LEARNING [ch.21]

  Teaching Friar

[adapted from Walker, 5]

[21.1] The Dominicans and Franciscans;  [21.2] Early Scholasticism;  [21.3] The Universities;
[21.4] High Scholasticism and its Theology







The Cathari and Waldenses profoundly affected the mediæval church. Out of an attempt to meet them by preachers of equal devotion, asceticism, and zeal, and of greater learning, grew the order of the Dominicans. In the same atmosphere of “apostolic poverty” and literal fulfilment of the commands of Christ in which the Waldenses flourished, the Franciscans had their birth.

Celestial Dominic and Francis, introd. by Thomas Aquinas

In these two orders mediaeval monasticism had its noblest exemplification. In Francis of Assisi mediaeval piety had its highest and most inspiring representative.


    Dominic And The Dominicans


Dominic was a native of Calaroga, in Castile, and was born in 1170. A brilliant student in Palencia, and a youth of deep religious spirit, he became a canon of Osma, about ninety miles northeast of Madrid. From 1201 he enjoyed the friendship of a kindred spirit, Diego of Acevedo, the bishop of Osma. The two journeyed on political business in 1203 through southern France, where the Cathari were then in the height of their power. There they found the Roman missionaries treated with contempt. At a meeting with these missionary leaders in Montpellier, in 1204, Diego urged a thorough reform of method. Only by missionaries as self-denying, as studious of “apostolic poverty,” and as eager to preach as the “perfect” of the Cathari, could these wanderers be won back to the Roman fold. Moved by the bishop’s exhortation, the missionaries endeavored to put his advice into practice. A nunnery, chiefly for converted Catharite women, was established in 1206, in Prouille, not far from Toulouse.

Dominic Preaching Dominc & the Albigensians

Thus far Diego seems to have been the leader, but he had to return to his diocese, and died in 1207. Thenceforward Dominic carried on the work. The storm of the great anti-Cathari war made it most discouraging. Dominic was tempted by the offer of bishoprics to leave so thankless a task, but he persisted. He would take the Apostle Paul as his model. He would win the people by preaching. Gradually he gathered like-minded men about him. In 1215 friends presented them a house in Toulouse. The same year Dominic visited the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome, seeking papal approval for a new order. It was refused, though his efforts were commended, and he now adopted the so-called “Rule” of St. Augustine. Recognition amounting to the practical establishment of the order was, however, obtained from Pope Honorius III (1216-1227) in 1216.


  The Dominicans


Even in 1217, when the new association numbered but a few, Dominic determined to send his preachers widely. With a view to influencing future leaders, he directed them first to the great centres of education, Paris, Rome, and Bologna. The order grew with amazing rapidity. Its first general chapter was held in Bologna in 1220. Here, under the influence of Franciscan example, it adopted the principle of mendicancy— the members should beg even their daily food. By this chapter, or that of the following year, the constitution of the “Order of Preachers,” or Dominicans, as they were popularly called, was developed. At the head was a “master-general,” chosen by the general chapter, originally for life. The field was divided into “provinces,” each in charge of a “provincial prior,” elected for a four-year term by the provincial chapter. Each monastery chose a “prior,” also for four years. The general chapter included the “master-general,” the “provincial priors,” and an elected delegate from each province. The system was one, therefore, that combined ingeniously authority and representative government. It embraced monasteries for men, and nunneries for women, though the latter were not to preach, but ultimately developed large teaching activities.

Dominican Tree Dream of Innocent III (Dominican version)

Dominic died in 1221. The order then numbered sixty houses, divided among the eight provinces of Provence, Toulouse, France, Lombardy, Rome, Spain, Germany, and England, and for years thereafter it increased rapidly. Always zealous for learning, it emphasized preaching and teaching, sought work especially in university towns, and soon became widely represented on the university faculties. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, the theologians; Eckhart and Tauler, the mystics; Savonarola, the reformer, are but a few of the great names that adorn the catalogue of Dominicans. Their learning led to their employment as inquisitors—a use that formed no part of Dominic’s ideal. The legends which represent him as an inquisitor are baseless. He would win men, as did his example, Paul, by preaching. To achieve that result he would undergo whatever sacrifice or asceticism that would make his preachers acceptable to those whom they sought. Yet it is evident that lowly, self-sacrificing and democratic as were Dominic’s aims, the high intellectualism of his order tended to give it a relatively aristocratic flavor. It represented, however, an emphasis on work for others, such as had appeared in the Waldenses. Its ideal was not contemplation apart from the world, but access to men in their needs.


   Francis of Assisi


Great as was the honor paid to Dominic and the Dominicans, it was exceeded by the popular homage given to the Franciscans, and especially to their founder. The austere preacher, of blameless youth, planning how he may best reach men, and adopting poverty as a means to that end, is not so winsome a figure as that of the gay, careless young man who sacrifices all for Christ and his fellows, and adopts poverty not as a recommendation of his message, but as the only means of being like his Master. In Francis of Assisi is to be seen not merely the greatest of mediaeval saints, but one, who through his absolute sincerity of desire to imitate Christ in all things humanly possible, belongs to all ages and to the church universal.

Innocent III Dreams of Francis Francis Receives the Stgmata

Giovanni Bernadone was born in 1181 or 1182, the son of a cloth merchant of Assisi, in central Italy. To the boy the nickname Francesco—Francis—was given, and soon supplanted that bestowed on him in baptism. His father, a serious man of business, was little pleased to see the son leading in the mischief and revelry of his young companions.

A year’s experiences as a prisoner of war in Perugia, following a defeat in which he had fought on the side of the common people of Assisi, against the nobles, wrought no change in his life. A serious illness began to develop another side of his character. He joined a military expedition to Apulia, but withdrew, for what reason is not evident.

His conversion was a gradual process. “When I was yet in my sins it did seem to me too bitter to look upon the lepers, but the Lord Himself did lead me among them, and I had compassion upon them. When I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.”[1] This note of Christ-like compassion was that to which Francis’s renewed nature first responded.

