To give it a definition you could put on a t-shirt, they believed in "Faith seeking Understanding through Reason".
The earliest of the Scholastics was probably St Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century
My understanding is that this argument is still running, by the way.
Scholastic technique was a patient working through of the issues using logic, rather than using style or rhetorical techniques to convince a reader, or by calling for understanding by Faith alone ; the Greek philosopher Aristotle was their acknowledged intellectual forefather.
Now, using Reason to support Faith was not a completely popular idea , because it can be seen to put human Reason ahead of divine Faith (especially if you are citing that pagan Aristotle in every third paragraph ; for example, both the 11th century Peter Damian and the 16th century Martin Luther condemned the use of Reason to understand the Divine. This critique was also the official, enforced, view in Constantinople ; the philosopher John Italos was subject to a show trial by Emperor Alexius (Anna Comnena's father) for using philosophical techniques on matters of faith.
As a school, a reason for their success was the sheer accessibility of their work.
They all wrote in terse, servicable Latin, and avoided jargon, so you needed one language to understand all the relevant texts.
They all used the same set of texts, notably Aristotle, and when they used a book, they told you what is was, so if neccessary you could go find someone with a copy and go read it yourself. They tried hard to get access to new texts ; it is a tragedy that so much Greek language philosophical work was unavailable to them (the John Italos affair, the trashing of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade and the unity of the Scholastics with the Catholic Church probably had something to do with this).
They worked through problems clearly and one step at a time, so if an author did get something wrong, then later disputants could step in and correct work.
Finally, the Scholastics had the right to get it wrong. As the debate was being conducted safely within the Schools, and not (for example) by loud calls for revolt from the Nobility, it was OK to be exploring dangerous concepts, citing pagan authors as authorities equal to any Church Father or bible text, and otherwise doing the sort of stuff that got you burned in the 16th century, whether you were in Paris or Geneva.
It is important that two of the primary authorities on Aristotle used by the Scholastics were Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdallah ibn Sina and Abul Walid Mahommed Ibn Achmed, Ibn Mahommed Ibn Roschd, or Averroes and Avicenna as they were called by the Latins.
Rather than talk more about them, here is an example of how Scholastic argument worked ; it is from the greatest of the Scholastics, the Angelic Doctor himself Thomas Aquinas.
Whether it is always sinful to wage war?
- It would seem that it is always sinful to wage war. Because punishment is not inflicted except for sin. Now those who wage war are threatened by Our Lord with punishment, according to Mt. 26:52: "All that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Therefore all wars are unlawful.
- Further, whatever is contrary to a Divine precept is a sin. But war is contrary to a Divine precept, for it is written (Mt. 5:39): "But I say to you not to resist evil"; and (Rm. 12:19): "Not revenging yourselves, my dearly beloved, but give place unto wrath." Therefore war is always sinful.
- Further, nothing, except sin, is contrary to an act of virtue. But war is contrary to peace. Therefore war is always a sin.
- Further, the exercise of a lawful thing is itself lawful, as is evident in scientific exercises. But warlike exercises which take place in tournaments are forbidden by the Church, since those who are slain in these trials are deprived of ecclesiastical burial. Therefore it seems that war is a sin in itself.
On the contrary, Augustine says in a sermon on the son of the centurion [Ep. ad Marcel. cxxxviii]: "If the Christian Religion forbade war altogether, those who sought salutary advice in the Gospel would rather have been counselled to cast aside their arms, and to give up soldiering altogether. On the contrary, they were told: 'Do violence to no man . . . and be content with your pay' [Lk. 3:14. If he commanded them to be content with their pay, he did not forbid soldiering."
I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil"; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): "Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner"; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): "The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority."
Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (QQ. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly."
Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine's works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1): "True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good." For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): "The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war."
Replies to Objections
- As Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 70): "To take the sword is to arm oneself in order to take the life of anyone, without the command or permission of superior or lawful authority." On the other hand, to have recourse to the sword (as a private person) by the authority of the sovereign or judge, or (as a public person) through zeal for justice, and by the authority, so to speak, of God, is not to "take the sword," but to use it as commissioned by another, wherefore it does not deserve punishment. And yet even those who make sinful use of the sword are not always slain with the sword, yet they always perish with their own sword, because, unless they repent, they are punished eternally for their sinful use of the sword.
- Such like precepts, as Augustine observes (De Serm. Dom. in Monte i, 19), should always be borne in readiness of mind, so that we be ready to obey them, and, if necessary, to refrain from resistance or self-defense. Nevertheless it is necessary sometimes for a man to act otherwise for the common good, or for the good of those with whom he is fighting. Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Marcellin. cxxxviii): "Those whom we have to punish with a kindly severity, it is necessary to handle in many ways against their will. For when we are stripping a man of the lawlessness of sin, it is good for him to be vanquished, since nothing is more hopeless than the happiness of sinners, whence arises a guilty impunity, and an evil will, like an internal enemy."
- Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except to the evil peace, which Our Lord "came not to send upon earth" (Mt. 10:34). Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix): "We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace."
- Manly exercises in warlike feats of arms are not all forbidden, but those which are inordinate and perilous, and end in slaying or plundering. On olden times warlike exercises presented no such danger, and hence they were called "exercises of arms" or "bloodless wars," as Jerome states in an epistle [Reference incorrect: cf. Veget., De Re Milit. i].
While it had started in monastries, Scholasticism became based in the new Universities ; Notre Dame in Paris was the best and brightest of the Theology schools, while for Law you went to Bologna and Salerno for Medicine. Cologne was the premiere university in Germany, while Oxford and Cambridge had good international reputations.
Scholastics conducted public debates and disputations, and attacked each others ideas with relish.
The main debates were the Nominalists vs the Realists on the nature of things, and the debate between the Averroists and the Thomists over whether there was a single, human soul shared by all of us (yep. You really could argue stuff like this).
Scholasticism fell into decline in the 15th century, as clarity of argument became to be seen as less of a virtue than citing every authority, no matter how irrelevant, and exploring every little by-way of an argument at tedious length.
By the sixteenth century, the best and brightest in Europe were Humanists, and philosophy and theology went their separate ways.
Scholasticism got revived in the nineteenth century by the Catholic Church, who realised in Aquinas they had a powerhouse intellectual who showed that reason could be used in service of faith.
Team Listing for the Scholastics
The A Team
- St Anselm of Canterbury
- St Bernard of Clairvaux
- Peter Abelard (note : even if you are the best theologian in Christendom, do not get caught having an affair by the angry relatives of your girlfriend)
- St Albert of Cologne
- St Thomas Aquinas
- Roger Bacon
- William of Ockam
The Bench Players
- John of Salisbury
- Raymond Lull
Drop Em Before we lose to the Humanists
- Giles of Rome
- Averroeism : http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/B012.htm
- Scholasticism : http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/scholas1.htm
- Summa Theologicae of St Thomas : www.newadvent.org/summa
- John of Salisbury Metalogicus