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Mediaeval Humanism

Author(s): Martin R. P. McGuire


Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Jan., 1953), pp. 397-409
Published by: Catholic University of America Press
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MEDIAEVAL HUMANISM*
By
R. P. McGuire

Martin

At the out
discussion.
had a central place in mediaeval
or
rather the
to define humanism,
I shall attempt
set, therefore,
senses in which
to use the term, for it is now employed
I propose
to describe various movements
and attitudes which are in part dia
Definition

for me to define terms,


It is especially necessary
metrically
opposed.
involves
because the combination of words in the title of my discussion
a
the
The
of
created
Humanists
derogatory
early
something
paradox.
to designate
the period from the close of antiquity
term, mediaeval,
to their own times as a dark and culturally
inferior age. Accordingly,
or attitude
we would
seem to be seeking evidences of a movement
which was regarded by its own creators and exponents as the repudia
in the concept mediaeval.
I shall
tion of all that they embodied
term
but not
humanism without
qualification
ordinarily
employ the
as
in its older sense, i.e.,
the study of the classics of Greece
exclusively
and Rome and the impulse given
of a comprehensive
cultural ideal,
recent forms of humanism
have
I shall
older concept or attitude.
eral, to quote one of the standard

by that study to the development


of a basic philosophy
of life. All
their

ultimate

in the

foundation

in gen
tregard modern humanism
as
definitions
of the phenomenon,
"a system, mode, or attitude of thought or action centering upon dis
as contrasted
interests
and ideals, especially
with
tinctly human
or religious
I
interests."1
naturalistic
to
should
dis
like
Finally,
for the term, mediaeval
humanism.
I much
any predilection
to
a
of
Christian
theocentric
humanism,
i.e., basically
prefer
speak
claim

* This

essay,
of

session
tions,
session

in New
was

delivered
of
and

this

some minor

with

the American

by

general

on December

York

mediaeval

essay.

Historical
humanism

Professor
The

Crane

nature

character

and
of

was
as a paper
changes,
presented
and American
Historical
Catholic

at

30, 1951.
and modern

Brinton
purpose

The
theme
of the joint
general
the main
humanism,
papers
being
of Harvard
and the writer
University

of

the

the

article.
present
in the Catholic
and Latin

session
Mr.

explains
McGuire

the

rather

is head

"humanism,"
in Gerald

3.

broad
of

the

of America.
University
from Webster's
New
International
Dictionary,
on the scope
the discussion
Cf.
also
and nature

2nd

of Greek
Department
1 This
definition
is taken
ed., s.v.
humanism

the joint
Associa

G. Walsh,

S.J., Medieval

397

Humanism

(New

York,

of

1942).

MEDIAEVAL

398

HUMANISM

view of man and his world


of thought and action, and to regard
as one phase of Christian
humanism.
mediaeval
humanism merely
The term and concept, Christian humanism,
focuses attention also on
to say
and Renaissance
humanism
humanism,
origins. Mediaeval
unless
of modern
would hardly be conceivable
humanism,
nothing
in spite of its bitter physical and spiritual conflicts with
had found an important place in its own
paganism,
literature and learning
for pagan
long before the Middle

Christianity,
Greco-Roman
system
Ages

began.
in the Greco-Roman
world
Christianity
inaugurated a revolution
was
not
to
which
the spiritual sphere but ultimately affected
confined
all phases of life and action. From the beginning,
especially from the
commencement
to the Gentiles,
the new religion had
of its mission
to make ever closer contact with Greek and Greco-Roman
culture.
to remember
It is extremely
that Christianity's
sacred
important
The inherited Septuagint Version
became its
books were in Greek.
and this served as the basis for all Latin
Greek Old Testament,
of Old Testament
books until the new version made
translations

