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Initiation Into Philosophy
From the Fifth Century to the Thirteenth
by Faguet, Émile

Philosophy is only an Interpreter of Dogma. When it is Declared Contrary to Dogma by the Authority of Religion, it is a Heresy. Orthodox and Heterodox Interpretations. Some Independent Philosophers.
DOGMA.--After the invasion of the barbarians, philosophy, like literature, sought refuge in monasteries and in the schools which prelates instituted and maintained near them. But the Church does not permit the free search for truth. The truth has been established by the Fathers of the Church and fixed by the Councils. Thenceforth the philosophic life, so to speak, which had never been interrupted, assumed a fresh character. Within the Church it sheltered--I will not say disguised--itself under the interpretation of dogma; it became a sort of respectful auxiliary of theology, and was accordingly called the "handmaid of theology," ancilla theologiae When emancipated, when departing from dogma, it is a "heresy," and all the great heresies are nothing else than schools of philosophy, which is why heresies must come into a history of philosophy. And at last, but only towards the close of the Middle Ages, lay thought without disturbing itself about dogma and no longer thinking about its interpretation, created philosophic doctrines exactly as the philosophers of antiquity invented them apart from religion, to which they were either hostile or indifferent.

SCHOLASTICISM: SCOTUS ERIGENA.--The orthodox philosophy of the Middle Ages was the scholastic. Scholasticism consisted in amassing and in making known scientific facts and matters of knowledge of which it was useful for a well-bred man not to be ignorant and for this purpose encyclopaedias were constructed; on the other hand, it consisted not precisely in the reconciliation of faith with reason, not precisely and far less in the submission of faith to the criticism of reason, but in making faith sensible to reason, as had been the office of the Fathers of the Church, more especially St. Augustine.

Scotus Erigena, a Scotsman attached to the Palatine Academy of Charles the Bald, lived in the eleventh century. He was extremely learned. His philosophy was Platonic, or rather the bent of his mind was Platonic. God is the absolute Being; He is unnamable, since any name is a delimitation of the being; He is absolutely and infinitely. As the creator of all and uncreated, He is the cause per se; as the goal to which all things tend, He is the supreme end. The human soul is of impenetrable essence like God Himself; accordingly, it is God in us. We have fallen through the body and, whilst in the flesh, we can, by virtue and more especially by the virtue of penitence, raise ourselves to the height of the angels. The world is the continuous creation of God. It must not be said that God created the world, but that He creates it; for if He ceased from sustaining it, the world would no longer exist. God is perpetual creation and perpetual attraction. He draws all beings to Himself, and in the end He will have them all in Himself. There is predestination to perfection in everything.

These theories, some of which, as has been seen, go beyond dogma and form at least the beginning of heresy, are all impregnated with Platonism, especially with Neoplatonism, and lead to the supposition that Scotus Erigena possessed very wide Greek learning.

ARABIAN SCIENCE.--A great literary and philosophical fact in the eighth century was the invasion of the Arabs. Mahometans successively invaded Syria, Persia, Africa, and Spain, forming a crescent, the two points of which touched the two extremities of Europe. Inquisitive and sagacious pupils of the Greeks in Africa and Asia, they founded everywhere brilliant universities which rapidly acquired renown (Bagdad, Bassorah, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Murcia) and brought to Europe a new quota of science; for instance, all the works of Aristotle, of which Western Europe possessed practically nothing. Students greedy for knowledge came to learn from them in Spain; for instance, Gerbert, who developed into a man of great learning, who taught at Rheims and became Pope. Individually the Arabs were often great philosophers, and at least the names must be mentioned of Avicenna (a Neoplatonist of the tenth century) and Averroes (an Aristotelian of the twelfth century who betrayed tendencies towards admitting the eternity of nature, and its evolution through its own initiative during the course of time). Their doctrines were propagated, and the ancient books which they made known became widely diffused. From them dates the sway of Aristotle throughout the middle ages.

ST. ANSELM.--St. Anselm, in the eleventh century, a Savoyard, who was long Abbot of Bec in Normandy and died Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the most illustrious doctors of philosophy in the service of theology that ever lived. "A new St. Augustine" (as he has been called), he starts from faith to arrive at faith after it has been rendered sensible to reason. Like St. Augustine he says: "I believe in order to understand" (well persuaded that if I never believed I should never understand), and he adds what had been in the thought of St. Augustine: "I understand in order to believe." St. Anselm proved the existence of God by the most abstract arguments. For example, "It is necessary to have a cause, one or multiple; one is God; multiple, it can be derived from one single cause, and that one cause is God; it can be a particular cause in each thing caused; but then it is necessary to suppose a personal force which must itself have a cause and thus we work back to a common cause, that is to say to a single one."

He proved God again by the proof which has remained famous under the name of the argument of St. Anselm: To conceive God is to prove that He is; the conception of God is proof of His existence; for every idea has its object; above all, an idea which has infinity for object takes for granted the existence of infinity; for all being finite here below, what would give the idea of infinity to the human mind? Therefore, if the human brain has the idea of infinity it is because of the existence of infinity. The argument is perhaps open to difference of opinion, but as proof of a singular vigour of mind on the part of its author, it is indisputable.