On a pilgrimage to Rome he thought he heard the divine command to restore the fallen house of God. Taking it literally, he sold cloth from his father’s warehouse to rebuild the ruined church of St. Damian, near Assisi. Francis’s father, thoroughly disgusted with his unbusinesslike ways, now took him before the bishop to be disinherited; but Francis declared that he had henceforth no father but the Father in heaven. This event was probably in 1206 or 1207.

For the next two years Francis wandered in and about Assisi, aiding the unfortunate, and restoring churches, of which his favorite was the Portiuncula, in the plain outside the town. There, in 1209, the words of Christ to the Apostles,[2] read in the service, came to him, as they had to Valdez, as a trumpet-call to action. He would preach repentance and the kingdom of God, without money, in the plainest of garments, eating what might be set before him. He would imitate Christ and obey Christ’s commands, in absolute poverty, in Christ-like love, and in humbled deference to the priests as His representatives. “The Most High Himself revealed to me that I ought to live according to the model of the holy Gospel.”

Like-minded associates gathered about him. For them he drafted a “Rule,” composed of little besides selections from Christ’s commands, and with it, accompanied by eleven or twelve companions, he applied to Pope Innocent III for approval. It was practically the same request that Valdez (founder of the Waldensians) had preferred in vain in 1179. But Innocent was now trying to win some of the Waldenses for the church, and in 1210 at an audience with Innocent III Francis was given permission and his brothers tonsured (signifying their subjection to ecclesiastical authority). The associates now called themselves the Penitents of Assisi, a name for which, by 1216, Francis had substituted that of the Minor, or Humbler, Brethren, by which they were henceforth to be known.

    The Franciscans

Francis’s association was a union of imitators of Christ, bound together by love and practising the utmost poverty, since only thus, he believed, could the world be denied and Christ really followed. Two by two, they went about preaching repentance, singing much, aiding the peasants in their work, caring for the lepers and outcasts. “Let those who know no trade learn one, but not for the purpose of receiving the price of their toil, but for their good example and to flee idleness. And when we are not given the price of our work, let us resort to the table of the Lord, begging our bread from door to door.” [3] Soon wide- reaching missionary plans were formed, which the rapid growth of the association made possible of attempting. Francis himself, prevented by illness from reaching the Mohammedans through Spain, went to Egypt in 1219, in the wake of a crusading expedition, and actually preached before the Sultan.

Francis himself was little of an organizer. The free association was increasing enormously. What were adequate rules for a handful of like-minded brethren were soon insufficient for a body numbering several thousands. Change would have come in any event. It was hastened, however, by the organizing talents of Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia, the later Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), who had befriended Francis, and whose appointment Francis secured as “protector” of the society. Under Ugolino’s influence, and that of Brother Elias of Cortona, the transformation of the association into a full monastic order went rapidly forward. From the time of Francis’s absence in Egypt and Syria in 1219 and 1220, his real leadership ceased. A new rule was adopted in 1221, and a third in 1223. In the latter, emphasis was no longer laid on preaching, and begging was established as the normal, not the exceptional, practice. Already, in 1219, provinces had been established, each in charge of a “minister.” Papal directions, in 1220, had prescribed obedience to the order’s officers, established a novitiate, a fixed costume, and irrevocable vows.

Francis and Bonaventure at the Cross Francis and Franciscan Saints

Probably most of these changes were inevitable. They were unquestionably a grief to Francis, though whether so deeply as has often been contended is doubtful. He was always deferential to ecclesiastical authority, and seems to have regarded these modifications more with regret than with actual opposition. He withdrew increasingly from the world. He was much in prayer and singing. His love of nature, in which he was far in advance of his age, was never more manifest. Feeble in body, he longed to be present with Christ. He bore what men believed to be the reproduction of Christ’s wounds. How they may have been received is an unsolved, and perhaps insoluble, problem. On October 3, 1226, he died in the church of Portiuncula. Two years later he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX. Few men in Christian history have more richly deserved the title.

In organization, by Francis’s death, the Franciscans were like the Dominicans. At the head stood a “minister general” chosen for twelve years. Over each “province” was a “provincial minister,” and over each group a “custos,” for, unlike the Dominicans, the Franciscans did not at first possess houses. As with the Dominicans, provincial and general chapters were held by which officers were chosen and legislation achieved. Like the Dominicans, also, the Franciscans had almost from the first, their feminine branch—the so-called “second order.” That of the Franciscans was instituted by Francis himself, in 1212, through his friend and disciple, Clara Sciffi of Assisi (1194-1253). The growth of the Franciscans was extremely rapid, and though they soon counted many distinguished scholars, they were always more democratic, more the order of the poor, than the Dominicans.

THE Dominicans and Franciscans, known respectively as Black Friars and Gray Friars in England, soon exercised an almost unbounded popular influence. Unlike the older orders, they labored primarily in the cities. There can be no doubt that their work resulted in a great strengthening of religion among the laity. At the same time they undermined the influence of the bishops and ordinary clergy, since they were privileged to preach and absolve anywhere. They thus strengthened the power of the papacy by diminishing that of the ordinary clergy.


  The Tertiaries

One chief influence upon the laity was the development of the “Tertiaries” or “third orders”—a phenomenon which first appeared in connection with the Franciscans, though the tradition which connects it with Francis himself is probably baseless. The “third order” permitted men and women, still engaged in ordinary occupations, to live a semi-monastic life of fasting, prayer, worship, and benevolence.

Francis and his Rule Katherine of Sienna (Dominican Tertiary)
& Elizabeth of Hungary  (Franciscan Tertiary)

A conspicuous illustration is St. Elizabeth of Thuringia (1207-1231). Ultimately all the mendicant orders developed Tertiaries. As time went on the system tended to become an almost complete monasticism, from which the married were excluded. It must be regarded as a very successful attempt to meet the religious ideals of an age which regarded the monastic as the true Christian life.

   Beguines and Beghards

The piety of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries found many expressions other than through the Dominicans and Franciscans. One important manifestation, especially in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, was through the Beguines—associations of women living in semi-monastic fashion, but not bound by irrevocable vows.


