Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     Thus, reason teaches piety and obedience. If, then, faith also taught piety and obedience, there would be no distinction between reason and faith. Why then does Spinoza affirm so insistently that "there is no connection between philosophy and faith" and that they "are totally different"? And why did Luther, for his part, attack reason so violently? I recall that Luther - who in all things followed Scripture and particularly St. Paul, who in turn relied on Isaiah - every time he pronounced judgments that were particularly audacious and offensive to reason was convinced, like Spinoza, that man's will is not free. And I would add to this that the source of their conviction, in both cases, was their inward experience. Finally - and this is the most important thing - these "immediate deliverances of consciousness" caused them a mad terror. Both of them experienced something akin to what a man buried alive feels: he feels that he is living, but he knows that he can do nothing to save himself, and that all that remains to him is to envy the dead who do not have to be concerned with saving themselves. Not only De servo arbitrio and De votis Monasticis judicium but all of Luther's works speak to us of the boundless despair that seized him when he discovered that his will was paralyzed and that it was impossible for him to escape his downfall. Spinoza does not speak freely of what takes place inside himself, and yet, calm and reserved as he appears, he at times allows confessions to escape that permit us to catch a glimpse of what his philosophical "happiness" cost him. Spinoza never succeeded in forgetting - how can one forget such things? - that a man deprived of freedom non pro re cogitante, sed pro asino turpissimo habendus est (would have to be regarded not as a thinking thing but as a most infamous ass).

     But it is here that Spinoza and Luther part company. Since our direct consciousness tells us that freedom does not exist, it does not exist. It may be that this is terrifying, it may be that the man deprived of freedom is indeed no more than an asinus turpissimus, but this in no way changes the situation. Terrors and horrors, whatever they may be, are not arguments against truth, just as happiness and joy do not bear witness to truth.. By virtue of its discretionary power, reason commands: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse). Why must one obey reason? Why may one not oppose to the immediate deliverances of consciousness lugere et detestari? "Experience" itself, the "immediate deliverances of consciousness" contain no such prohibition; "experience" is not at all interested that men should not weep and curse. "The true is the index of itself and of the false" can no longer justify reason's pretensions to omnipotence. The immediate deliverances of consciousness, so long as they do not go beyond their proper limits, bear witness both that man s will is not free and that man weeps and curses the fate that has taken away his freedom. And he who allows himself to be guided by experience and experience alone permits himself to weep and curse when he discovers that an invisible power has deprived him of his most precious good - freedom. But to him who takes reason for his guide, qui sola ratione ducitur, it is strictly forbidden to weep and curse. He must be content with understanding, intelligere. To put it differently, one takes away from him the last vestiges - not merely the vestiges, but the very memory (Plato's anamnÍsis) or, if you prefer, the very idea - of freedom. Ratio (reason) brings with it the tertium genus cognitionis - cognitio intuitiva (third kind of knowledge - intuitive knowledge), the knowledge that by virtue of its power - acquired no one knows where - transforms purely empirical judgments, statements of fact, into universal and necessary judgments, that is, confers on the "real" immutability and definitively fixes it in saecula saeculorum.

     Whence comes this dreadful power of reason? By what magic does it bring it about that the real becomes necessary? I think you will not find any answer to this question in any philosopher. But I know definitely that men do everything in their power to turn this question aside. Spinoza, who wished to reason "according to the geometric method," permits himself to defend rational knowledge with "theological" arguments. He calls reason "our better part" and even "the divine light," and is not afraid, when necessary, to write that phrase that I have already quoted and that one would expect to find in a catechism rather than in a philosophic treatise: "what altar can he build for himself who offends the majesty of reason?" It is true that there was no other way out for Spinoza: there, where man learns that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles, one can only learn that we have never had and never shall have free will, or that it is forbidden us to weep and curse when we discover that our will is not free, or that our curses and tears, our despair and rage, will never be able to overcome the "true philosophy" that knowledge furnishes us and regain our lost freedom. But if this is so, then Spinoza's statement that I have already quoted and that appears indisputable - "the goal of philosophy is only truth, while the goal of faith is only obedience and piety" - appears to be a false and dangerous auto-suggestion. Philosophy, and precisely that philosophy which found its most complete expression in Spinoza's work, with the intelligere and the tertium genus cognitionis that crown it, is not at all concerned with truth and seeks only "obedience and piety" which, in order to turn aside all suspicion from itself, it attributes to faith.

