In the section on Protestantism in Part III of my Josias essay on religious liberty, I tried to understand the Protestant view of nature and grace. Given the emphasis on grace in Protestant soteriology I used to assume that they would probably underestimate the goodness of nature and the extent to which it is preserved and restored by grace. But going to a Calvinist conference a few years ago I realized that this was not actually what they do. It was only through reading my friends at The Calvinist International though that I came to see that they in fact do virtually the opposite. Peter Escalante’s essay “Two Ends or Two Kingdoms?” shows with great clarity that to the Reformers grace merely restores nature without elevating it. Escalante is an alumnus of my alma mater and knows Catholic theology quite well, and I think his presentation both of my side and of his is accurate. As his colleague, Steven Wedgeworth, points out, our disagreements are not on what the positions are, but on which one is right.
They would however, take issue with my favorable citation of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. My defense of Gregory’s in my last post contrasts with Escalante’s attack on it. I agree with Escalante that Gregory is a bit simplistic in some parts. Particularly (and this is a point that Escalante could have made more of) Gregory misunderstands Reformer’s doctrine of the two kingdoms. Gregory makes the visible kingdom too secular, thinking that Luther would not mind it being run in an un-Christian manner. But the Reformers actually thought that the visible kingdom too is subject to God, and should be ordered in manner pleasing to him (the distinction is that God’s rule is unmediated in the invisible, but mediated in the visible kingdom). Nevertheless, I would agree with Gregory that the Reformers two kingdom teaching was a condition (not a cause) of the Enlightenment idea of the secular state.
Escalante argues that the Catholic nature/supernature distinction implies an ungrateful contempt for God’s creation. But I would actually argue the opposite; the contemptus mundi of the ascetic actually allows for a more perfect appreciation of the beauty of nature, because it allows for a greater detachment from it. As St John of the Cross says, “He has greater joy and comfort in creatures if he detaches himself from them; and he can have no joy in them if he considers them as his own.” And as Garrigou-Lagrange puts it in commenting on that text: “St. Francis of Assisi enjoyed the landscapes of Umbria incomparably more than the proprietors of those lands, who were busy making them materially fructify to the greatest possible extent.” Or (one might add) than those industrious Protestants analyzed by Max Weber.