{11}     Scholasticism & Renaissance

ERA 4 << Medieval Church (2): Growth & Decline of Papacy (AD 1000–1500) >> SESSION 2

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 33-36

        11.1.1  Background

·         Definition: Scholasticism is the theology that developed in the “schools”, and with its own characteristic methodology. It was an attempt to rationalize theology in order to build up faith by reason. In 12th-c, cathedral schools became the centre of theological activity. They were replaced by the universities in 13th-c.

·         Causes: [1] The emergence of the philosophy of Aristotle led to an attempt to relate it to theology. [2] The mendicant orders were interested in the use of philosophy in the study of revelation.

·         Periods: There were 3 distinct periods of Scholasticism: early scholasticism [1000–1100], high scholasticism [1100–1300], and late scholasticism [1300–1500].

·         Method: It sought to prove existing truth by rational processes rather than seeking new truth. They studied the Bible, the creeds and canons of the ecumenical councils, and writings of Church Fathers. It followed a standard method of posing a question, and then quoting authorities who supported different answers, and then showing how it was possible for all the authorities quoted to be correct. The data of revelation were to be organized systematically by the use of Aristotelian deductive logic (syllogism) and were to be harmonized with the newly rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle.

·         Emphasis on reason: From the early church, most Christian theologians were accustomed to a Platonic or Neoplatonic philosophy. After the discovery of Aristotle’s philosophy in Paris, the emphasis was the independence of reason and philosophy from any constraint imposed by faith and theology. If the conclusions based on reason differed from those of theology, this was a problem for theologians to solve.

·         Reactions: Some theologians responded to this challenge by affirming the traditional Platonic and Augustinian outlook. Franciscan monk Bonaventure (1221–1274) insisted that faith is necessary in order to achieve the correct understanding. Another route was to explore the possibilities that the new philosophy offered for a better understanding of Christian faith.

        11.1.2  Schools of scholasticism

·         [1] Realism—universals exist before created things [dominant in early scholasticism]

o        Definition of a “universal”: A “universal” is what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities. The noun “universal” contrasts with “individual”, while the adjective “universal” contrasts with “particular”. For example, ancient Chinese philosopher Gongsun Long (325–250 BC, logician school) said that “A white horse is not a horse” because a “particular” horse that is white is not entirely equivalent to the “universal” concept of a horse.

o        Characteristic: Plato insisted that universals or “ideas” exist apart from particular things or individuals. Men must look beyond this life for ultimate reality. This school was represented by Anselm and Lombard.

·         [2] Moderate realism—universals exist in created things [dominant in high scholasticism]

o        Characteristic: Aristotle insisted that universals have an objective existence but that they do not exist apart from individual things but rather in them and in their minds. This school was represented by Abelard and Aquinas.

·         [3] Nominalism—universals exist after created things [dominant in late scholasticism]

o        Characteristic: General truths or ideas have no objective existence outside the mind. They are merely subjective ideas of common characteristics developed by the mind as a result of observation of particular things. Universals are only class names. This school was more concerned with the individuals whereas the other two schools were more concerned with the group. These people were forerunners of the empiricists, positivists, and pragmatists. This school was represented by William of Ockham and Roger Bacon.

        11.1.3  Early scholasticism

·         Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109)—founder of scholasticism

o        Life: He moved from Italy to a Benedictine monastery in Normandy to follow abbot Lanfranc. Lanfranc became archbishop of Canterbury [1078] and Anselm was later called to succeed Lanfranc [1093]. Because of conflicts over the question of the relative authority of church and state, he was often exiled from Canterbury.

o        On reason helping faith: He applied reason to questions of faith, such as the existence of God and the motive for the incarnation. It was not to prove things he did not believe without such proof, but to understand more deeply a truth already known by faith. “I believe in order that I may know.” (Latin credo ut intelligam) Faith must be primary and the foundation of knowledge. This position was held by Augustine—faith seeking understanding. His explanation of the following 2 important questions has been regarded as the standard orthodoxy. They show how reasonable Christianity is; they demonstrate the inner consistency and beauty of Christian faith.

o        Ontological argument of the existence of God: Anselm’s book Proslogion [1078], originally called Faith Seeking Understanding, demonstrated a logical deduction that has been regarded by many philosophers as the best argument for the existence of God. When one thinks of God, one is thinking of “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought (conceived)”—the greatest conceivable being. The question then is, is it possible to think of “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought” as not existing? Clearly not, for then an existing being would be greater than it. Therefore, by definition, the idea of “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought” includes its existence. Were He not to exist, He would be inferior to an identical being that did exist, and thus would not be “the greatest conceivable being.” The analogy is that to speak of God as not existing makes as much sense as to speak of a triangle with four sides.

          Another version: Everyone has an idea of a perfect supreme being in his mind. This idea must correspond to a reality that has an objective existence, for such a being lacking existence would not be perfect nor would it be that than which a greater cannot be conceived. Because no greater idea than that of God as the perfect Supreme Being can be conceived, God must exist in reality.

o        On the reason for incarnation: Anselm’s book Why God Became Man attempted to show that it was absolutely necessary for God to become man and die in order to save us; that is, God had no choice. The importance of a crime is measured in terms of the one against whom it is committed. Therefore, a crime against God, sin, is infinite in its import. But, one the other hand, only a human being can offer satisfaction for human sin. This is obviously impossible, for human beings are finite, and cannot offer the infinite satisfaction required by the majesty of God. For this reason, there is need for a divine-human, God incarnate, who through His suffering and death offers satisfaction for the sins of all man. This is called the commercial theory of atonement. It ended the patristic view of the atonement as a ransom paid to Satan.

