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be discussed by the philosopher as well as by the theologian.

The principle of the unity of truth being admitted, we must
also admit that, whenever philosophy and theology tread on a
common ground, they must be in perfect agreement. As truth
i- essentially one, a conclusion of human reason cannot contra-
dict a truth revealed by God. Whenever there is disagreement,
there is error on one side. Hut, as the error cannot lie in the
revealed truth, inasmuch as the authority of revelation rests
upon the infinite science and veracity of God, it follows that.

M Ibid., ]>. ">.


in all cases of disagreement between a philosophical principle
and a theological dogma, the philosophical principle must be

The only true system of philosophy will, therefore, be in per-
fect harmony with the body of revealed truths. That Scholastic
philosophy is not the only system capable of being harmonized
with religious dogmas, we have already shown. This is why,
after the speculative principles of the Middle Ages were judged
inadequate to meet the requirements of modern science, most
Catholics embraced other systems. But these systems have
not possessed the character of immutability which, in the mind
of Catholics, necessarily belongs to truth. Not only this. The
philosophical systems which have been successively accepted in
European speculation have departed — or have been believed to
depart, which, for the point we are now discussing, amounts to
the same — more and more from the essential principles of
Christianity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the
materialism of the encyclopedists was the only philosophy still
remaining in France. It was openly professed by Cabanis,
Broussais, Pinel and Bichat. It had displaced Cartesianism
itself, though a very limited number of ecclesiastics still adhered
to that system. At the same time, some of the emigrants whom
the ferocity of the Revolution had compelled to seek a refuge
abroad, were coming in contact with new-born Kantism, which
they were destined to introduce into their native land.

It seems, at first blush, that the philosophy thus growing in
Germany was more in harmony with the great truths of Chris-
tianity than the impious materialism of the eighteenth century.
Whether the philosophical systems of Kant and his successor
may be interpreted from a Christian standpoint is a question
which has been frequently discussed and does not admit of an
easy solution. It is well known that the modern defenders of
Hegelian philosophy in America invoke St. Thomas's authority
in support of their principles. 19 For my part. I feel inclined

" C'f. Koyoe. The ( '<>nrr|>t ion of (iod. p. 40; Harris, Hegel's Logic, p. ix.


to admit thai their claim is not altogether devoid of foundation.
Although St. Thomas and Hegel present evident points of con-
trast, it may he seriously questioned whether there exists between
the systems they have built that abyss which neo-Scholastics are
wont to point out. Whatever the truth may be, there is no
doubt that Kant and Hegel have been invariably regarded by
Catholics as the most dangerous opponents of the fundamental
Christian principles. " More than any other philosophical sys-
tem, says Jules Didiot, Kantism has been a serious menace to
faith and natural virtues in Catholic countries." 20 Didiot is
more severe still with regard to Hegelianism :

"If he (Hegel) has not intended to mock at his pupils, at
his readers, at his predecessors in subjectivism and monism, we
must admit that his mind was at times in a state of delirium.
It is a shame for the nineteenth century not to have rejected
such a philosophy with indignation. . . . That Protestant min-
isters in Germany may have endeavored to harmonize the doc-
trines of Hegel and Schelling, of Fichte and Kant, with the
dogmas and laws of Christianity, can perhaps be conceived; but
that Catholic priests, such as Hermes, Baader, Gunther, may
have dared imitate them, even from afar and with a certain
moderation, is indeed hard to understand." 21

This influence of Hegel among German Catholics, so vividly
deplored by Didiot, was indeed a fact in the first half of the
nineteenth century. The Holy See was obliged to interfere.
Hermes's doctrines were condemned in 1835 and 1836, Giinth-
er's in 1857 and 1860, Frohschammer's in 1862, pantheism and
all forms of rationalism by the Syllabus of 1864.

Meanwhile, some distinguished French writers had endeavored
to oppose the anti-religious tendency of the day, and to build
systems of thought in harmony with the spiritualistic doctrines
of the Catholic Church. Joseph de Maistre, Victor de Bonald
and Felicite de Lamennais sincerely sought a new method by
which Christian beliefs might be saved and impiety checked.

" in Bifecle, p. :*77.
■ Ibid., p. 389.


