Christianity and Medieval Philosophy, Summarized from the book: “History of Philosophy”, by: Julian Marias


1. Christianity and Philosophy

jesusChristianity marks the most profound division in the history of philosophy; it separates the two great phases of Western thought. However, it would be wrong to think of Christianity as a philosophy; it is something quite different—a religion.  Nor can one speak precisely of “Christian philosophy,” if the adjective “Christian” is meant to define the character of the philosophy. The only philosophy that we can call Christian philosophy is the philosophy of Christians as Christians; that is, that philosophy which is shaped by the Christian situation from which a particular philosopher begins to philosophize. I n this sense Christianity has played a decisive role in the history of metaphysics, because it has essentially altered the presuppositions upon which man bases his thought and actions and, therefore, the situation from which he must philosophize. The Christian is different and therefore his philosophy is also different; for example, different from Greek philosophy.

Christianity introduces an entirely new idea to interpret the existence of the world and man: the idea of the Creation. We saw that the Greek’s problem concerned motion: things are problematic because they move, because they change, because they come to be and cease to be what they are. Being is opposed by non-being, by something’s not being what it is. Beginning with the Christian era it is nothingness, the void, that menaces being. The Greek did not question the existence of all things, whereas this is exactly what the Christian finds strange and in need of explanation. It is possible that things might not have existed; and so their very existence—and not what they are—requires justification. “The Greek is alienated by the world because of its changeability. The European of the Christian era is alienated by its nullity or, better yet, its nihility….For the Greek, the world is something that changes; for the man of the Christian era it is a nothingness that seems to be or exist…. With this change of perspective being comes to mean something different from what it meant in Greece: for a Greek, being means to be there, at hand; for the Western European, being means, first of all , not being nothingness…. In a certain sense, then, the Greek still philosophizes from the point of reference of being, and the Western European philosophizes from the point of reference of nothingness.”

This basic difference separates the two great phases of philosophy. The problem is stated in two essentially different ways: it becomes a new problem. And, just as in the life of the Christian there are two worlds—this world and the other—there must be two different meanings for the word “being ” if it is to apply in both instances; that is, to God’s being and to the world’s being. The concept of the Creation allows the being of the world to be interpreted through the being of God. On one hand we have God, the true being, the Creator; on the other hand we have the created being, God’s creature, whose being is received. The religious truth of the Creation requires the interpretation of this being, and poses the philosophic problem of the creative and created being; that is, God’s being and that of His creature. Thus Christianity, which is not philosophy, affects philosophy in a decisive way; and the philosophy that arises from the basic situation of the Christian is what may with precision be called Christian philosophy.

2. Patristic Speculation

patristic6The thought of the Fathers of the Church in the first centuries of the Christian era is called Patristic speculation. The Christians’ purpose is neither intellectual nor theoretical. In spite of the extraordinary profundity of their writings, St. John and St. Paul do not intend to create a philosophy; i t is another matter that philosophy must inevitably concern itself with them. But, little by little, speculative themes acquire a place in Christianity. This is brought about particularly by two stimuli of a polemical nature: heresies and the intellectual reaction of paganism. Religious truths are interpreted, elaborated on, and formulated into dogma. The first centuries of the Christian era are those of the establishment of Christian dogma. Orthodox interpretation is accompanied by many heresies, which call for greater conceptual precision if the Church is to discuss them, repel them and convince the faithful of the authentic truth. Dogma is formulated all during the struggle against the numerous heretical movements. On the other hand, the pagans pay belated attention to the religion of Christ. At first it seemed to them to be a strange and absurd sect, one which they did not clearly distinguish from Judaism; they considered it a religion made up by men who were almost insane, who worshipped a dead—and crucified—God, a religion of people who related the most surprising and disagreeable stories. When St. Paul speaks on the Areopagus to the refined and curious Athenians of the first century, who are only interested in saying or hearing something new, they listen attentively and courteously while he speaks of the unknown God whom he has come to announce; but when he mentions the resurrection of the dead, some laugh and others say that they will listen to him speak of that some other time, and almost all of them leave him. The almost total ignorance of Christianity on the part of even such a man as Tacitus is well known. Later, Christianity acquires greater influence; it reaches the higher classes, and paganism begins to take notice of it. Then the intellectual attacks begin, and the new religion must defend itself from them in like manner; to effect this it must make use of the intellectual instruments which it has at its command: the Greek philosophical concepts. In this way Christianity, which shows a total hostility toward reason in many of its earliest figures (the most famous example is Tertullian), ends by assimilating Greek philosophy in order to use it, in Apologist writings, in defending itself against attacks based on the point of view of Greek philosophy.

Thus, Christianity sees itself committed, first, to the intellectual formulation of dogma and, secondly, to a rational discussion with its heretical or pagan enemies. This is the origin of Patristic speculation, the purpose of which, I repeat, is not philosophical, and which can be considered philosophical only i n a limited sense.

THE PHILOSOPHICAL SOURCES OF PATRISTIC SPECULATION: The Fathers of the Church do not have a definite and precise system. They take from Hellenic thought the elements which they need at that particular moment. One must also bear in mind that their knowledge of Greek philosophy is very incomplete and faulty. In general, they are eclectics: they select from all the pagan schools what seems to them most useful i n obtaining their goals. We find a formal declaration of eclecticism in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. But the major philosophic source which nourishes the Fathers is, of course, Neo-Platonism, which is to influence the Middle Ages so greatly, especially until the thirteenth century, when its influence will pale before Aristotle’s prestige. The Fathers come to know Plato (in a rather imprecise way) through the Neo-Platonic philosophers (Plotinus, Porphyry, etc.), and they look for analogies to Christianity in Platonic thought. They do not know very much about Aristotle; the Roman philosophers—Seneca, Cicero—are better known to them, and in these figures they find a repertory of ideas which stems from the whole range of Greek philosophy.

THE PROBLEMS: The questions which most concern the Fathers of the Church are the most important problems created by dogma. As a general rule, philosophic problems are created by religious, revealed truths which require rational interpretation, and this is the case in the Middle Ages. Thus, reason is used to clarify and formulate dogma, or to defend it. The Creation, God’s relationship with the world, evil, the soul, the meaning of life and of redemption—these are the major problems with which the early Fathers of the Church concern themselves. And alongside these problems we find strictly theological questions, such as those that refer to the essence of God, the Trinity of divine persons, and so on. Thirdly and finally, there appear the Christian moralists who are to establish the bases of a new ethics which, although it makes use of Hellenic concepts, is essentially founded on the idea of sin, on grace and on man’s relationship with his Creator, and which culminates in an idea which is foreign to Greek thought—the concept of salvation.

These problems are dealt with by a whole series of thinkers who are frequently of the first rank but who do not always remain orthodox; they sometimes fall into heresies. We will briefly consider the most important moments in the evolution which culminates in the brilliant thought of St. Augustine: the Gnostics, the Apologists, St. Justin Martyr and Tertullian, the Alexandrians (Clement and Origen), the Cappadocian Fathers, and so forth.

THE GNOSTICS: The principal heretical movement of the first centuries is Gnosticism. It is related to Greek philosophy of the final epoch, particularly to Neo-Platonic ideas, and also to the thought of Philo, the Hellenized Jew who interpreted the Bible allegorically. Gnosticism, a Christian heresy, is also closely linked with all the syncretism of the Oriental religions which was so complex and intricate at the beginning of the Christian era. The Gnostic problem concerns the reality of the world and, more particularly, of evil; it is a dualism between good (God) and evil (matter). This system allows the essential features of Christianity—such as the creation of the world and the redemption of man—t o acquire a natural character, as simple moments of the great struggle between the elements of the dualism, between what is divine and what is material. A fundamental Gnostic idea is that of the restoration of all things to their proper places. Gnostic knowledge is not knowledge in the usual sense of the word, nor is it revelation; it is a special, superior illumination or intelligence, the so-called gnosis. Obviously, these ideas can be reconciled with the sacred Christian texts only by resorting to very forced allegorical interpretations, and the Gnostics therefore become heretics. Closely related to them is a movement that has been called Christian gnosis, which opposes the Gnostics with great acuity. The importance of Gnosticism, which almost became a marginal, heterodox church, was very great, especially until the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

THE APOLOGISTS: Faced with divergences within the Christian world and, above all, with the attacks of the pagans, the Apologists carry on a strong defence of Christianity. The two most important Apologists are Justin, who suffered martyrdom and was canonized, and Tertullian. Later and less important Apologists are St. Cyprian, Arnobius and Lactantius, who lived in the third to fourth centuries. Justin wrote in Greek; Tertullian wrote in the Latin of Carthage, in Romanized North Africa, as did St. Augustine later. There is a profound difference between Justin and Tertullian in their attitude toward Greek culture and, especially, philosophy.

Justin came out of that culture; he knew it and studied it before his conversion to Christianity. He uses this background in his exposition of the truth of Christianity, making constant reference to Hellenic ideas; he tries to show that these ideas are in agreement with Christian revelation. Therefore there is evident in Justin’s writings an acceptance of the pagans’ rational methods of thought which contrasts with Tertullian’s hostility to those methods.

Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) wrote various important books. He was a passionate enemy of Gnosticism and the entire pagan culture, including the very concept of rational knowledge. In his attacks on the Gnostics, who resorted to philosophic methods, he attacks philosophy itself. There is a whole group of famous sayings of Tertullian that affirm the certainty of revelation on the very basis of its incomprehensibility, its rational impossibility. Outstanding among these sayings is an expression traditionally attributed to him, although not found in his writings: (I believe because it is absurd). But this opinion, strictly examined, is inadmissible in Christian thinking, and the doctrines of Tertullian— a fiery, severe and eloquent Apologist—are not always irreproachable.

THE GREEK FATHERS: Gnosticism was combated in an especially intelligent manner by a series of Church Fathers of Greek background and language, from St. Irenaeus (second century A.D.) until the end of Patristic Speculation the fourth century. St. Irenaeus, one of the earliest formulators of dogma in the East, uses faith to oppose the special illumination of the Gnostics. This is a highly significant moment: the return to the security of revealed tradition, to the continuity of the Church, which had been menaced by the Gnostic movement.

Clement of Alexandria, who died at the beginning of the third century, wrote the Miscellanies, an eclectic book full of Greek philosophic ideas. He places an immense value on reason and philosophy, aiming to achieve a comprehension, a true albeit a Christian gnosis, which will be subordinate to revealed faith. Such a gnosis would be the supreme criterion of truth, and philosophy a preliminary stage for arriving at that unsurpassable knowledge.

Origen, a pupil of Clement who lived from 185 to 254 A.D. too, is greatly influenced by Greek thinking, even more so than his teacher. He gathers together the whole world of ideas that were in ferment in third century Alexandria. Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics, especially as transmitted by Philo and the Neo-Platonists, are Origen’s sources. The doctrine of Creation has a particular significance in his writings. This doctrine, decisive for all later philosophy, interprets the Creation rigorously as the production of the world from nothingness by an act of free will of God. Creation is thereby clearly contrasted with every type of generation or emanation, and the separation between Greek and Christian thinking is sharply demarcated. But not even Origen was completely free from heterodoxy, which was a constant menace in those first centuries of Christianity when dogma was not yet sufficiently precise and when the Church did not yet possess the mature body of doctrine that began to exist only with the theology of St. Augustine.

After Alexandria, Antioch and Cappadocia were the centres in which Eastern theology most flourished. A series of heresies, primarily Arianism, Nestorianism and Pelagianism, occasioned a series of controversies—Trinitarian, Christological and anthropological, respectively. Arianism was combated by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (fourth century), and by the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who were of extraordinary importance in the formation of Christian dogma and ethics. I n the West, Arianism was combated by St. Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan.

Patristic thought attains its full maturity in the fourth century, at the moment when the heretical attacks become most acute. The three heresies mentioned above, together with the great Manichaean movement extending from East to West, are, on the one hand, threatening the Church. On the other hand, Christian thought has acquired profundity and clarity, as well as social validity within the Roma n Empire. The ancient world is in its last stage. For some time the barbarians have been clamouring at all the gates of the Empire. All along the Empire’s frontiers is felt the pressure of the Germanic tribes, who continue to infiltrate slowly before accomplishing their great break-through in the fifth century. Above all, paganism has ceased to exist. Roma n culture wears itself out in labours of commentary, and goes on deriving its nourishment, after so many centuries, from a philosophy—Greek philosophy-—that is incapable of renewal. At this point St. Augustine appears, the culmination of Patristic thought. In his immense personality he combines the ancient world, to which he still belongs, and the modern age, which he heralds and for which he himself is the point of departure. The work of St. Augustine sums up this decisive step from one world to another.

3. Augustine

3.1 Life and Character

st. augustineSt. Augustine is one of the most interesting figures of his time, of Christianity and of philosophy. His highly original and many-faceted personality leaves a profound imprint on everything to which he turns his hand. Medieval philosophy and theology, what has been called Scholasticism; all of Christian dogma; entire disciplines, such as the philosophy of the spirit and the philosophy of history, show the unmistakable mark he set on them. But there is more: the spirit of Christianity and of the modern age have been decisively influenced by St. Augustine, and the Reformation as well as the Counter-Reformation had recourse to his writings as a particular source of doctrine.

St. Augustine was from Africa. This must not be forgotten. He was, like Tertullian, from Africa, a son of that Romanized and Christianized Africa of the fourth century which was a hotbed of heresies, where varied religious forces coexisted, all animated by an extraordinary vehemence. He was born at Tagaste in Numidia, near Carthage, in 354. In his family background two quite different influences met: the influence of his father, Patricius, a pagan magistrate who was baptized only when dying, a violent and wrathful man of fiery sensuality (that sensuality which was later to trouble Augustine so greatly); and the influence of his mother, Monica, later canonized by the Church, a woman of great virtue and a deeply Christian spirit. Augustine, who loved his mother devotedly, was faced with inward struggles between the conflicting impulses of his double inheritance.

Aurelius Augustinus pursued his studies at a very early age in Tagaste, in Madaurus, and then, when he was seventeen, in Carthage. At this time he fell in love with a woman, who bore hi m a son. It was also in this period that Augustine first felt the power of philosophic revelation, when he read the Hortensius of Cicero, which made a very strong impression on him. From that time on he acquired an awareness of the problem of philosophy, and his longing for truth was never to leave him until his death. He examined the Scriptures, but they seemed childish to him, and his pride frustrated this first contact with Christianity. He then began to seek truth in the Manichaean sect.

Manes was born in Babylonia at the beginning of the third century, and preached his doctrines in Persia and much of Asia, even reaching India and China. Returning to Persia, he was arrested and crucified. His influence extended throughout the West also, and was a serious problem to Christianity well into the medieval period. Manichaeism contained many elements of Christianity and of various heresies, reminiscences of Buddhism, Gnostic influences and, especially, the fundamental concepts of Mazdaism, the Persian religion of Zoroaster. The point of departure of Manichaeism is the irreducible dualism of good and evil, light and darkness—in short, of God and the devil. All of life was held to be a struggle between the two irreconcilable principles. St. Augustine came to Manichaeism full of enthusiasm.

