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 philosophy did not think of themselves first and foremost as 'philosophers'. The most original philosophical thought was in fact often Christian and theological, and that made it increasingly artificial to distinguish between the two disciplines.
Nevertheless, encounters between the two on their patches of common ground were the source of great hostility from time to time. Indeed, as we have seen, it was usually as a result of some such bruising meeting that the long-running debate about the propriety of using philosophy at all in theological investigation entered one of its active phases. That was especially noticeable in the period after the reintroduction of Aristotle's libri naturales into the West in the thirteenth century, when discussion shifted on to altogether more technical levels, philosophically speaking; the pretence that philosophy is theology's handmaid was hard to keep up, because almost all the important protagonists on both sides were in fact theologians.
Yet the mid-thirteenth century saw philosophy come into its own as an academic discipline in the new universities. Its independent flowering was brief, and troubled by pressing questions of its relationship to the familiar disciplines for which the syllabus already had an established place: the liberal arts and theology. By 1277 tension had escalated to a point where a series of propositions was condemned by ecclesiastical authority as incompatible
PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES with Christian orthodoxy and unsuitable even for discussion in the schools. This condemnation marked a high point of crisis in the protracted story of uncomfortable relations between Christian theology and philosophy. It also threw into high relief a number of points of difficulty which had arisen during the period since Augustine made his own resolution of the problem, and which are, as we have seen, in many ways peculiarly mediaeval.
The ancient preoccupations of the scientist-philosopher with the distinction between theoretical and practical sciences persisted. There remained a sense that the theoretical was always superior to the practical, and that sciences with practical application - such as politics - were best treated theoretically, and by starting from first principles rather than observation. The triad of physics, mathematics and theology also survived, with its tendency to govern the study of physics. That did not prevent the making of some progress here, although Arabic science had a strong dominance and kept its links with its philosophical antecedents in Greek thought. Al-Khwarizmi was making a beginning in algebra as early as the ninth century, and Western mathematicians of the late Middle Ages took his work further. John Campano of Novara, in his commentary on Euclid's Elements of the thirteenth century, shows an awareness of the harmoniousness of the proportion later to be known as the 'Golden Section'. Nominalists pursued alternatives to classic theories of causation in the explanation of impieties. Among physicists, Peter of Spain, better known as the author of a standard textbook of logic, also worked on scientific theory in the thirteenth century. He tried to reconcile the via experimenti and the via rationis, to find a place for experimental method without disrupting the approach by reasoning. Arnold of Villanova (d. 1311) taught at Montpellier and was Court physician to the kings of Aragon and to the Pope. He made experiments, in which alchemy and magic were mixed with physics. This tendency to mix the dross of superstition with pure science was always a danger for those drawn to experimentation, and it constituted a drag on progress in the sciences for some centuries.
The end of the Middle Ages saw a changing perception of the ancient world, and of the standing of philosophy within it. From at least the fourteenth century, and arguably earlier, classical literature was beginning to be read with a fuller sense of the culture it embodied, and not only as a treasury of snippets which could be borrowed to illustrate or support an argument. The philosophical literature stood alongside those of history and poetry in this movement. Cicero's oratory and his philosophy could alike be read for their style as well as their content. It cannot perhaps be said that the first humanists had a wholly clear or indeed objective picture of the ancient world. There is evidence of some romanticism about Romanitas, and a sense that the classical period had been a golden age of thought and expression to which the moderns could only aspire wistfully to return. Juan Luis Vives, for example, one of the Paris scholars at the beginning of the sixteenth century, assumed like many humanists of the period that the people who first used Latin decided what is good usage. There was no real sense of the evolution of language, the process by which new patterns of speech become in their turn good style. Melanchthon (following Quintilian) saw a word as something like a coin. It must not be a forgery. It must be true to its value. It must be passed from the user to those who use it after him, preserving the true 'value' it originally had.
The urge to go back to origins was matched in other areas. Students of the Bible began to seek out manuscripts of the Greek and Hebrew texts, in an endeavour to return to the fontes, and the study of Greek in particular began to open up more fully than ever before in the West since the end of the Roman world a sense of the character of ancient Greek culture and thought. In imitation of a perceived classical ideal, the educated man strove to be a Renaissance man, cultured rather than learned, perhaps (cultus rather than doctus), urbane, sophisticated; and inclined to sneer at the mechanical laboriousness of the scholastic method and to regard the Latin language in the form used in late mediaeval scholasticism as barbarous and debased.
Paradoxically, all this had the effect of moderating the often uncritical respect in which the ancient auctores had commonly been held throughout the Middle Ages. The new scholarship inclined its adherents to think of making mistakes. That should be contrasted with Bernard of Chartres's famous dictum of the twelfth century, that even the greatest scholars of his own day were but as dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of the giants of old, so that even if they could perhaps see further than their predecessors, that was only because they had been lifted up so high on the 'shoulders' of their great work. Lorenzo Valla, in the fourteenth century, speaks of Priscian and Porphyry as fellow mortals to be criticised for their scholarly failings like any contemporary. Rudolph Agricola argues that 'Aristotle was a man of supreme intelligence, learning, eloquence, knowledge and wisdom; but still he was only a man'. Erasmus felt free to point out slips made by Hilary of Poitiers or Augustine, for they were 'very great men, but only men after all'.
