Immediately below you will find two excellent Yale University history lectures from Prof. Keith Wrightson on The Late Medieval Church and Reformation and Division in England. Following Dr. Wrightson’s video lectures, you will find the text of three outstanding lectures from Paul Tillich’s course at Union Theological Seminary The History of Christian Thought.
Yale University provides background on Dr.Wrightson: He “earned his BA, MA and PhD from Cambridge University and began his teaching career at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he was a lecturer in modern history 1975-1984. He returned to Cambridge in 1984, serving as the University Lecturer in History and later as director of studies in history and a reader in English social history. He became a full professor of social history there in 1998 and joined the Yale faculty a year later.
Prof. Wrightson is the “Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History, [and] is a scholar of early modern British history. His books, which have been credited for their novel approach to English social and cultural history, include Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525-1700 (co-authored with David Levine), The Making of an Industrial Society. Whickham 1560-1765 (also with Levine), English Society, 1580-1680 and Earthly Necessities. Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain. He is a contributing editor of The Illustrated Dictionary of British History and co-editor of The World We Have Gained: Histories of Population and Social Structure. Essays Presented to Peter Laslett on His 70th Birthday. Wrightson has also contributed chapters to numerous books.”
Prof. Wrightson picks up the thread of history begun in the above video as he lectures on Reformation and Division:
Paul Tillich, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
(ENTIRE LECTURE SERIES) From Religion-Online.com: “In the Spring of 1953, Professor Tillich offered a course at Union Theological Seminary, entitled ‘The History of Christian Thought: Lectures in Church History (108).’ This was the last time Dr. Tillich offered the course. [Tillich moved on to become University Professor at Harvard.] Students took stenographic notes and distributed copies to the class. What follows are the verbatim notes from that class. There were thirty-eight sessions, but Lecture 11 is missing.”
“Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German–American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was – along with his contemporaries Rudolf Bultmann (Germany), Karl Barth (Switzerland), and Reinhold Niebuhr (United States) – one of the four most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century.Among the general populace, he is best known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), which introduced issues of theology and modern culture to a general readership. Theologically, he is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), in which he developed his “method of correlation”: an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.“
The three lectures are in the public domain.
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.
Lecture 24: Abelard. Bernard of Clairvaux. Mysticism.
We discussed Anselm of Canterbury as a typically theonomous thinker, theonomous in the sense that he does not crush reason by heteronomous authority, that he does not leave it empty, unproductive, but filled with the Divine substance as it is given with revelation, tradition and authority. We can say Anselm represents, so to speak, the more objective pole in the thinking of the Middle Ages, objective in the sense that the tradition. is the given foundation, which does not exclude a very personal kind of thinking and searching. On the other hand, we have a man who represents the opposite, namely the subjective side, if subjective does not mean willful but means taking into the personal life, as subjective reality. It is a very bad thing that the words “objective” vs.”subjective” have become so undefined and distorted in all respects. This shouldn’t be. And if you hear about them, don’t react (so as to regard) objective as something which is true and real, and subjective something willful. This is often the reaction, but it is entirely wrong. “Objective” here means the reality of the given substance of Bible, tradition and authority. “Subjective” here means taking into the personal life, as something which is discussed and experienced.
Now when I come to Abelard, the philosopher and theologian of Paris, in the 12th century, who lived in the shadow of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. . .. When we look at him we can say the subjectivity is visible in the following points which characterize his spiritual attitude and character:
1) He was enthusiastic about dialectical thinking, dialectics meaning showing the “yes” and “no” in everything. He was full of contempt for those who accept the mysteries . of the faith without understanding what the words mean in which these mysteries are expressed. He, as all medieval people, did not want to derive the mysteries from reason; certainly not. But he wanted to make them understandable for reason. Of course, there is always the danger that the mystery is emptied, that the situation is turned around, but this danger is the danger of every kind of thinking: thinking destroys the immediacy of life, wherever it starts, and this cannot be helped. The question is whether a higher immediacy can be reestablished. This is also true of these theological lectures which you hear here. To hear them means being endangered, and this is the reason why some of the more fundamentalistic people would be very much afraid if their future theologians would be educated in a place like Union Seminary, which likes – as Abelard did – dialectical thinking, and shows everywhere the “yes” and “no.” But if you don’t risk this danger, then your faith never can be a real power.
2) Abelard represents the type of jurisprudential thinking which was introduced into the occidental Christian world by Tertullian. He was, so to speak, the lawyer who defends the right of the tradition in showing that the contradictions in the traditional material – which no one can deny – can be solved. In doing so he supported the Church, but of course dialectics which have the power to defend have also the power to attack. And this was the danger in dialectics which some of the traditional theologians sensed, even before the danger became actual. This is again a reason why some more or less orthodox theology doesn’t like apologetics, because the same means with which you defend Christianity can be used to attack it.
