Protestantism and the decline of grace

The assumption now is that “gift requires a contrast” because it is implicitly assumed that for a gift to be received, the recipient must stand on an autonomous basis that does not depend upon any generosity — thus in the instance of the Creation, univocal self-standing of finite being permits a possessive appropriation of the initial gift of creation, when then allows the human creature to receive grace as a gift which she does not really need according to nature. Not accidentally, the assumed model here is of the property owner as the one who can alone receive gifts, because he already has all that he needs. The landless pauper, by contrast, can only receive “charity,” now reduced to modern “benevolence,” which is but the pseudo-gift of the guilty trying to render a belated justice in meager form under the guise of a dutiful generosity. Applied theologically, this gives us the notion that all human creatures are replete as regards nature, yet like indigent paupers as regards grace — since while the divine gift is “not needed” by nature, it is needed according to an inscrutable supernatural justice. Divine charity is now therefore reduced to something which “justifies,” in an extrinsic, imputed sense (whether we are talking about the Reformation or much of the Counter-Reformation), in such a way as to present God as being at once a benefactor to which we are beholden and yet also a landlord who must grudgingly “render justice” to the evicted.

John Milbank, “The Double Glory, or Paradox versus Dialectics: On Not Quite Agreeing with Slavoj Žižek,” in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, pp. 167-8

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