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

First Period.
Medieval Philosophy to the End of the Twelfth Century.

First Section. Western Philosophy.

Chapter I.

General View.

126. The Main Characteristics of Scholasticism during this Period. -- (1) The domain of philosophy is marked out slowly. -- The building up of the medieval societies on the ruins of the barbarian invasions is like the founding of a new civilization. Science at first tends to be encyclopedic.

In the seventh century, ISIDORE OF SEVILLE (Hispalensis, 560-636), in his Originum seu Etymologiarum Libri XX, treats not only of the seven liberal arts, but actually of all the subjects about which he could amass any information: medicine, jurisprudence, written traditions, languages, literatures, etymologies, fragments of anthropology, zoology, general and local geography, architecture, agriculture and gardening, the art of war, descriptions of metals, of weights and measures, of navigation, of dress, etc., everything in fact that was deemed worth knowing, finds a place in this sort of universal review.{1}

We see the same tendency in the works of VENERABLE BEDE, the famous monk of Jarrow in Northumberland, regarded as the greatest scholar of his time. His monumental work, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, reflecting the exuberant life and movement of the kindred works of Gregory of Tours, is recognized as the first serious attempt at English history. Besides theological treatises, Bede is the author of various scientific and chronological works, notably of a small book called De Orthographia Liber, and of another inspired by the work of St. Isidore of Seville and entitled De Natura Rerum.{2}

But in philosophy the leading representative of this encyclopedic literature is RHABAN MAUR (Rhabanus Magnentius Maurus, 776-856), abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz, whose work, De Clericorum Institutione, has won for him the title of "Praeceptor Germaniae". His treatise De Universo is still more extensive than the work of Isidore of Seville, and constitutes in fact the great encyclopedic dictionary of the early Middle Ages. Among other texts from the ancients Rhaban Maur discovered a hundred lines from Lucretius, on which was based the only knowledge possessed by the pre-scholastics about Lucretius and Epicurus. Influenced probably by the Latin poet, Rhaban taught that with the exception of God alone, all beings are in their nature corporeal.{3}

Not only was the scholarship of those early centuries encyclopedic, but the title of philosophy was given to its promiscuous productions. Alcuin merely follows the prevalent view when he defines philosophy as "Naturarum Inquisitio, rerum divinarum humanarumque cognitio, quantum possibile est homini aestimare" (Migne, P.L., t. 101, col. 952, A). Hence in the ninth century there was no line of demarcation between theology, philosophy and the liberal arts. This came later on as the result of a slow division of labour: philosophy freed itself from the sister sciences and commenced to grow and develop.{4}

(2) Gradual formulation of the problems of philosophy. -- The Middle Ages did not discuss all the problems of philosophy in its entirety from the start. The threads of tradition had been rudely snapped asunder by devastating wars; and so even the very form and framework of philosophical investigation had to be reconstructed piece by piece: a slow and laborious task that needed deep and earnest reflexion.

The early Middle Ages professed an altogether undue esteem for dialectic, and we shall see below that the principal manuals in use in the schools of those centuries tended to aggravate this exclusive attachment to formal logic. From this we may infer that among the branches recognized nowadays as strictly philosophical dialectic was the only one then taught as such. But we cannot conclude that it constituted the whole of the philosophy of the eighth and ninth centuries. At first, this dialectic, overshadowing the rhetoric and grammar of the trivium, confined its attention too exclusively to the study of words and logical forms, while neglecting the real bearing of those forms on external reality. This unfortunate tendency was the result of the philosophical education of the earlier scholastics and of the authors whom they read and imitated. But notwithstanding all this we can detect, even from the beginning, the steady struggle on the part of genuine philosophical speculations to shake themselves free of the limitations of mere dialectic. From the eighth century philosophical questions began to arise out of theological controversies; the growing discussion as to the nature and significance of universal ideas led up to the treatment of questions proper to ontology, questions about external nature, about God and about being in general. It was in the nature of things that problems in cosmology and theology should present themselves. The rich and rapid development of studies in psychology in the eleventh century is an unequivocal sign of philosophical progress.

