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THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW WEST

Following the reign of the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire began to disintegrate. As described in the last chapter, by the time of Diocletion the empire had already been divided to the extent that it was ruled by two emperors one in the East and one in the West. Gradually they became two distinct cultures. Karen Armstrong in A History of God made a point often overlooked by others, that Augustine was the first philosopher of the new West. This represents an important break from the Greek tradition. Neither Plato nor Aristotle had been translated into Latin and Augustine could read no Greek. His Platonism was derived from Latin translations most likely of Plotinus and Porphyry, probably by the Neo-Platonist Victoreenus. This resulted in an important change in temperament as illustrated clearly in the antagonism between their answers to one thorny problem that has always haunted Christianity. What was the nature of Christ? Was he man or was he God? The problem first came to a head in 321. An Alexandrian preacher named Arius asked; How could Jesus Christ have been God in the same way as God the father? He agreed that Jesus was God, he even called him strong God and full God, but at the same time he argued that it was blasphemous to think that he was divine by nature. His ideas caught on, probably because of his personal charisma. His bishop, Alexander, immediately reacted as did the bishop's assistant Athanasius. The controversy heated up till it caught the attention of the Emperor Constantine who summoned a synod at Nicea. At that time there was no orthodox position on the subject and nothing in the Bible to settle the question.

Underlying the problem was the idea shared by all of the antagonists that God created the world out of nothing (the generally accepted modern versions of the bible say that he created the world out of the primordial chaos). Thus a vast chasm existed between God and his creation. On which side of that Chasm was Christ? Either he belonged to the divine realm, or he belonged to the created order. The Logos, Arius said, had been the instrument God used to call other creatures into existence. This meant that it was entirely different from all other creatures. It also meant that it was different from God itself. But John had made it clear that Jesus was the Logos. The Logos was God, yet it was not God by nature. The very fact that Jesus called God his "Father" implied a paternal distinction.

Athanasius, on the other hand, saw the problem in an entirely different light. It was only by participating in God, through his Logos, that man could avoid annihilation because God was perfect being. If the Logos was a vulnerable creature he would not be able to save mankind from extinction. This Logos who had descended into the world of death and corruption gave man a share of immortality. The Logos that was made flesh therefore had to be of the same nature as the Father. In spite of the philosophical problems involved Athanasius won and the synod decided in his favor. This, however, did little to reduce the controversy.

The Logos in Greek philosophy was the unchanging reality that lay behind the Hericlitean flux, the essence of the perfect forms of Plato. Thus it was divine and eternal, the knowledge from which the Creator was to copy when he fashioned the universe. It is a separate world from the sensual world of things that exist. The Eastern view of God as ineffable reality is close to this concept. thus to an Eastern Christian it made sense that the Logos, Christ was of the same nature as God. However, when we apply pure philosophy as Augustine and the Western Christians had begun to do then the Logos becomes the vehicle of divine illumination, the messenger from God bringing salvation to man. Of course these ideas touch on theology which is not part of this study so we won't go into details which are probably controversial anyway. But it is the general view that I am attempting to show that separated, and still separates, the Eastern church from the western.

The differences in outlook between the newly developing west and the old traditional east becomes even more obvious when we compare the Trinitarian views of the two cultures. First the concepts put forward by Gregory of Nyssa, who exemplifies the Eastern view. The hypostases Father, Son and Spirit, he said, should not be identified with God because the divine nature is unmanageable and unspeakable. As a result, Father, Son, and Spirit are only names we use to refer to the ways he has made himself known to us. The idea that there are three Gods is absurd. Every operation of the Father originates in God, is made effective in the world through Spirit and proceeds to man through the Son. It is based on an attitude about God held by the East that was not shared by the West. That God is ineffable being and thus cannot be known directly. Being only a mystical experience, the Trinity had to be lived, not thought. It was not a logical or intellectual formulation.

Augustine's logical approach was not always accepted by later philosophers and theologians. However, it does illustrate the growing western tradition clearly. The bible states that God made man in his image. Therefore we should be able, by looking internally, to find an image of God as a spiritual presence. We should find too, that this spiritual manifestation must be an image of his external manifestation. This meant that we must find within ourselves a trinity whereby we can understand the external trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. Out of this he developed his Trinitarian theory of mind. To begin with, he said, if we consider the mind loving itself we see a duality, love and mind. But only a mind that is aware of itself can love. This awareness is what we call consciousness, and consciousness of ourselves is the beginning of certainty. The experience of doubting our own existence is the basis of our awareness of ourselves. As long as we know ourselves to exist we can then proceed to an examination of ourselves.

Memory, understanding and will, Augustine said, the three properties of the soul, correspond to knowledge, self-knowledge, and love. As an image of the three divine persons, they are essentially one mental activity since they do not constitute three different minds. "I remember that I possess memory understanding and will; I understand that I understand, will, and remember; I will my own willing and remembering and understanding." This is just as it is with the three persons of the divine trinity. The distinction may seem subtle, yet if you ponder the differences a bit you will realize that it amounts to the difference between an ineffable mystery and a clear understanding. This difference in temperament remains to this day as the major antagonism between Western and Eastern Christianity.

I brought out this information here rather than in the last chapter because I want to emphasize the drastic break that came to a head as the Vandals sacked Rome at the time of the death of Augustine. Following the fall of the Roman empire, the church was primarily interested in the conversion of the pagans, and the preservation of Christian writings. At the same time, with the stability of Pax Romana a faint memory, Christianity remained the only stable structure in European society. What learning there was amounted to the preservation of the classical and scriptural texts in the monasteries. One of the few notable exceptions was Manlius Boethius, who lived in Ostrogoth Italy at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century. Even while an official under King Theodoric, he still maintained contact with Byzantium (the East) which eventually landed him in prison. Aside from a number of theological texts which we are not concerned with here, he was the first to translate Plato and at least some of the Aristotelian logical books into Latin. He was not an original thinker. What is important for our study is that he reintroduced Aristotelian logical concepts into the medieval world. Aristotle's works, lost to the west for a considerable period, were kept alive only by Arab philosophers, primarily Nestorian Christians in Syria.

Other than the introduction of Aristotle's logic into medieval thought, the most important effect of Boethius was his stand on universals. This, though based on a distortion of Aristotelian thought, originally came from Porphyry's Isagoge, which served as an introduction to his Greek edition of the Categories of Aristotle. The question Porphyry brought up but did not discuss was whether genera and species subsist in themselves or only in our minds. Substances, or what it is we can talk about, as Aristotle taught, included things that exist like men and trees, but the category also included (in an Aristotelian sense as secondary substances) inductive generalizations like man or vegetable. In a real sense the question would be incomprehensible to Aristotle. However, much of the Aristotle that was known to the typical theologian of the early middle ages was derived from Neo-Platonist texts and was highly Platonized.and Philosophically questionable. The problem of universals, at least as it was understood by theologians of the early middle ages, had great significance for theology. If, for example, the idea of 'man', meaning the human race, is only a name, the attitude held by one extreme set of antagonists, what is it that causes all men to be such? If, on the other hand, the idea of 'man' represents something real in itself, as was claimed by the other extreme, then how are individual men related to this existing idea of 'man'? Those who affirmed that universals were real were called realists, those who considered them merely names were called nominalists. It seems that during the medieval period there was an entire scale of positions from one extreme to the other. There were good reasons why it was so important for the church. Extreme realism led to Pantheism, or the idea that God was the entire universe. On the other hand, extreme realism simplified the problem of the transmission of original sin. Not only that but it lent support to the idea that the church was a celestial reality. Extreme nominalism led to the belief that the church was simply the totality of believers. It posed real problems regarding a theory of knowledge, particularly of the source of common knowledge, and it made explaining the transmission of original sin very difficult. Boethius said at one point that universals corresponded to the forms of Plato. On the other hand in his comments on Porphyry's Isogoge he explained them as inductive generalizations, a traditional Aristotelian viewpoint. This led future scholars to claim that he vacillated on the issue and tended to keep the controversy alive.

Other than Boethius, who was not an original thinker, there was very little philosophy practiced in the west during the early middle ages. One eastern philosophical writer of the period wrote under the name Dionysus the Aeropagite, in an attempt to give the impression that he was the first disciple of the apostle Paul. He evidently got away with it for some time. Today he is known as Pseudo-Dionysus. He pictured, in a typically Neo-Platonist fashion, a hierarchically ordered world where all things come from god and lead to him. God is the one, the absolute, he transcends every category of human thought. Since god is beyond essence, he is not, but everything that is derives their being from him. He developed a detailed hierarchy of divine intellects. Although, as you can see, his ideas were much closer to those of the eastern church than the western, he was studied closely by many western theologians. His ideas appear again in the works of Thomas Aquinas.