The indictment that unquestioning acceptance of ecclesiastic authority invalidated the reasoning of those monastic scholars from a scientific standpoint is thus seen to be without foundation. We have, however, still to consider a particular form of it. The analytic nature of their reasoning has often been denied on the ground that their arguments can have been only arguments from authority: subject to the authority of the Pope as they were, they had no other method left of establishing or refuting a proposition than to adduce for or against it literary authorities recognized by that supreme authority.
But this is not so. The point can be cleared up by a reference to St. Thomas. He taught indeed that authority was of decisive importance in matters involving Revelation— namely, the authority of those to whom the revelations had been made—but he also taught that in everything else (and this includes, of course, the whole field of economics) any argument from authority was ‘extremely weak.’ Of course, the scholastics all quoted copiously, but so do we. They deferred to authority—where they agreed with it—more than we do because they emphasized cooperative rather than individual opinion and attached great importance to continuity of doctrine. But this is all.
With the monopoly of learning went the monopoly of ‘higher’ teaching. In the schools that were founded from the seventh century on, by temporal and spiritual lords, it was clerics who taught the tatters of Graeco-Roman science as well as theology and philosophical doctrines of their own—great teachers like Abelard attracted students and caused, occasionally, a lot of trouble for the controlling authorities. In some cases from these schools, in others independently, the self-governing ‘universities’ developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—incorporated associations of either teachers, as in Paris, or students, as in Bologna, who before long grouped themselves into theological, philosophical, legal, and medical ‘faculties.’ At first, princes and bishops had no more to do with them than what was implied in the granting of corporative privileges and in religious supervision. Accordingly, the universities enjoyed a large measure of freedom and independence; they gave more scope to the individual teacher than do the mechanized universities of today; they were a meeting ground of all classes of society; and they were essentially international. But from the fourteenth century on, government foundations became increasingly frequent. Governments also acquired control of previously independent institutions. Eventually, this changed everything. Government influence not only made for the assertion of purely utilitarian aims but also for restriction of freedom, particularly, of course, in matters of political doctrine. But, precisely because of the power that stood behind the clerical teachers, the universities held their own fairly well until the religious split in the sixteenth century.