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Foundation Of Mediaeval Culture

Schools never wholly disappeared from Western society, either during the
barbarian invasion or in the even more troublous times that followed.
Secular schools continued throughout the fifth century. During the sixth
century they gave way for the most part to schools fostered by the Church,
or were thoroughly transformed by ecclesiastical influences. In the fifth
and sixth centuries, the great compends were made that served as
text-books for centuries. Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isidore of Seville, and
Bede represent great steps in the preparation for the mediaeval schools.
But, apart from the survival of old schools, there was a real demand for
the establishment of new schools. The new monasticism needed them. It
required some reading and study every day by the monks. As children were
constantly being received, ordinarily at the age of seven, these oblati
needed instruction. The monastic schools, which thus arose, early made
provision for the instruction of those not destined for the monastic life
in the external schools of the monasteries. Then again, the need of clergy
with some literary training, however simple, was felt, especially as the
secular schools declined or were found not convenient, and conciliar
action was taken in various countries to provide for such education. In
the conversion of the English, schools seem very early to have been
established, and the encouragement given these schools by the learned
Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury, bore splendid fruit, not
merely in the great school of Canterbury but still more in the monastic
schools of the North, at Jarrow and Wearmouth and at York. It was from the
schools in the North that the culture of the Frankish kingdom under
Charles the Great largely came. There was always a marked difference of
opinion as to the value of secular literature in education, as is shown by
the attitude already taken by Gregory the Great in his letter to
Desiderius of Vienne, a letter which did much to discourage the literary
study of the classics.

(a) Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, II, 40 ( 60). (MSL, 34:63).

The Christian's use of heathen writers.

The whole book should be examined carefully to see the working out
of the same idea in detail. St. Augustine was a man of literary
culture, although he was imperfectly acquainted with Greek. He
speaks from his own experience of the help he had derived from
this culture. The work On Christian Doctrine is, in fact, not at
all a treatise on theology but on pedagogy, and was of immense
influence in the Middle Ages.

If those who are called philosophers and especially the Platonists have
said anything true and in harmony with the faith, we ought not only not to
shrink from it, but rather to appropriate it for our own use, taking it
from them as from unlawful possessors. For as the Egyptians had not only
the idols and heavy burdens, which the people of Israel hated and fled
from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which
the same people on going out of Egypt secretly appropriated to themselves
as for a better use, not on their own authority but on the command of God,
for the Egyptians in their ignorance lent those things which they
themselves were not using well [Ex. 3:22; 12:35]; in the same way all
branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies
and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil which each of us, in going out under
the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to hate
and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which it is well to
adapt to the use of truth and some most useful precepts of morality; and
some truths in regard even to the worship of the one God are found among
them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they
themselves did not create, but dug, as it were, out of certain mines of
God's providence, which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are
perversely and unlawfully misused to the worship of devils. These,
therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the
miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them for their
proper use in preaching the Gospel. Their clothing also, that is, human
institutions, adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable
for this life, it is right to take and to have so as to be turned to
Christian use.

(b) John Cassian. Institutiones, V, 33, 34. (MSL, 49:249.)

Cassian, born 360, was one of the leaders of the monastic
movement. He founded monasteries near Marseilles, and did much to
spread the monastic movement in Gaul and Spain. His
Institutiones and Collationes were of influence, even after
his monasteries had been entirely supplanted by the Benedictines.
The opinion here given is probably that prevalent in the
monasteries in Egypt. It is utterly different from the spirit of
Basil, and the great theologians of Asia Minor who, in the matter
of secular studies, hold the same opinion as the older Alexandrian
school of Clement and Origen.

Ch. 33. We also saw the abbot Theodore, a man endowed with the utmost
holiness and with perfect knowledge not only of things of the practical
life but also of the meaning of the Scriptures, which he had acquired, not
so much by study and reading, or secular scholarship, as by purity of
heart alone; since he was able only with difficulty to understand or speak
even but a few words in the Greek language. This man, when he was seeking
an explanation of some most difficult question, continued indefatigably
seven days and nights in prayer until, by a revelation of the Lord, he
knew the answer to the question propounded.

Ch. 34. This man, therefore, when some of the brethren were wondering at
the splendid light of his knowledge, and were asking him some meanings of
Scripture, said: "A monk desiring to attain to a knowledge of the
Scriptures ought in no wise to spend his labor on the books of the
commentators, but rather to keep all the efforts of his mind and the
intentions of his heart set on purification from carnal vices. When these
are driven out, at once the eyes of the heart, when the veil of passions
has been removed, will begin, as it were, naturally to gaze on the
mysteries of Scripture, since these were not declared unto us by the grace
of the Holy Ghost to remain unknown and obscure; but they are rendered
obscure by our vices, as the veil of our sins cover the eyes of the heart,
and for these, when restored to their natural health, the mere reading of
Holy Scripture is amply sufficient for the perception of the true
knowledge; nor do they need the instruction of commentators, just as these
eyes of flesh need no man's assistance to see provided they are free from
the dimness or darkness of blindness."

