Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Major Scholastic

One name outshines all others when it comes to scholasticism: Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a scholarly Sicilian who wrestled with the newly rediscovered Aristotle in name of the faith and touched in his writings upon every major debate of his day.

Born to a noble Sicilian family, it was assumed that his high intellect put Thomas, unlike his military siblings, on a path to becoming a politically prominent and economically powerful abbot. After studying at the University of Naples, where he was introduced to Aristotle, Averroes and Maimonides, Thomas instead chose to enter the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) as a lowly monk. To thwart the fierce opposition of the family, which went so far as to temporarily kidnap him, the Dominicans moved him away, first to Rome then to study at the University of Paris.

Although brilliant, Aquinas was a quiet young man; when he spoke he did so slowly and hesitantly, leading some fellow students to mock him. Dominican scholar Albertus Magnus saw through Aquinas’ demeanor and prophetically remarked: “You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”

Magnus borrowed the young scholar from Paris a few years, appointing him master of students at the Dominican house of studies that a century later became part of the University of Cologne. While at Cologne, Thomas wrote a commentary on Lombard’s Sentences. Back in Paris as a professor, he began to write several of his lesser known works covering controversies such as the role of mendicant orders and answering a variety of questions put to him by students. There he also penned his well-known Summa Contra Gentiles (Book on the Truth of the Catholic Faith against the Errors of the Unbelievers).

Aquinas hit his full stride as a scholar during later notable appointments in Italy—among them as papal theologian to Pope Clement IV and later in the Dominican convent of Santa Sabina, where he began to draft his major work, the Summa Theologica.

Even 700 years later, the Summa is still a monumental work, both in size (about 3,500 pages) and scope, yet Thomas started out with the very modest goal “to convey those things that pertain to the Christian religion, in a way that is fitting to the instruction of beginners.”

The Summa is divided into three parts, which some scholars see as a circle that starts with God and ends with God, passing through a broad number of questions of faith in the middle.

Aquinas begins writing about God’s existence. This discussion includes the famous five “proofs” of God. Summarized all too briefly, in these five propositions Aquinas argues for the existence of God as the Being who is the universe’s unmoved mover, its first cause, the one necessary Being, the One who is the ultimate and the intelligent designer of every behavior in nature. Then he writes about divine nature, carefully explaining that characteristics of God that human beings discern are not properties, as we might describe of a rock we can hold in our hands. The traits we say are God’s are only attributes of the unseen divinity, drawn from and within the limits of revelation, experience and reason.

He tackles, in addition, the creation of the world and human nature. In between those two topics, he explores the subject of angels, giving rise to the sardonic question “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” posed by dismissive modern critics. Aquinas’ actual question on the subject was: “Can several angels be in the same place?” (Answer: yes and no. See here.)

In the second part, concerning ethics, Aquinas starts from the most general, including a theory of law (effectively a theory of just authority and government). He offers a new take on the just war theory, with very detailed principles and distinctions that help determine whether entering into or pursuing an armed conflict is just. Less commonly mentioned, Aquinas supports human freedom through what I like to call his “just rebellion” theory. He then proceeds to particular human virtues and vices. The Summa’s third part covers Christ as humanity’s path to God,  sacraments, ending the work in a section on the end of the world, which he left unfinished.

The Summa is not easy reading—I have only read sections and excerpts. Aquinas’ mind demanded that he capture every possible aspect of an idea before he let it go. Each point in the Summa is presented in an iron-clad format. First he presents a series of objections to an unstated conclusion; then he follows with a counter-statement; next comes an argument in favor of his conclusion; finally, he replies to any objections he thinks he has left unaddressed.

Another reason his work is so difficult is that Aquinas was laboring under a severe handicap. In his day, one had to apply a theory to all possible instances before a proposition was deemed proven. For example, you would have to witness all sunrises to prove the sun rises in the east. It was not until many years later that then-suppressed insights concerning logic, by contemporary Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon, eased the way to what would become the cornerstone of modern science: the incomplete inference. Using the example of the sun, you now can rely on observing the sun rising in the east every day for one week to propose validly that this always happens at sunrise—that is, until some wags such as Copernicus and Galileo upset your applecart by showing that the sun doesn’t rise at all.

