5) This is very much dependent on Plato. It says: there are degrees of perfection in everything that is. Some things are better or more beautiful or truer than others.
But if there is a more-or-less of perfection, there must be something absolutely perfect by which we measure this more-or-less. So whenever we value, we presuppose an ultimate value. Whenever we have degrees, we presuppose something which is beyond degree.
Now in all these arguments there is always the category of causality – it is always a conclusion from characteristics of this world to something which makes this world possible. Now I would believe that this is true, as analysis. Each of these arguments is true as long as it is not an argument but an analysis. It is one of those ways in which existentialist philosophy appeared in the whole history of Western thinking.
In the doctrine of the arguments for the existence of God, we have probably the most adequate analysis of the finitude of reality in the whole literature of the past.
This is the value of these arguments, and this is the reason why they have reappeared exactly as often as they have been refuted – which is a funny thing; I spoke about this already – and by the greatest men in the history of thought: some refuted them, some re-established them. The reason is that they included the existential analysis of man’s finitude, and as such they have truth. Insofar as they go beyond this and establish a highest being which as a being is infinite, they make conclusions which are not justified. And this seems to me our attitude towards these doctrines.
I must give you another concept which we find in Thomas Aquinas, namely the concept of predestination. Here we have a cross-working of motives. Predestination is an Augustinian idea taken over by the Dominican Thomas Aquinas, on the basis of his principle of intellect, which understands the necessities, and can by necessity derive consequences from what has preceded. On the other hand the Augustinians, the Franciscans, especially under Duns Scotus’ influence, emphasized the will so much that Divine as well as human will became ultimate realities, became, so to speak, ontological ultimates, not determined by anything other than by themselves.
So they introduced the element of freedom – the Pelagian element. The Augustinians introduced a crypto- Pelagianism into medieval theology, I. e., a Pelagianism which is not an open but a hidden Pelagianism, while Thomas Aquinas on the basis of his intellectualism thought in deterministic terms. This is important because it shows that Thomas Aquinas was religiously much more powerful than the Protestant criticism of the Scholastic theology admits. It seems that Luther didn’t know Thomas Aquinas at all. He knew the late nominalistic theologians, of whom one can rightly say that they were distortions of Scholasticism, and he fought against them. But he could have found in Thomas Aquinas his own and Calvin’s predestinarian thinking.
We must stop now, unfortunately. I must say something next time about Thomistic ethics because they are so much in the foreground of present-day discussions that we cannot leave them out completely.
Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought – Table of Contents