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Summa Theologica

Because the doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct
beginners (according to the Apostle: As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not
meat -- 1 Corinthians 3:1-2), we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the
Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered
that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by
other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and
arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught
according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require,
or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness
and confusion to the minds of readers.
Endeavouring to avoid these and other like faults, we shall try, by God's help, to set forth
whatever is included in this sacred doctrine as briefly and clearly as the matter itself may allow.

Copyright 1996 R.J. Kilcullen

"The Middle Ages" refers to the period of European history from the end of the Roman Empire
in Italy until the Renaissance, i.e. from the 5th century A.D. until the 15th. Philosophers during
this time included Boethius, Anselm, Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of
Ockham and many others. During the 12th and 13th centuries European philosophy was much
influenced by the writings of Muslim philosophers including Avicenna (ibn Sina) and Averroes
(ibn Rushd). Philosophy in the medieval style continued into the late seventeenth century;
Descartes and Leibniz cannot be well understood without some knowledge of medieval thought.
PHIL252 is concerned with medieval thought from Boethius to Thomas Aquinas, PHIL360 Later
Medieval Philosophy with the period from Duns Scotus, including the medieval elements in 17th
century philosophy.


The Hellenistic Period
Between Aristotle (who died in 322 B.C.) and the earliest medieval philosopher,
Boethius (A.D.480-524), a good deal happened of which it will be useful to have
some idea. Greek armies led by Alexander "the Great" (died 323 B.C.) overturned
the Persian Empire and established a number of Greek Kingdoms in its territories,
which included Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor. The culture of this period is
called "Hellenistic"; the Greeks called themselves "Hellenes"; the "ist" suggests that
Hellenistic culture was close to but not identical with Classical Greek culture. In the

Hellenistic world Greek was for many people a second language, Greek culture was
something learnt in school. There was plenty of work for professional teachers of
Greek language, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy
and other branches of science. Many of the teachers had themselves learnt Greek
as a second language. Their writings included aids for the newcomer to Greek
culture: dictionaries, digests, handbooks, encyclopedias, explanatory commentaries
of various sorts. The city Alexander had founded in Egypt, Alexandria, became an
important centre of Greek culture, with schools and a famous library, the Museum.
Alexandria was especially important as a centre of study in mathematics, science,
medicine and philosophy. Athens continued to be a centre of philosophy, but not of
the sciences.

From Plato's time there had been opposition between philosophy and rhetoric - between
philosophy, mathematics, science, medicine on the one hand, and rhetoric and literary studies
(poetry, drama, history) on the other. Except in Alexandria, Hellenistic culture was in the
rhetorical tradition: as was that of ancient Rome, of Byzantium of Europe until the 12th century,
and of the European Renaissance of the fifteenth century. Greek philosophy and science was
taken up in Islamic countries, and in Europe between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.
The Romans
The last Greek ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, died in 30 B.C. By then the Romans
controlled the eastern Mediterranean region, including Greece, Palestine and Egypt.
But Latin did not displace Greek in those regions. In fact, the Romans themselves
had been Hellenized. Educated Romans learnt Greek and went to Athens and other
Greek centres to complete their education. Latin literature was an imitation of Greek
literature: Latin poetry, drama, history and oratory followed Greek models.
However, there was no Latin counterpart of Greek mathematics, science and
medicine, and not much philosophy. The orator and politician Cicero wrote a number
of interesting and valuable works of philosophy in Latin which are believed to be
based on Greek originals since lost. In these works Cicero sometimes remarks on
the difficulty of finding Latin equivalents for Greek philosophical terms. Other
writers of philosophical works in Latin were Lucretius and Seneca. Apart from these
three there was little or nothing. During the Roman period a good deal of philosophy
was still written in Greek, some of it in Rome - by Epictetus, by Plutarch, by the
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and by Plotinus.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean a major event was the spread of
Christianity. Palestine had been included in one of the Greek Kingdoms established
after Alexander's conquests; on the conflicts between Greek and Jewish culture see
the books of the Maccabees (in R.S.V. Common Bible, (Collins, 1973),
Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books, p. 122 ff). The Jewish scriptures were translated

into Greek by Jews living in Alexandria. The Christian New Testament was written in
Greek. Paul, himself a Jew, travelled throughout the eastern Mediterranean
preaching the Christian gospel in Greek to Greek-speakers, many of them Jews.
Christianity spread rapidly in the Greek-speaking east, and also in Rome, at first
among Greek-speaking residents, later among speakers of Latin.

