Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Natural Law: The Outside Standard

John Haas, Professor of Moral Theology

Despite its abandonment, the natural law tradition continues to be the most useful methodology in a technological and pluralistic society since it simply looks to the nature of the human person for the formulation of moral propositions and is entirely open to any developments and insights within the natural sciences. The natural law tradition believes in an objective moral order and, consequently, holds that there are certain moral absolutes that ought never to be violated if one hopes to obtain personal wholeness or societal health. As Aristotle wrote: "There are some actions and emotions whose very names connote baseness, e.g., spite, shamelessness, envy; and among actions, adultery, theft, and murder. These and similar emotions and actions imply by their very names that they are bad... It is, therefore, impossible ever to do right in performing them: to perform them is always wrong. In cases of this sort, let us say adultery, rightness and wrongness do not depend on committing it with the right woman at the right time and in the right manner, but the mere fact of committing such action at all is to do wrong."

The same insight is evident in Abraham Lincoln's response to Stephen Douglas in their famous debate on slavery: "When Judge Douglas says that whoever, or whatever community, wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do a wrong."  Within the natural law tradition, certain acts are wrong not because they are forbidden, but because they are wrong - that is, because they do not conform or serve the good of the human person.  In his debate with Douglas, Lincoln had to appeal to the precedence of morality over law, since the law at that time did not universally support his position against slavery.  But where do these moral absolutes come from? From the nature of the human person and his world.

The natural law tradition holds that the driving motivation of human actions is not a Kantian sense of duty, but rather the pursuit of happiness, a sense of well-being that results from one's becoming more fully human by living in accord with one's own nature.  It finds this motivation impelling every human act.

That which is most characteristic of human nature is rationality, the ability to see the purposefulness within one's own nature and to choose actions that enable one to achieve the ends or goals for which one is created.  It might be argued that an ethic based on the pursuit of happiness quickly degenerates into some form of hedonism.  However, the natural law tradition insists that although certain actions may appear to bring happiness they will ineluctably bring misery if they do not assist one in attaining those ends for which he was created.  It is the belief in a created, intelligible order that prevents the natural law tradition from degenerating into subjectivism.

Consequently, it is never enough simply to appeal to human nature as such in the formulation of moral propositions within the natural law tradition.  There must always be an appeal to human nature as created, a nature created for happiness in this world and ultimately in the world to come. If human nature is not created, it has no purposefulness, no intelligible ends that may be reasonably sought in human behavior and fostered through social legislation.

A thing has its nature bestowed upon it by its Creator. A pen has a nature because it was created as such, and its nature can be understood in terms of the purpose for which it was created.  If there is to be a revitalization of the natural law tradition to assist contemporary society in dealing with ever new moral challenges, it must be one that is faithful to the tradition in its fullness.  This means acknowledging, as a minimum, that there is a Creator who has bestowed both worth and meaning on human creatures.

Since Communism was based on atheistic premises, it denied that there was such a thing as human nature.  If Communism's premise was correct, then so was its conclusion - there was no human nature.  Consequently, Communist countries themselves attempted to create man, the "Socialist man," and were prepared to use any means at their disposal, since nothing violated a non-existent human nature!  Without a human nature, there could be no such thing as human rights. The logic is inexorable. The consequences are grotesque. In the same way, a secularized technological society that ignores the natural law can be just as dangerous to human flourishing as was any Communist regime.

The Sacredness of Life

At the center of the natural law tradition is the inviolability of the individual person - created in the image and likeness of God, from whom he receives his true worth.  It cannot be stated in strong enough terms, that a respect for the inviolability of the person is the necessary starting-point for formulating moral propositions to deal with current developments in medicine and technology.  One cannot formulate in advance what moral positions ought to be constructed to deal with specific cases presented by technological developments.  But the very nature of the individual person provides the source of moral reflection. The right of the individual to personal integrity will lead to the moral norms governing issues of privacy and confidentiality in an age of electronic data gathering and storage.  The inherent nature of man and woman who each produce gametes of 23 chromosomes, the joining of which will give rise to a new human life of 46 chromosomes, provides what is necessary for formulating principles to order human relationships, to govern the social institution of marriage, to regulate the births of children, to overcome the problem of infertility, and to deal with a host of other contemporary moral conundrums.  The inviolability of the innocent person will provide guidance for the formulation of policies dealing with "life issues" ranging from feeding comatose patients to waging war and inflicting capital punishment.

The moral dilemmas arising from the mind-boggling advances in medicine and technology do not admit of easy, simplistic solutions. But they are not insoluble. We as a people have the cultural and moral resources to address these questions in a humane and reasonable manner because we draw on a tradition, a tradition of natural law that has served human goods in vastly different cultural contexts successfully, precisely because it respects humanity as a divine creation. As Americans, we are especially fortunate to have it within our own national tradition.  In our own founding documents, we acknowledge the "laws of nature and nature's God" and hold "these truths to be self evident: that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  This tradition stands ready to serve us as a people if only we will draw upon it. 


John Haas is the John Cardinal Krol Professor of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borremeo Seminary in Philadelphia. This article first appeared in "The Intercollegiate Review" (Fall 1992).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Philosophy and the European Union

In 1693 William Penn published his Essay on the Present and Future Peace of Europe. In this pamphlet Penn called for the establishment of a European Parliament. He argued that the voting system should be based on the demographic and economic importance of the various countries. Therefore Germany would have twelve votes whereas France, Spain, Russia and Turkey would have ten each, Italy eight and England six, an so on - a total of ninety votes in all. Penn suggested that decisions taken by the European Parliament should be enforced by a European Army.

Little interest was shown in Penn's and it was not until the end of the 18th century that the subject was revived. In 1795 the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wrote Philosophical Project for Perpetual Peace. He suggested that to achieve this it was necessary to create a "federation of free states".

Kant's views were supported by the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. In 1798 he wrote Principles of International Law where he argued that universal peace could only be obtained by first achieving European unity. He hoped that some form of European Parliament would be able to enforce the liberty of the press, free trade, the abandonment of all colonies and a reduction in the money being spent on armaments.

In 1814 the French philosopher Claude-Henri Saint-Simon published On the Reorganisation of European Society (1814). In his book Saint-Simon argued that Europe was in "critical disequilibrium" and would soon undergo reconstruction. He argued strongly for a planned economy. He suggested a framework of three chambers: one body made up of engineers and artists to propose plans, a second of scientists responsible for assessing the plans, and a third group of industrialists whose task would be that of implementing the schemes according to the interests of the whole community.

In 1851 an International Peace Congress was held in Paris. At the conference Victor Hugo called for the creation of a United States of Europe. "We say to France, to England, to Prussia, to Austria, to Spain, to Italy, to Russia, we say to them, 'A day will come when your weapons will fall from your hands, a day when war will seem absurd and be as impossible between Paris and London, St. Petersburg and Berlin, Vienna and Turin, as today it would seem impossible between Rouen and Amiens, Boston and Philadelphia."

Pierre Joseph Proudhon was also a supporter of European Unity. In Principle of Federation (1863) he argued that nationalism inevitably leads to war. To reduce the power of nationalism Proudhon called for a Federal Europe. Proudhon believed that Federalism is "the supreme guarantee of all liberty and of all law, and must, without soldiers or priests, replace both feudal and Christian society." Proudhon went on to predict that "the twentieth century will open the era of federations, or humanity will begin again a purgatory of a thousand years."

In 1900 there was a conference at the Institute of Paris on the subject of European Unity. At the conference the French lawyer, Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, argued: "It is no longer only the dreamers and philosophers, men in love with a perhaps superhuman ideal of peace and justice, who long to realize the old Utopian idea of a European union. It is also more positive minds, concerned above all about material interests or political advantages and preoccupied with the damage which its hates and internal divisions could bring to ancient Europe."

After the First World War, the Italian industrialist, Giovanni Agnelli joined the campaign against the formation of the League of Nations. Instead he urged the establishment of "a federation of European states under a central power which governs them." He thought this would maintain peace in Europe. Agnetti also argued it would help economic growth: "Only a federal Europe will be able to give us a more economic realization of the division of labour, with the elimination of all customs barriers."

Giovanni Agnelli eventually became disillusioned with this idea and became a supporter of Benito Mussolini. Figures on the far left also embraced the idea of a a united Europe. In his book, Perspectives of World Development (1924), Leon Trotsky urged the formation of a United Socialist States of Europe in order to resist the power of American capitalism.

In 1926 Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi published his ideas for a united Europe in the Pan-Europa. The same year he established the Pan-European Union. People who joined included Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ortega y Gasset and Konrad Adenauer.

