The Revival of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century

Chapter I: What Is Scholastic Philosophy?


The word scholastikós was already in use among the Greeks to denote a man devoted to study. Ueberweg notes it in a letter of Theophrastus to Phanias.[1] Petronius seems to have introduced it among the Romans. Under Quintilian it meant a rhetor or professor of eloquence, and we read in St. Jerome that it was granted as a title of distinction to Serapio for his unusual talent. At the opening of the Mediaeval schools, the term was soon restricted to a purely didactic meaning. The scholasticus became the instructor, and the system of thought expounded in the cathedra, the Scholastic philosophy.

A distinguished French scholar, Barthélemy Hauréau, based upon this etymology a definition of Scholastic philosophy which has been generally accepted; and, on the whole, is the best we now possess: Scholastic philosophy is the philosophy professed in the schools of the Middle Ages, from the establishment of these schools to the day in which the outside philosophy, the spirit of novelty disengaged from the bonds of tradition, came to dispute with it, and withdraw from its control the minds of men. "La philosophie scolastique est la philosophie professée dans les écoles du moyen âge depuis l'établissement jusqu'au déclin de ces écoles, c'est-à-dire jusqu'au jour où la philosophie du dehors, l'esprit nouveau, l'esprit moderne, se dégageant des liens de la tradition, viendront lui disputer et lui ravir la conduite des intelligences."[2]

Before we proceed to examine the difficulties to which this definition gives rise, it will not be amiss to make a few observations, in order to dispel all possible misunderstandings.

First of all, it seems that the etymological considerations which lead us to identify Scholasticism with Mediaeval thought, ought to make us step beyond the limits of the Middle Ages, and extend our definition to modern schools as well. If it is the meaning of the words that guides us, there is no reason why the philosophy taught from the cathedra of Koenigsberg by the author of the Critique of Pure Reason should be any less scholastic than the systems of Duns Scotus or Thomas Aquinas. And, indeed, some writers, following this conception, speak of an Hegelian, a Cousinian, a Schopenhauerian Scholasticism. The ridiculous outcome of this view is obvious to every eye. It transforms into Scholastics all our university teachers. It makes Scholastic philosophy co-extensive, not only wth the doctrines of Kant, Hegel, Cousin and Schopenhauer, but with all modern idealistic systems; nay, with the whole field of philosophical thought. What system has not been expounded from a professor's chair? What philosopher has not seen his doctrines espoused in some center of learning? And we would thus be compelled to enlarge without limit the field of Scholasticism, to open its gate, not only to Hegel or to William James, but also, and with equal right, to Descartes and to Berkeley.

And yet, were etymology our sole guide, we should accept this view, strange though it appear. But the original significance of a word does not suffice to give us the key to its actual meaning. According to John Locke, men seem to have been guided by wit rather than by judgment in the formation of names; and a great discrepance has thus often come to exist between the connotation of a term and its etymology. The Greek word próbaton, which signifies sheep, is derived from the verb probainô, to walk forward. Still, no one would think of applying the word sheep to all beings walking forward, to include under that name, not only all our domestic animals, all denizens of the water and the air, save crabs and crawfishes, but our own selves.

Scholastic philosophy was originally the philosophy of the schools; and, as the name was given during the Middle Ages, it was applied to all Mediaeval schools. When, at the beginning of the modern era, thought was suddenly engaged in another direction, and controlled by men who did not expound their principles from a professor's chair, a new philosophy arose, which was not scholastic, and which, afer having controlled the minds of the new generation, took possession of the schools themselves, and dethroned the old philosophy, which, for centuries past, had exercised an undisputed sovereignty upon the intelligences. The philosophy of the schools thus ceased to be Scholastic, and the term acquired a definite meaning, and was henceforward exclusively applied to denote Mediaeval speculation.

Scholastic philosophy, thus confined to a definite time, must also be limited with regard to space. It would be absurd to extend it to all the systems which arose in any point of our globe between the sixth and the fifteenth century, to make it embrace, not only the philosophical systems of the Arabs and the Jews, but also those of the Hindoos and of the Chinese. It must be limited to the speculation of the western world, which, in spite of numerous internal divergences, of many distinct and definite currents, formed a single whole, of which Paris was the center, which soon found in Aristotle an inspirer and a prophet, and in the dogmas of the Church a cynosure to direct the human mind in the perilous and unexplored regions it had so resolutely entered.

Our definition may be objected to upon the ground that it leaves us in total ignorance as to the import of the system we define. It does not throw any light upon its essential character, and may even be regarded as simply tautological, as equivalent to the statement that the Mediaeval philosophy is the philosophy of the Middle Ages. We readily admit that, in defining Scholastic philosophy as the philosophy of the Middle Ages, we do not pretend to give what logicians would call an essential definition. But, is it possible to give an essential definition of a system of thought? Can we enclose within the narrow compass of a definition the essential characteristics of a philosophy? It is related that Hegel, having been asked to give a brief exposition of his system, answered that it was not a thing that could be said in a few words. An essential definition of a philosophy is bound to be incomplete, and, in so far, erroneous. Mr. Maurice de Wulf who, in his remarkable work on neo-Scholasticism, has objected to Hauréau's definition on account of its failure to give an insight into the Scholastic doctrine, has not been able to give the essential definition which the first chapters of his book had led us to expect. In point of fact, he has given no definition at all. He has exposed, in 64 octavo pages, what he considers the essential characteristics of Scholastic philosophy, has summed up his exposition in a description which contains no less than 242 words, telling us that such a definition is still incomplete, that it contains only a few of the characters of Scholastic philosophy, and that an integral definition whould comprise them all.[3]

An attempt at a more acceptable essential definition has been made quite recently by Mr. Elie Blanc. He has defined Scholastic philosophy as a spirit, a method and a system:

"Il peut donce sembler que la philosophie scolastique est d'abord un esprit: elle est née chez les Pères de l'Eglise et leurs successeurs du juste souci d'accorder la raison et la foi. Elle est ensuite une méthode rigoureuse, empruntée surtout à Aristote, telle qu'il la fallait pour réaliser cet accord. Enfin elle aboutit à un système toujours perfectible, dont les bases se trouvent surtout dans l'oeuvre de saint Thomas."[4]

Concerning this definition, I shall make the following remarks:

If, for the sake of brevity, we limit ourselves to saying that Scholastic philosophy is a spirit, a method and a system, our definition is not essential, because it leaves us in a complete ignorance as to what that spirit, that method and that system are; and is also worthless, because it can be applied to all philosophies, inasmuch as they all possess a spirit, follow a method, and constitute a definite system. It is true that Mr. Blanc explains what the spirit, the method and the system are. But the method is an extrinsic and unessential character. The spirit, consisting in a just endeavor to harmonize reason and faith, is extrinsic also. It simply refers to the relation Scholastic philosophy bears to another science, and ignores the fundamental principles of Scholasticism as a philosopgy. Finally, the description of the Scholastic system as a perfectible system, whose bases are found chiefly in St. Thomas, equally fails to give us an insight into the contents of Scholastic philosophy. It does not tell us what the system is, what distinguishes it from modern thought, what consititutes it as a philosophy. Mr. Blanc's definition is no essential definition at all.

Moreover, does Mediaeval philosophy possess any distinctive character, any idiosyncrasy which sets it apart from ancient as well as from modern thought? We fully realize that we here approach a difficult question, which has been already studied from different points of view, and not yet been satisfactorily answered.

Some writers have thought they could solve the difficulty by simply saying that Scholastic philosophy is no philosophy at all. This view was professed by the French encyclopedists of the eighteenth century, who no doubt had powerful personal motives of dislike for Mediaeval speculation. They pitied all who lose their time in the study of such vain subtleties, and Diderot went so far as to say of Duns Scotus that a man who would know all that he has written would know nothing.

This kind of shallow contempt soon spread over all Europe. it became a point of fashion to deride the cloisters and the monks. The ass gloried in the kick he could give to the dying lion. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Bruker spoke of the introduction of Aristotle's philosophy into Europe as the signal of the most complete intellectual degeneration. More recently, Taine has given the epoch of the great masters of the thirteenth century as an age of stupidity: "Three centuries at the bottom of this black pit did not add a single idea to the human mind."[5] Mr. Penjon has described the period which elapsed between the edict of Justinian (529) and the Renaissance as a sort of entr'acte during which there was no philosophy.[6] Hegel himself, whose system presents so striking a resemblance with those of the Scholastics that one might be tempted to believe he has borrowed directly from them, does not hesitate to profess the same contempt. Speaking of Scholastic philosophy, he says: "It is not interesting by reason of its matter, for we cannot remain at the consideration of this; it is not a philosophy."[7]

After modern erudition has had the courage to go back to the much-despised era, and to remove the dense veil of ignorance which covered the works of its thinkers; after such men as Cousin, Hauréau and Picavet have displayed to the world the treasures of philosophical learning which lay concealed in those dusty folios, the superficial disdain of the precedding generation has disappeared, covered with shame. Men have repudiated the idea of a Mediaeval entr'acte, and have understood that the "dark ages" are not dark in themselves, but are dark simply for us on account of our ignorance.

There being thus nowadays no possibility of abiding by what the Germans have called: der Sprung uber das Mittelalter, and Scholastic philosophy being evidently something, the necessity of determining precisely what it is imposes itself upon us. And here the difficulty lies.

It is unnecessary to say that Mediaeval philosophy is not a single system. Embracing, as it does, several centuries of incredible intellectual activity, it must needs present that variety of opinions which is the invariable concomitant of all human speculations. A rapid glance at the whole field of Mediaeval thought will not be out of place here, and will furnish us with an insight into the essential characteristics of Scholastic philosophy. We shall first examine the problem which has often been regarded as comprising within its limits the whole drift of Scholastic discussions: the problem of universals. Mr. de Wulf has recently blamed Hauréau for regarding it as the sole Scholstic problem. And indeed we agree with the distinguished professor of Louvain in admitting that the Mediaeval thinkers did not confine their investigations to a single particular question, but embraced the whole field of philosophy. The problem in germ, not only the Mediaeval systems of thought, but likewise the answers which, in modern times, have been given to all great problems of philosophy.

