The term scholasticism (from the Latin schola, "school") refers properly both to the doctrine and method of teaching in the medieval European schools and to their successive revivals to the present day. As a method, scholasticism involves (1) the close, detailed reading (lectio) of a particular book recognized as a great or authoritative work of human or divine origin--for example, Aristotle in logic, Euclid in geometry, Cicero in rhetoric, Avicenna and Galen in medicine, the Bible in theology-- and (2) the open discussion (disputatio) in strict logical form of a relevant question (quaestio) arising from the text. As a doctrine, scholasticism refers to the kind of philosophy, theology, medicine, and law (canon and civil) taught by the faculties responsible for these disciplines. These four faculties constituted the medieval universities that began to be organized in the 12th century, beginning in Bologna, Paris, and Oxford.
The most important faculties, however, were arts (philosophy) and theology, and the term scholasticism is usually understood in the context of those disciplines.
The basic philosophy of the faculty of arts was Aristotelian because the greatest and most authoritative books in philosophy were believed to be Aristotle's. Aristotle, however, was interpreted differently by different professors depending on the commentaries used, notably those of "the Commentator," Averroes; the Christian Neoplatonist, Saint Augustine; or the pagan Neoplatonist, Avicenna.
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Scholasticism is generally divided into three periods: medieval scholasticism, extending from Boethius (5th-6th century) to the 16th century, with its Golden Age in the 13th century; "second scholasticism," beginning in the 16th century with Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Conrad Koellin, Peter Crokert, Francesco de Vittoria, and Francisco Suarez; and neoscholasticism, beginning in the early 19th century, given impetus by the encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879) of Pope Leo XIII, and continuing at least until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
In a stricter sense, scholasticism began with the Sentences (c.1150) of Peter Lombard, the Decretum (c.1150) of Gratian, and the flood of new Latin translations of classical philosophers, including all of Aristotle, made from Greek and Arabic throughout the second half of the 12th century. Assimilation of this new learning took place in the universities of the 13th century through the genius of the Dominicans Saint Albertus Magnus and his great pupil Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologicae is widely regarded as the pinnacle of scholastic theology; and of the Franciscans Saint Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and William of Occam (early 14th century), who challenged the Dominican school.
With the multiplication of universities between the 14th and 16th centuries came a decline in the standard of teaching and the caliber of teachers, and a "logicism" or formalism of thought that aroused the animosity of a new humanism that arose mainly outside university circles. The term scholasticism then began to be used in a derogatory sense.
The rise of Modernism in the Roman Catholic church after 1900, however, resulted in a multiplicity of ecclesiastical condemnations, a legislated Thomism, and a failure to realize the hopes of Leo XIII. Despite this and two world wars, much fruitful work was accomplished by outstanding scholars, numerous periodicals, and editors of historical texts, including the critical edition of the works of Aquinas (the Leonine Edition). Among the great number of modern scholars who called themselves Thomists (but not neo-Thomists or neoscholastics) were Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Martin Grabmann, and Yves Congar.
For reasons still not fully understood, a decided reaction against Aquinas and neoscholasticism occurred in the 1960s. Some have erroneously associated this with the Second Vatican Council, which turned people's minds toward social rather than doctrinal issues. Aquinas was, however, the only scholastic doctor mentioned by name in all the conciliar documents. The real reasons for the decline of neoscholasticism must be sought in the wider sociological and psychological concerns of contemporary society.
James A. Weisheipl
Cassidy, Frank P., Molders of the Medieval Mind (1944; repr., 1966); Congar, Yves, A History of Theology (1968); Gilson, Etienne, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1957) and History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1955); McInerny, R. M., ed., New Themes in Christian Philosophy (1968); Pieper, Josef, Scholasticism: Personalities and Problems of Medieval Philosophy, trans. by Richard and Clara Winston (1960); Smalley, Beryl, The Becket Conflict and the Schools: A Study of Intellectuals in Politics (1973); Weinberg, J. R., A Short History of Medieval Philosophy (1964).
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