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The Ancient Philosophy which we have just finished showed the development and maturity of rational thinking. During the Medieval Period, philosophy was raised to another level as it witnessed a dialogue between itself (philosophy) and the revealed Christian faith. It was however, not a dialogue of conflict it was rather a dialogue of understanding and cooperation that leads to a harmony between them. Medieval philosophy is the kind of philosophy that came out during the Medieval or the Middle Ages which spans between the 4th – 15th Centuries.


At the end of unit you should be able to:

  1.  discuss the period in history known as the Medieval Period or Middle Ages; and 
  2.  identify the type of philosophical speculation distinctive of that period. 


3.1 Patristic Philosophy

We must begin by stating a wellknown fact that Christianity is not a philosophy but a revealed religion that leads to salvation. But the two are not in opposition because the truth of reason does not contradict the revealed truth. Christianity first encountered philosophy in the
Areopagus of Athens. This encounter however, was not a pleasant one because of the distrust that existed between the two. On the one philosopher ridiculed the wisdom of Christ as foolishness and looked at it with contempt. On the other hand, Christians were suspicious of

philosophy as the invention of the devil and the source of errors and heresies. But the good news is that, the newly converted philosophers into Christianity did not just abandon their natural wisdom. They put it to use in the service of Christ: Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexander are instances of this. Others like Clement and Eusebius of Caesarea saw Greek philosophy as preparing the way for the acceptance of the gospel of Christ.
This was the beginning of greater collaboration between philosophy and Christian faith. Origin used philosophy to explain and defend Christian dogma. Methodius of Olypus became a great admirer of Plato. However, in the 4th Century, the problem of either absorbing or being absorbed by philosophy was brought to rest by three great thinkers – Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nysa. In the early 6th century, the writings of the enigmatic Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite made their appearance in Syria, presenting a serious blending of Christian teaching and Neo-Platonic thought.
These writings had a great influence among Christians of both East and West. The last of the Greek Fathers to enter the scene was John Damascene who summarized Greek Patristic thought in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith and made use of Dionysius’ Doctrines. Among the Latin Fathers before Augustine, one can mention a few names who drew inspiration from Greek philosophy. These include Minucius Felix whose writings were influenced by Seneca; Tertulian who relied on the Stoic to explain the nature of the soul and Marius Victorinus who remained Neo-Platonist even after his conversion and used it to explain

the Trinity. St Augustine was a great beneficiary of the latter without whom he would not have had the concept of the spiritual since he was deep into Manichean materialism. Augustine came to the Church with whatever good he could find in philosophy and used it to build the Christian structure of the deeper wisdom. For Augustine, philosophy was not so much an independent discipline as it was part of the general search for God and every one of its branches was made to contribute for that search.

After Augustine, there was very little to show with regard to philosophical speculation. But we should mention Boethius who made his mark in Logic, the Problem of Universals and Liberal Arts. Cassidorus also introduced learning and intellectual culture into monastic life. This is to say that learning and intellectual activity had left the public arena and concentrated in the Monasteries.

3.2 Prelude to Scholasticism

When Charlemagne became the Emperor, he revived philosophy and intellectual culture. He made philosophy and secular knowledge, the hand maid of faith. At the same time there was a philosophical controversy at the court of Charles the Bald on the nature of the soul between Ralsamnus of Cobie and Hincmar of Rheims, and was intrigued by the bold thinking and writing of John Scotus Erigena. He undertook the synthesis of philosophy in his De Divisione Naturae to show that the multiplicity of things proceed from the oneness of God and is in turn brought back to him. At this time philosophy was still a reflection on the Holy Scriptures and Faith and was not the exercise of reason for its own sake.
It was only after John Scotus Erigena that a distinction was made between philosophy and revealed doctrine. Logic and Dialectics were studied in their own right. This was the beginning of the movement
known as Scholasticism which reached its peak in the 13th Century. Peter Abelard undertook to solve the problem of the universals and to explain the mysteries of faith using logic and dialectics as tools. This period also witnessed intellectuals such as Anselm of Canterbury,  Richard of Saint Victor, Peter Lombard, Isaac of Stella, William of Saint Thierry. All these helped in shaping philosophy and systematizing theology. Paris became the center of intellectual activity and could only be rivaled by the School of Chartres which was the center of philosophy and a seat of classical humanism. These schools were said to organize 1200 guilds or the University of the Masters and scholars of Paris. These prepared the way for the flourishing of Scholasticism in the 13th century which was boosted by the numerous translations of Aristotle’s works and those of Arabian and Jewish philosophers. Aristotelianism was harmonized with neo-Platonism and placed alternately in the service of,

and in confrontation with the Moslem belief. The principal writers at this time were: Alkindi Alfarabi, Avicenna and Averroes. Averroes became influential as a guide to the thought of Aristotle, with consequences that soon gave rise to the crises at Paris.