In Carthage Augustine taught rhetoric and oratory and devoted himself to astrology and philosophy. Then he travelled to Rome, and from Rome to Milan, to which city his mother followed him. There he met the great bishop St. Ambrose, theologian and orator, whose sermons he attended faithfully and who contributed greatly to his conversion. Augustine discovered at that time the superiority of the Scriptures and, not yet a Catholic, became alienated from the sect of Manes. Finally he entered the Church as a catechumen. From that time on he moved closer and closer to Christianity, studying St. Paul and the Neo-Platonists. The year 386 was a decisive one for him. In a garden in Milan he was seized by a fit of weeping and discontent with himself, of remorse and anxiety, until he heard a child’s voice ordering him to “take and read”. Augustine opened his New Testament and read a verse of the Epistle to the Romans which refers to the life of Christ as contrasted with the appetites of the flesh. He felt transformed and free, full of light; the obstacle of his sensual nature disappeared. Augustine was now fully a Christian.

From that moment on his life was different, dedicated entirely to God and to religious and theological activities. The story of his life becomes the story of his works and his evangelical efforts. For a while he retired to a friend’s country house with his mother, his son and a few pupils; from this sojourn came some of his most interesting writings. The n he was baptized by St. Ambrose and decided to return to Africa. Before leaving Italy he lost his mother, whom he mourned fervently; two years later, in Carthage, his son died. He was then ordained as a priest i n Hippo in North Africa and later consecrated as bishop of the same city. His activity was extraordinary, and as the fervour of his soul became more and more a model for Christians, so did his writings continue to increase. In August of the year 430 St. Augustine died in Hippo.

WORKS: St. Augustine’s output was copious, but uneven in scope and value. His most important works are those concerned with dogma and theology and those which expound his philosophic thought. The most valuable are the following:

The thirteen books of the Confessions, an autobiographical work in which St. Augustine, with an intimacy unknown in the ancient world, relates his life up to the year 387, at the same time indicating his intellectual development and the stages through which his soul passed before arriving at the truth of Christianity; i n the light of this truth his whole life is illuminated as he confesses it all before God. This is a book without a counterpart in world literature, a work of the highest philosophical interest.

T h e other major work of St. Augustine is entitled “The City of God”. This is the first philosophy of history, and its influence lasted to the time of Bossuet and, later, Hegel.

St. Augustine adopts a number of Hellenic doctrines, especially those of the Neo-Platonists Plotinus and Porphyry. His knowledge of Plato and Aristotle is very limited and indirect; he knows much more of the Stoics, Epicureans and Academicians and, above all, Cicero. This invaluable stock of Greek philosophy passes into Christianity and the Middle Ages through St. Augustine. But he generally adapts the contributions of the Greeks to the philosophic necessities of Christian dogma; this is the earliest instance in which Greek philosophy as such comes into contact with Christianity. Thanks to these efforts, the stabilization of dogma takes a vast step forward and St. Augustine becomes the most important of the Latin Church Fathers. His philosophical work is one of the major sources that later metaphysics drew upon. We will examine this philosophy i n special detail.

3.2. Philosophy

POSING THE PROBLEM: The content of St. Augustine’s philosophy is expressed most fundamentally in the Soliloquies in the statement: “I desire to know God and the soul. Nothing more? Nothing at all.” That is, there are only two themes i n St. Augustine’s philosophy: God and the soul. The central point of his speculation will be God—hence his metaphysical and theological efforts; secondly, St. Augustine, the man of intimacy and confession, will bequeath to us the philosophy of the spirit; and lastly, the relationship of this spirit, which lives in the world, to God will lead St. Augustine to the philosophy of history. These are St. Augustine’s three great contributions to philosophy, and they form the three-part root of his thinking.

GOD: This element of St. Augustine’s thought has weighty consequences. One of them is the placing of love, charity, in the forefront of man’s intellectual life. Knowledge is not to be had without love. He writes: “If God is wisdom, then the true philosopher is a lover of God”. And with even greater clarity he states: “One cannot enter truth except through charity”. Thus religion is at the very root of his thinking and sets his philosophy in motion. It is from St. Augustine that are ultimately derived the concept of “the faith seeking understanding” and the principle “I believe in order to understand” —a concept and a principle that are to have profound repercussions in Scholasticism, especially in St. Anselm and St. Thomas. The problems of the relationship between faith and knowledge, between religion and theology, are already posed in St. Augustine’s work.

St. Augustine adopts the philosophy of Plato, but with important changes. In Plato, the point of departure consists of things; St. Augustine, on the other hand, bases his philosophy above all on the soul as the innermost reality, on what he calls the inner man (or the interior of man). Therefore, St. Augustine’s dialectic in his search for God is confession. St. Augustine relates his own life. The soul is raised from the body to the contemplation of itself, then to reason, and finally to the light which illuminates it, God Himself. To arrive at God, one begins with the reality of God’s creation, and especially with the inner nature of man.

Since man is the image of God, he finds God, as in a mirror, i n the intimacy of his own soul. To turn away from God is the same as to rip out one’s own vitals, to empty oneself and to wane constantly. On the other hand, when man enters within himself, he discovers the Deity. But man can know God directly only by means of a supernatural illumination.

God, according to St. Augustine’s doctrine, created the world from nothingness (not, that is, from His own being) and of His free will. St. Augustine also adopts Plato’s theory of the Ideas, but in Augustine’s system the Ideas are located in the Divine mind: they are the exemplary models according to which God created the things by virtue of a decision of His will.

THE SOUL: The soul plays an important part i n St. Augustine’s philosophy. What interests us most is not his specific theory about the soul, but, above all, the fact that he makes us aware of the peculiar reality of the soul in a way in which no one had done previously. The intimate analysis of his own soul which constitutes the theme of the Confessions is enormously valuable for the inner knowledge of man. For example, there is St. Augustine’s contribution to the problem of experiencing death.

The soul is spiritual. The character of the spiritual is not merely negative, that is, not mere immateriality, but something positive, to wit, the faculty of entering within oneself. The spirit has a within in which it can seclude itself—a privilege which it shares with no other reality. St. Augustine is the philosopher of the inner man: he writes “Do not go outside, return within yourself; truth dwells in the interior of man.”

Man, who is at one and the same time rational—like an angel—and mortal—like an animal—has an intermediate position. But he is, above all, the image of God, because he is a mind, a spirit. In the triple division of the faculties of the soul—memory, intelligence and will or love—St. Augustine discovers a trace of the Trinity. The unifying factor in the person—who possesses these three intimately interconnected faculties, but who is not any one of them—is the single ego, which remembers, understands and loves, making a perfect distinction among these faculties, and yet preserving the oneness of life, mind and essence.

Using formulas analogous to Descartes’ cogito, but different from Descartes’ formula in their deep meaning and philosophic scope, St. Augustine affirms the internal evidence for the existence of the ego, which is exempt from any possible doubt, in contradistinction to the dubious testimony concerning the existence of things furnished by the bodily senses and rational thought. “In these truths,” he says “there is no need to fear the arguments of the Academicians, who say ‘What if you are mistaken?’ Because if I am mistaken, I exist. Because the man who does not exist, truly, cannot be mistaken, either; and therefore, I exist if I am mistaken. And granting that I exist i f I am mistaken, how can I be mistaken about m y existence, when it is certain that I exist if I am mistaken? And thus, since I, the mistaken one, would exist even i f I were mistaken, without a doubt I am not mistaken in knowing that I exist.”

The soul, which by its natural reason, or ratio inferior, knows the things, itself and, indirectly, God, Who is reflected in His creation, can receive a supernatural illumination from God, and by means of this ratio superior can raise itself to the knowledge of eternal things.

What is the origin of the soul? St. Augustine is somewhat perplexed in the face of this question. He falters—and along with him so do all the other Fathers and all the early medieval philosophers—between generationism or traduciansim, and creationism. Is the soul engendered like the body from the souls of one’s parents, or is it created by God on the occasion of the procreation of the body? The doctrine of original sin, which seems more comprehensible to St. Augustine if the soul of the child, like its body, proceeds directly from its parents, leads him to favour generationism ; but at the same time he realizes the weakness of that theory, and does not reject the solution provided by creationism.

MAN IN THE WORLD: In the writings of St. Augustine, the moral problem is seen to be intimately connected with the theological questions of nature and grace, predestination and man’s free will, and sin and redemption; but we cannot discuss these relationships in detail here. However, we must point out that this whole complex of theological problems has had a great influence on the later development of Christian ethics. Moreover, St. Augustine’s writings—exaggerated and altered from their true meaning—were widely used in the sixteenth century by the leaders of the Reformation (remember that Luther was an Augustinian monk), and in this way an Augustinian root persists in modern Protestant ethics.

For St. Augustine, in the same way that man has a natural light which makes it possible for him to know, man has a moral conscience. The divine eternal law to which everything answers illumines our intelligence, and its imperatives constitute natural law. It might be likened to a transcription of divine law in our souls.  Everything ought to be subject to a perfect order. But it is not enough for man to know the law; he must also love it. This is where the problem of free will arises.

The soul possesses a weight which moves and transports it, and this weight is love: my weight is my love. Love is active, and it is love which actually determines and qualifies free will: and so a proper will is good love and a perverse will is bad love. Good love —that is, charity in the strict sense of the word—is the central point of Augustinian ethics. Therefore, its most significant and concise expression is the famous imperative Love and do what you will.

In St. Augustine’s writings, the philosophy of the State and the philosophy of history depend on God, just as ethics does. Augustine lived in days that were crucial for the Empire. The political structure of the ancient world was rapidly changing, to make way for a new order. The barbarians were pressing harder every day. Alaric succeeded in occupying Rome. Christianity had already deeply penetrated Roman society, and the pagans blamed the misfortunes that were happening on the abandonment of the gods and on Christianity. Tertullian had already had to confront these accusations, and to answer them St. Augustine embarked on an enormous work of an apologist nature in which he expounds the full meaning of history: The City of God.

The central idea of this work is that all human history is a struggle between two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the World. The State, which has its roots in profound principles of human nature, is charged with overseeing temporal things: well-being, peace, justice. This gives it a divine significance as well. Following St. Paul’s example, St. Augustine teaches that all power comes from God. Therefore, religious values are not foreign to the State, and the State must become saturated with Christian principles. At the same time, the State must lend its power to support the Church, so that the Church can fully realize its mission. St. Augustine believes that politics can no more be separated from the consciousness that man’s ultimate goal is not worldly than can ethics. Man’s goal is to discover God in the truth that resides i n the interior of the human creature.

3.3. The Significance of St. Augustine

It has been said that St. Augustine is the last ancient man and the first modern man. He is a son of Romanized Africa, which had been permeated with Greco-Roman culture and converted, a long time before, into an Imperial province. Augustine’s century witnesses a world in crisis, threatened on all sides but still subsisting. The social and political horizon that he finds is the Roman Empire, the grandest creation in ancient history. The intellectual sources from which he draws sustenance are largely of Hellenic origin. Thus St. Augustine’s thinking is nourished by antiquity.

This influence, furthermore, is the more profound because St. Augustine is not a Christian from the outset; his first vision of philosophy comes to him from sources which are clearly pagan, such as Cicero, one of the chief representatives of ancient man’s way of life. Christianity takes a long time to conquer Augustine: I came to love you late, you beauty at the same time so ancient and so new!), St. Augustine exclaims in the Confessions.

St. Augustine sees the world through pagan eyes, and he fully understands the marvel of the ancient world. But from the standpoint of Christianity, all this —without God—seems to him to be pure nothingness and evil. The world—and with it, classical culture—has an enormous value; but one must understand and live it from the realization of God. Only then is it estimable in the eyes of the Christian.

St. Augustine, a frontiersman who lives on the boundary between two different cultures, not only knows and embraces the two, but also reaches what is most profound and original in both. He is, perhaps, the ancient thinker who best understands the overall significance of the Empire and Roma n history. On the other hand, St. Augustine represents one of the most perfect realizations of the idea of Christianity, one of the three or four highest modes in which the new type of man has been expressed. Notwithstanding Scholasticism’s great achievements, it derives essentially from St. Augustine. The last ancient man represents the beginning of the great medieval stage of Europe’s history.

St. Augustine’s thought contains something characteristic not only of Christianity but also of the modern epoch: intimacy. We have seen how he bases his philosophy on the inner man. He asks man to enter the interior of his own soul in order to find himself, and with himself, God. This is the great lesson which St. Anselm will learn first, and through him all of Western mysticism. In contrast to the flights into the external world that characterized ancient man, the man of the agora and forum, St. Augustine finds himself in the calm interior of his own ego. This leads him to affirm the ego as the highest criterion of certainty, i n a statement which although reached by means of different suppositions, is similar to Descartes’ cogito: Every m an who understands himself to be doubting , understands truly , and is certain of this thing which he understands.

More than anyone else i n his time, St. Augustine achieved what was to constitute the very essence of another mode of being; his incomparable fecundity derives from this fact. The Confessions represents man’s first attempt to approach himself. Until the advent of idealism—that is, until the seventeenth century—no one will achieve anything comparable. And when modern man, guided by Descartes, returns to himself and remains alone with his own ego, St. Augustine will again acquire profound influence.

St. Augustine determined one of the two great aspects of Christianity, that of interiority, and made it possible for that aspect to achieve full development. The other element remained in the hands of the Greek theologians, and therefore in the Eastern Church. This situation has in large measure determined European history, which since its birth shows the imprint of Augustinian thought.medieval-celebration


1. Scholasticism

1.1. The Era of Transition

Middle Ages started in 430, the year of St. Augustine’s death, as the cut-off date, and it extends midway into the fifteenth century, and 1453, the year in which the Byzantine Empire fell into Turkish hands, is frequently taken as its limit.

There is a long gap of four centuries, from the fifth to the ninth, in which actually there is no philosophy. The world is essentially changed with the fall of the Roman Empire.
The great political unity of antiquity is replaced by the fractionization; waves of barbarians surge over Europe and cover it almost completely; they form barbaric kingdoms in the various regions of Empire. The social and political unity of the different peoples of the Empire is now replaced by the separativeness of barbaric states and when these unconnected political communities finally established ties, they do not result in the reestablishment of the Western Empire, as was expected at the time, but in an entirely new community—Europe.

transitionThus the elements of the ancient culture are all, but lost and above all dispersed. The culture itself was not destroyed to the extent usually believed, and the proof of this is that later little by little, it appears. But very little of it remains in any one place. And so a new problem arises: to save what is found, to preserve the remains of the shipwrecked culture. This is the mission of the intellectuals of these four centuries; their labour is not–nor can it be—creative; it is only a process of compilation.