Christianity produced a large literature of its own, some of which is significant for the history of
philosophy in the middle ages, either because it conveyed Greek philosophical ideas to later
Christian readers, or because its religious content suggested new philosophical questions or
theories. The basic Christian book was the Bible, which consisted of the Jewish scriptures (called
by Christians the "Old Testament") together with new Christian books (the "New Testament" the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Letters, and the Book of Revelation). The rest of the
Christian literature of the early centuries (first to sixth) is called "Patristic", i.e. "of the Fathers"
(patres) of the Church ("Fathers" in the sense of early leaders). The most influential patristic
authors included Athanasius, Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa and Origen,
who wrote in Greek, and Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory "the Great", who wrote in
Latin. (A reference book: Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Utrecht, 1966 ff), Ref/BR67.Q3.)
Among Christians "Trinitarian" and "Christological" controversies arose involving Greek
philosophical concepts. Concerning Jesus Christ it was debated whether he was both God and
man, whether he had two natures, how these two natures were related, whether he had a human
soul; and concerning God, how the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit
can be reconciled with the doctrine that God is one ("one substance"). These questions were
discussed at several "General" or "ecumenical" ("world-wide") Councils of Christian bishops,
held at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon. Those who accepted the decision of
these councils regarded themselves as "orthodox" ("right-teaching") or "Catholic" ("found
everywhere") and the others as heretics (under various descriptions - Arians, Nestorians, etc.).
[Note 1]
The Byzantine Empire
In 324A.D. Constantine became emperor, the first emperor to become a Christian.
He moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the Greek town of Byzantium,
renamed New Rome or Constantinople (now Istanbul). It is customary to call the
medieval empire of the Greeks "Byzantine" from the original name of their capital;
they called themselves Romaioi, Romans. The old Rome, and its Senate, Consuls
and other magistrates, kept great prestige, but it was no longer the seat of
government. In fact the Empire had been for a long time too large to be controlled
and protected from one capital; it extended from Britain to Syria, from the Danube
to North Africa. The common language of the eastern half was Greek, of the western
half Latin. Emperors had sometimes taken colleagues and assigned parts of the
Empire to them. In some places peoples from outside the Empire ("barbarians") Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks etc. - forced their way in or infiltrated. Sometimes they
were employed as mercenaries or auxiliaries, who were sometimes only nominally
subordinate to the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. thus in Italy in the fifth

century there were western emperors subordinate to the emperor in Constantinople,

but Italy was in fact controlled by the Goths (who were Arians, heretical Christians).
In A.D. 476 the Goths deposed the last western Roman emperor (this date is
sometimes given as the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle
Ages), but continued to profess allegiance to the Emperor in Constantinople. [Note
2] The emperor Justinian (A.D.527-565) tried, with some temporary success, to reestablish control over the west; the "Gothic Wars" fought by his generals Belasarius
and Narses in Italy devastated the country and are sometimes said to mark the real
beginning of the "dark ages" in Italy. Justinian (one of the few eastern emperors to
speak Latin) also attempted to re-establish Roman law; his legal experts prepared a
Latin Code of Roman Law, a Digest of the teachings of the Roman legal writers, and
Novels of new legislation, and Justinian himself wrote (or gave his name to) the
Institutes or introductory textbook.

