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The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas

Schmidt Number: S-4130

On-line since: 31st January, 2017

PART ONE

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THOMAS AQUINAS

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas

I

THOMAS AND AUGUSTINE

Ladies and Gentlemen, I should like in these three days to speak on a subject which is generally looked at from a more formal angle, as if the attitude of the philosophic view of life to Christianity had been to a certain extent dictated by the deep philosophic movement of the Middle Ages. As this side of the question has lately had a kind of revival through Pope Leo XIII's Ordinance to his clergy to make “Thomism” the official philosophy of the Catholic Church, our present subject has a certain significance. But I do not wish to treat the subject which crystallized as mediaeval philosophy round the personalities of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, only from this formal side; rather I wish in the course of these days to reveal the deeper historical background out of which this philosophic movement, much underrated to-day, has arisen. We can say: Thomas Aquinas tries in the thirteenth century quite clearly to grasp the problem of the total human knowledge of philosophies, and in a way which we have to admit is difficult for us to follow, for conditions of thought are attached to it which people to-day scarcely fulfil, even if they are philosophers. One must be able to put oneself completely into the manner of thought of Thomas Aquinas, his predecessors and successors; one must know how to take their conceptions, and how their conceptions lived in the souls of those men of the Middle Ages, of which the history of philosophy tells only rather superficially.

If we look now at the central point of this study, at Thomas Aquinas, we would say: in him we have a personality which in face of the main current of mediaeval Christian philosophy really disappears as a personality; one which, we might almost say, is only the co-efficient or exponent of the current of world philosophy, and finds expression as a personality only through a certain universality. So that, when we speak of Thomism, we can focus our attention on something quite exceptionally impersonal, on something which is revealed only through the personality of Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand we see at once that we must put into the forefront of our inquiry a full and complete personality, and all that term includes, when we consider the individual who was the immediate and chief predecessor of Thomism, namely Augustine. With him everything was personal, with Thomas Aquinas everything was really impersonal. In Augustine we have to deal with a fighting man, in Thomas

Diagram 1

ALBERTUS MAGNUS

Aquinas, with a mediaeval Church defining its attitude to heaven and earth, to men, to history, etc., a Church which, we might say, expressed itself as a Church, within certain limitations it is true, through the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

A significant event separates the two, and unless one takes this event into consideration, it is not possible to define the mutual relationship of these mediaeval individuals. The event to which I refer is the declaration of heresy by the Emperor Justinian against Origen. The whole direction of Augustine's view of the world becomes clear only when we keep in mind the whole historical background from which Augustine emerged. This historical background, however, becomes in reality, completely changed from the fact that the powerful influence — it was actually a powerful influence in spite of much that has been said in the history of philosophy — that this powerful influence on the Western world which had spread from the Schools of Philosophy in Athens, ceased to exist. It persisted into the sixth century, and then ebbed, but so that something remains which in fact, in the subsequent philosophical stream of the West, is quite different from that which Augustine knew in his lifetime. I shall have to ask you to take note that to-day's address is more in the nature of an introduction, that we shall deal to-morrow with the real nature of Thomism, and that on the third day I shall make clear my object in bringing before you all I have to say in these three days.

For you see, ladies and gentlemen, if you will excuse the personal reference, I am in rather a special position with regard to Christian mediaeval philosophy, that is, to Thomism. I have often mentioned, even in public addresses, what happened to me once when I had put before a working-class audience what I must look upon as the true course of Western history. The result was that though there were a good many pupils in agreement with me, the leaders of the proletarian movement at the turn of the century hit on the idea that I was not presenting true Marxism. And although one could assert that the world in future must after all recognize something like freedom in teaching, I was told at the final meeting: This party recognizes no freedom in teaching, only a rational compulsion! And my activity as a teacher, in spite of the fact that at the time a large number of students from the proletariat had been attracted, was forced to a sudden and untimely end.

I might say I had the same experience in other places with what I wanted to say, now about nineteen or twenty years ago, concerning Thomism and everything that belonged to mediaeval philosophy. It was of course just the time when what we are accustomed to call “Monism” reached its height, round the year 1900. At this time there was founded in Germany the “Giordano-Bruno-Bund” apparently to encourage a free, independent view of life, but au fond really only to encourage the materialistic side of Monism. Now, ladies and gentlemen, because it was impossible for me at the time to take part in all that empty phrase-making which went out into the world as Monism, I gave an address on Thomism in the Berlin “Giordano-Bruno-Bund.”

In this address I sought to prove that a real and spiritual Monism had been given in Thomism, that this spiritual Monism, moreover, had been given in such a way that it reveals itself through the most accurate thought imaginable, of which more recent philosophy, under the influence of Kant and Protestantism has at bottom not the least idea, and no longer the capacity to achieve it.

And so I fell foul also of Monism. It is, in point of fact, extraordinarily difficult to-day to speak of these things in such a way that one's word seems to be based sincerely on the matter itself and not to be in the service of some Party or other. I want in these three days to try once more to speak thus impartially of the matters I have indicated.

The personality of Augustine fits into the fourth and fifth centuries, as I said before, as a fighting personality in the fullest sense. His method of fighting is what sinks deep into the soul if we can understand in detail the particular nature of this fight. There are two problems which faced Augustine's soul with an intensity of which we, with our pallid problems of knowledge and of the soul, have really no idea.

The first problem can be put thus: Augustine strives to find the nature of what man can recognize as truth, supporting him, filling his soul. The second problem is this: How can you explain the presence of evil in a world which after all has no sense unless its purpose at least has something to do with good? How can you explain the pricks of evil in human nature which never cease — according to Augustine's view — the voice of evil which is never silent, even if a man strives honestly and uprightly after the good?

I do not believe that we can get near to Augustine if we take these two questions in the sense in which the average man of our time, even if he were a philosopher, would be apt to take them. You must look for the special shade of meaning these questions had for a man of the fourth and fifth centuries. Augustine lived, after all, at first a life of inner commotion, not to say a dissipated life; but always these two questions ran up before him. Personally he is placed in a dilemma. His father is a Pagan, his mother a pious Christian; and she takes the utmost pains to win him for Christianity. At first the son can be moved only to a certain seriousness, and this is directed towards Manichaeism. We shall look later at this view of life, which early came into Augustine's range of vision, as he changed from a somewhat irregular way of living to a full seriousness of life. Then — after some years — he felt himself more and more out of sympathy with Manichaeism, and fell under the sway of a certain Scepticism, not driven by the urge of his soul or some other high reason, but because the whole philosophical life of the time led him that way. This Scepticism was evolved at a certain time from Greek philosophy, and remained to the day of Augustine. Now, however, the influence of Scepticism grew ever less and less, and was for Augustine, as it were, only a link with Greek philosophy. And this Scepticism led to something which without doubt exercised for a time a quite unusually deep influence on his subjectivity, and the whole attitude of his soul. It led him into a Neoplatonism of a different kind from what in the history of philosophy is generally called Neoplatonism. Augustine got more out of this Neoplatonism than one usually thinks. The whole personality and the whole struggle of Augustine can be understood only when one understands how much of the neoplatonic philosophy had entered into his soul; and if we study objectively the development of Augustine, we find that the break which occurred in going over from Manichaeism to Platonism was hardly as violent in the transition from Neoplatonism to Christianity. For one can really say: in a certain sense Augustine remained a Neoplatonist; to the extent he became one at all he remained one. But he could become a Neoplatonist only up to a point. For that reason, his destiny led him to become acquainted with the phenomenon of Christ-Jesus. And this is really not a big jump but a natural course of development in Augustine from Neoplatonism to Christianity. How this Christianity lives in Augustine — yes — how it lives in Augustine we cannot judge unless we look first at Manichaeism, a remarkable formula for overcoming the old heathenism at the same time as the Old Testament and Judaism.

Manichaeism was already at the time when Augustine was growing up a world-current of thought which had spread throughout North Africa, where, you must remember, Augustine spent his youth, and in which many people of Western Europe had been caught up. Founded in about the third century in Asia by Mani, a Persian, Manichaeism had extraordinarily little effect historically on the subsequent world. To define this Manichaeism, we must say this: there is more importance in the general attitude of this view of life than in what one can literally describe as its contents. Above all, the remarkable thing about it is that the division of human experience into a spiritual side and a material side had no meaning for it. The words or ideas “spirit” and “matter” mean nothing to it. Manichaeism sees as “spiritual” what appears to the senses as material and when it speaks of the spiritual it does not rise above what the senses know as matter. It is true to say of Manichaeism — much more emphatically true than we with our world grown so abstract and intellectual usually think, — that it actually sees spiritual phenomena, spiritual facts in the stars and their courses, and that it sees at the same time in the mystery of the sun that which is manifest to us on earth as something spiritual. It conveys no meaning for Manichaeism to speak of either matter or spirit, for in it what is spiritual has its material manifestation and what is material is to it spiritual. Therefore, Manichaeism quite naturally speaks of astronomical things and world phenomena in the same way as it would speak of moral phenomena or happenings within the development of human beings. And thus this apposition of “Light” and “Darkness” which Manichaeism, imitating something from ancient Persia, embodies in its philosophy, is to it at the same time something completely and obviously spiritual. And it is also something obvious that this same Manichaeism still speaks of what apparently moves as sun in the heavens as something which has to do with the moral entities and moral impulses in the development of mankind; and that it speaks of the relation of this moral-physical sun in the heavens, to the Signs of the Zodiac as to the twelve beings through which the original being, the original source of light delegates its activities. But there is something more about this Manichaeism. It looks upon man and man does not yet appear to its eyes as what we to-day see in man. To us man appears as a kind of climax of creation on earth. Whether we think more or less in material or spiritual terms, man appears to man now as the crown of creation on earth, the kingdom of man as the highest kingdom or at least as the crown of the animal kingdom. Manichaeism cannot agree to this.

The thing which had walked the earth as man and in its time was still walking it, is to it only a pitiful remnant of that being which ought to have become man through the divine essence of light. Man should have become something entirely different from the man now walking the earth. The being now walking on earth as man was created through original man losing the fight against the demons of darkness, this original man who had been created by the power of light as an ally in its fight against the demons of darkness, but who had been transplanted into the sun by benevolent powers and had thus been taken up by the kingdom of light itself. But the demons have managed nevertheless to tear off as it were a part of this original man from the real man who escaped into the sun and to form the earthly race of man out of it, the earthly race which thus walks about on earth as a weaker edition of that which could not live here, for it had to be removed into the sun during the great struggle of spirits. In order to lead back man, who in this way appeared as a weaker edition on earth, to his original destination the Christ-being then appeared and through its activity the demonic influences are to be removed from the earth.

I know very well, that all that part of this view of life which is still capable of being put into modern language, can hardly be intelligible; for the whole of it comes from substrata of the soul's experience which differ vastly from the present ones. But the important part which is interesting us to-day is what I have already emphasized. For however fantastic it may appear, this part I have been telling you about the continuation of the development on earth in the eyes of the Manichaeans — Manichaeism did not represent it at all as something only to be viewed in the spirit, but as a phenomenon which we would to-day call material, unfolding itself to our physical eyes as something at the same time spiritual.

That was the first powerful influence on Augustine, and the problems connected with the personality of Augustine can really only be solved if one bears in mind the strong influence of this Manichaeism, with its principle of the spiritual-material. We must ask ourselves: What was the reason for Augustine's dissatisfaction with Manichaeism? It was not based on what one might call its mystical content as I have just described it to you, but his dissatisfaction arose from the whole attitude of Manichaeism. At first Augustine was attracted, in a sense sympathetically moved by the physical self-evidence, by the pictorial quality with which this philosophy was presented to him; but then something in him appeared which refused to be satisfied with this very quality which regarded matter spiritually and the spiritual materially. And one can come to the right conclusion about this only if one faces the real truth which often has been advanced as a formal view; namely, if one considers that Augustine was a man who was fundamentally more akin to the men of the Middle Ages and even perhaps to the men of modern times than he could possibly be to those men who through their soul-mood were the natural inheritors of Manichaeism. Augustine has already something of what I would call the revival of spiritual life. In other places I have often pointed, even in public lectures, to what I mean. These present times are intellectual and inclined to the abstract, and so we always see in the history of any century the influences at work from the preceding century, and so on. In the case of an individual it is of course pure nonsense to say: something which happens in, let us say, his eighteenth year is only the consequence of something else which happened in his thirteenth or fourteenth year. In between lies something which springs from the deepest depths of human nature, which is not just the consequence of something that has gone before in the sense in which one is justified in speaking of cause and effect, but is rather something which is inherent in the nature of man, and takes place in human life, namely, adolescence. And such a gap has to be recognized also at other times in human evolution — in individual human evolution, when something struggles from the depths to the surface; so that we cannot say: what happens is only the direct uninterrupted consequence of whatever has preceded it. And such gaps occur also in the case of all humanity. We have to assume that before such a gap Manichaeism occurred, and after such a gap occurred the soul-attitude, the soul-conception in which Augustine found himself. Augustine could simply not come to terms with his soul unless he rose above what a Manichaean called material-spiritual to something purely spiritual, something built and seen in the spiritual sphere; Augustine had to rise to something much more free of the senses. So he had to turn away from the pictorial, the evidential philosophy of Manichaeism. This was the first thing that developed so intensively in his soul. We read it in his words: the heaviest and almost the only reason for error which I could not avoid was that I had to imagine a bodily substance when I wanted to think of God.

