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 18: Augustine (continued)
We discussed the type of thought in epistemology, psychology, and doctrine of God represented by Augustine, which makes him the one representative of the possibilities of a philosophy of religion in which philosophy and the Christian message are brought together.
The statement I made was that after skepticism – in which Augustine himself participated in one period – had broken down the certainty of the external world, Augustine goes into himself and rediscovers the ultimate certainty within his own soul, not in terms of changing psychological terms, but in terms of something unconditional, which transcends all psychological phenomena. I said that this is not an argument for the existence of God, but the description of an element in man's finitude which is always present, namely the element of the unconditional, of which he is aware.
There were people whom Augustine met who said: Why truth at all? Truth as such is not necessary. Why not stick to probabilities? Why not restrict oneself to pragmatic answers, answers which work? – But he says this is not sufficient, because it leads to a complete emptiness of life. Without something unconditional or ultimate, the preliminary meanings lose their meaning. And this cannot be replaced by another statement, namely that the human situation is not (one of) having truth, but searching for truth. He says: Searching for truth, also, is not an answer to the question of truth because if we are searching for truth, then we must have at least some insight of truth, we must know, when we approach truth we, approach it. But in order to know that we approach truth, we must already have a criterion: truth itself. -- What he says here is that in every relativism, however radical it may be, there is an absolute norm presupposed, even if it cannot be expressed in propositions. Since truth is something which we can find only in the interior of the human soul, physics are useless for ultimate truth. They do not contribute to the knowledge of God. He says: While the angels have knowledge of the Divine things, the lower demons recognize the world of the bodies -- so a knowledge of the bodily world is a participation in the bodily world. Knowledge is union; union implies love; and he who deals cognitively with the bodies loves them, is connected with them, participates in them. That means he is distracted from the highest, the Divine, knowledge. This, again, means that he is in untruth. Natural sciences have meaning only insofar as they show the Divine causes in nature, show the traces of the Trinity in flowers and animals, but they have no meaning in themselves. This means that in the greater part of the Middle Ages, natural sciences are at least reduced in significance and not really furthered at all. The technical relationship to nature is of no interest to Augustine, and therefore the analysis of controlling knowledge for technical relation. This makes the attitude of the Middle Ages toward natural sciences understandable. It is not a matter that these people were so much more stupid than we are – there are some indications that they were not - -but the reason is that it had no interest for them; they were not in love with what natural sciences produce. If they loved the exploration of nature, then it was nature insofar as it is an embodiment of the Trinity. This of course gave them the possibility of artistic production which is much higher than most we produce under the power of controlling, and not uniting, knowledge. I would ask you to go to the Cloisters (Museum) and look at the carpets on the walls there, and what you find there in terms of the observation of nature. It is not an observation in terms of natural science – probably none of these flowers, and certainly none of these animals, is naturalistically exact. But they all are painted in order to show the traces of the Trinity, I. e., the movement of life to separation and reunion, in the natural objects. They try to show the Divine ground in nature, and that gives them their
extreme beauty. In all these things the intention, that which is really meant, must be understood – otherwise you cannot really understand their creations. You think they were bad craftsmen – even there, there are signs they were not – but they didn't want what we want, they didn't want to show objects in 3-dimensional space. They wanted to show the traces of the Divine in nature, as Augustine wished.
The Neoplatonists and Plato himself were nearest to Christianity, Augustine says. And he shows the Trinitarian elements in them, especially the Logos doctrine, in Plato and the Neoplatonists. But then he says – and this is a very important statement, which somehow reveals the whole relationship of theology and philosophy – that there is one thing which philosophy as such never could have said, that the Logos has become flesh. Philosophy gives the possibility for theologians to speak of the Logos, to interpret philosophy in terms of the Logos, but when theology says the Logos becomes flesh, then something is said which is the basis of a religious message and of a theological statement. Here he sees clearly that one thing distinguishes Christianity from classical philosophy, namely the statement of the unique, incomparable historical event. Becoming flesh means becoming historical; the universal principle of the cosmos, the Logos, appears in historical form. And that is, according to Augustine, a matter not of philosophy but of revelation.
In the same way, as in these ideas, the idea of God in Augustine unites Neoplatonic elements – which are always mystical – and ethical personality, and the uniting power is Augustine's idea of love.
