Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Pelagius and Aquinas

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

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