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History of Philosophy
First Period of Scholasticism: Erigena to Roscelin (800-1050)
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The Carolingian Schools. [6] In the chronicles and biographies of the Merovingian epoch mention is made of a Scola Palatina at the court of Dagobert and of other Merovingian monarchs. It is clear, however, that these schools were institutions for the training of court guards (bellatores) in the arts of war and in the manners of the court. [7] Before the time of Charlemagne the only thing that the Frank was taught was how to fight. The schools which Charlemagne founded were intended to teach the Frank to respect knowledge as well as valor. They were literary schools, in which at first the programme was very elementary, the nobles and clerics who attended being taught merely the arts of reading and writing and the rudiments of grammar. The project of forming these schools seems to have suggested itself to Charlemagne during his sojourn in Italy, where the traditional learning was in part preserved by masters who taught the grammar of Priscian and Donatus, and read the works of Virgil, Cicero, St. Augustine, Boethius, and Cassiodorus. In the famous Capitulary of 787 and in other enactments Charles recommended the foundation of the diocesan and monastic schools throughout the empire, having previously founded the Schola Palatina at his own court, and given to the abbey of Fulda the capitulary empowering the abbot to establish a school at that monastery.
[6] Cf. Mullinger, Schools of Charles the Great (London, 1877).

[7] Cf. Revue des questions historiques, Vol. LXI (1897), pp. 420 ff.
But although it was Italy that inspired Charles with the idea of founding schools throughout the empire, it was Ireland that sent him the masters who were to impart the new learning. Ireland, which had never formed part of the Roman Empire, and which had escaped the invasions of the barbarians, had preserved since the days of its conversion to Christianity the tradition of ancient learning, a knowledge of Greek and Latin which was now to astonish continental Europe. Alcuin, although an Englishman, is justly considered a representative of Irish learning; with him is associated Clement of Ireland, who assisted in the work of founding the palace school. Unfortunately, history has not preserved the names of Clement's fellow-countrymen who, during the reign of Charles and throughout the ninth century, were found in every cathedral and monastery of the empire as well as at the court of the Frankish kings, and were so identified with the new intellectual movement that the teaching of the newly founded schools was characterized as Irish learning. [8] Eric of Auxerre (middle of the ninth century), writing to Charles the Bald, testifies to the nationality of many of these pioneers: "Quid Hiberniam memorem, contempto pelagi discrimine, paene totam cum grege philosophorum ad littora nostra migrantem?" [9] We find mention of a Hibernicus exul, author of a poem in praise of Charles the Great; of Dungal, teacher at Pavia; of another (or possibly the same) Dungal who wrote to Charlemagne explaining the eclipse of the sun in 810 and of a Sedulius Scotius, [10] sometimes identified with the Irish poet Sedulius, who was one of the authors most widely read throughout the early Middle Ages. Ireland has, therefore, every claim to be considered the Ionia of scholastic philosophy.
[8] Alcuin, writing (Ep. 82) to Charlemagne, says, "Ego abiens Latinos ibi (at the court) dimisi. Nescio quis subintroduxit AEgyptios" (Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. C, col. 266). The Irish monks were called Egyptians, as well perhaps on account of their leaning towards Neo-Platonism as because they followed the Alexandrian custom with regard to the Paschal computation.

[9] Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXXIV, col. 1133; Acta Sanctorum Julii, Vol. VII, p. 233. Consult the chapter entitled Écoles d'Irlande in Hauréau's Singularités, etc. (Paris, 1861), and Poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought (London, 1884), pp. 9 ff.

