Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Scholastic Theology
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY PHILOSOPHY OF THE SCHOOLMEN), a notable phase of speculation which prevailed throughout the Middle Ages whenever any activity of thought was displayed, and which gave a distinctive character to the reasonings, to the controversies, and to the whole intellectual habit of those centuries. Scholasticism especially denotes the peculiar mode of argumentation then practiced, and the spirit by which it was guided. The Scholastic Philosophy designates the whole body of diverse and often conflicting doctrine which was generated under the scholastic procedure. The Philosophy of the Schoolmen signifies the same thing, but directs attention particularly to the very remarkable succession of acute and profound inquirers who applied and developed the scholastic method. The schoolmen were the theologians, the metaphysicians, the dialecticians, the encyclopaedists, the thinkers, and the teachers of the mediaeval period. The scholastic philosophy represented the ample and often bewildering, but always systematic, results of their labors, especially after their method had attained its curious but consummate perfection. Scholasticism was the peculiar process of investigation and demonstration pursued by the schoolmen, with various thoroughness but unvarying uniformity, for much more than half a millennium. The schoolmen have long fallen into disrepute; little more than their names are remembered by the majority even of educated persons. Their works are unread and lie moldering and undisturbed on the dusty shelves of ancient libraries. Their system has been for nearly three centuries the constant butt of ignorant censure and stolid pretension. Yet a system which endured so long, which engrossed so many minds of wide culture and of marvelous penetration, which attracted so much of contemporaneous regard, which enlisted such intense and general enthusiasm, which filled the intellectual atmosphere for long generations, which almost "ruled the court, the camp, the grove," in the persons of Anselm and Occam and Abelard, cannot be dismissed with a sneer or safely repudiated with indifference.

Hallam, following in the wake of Brucker, with whom he was probably unacquainted, has repeated the stale reproaches against the scholastics, though acknowledging that he had read neither the works of the schoolmen themselves nor the historians of their philosophy (Middle Ages, ch. 9, pt. 2). But the second-hand censures of Hallam are rendered ridiculous by the measured commendations of Leibnitz, to which he inadequately refers, and by the candid admiration of Sir William Hamilton and other competent judges. Sir William, speaking of Reid's repetition of the current abuse, observes: "This is the vulgar opinion in regard to the scholastic philosophy. The few are, however, now aware that the human mind, though partially, was never more powerfully developed than during the Middle Ages" (Reid, Works [ed. Hamilton], p. 268, note; comp. Hamilton, Discuss. p. 54, note; 2d ed. St. Hilaire, De la Logique d'Aristote, pref. vol. 1, p. 5; Remusat, Abelard, 2, 282, 548). St. Hilaire justly designates "La scolastique-berceau de l'intelligence moderne." The world cannot afford to disown any of the laborious services by which knowledge and civilization have been advanced, no matter how strange they may now appear. Nor can it wisely forget those who have labored long and earnestly in its behalf. It may always be presumed that whatever occupied the ardent endeavors of many generations had some serious meaning, whether this meaning does or does not lie open to hasty apprehension; and that it solved some serious difficulties of the time and ministered to their removal from the onward path of humanity. It is certainly blindness and arrogance to reject, without careful examination, what we do not understand, because we do not understand it; and not to understand it, because unwilling to make an effort to understand it. There is much which is unsuited to modern habitudes of thought, much which is strange and bewildering under modern associations, and which is futile, perverse, or erroneous in the writings of the schoolmen; much that may be judiciously abandoned as having served its turn and prepared and disciplined modern intelligence. But, as Richard Baxter and Leibnitz very dissimilar minds both recognized, there will still remain much that is valuable and deserving of sedulous appreciation. Indeed, to those who have sipped from the original fountains, who have pondered over the divisions of Aquinas or grappled with the distinctions of Duns Scotus, there will appear no extravagance in the question of a recent writer: "What doubts have since been mooted what difficulties suggested in morals, religion, or politics during three centuries of unfettered religious inquiry which they, the schoolmen, have not anticipated and dissected with the calmness of scientific anatomists?" (Brewer, Letters and Papers in the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. 3, p. 413. Comp. Proudhon, Creation de l'Ordre dans l'Humanite, 3, 3, § 203).