From the seventh century the Roman Empire came under attack from the followers
of the prophet Mohammed (died 632A.D.). Islam became the religion of the middle
east, north Africa and part of Spain. Jews, dissident Christians (heretics) and a few
orthodox Christians continued to live in these countries; knowledge of Greek
medicine gave some of them access to Muslim rulers. The language mainly used for
literary purposes by Muslims was Arabic. Greek medical, scientific and philosophical
writings, including the works of Aristotle, were translated into Arabic, sometimes by
way of Syriac - some of the translators were Syrian Christians. In 9th century
Baghdad scholars in the "House of Wisdom", under the Caliph's patronage, made or
corrected translations of Greek, Persian and Indian writings. In 12th century Spain
many of these writings, together with original works in Arabic, were translated into
Latin, sometimes with the help of Jews who knew Arabic.

See The Dictionary of the Middle Ages (Ref/D114.D5) articles "Translation and Translators";
also F.E. Peters Aristotle and the Arabs (B744.3.P43), pp. 35 ff. and 58 ff.
The Holy Roman Empire
Meanwhile in the West, in A.D. 800, the pope had proclaimed Charles "the Great"
(Charlemagne), King of the Franks, "Roman Emperor", since Charles, and not the
emperor in Constantinople, was the effective military protector of Rome. This
Roman empire came eventually (in the 10th century) into the possession of the
princes of Germany: when an incumbent died the princes elected a successor, who
went to Rome to be crowned by the pope and then returned to Germany. In practice
the emperor in the west had little authority even in Germany, and the Kings of
France, England and Spain, and many cities in Italy, denied his claims; in the
thirteenth century the popes claimed jurisdiction over the emperors. Throughout the
middle ages there were, then, two "Roman Empires", one in Constantinople and the

other in Germany. The "Holy Roman Empire of the German People" lasted until it
was abolished by Napoleon; the Roman Empire in the east lasted until the capture
of Constantinople by the Muslim Turks in 1453. The political and linguistic division
between the two empires was a religious division also; in 1054 the Latin Catholic
and Greek Orthodox churches excommunicated one another.

The Carolingian Renaissance

Charlemagne presided over a literary revival that modern scholars call the
Carolingian renaissance. See E.S. Duckett, Carolingian Portraits (Ann Arbor, 1962),
DD131.D8, and Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne (New York, 1951). The language of
culture, of the church, and of bureaucracy was Latin, but for most people in Europe
after the "barbarian invasions" Latin was a foreign language. Charlemagne
encouraged literacy in Latin, his own clergy being helped in this work by AngloSaxon and Irish monks, who had already had to develop methods of teaching Latin
as a second language. [Note 3] Carolingian scholars made the copies of the Latin
classics which the humanists later discovered. They used an elegant script they had
developed, which the humanists thought was the script used by the ancient Romans
(our lower-case print, still called "Roman") - the humanists thought they were
discovering texts written by the ancient Romans themselves and not read during
the middle ages, whereas in fact they were finding texts copied and studied by
medieval scholars. During the 9th-11th centuries pirates from the north (Danes,
Vikings, Norsemen) did considerable damage, but the spread of Latin learning then
resumed. As a result of the Carolingian renaissance, schools multiplied; at first they
were often established in monasteries and cathedrals, later in many towns. By the
twelfth century schools existed in most of the towns of Italy, France and England.
Many schools were businesses, from which the master made his living out of
students' fees.

The renaissance of the twelfth century

Another movement that historians call a renaissance took place in the twelfth
century. See C.H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge,
Mass., 1955), PA8035.H3. The "Renaissance of the Twelfth century" was in part a
revival of Greek philosophy. Two things seem to have produced this movement. The
first was an increasing sophistication in studies of law in Italy, due perhaps to the
growth of commerce. Teachers of law sought out the few extant copies of the
Corpus iuris civilis, the compilation of Roman law made at the direction of Justinian.
More copies were made, and glosses and increasingly elaborate commentaries were
written to help students through the obscurities of Justinian's corpus. [Note 4] A laweducation industry grew up centred on Bologna. Scholarly and teaching techniques
already worked out in ancient times in the study of law and other subjects were
revived or reinvented in the law schools and were taken over (or independently
developed) in other schools. These included the gloss (explanations between the

lines of obscure words or phrases, or more elaborate comments in the margin), the
commentary with division of the text ("In the first part he does so-and-so, in the
second part, beginning at "..." he does such-and-such"), and the question
(authorities and arguments on one side, authorities and arguments on the other
side, and solution).

