Here is a section of a paper I wrote for a class in Fundamental Theology on von Balthasar’s view of nature and grace. The transfer from Word to Wordpad necessitated by the software on the computer I’m using to post this has stripped my paper of its footnotes. If anyone wants the source of a quote or idea, or even the list of all my sources, let me know and I’d be happy to give them. Here in this Wordpad version I put von Balthasar quotes in italics.
Von Balthasar’s work has a particular focus on Christ. Without doubt, the Christocentric approach is most appropriate to Catholic theology—even demanded by it. He continues this approach in his handling of the difficult question of the relation between nature and grace, influenced by his friend, French theologian Henri de Lubac, who was known particularly for his contribution to the subject. According to von Balthasar, this issue requires above all a Christocentric approach. The need here is to look to Christ.
The problem is that, in his words, “the concept of nature that Catholic theology is accustomed to presuppose undialectically can in reality only be grasped dialectically, in accord with Henri de Lubac’s renewed vision of patristic-high-scholastic theology.” Indeed, the traditional interpretation of the famous Thomistic formula, grace builds on nature, can almost make it seem that nature (which is also a gift) is something external to grace and, without grace, sufficient and complete unto itself. Nevertheless, Christ is one. Christ, in whom we have been created in God’s image, he—the perfect image of God, is also our Redeemer. After the Incarnation, which was planned before all the ages, there can be no question of a separation of the (creating) work of the world-embracing Logos from the (redeeming) work of the concrete universal that is Christ: “All were created through him; all were created for him…In him everything continues in being…. It pleased God…to reconcile everything in his person” (Col. 1:16-20).
Grace and nature, though truly distinct, should be seen as united in Christ. Pope John Paul II often used to quote these words from Gaudium et Spes: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come (Rom 5:14), Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam…fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” These words seem to tell of a unity and of fulfillment, rather than indicating a strict and clear dissimilarity between nature (Adam) and grace (Jesus Christ): “Only in the…Incarnate Word does…man take on light.” Only in the grace of the Redeemer does human nature find its meaning and center—Christ is not the “new and improved” version of an already complete humanity but rather the true man. Nature and grace cannot be as neatly separated and defined as has been thought, for they are both summed up in Christ.
What, therefore, is the relation between nature and grace? With the state of affairs as they are in the real world, in actual history, where the grace of Christ is offered to all men of all times and Christ is exalted and established as the archetype summing up everything in himself, there is no need to look to a hypothetical “ungraced nature” in order to understand the relation between grace and nature—rather, again, there is only the need to look at Christ:
Man, therefore, in investigating the relationship between nature and supernature has no need to abandon the standpoint of faith, to set himself up as the mediator between God and the world, between revelation and reason, or to cast himself in the role of judge over that relationship. All that is necessary is for him to understand “the one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 2:5), and to believe him in whom “were all things created in heaven and on earth…all by him and in him” (Col. 1:16).
Seen Christocentrically—as it can alone be seen, given the actual state of affairs wherein the one Son of God, Jesus Christ, sums up all things in heaven and on earth—nature, though distinct, must be thought of as internal to grace; just as the human nature of Christ, though distinct from his divine nature, is brought together with it in his one divine Person, “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.” Angelo Schola, the Patriarch of Venice and an interpreter of von Balthasar puts it well: “Inevitably, [nature] must be thought of as a dimension, a component of that Christic whole which is grace.”
In saying all these things—it is important to try to make absolutely clear—in no way does von Balthasar let nature be absorbed by grace. Rather he is maintaining that, while on the one hand nature has its own distinct constitution, on the other hand, “the why and wherefore of nature are grace.” Jesus Christ is not only the Omega, (wherefore), but also the Alpha (why).
Given the fact that I agree with von Balthasar’s view that the universe was created in the Incarnate Logos–in Christ–it seems especially odd that the “Are You a Heretic” quiz would rate me as having Nestorian tendencies. Rather, it is Nestorian to say that the relation of the Incarnate Lord to the universe is not the same as the relation of the Eternal Logos to the universe. That would be to say that the divine and human natures in Christ are not truly united. The truth is that they are united in one Divine Person who is related to the world as both Creator and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
To him be all glory and praise forever!