But then the last step developed, namely, the separation of reason from authority. Duns Scotus, Occam the nominalist, asserted that reason is inadequate to the authority, the living tradition; reason is not able to express it. This was stated very sharply in later nominalism. But if reason is not able to interpret the tradition, then the tradition becomes authority in a quite different way. Now it becomes the commanding authority to which you have to subject yourselves even if you don’t understand it. We call this positivism: the tradition is given, positivistic ally: there it is, you simply have to look, at it and accept it, subjecting yourselves to it; and it is given by the Church. Thinking never can show the meaning of the tradition; it can only show different possibilities which can be derived from the decisions of the Church and the living tradition. Reason can develop probabilities and improbabilities, but never realities. It cannot show how things should be. They are all dependent on the will of God. The will of God is irrational and is given. It is given in nature, so we must be empiricists in order to find out how the natural laws are. We are not in the center of nature. They are in the Church orders, in the canon law, so we must subject ourselves to these decisions, positivistically; we must take them as positive laws; we cannot understand them in rational terms.
Now this was the end of the Middle Ages. And these different steps in the relationship of reason and authority, or reason and living tradition, must be kept in mind when coming to the last step, where Scholasticism dissolved itself. I repeat these steps: 1) Collecting and harmonizing the different expressions of the tradition – called authority .
2) The commenting upon them, making them un-understandable in a quasi- systematic way.
3) To-speculate about them, but on the basis of faith (Anselm).
4) To say cautiously: you cannot really produce them, but they are adequate to reason.
5) They are inadequate to reason and you cannot reach them at all with reason; you must subject yourselves to them as they are given by the authority of the Church.
This is the development in many steps, and if you take them all together and say the medieval Church was “authoritarian,” you don’t know what you are saying. These different steps must be distinguished.
In Protestantism both things came to an end, the Church authority and to some extent reason. Reason then elaborated itself completely and became creative in the Renaissance. In the Reformation, tradition was transformed into personal faith. But the Counter Reformation tried to keep reason in the bondage of the tradition, but now this tradition was not so much living tradition as formulated tradition, tradition which was identical with the authority of the Pope.
Now this is very important for our present situation. Keep this in mind. We all have to deal, even today, with the problem of living tradition. Living tradition is often confused with authority, but this confusion is wrong. Authority can be natural, factual authority, authority which is not created by a break in ourselves, by a break of our autonomy, and by a subjection to a foreign law ofheteronomy. This was the situation in the early Middle Ages. In this situation, authority was natural, so to speak, as our relation to nature is natural.. But at the end of the Middle Ages the situation was changed. And then that concept of authority arose against which we must fight – which is embodied in the preservation of one tradition against other traditions by subjection to one. The dictators today go even beyond this. They exclude the other tradition. The so-called “iron curtains” which we now build to a certain extent by not admitting books from the East, etc., are attempts to keep the people in a definite tradition and prevent it from touching other traditions, because every authoritarian system knows that nothing is more dangerous for a given tradition then the contact with other traditions, which puts the individual into the point of decision between the traditions, and this they want to avoid. Therefore the iron-curtain methods, which were not necessary in the early Middle Ages because there was no other tradition and one lived in this tradition as naturally as we live in nature.
Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought – Table of Contents