Medieval Justifications For The Use Of Philosophy

Clement of Alexandria, in the opening chapter of his Stromata, provided the analogy that justified the respect medieval Christians gave to the guidance passed down by the Fathers of the Church: "It is a good thing, I reckon, to leave to posterity good children. This is the case with children of our bodies. But words are the progeny of the soul. Hence we call those who have instructed us, fathers." Whether they were called "the heirs of the Prophet," "the interpreters of the Law," or "the Fathers of the Church," the ancients were respected guides to the teachings of the Scriptures. When Peter Abelard was criticized by St. Bernard of Clairvaux and William of Saint-Thierry for using pagan authors as authorities, he instinctively, then, turned to the Fathers of the Church for his justification. Abelard argued that he was simply following the Patristic tradition. His first appeal was to St. Jerome, who in his "Letter to Magnus," countering at an earlier time the challenge of his use of pagan sources, claimed,

And as if this were not enough, that leader of the Christian army [St. Paul], that unvanquished pleader for the cause of Christ, skillfully turns a chance inscription into a proof of the faith. For he had learned from the true David to wrench the sword of the enemy out of his hand and with his own blade to cut off the head of the arrogant Goliath. He had read in Deuteronomy the command given by the voice of the Lord that when a captive woman had had her head shaved, her eyebrows and all her hair cut off, and her nails pared, she might then be taken to wife. Is it surprising that I too, admiring the fairness of her form and the grace of her eloquence, desire to make that secular wisdom which is my captive and my handmaid, a matron of the true Israel? Or that shaving off and cutting away all in her that is dead, whether this be idolatry, pleasure, error, or lust, I take her to myself clean and pure and beget by her servants for the Lord of the Sabbath? My efforts promote the advantage of Christ's family, my so-called defilement with an alien increases the number of my fellow-servants. (Shaw, 1994, 555)

Abelard later could, and did, enlist, among others, the voices of Cyprian, Hilary, Eusebius, and Gregory the Great, and invoked again Jerome's image of the handmaid to illustrate the servant character of philosophy, the class name for all pagan learning, including philosophy properly so called.

Jewish and Muslim authors fought parallel battles concerning the use of philosophy. Moses Maimonides, for example, in his Treatise on Logic, refereed the debate between the superiority of logic over grammar, portraying logic as a universal grammar, and distinguishing between generally accepted religious opinions and traditions and universally and necessarily valid ones. His Guide of the Perplexed, dealing with the traditional Jewish teachings, became one of medieval Judaism's most studied and controversial works. In his treatment of the problem of the relation between faith and reason, Maimonides was influenced strongly by the Islamic philosopher Alfarabi, who provided a contrasting treatment of philosophical logic and the grammar of ordinary language. In effect, the extended result of this debate for Alfarabi was that religion is essentially the popular expression of philosophy communicated to the nonphilosophical believers by prophets. Alfarabi's position was influential among several of the philosophically inclined, such as Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides, who nuanced and adapted it within their own systems. Their attitudes toward reason and revelation, however, were found unacceptable by many Jewish and Muslim theologians or interpreters of the Divine Law.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment