The Venerable Bede

Bu Erica Dines

The Venerable Bede, a monk and scholar of Northumbria, was and still is considered the greatest scholar of his time – thus earning his “Venerable” title (which means worthy of respect, or revered) (Pedersen, 1997). He was very devout in his faith and religious duties and passionate in advancing his knowledge and preserving that knowledge for future generations. He was also an exceptional teacher. The Venerable Bede was an extremely influential individual who significantly impacted the education system in many ways, among which include his development of textbooks, his establishment of a standard system of dating, and his revival of education as a whole.

To understand the influence of this man, it is first necessary to examine his character, life, and work. The Venerable Bede was born in Northumbria in 673 AD. Little is known about his family or life before the age of seven, but at this age (680 AD) he was placed in the care of Abbot Benedict Biscop – at which time he was dedicated to the monastic life to serve God the rest of his days. Although placing a child in the care of a monastery was fairly common at this time, six or seven years old was the earliest age possible to do so; one can only imagine how strange and frightening this must have been for the young Bede. Not only was he taken away from his family at a very young and vulnerable age to live in a strange place, but it was an extremely demanding new lifestyle he was being committed into. This can be understood in essence by the offering ceremony of the child (now called an oblate); during this ceremony, three promises were made for him: “that he would not wander from the monastery, that he would give himself wholly to the life of a monk, and that he would obey the rules of his order…his kinsmen swore never to make him any gifts of any kind. He was cut off from this family roots and from all idea of personal ownership. He was entirely dependent on the monastery” (Price, 1968, p. 11). In addition to this serious commitment, the lifestyle was extremely demanding and strict – especially for a young boy. All members of the monastery awakened to start the day at 2 a.m. and proceeded to the first service. The rest of the day followed in strict structural order, consisting of incessant prayer, praise, and work. Here Bede learned to read and write, speak Latin, fulfill the life and responsibilities of a monk, and become naturally accustomed to the daily schedule of services (of which there were seven) and study; first and foremost of course, he was instructed in the word of God – Scripture. The boys were disciplined strictly among these practices, receiving a beating for faltering in the services, for speaking or laughing during a designated time of silence, or for failing to promptly rise in the morning. Only once a day were the young boys set free for a short period to play and move about. However tough and demanding the circumstances though, Bede seemed to enjoy his work and proved to be very bright (Price, 1968).

Bede began his study at the monastery, Wearmouth. This monastery and its accompanying church were founded by Benedict Biscop on a land grant from King Egfrith. After traveling to Gaul, Italy and Rome, Biscop was inspired to build a church like those he saw in Gaul and Italy – in the “Roman manner” – and an extensive amount of supplies, specialized workers, and craftsmen were brought in from such places to construct them. This was an incredible monastery that influenced much of Britain and advanced Ecclesiastical art – and gave Bede his start (Brown, 1987). Later, the king was so impressed with Wearmouth that he granted Biscop another piece of land on which the twin monastery – Jarrow (Gyruum) – was built. At around age twelve, Bede moved to this place where he spent the rest of his life (Price, 1968).

At age nineteen, Bede was ordained as a deacon. This was a miraculous accomplishment because the earliest age one could become part of the holy order – by law of the church – was at 25 years old; exceptions were made only in rare circumstances. This act exemplifies Bede’s advanced intelligence, devotion and outstanding character. By age 30, he was ordained priest (Price, 1968).

An extremely intelligent man with a passion for knowledge, Bede said that he “delighted always to learn, to teach, and to write” (Thompson, 1969). It is assumed that shortly after becoming a deacon he was given the task of teaching the oblate boys. This task brought about his first significant writings – textbooks for the use of students to enhance teachings. Bede was an excellent textbook writer and would create a compilation of the best works and findings by the most famous and influential scholars, including his own material as well (Price, 1968). The relevance and importance of textbooks in today’s society is obvious. Almost without exception, textbooks are used in every class, on every subject, and in nearly every level of the education system. They are especially utilized in establishments of higher education. These sources allow for reference and reiteration, clarification of that which is taught and research outside of it, and for additional studying and emersion in the topic. Without textbooks, the learning process would be much less effective and a greater expanse of time would be necessary for the material to be efficiently understood. Though Bede did not invent the textbook, he developed and used them in a way that spread the idea for the standard use in the future of education, and set precedent for how they were to be compiled and written. Bede’s textbooks were exceptionally useful and impressive due to “his order of selection, his omission of nonessential material and editing of the rest, the accuracy, simplicity, and precision of his definitions, and the formation of a new synthesis that respected the authority of his sources” (Palmer, 1959, p. 32). Bede was well interested in a very wide range of subjects and he skillfully and artfully wrote on many of them.

The extent to which the knowledge and works of the Venerable Bede excelled – other than simply by his natural intelligence and endless desire to learn – was fostered by the resources available to him. Benedict Biscop, wealthy founder of the monasteries, ensured that they were provided with grand libraries; each time he travelled – especially to Rome – he would return with a great number of books and manuscripts as well as relics and sacred paintings. These materials were then added to the monastery libraries and were therefore at the disposal of the inquisitive Bede (Brown, 1987). The libraries held an impressive collection of books that were of the best scholastic quality at the time. Not only did this provide a vast amount of reading material for Bede to learn from, but it also drew many scholars to this place which provided very beneficial and stimulating collaboration, discussion, and teaching (Price, 1968).

Among other subjects, Bede was especially interested in time; because of this, his influence is lasting and evident at Easter. In Bede’s time, the Roman church and the Celtic church – though parallel in almost every aspect and practice – differed in the way they calculated the date of Easter. Bede recognized that something as fundamental as celebrating the day of Christ’s resurrection needed to be unified for all the Christian faith, and took to the task of doing so. He wrote two books on the subject of time for this purpose – De Temporibus and De Temporum Ratione – and developed the standard method for calculating the church calendar (from the year of Christ’s birth) that is still used today. This made a clear model for such a calculation, but also was important because it settled a dispute between different church branches (Price, 1968). It was significant for more reasons than establishing the universal calculation of an important holiday though. By confidently determining Christ’s birth, thus standardizing a “year zero”, Bede was responsible for how history was understood and taught thereafter in terms of relational time in history. Today, when a year is followed by the acronym B.C. (before Christ) or A.D. (anno Domini), it is describing a year in relation to Bede’s “year zero” by years either before or after Christ’s birth. Time has forged a greater gap between Christianity and common culture – in contrast to Bede’s time – and the acronyms B.C.E (before common era) and C.E. (common era) now replace the words with Christian reference to be more politically correct; however, it is still Bede’s system being used (simply with different acronyms). Bede’s “year zero” unified the world of education forever afterward in terms of how history is taught. Without a universally accepted reference point – a year zero – the chronological aspect of the world’s history would not be the coherent system it is today.

Another way that Bede’s work was of great influence during the time was through his spiritual/scriptural writings. His extensive compilation of commentary on the Bible brought together work from the great religious authors – Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory the Great – in addition to much of his own respected insight. This exceptional work occupied the majority of his “free” time and was almost assuredly the work he considered most important and worthwhile – as his main focus in life was always to serve God. These commentaries were famous during Bede’s time and even for many centuries after were used as standard works of reference. During his committed 25 years of writing Bede produced 40 titles on a very wide range of subjects. Though these books were in high demand and could be found in nearly every important library of the time, their popularity has not lasted and they are rarely used today; that is, however, with the exception of one work – the reason for his lasting fame – The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Price, 1968).

“The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written by the Venerable Bede and finished in the year 731, is probably one of the most popular history books in any language and has certainly retained its popularity longer than any rival. The enthusiasm shown for his writings in the eighth century by English missionaries on the continent such as Boniface, Lul, and others, led to the spread of the knowledge of his works not only in England but also in western Europe… as the spread of his manuscripts shows, the History became popular all over western Europe and 160 of them survive to this day in spite of all the wars and other dangers to which manuscripts are always subject, as for instance when after the dissolution of the monasteries or during the eighteenth century when vandalism and ignorance played havoc with our ancient libraries” (Colgrave, 1969, pg. 1). Bede’s History was widely used, and influential members of society who owned and read it spread the popularity and teachings of this fantastic work. Almost without exception, anyone who studied or wrote on the history of the English people borrowed from this source throughout the Middle Ages, and it has certainly stood the test of time as it is still used frequently today. It is so influential, in fact, that if Bede had not written this book very little knowledge would exist today on the history of England and the saints before the eight century. Important information and individuals of the time would likely not even be known or recognized, and the sources that would exist would be very sparse; they would possess much less credibility in comparison to Bede also, as he went to great lengths to validate his sources and exerted much effort to verify the veracity of the information he was to publish. If not for this exceptional scholar and his research and discipline in creating The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the history of England that is known and taught today would be a mystery (Colgrave, 1969).

It was in Bede’s History that his influential chronological method first emerged. When he began writing, three alternative options that dealt with dating were at his disposal – the Greek, Caesarean or Roman method. All of these began on different dates. He was faced with a complication and eventually came to the conclusion that the best way was to use a dating system from the Incarnation year or year of grace (birth of Christ) – a system first proposed by Dionysius Exiguus. This choice of chronological system not only made his historical compilation more coherent, but was hereafter adopted by historians as the standard. “It is his system of dating by the year of grace which is his main contribution to historical writing; indeed it is not too much to say that it was to this History more than to any other source that Christendom and most of the world owes its present system of chronology. But it is not merely that Bede’s work provided future historians with a method of dating; the book itself became a pattern that gave a new conception of history to Western Europe” (Colgrave, 1969). Bede’s impact can also be seen in the later years of Europe’s history through the individuals influenced directly and indirectly by his teachings.

The period of Europe known as the Dark Ages is so named because so little is known about it and there seemed to be a regression of scholarship, sustained by the fact that much less intellectual advancement took place than in the times preceding and following this period. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, most higher education either came to a halt, or was severely hindered. The scholars and teachers who could understand and interpret the language and teachings of the very dynamic education system of the earlier Greek society died out, so only a shadow remained of the educational merit and progress of older times. In addition, the Romans did not feel the need to translate most of the Greek works into their language, so resources were very limited. The resources that still existed, existed in a time when raids and battles were frequent; this created a precarious situation for keeping old scrolls, manuscripts and books in tact through the ages. The empire seemed to be a shell of its former educational splendor. In addition to the lacking educational picture, there was also a lacking of political and religious unity which created an environment of confusion and even hostility outside the modest walls of the monasteries (Pedersen, 1997). It was this milieu in which Bede was brought up. Because of this, Bede’s passion for learning and important writings and teaching were a breath of fresh air in the grim setting. This early scholar brought back a focus to education as well as new methods and influence.

The teaching methods of the Venerable Bede were very influential as were, subsequently, the pupils he taught. For example, “among Bede’s pupils was the later archbishop of York, Egbert and Egbert’s colleague and successor Aelbert, among whose pupils in the York cathedral school was Alcuin, later to become the chief proponent of the reform of education in Europe” (Pedersen, 1997, pg. 48). In 766 Alcuin became master of the school at which he had studied, St Peter’s in York. In 781 on a trip back from Rome, he met Charlemagne (King of Franks) and thereafter worked at his court school; then from 781-790 Alcuin was the minister of education for King Charles. Therefore, Alcuin was the main proponent of Charles’ vision for general education (similar to that which is seen in earlier Greek society). Later, in France, as abbot of St Martin’s in Tours, Alcuin set up a library and scriptorium that in addition to the grand monastery there became the most significant center of learning of the age. In addition, Alcuin was influential in his efforts to normalize the liturgy in his revision of the Latin Bible and with the significant writings he left behind (Pedersen, 1997). Without the educational background and respect for the advancement of knowledge instilled in Alcuin through Bede and the monastic learning he spread, this individual might never have made the important progress he did for the realm of education.

Bede’s teachings took root in a widespread area through his education and those fortunate enough to receive it. Through his fascination with and study of time, he unified a system of chronology that remains the standard and changed forever the way history is written and taught. Through his extensive research and examination of sources he compiled The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which has stood the test of time and is still widely used today; a source which has been vital in the understanding of an early English culture, otherwise lost. Not even this listing does justice in addressing the entirety of Bede’s accomplishments and influence – a man who shone the light of scholarship and the importance of knowledge through the Dark Ages. The Venerable Bede was a brilliant and devoted man who had a lasting impact on education as it is known today.


Brown, George Hardin. Bede, the Venerable. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Print

Colgrave, Bertram, and R. A. B. Mynors. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People;. Oxford: Clarendon P., 1969. Print

Palmer, Robert B. “Bede as a textbook writer: A Study of His De Arte Metrica,” Speculum 34 (1959): 573-84

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities: Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Price, Mary Roper. “Bede.” Bede and Dunstan,. London: Oxford U.P., 1968. 7-32. Print

Thompson, A. Hamilton. Bede; His Life, Times, and Writings; Essays in Commemoration of the Twelfth Centenary of His Death,. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966. Print

Jabir Ibn Hayyan: Alchemist

by Jazmyne M. Sturgeon

Atoms. Electrons. H20. The Periodic Table. All of these are familiar terms people remember from their 10th grade chemistry classes and have all grown accustomed to. While this may be the case, it is important to keep in mind that these are relatively modern concepts. A thousand years ago, pre-teens had a much smaller Table with only four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The idea of these four elements is a very Greek concept, but one alchemist continued Aristotle’s work: Arabic alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Jabir ibn Hayyan influenced education by deepening the understanding of alchemy and encouraging a dynamic learning system over a scholastic system.

Jabir ibn Hayyan is considered the earliest great name in Moslem alchemy. He was born circa 720 (C.E) and died in about 815 (C.E) at the astonishing age of 95 (Stalzberg 1991). It is widely believed that he lived as a physician in Baghdad under the protection of the Court of Harun-al-Raschid (Hopkins 1967). Jabir’s passion was alchemy, which, one must note, differs from modern day chemistry in the fact that ‘magic’ was used to supplement studies. Jabir could not avoid the magical influences of his day and is therefore considered an alchemist, not a chemist (Cobb 1995). Arthur John Hopkins supplements this in his book Alchemy: Child of Greek Philosophy, when he states, “Believing that alchemy was real, [Jabir] undertook the almost superhuman task of bringing this discredited subject up to the same honorable plane as philosophy, medicine or mathematics.” Hopkins later notes that Jabir’s literary output included at least five hundred works on alchemy alone. Others agree that this number is alarmingly high:

“The complete body of works attributed to Jabir includes more than two thousand books, and of course no one man could have written that number, even if he did live to be ninety five. Obviously, most of these books were written over a period of many years by different authors who attributed their writings to Jabir, either out of respect or as a method of remaining safely anonymous” (Stalzberg 1991).

It is not unreasonable to agree that Jabir did not write many of the works attributed to him, but that he did inspire and have influence over their content, no matter how indirectly.

His name has been linked and interchanged with the Latin name ‘Geber’ throughout history, even though Jabir ibn Hayyan is Arabic.

The name ‘Geber’ was to enjoy among the Latins a celebrity similar to that of ‘Democritus’ among the Greek alchemists and ‘Balinus’ among the Arabs, and like these worthies Geber’s real identity retains a considerable element of mystery. The works of Geber have not been found in Arabic, and he remains, despite persistent attempts to equate him to Jabir ibn Haiyan, an anonymous Latin alchemist. (Multhauf 1996).

It remains to speculation who exactly Geber was and how he became associated with Jabir. “…Popular belief [is] that the Geber works of the thirteenth century were actually translations into Latin of the Arabic of Jabir of the eight century;” although recently, that assumption has been challenged to question the true identity of Geber (Hopkins 1967). However, in order to analyze Jabir ibn Hayyan’s impact on the chemical world, the assumption must be made that ‘Geber’ was merely a pseudonym future writers used to show respect to their inspiration, Jabir, as well as having the intent to remain anonymous, as Hugh Stalzberg suggested earlier. Author Hopkins believes that “if all that has been deduced from the writings of Geber is true, he was one of the greatest single constructive influences in science, particularly in the science of the metals, that the world has ever known.” The fact that Jabir may not have written the works credited to him under the name Geber does not, however, make him any less influential. In fact, it makes him more so. It displays how many chemists were inspired and influenced by him and how they respected him enough to attribute their works to his name. As flattering as this tribute may be, Robert P. Multhauf puts it best when describing the difficulties it has caused:

Modern scholarship has laboured mightily to reconstruct Jabir’s biography with the following result: (1) the Latin writings attributed to Geber have not been found in an Arabic version, and probably originated in south Italy in the thirteenth century; (2) there is in Arabic a large body of alchemical writing attributed to Jabir, but little is known to the Latins of the Middle Ages; and (3) Jabir, who also enjoyed a great reputation among the Arabs, was not the author of all these works… (Multauf 1966)

These three statements support the assumption that ‘Geber’ was used by future alchemists to show respect towards Jabir. Although this theory is not flawless, it is among the most likely, and it is important to understand who Jabir ibn Hayyan is and who he is not before discussing his impact on society and education.

The most important collection of texts supposedly written by Jabir is known as the Jabirian Corpus. The corpus was completed by 987, but was most likely compiled over many years. Jabir ibn Hayyan died in 813 and it is unknown how much Jabir personally contributed (Hudson 1992). However, it is not unreasonable to believe that Jabir inspired the contributors, as they clearly credited their work to his name. Another source tells us that, “by the second half of the tenth century the entire Jabirian Corpus had been constituted, and was generally, if not unanimously, admitted as the authentic work of Jabir” (Multhauf 1966). Either way, Jabir’s influence on the world of alchemy (and therefore chemistry) is clearly displayed, whether the work was done by his hands or simply by inspiring others. Jabirian texts had a strong correlation with Aristotle’s theories, concepts, and discoveries. In many cases, Jabir simply took Aristotle’s existing work and expanded, added, or took away from it depending on what had been discovered. Jabir especially focused on metals and their properties which were:

“clearly based on the views of Aristotle but included a significant new idea. Aristotle had considered metals to be formed by the combination of moist and dry exhalations, and in the Jabirian works these exhalations are identified with the vapours of mercury and sulfur. The cause of the different metals was the different quality of the sulphur from which they were formed.” (Hudson1992)

In this example, Jabir takes Aristotle’s existing ideas and expands on them, deepening the general understanding of alchemy during this time. Aristotle had already established that metals were formed from combinations of moist and dry, yet Jabir took it a step further to explain what exactly those wet and dry exhalations were. “The Jabirian alchemists also believed that metals were ultimately composed of the four Aristotelian elements earth, water, air, and fire, and in consequence possessed the qualities of coldness, hotness, dryness and moisture in varying proportions” (Hudson 1992) (See Fig. 1). Another important distinction between Jabir’s work and that of Aristotle, is that Jabirian texts considered each substance to contain all four elements instead of just two (Salzberg 1991). According to Richard Morris, author of The Last Sorcerers, this theory strongly influenced much of later alchemy. Jabir’s work, and the work he inspired others to undertake, clearly had a lasting impact on the way alchemy was studied.

Jabir ibn Hayyan also was a strong advocate for a dynamic learning system over a scholastic one. A scholastic learning system is stagnant, and basically taught straight out of the book, much like a high school. On the other hand, a dynamic system involves research and learning new things, instead of accepting what one is told without question, more like a university (Jackson 2012).

The first duty of an alchemist, [Jabir] said, is to carry out experiments in order that he may acquire knowledge. He accepted the doctrine of transmutation, but did not baldy inform his contemporaries that transmutation had been accomplished. Instead he gave specific directions for experiments in transmutation, such as ‘project some of this substance upon so much copper and you will get silver,’ thus allowing them to draw their own conclusions and inducing his friends to try experiments. (Hopkins 1967)

This is the same sort of teaching that a college professor would set up for his students today. Design an experiment, give the steps of the procedure, but allow the students to actually do the experiment and discover the results for themselves. This is dynamic learning.

One example of dynamic learning is demonstrated in a distinct difference between Aristotle and Jabir ibn Hayyan. Aristotle believed that the elements (air, fire, water, and earth) were only abstract and philosophical; more hypothetical than fact. Jabirian texts, on the other hand, suggested that the quantities and elements were real and could be isolated (Salzberg 1991). With this theory, the only logical step was to prove it by setting up an experiment:

The Jabirians attempted to do this in two stages. First they subjected various organic materials to dry distillation, which often resulted in the formation of a volatile combustible substance (air), a liquid (water), and combustible tarry material (fire) and a dry residue (ash). These elements were supposed to be composed of two different qualities, and the Jabirians assumed that the predominant quality could be isolated by extended purification…Once he had obtained his pure elements, consisting of only one quality, the alchemist was supposed to mix them in the correct proportions to obtain an elixir that he could use to treat a base metal. (Hudson 1992)

Here we have a clear example of a hypothesis, procedure, and conclusion set in motion by Jabir ibn Hayyan’s theories. He was a clear initiator of experiments and therefore dynamic learning, setting in motion a chain reaction of his academic decedents to follow suit.

Whether or not Jabir ibn Hayyan actually wrote what was attributed to him means little. It is clear that his work (or the work that he influenced) had a lasting effect on alchemy, and therefore chemistry in later years. His ‘tweeks’ to Aristotle’s existing theories were widely accepted, and later generations would go on to improve and further develop Jabir’s theories. However, instead of simply allowing future alchemists to blindly accept his ideas, he encouraged the use of experiments and designed his work so that learners would have to understand procedures, set up experiments, and discover results on their own; therefore, becoming a revolutionary teacher by pressing a dynamic system upon his field of study. Jabir ibn Hayyan influenced learning, thinking, and education by expanding general knowledge of alchemy through his own experiments and by leaving experiments for future alchemists, a radical idea in the world of science.

Cobb, Cathy, and Harold Goldwhite. Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age. New York: Plenum, 1995. Print.

Hellenistic Physics. Digital image. Wikipedia. Public Domain. Web. 22 Jan. 2012.

Hopkins, Arthur John. Alchemy, Child of Greek Philosophy. New York: AMS, 1967. Print.

Hudson, John. The History of Chemistry. New York: Chapman & Hall, 1992. Print.

Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Rise of Literacy.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Jan. 2012. Lecture.

Multhauf, Robert P. The Origins of Chemistry. London: Oldbourne, 1966. Print.

Salzberg, Hugh W. From Caveman to Chemist: Circumstances and Achievements. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1991. Print.

The Academy of Jundishapur

by Jazmyne M. Sturgeon

The Academy of Jundishapur stood proud as a temple of learning in the Persian Empire. The Academy was founded by Khusru Anusharvan in the city of Jundi Shapur during the Sassanid Dynasty at around the mid 200’s A.D., although the exact date is unknown. Khusru encouraged the advancement of learning throughout Persia with the foundation of the Academy (Arberry 1953). The Academy of Jundishapur was a place of learning, a place where ideas gathered, smoldered, and blossomed; because of this, The Academy of Jundishapur impacted future developments of Islamic medicine and arts.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Academy is its impact on medical society. The Academy of Jundishapur is considered the most advanced center of higher education in 6th century Persia. Scholars from various backgrounds had gathered at Jundishapur to share manuscripts and exchange ideas; those scholars included Greeks, Jews, Christians, Syrians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Persians. It is interesting to note that even though Jundishapur collected knowledge from many different cultures, the Academy did not adapt cultural aspects, especially those that conflicted with Islam and the Quran (Stanton 1990). In the pharmaceutical world, names are most commonly Persian, as opposed to anatomical terms that are of Greek or Latin origin. This should not come as a surprise seeing that such an important school of medicine, the Academy of Jundishapur, is in the Middle East (Arberry 1953). Because of its location, the Academy of Jundishapur was able to combine Greek, Indian, and Iranian medical traditions in a cosmopolitan atmosphere, which laid the foundation for future developments in Islamic medicine (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975).

Ibn Bukhtishu was a famous doctor during the time of al-Mansur who headed the medical school until his death in AD 771. The Bakhtishu family carried the medical traditions of Jundishapur when they served several Abbasid caliphs as their personal physicians (The Golden Age of Persia). The Cambridge History of Iran expands:

The members of the Bukhtyishu family were directors of the Jundishapur hospital and produced many outstanding physicians. One of them, Jiris, was called to Baghdad by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, to cure his dyspepsia. Due to his success he becamse court physician of the caliphs, and after them the whole school was transferred to Baghdad marking the real beginnings of Islamic medicine. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

The Abbasid Dynasty began its rule in AD 750. Under the rule of the Abbasid caliphs, the Muslim nation stretched from Asia to as far as the Atlantic Ocean at one point. The Muslim nation flourished and reached its peak; features included a stable, universal currency, multi-ethnic and multi-religious political systems, a strong legal system, and a trade route that stretched from Africa, to China, to Northern Europe (Jackson 2012). For the Bukhtishu family to serve as an Abbasid caliph’s personal physician is a high honor; and the education Bukhtishu’s received from Jundishapur gave them the ability to fulfill that role.

The Masuyas were a Christian family of Persian origin. The father was a genius who received his medical knowledge through experience at Jundishapur. He later moved to Baghdad where his three sons also became physicians. One of which, Yuhanna b. Masuya, was the first in Islamic civilization to perform animal dissection and write on ophthalmology, or the study of the eye (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975).

Sabur b. Sahl was another Persian physician of Jundishapur. He wrote one of the first books on antidotes called Aqrabadhin, which inspired many successors (The Golden Age of Persia 1975). Of course, the Academy of Jundishapur produced many fine students who made major impacts in Islamic society in the field of medicine and other studies.

Many scholars have agreed on the Academy of Jundishapur’s lasting impact on the hospital system. The Cambridge History of Iran states:

To a very large extent the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia. The hospitals of the Mohammadan period were built very largely upon the ideals and traditions of the Sasanian hospital of Jundishapur.’ The well-known hospitals of ‘Adud al-Daula in Shiraz and Baghdad, as well as the later hospitals of Damascus and Cairo, were based upon the Jundishapur model. The first products of Islamic medicine were also from this important medical centre. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

A.J. Arberry concurs in his work The Legacy of Persia. His assertion is that the greatest and longest lasting legacy that Persia contributed to Europe was their conception of hospitals. Arberry also claims that the modern hospital is a direct growth from Persian foundations, especially from Jundishapur (Arberry 1953). When it comes to medical and biological sciences, Jundishapur was a thriving center where medicine of many traditions have been preserved alongside Persian and Indian traditions, making the transition from the world of ancient science to the modern Islamic science flow naturally (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975). The Academy of Jundishapur was a thriving hub of medical knowledge. It took in vast amounts of information from a multitude of cultures and combined them into what was to become Islamic medicine. The medical center at Jundishapur, along with the medical knowledge that thrived there, had lasting impacts on European medicine.

