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Свт. Марк Эфесский

Интернет-содружество преподавателей и студентов православных духовных учебных заведений, монашествующих и мирян, ищущих чистоты православной веры.

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Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

The Scholastic Paradox

парадокс схоластики

The dualistic conception of reality as consisting of abstract, disembodied ideas existing in a domain separate from and superior to that of sensible objects and movements became the most characteristic feature of Western philosophical and by a curious confluence of events, the last vestiges of Orthodox Christianity were snuffed out in Western Europe at a time when the only alternative sources of intellectual influence there were nascent in Spain: the Moslem schools of philosophy which would arise in the Iberia of the Saracens. The great Aristotelian scholars of Islam — such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the royal librarian of Bokhara, and his Iberian born disciple Ibn Roshd (Averroës) — were still in the future, but the foundations for their massive influence on Western theology and thought were laid in this epoch, almost ironically by the Arab movement of falsafah which might be called the Moslem Scholasticism. In the 800s, the falsafah had discovered the Hellenistic classics and began to apply both “natural science” and Greek metaphysics to Islamic thought. The scholars (called faylasufs) in this movement ranged from the mystic Abu Nasir al-Farabe, who died in the 980s to the rationalist Yakub ibn Isak al-Kindi (d.874) and Abu Bakir al-Razi (d.925) who introduced Gnostic ideas into his system. They were reformers of a sort, and inclined to asceticism and in a curious way are the progenitors of the Christian Scholastics.[1]

Τhe Crowning of Charlemagne

In the 800s Charlemagne (742-814) managed to exterminate Orthodox Christianity in Gaul, and his successors carried this through in the rest of Western Europe. They did so, not as a matter of theology, but as a matter of power and control and, in the words of Fr John Romanides, “The incorporation of the episcopate of Carolingian Francia into the Frankish army and its [the episcopacy's] occupation by military officers, whose duty was to pacify the revolutionary Gallo-Roman population, is the key to understanding the so-called Great Schism between Roman and Latin Christendoms.”[2]

In fact, Charlemagne desired to be crowned Roman emperor. When the Gallo-Roman bishops refused, reminding him that there was a Roman emperor in Constantinople already, Charlemagne is reported to have responded, “But there is a woman on the throne, therefore the throne is vacant.” St. Irene the restorer of the holy icons was on the throne at that time. Charlemagne, through violence and threats, created a schism and crowned himself emperor with the helpless assistance of the Bishop of Rome. Roman Catholicism was literally created by the Carolingian rulers of the Frankish kingdom, based on political foundations laid by Charlemagne and his minister of education, Alcuin of York, and philosophical foundations laid by Augustine of Hippo. The birth of the Roman Catholic Church took place in an inauspicious, shadowy era between the closing decades of the Western Dark Ages of barbarian rule and the beginning of the medieval “awakening.”[3] This was an era in which the great intellectual resurgence in Constantinople[4] could cast no more than a noctilucent glow toward the West, when the cruelty and savagery of the Dark Ages penetrated the religious philosophy of the West with the rudiments of “juridical justification theology,” and penetrated the faithful with dark superstitions and fears that have still not vanished. It was also the era when the Platonism and quasi-Gnosticism of Augustine of Hippo distorted theology in the West into a system of philosophical speculation, and forever separated it from the existential, living theology of Orthodox Christianity.

Augustine of Hippo

Western scholars were cut off and isolated from Constantinople increasingly by language, as the command of Greek was lost,[5] and sometimes by Carolingian and later Frankish imperial policy[6] and by the Arab control of the Mediterranean. When the Dark Ages did draw to a close and the resurgence of learning began in Western Europe, the new schools would turn toward Spain, toward the Moslem academies, for their inspiration and direction This development would produce the new movement among scholars called “Scholasticism” or “schoolmen.” While this whole series of events had a catastrophic doctrinal and spiritual result in the West, it also provided for an energetic resurgence of learning that would lead, eventually, to great advances in all the sciences and in medicine. Paradoxically, it would also lay the foundations for the huge conflict between religion and science in Western Europe — a conflict that is still being played out in America in the 21st century.

