David B. Hart and Lawrence Feingold Discuss the Natural Desire for God

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4 Responses to David B. Hart and Lawrence Feingold Discuss the Natural Desire for God

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    30:20: Hart: I think this is where so much of the stress and struggle of these issues tends to arise. Because what would be granted from the other side is: Yes, the fulfilment of that desire [viz. to see God as He is in Himself] is supernatural, and therefore exceeds natural capacity. But the desire was always already for that supernatural fulfilment and could never come to rest in natural satisfaction.
    Feingold: [Could never come to rest] perfectly, I grant you.

    38:55: Feingold: [According to Aquinas] the ancients, Plato and Aristotle, got this one right: the connatural end of human nature is contemplating God through the mirror of creation; and so the end is God, but the way of contemplating is through the things made. Is that a perfect end for a rational creature? Here we’ll agree: No, of course it’s not a perfect end because it leaves a natural desire unsatisfied, the one we’ve been speaking about, the natural desire to see Beauty face to face. And so, St. Thomas is saying two things here, and I think he’s right in saying this: that we can speak of a connatural end, contemplating God through creation, after this life—as he imagined for the children who died before baptism, before the age of reason without baptism—so a beatitude that’s in God but that is imperfect. And how imperfect? Well, we could say, in some sense, immeasurably imperfect compared to seeing God face to face. But not for that reason nothing, not for that reason absurd because it’s, so, simply speaking, imperfect, in some sense, perfect in proportion to human nature. But, simply speaking, imperfect because leaving unsatisfied this natural desire to see God. And thus St. Thomas comes out with two ends possible for a rational creature: the supernatural, simply speaking, perfect; and a connatural, simply speaking, imperfect.

    Hart: But it does raise an interesting question because we usually hear that the paradox that the nouvelle théologie wants to raise, again and again, is an irreducibly natural desire for an irreducibly supernatural end. . . . But then, if you say also that that leaves an innate desire imperfectly fulfilled or unfulfilled, it does raise the question if we’re really talking about a connatural end that satisfies at all . . . Because . . . if the prior orientation of consciousness of will [?] towards God is what makes possible the desirability of natural ends, then any degree of satisfaction of natural ends is so imperfect that it could never be understood as any kind of fulfilment of human nature, which would mean, then, that human nature, natural desire, is for the end to which its nature is not proportionate except through grace.

    55:05: Feingold: I would think this might be a place to pose the question about obediential potency, because that’s basically what we’re speaking about here. And that was one of de Lubac’s big critiques of the Thomistic tradition is that he thought that it made it . . . . So, Thomists speak of an obediential potency for elevation. In other words, human nature is capable of God because its rational, precisely from our rational constitution, and capable of being elevated to receive a capacity that’s proper only to God. And, yes, that’s in human nature from its very constitution. So, I’d like to call that a specific obediential potency, an obediential potency specific to the rational creature that makes him capable of God. And I think we would agree on that. But de Lubac saw that all as a kind of a capacity to receive a miracle, and I don’t think that’s how it should be understood. And I think that’s not the proper Thomistic understanding either. Because we’re naturally open to truths, and we have even got natural desire to go to the Truth with a capital T. That’s a sign that we’re capable of being elevated to receive precisely that, even though it’s beyond human proportionality. So, in that framework of the principle of proportionality, there’s something that’s allowing for an opening to the disproportionality, and I think that’s crucial.

    Hart: But isn’t it curious that that violates the whole premise of proportionality because implicit in human nature, not I think simply as something added to a rational nature, but as part of the constitution of a rational nature. What you’re calling an obediential potency is what someone else might call the necessary openeness of human nature to a supernatural end. So, the principle of proportionality has already proved to be inadequate to express . . . .

    Feingold: I think we want to get a synthesis out of this. To make that synthesis we want to stress that, on the one hand the distinction, and give proportionality its proper place but also point to those principles that allow for the overcoming of being imprisoned within our proportionality. And that’s the Gospel. So what is it in us that prepares for that . . . .