These trends, growing increasingly strong with the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, ran alongside a steady continuance in the familiar mediaeval ways. Indeed, in some universities in late fifteenth-century Germany, courses in new humanist work were conducted on the fringes of the syllabus. For some decades two types of textbook of grammar and logic were being produced: the old and the new, technically simplified, which claimed to cut through all the dead wood and present the essentials. Peter Ramus' reworking of Aristotle is perhaps the most influential of these. Universities, such as Wittenberg in the first half of the sixteenth century, which took a lead in the teaching of Greek and encouraged the new approach to the teaching of grammar and logic, can still be found conducting disputationes in the late mediaeval way, in the middle of the century. Scholasticism was noisily rejected by protestant scholarship in the sixteenth century and after, although its methods continued (and to some degree still continue) in use in the Roman Catholic tradition of scholarship. In practice it was some generations before the influence of late mediaeval approaches died away in protestant communities too. We find Luther reintroducing formal academic disputations at Wittenberg in the 1530s, and similar disputations being conducted at the trials of Ridley and others in England. The use of loci communes, or 'articles', was pervasive among reformers when drawing up confessions of faith; and these were, after all, nothing but the theses of mediaeval academic debate. The result was a conscious contrasting of approaches to the heritage of ancient learning, a sense of new ground being broken and of rebirth.
The influx of Aristotelian logic and science in the last mediaeval centuries had now been absorbed into a system of explanation of the universe and its running which had become common doctrine. Order is seen as a safeguard against conflict and the ultimate dissolution of all things into chaos. That is as true for the ordering of the natural world as for the ordering of human society. Peace, harmony, changelessness are as much the highest good here as they were for the first Platonists. All this can be said without reference to sin, and the Christian teaching that it is from sin that all disorder arises; on the other hand, there is no conflict with Christian theology in these assumptions. Hierarchy is a concomitant of this system. The very elements, fire, air, earth and water, are ranged in their places in the world. All created things have their position and purpose, the lower to meet the needs of the higher. Just as, among the vegetables, trees stand higher than small plants, so in human society some are born to rule, others to serve. 'It may not be called order except it do contain it in degrees, high and base, according to the merit or estimation of the thing that is ordered', comments the English Elizabethan Elyot, in the first chapter of his book The Governor.
In theology, the late Middle Ages saw new preoccupations. The old areas of common ground with philosophy were not abandoned. Questions about being and substance and the powers of knowledge of intellectual beings were not neglected; indeed, their treatment reached new heights of subtlety. But contemporary events made ecclesiology interesting. The Conciliarist movement and papal resistance to attempts to moderate claims to pontifical plenitude of power drew attention in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to theories about decision-making in the Church. The theology of the sacraments, particularly in the area of the Eucharist, penance and indulgences, was also developing; under the challenge of Luther and his contemporaries, it was to become a principal focus of attention for much of the sixteenth century. In both areas, problems of authority in the Church arose with unprecedented intensity, in areas to which ancient philosophy could make a contribution only at the level of the most fundamental questions of methodology.
In the doctrine of man there had been, from the twelfth century, a 'discovery of the individual'.1 Earlier mediaeval literature, like that of the ancient world, describes the typical representative of a 'class' of the good or the brave, the wicked or the foolish, the virtuous citizen, the benevolent ruler, the philosopher, and so on. Saints' lives by the end of the eleventh century were often written by hired hagiographers, who endowed their subjects with the requisite qualities, sometimes regardless of any real personal differences between them in life. That began to change.
In their concern with the perennial topics of philosophical discussion since the Greeks, mediaeval theologians kept alive the classical tradition. But indubitably, they did more in some areas. They enlarged the scope and technical possibilities of Aristotle's logic. They penetrated much further than Aristotle or the Roman grammarians had done into the nature and behaviour of natural languages. They refined both vocabulary and concept in speaking of divine 'being'. They introduced philosophical categories into the discussion of Church and sacraments. They created an enormous corpus of new work of the utmost subtlety and inventiveness. Some of their work is of a great deal more than antiquarian interest today, especially in the area of the philosophy of language.
Perhaps we can say, above all, that philosophical theology remained alive
PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES and growing for a thousand years as a result of mediaeval efforts, and that in this way it transmitted a heritage not by burying the talent it was given but by putting it to use and multiplying it. And it is of no small importance that it was out of the cataclysmic flesh juxtaposition of mediaeval and ancient world-pictures in the sixteenth century that modern theology and philosophy sprang.
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