Although medical studies were the Academy of Jundishapur’s cornerstone, it did have a range of other studies, including the arts. Persian weaving industry boomed in the city, and the native craftsmanship was celebrated in the West (Arberry 1953). Also, various types of fine silk were woven for export and personal use: the Sassanid weaves created in Jundishapur birthed a new type of decorative silk that would later influence medieval silk weaving in Syria, Egypt, Byzantium, and other places further west (Jackh 1952). Apart from weaving, The Academy of Jundishapur also toyed with astronomy:

In complete contrast to the impossibility of giving a clear and straight-forward account of early Abbasid astronomical theory, the materials on astronomical observations, although incomplete, are ample and precise… The earliest reported activity supplied a link with the Sasanian past. About AD 800, one Ahmad Nihavandi was making observations of the sun at Jundishapur, the garrison town and centre of medical studies established in Khuzstan by Shapur I. This is the only mention of the place in connection with astronomy, and subsequent reports for a long time thereafter are centered upon in Baghdad. (The Cambridge History of Iran 1975)

Cultures traveled from regions as far as Asia and the Atlantic Ocean to share their knowledge at The Academy of Jundishapur. The Academy served as a nesting ground for information to gather and flourish. Later, medical facilities based their hospitals on the Jundishapur model and used much of Jundishapur’s medical knowledge to increase their own. The Academy of Jundishapur produced many noteworthy students, some of which whose family went on to do great things. All of these things have contributed to making the Academy of Jundishapur Sassanid Persia’s center medicine and the arts.


Arberry, A. J. The Legacy of Persia. Oxford: Clarendon, 1953. Print.

Frye, R. N., ed. The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 4: The Period from The Arab Invasion to The Saljuqs. London: Cambridge UP, 1975. Print.

Frye, Richard Nelson. The Golden Age of Persia: The Arabs in the East. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. Print.

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Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Caliphate and the Muslim Renaissance.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Jan. 2012. Lecture.

Stanton, Charles Michael. Higher Learning in Islam: The Classical Period, A.D. 700-1300. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1990. Print

The Mathematics of The Quadrivium

by Brian K. Davis

Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music are the four subjects that make up the quadrivium. A term first coined in the medieval period, it still carries weight today. Although it would appear that the quadrivium is made of two mathematical subjects and two non-mathematical subjects, astronomy and music are also based in math. Thus the quadrivium was solely based in the art of mathematics. Math has evolved over time and is still evolving today. The first known study of math came from Mesopotamia in 3,000 B.C.E. with the Babylonians and the Egyptians (Kline 3). However this math was basic and relied mostly upon counting. Math would not grow as a subject until the time of the Greeks in about 775 B.C.E. but would be lost to the world until the fifth century when Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c480-524) began translating the Greek works (Kline 201). After Boethius’ translations of Greek math into Latin do we see the rise of math in Europe to help explain the universe. The use of the quadrivium would give scholars the mathematical ability to analyze the physical world around them, the first of these scholars being the Greeks and Plato’s Republic.

Plato’s book the Republic was centered on creating a utopian society for the people of Greece. Plato would also go on to describe a perfect school system to teach those who would eventually lead society. In his definition of education, comes the first inkling of the quadrivium, although not outright stated. When talking about education, Plato believes that the science of arithmetic is wholly concerned with numbers and the quality of numbers leads to truth (Plato 161).

Plato believes that by understanding numbers, people can better understand the truth and gain insight into the world. Plato would also go on to state that numbers are important for generals as well as philosopher, “For a soldier must learn them (arithmetic) in order to marshal his troops, and a philosopher, because he must rise out of the region of generation and lay hold on essence or he can never become a true reckoner, (Plato 161)” Plato believes that understanding arithmetic will better organize the troops in battle. However the nuance of truth keeps cropping up in Plato’s statements as well, “This branch of learning (arithmetic) should be prescribe by our law and that we should induce those who are to share the highest functions of state to enter upon that study of calculation and take hold of it, not amateurs, but to follow it up until they attain to the contemplation of the nature of number, by pure thought, not for the purpose of buying and selling, as if they were preparing to be merchants or hucksters, but for the uses of war and for facilitating the conversion of the soul itself from the world of generation to essence and truth, (Plato 163).” Plato likes the study of arithmetic because it is tangible, meaning it can be easily proven or disproven making people think about their arguments before making one (Plato 165).

After Plato’s discussion on arithmetic comes geometry. Once again he connects geometry to war, “So much of it (geometry),” he said, “as applies to the conduct of war is obviously suitable. For in dealing with encampments and the occupation of strong places and the bringing of troops into column and line and all the other formations of an army in actual battle and on the march, an officer who had studied geometry would be if he had not,” (Plato 167) and also stating, “Its (geometry) uses in war, and also we are aware that for the better reception of all studies there will be an immeasurable difference between the student who has been imbued with geometry and the one who has not,” (Plato 173). Plato also mentions how geometry compels the soul to contemplate essence, and that geometry forces the soul to turn its vision round to the region where dwells the most blessed part of reality (Plato 169), Plato believed that geometry would help people examine the physical shapes around them thus opening their eyes to truth, “For geometry is the knowledge of the eternally existent. Then, my good friend, it would tend to draw the soul to truth, and would be productive of a philosophic attitude of mind, directing upward the faculties that now wrongly are turned earthward,” (Plato 171).

After astronomy would follow geometry in which Plato was quick to point out its uses for telling the seasons, months, and navigation (Plato 171), all of these being important for the study of war. Astronomy also makes the soul look upward and leads it away from things here to those higher (Plato 181). Plato also believed that the study of the stars would lead towards reality, “We must use the blazonry of the Heavens as patterns to aid in the study of those realities, just as one would do who chanced upon diagrams drawn with special care and elaboration by Daedalus or some other craftsman or painter,” (Plato 185). Plato did not have much to say on music other than astronomy was for the eyes and harmonies for the ear (Plato 189). Instead he refers to the Pythagorean’s writings about music, “They (Pythagoreans) transfer it to hearing and measure audible concords and sounds against one another,” (Plato 191). Pythagoras was the first person to examine the physical science of music. Kline would state this about Pythagoreans, “Because the Pythagoreans “reduced” astronomy and music to number, these subjects came to be linked to arithmetic and geometry; these four were regarded as the mathematical subjects,” (Kline 149).

Long before anything was known of pitch numbers, or the means of counting them, Pythagoras had discovered that if a string be divided into two parts by a bridge, in such a way as to give two consonant musical tones when struck, the lengths of these parts must be in the ratio of these whole numbers. If the bridge is so placed that 2/3 of the string lie to the right, and 1/3 on the left, so that the two lengths are in the ratio of 2:1, they produce the interval of an octave, the greater length giving the deeper tone. Placing the bridge so that 3/5 of the string lie on the right and 2/5 on the left, the ratio of the two lengths is 3:2, and the interval is a fifth,” (Helmholtz 14). Pythagoras would later build a tuning scale based on fifths which was used until the creation of just intonation and tempered tuning. Plato would later state astronomy and music as a useless form of numbers; however this section of the Republic did set the stage for later works on the quadrivium.

Boethius was a medieval scholar that served a great purpose in the expansion of the quadrivium. Boethius would translate some of the Greek works on math and would create the term quadrivium in his own treatise on math. Boethius would get his idea for De Arithmetica from the Greek thinker’s liberal arts curriculum (Masi 83). Boethius would re-introduce the Greek works to the western part of Europe. In his book De Arithmetica Boethius would introduce the idea of proportionality, “He begins his discussion of proportionality with an extensive list of the types, drawn directly from the Boethian De Arithmetica. A ratio is a relation between two terms, as 1:2, or as expressed in a fraction, ½ and the relationship is called a rational number in its fractional form. A proportion is a ratio between ratios, as when 1 compared to 2, which is as 2 is to 4. Proportion may be set up in series, as a series of duplex, triple, or quadruple proportions. Bradwardine extracts the idea of proportionality from the Boethian conception of proportion. Bradwardine adapted, also from Boethius, the idea that the most important proportionalities are the arithmetic, geometric, and harmonic,” (Masi 91).

Boethius would also introduce irrational numbers as a way to explain geometry, like the sides of the triangles (Masi 91). Outside of translating the Greek works, Boethius’ works would become popular in the Middle Ages, “We must conclude that the Boethian mathematics enjoyed an extraordinary increase in popularity and influence between 1200 and 1600,” (Masi 81). His book would even become the text book during the middle ages, “Moreover, for the teaching of the first of the quadrivial arts, arithmetic, the Boethian De Institutione Arithmetica appears to have maintained its position as a basic text, and his was the case despite the fact that there were available for the study of arithmetic in the thirteenth century, in its various practical as well as other aspects, a wealth of materials both old and new,” (Kibre 72). Boethius’ works would go on unchallenged until Roger Bacon. However these two both believed that education needed a solid base of mathematics (Masi 92). Bacon would disagree with the order in which the quadrivium be placed, however he did agree with Boethius on the teaching of arithmetic, the species of numbers and the reasons for their operations (Kibre76). Boethius would also write a work on music.

Music was another sub-category of the quadrivium and was another topic Boethius would translate Greek works and write his own treatise on. During the Medieval and Middle Ages, chant was the source of music. Chant was only used by the Catholic Church and was in Latin, the chants were used to help the common people memorize scripture. The irony of this last statement is that most people could not speak Latin thus they did not know what they saying. The first part of Boethius’ book dealt with chant and how it should be organized. Boethius would organize the chants into tonaries, or the classifying of chants according to their tonal and melodic similarities (Bower 164). Boethius would place the chants based off their church modes which were: Lydian, Dorian, Myxolydian, Phrygian, Hypo-Phrygian, Hypo-Dorian, Hypo-Lydian, and Hypo-Myxolydian, church modes are based off which note they start on. After establishing the tonaries, Boethius would move on to compiling works into two categories, practical tonaries, those used by professional singers to check the tone of a chant, and didactic tonaries, those used to teach students the basic qualities of each tone (Bower 164). Boethius would treat music differently compared to his contemporaries. He took a more analytical approach whereas his peers believed in the mysticism of music. To Boethius, the main approach to musical pitch was qualitative rather than quantitative (Bower 165).

Boethius believed that one could mathematically analyze music in order to learn how to better write music; in essence he created the first step towards music theory. Boethius affirms that one holds immutable truths concerning music when one knows the related mathematical quantity in the proportions of consonances (Bower 166), in Boethius’ time this would be the examination of one tone to another. For example when one strikes a string and touches it in the middle the octave is sounded thus the relationship between a note and an octave must be 1:2. Boethius would base his math off of Pythagoras. Boethius also argues that the practicing artist is separated from musical science, and thus is not worthy to be named a musician (Bower 166), in other words if a musician does not understand the theory behind it they do not fully grasp it and in fact are missing an element to music. Boethius’ works would begin the study of music theory, however like his other works, failed to advance the study of math as a whole.

The problem with the quadrivium was that it was translated into Latin but never expanded upon. In the Middle Ages the quadrivium was arithmetic, considered as the science of pure numbers; music, regarded as an application of numbers; geometry, or the study of magnitudes such as length, area and volumes at rest; and astronomy, the study of magnitudes in motion (Kline 202), and did not really evolve past that definition. According to Kline, “the introduction of some of the Greek words retarded the awakening of Europe for a couple of centuries. By 1200 or so the extensive writings of Aristotle became reasonably well known. The European intellectuals were pleased and impressed by his vast store of facts, his acute distinctions, his cogent arguments, and his logical arrangement of knowledge,” (Kline 207).However the quadrivium would have an effect on the Church. Once established, the clergy was expected to defend and explain the theology and rebut arguments by reasoning, and mathematics (Kline 202). Today the quadrivium is still used; however it is not referred to as such.

Math is now taught to every child in the United States. Most kids will start their training in mathematics in elementary school. Arithmetic is still the first subject taught with addition and subtraction, followed by the basics of geometry. What is interesting is that education today combines basic arithmetic and geometry with multiplication. Astronomy is rarely taught and the basic of music, mainly how to play an instrument, is taught. If one is lucky they will receive a little music theory, however most students do not. Education today however, has grown beyond the quadrivium. Today students are taught trigonometry, an upper level math of geometry, and advanced algebra, upper level arithmetic, and calculus. With the advancement of technology, there is less need for the average person to know astronomy, however for those who go on to study astronomy as their profession will rely on calculus. The study of music has advanced beyond comparison of tones.

Scientists have figured out that music is a disturbance of air in a wave like pattern. Hermann Helmholtz would crack many mysteries behind musical sound. Helmholtz was able to prove that musical sounds were actually complex sine waves, “Where two condensations are added we obtain increased condensation, where two rarefactions are added we have increased rarefaction; while a concurrence of condensation and rarefaction mutually, in whole or in part, destroy or neutralize each other,” (Helmholtz 28), in other words, sounds are created by multiple sine waves that are added together. Helmholtz proved there were multiple sine waves with his invention the Helmholtz resonator which is a bottle that will resonate only one sound, one sine wave, which is part of the complex sine wave (Helmholtz 43). However, this is a more advanced analysis of music. Most students will not learn this unless they go into music as a profession, even then they may not receive this knowledge. Professional musicians, however, will get a healthy dose of music theory. Students today no longer learn only the quadrivium; in fact, students now learn more math and its applications than at any other point in history.

