Re-evaluating the Donum Superadditum: A Comparison of Bavinck and Scheeben on the imago Dei

[Context] Matthias Scheeben (1835–88) and Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) together represent two of the most prominent traditions of reflection concerning theological anthropology, Thomism and Neo-Calvinism respectively. Both are typically regarded as among the most articulate, most able, most gifted theologians ever to have written, and both are surging in popularity in contemporary theology thanks to recent translations into English of their most important writings. Bavinck is well known for his withering critiques of Roman Catholic “supernaturalism,” and he cites Scheeben as an example of someone who has an overly “dualistic” understanding of humanity’s original righteousness. This barbed broadside has become a staple in certain Reformed polemics (e.g., Horton, 2007; Mattson, 2012; Vanhoozer 2016; Ashford and Bartholomew, 2020; et multa alia).

[Thesis] The following paper compares Bavinck and Scheeben vis-a-vis their respective theological anthropologies by focusing on the concept of original righteousness. In particular, I contend (1) that Bavinck’s arguments against supernaturalism—at least the “supernaturalism” found in the Thomistic tradition—are not sound and (2) that Scheeben’s account of the relationship between nature and grace is defensible, even from, or perhaps especially from, a Reformed perspective.

[Method] In the first section of our paper, I rehearse Bavinck’s arguments against supernaturalism—supernaturalism being the view that Adam was gifted with the donum superadditum before the Fall. Next, I show how Scheeben might respond to these charges, thereby vindicating Scheeben and undermining Bavinck’s charges. Finally, I argue that Scheeben’s articulation of the donum superadditum can be harmonized with the common Reformed Scholastic concept of the donum concreatum. In so concluding, this paper leaves open the possibility that Bavinck may actually be out of step with his own tradition on this critical theological topic.

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