Sunday, July 26, 2009

Martin Luther: Man Between God and Devil

Heiko Oberman, 1982

“This book has been written with the double assumption that, first, the Reformer can only be understood as a late medieval man for whom Satan is as real as God and mammon; and, second, that the relevancy so sought after is not found by purging the record and hence submitting to post-Enlightenment standards of modernity, but rather by challenging our condescending sense of having outgrown the dark myths of the past” (Preface to the English Edition).

More than most of the books we’ve read, Oberman’s seems to call for some sort of prefatory analysis of his biases, presumed opponents, and religious position in order to make the rest of the book comprehensible. Most of what I’m about to lay out is incredibly obvious and is less for our sake now than for my sake two years from now when I’m rereading these notes for my exams. That being said:

Oberman is obviously Protestant, and a Lutheran. I know absolutely nothing about Oberman, besides the fact that he(?) is German. I also know that in Germany one doesn’t study religion, not really. One studies theology, and only Catholic or Lutheran (Evangelisch) at that. So it seems safe to say that this book is written in conversation with a number of German scholars who identify openly as Protestant or Catholic in their scholarship. The tone, I think, can be largely explained by reference to this scholarly climate, which strikes me, at least, as extremely alien. Oberman has an ambivalent relationship with Catholic scholars, I think. He clearly sees himself as in opposition to the crude, defamatory attacks on Luther that I take constitute(d) one wing of Catholic scholarship on Luther. However, he does cite some Catholic scholarship approvingly - though one suspects with a similar tone in which anti-Semites of the Third Reich spoke of “their good Jews.”

Oberman is also very clearly arguing against Young Man Luther, by Erik Erikson. Erikson published an extremely well-known “psychohistory” of Luther in 1970, basically trying to analyze Luther based on his writings and the records we have of him. It has been years and years since I’ve read it, but I think Erikson drew a number of fairly crude Freudian conclusions about Luther being depressed and caught in the anal stage of development. He devoted an extraordinary amount of attention to the significance of Luther’s bowel movements. Oberman, I suspect, objects to this book, in part because of the intellectual commitments he lays out in the beginning of the book - i.e., he thinks that scholarship should not be an effort to analyze the past in modern categories, but, rather, some sort of effort to return to the past “as it was.” More than that, though, I think it’s pretty clear in this book that, despite his protests to the contrary, Oberman adores Luther. I suspect Erikson’s book was too iconoclastic for Oberman, and at least part of his reaction against it stems from visceral disgust at seeing his idol debased.

Here’s my last intervention into this format: I’m keeping the material grouped by chapters (so my summary corresponds to the content of each chapter), but I think the layout of this book is absolutely idiotic, so, at least regarding background, I’m going to shuffle the order of the chapters.

Part One: The Longed for Reformation
Chapter III: An Elemental Event
Luther was born in 1483 (he claimed 1484) in Eisleben, a town of about 4000 people, located in the northwest corner of present-day Germany. His father, Hans Luder, was the child of a Thuringian farmer, forced to find work outside of the family because of a custom that gave the entirety of the family land to the youngest son. Consequently, Hans Luder entered the mining business, eventually working his way up to Hüttenmeister, or leseee of one of the mining pits. He owed his success largely to his advantageous marriage to Margaret Lindemann, the daughter of a relatively well-to-do burgher family in Eisenach. It was his wife’s family connections that gave him access to the credit he needed to run his business; it was the tradition in his wife’s family of educating the sons that spurred the family to find the funds to send Luther to school; finally, it was the presence of his wife’s family that prompted the Luthers to move to Eisleben.

This narrative is contrasted to the traditional one that apparently circulates in Luther scholarship, where Hans Luther is portrayed as a hard, self-made man, married to a basically uninteresting and insignificant drudge (uninteresting, that is, except when Luther detractors accuse her of sleeping with Satan to conceive Luther. I get the peculiar feeling Oberman feels a need to refute that charge). Oberman, in contrast, reasserts the significance of Luther’s mother, and basically portrays Luther’s parents as well-meaning, though sometimes strict; pious, but not terribly religious. He wants, in short, for Luther’s upbringing to be absolutely, utterly unremarkable. He also wants to give Luther some sort of authority when he discusses the abuses of the peasants by aristocracy.

Luther’s education was fairly unremarkable, it seems. He probably started school at six or seven, learning by grammar, rhetoric, and logic through harsh discipline. From this experience, presumably, Luther developed his own educational career, which advocated letting children learn playfully, joyfully, and for only half-days at a time. (Sounds sweet, right?) In 1497. Luther went to study at Magdeburg, staying at a hostel run by the “Brethren of the Common Life,” a lay branch of the Devotio Moderna, a 15th century Dutch reform movement. The brethren aimed to subordinate education to piety. Unlike many of the scholastic trends of the day, though, they eschewed “the seductive stylishness of scholastic subtleties” in favor of more engaged scholarship, directed more at the lay people than the theologians. The Dominicans tried to dray the Brethren to a heresy trial during the Council of Constance (1414-18), but were ultimately defeated when Johannes Gerson, Chancellor of the university of Paris, intervened. Like the Brethren, who depicted Gerson as a doctor of the church, Luther greatly admired Gerson, seeing him as primarily a pastoral theologian who had the correct emphasis on care of the soul.

Luther’s time with the Brethren was short and Oberman argues that, despite scholarly claims to the contrary, it was likely of little significance. The Brethren, in essence, are interesting to Luther’s story only insofar as they were an earlier reform movement that also advocated “returning to the sources,” albeit a very select, limited anthology. Something like the spirit of the Brethren would resurface during the pietist movement, Oberman argues, but so far as the 16th century was concerned, the scholarly ideal linked learning to wisdom, not piety. Hence, the rise of humanism, which we will turn to shortly.

After his brief episode the the Brethren, Luther spent the last four years prior to university in Eisenach, staying with a family friend, Heinrich Schalbe. These years seems basically happy but insignificant, except insofar as Luther began to develop one of his first close friendships, with Johannes Braun, vicar of the church. This mostly seems of anecdotal interest.

The real rupture in all of this came with Luther’s decision to enter a monastary. Famously, on July 2 1505, Luther, then a law student, was riding back to Erfurt after a visit to his parents and was caught in a lightning storm. Near Stotternheim he was caught in a terrible lightning storm and called out to St. Anne (Mary’s mother, patron saint of lightning storms), “help me St. Anne; I will become a monk!” The move disappointed his parents, who had been hoping to produce a lawyer, but Oberman ultimately argues it was a normal move, given the atmosphere of the times. He also makes a great point of comparing Luther’s decision to Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. In later years, after Luther had discarded the doctrine of the saints, he claimed that his decision to enter the monastery had been a bad one, given that it was made to keep a promise to false saint and in defiance of his father’s will.

At this point, Oberman turns to the legacy of his parental home, the most important being Luther’s belief in the devil. Oberman belabors this point in the book - in fact, Luther’s belief in the devil is the main point of the book - so for simplicity, I’m going to sum everything he says about it here:

The Devil and End of times
Luther believed in the devil as an active, malevolent force, like most people of his time. Accompanying this was a belief in witchcraft. God is omnipotent, yes, but he has left the world to the devil until the end of human history. The devil is not a metaphor, not a figment of the imagination, not some sort of abstraction less important, less real, or less influential than God. No one can escape the devil; he is everywhere, including the wilderness, including the monasteries. “To make light of the devil is to distort faith.” The devil is most present where he senses the work of Christ being done. In arguing this, Luther breaks from many of his predecessors, who thought the devil was drawn to the presence of sin. This interpretation of the devil is meant to serve as reassurance for the faithful and to prepare the future generations of the faithful for the battle that Luther thinks will inevitably accompany the spreading of the Gospel.

In talking to the devil, Luther used filthy language and constant reference to excrement. Oberman, here in contrast to Erikson, tries to explain this as a deliberate methodological choice. The devil slanders and, as Luther wrote when young, “When the slanderer whispers: Look how he as shit on himself, the best answer is: You go eat it.” Oberman then argues, “Precisely in all its repulsiveness and perversion it verbalizes the unspeakable: the diabolical profanation of God and man.” I, frankly, found this entire section unconvincing and a little confused.

A Medieval Event
As we’re on the subject of the influence of medieval thought on Luther, this seems the proper moment to turn to the medieval influences on the Church at the moment Luther entered the monastery.

“Reformations” were incredibly popular, if somewhat ill-defined, during the period preceding Luther. Generally, and obviously, reformations were the site of rebellion or admonition of the Church. Generally, reform movements understood themselves as leading the Church back to the teachings of Christ, not as progressive movements intended to lead into a new, better future. As Oberman puts it, “The opposite of ‘reformation‘ was not ‘restoration,‘ but ‘deformation’” (50). There were a series of reformations that moved across Europe in waves; in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries Italy and Southern France was moved by the ideal of “apostolic poverty,” offering critiques of the wealthy Church, which had become the largest landholder in Europe.

Church Attack on Poverty:
The Church’s authority threatened, Pope John XXII condemned the idea of radical poverty in 1320, claiming that it had no basis in scripture. This was an edict directed largely at the left-wing Franciscan order (an interesting turn of phrase, no?), but it served to disillusion a large number of Christians. The issue at stake was not simply that it seemed to prove the Church hopelessly corrupt and forsaken by God; rather, the problem was that the medieval faith held a more or less hierarchical view of Christianity. While the layman was obliged to follow the 10 commandments, monks were bound to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It was believed that these individuals, by living a more exacting Christian standard, could intercede on the part of the laymen. The perceived spiritual perfection of the monks had an important social, and theological role, then. The Franciscans managed to make some sort of compromise on this front; the canon lawyers declared that the Franciscans possessed the right to use their monasteries, but were legally poor because they owned nothing; the Church, instead, owned their effects.

This solution was viewed as mostly unsatisfactory and gave rise to the Observant Movement, a reform movement among monastics, that wanted to return to the original rules of their denominations. The Observant Movement went on to gain increasing power, uniting and eventually receiving the right to its own representatives. This becomes important for our story, because the monastery Luther went on to join was part of this movement, an Observant Augustinian branch, part of a mendicant order that had been founded in 1256. The relative autonomy that the Observant movement had gained by the 16th century also goes a ways toward explaining how Luther’s protest got as far as it did.