The Summa proposed many ideas that today are common, such as that theology can be a rational pursuit of knowledge, or the distinction between something’s existence and essence (uniquely, God’s essence is to exist), or accepted principles of natural law. He also proposed moral teachings that, at a minimum, are at odds with Western conventional wisdom. In the Summa, Aquinas views collecting interest on loans as forbidden, saying it amounts to charging people twice for the same thing. Selling something for more or less than it is worth is unlawful, says the Summa, setting forth a just price theory, also little mentioned by clerics.

Speaking on one of the medieval (and later) moral blemishes of Christians collectively, Aquinas accepts gospel accounts that Jews delivered Jesus Christ to die, but he points out that it was the Gentiles who killed him, foreshadowing how salvation would begin with the Jews and spread to the Gentiles.

Although his work is now regarded as the apex of scholasticism, Aquinas was not acclaimed by the Church until well after his death and he himself did not realize the full value of his contributions.

He was twice accused and condemned of heresy—once while alive and once posthumously. The condemnations—both lifted—were for allegedly promoting Islamic-leaning Averroism and “radical Aristotelianism” involving the idea that everything is only material. Both were currents popular among university students of his day, in part due to their shock value in medieval Christian Europe.

To put Aquinas’ problem in the context of recent times, I commend the reader to a sage remark by Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in 1960s Brazil. In the middle of the Cold War, Camara argued that Christianity needed a great thinker who would absorb what was worthy in Karl Marx’s thought much the way Aquinas borrowed heavily from Aristotle and metaphorically baptized his ideas.

Aquinas was attacked posthumously, was finally given his due, but later had his name and reputation hijacked by rigorists. He was canonized saint in 1323 by Pope John XXII and in 1567 proclaimed by Pope Pius V a Doctor of the Church on a par with the four great Latin fathers Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome and Gregory. However, in an 1879 encyclical, Pope Leo XIII stated that Thomas’ theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine. Leo directed the clergy to base their theological positions on Thomas and decreed that all Catholic seminaries and universities teach Thomas’ doctrines and regard them as a litmus test for academic theologians.

Thus began a century of Thomism during which all who wished to hold back modern theological inquiry used as their excuse the writings of the saintly scholar who, in life, had been an avid if devout rational explorer of new ideas.

Aside from all that, the Christian behind Aquinas’ writings and controversy emerged toward the end of his own life, long ago.

In 1272, when the Dominicans allowed Thomas to establish a place of study wherever he liked and staff it as he pleased, he chose to leave Paris and move to Naples. There, on December 6, 1273, in the chapel of Saint Nicholas, Thomas had a life-changing spiritual experience. As recounted by witnesses, Thomas lingered after Matins and was seen levitating in prayer, in tears before an icon of the crucified Christ, which spoke to the monk saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord.”

Thomas never spoke of the episode or wrote it down, but he stopped dictating to his assistant Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

After that, Thomas wrote devotional works. My favorite is the Eucharistic hymn Godhead Here in Hiding (Adoro te devoto), translated into English from Latin by the 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. The most common musical setting is available sung by nuns here, but my favorite scoring, less popular, is the arrangement by Phillip Pennington Harris, available unsung, here.

To end this brief encounter with Aquinas, consider this hymn’s opening words, which follow:
Godhead here in hiding,
whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows,
shape and nothing more.

See, Lord, at thy service
low lies here a heart lost,
all lost in wonder
at the God thou art.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Scholasticism’s Founders: Two Peters

The next two early scholastics, both baptized Peter, set up the form and substance of the developing school of thought. One provided a basis for the rational and philosophical manner of scholastic theologizing, while the other outlined the subject matter scholastic theologians were to wrestle with—but neither gave voice to a systematic set of novel propositions of his own.

Unlike Anselm of Canterbury, these two Peters do not easily present as paragons of saintliness or courage.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a kind of popular medieval “hippie” philosopher; his nonscholarly mark on history is a much-romanticized love affair, which may have had a dark side, brought to us through a selection of correspondence. Peter Lombard (1100-1164) established himself as the author of the quintessential theology textbook for centuries, but contemporaries charged that bribery, or at least cronyism, lubricated his pauper-to-prince ecclesiastical career.

Nonetheless, they cannot be ignored as major contributors who paved the way for the truly significant scholastics.


A French academic teacher almost all his life, Abelard excelled at an early age in what was then called the art of dialectic, a branch of philosophy, a form of disputation. He was encouraged to study by his father, Berengar, a knight whom Abelard emulated in taking up combat as his life’s pursuit, albeit in intellectual form, rather than military.

He was brilliantly and cooly rational, developing a following from among students from all over Europe to listen to him anywhere, from his classes in Paris to informal lectures near a hermitage in the wilderness. However, his restless mind failed to stop him from publicly humiliating his mentors. Nor did it hold him back from intellectually needling simple monks in the various communities from which he was expelled. Nor, finally and decisively, did it prevent him from blundering into a disastrous open disputation with the major monastic figure of his time, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a conflict that earned him a papal bull of excommunication, lifted only at the behest of a noted abbot.

Contemporary scholars admire his psychological insights into the idea of sin, as expressed particularly in Scito te ipsum (Know Thyself). In this work he weighs human actions and intentions. He inserts context into the mix as a basis for moral judgment, which results in stress on subjective intention as a determinant if not of the moral character at least of the moral value of human action. He is also notable for contributing to the theory of Limbo—afterlife for the unbaptized who die in infancy—in the 12th and 13th centuries. In his commentary on Romans, Abelard emphasizes the goodness of God and interprets St. Augustine’s “mildest punishment” as the irretrievable loss of the beatific vision of God, but not of an additional penalty.

Neither is a major mark: his moral theology remained on the fringes of Christianity, and the theory of Limbo never became an official teaching.

Where Abelard advanced faith seeking understanding was in his Sic et non (For and Against), written in the 1120s. In this work, Abelard assembles 158 questions about the faith, starting from the fundamental: must human faith be completed by reason? To answer, he taps the writings of the Church Fathers of the first three to four centuries, weighs them and returns either a positive answer (sic) or a negative (non). This may sound par for the course until one considers that before Abelard no one had dared subject the writings of the great Christian Fathers to rigorous critical reasoning.

In so doing, he is not disputing the teachings of the Christian Fathers. Indeed, he offers very sound advice to the Christian seeking to understand faith:

When, in such a quantity of words, some of the writings of the saints seem not only to differ from, but even to contradict, each other, one should not rashly pass judgment concerning those by whom the world itself is to be judged … Let us not presume to declare them liars or condemn them as mistaken … with our weakness in mind, let us believe that we lack felicity in understanding rather than that they lack felicity in writing “For it is not you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through you” (Matthew 10:20). So, since the Spirit through which these things were written and spoken and revealed to the writers is itself absent from us, why should it be surprising if we should also lack an understanding of these same things?

Abelard does not attempt to work out and harmonize inconsistencies in early Christian thought, from which he draws the basis for his answers. In so doing, unfortunately, he left questions open and himself unprotected from those who sought to trap this relentless disputant with accusations of heresy.

Most important for scholasticism, he lays down rules for proper investigation (look for ambiguity, check the surrounding context, draw relevant distinctions, etc.) in the course of determining where the Church Fathers logically and rationally take their readers.


Indeed, Peter Lombard picked up the method from Sic et Non, which he cites, about 20 years later. Unlike Abelard, Lombard was an unquestioned member of the medieval church establishment. Despite his poor origins in Lombardy, he gained access to the rarified academic and power circles of Paris thanks to a superior intellect that apparently was perceived by all who met him.

He was ordained a subdeacon in 1147 and a priest in 1159, only slightly slower a pace than that of the average Catholic priest today, understandable in one who was a canon at Notre-Dame de Paris and a noted theologian. The pace became meteoric when only three years later he was ordained bishop of Paris. The see was not an archdiocese until 1622, but the city had been the capital of the Frankish kingdom since 508, and Lombard’s ascent to its episcopal chair could not have occurred without the consent of the king.

