I have been involved in a bit of discussion surrounding the issue of nature and grace (you can find that discussion here).This is a significant discussion relative to understanding and articulating soteriological viewpoints. There is a symmetry between how one defines sin (nature, anthropology,etc.), and grace. If we merely define sin as a “wounding” then we will define grace as corollary, as a first aid kit — something to heal nature or sin. Thomas Aquinas viewed sin this way:
. . . In the original integrated state of man reason controlled our lower powers perfectly and God perfected the reason subordinated to him. This state was lost to us by Adam’s sin, and the resulting lack of order among the powers of our soul that incline us to virtue we call a wounding of nature. Ignorance is a wound in reasons response to truth, wickedness in will’s response to good; weakness wounds the response of our aggressive emotions to challenge and difficulty, and disordered desire our affections’ reasonable and balanced response to pleasure. All sins inflict these four wounds blunting reasons’ practical sense, hardening the will against good, increasing the difficulty of acting well and inflaming desire. (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summ Theologiae A Concise Translation,” 1)
Scripture makes clear, contra Aquinas, that sin is more than a wounding; but death relative to man’s relationship with God. Paul says in Ephesians 2: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, … but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. In other words, sin is more than a wounding in our natures that needs to be restored. If this were the case then Jesus would not have had to condemn sin in his flesh (see Romans 8: 3 ff); making us new creations in the first fruits of His resurrection. There was nothing to repair or as Aquinas says: “… grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it, …” nature must be reshaped by grace which is personified by Christ, and applied by the Holy Spirit (Augustine’s donum).
We are not completed or perfected by grace, we are changed and made new by God’s grace. Augustine did not hold to a form of grace that Aquinas later articulated, rather he affirmed a view of grace that held to man’s desperate need for God’s foreign righteousness. My next post will discuss Augustine’s perspective further. By the way, if nature can be perfected by grace, then what are we supposed to reckon as dead unto Christ (see Romans 6)?