One of the famous works at this era was the work of Italian thinker Martianus Capella, who lived in the fifth century. He wrote a treatise entitled “The Marriage of Mercury and Philology,” an odd Encyclopedia in which the studies which were to become dominant in the Middle Ages are systematized: the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Together these subjects comprised the seven liberal arts.

Throughout this era of transition, the ancient wisdom of pagan writers and that of the Fathers of the Church is preserved in disorganized fashion and without intellectual precision, No distinction is made as to disciplines of knowledge, and a systematic and congruent body of doctrines is of course completely lacking. This phase is concerned only with the accumulation of knowledge, but it prepares the way for the prodigious speculative labour of the following centuries.

1.2. The Nature of Scholasticism

ScholasticismBeginning with the ninth century there appear, as a consequence of the Carolingian Renaissance, the schools, and with them Scholasticism, a special knowledge cultivated in the schools. In contrast to the seven liberal arts of the trivium and quadrivium, this knowledge is principally theological and philosophical. The school’s work is of collective nature; it is a cooperative labour and is closely connected with the ecclesiastical organization, which assures an unusual continuity of thought. In scholasticism there exists—particularly from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries—a unitary body of doctrine which is preserved as a common property: a body of doctrine which the various individual thinkers collaborate on and which they all use. In Scholasticism, as in all spheres of medieval life, the personality of the individual is not emphasized. Therefore, the modern meaning of the word “originality” does not have application to Scholasticism. But it does not by any means follow that Scholasticism is homogeneous, or that is lacked eminent personalities. On the contrary: in the Middle Ages we find some of the most profound and perspicacious minds in all of the history of philosophy; and medieval thought.

THE EXTERNAL FORMS OF SCHOLASTIC WRITINGS: The Scholastic literary forms correspond to the circumstances in which they maintain a close relationship with educational life, at first with the life of the schools and later with that of the universities. Scholastic teaching is first developed on the basis of texts that are read and commented on; it is for this reason that we speak of lectures; sometimes these texts are from the Scriptures themselves, but frequently they are works of the Fathers of the Church, of theologians or, of ancient or medieval philosophers. At the same time, the daily give and take of academic life leads to the disputations in which questions are debated, and by means of which the participants become skilful in argumentation and in establishing proof.

The literary forms spring from this activity. First of all there are the commentaries on the various books studied. Secondary, there are huge repertories of problems which had been discussed, together with their authorities, arguments and solutions; when the problems are dealt with individually in brief, independent studies, the works are called Opuscula. Finally, there are the great doctrinal syntheses of the Middle Ages in which the general content of Scholasticism summarized, the Summae. Outstanding among the Summae are those of St. Thomas, particularly his Summae theologiae. These are the principal forms in which the thought of the Scholastics is set forth.

Philosophy+and+religionPHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY: What is the content of Scholasticism? Is it philosophy? Is it theology? Is it both or something different still? The answers to these questions are not immediately clear. Of course, Scholasticism is theology; there can be no doubt about it. But it is no less true that if there is any philosophy in the Middle Ages, it is especially to be found in the works of the Scholastic writers. The next logical thought would be that theology and philosophy coexist in this period that alongside Scholastic theology there is a Scholastic philosophy. At once there arises the problem of the relationship between theology and philosophy. An attempt is usually made to resolve this problem by resorting to the idea of subordination and recalling the old phrase “philosophy, the handmaiden of theology,” from this viewpoint, philosophy is an auxiliary, subordinate discipline, which theology makes use of its own ends. But as Aristotle already knew, philosophy is not useful for anything, and all the other sciences are more necessary than philosophy, though none is superior to it. Therefore philosophy is not and cannot be a subordinate science, used as a means to something else.

The problems of Scholasticism are primarily theological problems. These theological problems calls forth new questions and these are philosophic questions. For instance, the dogma of Creation compels us to consider the problem of being, bringing us back to the realm of metaphysics. It is the same for all the other dogmas. Thus Scholasticism deals with philosophical problems that arise in connection with religious and theological questions. But philosophy is not used as a tool in these cases; rather, the framework within which the philosophy problems are considered is rigorously determined by the actual situation from which they arise.

Medieval philosophy is essentially different from that of the Greeks, principally because its questions are different and are based on different suppositions. The outstanding example of this difference is the problem of Creation, which radically transforms the great ontological problem; as a result of this, Christian philosophy comprises a new period in the history of philosophy quite separate from the ancient period. At all times in our consideration of Scholasticism we shall be viewing it as a complex of theology and philosophy united by a special tie corresponding to the attitude toward life  which gives rise to the speculations of Christian theorists.

2. The Great Themes of Middle Ages

We shall examine briefly the three major problems of medieval philosophy: those of Creation, the universals, and reason. In the evaluation of these three problems, which have a parallel development, we will find concentrated the entire history of medieval thought and of the era as a whole.

creation2.1. The Creation

We have already seen that the Christian point of departure is essentially different from the Greek’s; that is the Christian begins with the nihility of the world. In other words, the world is contingent, not necessary. It doesn’t contain within itself its reason for being, but receives it from another, from God. The world is an entity which derives its being from another, as distinguished from the Deity who is the entity which derives its being from itself. God is the Creator and the world is His creation; two profoundly different, perhaps incredible modes of being. Thus, the Creation appears as the first metaphysical problem of Middle Ages, from which, in fact, all the others are derived.

The Creation must not be confused with what the Greeks called genesis or generation. Generation is a type of motion. It presupposes a subject, an entity that moves, passing from a beginning to an end. The carpenter who makes a table makes it of wood, and the wood is the subject of the motion. This does not occur in the Creation; there is no subject. God does not manufacture or make the world out of a previously existing material, but creates it, sets it in existence. The Creation is a creation from nothingness. But it is a principle of medieval philosophy that nothing can be made from nothing. This would seem to indicate that the Creation is impossible, that being cannot result from nothingness; this principle would be a formula of pantheism. But the sense in which this phrase is used in Middle Ages is that nothing can be made from nothing without the intervention of God, that is, precisely without the Creation….Thus we see that the idea of creation, religious in origin, profoundly affects medieval ontology:

This Creation could be within time. The opinions of Scholastics are divided. They are not so much divided with regard to the dogmatic truth that the Creation did not occur within time, as with regard to the possibility of demonstrating this rationally. St. Thomas considered that the Creation was demonstrable, but not in its temporality, which could be known only through revelation. Moreover, the idea of Creation dating from eternity is not contradictory, since being created means only receiving being from God and this is independent of time relationships.

But a new question arises: the relation of God to the world which has been created. The world is not sufficient unto itself for its existence; it does not have sufficient for being. It is maintained in its existence by God so that it does not lapse into nothingness. Thus aside from the Creation, there is a need for preservation. God’s action upon the world is constant; he must keep on causing it to exist at each moment. This is tantamount to a continuing creation. Thus the world always has need of God and is continually needy and insufficient. The early Scholastics believed it was so. The ontological basis of the world is found in God, not only at the origin of the world, but also at the present time, at all times. But in the nominalism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries this conviction wavers. The nominalists think that continuing creation is not necessary, that the world does not need to be maintained. The world is still understood that is not self-sufficient and which has received his existence at the hands of its Creator, but the nominalists believed that the being which God gave the world when He created it is sufficient fir its subsistence. The world is an entity with the capacity to go on existing by itself; God’s participation in its existence, after his act of creation consists merely of not annihilating it, of allowing it to exist. In this manner, the idea of continuing creation is succeeded by the idea of the relative self-sufficiency and autonomy of the world as a creature. The world, once it is created, can exist without further aid; it can be left to operate in accordance with its own laws, without the direct and constant intervention of the deity.

universals2.2. The Universals

The question of universals is omnipresent in the Middle Ages. The universals are the genera and species, in contradistinction to individual things. The objects which present themselves to our senses are individuals: this thing, that thing. On the other hand, the concepts by means of which we imagine these same objects are universals: man, tree. What relationship do these universals have with the things?  In other words, in what measure do our perceptions correspond to reality? In this way there arises the question of knowing whether or not the universals are things, and in what sense. The idea we are to have of both the being of things and the nature of knowledge is dependent upon the solution to this problem. At the same time, a multitude of highly serious metaphysical and theological problems are connected with this question.

The medieval period begins with an extreme position, realism, and ends with the opposite extreme solution, nominalism.

Realism which is the generally accepted position until the twelfth century, maintains that universals are things. The adherents of the extreme form of realism believe that the universals are present in all the individuals that fall under their headings (for instance, the universal “man” would be present in each individual man) and that, consequently there is no essential difference between individuals, there are only accidental differences. The universals are prior to the individual things. In essence there would thus be only one man, and the distinction between individual men would be purely accidental. This is tantamount to a denial of individual existence and comes dangerously close to pantheism. On the other hand, the realist solution had great simplicity, and was, moreover, adaptable to the interpretation of various dogmas—for example, that of original sin. If in essence there is only one man, Adam’s sin naturally affects the essence of humanity, and thus all later men. Realism is represented by St. Anselm and in its extreme form, by William of Champeaux (eleventh and twelfth centuries).

Nominalism, started principally with Roscellinus of Compiegne. According to nominalism it is the individuals that exist. There is nothing in nature that is universal. The universals exist only in the mind, as something posterior to the things, and they are expressed in words. Roscellinus arrives at a purely verbalistic interpretation of universals; they are no more than exhalations of voice. But this theory, too, is dangerous. If realism exaggerated, threatens to lead to pantheism; if there are three persons, there are three Gods. Moreover, the Incarnation is very difficult to conceive of within the framework of Roscellinus’ idea. Thus, the first two solutions are imperfect and do not solve the problem. A long and painstaking mental effort, a large share of which falls to the Jews and Arabs, leads to ,ore mature and subtle formulas in the thirteenth century, especially in the writings of St. Thomas.

Moderate realism: The adherents of this philosophy recognizes that true substance is the individual thing as was mentioned by Aristotle, whose  authority St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas invoke. The individual is the first substance. But this philosophy is not a form of nominalism; the individual is a true reality, but is an individual of species, and is obtained from species by individuation. Thus, in order to explain the individual reality, there is need of a principle of individuation. St. Thomas says that the universals are products of the spirit, but that they are based on reality outside the mind. The universals considered formally—that is, as such—are products of the mind. They do not have an independent existence, but are formed by the mind. They do, however, have a basis in reality. The universal has an existence, not as a separate thing, but as an ingredient of the things.

The principle of individuation: That is, what is that makes this entity be this one and not this other one? St. Thomas says quantified matter is the principle of individuation. A certain quantity of matter is what individuates the universal form that shapes the matter. But it should not be forgotten that there is a hierarchy of entities ranging from primal matter to pure actuality (God). Primal matter cannot exist actually, because it is pure possibility. But “informed” matter, may be form or matter, depending on how it is considered. For example, wood is itself a form, but it is the matter of a table. Thus, there is a series of hierarchic forms within a single entity, and there are essential forms and accidental forms. This principle of individuation raises a serious problem for St. Thomas: What about the angels? The angels have no matter; how is individuation possible among them? According to the Thomist solution, it is in no way possible. St. Thomas says that the angels are not individuals, but the species, and each species is exhausted in each angel.

In the final period of Middle Ages, the problem of the universals undergoes a profound development and there is a return to the nominalist formulation of the questions and making many distinctions. We see that just as in the case of the problem of Creation, the internal dialectics of the problem of the universals leads the man of the fifteenth century to turn his eyes toward the world and formulate the science of nature. The third great question of medieval philosophy, the problem of reason, will definitely centre man’s attention in the new theme of the world.

2.3 Reason

reasonLogos (reason) has been an essential theme in Christian thought from the very beginning. The first sentence of the Gospel according to St. John says literally that in the beginning was the word, the logos, and that God is logos. This means that provisionally God is the word and, in addition, reason. Several especially important problems arise as a result of this situation, and in particular the problem of man’s situation in the universe.

What is man? He is finite entity, a creature, one thing among the other things; like the world, man is finite and contingent. But at the same time man is logos; according to all Hellenic tradition, man is an animal which possesses logos. On the one hand, man is just one more thing in the world, but on the other hand, man, like God, is cognizant of the whole world and, again like God possesses logos.

What is the nature of man’s relationship with God and the world? It is an essentially ambiguous relationship; man is an entity which partakes of being in the sense that all creatures do, but man is also a spirit capable of knowing what the world is; that is, an entity which is logos. The philosophers of the Middle Ages will say that man is a creature which exists halfway between nothingness and God.  Moreover, man’s special situation was already pointed out in Genesis: Man is made in the image and likeness of God. That is, the Idea of man, the exemplary model according to which man is created, is God himself.

In what ways is Christian thought to influence philosophy? In order to know truth, one must enter oneself, one must turn one’s attention within oneself, as we have already learned when discussing St. Augustine’s contribution to philosophy, “enter into the chamber of your mind”, St. Anslem too will say. Accordingly, if man wants to learn, the worst thing he can do is to begin to observe the things of the world, because truth is not in the things but in God; and man finds God in himself. Since truth is God, we reach God only through love, and only God is truth. This is the precise meaning of St. Anslem’s phrase, “faith seeking understanding”. St. Bonaventure will call philosophy the journey of the mind toward God, and will say that this journey begins with faith. This concludes the outline of the state of early medieval philosophy.

In St. Thomas, theory is rational, speculative knowledge. Theology rests on faith in so far as it is based on revealed, supernatural information; but man scrutinizes this information with his reason in order to interpret it and arrive at theological knowledge. Therefore complete accord between God and human reason is assumed. If God is logos, as St. John says, and if man is also defined by logos, there is accord between the two and knowledge of the divine essence is possible. But if theology and philosophy both deal with God, how do they differ? St. Thomas says that the material object of theology and philosophy can be the same when both speak of God, but that their formal objects are different. Theology and Philosophy approach the divine entity by different paths, and therefore theology and philosophy have different formal objects, even though that entity may be numerically the same.

We pass from this state of equilibrium in St. Thomas to a very different situation in Duns Scotus and Occam.  For Scotus, theological knowledge is no longer speculative, but practical, moralistic. Man is a rationalizing animal and thus will create a rational philosophy, because this is a matter of logos. But on the other hand, theology is supernatural; reason has little to do with it; it is above all.

Occam exaggerates Scotus’ ideas. For Occam reason comes to be an exclusively human concern. Reason is, indeed, characteristic of man, but not of God. God is omnipotent and cannot be subject to any law, not even to the law of reason; Occam says that if it were otherwise, the divine will would be inadmissibly limited. Things are as they are – true, good, and the like – because God wills them so; the followers of Occam will say that if God wanted the act of murder to be good, or two and two to be nineteen, they would be so. Occam is a voluntarist and believes very strongly in the priority of the divine will; he does not admit of anything superior to God’s will, not even reason.

