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The Mystery of the Supernatural (Milestones in Catholic theology) [Paperback]

Henri de Lubac
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Book Description

1 May 1998 Milestones in Catholic theology
First published in 1965, this book represents a refinement and further development of the core thesis that Henri de Lubac had originally put forward many years earlier in a bold and controversial work in which he first called into question the idea of pure nature.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co ,U.S. (1 May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824516990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824516994
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 14.9 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Christian Paradox revisited 8 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In this work Fr. DeLubac proposes to study what he posits to be one of the central paradoxes of Christianity; namely that man is disposed towards and deeply desires the Beatific Vision but, if left to his own means, is incapable of attaining this end. What Fr. DeLubac proceeds to do is work his way systematically through the history of this classical Christian idea, giving copious refrences, and subsequently showing that certain modern trends in theology, while trying to preserve the gratuitiousness of this great gift from God, acutally serve to undermind the integrity of the classical idea. This is not lightweight reading to be sure but this new edition is more suited to the english speaking reader in that all the quotes and footnotes have been translated from the original Latin and Greek into English. Furthermore the introduction gives a fine overview of the historical circumstances surrounding this monumental work.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Christian Paradox revisited 8 Nov 1998
By David J. Nowaczewski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this work Fr. DeLubac proposes to study what he posits to be one of the central paradoxes of Christianity; namely that man is disposed towards and deeply desires the Beatific Vision but, if left to his own means, is incapable of attaining this end. What Fr. DeLubac proceeds to do is work his way systematically through the history of this classical Christian idea, giving copious refrences, and subsequently showing that certain modern trends in theology, while trying to preserve the gratuitiousness of this great gift from God, acutally serve to undermind the integrity of the classical idea. This is not lightweight reading to be sure but this new edition is more suited to the english speaking reader in that all the quotes and footnotes have been translated from the original Latin and Greek into English. Furthermore the introduction gives a fine overview of the historical circumstances surrounding this monumental work.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard Book But Worth the Read 28 July 2010
By Conor B. Dugan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book, which is one of the most important theological books of the 20th Century, is a difficult read. It is also worth the difficulty. Cardinal De Lubac speaks of the question that continues to cause controversy to this day: the question of the relation between the natural and supernatural, nature and grace. The book was more derivative (I don't use that pejoratively) than I was expecting. De Lubac covers much theological terrain, quoting from scads of theologians and philosophers in the tradition. He makes a persuasive case that Cardinal Cajetan and Suarez misread Aquinas and the tradition in their attempts to describe pure nature.

The most compelling part of De Lubac's argument is its rootedness in reality, in the anthropology of man as he is. I think this might be De Lubac's greatest contribution. Both explicitly and implicitly throughout the book he makes the case that in examining the question of man's natural desire and the object of that desire, one must look to man as he really is, not as he could have been, but as he exists. I saw some correspondence here between De Lubac and Msgr. Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense, which speaks of man's desire for the infinite.

At the same time as he talks of man's natural desire or openness to the infinite, for supernatural beatitude, De Lubac maintains the gratuity of grace. That we have been made this way does not mean that God is required to fulfill our desire. I probably am making a hash of the book -- I know just enough to make myself sound stupid -- but I think it is worth the hard read.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical Orthodoxy 30 Dec 2002
By Alejandro Anreus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Lubac was without a doubt one of the giants of Catholic theology in the past century. This book is his seminal work: a defense of man's need for the supernatural grace of God. Such a need places man in the position of "an arid valley" in need of "rain(grace)" - this anthropological phenomenon forces God to send the Holy Spirit as the vessel of Grace, to the hearts of men. Written decades before Vatican II this book was perceived as heterodox by the Holy See, placing Lubac (together with Chenu, Congar and his fellow Jesuit Chardin) on the black list. Ironically, the current pontiff, no friend of radicalism, made Lubac a Cardinal in recognition of his theological contributions to the faith. The book remains a keystone of radical orthodoxy.
5.0 out of 5 stars If humans received everything that nature could give them, would they be finally satisfied? 1 Sep 2014
By Peter S. Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very deep and very complex and subtle book, but in many ways the apparent abstruse hair-splitting quality of the discussion - namely, whether man has a "natural" desire to see God, or whether that desire arises only after God's grace has elicited such a desire - is actually a matter of first and basic importance. Take the discussion out of the idiom of aristocratic French point-scoring and latin-based terms like "natura pura" and "donum perfectum," and we see a startling relevance to modern issues.