The New Testament,


with the
by St. Jerome.
in
of
the
of
its
Matthew
earliest
St.
form, was
exception
Gospel
in Greek.
written
in Greek at Athens
St. Paul preached
itself, and
his conciliatory address to the philosophers
in the Areopagus,
pointing
the way to a union of Greek culture with Christianity,
may be re
from

the Hebrew

St. Paul's
garded as a landmark in the rise of Christian humanism.
address, however, received a cold reception from the group as a whole,
was destined to win adherents
and Christianity
from the intellectual
elite very slowly.
in reaction

and
pagan morality
against the contemporary
under
the
scornful
attacks
of
superstition,
smarting
pagan in
tellectuals and persecution by the State, some Christians
like Tertullian
to do with Jerusalem ?"
and Tatian raised the cry, "What has Athens
a
advocated
break
with
pagan culture, although even Tertullian
They
Hence,

and

his own extreme views


in the light of
grudgingly modified
But the majority
of the ecclesiastical
and
writers
practical needs.
fathers in the Greek East and Latin West
accepted the pagan culture
in a number of essential features, justifying their position on grounds
of theory as well as of practical necessity.
The story of the relations
himself

between

and pagan literature,


Christianity
learning, and education
or
has been told in greater
less detail in recent years, especially by

MARTIN

R. P. McGUIRE

399

and Laistner.2 A few


De Labriolle, Marrou, Courcelle, Ellspermann,
as
must
be
discussed
here,
however,
points,
they have such a direct
on
in
and on its con
the
rise
of
Christian
humanism
Antiquity
bearing
in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
tinuance and development
The central question
is this :how did Christianity
justify in theory
its employment
and assimilation
of pagan literature and learning?
and Clement of Alexandria
had dealt with this problem, for
Origen
were
to
and systematic use of pagan
the
make
wide
first
they
really
in the service of the new faith. But the problem
achievements
its classic solution
in St. Jerome, St. Augustine,
and St.
own
one
which
is
from
times
and
cited
and
their
Basil,
again
again
over
to the nineteenth
in
the
the
of
controversies
the
century
place
cultural

received

pagan classics in education. The


tine's De doctrina Christiana?and

following passage from St. Augus


five centuries later it was incorpo
rated without
Maurus
into his De
by Hrabanus
acknowledgment
:
institutione
clericorum?sums
the
Christian
up
position
if those

Furthermore,
nists,

have

faith,

we
our

for

must
own

are

who

said

chance

things
by
no
not only
have
use
from
those who

called
that

philosophers,
are
truthful

fear

of

the Plato
especially
to our
conformable

and

but even
them,
in a sense,
their

are,

them

appropriate

possessors.

illegal

The Egyptians not only had idols and crushing burdens which the people
of Israel detested and from which they fled, but they also had vessels
leaving

Not

of

ornaments

and

and

gold

on their own authority


of

command

were
same
stitious

all

the

notions

and

for

of

teachings
oppressive

of

the
for

Israelites,
use.

better

without

but by the

counterfeit

useless

labor,

it,

realizing

not using properly.


have

pagans

burdens

if

this appropriation,

they were
the

as

themselves,

Egyptians

which

clothing,

themselves

did they make

the

the things which

supplying
way,

while

God,

and

silver,

claimed

secretly,

Egypt

and
which

In the
super
anyone

2 Cf.

P. DeLabriolle,
Histoire
de la litt?rature
latine
revised
chr?tienne,
by
2 vols.
I. Marrou,
Saint
et la
Bardy,
I, 1-43; H.
(Paris,
1946),
Augustin
la culture
and Retractatio
fin de
antique,
; P. Courcelle,
(Paris,
1939-1949)
en Occident
Les
lettres
new
de Macrobe
? Cassiodore,
grecques
ed., revised

G.

The Attitude
; G. L. Ellspermann,
Christian
O.S.B.,
of the Early
toward Pagan
Literature
and Learning
of
[Catholic
University
Patristic
Vol.
M.
L. W.
Studies,
LXXXII]
(Washington,
1949);
and Pagan
Culture
in the Later
Roman
Christianity
Empire
(Ithaca,

1948)
(Paris,
Latin Writers
America
Laistner,

Cf.
1951).
Monument

now

also

to Saint

1952), pp. 203-232.

E.

A.

Jerome,

Quain,
edited

S.J.,
by

F.

"St.

Jerome

X.

Murphy,

as

a Humanist,"
C.SS.R.
(New

in A
York,

MEDIAEVAL HUMANISM

400

of us, leaving the association of pagans with Christ as our leader, ought
to abominate and shun. However,
they also contain liberal instruction
more adapted to the service of truth and also very useful principles about
even

morals;
discovered

some

about

truths
them.

among

the

These

of

service
a

in

are,

the

one

God

their

sense,

Himself
and

gold

are
silver.

