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theology, he died at the a^e of sixty-three*

His works are chieflv bis Epistles, a History of his Life till 1134,
his Confession of Faith, his Commentary on Romans, and his In-
troduction to Theology, in Three Books. His life and adventures
are among the most remaikable in history. They present a singu-
lar combination of great talents and great misfortunes. The latter
he undoubtedly brought upon himself by his own imprudence.
They served to embitter his days, as well as deeply tarnish his
brightest honors.

Next in the order of time among the great lights of scholasti-
cism, is St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Angdicus. He was bom in
1226, at Aquino. When thirteen years of age, he viras sent to the
University of Naples. At seventeen, he commenced his novitiate
at the Dominican convent in that city. This step was contrary to
the wish of his father, Landulph, Count of Aquino. To avoid his
family, he left Naples for Rome. Thence he fled to Paris. He
was forcibly brought home, and confined in the paternal castle*
Here he contrived to escape. Obtaining the encouragement of
Innocent IV, he connected himself veith the Dominicans at the age
of twenbr. At twenty-five, he be^ to lecture in Theology at
Paris. Here he formed a close intimacy with St. Bonaventura,



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1847.] The SehoUuHc Theology of the Middle Ages. 147

another eminent scholastic, and wrote his celebrated System of
Theology. Having attended the council at Lyons, he was seized
on his I'etum with a fever, and died at a Cistercian abbey, near Ter-
racina, in 1274, at forty-eight years of age. He was c*anonized
by John XXII., and is the great ornament of the Dominican ord^.
His works are, a Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard, his
Smnma Theolodca, Questiones Disputatse et quodlibet Liberales,
Opuscula TheoTogica, and Catena Aurea. Ihey exhibit great
acateness and mental vigor. He belonged to the Nominalist school.
His followers received me doctrines of Aristotle and Augustine.

His most distinguished antagonist and rival was Duns Scotus,
Doctor Subtilis. He was born in 1275, at Dunstan, in Northum-
berland. He studied philosophy, jurisprudence, and theology, at
Oxford, and there opened his career by giving lectures on uieo-
]ogy» In 1304, he visited Paris, and defended the immaculate
Conception with unparalleled €clat. In 1308, he lectured on
theology in Cologne, and died there at the age of thirty-three.
His works consist of Commentaries on Aristotle and Lombard's
Sentence. He was the head of the Realists, and adopted the
principles of the Platonic philosophy. He was regarded as the
profoundest metaphysician of his a^e, and some derive his name
(Scotus) from his depth of obscunty* He was the pride of the
Franciscan order. He was, doubtless, a Semipelagian, for he
answers affirmatively the question : Utrum liberum arbitrium
hominis sine gratia possit cavere omne peccatum mortale ?

The last name of greatest pregminence which meets us in the
annals of the Scholastics, is William Occam, Doctor Singularis.
He was bom in Surrey, and became^a disciple of Duns Scotus. He
belonged to the Order of Franciscans. At the beginning of the
fourteenth century he occupied a theological chair at Pans. But
soon becoming dissatisfied widi the prmciples of his master, he
became the head of the Nominalists. His fondness for specula-
tion and his disregard for authority, soon led him into dimculties,
with the people. He asserted that, in temporal things, the empe-
ror was subject to none but God, and supenor to the pope, — thus
maintaining Ghibeline views. He was excomnnmicated by John
XXII., in 1330. He then fled to the Court of Lewis of Bavaria,
where he died, in 1347. His works consist of Commentaries on
Lombard, several works on Logic, Metaphysics and Philosophy,
CoUoquiwra Theologicwra^ and a tract on the Eucharist. He was
preferred by Luther to any of the Scholastics. Says he : ejus
acumen anteferebam Thomne vel Scoto.

Besides the great intellectual giants just'enumerated, there were
some other very eminent writers among the Scholastics. But in-
asmuch as their works present no remarkable features, and as thev
were not the founders of any systems or heads of schools, it will
be unnecessary to narrate their personal histories. Of these, the



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148 Tke Scholastic Theohgp of the Middk Ages. [Jan.

most (feserving of notice, besides those whose names have already
occurred, were Hildebert of Larardino^ Gilbert de Porrety Robert
Pulleynj Albertus Magnus^ Alexander Hales^ Hugo of Sancto
CarOy Richard of Saint Victor y and Raymond StUly.

