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Theology In The Middle Ages Essay, Research Paper

Who were some of the outstanding theologians of the High Middle Ages and what were their ideas? Why was theology so important in the Middle Ages?

For about the first 1000 years after the death of Christ, paganism, propoganda and superstition were popular beliefs. The thoughts of two theologians of the time period, Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas, would change this belief system forever.

Peter Abelard applied logic and reasoning in a systematic fashion to church doctrines, and greatly furthered the development of scholasticism in the middle ages.

Abelard studied under Anselm of Laon in northern France. He looked down upon his teachers and viewed them as insignificant, and took up the teaching of theology in Paris. He became known for the force with which he threw himself into arguments with fellow intellectuals. In Abelard’s most famous work, Sic et Non (Yes and No), he listed Scripture passages and quotes from Church fathers that contradicted each other, then stressed the need to reconcile the contradictions with reasoning or logic. He accurately summed up his thinking when he said, “By doubting we come to enquiry, through enquiry to the truth”

Most of Abelard’s documents were not highly regarded by the Church. In fact, he was persecuted under the charge of going against church teachings. However, Abelard was not a man who wanted to overthrow established doctrines. He simply believed that reason or logic must be used to defend doctrines, since many churchmen disagreed on several fundamental points of theology.

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, greatly influenced another theologian of the time period, Thomas Aquinas. Many attempted to reconcile the Christian thinking of the time and the works of Aristotle, but none was more famous than the work of Aquinas.

Aquinas studied at the University of Naples, then became a monk in 1244. He studied theology under the teachings of Magnus, one of the prominent theologians of the age. Aquinas taught at Naples and Paris, and it is believed that here he completed his famous masterpiece, Summa Theologica.

In Summa Theologica, Aquinas attempts to integrate faith and reason. He attempted to prove that the two truths could never be in conflict. He believed that the natural mind could find truths concerning the physical attributes of the universe, but without faith, reason couldn’t grasp spritiual thruths such as the Trinity, or even God Himself for that matter:

“Therefore all beings other than God are not their own being, but are beings by participation. Therefore, it must be that all things which are diversified by the diverse participation of being, so as to be more or less perfect, are caused by one First Being, Who possesses being most perfectly”

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Vol. 1. Reprinted, 1945, Random House Publishing.

The Church eventually accepted the work of these two men to be fact, and they became the Church’s official philosophy. Out of this explosion of scholasticism came the University as we know it today. The use of reason to discover truth of faith was soon used in other areas, such as science and government. Thus, the work of Abelard and Aquinas became, in some ways, the foundation of the Renaissance and the growth of self government in the 17th through the 20th centuries.


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