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(skōlăs`tĭsĭzəm), philosophy and theology of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Virtually all medieval philosophers of any significance were theologians, and their philosophy is generally embodied in their theological writings. There were numerous scholastic philosophies in the Middle Ages, but basic to all scholastic thought was the conjunction of faith and reason. For the greatest of the scholastics, this meant the use of reason to deepen the understanding of what is believed on faith and ultimately to give a rational content to faith. It was in the course of applying reason to faith that medieval thinkers developed and taught important philosophical ideas not directly related to theology.

Influences on Scholasticism

The greatest of earlier Christian philosophers had been St. AugustineAugustine, Saint
, Lat. Aurelius Augustinus, 354–430, one of the Latin Fathers of the Church and a Doctor of the Church, bishop of Hippo (near present-day Annaba, Algeria), b. Tagaste (c.40 mi/60 km S of Hippo). Life

Augustine's mother, St.
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, who saw in Plato (or in NeoplatonismNeoplatonism
, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of Plato. Plotinus and the Nature of Neoplatonism

Considered the last of the great pagan philosophies, it was developed by Plotinus (3d cent. A.D.).
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) a system congenial with Christianity. This influence combined with that of the Pseudo-Dionysius (see Dionysius the Areopagite, SaintDionysius the Areopagite, Saint
, fl. 1st cent. A.D., Athenian Christian, converted by St. Paul. Acts 17.34. Tradition has made him a martyr and the first bishop of Athens. He has been confused with St. Denis.
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) to color the speculations of Western thinkers with Neoplatonic ideas. Much knowledge of ancient philosophy came to the early scholastics through the writings of BoethiusBoethius
, Boetius
, or Boece
(Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius), c.475–525, Roman philosopher and statesman. An honored figure in the public life of Rome, where he was consul in 510, he became the able minister of the Emperor Theodoric.
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. John Scotus EriugenaEriugena or Erigena, John Scotus
[Lat. Scotus=Irish, Eriugena=born in Ireland], c.810–c.877, scholastic philosopher, born in Ireland.
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 continued the tradition of Neoplatonism in the 9th cent., adding to it certain mystical notions of his own.

Early Scholasticism

The beginning of scholasticism can be identified in the methods used by civil and canon lawyers of the 11th and 12th cent. to reconcile seemingly contradictory statements. St. AnselmAnselm, Saint
, 1033?–1109, prelate in Normandy and England, archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church (1720), b. Aosta, Piedmont. After a carefree youth of travel and schooling in Burgundy he became a disciple and companion of Lanfranc, the famed theologian and prior
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 in the late 11th cent. took as his life's motto "fides quaerens intelligentiam" [faith seeking understanding], and sought to use reason to illuminate the content of belief. An example of this is his famous ontological proof of the existence of God, based on the assertion that the highest being of which our minds can conceive must exist in reality.

The most important philosophical problem in the 12th cent. was the question of the universal (see realismrealism,
in philosophy. 1 In medieval philosophy realism represented a position taken on the problem of universals. There were two schools of realism. Extreme realism, represented by William of Champeaux, held that universals exist independently of both the human mind and
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). Opposing both the extreme nominalism of RoscelinRoscelin
, c.1045–c.1120, French scholastic philosopher, also called Roscellinus, Johannes Roscellinus, and Jean Roscelin. Roscelin was one of the first thinkers of the Middle Ages to deal with the problem of universals, or general concepts (see realism).
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 and the realism of William of ChampeauxWilliam of Champeaux
, c.1070–1121, French scholastic philosopher. William studied and taught in Paris. In 1109 he founded the monastic school of St. Victor, which later became famous. From 1113 until his death he was bishop of Châlons-en-Champagne.
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, Peter AbelardAbelard, Peter
, Fr. Pierre Abélard , 1079–1142, French philosopher and teacher, b. Le Pallet, near Nantes. Life

Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame and soon attacked the ultrarealist
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 taught a moderate doctrine; he recognized the universal as a symbol to which human beings have attached a commonly agreed significance, based on the similarity they perceive in different objects. Abelard's emphasis on the powers of reason, which he exaggerated in his early years, led to his condemnation by Bernard of ClairvauxBernard of Clairvaux, Saint
, 1090?–1153, French churchman, mystic, Doctor of the Church. Born of noble family, in 1112 he entered the Cistercian abbey of Cîteaux, taking along 4 or 5 brothers and some 25 friends.
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. John of SalisburyJohn of Salisbury
, c.1110–1180, English scholastic philosopher, b. Salisbury. He studied in France at Paris and Chartres under Abelard and other famous teachers. He was secretary to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and friend and secretary to St.
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, an English scholar noted for his humanistic studies, was representative of the important work done at the noted school at Chartres.

Hugh of St. Victor, a German scholar and mystic, urged the study of every branch of learning. His treatise On Sacraments was the first summa, an important medieval literary genre. The summae were comprehensive, intricately arranged works on theology and philosophy; they were characterized by their wide scope and vast learning. The Book of Sentences, however, assembled by Peter LombardPeter Lombard,
Lat. Petrus Lombardus, c.1100–c.1160, Italian theologian, often called Magister Sententiarum. He studied at Bologna, Reims, and Paris, where he is said to have been a student of Abelard.
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 in the early 12th cent., was to become the classical source book for medieval thinkers. It was a compilation of sources from the church fathers, especially St. Augustine, and in subsequent years virtually every great medieval thinker wrote a commentary on the Sentences.

The Golden Age

The 13th cent. is generally regarded as the golden age of medieval philosophy. It was marked by two important developments: the growth of universities, especially at Paris and Oxford (see colleges and universitiescolleges and universities,
institutions of higher education. Universities differ from colleges in that they are larger, have wider curricula, are involved in research activities, and grant graduate and professional as well as undergraduate degrees.
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), and the introduction of AristotleAristotle
, 384–322 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Stagira. He is sometimes called the Stagirite. Life

Aristotle's father, Nicomachus, was a noted physician. Aristotle studied (367–347 B.C.
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 into the West. Until then, only the early works of Aristotle had been known to Western scholars, and those in poor translations; between 1120 and 1220 virtually the whole body of Aristotle's work was rendered into Latin, mainly from Arabic translations. The impact on Western thinkers of this vast body of systematic thought and organized research and analysis was enormous. Also important was the influence of AvicennaAvicenna
, Arabic Ibn Sina, 980–1037, Islamic philosopher and physician, of Persian origin, b. near Bukhara. He was the most renowned philosopher of medieval Islam and the most influential name in medicine from 1100 to 1500.
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 and AverroësAverroës
, Arabic Ibn Rushd, 1126–98, Spanish-Arab philosopher. He was far more important and influential in Jewish and Christian thought than in Islam. He was a lawyer and physician of Córdoba and lived for some time in Morocco in favor with the caliphs.
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, the two Arabic commentators whose interpretations of Aristotle were translated as well.

The Univ. of Paris became a leading center for the study of Aristotle and attracted scholars from all over Europe; the Dominicans and Franciscans, popular new religious orders, played a leading role in the expansion of the universities and the development of scholasticism. It was in the universities that the two traditional forms of scholastic literature were developed: the question (a thesis that is posed and defended against objections) and the commentary. Although Aristotle's work was of central significance in the development of scholasticism, it did not make its way without difficulties. In 1210 and 1215 papal authority prohibited the teaching of some of Aristotle's works at the Univ. of Paris, although by 1240 the ban was no longer enforced.

The first Western Aristotelian was Albertus MagnusAlbertus Magnus, Saint
, or Saint Albert the Great,
b. 1193 or 1206, d. 1280, scholastic philosopher, Doctor of the Church, called the Universal Doctor. A nobleman of Bollstädt in Swabia, he joined (1223) the Dominicans and taught at Hildesheim, Freiburg,
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, who was an important student of the natural sciences as well. But the leading figure in the movement to "Christianize Aristotle" was St. Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
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, a Dominican and one of the greatest intellectual figures of the Middle Ages. He produced a vast body of philosophical work, which was remarkably precise, detailed, and organized. Denying any basic conflict between faith and reason, Aquinas sought to demonstrate that reason could lead man to many of the great spiritual truths and could help him to understand those truths that he accepted on faith. He combated secular interpretations of Aristotle, especially "Latin Averroism," the doctrines of Siger de BrabantSiger de Brabant
, fl. 1260–77, French theologian, head of the movement known as Latin Averroism. At the Univ. of Paris he taught that the individual soul had no immortality and that only the universal "active intellect" was immortal.
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. In particular, Aquinas attacked the Averroist teaching that denied the immortality of the individual soul.

