« Prev Section XXXI. The Ancient Church. (Concl’d) Next »


Ethics itself appears not as yet in scientific form and apart from the presentation of the subject-matter of dogmatics; it appears more in the popular edificatory than in the scientific writings, and approaches more nearly a scientific form in the works written in self-defense against the heathen. The first connected and somewhat comprehensive presentation of ethics—by Ambrose—in the manner of Cicero, is scientifically of little value; while the brilliant, penetrative, and ingenious moral thoughts of Augustine, (which, along with Aristotle, formed the foundation of Mediaeval 185ethics), deviate sometimes in daring originality from the earlier ecclesiastical view, and also bring some confusion into purely evangelical ethics by an overvaluing of monkish asceticism. After the time of Augustine, ethics is for the most part limited to the mere collecting of the views of earlier writers, and to popular instruction. The mystical thoughts of the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite became influential only in the Middle Ages.104104   The ethical views of the Ebionites and Gnostics offer many interesting phases, but they have too little influence in the shaping of the ethics of the church, and are, without a fuller examination, too obscure to justify us in entering upon the subject here at all: comp. Neander: Gesch. d. christl. Sittenl., pp. 111, 137.

The strict moral life of the early Christians furnished indeed in its inner experiences weighty matter for ethics; ethics proper, however, confined itself at first to the framing of life-rules, which, resting on the fundamental thought of faith and love, were enforced and supported by Scripture texts and by apostolical tradition, by the example of Christ and of the saints of sacred history, and by spiritual experience, and, at a later period, also by the example and authority of the martyrs, and by the definitions [canones] of the synods, but they were not as yet digested into a scientific whole. From the moral philosophy of the heathen the Church Fathers kept themselves substantially clear, though they adopted from the Platonic and Stoic, and from the later popular philosophy of the Eclectics, many forms and thoughts. The earlier Fathers, also Irenaeus, involved themselves in perplexities by the fact that, basing themselves primarily on the Old Testament writings, they often presented the moral life of the Patriarchs too fully as a pattern for Christians, although they recognized, throughout, the merely preparatory purpose of the Old Testament law.

In their genuine writings the apostolical Fathers confine themselves to simple evangelically-earnest exhortations.105105   Heyns: De patrum ap. doctrina morali, 1833; Van Gilse, the same subject, 1833.186At a very early date there was manifested an antithesis of such on the one hand, as with full fidelity to the Christian faith yet used in the service of Christianity the best results of heathen culture, and, of such on the other, as regarded it as the primary duty of the Church to emphasize and insist on the total contrariety of Christianity to heathenism, and, above all things, also in the morally-practical life, to break off all yet-existing relations with the heathen world, and to present the holy society as, in itself, a totally new world. Both tendencies—the former prevailing more among Greek, the latter more among Latin Christians—were equally legitimate, but both in equal danger of one-sidedness; the former with the aid of Greek philosophy laid rather the foundation for a scientific construction of the moral consciousness, the latter developed rather a rigorous, and even harsh, legality of the moral life; Origen and Tertullian respectively, are prominent representatives of this antithesis.

