Part III. PHILOSOPHY OF THE MIDDLE AGES
Scholasticism influenced by Plato
In the earlier portions of the middle ages there was a lack of original
authorship, and intellectual activity consisted chiefly in drawing up
compilations from the fathers, particularly from Gregory and Augustine. In the
eighth century there was more culture in England than in any other country,
except Italy. From the cloister of Yarrow went forth the Venerable Bede, famous
for his learning throughout the west. In 782 Alcuin, also an Englishman and
profound scholar, became head of the domestic school of Charlemagne. Under
Charles the Bald, Manrus, Radbert, and Hincmar were conspicuous theologians.
But the earliest noteworthy philosopher of the Scholastic period was
(b. about 800, d. 870), called "Erigena," which means born in the "Isle of
Saints," a frequent designation of Ireland. Shortly before the middle of the
ninth century he was invited by Charles the Bald to take charge of the school at
Paris. He was deeply influenced by the Neoplatonism of Augustine's writings. His
speculations were of a pantheistic character, and he got into trouble with Rome.
He held that true philosophy and true theology are identical. Faith belongs to
the earlier stages of intellectual life and leads up to reason. The universe is
the unfolding of God. God reaches self-consciousness in man. Natural things have
only a semblance of reality. In his work on the Division of
Nature he maintains that all existence is a theophany. All being runs through a
cycle. Everything begins with God and returns to God again.
During the eleventh century the schools of Tours and Bee, in Normandy, rose to
great celebrity as seats of learning. Bee had for its prior Lanfranc, and at the
head of the school of Tours Berengarius presided. The controversies of these two
scholars regarding the change in the elements of the Lord's Supper, involving
the deeper question as to the relation of substance and accident, may be
considered as the beginning of the Scholastic era.
(1) But if Scholasticism was introduced by Lanfranc and Berengarius,
be regarded as its real founder and father. He was born in 1033, became
Archbishop of Canterbury, and died in 1109. In him the two elements, the
speculative and the mystical, were united. His doctrine, Credo ut intelligam,
was the watchword of the movement. Anselm discussed the deepest questions of
philosophy. In the controversy between the Nominalists and Realists Anselm
supported the Realistic position as against Roscellinus, who was the foremost
advocate of Nominalism. Roscellinus applied his views to the doctrine of the
Trinity, holding that the general idea of Trinity can become a reality only in
its individuals, their unity of substances disappearing as a mere name. This
tritheistic doctrine was opposed and confuted by Anselm, and Roscellinus was
impeached by the council of Soissons in 1092.
The principal work of Anselm is Cur Deus Homo, which treats of the humanity and
sacrifice of Christ. In this work he shows that the need of an atonement for sin
is the ground of the Incarnation. Satisfaction must be made for sin, but it must
be made from the side of the sinner, hence the necessity for the Deus Homo. His
life outweighs the evil of all sin. In this treatise Anselm sweeps away for all
time the fatal theory that had hitherto satisfied the Church, that the final
cause of redemption was the
devil rather than God, and that man was rescued by purchase from his power. By
his doctrine of satisfaction Anselm supplied theology with a working theory of
the atonement. Anselm's view is that a debt is due to God, and that amends must
be made for the dishonour done to Him. It was not merely Christ's sufferings,
but His whole life which constituted the act of obedience rendered on man's
In his more strictly philosophical work Anselm is chiefly noted as the author of
what has been called the "Ontological Argument" for the existence of God.
God's existence is bound up with the very nature of the human mind. The idea of
God involves the reality of that idea. The rational and real are one—an idea
which has its germ in Plato, and has been emphasized in modern times by Hegel.
Anselm combined in a wonderful degree devotion and piety of life with
(2) Peter Abelard, at once the pupil and opponent of Roscellinus, was born near
Nantes, 1079. Fired with a passion for knowledge, he became the greatest leader
in the intellectual movement of the age. An expert logician, he surpassed all
his contemporaries. After wandering from one school to another he was attracted
to Paris by the fame of the Realist, William of Champeaux, whose philosophy soon
provoked Abelard to combat, with the result that he was finally installed in his
master's place. His bold and reckless intellect was ever broaching new problems.
While he believed in the capacity of reason to compass all mysteries, he did not
renounce the principle of the pre-eminence of faith. But he held that faith
without knowledge lacks stability. In his teaching he proclaims his object to be
to awake inquiry. He controverts the saying of Anselm, Credo ut intelligam. He
argues that man believes not because of authority, but because of conviction.
With regard to the controversy between the Nominalists and Realists Abelard took
an intermediate position. He held that the universal is only
real in thought, but at the same time it is no mere product of thought. You
cannot abstract the thought of the thing from the thing itself.
Abelard took what might be called the moral view of reconciliation to God
through Christ. He scorns the idea that God is propitiated by the sufferings of
His Son. The whole work of Christ, including His life and death, is a
manifestation of divine love to the unworthy, calculated to kindle their
gratitude and win them back to obedience. He gave offence by his views on the
Trinity. God, he held, as the absolutely perfect being combines in Himself
absolute might, wisdom, and love, which constitute His threefold personality.
At the instigation of Bernard, his teaching was condemned at a council of Sens
in 1141. His work on the Trinity was burned, and he himself confined in a
cloister. He died in 1142. Though disgraced and defeated, Abelard was one of the
keenest logicians of his age. He did much to clear away the verbal sophistries
in which the Scholastics delighted. In his work Yes and No—Sic et non—he brought
the various opinions of the fathers together with the object of showing how they
contradicted one another.
(3) The great opponent of Abelard was Bernard of Clairvaux
(1091-1153). In the
relation of these two men, so strongly contrasted in character and mental gifts,
we see the collision between the dialectic of the Schoolmen and the authority of
the Church. The attempts of Abelard to explain divine things Bernard regards as
destructive rationalism, and he sees in him the rash innovator who, with the
devil's daring, sought to penetrate into the secrets of religion, and to set his
own private opinion above the united testimony of the Church.
Bernard, though no enemy of learning, exalts piety and regards feeling as the
pathway to knowledge,—contemplation, the secret of blessedness. There are three
ways of grasping divine truth. The first is by the intellect, which
is not possible in this life. The second is opinion, which is, however, void of
certainty. Between intellect and opinion he places faith, which proceeds from
the heart and will, and anticipates the knowledge which will at last be clearly
given to the mind.
Bernard may be regarded as the founder of Monasticism, and the forerunner of the
The many rare qualities of his heart and mind—his consecrated learning, his
commanding eloquence, his practical wisdom, and, above all, his ardent
piety—constitute him one of the most beautiful spirits, as well as one of the
most influential forces of the Scholastic period.
(4) Peter Lombard (died about 1164) took a middle path between the dialectic and
churchly tendencies, and may be regarded as the founder of systematic theology.
He set forth the doctrines of the Church in methodical form, placing them upon a
metaphysical basis while supporting them by quotations from the fathers,
especially from Augustine. Peter Lombard did not escape accusation on account of
his views on the Trinity and the person of Christ. But the book of sentences
(Liber Sententiarum), of which he was the chief author, long continued to be the
text-book of theology from which the university teachers lectured.
Scholastic Period - Philosophy of the Middle Ages Aristotelian
influence - Philosophy of the Middle Ages