HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
History of Philosophy
The School of Chartres
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

During the twelfth century Chartres became the scene of a Platonic reaction against the anti-realism represented by Roscelin and Abelard. The founders of the school of Chartres were the brothers Bernard and Theodoric of Chartres, with whom were associated William of Conches and Gilbert de la Porrée. [1]
[1] On the school of Chartres, cf. Clerval, Les écoles de Chartres au Moyen-Âge (Chartres, 1895).

Life. Bernard of Chartres taught at Chartres during the early part of the twelfth century. Among his disciples were William of Conches and Gilbert de la Porrée. In 1119 he was made chancellor of the church of Chartres. He died about the year 1125.

Sources. According to John of Salisbury, Bernard composed a prose treatise, De Exositione Porphyrii, a metrical treatise on the same subject, a moral poem on education, and probably a fourth work in which he sought to reconcile Plato with Aristotle. Fragments of these treatises are to be found in the Metalogicus, IV, 35, and the Polycraticus, VII, 3 (apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXLIX, coll. 938 and 666). Hauréau op. cit., I, 408) falls into the common error of confounding Bernard of Chartres with Bernard of Tours, and assigns to the former works which are to be ascribed to the latter.


Bernard, in common with others of his school, devoted more attention to the study of the Timaeus and of the works of the Neo-Platonists than to the study of Aristotle's dialectical treatises and of the commentaries of Boethius. Consequently, he not only discussed the problem of universals (distinguishing between the abstract, the process, and the concrete, -- albedao, albet, and album), [2] but also occupied himself with problems of metaphysics and cosmology.
[2] Cf. Metal., III, 2, apud Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXCIX, col. 893.
Metaphysics. There are three categories of reality, -- God, matter, and idea. God is supreme reality. Matter was brought out of nothingness by God's creative act, and is the element which, in union with Ideas, constitutes the world of sensible things. Ideas are the prototypes by means of which the world was from all eternity present to the Divine Mind; they constitute the world of Providence ("in qua omnia semel et simul fecit Deus"), and are eternal but not coeternal with God. According to John of Salisbury, Bernard also taught that there exist native forms -- copies of the Ideas created with matter -- which are alone united with matter. It is difficult, however, to determine what was Bernard's doctrine on this point. It is sufficient to note that he reproduced in his metaphysical doctrines many of the characteristic traits of Platonism and Neo-Platonism, -- the intellect as the habitat of Ideas, the world-soul, eternal matter, matter the source of imperfection, etc.

Cosmology. Matter, although caused by God, existed from all eternity. In the beginning, before its union with the Ideas, it was in a chaotic condition. It was by means of the native forms, which penetrate matter, that distinction, order, regularity, and number were introduced into the universe.


Life. Theodoric of Chartres was magister scholae at Chartres about the year 1121. It is said that he taught at Paris in the year 1140: it was probably at Paris that he taught rhetoric to John of Salisbury. In we find Theodoric teaching once more at Chartres. Like Bernard, he devoted more attention to the study of the Platonists than to that of the Aristotelians. The most probable date of his death is 1150.

Sources. Besides the work De Sex Dierum Operibus, of which a mutilated manuscript copy has come down to us, Theodoric wrote a commentary on the De Inventione Rhetorica ad Herennium. This commentary, which was first published in 1884, is an indication of the humanistic tendency of the school of Chartres. [3]
[3] The work De Sex Dierum Operibus was published by Hauréau (Notices, etc., Vol. XXXII, Part II, p. 167); Clerval (op. cit., p. 172) mentions a work entitled Eptateuchon.

Theodoric was an enthusiastic student of the classics, "artium studiosissimus investigator," as John of Salisbury says. We know that he possessed a Latin translation of the Planisphere of Ptolemy, which he obtained from the Arabian scholars of Toulouse. It was, however, to the Platonic metaphysics and cosmology that he devoted his attention as a philosopher, taking his stand with the other "Chartrains" on the side of the Platonic realists.

