Cicero: Stoic Paradoxes (Paradoxa Stoicorum)

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Addressed to Marcus Brutus

I have often noticed, Brutus, that when your uncle Cato is giving his opinion in the senate, he draws weighty arguments from philosophy which are not appropriate for that legal and public use, but that nevertheless, in his oratory, he succeeds in making these things plausible even to the common people.

This is an even greater thing for him than for either you or me, since we make use rather of that philosophy which gave birth to fluency of oratory, and in which things are said which are not in so much disagreement with public opinion. Cato, however (in my opinion the com­plete Stoic), even believes things which are not entirely acceptable to the mob, and is one of that sect which pursues no flowering of rhetoric, nor does it draw out its demonstrations: it proves what it has proposed by little questions, as if by pinpricks.

But nothing is so unbelievable that it cannot be made credible by rhetoric, nothing so rough, so rude, that it would not take on luster and honor in oratory. Because I believe this, I have acted more boldly t an even he himself about whom I am speaking. For Cato is accustomed to speak in the Stoic fashion, but with rhetorical embellishments applied, about greatness of soul, self-control, death, the utter praiseworthiness of virtue, the immortal gods, and love of country: I, on the other hand, have playfully collected in universal proofs those things which the Stoics can scarcely prove, even at leisure in the gymnasia.

Since these things are remarkable and contrary to everyone’s opinion (they themselves even call them “paradoxes”), I want to test whether they can be brought into the light, that is, into the forum, and be spoken so that they might be accepted, or whether learned speech is one kind of thing, and popular speech another: and on that account I have written these arguments rather loosely, because those things they call “paradoxes” seem to me to be especially Socratic, and by far the most true.

Therefore you will receive this little work composed during the already shortened nights, since that work of longer vigils has appeared in your name, and you will have a taste of the kind of exercises which I use when I translate what the schools of philosophy are saying in their disputes into my rhetorical mode of speaking. Nevertheless, I do not demand that you consider yourself in my debt on account of this work: for it is not such as could be put in a citadel, like that Minerva of Phidias, but perhaps it should be evident that it has come from the same workshop.

I: Virtue Is the Only Good

I am afraid that this oration might seem to some of you to be taken from the debates of the Stoics, not from my own thought: nevertheless I will say what I think and I will say it more briefly than so great a subject demands.

Certainly I never considered either those people’s money or their magnificent homes or their resources or their power or those pleasures with which they are bound up to be either among the goods or among the things which ought to be sought, since I see that they, surrounded by a flood of these things, still want most the things with which they abound. For the thirst of desire 1s never either filled or sated; not only are they tortured by the desire for increas­ing what they have, but also by fear of losing it.

In this, indeed, I often look in vain for the prudence of our ancestors, most self-controlled men, who thought that these powerless gifts, utterly changeable by fortune, ought to be called by the name “goods,” when they had judged them far and away otherwise by reality and the facts. Can a good be an evil for anyone? Or can someone, being in an abundance of goods, not himself be good? But in fact we see that even wicked men have all these sorts of things and honest men lack them.

For this reason anyone who wants to may laugh: but as far as I am concerned, true reasoning will have more weight than the mob’s opinion: and I will never say that someone has lost goods who has lost cattle or furniture, and I will often praise that wise man Bias, I think it was, who is numbered among the seven. When the enemy captured Priene, his homeland, and the rest fled and carried off their property, and he had been warned by someone that he should do the same thing, he said, “But that is what I’m doing, for I carry all that is mine with me.”

He did not even consider these toys of fortune which we call “goods” as his own. Someone will ask, “What then is good?” If some­ thing which is done uprightly and honorably and with virtue can be truly said to be well done, then I believe that that alone which is upright and honorable and virtuous is good.

But these things can seem rather repugnant when they are discussed in an offhand manner: they have been illustrated by the life and deeds of the most exalted men; discussing them with words seems to be more subtle than is appropriate. So I ask you whether they, who have left to us this republic which they so gloriously founded, seem to have made any provision for silver for their greed or pleasant places for their delight or furniture for their enjoyment or feasts for their pleasure.

Place before your eyes some one of the kings. Do you wish to start with Romulus? Do you wish to start after the state was free, with the very ones who freed it? By what stairway did Romulus climb to heaven? Was it by those things which those men of yours call “goods,” or by his deeds and virtues? Do we think that the ladles and earthen urns from Numa Pompilius’ day were less pleasing to the immortal gods than the fern-engraved saucers of others? I pass over the rest, for they are all equal among themselves, except for Tarquin the Proud.

If someone were to ask Brutus what he was accomplishing in freeing his country, if they were to ask the rest of his allies in the plan what they were expecting, what they were after, would there be anyone for whom pleasure, riches, or indeed anything other than the duty of a brave and great man seems to have been the purpose? What cause drove Gaius Mucius to the slaughter of Porsenna with no hope for his own safety? What force held Cocles against the whole host of the enemy alone on the bridge? What sent Decius, the father and the son, their lives sacrificed, into the thick of the armed enemy? What was the point of Gaius Fabricius’ self­ control, or Manius Curius’ frugal way of life? What of the two bulwarks of the Punic War, Gnaeus and Publius Scipio, who thought that they ought to block the coming of the Carthaginians with their own bodies? What of Africanus the elder, and the younger? What of Cato, who fell between these two in date? What of countless others (for we have a wealth of domestic examples)? Did they seem to think that anything in life was to be sought except what is praisewor­ thy and glorious?

Then let those who scoff at this speech and opinion now judge whether even they would rather be like one of those who abound in marble houses glittering with ivory and gold, in statues, in paintings, in engraved gold and silver, and in Corinthian artworks, or like Gaius Fabricius, who had none of these, nor did he want them.

And they are usually brought easily to deny that these things, which are carried around to and fro, are goods: but they hold fast and carefully defend the claim that pleasure is the highest good. This seems to me surely to be the voice of cattle, not men. Seeing that either a god or Nature, the mother (as I will call her) of all things, has given you a soul, than which nothing is more ex­cellent or more divine, will you so debase yourself and cast yourself down that you think there is no difference between you and some fourfooted beast? Is anything good which does not make him who possesses it better?

For just as any­ one is especially a partaker of a good, so is he especially praiseworthy, and there is no good concerning which he who has it cannot honorably boast. Which of these is true of pleasure? Does it make a man better or more praiseworthy?

Does anyone inflate himself with boasting and proclamations about obtaining pleasures? Nevertheless, if pleasure, which is defended by the patronage of most people, should not be considered among the goods, and the greater it is the more it moves the mind away from its proper seat and condition, then surely to live well and happily is nothing other than to live honorably and uprightly.

II: Virtue Is Sufficient for Happiness

And I have never considered Marcus Regulus unfortu­ nate or unhappy or wretched. For his greatness of soul was not tortured by the Carthaginians, nor his dignity, or loy­ alty, or constancy, or any of his virtues, nor even his soul itself, which, with so great a guard and train of virtues, could certainly not be captured, although his body was. In fact, we saw Gaius Marius, who as far as I’m concerned takes second place all by himself among fortunate men: in his ad­ versities he appeared as one of the most exalted of men, in a state no happier than that which is possible for a mortal.

You don’t know, madman, you don’t know how much force virtue has. You appropriate virtue’s great name: what its value is, you are ignorant. No one can fail to be most happy who is complete in himself and dependent on himself and who places all that is his -own in himself. Nothing can be certain to him for whom every hope and reasoning and thought hangs on fortune: there can be nothing which he has determined will remain with him for even a single day.

Frighten that man, if you should meet one like him, with your threats of death and exile: but whatever may happen to me in so ungrateful a city, I will not only not resist, but not even object when it befalls me. What have I labored over and what have I accomplished, and in what have my con­cerns and thoughts spent sleepless nights, if I have brought forth nothing, I have achieved nothing such that I might be in a state from which neither the rashness of fortune nor the injustices of enemies could cause me to slip?

Do you threaten me with death to make me leave all men, or with exile to make me leave the corrupt? Death is terrible to them whose all is extinguished with their life, not to them whose praise cannot die: exile is terrible to those who have their habitation, as it were, circumscribed, not to those who consider the whole world to be one city. Every hardship and affliction crushes you who consider yourself happy and prospering. Your desires are tortured, you are crucified day and night, you for whom what you have is not enough, and who fear that even that won’t last long. Consciousness of your wrongdoing disquiets you: fear of trial and laws weakens you: wherever you look, your injustices fall upon you like Furies which don’t let you draw a free breath.

On account of this, just as things can go well for no wicked and foolish and lazy man, so also no good and wise and brave man can be wretched. Neither should anyone’s life be praised whose virtue and character should not be praised. But one should flee from it if it is wretched. On account of this, whatever is praiseworthy one should also deem happy and prosperous and a thing to be sought.

III: All the Vices and All Virtues Are Equal

Someone says, “It’s a small matter.” But it is a great fault: for offenses should not be measured by the out­ come of things, but by the vices of the people committing them. The matter in which someone commits an offense can be greater or less, but the offense itself, however you turn it, is the same. Whether the pilot capsizes a shipload of gold or of chaff makes some difference in result, but none in the inexperience of the pilot. Desire has made a slip, in the case of a lower-class woman: pain touches fewer than if it had been wanton with- some well-born and noble maiden; but it has offended no less, since to offend is, in a manner of speaking, to cross boundaries: when you have done this, the fault has been committed: how far you go on once you have crossed has no relevance in increasing the fault of crossing. Surely no one is permitted to offend. As for what is not permitted, its prohibition is the sole criterion for judgement if one argues that it is prohibited. If this prohibition can never be either greater or less, since its being not permitted makes an offense an offense, it is prop­ er that the offenses born from that fact should be equal: this fact is always one and the same.

And if virtues are equal among themselves, it is necessary that vices are also equal. But it can be seen very easily that virtues are equal, and that it is not possible to become better than a good man, more self-controlled than a self-controlled man, braver than a brave man, or wiser than a wise man. Would you say a man is good if he would give back ten pounds of gold left with him without a witness (when he could have made a profit with impunity), if he wouldn’t do the same with ten thousand pounds of gold? Or self-controlled if he restrains his desire at one time, but at another he lets himself go?

Virtue is one, agreeing with reason and continual uniformity: nothing can be added to it by which it would be more virtue than it is, nothing can be taken away to cause the loss of the name of virtue. For indeed if good deeds are upright deeds and nothing is more right than what is right, surely nothing can be found which is better than what is good. It follows therefore that vices, too, are equal, if deformities of the soul are truly called vices.

But, since virtues are equal, upright deeds, since they proceed from virtues, must be equal; likewise, offenses, since the flow from vices, must be equal.

Someone says, “You are taking these things from the philosophers.” I was afraid you would say “from the pimps.” “Socrates used to argue this way.” You’re right; for ac­ cording to tradition, he was a learned and wise man. But still I ask you, since we are contending with words, not fists, should we ask what porters and laborers think, or what the most learned men think? Especially since no thought that is truer or more useful for human life can be found. For what force would protect men more from every wickedness than if they think there is no difference among crimes, that they offend equally if they lay hands on a private citizen or a magistrate, that whatever home they bring seduction into, the stain of lust is the same?

“Then does it make no difference,” someone will say, “whether one kills his father or a slave?” If you lay down bare cases, what sort they are can’t easily be judged. If it is a crime in itself to take your father’s life, were the Saguntines, who preferred that their parents die free rather than live as slaves, parricides? So sometimes it is possible to take even a parent’s life without committing a crime, and not possible to take a slave’s life without in­ justice. Therefore, it is the motive of the deed, not its nature, that makes the difference. When a good motive at­ taches to either, it becomes weightier; if it is joined to both, they must become equal.

There is nevertheless this difference, that in killing a slave, if it is done un­ justly, one offends once; in doing violence against a father’s life one offends many times: he does violence to him who sired, raised, and taught him, him who made his place in house and home and country. He stands out in the multitude of his offenses and therefore deserves the greater punishment. But we, in living, must not examine what punishment there should be for each offense, but how much is permitted to each person. Whatever is not fitting we must consider a crime; whatever is not permitted, we must consider unholy. “Even in the smallest matters?” Even so, since we can’t fix the limit of things, but we can set limits to our souls.

If an actor moves a little out of step, or if his line is delivered with one syllable too short or long, he 1s hissed and hooted off the stage: in your life, which ought to be more controlled than any actor’s gesture, more fitting than any lines, will you say you offended merely in a syllable? Shall I decline to listen to a poet’s apology for trifling matters, and then excuse someone who beats out his offenses against society with his fingers and remarks, “Should they appear smaller, regard them as less important”? How can they seem so, when whatever offense is committed, it is committed by upsetting reason and order, and once reason and order have been upset, nothing more can be added which would make it possible for there to be more of an offense?

IV: All Fool Are Mad

Note: This paradox takes for its illustration the life of Publius Clodius, a Roman soldier of noble birth, but infamous for the corruption of his morals. He was ultimately slain by the retinue of Milo, in an encouter which took place between the two as Milo was journeying toward Lanuvium, his native place, and Clodius was on his way to Rome.

I <do not call> you foolish, as you often are, or wicked, as you always are, but insane … <with the things necessary for life> can be unconquered: shall the wise man’s soul be conquered and overcome, hedged as it is, as if by a wall, by greatness of counsel, endurance of human affairs, contempt of fortune, and finally by every virtue, when it can’t even be driven from the state? After all, what is a state? Is it every gathering, even of savages and monsters: every multitude assembled in one place, even of fugitives and bandits? Surely you will deny that. Therefore that place was not a state when in it laws had no force, courts lay overturned, our fathers’ customs had perished, and with magistrates driven out by the sword, the name of the senate was no more in the republic: that union of robbers and the brigandage established in the forum with you as its leader, and the remains of Catiline’s conspiracy turned by his Furies to your crime and madness, was not a state.

And so I was not driven from the state, for there was no state: I was summoned to the state when there was in the republic a consul (whereas previously there had been none), there was a senate (which had been overthrown), there was a free consensus of the people, and there was a renewed memory of right and equity, which are the bonds of a state.

And look how I despised those weapons of your brigand­ age. I have always thought you launched and hurled horrible injustices at me: I never thought they reached me, unless perhaps you thought something of mine was being ruined or burned down when you were destroying walls, or when you were throwing criminal torches onto roofs.

Nothing is mine, or anyone’s, which can be carried off, taken away, or lost.

If you had taken away my divine constancy of soul, <my knowledge> that the republic stood, much against your will, because of my care, my vigilance, and my plans: if you had blotted out the undying memory of this eternal service, even more if you had taken from me that mind whence those plans flowed, then I would admit I had suffered an injustice. But if you neither did nor could do these things, your injustice gave me a glorious return, not a disastrous departure.

Therefore, I have always been a citizen, and especially when the senate was commending my safety to foreign nations, as of the best of citizens: but surely now you are not one, un­ less perhaps the same man can be a citizen and an enemy. Do you distinguish a citizen from an enemy by birth and location, not by soul and deeds?

You made a slaughter in the forum, you held temples with armed bandits, you burned private homes and holy shrines. Why is Spartacus an enemy if you are a citizen? But can you be a citizen, since be­cause of you there was once no state? And do you call me “exile”, which is your name, when everyone thinks that the republic went into exile with my departure? Will you never look around you, most insane man, nor ever consider what you are doing or what you are saying? Don’t you know that exile is a punishment for crimes, but that my journey was under­ taken on account of my most glorious deeds?

All the criminals and impious men, whose leader you acknowledge yourself to be, whom the laws wish to punish with exile, are exiles, even if the soil they stand on is unchanged. wouldn’t an enemy call you exile when all the laws bid you to be one? “He who has a weapon”: your dagger was seized before the senate-house; “He who has killed a man”: you have killed several; “He who has set a fire”: you with your own hand burned down the temple of the Nymphs: “He who has occupied sacred precincts”: you made camp in the forum.

But why do I lay out the common laws, by all of which you are an exile? Your closest friend proposed a special law concerning you, that if you should enter the secret shrine of the Good Goddess, you should be exiled. And you are used to boasting that you did it. How is it then that you, cast out into exile by so many laws, do not shudder at the name “exile”? “I am at Rome,” he says. Yes, and you have also been in the secret shrine. Therefore a man does not have a right to be where he is unless there is a lawful reason for him to be there.

V: The Wise Man Alone Is Free, and Every Fool Is a Slave

Let this man be praised as a commander, or called one, or deemed worthy of the name: how is he a commander? or which free man will he command, seeing that he can’t command his own desires? Let him first curb his desires, scorn his pleasures, hold his anger, restrain his greed, and avert other spiritual faults; then let him command others, when he himself has ceased to obey those most wicked masters, un­ seemliness and baseness: indeed, while he obeys them, he should not only be considered not a commander, but also not even a free man.

This claim is current among the most learned men -­ whose authority I would not use if this speech were to be given before rustics; but since I am speaking before very wise men, to whom these things are no secret, why should I pretend that I have wasted whatever work I put into these studies? — therefore it is said by the most educated men that no one is free unless he is wise.

What then is freedom? Ability to live as you wish. Who then lives as he wishes, if not the one who pursues upright things, who rejoices in duty, whose way of life is considered and planned, who doesn’t obey the laws because of fear, but follows and cultivates them because he judges that to be most advantageous, who says nothing, does nothing, in fact thinks nothing unless it is willingly and freely, whose every plan and undertaking proceeds from and returns to him, nor is there anything which has more power for him than his own will and judgement, to whom even that which is said to have the most power, Fortune herself, yields, since, as the wise poet said, she shapes herself according to each man’s own character? so this happens only to the wise man, that he does nothing unwillingly, nothing sorrowfully, nothing under duress.

Although this ought to be more fully discussed, it is nevertheless a concise truth which ought to be acknowledged, that no one is free except him who is so furnished with virtues.

All the wicked are slaves therefore, slaves. Nor is this so unexpected and remarkable as it sounds. For they are not called “slaves” as in bought properties which become their master’s by debt or some civil law: but if slavery is, as in fact it is, the obedience of a broken and abject soul lacking any judgement of its own, who would deny that all unstable and ambitious people, and indeed all wicked people are slaves?

Am I to think that man is free whom a woman commands, for whom she lays down the law, directs, orders, for­ bids what she sees fit, who can’t deny her anything when she commands and dares to refuse nothing? She demands, he must give: she calls, he must come: she throws him out, he must go away: she threatens, he must fear. But I think he should not just be called a slave, but a most worthless slave, even if he was born into a most eminent household.

And, as in a great family of fools, there are oth­ers — more elegant slaves, as they think they are, but nevertheless slaves, stewards and landscape gardeners of their own foolishness — who take too much delight in statues, paintings, engraved silver, Corinthian artworks, and magnificent buildings. Someone says, “But we are chiefs of state.” On the contrary, you are not even chiefs of your fellow-slaves, but just as in a household, those who handle those things, who dust and oil and sweep and sprinkle water, don’t have the most honorable place of servitude, so in the state those who have given themselves over to desire for those things obtain almost the lowest place in slavedom itself. Someone says, “I have waged great wars; I have been in charge of great commands and provinces.” So carry a soul that is worthy of praise. One of Aetion’s paintings or some statue by Polyclitus has caught your attention, and you are dumbfounded. I will pass over where you brought them from and how it is that you have them; when I see you gazing, marveling, and raising exclamations, I judge that you are a slave of every absurdity.

“But aren’t these things delightful?” Granted {for we, too, have a trained eye); but I beg you, consider their charm not as chains for men, but as amusements for children. What do you think? If Lucius Mummius saw one of those men lustfully handling a small Corinthian pot when he himself had despised all of Corinth, would he think that man was a distinguished citizen, or an industrious steward? Let Manius Curius come back to life, or one of those men in whose villa and house there was nothing splendid or distinguished besides themselves, ‘ and let him see someone who enjoys the highest benefits of the people catching bearded mullets from his pond and handling them, and boasting of his supply of lampreys: wouldn’t he judge that this man was such a slave as he would not consider worthy of any greater task in the household?

Or is their servitude in doubt who in lust for mon­ey refuse no condition of the hardest servitude? And as for hope of inheritances, what unfair service does it not under­ take? What childless, rich old man’s nod does it not attend to? It speaks when he wishes, it does whatever he demands, it waits on him, sits by him, gives him gifts: I ask you, which of these is a free man’s act, which is not the act of a lazy slave?

Now, as for that desire for public office, military authority, and provinces, which seems to be more gentlemanly, what a hard mistress she is, how imperi­ous, how impetuous! She forced men who thought they were most eminent to be slaves to Cethegus (not a very honorable man), to send gifts, to come to him at home in the night, and even to grovel before Praecia. What is slavery, if this can be counted as freedom?

Furthermore, when your master, desire, has left and an­ other master, fear, has arisen out of consciousness of of­fenses, how wretched, how hard is that slavery! One must be a slave to youths who are a little too talkative, and one must fear as masters all who seem to know something. How great a power the judge has with which he instills fear 1n the guilty! And isn’t all fear slavery?

What then is the value of that oration, which was more wordy than wise, of that most eloquent man, Lucius Crassus, “Snatch us out of slavery”? What is that slavery to so famous and noble a man? Every enfeebled, low, broken fearfulness of soul is slavery. “Don’t allow us to be slaves to anyone”: does he wish to be delivered into freedom? Hardly: for what does he add? “Unless it is to all of you together”: he wishes to change his master, not to be free. “Whom we both can and ought to serve”: but we, if indeed we have a soul which is lofty and built up with virtues, neither ought to nor can: say that you can, since indeed you can, but don’t say that you ought to, since no one owes anything except what would not be base to give.

But enough of this: let that man see how he can be a commander when reason and truth herself demonstrate that he is not even free.

VI. The Wise Man Alone Is Rich

Note: This paradox is addressed to Marcus Crassus.

What is this excessive display in calling attention to your money? Are you alone rich? By the immortal gods, may I not rejoice that I have heard and learned something? Are you alone rich? What if you weren’t rich? What if you were even poor? Whom do we understand to be rich, or on which person do we place this label? I believe we should place it on him who has so much that he is easily content in living in a gentlemanly way, who demands, desires, and hopes for nothing more.

It is fitting that your soul should judge you rich, not people’s talk or your possessions. If it considers that it lacks nothing, if it doesn’t trouble about anything more, if it is satisfied or even content with your money, then I yield: you are rich. But if because of greed for money you consider no profit to be base (when in your station no profit can really be honorable), if every day you defraud, cheat, demand, bargain, plunder, and grab, if you rob your partners, loot the treasury, if you wait for something from your friends’ wills, or you don’t even wait and forge them yourself, are these the signs of a wealthy man, or a needy one?

“Is it a man’s soul, not his mon­ey-box, which is usually called rich?” Although that box is full, I will not consider you rich as long as you seem empty to me. In fact, men measure a man’s wealth by how much is enough for him. Someone has a daughter: he needs money: he has two: he needs more: he has many: he needs still more: if a man has fifty daughters, as they say Danaus had, so many dowries require a lot of money. The measure of a man’s wealth, as I said before, is adjusted to how much he needs.

Therefore if he doesn’t have many daughters, but has countless lusts, which can exhaust the greatest resources in a short time, how can I call him rich, when he himself feels he is needy?

Many have heard you when you said that no one is rich except the man who can support an army with his own income, a thing which the Roman people have long been hardly able to do, even with such great revenues: therefore, by this premise you will never be rich until you get so much return from your property that thereby you can keep six legions and a great auxiliary force of cavalry and infantry. You already confess you are not rich, since you are in need to the point that you would yet accumulate what you hope for.

And so you have never borne that poverty, or rather destitution and beggary, secretly.

For just as we un­derstand that those who seek money honorably, by doing business, rendering services, and undertaking public works, need profit, so he who sees the flocks of accusers and informers gathered together at your house, the guilty and rich defendants likewise conspiring at your prompting to bribe a jury, who see your bargains for fees in conducting a defense, your guarantees of money in the coalition of candidates, your sending of freedmen to bleed dry and despoil the provinces, who see your expulsion of neighbors, your theft of land, your partnership with slaves, freedmen, and clients, your empty properties, your proscriptions of the rich, your slaughters of free towns, or who remembers that harvest in Sulla’s time, the forged wills, so many people disposed of, and finally everything for sale: edicts, decrees, another man’s vote, a man’s own vote, the forum, home, voice, si­lence: who would not think this man is confessing his need for profit? But if someone needs money, who would ever say he is truly rich?

For indeed, the advantage of wealth is in abundance: but abundance shows itself in sufficiency and overflowing of property: since you will never achieve this, you will never be rich at all.

But since you despise my money — and rightly so: for it is a middling amount according to the opinion of the mob, according to yours it is nothing, according to mine it is moderate — I will be silent about myself and talk about property.

If we must count and evaluate things, should we value the money Pyrrhus was offering to Fabricius more highly, or Fabricius’ self-control which was refusing that money? The Samnites’ gold, or Manius Curius’ reply? The inheritance of Lucius Paullus, or the generosity of Africa­ nus, who gave up his part of the inheritance to his brother, Quintus Maximus? Surely the latter, which have to do with the highest virtues, must be valued more highly than the former, which have to do with money. Who therefore, since each should be considered richest when he possesses what is of the most value, would doubt that wealth is to be found in virtue, since no property, no quantity of gold and silver should be valued more highly than virtue?

O immortal gods, men do not understand how great an income thrift is! For now I am coming to the extravagant men, and leaving the greedy man behind. The former receives from his properties six hundred thousand sesterces, I get one hundred thousand from mine. Since he has put in his villas gold ceilings and marble floors, and has an unlimited lust for statues, paintings, furniture and clothing, that profit is not only scant for his expenses, but even for the interest on what he has borrowed: from my slim revenue, with the expenses for my desires deducted, I will even have some­ thing left over. Therefore who is richer, he who lacks something, or he who abounds; he who is in need, or he who has plenty; he who has property which, the greater it 1s, the more it needs looking after, or he whose property is such that it supports itself by its own strength?

But why am I talking about myself, since even I, because of the vice of our customs and times, am perhaps being influenced somewhat by the error of the age? Was Manius Manilius, remembered by our fathers (lest we always talk about the Curii and Luscini), a poor man? For he had small houses in Carinae and a farm at Labicum. “But we who have more are richer.” Would that we were! But it is not by the accounting of the census, but by a man’s way of life and re­finement, that the measure of his wealth is defined.

Not to be avaricious is money, not to be spendthrift is income: in fact, to be content with your own money is the greatest and most certain wealth.

For indeed if those sharp appraisers of property value certain meadows and fields highly because this kind of prop­erty is least prone to harm, how much should virtue be val­ued, which can neither be taken away nor stolen, which is not changed by disturbances of either storms or times!

Only those who are thus furnished are rich: for they alone possess a property which is fruitful and lasting, and they alone are content with their own property (and this contentment is peculiar to wealth), they think what they have is enough, they don’t seek anything, they don’t lack anything, they don’t miss anything, they don’t need any­ thing. But the wicked and greedy, since they have property which is uncertain and depends on chance, and they always look for more, and not one of them has been found up to now for whom what he had was enough, not only should not be considered wealthy and endowed, but should even be considered poor and destitute.

Translated by Mark O. Webb


Socialism: An Obituary for an Idea by Irving Kristol

The dead idea of socialism is putrifying both the world’s mind and the world’s body. It was an admirable idea, but now it must be removed and buried.

Irving Kristol

The most important political event of the twentieth century is not the crisis of capitalism but the death of socialism. It is an event of immense significance. For with the passing of the socialist ideal there is removed from the political horizon the one alternative to capitalism that was rooted in the Judeo­ Christian tradition and in the Western civilization which emerged from that tradition. Now, to ever greater degree, anti-capitalism is becoming synonymous with one form or another of barbarism and tyranny. And since capitalism, after two hundred or so years, is bound to endure crisis and breed disaffection, it is nothing short of a tragedy that anti-capitalist dissent should now be liberated from a socialist tradition which – one sees it clearly in perspective – had the function of civilizing dissent, a function it was able to perform because it implicitly shared so many crucial values with the liberal capitalism it opposed.

Today, we live in a world with an ever increasing number of people who call themselves socialists, an ever increasing number of political regimes that call themselves socialist, but where the socialist ideal itself has been voided of all meaning, and frequently of all humane substance as well. It must be emphasized that this is not a question of the institutional reality diverging markedly from the original, inspiring ideal – as the Christian Church, let us say, diverged from the original vision of the Gospels. That kind of wayward development is natural and inevitable, if always dismaying – ideals pay a large price for their incarnation. In the case of contemporary socialism, however, the ideal itself has ceased to be of any interest to anyone – it has not been adapted to. reality but contemptuously repudiated by it.

True, there is a dwindling band of socialist fideists who keep insisting that we must not judge socialism by any of its works. The Soviet Union, they tell us, is not “socialist” at all; nor is China, or Yugoslavia, or Cuba, or Hungary, or all those other· “people’s democracies.” Neither, of course, are such regimes as exist in Peru or Syria or Zaire, whose claims to socialist legitimacy are not to be taken seriously. As for Western countries with social-democratic governments, such as Britain or Sweden – well, they get a passing grade for “effort” but it seems that they are insufficiently resolute or intelligent to bring “true” socialism about.

This is all quite ridiculous, of course. Socialism is what socialism does. The plaintive lament of the purist that socialism (or capitalism, or Christianity) has “never really been tried” is simply the expression of petulance and obstinacy on the part of ideologues who, convinced that they have a more profound understanding than anyone else of the world and its history, now find that they have been living a huge self-deception. People who persist in calling themselves socialist, while decrying the three-quarters of the world that has proclaimed itself socialist, and who can find a socialist country nowhere but in their imaginings – such people are anachronisms. As such they do serve a purpose: they help the historian and scholar understand what socialists used to think socialism was all about. One could discover that from reading books, to be sure, but it is sometimes enlightening to interview an actual survivor.

The absolute contradiction between the socialist reality today and the original socialist ideal is most perfectly revealed by the utter refusal of socialist collectivities even to think seriously about that ideal. Perhaps the most extraordinary fact of twentieth-century intellectual history is that all thinking about socialism takes place in non-socialist countries. In this respect, one can again see the fallacy in the analogy – so frequently and glibly made – between contemporary socialism and early Chris­tianity. The Church certainly did deviate from the original teachings of Jesus and his apostles, and did transform these teachings into a theology suitable for an institutional religion. But these deviations and transformations, this development of Christian doctrine, were the work of the Church Fathers, whose powerful minds can fascinate us even today. In the case of contemporary socialism, there are no Church Fathers – only heretics, outside the reach of established orthodoxies, develop­ing doctrines for which socialist authority has no use at all. Not a single interesting work on Marxism – not even an authoritative biography of Karl Marx! – has issued from the Soviet Union in its sixty years of existence. If you want to study Marxism, with Marxist intellectuals, you go to Paris, or Rome, or London, or some American university campus. There are no intellectual hegiras to Moscow, Peking, or Havana. Moreover, the works of Western Marxist thinkers – and some are indeed impressive – are suppressed in socialist lands. Sartre’s Marxist writings have nev­er been published in Russia, just as Brecht’s plays have never been produced there, and just as Picasso’s paintings have never been exhibited there. Socialism, apparently, is one of those ideals which, when breathed upon by reality, suffers immediate petrifaction. Which is why all those who remain loyal to this ideal will always end up bewailing another “revolution betrayed.”

The inevitable question is: what was the weakness at the heart of this ideal that made it so vulnerable to reality? But in an obituary, it is indelicate to begin with the deceased’s flaws of mind and character. It is more appropriate to take cognizance of, and pay one’s respects to, his positive qualities. And the socialist ideal was, in many respects, an admirable one. More than that: it was a necessary ideal, offering elements that were wanting in capitalist society – elements indispensable for the preservation, not to say perfection, of our humanity.

The basic defects of a liberal-capitalist society have been obscured from us by the socialist critique itself – or, to be more precise, by the versions of this critique which ultimately became the intellectual orthodoxy of the socialist movements. The original sources of socialist dissent are best discovered by going back to the original socialists: the so-called “utopian” socialists, as distinguished from the later “scientific” socialists. Reading them, one finds that socialism derives its. spiritual energy from a profound dissatisfaction, not with one or another aspect of liberal modernity, but with that modernity itself. In­ deed, the original socialist criticism of the bourgeois world is, to a remarkable degree, a secular version of the indictment which the “reactionary” Catholic Church was then continually making, though to a world increasingly deaf to Christian tonalities.

The essential point of this indictment was that liberty was not enough. A society founded solely on “individual rights” was a society that ultimately deprived men of those virtues which could only exist in a political community which is something other than a “society.” Among these virtues are a sense of distributive justice, a fund of shared moral values, and a common vision of the good life sufficiently attractive and powerful to transcend the knowledge that each individual’s life ends only in death. Capitalist society itself – as projected, say, in the writings of John Locke and Adam Smith – was negligent of such virtues. It did not reject them and in no way scorned them, but simply assumed that the individual would be able to cope with this matter as he did with his other “private” affairs. This assumption, in turn, was possible only because the founders of capitalism took it for granted that the moral and spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity was unassailable, and that the new individualism of bourgeois society would not “liberate” the individual from this tradition. It might free him from a particular theology, or a particular church; but he would “naturally” rediscover for himself, within himself, those values previously associated with that theology or church. This was very much a Protestant conception of the relation between men and the values by which they lived and died. It survived so long as traditional religious habits of mind survived in the individualist, secularized society of bourgeois capitalism. Which is to say, for many generations capitalism was able to live off the accumulated moral and spiritual capital of the past. But with each generation that capital stock was noticeably depleted, had to be stretched ever thinner to meet the exigencies of life. Bankruptcy was inevitable, and we have seen it come in our own time, as a spirit of nihilism has dismissed not only the answers derived from tradition but the very meaningfulness of the questions to which tradition provided the answers. A “good life” has thus come to signify a satisfactory “life style” – just another commodity that capitalism, in its affluence and generosity, makes available in a thousand assorted varieties, to suit a thousand tastes.

Socialism can be seen, in retrospect, to have been a kind of rebellion against the possibilities of nihilism inherent in the bourgeois Protestant principle – an effort, within the framework of modernity, to reconstruct a political community that would withstand the corruptions of modernity itself. To call it a “secular religion” is not far off the mark, and most of the original “utopian” socialists would have found nothing arguable in this ascription. The Saint-Simonians, as we know, very consciously set out to establish a post-Christian religion that preserved the best of Christianity as they understood it. All the utopian-socialist communities· had a religious core – at the very least a “religion of humanity” into whose values young people were indoctrinated. To challenge or criticize those values, and the way of life associated with them, was to risk immediate expulsion. In our own time, the Israeli kibbutz can remind us of what a socialist community, in the original sense, was supposed to be like.

This “utopian” socialism was not really “utopian” at all. Indeed, it is the only kind of socialism that has ever worked. The trouble is that it can only work under certain very restricted conditions. (1) The people who set out to create a socialist community must sincerely subscribe to socialist beliefs. (2) They must be satisfied with a small community otherwise there will be division of labor, bureaucracy, social classes, in short a “society” rather than a community. And (3) they must be fairly indifferent to material goods, so that a voluntary equality will easily prevail. In circumstances such as these, socialist communities “work,” in the sense of continuing to exist and continuing to hold on to the loyalties of a new generation as well as those of the founding members. They work most effectively, as historians of socialism are fond of pointing out, when the religious core is strongest, because then the shared values are most successfully affirmed and reaffirmed. It is no accident, after all, that the Greek polis – the model of political community – neither believed in nor practiced religious toleration, to say nothing of religious pluralism.

But this kind of socialism has always been marginal to socialist history, which had much larger ambitions. The “Scientific socialism” of Marx and his followers – whether they defined them­selves as “orthodox” Marxists, “neo”-Marxists, “revisionist” Marxists, or whatever – aimed to transform all of society, and quickly. It derided the idea of slowly converting people to a belief in socialism, until these people formed a majority. Similarly, it contemptuously rejected the notion of creating model socialist communities within the womb of capitalist society – as say, the early Christians created their own exemplary communities throughout the Roman empire. Though the moral and spiritual impetus toward socialism may have been derived – and is still largely derived – from a profound sense of the inadequacy of modernity to satisfy the yearnings for political community, post-utopian socialism itself has become a modernist political doctrine. This is true of both the Communist and social-democratic versions of “scientific socialism,” each of which, in its own way, takes a “managerial” and manipulative approach to politics, and tries to create a new political community through the actions of government upon an unenlightened and recalcitrant populace.

The crucial difference between “scientific” socialism and ”utopian” socialism lay in their attitude toward economic growth and material prosperity. The “utopians” were not much. interested in affluence, as we have come to understand that term – i.e., an ever increasing amount and variety of consumers’ goods made available to an ever increasing proportion of the population. They were by no means Spartan in their conception of a good community. They did expect to abolish poverty and to achieve a decent degree of material comfort, which would be equally shared. But their conception of a “decent” standard of living was, by twentieth-century standards, quite modest. This modesty was a matter of principle: being community-oriented rather than individual-ori­ented, “utopian” socialism saw no merit in the constant excitation of individual appetites, which would inevitably place severe strains on the bonds of community. The main function of the socialist community, as they conceived it, was to produce a socialist type of individual – persons who had transcended the vulgar, materialistic, and divisive acquisitiveness that character­ized the capitalist type of individual. Here again, the Israeli kibbutz gives us an insight into the “utopian” intention. The kibbutz aims to satisfy all the basic economic needs of the community, and even to achieve a pleasing level of comfort for its membership. But “affluence,” in the sense of widespread individual possession of such “luxuries” as automobiles, television sets, hi-fi radios and record players, freezers and refrigerators, travel abroad, etc. , is solemnly regarded as a political threat, to be coped with cautiously and prudently.