Before the close of the twelfth century, the date of the great intellectual movement which separates the history of scholastic philosophy into two great phases or epochs of development, all the great, vital questions of philosophy were being freely and fully discussed. The slow and gradual elaboration of the scholastic system is one of the most interesting and instructive facts of the earlier period.

(3) Absence of systematic arrangement. -- According as scholasticism pushed forward its researches it constructed a framework for its teaching. When or how did it fill in and fully furnish this framework? The thirteenth century reveals to us a superbly finished system, in which all the parts are knit together and dominated by a principle of unity. But we fail to discern this harmonized convergence of philosophical theories in works anterior to the thirteenth century. This is mainly because the scholasticism of the earlier period drew its teaching from various and conflicting sources. Borrowing an extract from one author, misinterpreting another, ignoring the historical and logical affinities of all alike, it produced theories that were heterogeneous and often contradictory. The scholasticism of this earlier period was wanting in that commanding and comprehensive genius that would vivify its eclecticism and assimilate its borrowed elements. It was fostering and maturing that genius for the thirteenth century, the period of the full bloom of scholasticism.

The various influences at work in the earlier scholasticism may be traced to their respective sources. The Platonic-Augustinian influence was predominant, overshadowing that of Aristotelianism. Then, less important indeed than either of those, but none the less real, were the impressions made upon scholasticism by Pythagorean, Epicurean, Stoic, Neo-Platonic and Arabian ideas.

The division of philosophy into branches was not uniform in this period, but most of the classifications follow the Platonic division of philosophy (into Logic, Ethics and Physics), and some of them reproduce it. The Aristotelian classification (into Metaphysics, Mathematics and Physics) was known through Boëthius, but was not attended to.

In dialectic Aristotle reigns supreme: the Platonic commentators known to the scholastics yielded a willing homage to that supremacy, which extrinsic circumstances tended (133) to accentuate. St. Augustine himself recommended the study of dialectic, and thereby promoted the knowledge of Aristotle (99). But unfortunately the metaphysics of this period were not sufficiently developed to counterbalance the study of dialectic. The deductive or synthetic method was also in high esteem down to the close of the twelfth century, because the value of external observation and psychological reflexion was not yet duly appreciated. John Scotus Eriugena among anti-scholastics and St. Anslem among scholastics, were types of the pure deductive philosopher. As reflexion grew riper the excessive use of pure deduction gradually disappeared, but it was not until the thirteenth century that philosophy was fully subjected to the double or analytico-synthetic method.

Metaphysics remained fragmentary and incoherent until the thirteenth century.{5} This branch reveals a curious mixture of Platonic and Aristotelian theories. To the Timaeus it owes its formulation of the Principle of Causality, to Aristotle its scheme of the four causes, but from those sources it fails to work out a consistent theory of causes.{6} The fascinating theory of the Platonic Ideas -- the fertile source of exaggerated realism -- is set forth alongside the Aristotelian theories on the categories, substance, accident, nature, person, etc.; and the work of centuries is needed for a satisfactory solution of the metaphysical problem of the Universals. The matter and form theory of composition is also known, but only indirectly through St. Ambrose and Boëthius and in the uncertain utterances of St. Augustine (101). All-important in the organic structure of the peripatetic philosophy, it plays only an insignificant role here, and is almost invariably misunderstood. By "matter" some understand the original chaos of the elements (Alcuin), others the material atom which is the ultimate residue after division (William of Conches and the atomists), others again a mass endowed with physical qualities and force and motion (school of Chartres). A few (Isidore of Seville, Rhaban Maur, Gilbert de la Porrée) seem to suspect the character of absolute indeterminateness and passivity accorded to "matter" by Aristotle, but seem equally incapable of catching the meaning or grasping the significance of this view. Nor is the "form" taken in the true Aristotelian sense as a substantial principle of the being, but as the sum of its properties.{7} And hence inception, evolution, change, do not affect the fundamental reality of things, but merely the appearance and disappearance of properties which supervene on this reality. Indeed the hylemorphic theory as presented during the early Middle Ages reveals a fairly evident antinomy between the real spirit of the formulas that embodied it and the erroneous meanings read into these formulas.{8}

