JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Part Second. History of the Philosophy of the Christian Era.

General View. -- Division.

§ 55.

1. The Divine Revelation accomplished in Christ, together with the Redemption achieved through Him, forms the turning point of all history. It is the end of the pre-Christian order of things and the beginning of the new. The pre-Christian period prepared the way for the redemption to come. In the moment when the Son of God became man its purpose was accomplished and its duration at an end. A new era began. The fulness of grace which flowed from the sacrifice of redemption infused a new life into humanity, and this newness of life affected not merely the practical side of human existence, it had its influence also on the domain of knowledge.

2. In pre-Christian times, virtue was recognised by the philosophers as a thing of worth, but it did not enter into the life of the people. In the new order of things, virtue found its place in practical life to an extent unknown before. The ideal of supernatural perfection, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, which the Saviour had bidden His followers to strive after, was realised in the actual lives of men, and brought forth a heroism of virtue such as the world had not yet witnessed. Through the revelation made by the Son of God a fulness of truth was brought within reach of the human mind of which men had previously no notion. And if it be true, as the ancients had it, that truth is the food of the mind, on which it lives and thrives, the revelation through the Redeemer formed an inexhaustible store from which the human mind might evermore draw new increase of the knowledge which is its life.

3. At the same time the way was prepared for speculation of an entirely new order. The older philosophy had striven to break through the barriers of error which shut out the gaze of the mind from the sun of truth, and had expended much energy in the effort. Its endeavours were not wholly without result, but it had failed to reach the fulness of truth. By this fact it furnished proof that after the fall of man the human mind, left to its own resources, without any revelation, was incapable of attaining to truth in its fulness. But in the Logos made man the fulness of truth was manifested in the body: what the ancients had longingly sought for was now granted to men through the mercy of God. The human mind was now fully irradiated by the light of truth; it had no need to strive against the obstacles that shut out the light, and in this way the standpoint and the purpose of its speculations were made other than they had been.

4. The human mind could adopt either of two attitudes towards revelation. It might accept revelation as truth communicated by God, and make this truth the criterion and guiding principle of its speculations. If it did this, revelation became an end to which natural knowledge was to be subservient. Natural knowledge became the means to penetrate the mysteries of Christianity, and to acquire a speculative knowledge of them, so far, at least, as supernatural truths are accessible to speculation. Speculative philosophy could only culminate in a speculative theology, which, without denying the incomprehensible nature of the Christian mysteries, would strive after a deeper knowledge of their meaning.

5. Again, the human mind, in virtue of its natural freedom of election, might abandon the objective standpoint and fall back upon its own subjective resources. It might permit its own reason to deal with revelation in a more unseemly fashion; it might give reason the first place and revelation the second, so that instead of reason being subject to revelation, revelation should be accommodated to the subjective opinions of the individual; or, on occasion, entirely denied. This would, no doubt, be a perversion of right order, but just as man can set himself against the divinely-established order in the sphere of morals, so can he set himself in opposition to the divine order in the sphere of knowledge.

6. These divergent lines have both been followed in the philosophy of the newer era. Side by side with the representatives of the objective or Christian view, we find everywhere the representatives of the rationalistic or subjective. The opposition between these opposing forces of thought proceeds to open conflict, as often as the one endeavours by the arms of science to overcome the other. In this way is maintained a sort of intellectual conflict between truth and error, between the Christian and un-Christian view, which runs through the whole history of the newer philosophy. This conflict has not been without its advantages to the cause of truth, for it has put upon the combatants the necessity of studying more deeply, and thus establishing more securely the truth which was assailed.

7. These divergent currents of thought, it has been said, run through the entire philosophy of the later era. But we are not, for this, to assume that at every period of that time they were both equally powerful. So far is it otherwise, that the entire time may be divided into two periods, in one of which the objective or Christian view was predominant, while in the other the subjective or rationalistic view obtained the mastery. The first period lasted till the fifteenth century, the second extends from The fifteenth century to our own time. We do not mean that in either period one current of thought prevailed to the exclusion of the other; we mean that in each period one current of thought was distinctly predominant.

8. In this way we obtain two great divisions of the newer philosophy, each marked by its distinctive characteristic. The first of these periods we again divide on another basis of division. In the early Christian centuries, and in the hands of the Fathers of the Church, Christian philosophy was in the first stage of its creation: the stones out of which the structure was to be built were being collected and prepared. In the period following, which we speak of as the Middle Ages, the structure itself was raised. The great systems of philosophy and speculative theology, which are characteristic of the Middle Ages, were then elaborated, and remain, like our mediaeval cathedrals, monuments to later times of Christian faith and Christian intellect. In this period the elements of Christian speculation contained in the writings of the Fathers were reduced to systematic form and received considerable development in the process.

9. We may, therefore, most appropriately divide the philosophy of the Christian era into three main periods:

(a.) The Patristic Philosophy, extending to the period of the invasion of the barbarians;

(b.) Philosophy of the Middle Ages, extending to the fifteenth century;

(c.) Modern Philosophy, from the fifteenth century to our own times.

We shall treat of the philosophy of the new era in the order of this threefold division.

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