They seem to [may] have received their name from those hostile to them in memory of the preacher of Liége, Lambert le Begue, who was regarded as having been a heretic; and the Beguine movement undoubtedly often sheltered anti-churchly sympathizers. [or from Al(Bigen)sians] It was in the main orthodox, however, and spread widely, existing in the Netherlands to the present.


BRUGGE , Belgium

Its loose organization made effective discipline difficult, and, in general, its course was one of deterioration. A parallel, though less popular, system of men’s associations was that of the Beghards.


   Divisions Among the Franciscans

The divisions in the Franciscan order, which had appeared in Francis’s lifetime between[:]

those [strict/ observant/ spirituals] who would emphasize a simple life of Christ-like poverty

and those [conventual/ lax] who valued numbers, power, and influence,

were but intensified with his death.

St. FRANCIS & Br. LEO (El Greco) Br. ELIAS

The stricter party found a leader in Brother Leo,

the looser in Elias of Cortona.

    The papal policy favored the looser, since ecclesiastical politics would be advanced by the growth and consolidation of the order along the lines of earlier monasticism.

The quarrel became increasingly embittered.


  The use of gifts and buildings was secured by the laxer party on the claim that they were held not by the order itself but by “friends.”

   Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254), in 1245, allowed such use, with the reservation that it was the property of the Roman Church, not of the order.

  These tendencies the stricter party vigorously opposed. But that party itself fell into dubious orthodoxy. Joachim of Fiori, in extreme southern Italy (1145?-1202), a Cistercian abbot who had been reputed a prophet, had divided the history of the world into three ages,

    those of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That of the Spirit was to come in full power in 1260. It was to be an age of men who understood “the eternal Gospel”—not a new Gospel, but the old, spiritually interpreted. Its form of life was to be monastic

In the sixth decade of the thirteenth century many of the stricter Franciscans adopted these views and were persecuted not merely by the laxer element, but by the moderates, who obtained leadership when Bonaventura was chosen general minister in 1257. These stricter friars of prophetic faith were nicknamed “Spirituals.”

  Under Pope John XXII (1316-1334) some of the party were burned by the inquisition in 1318. During his papacy a further quarrel arose as to whether the poverty of Christ and the Apostles was complete. John XXII decided in 1322 in favor of the laxer view, and imprisoned the great English schoolman, William of Occam, and other asserters of Christ’s absolute poverty.

The quarrel was irreconcilable, and finally Pope Leo X (1513-1521) formally recognized the division of the Franciscans in 1517 into

Observant,” or strict, and

Conventual,” or loose sections,

each with its distinct officers and general chapters.








   The Beginnings of Scholasticism

The educational work of cathedral and monastic schools has already been noted in connection with Bede, Alcuin, and Hrabanus Maurus. It was long simply imitative and reproductive of the teaching of the Church Fathers, especially of Augustine and Gregory the Great. Save in the case of John Scotus Erigena , it showed little that was original. Schools, however, increased, especially in France in the eleventh century, and with their multiplication came an application of the methods of logic, or of dialectics, to the discussion of theological problems which resulted in fresh and fertile intellectual development. Since it originated in the schools, the movement was known as “Scholasticism.” Most of the knowledge of dialectic method was at first derived from scanty translations of portions of Aristotle’s writings and of Porphyry’s Isagoge, both the work of Boethius (480?-524).

The development of Scholasticism was inaugurated and accompanied by a discussion as to the nature of “universals” —that is as to the existence of genera and species—a debate occasioned by Porphyry’s Isagoge. Three positions might be taken. The extreme “realists,” following Platonic influences, asserted that universals existed apart from and antecedent to the individual objects—ante rem, i. e., the genus man was anterior to and determinative of the individual man. The moderate “realists,” under the guidance of Aristotle, taught that universals existed only in connection with individual objects—in re. The “nominalists,” following Stoic precedent, held that universals were only abstract names for the resemblances of individuals, and had no other existence than in thought—post rem. The only real existence for them was the individual object. This quarrel between “realism” and “nominalism” continued throughout the scholastic period and profoundly influenced its theological conclusions.

The first considerable scholastic controversy was a renewal of the dispute once held between Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus as to the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. Berengar (?-1088), head of the cathedral school in Tours about 1049, attacked the prevalent conception that the elements are changed as to substance into the actual body and blood of Christ. His position was essentially nominalist. Berengar was immediately opposed by Lanfranc (?-1089), then prior of the monastery of Bee in Normandy, and to be William the Conqueror’s celebrated archbishop of Canterbury. Berengar was condemned at the Roman synod of 1050. He conformed and was restored in 1059. About ten years later he reasserted his opinions, but once more withdrew them in 1079, only to declare them again. The discussion showed that the view soon to be known as “transubstantiation” had become the dominant opinion in Latin Christendom. It was to have full approval at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, where it was given the highest dogmatic standing.

   Anselm of Canterbury

Berengar’s dialectic methods were employed, with very dissimilar results, by Anselm, who has often been called the Father of the Schoolmen. Born in Aosta in northern Italy about 1033, Anselm became a monk under Lanfranc in Bee, whom he succeeded as prior. Under him the school of Bec attained great distinction. In 1093 he became archbishop of Canterbury—having a stormy episcopate by reason of his Hildebrandian principles. He died in office in 1109. As a theologian, Anselm was an extreme realist, and was moreover convinced of the full capacity of a proper dialectic to prove the truths of theology. His famous ontological demonstration of the existence of God is at once realistic and Neo- Platonic. As set forth in his Proslogion, God is the greatest of all beings. He must exist in reality as well as in thought, for if He existed in thought only, a yet greater being, existing in reality as well as in thought, could be conceived; which is impossible. This proof, which aroused the opposition of Gaunilo, a monk of Marmoutiers, in Anselm’s lifetime, seems to most a play on words, though its permanent validity has not lacked defenders.