They themselves did not create them, but excavated them, as it were, from
the mines of divine Providence, which is everywhere present, but they
wickedly and unjustly misuse this treasure for the service of demons.
When
the Christian severs himself in spirit from the wretched association
of these men, he ought to take it from them for the lawful service of
preaching the Gospel. It is also right for us to receive and possess their
it to a Christian

to convert

in order

clothing

use,

those

i.e.,

human

insti

tutions suited for intercourse with men and which we cannot do without
in this life.
For, what else have many noble and loyal members of our faith done?
Do we not perceive with what an abundance of gold, silver and clothing
that very eloquent teacher and blessed martyr, Cyprian, was loaded when
he left Egypt? With what an abundance Lactantius was enriched, and
and innumerable Greeks, not to speak of
Victorinus,
Optatus, Hilary,
men who are still living ? That most obedient servant of God, Moses him
self, was the first to do this, and it was written of him that he "was
instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians."
The superstitious pagans,
especially at that time when, striking at the yoke of Christ, they were
the

persecuting

would

Christians,

never

have

bestowed

upon

all

these

men

sciences which they themselves considered profitable, if they had


supposed that they were going to convert them to the worship of the
one God, in order that the false worship of idols might be rooted out. But
they gave their gold, silver, and garments to the people of God who were
leaving Egypt, not knowing how the things which they were giving would
yield to "the obedience of Christ." What happened in the Exodus is un
doubtedly a figure that signified the present. I assert this without preju
to another

dice

All

that

either

interpretation,

is considered
and

equal

St.

Augustine

(New
Maurus,

405A).

doctrina
translation

Christiana,
of John

Fathers
4, The
112-114.
For
pp.
institutione
clericorum,

[Volume

1947),
York,
cf. his De

better.3

good in pagan education,


other branches
of learning,

losophy, medicine,
to divine Providence.
traced ultimately
from the false and to be appropriated
3 St.
De
Augustine,
the recent
employed

or

literature, phi
then, is to be
This good is to be separated
as rightful pos
by Christians

2.40.60.

With
minor
I have
changes,
in Writings
J. Gavigan,
O.S.A.,
of
of the Church.
A New
Translation]
the use of this passage
in Hrabanus
3.26

(Migne,

PL,

107,

cols.

404A

MARTIN

R.

P. McGUIRE

401

sessors or heirs to the service of Christian


truth. The example of
is frequently added?gives
Moses?and
that of Daniel
scriptural sup
to
described.
The
view
attitude
of
the
Christian
pagan
port
learning
as a rightful
belief
inheritance was based also on the widespread
a
one
common
the
and
later
became
Hellenistic
which
among
Jews,
in Christian
that the more significant
teachings of
apologetic,
on the virtues, e.g., were borrowed
and other Greek philosophers
from the Bible
itself!
It should be noted too that St. Augustine
elsewhere
in his works,
in the De civitate Dei, adopts a
especially

place
Plato

similar

attitude

toward

social and political institutions.


of the Christian
practical application

pagan

The most
important
theory
in the field of education.
the schools of
was, of course,
Although
rhetoric were thoroughly pagan in spirit and in the content of their
so pretty much
and remained
to the
for that matter
curriculum,
were
even
end of Antiquity,
attended
in
the
fourth
Christians
they
by
and fifth centuries when an ever increasing number of students came
to
dangers of such a pagan environment
re
the
constant
and criticisms
youth explain
warnings
specting the pagan schools found throughout ancient Greek and Latin
Christian
literature. But the training received
in these schools also
did much to acquaint Christian writers with the intellectual achieve
ments of pagan culture and to form their literary style in the best
from Christian

homes.

