JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Latin Fathers and Ecclesiastical Writers. Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome.

§ 73.

1. The three names we have set at the head of this section belong properly to the history of Dogma, but the history of Philosophy must not pass them wholly by. Philosophy, however, holds only a secondary place in their writings, and therefore we may be brief in our notice of them. We shall do no more than concisely indicate the general character of their teaching, dwelling chiefly upon those points which are of special philosophic interest.

2. Hilary was born at Poitiers, and about the middle of the fourth century was raised to the episcopal See of that city, at the time when Arianism, under the favour of the Emperor Constantius, was gaining the mastery everywhere. He opposed an energetic resistance to the Arians, and was, in consequence, banished to Phrygia by Constantius. There he composed his chief work, De Trinitate. At a later period he was recalled from banishment, and died A.D. 368.

3. A glance at the work De Trinitate shows us that Hilary was averse to unrestrained license of investigation in Divine things, and that he required such inquiries to be based on Faith. The first thing necessary is to believe whatever God has revealed. It is only when this point is secured that we can go on to investigate what we believe, in order to be able to render an account of the grounds of our Faith.

4. With these principles in view, Hilary sets himself to combat the tortuous reasonings of the Arians. He reviews all their arguments, combats each of them in turn, and exposes the sophistries that underlie them. His logic is inexorable, his demonstrations convincing, his language is sometimes obscure, but the thoughts expressed are always striking. He is the enemy of sophistry of all kinds, and his reasoning is always bold and honest.

5. It is somewhat strange to find him asserting that the human soul is a corporeal substance. There is not, he maintains, anything created which is not of corporeal nature. The different kinds of souls, whether they be united to bodies, or whether they be free from bodies, receive from nature a corporeal substance, for everything that has been created must exist in something (Comment. in Matth., c. 5, 8). But he does not understand by this corporeal "substance" of the soul a terrestrial, material, perishable body, and he is thus enabled elsewhere (Tract. in Ps. 52, 7; in Ps. 118, litt. 10, 7,) to speak of the soul as a simple substance. In this teaching he seems to follow Tertullian's views on the subject of the "spiritual body."

6. But in his theory regarding the origin of the soul, he is not in favour of Tertullian's Traducianism; he supports the theory of creation. In his view, the soul cannot receive its being in the same way as the body. The body alone is produced by carnal generation; the soul is created immediately by God, to God's image and likeness, and at the moment of its creation is united with the body.

7. Ambrose next claims our notice. He was born in Treves, A.D. 340, and was the son of the governor of that city. He betook himself to Rome for the study of law, and there became remarkable as an orator. Subsequently he was appointed governor of Milan, and while holding this office was elected Archbishop of the city by the clergy and people. He discharged his episcopal duties with apostolic zeal; his faith was unwavering, his life peace, and his devotion to the interests of his flock unremitting. He died A.D. 397.

8. In his literary labours St. Ambrose occupied himself chiefly with the explanation of the Scriptures. He adopted, throughout, the allegorical method, after the manner of Philo, and many of Philo's notions are found in his explanations. Among the works which exhibit this tendency, are the Hexaemeron, the treatises De Isaac et Anima, De Abraham, De Bono Mortis, De Noe et Arca, De Paradiso, De Cain et Abel, De Jacob et Vita Beata, etc. Of special interest to the philosopher is his work De Officiis Ministrorum, a treatise of Christian ethics modelled on the work of Cicero.

9. The ethical system of St. Ambrose differs from that of the pagan philosopher primarily in this, that it makes eternal life beyond the grave the ultimate end of all morality and virtue. Eternal happiness in God is the high destiny of man, and virtue must be practised only for the sake of this end. Apart from this purpose, virtue has no value. Whatever is ethically good is also useful for the attainment of man's final end, and conversely whatever is really useful is also morally good.

10. Virtue and morality having immediate reference to God, that is to happiness in God, it follows that piety (pietas), as manifested in the religious worship of God, is the foundation of all virtues. It is the immediate basis of the four Cardinal Virtues -- Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice, in which the moral life of man reveals itself and takes shape. Deflection from virtue is evil; and the evil has its source, not in the body, not in some substance other than our own personality, but solely in our own free will, which turns away from the path of righteousness.

11. Jerome was a contemporary of Ambrose. He was born A.D. 346, completed his education at Rome, and, after receiving Baptism, retired to the desert of Chalcis, where he lived the life of a hermit. Subsequently, he quitted the desert, and betook himself to Antioch, where be was ordained priest, and thence travelled to Constantinople and to Rome. After the death of Pope Damasus, he returned to the East, and selected Bethlehem as his place of abode. At this time began the most remarkable period of his literary activity. He died A.D. 420.

12. We need not mention that Jerome occupied himself principally with the translation and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, and that his fame rests chiefly on the important services he rendered on this subject. Philosophical disquisitions are to be found here and there in his work. He describes the human soul as an invisible incorporeal being (Com. in Ev. Matth., iv., c. 27,) but adds the restriction, "secundum crassiorem dico nostri corporis substantiam." It would appear from this that he shared the views of Hilary regarding the nature of the soul. He does not seem to have formed any definite opinion as to the origin of the soul, but he distinctly rejects the theory of pre-existence, for in this hypothesis, he holds, the union of the soul with the body and, consequently the Resurrection, would be contrary to nature.

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