Trying to understand Nature/Grace Dualism

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Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
I am reading through (again) The Christ of the Covenants and came upon a section (Quote below) that talked about the Nature/Grace idea. It prompted me to really grasp this concept. Currently I have an incomplete understanding of Nature/Grace dualism and would like to have a corrected and clearer idea of what it is. The following are 3 views of the Nature/Grace doctrine as I understand them.

1-Grace perfects nature: Something (Grace) needed to be added to merit blessedness. Grace is in a sense a substance.

2 -Grace renews human nature in salvation: Nature was made good but the Fall caused a moral/spiritual chasm between God and man and thus man needs to be Redeemed(forgiven, atoned, etc) to obtain blessedness. Grace is the working of God in the lives of sinners and is not a substance.

3- Grace obliterates nature: Through the Spirit we become perfected in this life.


Could someone succinctly fill in the blanks and correct me where Im wrong. Also, wouldn't WCF 7.1 speak to this in someway?


"This concept of pruning also must be given full weight in the definition of “Israel.” Again, “Israel” cannot be identified merely as ethnic descendants of Abraham, for “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6)......While the “pruning” principle may threaten any who would be presumptuous, it does not intend to suggest that God’s grace works against the natural order of creation. The grace of God in salvation is not against creation’s order; it is against sin. The Christian must avoid being lured into a nature/grace dichotomy as he considers the working of God in salvation. Redemption has the effect of restoring the order of creation, and the solidarity of the family is one of the greatest of creation’s ordinances. The genealogical character of redemption’s activity underscores the intention of God to work in accord rather than in discord with this creational ordering."

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants (p. 49). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
In the first view nature is "lower," and for that cause is not complete, or all-it-could-be, or only-capable-of-its-limits--something like that. Nature is base, and in a general sense what is base is often treated with contempt. Perhaps that particular is worthy of contempt, but not everything "basic" is contemptible. But to be at the basic level, or worse to sink even lower, is (at best) heading away from what is "above" and gracious, and toward and eventually unto sin.

Rome's philosophical theology generally conforms to the first view. Concupiscence (lustful desire) is not inherently sinful, because often it is regarded as simple, animal-desire, i.e. "nature." But also, because nature isn't good per se, something like sex is "debased," it doesn't belong to the realm of "grace" into which the Christian is supposed to be drawn.

This is the logic of celibacy, so whereas in Rome's view marriage is necessary as long as the world turns (because children, and procreation is the only positive purpose for conjugal relations), marriage gets the sacramental blessing of Rome to give it the +quality a Christian needs so he can participate in it without sinning. Sex absent the desire for children, for its own sake and pleasure (giving/receiving) tends downward, so leading in the opposite direction of which the Christian is supposed to be drawn.

Adam is alleged to have possessed, as a second-blessing beyond life and fellowship with God, the donum superadditum as a holy creature. This was his possession of grace, which enabled him to have fellowship with God; and it was the quality that was lost in the fall. Having lost it, his animal-desires pulled him and his descendants into sin. The church, as a grace-factory, produces tokens of that grace which is given back to men and raising them up (but used up, as fuel, as it "balances" against the sinning that continues) so requiring constant resupply. But, as the church is running 24-7-365 production line, there's always some grace being registered, for the improvement of nature.

*********************
Perhaps that's enough on the first view. The second is more akin to a proper Christian perspective. The third view is descriptive (even if there is no formal plug-in) of perfectionist cults or opinions. In a way, Rome's view (1) can in extreme cases (exemplified by saints) merge with this view; with the special case of the BVM treated as such perfectionism to the nth degree.

The most radical 3rd view would be practically Gnostic, inasmuch as the body is regarded as patently offensive, and there's a desire to escape it. Death is release, as "nature" is left behind and the spirit ascends. When we in our catechism confess:
Question 37 What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.​
this is an affirmation of the good of nature/creation, as God's work and without qualification.


Hopefully this little is helpful to increasing your clarity, and filling in holes.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hopefully this little is helpful to increasing your clarity, and filling in holes.

Thanks Bruce. That was helpful in filling out some of my thoughts on the three different views. I am still trying to figure out some things (correct me if Im wrong), where Reformed sees the RC view as dualistic we would still want to make some distinction between Nature and Grace- Right? Or am I completely off base?
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I am reading through (again) The Christ of the Covenants and came upon a section (Quote below) that talked about the Nature/Grace idea. It prompted me to really grasp this concept. Currently I have an incomplete understanding of Nature/Grace dualism and would like to have a corrected and clearer idea of what it is. The following are 3 views of the Nature/Grace doctrine as I understand them.

1-Grace perfects nature: Something (Grace) needed to be added to merit blessedness. Grace is in a sense a substance.

2 -Grace renews human nature in salvation: Nature was made good but the Fall caused a moral/spiritual chasm between God and man and thus man needs to be Redeemed(forgiven, atoned, etc) to obtain blessedness. Grace is the working of God in the lives of sinners and is not a substance.

3- Grace obliterates nature: Through the Spirit we become perfected in this life.


Could someone succinctly fill in the blanks and correct me where Im wrong. Also, wouldn't WCF 7.1 speak to this in someway?


"This concept of pruning also must be given full weight in the definition of “Israel.” Again, “Israel” cannot be identified merely as ethnic descendants of Abraham, for “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6)......While the “pruning” principle may threaten any who would be presumptuous, it does not intend to suggest that God’s grace works against the natural order of creation. The grace of God in salvation is not against creation’s order; it is against sin. The Christian must avoid being lured into a nature/grace dichotomy as he considers the working of God in salvation. Redemption has the effect of restoring the order of creation, and the solidarity of the family is one of the greatest of creation’s ordinances. The genealogical character of redemption’s activity underscores the intention of God to work in accord rather than in discord with this creational ordering."

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants (p. 49). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Which chapter is your reference from (I have the paperback version and don’t recall this topic)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Thanks Bruce. That was helpful in filling out some of my thoughts on the three different views. I am still trying to figure out some things (correct me if Im wrong), where Reformed sees the RC view as dualistic we would still want to make some distinction between Nature and Grace- Right? Or am I completely off base?
The dualism I think OPR is referring to is that of the "reality" described by 1&3. In the one, reality is composed of two things, nature and grace, distinct but complementary. In the other, reality is either nature, or it's grace, distinct and in competition.

The Reformed perspective can distinguish nature from grace, but nature and grace are not two halves or parts that make up reality; nor is nature one form of reality, and grace an alternative form of reality, with the latter destined to convert or otherwise eliminate the former. This is why "dualism" might not be the best description of our vision of reality, where we find a "nature" and a "grace."

Nature (say we) is created reality, and it was perfect/good; then came the fall, which was the moral collapse of the Imago Dei in the principal now reflected in the sorrows/groaning to which the lesser creation has been subjected. So, nature is no longer of the quality it was. However, grace or the reestablishment of fellowship with God via a second covenant means: the present-partial and ultimately complete restoration of nature in a new heavens and earth, having as its principal a new humanity restored to uprightness.

So, grace is not the "missing part" tied to nature; nor that ethereal goal rising from nature which was abandoned in the fall, man sinking from and hardening into an unspiritual, spiritually lifeless material. It would be better for us to speak, not of a nature-grace dualism, but of the creature-Creator distinction. Grace is the pure unmerited gift of God exclusive of works, tending to fellowship and enjoyment of him.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
The dualism I think OPR is referring to is that of the "reality" described by 1&3. In the one, reality is composed of two things, nature and grace, distinct but complementary. In the other, reality is either nature, or it's grace, distinct and in competition.

The Reformed perspective can distinguish nature from grace, but nature and grace are not two halves or parts that make up reality; nor is nature one form of reality, and grace an alternative form of reality, with the latter destined to convert or otherwise eliminate the former. This is why "dualism" might not be the best description of our vision of reality, where we find a "nature" and a "grace."

Nature (say we) is created reality, and it was perfect/good; then came the fall, which was the moral collapse of the Imago Dei in the principal now reflected in the sorrows/groaning to which the lesser creation has been subjected. So, nature is no longer of the quality it was. However, grace or the reestablishment of fellowship with God via a second covenant means: the present-partial and ultimately complete restoration of nature in a new heavens and earth, having as its principal a new humanity restored to uprightness.

So, grace is not the "missing part" tied to nature; nor that ethereal goal rising from nature which was abandoned in the fall, man sinking from and hardening into an unspiritual, spiritually lifeless material. It would be better for us to speak, not of a nature-grace dualism, but of the creature-Creator distinction. Grace is the pure unmerited gift of God exclusive of works, tending to fellowship and enjoyment of him.
Are the first and third views described in the OP related to Gnosticism?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Are the first and third views described in the OP related to Gnosticism?
You might get a better and more complete answer from a real expert. But I indicated in the first response that I saw the influence of Gnosticism particularly in the 3rd view. Nevertheless, even in the Western church (Rome) Gnostic thought gained a degree of purchase; and in some sense any doctrine of perfectionism is akin to the escapism characteristic of Gnosticism.

You can have similar things that do not have the same root, and they don't need a common root to overlap in significant ways. Extreme asceticism, monkish devotions, the priestly vocation, very rigorous use of all available sacraments, pursuit of the "beatific vision"--these are ways Romanist religion attempts to maximize their grace-quotient. And even if the nature-element is not reduced, it takes on a lower percentage of the full reality attained.

So, the first/Roman perspective doesn't in a formal sense repudiate nature entirely (which is Gnostic), while practically it elevates the relentless increase of grace and makes "saints" of those who have got, if not the maximum, at least an outsized possession of it. The BVM is turned into a saint for even the saints to look up to, after all she's "full of grace," so full in fact she's transcended nature. Her alleged immaculate conception and assumption show the extent of such reflection.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
That cleared up a lot of confusion. Thanks!!

The dualism I think OPR is referring to is that of the "reality" described by 1&3. In the one, reality is composed of two things, nature and grace, distinct but complementary. In the other, reality is either nature, or it's grace, distinct and in competition.

The Reformed perspective can distinguish nature from grace, but nature and grace are not two halves or parts that make up reality; nor is nature one form of reality, and grace an alternative form of reality, with the latter destined to convert or otherwise eliminate the former. This is why "dualism" might not be the best description of our vision of reality, where we find a "nature" and a "grace."

Nature (say we) is created reality, and it was perfect/good; then came the fall, which was the moral collapse of the Imago Dei in the principal now reflected in the sorrows/groaning to which the lesser creation has been subjected. So, nature is no longer of the quality it was. However, grace or the reestablishment of fellowship with God via a second covenant means: the present-partial and ultimately complete restoration of nature in a new heavens and earth, having as its principal a new humanity restored to uprightness.

So, grace is not the "missing part" tied to nature; nor that ethereal goal rising from nature which was abandoned in the fall, man sinking from and hardening into an unspiritual, spiritually lifeless material. It would be better for us to speak, not of a nature-grace dualism, but of the creature-Creator distinction. Grace is the pure unmerited gift of God exclusive of works, tending to fellowship and enjoyment of him.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I have not had a chance to listen to all of these, but here are a couple of lectures on Nature and Grace in Roman Catholicism by Dr Leonardo Di Chirico - a Reformed pastor and leading Roman Catholic scholar.
Part 1

Part 2
 
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