return to religion-online

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 27: Pelagius and Aquinas


I don't know whether I really spoke in a very negative way about Pelagius. I said that he was in the Greek tradition, the ordinary Greek tradition, that he emphasized freedom in the sense in which Greek philosophy always had done it. I said he believes that every man is in every moment able in principle to decide for God although the historical heritage is (such) that this is extremely improbable. But there are people who always were able to do it, and there always will be people who are able to do it. We must decide: do we believe this is an adequate doctrine of the human situation or do we believe that the description expressed in the term of the tragic character of the human situation is equally necessary? And I must say that Augustine was right in emphasizing the tragic side of the human situation, the participation of everything in man's estrangement from God, and in the impossibility of man in his own power to return to God. Now this is the question. If somebody in a Manichaean way emphasized this tragic element, then I would take the side of Pelagius, of course, because the both sides the responsible side and the tragic side belong to each other. And if you have the one without the other, then you are wrong. Let me give two examples: The one is a special kind of Neo Orthodox theology which has already appeared in the Reformation period under the heading of a movement called gnesio-Lutherans (genuine Lutherans). The man who was especially representative for this was Matthias Flaccius. He said that original sin is the substance of man. In saying this he made a statement which made the sinful state a matter of creation, because substance is a category which belongs to the realm of creation. And therefore he was rejected, with this statement. But the tendency which he represents is always very strong.

Now I had a discussion with one of my German friends amongst the student body here who ,told me that he believes that God cannot maintain His first creation, that He cannot maintain the creation as we see it in time and space, but that this creation, so to speak, was a failure. And this German student said: since the creation of God was a failure, through the guilt of man, God must cancel the creation, so to speak, and must posit the new creation. The new creation is something absolutely different from the old creation. Then I asked him about the structures which make that a tree always becomes a tree, and that the human being is always dependent on special functions of the blood stream, on the breath, on the lung, etc. Then he said: all this has to be cancelled, so to speak, by God in the new creation. The new creation is the new heaven and the new earth, the Kingdom of God however it is symbolically called and the natural structures which have proved to be a failure since man for whom they\were created is a failure, have to be removed by God and replaced by other ones.

Now this is an attitude in which the tragic element has completely overwhelmed the original goodness of man to which his essential freedom belongs. And insofar as Pelagianism if you want to use that word for it emphasizes human freedom in this sense, insofar as this is the case Pelagianism is a necessary corrective against the danger of Augustinianism to fall back into Manichaean dualistic tendencies and to emphasize the disruptedness of reality in such a way that even the natural structures of reality have to be removed.

My second answer is: When we speak about our relationship to God and the possibility of man, under the conditions of estrangement, to reunite with God, then I would say: this is impossible, because the ethical act which comes out of the situation of estrangement is colored, formed, shaped, by this situation of estrangement, even if it. is a so-called good act. And this means that only if there is a new reality is it possible to reunite with God, in the power of this new being, or new reality. And in this, Augustine and the classical theology, the Reformers, etc., are right. And I think modern philosophy and psychology, existentialism and depth psychology in their alliance, have confirmed what I have said. Perhaps our grandfathers could believe that there are people who have a good will and other people who have a bad will, and they are always on the side of those who have a good will, while it is the others who have a bad will. Now in every special situation you can decide this was a good deed and that was a bad deed. This is unambiguously so, so that if you do a good deed, everything is all right. Those of you who have heard or read some of my things will remember that I believe that life is defined by the concept of ambiguity, and that ambiguity means that in a tragic way the great is always at the same time the tragic, Greatness and tragedy belong together. The great produces great guilt, produces tragic guilt, And this is always ambiguously intermixed. Now if we ask ourselves about the best deed we have done perhaps some of you remember their best deed, of I don't know how many years ago, probably many, because from the last year we hardly will discover one--in any case, if we imagine our best deed, we must ask ourselves how many motives might have been co-operative in our good deeds, which in themselves are not good but are either ambiguous or bad. . . Now if we ask this every time, then we will not simply say: this was good, this was had, etc., but we will say our best deed was still a deed in which many elements which we probably would call ambiguous or bad, are present.

But the opposite is also true, namely, the people who are not people of good will that is, the others if we judge their acts, (and they are certainly very negative acts: they acted toward us very negatively, or they committed crimes, or all kinds of things), then we know that in their acts are elements of goodness, and they can be living acts only because of the elements of goodness within them. Otherwise, they could not have being, because being or the power of being - -has in itself the nature of the good, according to the Christian idea that esse qua esse bonum est, being as being is good. Now if this is the case, then it is much easier not to condemn the others; then it is possible to judge ourselves more adequately. And "we" don't even need to condemn ourselves, perhaps, in such a way as when we distinguish between black and white unambiguously. Our worst deed perhaps was not as bad as we think, when we compare it with other deeds which we count our best deeds. Perhaps the difference is not so terribly great.

But I wanted only to express the Augustinian point of view in terms of modern psychology. If we accept this, then the necessary consequence is that if we believe that God wants the unambiguously good because He is unambiguously good our free decisions are not able to reach Him. This then produces the Augustinian idea of grace, which I translate for us into the concept of a New Being, which has as its central element the character of in spite of. And here seems to me to be the profoundest criticism of Pelagianism, that it doesn't know the nature of the "in spite of." The nature of the "in spite of" is the "in spite of our ambiguity." Now let us for a moment imagine consistent Pelagianism: what would we experience in ourselves? We would experience that all these ambiguities are always present when we make a decision for reunion towards God or towards the ultimate good, however you want to define it, and we never would be able to accept ourselves. You know that most of the neurotic states of man are rooted in the fact that he is not able to accept himself. Now nobody who is serious or profound is able to accept himself on the basis of what he does. If he tries to do this, then he either becomes superficially self-complacent a way out which many people are able to muddle through from day to day but there is a hidden knowledge that this is not the reality. If we face the reality of our being unable to act completely good, to act towards God so that we bring God down to us by our actions, then we cannot accept ourselves: the self-acceptance is possible only on the basis of being accepted. Now this being accepted is again a translation of the Augustinian concept of grace, and therefore I am an Augustinian because I know myself. And I think that's what Augustine also did. Pelagius was also, as a monk, able to know himself. But in comparison to the distorted world, he rightly pointed to the fact that in the monastic community much more good is actualized than in the completely disrupted pagan world of the decaying ancient culture But this is a criterion which is always relatively acceptable and necessary, but which does not fit the absolute categories, the relationship to God. And there Pelagius did not realize what many monks and saints after them have realized, namely that the saints are, at the same time, the greatest sinners, that they are open to the greatest temptations, and that they have to fight, perhaps more than the average man, within themselves to overcome. That is what Augustine knew, from his experience, and what the Reformers knew who took the Divine demand absolutely seriously.

Now that is my judgment about Augustinianism and Pelagianism. I repeat: if we have a kind of Manichaean distortion of Augustinianism as we have it in some Neo-Orthodox theologians, or in Flaccius and many others in the Reformation period, then we have to maintain the Pelagian point of view. If, however, the human situation is described, then we do better with all that we know about man today to become Augustinians.

Now the main points about the epistemology of the medieval philosophers and theologians were discussed yesterday. I gave you the great conflict between the Augustinians and the Aristotelian, or the Franciscan and the Dominican, point of view and the consequences for our own situation today. Then I went into the doctrine of God in all medieval philosophers and theologians, the doctrine of God which always starts with the statement that God is being itself, and then that He is intelligence, and then that He is will, but that the term "personality" or "person" is not used for Him, and that persona, if used at all, is used for the three hypostases Father, Son, and Spirit God, a trinitarian concept, but not a concept describing God. Then I came to the difference between the Thomistic and the Scotistic concepts of God, and the great consequences of this God is primarily intellect in Aquinas and primarily will in Scotus and, with will, the threat against everything which can be deduced, the impossibility of deducing anything because God's will is nothing other than what He wills, but you cannot make Him dependent on anything else, even on principles described that as the "threat" against the safety of rationalism, and described it also as one of the roots of the good sides in positivism, namely the humble acceptance of reality as it is given, given by the irrational ground of being, given by the irrational will of God.

Now I go back to Thomas Aquinas and discuss a few of his doctrines which are so important that we all must know them. The first is his doctrine of nature and grace. His famous statement reads: "Grace does not remove nature but fulfills it."

Now this is a very important principle grace is not the negation but the fulfillment of nature. I can now use my long excursus about Pelagianism in saying that the radical Augustinians or more exactly the Manichaean distortions of Augustine would not follow Thomas in this sentence. They would say that grace removes nature, just as I said that that the New Being is a negation of the old creation, and not only of the distortion of the old creation. For Thomas Aquinas, with whom I feel very much in unity in this point, nature and grace are not two contradictory concepts only distorted or estranged nature and grace are contradictory concepts, but not nature as such. But now he says that nature is fulfilled in supra-nature; and supra-nature is grace. This is a structure of reality which was always, even by creation. God gave to Adam in Paradise not only his natural abilities but, beyond this, a donum superadditum, a gift which he added to his natural gifts, namely the gift of grace which made it possible for Adam to consist in his state of union with God.

