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§ 139. Educational Efforts of the Church.

The mediaeval church is often unjustly charged with hostility to secular learning. Pope Gregory I. is made responsible for the destruction of the Bibliotheca Palatina and the classical statues in Rome. But this rests on an unreliable tradition of very late date.801801    The testimony of John of Salisbury in the twelfth century (c. 1172) is more than neutralized by opposite contemporary testimonies, and is justly rejected by Bayle (Diction.), Heeren (I. 66), Gregorovius, Neander (III. 150 sq. , Baur (Dogmengesch. II. 4), and Ebert (I. 525). Gieseler (I. 490 sq.) speaks of “the monkish contempt of Gregory for the liberal sciences;” but he adds that “the law traditions of his hostility to all literature are not to be fully believed.” Gregory was himself, next to Isidore of Seville (on whom he conferred the pall, in 599), the best scholar and most popular writer of his age, and is lauded by his biographers and Gregory of Tours as a patron of learning. If he made some disparaging remarks about Latin grammar and syntax, in two letters addressed to bishops, they must be understood as a protest against an overestimate of these lower studies and of heathen writers, as compared with higher episcopal duties, and with that allegorical interpretation of the Bible which he carried to arbitrary excess in his own exposition of Job.802802    Ep. ad Leandrum, prefixed to his Expos. of Job, and Ep. ad Desiderium, XI. 54 (Opera, ed. Migne, III. 1171). In the Commentary on Kings ascribed to him, he commends the study of the liberal arts as a useful and necessary means for the proper understanding of the Scriptures, and refers in support to the examples of Moses, Isaiah, and St. Paul.803803    The author of this commentary represents it as a device of the evil spirit to dissuade Christians from liberal studies, ”ut et secularia nesciant et ad sublimitatem spiritualium non pertingant.” We may say then that he was an advocate of learning and art, but in subordination and subserviency to the interests of the Catholic church. This has been the attitude of the papal chair ever since.804804    The Vatican library, which can be traced back to Pope Nicolas V., is perhaps the most valuable in the world for manuscripts (e.g. the Cod. B. of the Greek Bible) and important ecclesiastical documents, but also one of the most inaccessible to outsiders. The present Pope Leo XIII. has liberalized the management, but under the exclusive direction of cardinals and in the interest of the Roman church (1883).

The preservation and study of ancient literature during the entire mediaeval period are due chiefly to the clergy and monks, and a few secular rulers. The convents were the nurseries of manuscripts.

The connection with classical antiquity was never entirely broken. Boëthius (beheaded at Pavia, c. 525), and Cassiodorus (who retired to the monastery, of Viviers, and died there about 570), both statesmen under Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, form the connecting links between ancient and mediaeval learning. They were the last of the old Romans; they dipped the pen of Cicero and Seneca in barbaric ink,805805    “Boëtius barbara verba miscuit Latinis.” Opera ed. Migne, II. 578. and stimulated the rising energies of the Romanic and Germanic nations: Boëthius by his “Consolation of Philosophy” (written in prison),806806    De Consolatione Philosophiae Libri V., first printed, Venice, 1497; best ed. by Theod. Obbarius, Jenae, 1843, in Migne’s ed., I. 578-862. Boëthius translated also works of Aristotle, and wrote books on arithmetic, geometry, rhetoric, and music; but the theological works which bear his name, De sancta Trinitate, De duabus naturis et una persona Christi, Fidei Confessio seu Brevis Institutio religionis Christianae, based upon the Aristotelian categories and drawn in great part from St. Augustin, are not mentioned before Alcuin and Hincmar, three centuries after his death, and are probably the production of another Boëthius, or of the martyr St. Severinus, with whom he was confounded. The most complete edition of his works is that of Migne in two vols. (in the “Patrol. Lat.,” Tom. 63 and 64). Comp. Fr. Nitzsch, Das System des Boëthius und die ihm zugeschriebenen Theol. Schriften (Berlin, 1860); Dean Stanley’s article in Smith’s “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography,” I. 496; and Jourdain, De l’origine des traditions sur le christianisme de Boèce, Paris, 1861. Cassiodorus by his encyclopedic “Institutes of Divine Letters,” a brief introduction to the profitable study of the Holy Scriptures.807807    De Institutione Divinarum Literarum, in 33 chps., in Migne, Tom. 70, col. 1106-1150. Cassiodorus wrote also a work on the Liberal Arts, twelve books of Varieties (letters, edicts, and rescripts), a Tripartite Church-History from Constantine to his time (an epitome of Sozomen, Socrates, Theodoret), and commentaries. Best edition is that of Migne, ”Patrol. Lat.” in 2 vols. (vols. 69 and 70.) He will be more fully discussed in the next chapter, 153. The former looked back to Greek philosophy; the latter looked forward to Christian theology. The influence of their writings was enhanced by the scarcity of books beyond their intrinsic merits.

Boëthius has had the singular fortune of enjoying the reputation of a saint and martyr who was put to death, not for alleged political treason, but for defending orthodoxy against the Arianism of Theodoric. He is assigned by Dante to the fourth heaven in company with Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Gratian, Peter the Lombard, Dionysius the Areopagite, and other great teachers of the church:

“The saintly soul that maketh manifest

The world’s deceitfulness to all who hear well,

Is feasting on the sight of every good.

The body, whence it was expelled, is lying

Down in Cieldauro, and from martyrdom

And exile rose the soul to such a peace.”808808    Paradiso, X. 125-129. Cieldauro or Cieldoro is the church San Pietro in Ciel d’oro at Pavia, where Liutprand, King of the Lombards, erected a monument to Boëthius, about 726. So says Karl Witte, in Dante Allighieri’s Goettliche Komoedie(1865), p. 676.

And yet it is doubtful whether Boëthius was a Christian at all. He was indeed intimate with Cassiodorus and lived in a Christian atmosphere, which accounts for the moral elevation of his philosophy. But, if we except a few Christian phrases,809809    As angelica virtus, coaeternus, purgatoria clementia. his “Consolation” might almost have been written by a noble heathen of the school of Plato or Seneca. It is an echo of Greek philosophy; it takes an optimistic view of life; it breathes a beautiful spirit of resignation and hope, and derives comfort from a firm belief in God; in an all-ruling providence, and in prayer, but is totally silent about Christ and his gospel.810810    Some suppose that he reserved this for a sixth book which he was prevented from writing; others read Christianity into the work by allegorical interpretation, or supplement it by theological works falsely ascribed to him. It is a dialogue partly in prose and partly in verse between the author and philosophy in the garb of a dignified woman (who sets as his celestial guide, like Dante’s Beatrice). The work enjoyed an extraordinary popularity throughout the middle ages, and was translated into several languages, Greek, Old High German (by Notker of St. Gall), Anglo-Saxon (by King Alfred), Norman English (by Chaucer), French (by Meun), and Hebrew (by Ben Banshet). Gibbon admires it all the more for its ignoring Christianity, and calls it “a golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully, but which claims incomparable merit from the barbarism of the times and the situation of the author. The celestial guide whom he had so long invoked at Rome and Athens, now condescended to illumine his dungeon, to revive his courage, and to pour into his wounds her salutary balm .... From the earth Boëthius ascended to heaven in search of the Supreme Good; explored the metaphysical labyrinth of chance and destiny, of prescience and freewill, of time and eternity; and generously attempted to reconcile the perfect attributes of Deity with the apparent disorders of his moral and physical government.”811811    Decline and Fall, Ch. 39 (vol. IV. 138). Ebert (Gesch. der christl. lat. Lit. I. 472) assumes a partial influence of Christianity upon this work. ”Boëtius,” he says, ”war nur ein Namenchrist, aber doch immerhin ein solcher; die erste christliche Erziehung war keineswegs spurlos an ihm voruebergegangen. Sein Werk ruht zwar seinem ganzen Gehalt nach auf der heidnisch-antiken Philosophie, hauptsächlich dem Platonismus, und zwar in der neuplatonischen Form, wie schon eine sehr fluechtige Kenntniss desselben alsbald zeigt, und in allen Einzelheiten, freilich nicht ohne einige Uebertreibung, von Nitzsch nach gewiessen worden Werk erhält nicht bloss durch das starke Hervortreten stoischroemischer Ethik einen christlichen Anschein, sondern diesenimmt hier auch mitunter in der That eine specifisch christliche Färbung an, wie es denn selbst auch an Reminiscenzen aus der Bibel nicht ganz fehlt. Hoechst merkwuerdig ist, wie in diesem Werke des letzten der roemischen Philosophen, wie Zeller ihn mit Recht nennt, diese verschiedenen, zum Theil ganz heterogenen Elemente sich durchdringen zu einer doch einigen Gesammtwirkung in Folge des sittlichen Moments, worin seine, wie ueberhaupt des römischen Eklekticismus Stärke beruht.”

