Philosophy of Scholasticism
Episode #3 of the course “Brief history of Medieval philosophy”
Becoming the dominant mode of understanding theology in the Middle Ages, scholasticism refers to the methods and practices of scholars at medieval universities. The first universities were established in the 11th and 12th centuries around Europe, and the academics who examined ancient and important holy texts developed a system for studying, interpreting, and analyzing religious dogma. Defined by rigorous exercises in mastering ancient languages, referencing various texts against one another, and finding harmonies and reconciliations between differing theological thoughts, scholasticism became the dominant method for building upon the theories and rhetoric of past scholars to better and further understand God’s message.
Scholasticism developed from the monastic studies undertaken by some of the greatest early Christian thinkers, including Anselm of Canterbury, who first proposed the Ontological Argument as proof of God’s divine existence. The most dominant figure of scholasticism is St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica is considered one of the most important works of medieval Europe. In “rediscovering” ancient Greek texts and incorporating them into their contemporaneous theological world view, scholastics like Aquinas began to place emphasis on rationality and logic as a method of understanding the divine. In particular, Aquinas was the first to reconcile the writings of Aristotle with the Augustinian ideas of divine faith through revelation.
Scholastics were not generally viewed as philosophers during the Middle Ages, as Thomas Aquinas considered philosophers pagans. However, they were highly regarded as men of wisdom and were often invited to the courts of European kings to teach, preach, and enlighten others to the “true meanings” of the Bible’s lessons and messages. Much as in academia today, it was important that a scholastic be educated in both the ancient texts as well as the modern theological understandings. This type and level of information could make them a valuable asset, or a formidable foe, to any European ruling power.
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