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

Chapter III.

Scholastic Philosophy.


450. Leading Features. -- The dearth of philosophers becomes more marked than in the preceding period. The various schools of opinion survive, but without much of their earlier influence. In the religious orders, in the universities and the colleges that sprang up within the universities, it became customary to accept the official leadership of some one or other of the great scholastic masters; and even the choice of these latter was not always determined by considerations of an intellectual order, but often by political caprice and intrigues.{1} We can judge to what excess this miserable factionism was carried, from the fact that "Thomists" and "Albertists" formed antagonistic groups{2} -- as if St. Thomas and his master did not hold the same views on all the great fundamental questions of philosophy.

Ignorance of scholastic teaching reached its lowest depth about the end of the seventeenth century. If the manuals still spoke of matter and form, it was to depict their union under some such metaphor as that of the espousals of man and woman followed by divorce and the contracting of new alliances. The explanatory value unduly claimed for the theory of the distinction between the various powers or qualities of things, gave Molière a pretext for his sneer about the "virtus dormativa" of opium. So also, the current misinterpretations of the scholastic theory of the "species intentionales" were justly and severely criticized by Malebranche and Arnauld. It was mainly among the university professors, the "official Aristotelians," that this ignorance betrayed itself. This reproach, however, cannot be made general, nor can it be extended without reserve to the sixteenth century. For, the sixteenth century saw the rise of a new scholasticism which was wanting neither in originality nor dignity; and it saw moreover some illustrious commentators of St. Thomas and Aristotle, men who carried to a successful issue a useful and laborious undertaking in exegesis.

The attitude of the scholastics towards their adversaries cannot be condoned. When attacked in all their strongholds by the Renaissance coalition, the scholastics did not know how to defend themselves: they committed the double blunder of ignoring the history of contemporary philosophy and holding aloof from the advances of the special sciences. Bacon's reproach is just in substance, if exaggerated in its language: "Hoc genus doctrinae minus sanae et seipsum corrumpentis invaluit apud multos praecipue ex scholasticis, qui summo otio abundantes, atque ingenio acres, lectione autem impares, quippe quorum mentes conclusae essent in paucorum auctorum, praecipue Aristotelis dictatoris sui scriptis, non minus quam corpora ipsorum in coenobiorum cellis, historiam vero et naturae et temporis maxima ex parte ignorantes, ex non magno materiae stamine, sed maxima spiritus, quasi radii, agitatione operosissimas telas, quae in libris eorum extant, confecerunt".{3}

The scholastics neglected contemporary philosophy: both its attacks on themselves and its own new systematizations. If a few scattered scholastics, especially in the Spanish revival movement, did take note of the bitter complaints and reproaches of the humanists, the vast majority jogged on in the old rut of routine. And as for the new theories, the scholastics of this period, with very rare exceptions, not only abstained from refuting them, but deliberately avoided studying them. Contemptuous towards all rivals and full of self-sufficiency, they ostentatiously imprisoned themselves within the circumscribed and shrinking sphere of their own barren speculations. What weight or influence could they hope to retain in the world of learning -- men who thus closed doors and windows against the outer world and neither felt nor professed any interest in the ideas of their time? Very different was the attitude of St. Thomas and the thirteenth-century doctors towards their adversaries in their day; and had they lived during the Renaissance they would have waged war to the death, and beyond doubt victoriously, against its rabble of puny philosophies, incomparably less robust as they were than the Averroïsts of the thirteenth century.

The scholastics also held aloof from the progress of the sciences: although in these domains there were great, revolutionary theories at work, and new syntheses were overthrowing many of the positions accepted by medieval science. Conceived outside scholasticism, these new syntheses ended by turning against scholasticism. We shall see this in our closing section (§ 7).

{1} At Basle, in 1464, there were four terminist professors (Via modernorum) and three anti-terminists or realists (Via antiqua): at Freiburg (Breisgau) the teaching was terminist from 1456 to 1484, at which date realists were admitted, on the order of the Archduke Sigismund. Similarly, terminism was imposed on the rising universities of Tübingen (1477), Ingolstadt (1472), etc. (PRANTL, iv., p. 190).

{2} As, for instance, at Cologne, where the St. Lawrence college defended the teaching of Albert the Great against the Montagne college which professed Thomism.

{3} Quoted by BRUCKER, Historia Critica Philosophiae, t. iii., pp. 877, 878.

<< ======= >>