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Initiation Into Philosophy
The Thirteenth Century
by Faguet, Émile

Influence of Aristotle His Adoption by the Church. Religious Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
ARISTOTLE AND THE CHURCH.--From the thirteenth century, Aristotle, completely known and translated into Latin, was adopted by the Church and became in some sort its lay vicar. He was regarded, and I think rightly, as of all the Greek thinkers the least dangerous to her and as the one to whom could be left all the scientific instruction whilst she reserved to herself all the religious teaching. Aristotle, in fact, "defended her from Plato," in whom were always found some germs of adoration of this world, or some tendencies in this direction, in whom was also found a certain polytheism much disguised, or rather much purified, but actual and dangerous; therefore, from the moment when it became necessary to select, Aristotle was tolerated and finally invested with office.

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS.--As Aristotelian theologians must be cited William of Auvergne, Vincent of Beauvais, Albertus Magnus; but the sovereign name of this period of the history of philosophy is St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote several small works but, surpassing them all, the Summa (encyclopaedia) which bears his name. In general philosophy St. Thomas Aquinas is an Aristotelian, bending but not distorting the ideas of Aristotle to Christian conceptions. Like Aristotle, he demonstrated God by the existence of motion and the necessity of a first motive power; he further demonstrated it by the contingent, relative, and imperfect character of all here below: "There is in things more or less goodness, more or less truth." But we only affirm the more or less of a thing by comparing it with something absolute and as it approaches more or less to this absolute; there is therefore an absolute being, namely God--and this argument appeared to him better than that of St. Anselm, which he refuted.

HIS CONCEPTION OF NATURE.--He showed the whole of nature as a great hierarchy, proceeding from the least perfect and the most shapeless to the most complete and determinate; from another aspect, as separated into two great kingdoms, that of necessity (mineral, vegetable, animal), and that of grace (humanity). He displayed it willed by God, projected by God, created by God; governed by God according to antecedent and consequent wills, that is, by general wills (God desires man to be saved) and by particular wills (God wishes the sinner to be punished), and the union of the general wills is the creation, and the result of all the particular wills is Providence. Nature and man with it are the work not only of the power but of the goodness of God, and it is by love that He created us and we must render Him love for love, which is involuntarily done by Nature herself in her obedience to His laws, and which we must do voluntarily by obedience to His commandments.

THE SOUL.--Our soul is immaterial and more complete than that of animals, for St. Thomas does not formally deny that animals have souls; the instinct of animals is the sensitive soul according to Aristotle, which is capable of four faculties: sensibility, imagination, memory, and estimation, that is elementary intelligence: "The bird picks up straw, not because it gratifies her feelings [not by a movement of sensibility], but because it serves to make her nest. It is therefore necessary that an animal should perceive those intuitions which do not come within the scope of the senses. It is by opinion or estimation that it perceives these intuitions, these distant ends." We, mankind, possess a soul which is sensibility, imagination, memory, and reason. Reason is the faculty not only of having ideas, but of establishing connections and chains of connection between the ideas and of conceiving general ideas. Reason pauses before reaching God because the idea of God precisely is the only one which cannot be brought to the mind by the interrelation of ideas, for God surpasses all ideas; the idea of God is given by faith, which can be subsequently helped by reason, for the latter can work to make faith perceptible to reason.

Our soul is full of passions, divisible into two great categories, the passions of desire and those of anger. The passions of desire are rapid or violent movements towards some object which seems to us a good; the passions of anger are movements of revolt against something which opposes our movement towards a good. The common root of all the passions is love, for it is obvious that from it are derived the passions of desire; and as for the passions of wrath they would not exist if we had no love of anything, in which case our desire not coming into collision would not turn into revolt against the obstacle. We are free to do good or evil, to master our evil passions and to follow those of which reason approves. Here reappears the objection of the knowledge God must have beforehand of our actions: if God foresees our actions we are not free; if free, we act contrary to his previsions, then He is not all-powerful. St. Thomas makes answer thus: "There is not prevision, there is vision, because we are in time whereas God is in eternity. He sees at one glance and instantaneously all the past, present, and future. Therefore, He does not foresee but see, and this vision does not hinder human freedom any more than being seen acting prevents one from acting. Because God knows our deeds after they are done, no one can plead that that prevents our full liberty to do them; if He knew them before it is the same as knowing them after, because for Him past, present, and future are all the same moment." This appears subtle but is not, for it only amounts to the statement that in speaking of God time must not be mentioned, for God is as much outside time as outside space.