1. Origin of the Term Scholasticism. The word "scholastic" (σχολαστικός ) does not occur in classic Greek in the sense so familiar from its customary application to the philosophers of the Middle Ages. Bayle (s.v. "Aristotle") says that it was not used in Aristotle's time to "signify a scholar, a student, or a schoolman." It occurs four times in Aristotle himself, always with the meaning of idle or disengaged once in distinct opposition to practical. No distinct instance of its mediaeval usage is discoverable in Stephens' Thesaurus. The earliest approximation to it presents itself in Posidonius (Athen. Deipnos. 5, 48); but it still clings to its primary meaning of unemployed, leisurely. It must be remembered that "school" had originally the same import, and that its Latin name was ludus (play). Gradually "scholastic" came to mean "characteristic of the school," particularly a school of rhetoric the master of such a school, a teacher of rhetoric, an advocate in the courts of law. It is employed in this last sense in a rescript of the emperor Constantius II (Cod. Theod. 8, 10, 11). It is sometimes with reference to a forensic vocation, sometimes with reference to elegant culture (which the word afterwards denoted), sometimes with reference to rhetorical instruction, that the Eastern Greeks spoke of Eulogius scholasticus, Leontius scholasticus, Sozomen scholasticus, Evagrius scholasticus, etc. The term, however, gradually lapsed into new significations, so that in the amusing account which Anna Comnena in the 12th century gives of John Italus (Alexiad, 5, 8), it is put in contrast with polite, rhetorical accomplishment, and signifies a dialectician. The word is translated "umbratilis," by Possinus, in his version of Anna, in accordance with its classical sense; and this rendering is not changed in the revision of this version by Schopen in the Bonn edition. It is impossible, however, to ignore its indication of logical pursuits. It probably received this significance by importation from the contemporaneous usage in the schools of the West.

The fortune of the word in the Latin language was similar to its experiences in the Greek; but there is greater facility in tracing the mutations of its meaning. It does not occur in Cicero. The younger Pliny gives umbraticus as its equivalent (9, Ephesians 2). In Quintilian, in the Dialogue on Orators, and in Aulus Gellius, it denotes "appertaining to rhetorical schools." In Petronius it designates the pupils of such a school. In the 4th century it was used for elegant, cultivated, refined ("scholasticus, ad Graecas munditias eruditus" [Capitolin. Maximin. Jr. c. 3]). In the 5th century it meant eloquent ("scholastici ac diserti" [Salvian, De Gub. Dei, praef.]). Several of the meanings were, no doubt, concurrent. The predominant meaning, under the empire of Rome in the West, was a person accomplished in the studies of a school of rhetoric, whether as disciple, teacher, or graduate. Rhetorical education, as the preparation of Cicero and the Institutes of Quintilian abundantly attest, had early become universal or encyclopaedical instruction. As rhetorical pursuits declined and as other studies waned, while logic gradually acquired a notable preponderance in the Church and in the ecclesiastical schools, as afterwards in the rising universities of Western Europe, scholasticism became identified with logic. Logic, however, embraced, or assumed to embrace, all subjects in its rigid grasp, as is shown by the commentaries of the greater schoolmen on all the works of Aristotle, and by their violent application of the logic of the schools to all departments of knowledge and action. But the universal range claimed by rhetoric in the Roman schools of rhetoric was never renounced by those who retained the name of scholastics while substituting logic for rhetoric. The process of the transmigration of meanings is easily discernible. School study is the pursuit of those who have leisure and therefore opportunity for learning. Rhetoric became the predominant and exclusive object of school instruction, but comprehended all knowledge. Logic supplanted rhetoric. Analysis and demonstration took the place of rhetorical elegance of expression, and aspired to the dominion of all knowledge. The new teachers and pupils retained the established name; and thus the scholastic of the Middle Ages emerged out of the idler of classical antiquity. The name is early applied to the masters of the cathedral schools.

2. Nature of Scholasticism. The inquiry into the changing import of the name scholastic is equally necessary for the due apprehension of the ordinary employment of the term and for understanding its appropriation by the scholastic philosophers. There is a large class of words which denote shifting conditions, social fluctuations, expanding or altering forms, that can be duly appreciated only by attention to their historical modifications. Civilization is a word of this kind, scholasticism is another. The definitions of scholasticism given in the dictionaries are for the most part tautological idem per idem and habitually partial. They convey little information to those not already acquainted with the subject; they generally proceed by cross reference. The inquirer is baffled by a game of verbal battledore and shuttlecock between the reciprocally implicated terms scholasticism, scholastic philosophy, and schoolmen. The distinctions of the historians of philosophy are of course more satisfactory, but they are seldom adequate. Brucker enters into the history of the term; but Ueberweg is almost dumb on this point. He says (Hist. Phil. 1, 355), "Scholasticism was the reproduction of ancient philosophy under the control of ecclesiastical doctrine, with an accommodation, in cases of discrepancy between them, of the former to the latter." Then Abelard, who did not touch theology till an advanced period of his career, was not a scholastic during his brilliant course at Paris. Others, who never touched theology at all, were never scholastics. Occam, and those who rejected ecclesiastical authority in whole or in part, were not scholastics. Then Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus ceased to be scholastics when composing their vast commentaries on Aristotle; but became so, suddenly, when commenting on Peter Lombard and submitting their speculations to the discipline of the Church. Then Roger Bacon would not be a schoolman. Evidently there is no such compendious definition of scholasticism as Ueberweg and many of his fellow historians suppose. The application of the Aristotelian logic to the exposition of Christian doctrine, and the subordination of the logical deductions to the orthodox dogmas of the Church, characterized the most brilliant period of scholasticism, and constituted scholastic theology. (See SCHOLASTIC THEOLOGY).

But these characteristics did not belong to the whole period, nor to all the schoolmen, nor to all the labors of theological scholastics in any period. John Scotus Erigena with his Platonism, and Pico di Mirandola with his Cabalism were schoolmen as much as Bonaventura or Bradwardine. So also were essentially the Jew Maimonides and the Saracen Avicenna. It is necessary to regard the wavering import of the term scholasticism, to note its various use, and to trace the progress of the scholastic procedure, in order to obtain a full knowledge of its meaning, and to detect the grounds of its diverse, and particularly of its most familiar, application.

Scholasticism, so contemplated, will be found to have meant, under the emperors of Rome, the functions of a teacher of rhetoric, embracing all knowledge in his course, then the possession of such knowledge with the refinement which it was supposed to bestow. As universal learning shrank up, even in the times of Cassiodorus, to the Trivium and Quadrivium, scholasticism suffered eclipse, but still claimed dominion over all the learning of the time. When rhetoric was supplanted by logic, scholasticism became the application of deductive reasoning to all departments of inquiry; and, at a later time, in accordance with the temper, associations, and necessities of what is regarded as distinctively the scholastic period, preeminently, though never exclusively, to theology.

Scholasticism will thus be the employment of logic, not the Peripatetic philosophy as such, in all departments of learning, whether suited to them or not the substitution of dialectics for investigation, of authority for facts. Lord Bacon did much, but very much less than his followers, to confirm the delusion that Aristotle handled everything in subservience to the logical science which he had created. Such an error can never be entertained by any one who has read his Natural History, his Parts of Animals, his Politics, or even his Rhetoric or his Ethics. This exclusive application of logic to all subjects and on all occasions was alike the defect and the characteristic of the schoolmen, practiced, even when condemned and opposed, by Roger Bacon.

3. Origin of the Scholastic Mode of Philosophizing. The notices of the origin of the name and of the nature of scholasticism furnish indications of the genetic development of that notable method of speculation. They do not supply the historical explanation of its growth, nor reveal its relation to the changing circumstances in the social and intellectual condition of the darkening ages which determined its appearance and progressive ascendency. Several writers, among whom may be named Brucker, St. Hilaire, Remusat, have recognized in John of Damascus the progenitor of the scholastic system. He flourished in the earlier half of the 8th century. Long before him, germs of scholasticism and scholastic tendencies may be detected in both Christian and pagan writers. There are many evidences in Aulus Gellius that eristic dialectics constituted an habitual occupation of scholars before the middle of the 2d century (see especially Noct. Att. 1, 2). There is a manifest disposition in Tertullian and other fathers of the early Church to treat religious topics in a manner analogous to that pursued a thousand years later by the most illustrious among the schoolmen. Scholasticism was a natural growth, not an arbitrary invention. It may be deemed to have been inevitable that this mode of intellectual procedure should be pursued when a revealed religion, appealing exclusively to faith in the revelation, and whose fundamental tenets "came not by observation," was disseminated amid a highly cultivated but skeptical society, in antagonism to previously existing systems of religious belief, and to all the conclusions of its past thought and experience.

