Session 10: The Rise of Scholarship

Session 10 The Rise of Scholarship

The Dominicans were a reforming monastic order aimed at routing out heretics. One Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, became one of the most significant theologians of the church.

Universities developed as Christians pursued intellectual questions about their faith and the world around them.

We will pay attention to how the Bible was being interpreted at various stages of history.


At the end of this lesson, participants should
know and be able to compare and contrast the Dominicans and the Franciscans,
          and describe their founders discuss the reasons for and purpose of the
          Dominican order
describe the theology of Thomas Aquinas describe the medieval universities
compare methods the church used to implement its mission in history through
          education, with present attempts to meet challenges facing the church today
identify the four methods of interpreting a biblical passage during this time period,
          and discuss the weaknesses of each

A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 20
            Write a Big Idea paragraph on your reading.

B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
            1. The Dominicans and Thomas Aquinas
                        What was the purpose of the Dominican order?
2. Rise of the Universities
                        Why is academic freedom important?
            3.Biblical Interpretation
                        How did Thomas Aquinas change biblical interpretation?

C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:  

The Dominicans and Thomas Aquinas

The Founding of the Order of Preachers: The Dominicans

Refer to Resource 10-1 in the Student Guide.
Dominic (1170-1221), born in Spain to a prominent family, donated all his possessions to the poor during a famine in 1191. In 1199 he joined the clerical staff of his diocese, which strictly followed the Rule of Augustine. In 1203 Dominic went with his bishop on a preaching tour against a heretical group known as the Albigenses. Based in southern France, the Albigenses worried church leaders.

The bishop’s mission expanded to include a kind of halfway house for women in danger of being influenced by the heretics. In 1208 the Albigenses apparently murdered a papal emissary sent to them. In response, Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against the Albigenses not unlike the Crusade being launched against the Muslims, and began an inquisition to root out heretics.

Pope Innocent III admonished Dominic to lead this work. In 1214 Dominic planned to initiate a special order, sending preachers out two by two, especially for the purpose of debating with heretics. Volunteers joined. In 1215 Dominic requested permission to form a new order, called the Order of Preachers, since that was their primary mission.

However, Dominic demanded obedience from members of the order toward their superiors alone. There was less communalism and more room for personal freedom and responsibility among the Dominicans than other orders.

Three times Dominic refused a bishopric. Instead he journeyed throughout Italy, Spain, and Paris to set up monasteries and establish the order. The first general conference of the order was held in 1220 in Bologna. The conference affirmed, “Our order is known to have been founded from the beginning for the sake of preaching and the salvation of souls, and our efforts ought above all to be directed primarily and enthusiastically towards being able to be useful to the souls of our neighbors.” Dominic died the next year after a mission trip to Hungary.

Given its mandate, the Dominicans possessed a scholarly bent and interest. They made no effort to encourage manual labor over study, or quiet contemplation over active engagement with the world. They needed thorough education in sound doctrine. The Fourth Lateran Council had affirmed ministerial education as one of the great needs of the church. Dominic sent his preachers to be educated at the University of Paris under the finest professors the church had to offer, and the order, in turn, began to attract some of the brightest minds in Europe. 

The Dominicans recruited university students to enter their order and set up their own houses as places of study in connection to the schools. Dominicans quickly became influential teachers at the universities of Paris and Oxford. Hence, Dominicans tended to come from and represent the aristocracy. Some enlightened bishops encouraged the Dominicans to establish themselves in their own diocese. The affect was to lift the standards expected of both friars and parish priests.

The Dominicans were tasked with rooting out all heretics in the church. To do so, they relied on books with Truth. They were urban-oriented and zealously educated themselves for their task. They accepted both tradition and reason, and emphasized education. The Dominicans’ mission, to destroy heresy, required an obsession with secular knowledge as a path to Truth. They used logic and sound argumentation against the heretics. They found Aristotelian logic especially effective. For the Dominicans, spiritual practices, even prayer and the sacraments, were subordinate to preaching. It was an “intellectual apostolate,” as Simon Tugwell put it. The Dominicans’ vow of obedience was to their own superiors. They did not need to live in monasteries. The nature of their task necessitated independence and personal responsibility.

