Jacques Maritain Center : A History of Western Philosophy Vol. II / by Ralph McInerny

Part II: The Carolingian Renaissance


Other Ninth and Tenth Century Figures

What had been begun in the Carolingian Renaissance was never fully extinguished during the subsequent difficult centuries, and it is a fairly widespread opinion nowadays that the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, to which we shall turn in the next part of this volume, had its roots in the Carolingian. The present chapter will attempt to touch briefly on selected figures who insured that continuity.

A. Heiric of Auxerre (c.835 - c.887)

Heiric studied at Fulda, not under Rhabanus Maurus, but under one of his students; afterwards he repaired to Ferriere, where he studied under Servatus Lupus, whose humanism had a lasting effect on Heiric. He wrote home to his abbot in verse, extolling Servatus Lupus and the recreation to be had from profane studies. Heiric also wrote a life of Saint Germanus in verse which Manitius does not hesitate to call his masterpiece. When he returned to his own monastery to teach, he made its school famous. Charles the Bald is said to have sent his son Lothar to study under Heiric. Perhaps Heiric's most famous student was Remigius of Auxerre. Only fragments of the writings of Heiric are preserved, and very little has been edited. Nevertheless, it is possible to gain some small appreciation of Heiric and thereby to understand the magnitude of his reputation in his own and later times.

In a marginal note to his poem on the life of Saint Germanus, Heiric penned what was thought to be a remarkable anticipation of the Cartesian cogito.{1} "In every rational intellectual nature these three are seen always and inseparably to obtain: essence, power, and act (ousia, dynamis, energeia). By way of example, no nature whether rational or intellectual can ignore that it itself exists, though it may be ignorant of what it is. When I say therefore 'I understand myself to be,' does not the verb 'I understand' signify three things inseparable from one another? For I show myself to be and to be capable and to understand myself to be. For I could not understand if I were not, not understand if I lacked the capacity to understand; nor is that power at rest in me, but it bursts forth in the activity of understanding." Hauréau, having quoted the passage (vol. 1, p. 182), makes short work of its claim to originality by showing that it was borrowed almost verbatim from Scotus Erigena (De divisione naturae, I, 50), who in turn got it from Augustine. Well, we have already seen the relevant passage in Augustine, but Hauréau seems to be rather insensitive to the liveliness of minds which would seize on this provocative Augustinian suggestion.

Heiric wrote glosses on Boethius' translation of Aristotle's On Interpretation and on the Categoriae decem, which was wrongly attributed to Augustine. Heiric is aware that Aristotle was the author of the Categories and is also aware that the work before him is not a translation of the Greek work. However, he considers it a free version in Latin of the Greek work and suggests that it be considered an exposition rather than a translation. This caution would, of course, have been suggested by a close reading of the work itself. In setting out to gloss the work, Heiric is delayed by a verse of Alcuin's which was placed as prologue to it and which serves him as an occasion to say something of the word nature. What he has to say indicates the strong influence on him of Scotus Erigena, for he provides us with a contracted version of the meanings with which the De divisione naturae begins. The influence of Erigena is also apparent when Heiric glosses the remark stating the permanent character of substance. This permanence must be ascribed to simple substances, such as the four elements; bodies composed of the four elements are not permanent but can be resolved into their elements. However, with respect to the problem of universals Heiric shows himself more independent. The categories other than substance are general or common modes of being and have whatever being they have thanks to the subjects which enjoy those modes of being. Of course, they may be said to enjoy some kind of being in the mind of God, but they have no real existence apart from their subjects. In short, Heiric is not disposed to increase the created population by listing alongside particular substances their common attributes as if the latter too enjoyed some independent mode of existence. Furthermore, when he comments on the statement that whatever can be said of animal can be said of man Heiric raises the following difficulty. "Genus" can be predicated of animal, but we would not thereby wish to say that man is a genus. He resolves the difficulty by saying that "genus" is not predicated of animal as to its reality or substance (secundum rem, id est substantiam). "Genus" does not express part of what animal is; it does not enter into its definition anymore than species enters into the definition of man. These predicates advert to the predicability of what is defined as "animate sensitive substance," for example, in the case of animal. Without forcing what he says, we can conclude that for Heiric "genus" and "species" are not names of real things. Hauréau concludes from this, surprisingly it would seem, that Heiric is not only a nominalist but a naive one. Let us pursue the matter.

