Cicero

Cicero was a significant source of knowledge of ancient philosophy for the mediaeval Latin West to a degree his philosophical attainments do not perhaps merit in their own right. Cicero took up the writing of philosophy seriously when he was debarred from public life in 44 BC. He was obliged to look for comfort in philosophy, as Boethius was later to find it helpful to do in even more painful political circumstances. He wrote on aspects of the good life, and his books On Friendship, On Old Age...

Talking about things

The first difficulty concerns the relationship between the metaphysical structure of reality and the structure of reality as language seemingly supposes it to be. The assumption on which Augustine and the Platonists proceeded was that particular objects perceptible to the senses which can conveniently be labelled with words are substances secondary to forms, ideas and universals, which are themselves dependent upon a divine reality. This metaphysics is reversed by the practice of grammarians...

The Stoics

By the end of the third century AD the works of Plato and Aristotle had become to some degree classics, and the later philosophical schools lost ground. Among them, Stoicism continued to have an influence of some significance in the West through the work of Seneca and also through Cicero. Seneca's Epistulae Morales and his Moral Essays cover such subjects as philosophy and friendship, philosophy as the guide of life, the true joy which comes from philosophy, the seclusion in which the...

Arriving At The Truth

The theologian must be able, like the student of any other discipline, to distinguish truth from falsehood and to prove a disputed point. It was a commonplace of the encyclopaedists that it was supremely the province of logic to distinguish truth from falsehood, although it might be more accurate KNOWING AND LANGUAGE to say that logic deals in validity of inference. Mediaeval scholars made use of the instruments of formal reasoning to establish conclusions in every discipline. Yet reasoning...

Preface

This is a book mostly about the Western tradition of study of philosophy and theology in the Middle Ages. That is partly for reasons of space. It is necessary to be heavily selective even in giving an account of this geographically limited area of growth in the relationship between philosophy and theology. But we should need to concentrate on the West in any case, because that was where the main stream of philosophical development now flowed. After the centuries which immediately followed the...

Conclusion

Aristotle argues in the Posterior Analytics that every sphere of knowledge is a distinct disciplina with its own first principles and rules. In the case of philosophy and theology the boundaries were repeatedly in dispute in the early Christian and mediaeval worlds, and there proved in practice to be many topics of importance to both disciplines. After the fifth and sixth centuries, Christianity tended to have the best minds in both Greek East and Latin West, and Christian scholars who did...

Plato Platonism

Early Christian thought was permeated by a diffuse Platonism. Platonism was itself a living and creative philosophical tradition during the first Christian centuries, and coincidences of thinking were plain to Christian readers. Augustine, who had never, as far as we know, gone to the trouble of making any special study of Cicero's translation of part of Plato's Timaeus, or to seek out Calcidius' fourth-century commentary on it, or to look for the other dialogues he could have found at Carthage...

Schools And Scholars

The assimilation of the philosophical source-materials at which we shall be looking in a moment depended in the earlier Middle Ages upon the individual enterprise of a few scholars. Bede is outstanding among the generations which salvaged ancient learning from the wreck of the Roman Empire. In the Carolingian period, Charlemagne's insistence that cathedrals should run schools for the clergy meant that an institutional framework came into being outside the monasteries, in which there could be...

Thinking about things

How do the objects of thought enter the mind In Book X of The Confessions Augustine gives a detailed account of his own experience and tries to explain it. He begins from the senses. The soul perceives by means of the senses those things which it is the special province of each sense to feel. It admits through many separate 'entrances' memories of what is perceived, so that everything is classified as it enters the memory. He notes it as important that the things themselves do not enter the...

Proving The Existence Of

Augustine had demonstrated from the ascending order of excellence in the universe that there must be a God.1 That was an exercise with a character and purpose closely in tune with that of Anselm in the Monologion, which he called a 'meditation on the Divine Being' (essentia) (Preface). It may be, he begins, that there is someone who does not know of the one Nature (natura), the Highest of all things which have being (summa omnium quae sunt), alone sufficient to itself in its eternal beatitude...

Talking About Divine Being

It was of concern to generations of Platonists that nothing should be predicated of the supremely divine which might in any way imply diminishment or limit, or be construed as so doing. For some, that meant placing God even beyond being, or at least declaring that to say that he is, is not to say of him anything which tells us what he is.1 Alternatively, some thought it allowable to speak of God's being, if his Being was clearly distinguished from the sort of being possible to things in the...

Hermetica

Between the mid-first and late third centuries AD a number of texts ascribed to Hermes Trismegistos came into circulation. They combined elements of Platonic, Neo-Pythagorean and Stoic thought with material drawn from the cults of the East and Near-East,31 and Gnostic teaching. The end of human life as they saw it was the 'deification' of man, achieved through subjugation of the 'beast' in a man, and cultivation of the spiritual and upwardly aspiring. A taint of magic and astrology hung about...

