Monday, January 01, 2024

what is the supernatural

By Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) - September 10, 2017 Mathias Joseph Scheeben

The Supernatural was something very different than it is now. This is important because that original meaning, which Christian spiritually was predicated upon, is empirically provable and and can be shown to be real by simple scientific means. We have to understand the original concept, there are two thinkers who tried to restore the concept to it’s original form and we need to listen to what they tried to say. The first one was Matthias Joseph Scheeben (born, 1 March, 1835; died at Cologne, 21 July, 1888.) His major work was Nature and Grace. [17] Scheeben was a mystic who contemplated and studied divine grace and hypostatic union. He was also a greatly accomplished academic and was a fine scholar of scholastic theology. He studied at the Gregorian University at Rome and taught dogmatic theology at the Episcopal seminary.

at Cologne. Scheeben was the chief defender of the faith against rationalism in the nineteenth century. The generation after his death ( in Cologne in 1888) regarded him as one of the greatest minds of Catholic thought in his day. He left three major works: Nature and Grace (1861), The Mysteries of Christianity (1865), and the massive yet unfinished Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics. Among his major accomplishnents were defense of Vatican I's defense of infallibility, defense of religious freedom against Bismark's attempt to control the Catholic Church.

His books were repeatedly republished in Germany up into the 1960s and translated into other European languages, including English (the Dogmatics, alas, only in highly truncated form). Since the Second Vatican Council, though, he has mostly been neglected by theological teachers and students who have wrongly imagined the nineteenth-century Catholic tradition to be a period of anti-modern darkness….The Catholic world of a hundred or more years ago was quite right, I think, to see the Cologne seminary professor as perhaps the finest modern Catholic dogmatic theologian. His writings not only yield rare insight into the mysteries of Christian faith, they draw the attentive reader ever more deeply into the mysteries themselves. Scheeben is more important now than he has ever been. He can teach a theological generation that has sold its inestimable birthright how to restore and renew dogmatic theology.[18

The other thinker is Eugene R. Fairweather (2 November 1920-) an Anglican scholar and translator of Church fathers from Ottowa. MA in Philosophy form University of Toronto (1943) Ordained priest in 1944 and became tutor at Trinity college Toronto same year. He studied theology at Union theological seminary and earned his Th.D. in 1949. He had an honorary doctorate from McGill University. At the time he wrote his article “Christianity and the Supernatural” he was editor of the Canadian Journal of Theology and professor of dogmatic theology and ethics at Trinity College, Toronto.[19]Fairweather quotes Scheeben and bases part of his view upon Scheeben’s.

Fairweather’s view of the supernatural is contrary to the notion of two opposing realms, or a dualism. He uses the phrase “two-sidedness,” there is a “two-sidedness” about reality but it’s not a real dualism. The Supernatural is that which is above the natural in a certain sense but it is also working in the natural. There are supernatural effects in the natural realm that make up part of human life. Essentially we can say that “the supernatural” (supernature) is an ontology. Fiarweather doesn’t use that term but that’s essentially what he’s describing. Ontology is a philosophical description of reality. Supernature describes reality in that it is the ground and end of the natural. What that means is unpacked by Fairweather : an ordered relation of means to immediate ends with respect to their final ends. “The Essential structure of the Christian faith has a real two-sidedness about it, which may at first lead the unwary into a dualism and then encourage the attempt to resolve the dualism by an exclusive emphasis upon one or the other [side] of the severed element of complete Christianity.”[20] He explains the ordered relation several times through paring off opposites or supposed opposites: human/divine; immanent/transcendent; realm of Grace/realm of nature. All of these he refers to as “ordered relations.”[21] If this was Derrida we would call them binary oppositions. In calling them “ordered” he is surely saying one is ‘above’ the other in some sense. They are not necessarily oppositions because that’s his whole point, not a true dualism.

Supernature is working in nature. It’s not breaking in unwelcome but is drawing the workings of nature to a higher level. Fairweather describes it as the “ground and end of nature.” In other words it is the basis upon which nature comes to be and the goal toward which nature moves. Now it’s true that science removes the teleological from nature it doesn’t see it as moving toward a goal but that’s because it can’t consider anything beyond its own domain. Science is supposed to be empirical consideration of the natural realm and is practitioners often profess disdain for the metaphysical while inso doing keep a running commentary on metaphysics. Of course modern science become a form of metaphysics by infusing itself with philosophical assumptions and then declaring there is nothing beyond the natural/material realm. That is to say, when it is dominated by secularist ideology that is the direction in which science is cast. Be that as it may, theologically we can take a broader view and we see a goal oriented aspect to the natural. Supernatural effects draw the natural toward supernature. That is to say human nature responds to the calling of God in elevating humans to a higher level of consciousness. There is another example of the ground and end of nature. Fairweather doesn’t give this example, but I think it applies. This is Martin Luther King’s statement about the “arch of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Nothing in nature bends toward justice, if by “nature” we mean rocks and trees but there is more to the natural realm than just those aspects that science studies. Humans are part of the realm of the natural and it is part of our social world that we understand concepts of justice. Due to our own purposive nature we bend the arch of the moral universe toward justice.

Long before Dionysius spoke of huper hamousios “From an early period the concept of 'that which is above nature’ had been seized upon by Christian Theologians as an appropriate means of stating the core of the gospel...” [22] Origen...[185-254] tells how God raises man above human nature…and makes him change into a better and divine nature.”[23] John Chrysostom (347-407) speaks of humans having received grace “health beauty honor and dignities far exceeding our nature.”[24] That view has persisted even in modern times. “In the West the most concise expression of the idea is to be found in the Leonine prayer ‘grant us to be partakers of his divinity who deigned to become partakers of our humanity.’”[25] “In these and a multitude of patristic texts the essential point is just this, that God, who is essentially supernatural perfects with a perfection beyond creaturely comprehension. Nevertheless, supernature elevates human creatures to a true participation in divine life an indwelling of God in man and man in God.”[26] The important point here is that human nature is being raised to the higher level of divine. We can see this manifests itself through the experience commonly known as “mystical.” That I will take up shortly, First, let’s turn to Scheeben to document further the nature of the supernatural. Supernatural is the power of God to raise us to this higher level.

The Trace of God, by Joseph Hinman, on Amazon. The 200 studies in this book prove that Mystical experience is real, this article just proved that the original concept of SN is mystical experiemce. Therefore, SN is real.


[17] Matthias Joseph Scheeben, Nature and Grace, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009 (paperback) originally unpublished 1856.

[18] Bruce D. Marshall. “Renewing Dogmatic theology: Mathias Joseph Scheeben Teaches Us the Virtues Theologians Need.” First Things. May 2012. On line version: accessed 11/8/2013 Bruce D. Marshall is professor of Christian doctrine at Perkins School of Theology.(c) 2012 Institute of Religion and Public Life

[19] Editor’s introduction to Eugene R. Fairweather, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” op.cit.

[20] Ibid, Fairweather,.237.


[22] Ibid.

[23 ]Fairweather, ibid (239).

[24] ibid

[25] Fairweather quoting Leonine prayer, ibid.

[26] Ibid

Here Fairweather seemsto contradict Saler who says there is no term in the writings of the so called “church fathers” that could be translated as “supernatural” until Cyril and Dionysius, here Fairweather says the Patristic texts God is suernatural. He is back reading the term based up the concept. The term isn't really used by his pre Crylian examples.


Kristen said...

Hi Joe, I have been trying to call and wish you a happy New Year. Nice post today!

im-skeptical said...

You can define 'supernatural' any way you want. You can say it's a part of reality. But you can't say it has any kind of scientific or evidentiary backing, because it doesn't.

American Heritage Dictionary:
1. Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
2. Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.
3. Of or relating to a deity.

This is basically how we use the word in modern times. And it's what people understand is meant when the word is used anywhere, except perhaps, in certain groups within the religious community. Science studies the natural world - that which is amenable to detection, measurement, etc. The supernatural isn't part of science, because it can't be detected. In other words, there is no objective evidence for it. The only 'evidence' we have of any kind of supernatural existence is theories put forth by various people who don't draw from science. Most of these people are religionists.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

American heritage dictionary is worthless for theology. Why do you think lawyers have their own Blacks Law Dictionary? Economists have their own and so forth American heritage is popular discourse people don't know what supernatural is.

Since SN is mystical experience it does have a ton of scientific data.

im-skeptical said...

Joe, the point of my comment is that words in our language have meanings that people understand. When you use the word 'supernatural', 999 out of 1000 people understand it the way the dictionary defines it. After all, dictionary definitions are derived from an analysis of words as they are used. They don't have some guy deciding what the definition should be. They determine what people mean when they use the word, and that is the definition. Actually, that's how they come up with multiple definitions. But one thing you don't see in the dictionary is "mystical experience" as a definition for 'supernatural', because that meaning is not found in common usage. Of course, there is jargon in many professional and academic circles. And they have their own definitions for things. The definition you go by is strictly jargon, found in very limited usage, if anywhere at all. But I speak English. I don't know why you are trying to change the commonly understood definition that everyone uses and everyone understands in today's culture.