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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 17: Augustine (continued)


I wanted to give you a survey of the basic elements in the development of Augustine. I started last time and gave you two of these elements, the first being the piety of his mother Monica, in contrast to the paganism of his father; the importance of tradition, which now again has started after it had come to an end in Greece, for instance, in the period of Plato. We can say Plato represents the end of a tradition (the Aristocratic tradition in Athens), while Augustine represents the beginning of a new tradition, the Christian. The second point I made was the reading of Cicero's "Hortensius," where the problem of truth is discussed. This gave him the first question. Hortensius, Cicero himself, answers this question in terms of eclectic philosophy, philosophy which chooses and doesn't construct, chooses out of the given systems according to a practical or pragmatic principle of what is good for a special situation. In Cicero it is the Roman Empire, what is good for a Roman citizen. For Augustine the point of view is the Christian Church, which gives the basis for his philosophical eclecticism.

The third point was his Manichaeism. The Persian religion was dualistic and produced, in the Hellenistic period, a movement called Manichaeism, from its leader Mani. It was a Hellenized Parsism, dualistic in character. So we can consider it a mixture between the prophecy of Zoroaster, the prophet of the Persian religion, and Platonism in the form of the Gnostic thinking of his time, the late ancient world.

These Manichaeans were for a long time the main competitors with Christianity. They asserted that they represent the truly scientific theology of their time. Augustine was attracted for this reason and also because the dualism of the Manichaeans gave them the possibility of explaining sin rationally. This is the reason why the Manichaeans always had some influence through the whole history of Christianity. There were in the Middle Ages always sects influenced by Manichaean ideas, and there are Manichaean elements in many of you, without your knowledge of it. Whenever you hear an explanation of sin in terms of human freedom, then ask the question: "But if God is almighty, it must come from Him, or a principle against Him" then you are Manichaean in your thinking: you have two principles in order to explain sin. This is something which is a past problem, but an actual problem, especially actual if you talk with people who are outside Christian: thought but have this popular nonsense with which they confront God's almightiness and the evil of the world, and tell you either God is not almighty or He is not all-loving. Then you are tempted to retire into a kind of half-Manichaean principle that there is an ultimate principle of evil in the world against the ultimate principle of good. You hear this also unfortunately in very serious lectures, and when you hear that the Neoplatonists or Augustine called sin."non-being," then they have taken away the seriousness of sin. But in the moment in which you (regard) sin as a part of being, then you are Manichaean. .. Augustine was attracted ,by this because he could now have two ultimate principles evil is as positive as good.

This choice, which kept him for ten years as a member of the Manichaean development, shows his interest in thinking. Not everybody had a merely logical interest in it. Most philosophers had other interests, too. There is first, that truth for this group, as for Augustine, is not a theoretical philosophical, it is not logical analysis, but is at the same time religious practice practical truth, existential truth: that is his interest.

Secondly, truth is saving truth, and Manichaeism is a system of salvation. The elements of the good, which are captivated by the evil principle, are saved from it. This makes it attractive for Augustine because salvation is his main question.

Thirdly, truth is in the struggle between good and bad, ,which gives him a possibility of interpreting history.

Now he remained always, somehow, under the at least coloring influence of Manichaeism. He was not a Manichaean any more, after he left the group; he fought against it. But something in his thinking and even more, in his feeling, was colored by the profound pessimism about reality... His doctrine of sin is probably not understandable without his Manichaean period.

But he left Manichaeism, under the influence of astronomy. Astronomy showed him the perfect motion of the stars, i. e., the fundamental elements in the structure of the universe. This made a dualistic principle almost impossible. If the structure of the universe is a structure of regular mathematical forms which can be calculated and which are harmonius, where can you find the effect of the demonic creation in the world? The world as created in its basic structure is good this is what he derived from it. This means he uses the Greek Pythagorean idea of the cosmos. He used the principle of form and harmony as it was expressed in mathematics.

Now this Greek European principle overcame the Asiatic dualism and negativity. So the separation of Augustine from the Manichaean philosophy was a symbolic event. It was the liberation of modern natural science, mathematics and technics from the Asiatic dualistic pessimism and negation of reality. This was extremely important for the future of Europe. And, as we shall see, as far as we have time to see it, the later medieval Augustinian philosophers and theologians were always men who emphasized astronomy and mathematics more than anything else. Modern natural science is born, as are Platonism and Augustinianism, on the basis of a belief in a harmonious cosmos determined by mathematical rules. This was also the worldview of the Renaissance. So if we look deeper into the movements of thought, then this anecdotic story, that AugustIne left the Manichaeans because of astronomy and that he had joined them because of the explanation of sin and evil, becomes a world-historical symbol for the relationship of the East and the West, of the Asiatic East and the European West.

The fourth influence: After he had left the Manichaean group, he fell intoskepticism, as always happens if you are disappointed about a system of truth in which you believe, suppressing other elements of truth which are in you but which you do not admit; then if you cannot keep them down any more., you fall into a skeptical doubt about every possibility of truth.

In his period skepticism was a very widely spread mood. Even in the later Academy, i, e., the Platonic school, skepticism about knowledge was present in terms of what is called probabilism: only probable statements are possible; no certainty is possible. This, in the Platonic school, was how the end of the Middle Ages looked.

All his older philosophical writings deal with the problem of certainty, He wanted to overcome the skeptical philosophy; he wanted certainty. This is another element in his thinking. It is very important, again, because it presupposed the negative end of the Greek development. The Greek heroic attempt to build a world on the basis of philosophical reason came to an end in terms of a catastrophe which we usually call skepticism. This was the end of the Greek thinking. The end of the Greek development to create a new world of thinking in terms of reason was skepticism. The heroic attempt of the Greek philosophers (after the archaic traditions had fallen down) to create a new world in terms of a doctrine of essences (Plato, the Stoics), came to an end in terms of skepticism. On this basis the emphasis on revelation must be understood. The negative end of the development of Greek philosophy, namely skepticism, is the negative presupposition for the way in which Christianity received the idea of revelation. Skepticism is very often the negative basis for a doctrine of revelation. Those people who emphasize revelation in the most absurd supernaturalistic terms are those who enjoy being skeptical about everything. Skepticism and dogmatism about revelation are correlate. And the way in which Christianity emphasized revelation in the earlier period and almost up to the Renaissance, is based on the tremendous shock Western mankind experienced when all the attempts of the Greek philosophers to bring certainty proved to be in vain. And this proof was given by the skeptical philosophers, which permeated all schools at that time.

Secondly, this skepticism gave rise to something else, namely to the new doctrine of knowledge, to the new epistemology, which Augustine created and which starts with the inner man instead of the experience of the external world. The skepticism, which was the end of all attempts to build a world in the objective realm, in the realm of things and objects, had the consequence that Augustine was thrown into himself to find the place of truth there, instead of outside. So we have two consequences of his participation in skepticism: the one is that he accepted revelation, and the other that insofar as he tried to find certainty as a philosopher, he tried to find it in the innermost center of his soul in the subject himself.

Augustine stands between skepticism and the new authority, that of the Church, as Plato stood between the old authority and the beginning of skepticism. Here again we have the end of the archaic period in Plato and the beginning of a new archaic period in Augustine.

The fifth point: the liberation from skepticism in the philosophical realm was produced by his Neoplatonic period. While skepticism was the one end of Greek thinking, Neoplatonism was the other end. Skepticism was the negative, Neoplatonism the mystical, way in which Greek philosophy came to 1ts finish. Augustine became the Neoplatonic philosopher and he used it as the basis for a new certainty, the immediate certainty of God. In Neoplatonism you have the immediacy of truth in the inner soul, and from this he got his new certainty of the Divine,

Secondly, Neoplatonism gave him the basis for his interpretation of the relationship of God and the world, God as the creative Ground of the world in terms of amor (love).

Thirdly, it gave him the entrance to himself, from a psychological point of view, although this had to be supported by his Christian experience.

But now Augustine did something which later on all Renaissance philosophers also did: he turned the meaning of Neoplatonism into its opposite. Neoplatonism was a negative philosophy, a philosophy of escape from the world. The elevation of the soul out of the material world into the Ultimate, is the meaning of Neoplatonism. Augustine changes the emphasis. And this is the case in all Western Neoplatonism. Therefore he dropped the idea of degrees and used Neoplatonism for the .immediate experience of the Divine in everything, but especially in his soul.

In his doctrine of sin and grace, we still have these two influences, the influence of Manichaeism in his doctrine of sin and the influence of Neoplatonism in his doctrine of grace we will come to this later. But he overcame skepticism not only philosophically, with the help of the Neoplatonists: he also overcame it with the help of the authority of the Church, under the influence of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milano, in whom the authority of the Church was represented.

The principle of authority was a form in which the new archaism, or the new archaic period which starts with the Church tradition, became conscious .of itself. The skeptical catastrophe drove Augustine more and more to authority, to the authority of revelation, concretely given to him by the authority of the Church, concretely given to him by the authority of this great bishop of Milano.

