Henri de Lubac on “created grace”

Click to enlarge. "We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will." I saw this in one of the rooms of the Vatican Palace.


From what I understand, the criticism of the Catholic (Thomistic) doctrine of created grace is that it cedes too much to the nature and power of man in the process of sanctification. It also tends to reduce the role of the Holy Spirit once the habits of virtue/charity have been created. The Easterners are especially not happy about the second point, whereas us Protestants are especially not happy about the first point. I’m far from being an expert on the topic, so I’m far from any willingness to pronounce a firm judgment, one way or the other. I do like Henri de Lubac’s presentation of the doctrine, which surely mitigates some of the problems or at least points in that direction. The following is from A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace (Ignatius Press, 1984):

The supernatural, one might say, is that divine element which man’s effort cannot reach (no self-divinization!) but which unites itself to man, “elevating” him as our classical theology used to put it, and as Vatican II still says (Lumen Gentium, 2), penetrating him in order to divinize him, and thus becoming as it were an attribute of the “new man” described by St. Paul. While it remains forever “un-naturalizable,” it profoundly penetrates the depths of man’s being. In short, it is what the old Scholastics and especially St. Thomas Aquinas called (using a word borrowed from Aristotle which has often been completely misunderstood) an accident, or call it a habitus, or “created grace”: these are all different ways of saying (even if one thinks they need various correctives or precisions) that man becomes in truth a sharer in the divine nature (divinae consortes naturae; 2 Pet 1:4). We do not need to conceive of it as a sort of entity separated from its Source, something like cooled lava — which man would appropriate to himself. On the contrary, we wish to affirm by these words that the influx of God’s Spirit does not remain external to man; that without any commingling of natures it really leaves its mark on our nature and becomes in us a principle of life. This Scholastic notion of created grace, so often belittled today, does express the incontrovertible fact that “it is we, ourselves, and our creaturely being, which the active presence in us of the Spirit makes divine, without for that reason absorbing us and annihilating us in God” (Louis Bouyer, Le Père invisible, Paris: 1976, 288).

For St. Thomas, as Fr. Louis Bouyer explains,

the soul…will find its completeness and go beyond itself in God. Disagreeing with Peter Lombard, in fact, he would not admit that grace is purely and simply the gift of the Holy Spirit, of the Third Person of the Trinity as it is in itself…. He realized that if such were indeed the case, man would certainly be the temple of the Spirit, but not God’s living temple, vivified by the presence of its Guest who assimilates our life to his divine life. The uncreated grace of the gift of the Spirit, according to him, has its prolongation in the soul itself in created grace, i.e., a divine quality that assimilates the soul to God and makes it share in his own life. (Introduction à la vie spirituelle, Paris: Desclée, 1960, 154-55)

Grace is supernatural in the fundamental sense that it is superior to any created or creatable nature, but it is in no sense a “supernature.” It is, so to speak, a new “accident,” “hidden in and penetrating the substance of the soul and rendering it, as a soul, capable of living God’s own life, his divine life” (Ibid).

[A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace, pp. 41-42, 45-46]



  1. There’s an interesting quotation from Bouyer on Palamas here.

    By the way, do you know much about Andreas Osiander? Confessional Lutherans deem his soteriology aberrant, but I wonder how far it’d be welcomed in the East.

  2. The quote is interesting. I think my Reformed sensibilities make “participating in uncreated light” far less attractive than simply regenerating this creaturely life.

    I’ve never studied Osiander or heard much about him, but, trusting Wikipedia, he does seem to be rather Eastern (favoring infusion/indwelling, against imputation, as the ground of our righteousness before God).

  3. Calvin and Osiander had major issues.

    Created grace depersonalizes grace and makes it a quality that really is only a “Christian” reification of Aristotle’s habitus. I TA’d for a prof (and am still close with him) who researched the impact of created grace (in the theology of William Perkins), as he primarily focused his research on Richard Sibbes who offered a contrarian approach to the post-Reformed orthodox intellectualist/substantialist approach; of which “created grace” plays a central role. “Affective Theology” is the alterantive offered by someone like Sibbes, which focuses on an “Affective anthropology” wherein the “heart” (in a tripartite faculty psychology schema) is the defining feature of man. This eschews the intellectualist/substantialist approach that sees the intellect/will as the defining features of man; wherein created grace can play a central role which enables elect humanity to cooperate with God by habituating in the spiritual disciplines thus appropriating eternal life (this fits nicely with a covenant of works schema, and Law based God).

    Much more to be said, but I’m done 🙂 .

    • Thanks, Bobby. That helps clarify my own thoughts/concerns. I’m going through Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics right now, so I’ll be interested to see what he has on the topic.

  4. From what little I know of all this, de Lubac was certainly allergic to the strict separation of the natural and the supernatural but rather saw the former as sacramentally connected to the latter—i.e., the former points to and shares in the latter, but doesn’t exhaust it. The latter is indeed a superior reality.

    In the snippet you posted, it appears de Lubac doesn’t consider his presentation to be at odds with the old scholastics, right?

    • Yes, that’s right. De Lubac, along with Etienne Gilson, believed that the medieval scholastics never presumed a strict separation between nature and grace, reason and faith, the created and the supernatural. Such a strict division came after Descartes and resulted in a separate teleology of natural man, distinct from God’s revealed end for man.

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