“Scientific socialism,” in contrast, denounced capitalism for failing to produce the society of abundance made possible by modern technology, and mocked at “utopian” socialism for wishing to curb “needs” rather than satisfying them copiously. This approach made it possible for “scientific” socialism to be­ come the basis of a mass movement, since it pandered so explicitly to the mass appetites excited – but also, to some de­gree, at any particular moment, frustrated – by capitalism. The political mass movements that had socialist goals then divided into two kinds: those which thought a liberal parliamentary de­mocracy should be preserved within a socialist community, and those which thought this both unrealistic and undesirable. In the twentieth century, both these movements succeeded in establishing themselves as the governments of major nations. And in all such instances the end result has been frustration and disillusionment.

In the case of totalitarian socialism – that current of socialist thought for which Lenin stands to Marx as St. Paul did to Jesus – the frustration has been absolute and definitive. Cen­tral economic planning of a rigorous kind has demonstrated a radical inca­pacity to cope with a complex industri­alized economy and urbanized society. Obviously, the central planners can do certain things – i.e., build steel mills or dams or armament factories. But the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt could boast of comparable achievements – there is nothing “socialist” about the ability of an all-powerful state to get certain things done. What the central planners of the Soviet Union clearly cannot do is to create an “affluent” society in which its citizens would have a standard of living on the level of that of Western Europe and America. The immense bureaucracy involved in such planning simply cannot compete with the free market as an efficient mechanism for allocating resources, nor is bureaucratic caution able to substitute for entrepreneurial risk­ taking as a mechanism of innovation and economic growth.

Yet a Western standard of “affluence” is precisely what the Soviet citizens want. These citizens were never “socialists” in any meaningful sense of that term, nor have sixty years of Communist rule succeeded in making them such. In the earlier decades of the Soviet regime there was a lot of windy talk about “the new Soviet man” who would emerge from “the Soviet experiment.” One hears little such prattle today, even from official Soviet sources. Soviet Communism is a pseudo-religion, and the Soviet government is a pseudo-theocracy, which, even after decades of coercion and terror, has been pitifully unable to effect any kind of mass conversion to socialist beliefs. As has been noted, there are no socialist intellectuals in the Soviet Union – only an increasing number of anti-socialist intellectuals. The effort to create a socialist society that would be more prosperous, more “affluent,” than a capitalist one, while creat­ing a socialist citizenry through unremitting force majeure, has been a disastrous failure. “Managerial” socialism has turned out to be far more utopian than “utopian” socialism.

The same destiny has awaited the non-Leninist, social­ democratic version of “managerial” socialism. Where one can claim success for it, it is a success that is a kind of failure in socialist terms. Such is the case of Sweden, after decades of social-democratic government. It has been a prosperous country, with a healthy economy and a stable society – but its economy and society can be fairly described as “mixed, ” i.e., half-private­ capitalism, half-state – capitalism. Those Swedes who still think of themselves as socialists are intensely dissatisfied with this state of affairs, and are constantly urging the government toward greater state control and a more egalitarian distribution of income. Since the Swedish Social Democrats are still officially committed to the socialist ideal, they find it impossible to resist this ideological pressure. The drift is unremittingly toward the “left,” and will remain so, as long as the Social Democrats are in office. The consequences for the Swedish economy ate entirely predictable: slower economic growth, higher inflation, lower pro­ductivity – all amidst increasing popular discontent. That discon­tent will not be calmed by a more punitive and egalitarian tax system. Egalitarianism, in Sweden, does not reflect any sincere personal commitment on the part of the Swedish people to the ideal of equality. It is, rather, a strategy whereby organized labor on the one hand, and the state bureaucracy on the other, receive an ever- increasing share of the national income and of political power. This appetite will not be appeased by a more equal distribution of income or wealth. The demand for “more” – not for “more equal” but for “more”- will feed upon itself, until an economic, and eventually political, crisis will either create an authoritarian regime that copes with discontent by repres­sing it or provoke a reversion to a more liberal-capitalist economic order.

In a sense, Great Britain represents Sweden’ s “socialist” future. Though Britain’s movement toward “socialism” came much later than Sweden’s, and though some of the more conservative British socialists still talk as if a Swedish condi­tion was the ultimate ideal they were striving for, the British impulse has been more powerful, less controllable, less deferential toward economic reali­ties. There has been more nationaliza­tion of industry in Britain, the trade unions are far more belligerent, the “left” socialists – the ideological fanatics who redouble their socialist efforts as the socialist ends fade into unreality – are more influential.

The consequences for the British economy have been disastrous – Britain now vies with Italy for the title, “the sick man of Europe” – and there have been no discernible compensating improvements in the British social and political order. No one even seriously claims that the British people are in any sense “happier” as a result of their socialist experiences. Indeed, all the objective indices of social pathology – crime, juvenile delin­quency, corruption, ethnic dissent, emigration, etc. – show steady increases.

It is hard to believe that Britain will simply continue on this downward course. The British love of liberty is still strong, the British liberal political tradition still possesses a large degree of popular acceptance, the British people as a whole are still more reliant on common sense than they are enamored of political fantasies. It is reasonable to expect that the Labour government will be succeeded by a Conservative government, and the British experience with socialism will be followed by a “reactionary” affirmation of the principles of liberal capitalism. But then the issue will be posed anew: what can a liberal capital­ist society do to inoculate itself against a resurgence of anti­-capitalist dissent?

We now know part of that answer. One of the things that can be done is to design all measures of “social welfare” so as to maintain the largest degree of individual choice. The demand for a “welfare state” is, on the part of the majority of the people, a demand for a greater minimum of political community, for more “social justice” (i.e. distributive justice), than capitalism, in its pristine, individualistic form, can provide. It is not at all a demand for “socialism” or anything like it. Nor is it really a demand for intrusive government by a powerful and ubiquitous bureaucracy – though that is how socialists and neo-socialists prefer to interpret it. Practically all of the truly popular and widespread support for a “welfare state” would be satisfied by a mixture of voluntary and compulsory insurance schemes – old-age insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance, medical insurance – that are reason­ably (if not perfectly) compatible with a liberal capitalist society. Over the past quarter century, a host of “conservative” and “neo-conservative” economists and social critics have showed us how such mechanisms could and would work, and their intellectual victory over earlier “Fabian” conceptions of social reform has been decisive. The problem, at the moment, is to persuade the business community and the “conservative” (i.e., anti-socialist) political parties of their practicality. Not an easy mission, but not in principle an intractable one.

Other problems indigenous to a liberal capitalist society are still virgin territory so far as constructive theory is concerned. What, for instance, shall we do about the government of those most peculiar capitalist institutions, the large corporations – bureaucratic (and, in a sense, “collectivist”) versions of capitalist enterprise that Adam Smith would surely have detested? And, even more important, what can a liberal capitalist society do about the decline of religious beliefs and traditional values – a decline organically rooted in liberal capitalism’s conception of this realm as an essentially “private affair” neither needing nor meriting public sanction? These and other questions will continue to make any “counter-reformation” on the part of liberal capitalism an exceedingly fragile enterprise. But they will have to be answered if the death of socialism is not simply to mean a general disintegration into political pseudo-socialist forms whose only common element is a repudiation, in the name of ” equality, ” of individual liberty as a prime political value.

As Cardinal Newman once observed, it is not too hard to show the flaws in any system of thought, religious or political, but an erroneous idea can be expelled from the mind only by the active presence of another idea. The dead idea of socialism is now putrifying both the world’s mind and the world’s body. It has to be removed and buried – with appropriate honors if that will help. Ironically, only liberal capitalism can perform that funereal task.

The Alternative: An American Spectator, Volume 10, Number 1 / October 1976

This essay appeared in The Future That Doesn’t Work, a book edited by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. on the crisis of social democracy in Britain, to be published next spring by Doubleday.

Irving Kristol is editor of The Public Interest, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s Board of Contributors, and in the coming academic year, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Importance of Orthodoxy, from Heretics by G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word “orthodox.” In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox. He had no pride in having rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him. The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law—all these like sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man; he was a church. He was the centre of the universe; it was round him that the stars swung. All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical. But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it. He says, with a conscious laugh, “I suppose I am very heretical,” and looks round for applause. The word “heresy” not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word “orthodoxy” not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical. The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy. The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, whatever else he is, at least he is orthodox.

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere contemned; the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day. Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much of a restraint. We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: “The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.” We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man’s opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters—except everything.

Examples are scarcely needed of this total levity on the subject of cosmic philosophy. Examples are scarcely needed to show that, whatever else we think of as affecting practical affairs, we do not think it matters whether a man is a pessimist or an optimist, a Cartesian or a Hegelian, a materialist or a spiritualist. Let me, however, take a random instance. At any innocent tea-table we may easily hear a man say, “Life is not worth living.” We regard it as we regard the statement that it is a fine day; nobody thinks that it can possibly have any serious effect on the man or on the world. And yet if that utterance were really believed, the world would stand on its head. Murderers would be given medals for saving men from life; firemen would be denounced for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as medicines; doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins. Yet we never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist will strengthen or disorganize society; for we are convinced that theories do not matter.

This was certainly not the idea of those who introduced our freedom. When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it. The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it. Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed. Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be an avowed atheist. Then came the Bradlaughites, the last religious men, the last men who cared about God; but they could not alter it. It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist. But their agony has achieved just this—that now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian. Emancipation has only locked the saint in the same tower of silence as the heresiarch. Then we talk about Lord Anglesey and the weather, and call it the complete liberty of all the creeds.

But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. In the fifteenth century men cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral attitude; in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal servitude because he carried it out. It may be a question which of the two methods was the more cruel; there can be no kind of question which was the more ludicrous. The age of the Inquisition has not at least the disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very same man for preaching the very same things which it made him a convict for practising.

Now, in our time, philosophy or religion, our theory, that is, about ultimate things, has been driven out, more or less simultaneously, from two fields which it used to occupy. General ideals used to dominate literature. They have been driven out by the cry of “art for art’s sake.” General ideals used to dominate politics. They have been driven out by the cry of “efficiency,” which may roughly be translated as “politics for politics’ sake.” Persistently for the last twenty years the ideals of order or liberty have dwindled in our books; the ambitions of wit and eloquence have dwindled in our parliaments. Literature has purposely become less political; politics have purposely become less literary. General theories of the relation of things have thus been extruded from both; and we are in a position to ask, “What have we gained or lost by this extrusion? Is literature better, is politics better, for having discarded the moralist and the philosopher?”

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem. There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church. Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I—” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash. In practice, the habit of generalizing and idealizing did not by any means mean worldly weakness. The time of big theories was the time of big results. In the era of sentiment and fine words, at the end of the eighteenth century, men were really robust and effective. The sentimentalists conquered Napoleon. The cynics could not catch De Wet. A hundred years ago our affairs for good or evil were wielded triumphantly by rhetoricians. Now our affairs are hopelessly muddled by strong, silent men. And just as this repudiation of big words and big visions has brought forth a race of small men in politics, so it has brought forth a race of small men in the arts. Our modern politicians claim the colossal license of Caesar and the Superman, claim that they are too practical to be pure and too patriotic to be moral; but the upshot of it all is that a mediocrity is Chancellor of the Exchequer. Our new artistic philosophers call for the same moral license, for a freedom to wreck heaven and earth with their energy; but the upshot of it all is that a mediocrity is Poet Laureate. I do not say that there are no stronger men than these; but will any one say that there are any men stronger than those men of old who were dominated by their philosophy and steeped in their religion? Whether bondage be better than freedom may be discussed. But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it will be difficult for any one to deny.

The theory of the unmorality of art has established itself firmly in the strictly artistic classes. They are free to produce anything they like. They are free to write a “Paradise Lost” in which Satan shall conquer God. They are free to write a “Divine Comedy” in which heaven shall be under the floor of hell. And what have they done? Have they produced in their universality anything grander or more beautiful than the things uttered by the fierce Ghibbeline Catholic, by the rigid Puritan schoolmaster? We know that they have produced only a few roundels. Milton does not merely beat them at his piety, he beats them at their own irreverence. In all their little books of verse you will not find a finer defiance of God than Satan’s. Nor will you find the grandeur of paganism felt as that fiery Christian felt it who described Faranata lifting his head as in disdain of hell. And the reason is very obvious. Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

Neither in the world of politics nor that of literature, then, has the rejection of general theories proved a success. It may be that there have been many moonstruck and misleading ideals that have from time to time perplexed mankind. But assuredly there has been no ideal in practice so moonstruck and misleading as the ideal of practicality. Nothing has lost so many opportunities as the opportunism of Lord Rosebery. He is, indeed, a standing symbol of this epoch—the man who is theoretically a practical man, and practically more unpractical than any theorist. Nothing in this universe is so unwise as that kind of worship of worldly wisdom. A man who is perpetually thinking of whether this race or that race is strong, of whether this cause or that cause is promising, is the man who will never believe in anything long enough to make it succeed. The opportunist politician is like a man who should abandon billiards because he was beaten at billiards, and abandon golf because he was beaten at golf. There is nothing which is so weak for working purposes as this enormous importance attached to immediate victory. There is nothing that fails like success.

And having discovered that opportunism does fail, I have been induced to look at it more largely, and in consequence to see that it must fail. I perceive that it is far more practical to begin at the beginning and discuss theories. I see that the men who killed each other about the orthodoxy of the Homoousion were far more sensible than the people who are quarrelling about the Education Act. For the Christian dogmatists were trying to establish a reign of holiness, and trying to get defined, first of all, what was really holy. But our modern educationists are trying to bring about a religious liberty without attempting to settle what is religion or what is liberty. If the old priests forced a statement on mankind, at least they previously took some trouble to make it lucid. It has been left for the modern mobs of Anglicans and Nonconformists to persecute for a doctrine without even stating it.

For these reasons, and for many more, I for one have come to believe in going back to fundamentals. Such is the general idea of this book. I wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach. I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic—that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine. I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic—that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong. I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good—” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life. And that philosophy of life must be right and the other philosophies wrong. Now of all, or nearly all, the able modern writers whom I have briefly studied in this book, this is especially and pleasingly true, that they do each of them have a constructive and affirmative view, and that they do take it seriously and ask us to take it seriously. There is nothing merely sceptically progressive about Mr. Rudyard Kipling. There is nothing in the least broad minded about Mr. Bernard Shaw. The paganism of Mr. Lowes Dickinson is more grave than any Christianity. Even the opportunism of Mr. H. G. Wells is more dogmatic than the idealism of anybody else. Somebody complained, I think, to Matthew Arnold that he was getting as dogmatic as Carlyle. He replied, “That may be true; but you overlook an obvious difference. I am dogmatic and right, and Carlyle is dogmatic and wrong.” The strong humour of the remark ought not to disguise from us its everlasting seriousness and common sense; no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong. But my main point, at present, is to notice that the chief among these writers I have discussed do most sanely and courageously offer themselves as dogmatists, as founders of a system. It may be true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to me, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is wrong. But it is equally true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to himself, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is right. Mr. Shaw may have none with him but himself; but it is not for himself he cares. It is for the vast and universal church, of which he is the only member.

The two typical men of genius whom I have mentioned here, and with whose names I have begun this book, are very symbolic, if only because they have shown that the fiercest dogmatists can make the best artists. In the fin de siecle atmosphere every one was crying out that literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of moralists. The best short stories were written by a man trying to preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man trying to preach Socialism. All the art of all the artists looked tiny and tedious beside the art which was a byproduct of propaganda.

The reason, indeed, is very simple. A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything. So we find that when real forces, good or bad, like Kipling and G. B. S., enter our arena, they bring with them not only startling and arresting art, but very startling and arresting dogmas. And they care even more, and desire us to care even more, about their startling and arresting dogmas than about their startling and arresting art. Mr. Shaw is a good dramatist, but what he desires more than anything else to be is a good politician. Mr. Rudyard Kipling is by divine caprice and natural genius an unconventional poet; but what he desires more than anything else to be is a conventional poet. He desires to be the poet of his people, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, understanding their origins, celebrating their destiny. He desires to be Poet Laureate, a most sensible and honourable and public-spirited desire. Having been given by the gods originality—that is, disagreement with others—he desires divinely to agree with them. But the most striking instance of all, more striking, I think, even than either of these, is the instance of Mr. H. G. Wells. He began in a sort of insane infancy of pure art. He began by making a new heaven and a new earth, with the same irresponsible instinct by which men buy a new necktie or button-hole. He began by trifling with the stars and systems in order to make ephemeral anecdotes; he killed the universe for a joke. He has since become more and more serious, and has become, as men inevitably do when they become more and more serious, more and more parochial. He was frivolous about the twilight of the gods; but he is serious about the London omnibus. He was careless in “The Time Machine,” for that dealt only with the destiny of all things; but he is careful, and even cautious, in “Mankind in the Making,” for that deals with the day after to-morrow. He began with the end of the world, and that was easy. Now he has gone on to the beginning of the world, and that is difficult. But the main result of all this is the same as in the other cases. The men who have really been the bold artists, the realistic artists, the uncompromising artists, are the men who have turned out, after all, to be writing “with a purpose.” Suppose that any cool and cynical art-critic, any art-critic fully impressed with the conviction that artists were greatest when they were most purely artistic, suppose that a man who professed ably a humane aestheticism, as did Mr. Max Beerbohm, or a cruel aestheticism, as did Mr. W. E. Henley, had cast his eye over the whole fictional literature which was recent in the year 1895, and had been asked to select the three most vigorous and promising and original artists and artistic works, he would, I think, most certainly have said that for a fine artistic audacity, for a real artistic delicacy, or for a whiff of true novelty in art, the things that stood first were “Soldiers Three,” by a Mr. Rudyard Kipling; “Arms and the Man,” by a Mr. Bernard Shaw; and “The Time Machine,” by a man called Wells. And all these men have shown themselves ingrainedly didactic. You may express the matter if you will by saying that if we want doctrines we go to the great artists. But it is clear from the psychology of the matter that this is not the true statement; the true statement is that when we want any art tolerably brisk and bold we have to go to the doctrinaires.

In concluding this book, therefore, I would ask, first and foremost, that men such as these of whom I have spoken should not be insulted by being taken for artists. No man has any right whatever merely to enjoy the work of Mr. Bernard Shaw; he might as well enjoy the invasion of his country by the French. Mr. Shaw writes either to convince or to enrage us. No man has any business to be a Kiplingite without being a politician, and an Imperialist politician. If a man is first with us, it should be because of what is first with him. If a man convinces us at all, it should be by his convictions. If we hate a poem of Kipling’s from political passion, we are hating it for the same reason that the poet loved it; if we dislike him because of his opinions, we are disliking him for the best of all possible reasons. If a man comes into Hyde Park to preach it is permissible to hoot him; but it is discourteous to applaud him as a performing bear. And an artist is only a performing bear compared with the meanest man who fancies he has anything to say.

There is, indeed, one class of modern writers and thinkers who cannot altogether be overlooked in this question, though there is no space here for a lengthy account of them, which, indeed, to confess the truth, would consist chiefly of abuse. I mean those who get over all these abysses and reconcile all these wars by talking about “aspects of truth,” by saying that the art of Kipling represents one aspect of the truth, and the art of William Watson another; the art of Mr. Bernard Shaw one aspect of the truth, and the art of Mr. Cunningham Grahame another; the art of Mr. H. G. Wells one aspect, and the art of Mr. Coventry Patmore (say) another. I will only say here that this seems to me an evasion which has not even had the sense to disguise itself ingeniously in words. If we talk of a certain thing being an aspect of truth, it is evident that we claim to know what is truth; just as, if we talk of the hind leg of a dog, we claim to know what is a dog. Unfortunately, the philosopher who talks about aspects of truth generally also asks, “What is truth?” Frequently even he denies the existence of truth, or says it is inconceivable by the human intelligence. How, then, can he recognize its aspects? I should not like to be an artist who brought an architectural sketch to a builder, saying, “This is the south aspect of Sea-View Cottage. Sea-View Cottage, of course, does not exist.” I should not even like very much to have to explain, under such circumstances, that Sea-View Cottage might exist, but was unthinkable by the human mind. Nor should I like any better to be the bungling and absurd metaphysician who professed to be able to see everywhere the aspects of a truth that is not there. Of course, it is perfectly obvious that there are truths in Kipling, that there are truths in Shaw or Wells. But the degree to which we can perceive them depends strictly upon how far we have a definite conception inside us of what is truth. It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.

I plead, then, that we should agree or disagree with these men. I plead that we should agree with them at least in having an abstract belief. But I know that there are current in the modern world many vague objections to having an abstract belief, and I feel that we shall not get any further until we have dealt with some of them. The first objection is easily stated.

A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions is a sort of notion that extreme convictions specially upon cosmic matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will dissipate this view. In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all. The economists of the Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously. It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing. The man who understands the Calvinist philosophy enough to agree with it must understand the Catholic philosophy in order to disagree with it. It is the vague modern who is not at all certain what is right who is most certain that Dante was wrong. The serious opponent of the Latin Church in history, even in the act of showing that it produced great infamies, must know that it produced great saints. It is the hard-headed stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves. The Salvationist at the Marble Arch may be bigoted, but he is not too bigoted to yearn from a common human kinship after the dandy on church parade. But the dandy on church parade is so bigoted that he does not in the least yearn after the Salvationist at the Marble Arch. Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. In this degree it was not the people who cared who ever persecuted; the people who cared were not sufficiently numerous. It was the people who did not care who filled the world with fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack. There have come some persecutions out of the pain of a passionate certainty; but these produced, not bigotry, but fanaticism—a very different and a somewhat admirable thing. Bigotry in the main has always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing out those who care in darkness and blood.

There are people, however, who dig somewhat deeper than this into the possible evils of dogma. It is felt by many that strong philosophical conviction, while it does not (as they perceive) produce that sluggish and fundamentally frivolous condition which we call bigotry, does produce a certain concentration, exaggeration, and moral impatience, which we may agree to call fanaticism. They say, in brief, that ideas are dangerous things. In politics, for example, it is commonly urged against a man like Mr. Balfour, or against a man like Mr. John Morley, that a wealth of ideas is dangerous. The true doctrine on this point, again, is surely not very difficult to state. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about. just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal. Many, for example, avowedly followed Cecil Rhodes because he had a vision. They might as well have followed him because he had a nose; a man without some kind of dream of perfection is quite as much of a monstrosity as a noseless man. People say of such a figure, in almost feverish whispers, “He knows his own mind,” which is exactly like saying in equally feverish whispers, “He blows his own nose.” Human nature simply cannot subsist without a hope and aim of some kind; as the sanity of the Old Testament truly said, where there is no vision the people perisheth. But it is precisely because an ideal is necessary to man that the man without ideals is in permanent danger of fanaticism. There is nothing which is so likely to leave a man open to the sudden and irresistible inroad of an unbalanced vision as the cultivation of business habits. All of us know angular business men who think that the earth is flat, or that Mr. Kruger was at the head of a great military despotism, or that men are graminivorous, or that Bacon wrote Shakespeare. Religious and philosophical beliefs are, indeed, as dangerous as fire, and nothing can take from them that beauty of danger. But there is only one way of really guarding ourselves against the excessive danger of them, and that is to be steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion.

Briefly, then, we dismiss the two opposite dangers of bigotry and fanaticism, bigotry which is a too great vagueness and fanaticism which is a too great concentration. We say that the cure for the bigot is belief; we say that the cure for the idealist is ideas. To know the best theories of existence and to choose the best from them (that is, to the best of our own strong conviction) appears to us the proper way to be neither bigot nor fanatic, but something more firm than a bigot and more terrible than a fanatic, a man with a definite opinion. But that definite opinion must in this view begin with the basic matters of human thought, and these must not be dismissed as irrelevant, as religion, for instance, is too often in our days dismissed as irrelevant. Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities, we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more important than anything else in him. The instant that the thing ceases to be the unknowable, it becomes the indispensable. There can be no doubt, I think, that the idea does exist in our time that there is something narrow or irrelevant or even mean about attacking a man’s religion, or arguing from it in matters of politics or ethics. There can be quite as little doubt that such an accusation of narrowness is itself almost grotesquely narrow. To take an example from comparatively current events: we all know that it was not uncommon for a man to be considered a scarecrow of bigotry and obscurantism because he distrusted the Japanese, or lamented the rise of the Japanese, on the ground that the Japanese were Pagans. Nobody would think that there was anything antiquated or fanatical about distrusting a people because of some difference between them and us in practice or political machinery. Nobody would think it bigoted to say of a people, “I distrust their influence because they are Protectionists.” No one would think it narrow to say, “I lament their rise because they are Socialists, or Manchester Individualists, or strong believers in militarism and conscription.” A difference of opinion about the nature of Parliaments matters very much; but a difference of opinion about the nature of sin does not matter at all. A difference of opinion about the object of taxation matters very much; but a difference of opinion about the object of human existence does not matter at all. We have a right to distrust a man who is in a different kind of municipality; but we have no right to mistrust a man who is in a different kind of cosmos. This sort of enlightenment is surely about the most unenlightened that it is possible to imagine. To recur to the phrase which I employed earlier, this is tantamount to saying that everything is important with the exception of everything. Religion is exactly the thing which cannot be left out—because it includes everything. The most absent-minded person cannot well pack his Gladstone-bag and leave out the bag. We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not; it alters or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves everything we say or do, whether we like it or not. If we regard the Cosmos as a dream, we regard the Fiscal Question as a dream. If we regard the Cosmos as a joke, we regard St. Paul’s Cathedral as a joke. If everything is bad, then we must believe (if it be possible) that beer is bad; if everything be good, we are forced to the rather fantastic conclusion that scientific philanthropy is good. Every man in the street must hold a metaphysical system, and hold it firmly. The possibility is that he may have held it so firmly and so long as to have forgotten all about its existence.

This latter situation is certainly possible; in fact, it is the situation of the whole modern world. The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they are dogmas. It may be thought “dogmatic,” for instance, in some circles accounted progressive, to assume the perfection or improvement of man in another world. But it is not thought “dogmatic” to assume the perfection or improvement of man in this world; though that idea of progress is quite as unproved as the idea of immortality, and from a rationalistic point of view quite as improbable. Progress happens to be one of our dogmas, and a dogma means a thing which is not thought dogmatic. Or, again, we see nothing “dogmatic” in the inspiring, but certainly most startling, theory of physical science, that we should collect facts for the sake of facts, even though they seem as useless as sticks and straws. This is a great and suggestive idea, and its utility may, if you will, be proving itself, but its utility is, in the abstract, quite as disputable as the utility of that calling on oracles or consulting shrines which is also said to prove itself. Thus, because we are not in a civilization which believes strongly in oracles or sacred places, we see the full frenzy of those who killed themselves to find the sepulchre of Christ. But being in a civilization which does believe in this dogma of fact for facts’ sake, we do not see the full frenzy of those who kill themselves to find the North Pole. I am not speaking of a tenable ultimate utility which is true both of the Crusades and the polar explorations. I mean merely that we do see the superficial and aesthetic singularity, the startling quality, about the idea of men crossing a continent with armies to conquer the place where a man died. But we do not see the aesthetic singularity and startling quality of men dying in agonies to find a place where no man can live—a place only interesting because it is supposed to be the meeting-place of some lines that do not exist.

Let us, then, go upon a long journey and enter on a dreadful search. Let us, at least, dig and seek till we have discovered our own opinions. The dogmas we really hold are far more fantastic, and, perhaps, far more beautiful than we think. In the course of these essays I fear that I have spoken from time to time of rationalists and rationalism, and that in a disparaging sense. Being full of that kindliness which should come at the end of everything, even of a book, I apologize to the rationalists even for calling them rationalists. There are no rationalists. We all believe fairy-tales, and live in them. Some, with a sumptuous literary turn, believe in the existence of the lady clothed with the sun. Some, with a more rustic, elvish instinct, like Mr. McCabe, believe merely in the impossible sun itself. Some hold the undemonstrable dogma of the existence of God; some the equally undemonstrable dogma of the existence of the man next door.

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

‘Bulverism’ by C. S. Lewis

The Foundation of 20th Century Thought

C. S. Lewis

It is a disastrous discovery, as Emerson says somewhere, that we exist. I mean, it is disastrous when instead of merely attending to a rose we are forced to think of ourselves looking at the rose, with a certain type of mind and a certain type of eyes. It is disastrous because, if you are not very careful, the color of the rose gets attributed to our optic nerves and its scent to our noses, and in the end there is no rose left. The professional philosophers have been bothered about this universal black-out for over two hundred years, and the world has not much listened to them. But the same disaster is now occurring on a level we can all understand.

We have recently “discovered that we exist” in two new senses. The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are “ideologically tainted” at the source.

Now this is obviously great fun; but it has not always been noticed that there is a bill to pay for it. There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought – in the sense of making it untrue – or not?

If they say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course, we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it.

The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not – which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone’s wishes, in every respect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant – but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method [Note: This essay was written in 1941.] is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – “Oh, you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds – a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning – never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology.

Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reasonitself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy, in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate. The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend of reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more – for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.

The alternative then is either sheer self-contradicting idiocy or else some tenacious belief in our power of reasoning, held in the teeth of all the evidence that Bulverists can bring for a “taint” in this or that human reasoner. I am ready to admit, if you like, that this tenacious belief has something transcendental or mystical about it. What then? Would you rather be a lunatic than a mystic?

So we see there is justification for holding on to our belief in Reason. But can this be done without theism? Does “I know” involve that God exists? Everything I know is an inference from sensation (except the present moment). All our knowledge of the universe beyond our immediate experiences depends on inferences from these experiences. If our inferences do not give a genuine insight into reality, then we can know nothing. A theory cannot be accepted if it does not allow our thinking to be a genuine insight, nor if the fact of our knowledge is not explicable in terms of that theory.

But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called “a reason.” Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the results of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.

[The remainder of this essay, which was originally read to the Socratic Club before publication in the Socratic Digest, continues in the form of notes taken down by the Secretary of the Club. This explains why it is not all in the first-person, as is the text-proper.]

One might argue, Mr. Lewis continued, that reason had developed by natural selection, only those methods of thought which had proved useful surviving. But the theory depends on an inference from usefulness to truth, of which the validity would have to be assumed. All attempts to treat thought as a natural event involve the fallacy of excluding the thought of the man making the attempt.

It is admitted that the mind is affected by physical events; a wireless set is influenced by atmospherics, but it does not originate its deliverances – we’d take no notice of it if we thought it did. Natural events we can relate one to another until we can trace them finally to the space-time continuum. But thought has no father but thought. It is conditioned, yes, not caused. My knowledge that I have nerves in inferential.

The same argument applies to our values, which are affected by social factors, but if they are caused by them we cannot know that they are right. One can reject morality as an illusion, but the man who does so often tacitly excepts his own ethical motive: for instance the duty of freeing morality from superstition and of spreading enlightenment.

Neither Will nor Reason is the product of Nature. Therefore either I am self-existent (a belief which no one can accept) or I am a colony of some Thought and Will that are self-derived from a self-existent Reason and Goodness outside ourselves, in fact, a Supernatural.

Mr. Lewis went on to say that it was often objected that the existence of the Supernatural is too important to be discernible only by abstract argument, and thus only by the leisured few. But in all other ages the plain man has accepted the findings of the mystics and the philosophers for his initial belief in the existence of the Supernatural. Today the ordinary man is forced to carry that burden himself. Either mankind has made a ghastly mistake in rejecting authority, or the power or powers ruling his destiny are making a daring experiment, and all are to become sages. A society consisting solely of plain men must end in disaster. If we are to survive we must either believe the seers or scale those heights ourselves.

Evidently, then, something beyond Nature exists. Man is on the border line between the Natural and the Supernatural. Material events cannot produce spiritual activity, but the latter can be responsible for many of our actions in Nature. Will and Reason cannot depend on anything but themselves, but Nature can depend on Will and Reason, or, in other words, God created Nature.

The relation between Nature and Supernature, which is not a relation in space and time, becomes intelligible if the Supernatural made the Natural. We even have an idea of this making, since we know the power of imagination, though we can create nothing new, but can only rearrange our material provided through sense data. It is not inconceivable that the universe was created by an Imagination strong enough to impose phenomena on other minds.

It has been suggested, Mr. Lewis concluded, that our ideas of making and causing are wholly derived from our experience of will. The conclusion usually drawn is that there is no making or causing, only “projection.” But “projection” is itself a form of causing, and it is more reasonable to suppose that Will is the only cause we know, and that therefore Will is the cause of Nature.

A discussion followed. Points arising:

All reasoning assumes the hypothesis that inference is valid. Correct inference is self-evident. 
“Relevant” (re evidence) is a rational term. 
The universe doesn’t claim to be true: it’s just there
Knowledge by revelation is more like empirical than rational knowledge.

Question: What is the criterion of truth, if you distinguish between cause and reason? 
Mr Lewis: A mountainous country might have several maps made of it, only one of which was a true one; i.e., corresponding with the actual contours. The map drawn by Reason claims to be that true one. I couldn’t get at the universe unless I could trust my reason. If we couldn’t trust inference we could know nothing but our own existence. Physical reality is an inference from sensations.

Question: How can an axiom claim self-evidence any more than an empirical judgment on evidence?

[The essay ends here, leaving this question unrecorded.]

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools

Lewis's notes are placed at the bottom of each chapter. 
Transcriber's notes and explanations follow Lewis's.

The Master said, He who sets to work on a different strand destroys the whole fabric.

Confucius, Analects II. 16

Men without Chests

So he sent the word to slay
And slew the little childer.


I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text-books. That is why I have chosen as the starting-point for these lectures a little book on English intended for ‘boys and girls in the upper forms of schools’. I do not think the authors of this book (there were two of them) intended any harm, and I owe them, or their publisher, good language for sending me a complimentary copy. At the same time I shall have nothing good to say of them. Here is a pretty predicament. I do not want to pillory two modest practising school-masters who were doing the best they knew: but I cannot be silent about what I think the actual tendency of their work. I therefore propose to conceal their names. I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book. But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.

In their second chapter Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it ‘sublime’ and the other ‘pretty’: and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gaius and Titius comment as follows: ‘When the man said That is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall. . . . Actually . . . he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.’ Here are a good many deep questions settled in a pretty summary fashion. But the authors are not yet finished. They add: ‘This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.’[1]

Before considering the issues really raised by this momentous little paragraph (designed, you will remember, for ‘the upper forms in schools’) we must eliminate one mere confusion into which Gaius and Titius have fallen. Even on their own view—on any conceivable view—the man who says This is sublime cannot mean I have sublime feelings. Even if it were granted that such qualities as sublimity were simply and solely projected into things from our own emotions, yet the emotions which prompt the projection are the correlatives, and therefore almost the opposites, of the qualities projected. The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker’s feelings, the proper translation would be I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings: in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible. But we need not delay over this which is the very pons asinorum of our subject. It would be unjust to Gaius and Titius themselves to emphasize what was doubtless a mere inadvertence.

The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant. It is true that Gaius and Titius have said neither of these things in so many words. They have treated only one particular predicate of value (sublime) as a word descriptive of the speaker’s emotions. The pupils are left to do for themselves the work of extending the same treatment to all predicates of value: and no slightest obstacle to such extension is placed in their way. The authors may or may not desire the extension: they may never have given the question five minutes’ serious thought in their lives. I am not concerned with what they desired but with the effect their book will certainly have on the schoolboy’s mind. In the same way, they have not said that judgements of value are unimportant. Their words are that we ‘appear to be saying something very important’ when in reality we are ‘only saying something about our own feelings’. No schoolboy will be able to resist the suggestion brought to bear upon him by that word only. I do not mean, of course, that he will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.

Before considering the philosophical credentials of the position which Gaius and Titius have adopted about value, I should like to show its practical results on their educational procedure. In their fourth chapter they quote a silly advertisement of a pleasure cruise and proceed to inoculate their pupils against the sort of writing it exhibits.[2] The advertisement tells us that those who buy tickets for this cruise will go ‘across the Western Ocean where Drake of Devon sailed’, ‘adventuring after the treasures of the Indies’, and bringing home themselves also a ‘treasure’ of ‘golden hours’ and ‘glowing colours’. It is a bad bit of writing, of course: a venal and bathetic exploitation of those emotions of awe and pleasure which men feel in visiting places that have striking associations with history or legend. If Gaius and Titius were to stick to their last and teach their readers (as they promised to do) the art of English composition, it was their business to put this advertisement side by side with passages from great writers in which the very same emotion is well expressed, and then show where the difference lies. They might have used Johnson’s famous passage from the Western Islands, which concludes: ‘That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.’[3] They might have taken that place in The Prelude where Wordsworth describes how the antiquity of London first descended on his mind with ‘Weight and power, Power growing under weight’.[4] A lesson which had laid such literature beside the advertisement and really discriminated the good from the bad would have been a lesson worth teaching. There would have been some blood and sap in it—the trees of knowledge and of life growing together. It would also have had the merit of being a lesson in literature: a subject of which Gaius and Titius, despite their professed purpose, are uncommonly shy. What they actually do is to point out that the luxurious motor-vessel won’t really sail where Drake did, that the tourists will not have any adventures, that the treasures they bring home will be of a purely metaphorical nature, and that a trip to Margate might provide ‘all the pleasure and rest’ they required.[5] All this is very true: talents inferior to those of Gaius and Titius would have sufficed to discover it. What they have not noticed, or not cared about, is that a very similar treatment could be applied to much good literature which treats the same emotion. What, after all, can the history of early British Christianity, in pure reason, add to the motives for piety as they exist in the eighteenth century? Why should Mr. Wordsworth’s inn be more comfortable or the air of London more healthy because London has existed for a long time? Or, if there is indeed any obstacle which will prevent a critic from ‘debunking’ Johnson and Wordsworth (and Lamb, and Virgil, and Thomas Browne, and Mr. de la Mare) as The Green Book debunks the advertisement, Gaius and Titius have given their schoolboy readers no faintest help to its discovery. From this passage the schoolboy will learn about literature precisely nothing. What he will learn quickly enough, and perhaps indelibly, is the belief that all emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason and contemptible. He will have no notion that there are two ways of being immune to such an advertisement—that it falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water. There are two men to whom we offer in vain a false leading article on patriotism and honour: one is the coward, the other is the honourable and patriotic man. None of this is brought before the schoolboy’s mind. On the contrary, he is encouraged to reject the lure of the ‘Western Ocean’ on the very dangerous ground that in so doing he will prove himself a knowing fellow who can’t be bubbled out of his cash. Gaius and Titius, while teaching him nothing about letters, have cut out of his soul, long before he is old enough to choose, the possibility of having certain experiences which thinkers of more authority than they have held to be generous, fruitful, and humane.

