The 12Th And 13Th Centuries Essay, Research Paper
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a time of great controversy for medieval scholars. New systems of thought were being developed and implemented that challenged the accepted teachings of the church. Some fought to preserve tradition, others fought to destroy it, while still others sought to find a common ground between the two. The greatest controversy of the times, it can be said, was that of faith and reason. Most philosophical debate revolved around these and to a lesser extent the opposition of realists and nominalists on the question of universals. The type of philosophy that was being taught in the Christian schools of the time has been given the name of scholasticism. Scholastics shared a common respect for the ideas of Aristotle, Plato, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Avicenna. These were referred to by scholastics as the “authorities”. The views of the time were mainly Augustinian and Platonic although certain developments brought radical new ideas into contact with a fixed Christian dogma that was bound to oppose them. Whether a synthesis between them was possible remained to be seen.
Possibly the single-most important event of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries for medieval thinkers was the introduction of new translations of Aristotle’s works. The new translations were the products of work done by Arabic scholars. Up to that point Christendom knew only of Aristotle’s Logic. It had been widely accepted and was widely respected which meant the new works held great weight. The new translations provided a coherent view of the world that now challenged traditional views. On top of the controversy aroused by the works themselves, they were accompanied by the commentaries of non-Christian Arabic scholars holding unorthodox opinions. The excitement incited by the works was accompanied by a deep concern within the church over the effects of their assimilation.
Among the Arabic commentators was Averro?s. The multi-talented Islamic philosopher would become known as the commentator and interpreter of Aristotle. Averro?s had written the commentaries in response to a request from his ruler. His commentaries are very numerous and their effect on the Christian philosophical world immeasurable. In his personal philosophies he arrived at the conclusion that the two truths of faith and reason were irreconcilable.
Maimonides was at the same time an orthodox Jew and a firm adherent to Aristotelian philosophy. He was therefore in the same position as his Christian counterparts, particularly Thomas Aquinas, and faced the problem of combining the two. The result of his meditations on the issue is expressed in his Guide of the Perplexed, which appeared in approximately 1190. Maimonides stated that since God was responsible for the existence of both faith and reason the two must never be contradictory. Any semblance of contradiction between the two is therefore the result of misinterpretation of sacred writings or philosophy.
Albertus Magnus, an encyclopedic writer was probably the first to recognize the significance of the new translations of Greco-Arabic literature. Magnus greatly appreciated the writings of Aristotle and made great efforts to help his contemporaries understand him. His work made a terrific contribution to the future success of Aristotelianism.
A pupil of Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, would later be recognized as perhaps the greatest and most influential thinker and philosopher of the day. He was the first to view theology as a science where one accepts the word of God as the basis for further rational inquiry and research. He opposed the dualism of Averro?s and was appointed by the church to write the authoritative commentary on Aristotle’s works. The result was his Summa Theologiae in which he synthesized Aristotelianism and Christian belief. This was accomplished by adapting the former wherever it conflicted with the latter. For instance, Thomas would agree with Aristotle’s theory of a primary unmoved mover, although to him the unmoved mover was the Christian God.
The major opponent of growing Aristotelianism was the Augustinianism of Henry of Ghent. Henry believed that in any instance where human intellect was used, it was only God who would “illumine” the human intellect in question. Apparently Henry’s insistence on this issue did not gain him many followers .
Another important figure of the era was Roscellin. The man is often called the first nominalist and is therefore at the root of the nominalist-realist debate on the question of universals. Universals are words like “humankind” that refer to something abstract. A nominalist like Roscellin would argue that “humankind” is only real in the sense of its verbal expression and a realist would take the opposite view.
Peter Abelard found himself exposed to and influenced by well-known adherents of both views. He was a student of both Roscellin and Guillaume de Champeaux, a realist. Abelard has been called the “greatest champion of the nominalist-conceptualist point of view “, a conceptualist being someone who finds themselves between the extremes of nominalism and realism. Abelard attempted to combine secular teachings with his career as a monk. The results were that much of his work was judged to be heretical and he nearly faced trial with the king of France. Due to the influence of Bernard of Clairveaux a council at Sens condemned him and the Pope confirmed his condemnation in 1140. Later in life he made peace with Clairveaux.
Bernard of Clairveaux was the most influential figure in western Christendom of his time. He was personally conflicted by his desire to lead a solitary life of monastic studies and his desire to help others. He strongly opposed dialectical scholasticism and is almost the embodiment of the church’s opposition to growing intellectual movements of the time. Clairveaux believed that God’s mysteries are not meant to be discovered. Scientific inquiry was to him “scandalous curiosity “.
At the end of the thirteenth century the controversies of faith and reason had not been resolved. If anything the two ideals had grown farther apart and they would merely be taken up by the next generation of scholars. The arguments had been forever altered however, marked by the developments of preceding centuries. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a time when those who provoked thought and interest often provoked fear and hatred. Controversy was the word of the day. Regardless, nothing in these times or any other could stop the evolution of human thought.
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