It is unnecessary to say that Mediaeval philosophy is not a single system. Embracing, as it does, several centuries of incredible intellectual activity, it must needs present that variety of opinions which is the invariable concomitant of all human speculation. A rapid glance at the whole field of Mediaeval thought will not be out of place here, and will furnish us with an insight into the essential characteristics of Scholastic philosophy. We shall first examine the problem which has often been regarded as comprising within its limits the whole drift of Scholastic discussions: the problem of universals. Mr. de Wulf has recently blamed Hauréau for regarding it as the sole Scholastic problem. And indeed we agree with the distinguished professor of Louvain in admitting that the Mediaeval thinkers did not confine their investigations to a single particular question, but embraced the whole field of philosophy. The problem of universals should not, however, be undervalued, as it contains in germ, not only the Mediaeval systems of thought, but likewise the answers which, in modern times, have been given to all great problems of philosophy.

If we start from nominalistic principles, if we admit with Roscelin that the universal is a mere name, a mere flatus vocis, and that nothing but the individual is real, the outcome of our philosophy will be materialism and phenomenalism. We will at first admit with John Stuart Mill that "a class, a universal, a genus or a species is neither more nor less than the individual substances themselves which are placed in the class; and that there is nothing real in the matter except those objects, a common name given to them, and common attributes indicated by the name."[8] We shall next be bound to extend our theory to the relation of the whole and its parts; and inasmuch as the whole bears to the parts the relation of a universal to a particular we shall have to maintain that the parts alone possess reality and are themselves wholes. When Abelard, in his letter to the bishop of Paris, accused Roscelin of implicitly holding that Jesus, instead of eating, as the Gospel says, a part of a fish, ate a part of a word, he was undoubtedly wrong. Roscelin's assertion that the universal was a mere word did not bind him to admit that the fish was a mere word. But it compelled him to profess that the fish as such had no reality; that it was nothing but a complex of ultimate beings, or molecules; and that Jesus ate a certain number of those molecules, which could be called parts of a fish only in virtue of our mental propensity to build those universals which are absolutely devoid of reality.

Nominalism thus leads us to materialism. It is radically opposed to the belief that the, universe is a whole, and cannot admit any other absolute than the molecules, the atoms, the ultimate divisions of matter, by whatever name we may choose to call them.

And if, from the objective, we pass to the subjective field, we shall see that nominalism is likewise the ancestor of empiricism and phenomenalism. In the realm of mind, as well as in the realm of matter, the individual will be the ultimate reality. There will be no soul-substance lying beyond our mental states, but fugitive impressions, each of which will possess its own independent existence. Experiences of memory themselves will have no validity apart from the present instant, and we shall be bound to admit what Mr. Josiah Royce has described under the name of Mysticism.

As Roscelin applied his doctrine to the mystery of the Holy Trinity; and, in agreement with his principles, concluded that the oneness of the three divine persons is not real; that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are not one God but three Gods, he was formally condemned at the Council of Soissons, in 1092, and Nominalism was thus killed for more than two centuries, and did not reappear till the days of Ockam.

Realism, in its most extreme form, had been professed by Plato; and, as the first period of Mediaeval speculation was decidedly Platonic, extreme Realism, in spite of its pantheistic tendencies, became the orthodox belief. It must be observed here that Mediaeval realism has nothing in common with what we call realism to-day. It is the doctrine that the universal is not merely a mental construction, but possesses an objective reality; is, in point of fact, the only reality. Plato, as is well known, had taught that the real world is the world of ideas, and that the phenomenal world, our own world, possesses reality only in so far as it participates in the truth of the ideal world. This view, if logically followed out, will lead us to the conclusion that reality is of a mental nature. We shall be bound to admit with Hegel that "What is reasonable is actual, and what is actual is reasonable." We shall be incapable of avoiding monism in its most extreme form. If the universal possesses an objective reality, then being is real; and, as the universal term being can be applied to all things whatsoever, we shall have to admit that a being exists which contains all reality within itself. It is to realism therefore that most of the pantheistic systems of the Middle Ages must be traced back.

Prior to the formulation of the problem of universals, Scotus Erigena had already maintained that God is more than a creator, that he is in all things as their sole substance: "Cum ergo audimus Deum omnia facere, nihil aliud debemus intelligere quam Deum in omnibus esse, hoc est, essentiam omnium subsistere. Ipse enim solus per se vere est, et omne quod vere in his quae sunt dicitur esse ipse solus est."[9]

In spite of the incongruity of this view with the teaching of the Church -- an incongruity which eventually led to the condemnation of Erigena's work in 1225, Pantheism again developed under the shadow of the traditional realistic doctrine, the antiqua doctrine, as Abelard had called it, displayed itself more or less timidly, according to the propitiousness of the times and the boldness of its supporters, and reached a definite form and expression in the teachings of the great Pantheistic school, which flourished at the end of the twelfth century, and counted as distinguished members as Bernard of Tours, Amaury of Bene and David of Dinant.

Closely connected with Platonic realism are also the Mediaeval mystics. Mysticism, or the doctrine that the real is the immediately felt, is, as we have seen, the logical outcome of nominalism. It is interesting to notice that Mediaeval mysticism was reached by the opposite way. If we start from the assumption that the universal alone is real, we will be led to the conclusion that God alone possesses reality, and that everything else is mere worthless appearance. In what will man's perfection and final end then consist? Simply in the immediate union with the One, the Being, in whom all reality is centered; in a supreme contempt for all terrestrial things; in the rejection of all profane learning, of philosophy itself. And we have thus, in a nutshell, the line of reasoning followed by Mediaeval mystics.

