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Synthesis Of Philosophy And Theology

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Throughout the early medieval period, many writers dealt with philosophical topics in an unsystematic way that did not clearly distinguish philosophy from theology. Early Christian thought tends to be based on Plato, who emphasized intuitive and mystical beliefs and was less contingent on reason and logical argument. This prevailed until the recovery of Aristotle, who offered more systematized and logical theories. Philosophy transformed into a progressively specialized discipline, entrenched in religious and educational institutions. This transformation results in philosophy and theology synthesizing with one another; both become more systematic, meticulous, and thought-provoking. It would not be an embellishment to claim that medieval philosophy invented the philosophy of religion.

Boethius: Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will

Arguably, Boethius’ most considerable influence is that he made available ideas and arguments deriving from Plato and Aristotle in the Latin West. He intended to translate all the works of Aristotle and Plato from the original Greek into Latin and wrote several commentaries on these works. It was in these commentaries where Boethius introduces the synthesis of philosophy and theology. As a result, he is one of the primary sources for the importation of ancient Greek philosophy to the Latin West during the early medieval period.

For Boethius, it was especially essential to reconcile free will with divine foreknowledge: if God knows actions or events in advance, then that action or event is inevitable, and thus there is no free will to do otherwise. Boethius devised an original solution to this problem: God stands outside of time and thus can examine the timeline of events and actions at once; this does not constrain our free choices. This solution also introduces Boethius’ distinctive conception of God’s eternality. From this argument, Boethius introduces two theories of eternality: endless existence within time and existence unconstrained by time. When addressing the first theory, attribution of eternality means that at any point in time, God existed or will exist. The implication is that time constrains God, along with everything in the world. The second notion of eternality, which Boethius stands behind, moves God entirely outside of the constraints of time, and suggests that time does not apply to God. With this view of God’s eternality, the conflict between foreknowledge and free will does not exist. God does not foresee future actions by viewing them on a limited timeline. Instead, he examines the entire timeline at once, which includes free will choices within moments that one makes them.

Boethius employs a systematic, rational, and philosophical approach to resolving the conflict between divine foreknowledge and free will by introducing the concept of God’s attribute of eternality. Boethius’ importance as a philosopher resulted in the commencement of the synthesis of philosophy and theology throughout the medieval period. He demonstrates his strength as an individual and original thinker, though he still falls victim to some of the mysticism that was popular throughout this time. His synthesis of philosophy and theology may be seen as rudimentary by modern standards, but he initiated the use of philosophical reasoning and argumentation in theology.

Abelard: Morality of Intentions

Following from Boethius, Abelard’s writings influenced the synthesis of philosophy and theology over the developing Scholasticism in the large cities of Europe during this period. His writings on ethics put an unprecedented and robust emphasis on the role of the agent’s intention rather than outward actions.

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Abelard argues that the agent’s intention alone determines the morality of an action. He further develops that human happiness is attained through seeking and developing virtue but is not attainable by human means alone; God’s grace and love is necessary. Since it is a requirement that human virtue understands and demonstrates love, we are prepared to receive and accept this grace. Therefore, true happiness is the spiritual harmony that comes with the continual love and understanding of God. One must intend to do what one believes shows the love of God and neighbor, and these beliefs must be correct.

Abelard’s method influenced the synthesis of philosophy and theology over the developing Scholasticism in the large cities of Europe during this period. The competing clerical orders within the church began to clash over the intellectual and political control of these centers of education and religious occupants.

Thomas Aquinas: Relation Between Faith, Reason and the Trinity

Thomas Aquinas further strengthened the trend to increase the use of philosophical reasoning and argumentation in theology. He defended the use of reason in matters of faith, and his systematic treatment of religious doctrines are remarkable for their philosophical insight and detail. His theories came to define Catholic philosophy through his synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine, though he never considered himself a philosopher. Aquinas placed faith secondary to reason and argumentation. This was a significant departure from the mystical Neoplatonic thinking that had dominated much of early Scholasticism. The specific canon of this earlier period was that reason is appropriate in its proper context, but it should never replace the religiously subjective element of faith. Aquinas demonstrated how it was possible to incorporate much of the philosophy of Aristotle within the religious doctrine, which gave way to a more rationalistic approach that emerged within Scholasticism. The goal of Scholasticism was to systematically bring philosophy into discourse with theology through a precise methodology. Through critical analysis, rationally informed answers to philosophically religious questions would emerge.

Aquinas’ philosophy rests on a relationship between faith and reason. For a religious believer, faith in God and scripture is necessary and fundamental. However, many basic religious truths, such as God’s existence, can be proven without faith and through reason alone. Truths that are accessible through reason alone include the certainties that God exists, and God is one. Truths that are accessible only through faith involve doctrines like the Trinity, which are learned about in scripture and are fundamental to the Christian faith. Aquinas’ definition of the Trinity is that God is one though the doctrine also states that there are three distinct identities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By distinct, Aquinas means that each person of the Trinity is distinct from each other, but each person is not distinct from God.

Discussions of the Trinity were prevalent throughout the medieval period, containing several significant disputes as to the unity or divisibility of the parts. These disputes often resulted in the condemnation of the authors whose views strayed too far from orthodox writings or traditionally accepted beliefs. Aquinas’ synthesis of logical argumentation based on reason and faith in orthodox scripture resulted in a successful reconciliation of religious controversies. Aquinas’ writings fully embodied the scholastic approach and further propelled the use of philosophy and theology in tandem.

In conclusion, the evolution of philosophy and theology changed drastically throughout the medieval period. Argumentation and logic became a pillar on which philosophers and theologians alike implemented to discuss theories and beliefs. Beginning with Boethius’ integration of Plato and Aristotle, philosophy homogenized with theology. Abelard influenced scholastic writers to refine and develop logic based on Aristotle. The rise of scholasticism with Aquinas further integrated philosophic thinking into discussing religious doctrines. Many of the issues and ways of thinking that developed during the Medieval era forms that are still prevalent today.

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Synthesis Of Philosophy And Theology. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Synthesis Of Philosophy And Theology.” Edubirdie, 24 Feb. 2022,
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