Authority, divine authority, was the basis of the new truth, and furnished the premises for controversy and for apologetics alike. The inspired Scriptures were the expression of this divine authority, and were neither to be established by observation nor tested by experiment. In exegetics as well as in polemics there was thus a necessity of proceeding from the maxims of faith to the consequences of such maxims, which could be reached only by deduction. The need of accommodating the arguments adduced to the hostile temperaments and adverse habitudes of a pagan age would naturally soften and obscure the sharp precision and harsh angularities of dialectical demonstration. But the scholastic method, and even the scholastic subtleties and quodlibets, very soon appeared, and may be discerned in early patristic literature. When Christianity became prevalent and was established as the religion of the State, especially as there was a coincident decay of general culture and secular letters, the logical spirit, with its texts, its abstractions, its distinctions, its divisions, and its refinements, became predominant.

This tendency is very pronounced in the Confessions of St. Augustine, in his other writings, and in the productions of his contemporaries and immediate successors. It is not without reason that Augustine has been signalized as one of the chief promoters of the scholastic method. As letters continued to shrivel up, and as cultivation of intellectual graces and refinements became impossible or mistimed in the midst of social anarchy, barbarian incursion, and general wretchedness, the deductive method of argumentation and exposition would unavoidably prevail. The extension of the practice and the exclusiveness of such pursuits would also be greatly favored by the restriction of study to the ecclesiastical circle, and by the mighty task imposed upon the whole medieval period of converting the pagan barbarians who had occupied the Western empire, and of civilizing them through the instrumentality of the Christian faith to which they were to be converted. Of course, as logic was the chief method of theological persuasion, the influence of Aristotle and of the Aristotelian spirit grew with the progress of time and with the progress of theological disputation, for there neither is nor ever can be any logic but that of Aristotle. There does not seem to be any sufficient evidence of the total oblivion of Aristotle and of Aristotle's dialectics at any period of the Middle Ages. The testimony of Ingulph may be spurious, but there are other indications of a meager acquaintance with Aristotelian logic through secondary channels; and it is admitted that the version of Porphyry's Introduction, by Boethius, was known at all times.

After the conversion of the pagans in the new kingdoms, and the definite establishment of the ecclesiastical ascendency of the Roman Church throughout the Western empire, a fresh demand and a constant provocation for the intervention of scholastic procedure arose in the ever multiplying and often pernicious heresies which occupied provincial councils, and engaged the most zealous and astute minds in their promulgation, their refutation, and their defense. A very cursory perusal of the impugned opinions, whose statement opens the several articles in the Summa of Aquinas, or of any similar summa, will show what a countless number and endless variety of dogmas required to be examined and settled for the establishment of the religious and ethical doctrine of the times. It was an inestimable service which was rendered in the long and agonizing period of the Middle Ages, in a society without other intellectual discipline or moral control, by the proposition, the ventilation, the discussion, the establishment, or the reprobation of the multitudinous perplexed problems in theology often affecting government, society, and private conduct. It is not a question here whether the reasoning adopted, the arguments adduced, the conclusions drawn, or the decisions affirmed were correct or pernicious. The process was necessary, the task indispensable, for the effective development of European intelligence. The system does not accord with modern requirements, nor approve itself to modern modes of thought; but it inaugurated those requirements and bred those modes. Feudalism had to be swept away to make room for the growth of society and its larger expansion; but feudalism was a blessing at a time when the imperative demand of society was for confirmed authority and graduated subordination. Any "good custom will corrupt the world;" and no human custom is absolutely good or free from the taint of wrong and prospective mischief. The errors and the defects of scholasticism are nowadays manifest to all, and are habitually exaggerated. The good, "that was buried with it," is not equally apparent or as willingly sought. It requires some knowledge of the schoolmen, of their works, and of their times a transference of thought from our circumstances and points of view to theirs, and dispassionate reflection to estimate their difficulties, their aims, and their achievements. One inestimable result of their labors it is only one was the definite establishment of the terms of reasoning, metaphysics, and theology, and, as a consequence of their procedure, the enforcement of logical coherence of thought and of precision of language. These things were indispensable preliminaries for the development of modern tongues, modern knowledge, modern enterprise, modern society, and modern government.

That this explanation of the rise and progress of scholasticism is correct is in some measure confirmed by the exhibition of the same tendencies, under analogous circumstances, in the contemporaneous speculation of the Jews and Arabs; for it is a mistake to regard scholasticism as either an ethnical or a theological idiosyncrasy.