The philosophically educated Justin the Martyr gives special emphasis, in defense of Christianity, to its high moral (and by him very earnestly conceived) views and practical workings, and to its difference from the merely preparatory Old Testament law; he insists very strongly on the freedom of the will as a condition of the moral; but he manifests already a preference for celibacy as a higher perfection, doubtless not without being somewhat influenced thereto by the Platonic notion of the nature of matter.—Clemens Alexandrinus enters more direct upon the nature of the moral. In his Exhortation to the Heathen (Logos protreptikos, cohortatio), he exposes the defectiveness of heathen ethics, and in single characterizing strokes contrasts with it Christian ethics, as the higher; in his Paedagogos, designed for beginners in Christianity, he gives a more specific but at the same time more popular presentation of the subject; but in his Stromata: he raises the Christian faith-consciousness, and morality-consciousness to a much higher scientific form, evidencing truly philosophic ability. The divine Logos,—who manifests himself in fact in all true philosophy of the heathen, but in a still higher degree in the Old Testament, and most fully and purely in the New Testament,—is also the pure fountain of the moral consciousness; with the Hebrews the divine law 187was essentially objective; but in Christianity it is, by virtue of the activity of the divine Logos, written into the hearts of all believers. The highest law is love to God, and, as based thereon, love to our neighbor; the highest goal is likeness to, and life-communion with, God; the condition of the moral is will-freedom, which, although hampered, yet not destroyed, by the fall, is now restored in Christianity; the Logos, that is, Christ, is the pattern of salvation and the leader thereto. In his very detailed inquiries in the sphere of the moral life, Clemens shows himself both earnest and judicious; he esteems marriage very highly, and manifests no preference for celibacy. A visible fondness for the rational contemplation of the divine, as in contrast to the lower sphere of mere faith (corresponding to the prevalent Greek distinguishing between philosophers and ordinary men), interferes somewhat, however, with his interest in active outward life.—On the use of earthly goods, he treats in detail in his work: Quis dives salvetur.

Origen has rich thoughts on the moral, scattered through his many writings, but especially in his Homilies and Commentaries and in his work against Celsus. His Scripture-exegesis is always pregnant with thought, though often venturesomely interpreting and allegorizing, especially in the Old Testament. Freedom of will he insists on fully as strongly as does Clemens, with whom in other respects he essentially harmonizes. His moral views are rigid, but not harsh; the moral disposition alone constitutes, in his view, the worth of the deed; but his over-estimation of the monkish life and of martyrdom, and his doctrine that man can do more of the good and meritorious than is commanded of him, becloud somewhat the otherwise evangelical character of his ethics. His well-known dogmatical tendency to un-churchly opinion shows itself less prominently in the sphere of ethics, and even his notion of the pre-existence of souls does not essentially interfere with his moral ideas.

In striking contrast to the freer idealistic tendency of the Alexandrians, and in harshest Occidental realism, stands the African theologian Tertullian. Greatly delighting in spiritual eccentricities, and inclined to daring exaggerations of per se true thoughts, this writer presents Christian ethics in his 188numerous moral writings on special topics (especially in his De idololatria, De pudicitia, Ad uxorem, De monogamia, De exhortatione castitatis, De spectaculis, De oratione, etc.), in a very rigorously legal spirit, especially insisting upon its self-denying, world-renouncing, ascetic phase,—already far leaning toward the monkish view, and exerting a wide-spread influence on the Occident. And this juristic-minded man, with his strong inclination to rigorous formulae, is true to himself also in the sphere of morality. His passing over to Montanist views does not essentially modify his previous moral views, as they were in fact from the first not inconsistent therewith.—While, on the one hand, he emphasizes more strongly than the Greek Fathers the natural corruption of all men as resulting from the fall, without, however, doing away with moral freedom, on the other hand, he raises (though not without having the precedent of the church in his favor) the requirement of holiness in Christians so high that he regards as admissible, at farthest, only a single repentance after baptism, and, for reiterated severe sins, such as defection from the faith, adultery, whoredom, murder, knows of no forgiveness whatever;106106   De poenit., c. 2, 6; De pudicitia, c. 2, 19; comp. Adv. Marc., 4, 9. the distinction—here appearing more strongly than ever before—between venial and mortal sins, received subsequently a somewhat different significancy. The greatest sin is defection from the true faith—idolatry;107107   De idolol., c. 1 sqq. hence the Christian must avoid in word and deed every thing which is connected with heathenism,—e. g., he may not crown himself, may not visit theatrical spectacles, etc. Tertullian insists also, and with almost painful anxiety, on attention to all outward actions and manners,—e. g., he gives long and detailed disquisitions on the clothing and decoration of women, whom he would like to see attired in a natural and modest simplicity,—not without many theoretical whims (De habitu, muliebri, De cultu foeminarum, De velandis virginibus). Marriage he regards indeed as a divine institution, although, in view of the expectation of a speedy second coming of Christ, he prefers celibacy as the more perfect and pure state; and second marriages he unconditionally forbids as a heavy sin,—in the face of the utterances of Paul. Fasting 189he requires not merely as a penance, but as a protective means of virtue, conducive to a higher perfection, namely, in that it turns the soul away from the earthly and toward the heavenly; and he attempts to reduce it to definite rigorous rules (De jejunio). To accept political offices and to wear the insigna thereof, conflicts per se with Christian humility, seeing that because of their connection with heathen religion they are inconsistent with Christian sincerity, as also, because of the function of officers to execute and to torture, inconsistent with Christian gentleness;108108   De idol., c. 17, 18, 21. military service, the Christian must unconditionally refuse.109109   De corona militis, c. 11; De idol., c. 19. The notion of a Christian state is utterly foreign to Tertullian; he knows only of the heathen state. The enduring of martyrdom may, as the highest victory of Christian virtue, by no means be evaded by flight or otherwise; all shrinking is here unworthy cowardice (De fuga in persecutione; Scorpiacum). Unshaken patience in all manner of suffering in general, he describes and discusses with great ability (De patientia).

