Thomas Aquinas, in a strange and rather symbolic manner, sprang out

of the very centre of the civilised world of his time; the central knot

or coil of the powers then controlling Christendom. He was closely

connected with all of them; even with some of them that might well be

described as destroying Christendom. The whole religious quarrel,

the whole international quarrel, was for him, a family quarrel.

He was born in the purple, almost literally on the hem of the

imperial purple; for his own cousin was the Holy Roman Emperor. He could

have quartered half the kingdoms of Europe on his shield--

if he had not thrown away the shield. He was Italian and French

and German and in every way European. On one side, he inherited

from the energy that made the episode of the Normans, whose strange

organising raids rang and rattled like flights of arrows in the corners

of Europe and the ends of the earth; one flight of them following

Duke William far northward through the blinding snows to Chester;

another treading in Greek and Punic footsteps through the island

of Sicily to the gates of Syracuse. Another bond of blood bound him to

the great Emperors of the Rhine and Danube who claimed to wear the crown

of Charlemagne; Red Barbarossa, who sleeps under the rushing river,

was his great uncle, and Frederick II, the Wonder of the World,

his second cousin, and yet he held by a hundred more intimate ties

to the lively inner life, the local vivacity, the little walled

nations and the thousand shrines of Italy. While inheriting this

physical kinship with the Emperor, he maintained far more firmly

his spiritual kinship with the Pope. He understood the meaning

of Rome, and in what sense it was still ruling the world;

and was not likely to think that the German Emperors of his times

any more than the Greek Emperors of a previous time, would be able

to be really Roman in defiance of Rome. To this cosmopolitan

comprehensiveness in his inherited position, he afterwards added

many things of his own, that made for mutual understanding among

the peoples, and gave him something of the character of an ambassador

and interpreter. He travelled a great deal; he was not only

well known in Paris and the German universities, but he almost

certainly visited England; probably he went to Oxford and London;

and it has been said that we may be treading in the footsteps of him

and his Dominican companions, whenever we go down by the river

to the railway-station that still bears the name of Black-friars. But

the truth applies to the travels of his mind as well as his body.

He studied the literature even of the opponents of Christianity

much more carefully and impartially than was then the fashion;

he really tried to understand the Arabian Aristotelianism of the Moslems;

and wrote a highly humane and reasonable treatise on the problem of

the treatment of the Jews. He always attempted to look at everything

from the inside; but he was certainly lucky in having been born

in the inside of the state system and the high politics of his day.

What he thought of them may perhaps be inferred from the next passage

in his history.

St. Thomas might thus stand very well for the International Man,

to borrow the title of a modern book. But it is only fair to remember

that he lived in the International Age; in a world that was international

in a sense not to be suggested in any modern book, or by any modern man.

If I remember right, the modern candidate for the post of

International Man was Cobden, who was an almost abnormally national man.

a narrowly national man; a very fine type, but one which can hardly

be imagined except as moving between Midhurst and Manchester. He had

an international policy and he indulged in international travel;

but if he always remained a national person, it was because he remained

a normal person; that is normal to the nineteenth century. But it was not

so in the thirteenth century. There a man of international influence,

like Cobden, could be also almost a man of international nationality.

The names of nations and cities and places of origin did not

connote that deep division that is the mark of the modern world.

Aquinas as a student was nicknamed the ox of Sicily, though his birthplace

was near Naples, but this did not prevent the city of Paris regarding

him as simply and solidly as a Parisian, because he had been a glory

of the Sorbonne, that it proposed to bury his bones when he was dead.

Or take a more obvious contrast with modern times. Consider what is

meant in most modern talk by a German Professor. And then realise

that the greatest of all German Professors, Albertus Magnus, was himself

one of the glories of the University of Paris; and it was in Paris

that Aquinas supported him. Think of the modern German Professor being

famous throughout Europe for his popularity when lecturing in Paris.

Thus, if there was war in Christendom, it was international war

in the special sense in which we speak of international peace.

It was not the war of two nations; but the war of two internationalisms:

of two World States: the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire.

The political crisis in Christendom affected the life of Aquinas at

the start in one sharp disaster, and afterwards in many indirect ways.

It had many elements; the Crusades; the embers of the Albigensian

pessimism over which St. Dominic had triumphed in argument and Simon

de Montfort in arms; the dubious experiment of an Inquisition

which started from it; and many other things. But, broadly speaking,

it is the period of the great duel between the Popes and the Emperors,

that is the German Emperors who called themselves Holy Roman Emperors,

the House of Hohenstaufen. The particular period of the life

of Aquinas, however, is entirely overshadowed by the particular

Emperor who was himself more an Italian than a German; the brilliant

Frederick II who was called the Wonder of the World. It may be reminded,

in passing, that Latin was the most living of languages at this time,

and we often feel a certain weakness in the necessary translation.

For I seem to have read somewhere that the word used was stronger

than the Wonder of the World; that his medieval title was Stupor Mundi,

which is more exactly the Stupefaction of the World. Something of

the sort may be noted later of philosophical language, and the weakness

of translating a word like Ens by a word like Being. But for the moment

the parenthesis has another application; for it might well be said

that Frederick did indeed stupefy the world; that there was something

stunning and blinding about the blows he struck at religion, as in

that blow which almost begins the biography of Thomas Aquinas. He may

also be called stupefying in another sense; in that his very brilliancy

has made some of his modern admirers very stupid.

For Frederick II is the first figure, and that a rather fierce

and ominous figure, who rides across the scene of his cousin's

birth and boyhood: a scene of wild fighting and of fire.

And it may be allowable to pause for a parenthesis upon his name,

for two particular reasons: first that his romantic reputation,

even among modern historians, covers and partly conceals the true

background of the times and second that the tradition in question

directly involves the whole status of St Thomas Aquinas. The nineteenth

century view, still so strangely called the modern view by many moderns,

touching such a man as Frederick II was well summed up by some

solid Victorian, I think by Macaulay; Frederick was "a statesman

in an age of Crusaders; a philosopher in an age of monks."

It may be noted that the antithesis invokes the assumption that

a Crusader cannot easily be a statesman; and that a monk cannot

easily be a philosopher. Yet, to take only that special instance,

it would be easy to point out that the cases of two famous men

in the age of Frederick II would alone be strong enough to upset

both the assumption and the antithesis. St. Louis, though a Crusader

and even an unsuccessful Crusader, was really a far more successful

statesman than Frederick II. By the test of practical politics,

he popularised, solidified and sanctified the most powerful government

in Europe, the order and concentration of the French Monarchy;

the single dynasty that steadily increased its strength for five

hundred years up to the glories of the Grand Siecle whereas

Frederick went down in ruin before the Papacy and the Republics

and a vast combination of priests and peoples. The Holy Roman Empire

he wished to found was an ideal rather in the sense of a dream;

it was certainly never a fact like the square and solid State

which the French statesman did found. Or, to take another example

from the next generation, one of the most strictly practical

statesmen in history, our own Edward I, was also a Crusader.

The other half of the antithesis is even more false and here even

more relevant. Frederick II was not a philosopher in the age of monks.

He was a gentleman dabbling in philosophy in the age of the monk

Thomas Aquinas. He was doubtless an intelligent and even

brilliant gentleman; but if he did leave any notes on the nature

of Being and Becoming, or the precise sense in which realities

can be relative to Reality, I do not imagine those notes are

now exciting undergraduates at Oxford or literary men in Paris,

let alone the little groups of Thomists who have already

sprung up even in New York and Chicago. It is no disrespect

to the Emperor to say that he certainly was not a philosopher

in the sense in which Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher,

let alone so great or so universal or so permanent a philosopher.

And Thomas Aquinas lived in that very age of monks, and in that very

world of monks, which Macaulay talks of as if it were incapable

of producing philosophy.

We need not dwell on the causes of this Victorian prejudice,

which some still think so well advanced. It arose mainly

from one narrow or insular notion; that no man could possibly

be building up the best of the modern world, if he went with

the main movement of the medieval world. These Victorians

thought that only the heretic had ever helped humanity;

only the man who nearly wrecked medieval civilisation

could be of any use in constructing modern civilisation.