Anselm next directed his attention to Roscelin, a canon of Compiegne, who, under nominalistic influence, had asserted that either the Father, Son, and Spirit are identical or are three Gods. At a synod held in Soissons in 1092 Roscelin was compelled to abjure tritheism. Anselm now declared that nominalism was essentially heretical, and that view was the prevalent one for the next two centuries.

Anselm’s most influential contribution to theology was his discussion of the atonement in his Cur Deus homo, the ablest treatment that had yet appeared. Anselm totally rejected any thought, such as the early church had entertained, of a ransom paid to the devil. Man, by sin, has done dishonor to God. His debt is to God alone. Anselm’s view is feudal. God’s nature demands satisfaction. Man, who owes obedience at all times, has nothing wherewith to make good past disobedience. Yet, if satisfaction is to be made at all, it can be rendered only by one who shares human nature, who is Himself man, and yet as God has something of infinite value to offer. Such a being is the God-man. Not only is His sacrifice a satisfaction, it deserves a reward. That reward is the eternal blessedness of His brethren. Anselm’s widely influential theory rests ultimately on the realistic conviction that there is such an objective existence as humanity which Christ could assume.

Anselm was of devout spirit, fully convinced that dialectic explanation could but buttress the doctrines of the church. “I believe, that I may understand,” is a motto that expresses his attitude. The same high realist position was maintained by William of Champeaux (1070 ?-l 121), who brought the school of St. Victor, near Paris, into great repute, and died as bishop of Chalons.


The ablest use of the dialectic method in the twelfth century was made by Abelard (1079-1142), a man of irritating method, vanity, and critical spirit, but by no means of irreligion. Born in Pallet, in Brittany, he studied under Roscelin and William of Champeaux, both of whom he opposed and undoubtedly far surpassed in ability. On the vexed question of the universals he took a position intermediate between the nominalism of one teacher and the realism of the other, though leaning rather to the nominalist side. Only individuals exist, but genera and species are more than names. Hence he is usually called a “conceptualist,” though he gave universals greater value than mere mental conceptions.


Abelard’s life was stormy. By the age of twenty-two he was teaching with great following in Melun, near Paris. By 1115 he was a canon of Notre Dame, with a following in Paris such as no lecturer had yet enjoyed. He fell in love with Heloise—the niece of his fellow canon, Fulbert—a woman of singular devotion of nature. With her he entered into a secret marriage. The enraged uncle, believing his niece deceived, revenged himself by having Abelard emasculated, and thus barred from clerical advancement. Abelard now became a monk. To teach was his breath of life, however, and he soon resumed lecturing. A reply to Roscelin’s tritheism leaned so far in the other direction that his enemies charged him with Sabellianism, and his views were condemned at a synod in Soissons in 1121. His criticisms of the traditional career of St. Denis made the monastery of St. Denis an uncomfortable place of abode, and he now sought a hermit’s life. Students gathered about him and founded a little settlement which he called the Paraclete. His criticisms had aroused, however, the hostility of that most powerful religious leader of the age, the orthodox traditionalist Bernard, and he now sought refuge as abbot of the rough monastery in Rhuys, in remote Brittany. Yet he left this retreat to lecture for a while in Paris, and engaged in a correspondence with Heloise, who had become the head of a little nunnery at the Paraclete, which is the most interesting record of affection—especially on the part of Heloise —which the Middle Ages has preserved. Bernard procured his condemnation at the synod of Sens in 1141, and the rejection of his appeal by Pope Innocent II. Abelard was now a broken man. He made submission and found a friend in Peter, the abbot of Cluny. In 1142 he died in one of the monasteries under Cluny jurisdiction.

Abelard’s spirit was essentially critical. Without rejecting the Fathers or the creeds, he held that all should be subjected to philosophical examination, and not lightly believed. His work, Sic et non Yes and No — setting against each other contrary passages from the Fathers on the great doctrines, without attempt at harmony or explanation, might well arouse a feeling that he was a sower of doubts. His doctrine of the Trinity was almost Sabellian. His teaching that man has inherited not guilt but punishment from Adam was contrary to the Augustinian tradition. His ethical theory that good and evil inhere in the intention rather than in the act, disagreed with current feeling. His belief that the philosophers of antiquity were sharers of divine revelation, however consonant with ancient Christian opinion, was not that of his age. Nor was Abelard less individual, though decidedly modern, in his conception of the atonement. Like Anselm, he rejected all ransom to the devil; but he repudiated Anselm’s doctrine of satisfaction no less energetically. In Abelard’s view the incarnation and death of Christ are the highest expression of God’s love to men, the effect of which is to awaken love in us. Abelard, though open to much criticism from the standpoint of his age, was a profoundly stimulating spirit. His direct followers were few, but his indirect influence was great, and the impulse given by him to the dialectic method of theological inquiry far-reaching.

   Hugh and Peter Lombard

A combination of a moderate use of the dialectic method with intense Neo-PIatonic mysticism is to be seen in the work of Hugh of St. Victor (1097?-1141). A German by birth, his life was uneventful. About 1115 he entered the monastery of St. Victor, near Paris, where he rose to be head of its school. A quiet, modest man, of profound learning and piety, his influence was remarkable. He enjoyed the intimate friendship of Bernard. Probably his most significant works were his commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and his treatise On the Mysteries of the Faith. In true mystic fashion he pictured spiritual progress as in three stages—cogitation, the formation of sense-concepts; meditation, their intellectual investigation; contemplation, the intuitive penetration into their inner meaning. This last attainment is the true mystical vision of God, and the comprehension of all things in Him.