    Hart: That turned out, again and again, not to be a real point of contention because everyone was willing to grant that there are connatural ends of some variety or other. It’s whether, and again it becomes a matter of degree, the degree to which you posit a possible final satisfaction of those connatural ends for a rational nature, and the degree to which rational nature would be constituted as a desire for those ends alone.

    Feingold: Right, so in St. Thomas mind, and in the Thomistic tradition, even if one were to only have had accessible to one the natural end, there still would have been a desire going beyond, but St. Thomas argues, not such a desire that would preclude a true resting, but which would preclude a perfect resting, simply speaking.

    34:50: This entire notion of a natural realm sufficient unto itself, [de Lubac] felt was, however extravagant his rhetoric got, at least part of the pathology of modernity. That we have not seen the transcendent in every instance of the immanent, we have not granted the openness of the immanent in every way [?] to the transcendent as what constitutes it . . . . He saw a sort of troubling consonance between the separation in thought of the spheres of sanctifying grace, what is revealed in Christ as the true end of nature, and then a nature that could be sufficient unto itself without being worried [?] to what’s revealed in Christ. So, that Christ then does not become the revelation of what nature is; Christ becomes the revelation of the purely gracious super-addition to nature that makes it intelligible, perhaps in a new way, but that is not required to make it intelligible all the way down. He wanted our sense of reality to be absolutely saturated with a sense of the incarnate Logos.

    (transcripted by Brad Blue)


  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Benjamin Winter has also transcribed portions of the exchange between Feingold and Hart at Conciliar Post:

    Debate Summary: Question 1 of 3

    Moderator: How do you understand the legacy of De Lubac?

    Feingold: He ignited a debate that had been going on for seven centuries. It began with St. Thomas Aquinas, who held that perfect happiness is the fulfillment of all our natural desires. The desire to see God is the highest natural desire, yet it is a natural desire that nothing natural can satisfy. Aquinas draws from St. Paul (1 Cor 2:9) to show that the vision of God’s face is above all natural desire and above our innate inclinations. He does not, however, resolve the tension between natural desire and its “super-natural” fulfillment in God. Later on, theological divisions emerge between various interpretations of the natural/supernatural question.

    Hart: De Lubac’s first intuition was that the terms “natural” and “supernatural” are too tidy. Though convenient, they distort the revelation of God in Christ and in Creation. Although there is no way to get a satisfactory answer from Aquinas on this question,3 I believe that de Lubac reinvigorated Aquinas by reading him as an inheritor of Patristic tradition.

    Debate Summary: Question 2 of 3

    Moderator: Humanity’s natural desire for God is often described with reference to the intellectual capacities of the human person, who engages in an ongoing search for Meaning, Truth, and Goodness. [See the Catechism quotation in the opening of this article.] Can rational consciousness be anything other than a natural desire for God?

    Hart: No. Consciousness is, of its nature, intention. It is a necessarily-ecstatic movement toward an end in nature, but an end in nature to which it can be related only because, primordially, it is related to Truth as such. It’s not just the case that our desire for God is elicited by worldly desires. “I see a teacup, and start wondering about God.” Rather, it’s the case that I see the tea cup itself, and I cannot do this if I do not have already an insatiable desire for Truth itself as a Transcendental. Rational consciousness is what allows us to see the world within the embrace of a primordial intuition that it can never come to rest with the finite. We find nothing in the world desirable simply in itself.

    Feingold: Actually I agree with that. We have a natural inclination, as rational beings, for the Transcendental. We could go further, and say that this is the quest of all culture. In fact, I think one of De Lubac’s contributions is pointing to the radical nature of this desire as the “motor” of culture.

    Hart: So, the issue is really the way this question is posed in debates, which tend to be more polemical than probative. In these debates, the desire for God “full stop” is counter-posed to natural desire, which merely elicits, by experience, this fervent desire for God. I believe that the embrace of supernatural desire is what makes natural, rational experience a possibility. How deep is this supernatural desire embedded in the human person?

    Feingold: To answer that question, I need to make a fourfold distinction about desire:

    1) Proportionate Desire is the human desire to know causes and essences. We gain knowledge of the universe by interacting with created things. Hence, the (natural) human desire to know is proportionate to our created condition.

