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Scholasticism Essay, Research Paper

Scholasticism

If you can conceive of a God, does it prove one must exist? If we cannot see a moral truth does that mean it can’t be? Are we one universal humanity or are we differentiated individuals? These are some of the questions that caused the development of Scholasticism, the intellectual discipline which sought to bridge the gap between religion and reason.

Scholastic Philosophy is the love, desire and pursuit of wisdom. Taken in its broadest sense it includes the knowledge of all things in as far as they can be known, by the light of reason. This science has six parts: Logic, which teaches reasoning; Metaphysics, the philosophy concerned with the study of the nature of beings; Cosmology, which explains the visible world; Anthropology, which explains man; Natural Theology, which explains God; and Moral Theology, the religious study of right and wrong. [Scholasticism]

Early universities were the first representation of the spread of Scholasticism and philosophy. They brought together the great minds of the age and allowed scholars to be educated. They lay the foundation for our school systems today, combining many teachers in different areas of study to teach students, rather than expecting one teacher to know everything.

The first period influencing Scholasticism, the classical period, was the time before Christ. This was a period of effort and struggle, where many teachings were false. Leo XIII once said, “Even those who are considered the wisest of ancient philosophers, but who had not the gift of faith, erred most grievously in many things. They often taught, along with many truths, things false and absurd.” [Rise of Scholasticism] However, these philosophers laid the groundwork for future philosophers to express their ideas.

Plato and Aristotle were the first philosophers to start organized universities and had great impact on the development of scholasticism. “Intellectual life needs not only teachers and students, not only a stock of knowledge to be handed down, there is needed a certain guaranteed free area within human society as well, within concern for nothing but truth can exist.” [Brumbaugh 17] Plato once said. Starting the university gave them a place to learn and converse with other great minds of their time as well as teaching them knowledge you were not able to acquire anywhere else. [Brumbaugh 18]

Plato was the first to do this. He was born in 427 BC and was a devoted disciple of Socrates. When Socrates was executed he dedicated himself to philosophy. He left Athens and traveled to Egypt, Sicily and Italy. In Italy he learned of the work of Pythagoras and came to appreciate the value of mathematics. This was when he formed his idea of mathematics being the most precise and definite thinking we are capable of [Field]. On his return Plato founded The Academy, possibly the first university ever established. He remained at The Academy for the rest of his life. His reasons for setting it up were connected with the young men who would become statesmen. He believed these men would be able to improve the political leadership of the cities in Greece if they were able to attend a university that taught them values that Plato believed in.

Plato also spent time in Syracuse to tutor Dionysius II, the new ruler. Dion, Dionysius’s brother, had persuaded him to come so he could train Dionysius in science and philosophy so he would be able to prevent Carthage from invading Sicily. This plan however did not work; Dion was forced out of Syracuse.

Plato’s main contributions were to philosophy, mathematics and science, although his contributions to the theories of education were shown by how he ran The Academy. His belief that mathematics provides the finest training for the mind was extremely important in developing the subject. Over the door of The Academy it was written, “Let no one unversed in geometry enter here.” [Fowler 2] Plato’s works were perhaps the most consistently popular and influential philosophic writings ever published. They consisted of a series of dialogues in which his discussions with Socrates are presented. Like Socrates, Plato was chiefly interested in moral philosophy and despised natural philosophy or scientific philosophy.

Plato’s influence extended long past his own life and, indeed, never died. The Academy remained a going institution until 529 AD. Plato’s philosophy even after the school was closed maintained a strong influence of the thinking of the Christian Church. It was not until the thirteenth century when Aristotle gained dominance.

Aristotle was born after Plato in 384 B.C and is universally considered one of the great thinkers of the ancient world. He became a student at Plato’s Academy at the age of seventeen. After being a student Aristotle became a teacher at the Academy and he remained there for twenty years. He left the Academy after Plato died and Speusippus assumed the leadership. He began to travel in the Greek Islands; soon he ended up living on the island of Lesbos where he began most of his biological writings.