Unhappily, they endeavored to build a monument to faith upon
the ruins of reason. The ultimate criterion of certitude they
sought in a primitive revelation. But as the truth of this reve-
lation could not rest upon our mental faculties, which had been
proclaimed impotent, it had no sure basis and the brave effort
of the traditionalists was doomed to become in the end a lament-
able failure. Traditionalism was finally condemned by the
Church, and, in 1855, its last great representative, Bonnetty,
was compelled to subscribe to four propositions opposed to the
errors he had maintained.

It is in such circumstances that the Catholic Church seriously
thought of returning to the old Scholastic doctrine. An honest
endeavor to seek the true philosophy in modern systems had been
made for several centuries. But, from a Catholic standpoint,
this endeavor had completely failed. The systems which had
arisen in the course of time had been gradually abandoned and
replaced by others, so that, as pointed out by Cornoldi, there
had been a continuous change in the speculative world. The
most recent systems, Materialism, Kantism, Hegelianism, Posi-
tivism, were opposed to the Catholic faith. The influence of
these systems had led many Catholics to advance dangerous
theories. A system born of the laudable intention to protect
the religious ideals had been a decided failure. Such being the
case, was it not better to return frankly to the philosophy which
had reigned for centuries in the schools, to endeavor to reconcile
it with modern discoveries, to find out whether the old Scholas-
tic philosophy was not the true system which, for so long a
time, had been sought in vain? Such is. in my judgment, the
fundamental idea which inspired the neo-Thomists.



Section I. — Scholastic Philosophy

The word o-^oXacrTt/co? was already in use among the Greeks
to denote a man devoted to study. Ueberweg notes it in a letter
of Theophrastus to Phanias. 1 Petronius seems to have intro-
duced it among the Eomans. Under Quintilian it meant a
rhetor or professor of eloquence, and we read in St. Jerome that
it was granted as a title of distinction to Serapio for his unusual
talent. At the opening of the Mediaeval schools, the term was
soon restricted to a purely didactic meaning. The scholasticus
became the instructor, and the system of thought expounded in
the cathedra, the Scholastic philosophy.

A distinguished French scholar, Barthelemy Haureau, based
upon this etymology a definition of Scholastic philosophy which
has been generally accepted; and, on the whole, is the best we
now possess: Scholastic philosophy is the philosophy professed
in the schools of the Middle Ages, from the establishment of
these schools to the day in which the outside philosophy, the
spirit of novelty disengaged from the bonds of tradition, came
to dispute with it, and withdraw from its control the minds of
men. " La philosophic scolastique est la philosophic professee
dane les ecoles du moyen age depuis Petablissement jusqu'au
<l('( lin de ces ecoles, e'est-a-dire jusqu'au jour ou la philosophic
du dehors, 1'esprit nouvcau, l'esprit moderne, se degageant des
liens de la tradition, viendront lui disputer ct lui ravir la con-
duite (]{■< intelligences." 2

1 Ueberwpfr, History of Philosophy, Vol. 1, p. 366.
'' llium'iiu, Histoire <!<• la philoBophie scolafltique, tome 1, p. .'>0.



Before we proceed to examine the difficulties to which this
definition gives rise, it will not be amiss to make a few observa-
tions, in order to dispel all possible misunderstandings.

First of all, it seems that the etymological considerations
which lead us to identify Scholasticism with Mediaeval thought,
ought to make us step beyond the limits of the Middle Ages,
and extend our definition to modern schools as well. If it is
the meaning of the words that guides us, there is no reason why
the philosophy taught from the cathedra of Koenigsberg by the
author of the Critique of Pure Reason should be any less scho-
lastic than the systems of Duns Scotus or Thomas Aquinas.
And, indeed, some writers, following this conception, speak of
an Hegelian, a Cousinian, a Schopenhauerian Scholasticism.
The ridiculous outcome of this view is obvious to every eye. It
transforms into Scholastics all our university teachers. It
makes Scholastic philosophy co-extensive, not only with the doc-
trines of Kant, Hegel, Cousin and Schopenhauer, but with all
modern idealistic systems; nay, with the whole field of philo-
sophical thought. What system has not been expounded from
a professor's chair? What philosopher has not seen his doc-
trines espoused in some center of learning? And we would
thus be compelled to enlarge without limit the field of Scholas-
ticism, to open its gate, not only to Hegel or to William James,
but also, and with equal right, to Descartes and to Berkeley.

And yet, were etymology our sole guide, we should accept this
view, strange though it appear. But the original significance
of a word does not suffice to give us the key to its actual mean-
ing. According to John Locke, men seem to have been guided
by wit rather than by judgment in the formation of names; and
a great discrepance has thus often come to exist between the
connotation of a term and its etymology. The Greek word
irpoftaTov. which signifies sheep, is derived from the verb 7r/>o/9atW,
to walk forward. Still, no one would think of applying the
word sheep to all beings walking forward, to include under that
name, not only all our domestic animals, all denizens of the


water ii Ti *1 the ;iir. save crabs and crawfishes, but our own Belves.

Scholastic philosophy was originally the philosophy of the
schools; and. as the name was given during the Middle Ages, it
was applied to all Mediaeval schools. When, at the beginning
of the modern era, thought was suddenly engaged in another
direction, and controlled by men who did not expound their
principles from a professor's chair, a new philosophy arose,
which was not scholastic, and which, after having controlled the
minds of the new generation, took possession of the schools
themselves, and dethroned the old philosophy, which, for cen-
turies past, had exercised an undisputed sovereignty upon the
intelligences. The philosophy of the schools thus ceased to be
Scholastic, and the term acquired a definite meaning, and was
henceforward exclusively applied to denote Mediaeval specu-

Scholastic philosophy, thus confined to a definite time, must
also be limited with regard to space. It would be absurd to
extend it to all the systems which arose in any point of our
globe between the sixth and the fifteenth century, to make it
embrace, not only the philosophical systems of the Arabs and
the Jews, but also those of the Hindoos and of the Chinese. It
must be limited to the speculation of the western world, which,
in spite of numerous internal divergences, of many distinct and
definite currents, formed a single whole, of which Paris was the
center, which soon found in Aristotle an inspirer and a prophet,
and in the dogmas of the Church a cynosure to direct the human
mind in the perilous and unexplored regions it had so resolutely

Our definition may be objected to upon the ground that it
leaves us in total ignorance as to the import of the system
we define. 1 1 does not throw any light upon its essential charac-
ter, and may even be regarded as simply tautological, as equiva-
lent to the statement that the Mediaeval philosophy is the phi-
losophy of the Middle Ages. We readily admit that, in defining
Scholastic philosophy as the philosophy of the Middle Ages, we


do not pretend to give what logicians would call an essential
definition. But, is it possible to give an essential definition of
a system of thought? Can we enclose within the narrow com-
pass of a definition the essential characteristics of a philosophy ?
It is related that Hegel, having been asked to give a brief exposi-
tion of his system, answered that it was not a thing that could
be said in a few words. An essential definition of a philosophy
is bound to be incomplete, and, in so far, erroneous. Mr.
Maurice de Wulf who, in his remarkable work on neo-Scholas-
ticism, has objected to Haureau's definition on account of its
failure to give an insight into the Scholastic doctrine, has not
been able to give the essential definition which the first chapters
of his book had led us to expect. In point of fact, he has given
no definition at all. He has exposed, in 64 octavo pages, what
he considers the essential characteristics of Scholastic philoso-
phy, has summed up his exposition in a description which con-
tains no less than 242 words, telling us that such a definition
is still incomplete, that it contains only a few of the characters
of Scholastic philosophy, and that an integral definition should
comprise them all. 3

An attempt at a more acceptable essential definition has been
made quite recently by Mr. Elie Blanc. He has defined Scho-
lastic philosophy as a spirit, a method and a system:

" II peut done sembler que la philosophic scolastique est
d'abord un esprit : elle est nee chez les Peres de l'Eglise et leurs
successeurs du juste souci d'accorder la raison et la foi. Elle
est ensuite une methode rigoureuse, empruntee surtout a Aris-
tote, telle qu'il la fallait pour realiser cet accord. Enfin elle
aboutit a un systeme toujours perfectible, dont los bases se trou-
vent surtout dans l'ceuvre de saint Thomas." 4

Concerning this definition, I shall make the following re-
marks :