        11.1.4  High scholasticism

·         Peter Abelard (1079–1142)

o        Life: He was a French teaching at the University of Paris. Following attacks of his theology by Bernard of Clairvaux, Abelard was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Sens [1141] but was later reconciled to the church.

o        On reason and truth: He emphasized the position of reason in the development of truth. “I know in order that I may believe.” (Latin intelligo ut credam) “By doubting we come to enquire and by enquiring we reach truth.”

o        On universals: Realists held that universals (similar to Plato’s ideas) are more real than the individuals and exist independently of them. Nominalists, in contrast, held that universals have no reality of their own; they are merely arbitrary names. Abelard took a mediating position, seeing universals as mental concepts. They have no existence independently of particular individuals, but they are not just names. He believed that reality existed first in the mind of God, then in individuals and things, and finally in man’s mind. The idea of dog precedes individual dogs in the sense that God planned the creation of dogs so the idea was in His mind. It exists in individual dogs, and its exists in our minds when we have the concept of “dog”.

o        On atonement: He thought that the death of Christ was not to satisfy God but to impress man with the love of God so that man would be morally influenced to surrender his life to God. The cross becomes the supreme example of love. This is the moral influence theory of atonement.

o        Impact: His book Yes and No [1122] included 158 theological questions which various authorities did not agree on their answers. He wanted to show that theology must not be content with citing authorities. It was necessary to find ways to reconcile such apparently contradictory authorities. Eventually, scholasticism used his method as the standard.

·         Peter Lombard (1100–1160)

o        Life: He was a teacher in the University of Paris [1140], and later the bishop of Paris [1159].

o        Impact: His Four Books of Sentences [1150] was a systematic treatment of theology, not from his new ideas but based on extracts from the Bible and other authorities. “Sentences” mean maxims and opinions. Topics included the Trinity, the incarnation, the sacraments, and eschatology. It became a basic textbook on theology in universities. Works of major scholastic theologians usually include a Commentary on the Sentences. He emphasized the 7 sacraments which were accepted as authoritative at the Council of Florence [1439].

          Bernard of Chartres (??–1130) said: “We are like dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants (the ancients). We see more than them and things that are further away—not because our sight is better than theirs, nor because we are taller than they were, but because they raise us up and add to our stature by their enormous heights.”

·         Albert the Great (1206–1280)

o        Life: He was a professor in Paris and Cologne where he taught Thomas Aquinas.

o        Philosophy & theology: He made a clear distinction between philosophy and theology. Philosophy is based on autonomous principles, which can be known apart from revelation, and seeks to discover truth by a strictly rational method. Theology, on the other hand, is based on revealed truths, which cannot be known by reason alone. Revealed data (from God) are always more certain than those of reason, which may err. For example, philosophy cannot prove creation out of nothing because the object of inquiry is beyond the scope of human reason.

o        Science & religion: His chief works, compendiums of theology and creation, treated respectively theological and natural science in an effort to reconcile science and religion.

·         Roger Bacon (1214–1292)

o        He laid the foundation for experimental science. Truth can be approached through the realm of nature by experiment.

·         Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)—greatest theologian of the Middle Ages

o        Life: Thomas Aquinas’s mother was the sister of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. He was a Dominican monk from Italy. He became a professor in Paris. He was nicknamed “the dumb ox”, being big and quiet. He was considered one of the greatest theologian of all time, the foremost proponent of natural theology.

o        Summa Theologica [1265–1273] (The Sum of Theology)—It was the greatest theological work in the Middle Ages—with 512 questions and 3000 articles. It is an imposing intellectual construction comparable to a vast Gothic cathedral with its symmetry and perfect balance. It tries to synthesize faith and reason into a totality of truth. Because both are from God, there can be no essential contradiction between them.

          Part 1 discusses the existence and nature of God, emphasizing God’s being, and Trinity.

          Part 2 discusses man’s advance toward God. Thomas noted that man’s nature of morality and the virtues, but he pointed out that man’s will is bent by sin, although it is not completely determined to evil.

          Part 3 discusses Christ as our Way to God and stresses Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. It concludes with the 7 sacraments as channels of grace instituted by Christ.

o        On faith & reason: Some truths are within the reach of reason, and others are beyond it. Philosophy deals with the former. There are truths that reason cannot prove, but which are necessary for salvation. So God reveals all truth necessary for salvation, to be dealt with by philosophy and theology. Man by the use of reason and the logic of Aristotle could gain such truths as those of God’s existence, providence, and immortality. Like a two-storey house, Aristotelian philosophy provides the first storey on which Catholic theology can be made perfect and complete by adding the second storey.

o        On the existence of God: It is impossible to be saved without believing that God exists. The existence of God is an article of faith; even the most ignorant person can accept it. But the existence of God is not a truth beyond the reach of reason. In this case, reason can prove what faith accepts. Therefore, this question is a proper subject for both philosophy and theology. There are 5 ways to prove it. The first way, for example, begins by considering movement; since what is moved must have a mover, there must be a prime mover, God.

·         Anselm vs Aquinas: Anselm distrusted the senses, and thus started not by looking at the world, but by examining the idea of God. Thomas followed the opposite route, starting with the data known through the senses. This clearly shows Anselm’s Platonic orientation compared to Thomas’s Aristotelian orientation. Whereas Anselm believed that true knowledge is to be found in the realm of pure ideas, Thomas held that sense perception is the beginning of knowledge.

        11.1.5  Late scholasticism

·         Characteristics: [1] They searched for ever subtler questions to pose, and for fine distinctions with which to answer them. They developed a dense style and technical vocabulary that were far beyond the reach of the uninitiated. [2] There was an increasing rift between philosophy and theology, between what reason can discover and what is known only through divine revelation.

·         Duns Scotus (1266–1308)—the Subtle Doctor, Scottish Franciscan

o        Subtlety: His subtlety and fine distinctions were so frequent that his writings can only be understood by those who have spent many years in philosophy and theology.

o        On faith & reason: While Aquinas supported the use of reason in helping to understand faith. He rejected that doctrines (such as the immortality of the soul or divine omnipresence) could be proved to be true by the sole and proper use of reason. He stressed the primacy of the will. Reason shows the will what is possible, but the will itself is free to choose whichever of these it will accept. The will does not simply follow whatever reason dictates.

o        On God’s free-will: He stressed the freedom of God. Things are the way that they are, not because reason requires it but because God freely chose it. While Anselm claimed that the incarnation and the cross of Jesus Christ were necessary and God had no choice, Duns held that they happened because God chose that they should.

o        On the individual: He laid more emphasis on the individual than on the institution.

o        On immaculate conception: He was the first major advocate of the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception (that Mary was conceived without sin), in contrast to others before him who held that Mary was freed from sin after her conception. He argued that this would make the most perfect form of redemption.