But it is not only Gaius and Titius. In another little book, whose author I will call Orbilius, I find that the same operation, under the same general anaesthetic, is being carried out. Orbilius chooses for ‘debunking’ a silly bit of writing on horses, where these animals are praised as the ‘willing servants’ of the early colonists in Australia.[6] And he falls into the same trap as Gaius and Titius. Of Ruksh and Sleipnir and the weeping horses of Achilles and the charger in the Book of Job—nay even of Brer Rabbit and of Peter Rabbit—of man’s prehistoric piety to ‘our brother the ox’—of all that this semi-anthropomorphic treatment of beasts has meant in human history and of the literature where it finds noble or piquant expression—he has not a word to say.[7] Even of the problems of animal psychology as they exist for science he says nothing. He contents himself with explaining that horses are not,secundum litteram, interested in colonial expansion.[8] This piece of information is really all that his pupils get from him. Why the composition before them is bad, when others that lie open to the same charge are good, they do not hear. Much less do they learn of the two classes of men who are, respectively, above and below the danger of such writing—the man who really knows horses and really loves them, not with anthropomorphic illusions, but with ordinate love, and the irredeemable urban blockhead to whom a horse is merely an old-fashioned means of transport. Some pleasure in their own ponies and dogs they will have lost: some incentive to cruelty or neglect they will have received: some pleasure in their own knowingness will have entered their minds. That is their day’s lesson in English, though of English they have learned nothing. Another little portion of the human heritage has been quietly taken from them before they were old enough to understand.

I have hitherto been assuming that such teachers as Gaius and Titius do not fully realize what they are doing and do not intend the far-reaching consequences it will actually have. There is, of course, another possibility. What I have called (presuming on their concurrence in a certain traditional system of values) the ‘trousered ape’ and the ‘urban blockhead’ may be precisely the kind of man they really wish to produce. The differences between us may go all the way down. They may really hold that the ordinary human feelings about the past or animals or large waterfalls are contrary to reason and contemptible and ought to be eradicated. They may be intending to make a clean sweep of traditional values and start with a new set. That position will be discussed later. If it is the position which Gaius and Titius are holding, I must, for the moment, content myself with pointing out that it is a philosophical and not a literary position. In filling their book with it they have been unjust to the parent or headmaster who buys it and who has got the work of amateur philosophers where he expected the work of professional grammarians. A man would be annoyed if his son returned from the dentist with his teeth untouched and his head crammed with the dentist’s obiter dicta on bimetallism or the Baconian theory.

But I doubt whether Gaius and Titius have really planned, under cover of teaching English, to propagate their philosophy. I think they have slipped into it for the following reasons. In the first place, literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier. To explain why a bad treatment of some basic human emotion is bad literature is, if we exclude all question-begging attacks on the emotion itself, a very hard thing to do. Even Dr. Richards, who first seriously tackled the problem of badness in literature, failed, I think, to do it. To ‘debunk’ the emotion, on the basis of a commonplace rationalism, is within almost anyone’s capacity. In the second place, I think Gaius and Titius may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda—they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental—and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess or sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

But there is a third, and a profounder, reason for the procedure which Gaius and Titius adopt. They may be perfectly ready to admit that a good education should build some sentiments while destroying others. They may endeavour to do so. But it is impossible that they should succeed. Do what they will, it is the ‘debunking’ side of their work, and this side alone, which will really tell. In order to grasp this necessity clearly I must digress for a moment to show that what may be called the educational predicament of Gaius and Titius is different from that of all their predecessors.

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others. And he believed (correctly) that the tourists thought the same. The man who called the cataract sublime was not intending simply to describe his own emotions about it: he was also claiming that the object was one which merited those emotions. But for this claim there would be nothing to agree or disagree about. To disagree with This is pretty if those words simply described the lady’s feelings, would be absurd: if she had said I feel sick Coleridge would hardly have replied No; I feel quite well. When Shelley, having compared the human sensibility to an Aeolian lyre, goes on to add that it differs from a lyre in having a power of ‘internal adjustment’ whereby it can ‘accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them’,[9] he is assuming the same belief. ‘Can you be righteous’, asks Traherne, ‘unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.’[10] St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it.[11] Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.[12] When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science.[13] Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful.[14] In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’[15] In early Hinduism that conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta—that great ritual or pattern of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order, the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality. As Plato said that the Good was ‘beyond existence’ and Wordsworth that through virtue the stars were strong, so the Indian masters say that the gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it.[16] The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.[17] ‘In ritual’, say the Analects, ‘it is harmony with Nature that is prized.’[18] The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being ‘true’.[19]

This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao’. Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.

Over against this stands the world of The Green Book. In it the very possibility of a sentiment being reasonable—or even unreasonable—has been excluded from the outset. It can be reasonable or unreasonable only if it conforms or fails to conform to something else. To say that the cataract is sublime means saying that our emotion of humility is appropriate or ordinate to the reality, and thus to speak of something else besides the emotion: just as to say that a shoe fits is to speak not only of shoes but of feet. But this reference to something beyond the emotion is what Gaius and Titius exclude from every sentence containing a predicate of value. Such statements, for them, refer solely to the emotion. Now the emotion, thus considered by itself, cannot be either in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error. On this view, the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, confront one another, and no rapprochement is possible.

Hence the educational problem is wholly different according as you stand within or without the Tao. For those within, the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists. Those without, if they are logical, must regard all sentiments as equally non-rational, as mere mists between us and the real objects. As a result, they must either decide to remove all sentiments, as far as possible, from the pupil’s mind: or else to encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their intrinsic ‘justness’ or ‘ordinacy’. The latter course involves them in the questionable process of creating in others by ‘suggestion’ or incantation a mirage which their own reason has successfully penetrated.

Perhaps this will become clearer if we take a concrete instance. When a Roman father told his son that it was a sweet and seemly thing to die for his country, he believed what he said. He was communicating to the son an emotion which he himself shared and which he believed to be in accord with the value which his judgement discerned in noble death. He was giving the boy the best he had, giving of his spirit to humanize him as he had given of his body to beget him. But Gaius and Titius cannot believe that in calling such a death sweet and seemly they would be saying ‘something important about something’. Their own method of debunking would cry out against them if they attempted to do so. For death is not something to eat and therefore cannot be dulcein the literal sense, and it is unlikely that the real sensations preceding it will be dulce even by analogy. And as for decorum—that is only a word describing how some other people will feel about your death when they happen to think of it, which won’t be often, and will certainly do you no good. There are only two courses open to Gaius and Titius. Either they must go the whole way and debunk this sentiment like any other, or must set themselves to work to produce, from outside, a sentiment which they believe to be of no value to the pupil and which may cost him his life, because it is useful to us (the survivors) that our young men should feel it. If they embark on this course the difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’. The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda.

It is to their credit that Gaius and Titius embrace the first alternative. Propaganda is their abomination: not because their own philosophy gives a ground for condemning it (or anything else) but because they are better than their principles. They probably have some vague notion (I will examine it in my next lecture) that valour and good faith and justice could be sufficiently commended to the pupil on what they would call ‘rational’ or ‘biological’ or ‘modern’ grounds, if it should ever become necessary. In the meantime, they leave the matter alone and get on with the business of debunking.

But this course, though less inhuman, is not less disastrous than the opposite alternative of cynical propaganda. Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’.[20] The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity,[21] of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.


[1] The Green Book, pp. 19, 20.

[2] Ibid., p. 53.

[3] Journey to the Western Islands. Inch Kenneth.

[4] The Prelude, viii, ll. 549-59.

[5] The Green Book, pp. 53-5.

[6] Orbilius’ book, p. 5.

[7] Orbilius is so far superior to Gaius and Titius that he does (pp. 19-22) contrast a piece of good writing on animals with the piece condemned. Unfortunately, however, the only superiority he really demonstrates in the second extract is its superiority in factual truth. The specifically literary problem (the use and abuse of expressions which are false secundum litteram) is not tackled. Orbilius indeed tells us (p. 97) that we must ‘learn to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate figurative statement’, but he gives us very little help in doing so. At the same time it is fair to record my opinion that his work is on quite a different level from The Green Book.

[8] Ibid., p. 9.

[9] Defence of Poetry.

[10] Centuries of Meditations, i. 12.

[11] De Civ. Dei, xv. 22. Cf. ibid. ix. 5, xi. 28.

[12] Eth. Nic. 1104 B.

[13] Ibid. 1095 B.

[14] Laws, 653.

[15] Republic, 402 A.

[16] A. B. Keith, s.v. ‘Righteousness (Hindu)’. Enc. Religion and Ethics, vol. x.

[17] Ibid., vol. ii, p. 454 B; iv. 12 B; ix. 87 A.

[18] The Analects of Confucius, trans. Arthur Waley, London, 1938, i. 12.

[19] Psalm cxix. 151. The word is ěmeth, ‘truth’. Where the Satya of the Indian sources emphasizes truth as ‘correspondence’, ěmeth(connected with a verb that means ‘to be firm’) emphasizes rather the reliability or trustworthiness of truth. Faithfulness and permanence are suggested by Hebraists as alternative renderings. Ěmeth is that which does not deceive, does not ‘give’, does not change, that which holds water. (See T. K. Cheyne in Encyclopedia Biblica, 1914, s.v. ‘Truth’.)

[20] Republic, 442 B, C.

[21] Alanus ab Insulis. De Planctu Naturae Prosa, iii.

Transcriber’s Notes

Bimetallism – use of two precious metals (e.g. gold and silver) as the standard of currency

Baconian theory – theory that holds Francis Bacon to have written the plays attributed to Shakespeare

Elemetary text-books – (1940’s British) equivalent to high school-level books

Dulce (sweet) Decorum (seemly or honorable) from the Roman saying dulce et decorum est pro patria mori “It is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country.”

Margate – resort area on the southeastern coast of England

Marathon…Iona Marathon is a plain in southeast Greece, where the Athenians defeated Persian invaders in 490 B.C. and saved Western civilization. Iona is a remote island west of Scotland, where despite many hazards monks preserved the Christian faith and much of Western learning. Samuel Johnson meant that seeing these famous sites, scenes of the greatest human dedication, should inspire a good person to greater love of his own country and religious faith.

Pons asinorum – bridge of asses, a basic geometric theorem

Obiter dicta – incidental judgements or opinions

Ordo amoris – order of love

Ruksh, Sleipnir, etc. – majestic or lovable animals of literature

Secundum literam – literally true

Stick to their last – stick to their proper job, from the expression “Shoemaker, stick to your last” (the last is a model of the human foot, made of wood or metal)

Upper forms of schools (1940’s British) equivalent to American upper grades

The Way

It is upon the Trunk that a gentleman works.

Analects of Confucius, 1. 2.

The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it. But this is not necessarily a refutation of subjectivism about values as a theory. The true doctrine might be a doctrine which if we accept we die. No one who speaks from within the Tao could reject it on that account; ἐν δὲ φάει καὶ ὄλεσσον. But it has not yet come to that. There are theoretical difficulties in the philosophy of Gaius and Titius.

However subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all. They write in order to produce certain states of mind in the rising generation, if not because they think those states of mind intrinsically just or good, yet certainly because they think them to be the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable. It would not be difficult (though it would be unkind) to collect from various passages in The Green Book what their ideal is. But we need not. The important point is not the precise nature of their end, but the fact that they have an end at all. They must have, or this book (being purely practical in intention) is written to no purpose. And this end must have real value in their eyes. To abstain from calling it ‘good’ and to use, instead, such predicates as ‘necessary’ or ‘progressive’ or ‘efficient’ would be a subterfuge. They could be forced by argument to answer the questions ‘necessary for what?’, ‘progressing towards what?’, ‘effecting what?’; in the last resort they would have to admit that some state of affairs was in their opinion good for its own sake. And this time they could not maintain that ‘good’ simply described their own emotion about it. For the whole purpose of their book is so to condition the young reader that he will share their approval, and this would be either a fool’s or a villain’s undertaking unless they held that their approval was in some way valid or correct. In actual fact Gaius and Titius will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars.[1] Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge. I will now try to find out what happens if this is seriously attempted.

Let us continue to use the previous example—that of death for a good cause—not, of course, because virtue is the only value or martyrdom the only virtue, but because this is the experimentum crucis which shows different systems of thought in the clearest light. Let us suppose that an Innovator in values regards dulce et decorum and greater love hath no man as mere irrational sentiments which are to be stripped off in order that we may get down to the ‘realistic’ or ‘basic’ ground of this value. Where will he find such a ground?

First of all, he might say that the real value lay in the utility of such sacrifice to the community. ‘Good’, he might say, ‘means what is useful to the community.’ But of course the death of the community is not useful to the community—only the death of some of its members. What is really meant is that the death of some men is useful to other men. That is very true. But on what ground are some men being asked to die for the benefit of others? Every appeal to pride, honour, shame, or love is excluded by hypothesis. To use these would be to return to sentiment and the Innovator’s task is, having cut all that away, to explain to men, in terms of pure reasoning, why they will be well advised to die that others may live. He may say ‘Unless some of us risk death all of us are certainto die’. But that will be true only in a limited number of cases; and even when it is true it provokes the very reasonable counter question ‘Why should I be one of those who take the risk?’

At this point the Innovator may ask why, after all, selfishness should be more ‘rational’ or ‘intelligent’ than altruism. The question is welcome. If by Reason we mean the process actually employed by Gaius and Titius when engaged in debunking (that is, the connecting by inference of propositions, ultimately derived from sense data, with further propositions), then the answer must be that a refusal to sacrifice oneself is no more rational than a consent to do so. And no less rational. Neither choice is rational—or irrational—at all. From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preservedThis will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this: it can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self preservation. The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premisses in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible. We must therefore either extend the word Reason to include what our ancestors called Practical Reason and confess that judgements such as society ought to be preserved (though they can support themselves by no reason of the sort that Gaius and Titius demand) are not mere sentiments but are rationality itself: or else we must give up at once, and for ever, the attempt to find a core of ‘rational’ value behind all the sentiments we have debunked. The Innovator will not take the first alternative, for practical principles known to all men by Reason are simply the Tao which he has set out to supersede. He is more likely to give up the quest for a ‘rational’ core and to hunt for some other ground even more ‘basic’ and ‘realistic’.

This he will probably feel that he has found in Instinct. The preservation of society, and of the species itself, are ends that do not hang on the precarious thread of Reason: they are given by Instinct. That is why there is no need to argue against the man who does not acknowledge them. We have an instinctive urge to preserve our own species. That is why men ought to work for posterity. We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity—in fact the Tao—can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species. That, again, is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and we can now abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want.

In reality we have not advanced one step. I will not insist on the point that Instinct is a name for we know not what (to say that migratory birds find their way by instinct is only to say that we do not know how migratory birds find their way), for I think it is here being used in a fairly definite sense, to mean an unreflective or spontaneous impulse widely felt by the members of a given species. In what way does Instinct, thus conceived, help us to find ‘real’ values? Is it maintained that we must obey instinct, that we cannot do otherwise? But if so, why are Green Books and the like written? Why this stream of exhortation to drive us where we cannot help going? Why such praise for those who have submitted to the inevitable? Or is it maintained that if we do obey instinct we shall be happy and satisfied? But the very question we are considering was that of facing death which (so far as the Innovator knows) cuts off every possible satisfaction: and if we have an instinctive desire for the good of posterity then this desire, by the very nature of the case, can never be satisfied, since its aim is achieved, if at all, when we are dead. It looks very much as if the Innovator would have to say not that we must obey instinct, nor that it will satisfy us to do so, but that we ought to obey instinct.[2]

But why ought we to obey instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it?—an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement about psychological fact ‘I have an impulse to do so and so’ we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle ‘I ought to obey this impulse’. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows, it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge. For even the Innovator admits that many impulses (those which conflict with the preservation of the species) have to be controlled. And this admission surely introduces us to a yet more fundamental difficulty.

Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged: or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.

The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the ‘basic’, or ‘fundamental’, or ‘primal’, or ‘deepest’ instinct. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgement passed upon the instinct and therefore not derivable from it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation, and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion. It is the old dilemma. Either the premisses already concealed an imperative or the conclusion remains merely in the indicative.[3]

Finally, it is worth inquiry whether there is any instinct to care for posterity or preserve the species. I do not discover it in myself: and yet I am a man rather prone to think of remote futurity—a man who can read Mr. Olaf Stapledon with delight. Much less do I find it easy to believe that the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity. Only people educated in a particular way have ever had the idea ‘posterity’ before their minds at all. It is difficult to assign to instinct our attitude towards an object which exists only for reflective men. What we have by nature is an impulse to preserve our own children and grandchildren; an impulse which grows progressively feebler as the imagination looks forward and finally dies out in the ‘deserts of vast futurity’. No parents who were guided by this instinct would dream for a moment of setting up the claims of their hypothetical descendants against those of the baby actually crowing and kicking in the room. Those of us who accept the Tao may, perhaps, say that they ought to do so: but that is not open to those who treat instinct as the source of value. As we pass from mother love to rational planning for the future we are passing away from the realm of instinct into that of choice and reflection: and if instinct is the source of value, planning for the future ought to be less respectable and less obligatory than the baby language and cuddling of the fondest mother or the most fatuous nursery anecdotes of a doting father. If we are to base ourselves upon instinct, these things are the substance and care for posterity the shadow—the huge, flickering shadow of the nursery happiness cast upon the screen of the unknown future. I do not say this projection is a bad thing: but then I do not believe that instinct is the ground of value judgements. What is absurd is to claim that your care for posterity finds its justification in instinct and then flout at every turn the only instinct on which it could be supposed to rest, tearing the child almost from the breast to crèche and kindergarten in the interests of progress and the coming race.

The truth finally becomes apparent that neither in any operation with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values. None of the principles he requires are to be found there: but they are all to be found somewhere else. ‘All within the four seas are his brothers’ (xii. 5) says Confucius of the Chün-tzu, the gentleman or cuor gentilHumani nihil a me alienum puto says the Stoic. ‘Do as you would be done by’ say Jesus and Confucius both. ‘Humanity is to be preserved’ says Locke.[4] All the practical principles behind the Innovator’s case for posterity, or society, or the species, are there from time immemorial in the Tao. But they are nowhere else. Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions: they are premisses. You may, since they can give no ‘reason’ for themselves of a kind to silence Gaius and Titius, regard them as sentiments: but then you must give up contrasting ‘real’ or ‘rational’ value with sentimental value. All value will be sentimental; and you must confess (on pain of abandoning every value) that all sentiment is not ‘merely’ subjective. You may, on the other hand, regard them as rational—nay as rationality itself—as things so obviously reasonable that they neither demand nor admit proof. But then you must allow that Reason can be practical, that an ought must not be dismissed because it cannot produce some is as its credential. If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.

To some it will appear that I have merely restored under another name what they always meant by basic or fundamental instinct. But much more than a choice of words is involved. The Innovator attacks traditional values (the Tao) in defence of what he at first supposes to be (in some special sense) ‘rational’ or ‘biological’ values. But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking the Tao, and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from the Tao. If he had really started from scratch, from right outside the human tradition of value, no jugglery could have advanced him an inch towards the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it. Not one of them can claim any authority other than that of the Tao. Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled even to attack it. The question therefore arises what title he has to select bits of it for acceptance and to reject others. For if the bits he rejects have no authority, neither have those he retains: if what he retains is valid, what he rejects is equally valid too.

The Innovator, for example, rates high the claims of posterity. He cannot get any valid claim for posterity out of instinct or (in the modern sense) reason. He is really deriving our duty to posterity from the Tao; our duty to do good to all men is an axiom of Practical Reason, and our duty to do good to our descendants is a clear deduction from it. But then, in every form of the Taowhich has come down to us, side by side with the duty to children and descendants lies the duty to parents and ancestors. By what right do we reject one and accept the other? Again, the Innovator may place economic value first. To get people fed and clothed is the great end, and in pursuit of it scruples about justice and good faith may be set aside. The Tao of course agrees with him about the importance of getting the people fed and clothed. Unless the Innovator were himself using the Tao he could never have learned of such a duty. But side by side with it in the Tao lie those duties of justice and good faith which he is ready to debunk. What is his warrant? He may be a Jingoist, a Racialist, an extreme nationalist, who maintains that the advancement of his own people is the object to which all else ought to yield. But no kind of factual observation and no appeal to instinct will give him a ground for this opinion. Once more, he is in fact deriving it from the Tao: a duty to our own kin, because they are our own kin, a part of traditional morality. But side by side with it in the Tao, and limiting it, lie the inflexible demands of justice, and the rule that, in the long run, all men are our brothers. Whence comes the Innovator’s authority to pick and choose?

Since I can see no answer to these questions, I draw the following conclusions. This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies’, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

Does this mean, then, that no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place? That we are bound down for ever to an unchanging code given once for all? And is it, in any event, possible to talk of obeying what I call the Tao? If we lump together, as I have done, the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew, shall we not find many contradictions and some absurdities? I admit all this. Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real development, is required. But there are two very different kinds of criticism.

A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were from outside, regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy. That is one thing. A great poet, who has ‘loved, and been well nurtured in, his mother tongue’, may also make great alterations in it, but his changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself: he works from within. The language which suffers, has also inspired, the changes. That is a different thing—as different as the works of Shakespeare are from Basic English. It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: between the organic and the surgical.

In the same way, the Tao admits development from within. Those who understand its spirit and who have been led by that spirit can modify it in directions which that spirit itself demands. Only they can know what those directions are. The outsider knows nothing about the matter. His attempts at alteration, as we have seen, contradict themselves. So far from being able to harmonize discrepancies in its letter by penetration to its spirit, he merely snatches at some one precept, on which the accidents of time and place happen to have riveted his attention, and then rides it to death—for no reason that he can give. From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao. This is what Confucius meant when he said ‘With those who follow a different Way it is useless to take counsel’.[5] This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible.[6] He may be hostile, but he cannot be critical: he does not know what is being discussed. This is why it was also said ‘This people that knoweth not the Law is accursed’[7] and ‘He that believeth not shall be damned’.[8] An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else.

In particular instances it may, no doubt, be a matter of some delicacy to decide where the legitimate internal criticism ends and the fatal external kind begins. But wherever any precept of traditional morality is simply challenged to produce its credentials, as though the burden of proof lay on it, we have taken the wrong position. The legitimate reformer endeavours to show that the precept in question conflicts with some precept which its defenders allow to be more fundamental, or that it does not really embody the judgement of value it professes to embody. The direct frontal attack ‘Why?’—‘What good does it do?’—‘Who said so?’ is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao. Nor must we postpone obedience to a precept until its credentials have been examined. Only those who are practising the Tao will understand it. It is the well-nurtured man, the cuor gentil, and he alone, who can recognize Reason when it comes.[9] It is Paul, the Pharisee, the man ‘perfect as touching the Law’ who learns where and how that Law was deficient.[10]

In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity: that any attempt, having become sceptical about these, to reintroduce value lower down on some supposedly more ‘realistic’ basis, is doomed. Whether this position implies a supernatural origin for the Tao is a question I am not here concerned with.

Yet how can the modern mind be expected to embrace the conclusion we have reached? This Tao which, it seems, we must treat as an absolute is simply a phenomenon like any other—the reflection upon the minds of our ancestors of the agricultural rhythm in which they lived or even of their physiology. We know already in principle how such things are produced: soon we shall know in detail: eventually we shall be able to produce them at will. Of course, while we did not know how minds were made, we accepted this mental furniture as a datum, even as a master. But many things in nature which were once our masters have become our servants. Why not this? Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this final and toughest bit of ‘nature’ which has hitherto been called the conscience of man? You threaten us with some obscure disaster if we step outside it: but we have been threatened in that way by obscurantists at every step in our advance, and each time the threat has proved false. You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao. Very well: we shall probably find that we can get on quite comfortably without them. Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as an interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such. Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.

This is a very possible position: and those who hold it cannot be accused of self-contradiction like the half-hearted sceptics who still hope to find ‘real’ values when they have debunked the traditional ones. This is the rejection of the concept of value altogether. I shall need another lecture to consider it.


[1] The real (perhaps unconscious) philosophy of Gaius and Titius becomes clear if we contrast the two following lists of disapprovals and approvals. A. Disapprovals: A mother’s appeal to a child to be ‘brave’ is ‘nonsense’ (Green Book, p. 62). The reference of the word ‘gentleman’ is ‘extremely vague’ (ibid.). ‘To call a man a coward tells us really nothing about what he does’ (p. 64). Feelings about a country or empire are feelings ‘about nothing in particular’ (p. 77). B. Approvals: Those who prefer the arts of peace to the arts of war (it is not said in what circumstances) are such that ‘we may want to call them wise men’ (p. 65). The pupil is expected ‘to believe in a democratic community life’ (p. 67). ‘Contact with the ideas of other people is, as we know, healthy’ (p. 86). The reason for bathrooms (‘that people are healthier and pleasanter to meet when they are clean’) is ‘too obvious to need mentioning’ (p. 142). It will be seen that comfort and security, as known to a suburban street in peace-time, are the ultimate values: those things which can alone produce or spiritualize comfort and security are mocked. Man lives by bread alone, and the ultimate source of bread is the baker’s van: peace matters more than honour and can be preserved by jeering at colonels and reading newspapers.

[2] The most determined effort which I know to construct a theory of value on the basis of ‘satisfaction of impulses’ is that of Dr. I. A. Richards (Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924). The old objection to defining Value as Satisfaction is the universal value judgement that ‘it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’. To meet this Dr. Richards endeavours to show that our impulses can be arranged in a hierarchy and some satisfactions preferred to others without an appeal to any criterion other than satisfaction. He does this by the doctrine that some impulses are more ‘important’ than others—an importantimpulse being one whose frustration involves the frustration of other impulses. A good systematization (i.e. the good life) consists in satisfying as many impulses as possible; which entails satisfying the ‘important’ at the expense of the ‘unimportant’. The objections to this scheme seem to me to be two. (1) Without a theory of immortality it leaves no room for the value of noble death. It may, of course, be said that a man who has saved his life by treachery will suffer for the rest of that life from frustration. But not, surely, frustration of all his impulses? Whereas the dead man will have no satisfaction. Or is it maintained that since he has no unsatisfied impulses he is better off than the disgraced and living man? This at once raises the second objection. (2) Is the value of a systematization to be judged by the presence of satisfactions or the absence of dissatisfactions? The extreme case is that of the dead man in whom satisfactions and dissatisfactions (on the modern view) both equal zero, as against the successful traitor who can still eat, drink, sleep, scratch, and copulate, even if he cannot have friendship or love or self-respect. But it arises at other levels. Suppose A has only 500 impulses and all are satisfied, and that B has 1,200 impulses whereof 700 are satisfied and 500 not: which has the better systematization? There is no doubt which Dr. Richards actually prefers—he even praises art on the ground that it makes us ‘discontented’ with ordinary crudities! (op. cit., p. 230). The only trace I find of a philosophical basis for this preference is the statement that ‘the more complex an activity the more conscious it is’ (p. 109). But if satisfaction is the only value, why should increase of consciousness be good? For consciousness is the condition of all dissatisfactions as well as of all satisfactions. Dr. Richards’s system gives no support to his (and our) actual preference for civil life over savage and human over animal—or even for life over death.

[3] The desperate expedients to which a man can be driven if he attempts to base value on fact are well illustrated by Dr. C. H. Waddington’s fate in Science and Ethics. Dr. Waddington here explains that ‘existence is its own justification’ (p. 14), and writes: ‘An existence which is essentially evolutionary is itself the justification for an evolution towards a more comprehensive existence’ (p. 17). I do not think Dr. Waddington is himself at ease in this view, for he does endeavour to recommend the course of evolution to us on three grounds other than its mere occurrence. (a) That the later stages include or ‘comprehend’ the earlier. (b) That T. H. Huxley’s picture of Evolution will not revolt you if you regard it from an ‘actuarial’ point of view. (c) That, any way, after all, it isn’t half so bad as people make out (‘not so morally offensive that we cannot accept it’, p. 18). These three palliatives are more creditable to Dr. Waddington’s heart than his head and seem to me to give up the main position. If Evolution is praised (or, at least, apologized for) on the ground of any properties it exhibits, then we are using an external standard and the attempt to make existence its own justification has been abandoned. If that attempt is maintained, why does Dr. Waddington concentrate on Evolution: i.e. on a temporary phase of organic existence in one planet? This is ‘geocentric’. If Good = whatever Nature happens to be doing, then surely we should notice what Nature is doing as a whole; and nature as a whole, I understand, is working steadily and irreversibly towards the final extinction of all life in every part of the universe, so that Dr. Waddington’s ethics, stripped of their unaccountable bias towards such a parochial affair as tellurian biology, would leave murder and suicide our only duties. Even this, I confess, seems to me a lesser objection than the discrepancy between Dr. Waddington’s first principle and the value judgements men actually make. To value anything simply because it occurs is in fact to worship success, like Quislings or men of Vichy. Other philosophies more wicked have been devised: none more vulgar. I am far from suggesting that Dr. Waddington practises in real life such grovelling prostration before the fait accompli. Let us hope that Rasselas, cap. 22, gives the right picture of what his philosophy amounts to in action. (‘The philosopher, supposing the rest vanquished, rose up and departed with the air of a man that had co-operated with the present system.’)

[4] See Appendix.

[5] Analects of Confucius, xv. 39.

[6] Eth. Nic. 1095 B, 1140 B, 1151 A.

[7] John vii. 49. The speaker said it in malice, but with more truth than he meant. Cf. John xi. 51.

[8] Mark xvi. 16.

[9] Republic, 402 A.

[10] Phil. iii. 6.

Transcriber’s Notes

Cuor gentil – a noble heart

‘εν δε φαει και ‘δλεσσου – ‘en de faei kai dlessou’ roughly “in the light you perceive it [light]” (?)

Dulce et decorum – sweet and seemly, from the Roman saying dulce et decorum est pro patria mori It is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country.

Humani nihil a me alienum puto from Terence: homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto: “I am a man; and nothing of man is foreign to me.”

Nietzschean ethic – an ‘ends justify the means,’ ‘win at any cost’ philosophy; the starting point his philosophy is his own desire instead of reality; he is a nihilist.

Olaf Stapledon – a famous science fiction writer (1886-1950) whose most famous works include Last and First MenDarkness and the Light, and Star Maker.

Theist – a believer in one or more gods, e.g. Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Zoroastrians

The Abolition of Man

It came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.


‘Man’s conquest of Nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science. ‘Man has Nature whacked’ said someone to a friend of mine not long ago. In their context the words had a certain tragic beauty, for the speaker was dying of tuberculosis. ‘No matter’, he said, ‘I know I’m one of the casualties. Of course there are casualties on the winning as well as on the losing side. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is winning.’ I have chosen this story as my point of departure in order to make it clear that I do not wish to disparage all that is really beneficial in the process described as ‘Man’s conquest’, much less all the real devotion and self-sacrifice that has gone to make it possible. But having done so I must proceed to analyse this conception a little more closely. In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them. But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scientific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions. In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically as that of its successors. And we must also remember that, quite apart from this, the later a generation comes—the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct—the less power it will have in the forward direction, because its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future. The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the thirtieth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But even within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant ‘a bastard nursed in a bureau’, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women,[1] and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry[2] —we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please. The second difference is even more important. In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao—a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education. The conditioners have been emancipated from all that. It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered. The ultimate springs of human action are no longer, for them, something given. They have surrendered—like electricity: it is the function of the Conditioners to control, not to obey them. They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce. They themselves are outside, above. For we are assuming the last stage of Man’s struggle with Nature. The final victory has been won. Human nature has been conquered—and, of course, has conquered, in whatever sense those words may now bear.

The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race. They are the motivators, the creators of motives. But how are they going to be motivated themselves? For a time, perhaps, by survivals, within their own minds, of the old ‘natural’ Tao. Thus at first they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a ‘duty’ to do it ‘good’. But it is only by confusion that they can remain in this state. They recognize the concept of duty as the result of certain processes which they can now control. Their victory has consisted precisely in emerging from the state in which they were acted upon by those processes to the state in which they use them as tools. One of the things they now have to decide is whether they will, or will not, so condition the rest of us that we can go on having the old idea of duty and the old reactions to it. How can duty help them to decide that? Duty itself is up for trial: it cannot also be the judge. And ‘good’ fares no better. They know quite well how to produce a dozen different conceptions of good in us. The question is which, if any, they should produce. No conception of good can help them to decide. It is absurd to fix on one of the things they are comparing and make it the standard of comparison.

To some it will appear that I am inventing a factitious difficulty for my Conditioners. Other, more simple-minded, critics may ask ‘Why should you suppose they will be such bad men?’ But I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived. Nor is their difficulty factitious. We might suppose that it was possible to say ‘After all, most of us want more or less the same things—food and drink and sexual intercourse, amusement, art, science, and the longest possible life for individuals and for the species. Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it. Where’s the trouble?’ But this will not answer. In the first place, it is false that we all really like the same things. But even if we did, what motive is to impel the Conditioners to scorn delights and live laborious days in order that we, and posterity, may have what we like? Their duty? But that is only the Tao, which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it, then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved? One of the questions before them is whether this feeling for posterity (they know well how it is produced) shall be continued or not. However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once a pelitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

Yet the Conditioners will act. When I said just now that all motives fail them, I should have said all motives except one. All motives that claim any validity other than that of their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them. Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo has been explained away. But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or ‘seen through’ because it never had any pretensions. The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. I am not here speaking of the corrupting influence of power nor expressing the fear that under it our Conditioners will degenerate. The very words corrupt and degenerate imply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context. My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent. I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned. Though regarding as an illusion the artificial conscience which they produce in us their subjects, they will yet perceive that it creates in us an illusion of meaning for our lives which compares favourably with the futility of their own: and they will envy us as eunuchs envy men. But I do not insist on this, for it is a mere conjecture. What is not conjecture is that our hope even of a ‘conditioned’ happiness rests on what is ordinarily called ‘chance’—the chance that benevolent impulses may on the whole predominate in our Conditioners. For without the judgement ‘Benevolence is good’—that is, without re-entering the Tao—they can have no ground for promoting or stabilizing these impulses rather than any others. By the logic of their position they must just take their impulses as they come, from chance. And Chance here means Nature. It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas, that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by ‘seeing through’ all ‘rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour. If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere ‘nature’) is the only course left open.

At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature’s apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. If the fully planned and conditioned world (with its Tao a mere product of the planning) comes into existence, Nature will be troubled no more by the restive species that rose in revolt against her so many millions of years ago, will be vexed no longer by its chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness. Ferum victorem cepit: and if the eugenics are efficient enough there will be no second revolt, but all snug beneath the Conditioners, and the Conditioners beneath her, till the moon falls or the sun grows cold.

My point may be clearer to some if it is put in a different form. Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider its various opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The Artificial does not now concern us. If we take the rest of the list of opposites, however, I think we can get a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her. Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality: of objects as against consciousness: of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous: of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value: of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience we reduce it to the level of ‘Nature’ in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects resist the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ‘body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psycho-analyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all. It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, our selves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the present rulers of Germany. Traditional values are to be ‘debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. The belief that we can invent ‘ideologies’ at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere ὕλη, specimens, preparations, begins to affect our very language. Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. Virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism, and boys likely to be worthy of a commission are ‘potential officer material’. Most wonderful of all, the virtues of thrift and temperance, and even of ordinary intelligence, are sales-resistance.

The true significance of what is going on has been concealed by the use of the abstraction Man. Not that the word Man is necessarily a pure abstraction. In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason of humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application. While we speak from within the Tao we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual’s self-control. But the moment we step outside and regard the Tao as a mere subjective product, this possibility has disappeared. What is now common to all men is a mere abstract universal, an L.C.M., and Man’s conquest of himself means simply the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present labouring to produce.

Nothing I can say will prevent some people from describing this lecture as an attack on science. I deny the charge, of course: and real Natural Philosophers (there are some now alive) will perceive that in defending value I defend inter alia the value of knowledge, which must die like every other when its roots in the Tao are cut. But I can go further than that. I even suggest that from Science herself the cure might come. I have described as a ‘magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. And I meant what I said. The fact that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better. There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak. There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead. If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from his devils, but gold and guns and girls. ‘All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’.[3] In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit.[4] The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work;[5] but his goal is that of the magician. In Paracelsus the characters of magician and scientist are combined. No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not from the bad. But the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.

Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly know what I am asking for. I hear rumours that Goethe’s approach to nature deserves fuller consideration—that even Dr. Steiner may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light cast on the unknown thing, Instinct, by the inly known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it. What I most fear is the reply that I am ‘only one more’ obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination—the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. I implore you to remember the Irishman and his two stoves. There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis—incommensurable with the others—and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.


