Nature and Grace Not the Cause of Modern Atheism

From Ed Feser’s latest post:

As to the allegation that the Neo-Scholastic understanding of nature and grace paved the way for modern atheism, it is simply aimed at a ludicrous caricature. The charge is that Neo-Scholastics sealed off the “two tiers” of nature and grace in a way that made the former entirely self-contained, so that man has no natural need of God. But this presupposes that the Neo-Scholastic understanding of “nature” is the same as that of the modern philosophical naturalist or materialist, which it most definitely is not. On the contrary, for the Neo-Scholastic, rational demonstration of the existence of God is something of which natural reason is capable, and the knowledge and worship of God is thus part of our natural end. Hence the Neo-Scholastic conception of nature, far from entailing atheism, positively excludes it. It is the conception of nature affirmed by thinkers like Aristotle and Plotinus – pagan theists who regarded the knowledge and service of God as the highest end of human life – and not the desiccated “nature” of a David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Richard Dawkins. What grace adds to nature properly understood is the promise of the supernatural, “face to face” knowledge of God entailed by the beatific vision. And in emphasising the distinction between nature and grace, Neo-Scholastics were concerned, as Pope Pius XII was in Humani Generis, to counter theological doctrines which would “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order” by collapsing grace into nature. A number of important recent works have begun at last to rehabilitate this unjustly maligned aspect of the Scholastic tradition. [See e.g. Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to See God according to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, 2010); Steven A. Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010); and Bernard Mulcahy, Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac: Not Everything is Grace (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).]

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