The

Christian

traditions

of their age.
out of the vigorous
seed planted by Clement and Origen,
Growing
humanism
burst into full flower
Christian
in the fourth and fifth
the
of
literature
in East and West.
centuries,
golden age
patristic
of Nyssa, Basil the Great, John Chry
Gregory Nazianzen,
Gregory
Paulinus
of Nola, Pru
sostom, Hilary, Ambrose,
Jerome, Rufinus,
of Hippo
dentius, and Augustine
towering over all the rest, were
older or younger contemporaries.
Their voluminous works are largely
or at least deal with religious themes, but
theological,
they reveal an
intimate acquaintance with and a wide employment
of pagan litera
ture and learning from the classical periods of Greece and Rome
to
their own times. Furthermore,
as
trained
were
in
thoroughly
they
the pagan
rhetorical
the possible
of
schools, all, with
exception
of style. They
Rufinus, were masters
really loved the great works
of

classical

genres
this was

literature

to Christian

and

they adapted numerous


pagan
literary
still sometimes fail to
realize?although
and other eminent humanists
by Erasmus

use. We

fully appreciated

HUMANISM

MEDIAEVAL

402

of the Renaissance?that
many
the Church are as distinguished

of the great fathers of


style as for their content,

of the works
for their

and belong to the masterpieces


of literature as well as of theology.
The De civitate Dei and the Confessions
of Augustine,
the Letters of
a
the
have
above
Latin
and,
all,
Jerome,
Vulgate,
high place in any
list of the world's
classics.
St.
Hilary
gives us the essence
literary
in the beautiful prayer
this Christian
humanism
found in his
in language,
trinitate: "Grant us precision
of
understand
light
to
of
truth"
and
(1.38).
ing, grace
style,
loyalty
The Christian
of pagan cultural elements was not
assimilation

of

De

confined to rhetoric and literature, but also embraced philosophy.


The
form in
Stoic ethics of Cicero and Seneca are given a Christianized
the De officiis of St. Ambrose,
and most of the great fathers of the
or Christian Neoplatonists.
Church are Christian Platonists
Gregory
a
is
De
anima
classic example of patristic Platon
of Nyssa's
dialogue
reflect the assimila
ism. Gregory Nazianzen
and his contemporaries
of Greek philosophy
and its ideals by their use of the verb
in the sense of "live according
to the Christian
ideal,"
philosophein
in the sense of "Christian contemplation
and
and the noun philosophia
tion

its practice." The fusion of pagan and Christian


thought in Antiquity
in Boethius
culminates
and Pseudo-Dionysius.
in the history of humanism
The importance of patristic humanism
can hardly be exaggerated.
the
and authority of
greatness
Through
for the
it set a basic pattern
its representatives
and their works
future. Moreover,
on literature and

through

its theocentric
in the

learning
and need
stimulation
strongest
must
continued
It
also
development.
the

humanism

character, and its emphasis


of religion,
it furnished
and
for its own preservation

service

be emphasized
that patristic
the most
better?constituted
coincided with?or
perhaps
in
the
of
Greek
revival
and
Roman
literature
and
phase

significant
in the fourth and fifth centuries. Werner
Jaeger has well
scholarship
are
not
who
do
still people
realize that what we had
said: "There
of the late Roman
in both hemispheres
empire at that time was one
of the most creative civilizations which history has ever seen. The

religion and classical Greek and Roman culture


synthesis of Christian
which it effected became classical in its turn for the following centuries
and for countless millions
of people it still is."4
of the Middle Ages,
4 Cf. Werner
quette

University]

Jaeger,

Humanism

(Milwaukee,

and
1943),

Theology
p. 24.

[The

Aquinas

Lecture,

Mar

MARTIN

R. P. McGUIRE

403

must be
in Byzantium
The subsequent
history of this synthesis
renais
it should be noted that the Byzantine
omitted here. However,
sance of the ninth century, the age of Photius, played the same impor
and
in the preservation
tant role as the Carolingian
Renaissance
laid the

and thus
study of ancient authors, pagan and Christian,
Middle
of
the
later
foundations
for the Greek learning
Ages
to the West.
the possibility
of its transmission

and for

the synthesis
in the West,
From the beginning of the Middle Ages
was already long completed.
In fact, it had become a tradition, as is
so clearly evident in Cassiodorus
and Isidore. That the tradition did
not die, or at least suffer far greater damages
than it did, in the
is
and
sixth, seventh,
largely to be explained
early eighth centuries,
the
in
fact
that
the
Church
the
West,
having once adopted Latin
by
as the language of her liturgy, theology, and ecclesiastical
administra
in spite of all obstacles,
in maintaining
it. Hence,
tion, persisted
Latin had to be taught and studied with primarily practical ends in
to the strong authority
mind.
of the Western
Church and
Owing
to the circumstance
that she was the sole source and vehicle of higher
as
culture for so long in Italy, Gaul, Spain, Ireland, and Britain,
in Germany,
and Poland,
all these re
Bohemia,
Scandinavia,
in
while
local
variations
in
many
gions,
developing
liturgy, especially
the earlier period, used Latin as their ecclesiastical
The
language.
possible rise of a liturgy in Gothic or Old High German vanished
later

