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The Enslavement of Philosophy

Francisco Suárez.

668 words

Translated by Guillaume Durocher

Translator’s Note: The following is an extract from Pierre Hadot’s excellent Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique? (Paris: Gallimard, 1995, available in English as What is Ancient Philosophy?, pp. 381-84, under the heading “Philosophy as Servant of Theology.” The title is editorial.

Writing his Disputationes Metaphysicae in the last years of the sixteenth century, a work which would exert a considerable influence on many philosophers from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the scholastic author Francisco Suárez affirms:

In this work, I take on the role of a philosopher, while being well aware that our philosophy must be a Christian philosophy, the servant of the divine theology.[1]

For Suárez, a “Christian” philosophy is one which does not contradict Christianity’s dogmas and which is Christian insofar as it can be used for the elucidation of theological problems. This does not mean that this philosophy is specifically Christian in the doctrines that it professes. On the contrary, it is essentially an Aristotelian philosophy as it was absorbed by and adapted to Christianity in thirteenth-century scholasticism.

This representation of philosophy, as the servant and even the slave of a theology or of a higher wisdom, in fact had a long history. From the beginning of our era [i.e., the birth of Christ], one finds it with [the Jewish writer] Philo of Alexandria, who had proposed a general scheme for training and spiritual progress. The first stage was, following the program of Plato’s Republic, the study of the sciences, such as geometry, music, but also grammar and rhetoric. Commenting on the book of Genesis, Philo identifies these sciences with Hagar, the Egyptian slave which Abraham had to unite with before acceding to union with Sarah, his wife, which is philosophy.[2] But philosophy must, in turn, be considered the slave of wisdom; wisdom, or true philosophy, being for Philo the Word of God revealed by Moses.[3] The Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria and especially Origen, would take up with this relation of proportion established by Philo between scientific education and Greek philosophy on the one hand, and Greek philosophy and Mosaic philosophy on the other, obviously replacing the philosophy of Moses with that of Christ.

But one must clearly understand that the Greek philosophy in question here is Greek philosophy reduced to philosophical discourse. Christianity had presented itself, as we have seen, as a philosophy, that is to say as a way of life, as the only valid way of life. But in the face of this Christian way of life, sometimes colored by nuances borrowed from profane [i.e., Greco-Roman] philosophy, remained the philosophical discourses of the various schools, or more accurately, the philosophical discourse of Neoplatonism, given that from the third century A.D. Neoplatonism was, as a synthesis of Aristotelianism and Platonism, the only remaining philosophical school. It is this Neoplatonic philosophical discourse which the Church Fathers, following Clement of Alexandria and Origen, would use to develop their theology. From this point of view, philosophy would be, from Christian Antiquity onward, the servant of theology, a servant which would bring its know-how, but which would also adapt to the demands of its new master. There would also be a contamination. In the Trinity, the Father would soon have the traits of the first Neoplatonic God, the Son would be imagined on the model of the second God of Numenius or the Plotinian Intellect. But the development of theological controversies would lead to a representation of a consubstantial Trinity. Aristotelian logic and ontology, which Neoplatonism had assimilated, would provide the indispensable concepts to formulate the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation, enabling the distinction between nature, essence, substance, and hypostasis. In return, under the effect of the refinements of theological discussions, Aristotelian ontology would become more refined and precise.

According to Philo and Origen, the liberal arts were a preparation for Greek philosophy, and Greek philosophy was a preparation for revealed philosophy.



1. Francisco Suárez, Disputationes Metaphysicae, in Opera omnia (Vivès, 1861), volume 25, Ratio et discursus totius operis.

2. Philo of Alexandria, De Congressu, §11.

3. Ibid., §79-80.

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  1. rhondda
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Since I have that book and no one to discuss it with, the subtleties of his argument have left me. However, thanks for the reminder, I shall have to pull it off the shelf again. Perhaps compare to Albert Camus’ Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism which likewise I would have to read again. If I were an academic, comparing them would be interesting. However, I have slipped off into William G Gray’s interpretation of the Qabalah which much to my amazement resonants with what I believe. I just read his interpretation of the tarot card called the lovers and the projections men and women have of each other. I did not know that; quite revealing as I yelled at my cats for disrupting this revelation. The thing is you either have principles you live by or you don’t. One is cosmos and the other is chaos. You have to choose.

  2. Jez Turner
    Posted January 9, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    In today’s world where organised religion and academia have been subverted, Philosophy, is now the Queen of the Sciences; without it knowledge has no order and is merely a jumble of unconnected meaningless facts, (or the facts can be twisted into any meaning – which is much the same thing); with it we have Wisdom. Without it we are a rabble, with it we are an army.

  3. Peter
    Posted January 9, 2017 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    It had always appeared to me scandalous that theology, or the church, should impose restrictions upon thinking (I equate philosophy with logical concluding in this context). But when I ask myself, where might such an idea even come from… how would anyone have an idea that it might appear useful to impose limitations on thinking, I can find quite some aspects:

    -first, logical concluding (the actual activity of doing so) doesn´t provide wellness; actually, it produces the opposite. Wellness is a state of relaxation, of sensorial awareness, of being in the now. Thinking however is the opposite, it orients towards the future and the past, it deals with doubts and worries, it causes physical tension. So thinking is kind-of anti-life, anti actual living.
    Logical concluding mirrors mechanics, cause and effect. But the human psyche works differently, and abhors the mechanical.

    -second, logical concluding doesn´t bring upon creations. Art, and beauty, springs from inspiration, not from logical concluding.

    -and logic falls short even in science at the critical points: the world seems to be paradoxical, not logical. Logic is the tool of choice in the realm of medium dimensions, the meso-cosmos. But in microcosmos (quantum mechanics) and macrocosmos (GTR), this logic fails (or, for the case of GRT, at least common sense fails).

    So those are aspects that justify to put logical concluding on a lower rank, while it may remain open what is put on the higher rank. It doesn´t warrant prohibition of logical thinking, i.e. the imposition of restrictions, but it warrants a call for caution regarding the usefulness, and scope of applicability, of logical concluding.

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