The Renaissance of the 12th century, Medieval Universities, & St. Thomas Aquinas

The renaissance of the 12th century was an important time in which there was a rekindling of interest in classical writings, in particular classical philosophical and scientific works. In the beginning of the 12th century renaissance, there was some interest in Latin literature, but their study lessened when the philosophical works of Aristotle surfaced. Because there was so much philosophical work to master, there was little leisure time for scholars to study classical literature.

There was progress in many fields of study during the 12th century renaissance. There was progress in history; not copying classical examples, but writing histories of their own. There was also a revival of Roman law, codified by Justinian the great. There was much translation in this time as well, among the greatest of them Gerard of Cremona.

One of the problems of the 12th century was that there was little individual experimentation, the study of subjects coming from ancient texts. Medicine became the study of the writings of Hippocrates and Galen. Physics became the study of Aristotle’s writings regarding the subject. Geography was rooted in the study of books, not travel or maps. There was still some experimentation by certain scientists, notably Roger Bacon.

In the later Middle Ages, many universities arose. Their origins are obscure, but many seem to have come from the cathedral schools started by Charlemagne. Others seem to be gatherings of notable scholars who got together.

The universities awarded degrees and had a fixed program of study for all their students. The major early universities were Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, and Bologna. Each university needed a papal or imperial charter. A graduate could teach anywhere in Europe.

The church protected the universities, and gave the students access to ecclesiastical courts. The Popes protected the independence of the universities and intervened at times to get professors their salaries if they were not paid. The professors and the students were involved in disputation of certain topics and tried to reconcile the two opposing sides that were in conflict.

One of the most important people involved in the medieval university system was St. Thomas Aquinas. He was sent by his family to the University of Naples, but at the age of 19 he decided to join the newly formed Dominican order. His family was upset with this and imprisoned him in the house for a year. During this time Thomas Aquinas memorized the Bible and the Sentences by Peter Lombard.

Thomas escaped with the help of his mother and returned to the Dominicans. The Dominicans sent him to study under Albert the great at the university of Cologne. At Cologne, some of his fellow students called him “the dumb ox”, because he was a relatively reserved man. Albert, however, saw that Thomas was a brilliant man, saying “The bellowing of this dumb ox will be heard throughout the world.” Thomas taught at the universities of Cologne, Paris, Bologna, Rome, and Naples in his lifetime. He also assisted three popes and acted as an official theologian to the curia.

Thomas wrote a lot of material, 8 ½ million words in fact. His works include the Summa Theologica, the Summa Contra Gentiles, Commentaries on the works of Aristotle, Exegetical works on the Gospels, Paul, Isaiah, Job, and Song of Songs. The also wrote many hymns, some of which are still sung today. He was offered the position of the archbishop of Naples by Pope Clement IV, but Thomas preferred his intellectual labors instead.

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