Hence came a score of comic fables; as that the cathedrals

must have been built by a secret society of Freemasons;

or that the epic of Dante must be a cryptogram referring

to the political hopes of Garibaldi. But the generalisation

is not in its nature probable and it is not in fact true.

This medieval period was rather specially the period of communal

or corporate thinking, and in some matters it was really

rather larger than the individualistic modern thinking.

This could be proved in a flash from the mere fact of the use

of the word 'statesman'. To a man of Macaulay's period,

a statesman always meant a man who maintained the more narrow

national interests of his own state against other states,

as Richelieu maintained those of France, or Chatham of England,

or Bismarck of Prussia. But if a man actually wanted

to defend all these states, to combine all these states,

to make a living brotherhood of all these states, to resist

some outer peril as from the Mongolian millions--then that

poor devil, of course, could not really be called a statesman.

He was only a Crusader.

In this way it is but fair to Frederick II to say that he was a Crusader;

if he was also rather like an Anti-Crusader. Certainly he was

an international statesman. Indeed he was a particular type,

which may be called an international soldier. The international

soldier is always very much disliked by internationalists.

They dislike Charlemagne and Charles V and Napoleon; and everybody who

tried to create the World State for which they cry aloud day and night.

But Frederick is more dubious and less doubted; he was supposed to be

the head of the Holy Roman Empire; and accused of wanting to be the head

of a very Unholy Roman Empire. But even if he were Antichrist,

he would still be a witness to the unity of Christendom.

Nevertheless, there is a queer quality in that time;

which, while it was international was also internal

and intimate. War, in the wide modern sense, is possible,

not because more men disagree, but because more men agree.

Under the peculiarly modern coercions, such as Compulsory Education

and Conscription, there are such very large peaceful areas,

that they can all agree upon War. In that age men disagreed

even about war; and peace might break out anywhere.

Peace was interrupted by feuds and feuds by pardons.

Individuality wound in and out of a maze; spiritual extremes

were walled up with one another in one little walled town;

and we see the great soul of Dante divided, a cloven flame;

loving and hating his own city. This individual complexity

is intensely vivid in the particular story we have here to tell,

in a very rough outline. If anyone wishes to know what is meant

by saying that action was more individual, and indeed incalculable,

he may well note some of the stages in the story of the great

feudal house of Aquino, which had its castle not far

from Naples. In the mere hasty anecdote we have now to tell,

we shall note in succession five or six stages of this sort.

Landulf of Aquino, a heavy feudal fighter typical of the times,

rode in armour behind the imperial banners, and attacked

a monastery, because the Emperor regarded the monastery as a

fortress held for his enemy the Pope. Later, we shall see

the same feudal Lord sent his own son to the same monastery;

probably on the friendly advice of the same Pope. Later still,

another of his sons, entirely on his own, rebelled against

the Emperor, and went over to the armies of the Pope. For this

he was executed by the Emperor, with promptitude and despatch.

I wish we knew more about that brother of Thomas Aquinas who risked

and lost his life to support the cause of the Pope which was

in all human essentials the cause of the People. He may not have

been a saint; but he must have had some qualities of a martyr.

Meanwhile, two other brothers, still ardent and active apparently

in the service of the Emperor who killed the third brother,

themselves proceeded to kidnap another brother, because they did not

approve of his sympathy with the new social movements in religion.

That is the sort of tangle in which this one distinguished

medieval family found itself. It was not a war of nations,

but it was a rather widespread family quarrel.

The reason for dwelling here, however, upon the position

of the Emperor Frederick, as a type of his time, in his culture

and his violence, in his concern for philosophy and his quarrel

with religion, is not merely concerned with these things.

He may here be the first figure that crosses the stage,

because one of his very typical actions precipitated

the first action, or obstinate inaction, which began

the personal adventures of Thomas Aquinas in this world.

The story also illustrates the extraordinary tangle in which

a family like that of the Count of Aquino found itself;

being at once so close to the Church and so much at odds with it.

For Frederick II, in the course of these remarkable manoeuvres,

military and political, which ranged from burning heretics to

allying himself with Saracens, made a swoop as of a predatory eagle

(and the Imperial eagle was rather predatory) upon a very large

and wealthy monastery; the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino;

and stormed and sacked the place.

Some miles from the monastery of Monte Cassino stood a great crag

or cliff, standing up like a pillar of the Apennines. It was crowned

with a castle that bore the name of The Dry Rock, and was the eyrie

in which the eaglets of the Aquino branch of the Imperial family

were nursed to fly. Here lived Count Landulf of Aquino, who was

the father of Thomas Aquinas and some seven other sons. In military

affairs he doubtless rode with his family, in the feudal manner;

and apparently had something to do with the destruction of the monastery.

But it was typical of the tangle of the time, that Count Landulf

seems afterwards to have thought that it would be a tactful and

delicate act to put in his son Thomas as Abbot of the monastery.

This would be of the nature of a graceful apology to the Church,

and also, it would appear, the solution of a family difficulty.

For it had been long apparent to Count Landulf that nothing could be done

with his seventh son Thomas, except to make him an Abbot or something

of that kind. Born in 1226, he had from childhood a mysterious

objection to becoming a predatory eagle, or even to taking an ordinary

interest in falconry or tilting or any other gentlemanly pursuits.

He was a large and heavy and quiet boy, and phenomenally silent,

scarcely opening his mouth except to say suddenly to his schoolmaster

in an explosive manner, "What is God?" The answer is not recorded but it

is probable that the asker went on worrying out answers for himself.

The only place for a person of this kind was the Church and presumably the

cloister; and so far as that went, there was no particular difficulty.

It was easy enough for a man in Count Landulf's position to arrange

with some monastery for his son to be received there; and in this

particular case he thought it would be a good idea if he were received

in some official capacity, that would be worthy of his worldly rank.

So everything was smoothly arranged for Thomas Aquinas becoming a monk,

which would seem to be what he himself wanted; and sooner or later

becoming Abbot of Monte Cassino. And then the curious thing happened.

In so far as we may follow rather dim and disputed events,

it would seem that the young Thomas Aquinas walked into his father's

castle one day and calmly announced that he had become one of the

Begging Friars, of the new order founded by Dominic the Spaniard;

much as the eldest son of the squire might go home and airily inform

the family that he had married a gypsy; or the heir of a Tory Duke

state that he was walking tomorrow with the Hunger Marchers organised

by alleged Communists. By this, as has been noted already, we may

pretty well measure the abyss between the old monasticism and the new,

and the earthquake of the Dominican and Franciscan revolution.

Thomas had appeared to wish to be a Monk; and the gates were silently

opened to him and the long avenues of the abbey, the very carpet,

so to speak, laid for him up to the throne of the mitred abbot.

He said he wished to be a Friar, and his family flew at him

like wild beasts; his brothers pursued him along the public roads,

half-rent his friar's frock from his back and finally locked him

up in a tower like a lunatic.

It is not very easy to trace the course of this furious family quarrel,

and how it eventually spent itself against the tenacity

of the young Friar; according to some stories, his mother's

disapproval was short-lived and she went over to his side;

but it was not only his relatives that were embroiled.

We might say that the central governing class of Europe,

which partly consisted of his family, were in a turmoil over the

deplorable youth; even the Pope was asked for tactful intervention,

and it was at one time proposed that Thomas should be allowed

to wear the Dominican habit while acting as Abbot in the

Benedictine Abbey. To many this would seem a tactful compromise;

but it did not commend itself to the narrow medieval mind

of Thomas Aquinas. He indicated sharply that he wished to be

a Dominican in the Dominican Order, and not at a fancy-dress ball;

and the diplomatic proposal appears to have been dropped.

Thomas of Aquino wanted to be a Friar. It was a staggering

fact to his contemporaries; and it is rather an intriguing fact

even to us; for this desire, limited literally and strictly

to this statement, was the one practical thing to which his

will was clamped with adamantine obstinacy till his death.