The quadrivium was first discussed by Plato in what he believed was necessary to be a philosophical person. Boethius would later translate the Greek works of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and many others into Latin and introduce the quadrivium to the school system of Western Europe. Boethius’ quadrivium would be the platform for which the study of math would stand on for centuries and would later become the first step in expanding the concepts of math. Today the quadrivium is no longer directly taught but its subject matter still is. Students get a great deal of arithmetic and geometry and some will focus their studies on astronomy and music. The quadrivium served an important purpose in the advancement of European education and its affects should not be overlooked.



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Blackburn, Joyce. George Wythe of Williamsburg. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Print.

Hellenbrand, Harold. The Unfinished Revolution: Education and Politics in the Thought of Thomas Jefferson. Newark: University of Delaware, 1990. Print.

Hoeveler, J. David. Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in the Colonial Colleges. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.

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Swindler, William F. “William and Mary Marks Bicentennial of Its First Chair Of Law.” American Bar Association Journal/64.12 (1978): 1872. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2012


This paper was originally created for Steve Jackson’s History of Higher Education course.


Alcuin’s Educational Reform in 8th Century Europe

by Alexander Rumann

As a result of barbarian attacks on the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Europe was in chaos and confusion. This led to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, controlled by the Catholic Christian church. Education at this time was nearly nonexistent and was only in the scholastic form in monasteries with monks copying texts. Most of the learning toward the 8th century was focused on Biblical texts or written works of the members of the church that were related to the Bible. The monasteries copied texts from early Greek and Roman literature but only those which they found interesting and most important, so limited topics were kept. Education overall at this time was in a sorry state, as most did not obtain any at all and what they did receive was very constricted to focus on the Bible. Literature that had been easily accessible in the early Roman Empire had been isolated to libraries in cathedrals and monasteries. Due to the lack of access to literature and education most of Europe’s population was illiterate. The church at this time believed that most of the teachings on secular subjects were a sin against God and was therefore not taught. Those that received an education were those who were wealthy and being groomed for a career in the church. There were those that came along who wished to change education and made huge contributions not only to the church but to society as a whole, one of these people is Alcuin of York. Alcuin of York built the foundation of which the revival and reform of education in Europe was built upon in the centuries to come. This education reform was backed by Charlemagne who was successfully keeping the barbarians of Europe at bay in his military campaigns, which allowed Alcuin to carry out his efforts to change education of the known kingdom.

Education in the arts and philosophy were studied to help further understanding of the Bible but for only that purpose. Liberal arts that were studied for the sake of interest alone and apart from biblical understanding were considered heresy and people were put to the death or banished for such actions. The arts of Greek and earlier Roman culture were considered to be pagan learning and seen by the church as ineffectual and immoral. In the 5th Century liberal arts were viewed as suitable studies for Christians due to the necessity of understanding scriptures in a clearer way. Augustine considered the liberal arts to be grammar, music, dialectics, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, and philosophy (West, pg. 10, 12, 14, 15). The culture of this time revolves around God and learning about God in a scholastic setting. Learning was limited to only that which would further ones knowledge of biblical scriptures and understanding of those scriptures.

Alcuin was born sometime between the years of 730 and 740 CE in Northumbria, England which is close to York (Plater). He came from a modest family of nobility from York and went to the cathedral school there. While at school he was taught by Egbert who was a student of the Venerable Bede. He remained at the cathedral school in York where he became the master at the death of Egbert in 766. Alcuin became a deacon of the church and officially held the office of scholasticus teaching young boys to be leaders of the church. Through his works as an educator he became the most well known master in Britain (West 31, 34, and 38). Alcuin quickly became a reputable teacher of adolescents in Britain despite that in the late 760’s the area was violent and unstable due to the attacks of the barbarian tribes of the Anglo-Saxons (Bullough 137). In the year 780 Alcuin was given charge of the most famous cathedral library in Britain. Despite his duties he took many trips to Rome, either for personal reasons or he was sent there to retrieve documents from the Pope, where he met influential people such as Charles the Great in 781. He was called by Charles the Great to go to Frankland to head the teaching at the chapel in the palace (West 34). Aside from the vast amounts of educational reforms that Alcuin made he also made a very large contribution in literature. He wrote numerous letters back and forth to very well known people of the Empire such as the Pope and Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne and various priests and bishops throughout the kingdom. He also wrote many theological treatises and Biblical commentaries which were very common for scholars of that time. In addition he wrote books on dialectic and rhetoric works that he shared in his lessons with Charlemagne. He also produced textbooks that could be used by schools around Europe for their curriculum. Although it is less noted, and it was considered unimportant to any except traders who needed basic accounting skills, Alcuin also wrote a text book on arithmetic that was comprised of fifty three word problems (Sunshine). He left immense amounts of comprehensive works of books on liberal arts from the earlier Roman Empire that were mostly lost, dialectics, rhetoric and dialogues that he stored in the library at Saint Martin’s that were used for teaching in his school (Pedersen 75).

Around the year 782 Alcuin left England to start educating at the palace of Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne, at Aachen (West 39). He was given charge of educating the administrators of the kingdom but he was most famous for teaching Charlemagne himself. He also taught Charlemagne’s children and the clergy of the chapel at the palace in France (Sunshine). Alcuin was given a difficult task of tutoring not only the young royalty in the palace but also the elders there as well. He had to find a way to interest a broad range of ages to keep order in his classes. He covered what was considered the liberal arts starting with the basics of grammar and moving to arithmetic and then dialectic and rhetoric. The palace soon became the only centre for higher studies in the kingdom (West 45). Alcuin became the trusted advisor to Charlemagne and together they would set up schools all around the Frank kingdom in the cathedrals and monasteries. The palace schools that Alcuin started would only last a few generations however the schools he set up in monasteries and cathedrals would later be the main front for educational revival in Europe. As Charlemagne’s advisor, Alcuin convinced Charlemagne to stop the forced baptism of the barbarians and made a convincing point to the king that Christianity can only be chosen not forced upon the people of his kingdom, faith is not something that can be coerced (Sunshine). Charles did not want to be the king of a barbarian and illiterate kingdom so he sought to educate his kingdom and install Christian ideals in his people with the help of Alcuin. Alcuin was an indispensible asset and advisor to the king during this time. Alcuin and Charlemagne together set up schools around the kingdom to advance the church. Schools were set in cathedrals, monastic settings and eventually in villages. The cathedral and monastic schools were to educate at an elementary level and in some case there was superior learning. In local villages education was at the elementary level and didn’t advance past that (West 48, 56). This was by far better than what education was in up to the early 9th century when there were a very few that were educated and even those that were educated were only educated enough so they could read and write adequately to copy old books or scrolls. Alcuin had taken the palace school and built it up into the finest institution in the kingdom which was the center for culture and an undeveloped academy. In the short amount of time that Alcuin spent at the palace school he made a huge impact on academics with the works that he did and the ideals that he instilled there. Alcuin strove to encourage learning to be more tolerant of the liberally scholastic tradition of earlier Rome and Greece (Pederen 75). Alcuin believed in a standardization of the curriculum used in schools and he strove to provide those standard versions by studying the available copies and he would select the best document or documents that he found for the master copy. Then all copies were made from the master copies of these texts he found and these became in a sense textbooks for use in schools. These textbooks that Alcuin had created were then in a standard version of the texts that were easily copied, before that was a lot of variation in copied texts but Alcuin eliminated a large portion of this error (Sunshine). Along with creating these textbooks Alcuin would go through the libraries and collect large amounts of books and other works of literature and he would collect excerpts from the texts that he would spend a great amount of time reading and sometimes complete works as well. These works that he found had been neglected for centuries would then become extremely useful as textbooks (Bullough 138). Among many other things Alcuin had a doctrine of separating liberal literature and Christian morals. He believed that learning should not be limited to the sole purpose of advancing ones knowledge of biblical text. Previously the church had frowned upon knowledge for the only purpose of educating one’s self and Alcuin strove to present this as an acceptable thing to do (Bolton 17). The idea that education and the church should be apart was an idea that he founded his teachings on and applied them wherever he went. In gaining knowledge through the process of education he found he saw that virtue, truth and learning had an independent value that the church and Christianity must come to respect if the kingdom was to survive (Pedersen 76). Alcuin and Charlemagne organized three levels of education in the empire: the “university” which was the palace school and stood at the top of the hierarchy of schools, secondary schools found in a select few monasteries and cathedral schools, and then the primary schools which were at every level at the cathedrals, monasteries and also the village schools throughout Europe. Primary education was the only material covered in the village schools (West 58). This hierarchy of schooling is the progression of education that is found in the modern era. Even though the teachings at different levels education varies, the progression through primary, secondary, then the university is still how things are today. This is the system that was set in place by Alcuin and his followers with the help of Charlemagne.

After eight arduous years at the palace Alcuin reluctantly took up the position in Tours, France as an abbot at the abbey of Saint Martin’s. Even though Alcuin was reluctant to take the post as abbot he did some of his greatest work at St. Martin’s. He set up a large library with the textbooks he had put together along with other literature from centuries before. Along with the library Alcuin set up a scriptorium where he trained scribes to accurately copy texts that were used in schools throughout the kingdom. Through these courses that Alcuin was setting up the monastery of St. Martins became tremendously prosperous and eventually turned into the most noteworthy centre of learning of the age (Pedersen 75). Alcuin had reached his 60th year of life in 792 and wished to retire to a quiet monastery in Fulda but Charles ignored his request and made him Abbot of the abbey, St. Martin in Tours. Alcuin wished to return to his home town of York but when he returned on a short vacation found it in a sad state and the ruler was very cruel and unjust. He returned to the palace for a short while where he came up with several treatises before becoming the abbot. Apart from the learning in Alcuin’s monastery, there was a monastic revival that had to take place because of the loose morals of the monks and the lack of discipline they showed to their vows. Alcuin brought in monks from other parts of the kingdom to help with this revival of Benedictine order. Alcuin saw that the educational system he set up in Northumbria was falling apart and that the system in Frankland would not always be protected by a powerful ruler like Charles and he feared that his teachings would disappear. He devoted the last years of his life in an effort to train his pupils to carry on his teachings and instill in them the dedication to learning and education that he himself had. Alcuin set up the same educational structure that he did at York and the palace. He teaches the younger boy’s grammar and the older students he teaches scriptures and ancient disciplines, liberal arts, and astronomy. He had now planted the same three schools at York, the palace and now Tours. Although Alcuin was continuing to educate at Tours he felt that he was inadequately supplied with books and sent a request to the king to have monks sent to York to retrieve his library. Alcuin writes “I, your servant, lack the rarer books of scholastic erudition which I had in my own country through the devoted industry of my master, Egbert, and by my own labors” (West 63-67).

The monastic schools alienated themselves from the cathedral schools, even with the bishops having jurisdiction over the monks. Along with the constant conflicts that were going on between the bishops and monks there was a split in the monastic schools. There were the interior schools and exterior schools. Interior schools focused on only training boys who were given to the monasteries for a life as a monk. The exterior schools were to train boys to become priests of the church and also for those who were intended for secular professions. Both of the interior and exterior schools gave a gratuitous instruction. The monastic schools were extremely strict and flourished more than the cathedral schools even though the education received was not that much different between cathedral and monastic schools. Whether in the monastic or cathedral schools education started with the basics of reading and writing which were the most essential and rudimentary skills. Students would then proceed to grammar, which was crucial in understanding the scriptures and therefore the most time was devoted to grammar. Along with grammar, reading and writing there was also sometimes dialectic and rhetoric, past this there was nothing further in education except in a few monasteries. In all the schools the study of the Holy Scriptures was of the upmost important and was studied in great detail at the cathedral and monastery schools and was only viewed at the most basic level in the village schools. In the village schools the only important aspects of the bible they were expected to learn was the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and a few of the psalms (West 58).

While in Tours, Alcuin spent most of the last 8 years of his life corresponding with kings and leaders of the kingdom, over 300 letters about education. Alcuin’s main concern with not only educating the youth that were in attendance at his school at the time but also for future generations after he was gone. He strove to not only educate men that were to be priests and monks but also those that were to someday become teachers that would rise up and take his place one day. Alcuin found out in the year 796 that one of his former pupils had been elevated to archbishop of York. He rejoiced that he was privileged to have taught someone that has reached such a high honor. He then proceeded to help the archbishop by giving him advice on how to run the schools of York, telling him to separate students into classes of those who study books, those who practice music and those who transcribe. Alcuin also writes to his old pupil about assigning a master to each subject in order to keep the boys from getting unruly (West 76).