For example, for me, de Lubac pricks me on a weak spot. In conversations with atheists who play the "God is evil for sending good atheists to Hell" I tend to counter with the observation that Hell - per St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante - for the virtuous pagans might be a place of natural human contentment. So, God is not so mean and unfair, after all.

This certainly answers the "God is mean and unfair" objection, but it opens up a new can of worms. If human beings can be perfectly content with a natural end, an end that human beings would find perfectly satisfactory to their natural desires, then who cares that they do not know God? So, they are not caused to suffer because of God's plan, which seems fair since they are good people.

But as a Christian do we really want to say that it is possible to be really content without God, that the separation from God will not cause suffering of any kind, simply because man's final end is to be with God? De Lubac points out:

//It is said that a universe might have existed in which man, though without necessarily excluding any other desire, would have his rational ambitions limited to some lower, purely human beatitude. Certainly I do not deny it. But having said that, one is obliged to admit - indeed one is automatically affirming - that in our world as it is this is not the case: in fact the "ambitions" of man as he is cannot be limited in this way. Further, the word "ambitions" is no longer the right one, nor, as one must see even more clearly, is the word "limits." In me, a real and personal human being, in my concrete nature - that nature I have in common with all real men, to judge by what my faith teaches me, and regardless of what is or is not revealed to me either by reflective analysis or by reasoning - 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"?// (P.54.)

So, my agnostic heaven for good agnostics is ruled out by de Lubac; if God is the true final destination of man, then not being with God means suffering not matter what. And that then puts the question to me of what my obligation is to prevent that suffering, i.e. to spread the Gospel.

And I do believe that man's final end really is with God. St. Augustine's aphorism that "we have no rest until we rest in thee" - and the whole arc of his description of his life in The Confessions speaks to how human beings seek God before conversion, and maybe before grace, if such a condition is possible, as de Lubac points out, in this world. Aquinas was in agreement ("Every intellect by nature desires the vision of the divine substance")(p. 9 citing Summa contra Gentiles, book 3, chap. 57.)

The insight that the world of "pura natura" - pure nature - without grace or a supernatural destiny is not ultimately fulfilling seems true. Talking about "pura natura" in the abstract - in the language of de Lubac, that is - leaves an indistinct impression, which did not make sense to me, until I watched the last episode of "Lost." In the final episode, it seems that the castaways have achieved their natural perfection - their happiness and goals - whether it is Locke's reconciliation with his father or Jack having a son, and, yet, they are not happy, they know that there is something more and better, beyond natural happiness. It was an odd experience to be reading this book and watching that episode at the same time, and to see de Lubac's world of pura natura played out in an accessible fictional treatment.

The book is insightful and important, but it is not without its flaws. De Lubac has a circular and convoluted writing style, which requires a lot of teasing at the threads of his thought to get to the point. The language that de Lubac uses is "thick." For example, here is his description of the core idea of his book:

//The principle that human nature - and ultimately every other spiritual nature - cannot have a real desire, a truly ontological desire, for any 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 is treated by so many modern scholastics as a first principles...."// (p. 160.)

The first several chapters seem to be more about point-scoring by de Lubac against his neo-Thomist opponents and vindicating himself from charges that Humani Generis was aimed at him, which he denies. Several chapters seem to be devoted to distancing himself from heresy as he explains in great detail that he believes that grace is entirely gratuitous; notwithstanding the fact that man cannot reach his true end without grace, there is no obligation or necessity imposed on God to provide that grace.

The mid-portion of the book hits full stride as de Lubac explains the "paradox" he is interested in, namely, how a purely natural being can have a supernatural end as a part of his nature. The explanation is interesting; de Lubac argues that human beings have a spiritual nature:

//For there is nature and nature. If, in contrast with the supernatural order, the being of angels and men as resulting simply from their being created must be called natural, we must allow that their situation, in relation to other natures, is "singular and paradoxical"; for it is the situation "of a spirit which is to become subject and agent of an act of knowledge for which it has no natural equipment, and which is thus to be fulfilled by getting beyond itself." // (p. 102.)

And:

//Even in the terminology of the scholastics, and of St. Thomas especially, rational nature (natura rationalis) or rational creature (creatura rationalis) is not a natural thing (res naturalis). Spiritual beings cannot be confounded with beings known simply as "natural beings"....These "natural beings" are in effect those "which their nature condemns to be no more than what they are...."// (p. 103.)

Because man has a spiritual nature, "man is only man when he surpasses himself and surpasses brute force." (p. 109.) "[I]t is a mark of that spiritual creature not to have its destiny circumscribed within the cosmos" (p. 110) and "St. Thomas, too, in "that wonderful digest, the Compendium Theologiae: "The final end of the rational creature exceeds the faculty of the nature itself." (p. 111.)

De Lubac points out that speaking of a natural desire for a supernatural end seems like a mixing of contradictory principles, and that while the common-sense approach is to pick one simple option to resolve a theological question, the Christian tradition has refused to abandon one truth in favor of simplicity:

//It has often been pointed out, too, that the various forms of Protestantism were often religions of antithesis: authority or freedom? Bible or Church? and so on. The fullness of Catholicism always presents oa character of synthesis. It is only that it is not an immediate synthesis, nor one that is humanly achieved. It is not possessed by the light of reason: it is first of all believed in the darkness of faith."// (p. 169.)

This warning on what might happen if we have to high a threshold for paradox is excellent:

//The objection is reminiscent of certain theologians of our own day, who hasten to speak of contradiction as soon as they hear phrases that seem even slightly paradoxical; in so doing they reject any truth that surprises them, without perceiving that to be really logical they should be rejecting numerous other incontestable truths, both of faith and reason, which only fail to surprise them because they are so used to them.// (p. 172.)

Likewise, this passage on a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" approach to dealing with apparent contradictions:

//When it is between two truths of faith that the ultimate harmony cannot be seen, to choose one and reject the other then becomes heresy properly so called. We have a series of classic examples of this in the great trinitarian and christological heresies, which are extreme and obvious cases. But even within the limits of orthodoxy, any theology too concerned to find clear-cut harmonies and explanations with no loose ends will always be in danger of upsetting the balance of the dogmatic synthesis by lightening the weight of one or other of the two apparently contradictory propositions. This is true of those systems which try to make the divine Trinity more amenable to the understanding by minimizing to the utmost the category of "relation" which enables us to think of the persons, by speaking of the "extreme poverty" of their personal being and by describing the three divine persons in consequence as being "as little distinct from one other as possible": the divine persons, one notes, are wholly relative to one another, and in the scale of categories relation is the "ens minutissimum." It is true too of those other systems which, the better to safeguard Christ's divinity, so minimize the consequences of his incarnation that his human reality is compromised. The modalist or unitarian tendency, the monophysite or docetist tendency, are, as are their opposites, the result of an over-eagerness to reconcile the contrasting elements of the mystery. They are the consequence of wanting to be easily satisfied, of seeking a success which would dispense one from seeking further. They are the consequence of a theology of pure rationality refusing to transcend itself and thus becoming a kind of contradiction.// (p. 175.)

This is a dense book. I started out with the opposite belief - namely, that man had no natural desire to see God. I think I have been convinced by de Lubac that the contrary position is the better Christian position. In addition, beyond the dispute about pura natura, this book is an excellent source of Thomistic theology and, as an added bonus, as the quotes I've sprinkled through this review should demonstrate, a source of some first-rate insights into how theology should work.
11 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, I am NOT a Jesuit sympathizer 20 Mar 2007
By G. Stucco - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
De Lubac laments the fact that Scholasticism has separated nature and the supernatural too much. This dualism or extrinsicism of grace, in which grace is an accidental appendage to an alleged "pure nature", is unacceptable and runs counter the teachings of St. Thomas. De Lubac also stigmatizes a monism that tends to dissolve the two orders into one (immanentism). He claims that grace must be acknowledged, but nature must also not be ignored. Grace perfects nature, which is NOT a system closed into itself. He claims that we can better differentiate in union rather than in separation: unite in order to distinguish rather than distinguish in order to unite. He does not see a super-addition, but rather an interwoven process. The turning point and the beginning of the belief in a "pure nature" was the work of Cajetan (1468-1534) and Suarez who denied that the created intellect has a natural desire to see God.

After reading De Lubac, I want to scream: Give us back the great Jansenius!!!!!!
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