Four aspects of the twelfth century are especially interesting to us:

(1) The continued conflict of empire and papacy;

(2) The rise of the Lombard cities;

(3) The Crusades; and

(4) The growth of scholasticism.

All these four continued into the following century. The Crusades gradually came to an inglorious end; but, as regards the other three movements, the thirteenth century marks the culmination of what, in the twelfth, is in a transitional stage. In the thirteenth century, the Pope definitely triumphed over the Emperor, the Lombard cities acquired secure independence and scholasticism reached its highest point. All this, however, was an outcome of what the twelfth century had prepared.

Not only the first of these four movements, but the other three also, are intimately bound up with the increase of papal and ecclesiastical power. The Pope was in alliance with the Lombard cities against the Emperor; Pope Urban II inaugurated the first Crusade, and subsequent popes were the main promoters of the later ones; the scholastic philosophers were all clerics, and Church councils took care to keep them within the bounds of orthodoxy, or discipline them if they strayed. Undoubtedly, their sense of the political triumph of the Church, in which they felt themselves participants, stimulated their intellectual initiative.

One of the curious things about the Middle Ages is that they were original and creative without knowing it. All parties justified their policies by antiquarian and archaistic arguments. The Emperor appealed, in Germany, to the feudal principles of the time of Charlemagne; in Italy, to Roman law and the power of ancient Emperors. The Lombard cities went still further back, to the institutions of republican Rome. The papal party based its claims partly on the forged Donation of Constantine, partly on the relations of Saul and Samuel as told in the Old Testament. The scholastics appealed either to the Scriptures or at first to Plato and then to Aristotle; when they were original, they tried to conceal the fact. The Crusades were an endeavour to restore the state of affairs that had existed before the rise of Islam.

We must not be deceived by this literary archaism. Only in the case of the Emperor did it correspond with the facts. Feudalism was in decay, especially in Italy; the Roman Empire was a mere memory. Accordingly, the Emperor was defeated. The cities of North Italy, while, in their later development, they showed much similarity to the cities of ancient Greece, repeated the pattern, not from imitation, but from similarity of circumstances: that of small, rich, highly civilized republican commercial communities surrounded by monarchies at a lower level of culture. The scholastics, however they might revere Aristotle, showed more originality than any of the Arabs—more, indeed, than any one since Plotinus, or at any rate since Augustine. In politics as in thought, there was the same distinguished originality.


From the time of Gregory VII to the middle of the thirteenth century, European history centres round the struggle for power between the Church and the lay monarchs—primarily the Emperor, but also, on occasion, the kings of France and England. Gregory's pontificate had ended in apparent disaster, but his policies were resumed, though with more moderation, by Urban II (1088–99), who repeated the decrees against lay investiture, and desired episcopal elections to be made freely by clergy and people. (The share of the people was, no doubt, to be purely formal.) In practice, however, he did not quarrel with lay appointments if they were good.

At first, Urban was safe only in Norman territory. But in 1093 Henry IV's son Conrad rebelled against his father, and, in alliance with the Pope, conquered North Italy, where the Lombard League, an alliance of cities with Milan at its head, favoured the Pope. In 1094, Urban made a triumphal procession through North Italy and France. He triumphed over Philip, King of France, who desired a divorce, and was therefore excommunicated by the Pope, but submitted. At the Council of Clermont, in 1095, Urban proclaimed the first Crusade, which produced a wave of religious enthusiasm leading to increase of papal power—also to atrocious pogroms of Jews. The last year of Urban's life he spent in safety in Rome, where popes were seldom safe.