·         William of Ockham (1288–1349)—English Franciscan

o        On faith & reason: He held that all true knowledge is acquired empirically through the senses. He insisted that theological dogmas were not rationally demonstrable (they are only probable arguments), and that they must be accepted on the authority of the Bible. Human natural reason can prove absolutely nothing regarding God or the divine purposes. This meant that all the traditional arguments whereby theologians had tried to prove that a doctrine was reasonable lost their power. This view separated faith and reason.

o        On God’s imperative: Whatever God pleases to do is possible. Nothing is above the absolute power of God—not even reason, nor the distinction between good and evil. Were it not so, one would be forced to declare that God’s absolute power is limited by reason, or by the distinction between good and evil. Strictly speaking, one should not say that God always does good, but rather that whatever God does, no matter what it might be, is good. It is God who determines what is good, and not vice versa. Likewise, it is incorrect to say that God has to act reasonably. It is the sovereign will of God that determines what is to be reasonable and then, by the “ordered” power of God, acts according to those directives.

o        On universals: He denied the existence of objective universals and held that universals are only names for mental concepts that men develop in their minds. Only the individual is real. Universals have no reality or existence outside of the mind of the person thinking them (Latin universalia post rem). The concept encourages Western individualism. With this, he undermined the authority of the church.

o        On the pope: He held that the highest authority in the church is not the pope but a general council with lay participation. He believed that only the Bible and the universal church cannot err and that the pope must submit himself to them. He taught that the pope has no secular power and that the emperor can depose the pope.

o        Occam’s Razor or Law of Economy: It is the law of simplicity—“the simplest explanation is the best” or “it is futile to multiply hypotheses when a few will suffice.”

        11.1.6  Results of scholasticism

·         Papal power: Aquinas’s emphasis on the sacraments as channels of grace strengthened the hold of the RCC on the individual.

·         Secular vs sacred: Aquinas’s view that reason precedes revelation as a means of knowledge but is completed by revelation led to a danger that people might separate truth into two spheres, the secular and the sacred. Nominalists actually believed that there is a realm of scientific truth and another realm of theological truth.

·         Rise of experimental method: Nominalism led to an exaltation of the experimental method as the main avenue to truth.

·         Philosophy & religion: Scholasticism furnished the RCC with an authoritative integrated synthesis that harmonized philosophy and religion.

·         Reaction: Late scholasticism provoked the reaction of many who deplored the contrast between the complexity of academic theology and the simplicity of the gospel. The Imitation of Christ [1418] by Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471) represented such as a reaction and called for deeper devotion.

        11.1.7  Growth of universities

·         Reasons for the rise:

o        [1] From monastery schools: Martianus Capella [425] adapted the Roman quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music) and trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic) to the use of religion. The trivium was useful for training the clergy in public speaking and preaching. The quadrivium was useful in the establishment of the dates of sacred festivals of the church. These studies were used in Charlemagne’s palace school and were based on the model of monastery schools and cathedral schools. The University of Paris [1150] developed from the cathedral school of Notre Dame Cathedral.

o        [2] From scholasticism: The presence of a great teacher, such as a scholastic, would attract many students, forming the foundation of universities.

o        [3] From arguments: Because of the quarrels between the English and French kings, the English students in Paris felt that they were mistreated. They moved back to England and formed the University of Oxford [1167]. Later, Cambridge University [1209] grew out of a student revolt and exodus from Oxford.

·         Organization: Early universities were guilds of scholars—both teachers and students. They were organized in order to defend the rights of their members, and to certify the level of proficiency achieved by each. Paris and Oxford were famous for theology; Montpelier and Salerno were famous for medicine; Ravenna, Pavia, and Bologna were famous for law. By 1400, there were over 75 European universities. Universities served the church in medieval times by preparing men for clerical service.

·         Studies: The university usually had 4 faculties. The arts were the general course for all. Theology, law, and medicine were more advanced studies. The student in the general curriculum of the arts studied the trivium, which led to the bachelor’s degree. Further study of the quadrivium gave him a master’s degree which qualified him as a teacher. Continued study in the other faculties might give him a doctorate in law, theology, or medicine. In 14th-c, the process to obtain a doctor required 14 years after the completion in the Faculty of Arts. Instruction was in Latin.


        11.2.1  Revival of classical learning

·         Definition of Renaissance: The French word means “rebirth” which, as applied to a historical period, implies a negative judgment on the preceding age. Those who used this term called the 1000 years since the fall of Rome [476] the “Middle Ages” because they saw in them little more than a negative intermission between classical antiquity and their own time. In calling the best medieval art “Gothic”, they showed the same prejudice, for the word meant that it was the work of barbaric Goths. So Renaissance points to a revival of the Greek/Roman culture. Yet, the truth is that the Renaissance also drew from advances in the preceding period. Further, many of those in the Renaissance even believed that it was a period of decadence when compared with classical antiquity.

·         Cause: When Constantinople fell to the Turks [1453], Byzantine exiles flooded Italy with their knowledge of classical Greek literature. The result was a literary awakening that began in Italy and spread beyond the Alps.

·         Arts & beauty: The interest in antiquity also manifested in the arts, including painting, sculpture, and architecture. The ideal of many Italian artists was to rediscover the classical canons of beauty.

·         Emphasis on man: Art in the Renaissance turned its attention to human splendour, instead of being used for religious instruction until that time. The goal of the period was to be the “universal man”.

·         Printing press: The printing press introduced by Gutenberg [1440] was not yet seen as a means of popularizing literature. It was used as a medium for communication among scholars, or for duplicating the writings of antiquity.

