3) We come to the High Middle Ages, 1200-1300. Here all the basic motifs are elaborated and brought into the great systems of the Scholastics, of Gothic art, and of feudal life.
4) From 1300 on, we come into the period of the disintegration of the Middle Ages, from 1300-1460, the Late Middle Ages. If I call it an age of “disintegration,” I don’t want to depreciate the tremendous surge of new motifs which developed there and made both the Renaissance and Reformation possible. Thus, to repeat: 1) The period of transition, 600-1000.
2) The Early Middle Ages, 1000-1200.
3) The High Middle Ages, 1200-1300.
4) The Late Middle Ages, 1300-1450.
The first series of problems we will discuss are the main cognitive attitude, the main theological attitude – 1 don’t speak of systems, but of attitudes. There are three of them, and they were always present and inf luential.
1) Scholasticism: , the main and determinative cognitive attitude of the whole Middle Ages. It is the methodological explanation of Christian doctrine. It is derived from “school, of course, and means “school philosophy,” philosophy as it was treated in the school. Today “school” has connotations of separation from life; “scholasticism” even more so. When we hear the word “scholasticism” we think of lifeless systems, (as thick as a horse is heavy, as was said of one of these Scholastics), and no one can read them, since they have nothing to do with reality. There was a distortion of Scholasticism in the late Middle Ages, but that Scholasticism really is the theological interpretation of all problems of life of these people. Therefore we have an extremely rich Scholastic literature, that has tremendously influenced the whole spiritual life of the Middle Ages.
But there was of course one limit to this. . . A Scholastic(education) … was given only to a small upper class. All the Scholastic books were written in Latin, and although many more of the educated of that time knew Latin, the masses did not know it, nor could they even write or read. So the question was: how to bring the message discussed in these Scholastic systems to the people.
There were two ways: participation in the church services, the liturgies, pictures, the church (structures), hearing the music, and receiving other sense impressions – which do not require much intellectual activity but which give the feeling of the numinous, and some kind of moral guidance. But this didn’t mean that these objective things were really personal experiences. The second attitude therefore developed to introduce personal experience into the religious life, and this was what mysticism in the Middle Ages meant.
Now you are today misled by a Protestant theology which starts with Ritschl and is still alive in the Barthian theology, a misinterpretation of the meaning of mysticism. You are misled by people who immediately identify the word mysticism with either Asiatic mysticism of the Vedanta type, or with Neoplatonic mysticism of the Plotinus type. Now forget about this when you approach the Middle Ages. Every medieval Scholastic was a mystic at the same time I. e. , they experienced what they were talking about as personal experience. That was what mysticism originally meant in the Scholastic realm. There was no opposition between mysticism and Scholasticism. The Scholastic message “experienced” – that was mysticism. The unity with the Divine in devotion and ascetic exercises and prayer and contemplation was the basis of the dogma. Now if you know this, then at least I hope you will not fall. into the trap of removing mysticism from Christianity, which practically means reducing it to an intellectualized faith and a moralized love. And that is what has happened since the Ritschlian school became predominant in Protestantism, and still is very important in many parts of this country. And don’t fall into the trap that if you use the word mysticism, or read it, or hear it spoken, you immediately think of the pattern of absolute or abstract mysticism in which the individual disappears in the abyss of the Divine. Mysticism – – unio mystica , as even the Orthodox theologians of Protestantism called it – is the immediate union with God in His presence. And even for the Orthodox people, this was the highest form of the relationship to God. In the Middle Ages, mysticism and Scholasticism belonged to each other.