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
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).