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The philosophy of the Middle Ages, and especially Scholasticism, was occupied for a long while almost exclusively with speculations on dogmatical and metaphysical questions, leaving ethics almost untouched; wherever, however, it brought ethics within the sphere of its intellectual activity, there it treated the same merely in connection with dogmatics, and for the most part in the light of the opinions of Augustine, and, later, of those of Plato and Aristotle,—often bunglingly combining the latter with the former.—The brilliant but idealistico-Pantheistically inclined mystical philosophy of John Scotus Erigena, which threw its lights, as well as its shades, into the 201field of morality, seems—as not understood—to have had little influence on subsequent ethics, save in the mystical school.
The spiritualistico-idealistic tendency of the Schoolmen could primarily treat of the moral only collaterally, at least until the dogmatical and metaphysical fields had attained to some degree of philosophical maturity and self-consciousness. The potent influence of Augustine made itself felt also in the ethical field, and his ground-thoughts re-appear in almost all the Schoolmen. The freedom of the will is, however, distinctly recognized, although, in man after the fall, as in a trammeled condition; but also Greek philosophy was powerfully influential on ethics, not merely as to the form, but also as to the subject-matter. The Platonic classification of the virtues was already early combined with the three theological virtues, notwithstanding the inconsistency and impracticability of such a uniting of two entirely different stand-points. In how far John Scotus’ attempted translation of Aristotle’s Ethics into Latin was of influence, is doubtful; the application of Aristotle to Christian ethics appears in a more direct form, first, in the thirteenth century.
The deep-thinking John Scotus Erigena (at the court of Charles the Bald, then at Oxford, ob. 886), who was not understood by his own age, and who had but little connection with it even in his errors, touches in his chief work, De divisione naturae, also upon the more general ethical topics, and molds them to his idealistico-Pantheistical system,—a system based on the Neo-Platonic views of Dionysius the Areopagite, and which—very different from recent naturalistic Pantheism—denies not the absolute personal God, but on the contrary the independent reality of the world. The world is only another existence-form of the eternal God himself; God alone is real; the creature, in so far as it is conceived as distinct from God, is nothing; it exists only in so far as it is wholly identical with God. God is whatever truly exists, because He himself does all and is in all; Good in not merely the most excellent part of the creature, but He is its beginning, its middle and its end—the essence and true being in all things. The coming into being of the world is 202a self-outpouring of God, a theophany. God is manifest not only in Christ, but also in the entire universe,—in the highest degree in the rational creature, and here indeed most purely in the saints. The believing and cognizing of the saints take place solely through God; God cognizes himself in man as cognizing Him. Man is therefore God’s image, because God himself comes to manifestation in him. As now every thing ideal, and hence the ideal world, precedes, in the mind of God, its outward realization, so is also the spirit of man earlier than his body,—which latter is but the shadow of the spirit, and is in fact by it created, and that too as a perfect and immortal one (ii, 24).—Man, however, is now no longer in the condition in which he originally was; the body is frail and subject to death; this condition can have been brought about only by sin. But how is sin possible if God is in fact all in all? Answer: every thing is real only in so far as it is good; but in so far as it is not good, it exists not. Hence evil is a mere non-being, a merely negative something, but in no sense a real entity. God can cognize only that which is, not that which is not,— hence He cognizes and knows not evil; for if He knew it, then it would be real, and hence would not be evil (ii, 28). This normal Dei ignorantia banishes evil from the sphere of being into that of mere appearance. All evil is merely the shadow of the good, and is accordingly only upon the good,—is essentially only a lack,—a non-being, not a positive entity. Sin consists in this, that man, as on the one hand identical with, and, on the other, distinct from God, fixes his attention solely upon this distinctness from God,—directs himself toward himself and toward nature, and not toward God (i, 68; ii, 12, 25). Only by this confessedly per se inexplicable (v. 36) fall into sin, is it that the body of man became material and mortal and a clog to the spiritual life (ii, 25, 26; comp. iv, 12, 14, 15, 20); man thereby ceased to be truly a spirit,—became subject to natural desires; previously the lord of nature, he now became a slave to it.—The ultimate goal of all life, and hence also of the moral, is the return into God (ii, 2, 11), namely, so that this differentness from God, all corporeality and individuality, ceases and passes over into God himself,—is transformed into Him (i, 10; v, 20, 27, 37, 38). Hence all 203moral effort is directed toward this uniting of one’s self with God, toward the breaking down of the hampering limits of individual naturality, and realizes itself in a gradually progressive development (v, 8, 39). Morality must accordingly bear a predominantly spiritualistic and ascetic, negating character,—must disdainfully turn itself away from finite reality (iv, 5). Into details Erigena enters but little. It is perfectly consequential in him that he regards marriage, which rests on the difference of the sexes, as having originated solely in consequence of sin, whereas sinless man was sexless (ii, 6; iv, 12, 23). And yet marriage is now allowable, only, however, in view of the propagation of the race, irrespective of sensuous pleasure. Though the mystico-speculative bases of these ethical thoughts were of a very unchurchly character, still the thoughts themselves answered very well to the ascetic spirit of the then prevalent morality.
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