Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Church and the University

[Continuing prepping for next school year by doing a chapter by chapter summary of Thomas E. Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.]

Chapter 4: The Church and the University
Woods begins the chapter by telling the reader that the Middle Ages was not an age of “ignorance, superstition, and intellectual repression” (47).  Instead, the Middle Ages was a period of learning and inquirer y in which its greatest contributions to the world in the form of the university system (47).  Quoting historian Lowrie Daly, Woods tells us that the reason the university came about because it was “the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge” (47).
Degrees could not be awarded without the “approbation of pope, king, or emperor” (48).  Degrees issued by the pope or emperor were universally accepted and acknowledge across all of Christendom while degrees issued by the king were recognized only in the nation or that particular king.
Town and Gown
Just as today, there was an uneasy tension that existed between university students and the towns in which the students went to study.  On the one hand, the locals loved the influx of money the students brought with them.  On the other hand the locals found the students to be a nuisance, irresponsible and intolerable (49).  Locals often took advantage of students  by raising prices unjustly on books, rent or food (50).  To help all students, many of who were studying to become clergy, the Church “provided special protection to university students by offering them what was known as benefit of clergy” (50).  This privilege gave the students the right to have their grievances and cases heard in a church court instead of the state/secular court (50). 
Popes, because the university was young in the Middle Ages, became the protector and helper of the university.  For instance, In the papal bull Parens Scientiarum Gregory IX gave the Univeristy of Paris a right to self govern itself and to chose its own riles and courses and studies.  “On several occasions, the pope even intervened to force university authorities to pay professors their salaries” (51).  When universities, especially in the early years of a university, did not have a physical location relocation became a cause of concern for the town in which they were located.  For thriving university to relocate would and could be devastating to a local economy.  Therefore, eventually the states and local governments went to the extent to offer grants and special privileges to universities.
Academic Life
The main course of studies began with a focus on the liberal arts.  The mode of education came by means of attending lectures, reading, informal class disputations, and attending formal disputations of others.  Commentaries on various writing was one of the initial ways learning about a specific subject and text.  Over time, the commentaries incorporated a series of questions.  Eventually this would form into the classical scholastic argument to which St. Thomas Aquinas was famous for in his Summa Theologiae.
“Though their high-powered logic courses . . . medieval students were made aware of the subtleties of language and the pitfalls of argumentation” (57).
Age of Scholasticism
Scholastic studies, contrary to assumptions of this period of time, were not a mere appeal to authority.  “Rather, the commitment to the discipline of logic reveals a civilization that aimed to understand and to persuade.  To that end, educated men wanted students to be able to detect logical fallacies and to be able to form logically sound argument (58).   The devotion to logic and reason resulted in one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God: St. Anslem’s ontological argument.  Simply stated, Anslem’s argument might be summarized as “That than which nothing greater can be conceived” (59).  Another proponent for the merging of faith and reason, or specifically of using reason and logic to explain the faith, was St. Thomas Aquinas.  This is most evident in his Summa, but perhaps the most famous part of this work is in his arguments for the existence of God. 
Quoting historian Henri Daniel-Rops, Woods recounts the chapter when he writes, “Thanks to the repeated intervention of the papacy . . . high education was enabled to extend its boundaries; the Church, in fact, was the matrix that produced the university, the nest whence it took flight” (65).
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