In the system of the newly arising Latin philosophical theology, the “schoolmen” failed to realise that dogma and doctrine,[7] are only the algorithm for theology, and the artificing and refining of the algorithm became, for them, the very meaning of theology itself. Indeed, it often appears to us that the West in general lost the algorithm and ended up developing doctrine by means of iteration or in a heuristic process. In such a circumstance, theology lost its existential power as a vector for the ascent of man in real spiritual transformation and the experiencing of the uncreated energies of God and became no more than a system of religious philosophy and a school of ethics. The concept that theology is a living, healing force, experienced in the very depth of one’s being, could not even have occurred to the schoolmen. Doubtless this is why Latin spirituality,[8] strangled by the dry, lifelessness of philosophical theology and the moralistic religious fascism that it produced with its speculation in ethics, collapsed into romantic mysticism and thus into spiritual delusion (plani; prelest), as would Russian spirituality during the three hundred year “Latin captivity of Russian theology,” until it began to be emancipated by St Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and his co-workers.[9]

It is here that we must defend some aspects of the Scholastic movement. Our criticism of it is limited to the theological and spiritual problems that it caused, not to its overall gift of a systematic way of thinking and exploring, nor of its opening up of the knowledge and method that could lead to authentic science — something that simply did not develop in the Byzantine East. After the 600s is it likely that there could have been little advance toward modern science and medicine  in the East. The remaining centuries of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire were filled with an all consuming struggle for survival. The vital and energetic intellectual movement in the West resulted from the excitement of a rediscovery of the literature that had been preserved, but not used to the best advantage, in Byzantium. Every theological critique of Scholasticism, therefore, should acknowledge its gifts also. We are concerned in this work primarily with the later conflicts that the Scholastic mode of theologising would create between Christianity and modern science.

The translations which began to appear in Western Europe in this era were by no means limited to philosophical treatises, or even to the philosophical science of Aristotle. The works on chemistry of Jabir ibn Hayyan (+ca.785) appeared in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. Adelard of Bath translated Al-Khwarizmi’s works on arithmetic and trigonometry (the Astronomical table) in the first quarter of the 1100s, and Robert of Chester, working in Segovia in 1145, translated the work on algebra by the same author. The 12th century scholar of Toledo, Gerard of Cremona, translated medical and chemistry texts by Thabit ibn Kwerra (+901), Rhazes (+925) and Hali Abbas (+994). Al-hazen’s Optical Thesaurus was translated in the 12th century and Michael Scot translated Alpetragos’ work on the Aristotelian concentric system of astronomy in 1217. Apollonios, Archimedes, Diocles and Hero of Alexandria all appeared in Western Europe in translation during the 1200s. Ptolemy’s Almagest and the physics of Proclus and Simplicius were translated from the Greek by Gerard of Cremona, Robert Grosseteste and William of Moerbeke during the 13th century. Galen’s treatises on medicine had begun to appear by the end of the 1100s. It seems worth mentioning, incidentally, that the Arabs had learned many of the most important aspects of mathematics not from the Greeks but from India, where several great Hindu scholars such as Ariavata in the early 500s, Brahmagupta in the 600s and Bashkhara in the 1100s, had mastered much which was necessary for the advancement of science. Because the resurgence of learning encompassed every aspect of intellectual activity, the new schemata of Latin philosophical theology took a form quite similar to the order espoused by some of the stoics, at least as expressed by Zeno (d.264 B.C.). He defined philosophy in three categories: logic, ethics and physics. Scholastic theology seems to have embraced these three as part of its discipline, and this is because theology was, for them, a system of philosophy — at least a theology justified by philosophy;  fides quarens intellectum.

Part of the genius of the Scholastics was, perhaps, their enthusiastic ability to embrace these three categories into their theological speculations. Whatever negative effects it had on Latin and Protestant theology, it contributed greatly to the development of systematized and disciplined thought and intellectual pursuits. One would think that the Scholastics were also much influenced by Aristotle’s early concept of “natural theology” as a category of metaphysics[10] and perhaps troubled by his later concept of it as mythology. It must be remembered that the general scheme of theological study in the West was laid down long before the “awakening” and the era of the Scholastics. Augustine contributed its Platonic and Gnostic roots, while Boethius, who died in about 525 A.D., had already introduced Aristotle into Western thought.[11] It was through Boethius that rational categories were applied to theological speculations. He introduced, from Aristotle, the three speculative facets of philosophy: natural, mathematical and theological. Both Augustine and Boethius had something to do with shaping theology into a philosophical pursuit, but during the Dark Ages, Boethius was eclipsed by the Augustinians and Aristotle was virtually lost to Latin thought during this intellectual hiatus. We are not concerned to trace the fine details of the development of Western theology and philosophy here, but we wish to mention that part of the problem in the Western philosophical concept of theology is that the theologians wanted to know and explain far more than can be properly explained. They ultimately wanted to visualize (even when they claimed otherwise) the inner workings of the Trinity[12] and tried (some of them) to turn grace into an observable science with fixed laws of behaviour.[13] The root of much of the confusion which would develop in Scholasticism, aside from a lack of awareness of the uncreated energies, lay in a faulty concept of what would later be referred to as epistemology.[14] All radical dualisms lead to falsehood, often to idolatry. The concept of representative perception which developed, created an idea that the things we experience or apprehend are not the things in themselves but representational mental images. Knowledge of God thus becomes a symbolic abstraction. Since the Scholastics thought of God as the “unmoved mover,” and, therefore, conceived of as being always “at rest.” such “motion” as the action of grace and the activity of His energy must refer to created, transient constructs, and not to a real presence of divine, uncreated energy. Thus God is not known personally but only in intellectual, rational images — in types and symbols. The epistemological dualism of the era left no ground for empirical or existential knowledge, and there could be no true encounter with being, only with abstract imagery. A certain idolatry arose from the concept of God as “Being” — as the “supreme being,” “the most real being” who is knowable by virtue of the analogy between God and created being. This latter heresy of analogia was introduced by Augustine of Hippo, and condemned by the Orthodox Church when John Italos attempted to introduce it into the Byzantine world (in 1082). Since, for the Schoolmen, God, being the unmoved mover was always “at rest” and no uncreated energies of God were understood, the quandary of the fact that God is, nevertheless, active, raised the internal contradiction of God as an active essence, but unmoved and “at rest.” The universe must, then, be maintained by created essences or beings, but not by God directly. The conceptual and theological problems that arose from all this excess of legalistic philosophy have been enormous.

Thus, Western religious thought was coloured by Augustinian Platonism,[15] until Latin thinkers, following the end of the Dark Ages,[16] discovered the commentaries on Aristotle by the great Moslem physician and philosopher Ibn Sina, better known to us as Avicenna (980-1037) and Ibn Roshd, whom we know as Averroës (1126-1198).

By the last half of the 1200s, Scholasticism was the main system for theologizing in the West. Scholasticism took its name from the universities, the “schools,” which at the time were ecclesiastical, or at least controlled by ecclesiastical authorities. The Scholastic movement embraced this interpreted Aristotelianism with a passion, and Aristotelian Realism became the basis of religious philosophy.[17] Where Platonic thought sought to transcend physical reality (and desire) in pursuit of a more abstract, spiritualized ideal, Aristotle espoused rationalistic logic and sought to view nature in the context of physical reality, a concept that was essential to the birth of modern science. The great lights of this movement, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), set about to use reason to make fine distinctions about everything in the realm of revealed theology: every teaching and dogma of the faith would be ascertained rationally through logic, and defined in minute detail (a process that would ensure a clash between religion and science in the future). For the holy fathers, on the other hand, theology is always paradoxical. Indeed “dogma” is always expressed in paradoxes, and the paradox itself helps maintain a proper perspective, preventing the kind of idolatry into which Scholasticism and modern fundamentalism fell. The paradox also helps prevent us from supposing that we understand more than can be known. They applied these principles to law also and, in fact, combined legal philosophy with religious philosophy to form the dry, legalistic and lifeless theology which bears the name of their movement: Scholasticism.[18] The old Roman legal mind came into play in this Aristotelian process also[19] and, blending legal and religious philosophy, the Scholastics sought to codify the mysteries of faith and the very mysteries of life itself. Introduced into this dialectical process was the principle of First Cause in which some real aspect of efficient cause (causa efficiens) passes into the entity of the effect. From these processes, Scholasticism developed two major errors. The first was a philosophical “system of theology” which was locked into a particular era, with its world view and mindset; and the second was codified and limited “sacraments” which placed limits on the action of grace. Truth, then, is reduced to a rational system, deduced by logic based on the principle of First Cause, rather than on the living encounters of human experience in the realm of faith.

The attempt to systematize theology removes it from its vital, existential role in the growth, transformation and ascent of man — from its actual role in the process of man’s redemption. Here, they superseded the primary dimension of truth, which is human experience of life in faith, with the secondary dimension which is the reflective manner of interpreting the world. When we create such a system, we colonize the primary dimension with the “reflective system.” In this case, the system itself becomes idolatrous. One of the problems with the Scholastics was (and still is) that they tend to substitute the truth with the “wording” or “phrasing” of the truth. There is a kind of linguistic positivism in Scholastic formulations. It is as if they believe that language as a tool can actually produce “truth.” However, language obviously can only “signify” the truth. Truth cannot be derived from a set of facts, but only from meaning. By missing the difference Scholasticism became trapped in reflective analysis and in a literal understanding of “authentic” sources. Attempting to find the truth of life in formulations of any kind results in trapping life in their own inflexible patterns. This is what we often call “ideology” and we must certainly be careful to avoid understanding the faith in such a manner. The antidote to this mistake in theology cannot be subjective individual experience, obtained in a private manner. Even faith, individual and private, can be a false guide. On this ground, one may raise an objection to experience-as-knowledge attained by individual “meditation.” However, in the Church we are not alone and we are never isolated individuals. We are “in communion” with one another and with the saints, and with Christ. This “communion,” this personal mode of being, can be truly implemented in the Church. The coherence of this experience and its “authenticity” is fine-tuned by the Holy Spirit. This is, moreover, why we always look for the “consensus” of the holy fathers. This “consensus” is not just a technicality or an agreement in wording or concepts, rather it is directly related to the “coherence” brought about by the Spirit. In this sense, “coherence” can be another way of saying experience-as-knowledge. This does not mean that all individual experience, particulary the experiences encountered by studying nature or meditating upon natural things in faith, is wrong or misleading. Such experiences very often make sense and can help people. God has not left us helpless and without some guidance. We all have a compass — the image of God imprinted on our soul. I think this is what is meant by Apostle Paul when he says that those who do not know the law do according to the law by their own nature. (The law here is a reflection of the truth). However the fulfilment of knowledge and coherent experience of the faith can only be trustworthily known in the Church, where Christ is not simply reflected (as through in a mirror) but is present in person.

During this time, the schools became so powerful that, in defining heresy and proper Latin doctrine, the ecclesiastical authorities became dependent upon the professors of the universities, and the schools began to infringe heavily upon the authority of the hierarchs.

As the universities became more and more powerful, ecclesiastical authorities sought to limit their scope — particularly the authority of the scholars. The Latin Church eventually condemned many of the leading scholars in the universities for their “vain search for knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge,” and this condemnation rings down to us in words we still hear from neo-Scholastics and fundamentalists. Moreover, in the “school” not only clearly religious ideas which varied from legally defined doctrine were considered heresy, but the idea was conceived that authorities could judge heresy in all fields and establish “correct belief” in art, science, law, religious philosophy, and thought in general.[20] This prerogative was eventually taken over by the hierarchy when they struggled to curtail the intellectual power and authority of the universities by fragmenting the curricula and reducing the authority and intellectual freedom of the scholars.[21]

In the midst of this era, Roscellinus (11th cent.), Duns Scotus (+1308) and William of Ockham (+1347) laid the foundations of the nominalist movement, which in turn helped lead into the “natural philosophy” which moved toward modern science. Roscellinus, at the end of the 11th century, broke the bondage of Augustine’s teaching that individual, material objects were only shadows of an eternal idea. Roscellinus incited the famous debate about “universals” and focused examination on individual, material objects in themselves, as what they are in actuality, rather than as symbols or images of an idea. Abelard (1079-1142), the old “rhinocerus indomitus,” would take this further still by refuting Roscellinus’ contention that “universals” were merely abstractions or names. Ultimately, this liberation from the bondage of Augustinianism turned examination and observation toward particulars and gave momentum to the development toward scientific method and thence to modern science. I suggest that modern science unfolded out of the nominalist movement as it developed. One might suggest that all modern scientists are nominalists (with some notable exceptions such as Newton). The controversies of this era further reinforced the idea that unacceptable academic “errors,” including those perceived in the field of science as well as social movements, could be judged as actual “heresies.” Dr Herbert Butterfield[22] makes a profound case that the breakthrough in the concept of motion (the gradual passage through the idea of impetus[23] to the theory of inertia) is pivotal in the development of modern science. Of course, the advent of quantification, particularly the quantification of time, also had a powerful impact. Both the development of the concept of motion and the quantification of time were also sources of the mechanistic view of the universe held in antique physics. It was probably also one of the greatest sources of concern to Scholastic religious philosophers. From a metaphysical point of view “movement” was defined as passing from the potential to the actual, where later science would define “movement” as matter in motion. Both the science and the religious philosophy of the Scholastic era formed a basic idea from Aristotle’s “concentric circle” cosmology that the universe is static deterministic. At one level, the Scholastics thought that the heavenly bodies were moved by various forms of spiritual beings[24] — perhaps the archons which Gnostics imagined tended the “toll booths” between these concentric astral planes. The advent of sounder knowledge and truer concepts of motion abolished all such metaphysical and superstitious notions. Modern science would view the universe (as with all nature) as in the process of developing. I would suggest that Orthodox Christian theology sees the universe simply as unfolding according to the eternal will and plan of God. The processes involved in this are not matters of philosophical or even theological speculation, which might come into active conflict with scientific discovery. Rather the process is accepted as a matter of faith and trust in God, and made more comprehensible by means of science.

Eventually, Augustinian Platonism reacted to the Aristotelians and it is one more of those curious ironies of Latin Christianity that the great minds of the West in this era spent much time debating which of the two pagan philosophers, Plato or Aristotle, was the best basis for Christian theologizing.[25]

Herein lies the basis of the fear of modern science which haunts neo-Scholastics and fundamentalists[26] (including the ones who are in the Orthodox Church), and leads them into their unnerved heresy hunting in developments and new theories in the hard sciences.

During the entire era of the shaping of the medieval “awakening” and renaissance, Western theology, as with all other intellectual pursuits, was rooted in Aristotle (and Plato). Science, still functioning in the realm of philosophy, was also rooted in the thought of these two philosophers (primarily in Aristotle). Indeed, it was not until our present century that Einstein’s paper on Brownian Motion finally divorced the atom from the philosophical realm of the ancient Greeks. Theology in the West, and especially for the Scholastics, had become a systematic philosophy or “science” of religion and ethics, very much overdefined and in bondage to legalism.[27] As they developed, science and theology were in tandem. Both were, essentially, departments of Aristotelian (and eventually also Platonistic) philosophy. Any breach of this harmony was considered dangerous and heretical. Thus, when Bruno,[28] the brilliant, if erratic, disciple of William of Ockham and Erasmus, dared to venture toward authentic science, and strive for a more accurate knowledge of the solar system, he paid the supreme price. When Galileo made irrefutable discoveries about the solar system that conflicted with the Biblical interpretations of Scholastic fundamentalism and upset the artificial tandem of a much repressed and suppressed science, he was quickly reminded of Bruno’s fate[29] and forced to renounce truth in deference to dogmatized ignorance.[30] The question of truth was of no consequence; what mattered was the maintenance of this pseudo-harmony.[31]

The pursuit of truth and knowledge could not be manipulated and repressed forever. Philosophy may have been the parent of science[32] but, eventually, science diverged from medieval philosophy, largely because developments in technology (such as telescopes and microscopes) made it possible to actually look at things rather than speculate about them, and because of the development of the “scientific method.” Science was no longer a prop for Aristotelian and Platonistic religious philosophy, Scholastic systems and fundamentalist scriptural interpretation. Meanwhile, since Western theology had long since ceased to be theology in the Orthodox Christian or patristic sense, it could not cope with the breach of its tandem. It remained a slavish captive of dogmatized philosophy, connected inextricably to the principles of Aristotle and Plato, and to a crude fundamentalism. Since science could no longer be manipulated to affirm such principles, it now began to be seen as an enemy. The principle of judging scientific developments considered “not theologically sound” as heresy had, as mentioned above, already been established in the Scholastic era.[33] Nevertheless, we must be cautious in our critique of this era, because it had a profound positive aspect that needs to be appreciated. Our main criticism regards the theological distortions and corruptions that settled deeply into the Western consciousness in the Scholastic system. This system shaped the philosophical and religious vocabulary and mentality in both the Latin and Protestant worlds in a seriously negative way.

At the same time, the Scholastic movement restored in Europe a systematic way of thinking about and approaching the cosmos which would never take root in Byzantium. Ultimately, it was the Scholastic pursuit that made the development of modern science possible, while at the same time it set up the future conflicts that would arise between science and religion. Scholasticism must be given credit for the systematisation of thought in a focused way that could lay the foundations of modern science. For all the early accomplishments in medicine and mathematics that unfolded in the Eastern Roman Empire — Byzantium — modern science did not develop there, and the other streams of great intellectual enterprise that had once shown such promise in Constantinople simply faded away. This was due, in part, to the enormous amount of energy that had to be expended on defence against the waves of barbarians, a defence that had to continue in the East long after such matters had been settled in the West. The three great Eastern empires, Byzantium, Persia and the Arabs, sapped so much of each others’ energies in mutual warfare that all of them prepared for their own demise and subjugation by the Turks. It was not only these distractions, however, that crippled the scientific and intellectual development in the East. The mindless ritualism of the state government, the subtle legalism within the Orthodox Church and the self-centred and consuming concern with rank and privilege both within the state and the Church, further hindered the development of science, medicine and other intellectual fields in Byzantium. Even to this day, one of the greatest needs in the Orthodox Christian world is to be liberated from the shadow of Byzantium. While the true apostolic faith has been diligently maintained in the Orthodox Church, almost all the problems and contentions that beset the Church today result from our continued bondage to Byzantium. Paradoxically, the preservation of sound Christian theology in the East is the factor that makes possible a genuine and fruitful dialogue with modern physics.