The first leading politician to propose a united Europe was the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand. In 1929 he published a memorandum where he advocated the establishment of a European Federal Union. He gained support from Edouard Herriot but the idea stimulated little interest and was not taken up by other political leaders.

In 1945 Jean Monnet was appointed as Planning Commissioner in France. In this post he became responsible for economic reconstruction. He began working on a scheme that he eventually proposed to Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, in 1949. The Schuman Plan, as it became known, was the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that was established in 1952. It was agreed that the six countries that signed the Treaty of Paris, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, would pool its coal and steel resources.

In 1958 the European Coal and Steel Community evolved into the European Economic Community (EEC). Under the ECC attempts were made to achieve harmonization. This included measures in areas such as indirect taxation, industrial regulation, agriculture, fisheries and monetary policies. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was introduced in 1962.

Britain made attempts to join the EEC in 1963 and 1967. This ended in failure, mainly due to the opposition of President Charles De Gaulle of France. Britain, under the leadership of Edward Heath, was finally admitted in 1973. Denmark and Ireland also joined at the same time.

In 1975, the new British prime minister, Harold Wilson decided to hold a referendum on membership of the European Economic Community. Wilson allowed his Cabinet to support both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns and this led to a bitter split in the party. The Conservative Party was also divided over this issue but the British people eventually voted to remain in the EEC.

In 1979 the EEC introduced the European Monetary System (EMS). The lost-term objective of the EMS was to achieve currency union and the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), a system of semi-fixed exchange rates.

Greece joined the EEC in 1981. This was followed by Portugal (1986), Spain (1986) and the former East Germany (1990). In 1993 the organization was renamed the European Union (EU). Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995.

In January 2002 the euro becomes the sole currency within the twelve participating Member States (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain).

From here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ethical Concerns of the Renaissance

Nicholas Copernicus

Alice C. Linsley


Pico della Mirandola: 1463 – 1494 AD
Niccoló Machiavelli: 1469 – 1527 AD
Copernicus: 1473 – 1543 AD
Michelangelo: 1475 – 1564 AD
Emperor Charles V: 1500 – 1558 AD
John Calvin: 1509 – 1564 AD
Jesuit Order founded: 1540 AD
Giordano Bruno: 1548 – 1600 AD
Jacob Böehme : 1575 – 1624 AD
Period of Religious Wars: 1560 – 1598 AD
Spanish Armada defeated: 1588 AD

The Renaissance was a cultural movement beginning in the 14th century that involved renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman culture, especially the arts and sciences. It was a time of great artistic achievement and many art works were inspired by pagan mythology. At the same time, the Catholic Church commissioned some of the greatest artists to paint and sculpt works for use in the basilicas and churches around Europe. This is how Michelangelo came to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

There was spirit of yearning for new things and a struggle between the old traditions and the hopeful ambitions of young rulers such as Niccoló Machiavelli. The Copernican system shifted thinking from mankind and earth as the center of the universe (anthropocentric) to solar-centrism. This idea was extended to consideration of many possible universes spiraling around many suns. Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) faced challenges and hardships is his attempts to better understand the universe, yet he always maintained a personal ethic that placed truth as the highest value. He wrote, "[It is my] loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason."

In the area of natural theology there was a tendency toward monism, especially in the work of Jacob Böehme (1575–1624) and Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). Böehme conceived of the world as a living tree which from crown to roots was sustained by one life-giving sap. This was his metaphor for God. He thought of God as an “all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing, all-smelling, all-tasting” spirit.

This conception of the world as a living organism animated by the Spirit was developed also in Bruno’s writings. Instead of sap, Bruno’s metaphor was the all-animating light that shines where God directs just as an artist’s paintings require light. Bruno was influenced by Arab astronomy, Neoplatonism and Renaissance Hermeticism. Bruno lived for a while in Germany where he was excommunicated by the Lutherans for his pantheistic and unorthodox religious views. On February 17, 1600 Bruno was burned at the stake because he rejected the divinity of Christ, regarding Jesus as merely a skillful magician.

The Renaissance was also a period of educational reform during which many colleges and universities were established, especially by the Jesuits. Jesuit colleges and universities became the standard for excellence in Europe.

A time like our own?

The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, reaching England by the 16th century and northern Europe by the mid-17th century. This period must be viewed against the backdrop of religious upheaval and bloody conflict, the Bubonic plague, and the imperialism of the Ottoman Turks.

In some ways the Renaissance was a time like our own. We too face religious upheaval as is seen most recently within the worldwide of Anglican Communion which has split over the issues of women priests and ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. We have seen renewed interest in Paganism, in the form of Druid religion and Wicca. We live with new diseases such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS, and the resurgence of resistant strains of old diseases such a Tuberculosis and Polio. In education, parents are seeking alternatives to public schools, such as charter schools, home schooling and classical education schools. As Muslims of the Ottoman Empire sought to expand their territory, Jihadists today seek to establish a world empire under Islamic Law (Sharia).

The discovery of the New World expanded geographical horizons and stimulated European imaginations and economies. Likewise today we look to the heavens to discover new worlds and new perceptions of the world in which we live. Cooperative space exploration may lead to the discovery of habitable planets in other galaxies. The very thought stimulates the imagination and nurtures technological development.

This lesson concentrates on the 15th and 16th centuries because it was during these centuries that the key ethical questions of the Renaissance came into focus. The ethical questions of the Renaissance that will be addressed in this lesson are:

· The Dignity of Man
· Responsibility of the Wealthy
· Reform of Education and Healthcare
· The Power of Rulers
· Religious Intolerance and War
· Conscience and Individual Interpretation

On the dignity of Man

As we have seen in our study of the Middle Ages, the question of Human Nature was addressed by both Catholicism and Lutheranism. The Catholic position held that while humans are sinful due to the fall of Man, the image of God (imago Dei) with which humans were originally created is not fully erased. Human dignity is derived from being made in the “image and likeness of God.” The Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin did not deny that humans were created in God’s image, but they believed that that the fall so thoroughly corrupted us that we were robbed of our original dignity.

Our sinfulness is such that we no longer are free to desire communion with God. Our wills are in bondage to sin and we stand before the Creator as filthy beggars.

During the Renaissance, Luther’s view would be met by numerous challenges as Humanism developed. Humanism emphasizes the dignity of Man and the possibilities of rewards in this life, rather than rewards in heaven. Renaissance humanism represents a reaction against Church authority. It shifted the focus from Creator God to human creativity and from the supernatural to the natural. During the Renaissance, human achievements and creative potential took center stage. Humanist writers were able to share their ideas because of the development of printing.

The debate over the dignity of man was fed by both scientific discovery and humanistic literature. Copernicus proved that the sun was at the center of the planetary system, rather than earth, radically altering the worldview of many learned people. This was significant because earth and humanity could no longer be regarded as the center of the universe.

At the same time, the Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in a work titled “Oration on the Dignity of Man” exalted humanity as being capable of rising to the level of angels through philosophical speculation (here we see the continuing influence of Plato). He pictured humans between beasts and angels and insisted that by allowing reason to rule our emotions, we ascend to the level of angels. By acting against reason, we descend to the level of beasts. He asserted that only human beings could change themselves since humans alone have free will. His Oration on the Dignity of Man is considered the Manifesto of the Renaissance.

Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus shows the spirit of humanism in the character of Faustus who aspires to superhuman powers by making a pact with the devil. Faustus is both exalted and punished. He embodies the Renaissance fear of breaking with tradition and the fascination with pushing the boundaries of human endeavor.

The play opens with a monologue by Faust who is sitting in his study. He is contemplating all that he has studied and discovers that he is dissatisfied with his understanding of the world. As with Descartes, he has decided that his learning has not brought him to certainty; that he knows nothing after all. Faust seeks knowledge in Nostradamus and from an Earth-spirit.

As Faust reflects on the lessons of the Earth-spirit, his bookish friend Wagner invites him to take a walk. This scene comes after Faust’s tinkering with the idea of suicide. The sound of church bells on Easter morning prevent him, not out of religious obligation, but because they remind him of his happier days as a child.

Wagner and Faust take a walk into the town, where people are celebrating Easter. They hail Faust as he passes them because Faust's father, an alchemist himself, cured the plague. Faust is in a black mood. As they walk among the promenading villagers, Faust reveals to Wagner his inner conflict. Faust and Wagner see a dog, who they do not know is Mephistopheles in disguise, which follows them into the town.