* Cf . De Wulf, Introduction a la philosophic neo-scolastique, pp. 191-

4 Blanc, Dictionnaire de philosophic anciennc, nioderne et contem-
poraine, art. Scolastique.




If, for the sake of brevity, we limit ourselves to saying that
Scholastic philosophy is a spirit, a method and a system, our
definition is not essential, because it leaves us in a complete
ignorance as to what that spirit, that method and that system
are; and is also worthless, because it can be applied to all phi-
losophies, inasmuch as they all possess a spirit, follow a method,
and constitute a definite system. It is true that Mr. Blanc
explains what the spirit, the method and the system are. But
the method is an extrinsic and unessential character. The
spirit, consisting in a just endeavor to harmonize reason and
faith, is extrinsic also. It simply refers to the relation Scholas-
tic philosophy bears to another science, and ignores the funda-
mental principles of Scholasticism as a philosophy. Finally,
the description of the Scholastic system as a perfectible system,
whose bases are found chiefly in St. Thomas, equally fails to
give us an insight into the contents of Scholastic philosophy.
It does not tell us what the system is, what distinguishes it from
modern thought, what constitutes it as a philosophy. Mr.
Blanc's definition is no essential definition at all.

Moreover, does Mediaeval philosophy possess any distinctive
eharacter, any idiosyncrasy which sets it apart from ancient as
well as from modern thought? We fully realize that we here
approach a difficult question, which has been already studied
from different points of view, and not yet been satisfactorily

Some writers have thought they could solve the difficulty by
simply saying that Scholastic philosophy is no philosophy at
all. This view was professed by the French encyclopedists of
the eighteenth century, who no doubt had powerful personal
motives of dislike for Mediawal speculation. They pitied all
who lose their time in the study of such vain subtleties, and
Diderol went so Ear as to say of Duns Scotus that a man who
would know all that he has written would know nothing.

This kind of shallow contempt soon spread over all Europe.
It became a point of fashion to deride the cloisters and the


monks. The ass gloried in the kick he could give to the dying
lion. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Briicker
spoke of the introduction of Aristotle's philosophy into Europe
as the signal of the most complete intellectual degeneration.
More recently, Taine has given the epoch of the great masters
of the thirteenth century as an age of stupidity : " Three cen-
turies at the bottom of this black pit did not add a single idea
to the human mind." 5 Mr. Penjon has described the period
which elapsed between the edict of Justinian (529) and the
Renaissance as a sort of entr'acte during which there was no
philosophy. 6 Hegel himself, whose system presents so striking
a resemblance with those of the Scholastics that one might be
tempted to believe he has borrowed directly from them, does
not hesitate to profess the same contempt. Speaking of Scho-
lastic philosophy, he says : " It is not interesting by reason of
its matter, for we cannot remain at the consideration of this;
it is not a philosophy." 7

After modern erudition has had the courage to go back to the
much-despised era, and to remove the dense veil of ignorance
which covered the works of its thinkers; after such men as
Cousin, Haureau and Picavet have displayed to the world the
treasures of philosophical learning which lay concealed in those
dusty folios, the superficial disdain of the preceding generation
has disappeared, covered with shame. Men have repudiated the
idea of a Mediaeval entr'acte, and have understood that the
" dark ages " are not dark in themselves, but are dark simply
for us on account of our ignorance.

There being thus nowadays no possibility of abiding by what
the Germans have called: dcr Sprung iibcr dan Mittelait&r, and
Scholastic philosophy being evidently something, the necessity
of determining precisely what it is imposes itself upon us. And
here the difficulty lies.

•Taine, Histoire de la litterature anglaise, t. 1, pp. 223-225.
8 Penjon, Precis d'histoire de la philosophic, pp. 166. Of. De Wulf,
op. cit., pp. 1 1 ir.

' Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Vol. 3, p. 38.


It is unnecessary to say that Mediaeval philosophy is not a
single system. Embracing, as it does, several centuries of
incredible intellectual activity, it must needs present that variety
of opinions which is the invariable concomitant of all human
speculation. A rapid glance at the whole field of Mediaeval
thought will not be out of place here, and will furnish us with
an insight into the essential characteristics of Scholastic philoso-
phy. We shall first examine the problem which has often been
regarded as comprising within its limits the whole drift of
Scholastic discussions : the problem of universals. Mr. de Wulf
has recently blamed Haureau for regarding it as the sole Scho-
lastic problem. And indeed we agree with the distinguished
professor of Louvain in admitting that the Mediaeval thinkers
did not confine their investigations to a single particular ques-
tion, but embraced the whole field of philosophy. The problem
of universals should not, however, be undervalued, as it contains
in germ, not only the Mediaeval systems of thought, but likewise
the answers which, in modern times, have been given to all great
problems of philosophy.

