Rewriting the Narrative of Scripture: 12th-Century Debates over Reason and Theological Form
Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 3 (1993)
While the history of Western philosophy as a whole can be seen as the appropriation by philosophers of the discourse of truth from the poets and makers of myth, of the replacement of narrative form by the properly philosophical’ form of argument, it is an appropriation that also takes place within medieval thought, particularly in the construction of theology as a legitimate academic discipline. Whether that appropriation constitutes progress or loss was as much debated in the Middle Ages as it is in recent thought.
I offer this medieval chapter not to take a side on the issue, but as an example of some of the presuppositions and dangers awaiting both sides of the polemic. The particular episode I would like to examine is a well-known one, the conflicts over and changes in the nature of theology in the Latin twelfth century, beginning with the even more familiar conflict between Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux. I offer this essay with full knowledge that characterizations of this conflict are cliche-ridden. It has been seen as the conflict between the first stirrings of the modern critical spirit and the conservative, fideistic opposition, between an emerging Scholastic’ and a revised ‘monastic’ theology, and/or between ‘systematic’ and ‘mystical’ theologies.