J.H. Alsted: The Light of Reason and the Light of Faith

At the Calvinist International I’ve published another in my series of posts in which I translate portions from J.H. Alsted’s Theologia naturalis. Here’s an excerpt from Alsted on how the light of reason relates to the light of faith:

Pious men explain this by means of an apposite similitude: They say, just as the sunlight does not put out the [light] of the stars but makes their lesser light yield to a more abundant light, so the light of Grace does not put out the light of Nature but makes it yield. And again, just as the stars yield to the Sun so that they do not fall from the sky, so reason yields to faith so that it does not fall from the sky of the microcosm. Let [faith] cease, if you will, and [reason] falls. The little torch of reason acknowledges its inferiority to grace coming forth from the celestial chamber as to the Sun, the superior of the stars. But, [the soul] does not cast away a power innate to it with the arrival of [grace], any less than the stars do not cast away their own power of shinning with the arrival of noon.

“Facientibus quod in se est” as Political Virtue

“Allegory of Good Government” (1338-1339) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Jordan Ballor, in a post at TCI, notes that Luther used the Medieval formula facientibus quod in se est Deus non denegat gratiam in his mature theology, but in a manner different from the theology of the via moderna. There is a passage in Luther’s Lectures on Galatians which corroborates Ballor’s point:

“God does not require of any man That he do more than he really can.” This is actually a good statement, but in its proper place, that is, in political, domestic, and natural affairs. For example, if I, who exist in the realm of reason, rule a family, build a house, or carry on a governmental office, and I do as much as I can or what lies within me (quantum possum vel quod in me est), I am excused. For this realm has boundaries, and to this realm these statements like “to do what lies within one” (Facere quod in se est) or “to do as much as I can” (facere, quantum possum) properly apply. But the sophists drag these statements into the spiritual realm, where a man cannot do anything but sin, because he is “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). But in external matters, that is, in political and domestic affairs, man is not a slave but a lord of these physical matters (corporalium rerum). Therefore it was wicked of the sophists to drag these political and domestic statements into the church. For the realm of human reason (Regnum … rationis humanae) must be separated as far as possible from the spiritual realm (spirituali Regno). (WA, 40. I. Band, 2. Galatervorlesung [cap. 1 –4] 1531, p. 292-293; LW, 26:173-174).

This corresponds with Luther’s rejection of Aristotelian virtue as the paradigm for spiritual virtue or righteousness. An interesting thing to note here is Luther’s division between the two Regna or Kingdoms permits him to use a principle that he often appears to reject outrightly. Thus, the principle of facientibus quod in se est is only sinful if one attempts to use it in spiritual affairs or consider it a theological principle rather than one that solely denotes political action.

Subjectivity in Aquinas


"The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas" by Andrea da Firenze 1365-c.1367
“The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas” by Andrea da Firenze 1365-c.1367

According to Anthony Flood in a recent article in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, the search for a concept of subjectivity or the “conscious awareness of oneself as a person” in Aquinas’ thought , aside from the risk of superimposing a modern problem over a medieval synthesis, is not a fruitless endeavor. Flood responds to yet is dependent upon John Crosby’s notion of subjectivity. Flood argues:

The “interiority” of one’s personal being is the totality of a person as subject, which is marked by one’s own unique lived experience of and interactions with the world. In more colloquial terms, interiority is the sum and source of one’s personality, though understood not as another person experiences me, for instance, but as I experience my own self. All ongoing personal experiences are “anchored”  or grounded in one’s own interiority, which constitutes the subjective term of  those experiences (Flood, “Aquinas on Subjectivity: a response to Crosby,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 84:1 [2010], p. 71).

Flood differs from Crosby in his optimism regarding the presence of such a concept of subjectivity in Aquinas’ thought.

Modern scholars of Thomas Aquinas have recognized the importance that love plays in his motivational theory and in his soteriology. According to Flood, Aquinas’ philosophy of love is the window to his latent view of the self. Aquinas’ idea of self-consciousness is founded on dilectio. For Aquinas amor is a natural appetite that moves things toward particular objects.  However, argues Flood dilectio and the “dilectio-based relation” of the individual to his or herself differs from an “amor-based relation” in that the former includes a rational choice of the will.

Flood notes that, “As a person relates to himself through acts of dilectio, the self-relation becomes self-conscious and properly human” (p. 77).  Therefore, the dilectio-based relation is the source of self-consciousness. Self-friendship, which is the center of Aquinas’ subjectivity, is an activity of the dilectio-based relation. In other words, the conscious choice that an individual makes to love him or herself is self-friendship, which is the source of self-knowledge. Though Flood’s goal in this article is to map out a purely natural concept of subjectivity in Aquinas, it is worth noting that for Aquinas this self-friendship through dilectio is imperfect apart from divinely infused charity. Through charity the subject is brought into a supernatural friendship with God. In fact, by means of charity each person is enabled to truly love him or herself, because those without charity focus on exterior objects and are not able to truly reflect upon the “inward man” (ST II-II, Q. 25, a. 7.).

Grace and charity are crucial to self-knowledge and self-love for Aquinas. He explains, with reference to Romans 7:5-6, that the perfection of one’s natural self-love in acquired or political virtues (such as prudence and temperance) does not suffice for human perfection without the infusion of grace and charity. Accordingly, human nature requires the infusion of grace and charity because without these perfections political virtue does not attain to God as its ultimate end. For, Aquinas notes, “infused virtue means that we refrain totally from obeying sinful desires” (On the Virtues, Cambridge: 2005, p. 70).   These desires turn the self toward mutable good and set up an obstacle to perfect subjectivity. Though the political virtues seek the mean between vices in the precepts of reason, the infused political virtues lead to complete interiority because they seek the mean outside and above reason, that is, the mean provided in Holy Scripture (Ibid., p. 68). If one agrees with the plausibility of Flood’s discovery of subjectivity in Aquinas’ thought, then the question of the transition of subjectivity through the infusion of grace, charity, and the infused political virtues, I would argue, is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Why Law Presupposes Nature According to Ralph Cudworth (†1688)

In his A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (new version edited by Sarah Hutton, Cambridge: 1996), Ralph Cudworth defends, in a thoroughly Modern way, what one may rightly deem a classical ontology. I will offer here a review of the first two chapters of book one and will devote future posts to the remainder of the treatise. Cudworth begins Ralph Cudworthby noting that a common view throughout the ages has held that there is no natural law but only positive law, no natural difference between good and evil but only mandates established by the authority of a sovereign. Aristotle affirms that politically “honest” and “just” things seem to vary so greatly that they cannot possess any common nature. Hence, by way of clarification, Aristotle divided:

  • Politically Just things (to dikaion politikon) between
    1. Natural (physikon) – things that are the same everywhere, and
    2. Legal (nomikon) “which before there be a law made, is indifferent, but when once the law is made, is determined to be just or unjust” (Cudworth’s trans. of Ethics 1134b18-21).

Among those who deny the first among this division are Democritus, Epicurus, and more contemporaneous, Thomas Hobbes. Cudworth quotes the latter as saying, “In the state of nature nothing can be unjust; the notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place; where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no transgression … No law can be unjust” (Elementorum philosophiae… vol. II, p. 145).

In connection with this denial of #1 are those who claim that only by the command of God in his absolute power do things become good. Cudworth singles out Ockham as one who held to this view of “an omnipotent Being devoid of all essential and natural justice” (p. 14). Some, such as Joannes Szydlovius (early 17th cent.) claim that “to love God is by nature an indifferent thing, and is morally good only, because it is commanded by God…” (Vindiciae questionum...).

Cudworth sets out in chapter 2 to prove by logical argument that commands depend upon and presuppose natures. No omnipotence, he argues,  is able to make a thing white or black without there being whiteness or blackness, and this is true whether one thinks of these as qualities (Aristotle) or dispositions of parts that beget the sensations of white or black within us (Descartes). Also, omnipotence cannot make things like or equal to one another without the nature of likeness and equality.

The reason thereof is plain, because all these things imply a manifest contradiction: that things should be what they are not. And this is a truth fundamentally necessary to all knowledge, that contradictories cannot be true; for otherwise nothing would be certainly true or false (p. 16).

