Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


THE centuries which elapsed between the death of St. Augustine and the foundation of the Carolingian schools were centuries of barbarian invasion and barbarian rule; they witnessed the dismemberment of the Roman Empire, the disappearance of the last vestiges of Roman civilization in Europe, and the substitution of a civilization of a new order. During the lifetime of St. Augustine, the West Goths under Alaric besieged and sacked Rome (410). Nineteen years later, the Vandals under Genseric overran Numidia and Mauretania and laid siege to Hippo. Meanwhile the Vandals from the upper Rhine had invaded Gaul, ancient Germany, and Burgundy (407); these invaders were followed (443) by the Burgundians, who settled on the upper Rhone and on the Saône. Later (451) came the Huns under Attila, and last of all, the Franks from the lower Rhine, who, towards the end of the fifth century, spread over Gaul, destroying every trace of civilization that had survived the invasion and occupation of France by the Vandals and the Burgundians. In the same century, the Angles and Saxons took possession of Britain, and the Visigoths established barbarian rule in Spain. In the sixth and seventh centuries the Heruli, the East Goths, and the Lombards destroyed whatever remained of Roman civilization in northern Italy.

We can scarcely realize the desolation that during these centuries reigned throughout what had been the Roman Empire. The condition of France is vividly portrayed by the words of St. Gregory of Tours, who, towards the end of the sixth century, wrote, "Vae diebus nostris quia periit studium litterarum a nobis,"{1} and by the verdict of the Benedictine authors of L'histoire littéraire de la France, that the eighth century was the darkest, the most ignorant, the most barbarous that France had ever seen. The utter disregard for learning which characterized those times may be inferred from the fact that Ambrose of Autpert (died 778) was forced to invoke the authority of Pope Stephen III in defense of the study of the Scriptures: "Inquiunt multi: non est tempus jam nunc disserendi super Scripturas."{2}

Although surrounded by all the external signs and conditions of dissolution and decay, the Church remained true to her mission of moral and intellectual enlightenment, drawing the nations to her by the very grandeur of her confidence in her mission of peace, and by the sheer force of her obstinate belief in her own ability to lift the new peoples to a higher spiritual and intellectual life. It was these traits in the character of the Church that especially attracted the barbarian kings. But, though towards the end of the fifth century Clovis became a Christian, it was not until the beginning of the ninth century that the efforts of the Church to reconquer the countries of Europe to civilization began to show visible results. The Merovingian kings -- the "do-nothing kings," as they were styled -- could scarcely be called civilized. Even Charlemagne, who was the third of the Carolingian dynasty, could hardly write his name.{3} Still, Charles, illiterate as he was, realized the necessity of reviving culture and learning throughout his empire. Inspired by this noble purpose, he summoned the Church to his aid, invited learned ecclesiastics to his court, and founded schools which became centers of the new intellectual movement in different parts of Europe. To this movement Scholastic philosophy owes its origin.

The Scholastic movement, therefore, which dated from the foundation of the Carolingian schools, was from the outset a reaction against the intellectual stupor of the times. The movement was at first confined merely to the restoration of the study of grammar and rhetoric. Later on, dialectic assumed in the schools more importance than it had at first possessed, while an impulse to philosophical speculation was given by the Neo-Platonism of Erigena and other Irish teachers. Thus, during the ninth and tenth centuries there were many attempts at forming a system of philosophy, but it was not until the eleventh century, when the problem of universals gave the greatest impulse to the growth of Scholastic dialectic, that these attempts were concentrated into a definite movement. Towards the end of the twelfth century the physical and metaphysical writings of Aristotle became known to the schoolmen and caused that great outburst of intellectual activity which made the thirteenth century the Golden Age of Scholasticism. The middle of the fourteenth century marks the beginning of the decadent movement which, in the following century, ended in the downfall of the Scholastic system. We have, therefore, the following division:{4}

FIRST PERIOD -- SCOTUS ERIGENA TO ROSCELIN, from the beginning of the ninth century to the eleventh. -- The Period of Beginnings.

SECOND PERIOD -- ROSCELIN TO ALEXANDER OF HALES, from the rise of the problem of universals to the introduction of the works of Aristotle (1050-1200). -- The Period of Growth.

THIRD PERIOD -- ALEXANDER OF HALES TO OCKAM (1200-1300). -- The Period of Perfection.