Hus and Wyclif: Predecessors:
While the Observant movement had managed to subdue the poverty dispute in Germany and Italy, in England and Bohemia problems remained, leading to two of the most prominent pre-Lutheran reformers: John Wyclif (1384, England) and Jan Hus (1415, Prague). Both men took as their major themes the contradiction between the Church of Faith, which serves the world, and the political Church, which desired only temporal power. Wyclif, who devoted himself to thinking through the edict of 1323, argued in De Dominio Divini that, as only the true Church of Christ is entitled to worldly property, the current, corrupt Church deserved to have all of its property seized by the State. Scholars often attributed the 181 English Peasant Revolt to Wyclif’s ideas, but Oberman argues there hadn’t been enough time for the them to disseminate. Nonetheless, Wyclif became an important force in England as his followers, the Lollards, advocated the rejection of celibacy, reading the Bible in the vernacular, and attacking the doctrine of transubstantiation. Still, his most lasting influence came because of a political marriage. When, in 1382, Anne, sister of the King of Germany and Bohemia, married King Richard the II of England, a number of Bohemians followed, later bringing Wyclif’s doctrines to the continent when they returned home.

Wyclif’s most important follower on the continent was Jan Hus. However, Hus added the doctrine of predestination, lifting it from our old friend Augustine. (Augy? He needs a nickname). From this, Hus argued it was not obedience to Rome but rather obedience to God that counted and the Roman Church, though its desire for temporal welath, had forfeited all claim to recognition.

Obviously Hus was burned as a heretic; I’m more confused as to why Wyclif was not. Offering Hus a safe-conduct pass to come and justify his views, the Emperor Sigismund lured Hus to Constance to justify his positions. He was arrested and burned at the stake on July 6,, 1415. Luther very firmly rejected the verdict of heresy from the Council of Constance, actually believing that Hus, who had claimed that a 100 years after his death, and even greater Reformer would arise, had predicted the rise of Luther.

Still, Luther claimed differences with Hus, namely that while Hus attacked the lifestyle of the Church, Luther’s quarrel was with its doctrine. Most importantly - and here Oberman sees him as unique - Luther did not believe the primary purpose of the Reformation was to reform the morals of the Church. Rather, the Reformation was to gather the faithful to wait for the final Judgment.

Millenial Movements:
Here is one of the more useful themes in the book. Luther, Oberman argues, cannot be understood apart from the millennial movements of the middle ages. At the center of this was the Cistercian abbot Joachim of Fiore (1220’s?) had offered an interpretation of the book of Revelation that claimed history ran in a Trinitarian scheme. The age of the Father was the Old Testament; the age of the Son and the clerical church began with the birth of Christ; finally, the age of the Spirit and spiritual Church, which would be the age of the monks, devoted to meditation, peace, and spirituality.

This movement was in its own way a radical attack on the hierarchy of the Church, which placed monks just above the laity, but below the clergy. To claim the site of spirituality was to be found in the monasteries, rather than the clergy was a political claim, as much as anything. One can understand the argument about poverty as a result of this claim; certain sectors of the movements, namely Petrus Johannes Olivi (1298), one of the most important Franciscan biblical scholars, claimed that the third age had been ushered in by Francis. In 1326 his “loaded” commentary on Revelation was condemned and so thoroughly obscured that it didn’t reemerge until the 20th century.

Olivi was associated with what can be understood as part of “chiliasm.” Chiliasm, from chilia eté, or “a thousand years,” was the idea that the thousand year reign of the spirit had arrived, but was being thwarted by the papacy, which desired to remain in power. Consequently, revolt and struggle was needed. Hus and Wyclif both gained their greatest support when alied with chiliasm - which was a major strand of criticism of the church in the middle ages - and while Luther was initially accepted by the chiliasts, Oberman goes on to argue that his worldview was fundamentally alien to them. While they believed in an upcoming, worldly period of peace, Luther was essentially an apocalyptic thinker.

“Luther rejected all endeavors to establish a kingdom of God on earth” (62). Luther’s political stance was deeply passive. He opposed all efforts to try and force God to bring about the kingdom of peace through violence or reform. This explains why Luther opposed the peasant revolts, and also explains some of the major differences between Luther and his contemporaries, such as Zwingli. Biblically, Luther drew this stance from Christ’s response to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight.” In addition, Luther also drew support from Augustine’s City of God, which had argued at the fall of the Roman empire that the true Church of God was among the faithful; not among empires.

In addition to Augustine, Luther was also influenced by Bernard of Clairvaux (1143). While the Chiliasts followed Olivi’s division of history into the Father, Son, and Spirit, Luther believed in Bernard’s division of history into a different three: the Holy fathers and Martyrs, when the Church had been persecuted; that of the age of heretics; and finally the third epoch, that of the Anti-Christ and the end of days. Luther believed the world to be in the end of days, and the sale of indulgences to be proof of how far the Church had fallen. Christians were under attack, but could still gain some protection by the true teachings of the Gospel. Nonetheless, not only was the Church endangered; the entire world was being threatened by the devil, who wanted to rule it with the forces of evil.

Part Two: The Unexpected Reformation
There are four basic points to be drawn from this section: Luther’s relation to nominalism; the indulgences controversy; the political acceleration of that controversy; and the backlash. If you gentlemen will forgive me, I’m going to dispense with chapter and explain it in those terms.

Nominalism, Scholasticism, and Humanism
At Luther’s time, there were two major schools: the via antiqua and the via moderna. The via antiqua included followers of Aquinas and Duns Scotus (of the infamous citation techniques), and was basically a form of realism. i.e., the followers believed that “universal concepts are more than just tools to inventory the extramaterial world, but are the expressions of reality itself, indeed that final, higher reality behind all individuality. Men as individuals can exist only because ‘mankind’ exists as a universal reality” (117). (I’m bracketing the adequacy of this definition; as we saw from Aquinas, this might be a suspect interpretation of his thought).

In contrast, the via moderna stood for nominalism, the thought that all concepts are intangible abstractions, and that reality exists in the concrete, individual. (There is a very good book called Passage to Modernity by Louis Dupres that makes the argument that nominalism is the actual origin of the modern world as we know it, not any later innovations). In the realm of religion, the nominalist separated human reason very clearly from revelation. All that could be known about God was given in revelation, whereas human reason could only direct itself toward the world. Human reason does not shape our understanding of the word of God; rather, it follows and confirms the word of God. The nominalists were derided as skeptics but in time gave birth to modern science, at leats under Oberman’s reading.

Finally, there were the humanists, who sought a return to knowledge of ancient languages and something approximating scholarly rigor. Luther was trained as a nominalist, but was sympathetic to trends in humanism, attempting to learn Greek and Hebrew to better interpret the Bible. Yet he thought neither the via moderna nor the via antiqua allowed their doctrines to be sufficiently dictated by the word of god.

His time in the monastery, in addition to exposing him to nominalism and Augustine, also introduced him to Johannes von Staupitz. Luther, upon entering the Church, was filled with an incredible, agonizing fear of his own sinfulness. One possible result from this could have been the gradual paralysis in a web of endless self-analysis, or, alternately, mysticism. Oberman credits Johannes von Staupitz, vicar general of the German Augustinian Observants, with saving Luther from at least the first fate. Von Staupitz was scholastically trained and, like Luther, had later been inspired by Augustine. It was Staupitz who encouraged Luther to get his PhD; von Staupitz who broke from rigid formalism in his style in a way presumably inspirational to Luther; Staupitz who finally consoled Luther when he was overcome with anxiety about the possibility he was not among the elect. In all of this, we see the roots of Lutheran theology.

On to Indulgences:
In 1518 Cardinal Cajetan, with Emperor Maximillian’s acceptance, introduced an indulgence tax. The indulgences are not necessarily what comes to mind today when we hear the word. In Catholicism, going to confession sufficed to absolve one of the time in hell that accompanied one’s sin. However, there were still acts of penance to be done on earth (prayer, etc, etc). An indulgence was generally supposed to buy one’s way out of doing the earthly signs of penance, provided one had convinced the priest that one had sincerely, internally repented. The real problem arose when the indulgences began being advertised as substitutions for penitence; possession of an indulgence was supposed to be proof in itself of one’s remorse. Moreover, indulgence began to be sold as ways to save relatives from sufferings in hell. Oberman tells the story that in his first trip to Rome, Luther crawled up the stairs of the Vatican on his knees, saying a prayer at each step, in order to remit the sins of a relative, only to be struck at the very top with the thought, “what’s the use?”

Luther’s objection to indulgences are fairly well known at this point. First, he thought they were useless and that it was blasphemous to think one could earn grace through good works, rather than through the grace of God. Additionally, he thought that it was unethical of the Church to be exploiting peasants and guilting them into using money they needed to support their families to buy indulgences for the deceased.

Luther gained popular support for his protest very rapidly, despite the fact that at that point monks were slandered as useless, gluttonous, overly concerned with pointless scholastic debates, and latte drinking, arugula eating communists. They quickly circulated in German and received the support of numerous Germans, who felt exploited by Rome and imposed upon to pay for their wars and their renovations of the Vatican.

Which leads to:

Political Circumstances:
Luther was fortunate enough to live under a monarch who thought his duties to his subjects involved looking after their spiritual well-being, as well as their temporal. Thus, Frederick of Saxony refused to hand Luther over without a hearing. This was also a practical move: Luther found support for his protest because a substantial portion of Germany was disenchanted by indulgences, in part because Germany felt exploited by Roman taxes. Thus, Luther was interrogated by Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg in 1518. Or rather, the cardinal kept trying to get him to recant. Though he was still invested at this point in maintaing ties with the pope, Luther refused. Under the protection of Frederick of Saxony, he was able to return safely. Excommunication followed.

In 1521, he was called to Worms to be interrogated to see, in effect, if he would be excommunicated by the empire and expelled from its borders. Here, he was interrogated by Johannes Eck. It went incredibly poorly, with Luther losing his temper and the council ultimately deciding to excommunicate him. It was here, though, that Luther made his most famous statement, “My conscience is captive to the word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me. Amen.”

Luther was excommunicated a total of three times, but at least in the beginning still considered himself loyal to the church and a good catholic. By the time the third ban rolled around, Luther and students were burning books in bonfires, including the ecclesiastical law and the papal bull threatening excommunication. Here Oberman is most concerned with emphasizing that Luther’s break from the Church was slow and painful, and was not finalized for quite a while after the 95 theses.

After the Diet of Worms, Luther escaped and went to spend a year in the Wartburg castle, translating the bible, as we all know. But to understand how he escaped, one needs to understand the politics of the situation. Initially, it was scene in rome as a petty, local German affair, of no particular significance. Yet around the time this was all playing out, Emperor Maximilian I died (1519). The German electors in this gap before a new emperor was chosen, gained a great deal more importance than they had previously enjoyed. There were two major candidates to be emperor: Francis the I, a French king, and Charles, the grandson of Maximilian. It was clear a tremendous amount of bribery went into the election, but out of all the German Electors, Frederick alone remained unbribed, preferring to keep his vote open. For whatever reason, Charles was tremendously invested in a unanimous election, so Frederick’s decision to hold out enormously increased his importance, working to Luther’s advantage. It is largely to Frederick’s increased importance that Luther owed the gap between his interrogation at Augsburg and his trial at Worms; the diet of Worms only came once Frederick had voted for Charles and was no longer of political significance.

In many ways, the result of Charles’s election was questionable. Charles was invested in a universal Holy Roman Empire, and thus consistently opposed any action that would allow for division. For example, when the third Diet of Nuremburg decided in 1524 to convene a national council to settle the Luther question - which had grown enormously and gained much popular support - Charles forbid it, likely foreseeing that it could have led to a national German Church, similar to the situation in England.

Backlash: (Chapter VI: The Reformer Attacked)
The consequences for Luther weren’t merely political and temporal. As Oberman stresses, Luther’s trial and break from the Church also expanded his understanding of the ways in which the devil worked. Satan fills believers (i.e. Luther) with doubt, makes subtle theological arguments, reproaches him for the hubris of thinking he alone after so many centuries has discovered the true Gospel. (Frankly, I’m with Satan on this one).

Part Three: The Reformation in Peril
Finally, we close in on the point that’s both the most representative of Oberman’s argument and the most repetitive. I frankly find this entire section of the book weak and polemical; thus, my summary will be fairly speedy.

Chapter VII: Life Between God and the Devil
Here, Oberman argues that Luther saw himself as driven by divine will to fulfill a task he neither particularly desired, nor felt capable of fulfilling. While it may be tempting for critics to claim “Providence” was simply a projection of Luther’s wishes, Oberman rejects that reading, preferring to believe Luther acted in good faith. If anything, Oberman argues, we’re projecting our own modern theories and prejudices on Luther by claiming the intermingling of the scholarly and subjective might undermine the validity of his work. In reality, it was more likely that Luther started from the scriptures and was led to recognize echoes in ordinary life. Either way, Luther thought of his own work as primarily pastoral and wouldn’t have been interested in producing “objective” scholarship.

From this brief discussion of Luther’s hermeneutics, Oberman then turns to his conflict with Erasmus over the question of free will. In 1524 Erasmus wrote a book addressing Luther’s doctrine of the :unfree will,” something that had been openly preached. The Bible clearly could be read in multiple ways regarding the subject, Erasmus argued, and since a belief in determinism could lead to a sort of quietism and moral irresponsibility among the uneducated, Erasmus claimed it was irresponsible to preach it in public. Instead, man should admit the impossibility of ever grasping more than a part of God’s will, practice scholarly skepticism, and be content with that.

Luther took Erasmus to be preaching an unknowable, transcendent God, from which it was only a short step to atheism. Oberman claims Luther was being unfair; whether or not that assessment was accurate, Luther was being remarkably prescient in that anxiety. Thus, Luther wrote The Bondage of the Will, attacking Erasmus. Despite that hostility, though, Oberman hastens to reassure us that Luther was actually quite the good humanist, learning Greek and Hebrew in his efforts to get closer tot he original meaning of the Bible.

The break with Erasmus was important for political reasons. While, early on, the Reformation and Humanism had been allied as part of a general protest against oppressive Church authority and repression of the conscience, with the advent of this feud it became clear that the two were actually different movements. As is his wont, Oberman explains this split again in terms of Luther’s orientation toward the end of days. While humanism was essentially an enlightened, progressive movement, which claimed the lot of man could be improved through education, Luther depicted man as profoundly impotent.

Chapter VIII: Discord in the Reformation
This chapter deals with two major theological disputes. First,

Baptism: starting in the 1520s, Luther found himself opposed to anabaptists, or those who believed in adult baptism. Initially, this dispute seems odd. The anabaptists were simply arguing that baptism should wait until an adult’s rational capabilities are developed enough to endow the act with significance, not that baptism should never take place. However, the essence of this argument was that baptism was simply an outward sign, marking the internal state of faith. For Luther, this understanding of baptism took too much away from the power and grace of God. The point was not that man believed or was at some point capable of acting as a Christian; that was simply another version of good works. Rather, the significance of baptism lay in it as marking man, even as an infant, as marked out by God’s grace. Baptism was a point that marked man throughout his life; by penitence, he could return to that state. While sometimes derided as a mystical understanding of sacraments, Luther’s stance toward baptism is perfectly consistent with the rest of his theology. We believe because God’s grace marks us; we don’t assume the the sign of God’s grace to display our belief.

The second issue was the Eucharist, of which there were three basic stances:
Luther: good old fashion catholic transubstantiation, or the belief that bread literally becomes the body of Christ, as affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).
Andreas Carlstadt (a colleague of Luther): “This is my body,” is merely symbolic and means one should remember Christ in the institution of the Church.
Zwingli (Zurich reformer, proposing a more popular version of Carlstadt): “This is my body,” means “This bread signifies my body.” Communion refers the believer back to the Crucifixion.

Oberman explains the difference between Zwingli and Luther as relating to their different stances toward politics. For Zwingli, Scripture was in service of the common good. Thus, the euchraist was primarily a symbol of unity, a way of uniting the true believers in faith. By contrast, Luther saw the Eucharist, and the scriptures more generally, were ways for the individual, embattled Christian to keep faith and gain strength in the battle against the devil. Scriptures and the Eucharist weren’t about society or the common good; rather, they were ways of keeping faith.

The debate concerning the Eucharist spiked between 1525-28, ending in the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, when all of the major Protestant leaders in Europe gathered to presumably hammer out some sort of compromise. The debate went nowhere, but hilariously so, if either of you ever have the free time to read the transcripts. Lots of Luther temper tantrums and petty theatrics. (At a dramatic moment, he rips away the table cloth, to reveal........lines of the scripture written in chalk on the table. All a bit Punch and Judy).

Anyway, this had important political consequences. Philip I had been hoping for a Protestant union in order to stand against the Hapsburgs, but the debate made this impossible. Nonetheless, two years later, in 1531, the Schmalkaldic league was formed, a union of Protestan nations that made it possible to negotiate the Peace of Nuremburg in 1532, a temporary truce between the princes and the emperor. In this peace, Protestantism spread, sweeping Scandinavia, Denmark, and England. Shortly thereafter, the elector of Saxony introduced the confession of Augsburg at Luther’s insistence, basically strong-arming other protestants into accepting his interpretation of the Eucharist. Still, Obermn argues the Eucharistic controversy was a political and religious disaster, preventing the Protestants from uniting around a single doctrine, weakening them politically, and making it almost impossible to conduct inter-denominational dialogue. It’s a funny ideal of pan-Protestantism Oberman harbors. No less than Catholics, one suspects he regrets the fragmentation and decentralization of Christianity.

Chapter IX: Christianity Between God and the Devil
Oberman begins this chapter by arguing, in effect, that one misreads Luther if one thinks of his Church of the faithful as an ideal, never to be realized in history. Rather, he was intensely concerned with bringing the true Church into this world. Honestly, this seems a largely pointless reiteration of other themes. Luther thought the world a battleground between god and the devil; one of the greatest dangers was that of complacency; the Reformation signaled the beginning of the end; the Gospels and sacraments are the riches that a Christian finds solace in, in this corrupt world.

Chapter X: Wedded Bliss and World Peace
In contrast to his Zeitgeist, Luther took the stance that God made man for procreation and for sex. While very few were made for celibacy, the large part of humanity was not. Consequently, Luther spent a fair amount of time urging former monks and nuns to marry, though not without warning them to think realistically of a trade. Eventually, Luther turned to marry a runaway nun, Catherine. Sadly, we never learn anything about her background; rather, we learn that Luther married her from convenience, grew to love her, and appreciate her skills with finances, and did not have any three headed children with her. Oberman argues that Luther was less of a misogynist than most of his contemporaries, believing women were more than baby machines or whores, but not quite as rational as men, of course.

Luther’s decision to marry caused a tremendous amount of consternation among his followers, who thought - and the Catholics agreed - that Luther substantially weakened his resistance to the Church by making it seem as if it were driven by lust. To make this point, Oberman cites one of Luther’s friends, who was apparently “witness at the bridal bed,” and, “did not enjoy the experience.” Truly, this section seems neither particularly interesting or important; we learn that Luther didn’t believe in divorce, but nonetheless sanction bigamy on behalf of Philip of Hesse, thinking a second wife was better than a series of concubines. I just want to say that the image of someone witnessing Luther having sex has been haunting me for a week. I keep imagining these medieval pornographic woodcuts.......

Oberman then moves to Luther’s anti-semitism. Prior to 1536, Luther had a reputation of being a friend to the Jews, mostly for declaring that Christ had been a Jew, making Jews in-laws to Christians. Consequently, when Luther’s protector, Frederick of Saxony, decided to expel all Jews from his territory, the de facto spokesmen for the Jewish people throughout the empire, Joel Rosheim, turned to Luther for help, hoping he would at least convince Frederick of Saxony to allow Jewish merchants to pass through the territory. Luther refused, and Oberman dates the intense anti-Semitic strain in his writings - which would at times call for pogroms - to this period.

However, Oberman also goes on to clarify and explain Luther’s response. Luther, he argues, had always related to the Jews as a people to be converted. In his younger days, he had advocated tolerance, claiming this would make Jews more liable to convert. But as time drew on and Luther became increasingly convinced that the end of times were near, the time for tolerance passed. Thus, his anti-semitic invective was the natural flowering of end of days theology, combined with the more typical medieval bigotry.

Chapter XI: The Man and his Deeds
Oberman is either scraping in the last third of this book, or my patience is running out. Regardless, in a paragraph, here is my summary of the end of the book. Luther was something of a jackass as a person, but had a gift for addressing real existential issues of faith. While some of his character flaws, such as his temper, can be explained and excused given his embattled condition, that nonetheless does not excuse his increasing habit in later years to take all people who disagreed with him to be heretics or agents of the devil.

His translation of the bible was masterful and painstaking, made with an ear to common language that would make it accessible to all readers. It was also something of a communal effort; though Luther presumably did the bulk, he would regularly call together his friends and respected scholars to proofread and offer their input regarding his translation. The Luther bible, for Oberman, is a piece of folk art.

And don’t forget Satan.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Martin Luther - On the Freedom of a Christian and others

PREFACE: In the Preface to his "Complete Works," Luther gives a bit of historical background for his work, including the 95 Theses. He portrays himself as a reasonable man willing to be conciliatory but pushed toward "necessary conclusions" like "the pope must be from the devil" by circumstances.

Luther asks that we read all of his works in light of a single revelation, where he realized that God is not angry and spiteful but merciful: his justice is not one carried out upon human beings but one manifested within them.

"Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God."

ON CHRISTIAN LIBERTY: After some conciliatory words directed at Pope Leo X, where Luther makes it clear that his object of hate is more the Roman court than the Pope himself, Luther tells us that he means to justify two propositions:

"A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one."

To begin a justification of these two seemingly contradictory statements, Luther distinguishes between spiritual (new, inward) and bodily (old, outward) nature. The freedom of the Christian is a spiritual one that depends only on the word of God and faith, and not on any outward manifestations in works. Luther lists three virtues of faith: 1) feeling no compulsion to "need the law or works for justification and salvation," 2) the highest of reputations, 3) a marriage to Christ, where his "grace, life, and salvation" replaces the soul's "sin, death, and condemnation."

Luther finally gets to his first proposition: "Every Christian is by faith so exalted above all things that, in spiritual power, he is completely lord of all things, so that nothing whatever can do him any hurt; yea, all things are subject to him, and are compelled to be subservient to his salvation.... there is nothing of which I have need--for faith alone suffices for my salvation--unless that in it faith may exercise the power and empire of its liberty."

Luther then turns to the second proposition: though spiritually we are free, bodily we are bound to serve others, not to justify ourselves through works but as an outward manifestation of our inward faith. Good works flow from the good person naturally; thus, one who has faith does not simply "take his ease, but is
compelled on its account to do many good works...., with the sole object of pleasing God." Put simply: "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works"; "Bad works do not make a bad man, but a bad man does bad works."

Good works that are done for justification are actually bad works, like bad fruits growing on bad trees. Those who believe in justification by works are hardened against faith. But those who see the truth are truly amazed that "my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature all the riches of justification and salvation in Christ, so that I no longer am in want of anything, except of faith to believe that this is so." A free gift.

Luther concludes his treatise by advocating for Paul's middle way between those who support justification by works and the idiots who show themselves free in their contempt of tradition and law. Both, for Luther, are caught within a logic of works; only the "middle way" of faith counters a works-centered ethos.

TWO TYPES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: The first type of righteousness is instilled from without by the grace of God in faith and is opposed to original sin, which is also acquired by birth, without works. The second type of righteousness is in outward manifestation, as evidenced in works and in Christ's example. This righteousness is only truly righteous when based on the first type of righteousness.

This distinction has a very practical application: when dealing with the weakness, sin, and foolishness of others, someone with only the second kind of righteousness will get angry and judgmental. Because of his carnal nature, a man of this second kind delights in the punishment and shame of his neighbors. But when that second type is based on the first, one will not get angry but take on those other sins as his or her own. Luther distinguishes between public and private affairs to avoid the charge that he is saying people should just be let off the hook: of course, in the public sphere, it is necessary to punish criminals.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Aquinas: God & Action. David Burrell, C.S.C.

Aquinas: God & Action. David Burrell, C.S.C.

Burrell’s study of Aquinas is focused on Aquinas’s use of logic and grammar as tools for inquiring into a subject, Divinity, that necessarily outstrips direct human understanding. The impetus for this reading of Aquinas is clear – the rise of 20th century Anglo-American philosophy with its focus on linguistic and conceptual analysis, though Burrell thinks that this is a faithful interpretation of Aquinas’s work. In Part I, Burrell, through a careful examination of the early chapters of the Summa Theologiae, along with a number of other writings by Aquinas, argues that Aquinas does not put forward a positive doctrine of God, a statement of what God is like. Rather, through a linguistic, grammatical exercise Aquinas shows negatively what cannot be said of God. Then, Burrell puts this reading of Aquinas into dialogue with positions, Process Theology and the psychology/philosophy of Jung, that seek to critique what they see as Aquinas’s view. Burrell shows how these critiques of Aquinas miss their mark when he is read in the manner that he advocates. Furthermore, Burrell’s reading of Aquinas incorporates many of the valid criticisms by Process Theologians and Jung of what is traditionally considered Aquinas’s view. In Part II, Burrell analyzes the one positive statement that Aquinas allows himself to make about God, that he is Act, showing what this statement could mean and how Aquinas harnesses the power of analogy in order to make it without overstepping his own strictures on what one can say about God. In the hope of not getting bogged down in the details of secondary literature, I will focus in my summary on the early chapter of Part I as I think that it is in those sections that we really get a sense of what is distinctive in Burrell’s reading and method. Or I may have just found that part much more interesting. I apologize if this makes the summary seem uneven; please draw my attention to the parts that I may have missed in your comments.

Part I Scientia Divina: The Grammar of Divinity

Chapter I: Background: Philosophical Grammar
Burrell sets the stage for his reading of Aquinas by discussing the importance of philosophical grammar for 13th century Christian thinkers. Philosophical grammar includes skills in logic, grammar, and criticism. According to Burrell, Aquinas’s discussion of God in the early chapters of the Summa must be read as not stating a positive theory of God, but as an exercise in philosophical grammar. This focus on grammar must be understood against the background of a belief, in reality common to all philosophy, that ‘language and reality are structurally isomorphic.’ What can be said has a relationship to what is, similarly what cannot be said has a relationship to what cannot be.
Burrell illustrates Aquinas’s attention to, and use of, philosophical grammar through three examples. First, he discusses how Aquinas’s claim that God is simple causes logical problems and how Aquinas tries to elucidate these difficulties using both concrete and abstract terms. It is logically problematic to claim that God is simple because the formal structure of predication requires that a predicate outreach its subject. Simply put, if one were to claim that x is y, but that y is a unique attribute of x, identical with its nature, then y would not fill the connotative role of a predicate, extension and intension, while distinct, are related. Predicates must be shared, in some way, by various subjects in order to be meaningful. Burrell argues that Aquinas makes the assertion that God is simple, knowing full well that he is violating a rule, in order to stress God’s transcendence. Similarly, Aquinas uses abstract predicates in order to show that God is transcendent by indicating that he exhausts a particular concept. At the same time, though, Aquinas also uses concrete predicates in order to show God’s subsistence. Aquinas alternates between concrete and abstract terms in order to express that God is both simple and subsistent, but in a way that we cannot properly state. “Aquinas is concerned to show what we cannot use our language to say, yet there is no medium of exposition available other than language itself…He is reminding us of certain grammatical features of our discourse to make us aware of how we might use those features to show what something which transcended that discourse would be like.”
The next example Burrell discusses is the two different senses of ‘to be.’ Aquinas asserts that ‘God is,’ however, Burrell stresses that Aquinas never offers an ontological argument. Rather, Aquinas makes two distinct statements. The first is that to be God is to be. This statement asserts that God is simple, his essence is identical with his existence, but actually sheds no further light on God’s nature, it doesn’t tell us what his nature is. The second is that ‘God is the cause of these existing effects’ and can be said to exist insomuch as they do. This statement does work towards a proof for God existence, but not an ontological one.
The final example that Burrell presents is Aquinas’ discussion of the distinction between the object signified and mode of signification. According to Burrell, Aquinas raises this distinction in order to draw attention to the diverse ways of signifying and then to the radical discontinuities between the different ways that the same term can be used. The recognition that one cannot account for the relationship between all the different uses of one term will prepare an individual for the use of creaturely perfection language in describing a God that transcends all experience.

Chapter II: The Unknown
Burrell, first, discusses Aquinas proofs of God’s existence, defining this exercise a pre-theological. Aquinas ‘defines’ God as the beginning and end of all things and, then, through each of the proofs shows that this formula has an application. However, this ‘definition’ does not define God because it just shows how God is the beginning and end of a particular set of phenomena, causes or movers for example, while God, in truth, is the ultimate first. Additionally, it sets the stage for a discussion of the transcendence of God because. if he is the beginning and end of all things, then he is not among those things. Thus, he is radically different than all things in human experience. The rest of Aquinas’ discussion of God therefore is dedicated to considering ‘the ways in which God does not exist, rather than the ways in which he does.’ Aquinas, according to Burrell, does not give a theory of God, rather he engages in an critical exercise in philosophical grammar or logical analysis in order to express what cannot be said of God.
The focal point for describing the ways in which God does not exist is the assertion of God’s simpleness. This assertion is backed up by being a formal feature of that which is the beginning and end of all things. As the beginning and end of things, God cannot be composed of anything prior, either materially or formally. Consequently, no articulated statement can succeed in properly stating anything about God. The simple form of predication would belie God’s simpleness. Throughout Question 3 of Part I of the Summa, Aquinas moves from empirical to logical questions about God’s composition, at each step arguing for a more and more radical sense of simpleness, moving from eliminating corporeality, matter/form, and potentiality/actuality. Aquinas is forced by the logic of God’s simpleness and individuality to assert that God is his own nature, despite the fact that this claim is not understood. This leads to the use, as discussed above, of both abstract and concrete terms to describe God. Aquinas is also forced to conclude that God’s essence is identical with his existence. This is necessary because God’s existence cannot be derived from something else; if it was, he could not be the beginning and end of all things. It also cannot derive from his essence because existence is not an attribute. Burrell argues that Aquinas is forced by the logic of the matter to assert that to be God is to be to-be, despite the fact that we cannot really comprehend this statement. Aquinas also argues that God is neither composed of a genus/species composition nor a substance/accident composition. The reasons Aquinas gives to rule out substance/accident composition focus on a lack of potentiality in God, and serves to re-stress the utter failure of language to make proper statements about God. In truth, nothing can properly be said about God.
After having asserted God’s radical simpleness, Aquinas, according to Burrell, spends a number of articles explaining how God’s simpleness should not be taken as indicating deficiency, but rather perfection. He describes how goodness, limitlessness, unchangeableness, and oneness, follow as formal corollaries from God’s central formal feature of simpleness and all indicate transcendence. First, Aquinas analyzes the term good and shows that existence is the most basic kind of good. Good is identified with being. It is not God’s activities which are good, rather it his being. God as the beginning and end of all things is good, because he is the source of all being and that towards which all things orient themselves. Next, Aquinas, according to Burrell, clarifies that God is limitless, but not in the sense that he is the most general of all things and thus not substantial. Burrell reasserts Aquinas’ uses of both abstract and concrete language in order to indicate both God’s limitlessness, the most formal thing/abstract terms, and individuality, existence/concrete terms. Similarly, God exists in all things, but not in the manner of pantheism, his identity with his existence ensures substantiality. Rather he exists in all things in the manner in which an agent exists in actions as being the cause of all things’ existence. This statement while in some ways enlightening is also quite difficult because existence is not properly a predicate. Grammarians refer to it as pseudo-predicate because it does not tell us anything about the thing itself. We cannot really know what it means for something to possess existence and therefore we cannot know what it is for God to be present in all things as the cause of their existence. Finally, Aquinas discusses God’s unchangeableness. Contrary to critic’s claims, Aquinas is not asserting here the impassible God of classic theism. Rather, unchangeableness is a formal corollary of God’s simpleness. Because God simply is what he is, there is no room for potentiality in his being. God cannot be said, therefore, to be striving to accomplish a goal at present unmet. This does not, however, rule out intentional activity. Here is why: in contrast to movements that connote striving, and thus potentiality, intentional activity has accomplishment grammatically already built in to them, to think is to already have thought, to love is already to have loved, and to will is already to have willed. This will be discussed much more in Part II. Next, Aquinas discusses the eternity of God, which according to Burrell expresses God being what he is in a (a)temporal, religious, and dark idiom. This discussion of the formal corollaries of God’s simpleness is capped by a consideration of God’s oneness.
Thus, Aquinas, according to Burrell asserts God’s transcendence as well as his simpleness, the grammatical analogue of transcendence, based on his being the beginning and end of all things. He then unpacks this simpleness and shows how it logically entails negations of possible features of God. These negations, while logically necessary, leave us with a Being that we cannot conceive. Burrell further shows how these features (or negation-features) indicate no deficiency but logically entail a number of perfections, including oneness. In no way, according to Burrell, does Aquinas give a theory of God; in fact he is articulating what cannot be said about God.