[1] The Boke Named the Governour, I. iv: ‘Al men except physitions only shulde be excluded and kepte out of the norisery.’ I. vi: ‘After that a childe is come to seuen yeres of age . . . the most sure counsaile is to withdrawe him from all company of women.’

[2] Some Thoughts concerning Education, § 7: ‘I will also advise his Feet to be wash’d every Day in cold Water, and to have his Shoes so thin that they might leak and let in Water, whenever he comes near it.’ § 174: ‘If he have a poetick vein, ’tis to me the strangest thing in the World that the Father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or improved. Methinks the Parents should labor to have it stifled and suppressed as much as may be.’ Yet Locke is one of the most sensible writers on education.

[3] Dr. Faustus, 77-90.

[4] Advancement of Learning, Bk. I (p. 60 in Ellis and Spedding, 1905, p. 35 in Everyman Edn.).

[5] Filum Labyrinthi, i.

Transcriber’s Notes

Buber, Martin (1878-1965) philosopher who said the I-Thou approach to relationships is the only way people can be fully authentic; only a part of our humanity is expressed in the I-It relationship.

Clotho – of the three Fates of Greek mythology, she was the one who wove the fabric of life

factitious – contrived, artificial

Faustus – the magician of Renaisance legend who bargained his soul to the devil in exchange for power

Ferum victorem cepit – from Horace Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et/ Artes intulit agresti Latio.: “Greece, once overcome, overcame her wild conqueror,/ And brought the arts into rustic Latium.” The vanquished were actually the victors; Lewis is saying that nature, being conquered, is the true winner.

Francis Bacon – proponent (1561-1626) of the “scientific revolution” who advocated science as a tool to gain power over nature; he is known more for his polemical writings on science than his advancement of human knowledge

Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) Romantic poet who reverenced nature as divine

H.C.F. – highest common factor

Inter alia – Amongst other things

Paracelsus – (1493-1541), more properly Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who was known for his medical innovations during the Renaisance. Traditionally it has been said that Paracelsus was taught by several bishops and the occultist abbot of Sponheim, Johannes Trithemius.

Petitio – short for petitio principii or begging the question: a logical fallacy in which the thing to be proved is implicitly assumed.

Sic volo, sic jubeo – short for sic volo, sic jubeo, stat pro ratione voluntas: “Thus I will, thus I command, my pleasure stands for law.”

Sui generis – adj. [literally, of its own kind] constituting a class alone: unique, peculiar.

υλη – hule or matter, as used by Aristotle

Wireless – radio

Illustrations of the Tao

The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from
such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional
historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that
writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are
quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if
I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But
(1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from
common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive
its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of
collecting independent testimonies presupposes that
‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even
that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The
biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful.
It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more
than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every
civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the
last resort, from a single centre—‘carried’ like an infectious disease or like
the Apostolical succession.

1. The Law of General Beneficence


‘I have not slain men.’ (Ancient Egyptian. From the Confession of the Righteous Soul, ‘Book of the Dead’, v. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics [= ERE], vol. v, p. 478.)

‘Do not murder.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 13.)

‘Terrify not men or God will terrify thee.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Precepts of Ptahhetep. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of Near East, p.133 n.)

‘In Nástrond (= Hell) I saw . . . murderers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39)

‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478.)

‘I have not been grasping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Ibid.)

‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to SamašERE v. 445.)

‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6.)

‘Slander not.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samaš. ERE v. 445.)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 16.)

‘Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded.’ (Hindu. Janet, p. 7.)

‘Has he . . . driven an honest man from his family? broken up a well cemented clan?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins from incantation tablets. ERE v. 446.)

‘I have not caused hunger. I have not caused weeping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 478.)

‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2.)

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus xix. 17.)

‘He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon goodness will dislike no one.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, iv. 4.)

(b) Positive

‘Nature urges that a man should wish human society to exist and should wish to enter it.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Officiis, I. iv.)

‘By the fundamental Law of Nature Man [is] to be preserved as much as possible.’ (Locke, Treatises of Civil Govt. ii. 3.)

‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9.)

‘Speak kindness . . . show good will.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samaš. ERE v. 445.)

‘Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii.)

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47.)

‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7.)

‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140.)

‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus xix. 18.)

‘Love the stranger as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Ibid. 33, 34.)

‘Do to men what you wish men to do to you.’ (Christian. Matt. vii. 12.)

2. The Law of Special Beneficence

‘It is upon the trunk that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows. And surely proper behaviour to parents and elder brothers is the trunk of goodness.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 2.)

‘Brothers shall fight and be each others’ bane.’ (Old Norse. Account of the Evil Age before the World’s end, Volospá 45.)

‘Has he insulted his elder sister?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446.)

‘You will see them take care of their kindred [and] the children of their friends . . . never reproaching them in the least.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437.)

‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481.)

‘Nothing can ever change the claims of kinship for a right thinking man.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2600.)

‘Did not Socrates love his own children, though he did so as a free man and as one not forgetting that the gods have the first claim on our friendship?’ (Greek. Epictetus, iii. 24.)

‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. I. xi.)

‘I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue but should fulfil both my natural and artificial relations, as a worshipper, a son, a brother, a father, and a citizen.’ (Greek, Ibid. III. ii.)

‘This first I rede thee: be blameless to thy kindred. Take no vengeance even though they do thee wrong.’ (Old Norse. Sigrdrifumál, 22.)

‘Is it only the sons of Atreus who love their wives? For every good man, who is right-minded, loves and cherishes his own.’ (Greek. Homer, Iliad, ix. 340.)

‘The union and fellowship of men will be best preserved if each receives from us the more kindness in proportion as he is more closely connected with us.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. xvi.)

‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. I. vii.)

‘If a ruler . . . compassed the salvation of the whole state, surely you would call him Good? The Master said, It would no longer be a matter of “Good”. He would without doubt be a Divine Sage.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, vi. 28.)

‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51 A, B.)

‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.’ (Christian. I Tim. v. 8.)

‘Put them in mind to obey magistrates.’ . . . ‘I exhort that prayers be made for kings and all that are in authority.’ (Christian. Tit. iii. 1 and I Tim. ii. 1, 2.)

3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors

‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9.)

‘Has he despised Father and Mother?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446.)

‘I was a staff by my Father’s side. . . . I went in and out at his command.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 481.)

‘Honour thy Father and thy Mother.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 12.)

‘To care for parents.’ (Greek. List of duties in Epictetus, III. vii.)

‘Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8.)

‘Rise up before the hoary head and honour the old man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Lev. xix. 32.)

‘I tended the old man, I gave him my staff.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481.)

‘You will see them take care . . . of old men.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437.)

‘I have not taken away the oblations of the blessed dead.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478.)

‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force () of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9.)

4. Duties to Children and Posterity

‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8.)

‘To marry and to beget children.’ (Greek. List of duties. Epictetus, III. vii.)

‘Can you conceive an Epicurean commonwealth? . . . What will happen? Whence is the population to be kept up? Who will educate them? Who will be Director of Adolescents? Who will be Director of Physical Training? What will be taught?’ (Greek. Ibid.)

‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. iv, and De Legibus, I. xxi.)

‘The second of these achievements is no less glorious than the first; for while the first did good on one occasion, the second will continue to benefit the state forever.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. xxii.)

‘Great reverence is owed to a child.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xiv. 47.)

‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22.)

‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part . . . and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432.)

5. The Law of Justice

(aSexual Justice

‘Has he approached his neighbour’s wife?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446.)

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 14.)

‘I saw in Nástrond (= Hell) . . . beguilers of others’ wives.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39.)

(b) Honesty

‘Has he drawn false boundaries?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446.)

‘To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.’ (Babylonian. Ibid.)

‘I have not stolen.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478.)

‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 15.)

‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels.)

‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i.)

‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g. a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441.)

‘The first point of justice is that none should do any mischief to another unless he has first been attacked by the other’s wrongdoing. The second is that a man should treat common property as common property, and private property as his own. There is no such thing as private property by nature, but things have become private either through prior occupation (as when men of old came into empty territory) or by conquest, or law, or agreement, or stipulation, or casting lots.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii.)

(c) Justice in Court, &c.

‘Whoso takes no bribe . . . well pleasing is this to Samaš.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445.)

‘I have not traduced the slave to him who is set over him.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478.)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus xx. 16.)

‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482.)

‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus xix. 15.)

6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity

‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6.)

‘Whose mouth, full of lying, avails not before thee: thou burnest their utterance.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samaš. ERE v. 445.)

‘With his mouth was he full of Yea, in his heart full of Nay?’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 446.)

‘I have not spoken falsehood.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478.)

‘I sought no trickery, nor swore false oaths.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2738.)

‘The Master said, Be of unwavering good faith.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13.)

‘In Nástrond (= Hell) I saw the perjurers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 39.)

‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312.)

‘The foundation of justice is good faith.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii.)

‘[The gentleman] must learn to be faithful to his superiors and to keep promises.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, I. 8.)

‘Anything is better than treachery.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 124.)

7. The Law of Mercy

‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8.)

‘Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samaš.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445.)

‘Has he failed to set a prisoner free?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446.)

‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 478.)

‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8.)

‘There, Thor, you got disgrace, when you beat women.’ (Old Norse. Hárbarthsljóth 38.)

‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’ . . . ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443.)

‘You will see them take care of . . . widows, orphans, and old men, never reproaching them.’ (Redskin. ERE v. 439.)

‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131.)

‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180.)

‘When thou cuttest down thine harvest . . . and hast forgot a sheaf . . . thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.’ (Ancient Jewish. Deut. xxiv. 19.)

8. The Law of Magnanimity


‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii.)

‘Men always knew that when force and injury was offered they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood.’ (English. Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity, I. ix. 4.)

‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III. cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161.)

‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aen. vi. 638-9, 660.)

‘Courage has got to be harder, heart the stouter, spirit the sterner, as our strength weakens. Here lies our lord, cut to pieces, our best man in the dust. If anyone thinks of leaving this battle, he can howl forever.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Maldon, 312.)

‘Praise and imitate that man to whom, while life is pleasing, death is not grievous.’ (Stoic. Seneca, Ep. liv.)

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13.)


‘Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. xxiii.)

‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890.)

‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. iv.)

‘We must not listen to those who advise us “being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts,” but must put on immortality as much as is possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.’ (Ancient Greek. Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1177 B.)

‘The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the spirit of our minds the soul. This is therefore the first Law, whereby the highest power of the mind requireth obedience at the hands of all the rest.’ (Hooker, op. cit. I. viii. 6.)

‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time . . . let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98.)

‘He who is unmoved, who has restrained his senses . . . is said to be devoted. As a flame in a windless place that flickers not, so is the devoted.’ (Ancient Indian. Bhagavad gita. ERE ii. 90.)


‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phaedo, 81 A.)

‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, l. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922.)

‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John xii. 24, 25.)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: New Questions that Arose in 90s: Position of Faith and Theology Today

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Crisis for Liberation Theology

In the eighties, the theology of liberation, in its radical forms, appeared as the most urgent challenge facing the belief of the Church, demanding response and clarification. For it offered a new, plausible, and at the same time practical answer to the basic question of Christianity: the question of redemption. The word liberation was supposed to express, in another, more readily comprehensible way, what in the traditional language of the Church had been called redemption. In fact the same underlying question is always there: we experience a world that does not correspond to a good God. Poverty, oppression, unjust domination of every kind, the suffering of the righteous and of the innocent are the signs of the times—in every age. And each single person is suffering; no one can say about the world, or about his own life: Stay yet awhile, you are so lovely. Liberation theology said, in response to this experience of ours: This state of affairs, which cannot be allowed to continue, can only be overcome by a radical change in the structures of the world, which are sinful structures, evil structures. If, then, sin applies its power through structures, and if our reduction to misery is preprogramed through them, then sin cannot be overcome by individual conversion but only by a struggle against the structures of injustice. Yet this struggle, it was said, would have to be a political struggle, because the structures were strengthened and maintained by politics. Thus redemption became a political process, for which Marxist philosophy offered the essential directions. It became a task that men themselves could—indeed had to—take in hand and became, at the same time, the object of quite practical hopes: faith was changed from “theory” into practice, into concrete redeeming action in the liberation process.

The collapse of the Marxist-inspired governments of Europe was for this theology of redeeming political practice a kind of twilight of the gods: precisely there where the Marxist ideology of liberation had been consistently applied, a total lack of freedom had developed, whose horrors were now laid bare before the eyes of the entire world. Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic. The political events of 1989 have thus also changed the theological landscape. Marxism had been the most recent attempt to formulate a universally valid code for determining the correct action to be taken in history. It believed it knew the fundamental structure by which the history of the world is built up and that it was therefore able to show how this history could finally be brought onto the right track. The fact that it underpinned all this with what seemed to be strictly scientific methods, and thus completely replaced belief by science and turned knowledge into practice, made it enormously, monstrously fascinating. It seemed as though all the unfulfilled promises of religion could be realized by means of a system of political practice with a scientific basis. The collapse of this hope inevitably brought with it an immense disillusionment that is still far from having been worked through. It seems to me quite conceivable that we will meet with new forms of the Marxist view of the world. At first people were at a loss. The failure of the one system incorporating a scientifically based solution to human problems could only favor nihilism or at any rate absolute relativism.

Relativism—The Dominant Philosophy

So in fact relativism has become the central problem for faith in our time. It by no means appears simply as resignation in the face of the unfathomable nature of truth, of course; rather, it defines itself positively on the basis of the concepts of tolerance, dialectic epistemology, and freedom, which would be limited by maintaining one truth as being valid for everyone. Relativism thus also appears as being the philosophical basis of democracy, which is said to be founded on no one’s being able to claim to know the right way forward; and it draws life from all the ways acknowledging each other as fragmentary attempts at improvement and trying to agree in common through dialogue, although the advertising of perceptions that cannot be reconciled in a common form is also part of this. A free society is said to be a relativistic society; only on this condition can it remain free and open-ended.

In the realm of politics this view is to a great extent true. The one single correct political option does not exist. What is relative, the construction of a freely ordered common life for men, cannot be absolute—thinking that it could be was precisely the error of Marxism and of the political theologies. Even in the realm of politics, of course, one cannot always manage with absolute relativism: there are things that are wrong and can never become right (killing innocent people, for instance; denying individuals the right to be treated as humans and to a way of life appropriate to that); there are things that are right and can never become wrong. In the realm of politics and society, therefore, one cannot deny relativism a certain right. The problem is based on the fact that it sees itself as being unlimited. And now it is being quite consciously applied to the field of religion and ethics. I can only give a couple of brief references here to the developments that are determinative for theological intercourse today. The so-called pluralistic theology of religions had in fact been gradually developing since the fifties, but it did not occupy the center of attention for Christians until now.[1] With respect to the ramifications of the questions it raises, and likewise to its being present in the most various cultural spheres, it occupies much the same place as did liberation theology in the past decade; it is also frequently combined with the latter in an attempt to give it a new, updated form. It appears in widely varying forms, so that it is impossible to express it in a short formula and present its essential elements briefly. On the one hand, this is a typical product of the Western world and of its thought forms, yet, on the other hand, it is astonishingly close to the philosophical and religious intuitions of Asia, and especially of the Indian subcontinent, so that in the current historical situation the contact of these two worlds gives it a particular impact.

Relativism in Theology—The Revocation of Christology

That is clearly visible in the work of one of its founders and principal representatives, the English Presbyterian J. Hick, whose philosophical starting point is found in Kant’s distinction between phenomenon and nouomenon: we can never know ultimate reality in itself but only ever its appearance in the way we perceive things, seeing it through various “lenses”. Everything we perceive is, not actual reality as it is in itself, but a reflection corresponding to our capacities. This approach, which Hick first tried to apply in a context that was still christocentric, he transformed after a year’s stay in India, in what he himself calls a Copernican turning point in his thinking, into a new form of theocentrism. The identification of one single historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, with “reality” itself, with the living God, was now rejected as a relapse into myth; Jesus was consciously relativized, reduced to one religious genius among others. There can be no absolute entity in itself, or absolute person in himself, within history, only patterns, only ideal figures, which direct our attention toward the wholly other, which in history cannot in fact be comprehended in itself. It is clear that by the same token Church, dogma, and sacraments must thereby lose their unconditional status. To regard such finite mediations as absolute, or even as real encounters with the universally valid truth of the God who reveals himself, amounts to setting up one’s own experience as absolute and thus failing to perceive the infinity of the God who is wholly other.

From such a standpoint, which dominates thinking far beyond the scope of Hick’s theories, the belief that there is indeed truth, valid and binding truth, within history itself, in the figure of Jesus Christ and in the faith of the Church, is referred to as fundamentalism, which appears as the real assault upon the spirit of the modern age and, manifested in many forms, as the fundamental threat to the highest good of that age, freedom and tolerance. Thus to a great extent the concept of dialogue, which certainly held an important place in the Platonic and in the Christian tradition, has acquired a different meaning. It has become the very epitome of the relativist credo, the concept opposed to that of “conversion” and mission: dialogue in the relativist sense means setting one’s own position or belief on the same level with what the other person believes, ascribing to it, on principle, no more of the truth than to the position of the other person. Only if my fundamental presupposition is that the other person may be just as much in the right as I am, or even more so, can any dialogue take place at all. Dialogue, it is said, has to be an exchange between positions that are fundamentally of equal status and thus mutually relative, with the aim of achieving a maximum of cooperation and integration between various religious bodies and entities.[2] The relativist elimination of Christology, and most certainly of ecclesiology, now becomes a central commandment of religion. To turn back to Hick: the belief in the divinity of an individual, he tells us, leads to fanaticism and particularism, to the dissociation of faith from love; and this is the thing that must be overcome.[3]

The Recourse to Asian Religions

In the thought of J. Hick, whom we have particularly in mind here as a prominent representative of religious relativism, the postmetaphysical philosophy of Europe converges in a remarkable way with the negative theology of Asia, for which the Divinity can never enter, in itself and undisguised, into the world of appearances in which we live: it only ever shows itself in relative reflections and in itself remains beyond all words and beyond all comprehension in absolute transcendence.[4] In their starting points, as in the direction they give to human existence, the two philosophies are in themselves fundamentally different. Yet they appear nonetheless to support one another in their metaphysical and religious relativism. The a-religious and pragmatic relativism of Europe and America can borrow a kind of consecration from India, which seems to give its renunciation of dogma the dignity of a heightened reverence for the mystery of God and of man. Conversely, the way that European and American thinking has turned back to India’s philosophical and theological vision has the effect of further strengthening that relativizing of all religious figures which is part of India’s heritage. Thus it now actually seems imperative in India, even for Christian theology, to extract from its particularity the figure of Christ, regarded as Western, and to set it beside Indian redemption myths as if it were of similar status: the historical Jesus, so people now think, is actually no more uniquely the Logos than any other savior figures from history are.[5] The fact that here, in the context of the encounter between cultures, relativism seems appropriate as the true philosophy of humanity gives it (as we have already suggested) such an appreciable impact, both in East and West, that it hardly seems possible to offer further resistance. Anyone who opposes it is not only setting himself against democracy and tolerance, that is, the fundamental rules of human intercourse; he is obstinately insisting on the preeminence of his own Western culture and thus refusing to share in that coexistence of cultures which is obviously the order of the day. Anyone who wants to stick with the Bible and the Church starts by finding himself thrust out into a cultural no-man’s land; he has to come to terms again with the “folly” of God (1 Cor 1:18) in order to recognize true wisdom in it.

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

In that kind of feeling one’s way toward truth within the folly of faith, it helps if we can, at least to start with, try to make sure what purpose is served by Hick’s relativist theory of religion, in what direction it is pointing man. What religion means in the end for Hick is that man passes from “self-centeredness”, the life of the old Adam, to “reality-centeredness”, the life of the new man, thus reaching out from within his own self, his “I”, to the “Thou” of his neighbor.[6] That sounds fine, but in the cold light of day it is just as meaningless and void of content as Bultmann’s call to authenticity, which he borrowed from Heidegger. You do not need religion for that. The former Catholic priest P. Knitter, clearly aware of this, has tried to overcome the emptiness of a theory of religion that is ultimately reduced to the categorical imperative with a new and more concrete synthesis between Asia and Europe, with a greater content.[7] His suggestion is to give religion a new concrete dimension by linking pluralist theology of religions with the liberation theologies. Interreligious dialogue was to be radically simplified, and at the same time made effective in practice, by basing it on one single premise: “on the primacy of orthopraxy over orthodoxy”.[8] This giving practice superior rank over knowledge is also bequeathed from good Marxism, yet Marxism for its part puts into practice only what is the logical result of the renunciation of metaphysics: when it is impossible to know, it only remains to act. Knitter says: One cannot comprehend the absolute, but one can do it. The question is: How, in fact? Whence do I derive right action if I have no idea what is right? The collapse of the Communist regimes resulted directly from the fact that they had changed the world without knowing what was good for the world and what was not; without knowing in what direction it must be changed so as to be better. Mere praxis gives no light.

This is the point at which the concept of orthopraxy must be critically investigated. The older history of religions had established that the religions of India knew nothing, in general, of any orthodoxy but that they did have an orthopraxy; it is probably from this that the concept crept into modern theology. But it has a quite specific meaning in describing the religions of India: people were trying to say that these religions had no generally binding teaching and that belonging to them is therefore not defined by acceptance of a given creed. Yet these religions do have a system of ritual actions that are regarded as being necessary for salvation and that distinguish the “believer” from the unbeliever. He will be recognized, not by any particular intellectual content, but by the conscientious following of a ritual that embraces the whole of life. What orthopraxy means, what “right action” is, is quite precisely determined: a whole code of rites. In any case, the word “orthodoxy” originally had almost the same meaning in the early Church and in the Eastern Churches. For in the “doxy” part of the word, doxa was of course not understood in the sense of “opinion” (correct opinion)—in the Greek view, opinions are always relative: doxa was understood rather in the sense of “glory”, “glorifying”. To be orthodox, therefore, meant: to know and to practice the right way in which God wishes to be glorified. It refers to worship and, on the basis of worship, to life. In that sense, there might well be a substantial bridge here for a fruitful dialogue between East and West.

But let us return to the use of the word orthopraxy in modern theology. No one any longer was thinking here about following ritual. The word thus acquired an entirely new significance, which had nothing to do with the genuine ideas of India. One thing does of course remain: if the demand for orthopraxy is to have some meaning, and is not merely to serve as a fig leaf for being indeterminate, then there must be a recognizable common practice for everyone that goes beyond all the generalized talk about being centered on the “I” or being related to the “Thou”. If we exclude the ritual sense, which was what was signified in Asia, then “praxis” may be understood in terms of ethics or politics. In the first case, orthopraxy would presume the existence of an ethic with a clearly defined content. In the relativist discussion of ethics, that is of course absolutely excluded: there is no such thing as good in itself or evil in itself. Yet if orthopraxy is understood in terms of politics and society, the question once more arises as to what is correct political action. Liberation theologies, which were animated by the conviction that Marxism tells us clearly what correct political action is, were able to use the concept of orthopraxy in a way that made sense. There was no vagueness or indecisiveness here but a system of correct action laid down for everyone, that is, a true orthopraxy that united the community and distinguished it from those people who refused to act correctly. In that sense the Marxist-oriented liberation theologies were in their own way logically consistent.

Yet as we can see, this orthopraxy is entirely based upon a certain orthodoxy (in the modern sense)—a scaffolding of obligatory theories about the path to freedom. Knitter is staying close to this base when he says that that freedom is the criterion by which orthopraxy is to be distinguished from pseudopraxy.[9] But he fails to satisfy us with a practical and persuasive explanation of what freedom is and of what helps toward the true liberation of man: Marxist orthopraxy certainly does not help us, as we have seen. Yet one thing is clear: the relativist theories, without exception, lead to what is binding upon no one and thus render themselves superfluous; or, on the other hand, they suggest absolute standards in the realm of practice, where in fact absolutes can have no place. It is of course a fact that today, even in Asia, we can see how concepts drawn from liberation theology are being put forward as supposed forms of Christianity that more closely correspond to the Asian spirit, that transpose the essential elements of religious action into the realm of politics. When mystery no longer counts for anything, then politics necessarily becomes the religion. This, of all things, is of course profoundly opposed to the native conception of religion in Asia.

New Age

The relativism of Hick and Knitter and other related theories is ultimately based on a rationalism that holds that reason in Kant’s sense is incapable of any metaphysical knowledge;[10] religion is then given a new basis along pragmatic lines, with either a more ethical or a more political coloration. There is, however, a consciously antirationalist response to the experience that “everything is relative”, a complex reality that is lumped together under the title of New Age.[11] The way out of the dilemma of relativism is now sought, not in a new encounter of the “I” with the “Thou” or the “We”, but in overcoming subjective consciousness, in a re-entry into the dance of the cosmos through ecstasy. As in the case of Gnosis in the ancient world, this way believes itself to be fully in tune with all the teachings and the claims of science, making use of scientific knowledge of every kind (biology, psychology, sociology, physics). At the same time, however, it offers against this background a completely antirationalist pattern of religion, a modern “mysticism”: the absolute is, not something to be believed in, but something to be experienced. God is not a person distinct from the world; rather, he is the spiritual energy that is at work throughout the universe. Religion means bringing my self into tune with the cosmic whole, the transcending of all divisions. K.-H. Menke epitomizes the turning point in the history of ideas that is taking place just precisely here when he says that: “That self, which hitherto wished to subject everything to itself, now wants to dissolve itself in ‘the whole’.”[12] Objectifying reason, New Age thinking tells us, closes our way to the mystery of reality; existing as the self shuts us out from the fullness of cosmic reality; it destroys the harmony of the whole and is the real reason for our being unredeemed. Redemption lies in breaking down the limits of the self, in plunging into the fullness of life and all that is living, in going back home to the universe. Ecstasy is being sought for, the intoxication of infinity, which can happen to people en masse in ecstatic music, in rhythm, in dance, in a mad whirl of lights and darkness. Here it is not merely the modern way of domination by the self that is renounced and abolished; here, man—in order to be free—must let himself be abolished. The gods are returning. They have become more credible than God. Aboriginal rites must be renewed in which the self is initiated into the mysteries of the universe and freed from its own self.

There are many reasons for the renewal of pre-Christian religions and cults that is being widely undertaken today. If there is no truth shared by everyone, a truth that is valid simply because it is true, then Christianity is merely a foreign import, a form of spiritual imperialism, which needs to be shaken off just as much as political imperialism. If what takes place in the sacraments is not the encounter with the one living God of all men, then they are empty rituals that mean nothing and give us nothing and, at best, allow us to sense the numinous element that is actively present in all religions. It then seems to make better sense to seek after what was originally our own than to permit alien and antiquated things to be imposed on us. But above all, if the “rational intoxication” of the Christian mystery cannot make us intoxicated with God, then we just have to conjure up the real, concrete intoxication of effective ecstasies, the passionate power of which catches us up and turns us, at least for a moment, into gods, helps us for a moment to sense the pleasure of infinity and to forget the misery of finite existence. The more the pointlessness of political absolutisms becomes obvious, the more powerful will be the attraction of irrationalism, the renunciation of everyday reality.[13]

Pragmatism in Everyday Church Life

Side by side with these radical solutions, and side by side also with the greater pragmatism of the liberation theologies, there is also the gray pragmatism at work in the everyday life of the Church, whereby everything is apparently being done right, yet in reality the faith is stale and declining into a shabby meanness. I am thinking of two phenomena that I regard with some concern. On one hand, there are attempts, some more determined than others, to extend the majority principle to matters of faith and morals and, thus, to “democratize” the Church in a decided fashion. What is not obvious to the majority cannot have any binding claim upon us, so it seems. Majority of whom, in fact? Will this majority be different tomorrow from what it is today? A faith we can decide for ourselves is no faith at all. And no minority has any reason to allow a majority to prescribe what it should believe. Either the faith and its practice come to us from the Lord by way of the Church and her sacramental services, or there is no such thing. The reason many people are abandoning the faith is that it seems to them that the faith can be decided by some officials or institutions, that it is a kind of party program; whoever has the power is able to decide what should be believed, and so it is a matter of getting hold of power oneself within the Church or, on the other hand—more obviously and logically—just not believing.

The other point I would raise concerns the liturgy. The various phases of liturgical reform have allowed people to gain the impression that liturgy can be changed as and how you wish. If there is any unchanging element, people think, then this would in no instance be anything other than the words of consecration: everything else might be done differently. The next idea is quite logical: If a central authority can do that, then why not local decision-making bodies? And if local bodies, then why not the congregation itself? It ought to be expressing itself in the liturgy and should be able to see its own style recognizably present there. After the rationalist and puritan trend ofthe seventies, and even the eighties, people are tired of liturgies that are just words and would like liturgies they can experience; and these soon get close to New Age styles: a search for intoxication and ecstasy, not the λογικ←λατϱεία, the rationabilis oblatio (the rationally directed worship conformed to the logos, “spiritual worship”) that Paul, and the Roman liturgy with him, is talking about (Rom 12:1).

Now, I admit—and I say this with emphasis—that what I am saying does not apply to the normal situation of our congregations. But these tendencies are there. And that is why it is appropriate to be on our guard, lest some other gospel than that given us by our Lord is secretly substituted for this.

The Tasks Facing Theology

Thus, all in all, we are facing a remarkable situation: liberation theology had tried to give a new practice to a Christendom that was tired of dogma, a practice by means of which redemption was finally to become an actual event. This practice, however, instead of bringing freedom, left destruction in its wake. What was left was relativism and the attempt to come to terms with it. Yet what that offers is in its turn so empty that the relativist theories look for help from the liberation theology, so as thus to become of more practical use. Finally, New Age says, “Let’s just leave Christianity as a failed experiment and go back to the gods—it’s better that way.” Many questions arise Let us just take the most immediately practical one: Why has classic theology proved so impotent in the face of these developments? Where are the weak points at which it lost credibility?

I would like to mention two points suggested by what Hick and Knitter say. Both refer to exegesis for their revocation of faith in Christ: they say that exegesis has shown that Jesus himself certainly did not regard himself as the Son of God, as God incarnate, but that he was only subsequently transformed into that, gradually, by his followers.[14] Both, but Hick more clearly than Knitter, also refer to philosophical evidence. Hick assures us that Kant has irrefutably demonstrated that no one can perceive any absolute entity or person in history and that no such entity or person could, as such, be present in history.[15] On the basis of our ability to perceive and to know things, according to Kant, the things the Christian faith asserts cannot exist, cannot happen: it is crazy to believe in miracles, mysteries, and channels of grace, Kant explains to us in his book on “religion within the bounds of mere reason”.[16] The question concerning exegesis and that concerning the limits and possibilities of our reason, that is, about the philosophical premises of faith, seem to me in fact to indicate the real point of crisis of present-day theology, on account of which faith—and to an ever-increasing extent, even the faith of simple people—is reaching to a crisis.

I would just like here briefly to indicate the task facing us because of that. First, as concerns exegesis, it should first be remarked that Hick and Knitter certainly cannot call on the support of exegesis as a whole, as if what they are talking about were a clear and universally recognized conclusion. That is impossible in historical research, which does not deal in such certainties. It is still more impossible in the case of a question that is not purely historical or literary but involves value judgments that go beyond just establishing a sequence of events or interpreting a text. What is true is that a quick survey of modern exegesis may leave you with an impression that agrees with what Hick and Knitter say.

Yet how certain is that? Even supposing that a majority of exegetes think like that (which must be open to doubt), the question still remains: How well founded is that kind of majority opinion? I maintain that many exegetes think like Hick and Knitter and reconstruct the history of Jesus accordingly because they share the same philosophy. It is not a case of exegesis providing evidence that supports a philosophy; rather, it is a matter of a philosophy that produces the exegesis.[17] If (to speak in Kant’s terms) I know a priori that Jesus cannot be God, that miracles, mysteries, and means of grace are three things it would be crazy to believe in, then I cannot discover in Holy Scriptures any fact that cannot exist as a fact. I can then only discover why and how people came to make such assertions, how these gradually came about.

Let us look a little closer. The historicocritical method is a marvelous instrument for reading historical sources and interpreting texts. But it does include its own philosophy, which generally—if, for instance, I want to learn about the medieval emperors—hardly affects anything. For in that case I want to learn about the past, that is all. Even that is not entirely free of values and value judgments, and to that extent the method has its limitations. If you apply it to the Bible, then two factors you would otherwise scarcely notice are clearly manifest: the method seeks to know about the past as something past. It seeks to know what happened then, in the form it took then, at the point at which things stood right then. And it assumes that all history is in principle the same kind of history: man, in all his different manifestations, the world in its manifold variety, are yet determined by the same laws and the same limitations, so that I can eliminate what is impossible. What cannot possibly happen could not have happened yesterday and, likewise, cannot be going to happen tomorrow.

If we apply this to the Bible, it means that a text, an event, or a person is strictly fixed in his or its place in the past. We are seeking to bring out what the writer said at the time and what he could have said or thought at the time. It is a matter of what is “historical”, what was “current at the time”. That is why historicocritical exegesis does not transmit the Bible to today, into my present-day life. That possibility has been excluded. On the contrary, it distances it from me and shows it as firmly set in the past. This is the point at which Drewermann was right in criticizing historicocritical exegesis, insofar as it aims to be all-sufficient. Of its nature, it does not speak about today, or about me, but about yesterday, about other people. Therefore it can never show Christ yesterday, today, and forever, but only (if it remains true to itself) Christ as he was yesterday.

Then there is the second presupposition, that history and the world are always the same, that is, what Bultmann called the modern view of the world. M. Waldstein has shown, by a careful analysis, that Bultmann’s theory of epistemology was entirely determined by the neo-Kantian philosophy of Marburg.[18] It was on that basis that he knew what could happen and what could not. In the case of other exegetes, their philosophical consciousness will be less clearly determined, but the foundation in Kant’s theory of epistemology is always silently present, as a self-evident hermeneutic entry to the path that criticism should follow. Since that is the case, the authority of the Church cannot simply impose from outside the obligation of arriving at a Christology of Jesus as the Son of God. But it certainly can and must challenge scholars, require them to look critically at the philosophy of their own method. In the revelation of God it is, in the end, precisely a matter of him, the Living and True One, breaking into our world and thus breaking open the prison of our theories, by means of whose iron bars we seek to protect ourselves against this coming of God into our lives. Today, praise God, in the crisis of philosophy and theology through which we are passing, a new consciousness of these fundamentals has come into play, not least on the basis of knowledge that has come to light through the careful historical interpretation of the texts.[19] This is helping to burst as under the prison of philosophical presuppositions that was hindering interpretation: the wide realm of the Word is opening up again.

The problem concerning exegesis, as we have seen, to a great extent coincides with the problem of philosophy. The desperate situation of philosophy—that is to say, the desperate situation into which reason obsessed by positivism has maneuvered itself—has become the desperate situation of our faith. Faith cannot be set free unless reason itself opens up again. If the door to metaphysical knowledge remains barred, if we cannot pass beyond the limits to human perception set by Kant, then faith will necessarily atrophy, simply for lack of breathing space. Of course, the attempt to use a strictly autonomous reason that refuses to know about faith, to pull ourselves out of the slough of uncertainties by our own hair, so to speak, can hardly succeed in the end. For human reason is not autonomous at all. It is always living in one historical context or other. Any historical context, as we see, distorts the vision of reason; that is why reason needs the help of history in order to overcome these historical limitations. It is my view that the neoscholastic rationalism that was trying to reconstruct the praeambula fidei, the approach to faith, with pure rational certainty, by means of rational argument that was strictly independent of any faith, has failed; and it cannot be otherwise for any such attempts to do that kind of thing. In that sense, Karl Barth was right when he rejected philosophy as a basis for faith that is independent of faith itself: for in that case, our faith would in the end be based on changing philosophical theories. Yet Barth was mistaken in declaring faith on that account to be a sheer paradox, which can only ever exist contrary to reason and quite independent of it. By no means the least important practical function of faith is to offer healing for the reason as reason, not to overpower it or to remain outside it, but in fact to bring it to itself again. Faith, as a historical instrument, can set reason itself free again, so that—now that faith has set it on the right path again—reason can once more see properly for itself. We have to strive toward such a renewed process of dialogue between faith and philosophy, for each has need of the other. Without faith, philosophy cannot be whole, but faith without reason cannot be human.


If we look at the current constellation in the history of ideas that I have been trying to sketch in outline, then it must seem like a real miracle that, despite all this, people still hold the Christian faith—not just in the substitute versions of Hick, Knitter, and others, but the full and joyful faith of the New Testament, of the Church down all the ages. Why has faith still any chance at all? I should say it is because it corresponds to the nature of man. For man is more generously proportioned than the way Kant and the various post-Kantian philosophies see him or will allow him to be. Kant himself ought to have found a place for this, somehow or other, among his postulates. The longing for the infinite is alive and unquenchable within man. None of the attempted answers will do; only the God who himself became finite in order to tear open our finitude and lead us out into the wide spaces of his infinity, only he corresponds to the question of our being. That is why, even today, Christian faith will come to man again. It is our task to serve this faith with humble courage, with all the strength of our heart and of our mind.


