The best philosophers of the Middle Ages that you will discover below are representatives of the second great period of philosophy , which replaced classical philosophy and would be displaced after a thousand years by modern philosophy.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine of Hippo, William of Ockham and Giordano Bruno are just some representatives of the different currents within this period marked by Christianity and the problem of the existence of God. INDEX
1. Characteristics of medieval philosophy
2. Outstanding philosophers of the Middle Ages
3. Spanish philosophers of the Middle Ages The main characteristics of medieval philosophy
The millennium that opens with medieval philosophy is totally marked by scholasticism, that is, the control of the church over philosophical thought. The essence of this period is the reflection on the existence of God and the weight of the absolute. 1. A philosophy of Christianity
The church’s monopoly on society sees philosophy as a threat to its critical thinking function, but soon understands that it can be a powerful tool to rationally justify the mystery of faith .
The main characteristic of medieval philosophy is that it is at the service of Christianity and its postulates: theology. The reflection on man during the classical period loses interest and philosophy focuses onthe justification of the existence of God and its compatibility with rational methods. God displaces man, and emerges as the absolute. 2. The monopoly of the church
As the official doctrine of the church, and since education was in the hands of the clergy, the philosophers of medieval times are theologians , that is, they belong to the clerical estate. Therefore, one of the characteristics of medieval philosophy is the absence of freedom, little dissent, and the univocal direction of the theories. The only diversity observed in medieval philosophy is marked by religious differences: the impulse of Arab philosophy and the study of philosophy by the Jewish school. 3. The influence of NeoplatonismFrom the 5th century to the 13th century the main thinkers were based on the theories of Plato and his reasoning about the existence of an absolute.
Its validity and its development were due, above all, to the interpretation of Plato made by Saint Augustine, but also to the famous ontological argument of Saint William of Canterbury to prove the existence of God: “All of us have within us the idea that God is the most perfect being I can imagine. If this is so, God must exist, because if it were not so, I could imagine another even more perfect being: God himself, but existing. Therefore, it is proven that God, who is the most perfect being I can imagine, exists. 4. The consolidation of Aristotelianism
From the thirteenth century, the works of Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great gave a twist to the interpretation of the existence of God and inaugurated a stage of predominance of Aristotelian thought .
This era is based on four fundamental ideas of Aristotle: the universe is eternal, the human soul is not immortal, reason and faith are two different things , and essence and existence are also different. From these assumptions, we try to weave a general theory about the existence of a being that orders the world. 5. The unity between faith and reason
That was the great crux of the matter. The first thinkers of the Middle Ages, guided by the supremacy of the absolute, denied any separation between faith and reason.: Both were part of the same thing and, therefore, reason had the function of justifying faith.
As Neoplatonism fades away and Aristotelianism returns, this idea loses weight and the belief that reason and faith are two separate things is consolidated . All attempts by thinkers like Thomas Aquinas are aimed at making both aspects compatible, so that philosophy acquires a much more complex role. The most outstanding philosophers of the Middle Ages
Control of thought by the church, reason submitted to the justification of faith, the explanation of God as a central theme, the abandonment of concerns about man… The following thinkers are framed in the domain of scholasticism. 1. Peter Lombard
This twelfth-century Italian bishop was the first to give theology a scientific method, for he erected a systematic edifice of scholastic theory that remained for centuries the foundation of the philosophers of the Middle Ages .
Of him? I compiled the fundamentals of Christian thought and added a series of questions to which he answered giving another contrary perspective. By this opposition he gave the new philosophy a dialectical character and, although in reality he left many questions unanswered, he ultimately consolidated a method of discussion. 2. Thomas Aquinas
Without a doubt, this Italian theologian belonging to the Order of Preachers was one of the most influential of the Middle Ages and later centuries. For him,reason and faith were two autonomous realities , but by its source and object, faith was superior to reason.
All his effort is aimed at making both dimensions compatible. How does it?
Through reason, God is simple. According to faith, God is triune, but within the trinity he preserves unity, and therefore he is simple. From here he creates a system that justifies the existence of God through five premises.
- According to the theory of movement , since everything that moves is moved by another, the existence of someone who moves without being moved is necessary: God.
- According to the theory of causality , since every cause has a cause, the existence of a cause that is not caused is necessary: God.
- According to the theory of contingency , all objects in the world are contingent, and therefore need a being that gives meaning to the universe: God.
- According to the theory of perfection , all objects are imperfect, and therefore the existence of absolute perfection is necessary: God.
- According to the world order theory , all objects in the universe, animate and inanimate, fulfill a function. Someone needs to establish that order: God.
3. Saint Augustine of Hippo
The other great name in medieval philosophy is Saint Augustine, considered one of the greatest thinkers in all of history and known for his books Confessions and The City of God. His theory is based on the use of rationalism to penetrate the spirit , and in fact is considered the precedent of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum.
Saint Augustine says that the mind, when doubting, becomes aware of itself: “if I am deceived, I exist”. The perception of the external world, therefore, can lead to error, and the path to certainty is none other than interiority. God lives in the most intimate of each one , and we can know him through illumination.
One of the great legacies of this philosopher was his theory of evil. According to Saint Augustine, everything that God creates is good, evil is nothing more than the absence of good and the result of the undesirable freedom of man (theory of free will). 4. William of Ockham
This Scottish Franciscan friar became famous for creating an innovative system of reasoning known as Ockham’s Razor . This is based on a principle: “All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the most likely.”
This scientific claim places him as one of the medieval precursors of modern philosophy, since he is one of the first to separate faith and reason. According to William of Ockham, the only way to explain the existence of God is faith., and while individuals are a reality, God is an idea, which only resides in the minds of men.
William of Ockham lived his entire life under the strict observance of poverty, and died of the Black Death. 5. Juan Escoto Erigena
Supporter of a rational and unitary system, he breaks with the ecclesiastical tradition that God and the world are different realities. Reason and faith are two valid methods , but the reason must be predominant to access knowledge.
Persecuted by the Inquisition, although saved by the royal power, this theologian accepts the possibility of believing in God, but then makes a very interesting statement: if we establish some attributes for God, we are limiting him to reasoning, and God is beyond reason. God is above being.
Together with Tommaso Campanella, Juan Escoto Erigena was considered the most decisive metaphysical thinker of medieval philosophy. 6. Jean Buridan
This fourteenth-century French philosopher, a disciple of William of Ockham, has gone down in history as the inspirer of religious skepticism. He is the author of the famous paradox : “God exists; Neither the previous proposition nor this one is true.
He too is known to have motivated the “Buridan’s ass” metaphor.. As a rationalist theorist defending the concept of free will: the human being has the reason to freely make a decision. His opponents tried to ridicule him by giving the example of a donkey that does not know how to decide between two piles of hay, and ends up dying of starvation.
In addition, Buridan is known as the forerunner of the principles of Newton, Copernicus and Galileo, as he is the creator of momentum and inertia: “The momentum, proportional to the mass and the speed imparted by the agent of movement, keeps the mobile moving.” its state of motion without the need for further action. 7. John Duns Scotus
Also known as “Subtle Doctor”, this Scottish theologian ended up canonized as a saint. His studies focus on trying to prove the existence of God and his attributes by using a deductive method.
He was a very original thinker who tried to absorb the most important legacies of the period, but at the same time set certain distances from Augustinianism and Thomism. He tries to avoid abstraction and idealism at all times, and remains in materialism and reason to affirm the existence of God in the will and freedom .
Along with William of Ockham, John Duns Scotus offers the necessary mental framework to understand the transition between scholastic philosophy and modern philosophy. The key to understanding his work is the distinction between the intellect and the will .The most important medieval Spanish philosophers
Saint Isidore of Seville was without a doubt the most important Spanish theologian of the Middle Ages, but the role of the Toledo School of Translators, where the figure of Archbishop Julian shines, or the role of the Arab philosophers of the kingdom of Castile. 8. San Isidoro de Sevilla
Considered one of the Fathers of the Church, San Isidoro was Archbishop of Seville and contributed to the conversion of the Visigoths to Christianity and the eradication of Arianism (sect) through the consolidation of the canonical vision of the nature of Christ.
The contributions of San Isidoro de Sevilla to medieval philosophy is to consider the philosophical discipline as the study of human and divine questions (through the division into natural, moral and rational philosophy), to recognize the immensity of God as the conception of an entity within of all things, eternally and timelessly, and man as the supreme being of all creatures created in the image and likeness of the Creator.
The philosophy of San Isidoro is not original, but he represents the first attempt to rationalize the philosophical conceptions of the church , which will be the basis of scholasticism. 9. Julian de Toledo From the Toledo School of Translators, this place had been one of the great foci of theological thought in medieval Spain. His thought had an impact on Catholic doctrine and challenged the canonical philosophy of the Roman Curia.
The peculiarity of his ideas is that he tries to find solid and rational answers to questions that the church resolves from absurd premises.
Thus, for example, while ecclesiastical doctrine affirms that man would be resurrected with the same body he had in life, Julian of Toledo raises several questions that avoid the separation between doctrine and sensible world.
The figure of Julian of Toledo in the philosophical field remained during the following centuries as the precedent of the questioning and reordering of Christian eschatology., especially with regard to the world of souls and the resurrection of the dead. 10. Ibn Ezra The mixture of the Jewish and Arab civilizations in the Andalusian culture gave rise to a rich source of thought whose greatest exponent is Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, who stood out in the fields of astronomy, grammar, medicine, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.
Ibn Ezra stood out for the original interpretation of the Bible and the Jewish sacred texts, and for his effort from the Neoplatonic influence to find an answer to the question of why the just suffer misfortunes for no apparent reason. On the origin of evil, and based on the free interpretation of the Book of Job, Ibn Ezra came to the conclusion that human beings are born with a perfect substance and an imperfect form, and “this is the cause of the misfortunes that happen to the soul, the body, or both, to wealth, to children , women and friends”. Bibliographic references
Saranyana, JI (2003). medieval philosophy. Editions University of Navarra, SA.
Escude, C. (2011). Neoplatonism and Medieval Philosophical Pluralism: A Political Approach (No. 475). Working Documents Series.
Grabmann, M. (1928). Medieval filosophy’s history. Translation by Salvador Minguijon. Transcription of the text published by Editorial Labor SA in.
Armas, G., & Saint Augustine (of Hippo). (1955). The moral of Saint Augustine. Asylum for orphans of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Gilson, E. (1943). Thomism: an introduction to the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas.