If one wishes to assess the respective roles of Jewish and Christian elements in the Western philosophical tradition, one is immediately confronted by two questions. First of all, in what, if any, sense can these elements be separated in such a context? Judaism and Christianity in themselves are distinctly separate entities, to be sure; but when considering their influence on Western thought, we must bear in mind that Christianity alone, or almost alone, transmitted the Jewish share, simply by what it contained of it in its own, original constitution. Thus if Jewish elements are to be found in the history of Western thought, they are Christian elements there, and our theme which calls for a confrontation of them in this medium seems to collapse at the outset. It seems to collapse into the well-worked theme of the Judaeo-Christian component of Western thought, with the hyphen denoting an indissoluble connection—as indissoluble, indeed, as the connection between the Old and New Testaments in Christianity itself.
Even if it should prove possible to separate, for our purposes, the elements of this hyphenated whole, one would still have to face another question: in what sense can these elements—Jewish, Christian, or Judaeo-Christian—be considered a part of the philosophical tradition? They are, according to their own testimony, based on revelation, while philosophy is based on reason. This being the case, can religion enter philosophy without either disrupting it or forsaking itself? If the answer to this question were to be No, the history of Jewish and Christian influence on philosophy could be nothing but a history of trespass and mutual adulteration. Such elements of religion as actually found their way into philosophy would then be there not by right but by encroachment; they would be non-philosophical elements within philosophy, and the study of them would constitute a merely historical rather than a genuinely philosophical investigation. In short, it would seem that one ought to speak not of elements within philosophy, but of interference with philosophy.
Yet to philosophy even the experience of encroachment, including the eventual overcoming of it, would itself be a philosophical experience. Unlike the interference of ordinary interest, power, or prejudice, which touches philosophy only at its outskirts and becomes at most a matter for philosophical tactics, the claim of revelation to the highest truth touches philosophy at its core and must affect its whole strategy. Thus the totality of the claim made by revealed religion imposed questions and perspectives on philosophy which it would otherwise not have faced, and which were destined to outlive the answers that philosophy at first obediently accepted from revelation. And even if “Christian philosophy,” or “Jewish philosophy,” is finally recognized to be a contradiction in terms, the very recognition and assimilation of this truth would be a philosophical feat, and one that leaves philosophy different and more self-knowing than it was before. Philosophy's reflection—e.g., on the scope and limits of rational knowledge—was infinitely radicalized through the confrontation with revealed truth. This and similar radicalizations, forced on philosophy by the exacting coexistence with religion, changed the whole climate of philosophizing. Philosophy could not but try to match the unconditional spirit of its rival. That is one reason why later philosophy lacks the composure, the spirit of moderation, so characteristic of ancient philosophy.
But in the course of the religious-philosophical dialectic, something more occurs than an imposition on philosophy of alien themes and the subsequent self-assertion and radicalization of philosophy. Since philosophy is the work of living men, the philosopher's participation in the common heritage of faith asserts itself in his philosophizing. As a result, certain ideas, motifs, and choices of revealed religion pass over, open or concealed, into the patrimony of philosophy itself and—eventually dissociated from their origin in revelation and its authority—become genuine parts of the modified philosophical landscape.
This is not merely a matter of the insinuation of extraneous ideas into philosophy through the all-too-human psychology of the philosopher. Rather, it is a matter of the legitimate continuation, in the medium of philosophy, of existential insights and emphases whose original locus is the world of faith, but whose validity and vitality extend beyond the reaches of faith. A basic concept of man and the world speaks through the Word of God and hence informs the understanding of man as a general premise that will underlie even his worldly philosophizing. And it will be at home there by rights and not by stealth; it may even come fully into its own there. In this sense of an assimilation which may be transforming enough to make us speak of a secularization of originally religious thought, one can meaningfully look for Jewish or Christian elements in a philosophy that need not therefore be a Jewish or a Christian philosophy, or indeed a religious philosophy at all.