Source. The neglect of the study of the sources of Scholastic philosophy on the part of some of its historians, and the apparently inexcusable misrepresentation on the part of others, render it imperatively necessary that we keep constantly at hand the primary sources, the works of the schoolmen themselves. It is from these works, and from these alone, that the student will learn the true meaning and value of Scholastic philosophy. Many of the writings of the first schoolmen are of easy access, being included in Migne's Patrologia Latina. Additional primary sources (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Münster, 1891 ff.) are at present being published by Baeumker and others. The works of the Scholastics after the time of St. Bernard are not included in Migne's Patrology; they are, however, published in separate editions, to which attention will be called.

With regard to secondary authorities, the list given by Weber (p. 9 of Eng. trans.) will be found complete with the exception of a recent work, De Wulf's Histoire de la philosophie médiévale (Louvain, 1900), which is a valuable aid to the study of this period. De Wolf's work does not, however, supersede Stöckl's Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, which is still the standard work of reference, although since its publication (1864-1866) numerous important documents bearing on the history of Scholasticism have been published. It is well for the student to remember that, although Hauréau is referred to as an authority, he owes his distinction as an historian to the care with which he has studied and edited manuscript sources{5} rather than to the accuracy of his appreciations.

Valuable biographical material is to be found in Wetzer und Welte's Kirchenlexikon, 12 Bde., 2 Aufl., Freiburg im B., 1886-1901.


Erigena to Roscelin (800-1050) -- The Period of Beginnings

The Carolingian Schools.{6} In the chronicles and biographies of the Merovingian epoch mention is made of a Scola Palatina at the court of Dagobert and of other Merovingian monarchs. It is clear, however, that these schools were institutions for the training of court guards (bellatores) in the arts of war and in the manners of the court.{7} Before the time of Charlemagne the only thing that the Frank was taught was how to fight. The schools which Charlemagne founded were intended to teach the Frank to respect knowledge as well as valor. They were literary schools, in which at first the programme was very elementary, the nobles and clerics who attended being taught merely the arts of reading and writing and the rudiments of grammar. The project of forming these schools seems to have suggested itself to Charlemagne during his sojourn in Italy, where the traditional learning was in part preserved by masters who taught the grammar of Priscian and Donatus, and read the works of Virgil, Cicero, St. Augustine, Boethius, and Cassiodorus. In the famous Capitulary of 787 and in other enactments Charles recommended the foundation of the diocesan and monastic schools throughout the empire, having previously founded the Schola Palatina at his own court, and given to the abbey of Fulda the capitulary empowering the abbot to establish a school at that monastery.

But although it was Italy that inspired Charles with the idea of founding schools throughout the empire, it was Ireland that sent him the masters who were to impart the new learning. Ireland, which had never formed part of the Roman Empire, and which had escaped the invasions of the barbarians, had preserved since the days of its conversion to Christianity the tradition of ancient learning, a knowledge of Greek and Latin which was now to astonish continental Europe. Alcuin, although an Englishman, is justly considered a representative of Irish learning; with him is associated Clement of Ireland, who assisted in the work of founding the palace school. Unfortunately, history has not preserved the names of Clement's fellow-countrymen who, during the reign of Charles and throughout the ninth century, were found in every cathedral and monastery of the empire as well as at the court of the Frankish kings, and were so identified with the new intellectual movement that the teaching of the newly founded schools was characterized as Irish learning.{8} Eric of Auxerre (middle of the ninth century), writing to Charles the Bald, testifies to the nationality of many of these pioneers: "Quid Hiberniam memorem, contempto pelagi discrimine, paene totam cum grege philosophorum ad littora nostra migrantem?"{9} We find mention of a Hibernicus exul, author of a poem in praise of Charles the Great; of Dungal, teacher at Pavia; of another (or possibly the same) Dungal who wrote to Charlemagne explaining the eclipse of the sun in 810 and of a Sedulius Scotius,{10} sometimes identified with the Irish poet Sedulius, who was one of the authors most widely read throughout the early Middle Ages. Ireland has, therefore, every claim to be considered the Ionia of scholastic philosophy.

After the death of Charles and the subsequent division of the empire, a reaction set in against the schools in several parts of the empire. Lupus Servatus, the celebrated abbot of Ferrières, complains of the opposition on the part of the "ignorant vulgar who, if they detect any fault (in the representatives of the new learning) attribute it, not to human weakness, but to some quality inherent in the studies themselves."{11} There were some also who, according to Amalarius of Metz,{12} reproved the reading even of the Scriptures. These reactionaries, however, were silenced by the voice of Eugenius II, who encouraged the foundation of schools and the spread of the new learning.{13} Supported by the highest authority in the Church, the movement continued under the successors of Charlemagne, so that, during the ninth and tenth centuries, there sprang up besides the palace school, which seems to have accompanied the Frankish court from place to place, the no less celebrated cathedral and monastic schools of Fulda in Germany, and of Utrecht, Liège, Tournai, and St. Laurent in the Low Countries. It was in France that the Scholastic movement found its first home, and it was in that country also that, after the temporary opposition of the reactionary alarmists, the most important schools were founded, namely at Tours, Rheims, Laon, Auxerre, and Chartres. These homes of the new learning were the scene of the first crude attempts of Scholastic speculation, as at a later time the University of Paris was the scene of the last and most brilliant triumphs of Scholasticism.

