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The History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich


Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Herb and June Lowe.


Lecture 6: Logos and the Doctrine of God. Gnosticism. Marcion.


Yesterday I tried to explain what was the reason, in interpreting the.meaning of Jesus as the Christ, for the Apologetic theologians' use of the concept of the Logos, taken from a long philosophical development beginning with Heraclitus and the Stoics and Philo of Alexandria. The answer was: because the Logos was considered already by Philo to be the universal principle of the Divine self-manifestation, and therefore in saying that this is so, that this is historical reality in Jesus, one said of Him that He is universal. I gave you an interpretation of this term "universal:" Nothing can in principle be excluded, even if it is not actually developed within Christianity

Now I Come to the speculative side, to the combination of the Logos doctrine with the doctrine of God. The Logos is the first "work" or generation of God as father. The Father, being eternal mind, has in himself the Logos, since He is eternally "logical," as Athanasius, one of the Apologists, says. "Logical" doesn't mean that He can argue well; He leaves that to us. "Logical' means that He is logikos, namely adequate to the principles of meaning and truth; God is not irrational will. He is here called eternal nous (mind), and this means He has within himself the power of self-manifestation. This analogy is taken from our own experience. There is no mental process which is not going on in some way or other in terms of silent words. And so, the inner spiritual life of God includes the silent word in him.

There is a Spiritual procession going on from the Father to the world in which He manifests himself to himself and to the world. 'But this procession does not produce separation. The Word is not the same of which it is the Word. But on the other hand, the Word cannot be separated from; that of which it is the Word, namely the manifestation: The Word of God is not identical with God; it is the self-manifestation of God. On the other hand, if you separate it from God, then it's empty, with no content. This tries to describe, in analogy with the mental processes of man, the meaning of the term Logos. Therefore the process of generation of the Logos in which the Logos is produced in God eternally, of course does not make God small; He is not less than He was, by the fact that He generates His Word. So Justin can say: "The Logos is different from God according to number, but not according to concept." He is God; He is not the God, but He is one with God in essence. (Justin) also uses the Stoic doctrines of the immanent and the trespassing Logos. The Logos in God is logos endiathetos, "indwelling. " But this eternal indwelling Logos, the Word in which God expresses himself to himself, becomes, with the creation, becomes logos proforikos the proceeding, the outgoing Logos. The Logos is now a word spoken towards outside, towards the creature., through the prophets and the wise men. The old meaning ("word") and the already actual meaning ("reason") since Heraclitus oscillates both are always meant. If one thinks in Old Testament terms, one would prefer to translate logos by "word"; if one thinks in Greek terms, as the Apologists mostly did, then one would translate logos by "reason" not by '"reasoning," but by the meaningful structure of reality, which is reason. As the immediate self expression of the Divine, the Word, the Logos form or reason, is less, than the Divine Abyss, because the Divine Abyss is always the beginning, and out of the depths of divinity His self-manifestation and His manifestation towards the world come. The Logos is the beginning of the generations of God; there, everything starts. He has, so to speak, a diminished transcendence or divinity. But if this is so, how can He then reveal God fully? Now this was a later problem which we have to discuss more fully soon. In the moment in which the Apologists used the term Logos, the problem arose and couldn't be silenced any more. If the Logos is the self-expression of movement, is He less than God or fully God? All this means that one continued to call Christ God. But such a statement that a historical man, who lived and died, and perhaps was really in the"police files"of Jerusalem, is called "God": how can this be made understandable to the pagans?

The difficulty was not the incarnation as such. "Incarnation" is one of the most ordinary events in Greek mythology and in all mythology. Gods come to earth; they take on animal or human or plant form; they do something and then return to their divinity. This is not difficult. But this idea couldn't be accepted by Christianity. The problem and the difficulty was that the Son of God, who was at the same time a historical man and not a man of mythological imagination, is supposed to be the absolute and unique Son of God.

The incarnation is once for all, but it isn't a special characteristic or element in the Divinity which incarnates, but rather the very center of the Divinity. In order to make this problem clear, the Logos concept was used. The problem was to combine monotheism, which was emphasized so strongly against pagan polytheism, with the divinity of Christ the humanity and the universality of His nature at the same time. This was the need for that time. The Apologists fulfilled that need and therefore they were successful.

Now the incarnation itself, in the Apologists, is not the union of the Divine Spirit with the man Jesus, but the Logos really becomes man. This transformation Christology becomes more and more important through the Logos doctrine. Existing before the Logos, He now, through the will of God, has become man. He has been made flesh, as Justin says.

This is the first clear decision for the transformation Christology over against the adoptionist Christology. If the Logos or the Spirit adopted the man Jesus, then we have a quite different Christology from the idea that the Logos is made, is transformed into, flesh.

Now I leave all this open. I hope you have many questions and many shakings of your heads about this, because it is certainly not easy, since the concept of Logos is for us not what it was for every reader of Justin among the educated pagans. We know God and we know man, but the idea of hypostasis, of powers of being in God, is extremely difficult for us. But this was the content of the old Christian Christology, and this is still present whenever we perform our liturgy, which all. are dependent on this Christology.

The saving gifts of the Logos are gnosis (knowledge) of God, of the law, and of the resurrection. Christ is, as Logos, as reason, first of all teacher, but not a teacher who teaches us a lot of things he knows better than we, but teacher in the Socratic sense, namely, in the sense of giving us existential power of being.

The Logos gives us truth about God and gives us moral laws which we have to fulfill, by freedom. So a kind of intellectualization and educational elements come into the doctrine of the Christ. This was a possible consequence of the Logos doctrine, and this is the reason why there were always reactions against the Logos doctrine. But I don't want to go beyond this now because we come back to it again and again, and must now deal with another movement of great importance. The Apologists defend Christianity against the philosophers and the emperors. The dangers for Christianity were not only those from the outside these were lesser dangers, even though persecution often resulted but there was a much more essential danger, a danger from inside. nd this was the danger of gnosticism. Now what is this? It is derived from the Greek word gnosis meaning "knowledge." It does not mean scientific knowledge. Gnosis is used in three ways: 1) as knowledge in more general terms; 2) as mystical communion; 3) as sexual intercourse.

You can find all three meanings in the New Testament. This means it is knowledge by participation. It is a knowledge which is as intimate as the relation between husband and wife. It is not a knowledge of analytic and synthetic research; it is not scientific knowledge. But it is knowledge of union and knowledge of salvation: it's existential knowledge. Therefore the Gnostics were the Greek intellectuals, but were people who wanted to live in the realm of participation with the Divine, and who understood the cognitive function of man as a functioning of participation.

The Gnostics were not a sect if at all, they were many sects but they were much more than this. They were a universal religious movement in the late ancient world. We call this movement "syncretism," usually. It was a mixture of all the religious traditions of that time. This general movement of religious mixture was spreading all over the world, and it was strong enough to penetrate into Greek philosophy, so that we call that period of Greek philosophy the religious period of Greek philosophy. It was strong enough to penetrate into the Jewish religion: Philo of Alexandria is a typical predecessor of Gnosticism. It was strong enough to penetrate into the Roman law and into Christian theology.

The elements of this religion of mixture are the following:

1) The negative presupposition, namely the destruction of the national religions by the conquests of Alexander and of Rome. The great world empires undercut the national religions.

2) The philosophical interpretation of mythology. When you read the systems of the Gnostics, you will have the feeling that this is rationalized myth. And this feeling is right.

3) The renewal of the old mystery traditions.

4) The re-emergence of the psychic and magic elements, as it appeared in the religious propaganda of the East; while the political movement went from the West to the East

(Rome conquered the East), the religious movement, this great syncretistic thinking and acting which we call Gnosticism, went from East to West and conquered, at least partly, even Rome. So when you read about the Gnostics, don't believe you know all about them; it is easy to dismiss them. It was an attempt to combine all the religious traditions which had lost their genuine roots, and bring them together in a system of a half-philosophical, half-religious character. The Gnostic groups showed many similarities and many conflicts with original Christianity. They claim, against the public tradition of the Christian churches, to have secret traditions which are known only to the initiated; they are not public. They reject the Old Testament because it contradicts many of their fundamental tenets, especially the dualistic and ascetic tendencies. And the New Testament is not rejected but is purged. The man who did this first of all was Marcion. He tried to purge the Pauline canon. He leaves the ten main letters and the Gospel of Luke, which is most influenced by Paul. He rejects all other letters and gospels of the New Testament. Luke and ten Pauline letters, that's enough because there, no elements are present which contradict the basic ideas of Gnosticism.

Marcion was a very interesting man. He was not a speculative philosopher although he was that, too but he was a religious reformer. He founded congregations of Marcionites which endured for a long time. The title of his book is Antithesis (this is not an invention of Hegel's!). He was a gnostic namely, in his distinction between the God of the Old and the God of the New Testament, the God of the law and the God of the Gospel. He rejected the former and reaffirmed the latter. This problem shouldn't be seen in terms of the fantastic idea of two gods. This is much too easy. But it shouldbe seen in the problem with which Harnack, the great historian of Christian dogma, wrestled at the end of his life: namely, the problem whether or not the New Testament is actually so different from the Old Testament that you cannot combine them.

In Church history, we always have Marcionism, or radical Paulinism, and we have it today in the Barthian school whenever they try to put the God of revelation against the God of natural law. In natural law, and accordingly in history, man is by himself, they say. They don't speak of a second God: such a fantastic mythology would not be possible today. But they speak of a radical tension between the natural world including natural reason, natural morals and the religious realm, which stands against all the other realms. This was Marcion's problem, and he solved it by a radical separation. The problem is: Gnostic dualism.

For the Gnostics, the created world is bad, and therefore the world must have been created by a God who is bad. And who is this God? It is the God of the Old Testament. Salvation ,therefore; is liberation from the world, and .this must be done in ascetic terms. There is no place for eschatology on the basis of this dualism because the end of the world would be always seen in the light of this dualism, and a dualistic fulfillment is not a fulfillment: it is a split in God himself.

The saviour is one of the heavenly powers, called aeons, eternities the word "eternity" does not have the connotation of timelessness here, but has the connotation of cosmic powers, and as such it is always used. This higher aeon, the saviour aeon, the saviour power of being, descends to earth and takes on human flesh. But now it becomes obvious that the aeon, a Divine power, cannot suffer. So he takes on either a strange body or a body which only seems to be a body, but he does not become flesh. This of course was a very sensitive point for the early Christians and their conformity, and so they rejected the gnostics on this point. The saviour descends to the different realms in which the different astrological powers rule. This concerns especially the planets, which are considered as astrological powers even long after the Renaissance, even in Protestantism.. He reveals the hidden weapons of these demonic powers by trespassing their realm and overcoming them on his descent. He brings down the seals of their power, their names and their characters, and if you have the name of a demonic power, you are superior to it: you call it by name and then it falls down. One of the Gnostic texts says~ "Having the seals, I shall descend, going through all aeons. I shall recognize all mysteries. I shall show the shape of the gods. And the hidden things of the holy path, called gnosis, I shall deliver." Here you have a claim of the good God, of the mystery power which comes down to earth.

The demonic powers are the representatives of fate. The human soul which has fallen into their hands is liberated by the saviour and by the knowledge he gives. One could say: What the saviour does in gnosticism is somehow to use white magic against the black magic of the planetary powers, the same powers of whom Paul speaks in Romans 8 that they are subdued to Christ. Therefore the magic power of the sacraments as mysterious practices is acknowledged. In them the highest Divine power comes to earth. But besides these sacramental and speculative tendencies, the Gnostics had ethical values of community and asceticism. What is demanded is the ascent of the soul, following the saviour who also ascended, but then descended. The souls have descended; now they shall ascend.

