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Scholasticism (from Latin scholasticus meaning "that which belongs to the school") was a method of learning taught by the academics (or school-men) of medieval universities from around 1,100–1,500 AD. Scholasticism originally looked at reconciling ancient classical philosophy with medieval Christian theology. It was not a philosophy or theology in itself, but a tool and method for learning which put emphasis on dialectical reasoning. It aimed to find answers to question and resolve contradictions. It is most well known in its application in medieval theology, but was eventually applied other fields of study.
The scholastics would choose a book by a renowned scholar as a subject of investigation, for example the Bible. By reading the book thoroughly and critically, the disciples learned to appreciate the theories of the author and book. Then other documents related to the source document would be referenced, such as Church councils, and papal letters, be they ancient or contemporary texts. The points of disagreement and contention between these multiple sources would be written down. For example, the Bible contains apparent contradictions for Christians, such as the laws regarding what foods are kosher - these contradictions have been examined by scholars ancient and contemporary, and a scholastic would gather all the arguments about the contradictions, aiming to look at the issue with an open mind. Once the sources and points of disagreement had been laid out, through a series of dialectics the two sides of an argument would be made whole so that they would be found to be in agreement and not contradictory. This was done in two ways. First, through philological analysis, where words were examined and it would be argued they could have more than one meaning, that the author could have intended the word to mean something else. Ambiguity in words could be used to find common ground between two otherwise contradictory statements. Second, through logical analysis which relied on the rules of formal logic to show contradictions did not exist, but were subjective to the reader.
The scholastic method would be applied to a question such as: "Is it permissible to kill for self-preservation?" From there any number of sources could be referenced to find the pros and cons of the question.
Scholastic theologians attempted to comprehensively document theological understanding. The most famous of these is by Thomas Aquinas, known as the Summa Theologica, whose goal was to cover the "sum" total of Christian theology at the time.
Scholastic schools had two methods of teaching.
The first is the lectio. A teacher would read a text, expounding on certain words or ideas, but no questions were allowed, it was a simple reading of a text, the instructors explained, and silence for the students.
The second is the disputatio which is at the heart of the scholastic method. There were two types of disputatios. The first was called the "ordinary" in which the question to be disputed was announced beforehand. The second was the quodlibetal in which the students would propose the question to the teacher without any prior preparation. The teacher would then have to come up with a response. The teacher would cite authoritative texts such as the Bible to prove his position. Students would then rebut the response and this would go back and forth. During this exercise someone would be keeping notes on what was said, the teacher would then summarize the arguments from the notes and present his final position the next day, answering all the rebuttals.
Achievements and limitations of scholasticism
Scholasticism was historically, a very significant development. Universities grew from it and it provided the foundation for many theologians.
Scholasticism placed a high value of truth, aiming for truth; sometimes the aim of truth superseded the aim of purity of heart however.
Applying reason to problems of theology was an important achievement of scholasticism. In particular, scholastic theologies looked at explaining apparent contradictions in the Bible. They also understood the natural order as pointing to God and attempted to show that Christianity was a reasonable faith, sometimes to the point where reason could become more important than faith.
A problem arising within scholasticism was sometimes the pursuit of answers to meaningless questions. For example, questions like "Can two angels be in the same place at the same time?" and "Could Jesus have been a donkey?" were questions that arose through scholastic thought.
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