After William of Ockham (d. 1347) it began to break up,
and there intervenes the transitional period of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries ushering in Modern Philosophy.
Authority and Philosophy.
When Simplicius and his Neo-Platonist companions, the
last representatives of Hellenic philosophy, were driven
38 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.
eastwards by the action of Justinian, in A.D. 529, and
the Athenian schools, for the first time since the age of
Socrates and Plato, were deserted and dumb, there was
left the Christian Church, which had grown for five centuries
till it was so strong that emperors' edicts stood at its
command, and so little unconscious of its future glory and
its power, so little indisposed to dominate the thoughts of
men, that the crushing out of the philosophical schools was
but the last of a long series of blows levelled by it at the
authority of human thinking. Unless we form a true con-
ception of the historical relation of the Church to philosophic
thought, we cannot comprehend the modern philosophy
begun by Descartes.
Greek speculation, though it often had to pick its steps
among established faiths (remember the fate of Socrates!)
was, as we said, pre-eminently disinterested in its search after*
reasoned truth. Now too since the last three hundred years
it is fully conceded that the human mind may search out
anything and everything up to the limit of its powers, in the
bare interest of truth and intelligent insight. But between
this recurring phase of opinion there was an interval when
liberty of thought was not the watchword of most, nor
even of the most enlightened, minds. This interval, coin-
cident with the period of supremacy of the Church in all
departments of life, dates back to the beginnings of the
Christian movement, and covers an interval whose magnitude
it takes an effort, not often made, fully to conceive. Even
pagan philosophy, viz. in its Neo-Platonist phase, was much
affected by the principles and professions of the growing
Church. L*t us remember that the best Greek thought
was excogitated in some four hundred years and less,
and that modern philosophy only dates back three centuries.
v.] Elements of General Philosophy. 39
We have thus 1600 years to account for as against those
seven or eight hundred. Reduce this term as we may
by the fringes of the dwindling of the first and the
earliest growth of the latest periods, still there remains
a clear thousand of years during which it was not open
to men to think as they liked and this is a huge slice
out of the history of humanity. What the Church did, or
permitted to be done for the enlightenment of the race took
three times as long as the great deeds that are crowded
into the something more than three centuries from Bacon
and Descartes till the present. Those of course were very
different times from ours, and there was plenty of other
work, hard and grim, for the Church to do, and the Church
did much of it bravely. But we must not forget that
the seventh and eighth centuries were as long as the seven-
teenth and eighteenth. And not to forget this, but to
remember and ponder it, in connexion with the intellectual
history of mankind, is one of the first things the student
of philosophical history is called upon to do.
Greek Philosophy in Harness.
At the beginning of the sixth century the Church finally
stamped out the very feeble remnant representing Greek
thought. That date is also critical in another way. Not
only was it then that the Church grasped the reins, but
a turning-point was also reached in her internal develop-
ment. As in after- ages the Church did not so much repress
thought as compress it \vithin her own limits, so it is not
to be supposed that she at this date had stood altogether
outside of the philosophical current. The Christian religion,
viewed philosophically, rivalled the Stoic and Epicurean
schools as a way of thinking towards an ideal of human
40 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.
conduct. The rules of life were given not as rational, but
as a revelation from on high. But in time, as the Church
grew and brought into her fold more and more men of
higher culture, the developed conceptions of pagan philo-
sophy came into contact with the Christian philosophy.
Epictetus the Stoic, Marcus Aurelius the Stoic emperor,
Plotinus and Proclus, are not the only names of philoso-
phical note in the early centuries of the new era. Origen
(185-254), Athanasius (296-373), Teriullian (160-220),
and, above all, Augustin (354-430), are not less worthy
of notice, for the historian of philosophy as well as for the
Churchman. Augustin, a man of developed pagan culture,
appearing at the timewhen Christianity had gained the mastery,
first put forth those conceptions, which came to be the
accepted philosophy of the Christian Church, with a breadth
of thought hitherto unrivalled. He derived his conception"
of the soul as real and yet as opposed to matter from the
Platonists. Metaphysically he was a Dualist, and fixed
philosophy from his time onward as a system of Dualism.