But this conclusion leaves unanswered the prior question: can Jewish and Christian elements be separated in the Western philosophical tradition? Strictly speaking, they cannot. When the Western world constituted itself a Christian world, Christianity gained something of a monopoly in mediating the Jewish heritage, and once this situation prevailed authentic Judaism had little opportunity to exert its influence independently and directly. This being the case, we must accept the Jewish theme in the form in which Christianity transmitted it. As it was through the Church that Jewish teaching, however partially, was impressed on the West, so it was mainly in the Christian embrace that it also entered the orbit of Western philosophy. If, then, we reclaim it there for the Jewish side, we must realize that we are somehow splitting the phenomenon of Christianity down the middle. We do violence to the consciousness of a past age when we divide what was indivisible to it: the one sacred truth of the Christian creed.
One justification for such a procedure lies in the fact that in their philosophical reception the fortunes of the two halves of the Christian whole were indeed markedly different. This becomes apparent if we understand by the “Jewish half” whatever Christianity still has in common with Judaism, and as specifically Christian whatever goes beyond that. For the sake of brevity we can identify the former by the concept of Creation, the latter by the concept of Incarnation. Having made this distinction, we can see at once the different philosophical fortunes of the two halves. The doctrine of creation, with all that flows from it concerning the concepts of nature and man, was thematically close enough to the terms of natural theology to fall, as an issue, within the philosophical domain and thus had to be taken up by philosophy, whether affirmatively or negatively. On the other hand, the doctrine of the trinity and of incarnation was more alien to the established themes of philosophy; it seemed to defy philosophical assimilation and compel recognition as a supra-rational mystery.
In short, the rational status of the two components of the Christian complex, and therefore their suitability for philosophical assimilation, were intrinsically unequal. We shall therefore not be surprised by the seemingly paradoxical finding that in a Christian intellectual universe it was the Jewish component which had the major philosophical impact. In fact, as far as I can see, it was not before Hegel's theory of the absolute Spirit, its alienation and self-consummation through human history, that the theme of incarnation found major expression in philosophy—and then only by the boldest transmutation.
Let us turn first to the cardinal and most obviously Jewish theme thrust on Western philosophy by Christian faith, the theme of creation, and to that aspect of it on which so much philosophical controversy centered: the teaching that the world had a beginning in time. The controversy arose because classical philosophy—Neoplatonic as well as Aristotelian—had taught that the world was eternal. At first glance, the difference between the two views seems to be about the past only and to have no bearing on the conception of the existing nature of things. But in truth it profoundly affects the latter. The encounter with the philosophical view elicited from the biblical doctrine its latent implications concerning the whole nature of reality and made these at home in philosophy as an alternative, no less philosophical, theory of the world. Seen from the long perspective of modernity, it can be said that the challenger, in a purely secular garb, eventually prevailed over the classical view, philosophy's native child.
What was the philosophical meaning of the classical view that the world is eternal? We may summarize it in the following eight points:
(1) The sensible world is in some sense (variously specified in various systems) an extension of the divine nature. That is to say, it is itself a mode of divine being, even if a derivative and diminished mode.
(2) The nexus of derivation is one of necessity. That is to say, the world is a necessary consequence of the divine nature, and this in the double sense that it exists because the divine exists, and it exists as it is because the divine nature is what it is. In short, the existence as well as the essence of the world are necessitated by the existence and the essence of God.
(3) The necessity of the world's existence entails co-eternity with God. Given the eternity of divine being, the world as its accompaniment or expression cannot at any time not be; thus it cannot have a beginning or an end (though the things in the world can either be or not be and thus have a beginning and an end).
(4) The necessity of the world's essence means that its order, deriving from the divine nature, is as eternal as its existence, deriving from the divine reality. The fullness of the proposition that the world cannot not be, is that it cannot be other than it is.
(5) That the world cannot be other than it is, holds only insofar as God Himself cannot be other than He is. The necessity of the world's essence is predicated on the necessity of God's essence—the eternity of the former on the immutability of the latter. Thus God has an essence or nature if the world has one, and a nature of the kind which intrinsically excludes mutability.