·         Republicanism: Conflicts between the old aristocracy and republican sentiments were constant. In cities such as Florence and Venice, there were repeated upheavals and armed encounters.

        11.2.2  Architecture

·         Purposes of churches: Medieval churches had 2 purposes: didactic and cultic.

o        Didactic purpose: This responded to the needs of an age when books were scarce, and there were not many who could read them. Church buildings thus became books of the illiterate, and an attempt was made to set forth in them the whole of Biblical history, the lives of great saints and martyrs, the virtues and vices, the promise of heaven and the punishment of hell.

o        Cultic purpose: It centred on the medieval understanding of communion. This was seen as the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It was the setting in which the Great Miracle took place.

·         Romanesque architecture: Floor plans of early basilicas had the shape of a “T” while Romanesque basilicas had the shape of a common Latin cross as there was a growing distance between the priests and the laity. Early basilicas had wooden roofs while Romanesque basilicas had stone roofs. To support heavier roofs, they therefore have semi-circular arches with thicker walls, with few windows, and heavy pillars. Inside were great domes with decorative mosaics. Examples are St Sophia (Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul) and St Mark’s (Venice).

o        St Sophia Church: It was at one time the largest cathedral in the world. After the conquest of Constantinople, the church was converted into a mosque, now called Hagia Sophia.

·         Gothic architecture: Critics thought it was barbaric, worthy only of the Goths. In contrast to Romanesque architecture, Gothic architecture perfected the building with pointed arches. The ceiling used ribbed vaults with the weight rested on columns in the corners, not on the entire walls. But to balance the weight of the vault, pillars needed to be built some distance from the wall to exert a lateral thrust.

·         Characteristics: [1] The main lines of the building were so vertical that it seemed to soar to heaven, reminding one about God. This effect could be enhanced by adding towers and spires that pointed to heaven. [2] The pointed arch led the eye and aspirations upward from earth. [3] Spaces became available for long windows which illuminated the building with mysterious light effects, reminding one about the mystery of God. [4] The windows could be decorated with stained glass mosaics depicting Biblical stories and lives of saints. [5] The cross-shaped floor plan expressed the central symbol of Christianity. [6] The entire building was a book in which the mysteries of faith and all creation were reflected. It provided a worthy setting for the eucharistic celebration. [7] The cathedral represented the supernaturalistic spirit of the age clearly by its dominating position in the town and by its symbolic expression of Biblical truth.

        11.2.3  Popes of the Renaissance

·         Corruption: Most of the popes in the Renaissance followed the ideals of the time, chasing after sensual pleasure. These were enthusiasts of arts, employing the best artists to adorn the city of Rome with palaces, churches, and monuments. Others were more like despots who spent their energy to increase their power through military campaigns, diplomacy, and intrigue. Many popes were thoroughly corrupt.

·         Eugene IV [1431–1447]—He asserted his authority over the council. He put much effort to embellish the city of Rome.

·         Nicholas V [1447–1455]—He tried to gain political dominance over all Italian states, and to make Rome the intellectual capital of Europe by building an excellent library.

·         Calixtus III [1455–1458]—He used military campaigns aiming to unify Italy. Nepotism reached new heights; he made his grandson a cardinal who later became the infamous Pope Alexander VI.

·         Paul II [1464–1471]—His main interest was collecting works of art—particularly jewelry and silver. He was famous for luxurious life and keeping concubines.

·         Sixtus IV [1471–1484]—He bought the papacy by promising gifts and privileges to the cardinals. Corruption and nepotism reached new heights. His main goal was to enrich his family. One of his nephews would later become Pope Julius II. Another nephew was made a cardinal, patriarch of Constantinople, and archbishop of Florence when he was 26-years old. In order to supply for his enormous expenses, he imposed a heavy tax on wheat. Sistine Chapel was named after him.

·         Innocent VIII [1484–1492]—He was the first pope to acknowledge several of his illegitimate children, on whom he heaped honours and riches. He appointed one of his sons to manage the sale of indulgences. He killed hundreds of innocent women when he ordered the cleansing of witches [1484].

·         Alexander VI [1492–1503]—Papal corruption reached its peak. He bought the papacy. He was said to commit publicly all capital sins. He openly acknowledged his illegitimate children. He bathed Italy in blood due to his plots and wars.

·         Julius II [1503–1513]—He was a patron of the arts. During his reign, Michelangelo finished his paintings in Sistine Chapel and Raphael decorated the Vatican with his famous frescoes. Julius’s favourite pastime was war, leading the papal guards in many military battles.

·         Leo X [1513–1521]—He was a patron of the arts. His great dream was to complete the great basilica of St Peter in Rome. The sale of indulgences became the main tool for collecting the money needed.


        11.3.1  Lay reforming movements

·         Albigensians: In southern France, there were Albigensians (centred in Albi) or Cathari, teaching dualism like the ancient Manichees—two Gods, a God of Light (God of the NT) and a God of Darkness (God of the OT). Like Gnosticism, they believed the bad god made the visible world so it is evil. Salvation involved repentance, the rite of consolamentum—performed by the laying of hands and the Gospel of John on the head—and an ascetic avoidance of marriage, oaths, war, milk, meat, cheese, and eggs. Pope Innocent III called a crusade [1209] against them and virtually exterminated them. Because they claimed their beliefs were based on the Bible, the RCC later forbade the people to possess the Bible.

·         Waldensians: Peter Waldo (1140–1218), a rich merchant in Lyons (France), was moved by the story of a monk who practiced extreme poverty. He devoted himself to a life of poverty and preaching. He soon gathered a group of followers. They believed that every man should have the Bible in his own tongue and that it should be the final authority of faith and life. They accepted lay ordination to preach and administer the sacraments. Their teachings were orthodox, similar to the Protestants. They were condemned by their archbishop and eventually also by Rome [1184]. Persecution forced them to withdraw to remote valleys in the Alps where they continued their existence until the Reformation. They were approached by Reformed theologians and became Protestants.