The second possible cause of the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century was contact between Latin
Christians and Muslims (also with Jews and Greek-Orthodox Christians). The contact was of
course to a large extent violent, but incidentally Christians formed a favourable impression of the
medicine and material culture of the Muslims and became curious about their medical and other
science. They soon discovered that the Arabic literature and these fields was based on
translations of Greek writings. In the twelfth century there was a flood of translations into Latin,
first from Arabic and then from Greek, first of works of medicine, science and astrology, and
later of philosophy. The philosophy did not include Plato, but it included the treatises of
Aristotle, a few of which had long before been translated by Boethius.
In some of the larger towns where there were many schools "universities" were
formed. A university was not itself a teaching institution. It was an association of
masters each of whom ran his own school as a business, getting his income from
the fees of students enrolled in his school. The university approved new masters
and set the curriculum to ensure the reputation of the schools of the town so as to
attract students; it tried to set rents and other prices, using the bargaining power
with the townspeople that masters had because of the business the schools brought
to the town. By the 13th century universities existed in Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and
elsewhere. These urban schools were the public for the new translations of Greek
and Arab philosophy and science, and in turn the influx of translations attracted
more students to the schools. The Church at first opposed the teaching of Aristotle,
but student demand prevailed and soon the universities made Aristotle's works the
set texts in the Arts curriculum. Although the Church supervised the universities and
the masters and students were all clerics (in a minimal sense), the teaching was not
mainly religious. The most flourishing schools were in law and medicine ("the
lucrative faculties"); at a time when Paris had over one hundred Arts schools it had
only eight in theology. The study of the law flourished especially in Italy. It was
encouraged by the "Roman Emperors", i.e. the German princes who claimed that
title, because of the support Roman law in Justinian's version gave to the Emperor.
The law of the Catholic Church, "Canon law", was also a flourishing study in the
Italian law schools, encouraged by the pope, whose authority it reinforced.
Philosophy was studied especially in the Arts schools of Paris and Oxford.


The Renaissance View of the Middle Ages

"Medieval" conveys contempt; to say that some arrangement is "medieval" is to

express emphatic disapproval. "Medieval" was a term of disparagement from the
beginning. It was invented in the 15th century by the Italian humanists, who
believed they were bringing about a rebirth (renascentia) of the ancient and better
culture of the Greeks and Romans after a "middle" or intervening period of
barbarism, the dark age. According to the humanists the ancient Roman Empire had
been destroyed by barbarian invaders such as the Goths and Vandals. The
humanists called the culture of the middle ages "Gothic" to suggest its barbarian
origin. As indicated above, more recent historians have found two earlier
"renaissances", the Carolingian renaissance and the renaissance of the twelfth
century; the "dark age" has now shrunk to the period between the "barbarian
invasions" and the ninth century.

