The Beginnings Of Philosophy And Theology In The Latin West

The beginning of medieval philosophy and theology in the Latin West might be placed at the time of the return of the classical liberal arts education to the European continent under Charlemagne. The liberal arts were transported to England when Gregory the Great sent Augustine of Canterbury as a missionary to bring Christian life and faith there in the late sixth century. The arts flourished at the cathedral school of York, as well as the monastic schools of Malmesbury and Yarrow. Alcuin, who had been well trained at York, led the educational reform at Charlemagne's palace school and revived the school system of western Europe that had been destroyed by the invading barbarians. Alcuin himself, while a philosopher only in the sense of knowing and loving classical literature, was not aphilosophus in the technical sense of the term. He was complemented, however, in the proper philosophical arena by an Irishman, John Scotus Eriugena, who translated the works of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, a mysterious author who was associated with and given the reverence due to the Dionysius converted by St. Paul at the Athenian Areopagus. In reality, Dionysius was strongly influenced by Proclus, and must have lived around 500 c.e. Eriugena translated his works and the clarifications given to them by Maximus the Confessor in his Ambigua. John Scotus Eriugena also produced his own original philosophical treatise, On the Division of Nature.

The works of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite did not bring the knowledge of the Platonist philosophy to the Latin West for the first time. It already had been incorporated into the writings of St. Augustine and Boethius. However, with the translations of Dionysius's works, the Platonist philosophy arrived with different dimensions and with the presumed authoritative support of St. Paul. The use of his works by St. John Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, added further respect to Dionysius's philosophy. The medieval Latin West had only sparse translations of the works of Plato himself, but the Platonic tradition was very present, mainly through the Platonism assimilated by the Fathers of the Church and the texts of the Pseudo-Areopagite and his glossators, Maximus the Confessor and Anastasius the Librarian, and later through the commentaries on Dionysius's works by Hugh of Saint-Victor and some of his successors at this famous Augustinian monastery.

Knowledge of Aristotle's philosophy was limited to some of his logical works and the general introduction to them written by Porphyry. Boethius provided the trusted translations of Aristotle's Categories and On Interpretations and multiple commentaries on these treatises that preserved the traditional understandings of them by Aristotelian and Platonist commentators. The presence of Stoic philosophy, especially in its moral teachings, was felt in the writings of Cicero and Seneca. For the most part, however, classical philosophers were known in the assimilated and adjusted forms represented by the early Christian authors who had dealt with them directly.

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