(c) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Desiderium, Reg. XI, ep. 54. (MSL,

Desiderius was bishop of Vienne. This letter was sent with several
others written in connection with the sending of Mellitus to
England; see Bede, Hist. Ec., I, 27, 29.

Many good things have been reported to us regarding your pursuits, and
such joy arose in our hearts that we could not bear to refuse what your
fraternity had requested to have granted you. But afterward it came to our
ears, what we cannot mention without shame, that thy fraternity is in the
habit of expounding grammar to certain persons. This thing pained us so
and we so strongly disapproved of it that we changed what had been said
before into groaning and sadness, since the praises of Christ cannot find
room in the one mouth with the praises of Jupiter. And consider thyself
what a grave and heinous offence it is for bishops to sing what is not
becoming even for a religious layman. And, though our most beloved son
Candidus, the presbyter, who was strictly examined on this matter when he
came to us, denied it and endeavored to excuse you, yet still the thought
has not left our mind that, in proportion as it is execrable for such a
thing to be related of a priest, it ought to be ascertained by strict and
veracious evidence whether or not it be so. If, therefore, hereafter what
has been reported to us should prove to be evidently false, and it should
be clear that you do not apply yourself to trifles and secular literature,
we shall give thanks to God, who has not permitted your heart to be
stained with the blasphemous phrases of what is abominable; and we will
treat without misgiving or hesitation concerning granting what you have

We commend to you in all respects the monks whom, together with our most
beloved son Laurentius, the presbyter, and Mellitus, the abbot, we have
sent to our most reverend brother and fellow-bishop Augustine, that by the
help of your fraternity no delay may hinder their journey.

(d) Council of Vaison, A. D. 529, Canon 1. Bruns, II, 183.

Vaison is a small see in the province of Arles. The synod was
attended by about a dozen bishops. It is, therefore, not
authoritative for a large district, but when taken in connection
with the following selection indicates a wide-spread custom.

That presbyters in their parishes shall bring up and instruct young
readers in their houses. It was decided that all presbyters who are placed
in parishes should, according to a custom which we learn is very
beneficially observed throughout Italy, receive young readers, as many as
they have who are unmarried, into their house where they dwell, and as
good fathers shall endeavor to bring them up spiritually to render the
Psalms, and to instruct them in the divine readings, and to educate them
in the law of the Lord, that so they may provide for themselves worthy
successors, and receive from the Lord eternal rewards. But when they come
to full age, if any of them, on account of the weakness of the flesh, wish
to marry, they shall not be denied the right of doing so.

(e) II Council of Toledo, A. D. 531, Canon 1. Bruns, I, 207.

Concerning those whom their parents voluntarily give in the first years of
their childhood to the office of the clergy, we have decreed this to be
observed; namely, that as soon as they have been tonsured or have been
given to the care of appointed persons, they ought to be educated by some
one set over them, in the church building, and in the presence of the
bishop. When they have completed their eighteenth year, they shall be
asked by the bishop, in the presence of all the clergy and people, their
will as to seeking marriage. And if by God's inspiration they have the
grace of chastity, and shall have promised to observe the profession of
their chastity without any necessity of marriage, let these who are more
desirous of the hardest life put on the most gentle yoke of the Lord, and
first let them receive from their twentieth year the ministry of the
subdiaconate, probation having been made of their profession, that, if
blamelessly and without offence they attain the twenty-fifth year of their
age, they may be promoted to the office of the diaconate, if they have
been proved by their bishop to be able to fulfil it.

(f) Bede, Hist. Ec., III, 18. (MSL, 95:144.)

Sigebert became king of the East Angles about 631 and died 637.
The facts known of him are briefly recorded in DCB.

At this time the kingdom of the East Angles, after the death of Earpwald,
the successor of Redwald, was subject to his brother Sigebert, a good and
religious man, who long before had been baptized in France, whilst he
lived in banishment, flying from the enmity of Redwald; when he returned
home and had ascended the throne he was desirous of imitating the good
institutions which he had seen in France, and he set up a school for the
young to be instructed in letters, and was assisted therein by Bishop
Felix, who had come to him from Kent and who furnished him with masters
and teachers after the manner of that country.

(g) Bede, Hist. Ec., IV, 2. (MSL, 95:173.)

