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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 22: Medieval Period (continued)

The Seven Religious Forces:




The Lay Movements

The Great Individuals

The Popular Superstitions

The Experience of the Demonic

All this happens within the Church. We must therefore, now, discuss the interpretation of the Church. It is interesting that in the systems of the great classical theologians of the Middle Ages, there is no special place for the doctrine of the Church This indicates, besides other things, the fact that the Church was, so to speak, self-understood; it was the foundation of all life and was not a matter of a special doctrine. But of course, in the discussions about hierarchy, about the sacraments, about the relationship to the state, a doctrine of the Church was implicitly developed.

The first consideration is: What was the Church in relationship to the Kingdom of God, according to medieval thinking?

On the answer to this question everything depends for the answer to all other questions about the relationship of the Church to the secular powers, to culture, etc. The background of it is what I said about Augustine's interpretation of history; to this we must look back in order to understand the situation.

In the Augustinian interpretation of history we have a partial identification and partial non-identification of the Church with the Kingdom of God. They are never fully identified because Augustine knew very well that the Church is a mixed body, that it is full of people who formally belong to it but who in reality do not belong to it. On the other hand he identified the Church with the Kingdom of God from the point of view of the sacramental graces which are present in the hierarchy. This identification could be the point of emphasis or the non-identification could be the point of emphasis. This was always the problem of the Middle Ages. The Church of course tried to identify itself with the Kingdom of God, in terms of the hierarchical graces. You never should think that any medieval representative of the Church, neither a theologian nor a pope nor a bishop, identified his own goodness or holiness with the Kingdom of God, but always his sacramental holiness, his objective sacramental power. And the objectivity of this sacramental reality is decisive for all understanding of medieval thought. On the other hand, the actual Church was a mixed body and the representatives of the sacramental graces were distorted. So from this point of view it was possible to attach the Church. Between these two poles the discussion of the Middle Ages went on, in continuous oscillation.

But Augustine had another identification, namely the partial identification and partial non-identification of the state with the 'kingdom of earth, which is also designated as the kingdom of Satan. The partial identification was based on the fact that in Augustine's interpretation of history, states are the result of compulsory power, "robber-states," as he called it, states produced by groups of gangsters, so to speak, who are not considered criminals only because they are powerful enough to take the state into their hands. This whole consideration, which reminds one of the Marxist analysis of the state, is, however, contrasted by the natural-law idea that the state is necessary in order to repress the sinful powers which, if unrepressed, would produce chaos.

This was the Augustinian situation, and here again the emphasis could be on the identity of the state with the kingdom of Satan, or at least the kingdom of earth, i. e., the kingdom of sinful earth; and on the other hand, the non-identification, the possibility that the state has a Divine function to restrict chaos. All this is understandable only in a period in which Augustine lived, and in which the Roman Empire and later the Germanic-Romanic kingdoms were matters of non-Christian power. Even in a period in which already Constantine had accepted the Christian doctrine, the power-play was still going on and the substance of the ancient culture was still in existence and was not replaced by the religious substance of the Church. Now the situation changed. After the great migration, the Church became the cultural substance of life that power which determines all the individual relations, all the different expressions of art, knowledge, ethics, social relations, relation to nature, and all other forms of human life. The ancient substance was partly received by Augustine and partly removed, and what was left in it was subjected to the theonomous principles of the Church. '

Now in such a situation one couldn't say any more that the state is the kingdom of Satan because the substance of the state is the Church. So a new situation arose which had consequences not only for the consideration of the Church with respect to the state, but also for the state itself. How was the Germanic system related to the Church? The Germanic tribes, before they were Christianized, had a religious system in which the princes, the leaders of the tribes, represented not only the earthly but also the sacred power. So they were automatically representing both realms. This was continued in the Germanic states in the form that the clergy belonged to the feudal order of these tribes. A man like the great bishop of Rheims, in France, Hincmar, represented the feudal protest of a sacred political power; political and sacred at the same time against the universality of the Church. The German kings, who had to give political power to the higher feudal lords, had to give power to the bishops who were higher feudal lords also, the Church called this simony, (from the story of Simon, who wanted to buy the Divine power.) This was connected with the fact that these feudal lords had to give something for what they received. All this was necessarily connected with the territorial system of the Germa ic-Romanic tribes and was of course something in opposition to the universal Church.

