For a number of reasons, I have been ruminating upon how a Protestant is to think about the relationship between Nature and Grace. A part of this comes from reading the extremely stimulating work of Leonardo Chirico, particularly his 2003 book, Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatical II Roman Catholicism. It is a wonderful book. Central to De Chirico's thesis is that there are two key axioms which are at the heart of the systemic nature of Roman Catholicism. There is (1) Rome's understanding of the Nature/Grace relationship, and (2) Rome's understanding of the Church as the continuing Incarnation of the Son.
My interest here is on the relationship between nature and grace. In reading De Lubac a number of years ago (his Augustinianism and Modern Theology), I learned that Roman Catholicism had their own very long and very intense debate on the nature and grace, on the exact way to understand the nature of grace in the garden, and so on.
Herman Bavinck was quite happy to affirm that in some sense grace "perfects nature". In an article by Jan Veenhof (translated by Al Wolters), Veenhof discuss the issue of nature of grace in Bavinck. While Bavinck (like Thomas Aquinas) can speak at one level of how grace "perfects nature", Bavinck could nonetheless argue that Rome and Protestantism (at least in its Reformed iteration) sees the nature/grace dynamic or relationship in quite different ways.
According to Wolters (in his Translator's Introduction): "Central to the religious vision underlying the cosmonomic philosophy is Bavinck’s insight that grace restores nature, i.e., that creation is not abol- ished but integrally renewed by salvation in Christ" (p. 11).
Again, although Bavinck can uses Thomistic language of grace perfecting nature, he also sees a fundamental divide between Rome and Protestantism on this issue.
Veenhof writes (at times quoting Bavinck):
'With “this imposing Roman Catholic system the Reformation came into collision at virtually every point.” The sixteenth-century Reformation was not only a reformation of the church but also an “entirely different and new conception of Christianity itself”: The Reformers, going back to the New Testament, replaced the dualistic world and life view of Catholicism, and its quantitative opposition between the natural and the supernatural, “with a truly theistic world-view and a qualitative opposition”' (p. 15)
It might be fair to say Bavinck (and Protestantism more generally?), in contradistinction from Rome, views creation differently in two complementary ways. Creation is both (1) more fundamentally good and graced from the very beginning (the "divide" between nature and grace is less stringent), but (2) after the fall nature is more marred and corrupted by sin than is generally understood in traditional Roman Catholicism. As Veenhof writes: "Because of the way in which the Reformation established the relation of nature and grace, the cosmos of course immediately gains significantly in importance" (p. 15)
Bavinck himself can write:
"It does not mean an annihilation, but a restoration of God’s sin-disrupted work of creation. Revelation is an act of reformation; in re-creation the creation, with all its forms and norms, is restored; in the gospel, the law; in grace, justice; in Christ, the cosmos is restored" (p. 18).
If Rome wants to elevate nature, the Reformed Protestant wants to repair nature: reparatio not simply elevatio.
But notice this emphas on repairing and not simply elevating does not entail a "lower" understanding of creation, but really sees creation in a "higher" sense--creation was radically and thoroughly good because created. It has not lost all trace of goodness with the entrance of sin in the world. But due to sin, nature has a great need: repair, not simply elevation.
As Veenhof writes (again quoting Bavinck):
'The Holy Spirit, who acts in continuity with God’s directives in natural life, “seeks by His grace to restore the whole of natural life, to liberate it from sin and to hallow it to God”' (p. 18).
Finally, summarizing Bavinck:
'Grace militates against sin in the natural, but it does not militate against the natural itself; on the contrary, it restores the natural and brings it to its normal development, i.e. the development intended by God' (p. 19).
For Evangelical Protestants to know how to relate to our Catholic friends means we must both understand what Rome is saying, as well as understand what our own tradition has said over the years. Bavinck is a helpful older guide to read on the way.