Chapter III: Showing a Way: Esse
In this chapter Burrell focuses more closely in on Aquinas statement that to be God is to be to-be. He argues that despite some misleading statements, Aquinas firmly holds that existence is not a predicate. Rather, he uses the inherited categories that he had at his disposal matter/form and potentiality/actuality in order to describe what could not be explained – the fact of existence. Existence, however, differs from matter/form and potentiality/actuality because it does not map on to the subject/predicate structure of our language. It cannot be captured by syntax, but requires attention to performance – in the same way that statement asserted differs from a statement entertained. According to Burrell, Aquinas always recognized that existence differ from attributes as assertion from predication. Burrell argues that all of the statements that Aquinas makes which seem to imply that existence is a predicate and/or substantial can be explained away. He argues that this can be shown by ‘pegging such statements onto the performance of asserting a proposition otherwise merely entertained.’ I am not sure how this works, but Burris claims that it can show that Aquinas is not treating existence as a substance or a predicate. Basically, this problem develops for Aquinas because the notion of existence elides proper articulation as it does not map on to the syntax of our language. It can only be made clear by the performative relationship of assertion/entertaining. Aquinas uses the resources his language does have and this is what makes it seem like he is treating existence as a predicate.
Additionally, Burrell argues that when Aquinas says that we can know God as the cause of existence in all things he is proposing a way of arriving at sense of the unknowability of God through a type of transcendental exercise. By examining the different modes or manners of existence in which we encounter things (substance, accident, etc) we can be directed towards a sense, but never an understanding, of what it would be for something to be exist absolutely or unmannered. Our language depends on these categories of existence; anything we speak about is constrained by them. To realize this is to realize the limits of our language and to point in direction beyond it.

Chapter IV: Analogical Predication
As we saw in our reading of the Summa, the use of analogical expression is very important for Aquinas in descriptions of God’s perfections (Good, Wise, Living, etc.). Many commentators have assumed, therefore, that Aquinas had a well-worked out theory of analogies, which would to apply analogical language to God in order to give us a sense of what God is. Burrell claims that is simply not true. Paralleling Aquinas’ lack of a theory of God, Aquinas did not have a theory of how to use analogical language in order to say something literally true of God. Rather, Aquinas employed analogy analogously, aware that analogy never gives us a definite formula in order to understand the second term of the analogy. (This chapter actually directly responds to my comment on our reading of Aquinas). Aquinas notes that we may use analogous perfection terms in order to describe God, but that we must make clear through our performance that we are aware of the actual inadequacy of these terms. One example of making clear this inadequacy has been discussed above, using both the abstract and the concrete form of the term. Additionally, he indicates that we can become aware of the inadequacy of such expression by paying attention to the manner of signification that is ineliminable from every attempt to nakedly describe the signified.
In particular, perfection terms are always mannered relative to the thing they are being applied to. We have no sense of what good simply is, or what wisdom simply is, but we can talk to a good bicycle as well as a good boy, and a wise Latina as well as a wise guy. Perfection terms are always used analogously relative to the term that they are describing. When we use such terms of God we are aware that we are using them relative to what he is, absolute and simple, which is something we do not understand. We do understand though that God, as the beginning and end of all things, would possess that perfection in the most proper way as he is the source and goal of all the creaturely instances of these perfections. At the same time, remembering that God is the beginning and end of all things reminds us that we have no idea in what way God is wise.

Chapter V: Truth in Matters Religious
The question whether Aquinas has offered a true conception of God is a false question. Aquinas does not offer a conception of God at all. He does not view philosophy as constructive, but rather critical. His account cannot tell us what God really is, rather it can merely eliminate improper conceptions of God. Improper conceptions will give us a definition of a perfection applied to God, proper conceptions, or non-conceptions as it may be, will always make sure that that the literal meaning of the perfection outreaches us. Consequently, improper conceptions of God, will try to tell us what God is, they will not respect Divine Transcendence. The authentic religion, according to Burrell, will respect the mystery of God and his transcendence. Burrell then discusses how one tries to decide between religions. He concludes that we seldom every actually choose between religions that are live options for us. Furthermore, religions cannot be understood dispassionately. Rather, a religious way is “a manner of living with those questions which outreach our capacity to answer.”
Burrell concludes this section, which is his positive (?) statement of his reading of Aquinas, by reflecting on how Aquinas has shown how one can carry on to explore what one is driven to seek but cannot comprehend.

The next two chapters discuss possible objections to Aquinas’ account. I am going to be a bit more schematic in my summary here because 1) a lot of it is an extension of Burrell's previous comments 2) as Liane said this is secondary literature and my comments are getting very long 3) I think I just found the Chapter I-V much more interesting and relevant beyond Aquinas Studies.

Chapter VI: A Philosophical Objection: Process Theology
In this chapter Burrell considers and rejects one major objection to Aquinas’ account. Process Theologians, chief among them Hartshorne, have criticized classical theism for privileging a certain image of God that they find objectionable, a monopolar God, one who is utterly impassive. They believe that that this privileging is the result of an Aristotelian fixation on substance. Instead, Process Theologians promote the centrality of process in Metaphysics. Process Theologians like Hartshorne have identified Aquinas with despised classical theism. Burrell argues that, first, Process Theologians have misread Aquinas, attributing to him a doctrine of God when he merely critically traces out the logical grammar of what can be said of God. Aquinas is not giving a theory of God as impassive substance; rather he is acting as a critical philosopher by noting the limits of our own language. Second, Aquinas, in fact, tries to prevent these grammatical statements about what cannot be said about God from being transformed into positive statements about an impassive, solitary divinity by supplementing them with religious descriptions of God.
Burrell then proceeds to examine Aquinas’ direct statements about God’s relationship with the world. First, Burrell argues that Aquinas’ statement that God does not really have a relationship with the world is not because he is fixated on a monopolar deity. Rather, it is because in his intellectual tradition ‘real’ as opposed to ‘intellectual’ relationships require reasons, natural or inherent properties, that cause the relationship. God as transcendent has no natural or inherent property that ‘forces’ him to relate to the world. Instead, his relationship to the world is governed by his own free will and creative intellect. Thus, Aquinas’ assertion that God cannot be said to really relate to the world, instead of setting up an impassive monopolar deity, actually respects God’s transcendence as well as lays the groundwork for his free personhood. Finally, Burrell responds to Process Theologians claims that God’s love must require that he be in some way dependent on us. He argues that, following in Aquinas footsteps regarding analogy, by considering creaturely love we can be pointed towards a notion of Godly love that is totally devoid of need.

Chapter VII: A Psychological Objection: Jung and Privatio Boni
Jung criticizes the Christian/Western tradition for describing evil as a mere privation of good. Instead, he holds that Good and Evil are true contraries of an opposition. He links the view that evil is a mere privation with a naïve hope for progress and a denial of true evil. Burrell argues that describing evil as a privation is dictated by analytical and experiential factors. Based on logic and psychology it is necessary to define the ends of actions as a good. Actions are defined by movements towards definite ends. These ends must be seen as goods, in some sense, in order to elicit the action. Good is logically and psychologically prior to evil. Goods are defined as capacities and evils as their privations. Additionally, from common experience we see that evil is usually seen as the removal/destruction of something good. Moreover, according to Burrell, Jung’s own comments about the substantiality of evil are premised on a sense of one overarching good as a capacity and evil as its privation: consciousness that allows for wholeness.
Additionally, Burrell critiques Jung’s conception of the relationship of good and evil on the basis of certain problems that he sees as stemming from Hegel. (Ben you might want to help us unpack this a little bit as our resident Hegelian)
Furthermore, Burrell explicates the psychological experience that underlies defining evil as privation. Evil actions are those which have no reason. They are done for simply no purpose as we see from the phenomenological account of sin given by Augustine. Sinful actions are the result of attempting pretentiously to reject our ontological status as beings drawn towards God. Since it is not possible to not be who we are, sinful, evil actions have no purpose or cause. In fact, they are not actions at all, since as discussed above actions have ends, or goods. Rather, evil actions are brute refusals to be who we are. According to Burrell, what Aquinas appreciates and what Jung misses is the senselessness of evil deeds.
Moreover, Burrell argues that Aquinas’ grammatical comments about Evil as privation should not be taken to indicate that he naively deemed evil not to be a real force in the world. Indeed, his medieval belief in the devil as an active force in the world dovetails in many ways with Jung’s notion of the demonic forces in the unconscious. In truth, both Aquinas and Jung’s views on evil militate against the naïve and destructive cult of autonomy and progress espoused by modern day liberalism.

