Part IV. REVIVAL OF PHILOSOPHY
The Reformation marks a new epoch in the history of thought. It is the moment of
conversion,—man coming to himself and asserting his individuality. The
opposition between ecclesiastical authority and secular life which had begun to
disclose itself even in mediaeval times was now forcing itself to the front.
Science was beginning to free itself from the bondage of the Roman hierarchy and
to set in motion the manifold activities of modern life. The abstract unity of
the world is broken up; the tradition and dogmas which the Church had imposed on
the nations are burst, and the spirit of man freed from its bonds awakens to the
wonders of nature and life. A passionate desire for novelty fills all minds, and
a multitude of new interests, political, commercial, scientific, artistic,
assert themselves. Philosophy, no longer dominated by theology, becomes fuller
and richer in its contents. Knowledge is pursued, not in the interests of a
church or a class, but for its own sake. The new birth of the Spirit is that
which gives to the period of the Renaissance its character and importance. It is
in one sense a return to the standpoint of Greek thought; in another it is a new
outlook upon the world and upon life.
Chap. I. The Period of Transition
Three great historical movements may be said to have prepared the way for modern
philosophy. These are—the Revival of Learning; the Reformation; and the Rise of
the Natural Sciences. Though these, for the sake of convenience, may be
distinguished, they were closely connected, and are, indeed, but different
manifestations of one movement.
(1) The Revival of Letters
or the Renaissance,—which is the comprehensive name
for the intellectual movement which marks the transition from the middle ages to
the modern world,—was substantially a revolt against the barrenness and
dogmatism of Mediaevalism. It claimed an entire liberation of reason, and by its
earnest study of the rich humanity of Greece and Rome, sought to
rehabilitate the human spirit with all the arts and graces which had
invested the classical age. Zeal for the Litterae Humaniores brought forth a new ideal of culture and
a new view of life, which have received the name of Humanism.
It would be impossible to fix a date for the Revival of Learning. For the first
heralds of the New Spirit, we may go back to Petrarch and Dante. Before the
close of the Dark Ages, there were already isolated thinkers who
anticipated the new light. With the conquest of Constantinople
by the Turks in 1453 numbers of Greek scholars escaped from the
east and sought refuge in Italy and the north.
movement spread to every land. In the earliest period of the Renaissance,
Florence was the centre of enlightenment. The president of the Republic, Cosimo
di Medici, himself a scholar, philosopher, and artist, was the patron of
classical learning, the founder of a new Academy of Athens in the gardens of
Medici, and the first of a long series of distinguished scholars, among whom may
be mentioned Bessarion,
Ficino and Pico of Mirandola.
In Germany the new movement produced such notable leaders, who were also leaders
of Protestantism, as Melanchthon—who introduced Aristotle—Reuchlin (1455-1522),
(2) The second influence closely connected with the Revival of Letters was the
Reformation, which began in Germany, but spread to other lands. The revolt
against mediaeval tradition, the zeal for learning, the desire for national
independence and the direction of men's minds to nature and life, which were
affecting every country and every class of society, found religious expression
in the spirit of Protestantism. Man awakened to a consciousness of himself. He
realized his individual worth and became aware of his spiritual nature. The
desire for individual freedom, manifest in the Renaissance generally, is the
special note of the Reformation. This tendency showed itself in a revolt against
the authority of the Church and by an appeal to private judgment. Man became
convinced that within himself the work of salvation must be accomplished: that
he stood in a direct relation to God, and needed not for his reconciliation the
intervention of the priest. The Bible was translated into the language of the
people, and by means of the newly-invented printing press the humblest peasant
could read and examine it for himself. The head and front of the Reformation, in
Germany at least, was Luther. He did not start on his career as reformer. His
first purpose was
simply to correct certain religious abuses which came to his notice. He was
affected by the Mystics, especially by St. Bernard and the Sermons of Tauler,
but his strong practical sense prevented him from adopting the more extreme
views of the Pietistic school. His public attitude was the outcome of his own
religious history, and his theology, of which the two leading principles were
Justification by faith alone and the normative authority of the Bible, was
shaped in the crucible of his own experience. But in the development of
Protestant dogma Luther's genius was aided by Melanchthon, whose humanistic
breadth balanced and corrected the Reformer's dogmatic zeal.
(3) Along with these two movements, which were indeed causes as much as signs of
the modern spirit—another has to be added—the Rise of the Natural Sciences and
the observation of nature by the method of experience. The discovery of America
and the maritime route to India had already widened the visible horizon. The
new-world system of Copernicus, who took the decisive step of placing the earth
among the planets and the sun in the centre of the system, the scientific
investigations of Tycho de Brahe,
Gilbert, and others,
overthrew the presumptions which had long held sway and turned men's minds from
the distant and unseen world to the possibilities of nature and the interests of
actual life. The heliocentric theory aroused great alarm in the Church. Kepler
was persecuted. Galileo was forced to retract. But nothing could put back the
clock of advancing thought. The new theories spread, discoveries and inventions
multiplied. First came the invention of printing, next the compass, and then the
telescope. Science began to shake off the yoke of Scholasticism. "Experience"
became the watchword of the new period. Luther not less than Erasmus, Descartes
as well as Bacon, sought to bring man back to observation and experiment.
Everything must be brought to the bar of experience and the test of the human mind. The Protestant right of private judgment takes the form in
philosophy of investigation, scrutiny, induction. An opposition is now
established between theology and philosophy. Leaving questions connected with
the supersensuous world and with man's religious life to the theologians,
philosophy betakes itself to what it considers its own proper task of
apprehending nature. While theology, therefore, teaches how God reveals Himself
in Scripture, it is the business of philosophy to study His revelation in
nature. Hence, as has been said, the beginnings of modern natural science were
theosophical—a return to the view of the world taken by Neoplatonists—the view
of the divine unity of the whole. The world is regarded as a macrocosm—as a
mighty living organism of which God is at once the beginning and the end. These
views find expression in the most distinguished philosophers of this period—the
Italian Bruno, the German Bohme, and, in a less degree, in the French Montaigne.
