This is the essay for the 25th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. In this blog post, I will be answering three questions.
The first one is, What kinds of developments occurred during the renaissance of the twelfth century?
The second one is, What was Scholastic philosophy?
The third one is, Who was Thomas Aquinas and what works did he write?
There were many developments in the 12th-century renaissance, but before we talk about those you need to know why they happened in the first place. The rebirth of interest in classical texts came from the fact that there was relative peace and stability in Europe in the 12th-century. People had time to read these texts and learn about classical figures. People wanted to know more. So one of the important developments was that many classical texts started being translated into Latin. Another development that happened was that people started writing more poetry. What was so special about it however was that most if not all the poems were written in one language, which was Latin. In later renaissances, poetry was written in many different languages instead of one uniform language.
That said the 12th-century renaissance wasn’t perfect, it had quite a few flaws in it. The renaissance was entirely focused on philosophical classical texts. There was no attention given to classical literature. The renaissance was so focused on philosophy so much that Aristotle became a symbol of reason. The problem with this was that people started believing everything Aristotle said, without looking into the facts.
Scholastic philosophy is the practice of looking at a contradiction between two philosophical texts and seeing if there is a compromise or if they are completely contradictory to one another. What is also commonly done is that a philosophical text is compared against a religious text, such as the bible. When this is done it is a comparison between faith and reason. What most of these people did was show that faith and reason are two sides of the same coin and can both be true.
One person who did exactly this was a person named Peter Abelard. He is most known for his book Sic et Non. In it, he compares two sides of a contradiction. What makes his book special however, is that he doesn’t try to resolve the contradiction and come up with a solution. Peter Abelard was a teacher and he used the book as an exercise for his students by letting his students come up with a solution.
The most important figure in scholastic philosophy is most likely Thomas Aquinas. Before we get to his works let me give you a brief biography of his life. Thomas Aquinas was born to a very influential family. At age 14 he went to the University of Naples and at age 19 he entered the Dominican order. His family was against this decision because they didn’t want Aquinas to live in poverty as a preacher. His family kidnapped him and kept him locked up for a year. After which he was let out. Instead of going to preach, he went to study again at Cologne and later went to study in Paris. After studying Aquinas starts teaching at Cologne but over his lifetime he taught in five different places. He taught at Cologne, but also at Paris, Bologna, Naples and Rome.
Thomas Aquinas wrote many works, but his most popular ones are the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. In the Summa Theologica Aquinas looks at thousands of philosophical and religious issues. What he does is first, he gives points that are against his own opinion and then he gives his own opinion on the matter. After that, he gives points that support his opinion and then he points out flaws in the opposing points. In the Contra Gentiles Aquinas tries to defend Catholicism using reason. At a glance, this might seem similar to the Summa Theologica, which is true to a point, but there are some major differences between the two. The Summa Theologica is much bigger and covers a much wider range of issues, while the Summa Contra Gentiles covers more basic issues. One of the reasons why is because Summa Theologica is meant for Catholics, while Summa Contra Gentiles was meant for non-Catholics. Another difference is that in the Summa Contra Gentiles is that Aquinas doesn’t use the same system for comparing issues as he did in the Summa Theologica.