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

166. Second Group: Realism of the School of Chartres. Bernard of Chartres. -- The school of Chartres, founded by Fulbert, was a stronghold of extreme realism in the twelfth century.{1} BERNARD OF CHARTRES, -- not to be confounded with BERNARD OF TOURS (Silvestris) nor with BERNARD OF MOÉLAN,{2} -- is the first of an interesting line of great masters attached to this school. He was teaching prior to 1117, and in that year had Gilbert de la Porrée among his auditors. Later on (towards 1120), William of Conches and Richard the Bishop attended his lectures. He became chancellor of the Church of Chartres in 1119 and died towards 1130.

He has left a treatise entitled De Expositione Porphyrii. Of other works of his we possess only some fragments preserved in the writings of John of Salisbury, who refers to him as perfectissimus inter Platonicos saeculi nostri (Metal., iv., 3). Bernard is not a psychologist, but some of his theories in cosmology and metaphysics are of interest.

He attributes an objective, universal existence not only to specific and generic essences, but even to accidents. And, strictly speaking, it is only those universal realities that deserve to be called beings, for the things of sense are but fleeting and evanescent shadows: this is the nearest medieval approach to the ancient Platonic realism. Bernard studies those essences of the metaphysical world, recognizing herein three distinct categories of being: God, the Supreme, Eternal Reality; Matter drawn from nothingness by the creative act of God and forming by its union with the Ideas the world of sense; and the Ideas, prototypes or forms by which the world of existences and possibilities is eternally present to the Infinite Intelligence. How Bernard related these three principles is not quite clear. He is said by his historian, John of Salisbury, to have varied his views: at one time interposing between perishable things on the one hand and the Ideas immanent in the Divinity on the other, intermediate principles, the formae nativae, copied in matter from the Divine Ideas but distinct from these latter; at another time teaching the immediate union of the Idea with Matter, and thus identifying the Ideas with the formae nativae, the native or innate forms. If Bernard espoused this second view he would have been a pantheist, and we should be obliged to place him among the antischolastics. But for this we should need formal declarations of pantheism, and we do not find any such in his teaching. Moreover, he distinctly teaches the creation of matter in time.

Bernard conceives materia primordialis as an already existing but chaotic mass (Timaeus, 25), which is moulded, in a series of transformations, by an immanent principle, the form. This sort of dynamism, distorting the Aristotelian theory of matter and form, is one of the favourite teachings of the Chartres school (126, 3). We find it side by side with this other notion of palpably Platonic origin: the personification of Nature. Nature is considered a huge organism, distinct from, and superior to, the individual beings contained in it, and having therefore a soul of its own. The influence of Pythagoras is revealed in preoccupations about numerical relations, supposed to regulate the union of Nature with the world-soul, and of material beings with the Ideas. Bernard of Chartres had a large following {3} not, however, so large as his successors, especially his younger brother, Theoderic, under whom the Chartres schools attained their highest pitch of splendour.

{1} There were also anti-realists at Chartres. CLERVAL, Op. cit., p. 266. Cf. infra, Gilbert de la Porrée.

{2} Ibid., pp. 158 sqq.

{3} John of Salisbury mentions, besides William of Conches, RICHARD OF COUTANCES, professor at Paris in 1122, died Bishop of Avranches (1182), Wrote commentaries on Aristotle -- no longer extant.

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