(6) The intrinsic impossibility of “being otherwise” pertains to logical or rational necessity. Thus if God is the primary locus of necessity, He must be pure reason or intellect. This, indeed, is the divine nature.
(7) Accordingly, the “essential” necessity of the world is equivalent to its rationality, i.e., to what it possesses of rationality and is thus open to knowledge. The rational necessity of the world is a qualified one, while the divine rationality is unqualified. The qualified rationality of the physical order, the degree of its intrinsic intelligibility, is the measure of its divinity—and indeed the inductive path to the conception of pure divinity.
By now it is clear that the thesis of the eternity of the world involves a whole ontology. In other words, this thesis is intimately connected with the theses that God has a nature; that this nature consists of pure intellect and thus enjoys the immutability of intrinsic necessity; and that the world's lesser nature has the relation of analogy, similitude, or image to the divine original, a relation which is attested by the world's degree of intelligibility.
(8) This brings us to the final point. Terms like “similitude” and “degree” suggest that God and world are members of a continuum in which God is the summit of a scale that comprises degrees of approximation to His absolute norm. The system of being, to which God Himself belongs, is thus a hierarchy with intermediate levels between the minimum and the maximum, between grossest matter and purest form. Thus a pervading homogeneity of being unites man, nature, and God.
All this is involved in the doctrine of the eternity of the world. Upon this integrated scheme of theory burst the biblical doctrine of creation, which posited a temporal beginning of the world. What conceptual adjustments did its acceptance enforce on the philosophical stage? To put it as briefly as possible, the biblical doctrine pitted contingency against necessity, particularity against universality, will against intellect. It secured a place for the “contingent” within philosophy, against the latter's original bias. If we add to this the divorce of mind and nature which followed from the Jewish-Christian separation of God and world and eventually led to the specifically modern division of philosophy into human and natural philosophy, we need not fear that we are exaggerating when we speak of the immense consequences of the encounter between the biblical and the classical views.
When that encounter had to all intents and purposes run its course, and philosophy was just turning to new tasks, Francis Bacon pointed out that it was “heathen opinion” (i.e., ancient philosophy) which had supposed the world to be the image of God, while “sacred truth” (i.e., Scripture) had denied this honor to the world and reserved it to man, declaring the world to be God's handiwork only, and not His image. I leave it an open question whether the spokesman of the new philosophy, which aimed at the subjection of nature to man, was sincere or rhetorical in this appeal to “sacred truth.” But I do maintain that it was the long impact of “sacred truth” on philosophical thought which made the new direction of philosophy possible—and therewith, for better or for worse, the modern mind. Clearly, in contrast to pagan nature worship, the very idea of Jewish monotheism implied a certain demotion of the world, and much of prophetic energy was expended in hammering home the truth that no part of the world was divine and that all its parts, with the sole exception of man, were equally different from their Maker. This essential equality of createdness implicitly did away with any natural gradations toward God and thus with the idea of a cosmic hierarchy.
The full consequences of the biblical doctrine were received into philosophy only at the end of a long process of erosion of classical metaphysics. The first polemical stress was on the idea of contingency. In its earliest and most extreme form, that of the Islamic Kalam, it went somewhat as follows: If, as the philosophers claim, the world came forth with necessity from the divine essence, then it must, in plan and in detail, be deducible from first intellectual principles. But it cannot be so deduced. Its constitution cannot be demonstrated a priori. There is a refractory, irreducible factuality about the structure and concrete manifoldness of the world. Everything, from the color of a blossom to the order of the stars, could as well—that is to say, without contradiction—be other than it actually is. The nature it actually has represents a choice from among all the possible alternatives; strictly speaking, from an infinite range of possibilities. But choice is a matter of the will. Thus the logical evidence of the world is more in accord with its having been called forth by the free spontaneity of divine will than with its having emanated or otherwise derived from the divine essence. God could have willed the world otherwise than it is, or not have willed it at all. And the world itself proclaims its createdness by its intrinsic contingency.
