Friday, January 13, 2012

Luther and Aquinas on the Human Will.

In studying both the Summa and Bondage of the Will, it has occurred to me that due to the influence of Augustine Luther and Aquinas have essentially the same idea of divine omnipotence and the human will. Both agree that the human will is not some sort of neutral capacity that starts out as a blank slate and then just decides whatever it wants. Human beings have a nature. They act out that nature when they will things. A evil person wills evil freely, though he cannot but will evil insofar as he is evil. Just as an apple tree gives off apples freely, though it is in its nature to do so, so a person acts out their nature without coercion.

The difference comes from what one considers the basis of human willing: i.e. faith vs. love. For Aquinas, the human will is driven by the love of the good. God is the supreme good, but temporal realities are good to. Sin is failing to will God as the supreme good and therefore choosing a more limited version of the good. Nevertheless, humans are still choosing the good, they just are doing so in an inadequate manner. For Luther, the whole issue is faith as trust. God should be trusted above all things, but instead humans trust in other creatures and in themselves.

This means that for Luther sin is much more radical thing than it is for Aquinas. There is something of a zero-sum game between belief and unbelief. One either trusts in God or one doesn't. Trusting in creatures is not some how moving in the right direction. Rather it is antithetical to a proper relationship with God. For Aquinas, by desiring temporal goods one is still sort of moving in the right direction. One is willing the good, but not as well as one could.


  1. Where and how do these considerations work in more recent theological discourse.

  2. I have found this to be the case as well. Have you read Mannermaa's Two Kinds of Love? He gets at some of the key differences between Luther and Aquinas rather well.

  3. Interesting. I like the "zero-sum game" line a lot.

  4. Norman- I don't think that Lutherans and Catholics have changed much since the 16th century, so I think theologians of both communions both work from these assumptions. It's why JDDJ is such a miserable failure.

    Jordan- First, thanks for the following my blog. Secondly, no I haven't, but I have wanted to do so for some time.

    Tim- I'm pleased that you appreciated it.

  5. I think you're selling Luther short, and nearly making him a Manichean. Creation is fallen, but creation in itself, is not evil. Evil is only a privation or distortion of the good. If Luther has a hamartiology that allows evil to be radically opposed to the good, then so much the worse for Luther--he has there left the Christian faith. And Aquinas is exactly correct, contra the Manicheans, that however fallen we are, we can only desire and trust good things.

    But I say you're selling Luther short because surely Luther wouldn't say we shouldn't trust creatures; but only that we shouldn't put our ultimate trust in creatures. However, it is good and right to trust creatures, in a relative manner. Indeed, we can and should do so, because they have been created by God, and therefore are good (tov), and trustworthy (though Genesis doesn't use language of trust, but of goodness).

    But this is exactly the same sort of distinction Aquinas makes. Creatures are good, and should be loved, but if they are loved without a proper love of God, that love is evil.

    So it seems to me that you object over much to Aquinas, and put yourself in some dangerous waters with that objection. Aquinas may be wrong, and it may be that trust is more fundamental than love. But that does not mean that Aquinas says we are on the right track, and Luther says we are dead wrong. Inasmuch as Luther says we are dead wrong, so does Aquinas, and all the orthodox. Inasmuch as Aquinas says we are going in the right direction, so does Luther, and all the orthodox.

  6. Matthew-

    You write:

    "But I say you're selling Luther short because surely Luther wouldn't say we shouldn't trust creatures"

    I write:

    "God should be trusted above all things, but instead humans trust in other creatures and in themselves."

    The key word is of course, "above all things." In the future, please read my statement more carefully.

    In a general response:

    I'm not claiming creation is evil or that Luther says this. In that it possesses the ontic quality of goodness, creation is good. Our moral standing before God is another issue though. Whereas Augustine and Aquinas tend to conflate ontic goodness and moral goodness (hence talking about our fallenness as being in a state of ontic privation), Luther talks about in relational terms. One either is in proper relationship to God or not. If one is unactualized, one is at least somewhat actualized- otherwise one does not exist. Hence Aquinas and Augustine are much more affirming of freedom of choice and the cooperating of grace and nature (even if they assume that humans are impotent to do anything without grace). Moreover, I'm not saying that Aquinas is saying we're good to go, just on the right track and incapable of getting there- whereas for Luther we're not on the right track at all. Again, this could have been recognized by a closer reading of the post.

