Church History-8. The Middle Ages. Scholasticism.


The Middle Ages. Scholasticism.

            The church of the Middle Ages was a troubled church. The church and the state were welded together, and that’s never proven to be a good ingredient for spirituality. The most abominable practices of the church during these dark years occurred during the Crusades. This was a 100-year period beginning in 1099. We will speak of the Crusades in class. So, I want to introduce you to Scholasticism in this article.

Scholasticism is what it sounds like—a movement of scholars who promoted study and learning in the church. The height of the scholastic movement is found in Thomas Aquinas. Before Aquinas, there were others who promoted study in the church. Here is one of those people.

Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. Anselm, a precursor of the Scholastics was born in northern Italy. Canterbury was the location of the first bishop of England. Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury is still viewed as the leader of the Church of England. Anselm came in conflict with William the Conqueror, the king of England. Because of this, Anselm often lived in exile. During his exile, he did much writing. He applied reason to matters of faith. This was typical of scholastic thought. Anselm is noted for his effort to: (1) prove the existence of God, (2) attempt to explain the atonement, and (3) explain the incarnation.

Anselm said, “I believe in order that I may know.” So for Anselm and the Scholastics, reason and faith were compatible.

(1) Anselm’s attempt to prove the existence of God culminated in The Ontological Argument. His ontological argument is still used today. Anselm said, “God is that than which no greater can be thought.” Since we can think of God, then God must exist. Also, good things do exist. The cause of these good things is God. Cairns summarizes this argument by writing, “Because no greater idea than that of God as the perfect Supreme Being can be conceived, God must exist in reality.”

(2) Atonement.   Anselm’s view on the atonement can be found in his book, Why the God Man? Anselm’s argument for the atonement is based on the feudal society of his time. God is the Supreme Overlord. We sinned against a perfect God. Therefore, we owe a great debt to God. Jesus took our place in his death. Christ paid the debt for us. In fact, Christ paid over and above what we owed. Therefore, we are saved by his death on the cross.

Anselm also noted that as a creature, man must honor God. But man has disobeyed God. God’s honor has been violated. Therefore, something must be done to appease God’s honor. God can’t just forgive because that would upset the divine system. God could demand punishment or satisfaction. God chooses satisfaction. Man must make amends. But the price for satisfaction is too high. So, no person can make amends on his or her own. Therefore, God sent his son into the world to satisfy the debt. This is known as the satisfactory view of atonement.

(3) Incarnation. Anselm speaks of the incarnation of Jesus. He gives a rational explanation for why God became a man. The primary reason that God became man was so that by his death he could atone for the sins of humanity. Therefore, God died for us.

As you can see from these arguments, Anselm used logic to answer some of the sticky questions of Christians. The Scholastics believed in a reasonable faith.

What, if anything, do you have in common with the Scholastics today?