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Quodlibets, Or Scholastic Disquisitions
by [?]

The motion of an angel is a succession of his different operations.

His motion may be continuous and discontinuous as he will.

The continuous motion of an angel is necessary through every medium, but may be discontinuous without a medium.

The velocity of the motion of an angel is not according to the quantity of his strength, but according to his will.

The motion of the illumination of an angel is threefold, or circular, straight, and oblique.

In this account of the motion of an angel we are reminded of the beautiful description of Milton, who marks it by a continuous motion,

“Smooth-sliding without step.”

The reader desirous of being merry with Aquinas’s angels may find them in Martinus Scriblerus, in Ch. VII. who inquires if angels pass from one extreme to another without going through the middle? And if angels know things more clearly in a morning? How many angels can dance on the point of a very fine needle, without jostling one another?

All the questions in Aquinas are answered with a subtlety of distinction more difficult to comprehend and remember than many problems in Euclid; and perhaps a few of the best might still be selected for youth as curious exercises of the understanding. However, a great part of these peculiar productions are loaded with the most trifling, irreverent, and even scandalous discussions. Even Aquinas could gravely debate, Whether Christ was not an hermaphrodite? Whether there are excrements in Paradise? Whether the pious at the resurrection will rise with their bowels? Others again debated–Whether the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the shape of a serpent, of a dove, of a man, or of a woman? Did he seem to be young or old? In what dress was he? Was his garment white or of two colours? Was his linen clean or foul? Did he appear in the morning, noon, or evening? What was the colour of the Virgin Mary’s hair? Was she acquainted with the mechanic and liberal arts? Had she a thorough knowledge of the Book of Sentences, and all it contains? that is, Peter Lombard’s compilation from the works of the Fathers, written 1200 years after her death.–But these are only trifling matters: they also agitated, Whether when during her conception the Virgin was seated, Christ too was seated; and whether when she lay down, Christ also lay down? The following question was a favourite topic for discussion, and the acutest logicians never resolved it: “When a hog is carried to market with a rope tied about his neck, which is held at the other end by a man, whether is the hog carried to market by the rope or the man?

In the tenth century[1], after long and ineffectual controversy about the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, they at length universally agreed to sign a peace. This mutual forbearance must not, however, be ascribed to the prudence and virtue of those times. It was mere ignorance and incapacity of reasoning which kept the peace, and deterred them from entering into debates to which they at length found themselves unequal!

Lord Lyttleton, in his Life of Henry II., laments the unhappy effects of the scholastic philosophy on the progress of the human mind. The minds of men were turned from classical studies to the subtilties of school divinity, which Rome encouraged, as more profitable for the maintenance of her doctrines. It was a great misfortune to religion and to learning, that men of such acute understandings as Abelard and Lombard, who might have done much to reform the errors of the church, and to restore science in Europe, should have depraved both, by applying their admirable parts to weave those cobwebs of sophistry, and to confound the clear simplicity of evangelical truths, by a false philosophy and a captious logic.


[Footnote 1: Jortin’s Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. v. p. 17.]