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Eric Voegelin and Henri de Lubac: The Metaxy and the Suspended Middle (Part II)

The doctrine of pure nature came into its own in the sixteenth century, the century in which what de Lubac considers the fateful turn in theology occurs. The turn is from the conception of man, a creature exiting in the realm of nature, with his one true end in the realm of the supernatural, to the conception of man as a creature with two ends, one natural (“purely natural”), and the other one supernatural, with the relationship between them left tenuous, at best. The concept of the “two ends” and the concept of “pure nature” entail each other. For de Lubac, the Fathers of the Church, Augustine, Aquinas, and their followers did not deviate from the “one end” conception of man. De Lubac might say that modernity itself begins around the sixteenth century with the “two ends-pure nature” conception. De Lubac does say that beginning in the sixteenth century, the “two ends-pure nature” conception came to dominate over the ancient and traditional “one end” conception, and led inevitably to the secularism that is with us today. De Lubac traces in detail the stages by which “pure nature” came to the forefront of Christian theology. We cannot follow him here in that detail, but we can mention some of the major theologians who supported this idea.

Since it was thought that the “ancient philosophers” had not known the true, supernatural end of man, “these theologians came to think that the end conceived by [the] heirs of the ancient philosophers must be for man his natural end. The idea is fully and decisively stated for the first time in the work of Denys Ryckel, known as Denys the Carthusian (died 1462), who on two occasions initiates openly (ex professo) a refutation of the teaching and arguments of St. Thomas.”[i] Had “these theologians” had the insight of a Voegelin into the “ancient philosophers,” they would not have taken this position.

Cajetan followed Denys. While Denys was explicit that his position refuted Aquinas, Cajetan was not. On the contrary:

“his principal originality, particularly in connection with Denys the Carthusian, is that he puts forward his thesis as an explanation of the thought of St. Thomas. From Denys to Cajetan, in the space of less than half a century a complete reversal took place. Swiftly followed by two of his colleagues . . . he originated an explanation of the texts of St. Thomas which, in essentials, was to continue, with some slight shifts of emphasis, among many commentators of the Summa and theologians down to our own century. According to Cajetan, man can have a really natural desire only for an end which is connatural to him; in speaking of a desire to see God face to face St. Thomas could only speak of the desire awakened in man as he is considered by the theologian, that is, he states clearly, in man actually raised up by God to a supernatural end and enlightened by a revelation.”[ii]

To the mystic who said, “Hunger presupposes the existence of bread,” Cajetan would have replied that hunger for food is a natural desire and accordingly has its natural fulfillment, but nature cannot have a desire for something that cannot be naturally fulfilled. Along these lines, theologians like Cajetan often cited as unanswerable Aristotle’s statement in De Caelo: “If nature had given the heavens an inclination toward progressive motion, it would have also given the means for that motion.” The principle is that inclination for an object necessarily implies the means to obtain it. Therefore, no means, no inclination.

The issue is very far from settled in the wake of de Lubac’s work. To take just two of the most eminent Thomists of the twentieth century, Etienne Gilson supported de Lubac, and Jacques Maritain supported the Neoscholastics against whom de Lubac wrote. Indeed, the issue has recently re-surfaced, and continues to divide serious thinkers, who take strong positions on both sides.[iii] To better understand the issue, we turn to a contemporary, Lawrence Feingold, who took Cajetan’s position against de Lubac in a very scholarly work published in 2001.[iv] Feingold begins with a statement from St. Thomas with which, he says, all theologians appear to agree, namely, that every intellectual creature naturally desires to see God—to know the very essence of God. However, he continues, “The central point in this debate concerns the precise way that ‘natural desire’ should be understood here.”[v] There are, he says, essentially two sides of this question. On one side are those who, like de Lubac, hold that this desire “is an innate and completely unconditioned appetite, independent of knowledge and expressing the intrinsic finality of the spiritual creature.”[vi] On the other side are those who, like Cajetan, “see this desire as naturally aroused or ‘elicited’ by some knowledge of God’s existence,” as conditional rather than absolute.[vii] By “elicited natural desire” in connection with the natural desire to know God’s essence is meant “a desire spontaneously aroused on the basis of prior knowledge of God’s effects in the world.”[viii] Cajetan also posited that “the rational creature . . .has a specific obediential capacity [or potency] to receive the vision rooted in its spiritual nature.”[ix]

“Elicited natural desire,” if I understand it correctly, is the desire aroused by seeing the world and wondering what caused it. It is like the desire aroused by seeing a fire, and wondering what caused the fire. It is not the desire I mean by the “longing” I described earlier. I have a desire to know the causes of the American Civil War. But the lack of that knowledge is not essential to my humanity. Is our desire to see God merely another case of a desire to see the unseen cause of a thing we do see?

The concerns that led to the dominance of the “pure nature-two ends” position in the sixteenth century and following – which, according to Feingold, who agrees with Cajetan in this regard as well, was also the position of St. Thomas – are the same concerns that led Feingold to embrace that approach in the twenty-first century:

“Opponents of the existence of an innate appetite for the vision of God . . . note that innate appetite is always proportionate to the nature of the creature and to his natural powers, and thus it cannot extend to something which exceeds the natural order, such as the vision of God. Positing an innate natural desire for the vision of God would seem to endanger the distinction between the two orders. In addition, it would put in jeopardy the possibility of a connatural end of man and thus create grave problems for the theological understanding of the gratuitousness of grace and glory.”

“. . . The natural inclination of our will is directed to our connatural end, but is insufficient to order us to our supernatural end. For this reason grace and the theological virtues are necessary first to ‘order’ us to the vision of God. This obviously creates serious problems for those who maintain an innate appetite for the vision of God. . . .”

“. . . An absolute or unconditional desire for the vision of God seems to imply the impossibility of a ‘state of pure nature’ (a state in which the intellectual creature would not be elevated to a supernatural end), for the permanent frustration of this absolute desire would seem to render impossible any natural beatitude. Therefore, the existence of an innate natural desire to see God implies that God must necessarily offer us the beatific vision, and that there could no connatural or proportionate end for beings endowed with such a desire.”

“The great difficulty with the notion of an innate, absolute desire to see God lies in showing how grace and the beatific vision would not be due to a nature endowed with such a desire. . . One cannot deny the possibility of a “state of pure nature” without undermining the gratuitousness of the supernatural order.”[x]

“has the elements of a solution that provides a fine balance between the natural desire for the vision of God and the distinction of the natural and supernatural orders. The pastoral and spiritual solution to our crisis cannot lie in weakening the distinction between nature and grace, or diminishing the coherence of the natural order, but only in rightly understanding how the Christian promise opens the horizon to what we already naturally desire in a dim and inefficacious way. Thus glory perfectly fulfills what nature would wish but dare not hope.”

“The key to rightly understanding and developing the Thomistic position lies in accurately grasping the relation between natural happiness and supernatural beatitude. Our natural desires can be achieved in two ways: according to the proportionality of our nature, or absolutely. Supernatural beatitude removes the creaturely constraints that necessarily limit any natural happiness.”[xii]

Feingold agrees with de Lubac that “Contemporary man has lost the sense of the supernatural character of the Christian promise and vocation; this is the great pastoral problem that faces us today,” and that de Lubac sought to address.[xi] “Nevertheless,” Feingold continues, the Neoscholasticism against which de Lubac wrote:

“One can imagine that de Lubac would reply that Feingold’s ‘solution,’ which is the Neoscholastic solution, is the problem. In TMS, de Lubac said: “In my concrete nature . . . the ‘desire to see God’ cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering. . . . And consequently – at least in appearance – a good and just God could hardly frustrate me, unless I, through my own fault, turn away from him by choice.”[xiii]

John Milbank defends de Lubac and opposes Feingold in a long footnote in The Suspended Middle. Leaving aside the question of whether Feingold is right, Milbank’s criticism of him is unfortunately, in my view, overly strident, given the very thoughtful treatment that Feingold gives the subject in The Natural Desire to See God. Milbank calls Feingold’s book “arch-reactionary . . . written to reinstate a Garrigou-Lagrange type position . . . Frankly this selectivity [in citing Aquinas] gives the lie to the appearance of scholarly bulk and solidity which the weight of his tome seems to promise. Its exegetical method is much like that of the proof-texting of a Protestant fundamentalist. This gets even more ludicrous . . .”[xiv] And so on.

I would say, however, that the Neoscholastic position, as Feingold describes it, entails the splitting of very fine theological hairs, and take us away from the existential experience of longing described by a de Lubac and a Voegelin. Query: If the Neoscholastics’ reading of Aquinas, and not de Lubac’s, is the correct one, is it possible that it was Aquinas who got things wrong?

Feingold reminds us of what Voegelin criticized in Catholic theology – its wish to “monopolize” revelation. The interesting thing for the student of Voegelin in this context is how his approach, because it is not wedded to the idea that revelation only occurs through the Church, cuts through these tangled intellectual problems and supports the “paradox” of a natural creature with a supernatural longing and end. While Voegelin thus supports de Lubac on the nature of the human person, Voegelin and de Lubac have very different approaches to the question of the relationship between theology and philosophy, with Voegelin taking what from the perspective of the Church is a very heterodox position, and de Lubac, despite his Surnaturel thesis, repeated in AMT and TMS, upholding the “traditional,” “orthodox position.”

De Lubac’s own reply to Feingold would be that the sharp distinction Feingold draws between the natural and the supernatural orders certainly makes sense – but it does not apply to the case of man, who alone of God’s creatures has a paradoxical nature, living in time, yet somehow participating in and longing for the timeless.[xv] And, de Lubac would continue, we know this “paradox” because it is us. We experience it, not in the sense in which we experience objects in the material world, but in the sense that we are it.[xvi] We exist within the “luminosity” of this experience, to use another Voegelinian term.[xvii] It is not possible for us to “step outside” of the experience and analyze it “objectively,” as we would a piece of material reality. “[T]he whole of ancient tradition,” says de Lubac, “consist[s] in emphasizing the essential difference that there is on this question between the beings of nature, and the soul which is open to the infinite . . . where Aristotle could see an analogy, Christian philosophy [in the form of Neoscholasticism] saw principally a contrast.”[xviii] And again: “Although inserted in nature, man was nevertheless not simply a natural being. . . . [man is] this paradoxical being.”[xix] “The inborn grandeur and wretchedness of the spiritual creature! . . . [In man, we find] the close union of dependence and nobility.”[xx] The relationship of the creature with a rational nature to his or her Creator is one “both of dependence and kinship which have no analogy in the rest of creation.”[xxi] In the Christian tradition, man is the “great abyss.”[xxii]

Man cannot have a merely “natural beatitude,” de Lubac says:

 “. . .  apart from the vision of God, man, remaining inevitably unfulfilled, has no real end in the true sense . . . Left to nature alone, in other words remaining forever ‘imperfectus,’ he would be condemned never to know more than a ‘kind of anxious joy,’ which would consist in ‘always poeticizing reality by dreaming,’ and ‘expanding possession by desire,’ while continuing to call upon ‘an indifferent and silent heaven.’”[xxiii]

This reminds us of Voegelin who, citing Heraclitus and Robert Musil, referred often to those who live in the “dream world,” the “second reality,” the “private” as opposed to the “common,” those who structure our modern politics. “To sum up,” says de Lubac, “in order to gain a coherent and simple picture of our subject, the intelligence must free itself of two errors of imagination: thinking of God in the same way as man, and thinking of man in the same way as a ‘natural being.’”[xxiv]

De Lubac is completely on the side of the “mystery of the supernatural,” which is also the “mystery of Christianity,” and if there is anything our systematizing, rationalistic, and positivistic age rejects, it is the very concept of mystery. “The whole of tradition tells us this: it is one of the forms of the fruitfulness of the mystery that it gives birth in man’s mind to a movement which can never end. To be afraid of it is a failure of faith. The believing intellect fearlessly gives itself to this work, in a trusting humility, well aware that, far from ever bringing into doubt the truth of the mystery which it first recognizes and then permanently holds to, it tends only to show it more profoundly and more wonderfully.”[xxv]

De Lubac, like Voegelin, is explicit that the “paradox” is a mystery that will never be exhausted in any formulation, or overcome this side of death:

“We certainly shall not find a wholly satisfying position. Such positions, in regard either to basic human problems or to the essential requirements for understanding the faith, do not exist. Therefore this can only be the start of a reflection which, though firmly based and with a definite direction, is none the less destined never to come to any final conclusion. The human mind is so made—and it would be a lack of humility to dispute it—that though it can criticize its own representations (once it has become aware of them), it cannot replace them so easily with others. With methodical study it can discover just what is inadequate about those representations: Indeed it is in this activity, this act of identifying its own weakness, that its greatness is most apparent—for it is only in being judged that its weakness can be seen. But, on the other hand, the intellect will never produce the perfect formula which will bring its quest to an end. To do so would be to quit its human condition. That is why it may appear to us at some moments that this kind of work of critical reflection is something negative. . . .”

“. . . The life of the mind cannot be conceived without an element of constant seeking. ‘As long as we live, we necessarily must always seek.’ As with the life of the body, it cannot help giving rise to ‘restlessness.’ This is so even in the firmest declaration of faith. The proclamation of every dogma is like the lifting of every seal in the Apocalypse: ‘It is a kind of unleashing of problems on to mankind.’ . . . Only the activity of God is without movement—if one can express it thus, and, conversely, only death is “wholly restful.” Our intellect therefore doubts itself. In that seeking which is always ‘restlessness,’ and in that restlessness which is for ever an inner “dispute,” it is afraid of finding itself divided within, of no longer recognizing itself, of finding itself drawn incessantly into a spiral of problems. It is afraid of inducing vertigo in itself.”[xxvi]

Still, faith itself gives thought its true direction.[xxvii] Furthermore: “Faith has its own light, which can be far brighter in the intellect of a simple believer than in that of the finest theologian.”[xxviii] Nor is genuine dogma to be denied its rightful place. While the “intellectual worth” of dogmatic formulations “may not be great,” “[y]et to accept them, to give them a place while discerning their limitations, is not pure pragmatism, for they are useful not merely for this or that reason, but for the preservation of a truth. Though limited, their truth value is far from non-existent. Simply to reject them would result in error.”[xxix] But the danger is that, “by producing too facile a solution,” dogma may “blur the paradox of faith.”[xxx] One cannot “rest content” with dogmatic formulations.[xxxi]

Further on how de Lubac would reply to Feingold, in TMS, in contending against the purely hypothetical state of “pure nature” posited by his opponents, De Lubac insists, as does Voegelin, on the reality of concrete experience:

“In me, a real and personal human being, in my concrete nature—that nature I have in common with all real men . . . the “desire to see God” cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering. To deny this is to undermine my entire Credo. For is not this, in effect, the definition of the “pain of the damned”? And consequently—at least in appearance—a good and just God could hardly frustrate me, unless I, through my own fault, turn away from him by choice. The infinite importance of the desire implanted in me by my Creator is what constitutes the infinite importance of the drama of human existence.”[xxxii]

And Aquinas recognized that man, through his own fault, could turn away from God by choice; indeed, as Aquinas makes clear by the very structure of the Summa Theologica, the question of turning toward or away from God is what the moral life is all about.

To better understand the real relationship that nature has with that which is above it, de Lubac points out that Aquinas distinguishes two ways in which the word “natural” can be used:

“Something is said to be natural in two ways: (1) A sufficient principle exists from which it follows necessarily unless something interferes. In this sense it is natural for the element earth to move downward. . . . (2) Something is called natural for a thing—because it has a natural inclination to it, although it does not have within itself a sufficient principle from which it necessarily follows.”[xxxiii]

The “natural desire” for God is an instance of this second use of the word “natural.”

De Lubac uses an Article from the Summa Theologica to further illustrate the paradox that is the human person.[xxxiv] The Article is entitled, “Whether man can attain happiness by his natural powers?,” and in it St. Thomas, in his turn, makes use of Aristotle’s Ethics and De Caelo. The Article includes the following Objections and Replies:

Objection 1. It would seem that man can attain Happiness by his natural powers. For nature does not fail in necessary things. But nothing is so necessary to man as that by which he attains the last end. Therefore this is not lacking to human nature. Therefore man can attain Happiness by his natural powers.

Objection 2. Further, since man is more noble than irrational creatures, it seems that he must be better equipped than they. But irrational creatures can attain their end by their natural powers. Much more therefore can man attain Happiness by his natural powers.

Reply to Objection 1. Just as nature does not fail man in necessaries, although it has not provided him with weapons and clothing, as it provided other animals, because it gave him reason and hands, with which he is able to get these things for himself; so neither did it fail man in things necessary, although it gave him not the wherewithal to attain Happiness: since this it could not do. But it did give him free-will, with which he can turn to God, that He may make him happy. “For what we do by means of our friends, is done, in a sense, by ourselves” (Ethic. iii, 3).