The whole medieval development has in its underground the anxiety of skepticism,

the anxiety of meaninglessness, as we could call it, over against which the acceptance of revelation and authority stood. We can say the catastrophe of the Greek autonomous attempt to construct a world out of pure thought, is the negative presupposition of the Christian doctrine of authority. Authority for Augustine you know he said that he would not have believed in the Christian message without the authority of the Church means the impressive, the imposing, the overwhelming power of the Church and its great great representatives. This element of authority was not what it is for us, a problem of heteronomy, subjectionof something to what someb0dy else says to us we should accept. But it was for him the answer to the question implied in ancient skepticism. Therefore he did not feel it as heteronomy, he felt it as theonomy and somehow rightly so, at that time. We will come back to this problem in the survey of the Middle Ages.

Seventh: Another element of ,the Church which impressed him profoundly: Christian asceticism, as represented by the monks and saints. He experiences the tension between the mystical ideal and his own sensual nature. In the period of Augustine, the sphere of sexuality was profanized in a terrible way. Neither Stoic reason nor Neoplatonism were able to overcome this profanization, on a large scale. The natural forms of love, sanctified by tradition and faith in the archaic periods of Greece and of the other countries, had been destroyed. An unrestrained naturalism of sex ruled. Against this, all the preaching of Stoics, Cynics, or Skeptics, was unable to help, because they preached the law, and the law was powerless against a naturalistically distorted libido. And now Augustine saw a new principle of sanctification. This gave him the solution for himself and for others also, in this realm. But it had the same tension in itself as Christian Neoplatonism. We already met Christian Neoplatonism in Dionysius, where we found this tension affirmation and negation of the world. Now we find it here again in the problem of asceticism. Christianity affirms creation and sanctifies existence, through the historical appearance of the Divine in Christ. Neoplatonism negates creation; it has no creation, even. It negates the historical appearance of God, or makes it a universal event which always happens. Augustine was split: insofar as he was a Christian, coming from the Old Testament, he valuated family and sex insofar as it is in the family. Insofar as he was influenced by Neoplatonism and the ancient negativity towards the world, he denied sex and praised asceticism. This conflict goes through the whole history of the Christian Church. We have it even in the Reformers: the Reformation was basically on the positive side of Augustine Old Testament prophetism affirms the body, etc. On the other hand the suspicion of libido was so deeply rooted in the Christian tradition that in spite of their greatness and their radicalism, the Reformers were unable to eradicate completely this remnant of Neoplatonic asceticism, and were at least very suspicious of everything sexual, as especially in Calvinistic countries the Protestants still are.

This influence was of equal historical importance as the other six. But if a man like Augustine has influences, then not only are these influences important for all later history, but also that which has not influenced him. And this is what I must discuss now. I concentrated around the name of Aristotle. Aristotle is missing in this development of course, not entirely, because Plotinus took much Aristotle into himself. But Aristotle was not directly important for Augustine. This is equally important. This means that Augustine didn't include in his theology, in his philosophy, in his life, the concern for Greek science not only natural science science, but also political science was not really implied in his thinking. The significance of this is so important that it determines that whole presentation of the medieval development later on.

1) What Aristotle did was to (construct) a system of mediation and not a system of dualism, as we have it in Plato and Plotinus. The system of mediation couldn't be used by Augustme because for him the dualistic world-view seemed to be the adequate expression of Christianity. So this side of Augustine had to wait until hundreds of years of education of the barbaric tribes had been performed.

2) The emphasis in Aristotle on the importance of the individual gives a good basis for tendencies which are far from Augustine, who wanted the community of the Church.

3) Aristotle speaks about the middle way between the extremes. He denies anything like the erotic and ascetic ecstasies of Augustine. Again, it is a quasi-bourgeois attitude. The consequences of this later on became very outspoken in Protestantism.

4) Aristotle represents the special sciences, which deal with things in their rational and horizontal relationship. Augustine denies the possibility of such, or he denies their importance what is important is the knowledge of God and the soul, but not of the natural things.

5) Aristotle is a logician. There is no special interest in logic in Augustine. The intuitive and voluntaristic character of his thinking made him disinterested in the abstractions of pure logic.

6) In some way this is the most important thing: Aristotle is an inductive thinker, he is an empiricist. He starts from the given reality in time and space and goes up from there to the highest abstractions. Augustine, following Plato, is an intuitive thinker: he starts from above and goes down to the empirical realities.

