Scholasticism and high medieval opposition to magic

Authored by: David J. Collins

The Routledge History of Medieval Magic

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781472447302
eBook ISBN: 9781315613192
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter on the scholastic approach to magic is shaped by five propositions about the intellectual history of the High Middle Ages, particularly as it may pertain to magic. First, any evaluation of scholasticism is enriched by attention to the social context within which its particular methods and conclusions emerged. Second, scholastic conclusions on matters of philosophical and theological importance have, as a rule, more in continuity with their antecedents than in discontinuity. That is to say, scholastic thinkers can be counted on to have drawn heavily from and developed squarely upon earlier medieval thought, rather than to have rejected it. Third, scholastic opinions against magic, or any other topic for that matter, are often best understood in conjunction with the ideas and practices, often also magical, that scholastics were correspondingly promoting. Fourth, while today’s historical scholarship should certainly rise to the challenge of identifying general trends among scholastic thinkers, unanimity in opinion or approach was not a defining characteristic of scholastic thought, including on magic, in affirmation or condemnation. Given the research tendencies of the last hundred years, it is incumbent on researchers to seek out and highlight scholastic heterogeneity vis-à-vis magic. And finally, a scholastic approach to magic, to the extent that one, or several, can be identified, warrants evaluation on its own merits and comprehensively, not merely, or even primarily, in anticipation of late medieval developments. Late scholastic writings on witchcraft and demonology have often been made into a lens through which the thirteenth-century scholastic writings on magic have been viewed, with results that can be quite distorted. This chapter will consequently focus on early and high scholasticism, that is, the twelfth to fourteenth century.

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