He would not be an Abbot; he would not be a Monk; he would not

even be a Prior or ruler in his own fraternity; he would not be

a prominent or important Friar; he would be a Friar. It is as if

Napoleon had insisted on remaining a private soldier all his life.

Something in this heavy, quiet, cultivated, rather academic

gentleman would not be satisfied till he was, by fixed authoritative

proclamation and official pronouncement, established and appointed

to be a Beggar. It is all the more interesting because, while he did

more than his duty a thousand times over, he was not at all like

a Beggar; nor at all likely to be a good Beggar. He had nothing

of the native vagabond about him, as had his great precursors;

he was not born with something of the wandering minstrel,

like St. Francis; or something of the tramping missionary,

like St. Dominic. But he insisted upon putting himself under

military orders, to do these things at the will of another,

if required. He may be compared with some of the more magnanimous

aristocrats who have enrolled themselves in revolutionary armies;

or some of the best of the poets and scholars who volunteered

as private soldiers in the Great War. Something in the courage

and consistency of Dominic and Francis had challenged his deep

sense of justice; and while remaining a very reasonable person,

and even a diplomatic one, he never let anything shake the iron

immobility of this one decision of his youth; nor was he to be turned

from his tall and towering ambition to take the lowest place.

The first effect of his decision, as we have seen, was much more

stimulating and even startling. The General of the Dominicans, under whom

Thomas had enrolled himself, was probably well aware of the diplomatic

attempts to dislodge him and the worldly difficulties of resisting them.

His expedient was to take his young follower out of Italy altogether;

bidding him proceed with a few other friars to Paris. There was

something prophetic even about this first progress of the travelling

teacher of the nations; for Paris was indeed destined to be in

some sense the goal of his spiritual journey; since it was there

that he was to deliver both his great defence of the Friars and his

great defiance to the antagonists of Aristotle. But this his first

journey to Paris was destined to be broken off very short indeed.

The friars had reached a turn of the road by a wayside fountain,

a little way north of Rome, when they were overtaken by a wild

cavalcade of captors, who seized on Thomas like brigands,

but who were in fact only rather needlessly agitated brothers.

He had a large number of brothers: perhaps only two were here involved.

Indeed he was the seventh; and friends of Birth Control may lament

that this philosopher was needlessly added to the noble line

of ruffians who kidnapped him. It was an odd affair altogether.

There is something quaint and picturesque in the idea of kidnapping

a begging friar, who might in a sense be called a runaway abbot.

There is a comic and tragic tangle in the motives and purposes of such

a trio of strange kinsmen. There is a sort of Christian cross-purposes

in the contrast between the feverish illusion of the importance

of things, always marking men who are called practical; and the much

more practical pertinacity of the man who is called theoretical.

Thus at least did those three strange brethren stagger or trail

along their tragic road, tied together, as it were, like criminal

and constable; only that the criminals were making the arrest.

So their figures are seen for an instant against the horizon of history;

brothers as sinister as any since Cain and Abel. For this queer outrage

in the great family of Aquino does really stand out symbolically,

as representing something that will forever make the Middle Ages a mystery

and a bewilderment; capable of sharply contrasted interpretations

like darkness and light. For in two of those men there raged,

we might say screamed, a savage pride of blood and blazonry of arms,

though they were princes of the most refined world of their time,

which would seem more suitable to a tribe dancing round a totem.

For the moment they had forgotten everything except the name of a family,

that is narrower than a tribe, and far narrower than a nation.

And the third figure of that trio, born of the same mother

and perhaps visibly one with the others in face or form,

had a conception of brotherhood broader than most modern democracy,

for it was not national but international; a faith in mercy and modesty

far deeper than any mere mildness of manners in the modern world;

and a drastic oath of poverty, which would now be counted quite

a mad exaggeration of the revolt against plutocracy and pride.

Out of the same Italian castle came two savages and one sage;

or one saint more pacific than most modern sages.

That is the double aspect confusing a hundred controversies.

That is what makes the riddle of the medieval age; that it was

not one age but two ages. We look into the moods of some men,

and it might be the Stone Age; we look into the minds of other men,

and they might be living in the Golden Age; in the most modern sort

of Utopia. There were always good men and bad men; but in this

time good men who were subtle lived with bad men who were simple.

They lived in the same family; they were brought up in the same nursery;

and they came out to struggle, as the brothers of Aquino struggled

by the wayside, when they dragged the new friar along the road

and shut him up in the castle on the hill.

When his relations tried to despoil him of his friar's frock he seems

to have laid about them in the fighting manner of his fathers,

and it would seem successfully, since this attempt was abandoned.

He accepted the imprisonment itself with his customary composure,

and probably did not mind very much whether he was left to philosophise

in a dungeon or in a cell. Indeed there is something in the way the whole

tale is told, which suggests that through a great part of that strange

abduction, he had been carried about like a lumbering stone statue.

Only one tale told of his captivity shows him merely in anger;

and that shows him angrier than he ever was before or after.

It struck the imagination of his own time for more important reasons;

but it has an interest that is psychological as well as moral.

For once in his life, for the first time and the last, Thomas of

Aquino was really hors de lui; riding a storm outside that tower

of intellect and contemplation in which he commonly lived.

And that was when his brothers introduced into his room some specially

gorgeous and painted courtesan, with the idea of surprising him

by a sudden temptation, or at least involving him in a scandal.

His anger was justified, even by less strict moral standards than his own;

for the meanness was even worse than the foulness of the expedient.

Even on the lowest grounds, he knew his brothers knew, and they

knew that he knew, that it was an insult to him as a gentleman

to suppose that he would break his pledge upon so base a provocation;

and he had behind him a far more terrible sensibility; all that huge

ambition of humility which was to him the voice of God out of heaven.

In this one flash alone we see that huge unwieldy figure in an attitude

of activity, or even animation; and he was very animated indeed.

He sprang from his seat and snatched a brand out of the fire,

and stood brandishing it like a flaming sword. The woman not

unnaturally shrieked and fled, which was all that he wanted;

but it is quaint to think of what she must have thought of that madman

of monstrous stature juggling with flames and apparently threatening

to burn down the house. All he did, however, was to stride after her

to the door and bang and bar it behind her; and then, with a sort

of impulse of violent ritual, he rammed the burning brand into the door,

blackening and blistering it with one big black sign of the cross.

Then he returned, and dropped it again into the fire; and sat down

on that seat of sedentary scholarship, that chair of philosophy,

that secret throne of contemplation, from which he never rose again.




Albert, the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder

of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare

that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist,

and the astrologer into the astronomer. It is odd that,

having been in his time, in this sense almost the first astronomer,

he now lingers in legend almost as the last astrologer.

Serious historians are abandoning the absurd notion that

the mediaeval Church persecuted all scientists as wizards.

It is very nearly the opposite of the truth. The world sometimes

persecuted them as wizards, and sometimes ran after them as wizards;

the sort of pursuing that is the reverse of persecuting.

The Church alone regarded them really and solely as scientists.

Many an enquiring cleric was charged with mere magic in

making his lenses and mirrors; he was charged by his rude

and rustic neighbours; and would probably have been charged

in exactly the same way if they had been Pagan neighbours

or Puritan neighbours or Seventh-Day Adventist neighbours.

But even then he stood a better chance when judged by

the Papacy, than if he had been merely lynched by the laity.

The Catholic Pontiff did not denounce Albertus Magnus as a magician.

It was the half-heathen tribes of the north who admired him

as a magician. It is the half-heathen tribes of the industrial

towns today, the readers of cheap dream-books, and quack pamphlets,

and newspaper prophets, who still admire him as an astrologer.

It is admitted that the range of his recorded knowledge,

of strictly material and mechanical facts, was amazing

in a man of his time. It is true that, in most other cases,

there was a certain limitation to the data of medieval science;

but this certainly had nothing to do with medieval religion.

