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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 96. Sources and Development of Scholasticism.


The chief feeders of Scholasticism were the writings of Augustine and Aristotle. The former furnished the matter, the latter the form; the one the dogmatic principles, the other the dialectic method.

The Augustine, who ruled the thought of the Middle Ages, was the churchly, sacramentarian, anti-Manichaean, and anti-Donatist theologian. It was the same Augustine, and yet another, to whom Luther and Calvin appealed for their doctrines of sin and grace. How strange that the same mighty intellect who helped to rear the structure of Scholastic divinity should have aided the Reformers in pulling it down and rearing another structure, at once more Scriptural and better adapted to the practical needs of life!

Aristotle was, in the estimation of the Middle Ages, the master philosophical thinker. The Schoolmen show their surpassing esteem for him in calling him again and again "the philosopher." Dante excluded both him and Virgil as pagans from paradise and purgatory and placed them in the vestibule of the inferno, where, however, they are exempt from actual suffering. Aristotle was regarded as a forerunner of Christian truth, a John the Baptist in method and knowledge of natural things—precursor Christi in naturalibus. Until the thirteenth century, his works were only imperfectly known. The Categories and the de interpretatione were known to Abaelard and other Schoolmen in the Latin version of Boethius, and three books of the Organon to John of Salisbury. His Physics and Metaphysics became known about 1200, and all his works were made accessible early in the thirteenth century through the mediation of the Arab philosophers, Avicenna, d. 1037, Averrhoes, d. 1198, and Abuacer, d. 1185, and through Jewish sources. Roger Bacon laments the mistakes of translations made from the Arabic, by Michael Scot, Gerard of Cremona, and others.13141314    See Roger Bacon: Opus Majus, Bridges’ ed. I. 54-56; Sandys, Class. Scholarship, pp. 507, 540-546, 568-sqq., and Seth, Enc. Brit., XXI. 419.

At first the Stagyrite was looked upon with suspicion or even prohibited by the popes and synods as adapted to breed heresy and spiritual pride.13151315    The council of Paris, 1209, forbade the use of his Natural Philosophy. Gregory IX., 1231, condemned the Physics, but in 1254 the University of Paris prescribed the number of hours to be devoted to the explanation of Aristotle’s works.


Every one is excluded and banned

Who does not come clad in Aristotle’s armor.13161316    Omnis hic excluditur, omnis est abjectus.
   Qui non Aristotelis venit armis tectus. Chart., I. p. xviii.


The Reformers shook off his yoke and Luther, in a moment of temper at the degenerate Schoolmen of his day, denounced him as "the accursed pagan Aristotle" and in his Babylonish Captivity called the mediaeval Church "the Thomistic or Aristotelian Church."

The line of the Schoolmen begins in the last year of the eleventh century with Roscellinus and Anselm. Two centuries before, John Scotus Erigena had anticipated some of their discussions of fundamental themes, and laid down the principle that true philosophy and true religion are one. But he does not seem to have had any perceptible influence on Scholastic thought. The history divides itself into three periods: the rise of Scholasticism, its full bloom, and its decline.13171317    Cousin made three periods, the first when philosophy was in subjection to theology, the second when they were in union, and the third when they were separated.lard, d. 1142, Bernard, d. 1153, Hugo de St. Victor, d. 1161, Richard of St. Victor, d. 1173, and Gilbert of Poictiers, d. 1154. The chief names of the second period are Peter the Lombard, d. 1160, Alexander of Hales, d. 1243, Albertus Magnus, d. 1280, Thomas Aquinas, d. 1274, Bonaventura, d. 1274, Roger Bacon, d. 1294, and Duns Scotus, d. 1308. To the period of decline belong, among others, Durandus, d. 1334, Bradwardine, d. 1349, and Ockam, d. 1367. England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain made contributions to this galaxy of men. Gabriel Biel, professor at Tübingen, who died 1495, is usually called the last of the Schoolmen. Almost all the great Schoolmen were monks.

The two centuries included between the careers of Anselm and Duns Scotus show decided modifications of opinion on important questions such as the immaculate conception, and in regard to the possibility of proving from pure reason such doctrines as the incarnation and the Trinity. These two doctrines Thomas Aquinas, as well as Duns Scotus and Ockam, declared to be outside the domain of pure ratiocination. Even the existence of God and the immortality of the soul came to be regarded by Duns Scotus and the later Schoolmen as mysteries which were to be received solely upon the authority of the Church. The argument from probability was emphasized in the last stages of Scholastic thought as it had not been before.

In their effort to express the minutest distinctions of thought, the Schoolmen invented a new vocabulary unknown to classical Latin, including such words as ens, absolutum identitas quidditas, haecceitas, aliquiditas, aleitas.13181318    "Otherness," applied by Rich. de St. Victor to the Trinitarian distinctions.ody of the resurrection. Such questions as the following were asked and most solemnly discussed by the leading Schoolmen. Albertus Magnus asked whether it was harder for God to create the universe than to create man and whether the understandings of angels are brighter in the morning or in the evening. "Who sinned most, Adam or Eve?" was a favorite question with Anselm, Hugo de St. Victor,13191319    de sacram., I. 7; Migne’s ed., 176, 290.ssion, concluded it was at the ninth hour, the hour at which Christ expired. Bonaventura debated whether several angels can be in one place at the same time, whether one angel can be in several places at the same time, and whether God loved the human race more than He loved Christ.13201320    Peltier’s ed., V. 38.ibly said that it would have been more rational for him to have asked why the Lombard did not appear on earth as an ass than for the Lombard to ask whether God could have become incarnate in female form. The famous discussion over the effect the eating of the host would have upon a mouse will be taken up in connection with the Lord’s Supper. Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, and others pondered over the problem. It was asked by Robert Pullen whether man in the resurrection will receive back the rib he lost in Eden, and whether a man will recover all the clippings of his finger nails.

Such endless discussions have been ridiculed as puerile and frivolous, though, as has already been said, they grew out of the desire to be exhaustive. At last and justly, they brought Scholasticism into disrepute. While it was losing itself in the clouds and mists of things transcendental, it neglected the earth at its feet. As the papacy passed sentence upon itself by intolerable ambition, so Scholasticism undermined its authority by intellectual sophistries and was set aside by the practical interests of the Renaissance and Humanism and by simple faith, searching through the Scriptures, to reach the living sympathy of Christ.13211321    Thomas Fuller quaintly compared the Schoolmen to those who built their houses in London on small patches of ground "improving their small bottom with towering speculations."



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