No original genius, like Abelard and Hugh, but a man of great intellectual service to his own age, and held in honor till the Reformation, was Peter Lombard, “the Master of the Sentences” (?-1160?). Born in humble circumstances in northern Italy, Peter studied in Bologna and Paris, in part at least aided by the generosity of Bernard. In Paris he became ultimately teacher of theology in the school of Notre Dame, and near the close of his life, in 1159, bishop of the Parisian see. Whether he was ever a pupil of Abelard is uncertain; but he was evidently greatly influenced by Abelard’s works. Under Hugo of St. Victor he certainly studied, and owed that teacher much. Between 1147 and 1150 he wrote the work on which his fame rests—the Four Books of Sentences. After the well-accustomed fashion, he gathered citations from the creeds and the Fathers on the several Christian doctrines. What was fresh was that he proceeded to explain and interpret them by the dialectic method, with great moderation and good sense, and with constant reference to the opinions of his contemporaries. He showed the influence of Abelard constantly, though critical of that thinker’s extremer positions. He was even more indebted to Hugo of St. Victor. Under the four divisions, God, Created Beings, Salvation, Sacraments and the Last Things, he discussed the whole round of theology. The result was a handbook which so fully met the needs of the age that it remained till the Reformation the main basis of theological instruction.

With the middle of the twelfth century the first period of Scholasticism was over. The schools continued in increasing activity, but no creative geniuses appeared. The last half of the century was distinguished, however, by the introduction to the West, which had thus far had little of Aristotle, of the greater part of his works and of much Greek philosophy besides, by the Jews of Spain and southern France, who, in turn, derived them from the Arabs. The Latin conquest of Constantinople, in 1204, led ultimately to direct translations from the originals. The result was to be a new and greater outburst of scholastic activity in the thirteenth century.








Cathedral and monastic schools were never more flourishing than in the twelfth century. Teachers were multiplying and gathering about them students. Anselm, Abelard, William of Champeaux, Hugo of St. Victor, and Peter Lombard were simply the most eminent of a host. Students flocked to them in large numbers from all parts of Europe. Paris and Oxford were famed for theology, Bologna for church and civil law, Salerno for medicine.


Under these circumstances the universities developed in a manner which it is difficult exactly to date. The change which they implied was not the establishment of teaching where none had been before, but the association of students and teachers into a collective body, after the fashion of a trade guild, primarily for protection and good order, but also for more efficient management and the regulation of admission to the teaching profession. In its educational capacity such a group was often called a studium generale. The beginnings of university organization—which must be distinguished from the commencement of teaching—may be placed about the year 1200.


By the close of the twelfth century there were in Bologna two “universities,” or mutual protective associations of students. The organization in Paris became normal, however, for northern Europe. Its earliest rules date from about 1208, and its recognition as a legal corporation from a letter of Pope Innocent III of about 1211. In Paris there was a single “university,” originally formed by the union of the cathedral school and the more private schools of the city, and divided for instruction into four faculties—one preparatory, that of the “arts,” in which the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and music) were taught; and the three higher faculties of theology, canon law, and medicine. Over each faculty a dean presided. Besides this educational organization students and professors were also grouped, for mutual aid, in “nations,” each headed by a proctor. These varied in number in the several institutions. In Paris they were four—the French, the Picards, the Normans, and the English.

Teaching was principally by lecture and by constant debate, a method which, whatever its shortcomings, rendered the student ready master of his knowledge, and brought talent to light. The first degree, that of bachelor, was similar to an admission to apprenticeship in a guild. The second degree, that of master or doctor, resembling the master workman in a guild, carried with it full authority to teach in the institution where it was conferred, and soon, for the graduates of the larger universities, to teach anywhere. The use of Latin as the sole language of the classroom made possible the assembly of students from all parts of Europe, and they flocked to the more famous universities in immense numbers.

The needs of these students, many of whom were of extreme poverty, early aroused the interest of benefactors. One of the most influential and oldest foundations thus established was that formed in Paris by Robert de Sorbon (1201-1274) in 1252. It provided a home and special teaching for poor students, under the guidance of “fellows” of the house. Such establishments, soon known as “colleges,” rapidly multiplied, and gave shelter to the great majority of students, rich and poor. The system still survives in the English universities. So prominently was the Sorbonne identified with theological instruction that its name came to be popularly, though erroneously, attached to the faculty of theology in Paris. That university ranked till the Reformation as the leader of Europe, especially in the theological studies.

Universities, many of which were short-lived, sprang up with great rapidity. In general, they were regarded as ecclesiastical—authorization by the Pope being almost essential. The most conspicuous early lay approval was that of Naples, in 1225, by the Emperor Frederick II.








The recovery of the whole of Aristotle, the rise of the universities, and the devotion of the mendicant orders to learning, ushered in a new period of Scholasticism in the thirteenth century, and marked the highest intellectual achievement of the Middle Ages. The movement toward this “modern theology,” as it was called, was not without much opposition, especially from traditionalists and adherents to the Augustinian Neo- Platonic development. Aristotle met much hostility. A series of great thinkers, all from the mendicant orders, made his victory secure. Yet even they, while relying primarily on Aristotle, made much use of Plato as reflected in Augustine and the Pseudo-Dionysius.

To Alexander of Hales (?-1245), an Englishman and ultimately a Franciscan, who taught in Paris, was due the treatment of theology in the light of the whole of Aristotle. Yet to him the Scripture is the only final truth. With this new period of Scholasticism a broader range of intellectual interest is apparent than in the earlier, though the old problem between realism and nominalism continued its pre-eminence. Alexander was a moderate realist. Universals exist ante rem in the mind of God, in re in the things themselves, and post rem in our understanding. In this he was followed by Albertus Magnus and Aquinas.


Albertus Magnus (1206?-1280), a German and a Dominican, studied in Padua, and taught in many places in Germany, but principally in Cologne. He served as provincial prior for his order, and was, for a few years, bishop of Regensburg. The most learned man of his age, his knowledge of science was really remarkable. His acquaintance not merely with Aristotle, but with the comments of Arabian scholars, was profounder than that of Alexander of Hales. He was, however, a great compiler and commentator rather than an original theological genius. That which he taught was brought to far clearer expression by his pupil, Thomas Aquinas.

   Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1 274) was a son of Landulf, count of Aquino, a small town about half-way between Rome and Naples. Connected with the German imperial house of Hohenstaufen and with that of Tancred, the Norman Crusader, it was against the wishes of his parents that Thomas entered the Dominican order in 1243. His spiritual superiors were aware of his promise, and sent him to Cologne to study under Albertus Magnus, who soon took his pupil to Paris. On receiving the degree of bachelor of divinity, Thomas returned to Cologne in 1248, and now taught as subordinate to Albertus Magnus. These were years of rapid intellectual growth. Entrance into the Paris faculty was long refused him on account of jealousy of the mendicant orders, but in 1257 he was given full standing there.

From 1261 for some years he taught in Italy, then once more in Paris, and finally, from 1272, in Naples. He died, on his way to the Council of Lyons, in 1274. In these crowded years of teaching Thomas was constantly consulted on important civil and ecclesiastical questions, and was active in preaching; yet his pen was busy with results as voluminous as they were important. His great Summa Theologiœ was begun about 1265, and not fully completed at his death. Personally he was a simple, deeply religious, prayerful man. Intellectually his work was marked by a clarity, a logical consistency, and a breadth of presentation that places him among the few great teachers of the church. In the Roman communion his influence has never ceased. By declaration of Pope Leo XIII (1878- 1903), in 1879, his work is the basis of present theological instruction.


Closely associated with Aquinas in friendship and for a time in teaching activities in the University of Paris, was John Fidanza (1221-1274), generally known as Bonaventura. Born in Bagnorea, in the States of the Church, he entered the Franciscan order in 1238, rising to become its “general” in 1257. A year before his death he was made a cardinal. Famed as a teacher in Paris, he was even more distinguished for his administration of the Franciscan order and for his high character. Much less an Aristotelian than Aquinas, he was especially influenced by the Neo-Platonic teachings of Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. He was essentially a mystic. By meditation and prayer one may rise into that union with God which brings the highest knowledge of divine truth. Yet, though a mystic, Bonaventura was a theologian of dialectic ability whose work, more conservative and less original than that of Aquinas, nevertheless commanded high respect.

  Aquinas’ Theology

According to Aquinas, in whom Scholasticism attained its noblest development, the aim of all theological investigation is to give knowledge of God and of man’s origin and destiny. Such knowledge comes in part by reason—natural theology— but the attainments of reason are inadequate. They must be augmented by revelation. That revelation is contained in the Scriptures, which are the only final authority; but they are to be understood in the light of the interpretations of the councils and the Fathers—in a word, as comprehended by the church. The truths of revelation cannot be attained by reason, but they are not contrary to reason, and reason can show the inadequacy of objections to them. Aquinas is thus far from sharing Anselm’s conviction that all truths of Christianity are philosophically demonstrable; but he holds that there can be no contradiction between philosophy and theology, since both are from God.

In treating of God Aquinas combined Aristotelian and Neo- Platonic conceptions. He is the first cause. He is pure activity. He is also the most real and perfect of existences. He is the absolute substance, the source and end of all things. As perfect goodness, God does always that which He sees to be right. Regarding the Trinity and the person of Christ, Aquinas stood essentially on the basis of Augustine and the Chalcedonian formula (ante, p. 151).

God needs nothing, and therefore the creation of the world was an expression of the divine love which He bestows on the existences He thus called into being. God’s providence extends to all events, and is manifested in the predestination of some to everlasting life, and in leaving others to the consequences of sin in eternal condemnation. Aquinas’s position is largely determinist. Man has, indeed, in a certain sense, freedom. His will acts; but that does not preclude the determining or permissive providence of God. The divine permission of evil results in the higher good of the whole. Though sin is no less sinful, its existence permits the development of many virtues which go to make strength of character in those who resist.

Aquinas abandoned the ancient distinction between “soul” and “spirit.” The soul of man is a unit, possessing intellect and will. It is immaterial. Man’s highest good is the vision and enjoyment of God. As originally created man had, in addition to his natural powers, a superadded gift which enabled him to seek that highest good and practise the three Christian virtues—faith, hope, and love. This Adam lost by sin, which also corrupted his natural powers, so that his state became not merely a lack of original righteousness, but a positive turning toward lower aims. Sin is, therefore, more than merely negative. In this fallen state it was impossible for Adam to please God, and this corruption was transmitted to all his posterity. Man still has the power to attain the four natural virtues, prudence, justice, courage, and self-control; but these, though bringing a certain measure of temporal honor and happiness, are not sufficient to enable their possessor to attain the vision of God.

Man’s restoration is possible only through the free and unmerited grace of God, by which man’s nature is changed, his sins forgiven, and power to practise the three infused Christian virtues. No act of his can win this grace. While God could conceivably have forgiven man’s sins and granted grace without the sacrifice of Christ—here Aquinas differed from Anselm— the work of Christ was the wisest and most efficient method God could choose, and man’s whole redemption is based on it. That work involved satisfaction for man’s sin, and Christ won a merit which deserves a reward. It also moves men to love. Aquinas thus developed and combined views presented by Anselm and Abelard. Christ’s satisfaction superabounds man’s sin, and the reward which Christ cannot personally receive, since as God He needs nothing, comes to the advantage of His human brethren. Christ does for men what they cannot do for themselves.

Once redeemed, however, the good works that God’s grace now enables man to do deserve and receive a reward. Man now has power to fulfil not only the precepts but the counsels of the Gospel . He can do works of supererogation, of which the chief would be the faithful fulfilment of the monastic life. He can not merely fit himself for heaven; he can add his mite to the treasury of the superabundant merits of Christ and the saints. Yet all this is made possible only by the grace of God. Aquinas thus finds full room for the two dominating conceptions of mediæval piety—grace and merit.

Grace does not come to men indiscriminately. It has its definite channels and these are the sacraments, and the sacraments alone. Here Scholasticism attained far greater clearness of definition than had previously existed. The ancient feeling that all sacred actions were sacraments was still alive in the twelfth century, but Hugo of St. Victor and Abelard clearly placed five in a more conspicuously sacramental category than others, and Peter Lombard defined the sacraments as seven. Whether this reckoning was original with him is still an unsolved problem; nor was it at once universally accepted. The influence of his Sentences ultimately won the day. As enumerated by Peter Lombard, the sacraments are baptism, confirmation, the Lord’s Supper, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and matrimony. All were instituted by Christ, directly or through the Apostles, and all convey grace from Christ the head to the members of His mystical body, the church. Without them there is no true union with Christ.

Every sacrament consists of two elements which are defined in Aristotelian terms of form and matter—a material portion (water, bread, and wine, etc.); and a formula conveying its sacred use (“I baptize thee,” etc.). The administrant must have the intention of doing what Christ and the church appointed, and the recipient must have, at least in the case of those of years of discretion, a sincere desire to receive the benefit of the sacrament. These conditions fulfilled, the sacrament conveys grace by the fact of its reception—that is ex opere operato. Of this grace God is the principal cause; the sacrament itself is the instrumental cause. It is the means by which the virtue of Christ’s passion is conveyed to His members.

By baptism the recipient is regenerated, and original and previous personal sins are pardoned, though the tendency to sin is not obliterated. Man is now given the grace, if he will use it, to resist sin, and the lost power to attain the Christian virtues. Infant baptism had become the universal practice, but in the time of Aquinas immersion was still the more prevalent form, and had his approval.

The sole recognized theory regarding Christ’s presence in the Supper was that which had been taught by Paschasius Radbertus and Lanfranc, and had been known since the first half of the twelfth century as transubstantiation. It had been given full dogmatic authority by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Aquinas but added clearness of definition. At the words of consecration by the priest the miracle is wrought by the power of God, so that while the “accidents” (shape, taste, and the like) remain unaltered, the “substance” is transformed into the very body and blood of Christ.

Aquinas also accepted and developed the view that the whole body and blood of Christ is present in either element. It was far from original with him, but had grown with the increasing custom of the laity to partake of the bread only. A withdrawal of the cup instigated by the clergy did not take place. The abandonment of the cup was rather a layman’s practice due to fear of dishonoring the sacrament by misuse of the wine. Such anxiety had manifested itself as early as the seventh century in the adoption of the Greek custom of dipping the bread in the wine—a practice repeatedly disapproved by ecclesiastical authority, but supported by lay sentiment. By the twelfth century the laity were avoiding the use of the wine altogether, apparently first of all in England. By the time of Aquinas lay communion in the bread alone had become prevalent. Similar considerations led to the general abandonment by the Western Church, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the practice of infant communion, which had been universal, and which continues in the Greek Church to the present.

Mediæval piety and worship reach their highest point in the Lord’s Supper. It is the continuation of the incarnation, the repetition of the passion, the source of spiritual upbuilding to the recipient, the evidence of his union with Christ, and a sacrifice well pleasing to God, inclining Him to be gracious to those in need on earth and in purgatory.

Penance, though not reckoned a sacrament of equal dignity with baptism or the Lord’s Supper, was really of great, if not prime, importance in mediæval practice. Mediæval thought regarding the personal religious life centred about the two conceptions of grace and merit. Baptism effected the forgiveness of previous sins; but for those after baptism penance was necessary. The Latin mind has always been inclined to view sin and righteousness in terms of definite acts rather than as states, and therefore to look upon man’s relations to God under the aspects of debt and credit—though holding that the only basis of credit is the effect of God’s grace. These tendencies were never more marked than in the scholastic period. They represented wide-spread popular views which the schoolmen explained theologically, rather than originated.

According to Aquinas, penance involves four elements, contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution. Contrition is sincere sorrow for the offense against God and a determination not to repeat it. Yet Aquinas holds that, as all sacraments convey grace, a penance begun in “attrition,” that is, in fear of punishment, may by infused grace become a real contrition.

Private confession to the priest had made gradual progress since its advocacy by the old British missionaries (ante, p. 197). Abelard and Peter Lombard were of opinion that a true contrition was followed by divine forgiveness, even without priestly confession, though they thought such confession desirable. The Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, required confession to the priest at least once a year of all laymen of age of discretion. Such confession thereby became church law. Alexander of Hales argued its necessity, and Aquinas gave it more logical exposition. It must be made to the priest as the physician of the soul, and include all “deadly “sins—the catalogue of which was now much larger than in the early church (ante, p. 100).

Though God forgives the eternal punishment of the penitent, certain temporal penalties remain as a consequence of sin. This distinction was clearly made by Abelard and became the current property of the schoolmen. These temporal penalties satisfy the sinner’s offense against God so far as it is in his power to do so. They also enable him to avoid sin in the future. They are the “fruits of repentance.” It is the business of the priest to impose these satisfactions, which, if not adequate in this life, will be completed in purgatory.

On evidence thus of sorrow for sin, confession, and a willingness to give satisfaction, the priest, as God’s minister or agent, pronounces absolution. Here, then, was the great control of the priesthood over the laity till the Reformation, and in the Roman Church to the present. Without priestly pardon no one guilty after baptism of a “deadly” sin has assurance of salvation.

A great modification of these satisfactions was, however, rapidly growing in the century and a half before Aquinas. A remission of a portion or of all of these “temporal” penalties could be obtained. Such remission was called an “indulgence.” Bishops had long exercised the right to abridge satisfactions in cases where circumstances indicated unusual contrition. Great services to the church were held to deserve such consideration. Peter Damian (1007?-1072) regarded gifts of land for a monastery or a church as affording such occasions. These did not constitute the full indulgence system, however. That seems to have originated in southern France, and the earliest, though not undisputed, instance is about the year 1016. Their first conspicuous employment was by a French Pope, Urban II (1088-1099), who promised full indulgence to all who engaged in the First Crusade, though Pope Alexander II had given similar privileges on a smaller scale for battle against the Saracens in Spain about 1063. Once begun, the system spread with great rapidity. Not only Popes but bishops gave indulgences, and on constantly easier terms. Pilgrimages to sacred places or at special times, contributions to a good work, such as building a church or even a bridge or a road, were deemed deserving of such reward. The financial possibilities of the system were soon perceived and exploited. Since “temporal” penalties included those of purgatory, the value of an indulgence was enormous, though undefined, and the tendency to substitute it for a real penance was one to which human nature readily responded.