Now this is a very interesting doctrine and one which we must discuss because it was a point in which Protestantism deviated completely from Thomas Aquinas. Protestantism said that the perfect nature doesn't need any grace any more, but that if we are perfect in our created status, then the grace which comes from above is not necessary; and therefore Protestantism removed the idea of the donum superadditum. Now this is a mythological story; whether Adam got that or didn't get it, that is not what is- interesting but in these mythological stories a very profound vision of the structure of reality is expressed. In Thomism the structure of reality has two degrees. For Protestantism ,the situation is the following: creation is complete in itself, and therefore the created forms of reality are forms which are sufficient: God didn't need to add something to it. This is the same basic feeling towards life which we find in the Renaissance, where we also have creation which in itself is good, where man is in the center, in his created potentialities, without a supernatural gift which is added to him.

Thomas Aquinas has the two degrees: nature and supra-natureo Protestantism says: only if nature is distorted by man's fall, by man's estrangement from God, is another power necessary: the power of grace, whose center is forgiveness. But what forgiveness does is the restitutio integrum, the restitution of nature to its full potentialities. This idea is ultimately monistic. The created world is perfect in itself: God doesn't need to give additional graces to His fulfilled creation. But He must come down into existence in order to overcome the conflicts of existence and that's what grace is. So in Protestantism, grace is acceptance of that which is unacceptable. In Catholicism grace is a substance, which is in analogy to the non-grace, to the natural substances.

So I have now given you a positive and then a negative valuation of Thomas' doctrine. The positive valuation is that nature and grace are not contradictions, but that grace fulfills what in nature is disrupted, fulfills the possibilities of the natural, and in this I agree with the Thomistic tendency to bring creation and salvation together, to bring nature and grace into the one Divine act of creativity.

Secondly, I deviate from Thomas or Protestantism does in that we do not consider a supra-nature as a substance which is "added to" nature in order to fulfill it, but it is the Divine act in which He reunites us with Himself.

This of course is also valid for the relationship of revelation and reason. Revelation does not destroy reason but fulfills reason. And here again I agree with Thomas Aquinas. I believe that revelation is reason in ecstasy, that in revelation the depth of reason breaks into the form of reason, driving it beyond itself without destroying it. But I would not accept the Thomistic form in which reason is one realm, and revelation is another realm in which reason is completed. So we have two forms here, and I think this is so central that it is an inroad also to the understanding of Protestantism namely, the central fact that the Catholic world view is essentially dualistic, between nature and supra-nature. Catholicism defends supernaturalism with all its power. Protestantism is united with the Renaissance in the monistic tendency monistic in the sense of having one Divine world and having salvation and regeneration (which are one and the same thing) as the answer of God to the disruption of this world. But this answer is not the negation of the created structure of this world.

So in some way the Protestant dualism is deeper, but it is not the dualism of substances, it is dualism of the Kingdom of God and the demonic powers which stand against it. It is not an identification of the created with the fallen world. The fallen world is the distortion of the created world, and therefore the New Being is not another creation but is the re-establishment of the original unity.

Now one of the consequences of this is that in Protestantism the secular world is immediate to God. In Catholicism the secular world needs the mediation through the supernatural substance, which is present in the hierarchy and their sacramental activities. Here again you have a fundamental difference. Therefore Protestantism is emphatic for secularity. And Luther's words about the value of the work of a housemaid in contrast to the value of the work of a monk, are very clear speaking about namely, that the value of the housemaid's work, if it is done in the fear of God or however you express it is more valuable than the asceticism of the monks, even if is done in the fear of God. Now here is the emphasis on the secular act as such, which if done in the right way is the revelation of God. And you don't need to become a monk. On the contrary, if you try it, then you claim to be in a supernatural realm and to make this. claim is to contradict the paradox of justification, namely, that as a sinner you are justified.

Now I come to a few other doctrines connected with the name of Thomas Aquinas, and which we must know. You all have heard about his (so-called) "arguments" for the so-:-called "existence" of God. Now the first thing which follows out of my epistemological description yesterday is that Thomas rejects the ontological argument. This was implicit in everything I said yesterday, but I will repeat it in connection with the ontological argument, namely that in the center of the human mind there is an immediate awareness of something unconditional. That is what the whole ontological argument is about. There is an a priori presence of the Divine in the human mind expressed in the immediate awareness of the unconditional character of the true and the good and of being itself. This precedes every other knowledge, so that the knowledge of God is the first knowledge and is the only absolute, sure and certain knowledge, namely the knowledge not of a being, somewhere, but the knowledge of the unconditional element in the depths of the soul. Now this is the nerve of the ontological argument. But as I said in connection with Anselm, the ontological argument was also elaborated in terms of a reasoning argument, of an argument which concluded from this basis to the existence of a highest being. And insofar as this was done, the argument is not valid, and all the critics of this argument Thomas, Scotus, Kant have shown very clearly that as an argument it is not valid. As an analysis of man in his tension between the finite and the infinite, it is valid; it is a matter of immediate certainty.