In this way he refers to the time when Manichaeism with its material spirituality and its spiritual materiality lived in his soul; he refers to it in these words and characterizes this period of his life thus as an error. He needed something to look up to, something which was fundamental to human nature. He needed something which, unlike the Manichaean principles, does not look upon the physical universe as spiritual-material. As everything with him struggled with intensive and overpowering earnestness to the surface of his soul, so also this saying: “I asked the earth and it said: `I am not it,' and all things on it confessed the same.”

What does Augustine ask? He asks what the divine really is, and he asks the earth and it says to him, “I am not it.” Manichaeism would have: “I am it as earth, in so far as the divine expresses itself through earthly works.” And again Augustine says: “I asked the sea and the abysses and whatever living thing they cover:” “We are not your God, seek above us.” “I asked the sighing winds,” and the whole nebula with all its inhabitants said: “The philosophers who seek the nature of things in us were mistaken, for we are not God.”

(Thus not the sea and not the nebula, nothing in fact which can be observed through the senses.)

“I asked the sun, the moon, and the stars.” They said: “We are not God whom thou seekest.”

Thus he gropes his way out of Manichaeism, precisely out of that part of it which must be called its most significant part, at least in this connection. Augustine gropes after something spiritual which is free of all sensuousness. And in this he finds himself exactly in that era of human soul-development in which the soul had to free itself from the contemplation of matter as something spiritual and of the spiritual as something material. We entirely misunderstand Greek philosophy in reference to this. And because I tried for once to describe Greek philosophy as it really was, the beginning of my “Riddles of Philosophy” seems so difficult to understand. When the Greeks speak of ideas, of conceptions, when Plato speaks of them, people now believe that Plato or the Greeks mean the same by ideas as we do. This is not so, for the Greeks spoke of ideas as something which they observed in the outer world like colours or sounds. That part of Manichaeism which we find slightly changed, with — let us say — an oriental tinge, that is already present in the whole Greek view of life. The Greek sees his idea just as he sees colours. And he still possesses that material-spiritual, spiritual-material life of the soul, which does not rise to what we know as spiritual life. Whatever we may call it, a mere abstraction or the true content of our soul, we need not decide at the present moment; the Greek does not yet reckon with what we call a life of the soul free from matter; he does not distinguish, as we do, between thinking and outward use of the senses. The whole Platonic philosophy ought to be seen in this light to be fully understood.

We can now say, that Manichaeism is nothing but a post-Christian variation (with an oriental tinge) of something already existing among the Greeks. Neither do we understand that wonderful genius who closes the circle of Greek philosophy, Aristotle, unless we know that whenever he speaks of concepts, he still keeps within the meaning of an experienced tradition which regarded concepts as belonging to the outer world of the senses as well as perceptions, though he is already getting close to the border of understanding abstract thought free from all evidence of the senses. Through the point of view to which men's souls had attained during his era, through actual events happening within the souls of men in whose rank Augustine was a distinctive, prominent personality, Augustine was forced not just only to experience within his soul, as the Greeks had done, but he was forced to rise to thoughts free from sense-perceptions, to thoughts which still kept their meaning even if they were not dealing with earth, air and sea, with stars, sun and moon; thoughts which had a content beyond the sense of vision.

And now only philosophers and philosophies spoke to him which spoke of what they had to say from an entirely different point of view, that is, from the super-spiritual one just explained. Small wonder, then, that these souls striving in a vague way for something not yet in existence and trying with their minds to seize what was there, could only find something they could not absorb; small wonder that these souls sought refuge in scepticism. On the other hand, the feeling of standing on a sound basis of truth and the desire to get an answer to the question of the origin of Evil was so strong in Augustine, that equally powerful in his soul lived that philosophy which stands under the name of Neoplatonism at the end of Greek philosophic development. This is focused in Plotinus and reveals to us historically what neither the Dialogues of Plato and still less Aristotelian philosophy can reveal, namely, the course of the whole life of the soul when it looks for a greater intensiveness and a reaching beyond the normal. Plotinus is like a last straggler of a type which followed quite different paths to knowledge, to the inner life of the soul, from those which were gradually understood later. Plotinus must appear fantastic to present-day men. To those who have absorbed something of mediaeval scholasticism Plotinus must appear as a terrible fanatic, indeed, as a dangerous one.

I have noticed this repeatedly. My old friend Vincenz Knauer, the Benedictine monk, who wrote a history of philosophy and who has also written a book about the chief problems of philosophy from Thales to Hamerling was, I may well say, good-nature incarnate. This man never let himself go except when he had to deal with Neoplatonism, in particular with Plotinus, and he would then get quite angry and would denounce Plotinus terribly as a dangerous fanatic. And Brentano, that intelligent Aristotelian and Empiric, Franz Brentano, who also carried mediaeval philosophy deeply and intensely in his soul, wrote a little book: Philosophies that Create a Stir, and there he fumes about Plotinus in the same way, for Plotinus the dangerous fanatic is the philosopher, the man who in his opinion “created a stir” at the close of the ancient Greek period. To understand him is really extraordinarily difficult for the modern philosopher.

Concerning this philosopher of the third century we have next to say this: What we experience as the content of our understanding, of our reason, what we know as the sum of our concepts about the world is entirely different for him. I might say, if I may express myself clearly: we understand the world through sense-observations which through abstraction we bring to concepts, and end there. We have the concepts as inner psychic experience and if we are average men of to-day we are more or less conscious that we have abstractions, something we have sucked as it were out of things. The important thing is that we end there; we pay attention to the experiences of the senses and stop at the point where we make the total of our concepts, of our ideas. It was not so for Plotinus. For him this whole world of sense-experience scarcely existed. But that which meant something to him, of which he spoke as we speak of plants and minerals and animals and physical men, was something which he saw lying above concepts; it was a spiritual world and this spiritual world had for him a nether boundary, namely, the concepts. While we get our concepts by going to concrete things, make them into abstractions and concepts and say: concepts are the putting-together, the extractions of ideal nature from the observation of the senses, Plotinus said — and he paid little heed to the observation of the senses: “We, as men, live in a spiritual world, and what this spiritual world reveals to us finally, what we see as its nether boundary, are concepts.” For us the world of the senses lies below concepts: for Plotinus there is above concepts a spiritual world, the intellectual world, the world really of the kingdom of the spirit. I might use the following image: let us suppose we were submerged in the sea, and looking upward to the surface of the water, we saw nothing but this surface, nothing above the surface, then this surface would be the upper boundary. Suppose we lived in the sea, we might perhaps have in our soul the feeling: This boundary would be the limit of our life-element, in which we are, if we were organized as sea-beings. But for Plotinus it was not so. He took no notice of the sea round him; but the boundary which he saw, the boundary of the concept-world in which his soul lived, was for him the nether boundary of something above it; just as if we were to take the boundary of the water as the boundary of the atmosphere and the clouds and so on. At the same time this sphere above concepts is for Plotinus what Plato calls the “world of ideas” and Plotinus throughout imagines that he is continuing the true genuine philosophy of Plato. This “idea-world” is, first of all, completely a world of which one speaks in the sense of Plotinism. Surely it would not occur to you, even if you were Subjectivists or followers of the modern Subjectivist philosophy, when you look out upon the meadow, to say: I have my meadow, you have yours, and so and so has his meadow; even if you are convinced that you each have only before you the image of a meadow, you speak of the meadow in the singular, of one meadow which is out there. In the same way Plotinus speaks of the one idea-world, not of the idea-world of this mind, or of another or of a third mind. In this idea-world — and this we see already in the whole manner in which one has to characterize the thought-process leading to this idea-world — in this idea-world the soul has a part. So we may say: The soul, the Psyche, unfolds itself out of the idea-world and experiences it. And the Soul, just as the idea-world creates the Psyche, in its turn creates the matter in which it is embodied. So that the lower material from which the Psyche takes its body is chiefly a creation of this Psyche.

But precisely there is the origin of individuation, there the Psyche, which otherwise takes part in the single idea-world, becomes a part of body A, and body B, and so on, and through this fact there appear, for the first time, individual souls. It is just as if I had a great quantity of liquid in one mass, and having taken twenty glasses had filled each with the liquid, so that I have this liquid, which as such is a unity, thus divided, just so I have the Psyche in the same condition, because it is incorporated in bodies which, however, it has itself created. Thus in the Plotinistic sense a man can view himself according to his exterior, his vessel. But that is at bottom only the way in which the soul reveals itself, in which the soul also becomes individualized. Afterward man has to experience within him his very own soul, which raises itself upward to the idea-world. Still later there comes a higher form of experience. That one should speak of abstract concepts — that has no meaning for a Plotinist; for such abstract concepts — well, a Plotinist would have said: “What do you mean — abstract concepts? Concepts surely cannot be abstract: they cannot hang in the air, they must be suspended from the spirit; they must be the concrete revelations of the spiritual.”

The interpretation therefore that ideas are any kind of abstractions, is therefore wrong. This is the expression of an intellectual world, a world of spirituality. It is also what existed in the ordinary experience of those men out of whose relationships Plotinus and his fellows grew. For them such talk about concepts, in the way we talk about them, had absolutely no meaning, because for them there was only a penetration of the spiritual world into souls. And this concept-world is found at the limit of this penetration, in experiencing. Only when we went deeper, when we developed the soul further, only then there resulted something which the ordinary man could not know, which the man experienced who had attained a higher stage. He then experienced that which was above the idea-world — the One, if you like to call it so — the experience of the One. This was for Plotinus the thing that was unattainable to concepts, just because it was above the world of concepts, and could only be attained if one could sink oneself into oneself without concept, a state we describe here in our spiritual science as Imagination. You can read about it in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and How to Attain It. But there is this difference: I have treated the subject from the modern point of view, whereas Plotinus treated it from the old. What I there call the Imagination is just that which, according to Plotinus stands above the idea-world.

From this general view of the world Plotinus really also derived all his knowledge of the human soul. It is, after all, practically contained in it. And one can be an individualist in the sense of Plotinus if one is at the same time a human being who recognizes how man raises his life upwards to something which is above all individuality, to something spiritual; whereas in our age we have more the habit of reaching downwards to the things of the senses. But all this which is the expression of something which a thorough scientist regards as fanaticism, all this is in the case of Plotinus, not something thought out, these are no hypotheses of his. This perception — right up to the One which only in exceptional cases could be attained — this perception was as clear to Plotinus and as obvious, as is for us to-day the perception of minerals, plants and animals. He spoke only in the sense of something which really was directly experienced by the soul when he spoke of the soul, of the Logos, which was part of the Nous, of the idea-world and of the One. For Plotinus the whole world was, as it were, a spirituality — again a different shade of philosophy from the Manichaean and from the one Augustine pursued. Manichaeism recognizes a sense-supersense; for it the words and concepts of matter and spirit have as yet no meaning. Augustine strives to reach a spiritual experience of the soul that is free from the sense and to escape from his material view of life. For Plotinus the whole world is spiritual, things of the senses do not exist. For what appears material is only the lowest method of revealing the spiritual. All is spirit, and if we only go deep enough into things, everything is revealed as spirit.

This is something which Augustine could not accept. Why? Because he had not the necessary point of view. Because he lived in his age as a predecessor — for if I might call Plotinus a “follower” of the ancient times in which one held such philosophic views, — though he went on into the third century, — Augustine was a predecessor of those people who could no longer feel and perceive that there was a spiritual world underneath the idea-world. He just did not see that any more. He could only learn it by being told. He might hear that people said it was so, and he might develop a feeling that there was something in it which was a human road to truth. That was the dilemma in which Augustine stood in relation to Plotinism. But he was never completely diverted from searching for an inner understanding of this Plotinism. However, this philosophical point of view did not open itself to him. He only guessed: in this world there must be something. But he could not fight his way to it.

This was the mood of his soul when he withdrew himself into a lonely life, in which he got to know the Bible and Christianity, and later the sermons of Ambrosius and the Epistles of St. Paul; and this was the mood of his soul which finally brought him to say: “The nature of the world which Plotinus sought at first in the nature of the idea-world of the Nous, or in the One, which one can attain only in specially favourable conditions of soul, why! That has appeared in the body on earth, in human form, through Christ-Jesus.” That leapt at him as a conviction out of the Bible: “Thou hast no need to struggle upward to the One, thou needest but look upon that which the historical tradition of Christ-Jesus interprets. There is the One come down from heaven, and is become man.” And Augustine exchanges the philosophy of Plotinus for the Church. He expresses this exchange clearly enough. For instance, when he says, “Who could be so blind as to say: 'The Apostolic Church merits no Faith” the church which is so faithful and supported by so many brotherly agreements that it has transmitted their writings as conscientiously to those that come after, as it has kept their episcopal sees in direct succession down to the present Bishops. This it is on which Augustine, out of the soul-mood described, laid the chief stress: — that, if one only goes into it, it can be shown in the course of centuries that there were once men who knew the Lord's disciples, and here is a continuous tradition of a sort worthy of belief, that there appeared on earth the very thing which Plotinus knew how to attain in the way I have indicated.

And now there arose in Augustine the effort, in so far as he could get to the heart of it, to make use of this Plotinism to comprehend that which had through Christianity been opened to his feeling and his inner perception. He actually applied the knowledge he had through Plotinism to understand Christianity and its meaning. Thus, for example, he transposed the concept of the One. For Plotinus the One was something experienced; for Augustine who could not attain this experience, the One became something which he defined with the abstract term “being”; the idea-world, he defined with the abstract concept “knowing,” and Psyche with the abstract concept “living,” or even “love.” We have the best evidence that Augustine proceeded thus in that he sought to comprehend the spiritual world, with neoplatonic and Plotinistic concepts, that there is above men a spiritual world, out of which the Christ descends. The Trinity was something which Plotinism made clear to Augustine, the three persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.

Diagram 2

And if we were to ask seriously, of what was Augustine's soul full, when he spoke of the Three Persons — we must answer: It was full of the knowledge derived from Plotinus. And this knowledge he carried also into his understanding of the Bible. We see how it continues to function. For this Trinity awakens to life again, for example, in Scotus Erigena, who lived at the court of Charles the Bald in the ninth century, and who wrote a book on the divisions and classification of Nature in which we still find a similar Trinity: Christianity interprets its content from Plotinism.

But what Augustine preserved from Plotinism in a specially strong degree was something that was fundamental to it.

You must remember that man, since the Psyche reaches down into the material as into a vessel, is really the only earthly individuality. If we ascend slightly into higher regions, to the divine or the spiritual, where the Trinity originates, we have no longer to do with individual man, but with the species, as it were, with humanity. We no longer direct our visualization in this bald manner towards the whole of humanity, as Augustine did as a result of his Plotinism. Our modern concepts are against it. I might say: Seen from down there, men appear as individuals; seen from above — if one may hypothetically say that — all humanity appears as one unity. From this point of view the whole of humanity became for Plotinus concentrated in Adam. Adam was all humanity. And since Adam sprang from the spiritual world he was as a being bound with the earth, which had free will, because in him there lived that which was still above, and not that which arises from error of matter — itself incapable of sin. It was impossible for this man who was first Adam to sin or not to be free, and therefore also impossible to die. Then came the influence of that Satanic being, whom Augustine felt as the enemy-spirit. It tempted and seduced the man. He fell into the material, and with him all humanity.

Augustine stands, with what I might call his derived knowledge, right in the midst of Plotinism. The whole of humanity is for him one, and it sinned in Adam as a whole, not as an individual. If we look clearly between the lines particularly of Augustine's last writings, we see how extraordinarily difficult it has become for him thus to regard the whole of mankind, and the possibility that the whole fell into sin. For in him there is already the modern man, the predecessor as opposed to the successor; there lived in him the individual man who felt that individual man grew ever more and more responsible for what he did, and what he learnt. At certain moments it appeared to him impossible to feel that individual man is only a member of the whole of the human race. But Neo-Platonism and Plotinism were so deep in him that he still could look only at the whole of humanity. And so this condition in the whole man, this condition of sin and mortality — was transferred into that of the impossibility to be free, the impossibility to be immortal; all humanity had thus fallen, had been diverted from its origin. And God, were He righteous, would have simply thrown humanity aside. But He is not only righteous, He is also merciful — so Augustine felt. Therefore, he decided to save a part of mankind, note well, a part. That is to say, God's decision destined a part of mankind to receive grace, whereby this part is to be led back from the condition of bondage and mortality to the condition of potential freedom and immortality, which, it is true, can only be realized after death. One part is restored to this condition. The other part of mankind — namely, the not-chosen — remains in the condition of sin. So mankind falls into these two divisions, into those that are chosen and those who are cast out. And if we regard humanity in this Augustinian sense, it falls simply into these two divisions: those who are destined for bliss without desert, simply because it is so ordained in the divine management, and those who, whatever they do, cannot attain grace, who are predetermined and predestined to damnation.