The "humanists" were so called because of their study of literae humaniores, "more humane
literature", the studia humanitatis ("of humanity"). Humanitas was an ancient Roman term with
various meanings, including "mental cultivation befitting a man, liberal education, good
breeding, elegance of manners or language, refinement" (Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary).
"Befitting a man", suggests a human being fully developed as a human being should be. The
other terms the dictionary uses - "liberal" (i.e. appropriate to liber, a free man, as distinct from a
slave), "good breeding", "elegance", "refinement" - suggest that the ideal human being is an
upper-class gentleman, witty, urbane, at ease, self-confident, a good conversationalist. Nothing
laboured, pedantic, technical, incompatible with leisure, fitted this ideal. The literae humaniores
therefore did not include the technical treatises of Aristotle, mathematics, astronomy, law or
architecture, but only genres that a gentleman might practice: speeches, dialogues, letters, essays,
histories, poetry, drama. In recommending the literae humaniores the humanists means to
contrast their own gentlemanly studies with the laborious and technical studies of "the schools"
(i.e. the universities) fit only for pedants and plebeians - law, medicine, theology and especially
Aristotelian philosophy and science. Philosophy was of course a study for gentlemen, but the
humanists thought it should be carried on in relaxed style in dialogues, essays or letters, not in
laborious "scholastic" genres such as the treatise, disputed question or commentary on a text. The
humanists' philosophers were Plato, Cicero and Seneca, not Aristotle.
It is easy to sympathise with some of the points the humanists were making: that education
should develop the "humanity" of students, that it should not be excessively specialised or
vocational, that educated people should be able to discuss in a relaxed and interesting way a wide
range of subjects. On the other hand there are some subjects that cannot be pursued properly
except in a technical way. The success of the humanist movement was a set-back to philosophy,
mathematics and science (which had begun to develop in the late medieval schools of
In fact, the humanists themselves had a vocational interest. They or their pupils sought
employment with the Italian cities, and later with other governments, as secretaries and
ambassadors; they could write letters, write speeches, converse and were better trained for such
things than the graduates of the universities. On one view their campaign against the education of
the schools was an attempt to make obsolete and unfashionable the "product" sold in this labour
market by the established "firms".

In another view the contest between humanists and scholastics was another phase of the battle
that had been going on since Plato's time between philosophy and rhetoric. In his dialogues
Gorgias and Phaedrus Plato had criticised the rhetoricians as being concerned not with truth but
with persuasion. His contemporary, Isocrates, had in opposition maintained that the study of the
art of making speeches should be at the centre of education. Plato himself, and later Aristotle and
Cicero, had suggested that the true rhetorician will try to persuade hearers to the truth and must
therefore be a student of the truth. But still there remains a contrast between seeking truth for the
sake of knowledge and understanding and seeking truth so as to be more persuasive: for that
purpose verisimilitude is better than truth. In the ancient world the rhetorical education prevailed.
In Plato's Academy and in Aristotle's school, the Lyceum, philosophy, mathematics and science
were cultivated together. But during the Hellenistic period most of the schools taught mainly
rhetoric and other subjects useful to a speechmaker (including some parts of philosophy). The
exception was Alexandria, where all branches of philosophy, mathematics and science were still
cultivated. In Hellenistic Rome education was rhetorical, and Latin literature did not include any
counterparts of the difficult treatises studied in Alexandria. At the beginning of the medieval
period Boethius first translated into Latin some of the treatises of the Alexandrian schools,
thereby providing medieval Latins with a basis from which they could appropriate the rest of the
philosophical and scientific heritage of the Greeks in the twelfth century when it became
available to them from Muslim sources.
The renaissance humanists, then, were reviving the rhetorical culture of ancient Rome, studying
Latin works written then and the Greek writings that Cicero and his contemporaries would have
read, in opposition to the more technical Greek writings, oriented to understanding rather than to
persuasion, which had meanwhile become in translation the basis of education in the medieval
Against some prejudices remaining from the humanist campaign:

The Renaissance of the 15th century did not for the first time revive the
whole of Greek and Latin culture. Rather, it transferred interest from the
philosophical-scientific culture that had been revived three hundred years
earlier to the literary and rhetorical culture which had been revived earlier
still in the "Carolingian renaissance" and then displaced during the
renaissance of the twelfth century.
For most branches of technical philosophy the 15th century Renaissance was
a set-back. The gentlemanly genres - dialogue, letter, essay - imposed by the
humanists were less suited to rigorous thinking than were the scholastic
genres of question, treatise and commentary.

The Renaissance did not stimulate the development of science; rather it

transferred attention from science to literature and may even have been a
setback for science. [Note 5]

Medieval Europe was not closed against influence from non-Christian authors.
Muslim and ancient Greek philosophy and science were taken up with

Medieval culture was not entirely religious and otherworldly. The universities
were business enterprises responding mainly to secular interest in
philosophy, medicine and law with theology a comparatively minor subject.

The influence of Aristotle's authority over the Scholastics was greatly

exaggerated by their humanist critics. Aristotle's books were at first opposed
by the Church but became university set books because of student demand.
It was always understood that much of Aristotle's philosophy was at odds
with Christianity. And as we will see, medieval philosophy was much
influenced by neo-Platonism.

The Enlightenment
The Renaissance humanists spoke of their age of light succeeding a dark age. The
metaphor was taken up again, especially in France, from the late 17th through the
18th century, the Age of Enlightenment. The "enlightenment" movement was
directed especially against the Catholic Church and was concerned especially with
religious tolerance and other aspects of what is now called liberalism. (Key events in
the late 17th century were the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the repression
of Huguenot (Calvinist) churches in France, and the victorious war fought by the
Protestant powers of northern Europe led by William of Orange against France - a
conflict still remembered in northern Ireland.) The philosophes denounced the
religious intolerance of the Catholic Church as medieval and Gothic, reminiscent of
the medieval Inquisition.

Did freedom of thought exist in the middle ages? Unless it did, at least in some measure, genuine
philosophy can hardly have existed. The answer seems to be that although in the middle ages
freedom of thought was not acknowledged as a right, it did exist in some measure, at least in the
universities, even in the faculty of theology. To elaborate: (1) Theologians and canon lawyers
held that Christian belief was for every human being a duty, though failure to believe (like failure
in other duties) might be excused by invincible ignorance. However, the excuse of ignorance
could not be available to anyone who had once believed: to abandon the Christian faith after
believing it was held to be always wrong and, if persisted in, deserving of punishment. On the
other hand, (2) it was held that no one who was not a Christian could rightly be coerced into
belief. But (3) non-Christians could not be allowed to try to convert Christians, and (4) could not
be allowed to practice their religion in public. On these points see Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologiae 2-2, q. 10 and q. 11.
Point (1) implies that heretics - that is, persons who had once been Catholics but have abandoned
part or all of the Christian faith - should be punished. But it was held that to be a heretic it was
not enough to believe a heresy (i.e. a doctrine inconsistent with Catholic faith); it was necessary
also to be "pertinacious", i.e. not willing to be corrected. A Catholic who adopted an heretical
opinion but would abandon it if he or she realised it was heretical was not a heretic. This made
freedom of thought possible within limits: although no Catholic could examine Catholic belief to
decide whether it was true, it was permissible to think about and discuss questions to which some
answers might be heretical without fear of becoming a heretic: it was enough to be ready to be

corrected. It became customary for authors to make "protestations" of readiness to be corrected.

[Note 6]
Although it was not permissible for Christians to examine the Christian faith and decide that it
was not true, it was permissible to construct arguments addressed to non-believers to show that
Christian belief, or some part of it, was true, and it was also permissible to criticise and refute
such arguments. The obligation was to believe, not to have arguments. Christianity (like Judaism
and Islam) claimed to be based on revelations from God: that is, adherents believed that God sent
messengers (e.g. the prophets, Jesus) to tell mankind things they could not have discovered by
unaided natural reasoning - the "gospel" (good news). Many theologians held that there were
good reasons for believing these messengers, and that it was possible, once the message was
believed, to achieve by reflection some understanding of its content - perfect understanding only
in the next life, but some understanding even in this life. But no one was obliged to have good
reasons for believing or to attain any particular level of understanding. The obligation was to
believe the message. A Christian could therefore say, without falling into heresy or unbelief, that
some argument offered to support or explain Christian belief was unsound. [Note 7] Thus there
was freedom to criticise such arguments as long as it was not inferred from the failure of some
argument that the Christian faith was not true.
Freedom of thought was also helped by the fact that philosophy was recognised as a distinct
discipline. The Arts schools taught philosophy and not religion. The text books were written by
philosophers who had not been Christians. Theologians were Arts graduates and their writings in
theology were full of philosophy (in fact much of the most interesting philosophy in the middle
ages is to be found in theological works, such as Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae), but they
knew which arguments were based on Christian revelation and which were based on "natural
reason". Christian writers sometimes wrote books in which the arguments were deliberately
restricted to those that natural reason could supply: for instance, Boethius's Consolation of
Philosophy, Saint Anselm's Monologion, [Note 8] Proslogion and Cur deus homo, [Note 9] and
the first three books of Thomas Aquinas's Summa contra gentiles. [Note 10] The distinctness of
philosophy as a discipline did not mean that there were two truths; the conclusions of philosophy
were expected to be consistent with the truths of religion. But there was no objection to saying:
"This is what philosophical reason seems to establish, though it can't be true since it contradicts
the faith"; Ockham and other 14th century writers sometimes write like this.
Finally, the teaching methods in the schools and some of the content of the textbooks encouraged
the practice of looking for and trying to answer objections, including objections to things held by
faith. In the schools one of the main exercises was disputation, the "question"; some of the
students would be given the task of defending some proposition, others the task of objecting to it;
after some debate the master would give his answer and reply to the objections that had been
brought against it. In preparation for the role of "opponent" senior students would gather a
repertory of objections, the stronger the better. Aristotle's works suggest by example and precept
[Note 11] that opposing views should be carefully examined.
In the arguments for and against in the first part of a "question" there are many quotations from
"authorities", that is writers who were well regarded in the schools; often the authorities are put
in opposition to one another. However the decision of the question was not by authority, except