Metaphysics. Going farther in his advocacy of Neo-Platonic principles than Bernard had gone, identifying unity with divinity and divinity with reality, Theodoric maintained the principles "Divinitas singulis rebus forma essendi est" and "Omne quod est ideo est quia unum est." [4] Now, if divinity is synonymous with reality and is the intrinsic essential principle of all things, Theodoric's system is fully developed pantheism. Quite recently, however, Baeumker has shown [5] that here, as in the case of Eckart and other mediaeval mystics, we must distinguish between the individual essence, which is proper to each created being, and the formal essence, the divine in each creature, which is God. Technically, therefore, Theodoric must be considered innocent of the charge of teaching explicit pantheism.
[4] Cf. Hauréau, loc. cit. and Clerval, op. cit., pp. 255 ff.

[5] Cf. Archiv f. Gesch. der Phil., X, 138.
Cosmology. In the work De Sex Dierum Operibus Theodoric set himself the task of showing that the Neo-Platonic account of the origin of the universe agrees with the Mosaic account of the creation. Moses, he declared, was prudeniissimus philosophorum.


Life. William of Conches, a pupil of Bernard of Chartres, after having taught a system of Platonic realism in the schools at Paris (about 1122), was warned by William of St. Thierry that his theological doctrines, and in particular his apparent identification of the Holy Ghost with the world-soul, would lead to heresy. Thereupon he abandoned the study of theology and, seeking the protection of Geoffrey the Fair, count of Anjou, devoted himself to the study of nature. William is the first of the mediaeval philosophers to show acquaintance with the physical science of the Arabians, which, through the translations made by Constantine the African, began to be known in Europe about the middle of the twelfth century.

Sources. No question of mediaeval bibliography is more hopelessly intricate than that of the authorship of the works attributed to William of Conches. The most recent investigations and discussions [6] seem to warrant the following list: glosses on the Timaeus, a commentary on Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, a treatise De Philosophia, of which the Dragmaticon (probably Dramaticon) is a corrected edition cast in dialogue form, and the Magna de Naturis Philosophia. It is almost certain, however, that the last mentioned work, of which no copy is extant, belongs to a later date and was written by William of Auvergne. The Dragmaticon in its earliest form is published by Migne (Patr. Lat., Vol. XC, coll. 2227 ff.), under the title Elementorum Philosophia. Libri Quatuor.
[6] Cf. Poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought (London, 1884), pp. 338 ff.

After his retirement from the field of theological and metaphysical controversy, in which he had sustained the cause of the Platonists, who were edging closer and closer to the border line of pantheism, William, inspired by the labors of the Arabian physicists, took up the study of psychology and cosmology.

Psychology. In his study of the processes of knowledge William distinguishes between sensation, imagination, and reason. Rejecting the theory of forms mediating between object and subject, he devotes his attention to what we should call the physiological aspect of the problems of psychology. There are, he says, three departments in the brain ("in capite tres sunt cellae una in prora, altera in puppe, tertia in medio "). In the front part of the brain is the region of vision (fantastica), in the middle is the region of thought (logistica), and in the rear portion is the region of memory (memorialis). In his commentary on the Timaeus, however, he speaks as a Platonist. Above all the faculties of the soul, he says, is nous (intelligence), by which alone we are enabled to perceive the incorporeal.

Cosmology. In his account of the universe and the elements which compose it, our philosopher is an atomist: "Sunt, igitur, in unoquoque corpore minima quae, simul juncta, unum magnum constituunt"; and when the interlocutor objects that this is the opinion of Epicurus, William answers that there is no sect that has not some admixture of truth. [7]
[7] Cf. Dragmaticon, I, 25, quoted by Poole, op. cit., p. 349.