If God is not reason, then human reason cannot concern itself with God. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Deity ceases to be man’s great theoretic subject, and this separates man from God. Reason concerns itself again with those objects to which it is appropriate, to a realm wherein it can be fruitful. What are these objects? Above all man himself. Secondly, the world, whose marvelous order is just then being discovered; it is found to possess a mathematical as well as rational order. Man and the world are the two principal themes of the age; therefore, humanism and modern physics, the science of nature, come to be the two chief concern of Renaissance man, who finds himself alienated from God.

3. The Medieval Philosophers

Medieval philosophy proper begins in ninth century. As we have seen, the intellectual activity prior to this time consisted merely of a labour of compilation and preservation of classical culture and Patristic speculation; it was without originality, and did not possess great inherent possibilities. Furthermore, the organization necessary to philosophic study was completely lacking and was only to appear  in the schools, which arise at the beginning of ninth century. From these schools, led by the teachers from all the European countries, and particularly  by Frenchmen, Englishmen and Italians, there arises the first important budding of Philosophy in the Middle ages; this new activity is centred around  the figure of the English thinker John Scotus Erigena.

3.1. Stocus Erigena

erigenaJohn Scotus Erigena was born in the British Isles, probably in Ireland, where more than in any other region the knowledge of classical culture and even of the Greek language had been preserved. However, Scotus carried out his intellectual activity in France, which he reached toward the ninth century. Scotus represents the first example of English influence on European culture.

Scotus is greatly influenced by Neoplatonic mysticism and particularly by the anonymous writer once known as Dionysius, and now known as Pseudo-dionysius. Scotus translated his works from Greek to Latin, and with this effort assured their fame and enormous influence on medieval thought. He was persuaded to write a  treatise against the idea of predestination which some heresies were then making very fashionable; his treatise, De praedestinatione, was considered excessively daring and was condemned. His major work was another treatise, De divisione naturae.

Scotus’ purpose is always strictly orthodox; he does not even imagine that there can be a discrepancy between true philosophy and revealed religion; reason is merely the instrument which interprets the sacred texts for us, nothing more. When both philosophy and religion are true, they are identical. Scotus places revelation, strictly understood – that is, the authority of God. However there are sources of authority – the Fathers of the Church and the earlier commentators on sacred texts – and this type of authority must be subordinated to reason, which occupies the second rank, the rank below the divine word.

Scotus’ metaphysics is expounded in his De divisione naturae. This division assumes a series of emanations or acts of sharing by means of which all things are born from the single true entity which is god. There are four stages in this process.

1) Nature which is creative and not created; that is, God in his first reality. He is unknowable, and can be dealt with only by means of the negative theology which Pseudo-Dionysius had made so popular.

2) Nature which is creative and created; this is God in so far as He contains the first causes of the entities. Upon knowing these causes in Himself, God creates and manifests Himself in His theophanies.

3) Nature which is created and not creative; the corporal or spiritual beings created in time which are mere manifestations or theophanies of God. Scotus Erigena who is an extreme realist, affirms the priority of the genus with respect to the species, and of the species with respect to the individual.

4) Nature which is neither created nor creative; that is, God as the end of entire universe. All motion ends where it began; God returns to Himself, and the things become deified, they resolve themselves in the divine all.

Scotus present an interesting metaphysics which touches actually upon several major problems in the Middle Ages and constitutes the earliest phase of Scholasticism. However, his doctrine is dangerous and naturally inclined toward pantheism. Both well-and-ill founded accusations of pantheism are levelled against numerous thinkers during the Middle Ages, the majority of whom, we must remember, did not by any means deliberately profess pantheism; but their doctrines– or sometimes only their professions of faith—inclined toward it. As a consequence of this extreme form of realism, Scotus comes to believe in a single soul for all mankind—another of the various dangers which are to menace Scholasticism. Thus, in the first important medieval thinker we find the features which are to characterize the epoch as well as the difficulties with which the era must come to terms.

FROM SCOTUS ERIGENA TO ST. ANSELM: For Western Europe the tenth century is a terrible century: there are battles and invasions everywhere; the Normans attack, devastate and sack; the Carolingian Renaissance and all the intellectual awakening of the ninth century disappears, and the schools find themselves in a difficult situation. Medieval thought shuts itself up in the cloisters and from this time begins to acquire the monastic nature which is to weigh upon it for a long time; Benedictine Order becomes the principal repository of theological and philosophical knowledge. Great personalities are rare; the one of greatest interest is the monk Gerbert. He obtained an exceptionally complete education, principally in Spain, where he had contact with the Arabic schools. Gerbert was not an original thinker; he was most concerned with logic and ethics and is important mainly because he was in the centre of an intellectual nucleus which achieved further development in the eleventh century.

In eleventh century the extreme realism we have mentioned is in vogue; it has a notable representative in Odon, of Tourani, where there was a popular school. Odon applied his realism principally to problems of the meaning of original sin and the creation of the souls of children; according to him, the latter question involved only the appearance of new individual, accidental qualities of the single human substance.

This realism is opposed by the opinion of the nominalists, which declares that the universals are terms, not real things. The leader of this group is Roscellinus who taught in France, England, and Rome toward the end of eleventh century. The budding nominalism scarcely outlives Roscellinus; it reappears only in the last centuries of the Middle Ages, and then it is based on different suppositions.

3.2. St. Anselm

anselm (1)LIFE AND WORKS: He was born in 1033 and died in 1109. He was from Aosta, in Piedmont. As a member of the medieval Christian and of the European community which had begun to take shape, he did not restrict his life and activity to the country of his origin, but lived principally in France and England. He ultimately was named Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1093; he remained in that office until his death. St. Anselm’s entire life was devoted to study and religious activity and in his last years upholding the Church’s rights as a spiritual power, which were then being seriously threatened.

St. Anselm is the second great medieval philosopher, Scotus Erigena being the first. Strictly speaking, he was the founder of Scholasticism, for it is only with him that this movement acquires its definite character. On the other hand, he is immersed in the Patristic tradition of Augustinian and Platonic (or, more precisely Neo-platonic) origin. The intellectual influences which differ from those of Patristic speculation and later strongly affect the character of Scholasticism are not yet evident in him: the influences of the Arabs and, through them, Aristotle.

St. Anselm is a faithful Augustinian.  He is aware of his constant conformity with the Fathers of the Church and particularly with St. Augustine. Nevertheless we already detect in Anselm the great lines which are to define Scholasticism, and in fact his work constitutes a first synthesis of it. Thus, medieval philosophy and theology are profoundly influenced by his thought.

St. Anselm wrote several books. Many are of predominantly theological interest; there are numerous letters full of doctrinal substance. The most important philosophical works – all short pieces—are contained in the Monologium (A model for meditation on the reason of faith) and the Proslogium, which carries as a motto the phrase which summarizes the meaning of all his philosophy: Faith seeking understanding.

FAITH AND REASON: St. Anselm’s theological—and philosophical—work is primarily concerned with proofs of the existence of God. This is the topic which receives most discussion in his writing and the one most closely associated with his name. However, these proofs cannot be properly understood unless one is aware of the whole range of St. Anselm’s thought.

St. Anselm begins with faith; the proofs are not meant to lend support to faith, but are themselves supported by faith. His principle is: I believe in order to understand. In the Proslogium, his major work, he writes: For I do not wish to understand in order to believe; rather, I believe in order to understand. However, this is not a question of something distinct from faith; faith itself desire to know, seeks intellection, and this desire for knowledge arises from the internal character of faith. St. Anselm distinguishes between living faith, which is actually operative, and dead faith, which is useless; living faith is founded on love, and this is what gives life. This love makes man, who is separated from the face of God by sin, anxious to return to God’s presence. Living faith wants to contemplate the face of God; it wants God to reveal Himself in the light, in truth. Therefore, living faith seeks the true God, and this is “understanding”. “If I did not believe, I would not understand,” adds St. Anselm; that is, without faith, or rather love, he could not attain God’s truth.

Thus, we see that theology relates in a special way to St. Anselm’s religion; however, the result of theology does not so relate. In this writings St. Anselm says that “The Christian should approach understanding through faith; he should not approach faith through understanding, or withdraw from faith if he cannot understand. When he can reach intelligence, he will be contented; and if he cannot understand, he should worship”. This statement is a clear definition of the intellectual basis for all of St. Anselm’s philosophy.

THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT: In his Monologium St. Anselm gives various proofs of the existence of God, but the most important proof is the one he expounds in the Proslogium, and which, since the time of Kant, has generally been referred to as the ontological argument. This proof of the existence of God has had enormous repercussions in the entire history of Philosophy. Even during St. Anselm’s lifetime a monk named Gaunilo attacked the proof, and St. Anselm himself replied to Guanilo’s objections. Later on, opinion was divided and interpretations of the argument differed.  St. Bonaventure took a position close to that of St. Anselm; St. Thomas rejected the proof; Scotus accepted it with modifications; Descartes and Leibniz made use of it, with certain alterations; then Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason established its impossibility in an apparently definitive way. Yet Hegel afterward restated the proof in different terms, and still later. In the nineteenth century, it was studied in depth by Brentano and Father Gratry. Up to the present day the ontological arguments is a central theme of philosophy, because it involves not only mere logical argumentation, but also a question that concerns all of metaphysics. This is the reason for the singular renown of St. Anselm’s proof.

It will be sufficient here to indicate briefly its essential meaning. St. Anselm’s point of departure is God, a hidden God who does not manifest Himself to man in his fallen state. This is a religious point of Departure: the faith of man, who was made in order to see God but has not seen Him. This faith seeks to understand, to practice theology. But there does not appear the necessity or possibility of demonstrating the existence of God. St. Anselm cites the Thirteenth Psalm: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God”.  This denial calls the existence of God into question for the first time and gives St. Anselm’s proof a meaning it lacks without the fool’s statement.

St. Anselm formulates his famous proof in his terms:  When the fool says that there is no God, he understands what he is saying. If we say that God is that entity such that no greater entity can be imagined, the fool will understand this as well. Therefore, God in his understanding; what he denies is that God is also in re, that is, that He really exists. But if God exists only in the imagination we are able to imagine we are able to imagine that He could also exist in reality, and this conception of Him is greater than the earlier one. Therefore, we are able to imagine something greater than God if He does not exist. But this contradicts our premise that God is such that nothing greater than He can be imagined. Then God, who exists in the understanding, must also exist in reality. That is, if He exists only in the understanding, He does not fulfil the necessary condition; therefore, it would not be God of whom we were speaking.

As a matter of Fact, St. Anselm’s proof shows that the existence of God cannot be denied. It consists of confronting the fool’s denial with the meaning of what he is saying. The fool does not understand the full implication of what he is saying, and for this very reason he is a fool. He is not thinking of God, and his denial is an error. His folly consists of this: he does not know what he is saying. If, instead, we imagine God as fully as possible, we see that it is impossible that He should not exist. Therefore St. Anselm confronts folly with the doctrine of intimacy, the return to oneself, following the example of St. Augustine. When man enters within himself and finds himself, he also finds God, in whose image and likeness he is made. Thus, the ontological argument is an appeal to the sense of intimacy, to the depth of the personality, and is based concretely on the refutation of the fool.

This meeting with God in the intimacy of the mind opens a clear path to St. Anselm’s speculation. This is the course that medieval thought will follow in the subsequent period.

3.3. The Twelfth Century

In the twelfth century, there is a framework of problems within which Scholasticism can move forward, and that body of doctrine appears which could be called the “common property” of the Middle Ages, or the “Scholastic synthesis.” This body of doctrine prepares the way for the great general works of the thirteenth century, especially St. Thomas’ Summa theologiae. At the same time the world of ideas of Western Europe attain consistency. The schools become important intellectual centres which will soon lead to the creation of universities. The principal home of philosophy in this period is France, especially the schools of Charters and Paris. Later, the foundation of the University of Paris, the most important intellectual focal point of the entire medieval era, will definitely establish the Paris as the capital of Scholasticism.

In the twelfth century, the question of universals is thoroughly discussed. In general, realism prevails, but there is a series of attempts to oppose the extreme of realism, and these attempts come close to the moderate solution that St. Thomas will impose. Arabic and Jewish influences are brought to bear intensively on Scholasticism and, with them, the influence of Aristotle, whose original works are almost unknown until then. This intellectual fermentation also gives rise to heterodox theological movements, especially pantheistic movements, and there is a resurgence of dualism in the Albigensian and Catharist heresies. Lastly, mysticism of a speculative nature enjoys a great flowering. All these tendencies, coming to the fullness of their development, will produce the culminating period in medieval philosophy, which includes Roger Bacon, Meister Eckhart, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas.


chartersTHE SCHOOL OF CHARTERS: The school of Charters was founded by Fulbert, bishop of Charters, who died at the beginning of eleventh century; but only in the twelfth century did the school of Charters acquire its true importance as a centre of Platonist and the realist thought. Among the most interesting thinkers in this group are the brothers Bernard and Thierry (Theodoric) of Charters, who were chancellors of school. Their teachings are principally known through the works of their English pupil John of Salisbury. They believed that only the universal realities deserved the name of entities; that the individual sensibles were no more than shadows. Bernard distinguished three types of realities: God; matter, which was brought out of nothingness by the Creation; and the ideas, exemplary forms through which the possibles and the existents are present in the mind of God. The union of the ideas with matter produces the sensible world. A strong Platonic influence is visible in this extreme form of realism.

Gilbert, a pupil of Bernard, opposed the realism of the school of Charters. He avoided all danger of pantheism by distinguishing the divine Ideas from their copies, which are the innate forms inherent in the sensible things. The universals are not the Ideas, but images of the Ideas. The mind compares similar essences and unites them mentally; this common form is the universal, genus or species. Thus, Gilbert is the author of the first sketchy outline of the thirteenth-century solution to the problem of universals.

Other important thinkers related to the School of Charters are William of Conches and the above-mentioned John of Salisbury, a keen and interesting philosopher who wrote two major works, the Metalogicus and the Polycraticus. Separate from this group, but related to it and engaging in polemics with it, are various adversaries of the extreme realist positions. These men fashioned several theories to solve the problem of universals, taking as their point of departure the existence of individuals and considering the genera and species as different aspects of the individuals. Especially noteworthy among these philosophers are the Englishman Adelard of Bath and the Fleming Walter of Mortagne, authors of the theory of the respectus (the aspects of the individuals), the status (states) and, lastly, the collectio. In the theory of status, or states, essences remained unchanged in themselves, but change their “state” according to the bodies with which they are united. In the theory of collectio, a group of individuals taken collectively is accorded a universality that is denied to the individuals taken separately.

abelardABELARD: He was born near Nantes in 1079 {differ from the date on the picture}. The figure of Abelard, the belligerent and passionate dialectician, together with the story of his affair with Heloïse, his castration and the restless nature of his entire life, are all too well known. His pugnacious spirit led him into involvement in dialectics and polemics with his successive teachers. He attended the school of Roscellinus, then the school of William of Champeaux. Afterward, he founded a school at Melun, which was later transferred to Corbeil. Years later, he returned to Paris, studied theology with Anselm of Laon, and taught with enormous success. After this period of glory came his misfortunes. Then he became a monk, leading his restless life and bearing his teachings from monastery to monastery until his death in 1142.

