Human Life and the Divine Life


The article presented here was originally written by the Dominican priest Fr. Ambroise Gardeil, O.P. (1859-1931). Fr. Gardeil was a professor at the house of formation for the French Dominican Province at the turn of the twentieth century (from 1884 to 1911), thereafter spending a number of years in various apostolic (and intellectual) activities while living at the Dominican priory in Paris. During his time as a professor, he wrote a variety of books and articles on theological methodology, including the books La crédibilité et l’apologétique and Le donné révélé et la théologie, along with his briefer La notion du lieu théologique and La certitude probable.1 As he entered the later period of his labors, his work increasingly focused on questions of spiritual theology, most famously giving birth to his two-volume masterpiece on mystical experience, La structure de l’âme et l’expérience mystique. Several of his briefer spirituality volumes have been translated into English as well: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Dominican Saints, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life, and Christ-Consciousness.2

Because of his role as an intellectual formator in the Dominican order, Fr. Gardeil was of influence on a number of twentieth-century figures in the Thomistic world. His combat against theological modernism, his work in apologetic theology, and his writings in spiritual theology were of great influence upon the conservative Thomistic theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. who always cites Fr. Gardeil with warmth, even when he disagrees upon some small point (a rare occurrence). The layman-philosopher Jacques Maritain read Fr. Gardeil’s works with great interest and ensured that a posthumous work, La vraie vie chrétienne, a synthesis of Thomistic spiritual and moral theology, was published soon after Gardeil’s death. (This text is slated to be published in English by the Catholic University of America Press.) It was even the case that more progressive theologians like Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P. would draw inspiration from Fr. Gardeil’s turn-of-century works on theological methodology (though, in the translator’s opinion, Fr. Gardeil is intellectually much closer to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange and Maritain than to Fr. Chenu).

The article presented here is a translation of Fr. Gardeil’s, “Vie humaine et vie divine,” published on April 10, 1927 in Revue des Jeunes (p. 5-17). In it, Fr. Gardeil basically summarizes much of the lengthy first volume of La structure de l’âme et l’expérience mystique, dedicated to the problem of the “receptive subject of grace,” though without directly informing his reader that he is dealing with such difficult and technical matters. The article is a beautiful reflection on the way that the human soul, precisely considered in its loftiest spiritual capacities, is fit for receiving the supernatural gift of grace. In the history of theology, discussion surrounding this subject has given rise to great controversies among the various theological schools which traditionally marked out the world of Roman Catholic theology: Thomists, Suareizans, Scotists, Nominalists, and other smaller branches. The topic engages all of the great themes of nature and grace, reason and faith, the natural order and the supernatural order, and the whole issue of man’s natural desire to see God. In short, it engages the question of the hoary scholastic notion of “obediential potency”: in what way can we say that human nature is open to the reception of grace, which itself must remain a free, supernatural gift coming from God and surpassing the natural order in all ways?3

As any theologian will tell you, this is a dreadfully important topic for many various sub-branches of theological investigation: theological anthropology, the theology of grace, Christology, soteriology, mystical theology, moral theology, etc.4 As Fr. Gardeil’s own nephew, Fr. Henri-Dominique, summarizes, drawing on notes left behind in Fr. Ambroise Gardeil’s estate:

This question was the object of a very special predilection on the part of Fr. [Ambroise] Gardeil, for he perceived that it not only contains what one could call a “theoretical interest,” but also contains the very meaning of our human life [la valeur de vie]. An entire drama plays out in this question concerning obediential potency, an issue that seems so technical! Let our nature not be open to the divine [life]: then, the latter will never be able adapt itself to our nature, except in an external manner. Thus, we will not be Children of God and we will not be those who live as Children of God. Let the desire for the divine be included [in our nature] as a positive demand for this divine [life] and, behold: the “gratuity” that is so essential to the Gift of God will thus be compromised. No! We must simultaneously hold that our nature has a fundamental capacity for the divine [life] (and even that our nature would remain in some manner incomplete without it) and yet, also, that our nature remains an utter beggar in relation to the supernatural order. This is the source of a lesson in humility that Fr. Gardeil loved to draw from the consideration of this fundamental poverty of our natural being, an ontological poverty that places the “gratuity” of grace in such a beautiful light. However, this poverty is nonetheless the poverty of a nature that is not opposed to being begotten to the life of a child of God, and this is why our soul’s cry of humility will very quickly transform into a hymn of hope: “I will sing and I will be concerned with the spotless way when you come to me, O My God” (Ps. 100[101]:1–2).5