Part II: The Operative Analogous Expression

Chapter VIII: Actus: An Inherently Analogous Expression
Burrell argues the actus is the master metaphor standing as the central insight behind Aquinas’ grammatical exposition of what can (not) be said of God. Actus is the one semi-positive statement that he uses describe to God, identifying it with existence. Moreover, actus is an extremely analogous expression. Its uses abound, exhausting all of the different modes of existence. However, the paradigm use of actus is intentional activities such as knowing and loving and, in particular, the immanent act of understanding that underlies all human action.
Burrell then spends a number of chapters discussing Aquinas’ uses of the term actus and demonstrating how intentional activities and the act of understanding that lies behind them is the most paradigmatic sense

Chapter IX: Intentional Activity and Performance: Paradigm for Actus
Understanding, according to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Burrell, is not mere reception, but involves an actual act. Burrell argues that the richness of this description of understanding establishes it as the paradigmatic case of actus. All other uses of actus are related to it analogically.
Understanding underlies all of human activity. In order to define something as an action, it must be related, be supported by, some form of understanding. All action, in order to be actions at all, must be intentional. This has a number of implications for Aquinas’ theory of action. In particular, it provides an important component in Aquinas’ theory of motivation and decision. According to him, human beings do not choose ends, rather, they are naturally drawn towards ends or goods that are already identified as such. However, in order for their actions towards those ends to be actions, individuals must consent to those ends and goods. Thus, there is a receptive and active component to all actions. Burrell claims that this account of action is more coherent then contemporary decision-theory or theories of existential decisions. Additionally, it holds individuals responsible, over the long term, not only for their actions but for their dispositions or habitus and eventually for their self.
Burrell notes that at no time has he or Aquinas articulated what it is to act, though the notion of actus has underlies all of this description. He claims that this is because actus is a properly basic term. We cannot full articulate what it is, yet we all know what acts are because we do them all the time. The way to make sense of a term like actus is identify its many uses and then determine its paradigmatic case that functions as a focal meaning.

Chapter X: Natural Process: Actus and Causality
In this chapter, Burrell describes Aquinas’ ‘theory of causality,’ or lack thereof, in order to show how actus works in this context. Additionally, he attempts to show how actus underlies the notion of physical cause and that actus is irreducible to physical cause. According to Burrell, Aquinas preserves action as the fundamental explanatory category and relates causality to action through a change of the formal relationship between the agent, who is already acting, and the thing moved, who is acted upon. The act of the agent becomes the act of the thing acted on. No act of transfer is required in order to explain causality. This serves to preserve the role of intentional act as the paradigmatic case of actus, not reducible to physical causality, as is done in contemporary science.

Chapter XI: Divine Activity: Creating and Immanent
In this chapter Burrell describes how Aquinas applies the grammar of actus to the acts of God, including creation and the trinity.
Creation should not be viewed as an empirical statement; rather it viewed as description of a formal relationship of dependence. Existence should be viewed as an act, and all those things that have existence should be viewed as dependent on the God who is Act. The effect of an understanding of this formal relationship of dependence cannot be expressed as part of our grammar. Rather, it is expressed through a comportment towards the world.
The Trinity, an interior action of the divine life, is also best explained in reference to actus. The problem of ascribing change to God is avoided when intentional activity is taken as the paradigmatic sense of actus. As described above, certain basic intentional activities, in particular intellectual activities, has the special linguistic feature that it avoids any hint of process. To think is already to have thought, to love is to already to have loved. Therefore, when actus is viewed in this way, it is no longer problematic to countenance God’s speech (the Son) and love (the Holy Spirit). Burrell also shows how God’s unity and trinity can be reconciled through viewing the trinity as a formal relationship of one substance to itself.

Chapter XII:
In this chapter Burrell provides a comprehensive account of what can be taken to be Aquinas’ theory of knowledge. Very essentially, this reduces to identity in act. The act of understanding is the ability to reproduce the act of the thing understood. Interestingly, he discusses how the absence of change in intellectual acts leads to their being conceived of as immaterial. Matter is only required to explain change. But more importantly, he believes that Aquinas’ theory of knowledge can be made plausible by appeal to the grammar used to describe instances of knowing as well as regular experience. He discusses how this is the only way we have for evaluating models or theories of this sort. In his discussion of knowing, he notes how expression is the completion of a human act of understanding. This expression can be described as an inner word, an actus actus, or an emanation. At the extreme physical side of things it can be described as comportment.
The paradigmatic actus of intellectual activity can be applied analogically to God. This is fitting because of intellectual activity’s immanence and atemporality. In God’s case, however, understanding need not necessarily express itself. Burrell maintains, though, that it does and that this is the key to understanding the Trinity. The Word of God, according to Burrell, can be seen as gratuitous, syntactical, or ordered, expression-in-use. Burrell goes to lengths to discuss why this expression must be syntactical in the most abstract sense possible in order to be the Son, the Word of God that is identical with God.
Loving is also an intellectual activity and therefore also is grammatically atemporal and immanent. Beyond understanding is the recognition of a good as good. Loving is the spontaneous issue of the expression of understanding in the will. Burrell identifies this love with the Holy Spirit.

Chapter XIII:
In the final chapter Burrell discusses why only the term actus is used to describe God. The reason for this is because of its supreme propensity for analogical uses. This allows the term to express transcendence. Burrell then discusses two cases when actus is used analogically to describe something which one might think is the opposite of action – martyrdom and the contemplative life – in order to show the extreme analogical nature of the term. In martyrdom actus is used to describe the fortitude of will that is necessary to restrain from actual physical action or reaction. In the contemplative life the action of contemplation is preferred because it attunes one to the sanctifying activity of God even though it separates the individual from physical accomplishment. Thus, the term actus for Aquinas is so analogical that it can refer to activities that are bereft of what Western culture would normally identify as the hallmark of action – accomplishment. From this point, Burrell discusses the Western cultural bias of linking action to accomplishment and how other models, Wittegensteinian and those drawn from the Gita and the Ramayana, go beyond this perspective and recognize actions as being defined primarily by intention. Additionally, he stresses that true actions must be authentic, almost radical intentions, else they are merely reactions. In order to have such intentions, according to Burrell, it is necessary to renounce the fruits of one’s actions. Burrell closes by discussing the irreducible basic-ness of the notion of actus as intellectual activity. It functions as a primitive experience and is not really capable of being explicated. It is this sort of intentional activity that Aquinas ascribes to God analogically, of course, when he describes him as Actus.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Five Ways, 1969, Anthony Kenny

Goal: To establish what Aquinas meant in these proofs for the existence of God by close reading of the Summa and reference to other texts; and to offer a critical evaluation of their arguments.  

Guiding Thesis: “If we take these two Ways together [argument from causa movens and causa efficiens] we find that the distinction between the five ways reflects the distinction between the four causes” (36).

Conclusion: The proofs fail because they are too embedded in medieval cosmology, but this neither confirms nor disproves the existence of God.

Kenny’s argument is set against a series of debates within the philosophy of religion about proofs for the existence of God.  Regarding Aquinas scholarship specifically, the question arises of how Aquinas intended these proofs to be read - as a way of giving content to the notion of divinity or as actual philosophical proofs?  Kenny sides with the latter position.

More broadly, though, this books considers, and discards several major strains of thought that consider the entire enterprise of constructing a proof for the existence of God nonsensical or pointless.

1).  Conventionalist argument: the notion of a ‘necessary being’ is incoherent, therefore trying to prove God’s existence as a necessary being is misguided.
Counter-argument: conventionalists fundamentally misunderstand Aquinas’s project.  First, to say God is a necessary being is not to say that ‘God exists’ is a necessary proposition.  Second, Aquinas simply means in describing God as necessary that he is imperishable.  Finally, the conventionalist argument presumes that necessarily true propositions are all so in reference to human conventions, while neuroscience and so on proves this not to be the case.

2).  Verificationist argument: “There is a God” is an incoherent proposition because it is unfalisifiable.  
Kenny’s response: if a creator God exists, there’s no way to falsify the proposition “God exists,” because without his existence there would no universe in which to falsify anything.

3).  post-Kantians: Many contemporary philosophers think Kant definitively proved the entire enterprise of constructing rational proofs for the existence of God to be misguided and unnecessary.  
Kenny:  Kant directed his critique at different issues than those with which Aquinas was concerned.  I’m not going to tell you which, but trust me; my book isn’t pointless. 

4) fideistic response: The existence of God is something that must be taken on faith; to seek rational arguments is to miss the center of religious experience.
Kenny: If we can’t offer rational grounds for believing in God, there’s no reason to do so.  Or: yes, this book is about to be 120 pages written by someone with a stereotypically british tin ear for the subject of religion.  Enjoy.

The First Way: argument from movement (causa movens)
Basic argument: Observing the world, we see that everything is in motion and, moreover, that everything in motion is moved by something else.  All things that move insofar as they are in potentiality in terms of its motion; to move is for something in actuality to bring something from potentiality to actuality.  For example, something actually hot, such as fire, brings wood, something potentially hot, to be actually hot.  Since it is impossible for something to be both potentially and actually something (hot, for example), it is impossible for something to be simultaneously the mover and the moved.  Yet there must be a first, unmoved mover to set off this entire chain of motion we see in our word.  This we label God.  

Kenny begins by trying to contextualize the term motus.  Though he remains by the translation, “motion,” the modern idea of change is actually much closer to the original meaning.  Change, however, had three separate subcategories: 
  1. Change of quality (from hot to cold, for example)
  2. Change in quantity/size
  3. Change in place (local motion)
Aquinas, therefore, uses the term motus in these three sense, but not in a way that might include mental events or propositions that change from true to false or vice versa.  However, the bigger problem regarding the text is that in Latin there is no simple way to distinguish between “it is in motion” and “it is being moved,” which will later return to cause problems.

Kenny then asks, “what does it mean to say something is in motion?”  He offers four potential explanations.
1).  Motion encompasses change in quality, quantity, space, and mental events.  Thinking, after all, is sometimes described as being moved by an object.
Kenny’s objection:  However, as man can think himself, or move himself, this interpretation would undermine Aquinas’s argument.
2)motion includes creation and destruction of substancesKenny’s response:  that would make the First Way question-begging(?3) The thesis could depend on a metaphysical understanding of motion.  
Kenny: True, in part, but doesn’t answer the question of what objects are being moved.
4)  the phenomena in question are exclusively metaphysical, the change from potentiality to actuality.
Kenny: this conflicts with the very mundane examples Aquinas gives of motion.