Dominic refused to allow this order to own its own land, and admonished members to seek alms for their support. He expected the Order of Preachers to be constantly on the move, debating, preaching, and evangelizing. By the mid-thirteenth century the order had given up begging and the prohibition about owning land in order to fulfill its preaching mission.

By 1277 there were 404 Dominican houses throughout Europe. Famous Dominican scholars included Albertus Magnus (1200-1280) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). By the fourteenth century the Dominicans, too, had built fine monasteries and schools.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)

Refer to Resource 10-2 in the Student Guide.
esides Augustine, no other theologian in Christianity wrote more than Thomas Aquinas.

The son of an aristocrat, Thomas lived a rather uneventful life. He entered a Benedictine monastery at the age of five or six, and joined the Dominicans at age 19. From 1245 to 1248 Thomas studied in Paris under Albertus Magnus, an early follower of Dominic, and one of the leading theologians of the era. Albertus introduced Thomas to Aristotle’s philosophy. With Albertus, Thomas helped to found a Dominican school in Cologne, where Thomas stayed until 1252.

Thomas studied and taught in Paris until 1259, and again from 1269 to 1272. He taught at several different schools in Italy from 1259 to 1269. In 1272 he moved to Naples to set up a Dominican school. In the last two years of his life, at Naples, he worked diligently on his Summa Theologica, the most important of his writings.

Thomas understood there to be two means of knowledge: philosophy and theology. He realized that philosophy dealt only with truths reason could attain, whereas theology deals with revealed truths and articles of faith. Reason, Thomas believed, was a reliable means of attaining truth and knowledge. The highest revealed truths were compatible with reason, since both philosophy and theology pursued the same Truth. Complete knowledge, from wherever it was derived, is a gift of God.

In metaphysics, Thomas taught there was a difference between what he termed the “substance” and the “accident” of a particular thing. The “substance” of something is what it held in common with others of the same name, but the substance is joined with particular qualities that make a particular thing unique or different, to form the “accident.” 

Similarly, the “nature” of a substance was the manner in which it acted, whereas the “essence” of something is that which made a substance capable of definition, or, to put it another way, “that about a thing that makes it what it is.” Only in God is the “essence” totally identical with the “nature.”

In a like way, the “matter” of a thing can be distinguished from its “form” or individual identity, and “potency,” which is the inner potential of a thing, can be contrasted to “act,” how it actually behaves. Thomas distinguished between “essence,” the “whatness” of something, and “existence,” the “thatness” of something. Universals, Thomas argued against the Realists, did not exist in themselves but only in the mind of God and in concrete things.

Thomas argued for the existence of God in five ways:

First, from the fact of movement. Nothing can pass from potency to act by itself; it needs a mover. God is the prime mover or pure act.

Second, from causality. No one thing is its own cause. There must have been a “first cause.”

Third, from the distinction between the contingent and the necessary. All that exists is contingent— that is, created. That things exist implies they have received existence from another.

Fourth, from the degrees of perfection in beings. There are various approximations, for instance, of goodness. Something must exist, Thomas argued, that possesses perfection in the extreme degree.
          Fifth, from the order of the universe, one sees intelligent creation at work.

The first three arguments were based on cosmology, the fourth on ontology, and the fifth on teleology. Aquinas described the nature of God as being absolutely simple, that is, made up of one substance. God is also infinite, omnipresent as the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. Finally, God is One, indivisible. Human beings were able to speak of God only by means of analogy, as for instance, wise or good, powerful or merciful. Analogies are justified if they are based upon what God has created. There is a real correspondence between the language of analogy and God himself.

Thomas accepted Augustine’s understanding of God’s creating from nothing, ex nihilo. Natural law was the manner in which creation participated in the eternal law of God. In rational creatures, that is humans, the  natural law was imprinted directly, and drew the person toward moral truth. Through this, human beings knew what was good and had a duty to act upon that knowledge. Men and women had a moral obligation to be true to their own conscience.