     Spinoza states - and here again we approach Luther - that the God of the Bible did not in any way dream of making known to men His absolute attributes but wished simply to break their obstinacy and their wicked will; wherefore he had recourse not to arguments but to trumpets, thunder and lightning. But if the arguments in which Spinoza put his trust led him to the conviction that everything happens in the universe by virtue of Necessity, which condemns man to the fate of the stupid animal who dies of hunger between two bales of hay, does this not indicate that "arguments," by paralyzing man, do not at all lead him to the truth? That they do not awaken but rather still more stupefy our slumbering thought? And that if God had recourse to thunder and to lightning, it is because it was impossible otherwise to return to the human soul, in its lethargy and semi-death, its ancient freedom, impossible to deliver it from obedience and make it escape the limits of the piety into which the power of reason had forced it, impossible to make it participate in the truth? Verbum Dei malleus est conterens petras (the word of God is a hammer, breaking the rocks), says Luther, following the prophet; this "word" alone is capable of breaking the walls with which reason has surrounded itself. And it is in this that the function and meaning of "God's hammer" consist. This wall is nothing other than the acquiescentia in se ipso (contentment with oneself) and that virtus (virtue) which expects and demands no reward, for it is itself the supreme reward, the summum bonum, or the beatitudo (happiness) proclaimed by Socrates in his first and second incarnation. The thunderbolts of the prophets, of the apostles, and of Luther himself were directed against the altars erected by human wisdom. "Because man is presumptuous and imagines himself to be wise, righteous and holy, it is necessary that he be humbled by the law, that thus that beast - his supposed righteousness - without whose killing man cannot live, be put to death." In all his works Luther speaks again and again of the malleus Dei, the hammer of God, which breaks the trust that man puts in his own knowledge and in the virtue founded on the truths furnished by this knowledge.

     A page further he says again, with still more power and passion: "Therefore God must have a strong hammer to break the rocks, and a fire blazing to the middle of the heavens to overthrow the mountains, that is, to subdue that stubborn and impenitent beast - presumption - in order that man, reduced to nothing through this contrition, should despair of his power, his righteousness and his works," which means, translating Luther into the language of Spinoza, non intelligere, sed lugere et detestari. To put it differently, having discovered by his own experience to what abyss the "divine light" of which the wise men have spoken so much led him, the man who has lost his freedom and has been transformed from a res cogitans into an asinus turpissimus begins to make absurd, mad attempts to struggle against the force that has bewitched him. Acquiescentia in se ipso and the beatitudines that are strictly bound to this acquiescentia, as well as virtus, the virtue that finds its supreme reward in itself, all the "consolations" given by the fruits of the tree of knowledge, to use the biblical image, or by reason which draws everything from itself, to speak as Hegel did - all these things suddenly allow their true nature to appear, and we discover that they bring us not eternal salvation but eternal death. And our first answer is the lugere et detestari which is forbidden by the philosophers but which testifies to the persistence in man of certain vestiges of life. Man himself then calls upon the terrible malleus Dei and joyously welcomes the sound of trumpets, thunder and lightning. For only the thunderbolt from heaven that breaks the rocks can break "that obstinate and impenitent beast, presumption" which has so seized hold of man that he is prepared to accept everything that fate sends him aequo animo (with equanimity) and has even learned to find in this total acceptance his summum bonum...

     Where Socrates, in his first and second incarnation, saw man s salvation, Luther saw his destruction. Intelligere and tertium genus cognitionis deliver man over into the hands of his worst enemy. He "who is led by reason alone" cannot recover his lost freedom; it remains for him only to learn and teach others to find the "best" in the inevitable. One must consider himself happy even in the bull of Phalaris. One must allow himself to die quietly of hunger between two bales of hay in the conviction that the world is ruled by a law from which no one can escape. Reason avidly seeks universal and necessary judgments. Men must see in reason their "better part" and, in submitting to it, find their good in these very universal and necessary truths. Placed at equal distance between the idea of God and immortality on the one hand, and the idea of Fate, on the other - both of which attract him - man will not turn to God: he cannot decide freely; he knows that decision does not depend on him and he will go where Necessity propels him, being accustomed aequo animo ferre et expectare utramque faciem (to await and endure with equanimity both faces) of omnipotent fate. All the docet (teaching) of philosophy, all of philosophy itself in which the search for truth has been replaced by edification, lead us inevitably to this.

     Luther knew this, quite like Socrates and Spinoza. He also spoke de servo arbitrio (of the unfree will). But his docet appears to be something quite different. More exactly, his de servo arbitrio led him to a hatred of docet of every kind and, consequently, of the reason that is the source of all docet. Leaving to philosophy the glorification "of obedience and piety," he concentrated all his thoughts on the struggle against the idea of Necessity. The malleus Dei in Luther strikes not man but that bellua (monster) or bestia obstinax (obstinate beast) which makes man believe that, in perfecting himself morally, he can attain to the virtue which requires no reward, for it is already happiness itself or, as Luther said, man presumptuously claims to be holy and righteous." The virtue and happiness of the man who by his own powers can turn neither to God nor to immortality, for reason has enchained his will and obliged him to go where Necessity pushes him, appeared to Luther as the fall of man, as original sin. The idea of law and order, on which all our thought is based, is also for him the worst of errors. The source of truth is found where human reason least expects it; and it is there also that one can attain the good which we have exchanged for philosophical happiness.

     Luther calls this source "faith." Let us then for the present give it the same name, if only to indicate that there can be another source of truth than that of which Socrates spoke and that the truth in no way resembles the universal and necessary judgments of Aristotle, Spinoza and Kant, that the truth has nothing in common with Necessity. "Nothing is more inimical to faith than law and reason, and these two cannot be overcome without great effort and labor, yet they must be overcome if you wish to be saved. When, therefore, conscience frightens you with the law conduct yourself as if you had never heard anything of the law but rather as if you are ascending into darkness, where neither law nor reason give light but only the riddle of faith... Thus the gospel leads us beyond and above the light of law and of reason into the darkness of faith, where light and reason have nothing to do. Moses on the mountain, where he speaks with God face to face, has, makes and employs no law; only when he comes down from the mountain is he a law-giver and does he rule the people through law. So let the conscience be free from the law, but let the body obey it."

     What Socrates and Spinoza glorified as "our better part" and "the divine light" appear to Luther to be bellua qua non occisa homo non potest vivere (the monster without whose killing man cannot live). When Moses on the mountain saw truth face to face, the chains that bound his consciousness immediately fell away and he obtained the most precious of gifts - freedom. But when he descended from the mountain and mingled with men, he found himself again under the domination of the law; as it did to Socrates and Spinoza, eternal, immutable law appeared to him as belonging to the very nature of being, as constituting the universal and necessary truths of which it is always the question here. Such a "metamorphosis" is incomprehensible to "reason." Reason is convinced that law is always law, for him who keeps to the mountain-top as well as for him who has descended into the valley. Its power cannot undergo any diminution. As for Luther, he throws himself into the darkness and abyss of faith in order to find there the power to struggle against the monster that the wise adore. Or, to put it better: he attains that extreme tension of the soul wherein it ceases to calculate in advance, to measure, to weigh, to adapt itself. Malleus Dei, the trumpets, the thunder, the lightnings of which Spinoza spoke with so much scorn, awakened in Luther's soul all the ridere, lugere et detestari that reason had lulled to sleep. Luther forgets the obedientiam et pietatem under the domination of which he had long lived - had he not been a monk, had he not sworn obedience to the good and pronounced vows as solemn as those with which Spinoza's works are filled ? - but now he thinks of only one thing; he must kill this abominable "monster without whose killing man cannot live."

     Which road leads to the truth? Is it the road of reason, of obedience and piety that brings us into the kingdom of Necessity, or is it the road of "faith" which declares an implacable war against Necessity? Behind Socrates' autonomous ethics and reason we have discovered the bull of Phalaris; Spinoza's sub specie aeternitatis has changed man under our eyes from res cogitans into asinus turpissimus. May it be that Luther's thunderbolts and audacity, born of tears and despair, will bring us something else, and that out of the "darkness of faith" the freedom that man lost in entrusting himself to knowledge may be won again?

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