The Arabs

We cannot leave the subject of the transmission of classical philosophical PHILOSOPHICAL SOURCES texts to the mediaeval West without looking briefly at the work of some of the Arabic philosophers who had commented upon the texts, and whose work sometimes arrived in the West with the translations of the texts themselves from Arabic. Al-Kindi (d. c.873) knew no Greek, but he used to arrange for others to make translations for him and then improve their Arabic if necessary. He knew Plotinus, but...

Ethics And Politics

The Scriptures provided ample material for discussion about the good Christian life, and moral philosophy was for many centuries largely subsumed in mediaeval Christian teaching on the virtues and vices. Prudentius provided a literary model in his Psychomachia (written in Augustine's lifetime), PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES in the form of an allegorical battle between personified virtues and vices. (Alan of Lille made use of that idea in his late twelfth-century poem...

The question of the eternity of the world

Christians were confronted, just as the ancient philosophers had been, with the problem of explaining how a God of absolute goodness and simplicity could be the Creator of a universe so different from himself, so various and full of multiplicity and corruption how a God who is eternal and unchanging can have begun at some time to do that which he had not eternally done, and bring the world into being. Christians would point to the Genesis account as a true history of the manner in which the...

The Classical Sources Of Mediaeval Philosophy

The influence of Greek and Roman philosophical texts upon the Christian theology of the Middle Ages was both direct and indirect. In many cases the books were available to be read for themselves. But there were also layers upon layers of intermediate influence. Macrobius, for example, commented upon Cicero's Dream of Scipio and provided his mediaeval readers with material on Pythagorean mathematics, Platonic cosmology and much else in the process. Christian patristic authors were themselves a...

Sustaining The World

The Creator's work is not deemed by philosophers or by Christian theologians to be finished when he has made the world. He sustains it in being. Divine work here is discussed on two levels in both traditions. The PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES first is that of the divine plan for the world, with all the concomitant questions about providence, divine omnipotence, and the problem of evil, together with the issues of divine foreknowledge, predestination, grace and the free will of...

The Idea Of Philosophy

Christians who spoke of 'philosophy' did not mean the same thing in the fifth century as they were to do a thousand years later. Mediaeval readers were drawing upon much the same body of textbooks as were already regarded as the classics of the subject in Augustine's time. But they no longer lived in a world where 'being a philosopher' was a practical alternative to being a Christian, and where one might meet and talk with men who had made that choice. Philosophy in the Middle Ages was largely...

Trinity And Divine Simplicity

Christianity inherited the fastidiousness of a philosophical system which cannot countenance the notion of any plurality in God, and regards anything but the utmost simplicity as unworthy of him. That was also a position highly congenial to Islamic monotheism, and Giles of Rome notes that Averroes gives that reason for insisting that there can be no Trinity in God Errores Philosophorum IV.7 . But for Christians the doctrine of the Trinity presented a challenge here which had to be taken up. The...

The Soul

Genesis 2.7 describes how God breathed life into Adam. That accorded with the consensus of the ancient philosophers that the soul is the animating principle of living beings. That is to say, it is the presence of the soul which makes it possible for the matter of which the body is composed to act as a living thing. Augustine thought the soul was something more. In man the soul is more than mere animator even vegetables have life . It is more than the power of sensation which animals also have...

Aristotle

With Aristotle, the story is very different. First a portion of his logic, and then almost the entire corpus, were successively made available to mediaeval scholars in Latin translations. By the end of the third century AD the six books of Aristotle's logic, later known as the Organonwith commentaries by the third-century Porphyry, were the standard textbooks from which logic was taught. Porphyry had an influence here in his own right, which is to be seen in Ammonius c.440-c.520 , in Philoponus...

Theology And Philosophical Method

We have touched already on the question of the use theologians felt it proper to make of the methods developed by classical philosophers. There were fundamental problems here to do with the ways in which human understanding comes by what it knows, and conveys it to others. Christians recognised two gifts which did not come into the philosophers' reckoning revelation in Holy Scripture and the gift of faith which is inseparable from trust on the part of the believer. 'I believe' is not identical...

Macrobius

By reading Cicero the Latin-speaking Christian could thus get a pretty comprehensive picture of at least the outline pattern of ancient Greek thought. Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio would help further on a number of points. Eriugena seems to have known it. He makes a reference to the question of the location of hell within the circle of the planets and thus 'within the ambit of this world', and comments on the difficulty that the Platonists do not allow for any place outside the...

The Idea Of Theology And The Conflict Of Interests

The term theologia was not normally used in Christian writers for what we should now call 'theology' until the thirteenth century. Until the twelfth century it was more usual to speak of 'the study of Holy Scripture'. Even Aquina s, late in the thirteenth century, speaks of sacra doctrina in the Summa Theologiae in preference to theologia. The notion of a discipline which PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES amounted to the systematic study of the Christian faith by rational methods grew...