Chapter Third


Scholasticism having attained its maturity in Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, we find it exhibiting many and various signs of decay, from the very commencement of the fourteenth century onwards. These signs of decay occur especially in connection with Christology,—a subject on which Scholasticism, strictly so termed, put forth very little creative power, during its entire existence.

The feeling, that the formal mode of discussion hitherto pursued in connection with Christology must now be dropt, and new ground be broken, stirred most vigorously, and with the greatest result, in the German mystical thinkers. German Mysticism put forth its greatest strength during the fourteenth and part of the fifteenth centuries; but, as it was internally connected rather with the epoch of the Reformation than with that which has just passed under review, its history in relation to Christology must form an introduction to the next part of this work. Let us now, however, dwell a moment longer on the further course of Scholasticism itself.1

The philosophy of the Church, which, until the fourteenth century, was under the dominance of realistic principles, served the purpose of giving form and fixity to its dogmas. No one, indeed, supposed that the natural reason could furnish the proper justification of these dogmas ;—theology alone, that is, the divine authority of the Church, was their true foundation: but still, the natural knowledge of God and the world was regarded as a kind of school for the domain of faith and theology. Nor, in the view of the Church, could any real contradiction exist between natural knowledge and faith, inasmuch as both lead us back to one and the same God. We have previously shown (p. 278 ff.) what an important part the idea of God, formed by the human mind in the light of nature, played in the scholastic treatment of dogmas.

1 Compare Baumgarten-Crusius' "Compend. der Dogmengeschichte," 1840, p. 269 ff.; Baur 1. c. Bd. 2866 ff.; H. Hitter's "Geschichte der christl. Philosophie," Bd. 4, Buch xiii.; Rettberg's Essay, "Occam und Luther, u. s. W.," in the "Theol. Studien und Kritiken," 1839.

From the fourteenth century onwards, however, the league between natural and theological knowledge was dissolved.1 This was an inevitable result of the representation given by the Thomists and Scotists of the relation between nature and grace: —each, namely, was supposed to exclude the other. In taking this view of nature and grace, the Thomists were influenced rather by religious considerations, evincing an inclination to Pantheism in conjunction with their Predestinatianism; the Scotists followed a moral tendency. Logically carried out, the principles of the former admitted merely the semblance of a world, side by side with God: the latter asserted for the individual or subject, a separate, independent existence. A consequence of the dissolution of the alliance just referred to, was the revival of Nominalism, which, like the process of dissolution itself, was capable of assuming two different forms—one more Thomistic, the other more Scotistic, in character.

The Thomistic Nominalism owed its rise to the conviction, that if objective validity and truth—validity and truth, therefore, as applied to theology—were conceded to the results arrived at by the natural reason, in reference to the general ideas and laws of nature, the dignity of the articles of faith, which lie out beyond nature, would be lowered. Its adherents deemed it necessary, for the honour of theology and faith, to throw doubt on the utility of ideas originating with the natural intellectual faculties of man, to deny to them objective reality, and to concede to them merely subjective importance.2 But the very ground on which theological knowledge rested, was thus taken away; and as a consequence, the only relation in which it was possible for the spirit now to stand to dogmas, was one of volition. Faith, which cannot be produced by cogency of reasoning, is, say they, the highest virtue—the more meritorious, the greater the difficulties which it has to overcome: nor is it right that the truth of the faith should be confirmed by any supernatural light; for then, to believe, would be no merit. On the contrary, we should therefore deem it by no means impossible for faith to contradict reason; and precisely because faith thus

1 Ritter a. a. O. p. 647 ff.

8 So by Durandus de S. Portiano (he died in 1330), in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Compare Ritter a. a. O. pp. 550-534.

becomes more difficult and more meritorious. The divine has its own peculiar, incomparable laws. The divine world was conceived to be a sphere so completely different, as to stand in no connection whatever with the knowledge acquired in the present sphere. And as no sort of reality belongs to generic ideas, the only knowledge possible to man here, is that which is based on the perceptions of the senses. Now, as there exists no such intuitional sensational perception of divine things as there exists of outward things, no knowledge of divine things can consequently be attained in the present world.

Of God's inner essence, man possesses no knowledge at all, not even through faith: for creation, being diverse in kind from God, does not reveal the Divine essence. The only thing revealed to faith, is relations of God to us : and these relations are grounded entirely in His will, for which no other reason can be assigned, save that such is the Divine will. This scepticism with regard to the sphere of knowledge, and this disparagement of philosophy, were intended to further the adoption of a purely practical relation to matters of faith: the aim was to represent everything lying outside of the domain of faith as worthless, and the powers of thought were exercised for the sole purpose of demonstrating their own incapacity to deal with higher things. At an earlier period, the cataphatic or affirmative theology had been combined with the apophatic or negative theology; but the latter now again gains the upper hand. Truth is held to lie alone in the absolutely supernatural kingdom of grace, with which man can only have a connection of obedience. That kingdom is approachable solely by a faith without knowledge, that is, by a blind faith, such as is objectively attested by the Holy Scriptures and the Church. Thus, this form of Nominalism ended in questioning the possibility of any science at all, even of a theological science. Intending to exalt Christian grace, Nominalists removed it out of the reach of the human spirit; the light which they aimed to diffuse was extinguished; and there remained behind merely the twilight of the authority of the Church, in which it was impossible to attain a clear knowledge of the real nature of that which faith was bidden to grasp. Theology had apparently gained the victory over philosophy, and asserted for itself the absolute and sole possession of spiritual truth. But by this means, not merely was the entire world alienated from God, and reduced to a mere shadow,1 but theology also, so far as it claims to be a science, had dug its own grave. Positive phenomena and facts alone are recognised: there exists no active faculty of knowledge, but merely a passive one: and the sole duty of faith is to ask what the Divine omnipotence has done,—it can neither demonstrate the necessity of that which God does, nor show that it was fitting that He should act as He did, and not otherwise.2

Somewhat later, but on that account the more vigorous, was the development of Sceptical Nominalism in the school of the Scotists. The system of Duns Scotus himself plainly enough contained the seeds of this after-growth; for, if the "absolutum liberum arbitrium" is the highest in God, it must be impossible strictly to know anything as necessary, unless it be the sovereign arbitrariness of God. To know that, is to know that nothing has truth and reality, except so far as God, or the "liberum arbitrium" of God, has willed it to possess truth and reality: all knowledge, therefore, is, in one aspect, purely hypothetical; in another aspect, essentially empirical. Duns Scotus himself, however, endeavoured to escape from these consequences, and to preserve for man, even for man's knowledge, a real and true relation to the infinite:—an endeavour which was quite in agreement with the importance attached by him to subjectivity and freedom. His disciple Occam (who died A.d. 1347) taught a form of Nominalism which took, and proceeded to apply, in all seriousness, the entire separation drawn, theoretically, between philosophy and theology, and practically, between the worldly and the spiritual. One principle possessed and

1 The same conclusion was arrived at by the strict Thomistic Predestinarians: see Thomas de Bradwardinc's (he died A.d. 1349) " De causa Dei et veritate causarum." Further, Joh. de Mercuria and others. Compare Baumgarten-Crusius, "Comp. der Dogmengeschichte," 1. c. p. 267.

* Out of special deference to the incarnation, however, Durand distinguishes between the absolute and the ordinated (ordinata) will of God. As touching His absolute power, He might have assumed even an irrational nature; as touching His ordinated power, it would have been unfitting to assume an irrational nature: for in this connection the main point for consideration, is the purpose of the incarnation. That purpose was the healing of the creature: and human nature alone needed and was capable thereof. In Sent. iii. Dist. ii. Q. i. In this case, consequently, he turned his back on his Nominalism, for the sake of Christology. Compare Hitter 1. c. p. 573.

animated this powerful thinker in his efforts to defend the rights of the State against the hierarchy, and strictly to exclude all knowledge, pretending to the character of demonstration, from the sphere of faith:—he desired to establish peace between the two powers of philosophy and theology, of the State and the Church, by clearly discriminating and defining their respective domains. To the Church and its theology pertains entirely the spiritual; reason has no warrant for occupying itself with matters of faith, or, indeed, with divine things at all. Let it affirm what it will, the opposite thereof may be, in reality, equally true. (Note 62.) Such is the case with proofs of the existence, of the nnity and of the attributes, of God:—much more is it the case with the mysterious doctrines of revelation. In relation to these things, all we can do is to believe,—that is, to bow to the authority of the Church, whose articles may be logically developed, but cannot be rationally demonstrated. On the other hand, the Church also must, to be consistent, evince its contempt for worldly powers, possessions, sciences, in comparison with its own spiritual riches, by not meddling at all with temporal things, especially with the State. He, further (and, as it seems, not without a certain degree of roguery), designedly draws logical conclusions from the dogmas of the Church, which run out into absurdities, and end in bare contradictions ;—he accordingly pronounces theology and the Church to have no connection whatever with science, and represents their domain as one in which nothing is of importance but faith, in which contradictions, so far from awakening scruples and doubts, should only awaken a feeling of exultation that it is exalted above all human and rational thought. His scepticism with regard to the possibility of scientific knowledge, extended not merely to divine things, but quite as much to philosophy itself, so far as it aimed at being anything more than logic. Not only does he deny, with Durando, the law of causality, and the possibility of knowing the essence of the cause from the effect, but, carrying Durand's principles much further, affirms that there is a complete contrariety between our conception of being (conceptus) and being itself. Being can be attributed alone to particular individual things, outside of the soul,—they alone are substances: with them "scientia realis" has to occupy itself; for "Universalia" have no existence, but merely individual things. But, whereas single, individual things are substances, conceptions or thoughts are merely accidents of the substance of the soul; and the accidents are under no necessity of resembling the substance of the soul, still less of resembling the substances outside of the soul. At the very utmost, thoughts are signs or tokens of external things, that is, for the soul itself; and words, as the signs of thoughts, are in reality mere signs of signs. Our general conceptions are simply and solely abstractions from those thoughts, which are the signs of particular things,—that is, they are abstracted from single representations. These abstractions, however, are "fictiones,"—thoughts without reality, if not mere indeterminate chaotic representations of separate individual things. The positive science, which he postulates, is consequently not a knowledge of things in themselves: the only knowledge he retains, is a kind of calculation carried on with the general ideas which form themselves naturally and passively, though not arbitrarily, in the soul; and all he professes to do, is to bring these general notions into unison, and connect them with each other, as constituting a distinct world of their own. In his view, therefore, science is nothing more than the perception and combination, or discrimination, of inner processes; and the judgments arrived at, are at all events subjectively accurate, and valid for the sphere of the subjective. The same principles are applied also to the domain of the supersensual. Our knowledge of the supersensual, is simply a knowledge of our own inner states and experiences. This knowledge is its own evidence, and does not presuppose the existence of something else to which it owes its character of knowledge; for, on the contrary, in order to the certain knowledge of all other things, we need to have such a self-evidencing, or (as he also says) intuitive knowledge of the intelligible. This knowledge of our inner experience (or of our inner intuitions), is consequently a match for all the doubts of the Academicians, and constitutes the most trustworthy knowledge possible to man; as even Augustine hinted (de Trin. xv. I).1

