MEDIEVAL LEARNING 

Historians used the designation "Dark Ages" to refer most of the Medieval period because they believed nothing significant happened during that time. Even if you categorize the early Middle Ages as a period of ignorance, you can not do the same with the later period. Eleventh century Europeans emphasized education and learning. In fact, some of the impetus comes from Charlemagne.

I want to tell you about two Medieval intellectual developments which impacted the rest of religious and secular history. The first is the rise of the university. The second is a renewed interest in Greek philosophy, logic, and classical education.

I. The Middle Ages saw the rise of the universities.

During the early Middle Ages, education was concentrated in the monastery or Cathedral school. It is significant that education rested in the hands of religious institutions. Usually only the wealthy could afford an education, but the church took seriously the necessity to educate poorer youth with potential. For much of the period, the term "illiterate" described even the clergy. As the years passed, the church emphasized education. Some of that emphasis came from the Dominicans and other monastic orders which made ecclesiastical and secular education a priority.

Universities grew out of church schools; mostly Cathedral schools which surpassed monastic schools in importance by the eleventh century. Curriculum consisted of the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. None of these schools faintly resembled modern colleges or universities; even instructional methods differed.

The term "university" originally applied to any body or gathering of men, but it was usually applied to particular associations. Town citizens, a Cathedral chapter or even trade guild members were known as "universities." (Guilds were organizations which provided fellowship, mutual aid, and the means for self-regulating any craft.) In a sense it could be said that "the universities were like a craft-gild [sic], an association for the protection and regulation of their craft of learning...." Ultimately the name university became attached to developing schools.

Early universities owned no ivy covered halls, no quadrangles, no dormitories and very little endowment. Teachers lectured in meeting halls or Cathedrals. Students lived where they pleased, although they commonly lived together in a common residence. Universities did not own common boarding houses for students until the fifteenth century. Disputations pitting instructor against instructor or student against student formed the instruction, although teachers also used question and answer sessions. Universities offered the bachelor's degree but awarded it to only two-thirds of those who studied for it. Study for the master's degree took six years and once admitted to a theological school it took six years to earn the Bachelor of Divinity degree and another six to receive a Doctorate in Divinity.

In time, the universities became influential. Universities influenced public opinion, shaped Canon law and led in church reform efforts. University men provided significant leadership during a time when nationalistic sentiment was increasing. These educated men provided the backbone for the developing nation's leadership.

II. The Middle Ages saw the resurgence of intellectual interests.

Europe's renewed interest in intellectual pursuits was an important byproduct of the Crusades. The church lost many classical documents when Islam swarmed over the old Empire's eastern half. Church-controlled education and most classical learning stood on three supports: classical Grecian philosophy (specifically Plato), the Bible, and patristic writings. Knowledge came by revelation and questioning official interpretations earned official displeasure. No one, therefore, questioned the church's authoritative explanations.

Returning Crusaders brought with them the writings of Averroes and Maimonides. Both scholars tried to reconcile belief in deity (Allah for Averroes, Jehovah for Maimonides) with Aristotle, a philosopher western scholars had largely forgotten.

Aristotle's major problem rested in his world view. Its hard to boil down the differences between Plato and Aristotle. The major difference lies in the question of the origin and acquisition of knowledge. Does knowledge come from above, by revelation, or from the senses as one experiences the world? Plato taught that a realm of "ideas" existed from which all else derived reality. These "ideas" existed (were real) in the form of general concepts or universals. Aristotle focused on what could be seen, measured, and experienced rather than abstract extrapolations. Francis Schaeffer uses a painting by Raphael which illustrates the difference. Commenting on the painting, Schaeffer writes:

In The School of Athens Raphael painted Plato with one finger pointed upward, which means that he pointed toward absolutes or ideals. In contrast, he pictured Aristotle with his fingers spread wide and thrust down toward the earth, which means that he emphasized particulars.

Two schools of thought developed. Each school reflected their acceptance or rejection of Aristotelian thinking. Realists held that universals were real entities corresponding to Plato's "ideas." Nominalists held that universals were mere words for abstract concepts, thus individual things (particulars) were the only real things.

While these positions sound extremely abstract, they broke upon Medieval Europe with the same impact Darwinism had on eighteenth century America. The debate held significance for the nature of the Trinity as well as numerous philosophical questions. Aristotle, for example, explained reality without reference to God. For Aristotle, matter and form were eternal and history but an endless cycle.

The period's better thinkers wrestled with these concepts. How does human reason relate to revelation? Can human reason provide an answer to nature's reality, as Aristotle suggested? Is human reason flawed, making knowledge dependent upon outside sources, as Plato suggested? Can human reason and revelation be harmonized? Here were the questions. Since so many important men are involved, let's just take a look at three.