1. Giordano Bruno of Nola (15501600). After various experiences in Geneva,
Paris, London, Wittenberg, and Frankfurt, in 1592 he was imprisoned by the
inquisition, and in 1600 burned as a heretic at Rome. Philosophy as well as
religion has had its martyrs. His first important work, Della Causa Principio et
Uno, reproduces in poetic form the pantheism of Greece. He revives the Stoic
idea that the world is co-extensive with God, the substantia Suprasubstantiales,
and is instinct in all its parts with the Divine Spirit. Reason, which is
present in nature, is the artificer of the material world. Every individual
thing, not man merely, is a mirror of the world's substance. Each monad or
individual particle is a manifestation of God, and is corporeal as well as
spiritual, and, therefore, imperishable. Everything follows the law of its
special nature, and is at the same time the expression of a more general law;
just as the planet moves at the same time on its own axis and about the sun.
All nature is alive. A World-Soul permeates everything. The universe is a great
organism. The eyes of Bruno have been opened to the immensity and diversity of
the natural world by the new astronomical theory of Copernicus. Nothing now is
limited. By this knowledge we have been loosened from our chains and set at
liberty to roam in a most august empire. It is not reasonable to believe that
any part of the world is without a soul, life, and sensation. There is but one
centre from which all species issue, as rays from the sun, and to which all
return. We are surrounded by eternity and united by love. God is the whole, but
a whole which is present in every part. He is in the blade of grass, in the
grain of sand, in the atom that floats in the sunbeam, as well as in the
The aim of all philosophy is to discern the unity of matter and form, the
sequence of cause and effect. Harmony for Bruno is the inmost nature of the
world. The world is perfect because it is the life of God, and to gaze upon its
beauty with rapture is the religion of the philosopher. A universal optimism is
the note of Bruno's poetic rhapsodies.
(2) Jacob Böhme of Seidenburg, near Görlitz, in Upper Lusitania (1575-1624), was
the son of poor parents. In boyhood he tended cattle, and ultimately became a
shoemaker in Gorlitz. He was a humble, God-fearing man, but of excitable nature.
Besides the Bible, which he knew well, he had read but a few mystic books,
especially those of Paracelsus. He professed to have had supernatural
revelations. In 1612 he published his work, entitled Aurora, a strange enigmatic
writing, full of dark utterances and wild yearnings—which brought him into
trouble with the town authorities. Bohme is the founder of Theosophic Mysticism,
and is really the first German philosopher, though his writings have
received more attention in Holland and England than in his own country.
His ideas lack system, and he deals in metaphors rather than in definite
The ground idea of all things is the absolute divine unity—the harmony of all
opposition in God. God is the Urgrund, the original and indistinguishable unity,
at once everything and nothing,—which contains in Himself the principle of
separation, whereby all things come into existence. His principal, indeed, his
only thought, which he never tires reiterating, is the presence of the Holy
Trinity in all things.
All knowledge, he holds, is the union of opposites; nothing exists without its
counterpart. Every proposition has its antithesis, and no positive truth can be
affirmed till its negative is also realized. Indeed, without difference, no
knowledge is possible. The "other " must always be opposed by the "one."
This duality runs through the whole world. It rules in Heaven as well as on
earth; and since God is the sole cause of all that there is, opposition must be
conceived in Him also. Everywhere there is difference. Light can only be
revealed in relation to darkness, and God's goodness is only apprehended in
connection with His anger.
God can only reveal Himself to us by going out of Himself, and the world is
simply the self-manifestation of the Divine.
In "yes" and "no" all things consist. The "yes" is the Divine, pure power
and love. The "no" is the counterpart of the Divine, which is necessary to it
in order that the Divine may be revealed as active love.
The philosophy of Böhme is an application of the principle of contradiction to
the problems of creation and the nature of evil; and, as has been already
noticed, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity underlies his conception of the
Divine life and its mode of manifestation.
Böhme may be regarded as the complement of Spinoza, while the latter affirms the
return of the finite into the infinite, the former emphasizes the issue of the
finite from the eternal.
In later times the idea of diversity in unity, which plays
such an important part in Böhme's teaching, was developed in a systematic way by
Schelling and Hegel.
(3) While the separation between theology and philosophy consequent on the
emancipation of the individual led such men as Bruno and Böhme to subjective
theosophy, it led others to a light-hearted indifferentism, or even to
Wearied with the arid abstractions of the Schoolmen, many of the Humanists
regarded all metaphysical speculation with indifference, and conceived that the
proper attitude of culture was that of a graceful tolerance or refined
Montaigne (1553-1592) has given expression to this aspect of Humanism. Possessed
of classical erudition and literary taste, he was one of the earliest to give to
French literature a note which it has not lost. Montaigne is largely influenced
by such Roman writers as Cicero, and his philosophic thought is tinctured with Pyrrhonism.
In his Essais, as the result of his observation, he gives utterance to the view
that all human knowledge is uncertain and reason is always unreliable,
therefore, we must in the last resort rest satisfied with faith in revealed
The relativity of opinion, the illusion of the senses, the contradiction between
subject and object, the dependence of our reasoning faculties upon the doubtful
data of observation—all these arguments of ancient scepticism are revived by
Montaigne, not in systematic form, but in the incidental treatment of individual
influence - Philosophy of the Middle Ages
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