THE MORAL SYSTEM OF ST. THOMAS.--The very detailed and circumstantial moral system of St. Thomas may thus be summarized: there is in conscience, first, an intellectual act which is the distinction between good and evil; secondly, an act of will which leads us to the good. This power for good urges the practice of virtue. There are human virtues, well known to the ancient philosophers, temperance, courage, wisdom, justice, which lead to happiness on earth; there are divine virtues, inspired in man by God, which are faith, hope, and charity, and they lead to eternal happiness. We practise the virtues, when we are well-disposed, because we are free; but our liberty and our will do not suffice; it is necessary for God to help us, and that is "grace."

FAITH AND REASON.--On the question of the relation of reason to faith, St. Thomas Aquinas recognizes, or rather proclaims, that reason will never demonstrate faith, that the revealed truths, the Trinity, original sin, grace, etc., are above reason and infinitely exceed it. How, then, can one believe? By will, aided by the grace of God. Then henceforth must no appeal be made to reason? Yes, indeed! Reason serves to refute the errors of the adversaries of the faith, and by this refutation to confirm itself in belief. The famous Credo ut intelligam--I believe in order to understand--is therefore true. Comprehension is only possible on condition of belief; but subsequently comprehension helps to believe, if not more, at least with a greater precision and in a more abundant light. St. Thomas Aquinas here is in exactly the position which Pascal seems to have taken up: Believe and you will understand; understand and you will believe more exactly. Therefore an act of will: "I wish to believe"--a grace of God fortifying this will: faith exists--studies and reasoning: faith is the clearer.

ST. BONAVENTURA; RAYMOND LULLE.--Beside these men of the highest brain-power there are found in the thirteenth century mystics, that is, poets and eccentrics, both by the way most interesting. It was St. Bonaventura who, being persuaded, almost like an Alexandrine, that one rises to God by synthetic feeling and not by series of arguments, and that one journeys towards Him by successive states of the soul each more pure and more passionate--wrote The Journey of the Soul to God which is, so to speak, a manual of mysticism. Learned as he was, whilst pursuing his own purpose, he digressed in agreeable and instructive fashion into the realms of real knowledge.

Widely different from him, Raymond Lulle or de Lulle, an unbridled schoolman, in his Ars magna invented a reasoning machine, analogous to an arithmetical machine, in which ideas were automatically deduced from one another as the figures inscribe themselves on a counter. As often happens, the excess of the method was its own criticism, and an enemy of scholasticism could not have more ingeniously demonstrated that it was a kind of mechanism. Raymond de Lulle was at once a learned man and a well-informed and most enquiring naturalist for whom Arabian science held no secrets. With that he was poet, troubadour, orator, as well as very eccentric and attractive. He was beloved and persecuted in his lifetime, and long after his death still found enthusiastic disciples.

BACON.--Contemporaneously lived the man whom it is generally the custom to regard as the distant precursor of experimental science, Roger Bacon (who must not be confused with Francis Bacon, another learned man who lived much nearer to our own time). Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, occupied himself almost exclusively with physical and natural science. He passed the greater portion of his life in prison by reason of alleged sorcery and, more especially, perhaps, because he had denounced the evil lives of his brethren. He had at least a presentiment of almost all modern inventions: gunpowder, magnifying glass, telescope, air-pump; he was distinctly an inventor in optics. In philosophy, properly speaking, he denounced what was hollow and empty in scholasticism, detesting that preference should be given to "the straw of words rather than to the grain of fact," and proclaiming that reasoning "is good to conclude but not to establish." Without discovering the law of progress, as has too often been alleged, he arrived at the conclusion that antiquity being the youth of the world, the moderns are the adults, which only meant that it would be at our school that the ancients would learn were they to return to earth and that we ought not to believe blindly in the ancients; and this was an insurrection against the principle of authority and against the idolatry of Aristotle. He preached the direct study of nature, observation, and experiment with the subsequent application of deduction, and especially of mathematical deduction, to experiment and observation. With all that, he believed in astrology; for those who are in advance of their time none the less belong to it: but he was a very great man.


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