Cyprian, a great admirer of Tertullian, but more churchly than he, and in his moral judgments more mild, developed, one-sidedly, still further, the ascetic phase of Christian morality; abstinence from enjoyment, steadfastness in suffering, martyrdom, and beneficence to the poor, appear, to him, as the highest virtues; strict churchliness, obedient submission to the visible church and its episcopal guides, as the foundation of all Christian morality; heretical opinions and schismatic separation, as the ground of all moral corruption. While in Tertullian morality appears more as an individual manifestation of the religious personality, in Cyprian it is rather an expression of the community-life of the church. As to marriage and celibacy, he judges as Tertullian. (De unitate ecclesiae; Exhort. ad martyrium; De bono patientiae; De opere et eleemosynis; De zelo et livore; De oratione dominica; and many letters).

The severe dogmatic conflicts of the fourth century which so deeply rent the Oriental church, turned the current of thought somewhat away from ethics, so that we here find scarcely any thing but merely popular and not scientific presentations of the 190ethical, and that too for the most part simply in homilies and practical elucidations of Scripture.—Basil the Great—as yet largely devoted to ethical questions—gives (besides his homilies and several other writings of kindred nature) in his Ethica a short, popular, little-digested, but plain and Gospel-inspired synopsis of New Testament ethics,—comprised in eighty rules expressed in strictly Biblical forms. In other respects he manifests indeed an over-estimation of monasticism and of outward works in general, as well as an under-estimation of the natural corruption of man. His brother, Gregory of Nyssa, likewise emphasized moral freedom quite strongly, even in man while as yet unregenerate, and applied many of the ideas of Greek philosophy to Christian ethics, and moreover found also the moral ideal in the monkish life.—This life was still more exalted by Gregory of Nazianzus, who also presents already quite definitely the doctrine of the evangelical counsels as distinguished from the universally-binding moral laws,110110   Orat. III, invect. in Jul., p. 94 sqq. (ed. Col.); Orat. iv, c. 97 sqq. (ed. Bened.) although in other respects he gives expression to many excellent thoughts on Christian ethics.—The liberally-cultured, John Chrysostom,—who was no less profound in feeling than rich in thoughts and in acquaintance with man, and who was inspired with high moral earnestness and moral love,—presents in his masterly Homilies an essentially pure, evangelical and deep-reaching moral view, in a striking, warm and clear style,—to such an extent as no other Church Father has done; and even where, in the delineation of the natural conscience and of its freedom, he presents, by the help of philosophical examples, the favorable phases rather too prominently, and where he treats over-fondly of monasticism and the monkish life, and ascribes, in repentance, too high a value to outward works, especially to fasting and alms-giving, still the evangelical ground-thought is by no means pushed into the back-ground. Love to God is, with him, the ground, the beginning, the essence of all morality. His somewhat idealistic turn of mind betrays him sometimes into unpractical views, e. g., into the wish (born of his love to monasticism) for the introduction of a community of goods.111111   Homil. in Act., opp. (ed. Montf.) ix, 93.—Imitating Chrysostom also in his weaker points, the likewise philosophically 191educated abbot, Isidore of Pelusium, treated, in numerous epistles, largely of special topics in ethics, and sometimes bordered on Pelagian views.