Life. Gilbert was born at Poitiers, in 1076. He was successively the pupil of Bernard of Chartres and of Anselm of Laon. After teaching for about twenty years at Chartres, where he held the office of chancellor, he went to Paris and there lectured on dialectic and theology. Later on he returned to Poitiers, of which city he was made bishop in 1142. On account of his theological doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation he was suspected of heresy by St. Bernard and his followers. The council of Paris, which, in 1147, was summoned to consider his doctrines, and which was presided over by Eugenius III, was unable to arrive at a decision. It reassembled at Rheims in the following year. According to the account given by John of Salisbury, who was present, and by Otto of Freising, also a contemporary, it was not the doctrine of Gilbert but the influence of St. Bernard that was on trial. The outcome seems to have been that the council decided nothing. Gilbert returned to his see and was not further molested. He died in 1154.

Sources. Gilbert composed a work entitled De Sex Principiis , a treatise on the last six of the Aristotelian categories. This book was made the basis of commentaries by Albert the Great; it was frequently referred to by St. Thomas, and it was held in great esteem as a text-book on logic until the close of the Middle Ages. Gilbert wrote also a commentary on the treatise De Trinitate, which was supposed to have been written by Boethius. Mention is also made of a work De Duabus Naturis et Una Persona Christi; this, however, is apparently the fourth book of the pseudo-Boethian compilation. The commentary on the pseudo-Boethian treatise is published by Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXIV, and the treatise De Sex Principiis, ibid., Vol. CLXXXVIII, coll. 1257 ff.


Notwithstanding the renown which Gilbert attained as an exponent of Aristotelian dialectic, his philosophy, as far as we know it, breathes the spirit of Plato and betrays the Platonizing influence of the school of Chartres.

Doctrine of Universals. In his doctrine of universals Gilbert, according to John of Salisbury, attributed universality to the formae nativae existing in things:
Est autem farina nativa originalis exemplum et quae non in mente Dei 
consistit, sed rebus creatis inhaeret. Haec Graeco eloquio dicitur 
eidos. [8]  
[8] Metal., II, 27.
Nativa in the context evidently means new, born, created. But what are these created forms inherent in created things? It is usual to represent them as full-fledged universals, possessing their universality antecedently to the act of the human mind; and if this interpretation be correct, Gilbert should be reckoned among the ultra-realists. It is evident, however, from the commentaries on the Four Books on The Trinity, that Gilbert attached quite a different meaning to the formae nativae. He says, for example:
Non solum enim rationalium sed etiam non rationalium substantiarum 
individuarum universalia quaedam sunt, quae ab ipsis individuis humana 
ratio quodammodo abstrahit ut earum naturam perspicere . . . possit. [9]  
[9] Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. LXIV, col. 1374.
It is, therefore, the mind that abstracts the universal and makes it to be universal, -- a formula which at once separates Gilbert from the ranks of the ultra-realists. Elsewhere [10] he bases the unity of the universal on the similarity of essences, -- another formula which is opposed to ultra-realism. There must, however, be some reason why so many historians have counted Gilbert among the ultra-realists, and the explanation may possibly be found in the fact that his general metaphysical doctrines are Platonic.
[10] As e.g., col. 1263.
Metaphysical Doctrines. Thus, when Gilbert distinguishes between the essential reality, which he calls the subsistence ("id quo est"), and the individual determination, which he calls the substance ("id quod est"), an Aristotelian might admit the distinction. Gilbert, however, goes so far as to maintain that unity, for example, is a subsistence distinct from that which is one. [11] The Platonic tendency is also apparent in the doctrine of native forms, although Gilbert is careful to avoid the Neo-Platonic doctrine that the forms are in some sense to be identified with the mind of God ("non in mente Dei consistit").
[11] Cf. op. cit., col. 1376.
Historical Position of the School of Chartres. The group of philosophers included under the title of this chapter represents an eclectic tendency, that is, an attempt at uniting Platonism with Aristotelianism. To this eclectic tendency is joined a broader spirit of humanism and, at least in the case of William of Conches, a spirit of scientific inquiry. The spirit of eclecticism and also the humanistic and scientific spirit are still more marked in the next group of philosophers.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works