on points of faith where the bible and Church councils were decisive authorities (but not Church
fathers or other theologians - see Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, part 1, q. 1, art. 8, ad 2).
Thomas Aquinas says that authority does not prove demonstratively but forms an opinion
through belief (Quodlibet 3, art. 31, ad 1). He says that in disputations in the schools, of which
the purpose is to achieve understanding, arguments must be used that get at the root of the truth
and show how it is true; if the master "determines" the question merely by authorities the hearer
can be certain that the conclusion is correct, but gains no knowledge or understanding and goes
empty away (Quodlibet 4, art. 18). Thomas Aquinas's teacher, Albert, in reference to a text from
Hilary (one of the Church fathers), wrote: "Some say that Hilary retracted these words . . . But
since we have not seen his book of Retractations, it is therefore necessary to bring force to bear
(vim facere) on his words in three places . . ." (In 3 Sent., d. 15, a. 10). It was usually possible to
adapt an authority to what the writer regarded as the truth. (The texts above are quoted, and the
whole issue discussed, in M.D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas (Chicago, 1964),
chapter 4.)
The nineteenth century
Until the late 17th century higher education in Europe included study of
philosophical writings in the medieval tradition, but during the 18th century
knowledge of medieval thought became uncommon because medieval culture was
regarded with so much contempt. [Note 12] In the 19th century, however, a revival
of interest took place. This is explained partly by the revival at that time of the
Christian churches, including the Catholic Church; Catholics began to take pride in
their medieval heritage, including scholasticism. In the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, during what was called the "modernist" crisis, Church authorities made
the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas the basis of instruction in seminaries to prevent too
much compromise with modern philosophical thought. This Catholic revival of
interest led to great advances in knowledge of medieval thought, though there was
some distortion due to modern religious preoccupations.

A second cause of renewed historical interest in medieval thought was the change of attitudes to
history associated with the Saint-Simonian movement in France and Hegelianism in Germany.
Under the influence of these movements, historians no longer measured earlier cultures against
their own and pronounced them defective where they were different; instead, they tried to see
each "period" as an organic whole and as a necessary stage in the development of human history.
They therefore tried to understand medieval thought "from within", so to speak, and without
being in too much hurry to pass judgment on detached bits of it.
The twentieth century
During this century the revival of interest has continued. Religious reasons for
interest in medieval thought have perhaps become less influential. A lot is now
known about a large number of medieval writers and about the currents of opinion
and controversies of those times. It now seems that there is as much value in the
study of medieval philosophy as there is in the study of Greek philosophy. And my

approach in this course will be the same as it would be in a course on Greek

philosophy: we will read and analyse a selection of texts with the purpose of
understanding and evaluating the arguments, without being in any hurry to draw
general conclusions, either about the spirit of medieval philosophy or about the
philosophical issues with which the texts are concerned.