Against the feudal bishops and the local kings or princes, opposition came from three sides: 1) from the lower clergy. 2) from the popes, especially Gregory VII, 3) from the proletarian masses; which were anti-feudal, especially in northern Italy. The pope used them and let them alone again. The pope used the lower bishops who were very much nearer to the lower clergy than the pope, so in the name of the pope they could resist the feudal clergy of their own countries. This was the situation which finally led to the great fight between Gregory VII and Henry IV, the struggle which is usually called the struggle between Church and State, but this is very misleading, you shouldn't call it thus. It was a quite different thing. First of all, "state" in our sense is a concept of the 18th century and didn't exist before, and when we speak of "the state" in Greece, in Rome, in the Middle Ages, we should always put it in quotation marks, using the word from the18th century situation, which didn't exist in former centuries. What did exist were the legal authorities, with military and political power,

But what was the point of conflict? It was not, as it was often later, that the states encroached upon the rights of the Church this of course was their right but it was a much more fundamental thing. Since the Church was the representative of the spiritual substance of the daily lif of everyone, of every function, craft, business, professi6n it was all ecclesiastical in some way there was no separation of realms as we had it after the Reformation, but there was one reality, with different sides. But now the question arose: Who shall head this one reality? There must be a head, and it is dangerous if there are two heads. So from both sides, the clergy and the princes, the feudal lords, each claimed to be the head of this one reality. The state represented by the feudal order was conscious of also representing the Christian body as a whole, and the Church represented by the pope was also conscious of representing the Christian body as a whole, This was the fight. The same position was claimed by both sides, a position which embraces the secular as well as the religious.

The king aspired and especially when he became the German emperor and as such the continuation of the Holy Roman Empire and claimed to represent as protector all Christendom, Christendom as a whole, the secular as well as the religious. On the other hand, Pope Gregory VII claimed the same thing from the hierarchical side. He made claims transcending everything which was done before, and of which even he could reach only a limited amount. He identified himself with all bishops; he is the universal bishop. All episcopal grace comes from the pope, who is Peter and in whom Peter is present, and in Peter, Christ is present, So there is no bishop who is not dependent on the pope in his episcopal sacramental power" This is the universal monarchy of the pope in the Church. But he goes beyond this: the Church is the soul of the body; the body is the secular life. Those who represent the secular life are related to him who represents the life of the -- soul, as the limbs of the body are to the inner self which is the soul. And so, as the soul shall govern the limbs of the body, so the pope shall govern the kingdoms and all feudal orders.

Now this was expressed --a fter compromises had to be made and became unavoidable by the famous doctrine of the two swords. There are two swords, the earthly and the spiritual. As the bodily existence is subjected to the spiritual existence, so the earthly sword, that of the king and of the feudal groups, is subjected to the spiritual sword: the pope. Therefore every being on earth has to be subject to the pope at Rome. This was the doctrine of Pope Boniface VIII, in which the papal aspirations are expressed radically.

The emperors fought against it, compromises were made, but generally speaking the popes prevailed up to a certain moment. They prevailed as long as there was this one reality about which they emperor and pope were fighting: namely, the one Christianity. But this was not the final answer. New forces arose in the Middle Ages. The first and main force was the national states. The national states claimed something which neither suited the pope nor the emperor, namely independence from both of them. And since the national feeling is behind them this is partly the importance of Joan of Arc because, in her, French nationalism first arose and came of course immediately into conflict with the pope. But others followed, and at the end of the Middle Ages the national states had taken over much of the papal power. Again France was leading; Phillip the so-called handsome" took the pope to Avignon in France, and the schism between the two popes undercut the pop's authority most radically. But these princes and kings who slowly became independent and created the national states the same thing was going on in England and Spain were at the same time religious lords, and they put themselves also in the place of what the emperor wanted to do: in the place of the religious lords. So we have in England theories about the king of England being Christ for the Church of England, as the pope is the vicar of Cflrist. Here you see the new forces slowly developing, both against the emperor and against the pope. On this basis another theory arose, especially against the pope. The bishops of these developing national states were not simply subjects of the pope, but they wanted to get the position the bishops had in the period, let us say, of the Council of Nicaea. They developed the idea called conciliarism (from curia, the papal court): the papal court is the monarchic power over Church and state; conciliarism (i. e. , the council of the bishops, which is practically the majority of the bishops) is the ultimate authority of the Church. And in alliance with the national reaction against state and Church at the same time, this was a very radical movement, and the pope was in great danger for a certain time, but not in the long run because the national separations and the splits of all kinds, the desire of the later Middle Ages to have a unity in spite of all this, gave the pope the power finally to destroy the reform councils in Basle and Constance, where conciliarism triumphed; but the pope took away the triumph from them after, and finally ecclesiasticism and monarchism prevailed in the Roman church, and prevails up to now even the cardinals have no power whatsoever against the monarchy of the pope.