It is very easy to get lost in all of the technical precisions involved in this important topic. I have benefitted much from the reading of Fr. Gardeil over the years, and I agree with the appellation given to him by the French philosopher Yves R. Simon: “The Great Gardeil.”6 In this essay, Fr. Gardeil presents us with an edifying account of “obediential potency” without ever using the dry and dusty word. Without allowing technicality to overwhelm the reader, he shows how the loftiest part of our soul is open to the new life of grace, which in fact gives us infinitely more than we could ever desire merely by nature alone. I hope that this essay, which is a little bit dated in its rhetoric and references can, nonetheless, give you some small edification through its beautiful communication of a perennially important truth. 

Text of Article

Man the animal — this beast who nonetheless does not cease to have intellectual sight, bellua videns, as St. Augustine calls him7 — is so easily deluded concerning his life’s meaning.

He looks upon a captivating sight: his spirit transfigures the material world as he seeks out his own, properly human ends, and he likewise accomplishes marvels through his sciences and arts, in his industry and civilizations. Yet all of these accomplishments are, nonetheless, only kinds of splashes of the human spirit as it shapes the material world. Struck by this vision, man comes to hold that these products are the ultimate raison d’être of his life as a man. Therefore, he imagines that his spirit, bound to his body in both life and death, exhausts the full breadth of its fecundity in these creations and that they represent the ultimate, short-lived goal of human life.8

It is as though the sun, which gilds the clouds with its fiery glow, did not continue its radiant course after passing over the horizon! What fools such men are, not understanding that a spirit’s goal cannot be merely to perfect the material world which is inferior and external to him, but rather, can only be discovered by making use of it, so that he may feed himself with food that has nothing in common with matter. Woe unto those who are unconscious of their true nature, men who, in the words of St. Augustine, take pleasure in the signs that God makes for them, without caring to know what these signs, nonetheless, are destined to make known to those who experience them!9

For, in fact, if we were but willing to return to the deep sources of our life, we would quickly realize that we are chiefly spirits. The earthly matrix surrounding us is fissured: spirit pierces it throughout, on all sides. This great fact concerning who we are, the very fabric of man’s life, is experienced when the spirit that dwells within us makes itself known.

Indeed, in spite of the idols in which man embodies all of these great values, what gives him the great impulse and tenacity which he has for Truth and Science, for Good and Virtue, for Rights and Justice, for Progress toward Perfection, and for the dignity of the Work by which he strives after it? On his lips, they sound like divine entities! Is matter what thinks that this is the case? No, indeed not! As we are all too aware, matter is affixed and confined, along with its inflexible properties and its ever-particular instincts, in the corner of being to which it is riveted, be it inorganic or living. By contrast, something different springs forth from our being: the Absolute, the Universal, that which is true, in fact, in all times and places, or, rather, independent of and, as it were, above all times and places!

What is this sovereign domination that man strives to exercise over material nature without ever confessing that there is a limit to his inventions? What is this independence from the mechanical unfolding of material forces, an independence which enables him to dominate them and to bring forth a continuous stream of new creations? Is all of this merely progress in the line of animality? Cast but a glance over our alleged ancestors: their herds still have the lowly bearing that they had in the days when the cavemen walked the earth. Animality: that is where progress is lacking! Humanity is where we find the incessant budding and flowering of new progress! Quite clearly, two different generative principles are operative at the foundation of these two orders. To wish to draw one out of the other would be a ridiculous challenge, one of those “funny little jokes,” spoken of by Bonnetière. Since mechanical causality is the law of matter, freedom must come from another source which is not matter. It can only come from spirit.10

But what, now, is this new boldness, claiming to urge onward the domination of spirit over matter to the point of making it express what is proper to the spirit, the Absolute? Stone and marble, color and sound, all of these are animated by the pressure exercised by forces which they did not themselves harbor within their own power, forces which they were unaware of, forces which were totally foreign to them. And here, [in the arts,] this coarse matter has become the interpreter of the spirit, speaking to man about the noblest contents of his thoughts and of his heart. Even more, by an incredible and unexpected reversal, matter has come to arouse him from spiritual torpor and becomes the apostle to the masses, for whom art is the only available means for elevating their thoughts to the Absolute, to the superior and universal domain of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True. And what about the Moses of Michelangelo, the Angels of Fra Angelico, matter which has indeed evolved! But while you are at it, take up your magnifying glass, and count, as a striped guard [garde gallonée] invites you to do, the [painted] points whose carefully-scaled interrelations materially constitute the shape of the radiant figures which are the precious marvel seen at the Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges, and then declare in plain words that Memling11 is the name of a stippling machine [which would have mechanically dotted these paintings with its points].

