The Variety Within Medieval Philosophy And Theology

The medieval period is the longest of the traditional historical periods of philosophy and theology. Encompassing three rich religious traditions, there is within it also great diversity. An attempt was made above to establish that the defining feature of medieval philosophy and theology is its well-ordered character. The well-ordered nature of medieval thought in no way implies a lack of diversity in the medieval attempts to harmonize the various classical philosophies with the revealed texts of the sacred Scriptures. The Arabic philosophers — Avicenna and Averroes, for instance—both deal seriously with Aristotle. Avicenna, however, is very much inspired by Neoplatonism, and he reads Aristotle's texts from a metaphysical perspective that is more conformed to the Neoplatonic tradition. He thus deals with being and its attributes, and also with God as the cause of being.

Averroes sets aside this metaphysical approach to reality and attempts to return to a purer, in the sense of a less Neoplatonic, approach to Aristotle. He accentuates Aristotle's natural philosophy and pays attention to its focus on motion. His analysis of motion leads him to attend to the immanent causes of changing things as well as to the transcendent immovable causes, among which the First or Prime Mover is the highest. Avicenna and Averroes thus present us with two different forms of Aristotelianism. In the Christian world, St. Bonaventure also attends to Aristotle—yet his particular view of reality gathers its impetus from the Platonic tradition, and, above all, from the writings of St. Augustine. Although St. Bonaventure incorporates many Aristotelian elements into his vision of things, he subordinates them to the Christian approach to truth found in the Augustinian tradition. His approach to God stresses introspection: an analysis of cognition, judgment, and volition at different levels reveals the symbolic character of sensible things, the soul as the higher place where these things reveal a truer meaning, and God as the ultimate source of meaning and the creator of the soul and of all sensible reality.

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