His appointments, both as canon at Notre-Dame and as bishop, set many contemporary tongues wagging. Some charged that money changed hands in the first appointment and that influence eased the second. However, Lombard lacked family money to have purchased titles and appointments, a fact accusers were never able to explain away. As for the bishopric, the accepted story is that his name was put forth by Philip, younger brother of Louis VII, archdeacon of Notre-Dame and a student of Lombard’s—unquestionably, at a minimum, Lombard knew the right people. In any case, he was bishop for little more than a year before dying, and even his tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Yet Lombard’s major contribution to scholasticism—the Libri Quattuor Sententiarum (The Four Books of Sentences)—was produced long before the author became bishop, probably in the 1140s. The work is a distillation of biblical texts and passages from the Church Fathers and of many medieval thinkers, covering almost the entire field of Christian theology as known in his day. To put it in modern terms, it is an equivalent of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but for scholars and theologians; in fact, English translations from the Latin are rare and expensive.

What is entirely remarkable about it is that Lombard labored under an enormous handicap. Systematic theology—the orderly attempt to compare and relate all of scripture and teachings into a systematized statement of faith, as a whole and in particulars—did not exist. He paved the way for scholastics and all future theologians in ordering the vast material into four books, covering the Trinity (Book I), creation (Book II), Christ as the savior of fallen creation (Book III) and the sacraments that mediate Christ’s grace (Book IV).

Most notably, in his fourth book, Lombard became the first Christian writer to limit the number of ritual sacraments—outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace ordained by Jesus Christ—to the seven today regarded as such by the Catholic and Orthodox communions. At the time, some argued for as many as 14. Sacraments in a broader sense, as signs of divine grace, are, as one theologian pointed out to me, innumerable; in fact, the Orthodox speak of mysterion and Catholics of sacramentals, to refer to ritual expressions that denote or convey grace without the claim of tracing back to Christ when he walked the Earth.

Lombard did not intend to engage in disputation. His use of Abelard’s method of critical reason is applied to drawing out the essentials, making distinctions and articulating what can be reasonably deemed to be the message of the Christian faith on a broad variety of subjects, covering all topics explored up to his day by figures of note. The standing of his work as a respected textbook of Christian theology widely used through the 16th century is confirmed by the hundreds of citations by John Calvin and the repeated use of the Sententiarum by Martin Luther.

The two Peters, in effect, set the stage for the giant of medieval scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Scholasticism’s Founders: Anselm of Canterbury

The first of the three foundational scholastics introduced philosophically flavored statements in support of the proposals of faith and against opposing ideas.

This represented a shift from the understanding of theology as a subdivision of philosophy, a kind of metaphysics if you will, to a full-blown discourse about God and godly things. In the 11th and 12th centuries, however, Christianity was split between those who saw theology as little more than biblical commentary and those, like the scholastics, who felt that the analysis of faith by reason and argument was needed and desirable.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), who died while holding the office of archbishop of Canterbury, is also called Anselm of Aosta, after his birthplace in the Piedmont, and Anselm of Bec, after the French Benedictine monastery of which he was an abbot. He was a saint, ecclesiastical leader and major philosopher before earning renown after his death as “the father of scholasticism.”


Born at the foot of the Alps, in the Piedmont region, which changed hands between France and Italy many times (today it is in Italy; in his day it was French), Anselm sought to enter a monastery as a teenager, against his nobleman father’s will. In his early 20s he set out wandering with two companions through the Frankish kingdom for several years until he came to the abbey at Bec, in Normandy. There he met a man in whose footsteps he would literally follow, the Italian-born Lanfranc, prior of Bec and later archbishop of Canterbury, immediately preceding Anselm’s tenure in both offices.

Lanfranc instructed him and arranged for him to become a monk in his late 20s, in 1060. Three years later, in 1063, Duke William of Normandy (note the date: only three years later William would invade England) asked Lanfranc to become abbot of St. Stephen, at Caen, and the monks of Bec elected Anselm as their new prior. At the time, the prior (Latin for “earlier or first”) of monks, or prioress of nuns, was the superior of a monastic house; they were usually lower in rank than the abbot, who was almost always an ordained priest rather than a vowed, but lay, monk or nun.

