Church History: A Biblical View
Part IV - The Middle Ages: Lesson No. 23 - Different Religious Approaches
Scholasticism is the name given to the theological philosophy of the Middle Ages. It is so called because it had its origin in the schools which were being more formally organized in this period of history. Consequently, the leaders in this movement have been known as the "Schoolmen." Scholasticism was essentially an attempt to harmonize reason and religion. The Schoolmen felt that logic could be used to resolve theological problems and demonstrate the reasonableness of Scriptural or Church dogma. Thus, the approach of the Scholastics to the Scriptures was very philosophical or intellectual. More of the writings of the Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, had been discovered and this led to a renewal of interest in ancient philosophy and an application of its methods to discover and support Scriptural truth. Reason alone was not felt to be sufficient to attain knowledge of God. Revelation had to be added. The Scriptures were deemed to be the final source of authority but they were to be understood in the light of the interpretations of the councils and the "Fathers" - in other words, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Two prominent Scholastics were Anselm (1033-1109), who developed the ontological argument for God's existence, and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who was considered the prince of the Scholastics. Anselm believed that all the truths of the Scriptures could be substantiated by philosophy, but Aquinas only believed that philosophy could only show the inadequacy of objections to truth and that there were no contradictions between philosophy and theology, since both were from God.
By the Thirteenth Century Scholastics had begun to lose their confidence in reason to settle all theological questions. It was during the Scholastic period that the idea of seven sacraments — baptism, confirmation, the Lord's Supper, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and matrimony — was set forth. The sacraments were supposedly the means of conveying grace from Christ to the members of His body. Particularly, several new or important thoughts about the Lord's Supper were beginning to take hold at this time. The term, "transubstantiation," used in reference to the supposed change of the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper into the literal flesh and blood of Christ, came into vogue. The doctrine of transubstantiation itself was given full dogmatic status by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The use of the cup of the Supper was beginning to be avoided by the laity due to fear of its misuse. At this time this practice was given impetus by the view that both elements of the Supper contained the whole body and blood of Christ. Infant communion, which had been universal up to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries was discontinued in the West. It was also taught that the Lord's Supper was a repetition of the Lord's incarnation and sacrifice.
Contemporary with Scholasticism, but quite different from it, was mysticism. Mysticism was the quest for truth and wisdom that lies within the soul. Its goal was union with the divine or sacred. Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, puts it well when he says: "Mysticism aims at the immediate personal communion of the soul with the Infinite Spirit, through inward devotions and spiritual aspirations, by abstraction rather than by logical analysis, by adoration rather than by argument, with the heart rather than with the head, through the spiritual feelings rather than through intellectual prowess, through the immediate contact of the soul with God rather than through rites and ceremonies. The characteristic word to designate the activity of the mystic is devotion; of the scholastic, speculation. Mysticism looks less for God without and more for God within the breast. It relies upon experience rather than definitions. Mysticism is equally opposed to rationalism and to ritual formalism (Vol. V, p. 637).
III. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) (T or F) Roman Catholics really believed, or were taught, that final religious authority rested in the Scriptures.
(2) (T or F) All of God's truths or commandments may be understood from the viewpoint of human reasoning (cp. Isa. 55:8,9; Jer. 10:23).
(3) (T or F) Christ's incarnation and sacrifice take place each time the Lord's Supper is observed (cp. Heb. 9:27,28).
(4) Questions pertaining to faith are finally settled by:
(A) philosophical reasoning, (B) church councils, (C) the "Church Fathers" (D) the Scriptures (cp. II Tim.3:16,17).
(5) What were a few changes which took place in doctrine and practice with respect to the Lord's Supper?
(6) What were the basic differences between the Scholastic and mystical approaches and what was essentially wrong with both of them?
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