[10] Floruit circa 800; cf. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters (3 Bde., Leipzig, 2. Aufl., 1889), II, 191 ff.; also, Cath. Univ. Bull., April, 1898 (Vol. IV, pp. 155 ff.).
After the death of Charles and the subsequent division of the empire, a reaction set in against the schools in several parts of the empire. Lupus Servatus, the celebrated abbot of Ferrières, complains of the opposition on the part of the "ignorant vulgar who, if they detect any fault (in the representatives of the new learning) attribute it, not to human weakness, but to some quality inherent in the studies themselves." [11] There were some also who, according to Amalarius of Metz, [12] reproved the reading even of the Scriptures. These reactionaries, however, were silenced by the voice of Eugenius II, who encouraged the foundation of schools and the spread of the new learning. [13] Supported by the highest authority in the Church, the movement continued under the successors of Charlemagne, so that, during the ninth and tenth centuries, there sprang up besides the palace school, which seems to have accompanied the Frankish court from place to place, the no less celebrated cathedral and monastic schools of Fulda in Germany, and of Utrecht, Liège, Tournai, and St. Laurent in the Low Countries. It was in France that the Scholastic movement found its first home, and it was in that country also that, after the temporary opposition of the reactionary alarmists, the most important schools were founded, namely at Tours, Rheims, Laon, Auxerre, and Chartres. These homes of the new learning were the scene of the first crude attempts of Scholastic speculation, as at a later time the University of Paris was the scene of the last and most brilliant triumphs of Scholasticism.
[11] Ep. Ia Lupi, Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CXIX, col. 431.

[12] Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CV, col. 1079.

[13] Cf. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Amplissima Collectio, Vol. XIV, p. 1008.
It would be a mistake to imagine that philosophy was taught in the schools at the beginning. The curriculum of studies at first comprised the seven liberal arts, -- that is to say, the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Little by little, however, the programme was extended. Around the problems of dialectic were grouped problems of metaphysics and psychology, and gradually philosophy became part of the programme of the schools. The magister scholae, or scholasticus, as the teacher was called, expounded the text of the author. This was the method employed whether the subject was grammar or dialectic or any other of the seven branches.

The Library of the Schools. [14] 1. Of Aristotle's works, the first schoolmen possessed the De Interpretatione and, in the tenth century, the Categoriae in Boethius' translation. It was only in the twelfth century that the first book of the Analytica Priora, the Topica, and De Sophisticis Elenchis became known, and it was not until the thirteenth century that the physical, psychological, and metaphysical treatises were introduced into the schools. These facts explain why during the first and second periods of the Scholastic movement philosophy was almost altogether occupied with logical problems.
[14] Cf. De Wulf, op. cit., p. 157, and Molinier, Les manuscrits, Paris, 1882.
2. Of Plato's dialogues, the Timaeus was known to the Irish monks, possibly in the original. It was known on the continent in the translation made in the fifth century by Chalcidius. Besides the Timaeus, the works of St. Augustine and of the Neo-Platonists were used as sources from which the first schoolmen derived their knowledge of Platonism.

3. Of the commentators of Aristotle, only Porphyry, whose Isagoge cirulated among the schoolmen in Boethius' translation, and Boethius, who commented on the Categoriae and De Interpretatione, were known to the shoolmen of the first period.

4. Translations and compilations by Marius Victorinus (fourth century), Macrobius (fifth century), Claudianus Mamertus, and Donatus were read and expounded in the schools.

5. The Neo-Platonic commentaries of Apuleius and Trismegistus were also used.

6. Of Cicero's works, the rhetorical and dialectical treatises such as the Topica, De Officiis, etc., were known at least in part. Seneca's De Beneficiis and Lucretius' De Rerum Natura were also read.

7. In addition to the genuine works of St. Augustine, the pseudo Augustinian treatises, Categoriae Decem, Principia Dialecticae, Contra Quinque Haereses, and De Spiritu et Anima, were studied by the first Scholastics.

8. Finally, the library of the first schoolmen included the works of Clement of Alexandria and of Origen in Latin translations, and the Latin version of Pseudo-Dionysius by Scotus Erigena, as well as the commentaries and original works of Martianus Capella, Cassiodorus, and Boethius.

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