Faust returns to his study, and the dog follows him. Faust translates the prologue of John’s Gospel, but cannot make sense of the first sentence – “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” He decides to translate it "In the beginning was the deed." Herein Faust demonstrates his lack of understanding the ancient Greek and of the Gospel itself. In his ignorance of God’s Word he is defenseless against Mephistopheles’urging to sign a pact with the devil in his own blood.

Doctor Faustus was performed twenty-five times between October 1594 and October 1597 and was one of the most popular plays of Renaissance England. The troupe that performed Marlowe’s play was called The Admiral’s Men because they were supported financially by their patron Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, who commanded a squadron of ships escorting the Queen of Spain on a state visit in 1570.

Medieval patronage of the arts reached its peak during the Renaissance. Nobles vied with the Church for the services of the best artists, poets and philosophers. Wealthy families provided housing, food and a stipend in exchange for an artist’s work. Renaissance patronage made it possible for people like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to dedicate themselves to their work, but this was not without problems, as we will discover when we explore the ethics of patronage.

Responsibility of nobles and rulers

During the Renaissance the ideal nobleman was a literate and refined gentleman of courtly manners. He had responsibility for the care of servants, peasants and family members, which for noblemen of limited resources posed a considerable challenge. It was also a time when nobles sought to be patrons of great artists in order to gain social status.

Throughout the Middle Ages the Church had been the primary patron of the arts, but during the Renaissance new systems of patronage developed, such as family, organization and city-state patronage. An organization might commission work from an artist and provide his material needs until that work was finished. The Florentine wool guild, for example, was responsible for the adornment of the Cathedral in Florence and commissioned religious paintings and sculptures for that building.

The Renaissance saw greater centralization of power among wealthy rulers, sometimes called “new monarchs.” These were men who were able to command armies to control and even expand their territories. After a period of famine, plague and self-serving medieval chivalry, the new monarchs stirred Europe out of decline by forming new allegiances through Renaissance diplomacy and warfare. However, power struggles between kings also resulted in the destruction of lands and holdings. This was especially evident in Italy where the German Hapsburg kings and the French Valois kings engaged in a prolonged political tug-o-war.

Religion continued to play a role in government. Nowhere was this more evident than in Calvin’s Geneva where the Consistory maintained control over all aspects of civil and religious life. The Consistory was a council comprised of pastors and elders elected by district. This council maintained church discipline and morality throughout the city. Calvin has been accused of using the Consistory to advance his political aims and to respond harshly to those who challenged his authority. Some of his opponents were tortured and beheaded, and those accused of witchcraft were hunted and burned to death. In 1545, the Consistory charged 23 people with practicing witchcraft and they were burned at the stake in Geneva. Calvin's acceptance of torture was not unusual among rulers of that time. Few were critical of these practices.

Machiavellian ethics

By far the most significant political philosopher of the Renaissance was Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527) whose writings on statesmanship have brought him notoriety for his ruthless tactics. 

Machiavelli took a pragmatic approach to the responsibility of rulers. He believed that the first responsibility of the ruler is to increase and maintain his power. In the course of his diplomatic missions within Italy he was able to study the political tactics of some of Italy’s most cunning rulers, particularly those of Cesare Borgia, the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, who through military prowess was enlarging his holdings in central Italy.

Machiavelli believed that bold and intelligent initiative on the part of a ruler could shape his fortune. In his thinking human dignity was something that one gained by exercise of the will to rule. In his book The Prince, Machiavelli provides instructions to the “new prince” on how to stabilize his power and retain control of his realm. He urges the prince to appear to be benevolent while privately acting as ruthlessly as necessary to squash his political opponents. He argues that this approach will achieve the greater good by maintaining stability.

Machiavelli established guidelines for ruthless actions. He proposed this definition of acceptable cruelty: Whatever is done to one’s enemy must be swift, effective and short-lived. In other words, when taking the life of a political opponent it should be done as painlessly as possible, secretly, and without collateral damage.

We see how Machiavelli’s ethics depart from the ethical thought of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle when we compare his writings with those of these great philosophers. Consider the following:

Machiavelli wrote that it is not necessary for a prince to have the qualities of honestly, kindness, loyalty, etc, “but it is necessary to seem to have them…useful it is to seem compassionate, trustworthy, humane, endowed with integrity, religious, and to be such, but to be in such a condition, with one’s spirit so constructed, that, when you need to not possess these qualities, you are prepared and know how to shift to the contrary qualities… Let, then, a prince act in such a manner as to conquer and maintain his estate, and the means will always be judged honorable, and they will be praised by everyone – since the crowd is always going to be taken in by appearances and results, and in the world there is no one but the crowd…”

Aristotle wrote: “There are some actions and emotions whose very names connote baseness, e.g., spite, shamelessness, envy; and among actions, adultery, theft, and murder. These and similar emotions and actions imply by their very names that they are bad... It is, therefore, impossible ever to do right in performing them: to perform them is always wrong.”

Reform of education and healthcare

The Jesuit Order was founded by the Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. When Ignatius was born in 1491, Europe was entering into the Renaissance. The first Jesuits were ordained to the Catholic priesthood in Venice and offered themselves in service to Pope Paul III, who approved the order in 1540. Ignatius served as General Superior until his death in 1556 at the age of 65. During his lifetime Jesuit missionaries went to China and to South America. Jesuit priests founded several towns in Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The Society of Jesus dedicated itself to education. The first Jesuit schools adopted the curriculum of the Renaissance humanist academies which included Greek and Latin poetry, oratory, drama, mathematics, theology and history. When Ignatius' died in 1556, the Jesuits were operating 74 colleges on three continents, and by 1626 the order had established 400 colleges throughout Europe. Jesuit colleges and universities became the standard for excellence in Europe and from them came some of the greatest minds of history: Miguel de Cervantes, René Descartes and Voltaire, to name a few.

The Catholic Church funded schools and charity work to the poor through its parishes and religious orders throughout Europe. Priests, nuns and lay clerics staffed schools and hospitals, providing care to even the poorest citizens, and even better care to those who could pay! Where Protestantism became the established religion, as in northern Germany, these educational and charitable efforts were taken over by Protestants.

Religious intolerance

The Renaissance was not a time when people could change their religion without consequences. For example, Roman Catholics living in northern Germany faced religious persecution when that region became Protestant. To escape trouble, many moved to southern Germany which remained Catholic. Moving away was one way to escape religious persecution.

The Treaty of Augsburg, signed in 1555, was between Emperor Ferdinand (who replaced his brother Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor) and the Lutheran princes of northern Germany. It was supposed to lessen religious strife throughout Europe, but it actually made matters worse because it caused Calvinist Protestants to flee to the Spanish (Catholic) Netherlands where they spread their beliefs and launched a staunch guerrilla war against the Spanish troops posted in the Netherlands.

When Philip II came to the throne in Spain, he inherited the religious conflict in the Netherlands, and determined to wipe out the Protestant rebellion. His troops viciously put down riots and protests in Holland and Belgium. To uproot Protestantism from the Netherlands, Philip arranged for the Netherlands to have 14 new Catholic bishops, many of whom were trained Inquisitors. The rebellion that ensued dragged on until 1648 and become part of the wider European struggle known as the Thirty Years War.

In 1566, the Duke of Alva with an army of 10,000 Spanish troops burned Calvinist churches, executed their leaders, and nearly extinguished the Calvinist resistance. However, Calvinist sea raiders gained control of some ports in the North. When word spread of these Calvinist safe ports, more Calvinists flocked Holland. The result of this migration is that northern Holland became and remains today primarily Protestant.

France also saw rising tensions between Calvinists and Catholics that triggered anarchy, and weakening the government. The Catholic majority of France opposed an influential minority of French Calvinists known as “Huguenots.” The Huguenots had the advantage of living primarily in the fortified southern cities and had the support of many nobles who provided excellent leadership. Catholic and Huguenot armies battled in France for almost thirty years, destroying fields, homes and lives. Seven religious wars were fought in France and the fighting often involved the massacre of women and children. From 1562-157l, there were five massacres of Catholics and eighteen massacres of Protestants, the most notorious being the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572), when armed Catholics in Paris fell upon local and visiting Calvinists, killing 3000.

Spain used the unrest in France to intervene in France’s internal affairs. Tensions between Protestant England and Catholic Spain led the English to raid Spanish shipping and support the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands. Meanwhile Philip II conspired to dethrone Elizabeth I. The eclipse of Spain’s military and naval power came in 1588 when the English defeated the Spanish Armada.

