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****complete Medieval Philosophy In Verse - Poem by RAJ NANDY
THE HISTORY OF
‘’I HUMBLY INVOKE THE GODS THAT BE, AS I
COMMENCE TO WRITE –‘THE HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL
PHILOSOPHY’- AS A SEQUEL TO MY EARLIER ‘HISTORY
OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY’, WITH ALL SINCERITY!
TO LEAVE BEHIND MY WORK FOR POSTERITY! ’’
ALL COPY RIGTS ARE RESERVED BY -
During the second half of 5th century CE,
With the disintegration of the Roman
There was also a decay of culture and of
all shared institutions, -
That had long sustained philosophic activity
in late antiquity!
Thus Medieval Philosophy became deprived, -
Of Greek language and classical texts and
And only Latin had remained as a language, -
For all intellectual discourse!
Latin provided access to Cicero, Seneca, and
the Latin Church Fathers;
And to the works of St Augustine and those of
Yet despite the demise of the Empire’s social
The Church had remained as the only institution, -
Capable of supporting intellectual culture!
The Medieval philosopher mostly trained in
Were basically theologians, without any false
While Christianity provided a great stimulus, -
for all philosophical speculations!
Thus Medieval Philosophy took roots in an
Permeated with religious texts and ideas,
For its further advancement!
It becomes difficult to provide firm cut-off
Since Medieval Philosophy covers a wide
and motley canvas,
Which cannot be treated as unified or as
From the disintegration of the Roman Empire –
in the early 5th century AD,
Till the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman
Turks in 1453;
From the philosophy of St Augustine till the
time of Descartes;
Covers a broad and sweeping canvas and
a motley visage,
Embodying a rich and most varied part of
Western intellectual heritage!
Its Main Ingredients:
Coming to the main ingredients of Medieval
It contains classical and pagan elements of
Greek philosophic speculations,
Including those of later Neo-platonic version;
Mixed with the emerging influences of Christian
It gets seasoned with flavouring from Jewish and
Islamic intellectual heritage,
Stirred and simmered for a period of about 1300
years or so,
Resulting in a potent theological brew, -
On which the Medieval Philosophy developed
Philosophy in its eternal quest for wisdom and
When confronted with the question of good and
Now finds a newly emerging Christian faith, -
Which was able to save mankind from the very
And to recall what St Augustine had said,
That one must begin to reason with faith,
And believe in God to better human reason;
Since pursuit of knowledge without faith, -
smacked of treason!
Philosophy now becomes a handmaiden of
Its logical contents and speculations were
increasingly used, -
To justify the new religion of Christianity!
Initially Medieval Philosophy began with the
influence of Plato,
But from 13th century onwards, the influence
of Aristotle began to dominate show!
Only to be later displaced by the inductive reasoning
of the Renaissance,
Ushering in a new era of scientific speculations and
Scope of Work:
For better understanding I have divided my work
into three sections;
Pre-Augustine, Augustine, and Post- Augustine!
Since St Augustine stands like a giant colossus,
Whose shadow looms large over the entire Medieval
Thus providing a suitable reference point for easy
demarcation for us!
So my work commences with Advent of Christianity
and the Period of Evangelization;
With the pioneering work of Church Fathers, -
Along with its many religious heresies and
Section Two covers the philosophical work of great
Finally, highlighting the work of those who spent
Justifying God’s existence with logical reasoning
and faith, -
Till it blossomed as Scholastic Philosophy and
began to spread;
And their ceaseless efforts to synthesize Medieval
faith and theology, -
With Greek classical reasoning and philosophy!
* PART- I *
ADVENT OF CHRISTIANITY:
Following the barbaric invasions by the Visigoths,
the Ostrogoths, Vandals and the Huns, -
The complete disintegration of the great Roman
Empire had begun!
There prevailed in the minds of men despondency
and total confusion;
Emergence of Christianity with its all embracing
Ushered in a new dawn of hope in the prevailing
gloom of depression!
The new faith struck a popular chord in people’s
mind and heart,
Where by leading a virtuous life with faith and love,
One could gain eternal salvation and blessings from
the Heavens above!
By the 4th Century AD, the newly emerging religion
Had established itself firmly in the Roman world, -
Forming a part and parcel of Medieval History!
PERIOD OF EVANGELISATION
The first evangelists were Paul of Tarsus,
Who along with Simon Peter and James the Just,
And authors of the four gospels of Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John, -
Had laid the foundations of Christian Religion!
Many other evangelists followed to preach the
Spreading the words of God and the good new
Christianity had gradually made its dent on the
Through its catholic approach, its message of
salvation, and by winning many converts!
It had grown from the soil of Judaism in the Holy
Land of Jerusalem,
And preached the gospel of a Father-God to all
Spoke of a God who was all merciful, kind and
Who forgave and embraced all repenting sinners;
Irrespective of their status, creed or cast!
A God who loved all His children alike,
Promising redemption for the entire Mankind!
Initially Greek philosophy and the Christian
Appeared incongruous and did not blend!
When the Apostolic Fathers of the first and
early second centuries,
Tried to formulate a new Christian philosophy, -
By incorporating elements from Plato and Neo-
platonic pagan philosophy!
They had faced many controversial heresies and
Before the doctrines for the emerging Church
could finally emerge, -
To become crystallized and be set in motion!
Persecutions of Christians:
Out of fifty-four Roman Emperors who ruled
between 30 and 311 AD,
Twelve of them are known to have persecuted
Christians and attacked Christianity!
During 64 AD persecutions first began by the
mad King Nero,
Culminating in the martyrdom of Apostles Peter
and Paul, -
Which turned them into instant national heroes!
All subsequent persecutions took a dramatic turn,
By making all Christian believers even more
resolute and firm!
This made Latin Apologist Tertullian exclaim, -
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”;
Which became an important proverbial adage!
Roman Concept of ‘piety’:
For the Romans, religion was first and foremost
a social activity,
For promoting loyalty to the state and preserving
Proper ‘piety’ to their established Gods helped
them to maintain,
The well being of their people and their vast
Empire to sustain, -
Against all impending disasters till the very end!
The new religion of Christianity was looked
upon with great suspicion,
Their homage to an unknown God while seeking
As an alien, detrimental and a ‘superstitious’
For in those days the word ‘superstitious’ had
a negative connotation!
And finally when the great Roman Empire
crumbled during the 5th century AD,
The Romans blamed it on the new religion of
But power had gradually shifted from their
Empire to the Church,
And transformation of the world had begun!
THE CHURCH FATHERS
The ‘Church Fathers’ is a broad generic term, -
Embracing all Christian writers and theologians
They constitute the first 800 years of Church
While Jesus formed the cornerstone of the Church;
The Apostles and the Fathers formed it’s very
structure and bulwark;
On which the Church got built to sustain itself
for eons to come!
The period has been further sub-divided for the
sake of clarity;
Commencing with the Apostolic Fathers of the
Followed by the later Fathers – the Apologists!
The period during which these fathers wrote, -
Is also referred to as the Patristic Period;
Since ‘patristic’ is a term derived from the Latin
word ‘pater’, meaning ‘father’, -
Such a nomenclature did make proper sense!
Since the writers of this period interpreted the Bible
so as to defend, -
Against the challenges faced from the pagan Greek
thoughts and heretical movements!
They also elaborated on the theological concepts
of Trinity and Salvation;
While establishing the initial structure of the
Church and its Organization!
Medieval Theological Schools:
These Schools began to flourish from mid - second
Brought into existence by the conflict between pagan
Philosophy and Christianity!
There were three important Schools of thoughts;
Located in Western North Africa, Alexandria,
and in Antioch!
The Alexandrian School had existed from the
1st century AD,
As an established center of Greek Philosophy!
Was closely associated with the philosophy of
Being the birthplace of Neoplatonism and the
Jewish philosopher Philo.
Its prominent writers were Clement, Origen, and
Didymus the Blind;
Their interpretation of the scriptures were often of
allegorical kind, -
And emphasized the divinity of Jesus Christ!
Antioch was a Greek-speaking city, located in
modern day Turkey;
Mentioned in the New Testament – Acts, as a
center of Christianity.
Important fathers were Diodore of Caesarea,
Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus.
They emphasized the moral and humane aspect
of Lord Jesus;
Interpreted the scriptures highlighting its historical
While Aristotle’s work to them had made better
Western North African School included the
famous city of Carthage,
Which rivaled the city of Rome in those ancient
It’s theologians were Cyprian, Tertullian, and
later the great Augustine;
They all wrote in Latin, and were more practical
oriented in their times!
The Apostolic Fathers:
The earliest of church Apostles were Clement of
Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias;
Including the unknown authors of the Didache,
and the Epistal of Barabas.
They all were concerned mostly with the matters
concerning Christian faith,
Writing letters between churches and with logical
Telling their devotees not to lose faith, -
In the midst of growing religious persecutions!
Some of these early fathers had been taught, -
By the great apostle St Peter and St John!
So these fathers of the church were called –
Because they provided a privileged linkage,
Between those Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, -
And the next generation of Church Fathers, -
To continue the historic Christian heritage!
From the second half of the 2nd Century AD,
There came forward many Christian Apologists;
To defend Christianity from false accusations,
And to clarify prevailing doubts and misconceptions;
Writing letters to Roman Emperors to stop religious
They like their predecessors developed the doctrines
of the Church,
And gallantly defended the nascent Christian faith, -
From heretical accusations which had begun!
Amongst the many Greek Apologists to mention
Were Justin Martyr, Tatian, Apollinaris, Clement
of Alexanderia and Athenagoras;
While Macus Flix and Tertullian, as Latin Apologists,
were better known and famous!
Let me highlight the works of only a relevant few,
And thereby pay Medieval Philosophy my humble
The 1st & 2nd Century Fathers:
Pope St Clement (born during 1st century)
Clement of Rome, about whom very little is
Said to be the first Apostolic Father of the
Tertullian claims that he was consecrated by
And also became his worthy successor!
His only writing that survives, is his letter to
the Corithian Church,
Telling them to restore the unjustly deposed
This letter dated 95 AD, was the time when
the gospel of St John came to be!
Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (35-107 AD)
Is known for his letters to the churches and to
Which are widely quoted by the early Church.
For the unity of the Church, he viewed Bishop’s
Office as an important safeguard!
Traveled under escort from Asia Minor for the
world to see,
To be finally martyred in Rome in 107 AD!
Papias Bishop of Hierapolis (60-130 AD)
Known for his ‘Expositions of the sayings of
Which provides historic information about the
Gospels to us all!
Said to have been a disciple of St John, -
Which makes him even more illustrious;
As mentioned in the writings of Ireneaus.
Polycarp (69-155 AD)
Was born in Smyrna (Turkey) , known for his
‘Epistle to the Phillipians’;
Defended the faith against the heresies of the
Marcionites and the Valentinians!
Said to have know St John and other disciples
During a pagan festival he was arrested, -
To be burnt to death, for refusing to recant
his Christian faith!
Also known as Justin of Caesarea and Justin the
Was brought up as a pagan, had inherited property,
and studied philosophy!
And after long search for truth, finally converted
Is considered the greatest of Apologists!
Sizable portion of his work survives on
He argued that God had provided hints in ancient
Greek philosophy, -
About the final revelation of Christ through
‘logos spermatikos’ = “the seed-bearing word”!
Suffered martyrdom under Marcus Aurelius, -
For refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods!
Ireneus: Bishop of Lyons (178-200)
Born in Smyra (Turkey) , went to Rome,
and finally settled in France!
Author of “Against Heresies”, a treaties -
against Gnosticism and especially against
Wrote about the Christian doctrine of Salvation,
and holding of the Apostolic tradition, -
Against all false accusations and interpretations!
First Latin Apologist:
Remembered as the first Christian Apologist writer
Was the son of a centurion, born in Carthage;
Converted to Christianity around 197 AD.
Known for his numerous theological and morale
polemical works like; -
‘Apology’, ‘On Penitence’, ‘Against Heretics’,
‘On the Incarnation of Christ’, and many more!
Was rigorous in his insistence on separation of
religious faith from pagan reasoning;
Which made him to make that famous retort, -
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? ”,
Implying that reason should remain divorced
from Christian faith!
Known as ‘Father of Latin Christianity’,
Became famous for his coinage of the term –
And also for ‘Three Persons, One Substance’, -
Which is ‘homoousios’ in Greek vocabulary!
Remembered for his gemlike sentences and
He shall always be quoted till our world lasts!
Mentioning a few of his quotes now becomes a
‘‘Nothing that is God’s is obtainable by money’’,
‘‘The blood of the martyr is the seed of the church’’,
‘’The first reaction of truth is hatred’’,
‘‘Discipline is an index of doctrine’’,
‘‘The more you mow us down, the more numerous
we grow, the blood of Christians is seed! ’’
But some of his innovative ideas were rejected by
Later he embraced Montanism, a heretical sect,
But again separated to set up his own faith!
The remnants of the Tertullianists were later
Back into the Christian fold by St Augustine!
Concluding Part One:
In an era when printing was unknown,
And hand-copied scriptures were both expensive
Availability of Patristic writings reveal to us,
How widely the sacred documents were dispersed, -
All across the far-flung ancient world!
For Clement was in Rome, Ireneus in France;
Polocarp in Asia Minor, Ignatus in Syria, Tertullian
in Africa, and Justin Martyr in Ephesus!
Having mentioned about the Apostolic and Apologist
Fathers of the Ancient Church;
I now move on to the greatest of them all,
With whom Patristic Philosophy reaches its culminating
The great St Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo!
His ‘Confessions’, ‘The City of God’, and fifteen
chapters on Trinity,
Even to this day remain as classics in the History
* PART – II *
ST AUGUSTINE – BISHOP OF HIPPO
(354 AD – 430 AD)
His Early Life:
He was the last of the great classical thinkers,
And the first amongst the Medieval ones!
Was born in the town of Thagaste in 354 AD, -
Forty five miles south of Hippo, in the Roman
province of Numidia, -
In North Africa, in our present day Algeria!
His father was a pagan and mother Monica, -
a devout Christian!
She wanted her son to be baptized, and not to
remain a pagan!
At an early age after having read the writings
Augustine’s initial interest in philosophy had
begun to show!
At the age of seventeen was sent to Carthage
to study rhetoric;
There he adopted a hedonistic life style and
became a Manichean freak!
He took a concubine for the next thirteen years,
And she also gave birth to his son Adeodatus;
Causing great distress to Monica, driving
her to tears!
Young Augustine taught rhetoric for nine years
But his life began to change, when at thirty
years of age,
He became a professor at the imperial court
For there he met Bishop Ambrose, who had
influenced him the most!
His mother soon followed him to Milan, -
To arrange a society marriage for her son!