    2) Elicited Desire is a desire of the intellectual faculty to know things in their essence. Drawn forth by knowledge and experience, this desire involves the search for Beauty and Truth. Elicited desire goes beyond proportionate desire because it seeks answers outside of observable creation, and points toward a “mountaintop” or “mystical” awareness of God as the Uncaused First Cause, or as Beauty beyond my own capacities of understanding.

    Additionally, God gives us Revelation and Sanctifying Grace. These two gifts change or “add to” the natural desire for God.

    3) Revelation. When God reveals himself, we receive a beautiful encounter with what we naturally desire—to see the face of Beauty. The message of the Gospel is that there’s a meeting between my natural desire and God’s desire. Revelation changes that natural desire and gives it a foundation, allowing us to hope for it in the firmest way. We now know that this natural desire can be fully realized.

    4) Sanctifying Grace. Another element is added to natural desire through sacraments. Here, I receive a share of participation in God’s nature, and therefore a mysterious proportionality with God’s own end. I now realize that this end (the beatific vision) is somehow related to me proportionally. I realize that I do have an innate desire for God’s own end. Even though we both agree that this desire was present in the beginning, I am stating that it is realized in me, in a new way, by grace. Grace is what shows me that I have something proportionate (rather than infinitely disproportionate) to God.

    Hart: Could there be a reality in which your actual intellect experiences no elicited desire, and does not concretely desire God as God?

    Feingold: Yes.

    Hart: That is a logical impossibility; it’s like a square circle. Even the ability to recognize the very concept of causality already occurs within an intentionality of consciousness and desire that is irreducibly oriented toward the vision of God. In an ex nihilo universe, beings are created specifically for union with God. Within this framework, rational consciousness is a way to recognize that any created cause is not yet final. Rational consciousness leads us to the One Final Cause. It is, of its nature, a participation in the knowledge of God, and can be nothing other than the movement of created being toward the full disclosure of Being. If all this is so, are we really bound to the notion of proportionality in the created world?

    Hart: We live in a reality where rational beings are called out of nothingness into union with God as the very ground of their existence. They can’t give themselves being, desire, or consciousness. It’s not even logically possible for rational consciousness to be satisfied with a natural end. This is why I push back against the “supernatural and natural” language. My side grants that the fulfillment (by grace) of our desire for God is supernatural and therefore exceeds the natural capacity. But the desire itself was already supernatural.

    Debate Summary: Question 3 of 3

    Moderator: One of the hot-button issues here is the idea of “pure nature.” Comments?

    Hart: This notion of pure nature didn’t cause modernity, but is it complicit in the history of secularization? Through “pure nature,” it became possible to think of revelation as erupting into history from above. Revelation becomes reduced to the facts of Scripture and salvation history, and there is a vast incontinuity between social order and the greatness of God. De Lubac felt that the entire notion of a “supernatural realm” received part of the pathology of modernity. He wanted our reality to be absolutely saturated in a notion of the Incarnate Logos, he wanted every moment to be open to the infinite. Hence, he saw a troubling consequence in separating the sphere of sanctifying grace (the true end of nature) from a “nature” that could be sufficient unto itself without being worried about Christ. Then, Christ becomes the revelation of a purely gracious super-addition to nature. He makes it intelligible perhaps in a new way, but is not required to make it intelligible all the way down.

    Feingold: This is a good example of how it is important to frame a debate rightly. I think the question of “pure nature” is simply not the right question. Instead of asking, “Could God create human, rational nature without calling it to a supernatural end?”, we should ask a more fundamental question: “Does it make sense to speak about an innate end of humanity in coordination with a supernatural end?” What my side is saying is that this human nature I have is a reality. In addition to this nature, I perceive sanctifying grace. But this human nature that’s in me, does it contain an innate or connatural end that’s proportionate to it? Aristotle and Plato asked this question, and answered in the affirmative. Aquinas says that the ancients got this one right. The innate end of human nature is contemplating God through the mirror of creation. So the natural end is God, but the way of contemplating God naturally is through things made. Is that a perfect end for man? No, it leaves a natural desire (that of seeing Beauty fully) unsatisfied. Hence, this contemplation is in some sense immeasurably imperfect, but not for that reason nothing.