[1] A survey of the most significant authors of the pluralistic theology of religions is offered by P. Schmidt-Leukel’s “Das Pluralistische Modell in der Theologie der Religionen: Ein Literaturbericht” [The pluralist model in the theology of religions: An annotated bibliography], Theologische Revue 89 (1993):353-70. For a discussion of it, see: M. von Brack and J. Werbick, Der einzige Weg zum Heil? Die Herausforderung des christlichen Absolutheitsanspruchs durch pluralistische Religionstheologien [The sole path to salvation? The challenge from pluralistic theologies of religion to the Christian claim to absolute validity], Quaestiones Disputatae 143 (Freiburg: Herder, 1993); K.-H. Menke, Die Einzigkeit Jesu Christi im Horizont der Sinnfrage [The uniqueness of Jesus Christ against the horizon of the question of meaning] (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1995), especially pp. 75-176. Menke offers an excellent introduction to the ideas of two ofthe principal representatives of this tendency, J. Hick and P. F. Knitter, upon which much of what I say here is based. Menke’s discussion of this question in the second part of his book includes much that is important and deserving of our attention, but as a whole, unfortunately, it remains unsatisfactory. An interesting systematic attempt at a new approach to the problem of other religions from the starting point of Christology is offered by B. Stubenrauch, Dialogisches Dogma: Der christliche Auftrag zur interreligiösen Begegnung [Dialectical dogma: The Christian task of interreligious encounter], Quaestiones Disputatae 158 (Freiburg: Herder, 1995). On the problem of the pluralistic theology of religions, cf. also the document published in 1996 by the International Theological Commission.

[2] Cf. on this point the most illuminating editorial in Civiltà Cattolica I (1996): 107-20: “Il cristianesimo e le altre religioni” [Christianity and the other religions]. The editorial engages in discussion especially with Hick, Knitter, and R. Panikkar.

[3] Cf., for example, J. Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, p. 90.

[4] Cf. E. Frauwallner, Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, 2 vols. (Salzburg: O. Muller, 1953 and 1956) [English trans., History of Indian Philosophy, trans. V. M. Bedekar (New York: Humanities Press, 1974)]; H. von Glasenapp, Die Philosophie der Inder [The philosophy of the Indians], 4th ed. (Stuttgart: A. Kroner, 1985); S. N. Dasgupta, History of Indian Philosophy, 5 vols. (Cambridge: University Press, 1922-1955); K. B. Ramakrishna Rao, Ontology of Advaita with Special Reference to Maya (Mulki: Research and Publication, Vijaya College, 1964).

[5] F. Wilfrid, Beyond Settled Foundations: The Journey of Indian Theology (Madras: Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras, 1993), is clearly moving in this direction; Wilfrid, “Some Tentative Reflections on the Language of Christian Uniqueness: An Indian Perspective”, in Pontificium Consilium pro Dialogo inter Religiones, Pro Dialogo, Bulletin 85-86, no. 1 (1994):40-57.

[6] J. Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 4th ed. (Norfolk, 1975), pp. 240f.; Hick, Interpretation of Religion, pp. 236-40; cf. Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, pp. 81f.

[7] P. F. Knitter’s major book No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985) has been translated into many languages. Cf. on this Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, pp. 94-110. A careful critical evaluation is also offered by A. Kolping in his review in Theologische Revue 87 (1991):234-40.

[8] Cf. Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, p. 95.

[9] Cf. ibid., p. 109.

[10] Knitter, like Hick, claims the support of Kant for his denial that the absolute can exist in history; cf. Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, pp. 78 and 108.

[11] The concept of “New Age”, or “Age of Aquarius”, was introduced toward the middle of the twentieth century by Raul Le Cour (1937) and by Alice Bailey (she talked about messages she said she had received in 1945 concerning a new world order and a new world religion). The Esalen Institute was set up in California between 1960 and 1970. Marilyn Ferguson is the best-known representative of New Age thinking today. Michael Fuß (“New Age: Supermarkt alternativer Spiritualität”, Communio 20 [1991]:148-57) sees New Age as the result of a conjunction of Judaeo-Christian elements with the process of secularization, with gnostic tendencies, and with elements of oriental religions. The 1990 pastoral letter of Cardinal G. Danneels, Le Christ ou le Verseau [Christ or Aquarius], which has been translated into many languages, offers some helpful guidelines. Cf. also Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, pp. 31-36; J. Le Bar (ed.), Cults, Sects and the New Age (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 1989).

[12] Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, p. 33.

[13] On this point, it must be noted that two different tendencies of New Age are increasingly being crystallized out: a gnostic, religious tendency, which seeks for transcendental and transpersonal being and looks to find the true self therein, and an ecological, monistic tendency, which worships material existence and mother earth and, in the eco-feminist movement, is linked with feminism.

[14] References for this in Menke, Einzigkeit Jesu Christi, pp. 90 and 97.

[15] See n. 10, above.

[16] B 302. The spiritual climate deriving from this philosophy, which is still widely influential to this day, is most graphically described, from his own experience, by M. Kriele, in Anthroposophie und Kirche: Erfahrungen eines Grenzgängers [Anthroposophy and the Church: The experiences of someone who went to the limits] (Freiburg: Herder, 1996); especially pp. 18ff. [Anthroposophy and the Church: The experiences of someone who went to the limits] (Freiburg: Herder, 1996); especially pp. 18ff.

[17] This can be very clearly seen in the encounter between A. Schlatter and A. Harnack, at the end of the last century, which is carefully portrayed, on the basis of the original sources, by W. Neuer in his book Adolf Schlatter: Ein Leben fur Theologie und Kirche (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1996), pp. 301ff. [English trans., Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany’s Premier Biblical Theologian, trans. Robert W. Yarbrough (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1996). Schlatter commented on this in a letter: “We have defined the religious difference [between us]: he said that the prophet’s cry, ‘O, that thou wouldst rend the heavens’ (Is 64:1), was in fact unfulfilled; that we were restricted to the psychological plane, to faith” (p. 306). When Harnack declared, in a meeting of their colleagues on the faculty, “Only the question of miracles separates me from my colleague Mr. Schlatter!” Schlatter interrupted, calling out: “No, the question of God!” Schlatter saw the basic point of difference as being embodied in Christology: “Whether Jesus was being shown to us as he is. . . or whether the New Testament disappeared behind our ‘scholarship’, that was the question” (p. 307). Nothing has changed with regard to this question in a hundred years. Cf. also in Kriele, Anthroposophie und Kirche, the chapter on “Loss of Faith through Theology”, pp. 21-28. I have tried to present my own view of the problem in Schriftauslegung im Widerstreit [Controversy concerning the interpretation of Scripture], ed. J. Ratzinger, Quaestiones Disputatae 117 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1989), pp. 15-la Potterie, R. Guardini, J. Ratzinger, G. Colombo, and E. Bianchi, L’esegesi cristiana oggi [Christian exegesis today] (Casale Monferrato: Piemme, 1991).

[18] M. Waldstein, “The Foundations of Bultmann’s Work”, in Communio (American ed.) 1987: 115-45.

[19] Cf., e.g., the collection of essays edited by C. E. Braaten and R. W. Jensson: Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995), and in it especially that by B. S. Childs, “On Reclaiming the Bible for Christian Theology”, pp. 1-17.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Faith, Truth, and Culture

Reflections Prompted by the Encyclical Fides et Ratio

For anyone who looks below the surface, a false humility and a false pride at once become apparent in this fundamental attitude of modernity: false humility, which denies man the capacity to know and recognize truth, and false pride, with which he sets himself above things, above truth itself, by setting the expansion of his power, the domination of all things, as the goal of all his thinking.
Joseph Ratzinger

What is the encyclical Fides et Ratio really about? Is it a document intended only for specialists, an attempt from a Christian perspective at restoring philosophy, a discipline that is in a state of crisis and thus of interest only to philosophers, or is it putting a question that matters to us all? We could also put it another way: Does faith really need philosophy, or is faith—which, according to a saying of Saint Ambrose, was given into the keeping of fishermen and not dialecticians—quite independent of the existence of a philosophy that is open to faith? If we regard philosophy as just one academic discipline among others, then faith is in fact independent of it. But the Pope understands philosophy in a far broader sense, and one far more in keeping with its origins. This philosophy puts the question of whether man can know truth, know the fundamental truths about himself, about his origin and his future, or whether he lives in a twilight that cannot be illuminated and must finally restrict himself to the question of what is useful. It is the peculiarity of Christianity, in the realm of religions, that it claims to tell us the truth about God, the world, and man and lays claim to being the religio vera, the religion of truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”: this saying of Jesus from the Gospel of John (14:6) expresses the basic claim of the Christian faith. The missionary tendency of this faith is based on that claim: Only if the Christian faith is truth does it concern all men; if it is merely a cultural variant of the religious experience of mankind that is locked up in symbols and can never be deciphered, then it has to remain within its own culture and leave others in theirs.

That, however, means that the question about the truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy. If I had briefly to sketch the main intention of the encyclical, I would say that it is trying to rehabilitate the question of truth in a world characterized by relativism; it is trying to reinstate it as a rational and scientific task in the situation of modern science, which does indeed look for truths but which to a great extent disqualifies the search for the truth as being unscientific; it is attempting this, because otherwise faith loses the air it breathes. The encyclical is quite simply attempting to give us courage for the adventure of truth. It is thereby speaking far beyond the sphere of faith yet also into the heart of the world of faith.

1. Words, the Word, and the Truth

In his best-seller, The Screwtape Letters, which appeared in the forties, the English writer and philosopher C. S. Lewis depicted very wittily how unmodern it is to ask about truth today. This book consists of fictional letters from a senior devil who is giving advice on how best to proceed to one beginning in the work of leading men astray. The younger devil has expressed concern to his superior that especially intelligent people, in particular, might read the books of wisdom of the ancients and might thus come upon the track of the truth. Screwtape calms him by pointing out that the “Historical point of View”, with which the intellectuals of the Western world have fortunately been inculcated by the devils, means in fact that “when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected other writers”, and so on.[1] Josef Pieper, who quotes this passage from C. S. Lewis in his essay on interpretation, points out in this connection that the editions of Plato, for instance, or Dante produced in Communist countries always gave an introduction to the works being reprinted, which gave the reader a “historical” understanding of them and were meant thus to preclude the question of truth.[2]

Scholarly activity carried on in such a manner will have the effect of immunizing against the truth. The question of whether, and how far, something an author says is true is supposed to be an unscholarly question; it would indeed lead us beyond the realm of what can be demonstrated and supported by quotation, would be a relapse into the naïvete of a precritical world. In this way even the reading of the Bible is neutralized: we can say when, and in what conditions, some statement originated, and we have thus placed it in its historical setting, which does not ultimately concern us. Behind this kind of “historical interpretation” stands a philosophy, a basic attitude toward reality, which tells us that it is meaningless to ask about what is; we can only ask about what we are able to do with things. It is a matter, not of truth, but of action, of dominating things to our own advantage. As against such an apparently obvious restriction of human thought, the question of course arises: What is to our advantage? And in what way to our advantage? What are we here for? For anyone who looks below the surface, a false humility and a false pride at once become apparent in this fundamental attitude of modernity: false humility, which denies man the capacity to know and recognize truth, and false pride, with which he sets himself above things, above truth itself, by setting the expansion of his power, the domination of all things, as the goal of all his thinking.

We can today find presented in scientific form in the study of literature what appears in Lewis’ writing in ironical form. There, the question of truth is quite openly excluded as unscholarly. The German exegete Marius Reiser recently referred to the words of Umberto Eco in his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose, where he says: “The only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for the truth.”[3] The essential basis for this unmistakable renunciation of truth consists of what people call nowadays the “linguistic turning point”: No one can get back behind language and its images; reason is conditioned by language and restricted to language.[4] As early as 1901, F. Mauthner had coined the phrase, “what people call thinking is only empty words.”[5] In this connection, M. Reiser talks of a “surrender of the belief” that one could relate “by linguistic means to nonlinguistic things”.[6] The eminent Protestant exegete U. Luz observes that—just as we heard Screwtape saying to start with—historical criticism has in modern times renounced any approach to the question of truth. He believes himself bound to accept this capitulation and to admit that truth is not to be found today beyond the texts themselves; rather, there are only competing truth constructs, offers of truth, which have to be presented and justified in public discourse in the marketplace of all the views of life.[7]

Anyone reflecting on these views will almost inevitably feel reminded of a very profound passage from Plato’s Phaedrus. Socrates is telling Phaedrus a story he had from the ancients who knew about truth. Thoth, the “father of letters” and the “god of time” once came to the Egyptian king Thutmose of Thebes. He taught this ruler about various arts he had invented and especially about the art of writing that he had thought up. In praise of his invention, he said to the king: “This knowledge, O King, will make the Egyptians more wise and better able to remember things; for it has been invented as an aid to the memory as well as for wisdom.” But the king was not impressed. On the contrary, he foresaw as the result of the art of writing that:

This will bring forgetfulness into men’s souls. . . through the neglect of remembering, in that by trusting in writing they will draw remembrance from without. . . and not from within, from their own selves. You have not, therefore, invented a means of remembering but of recording, and you pass on to your pupils only the appearance of wisdom, not the thing itself. For they are people who hear much without learning anything and will therefore think themselves very knowledgeable, since in general they are ignorant, and they are people who are difficult to deal with, in that they are apparently wise but not truly so.[8]

Anyone who thinks of the way television programs from all over the world overwhelm people with information and thus make them apparently knowledgeable; anyone who thinks about the further possibilities of computers and the Internet, which make available, for instance, to anyone searching, all the texts of some Church Father containing some particular word, yet without the person’s having worked his way into his thinking, will not consider these warnings to be exaggerated. Plato is not rejecting writing as such, just as we do not reject the new information media but rather give thanks and make use of them; but he sets up a warning sign, the seriousness of which is demonstrated every day by the consequences of the “linguistic turning point” and by many developments of which we are all currently aware. H. Schade points out the essence of what Plato has to say to us today in this text: “What Plato was warning us about was the domination of a philological method and the accompanying loss of reality.” [9]

When writing, when what has been written, becomes a barrier to the content, then it has itself become an anti-art that does not make man more wise but sentences him to a sick appearance of wisdom. A. Kreiner is thus right when he remarks, about the linguistic turning point, that “the surrender of the belief that one can relate by linguistic means to nonlinguistic contents amounts to much the same thing as surrendering the possibility of any meaningful discourse at all.”[10] On the same point, the Pope in his encyclical makes the following remark: “The interpretation of this word [= the word of God] cannot merely keep referring us to one interpretation after another, without ever leading us to a statement that is simply true.”[11] Man is not caught in a hall of mirrors of interpretation; he can and must look for the way out to the reality that stands behind the words and manifests itself to him in and through the words.

This brings us to the heart of the Christian faith’s struggle with a certain type of modern culture, which would like to be seen as modern culture as such, but which—praise God—is only one variety of it. That is, for instance, glaringly obvious in the criticism leveled at the encyclical by the Italian philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais. Precisely because the encyclical insists on the need to put the question of truth, he declares that “the official Catholic culture has no more to say to ‘culture tout court [as such]’.”[12] Yet that also means that the question of truth stands outside “culture tout court”; And is not then this “culture tout court” rather an anticulture? And is not then its presuming to be culture itself, as such, an arrogant presumption showing how it despises people?

That this is the main point becomes clear when Flores d’Arcais accuses the Pope’s encyclicals of having “murderous consequences for democracy” and identifies his teaching with the “fundamentalist” version of Islam. He indicates as the basis for his charge the Pope’s having described laws that permit abortion and euthanasia as being beyond the pale of authentic legal validity.[13] Anyone setting himself against an elected Parliament in that way and trying to exercise worldly power on the basis of ecclesiastical claims shows, he says, that his thinking still bears the watermark of Catholic dogmatism. Such assertions assume that there can be no appeal from the decisions of a majority. The chance occurrence of a majority becomes an absolute. For there is still such a thing as something absolute, beyond which there is no appeal. We have been handed over to the rule of positivism and of the erection of what is accidental, what can indeed be manipulated, into an absolute value. When man is shut out from the truth, he can only be dominated by what is accidental and arbitrary. That is why it is, not “fundamentalism”, but a duty of humanity to protect man from the dictatorship of what is accidental and to restore to him his dignity, which consists precisely in the fact that no human institution can ultimately dominate him, because he is open to the truth. In its very insistence on our capacity to know and recognize the truth, the encyclical is a most necessary apology for the stature of man against everything that would like to be seen as “culture tout court”.

It is of course difficult, in view of the canon of methodology that has established itself today as bearing the “watermark of scholarly seriousness”, to get a further hearing in public debate on the question of truth. It is therefore necessary to clear the ground through an argument about the nature of science and scholarly work, about truth and method, about the task of philosophy and its possible paths. The Pope did not see it as his task to tackle in the encyclical the quite practical question of whether, and how, truth can once more become “scientific” or “scholarly”. But he does show why we have to set ourselves this task. He did not want to carry out the philosophers’ task himself, but he was aware of the task of raising an objection to a self-destructive tendency in “culture tout court”. Raising this objection is itself a genuinely philosophical step, conjures up the presence of the Socratic origins of philosophy, and thereby witnesses to the philosophical potentiality that lies in the biblical faith.

There is a kind of scientific attitude that is contrary to philosophy, that forbids it to deal with the question of the truth or makes the question impossible. Such a self-circumscription, such a contraction of reason cannot constitute the yardstick for philosophy, and science as a whole cannot end by rendering impossible man’s real questions, without which it would itself remain an empty, and ultimately dangerous, bustle of activity. It cannot be the task of philosophy to submit itself to a methodological canon that in particular sectors of thought may be correct. Its particular task must be to reflect on science and scholarship as a whole, to achieve a critical comprehension of its nature, and at the same time to transcend it in a manner that can be rationally justified in an approach to what gives meaning to science and scholarship. Philosophy has always to ask about man himself and must therefore always be seeking its way toward life and death, toward God and eternity. To this end it will today have to handle right at the start a problem with that type of scientific and academic attitude that cuts men off from such questions, and starting from those problems, which our society sets right in front of our eyes, will have to try to open up a way to what is necessary and what answers our needs. In the history of modern philosophy there has never been a lack of such attempts, and even today there are sufficient heartening approaches being made toward opening the door to the question of truth, the door that leads out of the circle of language turning around on itself.[14] There is no doubt that the call uttered by the encyclical is in this sense critical of our current conception of culture, yet it is at the same time in a profound unity with essential elements of the spiritual struggle of the modern age. The confidence to seek for the truth and to find it is never anachronistic: it is precisely this that maintains the dignity of man, that breaks down particularism, and that leads men toward one another beyond the bounds of their cultural settings on the basis of their common dignity.

2. Culture and Truth

a. On the Nature of Culture

What we have reflected on thus far might be described as the disputation between the Christian faith as it finds expression in the encyclical and a certain type of modern culture, from which we have left out of consideration the side of culture associated with natural science and technology. Our attention was directed to the side of culture to do with humane studies. It would not be difficult to show that their helplessness in the face of the question of truth, which has in the meantime developed into a quite angry reaction to it, rests in the final analysis on the fact that these disciplines would like to use the same methodology, and to attain the same measure of certainty, as is available in empirical spheres. The methodological restriction of natural science to what can be tested by experiment has become a real certificate of scholarly seriousness, indeed, of being rational at all. The methodological renunciation that makes sense, and is, indeed, necessary, within the framework of empirical science thus becomes a barrier before the question of truth: this is fundamentally a question of truth and method and concerns the universality of a strictly empirical canon of methodology. As against this, the Pope is defending the multiplicity of paths followed by the human mind and, likewise, the breadth of rationality, which has to use varying methods in accordance with the nature of its object. Immaterial things cannot be approached with methods appropriate to what is material; we might thus very roughly summarize the Pope’s objection to a one-sided form of rationality.

The dispute with modern culture, the dispute concerning truth and method, is the one basic thread running through the encyclical. Yet the question about truth and culture is also represented under yet another aspect, which essentially refers to the realm of religion as such. People nowadays often like to put forward the relativity of cultures to counter the universal claims of Christianity—which are grounded on the universal nature of truth. We can hear this as early as the eighteenth century in the writings of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who represented the three great religions in the parable of the three rings, of which one is the genuine and true ring, though there is no longer any way to establish this genuineness: the question of truth is insoluble and is replaced by the question of the healing and purifying effects of religion. At the beginning of our own century, Ernst Troeltsch then explicitly formulated the themes of the question concerning religion and culture, truth and culture. If at the outset he still posited Christianity as “the most concentrated revelation of personalist religious sensibility and practice, the only one that makes a complete break with the limitations and conditional forms of natural religion”, in the course of his reflections the perception of the cultural determination of religion increasingly overlaid his view of the truth and left all religions subject to a cultural relativity. The validity of Christianity ended by becoming for him an “affair of Europeans”: Christianity was for him the appropriate form of religion for Europe, whilst he recognized Buddhism and Brahmanism as having “absolute independence”. For practical purposes, the question of truth has been rendered redundant, and cultural boundaries can no longer be transcended.[15]

An encyclical that is entirely directed toward the adventure of truth had therefore necessarily to put the question concerning truth and culture. It had to ask whether there can ever be a communion of cultures in the one truth—whether truth can be expressed for all men, beyond its cultural forms, or whether it is ultimately to be only dimly perceived as a convergence behind varying or even contradictory cultural forms.

In his encyclical, the Pope has contrasted a dynamic and communicative understanding of culture as against a static concept of culture that assumes set forms that merely stand side by side together and remain constant, being unable to transpose and merge into one another. He emphasizes that, if they “are deeply rooted in experience, cultures show forth the human being’s characteristic openness to the universal and the transcendent”.[16] Hence cultures, as the form of expression of the one being, man, are marked by the dynamics of man, which transcend all boundaries. Cultures are not therefore fixed once and for all in one single form; they have the inherent capacity for progression and metamorphosis, though also of course the risk of decadence. They are concerned with encounter and with mutual fertilization. Because the inner openness of man to God is more influential in them, the greater and more pure they are, the inward readiness for the revelation of God is written into them. Revelation is not something alien to them; rather, it corresponds to an inner expectation in the cultures themselves.

Theodore Haecker spoke in this connection about the advent character of the pre-Christian cultures,[17] and many and various studies in the history of religions have meanwhile been able to show quite clearly this progression of cultures toward the Logos of God, who became flesh in Jesus Christ.[18] In this context the Pope turns to the list of peoples in the story of Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles (2:7-11), which tells us how the witness to Jesus Christ can be heard through the medium of all languages and in all languages, that is, in all the cultures that present themselves in language. In all of them, the words of men become bearers of God’s own utterance, of his own Logos. The encyclical says about this: “While it demands of all who hear it the adherence of faith, the proclamation of the Gospel in different cultures allows people to preserve their own cultural identity. This in no way creates division, because the community of the baptized is marked by a universality that can embrace every culture.”[19] On this basis, and taking as his example Indian culture, the Pope develops criteria which, in the general relationship of the Christian faith with pre-Christian cultures, should be observed whenever these cultures encounter the faith. He first briefly refers to the great spiritual striving for higher realms in Indian thought, which struggles to free mind and spirit from the limitations of time and space and thus effects that metaphysical opening up of man that has then also been given form in the thought of several important philosophical systems.[20] These few references show the universal tendency of great cultures, their transcending of time and space, and thus the forward impetus they impart to man’s being and to his highest capacities. Therein exists the capacity of cultures to enter into dialogue with one another—in this case, dialogue between Indian cultures and the cultures that have developed on the basis of Christian faith. Thus, out of the inner contact with Indian culture, the first criterion arises, as it were, of itself: this consists in “the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same in the most disparate cultures”.[21] From that a second criterion follows directly: “In engaging great cultures for the first time, the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Graeco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God.”[22] Finally, the encyclical specifies a third criterion, which follows from the previous reflections on the nature of culture: One should take care “lest, contrary to the very nature of the human spirit, the legitimate defense of the uniqueness and originality of Indian thought be confused with the idea that a particular cultural tradition should remain closed in its difference and affirm itself by opposing other traditions.”[23]

b. The Transcending of Cultures in the Bible and in the History of Faith

If the Pope insists that the particular cultural heritage that has once been won and has become a vehicle for the truth shared by God and man is then irreplaceable, the question then naturally arises of whether this is not then a Eurocentric character of the faith that is being canonized, a characteristic that does not seem to be eliminated even when in the continuing history of the faith new elements of heritage can enter, and indeed have entered, into the persisting identity, that which concerns us all, of the faith. There is no avoiding the question of how “Greek”, and how “Latin”, the faith actually is that originated, not in the Greek or the Latin world, but in the Semitic world of the Near East, within which Asia, Africa, and Europe have always rubbed shoulders and still do. The encyclical takes a definite view of this question, especially in its second chapter, on the development of philosophical thought within the Bible, and in the fourth chapter, on the fateful encounter of this wisdom of reason, which had developed within the faith, with the Greek philosophical wisdom. This is a question we meet in this book from various angles, again and again, and a few indications concerning it may be helpful at this stage.

Even within the Bible itself the intellectual material, both religious and philosophical, drawn from a variety of cultural worlds, is being worked into new form. The word of God reveals itself gradually in a process of encounters, in the course of man’s search for answers to his ultimate questions. It did not simply fall directly down from heaven, but it is a real synthesis of cultures. Yet looking more deeply into it, we are able to perceive a process in which God struggles with man and gradually opens him up for his most profound Word, for himself: for the Son, who is the Logos. The Bible is not simply the expression of the culture of the people of Israel; rather, it is ever at odds with the natural temptation these people have simply to be themselves, to make themselves at home in their own culture. Faith in God and an assent to God’s will are forever being wrung from this people against their own wishes and their own ideas. This faith is in continual opposition to Israel’s own religious inclinations and to its own religious culture, which is inclined to express itself in the cult of high places, in worship of the queen of heaven, and in the claims to power of its own kingdom. From the anger of God and of Moses against the worship of the golden calf on Sinai, right down to the late postexilic prophets, it is always a matter of tearing Israel out of its cultural identity, contrary to its own religious wishes, so that it has, so to speak, to leave off the worship of its own nationality, the cult of “blood and soil”, to bow down before the wholly other, the God who is not their own, who has created heaven and earth and who is the God of all peoples. The faith of Israel signifies a continual transcending of the limits of its own culture into the wide-open spaces of truth that is common to all.

The books of the Old Testament may in many respects seem less pious, less poetic, less inspired, than important passages in the holy books of other peoples. Yet the feature peculiar to them is this struggle of faith against what is Israel’s own, in this leaving behind of one’s own, which starts with the wandering of Abraham. Paul’s struggle to break out from the limits of the law, which he wages on the basis of his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ, takes this fundamental movement of the Old Testament to its logical goal. This signifies the complete universalizing of the faith, which is freed from being proper to the social order of a particular people. All peoples are now invited to participate in this process of transcending their own heritage that first began in Israel; they are invited to turn to the God who, for his part, transcended his own limits in Jesus Christ, who has broken down “the dividing wall of hostility” between us (Eph 2:14) and in the self-deprivation of the Cross has led us toward one another. Faith in Jesus Christ is, therefore, of its nature, a continual opening of oneself, God’s action of breaking into the human world and in response to this man’s breaking out toward God, which at the same time leads men toward one another. Everything anyone possesses now belongs to everyone, and everything else becomes at the same time our own, this whole comprehended in the Father’s words to the elder son: “All that is mine is yours” (Lk 15: 31), which returns again in the high-priestly prayer of Jesus, as the Son addresses the Father: “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (Jn 17: 10).

This basic model likewise determines the encounter of the Christian message with Greek culture—which, of course, did not begin with the Christian mission but had already developed within the writings of the Old Testament, especially through its translation into Greek, and on the basis of that within early Judaism. This encounter was made possible because within the Greek world a similar process of self-transcendence had started to get underway. The Fathers did not just mix into the gospel a static and self-contained Greek culture. They could take up a dialogue with Greek philosophy and could make it an instrument of the gospel, wherever in the Hellenistic world the search for God had brought into being a self-criticism of that world’s own culture and its own thought. Faith links the various peoples—beginning with the Germans and the Slavs, who came into contact with the Christian message in the era of tribal migrations, and right up to the peoples of Asia, Africa, and America—not with Hellenistic culture as such, but with Hellenistic culture in the form in which it transcended itself, which was the true point of contact for the interpretation of the Christian message. From that starting point, faith drew these peoples into the process of self-transcendence. Quite recently, Richard Schäffler aptly remarked that from the beginning, the Christian preaching “had demanded” of the peoples of Europe (which, in any case, did not exist as such before Christian missionary activity) “that they take leave. . . of every native god of Europe long before they set their sights on any cultures beyond Europe”.[24] That helps us to understand why it was that the Christian proclamation sought points of contact with philosophy, not with religions. Where people did make this latter attempt, where for instance people tried to interpret Christ as the true Dionysius, the true Asclepius or Heracles, these attempts were soon rendered obsolete.[25] The fact that they sought points of contact, not with the religions, but with philosophy is connected with the fact that they were not canonizing a culture but did find it possible to enter into it at those points where it had itself begun to move out of its own framework, had started to take the path toward the wide spaces of truth that is common to all, and had left behind its comfortable place in what belonged to it. That is even today a fundamental indicator of the answer to the question concerning points of contact and transitions to other cultures and peoples. Faith cannot of course find points of contact with philosophies that exclude questions concerning the truth, but it can do so with movements that are trying to break out of the relativist prison. It can certainly not take over the old religions directly. Yet these religions can prepare such forms and usages, especially attitudes—reverence, humility, readiness to make sacrifices, kindness, love of one’s neighbor, the hope of everlasting life.[26] Let me add that this seems to me to be also of some importance for the question of the significance of the religions for salvation. They do not save people, so to speak, as closed systems and through faithfulness to the system; rather, they bring redemption only when they bring men to the point of “asking after God” (as the Old Testament puts it), “seeking his face”, “seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.

3. Religion, Truth, and Salvation

Let me pause for a moment here, because this touches on a fundamental question of human existence that is quite rightly one of the main questions in the current theological debate. For it is a matter of the true underlying motive that is the starting point of philosophy and to which it must always return; if they remain true to their tasks, philosophy and theology necessarily touch upon this question. It is the question: How is man healed? How does he become righteous? In facing this question, the ancient world thought mainly of death and of what comes after death; the contemporary world, which sees as uncertain the existence of the world beyond and, therefore, to a great extent leaves it out of the questions it asks, has nonetheless to seek after righteousness within time and, in doing so, cannot leave the problem to one side of how to get the better of death. In the debate about Christianity and world religions, of course, the real point at issue has remained, quite remarkably, that of how religions relate to eternal salvation. The question of how men can be saved still tends to be put in the classical manner. And then the theory has been fairly generally accepted that the religions are paths of salvation. Perhaps not the proper, ordinary path of salvation, but—if at all, then “extraordinary paths of salvation”: one attains salvation through all the religions, that has become the current view.

This answer corresponds not only to the idea of tolerance and of respect for others, which so thrusts itself upon us these days. It also corresponds to the modern idea of God: God cannot reject people just because they know nothing of Christianity and happen to have grown up in other religions. He will accept their worship and religion just as he does ours. However obvious this theory seems to be at first sight—and it is meanwhile underpinned with many other arguments—it does still raise questions. For what each of these religions demands of people is, not just different from, but contrary to what is demanded by others. Meanwhile, in the face of the rising number of people who are not committed to any religion, this theory of universal salvation is even being extended to include nonreligious ways of life that are lived out seriously. Then it becomes quite true that things that contradict each other are seen as leading to the same goal—in other words, that we are once more facing the question of relativism. It is being silently assumed that all contents are basically of equal use. What is actually of any use, we do not know. Everyone just has to go his own way—to become happy in his own “façon”, as Frederick II of Prussia used to say. Thus, by way of the various theories of salvation, relativism slips in through the back door again: the question of truth is excised from the question concerning religions and the matter of salvation. Truth is replaced by good intentions; religion remains in the subjective realm, because we cannot know what is objectively good and true.

a. The Inequality of Religions and Their Dangers

Do we just have to put up with this? Is there an inevitable choice to be made between dogmatic rigorism and a humane, kindly relativism? I think that in the theories we have just been talking about, there are three things people have not thought through carefully enough. First of all, religions (and, nowadays, also agnosticism and atheism) are seen as being all of the same kind. But that is by no means the case. There are in fact sick and degenerate forms of religion, which do not edify people but alienate them: the Marxist criticism of religions was not entirely based on delusions. And even religions whose moral value we must recognize, and which are on their way toward the truth, may become diseased here and there. In Hinduism (which is actually a collective name for a whole multitude of religions) there are some marvelous elements—but there are also negative aspects: involvement with the caste system; suttee [self immolation] for widows, which developed from beginnings that were merely symbolic; offshoots of the cult of the goddess Sakti—all these might be mentioned, to give just a little idea. Yet even Islam, with all the greatness it represents, is always in danger of losing balance, letting violence have a place and letting religion slide away into mere outward observance and ritualism. And there are of course, as we all know but too well, diseased forms of Christianity—such as when the crusaders, on capturing the holy city of Jerusalem, where Christ died for all men, for their part indulged in a bloodbath of Moslems and Jews. What that means is that religion demands the making of distinctions, distinctions between different forms of religion and distinctions within a religion itself, so as to find the way to its higher points. By treating all content as comparably valid and with the idea that all religions are different and yet actually the same, you get nowhere. Relativism is dangerous in quite particular ways: for the shape of human existence at an individual level and in society. The renunciation of truth does not heal man. How much evil has been done in history in the name of good opinions and good intentions is something no one can overlook.

b. The Question of Salvation

That brings us already to the second point, which is generally neglected. When people talk about the significance of religions for salvation, it is quite astonishing that they for the most part think only that all of them make eternal life possible and when they think like that, the concept of eternal life is neutralized, since everyone gets there in any case. But that sells the question of salvation short, in most inappropriate fashion. Heaven begins on earth. Salvation in the world to come presumes a righteous life in this world. Thus one cannot simply ask who will get to heaven and suppose that this disposes of the matter of heaven. We have to ask what heaven is and how it comes upon earth. Future salvation must make its mark in a way of life that makes a person “human” here and thus capable of relating to God. That in turn means that when we are concerned with the question of salvation, we must look beyond religions themselves and that this involves standards of right living that one cannot just relativize at will. I would say, therefore, that salvation begins with man becoming righteous in this world—something that always includes the twin poles of the individual and society. There are kinds of behavior that can never serve man’s growth in righteousness and others that are always a part of man’s righteousness. That means that salvation does not lie in religions as such, but it is connected to them, inasmuch as, and to the extent that, they lead man toward the one good, toward the search for God, for truth, and for love. The question of salvation therefore always carries within it an element of the criticism of religion, just as, contrariwise, it can build a positive relationship to religions. It has in any case to do with the unity of the good, with the unity of what is true—with the unity of God and man.

c. Conscience and Man’s Capacity to Know the Truth

This statement leads to the third point I wish to address here. The unity and integrity of man has an organ: the conscience. It was Saint Paul who was daring enough to maintain that all men were capable of listening to their consciences and, thus, to separate the question of salvation from the matter of knowing and keeping the Torah and setting it on the common ground of the demands of conscience, in which the one God is speaking, and declaring to each one what is truly essential in the Torah: “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom 2:14-15). Paul does not say, If the pagans keep their own religion, that is good before the judgment-seat of God. On the contrary, he condemns the majority of the religious practices of his time. He points to another source—to what is written in everyone’s hearts, the one good, from the one God. There are in any case two opposing concepts of the conscience here, although they are most often simply lumped together. For Paul, the conscience is the organ within all men—who are one man—which makes transparent the one God. In current thinking, on the other hand, the conscience appears as an expression of the absolute value of the subjective self, above and beyond which there can be no further judgment in the moral realm. What is good as such cannot be known. The one God cannot be known. As far as morality and religion are concerned, the self is the final arbiter. That is logical, if we have no access to the truth as such. Thus, in the modern concept of the conscience, the conscience represents the canonizing of relativism, of the impossibility of establishing common moral and religious standards; just as for Paul and for the Christian tradition it had been, on the contrary, the guarantee of the unity of man and the possibility of knowing God, of the common and binding character of one and the same good.[27] The fact that in every age there have been, and still are, “pagan saints” is because everywhere and in every age—albeit often with difficulty and in fragmentary fashion—the speech of the “heart” can be heard, because God’s Torah may be heard within ourselves, in our creaturely being, as the call of duty, and it is thus possible for us to transcend what is merely subjective in order to turn toward each other and toward God; And that is salvation. Beyond that, what God makes of the poor broken pieces of our attempts at good, at approaching him, remains his secret, which we ought not to presume to try to work out.

Final Reflections

At the close of these reflections I should like to draw your attention to a methodological suggestion the Pope offers concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy, between faith and reason, because it addresses the practical question of how a renewal of theological and philosophical thinking, as the encyclical conceives it, might start to come about. The encyclical talks about a “circular movement” between theology and philosophy, understood in the sense that theology must always start from the word of God; but since this word is truth, theology will set it in relation with man’s search for truth, with the struggle of reason for the truth, and will thus bring it into dialogue with philosophy. The believer’s search for the truth will accordingly take place through a movement in which listening to the word that has gone forth will continually be meeting with the seekings of reason. Thereby, on the one hand, faith becomes purer and more profound, while, on the other hand, thought is also enriched, because new horizons are opened up for it.

It seems to me that this idea of circularity could be taken a little farther: Philosophy, too, ought not to shut itself in within its own material, within what it has itself thought up. Just as it has to pay heed to empirical perceptions that emerge within the various scientific disciplines, so also it ought to regard the holy traditions of religions and especially the message of the Bible as a source of perception and let itself be made more fertile by this. There is in fact no great philosophy that has not received illumination and guidance from religious tradition, whether we are thinking of the philosophy of Greece and that of India or of the philosophy that developed within Christianity or even of the modern philosophies that were persuaded of the autonomy of reason and held this autonomy of reason to be the ultimate criterion of thought—but that still remained indebted for the great themes of thought that biblical faith had given to philosophy on the way: Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling would be unthinkable without all that faith had already given, and even Marx, in the midst of his radical reinterpretation, drew his life from the horizon of hope, which he had taken from the Jewish tradition. When philosophy completely blanks out this dialogue with the thought of faith, it ends—as Jaspers once expressed it—in a “seriousness that is becoming empty”.[28] In the end, it finds itself forced to renounce the question of truth, that is, forced to give up itself. For a philosophy that no longer asks who we are, what we are here for, whether there is a God and an eternal life, has abdicated its role as a philosophy.

