Evangelizing Aristotle: Scholasticism

Sources: Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (IVP, 1999); David Knowles, "The Middle Ages 604-1350," in Hubert Cunliffe-Jones with Benjamin Drewery, eds., A History of Christian Doctrine (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); Adrian Hastings, ed., Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford, 2001); F.L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1983).

Reading: Acts 17.

Roots and Results of Christian Scholarship
Greco-Roman intellectual heritage is preserved and nurtured in Irish monasteries, then spreads back to continental Europe
Learning flourishes among monks in monasteries, spreads to cathedral schools in cities, and then to universities
Aristotle forcefully re-enters intellectual circles through Muslim sources and scholars Ibn-Rushd and Ibn-Sidr (also the Jewish philosopher Maimonides)
Schools become intellectual crossroads where classical learning and new discoveries are brought into conversation with Christian tradition
chools separate learning into 'arts' and 'theology'
Scholastic theology inculturates the faith in the forms and concerns of classical Greek philosophy
It answers their challenges with arguments that play by the challengers' rules (disputation rather than parable, abstraction rather than example, etc.)
It seeks to prove the tradition's ultimate compatibility with philosophy
The former comes to be called faith and the latter reason, so that the two are universalized and then synthesized or separated
It refines, then questions, a "classical theism" of divine being and attributes
Scholasticism declines in the fourteenth century but is authoritative and repeatedly revived in Catholicism and Protestantism
Scholars' approach and conclusions are both formative and problematic for all subsequent western theology
What does this story say about the gospel, the west's cultures of learning, the world, and God?
Key figures and events in scholastic theology:
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
As Abbot of Bec, he develops (Aristotle's) arguments for God's existence from nature/logic rather than authority in the Monologion and Proslogion
God is "that greater than which cannot be conceived"
He likewise infers a "satisfaction" theory of atonement in Cur Deus Homo from presumed needs for salvation and the natures of Christ
He defeats the earlier "ransom theory" and constructs his alternative in a long dialogue governed by faithful reason
Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
A revisionist teacher in Paris, he revisits settled answers he judges unsatisfactory in Sic et Non
Christian Theology shows philosophy to be compatible with tradition
His metaphysics moves away from pure realism towards nominalism
He opposes other theories of atonement with "moral influence theory"
John Bonaventure (1221-1274)
A Franciscan friar in Paris, he regards education as a spiritual way of life and knowledge of God as intuitive
He compiles the first comprehensive Christian doctrine developed from an explicit 'worldview' or philosophy of knowledge
His lower enthusiasm for Aristotle fuels the tradition of Duns Scotus (1266-1308) which becomes a more critical scholastic rival to Thomism
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
A Dominican friar, he reconciles and corrects newly influential Aristotelian ideas with the Augustinian theological tradition
Summa Contra Gentiles ...
Summa Theologica ...
Thomas describes a "natural theology" (e.g., existence of the one God) apprehensible apart from special revelation (e.g., God's Triune nature)
Rejecting Anselm's ontological argument, Thomas appropriates five Aristotelian arguments for "God" :
unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, perfection of being, source of ends
Thomas qualifies human language about God as analogical
Salvation is grace restoring and perfecting nature; creation nor redemption support each other (cf. Manichaeism and Deism)
William of Ockham (1280?-1349)
A Franciscan friar and teacher at Oxford and Munich, his philosophical claims get him exiled and excommunicated
Occam's Razor advises economy of explanation, fueling both science and reductionism
He moves decisively toward nominalism, in which knowledge is grounded in the direct apprehension of individual objects rather than inference of real generalities and universals through particulars
This begins the via moderna that leads to the triumphs of Renaissance observational science and to empiricism
His voluntarism held that God's sheer will defines goodness
His conciliarism denies the invisibility of the Church and the absolute global authority of one Pope
All these undermine the scholastic method and theological synthesis as well as the hegemony of ecclesiastical authority
These also set the stage for the Renaissance, Reformations, and Enlightenment