For the data of Aristotle, and the great Greek civilisation,

were in many ways more limited still. But it is not really so much

a question of access to the facts, as of attitude to the facts.

Most of the Schoolmen, if informed by the only informants they

had that a unicorn has one horn or a salamander lives in the fire,

still used it more as an illustration of logic than an incident

of life. What they really said was, "If a Unicorn has one horn,

two unicorns have as many horns as one cow." And that has

not one inch the less a fact because the unicorn is a fable.

But with Albertus in medieval times, as with Aristotle

in ancient times, there did begin something like the idea

of emphasising the question: "But does the unicorn only have

one horn or the salamander a fire instead of a fireside?"

Doubtless when the social and geographical limits of medieval life

began to allow them to search the fire for salamanders or the desert

for unicorns, they had to modify many of their scientific ideas.

A fact which will expose them to the very proper scorn of a

generation of scientists which has just discovered that Newton

is nonsense, that space is limited, and that there is no such

thing as an atom.

This great German, known in his most famous period as a

professor in Paris, was previously for some time professor

at Cologne. In that beautiful Roman city, there gathered

round him in thousands the lovers of that extraordinary life;

the student life of the Middle Ages. They came together in great

groups called Nations; and the fact illustrates very well the

difference between medieval nationalism and modern nationalism.

For although there might any morning be a brawl between the Spanish

students and the Scottish students, or between the Flemish

and the French, and swords flash or stones fly on the most

purely patriotic principles, the fact remains that they had

all come to the same school to learn the same philosophy.

And though that might not prevent the starting of a quarrel,

it might have a great deal to do with the ending of it.

Before these motley groups of men from the ends of the earth,

the father of science unrolled his scroll of strange wisdom;

of sun and comet, of fish and bird. He was an Aristotelian

developing, as it were, the one experimental hint of Aristotle;

and in this he was entirely original. He cared less to be original

about the deeper matters of men and morals; about which he was

content to hand on a decent and Christianised Aristotelianism;

he was even in a sense ready to compromise upon the merely

metaphysical issue of the Nominalists and the Realists. He would

never have maintained alone the great war that was coming,

for a balanced and humanised Christianity; but when it came,

he was entirely on its side. He was called the Universal Doctor,

because of the range of his scientific studies; yet he was in

truth a specialist. The popular legend is never quite wrong;

if a man of science is a magician, he was a magician.

And the man of science has always been much more of a magician

than the priest; since he would "control the elements"

rather than submit to the Spirit who is more elementary

than the elements.

Among the students thronging into the lecture-rooms there was

one student, conspicuous by his tall and bulky figure, and completely

failing or refusing to be conspicuous for anything else.

He was so dumb in the debates that his fellows began to assume

an American significance in the word dumbness; for in that land

it is a synonym for dullness. It is clear that, before long,

even his imposing stature began to have only the ignominious

immensity of the big boy left behind in the lowest form.

He was called the Dumb Ox. He was the object, not merely

of mockery, but of pity. One good-natured student pitied

him so much as to try to help him with his lessons,

going over the elements of logic like an alphabet in a

horn-book. The dunce thanked him with pathetic politeness;

and the philanthropist went on swimmingly, till he came

to a passage about which he was himself a little doubtful;

about which, in point of fact, he was wrong. Whereupon the dunce,

with every appearance of embarrassment and disturbance,

pointed out a possible solution which happened to be right.

The benevolent student was left staring, as at a monster,

at this mysterious lump of ignorance and intelligence;

and strange whispers began to run round the schools.

A regular religious biographer of Thomas Aquinas (who, needless

to say, was the dunce in question) has said that by the end

of this interview "his love of truth overcame his humility";

which, properly understood, is precisely true. But it does not,

in the secondary psychological and social sense, describe all

the welter of elements that went on within that massive head.

All the relatively few anecdotes about Aquinas have a very

peculiar vividness if we visualise the type of man; and this

is an excellent example. Amid those elements was something

of the difficulty which the generalising intellect has in adapting

itself suddenly to a tiny detail of daily life; there was something

of the shyness of really well-bred people about showing off;

there was something even, perhaps, of that queer paralysis,

and temptation to prefer even misunderstandings to long explanations,

which led Sir James Barrie, in his amusing sketch, to allow

himself to be saddled with a Brother Henry he never possessed,

rather than exert himself to put in a word of warning.

These other elements doubtless worked with the very

extraordinary humility of this very extraordinary man;

but another element worked with his equally unquestionable

"love of truth" in bringing the misunderstanding to an end.

It is an element that must never be left out of the make-up

of St. Thomas. However dreamy or distracted or immersed

in theories he might be, he had any amount of Common Sense;

and by the time it came, not only to being taught, but to being

taught wrong, there was something in him that said sharply,

"Oh, this has got to stop!"

It seems probable that it was Albertus Magnus himself, the lecturer

and learned teacher of all these youths, who first suspected something of

the kind. He gave Thomas small jobs to do, of annotation or exposition;

he persuaded him to banish his bashfulness so as to take part in at

least one debate. He was a very shrewd old man and had studied

the habits of other animals besides the salamander and the unicorn.

He had studied many specimens of the most monstrous of all monstrosities;

that is called Man. He knew the signs and marks of the sort of man,

who is in an innocent way something of a monster among men. He was too

good a schoolmaster not to know that the dunce is not always a dunce.

He learned with amusement that this dunce had been nicknamed the Dumb Ox

by his school-fellows. All that is natural enough; but it does

not take away the savour of something rather strange and symbolic,

about the extraordinary emphasis with which he spoke at last.

For Aquinas was still generally known only as one obscure and obstinately

unresponsive pupil, among many more brilliant and promising pupils,

when the great Albert broke silence with his famous cry and prophecy;

"You call him a Dumb Ox: I tell you this Dumb Ox shall bellow so loud

that his bellowings will fill the world".

To Albertus Magnus. as to Aristotle or Augustine or any number

of other and older teachers, St. Thomas was always ready,

with the hearty sort of humility, to give thanks for all his thinking.

None the less, his own thinking was an advance on Albertus and

the other Aristotelians, just as it was an advance on Augustine

and the Augustinians. Albert had drawn attention to the direct

study of natural facts, if only through fables like the unicorn

and the salamander but the monster called Man awaited a much

more subtle and flexible vivi-section. The two men, however,

became close friends and their friendship counts for a great deal

in this central fight of the Middle Ages. For, as we shall see,

the rehabilitation of Aristotle was a revolution almost

as revolutionary as the exaltation of Dominic and Francis;

and St. Thomas was destined to play a striking part in both.

It will be realised that the Aquino family had ultimately

abandoned its avenging pursuit of its ugly duckling; who, as a

black friar, should perhaps be called its black sheep.

Of that escape some picturesque stories are told.

The black sheep generally profits at last by quarrels among

the white sheep of a family. They begin by quarrelling with him,

but they end by quarrelling with each other. There is a rather

confusing account concerning which members of his family came

over to his side, while he was still imprisoned in the tower.

But it is a fact that he was very fond of his sisters, and therefore

probably not a fable that it was they who engineered his escape.

According to the story, they rigged up a rope to the top of the tower,

attached to a big basket, and it must have been rather a big

basket if he was indeed lowered in this fashion from his prison,

and escaped into the world. Anyhow, he did escape by energy,

external or internal. But it was only an individual energy.

The world was still pursuing and persecuting the Friars, quite as

much as when they fled along the road to Rome. Thomas Aquinas

had the good fortune to gather under the shadow of the one great

outstanding Friar, whose respectability it was difficult to dispute,

the learned and orthodox Albertus; but even he and his were soon

troubled by the growing storm that threatened the new popular

movements in the Church. Albertus was summoned to Paris,

to receive the degree of a Doctor; but everyone knew that

every move in that game had the character of a challenge.

He made only the request, which probably looked like an

eccentric request, that he should take his Dumb Ox with him.

They set out, like ordinary Friars or along religious vagabonds;

they slept in such monasteries as they could find; and finally

in the monastery of St. James in Paris, where Thomas met another

Friar who was also another friend.