The next Pope, Paschal II, like Urban, came from Cluny. He continued the struggle on investitures, and was successful in France and England. But after the death of Henry IV in 1106, the next Emperor, Henry V, got the better of the Pope, who was an unworldly man and allowed his saintliness to outweigh his political sense. The Pope proposed that the Emperor should renounce investitures, but in return bishops and abbots should renounce temporal possessions. The Emperor professed to agree; but when the suggested compromise was made public, the ecclesiastics rebelled furiously against the Pope. The Emperor, who was in Rome, took the opportunity to seize the Pope, who yielded to threats, gave way on investitures, and crowned Henry V. Eleven years later, however, by the Concordat of Worms in 1122, Pope Calixtus II compelled Henry V to give way on investitures, and to surrender control over episcopal elections in Burgundy and Italy.

So far, the net result of the struggle was that the Pope, who had been subject to Henry III, had become the equal of the Emperor. At the same time, he had become more completely sovereign in the Church, which he governed by means of legates. This increase of papal power had diminished the relative importance of bishops. Papal elections were now free from lay control, and ecclesiastics generally were more virtuous than they had been before the reform movement.


The next stage was connected with the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1152–90), an able and energetic man, who would have succeeded in any enterprise in which success was possible. He was a man of education, who read Latin with pleasure, though he spoke it with difficulty. His classical learning was considerable, and he was an admirer of Roman law. He thought of himself as the heir of the Roman Emperors, and hoped to acquire their power. But as a German he was unpopular in Italy. The Lombard cities, while willing to acknowledge his formal overlordship, objected when he interfered in their affairs—except those which feared Milan, against which city some of them invoked his protection. The Patarine movement in Milan continued, and was associated with a more or less democratic tendency; most, but by no means all, of the North Italian cities sympathized with Milan, and made common cause against the Emperor.

Hadrian IV, a vigorous Englishman who had been a missionary in Norway, became Pope two years after the accession of Barbarossa, and was, at first, on good terms with him. They were reconciled by a common enmity. The city of Rome claimed independence from both alike, and, as a help in the struggle, had invited a saintly heretic, Arnold of Brescia.1 His heresy was very grave: he maintained that 'clerks who have estates, bishops who hold fiefs, monks who possess property, cannot be saved'. He held this view because he thought that the clergy ought to devote themselves entirely to spiritual matters. No one questioned his sincere austerity, although he was accounted wicked on account of his heresy. St Bernard, who vehemently opposed him, said, 'He neither eats nor drinks, but only, like the Devil, hungers and thirsts for the blood of souls.' Hadrian's predecessor in the papacy had written to Barbarossa to complain that Arnold supported the popular faction, which wished to elect one hundred senators and two consuls, and to have an Emperor of their own. Frederick, who was setting out for Italy, was naturally scandalized. The Roman demand for communal liberty, which was encouraged by Arnold, led to a riot in which a cardinal was killed. The newly-elected Pope Hadrian thereupon placed Rome under an interdict. It was Holy Week, and superstition got the better of the Romans; they submitted, and promised to banish Arnold. He hid, but was captured by the Emperor's troops. He was burnt, and his ashes were thrown into the Tiber, for fear of their being preserved as holy relics. After a delay caused by Frederick's unwillingness to hold the Pope's bridle and stirrup while he dismounted, the Pope crowned the Emperor in 1155 amid the resistance of the populace, which was quelled with great slaughter.

The honest man being disposed of, the practical politicians were free to resume their quarrel.

The Pope, having made peace with the Normans, ventured in 1157 to break with the Emperor. For twenty years there was almost continuous war between the Emperor on the one side, and the Pope with the Lombard cities on the other. The Normans mostly supported the Pope. The bulk of the fighting against the Emperor was done by the Lombard League, which spoke of 'liberty' and was inspired by intense popular feeling. The Emperor besieged various cities, and in 1162 even captured Milan, which he razed to the ground, compelling its citizens to live elsewhere. But five years later the League rebuilt Milan and the former inhabitants returned. In this same year, the Emperor, duly provided with an antipope,2 marched on Rome with a great army. The Pope fled, and his cause seemed desperate, but pestilence destroyed Frederick's army, and he returned to Germany a solitary fugitive. Although not only Sicily, but the Greek Emperor, now sided with the

Lombard League, Barbarossa made another attempt, ending in his defeat at the battle of Legnano in 1176. After this he was compelled to make peace, leaving to the cities all the substance of liberty. In the conflict between Empire and papacy, however, the terms of peace gave neither party complete victory.

