PHILOSOPHICAL INFLUENCES IN THE MEDIAEVAL CHURCH: A. D. 730—A. D. 1617.
§ 1. Platonism, of the Mystic Theologians.
Passing, now, into the Systematizing Period, extending from John Damascene to the Reformation, we enter into a sphere of more intense philosophical activity than any in the history of the church. Even the speculative movement of the German mind for the last half-century, confined though it has "been to a single nationality, and not shared by the church at large, and therefore more likely to become intense, is inferior in energy, subtlety, and depth, to mediaeval Scholasticism. Probably the church will never again see a period in which Scripture and theology will be contemplated so exclusively from a philosophical point of view; in which the desire to rationalize Christianity (in the technical sense of the term), to evince its abso
lute reasonableness, will be so strong and overmastering. We are, therefore, passing into the most speculative period in Church-History; and hence it is well denominated the period of Systematizing.
In the outset it may be remarked, as it was in relation to the two preceding periods, that the Greek philosophy, as formed and fixed by Plato and Aristotle, was the prevalent system. We shall indeed find here and there tendencies to a pantheistic philosophy in individual minds; but the weight and authority of both intellectual and moral character is almost entirely upon the side of the Grecian theism. But instead of the collocation employed in speaking of the two previous periods, we must now change the position of the two philosophies, and say that the general philosophical system of this Scholastic period was Aristotelo-Platonism, instead of Platonico-Aristotelianism. The basis of speculation was now the Aristotelian analysis, with more or less of the Platonic synthesis superinduced and interfused; while in the Apologetic and Polemic periods, the ground form was the Platonic idea, more or less analyzed and cleared up by the Aristotelian conception. But in both cases, it was the one general system of theism and spiritualism, as opposed to the general system of pantheism, naturalism, and sensualism.
We have less difficulty in detecting the presence of the Platonic element during this Scholastic age, than we had in detecting the Aristotelian element in the preceding periods. For we find it formally and distinctly existing. In the first half of the Systematizing period,—viz.: from John of Damascus to Anselm (A. D. 730—A. D. 1109)—the philosophical character of the Polemic time is still very apparent, though beginning to wane before the growing scholastic tendency. Platonism, says Hagenbach, constituted the red morning dawn of the mediaeval philosophy, and was not entirely eclipsed by formal and established Aristotelianism in the schools, until the 13th century. It is, remarks Hitter, the notion of ignorance which affirms that in the Middle Ages men were given up solely to the Aristotelian philosophy. The foundation of Anselm's mode of thinking, says Baumgarten-Crusius, was a free Platonism in the spirit of Augustine.1
Platonism in the Systematizing period displays itself very plainly and powerfully in the Mystic Theology. All along through this age of acute analysis and subtile dialectics, there runs a vein of devout and spiritual contemplation, which stands out in striking contrast with the general scholastic character of the time. It appears in its best form in the Mystic Scholastics. This was a class of men of naturally meditative temper, and of deep religious devotion, who found more satisfaction, in contemplating the objects of faith and religion, than in philosophizing upon them,—especially in that extremely analytic manner in which the mind of the period delighted. Such men discovered in the writings of Plato,—and more particularly in the more ethical and practical portion of his writings, —a philosophy that harmonized with their cast of mind, and favoured their contemplative disposition. But although they were predominantly contemplative, they must carefully be distinguished from that small circle of Mystics who appeared in the century immediately preceding the Reformation, and who possessed far less of that systematic and scientific spirit which must ever be united with the contemplative, in order to a symmetrical theological character. These Mystic Scholastics of whom we are speaking, and whom we have so denominated because they were Schoolmen with an infusion of mysticism, felt the influences of the time in which they lived, and especially of the Aristotelianism that was dominant in the schools ; so that while by their writings and teachings they helped to check the excessive subtilty and speculation of the period, by keeping in view the more practical and contemplative aspects of Christianity, they were themselves preserved from that degenerate mysticism which ends in a vague and feeble pantheism and naturalism, because it neglects the scientific aspects of religion, and decries all creed-statements.1
1 Hagenrach: Dogmenge- phie, VII. 70; Battmgartknsohichte, §150; Ritter: Ge- Orttsitjs: Dogmengeschichte, I. schichte der Christlichen Philoso- § 97. 1.