Reply to Objection 2. The nature that can attain perfect good, although it needs help from without in order to attain it, is of more noble condition than a nature which cannot attain perfect good, but attains some imperfect good, although it need no help from without in order to attain it, as the Philosopher says (De Coel. ii, 12). Thus he is better disposed to health who can attain perfect health, albeit by means of medicine, than he who can attain but imperfect health, without the help of medicine. And therefore the rational creature, which can attain the perfect good of happiness, but needs the Divine assistance for the purpose, is more perfect than the irrational creature, which is not capable of attaining this good, but attains some imperfect good by its natural powers.

De Lubac, citing Dominic Soto (1499-1560), says:

“The desire [to see God] is not to be defined by its effect but rather by its cause; therefore it will be called natural not because man could naturally elicit it, but because nature has placed it in him. In like manner, the end will be called natural, not because he could attain to it naturally but only because it is desired by this natural desire.”[xxxv]

In affirming de Lubac’s position, we might also cite two passages from the Summa Contra Gentiles:

“Again, it is impossible for natural desire to be unfulfilled, since “nature does nothing in vain.” [Citing Aristotle, De Caelo, II, 11 (291b 13).] Now, natural desire would be in vain if it could never be fulfilled. Therefore, man’s natural desire is capable of fulfillment, but not in this life, as we have shown. So, it must be fulfilled after this life. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity comes after this life.”[xxxvi]

“. . . those things which know and apprehend perpetual being desire it with natural desire. And this is true of all intelligent substances. Consequently, all intelligent substances, by their natural appetite, desire to be always. That they should cease to be is, therefore, impossible.”[xxxvii]

To return to AMT, de Lubac enlists numerous theologians down the centuries in support of his reading of St. Thomas, and his view on the single end of man and the impossibility of a state of “pure nature,” and discusses other theological views as well.[xxxviii]

In discussing those who prepared the way for or expanded upon the theology of Denys and Cajetan, De Lubac “blames” Duns Scotus (1266-1308) for having confused the issue very soon after Thomas:

“While holding in all essentials the same desire for the vision of God as held by St. Thomas, Scotus was wrong perhaps to put it forward too insistently in opposition to a wholly ‘elicited’ desire, like a ‘weight of nature’. . . analogous to what could be, according to the ideas prevailing at the period, the obscure desire of a brute beast or a stone. Fundamentally, of course, it was only an analogy, but the spiritual element was not sufficiently taken into account. To the former distinction of a natural or necessary desire and an elective or free desire—the one ‘physical,; the other “moral”—there now succeeded, from another viewpoint, or there was added, the Scotist distinction of an innate appetite or an ‘elicited’ act of desire. Consequently, in criticizing this innate appetite, considered as crude appetite, as weight of nature,[ some Thomist theologians seemed more or less to deny any real natural desire. . . . With Scotus’s ‘innate appetite’. . . was contrasted an ‘elicited appetite’. . . an unsatisfactory expression, not in accordance with former usage, and one which Soto for his part still avoided. . . . But soon theologians were no longer so particular.”

“Now this was not to remain merely a question of terminology nor of point of view. It was a thorough change.”[xxxix]

It will be recognized that this is the terminology used by Feingold in his criticism of de Lubac’s position. However, says de Lubac: “On the basis of a natural desire that can be observed [Aquinas] sets out to show reflexively what could be called the ontological appetite of intellectual substance, practically identical with its finality.[xl] To reduce [the thought of St. Thomas] to the clumsy affirmation of an ‘elicited appetite’ without deep roots in the nature of the soul is to deprive his thought of all its significance.”[xli] To “deprive [the thought of St. Thomas] of all its significance” is a serious matter indeed. Yet that is what happened, according to de Lubac, with the Neoscholastics.

The next theologian after Cajetan who makes an advance on the theory that de Lubac rejects is Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) [xlii] It was Bellarmine, says de Lubac, who asserted the idea of “pure nature” in principle. “For long past and in many ways it had been preparing to emerge. Nevertheless, it can be asserted . . . that ‘Bellarmine is its creator.’”[xliii] But, continues de Lubac, “Bellarmine remained faithful to Augustinianism. The distinction that he had been obliged to make [between nature and grace] occurred only at the level of abstract theory; it did not destroy for him the unity of the spiritual being and it did not affect its movement at the deepest level.”[xliv]

With the next theologian considered by de Lubac with disfavor, Francis Suarez (1548-1617), “the new theory . . . took a gigantic new step forward.[xlv] For Suarez, the Aristotelian principle that the end of a natural being is always in strict proportion to its means is “an absolute principle,” and it applies “absolutely” even in the case of man.[xlvi] Man therefore is made for a purely natural beatitude. If he is called to a higher end, this higher end must be thought of as “superadded.”[xlvii] And a natural desire for such an end is, according to Suarez, simply impossible. In his time, Suarez rejected the maxim that man has a finality that is natural with respect to appetite, supernatural with respect to attainment, as Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964), one of de Lubac’s principal twentieth century theological opponents, was also to do much later. The theory of Suarez excludes traditional “natural desire.”[xlviii]

For Suarez and those who followed him, the desire to see God was not eliminated entirely, nor could it have been. It was, however, fundamentally changed:

“It could only be a question, they explain, of a purely elicited and conditioned desire, of a certain imperfect desire like some vague willingness. It is a ‘velleity,’ a ‘wish’ such as arises spontaneously in the mind in connection with all sorts of impossible things which, moreover, are not of essential interest. It is a desire that cannot procure a real uneasiness in relation to its object which, in the natural state, and on the supposition that it can be known, would be acknowledged as a mere vain imagination.”[xlix]

It is like the desire of a young child to see a unicorn. And this is the way so many of our contemporaries think of God. It would be nice if such a thing existed, but let us face the hard reality of life without illusion. This is why people, even people of faith, so often talk of religion as a “purely private matter,” and why people without faith often think religious people are completely irrational, even dangerous, and to be kept out of the public square at all costs. This is the beginning of radical fideism.

On the subject of “a real uneasiness,” Suarez says, contra de Lubac, and Voegelin: “By existing in pure nature, although a man conceives some conditioned desire for that vision [of God], if he should act prudently, he would not be restless, but content with his natural fate . . .”[l] This sounds like Stoicism. I have tried this. It is not possible.[li] De Lubac points out that “St. Thomas insisted on the ‘restlessness’ (inquietudo); Suarez, denying it, thinks that he understands St. Thomas perfectly. The latter said: ‘No one tends toward that which he perceives as impossible’ (De Malo, qu. 16, art. 3); Suarez concludes that the desire of God does not constitute a real inclination.”[lii]

“New ideas,” says de Lubac, “are almost always older in origin than is thought . . . Those who lay the foundations do not yet perceive the consequences which will later appear to be more proximate and obvious. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the complete system of pure nature, therefore, had probably not yet emerged; but the ‘divorce’ which it was to sanction had already begun.”[liii] Reminders of the “ancient tradition” became “increasingly rare among professional theologians. . . . The mystics alone, because their teaching was not taken very seriously, were allowed to remember it.” [liv] One is reminded again of Voegelin, who noted the split in Christian theology after Thomas between propositional doctrine and what he regarded as its ultimately “mystical” or experiential origin. Says de Lubac: “The systemization, the complexity was to increase.”[lv]

De Lubac goes so far as to attribute a “bad conscience” to certain of the Neoscholastics who tried to “get around” the actual text of St. Thomas by putting forward several “contradictory” explanations of their own positions, “without troubling to choose among them, for the sole purpose of getting out of the difficulty [they had created] at all costs. The attempts provide evidence of a resourceful and fertile ingenuity which was exercised most of the time in opposition to mere objectivity.”[lvi] De Lubac cites examples from Cajetan, Domingo Báñez (1528-1604), Silvester Ferrariensis (1474-1528), Nicolas Ysambert (1565 or 1569-1642), the Jesuit Navarro, and the Dominican Medina.[lvii] “In short, one after the other, concurrently, or one at choice, all the hypotheses are envisaged to evade a doctrine which St. Thomas stated in very clear terms, and which he rightly regarded as fundamental. The men who did this were not his opponents or indifferent to him; they were his disciples, those who declared themselves to be the sole genuine heirs of the master.”[lviii]

In looking for an explanation as to why Aquinas’s professed “disciples” “did this to him,” de Lubac rejects the thesis that it “[arose] from a greater concern for the supernatural character of our destiny, a supernatural character which St. Thomas’s text did not in their view fully safeguard[.]”[lix] “I believe,” de Lubac says, “that the profound, and unnoticed,[lx] reason is rather the reverse. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, in the first period of the Renaissance, a feverish enthusiasm for philosophy infected certain minds. A large number of Christian thinkers were won over at that time by the renascent naturalism.”[lxi] While St. Thomas had in the thirteenth century effectively opposed this sort of thing “with his continuation of St. Augustine and his Christianization of Aristotle,” the theologians won over to a naturalistic philosophy were “frightened” by it.[lxii] Cajetan serves as de Lubac’s example:

“As a sincere believer he [Cajetan] did not of course reject the supernatural. But he relegated it to the class of things deemed miraculous, that is, he placed it among the arbitrary exceptions with which the philosopher had not to concern himself, even within the boundaries of faith, in his reasoning. And so we have the attenuated, corrected and sincere form of the celebrated theory known as that of the “twofold truth.” Theology thus became a special branch studied side by side with philosophy. There was no longer a Christian idea of man. “The living image of the living God” was forgotten.”[lxiii]

This “divorce” of theology from philosophy is of course a subject which greatly concerned Voegelin, who approached it differently than de Lubac. But Voegelin would have agreed with de Lubac’s assessment of the implications of the position de Lubac criticizes:

“It [the radical separation of the natural and supernatural orders effected by Neoscholasticism] formed one of the signs of that break in unity characteristic of the end of the Middle Ages and the coming of a new world. In its own way, at the intellectual level, it betokens the manifold disintegration of Christendom which, despite certain more favorable trends, forms so somber an introduction to the modern period. Theology had reigned as queen of the sciences, and on occasion it had possibly taken unfair advantage of its title. Now it was beginning to lose its position; after dominating the whole of knowledge it was tending to become merely a separate branch. The supernatural end which is, so to say, the keystone of the arch, was no longer that of philosophy. The study of man was cut in two parts, the second of which no longer had roots in the first, and in this way an essentially good movement was dangerously perverted towards differentiation in the analysis of reality, and towards the recognition of an increasing autonomy at the various levels of human activity.”[lxiv]

Voegelin would also have agreed with de Lubac that the development of the “twofold separation” bore as “its fruits–the separation of independent philosophy and traditional theology, and, within the latter, the separation of Scholastics from spirituals. The second was already old; the first had been taking shape for some time; in practice it was realized with Montaigne, until the process was complete doctrinally with Descartes.”[lxv] And Voegelin would have agreed with de Lubac that more than a simple “recasting” of St. Augustine or even St. Thomas was necessary, that “It is certainly a pity that there was not to be found a great mind to carry out this recasting with full awareness of the task in hand, preserving at the same time the sense of tradition in the new system.”[lxvi]

In fact Voegelin, in decrying the separation of mysticism and nominalist reason in the Late Middle Ages, put the matter very succinctly: “Obviously it is a task that would require a new Thomas rather than a neo-Thomist.”[lxvii] But, alas, a new Thomas was nowhere to be found. De Lubac continued to hope that one would appear,[lxviii] or that even a genuine recovery of St. Augustine would occur. He certainly did his best to nudge Christian theology in such a direction from his position “inside” the Church. “But for this,” de Lubac said, “more than knowledge was required; a power of spiritual re-invention would have been necessary of a kind that is hardly to be thought of at their [certain theologians after the sixteenth century] time. They were merely preservers of the tradition, and that is not the best way to be traditional. Their Augustinianism was not exactly false, but it was incomplete and somewhat arid.”[lxix] Echoes, again, of Voegelin.

De Lubac regarded the separation of the natural from the supernatural as “fatal”: “Was not the relative autonomy which it granted to nature, as it defined it, a temptation to independence? Did it not encourage in this way the ‘secularization’ let loose at the Renaissance and already anticipated in the preceding centuries by the Averroist movement?”[lxx] For de Lubac, the “dualism” thus established was not conceivable, nor did this intellectual formulation even succeed in maintaining in all its completeness the idea of the supernatural. This dualism created a state in which only commutative justice – rather than charity – reigned. The supernatural was now conceived of as a “’supernature,’” “‘a sort of second storey carefully placed on top of lower nature by the heavenly Architect,’ without discerning in it at the outset what is above all nature.”[lxxi]

In the concluding Chapter of AMT, de Lubac says that in ensuring that grace should prevail “over one region of human activity . . . it [Neoscholasticism] exposed another whole region to the danger of secularization.” [lxxii] Baianism and Jansenism were refuted, but at the cost of man now being conceived as self-sufficient. “Only in the next place was an entirely contingent and wholly extrinsic supernatural order conceived which was placed above the natural order regarded in advance and in its very fulfillment as the normal and proper human order.” [lxxiii] The system de Lubac criticizes finally “destroyed the whole of the ancient anthropology” that is the basis of the fundamental agreement between de Lubac and Voegelin.[lxxiv]

The “desire to see God” . . . which for so long, both for the Fathers and the Scholastics, had been the primary explanatory principle of man, and with man, of the whole of nature, this king-pin of Christian philosophy could not withstand the blows that fell upon it. The theologians who attacked it did so with all the greater ferocity in that they were as if hypnotized by the peril that the Baianist doctrine had caused to the faith, then by the increasing unbelief on all sides, and finally by the rising tide of immanentism in its many forms. They imagined that in this way they were waging a holy war in the name of Christian orthodoxy, thus preventing the salt of doctrine from losing its savor. Actually, without their realizing it, they were losing valuable ground, in some degree yielding to the prevalent naturalism and making the most dangerous of concessions to a world entirely unconcerned about its higher destiny.

But the more they conceded, the more they were obliged to continue to do so. The idea of “pure nature,” when seen in isolation, became ever more demanding. . . . Their system became increasingly top-heavy and closed in upon itself. By this new sword of Solomon man “was cut into two parts.” Obviously, the supporters of a separate philosophy were to find an advantage in this. What had been established by the theologians as a doctrinal safeguard was made by these philosophers into a fundamental objection.[lxxv]

The natural order became the only “legitimate subject of thought.”[lxxvi] “Supernature,” in contrast with “nature” conceived as “pure nature,” “came to seem to jealous reason only a vain shadow, a sham adornment. In proportion as the one became a complete system, the other seemed to the thinker to become superfluous . . . But the theologians were caught in their own trap. By some of them, as much indeed by the philosophers, the supernatural was to be rejected, exiled or hunted down . . . All philosophical reflection which might possibly allow the mind to glimpse something of the mystery of the supernatural was forbidden . . . And so it was that Christians in a kind of sacred frenzy destroyed with their own hands the magnificent edifice whose preservation the centuries of faith had handed down to them.”[lxxvii] While modern philosophers are often “blamed” for their “invention” of immanentism and secularism, they simply took over ideas already regnant in Christian theology. “The separate philosophies, which had themselves become secularized theologies, owe much to ‘separate theology.’”[lxxviii]

In one of his most relevant remarks on Christian theology, Voegelin recounts a parallel development that had similar consequences:

“the symbol ‘reason’ has undergone, since the time of Plato, substantial changes of meaning through the movements of Christian theology and of Enlightenment rationalism. Christian theology has denatured the Platonic Nous by degrading it imaginatively to a “natural reason,” a source of truth subsidiary to the over-riding source of revelation; by an act of imaginative oblivion the revelatory tension in Plato’s vision of the Nous as the “third god” was eclipsed, in order to gain for the Church a monopoly on revelation. But history has taken its revenge. The nonrevelatory reason, imagined by the theologians as a servant, has become a self-assertive master. In historical sequence, the imagined nonrevelatory reason has become the real antirevelatory reason of the Enlightenment revolt against the Church. The resistance to the social power of intellectually inert, self-assertive institutions has motivated the acts of imaginative oblivion that eclipse the noetic-revelatory truth preserved in ecclesiastical doctrines that have become inflexible. Moreover, since Enlightened resisters can no more than anybody else escape the structure of consciousness, they had to arrogate the authority of noetic truth for their resistance to it; in the form of the various ideologies, resistance to noetic truth, understanding itself as resistance to “irrationality,” has become the ultimately legitimizing source of truth revealed. The usurped monopoly of revelation has migrated from the ecclesiastical institutions to their ideological successor establishments, down to the revelatory “statements” through acts of violent destruction in the contemporary movements of terrorism.[lxxix]

De Lubac similarly draws this perceptive portrait of the man cut off from transcendence:

“In that [purely natural] economy . . . all of man’s moral life would depend exclusively on his own innate powers, exercised in full autonomy . . . Is not this likely to end in the idea of an order of things whereby man would be cut off from the “superior part of his soul,” his “highest faculty,” that which makes him mens . . . Does it not lead us to suppose a being similar to that so often presented by rationalist philosophies—both ancient and modern: a being sufficient to himself, and wishing to be so; a being who does not pray, who expects no graces, who relies on no Providence; a being who, depending on one’s point of view, either wants only to continue as he is, or seeks to transcend himself, but in either case stands boldly before God—if he does not actually divinize himself—in a proud and jealous determination to be happy in himself and by his own powers?”[lxxx]

“Here we recognize modern man.”[lxxxi]

De Lubac notes that the efforts of recovery in which he engaged cannot be the work of one man, “and cannot be conceived as a mere return to one or another of the former positions. If theology like dogma knows no irreversibility of time, nevertheless, again like dogma, it cannot tolerate archaism.”[lxxxii] Voegelin’s work of recovery was to the same end.

De Lubac and Voegelin on Theology and Philosophy

De Lubac concludes AMT by referring to TMS, “which is the companion volume to the present work.”[lxxxiii] We have scattered references to TMS throughout our exposition of AMT, and much of TMS repeats matters already discussed in AMT.[lxxxiv] We note, however, that one aspect of de Lubac’s thought that recurred throughout AMT, usually in connection with his discussions of other theologians, and which we have not discussed above, is made more explicit in TMS – namely, the sharp, “traditional” distinction de Lubac draws between theology and philosophy, a distinction which separates de Lubac and Voegelin.

The titles of Chapters 6 through 9 of TMS suggest the issue. The titles are, respectively: “The Christian Paradox of Man,” “The Paradox Unknown to the Gentiles,” “A Paradox Rejected by Commons Sense,” and “The Paradox Overcome in Faith.” The titles suggest that de Lubac wishes to see the “paradox” that is man as something brought to light only through Christianity. For example, de Lubac says:

“Under different forms, and with accentuations varying from one century and school to another, Christian philosophy thus developed the concept of a human nature which is open to receive a supernatural gift. Such a concept was unknown, of course, in ancient philosophy. There is nothing Aristotelian about it—though St. Thomas Aquinas, faithful to his method of conciliation and without any historical scruple, sometimes finds ways to express it in Aristotelian terms. But nor is it Platonic or Plotinian. Though theoretically justifiable by reason, the fact remains that it was wholly shaped and developed in direct dependence on Christian revelation.”[lxxxv]

De Lubac’s principal thesis has been that, by virtue of the nature he has been given, man, as such, has a natural desire for God. And de Lubac has told us that this is not historically conditioned; indeed, it could not be a matter of “history,” since it is a matter of “nature.” Man, throughout all of history, including the history that preceded Christianity, is constituted by this longing. In that, de Lubac has been in agreement with Voegelin, whose exploration of human history on this subject exceeds de Lubac’s in its range. And so we would expect de Lubac to say that “human nature was, is, and always will be open to receive a supernatural gift.” But if that is so, how does de Lubac now say that it is only “Christian philosophy” that “developed the concept of a human nature which is open to receive a supernatural gift”? Voegelin would certainly say that the symbols left by myth and pre-Christian philosophy “developed the concept of a human nature which is open to receive a supernatural gift.” The “equivalences of experience and symbolization in history” was one of Voegelin’s key concepts,[lxxxvi] and indeed, the way from “compactness” to “differentiation” structures Order and History.

But de Lubac goes even farther. “Such a concept,” he says, was not even known “in ancient philosophy.” Aristotle did not know it – although St. Thomas somewhat “unscrupulously” “sometimes [found] ways to express it in Aristotelian terms.” Even beyond Aristotle, de Lubac rules out Plato and Plotinus. And then he appears to completely separate “reason” from “revelation”: “Though theoretically justifiable by reason, the fact remains that it was wholly shaped and developed in direct dependence on Christian revelation.” Of course, the close relationship between reason and revelation is a hallmark of Voegelin’s work.

AMT and TMS, like Surnaturel, advanced the thesis we have been discussing, which was controversial in the Church. De Lubac’s opponents attacked him on the basis that by denying a realm of “pure nature,” he had denied the gratuitousness of the supernatural. His opponents were determined to maintain for the Church the idea that only through it was salvation possible – the “monopoly” Voegelin referred to in the work quoted above. Certainly de Lubac was at pains to show that his “one end-no pure nature” thesis was grounded in the most ancient tradition of the Church, including the Fathers, Augustine, and Aquinas, and that it was his opponents who deviated from that tradition. But now, toward the end of TMS, the second volume of his two-volume work on the subject, de Lubac makes pronouncements that are startling to the readers who have followed him thus far. For he tries to capture here for the Church a “monopoly” on truth that seems contradicted by what he has said up to this point. The “paradox” of human nature seems to become the “paradox” of only Christian human nature.

For Voegelin, on the other hand, the “paradox” does not depend on Christian revelation, although he would say that it achieved its most complete expression in and through Christianity. Voegelin would say that de Lubac uses “reason” in the passage just cited in its truncated sense, in the sense in which it has come down to us from the Enlightenment. Voegelin read those whom he considered to be real philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle, as raising to awareness the being of man as “paradoxical” in the same sense in which de Lubac uses the term. On Voegelin’s reading, Plato’s work depended on his experience of periagogue, on conversion in the religious sense. Plato’s Socrates was the man who first fully expressed the importance of the soul’s attunement to God as the source of personal and political order. In the Republic, man does not turn around on his own; rather, he is forced to do so by the sun. As for Aristotle, Voegelin read the Metaphysics as the “search for the divine ground of being,” as that which “All men by nature desire to know,” and as that which itself compels the search, and the whole of the Nicomachean Ethics in light of its “immortalizing” passage in Book X, Chapter 7. For Voegelin, reason, the principal instrument of the philosophers, so far from being limited to its instrumental and discursive uses, is itself, in its highest reach, “the sensorium of the transcendence,” through which God reveals Himself even as He is sought. And Voegelin does not even limit the awareness of the “paradox,” and the development of the symbols that express this mystery, to classical philosophy.

Relative to St. Paul and Aristotle, Voegelin said that the “all too obvious difference of cultural context . . . must not obscure the fact that Paul strives to articulate a dynamics of existential knowledge which Aristotle compressed in the formula that human thought (nous) in search of the divine ground of being is moved (kineitai) by the divine Nous who is the object of thought (noeton) of the human nous. (Metaphysics 1072a30f.).”[lxxxvii] And with reference to “the puppet myth of the Laws,” Voegelin said that in the image of “the god” who “pulls the golden chord of the Nous that is meant to move man toward the immortalizing, noetic order of his existence . . . Plato comes so close to the helkein [pull] of the Gospel of John (6: 44) that it is difficult to discern the difference.”[lxxxviii]

De Lubac’s ontology of the human person is based on the experiential insight that man has a natural desire for God. The natural desire, being natural, must have been there even before Christ and the graces that He merited for man, although, for the Christian, Christ represents the fulfillment of the hope implicit in man’s natural desire. De Lubac himself sometimes does deny that the natural desire came only with the grace that Christ gained. He says that “there is always the same human paradox, that fundamental paradox which forces us to recognize its parallel in the Christian paradox.”[lxxxix] De Lubac’s work was directed to overcoming the divorce of the natural and supernatural realms caused by the theologians he opposes. But does not de Lubac now, in his “divorce” of philosophy and theology, bring in another sharp distinction through the backdoor similar to the one he ushered out through the front?

In the last Chapter of TMS, de Lubac says that he does not believe that “natural reason has the power to reveal to us that we are in fact called to the vision of God.”[xc] He continues:

“I want to remain firmly within theology. I am not trying to establish a philosophical thesis, but to study a dogmatic statement and all that it implies. I do not say that the knowledge gained by reason of a natural desire, outside any context of faith, “proves strictly that we are called to the beatific vision,” and that therefore we can naturally attain “the certainty that we have been created for that end”; on the contrary, I say that the knowledge that is revealed to us of that calling [that is, Christian revelation], which makes us certain of that end, leads us to recognize within ourselves the existence and nature of that desire . . .”

Man needs revelation, then, in order to know distinctly what is his last end:

“. . . Certain depths of our nature can be opened only by the shock of revelation. Then, with a new clarity, deep calls upon deep. By revealing himself to us . . . God ‘has revealed us to ourselves.’ . . . Similarly, it is by the promise given us of seeing God face to face that we really learn to recognize our ‘desire’.”

“. . .[I]t is ‘Jesus Christ who reveals within us someone whom we do not know,’ it is Christ ‘who speaks our soul to us.’”[xci]

Voegelin would agree with de Lubac that Christianity marks the greatest “leap in being” in the history of mankind. God Himself crossed from the supernatural to the natural, and became man, thereby answering man’s deepest natural desire. But here de Lubac appears to be saying that revelation preceded the desire in somewhat the same way that the Neoscholastics did.

De Lubac goes on to draw a distinction between an “implicit desire” for God, which somehow supposedly pre-dated Christian revelation, and the “explicit desire” awoken in man by the coming of Christ.[xcii] In distinguishing Christianity from all that came before it, de Lubac also cites the saying from St. Paul that was often used against de Lubac by his theological opponents: “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ God has revealed to us through the Spirit”[xciii]

Further in the last Chapter of TMS, de Lubac, while acknowledging that “There is too much evidence, throughout human history, of man’s universal desire—now more, now less clearly formulated – for God,” also says, “But in itself that desire remains none the less hidden ‘in the ontological depths,’ and only the Christian revelation makes it possible to interpret either its indications or its meaning correctly.”[xciv] While statements about the desire to see God may be found outside Christianity and independent of it, they are “all” “equivocal.”[xcv] De Lubac similarly in effect “dismisses” the “immortalizing” passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

“this has, not unjustifiably, been recognized “as a stepping-stone to the supernatural”; but, since to Aristotle, “it is the act of rational contemplation which constitutes that divine life in man, an act which begins and ends in ourselves,” it would be equally justifiable to condemn it “as pure philosophy’s permanent claim to the supreme place, however high that might be.”[xcvi]

Voegelin would not agree that “the act of rational contemplation” “begins and ends in ourselves.” He would say rather that the noetic act is the opening of the soul to the divine world-transcendent ground of being, and that the initiative for the act does not come from our side but from the side of the ground. Aristotle’s paradoxical language in Book X, Chapter 7 of the Ethics, attempting as it does to describe that “small in bulk” “something divine” which is somehow “present” in us, although it is not of us, but which may still be said to fundamentally “be” each of us, certainly lends itself to Voegelin’s interpretation. In contrast, De Lubac’s “reason,” which he elsewhere says is the natural desire to see God, he here contracts to a purely immanent function.[xcvii]

An early Voegelin saw the truth of Christianity, “soteriological truth,” as surpassing in its “differentiation” the truth of classical philosophy, “anthropological truth,” which in its turn had surpassed in its “differentiation” “cosmological truth.” [xcviii] A later Voegelin, citing Justin the Martyr, said: “in his conception, the Logos of the gospel is rather the same Word of the same God as the logos spermatikos of philosophy, but at a later state of its manifestation in history. The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation; all men who have lived according to reason, whether Greeks (Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato) or barbarians (Abraham, Elias), have in a sense been Christians . . . Hence, Christianity is not an alternative to philosophy, it is philosophy itself in its state of perfection; the history of the Logos comes to its fulfillment through the incarnation of the Word in Christ.”[xcix] And then there is this:

“Even this expansion of the fides, however, to all of the experiences of divine reality in which history constitutes itself, cannot be said to go beyond ‘Christianity.’ For it is the Christ of the Gospel of John who says of himself: ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (8: 58); and it is Thomas Aquinas who considers the Christ to be the head of the corpus mysticum that embraces, not only Christians, but all mankind from the creation of the world to its end. In practice this means that one has to recognize, and make intelligible, the presence of Christ in a Babylonian hymn, or a Taoist speculation, or a Platonic dialogue, just as much as in a Gospel.”[c]

De Lubac, in sharp contrast, says that Greek philosophy, which preceded the Gospel and is often thought of as a “preparation for the Gospel,” was rather, “and in fact primarily, an obstacle to it.”[ci] Furthermore, de Lubac goes on to distinguish “natural reason” from “supernatural revelation,” a distinction drawn by many other Christian theologians, and one which bothered Voegelin greatly: “It can certainly be said that by supernatural revelation a superior order of truth came to be added to the truths of natural reason, but that is only true, at most, at an abstract level, and in reality things are not quite so simple.”[cii] De Lubac continues:

“It is good to speak of God, remarked Newman, but it is a word that contains an entire theology, and one must make clear of what God one is speaking. Without denigrating the value of any anticipation, or belittling in particular, as too many people do today, the marvelous work of the man whom St. Augustine hailed as ‘the father of theology’ [Plato], and that of his most original disciple [Aristotle] who produced the notion of ‘pure act,’ one may nevertheless have a stronger sense of the newness of Christianity. For in truth ‘the Christian God is incomparable.’ . . . Coming to complete and transform our idea of God and, though we still use the same words, to transform our idea of the vision of God, revelation cannot help at the same time transforming and completing our idea of man and his desire, and ultimately, at least if we consent to it, of the desire itself.”[ciii]

Voegelin would not disagree with the statement that “the Christian God is incomparable.” But we must ask, Is this “desire” that de Lubac now speaks of the same “natural desire” he has been defending at great length against the attacks on it mounted by Neoscholasticism? If so, how, exactly, is it not just “completed,” but “transformed” in Christianity?

In connection with St. Augustine’s praise of the Platonic philosophers—that they were able to conceive the vision of God, but not the way to get there—de Lubac asks, “must we accuse him of attributing the knowledge of a supernatural mystery to natural reason?” and concludes that, “No; we must instead consider the concrete situation the Church was in in his time, and also the apostolic intention behind his reflections. We can only marvel at the assimilative power of Christian life as manifest in his attitude . . .” It is not that Plato and Augustine have much in common, de Lubac is saying, but that Christianity is capable of such “assimilation.” The compliment to the “assimilative power” of Christianity implies the broad divide de Lubac now sees between theology and philosophy. De Lubac continues: “In short, here as elsewhere, we can see the truth of Etienne Borne’s observation: ‘Christian Platonism is an historical fact; but this demanded of St. Augustine a confrontation and a combat like that between Jacob and the angel, from which one of the protagonists, philosophy, emerged limping and bearing the traces of its lucky defeat.’”[civ] Could we not say that the “defeat” of philosophy at the hands of theology has contributed to the divorce of the natural and the supernatural that led to the secularization that de Lubac elsewhere bemoans?

Augustine, says de Lubac, “had he analyzed his own thought more reflectively . . . would have been the first to recognize that the knowledge of the way affects the knowledge of the goal, and that one cannot therefore be wrong about the one without also being wrong about the other.”[cv] Were Plato and Aristotle “wrong” not just about the “way,” but about the “goal” as well? “‘We need to be a bit disenchanted from Plato,’” de Lubac quotes “one of his most faithful admirers” – not only from Plato, but “from Plato and so many other fine minds, from Aristotle on . . .”[cvi] De Lubac also says that words like “desire” and “appetite” “must not be used without great care and precision,” warning that terms like these are “too heavily dependent on the ancient concept of ‘eros’ and the theories of ancient physics not to give rise to certain misunderstandings.”[cvii] If we rule out “eros” as it appears in the Symposium, we rule out metaxy as well. De Lubac’s reading of the theology of Plato and Aristotle is certainly different than Voegelin’s.

At one point toward the end of TMS, De Lubac says that the “desire” of which he has been speaking “is different in kind from all the desires of our common experience,” and quotes the mystic, St. John of the Cross, who said, “Deny your desires and you shall find what your heart desires.”[cviii] My response to this is that the “natural desire” to see God, of which I thought de Lubac has been speaking, not only is not “different in kind from all the desires of our common experience,” but it is the desire that is our common, constitutive experience as persons. Nor does one need to be a great mystic, a St. John of the Cross, to know the experience of longing for God. Could it be that De Lubac really was somewhat “traumatized,” as Milbank puts it, by the suffering he was forced to undergo within the Church after the publication of Surnaturel, and is bending over backwards at the end of his “twin” books to curry favor with what is perceived to be “orthodox” Catholicism, and so was at pains to show that, at least as far as the relationship between theology and philosophy was concerned, he was “orthodox”? Certainly the concluding pages of TMS are at pains to stress the “gratuitousness” of the order of grace, even putting in a good word about Cajetan along those lines.[cix]

As between de Lubac and Voegelin, at least part of the problem may be that for de Lubac, the word “revelation” is univocal, but Voegelin uses the word to include things other than Scripture. For Voegelin, “revelation” includes the experience, in the Metaxy, of “being called,” even as we seek. “Revelation” does not have this meaning for de Lubac, or, as far as I am aware, other orthodox Christian theologians. Nevertheless, it is somewhat disheartening to have de Lubac proclaim, at the end of his magisterial work on the subject, that he believes that he is “only” a “theologian,” and not also a “philosopher,” and that his study was of “only” “a dogmatic statement.”

And it is perhaps ironic that de Lubac, who saw through the limits imposed by the purported “orthodoxy” of a regnant Neoscholasticism, would himself limit the insight of the “paradoxical” nature of man to Christian revelation. The one limit would seem to be related to the other. Would Voegelin’s more expansive use of the concepts of philosophy and reason have assisted de Lubac in his endeavor to recover the ancient sources of Christian theology and faith? That is a fascinating question, and it opens the question of the broader relation of Voegelin to traditional Christian theology generally.[cx]

We cannot consider that broader question here. We can only note that if de Lubac took too narrow a view of philosophy in comparison to Voegelin, de Lubac’s Christology was certainly broader and more orthodox than Voegelin’s. While Voegelin may have helped de Lubac to see philosophy as more integrally related to theology, de Lubac may have helped Voegelin to see the radical newness of Christianity in the radical newness of the Person of Christ.