·         Joachimites: Joachim of Fiore (1132–1202), a Cistercian monk and the abbot of Fiore [1182], proposed a scheme of history as consisting of 3 successive eras: [1] the era of the Father—the OT dispensation, the age of the married, lived under the Law; [2] the era of the Son—the NT dispensation, the age of the cleric, lived under grace; [3] the era of the Spirit—the new dispensation, the age of the contemplative monk, lived in the freedom of spiritual understanding. The 1st era, from Adam to Jesus, lasted 42 generations. The 2nd era would also last 42 generations. Joachim calculated that the 2nd generation would end in 1260. During this era, monks who are more spiritual than the rest are heralds of the 3rd era which will be a new age of love. There will be a new religious order which will convert the whole world. The present corrupt church and leadership will be replaced by a new spiritual church and a new leader. Joachim’s teachings were followed by some fringe movements, including the spiritual Franciscans, but were later condemned.

·         Female monasticism: For medieval women, monasticism was practically the only way in which to lead a life free from direct dependence on their fathers, husbands, or sons. Thus, women flocked to monastic orders. Soon, these orders began to limit the number of women. Then some women began living in communities practicing prayer, devotion, and relative poverty. But the church often suspected them of heresy.

·         Fragellants: Soon after their appearance [1260], thousands of Christians joined the movement. They whipped themselves in penance for sin, sometimes till blood flowed. Their action was based on the belief that the end of the world was near, or that God would destroy the world if man did not show repentance. After joining the group, they first had to obey absolutely to their superiors for 33 days and to gather for self-whipping twice everyday. After that, they whipped themselves only on Good Fridays.

·         Böhm rebellion: In Würzburg (Germany), there was an image of the Virgin Mary that had become a centre of pilgrimage. Hans Böhm, a young shepherd, began to preach to the pilgrims [1476] about repentance. More than 50,000 gathered. Later, he criticized the greed and corruption of the clergy. He then set a date for a march to claim their rights of refusing to pay taxes and tithes. Before that date, the bishop sent soldiers to arrest Böhm and burnt him as a heretic. But his followers continued to gather until the archbishop of Mainz ordered to burn the village church.

·         Church responses: [1] conversion, e.g. the Dominicans tried to convert the Albigensians, [2] crusade, e.g. the extermination of the Albigensians, [3] prohibition of the Bible, e.g. the Synod of Toulouse [1229] forbade laymen to read vernacular translations of the Bible so that the comparison between the NT church and the RCC could be avoided, [4] Inquisition, e.g. Gregory IX commissioned the Dominicans to punish heresy by threats, torture, and death.

        11.3.2  John Wycliffe (1320–1384)—Morning star of Reformation

·         Background: Wycliffe was an English theologian who spent most of his career at Oxford. He was known for his scholarship and logic, but also a lack of humour. At that time, the papacy was under French control at Avignon. Since England and France were enemies, the English Parliament passed laws to assert its autonomy from the papacy including: [1] The Statute of Provisors [1351] banned appointment by the pope of clergymen to offices in England. [2] The Statute of Praemunire [1353] forbade the practice of taking cases concerning clergymen from the English courts to the papal court in Rome. [3] The Parliament stopped the annual tribute to Rome. With such atmosphere, Wycliffe’s ideas were well supported by nobles in England.

·         On legitimate power: Wycliffe stressed that all legitimate dominion comes from God. But such dominion is characterized by the example of Christ, who came to serve, not to be served. Any lordship used for the profit of the ruler rather than for that of the governed is not true dominion, but usurpation. Therefore, any ecclesiastical authority that collects taxes for its own benefit is illegitimate. Civil authority had a good reason to take property from the church.

·         On the true church: The scandal of the Great Schism led him to push his teaching even further. He began teaching that Christ is the head of the church; the true church of Christ is not the pope and his visible hierarchy, but rather the invisible body of those who are predestined to salvation. These people can be known by the fruits they produce. Later, he would declare that the papacy was an office instituted by man, not by God and that the pope was probably a reprobate.

·         On the Bible: The Bible is the sole authority of the church, above the church, tradition, councils, and the pope. It contains all that is necessary for salvation. Since the church that owns Scripture is the body of all who are predestined, they should study the Bible, and in their own language. Wycliffe translated the NT into English; Nicholas of Hereford translated most of the OT; Wycliffe’s followers completed the rest and the Wycliffe Bible was published [1384].

·         On communion: The Council of Lateran IV [1215] had affirmed the doctrine of transubstantiation. Wycliffe rejected this because he saw in it a denial of the principle manifested in incarnation. When God was joined to human nature, the presence of divinity did not destroy the humanity. Likewise, in a mysterious way, the body of Christ and the bread are both present in communion. Wycliffe’s view would mean that the priest could no longer withhold salvation from anyone.

·         Death: Wycliffe’s views were completely based on Scripture but were condemned in London [1380] and he was forced to retire. He died in the communion of the church [1384] and was buried in consecrated ground. But the Council of Constance [1415] declared Wycliffe a heretic. His remains were disinterred and burnt.

·         Lollards:

o        Followers of Wycliffe: They followed the teachings of Wycliffe. They set out to preach their understanding of Christianity. They helped spreading the English Bible and fuelling discontent with the RCC.

o        Beliefs: They believed that the Bible belonged to the people and should be returned to them; that pastors should not hold civil offices; and that images, clerical celibacy, pilgrimages were abomination. They reject the doctrine of transubstantiation, and prayers for the dead.

o        Rebellion: At first, they had supporters in the nobility. After an abortive rebellion [1413], they lost support of the nobles but continued among the lower classes. Then they became more radical. A Lollard conspiracy, which hoped to reform the church and to overthrow the government, was discovered [1431]. They were then persecuted and went underground. During the Reformation, they were absorbed into Protestantism, and helped in the English Reformation.

        11.3.3  John Huss (1369–1415)

·         Life: Huss was a famous scholar and preacher in Prague, Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic). His influence increased after he became the rector of the University of Prague [1402]. He did not intend to alter the traditional doctrines of the church, but only to restore Christian life to its highest ideals.