It was out of the teaching of William of Champeaux at the abbey of St. Victor that the mystic movement grew. Strengthened by the condemnation of Abelard (1121), openly protected by St. Bernard, Mysticism found remarkable adherents in the whole Victorine school. Human reason was mercilessly condemned, dialectic was characterized as the devil's art, and Abelard, Peter Lombardus, Gilbert de la Porrée and Peter of Poitiers were denounced as "the four labyrinths of France,"[10] because "they had treated with scholastic levity of the ineffable Trinity and the Incarnation."

Pantheistic doctrines having been repeatedly anathematized by the Church -- as in the Council of Paris, in 1210, in which the teachings of David and Amaury were condemned and their works proscribed -- and Aristotle having supplanted Plato as the inspirer and the guide of Mediaeval thinking, there appeared a modified form of realism, which had been already foreshadowed by St. Anselm, and probably also by Abelard, and which has remained since then the official Scholastic doctrine. Albert of Bollstadt, usually known as Albert the Great, must be credited with its first satisfactory formulation. He distinguished three kinds of universals: First, the universale ante rem, existing in the mind of God; second, the universale in re, existing in the external object; third, the universale post rem, existing in the known subject.

This new form of realism, which escapes the extravagant issues of nominalism and extreme realism, has been too often ignored by modern writers, who have represented Scholastics as adhering en masse to the tenets of Plato and William of Champeaux. The new theory denies the existence of the universal as such outside the mind; but it admits in the object a potential universal, which may be regarded as the foundation, fundamentum in re, of the universal concept of the mind. There does not exist, as Plato maintained, an ideal man which contains the reality shared in a greater or less degree by all individual men; there exist only Peter, James and John; but there is in Peter, as well as in John and James, a peculiar nature, an essence by which they are individuals of their own -- not of another -- species. The universal ceases to be a word devoid of meaning; it designates the very essence of the thing itself.

The ideal world of Plato did not, however, completely vanish. It appeared in a new form which it had already assumed at the beginning of the Christian era. The world of ideas became the Divine Mind; and the essences of all things were regarded as preexisting in the essence of God, as reflecting more or less exactly the divine perfections. God's essence was thus described as the causa exemplaris, the infinite prototype of all reality. This is the meaning of Albert's universale ante rem.

Besides moderate realism, there arose between Platonic realism and nominalism another intermediate theory, known as conceptualism. The conceptualists were at one with the nominalists in denying all objective reality to the universal; but, whereas the nominalists saw nothing in the universal but a meaningless name, the conceptualists recognized its validity as a concept. They admitted that the universal is real and has a meaning, but only in the mind. Abelard has been regarded for a long time as the promoter of this view. The works of Rémusat and Cousin would rather lead us to regard him as a moderate realist. At all events, conceptualism presents a striking historical interest on account of its resemblance with the Kantian philosophy. It dissociates the mental concepts from the outside reality. It shows that the synthetical unity of apperception is the product of the mental categories, and does not agree with the thing-in- itself, which remains unknown and unknowable.

The problem of universals has thus led us through all Mediaeval systems of thought, and might likewise lead us through the whole field of modern speculation. There are, however, in the Middle Ages, as well as in modern philosophy, some questions which do not present so close a connection with the nominalistic and realistic principles. Prominent among them is the dispute as to the superiority of the intellect or of the will. Thomas Aquinas was an intellectualist; Duns Scotus was a voluntarist. His philosophy bears to that of the Angelic Doctor the relation that Kant's system bears to the system of Hegel. The rapid survey of Mediaeval thought we have just made, however incomplete it may be, is more than sufficient to prove that Scholastic philosophy is not properly a system. Most of modern systems, as we have seen, are either openly professed by Mediaeval philosopher or implicitly contained in his principles. What is Scholastic philosophy then? Does it present any character by which it may be distinguished from modern thought? To this question various answers have been made, all containing a certain amount of truth, most of them being nevertheless incomplete.

Some authors have defined Scholastic philosophy in terms of its language and methods. They have claimed that the syllogism was the favorite instrument of Mediaeval thought; vain subtleties and endless distinctions its chief characteristics. According to Mr. John Dewey, one definition of Scholasticism is:

"any mode of thought characterized by excessive refinement and subtlety; the making of formal distinctions without end and without special point."[11]

These views are true to a certain extent. Syllogism was regarded by Mediaeval philosophers, and is still regarded by some of their contemporary followers, as the most efficient form of argumentation. The syllogistic form, however, is simply a garb with which the schoolmen chose to clothe their ideas, and which they might have discarded without any essential change in their philosophy. It is a garb which is not peculiar to them alone. Besides the fact that all modern systems of philosophy could be presented in the syllogistic form without becoming scholastic, it must be borne in mind that Leibniz not only praised the syllogism, but used it in his discussions; that Spinoza expounded his philosophy in a form surpassing in strictly syllogistic mathematical character, all that had been written during the Middle Ages. As for vain subtlety, it is certainly a most common blemish in the works of the schoolmen, a real defect, which often mars their most beautiful pages. But the student of post-Kantian idealism, who has been compelled to go over the works of Fichte, Hegel and Bradley, is little tempted to regard vain subtlety as a character peculiar to Scholasticism. He who has tried to clear the Fichtean statement that

"the reciprocal activity and passivity determines the independent activity and the independent activity determines the reciprocal activity and passivity";

its immediate consequence, namely that

"the independent activities of the Ego and Non-Ego do not reciprocally determine each other directly, but only indirectly, through their reciprocally determined activity and passivity";

and that

"the law of reciprocal determination is valid only in so far as related to the reciprocal activity and passivity and independent activity; but is not valid as related to the independent activity alone ";

who has followed the author in the intricate applications of his principles under the conceptions of causality and substantiality; who has lost himself in that baffling labyrinth of distinctions and sub-distinctions which cover more than sixty pages of the Wissesnschaftslehre; who has finally got the conviction that this eccentric and repulsive show of analysis amounts to little more than nothing, can hardly accuse the Scholastics of monopolizing subtlety. Applying to Fichte a word which Diderot said of Duns Scotus, he will assert with no more hesitation and with more justice than the French encyclopedist, that he who would know the whole Wissenschaftslehre would know nothing.

Another theory, more widely accepted, has defined Scholastic philosophy by its relation to theology. A formula, current during the Middle Ages, and regarding philosophy as ancilla theologiae, has been produced; and Scholastic philosophy has been either identified with theology or characterized by its professed agreement with the dogmas of the Church.

The complete-identification-theory has been openly professed by Hegel. "The Scholastic philosophy, says he, is thus really theology, and this theology is nothing but philosophy."[12] The same view has been adopted, in a slightly modified form, by Victor Cousin in his Histoire générale de la philosophie, and the fact that it has been recently maintained by men professing so divergent philosophical beliefs as Alfred Weber in Germany, George Tyrrell in England, and John Dewey in this country, shows that it is far from being as yet completely dead:

"The Church," says Weber, " is the predominant power of the Middle Ages. Outside of the Church, there can be no salvation and no science. The dogmas formulated by her represent the truth. From the mediaeval point of view, to philosophize means to explain the dogma, to deduce its consequences and to demonstrate its truth. Hence philosophy is identical with positive theology; when it fails to be that, it becomes heretical."[13]

"By Scholasticism," says Tyrrell, "we understand the application of Aristotle to theology, or the expression of the facts and realities of revelation in the mind-language of the peripatetics."[14]

Finally, in Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, Mr. Dewey defines Scholasticimn as

"the period of Mediaeval thought in which philosophy was pursued under the domination of theology, having for its aim the exposition of Christian dogma in its relation to reason."[15]

In order to understand what amount of truth this theory contains, it is necessary to examine briefly the exact meaning given to the word philosophy in ancient times, and the way in which the particular sciences have appeared and have been assigned a definite field.

Philosophy busied itself at first with the whole extent of human knowledge. In ancient Greece, Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes were primarily scientists. Shunning the mythological explanations of the universe given in previous time, they directed their efforts towards a cosmical theory more in harmony with the facts of experience. It is by an observation of the phenomena of nature -- as Aristotle points out -- that Thales was led to the assumption that all things are made out of water. Anaximenes explained the generation of fire, winds, clouds, water and earth as due to a condensation of the first ground of all things, air. Anaximander formulated a theory of evolution which bears a striking similarity to the conceptions of our contemporary naturalists. Aristotle himself did not regard any branch of human knowledge as lying beyond his jurisdiction. His philosophy covers not only logic, metaphysics, ethics and psychology, but also physics, cosmology, zoology, politics and rhetoric.

When, in the course of human history, the field of knowledge was gradually extended; when it became impossible for a single man to apply himself to all branches of learning, particular sciences gradually acquired a technique, and thus became independent. This movement towards specification was, however, very, slow. Even in modern times, Bacon has hold that the objects of philosophy are God, man and nature, and has included within its scope logic, physics and astronomy, anthropology, ethics and politics; and Herbert Spencer has defined philosophy as a completely unified knowledge, and has published a series of works, of which the titles: Principles of Psychology, Principles ples of Biology, Principles of Sociology, etc., are sufficient to show that the philosophy of their author is in keeping with his definition.

At the beginning of the Christian era, the respective boundaries of theology and philosophy were not distinctly drawn. The two sciences were even generally identified. St. Augustine had said:

"Non aliam esse philosophiam, id est sapientiae studium, et aliam religionem, cum ii quorum doctrinam non approbamus nec sacraments nobiscum communicant."[16]

Tertullian, it is true, had regarded philosophy as the mother of heresies, and had not feared to formulate his famous: Credo, quia absurdum. There is, however, every reason to believe that he limited his condemnation to pagan learning; for he himself did not fear to philosophize, and he gave a system of ontology of which an idea may he had from the following quotations:

"Nihil enim, si non corpus. Omne quod est, corpus est sui generis; nihil est incorporate, nisi quod non est."[17] "Quis enim negaverit deum esse corpus, etsi dens spiritus est? spiritus enim corpus sui generis in sua effigies"[18]

The first period of Scholastic philosophy was a direct offspring of the patristic era and inherited its beliefs. Scotus Erigena regarded philosophy and theology as completely identical:

"Quid est alius de philosophia tractare nisi verae religionis, qua summa et principalis omnium rerum causa, Deus, et humiliter colitur, et rationabiliter investigatur, regulas exponere? Conficitur inde veram esse philosophiam veram religionem, conversimque veram religionem esse veram philosophiam."[19]

We have seen that Roscelin did not hesitate to apply his speculative theories to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. For Abelard, as well as for Erigena, philosophy and theology were one and the same. It must be remarked, however, that, in Abelard's case, theology was not properly identified with, but reduced to philosophy. In other words, theology simply disappeared. Abelard's position was very much similar to that of the modern Hegelian school. Religious mysteries, if not provable by human reason, were mercilessly discarded. The words: "Nec quia Deus id dixerat creditor, sed quia hoc sic esse convincitur accipitur,"[20] which so deeply offended St. Bernard's orthodoxy, may be taken as a perfect expression of Abelard's view.

The respective boundaries of philosophy and theology were soon, however, definitely fixed. The system of principles attainable by reason alone was clearly discriminated from the body of revealed truths. In Anselm's writings, although faith and reason are held in close connection, they are no longer identified. He says:

"Rectus ordo exigit ut profunda Christianae fidei credamus priusquam ea praesumamus ratione discutere. Negligentiae mihi esse videtur si postquam confirmati sumus in fide, non studemus quod credimus intelligere."[21]

The great philosophers of the thirteenth century were at the same time theologians; and, in their most important works, they treated theological as well as philosophical questions. This fact may account for the erroneous conception which regards them as identifying the two sciences. The truth, however, is that they carefully distinguished them, and gave an account of their differences and relations which would not be surpassed by any theologian in our own day.

Philosophy differs from theology in its object and in its means: in its object, because, whereas philosophy is limited to the truths human reason can grasp, theology also embraces those which lie beyond the reach of our natural faculties; in its means, in so far as the instrument of philosophical researches is human reason, whereas theology is guided by the light of divine revelation.

These principles were recognized by all great masters of Mediaeval thought, and have been so clearly expounded by St. Thomas in the first chapters of his Summa Theologica, that it is surprising they have been so often overlooked. In the very words by which the Summa opens, the respective boundaries of philosophy Hand theology are distinctly fixed. St. Thomas proposes the following objection:

"Videtur quod non sit necessarium praeter philosophicas disciplinas aliam doctrinam haberi. Ad ea enim quae supra rationem sunt, homo non debet conari, secundum illud Ecclesiast. 3: Altiora te ne quaesieris. Sed ea quae rationi subduntur sufficienter traduntur in philosophicis disciplines: superfluum igitur videtur praeter philosophicas disciplines aliam doctrinam haberi."

To which he gives the following answer:

"Licet ea quae sunt altiora hominis cognitione non sint ab homine per rationem inquirenda: sunt tamen a Deo revelata suscipienda per fidem. Unde et ibidem subditur: Plurima supra sensum hominum ostensa sunt tibi. Et in hujusmodi sacra doctrina consistit."[22]

With a far stronger foundation, some philosophers have thought that, although Scholastics clearly distinguished philosophy from theology and granted to the former a proper field of action, it is in the peculiar relation in which they regarded those two sciences that the idiosyncratic note of their philosophy must be found. The general acceptance this view has received from adherents as well as from opponents of Scholasticism, cannot but lead us to believe that it contains a good deal of truth. It has been accepted, among others, by Zeller, Ueberweg, Carra de Vaux, Elie Blanc, Zeferino Gonzalez in Europe, and by William Turner in this country.

"Scholasticism," says Ueberweg, "was philosophy in the service of established and accepted theological doctrines, or, at least, in such subordination to them that, where philosophy and theology trod on common ground, the latter was received as the absolute norm and criterion of truth. More particularly, Scholasticism was the reproduction of ancient philosophy under the control of ecclesiastical doctrine, with an accommodation, in case of discrepancy between them, of the former to the latter."[23]

And William Turner, in his History of Philosophy, regards the effort on the part of the schoolmen to unify philosophy and theology as the most distinctive trait of the philosophy of the schools. Therein he places the difference which divides Scholasticism from modern thought:

"Modern philosophy," says he--" post-Reformation philosophy, as it may be called -- was born of the revolt of philosophy against theology, of reason against faith. It adopted at the very outset the Averroistic principle that what is true in theology may be false in philosophy -- a principle diametrically opposed to the thought which inspired Scholasticism."[24]

One of the characteristic notes of Mediaeval philosophers is no doubt their constant endeavor to harmonize their philosophical doctrines with the revealed truths. It would not be fair, however, to fail to recognize a similar endeavor in some modern thinkers. One cannot without injustice absolutely assert that modern philosophers have adhered en masse to the Averrhoistic principle that what is true in theology may be false in philosophy. Malebranche, De Bonald, Gratry, Berkeley himself, have professed the same theological beliefs as Thomas Aquinas, and have tried, with as much earnestness as he, to, harmonize their philosophy with their religious faith. It may be claimed that they have not succeeded so well; but the question now is not of success, but of professed endeavor, and, in this respect, they are not essentially inferior to the Angelic Doctor.

On the whole, Scholastic philosophy is primarily and essentially the philosophy of the Middle Ages, and reflects the essential characters of that time. The greatest power in the western world, from the ninth to the fifteenth century, was doubtless the Roman Church. The Middle Ages were above all an age of faith. It is faith that directed the European armies to unknown countries. It is faith that led myriads of young men to the cloisters where, separated from the world, they devoted their lives to prayer and to study. Under the shadow of faith, they thought of the great problems of the world. Under the shadow of faith they formulated their systems of philosophy. It is for this reason that the dogmas of the Church were for them a guide; that freedom of thought was assigned certain limits it could not overstep. For this reason also the harmony between philosophy and theology, although not peculiar to Scholasticism, is certainly its most distinctive trait.