In physics, or cosmology, the teachings are characterized by the same sort of indecision and uncertainty. We have just seen that an erroneous conception of the primal "matter" served to support atomistic theories. Similarly, the Anima Mundi or world-soul of Plato, or the Fatum of the Stoics, inclined these scholastics to ascribe to external nature as such an autonomous being and life peculiar to itself: an attitude which, nevertheless, did not prevent some of the best of them (e.g., Abelard and John of Salisbury) from holding with Aristotle the individuality of every natural substance in this universe: two contradictory and irreconcilable theses.

In psychology we have still further instances of the prevalence of mutually inconsistent and opposing theories. We may say that down to the thirteenth century the psychology of the scholastics is mainly Augustinian and Platonic.{9} Man is a microcosm, mirroring the universe. Their theory of knowledge is borrowed from St. Augustine: some interpret even the doctrine of abstraction in an Augustinian sense! The majority also espouse his classification of the faculties of the soul, together with his denial of a real distinction between the former and the latter. The Metalogicus of John of Salisbury (iv., 9) mentions the theory of a real multiplicity of the powers of the soul as held by some in opposition to the Augustinian conception.{10} From the time of Constantine the African (v. below) the study of psychic activities began to be supplemented by physiological informations of Arabian origin: these latter, however, often reveal a confusion of the psychical with the physiological phenomenon, thus according ill with other ideological theories. In regard to the nature of man, everything touching the origin and destiny of the soul is studied with a very marked predilection. St. Augustine's hesitations between creationism and traducianism find expression among the earlier scholastics. Down to the twelfth century we meet with traducianists who are apparently unconscious of their inconsistency in defending at the same time the spirituality of the soul, -- a thesis universally accepted on the authority of Plato. The problem of the relations between soul and body is also treated according to the spirit of the Platonic psychology. The soul is united to the body by a relation of number (Pythagoras), or as the pilot is to his ship, or the rider with his steed. And yet, alongside the independence of the composing substances, we find asserted the unity of man. Though the Aristotelian definition of the soul (as the "entelechy of the body") is known{11} to the scholastics of the period, they refuse to regard the soul as the substantial form of the body, -- which would mean, according to the current interpretation, that the soul would be a property of matter! There is no doubt whatever that the easy triumph of the Platonic psychology during this period was due in part to this widely prevalent false interpretation of the matter and form theory.{12}

Moral philosophy is treated mainly from the point of view of theology: the few who attempt a philosophical treatment confine themselves to a description of the particular virtues, after the manner of the Stoics.

There remains theodicy: this was at all times regarded by scholastics as one of the most important sections of philosophy. St. Augustine, Pseudo-Denis and Boëthius left long dissertations on the existence{13} and nature of God, on Creation and Exemplarism. Besides these we find Pythagorean traditions on harmony and number. Aristotle is laid under contribution for the doctrine of a Prime Mover and blamed for his denial of Providence.{14} Plato is preferred, he is the symmystes veri, because, as John of Salisbury tells us, he holds the existence of God or the Supreme Good, the distinction between time and eternity, between the Idea and Matter.{15} All these Platonic teachings were interpreted in the Augustinian sense, and were believed especially to embody the doctrines of Creation, Exemplarism and Divine Science.

Finally, the scholasticism of this period follows St. Augustine in fixing the relations of philosophy to theology; but it develops and supplements his teaching. After having confounded, under the title of philosophy, philosophy itself and the study of dogma, the Middle Ages began to draw a practical distinction between the two domains from the dawn of the eleventh century;{16} without, however, expressly formulating a systematic body of doctrine on their mutual relations, such as we find set forth in the theological Summae of the thirteenth century.