Conscience and Individual Interpretation

During the Renaissance, Protestants developed ethical methods quite different from Roman Catholics. The Protestant method is based on the principles of individual conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, apart from the “Tradition” of the Church. The Protestant emphasis increased as the Roman Church became more defensive. Historically, the Roman Church held individual conscience in high regard as a God-given gift that can lead the individual to Virtue. However, the place of individual conscience in Catholicism gave way to demands for unquestioning obedience to the Church’s teachings. This was a result of the challenges the Papacy faced from the Islamic Ottoman Empire in the east and the spread of Protestantism in the west.

As Protestants rejected the Vatican’s teaching authority, they asserted for themselves new authorities: the individual’s conscience, private interpretation of the Bible apart from catholic Tradition, and the importance of reason. Protestant Reformers stressed the infallibility of the Bible but they never defined what this meant in terms of divine revelation, so the individual became his own Bible teacher, regardless of how well informed. The understanding of Bible texts became a matter of private interpretation and much philosophical speculation. Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), a leading Reformer during the Renaissance, attempted (less successfully than Aquinas) to marry Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy in his “Elementa philosohaiae moralis.” 

Baron Samuel Pufendorf, a German Rationalist, prepared the way for the Enlightenment to spread throughout Germany. Along with the French philosopher, Descartes, Pufendorf concluded that the individual’s reason is the ultimate ground for deciding between good and evil, between truth and falsehood. 

With Protestantism the doors opened to the secularization of Western Europe. Coupled with Renaissance humanism and rationalism, Protestant thought prepared the way for the modern world and modern ethics, based not of religious considerations, but on human reason and a liberal view of human rights. The modern age would retain a place for God, but would move from a Christian worldview to Deism as the basis for natural law and ethical decisions.

Deists do not believe that God has personal interest in the world’s affairs, and certainly not in the affairs of individuals. The Deistic God rarely intervenes. There are no miracles, no angels, and no devil. Most Deists grant the existence of the soul, but not all Deists believe that the soul is eternal. 

A reaction against this cold rational view of God and religion was the Pietist movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. The emphasis of Pietism on mystical inward experience of God had an impact on ethics. The Pietist Pastor Francis Magny held that "mysticism and the moral law went together." His pupil, Fracoise-Louise de la Tour, believed that "pietist mysticism did less to reinforce the moral law than to take its place...the principle of 'guidance by inner light' was often a signal to follow the most intense of her inner sentiments...the supremacy of feeling over reason."


During the Renaissance, rulers felt an obligation to provide for artists and musicians who in turn would offer their services to their wealthy patrons. The more artists one could support, the more social status one had. Machiavelli believed that the ruler was to appear to be just and generous while dealing ruthlessly with his political opponents in secret. For Machiavelli, social status and wealth were gained by exercise of the will to power.

Protestantism greatly influenced ethics during the Renaissance. Protestants developed ethical methods based on the principles of individual conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, apart from the “Tradition” of the Church. Historically, Roman Catholicism held individual conscience in high regard as a God-given gift that can lead the individual to Virtue. However, while the Catholic Church felt under siege by spreading Protestantism and advancing Islam, this value was surrendered to the greater concern for unquestioning obedience to the Church’s teachings.

Protestant rationalism opened the doors to the secularization of Western Europe. Coupled with Renaissance humanism, Protestant thought prepared the way for modern ethics, based on human reason and a liberal view of human rights.

Some Protestants departed from Christianity and become Deists. Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were Deists. Thomas Jefferson is an example. These thinkers moved natural law from the Christian concept of moral obligation to God’s laws to moral obligation to defend individual liberty and the right of property.

Deism among the leaders of the nation, combined with the Calvinist work ethic that was brought to the colonies by the Puritans, encouraged the very American value of private property as a personal good. The prosperous landowner was seen as a man blessed by God. Nobody wanted to appear poor as this might be perceived as a sign that God’s blessing was absent.

Related reading: Ethics of the Middle Ages; Ethics of Ancient GreeceEthics of Archaic Communities

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ethics of the Middle Ages

Alice C. Linsley


354-430 AD: Augustine, North African philosopher/theologian/bishop
480-524 AD: Boethius, Translator of Aristotle’s works on logic
482-556 AD: Emperor Justinian, Imperial Code of Law
1054 AD:  Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches
1033-1109:  Anselm of Canterbury
1225-1274:  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae
1466-1536:  Erasmus, Christian Humanist
1483-1546:  Martin Luther, Fiery Reformer
1575-1624:  Jacob Böehme, Neo-Platonist philosopher

Having devoted attention to the ethical thought of the ancient Afro-Asiatics and Greeks, we now turn to consideration of the ethical thought of the so-called “Middle Ages.” The term “medieval” means “the in-between time” and refers to the period of roughly 1200 years between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Protestantism.

The Medieval Period is divided into the Early and Late Middle Ages. The earlier period is largely concerned with reconciliation of Christian theology and Greek philosophy. The synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian theology reached its climax in the 11th century (called the “High Middle Ages”). In the Late Middle Ages, ethics was tied to Scholasticism and the universities. Scholasticism influenced the development of Renaissance humanism in the 16th century. During the late Middle Ages the Jesuits established over 200 universities.

The Middle Ages are sometime termed “the Dark Ages.” This label was first applied by 17th century Humanists who regarded the entire period as mired in superstition and useless debate. Today the Middle Ages are recognized as a time of extraordinary creativity and innovation. Objects that we take for granted were invented in the Middle Ages: clocks, eye glasses, buttons, forks, gunpowder and the telescope.

Great cathedrals and monasteries were constructed. These fostered exceptional words of art in stained glass, icons, paintings, sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts. Great musical works were composed for use in the cathedrals and monasteries.

Universities were established in Italy, Spain, Germany, France and England. Three of these remain the oldest in continuous operation universities in Europe: The University of Bologna, Italy (founded 1088), the University of Salamanca, Spain (founded 1134), and the University of Oxford, England (founded 1167). The universities fostered learning in philosophy, math, science, literature, and theology. They produced the most learned men of Europe, among them: Erasmus, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Rene Descartes.

It was also an age chivalry, one of the more remarkable features of the Middle Ages. Chivalry refers to the knightly system and the virtues of loyalty and courage that characterized its followers. Chivalry directed knights and squires to honor and serve their lords and to protect ladies and maidens. Often romantic love developed between the knight and his lady. After 1600 AD tales of chivalry and romance went out of fashion, and Miguel de Cervantes satirized the genre in his famous novel Don Quixote.

This early centuries of this period were termed “the Dark Ages” by 17th century Humanists who regarded the collapse of Rome and Greece as a great tragedy. Today the Middle Ages are recognized as a time of extraordinary creativity and intellectual brilliance. This was a time of innovation during which many objects that we take for granted were invented, such as clocks, gunpowder, spectacles, buttons, forks and the telescope.

Early and Late Periods

For ease of study, the Middle Ages will be divided into the Early and Late Middle Ages. The earlier period is largely concerned with reconciliation of Christianity with the paganism of the Greco-Roman world. The synthesis of classical philosophy and Christian theology reached its climax in the 11th century and then flowered during the later Middle Ages. In the latter period, ethics is tied to the Scholasticism of the universities and remained the dominant philosophy, influencing the development of Renaissance humanism in the 16th century.

European political structures experienced a decline after the collapse of the old Roman Empire. The collapse was felt more acutely the closer one lived to Rome itself. But even in the farthest reaches of the British Isles, the deterioration of the authority of Rome was felt. There would have been a great leadership void had it not been for the leadership of the Church in 5 important centers: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.

In each of these cities there was a Bishop who provided leadership in both religious and civil affairs. In Rome, the Pope consolidated papal authority, claiming to represent the whole of Christianity. The Patriarch of Constantinople certainly disputed this, although he was willing to grant the Pope symbolic status as a symbol of Christian unity.

Eventually, power struggles ensued between the western Latin-speaking Church and the eastern Greek-speaking Church. The Christian Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines. The split, called “the Great Schism” came to a head in A.D. 1054. From that time, Roman Catholicism emerged as the dominant church in the West and Eastern Orthodoxy as the dominant church in the East.  The split was not simply about control and politics. It also involved theological controversies that largely sprang from different understandings of Plato and Aristotle. The writings of both philosophers were read in the original Greek in the Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople, but in the West, their writings were read in Latin translations from the Greek.

Aristotle’s work was known in the West through the translation work of the Roman statesman Boethius, considered one the founders of the Middle Ages because of his great influence on medieval education. Boethius was a master of the Greek language and for many centuries what was known of Aristotle in the West came from Boethius’ translations of Aristotle’s writings on logic.