Aquinas himself was vigorously opposed by the Franciscans, led by St. BonaventureBonaventure or Bonaventura, Saint
, 1221–74, Italian scholastic theologian, cardinal, Doctor of the Church, called the Seraphic Doctor, b. near Viterbo, Italy. His original name was Giovanni di Fidanza.
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. Bonaventure, rooted in an older theological tradition, feared the excesses of reason in its contact with faith and almost succeeded in having Aquinas' teachings condemned at Paris. Another opponent of Aquinas was Duns ScotusDuns Scotus, John
[Lat. Scotus=Irishman or Scot], c.1266–1308, scholastic philosopher and theologian, called the Subtle Doctor. A native of Scotland, he became a Franciscan and taught at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne.
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, who developed a new scholastic synthesis. He argued that natural reason is limited in its ability to penetrate matters of faith, thus separating philosophy and theology.

Continuation of the Scholastic Tradition

William of OccamWilliam of Occam or Ockham
, c.1285–c.1349, English scholastic philosopher. A Franciscan, Occam studied and taught at Oxford from c.
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, another Franciscan, is generally regarded as the last of the great medieval philosophers. By firmly separating philosophy and theology and insisting that there is no rational ground for faith, he brought an end to that synthesis of faith and reason that characterized the greatest scholastic thought. After the 15th cent. the reputation of medieval philosophy declined. But the break between medieval philosophy and Renaissance thought was mainly in the area of metaphysics; scholastic tradition and methods continued to be followed in politics and law—in canon lawcanon law,
in the Roman Catholic Church, the body of law based on the legislation of the councils (both ecumenical and local) and the popes, as well as the bishops (for diocesan matters).
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, civil lawcivil law,
as used in this article, a modern legal system based upon Roman law, as distinguished from common law. Civil law is based on written legal codes, a hallmark of the Roman legal system, in which disputes were settled by reference to a written legal code arrived at
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, and common lawcommon law,
system of law that prevails in England and in countries colonized by England. The name is derived from the medieval theory that the law administered by the king's courts represented the common custom of the realm, as opposed to the custom of local jurisdiction that
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 and, later, in the development of international lawinternational law,
body of rules considered legally binding in the relations between national states, also known as the law of nations. It is sometimes called public international law in contrast to private international law (or conflict of laws), which regulates private legal
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In the late 15th cent. the Dominicans began a Thomistic revival; its brilliant leader was the reformer CajetanCajetan, Saint
, 1480–1547, Italian churchman and reformer. Son of the count of Thiene, he studied civil and canon law, but abandoned work as a jurist at the papal court to become a priest.
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. There was also a living Scotist tradition, and every Catholic university had Thomists and Scotists in its theological faculty. After the 18th cent. the secularization of the universities resulted in the suppression of the theological faculties, and the old tradition was broken. The Scotists always suffered from the very bad state of the text of Duns Scotus' works, and in the 20th cent. the Franciscan order undertook a complete and authoritative edition of them.