We may sum up by saying that, with the exception of theodicy, the philosophy of this period is like the contents of a crucible in which many dissimilar materials are melted together. John of Salisbury might have applied to all the men of the time what he said about the philosophers of Chartres who were trying to reconcile Plato with Aristotle: "they have laboured in vain to reconcile when dead those who were in opposition as long as they lived" (Metal., ii., 17). With the growth of scholasticism, conflicting elements were gradually eliminated: its efforts towards unity are an index of the intellectual development of the ninth to the twelfth centuries. Even the language of the scholastics indicates the tentative gropings of their thought: slowly but surely it works its way to the admirable precision it displays in the great century. Comparing the philosophy of the earlier medieval schools with the elaborated systems of the thirteenth century we realize that we are witnessing a great creative work: the gradual formation of the great scholastic solutions. A detailed study of the individual philosophers of the present period will lead us to the same conclusions. Still, a want of proper systematization is noticeable even in the latest productions of the twelfth century, though these are the most remarkable of the period. More than this, there are some antinomies which obstinately resisted elimination and lasted into, if not through, the thirteenth century.

{1} The same encyclopedic tendency is to be found in the theological writings of Isidore's great contemporary, POPE ST. GREGORY THE GREAT (540-604) (V. Hurter, Nomenclator, etc., i., 557).

{2} The Middle Ages were mistaken in attributing to Bede the Liber de Constitutione Mundi, and a collection of philosophical aphorisms, Axiomata Philosophica Venerabilis Bedae, gathered from various authors, some posterior to Bede's time.

{3} Cf. PHILLIPE, Lucrèce dans la théoIogie chrétienne du IIIe au XIIIe s., p. 58 (Paris, 1896).

{4} The Hortus Deliciarum, written in the twelfth century by Herrad of Landsberg, may be classed with the encyclopedic works of this earlier period. But it has all the advantages of the progress achieved by scholasticism at the time of its compilation. It contains, for instance, the division of philosophy into Ethics, Logic and Physics, and the seven liberal arts as an introduction to philosophy (131) (WILLMANN, Didaktik, i., 278, note x).

{5} This is the view of ESPENBERGER, Die Philos. d. Petrus Lombardus, etc. (Beitr. z. Gesch. d. Phil. d. Mittel., iii, 5), Münster, 1901, p. 36; also of DOMET DE VORGES, S. Anselme, pp. 149 sqq. passim.

{6} Cf. ESPENBERGER, op. cit., pp. 67 sqq., for the notion of causality in the time of Peter Lombard, with sources indicated.

{7} V. BAUMGARTNER, Die Philosophie des Alanus de Insulis, im Zusammnhange mit den Anschauungen des 12 Jahrh. dargest. (Beitr. zur Gesch. d. Philos. d. Mittel., ii., 4), Münster, 1896. This excellent monograph is rich in useful information on the history of scholastic ideas.

{8} This wrong interpretation of the hylemorphic teaching is due to the transposition of a logical theory into metaphysics. Instead ef basing the study of matter and form on the processes of cosmic change the scholastics of this period base it on the logical analysis of judgment. Beings are composed of matter and form just as the judgment is composed of subject and predicate. Cf. BAUMGARTNER, op. cit., pp. 57 and foll.

{9} See a monograph hy BAEUMKER in his work on Witelo (353).

{10} Cf. FRIEDRICH, Geschichte d. Lehre von den Seelenvermögen bis zur Niedergange der Scholastik (in the Pädagog. Abhandl., v., I), 33 pp. He collects the materials but does not elahorate them.

{11} Through Chalcidius, who takes the same exception to the definition as the scholastics of this first period.

{12} For the same reason they would not use the theory to explain the composition of other living things. Some denied that beasts have souls, others made of the latter a sort of corporeal spiritus, etc.

{13} See GRUNWALD, Geschichte der Gottesbeweise im Mittelalter bis zum Ausgang der Hochscholastik (Beitr. z. Gesch. d. Philos. d. Mittel., Münster, 1907).

{14} v. J. OF SALISBURY, Metalogicus, iv., 27: Quod Aristoteles in multos erravit.

{15} Principio docet esse Deum, distinguit ab aevo. -- Tempus et ideas applicat, aptat hylen (J. SALISBURY, Entheticus, 941-42).

{16} Cf. BRUNHES, La foi chrétienne et la Philosophie au temps de la Renaissance Carolingienne (Paris, 1903), pp. 173-8O.

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