In The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison quotes John F. Johnson in his description of the late medieval philosophy scene: “The realist school of thought, with its belief in universals, did not challenge the authority of the Church. Realists treated logic and dialectic as useful but clearly subordinate tools. The nominalists, on the other hand, were inclined to give a very important place to human reason.”
This emphasis initially seemed almost backwards to me. But it makes sense. In pursuing order and meaning, realists found it outside the material and created world, whereas nominalists located it within human thought and language. Thus, nominalists might be more apt to place trust in a system of thought (e.g. dialectic) because that is the very organization of the world. While, realists might be more cautious, recognizing that the order and meaning of the world transcend what we may rationally conceive.
And if this be so, both seem inadequate. A blog post I read (dated two years ago), suggested that the best realists and nominalists realized that a marriage or fusion was necessary of the two extremes. The scholastic dichotomy was in the end false. It was suggested that Wittgenstein is a modern example of the merger between the two views. However that may be, the creation account seems to suggest some sort of merger of its own. Whereas form and meaning are assigned and given in the initial creation of the cosmos by God himself, man’s initial task is that of naming the animals. And whatever the man called the animal, that was its name. Mankind shares in the creation process. We share in the gift of meaning, this is something of what it means to be created in the image of God.
Thus we might heartily agree with the realists that meaning does transcend us in that God is Creator and Lord, and at the same time we might recognize that the nominalists are right, in that we are co-creators and lords.