For the most part, medieval thinkers regarded themselves as “modern” in relation to the “ancients.” Like the ancients they were guided by religious belief but this was not always strictly “Christian”, as in the case of Jacob Böehme (1575-1624), who blended Gnosticism, Christianity, alchemy, and Jewish mysticism. For the most part local bishops tolerated thinking that strayed from Catholic teaching, but in an effort to further strengthen the administrative power of the Pope, Inquisitors took action against leaders of “heretical” movements such as the Waldensians. The Inquisitors were well educated men whose responsibility it was to guard the Faith by banning certain books and investigating charges of heresy.

Transition to the Medieval Era

We have seen that in Antiquity ethics was closely linked to the institutions of religion. Among the Afro-Asiatic peoples moral obedience to the law codes was based on the concept that these codes took their authority from the Deity and the Deity’s kingly representative on earth. Religious practices involving priests, sacred oracles and temples continued in the Classical and Hellenistic Periods. Plato and Aristotle were also religious, though they questioned aspects of the religious beliefs of their day.

The early Church Fathers attempted to distance Christianity from pagan philosophies and Gnosticism. The Christian message was about self-sacrifice and especially about the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This was incompatible with Aristotle’s emphasis on personal happiness as the highest good.
During the Medieval Period, Christian thinkers would turn again to Plato and Aristotle and discover in their writings much that was valuable. Plato’s influence would prevail through the writings of the brilliant Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo, and later in the work of an Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther. Aristotle’s thought would influence West civilization through the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and later in the thought of Enlightenment empiricists.

The ethical questions of the Middle Ages which will be addressed in this lesson are:

·        The Existence of God
·        Human Nature
·        Freedom of the Will
·        The Relationship of Faith and Reason
·        The Relationship of Civil and Church Authorities
·        The Nature of Just War

The Christian Ethical Tradition

Well established in both East and West, Christianity proved to be a powerful cultural and ethical force. While it is evident that Christianity did not solve societal problems, it did largely improve the conditions of women and slaves. We see this is in the establishment of the Justinian Law Code around 530 AD.

The Justinian Code served to unite the vast areas over which Justinian exercised his rule. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Justinian Code. It is the basis of both Church law and civil law in virtually every European country.

It is especially notable that the Justinian Code improved the conditions of women and slaves. With its implementation, the following practices quickly disappeared:

·        Infanticide
·        Polygyny (multiple wives)
·        Incest
·        Cultic prostitution
·        The 3-tiered caste system that limited women’s marriage options
·        The practice of fathers selling their daughters into slavery

The Code also made it legal for:

·        Slave owners to grant liberty to as many slaves as they wanted
·        Families to retain the estate in cases where the father died intestate
·       Noble women to exercise political power

St. Augustine (354-430)

Without doubt the most influential Christian thinker of the early Middle Ages was Augustine of Hippo, the first truly great medieval philosopher. In his Confessions, he describes his life before becoming a Christian as undisciplined and sinful. After being a Christian he devoted himself to the exposition of Platonism in support of Christianity.

Augustine's method is based on the idea that human reason and philosophy are useful only to those who already have faith. He wrote, “Credo ut intellegiam” (“I believe in order that I may understand”) and he believed that even if he were mistaken about nearly everything that he thought to be true, one inescapable truth remained: “Si fallor, sum” (“If I am mistaken, I exist”). Upon this foundation, Augustine believed it possible to employ the senses and reason in the pursuit of knowledge.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

The most influential of all medieval thinkers was Thomas Aquinas who synthesized Aristotle’s thought with Latin theology in his extensive Summa Theologiae. What is striking about this work is the way in which it responds to a fundamental difficulty in both Plato and Augustine’s views. Both Plato and Augustine focus on the restraint of appetite or desire. By focusing on the negative—on how we should not be ruled by appetites—they do not explain positive motivation to act ethically. My reason tells me that it is right to return a lost wallet, but my desire motivates me to keep it. What motivates me to do right in this situation? To act against an immoral desire, I must have a contrary motivation or appetite to do good. If this is so, then it cannot be the case that all appetites or desires are irrational, excessive or bad. Borrowing from Aristotle, Aquinas argues that humans must have good desires that direct us to act morally.

He distinguishes acts of a man from human acts. Acts in the more general sense, that is, activities of humans but also found in some non-human agents, are not the same as human acts which proceed from knowledge and will. Here we see Thomas Aquinas’ definition of human nature as having both rationality and will. In the Thomistic view the human act is the pursuit of a known good. He defines this good as the soul’s pursuit of God.

Aristotle believed that the good is expressed when a man exercises reason as a political creature, seeking personal happiness in both private and public life.  For Aristotle, this is what humans exist to do. Aquinas borrows Aristotle’s notion of the good as fulfilling our final end, but instead of viewing our final end as rational activity, claims instead that humanity’s final end is the contemplation of God (the “beatific vision”). Aquinas agrees with Augustine and Anslem that happiness, defined as spiritual flourishing, is found in knowledge of God. Unlike Augustine, Aquinas places less emphasis of divine revelation.  Humans are capable of knowing God through their reason. Unlike Anselm, Aquinas believes that it is possible to reason oneself to faith, if one reasons logically.

Aquinas, following Aristotle, justifies his claim about human happiness using Nature. Happiness is found in the fulfillment of our natural function, which for Aquinas is self-preservation. Consequently, we naturally seek to preserve our soul and in accomplishing this natural function, we achieve true happiness. The ethical virtues are those activities and character traits that help us fulfill self-preservation. We are naturally inclined toward virtue out of our natural tendency to preserve ourselves.

Following Plato, Aquinas explains moral failure as a failure of knowledge. If we fail to be virtuous, it is not because we do not desire to be so, but because we are ignorant or confused about what virtue is. Rather than condemning all desire as sinful, as Augustine seems to do, Aquinas distinguishes correct and incorrect desire. He says that humans naturally desire and seek God. Virtue consists in training ourselves to successfully reach the goal to which we are naturally destined.

This distinctive feature of Aquinas’ philosophy has an important consequence for the relationship of philosophy and religion. It means that human nature is not hopelessly sinful or flawed. Because human beings are rational and desire God, they have the ability to act virtuously.

Thomas Aquinas’ work represents great intellectual rigor, complexity and subtlety. He is the most impressive of the medieval “schoolmen” and like all schoolmen he asked questions that had a theological bearing. His Summa Theologiae was left unfinished at his death. There is some question as to whether he may have changed his mind on certain points before he died. It is reported that on December 6, 1273 he had a mystical experience while attending Mass and thereafter wrote nothing more. His explanation was: “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.” He died four months later.

The Papacy Challenged

After the 12th century the intellectual environment in Western Europe began to change. There were many challenges to the authority of the Papacy in both spiritual and temporal affairs. These challenges reached a peak in the 15th century.

One thinker who challenged the Church’s corruption was the Dutch scholar Erasmus, who lived long enough to be embarrassed by the extremes of the Protestant reformers and the social disorder that their ideas stimulated. The English scholar John Colet said, "The name of Erasmus will never perish." Sir Thomas More wrote, "Erasmus has published volumes more full of wisdom than any which Europe has seen for ages."

Erasmus advocated referring to the Bible for guidance on how to live a good life, and study of classical Greek and Roman writings for guidance on how to achieve an orderly civilization. He integrated Renaissance humanism and Christian theology and proposed significant educational reforms.

After living in Rome for three years where he observed clergy corruption, Erasmus wrote of his contempt for their immoral and unethical practices in the Praise of Folly. He wrote a satire in which Pope Julius and St. Peter discuss Julius’ entry into heaven. Erasmus believed that Pope Julius was a hypocrite, preaching peace while he “stirs up the world with tempests of war for the sake of his authority over a small town.”

Although Erasmus criticized the Papacy, he remained a Catholic and was committed to a Catholic understanding of free will, which many Reformers rejected in favor of the doctrine of predestination. This angered leading Reformers, such as Martin Luther.

Erasmus was sympathetic with some points of Luther’s criticism of the Church, stating that, “It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” So it was said that “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched.” Erasmus respected Luther and Luther admired Erasmus' superior learning, urging him to join the Lutheran movement. Erasmus declined, believing that his life’s purpose was as a leader in the movement for humanistic scholarship and as a translator of the Bible. If he were to influence the reform of the Church it would be as a scholar. When Erasmus hesitated to support the Lutheran movement, Luther accused Erasmus of either cowardice or a lack of purpose. Erasmus, however, believed that there was room within existing structures and doctrine for the reforms he valued. His attempts to remain neutral during this time of unrest caused both Catholics and Protestants to accuse him of siding with the other. Erasmus wrote, “I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

Erasmus and Luther Debate the Question of Free Will

In 1524, Erasmus wrote a treatise in which he dealt with the Lutheran notion of the bondage of the will to sin. He systematically set out the weaknesses of Martin Luther’s Augustinian view in his De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio (The Freedom of the Will). In response, Luther wrote On the Bondage of the Will which directly attacks Erasmus, going so far as to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian.