Finally, it may be helpful to refer to a commentary on the encyclical that appeared in the German newspaper Die Zeit, which has otherwise been somewhat distant from the Church. The commentator, Jan Ross, grasps the essence of this papal teaching document quite precisely when he says that the dethroning of theology and metaphysics has made thought “not just more free, but also more narrow”; indeed, he does not shy away from talking about people “rendered stupid by lack of faith”. “Reason, in turning away from the ultimate questions, has rendered itself indifferent and boring, has resigned its competence where the keys to life are concerned: good and evil, death and immortality.” The voice of the Pope, he says, “has given courage to many people and to entire nations and has sounded hard and piercingly in many people’s ears and has even aroused hatred; but when it falls silent, that will be a moment of frightful silence.” And indeed, if no one talks about God and man, about sin and grace, about death and eternal life, any more, then all the shouting and all the noise there is will only be a vain attempt to deceive ourselves about the voice of true humanity falling silent. With his candor, with the fearless frankness of faith, the Pope has stood up against the danger of such a silence, and in doing so he renders a service, not only to the Church, but to mankind. We should be grateful to him for that.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; Glasgow: Collins, 1955), pp. 139f. Quoted by J. Pieper in “Was heißt Interpretation?” [What does interpretation mean], in his Schriften zum Philosophiebegriff [Writings on the concept of philosophy], vol. 3 of his Werke, ed. B. Wald (Hamburg: Meiner, 1995), pp. 226f.

[2] Ibid., p. 227.

[3] M. Reiser, “Bibel und Kirche: Eine Antwort an U. Luz” [Bible and Church: A reply to U. Luz], Trierer Theologischer Zeitschrift 108 (1999): 62-81, this point on p. 72; U. Eco, The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (1983; London: Picador, 1984), p. 491.

[4] Reiser, “Bibel und Kirche”, p. 63, with a reference to O. Tracy, Theologie als Gespräch: Eine postmoderne Hermeneutik [Theology as conversation: A postmodern hermeneutic] (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1993), pp. 73-97.

[5] F. Mauthner, Beitrage zu einer Kritik der Sprache [Contributions to a criticism of language], 3 vols., 2nd ed. (1923; reprt., Frankfurt, 1982); the quotation is from 3:635. See Reiser, “Bibel und Kirche”, p. 73.

[6] Quoted by Reiser, “Bibel und Kirche”, pp. 73f.

[7] See ibid., pp. 63f. U. Luz, “Kann die Bibel heute noch Grundlage für die Kirche sein? Über die Aufgabe der Exegese in einer religiös pluralistischen Gesellschaft” [Can the Bible still be the basis of the Church? On the task of exegesis in a society of religious pluralism], New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 317-39.

[8] Phaedrus 274d—275b. Cf. on this H. Schade, Lamm Gottes und Zeichen des Widders [The Lamb of God and the sign of the ram] (Freiburg: Herder, 1998), pp. 27f.

[9] Schade, Lamm Gottes, p. 27.

[10] A. Kreiner, Ende der Wahrheit? [The end of truth?] (Freiburg: Herder, 1992), p. 116, quoted by Reiser, “Bibel und Kirche”, p. 74.

[11] No. 84.

[12] P. Flores d’Arcais, “Die Frage ist die Antwort: Zur Enzyklika Fides et Ratio” [The question is the answer: On the encyclical Fides et Ratio], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, no. 51 (March 2, 1999): 47.

[13] In nos. 68-74 of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Pope deals in detail with the thesis that the lawgiving of any society should restrict itself to registering and giving established status to the convictions of the majority and that private conscience and public order should be strictly separate, and he argues against this (no. 69). As against this, the Pope asserts that democracy cannot become a surrogate for morality; the value of democracy, he says, stands and falls with the values it embodies (no. 70). This fundamental exposition of the principles of politics and the state cannot be set aside by brashly referring to them as “fundamentalism”; they do at least deserve a fresh examination and discussion. In this connection I might refer the reader to my book A Turning Point for Europe? trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).

[14] In this respect, the list of names mentioned in no. 74 of the encyclical is certainly too modestly framed. One need only think, in our own century, of the importance of the phenomenological school, from Husserl to Scheler, and of the great movement of personalism, with names such as F. Ebner, E. Mounier, and G. Marcel, or to recall such great Jewish thinkers as Bergson, Buber, and Levinas, to see that philosophy in the sense in which the encyclical is speaking is possible even today and is indeed at work in many and various forms.

[15] See on this point H. Bürkle, Der Mensch auf der Suche nach Gott—Die Frage der Religionen [Man in search of God—The question concerning the religions], Amateca, no. 3 (Paderborn: Bonifatius, 1996), pp. 60-67.

[16] No. 70.

[17] T. Haecker, Vergil: Vater des Abendlandes [Virgil: Father of the West], 5th ed. (Munich: Kosel, 1947), e.g., pp. 117f.

[18] See, e.g., Burkle, Mensch auf der Suche nach Gott, pp. 14-40.

[19] No. 71.

[20] No. 72.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] R. Schäffler, “Ent-europäisierung des Christentums?” [De-Europeanizing Christianity?], Theologie und Glaube 86 (1996): 121-31; quoted from p. 131.

[25] Cf. ibid., p. 125.

[26] These connections, with acceptance and transformation, the making of distinctions and rejection, are very well portrayed by Burkle, Mensch auf der Suche nach Gott, pp. 18-40.

[27] For the question of the conscience, I may refer the reader to my little book Wahrheit, Werte, Macht [Truth, values, power], new ed. (Frankfurt: Knecht, 1999), pp. 25-62.

[28] Quoted by J. Pieper, in “Die mogliche Zukunft der Philosophie” [The possible future of philosophy], in his Schriften zum Philosophiebegriff, pp. 315-23; quoted on p. 323.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Faith, Religion, and Culture

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The final word of the Risen Lord to his disciples is a word of mission to the ends of the earth: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them. . . [and] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19f.; cf. Acts 1:8). Christianity entered the world in the consciousness of a universal commission. The believers in JesusChrist knew, from the first moment on, that they had the duty of handing on their faith to all men; they saw in their faith something that did not belong to them alone, something to which, rather, everyone could lay claim. It would have been utterly faithless not to carry what they had received to the farthest corner of the earth. It was not the drive to power that launched Christian universalism but the certitude of having received the saving knowledge and the redeeming love to which all people have a claim and for which, in the inmost depths of their being, they are waiting. The mission was regarded, not as the acquisition of people for their own sphere of domination, but as the passing on, as a matter of obligation, of something meant for everyone and of which everyone stood in need.

Today doubts have arisen about the universality of the Christian faith. The history of the worldwide mission is seen by many, not as the history of the spread of liberating truth and love, but to a great extent as the history of a process of alienation and of domination by force. The strongest expression within the Church of this new consciousness was perhaps in the text for the “European Procession of Penitence ‘92”, in which we read:

1492-1992 are dates that in the perspective of native and black South Americans mark out a way of the cross, with countless stations of suffering and a Good Friday that has now lasted for five hundred years. The European Christians. . . conquered bodies with the sword and dominated souls with the cross. . . . For the natives and for the enslaved Africans, Christianity appeared as the religion of the enemy who subjugated and killed people. For them, the gospel could not be a message of joy; rather, it was bad news, which brought misfortune. . . . 1992 could be the year that represents the resumption of their religions, which were just and worthy, the coming of God to his peoples through these religions, and the peoples starting on their way to God through them.[1]

The protest that breaks out in these words goes far beyond the problem of the gospel and culture; and it signifies far more than the justified complaint against all of Europe’s sins in connection with the discovery of America: ultimately, it raises the question of the truth of the Christian faith and of whether mission is justified at all.

To that extent, the new consciousness expressed here demands of Christians a radical process of reflection about what they are and what they are not, what they believe and what they do not believe, what they have to offer and what they cannot offer. Within the framework we have at present, we can only attempt a few steps toward part of this great process of reflection. In any case, we are not here concerned with judgments about the historical events involved in Europe’s encounter with America in the centuries since 1492, or with a speech to celebrate “five hundred years of America”, of which I do not feel capable and for which I was not asked. My intention is both more modest and, at the same time, more demanding: a reflection on whether the Christian faith has the right, or the capacity, to share with other cultures, to take them into itself and to give itself to them. When you come down to it, this includes all the questions about the basis of Christian existence: Why believe? Is there any truth for men, truth that is accessible as such for all men and belongs to all men, or are we only ever, in differing symbols, just touching on the mystery that never unveils itself to us? Is it a presumption to talk about the truth of faith, or is it a duty? These questions, too, cannot be addressed directly at this point or discussed in their full dimensions; we will have to deal with them at greater length in other parts of this book. Here they have to remain as a conscious backdrop to our problems with faith and culture.

In this chapter, we are directly dealing only with the question of how the one faith relates to the multiplicity of cultures and how true universality is possible in this multiplicity of cultures, without one culture setting itself up as the only valid one and repressing the others. We hardly need to make a point of saying that this question applies to the whole extent of history and right across all the continents. Five hundred years have passed since Columbus’ epoch-making journey, but the first direct contact between Christianity and black Africa, too, in the then kingdom of the Congo, present-day Angola, takes us back to the same period; and likewise the beginning of the Portuguese mission in India, which of course already had a long Christian history behind it, which goes back perhaps as far as the time of the apostles. America, Africa, Asia are the three great cultural spheres that brought to the saying about “the ends of the earth” and “all nations” an entirely new meaning and brought new dimensions to the task of mission. But perhaps the consciousness of the inadequacy of previous attempts at Christian universality has become so urgent today because there is meanwhile another kind of universality that has truly reached to the farthest corners of the earth: the unity of technical culture, which imposes itself by the power of its capacities and its successes and yet, at the same time, through its method of centralizing power and through its exploitation of the earth, has brought about that division of the world into north and south, into rich and poor, which represents the real emergency of our time. It is therefore ever more strongly emphasized today that in order to survive, faith must inculturate itself into the modern technical/rational culture. But then the question naturally arises: Can we refer to the civilization of technical unity as a “culture” in the same sense as the great cultures that have grown up at different times and places in the life of mankind? Can faith be inculturated in one and in the other at the same time? What identity could it then still have at all?

1. Culture—Inculturation—The Meeting of Cultures

We shall come back to these questions, at least indirectly; for the moment, what we have said is only intended to indicate the size of the problem we finally have to face up to: What in fact is culture? How does it relate to religion, and in what way can it forge links with religious entities that were originally alien to it? We should say straightaway that only in modern Europe has a concept of culture been developed that portrays it as a sphere separate from religion, or even in opposition to it. In all known historical cultures, religion is an essential element of culture, is indeed its determinative center; it is religion that determines the scale of values and, thereby, the inner cohesion and hierarchy of all these cultures. But if that is how things are, the inculturation of the Christian faith in other cultures only looks that much more difficult. For one cannot see how a culture that is interwoven with religion, that lives in it and intertwines with it, could be transplanted into a different religion, so to speak, without both being destroyed in the process. If one takes from a culture its own religion, which has begotten it, one is robbing it of its very heart; if one plants a new heart into it—the Christian one—then it seems inevitable that this organism, which is not adapted to it, will reject it. A positive outcome to this operation seems hard to envisage.

It can only really make sense if the relationship between the Christian faith and the respective other religion together with its living culture is not one of absolute foreignness, if there is, rather, a certain inner openness, each to the other, within them; or, to put it another way, if the tendency to move toward each other and to unite is in any case a part of their nature. Inculturation thus assumes the potential universality of every culture. It assumes that the same human nature is at work in all of them and that there is a common truth of humanity alive within that human nature that aims toward union. To put it yet another way, the intention of inculturating makes sense only if no harm is being done to the culture by the way that, through the common direction imparted by the truth of humanity, it is opened up and further developed by a new cultural force. Whatever elements in any culture exclude such opening up and such cultural exchange represent what is inadequate in that culture, because exclusion of what is different is contrary to human nature. The height of development of a culture is shown in its openness, in its capacity to give and to receive, in its power to develop further, to let itself be purified and thus to become better adapted to the truth and to man.

At this point we can try to give something like a definition of culture. We could say: Culture is the social form of expression, as it has grown up in history, of those experiences and evaluations that have left their mark on a community and have shaped it. Let us now try to consider a little more closely the individual elements of this definition, so that we may better be able to understand those possible exchanges between cultures to which the term “inculturation” must refer.

a.  In the first place, culture has to do with perceptions and values. It is an attempt to understand the world and the existence of man within it; an attempt, however, not of a purely theoretical nature, but rather guided by the fundamental interest of our existence. This understanding is meant to show us how to go about being human, how a man takes his proper place in this world and responds to it, so as to improve himself, to live his life successfully and happily. This question, in turn, does not in the great cultures refer to the individual alone, as if each person could work out for himself a pattern of coping with the world and with living. Each can do this only with the help of others; the question of correct perception is thus also a question concerning the proper shaping of the community. This in turn is the prerequisite for each individual’s life being successful. Culture is concerned with understanding, which is a perception that opens the way for practical action, that is, a perception of which the dimension of values, of morality, is an indispensable part. We should just add one thing, which would have been self-evident for the old world: In any question concerning man and the world, the question about the Divinity is always included as the preliminary and really basic question. No one can understand the world at all, no one can live his life rightly, so long as the question about the Divinity remains unanswered. Indeed, the very heart of the great cultures is that they interpret the world by setting in order their relationship to the Divinity.

b.  Culture in the classical sense thus includes going beyond what is visible and apparent to the real basis of things and, at its heart, opens the door to the Divinity. Bound up with that (as we have seen) is the other feature, of the individual transcending his own self and finding mutual support for himself in a greater social agency, whose perceptions he can, as it were, borrow and then, of course, also carry farther and develop for himself. Culture is always associated with a social agent, which accepts into itself the experiences of the individuals and, on the other hand, also molds them. This social agent preserves and develops perceptions that go beyond what any individual is capable of—insights we may describe as prerational and suprarational. In doing this, cultures refer to the wisdom of the “elders”, who were closer to the gods; to traditions from the beginnings, which have the character of revelation, that is, they are the result, not simply of human questioning and reflection, but of aboriginal contact with the ground of all things; to communications from the Divinity.[2] The point of crisis for a cultural agent is when it can no longer succeed in relating this given suprarational element with new critical perceptions in a persuasive fashion. The truth of the element already given is then placed in doubt; from being true it becomes merely usual and loses its living power.

c.  This already hints at something further: society progresses through time, and culture therefore has to do with history. Culture develops along the way, through the encounter with new realities and the assimilation of new perceptions. It is not closed up in itself but is affected by the impetus of time’s onward flow, in which the confluence of different currents, the processes of union are important. The historical character of culture signifies its capacity for progress, and that implies its capacity to be open, to accept its being transformed by an encounter. We do indeed distinguish between cosmic/static cultures and historical cultures. In that view, the older, prescriptive cultures would in essence represent the mystery of the universe, which remains always the same, while the Jewish and Christian cultural paths, especially, are said to understand their path with God as history and are therefore molded by a conception of history as a fundamental category. That is true to a certain extent, but it does not cover everything, since the cosmic cultures, too, point to death and rebirth and to human existence as a path. As Christians, we would say that they carry within themselves the dynamic of advent, and we are going to have to talk about this in more detail.[3]

This little attempt to clarify some of the the basic categories of the concept of culture will now help us better to understand the question of their contact with one another and their merging together. We can now say that what is special about cultures lies in theassociation of culture with a cultural individuality, with a certain culturalagent, giving the multiplicity of cultures and also the particular nature ofeach one. We can see, on the other hand, that their historical nature, theirmovement with time and in time, includes an openness. Each particular culture not only lives out its own experience of God, the world, and man, but on its path it necessarily encounters other cultural agencies and has to react to their quite different experiences. This results, depending always on the degreeto which the cultural agent may be closed or open, inwardly narrow or broad inoutlook, in that culture’s own perceptions and values being deepened andpurified. That may lead to a profound reshaping of that culture’s previousform, yet this does not necessarily involve any kind of violation oralienation. In a positive case, it may be explained by the potentiallyuniversal nature of all cultures, which is concretized in the acceptance ofwhat is other and the change of what is its own. A process of this kind can infact lead to a breaking open of the silent alienation of man from the truth andfrom himself that exists within that culture. This can represent the healing Pasch for a culture, which through an apparent death comes to new life and becomes then for the first time truly itself.

With this in mind, we should talk, no longer about “inculturation”, but about a meeting of cultures, or—if we have to use a technical term—about “interculturality”. For “inculturation” presupposes that, as it were, a culturally naked faith is transferred into a culture that is indifferent from the religious point of view, so that two agents that were hitherto alien to each other meet and now engage in a synthesis together. But this depiction is first of all artificial and unreal, because there is no such thing as a culture-free faith and because—outside of modern technical civilization—there is no such thing as religion-free culture. But above all one cannot see how two organisms that are in themselves totally alien to each other should, through a transplantation that starts by mutilating them both, suddenly become a single living whole. Only if it is true that all cultures are potentially universal and have an inner capacity to be open to others can interculturality lead to new and fruitful forms.

With everything we have said thus far, we have remained in the phenomenological sphere, that is, we have recorded how cultures function and how they develop, and we have established the potential universality of every culture as an essential concept for a history leading toward cultural unions. But the question now arises: Why is that so? Why are all cultures, on the one hand, just particular cultures and, thus, differentiated one from another, and why are they at the same time open toward each other, capable of mutually purifying each other and of merging with each other? There are also, of course, positivistic answers, and I do not want to go into them here. It seems to me that at this point in particular one cannot avoid reference to the metaphysical dimension. A meeting of cultures is possible because man, in all the variety of his history and of his social structures and customs, is a single being, one and the same. This one being, man, is however touched and affected in the very depth of his existence by truth itself. The fundamental openness of all men to others, and the agreement in essentials to be found even between those cultures farthest removed from each other, can only be explained by the hidden way our souls have been touched by truth. But the variety, which can even lead to a closed attitude, comes in the first instance from the limitation of the human mind: no one can grasp the whole of anything, but many and varied perceptions and forms come together in a sort of mosaic, suggested by the way that each is complementary with regard to the others: in order to form the whole, each needs all the others. Only in the interrelating of all great works of culture can man approach the unity and wholeness of his true nature.

Yet we can certainly not rest content with this optimistic diagnosis, for the potential universality of cultures is often blocked by quite insurmountable obstacles that prevent it from turning into an actual universality. Not only a communal dynamic exists, but equally communal divisions, barriers against others, contradictions that exclude, an impossibility of transition because the waters between are far too deep. We have been talking just now about the unity of the human being and about his being secretly touched by the truth spoken by God. We are now brought to recognize that there must be in opposition to this a negative factor in human existence: an alienation that hinders our perceiving things and that, at least partially, cuts men off from the truth and thus also from each other. In this undeniable factor of alienation lies the real difficulty in all the struggle to bring about any meeting of cultures. That is why anyone who sees in the religions of the world only reprehensible superstition is wrong; but also why anyone who wants only to give a positive evaluation of all religions, and who has suddenly forgotten the criticism of religions that has been burned into our souls not only by Feuerbach and Marx but also by such great theologians as Karl Barth and Bonhoeffer, is equally wrong.

2. Faith and Culture

All this has brought us to the second part of our consideration. Up to now we have set out the essence of culture and, on that basis, the conditions for a meeting of cultures and for their merging into new cultural entities. Now we must venture forth from the sphere of principles into that of facts. First we have once more to sum up our essential findings and to ask what is it that can bind cultures so closely together that they are not just externally tied to each other but, through their encounter, are inwardly fertilized and purified? The medium by which they encounter each other can only be their shared truth concerning man, within which the truth about God and about reality as a whole is always involved. The more human a culture is, the higher it is, the more it can lay claim to truth that was hitherto hidden from it; and the more it will be capable of assimilating that truth and of adjusting itself to that truth. At this point, what is special about the self-understanding of Christian faith can be seen. It knows very well, if it is aware and uncorrupted, that there is a great deal of what is human in its particular cultural forms, a great deal that needs purifying and opening up. But it is also certain that it is at heart the self-revelation of truth itself and, therefore, redemption. For the real problem of mankind is the darkening of truth. This distorts our action and sets us against one another, because we bear our own evil within ourselves, are alienated from ourselves, cut off from the ground of our being, from God. If truth is offered, this means a leading out of alienation and thus out of the state of division; it means the vision of a common standard that does no violence to any culture but that guides each one to its own heart, because each exists ultimately as an expectation of truth. That does not mean reduction to uniformity; quite the opposite: only when this happens can things in opposition become complementary, because they can all, each in its own way, unfold and be fruitful in relation to that central standard.

That is the high claim with which the Christian faith entered the world. From this claim there follows the inner obligation to send all peoples to the school of Jesus, because he is the truth in person and, thereby, the way to be human. We do not, for the moment, want to enter into the argument about the truth of this claim, although we will naturally have to come back to it later. Right now we are asking: What follows from that claim, for the concrete relationship of the Christian faith to the cultures of the world?

A first point we should note is that faith itself is cultural. It does not exist in a naked state, as sheer religion. Simply by telling man who he is and how he should go about being human, faith is creating culture and is culture. This message of faith is not an abstract message; it is one that has matured through a long history and through manifold inter-cultural fusions, in the course of which it has shaped an entire way of life, a way of man’s dealing with himself, with his neighbor, with the world, and with God. Faith itself exists as culture. But that also means that it exists as an independent agent: a social and cultural community that we call “the people ofGod”. It is probably in this concept that the nature of faith as a historical agent is most clearly expressed. Does faith, therefore, stand as one cultural agent among others, so that one would have to choose to belong either to it—to this people, as a cultural community—or to another people? No. At this point, what is quite particular and peculiar to the culture of faith becomes apparent. The people of God, as a cultural agent, differs from the classic cultural agents, which are defined by the boundaries of a communal life as a tribe, as a nation, or otherwise, in that it subsists within various different cultural entities, which for their part do not thereby cease, even for the individual Christian, to be the primary and immediate agent of his culture. Even as a Christian, one remains a Frenchman or a German, an American or an Indian, and so on. In the pre-Christian world, even in the high cultures of India, China, and Japan, the cultural agent is one and indivisible. Belonging to two cultural entities is impossible in general, although of course Buddhism represents an exception, in the way it is able to combine itself with other cultural entities as an inner dimension of them, so to speak. But the full development of this double cultural identity first appears with Christian culture, so that man now lives within two cultural entities: in his historical culture and in the new one of faith, which meet and mingle in him. This existing together will never be a complete synthesis; it brings with it a need for continuing processes of reconciliation and purification. Again and again there must be a going beyond into wholeness and universality, into the sphere, not of an empirical people, but of those who are indeed the people of God and, from there, the sphere of all mankind. And, contrariwise, again and again this shared entity has to be brought into our own territory and has to be lived out and even struggled for in the concrete historical place.

From what we have said there follows a most important point. One might think that culture is always the business of an individual cultural entity (Germany, France, America, and so on), while faith is simply in search of a cultural expression. The various cultures would thus, so to speak, provide faith with a cultural body. Faith, in that case, would live only through borrowed cultures, which would, however, all remain somehow exterior toit and could be stripped off again. Above all, none of these borrowed cultural forms would mean anything to or for people living in any of the others. Universality would, thereby, become ultimately a fiction. Thinking like this is basically Manichaean: it reduces culture to a mere interchangeable embodiment; faith is dematerialized into a mere spirit, ultimately lacking in reality. Sucha conception is of course typical of post-Enlightenment spirituality. Culture is relegated to mere outward form, and religion to mere inexpressible feeling or into pure thought. Thus the productive tension, which ought normally to arise from the coexistence of two cultural entities, disappears. If culture is more than mere form or mere aesthetics, if it is much more a way of ordering values within a historic form of life, and if it cannot ignore the question concerning the divine, then there is no way of getting around the fact that, for believers, the Church is a separate cultural entity in her own right. This cultural entity or agency, the Church, the people of God, does not—even in periods when particular peoples seem to have been fully christianized, as people used to believe was the case in Europe—coincide with any of these other historic cultural entities; rather, she retains her own overarching form and is indeed on that account significant.

If that is how things are, then in the encounter between faith and its culture and another hitherto foreign culture, it cannot be a matter of dispensing with this duality of cultural entities on either oneside or the other. The sacrifice of one’s own cultural heritage in favor of a Christianity with no particular human coloring or the disappearance of the cultural features of faith in the new culture would both be equally mistaken.It is the tension itself that is productive, renewing faith and healing theculture. It would accordingly be nonsense to offer a Christianity that was, soto speak, precultural or deculturalized, as such a Christianity would bedeprived of its own historical power and reduced to an empty collection ofideas. We should not forget that Christianity, as early as the period of theNew Testament, carries within itself the fruit of a whole history of culturaldevelopment, a history of acceptance and rejection, of encounter and of change.Israel’s history of faith, which was taken up into itself, was shaped instruggles with Egyptian, Hittite, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greekculture. All these cultures were at the same time religions, all-embracing historicalways of life that in the course of God’s struggle with Israel, of the strugglesof its great prophetic figures, were assumed and transformed in a passionateendeavor to provide an ever more pure vessel for the new cultural element, therevelation ofthe one God; yet it was in this very process that those culturesfound their lasting fulfilment. They would otherwise all have sunk into thedistant past had they not remained present as purified and uplifted in thefaith of the Bible. Israel’s history of faith begins, of course, with the callto Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house”(Gen 12:1); it begins with a cultural break. There will always be such a breakwith one’s own prehistory, such a setting forth, at the beginning of a newmoment in the history of faith. Yet this new beginning then proves to be aforce for healing, creating a new center with the ability to draw to itself allthat is true to the measure of humanity, all that is true to the measure ofdivinity. “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself”(Jn 12:32)—this saying of the ascended Lord also has a place in our contexthere: the Cross is, first, a break, the being cast forth, the being lifted upfrom the earth, but in that very way it becomes a new center of gravity, apoint of gravitation drawing things up from the history of the world, for thebringing together of what is divided.

Anyone entering the Church has to be aware that he is entering a separate, active cultural entity with her own many-layered intercultural character that has grown up in the course of history. Without a certain exodus, a breaking off with one’s life in all its aspects, one cannot become a Christian. Faith is no private path to God; it leads into the people of God and into its history. God has linked himself to a history, which is now also his history and which we cannot simply erase. Christ remains man to eternity, retains a body to eternity; but being a man, having a body, includes having a history and a culture, this particular history with its culture, whether we like it or not. We cannot repeat the process of the Incarnation at will, in the sense of repeatedly taking Christ’s flesh away from him, so to speak, and offering him some other flesh instead. Christ remains the same, even according to his body. But he is drawing us to him. That means that because the people of God is, not just a single cultural entity, but is gathered together from all peoples, therefore the first cultural identity, rising again from the break that was made, has its place therein; and not only that, but it is needed in order to allow the Incarnation of Christ, of the Word, to attain its whole fullness. The tension of many active entities within a single entity is an essential part of the unfinished drama of the Son’s Incarnation. This is the real inner dynamic of history, and of course it stands always beneath the sign of the Cross; that is to say that it must always be struggling against the opposing weight of shutting off, of isolation and refusal.

3. Faith, Religion, and Culture in the Technological World

That is all quite correct if Jesus of Nazareth is truly the meaning of history, the Logos who has become man, the self-revelation of truth itself. It is then clear that this truth is the sphere within which everyone can find and relate to one another and, in so doing, lose nothing of his own value or his own dignity. This is the point at which criticisms are made today. To lay claim to truth for one religion’s particular expressions of faith appears today, not merely presumptuous, but an indication of insufficient enlightenment. Hans Kelsen was expressing the spirit of our age when he represented the question of Pilate, “What is truth?” as being the sole appropriate attitude for determining the structure of society within the state, in the face of the great religious and moral difficulties of mankind. Truth is replaced by the decision of the majority, he says, precisely because there can be no truth, in the sense of a binding and generally accessible entity for man.[4] Thus the multiplicity of cultures serves to demonstrate the relativism of all cultures. Culture is set against truth. This relativism, which is nowadays to be found, as a basic attitude of enlightened people, penetrating far into the realm of theology, is the most profound difficulty of our age. This is also the reason why practice is now substituted for truth and why the whole axis of religions is thereby displaced: we do not know what is true, but we do know what we should do: raise up and introduce a better society, the “kingdom”, as people like to say, using a term taken from the Bible and applied to the profane and utopian sphere. Ecclesiocentricity, christocentricity, theocentricity—all these now seem to be rendered obsolete by regnocentricity, the centering of things around the kingdom as the common task of all religions; and it is held that they should meet only from this point of view and according to this standard.[5] There is thus no longer any reason to move them closer to one another in their essentials, in their moral and religious teaching; but they will certainly all be reshaped at the deepest level, insofar as they are now to serve as instruments for the construction of the future, in a way that was not hitherto their task and that ultimately deprives their content of any object or point of reference.

The dogma of relativism has, however, yet another effect: Christian universalism, which is carried out concretely in mission, is no longer the obligatory handing on of a good meant for everyone, that is, of truth and love; with this presupposition, mission becomes the mere presumptuous attitude of a culture that imagines itself to be superior, that tramples upon a whole multitude of religious cultures in the most shameful fashion, thus, it is held, depriving those peoples of what is best: their own heritage. Thence comes the imperative: Give us back our religions, as the right ways for the various peoples severally to come to God and God to them; where these religions still exist, do not touch them! Is this demand appropriate? It is at any rate here that the good sense, or nonsense, of the dogma of relativism in the sphere of cultures and religions must be demonstrated.[6]

At least, in the face of such demands, one ought to look carefully at each religion to see whether its restoration would really be desirable. When we think, for instance, of how on the occasion of the most recent rebuilding of the main Aztec temple, in the year 1487, “at the very lowest estimate, twenty thousand people” bled to death, “over four days, on the altars of Tenochtitlán” (the capital city of the Aztecs, in the upper Mexico valley) as human sacrifices to the sun god, it will be difficult for us to encourage the restoration of this religion.[7] Such a sacrifice took place because the sun lived on the blood of human hearts, and the end of the world could only be prevented through human sacrifice. Thus, the wars in which captives were taken who served as sacrificial victims were undertaken by divine command. To the earth gods and the vegetation gods, the Aztecs offered “men and women, who were for the most part flayed alive”; to the gods of rain, who were thought of as being like dwarfs, they offered up little children, who were drowned in springs, in water holes, and in certain parts of the Lake of Tetzcoco. There were rituals, a part of which was the slaughter of human beings. All of this derived, as W. Krickeberg has established, not from some inborn “inclination to bloodthirstiness”, but from a fanatical belief in the duty of men to provide in this fashion for the continuation of the world.[8] This is, of course, an extreme instance, but it nonetheless shows that one cannot simply see in any and every religion the way for God to come to man and man to God.

But we have to tackle the question at a more basic level. Can one, in any circumstances, simply allow religions to remain as they are, stopping history right there, so to speak? It is obvious that one cannot declare some people to be living in a kind of “nature conservation park” for religious and cultural history, into which the modern age would not be allowed to come. Any such attempts are not merely undignified and, ultimately, lacking in respect for people, they are also completely unrealistic. The meeting of cultures and the gradual growing together of the separate geographical areas of history into one common history of mankind are grounded in the nature of man himself. Likewise, one cannot make use oneself of the possibilities offered by technological civilization, while at the same time forcing upon other people one’s own dream of a pretechnological world. It is in fact quite undisputed nowadays, not only that the spread of modern civilization is in fact incapable of being prevented, but that making its instruments available to those cultures as yet untouched by it is a question of justice. That one must proceed with more caution and show more respect for these people’s own traditions than was the case hitherto is quite a different question. It is not the spread of technological capabilities themselves that is bad but rather the presumption, typical of the Enlightenment, with which people very often destroyed structures that had grown up over time and trampled upon men’s spirits, carelessly sweeping aside their religious and ethical traditions. This tearing up of people’s spiritual roots and the destruction of the network of social relationships that happened in such cases are certainly one of the main reasons why development aid has so far brought positive results only in very rare instances. People thought it was enough to develop technological capabilities; that man also needs traditions and inner values to sustain him was—and still is—widely disregarded.

But we could now ask, ought we not now to proceed by handing on the technology, cautiously, but leaving the religion untouched? This idea, at first sight such an obvious one, is nonetheless misleading. For in situations that are quite different, one cannot preserve fully developed religions as such, shutting them up in a kind of religious nature reserve, and at the same time superimpose the technological view of the world. Technological civilization is not in fact religiously and morally neutral, even if it believes it is. It changes people’s standards and their attitudes and behavior. It changes the way people interpret the world, from the very bottom up. The religious cosmos inevitably starts to shift on account of technology. The arrival of these new opportunities in life is like an earthquake that shakes the spiritual landscape to its foundations. What takes place with increasing frequency, at any rate, is that the Christian faith is shaken off for the sake of people’s own authenticity, and in the realm of religion the pagan religions are restored, while at the same time technology, although it is no less Western, is passionately received and applied. This division of the Western heritage into what is useful, which is accepted, and what is foreign, which is left aside, most certainly does not lead to the saving of ancient cultures. For it now becomes evident that what is great in the old religions, the elements that point the way forward, I would say, their advent dimension, drops out, because it seems impossible to reconcile with the new knowledge about the world and is no longer of interest to people, while the element that is (in the widest sense of the word) magical—everything that offers some power over the world, is preserved and becomes really decisive in people’s lives. These religions are thus losing their real value, because what is best in them is pruned off, and the only thing left is what represented the danger in them.

That could be clearly shown in the instance of Voodoo. In its original form, it was in the last analysis shaped by an anticipation of the Paschal Mystery, of death and resurrection; the business of initiation into being a man, of the marriage of the two sexes, of the forgiveness of sins—all these basic sacramental forms were determinative in its essential structure.[9] But this mythological form stands in need of a new rational means of communication, of a new center, which Voodoo itself is unable to offer. From within its historical moment, it reaches out toward the unknown. Yet where technology and Voodoo are superimposed, these forward-looking gestures break down, and what is left are the magical powers, which now constitute an irrational second world alongside the technological world and its one-sided rationalism. More and more Europeans, whose Christian faith has collapsed, are taking up these irrational forces, and that brings a real paganizing process: man being cut off from God; man is now just looking for various systems of power, and in doing so he is destroying both himself and the world. This, however, is precisely the wrong way for cultures to encounter one another, basically a non-meeting in which rational and irrational attitudes combine with each other in a fatal manner. In a world that is moving with history, religions cannot simply stand still, just as they were or as they now are. Yet the Christian faith, which carries within itself the great heritage of the religions and which opens up this heritage to the Logos, to true reason, could offer a new basis to them at the deepest level and could at the same time make possible a real synthesis of technological rationality and religion, something that can only come about, not by a flight into the irrational, but by opening up reason to its true height and breadth.

Here lie the great tasks of our contemporary historical moment. Christian mission will doubtless have to understand other religions far more profoundly and accept them at a deeper level than has been the case hitherto, but these religions, on the other hand, in order for their best elements to survive, need to recognize their own adventual character, the way they point forward to Christ. If in this sense we proceed on an intercultural search for traces of a path toward a common truth, then something unexpected will appear: Christianity has more in common with the ancient cultures of mankind than with the relativistic and rationalistic world that has cut loose from the fundamental insights of mankind and is thus leading man into a vacuum, devoid of meaning, which risks being fatal for him unless the answer to it comes to him in time. For the knowledge that man must turn toward God, and toward what is eternal, is found right across all the cultures; the knowledge about sin, repentance, and forgiveness; the knowledge concerning communion with God and eternal life; and finally the knowledge of the basic rules of morality, as they are found in the form of the Ten Commandments. It is not relativism that is confirmed; rather, it is the unity of the human condition and its common experience of contact with a truth that is greater than we are.


[1] L. Boff, “I cinquecento anni della conquista dell’America Latina: Un ‘venerdì santo’ che dura ancora oggi” [The five hundredth anniversary of the conquest of America: A “Good Friday” that is still continuing today], quoted after the Italian version of the text, circulated by the Adista news agency on January 25, 1992.

[2] Cf. on this point J. Pieper, Überlieferung: Begriff und Anspruch [Tradition: Its concept and its claim] (Munich: Kosel, 1970); Pieper, Über die platonischen Mythen (Munich: Kösel, 1965).

[3] The concept of “advent” within pre-Christian paganism is one that T. Haecker introduced in this area with some emphasis; see T. Haecker, Vergil: Vater des Abendlandes [Virgil: Father of the West], 5th ed. (Munich: Kösel, 1947).

[4] Cf. V. Possenti, Le società liberali al bivio: Lineamenti di filosofia della società [The liberal society in life: Outlines of a social philosophy] (Genoa: Marietti, 1991), pp. 315-45, especially 345f.; W. Waldstein, Teoria generale del diritto [General theory of law] (Pont. Univ. Lat., 2001).

[5] Cf. the literature referred to by J. Dupuis, “The Kingdom of God and World Religions”, Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection 51 (1987): 530-44; Dupuis, Vers une théologie chrétienne du pluralisme religieux (Paris: Cerf, 1997) [English trans., Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997)].

