We need to look at two of the major responses of medieval man to the Christianity that they had inherited. The barbarians had been converted; Europe was Christian. How was man to relate to God in Christian Europe? Though there were other important movements, the two we examine are Scholasticism and Mysticism.

  1. Scholasticism
    1. What was scholasticism?
      1. Britannica: "the philosophical systems and speculative tendencies of various medieval Christian thinkers who, working on a background of fixed religious dogma, sought to solve anew general philosophical problems (as of faith and reason, will and intellect, realism and nominalism, and the provability of the existence of God), initially under the influence of the mystical and intuitional tradition of patristic philosophy and especially Augustinianism and later under that of Aristotle."
      2. New International Dictionary of the Christian Church: "The theology and philosophy taught in the medieval schools from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, and revived in later periods such as in the late sixteenth and seventeenth and nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It features the application of Aristotelian categories to the Christian revelation and attempts to reconcile reason and faith, philosophy and revelation. As a theological method it is associated with organized textbook theology and the thesis method."
      3. Scholasticism was deductive in its approach. It knew which direction each question was heading, and the main emphasis was to prove truth, not to discover it.
      4. Scholasticism represented the next major thrust of thinkers into the forefront of theology. No longer were the bishops or the monastery-based monks the finest thinkers and scholars. The scholastics, although mostly monks, were often based in the new universities which were springing up, such as Paris, Oxford (before 1200), and Cambridge (1209).
      5. In some ways, Aristotle was the father of scholasticism. Even though scholasticism seems to have preceded the arrival of Aristotle in Europe, his philosophy definitely provided the framework for the later scholasticism such as Thomas Aquinas. In the 12th century his works were translated from Arabic into Latin and took theology by storm. Thomas Aquinas called Aristotle "the philosoper."
    2. Anselm 1033-1109
      1. We talked about Anselm in the lesson on his book Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). In some ways he was the first scholastic. He used reason to demonstrate the truth of Christian doctrine, even though he carefully pointed out that reason was not necessary when faith was present. As we mentioned before, he was the theologian that first formulated the satisfaction theory of the atonement, the grandfather of the subsitutionary doctrine.
    3. Peter Abelard 1079-1142
      1. An unstable, arrogant but popular and scholarly teacher
      2. Sic et Non, a work which exhibited the contradictions in the earlier work of church fathers, and did not resolve them.
      3. Known for his shameful love affair with one of his pupils, Heloise. Became a monk after castrated by henchmen hired by the girl's enraged father.
    4. Peter Lombard c. 1100-1160
      1. Four Books of Sentences became the standard work on medieval theology. He is the "father of systematic theology in the Catholic Church" (Schaff). His book was more popular and useful than even Aquinas' Summa, but as a system it was superceded by Aquinas.
    5. Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus) c. 1200-1280, Dominican
      1. teacher of Thomas Aquinas
      2. taught at Paris during the time of ferment caused by the arrival of Arabic and Aristotelian philosophy there. Albert was significant in bringing about the acceptance of Aristotle as a legitimate interpreter of philosophy. This did not come about without a battle during which the study of Aristotle was several times condemned as heresy.
    6. Thomas Aquinas 1224-1274, Dominican
      1. Has been likened to a sea with many rivers flowing into it, but none out. Aquinas gave no original thoughts to theology, even compared with the other Scholastics. But his genius was in systematization, and he systematized and buttressed Catholic thinking like no one before or since. Other than the Immaculate Conception, his theology is Roman Catholic theology.
      2. His masterwork was Summa Theologiae. In it he presents doctrine in the scholastic way, as a series of questions and pro and con answers.
      3. Reason is given full weight, but perhaps not undue weight. It is considered a valid tool, but it cannot discover all the mysteries of the faith. Certainly many things, like the existence of God, can be proved by human reason. Others, like the Trinity, come only through revelation.
      4. The sacraments are seven in number (not original with Aquinas, but it was only at this time that the number became fixed). Transubstantiation is established. Submission to the Roman pope is necessary for salvation.
    7. Bonaventure c. 1217-1274
    8. John Duns Scotus c. 1266-1308
      1. Luther regarded Scotus as the example of everything that was worst about scholastic theology.
    9. Summary
      1. The Scholastics seemed often motivated by a pure love of God. In many cases their balance between the power of reason and the necessity of faith seem to be just right, even though their application of such a balance may not be ours.
      2. Is the Francis Schaeffer criticism correct? He taught (especially in his film/book How Should We Then Live that the scholastics believed that the will of man had fallen but not his power of reason. "Aquinas held that man had revolted against God and thus was fallen, but Aquinas had an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen or corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus people could rely on their own human wisdom, and this meant that people were free to mix the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of the non-Christian philosophers" (Schaeffer, 51-52). Discuss.