In the manner stated, and by steps which can be only obscurely traced, scholasticism gradually assumed that form in which it is usually contemplated by the historians of philosophy; and acquired the fullness, abundance, energy, precision, and predominance which characterized the scholastic philosophy in its most vigorous manifestation.

4. Systematic Development of Scholasticism. John Scotus Erigena, towards the close of the 9th century, is generally regarded as the first of those distinctively entitled schoolmen, though, as has been shown above, he should not be considered the earliest scholastic. The historians of philosophy have variously distributed the course of scholastic philosophy into periods. Ueberweg, who may be taken to represent the latest prevalent view, divides the scholastic age into two parts only: 1. From Scotus Erigena to Amalric, or from the 9th to the 13th century; 2. From the 13th century to the Renaissance. He thus omits both the preliminary tendencies and the expiring efforts, important as the origin and the decadence of the system must be. Sir William Hamilton (Reid, Works, Appendix, note B, p. 815) notes John Major, of St. Andrew's (1469-1547), as "the last of the regular schoolmen;" but the spirit survived far into the next century. Brucker does not neglect the early manifestations of scholasticism, but observes that it was conceived during the centuries extending from the 5th to the 8th; that the 9th and 10th were the time of its gestation and formation; that it was born in the 11th; that it passed its boyhood and youth in the 12th; and that it attained full manhood in the 13th. He commences the treatment of what he holds to be the scholastic philosophy proper with the beginning of the 12th century, and divides the history into three periods: 1. From Lanfranc, or Abelard and his disciple Peter Lombard, to the middle of the 13th century, and to Albertus Magnus; 2. From 1220 to Durand of St. Pourcain; 3. From 1330 to Gabriel Biel and the close of the 15th century.

That a great change took place in the scholastic philosophy at the opening of the second period, through the rivalry and energy of the recently instituted orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans, is proved by the character and career of the great schoolmen, and by Roger Bacon's curious vituperation of the "youngsters" who were teaching at Paris. These youngsters "pueri duorum ordinum studentium" (Compend. Studii, 5) were Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and their colleagues. The third period is rendered memorable by the names of Duns Scotus and William of Occam, and was marked by an excess of ingenuity, an extravagance of distinctions, and a perverse subtlety which degenerated into vain and puerile captiousness in their successors. It is from the diseased state of scholasticism in its moribund age that the general estimate of the system has been formed. But there is little justice in applying to the whole philosophy the reproaches merited by it in the years of its impotent decline.

For an acquaintance with the character and consequences of the application of scholasticism to theology, for the peculiarities of the sects of the scholastics and of the leading schoolmen, for their rivalries and their antagonisms, reference should be made to the names of the schoolmen in this Cyclopoedia; to (See NOMINALISM), (See REALISM), and (See SCHOLASTIC THEOLOGY).

5. Literature. The literature of scholasticism is so extensive that it would be equally impracticable and vain to undertake to give here any adequate enumeration of the principal works that have illustrated it. Among the chief sources of information are obviously the opera omnia of all the more notable schoolmen and their predecessors, from Joannes Damascenus to Gerson and Petrus Alliacus, or even down to Philip Melancthon. Next in order would come all the chief historians of philosophy. Among works of more special and immediate interest on the subject may be named Cousin, Fragmens Philosophiques; Phil. Scolastique (Paris, 1840); Rousselot, Etudes sur la Phil. dans le Moyen Age (ibid. 1840-42); Jourdain, Recherches Critiques sur l'Age et l'Origine des Traductions Latines d'Aristote (ibid. 1843); Caraman, Hist. des Rev. de la Phil. en France (ibid. 1845-48); Kaulich, Gesch. der scholast. Philosophie (Prague, 1853); Haureau, La Philosophie Scolastique (Paris, 1858); Hampden, The Scholastic Philosophy, etc. (Oxford, 1862); Erdmann, Der Entwickelungsgang der Scholastik, in Zeitschrift fü r wissenschaftl. Theologie (Halle, 1865), vol. 8; Michaud, Guillaume de Champeaux et les Ecoles de Paris (Paris, 1867); De Cupely, Esprit de la Philosophie Scolastique (ibid. 1868). (G.F.H.)

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Scholasticism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/scholasticism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
Ads FreeProfile