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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Of Aristotle ruled that tradition


Germany

had no lack of schools and universities, but it can scarcely be said that they did more than serve as a preparation for the entrance of the Renaissance movement. During the fifteenth century all the Universities were under the influence of the Church, and Scholasticism prescribed the methods of study. Very little of the New Learning was allowed to enter. It is true that if Koeln and perhaps Ingolstadt be excepted, the Scholastic which was taught represented what were supposed to be the more advanced opinions--those of John Duns Scotus, William of Occam, and Gabriel Biel, rather than the learning of Thomas Aquinas and other great defenders of papal traditions; but it lent itself as thoroughly as did the older Scholastic to the discussion of all kinds of verbal and logical subtleties. Knowledge of every kind was discussed under formulae and phrases sanctioned by long scholastic use. It is impossible to describe the minute distinctions and the intricate reasoning based upon them without exceeding the space at our disposal. It is enough to say that the prevailing course of study furnished an imposing framework without much solid content, and provided an intellectual gymnastic without much real knowledge. A survival can be seen in the Formal Logic still taught. The quantity of misspent ingenuity called forth to produce the figures and moods, and bestowed on discovering and arranging all possible moods under each figure and in providing all with mnemonic names,--_Barbara, Celarent,
Darii, Ferioque prioris_, etc.,--affords some insight into the scholastic methods in use in these universities of the fifteenth century.

Then it must be remembered that the scholarship took a quasi-ecclesiastical form. The universities were all monastic institutions, where the teachers were professional and the students amateur celibates. The scholars were gathered into hostels in which they lived with their teachers, and were taught to consider themselves very superior persons. The statutes of mediaeval Oxford declare that God created "clerks" with gifts of intelligence denied to mere lay persons; that it behoved "clerks" to exhibit this difference by their outward appearance; and that the university tailors, whose duty it was to make men _extrinsecus_ what God had made them _intrinsecus_, were to be reckoned as members of the University. Those mediaeval students sometimes assumed airs which roused the passions of the laity, and frequently led to tremendous riots. Thus in 1513 the townsfolk of Erfurt battered in the gates of the University with cannon, and after the flight of the professors and students destroyed almost all the archives and library. About the same time some citizens of Vienna having jeered at the sacred student dress, there ensued the "Latin war," which literally devastated the town. This pride of separation between "clerks" and laity culminated in the great annual procession, when the newly capped graduates, clothed in all the glory of new bachelors' and masters' gowns and hoods, marched through the principal streets of the university town, in the midst of the university dignitaries and frequently attended by the magistrates in their robes. Young Luther confessed that when he first saw the procession at Erfurt he thought that no position on earth was more enviable than that of a newly capped graduate.

Mediaeval ecclesiastical tradition brooded over all departments of learning; and the philosophy and logic, or what were supposed to be the philosophy and logic, of Aristotle ruled that tradition. The reverence for the name of Aristotle almost took the form of a religious fervour. In a curious mediaeval _Life of Aristotle_ the ancient pagan thinker is declared to be a forerunner of Christ. All who refused to accept his guidance were heretics, and his formal scheme of thought was supposed to justify the refined sophisms of mediaeval dialectic. His system of thought was the fortified defence which preserved the old and protected it from the inroads of the New Learning. Hence the hatred which almost all the German Humanists seem to have had for the name of Aristotle. The attitudes of the partisans of the old and of the new towards the ancient Greek thinker are represented in two pictures, each instinct with the feeling of the times. In one, in the church of the Dominicans in Pisa, Aristotle is represented standing on the right with Plato on the left of Thomas Aquinas, and rays streaming from their opened books make a halo round the head of the great mediaeval theologian and thinker. In the other, a woodcut published by Hans Holbein the younger in 1527, Aristotle with the mediaeval doctors is represented descending into the abodes of darkness, while Jesus Christ stands in the foreground and points out the true light to a crowd of people, among whom the artist has figured peasants with their flails.


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