14th-century image of a university lecture

Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics," or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of, and a departure from, Christian monastic schools at the earliest European universities.[1] The first institutions in the West to be considered universities were established in Italy, France, Spain, and England in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of arts, law, medicine, and theology,[2] such as Schola Medica Salernitana, the University of Bologna, and the University of Paris. It is difficult to define the date at which they became true universities, although the lists of studia generalia for higher education in Europe held by the Catholic Church and its various religious orders are a useful guide.

Not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, scholasticism places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation: a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents' responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponent's arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.

As a program, scholasticism began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christian thinkers: to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism.[3] (See also Christian apologetics.)

Some of the main figures of scholasticism include Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas's masterwork Summa Theologica, considered to be the pinnacle of scholastic, medieval, and Christian philosophy,[4] began while Aquinas was regent master at the studium provinciale of Santa Sabina in Rome, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum. Important work in the scholastic tradition has been carried on well past Aquinas's time, for instance by Francisco Suárez and Luis de Molina, and also among Lutheran and Reformed thinkers.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Early Scholasticism 2.1
    • High Scholasticism 2.2
    • Late Scholasticism 2.3
    • Lutheran Scholasticism 2.4
    • Reformed Scholasticism 2.5
    • Neo-Scholasticism 2.6
    • Thomistic Scholasticism 2.7
    • Analytical Scholasticism 2.8
  • Scholastic method 3
  • Scholastic instruction 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Primary sources 7
  • Secondary sources 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


The terms "scholastic" and "scholasticism" derive from the Latin word scholasticus and the latter from the Greek σχολαστικός,[5] which means "that [which] belongs to the school". The "scholastics" were, roughly, "schoolmen".


Early Scholasticism

The first significant renewal of learning in the West came with the Carolingian Renaissance of the Early Middle Ages. Charlemagne, advised by Peter of Pisa and Alcuin of York, attracted the scholars of England and Ireland. By decree in AD 787, he established schools in every abbey in his empire. These schools, from which the name scholasticism is derived, became centers of medieval learning.

During this period, knowledge of Ancient Greek had vanished in the west except in Ireland, where its teaching and use was widely dispersed in the monastic schools.[6] Irish scholars had a considerable presence in the Frankish court, where they were renowned for their learning.[7] Among them was Johannes Scotus Eriugena, (815–877) one of the founders of scholasticism.[8] Eriugena was the most significant Irish intellectual of the early monastic period, and an outstanding philosopher in terms of originality.[7] He had considerable familiarity with the Greek language and translated many works into Latin, affording access to the Cappadocian Fathers and the Greek theological tradition.[7]

The other three founders of scholasticism were the 11th-century scholars Peter Abelard, Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury.[8]

This period saw the beginning of the 'rediscovery' of many Greek works which had been lost to the Latin West. As early as the 10th century, scholars in Spain had begun to gather translated texts and, in the latter half of that century, began transmitting them to the rest of Europe.[9] After the Reconquista of the 12th century, Spain opened even further for Christian scholars, who were now able to work in 'friendly' religious territory.[10] As these Europeans encountered Islamic philosophy, they opened a wealth of Arab knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.[11]

At the same time, Anselm of Laon systematised the production of the gloss on Scripture, followed by the rise to prominence of dialectic (the middle subject of the medieval trivium) in the work of Abelard. Peter Lombard produced a collection of Sentences, or opinions of the Church Fathers and other authorities [12]

High Scholasticism

The 13th and early 14th centuries are generally seen as the high period of scholasticism. The early 13th century witnessed the culmination of the recovery of Greek philosophy. Schools of translation grew up in Italy and Sicily, and eventually in the rest of Europe. Scholars such as Adelard of Bath travelled to Sicily and the Arab world, translating works on astronomy and mathematics, including the first complete translation of Euclid's Elements.[13] Powerful Norman kings gathered men of knowledge from Italy and other areas into their courts as a sign of their prestige.[14] William of Moerbeke's translations and editions of Greek philosophical texts in the middle half of the thirteenth century helped form a clearer picture of Greek philosophy, particularly of Aristotle, than was given by the Arabic versions on which they had previously relied, and which had distorted or obscured the relation between Platonic and Aristotelian systems of philosophy.[15] His work formed the basis of the major commentaries that followed.

Universities developed in the large cities of Europe during this period, and rival clerical orders within the church began to battle for political and intellectual control over these centers of educational life. The two main orders founded in this period were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The Franciscans were founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209. Their leader in the middle of the century was Bonaventure, a traditionalist who defended the theology of Augustine and the philosophy of Plato, incorporating only a little of Aristotle in with the more neoplatonist elements. Following Anselm, Bonaventure supposed that reason can only discover truth when philosophy is illuminated by religious faith. Other important Franciscan scholastics were Duns Scotus, Peter Auriol and William of Ockham.

By contrast, the Dominican order, a teaching order founded by St Dominic in 1215, to propagate and defend Christian doctrine, placed more emphasis on the use of reason and made extensive use of the new Aristotelian sources derived from the East and Moorish Spain. The great representatives of Dominican thinking in this period were Albertus Magnus and (especially) Thomas Aquinas, whose artful synthesis of Greek rationalism and Christian doctrine eventually came to define Catholic philosophy. Aquinas placed more emphasis on reason and argumentation, and was one of the first to use the new translation of Aristotle's metaphysical and epistemological writing. This was a significant departure from the Neoplatonic and Augustinian thinking that had dominated much of early scholasticism. Aquinas showed how it was possible to incorporate much of the philosophy of Aristotle without falling into the "errors" of the Commentator, Averroes.

Late Scholasticism

Lutheran Scholasticism

Reformed Scholasticism

Following the Reformation, Calvinists largely adopted the scholastic method of theology, while differing regarding sources of authority and content of theology.


The revival and development from the second half of the 19th century of medieval scholastic philosophy is sometimes called neo-Thomism.

Thomistic Scholasticism

As J. A. Weisheipl O.P. emphasizes, within the Dominican Order Thomistic scholasticism has been continuous since the time of Aquinas: "Thomism was always alive in the Dominican Order, small as it was after the ravages of the Reformation, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic occupation. Repeated legislation of the General Chapters, beginning after the death of St. Thomas, as well as the Constitutions of the Order, required all Dominicans to teach the doctrine of St. Thomas both in philosophy and in theology."[16]

Thomistic scholasticism or scholastic Thomism identifies with the philosophical and theological tradition stretching back to the time of St. Thomas. It focuses not only on exegesis of the historical Aquinas but also on the articulation of a rigorous system of orthodox Thomism to be used as an instrument of critique of contemporary thought. Due to its suspicion of attempts to harmonize Aquinas with non-Thomistic categories and assumptions Scholastic Thomism has sometimes been called "Strict Observance Thomism."[17] A discussion of recent and current Thomistic scholasticism can be found in La Metafisica di san Tommaso d'Aquino e i suoi interpreti (2002) by Battista Mondin,[18] which includes such figures as Sofia Vanni Rovighi (1908-1990),[19] Cornelio Fabro (1911-1995), Carlo Giacon (1900-1984),[20] Tomas Tyn O.P. (1950-1990), Abelardo Lobato O.P. (1925-2012), Leo Elders[21] (1926- ) and Giovanni Ventimiglia (1964- ) among others. Fabro in particular emphasizes Aquinas' originality, especially with respect to the actus essendi or act of existence of finite beings by participating in being itself. Other scholars such as those involved with the "Progetto Tommaso"[22] seek to establish an objective and universal reading of Aquinas' texts.[23]

Thomistic scholasticism in the English speaking world went into decline in the 1970s when the Thomistic revival that had been spearheaded by Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, and others, diminished in influence. Partly, this was because this branch of Thomism had become a quest to understand the historical Aquinas after the Second Vatican Council. Still, those who had learned Scholastic philosophy continued to have unresolved questions about how the insights of the medieval synthesis could be applied to contemporary problems. This conversation departed from the academic environment and entered internet discussion groups such as Aquinas,[24] Christian Philosophy,[25] and Thomism,[26] and websites such as Open Philosophy,[27] where it continues today.

Analytical Scholasticism

A renewed interest in the "scholastic" way of doing philosophy has recently awoken in the confines of the analytic philosophy. Attempts emerged to combine elements of scholastic and analytic methodology in pursuit of a contemporary philosophical synthesis. Proponents of various incarnations of this approach include Anthony Kenny, Peter King, Thomas Williams or David Oderberg. Analytical Thomism can be seen as a pioneer part of this movement.

Scholastic method

The scholastics would choose a book by a renowned scholar, auctor (author), as a subject for investigation. By reading it thoroughly and critically, the disciples learned to appreciate the theories of the author. Other documents related to the book would be referenced, such as Church councils, papal letters and anything else written on the subject, be it ancient or contemporary. The points of disagreement and contention between multiple sources would be written down in individual sentences or snippets of text, known as sententiae.

Once the sources and points of disagreement had been laid out through a series of dialectics, the two sides of an argument would be made whole so that they would be found to be in agreement and not contradictory. (Of course, sometimes opinions would be totally rejected, or new positions proposed.) This was done in two ways.

The first was through philological analysis. Words were examined and argued to have multiple meanings. It was also considered that the auctor might have intended a certain word to mean something different. Ambiguity could be used to find common ground between two otherwise contradictory statements.

The second was through logical analysis, which relied on the rules of formal logic to show that contradictions did not exist but were subjective to the reader.

Scholastic instruction

Scholastic instruction consisted of several elements. The first was the lectio: a teacher would read an authoritative text followed by a commentary, but no questions were permitted. This was followed by the meditatio (meditation or reflection) in which students reflected on and appropriated the text. Finally, in the quaestio students could ask questions (quaestiones) that might have occurred to them during meditatio. Eventually the discussion of questiones became a method of inquiry apart from the lectio and independent of authoritative texts. Disputationes were arranged to resolve controversial quaestiones.[28]

Questions to be disputed were ordinarily announced beforehand, but students could propose a question to the teacher unannounced – disputationes de quodlibet. In this case, the teacher responded and the students rebutted;[29] on the following day the teacher, having used notes taken during the disputation, summarised all arguments and presented his final position, riposting all rebuttals.

The quaestio method of reasoning was initially used especially when two authoritative texts seemed to contradict one another. Two contradictory propositions would be considered in the form of an either/or question, and each part of the question would have to be approved (sic) or denied (non). Arguments for the position taken would be presented in turn, followed by arguments against the position, and finally the arguments against would be refuted. This method forced scholars to consider opposing viewpoints and defend their own arguments against them.[30]

See also


  1. ^ See Steven P. Marone, "Medieval philosophy in context" in A. S. McGrade, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). On the difference between scholastic and medieval monastic postures towards learning, see Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (New York: Fordham University Press, 1970) esp. 89; 238ff.
  2. ^ de Ridder-Symoens 1992, pp. 47–55
  3. ^ Particularly through Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, and Boethius, and through the influence of Plotinus and Proclus on Muslim philosophers. In the case of Aquinas, for instance, see Jan Aertsen, "Aquinas' philosophy in its historical setting" in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, ed. Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). Jean Leclerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (New York: Fordham University Press, 1970).
  4. ^ Gilson, Etienne (1991). The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (Gifford Lectures 1933-35). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 490.  
  5. ^ The word Scholasticism is derived from the Latin word scholasticus, the Latinized form of the A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  6. ^ MacManus, p 215
  7. ^ a b c "John Scottus Eriugena".  
  8. ^ a b Toman 2007, p. 10: Abelard himself was ... together with John Scotus Erigena (9th century), and Lanfranc and Anselm of Canterbury (both 11th century), one of the founders of scholasticism."
  9. ^ Lindberg 1978, pp. 60–61.
  10. ^ Lindberg 1978; Palencia.
  11. ^ Watt
  12. ^ "Peter Lombard, Master of the Sentences". 
  13. ^ Clagett 1982, p. 356.
  14. ^ Lindberg 1978, pp. 70-72.
  15. ^ Fryde
  16. ^ "The Revival of Thomism: An Historical Survey, " James Weisheipl, 1962.
  17. ^ Accessed 5 September 2013
  18. ^ Accessed 12 April 2013
  19. ^ Accessed 17 August 2013
  20. ^ Accessed 9 April 2013
  21. ^ Leo Elders Accessed 30 August 2013
  22. ^ Accessed 5 Sept. 2013
  23. ^ See Raffaele Rizzello's "Il Progetto Tommaso," in Vita quaerens intellectum, eds. Giacomo Grasso, O.P. and Stefano Serafini, Millennium Romae, Rome 1999, pp. 157-161. Accessed 5 Sept. 2013
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ van Asselt 2011, p. 59.
  29. ^ van Asselt 2011, p. 60.
  30. ^ van Asselt 2011, pp. 61-62.

Primary sources

  • Hyman, J.; and Walsh, J. J., eds. (1973). Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.  
  • Schoedinger, Andrew B., ed. (1996). Readings in Medieval Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.  

Secondary sources

  • Clagett, Marshall (1982). "William of Moerbeke: Translator of Archimedes". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 126, No. 5) 126 (5): 356–366.  
  • Gallatin, Harlie Kay (2001). "Medieval Intellectual Life and Christianity". 
  • Gracia, J. G. and Noone, T. B., eds., (2003) A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages. London: Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-21672-3
  • McGrade, A. S., ed., (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lindberg, David C. (1978). Science in the Middle Ages. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  
  • Maurer, Armand A. (1982). Medieval Philosophy (2nd ed.). Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.  
  • Toman, Rolf (2007). The Art of Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting. photography by Achim Bednorz.  

Further reading

  • Trueman, Carl R. and R. Scott Clark, jt. eds. (1999). Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. Carlisle, Eng.: Paternoster Press. ISBN 0-85364-853-0

External links

  • Scholasticon by Jacob Schmutz
  • Medieval Philosophy Electronic Resources
  • "Scholasticism". In Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  • Scholasticism Joseph Rickaby, (1908), 121 pp. (also at googlebooks)
  • Scholasticism in The Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Yahoo! directory category: Scholasticism
  • The genius of the scholastics and the orbit of Aristotle, article by James Franklin on the influence of scholasticism on later thought
  • Medieval Philosophy, Universities and the Church by James Hannam
  • (German) ALCUIN - Regensburger Infothek der Scholastik - Huge database with information on biography, text chronology, editions.