Nature, history, and participation : the contribution of Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of original sin to a contemporary debate
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Contemporary debate over the interrelations of nature, history, and participation reveal significant faultlines in theology broadly aligned with the Catholic tradition. In particular, works by Henri de Lubac, Lawrence Feingold, and John Milbank reveal that the concept of human nature remains a source of considerable debate. De Lubac’s work unsettled many of the metaphysical assumptions which had defined Catholic thought in the earlier twentieth century, and Feingold and Milbank represent strongly divergent responses to his theological inheritance. Analysing the distinctions of these thinkers reveals disagreements on four themes: the relation of nature and history, the orientation of nature to God, the structure of nature as a unity, and the participation of nature in God (part 1). The thought of Thomas Aquinas, a significant source for each of these thinkers, reveals new connections in this debate, particularly when approached through his understanding of the doctrine of original sin. Aspects of Thomas’ account, particularly when contrasted with those of his near-contemporaries Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus, reveal the significance of history as qualifying Thomas’ understanding of human existence (part 2). Discussing the workings and ends of the human intellect and will in this light reveals further elements of historicity built in to Thomas’ understanding of the orientation and structure of human nature (part 3). On this basis, it is possible to reconcile significant emphases in the theologies of de Lubac and Feingold; however, Milbank’s vision of a cosmos inherently participating in deification remains at odds with Thomas’ recognition of limitation and finitude as irreducible aspects of participation in God through a history as yet only directed to, not yet participating in, its eschatological fulfilment (conclusion).
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2025-02-10
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 10th February 2025
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