Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Medieval Period: Nominalism, Realism, Monasticism, Crusades.

Our subject has been the general trends in the Middle Ages. We discussed the main periods, attitudes of thought, and the development of the Scholastic method in its different steps. We now come to different trends in scholasticism itself.

The first form in which autonomous thinking arose in the Middle Ages was dialectics. This word is very hard to use today, having innumerable meanings, the original meaning having been lost. The original meaning is the Greek word “conversation,” talking to each other about a problem, going through “yes” and “no,” one representing the “yes” and the other the “no” – or vice versa. I told you yesterday already that the jurists, those who represented the canon law, had to harmonize for practical reasons the different authorities, Councils, theologians, about practical problems of the organization of the Church. Out of this need arose the method of “dialectics,” of yes and no. They were applied to the theological problems themselves. But yes and no is always something about which the guardians of traditions are afraid, because once a “no” is admitted, one does not know where it leads to. This is so today, when you think of our Fundamentalists, our traditionalists, of any kind, and this was so in the early Middle Ages.

Certainly the early Middle Ages were not able to stand much no’s, in view of the primitive peoples to which they had to speak, and in view of the fact that they were the only reality in which mankind lived at that time, and in view of the fact that everything was a process of transformation and consolidation. So against the dialectics, the pious traditionalist – arose – 1 think here especially of the dialectic of Abelard, and the representative of the pious traditionalists is Bernard of Clairvaux.