over Arianism.
the triumph of orthodoxy
Under
the influence
of the patristic synthesis
the pagan as well as the Christian
classics
sooner
or
a
in
the
curriculum
of
the
monastic
and
found,
later,
place
cathedral schools. The peoples outside Romania,
with
the
beginning
Irish and the Anglo-Saxons,
cur
the
mediaeval
school
early
adopted
riculum with
the
Moreover,
special enthusiasm.
they approached
too many of the inhibitions which
troubled
pagan classics without

with

the minds

of those

in the direct Latin

tradition.

humanism,
then, is based on the patristic tradition, but
that does not mean that it is absolutely uniform
in scope, emphases,
or intensity. The numerous
recent articles and books dealing with
in the Middle Ages?one
renaissances
among them quite newly dis
in
valuable
a basic simi
covered5?are
while
that,
very
recognizing
Mediaeval

5 Cf.

tury

R.

S.

LVII

Review,
and

related

Lopez,
(1951),
problems,

"Still

Another

1-21.
cf.,

Renaissance?"

On

the

Renaissance

e.g.,

the

two

following

American
of

the

studies

Historical
Twelfth
and

Cen
the

bibli

MEDIAEVAL

404

HUMANISM

attention on
larity or even identity in outlook, they focus necessary
in its
the comprehensive
character of the movement
and complex
on
on
and
its
and
different
the
influence,
totality
pervasive
phases,
common and special features of each phase considered
in itself. A
number of recent articles and books on the Italian Renaissance
have
likewise

contributed
movement
complex
culture as a whole

to a much

not only of that


better understanding
to a better understanding
of mediaeval
its
and of
continued
life and influence, in many
but also

and after.6
important respects, during the period of the Renaissance
It would not be possible here, nor is it necessary,
to trace in detail
of mediaeval
the development
that movement
be
humanism, whether
or
narrower
sense
in
the
term.
a
broader
of
the
But
few
regarded
general observations will be in order before passing
of the harmony between faith and reason which was
in the thirteenth
the background
century against

to a consideration
finally established
of patristic
and

earlier mediaeval

traditions and of Aristotelian


philosophy.
the
of
the
of
in the Middle Ages
classics
story
preservation
were
and of the extent to which
they
copied, read, or neglected
now
is
well
known
its main outlines and to
in
century by century
an increasing degree
in detail. The school tradition of which
they
formed such an essential part beside Christian works is also becoming
The

much

and especially
in those periods which,
like the
once regarded as wholly dark.
In spite of the
pardonable pride reflected in the enthusiastic words of the Chronicler
of St. Gall in which he states that Alcuin's
"teaching wras so fruit
ful that the Gauls and Franks of our time (moderni)
have become
tenth

better

known,
century, were

the peers of the ancient Romans


and Athenians,"7
the school cur
was largely confined in practice to gram
riculum of the Carolingians

cited: E. M.
"The Twelfth
or Proto
ography
Sanford,
Century?Renaissance
XXIV
and U. T. Holmes,
Renaissance,"
Speculum,
(1951),
635-642,
Jr., "The
Idea of a Twelfth-Century
Renaissance,"
ibid., 643-651.
6 I should
like in particular
to call attention
to the outstanding
study of P. O.
"Humanism
and Scholasticism
in the Italian
Kristeller,
Renaissance,"
Bysan
with
revisions
under
the title
tion, XVII
346-374,
(1944-1945),
republished
e scolastica
"Umanesimo
nel Renascimento
V
italiano," Humanitas,
(1950).
7 The

Latin

quis Romanis
is cited
and
m?di?val,"

reads

: In

tantum

et Atheniensibus
discussed

in Les

id?es

fructificavit
aequarentur.

in

the

et

les

penetrating
lettres
(Paris,

ut moderni
Cf. M GH,

Galli

sive

II, 731.
SS,
essay
by E. Gibson,
1932),
pp. 171-196.

