Bobby Eberle – Blog Post 4

by Mar 17, 2024Students

Henri de Lubac has a very interesting take on nature and grace which I can’t help but attribute to not only his grasp of God’s message but also the times in which he lived.  His reflections on sin, which I will address in greater depth in this post show that de Lubac certainly does not fall into the trap of intrinsicism, as he carefully points to man’s efforts to downplay sin which can only be countered by God’s divine grace.

First, as noted in an early class lecture, de Lubac notes clearly the separation of the supernatural and nature (the world of man).  From de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural, we find this overt demarcation:  “The supernatural, which always represented God’s will for the final end of his creatures put no obstacle in the way of the normal development or activity of nature in its own order:  in other words, it fully assures distinction between nature and grace.”1  In other words, while the supernatural world of the divine exists, man is fully capable of developing a world separate from God.  This world develops on its own time, at its own pace.

To put it simply, man must make an effort to reach the supernatural, and only through God can the supernatural be attained.  This is inherently not a form of intrinsicism.  As de Lubac notes, although man has a capacity to seek out the supernatural, “that does not make it a participation in it, even initially or distantly.”2

In his commentary on sin, de Lubac again reveals a thought process that is clearly not of the intrinsicism model.  In his critique of man’s evolution on the nature and implications of sin, de Lubac offers an analysis which shows that man can go down a path of “humanizing” sin to the point where divine intervention is not sought nor deemed necessary, because sin becomes something that happens “to other people.”

Keep in mind what de Lubac states in A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace when he writes that the supernatural “is that divine element which man’s effort cannot reach (no self-divination!) but which unites itself to man, ‘elevating’ him as our classical theology used to put it and as Vatican II still says… penetrating him in or to divinize him, and thus becoming as it were an attribute of the ‘new man.’”3  With man attempting to redefine sin, man is acting in a way directly contrary to de Lubac’s claim that man can’t divinize himself.

De Lubac notes that “faith in Christ and in his redemptive death is what really teaches man what sin is, its grievousness and the depths to which it affects human existence.”4  I use that passage because in the times in which de Lubac lived, communism was ascending, and it was not only an economic and social policy, but a religious one as well… as in atheistic.  If man is pushed away from the belief in Christ, then man will naturally try to define (or redefine) sin in order to fit a model that is not supernatural.  De Lubac adds that “one might even advance the paradox that the full realization of what sin is does not exist in the sinful Christian, however lucid he may be, but only in the repentant Christian.”5  This is a powerful realization in that it takes not only a belief in Christ to understand sin but to truly be sorry for sinning in the first place.  Only then can a person grasp the damaging effects of sin on humanity.

De Lubac draws on this contrast of sin and grace to demonstrate his understanding of the need for man to receive grace from God rather than trying to “understand” it or give it to himself (self-divinization).  De Lubac notes that “worse yet, is is this entire tradition and really all of Scripture and Christianity as a whole that would be denied if one tried to do away with the drama between sinful man and the God who offers him grace.”6

If de Lubac were only alive today, he would see that the separation of nature and grace has grown deeper, and thus there is an even greater need to acknowledge the limits of our natural world and put our faith in God.  Even at the time of his writing, de Lubac observed that “following another avenue of escape, which seeks its justification in a grandiose theory, there are those who wish to recognize only collective sin, “objectivized” sin, “social” sin, I.e., the sin committed by others.”7  De Lubac waxes poetic (and at the same time, prophetic) when he writes, “A universe is constructed where evil is everywhere denounced, but nowhere admitted; where it is always endured, never committed.”8

De Lubac’s observations almost serve as premonitions to what we see today in cultural marxism.  No one is guilty of committing sin if sin does not exist.  Evil is denounced in a general sense, but the idea of actual sin is pushed aside and replaced by relativism.  This is a cancer which is sweeping the world, and to which de Lubac was keenly aware.  It is through these observations (among others) that de Lubac shows that there is indeed a separation between nature and the supernatural… between nature and grace… between sin and God’s redeeming love.  Thus, de Lubac could never be guilty of intrinsicism since so much of his “brief catechesis” is devoted to illustrating the separation and highlighting the dangers of it.

  1. Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, p 34. ↩︎
  2. Ibid, p 84. ↩︎
  3. Henri de Lubac, A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace, p 41-42. ↩︎
  4. Ibid, p 130. ↩︎
  5. Ibid, p 131. ↩︎
  6. Ibid, p 134. ↩︎
  7. Ibid, p 136. ↩︎
  8. Ibid, p 136. ↩︎