And we have not yet passed into the sanctuary of man’s inner life, his moral life, his conscience! Whatever the deviations of our conduct and the deformations of our ideals conscience’s struggle against the flesh is the great fact of human existence. Man is divided, as it were, into two domains, one “governed” and the other dominating (or seeking to become such).12 What is the meaning of this “empire of the Best” fixed at the center of our earthly, shifting lives? A great man once said, “What could matter do to tame his passions?”13 But then, if this great fact is not explained by matter, imprisoned as it is in the network of physical laws and of animal instincts which push onward in line with these laws, to what shall we turn in order to justify it, if not to that which is not matter, to that which, in order to tame it, has freed itself from it, “separated in order to command it,” as old Anaxagoras claims. In short, we thus must turn to the Absolute and, therefore, to the spirit, which conceives it and nourishes itself upon it.

And, if this must be so for the simple, ordinary struggle of daily life, what will we say about the sublime moral heights reached by “the empire of the Best” among the elite of humanity? For example, what is the source of the heroic love of Duty, this willingness to die, which in days past, in the midst of shared peril, led multitudes to sacrifice themselves,14 along with what was dearest to each of them? What is it that thus raises man’s heart to this sublime state, a heart so full of trepidation and of attachment to comfort? To despise life, to want to no longer exist on earth, to accept the duty to die as a kind of absolute — is not all of this superhuman? And yet, this inspiration comes forth from us; it dwells within us! What an obvious proof that our nature surpasses its earthbound limitations! What a mark of spirit within us!

And here, we really should bring forward the marvels witnessed in great Christian lives, which are nonetheless also human lives, lived by superior beings who, in the willed obscurity and silence which is called humility, routinely [d’une manière coutumière], following the example of the regular laws of nature, carry out the purest morals, the loftiest acts of contemplation, sometimes the most painful self-immolations, in the most sacrificial service for all those who are destitute and forgotten. Such men courageously accept often-atrocious sorrows in their lives and spend their days in passionate worship of the Perfect One. Are not the saints an incomparable demonstration of the existence and reign of the spirit in humanity? Indeed! Was the heart of someone like Saint Vincent de Paul nothing more than that wrinkled and withered muscle that the pilgrim worships in a dark corner of the ancient cathedral of Lyon? And were the ashes thrown by a soldier’s hand one night into the waters of the Seine the whole of our national heroine, with her vibrant aftershocks and immortal accents [serait-ce le tout de notre héroïne nationale, aux répliques vibrantes, aux accents immortels]?

No, indeed! Every being is known through its activity. You who boast that the soul cannot be found at the tip of your scalpel, in the corpse where it is indeed no longer to be found, what means do you employ when you strive to know the specific nature of this or that material being which you so carefully examine? Do you not observe that being’s own activities? You look to see how it reacts to stimuli, exercising its agency, and then, immediately, you say that it has revealed itself. Suffer us to do the same for man. As we have seen, his own proper and specific activity is to place some reflection of the Absolute into all things. To put it another way, he strives to take up that which is true independent of all matter and of all material conditioning, thereby placing it in all times and in all places, not only those which exist here and now but, indeed, in all that would ever be possible. Now, how could the inner energy producing such a phenomenon be material to any degree whatsoever? Should it not be independent of and separated [abstraite] from the matter that is united to it, just like the activity that it produces, the Absolute that it brings forth? Without a doubt, at its depths, man’s life is the life of a spirit, the life of a being who has a sense for the Absolute. In short, it is the life of a mens, a nous, a spiritual mind. And this spirit, which has a capacity for the Absolute Itself, by seeking to find places wherein to lodge the Absolute within the bodily life that is joined to it and within the sensible universe with which it is brought into contact through this bodily life, “stirs up this entire mass,” so that it may transfigure it and raise it, to the degree that this is possible, to the level of the Absolute.