Abelard was a passionate and refined spirit. He was a highly cultured man, and it has been said that in him and in the entire twelfth century there is a partial anticipation of the Renaissance. His writings include a large theological work, from which an Introductio ad theologiam; his famous book Sic et non,  in which he unites apparently contradictory theological and Biblical authorities in an effort of conciliation; a philosophical work, Scito te ipsum, seu Ethica; a Dialectica; and various other works

Peter Abelard establishes firm relationships between philosophy and religion. The Christian mysteries, according to him, cannot be demonstrated and known experimentally; they can only be understood or believed by means of analogies or similitudes.  In spite of this formulation, Abelard tended in practice to interpret various dogmas—that of the Trinity, for example—and lapsed into errors that were condemned.

With regard to the question of universals, he first criticized Roscellinus’ “nominalism,” but later especially attacked William of Champeaux because of his extreme realist doctrines. According to Abelard, the intellect apprehends the similarities between individuals by means of abstraction. The result of this abstraction—which is always based on the imagination, because knowledge begins with the individual and the sensible—is the universal. The universal cannot be a thing, because things are not predicated of subjects, whereas universal are so predicated. But the universal is not merely a mere term either; it is a word as used in discourse,  which is related to the real content; it is a true noun in the strict sense that is equivalent to a meaningful word.

Therefore, although Abelard does not have a doctrinal importance comparable to that of Scotus Erigena or St. Anselm, he exercised an extraordinary personal influence in the schools and made keen contributions to many important questions. His activity prepared the way for the apogee of Paris as a Scholastic centre and for the philosophical and theological fulfilment of thirteenth century.

THE VICTORINES: The Augustine abbey of St. Victor in Paris becomes in the twelfth century one of the most important intellectual centres in Christendom. Above all, it is a centre of mysticism, but of a mysticism which does not exclude rational knowledge or even the profane sciences, which it actually encourages energetically. The Abbey of St. Victor indulges intensively in philosophy and theology; the Victorines’ profound religious spirituality is sustained by a precise and wide-range knowledge. In the work of the philosophers of St. Victor, especially Hugh and Richard the systematization of Scholasticism takes a step forward.

Hugh of St. Victor, the major figure among them, is the author of a comprehensive synoptic work entitled De sacramentis, which is already a Summa theologiae, more complete and perfect than Abelard’s attempt. Hugh recommended learning all the sciences, sacred and profane; he believes that they mutually support and strengthen one another and that they are all useful.  He especially recommends the study of seven liberal arts, the trivium and quadrivium, which he considers to be inseparable.

Richard of St. Victor, a pupil of Hugh, restated his master’s thought and continued it with original elements. Richard wrote a Liber excerptionum and the Trinitate. Concerned with the proofs of the existence of God, he rejected the a priori proofs and especially emphasized the validity of sensory perception and observation. Richard’s work, too, contains the close union between mysticism and rational argument that was to culminate in the speculative mysticism of Meister Eckhart.

The knowledge of God and of man illuminates each other. We know through experience, and what we find in him serves as a basis for inferring some of the properties of divine Entity. Conversely, the information which rational argument gives us concerning the Deity can be applied toward the knowledge of man, the image of God, in his most profound being. Perhaps Richard of St. Victor is the philosopher who made the most technical and acute use of that intellectual method  which consists in contemplating the reality of God and his human image alternately with the various suitable means for doing so. Therefore, his De Trinitate is one of the most interesting medieval contributions to theology and anthropology at one and the same time.

In discussing the problem of universals and knowledge, Hugh of St. Victor also uses the theory of abstraction, Aristotelian in origin, in advance of great influence of Aristotle in the thirteenth century. He considers the history of the world to be ordered about two principal moments: the Creation of the world and its restoration through Christ Incarnate and the sacraments. The work of the restoration is the primary object of the scriptures, but the Creation is studied by the profane sciences. In this way the two classes of sciences are united in Hugh’s thought. Hugh’s philosophy is strongly tinged with Augustinianism; he affirms that man’s first knowledge is of his own existence and of the soul, which is distinct from the body. This is another philosophy of intimacy, and this, too, is a facet of Hugh’s orthodox mystical orientation.

The great twelfth-century Christian figure St. Bernard of Clairvaux is also closely related to mysticism. It was St. Bernard who vivified and inspired the Christian order, which had been founded at the end of preceding century in order to make religious picture at Cluny more rigorous and ascetic. The Christian spirit was one of the extreme austerity, as was St. Bernard’s own life.  His spirit of ardent religiosity and his capabilities as a leader of man are well known. He grants philosophy its due, but mysticism is dominant in his thought; indeed, St. Bernard is one of the principal representatives of mysticism in the Middle Ages.

Among the theologians who use philosophy only as a tool, the most interesting is Peter Lombard, called the magister sententiarum (sentences, or maxims) par excellence. Throughout the Middle Ages his Libri IV sententiarum were a repository of theology, commented on numberless times in the entire Scholastic age that followed.

THE HERESIES OF THE TWLFTH CENTURY: This century, so full of intellectual activity, could not keep itself free from heterodox currents in theology. These currents were related to philosophical orientations marginal to the general development of Scholasticism. These heresies are principally concerned with a few points that received special discussion: atheism (infrequent in its strict form), pantheism, materialism, and the eternity of the world. These are the most disputed points, those to which Arabic philosophy will later contribute, and which will have heterodox repercussions until the end of Middle Ages.

There appear in the twelfth century, especially in France and some places in Italy, two different but interrelated heretical movements: the Albigenses (from Albi in southern France) and the Cathari. The violent struggles which these heresies aroused are well known, as is the intense activity of theologian and preachers which they produced, an activity that culminated in the foundation of the Dominican Order by St. Dominic (Domingo de Guzman). These heresies professed a dualism of good and evil; evil, opposed to God, had an independent nature, this was tantamount to a denial of Christian monotheism and, in addition, the heresy had moral consequences. Cathari means the pure; among the Cathari, the perfect led a particularly austere life and constituted a special clergy. This contrast between a model difficult to follow and a great majority incapable of such perfection led to serious immorality.  The suppression of the Albigensian movement, at the beginning of thirteenth century, was extremely severe and ended after several “crusades,” with the consequence devastation of the regions affected by the struggle. The heresy of the Cathari was particularly dangerous, because their materialism, which denied the spirituality and the immortality of the soul, contradicted the Catholic dogmas and at the same time, the very foundation of Christian ethics.

pantheismIn another direction, there was a series of movements that more or less approximated pantheism. The Neo-platonic concepts of monism and emanation were in vogue. One such philosopher was Bernard of Tours, author of the book called De mundi universitate. The sect led by Amalric of Bena was more important. According to Amalric, everything is one because everything is God. The being of all things is based on the Being of God; thus, there is an immanence of the Deity in the world. Man is the manifestation or apparition of God, as is Christ himself. These ideas stirred up much controversy, had many repercussions and encountered lively opposition.

Another representative of the pantheistic tendencies was David of Dinant, who made a distinction between God, souls and matter, but believed that they were one in number and that God was identical with matter. In 1215, the Cardinal Robert de Courcon forbade the reading in the University of Paris of the physical and metaphysical works of Aristotle, which had just become known, together with the writings of David of Dinant, Amalric and certain Maurice of Spain (Mauritus Hispanus). In this condemnation of Aristotle along with the representatives of pantheistic tendencies, which were so foreign to his thought, can be seen the confusion of Aristotelian doctrines, still little known, with those of certain Arabic commentators. The influence of Averroës, especially, will later produce an unorthodox movement known by the name of Latin Averroïsm.

3.4. Eastern Philosophy

eastern philosophyAt the same time that philosophy was developing in the West, a similar movement had originated among the people of the East, especially the Arabs and Jews. In no case is this an original, autonomous Arabic or Hebrew Philosophy. Nor it is an isolated speculation, without contact with the Christians. In the first place, the impulse comes particularly from the Greeks, principally Aristotle and some of the Neo-Platonists. In the second place, Christianity has a decisive influence on Moslem and Jewish thought. In the case of Mohammedanism, the influence extends to the religion itself. Strictly speaking, Islam might be considered a Judaeo-Christian heresy that appears by virtue of Mohammed’s connections with Jews and Christians {??!!}. The Moslem dogmas are formulated negatively, with a polemic air, against the doctrine of the Trinity, the influence of which, for example, they denounce: “There is no God but Allah; he is not the son or the father, nor does he have a partner.” Here may be noted a polemic against the primitive polytheism of the Arab as well as against the Trinitarian dogma. Conversely, the philosophy of the Arabs and Jews is known to the Christian Scholastics and influences them strongly. In addition, acquaintance with the works of Aristotle gave Eastern philosophy a head start with respect to Christian philosophy, and in the twelfth century Eastern thought had already reached maturity, whereas this was not to occur in Europe until the following century. But, above all, the great role of the Arabs and Jews was the transmitters of Aristotelian thought. It was especially the Spanish Arabs who brought the texts of the great Greek philosopher to the countries of the West, and this contribution marks the period of Scholasticism’s maturity. From the point of view of this transmission as well as from the point of view of Philosophy activity, Arabic Spain merits first place in the world of medieval Eastern Philosophy. {??}

3.4.1. Arabic Philosophy

Iranian_FarabiCHARACTER: In the seventh century, during the Abbasid Empire, the Syrians introduce Aristotle’s thought to the Arabs in rather indirect fashion. The Aristotelian texts are translated—not always accurately– from Greek to Syriac, From Syriac to Arabic, and sometimes also pass through the Hebrew Language.  These extremely indirect Arabic translations are in turn translated into Latin and then come to the attention of the Scholastics. Sometimes Aristotle’s works are translated first into Spanish and then into Latin; on the other hand, a Greek version is occasionally available, and then the Latin translation is made directly from original. Moreover, the Aristotle to which the Arabs are introduced has frequently been disfigured by the Neo-platonic commentators. Nevertheless, a considerable Aristotelian element enters into what has been called Arabic Syncretism. The Arabs especially Averroës “– were the great commentators on Aristotle in the Middle Ages.

Arabic philosophy is also a Moslem Scholasticism. Its principal topic is the rational interpretation of Koran, and the relationship between religion and philosophy parallel those in the West. The same thing happens with Jewish philosophy; in this way, around the three religions, three scholastic movements of unequal importance are created and all three influence one another.

avicennaARAB PHILOSPHERS IN THE EAST: Arabic philosophic speculation begins around the intellectual centre of Baghdad. A first great figure appears in the ninth century; this is Alkindi, a contemporary of John Scotus Erigena. Another, more important, thinker lives in the following century: Alfarabi, who died around 950. Alfarabi does not himself to translating; instead he devotes himself principally to commenting on Aristotle and introduces the concept of the “active intellect” as a separate form of matter, a theory which came to have great importance in Moslem philosophy. He also introduces the distinction between essence and existence. Later we have Avicenna (Ibn Sina), who lived from 980 to 1037. He was a philosopher, theologian and one of the most famous physicians of the Islamic world and of the whole medieval period. He was singularly precocious, and his life was disturbed and occupied by pleasures and public duties, but in spite of this he left a large body of work.  His most important work, Al-Shifa (The book of Recovery), is the Summa of his philosophy and shows strong Aristotelian influences. Avicenna also wrote Al-Nadjat  (The Book of Salvation), as well as many other treatises. In the Middle Ages, the so-called Avicennae metaphysices compendium was very influential, and a large share of the ideas of Christian scholastics derives from it. Avicenna accepted the distinction between essence and existence, and in his hands it acquired great importance. He also introduced the concept of intentionality, which is so fruitful in our day, and left a profound imprint on all later philosophy, particularly on that of St. Thomas.

In opposition to this group of philosophers there appears among the Arab an orthodox theological movement that is linked with the mysticism of Sufism, which was greatly influenced by Christianity {!} and by Indian Neo-platonic currents. The most important of these theologians is Al-Gazel, author of two books entitled The Destruction of the Philosophers and The Restoration of the Sciences of Religion. Unlike other Arabs who accepted the theories of emanation, Al-Gazel was an orthodox mystic, not a pantheist.

THE SPANISH ARAB PHILOSOPHERS: From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, Arabic Spain is an extremely important intellectual centre. Cordova is the nucleus of this flowering. In the east philosophy begins to decline, but in Spain it is at an apogee, and the Spanish branch of Philosophy represents a continuation of the speculation which culminated in Avicenna’s work. Beginning at the end of Eleventh century and all during the twelfth century, Several great Moslem thinkers make their appearance in the Western world: Avempace (Ibn Bajja), who died in aa38; Ibn Tufail (1100-1185), and most notably Averroës.

averrosAverroës (Ibn Rushd) was born in Cordova in 1126 and died in 1198. He was a physician , mathematician, lawyer, theologian and philosopher; he held the position of judge and was in and out of favour depending on the times. During the entire Middle Ages Averroës is considered the commentator par excellence: Averroës, who made the great commentary, Dante remarks in the divine comedy. Averroës also wrote original treatises, and in the following centuries his thinking greatly influenced the treatment of several philosophical topics.

First among these topics is the eternity of the world, and therefore of matter and motion. Matter is a universal potentiality, and the prime mover extracts the active forces from matter; this process is repeated eternally and is the cause of the sensible, material world. Secondly Averroës believes that the human intellect is an immaterial, eternal and single form; it is the last of planetary intelligences and there is only one for the entire species; it is therefore impersonal. The different ways in which man is united with the universal intellect determine the various classes of knowledge, ranging from the sensible to the illuminating wisdom of mysticism and prophecy. For this reason individual consciousness is lost, and only the consciousness of species endures; Averroës denies personal immortality; only the one intellect of the species lasts forever.

The eternity of motion and the oneness of human intellect are the two areas in which Latin Averoism appears at the heart of Western philosophy. Finally, Averroës establishes a system of relationships between faith and knowledge. He distinguishes three classes of spirits: men of proof; men of dialectics, who are content with probable reasoning; and men of exhortation, who are satisfied with oratory and images. The Koran’s meaning varies depending on how profoundly it is interpreted, and therefore it is useful to everyone. This idea gives rise to the famous theory of the double truth which was dominant in Latin Averroism; according to this theory a thing can be theologically true and philosophically false, and vice versa.

3.4.2. Jewish Philosophy

In the Middle Ages, particularly in Spain, Jewish philosophy develops under the influence of Arabs. The eleventh and twelfth centuries are the centuries of great activity, just as they are for Arabic philosophy. Jewish philosophy is similar in character to Arabic philosophy, from which indeed it derives, but is also influenced by Neo-platonic and mystic elements of the Cabbala. Just as the Arabs attempt to establish a Moslem scholasticism, so the Jews try to create a Hebrew Scholasticism, and their philosophy is inseparably linked with theological questions.

One of the most important Spanish Jewish Philosopher is Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol), who lived in the first half of the eleventh century and who was well known among Christians for his “The Well of Life”. Avicebron’s most famous thesis is that the soul is composed of potentiality and actuality and therefore is material, although not necessarily corporal. Avicebron was greatly influenced by Neo-Platonism. Other interesting thinkers are Ibn Zaddik of Cordova and Judah Halevy, author of the Sefer ha-Kuzari, a book of Jewish apologetics. However, the principal figure of Jewish philosophy is Maimonides.

maimonideMoses ben Maimon or Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was born in Cordova, as was Averroës, his Moslem contemporary, and his principal work is the “Guide for the Perplexed”; this title used to be incorrectly interpreted as a guide for the strayed or misled. It was written in Arabic, in Hebrew characters, under the title of Dalalat al-Hairin, and later translated into Hebrew with the title of Moreh Nebuchim.  The book’s purpose is to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Judaic religion. It is a true Summa of Jewish Scholasticism, the most complex and perfect example of this type of work in Eastern philosophy. The supreme object of religion and philosophy is the knowledge of God; it is necessary to find agreement between the principles and results of both. Maimonides’ treatise is directed at men who possessing this knowledge, are uncertain of perplexed about how to make the two things compatible; it is a question of indecision, not of straying from the path.

Maimonides thinking is similar to that of Averroës, but the two men disagree on several points. Maimonides does not completely accept the allegorical interpretation of the Bible; however, he admits that it is necessary to keep in mind the undeniable results of philosophy when interpreting the Bible, and to avoid letting oneself be dominated by literalism. In spite of its conservative character, Maimonides Philosophy; seemed suspect to the Jewish theologians and encountered considerable opposition. In spite of its conservative character, Maimonides Philosophy; seemed suspect to the Jewish theologians and encountered considerable opposition. His is a negative philosophy; one can say what God is not, but not what He is. God’s essence is not accessible, but His effects are. There is a hierarchy of spheres between God and the entities of the world; in the form of Providence God concerns himself with the totality of the things. The human intellect is single and separate, just as Averroës says. An individual man possesses passive intellect, but through the working of active intellect an acquired intellect develops in him, and this acquired intellect is destined to unite with the active intellect after death. This unification which philosophy effects thus provides man with the possibility of perpetuating a part of himself. These ideas influenced the thought of Spinoza, who, being a Jew, takes Maimonides work into account.

The importance of Arabic and Jewish philosophy—particularly that of their principal representatives, Avicenna, Averroës, and Maimonides– is great; however, this is due more to their influences on Christian Scholasticism than to their inherent interest. The Arabic and Jewish achievements in the fields of metaphysics and theology cannot be compared with those of the great medieval Christians. Yet the Arabic and Jewish thinkers had one great advantage which allowed then to gain a century on the Christians: their knowledge of Aristotle’s work. Until the thirteenth century they passed philosophical material enormously superior to that of their contemporary Christian thinkers. In this book, whose subject is Western philosophy, we cannot deal with the particulars of Arabic and Jewish thought, but only with their ties with philosophy in the West: their Greek inspiration, contribution to Scholasticism and influence on subsequent Western philosophy. A later figure of decisive importance was the Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun. Of Spanish ancestry, he was born in Tunis in 1332 and died in Cairo in 1406. his major contribution to philosophy is the Muqaddimah, the introduction to his Universal History, a brilliant philosophy of society and history.

3.5. The Spiritual World of the Thirteenth Century

THE REAPPEARANCE OF ARISTOTLE: The thirteenth century marks a new phase of philosophy. In its early stages Christianity had to confront Greek thought, and this necessity arises once again under somewhat different circumstances in the Middle Ages. Up until this time Christian philosophy had been constructed on the basis of a few Greek writings of Platonic or Neo-Platonic character; in the thirteenth century the thought of the greatest of the Greek philosophers bursts forth in the west, and Scholasticism has to take into account this marvelously profound and acute philosophy which comes to it by way of the Arabs and which is different from anything in its own philosophic tradition. Christian Philosophy passes through a stage in which Aristotelian thought is assimilated; this task is accomplished by primarily by St. Albertus Magnus, and St. Thomas Aquinas. This effort enormously enriches the possibilities of Scholasticism, but at the same time it leads Christian philosophy away from paths down which its original nature might have taken it. In any case, Aristotle’s appearance signals the arrival of a new and extremely fruitful era.

A large and important role in this labour of assimilation falls to Spain. Arabic and Jewish books were translated: the works of Alfarabi, Al-Gazel, Avicenna, Avicebron ; later the Arabs bring to the West their translations of Aristotle, which are translated into Castilian, and then into Latin or else directly into Latin. A few translations directly from the Greek are also made in Europe and these are much superior to the indirect translations, and, most notably among them, was those of William of Moerbeke, the great Dominican translator who undertook the retranslation and revision of Aristotle’s work at the request of St. Thomas. It was the immense labour of St. Thomas more than anything else that effected the incorporation of Aristotelian philosophy into Christian thought.

The Thirteenth century also witnesses the simultaneous appearance of the most important universities—most notably those of Paris and Oxford—and of the two great mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Together these elements produce the great classical century of the Middle Ages.

mendicant orderTHE MENDICANT ORDERS: At the beginning of the thirteenth century the two great mendicant orders– the Franciscan and the Dominican—are formed; in a certain sense these replace the Benedictine orders as the focal point of intellectual life. St. Francis of Assisi founds the Order of the Friar Minor, and St. Dominic founds the Order of Preachers. In principal the function of these orders are different: devotion appertains more to the Franciscans and preaching appertains more to the Dominicans. The latter order, which was formed to combat the Albigensian heresy, was entrusted to it. But the Franciscans also quickly display great theological and philosophical activity of comparable volume and quality. The Franciscans preserve the earlier Platonic-Augustinian influences, particularly in the branch which St. Bonaventure represents; but after Duns Scotus the Franciscans, like the Dominicans, partake of Aristotelianism.

The mendicant orders quickly penetrate the University of Paris, but not without great polemics with the laymen. Finally the presence of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders is accepted, and then they attain such influence that the University comes under their control. The first Dominican teacher was Ronald of Cremona and the first Franciscan was Alexander Hales. From that time forward the greatest figures of medieval philosophy belong to these orders: St. Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart are Dominicans; St. Bonaventure, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus and William of Occam are Franciscans. Thus the Friars Minor and the preachers both maintain themselves at the level of true philosophic creativity. If St. Thomas systematized Scholasticism and incorporated Aristotle into Christian thought better than anyone else, then, to compensate, the English Franciscans established the basis for nominalist Physics and prepared the way for the modern natural science of Galileo and Newton, on the one hand, and on the other, for the philosophy that was to culminate in the period of idealism from Descartes to Leibniz.

3.6. St. Bonaventure

BonaventureLIFE AND WORKS: St. Bonaventure (John of Fidanza) was born in Tuscany in 1221. He entered the Franciscan Order, and studied in Paris as a pupil of Alexander of Hales, an interesting thinker who has left us an important Summa theologiae. St. Bonaventure taught in Paris as Alexander’s successor during the polemics against the mendicant orders, and was a good friend of St. Thomas. In 1257 he was named General of the Order and gave up teaching. He died in 1274. The church has given him the name of Doctor seraphicus.

St. Bonaventure’s principal works are the Commentaries on the sentences [of Peter Lombard], the Quaestiones disputatae, the De reductione artium ad theologiam, the Breviloquium and, above all, The Journey of the Mind toward God.

He emphasizes the more practical and emotional  sides of theology rather than the purely theoretic side, thus becoming an unmistakable forerunner of the nominalists of the next two centuries. St. Bonaventure, full of religious ardour, is imbued with a tenderness that is typical of his authentically Franciscan lineage. For St. Bonaventure, natural things, created after the semblance of the Deity, retain a trace of him; love of the things is also love of God, of whom they bear this trace.

DOCTRINE: the goal of human knowledge is God. This knowledge is gained in different ways and on different levels and culminates in the mystic union.  The influence of St. Augustine is evident in St. Bonaventure’s writings. For St. Bonaventure, philosophy is in reality the journey of the mind toward God. Knowledge of God can be obtained from nature, since natural things bear a trace of him. God can be known in a more direct way in His own image, which is our soul–a reappearance of ST. Augustine’s and St. Anselm’s theme of the inner man.  When divine grace communicates the three theological virtues, God is seen in imagine, within ourselves. Lastly, God can be known directly, in His being, in His goodness, in the very mystery of Trinity and, as a culminating experience in ecstatic contemplation, in the apex of the mind, to use St. Bonaventure expression.

St. Bonaventure believes in the possibility of demonstrating the existence of God, and accepts St. Anselm’s ontological proof. The proper understanding of the divine essence makes us see the necessity for His existence. With regard to God and the soul, St. Bonaventure does not believe that they are known by means of the senses, as the other things are, but directly; God is light, and this knowledge is gained by means of the uncreated light. For it must of necessity be posited that the soul knows God, itself, and that which is in itself without the aid of external senses. Moreover, St. Bonaventure, rejecting the Averroist doctrine of the oneness of the intellect of mankind, insists with especial emphasis that man is the efficient cause of his own mental actions.

St. Bonaventure affirms the plurality of the substantial forms, he recognizes other subsidiary forms. This theory was generally professed by the Franciscans, From Alexander of Hales to the end of Middle Ages. The world was created within time; this dogmatic truth was denied by no one except the heterodox Averroists.  The problem of the eternity of the world is one of the central questions of the period, aroused by study of Aristotle and by the Arabic commentators. St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas, who are in agreement to the temporality of the Creation, differ concerning the origin of this Truth. The Franciscan assigns this knowledge to reason, whereas the Dominican refers it to faith.

From the work of St. Bonaventure is derived an entire current of medieval speculation, one which will be extremely fruitful. The controversy between this direction of thought and the Thomist position animates the philosophy of the Middle Ages. And if it is true on the one hand that Thomism dominated Scholasticism in greater measure, on the other hand the orientation of Franciscan thinkers has exerted a greater influence on modern philosophy, which represents the most authentic and fruitful continuation of medieval Christian Thought.

FOLLOWERS OF ST. BONAVENTURE: The great Franciscan master’s activity as a teacher was continued by a long succession of pupils and followers. In the first line is Matthew of Aquasparata and another pupil is John Peckham. Later, less direct, followers were Petrus Johnnis Olivi (Pierre Olieu) and above all, Richard of Middleton, known as Ricardus de Mediavilla.

The influence of these Franciscan masters was very great; they preserved the general lines of St, Bonaventure’s thought in the face of the prevailing Thomism. Nevertheless, at the end of the thirteenth century, there appeared once more within the Order of Friars Minor a figure who was to play a leading role in Philosophy, John Duns Scotus. From that moment on, the Franciscan movement was embodied in Scotism, and the direct influence of St. Bonaventure was diminished. But it should not be forgotten that in reality his influence endures efficaciously, in the most interesting way possible in philosophy: not in a close and unchanging teacher-pupil relationship, but as the inspiration of the metaphysical renewal. The role of an authentic philosopher is not to perpetuate himself within any one “ism,” but to be effectually present in the thought of other philosophers who have their own, different, names, and thus to activate the inexorable advance of the history of philosophy.

3.7. Aristotelico-Scholastic Philosophy

aristotleAs we have seen, the thirteenth century is faced with the enormous problem of coming to grips with Aristotle, with a philosophy of depth and importance which strike one immediately upon first contact. In Aristotle’s system there are mental tools which make great progress possible, but they must now be applied to themes very different from which they were originally invented. The intimate union of theology and philosophy known as scholasticism is something completely different from the realm of ideas in which Aristotle’s thought operated. How can Aristotle’s thought be applied to the problem of Middle Ages? And there is a still more serious obstacle. Aristotle’s system does not merely comprise the extremely Perfect logic of the Organon; nor is it merely an arsenal of concepts—matter, form, substance, accident, categories, and the like– which are useful as tools. Before all else, it is a philosophy, a metaphysics, conceived in the Greek language, based on radically different, non-Christian, suppositions, but a philosophy which nevertheless in many senses seems to be truth. What is to be made of this? Aristotle speaks of God and says extremely acute and interesting things about Him; he speaks of the world and motion, and accounts for their existence with an enlightening penetration as yet unknown in the Middle Ages. But this God is not the Christian God; He is not the Creator, He does not have three persons, His relations with the world are different. Nor is the Aristotelian world the one which came forth from the hands of God according to the book of Genesis.

This is a very serious problem. Scholasticism cannot renounce Aristotle; it cannot ignore him. The Stagirite’s philosophy commands attention through its overwhelming superiority and the truth which it so obviously contains. But it is necessary to adapt his philosophy to the new situation, to the problems that concern men of thirteenth century. Aristotle’s thought must be assimilated into Christian philosophy. What consequences will this have for Christian thinking? That is another question. Perhaps the compelling brilliance of the Aristotelian system was too great to be adopted without risk. Perhaps Aristotle’s influence obliged Christian philosophy to become something different from itself, and frustrated certain original potentialities that might have come to maturity if another path had been followed. This is still an open question.

The influence of Aristotle is already evident in the works of St. Bonaventure, but only marginally, in a secondary way; the Peripatetic system did not affect the central core of St. Bonaventure’s philosophy, which remained essentially under the influence of Plato and St. Augustine.  It was necessary to confront resolutely the gigantic mass of Aristotelian philosophy, to investigate it all, try to understand it and incorporate it into the ideological system of the Middle Ages. This is the extraordinary task that was undertaken and achieved in the thirteenth century by two Dominicans, master and pupil, both canonized by the Church: St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas.

3.7.1. St. Albertus Magnus

LIFE AND WRITINGS: St. Albert was born in 1193—the date is not certain; others say 1206 or 1207. He died in Cologne in 1280. He entered the Dominican Order and worked and travelled a great deal. He finally settled in Cologne, where he followed a normal course of life and instruction. St. Albert’s activity as teacher and cleric was extraordinary.

His writings are voluminous. The authority he acquired was so enormous that he was quoted alongside such great men of the past as Aristotle, Averroës or Avicenna, according to Roger Bacon’s emphatic statement, or alongside the Church Fathers. His ample and rich works are principally paraphrases of the great part of Aristotle’s book, but he also produced original treatises on philosophy and theology, and a vast accumulation of erudition which also includes the work of the Arabs and Jews and which made possible the brilliant synthesis of his pupil, St. Thomas.

THE WORK OF ST. ALBERTUS MAGNUS: St. Albert’s purpose was to interpret and assimilate all of Aristotle’s disciplines. Thus he paraphrased the works of Aristotle, explaining them at length, in order to make them more easily understood, and augmenting them with commentaries borrowed from the Arabs and Jews as well as some of his own.  This attempt at popularization met with great difficulties, which caused numerous defects in St. Albert’s writings. These writings suffer from a frequent lack of clarity; the sense of perspective is often lost; there is no rigorous and precise mental architecture, such as St. Thomas will later supply. Furthermore the assimilation which is sought for is often not attained. St. Albertus Magnus was too much the prisoner of the traditional thought-structure of scholasticism. He poured forth his immense knowledge of Aristotle into these scholastic moulds, but did not succeed in uniting the Hellenic thinker’s philosophy and Christian mentality into a congruent and harmonious synthesis.

What he did accomplish was to put into circulation an incalculable number of ideas, which had now become the common property of the thinkers of the period. Henceforth Aristotle’s philosophy is readily available, something that can be easily studied and utilised. The difficult task of assimilation has already been attempted; the materials are already at hand: St. Thomas will find the most painful and least profound part of the labour already accomplished by his teacher, and will be able to devote himself to the higher task and achieve it. Finally, in addition to his more strictly philosophical works, St. Albertus Magnus applied himself to theology as well, and here, too, made use of the intellectual framework of Aristotelian thought, thus anticipating the mature achievement of St. Aquinas.

3.7.2. St. Thomas Aquinas

LIFE AND WORKS:  St. Thomas born at Roccasecca about 1225. His first studies were in monastery of Monte Cassino. In 1239 he went to Naples to take up the seven liberal arts. He also studied in the faculty of arts, and it was in Naples in 1244 that he donned the Dominican habit. Two years after, despite the will of his brothers went to Paris, where he met St. Albertus Magnus, under whom he studied there, and later in Cologne. In 1252 St. Thomas returned to Paris, where he became a master in theology and where he lived and worked for some years. From 1252 to 1269 he taught in various cities in Italy. He then returned to Paris, his true centre of activity. Afterwards he resided in Naples; he set out from Naples in 1274 to attend the second council of Lyons. He fell ill on the journey and died on March 7, 1274.

thomas-aquinas18187lgSt. Thomas was a man of pure spirituality. His whole life was dedicated to philosophical and theological labours and inspired by religion. He was a man of singularly simple and kindly ways, devoted heart and soul to the great intellectual task which he fully accomplished. The Church canonized Thomas, acknowledging, along with his sainthood, his great importance in Scholasticism. St. Thomas has been given the name of Doctor Angelicus.

The works of St. Thomas are very numerous. Some are of interest more as apologist writings o as exegeses of sacred tests, for instance, “the Golden Chain on the Four Gospels. Others are strictly theological, dogmatical or juridical. Here we are especially interested in his works on philosophy and the systematization of theology, in which Thomist philosophy is most particularly expounded. In first place come his Commentaries on Aristotle, a long series of Writing in which he studies and analyses the thought of the Stagirite. In second place are the Opuscula, short treatises on Philosophy or theology, rich in doctrine, among which works On Being and Essence, On the Principle of Individuation, and so forth. In third place are the Miscellaneous Questions and the Disputed Questions—On Truth, On Potentiality, On the Soul, and so forth. Lastly, there are the theological treatises, especially The Summa Against Non- Believers, Compendium of Theology Addressed to Reginald and, above all, St Thomas’ most important work, the great systematic exposition of his own thought and, indeed, of Scholasticism in its entirety: the Summa theologiae. These are the Thomist writings that must be borne in mind if St. Thomas is to be studied from the viewpoint of the history of philosophy. Beginning in the thirteenth century itself, these became the major texts of Scholasticism consists of commentaries on books by St. Thomas, especially on the various parts of the Summa theologiae.

RELATIONSHIP WITH ARISTOTLE: St. Thomas accomplished the adaptation of Aristotle’s Greek philosophy to the Christian thought of Scholasticism. The general content of his thought, therefore, derived from Christian dogma, the Church Fathers, the earlier medieval tradition and, above all, Aristotle. St. Thomas laboured extensively over the Peripatetic writings, using direct translations from the Greek. Instead of St. Albertus Magnus’ long and involved paraphrases, which were imprecise and full of unresolved difficulties, St. Thomas wrote commentaries in which he followed Aristotle’s text closely and tried to explain it fully. There is undoubtedly a close affinity between the minds of St. Thomas and Aristotle. Because of this, the exposition of St. Thomas’ doctrines is equivalent in many points to that of Aristotle’s; this occurs in the area of logic, in the general lines of their physics and metaphysics, and in the outline of their psychology and their ethics. But it should not be forgotten that St. Thomas, at a distance of sixteen centuries, utilises these same Aristotelian ideas with very different end in mind, and, above all, that he and Aristotle are separated by the development of Christianity. Moreover ST. Thomas was too brilliant a philosopher simply to submit to the Aristotelian system, and the general meaning of his own system is profoundly different. One need only remember that all of St. Thomas’ intellectual activity was directed toward the establishment of Christian theology, which is based on suppositions completely alien to the Hellenic mind.

Aristotle’s great problem concerned the modes of being; he was attempting to solve the question that had painfully racked Greek philosophy since the times of Parmenides. His principal solution of this problem was the elaboration of the theory of substance, which was closely related to the Entity as such and to God understood as the prime mover: that is, the establishment of metaphysics, the “sought after knowledge,” and the complete systematization of the problem of knowledge. In addition, Aristotle’s doctrine of the oneness and changelessness of the Entity achieved the restoration of physics, which had been called into question by the Eleatics. The problems that concern St. Thomas are very different: above all, the demonstration of the existence of God and the explanation, in so far as possible, of His essence; the rational interpretation of dogmas or the isolation of the core of their suprarational, but not antirational, mystery (for example the Trinity, the Creation of the world, the Eucharist); in another direction, the doctrine of the spiritual and immoral human soul; ethics, oriented toward the supernatural life; the problem of the universals; and many others.

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY:  For St. Thomas, there is a clear distinction between philosophy and theology: they are two sciences, two different kinds of Knowledge. Theology is based on divine revelation, philosophy on the exercise of human reason. It has been said, and rightly, that strictly speaking, theology is not practiced by man, but by God, when he reveals Himself. Philosophy and theology must be true; God is truth itself and it is impossible to doubt revelation, whereas reason, properly used, also leads us to truth. Therefore, there can be no conflict between philosophy and theology, since this would be a discord within the realm of truth.

Thus there are two independent sciences, but with a common area of investigation. The difference between them arises, above all, from the viewpoint of their formal objects, though their material objects partially coincide. There are revealed dogmas which can be known through reason—for example, as St. Thomas will point out, the existence of God and many of His attributes, the Creation and so on. Nevertheless, the revelation of these dogmas is not superfluous, because if reason alone were used, very few people would know these truths. In the cases where rational understanding is possible,  this is preferable to pure belief. St. Thomas believes that it is only partially possible to try to understand the object of faith rationally. The application of reason to themes which are also topics for faith and theology is the so-called natural theology. This natural theology is what St. Thomas considers philosophy. It is Thomist philosophy.

Revelation is the criterion of truth. In the case of the contradiction between revelation and philosophy, the error can never be on the part of revelation. Therefore, the disagreement of a philosophic doctrine with a revealed dogma is a sign that the doctrine is false, that reason has gone astray and has not arrived at truth; it thus jars against truth. In this sense philosophy is subordinated, not exactly to theology as a science, but to revelation. But this does not operate as a hindrance or imposition; on the contrary, philosophy sets up as its norm that which is most proper to it; that is, truth. Revelation keeps philosophy on its guard, but it is philosophy reason itself that will have to seek out true knowledge.

THE DIVISION OF PHILOSOPHY: For St. Thomas, as for the Greeks, the origin of philosophy is awe; the desire to know is satisfied only when things are known in their causes. St. Thomas is a good Aristotelian; but inasmuch as the first cause is God, only knowledge of God can suffice for the human intellect and satisfy philosophy. The Goal of this philosophy is that there be depicted in the soul the entire order of the universe and its causes. The human soul (which in Aristotle’s work had already been compared with the hand, because, just as in a certain sense the hand is all the instruments, so the soul is in a certain way all the things) envelops the totality of the universe with its knowledge, and thus rises above its position as a mere creature in order to share in the character of the spirit, in the image of the Deity.

This order of the universe is threefold. In the first place there is an order which the human intellect finds as already existing: the order of the things, of nature, of true being. This type of order is the concern of natural philosophy in a strict sense, or physics, whose object is ensmobile; it is also concern of mathematics, but especially of metaphysics, which, according to Aristotelian definition, studies the entity as an entity and culminates in knowledge of God. Secondly, there is the order of understanding, which is the object of rational philosophy or logic. Thirdly, the order of the acts of will, an order produced by man; this is the moral order, and it is the object of moral philosophy or ethics; in its collective dimension this order includes the science of State—economics and politics. This is an outline of Thomist philosophic disciplines.

METAPHYSICS: According to St. Thomas, who adopts the Aristotelian doctrines, being is the most universal of concepts, that  which first comes under one’s apprehension is the Entity, the understanding of which is included in all things, whatever one apprehends. But as Aristotle had earlier shown when confronting Platonic doctrine, this universality is not that of the genus; The Entity is one of the transcendentals, which are present in all the things without intermingling with any. {These transcendentals, referring to understanding and desire, include truth and beauty.}

The two principal meanings of the word “being” are essence and existence; Scholastics had long debated the difference between these terms. St. Thomas affirms the actual difference between the essence and existence of creatures, which are contingent entities. However, there is no such difference between the essence and existence of God. God’s existence follows necessarily from His essence. This is the concept of self-existence; it plays an essential role in the proof of the existence of God and in all of theology.

St. Thomas rejects St. Anselm’s ontological proof and gives five Method of proving god’s existence; these are the famous five ways.

1) By motion: motion exists; everything that moves is moved by another mover; if this mover moves, it will require another mover in turn, and so on to infinity; this is impossible, because there would be no mover if there were not a first, and this first mover is God.

2) By the efficient cause: there is a series of efficient causes; there must be a first cause, because otherwise there would be no effect; and that first cause is God.

3) By the possible and necessary: generation and decay show that there are entities which can be or not be; at one time these entities did not exist, and there must have been a time in which nothing existed and which nothing came to be; there must be an Entity which is necessary in itself, and it is called God.

4) By the degree of perfection: there are various degrees of all the perfections which more or less approximate the absolute perfections, and therefore they are degrees of absolute perfections. Thus, there is an entity which is completely perfect, the highest Entity; this Entity is the cause of all perfection and all being and is called God.

5) By the ordering of the world:  intelligent entities tend toward a goal and an order, not by chance but because of intelligence which directs them; there is an intelligent Entity which orders nature and which impels it toward its goal, and this Entity is God.

These are the five ways, briefly stated. The fundamental idea which inspires them is that God, who is invisible and infinite, is demonstrable by means of His visible and finite effects. Thus, that God is, is known, but not what He is. But it is possible to learn something about God by observing His creatures, and this is effected in three ways: by means of causality, by means of excellence, and by means of negation. St. Thomas distinguishes at least to possible modes of seeing: one mode is by means of mere natural reason, and the other is by means of a supernatural light. Some see the light, he says, but they are not in the light.

The world has been created by God; we have already seen that the Creation consists of placing the world in existence by means of a voluntary and free act of God; revelation adds that this occurs in time, but according to St. Thomas this is not rationally demonstrable. God is the cause of the world in a double sense: He is the efficient cause and also the exemplary cause; moreover, He is the final cause, since all goals direct themselves to God.

With respect to the universals, St. Thomas’ doctrine is one of moderate realism, as has already been pointed out. The universals are real, but exist only in abstract form; the species appears only in an individual state, and the principle of individuation is the signate matter.  This gives rise to the theory that each angel is the species rather than an individual, since the angels are immaterial.

THE SOUL: Thomist doctrine regarding the soul differs from the traditional Scholastic doctrine, which was of Platonic-Augustinian origin, and approximates Aristotle’s theory, which it adapts to the Christian viewpoint. In accordance with Aristotelian psychology, St. Thomas interprets the soul as a substantial form of human body, the first principle of its life. There are as many souls or substantial forms as there are human bodies; St. Thomas rejects the theory that there is a single soul for all mankind, which was of Arabic origin {?!} and which reappears with force in Latin Averroism. He also denies that the body and the soul are two complete substances, and that the soul gives the body life but not corporeality. St. Thomas believes that the soul and the body form a substantial union; that is, the soul and the body together, and without the help of any other form, constitute the complete and single substance which is man. The council of Vienna (1311-12) described the rational soul as the intrinsic and essential form of the human body.

On the other hand the human soul—in contrast to the animal soul—is a subsistent form; that is, the intellect or understanding has an operation of its own in which the body does not essentially participate; therefore, the intellect can subsist and exercise that operation even though it is separated from its corporeal substratum. Thus the soul is incorporeal and is not composed of matter and form; and is spiritual, since it possesses reason. Therefore, the human soul is in corruptible and immortal; its immateriality and simplicity preclude decomposition and decay; its spirituality and consequence subsistence prevent it from accidentally destroying itself when the human body decays. Thus the human soul is immortal, and would perish only if God were to annihilate it. St. Thomas finds further proof of personal immortality in man’s desire to continue to live; and, he adds, since this natural desire cannot be in vain, all intellectual substance is incorruptible.

ETHICS: Thomist ethics is based on the framework of Aristotelian ethics, but it keeps the Christian point of departure constantly in mind. Ethics is movement by the rational creature toward God. The Goal of this movement is bliss, which consists in the direct vision of God. Therefore, man’s ultimate goal is God, and this goal is achieved through knowledge, through contemplation; St. Thomas’ ethics has a clear intellectualist nuance. The first law of human will is eternal law, which is, as it were, the reasoning of God.

St. Thomas’ philosophy of the state is subordinated to Aristotle’s philosophy of politics. Man is by nature is an animal sociale or politicum, and society exists for the benefit of the individual, and not vice versa. Power derives from God. St. Thomas studies the possible kinds of government, and considers monarchy tempered by full participation on the part of the people to be the best form and tyranny to be the worst. In any event, the highest power is that of the Church.

THE RESPONSE TO THOMISM: St. Thomas’ system represented a radical innovation within Scholasticism. Its opposition to many Platonic-Augustinian doctrines and clear preference for Aristotelianism made the Franciscans hostile to it. Even a few Dominicans opposed Thomism.

First Thomism elicited written challenges, and was primarily in reference to the theory of oneness of the substantial forms. Later it attracted official condemnations. The first (1277) was that of the bishop of Paris, and was aimed at certain Thomist prepositions. These condemnations were at first restricted to the diocese of Paris, but later was extended to Oxford by the action of two Archbishops of Canterbury: a Dominican and a Franciscan.