Alcuin’s life was spent making dramatic changes to academics. He dedicated his life to educating an illiterate country that desperately needed instruction. With the help of King Charles the Great they revolutionized education. Alcuin set up three institutions that all instilled the same ideals of education. The school in York is what put Alcuin on the map and got him recognized as an extraordinary teacher and sought after by Charles the Great. The two other institutions at the palace and later in Tours were just as great as the school in York and paved the way for education in the centuries to come in Europe. Alcuin’s school at the palace of Charles was considered a university at the time; although it is not what we would consider a university today. The revolution that Alcuin started with his educational reforms in the late 8th century would be a small stepping-stone to what would later become the first recognizable universities. The simple changes that Alcuin made and the fact that he reintroduced the liberal arts from the earlier Roman Empire caused a huge change in the literacy of Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was in a state of barbarianism that was spiraling down. The leaders of the time were only focused on scholastic learning of biblical texts and only certain people were allowed to go through extensive learning. The empire hung by a thread and if not for the changes that Alcuin made and the works he contributed the empire might have fallen due to its illiteracy. Alcuin laid the foundation for what would later become the university through his works in education.



Bolton, W. F. Alcuin and Beowulf. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1978. Print.

Bullough, Donald. Charlemagne: Empire and Society. New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. 137-138. Print.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Plater, Ormonde. “Alcuin of York.” Through the Dust. N.p., 19 May 2008. Web. 22 Jan 2012..

Sunshine, Glenn. “Alcuin of York.” Christians Who Changed Their World. (2011): n. page. Web. 21 Jan. 2012.

The Higher Education Act of 1965

By Erica Dines

Education is a crucial part of culture that society could not function without. As the leadership of the country it is important for the government to ensure that the education system is as accessible and valuable as possible. One action taken by the American government to fulfill this purpose was the enactment of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). The HEA was an important piece of legislation which by providing financial assistance to under-privileged individuals increased the opportunity for previously unattainable education, leading to the betterment of society.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) was enacted on the eighth of November, 1965 (Pub. L 89-329), as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s social reform policy known as the “Great Society” (Cooley, 2011). In the preceding years President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (also known as the G.I. Bill) into law which began the involvement of the federal government in education (Swail, 2003). The purpose of this act was “to provide Federal Government aid for the readjustment in civilian life of returning World War II veterans” (Pub. L 346-268). Included in the aid for veterans was the opportunity to receive a higher education, financially provided by the federal government. The motive for this legislation was to counteract the potential of a new depression emerging from the millions of veterans that would face unemployment upon their return from the war (Mosch, 1975). After the success of this legislation President Johnson wanted to continue the rise of higher education and increase the number of educated individuals as a means to improve the conditions of society as a whole. Johnson said, “We need to do more . . . to extend the opportunity for higher education more broadly among lower and middle income families” (Swail, 2003). The HEA did just that.

The purpose of the HEA was (and still is) “to strengthen the resources of [our] colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance to students in postsecondary and higher education” (Pub. L 89-329). To accomplish this, the act established government funds to be used for program assistance for small and less developed colleges, additional and improved library resources at higher education institutions, and utilization of college and university resources to help deal with national problems like poverty and community development (McCants, 2003). In addition to community development and reversing the cycle of poverty, Johnson hoped education would act as a tool for economic growth and development (Cooley, 2011).

Title IV of the HEA is the section of the act which details student assistance by means of federal financial aid. It states:


(a) PURPOSE.—It is the purpose of this part, to assist in making available the benefits of postsecondary education to eligible students (defined in accordance with section 484) in institutions of higher education by—
(1) providing Federal Pell Grants to all eligible students;
(2) providing supplemental educational opportunity grants
to those students who demonstrate financial need;
(3) providing for payments to the States to assist them in
making financial aid available to such students;
(4) providing for special programs and projects designed
(A) to identify and encourage qualified youths with financial or
cultural need with a potential for postsecondary education,
(B) to prepare students from low-income families for postsecondary
education, and
(C) to provide remedial (including remedial language
study) and other services to students; and
(5) providing assistance to institutions of higher education.
(Pub. L 89-329, Sec. 400)

Providing financial aid to students of low-income status is beneficial on many different levels. This allows a greater amount of people to receive an education who otherwise would be unable. When someone is denied an education – due to an extenuating circumstance like money rather than intellectual ability or aspiration – it is not only detrimental to that individual’s life personally, but also to the advancement of knowledge and education as a whole; this disallows any intellectual advance or innovation to be made that could have positively affected society if the opportunity were present. The financial barriers that restricted a large portion of the population from receiving an education, in turn, restricted the potential of new intellectual minds to advance knowledge and improve society. The restriction of education based on monetary value rather than a value of intellectual merit and ambition is a restriction that proves very detrimental by its hindrance to the advancement of knowledge. Taking away this financial barrier is one way the HEA is beneficial to society. 

A study done by RAND (nonprofit institution that performs research and analysis) suggested that the societal benefits of education might even succeed the benefits reaped by the individuals. Upon intensive analysis of national data, the institution reported that “increases in education level resulted in improvements in social cohesion, technological innovations, and tangible intergenerational benefits that affect the entire society. In addition, reductions in crime and recidivism, Medicaid and Medicare costs, and other social costs are tied to education levels” (Swail, 2003). As a means to explain this societal benefit of education, this example was published in the report:

For every native-born Mexican woman who graduates from high school instead of dropping out, the nation would save $2,438 in social programs and would add $1,843 in public revenues in her 30th year. Similar savings and increases in public revenues would accrue annually over her lifetime. In addition, this woman would enjoy $2,588 more in disposable income during her 30th year. If this woman were to attend some college instead of stopping at high school, the result would be $956 more in program savings, $1,398 more in public revenues, and $2,401 more in disposable income at age 30. And graduating from college would add another $411 in program savings, $2,551 in public revenues, and $3,722 in disposable income [Vernez, Krop, and Rydell, 1999, p. 30].

This hypothetical scenario illustrates the many benefits of a single education. Not only would this benefit the person individually in the overall advantage of being educated and the monetary gain that accompanies it (disposable income), but society would benefit as well: thousands of dollars in welfare and social programs would be saved when the individual no longer needed to be supported by the government, and the economy would benefit because that individual would possess more disposable income to spend and put back into the economy. So society would directly benefit financially in money that would be saved and gained, in addition to the simple benefit of having one more educated, intellectual, member of society.

In addition to the many ways that the HEA positively impacts society, the act also provides opportunities which have the potential to drastically improve people’s lives. Education can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life, especially in terms of financial gain and security. Through extensive study and survey it has been determined that education is one of the surest ways to increase one’s social and economic levels and overcome the barriers of poverty and deprived social conditions (Swail, 2000). According the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn about 77 percent more than that of high school graduates, and those with a professional degree earn 50 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree. The difference in the long-run is even more astonishing: the difference in earning power between each level of education equates to about one million dollars over a lifetime.

The pattern can be summed up as such:
“There are no guarantees in life with or without a college
diploma . . . but . . . the odds are increasingly stacked against those with the least education and training. The more education one has, the more—on average—one earns . . . And this relationship has become conventional wisdom. People understand: who goes to college—and often which college—determines more than ever who has entrée to the best jobs and the best life chances” (Gladieux, 1998, p. 101).

It has also been found that “socioeconomic status is closely related to race and ethnicity” (Swail, 2003). On average, African Americans and Latinos earn less than two-thirds of what white households earn (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). So, statistically, a large portion of the group classified as “low-income” is composed of minorities. Similarly, this means that a large number of minorities are unable to obtain a higher education due to financial incapability. With the help of the financial aid and other services made available through the HEA, institutions of higher education can be comprised of a broader allotment of students. This can be beneficial in the sense of increasing the cultural diversity at these institutions as well as simply reversing cycles of poverty, poor education, and underrepresentation among such groups. In addition, parts of the HEA are geared towards specifically helping minorities gain education – Title III of the act provides institutional aid for minority serving institutions (Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal-Serving Institutions) and Title V provides aid for developing institutions (Hispanic serving institutions) (McCarthy, 2008). In these sections of the act the HEA provides support to the individuals in underprivileged minority groups as well as the institutions that most typically facilitate them.

Since its enactment the HEA has been reauthorized numerous times (in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998 and after much extension in 2008 (McCants, 2003)). In the years since its beginning additional programs and funds have been added, language and policy of existing programs have been changed (McCants, 2003), and the legislation overall has been reformulated in a way to better accommodate to the evolving society and educational scene. The HEA has been an extremely influential and beneficial policy and has affected the world of education, the individuals that strive to exist within it, and American society as a whole in a positive way.


Cooley, Aaron. “Higher Education Act (HEA).” Higher Education Law. SAGE Publications, Inc., 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>.

Davies, G. (2001, Nov. 30). Higher education is a public health issue. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. B16.

Gladieux, L. E., and Swail, W. S. (1998). Postsecondary education: Student success, not just access. In S. Halperin (Ed.), The forgotten half revisited—1998 (pp. 101–114). Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.

Higher Education Act of 1965. Pub. L 89-329. 8 November 1965. Print.

McCants, J. “The Early History of the Higher Education Act of 1965.” National Trio Clearing House and Council for Opportunity in Education, Feb. 2003. Web. 10 Mar. 2012.

McCarthy, Brittny. “The Higher Education Act: A Quick Review.” American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 19 Mar. 2008. Web. 11 Mar. 2012.

Mosch, Theodore. The G.I. Bill: A Breakthrough in Educational and Social Policy in the United States. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1975. 19, 40.New York Times, 8 April 1946, TINCF, R-95, F-759.

Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Pub. L 346-268. 10 January 1944. Print.

Swail, W. S. (2000). Preparing America’s disadvantaged for college: Programs that increase college opportunity. In A. F. Cabrera and S. M. La Nasa (Eds.), Understanding the college choice of disadvantaged student (pp. 85–101). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Swail, Watson Scott, Kenneth E. Redd, and Laura W. Perna. Retaining Minority Students in Higher Education. Rep. Ed. Adrianna J. Kezar. 2nd ed. Vol. 30. San Francisco: Wiley Subscription, 2003. Print. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report.

Vernez, G., Krop, R. A., and Rydell, C. P. (1999). Closing the education gap: Benefits and costs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

A Spark Of Knowledge

by Emily Hudson

The “Dark Ages” of Europe were not as “dark” as they seem. Instead, they were a time of knowledge and research, especially to one remarkable individual: Gerbert of Aurillac. During Gerbert’s time, science was important to monks, emperors, and even popes. Religious figures studied science and mathematics to gain an understanding of the earth. According to Nancy Brown, author of The Abacus and the Cross, “Mathematics ranked among the highest forms of worship, for God had created the world, as scripture said, according to number, measure, and weight. To study science was to approach the mind of God”. The “leading mathematician and astronomer of his day” goes by the name of Pope Sylvester II, earlier referred to as Gerbert of Aurillac. Known as “The Scientist Pope” (Brown 2010, 3), Gerbert is an example of an intellectual light in the dark ages. Gerbert made an impact on the future study of math and science by bringing Muslim learning through a dynamic study of the quadrivium to Europe. Regardless of initial rejection due to Europe’s scholastic ways, the discoveries and knowledge Gerbert has contributed to Europe eventually made a lasting impact on math and science and universities as a whole throughout time and still today.

Born as a peasant boy, Gerbert came a long way to become the first French pope in the year 999. Gerbert d’Aurillac’s journey began with his early education. He was born in Belliac, France in the year 946 A.D. Born with a love of learning and intellectual perseverance, Gerbert attended the monastery of St. Gerald of Aurillac and was singled out of the other students for scholastic training as a teenager. A huge opportunity presented itself in 967 when Count Borrell II of Barcelona visited Gerbert’s monastery. Gerbert’s abbot convinced the visitor to support the brilliant student’s education and take him to Spain. Count Borrell agreed and Gerbert’s journey was off to a strong start. In 968, Gerbert visited Cordoba, which was considered a major milestone of his career, as will be discussed later. In Rome, Gerbert met Pope John XIII who introduced him to Emperor Otto I of the Holy Roman Empire, after which Gerbert began tutoring the Emperor’s son Otto II. When Otto II became Emperor, Gerbert was appointed abbot of the monastery of Bobbio. In 991, the Archbishop Arnulf of Rheims was removed on charges of treason and Gerbert took the position. However, four years later Arnulf was re-instated after his removal was claimed invalid. Gerbert took a break from public life and began tutoring Otto III. Otto III then became Emperor and Otto’s cousin became Pope Gregory V, who appointed Gerbert as Bishop of Ravenna. In 999, Pope Gregory V died and Gerbert became Pope Sylvester II (Didymus 2011).

When Gerbert visited Cordoba in 968, he was deeply inspired by the Arabs and their sophisticated knowledge. He then convinced his ward Atto to allow him to study under the Arab teachers (Didymus 2011). This was a great idea and a huge contribution to Europe because the Arab teachers had much to offer. According to John Didymus, “Arabic learning and culture was at its peak and, compared to the Arabs, the Europeans (Western Europeans especially) were unlearned and culturally backward” (Didymus 2011). This is one of the examples of how Gerbert brought light to a dark age. He was wise enough to bring back knowledge from the Arab Muslim Kingdom of Cordoba, “the greatest center of learning and culture in Europe“ and incorporate it into his teaching (Didymus 2011). The Islamic culture of the Arabs came from Greek influence, and the culture was very successful in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics, and the arts. (Didymus 2011). In The First Universities, Olaf Pederson states that in the medieval society following the first millennium there was a “rapid transformation within education” and “to a great extent this development can be attributed to the steadily increasing contact with ‘Arab’ culture” (Pederson 1997, 122). The fact that Gerbert brought knowledge from his Arab teachers and his trip to this foreign land reveals to today’s scholars something about knowledge. This proves that there is much to learn from other cultures that could greatly benefit education, just like Europe learned so much from the Arabs through Gerbert. Many of Gerbert’s contributions to Europe and to today’s universities derive from his understanding and studying of the advanced Arab knowledge.