Theodore arrived at his church the second year after his consecration, on
Sunday, May 27, and held the same twenty-one years, three months and
twenty-six days. Soon after he visited all the islands, wherever the
tribes of the Angles dwelt, for he was willingly entertained and heard by
all persons. Everywhere he was attended and assisted by Hadrian, and he
taught the right rule of life and the canonical custom of celebrating
Easter.(278) This was the first archbishop whom all the English Church
obeyed. And forasmuch as both of them were, as has been said, well read in
sacred and secular literature, they gathered a crowd of scholars and there
daily flowed from them rivers of knowledge to water the hearts of their
hearers; and together with the books of the holy Scriptures they also
taught them the arts of ecclesiastical poetry, astronomy, and arithmetic.
A testimony of which is that there are still living at this day [circa
A. D. 727] some of their scholars who are as well versed in the Greek and
Latin tongues as in their own, in which they were born. Never were there
happier times since the English came to Britain; for their kings were
brave men and good Christians and were a terror to all barbarous nations,
and the minds of all men were bent upon the joys of the heavenly kingdom
of which they had just heard. And all who desired instruction in sacred
reading had masters at hand to teach them. From that time also they began
in all the churches of the English to learn sacred music which till then
had been only known in Kent. And excepting James, mentioned above, the
first singing-master(279) in the churches of the Northumbrians was Eddi,
surnamed Stephen, invited from Kent by the most reverend Wilfrid, who was
the first of the bishops of the English nation that taught the churches of
the English the Catholic mode of life.

(h) Council of Clovesho, A. D. 747, Canon 7. Haddan and Stubbs, III,

They decreed in the seventh article of agreement that bishops, abbots, and
abbesses should by all means take care and diligently provide that their
families should incessantly apply their minds to reading, and that
knowledge be spread by the voices of many to the gaining of souls and to
the praise of the eternal King. For it is sad to say how few(280) in these
times do heartily love and labor for sacred knowledge and are willing to
take pains in learning, but they are from their youth up rather employed
in divers vanities and the affectation of vainglory; and they rather
pursue the amusements of this present unstable life than the assiduous
study of holy Scriptures. Therefore let boys be kept and trained up in
such schools, to the love of sacred knowledge, and that, being by this
means well learned, they may become in all respects useful to the Church
of God.

Chapter IV. The Revolution In The Ecclesiastical And Political Situation
Due To The Rise Of Islam And The Doctrinal Disputes In The Eastern Church

In the course of the seventh and eighth centuries, the ecclesiastical and
political situation altered completely. This change was due, in the first
place, to the rise of the religion and empire of the Moslems, whereby a
very large part of the Eastern Empire was conquered by the followers of
the Prophet, who had rapidly extended their conquests over Syria and the
best African provinces. Reduced in extent and exposed to ever fresh
attacks from a powerful enemy, the Eastern Empire had to face new
political problems. In the second place, as the provinces overrun
contained the greater number of those dissatisfied with the doctrinal
results of the great councils, the apparently interminable contests over
the question as to the two natures of Christ came to an unexpected end.
This did not take place until a new cause for dispute had arisen among the
adherents of Chalcedon, due to an attempt to win back the Monophysites by
accounting for the unity of the person of Christ by positing one will in
Jesus. Monotheletism at once became among the adherents of Chalcedon a
burning question. It was finally condemned at the Sixth General Council,
Constantinople, A. D. 683, at which Pope Agatho played a part very similar
to that played by Pope Leo at Chalcedon, but at the cost of seeing his
predecessor, Honorius, condemned as a Monothelete. It was the last triumph
of the West in the dogmatic controversies of the East. The Eastern
ecclesiastics, irritated at the diplomatic triumph of Rome, expressed
their resentment at the Concilium Quinisextum, in 692, where, in passing
canons to complete the work of the Fifth and Sixth Councils, an
opportunity was embraced of expressly condemning several Roman practices.
In the confusion resulting in the next century from the attempt of Leo the
Isaurian to put an end to the use of images in the churches, the Roman see
was able to rid itself of the nominal control which the Emperor still had
over the papacy by means of the exarchate of Ravenna. When the Lombards
pressed too heavily upon the papacy it was easy for the Bishop of Rome to
make an alliance with the Franks, who on their side saw that it was
profitable to employ the papacy in the advancement of their own schemes.
In this way arose that alliance between the pontiff and the new Frankish
monarchy upon which the ecclesiastical development of the Middle Ages
rests. But Iconoclasm suffered defeat at the Seventh General Council, 787,
in which the doctrinal system of the East was completed. As this was the
last undisputed general council, it may be taken as marking the
termination of the history of the ancient Church. In following the further
course of the Western Church there is no longer need of a detailed tracing
of the history of the Eastern Church, which ceased to be a determining
factor in the religious life of the West. The two parts of Christendom
come in contact from time to time, but without formal schism they have
ceased to be organically united.

Next: The Rise And Extension Of Islam

Previous: The New Monasticism And The Rule

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