Perhaps under the shadow of the storm that menaced

all Friars, Bonaventure, the Franciscan, grew into so great a

friendship with Thomas the Dominican, that their contemporaries

compared them to David and Jonathan. The point is of some interest;

because it would be quite easy to represent the Franciscan

and the Dominican as flatly contradicting each other.

The Franciscan may be represented as the Father of all the Mystics;

and the Mystics can be represented as men who maintain that the final

fruition or joy of the soul is rather a sensation than a thought.

The motto of the Mystics has always been, "Taste and see".

Now St. Thomas also began by saving, "Taste and see"; but he said

it of the first rudimentary impressions of the human animal.

It might well be maintained that the Franciscan puts Taste

last and the Dominican puts it first. It might be said that

the Thomist begins with something solid like the taste of an apple,

and afterwards deduces a divine life for the intellect;

while the Mystic exhausts the intellect first, and says finally

that the sense of God is something like the taste of an apple.

A common enemy might claim that St. Thomas begins with the taste

of fruit and St. Bonaventure ends with the taste of fruit.

But they are both right; if I may say so, it is a privilege of people

who contradict each other in their cosmos to be both right.

The Mystic is right in saying that the relation of God and Man

is essentially a love-story; the pattern and type of all

love-stories. The Dominican rationalist is equally right in

saying that the intellect is at home in the topmost heavens;

and that the appetite for truth may outlast and even devour

all the duller appetites of man.

At the moment Aquinas and Bonaventure were encouraged in the possibility

that they were both right; by the almost universal agreement that they

were both wrong. It was in any case a time of wild disturbance,

and, as is common in such times, those who were trying to put

things right were most vigorously accused of putting things wrong.

Nobody knew who would win in that welter: Islam, or the Manichees

of the Midi; or the two-faced and mocking Emperor; or the Crusades;

or the old Orders of Christendom. But some men had a very vivid

feeling that everything was breaking up; and that all the recent

experiments or excesses were part of the same social dissolution;

and there were two things that such men regarded as signs of ruin;

one was the awful apparition of Aristotle out of the East, a sort

of Greek god supported by Arabian worshippers; and the other was

the new freedom of the Friars. It was the opening of the monastery

and the scattering of the monks to wander over the world. The general

feeling that they wandered like sparks from a furnace hitherto contained;

the furnace of the abnormal love of God: the sense that they would

utterly unbalance the common people with the counsels of perfection;

that they would drift into being demagogues; all this finally

burst out in a famous book called The Perils of the Latter Times,

by a furious reactionary, William de St. Amour. It challenged

the French King and the Pope, so that they established an enquiry.

And Aquinas and Bonaventure, the two incongruous friends, with their

respectively topsy-turvy universes, went up to Rome together,

to defend the freedom of the Friars.

Thomas Aquinas defended the great vow of his youth, for freedom

and for the poor; and it was probably the topmost moment of his

generally triumphant career; for he turned back the whole backward

movement of his time. Responsible authorities have said that,

but for him, the whole great popular movement of the Friars might

have been destroyed. With this popular victory the shy and awkward

student finally becomes a historical character and a public man.

After that, he was identified with the Mendicant Orders. But while

St. Thomas may be said to have made his name in the defence of the

Mendicant Orders against the reactionaries, who took the same view

of them as his own family had taken, there is generally a difference

between a man making his name and a man really doing his work.

The work of Thomas Aquinas was yet to come; but less shrewd

observers than he could already see that it was coming.

Broadly speaking, the danger was the danger of the orthodox,

or those who too easily identify the old order with the orthodox,

forcing a final and conclusive condemnation of Aristotle. There had

already been rash and random condemnations to that effect,

issued here and there, and the pressure of the narrower Augustinians

upon the Pope and the principal judges became daily more pressing.

The peril had appeared, not unnaturally, because of the historical

and geographical accident of the Moslem proximity to the culture

of Byzantium. The Arabs had got hold of the Greek manuscripts

before the Latins who were the true heirs of the Greeks. And Moslems,

though not very orthodox Moslems, were turning Aristotle into a pantheist

philosophy still less acceptable to orthodox Christians. This second

controversy, however, requires more explanation than the first.

As is remarked on an introductory page, most modern people do know

that St. Francis at least was a liberator of large sympathies;

that, whatever their positive view of medievalism, the Friars

were in a relative sense a popular movement, pointing to greater

fraternity and freedom; and a very little further information

would inform them that this was every bit as true of the Dominican

as of the Franciscan Friars. Nobody now is particularly likely

to start up in defence of feudal abbots or fixed and stationary monks,

against such impudent innovators as St. Francis and St. Thomas. We may

therefore be allowed to summarise briefly the great debate

about the Friars, though it shook all Christendom in its day.

But the greater debate about Aristotle presents a greater difficulty;

because there are modern misconceptions about it which can only be

approached with a little more elaboration.

Perhaps there is really no such thing as a Revolution

recorded in history. What happened was always

a Counter-Revolution. Men were always rebelling against

the last rebels; or even repenting of the last rebellion.

This could be seen in the most casual contemporary fashions,

if the fashionable mind had not fallen into the habit of seeing

the very latest rebel as rebelling against all ages at once.

The Modern Girl with the lipstick and the cocktail is as much

a rebel against the Woman's Rights Woman of the '80's,

with her stiff stick-up collars and strict teetotalism.

as the latter was a rebel against the Early Victorian lady of the

languid waltz tunes and the album full of quotations from Byron:

or as the last, again, was a rebel against a Puritan mother to whom

the waltz was a wild orgy and Byron the Bolshevist of his age.

Trace even the Puritan mother back through history and she represents

a rebellion against the Cavalier laxity of the English Church,

which was at first a rebel against the Catholic civilisation,

which had been a rebel against the Pagan civilisation.

Nobody but a lunatic could pretend that these things were a progress;

for they obviously go first one way and then the other.

But whichever is right, one thing is certainly wrong; and that is

the modern habit of looking at them only from the modern end.

For that is only to see the end of the tale; they rebel against

they know not what, because it arose they know not when;

intent only on its ending, they are ignorant of its beginning;

and therefore of its very being. The difference between the smaller

cases and the larger, is that in the latter there is really so huge

a human upheaval that men start from it like men in a new world;

and that very novelty enables them to go on very long;

and generally to go on too long. It is because these things

start with a vigorous revolt that the intellectual impetus

lasts long enough to make them seem like a survival.

An excellent example of this is the real story of the revival

and the neglect of Aristotle. By the end of the medieval time,

Aristotelianism did eventually grow stale. Only a very fresh

and successful novelty ever gets quite so stale as that.

When the moderns, drawing the blackest curtain of obscurantism

that ever obscured history, decided that nothing mattered much

before the Renaissance and the Reformation, they instantly

began their modern career by falling into a big blunder.

It was the blunder about Platonism. They found, hanging about

the courts of the swaggering princes of the sixteenth century

(which was as far back in history as they were allowed to go)

certain anti-clerical artists and scholars who said they

were bored with Aristotle and were supposed to be secretly

indulging in Plato. The moderns, utterly ignorant of the whole

story of the medievals, instantly fell into the trap.

They assumed that Aristotle was some crabbed antiquity and tyranny

from the black back of the Dark Ages. and that Plato was an

entirely new Pagan pleasure never yet tasted by Christian men.

Father Knox has shown in what a startling state of innocence

is the mind of Mr. H. L. Mencken, for instance, upon this point.

In fact, of course. the story is exactly the other way round.

If anything, it was Platonism that was the old orthodoxy.

It was Aristotelianism that was the very modern revolution.

And the leader of that modern revolution was the man who is

the subject of this book.

The truth is that the historical Catholic Church began by

being Platonist; by being rather too Platonist. Platonism was

in that golden Greek air that was breathed by the first great

Greek theologians. The Christian Fathers were much more like

the NeoPlatonists than were the scholars of the Renaissance;

who were only Neo-Neo-Platonists. For Chrysostom or Basil it

was as ordinary and normal to think in terms of the Logos,

or the Wisdom which is the aim of philosophers, as it is to

any men of any religion today to talk about social problems

or progress or the economic crisis throughout the world.