There are three things, Heiric writes, which are involved in any speech or disputation: things, concepts (intellectus), and words. Since words may be either spoken or written, we may say that there are four things thus involved. Written words signify spoken words which in turn signify the concepts whereby the mind grasps things. Of these four, two are natural, namely, things and concepts, and two, spoken and written language, are conventional (secundum positionem hominum). Disputes arise, then, from three sources: from what is, from what is perceived, from what is said. Now, if we can attribute to Heiric, as Hauréau feels we can, the definition of genus as knowledge gathered from the similarity of its parts (genus est cogitatio collecta ex singularum similitudine partium), the most we can say is that we have insufficient evidence for saying what Heiric's views are. One would want to know whether Heiric distinguished between "animal" as expressive of something real in such entities as Socrates, Lothar, and Fido, and "animal" as predicable of many specifically different things. That is, did he feel that "animate sensitive substance" is a concept of something real, whereas "predicable of many specifically different things" is not a concept of anything out-there? What we do know of Heiric suggests that he was drawing attention to the different status of such words as "animal" and "man" on the one hand, and "genus" and "species" on the other. Once this different status is recognized, the perplexities that can arise from considering the statement "animal is a genus" can be handled. Heiric clearly does not want to say that "Socrates" and "man" and "animal" name three distinct individual substances; they are three names which can be applied to one single thing. That reluctance separates him from the blatant realist, to be sure, but it does not of itself make Heiric a nominalist.

B. Remigius of Auxerre (c.841 - c.908)

Remigius was a monk of Auxerre, where he had the good fortune to study under Heiric, whom he succeeded as master of the school in 876. About 883, together with his fellow student, Huebald, he was called to Rheims, where Archbishop Fulco wanted to restore the cathedral school. Remigius' task was to instruct young clerics in the liberal arts, and it is said that Fulco himself became his student. Under the direction of Huebald and Remigius the school flourished, but it appears that Remigius left Rheims, perhaps after the death of Fulco in 900, to go to Paris, where once more his fame as a teacher caused the school to flourish. The school must have been a monastic one, and it is the first school in Paris of which there is any record. Rashdall conjectures that it was the monastic school of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Among his Parisian students mention must be made of Odo of Cluny. A vast number of works are attributed to Remigius, and his fortune among editors has been a good deal happier than Heiric's. First, there are a number of commentaries on Scripture: on Genesis, Psalms, the Canticle of Canticles, the Epistles of Paul, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Apocalypse. He also wrote homilies, a work on the celebration of the Mass, commentaries on Boethius, Donatus, and Priscian, and many other works.

Remigius' commentaries on Boethius convey to us the flavor of his teaching. Two things strike one about Remigius as commentator: first, his dependence on others, especially, in at least one notable instance, on Scotus Erigena; second, the almost complete lack of speculative originality on his part. Let us confine ourselves to Remigius' commentary on the ninth poem of the third book of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. This poem, the "O qui perpetua," provides something like a sketch of Plato's Timaeus. Together with Chalcidius' commentary on the Timaeus, Macrobius' commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio, and the so-called Hermetic writings, this poem of Boethius is one of the sources of the Platonism of the Middle Ages.

As we have seen, Boethius is an enigmatic figure; it is a matter for amazement that the same man could write the theological tractates and the Consolation of Philosophy. Moreover, the Platonism of Boethius is a matter of interest since, while it is Aristotle he translated and on whom he commented, it is by no means clear that Boethius accepts without qualification key Aristotelian doctrines. For example, the division of speculative science in chapter two of the De trinitate seems at first blush simply Aristotelian, but when we read it more closely, when we compare it with remarks Boethius makes in a commentary on Porphyry, the initial interpretation seems questionable. A more important aspect of Boethius' Platonism is revealed in the "O qui perpetua." Is the doctrine of this poem compatible with Christian faith? There are many who maintain that it is not, that the pagan and Platonic view presented there is quite opposed to what Christians believe about the relationship between God and the world.

Erigena, in his commentary on this poem, has little difficulty in seeing its compatibility with Christianity. Remigius seems to have borrowed liberally from the commentary of Erigena; however, as H. Silvestre has argued, Remigius' version is in many ways inferior to that of Erigena. Like Erigena, Remigius reads Boethius in the light of Christian faith, but to move from Erigena's to Remigius' commentary is like moving from the clear to the smudged. Both men, it must be said, are less concerned to clarify the intention of Boethius than to take off from the poem to develop more or less related ideas. In this they are in striking contrast to Bovo of Corvey. Bovo, whose commentary on the "O qui perpetua" may have been intended as an answer and antidote to Erigena's, is noteworthy for two things. First, he is convinced that the content of Boethius' poem is Platonic and that it is contrary to Christian doctrine. Second, Bovo's commentary is a good deal more fajthful to the text of Boethius; he provides us with a great quantity of historical material so that we can grasp the meaning of the poem. Once we see what it means, Bovo feels, it will be quite clear to us that no easy adjustment can be made of this Platonic doctrine and what Christians believe about God and the world, creation and time.

Consider what Erigena and, consequently, Remigius do with the following verses (13-17):

Thou in consenting parts fitly disposed hast
The all-moving soul in midst of threefold nature placed,
Which, cut in several parts that run a different race,
Into itself returns, and circling doth embrace
The highest mind, and heaven with like proportion drives.

This allusion to the world-soul is said to be susceptible to two interpretations. Philosophers take it to be the sun; it can also be understood in terms of the human soul. The first interpretation is reported at some length, but the second is said to be better, by Erigena, and more prudent, by Remigius. We are then given a highly imaginative but quite ungrounded dissertation on the human soul as divisible into irascible, concupiscible, and rational parts. And so forth. This has little or nothing to do with what Boethius has written and less of course with Plato, on whom Boethius is depending. It is instructive to compare Erigena and Remigius, on the one hand, with each other, and, on the other, with Bovo of Corvey. How odd that Bovo, who is convinced the text is dangerous and incompatible with Christianity, should give us a closer and more accurate reading of it, while those who would assimilate it to Christian teaching seem only slightly detained by the text before them. And yet, if one is going to use a text as an occasion for speaking of things only tenuously connected with or grounded on it, how much better to do this on one's own, as Erigena did, than simply to borrow, as Remigius did.

When we turn to Remigius' commentaries on the theological tractates of Boethius, we find him staying so close to the text that what he has to say about it seldom goes beyond suggesting synonyms, making the most obvious kind of statement, or quoting Scripture and the Fathers. One cannot fail to be impressed with Remigius' learning; at the same time he strikes us as one whose learning is not an instrument for independent thought.

C. Gerbert of Aurillac (c.940-1003)

Gerbert, who was to end his life as Pope Sylvester II, was one of the most famous teachers of his time, a tireless collector of books, and an intimate of the great of his day. Having entered the monastery at Aurillac at an early age, he was taken to Spain by a visiting noble on the recommendation of his abbot in order that he might receive what instruction could be had there. It is certain that he studied at Barcelona, but the story that he studied under Arabian masters at Cordova and Seville is mere legend. Nevertheless, he seems to have been acquainted, indirectly at least, with Arabian science, particularly astronomy and mathematics. From Spain he went to Rome, where the pope recommended him to the Emperor Otto I, who sent him to Rheims. As a teacher in the cathedral school there, Gerbert continued to seek far and wide for books to broaden his knowledge. It was while he taught at Rheims that he took part in the dispute with Otiric to which we shall return. In 983, Otto II appointed him abbot of Bobbio. This was a rich abbey, possessing lands throughout Italy, but the wealth was illusory since it required an army to collect. Upon the death of Otto II, Gerbert resigued and returned to Rheims. There he once more taught, became deeply involved in secular and ecclesiastical political affairs, and, after the deposition of Archbishop Arnulph, a natural son of King Lothar, in 991, Gerbert was elected archbishop of Rheims. In 995 he was temporarily suspended from his episcopal office, and subsequently Arnulph's deposition and Gerbert's election were declared invalid. Gerbert then repaired to the court of Otto III, where he became the teacher of the youthful Emperor. He was named archbishop of Ravenna in 998, and in 999 was elected pope.

Richer, the biographer of Gerbert, recounts a public dispute between Gerbert and Otiric which had to do with the division of philosophy. Picavet develops the hints of Richer in such a way that Otiric appears intimidated by the fame of Gerbert, a fame which had spread from Rheims into Saxony. Otiric, older than Gerbert, had reason to expect that his years of teaching would be crowned by the award of a bishopric, and Gerbert's fame might have seemed a threat to this ambition. So he planted a spy in Gerbert's class and was supplied with a schema purporting to give his supposed rival's views on the parts of philosophy. Considering Gerbert's views in error, Otiric hastened to take the matter to the Emperor as evidence of Gerbert's incompetence. The upshot was that Otiric and Gerbert were summoned to settle the matter in a debate before the imperial court.

When we try to get at what the dispute was all about, we seem to find that it involves Otiric's acceptance of a division of philosophy which was known to the West through Augustine and which is ultimately the Stoic division of philosophy. According to this division philosophy has as its parts physics, ethics, and logic. Gerbert, on the other hand, accepted the Aristotelian division of philosophy as made known by Boethius. He puts his position thus: "Philosophy is a genus whose species are the practical and theoretical; I assign the dispensive, the distributive, and the civil as species of the practical. Under theoretical, on the other hand, it is not surprising that we should place physics (natural science), mathematics (the science of intelligibles), and divinity (the science of intellectibles)." (PL, 138, 107C) Apparently what bothered Otiric was that physics, which for him was one of the three genera of philosophy, should be presented as a species. The source of the dispute, again, would seem to be two different notions of how philosophy is divided. In the report of the disputation that Richer gives, there is an indication that Gerbert is suggesting the basic compatibility of the two divisions, but this is not developed. What does come out quite clearly is Gerbert's assumption that the division handed on by Boethius is the most complete and nuanced schema of philosophy.

Aside from its further importance for Gerbert's own thought, which we will develop in a moment, the dispute with Otiric foreshadows a difficulty which seems never to be faced head-on during the Carolingian period and its more or less immediate wake, but which occupies men considerably more during the twelfth century. We have seen in Alcuin, for example, a stress on the importance of the seven liberal arts for describing the nature of philosophy; furthermore, he will allude to the threefold division of philosophy passed on by Augustine. A third factor is the Aristotelian division of philosophy transmitted through Boethius. What is the reconciliation, if any, between these various traditions? Although Gerbert's dispute with Otiric seems to have swung around certain aspects of this problem, it is hard to see that Gerbert proposed even a partially definitive solution.

A point that arose in the dispute with Otiric was further developed by Gerbert in his De rationali et ratione uti, which could be translated as On Being Rational and Reasoning. (PL, 139, 159-168) The topic under discussion in this little work can be summed up in the following question: How can "to use reason" or "reasoning" be predicated of "rational" if every predicate is wider than its subject? Some have suggested that "to use reason" is broader than "rational" because the former signifies a capacity together with its use, while the latter signifies the capacity alone. Gerbert himself resolves the difficulty by distinguishing between substantial and accidental predicates. On that basis, just as one can say "man sits" because it is true to say 'Socrates sits," so one can predicate actual reasoning of what is rational because some rational being is reasoning. Predicates like "sits" and "using reason" are not part of the definition of the subject of which they are predicated, and since the rule that the predicates must be broader than or at least equal to its subject in predicable scope refers to the hierarchy of substantial predicates, the difficulty as stated is not a real one.

What is of interest in this opusculum is not so much the difficulty it sets out to resolve as (1) the wide acquaintance with Aristotelian thought it evidences and (2) the fact that it has been used as an occasion to assert that Gerbert was a realist with respect to the status of universal terms. As for the knowledge of Aristotle, this far exceeds what one would expect from acquaintance with the Categories, On Interpretation, and the Boethian and Porphyrian adjuncts to these works. Gerbert observes that "potency" is equivocal when we take it as common to an act which is always actualized and an act which is temporarily consequent upon a capacity. So too he distinguishes between simple things whose actuality is such that they can never not be and things which, so long as they are, manifest a given activity (for example, fire is always hot; water is always wet) but which can not be, and things which are and may or may not perform an act which they are capable of performing. "To use reason" is an activity of the last kind. Gerbert had a penchant for schemata (he is said to have enjoyed using the abacus and other mathematical machines), and he provides us with a summary outline of the ontology just sketched.

