Session Notes

What We Will Learn Today

  1. That scholasticism was an intellectual movement, carried out in emerging universities. Scholasticism was content with the sophisticated analysis of Christian belief as well as other areas of knowledge.
  2. That some later thinkers rejected the medieval scholastic approach to knowledge as too complicated, speculative, and lacking in eloquence.
  3. That scholastics typically saw theology as the Queen of the Sciences, while philosophy and reason served as the Handmaid of Theology.
  4. That some scholastic thinkers tried to prove the existence of God through either a priori or a posteriori arguments.
  5. How some Franciscan thinkers contributed to the increasing emphasis upon empirical evidence for beliefs, and the importance of observation in science.
  6. How these same Franciscans were often ignored because of their political disagreements with the Roman Catholic church.


Medieval Scholastics as “Cathedrals of the Mind” - How so?

  1. Medieval scholastic thought is complex, elaborate, and handled with extraordinary care.
  2. Scholasticism
    1. A system of inquiry in which theology and philosophy studied formally in the emerging universities of Europe, using the method of disputation as its primary method of learning.
  3. Not everyone thinks of the Scholastics fondly…
    1. Some joked and said that scholastics were interested in irrelevant questions like “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Line of thinking adopted by Scholastics

  1. St. Augustine said that “belief is nothing else than to think with assent.”
  2. For the scholastics, philosophy was important because it served theology.
    1. They described the relationship between the two by calling theology queen of the sciences and by calling philosophy the handmaid of theology.
  3. quodlibet, Latin for “whatever”
  4. St. Anselm, drawing on the approach of St. Augustine,
    1. life of the mind was one where belief sought understanding.
    2. His famous phrase credo ut intelligam means “I believe in order that I may understand.”

St Anselm’s ‘Ontological Argument’ for God’s Existence

  1. He argues that if we grant that the definition of God is the greatest conceivable being, then a non-existent God is not as great as an existing one.
    1. To say that God does not exist would thus be like saying the very foundation of reality isn’t real. Or existence is not.

Criticism of Philosophical Theism

  1. It does not create Christians
  2. Biblical faith: not the abstract idea THAT God exists but rather a trust that the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob was faithful to his people, and will be faithful to us.

Aquinas used Aristotelianism

Aquinas' Important 5 Ways

  1. The first of these is based on the idea of an unmoved mover.
  2. Secondly, we see that everything that is has been caused to exist by something else. God is the uncaused cause of everything.
  3. Third, we see that the world is full of things that are contingent. That is, they might or might not have come to be.
    1. The contingent world depends on something else that is necessary: that is, it has to be something that doesn’t depend on something else. We call this necessary being, God.
  4. Fourth, we observe that there are various levels of perfection in the world.
    1. There must be a pinnacle of these perfections. We call this most perfect being, God.
  5. Fifth was Universe ‘Designer’ Argument
    1. As we look about the world, we see that there are complex things that have unique designs. To say something is designed implies that they have a designer. We call this universal designer, God.

Aristotle vs Anselm

  1. Anselm emphasized a priori reason (that is, reason that takes place prior to empirical observation of the world),
  2. Aquinas emphasized a posteriori reason (that is, reason that takes place after experience of the world).
  3. Aquinas argued from cause to effect, whereas Aquinas argued from effect to cause.
  4. Anselm developed an argument meant to produce intellectual certainty.
  5. Aquinas assembled five arguments that produced what he considered to be a highly probable conclusion.
  6. Anselm used a single deductive argument to make his case.

Mystics vs. Aquinas

  1. Mystics: God could be experienced but not comprehended by reason or language.
    1. All we could do, according to the mystical tradition was to say what God was not.
    2. This tradition is sometimes called apophatic theology or negative theology and its method is called the via negativa.
  2. Aquinas’ approach was to say that our language about God is not perfect, but approximates what is important to know about God.
    1. Aquinas’ approach is called the via analogia, or way of analogy.
  3. This belief led Catholic ethicists in ensuing centuries to emphasize the importance of natural law.
  4. Other later medieval thinkers brought in radically new ideas that eventually led to the development of modern science.
    1. Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1292)
    2. William of Occam (c. 1300 – c. 1349)
      1. First, he advocated an epistemological principle that today is called Occam’s Razor.

Late Medieval Philosohpy’s eventual contribution to the Reformation:

  1. Via Antiqua –emphasized that God had to act in a certain way
  2. Via Moderna—distinguished between the potential ordinata and potentia absoluta
  3. Their conclusion: God chose the economy of salvation freely.

What was the basis of our justification: Facere quod in se est –do your best and God will do the rest

  1. We see this still reflected in Roman Catholic inclusivism (John Paul II and Francis I)
  2. Martin Luther agreed with the late medievals on divine voluntarism
    1. BUT The criterion was not doing our best, it was solely on the unconditional atoning work of Christ.

Further Reading

  1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae
  2. Alister McGrath, Intellectual Origins of the Reformation