In fact the first generation of Christian converts had
hardly passed away before philosophic thought began, while
three or four centuries of ardent philosophic thinking and
dialectical discussion, carried on \\ith Greek subtlety upon
principles of Greek philosophy, had been needed before the
many-headed dogma of the Church had been settled and
the function of the Fathers fulfilled, there being nothing
more to create. What one section of Christendom has
often bewailed, and another has rejoiced over, may be
accepted with some confidence for a fact, viz. that the
ecclesiastical doctrine was the result of an incorporation
of a few simple tenets with the wisdom of the world, or
at least of the interpretation of a small number of practical
v.] Elements of General Philosophy. 41
truths by the refined intelligence of thinkers who had been
trained in Greek schools. The fact belongs to the history
of philosophy as much as to religion, although the Fathers
would for the most part have thrown from them the
imputation, so ready as they were to denounce philosophy
and all profane wisdom in the interest of faith.
Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
But after a while all the main dogmas were formed by
which the Church was henceforth to stand, the edifice
being crowned in the fifth century by Augustin, last and
greatest of the Fathers. After him philosophising was bent
into other than creative channels. This is what happened.
Pagan philosophy having been reduced to silence, and the
Fathers of the Church East and West having passed away,
their dogmatic work accomplished, when next, under the
auspices of the consolidated and all-powerful Church, some-
thing of the old inquiring and reasoning spirit appeared, it
was given the task of interpreting and unfolding, of sup-
porting and upholding, what was there already. To the
Fathers of the Church succeeded her Doctors, who in
monastic schools and, as time went on, in universities made
philosophy conform to dogma, expounding in logical form
and sustaining by rational argument the doctrines which no
one might any more presume to touch in their substance.
This was the second phase or true Scholastic Philosophy.
The Dark Ages.
The transition was not swiftly made. With the final
triumph of the Church in the Roman world, about A.D. 600,
when the historian comes upon the time of darkness and
chaos, when the great world-empire, falling of itself into
42 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.
pieces or broken into fragments by the northern races, was
hewn into the rough shapes of modern states and nation-
alities, the Church held on its way; but it was no longer
the Church of Augustin, and not yet the Church of Aquinas.
Only perhaps a single obscure name in a century stands
out from the time of Augustin to the age of Charlemagne.
The grandiose attempt of the latter, at the close of the
eighth century, to organise European society on the basis of
a twofold imperium of Emperor and Pope gave room for
some serious beginnings to be made of provision for intel-
lectual culture in the monastic schools. Half a century later
there appeared one of mark John Scotus Erigena (800-
877), a native of either Ireland or Ayrshire, where the
darkness had never been so complete as on the continent.
He struck the keynote of all that followed in enunciating
the perfect unity of religion and philosophy, of faith and '
But Charlemagne's construction could not endure, and
two centuries more of confusion and anarchy were added
to the dismal roll before there arose any prospect of an
intellectual succession in Christendom. Erigena was de-
nounced as a heretic for his pains ; hence we may not place
the beginnings of Scholasticism earlier than the middle of the
eleventh century. Thus there was for about five hundred
years next to no philosophy among the European races;
during that time philosophic activity was confined to Arabians
in Bagdad and Moors in Spain. They in the time of greatest
darkness carried on disinterested thinking.
Effective Thinking in Christendom confined to the West.
In inquiring into the growth of Scholasticism, let it first
be borne in mind, that of the two divisions of the Church
V.] Elements of General Philosophy. 43
it is practically only the Western or Roman Church \viih
which we have to do. The aim of the Fathers was perhaps
not less actively promoted in the East than in the West; the
development of dogma really took place more at Constanti-
nople and at Alexandria than at Rome. But at the end of
the first period, the great consolidation of doctrine made by
Augustin for the West, possessed as it was by a force that
could survive five centuries, was paralleled by nothing of its
kind in the East. And it was for want of this, as much as
for any other reasons, that the Eastern Church in the final
division of Christendom, although not assaulted by the storms
that for centuries beset the West, never to the last did
anything for enlightenment to compare with the remark-
able if tardy achievements of the Western Schoolmen. The
thinkers of Constantinople were men of third or fourth rate
po\ver. The authority of Augustin had been the saving of
the West. We consider therefore only the Western Church
with its Augustinian code.
