Manifestations Of Grace
Elizabeth Dreyer Ph.D.
Humanity And Grace
30th October 2007
Elizabeth Dreyer is currently professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, a comprehensive Jesuit university founded in 1942 in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Dreyer has served on the faculties of several institutions, including Catholic University of America and The Washington Theological Union. In 2004, Dreyer received the Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal from Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati for her outstanding contributions to Catholic theology in the United States. Dreyer writes and lectures widely on subjects ranging from medieval theology and mysticism to contemporary lay spirituality.
Dreyer, who holds a doctorate from Marquette University, has written a number of books, including Earth Crammed with Heaven: A Spirituality of Everyday Life, (Paulist, 1994) and Passionate Spirituality: Hildegard of Bingen and Hadewijch of Brabant, (Paulist, 2005).
The subject of this book report, Manifestations of Grace, was first published in 1990 by Michael Glazier Inc. While this is not a large volume, it is without doubt the most comprehensive treatment of the subject matter which I have ever read. The writing style is easy. but this relatively small book packs a punch of wonderful insights into what I would describe as a much more Eastern than Western Church perspective on Grace. Although Dreyer’s book is an excellent history of the development of a theology of Grace, it is much more than a mere a re-statement of the thoughts of Iranaeus or John of Damascus or St. Basil the Great of the early Eastern Church, or Thomas Aquinas and the monastic writers and visionaries of the 12th and 13th centuries, and then developing into the thoughts of Schillebeeckx and Brueggemann in the 20th century. Dreyer for me has unpacked multiple layers of God’s self gift to us as she has guided us, from the value of our own daily experiences of God’s grace, through ‘past faulty directions’, to the prominence of sin as a focus for God’s grace. From the Old Testament promise to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh to the New Testament’s Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle transformation, Dreyer explores all of these ‘contours’ of God’s grace simply and methodically. She even toys with the idea that there may be value in looking past Augustine’s take on ‘Pelagianism’ to find some merit in a more mature understanding of Grace. Whilst being very aware of the dangers in Pelagius as to idly taking God’s grace for granted, a kind of ‘cheap grace’, Dreyer contends that he was proposing an important responsibility we have to live God’s grace.
Having given due recognition to the monastics and visionaries of the intervening centuries, but lacking the space to deal in depth with them, Dreyer leaps across 9 centuries to take a closer look at Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Dreyer speaks of him as a ‘traditional thinker’ but also ‘a great innovator’ Dreyer says ‘He appropriated the scientific, metaphysical approach of Aristotle and fused it with the Augustinian, neoplatonic strains of Pseudo-Dionysius and John Damascene’. (p83)
The changing world and in particular the changes in the way of doing theology as proposed by the Scholasticism of the times, Dreyer suggests, brought about a less personal approach to God’s grace and its meaning in our daily lives. She suggests that while Aquinas fairly closely followed Augustine there were subtle differences, summed up by his understanding of transcendence, original sin and (via the influence of Aristotle), the central role of nature in his theology of grace.
Dreyer goes on to discuss Aquinas’ understanding of the restorative and healing aspects of God’s grace whereby all of creation before sin required no healing or restoration but quite obviously did thereafter. This healing and restorative component of Gods...
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