This article was originally published as the “The Roots of the Problem” (Chapter Two), in Archbishop Lazar’s book The Evidence of Things Not Seen (Synaxis Press, 2007). It is posted here with permission.

[1].  The Scholastic movement in Islamic thought was called kaläm. Its history unfolded somewhat differently than in Western Europe. The kaläm school did not seek to legislate knowledge in all fields, but focused almost exclusively on theological questions. Ironically, this allowed for more original thought in that field. It may be significant, when we look at Islam in Iran today, that the Shiite denomination was the main channel for the Scholastic philosophical tradition. The Sunni denomination, on the other hand, rejected and strove against Scholastic rationalism. The Asharite school rejected rationalism and defended its concept of Islamic revelation from Hellenistic rationalism. Sufi mysticism completed the defeat of Scholasticism (Hellenistic philosophical rationalism) in most of the Islamic world. Shiites, however, still tend toward the legalistic moral fascism of Scholasticism.

[2].  “Church Synods and Civilisation,” Theologia, Vol.63, Issue 3, July-September 1992  (Romanides correctly refers to the Orthodox Church and to “Byzantium” as Roman and Rome, since the Eastern Roman Empire was the only actual remains of the Imperial Roman state).

[3].  The quotations marks around “awakening” do not indicate disparagement . The word “medieval” is too often used as a pejorative, but a study of that time period, kept in proper historical perspective, might do more justice to the “awakening” that did take place, relative to the preceding centuries. The “awakening” period of the medieval era, which led directly into the Renaissance, was indeed a heady and exciting period of intellectual ferment, rediscovery and cultural development to those in a position to participate. It had a savage and dark side, which was really only the continuation of the Dark Ages, but to the degree that genuine humanism — that is, as opposed to the brutality of barbarian societal structure — developed in and from this era, it was also a great advance for humanity, because humanitarianism in its greater sense eventually arose from Christian humanism (that is, a realization of the relationship between God and humanity). The medieval era, with its own “awakening,” is the foundation upon which the Renaissance was built. The later period, which is officially called “The Age of Enlightenment,” might not have been as exciting as the medieval era, because by the time of the Age of the Enlightenment, so much ground had already been covered. Coming out of a tunnel into some kind of light, especially when it is the light of an early dawn, might be more thrilling than simply rounding a bend in the tracks at midday.

[4].  This was an epoch in the Eastern Roman Empire — Byzantium — that would produce the brilliance and Christian humanism of Photios the Great (820-891) and his disciple Nicholas Mystikos (+925) , and the scientist Leo the Mathematician, so respected that the Caliph Mamum would offer a treaty of perpetual peace and a sum of tribute equal to about $344,000 for his temporary services as a lecturer in Baghdad. This was the era when Caesar Bardas would reestablish the University in Constantinople, with a full curriculum of seven liberal arts, and tuition would be free to any student who could qualify for admission. Despite the depredations of the iconoclasts during part of this long period, the Eastern Roman Empire did not endure anything like the “Dark Ages.”

[5].  One must note that, at the same time, the knowledge of Latin was being lost in the East, and all this exacerbated the problem of communications and interchange of ideas.

[6].  This was by no means a consistent policy of the Frankish kings and emperors. Lewis II, who was King of Italy (and essayed to be Emperor) could bring the matter of his brother, King Lothar II of France, before the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 860’s, in an effort to thwart a decision of Pope Nicholas. It was this act which gave impetus to the council of 867, which, under St Photios the Great, condemned the Latin heresies. Otto II’s marriage to Princess Theophano, the daughter of Emperor Romanos II and niece of John I Zimiskes, brought a certain influence of the East Roman Empire back to the West, though it seems to have had little effect except on the Franco-German concept of empire. Indeed, Byzantine influence in the West did not, from the beginning of the Dark Ages, appear to have had any impact outside the highest ruling levels in the West, and this influence was ephemeral.