However, there is a still more sublime activity for this tendency towards the Absolute which characterizes man as a whole, though it finds its explanation solely in the spiritual consistency of his soul.15

As St. Paul famously wrote to the Christians in Rome, through the visible creation, the invisible reality of God is made visible to our intelligence. With these words, the Apostle is merely expressing a fact of universal experience, namely, that when man considers the universe and acts in accord with the natural [normal] movement of his intellectual nature, he finds that he guesses, feels, and indeed proclaims that there is a God, whether through a kind of vague intuition or a quick and almost-immediate inference by his intellect, which, through the contingency of things, rises to the necessity and active presence of an Absolute Being. Indeed, this fact is too universal an occurrence in humanity in all times and places for the morbid, temporary, and overblown excrescence that is atheism to obscure this evidence.16

As a great naturalist himself pointed, merely reflecting on the facts which he experimentally observed: man is a religious animal. Indeed, here we have what distinguishes him from all animals, just as much as does reason, which has religion itself as its supreme natural undertaking. Animals have no more religion than they have reason, whereas the human spirit, by its very nature, stretches out, not only towards the Absolute which it encounters through its concepts, but even beyond this, towards the Real Absolute which it discovers to exist above itself. Its innate state is marked by this upward ascent, “gradus ad superna,” as St. Augustine said. And in the words of the poet Ovid, “Os homini sublime dedit, cœlumque tueri jussit. He gave man an upright countenance and commanded him to look to the heavens.”

However, here we merely have a universally-held sentiment.17 Applying all of his faculties to the interpretation of the universe, including to the interpretation of this world of the Absolute which he touches upon through his ideas, the superior man, the Wise Man, homo sapiens, by means of a demonstration which is as correct as — and, indeed, more demanding than — those which provide him with true and certain results in the most exact sciences, finds anew what this sentiment had hinted at to the throngs of humanity. He demonstrates the existence of God. Here, we have the final undertaking which can be exercised by the human spirit, pushing onward to the liminal edges of its capacities. Using all of its great energies for objective observation and its powers of interpretation, it thus finds, here at its own summits, an Infinite that surpasses it.

Whether through instinct or [demonstrative] reasoning the Divine Absolute enters into the sphere of man’s mental powers to adhere to reality, this entrance must give rise to a new orientation for the whole of his being. Behind man’s intelligence, love is always on the lookout. The thought that there is a Being who would substantially realize the absolute richness of being, truth, and especially, of goodness (which exercises its attraction already by filtering through our loftiest acculturated notions, moving man from his utter depths), inevitably provokes in the person who discovers this Being a natural desire to pass beyond the knowledge he has of Him by His effects. Thus, man comes to desire to know Him directly, as He is in Himself.

Now, this is, in fact, something which is impossible for our human mind, which must pass through conceptions which are intermingled with matter in order for it to conceive the Absolute. The very idea that we fashion concerning God, concerning what He is in and for us, the very idea which begets our desire to see Him, does not bestow Him upon us. Rather, all that it gives us is the humanized form in which we can know Him, apparentia eius, as a Master once said with a melancholic tone in his voice. We perceive Him as the terminus of the universe, especially of our intellect and will, of our whole superior being. We do not perceive Him in His own formal character, a vision which is reserved for those who see Him face-to-face. Therefore, our desire, which is inflexibly dependent on our knowledge, does not tend towards Him as He is in Himself but, rather, towards Him in accord with the idea that we fashion concerning Him. Thus, our loftiest desire is ultimately marked with a kind of inadequacy. And here is a second: our natural desire for the fulfillment of our being in the vision of God is neither efficacious, nor can it demand to be fulfilled. It is only a kind of optative wish inscribed upon our nature, one which, at the height of its most authentic development, fixes and brandishes an expectation which would not like to be frustrated. If knowledge of God through His effects is the final undertaking exercised by our reason in its search for the Absolute, this desire by man’s whole being, tending towards the inaccessible Deity, is the supreme posture revealed by man’s natural history.18 What an astonishing paradox! This is impossible. It is not cut to my dimensions. And I am well aware of the fact. Still, I desire this impossible thing, or, more exactly, I would like to be able to have it. And my nature is what compels me to desire it so.

However, perhaps this is not as impossible as it seems? Nonetheless, from the perspective of man’s active capacities and energies for realization, it is impossible.

