Schools And Scholars

The assimilation of the philosophical source-materials at which we shall be looking in a moment depended in the earlier Middle Ages upon the individual enterprise of a few scholars. Bede is outstanding among the generations which salvaged ancient learning from the wreck of the Roman Empire. In the Carolingian period, Charlemagne's insistence that cathedrals should run schools for the clergy meant that an institutional framework came into being outside the monasteries, in which there could be some systematic teaching of the basics of the liberal arts and the study of Scripture and the Fathers. Carolingian scholars, some working largely as private scholars as Eriugena did, some within the schools (Remigius of Auxerre) made an enormous contribution to the slow work of opening up the possibilities of ancient scholarship to a world from which its preoccupations had become largely remote. The same pattern of individual and school-based work, proceeding more or less haphazardly, continues until the late eleventh century. Then the schools began to multiply, especially at first in northern France, and to attract young men of talent and ambition. In the course of the twelfth century sufficient foundations were laid for the schools to begin to grow into universities. By the end of the fifteenth century Europe had more than seventy universities, disseminating knowledge internationally.

In all teaching institutions from Carolingian times at least, the staple method of teaching was the 'reading' of a text with the students. The master would normally begin with an introduction or accessus in which he explained who the author was, what was his purpose in writing, what branch of philosophy the book belonged to, and what was to be gained from studying it.1 In time, the comments on the text itself evolved from what were often

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES mere notes on the grammatical structure or synonyms for difficult words, to remarks on difficult points in the content. By the early twelfth century such remarks could be lengthy, and contain cross-references to other texts or to the opinions of rival masters. Peter Abelard's lectures on the dialectical set books reveal a lively exchange of this sort in the Paris of his day. Out of these lengthening critical comments grew 'questions'. By the middle of the twelfth century, Simon of Tournai and others were setting aside time in the afternoon in which points raised in the lectures which were too complex to be handled in the cursory reading could be considered at leisure. These occasions became 'disputations', when master and pupils would debate issues both of long-standing and of current topicality. The disputation proved a convenient vehicle for the newly qualified master to prove himself and win pupils; on special occasions it provided opportunities for what in the later Middle Ages was clearly sometimes almost a theatrical display of erudition and quick-wittedness; the theses, or subjects for debate, would be posted in advance and the disputation would attract not only a university audience but also a large crowd of townspeople who came to see a good fight. Luther's posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 was just such a challenge.

Although the basic method of 'teaching a text' was common to Arts Faculties and Faculties of Theology alike, as was the use of the disputation to deal with questions, the standing of the texts of classical philosophy was not quite the same in all university departments. They might be brought in as 'authorities' in an argument in theology; but only in the Arts Faculties were they studied as set books. Even here there was some degree of variation. Paris was always important for logic, and even in the twelfth century it had an outstanding reputation for the study of the artes. From the middle of the thirteenth century Aristotle's libri naturales formed a standard part of the syllabus, especially in Paris. But it is at Oxford in the fourteenth century that we find mathematics and natural science especially flourishing. It is something of a paradox that although it was the Arts Faculties which claimed the philosophical texts as their special province for study, it was often in theology that the most inventive and searching use was made of them, as senior scholars who had been through the arts courses made application of philosophical principles to the supremely testing problems which arose in theology.

The coming of Aristotle's works on natural science and metaphysics caused a crisis in thirteenth-century Paris. In 1210 the teaching of these works was banned at the provincial synod of Sens, under the presidency of

PHILOSOPHICAL SOURCES the archbishop, Peter of Corbeil, who had himself been a Master of Theology and Canon Law at Paris in the 1190s.2 At the same time, two contemporary scholars were anathematised. The destruction of the books of Amaury of Bene and David of Dinant was so successful in eradicating their teaching that it is now difficult to reconstruct it exactly.3 The coupling of the problem posed by these two heretici and that presented by Aristotle is both instructive and misleading. It shows us that the study of Aristotle was felt to pose a threat to orthodoxy. But it obscures the character of the study itself, and the novelty of the danger it presented.

There seems little doubt that the campaign to bring about the ban was led by the Faculty of Theology at Paris.4 The underlying rivalry between the Masters of Arts and the Masters of Theology could not have shown itself in quite this way before the organisation of the university had developed sufficiently for the Faculties to emerge. In the twelfth century we find some indications that Masters lecturing on logic, for instance, were tending to avoid using theological examples, tempting though some questions were to a logician.5 This can be put down to the sense expressed in connection with Peter Abelard by an outraged St Bernard and others, that it was a serious matter to set oneself up as a theologian; it required lengthy study and humility on the part of a scholar. Abelard had offended by moving from arts to theology overnight and claiming that he could do as well as any professional. But alongside this sense of a proper decency, and the need for respect for the supreme study of the human intellect, must be set the practical consideration that while everyone studied arts, theology was, already in the twelfth century, a higher study to which comparatively few went on when they had finished the arts course.6 The theologians of Paris in 1210 were alarmed to see the Masters of Arts stalking their territory, Aristotle in hand, and not merely the now fairly familiar volumes of the logic, but books on subjects germane to the study of the very Being of God, the creation of the world and the nature of man, which went far beyond anything which had been available in the twelfth century. David of Dinant himself seems to have been both one of the first to study the newly arrived texts, and a prime example of a scholar whose grasp on orthodoxy had gone askew under their influence.7 The purpose of the ban of 1210 was to stop this dangerous trend at its source, by preventing the teaching of the new 'scientific' Aristotle in the Arts Faculty.

