more philosophical than theological, in which there is no question of the gratuitousness of the supernatural to be secured, nor of any document of the Magisterium. Doesn't this way of proceeding have any significance? Suarez starts from the idea that man, being a being of nature, must normally have an end within the limits of nature, since, according to a principle received from Aristotle, all beings of nature must have an end proportionate to them: “Necesse est omnem naturalem substantiam habere aliquem finem ultimum connaturalem in quem tendat.” [It is necessary that every natural substance should have a final end of the same nature, to which it should tend]. For Suarez this is an absolute principle. In virtue of his creation, man is therefore made for a bliss of natural essence. Supposing that in fact he is called to a higher end, this can only be added. The first, in law, was sufficient; it alone remains naturally knowable and alone can enter into a definition of man. If it is objected that there is in man a natural desire for this higher beatitude, Suarez, even before examining it, replies that this is impossible, because, still according to Aristotle, the appetite of nature follows the power of nature: "cum appetitus naturalis non fundetur nisi in naturali potestate." [Since a natural appetite is only based on a natural power]. It is therefore contradictory to envisage an end that would be, according to the adage that Soto, Bellarmine and Tolet had adopted, "naturalis quoad appetitionem, supernaturalis vero quoad assecutionem." [A natural end in appetite, but supernatural in purpose]. As one of his first disciples, the Sorbonnist Philippe Gamaches, said, natural appetite, which merges with nature itself, belongs to the purely natural order: it is therefore impossible for it to be directed towards something supernatural. There is no such appetite, except for a form which is due to nature, for a term which nature can attain, either by its own powers, or at least with the help of causes of the same order. This is also the opinion of Vasquez. It will be that of the Dominican Peter of Godoy, of the Carmelites of Salamanca, of the Jesuits Martinez and Dominic Viva, and of many others. This reasoning will be repeated over and over again until our days, without the principle on which it is based ever being seriously examined. Not that Suarez, in formulating it, wishes to reject from human nature absolutely all desire to see God: but it could in any case be, in his opinion, only a purely elicit and conditioned desire, an imperfect desire, analogous to some simple and vague complacency; a desire incapable of engendering a real concern for an object which, in the natural state, would be pure chimera.

Hence the question of "pure nature" is decided by Suarez, as he himself says, a priori. It is not he, we shall soon see in more detail, who is the inventor of the new system, nor is it Vasquez or Molina, who expounded it in 1592 in his commentary on the Prima, and who already assumed it in the Concordia, in 1588. Before them, at the beginning of the century, Cajetan, Conrad Koellin and Javelle, all three of them from the tradition of St. Thomas, had established the principle. Sylvester of Ferrara, also a Dominican, had initiated it in a small dissertation which he had attached to the exegesis of a chapter of the Contra Gentes. He had pronounced in peremptory fashion: "Natura secundum se non habet inclinationem, nisi infra naturae limites" [Nature does not possess an inclination which is not in accordance with its limits]. In the second part of the century, their confreres Barthélemy de Medina and Domingo Báñez had imitated them, the former in his commentary on the Prima secundae, published in Salamanca in 1577, the latter ten years later, a year before the Concordia. Marcelli is therefore mistaken when he seems to attribute to the Jesuits—Lojolitae Theologi—the paternity of the system. It is possible to believe, however, that no one contributed more than Suarez to its spread.

Be that as it may, the main argument on which this new system is founded would have come as a surprise to Scotus, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas himself. Does not the whole of Augustinianism—in the broadest sense of the term—consist, on this subject, in underlining the essential difference that exists between the bodies of nature, whose end is proportionate to their limits, and the soul, which is open to the infinite? Following Cajetan, Medina, and Báñez, many theologians quote as without reply Aristotle's remark in the second book of the Heavens: "Si natura dedisset caelis inclinationem ad motum progressivum, dedisset etiam instrumenta ad talem motum." [If nature had given the people a tendency to progressive movement, it would also have given them the instruments for such movement]. If there is no natural agent in nature capable of obtaining the vision, of God—and how could there be one?—it is absurd to suppose in it a desire for this vision. It is by virtue of the same reasoning by analogy that one will come to maintain that the natural perfection of angels must render them impeccable, since the most perfect of bodies, namely the celestial bodies, are indeclinable in their course as much as incorruptible in their essence! But where Aristotle could see an analogy, a contrast was seen by Christian philosophy. In its eyes, the soul, "mens," was not subject to the same laws as bodies, the image of God could not be assimilated to beings without reason. In the classical distinction of "naturalia" and "divina," the soul was placed among the "divina"; it was studied within the framework of “theology” and not within that of “physics.” Before being a rational animal, man was a lie. Inserted in nature, he was not simply a being of nature, but by the best of himself he dominated it. A "great world within a small world," Origen and St Gregory of Nazianzus paradoxically said, to define this paradoxical being.