Barbarossa's end was seemly. In 1189 he went on the third Crusade, and in the following year he died.

The rise of free cities is what proved of most ultimate importance in this long strife. The power of the Emperor was associated with the decaying feudal system; the power of the Pope, though still growing, was largely dependent upon the world's need of him as an antagonist to the Emperor, and therefore decayed when the Empire ceased to be a menace; but the power of the cities was new, a result of economic progress, and a source of new political forms. Although this does not appear in the twelfth century, the Italian cities, before long, developed a non-clerical culture which reached the very highest levels in literature, in art, and in science. All this was rendered possible by their successful resistance to Barbarossa.

All the great cities of Northern Italy lived by trade, and in the twelfth century the more settled conditions made traders more prosperous than before. The maritime cities, Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, never had to fight for their liberty, and were therefore less hostile to the Emperor than the cities at the foot of the Alps, which were important to him as the gateways to Italy. It is for this reason that Milan is the most interesting and important of Italian cities at this time.

Until the time of Henry III, the Milanese had usually been content to follow their archbishop. But the Patarine movement, mentioned in an earlier chapter, changed this: the archbishop sided with the nobility, while a powerful popular movement opposed him and them. Some beginnings of democracy resulted, and a constitution arose under which the rulers of the city were elected by the citizens. In various northern cities, but especially in Bologna, there was a learned class of lay lawyers, well versed in Roman law; moreover the rich laity, from the twelfth century onwards, were much better educated than the feudal nobility north of the Alps. Although they sided with the Pope against the Emperor, the rich commercial cities were not ecclesiastical in their outlook. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, many of them adopted heresies of a Puritan sort, like the merchants of England and Holland after the Reformation. Later, they tended to be free-thinkers, paying lip-service to the Church, but destitute of all real piety. Dante is the last of the old type, Boccaccio the first of the new.


The Crusades need not concern us as wars, but they have a certain importance in relation to culture. It was natural for the papacy to take the lead in the initiating of a Crusade, since the object was (at least ostensibly) religious; thus the power of the popes was increased by the war propaganda and by the religious zeal that was excited. Another important effect was the massacre of large numbers of Jews; those who were not massacred were often despoiled of their property and forcibly baptized. There were large-scale murders of Jews in Germany at the time of the first Crusade, and in England, at the time of the third Crusade, on the accession of Richard Cœur de Lion. York, where the first Christian Emperor had begun his reign, was the scene of one of the most appalling mass-atrocities against Jews. The Jews, before the Crusades, had almost a monopoly of the trade in Eastern goods throughout Europe; after the Crusades, as a result of the persecution of Jews, this trade was largely in Christian hands.

Another and very different effect of the Crusades was to stimulate literary intercourse with Constantinople. During the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, many translations from Greek into Latin were made as a result of this intercourse. There had always been much trade with Constantinople, especially by Venetians; but Italian traders did not trouble themselves with Greek classics, any more than English or American traders in Shanghai troubled themselves with the classics of China. (European knowledge of Chinese classics was derived mainly from missionaries.)


Scholasticism, in its narrower sense, begins early in the twelfth century. As a philosophic school, it has certain definite characteristics. First, it is confined within the limits of what appears to the writer to be orthodoxy; if his views are condemned by a council, he is usually willing to retract. This is not to be attributed entirely to cowardice, it is analogous to the submission of a judge to the decision of a Court of Appeal. Second, within the limits of orthodoxy, Aristotle, who gradually became more fully known during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is increasingly accepted as the supreme authority; Plato no longer holds the first place. Third, there is a great belief in 'dialectic' and in syllogistic reasoning; the general temper of the scholastics is minute and disputatious rather than mystical. Fourth, the question of universals is brought to the fore by the discovery that Aristotle and Plato do not agree about it; it would be a mistake to suppose, however, that universals are the main concern of the philosophers of this period.

The twelfth century, in this as in other matters, prepares the way for the thirteenth, to which the greatest names belong. The earlier men have, however, the interest of pioneers. There is a new intellectual confidence, and, in spite of the respect for Aristotle, a free and vigorous exercise of reason wherever dogma has not made speculation too dangerous. The defects of the scholastic method are those that inevitably result from laying stress on 'dialectic'. These defects are: indifference to facts and science, belief in reasoning in matters which only observation can decide, and an undue emphasis on verbal distinctions and subtleties. These defects we had occasion to mention in connection with Plato, but in the scholastics they exist in a much more extreme form.

The first philosopher who can be regarded as strictly a scholastic is Roscelin. Not very much is known about him. He was born at Compiègne about 1050, and taught at Loches, in Brittany, where Abélard was his pupil. He was accused of heresy at a council at Rheims in 1092, and recanted for fear of being stoned to death by ecclesiastics with a taste for lynching. He fled to England, but there he was rash enough to attack St Anselm. This time he fled to Rome, where he was reconciled to the Church. He disappears from history about 1120; the date of his death is purely conjectural.

Nothing remains of Roscelin's writings except a letter to Abélard on the Trinity. In this letter he belittles Abélard and makes merry over his castration. Ueberweg, who seldom displays emotion, is led to observe that he can't have been a very nice man. Apart from this letter, Roscelin's views are chiefly known through the controversial writings of Anselm and Abélard. According to Anselm, he said that universals are mere flatus vocis, 'breath of the voice'. If this is to be taken literally, it means that a universal is a physical occurrence, that, namely, which takes place when we pronounce a word. It is hardly to be supposed, however, that Roscelin maintained anything so foolish. Anselm says that, according to Roscelin, man is not a unity, but only a common name; this view Anselm, like a good Platonist, attributes to Roscelin's only conceding reality to what is sensible. He seems to have held, generally, that a whole which has parts has no reality of its own, but is a mere word; the reality is in the parts. This view should have led him, and perhaps did lead him, to an extreme atomism. In any case, it led him into trouble about the Trinity. He considered that the Three Persons are three distinct substances, and that only usage stands in the way of our saying that there are Three Gods. The alternative, which he does not accept, is, according to him, to say that not only the Son, but the Father and the Holy Ghost, were incarnate. All this speculation, in so far as it was heretical, he recanted at Rheims in 1092. It is impossible to know exactly what he thought about universals, but at any rate it is plain that he was some sort of nominalist.

His pupil Abélard (or Abailard) was much abler and much more distinguished. He was born near Nantes in 1079, was a pupil of William of Champeaux (a realist) in Paris, and then a teacher in the Paris cathedral school, where he combated William's views and compelled him to modify them. After a period devoted to the study of theology under Anselm of Laon (not the archbishop), he returned to Paris in 1113, and acquired extraor dinary popularity as a teacher. It was at this time that he became the lover of Héloïse, niece of Canon Fulbert. The canon had him castrated, and he and Héloïse had to retire from the world, he into a monastery at St Denis, she into a nunnery at Argenteuil. Their famous correspondence is said, by a learned German named Schmeidler, to have been entirely composed by Abélard as a literary fiction. I am not competent to judge as to the correctness of this theory, but nothing in Abélard's character makes it impossible. He was always vain, disputatious, and contemptuous; after his misfortune he was also angry and humiliated. Héloïse's letters are much more devoted than his, and one can imagine him composing them as a balm to his wounded pride.