Thomas Aquinas belongs to those who reject the ontological argument because he saw the argumentative side in it, which indeed must be rejected and is not valid. The same of course is true of Duns Scotus. I don't need to go into him at all. He emphasizes this even more.

But now in order to fill the empty space which was produced by the falling down of the ontological argument, and also. in Thomas, by the principle of the immediate awareness of the Divine in man, he had to do something else I spoke about this point yesterday namely, to find a way from the world to God. The world in itself is not the first, but it is the first which is given to us, he says. This is just the opposite of what the Augustinian and the Franciscans said: the first which is given to us is the principles of truth in us, and only with their help can we exercise the function of doubt, etc. Even the skeptical function is based on the spirit of truth in the depths of the mind. Thomas denied this. So he had to show another way: the cosmological way, which says that God must be found from outside. We must look at our world, and we find that our world is such that by logical necessity it leads us to the estrangement of a highest being. He has five arguments for it, which one should know because they appear again and again in the history of philosophy:

1) The argument from motion: Motion demands a cause. This cause itself is moved. So we have to go back to an unmoved Mover which we call "God." It is an argument from movement in terms of causality. To find a cause for the movement in the world, we must find something which itself is not moved.

2) There is always a cause for every effect, but this cause is itself an effect of a prior cause. So we go back from cause to cause, which would bring us into an infinite regression, and in order to avoid this we must speak of a First Cause. Now the "first cause" is not the first cause temporally, according to Thomas, but it is first in dignity; it is the cause of all causes.

3) Everything in the world is contingent. It is not necessary that it is as it is. It might have been otherwise. But if everything is contingent, if we can make disappear into the abyss of nothing everything that is, because it has no necessity to be, then this leads us back to something which has ultimate necessity, and from which we can derive all the contingent elements.

4) There are purposes in nature and man, but if we act in terms of purpose, we ask: for what? And if we have reached that, then we again ask: for what is that? We need a final purpose, an ultimate end behind all the means. The preliminary purposes become means when they are fulfilled, and this leads to the idea of a final purpose, of an ultimate meaning, as we would perhaps call it today.

5) This is very much dependent on Plato. It says: there are degrees of perfection in everything that is. Some things are better or more beautiful or truer than others. But if there is a more-or-less of perfection, there must be something absolutely perfect by which we measure this more-or-less. So whenever we value, we presuppose an ultimate value. Whenever we have degrees, we presuppose something which is beyond degree.

Now in all these arguments there is always the category of causality it is always a conclusion from characteristics of this world to something which makes this world possible. Now I would believe that this is true, as analysis. Each of these arguments is true as long as it is not an argument but an analysis. It is one of those ways in which existentialist philosophy appeared in the whole history of Western thinking. In the doctrine of the arguments for the existence of God, we have probably the most adequate analysis of the finitude of reality in the whole literature of the past. This is the value of these arguments, and this is the reason why they have reappeared exactly as often as they have been refuted which is a funny thing; I spoke about this already and by the greatest men in the history of thought: some refuted them, some re-established them. The reason is that they included the existential analysis of man's finitude, and as such they have truth. Insofar as they go beyond this and establish a highest being which as a being is infinite, they make conclusions which are not justified. And this seems to me our attitude towards these doctrines.

I must give you another concept which we find in Thomas Aquinas, namely the concept of predestination. Here we have a cross-working of motives. Predestination is an Augustinian idea taken over by the Dominican Thomas Aquinas, on the basis of his principle of intellect, which understands the necessities, and can by necessity derive consequences from what has preceded. On the other hand the Augustinians, the Franciscans, especially under Duns Scotus' influence, emphasized the will so much that Divine as well as human will became ultimate realities, became, so to speak, ontological ultimates, not determined by anything other than by themselves. So they introduced the element of freedom the Pelagian element. The Augustinians introduced a crypto- Pelagianism into medieval theology, I. e., a Pelagianism which is not an open but a hidden Pelagianism, while Thomas Aquinas on the basis of his intellectualism thought in deterministic terms. This is important because it shows that Thomas Aquinas was religiously much more powerful than the Protestant criticism of the Scholastic theology admits. It seems that Luther didn't know Thomas Aquinas at all. He knew the late nominalistic theologians, of whom one can rightly say that they were distortions of Scholasticism, and he fought against them. But he could have found in Thomas Aquinas his own and Calvin's predestinarian thinking.

We must stop now, unfortunately. I must say something next time about Thomistic ethics because they are so much in the foreground of present-day discussions that we cannot leave them out completely.

Viewed 362673 times.