In the more practically-inclined and less dogmatically-rent Occident, we find, already in the fourth century, more comprehensive treatises on the moral subject-matter of Christianity, but—as differing from the more idealistic and philosophic Greek doctors—in a rather realistic, legal, juridical manner; and it is characteristic that precisely the most excellent of the ethical writers among the Latin Fathers were originally jurists and rhetoricians.—Lactantius, in his Institutiones divinae (III-VI), treats of the ethical quite largely, critically assailing heathen ethics, and defending spiritedly the ethics of Christianity. The highest good, as the ground-question of ethics, lie finds in the blissful communion of the immortal spirit with God, a communion which is to be attained to only in the Christian religion, and of which, in heathendom, not even the conception is to be found. Christianity alone, but not heathen philosophy, affords a knowledge of the moral goal, and of the moral way, and furnishes also in Christ the moral example, and moral strength, and lastly, in pure unselfish love, the true moral motive. The unchurchly and dualistically-inclining notion entertained by Lactantius, of a certain primitively-ordained necessity of evil (ii, 8, 9, 12; vi, 15; De ira Dei, 55) has not much interfered with his other moral thoughts.—Ethics attains, in a feeble and ill-adapted outward imitation of Cicero, to a scientific form, though without really scientific development, through the labors of Ambrose, whose work De officiis ministrorum, though for a long time highly prized, is yet rhetorical in style, and feeble in scientific contents; and yet, notwithstanding that it introduces, undigested, many foreign thoughts and forms into the field of Christian thought in order to conceal a manifest lack of theological culture, it still commends itself by the warmth of a sincere heart, by its enthusiasm for active piety and by ingenious trains of thought. Though treating in this work primarily of the duties of clergymen, Ambrose yet considers also pretty extensively those of Christians in general; as a whole, however, it has little order and consecutiveness, and, notwithstanding its frequent prolixity and repetitions, leaves many points but slightly touched. He cites many Biblical examples, especially 192from the Old Testament; in his exegetical method he is quite faulty; that which is not expressly taught in Scripture either by word or example, he regards as unallowed, e. g., jesting. The four virtutes principales (the expression virtutes cardinales occurs only in the manifestly unauthentic work, De sacramentis), he adopts from Plato; he gives them, however, a much higher significancy; and, by finding for them a greater unity in piety and love, as also by penetrating deeper into the subjectivity of the love-inspired and morally-acting heart, he demonstrates, despite all his defectiveness in scientific construction, the great superiority of Christian ethics over heathen. He places the highest good in the bliss resulting from a knowledge of God, and in moral perfection, the two being inseparably connected with each other. A preference for celibacy he shares with his contemporaries, but in enthusiastic laudations thereof he even outdoes most of them. The duty of beneficence he pushes so far that, like Chrysostom, he passes over into advocacy of a voluntary community of goods (i, 28); and he regards self-defense, even in case of murderous assault, as unallowable. The scientifically-insignificant exegetical writings of Ambrose deal also very largely with ethical questions.—St. Jerome, in such of his writings as treat of the moral, is, for the most part, intent on exalting the, by him, fanatically espoused monastic life, but rather rhetorically than scientifically, and with frequent inconsistencies; treating marriage disdainfully, and in fact hostilely, he finds any good in it at all only because it produces children who may devote themselves to the unmarried life (Ep. 22, 20, ad Elustoch., ed Veron., t. i); his passionately violent assailing of Jovinian (in Rome) who contested the meritoriousness of the monastic life and of ascetic works, found in the spirit of the age great applause.

