Scholasticism was a medieval intellectual movement that flourished from A.D. 1200–1500. Based primarily in the teachings of professors at the universities of Paris andOxford, Scholasticism focused on offering detailed philosophical and rational justifications for religious belief. Scholasticism offered a highly rigorous and complex approach for understanding a broad range of matters. It also attempted to synthesize the ideas of Aristotle and Plato with the truths of Christian theology. Scholasticism is known more for its approach to philosophy and theology than for any fixed set of beliefs.
Anslem of Canterbury is often viewed as the first great exponent of Scholasticism. He originated the ontological argument for God’s existence in which the concept of God itself is proof that God exists. Thomas Aquinas offered a natural theology in which truths about God, including His existence, could be derived from the physical world. The embodiment of medieval scholasticism, Duns Scotus, offered complex discussions concerning being and metaphysics. Peter Lombard developed a series of “sentences” that were memorized by those studying for the priesthood.
Because of their painstaking thoroughness in addressing issues, including abstract metaphysical and theological topics, the scholastic scholars (also known as the “schoolmen”) have often been viewed by following generations as being “logical nit-pickers.” Although they never addressed this topic specifically, the irrelevant question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” became associated with the scholastics. The humanists who followed the scholastics often viewed their predecessors with disdain. The humanists viewed the scholastics as specializing in speculative nonsense that had no relevance. In fact, the derogatory term, “dunce,” came from the name of Duns Scotus. Some believe the title, “scholasticism,” was created by humanists who desired to discredit the scholastic scholars they despised.
Scholasticism largely disappeared at the end of the fifteenth century, but has seen a modest revival within some pockets of Roman Catholicism.