Philosophic Instruments applied by the Schoolmen.
As to the instruments of the Scholastics for the interpreta-
tion of the doctrine handed on to them, the Doctors had
some philosophical works of the Greeks which had come
across the gulf of centuries. Of course they had, besides,
Augustin, but his knowledge of Greek philosophy was gained
at second hand only. Of Aristotle they had some minor
logical works ; they possessed Porphyry's Introduction to the
Categories (all in the Latin translation of Boethius), and (also
in translation) a small piece of Plato's Timaus. This was
all, excepting one or two in f erior works by commentators.
Plato's speculations were unknown save as transmitted by
Augustin and some of the Neo-Platonists. Even the merely
44 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.
logical doctrines of Aristotle were incompletely apprehended
before the middle of the twelfth century, while the full
scope of his encyclopaedic work remained unknown till the
thirteenth century, when the Schoolmen had in a round-
about way obtained translations of his works. When in
A.D. 529 the Greek professors were dispersed, they fled to
Bagdad and the East, bearing with them the records of
Greek philosophy the original works of Aristotle, &c.
There they were in course of time translated into Syriac
and thence into Arabic. The Arabian conquests having
established the Mohammedan empire from the East across
North Africa into Spain, Greek learning found its way
thither in Arabic, and was there again translated by
Jews into Hebrew and borne back into Christendom.
Then both from Arabic and from Hebrew Latin transla-,
tions were finally made, and these were received by the
Schoolmen as a kind of revelation. But this did" not take
place till the twelfth century. As it took place, as they
became acquainted with Greek philosophy, their view
perceptibly widened. And by the time the Schoolmen
had learnt their Aristotle as fully as might be in this in-
direct way, i.e. at the beginning of the thirteenth century,
this knowledge began to be supplemented by acquain-
tance with the original Greek, or by direct translations
from the same, the originals being sent or brought by the
Greeks of Constantinople.
Limitations of Scholasticism.
Scholasticism was philosophising in support of a limited
and foregone conclusion. This is the difference between it
and the free movement of Hellenic thought. But still it was
philosophising. The Doctors did make a step towards the
v.] Elements of General Philosophy. 45
light, in working from blind devotion to more or less
rational belief. We can thus distinguish between their great-
ness and their limitations. If we dwell on the latter, the
case against them can be strongly put and maintained. It
is easy to abuse Scholasticism. No new or striking con-
ception, like those we find in ancient or in modern philo-
sophy, penetrating to the heart of things, sprang from any
one of the Schoolmen. From want of ability or lack of
liberty they never carried thought farther than the Greek
leaders, and for the most part not so far. Their utter
dependence upon Aristotle appears in that, as their know-
ledge of him widened, their views of philosophy widened
and they became able to conceive the full scope of philo-
sophic inquiry. Till the thirteenth century they had no
conception of philosophy but as a vague science of dialectic
or logic, nor had they made any division of its departments
as Aristotle had done. And at the last they incurred
discredit through comparison with the Greek philosophy,
when the fall of Constantinople revealed this in the original
form more fully to the West. They were found to have
established no alternative claim to modern respect by taking
up any branch of thought which the Greeks had neglected,
or in which they had failed. And their very acuteness,
through being turned on to a fatally narrow circle of
subjects, had led to subtleties that were doomed to be the
occasion of some of the bitterest reproaches since heaped
The Case for Scholasticism.
On the other side it should be noted that the Schoolmen
were not responsible for their circumstances, determined
by a great and uncontrollable course of events. It was
46 Elements of General Philosophy.
something that, after so great a dissolution, there should
have been so considerable an attempt at reconstruction.
It was not a little wonderful that they should have applied
all the enlightenment handed down to them to rationalise
faith, and that they struggled as they did against the con-
servatism of ecclesiastical authority until official recognition
of one newly rationalised doctrine after another was extorted.
