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


190. Progress of Scholastic Theology. -- Scholastic Theology made a notable advance in the twelfth century and became clearly distinct from philosophy: the autonomy of each of the two queens of medieval wisdom was now fully recognized. Great schools of theology sprang up, in which theology and philosophy were cultivated side by side (113). Two important new departures date from this period: the Summae and the Dialectic Method.

The Summae Sententiarum, or Libri Sententiarum, which began to appear about the middle of the twelfth century, were encyclopedic synopses of Christian dogma.{1} In St. John Damascene's pêgê gnôseôs, which prefaces each doctrine by philosophical prolegomena (kephalaia philosophika), we have an eighth-century attempt at theological systematization which was not without its influence on the compilers of the Sentences. These attempts at classification, first thought of in the West about the time of Abelard, were destined to meet with an unqualified success. They supplied the want that was beginning to be acutely felt for some sort of organization of the great and increasing mass of materials. To this rather than to any originality on the part of their compilers, they owed their popularity.

The (didactic) method of exposition or teaching employed by the sententiaries and summists, was that suggested by Abelard's Sic et Non. It was used by them often without any improvement on its original defects: after an exposition of contradictory views on a problem we are often left without any definite solution. This is the defect complained of by Walter of St. Victor when he calls Peter the Lombard one of the four labyrinths of France.{2} But distinct from this didactic method there arose a new constructive or constitutive method, called the "dialectic method". Medieval scholastic theology, being a distinct, independent, autonomous science, had its own proper constructive methods, just as philosophy too had its own. They were methods of studying the contents of the Christian Revelation, and were concerned especially with the interpretation of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church: they were in common use among theologians from the time of Rhaban Maur, the "founder of theology in Germany".{3} But in addition to these methods, the more important of the medieval theologians had recourse to a subsidiary method besides, -- the dialectic method. They borrowed it from the sister science of philosophy: after expounding a Christian dogma, they called in the aid of dialectic for the purpose of either demonstrating the dogma or at least showing it to be in harmony with reason. In this way the authority of the Scriptures was supplemented by a veritable apologetic of reason. Lanfranc in his time recommended a wise application of dialectic in theology, while Fulbert of Chartres condemned all intermingling and intermeddling of the two disciplines with each other.{4} St. Anselm employed the dialectic method with discretion combined with courage. In the twelfth century it underwent considerable developments and its use and abuse gave rise to lively controversies among theologians, marking them off into groups the main tendencies of which it will suffice to mention here. We may distinguish, as in the preceding century, (1) an abusive theology that overdid the argumentative method, to the detriment of the method of authority; (2) a party of reactionary theologians who opposed all dialectic and all philosophy; and (3) an intermediate group of moderate theologians who admitted the dialectic method into theology in subordination to the method of Scripture interpretation. But while some of these considered that the only use of philosophy was to throw into relief the rational element in dogma (e.g., Peter the Lombard), others recognized in philosophy a value of its own and cultivated it for its own sake (e.g., Hugh of St. Victor). These latter are the true representatives of the scholastic genius and the real forerunners of the great doctors of the thirteenth century.

Instead of this strict classification, we are influenced by historical considerations to adopt a different one: despite his errors, the work of Abelard may be connected closely with that of Hugh of St. Victor. Abelard's errors did not long survive him: among his immediate disciples the influence of Hugh of St. Victor is easily perceptible.

{1} Sententiae: Aussprüche, Thesen, Quaestionen, Abhandlungen, welche man aus den hl. Vatern, den Kirklichen Lehreren u. Canonensammlungen nahm". Sometimes the work itself of the compiler of such extracts bore the title of Sentences (DENIFLE , in the Archiv f. Litteratur u. Kirchengesch. d. Mittelalt. i., p. 588).

{2} The other "labyrinths" were Peter of Poitiers, Gilbert de la Porrée and Abelard.

{3} BURGER, op. cit. (Der Katholik, August, 1902, p. 135).

{4} ENDRES, Lanfranc, etc., p. 231.

<< ======= >>