Home > Christian Authors, church history, Worldview > Church History (iTunes U): Medieval Scholasticism

Church History (iTunes U): Medieval Scholasticism


Nearing the end of the RTS Church History series, the last several lectures provide interesting information about the middle and late medieval period, specifically related to Anselm, Aquinas, and the scholastic era. In this section comes consideration of the Christian faith and rationalism, an idea which began with Anselm (late 11th century). Another good basic point — which makes sense considering the variations within Protestant theology and even within overall “Covenant Theology” — is that Medieval Catholicism was not monolithic, with everyone believing and emphasizing the same doctrinal and philosophical ideas. General groups of this time included the mystics and scholastics, represented to varying degrees by several scholars including names I knew at least a little about – Anselm, and Bernard of Clairvaux – along with a few other lesser-known names.

The lectures on the scholastic period note three philosophical approaches to “universals” – ideas about reality and truth and what they are based in — developed especially in the late-Medieval era. As also described in this Wikipedia article, the three views of various Medieval scholastics:

  • Platonic realism: This world is a shadow of reality; universal ideas exist outside of this world, what is actually real; everything in our world is a “shadow” of what exists beyond our world.  (The rationalism /realism of Anselm.)
  • Nominalism takes the opposite view, of skepticism, that there are no “universals” but only what actually exists.  Names associated with this view include William of Ockham and Peter Abelard.
  • Conceptualism / Moderate or Aristotelian realism: a middle-ground position that recognizes universals, but grounds the existence of the universal in the object itself.

The lecture considers as an example the existence of two white stones, and what each of these views would say about it: 1) whiteness is a universal that exists outside of this world and seen in the two stones (platonic realism); 2) no significance whatsoever to the fact that the stones exist and are white (nominalism); and 3) there is such a thing as whiteness but that truth exists in the reality of the stones themselves, not outside. Also briefly noted, over time the nominalist view came to dominate medieval philosophy; and Martin Luther in his early education was taught the nominalist view (which he later rejected). Though all of this is rather abstract, going beyond the explicit teaching of scripture, Anderson observed that these views have implications for our theology, such that he more liberal view of nominalism was thought to be incompatible with the doctrine of the trinity, whereas the two conservative views (platonic realism and moderate realism) do not conflict with Trinitarian understanding.

The first view (Platonic realism) I recognize as basically a teaching of C.S. Lewis, as brought out in the two “Shadowlands” movies about his life, as well as in a scene from the “Chronicles of Narnia” series’ The Silver Chair. The Narnia setting involved characters who lived underground and had never seen the world above, and Lewis’ character Puddleglum philosophizing to the evil witch (who is trying to convince Puddleglum and two human children that her world is all that ever exists) about the reality of the sun, of which the underground world’s lamp is a “shadow” and “like” the sun. Interestingly enough, though the lecturer never mentioned C.S. Lewis in reference to this idea, he did mention the philosophical idea of a creature that only lived underground and had never seen anything of this world.  An overall observation at this point is that C.S. Lewis (who was not at all evangelical, with questionable theology at many points) was quite familiar with medieval theology and philosophy, to the point of including the pre-Anselm popular medieval “ransom” atonement theory (Christ’s death as a payment to Satan) in the plot of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” as well as referencing medieval scholastic philosophy about universals.

This church history series ends with a look at Aquinas for a conclusion to pre-Reformation church history. Again, I appreciate these seminary class series offered through iTunes U, as informative lessons that explore more in-depth the different topics such as church history and worldviews.

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  1. August 25, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. August 26, 2015 at 1:40 am

    Man I need to get around to listening to this. So many good things out there!

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