Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grace Elevating Nature, Heaven Legitimizing Earth

In the Modern Reformation article entitled "Church or Political Action Committee?", Michael Horton contrasts the Reformed position concerning the church's role in society with that of Catholicism. He writes:

"In its doctrine of creation, Rome ranges reality on a hierarchy of being. As a consequence, human beings are consituted hierarchically, with the rational spirit at the top of the ladder, animal soul somewhere in the middle, and the body at the bottom. This hierarchy plays itself out in Christendom, with the pope at the highest rung, followed by the magisterium, the priesthood, monks, and the laity, with its own sociopolitical hierarchy of emperor, nobility, gentlemen, and serfs."
The Catholic position with respect to the relationship of the sacred to the secular, according to Horton, is rooted in the Church's "scale of being" ontology. He continues:

"In Rome's view, the purpose of grace is to elevate nature toward the supernatural--away from the lower self (the body with its senses and emotions) toward union with God. The married life is good, but the celibate life is better; the state is legitimate, but only because it participates in the divine grace of the church; the active life of the laity is acceptable, but the contemplative life of the monk or the spiritual service of the priest is better."
Contrariwise, Reformed theology teaches that the "dualism" that Scripture highlights is ethical (sin /grace) and eschatological (earth/heaven) rather than ontological (body/spirit). The result of this is the idea that God is sovereignly exercising lordship over this world by means of divinely-ordained institutions like the state without the need to transform the state or legitimize it with a holy errand or identity.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on this issue. While I am very familiar with the Reformed view on these matters, I would like to hear if the Catholic view does indeed see a connection between "grace elevating nature" and "church validating state" or "heaven legitimizing earth."