Sf. Toma de Aquino(Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), scholastic philosopher.)

Scholasticism ( derived from the term schola, comes from the Greek scholê in the sense of idleness, free time, inactivity, which – later – means: “to hold school, to give lessons”) is the philosophy developed and taught in the Middle Age in universities: it aims to reconcile the contribution of Greek philosophy (particularly the teaching of Aristotle and the Peripatetics) with the Christian theology inherited from the Fathers of the Church and Anselm. Therefore, we can say that it is a current of medieval philosophy.

In the Middle Ages, only regular clerics had the “scholê”, that is to say the leisure to study, leaving to others (the secular clergy, the lay brothers, the laity, etc.) the care — deemed subordinate — of material affairs.

One of the bases of scholasticism is the study of the Bible. That of the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew into Greek at Alexandria. The Old Testament was then translated from Hebrew into Latin by Saint Jerome, who also revised an old Latin version of the New Testament, resulting in the Vulgate. The Vulgate becomes the absolute reference text for Latin thinkers of the Middle Ages. Only accessible to scholars, it is the undisputed foundation of studies. Also subject to scholastic study are the official teachings of the Church, notably the decisions of the councils; the writings of saints, such as Saint Augustine, Saint Hilary, Gregory the Great; the treatises attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, and above all the four books of the Sentences, where Peter Lombard had arranged, around 1150, all the data and problems of the Christian faith as they had been determined, discussed, understood, by the principal thinkers of the Church.

The reconciliation between Aristotle, “the divine doctor”, and the Christian faith passes in particular by the attempt to resolve the tensions between first philosophy (according to Aristotle) ​​and theology, in other words between a general metaphysics (first philosophy later called ontology, or ontosophy) and a science of being by excellence (later, metaphysica specialis, theology).

This reconciliation with the first philosophy is presented in the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Central to this work is a theology of Creation (prima pars: God, creation). Reconciliation is subject to the Augustinian hierarchy: “If you do not believe, you will not understand” quoting Is. It is above all a question of better understanding the Christian faith in the light of ancient philosophy. Thomas further clarifies that philosophy, seeking the truth, cannot present any danger to religion, which according to him is the truth: on the contrary, it can only lead to it. Philosophy will therefore ultimately find itself at the service of revelation. The bases that Thomas takes are the sacred texts, and therefore the philosophical work of the Summaries consists, by means of successive questions, in flushing out the apparent contradictions and resolving them by an approach which is similar to what will be the dialectic of Hegel (obviously starting from other bases).

Scholasticism has several forms: lectio of texts, commentaries, quaestio, disputatio or disputed question, quodlibetal questions and sums.

The lectio consists in explaining the fundamental texts of the teaching (the Bible, Peter Lombard, Aristotle later, etc.) almost word by word. The text is divided into its various parts, then commented on in detail; finally the problems it raises are examined. The comments are intended to make understand works (of a religious, philosophical, scientific nature) considered as fundamental. It makes it possible to solve a problem according to a rigorously regulated scheme, problems of theology or philosophy.

The quaestio appears at the beginning of the 12th century. The technique was perfected in the 13th century. The quaestio is the work of the master alone. When other actors are involved, it takes the form of disputatio, subject to precise university regulations.

The disputatio represents a competition, a verbal contest between two doctors and their students on a subject of theology, philosophy or law. In Paris, it takes place on the Place de la Sorbonne, or on any other circular place, in front of spectators who have been informed of the oratorical jousting by “placards”, displayed on the doors of churches, among other places. The conduct of these games is very strict, and rigidly codified. A summary is the systematic summary of a doctrinal set, a summary which can be very long.

It is on the formalist aspect of the disputatio that rationalist and modern criticism of scholasticism will concentrate. His method is indeed a pure intellectual speculation, based exclusively on the commentary of texts or the commentary of commentaries, prohibiting any direct look at reality. This formal logic cannot claim any validity with regard to the understanding and extension of a predicate. This is the attitude that Plato fought among the sophists.

The development of scholasticism was essentially subordinated to the penetration of Aristotle in Europe, as well as to the translations of Jewish and Arab philosophers (including Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides). The progressive discovery of Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics in the West caused a veritable “revolution”.

Four periods

The development of scholasticism is intimately linked to that of the universities. Thus scholasticism is a university product, in the institutional and social sense at the same time. The influence of scholasticism is divided into four major periods, even if its influence extends beyond.

Primitive Scholasticism: from the beginning of the 11th century to the end of the 12th century

The first period, which seems to begin especially with the figure of Anselme of Canterbury, is marked by the Quarrel of the universals, opposing the realists to the nominalists, and to the conceptualists.

This period also marks the apogee of medieval exegeses. These interpreted the Holy Scriptures through the scholastic method which revealed its fourfold meaning: literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogic. Each of the four senses had been known and practiced for a long time, but this doctrine of the four senses of Scripture advocated a plural interpretation of the text of the Bible.

