ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


121. Chronological Limits of Medieval Philosophy. -- According to the generally received chronology, the Middle Ages extend from the death of Theodosius, in 395, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, in 1453. But it is only with a twofold reservation that we can accept these chronological limits in regard to medieval philosophy when once we realize that the evolution of scholasticism was the great event of capital importance in the philosophy of those centuries. On the one hand, the earliest writings in which we can detect any trace of a fresh line of thought, are posterior to 395. Precocious and wildly flavoured fruit of the new civilization, they did not make their appearance until the fifth century, or even later.{1} And on the other hand, medieval and modern philosophy overlapped each other for a long time, not having been rent apart by any such violent social upheaval as that which compassed the destruction of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Germanic nations. The destiny of medieval philosophy may thus be clearly traced far beyond 1453, even down to the seventeenth century.

The autonomous evolution of medieval philosophy, and more especially of scholasticism, will be our test in fixing the limits of what we are to regard as the Middle Ages. Were we guided by any other consideration we should run the risk of upsetting some fundamental facts of chronology.{2} Those who commence the Middle Ages of philosophy, not even with the first Christian philosophies, but with Neo-Pythagoreans, Neo-Platonists and Platonic eclectics, because they confound religion with philosophy, find themselves thus obliged to "commence the Middle Ages at the end of the first century before the Christian era" and to prolong it down to our own days.{3}

{1} WILLMANN (op. cit., ii, 342) sees the beginnings of scholasticism in the early half of the eighth century, in the kephalaia philosophika to be found at the commencement of each part of St. John Damascene's pêgê gnôseôs (see below).

{2} BRUCKER fixes on the twelfth century for the commencement of medieval philosophy (Historia critica philosophiae, iii., 709). But he wrote in the eighteenth century when little or nothing was known about the early Middle Ages.

{3} PICAVET, Entre camarades, pp. 71 and 74. It will be observed, as regards the "terminus a quo," that Picavet's point of view would compel him in consistency to push back the beginnings of the Middle Ages beyond Neo-Platonism to the time of Aristotle, whose influence on Christian thought was far greater than that of the Neo-Platonists. His view would likewise seem to imply, as regards the "terminus ad quem," that medieval and modern civilization coexist at the present day. We believe, on the contrary, that there was a time which saw the cessation of scholastic philosophy, when, in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was abandoned, even by Catholics, for other systems. The revival of the scholastic philosophy, the new scholasticism, is in spirit not medieval but modern. Cf. our volume on Scholasticism Old and New, part ii,

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