Now let me say a few words about it before 1 go to the other problem, the problem of God, because this idea of love is rightly put in the foreground now. Nygren's criticism of Christian theology combining eros and agape is predominantly a criticism of Augustine. We have the synthesis in Augustine, and in Nygren – the Swedish theologian who wrote "Eros and Agape" , as you probably know. wants to have them not united but in contradiction. And of course on this basis Augustine must mostly be attacked. Nygren is right that in Augustine there are both elements, the agape element (the element of love, in the New Testament sense, personal, forgiving, – charity (caritas) , - -all this is in his idea. the personalistic Divine forgiving character. But there is also in it the agape element – God is the highest good for Augustine, and all creatures are longing for it, desiring to be united with it, to fulfill itself in intuiting eternally the Divine abundance. The agape element is especially emphasized when we speak of God moving down to man in caritas – 1 prefer the Latin word to the very much distorted word "charity" – in becoming humble in Christ in exercising grace and mercy; the participation in the lowest, the elevation of the lowest to the highest,
Eros, on the other side, drives from below to above, from the lowest to the highest. It is a longing, a striving, a being-moved by the highest, a being-grasped by it in its fullness and abundance. It is exactly as I said before – the Logos becomes flesh: that's agape. But all flesh (all historical and natural reality) is desirous for God – this eros I. have shown in my Systematics lectures, that if you take eros out, then you cannot speak of love towards God any more, because this is love toward that which is the highest power of being, in which we are fulfilled.
God is also a union of summa essentia, ultimate being, beyond all categories, beyond all temporal and spatial things. Even the categories of substance cannot be used, and if it is used it is abusively used. Essence and existence, being and quality, functions and acts, cannot be distinguished in this side of God. It is the negative theology of Dionysius which is present here, (though) it is not dependent on him (Dionysius)," since Augustine was earlier, but dependent on Neoplatonism, on which both of them are dependent.
But on the other hand, there is the positive way: God is the unity of all forms. He is the principle of all beauty.. Unity is the form of all beauty and God is the unity of all forms. All ideas (all essences, or powers, or principles of things) are in the mind of God. Through these ideas, individual things come to pass and return to God through the ideas.
Now you have here the two elements of the idea of God. Insofar as God is beyond any difference, He is beyond subject and object. Love is not a subjective feeling, directed towards an object. Not objects are ultimately love, but through our love toward them love itself is love. Amor amato, love is love, and that means the Divine ground of being is love. Love is beyond the separation of subject and object. It is the pure essence, blessedness, which is the Divine ground in all things. Therefore if we love things in the right way, including ourselves, then we love the Divine substance in them. If we love things for their own sake, in separation from the Divine ground in them, then we love them in the wrong way, then we are separated from God.. So he can speak of a right self-love, namely if you love yourselves as loved by God, or if you love through yourselves – God, the Divine loving ground of everything.
But on the other hand Augustine is in the personalistic tradition of the Old and New Testament and the early Church. And for him this is even of much stronger importance than for the Eastern theologians, like Origen. He completely takes the point of the West in the Trinitarian discussion. He is not so much interested in the different hypostases, the powers of being in God, the three personae, as he is interested in the unity of God. And he expresses this in terms which make it very clear that he is one of those who are responsible for our present-day inclination to apply the term persona to God, instead of applying it to the Father, Son and Spirit. He is inclined, but of course he never became heterodox, in this respect, although his tendency goes, as the West's always went, toward a Monarchianistic tendency. He expresses this in using analogies between the Trinity and the personal life of man. He says: "Father, Son and Spirit are analogous to amans, (he who loves), quod amato, (that which is loved), and amor, (the power of love. ). Or: "The
Trinity is analogous to memory, intelligence, and will." This means that he uses the Trinity in order analogically to give a description of God as person. Since God is a person, and that means a unity, all acts of God towards outside are always acts of the Trinity, even the Incarnation. None of the three personae or hypostases acts for Himself. Since the substance of all things is love, in its three-fold appearance as amans, quod amato, and amor, everything which is created by the Divine Ground has the traces of the Trinity, and this gives the immediate world this theonomous character, that character of all forms of life, not denied or broken, but theonomously filled with Divine substance.
With respect to the relationship of God and the world, there are several important things. He expresses, of course, very clearly the doctrine of creation out of nothing. There is no matter which precedes the creation. Creation is done without an independent substance. This means a continuous threat of finitude. I believe that when our modern Existentialist thinkers – including myself – say that finitude is the mixture of being and non-being, or in everything finite . non-being is present, it has something to do with Augustine's statement that "everything is in danger of the fathomless abyss of nothingness. " The world is created in every moment by the Divine will, which is the will of love. Therefore Augustine concludes – and all Reformers followed him – that creation and preservation are the same thing. I. e. , the world is in no moment independent of God. The forms, laws, and structures of reality do not make it an independent reality. God is the supporting power of being, which has the character of love. This makes every deistic fixation of two realities – God and the world – impossible. God is the continuous, carrying ground of the world.
This is in' agreement with Augustine's famous doctrine of time. Philosophically speaking, this is his greatest work, perhaps because here he really starts a new era of human thinking about the concept of time. Cf. his prayer (Book 11 of the "Confessions") Time has no objective reality, in the sense in which a thing is. Therefore it is not valid for God. Therefore the question how time was before the creation, is meaningless. Time is created with the world, it is the form of the world. Time is the form of the finitude of things, as is space also. Both world and time and space have eternity only insofar as they are subjects of the eternal will to creation, I. e., they are potentially resent in the Divine Life, but they are not eternal as real; as real they are finite, they have a beginning and an end. There is only one world process, according to him – and this is the decisive statement in which he denies Aristotle and the Stoics – namely, that there is no cyclical world, cycles of a birth and rebirth of the world after everything repeats itself in the same way, infinitely. This is Greek thinking. But for Augustine, there is a definite beginning and a definite end, and only eternity is before and after this beginning and end. For the Greeks, space was finite, time was infinite--or, better, endless. For Augustine neither time nor space is infinite. In the finitude of space, he agrees with the Greeks; they couldn't understand the infinity of space because they were all potential sculptors, their world-view was plastic--(they wanted to see bodies) in space – the infinity of space would have disrupted the plastic form of reality, expressed in mathematical forms by the Pythagoreans. Augustine, however, said time was finite. This finitude of time is necessary if time shall have an ultimate meaning. It has not, in Greece, In Greece it is the form of decay and repetition, but it has no meaning of itself, in creative terms. The endless times in nature are meaningless. Meaningful time is historical time. And historical time is not a matter of quantity. The 6000 years of world history of which Augustine speaks are the meaning of time. And if instead of that there were 100, 000 years or, as we say, a few billion years, it cannot take away anything from the meaning of time. Meaning is a qualitative, not a quantitative, concept. The measure of time is not clock time. Clock time is physical time; it tends to repeat itself. But the meaning of time is the kairos, the historical moment, which is its qualitative character.
There is one world whose center is the earth, and one history, whose center is the Christ. This one process is eternally meant by God, but eternity is not time before time nor is it timelessness, something beyond all these categories. But the world itself, although it is intended eternally, is neither eternal nor infinite; but it is finite and meaningful. In the finite moment, infinite meaning is actualized. This feeling of finitude is again something which makes the Middle Ages understandable to us. They felt they lived in one process, which has a definitely known beginning, the days of creation, which are only a few thousand years before our time and which will have a definite end, the days of judgment, which are only a few or a few thousand years ahead of us. And within this period we live; what we are doing in it is extremely important; it is the meaning of the whole world process. But it is limited in time, as it is limited in space. We are in the center of everything which happens, and Christ is in the center of everything which we are. This was the medieval world-view, and you can imagine how far away we are from this if you really realize, not what this means in terms of words, but in terms of a feeling towards reality, an awareness of one's existence.
This is what Augustine says about the relationship of God and the world. Each of these statements is more important than what other theologians have said, in the whole history of Christianity.
Augustine's Psychology or, better, his Doctrine of Man: He says that the decisive function in man is the will. It is present in memory and in intellect, and has the quality of love, namely, the desire toward reunion. This predominance of will was another of the great ideas in which the West overcame the East, and which produced the great medieval struggle between voluntarism and intellectualism. The two basic activities of the soul – knowledge and love, or will, which is the same – have an ambiguous character. They are partly directed towards themselves, and partly beyond themselves. They are directed towards oneself in self-knowledge and self-love.. . . . "We are, we know that we are, and we love this our being and knowing" This means we are self-related and self-affirming. We affirm ourselves in knowledge and in will.
On the other hand, of course, love and knowledge transcend ourselves and go to the other beings.
