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 only slowly and uncertainly out of the study of the Bible, and by analogy with other sciences.

But the word theologia was familiar enough in a narrower and more restricted sense, which was known in the earlier Middle Ages from Boethius. Boethius defines theologia as a branch of philosophy, or speculativa (De Trinitate, II). The subject-matter ofphysica, natural science, is body and form taken together, studied in motion. That of mathematics is the investigation of pure form, as though that could be abstracted from matter and motion, but with the recognition that in reality it cannot. Theology deals with that which is wholly free of matter and motion, the divine Substance. This distinction, which Boethius borrows from Plato by way of more recent Platonist thought,19 'places' theology in relation to other human intellectual endeavour, but at the cost of limiting its scope from a Christian point of view. For Boethius, writing as a philosopher-Christian, the burning questions of the day were in any case still those of the debate of the first Christian centuries about the nature of God, his Trinity and his relation to his creation. Only in the De Fide Catholica does he go beyond these topics, confronting the difficulty that it is necessary to bring in the evidence of revelation which philosophers will not necessarily accept, if one is to explain the events of man's Fall, the Incarnation and the redemption of the world.

The centrality of revealed truth became the linch-pin of the mediaeval definition of theologia. One thirteenth-century author distinguishes between 'divine' and 'human' sciences, and explains that 'the divine is that which is handed down directly from God, such as theology' (Lafleur, p. 259). It was possible to contrast this Christian theologia with the Boethian usage (Lafleur, p. 323).

Arnulfus Provincialis explains that theology has its causa in man's fall into sin. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, perfect in virtue and knowledge (scientiae), but he transgressed against the law of nature laid upon him, and his oculus intellectualis, the eye of understanding, was darkened and blinded and ceased to see truly. The damage was done not only to his soul, but also to his body. There is, however, a further causa in the unavoidable creaturely limitation of Adam. He was designed to strive to be more perfect, that is, to grow more like his Creator by acquiring virtue and knowledge; he ought to lift up his soul in contemplation of his Creator and find there his soul's happiness. This is described, says Arnulf, by the philosophers. (He cites Algazel in the Metaphysics.)

Arnulf argues that it is therefore appropriate and necessary for fallen humanity to study philosophy as a means to that growth towards perfection

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY in virtue and knowledge which is necessary if they are to be saved from the consequences of the Fall. 'By the discipline of philosophy we are led to the knowledge of all being, to love and fear and reverence for the Creator of such marvellous creatures' (Lafleur, pp. 303-5).

Aquinas found it necessary to put first in his Summa Theologiae the question 'whether any further doctrina is required except philosophy' (ST I.q.1.a.1). His answer is that revelation (that is to say, Scriptural revelation) contains things which are necessary to salvation and which could never be found out by reason alone. He replies to two 'objections': first, that everything which can be treated by reason is dealt with by philosophy and man should not seek to know what is beyond the reach of his reason (Ecclesiasticus 3.22); secondly, that philosophy is concerned with all being, and therefore with all truth, which would seem to make theology a mere branch of philosophy, as Aristotle says (Metaphysics VI.1, 1026a 19). The first, says Aquinas, does not take account of man's duty to accept by faith those things beyond reason which God reveals (Ecclesiasticus 25). The second forgets that the same subject-matter may be treated by different sciences. He stresses that the theology which pertains to sacred doctrine is of another order from that which is classically defined as a part of philosophy.

The same theme, that theology differs from philosophy in embracing the subject-matter of revelation, is to be found in Jean Gerson. At the turn of the fourteenth century, he conducted an experiment with Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. He wrote a dialogue between 'Volucer' and 'Monicus', On the Consolation of Theology, in the same prosimetric form as Boethius. The question addressed is why philosophy alone is not enough to give true consolation. Volucer explains to Monicus that theology bears the same sort of relationship to philosophy as grace to nature, mistress to maid, understanding (intelligentia) to reasoning (ratiocinatio); it is appropriate that there should be order and gradus in the sciences, and theology proceeds in the most orderly and economical way (recto breviatoque ordine procedet) if she builds her inferences upon the foundation of philosophy. The text is therefore a useful indication of Gerson's view of the relationship between philosophy and theology. He develops the point in several ways. He sees philosophy as excluding matters which can be known only by revelation. God, he says, could see that human beings were making mistakes and that they could not arrive at 'necessary and saving truths' by means of philosophy. So he revealed the subject-matter of theology to them 'supernaturally' (supernaturaliter) (p. 189). The most significant addition, which he picks on at once, is the knowledge of the 'order' of divine judgement (p. 190). Within that framework of a providence which goes beyond anything Boethius

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES describes in the Consolatio Philosophiae he sets his lengthy discussion of predestination and Christian hope. The philosophers of the gentiles, he explains, could see that God exists, but the mystery of the Incarnation can be grasped only if it is explicitly revealed (explicite revelatum), and it must be believed by faith. Grace is given only through the medium of the Mediator of God and men (per medium Mediatoris Dei et hominum). He merited grace sufficiently for all, but it has effect only in those who are incorporated in him by 'habitual faith', as in children, or the actual and habitual faith which shows itself in adults through perseverance in love.20

