The Main Controversies of Medieval Thought in the 12th and 13th Centuries
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a time of great controversy for medieval scholars. New systems of thought were being developed and implemented that challenged the accepted teachings of the church. Some fought to preserve tradition, others fought to destroy it, while still others sought to find a common ground between the two. The greatest controversy of the times, it can be said, was that of faith and reason. Most philosophical debate revolved around these and to a lesser extent the opposition of realists and nominalists on the question of universals. The type of philosophy that was being taught in the Christian schools of the time has been given the name of scholasticism. Scholastics shared a common respect for the ideas of Aristotle, Plato, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Avicenna. These were referred to by scholastics as the "authorities". The views of the time were mainly Augustinian and Platonic although certain developments brought radical new ideas into contact with a fixed Christian dogma that was bound to oppose them. Whether a synthesis between them was possible remained to be seen.
Possibly the single-most important event of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries for medieval thinkers was the introduction of new translations of Aristotle's works. The new translations were the products of work done by Arabic scholars. Up to that point Christendom knew only of Aristotle's Logic. It had been widely accepted and was widely respected which meant the new works held great weight. The new translations provided a coherent view of the world that now challenged traditional views. On top of the controversy aroused by the works themselves, they were accompanied by the commentaries of non-Christian Arabic scholars holding unorthodox opinions. The excitement incited by the works was accompanied by a deep concern within the church over the effects of their assimilation.
Among the Arabic commentators was Averroës. The multi-talented Islamic philosopher would become known as the commentator and interpreter of Aristotle. Averroës had written the commentaries in response to a request from his ruler. His commentaries are very numerous and their effect on the Christian philosophical world immeasurable. In his personal philosophies he arrived at the conclusion that the two truths of faith and reason were irreconcilable.
Maimonides was at the same time an orthodox Jew and a firm adherent to Aristotelian philosophy. He was therefore in the same position as his Christian counterparts, particularly Thomas Aquinas, and faced the problem of combining the two. The result of his meditations on the issue is expressed in his Guide of the Perplexed, which appeared in approximately 1190. Maimonides stated that since God was responsible for the existence of both faith and reason the two must never be contradictory. Any semblance of contradiction between the two is therefore the...