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History of Philosophy
Philosophy of the Christian Era
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


All who have studied the history of human thought in the light of the Christian idea of Providence have regarded the philosophy of Greece and Rome as a preparatio evangelica, -- a preparation for the Gospel of Christ. The Church which Christ founded was not, it is true, a school of philosophy. By virtue of its divine commission, it rose above all schools and all systems. Still, although Christ in his teachings discarded all formal definition and formal proof, these teachings reformed the world of speculation as they reformed the practical ideals of men, and the Church, being by its nature and essence endowed with that power of adaptation to external conditions which is characteristic of a living organism, has an inherent right to speak to each generation in the language which that generation best understands. In the systematic development of dogmatic truth the Church avails itself of the doctrines of philosophers and formulates its dogmas in the language of the schools of philosophy.

Thus, the coming of Christ divides the history of philosophy as it divides the history of the world. From this point onward there will be the religious view and the rationalistic view of every question. Philosophy may profit by the teachings of religion; it may accept revelation as an extension of the horizon of human hopes, an opening up of new fields of human investigation; it may acknowledge the debt due to that institution to whose teaching we owe it that "doctrines concerning the nature of God, the immortality of the soul and the duties of men, which the noblest intellects of antiquity could barely grasp, have become the truisms of the village school, the proverbs of the cottage and of the alley." [1] Or, on the contrary, philosophy may deny the special authority of Christian revelation; it may cite the doctrines of Christ and His Church before the tribunal of reason, and pass sentence on them, denying the right of appeal to a higher court. Henceforth, then, there will be the religious attitude and the rationalistic attitude in presence of the great problems which ancient philosophy discussed without reference to any source of knowledge superior to reason itself. Christianity will be an ever-present factor in philosophical speculation: the rationalist who refuses its aid and the religious philosopher who accepts that aid must show reason for such refusal or acceptance. But, though the rationalistic spirit and the religious spirit pervade the whole history of the philosophy of the Christian era, they are not always present in equal proportion or in equal strength. From the first to the fifteenth century the religious spirit prevailed, while from the fifteenth century onward, the rationalizing spirit remained preponderant. There were rationalists in the first centuries, and there were religious-minded philosophers in the nineteenth; the difference on which the division is based is a difference in the spirit of the age, not in the character of individual philosophers. The prevailingly religious period is divided, according to another basis of division, into Patristic philosophy, extending from the first century to the period of the great invasions of the barbarians, and Scholastic philosophy, which begins with the reconstruction of European civilization in the ninth century and ends with the Reformation in the fifteenth. We may therefore divide the philosophy of the Christian era as follows

SECTION A -- PATRISTIC PHILOSOPHY, extending to the end of the fifth century.

SECTION B -- SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY, extending from the ninth century to the fifteenth.

SECTION C -- MODERN, OR POST-REFORMATION PHILOSOPHY, extending from the fifteenth century to our own time.
[1] Lecky, Hist. of European Morals (third edition, New York, 1880), Vol. II, p.3.


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