By way of the Scholastics, Cudworth affirms the principle “that God himself cannot supply the place of a formal cause (Deum ipsum non posse supplere locum causae formalis).” In other words, “God” is not the nature of “justice” or “honesty” which is what would be the case if those terms were not self-referential but refer only to God’s will. Perhaps Cudworth’s clearest working principle, which one must affirm in order to avoid both logical contradiction and uphold natural rights, is that, “There is no such thing as an arbitrarious essence, mode, or relation, that may be made indifferently any thing at pleasure” (p. 17). In other words, things have their own existence and because of this they are not indifferent and thus cannot be changed at will. “For an arbitrarious essence is a being without a nature, a contradiction, and therefore a nonentity” (ibid.).

However, Cudworth notes, it is true that when God or a civil authority issues a command, the thing commanded becomes good when before it was indifferent, thus appearing to support the voluntarist claim that good and evil are human constructs. Even if things are bound by their natures, some claim, morality is created by the command of an authority. Cudworth responds that commands are not obligatory accept insofar as they apply to specific natures. For example, no known ruler has ever founded his authority of making commandments and others’ duty to obey them in a law of his own making.  Thus the authority of the commander must arrive from natural justice and an antecedent obligation to obey within the subjects. “Which things are not made by laws, but presupposed before all laws to make them valid ” (p. 18). For Cudworth, if there were no antecedent obligation to obey within subjects not even God himself could place any obligation on them to obey his commands “because the natures of things do not depend upon will, being not things that are arbitrarily made (gignomena) but things that are (onta)” (p. 19).

Having explained the logic of the above division between natural and legal good/evil Cudworth procedes to clarify what is known as “the Euthyphro dilemma” from Plato’s Euthyphro – Are things good because they are commanded or commanded because they are good? The answer to this dilemma, for Cudworth, depends upon a right division between intellect and will. The nature of man that does not depend upon arbitrary will is an intellectual nature. Thus, good and evil for an intellectual nature are things to which the intellect is obliged to pursue per se and others that the intellect obliges itself to pursue per accidens. This break-down may be of some help here:

  • Intellect – pursues the good by nature
    • Natural good – such things as the intellectual nature obliges to immediately, absolutely, and perpetually, and upon no condition of any voluntary action that may be done or omitted intervening.
  • Will by means of Intellect- pursues accidental or “indifferent” good and evil by a voluntary action either
      • self imposed or
      • imposed by another person
    • Positively (accidentally) good – such things as the intellectual nature obliges to accidentally upon condition of some voluntary act of another person invested with lawful authority in commanding.

Through a command of the will indifferent things acquire a new relation to the intellectual nature by falling underneath something that is absolutely good or evil. In other words, though they are commanded by the will, these indifferent things depend upon the intellectual nature of the subject supplying the general categories of good and evil under which they fall. For example, to keep faith is an obligation of natural justice. To keep faith with a particular person/entity at a specific time is a thing indifferent. However, when one makes a promise by voluntary action, that particular thing falls under the absolute category of “keeping faith” thus forming a new relation to the rational nature. Thus, natural justice for man is the intellectual nature which obliges one to obey both God and civil authority.

Subjects are not required to obey a specific civil authority merely because of a “positive” law but because the intellect naturally pursues obedience to the general office of the civil authority. Yet, even the civil authority is bound by the intellect and loses the power to command if he or she exceeds these naturally imposed bounds.

Cudworth clarifies that commands do not change indifferent things into things good per se but the obedience to a particular positive law concerning an indifferent thing can be divided between form and matter. The act of obedience to the indifferent thing which has become obligatory is material obedience while  formal obedience corresponds to the universal of yielding obedience to lawful authority.

Wherefore in positive commands, the will of the commander doth not create any new moral entity, but only diversely modifies and determines that general duty or obligation of natural justice to obey lawful authority and keep oaths and covenants, as our own will in promising doth but produce several modifications of keeping faith. And therefore there are no new things just or due made by either of them, besides what was always by nature such, to keep our own promises, and obey the lawful commands of others (p. 21).

Cudworth concludes from the above premises that if there were no intellectual nature or natural justice then nothing would be obligatory, especially not that which is supposedly begotten by a mere command of the will. One can see in this the foundation for a Western theory of innate and inalienable rights as things founded upon certain and intellectual principles. It is no wonder that a man as influential as John Locke was first schooled in the philosophy of Ralph Cudworth and nurtured through close convivial acquaintance with the latter’s daughter Lady Masham.