[6] A most significant contribution to this discussion is to be found in C. Gnilka, “La conversione della cultura antica vista dai Padri della chiesa” [The conversion of classical culture as seen by the Church Fathers], Cristianesimo nella storia 11 (1990):593-615, where he expounds the important insights of the Fathers on the question of inculturation in the struggle with the relativism of late antiquity. We can see here that contemporary relativism is merely a return to the theory of religion of late antiquity. This is reflected, for instance, in the dialogue Octavius, by Minucius Felix (around A.D. 200), in which the pagan participant says that everything is uncertain in human existence, probable rather than true, and one should therefore stick to the old religious traditions. The Christians are ironically referred to as “champions of the truth” (antistites veritatis). The classic formulation of this religious pluralism, based on the obscurity concerning truth, is to be found in the famous reflection of Symmachus (d. 402): “Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum [It is not by a single way that one can attain to such a great mystery].” Julian the Apostate takes a similar philosophy as his starting point and emphasizes that one should respect the variety of national cultures and ways of life and likewise, accordingly, the multiplicity of divinities and religions. The principal reproach he makes against Christianity, and his sole objection to Judaism, lies in his rejection of the First Commandment: he sees in monotheism, in the denial of other gods, the original sin of Christian and Jewish religion. To this theory of the many ways, the Christians oppose the teaching about the two ways (Mt 7:13): the way of life and the way of destruction; the many ways of the pagan religions are in reality only a single way—the wide path that the Gospel talks about. Gnilka then shows how the Fathers quite consciously talk about the conversion of cultures; conversion—they say—is a reshaping (transformation), not destruction. As a process of transformation this always includes preservation—an idea that is also worked out in practice in dealing with temples and idols just as in dealing with the renewal and continuity of languages and of thought. C. Gnilka has described this whole area in his book Chrēsis: Die Methode der Kirchenväter im Umgang mit der antiken Kultur [Chrēsis: The Church Fathers’ method in dealing with classical culture], vol. 2: Kultur und Conversion (Basel: Schwabe, 1993).

[7] Cf. W. Krickeberg, H. Trimborn, W. Müller, and O. Zerries, Die Religionen des alten Amerika (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1961), p. 49 [English trans., Pre-Columbian American Religions, trans. Stanley Davis (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968)].

[8] Ibid., pp. 50f.

[9] Cf. on this point B. Adoukonou, Jalons pour une théologie africaine: Essai d’une herméneutique chrétienne du Vodun dahoméen [Blazing the trail for an African theology: An attempt at a Christian hermeneutic of Dahomian Voodoo], 2 vols. (Paris: Namur 1980); Y. K. Bamunoba and B. Adoukonou, La Mort dans la vie africaine [Death in African life] (Paris: UNESCO, Préserce africaine, 1979).

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Faith Between Reason and Feeling

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Present-Day Crisis of Faith

In his conversations “around atomic physics”, Werner Heisenberg tells of a dialogue with some younger physicists that took place in Brussels in the year 1927, in which, besides Heisenberg himself, both Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Dirac took part. They got to talking about the way Einstein often spoke about God and about the fact that Max Planck argued that there was no conflict between science and religion; the two could—and at that time, this was a somewhat surprising notion—perfectly well be reconciled with each other. Heisenberg interpreted this new openness of scientists to religion on the basis of his experience of his parents’ home. This was based, he said, on the view that natural science and religion dealt with two completely different spheres, which were not in competition with each other: in natural science it was a matter of things being true or false; in religion, of their being good and bad, valuable or worthless. The two realms were quite separate, belonging to the objective and the subjective aspects of the world. “Natural science is to some extent the way we approach the objective aspect of reality. . . . Religious faith, on the contrary, is the expression of a subjective decision, by means of which we determine for ourselves the values by which we direct ourselves in life.”[1] This decision of faith had of course various preconditions in history and culture, in one’s education and environment, but it was—Heisenberg was still talking about the view of the world shared by his parents and Max Planck—ultimately subjective and thereby not amenable to the criterion of “true or false”. Planck, he said, had in this fashion made a subjective decision in favor of the Christian value system; the two realms—the objective and the subjective aspects of the world—remained however narrowly yet clearly divided from each other. At this point, Heisenberg added: “I have to admit, that I do not feel happy about this division. I doubt whether any human society can in the long term live with this sharp division between knowledge and faith.”[2] Then Wolfgang Pauli took up the thread of the discussion and agreed with Heisenberg’s doubt, asserting in fact that this was quite certain: “The complete division between knowledge and faith is surely just a temporary stopgap measure. In Western society and culture we could for instance, in the not-too-distant future, come to the point at which the parables and images that religion has used up to now are no longer convincing, even for simple folk; and then, I fear, traditional morality will also very rapidly break down, and things will happen that are more frightful than anything we can yet imagine.”[3] At that time, in 1927, those taking part in the conversation could have at most a vague suspicion that soon afterward the unholy twelve years would begin, in the course of which things did indeed happen that were “more frightful” than could previously have been thought possible. There were of course a good number of Christians, some of whose names we know and some who have remained nameless, who opposed the demonic forces with the power of their Christian conscience. But on the whole the power of temptation was stronger; those who just went along with things left a clear path for evil.

In the new start that was made after the war, there was real confidence that nothing like that could ever happen again. The fundamental legal structure that was decided upon, on the basis of “responsibility before God”, was intended to express the connection of law and politics with the great moral imperatives of biblical faith. The confidence of that time looks frail today in face of the moral crisis of humanity, which is taking new and desperately urgent forms. The collapse of old religious certainties, which seventy years ago still seemed stoppable, has in the meantime to a great extent become reality. Thus the fear of a collapse of humane values, inevitably linked with this, has itself become more widespread and intense. I will simply recall the warnings of Joachim Fest, struggling with the difficult dialectic of freedom and truth, of reason and faith: “If all utopian models. . . lead to dead ends, yet at the same time the Christian certainties are powerlessly. . . toppling, then we have to come to terms with the fact that there are no more answers available to our demand for transcendence.”[4] Yet none of the appeals addressed to man in this situation “are able to say how he is to live without the other world and with no fear of the day of judgment and yet still time after time manage to act against his own immediate interests and desires”.[5] Fest reminds us in this connection of a saying of Spinoza, which in fact underlines that dialectic between subjective and objective reality, between the abdication of truth and the assertion of values, which is ultimately intolerable and which we have already met in the post-Christian bourgeois world represented by Planck: “Even if I am an atheist, I would at least like to live like a saint.”

I do not want to describe further here how Heisenberg, together with his friends, both in the conversation of 1927 and in a similar one in 1952, this latter dialogue conducted in the face of the National Socialist horrors, tries to find a way out of this schizophrenia of modern culture, to work toward a central order and organization on the basis of a view of natural science that questions its own principles, an order that can become the measure and limit of our action and that belongs equally to the subjective and the objective realms.[6] I would like to try here to find another way to move toward the same goal.

But let us first try to summarize and elucidate what has become clear thus far. The Enlightenment raised the banner of “religion within the bounds of sheer reason” as an ideal. But this purely reasonable religion soon crumbled, above all because it possessed no vital force: a religion that is to serve as the fundamental force for life as a whole does no doubt need to be comprehensible to some extent. Both the collapse of the religions of antiquity and the crisis of Christianity in modern times show us this: if a religion can no longer be reconciled with the elementary certainties of a given view of the world, it collapses. But, on the other hand, religion also needs some authorization that reaches beyond what we can think up for ourselves, for only thus will the unconditional demand it makes upon man be acceptable. So it was that, after the end of the Enlightenment, being aware of how religion is indispensable, people sought for a new sphere for religion, within which it might be able to continue to exist, beyond the assaults of the progress of rational knowledge, upon some unattainable planet, so to speak, where this posed no threat. That is why “feeling” was assigned to it as its own domain within human existence. Schleiermacher was the great theorist of this new concept of religion: “Action is art, speculation is science, religion is the sense of and the taste for the infinite”,[7] was his definition. Faust’s reply to Gretchen’s question about religion has become proverbial: “Feeling is all. The name is just noise and smoke.” Yet religion, however necessary its separation from the plane of science may be, cannot be pigeonholed in a particular area. That is what it is there for, to integrate man in his entirety, to unite feeling, understanding, and will and to mediate between them, and to offer some answer to the demand made by everything as a whole, the demands of living and dying, of society and myself, of present and future. It should not claim to be able to solve problems in areas that work by their own laws, but it must make men capable of taking those ultimate decisions in which the whole of man and of the world is always at stake. And that is precisely what we are lacking, in that nowadays we divide the world into discrete areas and are thereby able to dominate it in our thought and action in a way that could previously hardly be imagined, yet the unavoidable questions concerning truth and values, life and death, become thereby ever more unanswerable.

The present-day crisis is due to the fact that the connecting link between the subjective and objective realms has disappeared, that reason and feeling are drifting apart, and that both are ailing because of it. Reason that operates in specialized areas in fact gains enormously in strength and capability, but because it is standardized according to a single type of certainty and rationality, it no longer offers any perspective on the fundamental questions of mankind. The result is an unhealthy overdevelopment in the realm of technical and pragmatic knowledge, as against a shrinking in that of basic fundamentals, and thus the balance between them is disturbed in a way that may be fatal for man’s humanity. On the other hand, religion today has by no means been made redundant. In many ways there is indeed a real boom in religion, but religion that collapses into particularism, not infrequently parting company with its sublime spiritual context, and that—instead of uplifting man—promises him greater power and the satisfaction of his needs. People look for what is irrational, superstitious, and magical; there is a danger of their falling back into an anarchic and destructive form of relationship with hidden powers and forces. We might be tempted to say that there is no crisis for religion today, but there is a crisis for Christianity. But I would disagree. For the mere spread of religious phenomena, or of those resembling religion, is not the same as a flourishing of religion. If there is a boom in defective forms of religious practice, that does indeed confirm that religion is not declining, yet it still shows that it is in a serious state of crisis. Even the illusion that in the place of a worn-out Christianity the Asiatic religions or Islam are a rising force is deceptive. It is quite obvious that in China and Japan the great traditional religions have proved incapable of resisting modern ideologies, or they do so only feebly. Yet even the religious vitality of India does not change the fact that there, too, new questions and old traditions have not as yet succeeded in coming to terms with each other. To what extent the new surge forward of the Islamic world is fuelled by truly religious forces is equally open to question. In many places, as we can see, there is the danger of a pathological development of the autonomy of feeling, which only reinforces that threat of horrifying things about which Pauli, Heisenberg, and Fest have been telling us.

There is nothing else for it: reason and religion will have to come together again, without merging into each other. It is not a matter of preserving the interests of old religious bodies. It is for the sake of man and the world. And neither of them, it is clear, can be saved unless God reappears in a convincing fashion. No one can claim to be sure of the way to deal with this emergency. That is impossible, if only because in a free society truth can find no other way to prevail, and should seek no other way, than simply by power of persuasion; yet persuasion can only be achieved with difficulty amid the multitude of pressures and demands to which people are subjected. We must venture an attempt to find the way, however, so as to make plausible once more, through various converging indications, something that for the most part lies far beyond the horizon of our own interests.

The God of Abraham

I have no intention here of taking up Heisenberg’s attempt to find a way of transcending the limitations of science on the basis of the inherent logic of scientific thought, so as to attain the “central order and organization”, however rewarding this effort may be and however indispensable. In this lecture I shall be aiming to disentangle, so to speak, the inner rationale of Christianity. The method will be that of asking what it actually was that made Christianity so persuasive, amid the collapse of the religions of antiquity, that it could, on the one hand, absorb the decline of that world and, at the same time, be able to pass on its answers to the new forces entering upon the stage of world history, the Germans and the Slavs, in such a way that, despite many radical changes and much destruction, a mode of understanding reality came into being that lasted for over fifteen hundred years, in which the old world and the new could form a unity. Here we meet with a difficulty. Christian faith is not a system. It cannot be portrayed as a complete, finished intellectual construction. It is a path, and it is characteristic of a path that it only becomes recognizable if you enter on it and start following it. This is true in two senses: for any individual, Christianity only opens up in the experiment of going along with others; and as a whole it can only be grasped as a historical path, whose main course I should like to sketch out in broad outline.

The path begins with Abraham. In the brief sketch I am attempting I cannot of course plunge into the undergrowth of multifarious hypotheses as to what may be regarded as historical in these old stories and what cannot, nor do I wish to do so. It is only a matter here of asking how these texts themselves, in the form in which they eventually became part of history, saw this path. The first thing to be said is that Abraham was someone who knew that God was speaking to him and who shaped his life on the basis of what was said. For comparison we might think of Socrates, whose “daemon” gave him a remarkable sort of inspiration—not, indeed, any positive revelation, but something that turned him onto another track whenever he was inclined just to follow his own ideas or to agree with the general opinion.[8] What can we make out about this God of Abraham’s? He certainly does not yet appear as making the monotheistic claims of the only God of all mankind and of the whole world, yet he does have quite specific traits. He is not the God of a particular nation, of a particular country; not the God of some particular sphere or realm, of the air or of water, and so forth, which were, in the religious context of the time, among the most important manifestations of divinity. He is the God of one person, of Abraham. This peculiarity, that he did not belong to a country, a people, a sphere of life, but related himself to a person, has two consequences worthy of note.

The first consequence was that for those people who belonged to him, for those he had chosen, this God was powerful everywhere. His power is not restricted by geographical or any other boundaries; he is able to accompany the person concerned, to guard him and guide him wherever he chooses and wherever he goes. Even the promise of land does not make him just God of a particular land, which would thenceforth be his only land. It shows, rather, that he can distribute lands as he chooses. We can therefore say that the personal God has effective power without limitations of space. Then there is a second thing, that he also has power without limitations of time, indeed, his way of speaking and acting essentially bears on the future. The dimension of his existence seems, at least at first sight, to be principally that of futurity, since he gives very little that is present. All the important things are given in the category of promise of what is to come—the blessing, the land. That means that he is plainly in control of the future, of time. For the persons concerned, this involves an attitude of a quite particular kind. They always have to live outward, beyond the present moment, life in a state of reaching out toward something else, something greater. The present moment is relativized. If, finally—and this could represent a third element—we refer to the particular character of this God, his “otherness” over against other people and other things, with the concept of “holiness”, then it becomes clear that this holiness, his being himself, has something to do with the dignity of man, with his moral integrity, as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah shows us. In this story there clearly appears, on one hand, the care and the kindness of this God, who is willing to spare even the wicked for the sake of a few good people; yet, on the other hand, there is at the same time the rejection of what may damage the dignity of man, which indeed takes effect in the judgment upon the two cities.

The Crisis and the Enlarging of Israel’s Faith in the Exile

In the subsequent development of the league of twelve tribes, together with their taking possession of the land, the rise of the monarchy, the building of the Temple, and with the giving of a highly diversified and detailed cultic law, the religion of Israel seems to a great extent to enter the realm of the kind of religion typical of the Near East. The God of the Fathers, the God of Sinai, has now become the God of a people, the God of a country, of a particular ordered way of life. That that was not all, and that in all the to-and-fro of religious life in Israel the particular and distinctive elements of its faith in God survived, and indeed developed further, can be seen at the time of the Exile. In the normal way of things, a God who loses his land, who leaves his people defeated and is unable to protect his sanctuary, is a God who has been overthrown. He has no more say in things. He vanishes from history. When Israel went into exile, quite astonishingly, the opposite happened. The stature of this God, the way he was completely different from the other divinities in the religions of the world, was now apparent, and the faith of Israel at last took on its true form and stature. This God could afford to let others have his land because he was not tied down to any country. He could allow his people to be defeated so as to awaken it thereby from its false religious dream. He was not dependent on this people, yet nevertheless he did not abandon them in their hour of defeat. He was not dependent upon the Temple or on the cult celebrated there, as was then commonly supposed: people gave nourishment to the gods, and the gods maintained the world. No, he did not need this cult, which to some extent had concealed his real being. Thus, together with a more profound concept of God, a new idea of worship developed. Certainly, since the time of Solomon the personal God of the Fathers had been identified with the high god, the Creator, who is known to all religions, but in general this latter had been excluded from worship, as not being responsible for one’s individual needs. This identification, which had been made in principle, although it had probably hitherto impinged little upon people’s consciousness, now became the driving force for survival of the faith: Israel has no particular God at all but simply worships the one single God. This God spoke to Abraham and chose Israel, but he is in reality the God of all peoples, the universal God who guides the course of all history. The purifying of the idea of worship belongs with this. God needs no sacrifice; he does not have to be nourished by men, because everything belongs to him. The true sacrifice is the man who has become worthy of God. Three hundred years after the Exile, in the similarly severe crisis of the Hellenistic suppression of the Temple cult, the Book of Daniel expressed it thus: “At this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation,. . . no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy. Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted” (Dan 3:38 = Prayer of Azariah 15-16). At the same time, given the failure of the present time to match up to the power and the goodness of God, the future aspect of Israel’s faith emerges with correspondingly greater emphasis; or, better, we might say that the present is made relative to a wider horizon that runs far beyond the moment, indeed beyond the whole world, so that the present can be properly dealt with and understood.

The Path to a Universal Religion, after the Exile

There are above all two new factors that characterize the five hundred years following the Exile, up to the appearance of Christ. There is first of all the rise of the so-called wisdom literature and the spiritual movement that underpins it. Alongside the law and the prophets, on the basis of whose books a canon of Scripture gradually began to be built up, as a yardstick for the religion of Israel, there appears a third pillar—that is, wisdom.[9] This is at first especially influenced by the Egyptian wisdom tradition, but subsequently it shows more and more evidence of contact with Greek thought. Here the faith in a single God is developed and given greater depth, and the criticism of the other gods, which already appears in the prophets, becomes more radical. The meaning of monotheism is further elucidated, and, associated with an attempt to understand the world in rational fashion, it becomes more rationally persuasive. It is the concept of wisdom that enables the idea of God and the interpretation of the world to be bracketed together. The rationality that is to be seen in the structure of the world is understood as a reflection of the creative wisdom that has produced it. The view of reality that now develops corresponds to some extent to the question Heisenberg formulated in the conversation we referred to in our introduction, when he said: “Is it completely meaningless to imagine, behind the ordering structures and principles of the world as a whole, a ‘consciousness’ whose ‘intention’ these would express?”[10] In the present-day discussion about the interplay of nature and thought, for instance in man, the question of reductibility is articulated: Can the phenomenon of thought be reduced to material terms, or is there some inexplicable element still remaining?[11] In this case, we would be able to talk rather of the opposite perspective: Thought is capable of producing material and is to be regarded as the true point of origin of reality, the starting point from which everything can be explained; the question remains of whether there is not some dark remainder that can no longer be derived in this way? The question has to be asked whether such a view is any less probable than the opinion expressed by Monod, which is to some extent representative of contemporary thinking, that the whole of nature’s concerto has grown up and developed from a few random murmurs of noise,[12] that is to say, that rationality has been derived from the irrational. The view of the wisdom books, which links God and the world through the idea of wisdom and conceives of the world as reflecting the rationality of the Creator, also then permits the association of cosmology with anthropology, that of understanding the world with morality, because wisdom, which builds up matter and the world, is at the same time a moral wisdom, which expresses essential guidelines for living. The whole of the Torah, Israel’s law for living, is now understood as wisdom’s self-portrait, as the translation of wisdom into human language and human instruction. A natural consequence of all this is a similarity to Greek thought, to some themes of Platonism, on one hand, and, on the other, to the Stoic association of morality with the interpretation of the world as divinely inspired.

The question concerning the remaining ungodly, irrational element in the world, which we touched on above, takes on the form in the wisdom literature of a dramatic struggle with the question of theodicy: the experience of suffering in the world becomes a major theme—in a world in which righteousness, goodness, and truth lose out time and again in the face of the unscrupulousness of those who are powerful. This produces, from a quite different starting point, a more profound understanding of morality, which is now dissociated from success and looks for significance precisely in suffering, in the defeat of righteousness. Finally there appears, in Job, the figure of the man from beyond the bounds of Israel whose piety and whose suffering are both exemplary.[13] There is then a second important step, which logically corresponds to the closer inner relationship to the world of Greek thought, to its enlightenment and its philosophy: the transition of Judaism into the Greek world, which took place above all in Alexandria, as the central meeting point of various cultures. The most important step in this process was the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, and the first stage—the translation of the five books of Moses—was completed as early as the third century before Christ. From then up to the first century there developed a Greek canon of sacred books, which was taken over by the Christians as their canon of the Old Testament.[14] The custom of calling this Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures the “Septuagint” (Book of the seventy) derives from the old legend that this translation was the work of seventy scholars. According to Deuteronomy 32: 8, seventy was the number of peoples in the world. Thus this legend may signify that with this translation the Old Testament moved beyond Israel, reaching out to all the peoples of the earth. That was indeed the effect this book had, and its translation did indeed in many respects further accentuate the universalistic trait in Israel’s religion—not least, in its picture of God, since the name of God, JHWH, no longer appeared as such but was replaced by the word Kyrios, ”Lord”. Thus the Old Testament’s spiritual concept of God was further developed, which was for practical purposes entirely consistent with the inner tendency of the development we have mentioned.

The faith of Israel, translated into Greek, insofar as it was reflected in its sacred books, quickly became an object of fascination for the enlightened minds of the ancient world, whose religion had, since the criticisms leveled by Socrates, suffered an increasing loss of credibility. In Socratic thought, however—in contrast to that of the sophistic movement—it was not scepticism, or even cynicism or mere pragmatism, that was the decisive element; here the longing for an appropriate form of religion, which would yet go beyond the capacities of reason itself, had come into play. Thus, on the one hand, people sought after the promises of the mystery cults that were spreading from the East, and, on the other hand, the Jewish faith looked like it might offer the answer that would save them. There was a connection made between God and the world, between rational thought and revelation, which exactly answered the requirements of reason and of the deeper religious longings. There was monotheism—and not deriving from philosophical speculation, in such a way that it would have no real religious force, because one cannot worship one’s own intellectual concepts, one’s own philosophical hypotheses. This monotheism derived from original religious experience and thus confirmed from above, so to speak, what thought had hesitantly been groping for. For the finest circles in late antiquity, the religion of Israel must have had something of the same fascination as did the Chinese world for Western Europe in the time of the Enlightenment, when people thought (mistakenly, as we now know) that they had at last discovered a society without any revelation or any mysteries, with a religion of pure morality and reason. Thus, all across the ancient world, there developed a network of so-called “God-fearers”, who attached themselves to the synagogue and its pure worship of the word, who felt sure that in attaching themselves to the faith of Israel they were coming into contact with the one God. This network of God-fearers, who believed in the faith of Israel in its Greek guise, was the precondition for the Christian mission: Christianity was that form of Judaism, with a universal dimension, in which what the Old Testament had hitherto been yet unable to give was now fully granted.

Christianity as the Synthesis of Faith and Reason

The faith of Israel, as portrayed in the Septuagint, demonstrated the harmony between God and world, between reason and mystery. It gave moral guidance, but there was still something missing: the universal God was still linked to a particular people; the universal morality was linked to most particular ways of life, which could simply not be lived at all outside of Israel; spiritual worship was still connected with Temple rituals, which one could well interpret symbolically but which had basically been rendered obsolete by the prophetic spirit and could not be appropriated by an inquiring mind. A non-Jew could only ever stand in the outer circle of this religion. He remained a “proselyte”, because full membership was bound up with physical descent from Abraham, with a national community. A dilemma also remained about how far specific Jewishness was needed in order for someone to be able to serve God aright and about who should be able to draw the line between what was indispensable and what was obsolete or historically incidental, the result of chance. Full universalism was impossible, because full membership for everyone was impossible. Christianity first brought about a breakthrough here, having “broken down the dividing wall” (Eph 2:14), and it did so in a threefold sense: the blood relationship with the patriarch is no longer necessary, because being united with Jesus brings about full membership, the true relationship. Everyone can now belong to this God; all men are to be permitted and to be able to become his people. The particularist legal and moral structures are no longer binding; they have become a historical prologue, because everything has been brought together in the person of Jesus Christ, and anyone who follows him is carrying within himself, and fulfilling, the whole essence of the law. The old cult has become invalid and has been abolished in Jesus’ self-offering to God and to mankind, which now appears as the true sacrifice, as the spiritual worship in which God and man embrace one another and are reconciled—something for which the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, stands there as a concrete and evermore present assurance. Perhaps the finest and most succinct expression of this new Christian synthesis is to be found in a confession in the First Letter of Saint John: “we know and believe the love” (1 Jn 4:16). Christ had become for these people the discovery of creative love; the rational principle of the universe had revealed itself as love—as that greater reason which accepts into itself even darkness and irrationality and heals them.

Thus the spiritual development that could be perceived in Israel’s path had attained its goal, the uninterrupted universality that was now a practical possibility. Reason and mystery had met together; the very fact that the whole had been brought together in one person had opened the door for everyone: through the one God, all could become brothers and sisters. And the theme of hope and the present moment took on a new form: the present was running toward the Risen One, toward a world in which God would be all in all. But precisely on that account, the present became significant and valuable as being present, permeated as it already was by the close presence of the Risen One, so that death no longer had the last word.

Seeking How to Make Truth Readily Acceptable

Can this evident truth, which at that time struck the ancient world to its depths and transformed it, be reinstated? Or is it irrevocably lost? What is standing in its way? There are many reasons for the current collapse, but I would say that the most important consists of the self-limitation of reason, which is paradoxically resting upon its laurels: the laws of method that brought it success have, through being generalized, become its prison. Natural science, which has built a new world, rests upon a philosophical foundation whose origin must be sought in Plato.[15] Copernicus, Galileo, and even Newton were Platonists. Their basic assumption was that the world is mathematically and rationally structured and that, starting from this assumption, we can decipher it and by experiment can make it equally comprehensible and useful. The innovation consisted in associating Platonism and an empirical approach, ideal and experiment. The experiment is based on an existing interpretative concept, which is then tried out in a practical test, corrected, and opened up to further questions. This mathematical anticipation alone can permit subsequent generalization, the recognition of laws, which then make possible appropriate action. All our ideas about natural science and all practical applications are based on the assumption that the world is ordered according to rational, spiritual laws, is imbued with rationality that can be traced out and copied by our reason. At the same time, however, our perception of it is associated with the test of experience.

Any thinking that goes beyond this connection, that tries to look at reason in itself or to see it as preceding the present world, is contrary to the discipline of scientific method and is therefore utterly rejected as being a prescientific or unscientific way of thinking. The Logos, Wisdom, about which the Greeks spoke, on the one hand, and the Israelites, on the other, has been taken back into the material world and cannot be addressed outside of it. Within the specific path followed by natural science, this limitation is necessary and right. If, however, it is declared to be the absolute and unsurpassable form of human thought, then the basis of science itself becomes contradictory; for it is both proclaiming and denying the power of reason. But above all, a self-limiting reason of that kind is an amputated reason. If man cannot use his reason to ask about the essential things in his life, where he comes from and where he is going, about what he should do and may do, about living and dying, but has to leave these decisive questions to feeling, divorced from reason, then he is not elevating reason but dishonoring it. The disintegration of man, thus brought about, results equally in a pathological form of religion and a pathological form of science. It is quite obvious today that with the detachment of religion from its responsibility to reason, pathological forms of religion are constantly increasing. But when we think of scientific projects that set no real value on man, such as cloning, the production of fetuses—that is, of people—simply in order to use their organs for developing pharmaceutical products, or indeed for any economic exploitation, or if we think of the way science is made use of to produce ever more frightful means for the destruction of men and of the world, then it is obvious that there is such a thing as science that has taken a pathological form: science becomes pathological and a threat to life when it takes leave of the moral order of human life, becomes autonomous, and no longer recognizes any standard but its own capabilities.

That means that the scope of reason must be enlarged once more. We have to come out of the prison we have built for ourselves and recognize other forms of ascertaining things, forms in which the whole of man comes into play. What we need is something like what we find in Socrates: a patient readiness, opened up and looking beyond itself. This readiness to look at things, in its time, brought together the two eyes of reason, Athens and Jerusalem, and made possible a new stage in history. We need a new readiness to seek the truth and also the humility to let ourselves be found. The strict application of methodical discipline should not mean just the pursuit of success; it should mean the pursuit of truth and the readiness to find it. That methodological strictness, which again and again lays upon us the obligation to subject ourselves to what we have found, and not just to follow our own wishes, can amount to a great school in being human and can make man capable of recognizing and appreciating truth. The humility that gives way to what has been found and does not try to manipulate it should not, however, become a false modesty that takes away our courage to recognize the truth. All the more must it oppose the pursuit of power, which is only interested in dominating the world and is no longer willing to perceive its inner logic, which sets limits to our desire to dominate. Ecological disasters could serve as a warning to us, that we may see where science is no longer at the service of truth but is destructive both of the world and of man. The ability to hear such warnings, the will to let oneself be purified by the truth, is essential. And I would add that the mystical capacity of the human mind needs to be strengthened again. The capacity to renounce oneself, a greater inner openness, the discipline to withdraw ourselves from noise and from all that presses on our attention, should once more be for all of us goals that we recognize as being among our priorities. We find Paul pleading that the inner man may be strengthened (Eph 3:16). Let us be honest about it: today there is a hypertrophy of the outer man, and his inner strength has been alarmingly weakened.

So as not to remain on too abstract a level, I should like to end by using a picture to make clear what has been said: a picture taken from history. Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604), in his Dialogues, tells about the last weeks in the life of Saint Benedict. The founder of the monastic order had lain down to sleep in the upper story of a tower, which was reached from below by “a vertical ladder”. He then got up, before the time for night prayers, to keep a nighttime vigil; “He stood at the window and prayed earnestly to almighty God. While he was looking out, in the middle of the dark night, he suddenly saw a light pouring down from above and driving all the darkness of the night away. . . . Something quite marvelous happened in this vision, as he himself later recounted: the whole world was held before his eyes, as if brought together in a single ray of sunshine.”[16] Gregory’s interlocutor countered this story with the same question that springs to the mind of someone hearing it today: “What you have said, that Benedict saw the whole world brought together before his eyes in a single ray of sunshine, is something I have never encountered, and I just cannot imagine it. How could one person ever see the whole world?” The essential sentence in the Pope’s reply is as follows: “If he. . . saw the whole world as one before him, then it was not that heaven and earth became narrower but the visionary’s soul became so wide.”[17]

Every detail is significant in this picture: the night, the tower, the ladder, the upper room, the standing, the window. It all has, over and beyond the topographical and biographical narration, great symbolic depth: by a long and difficult journey, which began in a cave near Subiaco, this man has climbed up the mountain and finally up the tower. His life has been an inner climb, step by step, up the “vertical ladder”. He has reached the tower and, then, the “upper room”, which from the time of the Acts of the Apostles has been understood as a symbol of being brought together and drawn up, rising up out of the world of making and doing. He is standing at the window—he has sought and found the place where he can look out, where the wall of the world has been opened up and he can gaze into the open. He is standing. In monastic tradition, someone standing represents a man who has straightened himself up from being crouched and doubled up and is thus, not only able to stare at the earth, but he has achieved upright status and the ability to look up.[18] Thus he becomes a seer. It is not the world that is narrowed down but the soul that is broadened out, being no longer absorbed in the particular, no longer looking at the trees and unable to see the wood, but now able to view the whole. Even better, he can see the whole because he is looking at it from on high, and he is able to gain this vantage point because he has grown inwardly great. We may hear an echo of the old tradition of man as a microcosm who embraces the whole world. Yet the essential point is this: man has to learn to climb up; he has to grow and broaden out. He has to stand at the window. He must gaze out. And then the light of God can touch him; he can recognize it and can gain from it the true overview. Our being planted on earth should never become so exclusive that we become incapable of ascending, of standing upright. Those great men who, by patient climbing and by the repeated purification they have received in their lives, have become seers and, therefore, pathfinders for the centuries are also relevant to us today. They show us how light may be found even in the night and how we can meet the threats that rise up from the abysses of human existence and can meet the future as men who hope.


[1] W. Heisenberg, Der Teil und das Ganze: Gespräche im Umkreis der Atom-physik (Munich: R. Piper, 1969), p. 117 [Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York: Harper and Row, 1971)]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 118; cf. p. 295.

[4] J. Fest, Die schwierige Freiheit: Uber die offene Flanke der offenen Gesellschaft [Difficult freedom: The unguarded flank of the open society] (Berlin: Siedler, 1993), p. 75.

[5] Ibid., p. 79.

[6] Heisenberg, Teil und das Ganze, pp. 288ff.

[7] F. Schleiermacher, Uber die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihrer Veröchtern, Philosophische Bibliothek., vol. 225 (1799; reprt., Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1958), p. 30 [English trans., On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, trans. J. Oman (1893; reprt., New York: Harper, 1958)].

[8] The negative character of this “voice” is made clear, for instance, in Apologia 31d:ϕωνη τις γενομένη. . . ἀέι ἀποτϱέπει . . . πϱοστϱέπει δέ οὐδέποτε. On the form of this voice, see R. Guardini, Der Tod des Sokrates, 5th ed. (Mainz and Paderborn: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1987), pp. 87ff. [English trans., The Death of Socrates: An Interpretation of the Platonic Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1948)].

[9] G. von Rad, Weisheit in Israel (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1970) [English trans., Wisdom in Israel, trans. James D. Marton (London: S.C.M. Press, 1972)], still remains basic for understanding the wisdom literature of the Old Testament; see also L. Bouyer, Cosmos (Paris: Cerf, 1982), pp. 99-128 [English trans., Cosmos: The World and the Glory of God, trans. Pierre de Fontnouvelle (Petersham, Mass.: St. Bede’s, 1988)].

[10] Heisenberg, Teil und das Ganze, p. 290.

[11] G. Beintrup, Das Leib-Seele-Problem: Eine Einführung [The problem of body and soul: An introduction] (Stuttgart, 1996), offers a good account of the current discussion of this subject. See also O. B. Linke and M. Kurthen, Parallelitat von Gehirn du Seele: Neurowissenschaf und Leib-Seele-Problem [The parallel between brain and soul: Neurology and the problem of body and soul] (Stuttgart, 1988).

[12] J. Monod, Zufall und Notwendigkeit: Philosophische Fragen der modernen Biologie, trans. from the French [Le Hasard et la necessite: Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne], 5th ed. (Munich: Piper, 1973), p. 149 [English trans., Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (New York: Knopf, 1971)], cf. pp. 141f.: “It thus necessarily follows that only chance alone can be the basis of each and every innovation, every creative development in living nature. Sheer chance, nothing but chance, blind and absolute freedom as the foundation of the marvelous construction of evolution—this central insight of modern biology is today no longer merely one among various possible, or at least imaginable, hypotheses; it is the only conceivable hypothesis, since it is the only one that corresponds to the facts of observation and experience.” Cf. J. Ratzinger, Im Anfang schuf Gott, 2nd ed. (Einsiedeln and Freiburg: Johannes Verlag, 1996), pp. 53-59 [English trans., In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, trans. Boniface Ramsey (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 1990)].

[13] On Job one should consult above all the great commentary of G. Ravasi, Giobbe: Traduzione e commento, 3rd ed. (Rome: Edizioni Borla, 1993), which also gives detailed consideration to the modern philosophical and theological interpretations of this figure.

[14] On the question ofthe relationship between the Hebrew and Greek canon and the Christian Old Testament, see C. Dohmen, “Der Biblische Kanon in der Diskussion” [The canon of the Bible in discussion], Theologische Revue 91 (1995): 451-59; A. Schenker, “Septuaginta und christliche Bibel” [The Septuagint and the Christian Bible], Theologische Revue 91 (1995): 459-64.

[15] On the Platonic origins of modern natural science, see N. Schiffers, Fragen der Physik an die Theologie [Questions posed by physics to theology] (Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1968); W. Heisenberg, Das Naturbild der heutigen Physik, 7th ed. (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1959) [English trans., The Physicist’s Conception of Nature (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958)]. Cf. also Monod, Zufall und Notwendigkeit, e.g., p. 133, where he explicitly portrays modern biology as owing much to Platonism: The “hopes of the most convinced Platonist”, he says, have been “more than fulfilled” by modern discoveries. B. d’Espagnat, “La Physique actuelle et la philosophie” [Current physics and philosophy], Revue des sciences morales etpolitiques, 1997, no. 3:29-45, is also prepared to allow that modern physics resembles the ideas of Plato and Plotinus in some respects.

[16] Gregory the Great, Dialogi 2:35:1-3; I have used the Latin-German edition of the Salzburg Conference of Abbots: Gregory the Great, Der heilige Benedikt: Buch II der Dialoge (St. Ottilien: EOS-Verlag, 1995). My interpretation is heavily indebted to the excellent introduction to be found there, especially pp. 53-64.

[17] Ibid., 2:35:5 and 7.

[18] See the interpretation offered in ibid., pp. 60-63.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Freedom and Truth

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

1. The Question

In the consciousness of mankind today, freedom is largely regarded as the greatest good there is, after which all other good things have to take their place. In legislation, artistic freedom and freedom of speech take precedence over every other moral value. Values that conflict with freedom, that could lead to its being restricted, appear as shackles, as “taboos”, that is to say, as relics of archaic prohibitions and anxieties. Political action has to demonstrate that it furthers freedom. Even religion can make an impression only by depicting itself as a force for freedom for man and for mankind. In the scale of values with which man is concerned, to live a life worthy of humanity, freedom seems to be the truly fundamental value and to be the really basic human right of them all. The concept of truth, on the other hand, we greet rather with some suspicion: we recall how many opinions and systems have already laid claim to the concept of truth; how often the claim to truth in that way has been the means of limiting freedom. In addition there is the scepticism fostered by natural science regarding anything that cannot be precisely explained or demonstrated: that all seems in the final analysis to be just subjective judgment, which cannot claim to be obligatory for people in general. The modern attitude to truth shows itself most succinctly in Pilate’s words:

What is truth? Anyone who claims to be serving truthwith his life, and with his words and actions, must be prepared to be regardedas an enthusiast or a fanatic. For “Our line of sight to all above is blocked”;this quotation from Goethe’s Faust sums up the way we all feel about it.

