Frame: Medieval Philosophy

Frame draws heavily from Leithart’s essay on medieval philosophy.  It is a standard treatment in many ways, starting with Boethius and ending with the nominalists.


Since we are temporal, this means we lose some of our being as time passes.  Not so with God (124).  Boethius takes the chain of being ontology and applies it to time.

His definition of person is problematic:  A person is an individual substance of a rational nature.  As Frame says, “If each person is a substance, then the whole Trinity is one substance and three substances” (125).


Standard summary of his arguments.  Tries to make him a presuppositionalist.  The best we can say is that Anselm presupposes the dogma of the church.   Within that he can use reason and not Scripture.

Towards Scholasticism: Avicenna, Maimonides, Averoes

Heavy influence of neo-Platonism.  Creation is seen as an eternal act of God, not an event in the beginning of time (141).


Standard treatment.  Quite fair to him.  Frame has a fascinating footnote on p.150.  Many traditional theologians say we can know the “who” of God, but not his essence.  Greek theologians denied we could know the essence because in Greek philosophy knowing was a form of dominatingAbsolute knowledge erases differance. One who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing.  Concept is domination.  Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.  

It is not surprising, then, that Christian theologians say we can’t know God’s essence.  We certainly cannot bring God under our domination as a thing.  But this raises a problem:  why is Christian discourse obligated to define knowledge this way?

Let’s completely disregard the above def. of knowledge.  Why not rather say with the better moments of the tradition that knowing presupposes–at least in some cases–a loving bond between subject and object?


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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7 Responses to Frame: Medieval Philosophy

  1. Cal says:

    Concerning your last comment:

    You can maintain both definitions. The knowledge-as-domination (is this a kind of Master-Slave dichotomy) is true, but the kind of knowledge we have of God is ‘through the Son’. Therefore, by grace, our knowledge fosters a loving bond. Thus we are not left with making gods or a complete silence.

    As for the relation that comes through knowledge of other people or other creations, I’d argue for a view towards an enspirited mediation between all things. But that’s another subject.

    And here’s a question from another post in this series:

    You mention Harnack and his acceptance and now rejection. Ok. Instead, can we talk about the difference between Hellenizing the Gospel vs. Evangelizing Hellenic thought? That’s the difference that modern critics of Arians and Origenists hold. Where are lines that you would draw? Is it chain-of-being? Substance metaphysics? Where would you argue the line be drawn?



    • JB Aitken says:

      ***You mention Harnack and his acceptance and now rejection. ***

      I think what I was trying to say is that early readers of Harnack posited such a thesis and it was dominant in academia.

      *** Ok. Instead, can we talk about the difference between Hellenizing the Gospel vs. Evangelizing Hellenic thought?***

      I think I understand what you are saying, but can you expand?


  2. Cal says:

    The difference is whether Gospel story pieces are fitted into a Hellenic philosophy or socio-cultural apparatus, or whether the Gospel utilizes and appropriate Hellenisms in its articulation. The difference, as I see it, between syncretism and inculturation.

    So instead of carpeting anyone who ever used Platonic diction as a Hellenic distorter (vis. von Harnack) or praising a kind of Platonic-Christian synthesis (Boersma drives me up the wall with this), there are shades of nuance. It’s a hard line to walk, and I was curious if you had particular ideas.

    This is a relevant question for us all. The Gospel inculturates, but syncretism is a betrayal. This is worthwhile for Americans/Westerners who lived “after Kant”, but also for the expanding Christian community in Africa and East Asia.


  3. SLIMJIM says:

    Was there a particular essay by Leithart you had in mind? I read little of Leithart but I find him at times odd and sometimes quite insightful.


  4. JB Aitken says:

    It’s an excellent description of post-medieval Protestantism. It is about as opposite from medievalism as one can imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

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