Medieval Philosophy, Barbarians and cultural change.

“It remains, then, a historical fact that “barbarian” peoples made themselves at home in a house they had not themselves built.  And this fact makes more comprehensible an otherwise troublesome discord which from the very beginning–especially at the beginning–characterized medieval philosophy.  Hegel, in spite of the summary haste of his survey, made a very penetrating remark concerning this: “The chief element in the Middle Ages is this division, this duality: two nations, two languages.  We see peoples who had previously ruled, who had previously rounded off their own world, their own language, their arts and sciences; and we see the new nations settling down upon this alien foundation.  Thus these new nations began with a serious cleavage within themselves.  Thus Hegel explains the aspect of scholasticism which so alientated him, the “total confusion of dry reason in the gnarledness of the Nordic-Germanic nature.”  Upon that Germanic nature, he continues, “the infinite truth of the spirit weighed like a ponderous stone whose tremendous pressure it could only feel but not digest” during those centuries.  It is false, and demonstrably false, that the “stone” could not be digested.  But on the other hand it is true that the incorporation of something not sprung from native soil, the acquisition of both a foreign vocabulary and a different mode of thinking, the assimilation of a tremendous body of existing thought–that all that was in fact the problem  which confronted medieval philosophy at its beginnings, and which it had to master.  In the very act of mastering it, medieval philosophy acquired its own character” (Josef Pieper, Scholasticism, p. 21-22).

Von Balthasar on Soloviev: The meaning of Dostoevsky’s “beauty will save the world”

From the very beginning, Soloviev wanted to complete his theosophy with a universal aesthetics. He prefaced his essay on natural aesthetics with Dostoyevsky’s dictum that “beauty will save the world.” The Critique of Abstract Principles had proclaimed that ‘the realization of pan-unity in its external actuality is absolute beauty’, so it is as little something ‘given’ as is ‘pan-unity’ itself; it is a task assigned to humanity, and human art is a vehicle of its realisation. Soloviev promises to develop, at the end of his work, ‘the common axioms and rules of this great and mysterious art that brings all beings in the form of beauty’. According to another declaration, the sphere of aesthetic realisation should be divided into three areas: the material (technology), the formal (the ‘fine arts’) and the absolute (mysticism). For Soloviev, however, mysticism is not only passive devotion to the divine or direct contact with it; it also is the active art of bringing the divine from Heaven to earth, and, in this sense, ‘theurgy’—it is concerned, that is, with the realisations of the ideal: this is why Soloviev becomes a bitter opponent of classical idealist aesthetics, according to which beauty is allowed to be ‘only’ appearance, not reality, only an illusory reflection, not even a true promise or foretaste. ‘An infinity that existed solely for an instant would be an unbearable contradiction for the spirit; a bliss existing only in the past would be a torture for the will.’ Continue reading “Von Balthasar on Soloviev: The meaning of Dostoevsky’s “beauty will save the world””


“George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) opposed Rousseau’s and Kant’s separation of reason and morality from the lawfulness of nature and tried to reintegrate them into a whole. In Reason in History he argues that history or the totality of the real is completely rational. The real is rational; the rational is the real. History is the rational process by which the Absolute Spirit (God) externalizes himself into nature and human history in a dialectical progress (of thesis [seed], antithesis [negation of seed and growth of sprout], and synthesis [flower]). In the dialectical unfolding of history the subjective spirit of laws, customs, and organizational structures mediate the representation or manifestations of the Absolute Spirit in the forms of Religion, Art, the State, and Philosophy until there emerges the final realization of the state of universal freedom. This growth starts in the orient where only one (the emperor) is free, to the Greek polis in which some citizens are free while the many are slaves, through the Roman republic, down to the Protestant and Lutheran form of Christianity and the French Revolution in which the need for all to be free is so brought to public awareness that it can be actually achieved in the German state of Hegel’s time. Hegel calls history a slaughter-bench. This means that by what he calls “the cunning of reason,” individuals motivated irrationally by their passions and interests, along with world-historical individuals like Caesar and Napoleon, cause terrific bloodshed in bringing about the end of history (universal freedom) of which only the philosopher Hegel has a comprehensive understanding” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).