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History of Philosophy
First Masters of the Schools
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


Alcuin [15] (735-804), educated in the famous school of York, appeared at the court of Charlemagne in 781, and there for eight years taught grammar and dialectic in the palace school. Later he retired to the abbey of Tours, where he founded a school which was soon to eclipse the palace school itself. Alcuin was distinguished chiefly as a grammarian. His contributions to dialectic are of secondary importance; and his psychological treatise De Animae Ratione merely reproduces the doctrines of St. Augustine. His importance in the history of Scholastic philosophy is due to the prominent part which he took in the establishment of the first schools.
[15] Cf. Picavet, Origine de la philosophie scolastique en France et en Allemagne (brochure); Mullinger, op. cit., pp. 49 ff.
Fredegis, who was probably a fellow-countryman of Alcuin, taught at the palace school about the beginning of the ninth century. After Alcuin's death he became abbot of the monastery of Tours. Taking up the problem of the nature of darkness, he proved in a treatise, De Nihilo et Tenebris, [16] that both nothing and darkness are real beings. On this point, at least, Fredegis is a realist. He does not, however, discuss the general question of the objective reality of universal ideas.
[16] Published by Ahner, Fredegis von Tours (Leipzig, 1878).
With Fredegis is associated the unknown author of the treatise entitled Dicta Candidi de Imagine Dei. [17] The work is virtually an attempt at finding in man the image of the Trinity. In spirit and in method it is Augustinian.
[17] Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CI, col. 1359, and Hauréau, op. cit., I, 131 ff.
Rhabanus Maurus (784-856) is one of the most remarkable of the first masters of the schools. He was born at Mainz in the year 784. [18] At the age of eighteen he became a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Fulda. Thence he went to Tours, where for six years he studied under Alcuin. From Tours he returned to Fulda in order to assume the office of teacher. According to Trittenheim, Rhabanus and his new learning were regarded with suspicion by Ratgarus, abbot of the monastery of Fulda. Rhabanus, however, overcame the opposition of the reactionaries. [19] He was made abbot of Fulda and later became bishop of Mainz. He died in the year 856.
[18] Cf. Turnau, Rhabanus Maurus (Munich, 1900), p. I, note 5.

[19] Mullinger, op. cit., p. 140, gives a circumstantial account of this incident.
Like Alcuin and Fredegis, Rhabanus is of importance rather as a teacher and inaugurator of the new learning than as an independent philosopher. It was he who introduced the learning of the schools into eastern Germany. In his work De Universo [20] he treats in twenty-two books a variety of subjects, -- God, the angels, biblical personages, ecclesiastical institutions, astronomy, chronology, philosophy, poetry, medicine, agriculture, military tactics, and language. The work is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge. Except in the portions referring to chronology and grammar, it is merely a résumé of the traditional teaching.
[20] Apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXI.
Historical Position. These first masters of the schools belong, with Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede, to the Encyclopedists of the period of transition between Patristic philosophy and the philosophy of the Middle Ages. They rendered inestimable service to the Scholastic movement by their personal influence as teachers, while by their writings they summarized and helped to popularize the dogmatic and exegetical teachings of the Fathers. The encyclopedic scope of their writings is evidence of a condition of affairs similar to that which existed in the first schools of Greek philosophy. Just as the early Greek philosophers wrote peri phuseôs, the first schoolmen wrote De Universo. There is, however, this difference: that while the philosophical movement in the first schools of Greece was independent of the past, the philosophy of these first schoolmen was virtually an epitome of the doctrines of the Fathers. Erigena was the first of the schoolmen to attempt an independent system of philosophical speculation. With Erigena, therefore, the first period of Scholastic philosophy begins.

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