P00413In The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, Etienne Gilson believed that medieval Christians had a true sense of history.  Medieval historians held a linear worldview and saw history as a progression from the Biblical history to Christ’s return.  The classicists saw their work as the end; there was no life after death.  The medieval Christian writers had a higher calling because there was an implied morality to writing history.  Augustine believed that history was unfolding by God’s divine work, and Bede also believed that history was holy because it was God’s dealings with mankind.  Most medieval writers believed in Augustine’s theory of historical decline, but some like Thomas Aquinas saw progress in history instead.  Aquinas believed that there was progress in the political and social order, progress that should be measured against the last day.  Medieval Christians could grasp a total view of history because they had a beginning (creation), a middle (the Gospel), and an end (the judgment day).

Gilson argued that the medieval biblical world view affected later historical philosophies, and his ideas are credible.  Christians discern the hand of God in detailed historical facts and explain them accordingly.  All events fall into the place assigned them by God’s divine plan.  God has to be in history or history has no explanation.  Secular Renaissance philosophers replaced God with evolution, nature, or reason, but medieval Christian philosophers were the only ones who had a synthesis of history and an explanation for history.

– Hannah S. Bowers


Gilson, Etienne.  The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.