It would be a mistake to imagine that philosophy was taught in the schools at the beginning. The curriculum of studies at first comprised the seven liberal arts, -- that is to say, the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Little by little, however, the programme was extended. Around the problems of dialectic were grouped problems of metaphysics and psychology, and gradually philosophy became part of the programme of the schools. The magister scholae, or scholasticus, as the teacher was called, expounded the text of the author. This was the method employed whether the subject was grammar or dialectic or any other of the seven branches.

The Library of the Schools.{14} 1. Of Aristotle's works, the first schoolmen possessed the De Interpretatione and, in the tenth century, the Categoriae in Boethius' translation. It was only in the twelfth century that the first book of the Analytica Priora, the Topica, and De Sophisticis Elenchis became known, and it was not until the thirteenth century that the physical, sychological, and metaphysical treatises were introduced into the schools. These facts explain why during the first and second periods of the Scholastic ovement philosophy was almost altogether occupied with logical problems.

2. Of Plato's dialogues, the Timaeus was known to the Irish monks, possibly in the original. It was known on the continent in the translation ade in the fifth century by Chalcidius. Besides the Timaeus, the works of St. Augustine and of the Neo-Platonists were used as sources from which the first schoolmen derived their knowledge of Platonism.

3. Of the commentators of Aristotle, only Porphyry, whose Isagoge cirulated among the schoolmen in Boethius' translation, and Boethius, who commented on the Categoriae and De Interpretatione, were known to the shoolmen of the first period.

4. Translations and compilations by Marius Victorinus (fourth century), Macrobius (fifth century), Claudianus Mamertus, and Donatus were read and expounded in the schools.

5. The Neo-Platonic commentaries of Apuleius and Trismegistus were also used.

6. Of Cicero's works, the rhetorical and dialectical treatises such as the Topica, De Officiis, etc., were known at least in part. Seneca's De Beneficiis and Lucretius' De Rerum Natura were also read.

7. In addition to the genuine works of St. Augustine, the pseudo Augustinian treatises, Categoriae Decem, Principia Dialecticae, Contra Quinque Haereses, and De Spiritu et Anima, were studied by the first Scholastics.

8. Finally, the library of the first schoolmen included the works of Clement of Alexandria and of Origen in Latin translations, and the Latin version of Pseudo-Dionysius by Scotus Erigena, as well as the commentaries and original works of Martianus Capella, Cassiodorus, and Boethius.


Alcuin{15} (735-804), educated in the famous school of York, appeared at the court of Charlemagne in 781, and there for eight years taught grammar and dialectic in the palace school. Later he retired to the abbey of Tours, where he founded a school which was soon to eclipse the palace school itself. Alcuin was distinguished chiefly as a grammarian. His contributions to dialectic are of secondary importance; and his psychological treatise De Animae Ratione merely reproduces the doctrines of St. Augustine. His importance in the history of Scholastic philosophy is due to the prominent part which he took in the establishment of the first schools.

Fredegis, who was probably a fellow-countryman of Alcuin, taught at the palace school about the beginning of the ninth century. After Alcuin's death he became abbot of the monastery of Tours.

Taking up the problem of the nature of darkness, he proved in a treatise, De Nihilo et Tenebris,{16} that both nothing and darkness are real beings. On this point, at least, Fredegis is a realist. He does not, however, discuss the general question of the objective reality of universal ideas.

With Fredegis is associated the unknown author of the treatise entitled Dicta Candidi de Imagine Dei.{17} The work is virtually an attempt at finding in man the image of the Trinity. In spirit and in method it is Augustinian.

Rhabanus Maurus (784-856) is one of the most remarkable of the first masters of the schools. He was born at Mainz in the year 784.{18} At the age of eighteen he became a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Fulda. Thence he went to Tours, where for six years he studied under Alcuin. From Tours he returned to Fulda in order to assume the office of teacher. According to Trittenheim, Rhabanus and his new learning were regarded with suspicion by Ratgarus, abbot of the monastery of Fulda. Rhabanus, however, overcame the opposition of the reactionaries.{19} He was made abbot of Fulda and later became bishop of Mainz. He died in the year 856.

