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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 23: Anselm and His Arguments


After the general discussion of the Middle Ages, we now come to two men in the 12th century, in that period which I have described as the beginning of the new developments, namely Anselm of Canterbury and Abelard of Paris.

Anselm's basis for his theological work is like that of all Scholastics, the assertion that in the Holy Scriptures and its interpretation by the Fathers, all truth is directly or indirectly enclosed. It is that concept of faith or tradition which is not a special act of individuals but is, so to speak, the spiritual substance of the reality in which we are. Therefore the phrase credo ut intellegam --. "1 believe in order to understand," not "I understand in order to believe." Belief, which is not belief but which is participation in the living tradition, is the foundation; and the interpretation1, the theology, is built on this basis.

The content of eternal truth, of principles of truth, is grasped by subjection of our will to the Christian message, and the consequent experience out of this subjection. This experience is given by grace; it is not produced by human activities. Here the term "experience" becomes important. Experience, again, must be distinguished from what we mean today by "experience," if we mean anything at all - -which is very questionable, since the word has such a large use that it almost has become meaningless. In any case at that time experience means not religious experience, generally speaking such a thing " didn't exist at that time -- but experience meant participation in the objective truth which is implied in the Bible and which is authoritatively explained by the Church Fathers.

In this experience every theologian must participate. Then this experience can become knowledge. But this is not necessarily so. Faith is independent of knowledge, but knowledge is dependent on faith. We can again use the analogy I have used last time, when we say: Natural science presupposes participation in nature, but participation in nature does not necessarily lead to natural science. On this bass, reason can act entirely freely in order to transform experience into knowledge. Anselm was the great speculative thinker, in a period when the word "speculation" had not yet the meaning of looking into the clouds, but of analyzing the basic structures of reality which meaning you should always have.

Knowledge based on experience leads to a system. Here we come to one of the features of all medieval thinking. The medieval thinkers knew that in order to think consistently, you must think systematically. In the term "systematic theology," with which we are dealing in this institution, there is still the remnant of this insight, that knowledge, in order to be consistent, must have the character of a system. Today if somebody uses the word "system" ,except in this old fashioned phrase "systematic theology," he is attacked, just because he thinks systematically and not sporadically and fragmentarily. But the Church cannot afford - what every individual thinker can - -to have here an insight and there an insight which have nothing to do with each other, and usually contradict each other. But the Church needs something which is consistent, where everything has some connection with every other thing. The bad element in systematic theology is if you derive from principles, consequences which have no foundation in experience to which the Devine is present in sacramental terms. But this is not the meaning of "system." The meaning of system is, to order experiences cognitively in such a way that they do not contradict each other, and that they give a whole of truth; for, as Hegel has rightly said, the truth is the whole.

Reason in this way can elaborate all religious experiences in rational terms. Even the doctrine of the Trinity can be dealt with rationally by reason, on the basis of experience. In other words, autonomous reason and the doctrine of the Church are identical. It is again to be compared with our relationship to nature, where we say: mathematical structure and natural reality belong to each other. The mathematical reason is able to grasp nature, to order and to make understandable natural movements and structures. In the same way theological reason is able to make understandable and to connect with each other the different religious experiences, which are not religious in the general sense, but experiences on the basis of the Christian tradition.

Now this is the courageous way in which Anselm attacked the problems of theology. If he says that even the Trinity can be understood in rational terms, then this is an Augustinian heritage; he did it also. We can call it dialectical monotheism, a monotheism in which movement is seen in God Himself. God is a living God and therefore there is a yes and a no in Himself this is dialectical monotheism. It is not a dead identity of God with Himself, but it is a living separation and reunion of His Life with Himself. In other words, the mystery of the Trinity is understandable for dialectical thought. The mystery of Trinity is included in reason itself and is not against reason. How could it be, according to classical theology, since God has reason in Himself as His Son, the Logos.? Reason, therefore, is valid as far as God and world are essentially considered. Autonomy

is not destroyed by the mystery. On the other hand, autonomy is not empty and not formalistic. It doesn't empty the mysteries of the Divine Life, but only points to it in dialectical terms. The content, the substance and the depth of reason, is a mystery which has appeared in revelation.

Now this means that Anselm was neither autonomous in a formalistic empty sense, nor was he heteronomous in subjecting his reason to an un-understood tradition, to a tradition which is almost a magic mystery. but his attitude is what I would call Theonomy. You will encounter this concept often in my writings and in discussions. And whenever you are asked, "What do you mean with theonomy?" then you say: "The way of philosophizing of Anselm of Canterbury," or "The way of philosophizing of Augustine," or "The way of philosophizing" now I hesitate to say it--"Hegel", in spite of my criticism of him; namely, acknowledging the mystery of being, but not believing that this mystery is an authoritarian transcendent element which is put upon us, and against us, which breaks our reason to pieces which would mean that God breaks His Logos to pieces but that which gives the depth to all Logos. Reason and mystery belong together, like substance and form.