    Also, you write:

    "Though Genesis doesn't use language of trust, but of goodness."

    I fail to see the point. Genesis mostly talks about inanimate objects which are good, but who are not moral agents. So, of course it doesn't talk about trust. Since this goodness is an ontic quality of these object and not an existential relationship, which would entail trust. Humans are remain good even if they have a negative existential relationship with God because of their lack of trust.

  7. Mutatis mutandis the second paragraph in your original post could be rewritten with "Luther" and "Aquinas" interchanged.

    But, it seems that you would not allow that interchange, because "One either trusts in God or one doesn't. Trusting in creatures is not some how moving in the right direction." It is this second line that prompts my criticism.

    If you want to be able to say that trusting in creatures is not moving in the right direction (though in itself it is good) it seems you should be fair to Aquinas, and say that loving creatures is not moving in the right direction. Surely, one would not say that those frozen in Dante's ice are "moving in the right direction".

    On the other hand, if you are not making a similar claim about both, I have a hard time seeing how you avoid the problem Augustine's and Aquinas's statements on good was intended to avoid, namely, Manicheanism. You say you are not talking about ontic goodness, but moral goodness, but 1) I'm not sure why positing the existence of actual moral evil would be any better than positing the existence of actual ontic evil 2) you do not clearly distinguish between the two, and 3) in your opening paragraph you make statements to the effect that the evil is ontic "They act out that nature when they will things. A evil person wills evil freely, though he cannot but will evil insofar as he is evil." You don't actually say "evil nature" but given the first statement is about natures, it seems the second is likewise about natures, and to claim a nature is evil is an ontic claim.

    The parenthetical comment about good vs trust was to explain my usage of good rather than trust.

    It's your last line that most bothers me "For Aquinas, by desiring temporal goods one is still sort of moving in the right direction. One is willing the good, but not as well as one could." Inasmuch as Aquinas says that everyone is sort of moving in the right direction, he is merely affirming the Christian teaching that Manicheanism is wrong.

  8. That last paragraph was supposed to be deleted.

  9. Eastern Orthodoxy likes to emphasise that person and nature are not to be confused. Yes. Person and nature are distinct. However, that theological emphasis in the EO tradition resulted in the *separation* of person and nature. Indeed, the outlook seems "stucked" in the *abstract* "tearing apart" of the two ... into a dialectic that God creatively willed in the first place.

    This is very ironic given the EO's emphasis on the priority of person over nature in triadology. Nature is never considered abstractly apart from the person so that being, existence, that which is "concrete" and "real" is synonymous with the person,not nature. The nature can only be known in the acts or operations.

    Likewise, human nature cannot be considered apart from the person. There is no humanity distinct from human persons. The human race is considered only in, with and through Adam. There is therefore no tearing apart or dialectic between person and nature. This can seen clearly simply by reference even to the Eastern concept of "ancestral sin" whereby the consequence is "communicated" to the human *nature* in the form of death. And persons have become sinners ever since. In other words, there is a communicatio idiomatum between preson and nature simply because they cannot be considered discretely ...

  10. The further irony implicit in the first, i.e. in reference to the so-called dialectic between person and nature, is that if true it would entail persons are instances or instantiation or individuation of nature thereby directly contradicting its own triadology, at least uncontaminated by Latinisation. Nature unaffected by sin, and merely weakened and subject to death and decay, then the person as epitomised by "free will" (actus purus coram Deo!)merely shifts the "problematic" from original sin itself. If mortality is something persons inherit via nature, then it something and all have in common. And if as a consequence, persons die (since nature do not die), then persons are instances of nature ... thereby negating the dialectic ...

  11. The *absolute* separation, therefore, between person and nature, ontology and axiology, cannot be sustained. As Jack says, in for as persons are concerned, we are moral agents who are totally sinful *coram Deo*. And it has to be said here that the doctrine of total depravity is not a *philosophical* construct (at least not as in the Reformed tradition). It is a *confession of FAITH*. Just as we are justified by faith alone, we are sinful by faith alone. In other words, the ontology is dependent on the axiology(!) (reversing the sequence found in the other traditions - *speculative* theologies!). Hence, *original* sin and *being* are *not* mutually exclusive (paralleling the simul iustus et peccator confession). The human person who bears the imago diaboli remains a person ...

