for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Friday, April 11, 2014
3:15p.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 414
the natural desire for god: henri de lubac and european thomists of the early twentieth century
Director: Chad Pecknold, Ph.D.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, a controversy has arisen among Thomists concerning the theological anthropology of the French Jesuit, Henri Cardinal de Lubac (1896-1991). Following de Lubac, many scholars continue to maintain that human nature has a “natural desire for a supernatural end,” and that the denial of this desire among scholastic Thomists contributed to the rise of modern secularism. Others allege the opposite: de Lubac’s anthropology contributes to secularism by making it impossible to show by natural reason that the knowledge of God is the end of human nature.
This dissertation contributes towards the reconciliation of the present controversy through studies of the doctrine of natural desire in the works of Thomas Aquinas, scholastic Thomists, early twentieth century Thomists, and the writings of de Lubac prior to and including Surnaturel: Études historiques (Paris: Aubier, 1946). The dissertation begins by suggesting that Aquinas developed his doctrine of natural desire in response to a debate among Richard Rufus, Roger Bacon, and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio about matter’s desire for form. Unique among these figures, Aquinas held that matter desires form without any exigence for it, yet is purely passive in the reception of form; likewise, human nature desires the vision of God without any exigence for it, yet is purely passive in the reception of that vision. The dissertation continues by tracing the reception of Aquinas’s doctrine of natural desire in the originators of the four main scholastic traditions: Giles of Rome (the Aegidian tradition), John Duns Scotus (the Scotist tradition), Tommaso de Vio Cajetan (the Cajetanian tradition), and Francisco Suárez (the Suarezian tradition). Finally, this dissertation establishes a new context for the reception of de Lubac’s anthropology: an ongoing revival of the Aegidian tradition among European Thomists in the fifty years preceding the publication of Surnaturel. Inspired by the Aegidian tradition, de Lubac rightly perceived in Aquinas a natural desire for the vision of God. However, that tradition’s insistence that nature cannot be purely passive in the reception of grace prevented de Lubac from seeing how nature’s passivity towards grace is essential for Aquinas’s account of nature’s receptivity to grace. The study concludes by suggesting three ways in which contrasting views of de Lubac’s work might be brought closer to reconciliation without either abandoning a natural desire for the vision of God or making the teleology of human nature inaccessible to natural reason: interpreting Aquinas’s doctrine of natural desire in the context of matter’s desire for form; deepening de Lubac’s revival of the Aegidian tradition in that tradition’s most prominent form; developing de Lubac’s particular reception of the Aegidian tradition.