He who, by His very essence, is the Absolute is beyond our grasp. We conceive of Him only as He is reflected in that which is His image. We desire Him only from the perspective of this appearance, and even then, only do so only by a simple velleity, a mere wish. But, all the same, this natural attitude of man, bristling with an impossible wish, proves something: at the very least, it proves that there is nothing contrary to our nature in the claim that this wish could be realized, though this is something utterly inconceivable to our mind and impossible for our own energies. Hence, if we cannot, by ourselves, bring about the realization of the Ideal that we glimpse, is it not, however, possible that we could receive it?19

But what would we need in order to receive it? The Absolute must take the first step. Can He do so? Does He will to do so? Now, if He is Self-subsistent Being in its totality, He is Goodness by His very essence. He is also the Omnipotent One. In fact, all perfections are found in Him, pushed to infinity. What will limit His power? Only His will. However, does not the presence of such a desire in our nature already give us a clear indication concerning His All-Wise will? He is the one who placed this desire within us; therefore, it is in His intimate depths, in Himself, in the words of St. Augustine, “apud se,” that He proposes to satisfy it. Thus, only one thing can limit His will: His wisdom. God cannot will what contradicts His wisdom. He cannot will contradictions in His works. Now, what would a contradiction look like for this nature that God has created? I see one case that will serve as an example: if God gave an object, a transcendent goal, such as conceiving the Absolute, to a nature (e.g., an animal nature) which He made expressly to exercise its activity solely within the kingdom of matter and contingent objects. A contradiction would be realized were He to offer the Absolute as an object to an animal, demanding that it conceive Perfection, Right, Justice, Truth, and so forth. In the words of the Gospel, this would be to throw pearls before swine.

However, as we have seen, man differs from the beast in this regard. He is not opposed to the prospect of conceiving, to the degree that he can, the Absolute, even the Divine Absolute. Much to the contrary, his nature compels him to desire to know Him as He is in Himself [le connaître en lui-même]. And in this, he speaks his last word and finds the ultimate foundation for his right self-order. As we said, this proves (to the degree that our own, deficient investigations could carry us toward proving it) that nothing in our nature stands in opposition to the possibility of the vision of God face-to-face. And so, as far as we can understand, the Omnipotent will of God is not held back and diverted by His Wisdom in the case of man. If man has nothing in himself which makes the vision of God possible, if, in relation to it, he lacks not only the energy which would enable him to grasp this object but also lacks this very object, he nonetheless has the capacity to obey the divine initiative and to receive from God the efficacious capacities which will elevate him to the lofty heights of the vision of God.

There you have it! The human mind has a capacity for receiving God. Of itself, it is not capable of knowing Him face-to-face. However, it is the naturally receptive subject in whom, by God’s own power, this vision can be realized. And since such knowledge of God is, in fact, God’s very life, indeed, His life in the strongest sense of the term, the human mind is a receptive subject — one that, without a doubt, is finite, though nonetheless truly suited — for the communication of the Divine Life, the very life that God lives to an infinite degree. In short, human life and the Divine Life are made to be united.