Contemporary interest in scholasticism, particularly among the neoscholastics, began as a concerted effort toward the end of the 19th cent. at the Univ. of Louvain. Impetus was given to the movement by the papal encyclical of Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (1879), which called upon Roman Catholics to renew the study of the scholastics, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. Neoscholastics are not unanimous in their approach, but do generally agree that their philosophical study must not proceed in a manner that is neglectful of their Christian faith. Among the foremost neoscholastics have been the Frenchmen Jacques MaritainMaritain, Jacques
, 1882–1973, French Neo-Thomist philosopher. He was educated at the Sorbonne and the Univ. of Heidelberg and was much influenced by the philosophy of Henri Bergson.
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 and Étienne GilsonGilson, Étienne
, 1884–1978, French philosopher and historian, b. Paris. He taught the history of medieval philosophy at the Sorbonne (1921–32) and then took the chair of medieval philosophy at the Collège de France.
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See E. Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (1951, repr. 1963); J. Pieper, Scholasticism (tr. 1960, repr. 1964); J. R. Weinberg, A Short History of Medieval Philosophy (1964); J. Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology (1978).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a type of religious philosophy that gave the theoretical primacy to theology; it combined dogmatic premises with a rationalist technique and was preoccupied with problems of formal logic. Scholasticism reached its highest stage of development and enjoyed widespread supremacy in Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

The sources of Scholasticism can be traced back to late classical philosophy, particularly to Proclus, who held that answers to all questions could be found in the writings of Plato, advocated the comprehensive summation of diverse sets of problems, and combined mystical premises with rational conclusions. The patristic teachings assumed a Scholastic bent with the completion of the dogmatic foundations of church doctrine (John Damascene). Early Scholasticism (11th—12th centuries) took shape with the rise of feudal civilization and papal power and was influenced by Augustinian Platonism (Anselm of Canterbury). Different positions became apparent in the controversy over universals, with realism (William of Champeaux) on one side, nominalism (Roscelin) on the other, and conceptualism (P. Abélard) assuming an intermediate position. In this period, Scholasticism frequently came into conflict with fideistic anti-intellectualism. Thinkers in the orthodox mold, such as Peter Damián, Lanfranc, and Bernard of Clairvaux, attacked not merely the doctrines of individual “heretics” but the principle of Scholastic rationalism as such.

High Scholasticism (12th—13th centuries) developed in the medieval universities, with its major center at the University of Paris. In the school of Chartres, Platonism was invested with a bold naturalist interpretation, which in many ways foreshadowed the ideas of the Renaissance. It was gradually supplanted by Aristotelianism, which was interpreted in such a way as to maintain a distinction between heretical Averroism on the one hand, which denied the reality of the individual soul and posited a single impersonal intellectual spirit in all beings (Siger of Brabant), and the orthodox trend of Scholasticism on the other, which subordinated Aristotelian ontology to the Christian notions of a personal god, the individual soul, and the creation of the universe (Albert the Great and, especially, Thomas Aquinas).

Late Scholasticism (13th–14th centuries) was faced with the strained ideological contradictions of the era of advanced feudalism. John Duns Scotus, objecting to the intellectualism of the Thomist system, advanced the notion of free will, rejected all closed systems, and placed a new emphasis on individual being. Oppositional thinkers of this period (William of Ockham and, to some extent, Nicole Oresme) emphatically persisted with a theory of double truth, which undid the Scholastic “harmony” between faith and reason. The Renaissance banished Scholasticism to the periphery of intellectual life. Scholastic traditions were partially revived in the “second Scholasticism” (16th–17th centuries) during the Counter-Reformation, chiefly in Spain (F. de Vitoria, F. Suárez, G. Vásquez, L. Molina), but the Enlightenment dealt them a decisive blow. Scholastic traditions revived again in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of neo-Thomism.

Scholasticism arose at a time when the church constituted “the all-embracing synthesis and the most general sanction of the existing feudal domination” (F. Engels; see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 361) and religion itself additionally assumed a universal aspect that transcended the confines of religious doctrine proper. Subordination of thought to the authority of dogma (as in Peter Damian’s formula, “philosophy is the handmaid of theology”) was basic to Scholasticism, as were all other types of the orthodox church world view. Despite its obvious authoritarianism, Scholasticism conceived of the very nature of the relations between reason and dogma as quite intelligible. The holy scriptures and ecclesiastical tradition were combined by Scholasticism with the legacy of classical philosophy to form closed normative texts. It was assumed that all knowledge has two levels: supernatural, given in revelation, and natural, which can be discovered by human reason. Supernatural knowledge was based on biblical texts accompanied by the authoritative commentaries of the church fathers, while natural knowledge incorporated the writings of Plato and, particularly, Aristotle, qualified by the authoritative interpretations of late classical and Arabic philosophers. “Eternal truth” was already potentially given in both kinds of writings; to make this truth manifest, it was necessary to deduce a complete set of logical consequences from the writings by means of a chain of properly constructed inferences. Thus, High Scholasticism was generally characterized by the genre of the summa, that is, a comprehensive work containing a great number of answers to questions derived from a limited number of “correct” initial statements. Scholastic thought regularly had recourse to deduction and was virtually unaware of induction; its basic form was the syllogism.