The savior liberates from demonic powers for the sake of union with the highest itself, with the fullness, the pleroma, the Spiritual Word.

On the upward way, the human soul meets these rulers, and then the soul tells the rulers what it knows about them. He knows their name, i. e., their mysterious power, the structure of evil they represent. When he tells them their name, they fall down and tremble and cannot stop the soul any more.

Now what really is meant in these poetic images is a religion of salvation from the demonic powers, which was the problem of the whole period, inside and outside Christianity. Man is somehow better .than his creator. Man can be saved from the powers of the demiurge, of him who creates the world. But not all men are able to be saved. There are three classes of human beings: the pneumatikoi, i. e. , the Spirituals; the psychikoi, those who follow the soul; and the sarkikoi, those who follow the flesh. The sarkikoi are lost; the Spiritual ones are saved; but the middle group, the psychikoi, can go this way or that way. In order to reach the elevation, man must participate in the mysteries. These mysteries are mostly mysteries of purification, therefore mostly connected with baptism. The Spirit in baptism enters the matter of the sacrament (water) and dwells in it. After the Spirit has been brought down by a special formula, namely the formula of the initiation of the sacraments., it is the magic idea of the sacraments which was accepted by these Stoics...

All these ideas were a great temptation to Christians. Christ remained in the center of history. He is he who brings salvation. But He is put into the frame of the dualistic world-view of Hellenism. He is put into the context of the great syncretism.

The religious mood of this whole time is beautifully expressed in the Acts of Andreas , one of those apocryphal writings. He says: "Blessed is our generation. We are not thrown down, for we have been recognized by the light. We do not belong to time, which would dissolve us. We are not a product of motion, which would destroy us again. We belong to the greatness towards which we are striving. We belong to Him who has mercy towards us, to the light which has expelled the darkness, to the One from whom we have turned away, to the Manifold, to the Super-heavenly, by whom we have understood the earthly. If we praise Him, it is because we are recognized by Him." Now this is piety. It is not only speculation, as the critics of Gnosticism have said. This is really religion. And there are many people today who would like to renew gnostic religion as their own daily expression of their religious experience; and not because of the fantastic speculation, but because of the real piety in it, Gnosticism was a very great danger for Christianity, because if Christian theology had succumbed to this temptation, the individual character of Christianity would have been lost. The unique ground of the person Jesus would have become meaningless. The Old Testament would have disappeared, and with it the historical picture of the Christ. All this has been avoided by those men whom we call the anti-gnostic Fathers, the Fathers who were fighting against Gnosticism and who threw it out of the Church.

 

Now there are a few minutes and I would like to see how difficult, especially the first part of the lectures, were. Perhaps you have questions.

Q. I think the Logos doctrine greatly resembles the gnostic doctrine of the aeons. They are both emanations from God. Is there any real distinction between them?

A. That is a very good question. The distinction is the following: In the Logos Christology, as it was developed further on, we have the emphasis on the absoluteness of this aeon, which is Christ. Perhaps I can give you a great help for the understanding of the struggle between Arius and Athanasius, to which we come later on. What Arius actually did was to make the Christ, the heavenly Logos, into one of the aeons; while the Church decided that whatever one may think about aeons, or transcendent powers of being, the Logos is above them. .. If we did not have one of the Divine principles in which the innermost heart of God is expressed, then our salvation would not be a complete salvation. But what you said is very well said: these powers of being are like the Logos, hypostasized, hypostasized in the bathos, the abyss, the depth of the Divine Life. There, everything is in and is born out of it. It is the birthplace of all aeons. But now the Church limited the aeons to two: the Logos and the Spirit. And everything else, whether it was called an aeon or not, was not of equal rank. This was the development of the Trinitarian doctrine of God.

 

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