From the Latin praetor, beyond, and natura, nature. Above the order of human nature.

That which is beyond the natural, but not strictly supernatural. It is preternatural either because God used natural forces to produce effects beyond their native capacity, or because above-human forces, angelic or demonic, are active in the world of space and time.

The Three Preternatural Gifts

Adam and Eve originally received the three preternatural gifts of special friendship with God: bodily immortality, integrity and infused knowledge. Father Hardon tells us: “The three gifts of bodily immortality, integrity and infused knowledge are called preternatural because they are not strictly due to human nature but do not, of themselves, surpass the capacities and exigencies of created nature as such. In other words, they are not entitatively supernatural.”

Bodily Immortality

Bodily immortality is the converse of mortality, i.e., the possibility of separation of soul from body. Adam was therefore capable of not dying. Yet the gift was conditional, provided he did not sin; it was gratuitous, since Adam’s nature by itself did not postulate this prerogative but came from the divine bounty; and it was participated, since only God enjoys essential immortality.


The gift of integrity is equivalent to exemption from concupiscence. It is called “integrity” because it effected a harmonious relation between flesh and spirit by completely subordinating man’s lower passions to his reason.

This integrity, it should be noted, did not consist in lacking the natural power to desire for sensible or spiritual bona, nor was it a lack of activity of this power, since all of these belong to the perfection of human nature. Rather it was the absence of certain kinds of acts of the appetitive faculty, namely those which anticipate or go before (praevertunt) the operations of reason and will and tend to continue in opposition to the same.

Stated positively, integrity consisted in the perfect subjection of the concupiscible and irascible appetitive powers to the dictates of reason and free will. As a consequence the will had not only indirect (diplomatic) but also direct (despotic) dominion over the appetite.

Two kinds of concupiscence should be distinguished, the one dogmatic and the other moral. In a dogmatic sense, concupiscence is the appetite – primarily sensitive and actual, and secondarily spiritual and habitual – in so far as its movement precedes the deliberation and dictate of reason and tends to endure in spite of the command of the will. In a moral sense, concupiscence is the appetite – again primarily sensitive and actual, and secondarily spiritual and habitual – in so far as 1) its acts not only precede reason and perdure in spite of the will, but 2) they tend to moral evil. Another name for the latter is inordinate or prava concupiscence.

Our concern in the thesis is with concupiscence in the dogmatic sense, and integrity as immunity from this kind of appetitive drive.

In order, further to clarify Adam’s gift of integrity, we may say that he was perfectly sound, entire and integral, in the sense that he did not experience within himself that division which mankind now understands so well. Our own indeliberate tendencies, we know, often oppose themselves to what we decide or want to do. The life of a man who wants to do well and avoid evil is literally a conflict, more or less violent, between reason which sees and approves the good and wants fewer tendencies. This conflict is variously described as a tension between spirit and flesh, between the interior and exterior man, or simply between soul and body. But in our first parents there was no such internal discord. Their integrity was “the absence of any resistance from their spontaneous tendencies, notably the sense appetite, in the performance of good or avoidance of evil.” In a word it was a perfect dominion of animal and spiritual passion.

Infused Knowledge

Adam’s infused knowledge was not acquired, in the sense of natural cognition derived from experience and the reasoning process; nor was it intrinsically supernatural as giving a knowledge of the mysteries, such as the souls enjoy in the beatific vision. It was infused because not naturally acquired, but yet entitatively not beyond the capacity of man’s faculties in his statu viae. Theologians commonly refer to three areas of special knowledge possessed by Adam: regarding God and His attributes, the moral law or man’s relations to God, and the physical universe both material and spiritual.

If Adam Had Not Sinned

If Adam had not sinned, we all would have inherited these preternatural gifts, together with the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace.

The Difference

The difference between supernatural and preternatural is that preternatural is above the order of human nature. The saints and angels in heaven are above the order of human nature because they are pure spirit while man is both spirit and matter. Supernatural, by contrast, is above the order of created nature. God created all things, so God alone is supernatural. We speak of supernatural events as being accomplished by God himself.

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