Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


Although John of Salisbury is perhaps the only professedly eclectic philosopher of this period, the eclectic tendency is apparent in Peter the Lombard, Alanus of Lille, Gerard of Cremona,{1} and others.


Life. John of Salisbury, after completing his preliminary studies in England, went to Paris (about 1136), where he had for teachers many of the most renowned masters of the schools, -- Abelard, William of Conches, Theodoric of Chartres, Walter of Mortagne, and Gilbert de la Porrée. He lived on terms of friendship with St. Thomas Becket, Henry II of England, and Pope Adrian IV. In 1176 he became bishop of Chartres, and died there in 1182.

Sources. In addition to his letters, which shed so much light on the history of his times, John of Salisbury wrote a large number of philosophical works, of which the most important are the Polycraticus and the Metalogicus. These are published by Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXCIX.


John contributed very little to the philosophical discussions which occupied to such an extent the minds of his contemporaries. He was a historian, a humanist, and a critic, rather than a dialectician. Indirectly, however, he rendered valuable service to the cause of philosophy by his advocacy of culture, and by his denunciations of obscurantism, which was represented in those days by the Cornificians (pseudonym), a sect which flourished about the middle of the twelfth century.{2} But, while advocating culture, and studying the opinions of his contemporaries, he recognized the danger of dialectic run riot, and strove in his eclectic synthesis to give philosophy a more practical turn. He devoted some attention to the study of psychology, being influenced, apparently, by the physiological method of William of Conches. It must not be forgotten that John of Salisbury is the first mediaeval historian of philosophy. To him we owe much of what is known about the great controversy of his century concerning the problem of universals.


Life. Peter the Lombard, surnamed Magister Sententiarum, was born at Novara in Lombardy, about the beginning of the twelfth century. He studied first at Bologna and afterwards at Paris. At Paris he taught theology for many years and was promoted to the bishopric of that city. He died about the year 1160.

Sources. Peter's Four Books of Sentences is a collection of the opinions of the Fathers on questions of Catholic dogma. It is modeled, apparently, on previous compilations. It became, and for several centuries remained, the text-book of the schools and was made the subject of commentaries innumerable. Around the exposition and defense of dogma contained in these commentaries there grew up problems of metaphysics and psychology, so that in the thirteenth century the Books of Sentences was the core of Scholastic literature. The work is published by Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXCII.


Peter the Lombard was primarily a theologian. In matters of philosophical discussion he strove to maintain a neutral attitude. His orthodoxy was attacked, though unsuccessfully, by Walter of St. Victor, representative of the mystic school.

Another writer of Sentences was Cardinal Robert Palleyn or Pulleyn. He was a distinguished teacher, and was connected both with the theological schools of Paris and with those of Oxford. The date of his death is 1154. His work is entitled Sententiarum Libri Octo.{3} ALANUS OF LILLE (ab Insulis)

Life. Alanus was born about 1128 at Lille in Flanders. It is probable that towards the middle of the twelfth century he taught at Paris. He died at Citeaux in 1202 or 1203.

Sources. The most important of Alanus' works are the Ars Catholicae Fidei, Tractatus contra Haereticos, Theologicae Regule, De Planctu Naturae, and Anticlaudianus. These are published by Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CCX; the edition, however, is uncritical, and includes several treatises the authorship of which is doubtful.{4} The classic work on Alanus is Baumgartner's Die Philosophie des Alanus de Insulis (Münster, 1896).


It is incorrect to represent Alanus as a mystic.{5} He exhibits, it is true, some of the characteristics of the mystic style, -- poetic imagery, allegorical diction, etc. Nevertheless, he attaches independent value to speculative thought, and while he holds that reason cannot comprehend the mysteries of faith, he maintains that authority needs the aid of reason: "Quia auctoritas cereum habet nasum, id est, in diversum potest flecti sensum, rationibus roborandum est."{6} Instead, however, of presenting an original synthesis of philosophical doctrine, he merely collects and tries to reconcile the doctrines of his contemporaries. It is possible that this eclectic spirit of his teaching was the occasion of the surname Doctor Universalis by which he was known. This eclecticism appears

In his Psychology, which is a somewhat bewildering syncretism of Pythagorean, Augustinian, and Aristotelian doctrines. Having defined matter as chaotic space, and form as the sum of properties, he cannot admit the Aristotelian doctrine of the union of soul and body. The soul and the body are independent substances united by means of a spiritus physicus. The relations of body and soul are regulated by number.{7}

In his Cosmology, which is dominated by the idea of number as constitutive of order, Alanus maintained that intermediate between God and creatures is a kind of world-soul, -- the servant of God, "Dei auctoris vicaria."

Historical Position. Alanus of Lille, Peter the Lombard, and the other writers of this group exhibit a tendency to escape from the dialectical discussions of the schools by taking refuge either in the eclectic position, that all systems are partially true, or in the mystic position, that all purely rational systems are essentially inadequate. The tendency towards mysticism appears more plainly in the writings of the philosophers belonging to the next group.

{1} Gerard (1114-1187) was one of the first translators of the scientific works of the Arabians. cf. Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, IX, 600.

{2} Cf. Metal., I, I, 2, 3, apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXCIX, coll. 826 ff.

{3} Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CLXXXVI.

{4} The Anticlaudianus and De Planctu Naturae are published in Rerum Britannicarum Scriptores (Satirical Poets of the Twelfth Century, Vol. II, pp. 268 ff.).

{5} Cf. Hauréau, op. cit., I, 521.

{6} Tractatus contra Haereticos, I, 30.

{7} Anticlaudianus, 551, A; Tract, contra Haer., I, 29.

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