History of Dogmatic Theology
FREE Catholic Classes
The imposing edifice of Catholic theology has been reared not by individual nations and men, but rather by the combined efforts of all nations and the theologians of every century. Nothing could be more at variance with the essential character of theology than an endeavour to set upon it the stamp of nationalism: like the Catholic Church itself, theology must ever be international. In the history of dogmatic theology, as in the history of the Church, three periods may be distinguished:
- the patristic
- the medieval
- the modern
I. THE PATRISTIC PERIOD (ABOUT A.D. 100-800)
The Great Fathers of the Church and the ecclesiastical writers of the first 800 years rendered important services by their positive demonstration and their speculative treatment of dogmatic truth. It is the Fathers who are honoured by the Church as her principal theologians, excelling as they did in purity of faith, sanctity of life, and fulness of wisdom, virtues which are not always to be found in those who are known simply as ecclesiastical writers. Tertullian (b. about 160), who died a Montanist, and Origen, (d. 254), who showed a marked leaning towards Hellenism, strayed far from the path of truth. But even some of the Fathers, e.g. St. Cyprian (d. 258) and St. Gregory of Nyssa, went astray on individual points; the former in regard to the baptism of heretics, the latter in the matter of apocatastasis. It was not so much in the catechetical schools of Alexandria, Antioch, and Edessa as in the struggle with the great heresies of the age that patristic theology developed. This serves to explain the character of the patristic literature, which is apologetical and polemical, parenetical and ascetic, with a wealth of exegetical wisdom on every page; for the roots of theology are in the Bible , especially in the Gospels and in the Epistles of St. Paul . Although it was not the intention of the Fathers to give a methodical and systematic treatise of theology, nevertheless, so thoroughly did they handle the great dogmas from the positive, speculative, and apologetic standpoint that they laid the permanent foundations for the centuries to follow. Quite justly does Möhler call attention to the fact that all modes of treatment may be found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers : the apologetic style is represented by the letter of Diognetus and the letters of St. Ignatius; the dogmatic in pseudo-Barnabas; the moral, in the Pastor of Hermas; canon law, in the letter of St. Clement of Rome ; church history , in the Acts of the martyrdom of Polycarp and Ignatius. Owing to the unexpected recovery of lost manuscripts we may add: the liturgical style, in the Didache ; the catechetical, in the "Proof of the Apostolic Preaching" by St. Irenæus.
Help Now >
Although the different epochs of the patristic age overlap each other, it may be said in general that the apologetic style predominated in the first epoch up to Constantine the Great, while in the second epoch, that is to say up to the time of Charlemagne, dogmatic literature prevailed. We can here only trace in the most general outlines this theological activity, leaving to patrology the discussion of the literary details.
When the Christian writers entered the lists against paganism and Judaism, a double task awaited them: they had to explain the principal truths of natural religion, such as God, the soul, creation, immortality, and freedom of the will; at the same time they had to defend the chief mysteries of the Christian faith, as the Trinity, Incarnation, etc., and had to prove their sublimity, beauty, and conformity to reason. The band of loyal champions who fought against pagan Polytheism and idolatry is very large: Justin, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Hermias, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, Minucius Felix, Commodianus, Arnobius, Lactantius, Prudentius, Firmicius Maternus, Eusebius of Cæsarea, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Nilus, Theodoret, Orosius, and Augustine. The most eminent writers in the struggle against Judaism were: Justin, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Isidore of Seville. The attacks of the Fathers were not, of course, aimed at the Israelitic religion of the Old Testament, which was a revealed religion, but at the obstinacy of those Jews who, clinging to the dead letter of the Law, refused to recognize the prophetic spirit of the Old Testament .
