Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grace Builds on Nature

Mark P. Shea

In his Letters to an American Lady, on November 10, 1952, C. S. Lewis wrote:
I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes. I would even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity: how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than with a wretched liberalising, occidentalised specimen of the same categories.

I think Lewis has a point. One of the things our faith teaches us is that grace builds on nature — that God begins with the human “raw material” He creates and, if you will, co-creates us via the risky business of giving us free will. Accordingly, human beings have spread out across the globe in a vast array of cultures (including religious cultures) that respond to Christ in a vast assortment of ways. (And yes, if Paul on the Areopagus has anything to teach us, it is that non-Christians, when they respond to the “light that lightens every man,” are, in some sense, responding to Christ, though very imperfectly. If it were not so, Paul would have told pagans to abandon their pursuit of the Unknown God, not identified the Unknown God as Jesus Christ [Acts 17].)

Within the Catholic communion, in which the fullness of Christ’s revelation subsists, we see a host of different sorts of spirituality and piety. A Franciscan is not a Dominican is not a Jesuit is not Carmelite, but all are Catholic (giving rise to a host of Catholic intramural jokes, such as the interview I once saw with a Franciscan who noted that “Dominicans are great preachers and Jesuits are brilliant, but when it comes to humility we’re tops”).
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