JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Claudianis Mamertus, Boethius, Cassiodorus.

§ 79.

1. With Augustine, the development of Christian philosophy in the West came for a time to an end. It was not, however, that the intellects of the Christian Church had lost their power, or that the ardour for scientific investigation had grown cold. The cause was wholly external in character; it is to be sought in the disturbances produced by the barbarian invasion. This migration of nations brought about the overthrow of existing social conditions; and the long wars and turmoils which succeoded it rendered impossible the peaceful development of intellectual life, and gave little leisure for philosophic thought. It was only in the retirement of the monasteries that Christian science could still find an asylum. Here it took refuge, and here it continued to exist through the long period of general catastrophe, waiting for times more favourable to its progress. It is noticeable that, after the time of Augustine, the labours of the men who concerned themselves with science were directed chiefly to collecting and preserving what had already been created. They laboured to preserve and transmit to better times the results already achieved by Christian science. To this their efforts were directed and in this consisted their chief merit.

2. Of importance as a philosopher is the priest Claudianus Mamertus, of Vienne, in Gaul (about the middle of the 5th century), because of his defence of the doctrine of the spirituality of the soul, contained in his work De Statu Animae. The Semi-Pelagians, Cassian, Faustus, and Gennadius (of the 5th century), following Tertullian and Hilary, had taught that the soul is of corporeal nature. God alone, they had held, is incorporeal; all created things are corporeal, the human soul with the rest. Everything created, they argued, is limited, has consequently its place in space, and is therefore corporeal; everything created has quality and quantity; God alone is above and beyond the Categories; quality implies extension, and extension, without corporeal substance, is inconceivable. Furthermore, the soul dwells within the body, and for this reason is of limited extension, and is, consequently, a corporeal substance. In point of quality, it is of a nature resembling light or air, but is, nevertheless, corporeal.

3. Against this doctrine Claudianus protests. The world, to be perfect, he argues, must contain in itself beings of all kinds; hence God must have created incorporeal beings, and to this class belong the souls of men. A further reason for holding human souls to be incorporeal is the teaching of Scripture that they are made after the likeness of the incorporeal God. The soul cannot be brought under the category of quantity, for its faculties of memory, reason, will, have no extension; and since these faculties are one with the substance of the soul, the soul also must be without extension or quantity. The incorporeal nature of the soul is further shown in the soul's intellectual activity. Sensible objects are perceived by it in unsensuous fashion, and besides, it is capable of comprehending the supersensuous and incorporeal. From this we are forced to conclude that the soul is itself supersensuous and incorporeal, for it could not, otherwise, have knowledge of objects of this kind. Finally, the soul is present in every part of the body, for it has perception of the impressions made on the different parts of the body. But it could not be present simultaneously in these several parts if it were not incorporeal.

4. Boethius Senator of Rome, who flourished under Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths (A.D. 470-526), and whom the accusations of his enemies consigned to long captivity and finally to death, did much to preserve the learning of the ancients and of earlier Christianity. He translated the logical works of Aristotle, with the Isagoge of Porphyry, on which he wrote a commentary. He also wrote a commentary on Cicero's Topica. The aim of Boethius in these writings was purely didactic. He endeavoured to transmit the achievements of earlier philosophers, in the form most easy of understanding. The genuineness of the treatise De Trinitate is disputed.

5. But his most remarkable work is the book De Consolatione Philosophiae, composed by him while in prison. It is classical in style, and is written partly in prose and partly in verse; its contents may be described as a kind of Theodicea or Natural Theology. He endeavours to prove that the supreme good for man does not consist in riches or other possessions; not in power or glory; not in posts of honour or pleasure; in a word not in finite good: that it lies beyond time, and can be no other than God, God, as the fulness of goodness, is the sovereign good for man. In the possession of God consists the happiness after which all are striving. To strive for this supreme good is the duty set us in life. The purpose of God's providence is to lead us to this end. In furtherance of this purpose, God makes use of the most varied means, some pleasing to man, other some an affliction to him. The good and the evil which happen to man in life are, in God's design, alike contrived for his salvation. The conviction that happiness awaits us beyond the grave, and that the good and the evil of life are means to attain it, is the firmest support of man in the vicissitudes of life: as long as he holds fast by this truth he cannot be dismayed.

6. The Senator Cassiodorus was a contemporary of Boethius (A.D. 468-575), and, like him, held important public offices under Theodoric. But he ultimately retired into the convent of Vivarium, near Squillace in Bruttii, and there, with his monks, devoted himself exclusively to study and education. He composed a treatise on theological education, and on the liberal arts (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric -- the Trivium; Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy -- the Quadrivium.) These arts he held to be of much utility, as they aid us to acquire an understanding of Scripture and a knowledge of God. His treatise De Artibus ac Disciplinis Artium Liberalium was much used as a text-book in succeeding centuries.

7. In his work De Anima, Cassiodorus cites for the spirituality of the soul the same proofs as Claudianus. The human soul is not a part of God, for it is mutable; but it is created after the image of God, and is therefore incorporeal. The category of Quantity cannot be applied to the soul, for the reason that it is present in every part of the body. As to the soul's Quality, it is of the nature of light. And, since it is created to the image of the immortal Creator, the soul, too, is immortal.

8. In the first half of the seventh century lived Isidore, Bishop of Seville, who did much for the spread of learning among the Visigoths. His chief work is the treatise Originum sive Etymologiarum, a work of encyclopaedic character, which embraces all the knowledge of the time, sacred and profane. He was also the author of three books of Sentences, a Handbook of Christian Doctrine, much prized in later times and largely used as a text-book in schools, and finally of the books De Ordine Creaturarum and De Natura Rerum.

9. Venerable Bede (A.D. 674-735), was the first to spread instruction and to diffuse knowledge among the Anglo-Saxons. His works are numerous and very varied in character, but they consist more of extracts and collections than original products of thought. He composed some excellent summaries for use in teaching. Most important in connection with philosophy is his work De Natura Rerum, which followed the lines of the work bearing the same name by Isidore.

These were the men who handed down the inheritance of learning, and prepared the way for the new era -- the middle ages.

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