Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Doran, Robert M.

Second Advisor

Nussberger, Danielle K.

Third Advisor

Johnson, Mark F.


The recent debate over the supernatural has proved intractable in part because of a failure to distinguish two irreducible-but-linked problems of the supernatural, one medieval and one modern. The first is a metaphysical problem concerning the cooperation of humans with God. Bernard Lonergan’s retrieval of St. Thomas Aquinas’s solution to this problem indicates that a grasp of divine concursus is integral to a theory of nature and grace. A metaphysics of universal cooperation with God implies a pair of ambiguities about creaturely being. The general ambiguity is that, because the fundamental explanatory term for creaturely causation is both universal and transcendent, it remains possible to gain adequate causal knowledge of the world while merely assuming that the universe is intelligible. The specific ambiguity applies the general ambiguity to human action. If the ground of every human enterprise is universal and transcendent, then we may wonder whether this ground makes any difference in our practical projects. A modern philosophical mentality helps spell out the significance of these ambiguities. Maurice Blondel and Jean-Paul Sartre present opposed interpretations of the specific ambiguity. Blondel presupposes the complete explicability of human action, arguing that the ground of human action is entirely supernatural. Sartre, by contrast, denies that being needs any explanation, and by extension denies that human action admits of any transcendent ground. Which posture one takes towards human action will depend on what pre-philosophical choice one makes about the specific ambiguity. Even if one takes the positive pole of the ambiguities, there remains a modern problem of the supernatural. It cannot be reduced to metaphysics, because its appearance depends on a solution to the medieval problem. Still, an effort to answer the modern problem by metaphysical means offers two important determinations of the modern problem. Because human freedom is rational, human actions emerge from a process of deliberation and are formally constituted by meaning. Thus, discerning what God is doing in human action is a diachronic and hermeneutical task. Taking the full scope of human enterprises, the modern problem of the supernatural calls out for a theological hermeneutics of culture.

Included in

Religion Commons