Much higher in spirit and penetration than the views of the other Latin Fathers, stand St. Augustine’s ethical disquisitions,—De doctrina christiana, De civitate dei, De moribus ecclesicae catholicae, De libero arbitrio, and other works—without, however, presenting a connected ethical system. In Augustine the Occidental church not only manifests her radical antithesis to the fundamental and dangerous errors of the Pelagian school, but she further develops at the same time the ethically-significant and healthful antithesis to the more 193dogmatically and theosophico-speculatively inclined Greek church, namely, in that this Father emphasized much more strongly than did the Greek church the antagonism of the natural man to God as well as man’s moral impotency, and hence his need of redemption, and also in that he conceived the Christianly-moral life as the expression of a complete spiritual transformation, whereas the Greek Fathers tended to regard it rather as a bettering of the, in his moral essence, but slightly-disordered natural man. Occidental ethics makes more reference to the Saviour; Oriental, more to the Creator; the former has therefore conceived more deeply, than the latter, the moral consciousness of Christianity, and has developed it more fully. And from this time on, the history of Christian ethics finds but little that is worthy of attention outside of the current of Occidental thought. As it was the special task of the Greek church to ward off from the Christian doctrine of God and of Christ, all heathen and Judaistic notions, and definitively to refute them, so was it the task of the Latin church to confute and overcome these same elements in the field of ethics; and this task was in the main accomplished by St. Augustine. The freedom of the will as it appears in the Greek church, and especially also in Chrysostom, is by no means identical with the freedom of the regenerated Christian as insisted upon by the evangelical church, and the confidence which many of the Greek Fathers place in the moral inclination of the piously-stirred heart, is not yet free from every trace of that over-estimation of the purity of human nature so characteristic of heathenism; also moral action is as yet obscured by the thought of the meritoriousness of the same. These remaining traces of heathen and Jewish views were, in their ground-thought at least, eradicated by Augustine; the thought of unmerited grace whereby man attained to the capability of a moral life, and to the highest good, was placed by him in the foreground, and thus the foundation was laid for a true evangelical ethical system. His doctrine (far exceeding Scripture warrant) of the total unfreedom, for good, of the natural will and of an unconditional election of grace, has a less misleading influence on his moral views than might have been expected,—it simply gives to them the character of deep earnestness, but 194does not dampen the power of moral admonition.—Man in his enslavement under sin to moral unfreedom is raised to real moral freedom only on the basis of a divine election of grace, by means of a spiritual regeneration through faith in Christ. Natural man is not able to will and to accomplish the truly good; the virtues of heathen and of unbelievers, though indeed often very admirable, have yet no real merit, no truly moral worth. Between virtue and vice there lies no medium ground; whatever is not virtue, and hence whatever springs not from faith, from the right intentio, is necessarily sinful; natural man is free only to evil; even the desire for redemption is lacking to him, and is purely a work of gracious influence. Still there are among sin-dominated humanity great differences of personal guilt, and even the heathen have yet a free choice between the more, and the less, evil; to true righteousness, however, they cannot attain.—The destination of man, and hence his moral goal and the highest good, is to return to God from whom he has fallen away, to become reunited with Him by God-likeness. This is possible only through love to God, which is consequently the ground and essence of all good. The world and whatever belongs to it, is not the goal of moral effort,—is not the highest good itself, but only a means to this end. Love to the world in itself is therefore not true moral love, but is only lust; spirit never has true love save to spirit. But man is not to himself the highest end, because he is not per se capable of blessedness; the highest end, and hence the highest object of love, is God, upon whom all blessedness rests. All true love rests on love to God, and to love men otherwise than in God, is sinful; also self-love is only then moral when it flows from love to God. Hence love to God is the first and highest command, and the one from which all others spring; this love works obedience to God’s command, wherein alone rests all the moral worth of an action; love is the sole true motive to the good,—fear is only a feeble incipiency of wisdom. Hence virtue is in its essence simply love to God, is nothing other than ordo amoris,112112   De civ. dei, xv, 22. and therefore obedience to the divine will, which will is the eternal law of all morality.


Love to God as the ground-virtue unfolds itself into the four cardinal virtues: TEMPERANTIA, amor integrum se pracbens ei, quod amatur; FORTITUDO, amor facile tolerans omnia propter quod amartur; JUSTITIA, amor soli amato serviens et propterea recte dominans; PRUDENTIA, amor ea, quibus adjuvatur, ab eis, quibus impeditur, sagaciter seligens.113113   De moribus eccl., c. 15 (25) sqq., 25 (46); De lib. arb., 1, 13; 2, 10. It is with great ingenuity that the Greek classification of virtue is thus embraced and presented in higher unity, as an unfolding of love under four forms, but the violence of the process is too manifest not to make felt at once the unadaptedness of the Greek classification for the Christian idea; it is new wine in old vessels. To these virtues, borrowed from Greek philosophy, Augustine adds, as superordinate thereto, the three virtues subsequently known as the theological virtues: faith, love and hope, without succeeding in placing them into a clear relation to the other four;114114   Enchiridion, s. de fide, spe et charitate; de doctr. christ., 1, 37; 3, 10, et al. and this unclear and clumsy twofold classification prevails from now henceforth and until the close of the Middle Ages. Faith springs from the merely germinal love to God; but only from faith springs the true all-dominating love to God, and from faith and love springs hope, namely, a longing for the highest good, for the blissful enjoyment of God in union with Him, in the vision of Him,—in perfected love; objectively therefore the highest good is God himself as the perfect truth, the infinite eternal life itself.

Evil or sin is in essence and origin a lack of true love, that is, a love not to God but to the world and its lusts, and primarily a love to self that does not rest on love to God, that is self-seeking. From self-seeking springs evil desire (concupiscentia) which becomes a power over the spirit. Evil become real in no sense whatever from God, but through the free choice, through the guilt, of free creatures,—is a guilty ruining of the originally good. The distinction (referring primarily to the administration and practice of penance) between venial and mortal sins (peccata venalia et mortifera s. mortalia), Augustine defines in the thenceforth prevailing sense, thus,—that the latter include all sins consciously and 196voluntarily committed against the Decalogue, and particularly idolatry, adultery, and murder, which, unless atoned for by ecclesiastical penance, involve damnation, whereas the former may be atoned for, or gotten rid of, by the repentant person himself, without special church-penance, through prayer, alms-giving and fasting.115115   Sermo, 351; Enchir., 70, 71; comp. De fide et op., c. 19 (34); De civ. dei, 21, 27.

As to the requirements of morality in detail, Augustine is no less earnest than judicious, forming quite a contrast to the manifold laxities of the age, and to many errors and extreme views of earlier Church Fathers, and, on the whole, he conceived of Christian morality much more profoundly than had yet been done by church writers; but his more especial merit consists in this, that he brought clearly and definitely into prominence the foundation of all morality, namely, faith and the essence of faith, to wit, love to God, and that he referred the validity of outward works more definitely than had been done before to the inner disposition of the actor. A truly evangelical spirit breathes through the greater part of his moral views; and even where, in harmony with the spirit of the times, he laudingly emphasizes outward good works, and particularly fasting, alms-giving and monastic asceticism, he still always lays greater stress on the state of the heart than on the work itself. His greatest departure from a purely evangelical consciousness is the recognition of the, then, already long-prevalent distinction between the divine commands and the divine counsels; the latter refer essentially to the giving up of allowed enjoyments, and especially to the abstaining from marriage. The man who leaves the counsels unobserved, sins not; he who fulfills them, acquires for himself higher virtue; wedlock-virtue is merely human virtue, but virginal chastity is angelic virtue. Marriage is indeed per se holy and pure, and prevailed also in the state of sinlessness,116116   De Genesi ad litt., 9, 3 sqq., 7. but for the state of sinfulness, from which in fact the redeemed are not as yet totally free, celibacy is higher than marriage; and if all men would but live unmarried, there would thereby be straightway brought about the end of the world and the perfection of the kingdom 197of God.117117   De Sancta virginitate; De bono conjugali; De nuptiis et concupis. But Augustine wisely avoids the self-contradictory extremes of Jerome, and tolerates even second marriages.—In contrast to heathen ethics, which looks, for all salvation, to the State and to its unlimited sway, Christians, even in the days of Augustine, placed (not without very good reasons) very little confidence in the worldly State. The Christian state—to the realization of which the. Germanic nations were more especially called—had not yet become real; and the nominally-Christian Roman State lingered as yet essentially in heathen forms. In his ingenious work De civitate dei, Augustine contrasts with the earthly State the purely spiritual divine State, deriving the former from the self-seeking of God-forsaking man, as prevailing since the brother-murder of Cain,—since which time the earthly and heavenly State have been in a condition of divorce (xv, 5). “The two kinds of love produced two kinds of state: the earthly state springs from self-love which ripens into contempt of God; the heavenly, from love to God which ripens into contempt of self” (xiv, 28). The divine State develops itself independently of the sinful earthly one, until it attains to its true manifestation in Christ; this state is not an outwardly force-exercising one, but a spiritual kingdom, and is indeed destined to sanctify and transfigure the earthly State,—to change it from a merely world-state into an organ of the divine state, but not to merge itself into it.