  1. He also published a number of articles on a variety of topics, including a multi-article consideration of the way one can incorporate evolutionary theory into Thomistic metaphysics, many entries in the famous (and very scholarly) Dictionnaire théologie catholique, along with a series of articles on the way that human moral agency bears witness to the existence of God. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange thought very highly of these latter articles. At the time of Fr. Gardeil’s death, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange remarked that the articles should be published as a stand-alone volume. For the full bibliography of Fr. Gardeil’s works, see H.-D. Gardeil, “Le Père Ambroise Gardeil (1859–1931),” Bulletin thomiste, October 1931, 69*–92*. Also see Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “In memoriam: Le Père A. Gardeil,” Revue thomiste 64 (1931): 797-808; H.-D. Gardeil, L’oeuvre théologique du Père Ambroise Gardeil (Paris: Soisy-sur-Seine, 1956).
  2. See Ambroise Gardeil, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Dominican Saints, trans. Anselm Townsend (Cluny Media, 2017); also, see Ambroise Gardeil, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life (London: Blackfriars, 1953); Ambroise Gardeil, O.P., Christ-Consciousness (London: Blackfriars, 1954).
  3. An excellent introduction to a number of the relevant themes involved in this topic can be found in the second half of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Sense of Mystery: Clarity and Obscurity in the Intellectual Life, trans. Matthew K. Minerd (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Academic, 2017).
  4. For a feeling of the importance of the topic, see Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters, 2nd ed. (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2010); Surnatural: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought, ed. Serge-Thomas Bonino (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007); Steven A. Long, Natura Pura (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010).
  5. Ambroise Gardeil, La vraie vie chrétienne, ed. H.-D. Gardeil (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1935), 9–10.
  6. See Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon, Correspondance, vol. 1 (Les années françaises, 1927–1940), ed. Florian Michel (Paris: CLD, 2008), 56.
  7. See Augustine, De trinitate, bk. 14, no. 19.
  8. ST I, q. 93, a. 8 ,ad 2, “Hujusmodi temporalium notitia adventitia est animae.”
  9. Vae qui nutus tuos pro Te amant, et obliviscuntur quid innuas…” Saint Augustin, De libero arbitrio, bk. 2, no. 43. Really, this entire chapter should be cited in full here.
  10. Tr. note: Note that early in his career, Fr. Gardeil took great interest in working out the conditions for a reconciliation between evolution and the strict principles of Thomist metaphysics, writing a lengthy series of articles on the topic. See Gardeil, “L’évolutionisme et les principes de S. Thomas,” Revue thomiste 1 (1893): 27-45, 316-327, 725-737; 2 (1894), 29-42; 3 (1895): 61-84; 607-633; 4 (1896): 64-86, and 215-247. There are further precisions that could be added to what Fr. Gardeil says in the present article, for he contrasts matter and spirit very rigidly, something a bit at variance with the strict language of Thomistic hylomorphism to which he himself ascribes. However, the article is meant to rhetorically meet contemporary man and contemporary philosophical shortcomings, thus leading him to emphasize, above all else, the way that the spiritual nature of the soul is infinitely elevated over all materiality.
  11. Tr. note: Referring to the Flemish painter Hans Memling (1430-1494).
  12. Tr. note: This theme guides the beautiful reflections in Ambroise Gardeil, La vraie vie chrétienne, ed. H.-D. Gardeil (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1935), 101-189. This text is scheduled for publication by The Catholic University of America Press in 2021.
  13. Tr. note: The reference is to Pascal. See Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. Honor Levi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), no. 147 (p. 37).
  14. Tr. note: Almost certainly, he is referring to World War I.
  15. Tr. note: Note carefully the transition. Up to this point, Fr. Gardeil has tried to show how the spirituality of the human soul is reflected in man’s externalized activity. Now, he is moving on to the most immanent of actions, purely spiritual-intellectual knowledge and love. This is the domain in which the soul’s obediential potency for grace will be found.
  16. See G. Rabeau, Introduction à l’étude de la théologie, pt. 1, ch. 1, p. 3-11.
  17. Tr. note: It seems that Fr. Gardeil is here referring to the kind of basic sense for God’s existence which all men have through common sense, though it is very unformed and not yet fully critiqued, requiring further reflection in order to place it in full rational form. In various places in his works, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange mentions this phenomenon. It is developed in interesting ways in Jacques Maritain, Man’s Approach to God (Latrobe, PA: Archabbey Press, 1960).
  18. Tr. note: That is, by a mere investigation into the natural abilities and activities of the human person.
  19. Tr. note: If the reader meditates carefully on these words, you will see all the profound positive content that is hidden in the Thomist position articulated here by Gardeil, holding that man’s obediential potency for grace is a non-opposition to elevation to the supernatural order. Many have scoffed at this non-opposition as being a kind of mere empty wish when, in fact, it is the loftiest ability to receive something which, in fact, could only ever be received: the Supernatural Life of God, offered through grace. It is because of the loftiness of the gift that we must say that it could only be received, and nothing more, by nature. Obviously, there are many technicalities involved here, but before descending into all of those details, one must first grasp the profound spirit which animates the Thomist position surrounding these matters.
Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. About Matthew Minerd, Ph.D.

Matthew K. Minerd is a Ruthenian Catholic, husband, and father who serves as a professor of philosophy and moral theology at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, PA. He has been published in Nova et Vetera, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The Review of Metaphysics, Études Maritainiennes, Downside Review, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He has also served as a translator or editor for volumes published by Emmaus Academic, Cluny Media, and The Catholic University of America Press.

His translation of The Order of Things: The Realism of the Principle of Finality by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange is scheduled for publication in Fall 2020.