St. Augustine followed a natural mental evolution when he was

a Platonist before he was a Manichean, and a Manichean before

he was a Christian. And it was exactly in that last association

that the first faint hint, of the danger of being too Platonist,

may be seen.

From the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, the Moderns have had

an almost monstrous love of the Ancients. In considering medieval life,

they could never regard the Christians as anything but the pupils

of the Pagans; of Plato in ideas, or Aristotle in reason and science.

It was not so. On some points, even from the most monotonously

modern standpoint, Catholicism was centuries ahead of Platonism

or Aristotelianism. We can see it still, for instance, in the tiresome

tenacity of Astrology. On that matter the philosophers were all

in favour of superstition; and the saints and all such superstitious

people were against superstition. But even the great saints found

it difficult to get disentangled from this superstition. Two points

were always put by those suspicious of the Aristotelianism of Aquinas;

and they sound to us now very quaint and comic, taken together.

One was the view that the stars are personal beings, governing our lives:

the other the great general theory that men have one mind between them;

a view obviously opposed to immortality; that is, to individuality.

Both linger among the Moderns: so strong is still the tyranny

of the Ancients. Astrology sprawls over the Sunday papers, and the

other doctrine has its hundredth form in what is called Communism:

or the Soul of the Hive.

For on one preliminary point, this position must not be misunderstood.

When we praise the practical value of the Aristotelian Revolution, and the

originality of Aquinas in leading it, we do not mean that the Scholastic

philosophers before him had not been philosophers, or had not been

highly philosophical, or had not been in touch with ancient philosophy.

In so far as there was ever a bad break in philosophical history,

it was not before St. Thomas, or at the beginning of medieval history;

it was after St. Thomas and at the beginning of modern history.

The great intellectual tradition that comes down to us from Pythagoras

and Plato was never interrupted or lost through such trifles as the sack

of Rome, the triumph of Attila or all the barbarian invasions of

the Dark Ages. It was only lost after the introduction of printing,

the discovery of America, the founding of the Royal Society and

all the enlightenment of the Renaissance and the modern world.

It was there, if anywhere, that there was lost or impatiently snapped

the long thin delicate thread that had descended from distant antiquity;

the thread of that unusual human hobby; the habit of thinking.

This is proved by the fact that the printed books of this later

period largely had to wait for the eighteenth century, or the end of

the seventeenth century, to find even the names of the new philosophers;

who were at the best a new kind of philosophers. But the decline

of the Empire, the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages, though too

much tempted to neglect what was opposed to Platonic philosophy,

had never neglected philosophy. In that sense St. Thomas,

like most other very original men, has a long and clear pedigree.

He himself is constantly referring back to the authorities from

St. Augustine to St. Anselm, and from St. Anselm to St. Albert,

and even when he differs, he also defers.

A very learned Anglican once said to me, not perhaps without

a touch of tartness, "I can't understand why everybody talks as if

Thomas Aquinas were the beginning of the Scholastic philosophy.

I could understand their saying he was the end of it."

Whether or no the comment was meant to be tart, we may be sure

that the reply of St. Thomas would have been perfectly urbane.

And indeed it would be easy to answer with a certain placidity,

that in his Thomist language the end of a thing does not mean

its destruction, but its fulfilment. No Thomist will complain,

if Thomism is the end of our philosophy, in the sense in which God

is the end of our existence. For that does not mean that we cease

to exist, but that we become as perennial as the philosophia perennis.

Putting this claim on one side, however, it is important to

remember that my distinguished interlocutor was perfectly right,

in that there had been whole dynasties of doctrinal philosophers

before Aquinas, leading up to the day of the great revolt

of the Aristotelians. Nor was even that revolt a thing entirely

abrupt and unforeseen. An able writer in the Dublin Review

not long ago pointed out that in some respects the whole nature

of metaphysics had advanced a long way since Aristotle, by the time

it came to Aquinas. And that it is no disrespect to the primitive

and gigantic genius of the Stagirite to say that in some respects

he was really but a rude and rough founder of philosophy,

compared with some of the subsequent subtleties of medievalism;

that the Greek gave a few grand hints which the Scholastics developed

into the most delicate fine shades. This may be an overstatement,

but there is a truth in it. Anyhow, it is certain that even

in Aristotelian philosophy, let alone Platonic philosophy,

there was already a tradition of highly intelligent interpretation.

If that delicacy afterwards degenerated into hair-splitting, it

was none the less delicate hairsplitting; and work requiring

very scientific tools.

What made the Aristotelian Revolution really revolutionary was the fact

that it was really religious. It is the fact, so fundamental that I

thought it well to lay it down in the first few pages of this book;

that the revolt was largely a revolt of the most Christian elements

in Christendom. St. Thomas, every bit as much as St. Francis,

felt subconsciously that the hold of his people was slipping

on the solid Catholic doctrine and discipline, worn smooth by

more than a thousand years of routine; and that the Faith needed

to be shown under a new light and dealt with from another angle.

But he had no motive except the desire to make it popular

for the salvation of the people. It was true, broadly speaking,

that for some time past it had been too Platonist to be popular.

It needed something like the shrewd and homely touch of

Aristotle to turn it again into a religion of common sense.

Both the motive and the method are illustrated in the war of Aquinas

against the Augustinians.

First, it must be remembered that the Greek influence continued

to flow from the Greek Empire; or at least from the centre of the

Roman Empire which was in the Greek city of Byzantium, and no longer

in Rome. That influence was Byzantine in every good and bad sense;

like Byzantine art, it was severe and mathematical and a little terrible;

like Byzantine etiquette, it was Oriental and faintly decadent. We owe

to the learning of Mr. Christopher Dawson much enlightenment upon the way

in which Byzantium slowly stiffened into a sort of Asiatic theocracy,

more like that which served the Sacred Emperor in China. But even the

unlearned can see the difference, in the way in which Eastern Christianity

flattened everything, as it flattened the faces of the images into icons.

It became a thing of patterns rather than pictures; and it made definite

and destructive war upon statues. Thus we see, strangely enough,

that the East was the land of the Cross and the West was the land

of the Crucifix. The Greeks were being dehumanised by a radiant symbol,

while the Goths were being humanised by an instrument of torture.

Only the West made realistic pictures of the greatest of all the tales

out of the East. Hence the Greek element in Christian theology tended

more and more to be a sort of dried up Platonism; a thing of diagrams

and abstractions; to the last indeed noble abstractions, but not

sufficiently touched by that great thing that is by definition almost

the opposite of abstraction: Incarnation. Their Logos was the Word;

but not the Word made Flesh. In a thousand very subtle ways,

often escaping doctrinal definition, this spirit spread over the world

of Christendom from the place where the Sacred Emperor sat under his

golden mosaics; and the flat pavement of the Roman Empire was at last

a sort of smooth pathway for Mahomet. For Islam was the ultimate

fulfilment of the Iconoclasts. Long before that, however, there was

this tendency to make the Cross merely decorative like the Crescent;

to make it a pattern like the Greek key or the Wheel of Buddha. But there

is something passive about such a world of patterns, and the Greek Key

does not open any door, while the Wheel of Buddha always moves round

and never moves on.

Partly through these negative influences, partly through a necessary

and noble asceticism which sought to emulate the awful standard

of the martyrs, the earlier Christian ages had been excessively

anti-corporeal and too near the danger-line of Manichean mysticism.

But there was far less danger in the fact that the saints

macerated the body than in the fact that the sages neglected it.

Granted all the grandeur of Augustine's contribution to Christianity,

there was in a sense a more subtle danger in Augustine the Platonist

than even in Augustine the Manichee. There came from it a mood

which unconsciously committed the heresy of dividing the substance of

the Trinity. It thought of God too exclusively as a Spirit who purifies

or a Saviour who redeems; and too little as a Creator who creates.

