Austin and I were discussing earlier today, as he is reading James K. A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, whether or not RO’s view of Grace is valid. Basically, Milbank and Co. tend to view grace through the lens of Henri De Lubac – what I tend to see as the classic Thomistic approach. In St. Thomas’s own words, “grace doesn’t destroy nature, but perfects nature”. Essentially, Grace is, here, a superadditum, an addition, a perfection of a nature that is already graced. This is the key to De Lubac’s whole theology: Not only is Grace utterly gratuitous, but Nature is as well! There is no separation between nature and grace, because creation (nature) is simply another gift from God. This concept is typically used to portray man as having a natural inclination towards God. However, this is quite different from a Schleiermachian liberalism, for nature, and man’s inclination towards God, is itself a gift from God.
Now that I’ve explained the way I understand De Lubac and, consequently, Milbank’s project, allow me to show where I am uncomfortable with this position. My main contention with this view is that it places grace within nature. As far as I understand the biblical theme, creation is graced only in the sense that God oversees it. God upholds nature by His almighty power. Too often, RO digresses to utilizing Neo-Platonic language (Smith devotes a considerable amount of time explaining why the theological idea of participation needs to be interpreted through the concept of methexis) in order to make sense of how nature is graced ontologically. Instead, I believe grace should be understood as an interruption into a nature that is fallen; a nature that’s original position of “graced” has been corrupted.
With the sin in the garden, God’s original covenant with Adam was broken, and the status of creation went from “graced” to “fallen”. It is God’s upholding of creation through His Word that gives nature its status as graced – nature is not infused within grace corporeally (you can see where the Catholic/Protestant divide is in this debate). Grace is not a band-aid that fixes nature, but a total invasion of the Triune Life into the void of human (as well as universal) existence. Therefore, Grace is not a created substance (or accidents, if you’re really Thomistic), for God Himself is Grace (Grace is revealed, not created). When Grace enters in, nature is not destroyed, but made completely new. As long as we see grace as thoroughly covenantal, and not metaphysical, then we will be able to understand that even man’s original dependence upon God didn’t originate in himself. It was God’s promise of beneficence to His good creation that kept it (and us) from decay. Otherwise, Grace becomes necessary, and therefore, not grace; as an already graced nature is in need of a fix-me-up.