These two attitudes were due to clash in the moment in which Aristotle was rediscovered in the ancient world in the 13th century, which for this reason is the greatest century of Christian theology, and which is completely determined by the tension between Aristotle and Augustine. This tension continues through all the following centuries, and if you want to put a label on me, call me an "Augustinian," and in this sense, an anti-Aristotelian and an anti-Thomist, in the fundamental attitude of Augustine with respect to the philosophy of religion not in many other things; for instance, as a gestalt theologian or philosopher I am much nearer to Aristotle than to Augustine or Plato, because the idea of the living structure of a living organism is Aristotelian, while the atomistic, mechanical, mathematical science is Augustinian-Platonic. So there are some exceptions, and we will have more of them in the Middle Ages. But if you want to have the basic line of thought, don't forget what I told you here: After seven influences from the whole ancient world were mediated through the Middle Ages and to us, through Augustine, one of them was not (mediated): that for which Aristotle stands.

Augustine's epistemology. The purpose at the same time, the way of knowledge is expressed in his famous words: "I wish to know God and the soul." "Nothing else?" "Nothing at all." God and the soul. This means the point where God appears to man: in the soul. This he wants to know because only there can he know God, and in no other place. This implies, .of course, that God is not an object besides other objects. God is seen in the soul. He is in the center of man, before the split into subjectivity and objectivity. He is not a strange being, whose existence or non-existence one might discuss, but He is our own apriori, He precedes ourselves in dignity" and reality, and logical validity. In him the split between the subject and object, and the desire of the subject to know the object is overcome. There is no such gap. God is given to the subject as nearer to itself than it itself is to itself.

Now therefore the source point of all philosophy of religion in the Augustinian tradition, is the immediacy of the presence of God in the soul, or, as I like to call it, the experience of the unconditional, of the ultimate, in terms of an ultimate or an unconditional concern. This is the prius of everything. This is not a matter of discussing whether or not somebody exists.

Augustine connects this with the problem of certainty. He says that we have

immediate evidence of two things, namely, the logical form because even the question of evidence presupposes the logical form and secondly, the immediate sense experience, which should really be called sense impression because" experience'" is too ambiguous. What he means is this; I now say that I see blue. The piece of color may objectively be not blue but green I sometimes confuse these two, especially in female dresses, (the horror of Mrs. Tillich!) in any case, I now have blue, as sense impression. This is absolutely certain, even if the dress is not blue. Now this is what he means with immediacy. I see a man, but I come nearer and it is a tree, in reality; this often happens when you walk through a fog and cannot distinguish a man from a tree, if they are a little bit away from us. This means there is no certainty about the objective element in it, but there is absolute certainty about the impression I have as such. This means there is skepticism about everything real. Logical forms are not real; they are structures which make questions possible; therefore they are immediate and necessary.

Secondly, sense experiences are not real. They are real only insofar as I have them. But whether they are more than this, I don't know. Therefore these two evidences of the logic and of the perception do not overcome skepticism.

Now how can doubt about reality be overcome? You must start with the general doubt. You must doubt about everything. It was not Descartes who said this first. It was not even Augustine, but Augustine also said it. Therefore, is there a point of certainty, somewhere? He says: "You know that you are thinking." "I know." "Do not go outside; go into thyself" namely where you are thinking "The truth dwells in the interior of man, for a mind knows nothing except what is present to the mind. But nothing is more present to the mind than the mind itself." i. e., the immediate self-consciousness of the asking skeptic is the fixed point.. The truth which was lost in the exterior world, where everything fell under doubt, is found again in the interior world. The soul is the inner realm, in contrast to Greek philosophy, in which it is the power of life. The discovery of soul, in this sense, is one of the most important consequences of Christianity. It includes the world as the sum of all appearances. In contrast to the Greeks, where the soul is a

part of all things, the world is an object. Now the world is an appearance for the soul, which is the only real thing.

Now these ideas Go into thy inner reality and there you will find truth sound very much like Descartes' cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). But the difference is that in Deseartes, the self-certainty of the ego is the principle of mathematical evidence he derives from this his rational system of nature while for Augustine the inner evidence is the immediacy of having God. So he says, after saying "go into thyself," "And after you have your soul immutable, transcend yourselves i. e., in your soul is something which transcends your soul, something immutable, namely, the Divine Ground. It is the immediate awareness of that which is unconditional, to which he refers here. This is certainly not an argument for the existence of God, but it is a way of showing that God is presupposed in the situation of doubt about Him. "While not seeing what we believe, we see the belief in ourselves." i. e. , we see the situation of being grasped by something unconditional.

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