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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 95. Literature and General Introduction.


Literature: I.—The works Of Anselm, Abaelard, Peter The Lombard, Hugo Of St. Victor, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, and other Schoolmen.

II.—R. D. Hampden (bishop of Hereford, d. 1868): The Scholastic Philos. considered in its Relation to Christ. Theol., Bampton Lectures, Oxf., 1832, 3d ed. 1848.—B. Haureau: De la philos. scholast., 2 vols. Paris, 1850.—W. Kaulich: Gesch. d. scholast. Philos., Prag, 1863.—C. Prantl: Gesch. d. Logik im Abendlande, 4 vols. Leip., 1861–1870:—P. D. Maurice (d. 1872): Med. Philos., London, 1870.—*A. Stöckl (Rom. Cath.): Gesch. d. Philos. d. Mittelalters, Mainz, 3 vols. 1864–1866. Vol. I. covers the beginnings of Scholasticism from Isidore of Seville to Peter the Lombard; Vol. II., the period of its supremacy; Vol. III., the period of its decline down to Jesuitism and Jansenism.—R. Reuter (Prof. of Ch. Hist. at Göttingen, d. 1889): Gesch. d. Rel. Aufklärung im Mittelalter, 2 vols. Berlin, 1875–1877. Important for the sceptical and rationalistic tendencies of the M. A.—TH. Harper: The Metaphysics of the School, London, 1880.—K. Werner (Rom. Cath.): D. Scholastik des späteren Mittelalters, 4 vols. Wien, 1881–1887. Begins with Duns Scotus.—The relevant chapters in the Histories of Doctrine, by Harnack, Loofs, Fisher, Seeberg, Sheldon, and the Rom. Cath. divines, and J. Bach: Dogmengesch. d. Mittelalters, 2 vols. 1873–1875, and *J. Schwane: Dogmengesch. d. mittleren Zeit, 1882.—The Histories of Philos. by Ritter, Erdmann, Ueberweg-Heinze, and Scholasticism, by Prof. Seth, in Enc. Brit. XXI. 417–431.


Scholasticism is the term given to the theology of the Middle Ages. It forms a distinct body of speculation, as do the works of the Fathers and the writings of the Reformers. The Fathers worked in the quarries of Scripture and, in conflict with heresy, wrought out, one by one, its teachings into dogmatic statements. The Schoolmen collected, analyzed and systematized these dogmas and argued their reasonableness against all conceivable objections. The Reformers, throwing off the yoke of human authority, and disparaging the Schoolmen, returned to the fountain of Scripture, and restated its truths.

The leading peculiarities of Scholasticism are that it subjected the reason to Church authority and sought to prove the dogmas of the Church independently by dialectics. As for the Scriptures, the Schoolmen accepted their authority and show an extensive acquaintance with their pages from Genesis to Revelation. With a rare exception, like Abaelard, they also accepted implicitly the teaching of the Fathers as accurately reflecting the Scriptures. A distinction was made by Alexander of Hales and others between the Scriptures which were treated as truth, veritas, and the teaching of the Fathers, which was treated as authority, auctoritas.

It was not their concern to search in the Scriptures for new truth or in any sense to reopen the investigation of the Scriptures. The task they undertook was to confirm what they had inherited. For this reason they made no original contributions to exegesis and biblical theology. They did not pretend to have discovered any new dogmas. They were purveyors of the dogma they had inherited from the Fathers.

It was the aim of the Schoolmen to accomplish two things,—to reconcile dogma and reason, and to arrange the doctrines of the Church in an orderly system called summa theologiae. These systems, like our modern encyclopaedias, were intended to be exhaustive. It is to the credit of the human mind that every serious problem in the domains of religion and ethics was thus brought under the inspection of the intellect. The Schoolmen, however, went to the extreme of introducing into their discussions every imaginable question,—questions which, if answered, would do no good except to satisfy a prurient curiosity. Anselm gives the best example of treatises on distinct subjects, such as the existence of God, the necessity of the Incarnation, and the fall of the devil. Peter the Lombard produced the most clear, and Thomas Aquinas the most complete and finished systematic bodies of divinity.

With intrepid confidence these busy thinkers ventured upon the loftiest speculations, raised and answered all sorts of doubts and ran every accepted dogma through a fiery ordeal to show its invulnerable nature. They were the knights of theology, its Godfreys and Tancreds. Philosophy with them was their handmaid,—ancilla,—dialectics their sword and lance.

In a rigid dialectical treatment, the doctrines of Christianity are in danger of losing their freshness and vital power, and of being turned into a theological corpse. This result was avoided in the case of the greatest of the mediaeval theologians by their religious fervor. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura were men of warm piety and, like Augustine, they combined with the metaphysical element a mystical element, with the temper of speculation the habit of meditation and prayer.

He is far from the truth who imagines the mediaeval speculations to be mere spectacular balloonings, feats of intellectual acrobatism. They were, on the contrary, serious studies pursued with a solemn purpose. The Schoolmen were moved with a profound sense of the presence of God and the sacrifice of the cross, and such treatments as the ethical portions of Thomas Aquinas’ writings show deep interest in the sphere of human conduct. For this reason, as well as for the reason that they stand for the theological literature of more than two centuries, these writings live, and no doubt will continue to live.13131313    1. Milman, Hist. of Lat. Christianity, VIII. 257, is certainly unjust when he says: "With all their search into the unfathomable, the Schoolmen have fathomed nothing; with all their vast logical apparatus, they have proved nothing to the satisfaction of the inquisitive mind." One has only to think of the ontological argument of Anselm and the cosmological arguments of Thomas Aquinas and the statements wrought out on the satisfaction of Christ to feel that the statement is not true.

Following Augustine, the Schoolmen started with the principle that faith precedes knowledge—fides praecedit intellectum. Or, as Anselm also put it, "I believe that I may understand; I do not understand that I may believe" credo ut intelligam, non intelligo ut credam. They quoted as proof text, Isa. 7:9. "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." Abaelard was an exception, and reversed the order, making knowledge precede faith; but all arrived at the same result. Revelation and reason, faith and science, theology and philosophy agree, for they proceed from the one God who cannot contradict himself.

In addition to the interest which attaches to Scholasticism as a distinct body of intellectual effort, is its importance as the ruling theology in the Roman Catholic Church to this day. Such dogmas as the treatment of heresy, the supremacy of the Church over the State, the immaculate conception, and the seven sacraments, as stated by the Schoolmen, are still binding, or at any rate, they have not been formally renounced. Leo XIII. bore fresh witness to this when, in his encyclical of Aug. 4, 1879, he pronounced the theology of Thomas Aquinas the standard of Catholic orthodoxy, and the safest guide of Christian philosophy in the battle of faith with the scepticism of the nineteenth century.

The Scholastic systems, like all the distinctive institutions and movements of the Middle Ages, were on an imposing scale. The industry of their authors cannot fail to excite amazement. Statement follows statement with tedious but consequential necessity and precision until chapter is added to chapter and tome is piled upon tome, and the subject has been looked at in every possible aspect and been exhausted. Duns Scotus produced thirteen folio volumes, and perhaps died when he was only thirty-four. The volumes of Albertus Magnus are still more extensive. These theological systems are justly compared with the institution of the mediaeval papacy, and the creations of Gothic architecture, imposing, massive, and strongly buttressed. The papacy subjected all kingdoms to its divine authority. Architecture made all materials and known mechanical arts tributary to worship. The Schoolmen used all the forces of logic and philosophy to vindicate the orthodox system of theology, but they used much wood and straw in their constructions, as the sounder exegesis and more scriptural theology of the Reformers and these later days have shown.



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