On the Difference Between Philosophy and Theology from Philip Melanchthon’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics

Philip MelanchthonWhen Peter Martyr Vermigli gave his lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to the students at the Strasbourg Academy in the year 1553, he undoubtedly had a commentary upon the same Aristotelian text in mind, one published by Philip Melanchthon in 1535 (which may be found here). Like Vermigli’s lectures-turned-commentary, Melancthon’s commentary does not go beyond the fourth book of the Ethics – Vermigli’s stopped at book three. Yet, within these pages we are given a glimpse into a Reformed, yet thoroughly Medieval, understanding of the relationship between the civic and religious spheres, the law and the gospel. I have listed below a short section on this problem treated by Melanchthon in his commentary. The Latin original is listed with a translation to follow. As usual, any corrections or improvements to the translation are encouraged. Since Melanchthon’s treatment of this problem spans the length of a few pages, I intend to devote a few more posts to the translation of this section.

De discriminae Christianae doctrinae, & Philosophiae

Qui nihil inter Philosophiam, & Christiana doctrinam interesse existimant, & idem doctrinae genus Philosophiam ac doctrinam Evangelii esse putant, ii in magno errore versantur, & tamen huic opinioni applaudant multi magni, ut videntur homines. Sunt alii quidam illiterati, qui vociferantur praecepta Philosophica cum pietate pugnare, eaq; simpliciter damnant: qui quoniam inscitiae ac stultitiae suae religionem praetexunt, plane sunt, ut est in proverbio, ὄνοι ἀΐοντες μυσηρια. Quanquam autem quid sentiendam sit de his studiis philosophicis, saepe alias diximus: tamen quoniam hic locus proprie id poscit, breviter & hic sententiam nostram recitabimus.

Philosophia nihil tradit de voluntate Dei, nihil de remissione peccatorum, nihil de timore, de fiducia erga Deum. Tantum docet praecepta de externa & civili consuctudine vitae, sicut publicae Leges civitatum. At Evangelium exponit nobis voluntatem Dei, remittit peccata, pollicetur Spiritu sanctum, qui corda prirum sanctificat, & vitam aeternam affert. Interea foris sinit nos uti moribus civilibus, sicut cibo, potu, vestitu utimur. Et ut cibus, potus, vestitus, res corporales sunt, quae non pertinent ad fidei iustitiam. Ita mores civiles, non pariunt cordis iustitiam. Proinde toto coelo errant, qui nihil inter Philosophiam & Evangelium interesse iudicat. Nam Philosophiam tota nihil continet, nisi praecepta de externa actione, qua, ut ita dicam, tanq in scena, in hac civili societate hominu utendum est. Evangeliu vero longe alia profitetur. Non enim venit Christus in mundu, ut praecepta de moribus doceret, quae iam ante norat ratio, sed ut remitteret peccata, ut credentibus in ipsum donaret spiritum sanctum. Et tamen, ut Magistratus approbat, ita civilem consuetudinem vitae probat, vult mores esse civiles, & humanos, hoc est, non pugnantes cum ratione naturali, seu cum iudicio rationis. Ut enim iudicium rationis in aliis corporalibus rebus valet, in aedificando, in numerando, ita valet in regendis moribus civilibus.


Concerning the difference between Christian doctrine and Philosophy

Those who think that there is no difference between Philosophy and Christian doctrine and who reckon the genus of the doctrine of Philosophy to be the same as the doctrine of the Gospel occupy themselves in great error, and yet they applaud many great men of this opinion, as they appear to be men. There are certain other uneducated ones who exclaim that Philosophical precepts fight against piety, and these they simply condemn who, because of their own ignorance and foolishness, make religion a pretext, as it is (said) in the proverb onois aiontes myshria, “asses breathe out foul things.” But nevertheless that which may be observed from these Philosophical studies we have said many times in other (places): Yet, because this place particularly demands it we will briefly recite our judgment.

Philosophy hands down nothing about the will of God, nothing about the remission of sins, nothing about fear, or about trust in God. It only teaches the precepts concerning external and civil customs of life, as the public Laws of the city. But the Gospel sets forth to us the will of God, it forgives sins, it promises the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the hearts of the pious, and it imparts eternal life. Nevertheless, in public it is permitted us that, as with civic morals, so we make use of food, drink, and clothing. And as food, drink, and clothing are corporeal things which do not pertain to the righteousness of faith. So civic morals do not pertain to the righteousness of the heart. Accordingly, in all of heaven those err who think there is no difference between Philosophy and the Gospel. For the whole of Philosophy contains nothing except precepts concerning external action, which, if I may say so, as in a theater, man must make use of in this civil society. But the Gospel professes other things at a distance. For Christ did not come into the world to teach precepts about (civic) morals, the rules of which (the world) already knew, but to forgive sins, in order that he may give the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him. But nevertheless, as the Magistrate establishes the civic customs of life, in the same manner he tests them, wanting morals to be civil and human, in other words, that which does not fight against natural reason, or with the judgment of reason. For as the judgment of reason is able in other corporeal things, in construction and in calculation, so it is able to direct civic morals.

Finding the Mean Between Vices

One huge area of interest for the Christian philosopher is that of the relationship between man’s natural practical reason and the virtues that he may acquire through his faculties and the supernatural virtues that no natural faculty can help to achieve but are, nonetheless, requirements for entry into the City of God.  Peter Martyr said that the mean between vices (which is the essence of virtue) may only be found by looking to the scriptures.  At first this idea seems like that of  a biblicist who seeks to do violence to nature in order to prove man’s need of the supernatural.  However, Martyr is a big fan of natural law (he calls it prolepseis) even saying, “we must always accept the view that ‘Reason always encourages one to better things.'” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 286).  

How do we solve this dilemma?  Does Martyr contradict himself?  Can men find the mean by use of reason?  I think if we assume (a) that Christianity and pagan philosophy are incompatible or (b) that there is a dichotomy between reason and faith so that we must always make a choice between one or the other then we must conclude that he does contradict himself.  The person who holds to (a) would consider this good while the person holding to (b) would consider Martyr irrational.  

In order to answer these questions we must distinguish between (1) acquired and (2) inspired (or infused) virtues. The acquired virtues are worthless coram Deo while the inspired ones are made perfect by Christ’s righteousness.  No. (2) does not only consist of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity but also those that man can naturally acquire (but does not in this case) such as prudence, fortitude, and temperance.  The difference between the believer’s moral virtues and those of the unbeliever is that the former are directed to God while the others are directed at an infinite variety of earthly ends.

Therefore, Martyr says that Christian right reason seeks after the mean of (2) in the scriptures because they surpass natural reason and because the effects of sin have deemed man’s rational faculty unreliable.  I believe Martyr follows the basic structure that Martin Luther presents in his Lectures on Galatians to perfect Aristotle’s virtue theory with the more certain truth of the Christian faith.  Luther says that in theology “doing” has a different meaning than in morals:    

Thus it has a completely new meaning; it does indeed require right reason and a good will, but in a theological sense, not in a moral sense, which means that through the Word of the Gospel I know and believe that God sent His Son into the world to redeem us from sin and death.  Here ‘doing’ is a new thing, unknown to reason, to the philosophers, to the legalists, and to all men; for it is a ‘wisdom hidden in a mystery’ (1 Cor. 2:7).  In theology, therefore, ‘doing’ necessarily requires faith itself as a precondition […] a new reason must come into being, which is the reason of faith.  Therefore ‘doing’ is always understood in theology as doing with faith, so that doing with faith is another sphere and a new realm, so to speak, one that is different from moral doing. (Lectures on Galatians, pp. 262, 263)  

Thus in order to find the mean that counts as virtue coram Deo natural reason is not enough.  One must look to the supernatural wisdom, a reason of faith, found in the Holy Scriptures.  This is not the case of faith doing violence to natural reason, rather it is the case of faith perfecting natural reason by directing it toward its supernatural end in the vision of God.  Once faith has been found through the hearing of the word and the inspiration of the Spirit men can acquire virtues that apply both to the civil and spiritual realms through the use of right reason.