Theirs became entitled Church philosophy, yet the Church
did nothing but accept, did nothing to encourage, their
philosophising, witness the case of Scotus Erigena. Often
and often was Aristotle solemnly banned before he came
to be considered (in the thirteenth century) as ' the fore-
runner of Christ in the things of Nature as John Baptist
was in the things of Grace.' No, we must not speak
only of the servility of the Schoolmen : they showed not
only wisdom but also courage in their appeal to heathen
Aristotle. And it is more becoming at this time of day, and
more important besides, that their wisdom and their courage
should not remain unacknowledged.
For LECTURE VI :
The student should not fail to follow up the lecture by reading
Croom Robertson's account of British Schoolmen in the essay, % The
English Mind,' Philosophical Remains, pp. 34-38. ED.
SCHOLASTICISM AND THE RISE OF MODERN SCIENCE AND
Realism in Scholasticism.
INTO the question which chiefly occupied the Schoolmen
in their attempt to interpret and rationalise Christian dogma
in the light of Greek philosophy the question of the nature
of ' Universals ' or General Ideas we shall enter more
fully in a separate lecture. It was not new then any
more than it is obsolete now. Before Plato and Aristotle
the Greeks had seen its significance ; with those two it was
a matter of the deepest concern. Plato, with his archetypal
ideas as the only Realities, is the great representative of
the one extreme view to which the Schoolmen first gave
the name of Realism. Aristotle held a modified Realism.
The other extreme view, viz. that only particulars are
realides, the universal being but subjective, also had its
representatives in Greek thought, Epicurus, e.g. approximating
to a modern Nominalist, although on different grounds.
Of how the question had been discussed by the Greeks
the Schoolmen knew nothing. Nevertheless, Porphyry
and the fragments in their hands were enough to suggest
the problem, and in fact Erigena in the ninth century, in the
iervour of his Neo-Platonism, had raised it, and come to
a conclusion in the spirit of a thorough Realist. Moreover,
as soon as the philosophic interest was aroused within the
48 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.
Church, the Schoolmen were quick to see the full bearing
of the issues. Their philosophy consisting in the intellectual
consideration of the mystery of the faith, they discerned
at the foundation of how many articles of that faith the
problem lay the Trinity, the Real Presence, the Redemption
of the race, the status of the Church as the divinely illumined
witness of the Truth. In these and other beliefs they saw
how the relation of the Many to the One, the old question
of Parmenides and Heracleitus, identical with the later
question as to Universals, is implicated.
Now whichever view the Schoolmen took, they made an
advance in taking any view at all, and the view held by
some from the first, and by the majority at the last, showed
more intellect and betokened more independence than is
ordinarily ascribed to them. Its promulgation heralded the
approach of modern thought.
Divisions of the Scholastic Period.
The whole period falls into three parts :
Part I. From the eleventh to the end of the twelfth century,
Part II. covers the thirteenth century.
Part III. From the fourteenth century till whenever
Scholasticism may be supposed to end ; that is, one might
say, with the sixteenth century for the active and leading
spirits in Europe, with the seventeenth for the universities
in the advanced countries, but not even to the present
day in the seminaries of the Catholic Church, where Aquinas
is still the great philosophical authority.
The first period is the Platonic age of Scholasticism.
Aristotle, as we have seen, was at this date known chiefly
through the medium of the Arabian scholars, while Plato was
known directly by a fragment only, but indirectly through
vi.] Elements of General Philosophy. 49
Neo-Platonic media and Augustin's works. But a Realism
as strong as Plato's was supported by Anselm (1033-1109)
and others, and this view was tolerated or approved and
accepted by the Church. Reason and faith were in process
of coming together, but it was an innovation. Scholasticism
was struggling to gain its footing. Roscellin (fl. 1092), on
the other hand, dared to avow an extreme Nominalism and
drove it to an extravagant conclusion.
The second period is the Aristotelian age of Scholasticism,
when Aristotle, better known at length in Latin, though not
in Greek, came to have more influence over the human mind
than at any previous period in history. Way had been made
for this evolution by Abelard (1079-1142), that restless,
critical, but not constructive spirit, antagonistic to Anselm.