Fifteen years later, Anselm was unanimously elected as Bec’s abbot following the death of its founder. The Bishop of Évreux in 1079 consecrated Anselm.

Major Contributions

During his time at Bec, Anselm wrote seven major works, among them two of his most cited.

Monologion, originally entitled Monoloquium de Ratione Fidei (A Monologue on the Reason for Faith), he describes as “an example of meditation on the grounds of faith.” Although he never contradicts the Church Fathers and expressly acknowledges Augustine, Anselm takes a novel tack, which he explains as follows:

“Certain brethren have often and earnestly entreated me to put in writing some thoughts that I had offered them in familiar conversation, regarding meditation on the Being of God, and on some other topics connected with this subject, under the form of a meditation on these themes. It is in accordance with their wish, rather than with my ability, that they have prescribed such a form for the writing of this meditation; in order that nothing in Scripture should be urged on the authority of Scripture itself, but that whatever the conclusion of independent investigation should declare to be true, should, in an unadorned style, with common proofs and with a simple argument, be briefly enforced by the cogency of reason, and plainly expounded in the light of truth.”

Anselm argues that anyone can be persuaded of the existence of God through reason alone, by noting that many different things are known as “good” and that the highest good “is supremely good.” He then considers the attributes necessary to such a being.

In Proslogion (“Discourse”), he seeks “a single argument which would require no other for its proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists” and arrives at what came to be known as the ontological argument for the existence of God. Anselm defines God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” arguing that this being must exist in the mind even of the unbeliever. If the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it exists only in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible—one that exists both in the mind and in reality.

These two are his most significant contributions to medieval scholastic theology. They open up reason as an avenue to the truth of faith, going beyond theologians who simply stopped at the unknowable and proposed belief alone as reasonable.

At Bec he also wrote a work noted for its intervention in the argument between the western and eastern Churches. It started out as a rebuttal of ideas held by a scholar tried for the heresy of tritheism (belief in three gods) and later developed into a defense of the trinity and, in particular, the much debated filioque clause in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed. This work was the last he wrote in the monastery. Anselm would go on to become the first major figure in the English struggle between king and church, a story I will tell separately.

Anselm had a distinctive influence during his time as a scholar. His students included learned men better known in their times than ours, who spread what they learned. Anselm’s works were copied and disseminated in his lifetime. They unquestionably influenced Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. His thought guided later discussion on the Holy Spirit and atonement and anticipated controversies concerning free will and predestination.

He was prominently mentioned in a debate among French scholars in the 1930s—among them Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson—about whether it is possible for there to be a Christian philosophy.

Anselm’s canonization was proposed to Pope Alexander III by Thomas Becket at the Council of Tours in 1163 but was only formally sanctioned in 1494. His feast day is celebrated on the day of his death, April 21, by the Anglican and Catholic communions and some strands of Lutheranism.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ideas and Development of Scholasticism

Unlike many other schools of thought, scholasticism was not a system of ideas that proposed a particular set of conclusions, but rather a method of critical thought. Rationalism regarded reason as the chief source and test of knowledge. Existentialism believed that philosophy begins with the thinking, acting, feeling and living human person.

The scholastics, however, did not propound an overarching new idea. They already had one: the teaching of the Christian faith as understood in Western, medieval Europe. Their school of thinking employed a critical approach as a method by which to articulate, justify and defend the beliefs that all Christians purportedly held as incontestable.

This school of thought emerged in an increasingly pluralistic context. Europe faced the revived ideas of pagan antiquity in Aristotle and his contemporaries, the newer ideas of Islam and the puzzlingly challenging persistence of those of the Chosen People who chose not to acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. Yet oddly enough, thinkers associated with what Western Christian Europeans considered alien ideas were also scholastics of a sort within their own societies and traditions, working in Hebrew and Arabic instead of Latin.

Many of Aristotle’s writings that fell into Islamic hands were translated into Arabic between the 9th and 12th centuries by philosophers such as Al-Kindi of the Baghdad Caliphate, Al-Farabi of central Asia, Avicenna of Persia and Averroes of the Cordoba Caliphate in Spain. The Jewish and Islamic scholars of Moorish Spain, notably Rabbi Maimonides and his Masoretic school, reexamined the biblical and rabbinical teachings in a world of increasingly variegated beliefs. The Jewish and Islamic scholastics worked in a way similar to the Christian scholars, whom they viewed as disputants and in error, much as the Christians regarded them.

The Christian scholastics typically examined existing works from a renowned scholar (an auctor) alongside source documents including Church council and papal documents as well as other related materials—for example, discussions of the Bible’s apparent contradictions by scholars both ancient and contemporary. They then gathered all arguments concerning each point in contention and attempted to view them from all sides with an open mind.

Once the sources and points of disagreement were laid out dialectically, two sides of an argument would be reconciled so that they would be found to be in agreement and avoid contradictions. This often required the study of words and their meanings and logical analysis to show that there were no contradictions, that they were a matter of subjective reading or that one idea was true, proving the opposite false.

The scholastic movement developed slowly from the ruins of the western Roman Empire, its beginning traceable to the establishment of the Franco-Germanic kingdom that in the year 800 was dubbed the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), its first head, crowned by the pope. Charlemagne, a Germanic warrior whose four wives and six concubines gave him at least 18 known children, was neither a saint nor a scholar, but he was an orderly man who recognized the benefit of leading a society that took advantage of what learning was to be had.

Advised by Peter of Pisa (744-799), an Italian grammarian, deacon and poet, and Alcuin of York (735-804), an English scholar, monkish deacon, poet and teacher, Charlemagne attracted scholars from England and Ireland and by decree established schools in every abbey in his empire. These schools, from which the name scholasticism is derived, became centers of medieval learning.

Thanks to scholars such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena (815–877), among the leading Irish intellectuals of the time, Western Europe regained knowledge of ancient Greek, which had vanished in the West except in the remote monasteries of Ireland. Through their teaching and translations of many works into Latin, suddenly the Christian scholars of the West gained access to the Cappadocian Church Fathers and the Greek theological tradition.

This period ushered in the rediscovery of many Greek works thanks to translations by 10th century scholars in Spain, who gained access to them during the Reconquista, or reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th century.

Incidentally, as Europeans encountered Islamic philosophy, they stumbled across a wealth of Arab knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, from which we get our current numbering system and, most important, the number zero, until then unknown to, or at least unused by, Europeans.

During the 11th through 14th centuries at least eight major remarkable Christian figures emerged, scholars renowned everywhere as the heart and soul of religious scholasticism, whose contributions came in what I would describe as three waves.

The first of these involved three foundational scholars of the 11th and 12th centuries. Anselm of Canterbury was among other things one of the earliest to reason in favor of the existence of God—using what is known as ontological argument. Peter Abelard is almost better known for a storied personal romantic and devotional life than for his scholarship. Yet he was the key developer of the “algorithms” or essential logical concepts that became the tools of all who followed. Peter Lombard sought to encompass all Christian teaching in one work that became the standard textbook of theology of his time and provided the framework for four centuries of scholastic interpretation of Christian dogma.

The next wave, covering the 13th century, brought a debate between the two top masters of scholasticism, the Franciscan friar Bonaventure, a Platonist who drew on St. Augustine, and the Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas, the first Christian Aristotelian, who gave rise to a centuries-long mainstream Christian philosophy and theology, Thomism.

Three great scholars of the 13th and 14th centuries rounded out medieval scholasticism. The theologian Duns Scotus commented on Lombard’s work in light of Aquinas. The metaphysical theologian Meister Eckhart was also the most notable great mystic within the medieval scholastic tradition. Finally, William of Ockham, who grappled with the distinction between faith and reason, provided a tool with which to give many a future thinker a shave.

In the next few weeks we will review each of these stages and their protagonists in greater detail. They represent the best of medieval rumination on the faith, and many of their key insights continue to enlighten millions of Christians today.