Each person is a composite of soul and body, Thomas believed. The soul is the “form” of the body; the body is the “matter” of the soul. Humans attain knowledge through sensory data. From this basis they proceed to an understanding of the “essence” of things. Knowledge of God and of one’s own soul begins in the senses. 

Each person’s psychology is made up of nutritive, sensation, and rational components. The nutritive components are the most elemental and consist of food, growth, and reproduction. Sensation is made up of the senses, estimation, memory, and imagination. 

The rational component is made up of both knowledge, which could be passive or potential as well as active, and will or volition. The human will has a basic urge to fulfill its potential. Human beings possess free will, Thomas taught, in the sense that they are free from coercion. Though human beings are free not to think of God, they are not free in the sense that when they do think of God, they find Him desirable.

God directly ordered some things to take place, Thomas believed, but permitted the acting of others. God had granted the things He created to act freely and to cause other events to happen. Hence God was not accountable for every particular act in the physical universe. All is subject to divine providence, including human salvation, but divine providence and predestination do not contradict free will, Thomas argued, since God produced the results He intended through secondary causes.

He understood original sin as both the absence of original righteousness and the presence of lust. Yet Thomas understood that the human inclination to virtue could not be totally destroyed by sin. Human rationality was not obliterated, else Thomas argued, there would be no capacity for “sin,” since ultimately, sin resided in the will.

Virtue lay not simply in right acting but in the disposition of the will. Divine justice demands that individuals prepare themselves through acts of goodness to receive the “unmerited” gift of grace. At the same time, Thomas recognized, against Pelagianism, that in order to know and hence obey the truth, individuals needed divine help—grace added to natural abilities. Though the penalty for Adamic sin had been washed away, the affects of original sin remained in those who had been baptized. Original sin continued to affect especially human emotions, and this created a “tinder” for sin. Sin limited but did not destroy the capacity of reason to determine behavior.

If human beings had not sinned, Thomas said, God would not have been incarnated. Even though Thomas felt Mary never sinned, and always remained a virgin, he still argued, against many of his time, that she inherited sin. Thomas opposed the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary.

To Thomas, the sacraments were means by which human beings reached through the sensible toward heavenly things. Through the sacraments intelligible realities were revealed.

Thomas taught that God’s perfecting work came in two grace-conferring rituals: baptism and confirmation. The Holy Spirit is given at baptism not only to cleanse guilt and grant innocence, but also to add moral strength. God granted an increase of grace and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. This enabled further growth as Christians and pushed Christians toward maturity and perfection in love.

The goal of God’s grace was to perfect rather than to destroy human nature. “Anything is said to be perfect insofar as it attains its own appropriate end,” Thomas wrote. Perfection’s main attribute was charity, or love, which resided in the will.

Thomas Aquinas evidenced a trend among Dominicans for the primacy of the contemplative as compared to active life, although he understood that the contemplative necessarily led to the active. He also agreed with Aristotle that there was a mean between too much and too little.

Thomas developed a systematic worldview or “university” of thought tied together with logic and presuppositions. Through Thomas a real alternative to Augustinianism, with many of its Neoplatonist slants, developed in Christian theology. 

Unlike Thomas, Augustinians argued there was not a clear line of demarcation separating reason and revelation. All knowledge was divine illumination. In particular, Bonaventure (1217-74), a Franciscan, attacked Thomas on Augustinian grounds. But Thomas’s writings gained wide acceptance. 

In 1323 Thomas became a saint, and in 1567 the Roman Catholic Church declared him “Universal Doctor of the Church.”

The Rise of the Universities

Refer to Resource 10-4 in the Student Guide.
An intellectual awakening in Western Europe had begun in the ninth century under Charlemagne and his successors. Commerce and trade gave rise to cities, economic growth, and a middle class. The Crusades and even the Mongol invasions jolted Europeans out of centuries of complacency. When the agrarian culture and ways of life that had dominated the Middle Ages began to give way to urban centers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the intellectual awakening became established in universities as the centers of European life and learning.

