Odium theologicum — the ill-feeling and nasty polemics to which theological controversy can give rise—is in short supply. I don’t mean ordinary nastiness in disagreements over religion. I mean the high panache of distinguished theologians going at one another. Reinhard Hütter of Duke Divinity School offers a robust example in the theological journal Nova et Vetera. He is provoked by an attack by John Milbank, prefect of a school of thought self-dubbed Radical Orthodoxy, on a book by Lawrence Feingold in which Feingold defends traditional Thomist teaching on nature and grace. Milbank said Feingold’s argument is “arch-reactionary,” “paleolithic,” and dependent on exegetical methods “much like that of the proof-texting of a Protestant fundamentalist.” This gets Hütter up to speed: “The associations seem to be all too clear to leave any doubt about the purpose of such antecedent rhetorical disqualification. Anyone willing seriously to consider Feingold’s arguments (and for that matter Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s interpretation of Thomas Aquinas), by the sheer dynamic of the connotations entailed, must be a supporter of the Spanish Inquisition, a defender of the Papal States, and an admirer of the Franco, Vichy, and Pinochet regimes in addition to anything else implied by association as arch-reactionary. It is sad to see such an astute and critical mind as Milbank’s submit in such as unnuanced and uncritical way to the thoroughly modern political geography of ‘left’ and ‘right’ in order to situate and prejudice matters doctrinal and theological, a habit, surely by now as widespread in contemporary theology as it is thoughtless, and achieving nothing else than comfortably condemning matters of theological enquiry and discourse to the Procrustean bed of a policing political correctness and hence of the final domestication of matters ecclesial and theological under the extrinsically superimposed rubrics of political liberalism.” Whew, that felt good. In truth, Hütter’s article is substantive, incisive, and persuasive, and I recommend it to the theologically minded. What you will not learn from the article, and what he had no reason to mention, is that Hütter is a former Lutheran who became Catholic a few years ago, and what he does not come right out and say in the article is that the traditional understanding of Thomas Aquinas on nature and grace is essential to what the sixteenth-century Reformers, at their best, meant by sola gratia.
Reinhard Hütter. "Desiderium Naturale Visionis Dei—Est autem duplex hominis beatitudo sive felicitas: Some Observations about Lawrence Feingold’s and John Milbank’s Recent Interventions in the Debate over the Natural Desire to See God." 81-132. Nova Et Vetera Vol 5, Issue 1 - Winter 2007.