29 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Nine
Scholasticism and The Middle Ages
What was scholasticism? How did St. Thomas Aquinas influence medieval philosophy?
Scholasticism describes the intellectual effort of both Byzantine Christians and Muslim scholars to harmonize their sacred writings with the natural science and rationalism of the Ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle. Aristotelian writings were being translated into Latin by monks and taken up by scholars in the greatest schools of the time.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Christian scholar at the University of Paris, who studied both the scriptures and Aristotle in meticulous detail. He found no contradiction whatever with the two philosophies. In his view, God created a rational, ordered universe. Of course, it could be expected to operate according to rational, discoverable, inviolable laws. Rather than disprove the Bible, science simply proved the greatness and wisdom of God to have created a universe of such precise and dependable order. Man’s ability to reason and discover this great order further demonstrated both his wisdom and his grace in gifting His highest creation with a small reflection of his intellect. Christians did not need to fear science, and some of the greatest scientists, astronomers, philosophers and mathematicians in history have been devout Christians: Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, George Washington Carver, Max Planck, Werner von Braun, Pascual Jordan, and 2007 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Gerhard Ertl. Aquinas was among the first to prove a Christian need not check his brain at the door when opening his bible. Further, almost all early educational institutions, particularly in Western Europe and the New World, were founded by religious organizations.
What were the significant aspects of popular medieval religion?
Popular medieval Christianity was almost exclusively the province of the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Catholic Church, through the Pope and his emissaries, archbishops, and bishops, were the sole authority on matters of doctrine and scripture. It was during this time that the church developed its sacraments, such as Catholic baptism (forms of baptism with water had been practiced since before Jesus’ time), the Eucharist, penance, Holy Orders (service), marriage, and others. It also developed and refined its most significant doctrines, like the Trinity (threefold nature of the Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), substitutionary atonement (Christ’s death paid the penalty for man’s sins), and future return (as described in the New Testament book of The Revelations). The veneration and worship of Mary as the eternally virginal Mother of God developed as an official doctrine. The church was the leading political, social, and educational institution of medieval life. The Roman Catholic Church amassed enormous wealth and land holdings, and the Pope wielded the true political power by virtue of his right to anoint kings and emperors. Disagreements over doctrine, liturgy, the authority of the church, and the Crusades led to a cataclysmic split in the church as East separated from West, and the Eastern Orthodox Church was born. This was also a time of harmonization, both Scholasticism, and the incorporation of native (often pagan) rites and festivals into Christianity to ease the transition for converted pagans. Christmas, in particular, was profoundly affected, and many of the traditions we associate with Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ, were actually Germanic winter festival customs.