Such was the practice to which Aquinas now gave the classic interpretation. Following Alexander of Hales, he taught that the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints form a treasury of good works from which a portion may be transferred by the authority of the church, acting through its officers, to the needy sinner. It can, indeed, avail only for those who are really contrite, but for such it removes, in whole or in part, the “temporal” penalties here and in purgatory. Indulgences were never a license to commit sin. They were an amelioration of penalties justly due to sins already committed and regretted. But, however interpreted, there can be no doubt as to the moral harmfulness of the system, or that it grew worse till the Reformation, of which it was an immediately inducing cause.

At their deaths, according to Aquinas, the wicked pass immediately to hell, which is endless, and from which there is no release. Those who have made full use of the grace offered in the church go at once to heaven. The mass of Christians who have but imperfectly availed themselves of the means of grace must undergo a longer or shorter purification in purgatory.

The church is one, whether in heaven, on earth, or in purgatory. When one member suffers, all suffer; when one does well, all share in his good work. On this unity of the church Aquinas bases prayers to the saints and for those in purgatory. The visible church requires a visible head. To be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation. To the Pope, also, belongs the right to issue new definitions of faith, and Aquinas implies the doctrine of papal infallibility. ,

It was Aquinas’s good fortune that his philosophy and his theology alike found a hearty disciple in the greatest of medieval poets, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), whose Divina Cormmedia moves, in these respects, almost wholly in Aquinas’s realm of thought.

   Duns Scotus

Aquinas was a Dominican, and their natural rivalry soon drew upon his system the criticism of Franciscan scholars, many of whom were of English birth. Such a critic was Richard of Middletown (?-1300?); but the most famous of all, and one of the greatest of the schoolmen, was John Duns Scotus (1265?-1308). In spite of his name he appears to have been an Englishman. Educated in Oxford, where he became its most famous teacher, he removed to Paris in 1304. Four years later the general of the order sent him to Cologne, where he died just as his work there had begun. The keenest critic and the ablest dialectician of all the schoolmen, he attacked the work of Aquinas with the utmost acumen. He attained a position as authoritative teacher in the Franciscan order similar to that of Aquinas in the Dominican, and the theological rivalries of the Thomists and Scotists continued to rage till the Reformation.

Aquinas had held that the essence of God is being. To Scotus, it is free [“arbitrary”] will. The will in God and man is free. Aquinas held that God did what He saw to be right. To Scotus what God wills is right by the mere fact of willing. Though, like Aquinas, Scotus was a modified realist, he laid emphasis on the individual rather than on the universal. To him the individual is the more perfect form.

Since God is absolute will, the sacrifice of Christ has the value which God puts upon it. Any other act would have been sufficient for salvation had God seen fit so to regard it. Nor can we say, with Aquinas, that Christ’s death was the wisest way of salvation. That would be to limit God’s will. All we can affirm is that it was the way chosen by God. Similarly, Scotus minimized the repentance necessary for salvation. Aquinas has demanded contrition or an “attrition”—fear of punishment—that by the infusion of grace became contrition. Scotus held that “attrition” is sufficient by divine appointment to secure fitness for pardon. It is followed by forgiveness, and that by the infusion of grace by which a man is enabled to’do certain acts to which God has been pleased to attach merit. The sacraments do not of themselves convey grace, but are the conditions appointed by God upon which, if fulfilled, grace is bestowed.

The most fundamental difference between Aquinas and Scotus is one of attitude. To Aquinas there could be no real disagreement between theology and philosophy, however inadequate the latter to reach all the truths of the former. To Duns much in theology is philosophically improbable, yet must be accepted on the authority of the church. The breakdown of Scholasticism had begun, for its purpose had been to show the reasonableness of Christian truth.

The dispute which roused the loudest controversy between Thomists and Scotists was regarding the “immaculate conception” of the Virgin Mary. Aquinas had taught that she shared in the original sin of the race. Scotus held that she was free from it—a doctrine that was to be declared that of the church by Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) in 1854.


   William of Occam

Yet more radical in his divorce of philosophy from theology was Scotus’s pupil, William of Occam (?-1349?). An English Franciscan of the most earnest type, he studied in Oxford, taught in Paris, defended the complete poverty of Christ and the Apostles against Pope John XXII, suffered imprisonment, only to escape in 1328 and find refuge with Louis of Bavaria, then in quarrel with the Pope. For the rest of his life he defended the independence of the state from ecclesiastical authority with the utmost steadfastness.

Occam attacked any form of “realism” fiercely. Only individual objects exist. Any association in genera or species is purely mental, having no objective reality. It is simply a use of symbolic “terms.” Hence, Occam was called a “terminist.” His system was a far more vigorous and destructive nominalism than that of Roscelin. Yet actual knowledge of things in themselves men do not have, only of mental concepts. This denial led him to the conclusion that no theological doctrines are philosophically provable. They are to be accepted—and he accepted them—simply on authority. That authority he made in practice that of the church; though in his contest with what he deemed a derelict papacy he taught that Scripture, and not the decisions of councils and Popes, is alone binding on the Christian. No wonder that Luther, in this respect, could call him “dear master.”

Occam’s philosophical views gained increasing sway after his death. From thence onward till just before the Reformation nominalism was the dominant theological position. It was the bankruptcy of Scholasticism. While it undoubtedly aided investigation by permitting the freest (philosophical) criticism of existing dogma, it based all Christian belief on arbitrary authority. That was really to undermine theology, for men do not long hold as true what is intellectually indefensible. It robbed of interest the great speculative systems of the older Scholasticism. Men turned increasingly, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to mysticism, or returned to Augustine for the intellectual and religious comfort which Scholasticism was unable longer to afford.


[1] Testament of Francis. Highly illuminative as to his spirit and purposes. Robinson, Readings, 1;392-395.

[2] Matt. 10.7,14.

[3] Testament.































Hildebrand Peter


xcxxcxxc  F ” “ This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 1990....x....   “”.