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The Medieval Culture of Disputation

The Medieval Culture of Disputation: Pedagogy, Practice, and Performance

Alex J. Novikoff
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The Medieval Culture of Disputation
    Book Description:

    Scholastic disputation, the formalized procedure of debate in the medieval university, is one of the hallmarks of intellectual life in premodern Europe. Modeled on Socratic and Aristotelian methods of argumentation, this rhetorical style was refined in the monasteries of the early Middle Ages and rose to prominence during the twelfth-century Renaissance. Strict rules governed disputation, and it became the preferred method of teaching within the university curriculum and beyond. In The Medieval Culture of Disputation, Alex J. Novikoff has written the first sustained and comprehensive study of the practice of scholastic disputation and of its formative influence in multiple spheres of cultural life. Using hundreds of published and unpublished sources as his guide, Novikoff traces the evolution of disputation from its ancient origins to its broader impact on the scholastic culture and public sphere of the High Middle Ages. Many examples of medieval disputation are rooted in religious discourse and monastic pedagogy: Augustine's inner spiritual dialogues and Anselm of Bec's use of rational investigation in speculative theology laid the foundations for the medieval contemplative world. The polemical value of disputation was especially exploited in the context of competing Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Bible. Disputation became the hallmark of Christian intellectual attacks against Jews and Judaism, first as a literary genre and then in public debates such as the Talmud Trial of 1240 and the Barcelona Disputation of 1263. As disputation filtered into the public sphere, it also became a key element in iconography, liturgical drama, epistolary writing, debate poetry, musical counterpoint, and polemic. The Medieval Culture of Disputation places the practice and performance of disputation at the nexus of this broader literary and cultural context.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0863-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Debate and argumentation are as ancient as civilization itself, but it is the argument of this book that the debates of scholastic authors offer particularly great insight into an essential habit of medieval thought and culture. The disciplinary divides of modern historiography have much to do with concealing its light. As a subject, these debates are treated seriously by philosophers and theologians interested in particular points of logic or doctrine, selectively by specialists of medieval learning who focus on particular authors or key ideas, and more rarely still by historians concerned with the wider cultural fabric of medieval society. Popular...

  4. CHAPTER 1 The Socratic Inheritance
    (pp. 8-33)

    An almost unavoidable pitfall in tracing the history of scholastic disputation is the inclination to begin in medias res, when the institutional structure of the medieval university is already firmly in place. While this chapter is a deliberate attempt to connect the age of scholasticism to an ancient tradition, the story of disputation in fact defies the quest for an obvious beginning. According to the latest theories in the cognitive sciences, the proclivity for debate and argumentation is so embedded in the human condition that it may actually result from the innate operations of the mind. This recent, and still...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Anselm, Dialogue, and the Rise of Scholastic Disputation
    (pp. 34-61)

    The Italian-born Lanfranc of Pavia (c. 1005–89 ) and his more illustrious pupil and compatriot Anselm of Bec (c. 1033–1109 ) have long been considered pivotal figures in the theological and especially philosophical developments of the late eleventh century. Long ago dubbed the “father of scholasticism”¹ on account of his attempts to harmonize reason and faith, Anselm has occasioned increasing scrutiny in recent years as scholars have begun to target the cultural and pedagogical (as opposed to strictly philosophical) role of Anselm and his milieu in the early stages of the twelfth-century renaissance.² In a particularly stimulating interdisciplinary...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Scholastic Practices of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance
    (pp. 62-105)

    The twelfth-century attitude toward classical learning and literature is often summed up by the memorable words of Bernard of Chartres, who is quoted by his disciple John of Salisbury as saying that “we are like dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants: we see more and farther than our predecessors not because we have sharper vision or greater height, but because we are raised up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”¹ This proclamation of new insight framed by a conscious indebtedness to the past elegantly sums up the relation between old and new in the “twelfth-century renaissance,” a concept...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Aristotle and the Logic of Debate
    (pp. 106-132)

    The rise of scholastic disputation within legal and theological circles might have remained a minor byproduct of the new schools and scholars of the twelfth century had it not been for the recovery of Aristotle’s Topics and Sophistical Refutations, works that dealt directly with the dialectical process of forming and refuting arguments. The translation and transmission of this New Logic in the middle of the twelfth century had a profound impact on the development of scholastic disputation, lending authority and guidance to the practice most characteristic of the medieval schoolmen. This chapter examines the reception of Aristotle’s New Logic within...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Institutionalization of Disputation: Universities, Polyphony, and Preaching
    (pp. 133-171)

    The first half of the thirteenth century marks the full development of scholastic disputation and the efflorescence of scholastic culture more generally. Many elements of this golden age of medieval civilization are well known, including the preeminence of Paris as a center of learning, government, Gothic architecture, and art.¹ The broad fundamentals of this period will therefore be assumed rather than retold. However, two of the most distinct developments during this period—the rise of universities and the formation of the mendicant orders—were especially important in providing formal and institutional settings for the practice of disputation. The institutionalization of...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Drama and Publicity in Jewish-Christian Disputations
    (pp. 172-221)

    The evolution of disputation as a cultural practice has been examined from its origins in antiquity to its institutionalization and cultural expression in theology, poetry, and music during the thirteenth century and later. Disputation was a natural vehicle for polemical delivery, championed by controversialists in the twelfth century and by Dominicans in the thirteenth, who welded scholastic argumentation to their obligations as itinerant preachers. Of all the manifestations of polemical disputation encountered thus far, one genre stands out from the others because of its centrality to medieval Christian thought and culture: the Jewish-Christian debate. There is nothing remarkable about this...

  10. Conclusions: The Medieval Culture of Disputation
    (pp. 222-228)

    The goal of this book has been to trace the origins and influence of scholastic disputation as a normative cultural practice in medieval Europe. Owing to important changes in the cultural and institutional landscape of Europe, the focus of attention has been on developments that extend from the late eleventh century until the end of the thirteenth century. Before returning to the evidence, it will be instructive to look forward to the afterlife of medieval disputation, when modern characterizations of scholasticism take shape. If recovering the medieval culture of disputation is our goal, it is important to know how it...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 229-278)
    (pp. 279-312)
  13. Index of Works
    (pp. 313-316)
    (pp. 317-324)
    (pp. 325-328)