Scholasticism? – What is this blog trying to do?

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know Himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. (Fides et Ratio)

Let me first say that much of this post is simply cut and pasted material from other sources, with little of my personal input.  I need not take credit for it, nor alter it to any extent, for it is truth, not originality, that I aim for, both in this post and in my blog as a whole.  What is presented below is simply a brief background and outline of what shapes my attempt to continue the tradition of the Scholastics in reconciling faith and reason and achieving a coherent view of the world through contemplation, as well as seeing how we can apply this in our lives.  After all, one of the Dominicans’ greatest mottoes, taken from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, is “to contemplate and to share the fruits of your contemplation.”

Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics (scholastics, or schoolmen) of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of Christian monastic schools. (from Wikipedia)

Much of what is written hereafter, edited and interspersed with my own commentary, is from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, scholasticism places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation: a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents’ responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponent’s arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.

As a program, scholasticism began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christians thinkers: to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism.

No method in philosophy has been more unjustly condemned than that of the Scholastics. No philosophy has been more grossly misrepresented. And this is true not only of the details, but also of the most essential elements of Scholasticism. Two charges, especially, are made against the Schoolmen: First, that they confounded philosophy with theology; and second, that they made reason subservient to authority. As a matter of fact, the very essence of Scholasticism is, first, its clear delimitation of the respective domains of philosophy and theology, and, second, its advocacy of the use of reason.

Christian thinkers, from the beginning, were confronted with the question: How are we to reconcile reason with revelation, science with faith, philosophy with theology? The first apologists possessed no philosophy of their own. They had to deal with a pagan world proud of its literature and its philosophy, ready at any moment to flaunt its inheritance of wisdom in the face of ignorant Christians. The apologists met the situation by a theory that was as audacious as it must have been disconcerting to the pagans. They advanced the explanation that all the wisdom of Plato and the other Greeks was due to the inspiration of the Logos; that it was God’s truth, and, therefore, could not be in contradiction with the supernatural revelation contained in the Gospels. It was a hypothesis calculated not only to silence a pagan opponent, but also to work constructively.

The belief that the two orders of truth, the natural and the supernatural, must harmonize, is the inspiration of intellectual activity in the Patristic era. But that era did little to define the limits of the two realms of truth. St. Augustine believes that faith aids reason and that reason aids faith; he is, however, inclined to emphasize the first principle and not the second. He does not develop a definite methodology in dealing with them. The Scholastics, almost from the first, attempted to do so.

Scholasticism sprang from the study of dialectic in the schools. The most decisive battle of Scholasticism was that which it waged in the twelfth century against the mystics who condemned the use of dialectic. The distinguishing mark of Scholasticism in the age of its highest development is its use of the dialectical method. It is, therefore, a matter, once more, for surprise, to find Scholasticism accused of undue subservience to authority and of the neglect of reason.

In fact, it was a common saying among the Scholastics that “the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments.”

This blog is, hopefully, a continuation of that search to seek the truth and then live it.  It is inspired by the Gospel, the news of Truth Himself, the great Scholastics, and of course, the encyclical of Pope John Paul the Great, Fides et Ratio, the opening sentence of which I began this post.


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