      3. The Scholastics were faithful children of the medieval church. Even though a couple of them (Abelard, Bacon) might have laid foundations of free thought for the future, the main thrust was to build up and defend the Church's teaching. False doctrine was built up and buttressed with the same tools that were used to support true doctrine. (This is true even if you are a Roman Catholic: for instance, Aquinas and his followers were against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.) There was to be no more real questioning until the Renaissance and Reformation.
      4. What about the later effects of their teaching? Just like any great period of development is followed by a period of fossilization among "the faithful," the Catholics of later centuries grew into a blind following of their traditional theology, and a strict condemnation of newer thinking. Tyndale said, "Remember ye not how within this thirty years and far less, the old barking curs, Dunce's [Duns's] disciples, and like draff, called Scotists, the children of darkness, raged in every pulpit against Greek, Latin and Hebrew?" (Schaff V p. 685)
  2. Mysticism
    1. What was mysticism?
      1. Mysticism in general from the New International Dictionary: "It concerns the interior life of the spirit, that pilgrimage with the divine which begins outside its awareness and proceeds to the highest stages of personal development possible. . . . Mysticism is simply a life of prayer, even from the outset when personal confession is paramount because of realization that one stands before God and must beg forgiveness before any growth in Him can begin. One begun, and life's purpose shifted from self to God, the 'scale of perfection' or 'steps leading to the mind of God,' has also begun." (pp 691-92)
      2. Christian mysticism has cropped up at many times in history, but certainly the Middle Ages was one of its chief periods. Its insights have influenced evangelical Christianity in ways that many of us would not even recognize, but the continued popularity of books like The Imitation of Christ and the influence of the Moravians upon John Wesley are just two of many historical connections between forms of mysticism and modern evangelicalism.
      3. Although St. Francis was a type of mystic, we will not spend time on him here. He is very important in medieval history, but we have run out of time.
    2. Earlier medieval mysticism
      1. Bernard of Clairvaux, that most high churchly of clerics (he preached up a crusade, and persecuted heretics, and administered monastic reforms, etc.) was also a mystic in his devotion. He is the author of many hymns as well as devotional books. "Prayer and personal sanctity, according to Bernard, are the ways to the knowledge of God, and not disputation. The saint, not the disputant, comprehends God." (Schaff V 640).
      2. Hugh of St. Victor, and the later monks at St. Victor who were influence by him, could also be listed among the scholastic theologians, but were also mystics. Many of their writings are mystical, devotional.
      3. Meister (Master) Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German Dominican. His teaching was condemned by the pope after his death. He stressed four stages of the soul's life before God: dissimilarity, similarity, identity, and breakthrough.
      4. Johann Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Dominican, was influenced by Eckhart. He preached sermons which were later appreciated by Luther. He
      5. Heinrich Suso (c.1295-1366), another Dominican, studied under Eckhart. Wrote Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, a devotional book, possibly the most popular such book until the Imitation of Christ. He suffered many persecutions, including loss of position and exile, for defending Eckhart.
      6. Theologia Germanica was a book written about 1350 with no particular author, which circulated in Germany for centuries. It seems to have originated in the "friends of God" movement associated with Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso. This book fell into the hands of Luther and he said that next to the Bible and Augustine, he had never read anything as helpful.
      7. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a major player in returning the papacy from Avignon to Rome, urging the pope to take this step (cf. last week's lesson). She was an advisor to the next pope, Urban VI. She left several writings, including the Dialogue.
    3. The Devotio Moderna
      1. The term means "modern devotion." Britannica says the group stressed "meditation and the inner life, attaching little importance to ritual and external works, and downgrading the highly speculative spirituality of the 13th and 14th centuries."
      2. Geert Groote (1340-1384), the founder of the movement, was a formerly self-indulgent man who repented of his former life in 1374. He became an itinerant preacher and monk but never a priest. He gathered a community around him without using vows. According to Dowley, he believed that religion is to love God and worship him, not the taking of special vows.
      3. Later some of his followers and others gathered in Deventer, The Netherlands, and became known as The Brethren of the Common Life. Again, the group was not bound by vows, but they lived in a monastic simplicity. After 1387, the movement became part of the Augustinians, and their constitutions were approved by the pope in 1395. They became great book-producers and educators, and many of the pre-Reformers were educated by them, including Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536).
      4. Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380-1471), a representative of that community, wrote or edited the book that sums up medieval mysticism, and has become one of the most beloved books in history, The Imitation of Christ.
    4. Summary
      1. In the mystics we have a helpful introduction to one part of the reform that was needed in the church -- a renewed attention to the inner life with God. But this didn't go far enough without a corresponding renewal of the outer, objective truth of salvation, which by now had been buried under layers of pagan idolatry, superstition, and sophistry. The Church at this time still had room for its mystics, but it did not have room for the reformers of the outer truth. Such were Wyclif and Hus, to whom we turn next week.


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Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Mark S. Ritchie. Permission is granted to use materials herein for the building up of the Christian Church. Bibliographic entries for published works quoted may be found in Bibliography page.