So my Protestant readers (most of you!) may have a follow-up question on the issue of Natural Theology. At least, I did. My question was this:
Do Catholics consider the process of becoming open to revelation (through the use of natural reason) a work of God?
If so, it would be somewhat equivalent to the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace, or to the Methodist doctrine of prevenient grace. Is our desire to know God, which we work out through human reason until we encounter revelation, evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts? Is our spiritual quest of God preceded by God’s quest of us?
From what I’ve read so far, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) does not address this question exactly, but it says that people are “made to live in communion with God” (§45), and our “free response to his grace” is part of his “eternal plan of ‘predestination’” (§600). In that way, grace plays a key role in our coming to faith somewhat analogous to that described by Reformed Protestants or Methodists. The CCC explains it this way:
“Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome the revelation in faith. The proofs of God’s existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason.” (§35, emphasis mine).
Catholic teaching is clear—even our faith in God is a gift. Without his grace, we would not be able to put our trust in the God who has revealed himself to us. Perhaps, too, Natural Theology does not sound so foreign when situated in its context. The main difference between Catholics and Protestants on Natural Theology is the degree of depravity that resulted from the Fall or the degree of optimism that remains about human reason. On one thing we agree—grace is always necessary for salvation.