But far greater profit resulted from conflict with the heresies of the first eight centuries. As the flint, when it is struck by the steel, gives off luminous sparks, so did dogma, in its clash with heretical teaching, shed a new and wonderfully brilliant light. As the errors were legion, it was natural that in the course of the centuries all the principal dogmas were, one by one, treated in monographs which established their truth and provided them with a philosophical basis. The struggle of the Fathers against Gnosticism, Manichæism, and Priscillianism served not only to bring into clearer light the essence of God, creation, the problem of evil ; it moreover secured the true principles of faith and the Church's authority against heretical aberrations. In the mighty struggle against Monarchianism, Sabellianism, and Arianism an opportunity was afforded to the Fathers and the ecumenical councils to establish the true meaning of the dogma of the Trinity, to secure it on all sides and to draw out, by speculation, its genuine import. When the contest with Eunomianism broke out, the fires of theological and philosophical criticism purified the doctrine of God and our knowledge of Him, both earthly and heavenly. Of world-wide interest were the Christological disputes, which, beginning with the rise of Apollinarianism, reached their climax in Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and Monothelitism, and were revived once more in Adoptionism. In this long and bitter strife, the doctrine of Christ's person, of the Incarnation, and Redemption, and in connection herewith Mariology also, was placed on a sure and permanent foundation, from which the Church has never varied a hair's breadth in later ages. The following may be mentioned as the Eastern Champions in this scientific dispute on the Trinity and Christology : the great Alexandrines, Clement, Origen, and Didymus the Blind ; the heroic Athanasius and the three Cappadocians (Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus , and Gregory of Nyssa ); Cyril of Alexandria and Leontius of Byzantium ; finally, Maximus the Confessor and John Damascene. In the West the leaders were: Tertullian, Cyprian, Hilary of Poitiers , Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and the two popes, Leo I and Gregory I. As the contest with Pelagianism and Semi-pelagianism purified the dogmas of grace and liberty, providence and predestination, original sin and the condition of our first parents in Paradise, so in like manner the contests with the Donatists brought out more clearly and strongly the doctrine of the sacraments ( baptism ), the hierarchical constitution of the Church her magisterium or teaching authority, and her Infallibility. In all these struggles it was Augustine who ever led with indomitable courage, and next to him came Optatus of Mileve and a long line of devoted disciples. The last contest was decided by the Second Council of Nicæa (787); it was in this struggle that, under the leadership of St. John Damascene , the communion of saints , the invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics and holy images were placed on a scientific basis.
It may be seen from this brief outline that the dogmatic teachings of the Fathers are a collection of monographs rather than a systematic exposition. But the Fathers broke the ground and furnished the material for erecting the system afterwards. In the case of some of them there are evident signs of an attempt to synthesize dogma into a complete and organic whole. Irenæus (Adv, hær., III-V) shows traces of this tendency; the well-known trilogy of Clement of Alexandria (d. 217) marks an advance in the same direction; but the most successful effort in Christian antiquity to systematize the principal dogmas of faith was made by Origen in his work "De principiis", which is unfortunately disfigured by serious errors. His work against Celsus, on the other hand, is a classic in apologetics and of lasting value. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), skilled in matters philosophical and of much the same bent of mind as Origen, endeavoured in his "Large Catechetical Treatise" ( logos katechetikos ho megas ) to correlate in a broad synthetic view the fundamental dogmas of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Sacraments. In the same manner, though somewhat fragmentarily, Hilary (d. 366) developed in his valuable work "De Trinitate" the principal truths of Christianity. The catechetical instructions of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) especially his five mystagogical treatises, on the Apostles' Creed and the three Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist, contain an almost complete dogmatic treatise, St. Epiphanius (d. 496), in his two works "Ancoratus" and "Panarium", aimed at a complete dogmatic treatise, and St. Ambrose (d. 397) in his chief works: "De fide", "De Spiritu S.", "De incarnatione", "De mysteriis", "De poenitentia", treated the main points of dogma masterfully and in classic Latinity, though without any attempt at a unifying synthesis. In regard to the Trinity and Christology, St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) is even today a model for dogmatic theologians . Though all the writings of St. Augustine (d. 430) are an inexhaustible mine, yet he has written one or two works, as the "De fide et symbolo" and the "Enchiridium", which may justly be called compendia of dogmatic and moral theology. Unsurpassed is his speculative work "De Trinitate" His disciple Fulgentius of Ruspe (d. 533) wrote an extensive and thorough confession of faith under the title, "De fide ad Petrum, seu regula rectæ fidei", a veritable treasure for the theologians of his day.
Towards the end of the Patristic Age Isidore of Seville (d. 636) in the West and John Damascene (b. ab. 700) in the East paved the way for a systematic treatment of dogmatic theology. Following closely the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great , St. Isidore proposed to collect all the writings of the earlier Fathers and to hand them down as a precious inheritance to posterity. The results of this undertaking were the "Libri III sententiarum seu de summo bono" Tajus of Saragossa (650) had the same end in view in his "Libri V sententiarum". The work of St. John Damascene (d. after 754) was crowned with still greater success; for not only did he gather the teachings and views of the Greek Fathers, but by reducing them to a systematic whole he deserves to be called the first and the only scholastic among the Greeks. His main work, which is divided into three parts, is entitled: "Fons scientiæ" ( pege gnoseos ), because it was intended to be the source, not merely of theology, but of philosophy and Church history as well. The third or theological part, known as "Expositio fidei orthodoxæ" ( ekthesis tes orthodoxou pisteos ), is an excellent combination of positive and scholastic theology, and aims at thoroughness both in establishing and in elucidating the truth. Greek theology has never gone beyond St. John Damascene, a standstill caused principally by the Photian schism (869). The only Greek prior to him who had produced a complete system of theology was Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, in the fifth century; but he was more popular in the West, at least from the eighth century on, than in the East. Although he openly wove into the genuine Catholic system neo-Platonic thoughts and phrases, nevertheless he enjoyed an unparalleled reputation among the greatest Scholastics of the Middle Ages because he was supposed to have been a disciple of the Apostles, For all that, Scholasticism did not take its guidance from St. John Damascene or Pseudo-Dionysius, but from St. Augustine, the greatest of the Fathers. Augustinian thought runs like a golden thread through the whole progress of Western philosophy and theology. It was Augustine who led everywhere, who always pointed out the right path, and from whom all schools sought direction. Even the heretics tried to bolster up their errors with the strength of his reputation. Today his greatness is recognized and appreciated more and more, as specialized research goes more deeply into his works and brings to view his genius. As Scheeben remarks, "It would be easy to compile from his writings a rich system of dogmatic theology." We cannot help admiring the skill with which he ever kept God, as the beginning and end of all things, in the central position, even where he was compelled to depart from earlier opinions which he had found to be untenable. The English-speaking world may well be proud of the Venerable Bede (d. 735), a eontemporary of St. John Damascene. Owing to his unusually solid education in theology, his extensive knowledge of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church, he is the link which joins the patristic with the medieval history of theology.
II. THE MIDDLE AGES (800-1500) (2) The Middle Ages (800-1500)
The beginnings of Scholasticism may be traced back to the days of Charlemagne (d. 814). Thence it progressed in ever-guickening development to the time of Anselm of Canterbury , Bernard of Clairvaux , and Peter the Lombard , and onward to its full growth in the Middle Ages (first epoch, 800-1200). The most brilliant period of Scholasticism embraces about 100 years (second epoch, 1200-1300), and with it are connected the names of Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. From the beginning of the fourteenth century, owing to the predominance of Nominalism and to the sad condition of the Church, Scholasticism began to decline (third epoch, 1300-1500).A. First epoch: Beginning and Progress of Scholasticism (800-1200)
In the first half of this epoch, up to the time of St. Anselm of Canterbury , the theologians were more concerned with preserving than with developing the treasures stored up in the writings of the Fathers. The sacred science was cultivated nowhere with greater industry than in the cathedral and monastic schools, founded and fostered by Charlemagne. The earliest signs of a new thought appeared in the ninth century during the discussions relative to the Last Supper (Paschasius Radbertus, Ratramnus, Rabanus Maurus ). These speculations were carried to a greater depth in the second Eucharistic controversy against Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088), ( Lanfranc, Guitmund, Alger, Hugh of Langres, etc.). Unfortunately, the only systematic theologian of this time, Scotus Eriugena (d. after 870), was an avowed Pantheist, so that the name of "Father of Scholasticism " which some would give him, is wholly unmerited. But the one who fully deserves this title is St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109). For he was the first to bring a sharp logic to bear upon the principal dogmas of Christianity, the first to unfold and explain their meaning in every detail, and to draw up a scientific plan for the stately edifice of dogmatic theology . Taking the substance of his doctrine from Augustine, St. Anselm, as a philosopher, was not so much a disciple of Aristotle as of Plato, in whose masterly dialogues he had been thoroughly schooled. Another pillar of the Church was St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), the "Father of Mysticism ". Though for the most part the author of ascetic works with a mystical tendency, he used the weapons of scientific theology against Abelard's Rationalism and the exaggerated Realism of Gilbert de La Porrée. It is upon the doctrine of Anselm and Bernard that the Scholastics of succeeding generations took their stand, and it was their spirit which lived in the theological efforts of the University of Paris. Less prominent, yet noteworthy, are: Ruprecht of Deutz, William of Thierry, Gaufridus, and others.
The first attempts at a theological system may be seen in the so-called "Books of Sentences", collections and interpretations of quotations from the Fathers, more especially of St. Augustine. One of the earliest of these books is the "Summa sententiarum" of Hugh of St. Victor (1141). His works are characterized throughout by a close adherence to St. Augustine and, according to the verdict of Scheeben, may even yet serve as guides for beginners in the theology of St. Augustine. Less praise is due to the similar work of Robert Pulleyn (d. 1146), who is careless in arranging the matter and confuses the various questions of which he treats. Peter the Lombard, called the "Magister Sententiarum" (d. 1164), on the other hand, stands far above them all. What Gratian had done for canon law the Lombard did for dogmatic and moral theology. With untiring industry he sifted and explained and paraphrased the patristic lore in his "Libri IV sententiarum", and the arrangement which he adopted was, in spite of the lacunæ, so excellent that up to the sixteenth century his work was the standard text-book of theology. The work of interpreting this masterpiece began as early as the thirteenth century, and there was no theologian of note in the Middle Ages who did not write a commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard. Hundreds of these commentaries are still resting, unprinted, beneath the dust of the libraries. No other work exerted such a powerful influence on the development of scholastic theology. Neither the analogous work of his disciple, Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), nor the important "Summa aurea" of William of Auxerre (d. after 1230) superseded the Lombard's "Sentences" Along with Alain of Lille (d, 1203), William of Auvergne (d. 1248), who died as Archbishop of Paris, deserves special mention. Though preferring the free, unscholastic method of an earlier age, he yet shows himself at once an original philosopher and a profound theologian. Inasmuch as in his numerous monographs on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, etc., he took into account the anti-Christian attacks of the Arabian exponents of Aristoteleanism, he is, as it were, the connecting link between this age and the most brilliant epoch of the thirteenth century.B. Second Epoch: Scholasticism at its Zenith (1200-1300)
This period of Scholasticism was marked not only by the appearance of the "Theological Summæ", but also by the building of the great Gothic cathedrals, which bear a sort of affinity to the lofty structures of Scholasticism. (Cf. Emil Michael, S.J., "Geschichte des deutschen Volkes vom 13. Jahrh. bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters", V, Freiburg, 1911, 15 sq.) Another characteristic feature was the fact that in the thirteenth century the champions of Scholasticism were to be found in the great religious orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans, beside whom worked the Augustinians, Carmelites, and Servites. This brilliant period is ushered in by two master-minds: the one a Franciscan, Alexander of Hales (d. about 1245), the other a Dominican, Albert the Great (d. 1280). The "Summa theologiæ" of Alexander of Hales , the largest and most comprehensive work of its kind, is distinguished by its deep and mature speculation, though flavoured with Platonism. The arrangement of the subjects treated reminds one of the method in vogue today. An intellectual giant not merely in matters philosophical and theological but in the natural sciences as well, was Albert the Great. It was he who made the first attempt to present the entire philosophy of Aristotle in its true form and to place it at the service of Catholic theology -- an undertaking of far-reaching consequences. The logic of Aristotle had indeed been rendered into Latin by Boethius and had been used in the schools since the end of the sixth century; but the physics and metaphysics of the Stagirite were made known to the Western world only through the Arabian philosophers of the thirteenth century, and then in such a way that Aristotle's doctrine seemed to clash with the Christian religion. This fact explains why his works were prohibited by the Synod of Paris, in 1210, and again by a Bull of Gregory IX in 1231. But after the Scholastics, led by Albert the Great, had gone over the faulty Latin translation once more, had reconstructed the genuine doctrine of Aristotle and recognized the fundamental soundness of his principles, they no longer hesitated to take, with the approval of the Church, the pagan philosopher as their guide in the speculative study of dogma.
FREE Catholic Classes Pick a class, you can learn anything
Two other representatives of the great orders are the gigantic figures of Bonaventure (d. 1274) and of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), who mark the highest development of Scholastic theology . St. Bonaventure , the "Seraphic Doctor", clearly follows in the footsteps of Alexander of Hales , his fellow-religious and predecessor, but surpasses him in depth of mysticism and clearness of diction. Unlike the other Scholastics of this period, he did not write a theological "Summa", but amply made up for it by his "Commentary on the Sentences", as well as by his famous "Breviloquium", a "casket of pearls", which, brief as a compendium, is nothing less than a condensed Summa. Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure are the real representatives of the old Franciscan Schools, from which the later School of Duns Scotus essentially differed. Yet it is not Bonaventure, but Thomas Aquinas, who has ever been honoured as the "Prince of Scholasticism ". St. Thomas holds the same rank among the theologians as does St. Augustine among the Fathers of the Church . Possessed of angelic rather than human knowledge, the "Doctor angelicus" is distinguished not only for the wealth, depth, and truth of his ideas and for his systematic exposition of them, but also for the versatility of his genius, which embraced all branches of human knowledge. For dogmatic theology his most important work is the "Summa theologica". Experience has shown that, as faithful adherence to St. Thomas means progress, so a departure from his teachings invariably brings with it a decline of Catholic theology. It seems providential, therefore, that Leo XIII in his Encyclical "Æterni Patris" (1879) restored the study of the Scholastics, especially of St. Thomas, in all higher Catholic schools, a measure which was again emphasized by Pope Pius X. The fears prevalent in some circles that by the restoration of Scholastic studies the results of modern thought would be forced back to the antiquated viewpoint of the thirteenth century are shown to be groundless by the fact that both popes, while insisting on the acquisition of the "wisdom of St. Thomas", yet emphatically disclaim any intention to revive the unscientific notions of the Middle Ages. It would be folly to ignore the progress of seven centuries, and, moreover, the Reformation, Jansenism, and the philosophies since Kant have originated theological problems which St. Thomas in his time could not foresee. Nevertheless, it is a convincing proof of the logical accuracy and comprehensiveness of the Thomistic system that it contains at least the principles necessary for the refutation of modern errors.
Before the brilliancy of the genius of St. Thomas even great theologians of this period wane into stars of the second and third magnitude. Still, Richard of Middleton (d. 1300), whose clearness of thought and lucidity of exposition recall the master mind of Aquinas, is a classical representative of the Franciscan School. Among the Servites, Henry of Ghent (d. 1293), a disciple of Albert the Great, deserves mention; his style is original and rhetorical, his judgments are independent, his treatment of the doctrine on God attests the profound thinker. In the footsteps of St. Thomas followed his pupil Peter of Tarentaise, who later became Pope Innocent V (d. 1276), and Ulric of Strasburg (d. 1277), whose name is little known, though his unprinted "Summa" was held in high esteem in the Middle Ages . The famous General of the Augustinians, Ægidius of Rome (d. 1316), a scion of the noble family of the Colonna, while differing in some details from the teaching of St. Thomas yet in the main adhered to his system. In his own order his writings were considered as classics. But the attempt of the Augustinian Gavardus in the seventeenth century to create a distinctly "Ægidian School" proved a failure. On the other hand, adversaries of St. Thomas sprang up even in his lifetime. The first attack, came from England and was led by William de la Mare, of Oxford (d. 1285). Speaking broadly, English scholars, famous for their originality, played no mean part in the intellectual life of the Middle Ages. Being more of an empirical and practical than of an aprioristic and theoretical bent of mind, they enriched science with a new element. Their predilection for the natural sciences is also the outcome of this practical sense. Like the links of an unbroken chain follow the names of Bede, Alcuin, Alfred (Anglicus), Alexander of Neckham, Alexander of Hales, Robert Grosseteste, Adam of Marsh, John Basingstoke, Robert Kilwardby, John Pecham, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam. Kuno Fischer is right when he says: "When travelling along the great highway of history, we may traverse the whole of the Middle Ages down to Bacon of Verulam without leaving England for a moment" ("Francis Bacon", Heidelberg, 1904, p. 4).
This peculiar English spirit was embodied in the famous Duns Scotus (1266--1308). while in point of ability he belongs to the golden age of scholasticism, yet his bold and virulent criticism of the Thomistic system was to a great extent responsible for its decline. Scotus cannot be linked with the old Franciscan school ; he is rather the founder of the new Scotistic School, which deviated from the theology of Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure not so much in matters of faith and morals as in the speculative treatment of dogma. Greater still is his opposition to the fundamental standpoint of Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas likens the system of theology and philosophy to the animal organism, in which the vivifying soul permeates all the members, holds them together, and shapes them into perfect unity. In Scotus's own words, on the other hand, the order of things is rather symbolized by the plant, the root shooting forth branches and twigs which have an innate tendency to grow away from the stem. This fundamental difference also sheds light on the peculiarities of Scotus's system as opposed to Thomism : his formalism in the doctrine of God and the Trinity, his loose conception of the Hypostatic Union, his relaxation of the bonds uniting the sacraments with the humanity of Christ, his explanation of transubstantiation as an adductive substitution, his emphasis on the supremacy of the will, and so on. Though it cannot be denied that Scotism preserved theological studies from a one-sided development and even won a signal victory over Thomism by its doctrine concerning the Immaculate Conception, it is nevertheless evident that the essential service it rendered to Catholic theology in the long run was to bring out, by the clash of arguments, the enduring solidity of the Thomistic structure. No one can fail to admire in St. Thomas the perspicuity of thought and the lucidity of diction, as contrasted with the abstruse and mystifying conceptions of his critic. In later centuries not a few Franciscans of a calmer judgment, among them Constantine Sarnanus (1589) and John of Rada (1599), set about minimizing or even reconciling the doctrinal differences of the two masters.
C. Third Epoch: Gradual Decline of Scholasticism (1300-1500)
The death of Duns Scotus (d. 1308) marks the close of the golden era of the Scholastic system. What the following period accomplished in constructive work consisted chiefly in preserving, reproducing, and digesting the results of former ages. But simultaneously with this commendable labour we encounter elements of disintegration, due partly to the Fraticelli's wrong conception of mysticism, partly to the aberrations and superficiality of Nominalism, partly to the distressing conflict between Church and State (Philip the Fair, Louis of Bavaria, the Exile at Avignon ). Apart from the fanatical enthusiasts who were leaning towards heresy, the development and rapid spread of Nominalism must be ascribed to two pupils of Duns Scotus : the Frenchman Peter Aureolus (d. 1321) and the Englishman William Occam (d. 1347), In union with Marsilius of Padua and John of Jandun, Occam used Nominalism for the avowed purpose of undermining the unity of the Church . In this atmosphere flourished regalism and opposition to the primacy of the pope, until it reached its climax in the false principle: "Concilium supra Papam", which was preached from the housetops up to the time of the Councils of Constance and Basle. It is only fair to state that it was the pressing needs of the times more than anything else which led some great men, as Pierre d'Ailly (d. 1425) and Gerson (d. 1429), to embrace a doctrine which they abandoned as soon as the papal schism was healed. To understand the origin of the errors of Wyclif, Huss, and Luther, the history of Nominalism must be studied. For what Luther knew as Scholasticism was only the degenerated form which Nominalism presents. Even the more prominent Nominalists of the close of the Middle Ages, as the general of the Augustinians, Gregory of Rimini (d. 1359), and Gabriel Biel (d. 1495), who has been called the "last Scholastic ", did not escape the misfortune of falling into grievous errors. Nominalistic subtleties, coupled with an austere pseudo-Augustinism of the ultra-rigoristic type, made Gregory of Rimini the precursor of Baianism and Jansenism. Gabriel Biel, though ranking among the better Nominalists and combining solidity of doctrine with a spirit of loyalty to the Church, yet exerted a baneful influence on his contemporaries, both by his unduly enthusiastic praise of Occam and by the manner in which he commented on Occam's writings.
The order which suffered least damage from Nominalism was that of St. Dominic. For, with the possible exception of Durand of St. Pouçain (d. 1332) and Holkot (d. 1349), its members were as a rule loyal to their great fellow-religious St. Thomas. Most prominent among them during the first half of the fourteenth century were: Hervæus de Nedellec (d. 1323), a valiant opponent of Scotus, John of Paris (d. 1306); Peter of Palude (d. 1342); and especially Raynerius of Pisa (d. 1348), who wrote an alphabetical summary of the doctrine of St. Thomas which even today is useful. A prominent figure in the fifteenth century is St. Antonine of Florence (d. 1459), distinguished by his industry as a compiler and by his versatility as an author; by his "Summa Theologiæ" he did excellent service for positive theology. A powerful champion of Thomism was John Capreolus (d. 1444), the "Prince of Thomists" ( princeps Thomistarum ). Using the very words of St. Thomas, he refuted, in his adamantine "Clypeus Thomistarum", the adversaries of Thomism in a masterly and convincing manner. It was only in the early part of the sixteenth century that commentaries on the "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas began to appear, among the first to undertake this work being Cardinal Cajetan of Vio (d. 1537) and Konrad Köllin (d. 1536). The philosophical "Summa contra Gentes" found a masterly commentator in Francis of Ferrara (d. 1528).
Far less united than the Dominicans were the Franciscans, who partly favoured Nominalism, partly adhered to pure Scotism. Among the latter the following are worthy of note: Francis Mayronis (d. 1327); John of Colonia ; Peter of Aquila (d. about 1370), who as abbreviator of Scotus was called Scotellus (little Scotus ); Nicolaus de Orbellis (ca. 1460), and above all Lichetus (d. 1520), the famous commentator of Scotus. William of Vorrilong (about 1400), Stephen Brulefer (d. 1485), and Nicholas of Niise (d. 1509) belong to a third class which is characterized by the tendency to closer contact with St. Bonaventure . A similar want of harmony and unity is discernible in the schools of the other orders. While the Augustinians James of Viterbo (d. 1308) and Thomas of Strasburg (d. 1357) attached themselves to Ægidius of Rome, thereby approaching closer to St. Thomas, Gregory of Rimini, mentioned above, championed an undisguised Nominalism. Alphonsus Vargas of Toledo (d. 1366), on the other hand, was an advocate of Thomism in its strictest form. Among the Carmelites, also, divergencies of doctrine appeared. Gerard of Bologna (d. 1317) was a staunch Thomist, while his brother in religion John Baconthorp (d. 1346) delighted in trifling controversies against the Thomists. Drifting now with Nominalism, now with Scotism, this original genius endeavoured, though without success, to found a new school in his order. Generally speaking, however, the later Carmelites were enthusiastic followers of St. Thomas. The Order of the Carthusians produced in the fifteenth century a prominent and many-sided theologian in the person of Dionysius Ryckel (d. 1471), surnamed "the Carthusian ", a descendant of the Leevis family, who set up his chair in Roermond (Holland). From his pen we possess valuable commentaries on the Bible , Pseudo-Dionysius, Peter the Lombard, and St. Thomas. He was equally conversant with mysticism and scholasticism. Albert the Great, Henry of Ghent, and Dionysius form a brilliant constellation which shed undying lustre on the German theology of the Middle Ages.
Leaving the monasteries and turning our attention to the secular clergy , we encounter men who, in spite of many defects, are not without merit in dogmatic theology. The first to deserve mention is the Englishman Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1340), the foremost mathematician of his day and Archbishop of Canterbury. His work "De causa Dei contra Pelagianos" evinces a mathematical mind and an unwonted depth of thought. Unfortunately it is marred by an unbending, sombre rigorism, and this to such an extent that the Calvinistic Anglicans of a later century published it in defence of their own teachings. The Irish Bishop Richard Radulphus of Armagh (d. 1360), in his controversy with the Armenians, also fell into dogmatic inaccuracies, which paved the way for the errors of Wyclif. We may note in passing that the learned Carmelite Thomas Netter (d. 1430), surnamed Waldensis, must be regarded as the ablest controversialist against the Wyclifites and Hussites. The great Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (d. 1404) stands out prominently as the inaugurator of a new speculative system in dogmatic theology ; but his doctrine is in many respects open to criticism. A thorough treatise on the Church was written by John Torquemada (d. 1468), and a similar work by St. John Capistran (d. 1456). A marvel of learning, and already acknowledged as such by his contemporaries, was Alphonsus Tostatus (d. 1454), the equal of Nicholas of Lyra (d. 1341) in Scriptural learning. He merits a place in the history of dogmatic theology, inasmuch as he interspersed his excellent commentaries on the Scriptures with dogmatic treatises, and in his work "Quinque paradoxa" gave to the world a fine treatise on Christology and Mariology.
As was to be expected, mysticism went astray in this period and degenerated into sham pietism. A striking example of this is the anonymous "German Theology", edited by Martin Luther. This work must, however, not be confounded with the "German Theology" of the pious
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
- The Rosary in English
- Come Holy Spirit
- Hail, Holy Queen
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Copyright 2021 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2021 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.