Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.
The Dark Ages, as the period between the Fall of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages is known, was a period of little progress in human learning, at least in the western world. In other regions, this was not the case. Mohammed, the prophet of Islam (569-632), inspired a rich period of discovery and learning flourished in this climate. Of particular note was the development of Arabic numerals, which replaced the cumbersome Roman system. Later, the Moors conquered southern Spain and the Arab culture slowly began to influence Western learning.
In Western Europe during the Dark Ages, it was politically chaotic, with the invasion of Rome by barbarians and the break-up of the Roman Empire. Whereas Rome had formed the nucleus of a stable system of government and continuity that extended over large portions of the Western world, now this world was broken into much smaller and constantly warring states. The Roman Catholic Church was able to provide some form of stability and meaning to people through their emphasis on gaining entrance to heaven and de-emphasizing the importance of life on earth.
Human learning regressed during this period as the Church sought to control the education of the common people, placing increasing importance on obedience and denouncing the study of philosophy as contradictory to its teaching. In turn only the clergy and some nobility were allowed to learn to read and write. For the masses, teaching was done by the clergy and was directed towards inducting people into the faith, relying on oral transmission of liturgy. The power of the Roman Catholic Church was maintained through the hope of salvation and eternal life. The Church was the intercessor between heaven and damnation.Charlemagne (742-814) of the Franks attempted to establish schools and promote education. Even though Alcuin (735-804), Charlemagne's advisor and teacher, aided him in this task, they were unable to make much progress.
Around 1000 AD, humankind slowly began to realize the importance and need for learning. Some of the writings of Aristotle were re-discovered and the Roman Catholic Church began to accept some of the doctrines of philosophy. Thomas Aquinas (1255-1274) who wrote the Summa Theologica, helped bring about this change by formalizing scholasticism or the logical and philosophical study of the beliefs of the Catholic Church. His educational philosophy, called Thomism in his honor, is still central to education in parochial schools.
Medieval universities at Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Salerno were established and became forerunners of our modern institutions. By 1500, almost eighty universities had been established and human learning in the Western world began to revive.
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