Kenny’s interpretation: Aquinas really just means that certain things move from place to place and others grow and shrink.  (No kidding....)

Having established that, Kenny then goes on to consider the different interpretations of the phrase, ”Whatever is in motion is moved by something else.”  One could read it as a temporal claim, that there are an endless series of things stretching back in time, causing each other.  But in that case, the catalyst might have ceased moving long before the object in question did, so in a trivial sense, the world would be populated by unmoved movers.  Therefore, Kenny argues, we ought to take this to mean that everything in motion is being moved by something simultaneously in motion.   

Problems, however, immediately arise.  There seem to be a number of things that aren’t moved by anything, such as the running dog or growing plant.  Additionally, that which is not being moved may simply be at rest; something unmoved does not need to have been eternally unmoved.  

Aquinas answers with a distinction between motion per accidens and motion per se.  Motion per accidens is caused by something else, motion per se is everything else.  In order for motion per accidens to do the sort of philosophical work Aquinas needs,  there can’t be a symmetrical relationship between part and whole; I can’t say I move my fingers and my fingers move me while preserving the infinite regress necessary to get us to a first mover.  Aristotle tries to solve this difficulty by saying my parts are moved by my soul.  However, this will not get us to God, as the Aristotelian notion of a soul will equally suffice as an agent.  

It’s becoming increasingly clear that my notes on this book are absurdly long and detailed, particularly given that it’s only secondary lit., so I’m just going to cut to the reasons Kenny thinks the First Way fails.

  1. Aquinas is trapped in the Aristotelian origins of this proof.  Aristotle did not believe in a creator God; rather, his Unmoved Mover was simply the efficient cause of the motions in the universe.  Aquinas fails to prove that the efficient cause needs to be anything outside of this world.
  2. In order to conform to the actual world, Aquinas cannot insist that the relation between cause and effect is asymmetrical, that one ball hits another without being moved in turn.  Lacking an asymmetrical relationship, there is no possibility of an infinite regress of movers.
  3. Kenny thinks even if a infinite regress were to happen, it would not be absurd.
  4. The argument only shows that movement can only originate in a being who is not moved in that particular manner, but does not have to be unchanging in all respects. (A fire can’t be potentially and actually hot in order to make wood burn, but just because it is unmoved regarding temperature, there’s no reason to think it might not be moved regarding location).  

The Second Way: argument from efficient causality (causa efficiens/agens)
Basic argument: In nature, we observe efficient causality, but we also observe that it’s impossible for something to cause itself, because that would require it being prior to itself.  We also see that eliminating a cause eliminates its effects, so if you eliminate the first cause by positing an infinite chain of efficient causes, you then eliminate all of the intermediate causes, as well as the final effect.  Therefore, as we clearly observe that there are final effects and intermediate causes, we need to posit a first cause.  This we call God.  

Here, Kenny, rather belatedly, brings in Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes, which breakdown thus:
1: material cause (causa materialis): the material out of which an object is made
2: formal cause (causa formalis): the form/pattern the object takes
3: efficient cause (causa efficiens) : origin of change or state of rest
4: final cause (causa finalis): telos of thing
In contrast to Aristotle, Aquinas splits causa efficiens into two overlapping, but slightly different phenomena: causa efficiens/agens and causa movens.  The two are essentially the same phenomenon.  The real difference is that causa movens, as described in the First Way, deals with the effect or body acted upon, while causa efficiens/agens, the subject of the Second Way, deals with the agent responsible for producing change.  Aristotle was willing to describe all examples of causa efficiens as a type of movement that initiates change in preexisting material, because he believed in an everlasting material universe.  However, Aquinas, who was committed to creation ex nihilo, believed that God was an efficient cause that could act without necessarily being a mover.  HE also believed there could be change or effects that could not simply be re-described as movement in substance from one form to another.  Therefore, he makes this distinction within efficient causality.

Kenny’s main argument in the book is that if one understand the first two Ways to correspond to this split within efficient causality, then each of the Five Ways maps on to the Four Causes.

Kenny spends some time arguing that the formal structure of the Five Ways is sound, but as that discussion involved a series of incomprehensible logical equations, for me, at least, the reason why escapes me.  If anyone wants to clarify, that would be great.

The more pertinent aspect of this chapter seemed his discussion of what efficient causality did and did not entail for Aquinas.  In some respects, it’s the type of causality closest to what we recognize as causality.  Yet, since Hume, we have been trained to think of a cause as an event.  For Aquinas, in contrast, an efficient cause is “a substantial agent.”  The paradigmatic example of efficient causality, at least in Aquinas’s sense, is not flipping a switch and light coming on, but, rather, that of a man siring a child.  Thought of in those terms, we see why Aquinas thinks it incoherent to imagine something causing itself, in the same way it seems incoherent to think of a man give birth to himself.  However, efficient causality did not entail for Aquinas the belief that every event has a cause.  Aquinas is not a determinst; he leaves room for contingency in his world view.  

Kenny claims that Aquinas did not see anything incoherent in the idea of an infinite series of men stretching backward in time and begetting each other.  So far as that goes, one could conceive of man as the uncaused cause, and never reach God.  However, Aquinas does not think human reproduction is a self-sufficient linear chain of efficient causes, endlessly reproducing itself.  Rather, he thinks human reproduction involves another, external cause acting upon it, in this case the sun.  Man is begotten both by man and the sun.

So what does this mean?  Kenny claims Aquinas is not saying that the sun is a necessary condition for man to beget man, in, I suppose, the same way air and a habitable planet would be.  Equally, he is not saying that that a whole series of events existed in the past, leading up to man in his role of begetter.  Rather, he is making reference to medieval cosmology, which believed that the sun co-cause of the generation of the child.  In this cosmology, man acts as a tool of the sun, or the heavens more generally.  The sun, in its presence and absence, controls generation and corruption on earth.

Efficient causality, then, not only stretches backward in times, to all of the previous men who have fathered children; it also stretches upward towards the heavens, and depends on the cosmos God created.  

Take away:  The thought seems to be that the heavens lead to a creator God and some sort of meta-plan/control in a way that a series of efficient causes, stretching back in time, do not.  God has much more of an obvious role with reference to the sun than solely in reference to a chain of men begetting men.  However, as we no longer subscribe to medieval cosmology, we have no reason for tracing efficient causality back to God, rather than stopping with man as the uncaused cause.

The Third Way: Possibility and Necessity (causa materialis)
Basic Argument: It is possible for some things not to be.  Everything which might not have been at some point was not.  But if everything had the possibility of not being, nothing would ever be, since everything finite begins in something else.  Therefore, there must be some sort of self-sufficient, necessary being at the origin.  This we name God.

There are several different strains of the argument that God is a necessary being.  For Leibniz, for example, God is a necessary being whose essence involves existence.  This is following a thought posed by Avicenna, who believed, “A necessary being is a being such that the supposition of its non-existence entails a contradiction.”  A contingent being, in contrast, could be imagined not to exist without any contradiction.

In his early work, Aquinas uses Avicenna’s definition of a necessary being, but later shifts from this tendency to define necessity in terms of existence and essence to the definition of Averroes, who defined a necessary being as one that cannot cease to be the case, that cannot cease to exist.  A necessary being, therefore, is defined in terms of unalterability and imperishability.  As result, Aquinas considers a large number of things as necessary in his mature work, such as angels and men.  Therefore, one ought not consider the scale to be God as the only necessary being on what end, and everything else as contingent on the other.  Rather, there’s a gradation, starting with things that have the possibility of being and not being which are genuinely contingent, to cause necessary beings, like men and angels, to God as the uncaused necessary being. 

From here, Kenny raises four basic questions about the meaning of the Third Way.
1: What does Aquinas think has the possibility of being and not being?  Individuals or species?
2:  Is the class of things that has the possibility of being and not being the same as the class of things subject to       generation and corruption?
3:  When Aquinas speaks of the possibility of being and not being, what does he mean?  Does he simply mean the logical possibility?
4: Finally, when did or do things have the possibility of being and not being?  Now? In the past?  Always?  

Kenny begins with question 4, the issue of tense.  It only makes sense, he argues, to claim something might not have existed once it comes into existence.  Had I not been born, it would have been nonsensical to claim that I might or might not have existed, because there was no me to make reference to.  So logically, my possibility of not existing would be the possibility of ceasing to be.  

For Aristotle, the world and heavenly bodies have always existed, so this doesn’t make much sense for him, not in a strong sense, at least.  In contrast, for Aquinas, souls and matter were created, which means it’s possible for them to be destroyed and cease to be.  But here’s the catch; souls will keep on existing until or unless God destroys them.  This means that the possibility of ceasing to be is not their possibility; it’s all dependent on God.  

From this, Kenny concludes that Aquinas is not talking about humans or other necessary beings, and he’s not talking about logical possibility when he says some things have the possibility of ceasing to be.  Rather, he’s talking about the actual power of ceasing to be.  In essence, things have the possibility of ceasing to be if they have the possibility of changing forms, such as water turning to ice, etc.  Humans cannot change form since their souls aren’t made out of any sort of matter than can change form.  

Ultimately, then, when Aquinas speaks of things possessing the possibility of ceasing to be, he’s speaking of creatures that are subject to generation and corruption.  Generation and corruption are a subset of “coming to be and passing away.”  If something, like man, is instantly created, it is not generated; rather, it can only be generated if it comes from some preexisting matter.  Generation also isn’t necessarily related to animals; a house can be generated out of bricks.  Similarly, annihilation is not synonymous with corruption; corruption is when an animal dies and turns into dust.  

To sum up, the premise of the Third Way is that there exist generable and corruptible beings (i.e. those which exist in other forms and which can survive in altered forms their own destruction).  Kenny find this premise sound.  

He then breaks down the Third Way into its constitutive parts.
1:  whatever has the possibility of not being, at some time or other is not.
2:  If everything has the possibility of not being, then at some time or other nothing is.     
3: If at some time or other nothing is, then there is nothing now.
4: It is not the case that there is nothing now.
5: Therefore, not everything has the possibility of not being.