III. Prominent Characteristics of the Scholastic Theology.

A want of acquaintance with Biblical and exegetical learning
strikingly characterized the writings of all these men. This
lamentable deficiency constantly forces [itself upon the attention
of those who examine their pages. In our day, the man who at-
tempts to construct a theoloffical system, without reposing its
foundations upon the dicta of the Bible, is regarded as absurd, as
is that man who should attempt to rear a stupendous Gothic edi-
fice upon the drifting snow. The foundations of the temples which
the Middle Ages produced, were far more extensive and appropri-
ate, than those of the systems of doctrine preached in them. We
seldom hear these writers appeal to the sacred text as a final and
conclusive authority. They discuss at the most unprofitable length
the minutest points, and although a reference to the Greek or He-
brew would settle all difficulties, they rarely make such an appeal.
Indeed, it is recorded of St. Thomas himself, that the Vulgate was
the only text ever used by him, and that he had no accurate ac-
quaintance with either of the original languages of Scripture.

Nor have we reason to suppose that any of these famous theolo-
gians possessed this most valuable knowledge. It is true that
several of the Pontiffs established professorships in different Uni-
versities for the culture and study of the Oriental languages in
general. But the object of this arrangement was not to prepare
le priesthood to expound the Scriptures more clearly and forcibly
to the people ; but it was designed to fit the heralds of Romanism
to proclaim it more successfully to the Oriental nations. It was
intended to fortify them in such a way, that they might meet
the onslaughts of the Greek and the Turk with their own wea-
pons, and van(}uish them in their own languages.

It was not, indeed, until the rise of Reuchlin, who commenced
his labors in 1502, that the study of the original languages of the
Bible was introduced to any extent. The services which he ren-
dered to the Old Testament were performed by Erasmus, for the
interpretation of the New. He be^an his career in 1616. By
their agency a new era was ushered m upon the Church. Yet the
scholastic theologians did not enjoy the benefit of their labors.
When this revival of biblical studies began, the glory of Scho-
lasticism had passed away. During the IVfiddle Ages no advances
whatever were made in philological investigations, or in the sci-
ence of interpretation. Accordingly, we may wade through volumes
of metaphvsical discussions, upon some doCTia of the Romish
Church, wnere endless quibblings involve and perplex the reader ;



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1847.] The Scholastic Theology of the Middle Ages. 149

whereas, an appeal to one or two dicta probantia of the Bible would
immediately have removed every difficulty.

To us at this day, such barrenness of exegetical resources seems
unaccountable. A sufficient reason for it, however, may be as-
signed. The Scholastic Theology was the first daughter of that
revival of letters, which succeeded the darkness produced by the
fall of the Western Empire. Other departments of knowledge
were gradually cultivatecl, as one giant struggle was made after
another, to grapple with the darkness and expel it. The want
of the merit in question is one great reason why these Writings are
so uninteresting and profitless to us at the present day. We neg-
lect the jewels which are hidden there, because they are embedded
in oceans of mud. Had the giant minds of the Middle Ages ap-

Eealed to the Bible, with proper exegetical qualifications, they would
ave produced a glorious fabric of intellectual beauty which would
have challenged the admiration of all succeeding generations.

The Scholastics indulged, to an absurd degree, a spirit of abstract
metaphysical speculation. It had been usual for theological writ-
ters, previous to this mode of study, to prove their various posi-
tions, chiefly by citations from the Fathers, and the usages of the
apostolic era. But now another method was employed, the dia-
lectical art, which soon entirely superseded'all others. Thafthose
who first employed this art, did not intend that it should be im-
properly perverted, is evident both from the nature of their own writ-
mgs, as well as their declarations on the subject.

In the middle of the eleventh century, Berengarius labored tp
disprove the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was gradually
gaining ground in the Church. To accomplish this he used no
other arguments than such as were perfectly rational. His op-
ponent, Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, employed in his re-
f)lies to him, argimients equally moderate and profound. The
atter says himseff in his tract De Corpore et Sanguine Domini :
" God is my witness, and my own conscience,'that in treating sacred
subjects I do not wish to bring forward dialectical questions; but
if the siibject under discussion can be most satisfactorily explained
by the rules of this art, as far as I am able, I cover over the art by
citations of equivalent import ; that I may not rely more upon this
art, than on the truth, and on the authority of the Fathers.*' Peter
Lombard declares it to be the aim of his works, fidem nostram ad-
versiLS errores carTudium atque animalium hominum munircj vel
potius munitam ostendere^ ac theologicarum inquisitionum aidita
aperire. John Gerson says of Bonaventura (Doctor Seraphicus) ,
dam siudet illuminaiioni intellecttiSj totum refert ad pietatem et
reUgiositatem effectus. *

But soon this commendable example was forgotten. The usual

* Thns, too, some of the doctrinal expositions of the Scholastics exhibit a similar
timpticitj and plainness of speech. St. Thomas, for instance, answers the ques-



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150 The Scholastic Theology of the Middle Ages. [Jan.

references to the Scriptures and the Fathers were neglected, and
nothing but philosophical proofs received. The greatest of these
theologians not only descend to the merest trifles, but cultivate
expertness in them, and regard such proficiency as highly merito-
rious. Yet what could be more unworthy of the dienity of the
first of sciences, than inquiries like the following : What are the
modes of the operations of angels ; their means of conversing ;
the morning and evening states of their understandings ; how many
spirits can stand on the point of a needle ; whether we are bound
to love a possible angel more than an actually existing fly ? Some
of their hair-splitting distinctions are remarkable, as well as un-
scriptural. For instance : St. Thomas declares, " that if a priest
be called upon to testify whether he has received information
concerning a certain fact in the confessional, he is justified in
answering negatively, though he may have had a full recital of the
matter ; inasmuch as he received the knowledge of it as Grod, but
being called upon to testify as man, as such, he knows nothing about
it." He also distinguishes, in discussing the nature of faith,
between a fides informis and hjides formata. The object of this
absurd distinction may not be suflSciently plain ; but the absurdity
of it is so. For what is a fides informis^ but rum ulla fides ; and
what kind of faith can exist at all, unless it be formata? The
very idea of a true and proper faith, and any other does not deserve
the name, implies that it is a living and confiding one, aflecting
both the intellect and the heart.

Several causes may be assigned, as producing this trait in the
Scholastics. The nature of the subjects discussed by them would
lead to it. These naturally tended to call forth the cultivation of
the reasoning powers ; and when one power is thus prominently
exercised, to the neglect of others, it attains supremacy and other
modes of thought fall into diesuetude. Besides, there was no
danger of running against a heresy, by dealing extensively in these
minutise, for there the Church had defined nothing, and there was
no peril of incurring the Papal censures. Add to this, that a few
men of remarkably acute powers arose to eminence in the Church,
whose intellectual tendencies led them to these investigations, and
impressed upon the theology of those ages, the peculiarities of

tion, whether we can obtain eternal life without grace, thus : Non potest homo
mereri absque gratia vitam setemam per pura naturaUa, quia scilicet meritum homi-
nis dependet ex prsBordinatione divina. — Vita autem setema est quoddam bonum
excedens proportionem natuia ereatae; quiaetiamezceditcognitionem et desiderium
ejus secundum illud, L ad Corinth. 2 : nee oculus vldit, etc. £t inde est, quod nul-
la natura creata est sufficiens principium actus meritorii vitse aetemse, nisi superad-
datur aliquid supematurale donum quod gratia dicitur. Si vero loquamur de
homine sub peccato ezistente, additurcum hoc secunda ratio, propter hnpedimen-
tum peccati." Sum. Theol Qua.y 114, Art IL-IIL He elsewhere defines how a
man may know that hepossesies this grace. Hoc modo aliquis cognoscere potest se
habere giatiam^ in quantum scilicet percipit se delectari in Deo, et contemnere res
mundanas, et in quantum homo non est consciua peocati mortidis. Quaes. 112,
Art. 5.



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1847.] Tke Sckolastie Theology of the. Middle Ages. 151

their own minds. The abilities of these men were also enlisted by
the Papal Church, in its interests, and they of necessity labored
hard to defend its sophistical dogmas and perversions.

To illustrate the peculiarity now in question, we may adduce
the celebrated dispute which divided all the Schools into Realists
and Nominalists. The inquiry had been started anew by Rosce-
lin, whether general ideas designated at that time by the name
UrwoersfUt were merely abstractums of the mind, represented by
words ; or whether they represented realities. He attributed to
them only a verbal validity, and was thus the founder of the Nomi-
nalists. It is truly amazing that so abstruse a theme should have
been discussed amid the darkness of the Middle Ages. The fierce-
ness of the contest which was waged during so protracted a pe-
riod, is equally astonishing. It was in consequence of his op-
position to the Nominalist party, that John Huss was condemned to
death at Constance in 1415. It was in consequence of his opposition
to Realism, that John de Wesalia was imprisoned in 1479, in which
confinement he remained until his death. In both of these eases,
it was the influence of the opposing sect which sealed the doom
of these excellent men.

We may form some idea of this knottv logomachy firom the fol-
lowing statements. The dispute mainly turned u{>on the point
whether Gfenus and Species were real thistgSy existing subjec-
tively and independently of our objective conceptions of them, or
not. The doctrine of the Realists was erroneously attributed to
Aristotle, says Dr. Whately ; for he contradicts it. Aristotle calls
individualy primary or independent substances [n^mat ovula\ , but
genus and species, comprising those individuals, secondary {oevrdga
^vala) , as not denoting an actually existing thing. ArisL Categor.y
4 3. Upon this apparently worthless inquiry, the fierce disputes of
ages rested. Around it they raged with unmitigated intensity ;
sometimes illuminated by the lurid flames of the martyr's conflagra-
tion, sometimes interrupted by his death-shrieks and expiring ago-
nies. That no valuable fruits resulted from these agitations, may
well appear to us, in the enli^tcned and utilitarian age in which
we live.

Aquinas gives an exposition of his views on this question as
follows. According to him, universals may be considered either
in regard to their matter or their form. The matter of the
universal idea of manj is the union of the attributes^ of human
nature. Hence, universals are a parte rei; their matter exists
solely in each individual. Their form is the character of univer-
sality applied to this matter, which is obtained by abstracting what
is peculiar to each individual, in order to consider what is common
to all. In this sense, he says universals are a parte intelhctus^
Apparently, this inquiry was invested with some importance, be-
cause if individuals are the only realities, it necessarily follows



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152 The Scholastic Theology of the Middle Ages. [Jan.

that those senses "which perceive these individuals are the only
sources of human knowledge. It also foUoves, that there can be
no clear conception of anything, because a clear conception and
positive affirmation imply a general idea, which it is here affirmed
does not exist. This leads us to skepticism. While, on the other
hand, if the objects represented by general ideas, are the only
realities, of which individuals are merely the forms, we are on the
hi^ road to Pantheism. These results, it appears, were antici-
pated by the scholastics, and were furiously charged in their
wranglings upon the respective maintainers of them.

That both systems, when exclusively taken,. were erroneous, is
sufficiently plain. The generic term holiness^ for instance, has in
its generality, no external, corresponding matter. And yet it caii-
not be without some object, else it would not exist. In one sense>
therefore, the abstract terms, justice, virtue, truth, etc., are nominal,
existing without any related objects which they qualify. In
another sense, they are real, for they give distinctive character to
certain entities, and without them, these entities could not at all
exist as such.

A third characteristic of the scholastic doctors was their
ignorance of the plain doctrines of the Bible. This results
from their want of acquaintance with exegetical learning,
already alluded to. This ignorance might naturally be inferred
from the fact, that they made the Bible no standard of appeal in
their doctrinal investigations. When any sort of reference what-
ever was made to it, it was so enveloped in paraphrases and
glosses, in the language, too, of the Vulgate, that the pure Word
of God and mind of the Spirit were rarely reached.

The ignorance of these doctors of the truths of the Bible was
singularly illustrated by the conference which Luther held at
Augsburg, with Cardinal Cajetan, one of the ablest theologians of
his day. As papal legate he was sent to confound and silence the
arch-heretic, ana then prescribe the terms of his submission to the
Holy See. He entertained no doubt whatever, but that he could
reduce Luther to intellectual straits, as well as to terms of per-
sonal submission. His fame, his learning, his high reputation for
talents and experience, must ensure him an easy victory over the
abominable heretic. But in bold reply, to the distinctions and
evasions of the legate, the presumptuous monk arrayed in impene-
trable order the declarations of the Word of God. He demanded
counter evidences from the same authority. He would not yield
until his own proofs had been invalidated. The declaration's of
the Bible fell with massive weight upon the nice and delicate
structures of the legate's logic, demolished them, and left not a
trace behind. Had Cajetan been a biblical scholar, the monk's
victory would not have been so signal, nor the dignitary's defeat
so humiliating. He was learned, but merely i% the Schoolmen



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1847.] The Scholastic Theology of the Middle Ages. 153

and Fathers. He had great abilities, but they had never been
trained under the tuition of the Great Teacher, nor enlightened by
his Spirit.

Nor was Cajetan's acquaintance with the Bible inferior to that
of his brethren. They were all equally ignorant. Scholasticism
still flourished while ne lived, and if a knowledge of the Bible
had been characteristic of those theologians, he would have shared
a portion of their wisdom. When we turn to the history of those
times, we learn that it confirms the truth taught by the case just
cited. Erasmus, de Ratione Verse Theologise, says : Quale spec-
taculum est theologum octogenarium nihil aliud sapere quam mera
sophismata, et ad extremum usque vitse nihil aliud aigutari. Pos-
sem tibi producere, qui annum egressi octogesimum tantimi setatis,
in scholasticis tricis perdiderint, nee usque contentum evangelicum
evolverint. Id quod a me compertum, ipsi quoque demum confessi
sunt. Perkheimer, in his Epist. apolog. pro Reuchlino, says:
Hinc est quod vetus Test, a similibus negligitur, novum quasi
idiotis scriptum vilipenditur, Apostolorum doctrinae vix lectione
digna putatur. Robert Stephens, in the preface to his Responsio
ad censuras -theologorum Parisiensium, declares : Ante paucos
annos quidam ex Sorbona sic loquebatur ; miror quid isti juvenes
nobis semper allegent J^Tovum Testamentum ? Per Deum, ego
plus habebam quam quinquaginta annos, quod nesciebam quod
esset Novum Testamentum?

Such language needs no comment. Such ignorance of the Scrip-
tures, among the professed teachers of religion, is astonishing as
well as mournful. The purity of the doctrines taught by such men
may well be imagined. The great principle has yet to be over-
turned, that Theologus in Scripturis nascitur; and if this aphorism
be true, the claims of the Scholastic Doctors, to the title of theo-
logical instructors, can be with difficulty maintained. When the
fountains become impure, and the very channels through which
these waters are conveyed are polluted, we will in vam expect
anything but a draught of impurity and filth.

The Scholastic Theologians introduced philosophical systems
into their doctrines, and were all either Platonists or Aristotelians.
This unnatural Connection between light and darkness, produced
the worst results. The Arabian philosophy had prepared the way
for this state of things. The great names of Alkendi, Algazel>
and Averroes, adorn the history of that school. The only work of
Aristotle, with which Europeans were acquainted, was his Organon^
of which a Latin translation had been made by Boethius. The
Arabs had translated all his works, and introduced them into the
Moorish schools of Spain. To these seats of learning, the youth
of Christian Europe resorted. Thus, the fame of these writings
was carried abroad, and the Latin translations of them extensively
circulated.



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154 The Scholastic TheoU^ of the Middk Age$. [Jan.

The influence which Aristotle exerted in this fonn^ was decid-
edly injurious. But after a just discrimination was observed be-
tween nis own writings and the numerous glosses of his Arabian
translators, this unfavorable prejudice faded from his name, and
he began to exercise imlimitea influence.

The mendicant orders of Europe aided powerfully in placing
Aristotle upon an undisputed throne. All these orders espoused
the cause either of Aristotle or his great teacher and rival, Plato.
The doctors of the schools, of course, enlisted in behalf either of
one or the other, and thus they were borne forward by the com-
bined influence of conviction and rivalry. While Aquinas flour-
ished he silenced every scruple against Aristotle. Yet the Scho-
lastics did not possess a clear idea of his doctrines, as is apparent
from their conflicting interpretations of him. They sometimes
united with his system, some of the doctrines of the Neo-Platonic
school of Alexandria. Their metaphysics were injurious to their
Theology. Accordingly some of them were censured by the Holy
See as heretical. This was the fiate of Roscelin, Lombard, Abe-
lard and Occam.

By this union of philosophy and theology, these writers may be
said to have invested the doctrines of the Scriptures with an im-
penetrable wrappage of dialectical quibbling, so that the truth
could not be discerned amid its interminable rolds. Besides, their
discussions had assumed the form, in many cases, of theological
trifling. They possessed a one-sided subjectivism, without any
practical development or tendency, nor proceeding forth in any
objective direction. It was time to tear from this theology, the



Online LibraryYale University. Class of 1842The Biblical repository and classical review, Volume 3 → online text (page 19 of 94)