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Grace and the human person (II)

zondag, 18 maart 2012 00:05

(Nature, Person and Grace by Br. M.-D. Philippe o.p., continued...)

Grace presupposes nature...

The classic expression, which Saint Thomas himself uses, is that "grace presupposes nature1". This is very true: the child we baptise is already alive; whether he is baptised the day he is born or a month later, he is both cases alive with human life. Grace therefore presupposes human nature. Birth to the life of grace presupposes birth to human life. What's more, a child is born with "sin of nature2", i.e. original sin and its consequences. He can do nothing about it. As a descendent of Adam and Eve, as one of the human race, he bears the weight of it. But through baptism he is ransomed by the blood of Christ; baptism confers christian grace upon him which wipes away original fault and gives him the virtues of faith, hope and charity. This grace which he is given through baptism makes him capable of recieving Jesus in the Eucharist which enables his baptismal grace to fully flourish: he becomes a living being who finds his nourishment in the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. Thanks to baptism, he is capable of living of the Word of God through faith. The Word of God acquires meaning for him and eventually, growing in wisdom and love, he is able to put his whole intelligence at the service of his faith. We do this every day: when we pray or study theology we put our intelligence at the service of our faith. And the more our intelligence is awake the stronger our faith is and the more our theology, which comes from this cooperation of faith with the intelligence, is capable of being aware, beautiful, great, alive.

By reflecting on the relationship between grace and human nature we will be able to go further in precision and say that human nature is in "obediential potentiality3" with regards to grace. This means that, on the one hand, human nature is capable of recieving sanctifying grace, or christian grace (which gives it a special and elevated noblesse since, through grace, man becomes a son of God4, a child of the Father5); and on the other hand that human nature does not of itself have a positive disposition to recieving grace: grace is freely given, human nature is not of itself actively ordered towards to it.

From there we can go on to say that, on the one hand, grace is not "according to nature", but also that it is not against nature, i.e. it "does not eliminate nature6". It is "above nature7" and perfects it.
Gepubliceerd in Theologie

Grace and the human person (I)

zaterdag, 10 maart 2012 20:03

This article is one of father Philippe's most well known, and where he powerfully shows just how profound and essential a basis realistic philosophy is for the depth and vivacity of our christian life. All father's work in philosophy culminates in his ground breaking insight into what he spoke of with precision as the "human person" - his philosophy was therefore one not just of form, or substance (as thomist scholasticism, though not St.Thomas himself, is), but also of finality and life: man in all his dimensions, neither reducing him to a dry definition nor belittling him by amputating his existence of its radical, metaphysical depth. This deep and realistic understanding of man allows Philippe to offer a fresh and renewed perspective on how grace is given and recieved. Indeed, if our human nature grows and develops into the radically unique human person each one of us is, then how does grace sanctify that person we are and become? Grace presupposes nature... Grace cooperates with the human person we are, and a child of God is the gradual fruit of a gift of God to each of us, a gift of a kind that recreates us with our full cooperation.

Nature, person and grace
Br. Marie-Dominique Philippe, o.p. (1912-2006)

         In theology it is very important to try and pin-point what has traditionally been called the relationship between grace and nature (we will return to this expression further on). This question has been discussed a great deal between Dominicans and Jesuits, and particularly concerning the various different interpretations of Thomas Aquinas. It is a question of capital importance and which reappears in every period of history, along with the disputations it gives rise to. The latter remain above all arguments between schools of thought, and which the Church recently experienced once again with the much talked of discussion begun by Father de Lubac's work on the Surnaturel1 [supernatural]. We do not intend to treat this question as a discussion between schools of thought, but rather to consider it afresh, starting from its very source. It is indeed an indispensable question and has immense consequences on the whole of our Christian life: all ways of seeing Christian life are grounded in a theology of the relationship between grace and nature.

Faith and intelligence: theology 

         The first consequence of this issue is obviously on the relationship between faith and the intelligence - a relationship which is fundamental for having a clear understanding of what theology is. The encyclical Faith and Reason reminds us that theology involves a cooperation of the intelligence with faith. This invites us to ask ourselves how faith can assume the human intelligence. Faith takes root in grace and the human intelligence in the human soul, i.e. the human intelligence is a capacity of the human soul. To ask the question of the possibility of a cooperation between faith and the intelligence, and to ask what the nature of this cooperation is, would seem to be the major, fundamental question for the theologian, indeed, the question to which he constantly returns.
Gepubliceerd in Theologie

The Silent Struggle

maandag, 13 februari 2012 11:16

I'd like to recomend the following book, The Silent Struggle. A remarkable story of triumph over abuse and anorexia, by Sr Marie-Therese of the Cross. (Redemptorist Publications, 2008)
 
In this book the author, an English carmelite living in London, offers the quite extraordinary witness of her battle with anorexia which, as far as exemples go, must rank as one of longest and most comprehensive. I found it extremely enlightening with regards to the way in which this illness can begin and develop, and how it's influence upon the person is so subtle and profound - both difficult to detect and to admit. Her 50 years of suffering also spanned a period when the medical art attempted multiple treatments based on very varied, and often frighteningly erroneous, understandings of anorexia and bulimia... she saw it all, so to speak, and witnesses to how a true understanding of the roots of this problem are so necessary yet so difficult to reach, uncover and establish as such in the understanding of the sufferer themselves. In short, this book seems to me to be a kind of manual for understanding this illness.
 

Sister also offers powerful explanations of why the last recovery program she tried worked and the personal steps that preceded it and paved the way to it. Through her narrative and her insightful observations and reflexions the reader learns much about the human person in the complexity of heavily damaged conditioning and how a human understanding of that is needed. One also sees how her Faith in Christ was the deepest answer to the suffering and the ultimate reason to recover her true self, though she experienced no miracle cure (rather, the love and intelligence of a few people who helped her). It's an easily readable book, written in a very personal style, and the author remains discreet in her explanations of the abuse she suffered.

Annorexia is a powerful illness and one which is often overlooked or misunderstood... this book has for me been an essential deepening of my understanding of it and what one can sometimes do to help those suffering with it. Above all, it's a rare witness to a very real and full recovery from such a devastating condition and the suffering that it veils; a recovery she made with her fellow sisters, priests and doctors... a powerful exemple of how Faith and intelligence need to work together in the setting of friendship - friendship with Christ and with brothers and sisters on the Way!
Gepubliceerd in Filosofie
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