Franci
The

anti
passage

"Humanisme

MARTIN

R.

P. McGUIRE

405

and the subjects of


and a thin and superficial rhetoric. Dialectic
came
own
in the tenth and
the quadrivium
into
their
fully
only
and with the struggle
eleventh centuries, with Gerbert of Aurillac,
over investitures.
and intellectual
The political,
social, economic,
as compared with that of
world of Alcuin was relatively primitive

mar

John of Salisbury
system
fruitful

in the twelfth

encompassing
contacts with

Church
Islamic

century with its fully developed feudal


its
and State, its town life, its guilds,
its
revival
Roman
of
and
law,
learning,

its rising universities.8


on the work
Building

the schools of the tenth,


of the Carolingians,
eleventh, and twelfth centuries, especially the cathedral schools, forged
Latin into a wonderfully
flexible instrument of literary and philosophi
in which classical, Christian,
cal expression
and mediaeval
elements
were freely blended. St. Anselm
of Canterbury,
St. Peter Dami?n, St.
Bernard of Clairvaux,
John of Salisbury, and Otto of Freising wrote
Latin not only with clearness and correctness, but also with the force
and warmth
of style which
of a living
is associated with mastery
its
it
in
and
all
But
is
that
mediaeval
poetry
language
potentialities.
Latin reached its zenith in literary form: in men
like Hildebert
of
a
in
the spirit of the Renaissance,
Christian humanist
in the
Lavardin,
chief Goliards, and in the great religious poets and their achievements,
beginning with the sequences of Adam of St. Victor and culminating
in the Pange Lingua of St. Thomas Aquinas,
the Stabat Mater of Jaco
of Celano.
pone da Todi, and the Dies Irae of Thomas
literature in Latin was accom
production of a great universal
a
the earlier
related
furthermore,
by
panied,
development?from
in the Celtic and Germanic North and from the eleventh
Middle Ages
a great literature in the vernacular.
lands?of
century in the Romance
on Latin
in church and school perhaps
The emphasis
retarded a
more rapid development
of the vernacular
in
literatures, particularly
The

the Romance

lands. But

these

literatures

form
only received written
through the Latin school tradition, and vernacular writers
profited
enormously
through the literary forms and rich content of ancient
literature made available to them. The Latin
pagan and Christian
and the whole
inheritance from Antiquity
literary and scholarly pro
duction of the mediaeval
period itself in Latin, the common universal
litera
language, became the common heritage of the great vernacular
8

Cf.,

e.g.,

the

recent

the Life and Writings

monograph

of H.

Liebesch?tz,

of John of Salisbury

Mediaeval

(London, 1950).

Humanism

in

MEDIAEVAL

406

HUMANISM

tures of Europe and gave them the common


tionship which is such a vital and significant
civilization.
history of western

tradition
factor

and basic

rela

in the subsequent

and his Islamic and


overwhelming
impact of Aristotle
on
in
the
thirteenth
the
universities
commentators
century
Jewish
cause
as
the
of
chief
the
for
decline
is still generally
presented
causes
on the Latin
side.
But
the
for
humanism
mediaeval
literary
in
this decline were really much deeper and were already operating
almost

The

century itself, the golden age of mediaeval Latin literature.


to the subordination
in the universities,
with Aristotle
Preoccupation
and the adoption of a bald scientific
of the arts and their cultivation,
the twelfth

hastened
the eclipse of Latin
undoubtedly
style of Latin exposition,
as a vital medium
of literary or creative composition.
Yet it should
in the twelfth century,
that the rapid development,
be remembered
and the ars versificatoria,
the ars praedicandi,
of the ars dictaminis,
a heavy emphasis on logical theory and practice, pre
pared the way for the neglect of the auctores in the thirteenth. More
and rich resources of expression
over, in spite of its great flexibility
Latin still remained a foreign
when thoroughly mastered, mediaeval
tongue, and it was inevitable that the vernaculars would assert them
combined

with

as literary media,
especially with the ever increasing partici
in
education
and literary composition.
of
the
The Latin
laity
pation
school tradition, as indicated above, furnished a most effective appren
selves

and actually hastened


the process of
ticeship for vernacular writers
their training and emancipation.
Secular Latin poetry was
in full
decline before the end of the twelfth century. As Raby puts it : "The
truth is that Latin secular poetry had no longer any real excuse for
lyrical part of it was fed, on the whole, from vernacular
and both in execution
and in range of expression,
the ver
had now an unchallenged
Latin
superiority."9
Religious
The

existing.
sources,
nacular

it is true, flourished
poetry,
during most of the thirteenth century,
that no really great Latin hymns were written
but it is significant
after the Fange Lingua, Dies Irae, and Stabat Mater.
John of Gar
of
St. Thomas Aquinas,
and vehement
cham
land, the contemporary
of the arts, bemoans the neglect of classical authors.
But his
his
artificial
deliberate
constant
and
his
style,
obscurity,
highly
parade
pion

9 Cf.

2 vols.

F.

J. E.

Raby,

A History

(Oxford, 1934), II, 341.

of Secular

Latin

Poetry

in

the Middle

Ages,

MARTIN

R. P. McGUIRE

407

of pedantry,
all indicate a marked
decline from the representatives
of the arts a century earlier.
It is not too surprising, under the circumstances,
that Dante, who
was intimately familiar with the Latin tradition and learning of the
a good knowledge
and was a
of the auctores,
schools, possessed
master

of Latin
style,
ness, should decide to
in his
Divine
Comedy,
most
mature,
greatest,

as his Latin

treatises and letters bear wit


above all, the
compose his literary works,
Florentine
and that, thus, the
vernacular,
and most characteristic
literary achievement
of the Christian
humanism
of the Middle Ages
should be a poem
not
in
in
but
Dante's
Italian.
written,
Latin,
judgment was sounder
and his choice of language happier than that of his younger contempo
rary Petrarch, who was confident that his Latin epic Africa would
be his chief claim

to lasting glory.

The Divine Comedy, however,


should not be too exclusively viewed
as a product of mediaeval
humanism on the literary side. On the con
in its emphasis on philosophical
trary, it is more typically mediaeval
on reason and Revelation,
on man and
and theological
problems,
in themselves but in relation to God their
human nature not merely
in general prefer the Inferno to the
Moderns
Creator and Preserver.
and
but
for
Dante
the Paradiso was by far the
Paradiso,
Purgatorio
most significant part of his poem. We must consider finally, there
fore, the all-important
the role of philosophy

earlier, namely,
question
already mentioned
and theology
in mediaeval
humanism.
of late Hellenic
The assimilation
and its utilization
in
philosophy
as
the elaboration
of Christian
we
have
is,
theology
already noted,
one of the most important and influential features of
patristic human
ism. It should be emphasized
that by far the most important school of
was
late Hellenic
a theocentric
Neoplatonism,
philosophy
system of
in
character.
The
Christian
or
Platonism
thought essentially
religious
rather Neoplatonism
of the fathers of the Church, especially as rep
and developed
of Latin thinkers, St. Au
by the greatest
of
combined with
the Aristotelianism
of Boethius,
gustine
Hippo,
the foundation
of mediaeval
constituted
thought. The Augustinian
influence was preponderant,
and thought
long remained primarily
resented

theological.
With
Abelard
mediaeval
ology,

and,

and Hugh
thought. Abelard
in spite of his

of St. Victor, we enter a new age in


to the
dialectic
applied his powerful
on the charge of holding
condemnation

MEDIAEVAL HUMANISM

408

views, dialectic henceforth was to play an important and


role in theological
of
speculation and systematization.
Hugh
under the influence of Aristotle
St. Victor,
and
Boethius
through
in his own time,
works becoming available
through the Aristotelian
a
in
to
his
Didascalicon
classification
attempted
comprehensive
give
extreme
fruitful

of all branches of knowledge,


The
their objects,
and relationships.
essence of his Christian
like
humanism
is contained
in statements
:
in life, therefore, is the pur
the following
"The highest consolation
and he who finds it is happy and he who possesses
suit of wisdom,
it is blest" (1.1) ; "The perfection
of human life is accomplished
by
two things, knowledge
and virtue, and in this perfection
is contained
our sole likeness to the heavenly
and divine
substances"
(1.5) ;
never consider any knowledge
"Therefore
for all knowl
worthless,
"Learn everything;
you will see later that
(3.13);
edge is good"
is
(6.3).10 By insisting on the sharp distinction
nothing
superfluous"
and knowledge
based on experience
between knowledge
based on
the necessity of faith, he contributed very
faith, yet fully recognizing
of natural theology.
much to the development
The translations of many works of Aristotle,
and especially that of
to the Latin West,
hitherto unknown
the Metaphysics,
opened up a
new

the traditional medi


world, and all but overwhelmed
and
in
the
of
the
twelfth
last
part
early thirteenth cen
thought
turies. The older translations from the Arabic with their many distor
of the
tendencies
tions of Aristotelian
thought and the pantheistic
intellectual

aeval

Islamic

commentators

only helped

to intensify

the crisis. Under

the

10 The
est Studium
in vita
solamen
reads : Summum
Latin
igitur
original
felix
beatus
invenit
; Integritas
est, et qui possidet
quam
qui
(1.1)
sapientiae,
cum
et virtute,
scientia
humanae
duobus
vitae
quae nobis
supernis
perficitur,
scientiam
vilem
et divinis
sola est (1.5)
similitudo
substantiis
; Nullam
denique
videbis
nihil
scientia
bona est
; Omnia
postea
disce,
teneas,
(3.13)
quia omnis
esse

de Sane
text, cf. Hugonis
Charles
Henry
by Brother
in Medieval
of America
Studies

For
(6.3).
superfluum
calicon
de studio
legendi,
University
[The Catholic

Latin, Volume X]
Literatur

und

importance
classifies

him

literature.
classical
humanism,
the great

Such

(Washington,

lateinisches

of Hugh

the Latin

edited

however,
pioneers

Didas

F.S.C.
Buttimer,
and Renaissance

in his Europ?ische

Mittelalter

the
pp. 475-476,
1948),
(Bern,
recognizes
as a systematizer
of St. Victor
of knowledge,
but he
anti-humanists
because
of his
attitude
the
towards

among
a judgment

humanism.

1939). E. R. Curtius,

to Victore

From
of
Hugh
in Christian

is made
the

according
of

viewpoint
St. Victor
humanism.

should

to

the

philosophical
be
really

norms

of
and

regarded

traditional
theological
as one of

MARTIN

circumstances,
in 1210 and
soon lifted.

R.

P. McGUIRE

409

censures affecting Aristotelian


works
the ecclesiastical
over
Aristotle
But the cloud
1231 are understandable.

It was

of St. Albertus Magnus


the great achievement
and, espe
to
Thomas
of
St.
Aquinas,
perceive the tremendous worth and
cially,
to interpret him more accurately
of the new Aristotle,
potentialities
use
new
of
translations made directly from
and critically through the
and vision thus acquired
the Greek, and on the basis of the knowledge
to create a magnificent
synthesis of Christian
thought in which the
was
and
enriched
and
itself
proper
systematized,
philosophy
ology
was given
In this
its own place of honor and its own autonomy.
natural theology, the science of God based
elaboration of philosophy,
on reason as distinct from Revelation,
has a central place and gives
In making
to man and his role in the universe.
ultimate meaning
on the basis of the evidence
man theocentric
furnished by natural
reason alone, while at the same time fully recognizing man's own
as Jaeger acutely demon
its potentialities,
St. Thomas,
and Theology,
in his Humanism
is in the best tradition of
as distinct
that of Plato and Aristotle,
Greek theological humanism,
from the anthropomorphic
humanism of the ancient Sophists and their
nature

and

strates

to
successors.11 The synthesis of St. Thomas
gives full recognition
and theology. Their spheres of thought are clearly
both philosophy
is at once the most characteristic
and
established, and their harmony
achievement
of
the
Thomistic
synthesis.
crowning
is simply a later phase of the same
basic outlook contained
It is intensely
in the Thomistic
synthesis.
devoted to the cultivation of all the higher aspirations of man, it recog
and dignity of human personality,
nizes and defends the sacredness
and it insists on absolute moral and intellectual values in the natural
in its outlook,
order. At the same time, it is theocentric
it regards
Modern

man

Christian

humanism

not merely
in relation to his fellows
but
his
evaluates
and achievements,
man,
nature,
alone,
potentialities,
in relation to a personal God and His divine dispensation.
and his role in the universe

The Catholic
11 Cf.

Jaeger,

University
op.

cit.

(note

of America
4, supra),

pp.

36-64.