THE MEDIEVAL CURRICULUM: remember the purpose of higher education was to provide
"ministers" for the church and for the state; remember
also that until the invention of the printing press, education was based far
more on "oral transmission" than on the written word.
Virtually all teachers were clerics, either ordained priests
or hold "minor orders". This continued to be the case until shortly
before the French revolution.
God using geometry to create the cosmos.
- Theology... the most important discipline. "The baptism of Aristotle" Greek philosophy, when properly expurgated (e.g. the removal of the atomists) provided the intellectual structure for Christian belief.
- basically the study of the Latin Bible, the works of the Latin church
"fathers" including St. Augustine, Anselm; and increasingly
of the medieval scholastic philosophers, among them Thomas Aquinas. The
latter is especially important for he tried to reconcile Christian belief
with Aristotelian philosophy. That is, the Aristotelian perspective on
philosophy, ethics, and method were "catholocized". This meant,
that the Aristotelian cosmology assumed an almost "sacred status"
and did so with serious implications.
- The Aristotelian perspective on the cosmos was compatible with the Bible. Does the earth move at all? does it move around the sun (is the sun the center or the earth?)
- Note the genesis / creation story and Aristotle's analysis of causation (matter, form, agent, purpose). Dante's cosmology is Aristotolian (circles, spheres, etc.
- Also (1) References to the stability of the earth--e.g., Psalm 93:1
& "The Lord has become King, clothed with majesty; the
Lord is robed, girded with might. The earth is established immovably;
your throne is established from of old; from all eternity you are
(2) References to the sun's motion with respect to the terrestrial
horizon. E.g., Ecclesiastes 1:5 "The sun rises and the sun
goes down; back it returns to its place." & Psalm 104:
19. "Thou has made the moon to measure the year and taught
the sun where to set"
(3) The sun is at rest--Joshua 10: 12-13. "on that day the
Lord delivered the Amorites into the hands of Isreal: 'stand still,
O Sun; stand, Moon, in the vale of Aijalon' and so the sun stood still
and the moon halted ...the sun stayed in mid heaven and made no haste
to set for almost a whole day..."
- The Protestant reaction to Copernicanism was not much different
from that of the Catholics.
- John Calvin (1509-64) probably never heard of the theory.
- Martin Luther's position is uncertain. Famous statement about Copernicus in
Table Talks--"that fool wants to turn the whole art of
astronomy upside down" (1539).
- Philipp Melanchthon (1547-1560) ? accepted parts of the theory
but rejected the earth’s motion on grounds of Biblical suggestions
of the stability of the earth.
- These comment indicate that it was not the case that protestants
welcomed the Copernican system, but rather that the Reformation created
options for scholars to express their opinions on this issue.
- The Trivium Note all instruction in Latin; most if not all instructors were
- Grammar: Grammar did not mean, as it does today, the analysis of parts
of speech or how sentences are constructed. Then, Grammar involved studying
how words are used to produce effects, different contexts, meanings and
expressions. The ultimate intent of studying Grammar was to allow students
to not only use language as effectively as possible, but to be critically
discerning as to the nuances of linguistic expression. Grammar was also
used as theoretical tool for the analysis of scriptures, biblical commentaries,
and secular writings.
- Rhetoric: Remember: during the middle ages, oral presentation was more
important than written. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Students learned
about the techniques of oral expression and strategies of debate. Historically,
the study of Rhetoric emphasized the arrangement of words and phrases,
the techniques of delivery, the importance of style and invention, and
the cultivation of memory. As a field of study based on oral skills, however,
Rhetoric would be superceded in the Liberal Arts curriculum by disciplines
stressing written skills. With the advancement of printing and proliferation
of texts, scholarship, moreover, would come to place a far great weight
on the written word as a medium of intellectual exploration and persuasion.
- Dialectic: Dialectic was the study of the use of logic in debates. It
was also used as a teaching method. The fundamental rationale for logic
(or dialectic) is the theory that argument and debate are part of the
learning process--i.e., the ability to raise questions enables a person
to further the horizons of her/his knowledge. In the Middle Ages, disputation
and debate formed a central part of Medieval education and it was common
practice for students to participate endlessly in debates.
- The Quadrivium ---note the dominance of things "Greek" in this
- Arithmetic: Arithmetic did not involve the study of computations, but
involved the study of theories underlying the study of numbers. The Medieval
curriculum for Arithmetic was based on the work of Aristotle and it incorporated
some of Aristotle's philosophy regarding the relationships and ratios
- Astronomy: Astronomy was based primarily on the model of the universe
that was defined by Plato. According to Plato, the universe consisted
of ten spheres which rotated one inside the other. The study of Astronomy
in the Middle Ages consisted of the attempts to ascertain the relationships
between planets based on the manner in which they rotated in relationship
to one another.
- Geometry: Geometry during the Middle Ages, was construed narrowly as
the science of measurements.As with the other disciplines, the focus of
Medieval geometry was on the relational values or ratios between objects.
The whole design and structure of God's universe was one that was based
- Music: Music, as Aristotle argued, was thought to be the expression
of numerical relationships using sound. while Arithmetic was the numerical
manifestation of universal ratios.
- Questions to discuss:
What are the two characteristics of university education do you consider
to be the most salient differences from the "general education" courses you have had?
How do you account for the success of the Aristotelian system in Christian