Soon he became the tutor the young Alexander the Great. When Alexander became the king he protected the Academy, and at the same time sent Aristotle to Athens to found a rival establishment in Athens. In 335 B.C Aristotle began his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy had been narrow in its interests but the Lyceum, under Aristotle pursued a broader range of subjects. [Allan 7] During this time that he ran the school he wrote the treatises (or lecture notes) which now form his works. He unlike Plato was an advocate of natural philosophy. His works included important ideas on zoology and psychology, with his most famous work on metaphysics. According to Aristotle, “metaphysics studies whatever must be true of all existent things just insofar as they exist and it studies the general conditions which any existing thing must satisfy.” [Allan 8]

Both these great philosophers had a huge impact on how universities and scholasticism is today. They began the first two schools which many of the philosophers of the middle ages went to influencing them to do work they never would have thought of before. The writings of both Aristotle and Plato were translated and became readings of students and teachers throughout the middle ages. Although this age in scholasticism was known as the age of false truths, it was the first step for the human race to become educated people.

Scholasticism was at its peak during the Middle Ages. Starting with Boethius who was known as “the first scholastic” of the 6th century. During this time Platonism, or the beliefs of Plato, were the dominant philosophical influences. Particularly as it was reflected in the work of Saint Augustine. Augustine formulated the maxim, “Understand so that you may believe, believe so that you may understand.” [Drane 165] An approach that lay at the heart of medieval scholasticism. Each century during this time people had a different approach to scholasticism. The 8th century was the last age of Patristic Philosophy. The 9th century began the age of Scholasticism. During the tenth century, it was called the Iron Age, because it was locked in place, and nothing productive went on. The 11th century was made endless of disputes of the universals, or questions about general concepts of the mind. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were times of great intellectual activity. Which finally gave to the world those intellectual giants of the thirteenth century, who remain to this day unsurpassed in the extent, accuracy and solidity of their learning.

Boethius was a 6th century scholar born in Rome and educated at the Lyceum in Athens he was one of the great mediators and translators of the middle ages. He was known as “the First Scholastic”. [Vaughan 121] The idea of including faith into the idea of scholasticism was formulated by Boethius. The two famous phrases said by him, the principle of Boethius, “faith seeking to be understood” and “I believe in order to understand”. [Vaughan 76] His famous book, The Consolation of Philosophy was written while he was waiting for his own execution. This book is said to be, aside from the Bible, one of the most translated, most commented upon and most printed books in world history. His title as “one of the founders of Scholasticism” refers to the last sentence of a very short tractate on the holy trinity, which reads, “As far as you are able, join faith to reason.” [Scholasticism] This short sentence in time was to become the formal foundation of Scholasticism.

St. Anselm was known as “the Father of Scholasticism”.[Vaughan 32] He was the great champion of sound philosophy and of orthodoxy. Born in 1034 he came to France, studied for three years in Burgundy and in 1059 he entered the famous school of Bec, the most celebrated school of the 11th century. Anselm represents all that is best in the first period of Scholasticism. He wrote the Prosologium, which are the truths of faith scientifically explained and developed. “Arguments to Prove the Existence of God” was his title to fame. The famous argument said that every man has an idea of God; even atheists, who deny the existence of God, must admit that they have mental conceptions of such a being. The idea of God is a being greater than which nothing can be conceived. But such a being necessarily exists outside of the mind; because, it exists only in the mind, we could think of something greater. Therefore, that being greater than which nothing can be conceived necessarily exists.[Rise of Scholasticism] This controversy is still pondered among writers and philosophers today. St. Anselms best known works are his “Monologium” and “Prosologium”. In these works he carefully distinguishes faith from reason.

Abelard, the great champion of Scholastic Rationalism, thought governed only by reason and logic, not by the concept of faith, contradicted St. Anselms work. He set up an independent school, where he taught only logic. This was against the established custom, where you had to teach theology and faith as well as logic and reason. His brilliancy and wit attracted crowds of students; he soon attempted to explain the profoundest mysteries of faith by the light of reason. To believe without doubting, he said, was the religion of women and children; to doubt all things before we believe them was alone worthy of the dignity of man, and proofs of the truths of revealed religion were to be furnished by reason. Abelard died a few years later, but the seeds of Rationalism that he had sown were to bear fruit after his death.

During the 11th century came the question of universals. “If we cannot see a moral truth, does that mean it can’t be?”[Rise of Scholasticism] Was one of the many questions of the unknown conception of the mind. The celebrated question of universals written by Porphry wrote: “Now concerning genera and species, whether they be substances or mere concepts of the mind; and if substances, whether they be corporeal or incorporeal, and whether they exist apart from sensible things or in and about sensible things, all this I will decline to say.” [Vaughan 89] This sentence set the intellectual world of the eleventh century ablaze. This question was in the mind of every philosopher, were the ideas in his head real, was the tree still there if no one could see it?