This development from a 'Boethian' to a mediaeval Christian notion of the scope of theologia had implications for the view that philosophy is the guide of life. Moral theology filled that need for Christians. There remained, nevertheless, the awkwardness of the common element of speculativa. In Boethian handling of the topics of theologia, as in the treatment of the same subjects (in their different ways) by classical philosophers, it was uncontroversial that all the aids to formal reasoning which grammar, logic and rhetoric could provide should be employed. Such aids were not less helpful in the Middle Ages. In fact they were more helpful, because there were major technical developments in these areas. But for some mediaeval scholars there arose the question whether reason could properly be used in this way in discussing matters of faith. On the whole, it was not an urgent problem in the earlier Middle Ages. The cognate question, the one which troubled Jerome, was more pressing then, and we find Christian scholars debating whether or not they ought to be reading and using secular literary authors or whether they risked being 'Ciceronian' rather than Christian if they did so. Even for Anselm, late in the eleventh century, faith and formal reasoning went comfortably hand in hand as faith sought understanding (Proslogion, 1). But from the eleventh century, with increasing student interest in the possibilities of using grammar and logic in particular, reasoning seemed sometimes to be challenging the faith. A little after 1215, William of Auxerre states the view that it is 'perverse' to try to prove articles of faith by human reason.21 Faith cannot be established by proof; indeed, if it could be demonstrated by human reason alone it would have no merit.22 He gives a list of heretics such as Arius and Sabellius,23 who were deceived by their reason into error.24

The issue here was whether theological truths could or could not be established by philosophical methods, that is (as Gilbert Crispin and Peter Abelard took it), by appeal to human reason alone. If that were possible, then philosophy had a proper and even a necessary place in theological discourse. But at the same time, theology would be thrown open to all the

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY visible disadvantages of philosophical debate, with no certainty that the outcome would conform with the orthodox teaching of the Church down the centuries. If - as conservative opinion always stoutly held - theological truths could not ultimately be so established, there remained the question as to how far philosophical arguments might still be useful as corroborative or supportive means of presenting truths of faith.

Augustine regarded the best of the philosophers as friends to the Christian cause, because by the light of reason they had understood, at least in principle, some of Christianity's fundamental truths. He says that Christians may therefore 'spoil the Egyptians' with a clear conscience, and carry off gold, silver and precious vessels as the Hebrews did when they left Egypt (De Doct. Chr. II.40.60). He did not advocate unselective plunder. He gives up a long stretch of The City of God (Book VIII) to a comparison of the schools of thought known to him, and concludes that the Platonists came closest to glimpsing Christian truth. But he sees no insuperable objection to the concept of a 'Christian philosophy' (C. Jul. IV.14.72).25

Augustine's successors were not all able to be as sanguine as he. The mediaeval fear was that philosophy might encroach upon theology or even take it over, if allowed free reign. From at least the late twelfth century we find complaints being voiced that the disciplines are in disorder, and in particular that philosophy is overflowing its proper bounds and contaminating other subjects. Stephen of Tournai wrote to the Pope in the last decade of the twelfth century to say that the very garments of philosophy are torn and disordered; she is no longer consulted as she used to be, and she is therefore no longer able to console.26 More commonly the complaint runs the other way. A thirteenth-century Dominican says that scholars are behaving like barbarians, corrupting theology by introducing metaphysics even into the study of Holy Scripture.27

That anxiety is expressed again and again (though philosophy is not always a pejorative term).28 In the late twelfth century, a satirical attack on the 'four Labyrinths' of France (Gilbert of Poitiers, Peter Abelard, Peter of Poitiers, Peter Lombard) asks what is the place of the study of the liberal arts, secular authors and especially philosophers, and works its way through the teaching of named philosophers, explaining what is unacceptable in each. Plato, for example, believes that the stars are gods; Aristotle's argumentation is full of trickery.29 Soon afterwards Alan of Lille criticises a tendency to apply terms taken from natural science to the study of theology, with the result that those scarcely capable of understanding common theatre presume to be able to understand the disputations of angels.30 Theologians and Masters of Arts trod upon one another's toes as they disputed such

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES matters as the special usage of nouns and verbs in Holy Scripture. It need hardly be said that these anxieties would not have arisen had there not been unavoidable areas of overlap and the discovery of rich possibilities in one another's areas.

Philosophical study had an unsettling effect because it was recognised that it was not necessarily bent on securing the truth. We find the contrast drawn between 'speaking in a philosophical way' and 'speaking theologically and according to the truth'.31 Philosophy was allowed to explore for curiosity's sake, and without an obligation to produce solutions harmonious with Christian truth.32 Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century distinguishes between the vices of philosophy, notably that of curiosity for its own sake, and a use of philosophy in support of theological study.33 He can envisage philosophy faithfully serving her mistress, investigating causes of error so that truth may become plain, and indeed herself supporting and securing truth and driving out error. But this was optimistic, and it was not what most theologians expected to be the result of letting philosophical study go its own way.

