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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 19: Augustine. Pelagius.


We must continue our discussion of Augustine now, and after we have heard about the elements of his development and his psychology, epistemology, doctrine of God and doctrine of history, we now come to that doctrine which is perhaps most important for his position in the development of Church history as a whole: his doctrine of man.

The doctrine of man was really touched on to a certain extent when I spoke about the voluntaristic character of Augustine's thinking, the idea that the center of man is not the intellect but the will, and the fact that in carrying this through he is the beginner of a development which goes through the whole Western world, through that group of theologians and philosophers in whom the will center of man - -in a much larger sense than the psychological concept of will is in the center against the intellect. We shall see when we come to the medieval philosophers and theologians and to the modern ones, that this influence always goes on and is always in creative tension with the tendencies coming from Aristotle. The tension between Augustine and Aristotle is the decisive power which moves the medieval history of thought, and almost everything can be seen in the relationship to this tension.

But this was only a description of man in his essential relationship. If man is seen in the essential relationship to God, to himself, to other men, then he is seen by Augustine as a will whose substance is love. This love, as we have also seen yesterday, is the creative ground of everything that is. It is an idea of love in which agape and eros are united the Christian form of love and the platonic form of love. But this essential nature of man is not his existential nature, is not actual in time and space. On the contrary, this essential nature is distorted by what Augustine calls, in the tradition of the New Testament and the Church, sin, and especially original sin. His doctrine of sin, the center of his anthropology, his doctrine of man, was developed in his fight with Pelagicus.

We must now turn to this struggle, which is one of the great struggles in Church history, like the Trinitarian and Christological struggles, which we have discussed, and it: is one which repeats itself again and again. We have the tension already in the New Testament between Paul and the writers of the Catholic Letters; we have it in Augustine and Pelagicus; we have it somehow between Thomas and the Franciscans; we have it between Karl Barth and the present-day liberals. It is something which goes through the whole history of the Church. And there is always one point which is decisive. Usually it is discussed in terms of the concept of freedom, but this is misleading because freedom has so many connotations which are not relevant for this discussion. But it is the question of the relationship of religion and ethics, whether the moral imperative is dependent on the Divine grace in its actualization, or whether Divine grace is dependent on the fulfillment of the moral imperative. That is actually the question which is going on through all Church history. In abstract terms, you could say it is the relationship of religion and ethics.

Pelagicus is not a special heretic. He represents simply the ordinary doctrine of people who were educated in Greek thinking, especially in Stoic traditions, and for whom freedom is the essential nature of man. Man is a rational being, and a rational being includes freedom of deliberating, deciding. All this wouldn't have made him a heretic because most of the Eastern church had exactly the same idea of freedom. But he developed them in a way which brought him into conflict with Augustine. When this conflict was decided, Augustine was at least partly victorious and Pelagicus was an arch-heretic, whose name was used all the time as a name of one of the classical Christian heresies.

Let us listen to some of his ideas: For him, death is a natural event and not a result of the fall. Death would have happened, it belongs to finitude, even if Adam had not fallen into sin. Now you remember what I said about Ignatius and Irenaeus, where the same idea is expressed, namely that man is naturally finite and therefore due to die as everything natural but that in the paradise story the participation in the food of the Gods made it possible for man to overcome his essential finitude. What Pelagicus does here s to leave out the second possibility and to state only the first is true and is even in the Christian tradition.

Secondly, the sin of Adam belongs to him alone and does not belong to the human race as such. In this sense original sin does not exist. Original sin would make sin into a natural category, but man has moral existence and therefore the contradiction to the moral demand cannot be a natural event but must be an event of freedom. Everybody must sin, in order to be a sinner. The simple dependence on Adam doesn't make (one) a sinner. Here again Pelagicus says something which is universally Christian, that without the personal participation in sin, there is no sin. On the other hand, he does not see that Christianity sees the tragic universality of sin and makes it therefore a destiny of the human race. The relationship to Adam as the presupposed first man is of course mythological, but in this myth the Christian Church whether or not the Church took it literally has preserved the tragic element which we also find in the Greek world view. So again Pelagicus has some point, but on the other hand he doesn't see the profundity of the Christian description of the human situation.

Thirdly, children after their birth are in the state of Adam before their fall; they are innocent. But of course Pelagicus could not close his eyes to the fact that the evil surroundings and customs distort their innocence. He follows a modern tendency, namely the psychoanalytic theory of the relationship to the parents, or their representatives, which decide about all the complexes and other negativities which are in the depths of the soul and come to it through the surroundings. There is even today another theory, the biological theory, that the distortion is inherited and cannot be avoided even in terms of the best surroundings you can provide for a child; there is something in its very nature, (from birth.) Here you have a modern restatement of this old struggle, Pelagicus using the psychoanalytic theory in order to avoid the idea of hereditary sin.

Fourthly, before Christ some people were without sin, and :after Christ some people sin. Sin is not a universally tragic necessity, but it is a matter of freedom. Here again you can say that the state of things in this country is very much in favor of this basic Pelagian idea that every individual can always make a new beginning, that he is able in terms of individual freedom to make decisions for or against the Divine. The tragic element of the human situation is very much known in Europe, but is not so near to the heart of the people in this country. On the other hand, in Europe the merely negative Augustinianism we can call it Existentialism - -has made this human situation inescapable and has reduced the ethical zeal and impact Pelagianism can have.

Fifthly, the function of Christ under these circumstances is a double one: to provide the forgiveness of sins in baptism to those who believe, and to give an example of a sinless life not only by avoiding sins but also by avoiding the occasions of sins, through asceticism Jesus, the first monk; Pelagicus himself was a monk. He gives the example of an ascetic life, thus avoiding the occasions for sins, and not only the actual sins when the occasion is given.

Sixth, grace is identical with the general remission of sins in baptism. After this, grace has no meaning because after this, man is able to do everything himself. Only in the situation of baptism does man receive the grace of forgiveness. We can say it is a strong ethical emphasis with many ascetic elements, but the tragic aspect of life has been lost entirely. This is Pelagianism. And don't take him too easily; take him seriously. I don't say we all are Pelagians, by birth --as I say about nominalism - -but I would say Pelagianism is nearer to all of us, especially in countries which are dependent on sectarian movements, as this country so strongly is. It is nearer to us than we know ourselves, and it is always effective in us when we try to force God down upon ourselves. And this is what we usually called by the much abused term "moralism."

He says: Good and evil are (performed) by ourselves; they are nothing given. If this is true, then religion was in danger of being transformed into morality. And you know enough about this danger; I don't need to say anything. So Pelagianism, like all the other great heresies, is not something of the past otherwise it would not be worthwhile for you and me to dedicate this precious hour from 11-12 each morning to all these old stories. They are, all together, new stories at the same time. And only if I succeed in making it clear to you that they are stories can they have meaning, and then it is worthwhile to deal with Church history.

Now against this we have Augustine's Doctrine of Sin.. Augustine agrees with Pelagicus and all philosophy that freedom is the quality of man essentially or originally, so that Adam, when he committed his fall, and man essentially which is always represented by the figure of Adam is free. Originally man's freedom was directed towards the good and as we have seen last time, the good is the love with which God loves Himself; it is the being-directed towards good as the loving ground of being; in this sense everybody is free. But this freedom was dangerous, and it was so dangerous that man could change his direction towards God and could direct himself towards the special things in times and space.

Now Augustine saw the danger of freedom as so great that he produced the famous doctrine attutorium gratiae , the helping power of grace, which was given to Adam before he fell. He was not in pure nature (in puris naturalibus), namely the assisting power of grace. This assistance of grace made it possible for him to continue indefinitely in the direction of his will towards God. It made it possible for him. But you see this was a point where the Reformers fought against Augustine. This attutorium gratiae , this assisting power of grace, implied indirectly that nature in itself cannot be good, it must be fulfilled by supra-nature; that if man is in puris naturalibus, in pure nature, then he is so endangered that actually he must fall. Therefore the supernature helps him. The Reformers had such an emphasis on human nature very similar to the Renaissance, at the same time that they declined this idea of a donum superadditum, a gift which was added to man's nature. This is a very profound distinction, and behind this seemingly Scholastic terminology something is hidden, namely the question of the valuation of creation. In the doctrine of the donum superadditum , something of the Greek .valuation of matter as the resisting power, is present. There is some of the Greek tragic feeling which enters here, the Jewish-Protestant-Christian affirmation of nature as good in itself.

Now if we see how Adam was formed, on the basis of all this, Augustine can say that the first man had the freedom not to fall, not to die, not to turn away from the good. In this stage he was at peace with himself a profound remark in view of our modern depth psychology; he was at peace with all things and all men. There was no cupidity, no desire, in him, not even in sexual life. There was no pain in this state, not even in the situation of birth. ~ . . . .In any case, it was very easy for him not to fall. There was no real reason for it, but astonishingly he did fall. And since there was no external reason for his fall, his fall started in his inner life. Sin, according to Augustine, is in its very start spiritual sin. Man wanted to be in himself, he had all the good possibilities, he had nothing to suffer, from which he would turn away; he had everything he needed, but he wanted to have all this by himself, he wanted to stay in himself, (therefore he turned away. And this is what Dr. Niebuhr calls "pride," and what I prefer to call "hybris," self-elevation. In this way man lost the assistance of grace and was left alone by grace. He wanted to be autonomous, to stand upon himself, and this meant a wrong love of himself, not the right love of himself; and this wrong love of himself cut off the love towards God. He says: "The beginning of all sin is pride; the beginning of pride is man's turning away from God.." Or, if you say hybris instead of pride, then this is profounder, because pride often has the connotation of a special psychological character, and that is not what is meant here. The most humble people psychologically can have the greatest pride.

Now these statements show first of all that Augustine was aware that sin is something which happens in the spiritual realm, namely turning away from the Ground of Being to whom one belongs. It is not a naturalistic doctrine of sin. But more important than this, Augustine shows clearly the religious character of sin. Sin for him is not a moral failure, it is not even disobedience disobedience is a consequence but not the cause; the cause is: turning away from God, and from God as the highest good, as the love with which God loves Himself, through us. For this reason, since sin has this character if you say "sins," is easily dissolved into moral sins, but sin is first of all basically the power of turning away from God. For this very reason no moral remedy is possible. Only one remedy is possible: return to God. But this of course is possible only in the power of God, and this power is lost. This is the state of man under the conditions of existence.

The immediate consequence of man's turning away from his highest good is the loss of this good. This loss is the essential punishment for man. Punishments in terms of educational or juristic terminology are secondary. For Augustine, the basic punishment is ontological. If God is everything positive, he power of being overcoming non-being, or the ultimate good which is the same thing for him--then of course the only real punishment possible is the intrinsic punishment of losing this power of being, of non-participating any more in the ultimate good.

Augustine describes it thus: "The soul died when it was left alone, by God, as a body will die when it is left by the soul." The soul, which, religiously speaking is dead, has consequently lost its control over the body. And in the moment in which this happened, the other side of sin becomes actual. The beginning is pride, or turning to oneself, or hybris, separation from God and turning to oneself. The consequence is concupiscence, the infinite endless desire. The word concupiscentia , concupiscence, desire, libido, (in the forms in which modern psychology uses it) has two meanings in Augustine: the universal meaning, the turning towards the movable goods, those goods which change and disappear; but it has also a narrower sense, namely in the natural, sexual desire, which is accompanied by shame. This ambiguity of the term concupiscence has been repeated by the ambiguity of Freud's term libido. It is the same situation in Augustine. Both terms are meant universally, the desire to fulfill one's own being with the abundance of reality. And because of the predominant power of the sexual desire among all other desires, it has received, in both Augustine and Freud, the meaning of sexual desire, and out of this ambiguity innumerable consequences followed. From this followed, for instance in Freud, his puritanism, his depreciation of sex, his bourgeois suppression; and on the: other hand, the revelation of this situation. But he never found a solution to the problem either suppressing or getting rid of it. And since you cannot get rid of it, according to Freud, you have the desire to death, the death-instinct, as he calls it, which is the necessary answer to the endlessness of desire. In Protestantism, as in all Catholicism first, the ambiguity of the term concupiscence had the ascetic consequences in all its different forms up to the most extreme and disgusting forms. The Reformers tried to reestablish the dignity of the sexual, but did it only in a limited way. They never completely followed through their own principles against the Roman church. Therefore, as every theologian can tell you who knows a little about the history of moral behavior and the history of ethical theory in Protestantism, in this point Christianity is very much uncertain and has produced no satisfactory answer to this question implied in human existence. This has something to do with the ambiguity of Augustine's concept of concupiscentia.

The sin of Adam is original sin, for two reasons. We all inhabited.. potentially, in Adam, namely in his procreative power, and in this way we participated in his free decision and thus are guilty. This again is of course myth, and a very questionable myth.

Secondly, he introduced libido, desire, concupiscence, into the process of sexual generation, and this element was given by heredity to all the others. Everybody is born out of the evil of sexual desire. Original sin in everybody is, as in Adam, first of all spiritual sin, sin of the soul. But it is also bodily sm, and Augustine had great difficulties in uniting the spiritual character of sin in everybody with the heritage-character which comes from Adam.

In this way everybody belongs to a "mass of perdition," to a unity of negativity, and the most striking consequence of this is that even the little infants who die early are lost. Since everybody, by hereditary sin, belongs to the mass of perdition, nobody is saved who is not saved by a special act of God. This is the most powerful emphasis on the unity of' mankind in the tragedy of sin. He denies, in this way, most radically and almost in the sense of his Manichaean past, the freedom in the individual personality. The embracing unity makes us what we are. Now if we look at our modern research into depth psychology and depth sociology, we probably are able to understand better than our fathers did what Augustine means, namely the inescapable participation in human existence, in a social structure and in an individual psychological structure, whether we call it neurotic or something else; it is something which we can see better today. The question which is put before us, of course, is:" What about the participation of the individual in guilt ?, and there is no answer to this in the context of Augustine.

