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Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology of nature and grace is based on two affirmations. a) the priority of God's intention in actual, historical created order, and b) the necessity for a relatively independent, stable nature on which grace can build. He then circumscribes the strength of his assertion of a clear nature by making several qualifications.

  • The notion of nature is abstract. No one has ever experienced it, so one would have to derive it from reason.
  • It is formal. Because its content is unknown and unknowable, it serves as a kind of cipher.
  • It is not necessary in a perspective from above, especially since man can't know what God might have done.
  • It is useful from below to protect the gratuity of grace, but only as a concession to the weakness of man's capability of knowing.

    He then proposes six theses.

  1. Nature is necessary to provide the "other" to whom God can communicate himself. Man's nature is a permanent element common to all historical states.
  2. The grace-nature distinction provides a subjectivity that can receive the offer of grace and guarantees the gratuity.
  3. The essence of man is different than the nature. It includes the actual finality. For Von Balthasar, the essence is like Rahner's quiddity.
  4. Because God is creator and we are creatures, the dynamics between freedom and necessity are different than any other we know in this creation. Grace is never intrinsically necessary. It is always freely presented.
  5. A graceless world is possible, but unknowable, but unnecessary to assure the gratuity of grace. We know too little about it for it to be of any use.
  6. Because Von Balthasar associates nature with the cosmic order, he denies that the desire to see God is natural. But he does affirm that the desire to see God is essential to humanity. This means that man is created supernatural.

Von Balthasar's presentation of de Lubac's position is more adequate than "D"s. It is more sensitive to contemporary philosophical categories, while at the same time sensitive to the limits of philosophical thought. He avoids Rahner's extrinsicism. His appropriation of Rahner's supernatural existential, while not precisely equivalent to Rahner's own hypothesis, is sensitive to the need to protect the gratuity and provides an understanding of the relative supernaturality of the essence of humanity.

The thing that de Lubac and Von Balthasar keep in mind that Rahner misses is the nature of the relationship between creator and creature. As Fr. Burrell points out, we are absolutely dependent on God even in our freedom. There is an intrinsic connection between our essence and our finality.

This essay is based on information found inStephen Duffy's The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992.

This article was taken from the website: http://www.marquette.edu/lubac/Workallies.htm#balthasar

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