Gerbert greatly contributed to Europe’s education during his time and even to today’s education through his teaching techniques. According to Nancy Brown, author of The Abacus and the Cross, “Gerbert was an orator, not a writer. He shared what he knew through speech and demonstrations, not texts” (Brown 2010, 69). This is a technique that many teachers and professors mimic to this day. It is a very successful teaching style because it proves the teacher is very familiar with the topic, which gives the students more confidence to ask questions. Also, when teachers use demonstrations often in their lessons students are able to witness what it is they are learning, not just read about it in a book. Just like he taught his students through experiments, Gerbert also obtained much of his knowledge through experimentation. For example, to determine the best way to calculate the area of an equilateral triangle he measured the triangle with cut out square inches of parchment (Brown 2011). Gerbert’s techniques also included that of encouragement. While teaching one of his students, Otto III who became emperor, Gerbert would address him as “ever august Ceasar”, “my glorious Lord Otto”, and “exalted Imperator of the Romans”, just to boost the Emperor’s morale. Otto was very insecure, and Gerbert’s encouraging words often kept him going (Erdoes 1988, 185). Whether or not teachers today took their teaching style straight from Gerbert, it is evident that his successful techniques were passed down through generations, eventually affecting today’s education system.

Gerbert had an interest in studying and teaching the trivium and quadrivium. These are the seven subjects of the liberal arts. The trivium is more basic and consists of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. After learning the trivium, a student is taught the quadrivium which includes arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy (Lattin 195, 57). When Gerbert would teach trivium he would start with Latin grammar by having his students study Cicero, the poets Virgil and Terence, the satirist Juvenal, and other classic Literature. He then led his students to rhetoric by having them practice the art of oratory. To teach dialectics, Gerbert read aloud from a series of books, mostly by Boethius, and gave his students his explanations (Brown 2010, 73). He taught the basic principle of Aristotelian logic. According to Olaf Peterson, “that Gerbert incorporated Aristotle’s other texts on logic into his teaching syllabus gave logic a new impetus, witnessing to the new philosophical interest” (Pederson 1997, 109). Many teachers of Gerbert’s time stopped with the trivium. There were very few people capable of teaching the complexity of the quadrivium. Gerbert was qualified to teach these subjects because he had obtained rare knowledge from the Arabs, especially in math and astronomy (Erdoes 1988, 25). However, since people of Gerbert’s time were very illiterate and inadequately educated, those who were smart enough to teach the quadrivium were accused of possessing magic, or studying the black arts. William of Malmesbury even stated that Gerbert “acquired the art of calling up spirits from hell” (William 1847, 173). This type of accusation made it tough for Gerbert’s teachings to be accepted. After becoming pope, Pope Sylvester II was still rumored to be a sorcerer (Didymus 2011). Clearly, people were so uneducated during the dark ages that they rejected new knowledge and those who possessed it. This reveals much about Pope Sylvester’s character because although many disliked him and accused him of terrible things, he still reached for all knowledge possible and brought it back to Europe through his students. When it came to teaching the difficult quadrivium, Gerbert was a “master of visual aids” (Brown 2010, 73). He was able to use small models of large things, such as Earth, to understand concepts such as astronomy (Brown 2010, 73). Regardless of accusations of sorcery, Gerbert still spread his knowledge of the quadrivium through his teaching and if he hadn’t we may not have all the knowledge of the quadrivium that we do today.

Gerbert’s students spread his knowledge in many ways, leaving Gerbert’s impact on the world. The school of Reims where Gerbert taught developed into a “proto-university” (Brown 2010, 68) and students from France, Germany, and even Italy came to his school. Gerbert taught many sons of noblemen so that they would be prepared for court life. In the 24 years he was teaching at Reims, Gerbert taught “thirteen future bishops or archbishops, six abbots of important monasteries, Emperor Otto III’s chancellor, the secretary to Emperor Henry II, the future Pope Gregory VI, and King Hugh Capet’s son Robert the Pious who would rule France from 996 to 1031” (Brown 2010, 68). All of these students came from different places in the world, taking back with them what Gerbert had taught. This is a chain reaction of knowledge, one that may have never occurred if Arab teachers hadn’t taught Gerbert when he was younger. Gerbert’s students spread throughout Europe the educational attainments of their teacher and the discoveries he was shedding light on. An example of something that flourished from Gerbert’s teachings is the cathedral school in Chartres. This school was founded by one of Gerbert’s students, Fulbert, who became the bishop of Cartres in 1007. Fulbert’s school was so successful because it was known in Europe as a center of liberal arts, which include the trivium and quadrivium of which Gerbert was such an expert on. Once again, this was significant because many Europeans rejected this higher knowledge, assuming it was related to the Devil and Sorcery. However, this school led to the twelfth-century Chartres becoming the home of “a series of thinkers more interested in problems of natural philosophy than was the case in cathedral schools elsewhere” (Pederson 1997, 129). Fulbert’s school is proof that his teachings led to the development of quadrivium-informed students who used Gerbert’s knowledge to excel Europe during the dark ages, which eventually affects Universities in modern time.

One of Gerbert’s colossal contributions to Europe and to Universities of today was his knowledge and advancements in mathematics, which is part of the quadrivium. Gerbert showed a great understanding of the abacus. An abacus is a device, discovered by the Chinese, which was used to calculate arithmetic long before Gerbert’s time (Lattin 1951, 59). Gerbert devised the abacus so that it used the nine Arabic numerals, instead of Roman numerals. He introduced the abacus to Europe, and was the first Christian to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals (Brown 2011). An actual copy of Gerbert’s Abacus board was discovered in 2001. Its counters were marked with nine different signs proving he introduced the Arabic numerals to France (Brown 2010, 79). However, Europeans did not adapt Arabic numerals right after Gerbert introduced them. According to Olaf Pederson, “they only became common in the thirteenth century” (Pederson 1997, 119). The numerals one through nine looked too much like what pagans used, so monks rejected them at first, in fear that they may have a connection to dark magic (Lattin 1951, 59). The number system would have been even less popular if it included zero, because people “rejected the infinitely large, the infinitely small, and the void” (Seife 2000, 77). However, this did not stop Gerbert from introducing the concept of these Arabic numerals. He was fascinated by the numerals and experimented with them until they made more sense. When he first discovered the numeral’s simplicity he was very excited. For example, instead of writing thirty-seven as “MXXXVII”, it could simply be written as “37” (Lattin 1951, 60). If Gerbert had never discovered the Arabic numerals and introduced them to Europe, we may still be using Roman numerals today. Despite many scholastic scholars being against the new system, these numerals and calculations involving them eventually spread, which has affected universities throughout time.

Gerbert was also educated in the field of astronomy. Astronomy is one of the more complicated subjects of the quadrivium (Lattin 1951, 57) and once again, his study of the subject led to people accusing Gerbert of sorcery. According to Didymus, “in Gerbert’s time, astrology and astronomy were extensions of a single body of knowledge and astrological thought involved in the old Babylonian ‘science’ of fortune telling and divination” (Didymus 2011). The skill he demonstrated in this area, one that was so foreign to everyone else, made it easy for him to be accused of learning the black arts. Gerbert, however, agreed with those who taught that “God himself had set His seal of approval upon astronomy when He made use of the stars in the heavens to mark the birth of His son” (Erdoes 1988, 39). He pursued his dynamic studies and eventually this led to the reintroduction of the armillary sphere in Europe. The armillary is a model of the earth and its relation to the “heavens”, used as a “visual aid for mathematical astronomical instruction and teaching” (Didymus 2011). Gerbert learned about this device and how to use it from his Arab teachers and eventually he was able to locate the north and south poles in their slanting rotation and distinguish the arctic polar circle, the equator, and the tropic of cancer (Brown 2011). He used the armillary as a small model of a very large concept to demonstrate to his students the paths of the planets and stars. He also made sighting tubes to observe stars and constructed globes recording their positions. Gerbert’s astronomical advances did not stop there. He also produced a sophisticated sundial, musical instruments, water clocks, and a steam-powered organ. (Erdoes 1988, 89). Gerbert is also credited for making an astrolabe and writing about its use. The astrolabe was invented in Greece, and once again, Gerbert used his foreign studies to bring to Europe new knowledge. The astrolabe was used to measure elevation, compute latitudes, and determine when the sun rises and sets. (Erdoes 1988, 39). Without Gerbert’s astronomical advances, astronomy may have stayed an “evil” subject, and we may have never known what we know of the subject in universities today.

Most of Gerbert’s greatest accomplishments occurred before he even became Pope Sylvester II. However, becoming Pope helped him to make an impact on how science and religion could exist with one another in the future. Being the “Scientist Pope” (Brown 2010, 3), Pope Sylvester was able to look past diversity in religion and culture to obtain knowledge of which Europeans were blind. During Gerbert’s time the phrase “scientist pope” seemed to be an extreme contradictory statement, for science and religion did not normally mix. Persevering through accusations and angry citizens, Gerbert was able to acquire an extreme amount of knowledge, passing it on through his successful students. Becoming Pope meant that this dynamic individual was now “the keeper to the keys of the kingdom, the living link between humanity and God” (Erdoes 1988, 187). The Pope had to stay true to his religion even through multiple accusations of sorcery, studying black magic, and being inspired by the Devil. When many people would avoid these accusations, Pope Sylvester II endured them and kept pursuing knowledge to better himself, his students, and his world. If Europeans of the Dark Age would have been more open to Pope Sylvester II’s dynamic ways, his teachings could have even led to European Enlightenment.

Gerbert was a spark of light in the dark ages. His Arab education (Didymus 2011), his knowledge of the quadrivium (Brown 2010, 73), his successful teaching methods (Brown 2010, 69), and his perseverance through accusations and rejection led to his discoveries and knowledge of math and astronomy. Gerbert’s accomplishments and contributions greatly affected Europe’s education, and even affected education in universities today. According to Nancy Brown, Pope Sylvester II projected a world in which “Muslims, Christians, and Jews could sit down together and translate works of science from Arabic and Greek into Latin; the world in which a peasant boy who had excelled in such science could end up as Pope” (Nienaber 2011). Gerbert may have not been the most liked Pope as is evident of his accusations of sorcery and black magic, but he still made a tremendous impact on education during the dark ages and the impact has lasted over a thousand years, affecting students eager for knowledge today.

Brown, Nancy Marie. Interview by NYer. Religion Dispatches, 2 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.

Brown, Nancy Marie. The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages. New York: Basic, 2010. Print.

Didymus, John Thomas. “Pope Sylvester II: Pontiff in Compact with the Devil-Early Life and Career.” Goddiscussion. N.p., 9 April 2011. 17 Jan. 2012.Web.

Erdoes, Richard. A.D 1000: Living on the Brink of Apocalypse. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988. Print.

Lattin, Harriet Pratt. The Peasant Boy Who Became Pope: Story of Gerbert. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951. Print.

Nienaber, Paul. “The Student Pope.” America the National Catholic Weekly. America Press Inc., 2 May 2011. Web. 18 Jan. 2012.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities: Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Seife, Charles. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000. Print.

William, John Sharpe, J. A. Giles, and William. William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen. London [England: Henry G. Bohn, 1847. web.

From Cathedrals to Universities

by Emily K. Hudson


“Renaissance” is used to describe an “age of educational reform paying closer attention to classical literature, in which the liberal arts were studied as professional disciplines in their own right as well as for their ability to mold character or to inform biblical exegesis, homilectics, and theology.” (Colish 1997, 175). This accurately describes what took place during the European Renaissance. One of the greatest changes that contributed to the Renaissance is the development of monastic schools. These monastic schools led into the emergence of cathedral schools. Cathedral schools then flourished and had a huge impact on education by leading into the development of the first universities ( Madden).

Up until the 12th century, education was very important to the church; because that was the only place it existed. Only clergy members and monks needed to know how to read and write so that they could copy and write manuscripts. From 800-1100 A.D. the only organized schools were the abbey and monastic schools (Madden). In the Admonitio Generalis (789) the Emperor of the Romans, Charlemagne, states “Let schools be established where children can learn to read. Carefully correct the psalms, notation, chant, computus, grammar, and the Catholic books in every monastery and diocese, because often some desire to pray to God properly, but they pray badly because of the uncorrected books” (McCluskey 1997, 131). This means that the development of monastic schools was required, so that the leaders of the church could be educated, and spread the knowledge of the Bible as accurately as possible. In Medieval Monastic Education, George Ferzoco states that “monastic house were places where monks developed their theological sensibilities in order to find God” (Ferzoco 2000, 1). Basically, Monastic schools educated future priests and monks of the Church. The Monk’s primary goal was not to instruct but to “serve God by prayer, worship, and spiritual perfection” (Baldwin 1971, 35). The curriculum in these schools was very limited because abbey and monastic schools were not meant to serve society as a whole. These schools focused on Latin, rhetoric and grammar because the main purpose was to educate the future leaders of the church. The only things these leaders needed to do were translate and copy information of the Bible, perform services, and administrate the monastery (Madden).

