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 fall of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Christianity developed its own branch of the tradition in terms of theological scholarship. The two were not easily able to keep in touch, because few scholars knew both Greek and Latin after the sixth century; and after 1054 the Greek and Latin Churches were divided and ceased to be in communion with one another. The Byzantine style of Christian scholarship placed an emphasis on mysticism. It drew more heavily and more directly on late Platonism than the West was able to do, while the West made substantial use of Aristotle. Without diverging doctrinally except over the question of the Procession of the Holy Spirit and some lesser matters such as the use of leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist and whether purgatory purged by fire, the two Churches came to have subtly but undeniably different intellectual flavours. At the Council of Florence (1438-45), when a serious attempt was made to reunite the two Churches, it was dramatically evident that they spoke not only two languages, but also two languages of thought.
If we must limit ourselves to only a few glances at the Greek East, we can take in the much broader range of themes in which philosophy interested itself in our period than was the case even in the late antique world. In the twelfth century, the Canon Hugh of St Victor (c.1096- 1141), who taught at
Paris, made a distinction between those aspects of theology which are concerned with the being and nature of God, his unity and Trinity and the creation of the world; and those branches of the subject which depend for our knowledge of them on the revelation of Holy Scripture. The first group contains the bulk of the lively issues of philosophy-theology in the late antique and early Christian world - what Boethius in the sixth century understood by theologia. These issues were still very much alive in the Middle Ages, with fresh slants derived from mediaeval understanding of Aristotelian notions of 'end' and 'purpose', 'power' and 'act', 'causation', 'origin' and 'source', and of epistemology. In the middle and later thirteenth century we find theologians and those who specialised in philosophy in the universities alike busy with questions about man's knowledge of God-in-himself; the divine simplicity; ideas in the divine mind; being and essence; the eternity of the world; the nature of matter; the elements; beatitude; and such scientific practicalities as the motion of the heart. But they were also dealing, and sometimes in the same works, with grace, the Church, sacraments and so on, using philosophical categories and methods. It was chiefly out of the work done in the late mediaeval centuries on these topics that there sprang the debates of the Reformation.
No author, Christian or secular, was more widely read in the West throughout the Middle Ages than Augustine, or more influential in forming the minds of Western scholars as they sought to make sense in Latin of concepts first framed and developed in Greek. So Augustine must be our starting-point. The story begins in the present volume with the issue of the relationship between philosophy and theology which won partisans of various opinions throughout the Middle Ages. Then we come to the question of the classical sources the mediaeval scholar may have been able to use when we wanted to study philosophy in its theological implications. Part I ends with a sketch of the problems of logic and language and their epistemological roots, which arose out of the study of the grammar, logic and rhetoric of the trivium. These were a foundation study for all mediaeval scholars and perhaps the area in which the most penetrating new work of the Middle Ages was done. In Part II the sequence of topics broadly follows the outline of the summa, or systematic encyclopaedia of theology, which developed from the twelfth century as a textbook framework. The aim of this arrangement of the material is to introduce the modern reader to the mediaeval world of thought in something of the way in which the mediaeval student came to it.
Was this article helpful?