Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. Anselm, "The Father of Scholasticism"


From D.J. Kennedy, O.P. - St. Thomas Aquinas and Medieval Philosophy, Chapter I: "The Rise of Scholasticism - St. Anselm (1034-1109)."

(Online source: University of Notre Dame's The Jacques Maritain Center)

SCHOLASTICISM. -- The study of Scholastic philosophy and the use of philosophical knowledge in explaining and defending the truths of faith are distinguishing features of the Middle Ages. So well did the philosophers and theologians of those times understand the true relations of faith and reason that their principles were solemnly adopted and proclaimed in our own times, viz., the Vatican Council. Rome was not built in a day; the philosophical systems of the schoolmen were not built in a day. There were years of investigation, doubt and dispute before their systems were formulated. We can trace the rise and progress and the perfection of Scholasticism. We begin the study of the subject by considering all that is brought to mind by the name of St. Anselm, who is usually styled the "Father of Scholasticism" in the Western Church.

What Scholasticism is not. -- Scholasticism has been misunderstood and misrepresented more than any other feature of life in the Middle Ages. To this very day there are many for whom the word is synonymous with subtlety and logic-chopping. That there have been abuses of Scholasticism, and that these abuses furnished pretexts for rejecting the system, is freely admitted. The existence and causes of those abuses will be considered in subsequent chapter. Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, we should apply the principle that what is good should not be condemned or rejected because it has been abused.

He is a poor student of history and philosophy who thinks that subtlety is the quintessence, or even a necessary element or property, of Scholastic philosophy. Many of its terms are not readily understood by the ordinary student and they cannot lay claim to elegance in latinity. But, is it not true that medicine, jurisprudence, chemistry, botany, biology, and other sciences employ technical terms that are not understood by the uninitiated? We do not on that account reject those sciences. Why should we apply a different rule to Scholastic philosophy, especially since we are not prepared to offer a suitable substitute for the teaching and terminology of the Schoolmen? Correct the abuses; suppress idle discussions; banish confusing subtleties; but retain what is good in Scholasticism, for it is of great value. Scholasticism, in the first place, represents the highest form of intellectual activity and intellectual perfection; in the second place, for those who are Christians, it is of the utmost importance in explaining and defending the mysteries of faith.

SAINT ANSELM. -- The great champion of sound philosophy and of orthodoxy in those days was the pious and learned St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. Born in the year 1034, at Aosta, in Piedmont, he came to France, studied for three years in Burgundy, and in 1059, when he was twenty-five years of age, entered the famous school of Bec, in Normandy, which was the most celebrated school of the eleventh century. Three years later he became prior, and in 1078 was made abbot of the monastery, succeeding his countryman, Lanfranc of Pavia, who had been made archbishop of Canterbury. Lanfranc died in 1089, and four years later Anselm was appointed to the see of Canterbury, where he died in 1109.

Anselm represents all that is best in the first period of Scholasticism. The extent of his learning has never been called in question; his judgment was enlightened and sound; and, at a time when even the learned might have been confused by the multiplication of strange theories occasioned by the efforts of scholars to cultivate all branches of learning, he was the champion of truth and orthodoxy. Loyal to the faith, he made due allowance for the claims of reason, and held that it was a "sacred duty to reduce the truths of faith to scientific form, the neglect of which would expose Christians to the opprobrium of heing inferior to the pagans." This is the underlying principle of his "Prosologium," which has been called Fides quaerens intellectum, or, the truths of faith scientifically explained and developed.


St. Anselm's Works. -- St. Anselm's best known works are his Monologium (Soliloquy) and the Prosologium (Continuation of Meditations). In these works he carefully distinguished faith from reason, and became a living and influential opponent of the rationalistic tendencies which had been excited by the writings of Scotus Erigena. He did more. In the two works just mentioned, and in his treatises on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Procession of the Holy Ghost, on the Sin of Satan, on Original Sin, and De Conceptu Virginali, he laid the foundations of scientific theology.

"Hitherto," writes Mother Drane, "ecclesiastical writers had, for the most part, been content to gather up and reproduce the traditionary wisdom of the Fathers; but now, when those traditions had become firmly established, a scientific superstructure was to be raised on that broad foundation, and the theology of the Church was to be built up into a compact and well-ordered system. This was the work of the scholostic theologians, of whom St. Anselm may be considered the first." (Drane, Christian Schools and Scholars, [London, 1881], p. 313.)

To appreciate fully the services that he rendered, it must be borne in mind that he was a pioneer in the field in which he labored. Philosophy had been cultivated in Greece and Rome. The Christian Apologists had used reason, had used it well, in defence of their faith. The Fathers of the Church were not strangers to the learning and literature of their times; they were fearless giants, ready at all times to compete with the most powerful adversaries of Christianity. But the defence and explanation of Christian truths had not attained the perfection of a compact and well-ordered system. Many timid souls feared to use what was good in the works of the pagan philosophers. The schoolmaster, however, was abroad in the land: scholars would be misled if their studies were not properly directed; there was need of a saint and scholar who could direct philosophical studies with the assurance that the use of reason would not be detrimental to the Christian faith. This St. Anselm did by his character and career, as well as by his writings, which inaugurated, in the Western Church, the systematic explanation and defence of Christian doctrine. He was a pioneer in determining the true relations between faith and reason, showing that one could be at the same time a great philosopher and a good Christian. Later we shall see how St. Thomas perfected the system which St. Anselm built upon the works of St. Augustine, Boethius and the early Christian Apologists. (See Leo XIII, Encycl. Aeterni Patris in "Great Encyclicals of Leo XIII," pp. 36-48.)

The work begun by St. Anselm was continued by Peter Lombard, Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas of Aquin, to whom the world is indebted for those celebrated Summae (See Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Summae.) or Manuals of Theology, which served as the models of all subsequent theological treatises.

To St. Anselm is due the honor of inaugurating this important scientific movement, and for this reason he has been called the "Father of the Scholastics."

Post a Comment