1 "It is an error to suppose onist of Scholasticism; the MysMysticism as the perpetual antag- tics were often severe logicians; the Scholastics had all the pas- Latin Christianity, Book XTV. sion of the Mystics." Milman: Chap. iii.
For it is important to discriminate between the two species of Mysticism which appeared not only in the Middle Ages, but appear more or less in every age. In itself, and abstractly considered, Mysticism was a healthful reaction against the extremely speculative character of Scholasticism. It served to direct attention to the fact that religion is a life, as well as a truth. But, on the other hand, Mysticism was sometimes an unhealthy reaction against a moderate Scholasticism. It forgot that Christian dogma is the support and nutriment of all genuine Christian life; and that there is no trustworthy religious experience that is not grounded in the perception of religious doctrine. The mystic of this species disparaged discriminating and accurate statements of biblical doctrine, and was often the violent enemy of scientific theology and churchsymbols. In this instance, Mysticism soon run itself out into positive and dangerous errors.
The first class of Mystics, the Mystic Scholastics, were those who held the hereditary orthodoxy of the church, and sought to reach the meaning of the old symbols and doctrines by a contemplative and practical method; yet not to the entire exclusion of the speculative and scientific. Such men were Bernard (+ 1153), Hugh St. Victor (+ 1141), Eichard St. Victor (+1173), William of Champeaux (t 1121), Bonaventura (f 1274).
A second class of Mystics, whom we denominate the Heretical Mystics, were those who rejected, in greater or less degree, the historical theology, and sought to solve the mysteries of religion either by an intensely speculative, or a vague and musing method. Hence, there were two subdivisions in this class, both of which were characterized by a common undervaluation of the church orthodoxy. The representative of the first subdivision is Scotus Erigena (f 880),—a theologian who diverged from the catholic faith into pantheism, by the use of a very refined and subtile dialectics, and who, in his treatise De Divisione Naturae, anticipates some of the positions of Spinoza. Representatives of the second subdivision are Eckart (f 1329), and Ruysbrock (f 1384), who likewise lapsed into pantheistic views from the other side,1 by the rejection of all logical methods, and the substitution of mere feelings and intuitions, for clear discriminations and conceptions.
Between the Mystic Scholastics and the Heretical Mystics, there stood a third interesting class, the Latitudinarian Mystics, who partook of the
1 Some of the most extreme po- naturae, hoe totnm proprinm est
sitions of this class were the fol- homini justo et divino. Propter
lowing: Quam cito deus fuit, tarn hoc iste homo operatur, quidquid
cito mundum creavit. Dens est dens operatur, et creavit una cum
formaliter omne quod est. Nos deo coelum et terrain, et est
transformamur totaliter in deum generator Verbi aeterni; et deus
et convertimur in eum, simili sine tali homino nesciret quic
modo sicut in sacramento panis quam facere. Niednek: Kirchen
convertitur in corpus Ohristi.— Bchichte, 505. Quidquid proprium est divinae
characteristics of both. They agreed with the Mystic Scholastics in holding the church orthodoxy in honor, but from the neglect of scientific investigation lost sight of some parts of the catholic system. The piacular work of Christ and the doctrine of justification, in particular, were misconceived and sometimes overlooked. The best representatives of this class are Von Colin (f 1329), Tauler (f 1361), Suso (f 1365), Gerson (f 1429), Thomas a Kempis (+ 1471), and the author of the work which goes under the title of "Theologia Germanica." These writers, though the harbingers of the Reformation, and in general sympathy with the evangelical system, are not complete representatives of the historical orthodoxy.1
§ 2. AristoteUanism of the Scholastic Theologians.
But while there was this very considerable amount of Platonism in the Systematic period, Aristotle's method was by far the most influential The Crusades had opened a communication with the East, and had made the Western Church acquainted with the Arabic translations of Aristotle, and commentaries upon him. The study of Aristotle commenced with great vigor, and notwithstanding the prohibition of the church, the system of the Stagirite took possession of all the principal schools, and of all the leading minds. The 13th century exhibits Scholasticism in its finest form. Minds like Alexander Hales (f 1245), Albertus Magnus (fl280), and Thomas Aquinas (fl274), employ the Aristotelian analysis in the defence of the traditional orthodoxy of the church. Their reverence for the faith of the church kept them from deviating into those errors into which philosophy is liable to fall, when it is not restrained and guided by revelation; so that although we find in their writings a very acute and intense speculation, we. discern in them nothing of pantheism or naturalism. The fundamental principles of ethics, and Christian theism, have found no more powerful defenders than the great Schoolmen of the thirteenth century.
'8ee Ullmann's Reformers be- Ferich's Christliohe Mystik; Lierfore the Reformation; Vaughn's Her's Hugo St. Victor. Hours with the Mystics; Help
But this moderation in the use of Aristotle's method did not long continue. In the 14th century and onward, we find a class of Schoolmen who are characterized by more or less of departure from the doctrines of revelation, and an extreme subtilizing and refinement in ratiocination. It is from this class that Scholasticism has too often obtained its bad reputation in modern times. Minds like Duns Scotus (f 1308), Occam (f 1347), and Gabriel Biel (f 1495),1 not content with analysing truth down to its ultimate elements, attempted to analyse these ultimates themselves; so that there were for them no strictly first principles, but everything must undergo division and subdivision indefinitely.1 Distinctions without differences, innumerable distinctions that had no existence in the real nature of things, were drawn, and Christian philosophy as well as theology was unsettled. An influx of barbarous terms was one consequence; and these terms had not even the merit which often atones for uncouthness of phrase—that of exactly defining a real philosophic idea, or discriminating a really scientific distinction. Dialectic ingenuity was expended in the attempt to answer all possible questions. Such queries as the following were raised: "Is it a possible supposition that God the Father can hate God the Son? Is it possible for God to substitute himself (suppositare se) for the devil, for an ass, for a gourd, for a flint? In case he can, then in what manner would the gourd preach, work miracles, or be affixed to the cross?" Then, again, "there were,1' says Erasmus, "innumerable quibblings about notions, and relations, and formalitations, and quiddities, and haecceities, which no eye could follow out but that of a lynx, which, it is said to be able, in the thickest darkness, to see things that have no existence."1
1 Compare the brief and lively by Mii.man: Latin Christianity, sketching of their characteristics, Book XIV. Oh. iii.
■ " The main principles of rea- 'They that seek a reason of all
•on," remarks Hooker (Eccl. Pol. things do utterly overthrow rea
Book I. Chap, viii), "are in them- son.' In every kind of knowledge
selves apparent; for to make some such grounds there are, as
nothing evident of itself unto that being proposed, the mind
man's understanding were to take doth presently embrace them as
away all possibility of knowing free from all possibility of er
anything. And herein that re- ror, clear and manifest with
mark of Theophrastus is true: our proof."
The 14th century exhibits Scholasticism in its most extreme forms. The Aristotelian logic and analysis is now applied, in the most ingenious and persistent manner, to the dogmas of the Papal Church. Most of these not only afforded opportunity for the display of acuteness and ingenuity, but absolutely required it. Such doctrines as absolution or the forgiveness of sins by the Church, the meritoriousness of works, works of supererogation, refusal of the cup to the laity, purgatory, and particularly transubstantiation, elicited all the intellectual force of the Schoolman. In his reasoning, he made much more use of the form, than of the substance of Aristotelianism. The logic of Aristotle was disconnected from both his metaphysics and politics, so that the ideas of the Stagirite upon all the higher problems were lost sight of, and only the Aristotelian categories were employed to make distinctions which the discriminating intellect of the Greek never would have made, and to defend tenets which, had he lived in the days of Duns Scotus, his sagacious understanding never would have defended. Thus we find, in the 14th century, the system of Aristotle employed in the same onesided and merely formal manner in which we have seen that of Plato employed in the 2d and 3d centuries,—Scholasticism, in the narrow sense, being the result in the former instance, and Gnosticism in the latter.
1 Era.su Stultitiao Laus. Bas. 1676. p. 141 sq.
§ 3. Reaction against extreme AristoteUanism, from the Later Mystics and the revival of Greek Literature.