As much as he was an enemy of paradox when it is only a mental game, St. Thomas was bound to recognize it when it is found in the very nature of things and, so to speak, in the very fabric of being. Thus he proclaimed, as a worthy heir to St. Augustine: "Creatura rationalis in hoc praeeminet omni creaturae, quod capax est summi boni per divinam visionem et fruitionem, licet ad hoc indigeat auxilio divino gratiae." [The creature endowed with reason has a preeminence over all creatures in this: that it is capable of the highest good through vision and the appreciation of God, although it needs the help of divine grace for this purpose]. And again, "Eo ipso quod facta est ad imaginem Dei, capax est Dei per gratiam, ut Augustinus dicit." [From the very fact that it is made in the image of God, it is enabled by grace to know God]. He thus expressed the common thought, which no orthodox theologian would then have had the idea of disputing. No doubt, he then tried to recover a kind of Peripatetic orthodoxy, by appealing to some other principles of the Philosopher, such as this one: "what we can by our friends, it is as if we could by ourselves," or this other one: "better to be able more with external help than to be able less by oneself alone." Thus, he brought the sublime exception into the common rule: the case of the mind became a mere case of the species, and logical appearances were preserved. But the artifice was too visible to deceive anyone: besides the fact that the two principles invoked were hardly comparable to axioms of metaphysics, God was not a friend like any other, nor was his grace a mere external help! Moreover, this slight concern for accommodation, in which it is appropriate to see much less cunning than candor, did not make St. Thomas bend on the essential principle. For him, "intellectual nature", not being a "créatura naturalis", a "res naturalis," [natural creature, natural thing] was not merely that "animal of the highest kind" of which Taine would speak after the Greeks. Beyond "the dynamism of natural forms," he discerned "a dynamism proper to the spirit": "a deeper dynamism, which not only aims at the integrity of an essence and the deployment of its virtualities, but tends to make up for the deficit of the essence with regard to the totality of being." He knew how to recognize in the spirit something other than a determined essence, pursuing its maintenance, its development or its propagation. So he saw no contradiction in saying in proper terms: "Quamvis homo naturaliter inclinetur in finem ultimum, non tamen potest naturaliter illum consequi, sed solum per gratiam." [Although man has a natural inclination towards his final end, he cannot reach it naturally but only by grace]. For he discerned the reason: "et hoc est propter eminentiam illius finis." [and this is due to the eminence of this end]. 

Sylvester of Ferrara will epilogue in vain on this very clear passage, in order to blunt its point. He does not want St. Thomas to have thought as he did because Duns Scotus thought as he did after him. Today we are very careful to denounce concordist interpretations in the history of theology, and we are right. But who will say, on the other hand, what harm has been done by the desire to oppose the various schools? Scotus, in fact, proclaimed, as did St. Thomas, in perhaps more striking terms but with the same conviction, that the fundamental inadequacy that exists between the end of the spiritual creature and the natural means at its disposal to attain it, was the proper mark of its dignity: "non vilificatur, sed dignificatur" [it is not vilified but dignified]. All the Scotists repeated this: "quo major creatura, eo amplius eget Deo" [the greater the creature, the more it needs God]. In the middle of the fifteenth century, Dominic de Soto remained faithful to the tradition, anxious once again to gather into his doctrine the great ideas that St. Thomas and Duns Scotus had also held, which were neither specifically Thomistic nor Scotist but simply Christian. Meeting the objection which had just appeared invincible to Ferrarese and Cajetan, as it was soon to appear to Medina, then to Báñez and Suarez, he wrote:

Facile respondetur, magis exinde effulgere celsitudinem humanae naturae, quod, cum nulla possit esse natura creata, quae ulla sit proportione ad assequendam felicitatem illam quae exsuperat omnem sensum, nihilosecius angelica et humana, ad imaginem Dei conditae, illum haberent pro fine ultimo. [The answer is easy: the sublimity of human nature is more evident from the fact that, although there can be no created nature which surpasses your own being, nevertheless both angelic nature and human nature, created in the image of God, have it as their ultimate end.]

In the next generation, the first two Jesuit cardinals echo him. This principle, says Bellarmine, is not a novelty, and far from stating anything unworthy of human nature, it exalts on the contrary its proper dignity; and Tolet, in a more frankly Scotish note: "In hoc potius magnificatur homo" [in this, man is rather magnificent]. In the following century, Estius would think the same. John Prudentius too: this is the sign, he will say, that the spiritual being transcends the whole sphere of created or creatable activities. However, these reminders become increasingly rare. Among the Scotists themselves the principle was soon to be maintained only in a diminished sense. Only the mystics, because their doctrine will no longer be taken seriously, will be allowed to remember it...

It should be noted that Suarez, unlike any of his predecessors, does not bring into his reasoning any direct consideration of doctrinal security. In reality, however, it is with a view to better establishing the possibility of a purely natural end, other than the vision of God, that he denies nature any appetite for the supernatural. If there were no natural beatitude, he explains, the supernatural end would be due to man: an inadmissible consequence, but how could it be avoided? Undoubtedly, there are some who contest it: "quibus autem modis discursum factum subterfugerent, nec satis video, nec tempus est hic examinandi" [but through what subterfuges they could escape the reasoning given here, I do not see it well and do not have the time to examine it here]. It is regrettable that Suarez, so unaccustomed to shortcuts, has not taken the time to explain the pros and cons here; at least his thinking is clear. This shows how one innovation leads to another. A second decisive step has been taken on the path by which modern theology is deceiving the old. In order to refute Baius, Bellarmine taught the possibility of a purely natural end: Suarez already goes further than Bellarmine, who referred to this purely natural end only as "alius finis naturalis," "aliquis finis inferior," [another natural end, a lower end] and did not define it by a knowledge of God, and finally continued to place in the vision of God the intrinsic end and perfection of human nature at the same time as the object of his desire. He goes further than Bellarmine and Gregory of Valencia, who at least retained the Thomistic language by recognizing only one "beatitude" properly speaking. He goes further than Tolet, who energetically maintained the doctrine of his master Soto by showing that it was the traditional doctrine and that, whatever Cajetan had said, it was common to the two great leaders of the school, Duns Scotus and St. Thomas. Much further than Estius, who considered it at least probable that man tends by an innate natural appetite to the vision of God, this being "the end" of every spirit, the true natural place outside of which he is condemned to remain always without rest. Further, in a sense, than Molina himself, who at least conceded that the adage "finis naturalis quoad appetitum" [a natural end to the desire] translated, in his time, not only the Scotistic thesis, but the most common opinion of the Scholastics. Vasquez, who agrees on this point with Báñez, Molina and Suarez, makes no secret of its novelty either: he calls it “opinio recentiorum.”

Most theologians, however, whether they are fully committed to this "opinio recentiorum" or whether, like Ruyz de Montoyà, Recupitus, or Rossi, they still maintain in a more or less mitigated way, following Tolet, Estius, and Bellarmine and with the unanimous Scotist school the doctrine of the appetite of nature, henceforth agree on the crucial point. Both will agree to promote, or to assume, the idea of "pure nature." They would not form a separate school in this, however numerous: Thomists and Scotists of the new style would speak exactly as Suarezians or Molinists. "There have even been Thomists," says the Jansenist Hugot, "who have admitted this system in part, even though it was of no use or necessity to them in defending and supporting the doctrine of St. Thomas." There were some in the sixteenth century who inaugurated it, and there are more and more, even before the appearance of the Augustinus, that spread it. The author of the controversies In Divi Thomae et ejus scholae defensionem, Navarrete, is one of those who are already pushing it the most strongly, going so far as to turn with malicious subtlety against traditionalists such as Soto the argument drawn from the excellence of the spiritual being. The fiery Thomas de Lemos, the great opponent of Molinism, shows himself at the same time, in his Panoplid gratïàe, a great advocate of pure nature. In order to cut short the objections of the Baianists, he grants this nature, as Bellarmine did, all the desirable "natural" assistance, which reduced somewhat the scandal caused by Molina's doctrine, but not without new difficulties, which were themselves to lead to new hypotheses. It was as if the two great rival schools had decided to make peace as soon as possible, or better still, to form a real alliance on this ground, thus liquidating, they thought, the Baianist question, in order to fight more comfortably on another ground which was absorbing their attention increasingly: that of the mode of efficacy of grace and predestination. In any case, one observation must be made, which had already been made by Father Theodore de Régnon: the consideration of the "state of pure nature", which is late in the history of theology, was only acclimatized in the School after Baius.

EDITORIAL NOTE: As far as we know, this (the fifth) chapter of de Lubac's Surnaturel has not been previously translated. We wish to thank Maddison Reddie-Clifford—a doctoral student of the University of Notre Dame, Australia—for giving us permission to reprint his ongoing translation of this important book. Maddison specializes in the history of early twentieth century Catholic theology and philosophy, notably Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Marèchal. 

Featured Image: Hilma af Klint, Altarpiece No. 1, 1907; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD.


Henri de Lubac

Henri Cardinal de Lubac, SJ (1896–1991), a French Jesuit, is considered to be one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. He is the author of many books, including Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages.

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