  12. Creation is good but is under the curse ... the goodness of creation and its accursedness are not mutually exclusive ... these are not theological constructs within an overarching system but realities or theological facts which remains unresolved until the light of glory arrives ...

  13. Of course, one should not fail to argue christologically ... that if person and nature are in a dialectic of *opposition*, then how does the Incarnation reverses the process itself in the first place? That is, since the divine person is, as admitted by Maximus, has no (need of the) gnomic will -- the mode of willing which the human person needs to employ in choosing the Good -- Christ Himself is the Good ... if the natural will (i.e. proper to nature and not the hypostatic mode) is good, then how does the Good and good reverses the dialectic? The Cross (and Resurrection) demonstrates that nature is *destroyed* only to be re-created anew. There is no reversal of the dialectic ... only death and resurrection ...

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  15. This is why Luther was the one theologian who was closer to the patristics than anyone else ... he developed the basis and insights of the Irenaean recapitulationary principle and Chalcedonian Definition to bring out their evangelical implications and impact in their stunning clarity.

  16. >> resulted in the *separation* of person and nature. Indeed, the outlook seems "stucked" in the *abstract* "tearing apart" of the two ... into a dialectic that God creatively willed in the first place<<

    into a dialectic that God *never* creatively willed in the first place ...

  17. Augustinian:

    I'm interested in what you're saying, but it seems like you typed it really fast and made a lot of grammatical errors that are making it hard for me to understand. Would it take you long to copy it, fix the grammar, and repost it?

    But inasmuch as I'm understanding what you wrote, I'm having trouble seeing how my concern is resolved. Are you saying that the Lutheran axioms of theology imply that actual evil exists, but that paradoxically this does not imply that creation is evil? As far as I can tell, that is simply nonsense--it is a claim of p and ~p--but also, that it doesn't get around the problem because Manicheanism's fundamental problem is that it posits an actual evil in actual opposition to God, not that it says that creation is evil. And though you have said that creation is still good, I have trouble seeing how you avoid the problem of a actual evil.

  18. Matthew,

    Evil is a *moral* term. It doesn't make sense to insist that Lutheran theology implies that creation must be somehow evil because the person is evil. Man (and woman) is the mediator and microcosm of the cosmos (to cite Maximus) but man (and woman) is not reducible to the cosmos nor is there are conflation between the two. That scripture attests to the fact that creation is under the curse because of Original Sin means that ontology is dependent on axiology (moral worth), not the other way round which would to be sort of posit a Kantian separation between the noumenal and the phenomenal.

    And yes, the actual evil in opposition to God is none other than the sinner himself who bears the image of the devil. That image is not removed on this side of the eschaton so that the Christian is always simul iustus et peccator. We see that the *goal* of the Incarnation is to be *the* sinner and *sin* -- hence the wrath of God. This foolishness to Greeks of course since in Jesus Christ *opposites* --- *total* opposites are reconciled.

  19. Augustinian:

    I was unclear. When I said "creation is evil" (the first time) I did not mean the syllogism "Man is evil, therefore all creation is evil", but rather "man is evil, and therefore evil is an actually existing thing, with positive existence, not merely negative existence." I'm sorry for the miscommunication.

    Your latest comment, if I understand it correctly, merely confirms my suspicions. You say "The actual evil in opposition to Jesus Christ *opposites* --- *total*--opposites are reconciled." So Aquinas explains how a substance can be evil, and yet evil itself is not actual, nor does it really exist. But you seem to be saying more than that--because you repeatedly say it is "actual" and that it is literally the opposite of God. But if evil is not anything then it cannot be the opposite of God, and the whole point for Aquinas (and so far as I know, for any Christian) is that evil is not actual. Are you really saying that evil is actual, and that it is something with positive existence which is opposed to God? If so, you aren't saying the created order is good, but you are still saying that evil is actually existent, which is the substantative problem with Manicheanism.

  20. Matthew,

    Evil is actual -- and really and truly embodied by the sinner/ person. And yes, evil does not have a discrete existence. Evil is "reified" in the person. Only persons are evil. There is no such thing as an evil substance.

    And unlike Manicheanism, good and evil are *not* equal ... there is no dualism here. To quote Oswald Bayer (the modern day Luther interpreter), evil does *not* persist. We know that despite its reality, it will not have the last word. Jesus alone is the Alpha and Omega.

  21. But evil is an actual thing, without substantial existence, but still with positive existence? Sorta like "white"?

    I have no idea what you mean by "there is no such thing as an evil substance." You said in the immediately preceding sentence that "Persons are evil." But I'm using "substance" in the Aristotelian sense to mean individual, so a person is a human substance, (or angelic or whatever). So in the way I'm using terms, those two sentences are in direct contradiction. Do you mean that no (second) substances are evil? That is of course true, but does not answer my concern.

    Again, Aquinas can clearly speak of substances being evil, because he believes that evil is not a quality, but a lack; but substances lack, and therefore can be said to be evil. (I believe this is spelled out in De malo, but I'm not sure.) But you seem to be saying that some substances are evil in a similar manner to how some substances are white. White does not have independent existence, but it still has real actual existence. (I'm using act in a technical sense.) White is not a lack of action, but is a particular sort of action. But evil, on the classical understanding, does not have any proper action, it is not actual, but is only a lack of action. Yet, perhaps I'm wrong, you seem to be saying that evil is actual.

    But if you want to say that evil is actual, you have to say that it exists, and yet is not created by God; or else that it is created by God. The first directly violates the first article of the Creed, and the second is unspeakable blasphemy.

    Perhaps you aren't saying that, but every time I ask, you seem to reiterate that you believe that evil only exists in substances, but that evil is actual, and that the substances are actually evil.

  22. Matthew,

    I don't subscribe to Aristotelian categories (as well as causality). But yes, if by substance you mean individuals, then evil is substantial meaning personal and natural since I don't subscribe to the dialectic between person and nature. If you are revisiting the Flacius versus Strigel debate on original sin and bound will, then I would hesitate or baulk at employing the terms of the debate (i.e. Aristotelian categories and causation).

    Speaking about accidents such as white, Luther himself said that sin is not a matter of peeling off the paint from the wall. Grace is not a repair job. The sin is not taken from the person but the person from the sin.
    So yes, if you insist, then yes, I would agree with Flacius and say that the human substance post-Fall is evil. However with the caveat that the distinction between ontology and axiology is made -- the theological judgment between *what* is man and *who* is man. The what of man is that he remains human ... the who of man as he exists in concreto is that he bears the image of the devil. In other words, a human (not devil or beast) who was created to bear the image of Another, namely God the Son now bears the image of the devil.

    On the first article of the Creed, nothing I have said contradicts it. God the Father Almighty is indeed the sovereign omnipotent One. He does what He wills ... and yes, He creates evil as the prophet Isaiah says. Now, that does mean that we have the license to employ Aristotelian categories and causality which are extremely unhelpful and contrary to scripture and divine revelation and also not least tradition. In talking about God Who does what He will, we are confronted with the Hidden God Who is all power and nothing else. There is no blasphemy but simply a humble confession of faith of Who and What God is ..... the thing is not engage is theodicy but to flee to the Revealed God in Jesus Christ Who died on the Cross for you .........

    1. But as far as I can tell, either you are making a positive claim about the metaphysical nature of sin--it is an actual, existing, created thing; or at the very least, not a privation, but something that has positive ontological status, there is for instance, a nature of sin--or else are intentionally dodging metaphysical questions, but not offering any alternative metaphysic, which seems to me like a refusal to follow the consequences of your metaphysic.

      Likewise, pointing to the image of the devil is just a dodge in this context. The question is the nature of evil. Saying that sin is the image of the devil either postulates that the devil is an eternal Ahriman, or gives no answer whatsoever to the nature of sin, but only pushes it back from us to the devil.

      Just to be clear, when you say evil is created, you do not mean, with Augustine, and the rest of the Church, that God can cause natural evil, but that voluntary evil is a thing (whether it is a substance, or a quality, or something that Aristotle did not think of), and is created by God. Because that surely seems to be what you are saying, and also seems to be rather diabolical.