In this argument of the Kalam, an immanent character of worldly being is made to yield testimony for the transcendent fact of creation. To this extent, it is a philosophical argument; but it is destructive of knowledge and thus of philosophy itself, for it makes each particular at each moment the creature of a divine will that is bound by no general law. It deprives the created things of any nature and force of their own and thus of all explanatory connection among them. Only God's arbitrary pleasure saves each thing from instant relapse into nothingness.
The skeptical import of this extreme view can be seen clearly in al-Ghazali's critique of causal knowledge, by which he buttresses the theological attribution of causality to God alone. In a remarkable anticipation of Malebranche and Hume, al-Ghazali argues that the connection of so-called cause and effect, that is of one thing following upon another, is not a necessary, i.e., intelligible, connection. No one thing really entails another. The sequence of things is all that is known, and since its grounding is not to be found in any antecedent thing, nor within the physical series at all, it must be sought in the sole power of God. In that case, however, there is no possibility of a science of nature, which must be a science of causes.
This “Humean” skepticism was to find its “Kantian” answer. It was Maimonides who lifted the consideration of contingency onto a higher plane, which combined contingency of the whole with necessity among its parts. To Maimonides, an Aristotelian and a creationist at the same time, the world is a coherent whole governed by laws—the laws of Aristotelian physics—which concretely determine what is necessary and possible within it. Thus there can be a science of nature, and the mere abstract possibility of logical alternatives does not lessen the cogency of that science.
According to Maimonides, however, the governing laws themselves, from which everything else follows in intelligible order, are not logically deducible in turn, nor are they rationally self-evident. These laws, the ultimate conditions of the given cosmic reality, must be accepted as pure fact, as must the particular layout of the macro-cosmic framework in which they operate. In other words, contingency is shifted from the single existences to their principles, from the conclusions to the premises of the cosmic syllogism, with that syllogism retaining its internal necessity once its terms have been granted. Not each single item is contingent, as the Kalam maintained: it is their total set that represents an arbitrary choice and is in that sense contingent. As Thomas Aquinas later put it, God freely selected for realization this world from all the possible worlds. But a world, of course, is a determinate order.
This Maimonidean synthesis saved both the Aristotelian rationality of the universe and the biblical non-rationality of its origin. However, since Maimonides recognized the validity of Aristotelian physics, he was compelled to face the Aristotelian proofs for the eternity of the world, derived from that physics.
It is at this point that Maimonides evolved his profound doctrine of the relative scope of all reasoning that makes use of the laws of nature. Holding it to be true, as Aristotle had taught, that every motion within the universe involved a preceding motion, and so forth ad infinitum; and that all becoming presupposes matter, so that a coming-to-be of matter itself would presuppose another matter, and so forth again ad infinitum—he, against Aristotle, held it not to be true that these laws, valid for things within the world, can be extended to apply beyond the world, for instance, to the relationship of the world as a whole to God. The laws in question do indeed specify the internal conditions of the system we call the world, but they have nothing to say about the coming-to-be of that system itself.
This is the first enunciation of a principle concerning the area of pertinence of natural categories and the limits of their speculative use, a principle which was to find its final formulation in the philosophy of Kant. Thus was the long self-examination of speculative reason brought under way. Nothing short of the encounter with creationist faith and its transcendent demands on speculation could have compelled reason to such a relentless probing of itself and its possible range.
