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July 06, 2005

Ch. I. Q.2. The Supernatural

THE supernatural is a relative term, and signifies in Dogmatic Theology that which cannot be referred to forces resident in the visible universe, or in man, but transcends their causation.1

2. The meaning of the term "supernatural" hinges upon that of the term "natural"; and the latter term is relative and technical. It is not to be understood accurately, unless we know what the things are whose nature is considered.2

3. In Dogmatic Theology the word nature is applied to the visible universe, including man. Its resident forces, and whatever can be accounted for by them, are called natural. The supernatural comes thus to mean whatever is unexplainable by such reference, but must be referred to higher natures.

4. There is also a philosophical use of the term supernatural, by which everything which is conscious and free is included in its application. The natural then signifies that which is unconscious and subject to a law which impels it by necessity, in one determined direction, from without. Man, by original constitution, is therefore supernatural.3 This use of the terms in question is perfectly valid and is common in Apologetics; but it does not apply in Positive Dogmatics, to such phrases as supernatural revelation, supernatural inspiration, supernatural grace, etc., where the thought of something super-human is implied.

5. We must distinguish between the natural and the supernatural orders of Divine operation, as defined in Dogmatic Theology, for much biblical and theological language will otherwise be unintelligible. But there can be no opposition between them. Certain writers4 err in supposing that the distinction between lower and higher natures and between the forces resident in them (for this is what the distinction between natural and supernatural really means) has the effect of banishing God from nature and of reducing nature's Divine significance. It is God that worketh whether He employs the forces resident in lower or higher natures, or dispenses with the use of means.

1 Fleming, Vocab. , "nature" and "supernatural." Baldwin, Dic. Of Philos. , idem.

2 Gore, Bamp. Lecs. , pp. 38, 39.

3 Bushnell, Natural and Supernatural , ch. ii.; Temple, Bamp. Lecs. , vii.

4 E.G. , Romanes, Thoughts on Religion , pp. 126-133.

Posted by Debra Bullock at July 6, 2005 01:32 PM

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