The great decline of the scientific life in the Occident from and after the close of the fifth century, manifested its effects also in the field of ethics. Little more was done than to make collections of the opinions (sententiae) of the Fathers, and to apply them to purposes of Church-discipline and of popular instruction. But there was no further creative production. In reducing to greater system the discipline of penance, the interest was turned rather to the discriminating, defining and classifying of sins than to the scientific examination of the moral in general. The knowledge of Greek ethics disappeared almost entirely, and the work of Boëthius, De consolatione philosophiae (about A.D. 542),118118   Fr. Nitzsch: System des Boëth., 1860, p. 42 sqq.—which is but feebly touched with Christian influence, and which for the 198most part expresses, eclectively, mere Graeco-Roman philosophy,—passed in the earlier Middle Ages for an excellent work of Christian philosophy.—Gregory the Great, basing himself on Augustine, wrote moral expositions (Moralia) of the Book of Job, of Solomon’s Song, etc., and other rather edificatory than scientific works of the same class; most influential was his Regula pastoralis, which treated of the clerical calling more especially under its moral phase. Isidore of Hispalis (Seville) (ob. 636) treats, especially in his Sententiae, on many moral points, mostly, however, by way of judicious digesting from preceding Fathers, especially from Augustine and Gregory the Great,—furnishing for the early Middle Ages a principal help in ethical study.—In the Greek Church Maximus the Confessor (ob. 622) gives in his “Chapters on Love”119119   Κεφάλαια περὶ ἀγάπης. a tolerably complete presentation of ethics; John Damascenus (ob. 754) furnishes, in his chief work, the ground thoughts for an ethical treatise, and in his “Holy Parallels” a rich collection of patristic sentences.

Standing entirely apart, and of influence only in the Middle Ages, is the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (fifth century) who introduced Neo-Platonic mysticism into Christianity, and whose Pantheistically-inclined world-theory invades here and there also the moral sphere.120120   Especially in De divinis nominibus; De coelesti hierarchia; De myst. theol. God is all in all,—is the being in all being, the life in all that lives, is the good absolutely. Hence evil cannot exist by itself, but must always be a negating something on the good,—is not an existing something, but essentially only a lack and more an appearance than a reality, and it turns again into the good. The goal of all life, and hence also of the moral, is the returning into God, the changing into God, of whatever is as yet distinct from God; the highest wisdom is therefore the turning-away of the spirit from whatever is not God,—the unclouded beholding of the one, the nameless, the pure divine light, in which God directly imparts himself to man. An outwardly active morality is, according to this view, the opposite of true wisdom.

« Prev Section XXXI. The Ancient Church. (Concl’d) Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |