Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Two Senses Of Nature In St. Augustine's Theology

“…St. Augustine , in his controversial works, used the word ‘nature’ according to its transcendental universality in several different meanings. This variety was imposed on him by the diversity of the controversies in which he engaged; and he never made it his particular business to seek a conciliation among the different senses by undertaking an analysis of the term. In all his writings against the Manichaeans, nature meant for him the essence and substance of created things, especially of spiritual beings, with their essential powers; it meant the true product of creation in the narrower sense. Accordingly, he maintained that nature itself could not be disfigured or destroyed by evil. But when the Pelagians came on the stage, the scene shifted at once, and nature appears suddenly as that which God established, as the condition of life which the created being originally received from the Creator’s bounty, the vital principle and the tendency to good originally conferred on the creature by the Creator, prescinding from the question whether these two endowments belonged to the essence and substance of the creature or were something supernatural. Understood in this sense, nature can be destroyed and annihilated by a sin of nature; the higher, supernatural freedom bestowed on nature can perish, and its life can be uprooted. If the point of view adopted against the Manichaeans had been preserved, none of these considerations could be urged against the Pelagians.”

-Matthias Scheeben in Nature and Grace.

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