But Augustine had to wait for the would-
be-bride to come of age;
And he took a second concubine, - forcing
his mother to get into a rage!
Subsequently, experiencing inner torment and after
He decided to lead a life of celibacy with religious
Breaking his engagement and giving up his second
In 387 both he and his son, by Bishop Ambrose
got baptized, -
To serve God and in search of a life divine!
But during his return journey to Africa, -
He lost his dear mother Monica!
This was followed by the loss of his only son,
And Augustine felt lost, with nowhere to turn!
He sold his property and donated his money to
And converted his house into a lay monastery!
Ordained as a Priest and next as Bishop:
In 391 Augustine visited Hippo to hear Bishop
Who was a Greek, and Latin he could hardly
The Bishop had prayed to God for a Latin priest;
So the young Augustine for him was God sent!
He was appointed as his deputy, and as a priest
And five years later, after the death of Valerius,
Since God’s ways are truly mysterious;
In 393AD Augustine was made a Bishop to
Augustine continued his writings on the subject
of Christian theology;
And with excellent expositions on Medieval
His Death And Sainthood:
When the fortified city of Hippo lay under a
fourteen month’s long siege;
On 28 August 430 AD, the great Augustine
breathed his last to set himself free!
Hippo was later burnt down by the Vandals,
But Augustine’s monastery and library, -
Were left untouched by those barbarians!
Initially his body in Hippo was laid to rest;
But according to historian Bede, around 720 AD,
Augustine’s body was finally rested at St Paul’s
Church in Pavia, Italy!
In 1303 he was declared Doctor of the Church by
the Roman Bishop Boniface, -
And was officially canonized as a Holy Saint!
His Total Writings:
In terms of his surviving works, he was the most
prolific of Latin writers;
Which consists of 117 books, some 500 holy
sermons, and around 200 letters!
Both his theological and philosophical works show,
Platonic and Neo-platonic influences, - inclusive
of Aristotle, Virgil and Cicero!
Whereas Plato’s and Aristotle’s total works contain, -
Half a million and a million words respectively;
Augustine uses around five million words for his
Amongst his most significant and enduring works are; -
His ‘Confessions’, ‘The City of God’, on ‘The Trinity’,
and ‘On the Christian Doctrine’!
And amongst these, the first two are considered as
And I will be highlighting two of these!
Augustine’s writings against the heresies of his time
are well known;
And also on educational, moral and ethical issues, -
Inclusive of his writings on the salvation of the
By reading his writings we try to delve Augustine’s
Despite the yawning gap of sixteen centuries he has
His “Confessions” (397 – 401 AD)
Augustine wrote his ‘Confessions’ after becoming
the Bishop of Hippo, -
Completing his twelve books in 401, spread over
a period of four year’s or so!
It is directly addressed to God in a style unique in
those days, -
Using the first nine books to admit his sins and
seek His forgiveness!
The last three books are a transition from auto-
biography to direct analysis, -
Of philosophical and theological issues relating to
the Christian faith with due emphasis!
But his 11th Book deserves a special mention,
Dealing with concept of Time and God’s creation!
Infinity and nothingness were concepts alien to the
Yet God in ‘Genesis’ created the world from void -
Though God created Time along with His creation,
He Himself is timeless and remains outside His
Time is a subjective element of the human mind;
As we measure its passing with the illusion of our
The past remains as our memory and the future as
Yet both past and present are contained in our
present moment as sight, -
In all our visual contemplations!
Yet this present moment too, has no permanence
Bertrand Russell praised it as pure philosophy!
Since Augustine foreshadowed Descartes and Kant, –
By treating Time subjectively!
The City of God (413 -429 AD)
Perhaps the lengthiest of his single works -
and a great endeavor;
Involving thirteen years of his intellectual labor!
Remains as the finest example of Patristic literature!
It was a vindication of Christianity against the
heathen attacks, -
In view of the sacking of the city of Rome by the
It was the time when the Greco-Roman civilization
was witnessing its downfall,
With the new Christian civilization rising from its
Emerging to stand firm and tall!
Rome which had not been sacked in 700 years,
Had come to be known as the Eternal City, and
had no fears!
After it fell to Alaric in 410 AD, the Romans
blamed it on Christianity!
For Augustine the only ‘eternal city’ was the
‘City of God’, -
That spiritual kingdom in Heaven, far removed
from the earthly sort!
The kingdom of the spirit awaits a true Christian
in that Heavenly City,
Thus proceeds his progressive arguments in his
22 Books - systematically!
Augustine weaves aspects of philosophy, theology,
politics and Western history within,
Though these areas of learning never existed then -
as separate disciplines!
The classical pagan view held History to be cyclic, -
With some variations but mostly repetitive!
In keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition, -
Augustine declared History to be linear;
It was not cyclic and was rather dissimilar!
He quoted the Bible in defense with its linear
From the Genesis till the Apocalypse complete!
Thus History has a positive beginning with a
Let us prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment!
One day man’s political ventures shall all end,
Just as the great Roman Empire before their eyes fell!
But only myopic men will blame the Christians, -
St Augustine had written and felt!
Let me quote from the hymn I had once sung,
In the morning chapel before the school begun; -
“Kingdoms will rise, kingdom will fall,
For nations refuse to hear the Lord’s call;
But the word of God endures for evermore! ”
Thus Augustine distinguishes between the
City of Men and the ‘City of God’, -
Which is not a political but as a spiritual entity, -
with the Lord!
HIS OTHER WORKS:
Augustine’s second largest work was on the
subject of ‘Trinity’,
Which was directed against the Arian controversy
of the 4th century!
Jesus was human and was made by the Father, -
the Arians said!
But the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were
of ‘one substance’ - as per Christian faith!
The Greek word for it was ‘homoousios’;
And this was adopted by the Council of Nicene
in 325 AD as unanimous!
Augustine wrote against the Manicheans, the
Donatists, the Arians and the Pelagians;
And with his writings defended the Catholic
Church from those heretics and pagans!
A person should be judged in respect to his
time and age,
To give us a proper perspective and his true
St Augustine was a transitional figure between the
Classical and the Medieval Age;
Quoted extensively by philosophers, theologians,
and later religious sage!
The figure of St Augustine towers like a giant colossus,
Whose lengthening shadow falls beyond his Age, -
Rather than formulating new dogmas for the Church,
or new theologies,
He valiantly defended the Faith from the repeated
onslaughts of the heretics!
Augustine unlike Aquinas, was neither a system builder,
nor an University teacher;
But an isolated pious thinker and writer of his age,
Searching for deeper allegorical meanings in the Bible, -
To interpret for us the Lord’s message!
That ‘Supreme Being’ of the Neoplatonists known as -
Was named ‘God’ by Augustine, from Whom all
And in doing so, St Augustine is said to have baptized -
the pagan Greek Plato!
His writings on the Theory of Knowledge, on the
problem of Evil, and Divine Grace;
Had disarmed all the vacillating skeptics of his Age!
His theory of Creation from ‘nothing’ -‘Ex Nihilo’;
Is consistent with our Big Bang theory of today, -
as we know!
In his synthesis of faith and reason, and religion with
He later inspired St Anselm to prove God’s existence, -
With arguments from cosmology!
Following him, Aquinas defines Sin, as “a word, deed
or desire; anything that disobeys God’s will;
As a privation of Good, and synonymous with evil! ”
In his wealth of perception and dialectic sharpness
For religious fervor with which his greatness of aim
and action is wrought;
Even after sixteen long centuries St Augustine is never
Regarded as the greatest of Apologist Fathers of the
And a leading Doctor of the Latin Church and a sage!
St Augustine shines bright in the firmament of the
Shedding his illuminating light from the Heavens
(End of Part –II of History of Medieval Philosophy)
***PART – III***
MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY AFTER
We have seen the beginning of Medieval Philosophy,
Following the encounters between newly emergent
And its forerunners - Judaism and classical pagan
The early Church Fathers had tried their best, -
To make philosophical reasoning more compatible
But those earlier influences of Neo-platonism,
Gave rise to controversies and theological dualism;
Which resulted in a number of Church heresies;
And the Church had to combat them for the next
Following many lively debates and anti-heretical
And rulings by successive Ecumenical Councils, -
after many deliberations;
The doctrines of the Church finally took shape;
Which finally crystallized as the Christian faith!
Under Emperor Constantine-I (306-337AD) , -
Christianization of the Roman Empire had begun!
Theodosius-I had banned all pagan worship,
And Emperor Justinian in 529 AD, by closing Plato’s
Officially sealed the last refuge of Pagan Philosophy!
THE DARK AGES!
The period from 450 to 750 AD, generally known as
the Early Middle Ages,
Has also been called by some historians as the ‘Dark
A term created by Latin historian Francesco Petrarca
in 1330s as a stricture, -
Originally intended as a criticism of poor quality of
And the lack of contemporary written historic resource,
For proper evaluation of this period under discourse;
Led Petrarch to christen it as the ‘Dark Age’!
However, modern historians prefer to call it a ‘Period
of Transition’, -
Between the Classical and the High Middle Ages, -
To correct this earlier mistaken notion!
It was a period of great political instability,
With the Germanic tribes conquering the Roman
With people’s life at stake, there was less of
In 476 AD, Odovaker king of the Ostrogoths had
put an end to the Roman Empire,
And ruled for the next seventeen years entire!
The Vandals established themselves in Africa;
The Franks north of France, and the Visigoths in
And close on their heels came Attila the Hun!
But Pope Leo dissuaded Attila telling him to show
Reminding him that Alaric the Goth had died, -
after sacking the Holy City! !
Listening to the Pope, Attila withdrew;
But died the following year, which is also true!
And the scourge of the Huns was bid adieu!
PHILOSOPHY DURING THIS PERIOD:
Knowledge was now confined within the lay
monasteries and abbeys;
And after St Benedict streamlined the monastic
way of life, -
The monks began to train both administrators
and future churchmen alike!
But the Greek language was soon forgotten, -
And no one even remembered Plato or Aristotle!
As classical learning began to gradually wane;
And preservation of Greek philosophic tradition, -
Depended solely upon Greek to Latin translations!
Which brings us to the work of the Roman scholar
Whose translation of Aristotle’s logic, and his
‘Consolation of Philosophy’, had made him famous!
BOETHIUS (480 – 524 AD)
In 480 AD was born into the Roman aristocracy;
Orphaned soon after and raised by an adopting family!
He became well versed in philosophy and the classics;
Especially that of Plato, Aristotle and the Neo-platonics!
Rose to the position of ‘Master of Offices’ in the Western
Under Theodoric the Ostrogoth Emperor at Ravenna!
Roman aristocracy then was thoroughly Christianized;
And Boethius became involved in ecclesiastical dispute
of his time;
Centered around a schism between Latin and Greek
Later accused falsely of treason against Theodoric
the Arian King,
Was thrown inside the prison without any hearing!
His literary masterpiece ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’
was written in prison;
While waiting for his execution - charged with high
Finally executed in 542 AD as a martyr of Arian
In Pavia he is still regarded as a saint, though never
canonized after his execution!
Recognized as one of the most important intermediaries,
Between the Latin Middle Ages and ancient Greek
His Latin commentaries on the ‘Categories of Aristotle’,
And on the commentaries of ‘Isagoge’ of Porphyry,
Influenced the development of medieval logic,
doctrine and terminology!
These were referred by the Carolingian School and
the 12th century Schoolmen,
Till the translations of Aristotle was finally made
available to them!
Boethius also translated works on Euclid’s geometry,
Ptolemy’s astronomy, and works on arithmetic;
Not forgetting his own treaties on Greek music!
His expositions on the ‘universals’ and ‘God’s for-
Made the later scholars quote him and his wisdom
His Five Books ‘On the Consolation’, was an unique
masterpiece of medieval literature;
Let me now tell you something about its various
“CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY”:
It was written during his last year in prison,
An unique prose work with verse interludes;
Between him and Lady Philosophy, personified
as Philosophy’s Muse!
The Muse consoles Boethius for his sudden fall
from grace, -
Cultivating Christian virtue would bring him true
She speaks about the transitory nature of fame
For these worldly things should never be sought;
Seek that ‘one true good of the mind’, the Muse
had taught, -
Through application of love and prayer to the God!
And this was also the philosophical message of the
Middle Ages too,
Which is echoed in the works of Chaucer, Anselm,
Dante and Milton, -
For they also expressed similar views!
From the Carolingian epoch to the Middle Ages -
‘The Consolation’ was the most widely copied
work of European secular literature;
Read by poets, theologians, historians and also by
It was also taught in the Universities by the Scholastics,
Along with Plato and Aristotle, as a part of Medieval
And in conclusion I must mention that the Middle Ages,
Was a difficult period politically, socially and
Yet they received much inward happiness by reading
‘The Consolation of Philosophy’!
Boethius remains as the last great philosopher with
And the first of the scholars of the new Scholastic Age!
PRELUDE TO SCHOLASTICISM
Medieval Philosophy just like the Middle Ages,
Were looked upon with unwarranted contempt by
the succeeding ages!
German philosopher Hegel preferred to skip over
those thousand years;
It was like ‘sighting land by an exhausted sailor’ -
When he reached the philosophy of Descartes!
But following the voluminous research by scholars
of our age,
A more balanced and impartial view now prevails!
Since quest for truth remains philosophy’s ultimate
The medieval scholars sincerely did uphold that
St Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD) :
On a rocky hill top eighty miles SE of Rome, -
Overlooking the serene Italian valley,
Lies the historic Monte Cassino, where in 529AD,
St. Benedict had set up his first monastery!
There he formulated the ‘Rule of Benedictine’, -
A model for Western Monasticism, which
became a boon for mankind!
I recall the contributions of his Benedictine Order, -
Of spiritual, economical and of educational kind;
Saving the Western culture from complete destruction;
Steering Europe through the ‘Dark Ages’ into light!
Therefore, the period between 550 to 1150 AD,
Has also been called the ‘Benedictine Centuries’!
PHILOSOPHY AFTER St.AUGUSTINE:
Between the 5th and 9th centuries after St Augustine,
The Patristic tradition was continued on Platonic lines;
By Boethius, St Isidore Seville and the Venerable Bede!
Medieval philosophy in its endeavor for truth,
Was clearly meant to include the Christian faith, -
As St. Augustine had already written and said!
But it was the scholar Boethius in the 6th century,
Who had formulated this principle more explicitly!
For in a short article on the Holy Trinity,
He had clearly made the following entreaty, -
“As far as you are able, join faith to reason”!
And this became the motto of the later Scholastics,
Reflected in their great works in prose majestic!
THE CAROLINGIAN RENAISSANC
Charlemagne the king of the Franks was crowned
Emperor at Rome in 800AD,
Following his annexation of much of Europe -
The 9th century saw a revival of art, religion and
And the Catholic Church played a major role in
this intellectual adventure!
