This is not the place to go into the lengthy debates on the history of the differing positions adopted by the two great Latin Doctors of grace, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. We might merely observe that the most usual difference between them, an essential difference but not a contradiction, arises because St. Thomas frequently begins by considering human nature as such in the abstract, independent of sin and its consequences; whereas St. Augustine takes as his starting pont the experience of sinful man. While fully recognizing the transcendence of the supernatural, St. Thomas (giving perhaps a somewhat too facile interpretation of the fecisti nos ad Te of St. Augustine) 'considers it as a completion [(achèvement)] bestowed on nature in the direction towards which its active inclinations already tended' [(trans. Arnandez (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984), 122-123, quoting (there at the end) Guy de Broglie, S.J.)].“Without contesting this reading of Saint Thomas in its every respect, we feel ourselves obliged to say that Thomistic reflection on the sin of the angel placed this completion [(achèvement)], considered in its formality--this fulfillment [(accomplissement)] of every spiritual creature--in the renunciation that it must make of considering itself its own end. Now, this renunciation, which refuses to countenance an unchecked pride [(un orgueil disponible)], is according to Thomas a moral act of tremendous severity, a decision as productive of complete disorientation as the God [(un décision vertigineuse autant que le Dieu)] who, by his irruption, instigates and determines it. Let us borrow from de Lubac here his own phraseology, used of Rupert of Deutz in his Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore: the history of salvation as Aquinas conceives of it is at every stage ‘not evolutionary but agonistic’. It may well be that humility in the free and intelligent creature produces acts that complete it ‘along the very lines sketched out already by its active inclinations’. . . . But not less than in Augustine, and in my opinion much more, . . . this act of renunciation is [in Saint Thomas] a death to one’s self.
“About [even] the very best of circumstances, the graced state of original justice, it is necessary to say that the meritorious renunciation of one’s own will and obedience to the precepts of God is the dynamic place where nature is itself, becomes itself, by being [completely] oblivious to [(s'ignorant)] itself. And this refusal to pay any heed [(ignorance)], this non-consideration, is crucifying. Similarly, the Annunciation is not the pacific scene that we tend to think. It is a pathetic scene over which there looms the shadow of an intimate death [to self]. . . .
“In brief, the supernatural object presented to the [open] structure of created spirit for either receipt-in-faith or rejection is an object that determines a theologal history, a history neither completely historienne nor completely natural, but a history [that is] very real [(ni tout à fait une histoire historienne et encore moins une histoire naturelle, mais une histoire bien réelle)]. This object set before the act of faith assisted by grace is therefore an opening structure, a structure that opens angelic and human nature up, in a manner analogous to the opening up of the earth by the plow, or the breaking up of ice by the bow of an icebreaker: ‘The only depths that are not at all deceitful, those that the Spirit himself hollows out in man, suppose the terrain of the faith common [to all]’, . . . for the objectivity of faith is the fit instrument under the action of which the intellect and will of man are turned up [like soil], aerated, reformed.”
Ph. Vallin, “Henri de Lubac et Saint Thomas d’Aquin: ouverture et structure en théologie,” Revue des sciences reigieuses 77, no. 2 (2003): 232-234, somewhat loosely rendered. Interesting, then, that according to de Lubac, as quoted by Imbelli, as quoted by R. R. Reno, "Humanism is not itself Christian. Christian humanism must be a converted humanism. There is no smooth transition from a natural to a supernatural love" (First things no. 244 (June/July 2014): 70).
This came to mind when I encountered Douglas Farrow on those who complain of "certain contrarieties in Irenaeus," of the tension between "a Pauline fall/restoration paradigm" and "his belief in deification and hence in progress" (Ascension and ecclesia (1999), 76). "would it not be better for us as modern theologians to abandon the older Pauline strand altogether" and allow "the evolutionary insight to develop freely" (76)? No, for "the ascension plainly entails a parting of the ways" (29), such that we must come to grips with a "distinction of history from history" that forces us to give up "the idea of a general ascent of man":
Irenaean theology cannot be recast in the mould of an orthogenetic evolutionary cosmology, because his doctrine of ascension in the flesh forbids it. Creation may indeed be a process, and the kingdom of God on the way, so to speak; but it is not on the way along our way. And if in the church 'we do now receive a certain portion of his Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God,' that is a gradualism which only serves to drive deeper the wedge between ecclesial man and the man of the world. It heightens, rather than diminishes, the eucharistic tension and the choice it thrusts upon us. For the church, as the bishop argues, finds itself caught up in a decisive clash between Jesus-history and apostate history. The ascension is followed not only by Pentecost but by a 'movement of the whole earth against the church,' an escalating conflict which will lead finally to an antichristic recapitulation, that is, to a hollow summing up of iniquity in a centre which cannot hold, issuing not upwards into the presence of God but downwards into darkness [(78)].For this reason we are presented with "a choice of histories" (77), the cross, and a world-affirming martyrdom. For Irenaeus is neither modern optimist nor gnostic pessimist:
The church, too, though inwardly united, must suffer a painful dissolution; its refusal to be assimilated by the world will provoke the world, attracting its enmity as well as its admiration. For in our place and time even Jesus brings division as well as communion, ruin as well as resurrection [(79)].
The church, since it belongs to him who ascended in the flesh, can neither agree with the world nor let go of it. It can only take up the cross and the offence of the cross, wrestling with the world to the bitter end in hope—a well-grounded hope—of redeeming the time [(80).At issue is therefore "the firm link which Irenaeus forges between the doctrine of the ascension and the doctrine of the cross":
The former does not negate the latter, as in gnosticism, but is all of a piece with it. Descent and ascent, as we have seen, constitute a twofold movement in the flesh and for the flesh. This movement involves a profound break with our world, but a break derived at every point from an even more profound affirmation of it. Repudiating not the fact of the world but its fashion, it reconstitutes the world in the pneumatic and eucharistic mode of being for which it has always been intended. Here then is an opposition of redemption to that which undermines or destroys creation. As an opposition of affirmation, however, it is a costly opposition, as the church through its participation in Christ is learning, and must continue to learn until the end of the age.
. . . The church he describes is not self-affirming but world-affirming; yet it is world-affirming only by choosing to be quite strictly itself, that is, by choosing the cross [(84)].