A few kind words for scholasticism


At a great university one time my wife and I were invited to what must be described as a “grand” dinner and were greatly impressed by being included. While we were standing about waiting for the dinner to begin, a very odd-looking character walked by, and I spoke the following imperishable words: “I wonder who let him in.” Shortly thereafter the aforesaid odd character was sitting at the head table, and shortly thereafter he gave the speech of the occasion. The man they had “let in” was an atomic physicist and a genuine genius. Either Hollywood or the picture magazines have somehow conditioned us to believe that heroes look like heroes, and geniuses like geniuses. It ain’t necessarily so!

“Genius,” said Alfred Noyes, “is exactly the opposite of what the clever people of today think it is. It arises in great simple persons, and masters them, and urges them on to ends that are beyond any that the conscious mind can aim at or attain.” Genius apparently is not something a person tries to put on or even develop. What happens to a genius is that something lays hold of him, and he is obsessed from then on with that something greater than himself from which he can never shake loose.

Some years ago a writer in one of our national magazines was relating interesting experiences in picking up hitchhikers. He said that he tried as far as possible not to pick up college boys, because they were generally such boring company. They tried too hard to be clever, and most of them had read just enough of Dale Carnegie to try using his mechanics to make the conversation just too, too interesting.

We might try all this on the ministry today, especially the young ministers. With all their getting, they might get humility. They have got all kinds of words. It would be better if the Word could get them.


Casting Type

The printer’s devil, if not theologically precise, was nonetheless active last issue (Nov. 5) in Patrick C. Rodger’s essay supporting organic church union. The garbled runover line connecting pages 6 and 7 should have read: “But the converse is also true: that it is only by seeking together for the pleroma, the fullness of truth, that the churches can hope to realize a genuine, as opposed to a spurious, unity.” This correction is published as a service to our readers. And to the essayist, our sincere regrets.—ED.

Intermural Debate

Gordon H. Clark’s readers have come to expect better things from him than “A Complete Reversal of Scholasticism” (Oct. 22 issue). The title of the article indicated that Professor Clark was at least superficially acquainted with the work of medieval scholasticism; yet the contents of this short essay were grossly misleading. Without defining the term “scholasticism,” Clark launched forth on a discussion studded with inadequacies. Nowhere does he mention that scholasticism was a tremendous effort to preserve, translate, organize, assimilate, and transmit antiquity’s store of learning—both pagan and Christian.…

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The author rather quickly passes on to a mistake often made by those who have but little study in the medieval period. He writes that Aquinas “proved” the existence of God. Although Aquinas used the word “proof” (demonstratio), he was not using the term as we understand it and would be the first to admit it. He was trying to set forth “reasons of convenience” to show how the truth of faith “accords” with and suits what we know from our own experience. If Aquinas had been trying to do what Clark asserts he was doing, then the “Angelic Doctor” could hardly have written, as he did: “This is the extreme of human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God”.… And, to leave the impression … that Aquinas was only a “laborious trifler” is dishonest.…

Professor Clark goes on to laugh slyly at that cute old story of those silly medievals sitting around discussing “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” (not the point of a needle), without understanding that the subject under consideration was not really laughable at all. He would be even more amused by the discussion which has been recorded as occurring in a monastery on the Italian peninsula. The principals there debated for some days on the topic “how many teeth hath horse.” In both cases, the scholastics were pursuing serious questions. In the former, they were attempting to come to grips with the problem of “spirit”: What is it? What may it be likened to? Is it diffused or localized? How may we understand it? To put the topic in more contemporary language, they were searching for a religious x-factor. So also serious was the discourse on “how many teeth hath horse.” They were not really concerned as to the number of cuspids in the mouth of equus.… What they sought was a definitive understanding of the nature of “species”.…


Assistant Professor of History

Nebraska Wesleyan University

Lincoln, Neb.

Mr. Currey’s letter contains some true and important observations. My title, “Fruits of the Reformation in Philosophy and Ethics” (not the editor’s in larger type), no doubt implies that I am at least superficially acquainted with medieval philosophy; yet it does not imply that I intended to write a history of it. Admittedly the article of fewer than 1,500 words is “studded with inadequacies” as to scholasticism. I am even willing to admit that it is inadequate as to the fruits of the Reformation.

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At the same time, what I wrote is, I believe, correct. When Mr. Currey tries to maintain that St. Thomas did not intend to “demonstrate” the existence of God, but was only giving “reasons of convenience,” I am reminded of Thomas’s remarks in De veritate Q. 10. Art. 12, and passim: “Some have said, as Rabbi Moses relates, that the fact God exists is not self-evident, nor reached through demonstrations, but only accepted on faith.… [This] opinion is obviously false, for we find that the existence of God has been proved by the philosophers with unimpeachable proofs.” Further documentation may be found in my history of philosophy, Thales to Dewey (pp. 272–74). See also Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially chapter 2. W. T. Jones also, in A History of Western Philosophy (I, 444), says that the Summa “is in fact a huge, logically organized structure of propositions, like a vast Euclid, in which the place of every proposition is determined by its logical relations to all the others.” Note that Euclid was not satisfied with “reasons of convenience.”

