ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

114. The Primacy of Scholastic Theology Yields an Unsatisfactory Definition of Scholastic Philosophy, -- whether we make the scholasticity of a philosophy a generic notion and differentiate it by this or that ruling theology, or call scholastic those philosophies only which were in harmony with the religions of the Middle Ages, and notably with catholicism. And that for the following reasons

(1) Although the reality of this subordination of philosophy to medieval theology is beyond all question, nevertheless to define scholasticism by this subordination would be to leave unmentioned that precisely which constitutes it, -- its doctrinal content. Such a definition would include only attributes external to the thing to be defined: and such attributes are of necessity quite secondary in importance. For, (2) Whatever be the cause, the nature and the extent of this subordination of scholasticism to theology, is it not evident that the philosophy will have a meaning of its own -- apart altogether from the dogma which it may illustrate -- in the measure in which it offers a rational explanation of things, of reality? Even in regard to the theories that have a direct bearing on dogma there are and there must be grounds for judging and valuing them, other than their dependence on dogma.

(3) This is all the more evident when we remember that medieval scholasticism is largely made up of doctrines having no direct bearing on catholicism. There was nothing, for example, in catholic dogma to oblige the scholastics to explain the constitution and development of physical nature by the theory of primary matter and substantial form. Aristotle, who first formulated the theory, did not concern himself about its conformity with catholicism -- and for a very good reason -- or with any other religion; and, on the other hand, many of the early medieval philosophers embraced atomism, notwithstanding their catholicity. But will any one say that a theory so fundamental in scholasticism as the matter and form theory is, should be ignored in an account of the scholastic explanation of the cosmos; or that the theory has no purely philosophic value in the philosophy of Aristotle; or that it ceases to have any such value by the simple fact of its adoption in the Middle Ages and its co-ordination, in a common synthesis, with theories controlled by dogma? And examples of this kind could be multiplied. The fact is that the ground which is common to scholastic philosophy and theology is very much narrower than these sciences themselves: and outside this common territory an attitude of subordination of either to the other would be meaningless. Such subordination is accordingly insufficient of itself for a definition of scholastic philosophy.

(4) If we take "scholastic" in the sense of "a philosophy subordinate to any dogmatic code whatever," the very same difficulties reappear in a more general way. Catholic scholasticism would be a variety analogous to the Jewish, the Arabian and the Protestant varieties. The specifying element of each would be a religious and dogmatic element, a non-philosophic element, therefore; and a philosophy would be thus -- inadequately (1) -- defined by something not philosophic. Moreover, whether the ruling dogma be Brahminism or Mahometanism or Catholicism or Protestantism, the subordinate philosophical theories will still have a sense of their own from the exclusively rational or properly philosophical point of view (2), -- not to mention the fact that a complete system like scholasticism will embody a large number of solutions entirely uncontrolled by any dogma, for the simple reason that dogma has got nothing to say to the questions concerned (3).

(5) Finally, were we to define scholasticism as a philosophy in harmony with dogma, we should stumble on this unexpected consequence, that in one and the same scholasticism, -- the catholic, for example, -- we should meet with many conflicting and contradictory types. For, who would venture to assert that the Augustinian is reducible to the Thomistic philosophy? And yet, is St. Augustine less catholic, or otherwise catholic, in his theology than St. Thomas? In the Middle Ages no one openly opposed dogma, but each interpreted it after his own fashion. The pantheists introduced their allegorical or figurative interpretation of the Scriptures, and the Averroï sts their doctrine of the two truths, in order to safeguard -- or make believe of safeguarding -- their orthodoxy; and all of them boasted of possessing the real sense and spirit of the Gospels. At the threshold of the Renaissance, Nicholas of Cusa, a cardinal of the Roman Church, could find the most ingenious connections between his doctrine on the coincidentia oppositorum and his catholicism. The accommodation is not so happy, we may grant, in these latter cases, but that is the fault of the unsoundness of the philosophies themselves and does not touch our argument.

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