Gültigkeit und Anerkennung der natürlichen Grenzen Gennadios Scholarios’ Konzept des natürlichen Gesetzes
Miscellanea, Hrsg. Andreas Speer, de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 2014, 437-454.
Gennadios Scholarios (1400–1472), the first Patriarch of Constantinople after the Conquest of the City by Mehmet Fatih, appreciated the philosophy of Aristotle and was convinced that Thomas Aquinas is its most subtle interpreter. However, borrowing ideas from both these authors, he never compromised with the dogmatic of the Orthodox Church.
In his apologetic treatise ‘On the one single way of human salvation’ (De unica via ad salutem hominem) Gennadios defends the anthropological validity of the Christian law. He follows the conceptual pattern of Byzantine metaphysics and anthropology but also adopts some arguments from Thomas Aquinas’ lex treatise in Summa theologiae. The text studies the criteria, through which Gennadios adopts and transforms philosophical material from Thomas and Aristotle. It also tries to explain the meaning of Scholarios’ intellectual ‘gesture’ as an episode of the development of Byzantine cultural identity.
For Gennadios natural law is the path, leading a certain nature towards its natural goal. Reason (λόγος) is the agent, responsible for applying natural law in human life. But the principles of this law are imprinted in the intellect (νοῦς). Applying the law has a non-discursive component as human existence is fragmented and the legitimacy of a certain action in a particular situation cannot be judged only through the methods of rational analysis. Whereas Thomas speaks of the dogmas as a priori foundation of Christian law, Scholarios sees them as epistemic criteria for human actions. The reason for this is not only the uncertainty of reason in respect of the concrete circumstances. There is an ontological and a phenomenological reason too.
As an Aristotelian, Scholarios is aware that virtue is not an instrumental capacity but a stable and unalterable habitus. For Byzantine philosophy habitus (ἕξις) is a dynamic manifestation of natural existential energy, which bears a personal image. The habitus of virtues implies synergy (co-operation) with divine energy. In this respect Scholairos explains the difference between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Whereas the former regulates only the external corporeal acts, the latter is addressed to the internal, i.e. existential, energy of man and enables synergy with divine grace. This is a prerequisite for deification of man.
The phenomenological reason concerns the orientation of human intellect towards the goal of law in a certain moral situation. The axioms of natural law are evident for everybody. The law of Christ does not alter these axioms but offers reflexive grounds for a new existential status of man, which secure not only acting according to the Law (as the law of Moses does) but also self-identification with it. This identification is possible because Christian law is personified by the hypostasis of Jesus Christ.
The anthropological validity of Moses’ law was acknowledged even by people who did not belong to Judaism and were not subjects to its decrees. Christ not only reveals the true meaning of natural law, but he validates this lay for all spheres of human life and for every single human person on the earth. The law of Christ guarantees that those who adhere to it are encouraged to constantly care for its implementation.
Plato and Aristotle did not formulate reliable methods for cultivation of the ethical, political and dianoethic virtues. Scholarios underlines the cognitive deficit concerning the ability of the human subjects of law to estimate their actions in respect of virtue. He criticizes Aristotle’s view, according to which there is a strict correspondence between cognitive and practical activity of reason. In other words, for Scholarios, even if we can determine what should be our virtuous action in a certain situation, we are not able to morally assess our choice of our will (προαίρεσις) to act in a certain way, because we do not possess a reliable standard. The gospel of Jesus Christ gives exactly such cognitive security, by demonstrating that the ultimate goal of human nature lies outside its boundaries – in the free communion with Christ. Only in the communion with Christ is it possible to gain pleasure by adhering to the law even at the cost of sacrificing one’s life. Gennadios follows the pattern of conceptualizing the human act of will, drawn by Maximus Confessor and John Damascene.
Although the treatise belongs to the genre of apologetics, its message is meaningful only within Byzantine culture and the historical situation in Byzantium. In the face of the imminent catastrophe of the Roman Christian Empire, Gennadios wants do demonstrate that Christian way of life is not founded on any kind of historical topology, but on the new mode of hypostatic existence of the participants of Christ’s economy. The author shows that Byzantine culture is able to critically read not only the Ancient philosophical tradition, but also the speculative attempts of scholastic philosophy, as well as to produce its own standards for theology.
Law, act, recognition