The anxiety of the Paris theologians was sufficiently infectious for Robert Courson to repeat and enlarge it in 1215, acting as papal legate. His is a text which mixes the purposes of stature, privilege and ban. It lays down the

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES difference of status between Masters of Arts and theologians in terms of their respective ages and minimum qualifications. A Master of Arts is to be at least twenty-one years of age and to have six years' study in the artes behind him. No one may lecture in theology before he is thirty-five and he must have at least eight years' study, five of them in theology.8 There is a list of the works of Aristotle which may be covered in arts lectures. Those de metafisica et de naturali philosophia are banned, together with summae of their contents. The ban got into the contemporary press. Several chroniclers mention it, and in connection with the fear that the study of the new Aristotle on natural science and metaphysics 'was giving occasion for subtle heretical opinions'.9

It need hardly be said that the bans of 1210 and 1215 were ineffective. The study of Aristotle continued, even if only informally and privately within the university, and in the course of the following decade or so it became possible to take stock rather more calmly of its implications, and to see beyond the local rivalry engendered by the readiness of jumped-up Masters of Arts to invade the territory of the theologians with their new knowledge. In July 1228 Gregory IX wrote a moderate and cautiously worded warning to the scholars of Paris, wrapped up in silk.

This was followed a year or two later by the Parens Scientiarum of 1231. Taken together, the two texts constitute, if not a volte-face, certainly a substantial shift of ground on the subject of the condemned works of Aristotle. In his initial letter Gregory talks in general terms about the relationship between theology and philosophy. He begins with a classic description of the right way to 'spoil the Egyptians' (Exodus 11.7). Theologicus intellectus ought to be the dominant partner, like a man in his relations with the handmaid captured from an enemy. There ought to be no commixtio of philosophy and theology. Theology should proceed according to approved tradition. When faith is balanced on a structure of reasoning it is made vain and unprofitable, for faith has no merit if it depends on human reason. Gregory does not name Aristotle here or refer directly to the condemnations of 1210 and 1215.10 Parens Scientiarum is more explicit. Gregory provides for the use of the libri naturales when they have been purged of errors by a committee set up by him, but restricts them to the Faculty of Arts.11 To the members of his committee, William Archdeacon of Beauvais and two Canons of Rheims, he writes with instructions to look for anything in the books which is virulens 'or otherwise vicious', 'which can detract from the purity of the faith'.12 He accepts that there is useful as well as dangerous matter in the new Aristotle, and his concern is simply to prevent stumbling-blocks being put in the way of the faithful.13


This would seem to be an exercise in 'damage limitation'. It had become clear that the study of Aristotle's libri naturales was not going to be stopped by ban. The University of Toulouse, newly founded and touting for custom, had sent a circular to other universities in 1229 promising that 'the books on natural science which were banned at Paris, can be heard there by those who wish to gaze into the heart of nature's secrets'.14 In any case, the ideas the books contained were already being disseminated and were infiltrating the very fabric of theological discourse. Gregory will have known that his attempt to have them purged must be unsuccessful, because the objectionable matter could not now be finally got rid of. In any case, his committee never finished its work because William of Beauvais died soon after being appointed.

Within two decades a pattern was established. On the one hand, the books which had caused disquiet had a settled place in the syllabus of the Faculty ofArts. At Paris, the regulations of 1255 list the Physics, the Metaphysics, the De Animalibus, the De Celo et Mundo, parts of the Meteorology, the De Anima, the De Generatione, the De Sensu et Sensato, the De Sompno et Vigilia, the De Plantis, the DeMemoria et Reminiscentia, the De Differentia Spiritus et Animae, De Morte et Vita, De Causis - among them, of course, more than pure Aristotle.15 Lecturers are given a minimum time to cover each, but may take longer. On the other hand, signs of strain in the system are apparent in the condemnation of errors at Paris in 1241, by the Masters of Theology and Odo, Chancellor of Paris.16 Condemnations and agitation occurred in the 1260s and 1270s, over Averroes as well as Aristotle.17 A Statute of the Faculty of Arts at Paris for 1272 says that Masters of Arts must not deal with theological questions, and that where they treat questions which touch on the faith as well as on philosophy they must never determine the matter in a manner which goes against orthodoxy. Ockham is careful to explain that when he gives an opinion which contradicts something Scripture says, or the determinatio et doctrina of the Roman Church, or the sententia of doctors approved by the Church, he speaks not as one asserting such a view, but merely 'in the person' of one who does.18 The Paris Faculty of Arts in 1339 promulgated a decree against those who were teaching novel doctrines of William of Ockham, before there had been time to assess them to make sure they contained nothing damaging to the faith. It censures those who make such a tumult by heckling in the disputatio that the truth of the conclusion being arrived at becomes obscured, and those who go to the disputations to listen and learn are not able to get any benefit from them. A statute of 1340 follows this up by asserting that every Master is duty bound to do his

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES best to avoid errors and to keep clear of lines of argument which may lead to errors. Some members of the Faculty of Arts are blamed for indulging in pernicious subtleties, not only in philosophy, but even in their comments on theological points and points of Scripture.19 In the mid-fourteenth century, Buridan refers to the oath taken in the previous century by those incepting in arts, that they will not dispute theological questions, and if they touch on such matters by chance, will always determine in favour of the orthodox teaching of the Church.

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