In the High Middle Ages cathedral schools began to exceed the monastic schools in their numbers and importance (Kehoe 1997, 323). Cathedral schools were “ad-hoc” like the monastic schools, meaning they were set up in order to respond to a necessity. This necessity was that Europe needed an educated secular clergy. Like monastic schools were set up in monasteries, cathedral schools were set up in the cathedrals. Because the cathedrals were located in mainly urban areas, the cathedral schools were urban by nature. This resulted in the schools attracting many different types of students, from all over Europe. Many of the students of the Cathedral schools were interested in pursuing a career in the church, yet some were only claiming to go into major orders, but actually had no intention of taking permanent vows. This occurred because the middle class desired for an education, knowing it was the only way of bettering themselves (Madden). According to Marcia L. Colish, “Cathedral schools ceased to be princely courts grooming young men for careers in church and state and became full-time educational institutions purveying technical instruction in the arts, viewed as learned disciples” (Colish 1997, 176).

The many differences between these types of schools led to the disappearance of monastic schools and the rising popularity of the Cathedral schools. In monastic schools, the teachers were the monks. In Cathedral schools, however, the teachers were educated men that were hired by the cathedrals. This resulted in a sense of competition, and the men competing for the job were a very proud and ambitious group. This type of competition is beneficial because it leads to the teachers researching for more knowledge to be the best, in turn affecting the knowledge that is passed down to students. Unlike the teachers of the monastic schools, the teachers of the cathedral schools were not just teachers, but also scholars and researchers. (Madden). This is very similar to teachers of modern universities. This is a dynamic educational system in the making, having a huge impact on the later dynamic system of universities.

An example of this type of teacher is Gerbert of Aurillac, who was one of the best known and earliest cathedral school masters. From 972 to 989 Gerbert was a teacher at the cathedral school of Reims, where he shared his knowledge of not only the trivium, but also the quadrivium. Gerbert used his studies of advanced Arabic education, which he acquired by learning under Arab teachers. This foreign knowledge made Gerbert educationally advanced in Europe and a very forward thinking and dynamic teacher in an age of “intellectual deprivation” (Grant 1996, 19). Gerbert’s students then went forward to continue his teachings. In The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, Edward Grant states that “many of the cathedral schools that rose to prominence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, replacing the monastic schools as centers of learning, were either founded or revived by Gerbert’s pupils. Gerbert’s most eminent students were Adalberon of Laon, John of Auxerre, and especially Fulbert of Chartres” (Grant 1996, 20). Clearly, Gerbert is an ideal example of a cathedral schoolmaster because he used a dynamic type of study to spread knowledge of the quadrivium to his students, eventually leading to a huge contribution toward cathedral schools and eventually the universities that result from these schools.

Another significant difference between monastic and cathedral schools is the curriculum that is taught. Cathedral schools, especially those in larger towns, tended to possess and produce higher education than Monastic schools. Cathedral schools focused on “traditional roman education” which consisted of the trivium and quadrivium. The trivium is a more basic study of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Once this was mastered, the student proceeded on to the more advanced study of the quadrivium which consisted of mathematics, astronomy, geometry, and music (Madden). The study of the advanced quadrivium led to a dynamic educational system because the advanced knowledge resulted in the students and teachers researching more. Monastic schools only focused on basic education that was required for the priest such as Latin and grammar. Monastic schools also started to vanish compared to cathedral schools because they only accepted already educated men, and believed there was no point in arguing theology.

Unlike the monastic schools, the cathedral schools wanted to study logic, so that they could test theology. During the 12th century, the cathedrals re-introduced Aristotle and his teachings. These Europeans were actually studying from translations of translations because Aristotle’s texts were first translated into Arabic and made their way around the Muslim world then translated into Latin reaching Europe. Aristotle stressed observation, logic, and experimentation. The masters of the Cathedral schools were most interested in Aristotelian logic, which focused on Aristotle’s views of reason and logic. The masters of the Cathedral school attempted to demonstrate that faith is reasonable through logic. For example, if what is believed about Jesus is true, then logic can reveal more about our faith. This is known as scholasticism (Madden).

One of the main characters of scholasticism is French scholastic philosopher and logician Peter Abelard (Janin 2008, 20). Abelard greatly contributed to the appearance of Universities because he taught in Paris where one of the first universities appeared (Madden). According to Hunt Janin, “Abelard’s intellectual skepticism was to a large degree responsible for the growing fame of Paris as an intellectual center and thus helped to prepare the ground for the later appearance of a university there” (Janin 2008, 21). The importance of education was instilled in Abelard throughout his whole life by his father (Ferzoco 2000, 105). In one letter Abelard writes “My father had acquired some knowledge of letters before he was a soldier, and later on his passion for learning was such that he intended all his sons to have instruction in letters before they were trained in arms. His prurpose was fulfilled. I was his first-born, and being specially dear to him had the greatest care taken over my education (Radice 1974, 62). Abelard was taught by Jean Roscelin, William of Champeaux, and later studied under Anselm of Laon when he turned his attention from philosophy to theology (Ferzoco 2000, 105). Abelard often challenged scholarly debate on controversial subjects such as faith and human reason, Adam and Eve, baptism, sin, and marriage. He firmly believed that “by doubting we come to inquiry, and by inquiry we perceive truth” (Janin 2008, 20). His best known philosophical work is titled Sic et Non (translated as “Yes and No”), which is a pro-and-con argumentation on 158 philosophical and theological debatable issues. As a brilliant teacher, Abelard encouraged and taught his students how to seek answers by using reason. His curriculum included studies of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis through procedure of dialectic reasoning, which was pioneered by Greek professors. By the age of 22, Abelard set up his own school and soon began teaching at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris, which later became the University of Paris; one of the first universities (Janin 2008, 20).

Perhaps even more than his studies, Abelard is well known for his love affair with one of his students, Heloise. Hired by her uncle Fulbert, one of the cathedral canons at the cathedral school of Notre Dame of Paris, Abelard tutored and fell deeply in love with Heloise, who was a brilliant scholar herself. When speaking of Heloise Abelard states “We were united, first under one roof, then in heart; and so with our lessons as a pretext we abandoned ourselves entirely to love” (Radice 1974, 67). The two scholars got married after Heloise got pregnant, but Fulbert inaccurately accused Abelard of planning to abandon his niece. With some accomplices, angered Fulbert broke into Abelard’s room and castrated him. Heloise then decided to enter a convent to give birth, and encouraged Abelard to become a monk, of which he complied. Abelard and Heloise wrote many romantic love letters to one another which were published and are still read today (Janin 2008, 22).

In medieval Paris, the cathedral school of Notre Dame which Abelard taught at was very dominant. Successful scholars such as Abelard attracted many students to Notre Dame, and by the end of the twelfth century some sense of order emerged within the group of scholars. Many of the students who came to the cathedral school were not necessarily interested in having a career in the church, but just wanted the education that was offered for jobs, such as those within the secular bureaucracies (Madden). John W. Baldwin states that “with increasing numbers came the need for regulation” (Baldwin 1971, 40). Overwhelmed with students, the school began to combine with schools nearby which were ran by independent masters. All of the masters remained under the control of the Bishop of Paris, and he had to license them to teach, giving him complete control. At first the Parisians were happy about the growing popularity of the cathedral school because it resulted in more money for them and their businesses. Then, however, the students became rowdy and the townspeople were very angered by the young student’s behavior (Madden).

To protect and separate themselves from the angry townspeople, the students and masters decided to form their own guild. A guild is defined as an organization of peoples with similar interests and goals to maintain standards and protect the interests of its members ( In the cathedral schools, such as the school of Notre-Dame of Paris, the guild set standards of education, examinations, prices for courses, products, and qualifications for degrees (Madden). According to Baldwin, “The application of the guild system to education resulted in the universities of the thirteenth century” (Baldwin 1997, 40). This is supported because a university was simply a universitas, meaning “a sworn society of students or masters bound together for their mutual protection” (Baldwin 1997, 40). The degrees offered within the guilds consisted of the first level and second level, meaning the “bachelor” degree, and “masters” degree. The scholar who received his bachelor degree was equivalent to a “journey man” in a non-educational guild. In guilds such as merchant guilds and craft guilds, by which the guild of education was aspired from, the journey man was someone who had basic training, but was not yet a master. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, a scholar could then pursue his master’s degree. The master’s degree gave the scholar the ability to teach with the masters, assisting new students (Madden).

Even with the guild system being used, Violence still remained between the Parisians and the students of Paris, so King Philip II confirmed that masters and students would have ecclesiastical protection. This meant that only ecclesiastical courts could try them, city courts could not. While this cathedral in Paris was developing into a university, so were others such as Oxford in England, and Balogna in Italy. These were the first universities, each derived from cathedral schools. The University of Paris and the University of Balogna differed greatly because Paris was a student university, while Paris belonged to the masters, therefore it is stated that “Most of the universities which were founded in the thirteenth century imitated Paris and Bologna in one way or another” (Baldwin 1997, 44).

Up until the 12th century, education only existed for the church members and those inspired to become part of the church. Monastic schools were required by Charlemagne so that the Bible and religious works could be understood and taught properly. With the help of brilliant scholars such as Gerbert of Aurillac and Peter Abelard, monastic schools led into the development of Cathedral schools, which were much more diverse and taught higher education. Through the assembling of guilds at cathedral schools, such as the Cathedral school of Notre Dame of Paris, universities were born.



Baldwin, John W. The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1971. Print.

Colish, Marcia L. Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400 – 1400. New Haven [u.a.: Yale Univ., 1997. Print. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. .

Ferzoco, George, and Carolyn Muessig. Medieval Monastic Education. London: Leicester UP, 2000. Print.

Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

Janin, Hunt. The University in Medieval Life, 1179-1499. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2008. Print.

Kehoe, Thomas J., Harold E. Damerow, and Jose M. Duvall. Exploring Western Civilization to 1648: A Worktext for the Active Student. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1997. Print.

Madden, Thomas. “Cathedral and University.” Lecture. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. Print.

McCluskey, Stephen C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Radice, B. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1974. Print.

Authentica Habita and the Protection of Medieval Roman Scholars

by Nichole Slack Saturday

Authentica Habita, also known as “Privilegium scholasticum,” was a law issued by Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Diet of Roncaglia sometime around November, 1158. It was an edict intended to protect traveling scholars. In a time where roads were unsafe and cities were becoming increasingly dangerous, Barbarossa felt that scholars should be shielded from the perils they were faced with. He believed that scholars shed light on the world, and he felt compassion for those “who for love of learning choose exile and poverty, and divest themselves of their patrimony while exposing themselves to every peril and suffering what must be most grievous to endure: bodily injuries without cause from the vilest of men.” Authentica Habita was a huge advancement in the protection of scholars throughout the Roman Empire.

At the Diet of Roncaglia, Barbarossa issued the decree to ensure the safety of “all those pursuing studies in one of the schools.” The first school that this was applied to was the university at Bologna. Today, it is considered by many to be the first university in the western world, and although historians attribute its establishment to somewhere around the year 1088 C.E., it still remains in operation today. Perhaps if a piece of legislature like Authentica Habita had not come into being to protect its students, the University of Bologna may not exist in the present day. (Pacaut, 1970) (University of Bologna, 2012)

Authentica Habita’s main purpose was the protection of scholars as they traveled to universities and during the time they spent at such schools. Authentica Habita included many provisions to ensure the safety of such scholars, and some sections were left vague, as to be interpreted differently for each individual incident that may occur. Some of the major conditions made law via Authentica Habita included imperial protection during their travels, immunity from the jurisdiction of the local civil magistrates in the areas in which they were studying, and the right to summon their foes in specific cases and they could choose the judge who would preside over the matter. Students were also protected from a variety of small legal charges (things that today we would most likely consider misdemeanor crimes). However, it was the law’s open-endedness that truly allowed for students to really take advantage of their newfound security.

Since the emperor demanded that Authentica Habita be included into the Corpus iuris Civilis, it was able to be broadened. Corpus iuris Civilis (also sometimes called the Corpus juris Civilis), translated as “Body of Civil Law,” is a collection of Roman laws that Emperor Justinian I ordered to be compiled. (Halsall, 1998) Because Authentica Habita was included in this anthology, it was then analyzed, annotated, and expanded by jurists occupied with Roman laws. Eventually, the law would come to represent much more than was actually present in the text. For example, oftentimes students were able to avoid paying taxes or tolls on various items related to their studies or their stay in university towns. Access to adequate housing was required for scholars, and under Authentica Habita, students were actually able to commandeer housing and a horse (to provide transportation) during their stay at a university, even if the owner of the lodgings and horse disapproved.

Students did, in fact, reap the benefits bestowed on them by Barbarossa’s new piece of legislature. Authentica Habita wasn’t just words on paper—it was actually enforced. There is one old story of a weaver who sang loudly as he worked in his home near the Collѐge du Vergier at Montpellier. His singing was interfering with student’s learning, so he was told that he had two choices: one was to stop singing, and the other was to leave and work where he would not disrupt the educational process. Unfortunately, the old man was so used to singing while he worked that he had to leave and go about his weaving elsewhere. This was permissible because Authentica Habita had been interpreted in such a way that the ease and comfort of scholars during their studies was protected by act, and since the weaver’s singing was disturbing their studies, scholars had the right to ask him to leave, and since they had the law of the Roman Empire to back them up, citizens were obliged to do as they were asked. (Kibre, 1962)

The Corpus iuris Civilis was serious business when it came to Roman law. When Justinian I came into power, Roman civilization was as messy and unclear as the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Emperor restored civilization to his domain, and in the process, recognized that the entire aspect of civilization had plummeted into disarray, and he believed that law would pull things back to the way they should be, and would keep them as such. Justinian believed that when there was law, people would follow it, and by following such laws, would be civilized.