But now there is one point and that was the point where I deviate from Hegel and go further with Anselm which is more than a point, namely a total turn of the whole consideration: the Logos becoming flesh, and what this means, is not a matter of dialectical reason. This is not only dialectical, not only mystery, but this is paradoxical. Here we come to the sphere of existence, and existence is rooted in the freedom of God and man, in sin and grace. Here reason can only acknowledge and not understand. The existential sphere, existence itself, is ruled by will and decision, not by rational necessity. Therefore it can become anti-reason, anti-structure, anti-Divine, anti-human.

This means that the limitation of rational necessity is not mystery and revelation. If somebody with whom you talk puts you into a corner, dialectically, don't say "That is a mystery," and then you'd escape the corner; but he would not acknowledge that you really have escaped. He will further believe that you are in the corner and that he has caught you. What you must do is to show that you are dialectically superior to him, and that the mystery of being is preserved by good dialectics, and destroyed by bad dialectics That's what you have to do. But then there is one thing in which he and you have to acknowledge that there is something which is not mystery and not dialectical, but which is paradoxical, namely that man has contradicted himself and always contradicts himself, and those people who corner you have to acknowledge that also if they are honest with themselves and they will. And that at the same time there is a possibility of overcoming this situation, because there is a New Reality under the conditions of existence, conquering existence: this is the Christian paradox. It is of serious concern that we do not make a gap between the Divine mystery and the Divine Logos. The Church again and again has affirmed that they belong to each other and are the same Divinity. If you deny that the structure of reason is adequate to the Divine mystery, then you are completely dualistic in your thinking; then God is split in Himself.

Now I come to more special problems in Anselm, in which this general theonomous character is obvious. I come first to his famous arguments, or as I like to say, so-called "arguments," for the so-called "existence of God, because I want to show you that they are neither arguments nor do they prove the "existence" of God. But they do something which is much better than this. There are two arguments, the cosmological and the ontological, the cosmological given in his Monologion and the ontological in his Proslogion. My task is to show that these arguments are not arguments for the existence of an unknown or doubtful piece of reality, even if it is called "God,"' but that they are quite a different thing from this.

The Cosmological argument says: We have ideas of the good, of the great, of the beautiful, of the true. These ideas are realized in all things. We find beauty, goodness, and truth everywhere, but of course in different measures and degrees. But if you want to say that something has a higher or lower degree in which it participates in the idea of the good or the true, then the idea itself must be presupposed. Since it is the criterion by which you measure, it itself is not a matter of measure and degree. The good itself, or the unconditionally good being, beauty is the idea which is always presupposed. This means that in every finite or relative is implied the relation to an unconditioned, an absolute. Conditionedness, relativity, presuppose and imply something absolute and unconditional. I. e., the meaning of the conditioned and of the unconditioned are inseparable.

If you analyze reality, especially your own reality, you discover in yourselves, continuously, elem ents which are finite and which are inseparably related to something finite. This is a matter of conclusion, from the conditional to the unconditional, but it is a matter of analysis, in which both elements are found as corresponding. Reality by its very nature is finite, pointing to the infinite to which the finite belongs and from which it is separated.

Now this is the first part of the cosmological argument, As far as this goes, it is an existential analysis of finitude and as far as it does this, it is good and true, and the necessary condition for all philosophy of religion. It is the philosophy of religion, actually. But this idea is mixed with the philosophical or better, metaphysical realism which identifies universals with the degrees of being. Medieval realism, as you remember we spoke very much about it, gives power of being to the universals. In this way a hierarchy of concepts is constructed in which the unconditionally good and great, and being, is not only an ontological quality, but becomes an ontic reality, a being besides others. The highest being is that which is most universal. It must be one, otherwise another one. could be found; it must be all-embracing. In other words, the meaning or quality of the infinite suddenly becomes a higher infinite being, a highest or unconditionally good and great being.

So the argument is right as long as it is a description of the way in which man encounters reality, namely as finite, implying and being excluded from infinity. The argument is doubtful, is a conclusion which can be attacked, if it is supposed to lead to the existence of a highest being. That is what I wanted to say. Therefore I speak of the "so-called" argument it is not an argument but an analysis of the "so-called" existence of God; God is not a being in itself, not even the highest.

In the Proslogion Anselm himself criticizes this argument because it starts with the conditional and makes it the basis of the unconditional, Anselm is right in his criticism if we consider the second part of his argument. but he is not right with respect to the first part, namely there he doesn't base the infinite on the finite but analyzes the infinite within the finite.

But Anselm wanted more. He wanted a direct argument which doesn't need the world in order to find God. He wanted to find it in thought itself, Before thought goes outside itself to the world, it should be certain of God. Now this is really what I mean with theonomous thinking. Now how does he do this? I give you now the argument, very slowly, and you should follow it and try to understand it probably with very little success, because it is extremely Scholastic and extremely far from our modes of thought, I give you then, later, an attempted commentary to it.

He says: "Even the fool is convinced that there is something in the intellect of which nothing greater can be thought, because as soon as he (the fool) hears this, he understands it; and whatever is understood is in the understanding. And certainly, that of which nothing greater can be thought cannot be only in .the intellect, If, namely, it were in the intellect alone, it could be thought to be in reality also, which is more. If, therefore, that of which nothing greater can be thought is in the intellect alone, that of which nothing greater can be thought is something of which something greater can be thought. But this certainly is impossible, Therefore, beyond doubt, something of which nothing greater can be thought, exists in intellect as well as in reality, And this art Thou, our Lord." Now this last sentence is remarkable because I haven't read such a sentence in any of our logical treatises in the last few hundred years, that after they have gone through the most sophisticated logical arguing, the end is "and this art Thou, our Lord." Here again is what I call "theonomy," It is not a thinking which remains autonomous in itself, but a thinking which goes theonomously into the relationship of the mind and its Divine Ground.

What does this arguing mean? I will give you a point by point analysis:

1) Even the fool the fool of the Psalms, who says in his heart,"There is no God, understands the meaning of the term "God." He understands that in the term "God" the highest, the unconditional, is thought. So he has an idea in his mind of something unconditional.

2) Secondly, if you understand the meaning of God as something unconditional, then this understanding has the character that it is, so to speak, in the human mind.

3) But there is a higher form of being, namely not being only in the human mind, but being in the real world, outside of the human mind.

4) Since this kind of being, outside of the human mind, is higher than the mere being (thought) in the intellect, it must be attributed to the unconditional. These are the four steps in the argument. Each step in this conclusion is such that each of you can easily refute it. and the refutations were given in Anselm's time already, and then again..later. For instance he refutation is: It would be adequate for every highest thing for instance, a perfect island since it is more perfect to exist in reality than only in mind. Secondly, the term "being in the mind" is an ambiguous phrase which means actually being thought, being intended, being an object of man's intentionality. But "in" is metaphorical and should not be taken literally.

Now this criticism is so obvious that each of you can make it. (!) But to the first, Anselm answered that a perfect island is not a necessary thought, but the highest being, or the unconditioned, is a necessary thought. Now we come back to the question: "Is God a necessary thought?" To the second argument he could answer that the unconditional must overcome the cleavage between subjectivity and objectivity. It cannot be only in mind; the power of the meaning of the unconditional overcomes subject and object, embraces them. But now if he had answered this way, then the fallacious form of the argument is abandoned. Then the argument is not an argument for a highest being, but is an analysis of human thought. And as such the argument says: there must be a point in which the unconditional necessity of thinking and being must be identical, otherwise there could not be certainty at all, not even that amount of certainty which every skeptic always presupposes.

Now this is the Augustinian argument that God is truth, and truth is the presupposition which even he who is the skeptic acknowledges. God is identical, then, with the experience of the unconditional as true and good and beautiful. What the ontological argument really does is to analyze in human thought something unconditional which transcends subjectivity and objectivity. This is necessary because otherwise truth is impossible. Truth presupposes that the subject which knows truth and the object which is known are in some way on one and the same place.

