What does St. Thomas mean by the idea of connaturality? Does he use the word at all? How does it fit into his teaching?
The latin word connaturalitate comes easily sixty or so times throughout the Summa. And, it means what you would expect it to mean: it is not a mysterious or complicated concept. A connatural abililty refers to something that a being does or thinks which comes naturally to it, although the ability may not be an original part of its nature. It may be an acquired ability. Say, cooking! Or the way an actor acts a part. Or the ability to play an instrument well. Such abilities may feel strange at first, but eventually proficiency is achieved and the ability becomes connatural – or second nature. But, the level of connaturality we are considering here has to do not only with a set of physical abilities, or even mental ones. For St Thomas, connaturality goes much deeper, into a kind of sympathy with something (compassio is the latin term used by St Thomas), or a participation in something, a union with something to the point of undergoing what that thing undergoes, suffering what it suffers (patiens); an understanding of it from within.
St. Thomas uses the word connaturality a lot. He seems to like it. It is even possible to miss the use of the word connatural some of the time, because St Thomas uses it fairly unsensationally. But, eventually, when he begins to talk about faith, hope and charity – the famous ‘theological’ virtues – and to describe the effects of grace, he uses the word connatural again, to show that participating as fully as possible in our supernatural end – which is God’s very life – can become just as natural to us as living merely according to our natural tendencies. Here he is making a profound point, because he says many times that although we were created with an ‘inbuilt’ tendency toward our supernatural end, that end is beyond the reach of our fallen, un-graced, abilities. So, when he says that life with God can become connatural to us, it is something to notice. In fact, to my mind, whenever he is talking about the transforming power of grace, the idea of our arriving at a state of connaturality with divine things is implicit in an overarching way, even when he is not actually using the word.
The theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, are the root of all virtue for Thomas (II.II.4.7). They are at the beginning of the journey, not the end; they are our capacity for salutary action, and they fit us for connaturality with God, or better, they communicate God’s life to us. You might say that in the theological virtues, God is very ‘busy’ on our behalf, in Thomas’s teaching. Tomorrow we will begin to explore the virtue of faith.