What is scholasticism?

It is known as  scholastic  or  scholastic philosophy  to the doctrine of theological and philosophical thought undertaken by the world of Classical Antiquity to explain the religious phenomenon of Christianity, and that prevailed throughout the Middle Ages as the main current of teaching in universities, cathedral schools and other forms of study.

Scholasticism was based on the coexistence of faith and reason, always favoring the former, and its model of teaching consisted in the repetition of ancient texts, more than anything else in the Bible, despite which it received currents in its bosom very diverse cultural, such as Jewish, Arabic and Greco-Latin.

This supposed the abandonment of the empirical sciences and the experimentation, that between other things it gained to the medioevo the nickname of the Dark Ages.

However, scholasticism played an important role in the construction of the Western academic discourse, insofar as it implanted the need for a rigid scheme of discourse and logic that would support the refutations and criticisms made by third parties.

Characteristics of scholasticism

  • Origin of the term

The scholastic word comes from the Greek  scholastikos  which refers to leisure time, leisure, apart from everyday activities, which was dedicated to learning.

This term was introduced during the Middle Ages to refer to the model of free time for reflection and study inherent to the academic model of which elements still remain today.

It is related to the etymology of the words “school” ( scholae ) and “scholar”.

  1. Background

Scholasticism was sustained above all in the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition, from which he inherited the works of Plato and Aristotle , founders of a logic and method of reasoning unique in their context.

Above all the work of the latter remained in force until the Renaissance , when they were questioned by the studies of Copernicus and Galileo Galilei .

However, these teachings had to be reconciled with the content of biblical texts of Jewish origin, which meant a translation operation that could only be sustained by the commitment of faith.

The Greco-Roman philosophy inherited the works of Plato.
  1. Principles of scholasticism

The fundamental principles of the scholastic philosophy were the ordering and conciliation of the great transcendental questions inherited from Greco-Roman antiquity, in force at the time of the Roman Empire , in search of a conciliation with the precepts of the Orthodox Christian Church.

This, in principle, meant taking the Aristotelian methods and applying them to the new religious imaginary that Christianity imposed in the West.

Thus, scholasticism cultivated the Aristotelian syllogism, among other ideas always derived from inherited texts. Empiricism, direct exploration with reality, were not favorable aspects in his philosophy.

  1. The scholastic method

It was called “scholastic method” to the teaching model that governed the Middle Ages and that characterized this philosophical doctrine. It was characterized by its extraordinary rigor in the approach and defense of the ideas presented, through a three-step procedure:

  • Lectio  (reading) . It was based on the creation of more or less literal comments (called  litter  for a literal copy,  sensus  to extract the meaning and  sententia  to formulate a conclusion) of authoritative texts, such as theological treatises or biblical fragments. Teaching was teaching to read.
  • Quaestio  (question) . The questioning of the texts was not strictly critical, but rather concerned with comparing existing versions of them and solving possible doubts, contradictions or interpretative differences regarding their meaning.
  • Disputatio  (discussion) . It is a dialectical method of exposing the ideas included in the reading of the texts, which had to be exposed in front of the other academics and defended against possible counter-arguments orally.
  1. Stages of high scholasticism

The evolution of scholasticism consists of three stages, recognizable from the way of understanding the dialectic between reason and faith, between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, in the period of centralist papal power, the age of the crusades and the resurgence of cities

The debate around reason and faith goes from its initial identification stages (for religious were one thing only), to a second phase in which both have a kind of common zone, a prelude to the separation that will come between reason and faith (philosophy and theology). This process is composed of three stages:

  • The question of universals . From the ninth century to the twelfth century, in which the realists opposed the nominalists and the conceptualists.
  • The apogee of scholasticism . During the thirteenth century, Scholasticism will have its climatic point, with the recovery of Aristotle by Jewish and Arab texts, but also by translations from Greek into Latin.
  • Separation between reason and faith . This occurs in the fifteenth century, when the intelligibility of the world and of God begins to be questioned.
  1. The second scholastic

In the Spain of the XV and XVI centuries the scholastic will have a resurgence, with the renewed spirit of the time, although associated in particular with the Jesuit and demonic orders of the Church.

One of the greatest exponents of this second scholastic will be Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), who will summarize and modernize the previous scholastic tradition and establish the bases for the “iusnaturalism” of the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius.

  1. The neo-scholastic

During the nineteenth century will appear a new doctrine inspired by scholasticism and Thomism, which will be called neoescolástica and neotomismo (the latter will appear in the twentieth century).

Two of its great spokesmen were Jacques Maritain and Étienne Gilson. This new Thomism, above all, will yield very positive results and will spread throughout the world, especially after the foundation of the Tomista School of Barcelona in Spain.

  1. Representatives of scholasticism

The main exponents of scholasticism in its different epochs are San Anselmo de Canterbury (1033-1109), Pedro Abelardo (1079-1142) and the members of the School of Chartres of the 12th century.

Subsequently appear Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), first to reintroduce Aristotle in the scholastic; St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), author of the famous  Summa theologica (written between 1265 and 1274), most famous work of medieval theology.  

In the fourteenth century would appear John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), Scottish Franciscan, and then William of Ockham (1290-1349), famous for his principle of “The knife of Ockham.”

  1. Importance of scholasticism

The Renaissance and modern thought would lead to separate the State from the Church.

Scholasticism will be a key doctrine in the formation of modern academia and contemporary philosophical thought, especially from its rigorous methods in reading, exposing and contrasting texts.

The possibility of separating philosophy (reason) and theology (faith), is a prelude to Renaissance and modern thought that would lead to separate the administration of the State and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, that is to say, to split the State and Church as two differentiated organisms.

  1.  End of scholasticism

Scholasticism will enter into crisis as a prevailing philosophy in the West around the fourteenth century, and gradually give way to other trends and doctrines, to the same extent that theology would cease to be a science and its principles of being true.


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