Monasteries were the most prominent repositories of books and learning. Monastic orders and houses expected monks to be literate. Cluny and Citeaux in Burgundy, for instance, were significant theological centers. Books were so precious that they were chained to the walls of libraries. Monks copied and preserved ancient manuscripts. Monastic education, however, centered upon its use within the monastery itself, rather than in the larger world.

In other places, the cathedral schools were important scholarly centers, maintained by local bishops. Anselm of Laon’s reputation as a theologian brought students to the cathedral school in Laon in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Cathedral schools were predominant in cities such as Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna, and Paris. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) required all cathedrals to have grammar teachers and lecturers in theology.

Meanwhile, wandering scholars scoured Western Europe. Due to the intellectual restlessness of the time, they readily found student followers The event that marked the flowering of the universities was the grouping of students and masters into guilds. The cathedral schools and the wandering scholars merged, in a sense, to form the basis of universities. The term university came from the term universitas, which meant “a body of people.” It arose from the grouping together of teachers in a kind of guild, such as were being organized among various craftsmen in Europe during this time. In the same sense that apprentices learned trades from master artisans, students learned from master teachers.

Initially the universities were guilds, not buildings. Classes met in rented halls, where students sat on straw on the floors, or in the professors’ own rooms. Gradually, cities expanded to meet the needs of the students and teachers for boarding and classrooms.

Most students came from impoverished economic and low social backgrounds. University education offered a means of social mobility. Unlike cathedral schools and other local schools, universities were open to and attracted students from many countries. All lectures were in Latin. Hence, a student needed a year to study Latin before going into any specialization. They had numbers of teachers. They offered advanced curricula. 

Paris became the theological center of the church, especially through the cathedral school of Notre Dame, the origins of which went back to the time of Charlemagne. In the eleventh century teachers began to complain that the cathedral’s chancellor was too controlling. The teachers, or masters, along with their students divided into four nations: French, Normans, Picards, and English, and banded together to form a studium generale.

Paris became famous because of its outstanding teachers, such as William of Champeaux (1070-1121), who taught until 1108, when he retired under criticism from Abelard. He moved to the monastery at St. Victor and established that as a leading theological center.

Abelard (1079-1143), perhaps more than any other single teacher, was responsible for making Paris the center of theological inquiry in the church. His sic et non demonstrated his dialectical method of presenting various sides of an issue such as realism and nominalism. This appealed to students and set a pattern for instruction in universities. Abelard’s success in challenging church authority while maintaining his faith not only attracted students, but set precedence in higher education. Paris remained the center of theology through Abelard’s successors, who included Peter Lombard (1100-1160), Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas.

Other developing universities included Oxford and Cambridge in England, both of which were patterned closely after Paris. Duns Scotus (1265-1308) brought fame to Oxford for his mediation of Aristotelianism and Augustinianism, as did William of Ockham (1285-1347) for his bold condemnation of certain church practices. The university in Salerno became the center of training in medicine.

Bologna University was primarily known for teaching canon and civil law. Here students, rather than teachers, formed guilds. They required their teachers to begin and end on time and to cover a specified curriculum. Unpopular professors were treated disrespectfully. The students levied fines on incompetent instructors. The university in Bologna began theological courses only in 1360. Significantly, it was one of the few schools that allowed women to teach.

The rise of the universities was ignited by various factors:

By the thirteenth century, Western Europe was rediscovering both Plato and Aristotle. New translations of these classical philosophers from Greek to Latin were coming from Spain and Sicily. Aristotelian logic, in particular, became of great interest to the schools.

At the same time, Europe benefited from other Greek philosophical and scientific work that had been maintained and cultivated by the Muslims. Certain ancient works, lost in their original languages, were translated from Arabic into Latin. Along with the works came commentaries and glosses written by Muslim scholars.

 In addition, the church rediscovered the Early Church Fathers. Augustine, in particular, became a dominant influence, and as historian Warren Hollister notes, the “chief vessel of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought is the medieval universities.” The revival of learning also built upon earlier medieval scholars and philosophers such as Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville, and Bede, who had in their own times and ways, kept Christian scholarship alive.

