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  • The Historical Development of Cajetan's Philosophy of Pure Nature and Its Origins in the Thought of John Capreolus
  • Steven Waldorf

EVER SINCE the controversy concerning how to understand man's desire for the beatific vision as his ultimate end erupted following the publication of Henri de Lubac's Surnaturel in 1946, the issue of Cajetan's conception of human nature has been much debated. De Lubac's work, continuing from Surnaturel in the 1940s to his more mature Augustinisme et théologie moderne in 1965, aimed at both the theological and the historical deconstruction of what he termed the system of "pure nature," that is to say, the view that human nature must reach its complete end or perfection strictly by natural principles. For de Lubac, such a view, which entails the effective denial of a desire for the vision of the divine essence as the complete perfection of human nature as nature, is both theologically and historically problematic. From a doctrinal perspective, it leads to a purely natural end for man that effectively closes man in on himself, severing his nature from any intrinsic connection to grace and the supernatural. Moreover, historically speaking, it represents a rupture with a classical tradition of thought that runs from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and the other great Scholastics of the thirteenth century. In purporting to find a theory of pure nature in Aquinas's writings, later Scholastic thinkers betrayed and falsified his thought.

In de Lubac's narrative, the progenitor of this view of nature was Tommaso de Vio (1469-1534), better known as Cardinal Cajetan, who was a renowned Dominican theologian of the late [End Page 1] fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Often remembered by historians for his disputation with Martin Luther at Augsburg in 1518, Cajetan was one of the leading theologians of his day, producing a magisterial commentary on Aquinas's Summa theologiae that remained influential into the twentieth century, in addition to dozens of smaller treatises.1 According to de Lubac, Cajetan stands at the origin of the pure-nature theory that the great majority of later Scholastics, including de Lubac's own twentieth-century interlocutors, would adopt.2 Crucially, he was also the first to impute the view to Aquinas himself, passing off his novel philosophy of nature as the latter's own. Nearly all subsequent scholarly discussion of the issues de Lubac raised has addressed the question of whether Cajetan was an accurate interpreter of Aquinas on the pure-nature question.

That the Dominican cardinal held a view of nature in which nature must reach its proper perfection in a naturally attainable end is generally not disputed, and the texts, as we shall see, are clear on the point. However, lost in the scholarly debate is sustained treatment of the question of the historical genesis of Cajetan's view. Indeed, contemporary scholars have devoted comparatively little attention to the question of how Cajetan's philosophy of pure nature developed, focusing instead on the question of his fidelity to Aquinas. When such scholars do advert to the question of the origins of the Dominican cardinal's view of natura, they generally do so in passing, attributing it to concerns about the gratuity of grace that supposedly arise from positing a supernaturally attained end as the complete perfection of nature qua nature. Indeed, scholars who find themselves on opposite sides of the debate about Cajetan's faithfulness to Aquinas, such [End Page 2] as Lawrence Feingold3 and Denis Bradley,4 generally concur in attributing the Dominican commentator's view of nature to concerns about this or some other issue of theological orthodoxy.

Although theological concerns were foremost in the mind of later proponents of the pure-nature theory, writing in the aftermath of the Baianist controversy, there is less evidence that they preoccupied Cajetan, who was active decades before the controversy erupted. The argument Feingold adduces as proof of the fact that Cajetan's view of nature was motivated by issues of theological orthodoxy is based on a misinterpretation of Cajetan's De potentia neutra, a text in which the Dominican commentator argues against the claim that there can be a natural potency or inclination for...


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