Greek And Hebrew Learning.

The original languages of the Scriptures were little understood in the West. The Latin took the place of the Greek as a literary and sacred language, and formed a bond of union among scholars of different nationalities. As a spoken language it rapidly degenerated under the influx of barbaric dialects, but gave birth in the course of time to the musical Romanic languages of Southern Europe.

The Hebrew, which very few of the fathers (Origen and Jerome) had understood, continued to live in the Synagogue, and among eminent Jewish grammarians and commentators of the Old Testament; but it was not revived in the Christian Church till shortly before the Reformation. Very few of the divines of our period (Isidore, and, perhaps, Scotus Erigena), show any trace of Hebrew learning.

The Greek, which had been used almost exclusively, even by writers of the Western church, till the time of Tertullian and Cyprian, gave way to the Latin. Hence the great majority of Western divines could not read even the New Testament in the original. Pope Gregory did not know Greek, although he lived several years as papal ambassador in Constantinople. The same is true of most of the schoolmen down to the sixteenth century.

But there were not a few honorable exceptions.812812    Comp. Cramer, De Graecis medii aevi studiis, and the pamphlet of Lumby quoted on p. 584. The Monotheletic and Iconoclastic controversies brought the Greek and the Latin churches into lively contact. The conflict between Photius and Nicolas stimulated Latin divines to self-defence.

As to Italy, the Greek continued to be spoken in the Greek colonies in Calabria and Sicily down to the eleventh century. Boëthius was familiar with the Greek philosophers. Cassiodorus often gives the Greek equivalents for Latin technical terms.813813    E.g. in De Artibus, etc., cap. 1 (in Migne’s ed. II. 1154): ”Nominis partes sunt:
   Qualitas, ποιότης.

   Comparatio, σύγκρισις.

   Genus, γένος.

   Numerus, ἀριθμός.

   Figura, σχῆμα.

   Casus, πτῶσις.”

   In the same work he gives the divisions of philosophy and the categories of Aristotle in Greek and Latin, and uses such words as ἦθος, πάθος, παρέκβασις, ἀνακεφαλαίωσις, στάσις, ἀντέγκλημα, ἀντίστασις, πραγματική, ἀπόδειξις, ἐπιχειρήματα, etc.

Several popes of this period were Greeks by birth, as Theodore I. (642), John VI. (701), John VII. (705), Zachary (741); while others were Syrians, as John V. (685), Sergius I. (687), Sisinnius (708), Constantine I. (708), Gregory III. (731). Zachary translated Gregory’s “Dialogues” from Latin into Greek. Pope Paul I. (757–768) took pains to spread a knowledge of Greek and sent several Greek books, including a grammar, some works of Aristotle, and Dionysius the Areopagite, to King Pepin of France. He provided Greek service for several monks who had been banished from the East by the iconoclastic emperor Copronymus. Anastasius, librarian of the Vatican, translated the canons of the eighth general Council of Constantinople (869) into Latin by order of Pope Hadrian II.814814    See Hefele, IV. 385 sq.

Isidore of Seville (d. 636) mentions a learned Spanish bishop, John of Gerona, who in his youth had studied seven years in Constantinople. He himself quotes in his “Etymologies” from many Greek authors, and is described as “learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.”

Ireland was for a long time in advance of England, and sent learned missionaries to the sister island as well as to the Continent. That Greek was not unknown there, is evident from Scotus Erigena.

England derived her knowledge of Greek from Archbishop Theodore, who was a native of Tarsus, educated in Athens and appointed by the pope to the see of Canterbury (a.d. 668).815815    Bede (Hist. Eccl. IV. 1) calls him ”vir et saeculari et divina literatura et Graece instructus et Latine.” Pope Zachary speaks of Theodore as ”Athenis eruditus“ and ”Graeco-Latinus philosophus.” He and his companion Hadrian,816816    William of Malmesbury calls this Hadrian “a fountain of letters and a river of arts.” an Italian abbot of African descent, spread Greek learning among the clergy. Bede says that some of their disciples were living in his day who were as well versed in Greek and Latin as in their native Saxon. Among these must be mentioned Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne, and Tobias, bishop of Rochester (d. 726).817817    L.c. V. c. 2, and V. 8, 23. The Venerable Bede (d. 735) gives evidence of Greek knowledge in his commentaries,818818    He quotes e.g. In Luc. 6:2 the Greek, for Sabbatum secundum primum (δευτερόπρωτον). Opera, ed. Migne, III. 392. his references to a Greek Codex of the Acts of the Apostles, and especially in his book on the Art of Poetry.819819    De Arte Metrica Opera, I. l50-176. He explains here the different metres of Greek poetry. In France, Greek began to be studied under Charles the Great. Alcuin (d. 804) brought some knowledge of it from his native England, but his references may all have been derived from Jerome and Cassiodorus.820820    Lumby (l.c., p. 15) mentions his allusions to Eusebius, Athanasius, and Chrysostom, and a few familiar words, as ἐπίσκοπος, παραβάτης, and ἄνθρωπος. Paulus Diaconus frequently uses Greek words. Charlemagne himself learned Greek, and the Libri Carolini show a familiarity with the details of the image-controversy of the Greek Church. His sister Giesela, who was abbess of Challes near Paris, uses a few Greek words in Latin letters,821821    As paradeigma, gazophylacia, paraclitus. in her correspondence with Alcuin, though these may have been derived from the Latin.

The greatest Greek scholar of the ninth century, and of the whole period in the West was John Scotus Erigena (850), who was of Irish birth and education, but lived in France at the court of Charles the Bald. He displays his knowledge in his Latin books, translated the pseudo-Dionysian writings, and attempted original Greek composition.

In Germany, Rabanus Maurus, Haymo of Halberstadt, and Walafrid Strabo had some knowledge of Greek, but not sufficient to be of any material use in the interpretation of the Scriptures.

The Course of Study.822822    Comp. besides the Lit. already quoted in this vol. §134, the following: Heppe: Das Schulwesen des Mittelalters. Marburg, 1860. Kämmel: Mittelalterliches Schulwesenin Schmid’s “Encykl. des gesammten Erziehungs und Unterrichswesens.” Gotha. Bd. IV. (1865), p. 766-826.

Education was carried on in the cathedral and conventual schools, and these prepared the way for the Universities which began to be founded in the twelfth century.