The Realist held that there was something objective, something outside our minds, answering to these Universal ideas. Some took this view and differed it among themselves, some holding the object of a Universal Idea to be itself universal and one, others holding it to be particular and multiplied with the multiplication of individuals. The first group was called Ultra-Realists, they believed there was one universal humanity, found the same in everyone. The other group called Moderate Realists believes humanity exists only in individual living men and is different in each. By the end of the twelfth century, Moderate Realism was triumphant in the Schools.

The thirteenth century also held the moderate concept; this age was called the “Golden Age”.[Scholasticism] In this century the human race attained the summit of intellectual greatness. Before that time Plato and Aristotle had carried human reason as high as unaided reason could go; but they were pagans, they had no religion, and great as they were they made many mistakes. The theologian of this century who accepted the challenge of combining faith with reason, or Aristotelianism, was Albertus Magnus. He conceived a plan of making accessible to the Latin West the complete works of Aristotle. His strongest point was the direct observation of nature and experimentation. He had a passion for the study of the visible world. He formulated completely new and even revolutionary, principles: fore instance, “There can be no philosophy about concrete things,” or “in such matters only experience can provide certainty.” [Drane 23] Albertus was not able to combine faith and reason, because for him reason implied the capacity to grasp the reality that man encounters. Instead Albertus put the task of joining faith with reason onto his pupil, Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas set forth that his life’s task was to do this, join “the Bible” with the Aristotelian writings and outlook. He resulted in writing the famous Summa Theologica, which he chose to leave incomplete, was a magnificent intellectual structure; but it was never intended to be a closed system of definitive knowledge. At Paris he had to defend his idea of “a theologically based worldliness and a theology open to the world”.[Newman 10] By his advocating the rights of all natural things Thomas would encroach upon the rights of God.

Benaventura, a colleague of Thomas had likewise been enamoured of Aristotle. But later, alarmed by the secularism that had grown in Christendom, he became more mistrustful of the capacities of natural reason.

In the thirteenth century intellectual progress, under the guidance of faith, had reached that point were it could be said: “Reason could go no higher; faith could not receive more numerous or stronger arguments from reason to explain or defend dogmas.” [Newman 14] This perfection was only attained after St. Thomas had lived and written his Summa. This is the great accomplishment, which according Leo XIII made St. Thomas the prince of all Christian philosophers.

Thomas however did not succeed in bridging the faith-reason gulf. When he died the gulf became much more radical. William of Okham in the 14th century began the decay of scholasticism. He wrote the doctrine known as Terminism. He held that we have intuitive knowledge of individual things, the first thing known is the individual. Okhams saying, “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity,” [Vaughan 32] was known in schools as Ockhams razor. He diminished religious truths that can be proved by reason, throwing more of a burden on faith. He showed that faith points one way and reason points the other. A thing may be true in theology but false in philosophy. This led to the downfall of scholasticism.

During the Renaissance scholasticism was called Barockscholastik. In this time period philosophers were mostly interested in the work of Thomas Aquinas. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century stimulated the revival of theology, the return to the language of the bible, the Fathers of the Church and the great scholastics of the 13th century. This was called the Second Scholasticism. The hundred and fifty years from the middle of the 16th to the end of the 17th century is known as the period of the Counter-Reformation.[Scholasticism] With this revival of Catholicism, the dying embers of Scholasticism were kindled into a new glow.

Cardinal Thomas de Vio, commonly known as Cajetan, had famous disputations with Martin Luther. Cajetan’s great commentary on Thomas Aquinas exerted for at least three centuries an enormous influence on the formation of Catholic Theology.

The Silver Age of Scholastic thought occurred in the 16th century. Two Jesuit doctors represented it: Francisco de Vitoria of the first half, and by Francisco Suarez the second half of the century. Though Suarez for more than a hundred years was among the most esteemed authors, Enlightenment philosophy and German Idealism eradicated Renaissance Scholasticism.[Decay of Scholasticism]

The questions of Scholasticism may never be answered, but this philosophy led to advanced thinking and writing still used today to try to answer questions about the existence of God and basic concepts of life. Scholasticism also helped produce the well-developed universities. It gave us the love, desire and pursuit of wisdom needed to acquire new knowledge and ideas. The significance of the Scholastic movement implies the acceptance of the following fundamental doctrines: that there exist truths that man knows and also revealed truths of faith, and that reason is the man’s natural capacity to grasp the real world. The joining of faith and reason is an endless battle.


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