Love participates in the eternal – this is its own eternity. The soul has trans-temporal elements. Now this participation is not what we usually call immortality, but it is the participation in the Divine Life, in the Divine loving ground of being. But this idea is crossed by another one, in Augustine, and this tension is very important. One could say the mystical element is crossed by the educational element. The souls are not only eternal in their essence, but also immortal in the technical sense of continuation in time and space, or at least in time. As a consequence, those who are excluded from eternity because they are separated from God, are still immortal, and their immortality means their punishment, their damnation. They are excluded from God, which means they are excluded from love – love is the ground of being – and they do not deserve any pity. There is no unity of love between them and the others; but if so, one must ask: How, then, is (there) unity of being, if being is love? Here you see one of those conflicts between mystical-ontological thinking and ethical-educational thinking. We had the same conflict in Origen when he spoke about the apokatastasis panton, the return of everything to God, the final salvation of everything that has being – and the Church rejected this. Here we have, again, in Augustine the same conflict. In this conflict esoteric theology and philosophy and mysticism always choose the one side, namely the side of the eternal and the union with God in eternity. Ecclesiastical, educational and ethical thinking always chose the other side, namely, the. personal impossibility of being eternally condemned and punished. Logically this is impossible because the very concept of the eternal excludes continuation in time, and the ontological concept of love – which is so strong in Augustine – excludes being which is not in unity with love. Educational – this is the continuous threat over everybody, and therefore the Church always maintained it, and accepted the logical contradiction in order to produce the threat of eternal (I. e., endless) condemnation. Ontological mysticism and educational moralism contradict each other in such ideas. It reminds me a little of another problem which is much more concrete, perhaps, in our time, but it has the same character: Everybody who thinks seriously, or at least thinks in a Christian or in an existentialist tradition, will agree with me that utopianism, namely the idea that at a certain time the classless society, or the Kingdom of God, will be established on earth, without power or compulsion, is Utopian – I. e., there is "no place" (no topos ) for this in time and space. But if we say this, then we diminish the fanatical will to political revolution and to transformational society – because people tell you: We know this, but if we tell the people, then they will not fight any more for the transformation of society. They can do it if they believe the final stage is at hand – the Kingdom of God at hand. Only this gives the tremendous demanding power – What do you answer? It is the same problem. The ethical (in this case the social-educational) and the insight into the relation of time and eternity contradict each other, and many say: Although we know this is Utopianism, we must pronounce it, otherwise people will not act. Others say: – I belong to the latter.– The disappointment which follows utopianism, always and necessarily, makes it impossible to speak like this to people if you know better, because the disappointment is worse than the weakening of fanaticism. This would be my decision, but this decision is very questionable. But today even in this doctrine of eternal condemnation – you know that in Augustine even the unbaptized children are not condemned to hell but to the limbus infantium where they are excluded from the eternal blessedness, from the Divine love. Now such an idea might have a tremendous educational and ecclesiastical value in some periods of history, it doesn't have for us any more. It produces very often – especially the personal fear of condemnation – neurotic stages, and therefore we cannot say it is superior to the others.
Now let me give you finally something about Augustine's Philosophy of History. Each of these doctrines is world-historical, and therefore we must dwell on them so much. If you know him, you know the Middle Ages and much of the Reformation and Renaissance. The philosophy of history is based – as philosophy of history usually is – on a dualism; not an ontological dualism, of course - -this is impossible – but a dualism in history: on the one hand, the city of God, and on the other hand the city of earth or the Devil. The city of God is the actualization of love. It is present in the Church, but the Church is a corpus mixtum , a mixed body, with people who belong to it and others who do not, essentially, Spiritually. But on the other hand, there is a mediation between these two characters of the Church, representing the Kingdom of God and being a mixed body, (I. e., -not being the Kingdom of God), and this is the hierarchy, that is, all those who have the consecrations, who mediate between the two. In them Christ rules the Church and Christ is present. So the Catholic 61urch could use Augustine in both ways. It could identify the Kingdom of God with the Church to such a degree that the Church became absolutized – this was the one development which actually happened. On the other hand, the difference could be made very clear, and this was what the sectarian movement and the Protestants did. There is a dialectical relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church in Augustine, which was ambiguous and therefore useful for different points of view. But one thing was clear for him: there is no thousand-year (I. e., no third stage in world history. Chiliasm, or millenialism,was denied by him. (In this present time) Christ rules the Church; these are the thousand years; there is no stage of history beyond this stage in which we are. The Kingdom of God rules throughout the hierarchy, and the chiliasts are wrong: they should not look beyond the present state, in which the Kingdom of God is present in terms of history.
The same thing is true of the Kingdom of the earth. It has the same ambiguity. On the one hand it is the state of power, compulsion, arbitrariness, tyranny, the gangster-state (as Augustine called it); it has all the imperialistic characteristics we see in all states. On the other hand,(there) is the unity which overcomes the split of reality, and from this point of view it is a work of love. And if this is understood by the emperor, he can become a Christian emperor. Here again we have the ambiguous valuation: the state is partly identical with the Kingdom of the Devil; partly it is different from it because it restricts the devilish powers.
History has three periods: that before the law, that under the law, and that after the law. In this way we have a fully developed interpretation of history. We are in the last period, in the third stage, and it is sectarian heresy to say that another state must be expected. This heresy was expressed, of course, by the medieval sects, and from that point of view the fight between the revolutionary attempts of the sectarian movements and the conservatism of Augustine's philosophy of history, becomes visible.