If we start from nominalistic principles, if we admit with
Roscelin that the universal is a mere name, a mere flatus vods,
and that nothing but the individual is real, the outcome of our
philosophy will be materialism and phenomenalism. We will at
first admit with John Stuart Mill that "a class, a universal, a
genus or a species is neither more nor less than the individual
substances themselves which are placed in the class; and that
there is nothing real in the matter except those objects, a com-
mon name given to them, and common attributes indicated by
the name." 8 We shall next be bound to extend our theory to
the relation of the whole and its parts; and — inasmuch as the
whole bears to the parts the relation of a universal to a particu-
lar— we shall have to maintain that the parts alone possess
reality and are themselves wholes. When Abelard, in his letter
to the bishop of Paris, accused Roscelin of implicitly holding

•J. S. Mill. System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 2, sect. 2.


that Jesus, instead of eating, as the Gospel says, a part of a
fish, ate a part of a word, he was undoubtedly wrong. Rosce-
lin's assertion that the universal was a mere word did not bind
him to admit that the fish was a mere word. But it compelled
him to profess that the fish as such had no reality; that it was
nothing but a complex of ultimate beings, or molecules; and
that Jesus ate a certain number of those molecules, which could
be called parts of a fish only in virtue of our mental propensity
to build those universals which are absolutely devoid of reality.

Nominalism thus leads us to materialism. It is radically
opposed to the belief that the universe is a whole, and cannot
admit any other absolute than the molecules, the atoms, the
ultimate divisions of matter, by whatever name we may choose
to call them.

And if, from the objective, we pass to the subjective field, we
shall see that nominalism is likewise the ancestor of empiricism
and phenomenalism. In the realm of mind, as well as in the
realm of matter, the individual will be the ultimate reality.
There will be no soul-substance lying beyond our mental states,
but fugitive impressions, each of which will possess its own inde-
pendent existence. Experiences of memory themselves will
have no validity apart from the present instant, and we shall
be bound to admit what Mr. Josiah Royce has described under
the name of Mysticism.

As Roscelin applied his doctrine to the mystery of the Holy
Trinity; and, in agreement with his principles, concluded that
the oneness of the three divine persons is not real; that the
Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are not one God, but three
Gods, he was formally condemned at the Council of Soissons, in
1092, and Nominalism was thus killed for more than two cen-
turies, and did not reappear till the days of Ockam.

Realism, in its most extreme form, had been professed by
Plato; and, as the first period of Mediaeval speculation was
decidedly Platonic, extreme Realism, in Bpite of its pantheistic
tendencies, became the orthodox belief. It must be observed


here that Mediaeval realism has nothing in common with what
we call nalism to-day. It is the doctrine that the universal is
not merely a mental construction, but possesses an objective
reality: is, in point of fact, the only reality. Plato, as is well
known, had taught that the real world is the world of ideas, and
that the phenomenal world, our own world, possesses reality only
in so far as it participates in the truth of the ideal world. This
view, if logically followed out, will lead us to the conclusion
that reality is of a mental nature. We shall be bound to admit
with Hegel that " What is reasonable is actual, and wdiat is
actual is reasonable." We shall be incapable of avoiding mon-
ism in its most extreme form. If the universal possesses an
objective reality, then being is real; and, as the universal term
being can be applied to all things whatsoever, we shall have to
admit that a being exists which contains all reality within itself.
It is to realism therefore that most of the pantheistic systems of
the Middle Ages must be traced back.

Prior to the formulation of the problem of universale, Scotus
Erigena had already maintained that God is more than a creator,
that he is in all things as their sole substance : " Cum ergo
audimus Deum omnia facere, nihil aliud debemus intelligere
quam Deum in omnibus esse, hoc est, essentiam omnium subsis-
tere. Ipse enim solus per se vere est, et omne quod vere in his

Online LibraryJoseph Louis PerrierThe revival of scholastic philosophy in the nineteenth century → online text (page 2 of 29)