Fr. Ambroise Gardeil About Fr. Ambroise Gardeil

Fr. Ambroise Gardeil, OP (1859-1931) was a professor at the house of formation for the French Dominican Province from 1884 to 1911, and afterward devoted himself to various forms of ministry at the Dominican priory in Paris. He wrote many theological works, both books and articles, focusing especially on spiritual theology, apologetic theology, and combating modernism.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    I read Gardeil’s essay, but since I am not a scholar, my comprehension was limited. I was intrigued by your note 1. “He also published a number of articles on a variety of topics, including a multi-article consideration of the way one can incorporate evolutionary theory into Thomistic metaphysics…” My impression was that he had a somewhat dualistic way of considering matter and spirit. That may be a misunderstanding and a result of my difficulty understanding. In any case, I am always glad to consider the sources of our understanding of the gratuitous gift of Christ, “I live now not I but Christ lives in me.” Gal 2:20

    • Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. says:

      Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Dear Tom,
      My apologies that I didn’t see this until now! I wasn’t aware that the article was going up in October. For some reason, I was thinking that it was scheduled for November.
      You put your finger on an important point of “dissonance.” I use quotes because Fr. Gardeil ultimately cannot hold the dualistic position that his language in the essay slips into at one point. Really, he just allowed his rhetoric introduce inexactness here because he wants to argue “ad hominem” (not in the sense that we use the this term but, instead, in its more classical sense, “in response to a given presupposition that someone holds”). Thus, since he is writing in an intellectual world which was very positivisitic, materialist, and deterministic in its philosophy, I believe that he is just trying to hit home this very important point: you can see the work of spirit in human activity, something that far outstrips the material causality that you (i.e. you contemporaries) think is “the whole story.” I’ve got a copy of Fr. Gardeil’s “The True Christian Life” in the midst of editing for publication with an academic press. In that volume, Fr. Gardeil’s rhetoric soars on occasion. I think here too he merely let his rhetoric try to drive the point home, a little bluntly, against possible adversaries!

      Thanks for your comment! I hope that this helps! Many blessings to you and yours!

  2. It is apparent to me that this whole thesis on tracing God’s movement of grace starts with reflection on our journey of life through all the stages of moral and psychological development and the formation of our characters and self identities. This journey of our lives begin within family circle, religious educational circles and from within those circles the role models that impact our lives for the good or for the worse.

    I think we all are at a pivotal moment in our salvation history where most of our human constructs, activities for bettering human life, fall short indeed. What comes to mind is that most of us have been laboring in vain in that we tried to build our lives independent of God. Our belief in God was hearsay, I think most of us would agree. As Job himself realized until a true revelation of God was experienced by him during his moral crisis.

    What comes to mind is how poorly we have used our imagination especially in not allowing the Spirit of God to impress a real image and likeness of Himself on our minds on our human psyche. Often God reprimands us and warns us not to make any graven image or likeness of Him by believing in deceptive words.

    Unfortunately, what we have come to realize in our search for truth and meaning in our lives is that where we end up now is at the beginning. At the beginning of time when there was nothingness, darkness and chaos over the world.
    It is a smoldering wick that remains in essence of what accounts to our faith journey in God. God does not, however, put out the smoldering wick, but mercifully grants us another chance of righting the wrongs in our lives that we can return to a state of holiness and righteousness in God. This is a moment of tracing the saving act of God through His perspective and judgement of our works.

    • Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. says:

      Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Dear Bernadette,
      Thank you for your very thoughtful and prayer-provoking words. They remind me of something I was reading,this week, in the Philokalia, in particular a selection drawn from St. Maximos the Confessor. There is a striking set of passages, I believe at the end of his second century (a collection of 100 aphorisms) on love and theology, where he discusses how natural contemplation must be avoided because of the danger it poses. So often, by pursuing the gifts of nature, we shut the door to grace, for we find ourselves so very impressed with our own abilities, our own powers, merely by nature. We thereby, in fact, fog over the mirror we are supposed to be, reflecting God—both by nature and, above all, by the _gift_ of grace. Thus, to shift the metaphor of the wick to that of the mirror: blessed be God that HE can be the one who gives us the aid needed for wiping of the mirror, so that we may indeed reflect His radiance, His glory.

      Many blessings to you and yours!


  1. […] along with his briefer La notion du lieu théologique and La certitude probable.1 As he entered the later period of his labors, his work increasingly focused on questions of […]