  23. Matthew,

    Yes, evil is real and actual. But God does not will the evil in the same way that He created the world or justifies the sinner (out of nothing/ ex nihilo).

    When God created the world, He created out of nothing. When God hardened Pharaoh's, He willed evil in a *pre-existing* "substance" (to employ your Aristotelian category) as per Romans 9 (the so-called classicus locus). And that too a pre-existing substance who is a sinner (born in Original Sin). This is why there is such a thing as *"hardening"* of the heart (i.e. the gradual or progressive, for lack of a better term, of the manifestation of evil).

    Evil is evil and cannot be measured in legal terms from the theological perspective. But there is a "gradation" if you will in its manifestation. But I digress.

    So, evil is both a state of being (Original Sin) and act (actual sin) ... the latter merely being a variation of the former. In other words, evil does not exist apart from the person who is and acts ... evil exists precisely because the sinners exists ...

  24. But you still aren't addressing the question. "evil is real and actual." You mean metaphysically real, and actual, like God is act? (If you don't like these metaphysical categories, feel free to use some other.) Or you mean "not illusory". Because the rest of your post seems to say that evil is not illusory. Which is of course true, but doesn't have anything to do with any of the questions at hand. Address the metaphysical question! I ask metaphysical questions, you give metaphysical answers, I press you on it, and you retreat out of metaphysics into questions of where evil exists, not whether evil exists, and what it is. I ask if God creates voluntary evil. You say that He does. I point out that that is nonsense, you say that God causes people to be evil--as if they were remotely the same! The question is the nature of evil, not the location nor even exactly the cause of evil. Is evil a real thing, which receives the address of God, like stones and trees and whiteness and good are; or is it merely a marring of the things spoken by God?

  25. "The question is the nature of evil, not the location nor even exactly the cause of evil. Is evil a real thing, which receives the address of God, like stones and trees and whiteness and good are; or is it merely a marring of the things spoken by God?"

    Neither. Evil inheres in a person simply because there is no evil apart from the person who is evil (Original Sin) and commits evil (Actual Sin).

  26. Thus, God does not address evil as an abstract quality for it is not a quality added to a person but a person *who* stands before God. Evil (Original Sin) is manifested in various ways and degrees. Evil is not reducible to a legal understanding of term precisely because it is a total judgment on the total person. I think you must be thinking how God's address relates to the Fall of our first parents ... how did evil exists in the first place by creative will of God, if any ... God purposed in his inscrutable and mysterious providence aka predestination that Adam and Eve should doubt the external Word. Evil then is grounded in unbelief. Unbelief is the person turning away from the external Word and trusting in his own reason and senses -- in himself (God-within-ism/ enthusiasm). This is free-will where there is an interval between choosing and acting. Faith relates to the whole being such that it transcends the will -- hence spontaneity spoken of by Luther. In short, the basic definition of evil (singular) is unbelief, the mother of all evils (plural). Original Sin/ Original Evil was not committed against other human beings or creation but precisely against the Creator.

    So with regards to Adam and Eve, God willed the first unbelief or Original Sin out of nothing, i.e. where there was none. With regards to Pharaoh, God willed actual sins by hardening Pharaoh's heart ... God's address whether through another person such as Moses or impersonally such as in the conscience or circumstances in life, etc. etc. has the effect of confirming Pharaoh in his unbelief ... so yes, God's address in His external Word and creation is always effective ... for the Word of the Lord goes out and shall never return void (again referring to Isaiah).

    I the LORD, I doeth ALL these things (irrespective of whatever gloss the translations put) ...

  27. In the final analysis, evil is not dependent ontology but axiology, that is the judgment of God in, with and through His Word. If that were not so, then not only would Original Sin be a nonsense, inherited consequence, i.e. death too would be nonsense. The death sentence, it will be recalled, was addressed to Adam and Eve and was a punishment for *their* unbelief. So why must their descendants suffer death too? Why can't the rest of the human race start afresh and really start all over again? Thus, evil is exposed in all its radicalness, as understood from the theological (and not just legal or moral) perspective ... in other words, God's own perspective ...