Advanced Historical Theology - A General Introduction to the Thirteenth Century - by C. Matthew McMahon

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Part 15 – Advanced Historical Theology – A General Introduction to the Thirteenth Century

The 13th century is known as the golden age of the Middle Ages. Gothic Cathedrals were built, Pope Innocent III came to power, the Inquisition was formally established, universities were developed and Aristotle’s teaching invaded the West.

At the opening of the 13th century we find Pope Innocent III occupying the Roman See. Under his leadership the papacy was at its culmination of power. Under his rule the doctrine of transubstantiation was ratified, the Trinitarian doctrines of Joachim of Fiore were condemned, the need to broaden studies was affirmed, secret marriage was forbidden, the pope was given exclusive rights to introduce new relics, a new crusade was called, and various measures were taken to reform the life of the clergy of the church. Innocent called himself the “vicar of Christ” on earth. As a representative of the Christ, he was the pastor of the entire church in the world. Papal authority was high on the rise and reached its ultimate peak with Boniface VIII when he ratified the Unam sanctum on November 18, 1302, affirming that the pope is the “Vicar of Christ” officially.

During this time the Inquisition was a papal tool and a pontifical institution of the day. Heretics now were physically punished. There were no trials, but simply “inquisitions.” The burning of heretics became increasingly common, hindering theological freedom and originality of thought (using “originality of thought” in a sense that expresses the orthodoxy of the church since the time of the apostles).

“Universities” began to flourish at this time. The term “university” meant “a gathering of students and professors” until later on when it became the title of the establishment itself. The orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans also came about at this time. Dominicans were academics who occupied university positions as well as sharing in a monastic life, where Franciscans were usually laymen who went around preaching and exhorting. The Franciscans were divided into the rigorist camp and the modernist camp. The former renounced property, the latter did so only as much as needed.

During this time Averroes, an Arabic philosopher arose and became the most widely known significant and famous of the Arabic philosophers to ever live. He was known for writing on the relationships of faith and reason, the eternity and the world, and the unity of the active intellect. In the Arts Faculty of Paris, a group of teachers claimed independence for philosophy from the requirements of orthodoxy. This was not a bright move on their part., However, they are called the Latin Averroes because of their allegiance to Averroes, and their main exponent was Siger of Brabant. What made them unique was that they were reading books that were outlawed by the church and integrating philosophical ideas with medieval theology.

The Augustinian Tradition in the 13th Century

Though Western theology had been Augustinian for centuries, in the 13th century this was more forcibly understood under the writings of Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure.

Alexander of Hales became a Franciscan in 1236, when he was about fifty years old. The main theologians who influenced him were Augustine, Anselm, Hugh of Saint victor and several other Christian writers. He did not believe theology was about cause and affect, as if to put together a systematic theology, but rather a “wisdom” of the “cause of causes.” Theology is given to men not to satisfy human curiosity, but to perfect the soul in its affections moving it towards the good through principles of fear and love. At this time he was known as the “irrefutable Doctor.”

Bonaventure, known also as John of Fidanza, eclipsed Alexander by his extensive theology. He was a Franciscan who studied under Hale and received his doctorate in 1253. After a career as a teacher he was elected Minister General of the Friars Minor by the chapter which met in Rome in 1257. His theology built upon three pillars: the first is the authority of the church and her tradition, as well as the Scriptures. Second, it is based on a profound piety of the Franciscan type. Thirdly he built his theology on the framework he gained from reading Augustine and Hugh of St. Victor. For Bonaventure, theology is more than a science, it is wisdom. It depends primarily on the affection of the will and points to the existence of God the Creator.

Bible Verse:

“Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus,” (1 Peter 5:14).

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