But there was another movement of importance for this situation, namely the movement of criticism of the Church. These movements are present in the sectarian movements and are present in the lay movements at the end of the Middle Ages. The greatest of the critics of the Church is, theoretically, Occam, who fought for the German national state against the universal monarchy of the pope. But the most effective is Wyclif of England. Wyclif radically criticized the Church as it existed, from the point of view ?f t~e ~ay mov~ment; from the point of view of the lay movement, from the point of view of the lex evangelica , the evangelical law, which is in the Bible; he translated it; and he fought against the hierarchies with the support of the national king. There already the relationship between the king of England and the pope became very precarious. The pope did not succeed in inducing theking to persecute Wyclif and his followers.

Finally the hierarchy came to an end in the revolutionary movement of the Reformation. The territorial Church which was prepared long ago under the prince, or in society, became the form of the Protestant churches, Territorialism was prepared in the Middle Ages, but now the pope and the whole hierarchy disappeared, and now the situation was this: The Church had no backbone any more, it was mere spiritual groups, and it needed a backbone. So the prince became, not only as in England the Christ for the people (the king), for instance, up to today, is the one who decides (cf.. the Book of CommonPrayer) but in the German churches the prince received the title of "highest bishop," which simply means that he replaces the hierarchical sacramental bishops, and becomes the highest administrator within the church, as a lay member at the same time; he is the predominant lay member who can keep the church in order. So the Protestant churches became subjected to the earthly powers, and are in this problem even today. In Lutheranism it was the relationship to the princes and their cabinets and authoritarian governments. In the Calvinist countries, e.g., and in this country, it is the socially ruling groups which are decisive for the church and give it its administrative backbone.

This is again a sweeping run through the Middle Ages. You must keep this development in mind and understand it. And don't use the phrase "the fight between Church and State", etc this is very misleading.

I come to the last sweeping statement about medieval Church history perhaps the most important of all, from the point of view of the actual religious life namely,

the sacraments. Now if we come to the discussion of the sacraments, we must forget (as Protestants) everything we have in our immediate experience of the sacraments. In the Middle Ages, sacraments were not things which happened at certain times a year,and to which one went and one didn't know what to do with it; and which one regarded as a comparatively solemn act, but one was not very clear why. In the Middle Ages the sacraments are important. The preached word need not necessarily accompany it. So people like Troeltsch called the Catholic church the greatest sacramental institution in all world history, and have understood all sides of the life of the Middle Ages, and even the present-day Catholic church, from the point of view of the sacramental basis. So I don't speak now about something which just happens to be in the picture and therefore must be mentioned along with the rest, but I speak of the foundations of the whole medieval thinking,

You remember that I said, in contrast to some other great periods in Western history, the medieval has one problem only, and this one problem is the basis for all other problems, namely, to have a society which is guided by a present reality of a transcendent Divine character, This is different from the period in which the New Testament was written, where the salvation of the individual soul was the problem. It is different from the period of Byzantium (let us call it ca. 4:50- 950 or so) where mysteries interpret all reality in terms of the Divine ground, but not much is changed. It is different from the period since the Renaissance which ended in the 19th century namely, a world which is directed by human reason, by man as the center of reality, and by his rational activities. It is different also from the: early Greek period in which the mind was looking for the eternal immovable. All these periods have their special problem. The problem of the Middle Ages which you should keep in mind all the time is the problem of the world (society & nature) in which the Divine is present in sacramental forms. Now this is the basis for this consideration, then we can say: What does sacramental mean? It means~all kinds of things, in the history of the Church. It means the deeds of Christ, the sufferings of Christ (His stations of the Cross), it means the Gospels (which you can call sacraments), it means problematic symbols (in the Bible), it means the symbolic meaning of the church buildings, all the activities going on in the church, everything in which the Holy was present.

And this was the problem of the Middle Ages: to have the Holy present. The sacraments represent the objectivity of the grace of Christ as present in the objective power of the hierarchy. All graces or, another way of translating "grace" substantial powers of the New Being are present in and through the hierarchy. The sacraments are the continuation of the basic sacramental reality, namely the manifestation of God in Christ. In every sacrament is present a substance of a transcendental sacramental character. A thing - -i. e. , water, bread, wine, oil, a word, the laying on of hands - -all this becomes sacramental if a transcendent substance is poured into it. It is like a fluid which heals. One of the definitions is: "Against the wounds produced by original and actual sin, God has established the sacraments as remedies." Here, with medical symbolism, you have very clearly what is meant: it is the healing power which is poured into the substances.

The question, often raised in Protestantism, is: How many sacraments.? Up tothe 12th century there were many sacramental activities. Which of them were most important was partly always clear, namely, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and partly very much open to changes. Therefore it took more than a thousand years of Church history to discover that seven sacraments are the mcst important. After this was discovered, these seven often draw upon themselves the name "sacrament" in a special sense. This is very unfortunate for the understanding of what sacrament is. We must always distinguish the universal concept of the sacrament: the presence of the holy. Therefore sacramentalia are going on in churches all the time, namely activities in which the presence of the Divine is experienced in a special way. The fact that there are seven, has traditional, practical, Church-political, psychological, and many other reasons (behind it). But there are seven in the Roman church. There were five for a long time. In the Protestant churches

there are two. There are at least in some groups of the Anglican church, actually and even theoretically three. But that doesn't matter. The problem is : "What does sacramental thinking mean?" not "How many sacraments?" And this is what Protestants must learn; they have forgotten it.

In the Roman church there are still the main sacraments: baptism and the Eucharist. But there is also penance as the center of personal piety. There is ordination which is the presupposition for the administration of all the other sacraments. There is marriage, as the control of the natural life. There are confirmation and extreme unction, as supporting sacraments, In the development of the life of the individual, (we see the raison d'etre) , the biographical reasons, for some of the sacraments; and other sacraments stem from the establishment of the Church. In any case, there they are, and now they are de fide; but it was not always the case.

Now what i a sacrament? Sacraments are visible or sensuous signs instituted by God, so to speak ,as medicaments, in which under the cover of visible things, Divine powers are hiddenly working. There we have the ideas: Divine institution, visible signs, medicaments (the medical symbol is very important), the hidden powers of the Divine under the cover of the sensuous realities. A sacrament is valid if it has a material substance, a form (the words by which it is instituted), and the intention of the minister to do what the Church does. These three elements are necessary. The sign (we would say symbol) contains the matter. Therefore the sacrament has causality: it causes something in the inner part of the soul, something Divine. But it has not ultimate causality. It is dependent on the ultimate causality, namely, on God. The sacraments give the grace. You always should translate "grace" as Divine power of being, or power of New Being, which justifies or sanctifies these two words are identical in Catholicism while in Protestantism they are far removed from each other. Grace, i. e., the Divine power of the New Being, is poured by the sacraments into the essence of the soul. into its very innermost center. And there is no other way to receive grace, justifying and sanctifying, than through the sacraments. From the substance which pours through the center of the soul, it has effects on the different functions of the soul ; or mind, as we would say. The intellect is driven towards faith, by the sacramental grace; the will is driven towards hope; and the whole being is driven towards love.

And now the decisive statement: the sacrament is effective in us ex opere operato by its mere performance, not by any human virtue. There is only one subjective presupposition, namely the faith that the sacraments are sacraments, but not faith in God, not a special relationship to God. It is a "minimum" theory: those who do not resist the Divine grace can receive it even if they are not worthy, if they only do not resist by denying that the sacrament is the medium of the Divine grace. I. e., the theory of ex opere operata (by its very performance) makes the sacrament an objective event of a quasi-magical character. This was the point where the Reformers were most radical. The whole life stood under the effects of the sacrament. Baptism removes original sin; the Eucharist removes venial sins; penance removes mortal sins; extreme unction, what is still eft over of one's sins before death; confirmation makes a man a fighter for the Church; ordination introduces him into the clergy; marriage, into the natural vocation of man and wife. But beyond them all is one sacrament which is a part of the Eucharist but which has become independent of it, namely the sacrament of the Mass. The sacrifice of Christ repeated every day in every church of Christianity, in terms of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into body and blood, is the foundation of the presence of the Divine and the foundation of the sacramental and hierarchical power of the Church. Therefore this was, so to speak, the sacrament of sacraments. Officially it was a part of the Lord's Supper, but objectively it was and is the foundation of all sacraments, namely the power the priest has to produce God, facere deum making God out of the bread and wine is the fundamental power of the Church in the Middle Ages.

Let me add one last word: There was one sacrament which was in a kind of tension with all the others, namely penance. Penance was the sacrament of personal piety and there was much discussion about it: What are the conditions of the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of penance? Some made it very easy, some more heavy. All believed that a personal repentance is necessary light or heavy and, on the other hand, that a sacrament is necessary. But how the sacrament and the personal element were related to each other, to this no Scholastic gave an answer; and this was the point in which the medieval Church exploded, by the intensification of the subjective side in the sacrament of penance. This was the experience of Luther, and therefore he became the reformer of the Church.

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