Kant still used the question of a temporal beginning or non-beginning of the world as one of the instances by which he demonstrated that the perennial issues of metaphysics are beyond the competence of reason to resolve. It is to be noted, however, that in Kant “contingency” is relocated once more: this time it is shifted from the principles of nature to the principles of knowledge. To put it differently: the rational limitation imposed by createdness now resides in the finite nature of the knowing subject rather than in the nature of finite things. The tradition had seen in man's cognitive faculty his eminent title to being “in the image of God,” for notwithstanding all the difference between the created and the uncreated, the finite and the infinite, man's intellect was considered to be of a kind with absolute intellect. According to Kant, however, it is precisely the theoretical intellect which bears the main burden of createdness by being unaccountably cast in a particular mold. If man is “in the image of God” it is because of his practical reason, that is, his will, in which his potential of moral perfection resides: the self-determination of the will is his only remaining point of contact with the absolute. As we shall presently see, this line of reasoning puts Kant closer to the “voluntarist” line of medieval thought that culminated in Duns Scotus, than to the “intellectualist” line represented by Maimonides and Aquinas.
To come back to Maimonides, his strictures on the scope of natural reason fall on friend and foe alike: he acknowledges that the disproof of Aristotelian arguments for the eternity of the world does not prove the alternative of “creation from nothing,” but merely gives it logical eligibility. In regard to the truths of revelation, reason can generally demonstrate no more than that they are not repugnant to reason, and perhaps that they have an edge when it comes to probability or plausibility. In this form, with some variation as to the exact drawing of the line, the idea of a demarcation of the domains of faith and reason was taken over by the Christian West.
Here a word about Thomas Aquinas is in order. Thomas went beyond Maimonides's critical caution by including creatio ex nihilo (along with his proofs for God's existence) among the demonstrable truths, and thus he widened the scope of natural theology. At the same time, the realm of the non-demonstrable was swelled by those Christian mysteries—trinity, original sin, incarnation, purgatory, etc.—about which Jewish and Islamic thought did not have to concern themselves. Thus the extension of the rational domain did not entail a contraction of the supra-rational one, or a lessening of the chasm between the two. On the contrary, the mysterious character of the peculiarly Christian doctrines led to a greater tension between reason and faith than the “Jewish part” of revelation had required. Indeed, when Thomas says that “through natural reason we can know that about God which pertains to the unity of His essence, but not that which pertains to the distinction of His persons,” he is, in effect, spelling out the different rational status of the “Jewish” and the “Christian” elements of the Christian faith. The former are at most beyond rational proof (as they are for Maimonides); the latter are “supra-rational” in a sense that bears a suspicion of their being contrary to reason. Consequently, there is merit in the faith that holds on to them in the teeth of such rational strain; and a priority is assigned to the will, which moves the intellect to assent to these propositions. In spite of Aquinas's own unifying spirit, then, the Christian universe of discourse inevitably shows a sharpening of the dialectics between reason and faith.
Let us return once more to the subject of creation. It will have been noted that the argument from contingency places the sign of “createdness” on a negative rather than a positive feature of the world: on the absence of that rational necessity which, according to classical doctrine, the world should have. The negative aspect becomes even more manifest in the insistence on creation “from nothing,” whose philosophical significance we must now probe, especially since it was not really demanded by the biblical text. In general, of course, the doctrine falls into the observed pattern of “putting the world in its place.” That which is called into being from sheer nothingness is totally dependent on its transcendent cause not only for its origin but also for its continued existence. By reason of its “natural priority,” the “nothing” looms in the very heart of things, ready to reclaim them at every moment, were it not for their continuous recreation by God. This is the extreme of negativity with which the doctrine of creation imbues mundane being. But in true dialectical fashion, this very extreme brings to light the positive aspect of the reappraisal of being which the idea of creation caused in philosophy. We can discover that positive aspect by turning to that ingredient in the doctrine of “creation from nothing” which directly relates it to the philosophical tradition, namely the negation of pre-existent matter. Why is this negation important, apart from the motive of homage to divine omnipotence? One answer to this question can be given in terms of the traditional philosophical doctrine of matter and form. If matter were pre-existent, creation would consist of imparting form to it and in that case God would be the principle of form, which means intellect; but form is universal, as is intellectual knowledge. Thus God, being the author of the universal only and not of the particular, would not know the particulars; and thus there would be no individual providence. If there is to be individual providence, and its condition, divine knowledge of particulars, then matter, the principle of individuation, must be divinely created too, or it must be as directly an object of the divine will as are the forms. Thus for the sake of particular providence, so vital to both Judaism and Christianity, creatio ex nihilo had to replace or to recast the “essentialist” form-matter ontology of the past.