But simultaneously and with greater strength Thomism was welcomed triumphally; this occurred first in the Order of Preachers, immediately thereafter at the university of Paris, and soon in All the Schools. In 1323 St. Thomas was canonized, and from that time until this the Church has particularly insisted on the high value of the Thomism system.

NEO-THOMISM: St. Thomas’ influence on theology and philosophy has continued without interruption; since his death, the number of commentaries on his Summa theologiae and other works has been multiplying. Theology in particular has drawn new life from the immense Thomist contribution, which gave it a precise and rigorous structure. However, after the Middle Ages and the transitory splendour of Spanish Scholasticism in the sixteenth century, Thomist thought lost fecundity.  In the second half of nineteenth century intense intellectual movement was initiated which was enthusiastically supported by the Church. This movement attempted to restore Thomism and to approach theological and philosophical problems through general suppositions.

3.8. Roger Bacon

The thirteenth century is almost completely filled by Aristotle’s influence and by the great Thomist systematization. Nevertheless, there are a few very interesting independent philosophic activities which deviate from the central current of Scholasticism. One such activity is the above-mentioned Latin Averroism, the principal representative of which was Siger of Brabant. Latin Averroism revived the Arabic doctrines of the eternity of the world and the oneness of the human intellect and, most important, placed in the forefront the famous theory of the double truth. In contrast to this movement there was a branch of English Scholasticism which was of the Platonic-Augustinian tradition but which was also dedicated in a new and intense way to the cultivation of the experimental sciences. This British current formed ties with an Anglo-French group established at Charters in the twelfth century and thereafter enjoyed a higher level of development in Oxford. Roger Bacon was the outstanding member of this group.

Bacon2LIFE AND WORKS: Roger Bacon was a singular and fertile thinker who was born around 1210-14. He studied in Oxford and in Paris, entered the Franciscan Order and passionately dedicated himself to the study of philosophy, language and the sciences. Within the Order he was the object of constant persecutions and suspicions on the part of his superiors; he enjoyed only a brief respite during the pontificate of Clement IV (1265-1268), a friend of his protected him and prompted him to compose his major works: the Opus majus, the Opus minus and the Opus tertium. He wrote until 1277; around that time several of his ideas were condemned, and the following year Bacon was imprisoned. It is not known how long he remained in prison, nor has the exact date of death been ascertained; it is believed that he died around 1292-1294.

Roger Bacon dedicated himself to the study of all sciences, and his knowledge of them was superior to that of any of his contemporaries. He was a genuine investigator and experimenter. He also studied medieval thought, and in his Opus majus one finds what might be called an attempt at writing a history of philosophy.

DOCTRINE: For Bacon, philosophy and the sciences have no meaning other than to explain the truth revealed in scriptures. God taught men to philosophize, for men would not have been able to do this by themselves; but human evil prevented God from manifesting the truth fully, and so they became mixed with error. That is why true wisdom is to be found in the early times, and for this reason it is necessary to look for it in the works of the ancient philosophers. From this situation there arises the need for history, languages, and mathematics in order to interpret nature. Thus, bacon represents what has been called scientific traditionalism, a designation in which it is important to emphasize both terms equally.

Bacon recognizes three modes of knowledge: authority, reason and experience. Authority by itself does not suffice; it requires reasoning. But reasoning is not certain unless it is confirmed by experience, the chief source of certainty. Experience is twofold: external and internal. The enlightenment of God, which culminates in rapture, plays an important role. At one extreme Bacon’s experimentation is related to the supernatural intuition of mysticism.

Actually, in the field of philosophy and theology Bacon represents a less advanced point than, for example, St. Thomas; but his work contain a new germ—interest in nature. By means of the Franciscan physicists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the school of Paris, this germ develops into modern natural science.

3.9. Christian Philosophy in Spain

Apart from the aforementioned Arabs and Jews, philosophy does not present great personalities in the Middle Ages in Spain. For reasons that require lengthy explanation, Christian Spain is at the periphery of the formation of Scholasticism. It plays an extremely interesting but secondary role in this development, a role that consists principally in the transmission of thought, as at the school of translators in Toledo, of which Dominicus Gundisalvus, who has already been mentioned, was the outstanding figure.

3.10. Duns Scotus and Occam

The period from the end of the thirteenth century through the fourteenth century represents a new phase of Scholasticism, a phase which continues in decadent fashion in the fifteenth century. The fullness of Thomist philosophy is followed by a philosophic current of Franciscan character which, like St. Thomas, incorporates Aristotelian philosophy; however, the new current acquires more and more pronounced voluntarist and nominalist characteristics. With these thinkers we come to the extreme of the dialectical evolution of the great problems of medieval philosophy. We have already seen, above, the positions which they take in regard to the three questions of the Creation, the universals and logos {reason}. We shall now point out the most important features of the philosophy of the two great English Franciscans, John Duns Scotus and William of Occam.

3.10.1 Scotus

duns scotus 3LIFE AND WORKS: Scotus was born somewhere in the British Isles either in 1266 or in 1274. He entered the Franciscan Order, and studied and taught in Oxford. In 1304 he went to Paris, and in 1308 to Cologne, where he died that same year, still very young. Scotus is one of the few precocious philosophers in history, he and Schelling being among the few exceptions to the general rule that great philosophers are of necessity fully mature men. Duns Scotus displayed brilliance in philosophy from a very early age; his keen and penetrating mind won him the sobriquet of Doctor subtilis. He was a champion of the now official dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin.

Several of the works traditionally attributed to Scotus are not authentic. Among those that are certainly his, the most important are the Opus oxoniense, especially, and the treatise De primo rerum omnium principio.

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY: The equilibrium in which the two disciplines of philosophy and theology appear in the works of St. Thomas will soon be upset. The distance between the two is much greater in Scotus’ writings, and will be even greater in those of Occam. They now differ not only in their formal object, but also in their material object. Theology is reduced to that which is given to us through revelation, by supernatural means; on the other hand, everything within the natural scope of reason is a topic for philosophy. The history of the late Middle Ages and the modern period will be the progressive dissociation between the world of nature and the world of grace, and the old principle “grace does not take away nature, but perfects it.” will be forgotten. Theology in this period is no longer speculative, but practical.

Nevertheless, this attitude should not be confused with the theory of double truth derived from Averroës, since the revealed truth of theology remains in first place and offers a supernatural certitude. It is the impossibility of penetrating the mystery of God rationally that separate philosophy from knowledge concerning the Deity.

SCOTIST METAPHYSICS: Duns Scotus accepts St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the demonstration of the existence of God, adding a few modifications which were later adopted by Leibniz. If God is possible, then He exists; it is first necessary to demonstrate His possibility. Scotus proves this—as Leibniz will—on the basis of the impossibility of God’s contradicting Himself, since in God there is nothing negative. God is necessary, and His essence coincides with His existence; therefore, His possibility implies His reality. This is what Scotus called “lending colour to that proof of Anselm’s on the highest imaginable being”.

Scotus, in contrast to St. Thomas is a voluntarist. He affirms the priority of the will over the intellect in all fields. The will is not passive, but active; it is not determined by necessity: the will has nothing to do with necessity. The ethical importance of the will is greater, and therefore love is superior to faith. It is better to love God than to know Him; conversely, the perversion of the will is more serious than the perversion of the intellect. All these Scotist tendencies will acquire their maximum force in the following centuries and will determine the passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

3.10.2. Occam

occamLIFE AND WORKS: William of Occam (Ockham) was so called from the town of Ockham in England, where he was born at the end of the thirteenth century. He, too, was a Franciscan who studied at Oxford and was a professor there and later in Paris. After his important scientific activities, he took part in political and religious controversies, and some of his propositions were condemned. In the fourteenth century the great medieval structure was beginning to dissolve; the struggle between the pontificate and the Holly Roman Empire was raging once more. Occam sides with the emperor and was excommunicated by Pope John XXII because of his stand on the question to temporal rights. Occam took refuge at the court of the emperor, to whom he addressed the famous line: “Defend me with the sword, I shall defend you with the pen.” Occam died in Munich about 1350.

Aside from his political and ecclesiastical works, Occam wrote Super IV libros sententiarum, Quodlibeta septem, the Centiloquium theologicum, De sacramento altaris, Summa totius logicae and commentaries on Aristotle.

OCCAM’S PHILOSOPHY: All the tendencies that outlined in Scotus’ writings are carried to extremes in Occam’s. What Scotus presented at the germ of an idea, Occam develops to ultimate consequences. In the first place, he puts the greatest possible distance between theology and physics. Theology receives an even greater scope than it had, but not as a rational science; the truths of faith are inaccessible to reason, and philosophy has nothing to do with them. Science is a true knowledge, but one it is doubtful can be made evident through discourse. God is not reason; reason is something that only has the value of “doors within” man. God is omnipotence, free will, will without hindrances, not even the hindrances of reason. Scotus’ voluntarism is converted into this attitude which separate reason from the Deity and thus removes the Deity from the field of man’s rational speculation. God disappears from the intellectual horizon and ceases to be a proper object for the mind, as He has been from the Middle Ages up to this time. At this point begins the process which may be called the loss of God, the stages of this process being the stages of modern history.

With regard to the question of the universals, Occam, as we have seen previously, is a nominalist. For him, the universals have reality neither in the things nor in the mind of God as eternal exemplars of the things; they are abstractions of the human mind—concepts or terms: a concept of the mind designating several things or single things by one and the same term. Science is related to the universals and therefore is not a science of things, but only of signs or symbols. This prepares the way for the apogee of mathematical thought in the Renaissance.

Thus Occam represents the extreme development of the Franciscan tendencies in medieval philosophy. Man, who had been cut off from the world since the inception of Christianity, is now left without God. “Alone, alienated from the world and from God,” writes Zubiri, “the human spirit begins to feel insecure in the universe.” From this time on and through all the centuries of the modern age, man will seek in philosophy security first of all. Modern philosophy will be inspired by caution, by wariness, more by the fear of error than by the yearning for truth.

3.11. Meister Eckhart

The great figure of Meister Eckhart is little known and studied. He is one of the most brilliant personalities in medieval philosophy, but the difficulties in the interpretation of his writings are very great. His work is an essential element for the comprehension of medieval philosophy and the transition to modern philosophy.

meister eckhartEckhart was born in 1260, probably in Gotha. He was a Dominican, perhaps a personal pupil of St. Albertus Magnus. He taught theology in Paris at the same time as Scotus, at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Later he held various offices in the Dominican Order and was an important preacher. The Franciscans instigated a trial against him, and he was accused of pantheism and Averroism. In 1329, two years before his death, several of his propositions were condemned. “But,” writes Zubiri, “nothing could be further from Eckhart than the pantheism that was ascribed to him with unbelievable haste.” Eckhart left many sermons in German and various works in Latin. His speculative mysticism had a profound influence on the entire development of German mysticism, as well as on the Flemish and French mysticism of the fifteenth century. It also had a direct influence on the great Spanish mystics of the sixteenth century.

We have already seen the meaning of Eckhart’s doctrine of the scintilla animae, the spark of the soul, uncreated and uncreatable; we have seen that there is no pantheism in this affirmation, but rather the strictly orthodox conviction that the Idea of man, his exemplary model, of which he is the image, is God Himself. God is beyond being; Eckhart even says that God is a pure nothingness, thus denoting His fundamental infiniteness and superiority to all essences. The road that leads to God is the soul itself, and Eckhart seeks solitude and withdrawal from society.

To quote Zubiri: “Without Eckhart the origin of modern philosophy would be completely inexplicable. It is easy, but inexact, to say that it derives from Cusa or Occam…. We would see in Eckhart a brilliant thinker who does not succeed in expressing in Scholastic concepts and terms his new metaphysical intuitions, which are in many senses antipodal to Augustinian thought and the Reformation. For St. Augustine, the problem is the world, because he came to believe that he knew what God is. For Eckhart, the problem is God, perhaps because he believed he already knew what the world is. On the other hand, whereas the Reformation makes its appeal to the individual, Eckhart has recourse to withdrawal into the inner life, an attitude which is probably miles away from every Lutheran tendency. Only in this way will we know what is speculation and what is mysticism in Eckhart, and wherein the fundamental tie between the two consists.”

3.12. The Last Phase of Medieval Philosophy

After Occam and Eckhart, medieval philosophy enters into a rapid decline, which is dominated by the growing complication of its distinctiones and by an excessive branching out into secondary questions. But it would be wrong to think that it is all over in the middle of the fourteenth century, or that the speculation of the late fourteenth century and fifteenth century contained no fruitful elements that were to figure later in modern philosophy.

THE OCCAMISTS: In England and France especially, Occamism spreads rapidly and is fostered by a series of keen minds. In another direction, the French nominalists practice the natural sciences with great intensity and, strictly speaking, anticipate many of the discoveries of the Renaissance physicists.

Siger of Barbant
Dante and Beatrice in Paradise. Siger of Brabant is depicted with red cloak, top right

AVERROISM: The philosophical movement called Latin Averroism began in the thirteenth century, continued to the end of Middle Ages, and still had repercussions in the Renaissance. It can be said to have constituted a philosophical current independent of Scholasticism, although closely related to its problems. The most important figure of Latin Averroism is Siger of Brabant, who lived in thirteenth century and based his thought on the teachings of Aristotle as interpreted by Averroës. Siger of Brabant, many of whose propositions were condemned, taught the eternity of the world and the oneness of human intellect; in his view, there is a single intellect for the entire human species, and belief in the immortality of the individual man disappears. Also of Latin Averroist origin is the aforementioned doctrine of the double truth, according to which a single proposition may be true in theology and false in philosophy, or vice versa.

SPECULATIVE MYSTICISM: The influence Meister Eckhart extends to several important mystics of the fourteenth century, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands, who maintain relations with the French mystics. These mystics, more or less directly inspire the religious renewal of the fifteenth century. From these religious groups arise the stimuli that will inspire the spiritual life of the sixteenth century, among the Protestants as well as in the Counter-Reformation.

THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY: in the last century of the Middle Ages the decline of Scholasticism is accentuated. The principal schools—Thomist, Scotist, Occamist—persist, but their activity becomes a sterile formalism.

sunModern philosophy does not arise from nothingness. Nor, as the humanists so superficially thought, did it arise as a reaction to Scholasticism and a return to the Greek and Romans, especially Plato and Stoics. In fact, it was just the opposite. The thought of the Greek philosophers—there is little to be said for the Romans—gained new efficacy in the Scholastic era, and the humanists’ presumptive restoration was a hindrance and a retrogression which lasted until the authentic modern philosophy, from Descartes to Leibniz, could open up a path for itself. It is in this modern philosophy, rather than in any “renascence,” that Scholasticism, and with it, the living thought of the Greeks, found their true continuation.

From Plato and Aristotle (or even Parmenides) to Descartes and Leibniz and then to Kant and Hegel and even after, there is a line uninterrupted as regards problems and truth, although interrupted perhaps as regards time; and this line is precisely the line of the history of philosophy.

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