One of the besetting problems of the present age is the conflict between criticism and commitment. Those who hold strong convictions fear that rational criticism may corrode the moral and religious foundations of society. Advocates of rational critique tend to perceive people with strong convictions as fanatics. The Middles Ages was likewise a time when people were both deeply committed and relentlessly rational. In Peregrinations of the Word, Louis Mackey examines the way important medieval thinkers dealt with the relation of faith and reason, in the hope that their example may assist contemporary society in harmonizing belief and critical vigilance.
Peregrinations of the Word consists of essays on five medieval philosophers: Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus. An essay on the tension between autobiography and theology in Augustine's Confessions is followed by a commentary on the dialogue of faith and reason in his On the Teacher. A third essay shows how Anselm's Proslogion both constructs and deconstructs the ontological proof of God's existence. There is a discussion of Bonaventure's staging of the opposition between Aristotle and the scriptures in terms of the respective languages. Finally there is an examination of the ways Duns Scotus's distinctive positions on the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, and the Eucharist shape his philosophical views.
Though each of these essays is an independent study, they have as a common theme the relation between faith and reason as understood in the Middle Ages; e.g., the conflict between the hermeneutic of reason and that of revelation in the construction of self; the dialectic of philosophical demonstration and devotional submission required of all discourse about God; and the resources available to medieval theology for resolving the conflict of nominalism and realism. Mackey maintains that medieval philosophy can only be understood in its theological and scriptural milieu. He has argued this point by showing how that milieu enabled these five thinkers to deal with a variety of philosophical issues. He concludes persuasively that religious beliefs and exegetical concerns did not shackle the medieval mind but rather liberated it and empowered it.
Louis Mackey is Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin.