“Beatitude is twofold: the first is ‘natural’ and the second is ‘supernatural.’”1
By force of repetition, certain historical errors become so habitual that they are hard to redress. So it is in the case of the interpretation of certain texts of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Take for example this text from the Summa theologiae:
Man is perfected by virtue, for those actions whereby he is directed to happiness, as was stated above (I-II, q. 5, a. 7). Now man’s beatitude or happiness is twofold (duplex hominis beatitudo), as was also stated above (I-II, q. 5, a. 5). One is proportionate to human nature, a happiness, to wit, which man can obtain by means of his natural principles. The other is a happiness surpassing man’s nature, and which man can obtain by the power of God alone, by a kind of participation of the Godhead.2
When the idea of “pure nature” was fully formulated, this text was one of those invoked in order to authorize—supposedly in the name of St. Thomas Aquinas himself—this new doctrine (la nouvelle doctrine) of a “purely natural order.” Doesn’t the duplex hominis beatitudo of which the Universal Doctor here speaks sanction two possible ends of humanity: one natural and due as a matter of “right,” and the other supernatural, given in the form of a divinely decreed gift?
This was the interpretation of Francisco Suárez, which he articulated in the pages of both his De Ultimo fine hominis,3 as well as his De Gratia.4 The beatitude proportionate to human nature (beatitudo proportionate humanae naturae) of which St. Thomas speaks is, for Suárez, a natural beatitude that man would have been able to attain had he been created without being ordered to a supernatural end (sine ordinatione ad finem supernaturalem). For in this case, as Suárez explains, “It would be necessary for man created in this way to have some natural beatitude that, if he so desires, he is able to attain” (homo sic conditus necessario habiturus esset aliquam beatitudinem naturalem, ad quam, si velit, possit pervenire). Like many before him, Père Victor Cathrein has reiterated the Suárezian interpretation in a recent article published in the Gregorianum.5 And more recently, Père Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange has made the new doctrine his own in his latest work, De Gratia.6
It seems clear to us, however, that this interpretation is incorrect.
Taken in isolation, this text (ST I-II, q. 62, a. 1) is not explicit enough to settle the debate. At the very least, however, we can say that this text does not lend itself to expressing the doctrine of two “orders” in the sense that we understand it today—unless, that is, we have presupposed the doctrine before we have sat down to read the text.
But there is more. If the text does not tell us precisely in what the double beatitude consists, then we are compelled to return to earlier passages—ut supra dictum est—, passages which inform us with all the clarity we might desire.
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