Independent and unchecked by rules, he is the first and
best representative of freedom of thought in the Middle
Ages. A multitude of other circumstances concurred to
induce the change of attitude. The beginnings of Scholas-
ticism coincide with the beginnings of the Papal supre-
macy in Europe the period from Hildebrand to Innocent
III and the maturity of Scholasticism was attained when
the Papacy was putting forth its strongest claims against
the civil power in the days, i.e. of Innocent III (1198-
1216) and when the Church was endeavouring as far as
possible to widen the organised ecclesiastical teaching. Now
the encyclopaedic genius of Aristotle was exactly fitted
to satisfy the largest requirements on these lines, and hence
Scholasticism, with its ground-principle of reason in the
service of faith, flourished at length under Aristotelian
In Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) the junction was com-
pleted. He retained all of Plato that he needed for dogma
50 Elements of General Philosophy [LECT.
where Aristotle fell short. But now reason, unlike the first
period when she was struggling to enter, not only had
entered into the penetralia of faith, but was fully recognised,
on the condition of yielding aid and reverence to the Church,
as the legitimate occupant of the realm of nature. The
interest in the natural world felt by Roger Bacon was
undoubtedly due to Aristotle's observation of natural phe-
nomena. The watchword of the thought of the day was
the Reasonableness of the Faith, and this. Aquinas maintained,
was perfectly intelligible even to the smallest particular.
But hardly had the generation of Aquinas passed away
than this union was seen to be hollow.
The third period is one of rupture and divorce between
reason and faith. It is very curious to note how from the
two sides equally the fatal change of attitude was effected.
John Duns Scotus (1274-1308), who had refined and dis-
tinguished beyond all human belief to the extent of twelve
folio volumes before he died at the age of 34, was an
ardent devoted son of the Church, but he aimed the first
blow at Scholasticism by disturbing the concordat of the
thirteenth century. He denied that Aquinas had demon-
strated the reasonableness of the faith. Christian doctrine
transcended reason and had to be believed. Another Briton,
William of Ockham, took two strides backward (or forward)
for one of Scotus, in reviving the Nominalism of Roscellin,
and declaring, like him, that the rational expression of the
leading Christian dogmas was impossible. That Roscellin
should have beforehand by implication proclaimed the nullity
of the Scholastic attempt was as little grateful to the Church
as to Anselm, and accordingly Roscellin, who had even
exceeded the intellectual licence of Abelard, was condemned
and his doctrine banned for two centuries. But the times
VL] Elements of General Philosophy. 51
had changed, and Ockham, milder than Roscellin, could
better gain access to men's minds. Professing implicit
belief in all the articles of the faith, he proceeded to show,
as Kant did later, how impotent was Reason to establish
any one of them. Highly gifted, possessing great force of
character, and a Franciscan, Ockham gave the Church little
cause to love him, and his doctrines did not at once find
favour. Nevertheless the times were ready for it, and the
Church had gradually to bring herself to support those who
declared that the faith could not be explained because it
was too high.
But this theory was adopted by independent thinkers as
giving, in the mere shadow of restraint it imposed, a chance
to get virtually free ; and the Church and the world, having
agreed to differ, went farther and farther asunder till they
turned their backs on each other. The Church might go
on believing and exacting what belief it could ; but while
fac from indisposed to believe, men insisted that they would
also freely inquire. The influence of the Church was
extinguished in different degrees at different places. Events
had happened which would have broken Scholasticism even
had it been less shaken from within. Human vision and
human power were being extended on all sides, in every
sphere of human interest. The East had become known
through the crusades, and now explorers had unveikd
a world and an ancient civilisation in the far West. The
reign of darkness, dimly lit hitherto by a circumscribed
stock of ideas, once broken, many of those ideas had to be
changed or surrendered. Most revolutionising of all were the
results of Copernicus's flash of thought. The earth was not
fixed and flat, nor the centre of things, but only a revolving
satellite, one of many specks in the starry sky, and away
52 Elements of General Philosophy. [LECT.