Theological Understandings of Mediated Grace

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Theological Understandings ofMediated Grace

When approaching the concept of grace, many people often assume that it is “other” - a mysterious force that exists beyond human understanding. They believe that grace is a divine gift that cannot be humanly grasped because of its supernatural nature. Others believe that mediated grace - God as experienced through the senses in a purely human manner - is a vital way to bridge the ontological gap (an extreme difference in being that separates the earthly and the divine). Christian theologians from the beginning of the faith have debated the qualities attributed to this phenomenon because of its sheer importance; when dealing with vastly different elements, such as humans and God, the search for an intermediary force is obviously considered a necessity. Over and over, throughout the history of Christianity, we see mediated grace as a bridge, a power that unites, binding together the natural and the supernatural, the human and the divine, and ideas that often appear initially incompatible.

The majority of theologians are on the side of mediated grace, believing that God can indeed be found in nature. A good starting point for this treatment of grace is found in the Sermon on the Sixth Beatitude, by Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Turkish writer. He raises an essential question of grace: how can the Beatific vision (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” [Matt. 5:8]) be justified in the light of statements such as “No one has ever seen God” [John 1:18]?[1] This serves as such an effective beginning to our exploration of mediated grace because it takes the view that God cannot be experienced by humans and then proceeds to reconcile it with seemingly contradictory Beatific scripture. Gregory arrives at the conclusion that “God can be experienced analogically from the comprehension of his activities,” through our earthly surroundings and in our own human nature.[2]

Gregory points out that the artist is visible in his/her in art, and that the Creator can be seen in His/Her creation: “it has been demonstrated that he who is invisible in his nature has become visible in his activities, being seen in the things that surround him.”[3] While we cannot experience the divine fully, we can understand God partially by examining the world around us, and we share something in common: “power, purity, imperturbability,” and so on; in other words, the “pure of heart” discussed by the sixth Beatitude share, at least analogically, the qualities of God.[4] Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century anchoress, stated a similar belief in her work Showings, saying that “the soul may be always like God in nature and in substance.”[5] This makes sense considering that analogies compare otherwise different things by examining the similarities of particular qualities that they share. In this theory of imago dei, Julian believed that grace restored us to our original state of purity - thus grace once again acts as a bridge between the human and the supernatural. This concept of the analogical experience allows us to move closer to God while simultaneously preserving the meaning of the divine and maintaining our humanity. The same idea resurfaces over 1600 years later in the work of Karl Rahner, with his theory of “divine self-communication,” in which he states that “God in his own most proper reality makes himself the innermost constitutive element of man,” or in other words, that God is alive in humanity, in the purity of heart that Gregory cites as part of our analogical experience of the divine through shared qualities in our respective human/divine natures.[6] Further, Rahner states that “God can communicate himself in his own reality to what is not divine without ceasing to be infinite reality and absolute mystery, and without man ceasing to be a finite existent different from God.”[7] This statement, while not in literal agreement with Thomas Aquinas’s theory of...
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