Eric Mascall (1905-1993) on Nature’s relationship to Grace

E.L.Mascall

When traversing through the thick of Mascall’s  The Openness of Being (which is a compilation of his ten Gifford lectures offered at the University of Edinburgh) and his efforts to explain how the supernatural grace of God relates and operates with human nature, one cannot help but sense this annoyance with the mundane Scholastic mantra of separating nature and grace as if they are walled off from each other entitatively. In his generosity, he makes it plain he does not think that what the Scholastics were trying to get at is, per necessity, at odds with the more Scriptural and Patristic doctrine of man’s participation in the saving action of God the Creator. One particular section worth sharing comes from the Third Appendix, Grace and Nature in East and West, where he gives a nice vivid description of this Scholastic tendency while explaining how it can be brought to adjustment with a more biblical and Patristic, even Thomistic, sense:

“Now I do not think it can be denied that many Catholic writers, while of course admitting that finite being exist only because God has made them, have talked about their natures as if He had not. While perfunctorily asserting that grace perfects nature, they have only too often looked upon the orders of nature and grace as virtually isolated from each other, rather like two flats on adjacent floors separated by a soundproof ceiling. Or, to change the metaphor, they have spoken as if the sole function of nature in relation to grace was to provide a king of platform upon which grace can perform a supernatural dance. Is it not surprising then that man’s natural desire for the vision of God becomes a complete mystery and an embarrassment. If, however, we give full weight to the essential openness of nature to the divine activity, recognizing that all finite beings are necessarily incomplete, so that they would collapse into utter non-existence but for the incessant conserving activity of God, we can surely see that nature is not just a platform upon which grace performs but the medium in which grace works. Only so can we do justice to St. Thomas’s twin assertions that grace both presupposes nature and perfect it” (Pg. 248)

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