Like Alcuin and Fredegis, Rhabanus is of importance rather as a teacher and inaugurator of the new learning than as an independent philosopher. It was he who introduced the learning of the schools into eastern Germany. In his work De Universo{20} he treats in twenty-two books a variety of subjects, -- God, the angels, biblical personages, ecclesiastical institutions, astronomy, chronology, philosophy, poetry, medicine, agriculture, military tactics, and language. The work is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge. Except in the portions referring to chronology and grammar, it is merely a résumé of the traditional teaching.

Historical Position. These first masters of the schools belong, with Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede, to the Encyclopedists of the period of transition between Patristic philosophy and the philosophy of the Middle Ages. They rendered inestimable service to the Scholastic movement by their personal influence as teachers, while by their writings they summarized and helped to popularize the dogmatic and exegetical teachings of the Fathers. The encyclopedic scope of their writings is evidence of a condition of affairs similar to that which existed in the first schools of Greek philosophy. Just as the early Greek philosophers wrote peri phuseôs, the first schoolmen wrote De Universo. There is, however, this difference: that while the philosophical movement in the first schools of Greece was independent of the past, the philosophy of these first schoolmen was virtually an epitome of the doctrines of the Fathers. Erigena was the first of the schoolmen to attempt an independent system of philosophical speculation. With Erigena, therefore, the first period of Scholastic philosophy begins.

{1} Historia Francorum, Praef.: cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXXI, col. 159.

{2} Quoted by Hauréau, Histoire de la philosophie scolastique, I, 6; cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXXXIX, col. 1268.

{3} Cf. Einhard, apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. XCVII, coll. 26 ff.

{4} This is the division adopted by Gonzalez, op. cit., II, 116, 117; for various other divisions, if Adloch, Praefationes ad Artis Scholasticae inter Occidentes Fata (Brunae, 1898), pp. 18 ff.

{5} Hauréau's De la philosophie scolastique was first published in two volumes (Paris, 1850). In 1872 the work was recast, enlarged, and published in three volumes (tome I; tome II, Ière partie; tome II, lIe partie) under the title Histoire de la philosophie scolastique (Paris, 1872-1880). His Notices et extraits de quelques MS. latins de la Bibliothèque Nationale (6 vols., Paris, 1890-1895) is also of great value. Besides, he published many articles of interest to the student of Scholastic philosophy in the Notices et extraits . . . faisant suite aux notices et extraits lus au comité établi dans l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres; consult especially the volumes for the years 1888-1890 and also the Journal des Savants for the same years. For recent bibliography of the history of Scholastic philosophy, cf. Archiv f. Gesch. der Phil., X, 127 if. and 247 ff.; La Revue Néo-Scolastique, Mai, 1902; Revue d'histoire et de littératurde religieuses, Sept.-Oct., 1902.

{6} Cf. Mullinger, Schools of Charles the Great (London, 1877).

{7} Cf. Revue des questions historiques, Vol. LXI (1897), pp. 420 ff.

{8} Alcuin, writing (Ep. 82) to Charlemagne, says, "Ego abiens Latinos ibi (at the court) dimisi. Nescio quis subintroduxit AEgyptios" (Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. C, col. 266). The Irish monks were called Egyptians, as well perhaps on account of their leaning towards Neo-Platonism as because they followed the Alexandrian custom with regard to the Paschal computation.

{9} Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXXIV, col. 1133; Acta Sanctorum Julii, Vol. VII, p. 233. Consult the chapter entitled Écoles d'Irlande in Hauréau's Singularités, etc. (Paris, 1861), and Poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought (London, 1884), pp. 9 ff.

{10} Floruit circa 800; cf. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters (3 Bde., Leipzig, 2. Aufl., 1889), II, 191 ff.; also, Cath. Univ. Bull., April, 1898 (Vol. IV, pp. 155 ff.).

{11} Ep. Ia Lupi, Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXIX, col. 431.

{12} Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CV, col. 1079.

{13} Cf. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Amplissima Collectio, Vol. XIV, p. 1008.

{14} Cf. De Wulf, op. cit., p. 157, and Molinier, Les manuscrits, Paris, 1882.

{15} Cf. Picavet, Origine de la philosophie scolastique en France et en Allemagne (brochure); Mullinger, op. cit., pp. 49 ff.

{16} Published by Ahner, Fredegis von Tours (Leipzig, 1878).

{17} Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CI, col. 1359, and Hauréau, op. cit., I, 131 ff.

{18} Cf. Turnau, Rhabanus Maurus (Munich, 1900), p. I, note 5.

{19} Mullinger, op. cit., p. 140, gives a circumstantial account of this incident.

{20} Apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXI.

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