To Erasmus, the Bible and the Classics were two sides of the same coin, thus he strove to combine them. This is reflected in Erasmus’ definition of education: "The task of fashioning the young is made up of many parts, the first and consequently the most important part of which consists of implanting the seeds of piety in the tender heart; the second in instilling a love for, and thorough knowledge of, the liberal arts; the third in giving instructions in the duties of life; the fourth in training in good manners right from the very earliest years.”

To Erasmus, “a man without education has no humanity at all; that man’s life is a fleeting thing; that youth is an easy prey to sin; that adulthood is afflicted with numerous cares; and that old age, which few are permitted to reach, is barren and sterile...” He believed that the seeds for a good life are in us ‘by nature’, and teachers are to cultivate these seeds. He wrote: “The seeds that nature has implanted in us to attain this goal are bursting with life; the only thing that is required, in addition to this natural inclination, is the effort of a dedicated teacher.”

While Luther began his theology with the depravity of man, Erasmus started with the goodness of the teacher and the student, making Christ’s teachings the objective of all learning.  To Erasmus, classical antiquity showed the best method for teaching. He wrote, “I would not want you to imbibe pagan morals together with pagan writings. On the other hand, you will find many things there which are conducive to a holy life, and the good precepts of a pagan author should not be rejected...” Luther held that since the Fall of Adam and Eve man’s will is not free to choose or even desire God, and that we lost our humanity. Luther believed that it is only through Christ that people regain their full humanity and he thought that Erasmus made too little of this point: “I am afraid, however, that he [Erasmus] does not advance the cause of Christ and the grace of God sufficiently.... Human things weight more with him than the divine.”  

Luther countered Erasmus’ belief in the freedom of the will, saying: “Free will after the fall exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do it commits a mortal sin... The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin.” 

This question of whether humans have free will to elect the Good continues to be debated throughout the history of Ethics, but the Lutheran view of utter depravity and bondage of the will receives less consideration as we move into the modern and post-modern periods. In fact, his position will be completely rejected by most philosophers from the mid 1700s to the present.

Luther maintained that God teaches us about justification, focusing on the inner man for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Human instruction prepares us to live in the finite earthly kingdom, but divine revelation prepares us to live in the eternal Kingdom of God. This is the basis of Luther’s Two-Kingdoms Theory, the earthly kingdom being separate from and subordinate to the Kingdom of God. Luther recognized that what happens on earth is important for eternal life.  He saw education as a means to protect children from the devil’s attempts to take them away from God and as a way to teach them how to live wisely in the earthly kingdom.

Because he believed that the human will is held in bondage by sin, Luther saw education as a way to fight the devil: “Let this, then, my dear sirs and friends, be the first consideration to influence you, namely, that herein we are fighting against the devil as the most dangerous and subtle enemy of all.” It also means that the government has responsibility to promote the spiritual welfare of its citizens, while not neglecting its temporal responsibilities.

The Church-State Tension of 16th Century Political Thought

Luther’s articulation of the relationship between religious authority and civil authority supported a close interaction between church and state, each doing its part to nurture spiritually healthy citizens and to protect them from corrupting influences. Here we see a connection to Plato, who also justified the state’s right to censor for the protection of the weak-minded.

Luther never advocated a separation of Church and State, but rather a close co-operation. His “two-kingdoms theory” supports strong interdependence of church and state, with each having different responsibilities. The state has authority to regulate commerce, tax citizens, and defend against foreign aggressors. The state has authority to protect the Church and religious education. However, in On the Freedom of a Christian, Luther states that the state has no authority to declare what is to be believed in matters of faith and salvation. Only the Church has authority in this area.

Martin Luther
Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (two jurisdictions) maintains that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways; through secular authority and authority of the heavenly kingdom represented by Christians who voluntarily obey God according to Luther’s view of the gospel of grace (New Covenant) versus the burden of the law (Old Covenant). This excluded the Roman Catholic Church as an expression of the heavenly kingdom, since the Papacy did not represent Luther’s understanding of the gospel of grace. Luther regarded Roman Catholicism as a religion of salvation by works.

The Lutheran Book of Concord, compiled in 1580, references Luther’s sermon on the Two Kingdoms preached in Marburg in 1528. In his Two Kingdoms Theory, Luther stressed the importance of cooperation between church and state. However, he denied that the state has authority to speak on issues of faith and salvation (On the Freedom of a Christian).

Luther articulated his view in these words:

“God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly…The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God's government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.”

Lutheranism became the national religion in Germany as noblemen broke free of Papal authority. They benefited from the seizure of lands held by the Catholic Church wherever the ruler declared for the Protestant movement. Even is this era of religious pluralism Germany remains predominantly Lutheran, and Lutheranism is the official state church of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

Medieval Views on War

The theory of “just war” developed out of the Christian Church. Early Christians largely abstained from war, although surprising numbers of Roman soldiers have been identified as Christians.

After Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire Christian thinkers such as Augustine concluded that waging war was justified as a legitimate exercise of the authority of rulers. As a rule is justified in punishing wrong doers within his realm, so he may punish external wrong doers.

Over the centuries the just war theory was further refined and during the Middle Ages divided into related ideas:  jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Jus ad bellum addresses what justifies going to war and jus in bello addresses what may justly be done in war.

Jus ad bellum requires that war be undertaken according to these conditions:
  1. It may be waged only by legitimate authority.
  2. It may be waged for a just cause.
  3. It must be a last resort.
  4. There must be a formal declaration of war.
  5. There must be reasonable prospect of success. 
Jus in bello involves the following conditions:
  1. War should be motivated by right intentions such as protecting one’s territory.
  2. War should be fought proportional to the end sought, not constituting a greater evil than the evil it was fought to remedy.
  3. War should not involve killing the innocent (non-combatants).

In his City of God, Augustine examines the nature of the state and its relationship to Christianity, as well as the response of the Christian to war. His ideas influenced the young Christian empire and provided the framework used later by Thomas Aquinas, whose three components of just war in the Summa can be traced directly to Augustine. In Contra Faustum, Augustine states, “A great deal depends on the causes for which men undertake wars, and on the authority they have for doing so; for the natural order which seeks the peace of mankind, ordains that the monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable.” Aquinas expounds on this, writing: “…as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city.”

Both Augustine and Aquinas recognize that the only person who can legitimately declare war is the head of the state as he seeks to fulfill his obligation to provide for the common good, and to promote peace and justice. Erasmus also held this view but he hated war.  He once wrote, “Dulce bellum inexpertis.” (War is sweet to those who have no experience of it.)

Martin Luther drew on their ideas and took matters a step further in his Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should be Obeyed (1523). Here he defines the role of civil authority and the proper Christian attitude towards rulers. When the peasants revolted against their rulers, Luther criticized them in Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), saying that their actions were in violation of God’s authority vested with the rulers, and that they were acting as instruments of the Devil.

In an earlier work: Appeal to the German Nobility (1520), Luther set forth the duties of Christian rulers and deplored their wrong doing and abuse of power.  In this same work, Luther described how the Roman Catholic Church had injured the German people and urged them to take action against it, explaining: “If we want to fight Turks, let us begin here - we cannot find worse ones. If we rightly hang thieves and behead robbers, why do we leave the greed of Rome unpunished? For Rome is the greatest thief and robber that has ever appeared on earth, or ever will. It is time the glorious Teutonic people should cease to be the puppet of the Roman pontiff. Because the pope crowns the emperor, it does not follow that the pope is superior to the emperor. Samuel, who crowned Saul and David, was not above these kings, nor Nathan above Solomon, whom he consecrated.”

Unfortunately, this is not the only time the Bible has been used to incite violence and to exalt the German nationalism. Nor would this be the last time. The Nazis followed Luther’s lead in this exercise four centuries later, co-opting the state church and executing dissenting Christian pastors such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” 

Friday, May 3, 2013

C.S. Lewis on Christian Apologetics

Christian Apologetics
by C.S. Lewis (1945)

Some of you are priests and some are leaders of youth organizations. I have little right to address either. It is for priests to teach me, not for me to teach them. I have never helped to organize youth, and while young myself I successfully avoided being organized. If I address you it is in response to a request so urged that I came to regard compliance as a matter of obedience.