The same is true of Anselm as well. “Leaving Christ out of view, as if nothing had ever been heard of him. [Anselm’s argument] proves by absolute reasons [not only the existence of God, but even] the impossibility that any man should be saved without him.” He denies that his proof consists of aesthetic appreciation; he aims at rational proof, so as to convince one “unwilling to believe anything not previously proved by reason.”

Mr Currey says that I “laugh slyly at that cute old story” of angels dancing on the point of a needle. He assures us that it was not the point of a needle but the head of a pin. If Mr. Currey can show me the texts in which such a debate took place, I would be happy to see them. I admit my ignorance: I have not found any manuscript evidence that such a debate took place. As for the relation between spirits and space, and whether the Aristotelian form horse has teeth, these matters were not germane to my subject. Like so much else, therefore, they were omitted.

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Butler University Professor of Philosophy

Indianapolis, Ind.

More On The Social Struggle

During the past ten years I have been a faithful and avid reader of CHRISTIANITY TODAY and have been extremely benefitted by each issue.… “Evangelicals in the Social Struggle” (Oct. 8 issue) is a tremendous editorial and gives some answers that I feel the people of my church ought to have. I am wondering if this particular editorial has been, or will be, in a separate issue, such as a tract. If so, I would like to have fifty copies.…


First Brethren

Whittier, Calif.

• We regret that reprints are unavailable. But next spring a volume on Christianity and Current Concerns will include “Evangelicals in the Social Struggle” along with the editor’s Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary and other unpublished recent addresses.—ED.

I do not see any alternative whatsoever in what the evangelicals offer.

If I understand what the “evangelicals” are or pose to be, they are primarily an attempted resurrection of the defunct fundamentalist movement that has risen in the past fifty years or so, and which in turn was an attempt to revise decadent Calvinism and Reformism. It appears now that neo-evangelicalism is primarily a religious front for extremist rightist political and economic conservatism, rather than anything truly Christian.…


The Methodist Church

Kellerton, Iowa

For Tube-Watchers

Clowney’s contribution of counterpoint (“Sound and Fury: The New Year in Television,” Oct. 22 issue) should be more than eye-opening to tube-watchers. It calls us to discriminate viewing and discipline after dark.…


Mount Hermon United Church of Christ

Philadelphia, Pa.

The Case Against Pike

In reference to “Greek Philosophy or Biblical Truth?” (Oct. 8 issue), is the case against Bishop Pike to rest merely on the questionable exegesis of a biblical verse, his refusal to make an idol of certain formulations of theology, and a hermeneutics with which Politzer disagrees? Luther and Calvin would fall under the same condemnation, and so too would Dean Colet of St. Paul’s (d. 1519) and Richard Hooker (d. 1600). Do the Archbishops William Temple and Michael Ramsey belong to the Anglican tradition, the tradition of the Episcopal Church? If so, then why call Bishop Pike a deviationist? Does Politzer have any evidence that Bishop Pike has ever denied a belief in the Trinity or any other essentials of Christian belief? If so, let him state his case. In the meantime, a lot of us, fully aware that statements like the Athanasian Creed make no sense today, will keep trying to formulate the basic Christian beliefs in terms that our own people in a worshiping community can understand.

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The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

New York, N. Y.

Concerning Dr. Belford’s letter, it is acknowledged that many theologians can be charged with occasional questionable exegesis. But to base one’s whole program of theological reconstruction upon an erroneous interpretation of Scripture, as Bishop Pike does, is to build upon a foundation of sand. I disagree with his use of Aristotelian hermeneutics because I am unable to find one responsible biblical commentator who does agree with this unbiblical approach to the interpretation of Scripture.

For the Church to affirm that the doctrines of the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Incarnation, along with the Scriptures, creeds, sacraments, and apostolic ministry, are essential for her existence is not to make idols of any of these things. A chemist who affirms that oxygen is essential to the life process is not making an idol of that element. He is stating a simple fact that should be known by anyone who has any knowledge of the subject.

In a widely publicized sermon preached at the opening of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in St. Louis last fall, Bishop Pike referred to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as being “excess luggage” and an “outdated liturgical formula.” In contrast, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, in a sermon based on Second Corinthians 13:14 delivered this past spring in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, proclaimed the essential nature of the doctrine of the Trinity to the life and teaching of the Church. The late Archbishop William Temple delayed his ordination to the sacred ministry for two years until he could give full assent to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of our Lord. There is no doubt that the teaching of these two men belongs to the Anglican tradition and the tradition of the Episcopal Church. There is reason, however, to question the teaching of Bishop Pike.…


St. George’s Episcopal Church

Salinas, Calif.

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