Authors Eric Parker Natural Law Nota Bene Philosophy

The Ladder of Truth and the Sweetness of Grace: Alsted on Natural Theology (VII)

In this our seventh installment on Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia naturalis we see Alsted utilize the metaphor of a “ladder” of truth to describe the relationship between nature and grace, and he argues that God intends for man to study the truths of nature in order to make grace sweeter:

IV. Natura & Gratia non pugnant

Etsi non omne, quidquid verum est, ratione demonstrari potest, cum multo latius pateant veritatis, quam rationis fines (est enim veritas maioris amplitudinis quam ratio, si spectemus regnum Gratiæ) nullum tamen bellum est inter rationem & fidem, naturam ac gratiam. Intellige naturam, quatenus in ea lucent scintilulæ imaginis divinæ. Alioqui si naturam corruptam considerare velis, immanis est pugna inter naturam & gratiam. Quod autem natura, qua talis, & gratia non pugnent, sic patet. Si natura & gratia adversis concurrunt frontibus, alius illius, alius huius author erit, & hæc illam destruet. At neutrum est. Nam si authorem utriusque spectes, ille est Deus, qui sibi non potest esse contrarius. Si vero σχέσιν & respectum gratiæ ad naturam spectes, hanc ab illa sanari & perfici, non interimi ac destrui cernes. Huc igitur pertinent illa Theologorum theoremata. Gratia non destruit naturam, sed eam perficit: Gratia non est contra naturam: Quidquid est verum Theologice, non est false philosophice: Nullum fidei articulus est contra rationem, licet multi sint supra rationem. 

Quæcunque igitur est veritas, sive infra rationem, quæ sensu, sive iuxta rationem, quæ intellectu, sive supra rationem, quæ fide percipitur, semper est una & eadem Dei filia, licet gradibus differat, quos expressim in hac veluti scala. Nam non aliunde quam a vertatis parete Deo proficiscitur, sive is illam commonstret in hac vita in penetra liber naturæ, sive in mysteriis gratiæ, sive denique in Schola Gloriæ post hanc vitam.

V. Natura gratia commendat.

Sicuti gratia naturam emendat: ita natura gratiam commendat. Dum enim angustos naturæ fines cum augustis gratiæ finibus comparamus, dici no potest, quam dulcescat nobis medicina illa, quam Deus in regno gratiæ nobis exhibet.


IV. Nature and Grace do not contradict

Although not everything that is true can be demonstrated by reason, since the terms of the truth appear much broader than those of reason (for the truth [covers] a greater range than reason if we look at the dominion of Grace), there is no battle between reason and faith, nature and grace. Understand nature insofar as little sparks of the image of God shine within it. If someone wished to consider corrupt nature, then the battle between nature and grace is immense. However, it appears to be the case that nature and grace do not contradict. If nature and grace were to rush to the front in opposition to each other, then one would be the author of this and the other the author of that and they will destroy each other. But neither [situation] is the case. For, if you were to examine the author of both [nature and grace], you would see that it is God, and he cannot be in contradiction with himself. Surely, if having looked again you examine the conditions (σχέσιν) of nature and grace, you will conclude that nature is not brought to an end and destroyed by grace, rather it is healed and perfected. Therefore, in this regard the following theorems of Theology are pertinent: “Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” “Grace does not contradict nature,” “Whatever is theologically true is not philosophically false,” and “No article of faith contradicts reason, even though many of them are above reason.”

Therefore, whatever is true, whether it be perceived by sensation below reason or by thinking in accordance with reason or by faith, truth is always one and the same offspring of God, although the truth differs by grades as in steps on a ladder. For it does not originate from any source other than from the truth which is obedient to God, whether he reveals it in the innermost parts of nature or in the mysteries of grace in this life, or ultimately in the School of Glory after this life.

V. Nature makes grace agreeable [comendat]

Just as grace emends nature so nature renders grace agreeable. 1 No words can describe how sweet our medicine becomes, which God supplies to us in the kingdom of grace, when we compare the narrow ends of nature with the sacred ends of grace.

  1. This first line is written poetically. Translated strictly it reads: “Just as grace nature amends, so nature grace commends.”

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.

One reply on “The Ladder of Truth and the Sweetness of Grace: Alsted on Natural Theology (VII)”

My high school roommate and classmate, Howard Hotson, has done extensive work on Alsted as a kind of Encyclopedist of reformed thinking. Unfortunately, I’ve not had time or $ to by and digest his work. Howard was raised a Swedenborgian, but I don’t think that’s where he is these days. He’s more of an intellectual historian who keeps his own cards close to his chest. You run into his work at all?

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