Volume 85, Issue 1, Winter 2011
Christopher Cullen, S.J.
Bonaventure on Nature before Grace
A Historical Moment Reconsidered
This essay investigates Bonaventure’s account of the original state of human nature and his reasons for holding the theory that God created human beings
without grace in an actual, historical moment. Bonaventure argues that positing a historical moment before grace is more congruent with the divine order, precisely because it emphasizes the distinction between nature and grace and delays the conferral of grace until man’s desire is elicited and his willingness to cooperate in the divine plan made clear. Bonaventure incorporates Aristotle’s teleological view of nature into his thought while managing to avoid a view of nature as autonomous. He grounds nature’s heteronomy in the exigencies of natural desires, which dispose our nature to remain radically and intrinsically orderable to a good that transcends those natural powers (albeit not actually so ordered). Bonaventure’s theory thus affirms the integrity of nature, while also emphasizing the total gratuity of grace. He thinks human nature is suspended between its own finitude and a radical capacity for the transcendent that waits upon divine agency.