Highly intellectual also is his explanation of the necessity of redemption. Cur Deus Homo? (the title of one of his works) asked St. Anselm. Because sin in relation to an infinite God is an infinite crime. Man, finite and limited in capacity, could therefore never expiate it. Then what could God do to avenge His honour and to have satisfaction rendered to Him? He could only make Himself man without ceasing to be God, in order that as man He should offer to God a reparation to which as God He would give the character of infinitude. It was therefore absolutely necessary that at a given moment man should become God, which could only be done upon the condition that God made Himself man.

REALISTS; NOMINALISTS; CONCEPTUALISTS.--It was in the time of St. Anselm that there arose the celebrated philosophic quarrel between the "realists, nominalists, and conceptualists." It is here essential to employ these technical terms or else not to allude to the dispute at all, because the strife is above all a war of words. The realists (of whom St. Anselm was one), said: "The ideas (idea of virtue, idea of sin, idea of greatness, idea of littleness) are realities; they exist, in a spiritual manner of course, but they really exist; they are: there is a virtue, a sin, a greatness, a littleness, a reason, etc. (and this was an exact reminiscence of the ideas of Plato). It is indeed only the idea, the general, the universal, which is real, and the particular has only the appearance of reality. Men do not exist, the individual man does not exist; what exists is 'man' in general, and individual men are only the appearance of--the coloured reflections of--the universal man." The nominalists (Roscelin the Canon of Compiègne, for instance) answered: "No; the general ideas, the universals as you say, are only names, are only words, emissions of the voice, labels, if you like, which we place on such and such categories of facts observed by us; there is no greatness; there are a certain number of great things, and when we think of them we inscribe this word 'greatness' on the general idea which we conceive. 'Man' does not exist; there are men and the word humanity is only a word which to us represents a collective idea."

Why did the realists cling so to their universals, held to be realities and the sole realities? For many reasons. If the individual alone be real, there are not three Persons in the Godhead, there are three Gods and the unity of God is not real, it is only a word, and God is not real, He is only an utterance of the voice. If the individual is not real, the Church is not real; she does not exist, there only exist Christians who possess freedom of thought and of faith. Now the Church is real and it is not only desirable that she should be real, but even that she alone should possess reality and that the individuals constituting her should exist by her and not by themselves. (This is precisely the doctrine with regard to society now current among certain philosophers: society exists independently of its members; it has laws of its own independently of its members; it is a reality on its own basis; and its members are by it, not it by them, and therefore they should obey it; M. Durckheim is a "realist.")

ABELARD of Nantes, pupil of the nominalist, William of Champeaux, learned man, artist, man of letters, an incomparable orator, tried to effect a conciliation. He said: "The universal is not a reality, certainly; but it is something more than a simple word; it is a conception of the mind, which is something more than an utterance of the voice. As conception of the mind, in fact, it lives with a life which goes beyond the individual, because it can be common to several individuals to many individuals, and because in fact it is common to them. The general idea that I have and which I have communicated to my hearers, and which returns to me from my hearers, is more than a word since it is a link between my hearers and myself, and an atmosphere in which I and my hearers live. Is the Church only to be a word? God forbid that I should say so. She is a bond between all Christians; she is a general idea common to them all, so that in her each individual feels himself several, feels himself many; although it is true that were she not believed in by anyone she would be nothing." At bottom he was a nominalist, but more subtle, also more profound and more precise, having a better grasp of what William of Champeaux had desired to say. He shared in his condemnation.

Apart from the great dispute, his ideas were singularly broad and bold. Half knowing, half guessing at ancient philosophy, he held it in high esteem; he found there, because he delighted in finding there, all the Christian ideas: the one God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the imputation of the merits of the saints, original sin; and he found less of a gulf between ancient philosophy and Christianity than between the Old and the New Testament (this is because the only Christianity known to Abelard, not the primitive but that constituted in the fourth century, was profoundly impregnated with Hellenism). He believed the Holy Ghost to have revealed Himself to the wise men of antiquity as well as to the Jews and the Christians, and that virtuous pagans may have been saved. The moral philosophy of Abelard is very elevated and pure. Our acts proceed from God; for it is impossible that they should not; but He permits us the faculty of disobedience "in order that virtue may exist," to which it tends; for if the tendency to evil did not exist, there would be no possibility of effort against evil, and if no efforts, then no virtue; God, who cannot be virtuous since He cannot be tempted by evil, can be virtuous in man, which is why He leaves him the tendency to evil for him to triumph over it and be virtuous so that virtue may exist; even if He were Himself to lead us into temptation, the tendency would still be the same; He would only lead us into it to give us the opportunity for struggle and victory, and therefore in order that virtue might exist; the possibility of sin is the condition of virtue, and in consequence, even in the admission of this possibility and above all by its admission, God is virtuous.

The bad deed, furthermore, is not the most considerable from the point of view of guilt; as merit or demerit the intention is worth as much as the deed and he is criminal who has had the intention to be so (which is clearly according to the Gospel).

HUGO DE SAINT-VICTOR; RICHARD.--Abelard possessed perhaps the broadest and greatest mind of the whole of the Middle Ages. After these famous names must be mentioned Hugo de Saint-Victor, a somewhat obscure mystic of German origin; and the not less mystical Richard, who, thoroughly persuaded that God is not attained by reason but by feeling, taught exaltation to Him by detachment from self and by six degrees: renunciation, elevation, impulsion, precipitation, ecstasy, and absorption.


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