Hauréau views the De rationali et ratione uti as a resolute but premature attempt to reconcile Aristotle and Plato, but he observes that Gerbert is far better acquainted with Aristotle than he is with Plato. Where does Gerbert stand with respect to the opposition between Plato and Aristotle on universals? "Do not we find firmly stated, in the passages of this treatise we have quoted, the thesis of universals ante rem, separated from the divine intelligence? He says it; he believes in eternally substantial intelligibles, in forms of forms, permanent acts, which are located in the vaguely described circumscribed space through which man's reason passes when it attempts to elevate itself to God. We must then definitively place this odd interpreter of the Categories in the ranks of the declared realists." (Hauréau, vol. 1, pp. 218-219) The passage Hauréau has in mind constitutes chapter eleven of the treatise, and he takes it to mean that "rational," or what the term signifies, exists eternally and necessarily in the sempiternal form of man, which exists elsewhere than in individuals like Socrates and Plato. Gerbert could be taken to mean this by one who reads the passage independently of what has gone before it if he omits, as Hauréau does in citing the passage, a rather important portion of it. Prior to this passage, Gerbert had distinguished between eternal and necessary entities on the one hand, and contingent entities on the other. The latter have some activities without which they are never found and others which they sometimes exercise and sometimes do not. "To use reason" is the second kind of activity. Now, in chapter eleven Gerbert uses the terms Boethius had used, namely, "intellectibles," "intelligibles," and "naturals," which in Boethius were the respective objects of divine science, mathematics, and physics. Gerbert begins with intelligibles and says that rational can be a specific difference of sempiternal and necessary entities. Surely he can be taken to refer to objects higher than man which are also rational. Rationality, however, which is always actuated in sempiternal and necessary things (they are always actually reasoning), alters when it enters into the corporeal order as a capacity which is sometimes actuated and sometimes not. At this point Gerbert mentions intellectibles. All the things which are genera, species, and differences are in (or as) intellectibles the forms of things. Imagine now that Gerbert is here referring to the divine Ideas, the creative patterns or archetypes of creatures. He then suggests another meaning for intelligible: this may be the status of something as understood by man. There follows this remark: "Rational therefore is considered in one way in the sempiternal species of man, whether in intellectibles or intelligibles, and in another way in natural things. There forms or acts are sempiternal, here a power which may be actualized." The sempiternal form of man may be understood either as a divine Idea (intellectible) or as the mental concept (intelligible) or better the object or content of the concept, whereas the form as it is found in individuals is spoken of by Gerbert as natural. On this interpretation there is no need or clear warrant for making the assertion Hauréau has made, and it is noteworthy that he omits the passage in which Gerbert speaks of intelligibles in terms of mental concepts (passiones animae).

The De rationali et ratione uti remains an obscure and difficult work, and the difficulty is compounded by its employment of the Boethian triad: intellectibles, intelligibles, and naturals. There is some plausibility in Hauréau's interpretation of it; we hope there is at least equal plausibility in the interpretation we have suggested. Perhaps the safest summary remark on it is that it is deliciously obscure as to Gerbert's views on the status of universals.

It is hardly surprising that Gerbert entered into the Eucharistic dispute we mentioned earlier. In his De corpore et sanguine domini (FL, 139, 179-188) Gerbert sides with Paschasius, but at the same time he attempts to show that the position of Paschasius is not as different from that of Ratramnus of Corbie as these men, and others, had thought.

Our impression of Gerbert is that of a man of immense erudition with an indefatigable desire for new sources of knowledge, a builder of libraries, an inspiring teacher, an able dialectician. At the same time he is a political animal both in the secular and ecclesiastical worlds, worlds which were not far separated in his day. His career has some aspects of a roller-coaster ride, but when it ends with Gerbert in the papacy, he exhibits his magnanimity by certifying his old rival's right to the archbishoptic of Rheims. In a bleak period Gerbert was an undeniable source of light; even if much of it was reflected light, he nonetheless forms an important link in the chain binding the Carolingian Renaissance with that of the twelfth century.

Bibliographical Note

Barthélemy Hauréau, Histoire de la philosophie scholastique, Part One (Paris, 1872).

{1} For a discussion of this doctrine of Descartes see volume three of this series (pp. 168-174).

<< ======= >>