- Medieval Philosophy. An unsigned review of History of Mediaeval Philosophy, by Maurice De Wulf
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
- View Citation
870 ] Medieval Philosophy An unsigned review of History of Mediaeval Philosophy by Maurice De Wulf. Trans. Ernest C. Messenger. Vol. II: From St. Thomas Aquinas to the End of the Sixteenth Century London: Longmans, 1926. Pp. xii + 336. Times Literary Supplement, 1298 (16 Dec 1926) 929 To write a history of medieval or of scholastic philosophy – the two are not the same thing, and Professor de Wulf has tackled both – is anything but easy, especially when this history, from the beginning to the end of the sixteenth century, is to be condensed within two volumes.1 The author may either select the dominant philosophers, devote to them as much space as they relatively deserve, and pass hurriedly over the minor epochs and the less significant intermediate names; or he may consider it his task to chronicle the philosophy as a whole, rather than the philosophers. If he chooses the former course, his exposition of the systems of the greatest philosophers will be more satisfactory; but another kind of historical truth is served by the second method. This book follows the latter; it is a chronicle, rather than a valuation. We make this observation first, because the casual reader, looking through these 316 pages into which the thought of four centuries is crammed, may remark that only thirty-seven pages are reserved to St. Thomas, twenty to Duns Scotus, and ten to William of Occam, while the greater part of the book is concerned with philosophers of whom few readers have ever heard and whom fewer still will ever read. The book is a history, not an “introduction.” The introduction to medieval philosophy already exists: it is Étienne Gilson’s La Philosophie au Moyen Âge, two tiny volumes in a popular collection of Payot.2 The two works perform a different function, and the more tedious completes the more brilliant. It is interesting to observe that Professor de Wulf occupies a Chair at Harvard University, and that Professor Gilson is also lecturing during the current year in this former stronghold of Unitarianism (both, presumably, being sheltered by a building named “Emerson Hall”).3 [ 871 Medieval Philosophy Dr. de Wulf ’s book may serve for the study of scholasticism as a link between the work of Gilson, which consists in detailed exposition of the ideas of the principal philosophers of the thirteen centuries – his recent books on St. Thomas and St. Bonaventura – and the massive Modern Scholastic Philosophy of Cardinal Mercier.4 One prejudice which the work of Professor de Wulf, as well as the work of Professor Gilson, tends to break down is that which consists in the assumption that modern philosophy begins with a complete break from the Middle Ages, with a wholly new examination of the world. The continuity in transformation is insisted upon again and again by Gilson. “La science moderne,” he says in his small introduction above mentioned, “prise sous la forme idéale avec laquelle elle se projette dans l’avenir, a hérité de tous les attributs de la théologie chrétienne .”5 Professor de Wulf says (316): Contrary to a widely held view, the seventeenth century was not an exceptional period, unique in intellectual history, an absolute commencement devoid of any connection with the mediæval past. Dr. de Wulf includes in his history such unorthodox figures as Nicholas of Cusa, Campanella and Eckhardt;6 such social and legal philosophers as Sir Thomas More and Grotius; and such scholastics of the Renaissance as Cajetan and Suarez. The last part of Dr. de Wulf ’s book, in spite of its somewhat forbidding text-book arrangement and the necessary marshalling of innumerable forgotten names, is a valuable contribution. It confirms the view that no great philosophy ever vanquishes another great philosophy ; it annihilates merely its predecessor’s degenerate descendants. How can we tell who was the greatest prize-fighter in history, when every champion is ultimately conquered by some younger man? The scientists wanted to destroy a still powerful oak tree because it carried dead wood in its branches; the Aristotelians thought that it was impossible to do anything to an age-long tree, and that to despoil it of a dried-up branch would be to deprive it of its life. Scholasticism was vanquished for want of men, not for want of ideas. [313-14] These words are worth pondering. It is open to us to question, nevertheless , whether scholasticism was not already “conquered” before it came into conflict with any positive discovery of...