Posts Tagged ‘Middle Ages’

Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 10. Middle Ages (III)

February 4, 2014 2 comments

Scholasticism. One of the ways that Medieval Scholasticism influenced the Reformation was through the universities attended by the Reformers. Our modern university system evolved during the late Middle Ages. Luther was well-schooled in the scholastic method and philosophy. His utter contempt for Aristotle was no doubt an over-reaction to his university training and the element of superstition in much of late medieval scholasticism.[1] McGrath comments:

Scholasticism is probably one of the most despised intellectual movements in human history. Thus the English word ‘dunce’ derives from the name of one of the greatest scholastic writers, Duns Scotus. Scholasticism is best regarded as the medieval movement, flourishing in the period 1200-1500, which placed great emphasis upon the rational justification of religious beliefs. It is the demonstration of the inherent rationality of Christian theology by an appeal to philosophy, and the demonstration of the complete harmony of that theology by the minute examination of the relationship of its various elements. Scholastic writings tended to be long and argumentative, frequently relying upon closely argued distinctions.[2]


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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 9. Middle Ages (II)

January 28, 2014 2 comments

Four-fold method (quadriga): Of the many things the era of the Middle Ages is known for, one of its most important contributions to biblical interpretation came from John Cassian (circa 360-435). Cassian inherited the theory of the three senses of Scripture from his Patristic predecessors. Origen had developed the three-fold sense of Scripture – the literal (historical or somatic), the tropological (moral or pneumatic), and the allegorical (doctrinal or psychical). Cassian added a fourth – the mystical, analogical or ultimate/eschatological sense.[1] Augustine (circa 354-430) utilized a form of the four-fold method and his book On Christian Doctrine became “the volume which was to be the basic hermeneutical manual of the Middle Ages.”[2]

The medieval quadriga or fourfold pattern of meaning was comprised of the following: the literal or historical, the tropological or moral, the allegorical or doctrinal, and the anagogical or ultimate/eschatological.[3] Muller comments on the quadriga:


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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 9. Middle Ages (I)

Introduction: Gerald Bray opens his discussion of Medieval interpretation as follows:

The medieval period of biblical interpretation is one of the most complex and difficult of all, and it has not received the attention it deserves from theologians or biblical scholars. Most of the work in this field has been done by medievalists, who cannot escape the all-pervasive role which the Bible played during those centuries. But medievalists have their own agenda, and it is not always possible for a theologian to gain ready access to their work. There is also the fact that centuries of training have made Protestant scholars particularly wary of the medieval period, which they have been inclined to think of as an age of darkness. As most modern biblical scholars have been Protestants, this prejudice has contributed to the relative neglect of medieval exegesis.[1]

Not only do Bray’s statements seem to reflect reality, they are peculiarly true of me. I have been trained to think of the Middle Ages as the dark era of Christian interpretation and, thus, unhelpful and unnecessary for anything good. Certainly the rise of Islam during the eighth century had its ill effects upon Western culture at large and Christian interpretive methods in particular. The old Mediterranean culture broke up and neither Greek nor Latin were universal languages. During the Middle Ages Western Christians maintained Latin while those in the East did not. Some time in the ninth century Charlemagne (Holy Roman Emperor, crowned as such by Pope Leo III) “sponsored a revival of learning, which officially recognized that the ancient world had disappeared. Latin now had to be learned as a foreign tongue, even in Italy…”[2] This and other factors, such as illiteracy and a distinctly monolithic, “Christian” culture made the common Christian entirely dependant upon professional scholars who taught the clergy and, especially, the papacy (“Church”) as the final word on interpreting the Bible.


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