Kenny then produces a series of objections.  To begin with, the first premise is questionable.  One could logically imagine something with the possibility of not existing nonetheless existing eternally.  Next, to pass from statement 1 to 2 is to commit the “quantifier-shift fallacy” - in essence, to equate “each thing at some time is not,” to “at some time or other, everything is not.”  Moreover, even if it were true that at some point nothing will exist, there’s no reason to assume that such a point might not come at a future date, or even that there might be an endless succession of overlapping contingent beings.  The proof is predicated on the idea of infinite time.  Finally, even if one accepts the bulk of Aquinas’s argument, there’s no reason one could not imagine the everlasting being that assures continued existence to be matter.   

Fourth Way: Gradation in Things (causa formalis)
Basic argument: Things exist in degrees; for example, something can be relatively hot or relatively good.  Things tend to be more x (hot, good, etc), as they approach the source of this quality.  (A stone in a fire is hotter than one in the forest, for example).  We see that things can be relatively good, therefore we have to conclude there is something better, something absolutely good that they can approach in perfection.  This is God.

Essentially, this is Aquinas’s flirtation with Platonism.  I am going to skip Kenny’s exposition of the Platonic Forms, under the assumption we all know the narrative.  Instead, I want to begin with Aquinas’s relation to Platonism.  In many points in his work he is extremely critical of Platonism.  He claims to think that the Idea of an entire species - zB, absolute man - is nonsense, but nonetheless subscribes to some sort of essentialized definition of things.  So while there is no Idea of man, existing in the ether, there is humanity, which is divided among a series of finite individuals.  Thus, Form is individualized and has a specific history.  Put otherwise, there is no such thing as Wisdom, but there is “wisdom of,” as in “the wisdom of Socrates.”  (This, on a side note, reminds me of Heidegger’s stance toward Being).

Nonetheless, the Fourth Way is very clearly Platonic in many ways, and is predicated on the assumption that all individual goods exist in some relation to God, in the same way Plato thinks exists between particularized goods and the Idea of the Good.  God, in this way, is essentially the Platonic idea of the Good or of Being.

First, to say that “this is good” is essentially a performative statement, and not a statement with any objective truth value.  Second, “good” is far too generic of a term, and it’s not clear that putting the goodness of a husband on the same scale as the goodness of a horse makes any sense at all.  Third, the question arises whether or not the “Good” is a maximum ideal or something actual.  If it’s an ideal, there’s no reason to think it actually exists, any more than there’s reason to think that the “largest thing” actually exists.  If the “Good” is supposed to be an actual thing, there’s no reason to think the best thing can’t be man or something other than God.  If the best thing is supposed to be God, we need Plato to fill in the gap, and posit the Good as some sort of Idea that man participates in and resembles.

So what does it mean to be the truest, the noblest, the best of things?  Aquinas thinks it means to be the thing with the most being (82).  To be is ens shining through esse, which I think means that actual existence (esse?) is the activity of being shining through.  Early Aquinas thinks it’s possible to understand essence without existence.  (I can understand what a phoenix is without it existing).  Therefore, under this logic, if God is subsistent existence, to know he exists is to know his essence.  Kenny finds this absurd and tautological.  

Kenny tries to make sense of what it means to say one knows God by turning to the distinction Aquinas makes in types of knowledge.  One can either know what the words mean, or give a more detailed, scientific explanation.  Aquinas often says that before you can ask whether something exists, you have to know what the word means, but before you begin investigating its nature or essence (knowledge #2?), you need to know that it exists.  

Regarding the Five Ways, this means that before formulating proofs of God’s existence, we need to know what the word “God” means.  The Five Ways each articulate a different meaning (etc., unmoved mover).  But what God actually is (knowledge in the second sense), we can never know in this life.  

What we do know at this point is that God is identical with his esse, or actual existence.  Esse, according to Aquinas, is “only attributed to self-subsistent things.”  There are two types of esse; unique, substantial esse (Socrates is a man), or accidental esse (ex: Socrates is white)There is a third type of esse, “esse est,” (Socrates is) which is reducible to the first type, substantial esse.  

It is impossible for esse to exist without form.  So when we say “esse est.” the implication is that something, some predicate, is the essence of the substance in question.  “Socrates est,” therefore means that “Socrates is a human being,” or , “Socrates is capable of performing the operations characteristic of human nature”; Socrates, in essence, is alive.  Applied to God, this means the statement “God est” means “God is performing a divine life.”  Traced back, that leads us once again to our only really piece of knowledge about God; his existence is essence, esse.  

Once again, Kenny tries to figure out what that actually means.  What is esse?  In Aquinas, esse is the fundamental predicate of everything.  Everything is, has being.  Additionally, everything produces esse as a common effect.  So ginger, for example has its proper effect of producing whatever it is that ginger produces (the gingering of the ginger, a la Heidegger?)  Additionally, though, ginger causes something to be hot.  In this sense, all things cause something else “to be” something or other as a common effect, as a secondary effect, in light of a higher cause.  However, unlike all other things, God causes being as his primary, proper effect.  God is the thing that produces being.  

Take away:  Essentially, Kenny argues, this leaves esse empty of content.  Since we can’t add anything to the proposition “God is,” and “God est esse” is meaningless or tautological, to say “God is” is either to offer a fragment or to offer an ill-formed formula whose variable expression offers no possibility of substitution.  While God may be the Platonic Idea of Being, this tells us nothing.

The Fifth Way: Direction of Things (causa formalis)
Basic argument: Kenny sees this as an argument from design.  Certain things, which lack awareness, act for the sake of an end, as proven by the fact they always act for what is best.  Things which lack intelligence cannot act toward a goal unless something intelligent directs them.  Therefore God, the intelligent being toward which  everything in nature is directed as a goal, must exist.

Per usual, Kenny begins by raising some questions which seem slightly unnecessary given what we know of Aquinas’s project.  First, are these things acting for their own good or that of the universe?  He claims it’s probably the former.  Second, does each thing have its own intelligence or is everything directed by a single intelligence?  This question isn’t worth addressing.

Aquinas offers several different proofs of teleology in nature, starting with the foot is made for walking, leaves are made to protect fruit, etc.  He also offers a priori proofs that any agent, even unconscious, must act for ends.  He defines an “end” as “that toward which the drive of an agent tends,” regardless of whether or not the agent succeeds.  Actions can either terminate in a product, such as a house, or in an action itself, as with thought.  In all cases, though, the agent acts toward an end.  It beats the shit out of me why this constitutes an a priori proof, though.  

Anyway, Kenny claims Aquinas has four more such “arguments.”

2:  Impossibility of acting forever: A final end is one which, after achieving, the agent stops striving.  As action can’t go on forever and an infinite action is inconceivable, there must be a final action?
3:  Likeness between cause and effect: There are two types of agents: natural and intelligent.  The intelligent agent acts by forming an image of his goal and trying to realize it.  There must be something similar for the natural agent, where the likeness of the effect preexists in the agent.
4:  Faults in nature: There can only be faults where things are directed towards ends.  So it only makes sense to talk of a monstrous birth if there is some norm it deviates from.  This is an Aristotelian argument.  
5:  Non-fortuitous production of the good: In nature, we find the best consistently happening.  One could call it luck if the best happened randomly, irregularly, but consistency implies order and agency.

Kenny thinks all of these arguments are faulty, but begins by trying to clarify their meaning.  What does it mean, he asks, to attribute purpose to inanimate objects?  Short answer, they have tendencies.  But there’s no reason to look at this teleologically, rather than simply saying that water has a tendency to freeze, for example.  

Regarding the impossibility of infinite action, Kenny thinks that to say an agent can’t aim to an infinite series of aims is already to impute ends/aims to that agent.  All we see, in a Humean sense, is a series of things happening that are sometimes interrupted by or punctuated by periods of rest.  We don’t actually observe finite, purposeful actions.

Again, regarding argument three, Kenny says we can’t actually know like is acting in order to bring about like; again, it could be a meaningless tendency.  He finds the argument that it only makes sense to speak of monstrosities within reference to teleology sound, but too limited to be helpful.  All that proves, Kenny thinks, is that some systems can be understood teleologically.  I think this also patently a bad argument.  A “monstrous birth” is only a mistake from the perspective of someone trying to impose order and stasis on a system or species.  From an evolutionary perspective, freaks and flaws simply look like part of the system.    

Kenny then goes into a long tangent about current notions of teleology, most notably Charles Taylor’s argument in The Explanation of Behavior that the question of whether or not teleological systems exist in nature is an empirical one, not a philosophical one.  He thinks philosopher have wrongly dismissed teleology with the assumption that such a system would have to be regulated by an unobservable entity, whereas he thinks something is teleological simply if one can understand behavior X in terms of its function in the system producing effect Y (homeostasis, possibly).  Basically, Kenny decides that it makes sense to consider mechanical things as most basically teleological (as in a watch); with inanimate things, the mechanistic explanation is most basic; and with animal things, it could be both.  

Regarding Aquinas’s argument, though, Kenny claims that he undermines himself in a passage where he claims that while the nest-building instinct looks like intelligence, it’s obviously not, because intelligence allows for deviation in behavior, while such normal adaptive behavior doesn’t; all birds build the same nest.  Since only humans are capable of deviations in behavior, i.e., of intelligence, we have to ascribe the apparently intelligent behavior of the animals to another force, such as God.  

Kenny then argues that if normal adaptive behavior calls for intelligence, it’s much more logical to ascribe it to animals than to some disincarnate God.  I’m not sure why he thinks Aquinas has “sawn off the branch he was sitting on,” though.  Yes, it is more logical to think of animals having some sort of primitive intelligence than thinking they’re machines directed by some disincarnate God if  one ascribes intelligence to normal, regular adaptive behavior.  But as Aquinas specifically limits his notion of intelligence to irregular adaptive behavior, he still seems relatively solid.  Of course, what constitutes intelligence is a philosophical (maybe semantical) question, as we see from Kenny’s assertion at the end that it doesn’t make sense to think of the sort of disincarnate, infinite intelligence God would have as connecting meaningfully to the term.  Still, I’m not sure it’s good form to redefine another philosopher’s terms and then, by applying your new interpretation of their vocabulary to their system, claim that they have proved themselves wrong.  

What this is getting at is that I think the spirit of this book is absolute bullshit.  The context was nice, thinking of the 5 Ways in terms of the 4 Causes was helpful, the reference to other texts was also helpful, but on the whole this desire to demolish, to hold Aquinas up to some modern standard, to assume some stance of superiority that allows Kenny to read Aquinas for all of his mistakes and none of his virtues - all of the ways, in short, that Kenny points out that Aquinas failed to be a good “sophisticated” modern - is absolutely representative of anglo-analytic philosophy at its worst.  Smug bastard.

Take-away: Anthony Kenny is a jackass.