Finally, the Bible itself, as an object of inquiry, became a catalyst for learning. Universities commonly were composed of four faculties: law, theology, medicine, and the arts. During the time that students prepared for one of the advanced levels, they pursued the arts, and eventually earned a bachelor of arts degree, which entitled the student to advance in study.

A bachelor’s degree might be earned in 18 months to two years. Again, this was patterned on the medieval guild system, with a bachelor’s education being the equivalent of an apprentice in the trades or arts.

The whole educational program was tied to philosophy and logic. The seven liberal arts taken at the bachelor’s level included astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, music, grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics. In addition, students were introduced to the higher disciplines of theology, law, and medicine. One who had a master’s degree in any of these higher fields was like a master artisan in a guild.

The lecture and the disputation were the two methods of instruction. Books were scarce. Noted scholars read from their own books. At Oxford, a statute required professors to repeat important segments of their lectures. Students regulated how fast or slow the lecturer read, since they were attempting to take adequate notes.

Sometimes advanced students repeated lectures for the sake of those who had been unable to follow the instructors. When lecturers read from a book they had not written, they provided “glosses,” giving their own comments or opinions about, or elaborations upon the content.

At Oxford, lecturers were even required to raise questions about dubious points. This method led to disputations or debates. One student or teacher would defend a position against that of another. To earn a bachelor’s degree, students had to defend a thesis, just as apprentices might have to produce crafts that would demonstrate their preparation to enter a profession.

As the people of the Middle Ages sought to find the relationship between faith and reason, universities became an important avenue. The new Dominican order took advantage of these growing and expanding universities. Even the Franciscans, in spite of their founder’s ambiguities toward learning, became students and prominent teachers in the universities. While the Franciscan scholars tended to follow the views of Plato and Augustine and were antagonistic to the views of Aristotle, most Dominicans adhered to Aristotle’s views.

The universities’ focus on theology more than any other subject brought theology to its peak. Theology was the “queen of the sciences.” The theology course at Paris required eight years of study to master. Graduates normally were in their thirties. The universities improved the church theologically, but still only a few parish priests attended the universities, and they remained ignorant of the meaning of the Latin in the masses they were conducting.

Beginning about 1200, universities received imperial and papal decrees that endowed them with specific rights. The university system of today is an inheritance from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Though schools and teachers had always existed, the system of faculties, teaching licenses, prescribed books, and degrees dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Graduation with a master’s degree became the standard and norm for teaching in a given specialization. Persons who had graduated from a university were exempt from taxation, trial in courts, and military service. The gowns worn at graduation and by teachers were patterned on the clerics’ garb. Higher education in the High Middle Ages exemplified the diversity and richness of the Christian tradition. Teachers and students—and the Scholasticism they represented—sought creative ways of reconciling faith and reason.

Within the parameters of Christianity, which all took as the basis of human learning, the universities demonstrated rich academic freedom. Teachers made students think. Not all teachers or students had to think alike. Scholars did not teach dogmatically, but found that in the open pursuit of truth, Christianity had nothing to fear. Their supposition was that any seeming contradiction between faith and reason was only an appearance, and that ultimately, faith and reason both were means of arriving at the same Truth. 

Biblical Interpretation

Period of Transition from Patristic to Exegetical Theology
Refer to Resource 10-6 in the Student Guide.
Medieval theologians and biblical scholars depended on church tradition, with the assumption that the Fathers were true to the Bible. Handbooks depended on “catena,” a chain of interpretations originating with the Fathers, especially the Latin Fathers such as Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome.

By the 800s, exegetes also were using “glosses,” or marginal notes on the text. Later, the Glossa Ordinaria was an anthology of comments on the Scriptures by the Fathers, with each book having a prologue authored by Jerome—but no fresh, creative thinking. Both Anselm and Peter Lombard wrote Magna Glosatura, and these resources were used by preachers through the early seventeenth century. As a result of having these written glosses, professors of Bible could concentrate on textual matters.