The opposite doctrine is the Doctrine of Grace. Man has lost his possibility to turn towards the ultimate good, because of his universal sinfulness.. We are under the law of servitude, the bondage of the will. Therefore grace is first of all :gratia data, grace given without merit. It is given by God to a certain number of people, who cannot be augmented or diminished; they belong eternally to Him. The other part is left to the damnation which they deserve. There is no reason for the predestination of the one and the rejection of the other groups. The reason is in God alone; it is a mystery. Therefore one cannot speak of prescience, of foreseeing what man would do as is often done in the doctrine of freedom. This is impossible since God's willing and knowing are identical. God never can look at something as if it were not carried by His power of being, I. e, His will, in this sense. Therefore God always wills what He knows. "He has elected us not because we would be holy, but in order to have us become holy." That is the decisive thing in this whole idea. There is no reason in man for predestination. God acts both the willing and the fulfilling.

But Augustine was not a determinist in the technical psychological sense. Predestination does not exclude man's will. The psychological will of man is preserved and distinguished from external forces, or from compulsory elements in man. But the direction of the will towards Hod is dependent on God's predestination and this predestination cannot be explored. 

Grace is given to everybody who becomes a Christian. The forgiveness of sins, which is first given to him happens in baptism and is received by faith. In this Augustine continues the general tradition. But beyond this, forgiving is a real participation in the ultimate good. This ultimate good has appeared in Jesus as the Christ, without which neither good thinking nor good acting nor loving is possible. Now he describes this side of grace as the inspiration of the good will, or he also calls it the inspiration of love, namely first of all the love towards God. "The Spirit helps," he says, "by inspiring in the place of bad concupiscence, good concupiscence, that is, diffusing carinas (agape) within our hearts." Justification therefore is inspiration of love. Faith is the means to get it. But faith at that time already had the deteriorized sense which today makes Christian preaching about faith almost impossible, namely faith as tile acceptance of doctrines which are unbelievable. So Augustine distinguishes between two forms of faith. He calls faith crater deo aut christo, namely believing "to" God or "to" Christ, namely, accepting their words and commands; and the other is believing "into" God and "into" Christ. The first is an intellectual acknowledgment, without hope and love. The second is a personal communion which is created by grace, or by the Holy Spirit, or by love these words are all the same. This alone is the faith which justifies, because it makes him who is justified just.

Those who are predestined are of course naturally able to fall away again, so they get something else: they get the gift of perseverance, of sticking to what they have received, the gift of not losing the grace. All this, the whole process I have just described, does not depend on any merit, not even on the merit of non-resistance against grace, since grace, as Augustine emphasizes, is irresistible; when it comes to you, you cannot resist it, and you cannot get it if it doesn't come to you.

Now this is the way in which he has attacked Pelagicus. It is in all respects the opposite. Now Church historically I can now tell you that this never was completely accepted by the Church. Of course Augustine was considered to be the greatest of the Church teachers, but he was not fully accepted. Pelagianism was rejected and even semi-Pelagianism, which crept up a hundred years later, was rejected. But the rejection didn't change the fact that it crept into the Church. Some historians who like additional Greek words have called it crypto-semi-Pelagianism, hidden, underground, spying, so to speak going into the Church half-officially, half-unofficially. And you cannot deny that especially in the Augustinian school, in the later Franciscans, we have semi-Pelagianism very much. No one would repeat Pelagicus in the official Church: that was out of the question. But half-Pelagianism, taking away the irrestability of grace, the necessity that we work in order to keep grace, and things like that; or restriction in terms of predestination and salvation- all this crept into the Church and made the doctrine of Augustine educationally possible. I talked about this before, and this is always a problem: you cannot have such a doctrine if you at the same time are an institution of education; and the only institution of education for a thousand years was the Christian Church. In such a situation you must appeal to the free will of those who are educated, and such an extreme doctrine cannot be presented in a direct way to most people. So the ultimate tragic element did not get lost, but it kept down to a certain extent for the sake of the educational element. This was the situation when the Reformers came in. When they came, the tragic element was reduced almost to nothing, by something else, namely, the educational, ethical, and ascetic element, and the Church lived in these things all the time. The churches are usually, with some exceptions, suspicious, very suspicious, of any doctrine of predestination at least the Catholic church was.. ..because that makes the ultimate religion to God independent of the Church, or at least it tends to do so, and actually very often did. So we have here one of those tensions of which I spoke, in connection with Origen and other theologians, he tension between the ultimate theological, and the pre-ultimate, preliminary, educational point of view. And this is the tension you will experience in every hour of religious instruction you always have these two elements: you will have it in counseling, you will have it in preaching. And the great struggle between Augustine and Pelagicus is perhaps the classical example of the problem in the Christian Church.

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