3) He was a person of strong self-reflection, and this was almost a new event in this period which had a very objective character, in the sense of being related to the contents and not to oneself. In Abelard it is not a mere commitment to truth or good, but it was at the same time a reflection about his being committed. Now you know all this; you have a feeling of repentance; and you reflect about having this feeling. You have an experience of faith, and you reflect about this experience. This is something modern, which first appears in Abelard. From this we understand the famous book he wrote, “Historia galami!atum” (“History of my Misfortunes”). This is autobiography. The title is, of course, in the line of Augustine and his Confessions, but the importance is that the self-analysis is not made in the face of. God – as in Augustine – -and always related to God; rather, the self-analysis is done in relation to himself, in relation to what he has experienced. Here the title itself reveals the danger, a danger in which we all live, as modern men. When Augustine speaks of confessions, then he relates himself to God, in looking at himself. If you speak of “misfortunes,” of “calamities,” then there s a resentful feeling left, and resentment is always a sign of subjectivity.
This is supported by his tremendous ambition; by his lack of acknowledgment of others, for instance his teachers; by his continuous attacks on authorities; and by his personal ambition. All this was a very strong subjective character.
4) The subjectivity is visible in the realm of feeling. We can even say that he belongs to those who have discovered that realm as a special realm. This is expressed in his romance with Heloise, which has all the tragedy and all the greatness of an event, which opens up all romantic forms of romantic love, but which is much earlier than its development in the romantic period. It is the discovery of eros against two things which prevailed before: on the one side, paternalistic authority, and on the other, simple sexuality, which has nothing to do with the personal relationship but which is allowed and limited by the Church and is used as an element in the paternalistic family. Instead of this, we have in the romance of Abelard and Heloise a relationship in which the sexual and the spiritual are united. But again, this was something new and dangerous in a period in which all these things stood under the principle of education and stratification of barbaric tribes which had just received the Christian Gospel. It was, so to speak, too early, as was so much in Abelard.
All this is present in his book with the characteristic title, “Sic et non” (“Yes and No”). I said already in my survey that this is also older than Abelard. It comes from the canonistic literature (the sacred law literature) from ecclesiastical jurisprudence, in which the papal law scholars tried to harmonize the decrees of the different popes and synods. There was a practical yes-and-no problem because the pope and his advisors had to make decisions. They wanted to make these decisions on the basis of tradition, in this case, the law tradition. So the law had to be harmonized. But a part of the canones is the dogmatic decisions of the popes and synods, and so the dogmatic decisions had the same problem in it, sic et non, yes and no. When Abelard wrote this book and tried to harmonize the doctrines, he didn’t do it in order to show some dogmatic differences, in order to provoke doubt or skepticism. On the contrary, he wanted to show that in the tradition a unity is maintained which can be proved by methods of harmonization. This was also accepted by the Church authorities because they needed it. And so all Scholasticism accepted the yes-and-no method of Abelard. They asked questions, they put opposing views against the answers, and discussed the opposing views, finally coming to a decision. The whole Scholastic theology is a sic et non theology, first expressed by Abelard. Let us look a little to see how this was applied.
The first step is the attempt to deal with the texts of the Fathers, the synods, the decrees, and the Bible, historically. One must ask the question whether these texts are authentic. Further, one must show in which historical situation and under which psychological conditions these texts were written. Changes have to be examined. The sphere and the configuration in which these changes take place in the same author, must be inquired into and stated. Of all this has been done, then something happens which you yourselves can control easily, namely, what seemed to be contradictions are not contradictions at all, but are only different forms in which the same idea is expressed. Very often in the history of thought – this is something which you should take with you – it happens that contradictory statements are only contradictory if you take them as isolated statements out of the gestalt, the structure to which they belong, and in which, seemingly contradictory, they may actually say one and the same thing. It is one of the miserable things in so many discussions that we don’t follow this method of Abelard, first to show the whole structure in which a statement appears. I often am asked: Dr. Niebuhr says this in one book, and you say this. – This may be — Very often when I inquire into it, I find it is only the contextual difference which makes it seem to be a contradiction at all.
2) The second step is the elaboration of the literal meaning of a word, the – philological task, after the historical task. This may lead to the discovery of different senses of a word, even in the same writer. It is as if he lived in 1953, where in all my lectures I continuously discover that the semantic problem is predominant in our situation, that if we use a word like “faith” or “Son of God” or any word in theology, it has at least half a dozen meanings and probably as many meanings as people who sit in this room, and each. of them has a little bit of nuance in terms of a different meaning. And then one fights with each other, each in a different concept. So it is actually not a real fight, but a talking beside each other. This is what Abelard wanted to avoid – a very reasonable demand.
Now when we come to the semantics which he suggests, and ask ourselves: Is there a danger in this method? or, more largely speaking, to what degree can logical calculus, semantic purification and reduction, be applied to contents such as that of the Christian message? – -then .I would say there is no absolute possibility of applying it because if we come to the important things of life, to the things which are existential, every word has an edge which makes it what it is, which gives it its color and power, and which, if you take it away, leaves a bone, but not a bone with flesh and skin – it leaves a conceptual bone. And that is why I am not so convinced of criticisms by logical positivists, in spite of my great semantic interest, because I believe that if they have their complete way, all words in a realm like theology or philosophical metaphysics or ontology or art theory or history, would lose their full meaning and would be reduced to mathematical signs through which everything escapes, which is the real power and meaning of such words. So be very careful to use every word in the same sense in your discussions, but don’t be horrified or afraid or shaken if logical positivism shows you that you don’t use a word in terms of a mathematical sign.
3) The application of the authority of the Bible as the ultimate criterion is the next step. This sounds very Protestant, as so much biblicism in the Middle Ages sounds very Protestant, but it is not very Protestant. It was not a new experience with the Bible, out of which Abelard spoke – as it was with Luther. It was the application of the Bible as a law, so to speak as the ultimate legal judge. This is something quite different from the Protestant interpretation of the Bible as the place where the message of justification can be found.
The legal relationship to the tradition is different from the creative traditionalism of Anselm. Anselm, although he was less dialectical than Abelard, was more creative and even more courageous, and nevertheless keener (about) the substance of the tradition.
Some of Abelard’s special doctrines: He shows subjectivity in all his doctrines, ethical and theological. Connected with the subjective reason is his doctrine of ethical autonomy. He is a predecessor of Kant, in spite of the tremendous difference in time and situation. He first teaches that it is not an act in itself that is good or bad, but the intention makes it good or bad. As Kant expressed the same idea, nothing is good except a good will. And this man of the 12th century expresses the same idea. The work itself is indifferent; only the intention is decisive.. .”In the intention consists the merit.” Therefore not nature itself, not even the desire itself makes us sinful, but the intention, the will. Not the contents of a moral system are important, but the conscience which follows or does not follow these contents. The contents of the moral system are always questionable in their application to a concrete thing. You never can take them absolute. But your conscience must guide you. The perfect good, of course, is if the objective norm and the subjective intention correspond; if our conscience shows us what is actually right. But this is very often not the case. And if it is not the case, it is better that we follow our conscience, even if it is objectively wrong. He says: “There is no sin except against conscience.” Now in one way even Thomas Aquinas accepted this idea. Aquinas said: “If a superior in my order, to whom I have sworn obedience, asks me to do something which is against my conscience, I shall not do it, although I am obliged to keep obedience to him”. — The conscience was regarded as ultimate judge, even if it is objectively erroneous. The Protestants ,and Kant, were preceded in these formulas, which, at that time, couldn’t work because the educational element is neglected by Abelard. If you tell these uneducated masses that they should follow their conscience, and you don’t give them objective norms with sufficient strictness, you let them loose, and they may go astray. This means that in this respect, as in so many others, Abelard was an anticipation of something which later became actual. He had much of 18th century thinking in France.
In the same way he discussed the theological problems.
1) He denies the idea that in Adam all have sinned. Not sensuality is sin, but acts of will. Without an agreement of the will, no sin; and since we didn’t agree with our will when Adam sinned, it is not sin for us. Here you see how. the subjectivity, exactly as in the 18th century, dissolves first of all from the very beginning the doctrine of original sin, because this doctrine shows the tragic side of sin, the objective and not the personal, subjective side, the agreement of will.
2) In Christology, he emphasizes the human activity in Christ, and denies radically that Christ is, so to speak, a transformed God or Logos or higher Divine being. For him the personal activity of Christ is decisive, and not His ontological coming from God.
3) In the idea of salvation, he is best known to Protestants and very often quoted. In the doctrine of atonement, as we have seen yesterday, Anselm makes a deal between God and Christ, out of the situation which is produced by human sin. He describes atonement in quantitative terms of satisfaction. This is not the idea of Abelard. But it is the love of God which is visible in the cross of Christ, which produces our love. It is not an objective mechanism between transcendent powers which enables God to forgive, as it is in Anselm, but it is the subjective act of Divine love which provokes our subjective act of loving Him. Salvation is man’s ethical response to the forgiving act of the Divine love – -ethical in the sense of personal. Now this has produced a whole type of the doctrine of atonement, which is always called the Abelardian type, the type in which God forgives because He loves; the mechanism of atonement through the substitute suffering, the problems of satisfaction, etc., are simply ruled out. It is a doctrine of atonement in the personal center, while in Anselm it is a doctrine of atonement in a mythological realm in which God and Christ trade with each other — Christ sacrifices something and gets back something from God in return, namely the human individuals, with whom He is united. In all these things Abelard is a pre -Protestant and pre-autonomous type. It is subjectivity in the sense of reason and centered personality. But Kant could not have appeared in the 12th century; he could only appear in the 18th century and become the all-decisive philosophical turning point. Therefore many things of Abelard were rejected. He was too early for the educational situation in which the Church
found itself. For instance, when you tell somebody whom you want to educate that the act of confession is only act of confession (and that means repentance) if it comes from love towards God and not from fear, then the whole educational effect of the preaching of the law is taken away. Abelard is just the opposite of an educational theologian. He doesn’t think in terms of what is good for the people, but in terms of what is ultimately true, and what is good for those who are autonomous. For this reason some of his doctrines were rejected, and he was not received completely, in his time. But nevertheless he became one of the most influential people in the development towards Scholasticism, because of the cleverness and greatness of the method he produced, the method of sic et non.
I said he was rejected. Who were the people who rejected him? This brings me to another great man of the same century:
Bernard of Clairvaux
Anselm was fighting with Bernard about the possibility of applying dialectics to Christian contents. Bernard is the most representative of a Christianized, or “baptized,” mysticism. He was, as I said, the foe of Abelard, but he was not only the foe; he brought Abelard to a council which rejected him. But when we call him the adversary of Abelard, this is only half true because he also was fighting for the subjective side, namely subjectivity in terms of mystical experience. He belonged to those who wanted to make the objective Christian doctrines, the decisions of the Fathers and the council; a matter of personal adaptation. But the difference was that while Abelard did this in terms of reason, Bernard did it in terms of mystical experience. This experience is based on faith – of course, every medieval theologian would say this – -and faith is described as an anticipation of will. This is Augustinian voluntarism which becomes visible here in Bernard as well as in the whole Franciscan school later on. Faith is something daring, is something free. You anticipate something which can become real for you only by full experience. Certainty is not given in the act of faith; it is a daring anticipation of a state to which you may come. Faith is created by the Divine Spirit, and the following experience confirms it.
But more important and more effective than these ideas which foreshadow the Franciscan school and much of medieval thinking about faith, is the mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux. Here I come to a problem which is important and has been dealt with directly in this room two years ago when we had a seminar on Christian mysticism, and put it under the question, “Can mysticism be baptized?” I. e., can it be Christian? is that possible? Mysticism is much older than Christianity, it is much more universal than Christianity. What about the relation of Christianity to mysticism? Now in this seminar we came to the final answer that it can be baptized if it is made a concrete
Christ-mysticism – in a very similar way as it is in Paul – -a participation in Christ as Spirit. And now this is just what Bernard of Clairvaux did. He is really the baptizing father in the development of Christian mysticism. This is his importance. And whenever you are attacked, and some Barthians tell you that Christianity and mysticism are two different things; you are either a Christian or a mystic, and the attempt of almost 2000 years to baptize mysticism is wrong – then you must answer that perhaps the most important figure in whom mysticism is expressed is Bernard, and this is the mysticism of love, and only if you have a mysticism of love can you have Christian mysticism.
Mysticism has two contents in Bernard: first, the picture of Jesus as it is given in the Biblical report, and in which the Divine is transparent. It is the participation in the humility and not an ethical command, although this follows out of it. It is the reality of God in Jesus, in which we participate. The mystical following of Jesus is participating in Him. And you never should forget, when you read about Francis of Assisi and Thomas a Kempis, that when they tried to follow Jesus, this was not the way in which a Jew follows Moses; it was not another law, but it was meant as a participation in the meaning of what Jesus is. In this way the mystics of the Middle Ages overcame a legal interpretation of the obedience to Christ. We cannot really follow Him except we participate in Him mystically. But this participation is not static, it’s dynamic. It’s not legal, but it is participation. This concrete, active mysticism of love to Christ is the presupposition of the second part of mysticism in Bernard of Clairvaux, the abstract mysticism, “abstract” meaning abstracting from anything concrete, the mysticism of the abyss of the Divine. This side of the mystical experience is that which Christian mysticism has in common with all other forms of mysticism. There are three steps, according to Bernard:
1) Consideration (you look at things from outside; they remain objects for your subjectivity.)
2) Contemplation (participating in the “temple,”( going into the holiness of the holy..)
3) Excelsum (going outside of oneself, an attitude which exceeds the normal existence, in which man is driven beyond himself without losing himself. It is also described as raptus, being grasped.
In the third stage, man goes over into the Divinity, like a drop of wine which falls into a glass of wine. The substance remains, but the form of the individual drop is dissolved into the all-embracing Divine form. You don’t lose your identity, but your identity is a part of the Divine reality into which you fall.
Now here we have two forms of mysticism which must always be distinguished: concrete mysticism, which is mysticism of love and participating in the Savior-God; abstract mysticism, or transcending mysticism, which goes beyond everything finite to the ultimate ground of everything that is.
