A Goldilocks Theological Anthropology – between pessimism & optimism, natural & supernatural, nature & grace

We must resist an under-estimation of the significance of special revelation in growing humanity’s orientation to God, as it allows persons to move more swiftly & with less hindrance on their journeys, realizing both temporal & ultimate teloi.

We must also resist either an over- or under-estimation (of an extreme intrinsicism or extrinsicism) of humanity’s dynamic orientation to God & moral reality via natural theology & natural law.

Even among the intrinsicists of the Nouvelle Theologie, the blurring of distinctions between nature & grace didn’t remove anthropological tensions regarding the realities of sin & ecclesial accommodations to the world.

While the intrinsicists all agree in principle that we can discern what’s “common and accessible to all” and gradually move forward to the “highest data of theology,” some Thomists & Augustinians otherwise diverged precisely along the grounds for anthropological optimism & pessimism vis a vis both sin & worldly accommodations.

See:

Brandon Peterson, Critical Voices: The Reactions of Rahner and Ratzinger to ‘Schema XIII’ (Gaudium et Spes)

Peterson quotes a post-conciliar interview of Rahner: I would say that the dangers of a false adaptation of the Church to the modern world, or of falling into a purely secular humanism —which are real dangers in the Church’s attempt to open itself outwards to the modern world can invite as a defensive reaction the opposite danger, namely, to turn inwards and to make the Church a closed sect. Theology must help the preacher preach the gospel in such a way that it can really be understood and assimilated today; and theology also has a critical function in preventing the Church in its preaching or in its practice from becoming a ghetto or a sect within the contemporary world.

Peterson concludes: Christocentrism, anthropological methodology, and critical openness to the world stand in a creative tension which marks Gaudium et Spes itself, a tension which we must not relax if we are to be faithful heirs to this landmark council. For such a tension is an essential part of a theological approach which, executed properly, can proclaim the Gospel to a world that not only needs it, but needs to understand it.

How might we best exploit these creative tensions?

Reality emerges & gifts entities that present with different kinds of “aboutness” that suggest degrees of ontological density but which don’t definitively reveal metaphysical natures.

An emergentist heuristic might refer to these “aboutnesses” in terms of different degrees of telic influence.

  • Veldo-poietic (field-like) entities present as teleopotent or end-unbounded;
  • cosmopoieticteleomatic or end-stated;
  • biopoieticteleonomic or end-directed or end-coded;
  • sentiopoieticteleoqualic or end-purposed; and
  • sapiopoieticteleologic or end-intended.

In this profusely pneumatological reality, divine interactivity gifts the Spirit’s universalized presence via creatio continua, consistent with the Thomistic aphorism – “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.” This means that “whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver.”

All reality participates, constitutively & relationally, responding to various formal & formative divine promptings of divine esse intentionale & energies, each entity according to its given telic modes.

Human persons interact with the Spirit’s universalized presence, constituted by & engaging in all of the above-listed modes of aboutness, but uniquely, as reality’s only sapiopoietic creature, via a teleological mode, in a robustly intentional way.

The sapiopoietic nature of human persons equips them to also interact with the Spirit’s particularized presence in special revelation.

Per Aquinas in the ST: It is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparisons with material things. For God provides for everything according to the capacity of its nature. Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ, spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things. This is what Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i): “We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils.” It is also befitting Holy Writ, which is proposed to all without distinction of persons — “To the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor” (Romans 1:14) — that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it.

Per Don Gelpi S.J.’s anthropology:

In an “experiential approach to human nature, any given human mind may or may not be oriented dynamically to God. Rather, each self must acquire such an orientation, either by fixing its personal beliefs on purely rational motives concerning the reality and nature of God, or by responding positively and graciously in faith to some event of divine self-revelation.”

The gratuity of creation, experienced by human persons as they interact with the Spirit’s universalized presence, can foster a rationally acquired dynamical orientation to God, gifting an awareness of & cultivating an aretaical disposition toward both temporal & ultimate teloi. It can thus foster – not only the secular conversions (intellectual, affective, moral & sociopolitical), but – an authentic theocentric religious conversion, which, while variously implicit & inchoate, cooperates with the obediential potencies formed by secular conversions.

The gratuity of grace, experienced by human persons as they interact with the Spirit’s particularized presence, can foster a dynamic reorientation of the self to God, if it responds positively and graciously in faith to some event of divine self-revelation.

If this dynamic reorientation of the self results from a response in faith to a particular divine self-disclosure, whether initially or subsequent to a previous reorientation fostered by the gratuity of creation, it constitutes an infusion of supernatural grace via the gratuity of grace.

Per Gelpi, supernatural grace “transmutes experience by endowing it with a new capacity to relate to God both correlative to God’s free act of self-disclosure and impossible apart from that self-revelation.”

A theocentric religious conversion orients a person via Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives as – beyond, temporally, being aware, intelligent, reasonable, responsible & in love with others, cosmos & even self – it also invites one into a relationship with a donative ultimate reality, much like Pip in Great Expectations as he related to his unknown benefactor or, perhaps, as Ralph McInerny put it, like characters in search of their Author. This represents the essential, orthodoxic, soteriological trajectory of the world’s great traditions & indigenous religions.

Consistent with Nostra Aetate, concerning the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions, in addition to that essential soteriological trajectory, various traditions & religions may otherwise diverge to various degrees in their polydoxic, sophiological trajectories, whereby persons grow in intimacy (theosis) with God.

See:
https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/%e2%80%8bwhat-the-contemplative-stance-means-to-me/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/democratizing-theosis-for-jesus-is-a-truly-cosmic-christ/

This is the Goldilocks anthropology that best exploits the creative tensions of the Nouvelle Theologie, which, when properly engaged, successfully sidesteps any sterile Neo-Scholasticism, transcendental Thomism or Augustinian radicalism.

Special Revelation clarifies what would otherwise remain indistinct in the logos of General Revelation.

First, in the order of logos:

Determinacies

We disambiguate ambiguities & define in/definite actualities, which are determinacies (in/definitive) that correspond to referenced or defined entities.

Indeterminacies

In/determinacies (in/determinable & in/determined) refer to generalities (probabilities & necessities) and vagueness (possibilities).

We determine in/determinacies by delimiting vague possibilities & specifying generalities, i.e. probabilities & necessities.

Beyond a mere propositional translation process (via our cognitive map-making) between noetic aspects of general & special revelations, as we move from natural to revealed theology or even between revealed traditions …

We must also engage in

dispositional interpretations (via the inhabitations of our participatory imaginations) of culturally embodied unitive, aesthetic, ethical & liberative norms, if we are to adequately appropriate the theological idioms required for our Gospel inculturation.

Then, beyond logos:

Beyond a creedal logos, we need participatory immersion in revelation’s other integral aspects: communal (topos), liturgical & devotional (pathos), moral (ethos) and ascetical & mystical (mythos).

Natural Theology shouldn’t be conceived in strictly logocentric terms, for even a theocentric religious conversion in the gratuity of creation, however inchoate, indistinct or implicit, propositionally, will dispositionally gift, both personally & culturally, embodied relationships to truth, unity, beauty, goodness & freedom.

As one cooperates with prevenient graces & obediential potencies via General Revelation, while these propositional & dispositional embodiments remain confused, imperfect & indistinct, due to the indirect nature of one’s knowledge of God, they reflect authentic existential orientations to the transcendental imperatives directly known via Special Revelation in the gratuity of grace.

To wit: https://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3a.htm#25

Since all creatures, even those devoid of understanding, are ordered to God as to an ultimate end, all achieve this end to the extent that they participate somewhat in His likeness. Intellectual creatures attain it in a more special way, that is, through their proper operation of understanding Him. Hence, this must be the end of the intellectual creature, namely, to understand God.

Further, see:

Amos Yong With John Sobert Sylvest, “Reasons and Values of the Heart in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Contemplative Phenomenology for Interreligious Dialogue,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 20:2 (2010): 170-93

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/augustinians-thomists-nature-grace-politics-religion/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/how-gelpis-inculturated-north-american-theology-graced-my-encounter-with-eastern-orthodoxy/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/david-bentley-hart-duns-scotus-walk-into-a-bar-see-radical-orthodoxy-ask-why-the-long-face/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/peirces-semiotics-lend-philosophical-credibility-to-hans-urs-von-balthasars-idea-of-seeing-the-form-of-divine-beauty/

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