In the ninth century Rabanus Maurus developed a sense of the “four-fold” meanings of Scripture. Much of God’s will and many of His words were “hidden” in Scripture, not expressed; and there were multiple, valid levels of meaning in the same text, since God spoke through symbols.

The first level was the “letter,” the literal meaning of words. The second level was allegory, which had been used by Augustine as well as Origen, and which was a common means of biblical interpretation in the church from 600 to 1200. The allegorical method found hidden, unsuspected riches in texts. Allegorization was common in the Greco-Roman world regarding classical texts.

Those devoted to allegorical interpretations argued that some scriptures cannot and should not be interpreted literally. This included descriptions of God deemed unworthy of Him, texts exegetes considered too primitive, and texts, including genealogies, that seemed too trivial. Allegorical interpretations were limited only by the interpreter’s ingenuity. For instance, the “sea” could be a gathering of water, Scripture, present age, human heart, active life, heathen, or baptism. The allegorical method provided something of a solution to the Old Testament problem. It allowed an alternative to Marcionism. The allegorical method found types of Christ in every part of Scripture. Moses seated in prayer with arms outstretched (Ex 17), was Christ on the Cross. The scarlet cord used to let down the spies (Josh 2) was redemption through the blood of Christ. The “three” spies represented the Trinity. The ark was the church. Any dove was an allegory for the Holy Spirit.

The third level of meaning, according to Rabanus, was the moral meaning. This represented what Christians were to do. The fourth level was the anagogical, which pointed to the “heavenly city.” It was what Christians were to hope.

There were multiple levels of meaning in the same text. For instance, Jerusalem literally is the Palestinian city; allegorically it is the church; morally it is the human soul; anagogically it is the heavenly city. Water refers to water, of course, in its literal sense, purity of life in its moral sense, baptism in its allegorical sense, and heaven—the water of life—in its anagogical sense. 

While the East preferred the New Testament and Greek, the West also studied Hebrew and examined the Old Testament. The West learned Hebrew from Jews, consulting contemporary Jewish authorities and the rabbinic traditions to gain an understanding of the historical sense of the Bible. “Hebrew appealed to [the Europeans’] emotions, philosophy, and sense of history,” writes Beryl Smalley.

With the study of Hebrew went, inseparably, Jewish comments, which were linguistically and grammatically based. The nonmessianic interpretations of Jews awakened scholars to issues of context. Andrew of St. Victor (d. 1175), in particular, used Jewish interpreters. He wrote commentaries on the first eight books of the Bible, the Prophets, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. These commentaries concentrated on the literal sense of Scripture and were concentrated on the texts themselves.

The thirteenth century saw development of concordances—to the Fathers as well as to text—and “correctoria,” variant readings of the text. These movements led interpreters away from fanciful, allegorical, and nonhistorical interpretations.

Thomas Aquinas’s View of the Scriptures

Refer to Resource 10-7 in the Student Guide.
Thomas Aquinas evidenced a trend among scholars— who included Albertus Magnus and Bonaventure—for preferring the primacy of the literal and moral meanings of Scripture. The use of Scripture in Thomas’s Summa Theologica went beyond exegesis and was organized around doctrinal categories. He used reason—not just tradition—to find better understandings of Scripture. 

Under the influence of Aristotelianism, Thomas determined that all knowledge—even of the Bible—came via the senses and reason. There was interest in things as they were in themselves. The material creation reflected God. Platonism had buttressed allegorizing, as it tended to see a text as a veil or shell of reality. 

Thomas’s method was to read Scripture to students and brief them on the basis of glosses, using the sayings of 22 Latin and 57 Greek Fathers. He followed the structure of the text presented by the author, the internal order (grammatical analysis), and closely examined paragraphs and words. The words led to connected consequences, and the consequences to obvious meaning. Using this method, Thomas finished his lectures on the Bible in three years. He published commentaries on several Old and New Testament books.

The writers of the Bible, Thomas argued, were not merely passive instruments of God. Though God predisposed people and events so as to communicate precisely, He worked through free will. Human characteristics did not lessen the message, but the message “proceeds in harmony with such dispositions.” 

