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The Thomist 64 (2000): 211-37 ON THE POSSIBILITY OF A PURELY NATURAL END FOR MAN STEVEN A. LONG University ofSt. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota Denis Bradley's recent book,Aquinas on the TwofoldHuman Good,1 addresses St. Thomas's central and profound teaching regarding the relation of nature to grace. Bradley 's interpretation of this doctrine is specially informed by the seeming contradiction between St. Thomas's affirmation of a natural desire to know the essence of God2 and his insistence that "there is another good of man that exceeds the proportion of human nature because the natural powers are not sufficient for attaining, or thinking, or desiring it."3 The passages reflecting these teachings, prominently compared by Bradley,4 are further complicated by another argument he cites from Thomas: Man would have been created frustrated and in vain if he were not able to attain beatitude, as is the case with anything that is not able to attain its ultimate end. Lest man be createdfrustrated and inane, because he is born with original sin, God proposed from the beginning a remedy for the human race, through which man could be liberated from this inanity-the mediator, himself God and man, Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him the impediment of original sin is able to be taken away.5 1 Denis Bradley, Aquinason the TwofoldHuman Good (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1997), hereinafter cited as Aquinas. 2 Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 3, a. 8. 3 De veritate, q. 14, a. 2, quoted from Aquinas, 457. 4 Ibid., 457. 5 De malo, q. 5, a. 1, ad 1, quoted from Aquinas, 473. 211 212 STEVEN A. LONG In a tradition of exegesis that hearkens to the influence of Henri de Lubac in this century, Bradley interprets these teachings as affirming an implicit natural desire for intrinsically supernatural beatitude.6 He argues further that the imperfection of natural beatitude, and the doctrine that man can be intellectively and volitionally fully perfected only by the vision of God, leaves us with a nature that is "naturally endless."7 That is, short of supernatural beatitude, not only in this given economy of God's providence but in any possible order ofdivine providence, human nature would be naturally endless because "radically unfulfilled."8 Or, as Bradley puts it, "Natural beatitude in any form does not satisfy man's natural desire for beatitude."9 From this proposition he derives the putative fact of human nature's endlessness. This point is further accentuated by his insistence that for St. Thomas obediential potency is merely a creature's susceptibility to miraculous divine action, rather than the passive potency distinctively characterizing a being's susceptibility to God's active agency.10 Accordingly, I will here address five principal points, with a view toward showing the coherence ofSt. Thomas's teaching and thus contextualizing the problematic texts highlighted by Bradley's incisive treatment. To this end I will (1) briefly address St. Thomas's doctrine of human nature's obediential potency for grace; (2) summarize Bradley's account of the natural "endlessness " of nature; (3) present an interpretation of the natural desire for God that does not imply the "endlessness of nature" apart from intrinsically supernatural beatitude; (4) consider the inner symmetry between St. Thomas's teaching that nature would be 6 Aquinas, 445-46: "Aquinas says with unequivocal clarity that the will as a nature does have a natural appetite or an innate desire for good in general or happiness. This innate desire for happiness, which is not an elicited desire since it is antecedent to any intellectual act, is certainly an inclinatio naturae. The natural desire to see God is implicitly contained in the necessary desire for the perfect good or happiness that structures the will, or in the necessary desire, which follows upon the nature of the intellect, to know in general the cause of any known effect." I shall treat this argument of Bradley in detail below. 7 Ibid., 514. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., 513. 10 Aquinas, 449: "Miracles, then, serve as the Thomistic prototype for understanding the obediential potency of a creature." MAN'S NATURAL END 213 vain apart from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 211-237
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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