There is no doubt that we have reason enough, in the face of a sentimental and all-too-confident claim to truth, to ask: What is truth? Yet we have just as much reason to put the question: What is freedom? What do we actually mean when we praise freedom and set it on the highest level of our scale of values? I believe that the content generally associated with the demand for freedom is most accurately described in the words Karl Marx once used to express his dream of freedom. The state of affairs in the future Communist society will make it possible “to do one thing today, another tomorrow, to go shooting in the morning and fishing in the afternoon and in the evening look after the cattle, to indulge in criticism after dinner, just as the fancy takes me”.[1] It is just in this way that the average attitude, without thinking about it, understands by “freedom” the right, and the practical possibility, of doing everything we wish and not having to do anything we do not wish to do. Putting it another way, freedom would mean that our own will was the only criterion for our action and that this will would be able to want to do anything and also be able to put into practice anything it wanted. At this point the question arises, of course: How free in fact is our will? And how rational is it?—And, is an irrational will truly a free will? Is irrational freedom truly freedom? Is it really a good thing? Does not the definition of freedom, as being able to decide to do anything and being able to do what we decide, have to be expanded to include the connection with reason, with mankind as a whole, in order to avoid becoming tyranny and unreason? And will not seeking for the common reason of all men, and thus the mutual compatibility of freedoms, be a part of the interplay of reason and the will? It is obvious that the question of truth is concealed within the question of the rationality of the will and its relation to reason.

We are brought up against such questions, not merely by abstract philosophical reflections, but also by our quite concrete situation in a society in which the demand for freedom is indeed unbroken yet doubts concerning all previous forms of movements for freedom and systems for ensuring freedom appear in ever more dramatic form. Let us not forget that Marxism, as the one great political force of our twentieth century, made its appearance with the claim to be bringing a new world of freedom and of free people. This very promise of knowing the scientifically guaranteed way to freedom, and of creating the new world, drew to it many of the boldest spirits of our age; ultimately, it even appeared as the force through which the Christian teaching of redemption could be transformed into a realistic practical means for liberation—as the force that could bring the Kingdom of God as the true kingdom of men. The collapse of realist socialism in the East European states has not quite laid aside all such hopes, and here and there they still subsist, silently awaiting some new form. There was no real spiritual defeat corresponding to the political and economic collapse, and to that extent the questions raised by Marxism have by no means been solved. Even so, the fact that his system did not work in the way that had been promised is quite clear. No one can any longer seriously deny that what was supposed to be a movement to bring freedom was, along with National Socialism, the greatest system of slavery in modern history: the extent of the cynical destruction of human beings and of the world is very often passed over in shame and silence, but no one can deny it any longer.

The moral superiority of the liberal system in politics and the economy that thus emerged arouses no enthusiasm, even so. The number of those who have no share in the fruits of this freedom is too great—those, indeed, who lose every kind of freedom: being out of work has once more become a mass phenomenon; the feeling of not being needed, of being superfluous, torments people no less than material poverty. Unscrupulous exploitation is becoming widespread; organized crime is making use of the opportunities of the free world; and in the midst of it all the ghost of meaninglessness is wandering around. At the Salzburg Further Education sessions in 1995, the Polish philosopher Andrej Szczypiorski described in pitiless clarity the dilemma of freedom that came into being with the fall of the wall; it is worthwhile listening to him at some length:

No doubt canremain that capitalism was a great step forward. And equally, no doubt canremain that it failed to fulfill expectations. In capitalism, the cry of thegreat masses is always to be heard, the masses whose cravings are unfulfilled. . . . The declineof the Soviet conception of the world and of man embodied in its political andsocial practice meant the liberation of millions of human lives out of serfdom.But in terms of the heritage of European thought, in the light of the traditionof the last two hundred years, the anti-Communist revolution also means the endof the illusions of the Enlightenment, that is, the destruction of theintellectual concept that formed the basis of the development of early Europe. . . . A remarkableage of growing uniformity in development, hitherto unknown anywhere, has begun.And suddenly it has appeared—probably for the first time in history—as if therewere only a single recipe, a single way forward, one single model, and just oneway of shaping the future. And people lost their belief in the sense of thetransformations that were taking place. They lost hope in the possibility ofchanging the world at all and in its being worth the effort to change theworld. . . . Yet the current lack of any alternative inducespeople to ask entirely new questions. The first question is: Perhaps the Westwas not right, after all? The second question: If the West was not right, thenwho was right? Because no doubt remains, for everyone in Europe, that Communismwas not right, then the third question arises: Perhaps there is no such thingas being right? But if that is the case, then the entire intellectual heritageof the Enlightenment is worthless. . . . Perhaps the veteran Enlightenment steam engine,after two hundred years of useful and undisturbed work, has stopped before oureyes and with our cooperation. And the steam is just going up into the air. Ifthat is in fact so, then the outlook is indeed dark.[2]

However much one might put counterquestions here, the realism and the logic of Szczypiorski’s fundamental questions cannot be set aside; yet at the same time, the diagnosis is so oppressive that one cannot just stand still in the face of it. Was no one right? Perhaps there is no such thing as being right? Are the foundations of the European Enlightenment, upon which our path to freedom is built, false—or at least, defective? The question, “What is freedom?” is ultimately no less complicated than the question, “What is truth?” The dilemma of the Enlightenment, into which we have undeniably fallen, obliges us to put these two questions anew and also to renew our search for the relation between the two. To find a way forward, we have therefore to reconsider the starting point of the modern path to freedom; the correction to our course, which we obviously need so that paths may become visible once more in the darkness before us, must be made on the basis of the starting points themselves and be worked out from there. Here, of course, I can only try to highlight a couple of points, to hint at some of the strong points and the dangers of the modern way, so as to prompt new reflections.

2. The Problems Associated with the Modern History of Freedom and with Its Conception of Freedom

There is no doubt: the era we call modern times has been determined from the beginning by the theme of freedom; the striving for new forms of freedom is the only basis upon which to justify such a division into periods. Luther’s controversial polemic “The Freedom of the Christian Man” immediately strikes the note of this theme in strong tones.[3] It was the call of freedom that caught men’s ear, that set off a real avalanche and brought into being, from the writings of a monk, a mass movement that completely changed the face of the medieval world. It was a matter of the freedom of conscience as against ecclesiastical authority, that is, of the inmost freedom man has. It is not social institutions that save man, but his own personal faith in Christ. The fact that, suddenly, the whole institutional system of the medieval Church no longer ultimately counted for anything was felt to be an enormous liberating thrust. The institutions that were actually supposed to support and save people appeared to be a burden; they were no longer obligatory, which meant they no longer had any significance for redemption. Redemption is liberation, being liberated from the yoke of supra-individual institutions. Even if one ought not to talk about the individualism of the Reformation, this new significance of the individual and the transposition of the relationship between the individual conscience and authority is nonetheless a characteristic trait. This movement for liberation did of course remain limited to the religious realm. Wherever it became a political program, as in the peasants’ wars and in the Baptists’ movement, Luther vigorously opposed it. In the political sphere, quite to the contrary, with the creation of state churches and provincial churches, worldly authority was increased and strengthened. In the Anglo-Saxon sphere, the Free Churches then broke out of the mold of this amalgamation of religious and political power structures and thus became heralds of a new historical structure, which then in the second phase of the modern period, the Enlightenment, took clear shape.

What the whole Enlightenment has in common is the desire for emancipation, first of all in the sense of Kant’s sapere aude—; dare to use your reason for yourself. It is a matter of the individual reason breaking free of the constraints of authority, which should in every case be subjected to critical examination. Only what can be rationally comprehended should be allowed to continue. This philosophical program is of its nature also a political program: reason alone should rule; there should ultimately be no authority other than reason. Only what can be readily understood should be allowed. What is not “rational”, that is, able to be readily understood, cannot be obligatory either. This basic trend of the Enlightenment is, however, presented in various, indeed contradictory, social philosophies and political programs. It seems to me we may distinguish two main tendencies: the Anglo-Saxon trend, which is more inclined to natural law and tends toward constitutional democracy as being the only system realistically ensuring freedom; over against that, the radical direction launched by Rousseau, which ultimately aims at complete freedom from any rule. The natural law school of thought criticizes positive law and concrete forms of rule by the standard of the inherent rights of human existence, which are prior to all legal ordinances and constitute their standard and their basis. “Man is created free, is free even if he is born in chains”, is what Friedrick Schiller said to the same effect. That is not a statement to comfort slaves with metaphysical thoughts; rather, it is a polemical assertion, a principle for action. Legal systems that create slavery are systems of injustice. Man has rights on the basis of his creation, rights that must be brought into effect, that justice may prevail. Freedom is not granted to man from without; he has rights because he was created free. The idea of human rights developed from this way of thinking, as the Magna Carta of the movement for freedom.

If “nature” is being talked about here, then what is meant is not just a system of biological processes. Rather, what is being said is that prior to all systems of order, within man himself, on the basis of his nature, there are rights. In that sense, the idea of human rights is in the first instance a revolutionary idea: it stands against the absolutism of the state, against the arbitrary will of positive legislation. Yet it is also a metaphysical idea: inherent in being itself there is an ethical and legal claim. Being is not blindly material, so that one might shape it in accordance with sheer utilitarian aims. Nature bears spirit within it, bears ethical value and dignity, and thus at the same time constitutes the legal claim to our liberation and the standard for this. What we have here is in principle identical with the concept of nature in Romans 2, which was inspired by Stoic teaching transformed by the theology of creation: the pagans know the law “from nature” and are thus a law for themselves (Rom 2:14).

What we may regard as specifically enlightened and modern in this line of thought is that the legal claims of nature against the existing institutions of government take the form above all of calling for the rights of the individual over against the state and against institutions. It is seen as being the nature of man, above all, that he has rights against society, rights that have to be protected from society: the institution appears as the opposite pole to freedom; the individual appears as supporting freedom and as its goal, the emancipation of the individual.

Therein this tendency joins forces with the second movement, which was from the start more radical: for Rousseau, everything created by reason and the will is contrary to nature, is a corruption and a contradiction of it. The concept of nature is not so much itself shaped here by the idea of justice, so that the natural law is prior to all of our institutions. Rousseau’s concept of nature is antimetaphysical, directed toward the dream of a complete freedom unregulated by anything.[4] Something similar again makes its appearance with Nietzsche, who sets the intoxicating Dionysiac element in opposition to the ordered Apollonian, conjuring up primeval oppositions from the history of religion: the ordering activity of reason that Apollo stands for spoils the free and untrammeled intoxication of nature.[5] Klages took up the same theme, with the idea of spirit as that which opposes the soul: The spirit is not the great new gift that alone brings freedom for the first time; rather, it is the factor that undermines our original self with its passion and freedom.[6] In a certain sense this attack on the spirit is anti-Enlightenment, and to that extent National Socialism, with its hostility to the Enlightenment and its adoration of “blood and soil”, could claim support from such tendencies. Yet the basic theme of the Enlightenment, the cry for freedom, is not just at work here; rather, it has been taken to its most extreme form. In the political radicalism of the last century, as of the present one, in contrast to the domesticated democratic form of freedom, such movements have broken out again and again, in many different forms. The French Revolution, which had started with an idea of constitutional democracy, quickly threw off these shackles and set out on the road of Rousseau and of anarchic concepts of freedom; and in doing so it inevitably turned into a bloodthirsty dictatorship.

Marxism, too, continues this radical line: it has always criticized democratic freedom as merely apparent freedom and has promised a better and more radical freedom. Indeed, its fascination derived from the fact that it promised a greater and more daring freedom than is ever realized in democracies. Two aspects of the Marxist system seem to me to be of particular importance for the whole problem of freedom in the modern era and for the question of freedom and truth:

a. Marxism makes the assumption that freedom is indivisible, that is, that it only exists as such when it is the freedom of everyone. Freedom is linked to equality: in order for freedom to exist, equality must first be restored. That means that in pursuit of the goal of complete freedom, some renunciation of freedom is required. The solidarity of those who are fighting for the common freedom of all must precede the establishment of individual freedoms. The quotation from Marx with which we started shows that the end is once more nonetheless the idea of the limitless freedom of the individual, but for the present the social aspect takes priority; equality takes priority over freedom, and therefore the rights of society as against the individual.

b. Associated with that is the assumption that the freedom of the individual is dependent upon the structure of the whole and that the struggle for freedom must for the moment be waged, not as a struggle for the rights of the individual, but as the struggle for a changed social structure in the world. As to the question of what this structure would look like and, hence, what the rational means to achieve it would be, Marxism runs out of breath at that point. For a blind man could see that none of the structures that have been constructed, for the sake of which the renunciation of freedom is demanded, truly render freedom possible. But intellectuals are blind where their mental constructs are concerned. That is why they could dispense with any realism and continue to struggle for a system whose promises just could not be kept. People took refuge in mythology: the new structures would produce a new man—for indeed, the promises could only work with new men, with quite different men. If the moral character of Marxism lies in promoting solidarity and in the idea of the indivisibility of freedom, in its heralding of a new man a lie could be seen that also paralyzed the initial moral effort. Partial truths are made subordinate to a lie, and thus the whole thing comes to grief: the lies about freedom cancel out the elements of truth. Freedom without truth is no freedom.

That is where we are standing now. We have come back again to the problems that Szczypiorski formulated in such drastic fashion in Salzburg. We now know what is a lie—at least in relation to the forms Marxism has hitherto taken. But we are still a long way from knowing what is true. Indeed, our fear is growing: Perhaps there is no such thing as truth? Perhaps there is no such thing as being right or the right thing to do? Perhaps we have to be satisfied with a minimum of absolutely necessary institutions? Yet perhaps even those may not work, as the most recent developments in the Balkans and in so many other parts of the world show us? Scepticism is growing, and the reasons for it are becoming stronger, yet the desire for the absolute is not to be set aside.

The feeling that democracy is still not the right form of freedom is fairly general and is steadily becoming more widespread. One cannot simply push aside the Marxist criticism of democracy: How free are elections? To what extent is the people’s will manipulated by publicity, that is, by capital, by the agency of a few people who dominate public opinion? Is there not a new oligarchy of the people who decide what is modern and progressive, what somebody enlightened has to think? How fearsome this oligarchy is, the way they can publicly execute people, is well enough known. Anyone who gets in their way is an enemy of freedom because he is preventing freedom of expression. And what about the way public opinion is shaped in democratically representative councils and committees? Who can still believe that the general good is what really determines their decisions? Who can doubt the power of interests whose dirty hands are being seen more and more often? And is this system of majority and minority really a system of freedom at all? Are not alliances in this or that interest, of every kind, becoming visibly stronger than the actual political representation in Parliament? In this confusion of forces the problem of society becoming ungovernable is an ever greater threat: the desire of opposing groups for domination blocks the freedom of the whole.

There is, no doubt, flirtation with authoritarian solutions, a flight from uncontrolled freedom. But this attitude is not yet characteristic of the spirit of this century. The radical tendency of the Enlightenment has not lost its effectiveness; indeed, it is growing stronger. Precisely in view of the limitations of democracy, the call for total freedom is growing louder. Now as ever—indeed, quite noticeably—“law and order” is seen as the opposite of freedom. Now as ever, institutions, tradition, authority as such appear as the opposite pole from freedom. The anarchistic trait in the demand for freedom is growing stronger, because people are not satisfied with the ordered forms of social freedom. The great promises of the dawn of the modern era were not redeemed, yet their fascination is unbroken. Nowadays the democratically ordered form of freedom can no longer be defended just by this or that reform of the law. The foundations are being called into question. It is a matter of what man is and of how he, as an individual and as a whole, can live the right life.

One can see it: the political, the philosophical, and the religious problems of freedom have become an indissoluble whole; anyone looking for ways forward into the future must keep the whole of this in view and cannot make do with superficial pragmatic action. Before I attempt to give a few indications, in the final section, as to the ways forward that seem to me to be open to us, I should like to glance at what is perhaps the most radical philosophy of freedom in this past century, that of J. P. Sartre, where the whole seriousness and stature of the question become clear. Sartre regards the freedom of man as being his damnation. In contrast to animals, man has no “nature”. An animal lives its life according to the pattern of law that it has inbuilt within it; it does not need to consider what to do with its life. But the being of man is undetermined. It is an open question. I have to decide for myself what I understand by “being a man”, what I can do about it, what shape I can give it. Man has no nature but is simply freedom. He has to live his life in some direction or other, yet it runs out into nothingness even so. His meaningless freedom is man’s hell. What is exciting about this proposition is that the separation of freedom and truth is carried through quite radically here: there is no truth. Freedom is without direction or measure.[7] Yet this complete absence of truth, the complete absence also of any kind of moral or metaphysical restraint, the absolute anarchic freedom of man constituted by his self-determination, is revealed, for anyone who tries to live it out, not as the most sublime exaltation of existence, but as a life of nothingness, as absolute emptiness, as the definition of damnation. In this extrapolation of a radical concept of freedom, which was for Sartre his experience of life, it becomes clear that being freed from truth does not engender pure freedom; rather, it abolishes it. The anarchistic freedom, taken to a radical conclusion, does not redeem man; rather, it makes him into a faulty creation, living without meaning.

3. Freedom and Truth

3.1 On the Nature of Human Freedom

Following this attempt to understand the origins of our problems, and thus to bring their inner impulse before us, it is now time to look for an answer. It must have become clear that the crisis in the history of freedom in which we find ourselves arises from an unclarified and one-sided conception of freedom. On the one hand, people have isolated the concept of freedom and have thereby distorted it: freedom is good, but it is only good in association with other good things, with which it constitutes an indissoluble whole. On the other hand, people have narrowed down the concept of freedom to individual rights and freedoms and have thus robbed it of its human verity. I should like to make clear the problem of this understanding of freedom with one concrete example, which can at the same time open up for us the way toward a more appropriate conception of freedom. I mean the question of abortion. In the radical version of the Enlightenment’s individualistic tendency, abortion appears to be one of the rights of freedom: a woman must be able to have total control over herself. She must have the freedom to bring a child into the world or to rid herself of it. She must be able to make decisions concerning herself, and nobody else—so we are told—can impose upon her, from without, any ultimately binding norm. It is a matter of the right of self-determination. But, in an abortion, is the woman actually making a decision that concerns herself? Is she not in fact making a decision about someone else—deciding that this other person should be allowed no freedom, that the sphere of freedom—his life—should be taken away from him because it is in competition with her own freedom? And thus we should ask: What kind of a freedom is this that numbers among its rights that of abolishing someone else’s freedom right from the start?

Now people should not say that the problem of abortion touches on a specific special case and does not help to clarify the problem of freedom as a whole. On the contrary, in this particular example the basic shape of human freedom, its typically human character, becomes clear. For what is at issue here? The being of another person is so closely interwoven with the being of this first person, the mother, that for the moment it can only exist at all in bodily association with the mother, in a physical union with her, which nonetheless does not abolish its otherness and does not permit us to dispute its being itself. Of course, this being itself is, in quite radical fashion, a being from the other person, through the other person; conversely, the being of the other person—the mother—is forced through this coexistence into an existence-for-someone that contradicts its own self-will and is thus experienced as the contrary of its own freedom. Now, we have to add that the child, even when he is born and the outward form of being-from and of coexistence changes, remains even so just as dependent, just as much in need of someone being there for it. Of course, you can push it away into a home and assign someone else to be there for it, but the anthropological figure stays the same; it remains the derived being, demanding someone be there for it, meaning an assumption of the limits of my freedom, or rather the living of my freedom, not in competition, but in mutual support.

If we open our eyes, we see that this is not only true of a child, that the child in its mother’s womb just makes us most vividly aware of the nature of human existence as a whole: it is also true of the adult that he can exist only with the other person and from him and is thus forever dependent on this being for that he would most of all like to eliminate. Let us put it more precisely: Man presumes completely of his own accord that others will be there for him, as has been arranged today in the network of services provided, yet for his own part he would prefer not to be included in the constraint of such a “from” and “for” others; rather, he would prefer to become entirely independent, to be able to do and allow only just what he wants. The radical demand for freedom that arose with ever greater clarity in the path of the Enlightenment, especially along the line established by Rousseau, and that today is largely determinative of general consciousness, wishes to be neither “coming from” nor “going toward”, wishes to exist neither from nor for another, but just to be completely free. That is to say, it regards the real basic shape of human existence itself as an attack on freedom that is prior to every individual life and activity; it would like to be freed from its own human nature and existence itself to become a “new man”: in the new society, these dependencies that restrict the self and this obligation to give of oneself should not be allowed to exist.

Basically, what clearly stands behind the modern era’s radical demand for freedom is the promise: You will be like God. Even if Ernst Topitsch believed he could establish that no rational man still wanted nowadays to be like God or equal to God, if we look more closely we have to maintain the very opposite: The implicit goal of all modern freedom movements is, in the end, to be like a god, dependent on nothing and nobody, with one’s own freedom not restricted by anyone else’s. When we first take a look at this hidden theological core in the radical desire for freedom, then the fundamental error also becomes clear, which is having an effect even where such radical programs are not specifically desired, where they are even rejected. Being completely free, without the competition of any other freedom, without any “from” and “for”—behind that stands, not an image of God, but the image of an idol. The primeval error of such a radically developed desire for freedom lies in the idea of a divinity that is conceived as being purely egotistical. The god thus conceived of is, not God, but an idol, indeed, the image of what the Christian tradition would call the devil, the anti-god, because therein lies the radical opposite of the true God: the true God is, of his own nature, being-for (Father), being-from (Son), and being-with (Holy Spirit). Yet man is in the image of God precisely because the being for, from, and with constitute the basic anthropological shape. Whenever people try to free themselves from this, they are moving, not toward divinity, but toward dehumanizing, toward the destruction of being itself through the destruction of truth. The Jacobin variant of the idea of liberation (let us just use that term for modern forms of radicalism) is a rebellion against being human in itself, rebellion against truth, and that is why it leads people—as Sartre percipiently observed—into a self-contradictory existence that we call hell.

It has thus become fairly clear that freedom is linked to a yardstick, the yardstick of reality—to truth. Freedom to destroy one-self or to destroy others is not freedom but a diabolical parody. The freedom of man is a shared freedom, freedom in a coexistence of other freedoms, which are mutually limiting and thus mutually supportive: freedom must be measured according to what I am, what we are—otherwise it abolishes itself. Now, however, we come to a substantial correction to the superficial present-day picture of freedom that has hitherto been largely dominant: If the freedom of man can only continue to exist within an ordered coexistence of freedoms, then this means that order—law—is, not the concept contrary to that of freedom, but its condition, indeed, a constitutive element of freedom itself. Law is not the obstacle to freedom; rather, it constitutes freedom. The absence of law is the absence of freedom.

3.2 Freedom and Responsibility

When we recognize this, of course, a new question also arises: What kind of law is consonant with freedom? How must the law be constituted in order for it to be a law of freedom, for there is definitely a pseudo-law that is a law of slaves and is therefore, not a law at all, but a regulated form of injustice. Our criticism should not be directed against law itself, which belongs to the essence of freedom; it should serve to convict merely pseudo-law as such and should serve the emergence of true law—of that law which is consonant with the truth and, therefore, with freedom.

But how do we find it? That is the big question, the question that is at least correctly put, concerning the real history of liberation. Let us proceed here, as we have done up to now, not with abstract philosophical considerations, but let us try instead to feel our way toward an answer, starting from the given realities of history. Let us start with a small community we can view as a whole, so that from its capabilities and limitations it may to some extent be possible to fathom what form of order best serves the life together of all its members, so that a common shape of freedom arises from their coexistence. But no small community exists of itself; it is sheltered and its nature partially determined by the greater institutions to which it belongs. In the era of nation-states, people assumed that their own nation was the unity that set the standards—that its common good was the accurate yardstick of common freedom. The developments in our own twentieth century have made it clear that this point of view is inadequate. On this subject, Augustine said that a state that measured itself only by the common interests of that state, and not by justice itself, by true justice, was not structurally differentiated from a well-organized band of robbers. It is characteristic of such a band that it takes as its standard the good of the band, independent of the good of others. Looking back on the colonial period, and the damage it left behind it in the world, we can see today that, however well-ordered and civilized states may have been, in some way or other they resembled robber bands, because they only thought from the point of view of their own good, and not from that of good in itself. A freedom guaranteed in that way does have something of the freedom of robbers about it. It is not true, genuine human freedom. In seeking the true yardstick of freedom, the whole of mankind must be kept in view, and—as we see more and more clearly—again, not just today’s mankind, but also tomorrow’s.

The yardstick of true justice, that which can really be called justice and, therefore, a law of freedom, can thus only be the good of the whole, good itself. Starting from this perception, Hans Jonas explained how the concept of responsibility should be the central concept of ethics.[8] That means that freedom, in order to be properly understood, must always be thought of together with responsibility. The history of liberation can, accordingly, only ever take place as the history of growing responsibility. The growth of freedom can no longer consist simply in the demolishing of barriers to individual rights ever more widely—something that leads to absurdity and to the destruction of those very individual rights. The growth of freedom must consist in the growth of responsibility. That includes the acceptance of ever greater ties, as demanded by the claims of human coexistence, by what is appropriate for the essence of being human. If responsibility means answers to the truth of human existence, then we can say that a constant purification in the direction of truth is a part of the true history of liberation. This true history of freedom consists of the purification of the individual and of institutions by this truth.

The principle of responsibility establishes a framework that needs to be filled with some content. It is in this context that the suggestion of developing a universal ethic, to which Hans Küng is above all passionately committed, needs to be seen. No doubt it makes sense, and indeed in our present position it is necessary, to search for the basic elements held in common by the ethical traditions in the various religions and cultures; in that sense, such activity is certainly both important and appropriate. On the other hand, the limits of such an attempt are obvious, and Joachim Fest has pointed them out in an analysis that is entirely supportive of Küng yet also very pessimistic and moves in the same direction as the scepticism of Szczypiorski.[9] For such an ethical minimum, distilled out of the world religions, would in the first place lack any binding character, that inner authority which any ethic needs. And despite all efforts toward understanding, it lacks also the rational evidence that, in the opinion of the authors, could and should probably replace authority; it lacks also the concrete character that alone makes any ethic effective.

One thought, which is probably associated with this attempt, seems to me correct: Reason needs to listen to the great religious traditions if it does not wish to become deaf, blind, and mute concerning the most essential elements of human existence. There is no great philosophy that does not draw its life from listening to and accepting religious tradition. Wherever this relationship is cut off, then philosophical thinking withers and becomes a mere game of concepts.[10] It is precisely in connection with this theme of responsibility, that is, with the question of freedom’s being rooted in the truth of what is good, in the truth of man and of the world, that the need for listening is most clearly seen. For however appropriate the principle of responsibility may be, as an approach to the matter, the question remains: How shall we gain an overall view of what is good for everyone and of what is good not only for today but for tomorrow? There is a twofold danger lurking here: on the one hand, we risk slipping off into “consequentialism”, which is something the Pope quite rightly criticized in his encyclical on morality.[11] Man is quite simply taking on too much if he believes he can work out the all-around consequences of his actions and take these as the norm for his freedom. Then the present is straightaway being sacrificed to the future, and yet not even the future is being built up. On the other hand, the question is there: Who, then, will decide what our responsibility demands? If truth is no longer seen as understanding and appropriating the great traditions of faith, then it is replaced by consensus. But again, we must ask: The consensus of whom? Then it is said that this should be the consensus of those who are capable of reasoning. Because no one can then overlook the elitist presumption of such an intellectual dictatorship, it is then said that those who are capable of reasoning must stand in for those who are supposedly incapable of rational discourse, as their “advocates”. All that can hardly inspire much confidence. We can all see with our own eyes how fragile any consensus is and how easily and quickly, in a certain intellectual climate, parties and interest groups can impose themselves as the only legitimate representatives of progress and responsibility. It is only too easy here to drive out the devil with the help of Beelzebub; all too easy for our house to be occupied, in the place of the devil of past spiritual combinations, by seven new and worse devils.

3.3 The Truth of Our Human Existence

The question of how to set responsibility and freedom in the right relationship cannot simply be decided by calculating the effects. We must look back to our previous notion, that human freedom is a freedom in a coexistence of freedoms; only thus is it true—that is, appropriate to the true reality of man. That means that I have no need at all to seek corrective factors for the freedom of the individual from without; if that were so, then freedom and responsibility, freedom and truth would remain forever opposites, and they are not. Correctly perceived, the reality of the individual carries in it an element of reference to the whole, to others. Accordingly, we shall say that there is such a thing as the common truth of the one human existence within every man, what is referred to in tradition as the “nature” of man. We can formulate this more clearly on the basis of our belief in creation: There is one divine idea of man, and our task is to correspond to this. In this idea, freedom and community, order and being turned toward the future, are all one thing.

Responsibility would then mean living our existence as a response—as a response to what we are in truth. This one truth of man, in which the good of all and freedom are indissolubly related to each other, is expressed most centrally in the biblical tradition in the Ten Commandments, which in many respects correspond to the great ethical traditions of other religions, besides. In the Ten Commandments God presents himself, depicts himself, and at the same time interprets human existence, so that its truth is made manifest, as it becomes visible in the mirror of God’s nature, because man can only rightly be understood from the viewpoint of God. Living out the Ten Commandments means living out our own resemblance to God, responding to the truth of our nature, and thus doing good. To say it again, another way: Living out the Ten Commandments means living out the divinity of man, and exactly that is freedom: the fusing of our being with the Divine Being and the resulting harmony of all with all.[12]

So that this proposition may be properly understood, one further remark must be added. Every great human utterance reaches beyond what was consciously said into greater, more profound depths; there is always, hidden in what is said, a surplus of what is not said, which lets the words grow with the passing of time. If this is true of human speech, then it is certainly true of the word that comes from the depths of God. The Ten Commandments can never simply be completely understood. In the circumstances and situations of historical responsibility that follow one another and change each other, the Ten Commandments appear in ever-new perspectives, and ever-new dimensions of their meaning open up. What is occurring is a process of being guided into the whole of truth, into the truth that absolutely cannot be carried within one historical moment alone (see Jn 16:12f.). For the Christian, the interpretation that was completed in the words and the life and the death and the Resurrection of Christ represents the ultimate interpretative authority, wherein emerges a depth that could not previously have been foreseen. Because that is so, human listening to the message of faith is no passive reception of hitherto unknown information; rather, it is the awakening of our submerged conscience and the opening up of the powers of understanding that are awaiting the light of truth within us. Thus, such understanding is a highly active process, in which the quite rational search for the standards of our responsibility really gains in strength. This rational search is not stifled but is rather freed from helpless circling around what is unfathomable and brought onto the right track. If the Ten Commandments, as expounded by rational understanding, are the answer to the inner demands of our nature, then they are not at the opposite pole to our freedom but are rather the concrete form it takes. They are then the foundation for every law of freedom and are the one truly liberating power in human history.

4. Summary of Conclusions

“Perhaps the veteran Enlightenment steam engine, after two hundred years of useful and undisturbed work, has stopped before our eyes and with our cooperation. And the steam is just going up into the air.” That is Szczypiorski’s pessimistic diagnosis, which at the start challenged us to reflect on our path. Now, I should say that this machine had never worked without disturbance—think of the two world wars in our own twentieth century and of the dictatorships we have lived through. But I would add that we do not by any means need to bid adieu to the heritage of the Enlightenment as such and, as a whole, to regard it as a superannuated steam engine. What we do of course need is to correct our course in three essential points, in which I should like to summarize the results of my reflections.

1. An understanding of freedom is wrong if it would see as liberating simply an ever-wider loosening of norms and the constant extension of individual freedoms in the direction of a total liberation from all order. Unless it is to lead to lying and self-destruction, freedom must relate to the truth, that is to say, to what we actually are, and must correspond to this nature of ours. Since man is a being who exists in being-from, being-with, and being-for, human freedom can only exist in an ordered coexistence of freedoms. Law is, therefore, not the opposite of freedom, but its necessary condition; it is indeed constitutive of freedom. Liberation consists, not in gradually getting rid of law and of norms of behavior, but in purifying ourselves and purifying those norms, so that they make possible that coexistence of freedoms which is appropriate to man.

2. A second point follows, out of the true reality of our nature: Within this human history of ours the absolutely ideal situation will never exist, and a perfected ordering of freedom will never be able to be achieved. Man is always moving on and always finite. In view of the obvious injustice of the socialist ordering of society, and in view of all the problems of the liberal order, Szczypiorski put the despairing question: Perhaps there is no such thing as being right? We now have to say to that: Indeed, an ordering of things that is simply ideal, that is all-around right and just, will never exist.[13] Wherever such a claim is made, truth is not being spoken. Belief in progress is not false in every respect. But the myth of a liberated world of the future, in which everything will be different and everything good, is false. We can only ever construct relative social orders, which can only ever be relatively right and just. Yet this very same closest possible approach to true right and justice is what we must strive to attain. Everything else, every eschatological promise within history, fails to liberate us; rather, it disappoints and therefore enslaves us. That is why the mythological glamor that has been added onto such concepts as change and revolution has to be demythologized. Change is not good in itself. Whether it is good or bad depends on its particular content and how it relates to other things. The opinion that the main task in the struggle for freedom is that of changing the world is, I repeat, a myth. There will always be ups and downs in history. In relation to the actual moral nature of man, it does not run in a straight line; rather, it repeats itself. It is our task always to struggle for the relatively best possible framework of human coexistence in our own present day and, in doing so, to preserve anything good that has already been achieved, to overcome anything bad that exists at the time, and to guard against the outbreak of destructive forces.

3. We must also bid farewell to the dream of the absolute autonomy of reason and of its self-sufficiency. Human reason needs a hint from the great religious traditions of mankind. It will certainly look at the individual traditions in a critical light. The pathology of religion is the most dangerous sickness of the human spirit. It exists within the religions, yet it exists also precisely where religion as such is rejected and relative goods are assigned an absolute value: the atheistic systems of modern times are the most frightful examples of passionate religious enthusiasm alienated from its proper identity, and that means a sickness of the human spirit that may be mortal. When the existence of God is denied, freedom is, not enhanced, but deprived of its basis and thus distorted.[14] When the purest and most profound religious traditions are set aside, man is separating himself from his truth; he is living contrary to that truth, and he loses his freedom. Nor can philosophical ethics be simply autonomous. It cannot dispense with the concept of God or dispense with the concept of a truth of being that is of an ethical nature.[15] If there is no truth about man, then he has no freedom. Only the truth makes us free.


[1] K. Marx and F. Engels, Werke in 39 vols. (Berlin, 1961-1971), 3:33; quoted by K. Löw, Warum fasziniert der Kommunismus? [Why does Communism fascinate us?] (Cologne: Deutscher Instituts-Verlag, 1980), p. 65.

[2] I am quoting from the manuscript that was available at the Further Education sessions.

[3] On this whole subject, see, e.g., E. Lohse, Martin Luther (Munich: Beck, 1981), pp. 60f., 86ff.

[4] See D. Wyss, “Zur Psychologie und Psychopathologie der Verblendung: J.&nsbp;J. Rousseau und M. Robespierre, die Begründer des Sozialismus” [On the psychology and psychopathology of blindness: J. J Rousseau and M. Robespierre, the founders of socialism], Jahres- und Tagungsbericht der Görres-Gesellschaft, 1992, pp. 33-45; R. Spaemann, Rousseau—Burger ohne Vaterland: Von der Polis zur Natur [Rousseau—A citizen without a country: From the polis to nature] (Munich: Piper, 1980).

[5] See P. Köster, Der sterbliche Gott: Nietzsches Entwurf übermenschlicher Größe [The dying God: Nietzsche’s sketch for superhuman greatness] (Meisenheim: Hein, 1972); R. Low, Nietzsche Sophist und Erzieher [Nietzsche as sophist and educator] (Weinheim: Acta humaniora, 1984).

[6] See T. Steinbuchel, Die philosophische Grundlegung der christlichen Sittenlehre [The philosophical basis of Christian moral teaching], 3rd ed., vol. I, pt. I (Dusseldorf: Mosella-Verlag, 1947), pp. 118-32.

[7] See J. Pieper, “Kreaturlichkeit und menschliche Natur: Anmerkungen zum philosophischen Ansatz von J. P. Sartre” [Being a creature and human nature: Notes on J. P. Sartre’s attempt at philosophy], in his Uber die Schwierigkeit, heute zuglauben (Munich: Kösel, 1974), pp. 304-21 [English trans., Problems of Modern Faith: Essays and Addresses, trans. Jan van Heurck (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1984)].

[8] H. Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung [The principle of responsibility] (Frankfurt am Main: Insel-Verlag, 1979).

[9] J. Fest, Die schwierige Freiheit [Difficult freedom] (Berlin: Siedler, 1993), especially pp. 47-81; on p. 80 he summarizes his comments on Küng’s “universal ethic” in these terms: “The farther we push such elements of agreement, which cannot be achieved without concessions, the more flexible—and, consequently, the less powerful—the ethical norms will then necessarily become, until the whole project is directed toward merely strengthening that non-obligatory moral behavior that is in fact, not our aim, but the problem from which we start.”

[10] There are some penetrating comments on this in J. Pieper, Schriften zum Philosophiebegriff [Writings on the concept of philosophy], vol. 3 of his Werke, ed. B. Wald (Hamburg: Meiner, 1995), pp. 300-323; likewise pp. 15-70, especially pp. 59ff.

[11] Veritatis splendor, nos. 71-83.

[12] See the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2052-82.

[13] See the Vatican II constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 78: “. . . numquam pax pro semper acquisita est. . . . ”

[14] See Fest, Schwierige Freiheit, p. 79: “None of the appeals made on man’s behalf is able to say how he can live without a life beyond this, and without any fear of a final judgment, and nonetheless act, time and time again, contrary to his own interests and desires.” See also L. Kolakowski, Falls es keinen Gott gibt [If there is no God] (Munich: Piper, 1982).

[15] See Pieper, Schriften zum Philosophiebegriff.