[7].  The holy fathers did not make a sharp distinction between dogma and doctrine. The fathers used the word dogma as something separate from kerygma. Whereas kerygma indicates the general exposition of the faith to all, in Orthodox Christianity, the word dogma is used in a deeper mystical sense, an empirical sense of knowledge of God that was ascertained by experience and theoria. They also use the term “theologia” in the same sense (i.e., theologia— God in Himself, or “knowledge of God,” as distinguished from ekonomia—which includes the Incarnation and everything God revealed for our salvation in Christ.

[8].  For further reading, see Southern, R.W., Western Society & the Church in the Middle Ages , Viking Penguin, N.Y., 1970.

[9].  St Antony Khrapovitsky (1863-1936) began his struggle against Scholasticism in Russia during the closing decade of the last century, and up until the Revolution in Russia. A number of other scholars and theologians were working in the same direction, although the Scholastics resisted this restoration of Orthodox theology in Russia, often quite aggressively.

[10].  Not only the idea of “natural theology,” but also “revealed theology” was, in the West, polluted by Hellenistic philosophy.

[11].  He was not the first to use the Aristotelian approach. Tertullian (d.circa 221), though much more influenced by the stoics,  had done so two hundred years earlier, and so had others, but Boethius was in a position to develop it and influence the process of theologizing in a more significant way.

[12].  For example, Augustine taught that God is being and that analogy exists between created and uncreated being.

[13].  And categorised as, for example, actual and habitual grace; prevenient and cooperative grace; created and uncreated grace, etc.

[14].  I have used the term “epistemology,” although the development of this “science” was not a direct concern of the Scholastic era as it was again among later philosophers. Nevertheless, the problem is reflected in the understanding of the “way we know” and “how we know,” so I use the term in its later philosophical context.

[15].  Even if his influence waned, Augustine remained the “master of theology” in the West. His legacy always bore a shade of the afterglow of Manichean Gnosticism, from which its master could never completely escape, and this is also a factor in the shaping of Western religious thought.

[16].  The reader should always remember that the”Dark Ages” were not so hopelessly dark as legend has it. There were no equivalent Dark Ages in the Orthodox East. During the Dark Ages of the West, the Eastern Roman Empire — Byzantium — experienced a number of cultural and intellectual peaks which seem to have just “burned out.”

[17].  The degree to which this is true is demonstrated in the Statutes of Oxford University. A provision, which was still on the books, at least into the 1600s, provided that scholars who did not faithfully follow Aristotle were to be fined five shillings for every point of divergence, and the same fine for every error against the logic of the Organon.

[18].  Michael Psellos (1018-1078) in Constantinople came close to introducing many elements of scolasticism in Byzantium, as did many of his contemporaries. As Panagiotes Chrestou points out, there was considerable concern about such problems in the 10-1100s in Constantinople. He observes, “The reason that the preoccupation with philosophy provoked anxiety was because it threatened the corruption of theology with philosophy and an inadvertent return to the Neoplatonism which served classical philosophy. Every effort was made to avoid this, keeping philosophy only as a preparatory civil education and not allowing it to interject into the realm of the dogmas of the faith” (Byzantine Fathers and Theologians— Translated from the Greek by Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou—Synaxis Press, Dewdney, B.C., 1997; p.18).

[19].  See, e.g., Berman, H.J., Law and Revolution: the Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983.

[20].  It is not that the thinkers of this era were opposed to science per se. They made some great accomplishments, particularly in systematizing thought (see Crombie, A.C., Augustine to Galileo: the History of Science, A.D.400-1650, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma., 1980). The problem was one of control and the desire to shape science according to religious philosophy, and establish dogmas in science which would artificially conform to Scholastic religious philosophy.

[21].  The problem was not a want of scientific interest in the West, but the fear the Scholastic fundamentalists had of science, which they sought to control artificially and manipulate by Aristotelianism. Byzantium was not all light and progress either. There were long periods in which there was a dearth of creativity in literature and science, sometimes in art also. This happened toward the end of the empire. It was, however, due to the lethargy of an elderly nation bogged down in almost senseless state ceremonial, and not a constraint placed by the Orthodox Faith or the state. Orthodoxy never opposed learning for the sake of learning, and the correspondence between some of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) churchmen and Arab intellectuals clearly demonstrates this openness.

[22].  The Origins of Modern Science, Free Press-Macmillan, London/NY, 1968, Ch.1.

[23].  The term impetus seems to have appeared in the Scholastic era, however the theory of impetus originated in 6th century Byzantium with the scientist/philosopher John Philiponos, in his critique of Aristotle’s theories relating to the motion of projectiles.

[24].  It should not be supposed that this referred to angelic powers in any Christian sense. The idea that the various spheres were physically moved by spiritual intelligences was pagan and pre-Christian. Before they discovered the real cause of the motion of the heavenly bodies, some philosophers and early investigators did, in fact, convert these pagan “intelligences” to angels in their own minds and works simply because they had no other explanations at hand, and had received the idea through Aristotle. It should not, therefore, be thought that earlier thinkers accepted these ideas “stupidly.” They were using whatever “information” they had at hand. The problem was the dogmatization of antique philosophical theories and their resistance to the proofs that matters were otherwise constituted.

[25].  Among the odd twists of the early Scholastic era is the contradiction over Averroës. The Scholastics revered this philosopher, who was born and raised in Spain, as the “master” of Aristotelian thought. Nevertheless, Averroës rejected the idea of personal, natural immortality. The Scholastics, in order to preserve their own heretical understanding that man is by nature immortal, laboured much to demonstrate that Aristotle agreed with them and that Averroës had misinterpreted Aristotle on this point. The difficulty of the Scholastics over this subject is likely rooted in the immense popularity of Plato’s Timeus and Phaedo  which had informed the Western idea of the relationship between soul and body. I do not recall what the Eastern-born Avicenna thought about this subject, but the Orthodox Christian teaching is that man is immortal by grace, as a bestowal from God, and not by his nature.

[26].  We specify Scholastics and fundamentalists because not all “religious” people of any Latin, Protestant or Orthodox jurisdiction are in such bondage and darkness. Some Protestant denominations are, in this respect, quite enlightened, as are many Roman Catholic thinkers. However, this writer has observed that often enough, among the Protestants in particular, an opening to modern physics and cosmology often inclines them toward a form of pantheism.

[27].  I am aware that there have been, and are, especially at the present, “theologians” within the Orthodox Church who have theologized in exactly this philosophical manner (Androutsos, for example). However, part of the purpose of this work is to suggest why that is wrong.

[28].  Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Bruno built intuitively on the work of Copernicus. Eventually, the dark ignorance and fanatical fundamentalism of ecclesiastical authorities pushed him into a clearly heretical position, which grew more so as his frustrations grew. Bruno, it must be said, was more a speculative thinker who pursued intuition rather than practising careful science. The Latin Church rightly removed Bruno from communion (because he actually had become a pantheist), but then murdered him on 17 February 1600.

[29].  The nearest incident I  can recall in Byzantium was the case of Michael Glykas. He was rightly or wrongly accused of entering into the practice of magic through his interest in the physical sciences. A teacher of hermeneutics, his long life spanned most of the 12th century. In 1159, he was condemned and placed in monastic confinement, where he spent the rest of his life.

[30].  And let us recall that it was only in our own lifetime that the Latin Church finally admitted that Galileo was correct, and pardoned him. I am not certain if they actually “cleared him” of the charge of heresy, but at least they did pardon him for having been correct.

[31].  In later times, the German philosopher Nicholas of Cusa (1401-60) thought that science could actually help us understand the nature of the Holy Trinity. Using his idea of the “coincidence of opposites”, he was convinced that mathematics, which dealt with pure abstractions, could explain the Trinity. Such was the idolatry of the day.

[32].  Philosophers were always scientists in one way or another, and doubtless scientists will always be philosophers. Science has diverged from philosophy but has not become divorced from it. See, e.g. Foster, David, The Philosophical Scientists, Marlboro Books, N.Y., 1985. As an example of the interplay, the philosopher Spinoza (1632-1677) began his career as what we would now call a “lab tech.” He was a lens grinder in Amsterdam who worked with optical devices such as telescopes and microscopes at a time when these instruments served for breakthroughs in science. Contemplating the findings revealed through these instruments, Spinoza was given to pondering the relevance of universal macrocosms and microcosms. His writings yielded a great monistic system built on scientific inference regarding the nature of ultimate truth. Doubtless, Baruch Spinoza’s earlier rabbinical studies, which formed a theological mind in him, had very much influence on the development of his philosophy, though he ultimately became a pantheist and was excommunicated by the Synagogue. Later, science would avoid some of the problems thus created by striving to maintain a logical and necessary “values neutral” approach to science.

[33].  In the realm of the natural sciences, the spirit of Aristotelianism prevailed. Aristotle had written on the essence of natural mechanisms, but he favoured the search for truth in philosophical processes rather than in experimental ones. It was Aristotelianism that formed the dogmatized canon of “scientific fact,” or at least the canon of acceptable thought.


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