The course of secular learning embraced the so-called seven liberal arts, namely, grammar, dialectics (logic), rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The first three constituted the Trivium, the other four the Quadrivium.823823    The division is expressed in the memorial lines:
   “Grammatica loquitur, Dialectica verba docet, Rhetorica verba colorat;

   Musica canit, Arithmetica numerat, Geometria ponderat, Astronomia colit astra.”
Seven, three, and four were all regarded as sacred numbers. The division is derived from St. Augustin,824824    De Ordine, II., c. 12 sqq., in Migne’s ed. of Augustin, Tom. l. 1011 sqq. Augustin connects poëtica with musica. and was adopted by Boëthius and Cassiodorus. The first and most popular compend of the middle ages was the book of Cassiodorus, De Septem Disciplinis.825825    Or, De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Literarum, in Migne’s ed. of Cassiodori Opera, II. 1150-1218. It is exceedingly meagre if judged by the standard of modern learning, but very useful for the middle ages.

These studies were preparatory to sacred learning, which was based upon the Latin Bible and the Latin fathers.

The Chief Theologians.

A few divines embraced all the secular and religious knowledge of their age. In Spain, Isidore of Seville (d. 636) was the most learned man at the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century. His twenty books of “Origins” or “Etymologies” embrace the entire contents of the seven liberal arts, together with theology, jurisprudence, medicine, natural history, etc., and show familiarity with Plato, Aristotle, Boëthius, Demosthenes, Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Anacreon, Herodotus, Cicero, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Terence, Juvenal, Caesar, Livy, Sallust.826826    “However we may be disposed to treat the labors of Isidore with something of contempt, it is probably not possible to overrate the value and usefulness of this treatise to the age in which he lived, and indeed for many ages it was the most available handbook to which the world had access.” Smith & Wace III. 308. Comp. this vol. § 155. The Venerable Bede occupied the same height of encyclopaedic knowledge a century later. Alcuin was the leading divine of the Carolingian age. From his school proceeded RABANUS MAURUS, the founder of learning and higher education in Germany.827827    See this vol. § 169. Scotus Erigena (d. about 877) was a marvel not only of learning, but also of independent thought, in the reign of Charles the Bald, and showed, by prophetic anticipation, the latent capacity of the Western church for speculative theology.828828    Comp. this vol. §§ 123 and 175. With Berengar and Lanfranc, in the middle of the eleventh century, dialectical skill was applied in opposing and defending the dogma of transubstantiation.829829    See this vol. §§ 128-130. The doctrinal controversies about adoptionism, predestination, and the real presence stimulated the study of the Scriptures and of the fathers, and kept alive the intellectual activity.

Biblical Studies.

The literature of the Latin church embraced penitential books, homilies, annals, translations, compilations, polemic discussions, and commentaries. The last are the most important, but fall far below the achievements of the fathers and reformers.

Exegesis was cultivated in an exclusively practical and homiletical spirit and aim by Gregory the Great, Isidore, Bede, Alcuin, Claudius of Turin, Paschasius Radbertus, Rabanus Maurus, Haymo, Walafrid Strabo, and others. The Latin Vulgate was the text, and the Greek or Hebrew seldom referred to. Augustin and Jerome were the chief sources. Charlemagne felt the need of a revision of the corrupt text of the Vulgate, and entrusted Alcuin with the task. The theory of a verbal inspiration was generally accepted, and opposed only by Agobard of Lyons who confined inspiration to the sense and the arguments, but not to the “ipsa corporalia verba.”

The favorite mode of interpretation was the spiritual, that is, allegorical and mystical. The literal, that is, grammatico-historical exegesis was neglected. The spiritual interpretation was again divided into three ramifications: the allegorical proper, the moral, and the anagogical830830    From ἀναγωγικός, exalting, lifting up; ἀναγωγή, a leading up, is used in ecclesiastical Greek for higher, spiritual interpretation. corresponding to the three cardinal virtues of the Christian: the first refers to faith (credenda), the second to practice or charity (agenda), the third to hope (speranda, desideranda). Thus Jerusalem means literally or historically, the city in Palestine; allegorically, the church; morally, the believing soul; anagogically, the heavenly Jerusalem. The fourfold sense was expressed in the memorial verse:

“Litera Gesta docet; quid Credas, Allegoria;

Moralis, quid Agas; quo Tendas, Anagogia.”


St. Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, who was first (like Cyprian, and Ambrose) a distinguished layman, and father of four children, before he became a monk, and then a bishop, wrote in the middle of the fifth century (he died c. 450) a brief manual of mediaeval hermeneutics under the title Liber Formularum Spiritalis Intelligentiae (Rom., 1564, etc., in Migne’s “Patrol.” Tom. 50, col. 727–772). This work is often quoted by Bede and is sometimes erroneously ascribed to him. Eucherius shows an extensive knowledge of the Bible and a devout spirit. He anticipates many favorite interpretations of mediaeval commentators and mystics. He vindicates the allegorical method from the Scripture itself, and from its use of anthropomorphic and anthropopathic expressions which can not be understood literally. Yet he allows the literal sense its proper place in history as well as the moral and mystical. He identifies the Finger of God (Digitus Dei) with the Spirit of God (cap. 2; comp. Luke 11:20 with Matt. 12:28), and explains the several meanings of Jerusalem (ecclesia, vel anima, cap. 10), ark (caro Dominica, corda sanctorum Deo plena, ecclesia intra quam salvanda clauduntur), Babylon (mundus, Roma, inimici), fures (haeretici et pseudoprophetae, gentes, vitia), chirographum, pactum, praeputium, circumcisio, etc. In the last chapter he treats of the symbolical significance of numbers, as 1=Divine Unity; 2=the two covenants, the two chief commandments; 3=the trinity in heaven and on earth (he quotes the spurious passage 1 John 5:7); 4=“the” four Gospels, the four rivers of Paradise; 5=the five books of Moses, five loaves, five wounds of Christ (John 20:25); 6=“the” days of creation, the ages of the world; 7=the day of rest, of perfection; 8=the day of resurrection; 10=the Decalogue; 12=the Apostles, the universal multitude of believers, etc.

The theory of the fourfold interpretation was more fully developed by Rabanus Maurus (776–856), in his curious book, Allegoriae in Universam Sacram Scripturam (Opera, ed. Migne, Tom. VI. col. 849–1088). He calls the four senses the four daughters of wisdom, by whom she nourishes her children, giving to beginners drink in lacte historiae, to the believers food in pane allegoriae, to those engaged in good works encouragement in refectione tropologiae, to those longing for heavenly rest delight in vino anagogiae. He also gives the following definition at the beginning of the treatise: “Historia ad aptam rerum gestarum narrationem pertinet, quae et in superficie litterae continetur, et sic intelligitur sicut legitur. Allegoria vero aliquid in se plus continet, quod per hoc quod locus [loquens] de rei veritate ad quiddam dat intelligendum de fidei puritate, et sanctae Ecclesiae mysteria, sive praesentia, sive futura, aliud dicens, aliud significans, semper autem figmentis et velatis ostendit. Tropologia quoque et ipsa, sicut allegoria, in figuratis, sive dictis, sive factis, constat: sed in hoc ab allegoria distat quod Allegoria quidem fidem, Tropologia vero aedificat moralitem. Anagogia autem, sive velatis, sive apertis dictis, de aeternis supernae patriae gaudiis constat, et quae merces vel fidem rectam, vel vitam maneat sanctam, verbis vel opertis, vel apertis demonstrat. Historia namque perfectorum exempla quo narrat, legentem ad imitationem sanctitatis excitat; Allegoria in fidei revelatione ad cognitionem veritatis; Tropologia in instructione morum ad amorem virtutis; Anagogia in manifestatione sempiternorum gaudiorum ad desiderium aeternae felicitatis. In nostrae ergo animae domo Historia fundamentum ponit; Allegoria parietes erigit; Anagogia tectum supponit; Tropologia vero tam interius per affectum quam exterius per effectum boni operis, variis ornatibus depingit.”

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