Scholasticism as a whole is a kind of philosophizing in the manner of textual interpretation, and in this respect it differs from modern European science with its goal of discovering truth through the analysis of experience, as well as from mysticism with its striving to “behold” truth through ecstatic “contemplation.” Scholasticism, in which the mysteries of faith were turned into the trite patterns of logical problems, was challenged even in the Middle Ages not only by exponents of free thinking but also by religious zealots. (Peter of Blois in the late 12th century, for example, said that it was absurd to argue about the Trinity in the street and to have a public debate about the foreordained birth of the son of god.) The realization that the authorities contradict each other—as in such aphorisms as “Authority has a nose of wax” that can turn wherever it pleases and “An argument from authority is the weakest,” which were widespread among the most orthodox Schoolmen—was a key impulse in the development of Scholasticism. Comparisons between mutually exclusive texts were introduced by the oft-persecuted Abélard (in his Sic et non), but very rapidly a resolution of the problem was given a generally accepted form: contradictions between theological and philosophical traditions were to be systematized and a hierarchy of authorities was to be established.

The distinctive features of Scholastic rationalism cannot be understood outside its relation to the traditions of juridical thought (Roman law being one of the most durable elements of the classical heritage in Western Europe). A “juridization” of ontological categories and “ontologization” of juridical categories are typical of Scholasticism. Thus man’s existence and the existence of the world, correlated with the existence of god, came to be described as an aggregate of juridical relations or their analogues. The very methods used to derive the particular from the general, conclusions by analogy, and so on, recall the development of “complex cases” in law.

By reviving classical traditions within a maximally formalized mold, Scholasticism, with its orientation toward rigidly defined “laws” of thought, was able to maintain a continuity of intellectual skills and to preserve the necessary conceptual and terminological tools. Even thinkers of the new time who were sharply critical of Scholasticism, right up to the Enlightenment and the era of German classical idealism, were forced to make extensive use of the Scholastic vocabulary. In their struggle against medieval traditions, Renaissance humanists and particularly philosophers of the Enlightenment opposed Scholasticism, emphasizing all that was moribund in it and turning the very word “Scholasticism” into a term of abuse for sterile and meaningless philosophizing—an empty play on words. In accepting a dogmatic summa of ideas, Scholasticism was unable to assist in the development of natural science, although its structure proved helpful in logic and related fields of knowledge; the Schoolmen anticipated the modern formulation of many questions, particularly in mathematical logic.


Vladislavlev, M. I. “Skholasticheskaia logika.” Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia, part 162, no. 8, sec. 2, 1872.
Eucken, R. Istoriia i sistema srednevekovogo mirosozertsaniia. St. Petersburg, 1907. (Translated from German.)
Stöckl, A. Istoriia srednevekovoifilosofii. Moscow, 1912. (Translated from German.)
Trakhtenberg, O. V. Ocherki po istorii zapadnoevropeiskoi srednevekovoi filosofii. Moscow, 1957.
Stiazhkin, N. I. Formirovanie matematicheskoi logiki. Moscow, 1967.
Gilson, E. L’Ésprit de la philosophie médiévale, 2nd ed. Paris, 1944.
Copleston, F. A History of Philosophy, vols. 2–3. London, 1951–53.
Grabmann, M. Die Geschichte der scholastischen Methode, vols. 1–2. Berlin, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the system of philosophy, theology, and teaching that dominated medieval western Europe and was based on the writings of the Church Fathers and (from the 12th century) Aristotle, the Greek philosopher (384--322 bc)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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