There were many points at which particular philosophical teachings unavoidably conflicted directly with Christian faith: on transmigration of souls, for example, or on the eternity of the created world. Does God have power to make a body present in two places at once? Do angels 'know' things whose futurity is contingent? Can the heavens ever stop moving of themselves? Does the agent intellect remain in the soul when it is separated from the body? All these questions occur in the Quodlibets or miscellaneous questions of Giles of Rome (printed Louvain, 1546). Between about 1268 and 1274 Giles published a list of Errores Philosophorum34 in which he takes one by one, Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna and Maimonides, and sets out the key points at which their opinions are incompatible with Christian truth. Aristotle, for example, thought that all change is preceded by motion (I.1), that time had no beginning (I.2), that the world is eternal (I.3), the heavens ungenerated and incorruptible (I.4); he denies the resurrection of the dead (I.9). Averroes reasserts his errors, but with still more force. The world, he says, had no beginning; God has no providential care for individual beings; there is no Trinity in God; the Intellect is numerically one in all beings (IV.6-10). Avicenna, too, is seen as repeating Aristotle's errors and making them more enormous. He contends that no changing thing can proceed directly from an unchanging God (VI.4); God cannot know the individual natures of our descriptions of singular things (VI.13); God's attributes apply only by remotion and do not denote anything positive in him (VI.14); intelligences cannot be evil (VI.12). Maimonides

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY erred in believing that the Word and the Spirit of God are not Persons, but expressions of God's presence only (XII.4); that prophets are self-made (XII.7). It is this sort of conflict between philosophical speculation and Christian truth which is reflected in the 219 Articles condemned at Paris in 1277.35

Most importantly, there were respects in which Christians held themselves to have not only the whole truth, where philosophers had only a part of it, but also that truth which is necessary to salvation. Philosophers might come close in their thinking on the nature of God and his Word, on the illumination of the understanding, even at points on creation's relationship to the Godhead; but they did not share the doctrine of Incarnation or the heritage of revealed historical evidences (cf. Augustine, De Trinitate IV.16.21 and De Vera Religione 7.13).

In the face of the practical and unavoidable reality of conflict between what 'the philosophers' say and what the Church teaches, several increasingly familiar topoi make their appearance. We meet in later forms the disquiet already referred to, which Jerome voiced when he had an uncomfortable vision of himself as Ciceronianus, not Christianus.36 Stephen of Tournai, for instance, writing in the last decade of the twelfth century, says that the Christian should not waste his time in figmentis poeticis, or on grammar, rhetoric, law, medicine, geometry or inperplexionibusAristotelis. His point is that although the liberal arts are helpful in understanding the Scriptures, taken in their own right readings of 'the literature of the gentiles' (litterarum gentilium) do not illuminate but darken the mind.37 They are dangerously seductive but empty. Prepositinus, Chancellor of Paris from 1206 to 1210, makes a similar point. Philosophy and dialectic, he says, see with the eye of 'vain wisdom' (vana sapientia); they behold clouds and vanity. Philosophy is a sterile chattering (infecunda loquacitas), a useless subtlety and a subtle uselessness. If we approach the study of Holy Scripture 'philosophically' (philosophice), we shall displease God.38

The double commonplace of 'despoiling the Egyptians' and the theme of the captured handmaid are also frequent. The notion that the Greek philosophers stole their wisdom from the Hebrews, but distorted the truths they had learned, derives from Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis I.81.4). Augustine transmitted the belief to the mediaeval West, though with a number of reservations about the dating (De Doctrina Christiana II.43; De Civitate Dei VIII.ii). In his letter of 1228 to the Masters of Theology at Paris, Gregory IX opens with a reference to the theme, in the confidence that his meaning will be understood at once. 'Vessels of gold and silver are to be received by the Hebrews from the Egyptians, so that they might grow rich,

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES not so that they should become their slaves in payment' (cf. Exodus 11).39 He extends the metaphor to include the theme of the captured handmaid (cf. Deuteronomy 21.10ff.). This too had a long earlier history. Philo of Alexandria explores the implications of the idea that the arts are properly the handmaids of the study of Scripture in his discussion of Hagar.40 The principle is to be found widely in mediaeval writers, Peter Damian,41 Rupert of Deutz,42 Stephen of Tournai and Bonaventure,43 to take a few instances. The argument is that, as handmaids, secular studies have a useful task to perform, but it is essentially one of service. They must always be subordinate to their mistress, Theology, and their beauty and seductiveness must not be allowed to captivate the student to the point where he gives them first place in his affections. It is an indication of their powers of attraction that the lesson needed to be repeated so frequently.

0 0

Post a comment