The Corpus iuris Civilis was therefore a project very close to Justinian’s heart. Since the former system of law was in ruins, he took it upon himself to have it restored. He went about hiring men to carry out the task, and the employee most closely associated with constructing the Corpus iuris Civilis was a man named Tribunian. It took him two years to compile (with assistance), and was published by Justinian (at his own expenditure) in the year 529 C.E. (Baker, 1931)

When a project such as this is so near and dear to an emperor that it is not only one of his first priorities upon ascending the throne, but he also publishes the completed work at his own expense, it would be foolish not to take it seriously. Since Authentica habita was added to this key body of work 629 years after it was published, it was recognized as a legitimate and important piece of Roman law.

All in all, Authentica Habita became an extremely important piece of legislature. Its seriousness was marked not only in its practical execution, but also because of its presence in Justinian I’s Corpus iuris Civilis. Because it protected scholars in a time where being a traveling student was becoming more and more dangerous as time progressed, it allowed scholars to safely carry out their studies. Because it also allowed for things like tax exemption and adequate housing, scholars were able to carry out their studies in peace and comfort, quite possibly increasing the quality of their work. The work of medieval scholars is still recognized today as being influential in their respective fields, and had scholars not had the protection granted to them through Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in Authentica Habita, that work may have never been completed (or perhaps not even started to begin with, since scholars often encountered obstacles during their travels to universities, and therefore, their studies could have been brought to a close before they even arrived). Authentica Habita protected medieval Roman scholars, and without their work, we may not have the knowledge we have today, making it important not only when it was issued in 1158 C.E., but also today, over 800 years later.



Baker, G.P. Justinian. Binghamton: Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1931. 99-102.

Halsall, Paul. “Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE.” Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York. Fordham University, Jun 1998. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Kibre, Pearl. Scholarly Privileges in the Middle Ages: The Rights, Privileges, and Immunities, of Scholars and Universities at Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford. William Clowes and Sons, Limited, London and Beccles, 1962. 1-17. Print.

“Our History.” University of Bologna. ALMA MATER STUDIORUM- Universita di Bologna, 2012. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Pacaut, Marcel. Frederick Barbarossa. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. and Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970. 85-88. Print.

The Relationship of Christianity and Scholasticism During The Middle Ages

by Elizabeth Anne Rathburn

The era of Scholasticism was not merely the narrow-minded and constricting form of education many modern scholars had deemed rank with intellectual stagnation. The overall concept of Scholasticism cannot be understood outside of its historical context. The Scholastic movement began as a response to the bitter turmoil of the Dark Ages, and at its peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries culminated into a well-refined method of critical thought. Scholasticism can be thought of as the intellectual refinement of the knowledge available to scholars of the Middle Ages. While the Middle Ages were not a time of great intellectual growth, it ensured that Europe would never again see a time of complete intellectual stand still. In relation to scholasticism’s historical context, the Middle Ages cannot be understood without the recognition of the dominating force of Christianity through out all of European society. The scholastic movement was seeded within, and grew with the progression of the Roman Catholic Church: its primary cultivators. The Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church became the initial authors of scholastic thought by creating harmony between the contrasting viewpoints of philosophy and theology. The works of saints became the texts, which the schoolmen of the monastic and cathedral schools committed to memory. As a result, the growth of Christianity and Education coincided with one another through out the span of Medieval Europe. The intellectual thought of the Middle Ages was highlighted by the symbiotic relationship formed between Scholasticism and Christianity, resulting in a fixed and formal system of education, and the preservation of religious, classical and antiquity works, which together, carved the intellectual path into the European Renaissance.

While the scholastic movement did not consist of new intellectual developments, it did serve the purpose of an intellectual awakening. This period of education and intellectual thought would serve as the foreground for the development of higher education. Scholasticism began in the Christian monasteries with the accumulation of knowledge, these monasteries would later transform into universities. The rise of universities however, began towards the end of scholasticism’s reign; as so, this discussion will stay within the confines of the development of the monastic and cathedral schools. In its broadest framework, scholasticism developed within the Church. Due to the meager intellectual material available, “the limited learning of the times arranged into a systemized form largely on the deductive basis of the Aristotelian logic” (Graves 51). Because of the power wielded by the Church, all subject matter, whether religious or secular, was approached through a highly theological perspective. Medieval thought from the ninth to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was dominated by this ideal, and thus was taught within the schools of the Church, thereby solidifying the methods of scholasticism. Scholasticism was indeed, “the peculiar methods and tendencies of philosophic speculation that arose within the Church”. The term scholasticism was derived from ‘doctor scholasticus’, the term used for the authorized teachers in the monastic schools (Graves 50). From the very beginning of monastic education in the Middle Ages, scholasticism and Christianity were intertwined, influencing those who sought higher intellect within its schools. Both the Christian religion and scholastic method were the basis of a schoolman’s learning. It became a young scholar’s goal through scholastic deduction and argumentation, to show how doctrines, “were consistent with each other and in accordance with reason” (Graves 51). Even with its apparent flaws, such as its characteristic narrowed scope, the greatest aim of scholasticism was to equip a student with the dialectic and intellectual discipline that enabled an individual to be keen and well versed in knowledge of the time.

Medieval education in Europe began with the development of the monastic and episcopal schools, and thus is where the origin of scholasticism is found. The establishment of monasteries, “rose from a protest against vice and corruption, and pointed the way to a deeper religion and nobler life” (Graves 21). Based upon the Benedictine code, the primary purpose of monastic education was the discipline and repression of the body, and gave great prominence to doctrines of labor and systematic reading. It was through the daily devotion of reading that literacy began its revival in Europe (Graves 10). Small isolated communities formed around monasteries, creating a reserved educated culture, whose knowledge would soon spread with the growing influence and strength of the Church. Monks within these communities created the demand for manuscripts and the reproductions of the text. As a result monasteries became precious depositories, providing the preservation of ancient literature and learning. As monastic life grew, so did the interest and care of ancient manuscripts increase, and the demand for duplicates of the sacred writings resulted in the addition of the scriptorium, a room reserved for the copying of texts. Thus the preservation of texts became the primary source of labor in monastic life.

While the copying of sacred texts were in primary regard to the neatness of lines and careful ornamentation, monks gained both intellectual and moral influences from the content of their work. Not only did the text strengthen an understanding of language, reading, and writing, but also monks began to make their own personal connections to the religious topics. As a result monks became authors concerning mainly religious topics such as, “commentaries upon the Scriptures or the Christian Fathers, The Lives of Saints, and the sermons or moral tales” (Graves 12). These writings indicated the first instances of the rudimentary characteristics of scholastic thought/education. The monks and schoolmen of the monasteries began what would be a strong emphasis on the extension of knowledge through dialectical reasoning. What began in the writings of monks was the method of critical thought that would dominate the teachings of Medieval Europe.

A greater understanding of the relations between the Christian faith and the scholastic method can be seen within the influential writings of medieval monks. Their works solidified both the understanding of the doctrines of Christianity and the growth of the critical intellectual thinking characteristic of scholasticism. One such Benedictine monk was St. Anselm of Bec (1033-1109), whose writings, consistent with the methods of scholasticism, contributed greatly to the understanding of the intricacies of the Christian faith. Remember that scholasticism combined, “philosophy, seen as the autonomous operation of reason, and theology, where certitude of the conclusions is based on the principles of faith” (Vignaux 35). This concept was considered an idea under the generalized term of philosophical theology. With the growing influence of secular works through out the middle ages, monks such as Anselm supported the Christian dogma through the elimination of contradictions by intense dialectical analysis. Anselm believed in the accord of reason with dogma, but held that faith must precede knowledge as he once said, “The Christian ought to advance to knowledge through faith, not come to faith through knowledge” (Graves 51). Anselm spent much time in making clear various Christian dogmas such as the Trinity, becoming the most influential/famous to future scholars in his ‘ontological’ argument for the existence of God (Graves 51-52). Adhering to scholasticism, Anselm didn’t seek to discover new truth, but sought to define a clearer concept of his existing beliefs through reason. Reason came through the comparison of works such as his De veritate, what would be considered philosophical, to the Holy Scripture (Vignaux 35). Luscombe supports this idea, for in his perspective Anselm, “sought to explore his existing beliefs with the instrument of reason – and not with this alone for prayer was used as well – and with the aim of bringing out and elucidating the meaning, the implications, and also the truth and the plausibility of Scripture and of revealed truth” (44). Anselm’s work, like many other scholastics, furthered the complex understanding of traditional doctrines. The most significant characteristics of Anselm’s arguments were that while they were purely arguments of Christian faith, they also proceeded as arguments of logic and reason.

While the monastic schools established small communities of education, it was not until the establishment of Abbey and Cathedral schools that learning became widespread. It was through the relationship between education and the Roman Catholic Church that scholasticism became well established during the Middle Ages. This progression took form during a short period within the Middle Ages called the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian dynasty arose out of a period of time reflecting political disintegration. One of the more prominent figures of this era known as Charles the Great, or Charlemagne (742-814), who utilized his power given to him by the Pope over the united Frankish state to ensure a genuine unity of his people (Pedersen 72). Charlemagne, having been taught by monks and thus receiving some formal education recognized that the unity of his people, “could be brought about only through the inner life by means of a common language, culture, and ideas”, and so a revival of learning was deemed necessary (Graves 27). Historically during the end of the eighth century, there existed a lack in education found within not only the officials of the Church, but also the ‘secular’ clergy and nobility. The monastic and cathedral schools had become sadly stagnant in manuscript and intellect production. This case was proven through Charlemagne’s letter to the Abbot of Fulda, in which he states,

We have frequently received letters from monks and in them have recognized correct sentiments, but an uncouth style and language. The sentiments inspired in them by their devotion to us they could not express correctly, because they had neglected the study of language. Therefore, we have begun to fear lest, just as the monks appear to have lost the art of writing, so also they may have lost the ability to understand the Holy Scriptures; and we all know that, though mistakes in words are dangerous, mistakes in understanding are still more so (Graves 27).

Because of this lack of sustained knowledge, Charlemagne utilized his power over the monasteries and bishoprics as the foundation of a revised organized system of education. It was Charlemagne who wished to therefore link public education with the already established education of monks (Pedersen 74, 78). In 787 an educational capitulary was issued to the abbots of all the monasteries, to reprove the clerics of their literacy, and for the schools to offer at least a complete elementary course of education. By using the Church as a vessel of learning, the floodgates of knowledge began to open enabling the scholastic movement to reach a wider pool of intellects. Teachings that were once reserved for the ‘regular’ clergy of the monastic community were brought forth to the general European society.

The schools established within the churches served significant roles to the growth of intellectual awakening during the Middle Ages. Granted, these schools began as institutions of fundamental knowledge in which, “the word school almost invariably mean a grammar school: its chief function was to supply the Church with clergy” (Lawson 8). The schools initially began teaching reading, writing, computation, singing, and Scriptures, which would later lead to the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) (Graves 34). Eventually, through the work of Alciun of York, the educational advisor of Charlemagne, was encouraged the adoption by the Carolingian Franks a program of education in the liberal arts (Luscombe 29), a conjunction of both the trivium and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). As the Middle Ages progressed, scholasticism began to involve more areas of study as opposed purely to the realm of theology. However, throughout all education, the Church held great influence and control over knowledge, and schoolmen were affected through the direct association with their teachers. The Fathers were the first interpreters of the sacred texts; “it was they who gave inspiration and direction to the achievements of the Schoolmen with the importance of philosophy and theology so that the science of God became the monument of medieval learning” (Cassidy iii). It was not until the decline of scholasticism that the Church began to lose power over the intellectual knowledge of European schools, thus proving the close relationship between scholasticism and Christianity.

In regards to the scholastic movement, it cannot be judged fairly apart from the historical context in which it took place. Scholasticism developed within confines of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus like all aspects of European society of the time, submitted to its power of Divine revelation. The range of knowledge the scholastics of the time were able to investigate, served as both an advantage and disadvantage. Unfortunately, only the subjects deemed orthodox by the Church could be defended, lest the men wished to endure persecution. The Middle Ages presented the great thinkers with a fine line between secular knowledge deemed useful and acceptable, and that which threatened the foundation and power of the Church. Counter to this regard, the limited knowledge forced the schoolmen to reduced knowledge into an extreme and logical system, and therefore, “obliged to exercise their keen analytic minds most intensively, and so divided, subdivided, and systemized their material beyond all measure” (Graves 59). Scholasticism allowed these schoolmen to sift through centuries of traditional and rather irrational doctrines, and culminate their findings into a rational system of intellect. Not only did scholasticism equip its subjects with the skills necessary to be keen in what was considered ‘modern’ knowledge, but also it forced the highest accuracy in thinking, refined by careful analytical argumentation. Scholasticism therefore fostered the intellectual development necessary for the beginning of the Renaissance. As Cassidy stated, “whatever is learned that is new must be learned in terms of what is already known (27). Scholasticism, through the preservation of knowledge, as well as the refinement of intellectual thought, became the foundation for new thought to occur.



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