Even in his retirement, he still had great success as a teacher; the young liked his cleverness, his dialectical skill, and his irreverence towards their older teachers. Older men felt the correlative dislike of him, and in 1121 he was condemned at Soissons for an unorthodox book on the Trinity. Having made due submission, he became abbot of St Gildas in Brittany, where he found the monks savage boors. After four miserable years in this exile, he returned to comparative civilization. His further history is obscure, except that he continued to teach with great success, according to the testimony of John of Salisbury. In 1141, at the instance of St Bernard, he was again condemned, this time at Sens. He retired to Cluny, and died the next year.

Abélard's most famous book, composed in 1121–22, is Sic et Non, 'Yes and No'. Here he gives dialectical arguments for and against a great variety of theses, often without attempting to arrive at a conclusion; clearly he likes the disputation itself, and considers it useful as sharpening the wits. The book had a considerable effect in waking people from their dogmatic slumbers. Abélard's view, that (apart from Scripture) dialectic is the sole road to truth, while no empiricist can accept it, had, at the time, a valuable effect as a solvent of prejudices and an encouragement to the fearless use of the intellect. Nothing outside the Scriptures, he said, is infallible; even Apostles and Fathers may err.

His valuation of logic was, from a modern point of view excessive. He considered it pre-eminently 'the Christian science' and made play with its derivation from 'Logos'. 'In the beginning was the Logos', says St John's Gospel, and this, he thought, proves the dignity of Logic.

His chief importance is in logic and theory of knowledge. His philosophy is a critical analysis, largely linguistic. As for universals, i.e. what can be predicated of many different things, he holds that we do not predicate a thing, but a word. In this sense he is a nominalist. But as against Roscelin he points out that a 'flatus vocis' is a thing; it is not the word as a physical occurrence that we predicate, but the word as meaning. Here he appeals to Aristotle. Things, he says, resemble each other, and these resemblances give rise to universals. But the point of resemblance between two similar things is not itself a thing; this is the mistake of realism. He says some things that are even more hostile to realism, for example, that general concepts are not based in the nature of things, but are confused images of many things. Nevertheless he does not wholly refuse a place to Platonic ideas: they exist in the divine mind as patterns for creation; they are, in fact, God's concepts.

All this, whether right or wrong, is certainly very able. The most modern discussions of the problem of universals have not got much further.

St Bernard, whose saintliness did not suffice to make him intelligent,3 failed to understand Abélard, and brought unjust accusations against him. He asserted that Abélard treats the Trinity like an Arian, grace like a Pelagian, and the Person of Christ like a Nestorian; that he proves himself a heathen in sweating to prove Plato a Christian; and further, that he destroys the merit of the Christian faith by maintaining that God can be completely understood by human reason. In fact Abélard never maintained this last, and always left a large province to faith, although, like St Anselm, he thought that the Trinity could be rationally demonstrated without the help of revelation. It is true that, at one time, he identified the Holy Ghost with the Platonic Soul of the World, but he abandoned this view as soon as its heretical character was pointed out to him. Probably it was more his combativeness than his doctrines that caused him to be accused of heresy, for his habit of criticizing pundits made him violently unpopular with all influential persons.

Most of the learned men of the time were less devoted to dialectic than Abélard was. There was, especially in the School of Chartres, a humanistic movement, which admired antiquity, and followed Plato and Boethius. There was a renewed interest in mathematics: Adelard of Bath went to Spain early in the twelfth century, and in consequence translated Euclid.

As opposed to the dry scholastic method, there was a strong mystical movement, of which St Bernard was the leader. His father was a knight who died in the first Crusade. He himself was a Cistercian monk, and in 1115 became abbot of the newly-founded abbey of Clairvaux. He was very influential in ecclesiastical politics—turning the scales against antipopes, combating heresy in Northern Italy and Southern France, bringing the weight of orthodoxy to bear on adventurous philosophers, and preaching the second Crusade. In attacking philosophers he was usually successful; but after the collapse of his Crusade he failed to secure the conviction of Gilbert de la Porrée, who agreed with Boethius more than seemed right to the saintly heresy-hunter. Although a politician and a bigot, he was a man of genuinely

religious temperament, and his Latin hymns have great beauty.4 Among those influenced by him, mysticism became increasingly dominant, till it passed into something like heresy in Joachim of Flora (d. 1202). The influence of this man, however, belongs to a later time. St Bernard and his followers sought religious truth, not in reasoning, but in subjective experience and contemplation. Abélard and Bernard are perhaps equally one-sided.