But this extreme tension of the human intellect, and this microscopic division and subdivision, could not last, and the reaction came on apace. Even in the 14th century, while the highly speculative dispute between the Thomists and Scotists was going on, that middle division of the mediaeval Mystics of which we have spoken,—the Latitudinarian Mystics,—began to appear, and by its warm devoutness and musing contemplativeness, contributed to soften the theoretic hardness, and render flexible the logical rigidity of the period. Such men as Von Colin (+1329), Tauler (+1361), and Henry Suso (+1365), with much less of that scientific spirit which we have seen to have coexisted with the contemplative tendency in the Bernards and St. Victors, and hence not so interesting to the theologian, or so influential upon the development of doctrine, nevertheless exerted considerable practical influence through their preaching, and works of devotional theology. Sermons like those of Tauler, and tracts like that entitled "Theologia Germanica," which Luther praised so highly, and like the "Imitation of Christ" by a Kempis, were composed and spread abroad, during the close of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries. We begin to see the dawn of the Reformation, in this inclination toward a more contemplative method, and a more devout and practical apprehension and use of Christian doctrine.
This tendency, moreover, was strengthened by the revival of Greek literature, in the 14th and 15th centuries. A very interesting school of Platonists sprang up in Italy, in the latter part of the 15th century; at the head of which stood Marsilius Ficinus (fl499), who translated the writings of Plato into Latin, and Picus Mirandola (f 1494), who awakened a wonderful enthusiasm by his lectures and commentaries upon the philosophy of the Academy. Though the influence of this school contributed nothing toward the revival of evangelical Christianity, but on the whole tended to deism, its intellectual effects were favorable to a spirit of inquiry, and assisted in undermining the superstitions of the Papal system.1 The Italian literature of the 14th century is also pervaded with Hellenism. Boccaccio (f 1375), and Petrarch (f 1374) his friend and teacher, show everywhere in their writings the influence of Greek culture, and also, what is more noticeable still, a veiled but deeply seated opposition to the Papacy. It is from the Italian writers of the 14th and 15th centuries that that large infusion of Platonism flowed, which came into the English literature of the Elizabethan age. Spenser, Surrey, Wyatt, Sidney, Herbert, Vaughn, Shakspeare, and Milton, all, either directly or indirectly, felt the influences of the Italian poets and novelists, and borrowed more or less from them. In the preceding 13th century, Dante (f 1321) composed a poem which from beginning to end is luminous and distinct with the metaphysics of Aquinas, and the abstraction of Aristotle. This poem also, like the writings of Boccaccio and Petrarch, breathes a spirit of opposition to the Papacy; but the utterance is much more unambiguous and fearless.
"'The Platonic Academy ea- they not feared the charge of
tablishcd at Florence by Cosmo heresy, would have substituted
de Medici, who placed Ficinus at the natural religion of the best
the head of it, was much involved Pagan theists for the doctrine
in New-Platonism. Its appre- of Redemption." See Harford's
hension of Christianity was very Life of Angelo, Vol. I. inadequate, and its leaders, had
These influences began to be felt also within the Papal church itself, long before the Reformation of the 16th century. The English Wickliffe (f 1384), the "morning star" of Protestantism, had been trained up in the most rigorous scholasticism. He was an admirer of Occam, one of the most intense dialecticians of the 14th century. But he had read Aristotle diligently in the translations of the day, and had become somewhat acquainted with the Platonic philosophy through the writings of Augustine,—the writings of Plato himself not being current in his time. The influence of these studies is apparent. He rejected the nominalism of Occam and the century, and adopted the theory of realism in philosophy. From the first awakening of his intellectual and religious life, he had been a diligent student of the Scriptures, the whole of which he translated into English. He contended for the rights of the laity, in opposition to the claims of the hierarchy; and labored for the promotion of the political and educational interests of England, in opposition to the aims of the Papacy.1 Contemporaneously with Wickliffe, Chaucer (f 1400) exerted that wonderfully creative and vivifying influence upon the English mind, language, and literature which they have not yet lost, although this most original writer has become obsolete to the majority of his countrymen. And like the Italian Dante, the whole spirit of his writings favored the downfall of the Papal superstition, and prepared the way for Luther and the Reformation.
1 BATJHOABTKN-OBUBitrs: Dogmengeschichte, I. § 116.