I am to talk about apologetics. Apologetics means of course defense. The first question is --What do you propose to defend? Christianity, of course: and Christianity as understood by the church in Wales. And here at the outset I must deal with an unpleasant business. It seems to the layman that in the Church of England we often hear from our priests doctrine which is not Anglican Christianity. It may depart from Anglican Christianity in either of two ways: (1) It may be so “broad” or “liberal” or “modern” that it in fact excludes any real supernaturalism and thus ceases to be Christian at all. (2) It may, on the other hand, be Roman. It is not, of course, for me to define to you what Anglican Christianity is--I am your pupil, not your teacher. But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.

This is your duty not specifically as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of these opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of another.

Even when we have thus ruled out teaching which is in direct contradiction to our profession, we must define our task still further. We are to defend Christianity itself--the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers. This must be clearly distinguished from the whole of what any one of us may think about God and man. Each of us has his individual emphasis: each holds, in addition to the faith, many opinions which seem to him to be consistent with it and true and important. And so perhaps they are. But as apologists it is not our business to defend them. We are defending Christianity; not “my religion.”

When we mention our personal opinions we must always make quite clear the difference between them and the faith itself. St. Paul has given us the model in I Corinthians vii. 25: on a certain point the has “no commandment of the Lord” but gives “his judgment.” No one is left in doubt as to the difference in status implied.

This distinction, which is demanded by honesty, also gives the apologist a great tactical advantage. The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them to realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact--not gas about ideals and points of view.

Secondly, this scrupulous care to preserve the Christian message as something distinct from one’s own ideas, has one very good effect upon the apologist himself. It forces him, again and again, to face up to those elements in original Christianity which he personally finds obscure or repulsive, He is saved from the temptation to skip or slur or ignore what he finds disagreeable. And the man who yields to that temptation will, of course, never progress in Christian knowledge. For obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew. The new truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrine you least like and least understand. It is just the same here as in science. The phenomenon which is troublesome, which doesn’t fit in with the current scientific theories, is the phenomenon which compels reconsideration and thus leads to new knowledge, Science progresses because scientists, instead of running away from such troublesome phenomena or hushing them up, are constantly seeking them out. In the same way, there will be progress in Christian knowledge only as long as we accept the challenge of the difficult or repellent doctrines. A “liberal” Christianity which considers itself free to alter the faith whenever the faith looks perplexing or repellent must be completely stagnant. Progress is made only into a resisting material.

From this there follows a corollary about the apologist’s private reading. There are two questions he will naturally ask himself. (1) have I been "keeping up," keeping abreast of recent movements in theology? (2) Have I stood firm super monstratas vias) amid all these “winds of doctrine”? I want to say emphatically that the second question is far the more important of the two. Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring the. We are not at all likely to be hidebound; we are very likely to be the slaves of fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must chose the old: not because they are necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times. We serve One who said “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times.”

I am speaking, so far of theological reading. Scientific reading is a different matter. If you know any science it is very desirable that you should keep it up. We have to answer the current scientific attitude toward Christianity, not the attitude scientists adopted one hundred years ago. Science is in continual change and we must try to keep abreast of it. We may mention such things; but we must mention them lightly and without claiming that they are more than “interesting.” Sentences beginning “Science has now proved” should be avoided. If we try to base our apologetic on some recent development in science, we shall usually find that just as we have put the finishing touches to our argument science has changed its mind and quietly withdrawn the theory we have been using as our foundation stone. Timeo Dananos e dona ferentes is a sound principle.

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress for a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by an directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent… You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if wherever we read an elementary book on Geology, botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interest of apologetics would be sin and folly. But I must return to my immediate subject.

Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our own age. The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he may think about the Beveridge Report and talk about the coming of the kingdom. The core of his thought is merely contemporary; only the superficies is traditional. But your teaching must be timeless at its heart and wear a modern dress.

This raises the question of theology and politics. The nearest I can get to a settlement of the frontier problem between them is this: that theology teaches us what ends are desirable and what means are lawful, while politics teaches what means are effective. Thus theology tells us that every man ought to have a decent wage. Politics tells by what means this is likely to be attained. Theology tells us which of these means are consistent with justice and charity. On the political question guidance comes not from revelation but from natural prudence, knowledge of complicated facts and ripe experience. If we have these qualifications we may, of course, state our political opinions: but then we must make it quite clear that we are giving our personal judgment and have no command from the Lord. Not many priests have these qualifications. Most political sermons teach the congregation nothing except what newspapers are taken at the rectory.

Our great danger at present is lest the church should continue to practice a merely missionary technique in what has become a missionary situation. A century ago our task was to edify those who had been brought up in the faith: our present task is chiefly to convert and instruct the infidels. Great Britain is as much a part of the mission field as China. Now if you were sent to the Bantus you would be taught their language and traditions. You need similar teaching about the language and mental habits of your own uneducated and unbelieving fellow countrymen. Many priests are quite ignorant on this subject. What I know about it I have learned form talking in R.A.F. camps.

They were mostly inhabited by Englishmen and, therefore, some of what I shall say may be irrelevant to the situation in Wales. You will sift out what does not apply.

(1) I find that the uneducated Englishman is an almost total sceptic about history. I had expected he would disbelieve the Gospels because they contain miracles; but he really disbelieves them because they deal with things that happened two thousand years ago. He would disbelieve equally in the battle of Actium if he heard of it. To those who have had our kind of education, his state of mind is very difficult to realize. To us the present has always appeared as one section in a huge continuous process. In his mind the present occupies almost the whole field of vision. Beyond it, isolated from it, and quite unimportant, is something called “the old days”-- a small, comic jungle in which highwaymen, Queen Elizabeth, knights-in-armour, etc. wander about. Then (strangest of all) beyond the old days come a picture of “primitive man.” He is “science,” not “history,” and is therefore felt to be much more real than the old days. In other words, the prehistoric is much more believed in than the historic.

(2) He has a distrust (very rational in the state of his knowledge) of ancient texts. Thus a man has sometimes said to me, “These records were written in the days before printing, weren’t they? And you haven’t got the original bit of paper, have you? So what it comes to is that someone wrote something and someone else copied it and someone else copied that and so on. Well, by the time it comes it us, it won’t be in the least like the original” This is a difficult objection to deal with because one cannot, there and then, start teaching the whole science of textual criticism. But at this point their real religion (i.e. faith in “science”) has come to my aid. The assurance that there is a “science” called “textual criticism” and that its results (not only as regard the New Testament, but as regards ancient texts in general) are generally accepted, will usually be received without objection. (I need hardly point out that the word “text” must not be used, since to your audience it means only “a scriptural quotation.")

(3) A sense of sin is almost totally lacking. Our situation is thus very different from that of the apostles. The Pagans (and still more the metuentes) to whom they preached were haunted by a sense of guilt and to them the Gospel was, therefore, “good news.” We address people who have been trained to believe that whatever goes wrong in the world is someone else’s fault--the capitalists’, the government’s, the Nazis, the generals’, etc. They approach God Himself as his judges. They want to know, not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world.

In attacking this fatal insensibility it is useless to direct attention (a) To sins your audience do not commit, or (b) To things they do, but do not regard as sins. They are usually not drunkards. They are mostly fornicators, but then they do not feel fornication to be wrong. It is, therefore, useless to dwell on either of these subjects. (Now that contraceptives have removed the obvious uncharitable element in fornication I do not myself think we can expect people to recognize it as sin until they have accepted Christianity as a whole.)

I cannot offer you a water tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way this shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our continual effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and “crime” and bring them down to brass tacks--to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness, and conceit in the lives of “ordinary decent people” like themselves (and ourselves).

(4) We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use at all laying down a priori what the “plain man” does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience. Thus most of us would have supposed that the change from “may truly and indifferently minister justice” to “may truly and impartially” made that place easier to the uneducated; but a priest of my acquaintance discovered that his sexton saw no difficulty in indifferently (“It means making no difference between one man and another,” he said) but had no idea what impartially meant.

On this question of language the best thing I can do is to make a list of words which are used by the people in a sense different from ours.

ATONEMENT. Does not really exist in a spoken modern English, though it would be recognized as “a religious word.” Insofar as it conveys any meaning to the uneducated I think it means compensation. No one word will express to them what Christians mean by atonement: you must paraphrase.

BEING. (noun) Never means merely “entity” in popular speech. Often it means what we should call a “personal being” (e.g. a man said to me “I believe in the Holy Ghost but I don’t think He is a being!”)