When we look at these two forms, then we can say that at least for this life, Bernard’s mysticism is in the Christian (tradition). When we ask about the second type, you can say: Now this makes an eternity love impossible. – But we must also add that Paul said something similar when he said that God will be all in all. This means that when we come to the ultimate we cannot simply think in terms of separated individuals, although we still must think in terms of love, and this is not an easy task. In any case the decisive thing is that we now have one man in which more is involved than in Pseudo-Dionysius, namely, it is concrete mysticism, Christ mysticism, love mysticism. But it is still mysticism, because it is participation, and participation always means partly participation
and partly identification.
Now I come to the end of this lecture on the early Middle Ages, to another man, Hugh of St. Victor. He was the most influential theologian of the 12th century. He was already the fulfiller of systematic thinking, to an extent in which neither Anselm nor Bernard nor Abelard were fulfillers. This man wrote a book, “On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith.” This brings us back to what I said about the sacramental character of the medieval Church. The term ” sacrament” in his book is used in the broadest sense – everything in which the Divine becomes visible; I. e. all works of God are sacraments. If this is the case, he can distinguish two groups of the works of God. He calls them the opera conditionis, the works of condition, and the opera reparationis, the works of reparation. This gives you a deep insight into medieval life. All things are visible embodiments of the invisible ground behind them. Nevertheless this does not lead to – what you are also much afraid of – a pantheistic form of theology, because although all works of God are sacraments, they are concentrated into seven sacraments. And if not only bodily realities, but also activities of God are called sacraments, then you see the full dynamism of this idea of sacrament.
So we have here an interpretation of the world in a dynamic sacramental form, centered around the seven sacraments of the Church, and there again centered around Mass and penance. This is the medieval situation which in people like Hugh of St. Victor already found a rather consistent and sharp expression. Now I see you after Easter again. I wish you a good Easter.
Lecture 26: Medieval Theology. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.
We must now go into the main problems of the medieval development. I just finished yesterday by saying that the conflict between Aristotle and Augustine characterizes the medieval situation. Let me first make clear what Aristotle means for the Middle Ages in the moment in which he was discovered in the beginning of the 13th century, with the help of the Arabic philosophers.
1) Aristotle’s logic was always known, but this was used as a tool and didn’t influence the content of theology directly. When the whole work of Aristotle was rediscovered, it was a complete system in which all realms of life were discussed – observations about nature, about politics, about ethics, an independent secular world-view, including a system of values and meanings. The question was: How could a world which was educated in the Augustinian ecclesiastical tradition deal with this secular system of ideas and meanings? This was the first thing Aristotle meant. It is a little as though theology for centuries asked the question: How can the scientific revolution which has been going on since the 17th century be mediated with the Christian tradition? It was a similar problem for the Middle Ages.
2) Aristotle gave basic metaphysical categories, such as form and matter, actuality and potentiality. He gave a new doctrine of matter, of the relationship of God and the world, and all this on a basis of an ontological analysis of reality.
3) This was perhaps the most important point: He gave a new approach to knowledge. The soul has to receive impressions from the external world. Experience is always the beginning, while in the Augustinian tradition immediate intuition was the beginning. The Augustinians were, so to speak, in the Divine center and judged the world from there. The Aristotelians looked at the world and concluded to the Divine center.
The conclusion, therefore, with which I want to deal first is the question of knowledge. The whole movement of Augustinianism and Aristotelianism must be understood from here. The question was: Is our knowledge a participation in the Divine knowledge of the world and of Himself, or must we, in the opposite way, recognize God by approaching the world from outside? Is God the last or the first in our knowledge? The Augustinians answered: the knowledge of God precedes any other knowledge, it is the first one, we must start with it. In ourselves we have the principles of truth. God is the presupposition even of the question of God, as He is the presupposition of every question for truth. He is, says Bonaventura, the Franciscan Augustinian leader of that time, in the 13th century, “most truly present to the soul and immediately knowable.” The principles of truth are the Divine or the eternal light within us. We start with them. We start with our knowledge of God and we go from there to the world, using the principles of the Divine light which are in us. This Divine light or these principles are the universal categories, especially the so-called “transcendentalia” those things which transcend everything special and given: being, the true, the good, the one: these are ultimate concepts; we have immediate knowledge of them, and this knowledge is the Divine light in our soul. Only on the basis of this immediate knowledge about the ultimate principles of reality can we find truth in the empirical world. In every act of knowledge these principles are present. Whenever we say “something is so,” whenever we make a logical judgment about something, the ideas of the true, of the good, of being itself, are present; or, as Bonaventura says, “being itself is what first appears in the intellect,” and being itself is the basic statement about God. This means: every act of cognition, every cognitive act, is made in the power of the Divine light, Of this Divine light, of these principles in us, the Franciscans said that it is uncreated; we participate in it. This makes that somehow no secular knowledge exists. All knowledge is in some way rooted in the knowledge of the Divine in us. There is a point of identity in our soul, and this point precedes every special act of knowledge. Or I could describe it in the following way: Every act of knowledge – about animals, plants, bodies, astronomy, mathematics – is implicitly religious. A mathematical proposition as well as a medical discovery is implicitly religious because it is possible only. in the power of these ultimate principles which are the uncreated Divine light in the human soul. This is the famous doctrine of the inner light, which was also used by the sectarian movements and by all mystics during the Middle Ages and the Reformation period, and which finally underlies even the rationalism of the period of the Enlightenment. They all are philosophers of the inner light, even if this Divine light later on became cut off from its Divine ground.
We can also call this attitude. That is what the Franciscans tried to maintain in spite of the fact that they also had to use Aristotelian concepts such as form and matter, and potentiality and actuality. So we have here in the Augustinian-Franciscan development, from Augustine to Bonaventura, a philosophy which is implicitly religionist or theonomous, in which the Divine is not a matter of conclusions but is a matter of preceding every conclusion, making conclusions possible. It is the philosophy of religion – perhaps some of you have seen in the Union Review a few years ago, when I wrote an article about “The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion” – this is the one type I called it at that time the ontological type; I can also call it the mystical type, or the type of immediacy. I would also like to call it the theonomous type, in which the Divine precedes the secular.
The opposite type is the Thomistic. Thomas Aquinas cuts the immediate presence of God in the act of knowing. He denies it. He also says of course, that God is the first in Himself, but he says God is not the first for us. Our knowledge cannot start with God – although everything starts with Him – but our knowledge must reach Him by starting with His effects: the finite world. So we must start with the Divine effects and conclude from there to the cause. In other words, man is separated from being itse1f, from truth itse1f, and from the good itse1f. Of course Thomas could not deny that these principles are in the structure of man’s intellect, but he calls them created light and not uncreated light. They are not the Divine presence in us, so to speak, but they are works of God in us; they are finite. In other words, in having an act of knowledge, we do not have God, but with these principles we can find God. It is not that we start with the Divine principles in us and then discover the finite world, as in the Franciscans; but it is that we start with the finite world and then perhaps are able to find God, in acts of cognition, of knowledge.
Now against this Thomistic theory the Franciscans said that this method, which of course must start in a good Aristotelian way – with sense experience – is good for scientia (for “science” in the largest sense of the word) but that this method destroys sapientia, wisdom. Sapientia means the knowledge of the ultimate principles; this means the knowledge of God. One of Bonaventura’s followers made this prophetic statement, that in the moment in which you follow the Aristotelian-Thomistic method and start with the external world, then you will lose the principles. You will win the external world – he agreed with that; he knew empirical knowledge can be won only in this way – but something is lost: sapientia , the wisdom which is able to grasp intuitively, within oneself, the ultimate principles. Thomas answered that the knowledge of God, as every knowledge, must start with sense experience and must reach God on this basis in terms of rational conclusions, which are derived from the sense experience.
This is the fundamental discussion. Here the two types diverge, and they have been divergent ever since, in the Western world. This divergency is the great problem of all philosophy of religion, and, as I will show now, is the ultimate cause for the secularization of the Western world – :cause,” of course, in the cognitive realm; there are other causes, too. In the cognitive realm this is the cause, that here the Aristotelian method is put against the Augustinian, and slowly from Thomas Aquinas the method of starting with the external world prevailed.
Thomas knew that these conclusions, although they are logically correct, do not produce a real conviction. Therefore they must be completed by authority. In other words, the Church guarantees the truth which never can be fully reached in terms of an empirical. approach to God. So we now have the situation clear: In Bonaventura we have theonomous knowledge in all realms of life; we have no knowledge whatsoever without beginning with God. In Thomas we have autonomous knowledge, scientific method, as far as it goes; but Thomas himse1f knew that it doesn’t go very far and therefore it must be completed by authority. Now this is the meaning of the heated struggle between the Augustinians and the Franciscans in the 13th century. It was a gap, but at that time the gap was not yet visible. Thomas’ genius, his power to take in almost everything, his power of ‘mediating – of which I have spoken – his personal and even mystical piety, was able to cover the gap, and is able to cover the gap even in present-day Catholicism, but the gap was there and had consequences reaching far beyond everything Thomas himself realized.
This came out in the 3rd man of the 13th century, Duns Scotus. He was not a mediating but a radical thinker. He was one of those who tear up what seems to be united. He fought against the mediations of Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand, he did not follow his own Franciscan predecessors. He followed Thomas in a complete acceptance of Aristotle, but he realized the consequences which Thomas Aquinas still was able to cover.
