Protestantism and Nature

Lawrence Feingold doesn’t much like de Lubac’s work on the natural desire to see God. He doesn’t think the neo-Thomist distinction of natural and supernatural is responsible for the rise of atheism and naturalism. On the contrary, the distinction is necessary to combat naturalism.

Feingold writes, “the Thomistic distinction between a natural and a supernatural end is essential to maintaining a dear distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders. An order is defined by its end. If there is no such thing as a natural end for man, then the natural order loses its coherence. The logical result would be a loss of the distinction between the two orders, with the natural order being swallowed up in the supernatural. This result would actually create a monistic system: one natural-supernatural order. In such a system, there would be constant temptation to naturalize the entire supernatural-natural amalgam. The supernatural order would actually be destroyed together with the natural. Neither order would retain its integrity. The result would be very similar to Monophysitism in Christology. The Monophysite Christ is logically neither God nor man, but something hybrid in which both natures are lost” (391-2).

The he adds: “I would argue, although it cannot be developed here, that this type of monism was implied by the Jansenist treatment (together with the Lutheran and Calvinist tendency on which it was based) of the relationship between grace and nature, which was a kind of supernaturalism or Monophysitism, losing the distinction between the two orders, and denigrating the natural order. A supernaturalist position of this type also tends to lead, by dialectical opposition, to the opposite extreme of naturalism” (391-2).

Well now. It’s hard to grasp the logic here. If Protestantism supernaturalizes the natural, how does it “denigrate” the natural order? It does so only on neo-Thomist premises; on its own premises it honors the “natural” as inherently “supernatural.” Feingold’s criticism amounts to saying that Jansenism and Protestantism aren’t neo-Thomism; which counts as a criticism only if you’re a neo-Thomist.

As for the historical accuracy of Feingold’s claim that Protestantism denigrates the natural order: This is so breathtakingly wrong that it’s difficult to mount a response.

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