The philosophical effect of this line of thought is to change the whole ontological status of individual existence. And here we can see how utter negativity in one respect turns into utter positivity in another. Against the background of nothingness from which it is called forth, individual being assumes a rank of primacy which all ancient philosophy had denied it. To be called forth from nothing and to exist only by virtue of a constant renewal of this act, assures each individual being of the immediate interest of the creative cause and so makes it interesting in itself. The divine attention required individually for their mere existing gives the single entities their own truth and a corresponding claim on the attention of knowledge. This changed approach benefits both the knower and the known, the human subject and the things of the world as his potential objects: both, in their ultimate particularity as willed by God, have gained a status in the conceptual scheme of things which they had not enjoyed before. As Maimonides put it: all parts of creation are with equal authenticity intended by the divine will; all therefore are ends in themselves. When, in the later Middle Ages, this train of reasoning was joined by the mighty tide of nominalism, which itself was actuated by a similar concern with individuality, Petrus Aureoli (in the 14th century) could say that “it is nobler to know the thing individuated . . . than to know it through the abstract and universal mode.”
In our discussion, we have repeatedly come upon the concept of the “will.” This concept is, indeed, the common denominator in which the different aspects of the idea of creation meet and in which they fully reveal their positive—and explosive—side. Will is equally the principle of the contingent and of the particular. It chooses for being what could also not be; it chooses this thing rather than anything else; and it chooses, in the first place, that there be anything at all. While its choice may be guided by essence, will is directed toward existence, and its results share in the uniqueness of its own decisions: they are “this,” and “this once,” and unexchangeably themselves. Pure intellect, the principle of the necessary and the universal, cannot determine the transition from essence to existence, from universal to particular, from the eternal to the temporal. This is why creationist theology always interposed divine will and its freedom between divine wisdom and divine power, and increasingly emphasized will among the attributes of God. And this emphasis on the divine will was soon reflected in the emphasis on man's will—first as the respondent of God's will, which in His commandments addresses itself to will more than to anything else in man; then increasingly as the dominant attribute of man himself. The theological doctrine of God's attributes engendered, or at least encouraged, a philosophical doctrine of man's attributes.
It is beyond the scope of this essay to trace the rise of the Western metaphysics of the will, a metaphysics whose roots were Jewish-Christian, and the anti-Christian culmination of which we behold in Nietzsche and in modern existentialism. But it is worth pointing out that the vigor of its growth is a fruit of the encounter between the Jewish-Christian and the Greek standpoints: without the dialectical stress against the essentialist-intellectualist bias of traditional philosophy, there would hardly have arisen a theory of the primacy of the will—with all the consequences that such a theory entails.
