instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, April 16, 2007

What is presumed is not redeemed

Some people are just naturally better at something than other people. This is an utterly unremarkable remark when it comes to things like athletic and musical talent.

But there are also such things as "religious talents." Aren't some people just naturally better believers, hopers, and lovers than other people? Aren't some people simply inept when it comes to praying, or even just sitting through Mass?

Just as there are some people who aren't natural athletes, there are some who aren't natural saints. And --

Hold on.

Christianity isn't about "natural saints." In fact, it teaches that natural saints are nothing but clashing cymbals. Christianity is about supernatural saints, saints sanctified not as God made them but as Christ's blood makes them.

The fact that someone finds it naturally easy to say, "I believe everything the Church proposes as true," does not in itself guarantee that this is a person of great faith. This may be a person who would, in other circumstances, just as readily say, "I believe everything the Party proposes as true." Faith, salvific faith, is a supernaturally infused virtue, not a natural temperament to accept things on authority.

Grace perfects nature, as we all know, and I wonder whether there's an 80-20 rule that makes it harder for grace to perfect a more talented nature.

Let's say there are three people -- A, B, and C -- with different natural amounts of some talent useful to the Christian disciple. Docility, maybe, or recollectedness. Person A has hardly any of it, Person B has a decent amount, and Person C has, as far as anyone can tell, all he needs and then some.

It may never occur to Person C that his nature is lacking perfection. He may even go so far as to criticize Person A for lacking his own natural talent ("I dunno, I always get a lot out of that devotion.").

There are lots of possibilities open to Person A in this situation, too. He may recognize how far short he falls of perfection, and so pray all the more for the grace to achieve it. Or he may say, "What's wrong with me?," and despair. Clumsy people generally get used to the fact that they will never be professional dancers, but when you lack a talent that seems necessary to love God, you may well conclude that you aren't supposed to love God -- which can only mean that God doesn't love you.

(Person B, meanwhile, can feel complacent looking at A, zealous looking at C, and anywhere in between.)

Since they aren't salvific, those with natural religious talents must not be presumptuous -- of either their own perfection or of the imperfections of others -- and those without them must not be despairing.