    Hart: We usually hear that the paradox is an irreducibly natural desire for an irreducibly supernatural end. But if you say that an innate desire is unfulfilled, are you really talking about an end that satisfies at all? If the prior orientation of consciousness toward God is what makes the desirability of natural ends possible, then any degree of satisfaction with natural ends is so imperfect that it could never be understood as any kind of fulfillment of human nature. Back to the question of pure nature: I’m willing to retain the category of pure nature under the form of an impossible possibility. I would say this: I think of pure nature as I think of pure nothingness. I don’t see a “dialectic” with pure nothingness, it is that which is always already-overcome in the act of creation. Prime matter doesn’t have an existence of itself outside of creation. The very first moment of creation is an act of unmerited grace. When we introduce “here’s a proper stopping point, but then the second gift has to be super-added” this is coherent within a certain Aristotelian framework, but I don’t think it’s coherent in a framework of conscious desire necessary for faith in an Incarnate God. When God becomes human, what is revealed? That End is the only possible End for all created nature, for all rational nature.

    Feingold: So, Aquinas teaches a twofold gratuitousness of grace: 1) God didn’t have to make me out of nothing; and 2) We have been assigned a supernatural end, which is proper only to God. That end is to see God as He sees himself and to Love God as He Loves himself. And that end can’t be proper to any created nature.

    Hart: Why not? Do we need a concrete nature in order to make grace truly gratuitous? If you didn’t believe that human nature is destined to conform to the logos, then no. But we do believe this…

    Implications: Part 1 of 2

    Question: What are the implications of this difference between us?

    Feingold: The twofold gratuitousness of grace is a key teaching for Catholics in the school of Aquinas. We need the twofold distinction to preserve the revealed and “gifted” sense of grace. This matches the Christological paradigm, where we have a distinction of two natures without separation. But the distinction remains something crucial. So in the Christian, a distinction between two sorts of gratuitousness must be preserved.

    Hart: Of course, in Christology we are not talking about a union between “natural and supernatural” but between divine and human. Christ is the only perfect human precisely because he is also God. What is revealed in Christ is not a super-addition to the human, but a recognition of humanity’s fulfillment. It is dangerous to see the revelation of God in Christ as incidental to the structure of created being. In becoming human, God did not undergo a metempsychosis [correction: metabasis eis allo genos]. There is no conflict between divine and human natures from the beginning. Human nature is already an instance of participation in the divine nature. Everyone [or, at least Catholics and Orthodox] is willing to grant that there are innate ends. It’s about the degree to which you posit a final satisfaction of those ends for a rational nature, and the degree to which rational nature could “be” a desire for those ends alone.

    Feingold: Aquinas might add that even if one were to only have had natural ends accessible, there would still be a desire to go Beyond those ends. This desire would not preclude eternal resting, although it would preclude the perfect eternal resting.

    Implications: Part 2 of 2

    Question: How could we have fallen from a state of sinlessness?

    Hart: East and West are different in this regard. Thomism verges on the Promethean vision. You need a deceiver, a winsomely beautiful snake. The human intellect, in the East, is more understood in terms of progression toward wisdom, toward Sophia. Evil is ignorance. Our first parents knew not what they did, but the truth will make you free. The Greek [Orthodox] position is that everything is being drawn back to its true course. It’s all one gift; deification. Does this ultimately lead toward universalism? Yes, it does. But see Maximus the Confessor on the Gnomic will (and hence the experience of heaven as an experience of Hell).


  3. Excellent discussion. Years ago I watched this after reading Feingold’s magnum opus on the Natural Desire for God. A wanna-be-Thomist at the time, I still found Hart more compelling.

    It’s strange that you posted this as I just started taking notes on why the torment of Hell is a problem for the Thomistic position: just as the natural desire for God is external and foreign to man so also the pain of Hell is external and foreign to man.


  4. DBH says:

    For the record, there are faults of transcription here. Most especially–and I pointed this out to Benjamin at the time–what he renders as “metempsychosis” was in fact “metabasis eis allo genos.”

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