That is why men like Aquinas thought it right to correct Plato by

an appeal to Aristotle; Aristotle who took things as he found them,

just as Aquinas accepted things as God created them. In all the work

of St. Thomas the world of positive creation is perpetually present.

Humanly speaking, it was he who saved the human element in

Christian theology, if he used for convenience certain elements

in heathen philosophy. Only, as has already been urged, the human

element is also the Christian one.

The panic upon the Aristotelian peril, that had passed across the high

places of the Church, was probably a dry wind from the desert.

It was really filled rather with fear of Mahomet than fear

of Aristotle. And this was ironic, because there was really much more

difficulty in reconciling Aristotle with Mahomet than in reconciling

him with Christ. Islam is essentially a simple creed for simple men;

and nobody can ever really turn pantheism into a simple creed.

It is at once too abstract and too complicated. There are

simple believers in a personal God; and there are atheists more

simple-minded than any believers in a personal God. But few can,

in mere simplicity, accept a godless universe as a god.

And while the Moslem, as compared with the Christian, had perhaps

a less human God, he had if possible a more personal God. The will

of Allah was very much of a will, and could not be turned into

a stream of tendency. On all that cosmic and abstract side

the Catholic was more accommodating than the Moslem--up to a point.

The Catholic could admit at least that Aristotle was right about

the impersonal elements of a personal God. Hence, we may say

broadly of the Moslem philosophers, that those who became

good philosophers became bad Moslems. It is not altogether

unnatural that many bishops and doctors feared that the Thomists

might become good philosophers and bad Christians. But there

were also many, of the strict school of Plato and Augustine,

who stoutly denied that they were even good philosophers.

Between those rather incongruous passions, the love of Plato

and the fear of Mahomet, there was a moment when the prospects

of any Aristotelian culture in Christendom looked very dark indeed.

Anathema after anathema was thundered from high places;

and under the shadow of the persecution, as so often happens,

it seemed for a moment that barely one or two figures stood alone

in the storm-swept area. They were both in the black and white

of the Dominicans; for Albertus and Aquinas stood firm.

In that sort of combat there is always confusion; and majorities

change into minorities and back again, as if by magic. It is always

difficult to date the turn of the tide, which seems to be a welter

of eddies; the very dates seeming to overlap and confuse the crisis.

But the change, from the moment when the two Dominicans stood alone

to the moment when the whole Church at last wheeled into line

with them, may perhaps be found at about the moment when they

were practically brought before a hostile but a not unjust judge.

Stephen Tempier, the Bishop of Paris, was apparently a rather

fine specimen of the old fanatical Churchman, who thought

that admiring Aristotle was a weakness likely to be followed by

adoring Apollo. He was also, by a piece of bad luck, one of the old

social conservatives, who had intensely resented the popular revolution

of the Preaching Friars. But he was an honest man; and Thomas Aquinas

never asked for anything but permission to address honest men.

All around him there were other Aristotelian revolutionaries

of a much more dubious sort. There was Siger, the sophist

from Brabant, who learned all his Aristotelianism from the Arabs;

and had an ingenious theory about how an Arabian agnostic could

also be a Christian. There were a thousand young men of the sort

that had shouted for Abelard; full of the youth of the thirteenth

century and drunken with the Greek wine of Stagira. Over against them,

lowering and implacable, was the old Puritan party of the Augustinians;

only too delighted to class the rationalistic Albert and Thomas

with equivocal Moslem meta-physicians.

It would seem that the triumph of Thomas was really a personal triumph.

He withdrew not a single one of his propositions; though it is said

that the reactionary Bishop did condemn some of them after his death.

On the whole, however, Aquinas convinced most of his critics that he was

quite as good a Catholic as they were. There was a sequel of squabbles

between the Religious Orders, following upon this controversial crisis.

But it is probably true to say that the fact, that a man like Aquinas

had managed even partially to satisfy a man like Tempier, was the end

of the essential quarrel. What was already familiar to the few

became familiar to the many; that an Aristotelian could really

be a Christian. Another fact assisted in the common conversion.

It rather curiously resembles the story of the translation of the Bible;

and the alleged Catholic suppression of the Bible. Behind the scenes,

where the Pope was much more tolerant than the Paris Bishop,

the friends of Aquinas had been hard at work producing a new

translation of Aristotle. It demonstrated that in many ways

the heretical translation had been a very heretical translation.

With the final consummation of this work, we may say that the great Greek

philosophy entered finally into the system of Christendom. The process

has been half humourously described as the Baptism of Aristotle.

We have all heard of the humility of the man of science;

of many who were very genuinely humble; and of some who were

very proud of their humility. It will be the somewhat too

recurrent burden of this brief study that Thomas Aquinas

really did have the humility of the man of science;

as a special variant of the humility of the saint.

It is true that he did not himself contribute anything concrete

in the experiment or detail of physical science; in this,

it may be said, he even lagged behind the last generation,

and was far less of an experimental scientist than his tutor

Albertus Magnus. But for all that, he was historically a great

friend to the freedom of science. The principles he laid down,

properly understood, are perhaps the best that can be produced

for protecting science from mere obscurantist persecution.

For instance, in the matter of the inspiration of Scripture,

he fixed first on the obvious fact, which was forgotten by four

furious centuries of sectarian battle, that the meaning

of Scripture is very far from self-evident and that we

must often interpret it in the light of other truths.

If a literal interpretation is really and flatly contradicted

by an obvious fact, why then we can only say that the

literal interpretation must be a false interpretation.

But the fact must really be an obvious fact. And unfortunately,

nineteenth century scientists were just as ready to jump to

the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact,

as were seventeenth-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion

that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation.

Thus, private theories about what the Bible ought to mean,

and premature theories about what the world ought to mean,

have met in loud and widely advertised controversy,

especially in the Victorian time; and this clumsy collision

of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel

of Science and Religion.

But St. Thomas had the scientific humility in this very vivid

and special sense; that he was ready to take the lowest place;

for the examination of the lowest things. He did not,

like a modern specialist, study the worm as if it were the world;

but he was willing to begin to study the reality of the world in the

reality of the worm. His Aristotelianism simply meant that the study

of the humblest fact will lead to the study of the highest truth.

That for him the process was logical and not biological, was concerned

with philosophy rather than science, does not alter the essential

idea that he believed in beginning at the bottom of the ladder.

But he also gave, by his view of Scripture and Science,

and other questions, a sort of charter for pioneers more purely

practical than himself. He practically said that if they could

really prove their practical discoveries, the traditional

interpretation of Scripture must give way before those discoveries.

He could hardly, as the common phrase goes, say fairer than that.

If the matter had been left to him, and men like him, there never

would have been any quarrel between Science and Religion. He did

his very best to map out two provinces for them, and to trace

a just frontier between them.

It is often cheerfully remarked that Christianity has failed,

by which is meant that it has never had that sweeping,

imperial and imposed supremacy, which has belonged to each of

the great revolutions, every one of which has subsequently failed.

There was never a moment when men could say that every man was

a Christian; as they might say for several months that every

man was a Royalist or a Republican or a Communist. But if sane

historians want to understand the sense in which the Christian

character has succeeded, they could not find a better case

than the massive moral pressure of a man like St. Thomas,

in support of the buried rationalism of the heathens, which had

as yet only been dug up for the amusement of the heretics.

It was, quite strictly and exactly, because a new kind

of man was conducting rational enquiry in a new kind of way,

that men forgot the curse that had fallen on the temples

of the dead demons and the palaces of the dead despots;

forgot even the new fury out of Arabia against which they

were fighting for their lives; because the man who was asking

them to return to sense, or to return to their senses,

was not a sophist but a saint. Aristotle had described

the magnanimous man, who is great and knows that he is great.

But Aristotle would never have recovered his own greatness,

but for the miracle that created the more magnanimous man;

who is great and knows that he is small.