CATHOLIC. Means papistical.

CHARITY. Means (a) alms (b) a “charitable organization” (c) Much more rarely--indulgence (i.e. a “charitable attitude toward a man is conceived as one that denies or condones his sins, not as one that loves the sinner in spite of them).

CHRISTIAN. Has come to include almost no idea of belief. Usually a vague term of approval. The question “What do you call a Christian?” has been asked of me again and again. The answer they wish to receive is “ A Christian is a decent chap who is unselfish, etc.

CHURCH. Means (a) A sacred building, (b) the clergy. Does not suggest to them the “company of all faithful people.” Generally used in a bad sense. Direct defense of the church is part of our duty; but use of the word church where there is not time to defend it alienates sympathy and should be avoided where possible.

CREATIVE. Now means merely “talented,” “original.” The idea of creation in the theological sense is absent from their minds.

CREATURE means “beast,“ “irrational animal.“ Such an expression as “We are only creatures” would almost certainly be misunderstood.

CRUCIFIXION, CROSS, etc. Centuries of hymnody and religious cant have so exhausted these words that they now very faintly --if at all--convey the idea of execution by torture. It is better to paraphrase; and, for the same reason, to say flogged for the New Testament scourged.

DOGMA. Used by the people only in a bad sense to mean “unproved assertion delivered in an arrogant manner.”

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. In the mouth of an uneducated speaker always means Virgin Birth.

MORALITY means chastity.

PERSONAL. I had argued for at least ten minutes with a man about the existence of a “personal devil” before I discovered that personal meant to him corporeal. I suspect this of being widespread. When they say they don’t believe in a “personal God” they may often mean only that they are not anthropomorphists.

POTENTIAL. When used at all is used in an engineering sense: never means “possible.”

PRIMITIVE. Means crude, clumsy, unfinished, inefficient. “Primitive Christianity” would not mean to them at all what it does to you.

SACRIFICE. Has no associations with the temple and altar. They are familiar with this word only in the journalistic sense (“The nation must be prepared for heavy sacrifices.”)

SPIRITUAL. Means primarily immaterial, incorporeal, but with serious confusion from the Christian use of “spirit” hence the idea that whatever is “spiritual” in the sense of “no sensuous” is somehow better than anything sensuous: e.g. they don’t really believe that envy could be as bad as drunkenness.

VULGARITY. Usually means obscenity or “smut.” There are bad confusions (and not only in uneducated minds) between: (a) The obscene or lascivious: what is calculated to provoke lust. (b) The indecorous: what offends against good taste or propriety. (c) The vulgar proper: what is socially “low.” “Good” people tend to think (b) as sinful as (a) with the result that others feel (a) to be just as innocent as (b).

To conclude-- you must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every ordination examination.

I turn now to the question of the actual attack. This may be either emotional or intellectual. If I speak only of the intellectual kind, that is not because I undervalue the other but because not having been given the gifts necessary for carrying it out, I cannot give advice about it. But I wish to say most emphatically that where a speaker has that gift, the direct evangelical appeal of the “Come to Jesus” type can be as overwhelming today as it was a hundred years ago. I have seen it done, preluded by a religious film and accompanied by hymn singing, and with remarkable effect. I cannot do it: but those who can ought to do it with all their might. I am not sure that the ideal missionary team ought not to consist of one who argues and one who (in the fullest sense of the word) preaches. Put up your arguer first to undermine their intellectual prejudices; then let the evangelist proper launch his appeal. I have seen this done with great success. But here I must concern myself only with the intellectual attack. Non omnia possumus omnes. And first, a word of encouragement.

Uneducated people are not irrational people. I have found that they will endure, and can follow, quite a lot of sustained argument if you go slowly. Often, indeed, the novelty of it (for they have seldom met it before) delights them.

Do not attempt to water Christianity down. There must be no pretense that you can have it with the supernatural left out. So far as I can see, Christianity is precisely the one religion from which the miraculous cannot be separated. You must frankly argue for supernaturalism from the very outset.

The two popular “difficulties” you will probably have to deal with are these. (1) “Now that we know how huge the universe is and how insignificant the earth, it is ridiculous to believe that the universal God should be especially interested in our concerns.” in answer to this you must first correct their error about fact. The insignificance of earth in relation to the universe is not a modern discovery: nearly two thousand years ago Ptolemy (Almagest, bk 1, ch. V) said that in relation to the distance of the fixed stars earth must be treated as a mathematical point without magnitude. Secondly, you should point out that Christianity says what God has done for man; it doesn’t say (because it doesn’t know) what he has or has not done in other parts of the universe. Thirdly, you might recall the parable of the one lost sheep. If earth has been specially sought by God (which we don’t know) that may not imply that it is the most important thing in the universe, but only that it has strayed. Finally, challenge the whole tendency to identify size and importance. Is an elephant more important than a man, or a man’s leg more important than his brains?

(2) “People believed in miracles in the old days because they didn’t then know that they were contrary to the Laws of Nature.” But they did. If St. Joseph didn’t know that a virgin birth was contrary to Nature (i.e. if he didn’t know the normal origin of babies), why, on discovering his wife’s pregnancy, was he “minded to put her away”? Obviously, no event would be recorded as a wonder unless the recorders knew the natural order and saw that this was an exception. If people didn’t yet know that the sun rose in the east, they wouldn’t be even interested in its once rising in the west. They would not record it as a miraculum--nor indeed record it at all. The very idea of “miracle” presupposes knowledge of the Laws of Nature; you can’t have the idea of an exception until you have the idea of a rule.

It is very difficult to produce arguments on the popular level for the existence of God. And many of the most popular arguments seem to me invalid. Some of these may be produced in discussion by friendly members of the audience. This raises the whole problem of the “embarrassing supporter.” It is brutal (and dangerous) to repel him; it is often dishonest to agree with what he says. I usually try to avoid saying anything about the validity of his argument in itself and reply, “Yes. That may do for you and me. But I’m afraid if we take that line our friend here on my left might say etc. etc.”

Fortunately, though very oddly, I have found that people are usually disposed to hear the divinity of our Lord discussed before going into the existence of God. When I began I used, if I were giving two lectures, to devote the first to mere theism; but I soon gave up this method because it seemed to arouse little interest. The number of clear and determined atheists to apparently not very large.

When we come to the Incarnation itself, I usually find that some form of the aut Deus amlus homo can be used. The majority of them start with the idea of the “great human teacher” who was deified by His superstitious followers. It must be pointed out how very improbable this is among Jews and how different to anything that happened to Plato, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed. The Lord’s own words and claims (of which many are quite ignorant) must be forced home. (The whole case, on a popular level, is very well put in Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.)

Something will usually have to be said about the historicity of the Gospels. You who are trained theologians will be able to do this in ways I could not. My own line was to say that I was a professional literary critic and I thought I did know the difference between legend and historical writing: that the Gospels were certainly not legends (in one sense they’re not good enough): and that if they are not history, then they are realistic prose fiction of a kind which actually never existed before the eighteenth century. Little episodes such as Jesus writing in the dust when they brought Him the woman taken in adultery (which have no doctrinal significance at all) are the mark.

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “true--false” into stuff about a good society, or morals, or the incomes of bishops, or the Spanish Inquisition, or France, or Poland--or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine (a) Their belief that a certain amount of “religion” is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing is cannot be is moderately important. (b) Their firm disbelief of Article XVIII. Of course it should be pointed out that, though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life. And it should (at least in my judgement) be made clear that we are not pronouncing all other religions to be totally false, but rather saying that in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected. But, on the other hand, I think we must attack wherever we meet it the nonsensical idea that mutually exclusive propositions about God can both be true.

For my own part, I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t really, for an adult mind, this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may salva reverentia divide religions, as we do soups, into “thick” and “clear.” By thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of thick religions. By clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical, and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are clear religions. Now if there is a true religion , it must be both thick and clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hinduism and Christianity. But Hinduism fulfils it imperfectly. The clear religion of the Brahman hermit in the jungle and the thick religion of the neighboring temple go on side by side. The Brahman hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshiper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from Central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be clear: I have to be thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.

One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as the one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result when you go away from the debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the reality--from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help--oremus pro invicem. (Let us pray for each other.)


Related reading: C.S. Lewis: Scholar and Christian Apologist; The Ancestry of C.S. Lewis; The Impact of George MacDonald on C.S. Lewis; C.S. Lewis Worship?; C.S. Lewis on Capital Punishment; C.S. Lewis on Priestesses in the Church: C.S. Lewis on Jesus' Prayer in Gethsemane