·         Supporting Wycliffe: Wycliffe’s ideas were debated in Prague and were accepted by the Bohemians and by Huss. The archbishop of Prague obtained a papal decree banning the works of Wycliffe and silencing the preaching of Huss. Huss continued to preach and was excommunicated [1411].

·         On authority: As Bohemia supported the Pisan popes who were deposed by the RCC, the conflict led Huss to more extreme views. He came to the conclusion that an unworthy pope is not to be obeyed because the popes are acting for their own interests, not for the welfare of the church. He also concluded that the Bible is the final authority. A pope who does not obey the Bible is not to be obeyed.

·         On indulgences: Huss was against the sale of indulgences. He concluded that only God can grant forgiveness, and that to sell what comes only from God is a usurpation. There were public demonstration against the exploitation of the Bohemian people by the papacy. Pope John XXIII (antipope) excommunicated him again.

·         Death: Emperor Sigismund invited Huss to defend himself before the Council of Constance, and granted him safe-conduct. The council disregarded the safe-conduct and ordered Huss to recant his teachings. But Huss rejected it because that would be an admission that he and his Bohemian friends were heretics. He was condemned as a heretic and was burnt [1415]. The Bohemians repudiated the council and 452 noblemen gathered and announced their agreement with Huss—that unworthy popes ought not to be obeyed.

·         Followers:

o        Utraquists: Among the Hussites (followers of Huss), there were 2 groups: Utraquists and Taborites. The first group were mostly from the nobility and the bourgeoisie. They were willing to retain everything except what was explicitly rejected by the Bible.

o        Taborites: These were mostly from lower classes. They were an apocalyptic movement that spread among the peasants even before Huss. They rejected everything that was not to be found in the Scripture. Therefore, they rejected transubstantiation, worship of saints, prayers for the dead, oaths, indulgences, priestly confession, dancing, and other amusements.

o        Four Articles [1420]: The threat of armed intervention led the different groups to agree to Four Articles that would be the basis of Bohemian resistance: [1] The Word of God was to be preached freely. [2] Communion would be given in both kinds to the laity—both bread and cup. [3] The clergy should be deprived of its wealth and live in apostolic poverty. [4] The gross and public sin, especially simony, would be properly punished.

o        Victories: King Wenceslas died [1419] and his legitimate successor was Sigismund. The Bohemians demanded that he grant freedom of worship. Sigismund did not agree. The pope then called a crusade against the Hussites. Sigismund’s army was totally destroyed outside Prague. Two other crusades from the pope [1427, 1431] were also defeated.

o        Moravians: The papacy finally negotiated with the Bohemians and granted them some elements of the Four Articles. Some left the established church and formed the Union of Brethren or Bohemian Brethren [1450]. Some remnants of the Brethren became the Moravians.

        11.3.4  Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)

·         Life: Savonarola was an Italian Dominican friar, wellknown for his scholarship. He was invited to join St Mark’s monastery in Florence [1490].

·         Reforms: He taught on the contrast between true Christian life and the love of luxury. He preached against the evil life of the pope. On being elected as prior of the monastery, he sold much of the property to help the poor. He also reformed the monastery.

·         Death: When Charles VIII of France invaded Florence, Savonarola negotiated with him on behalf of the city. The people turned to him for guidance and established a republic. Pope Alexander VI formed an alliance against France and wanted to force Florence to follow but Savonarola insisted on keep his agreement with France. Because of the hardship from papal action, people rose against him and he was killed as a heretic, without specifying what type of heresy.

        11.3.5  Mysticism

·         Causes: [1] Scholasticism emphasized reason at the expense of emotion. The nominalism of late scholasticism was even worse. When the church lapsed into formalism, the human heart longed for direct contact with God. The mystic desired this contact by immediate intuition and contemplation, leading to the experience of being in union with God and a feeling of ecstasy. [2] Mysticism was also a kind of protest and reaction against the troubled times and a corrupt church.

·         Johannes Eckhart von Hochheim, Meister Eckhart (1260–1327)

o        Neoplatonism: He was a German Dominican monk. His mystical doctrine was essentially Neoplatonic, for its goal was the contemplation of the divine, the Ineffable One.

o        On knowledge of God: He believed that all language about God is analogical, and therefore inexact. He sought to exalt God by showing that no human concept can grasp the divine, and that true knowledge of God is not rational, but intuitive. God is known, not by study or rational argument, but by mystical contemplation in which one is finally lost in the divine.

o        On union with God: He believed that only the divine is real so he taught that the aim of the Christian should be the union of the spirit with God by a fusion of the human essence with the divine essence during an ecstatic experience. “God must become I, and I God.”

o        Open to speculation: All ideas of all things that would exist were in the mind of God. “Jerusalem is as close to my soul as is the place where I stand right now.” What he meant by this statement was that one finds God through inner contemplation, by “allowing oneself to be carried,” and thus coming to God without intermediaries. But this kind of statement was open to different interpretations. Some accused him of falling into pantheism. He was finally convicted of heresy. A group of Dominicans known as the Friends of God carried on the tradition of Eckhart’s teaching.

·         John of Ruysbroeck (1293–1381) & Gerhard Groote (1340–1384)

o        Devotion: They were Flemish mystics. Their mysticism was more practical and more directly related to everyday life than Meister Eckhart. They gave shape and popularity to modern devotion. This consisted mainly in a life of disciplined devotion centred on the contemplation of the life of Christ, and on its imitation. The objective was to lead to inner peace.

o        Brethren: Grotte founded the Brethren of the Common Life who lived in lay communities not under a monastic rule, and did secular work. Erasmus was one of them. They devoted their lives to teaching and other practical service rather than to the passive experience of God. Grotte attacked corruption in the church and called his followers to renewed holiness and devotion. He encouraged his followers to stay in their secular jobs.