There is a certain historical importance in what some would

call the heaviness of the style employed. It carries a curious

impression of candour, which really did have, I think,

a considerable effect upon contemporaries. The saint has sometimes

been called a sceptic. The truth is that he was very largely

tolerated as a sceptic because he was obviously a saint.

When he seemed to stand up as a stubborn Aristotelian,

hardly distinguishable from the Arabian heretics, I do seriously

believe that what protected him was very largely the prodigious

power of his simplicity and his obvious goodness and love

of truth. Those who went out against the haughty confidence

of the heretics were stopped and brought up all standing,

against a sort of huge humility which was like a mountain:

or perhaps like that immense valley that is the mould of a mountain.

Allowing for all medieval conventions, we can feel that with

the other innovators, this was not always so. The others,

from Abelard down to Siger of Brabant, have never quite lost,

in the long process of history, a faint air of showing off.

Nobody could feel for a moment that Thomas Aquinas was showing off.

The very dullness of diction, of which some complain,

was enormously convincing. He could have given wit as well as wisdom;

but he was so prodigiously in earnest that he gave his wisdom

without his wit.

After the hour of triumph came the moment of peril. It is always so with

alliances, and especially because Aquinas was fighting on two fronts.

His main business was to defend the Faith against the abuse of Aristotle;

and he boldly did it by supporting the use of Aristotle. He knew

perfectly well that armies of atheists and anarchists were roaring

applause in the background at his Aristotelian victory over all he held

most dear. Nevertheless, it was never the existence of atheists,

any more than Arabs or Aristotelian pagans, that disturbed the

extraordinary controversial composure of Thomas Aquinas. The real

peril that followed on the victory he had won for Aristotle was vividly

presented in the curious case of Siger of Brabant; and it is well

worth study, for anyone who would begin to comprehend the strange

history of Christendom. It is marked by one rather queer quality;

which has always been the unique note of the Faith, though it is not

noticed by its modern enemies, and rarely by its modern friends.

It is the fact symbolised in the legend of Antichrist, who was

the double of Christ; in the profound proverb that the Devil is

the ape of God. It is the fact that falsehood is never so false

as when it is very nearly true. It is when the stab comes near

the nerve of truth, that the Christian conscience cries out in pain.

And Siger of Brabant, following on some of the Arabian Aristotelians,

advanced a theory which most modern newspaper readers would instantly

have declared to be the same as the theory of St. Thomas. That was

what finally roused St. Thomas to his last and most emphatic protest.

He had won his battle for a wider scope of philosophy and science;

he had cleared the ground for a general understanding about faith

and enquiry; an understanding that has generally been observed

among Catholics, and certainly never deserted without disaster.

It was the idea that the scientist should go on exploring and

experimenting freely. so long as he did not claim an infallibility

and finality which it was against his own principles to claim.

Meanwhile the Church should go on developing and defining,

about supernatural things, so long as she did not claim a right to alter

the deposit of faith, which it was against her own principles to claim.

And when he had said this, Siger of Brabant got up and said something

so horribly like it, and so horribly unlike, that (like the Antichrist)

he might have deceived the very elect.

Siger of Brabant said this: the Church must be right theologically,

but she can be wrong scientifically. There are two truths;

the truth of the supernatural world, and the truth of the

natural world, which contradicts the supernatural world.

While we are being naturalists, we can suppose that Christianity

is all nonsense; but then, when we remember that we are Christians,

we must admit that Christianity is true even if it is nonsense.

In other words, Siger of Brabant split the human head in two,

like the blow in an old legend of battle; and declared that a man

has two minds, with one of which he must entirely believe and with

the other may utterly disbelieve. To many this would at least seem

like a parody of Thomism. As a fact, it was the assassination

of Thomism. It was not two ways of finding the same truth;

it was an untruthful way of pretending that there are two truths.

And it is extraordinarily interesting to note that this is the one

occasion when the Dumb Ox really came out like a wild bull.

When he stood up to answer Siger of Brabant, he was altogether

transfigured, and the very style of his sentences, which is

a thing like the tone of a man's voice, is suddenly altered.

He had never been angry with any of the enemies who disagreed

with him. But these enemies had attempted the worst treachery:

they had made him agree with them.

Those who complain that theologians draw fine distinctions

could hardly find a better example of their own folly.

In fact, a fine distinction can be a flat contradiction.

It was notably so in this case. St. Thomas was willing

to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths,

precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.

Because the Faith was the one truth, nothing discovered in nature

could ultimately contradict the Faith. Because the Faith

was the one truth, nothing really deduced from the Faith

could ultimately contradict the facts. It was in truth

a curiously daring confidence in the reality of his religion:

and though some may linger to dispute it, it been justified.

The scientific facts, which were supposed to contradict

the Faith in the nineteenth century, are nearly all of them

regarded as unscientific fictions in the twentieth century.

Even the materialists have fled from materialism; and those who

lectured us about determinism in psychology are already talking

about indeterminism in matter. But whether his confidence

was right or wrong, it was specially and supremely a confidence

that there is one truth which cannot contradict itself.

And this last group of enemies suddenly sprang up, to tell

him they entirely agreed with him in saving that there are

two contradictory truths. Truth, in the medieval phrase,

carried two faces under one hood; and these double-faced sophists

practically dared to suggest that it was the Dominican hood.

So, in his last battle and for the first time, he fought

as with a battle-axe. There is a ring in the words altogether

beyond the almost impersonal patience he maintained in debate

with so many enemies. "Behold our refutation of the error.

It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons

and statements of the philosophers themselves. If then anyone

there be who, boastfully taking pride in his supposed wisdom,

wishes to challenge what we have written, let him not do it

in some corner nor before children who are powerless to decide

on such difficult matters. Let him reply openly if he dare.

He shall find me then confronting him, and not only my

negligible self, but many another whose study is truth.

We shall do battle with his errors or bring a cure to his ignorance."

The Dumb Ox is bellowing now; like one at bay and yet terrible

and towering over all the baying pack. We have already noted why,

in this one quarrel with Siger of Brabant, Thomas Aquinas let

loose such thunders of purely moral passion; it was because

the whole work of his life was being betrayed behind his back,

by those who had used his victories over the reactionaries.

The point at the moment is that this is perhaps his one moment of

personal passion, save for a single flash in the troubles of his youth:

and he is once more fighting his enemies with a firebrand.

And yet, even in this isolated apocalypse of anger, there is one

phrase that may be commended for all time to men who are angry

with much less cause. If there is one sentence that could be

carved in marble, as representing the calmest and most enduring

rationality of his unique intelligence, it is a sentence

which came pouring out with all the rest of this molten lava.

If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical

of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument:

"It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and

statements of the philosophers themselves." Would that all Orthodox

doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger!

Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim;

and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any

theses there. At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands,

what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand.

It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge

a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine

that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving

that he is wrong on somebody else's principles, but not on his own.

After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought

always to have stood established; that we must either not argue

with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.

We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views

of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue

"On the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves."

This is the common sense in a saying attributed to a friend

of St. Thomas, the great St. Louis, King of France, which shallow

people quote as a sample of fanaticism; the sense of which is, that I

must either argue with an infidel as a real philosopher can argue,

or else "thrust a sword through his body as far as it will go."

A real philosopher (even of the opposite school) will be the first

to agree that St. Louis was entirely philosophical.

So, in the last great controversial crisis of his theological campaign,

Thomas Aquinas contrived to give his friends and enemies

not only a lesson in theology, but a lesson in controversy.

But it was in fact his last controversy. He had been a man

with a huge controversial appetite, a thing that exists

in some men and not others, in saints and in sinners.

But after this great and victorious duel with Siger of Brabant,

he was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire for silence and repose.

He said one strange thing about this mood of his to a friend,

which will fall into its more appropriate place elsewhere.

He fell back on the extreme simplicities of his monastic round

and seemed to desire nothing but a sort of permanent retreat.

A request came to him from the Pope that he should set out upon

some further mission of diplomacy or disputation; and he made

ready to obey. But before he had gone many miles on the journey,

he was dead.