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582 10 2013 , 29 2014 . 785

University news
Lecture on Medieval Worldview Concludes Cycle of Medieval Studies Lectures in the Conciliar Chamber

On March 31, 2018, a lecture on Salvific Untruths. The Worldview of Mediaeval Latin Literature took place in the Conciliar Chamber of the Main Building of Saint Tikhons Orthodox University of the Humanities. It was the sixth and final lecture in the cycle titled Medieval Studies in the Conciliar Chamber, organized by Saint Tikhons University in conjunction with the School of History at the Higher School of Economics (HSE), and was given by HSE Professor Oleg Voskoboinikov.

The subject of the lecture was the formative history of the worldview on which contemporary European science is based. The main sources of conceptions about the world in the Middle Ages were the Bible and Christian dogma. There is a popular notion amongst materialist thinkers that the views of the silent majority and of the barbarians, which are not attested in written sources, were somehow opposed to the worldview of Christianity. On the contrary, the scholarly culture and Latin literature of the time were in a process of rapid flux, the HSE professor stated.

After the Bible, the second main source of ideas for Western European scholars were the works of the Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. These were lost in the West after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In the 6th century, the Roman Emperor closed the Academy of Plato in Athens, and its teachers fled to the Arab caliphate, where they translated the works of Greek philosophers into Arabic. At the end of the first millennium, the works of Plato and Aristotle were brought back to Europe when Averroes (ibn Rushd) translated them from Arabic into Latin and in so doing rendered them accessible to Western European Scholastics. The lecturer devoted some time to discussing the emergence of early Scholasticism, and especially of the School of Chartres in Northern France in the 12th century.

The intellectual culture of the time was based on Theology and Biblical Exegetics, Oleg Voskoboinikov said, illustrating this point with quotations from William of Conches interpretation of the Biblical creation (De philosophia mundi). The most important thing for him is pure truth, and not dressed-up lies, and for this reason he sets about methodically describing all the elements of the Creation. The Biblical account of creation gave rise to as many debates in the Middle Ages as it does today. Thierry of Chartres has a work dedicated to precisely the same subject.

Even though these 12th century figures did not reject Christian truths, each was searching for his own way to the truth, and dogmatic propositions were thus insufficient for them. The Chartres School became the birthplace of a new school of thought, one of the main features of which was a well-wishing and sympathetic mode of narration.

Yet another source for Western medieval mans vision of the world was a system of education consisting of the dual courses of the trivium and quadrivium, whose origins can likewise be traced back to the Roman Empire. Young people from the ages of 7-12 who had studied the subjects of the trivium were supposed to be able to write, speak, and discourse [reason]. After this, they had the opportunity to enter University and to become scholars after their graduation.

The scholars of the School of Chartres conceived of themselves as men of letters, as philologists; they performed close readings of Latin texts and discussed every thought contained within them. They were of the opinion that the truth can be found hidden behind each word, and this idea gave rise to philology, that is, a means of reading authoritative texts.

There was a contrary position. Guibert of Nogent said that God has no use for grammar as far as prayer is concerned. Herrad of Landsberg condemned the study of literature in her book Garden of Delights (Hortus Deliciarum).

In his Cosmography of 1140, Bernard Silvester used the techniques of literature to give context to the cosmogonic narrative space of the Biblical creation story. The readers of the Cosmography were meant to feel as if they were themselves present at the creation of the world. The entire creation is portrayed in just 1000 lines. The narrative concludes a description of the human anatomy. The reader comes to feel as if he is himself a part of this world. This was the work in Latin literature that initiated the rehabilitation of the human body in all its capacities.

Therefore, as people sought ways to reconcile the Christian faith with the ideas of the philosophers, there emerged the idea of the Christian community, a society of people whose worldview was contingent on a selection of texts familiar to them and united by common ideas, Oleg Voskoboinikov concluded in his lecture.


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