·         Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471)

o        Life: He was one of the Brethren of the Common Life, living in a community under Augustinian canons. His name came from his birthplace Kempen (near Cologne, Germany). His disciples formed a movement called Modern Devotion, which stressed on conversion, on practical Christian living and holiness, on meditation, and on frequent communion.

o        Imitation of Christ [1418]—This is his famous work, which has over 2000 printings in the last 500 years. The theme was the need of a positive love for Christ and service for Him in practical ways, applying the methods of self-examination and humility; self-denial and discipline; acceptance of one’s lot, and trust in and love for God. There were 4 books. Book 1 is on the beginnings of the spiritual life. Books 2 and 3 are on the inner life and on spiritual comfort. Book 4 is on the holy communion.

o        Quotes: [1] “If you knew the whole Bible off by heart and all the expositions of scholars, what good would it do you without the love and grace of God?” [2] “It is clear how rarely we apply to our neighbours the same standards as to ourselves.” [3] “Jesus has in these days many people who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross.” [4] “Make use of temporal gifts, but set your heart on eternal ones.” [5] “It is to those who become like children that God gives understanding, and He enlarges the faculties of minds that are pure. But from those who are arrogant and inquisitive he keeps his grace concealed.”

·         Gabriel Biel (1420–1495)

o        Life: He was a German who joined the Brethren of the Common Life. He taught at the University of Tübingen.

o        Theology: He managed to blend the spirituality of the Modern Devotion with his academic studies, avoiding the anti-intellectualism of Thomas à Kempis. He supported Semi-Pelagianism. He set out an “order of salvation” for the sinner. The first step is taken by the sinner—cease from consenting to sin and turn to God by his own unaided free-will. Martin Luther was later taught by Biel’s student. Luther’s spiritual problems were induced by Biel’s doctrine of grace.

o        On God’s grace: There is the “pact of generosity” by which God promises to reward with His grace those who do their very best. Then there is the “pact of justice” by which God ordains that those performing good works in a state of grace deserve to be accepted by Him as righteous. Both pacts are ordained out of God’s grace. This enables Biel to combine doctrines of salvation by works and salvation by grace.

·         Effect of mysticism: [1] Although the mystic movement was not opposed to the church, it weakened the authority of the church by insisting that one can achieve communion with the divine through direct contemplation. With this movement, the traditional means of grace such as sacraments, preaching, and even Scripture lost their importance. [2] Mysticism may be thought of as anticipating the more personal approach to religion characterized by the Reformation. [3] The dangers of this movement included the tendencies to substitute a subjective inner authority for the Bible, to minimize doctrine, to become too introspective and antisocial. All these were manifested in some later religious movements.


        11.4.1  Spanish colonies

·         Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)—He was an Italian explorer who received the support of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, and reached Latin America [1492]. According to the contract that Columbus made with them, if Columbus discovered any new land, he would be appointed Viceroy and Governor and receive 10% of all revenues in perpetuity.

·         Downfall of Columbus: As soon as the monarchs found out how much land and riches were involved, they took steps to limit Columbus’ power, fearing that they would lose control. In 1500, Columbus was arrested and displaced from power.

·         Crown appointees: In 1493 to 1510, the popes gave enormous authority to the Spanish crown to appoint bishops and high ecclesiastical officers for the New World. These officers were political appointees who had no understanding of the plight of the masses. Their objectives were riches and exploitation.

·         Monks supporting the people: In contrast, those who carried out missionary work—Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits—lived among the people and knew their plight. The friars then became the defenders of the Indians against the plundering of the European settlers. In 19th-c, when the old colonies began their struggle for independence, the bishops were loyalists, while many parish priests and friars sided with the rebels.

·         Conflicts: The first open protest against the exploitation was a sermon preached by Dominican Antonio Montesinos in Santo Domingo [1511]. The dispute reached the court in Spain. Bartolome de Las Casas was a prominent settler, later a Dominican priest, supported the protest. He repeatedly crossed the Atlantic, obtaining in Spain legislation protecting the Indians. But the colonial authorities were unwilling or unable to apply such legislation. His works were later banned in Peru and were eventually included in the Inquisition’s List of Forbidden Books. However, his effort led to the New Laws of Indies, enacted by Charles V [1542], limiting the power of the Spanish settlers over the Indians, though the laws were largely ignored in the New World. In the end, forced labour, diseases imported from Europe, and mass suicides destroyed most of the native population. This happened in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and many Caribbean islands.

·         Black slaves: The loss of Indian labour led the Spanish to import black slaves from Africa. The first ones arrived in 1502. By mid-16th-c, thousands of Africans were being imported as slaves. Today, blacks are more numerous in areas where the Indian population was low in 16th-c.

·         Mayan Empire: They occupied present-day southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula since 3rd-c. The empire declined in the 8th-c and 9th-c, before the Spanish arrived. After the decline, pockets of Mayans survived until they were eventually conquered by the Spanish [1697].

·         Aztec Empire: They occupied present-day central Mexico since 6th-c. Their capital was Tenochtitlan, reaching its apex in late 15th-c under emperor Montezuma. In 1519, the Spanish under Hernan Cortez landed and Tenochtitlan fell [1521]. Later, outbreaks of smallpox decimated the population. By the end of 16th-c, only pockets of Aztecs were left.

·         Inca Empire: They occupied the Andes, centred around the present-day Peru reaching to the south along the coast since about 1200. In early 16th-c, Cuzco was their capital, under emperor Atahualpa. Outbreaks of smallpox weakened the empire. Then, the Spanish under Francisco Pisarro landed [1526], and Emperor Atahualpa was captured [1532]. Later, the last Inca stronghold was conquered [1572].

·         Conversion of the natives: When the native Indians were conquered by the Spanish, their religious idols were destroyed. Friars were subsequently sent from Spain to convert the Indians. As the Indians accepted that the Christian God had defeated their own gods, many rushed to request baptism, hoping to gain the support of the powerful new God. By the end of 16th-c, most of the original inhabitants of central America called themselves Christians.

·         Spanish expansion: After the Spanish conquered central and south America, they moved north. The threat of French advance from Louisiana, and of the Russians moving down the Pacific coast, led the Spanish to settle in Texas and California. Franciscan missionaries moved into New Mexico in 1610. By 1630, 50 missionaries were pastoring 60,000 baptized Indians in New Mexico.

·         Florida: Florida was first occupied by the French in 1562. The Spanish attacked the French and took over the region. In 1819, it was formally ceded to the US.

·         Southern South America: River Plate region (present-day Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) was the mission field of the Jesuits. In 1628, some Portuguese out of Sao Paulo began attacking the Jesuit missions. The Jesuits decided to arm the Indians. In 1641, a major battle was won by the Jesuits and the Indians. The missions flourished and by 1731, there were more than 140,000 Indians living in them. Accusations and false rumours against the Jesuits were sent to Spain and Rome about illegally arming the Indians, creating an independent republic, and hiding vast amounts of gold. In 1767, the crown ordered that all Jesuits must leave all Spanish colonies. Afterwards, Spanish and Portuguese colonists were hunting Indians for slaves. The missions were drastically reduced.

·         Independence: In 19th-c, the Spanish colonies obtained independence: Haiti [1804], Mexico [1810], Paraguay [1811], Venezuela [1811], River Plate [1816], Chile [1818], Peru [1821], Central America [1821], Bolivia [1825].

        11.4.2  Portuguese colonies

·         Spanish-Portuguese partition: In 1493, after the first discoveries of Columbus, the pope apportioned the entire non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal. Portugal received Africa and the Orient; Spain received South America; but the line of demarcation also put the eastern part of South America (Brazil) into Portugal’s share.

·         Discovery of Brazil: In 1500, a Portuguese squadron sailing for the Orient accidentally reached Brazil and colonization began. Brazil was originally colonized for its brazilwood and sugar cane. Because labour was needed to process sugar, the Portuguese enslaved the Indians. Later, they began to import slaves from Africa.

·         Crown control: In 1549, the news of cruelty against slaves reached Portugal. The king declared direct rule and sent a governor, accompanied by Jesuit missionaries. Afterwards, the Indians and the blacks developed various combinations of Christianity with their ancestral religions. Brazil obtained independence in 1822.



[1] treasure our heritage

Beautiful Gothic architecture expresses Christian faith. Universities were established to train Christian workers.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

The extreme corruption of the papacy did not destroy the church. Faithful believers were still preserved by God.

[3] avoid past errors

Scholasticism lost its influence when it moved away from the common man.

[4] apply our knowledge

Christianity is compatible with human reasoning. We should use our mind to understand and strengthen faith.

[5] follow past saints

The courageous John Wycliffe and John Huss were precursors of the Reformation.



        What were the main teachings of Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola? Were they judged (as heretics) correctly by the church?

o        Wycliffe: The truth church is not the same as the visible church. Christians should own the Bible in their own language. Transubstantiation is not Biblical.

o        Huss: An unworthy pope is not to be obeyed. The Bible is the final authority. The sale of indulgences is a usurpation.

o        Savonarola: True Christians must reject the love of luxury.

o        Judgment: They were judged as heretics because they threatened the authority of the church but their teachings were completely Biblical and their judgments by the church were wrong.

        Can the ideas of Christian mysticism help to improve our own personal devotion?

o        Yes, the emphases of contemplation of God, imitation of Christ, and the attainment of inner peace help us to focus in our personal devotion. However, the modern emphases of praying and studying the Scripture are also important.

        What lessons can we learn from popular movements before the Reformation, including the Lollards, monasticism among women, fragellants, and the Bohm rebellion?

o        Lollards: the popularity of a gospel different from the one taught by the official church

o        Female monasticism: existence of sexual inequality in the society (total number restricted by monastic orders)

o        Fragellants: radicalization of the mass

o        Bohm rebellion: corruption of the clergy, injustice of the church siding with the powerful

o        All these movements pointed to the necessity of true reformation.

        What were the methods used by scholasticism? How much contributions did they make on today’s theology?

o        Method: posing a question, and then quoting authorities who supported different answers, and then showing how it was possible for all the authorities quoted to be correct

o        Contributions:

          encouraged rational understanding of our faith: contributing to apologetics

          ontological argument of the existence of God (still the best philosophical argument)

          systematic theology (Lombard)

          Summa Theologica as an encyclopedia of the reasoning of our faith

        What is your reaction to the subtle arguments of late scholasticism?

o        Late scholasticism searched for subtle answers to subtle questions which are mostly irrelevant to our faith. When knowledge and sophistication become themselves objectives of theological studies, the increase in knowledge will be useless for our effort to spiritual maturity. We must avoid such a direction.

        How does Gothic architecture reflect the glories of Christianity?

o        vertical lines seemingly soaring to heaven—reminding us about God

o        towers and spires pointing to heaven—reminding us to worship God

o        stained glass windows illuminating the building with mysterious light effects, depicting Biblical stories and saints—recounting Biblical teachings and the mystery of God

o        long naves and slender columns and multicoloured windows—providing a worthy setting for the eucharistic celebration

o        dignified atmosphere of the church—reflecting the mysteries of faith and creation

        What were the sins of the popes during the Renaissance? How can true Christians become so corrupted?

o        Sins of popes:


          publicly committing cardinal sins

          illicit relations & illegitimate children


          war for the purpose of more power

          selling of indulgences

o        The corruption was the result of their possession of despotic powers and great wealth.

        How did the Spanish treat the native Indians? How did the monks sent to the New World react? How do we evaluate and judge the Spanish conquest of the New World? (From the perspective of Christians, were they good or bad?)

o        The Spanish exploited the native Indians but the monks lived among them and sympathized with them. Eventually, the priests sided with the rebels in wars for their independence.

o        Like most events in history, the Spanish conquest were both good and bad. On one hand, vast number of natives were converted to Christianity, though not all of them were genuine believers. On the other hand, the Spanish destroyed the local culture and oppressed the natives by their exploitation.