Schools got created and leading scholars were
Alcuin of York was made the head of the Palace
School at Aachen,
He was a Northumbrian monk and a deacon!
He standardized the curriculum of the created
And to further education, wrote many textbooks!
But the greatest of the scholars during the latter era, -
Was a scholar from Ireland named John Scotus
Johannes Scotus Eriugena (815-877AD)
He was an Irish theologian, Neoplatonist philosopher
and a poet,
Whose knowledge of Greek was rare in Europe
Was invited to France by King Charles the Bald, -
As head of the Palace School succeeding Alcuin of
He revived philosophical thoughts which remained
dormant after Boethius!
But philosophy in the service of theology – was no
For he tried to separate them without being confused!
The beginning of Scholasticism can be traced back
And the establishment of proper schools and many
contributions by Schoolmen;
Which finally paved the way for the foundation of
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Medieval Era
The Foundation of European Universities:
Plato’s pagan Academy after 900 year’s of existence,
Was closed by the Christian Emperor Justinian in
529AD - in Athens!
Aristotle’s Lyceum came to an end in 86 BC,
When Roman General Sulla sacked the Athenian
With the disappearance of classical Roman culture,
Monasteries in Europe became the centers of education
During the early Middle Ages, Hilda the abbess of Whitby,
With separate wings for men and women in Yorkshire, -
Had established a double monastery!
In Europe cloister schools began to grow and flourish,
Inspired by the very nature of the Rule of St Benedict!
It was Alcuin of York who during Charlemagne’s reign,
Organized the teaching institutions for educational gains;
With historian Paul the Deacon, theologian Paulinus
Aquileia, and Peter of Pisa the grammarian!
Based on the pattern of the first Palace School at Aachen,
Schools sprang up at places like Tours, Orleans, and
Where seeds of Carolingian Revival of Learning was
These earliest monastic and cathedral schools, -
Though primarily meant for training candidates for
Finally became the first Latin grammar schools!
Grammar, rhetoric and logic, termed the ‘trivium’,
Became the foundation of medieval education and
And from here the development of Universities also
Though the University of Constantinople was recognized
in 849 AD,
University of Bologna(1088) is known as the “mother
of European universities”, -
Since it was the first to issue proper university degree!
Some of the other great universities which followed are; -
The one at Paris(1150) , Oxford(1167) , Cambridge(1209)
and at Padua (1222) !
The University of Paris later became rather renowned,
When research on rediscovered works of Aristotle
began to be carried out!
SCHOLASTICISM DURING MEDIEVAL
(From 9TH to 14TH Centuries)
The term ‘Scholasticism’ is derived from the Latin
word ‘scholasticus’, -
Meaning ‘that which belongs to the school’, with
They were erudite Schoolmen from the time of
Well versed in the ‘trivium’ (grammer, dialectic,
and rhetoric) :
And also in the ‘quadrivium’(arithmetic, music,
geometry, astronomy) , or in theology!
When combined they formed the seven liberal arts,
And from here the medieval learning starts!
Therefore ‘scholasticism’ was not a school of
But a method of study and a teaching methodology!
The greatest of Medieval philosophers were also
And in their writings they have tried to blend faith
And while doing so, they also taught important ideas
Which were not always directly related to Theology!
But our study will remain incomplete if we forget,
That early Scholasticism also coincided -
With growth of Islamic philosophy and faith!
However, this topic will be dealt at a later time
STAGES OF SCHOLASTICISM:
The Scholastic period has been divided broadly into
For easy understanding and better comprehension!
Its formative phase is covered between 9th and 12th
With the 13th century seeing its Golden Age and
While the 14th and the 15th centuries sees it’s gradual
decline and extinction!
The Formative Period:
We have already gone through the background of the
And the valuable contributions of Scotus Erigena!
This period remains dominated by Platonic, Neo-
Platonic and Augustinian philosophical thoughts!
With the relationship between faith and reason, will
and intellect, -
And the status of the ‘universals’ and existence of God;
Remained upper most in the minds of Scholastics and
But the problem of the ‘universals’ had occupied a
pre-eminent position, -
And the Scholastics became engrossed in its lengthy
Problem of the Universals:
‘Universals’ are those properties or common features,
Shared by many individual things which exemplify
Like the ‘redness’ of apples or ‘greenness’ of trees,
Or the ‘tallness’ of men - are a few examples of these!
The Realists believed that the ‘universals’ like Plato’s
‘Ideas’ or ‘Forms’,
Had also an existence as ‘ideals’ in a world beyond!
Nominalists like Ockham, Berkley and Goodman,
opposed this view;
The particular things exist only as individuals
objectively, - they claimed to be true!
The Conceptualists claimed the ‘universals’ existed
only in the human mind, -
As an eternal concept of the mental kind!
We may call it ‘the One’ or a mental conception,
Resulting in endless philosophical discussions!
Now my readers must pardon me for this thought
which has occurred to me, -
Does ‘humanity’ exist as an ‘universal’ in every
Or does it like Plato’s ‘forms’ remain a shadowy
Let our modern philosophers find answers to these
Now getting back to Scholasticism and its early
Two philosophers who deserve a special mention,
Are St.Anslem and Peter Abelard, for their valuable
St. ANSLEM of CANTERBURY(1033-1109) :
Born in Aosta now in North Italy, to a noble family,
Was instructed in religion by his mother a devout
In 1060 joined the Benedictine Abby of Bec in France
as a novice!
Studied under the eminent Lanfranc the theologian,
Who became his tutor and was also a dialectician!
Later Anslem succeeded his tutor, as the Abbot at
And subsequently composed his works on religion
Under him the Abbey became rich and famous,
As a leading center of learning in Europe, located in
In 1092 he was invited by Hugh the Earl Chester to
And in 1093 was offered the position of the Archbishop
of Canterbury by them!
But he was hounded by King William II of England,
Who was always trying to appropriate church lands
and income for his gains!
In 1097 Anslem left for Rome and could only return,
After being reinstated as Archbishop by the Pope, -
to continue his term!
Anslem died in 1109 at Canterbury, canonized by the
Catholic church in 1494 AD!
Anslem’s writings were mostly in the form of dialogues
and meditations, -
With hardly any references to his predecessors in
Though it showed influences of Augustine and also
His ‘Monologium’, ‘Proslogium’, ‘Dialogues on Truth’,
‘Free Will’ and on the ‘Fall of the Devil’;
Became well known in his time amongst the Medieval!
His Ontological Argument in the ‘Proslogium’, -
As proof for the Existence of God has made Anslem
God being the most perfect of beings, nothing greater
could be conceived than Him!
His arguments based on Platonic realism and a priori
Stated that God’s existence is implied by the very
concept of His being!
His rational argument on the doctrine of creation,
original sin, free will, atonement, and the Trinity;
Had influenced later Scholastics and also Christian
PETER ABELARD (1079-1142) :
A scholastic philosopher born at Palais, near Nantes,
in 1079 AD,
Was a renowned French intellectual and theologian
of the 12th century!
For his scandalous romance with Heloise unfortunately,
He became better known to posterity!
Till Cousin published his philosophical works in 1836, -
Bringing his work into focus with publicity!
Studied under Roscellinus and also under William of
Champeaux at Notre –Dame,
But soon surpassed his teachers in dialectics and
Thereby enhancing his own reputation and name!
Later attended theological lectures under a pupil of
St Anslem of Bec, named Anslem of Laon;
And in 1115 AD at Notre-Dame, got nominated as
At the height of his fame became a tutor to Heloise,
A fair young lady and cannon Fulbert’s niece;
And ever since then Abelard lost his mental peace!
Their secret love affair soon became well known,
And he escaped with her to Pallet, where their son
Astrolabe was born!
Their secret marriage enraged canon Fulbert,
And he soon took revenge by castrating Abelard!
Heloise subsequently entered the convent of
Argenteuil to become a nun!
Abelard’s life became marred with acquisitions,
quarrels, and blames;
His interpretation of Trinity was declared heretical,
And his books were thrown into flames!
Thus this renowned French philosopher and theologian
of the 12th century,
Spent his last days mostly in isolation and misery!
The tombs of Peter Abelard and Heloise now lie side
by side at the Pere Lachaise cemetery!
Influence Of Abelard:
He is primarily known as a renowned dialectician;
For investigating truth through debates and logical
His unique method of presentation is seen in his –
‘Sic et Non’ (‘Yes and Nay’) :
Where he put forth each thesis along with opposing
Without providing his personal conclusions;
Leaving the readers to read, think and find their
This style was adopted later by others including
Peter the Lombard and St. Aquinas!
Abelard who was also a poet, expressed his Ethics
in verse; -
“God considered not action, but the sprit of action,
It is the intention, not the deed, wherein the merit
or praise of the doer consists! ”
He emphasized - ‘Reason aids Faith’, in the true spirit
of the Scholastics of his age!
His influence on the later thinkers of the 13th century,
Was exercised chiefly through his pupil Peter Lombard.
Lombard continued Abelard’s scholastic heritage;
As an enlightened opponent of obscurantism, -
Influencing later stalwarts of the Scholastic Age!
PETER LOMBARD (1100-1160) :
A Scholastic theologian, was born in NW Italy,
in a poor family.
Initially studied in the cathedral school in Italy.
Under the patronage of Otto, Bishop of Lucca,
To complete his further studies was sent to Reims
Later while teaching at the school in Notre Dame,
Came in contact with the famous Peter Abelard!
Lombard became a professor at the Notre Dame
An erudite scholar who was highly capable!
After 1150 AD he became a Deacon and then an
And the Bishop of Paris around 1159 AD, after
But died the following year unfortunately!
Lombard is remembered to this day for his ‘Four
Books of Sentences’,
Where four centuries of scholastic interpretation of
Christian dogma was based!
It was a compilation of Biblical texts, with passages
from the Church Fathers and their philosophy;
Inclusive of many Medieval thinkers covering the
entire Christian Theology!
From 1220s until the 16th century, no other Christian
literature was commented upon more frequently,
With the sole exception of the Holy Bible!
‘The Sentences’ became a part of the curriculum of
On which the students were required to lecture and
write commentaries, -
To earn their Masters Degree!
GOLDEN AGE OF SCHOLASTICISM:
THE 13TH CENTURY
From the earlier periods of storm and stress,
We now move towards a relative period of calm
From the criticism and controversies of the 12th
To an era of synthesis and positive constructions!
The 13th century is regarded as the Golden Age of
Time was now ripe for constructing systems for, -
Metaphysics, Psychology and Christian theology!
Three main events that influenced the development
of Christian thoughts; -
Were the rise of Universities, foundation of the
Mendicant Orders, -
And re-introduction of works of Aristotle, which
the world had forgot!
Aristotle and the Universities:
This subject had already been covered earlier on;
It was the Cathedral Schools which finally into
Universities got transformed!
The Crusades and their subsequent re-conquest of Spain,
Brought Europe into contact with the Muslims once
The Muslims by translating Aristotle and Classical treaties,
Had preserved those valuable works for posterity!
Medieval scholars made Latin translations of Classics, -
From Syriac, Hebrew and Arabic!
But those translated direct from Greek, were considered
to be more authentic!
The physical, metaphysical and ethical treaties of Aristotle,
Now got included in libraries of 13th century Schoolmen;
And were also added to the curriculum of Schools and
Universities by then!
For a Bachelor’s degree one had to study four year’s of
And for Masters it was compulsory to study Quadrivium;
These have been explained by me while defining the term -
Influence of the Mendicant Orders:
The Franciscans Order was founded in 1209 by St Francis
of Assisi, in Italy;
And the Dominican by St Dominic in France in 1216 AD.
A famous scholastic theologian named Alexander Hales,
Who was teaching in the University of Paris those days,
Had entered the Franciscan Order in 12 36;
And created a Franciscan school of theology at the
University of Paris!
The best way to study theology, St Aquinas is know
to have said,
Was to get attached to that ‘Angelic Doctor’ called –
Hales had also promoted the writings of Anslem of
Who had remained ignored for almost a century!
During the mid 13th century the Franciscan scholar
Became the leader of the Franciscan Order!
He was a traditionalist, who defended the philosophy
of Plato and St Augustine,
And in his writings very little of Aristotle one can
‘Reason can only discern truth’, following Anslem
he said, -
‘When philosophy is illuminated by religious faith’!
Other important Franciscan writers of the period were, -
Duns Scotus, Peter Auriol and Ockham with his ‘razor’!
In contrast, the Dominicans used Aristotelian sources,
Which were derived from the East and Moorish Spain;
And they placed emphasis on the use of reason!
Two greatest representatives of the Dominicans were, -
Albert Magnus and St Thomas Aquinas.
ALBERT MAGNUS (1193 – 1280)
Born in Bavaria in Germany, studied in the University
of Padua in Italy.
He digested and interpreted Aristotle’s thoughts very
Freeing it from the colorings of earlier Arabic interpreters
And became the first to apply them to Christian philosophy
He entered the Order of the Dominican friars in 1223,
And was the first German in the University of Paris, -
to become Master of Theology!
With his encyclopedic knowledge he commented on; –
Theology, biology, astronomy, geology, chemistry,
zoology, logic, alchemy, and on many other things;
Advocating the co-existence of Science and Religion
Thus Magnus became a dominant figure in the evolution
of Christian scholastic thought!
ST THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-1274) :
(CULMINATION OF SCHOLASTICISM)
Thomas was born in a noble family in Rocca Secca,
Near Aquino in Italy, in the year 1225 AD.
As a young boy, studied in the Benedictine monastery
at Monte Cassino,
Where his capacity for learning had begun to show!
He was next sent to Naples to further his education,
Where he entered the Dominican Order to his family’s
His mother rushed to Naples to dissuade Aquinas,
But the Dominicans quickly sent him to Rome, -
Hoping he would reach either Cologne or France!
But his brothers captured him on the road as we know,
And held him captive in a fortress at Rocca Secca, -
for two years or so!
He was finally released to choose his own vocation,
And under Albert Magnus at Cologne completed his
Magnus was the first Western Aristotelian scholar,
and an erudite theologian those days;
He introduced Aquinas to Aristotelian ways!
In 1252 Aquinas was sent to the University of Paris
for higher education;
And there he obtained a Masters in Theology in his
Subsequently in Paris he also obtained a Doctorate,
To become a great builder of the Catholic faith!
For the next seven years in Paris he taught Theology,
And in 1260, on request by Pope AlexanderIV, he
returned to Italy;
And also taught in the newly founded Dominican schools
in various monasteries!
In 1268 he returned to Paris to combat ‘Latin Averroism’,
Since they denied the immortality of the human soul,
and God’s creation of the world!
In 1272 the University of Naples offered him the chair
But from the following year stopped writing perhaps due
to physical incapacity!
In 1274 was sent to the Council of Lyons as a Papal
But died en route in the monastery of Fossa Nuova,
due ill health!
Thus the career of this great theologian got curtailed,
At an early age of 49 years, which many lament!
In 1323 by Pope John XIII, Aquinas was canonized;
And in 1567 by Pope Pius V, as an ‘Angelic Doctor’
of the Church got recognized!
WRITINGS OF ST. AQUINAS:
Friends, Thomas Aquinas is an ‘Institution’ all by
And it becomes difficult to comment on all his eighty
works within limited space!
Plato used around half a million words in his days,
And Aristotle about a million, as is generally said!
St Augustine expressed himself with five million
words or so;
But St Aquinas used some nine million words, -
as we now know!
Therefore, I am constrained to touch upon his works
But will dwell at some length on his greatest one, -
the ‘Summa Theology’!
SHIFT OF FOCUS PLATO TO ARISTOTLE:
Plato mentioned an unbridgeable divide that separates,
Our material and illusory world from that eternal world
of ‘Forms’, -
Which he declared to be real and transcendent!
St Augustine had found this concept of two worlds
congenial to Christianity;
The eternal and Divine world, and the transient and
And is said to have ‘baptized’ Plato’s pagan philosophy!
Now after eight centuries, Aquinas had ‘Christianized’
By synthesizing his classical wisdom with Christian faith!
Initially the Church was suspicious of Aristotle’s treaties,
And between 1210 and 1215 had prohibited his teaching
in the Parisian University!
DIVISIONS OF WORKS OF AQUINAS:
Aquinas’ work has been segregated as follows; -
(a) Commentaries on Aristotle’s logic, metaphysics and
On the Scriptures; and on the ‘Four Books of Sentence’
by Peter Lombard, all complete!
(b) A “Summary Against the Gentiles”, and unfinished
“Summary of Theology”, which due to his early death
was left incomplete!
(c) ‘Questions’; covered Disputed Questions, On Truth,
On the Soul, On Power, On Evil, and such treaties!
(d) ‘Opuscula’ (Selected Examples) : On Being and Essence,
On Unity of Intellect Against Averroists; are examples of
his works, to say the least!
‘SUMMA THEOLOGY’ of St AQUINAS:
Scholastic philosophy reaches its culmination with
While ‘Summa Theology’ is his most important as an
epic theological work!
It is a systematic compilation of the entire Christian
teachings till his time,
And became the basis of Roman Catholic doctrine for
The Summa with its three parts has a structure and a plan,
And explains the relationship between God and man!
Now each part is composed of a series of open questions,
And before answering he presents his opponents’ arguments, -
Which he finally counters with his own!
He quotes the Bible, St Augustine, the Church Fathers,
and also Aristotle;
And refutes his opponents with theological arguments!
But throughout his work one sees his firm conviction;
That between human reason and the truths of faith, -
there are no contradictions!
The Summa contains 612 questions,38 treaties and
around 3210 articles;
Through which ten thousand objections by St Aquinas
gets answered and settled!
Aquinas presents a synthesis of Aristotelian logic and
Which later became the basis of Roman Catholic theology!
In 1879 Pope Leo XIII embraced his teachings as a part
of Church doctrine officially!
PART- I of SUMMA:
This part deals with God and His creation, which reaches
its zenith in man,
Therefore part one ends with the treaties on Man!
Aquinas provides ‘five ways’ as proof of God’s existence,
And His creation of the world within six days!
God is the ‘first cause’, who is Himself uncaused!
The ‘prime mover’ who remains unmovable, and exists
through his act of creation!
He is an absolutely necessary and a perfect being,
And a rational designer of all things!
While from these thoughts are derived and conceived, -
The unity, infinity and the goodness of the highest
Thus, with such progressive and logical arguments, -
Aquinas proved God’s existence as self-evident!
PART –II of SUMMA
This part deals with man and some 303 ethical
And examines the restoration of humanity to God -
as its ultimate mission!
The treaties on human acts, passions, habits, virtues
Show marked influence of Aristotle in many a place!
Aquinas skillfully extracts those portions compatible
with Christian faith;
And concludes with discussions on justice, prudence,
fortitude and temperance!
PART- III of SUMMA:
This concluding part remained unfinished due to
Aquinas’ early death,
An event which has been regarded as most unfortunate!
This part deals with Christ and how he brings about the
salvation of humankind;
With treaties on incarnation, sacraments and Christ’s
Thereby completing between heaven and earth, -
one perfect cyclic motion!
There is an upward and downward motion in God’s
With His initiative reaching downwards with man’s
And man’s return to God through faith, piety and
Through Christ’s love, divine grace and forgiveness!
This gives ‘Summa Theology’ its marvelous unity,
And it remains as a great work for all posterity!
OPPONENTS and CHAMPIONS of AQUINAS:
The controversies created by his philosophical works,
Continued even after his death, for another five
Aquinas’ assertion that hope of attaining the beatific
Was in vain during our earthly sojourn, which we
We had better cultivate the virtues and the perfections
Which were far more realizable during our present
Aquinas therefore encountered the ill-will of the
Mystics and the Franciscan order,
Led by his contemporary and a Franciscan called
Amongst his other critics I would like to mention
mainly two of them,
With whom the Scholastic Period draws to an end;
Are Duns Scotus and William of Occam!
The able Dominican disciples of Aquinas became
his staunch defenders,
Inclusive of his old teacher the great Albert Magnus!
They all hastened to Paris to uphold the teachings of
their dead Saint Aquinas!
His prestige is nowhere better seen than in Dante’s
Divine Comedy, which not only sings his praise;
But following Aquinas, solves every theological and
philosophical problem it raises!
However, in 1879 all controversies were finally brought
to an end,
By Pope Leo XIII, who directed and proclaimed, -
That the theological and philosophical teachings of
Should form the basis of the doctrine of the Catholic
JOHN DUNS SCOTUS (1274-1308)
He was the most important and acute critic and
Of St Thomas Aquinas from the order of the
He was born around 1274 probably in Ireland or
And ranks along with Roscellinus, Anslem, and
As one of the greatest of Franciscan and Scholastic
Having joined the Franciscan order at an early age,
Studied at Oxford where Anti-Thomistic party was
He taught at Oxford for a decade or so,
Then shifted to Paris as we know.
In 1308 Scotus got transferred to the University of
Where he died the same year at an early age of
A life span that was even shorter than St Aquinas;
And it is recorded that they buried alive Duns Scotus!
When he relapsed into a coma for the second time,
As per the traditions of his period and time!
JOHN SCOTUS THE FRANCISCAN:
Though the philosophy of St Thomas became the
official doctrine of the Dominicans,
It was opposed by the schools of the Franciscans!
The Franciscans adhered to the Augustinian-Platonic
Emphasizing the emotional, mystical, personal and
devotional side of religion!
For them the will was more important than the
And the ethical-religious content of Christianity, -
Superseded the theoretical construction of faith!
Though the Franciscan scholars did not explicitly
They opposed many of the concluding arguments
of that new system!
Philosophy of Duns Scotus:
For Scotus all dogmas were beyond dispute,
And faith was the basis of the highest truth!
He agrees with St Thomas that though there can
be no conflict, -
Between the truths of faith and the truths of reason;
But reason must be supplemented by faith, -
For explaining the mysteries of religion!
He rejects ‘divine illumination’ of St Augustine, -
That to see special truths God must illuminate the
For Scouts felt that human reason alone, could
attain certainty of its own!
But our natural capacity of knowledge must not
And if that be so, even such illumination may not
But the ‘essence of things’ as well as their ‘existence’,
Depends on the divine will, and not on the divine
Scotus is best known for his doctrine – ‘univocity
of being’, -
Which denies any real distinction between essence
and existence of things!
His ‘Immaculate Concept of Mary’, whom God
filled with divine grace, -
Became an official doctrine of the Church and was
Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II on the
20th of March 1993;
And on his gave in Cologne the following inscription
one can see, -
“Scotland brought me forth, England sustained me,
France taught me, Cologne holds me.”
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM (1285-1347)
He was born in a small village called Ockham in
Joined the Franciscan order of Greyfriars at an
In the University of Oxford he studied theology,
And wrote treaties on logic, physics and theology.
Considered along with Aquinas, Duns Scotus,
and Islamic scholar Averrose,
As one of the major figures of Medieval thought!
Proofs of God’s existence and notion of Trinity,
To Ockham appeared deficient and at times
His comments on ‘The Sentences’ and arguments
on ‘Apostolic poverty’,
Made him the focus of a major controversy of the
Ockham stated that Jesus and the Apostles never
owned any property,
And survived through alms and gifts from their many
The Pope in those days lived in great opulent luxury
Owning vast lands which they could never surrender!
Ockham was charged with heresy before the Papal
Court at Avignon;
Though details of his detention there are not clearly
On 26th of May 1328, Ockham with his followers,
fled the city!
Taking refuge in Bavaria in the court of the Holy Roman
Emperor Louis IV,
Who was himself at war with the Roman Pope!
Ockham was promptly excommunicated, but his
philosophical works were not condemned or prohibited!
Said to have died around 1347 before the Black Death,
And in 1359 by Pope Innocent VI was rehabilitated!
His philosophical thoughts was based on reforms in
method, content and form;
With ‘simplification’ being its main aim, -
‘Ockham’s Razor’ was not to blame!
Belief in God was a matter of faith rather than
Without direct knowledge of God, Theology cannot
become a science, - he acknowledged!
Nothing was to be presumed without a given reason;
Unless known by experience, or proved by the
authority of the sacred Scriptures as self-evident!
Ockham’s Razor: -
Ontology being the philosophical study of nature of
being, existence and reality;
The ‘razor’ aimed at ontological parsimony!
One should opt for an explanation in terms of fewest
number of causes or variables,
And prefer the one that was the most simple!
The ‘razor’ thus shaved off the superfluous,
Removing the excess baggage, not leaving things
Let us take the subject of the ‘universals’ as a case
Which the Medieval philosophers discussed for
Without reaching any conclusion effectively!
‘The universals’ were common characteristics or
qualities, present in particular things;
Like ‘redness’ of apples or ‘greenness’ of trees,
all being universal qualities!
They were like abstractions in concrete things, -
like ‘humanity’ in human beings!
Now Plato views ‘universals’ like his ‘Forms’, -
In a metaphysical realm in a world beyond!
Aristotle felt ‘universals’ were built into physical
While conceptualists declared ‘universals’ as mere
Now Ockham’s Razor removed all superfluous
And declared the ‘universals’ as only mental
This conceptualism is often called ‘nominalism’,
With Ockham as its champion and a pioneer!
Thus with St Aquinas, Duns Scotus and William of
The Scholastic period of Medieval philosophy draws
to an end;
With Ockham as the last of the Scholastic champions!
DECLINE OF SCHOLASTICISM
Scholastic philosophy during the 13th century reached
it’s acme of perfection;
But the 14th century saw its gradual degradation!
After Ockham, for the next 100 years Philosophy was
in a kind of limbo,
Due to the Medieval ecclesiastical and political scenario!
The Late Middle ages also had its calamities and
With its Great Famine, the Great Plague and pestilence!
Europe lost one third of its entire population after the
While England and France locked horns in a Hundred
Year’s War, putting everything at stake!
The poor became even poorer under such adversity,
And in 1381 the Peasants revolted against enforced
Which brought an end to Medieval serfdom finally!
The Western Schism lasted between 1378 to 1418;
With one Pope in Rome, and one in Avignon, France!
While people remained confused, with their salvation
left to chance!
To escape these harsh realities they turned to occult
forces and sorcery;
Which makes me to lament the fate of Philosophy!
MYSTICISM IN PHILOSOPHY:
Philosophy now turned to Mysticism and mystics like
With renewed attention to inner life of man, tried to
reform the Church!
Recommending direct communion with God through
prayer and personal sanctity, -
Rather than through disputation and logic of Scholastic
The 12th and 13th century Mystics remained true to the
Church doctrines initially,
But during the 14th and 15th centuries their teaching
became more pantheistic and nominalistic;
Weakening the movement of the Medieval Scholastics!
ARISTOTLE AND DISSOLUTION OF
The 13th century turns from Platonic to Aristotelian
And Aristotle had ushered in a new mental freedom!
His system also aroused an interest in the study of
And laid the foundation for mental adventure!
St Aquinas tried to Christianize Aristotelian philosophy,
By synthesizing reason and faith with Christian theology!
But now in hindsight we realize that it was Aristotelianism, Which ultimately led to the dissolution of Scholasticism!
For Aristotle had aroused in men a spirit of free inquiry,
And a freedom of thought questioning Christian orthodoxy!
Both Duns Scotus and Ockham criticized St Aquinas,
Opposing his rationalistic and deterministic concepts, -
Which he had made his theological system famous!
Plato’s mystical ‘Forms’ were shattered by Duns Scotus;
Who emphasized the reality of individuals and particulars;
And declared ‘universals’ as mere concepts and words;
Focusing on individual human beings and on individual
Ockham followed Scotus by attacking the very foundation
of Scholastic thoughts!
He declared that if the universals were mere words and
And if theology was a science barren, then let the Church
cast it off;
And also let faith take the place of such reason!
Thus he paved the way for empiricism and nominalism, -
Which was not a treason!
The Catholic Church which for a thousand years, -
Had ruled the minds of men with authority of faith,
Reeled under schism and faced calls for reforms!
The revolt against authority which began towards the
end of 14th century,
Ushered in two great historic reforms of the century, -
Known as the Renaissance and the Reformation in
HUMANISM REPLACES SCHOLASTICISM
During the early Renaissance of the 15th century,
Humanism became the new ‘Avatar’ of that Century!
It revived classical learning with a spirit of speculative
And finally replaced Scholasticism entirely!
It also deprived the Church leaders of a thousand year’s
of monopoly, -
Over learning and teaching which they held previously!
Philosophers after St Aquinas claimed that Philosophy
should be, -
About truth and life conducting an independent inquiry;
Free from the ecclesiastical dogmas and medieval beliefs
Striking out an independent path of its own!
Finally, I come to the end of my ‘History of
Medieval Philosophy’, -
Which constitutes one fifth of the entire Western
A product of my laborious research and study;
As a dedicated lover and student of Philosophy!
Which I tried to narrate it in simple verse sincerely;
But while doing so, I mainly concentrated on
those salient aspects, -
Which I felt was rather vital and relevant, -
Keeping brevity in mind till the very end!
By - Raj Nandy,
- New Delhi, (ALL COPYRIGHTS ARE RESERVED
BY THE AUTHOR: RAJ NANDY OF NEW DELHI)
Comments about ****complete Medieval Philosophy In Verse by RAJ NANDY
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