Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Ethical Teachings (Aquinas). Nominalism (Wm. Occam). German mysticism (Eckhart).

The problem we left unfinished in the week before last was the ethical teachings of Thomas Aquinas. His ethical teaching corresponds to his system of grades, as do all the other realms of his system. There is an ethics, a rational sub-structure, and a theological super-structure. Exactly as nature and grace are related to each other, so the sub-structure and super-structure are related to each other. The sub-structure contains the four main pagan virtues, taken from Plato: courage, temperance, wisdom, and the all-embracing justice. They produce natural happiness. Happiness does not mean having a good time or having fun, but it means the fulfillment of one’s own essential nature, which of course produces an awareness of fulfillment – – which means happiness. In Greek the word for happiness is eudaemonia , and you know that there is a philosophical school called eudaemonism. It is often attacked by Christianity that happiness is not the purpose of human existence but, let us say, the glory of God. I think this is a completely mistaken interpretation of eudaemonia. It is exactly what in Christian theology is called blessedness, but blessedness on the basis of the natural virtues, and Thomas knew this. Therefore he was not , but he accepted this concept. It is derived from the two Greek words eu and daemon – a “demon,” a Divine power, which guides us “well” – (cf. Socrates’ daemon.) The result of the guiding produces eudaemonia : being guided in the right way toward self-fulfillment. In this way eudaemonia has received the connotation of happiness or blessedness.

According to Thomas Aquinas, the four virtues of philosophy, the natural virtues, can give natural blessedness – eudaemonia , in the Greek sense. Virtue does not have the bad connotations it has today – such as abstinence from sexual relations, etc. But it means what the Latin term indicates: vir, :man,” manliness, power of being. In all these different virtues, power of being expresses itself – the right power of being, the power of being which is united with justice. This is what these terms mean. So don’t presuppose that if you find the same words in the 13th century that they mean exactly the same as they mean today, especially after at least one century has passed since that time, namely the 18th century, which has changed everything! So be aware of this fact, for all your historical studies, and don’t use these terms in the wrong way. What Thomas does here is to combine ancient ethics – self-fulfillment – on the basis of what is given to man by nature: the courage to be, the temperance which expresses the limits of finitude, the wisdom which expressed the knowledge of these limits, and then the all-embracing justice which gives to each of them the right balance in relationship to the others.

And now on this basis the Christian virtues are seen: faith, love and hope. They are supernatural, they are not what nature gives but what grace gives. So you have the two stories, so to speak: the normal ethics and the transcending, spiritual ethics.

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