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.

Bernard prevailed over against Abelard in terms of synodal decisions, but Abelard prevailed insofar as his method became the general method of Scholastic thinking. The question was: Can dialectics produce something new in theology, or is dialectics to be used only for the sake of explaining the given, namely the tradition and the authorities? .

This was the first conflicting couple of trends. The next goes deeper into the Scholastic development itself. I referred to it already when speaking about Augustine, that one man is missing in Augustine’s development, namely Aristotle, and that this had consequences in the High Middle Ages when the Augustinians came into conflict – or at least into contrast – -with the newly arising Aristotelians.

The Augustinians were represented by the Franciscan order, therefore they are often called the Franciscan group; the Aristotelians were represented by the Dominican order, therefore it is often called Dominican theology. Augustinians against Aristotelians: or Franciscans against Dominicans. One of the heads of the Franciscan order was Bonaventura, a cardinal of the Church, opposing Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican theologian.

This means we have a development of one of the fundamental problems of the philosophy of religion when Augustine and Aristotle – since Augustine is somehow Neoplatonic – when Plato and Aristotle met again and continued their eternal conversation, which will never cease in the history of human thought because they represent points of view which are always valid and which are always in conflict with each other. If you want the more mystical point of view, (cf.) in Plato, Augustine, Bonaventura, the Franciscans; and the more rational, empirical point of view, in the line from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas. This was perhaps the most important couple of trends in the Middle Ages, from the point of view of the foundation of religion and theology. Almost all the problems of our present day philosophy of religion were discussed in this light, which was especially strong in the 13th century, developing in all methods.