These latter traits set before us the distinguishing characteristic of the Scotistic Nominalism. Returning to the nega

1 Compare on this entire subject, H. Ritter 1. c. pp. 574-604. Occam in Sentent. Prol. Q. i. KK.

tive theology of the Pseudo-Areopagite, the Thomistic Nominalists arrived at the conclusion, that the human mind must submit itself absolutely to the faith of the Church: the Scotistic Nominalists, on the contrary, were powerfully stirred by the conviction, that the world possessed a reality and weight of its own, independent of the spiritual kingdom;1 nay more, the principles last brought under notice, evince the presence of an energetic subjectivity, struggling to build for itself an intellectual world out of its own inner, sensuous, and intelligible experiences (conceived to be passively acquired),—a world in which the spirit could feel itself at home, as in that which is in the highest degree worthy of confidence. We should not omit to remark, that Occam thus opened the door for the Mysticism which flourished during this century, and which was the fruit of the inner development of Scholasticism itself. He did not himself pursue the path which he prepared for others: nay more, he was probably not aware of having furnished, from the scholastic point of view, the full authorization to a mystical Nominalism, like that taught by Gerson.2 Occam himself was far too much a man of the world to be able to realize such collectedness and calmness of mind, as would have admitted of his developing that inner world even philosophically, much less religiously. But when he says, that such propositions as,—I cognise; I know that I live; I know that it is my purpose to be blessed and not to err,—cannot be called in question, and must be regarded as more certain than the truths which are attested by the external senses, he in effect lays down the principle which was further developed in the next century by Nicholas de Cusa, and in the seventeenth century by Des Cartes. The same tendency is also traceable in the fundamental principle of the system of the Realist, Raymond de Sabonde,—that self-knowledge is the basis of all knowledge.

The account just given, attests clearly enough the decay of Scholasticism subsequently to the fourteenth century, and shows that it had grown weary of the struggle after systematic science, especially of the struggle to present a connected view of the

1 The natural sciences also, which now began to bud into existence, and the awakening feeling of independence in states and nations, contributed their part to giving matters this turn.

'Gerson died A.d. 1429.

doctrine of the Person of Christ. Instead of inquiring into Christology, they wasted their energies on the discussion of isolated questions, arbitrarily suggested, which they designated by the very characteristic name of "Quotlibeta." Other signs of this decay are discernible in connection with the eclecticism of realistic, nominalistic, and mystical principles, which attained to ever greater prevalence, subsequently to the fifteenth century; and which was shortly after associated with that enthusiasm for Plato, Aristotle (see above, p 304), Pythagoras, and even for the Cabbala, which had just been newly enkindled amongst the Italians and Greeks. The mind of the Western nations, dissatisfied with what it possessed, turned its eyes in all directions, inquiring whence it could again draw the spiritual certainty and joy which it had now lost. The German mind, in particular, became the theatre on which the entire past intellectual history of man was reproduced, with the design of preparing the way for the great work, destined soon to be accomplished.* The Reformation, however, owed its rise, not to this eclecticism, not to the forces now in process of decomposition ; but to a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Its way was immediately and positively prepared in history by men who called the mind away from Scholasticism and the doctrines of the Church, to the word of God, to earnest practical piety, and to a holy conversation ;1 and who further, by means of their knowledge of sin, learnt to appreciate the high destiny of humanity. They also unconsciously furthered the same end, who, quietly retiring into themselves, made it their sole endeavour to attain to a life which, being full of God, should be true blessedness, true sanctity, and true wisdom. The conjunction of that biblical, practical, with this mystical, tendency, was the living seed, whose ripened fruit was the Reformation.

» See Note P, App. II.

1 Amongst these may be mentioned such men as Gerson ; Peter d'Ailly; Kicol de Clemenges, who died in 1440; Johann Weasel, who died in 1488; Jerome Savonarola, who died in 1498.