[i] Ibid., 112-13.

[ii] Ibid., 113-14.

[iii] Ralph McInerny opposed de Lubac: Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006). A number of articles on the subject appear in a book published in 2009, Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought, ed. Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P., tr. Robert Williams, tr. Rev. Matthew Levering (Ave Maria, Florida: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 2009). Two more recent books, which I have not read, uphold the doctrine of “pure nature” and oppose de Lubac: Steven A. Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (Fordham University Press, 2010); Bernard O.P. Mulcahy, Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac (Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2011). Just a glance at the reviews of these two books on the Amazon website shows that vitriol in theological debate has not gone out of style. While the issue addressed in these works is sometimes referred to as “only” an “in-house debate” in the Catholic Church, it goes way beyond that, as both de Lubac and Voegelin would agree. For a work supportive of de Lubac’s position, see Denis J.M. Bradley, Aquinas on the Twofold Human Good: Reason and Human Happiness in Aquinas’s Moral Science (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997).

[iv] Feingold, op. cit.

[v] Ibid., xxiii.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid., xxv.

[ix] Ibid., xxxvii.

[x] Ibid., xxix-xxxii.

[xi] Ibid., xxxv.

[xii] Ibid., xxxvi.

[xiii] MTS, 54.

[xiv] Milbank, op. cit., 25-27, n. 10. Milbank also believes that Humani Generis “traumatized” de Lubac, and that in AMT and TMS, de Lubac “watered down” his Surnaturel thesis because of the troubles it had provoked within the Church. Ibid., 7ff.

[xv] Living in the Metaxy, as Voegelin would say.

[xvi] In TMS, de Lubac says: “For this desire [for God] is not some ‘accident’ in me. It does not result from some peculiarity, possibly alterable, of my individual being, or from some historical contingency whose effects are more or less transitory. A fortiori it does not in any sense depend upon my deliberate will. It is in me as a result of my belonging to humanity as it is, that humanity which is, as we say, ‘called.’ For God’s call is constitutive. My finality, which is expressed by this desire, is inscribed upon my very being as it has been put into this universe by God.” TMS, op. cit., 54-55.

And later in the same work: “My destiny is something ontological, and not something I can change as anything else changes its destination.” Ibid., 62.

Quoting, among others, Paul Ricoeur, de Lubac says: “. . . this different kind of creature [man] has that ‘unstable ontological constitution’ which makes it at once something greater and something less than itself. Hence that kind of dislocation, that mysterious lameness, due not merely to sin, but primarily and more fundamentally to being a creature made out of nothing which, astoundingly, touches God. ‘Like God in its mind’ . . . At once, and inextricably, both ‘nothing’ and ‘image’; fundamentally nothing, yet none the less substantial image. ‘Being an image is not accidental to man, but rather substantial.’” Ibid., 113-14.

And, contra Cajetan, man’s orientation towards God is not “due to some secret transformation of man brought about historically by grace.” Ibid., 70, n. 52, quoting Father Pierre Rousselot.

At times, de Lubac’s rage against the position he is fighting appears more on the surface: “The principle that human nature . . . cannot have a real desire, a truly ontological desire, for any end but the end which it is capable of giving itself or which it can require as of right by forces at its own level: this principle, treated by so many modern scholastics as a first principle, is simply, as Père Guy de Broglie says, a ‘false piece of evidence.’ ‘A truth of simple common sense and complete satisfaction,’ says one of its protagonists, Père Pedro Descoqs, who supposes that he is thereby giving it authority. That indeed is precisely what it is: the fruit of that kind of dormant common sense which shuts the door to all truth, the fruit of that superficial ‘common sense’ which rejects any paradox on the grounds of its being ‘incoherent’ and a ‘misuse of words,’ and the fruit of that cheap ‘common sense’ which is forever watering down Christianity, but which Christianity knocks sideways whenever it is taken seriously, either in thought or in life . . .” Ibid., 160-61.

De Lubac goes so far as to compare the ontology of his theological opponents to that of Karl Marx: “Man, say our new theologians, our ‘common sense’ theologians, only desires the end he can attain. . . . Man, says Marx similarly, never sets himself any problems he cannot resolve.” Ibid., 162.

Along the same lines, de Lubac speaks of “human nature” as “a mixed nature, compounded of body and mind, sensuality and reason, paradoxically made up of an immortal soul and a corruptible body.” AMT, op. cit., 223-24.

[xvii] In In Search of Order, Voegelin says that “The equivocation [in language] is induced by the paradoxical structure of consciousness and its relation to reality. . . . Consciousness . . . has the structural aspect not only of intentionality but also of luminosity.” Op. cit., 15. See also, David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[xviii] AMT, op. cit., 169.

[xix] Ibid., 170.

[xx] Ibid., 174. De Lubac later criticizes the concept of “obediential power” as applied by Neoscholastics to the question of the finality of the spiritual creature, as opposed to the means of its attainment, as something “not only purely passive . . . but purely negative: a mere word to denote the ‘non-repugnance,’ the non-resistance of every creature to divine Omnipotence . . . The supernatural and the miraculous will no longer be only analogous in certain features and are interdependent in their existence. The miraculous will no longer be a simple sign of the former: it is the former which will become simply a special case of the latter.” Ibid., 200. He contrasts “obediential power” with Aquinas’s statement that “the justification of the ungodly is not miraculous, because the soul is naturally capable of grace; since from its having been made to the likeness of God, it is fit to receive God by grace . . .” ST, I-II, Q. 113, A. 10. De Lubac would say, with Bartholomew Mastrius (1602-1673), “that there is a certain relationship of man to the vision of God which is ‘more intrinsic, more essential and more connatural’ than is stated by Suarez and the other modern theologians when they speak of obediential power; therefore, it is legitimate to speak of ‘really natural power,’ that is ‘which flowed from the principles of nature,’ while being obediential by the fact that it is ‘supernatural with respect to attainment.’” AMT, op. cit., 207.

[xxi] Ibid., 252.

[xxii] Ibid., 254.

[xxiii] TMS, op. cit., 199.

[xxiv] TMS, op. cit., 163.

[xxv] Ibid., 166.

[xxvi] Ibid., 163-64. De Lubac also makes reference here to St. Augustine (“Faith seeks, intellect finds . . . and in turn the intellect still seeks him whom it found”); to St. Thomas (“St. Thomas says of the believer: ‘the motion of his thinking remains restless in him,’ and indeed he himself gave the example ‘of a dialectic so active, of such a wind of indefinite discussion, that he learnt, as it has been said, to pose as many problems as he solved.’); and to Hugh of St. Victor (“His dispute itself afflicts [man]. Deservedly, for dispute always means restlessness and controversy. . . . And this restlessness is itself a great dispute that man has in his instability, so that he does not feel it, since he is divided and alienated so that he is not one whole. Consider now the great dispute that man works on earth. It is multiple, and drawn out, and excessively complex; with the result that it cannot easily come to an end until man himself receives his end . . .”).

The references to “restlessness” in de Lubac, and in the Christian theologians he cites, remind one of Voegelin’s use of the term in “Reason: The Classic Experience,” with the significant difference that Voegelin was interpreting primarily Aristotle rather than any Christian text.

[xxvii] Pope John Paul II remarked in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, on the ironic fact that faith has become the only support of reason in a “postmodern” age.

[xxviii] TMS, op. cit., 165.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid., 166.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] TMS, op. cit., 54.

[xxxiii] De Veritate, Q. 24, A. 10, ad. 1.

[xxxiv] ST, I-II, Q. 5, A. 5. See also ST, I-II, Q. 91, A. 4, ad. 3.

[xxxv] AMT, op. cit., 123. In a footnote, de Lubac quotes Soto: “the restlessness of the human mind . . . abundantly makes faith our natural end.” Ibid., 123, n. 85. As noted, the “restlessness of the human mind” is what Voegelin focuses on in his explication of Aristotle in “Reason: The Classic Experience,” op. cit.

[xxxvi] SCG, Book 3, Ch. 48.

[xxxvii] Ibid., Book 2, Chapter 55. See also, ST, I, Q. 75, A. 6, which is also on the immortality of the soul.

[xxxviii] In addition to Soto, de Lubac cites Francis Toletus (1532-96) favorably as having taken an approach similar to Soto’s. AMT, op. cit., 136ff.

[xxxix] Ibid., 124-25.

[xl] Here de Lubac cites ST, I-II, Q. 3, Art. 8, and SCG, Book 3, Ch. 50ff.

