From a sustained and interdisciplinary investigation of the scholastic method, a cultural logic of medieval disputation emerges. In ﬁve discernable stages, disputation evolved from a pedagogical ideal in a monastic setting to become one of the deﬁning features of medieval intellectual life, with formative and performative cultural manifestations at multiple levels of society.
First, Anselm and his circle pioneered a more dynamic and persuasive approach to articulating the tenets of faith, one that relied heavily on the dual power of reason and dialogue. More than any single other individual in the eleventh century, it was Anselm who successfully demonstrated to many of his students and contemporaries the dual power of reason and dialectic in expounding the tenets of Christianity, arguing for their rationality and demonstrating that a deeper understanding of faith could be taught through the ruminative practice of questions and answers. Authors such as Gilbert Crispin, Honorius Augustodunensis, Pseudo-Anselm, and Odo of Cambrai were among the early twelfth-century scholars who followed Anselm’s lead in placing great emphasis on the role of reason and in choosing the dialogue form as the literary genre most suited to their philosophical and theological purposes. While Anselm was not alone in teaching through dialogue, and much of his pedagogical approach must have been inherited rather than invented, he provided the charismatic impulse that launched a new wave of speculative inquiry in Normandy, France, and England.
Second, the rise of new schools in Italy and northern France and the passage of dialogical writing and learning to these circles allowed disputation to be absorbed into a new scholastic milieu. The transference of dialogical learning out of the monasteries and into the tutorials of private masters and cathedral schools allowed the new interest in dialectic to develop slowly into systematic disputation. Several important ﬁgures from the early twelfth century such as Rupert of Deutz, Bernard of Clairvaux, and William of St. Thierry frowned upon this new interest in dialectic and the disputatious methods of studying scripture. Nevertheless, those very critics who deplored the new practice of disputation were themselves attracted to the polemical dialogue, composing literary disputations to demonstrate the superiority of their positions. The combative, feudal vocabulary with which authors of different social milieus described the new trends in disputation is an illustrative reminder not only of how pervasive and inﬂuential disputation had become but also of its penetrating potential for polemic.
Third, the recovery of Aristotle’s New Logic in the middle decades of the twelfth century helped to catalyze this new and controversial use of disputation by providing models of dialectic argumentation. Adam of Balsham was one of the ﬁrst authors to consider the value of Aristotle’s logic in relation to the art of discourse (ars disserendi), something that he believed, quite correctly, was in its earliest developmental stages. John of Salisbury presented in his Metalogiconthe clearest pictureof how Aristotelianlogic hadbecome both fashionable and misused within the study of the trivium. John’s mitigated endorsement of scholastic disputation lies in his explaining the value of Aristotelian logic on the one hand, while chiding the useless verbosity of contemporary masters who devalue its worth on the other. The dialectical exchange of the Dialogus Ratii et Everardi by Everard of Ypres discloses an awareness of Book VIII of Aristotle’s Topics, as does in more parodic fashion the anthropomorphic debates featured in the thirteenth-century Owl and the Nightingale. The anonymous author of this Middle English debate is clearly well versed in contemporary academic instruction, even if the precise nature of his scholastic background is frustratingly elusive. The Owl and the Nightingale represents the earliest of many vernacular dialogues that feature animals engaged in a ﬁctional disputation (the Parliament of Fowls being a later example), soon joined by a range of other debate poems that make playful art out of the dialectical process of opposing positions. Collectively, these works may be described as scholastic learning’s ripple effects on the literary imagination.
Fourth, the integration of disputation as a ﬁxture within the teaching program of the university and the Dominican Order established systematic and formal procedures in the art of debate. In a word, disputation became institutionalized. Although founded for different purposes, the university curriculum of Paris and the Dominican schools were coterminous institutions, each owing their formal institutional beginnings to the pontiﬁcate of Innocent III. Both institutions sent their graduates off into the world, taking their methods of scholastic argumentation with them. The quaestiones disputatae of the schools of theology, law, and medicine were soon joined by the disputatio de quolibet, a curricular-centered public disputation in which university masters demonstrated their knowledge and argumentative skills without restriction of subject. These curricular debates gave rise to an entire genre of quodlibetical literature that preserved in edited form the questions and arguments that arose from such debates. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae, to take the most exemplary product of the thirteenth-century university, preserves the essential structure of the classroom debate, presenting arguments pro and contra before resolving the contradictions with a ﬁnal determinationand respondingcategoricallyto theopposing objections.Aquinas’s involvement in the Dominican Order and his detailed comments on the value and dangers of Jewish-Christian disputations highlight the multiple and interweaving braids that form the third, fourth, and ﬁfth elements of the medieval culture of disputation. While room must also be allowed for disputation among other mendicant orders, the Dominicans were especially engaged with disputation because of their special missionary purpose of convincing heretics and unbelievers of the errors of their beliefs.
Fifth, and most essential, disputation penetrated a public sphere when it became applied—indeed performed—before and among audiences not trained in the lecture halls of the medieval university or the teaching convents of the Dominican Order. Three such examples of the performance of disputation, I have argued, are the principles of counterpoint and polyphony evident in the school of Notre Dame, the motets that likewise grow out of Parisian scholastic circles, and the debate poems of the northern French trouve `res. An even more poignant example of the cultural application of disputation is the Christian encounter with Jews, the Christian dialogical ‘‘other’’ par excellence. Although the Adversus Iudaeos genre extends as far back as the early centuries of Christianity, it witnessed a remarkable proliferation during scholasticism’s most formative period. This included many dialogues purporting to be based on actual encounters between Christians and Jews and instruction manuals for future debates. Disputations between Christians and Jews achieved even greater public dimensions in the thirteenth century, as royal patronage and Dominican involvement in the incidents at Paris in 1240 and Barcelona in 1263 illustrate. Papal attempts to place restrictions on debates between unqualiﬁed priests and Jews and the leading role played by Dominican missionaries in organizing public debates indicate the complexity of the church’s encounter with Jews and Judaism, a paradox that, in some sense, mirrors the perpetual paradox of Europe’s Jewish communities: tolerated on the one hand, yet debased and increasingly resented on the other. The scholastic culture of disputation did not in any way resolve this paradox, but it did provide new rhetorical tools that disseminated the arguments of the discourse to a broader audience. The vernacular dialogues between Jews and Christians and the iconographic motif of Christians disputing with Jews reﬂect this broader evolution of scholastic disputation.
The medieval culture of disputation thus unfolds as an exercise in interdisciplinary reconstruction. It is the conclusion of this book that an idea and a literary form originally limited to small intellectual circles in the late eleventh century evolved though multiple stages to become a cultural practice within the larger public sphere in the thirteenth, perceptible within and beyond the university context. Taking place on the frontier between learned and popular culture, between public and private spheres, between tragedy and comedy, and between polemic and performance, the rise of disputation represents a cultural mutation in medieval society that can be fully understood only with a broad and cross-disciplinary approach to cultural history, one that adequately accounts for the evolution of ideas into practices, across both time and place. The acknowledged centrality of disputation in the late Middle Ages and well into the early modern period, where dialogues and disputations abound, suggests that there are more areas to be explored and more connections to be found. This book makes no claim to have given a complete study of medieval disputation. Rather, it is hoped that the categories of analysis offered and the range of evidence employed will stimulate future investigations into scholasticism’s deep impact on medieval and postmedieval culture.