Though our account must necessarily be incomplete, we may try to describe some aspects of the development of this Western voluntarism. It had two distinct points of departure; on the one hand, it stemmed from Augustine's stress on the will in man, as the ultimate locus of the drama of sin and salvation; on the other hand, it developed from the Jewish-Islamic stress on the will in God, as the first principle of creation and individual existence. It was the fusion, in later medieval thought, of these two strains, the theological and the anthropological, or the metaphysical and the psychological, or the objective and the subjective, which terminated in the powerful ascendancy of voluntarism in the West. In terms of the attribution of lineage adopted for our purposes, the one strain represents the more Jewish, the other the more Christian, contribution to what finally emerged. The Jewish factor can be identified as such by its connection with the idea of creation, as well as by its prior appearance in the Arabic-Jewish orbit; we have dealt with it as much as space permits. The Christian or Augustinian factor, bound up with the mysteries of original sin, faith, and grace, was in itself less directly “philosophical” in import, but the enormous stress it laid on the subjective life interpreted in volitional terms could not fail to shape the general self-consciousness of man, and through it also the philosophical interpretation of man. Jewish thinkers were content to stress the freedom of man's will as the counterpart of divine justice: but freedom of the will need not mean its primacy; and on Jewish premises there is no reason for “radical” voluntarism, that is to say for focusing the total essence of man in the unfathomable doings and events of his will. Nor, in Jewish thought, is the eternal salvation of the individual soul the total object of divine concern; nor, for that matter, did the moderate Jewish suspicion of nature ever reach anything like the radical distrust of nature that went with the dualistic mood of Christianity. We may note here that Judaism, radical as it could be on occasion, is not intrinsically wedded to extremism. But the “Cross” is an extreme conception to begin with; and in the Pauline version adopted by Augustine, it centers all of eschatology in the personal reenactment by each individual will of this extremity of divine death and resurrection. This was one existential meaning that could be given to the doctrine of incarnation. To summarize: although both voluntarism and individualism were native to the Jewish position in its confrontation with the Hellenic one, we find both—and the issues they posed—immeasurably sharpened in the Christian ambient.
As to individualism, its battle was fought and won in the struggle between nominalism and realism, that long medieval conflict over the status of universals which is very much part of our story but which can only be alluded to here. Voluntarism independently found its most powerful statement in Duns Scotus, the greatest of the Augustinians who countered Thomas's Aristotelian synthesis.
Duns Scotus claims the primacy of the will on both the human and the divine plane. On the human plane, this means that will exercises dominion over the intellect. Will determines the otherwise neutral thought to the contemplation of this or that object; and when thought in turn determines volition by its insights, it does so in the service of the overarching will that activates it from the first. Will, in other words, sets intellect its task, causes it to act, and employs it for its end. Instead of the “active intellect” of Aristotelianism, we have here the “active will” as the principle which moves the passive intellect. And willing in turn has no other cause but itself; it is free in radical indeterminacy.
Together with this elevation in rank goes a vast extension of the area in which the will must make its decisions, unaided by the intellect. Scotus's list of what is rationally undemonstrable engulfs most of the propositions of natural theology, which together with the specifically Christian mysteries are now relegated to faith—a mode of the will. Indeed, beatitude itself is placed in the volitional sphere and not, as by Thomas, in the intellect. This shift breaks with a millennial tradition that had understood consummate bliss to consist of a state of knowledge.
Even more pregnant with philosophical consequences is Scotus's doctrine of the primacy of will in God. It is absolutely sovereign, the sole cause of His willing, and bound by no rules other than those of logic. Accordingly, the laws of nature and of morality are as they are by mere decree of the divine will, and could as well be otherwise: “His will is the supreme rule.”
Let us consider what this doctrine implies as to the nature of the moral law. Almost at the beginning of the philosophical tradition, Socrates (in Plato's Euthyphro) raises the question of whether “the holy” is holy because it is pleasing to the gods, or whether it is pleasing to the gods because it is holy. The question addresses itself to the intrinsic nature of “holiness” and the like, and more basically still to the problem of whether or not there is such a “nature” independent of anyone's pleasure and choice. In Socrates's case the answer could not be in doubt. Given the many gods, and the frequent disagreements among them, the knowledge of what is holy and unholy, honorable and dishonorable, right and wrong, cannot be derived from the accidents of such pleasure and displeasure, even though they be divine; on the contrary, divine pleasure and displeasure must be based on, and if need be judged by, the knowledge of what is right and wrong in itself. The implication is that there are essences of these things, binding in their validity even on the gods; or, that there is a realm of truth entirely beyond the realm of power. The Socratic answer stood up for over a thousand years of “essentialist” tradition in Western philosophy.