Historians recognize Anselm as the scholastic philosophy's herald. Anselm impacted England's religious structures during his years as Archbishop of Canterbury. He took monastic vows in 1060 then became prior of Bec's influential monastery in 1063. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. While at Canterbury he developed a reforming reputation because he encouraged regular synods, enforced clerical celibacy and suppressed the slave trade.

You can see Anselm's approach to the revelation/reason controversy in his famous Ontological Argument. Using this argument, Anselm attempted to prove by human reason the necessity of God's existence. The argument continues and takes a number of different approaches; all of which eventually return to the rational mind.

Anselm's greatest theological contribution was Cur Deus Homo (Why Did God Become Man?). Before this work, the church saw atonement in terms of "ransom." According to the ransom view, Satan held men captive requiring a ransom. Christ died to pay the ransom cost but tricked Satan as the resurrection proves. Anselm took a different tack. He argued that man ran up a debt of sin which he could not repay. God's nature required satisfaction and Christ died to satisfy God's wrath making redemption possible. Anselm's greatest problem was his bonding of Catholicism's merit system to his concept.

Abelard also influenced the scholarship of this period. He gained familiarity with both realism and nominalism by studying with Roscelin, a nominalist, and William of Champeaux, a realist. Abelard also studied with Anselm so the two have ties.

Abelard's method caused more controversy than his conclusions. He started with the idea that everything should be questioned and that doubt led to truth. This idea placed tremendous emphasis on man's ability to investigate and reason. In other words, Abelard identified more with Aristotle than Plato. In many ways he was not far off base, but the Council of Soisson condemned his views on the Trinity in 1121. Abelard then returned to Paris in 1136 where be became a popular instructor at the University of Paris.

It was a juicy bit of gossip which made Abelard famous. At the age of 40, he became attracted to Heloise, the young niece of Fulbert, canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Hired as Heloise's tutor, Abelard himself said their relationship enjoyed more kisses than theses. Heloise became pregnant and the two fled to Brittany where their son was born. Abelard, who was only in minor orders and could have married, desired to marry her. She refused because she believed it would interfere with his church career. To assure Abelard's continued celibacy, Heloise's uncle hired men to break into Abelard's apartment and "neuter" him.

Thomas Aquinas is the third and most important of these three Medieval scholars. Aquinas came from noble blood, born in Aquino, Italy in 1225. His family sent him to Monte Cassino at age 5 and he remained there until age 14. He then went to study at the University of Naples. After his study there he entered the Dominican order. His decision to take monastic vows angered his family who tried to dissuade him tempting him with a prostitute, kidnapping him and then offering to purchase the see of the Archbishop of Naples for him. He successfully rejected all these offers.

Aquinas attempted to harmonize human reason with divine revelation. He sought to separate the two emphasizing that all human knowledge comes from the senses. He argued that this fact in no way detracted from the reality of revelation. He stated that men base philosophy on data available to all men. Men base theology, on the other hand, on revelation linked with logical deduction. His two most famous writings, Summa Theologiae and Summa Contra Gentiles, demonstrated his approach. He based the former on revelation -- Scripture. He designed the latter to support Christian belief from human reason alone. Aquinas developed his famous "five ways," essentially a rational use of human reason, to prove God's existence.

In many respects, Aquinas's methodology sounds normal today. He began with the statement of a problem. He then quoted his authority which included Scripture and early Christian writers. Then he moved on to consider all relevant data and only then drew his conclusion. Even though we consider this a rational way to arrive at conclusions, others rejected his work. The University of Paris condemned, in part, his works in 1277. Other Medieval scholastics criticized his efforts because they believed reason and revelation incompatible. In 1879, the Pope declared Aquinas's work valid and it became the basis for modern Roman Catholic theology.

Others went far beyond Aquinas, Abelard, and Anselm. These scholars focused almost entirely upon the world and its particulars. Their investigation comprised the beginnings of modern science. It is of tremendous significance that Christianity forms the foundation for modern science.

These same issues draw much attention today. We "post-moderns" find ourselves at the opposite extreme. Contemporary secular scholars reject revelation as a valid source of knowledge. Today's philosophers deny metaphysics as a legitimate realm for inquiry. Christians often slip to the other extreme and deny the validity of knowledge gained from the world around us. Avoid extremes! Romans 1 and 2 tells us truth can be derived from General Revelation -- that which is in the world. We can learn much from the world as it is. As Arthur Holmes argues, "All truth is God's truth!"

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