[xli] AMT, op. cit., 125.

[xlii] Ibid., 149ff.

[xliii] Ibid., 152.

[xliv] Ibid., 157.

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlvi] Ibid., 158.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] John of St. Thomas (1589-1644) is another significant theologian mentioned by de Lubac as agreeing with Suarez.

[xlix] AMT, op. cit., 162.

[l] Ibid., quoted 162-63, n. 55.

[li] De Lubac later cites Estius (1542-1613): “He [Estius] raises the following objection: a man, left by God ‘in pure nature’ . . . ought to be able to attain to some form of natural beatitude as to his last end; but this is impossible: how could he live in happiness when he has always to fear the hour of death, with no hope of finding happiness in an after-life . . .” Ibid., 178. Estius also, “in declared opposition to Cajetan, thought it at least probable that man tends by an innate natural desire to the vision of God, this being the ‘end’ of every spiritual being, the ‘natural center,’ outside of which he is doomed to remain in a constant state of unrest.” Ibid., 180.

[lii] Ibid., 162-63, n. 55.

[liii] Ibid., 167.

[liv] Ibid., 179.

[lv] Ibid., 183.

[lvi] Ibid., 208.

[lvii] Ibid., 208-11.

[lviii] Ibid., 211.

[lix] Ibid., 212.

[lx] Here de Lubac cites Whitehead’s Science in the Modern World: “When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the various systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose.”

[lxi] AMT, op. cit., 212.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] Ibid., 212-13.

[lxiv] Ibid., 214-15.

[lxv] Ibid., 230.

[lxvi] Ibid., 231.

[lxvii] Eric Voegelin, From Enlightenment to Revolution, ed. John H. Hallowell (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 22. De Lubac later cites a theologian de Lubac considers to have been intemperate in his remarks, but correct in his approach, who said that it was the “pernicious system” of “pure nature-two ends” that gave rise to the distinction of natural religion and revealed religion, to the greatest detriment of religion (AMT, op. cit., 260), a distinction with which Voegelin also dealt.

[lxviii] Ibid., op.cit., 231ff.

[lxix] Ibid., 251.

[lxx] Ibid., 233.

[lxxi] Ibid., 234, quoting Karl Rahner.

[lxxii] Ibid., 240.

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Ibid., 261.

[lxxv] Ibid., 261-62.

[lxxvi] Ibid., 264.

[lxxvii] Ibid., 264-65.

[lxxviii] Ibid., 265. De Lubac goes on to commend the Church herself for not officially sanctioning the position he is condemning, notwithstanding the Humani Generis controversy. Ibid., 266ff. In fact, de Lubac says that “The encyclical Humani Generis in 1950 showed the same prudence as the earlier documents,” and, citing the particular passage that so many read as a condemnation of de Lubac himself—it is contrary to the “real gratuity of the supernatural order” to claim that God “cannot create beings endowed with intelligence without ordering them to, calling them to the beatific vision”—de Lubac said simply that “it repeated in especially clear terms the fundamental truth that must be respected by theological investigation above all, but without canonizing any system,” and added that by “setting before us once more the angelic doctor as our guide . . .the encyclical calls all . . . to an effort at renewal that will hardly be able to leave the system of pure nature intact, at least in its prevalent form.” Ibid., 274-75. Thus de Lubac reads the encyclical that his opponents use against him, against them. De Lubac’s reading seems strained. At the least, de Lubac must have hoped that the Church would officially take a position on the controversy he had stirred up and which he thought went to the heart of the Church’s mission in the modern world.

[lxxix] Voegelin, In Search of Order, op. cit., 43-44.

[lxxx] TMS, op. cit., 46-47.

[lxxxi] In TMS, de Lubac says that the Neoscholastics “. . . were dooming themselves to see [the supernatural] as merely a kind of superstructure. It followed inevitably that man could not only have managed quite well without it, but that even now he could with impunity disregard it. It was deprived of any hold on human thinking or existence. Christian thought was thus bounded by a narrow circle, in a quiet backwater of the intellectual universe, where it could only waste away. By the good offices of some of its own exponents, who were aiming to preserve its transcendence, it became merely an ‘exile.’ . . . Reason which has been suppressed will have its revenge all too soon by declaring that in such conditions the supernatural as presented to it, as forced upon it, is merely an illusion. In a hundred ways it takes up again the cry of Siger of Brabant . . .” TMS, op. cit., 178. He quotes Jacques Maritain: “It seems that in the time of William of Vair and of Charon, and later of Descartes, it was as though thinkers who were still Christian had thought up a purely natural man whose duty was to philosophize, and upon whom was superimposed a man with the theological virtues and a duty to merit heaven.” Ibid., 179. And here again de Lubac notes that the blame for “modern secularization” cannot be laid at the feet of philosophers alone.

[lxxxii] Ibid., 275-76. In a footnote, de Lubac continues: “The mere vital possession of dogma no longer suffices after the denials of heresies and the questions raised thereby. Once the innocence of spontaneous thought has been lost, the methodical labor of reflective thought is required. Precautions of a kind that our ancestors never imagined, are also necessary. The soundness of theology depends on it.” Ibid., 276, n. 149.

[lxxxiii] Ibid., 277.

[lxxxiv] I note that TMS contains more discussion of modern theologians who agree with de Lubac. See, for example, Chapter 10, in which de Lubac “. . . declare[s] [his] debt towards a number of contemporary Thomists who have done a great deal since the turn of the century to set us free of the complications in which modern scholasticism had become embroiled. The thinking they have done, based on historical investigation, has made possible a return to the great tradition which was fairly widely forgotten or distorted during an earlier period.” Ibid., 185. Similarly, Voegelin’s thinking on political subjects led him to recover “the great tradition which was fairly widely forgotten or distorted” during the modern period.

[lxxxv] Ibid., 119.

[lxxxvi] Eric Voegelin, “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” Ch. 5 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 115ff.

[lxxxvii] Eric Voegelin, “The Gospel and Culture,” Ch. 7 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 192.

[lxxxviii] Eric Voegelin, “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation,” Ch. 13 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 361.

[lxxxix] TMS, op. cit., 162.

[xc] Ibid., 208.

[xci] Ibid., 209-17. De Lubac goes on to cite Aquinas at SCG, Book 2, Ch. 4, “That the Philosopher and the Theologian Consider Creatures in Different Ways.” Ibid., 218, n. 50. Voegelin would, at least to an extent, disagree. All of this is reminiscent of the difference between Voegelin and his great contemporary, Leo Strauss, the latter of whom drew the sharpest of lines between philosophy and theology, reason and faith, Athens and Jerusalem. In addition to comparing de Lubac and Voegelin, it is interesting to compare, on the one hand, the differences that separated de Lubac and Cajetan, and on the one hand, the differences that separated Voegelin and Strauss.

[xcii] Ibid., 218ff.

[xciii] 1 Cor. 2: 6-10; quoted at TMS, op. cit., 220.

[xciv] TMS, op. cit., 222.

[xcv] Ibid.

[xcvi] Ibid., 223.

[xcvii] For a comment by Voegelin on Aristotle’s “immortalizing” passage, see Eric Voegelin, “Immortality: Experience and Symbol,” Ch. 3 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 87ff.

[xcviii] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, op. cit.

[xcix] Eric Voegelin, “The Gospel and Culture,” Ch. 7 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 173.

[c] Eric Voegelin, “Response to Professor Altizer’s ‘A New History and a New but ancient God?,” Ch. 11 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 294.

[ci] TMS, op. cit., 223.

[cii] Ibid.

[ciii] Ibid., 223-24.

[civ] Ibid., 226.

[cv] Ibid.

[cvi] Ibid., 227.

[cvii] Ibid., 229.

[cviii] Ibid., 230.

[cix] Ibid., 237.

[cx] For an example of what for Voegelin was Christian theology done very well, see his discussion of Saint Anselm in Eric Voegelin, “The Beginning and the Beyond: A Meditation on Truth,” Ch. 5 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 28: What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings,” ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella (Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 191ff.

We note as well that Voegelin’s very last work was a meditation on Question 2, Article 3 of Part I of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. Eric Voegelin, “Quod Deus Dicitur,” Ch. 14 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin: Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, op. cit., 376ff.


This is the second of two parts, with part one available here.

Thomas LordanThomas Lordan

Thomas Lordan

Thomas E. Lordan is an independent scholar living in Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1971 with a B.A. in Philosophy where he studied under Gerhart Niemeyer and Eric Voegelin. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1974 and has been in private practice since then in Ohio, Arizona, Maryland, and Washington D.C. He received an M.A. in Politics in 1996 and has taught at The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, The Institute of Catholic Theology, and Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.

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