Monotheism, however, somewhat altered the conditions of the question. With the many gods gone, the question affected the conception of the omnipotence of the one God, which would be less than absolute if limited by the laws of eternal reason. And so Duns Scotus, having reversed the classical order by which the will in God was subordinated to His intellect, and therefore determined by its immutable verities, concluded that the biblical commandments were morally valid because He willed them, not that he willed them because they were morally valid. The goodness of anything apart from God consists in its being willed by Him. And by virtue of God's absolute power, another moral order would also be possible.
What is of importance for the subsequent evolution of thought is the connection here established between value, will, and power. The will to set values and the power to make them law are jointly at the bottom of all operative norms. When linked to divine wisdom, this source of moral law is still in safe hands which man can trust. Nevertheless, the meaning of law as such has changed, and God's purely positive will and power becomes its sole available ground, God's wisdom being inscrutable. But when that ground vanishes, as it does with the vanishing of faith, there is only man's will and power to ground any norm or law. In the Socratic answer, the commandments would stand even without God, based as they are on intelligible essences; in the Scotist answer, they collapse without God unless another will steps in and takes over their guardianship. Man inherits the role of creator and guardian of values, with no light to guide his choice, since he is not wise and has no vision of eternal wisdom on which to draw. This is a profoundly paradoxical outcome of what had begun as a pious self-abnegation and a giving of all honor to God. First the ancient distinction between laws valid “by nature” (therefore immutable) and laws “instituted” (therefore mutable) was obliterated by the creationist-voluntarist creed for which everything was “instituted” and the distinction became that between divine and human institution. Then this distinction in turn, when its creedal support was withdrawn and its divine term vanished, collapsed into the remaining, human term, and man's lawgiving alone, immersed in the flux of his being, was left in possession of the field. This was the potential dynamite in the Scotistic-plus-nominalistic turn with which the Middle Ages passed over into the Modern Age.
Many obvious, and not so obvious, lines extend from these considerations to salient phenomena of later philosophy, down to our own, post-Christian era. One has only to recall the Baconian nexus of knowledge, power, and the kingdom of man; the Cartesian ego and the suspicion of the deceiving demon; Nietzsche's will to power; and the philosophy of Heidegger. But in this connection one must also remember Kant's majestic effort to synthesize voluntarism and rationalism. That effort culminated in his categorical imperative (surely of Hebrew vintage), grounded in the autonomy of the moral will (a transformed Christian doctrine), but objectively valid because this will is itself reason and thus universal—a classical conception.
The case of Kant shows, what the examination of other thinkers would show as well, that the original, classical-intellectualist source of the philosophical tradition never ceased to flow and to provide the mainstream into which the Jewish-Christian catalysts injected themselves. The last great reassertion of that tradition was at the same time the grandest bid at reconciliation with the other side: Hegel's dialectical system, which at the very moment when the Christian source began to dry up, at last gave philosophical room to the one distinctly Christian teaching which philosophy had never ventured to assimilate before: the doctrine of the incarnated God. It is true that this doctrine is not easily recognized in the eschatological philosophies of history into which Hegel and his successors transformed it. But this aftermath—the ultimate in the secularization of a theology—would require a separate discussion. Here I can only indicate my unargued opinion that, all Jewish messianism notwithstanding, the idea of history as a self-operative vehicle of redemption is much more of Christian than Jewish provenance. One may see in it the transmuted form of the Holy Ghost doing his work through man in the interval between the incarnation and the second coming.
If, in looking back over the road we have taken, we find that our attempted differentiation between “Jewish” and “Christian” elements did not always succeed, this is only what was to be expected in the nature of the case. But whatever may be the verdict on the particular attributions proposed, one truth should have impressed itself on us: that the shadow which these past things cast is long indeed and still lies upon our present scene. And perhaps our discussion has enabled us to see better how it is due to a unique historical configuration, the meeting of Athens and Jerusalem, each itself a unique fact, that Western mankind has taken a road so different from that of any other civilization. To the accident of this meeting (though not to it alone) we can trace the unique combination of rationalism and voluntarism, individualism and activism, of which we have yet to decide whether it is a blessing or a curse, but through which, to the vexation of ourselves and the world, we have become what we are.