Monday, June 18, 2007

Grace And The Middle Ages

"There are...two movements in the Christian world. The movement by which it ascends to God is but the result of the movement by which God descends into it, and this is the first movement. And the more it yields to this movement by which God gives Himself to it, the more the movement is awakened in it by which it gives itself to God. For grace has a vivifying effect, and is not, as Luther thought, a mantle cast over a dead person. The creature, profoundly stirred to act, arises from sleep and becomes all vigilance and activity. In its final stage this activity is one of pre-eminence, of loving contemplation, and of superabundance. But at the same time it is also a moral, ascetic, practical, and militant activity....

A time came when man took this second movement for the first. In the age of anthropocentric humanism, which is Pelagianism in action, man forgot that God is the first Mover in the act of love, as He is the first Cause of being. Man acted as if the creature owed its advancement to itself and not to the operation of the divine plenitude in it. When these conditions prevailed, the Christian world, laboring under the triple ferment of the Renaissance, of rationalism, and of its contrary Jansenist or Protestant tendency (which, as it seeks to nullify man’s efforts as regards the supernatural, in the same degree seeks to exalt them in the natural order), was inevitably doomed to disintegration.

Even though as Christians we remain truly loyal and obedient to all that has been revealed, since grace is something hidden, the movement by which we ascend to God, that is, our indispensable effort to attain spiritual perfection, may veil from our eyes the descending movement and the gift of uncreated love in us. Then is struck a discordant note, increasing in volume, between life as we Christians should live it and our consciousness and interpretation of it. Religion tends to become less and less existential; it is swept away by appearances, and we live but a superficial life. We shall always believe in grace, but we shall act as if it were but the pediment of an edifice, and as if, even without it, on the chance supposition that it did not operate, things would still be the same, because of precautions taken by human aids and conditions deemed to be sufficient. When such periods occur, which act as counter currents to grace, should we be astonished at their anemia?

To be sure, the Middle Ages were not such a period. The enormous activity manifested during that period, though it may deceive the historian, did not deceive the period itself. The Middle Ages knew that this great and constructive work was but the mask cloaking an invisible mystery of love and humility. Those ages obeyed the law of the incarnation, which continued to accomplish its effects in them....Medieval Christianity knew in a practical way that the Word came down and was made flesh, that the Holy Spirit, following this movement, also comes down. Medieval Christianity opened the world of knowledge to the stream which coursed through it gradually. Thus the world was enabled to know the order of wisdom, and for a time experienced in itself the realization of the peaceful encounter and harmony of the three wisdoms: the infused, the theological, and the metaphysical."

-Jacques Maritain in Science and Wisdom, quoted in the preface of Garrigou-Lagrange's Predestination.

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