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Quodlibets, Or Scholastic Disquisitions
by [?]

The scholastic questions were called Questiones Quodlibeticae; and they were generally so ridiculous that we have retained the word Quodlibet in our vernacular style, to express anything ridiculously subtile; something which comes at length to be distinguished into nothingness,

“With all the rash dexterity of wit.”

The history of the scholastic philosophy furnishes an instructive theme; it enters into the history of the human mind, and fills a niche in our literary annals. The works of the scholastics, with the debates of these Quodlibetarians, at once show the greatness and the littleness of the human intellect; for though they often degenerate into incredible absurdities, those who have examined the works of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus have confessed their admiration of the Herculean texture of brain which they exhausted in demolishing their aerial fabrics.

The following is a slight sketch of the school divinity.

The christian doctrines in the primitive ages of the gospel were adapted to the simple comprehension of the multitude; metaphysical subtilties were not even employed by the Fathers, of whom several are eloquent. The Homilies explained, by an obvious interpretation, some scriptural point, or inferred, by artless illustration, some moral doctrine. When the Arabians became the only learned people, and their empire extended over the greater part of the known world, they impressed their own genius on those nations with whom they were allied as friends, or reverenced as masters. The Arabian genius was fond of abstruse studies; it was highly metaphysical and mathematical, for the fine arts their religion did not permit them to cultivate; and the first knowledge which modern Europe obtained of Euclid and Aristotle was through the medium of Latin translations of Arabic versions. The Christians in the west received their first lessons from the Arabians in the east; and Aristotle, with his Arabic commentaries, was enthroned in the schools of Christendom.

Then burst into birth, from the dark cave of metaphysics, a numerous and ugly spawn of monstrous sects; unnatural children of the same foul mother, who never met but for mutual destruction. Religion became what is called the study of Theology; and they all attempted to reduce the worship of God into a system! and the creed into a thesis! Every point relating to religion was debated through an endless chain of infinite questions, incomprehensible distinctions, with differences mediate and immediate, the concrete and the abstract, a perpetual civil war carried on against common sense in all the Aristotelian severity. There existed a rage for Aristotle; and Melancthon complains that in sacred assemblies the ethics of Aristotle were read to the people instead of the gospel. Aristotle was placed a-head of St. Paul; and St. Thomas Aquinas in his works distinguishes him by the title of “The Philosopher;” inferring, doubtless, that no other man could possibly be a philosopher who disagreed with Aristotle. Of the blind rites paid to Aristotle, the anecdotes of the Nominalists and Realists are noticed in the article “Literary Controversy” in this work.

Had their subtile questions and perpetual wranglings only been addressed to the metaphysician in his closet, and had nothing but strokes of the pen occurred, the scholastic divinity would only have formed an episode in the calm narrative of literary history; but it has claims to be registered in political annals, from the numerous persecutions and tragical events with which they too long perplexed their followers, and disturbed the repose of Europe. The Thomists, and the Scotists, the Occamites, and many others, soared into the regions of mysticism.

Peter Lombard had laboriously compiled, after the celebrated Abelard’s “Introduction to Divinity,” his four books of “Sentences,” from the writings of the Fathers; and for this he is called “The Master of Sentences.” These Sentences, on which we have so many commentaries, are a collection of passages from the Fathers, the real or apparent contradictions of whom he endeavours to reconcile. But his successors were not satisfied to be mere commentators on these “sentences,” which they now only made use of as a row of pegs to hang on their fine-spun metaphysical cobwebs. They at length collected all these quodlibetical questions into enormous volumes, under the terrifying form, for those who have seen them, of Summaries of Divinity! They contrived, by their chimerical speculations, to question the plainest truths; to wrest the simple meaning of the Holy Scriptures, and give some appearance of truth to the most ridiculous and monstrous opinions.