But it is impossible here I come to the second part of the argument to conclude from that a separate existence. In this we cannot follow medieval realism. The so-called ontological argument is a phenomenological description of the human mind, insofar as the human mind, by necessity, points to something beyond subjectivity and objectivity, points to experience of truth. But you cannot go beyond this, and in the moment in which you do so, you are open to a devastating criticism. This is proved through the whole history of the ontological argument. The history of this argument is dependent on the attitude towards form or content. If the content of the argument is emphasized, as all great Augustinians and Franciscans until Hegel have done, they all have accepted the ontological argument. If the argumental form is emphasized, as equally great men namely, Thomas and Kant - -have done, then the argument must fall down. It is very interesting that this argument is going on all the time, even today, since Plato's period. And its most classical formulation in Christianity is that of Anselm. But it is much older and much younger; it is always there. Now how is that possible? You would say: If some of the greatest are completely split about this argument, and you hardly can say that Thomas was much cleverer than Augustine, and Kant much cleverer than Hegel, or vice versa they all are supreme minds and nevertheless they contradict each other what about this situation? How can it be explained? What I here try to give is an explanation of this phenomenon, which no one can deny. It is historically evident read the history of philosophy that this argument is passionately accepted and passionately rejected by the greatest men. How is this possible? The reason only can be that they look at something different. Those who accept the argument look at the fact that in the human mind, in spite of all its finitude, something unconditional is present. And the description of this something unconditional is not an argument, but it is a right description. That is what actually is behind all those who affirm the ontological argument. (I myself am of their number). On the other hand, people like Thomas, Duns Scotus, Kant, reject the argument because they say it is not an argument, the conclusion is not valid. And certainly they are right. So I try to find a way out of this world-historical conflict it has much more consequences than the seeming Scholastic form shows by saying that these people do different things: those who are for it are for the insight that the human mind, even before it goes (outside) to its world, has in itself an experience of the unconditional. And secondly, those are right who say the second part of this argument cannot be done because this never leads to the highest being, which exists. Kant's argument that existence cannot be derived from the concept is absolutely valid against this. So one can say: Anselm's intention never has been defeated, namely, to make the certainty of God independent of any encounter with our world, and to link it entirely to our self-consciousness.

Now I would say that here the two ways that the philosophies of religion part from each other. The one looks at culture, nature and history theonomously, i. e., on the basis of an awareness of the unconditional - -and I believe this is the only possible philosophy of religion.

The other one looks at all this - -nature and history and the self in terms of something which is given outside, from which through progressive analysis one might come finally to the existence of a highest being called God. This is the form which I deny and think it is hopeless and ultimately ruinous for religion. And I can state that .in a religious statement, that where God is not the prius of everything, you never can reach Him. If God is not the prius of everything, you never can reach Him. If you don't start with Him, you never can reach Him. And that is what Anselm himself felt when he saw the incompleteness of the cosmological argument.

Anselm is famous in theology for the application of his principles also to the doctrine of atonement. In his book Cur Deus-homo (why did God become man?), he tries to understand the rational adequacy for the substitute suffering of Christ for the work of salvation. The steps are the following. Again they are difficult and not so easy as the popular distortion of this doctrine tells you.

1) The honor of God is violated by human sin. It is necessary that out of His honor, God react in a negative way.

2) There are two possibilities of His reaction: either punishment, which would mean eternal separation from God; or satisfaction, giving God satisfaction so that He can overlook the sins, This is the way in which His mercy has decided to solve the problem.

3) Man is unable to fulfill this satisfaction because he has to do what he can

anyhow he cannot do more - -and his guilt is infinite, which makes it impossible, by its very nature, for man to solve it. Only God is able to give satisfaction to Himself.

4) Not God, but man has to give the satisfaction, because man is the sinner. Therefore somebody must do it who is both God and man, who as God can do it and who as man must do it. The God-man alone is able to do it.

5) But he doesn't reach it through what he did, because he had to do that anyhow; he had to give full obedience to God; but he did it by what he suffered, because he did not have to suffer, since he was innocent. So voluntary suffering is the work through which the Christ gives satisfaction to God.

6) Although our sin is infinite, this sacrifice - -since it is given by God Himself is an infinite sacrifice, and it makes it possible for God to give Christ what he has deserved by this sacrifice, namely, the possession of man. He himself doesn't need anything, but what he needs and will have is man, so God gives him man.

Now this idea, in these 6 steps, is legalistic, of course, is quantitative, but it has behind it a very profound meaning, namely, that sin has produced a tension in God Himself. And this tension one feels. Anselms theory became so popular because everybody felt that it is not simple for God to forgive sins, as it is not simple for us to accept ourselves it is the most difficult thing - -and only in the act of suffering, of self-negation, is it possible at all. And that was the power of this doctrine and still is; in every Lenten service, in our Week of Passion this week, we hear of the "atoning work" of Christ. The Church never has dogmatized Anselm; cleverly it restricted itself from doing so, because there is no absolute theory of atonement. As we shall see, Abelard had another one, and others did also, e. g., Origen. The Church has not decided.

But the Church obviously liked Anselm's theory most, probably because it felt it has the deepest psychological roots, namely the feeling that a price must be paid if one has become guilty; that we cannot pay it, but that God must pay it. But now the question was: How can man participate? And to this the juristic mind of Anselm had no answer. Here Thomas came in and said: It is the mystical union between head and members, between Christ and the Church, which makes us participate in all the steps which have been (made) by Jesus himself.

Now this is Anselm. Tomorrow, the last hour before Easter, we deal with Abelard - -and two others - -Abelard being Anselm's great counterpart.

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