3.3 Scholasticism at Its Peak

The middle of Thirteen century is said to be the peak of Scholasticism. At Paris, the foremost Franciscan to use philosophy in the service of theology included Alexander of Hales, John of La Rochelle and Bonaventure. They used their learning to sift truth from error and were
proficient in the tradition of Augustinianism. Some of their thought are the following: Emphasis on the primacy of faith over reason; the doctrine of Divine illumination in knowledge; plurality of forms in created composites; impossibility of creation from eternity; among others. In contrast to the Franciscans were the Dominicans such as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. Albert earned the title “the Great” in his life time for being the first to appreciate the importance of Greek – Arabic learning for science and philosophy and making encyclopedic summaries of it for his students. Thomas Aquinas on his part, though had great respect for Augustine, yet rejected the doctrine of illumination in knowledge. He was called the
“Angelic Doctor” for the honorary titles of other scholastics. He brought Aristotelian natural philosophy and metaphysics into the heart of theology and developed a unique synthesis known as Thomism that put the pagan knowledge at the service of faith. He is well known for his teaching on: pure potentiality of primary matter and its actualization by substantial form; matter as principle of individuation, rejection of spiritual matter, God as Pure Act; etc. His knowledge of Aristotle and Averroes put him in good position to oppose the Latin Averroeism. He opposed the doctrine of double truth and that there is only one possible intellect for the entire human race. These doctrines were condemned which led to series of rejoinders between the Franciscans and the Dominicans. In the midst of this intellectual controversy, John Duns Scotus emerged seeking to create a new synthesis. In a critical yet positive spirit, he undertook to examine anew the limit of reason contrasted to faith, the problem of knowledge generally, the object of metaphysics, and the doctrine of being, giving greater emphasis to divine freedom and for the metaphysical proofs for God’s existence.

3.4 Late Scholasticism

The last of the great scholastics was William of Ackham. He epitomized  the spirit of criticism that pervaded the early 14th century. His position was referred to as the modern way in contrast to the old way of Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and this exerted a pronounced influence, along with Thomism and Scotism in the later development of Scholasticism. Ockamism is a variety of nominalism, that among others, expoused the following doctrines: Concepts are universals in a purely functional sense and do not refer to a common nature possessed by things individually; reality is a collection of absolute singulars, the distinguishable units of which are substances and qualities; motion does not exist as an entity really distinct from the moving body; etc. Under the influence of Ockham, scholastic thought after 1350 moved away from metaphysics
and began to examine new questions. The 14th century witnessed the development of philosophy of language, logic of terms and suppositions patterned on the writings of Peter of Spain and William of Sherwood. Mathematical physics of space and motion began at Oxford. Even though developed in an Aristotelian framework, it was a clear departure from the classical physics of antiquity.
Thomism which had become the official doctrine of the Dominicans was championed by Harvey Nedellec, John Naples, John of Capreolus while the champions of Scotism included Antonius Andreas, Francis Meyronnes, Hugh of Newcastle. Within the Augustinian Order, the doctrines of Giles of Rome were made official during his life time, these were developed by James of Viterbo and Augustine of Ancona among others. With all this, Paris became a city of conflict and confusion. Some religious scholars revolted against it while others sought to restore the classical concept of liberal arts and return to pre-Scholastic type of culture. In Germany the attack of Martin Luther on the schoolmen and on philosophy and the ravages of Reformation, destroyed whatever was left of scholasticism. Only in Spain did the movement show new life with the rise of middle scholasticism.


The Middle Ages is often forgotten in the History of Philosophy but as we can see, it was a very eventful period of intellectual development. Knowledge like every human activity is a process and that process continues with you even today.


What started as a conflict and a mixture between religion and philosophy or between faith and reason was to be distinguished with each autonomy established. Thus philosophy has come to stay as an autonomous and independent discipline solely relying on human reason.


  1. .What were the major contributions of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to Medieval Philosophy? 
  2. Do you think the conflict between philosophy and theology still exists? 


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