For Duns Scotus there is an infinite gap between the finite and the infinite. Therefore the finite cannot reach cognitively at all, neither in terms of immediacy – as the older Franciscan wanted – nor in terms of demonstrations, as the Dominicans, with Thomas Aquinas, wanted.. He criticizes – and insofar as you are nominalists, you will like this criticism – even the transcendentalia, the ultimate principles. He says: Being itself (esse ipsum) is only a word; it points to an analogy between the infinite and the finite, but only an analogy. The word “being” does not cover God as well as the world. The gap is such that you cannot cover them in terms of one word, not even in terms of the verum, the bonum the unum, that is, the true, the good, and the one, and that means, being itself. Therefore, only one way is open to receive God, namely the way of authority, the way of revelation received by the authority of the Church.
In this way we have two positivisms. The religious or ecclesiastical positivism: since we cannot reach God cognitively, we must accept what is given to us by the Church. On the other hand, we have the positivism of the empirical method: what is positively given in nature, we must discover by the methods of induction and abstraction — now the gap of which I spoke has become visible. In Thomas it was closed; in Duns Scotus it is opened up, and never has been closed again. And it is still our problem, as it was the problem of the people of the 13th century. While in Bonaventura God is known immediately, He is present before anything else is present in us while in Thomas He can be proved by demonstrations, but authority must help, because it is not completely certain in this way; in Duns Scotus neither immediacy nor demonstrations is left, so only revelation and authority accepted in faith can help. – Now if you have understood this, then you are really in the center of any important philosophy of religion. This is the real problem.
Now the gap opened up by Duns Scotus becomes a very large gap a century later in Occam, the real father of nominalism. God cannot be approached at all in terms of autonomous knowledge. He is out of reach. Everything could be the opposite of what is. Therefore He can only be reached by our subjection to the Biblical and ecclesiastical authorities. And we can subject ourselves to them only if we have the habit of grace, only if grace is working in us and makes It possible for us to receive the authority of the Church. Cultural knowledge the knowledge of science, is completely free and autonomous, and religious knowledge is completely heteronomous. So when I come back now to the characterization of the early Franciscan-Augustinian situation, I can say: the original theonomy – God always the prius of every knowing – has been disrupted into complete scientific autonomy on the one side, and complete ecclesiastical heteronomy on the other side. That is the situation at the end of the Middle Ages. And since the Middle Ages are based on a system of mediation, the Middle Ages came practically to an end in the moment in which these mediations broke down.
When I bring this down to the traditional question of reason and revelation, I can express it thus: In Bonaventura reason is in itself revelatory, insofar as in its own depths the principles of truth are given. This of course doesn’t refer to the historical revelation in Christ, but refers to our knowledge of God. In Thomas reason is able to express revelation. In Duns Scotus reason is unable to express revelation. In Occam revelation stands beside and in opposition to reason. At the end of the Middle Ages the religious and the secular realm are separated, but they are not separated in the way in which they are today – as a consequence of this separation in the Middle Ages – but the Middle Ages still wanted for centuries its traditional unity. Therefore the Church now developed its radical heteronomous claim to rule all realms and to control them, but now from outside. And now the desperate fight between autonomous secularism and heteronomous religious developed. Don’t confuse the late Middle Ages with the earlier Middle Ages. As long as the tradition was in power, the Middle Ages were not heteronomous; they were theonomous, which is something quite different. But at the end an independent secular realm was established, and the question was: Is the Church able to control this independent realm? And the ways in which the Church was deprived of this power are the ways of Renaissance and Reformation.
One of the ways I wanted to mention, and which appears already at that time, was the way of the double truth, which is very illuminating for the situation. Some people seriously – not only diplomatically, in order to hide themselves – believed, in reality, that a statement about the same matter can be contradictory and nevertheless true theologically though wrong philosophically, and vice versa, so that people asserted the whole heteronomous system which the Church as long as it was in power still could maintain, and on the other hand, they developed autonomous thought. And if the proposition came into conflict, then they took refuge in the so-called ‘double truth. Of course for many this was a way of hiding, but it was more than this: it was the belief that these realms are so separated that you can say in one realm the opposite of what you say in the other.
This is the epistemological problem, and it was a very fundamental one, but of course – as behind all problems in philosophy and theology – it is always the problem of God which is decisive, and so I now go to the doctrine of God in medieval thinking, and I come again partly to these three men of the 13th century.
The medieval idea of God has three levels:
1) The first and fundamental level is the idea of God as primum esse, the first being, or prima causa, the first cause. By “cause” here is meant not as “cause and effect,” as we have it in the realm of finitude – the word “prima,” “first,” means not the first according to time, but the ground of all causes, so that the term “cause” is here used more symbolically than literally. It is the creative ground in everything, creatrix universa1ium substantia, the creative substance of everything that is. This is the first statement about God. He is the Ground of Being, as I like to express it, or being itself, or the first cause – all these terms point to the same meaning.
2) This substance cannot be understood in terms of the inorganic realm – for instance, as an inorganic substance like fire or water, as the old physicists did – nor in the biological situation, as a life process, but it must be understood as intellect. The first quality of the Ground of Being is intellect. Intellect doesn’t mean intelligence, but it means the point in which God is for Himself subject and object at the same time; or, as it was carried through, God knowing Himself and knowing the world as that which He is not. The Ground of Being, in other words – the “creative substance” – is a bearer of meaning. The world – this is the consequence – is meaningful, can be understood in words which have meaning. The logos, the word, can grasp it. In order to understand reality, we must presuppose that reality is understandable; and reality is understandable because the Divine ground has the character of intellect. Only because the Divine intellect ~ the ground of everything, is knowledge possible.
3) The third characteristic, which comes from the Christian Augustinian tradition – while the intellect comes from the Greek Aristotelian tradition: God is will. Will, of course, if applied to God and the world, is not the psychological function which we know in ourselves, but it is the dynamic ground of everything. It is the productive power of the Ground of Being. This will has the nature of love – in good Augustinian tradition. The creative substance of the world has meaning and has love – is intellect and will, symbolically speaking. And as with respect to knowing we said that God knows Himself, so we must now say that God wills or loves Himself as the absolute good, indeed as the ultimate aim of everything. And He loves the creatures in giving them, in a graded way. the good of which He is the ultimate Ground. Therefore they all are longing for Him, and He is for them the object of that love which everything has and every being has, the love toward that in which it sees its ultimate good. Now this is the medieval idea of God. This God is not called a person. The word “person” is never applied to it in the Middle Ages. for two reasons:
1) because the Trinitarian “faces” or “countenances” are called personae: the Father is persona, the Son is persona. and the Spirit is persona. But persona here means more a special characteristic of the Divine ground, expressing itself in an independent hypostasis. Therefore we can say the term persona has been applied to God only in the 19th century, when God was made into a person, and the greatness of the classical idea of God was destroyed by this kind of speaking. Of course this structure. including being, intellect and will. is analogous to our experience of our own being, and if we call ourselves “person” we must call God also “Person.” But this is something quite different from calling God “a Person” First of all. He is being itself. He is the Ground of Being in everything. The personal side is expressed in intellect and will. and their unity. But to speak about a person would have been absolutely heretical for the Middle Ages; it would have been Unitarian heresy for them. because this would exclude that God has three personae. namely. expressions of His being.
Now about the relationship of intellect and will in God. there the same fight was going on as about the epistemological problem. For the Thomistic tradition, intellect is characteristic of God and man. Thomas argues that only because man is intellect is he able to be distinguished from an animal. An animal would be a man in the moment in which it was able to put purposes intellectually before the will. But the animal only wills. without purpose – in the sense in which we ascribe it to man. Therefore for Thomas the intellect is that which makes man man and therefore is the primary characteristic of God.
Intellect is the insight into the universally true and good. But Duns Scotus opposed this doctrine. In him God and man are will. Will is universally creative. There is no reason for the Divine will other than the Divine will itself. There is nothing which determines the will. The good is good because God wills that it is. There is no intellectual necessity that the world is as it is, that salvation is as it is. Everything is possible for God except not to be God – that’s impossible for Him. This is what Duns Scotus called His potentia absoluta . the absolute power of God. But God uses His absolute power only in order to create a given world in which there are definite orders. Therefore he called this potestas ordinatus. the ordered power of God. Here he distinguishes these two: the world as we know it. and the purpose of salvation as we know it by revelation. is not necessarily so as it is. but now. after it has been given. it is so as it is; it is by Divine ordered power. But behind this stands something as a threat. The world is not as it is from eternity. There is no real necessity that it is as it is. The threatening absolute power of God behind the ordered power may change everything. Duns Scotus didn’t believe that this would happen. but it can happen.
Now what does such an idea mean? It means that we have to accept the given, that we cannot deduce it. that we have to be humble toward reality. We cannot deduce the world or the process of salvation in terms of, for instance. with Anselm’s doctrine of atonement. where he tried to deduce in terms of necessity the way of salvation between God and Christ. and man. Duns Scotus would say there is no such necessity; this is a positive order of God. Now here in this idea of the absolute power of God. we have the root of all positivism. in science as well as in politics. in religion as well as in psychology. In the moment in which God became “will”. who is only determined by Himself and His own will, and not by the intellect – in this moment the world became incalculable, uncertain, unsafe, and we are demanded to subject ourselves to what is given. All the dangers of positivism are rooted in this concept of Duns Scotus. And so I consider him, more than anybody else, the turning point in the history of Western thought.