The works of Aristotle are translated (at the same time as the Greek and Arab-Muslim scientific treatises) by teams of Christian, Jewish and Arab philosophers. They are marked by the influence of Plato and Plotinus.

Great Scholastic: Late 12th Century to Late 13th Century

This second period is considered the height of scholasticism. It is called for this reason the great scholastic. From 1230, the works of Aristotle, the main representatives of scholasticism, were translated from Greek into Latin by Albert the Great, the true introducer of the philosopher’s thought, and by Guillaume de Moerbeke, secretary to Thomas Aquinas, and introduced in universities.

Several sensitivities have been expressed since this time. We note, for example, that Robert Grossetête, in Lincoln (United Kingdom), and Roger Bacon, in Oxford, more inclined towards experiment than towards pure speculation, had identified some errors made by Aristotle with regard to natural phenomena, which in no way prevented them from recognizing the importance of Aristotle’s philosophy. However, at the end of the 13th century, the greatest concern of scholars was to radically deny the necessary universe of Greeks and Arabs.

Late Scholasticism: the 14th century

The third period is a withdrawal phase. The last great representative of scholasticism, Jean Duns Scotus, supports the idea that God is infinite and the creature finite, on the same ontological level. We see the thinker Guillaume d’Occam taking a position for the nominalists, and founding a via moderna which opposes Thomism, distinguishing more than Thomas Aquinas between philosophy and theology.

From the 15th century

From the 15th century, scholasticism was challenged by humanism and then by the Reformation in the 16th century: scholasticism was accused of having ruined Christian doctrine by establishing the preponderance of ancient philosophy. Erasmus criticizes his “barbaric language”, his ignorance of letters and languages. The masters of scholasticism are in fact ignorant of Greek and have only second or third hand translations. But the masters of Padua oppose the ideals of humanism. Theologians are also opposed to the translation by Erasmus from Greek to Latin of the New Testament, a translation much more faithful to the text. Erasmus especially criticizes the “contamination” of scholasticism by pagan philosophy: “What relations can there be between Christ and Aristotle? »

According to the Reformed system of thought, the precise definition of the content of scholasticism would remain problematic. Later, we will see Erasmus accusing the Christian Middle Ages of paganism. As for Luther, he would go so far as to say that “the philosophers of the Middle Ages delivered the keys of theology to pagan morality”. Luther published in 1517 Controversy Against Scholastic Theology.

The debate can be summed up in these terms: the reformers, who astonishingly reject 15 centuries of Catholic philosophical and theological studies and research, notably Martin Luther, accuse the scholastics of having Hellenized the Christian religion. Proponents of the Roman Catholic tradition consider that the scholastics rather Christianized Hellenistic civilization and opened up faith to the categories of ancient thought. From this point of view, see John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et ratio” for a detailed description of this conflict.

The school of Salamanca, in Spain, constitutes a very important revival on the great questions which are debated during the Renaissance: natural law, economics. Francisco Suarez, a Spanish Jesuit from the school of Salamanca, is considered the greatest scholastician after Thomas Aquinas. It seems to have fallen into some oblivion, yet Descartes relied on his metaphysical dissertations to criticize the primary philosophy of scholasticism.

Posterity of the scholastic conception

Even if the term scholastic has had a negative connotation since the 17th century, owing to the fact that it seems attached to excessive speculation (the Galileo affair and the position of Descartes), the popes have constantly reaffirmed the depth of the thought of Thomas d’ Aquinas:

  • Leo XIII in the encyclical Aeterni Patris, August 4, 1879, on Saint Thomas Aquinas and Christian philosophy;
  • John Paul II states in the encyclical Fides et ratio of September 14, 1998:”The constant newness of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
    Saint Thomas occupies a very special place, not only for the content of his doctrine, but also for the dialogue he was able to establish with the Arab thought and the Jewish thought of his time. At a time when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more directly Aristotelian, he had the great merit of bringing to the fore the harmony that exists between reason and faith. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he explained; this is why they cannot contradict each other.”

    “A great challenge facing us at the end of this millennium is to know how to accomplish the passage, as necessary as it is urgent, from the phenomenon to the foundation. It is not possible to stop at experience alone; even when the latter expresses and manifests the interiority of man and his spirituality, speculative reflection must reach the spiritual substance and the foundation on which it rests. A philosophical thought that would refuse any metaphysical opening would therefore be radically inadequate to fulfill a function of mediation in the understanding of Revelation.”

  • Benedict XVI said on January 28, 2007:”With far-sighted wisdom, Saint Thomas Aquinas managed to establish a fruitful confrontation with the Arab and Jewish thought of his time, to the point of being considered an ever-present master of dialogue with other cultures and religions. […] He knew how to present this admirable Christian synthesis between reason and faith which, for Western civilization, represents a precious heritage from which we can also draw today to dialogue effectively with the great cultural and religious traditions of the East. and the south of the world.”

Includes texts from Wikipedia with license CC BY-SA 3.0, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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