Bernard, as a religious mystic, deplored the absorption of the papacy in worldly concerns, and disliked the temporal power. Although he preached the Crusade, he did not seem to understand that a war requires organization, and cannot be conducted by religious enthusiasm alone. He complains that 'the law of Justinian, not the law of the Lord' absorbs men's attention. He is shocked when the Pope defends his domain by military force. The function of the Pope is spiritual, and he should not attempt actual government. This point of view, however, is combined with unbounded reverence for the Pope, whom he calls 'prince of bishops, heir of the apostles, of the primacy of Abel, the governance of Noah, the patriarchate of Abraham, the order of Melchizedek, the dignity of Aaron, the authority of Moses, in judgeship Samuel, in power Peter, in unction Christ'. The net result of St Bernard's activities was, of course, a great increase of the power of the Pope in secular affairs.

John of Salisbury, though not an important thinker, is valuable for our knowledge of his times, of which he wrote a gossipy account. He was secretary to three Archbishops of Canterbury, one of whom was Becket; he was a friend of Hadrian IV; at the end of his life he was bishop of Chartres, where he died in 1180. In matters outside the faith, he was a man of sceptical temper; he called himself an Academic (in the sense in which St Augustine uses this term). His respect for kings was limited: 'an illiterate king is a crowned ass'. He revered St Bernard, but was well aware that his attempt to reconcile Plato and Aristotle must be a failure. He admired Abélard, but laughed at his theory of universals, and at Roscelin's equally. He thought logic a good introduction to learning, but in itself bloodless and sterile. Aristotle, he says, can be improved on, even in logic; respect for ancient authors should not hamper the critical exercise of reason. Plato is still to him the 'prince of all philosophers'. He knows personally most of the learned men of his time, and takes a friendly part in scholastic debates. On revisiting one school of philosophy after thirty years, he smiles to find them still discussing the same problems. The atmosphere of the society that he frequents is very like that of Oxford Common Rooms thirty years ago. Towards the end of his life, the cathedral schools gave place to universities, and

universities, at least in England, have had a remarkable continuity from that day to this.

During the twelfth century, translators gradually increased the number of Greek books available to Western students. There were three main sources of such translations: Constantinople, Palermo, and Toledo. Of these Toledo was the most important, but the translations coming from there were often from the Arabic, not direct from the Greek. In the second quarter of the twelfth century, Archbishop Raymond of Toledo instituted a college of translators, whose work was very fruitful. In 1128, James of Venice translated Aristotle's Analytics, Topics, and Sophistici Elenchi; the Posterior Analytics were found difficult by Western philosophers. Henry Aristippus of Catania (d. 1162) translated the Phaedo and Meno, but his translations had no immediate effect. Partial as was the knowledge of Greek philosophy in the twelfth century, learned men were aware that much of it remained to be discovered by the West, and a certain eagerness arose to acquire a fuller knowledge of antiquity. The yoke of orthodoxy was not so severe as is sometimes supposed; a man could always write his book, and then, if necessary, withdraw its heretical portions after full public discussion. Most of the philosophers of the time were French, and France was important to the Church as a make-weight against the Empire. Whatever theological heresies might occur among them, learned clerics were almost all politically orthodox; this made the peculiar wickedness of Arnold of Brescia, who was an exception to the rule. The whole of early scholasticism may be viewed, politically, as an offshoot of the Church's struggle for power.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!