This view, which also goes by the name of Predestination, Augustine reached as a result of the way in which he regarded the whole of humanity. If it had sinned it deserved the fate of that part of humanity which was cast out. We shall speak to-morrow of the terrible spiritual battles which have resulted from this Predestination, how Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism grew out of it. But to-day I would add as a final remark: we now see how Augustine stands, a vivid fighting personality, between that view which reaches upward toward the spiritual, according to which humanity becomes a whole, and the urge in his soul to rise above human individuality to something spiritual which is free from material nature, but which, again, can have its origin only in individuality. This was just the characteristic feature of the age of which Augustine is the forerunner, that it was aware of something unknown to men in the old days — namely individual experience. To-day, after all, we accept a great deal as formula. But Klopstock was in earnest and not merely the maker of a phrase when he began his “Messiah” with the words: “Sing, immortal soul, of sinful man's salvation.” Homer began, equally sincerely: “Sing, O Goddess, of the wrath. ... “: or “Sing, O Muse, to me now of the man, far-travelled Odysseus.” These people did not speak of something that exists in individuality, they interpreted something of universal mankind, a race-soul, a Psyche. It is no empty phrase, when Homer lets the Muse sing, in place of himself. The feeling of individuality awakens later, and Augustine is one of the first of those who really feel the individual entity of man, with its individual responsibility. Hence, the dilemma in which he lived. The individual striving after the non-material spiritual was part of his own experience. There was a personal, subjective struggle in him. In later times that understanding of Plotinism, which it was still possible for Augustine to have, was — I might say — choked up. And after the Greek philosophers, the last followers of Plato and Plotinus, were compelled to go into exile in Persia, and after they had found their successors in the Academy of Jondishapur, this looking up to the spiritual triumphed in Western Europe — and only that remained which Aristotle had bequeathed to the after-world in the form of a filtered Greek philosophy, and then only in a few fragments. That continued to grow, and came in a roundabout way, via Arabia, back to Europe. This had no longer a consciousness of the idea world, and no Plotinism in it. And so the great question remained: Man must extract from himself the spiritual; he must produce the spiritual as an abstraction. When he sees lions and thereupon conceives the thought “lions” when he sees wolves and thereupon conceives the thought “wolves,” when he “sees man and thereupon conceives the thought” man these concepts are alive only in him, they arise out of his individuality. The whole question would have had no meaning for Plotinus; now it begins to have a meaning, and moreover a deep meaning.

Augustine, by means of the light Plotinism had shed into his soul, could understand the mystery of Christ-Jesus. Such Plotinism as was there was choked up. With the closing by the Emperor Justinian of the School of Philosophy at Athens in 529 the living connection with such views was broken off. Several people have felt deeply the idea: We are told of a spiritual world, by tradition, in Script — we experience by our individuality supernatural concepts, concepts that are removed from the material How are these concepts related tobeing?” How so the nature of the world? What we take to be concepts, are these only something spontaneous in us, or have they something to do with the outer world? In such forms the questions appeared; in the most extreme abstractions, but such as were the deeply earnest concern of men and the mediaeval Church. In this abstract form, in this inner-heartedness they appeared in the two personalities of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Then again, they came to be called the questions between Realism and Nominalism. “What is our relationship to a world of which all we know is from conceptions which can come only from ourselves and our individuality?” That was the great question which the mediaeval schoolmen put to themselves.

If you consider what form Plotinus had taken in Augustine's predestinationism, you will be able to feel the whole depth of this scholastic question: only a part of mankind, and that only through God's judgment, could share in grace, that is, attain to bliss; the other part was destined to eternal damnation from the first, in spite of anything it might do. But what man could gain for himself as the content of his knowledge came from that concept, that awful concept of Predestination which Augustine had not been able to transform — that came out of the idea of human individuality. For Augustine mankind was a whole; for Thomas each separate man was an individuality.

How does this great World-process in Predestination as Augustine saw it hang together with the experience of separate human individuality? What is the connection between that which Augustine had really discarded and that which the separate human individuality can win for itself? For consider: Because he did not wish to lay stress on human individuality, Augustine had taken the teaching of Predestination, and, for mankind's own sake, had extinguished human individuality. Thomas Aquinas had before him only the individual man, with his thirst for knowledge. Thomas had to seek human knowledge and its relationship to the world in the very thing Augustine had excluded from his study of humanity.

It is not sufficient, ladies and gentlemen, to put such a question abstractly and intellectually and rationally; it is necessary to grasp such a question with the whole heart, with the whole human personality. Only then shall we be able to assess the weight with which this question oppressed those men who, in the thirteenth century, bore the burden of it.




Last Modified: 18-Apr-2017
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