CHAPTER XV. THE MYSTICS
The schoolmen of the twelfth century thought they could reach God by reason; the Council of Sens, guided by Saint Bernard, replied that the effort was futile and likely to be mischievous. The council made little pretence of knowing or caring what method Abelard followed; they condemned any effort at all on that line; and no sooner had Bernard silenced the Abbot of Saint-Gildas for innovation than he turned about and silenced the Bishop of Poitiers for conservatism. Neither in the twelfth nor in any other century could three men have understood alike the meaning of Gilbert de la Poree, who seems to one high authority unworthy of notice and to another, worthy of an elaborate but quite unintelligible commentary. When M. Rousselet and M. Haureau judge so differently of a voluminous writer, the Council at Rheims which censured Bishop Gilbert in 1148 can hardly have been clear in mind. One dare hazard no more than a guess at Gilbert's offence, but the guess is tolerably safe that he, like Abelard, insisted on discussing and analyzing the Trinity. Gilbert seems to have been a rigid realist, and he reduced to a correct syllogism the idea of the ultimate substance - God. To make theology a system capable of scholastic definition he had to suppose, behind the active deity, a passive abstraction, or absolute substance without attributes; and then the attributes - justice, mercy, and the rest - fell into rank as secondary substances. "Formam dei divinitatem appellant." Bernard answered him by insisting with his usual fiery conviction that the Church should lay down the law, once for all, and inscribe it with iron and diamond, that Divinity - Divine Wisdom- -is God. In philosophy and science the question seems to be still open. Whether anything ultimate exists - whether substance is more than a complex of elements - whether the "thing in itself" is a reality or a name - is a question that Faraday and Clerk-Maxwell seem to answer as Bernard did, while Haeckel answers it as Gilbert did; but in theology even a heretic wonders how a doubt was possible. The absolute substance behind the attributes seems to be pure Spinoza.
This supposes that the heretic understands what Gilbert or Haeckel meant, which is certainly a mistake; but it is possible that he may see in part what Bernard meant and this is enough if it is all. Abelard's necessitarianism and Gilbert's Spinozism, if Bernard understood them right, were equally impossible theology, and the Church could by no evasion escape the necessity of condemning both. Unfortunately, Bernard could not put his foot down so roughly on the schools without putting it on Aristotle as well; and, for at least sixty years after the Council of Rheims, Aristotle was either tacitly or expressly prohibited.
One cannot stop to explain why Aristotle himself would have been first to forbid the teaching of what was called by his name in the Middle Ages; but you are bound to remember that this period between 1140 and 1200 was that of Transition architecture and art. One must go to Noyon, Soissons, and Laon to study the Church that trampled on the schools; one must recall how the peasants of Normandy and the Chartrain were crusading for the Virgin in 1145, and building her fleches at Chartres and Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives while Bernard was condemning Gilbert at Rheims in 1148; we must go to the poets to see what they all meant by it; but the sum is an emotion - clear and strong as love and much clearer than logic - whose charm lies in its unstable balance. The Transition is the equilibrium between the love of God - which is faith - and the logic of God - which is reason; between the round arch and the pointed. One may not be sure which pleases most, but one need not be harsh toward people who think that the moment of balance is exquisite. The last and highest moment is seen at Chartres, where, in 1200, the charm depends on the constant doubt whether emotion or science is uppermost. At Amiens, doubt ceases; emotion is trained in school; Thomas Aquinas reigns.