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  • Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement by Andrew Dean Swafford
  • Matthew J. Ramage
Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement by Andrew Dean Swafford (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014), xi + 220 pp.

As the opening pages of this title appropriately recall, the topic of nature and grace touches virtually every theological and human question. Well aware of the implications of a doctrine so foundational to the Christian faith, Andrew Swafford’s recent volume offers a careful summary of the debate and a welcome contribution to its resolution through the theology of Matthias J. Scheeben.

In his opening chapter, Swafford reviews the key schools at play in the nature-grace debate. Intrinsicism holds that man’s fulfillment lies only in and through Christ, with the result that a purely natural beatitude is impossible (6). The most notable figure of this tradition, Henri de Lubac, argued that man has a natural desire for the beatific vision and that any other final end would result only in man’s permanent frustration and suffering (14).

Extrinsicism, meanwhile, counters with the observation that important questions concerning God’s justice and the gratuity of grace emerge if the beatific vision is taken to be man’s only possible end. Significantly, Pope Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical Humani Generis appeared to target de Lubac specifically in echoing the very lines of the extrinsicist tradition: “Others [de Lubac?] destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the Beatific Vision.”1

On the other hand, Swafford recalls that, by the very next decade, the Second Vatican Council would weigh in on this issue “undoubtedly in favor of de Lubac” (15) by teaching that man has a single final end: “All are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine.”2

Extrinsicism’s solution to the nature-grace relationship proceeds by insisting that man has two final ends—natural and supernatural—the latter accessible only by grace. God’s justice implies the debitum naturae, that he provide whatever is necessary for a creature to reach its natural end (10). Strictly speaking, God is not so much indebted to the creature as he is to himself and to the manifestation of his own divine wisdom in the natural order (10–11). Of course, the very creation of a thing is gratuitous, and in this way, one may speak of supernatural grace as “doubly” gratuitous because it elevates man over and above his specific nature (11). [End Page 1357]

For the extrinsicist tradition, man’s capacity for the beatific vision cannot be described as a natural inclination, since its actualization would be due to the creature according to divine justice without the further elevation of grace. For this reason, the extrinsicist tradition employs the concept of “obediential potency” to account for the relationship between human nature and the beatific vision (15). Obediential potency itself has two distinct acceptations. “Generic” obediential potency can be seen in the case of a miracle and necessitates no real relation between the specific nature of the creature and its transformation. Contrary to this, “specific” obediential potency is rooted in the very nature of the creature in question: such an elevation is perfective of that particular nature, albeit in a way that transcends its natural powers (15–16).

Chapter 2 offers an overview of de Lubac’s nature-grace theology in its historical and theological context. Reviewing the principal features of the intrinsicist tradition discussed in the introduction, Swafford recalls that de Lubac’s aim was to re-articulate a Christian humanism for post-war Europe (25). In de Lubac’s mind, the unconscionable events of this period showcase the disastrous fruits of atheistic humanism and the inability of the pure-nature tradition to respond adequately in this secularist milieu. He further argues that the pure-nature tradition actually abetted the rise of modern secularism, on account of its excessive emphasis upon the independent integrity of the natural order (37).

Swafford exhibits great balance in his assessment of the various nature-grace schools in relation to St. Thomas. The Angelic Doctor “was certainly no...


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