Scholastic philosophy reached its most perfect form in the thirteenth century; and, in the hands of Thomas Aquinas, became a definite system which might be described as Scholastic more properly than all previous attempts. It is to this system that neo-Scholasticism universally adheres.


The word neo-scholastic has been opposed on many grounds.

Some men, to whom Scholastic philosophy appears as a bugbear, have been unable to reconcile themselves to the idea that such a philosophy might be revived. Behind the peaceful professor, who discusses the theory of Matter and Form, they have seen the papal power restored, the Church of Rome dethroning sovereigns and imposing her will upon nations, funeral piles erected anew, heterodox thinkers burned at the stake. As we have already spoken in our Introduction, of the relation of Scholastic philosophy to the dogmas of the Church and of the political influence of the Thomistic revival, this form of opposition to neo-Scholasticism shall not detain us any longer.

Other writers, believing that Scholastic philosophy is essentially a thing of the past, have asserted that the word neo-Scholasticism itself involves a contradiction. They have derided the idea of covering old theories with a new garb, of giving a modern form to antiquated doctrines. Their objection to the Thomistic revival would be perfectly well grounded, if the historical evolution of the world were such as many writers on philosophy seem to profess. But a critical study of the various systems of thought which have appeared on our planet during the course of centuries will most likely render us distrustful in this respect. As pointed out by Mr. Woodbridge, "Aristotle reads so much like a modern that we can conceive his writing after Hegel with no great change in his System."[25] Neo-Scholastics believe that, amid some antiquated doctrines which must be discarded, Mediaeval philosophy contains perennial elements of truth that the fundamental principles of the Peripatetic and Thomistic philosophy can be fully harmonized with modern scientific results.

Even among the sympathizers of Scholastic thought, the word neo-Scholastic has found opponents. Some have thought that the modern defenders of the philosophy of St. Thomas should not call themselves neo-Scholastics, but simply Scholastics, as the prefix neo implies some modifications in a system which should remain intact. St. Thomas's philosophy, have they maintained, should be accepted in its entirety or not be accepted at all. This thesis was defended by C. M. Schneider in the review Saint-Thomasblatter. It has been defended more recently by Father Janvier, who would adopt, not only the teachings, but the very method and style of St. Thomas:

"Les mieux inspirés," says he, " prirent 1'Encyclique de Léon XIII à la lettre et sefforcèrent d'expliquer toutes les parties de la doctrine de saint Thomas en usant de sa méthode et en adoptant son style."[26]

As was to be expected, such views have not met with a welcome acceptance. Some parts of St. Thomas's teaching are so evidently obsolete that it, would be ridiculous to revive them to-day. His doctrine of the four elements, his belief in the influence of heavenly bodies upon generation, and many similar theories, cannot become again the object of philosophical discussion. The method and language of the Scholastics must also be modified. If the defenders of St. Thomas's philosophy want to come in contact with modern thought, if they want to see their doctrines discussed in philosophical circles, they must needs adopt modern methods and modern forms of expression. An opposite course of action would ostracize them from the thinking world, and thereby render their work null.

It has been finally claimed that the new Scholastic movement, being essentially a revival of St. Thomas's philosophy, ought to take the name of neo-Thomism. To this objection also have neo-Scholastics, successfully replied. The Scholastic revival follows chiefly St. Thomas because St. Thomas has brought Scholastic philosophy to its perfection. He has built a concrete system of thought which surpasses in coherence and grandeur all other Mediaeval systems. The adherence to St. Thomas is, however, neither servile nor exclusive. The tenets of the other Scholasties are carefully studied and given the preference whenever they prove more satisfactory to human reason. In point of fact, the words neo-Thomism and neo-Scholasticism are often regarded as convertible terms, although, strictly speaking, neo- Scholasticm is more proper.

The first task neo-Scholastics have assumed has naturally been an adequate and critical study of the Mediaeval philosophers. The works of St. Thomas have been edited anew and carefully studied. The same has been done with regard to all great Mediieval writers. Let us mention the Leonine edition of the works of Thomas Aquinas, begun at the order and under the protection of Pope Leo XIII, and published in Rome in 1882; the edition of Duns Scotus's works, published in 1891, and comprising twenty-six volumes quarto; the edition of St. Bonaventure's works, published since 1882 by the Franciscans of Quaracchi, near Florence, and completed a few years ago; the collection: Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, published in Munster, since 1891, under the direction of Mr. Baeumker; the collection: Les Philosophes du Moyen Age, begun quite recently at the University of Louvain.

These historical works are not, however, the most essential element of the neo-S~cholastic program. The dearest aim of the neo-Scholastics is not to study Mediaeval systems in themselves, to dissect them and present them to the curious, as stuffed birds in a museum. It is to give them a new life, to make them meet the requirements of our day, to render them actual. In order to be successful in this task, they study the intrinsic value of the solutions proposed by the Mediaeval thinkers to the great problems of the world, they reject those which the progress of modern science has shown to be erroneous, they discard useless questions, they accommodate Scholastic philosophy to the modern spirit. In so doing, they act in complete harmony with the instructions given by Leo XIII in the encyclical AEterni Patris, whose contents might be summed up in the formula universally adopted by neo-Scholastics as the motto of their school: vetera novis augere.

The modifications introduced by neo-Scholastics on the philosophy of the Middle Ages may be classified under three heads:

The first bears upon language and method. Distinguished neo-Scholastics, it is true, cling to the Latin language and to the Thomistic method of argumentation. Some of the most important contributions to the Thomistic revival are written in Latin and do not greatly depart from St. Thomas's method. Let us me~ntion the collection Philosophia Lacensis and the works of the celebrated Spanish Jesuit Urraburu. Like St. Thomas in the Summa Theologica, the authors of these works begin with an exposition of the various opinions about each question, give their own solution as the body of the chapter, and end with a resolution of the objections proposed by the antagonistic schools. The greater number of neo-Scholastics, however, depart from this strictly Scholastic method. They discard the syllogistic form of argumentation and write their works in modern languages. The fact that the authors who have thus modified the Scholastic method have succeeded in attracting the attention of the non-Scholastic world, whereas the learned treatises written in Latin have been comparatively neglected, shows that modern languages and methods are nowadays more efficacious instruments than Latin for philosophical discussion. Latin is not known to-day; and, as the years go on, its importance will still decrease. This is an evil no doubt, but an evil we must accept. If we present to the world philosophical doctrines expressed in a language which the world ignores, our efforts will be vain, our labor useless.

With regard to history, neo-Scholastics have also somewhat departed from the attitude of their Mediaeval predecessors. Historical investigations were not neglected during the Middle Ages. They were, however, made from a point of view totally different from our own. When the old Scholastics studied the philosophical opinions of their predecessors, their aim was not so much the knowledge of the views of such or such a man as the knowledge of truth. They had not the idea that a man could study history for history's sake, could devote his time to an understanding of antagonistic philosophical systems, and expound opposite theories without professing any opinion of his own. The study of the tenets of the great thinkers of the past is no doubt a most powerful means of getting definite philosophers ical convictions. A philosophical problem can hardly be solved in a satisfactory manner, when the solutions given to the same question in previous time are ignored. The aim of the Scholastics in their study of history was thus most laudable, and, to a certain extent, must become our own aim.

Historical studies have, however, acquired in our day an importance which the Mediaeval philosophers did not imagine. The doctrines of a thinker are now studied in and for themselves. We try to understand and to imbibe the very spirit of the philosophers. We are scrupulously careful not to attribute to them opinions which they did not profess.

Some of the early neo-Thomists have been loath to enter into this modern current. The late Spanish professor Orti y Lara regarded historical studies as a vain bibliomania.[27] This inexcusable indifference has now wholly disappeared. Mr. de Wulf, in a recent work: Introduction à la Philosophie néo- Scholastique, in which the program of the neo-Scholastic movement is most definitely traced, strongly insists upon the importance of historical investigations. A similar insistence is found in the numerous articles, pamphlets, etc., published by Mgr. Mercier during the last twenty years. The important historical studies published by neo-Scholastics, and of which we have already spoken, show that, on this point, they act in perfect conformity with their principles. Not only have they studied the Middle Ages, but they have made important contributions to the study of modern philosophical literature. Suffice to mention the works of Mercier and Sentroul on Kant, Halleux's Evolutionisme en morale, which contains a remarkable criticism on Spencer's System of Ethics, Janssens's treatise on Renouvier's neo-criticism, Rickaby's recent study on Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Mill.

Neo-Scholasticism finally strives to keep abreast with modern scientific progress. In so doing, it does not precisely depart from the attitude of the Mediaeval philosophers. For too long a time it has been believed that the monks of the Middle Ages were unconcerned with science, and, regardless of the data of experience, built their systems a priori. This view cannot be held to-day. It is well known that the great Scholastic philosophers were enthusiastic investigators of nature; that Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, etc., were true scientists. The prodigious development of science in modern times has made it difficult for the philosopher to possess a deep scientific knowledge. Albert the Great and Roger Bacon could boast of having mastered all sciences. Not only would the same be impossible to-day, but philosophers are often apt to build their speculative systems without taking scientific data into account. And there thus result those strange philosophical theories which provoke the laughter of scientists and bring discredit upon philosophy itself.

Neo-Scholastics have not always escaped this danger. As we see in our chapter dealing with neo-Scholasticism in Italy, the early Roman Thomists regarded scientific investigations with the utmost contempt. Their ignorance of science often led them to ridiculous assertions. Thus, Cardinal Mazella, defending in his De Deo Creante, the view that the days of Creation are days of twenty-four hours, and somewhat perplexed by the fossils, which geology proves to have existed in the strata of the earth for long periods of time, does not hesitate to believe that God created them in statu perfecto, just as they are found to-day by the geologist.[28] It is hardly necessary to say that such is not the position of the neo-Scholastics of the present day. The works of Farges, Urraburu, Pesch, Nys, Mercier, etc., evince a profound knowledge of all modern scientific discoveries. The Institute of Philosophy of the University of Louvain in particular is worthy of praise in this respect. As we shall see in one of the following chapters of this treatise, its scientific department, as regards equipment and results, has got the start of some of the most famous European institutions.

Scholasticism is not thus a dead system studied only for its historical interest. It is a system endowed with as vivid a life as any modern current of thought, a system which must be studied in connection with modern theories, and whose answers to the great problems of philosophy can no longer be ignored. The following chapters will be devoted to an exposition and a discussion of its essential principles.

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