God activated prophets, for instance, and spoke in terms of their culture, language, and literary forms. For that reason Thomas emphasized the importance of the literal sense and rejected the theory of hidden symbols.

The literal sense was what the “author” intended and, Thomas affirmed, “nothing false can underlie the literal sense of Scripture.” Other senses or levels of meaning must be built on the literal. Nothing crucial to Christian life and faith is lost without the other meanings: “Nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense that is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.”

The interpreter must not add to the literal meaning or detract from it, or change its meaning when interpreting it. The literal sense was concerned with the meaning of words, which could of course be figurative by design. Though Thomas sought objectivity, he realized exegetes could not claim divine inspiration for their interpretations of Scripture.

The implication was also that the Bible and theology were freed from the Fathers’ interpretations. Thomas believed the Scriptures alone—not catena or glosses— were without error. Thomas used reason, not just tradition, to find better understandings of Scripture. The Bible became the foundation of theology.

Later Medieval Scholars

Nicholas of Lyra (1279-1340), a Franciscan teaching at Paris, wrote the first printed Bible commentary. It stressed the importance of the literal sense, closely examined the Hebrew text, examined errors in the Vulgate text, and questioned allegorical interpretations.

Even more radical was the English scholar John Wycliffe (1330-84), who became convinced that every believer was accountable to God and obliged both to know and to obey God’s law as found in the Bible. The Bible, Wycliffe believed, was relevant to the whole of life. He began to translate the Bible into English. 

By the end of the Middle Ages, the study of the Bible had improved. Interpretation was more tied to the plain, literal meaning of the texts than to either unlikely meanings or the opinions of the Fathers. This greater sense of the meaning and purpose of the Bible led directly to the Reformation.

Conversion to Christ

3. I recounted to [Simplicianus] all the mazes of my wanderings, but when I mentioned to him that I had read certain books of the Platonists which Victorinus— formerly professor of rhetoric at Rome . . . this man who, up to an advanced age, had been a worshiper of idols, a communicant in the sacrilegious rites to which almost all the nobility of Rome were wedded . . . despite all this, he did not blush to become a child of your Christ, a babe at your font, bowing his neck to the yoke of humility and submitting his forehead to the ignominy of the cross.

10. I was eager to imitate [Victorinus] [but] the enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together—which is why I called it “a chain”—a hard bondage held me in slavery. But that new will which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship you and to enjoy you, O my God, the only certain Joy, was not able as yet to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus my two wills—the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual—were in conflict within me; and by their discord they tore my soul apart.

11. Thus I came to understand from my own experience what I had read, how “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” I truly lusted both ways . . . because here I was rather an unwilling sufferer than a willing actor. And yet it was through me that habit had become an armed enemy against me, because I had willingly come to be what I unwillingly found myself to be. Who, then, can with any justice speak against it, when just punishment follows the sinner?

26. It was, in fact, my old mistresses, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, who still enthralled me. They tugged at my fleshly garments and softly whispered: “Are you going to part with us? And from that moment will we never be with you any more? And from that moment will not this and that be forbidden you forever?” What were they suggesting to me in those words “this or that”? What is it they suggested, O my God? Let your mercy guard the soul of your servant from the vileness and the shame they did suggest! And now I scarcely heard them, for they were not openly showing themselves and opposing me face to face; but muttering, as it were, behind my back; and furtively plucking at me as I was leaving, trying to make me look back at them. Still they delayed me, so that I hesitated to break loose and shake myself free of them and leap over to the place to which I was being called—for unruly habit kept saying to me, “Do you think you can live without them?”

Preparation for Session 11

Email your response paragraphs to the Sunday before class.

A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 22
            Write a Big Idea paragraph on your reading.

B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
            1. The Expansion of the Church in Europe
                        What was the purpose of the Dominican order?
2. The Inquistion
                        Describe a person who might be called a heretic in the church today.
            3.The Catholic Church in China and Mongol Empire.
                        How did Thomas Aquinas change biblical interpretation?

C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:  


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