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History of Philosophy
Scholastic Philosophy
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The centuries which elapsed between the death of St. Augustine and the foundation of the Carolingian schools were centuries of barbarian invasion and barbarian rule; they witnessed the dismemberment of the Roman Empire, the disappearance of the last vestiges of Roman civilization in Europe, and the substitution of a civilization of a new order. During the lifetime of St. Augustine, the West Goths under Alaric besieged and sacked Rome (410). Nineteen years later, the Vandals under Genseric overran Numidia and Mauretania and laid siege to Hippo. Meanwhile the Vandals from the upper Rhine had invaded Gaul, ancient Germany, and Burgundy (407); these invaders were followed (443) by the Burgundians, who settled on the upper Rhone and on the Saône. Later (451) came the Huns under Attila, and last of all, the Franks from the lower Rhine, who, towards the end of the fifth century, spread over Gaul, destroying every trace of civilization that had survived the invasion and occupation of France by the Vandals and the Burgundians. In the same century, the Angles and Saxons took possession of Britain, and the Visigoths established barbarian rule in Spain. In the sixth and seventh centuries the Heruli, the East Goths, and the Lombards destroyed whatever remained of Roman civilization in northern Italy.

We can scarcely realize the desolation that during these centuries reigned throughout what had been the Roman Empire. The condition of France is vividly portrayed by the words of St. Gregory of Tours, who, towards the end of the sixth century, wrote, "Vae diebus nostris quia periit studium litterarum a nobis,"[1] and by the verdict of the Benedictine authors of L'histoire littéraire de la France, that the eighth century was the darkest, the most ignorant, the most barbarous that France had ever seen. The utter disregard for learning which characterized those times may be inferred from the fact that Ambrose of Autpert (died 778) was forced to invoke the authority of Pope Stephen III in defense of the study of the Scriptures: "Inquiunt multi: non est tempus jam nunc disserendi super Scripturas." [2]
[1] Historia Francorum, Praef.: cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXXI, col. 159.

[2] Quoted by Hauréau, Histoire de la philosophie scolastique, I, 6; cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXXXIX, col. 1268.
Although surrounded by all the external signs and conditions of dissolution and decay, the Church remained true to her mission of moral and intellectual enlightenment, drawing the nations to her by the very grandeur of her confidence in her mission of peace, and by the sheer force of her obstinate belief in her own ability to lift the new peoples to a higher spiritual and intellectual life. It was these traits in the character of the Church that especially attracted the barbarian kings. But, though towards the end of the fifth century Clovis became a Christian, it was not until the beginning of the ninth century that the efforts of the Church to reconquer the countries of Europe to civilization began to show visible results. The Merovingian kings -- the "do-nothing kings," as they were styled -- could scarcely be called civilized. Even Charlemagne, who was the third of the Carolingian dynasty, could hardly write his name. [3] Still, Charles, illiterate as he was, realized the necessity of reviving culture and learning throughout his empire. Inspired by this noble purpose, he summoned the Church to his aid, invited learned ecclesiastics to his court, and founded schools which became centers of the new intellectual movement in different parts of Europe. To this movement Scholastic philosophy owes its origin.
[3] Cf. Einhard, apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. XCVII, coll. 26 ff.
The Scholastic movement, therefore, which dated from the foundation of the Carolingian schools, was from the outset a reaction against the intellectual stupor of the times. The movement was at first confined merely to the restoration of the study of grammar and rhetoric. Later on, dialectic assumed in the schools more importance than it had at first possessed, while an impulse to philosophical speculation was given by the Neo-Platonism of Erigena and other Irish teachers. Thus, during the ninth and tenth centuries there were many attempts at forming a system of philosophy, but it was not until the eleventh century, when the problem of universals gave the greatest impulse to the growth of Scholastic dialectic, that these attempts were concentrated into a definite movement. Towards the end of the twelfth century the physical and metaphysical writings of Aristotle became known to the schoolmen and caused that great outburst of intellectual activity which made the thirteenth century the Golden Age of Scholasticism. The middle of the fourteenth century marks the beginning of the decadent movement which, in the following century, ended in the downfall of the Scholastic system. We have, therefore, the following division: [4]
[4] This is the division adopted by Gonzalez, op. cit., II, 116, 117; for various other divisions, if Adloch, Praefationes ad Artis Scholasticae inter Occidentes Fata (Brunae, 1898), pp. 18 ff.
FIRST PERIOD -- SCOTUS ERIGENA TO ROSCELIN, from the beginning of the ninth century to the eleventh. -- The Period of Beginnings.

SECOND PERIOD -- ROSCELIN TO ALEXANDER OF HALES, from the rise of the problem of universals to the introduction of the works of Aristotle (1050-1200). -- The Period of Growth.

THIRD PERIOD -- ALEXANDER OF HALES TO OCKAM (1200-1300). -- The Period of Perfection.

FOURTH PERIOD -- FROM THE BIRTH OF OCKAM TO THE TAKING OF CONSTANTINOPLE (1300-1453). -- The Period of Decay.

Source. The neglect of the study of the sources of Scholastic philosophy on the part of some of its historians, and the apparently inexcusable misrepresentation on the part of others, render it imperatively necessary that we keep constantly at hand the primary sources, the works of the schoolmen themselves. It is from these works, and from these alone, that the student will learn the true meaning and value of Scholastic philosophy. Many of the writings of the first schoolmen are of easy access, being included in Migne's Patrologia Latina. Additional primary sources (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Münster, 1891 ff.) are at present being published by Baeumker and others. The works of the Scholastics after the time of St. Bernard are not included in Migne's Patrology; they are, however, published in separate editions, to which attention will be called.

With regard to secondary authorities, the list given by Weber (p. 9 of Eng. trans.) will be found complete with the exception of a recent work, De Wulf's Histoire de la philosophie médiévale (Louvain, 1900), which is a valuable aid to the study of this period. De Wolf's work does not, however, supersede Stöckl's Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, which is still the standard work of reference, although since its publication (1864-1866) numerous important documents bearing on the history of Scholasticism have been published. It is well for the student to remember that, although Hauréau is referred to as an authority, he owes his distinction as an historian to the care with which he has studied and edited manuscript sources [5] rather than to the accuracy of his appreciations.
[5] Hauréau's De la philosophie scolastique was first published in two volumes (Paris, 1850). In 1872 the work was recast, enlarged, and published in three volumes (tome I; tome II, Ière partie; tome II, lIe partie) under the title Histoire de la philosophie scolastique (Paris, 1872-1880). His Notices et extraits de quelques MS. latins de la Bibliothèque Nationale (6 vols., Paris, 1890-1895) is also of great value. Besides, he published many articles of interest to the student of Scholastic philosophy in the Notices et extraits . . . faisant suite aux notices et extraits lus au comité établi dans l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres; consult especially the volumes for the years 1888-1890 and also the Journal des Savants for the same years. For recent bibliography of the history of Scholastic philosophy, cf. Archiv f. Gesch. der Phil., X, 127 if. and 247 ff.; La Revue Néo-Scolastique, Mai, 1902; Revue d'histoire et de littératurde religieuses, Sept.-Oct., 1902.
Valuable biographical material is to be found in Wetzer und Welte's Kirchenlexikon, 12 Bde., 2 Aufl., Freiburg im B., 1886-1901.

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