Monday, September 21, 2015

Historical Apologetics Series on the Son Rise Morning Show

Matt Swaim and I will close out our series on Church History and Apologetics with another of the positive contributions of the Church to Western Culture: the establishment of the university (and Church contributions to education in general). You'll have to listen on-line or with the Sacred Heart Radio app, because my 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern time slot isn't carried by EWTN anymore.

As Thomas E. Woods, Jr., explained in his book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization the Church's development of the university should put to rest the claim that the culture of the Middle Ages was anti-intellectual and superstitious (the Dark Ages):

It was, after all, in the High Middle Ages that the university came into existence. The university, which developed and matured at the height of Catholic Europe, was a new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations, and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, comes to us directly from the medieval world. And it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system since, according to historian Lowrie Daly, it was "the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."

The precise origins of the very first universities are lost in obscurity, though the picture becomes ever clearer as we move into the thirteenth century. We cannot give exact dates for the appearance of universities at Paris and Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge, since they evolved over a period of time — the former beginning as cathedral schools, and the latter as informal gatherings of masters and students. But we may safely say that the process occurred during the latter half of the twelfth century.

In order to identify a particular medieval school as a university, we look for certain characteristic features. For one thing, a university possessed a core of required texts, on which professors would lecture and to which they would add their own insights. A university was also characterized by well-defined academic programs lasting a more or less fixed number of years, as well as by the granting of degrees. The granting of a degree, since it entitled the recipient to be called master, amounted to admitting new people to the teaching guild. Although the universities often struggled with outside authorities for self-government, they generally attained it. They also desired and received legal recognition as a corporation. . . .

The university and the intellectual life it fostered played an indispensable role in Western civilization. Christopher Dawson observed that from the days of the earliest universities "the higher studies were dominated by the technique of logical discussion — the quaestio and the public disputation which so largely determined the form of medieval philosophy even in its greatest representatives. "Nothing," says Robert of Sorbonne, "is known perfectly which has not been masticated by the teeth of disputation," and the tendency to submit every question, from the most obvious to the most abstruse, to this process of mastication not only encouraged readiness of wit and exactness of thought but above all developed that spirit of criticism and methodic doubt to which Western culture and science have owed so much."

According to historian of science Edward Grant, the creation of the university, the commitment to reason and rational argument, and the overall spirit of inquiry that characterized medieval intellectual life amounted to "a gift from the Latin Middle Ages to the modern world…though it is a gift that may never be acknowledged. Perhaps it will always retain the status it has had for the past four centuries as the best-kept secret of Western civilization."

In his Historical Sketches, Blessed John Henry Newman traced the history of the development of the university from the Academy of Athens, through the Schools of Charlemagne, to Paris and Oxford. He wrote The Rise and Progress of the Universities while working on the Catholic University of Ireland. In the chapter on the collegiate system of Oxford he provided some details of the room and board provided during the Middle Ages:

Accordingly, one of the earliest movements in the University, almost as early as the entrance into it of the monastic bodies, was that of providing maintenance for poor scholars. The authors of such charity hardly aimed at giving more than the bare necessaries of life,—food, lodging, and clothing,—so as to make a life of study possible. Comfort or animal satisfaction can hardly be said to have entered into the scope of their benefactions; and we shall gain a lively impression of the sufferings of the student, before the era of endowments, by considering his rude and hardy life even when a member of a College. From an account which has been preserved in one of the colleges of Cambridge, we are able to extract the following horarium of a student's day. He got up between four and five; from five to six he assisted at Mass, and heard an exhortation. He then studied or attended the schools till ten, which was the dinner hour. The meal, which seems also to have been a breakfast, was not sumptuous; it consisted of beef, in small messes for four persons, and a pottage made of its gravy and oatmeal. From dinner to five p.m., he either studied, or gave instruction to others, when he went to supper, which was the principal meal of the day, though scarcely more plentiful than dinner. Afterwards, problems were discussed and other studies pursued, till nine or ten; and then half an hour was devoted to walking or running about, that they might not go to bed with cold feet;—the expedient of hearth or stove for the purpose was out of the question.

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