Peter of Spain and Pre-Reformation Mind

The Mental Furniture of the Pre-Reformation Mind:
The Dialectica of Peter of Spain in the Humanist Reaction to Scholasticism

Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.
All Saints Church, Lancaster, PA [1]

[A version of this paper was presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s Eastern Regional meeting at Lancaster Bible College, April 4, 2003]

Among those that formatively contributed to the development and the perpetuation of medieval logic is the little known, Petrus Hispanus, Peter of Spain. This paper demonstrates that Petrus was viewed as the emblem of so-called dark age scholasticism to the Pre-Reformation humanists. He, not Thomas Aquinas, was identified as the premier scholastic, according to humanist sources, such as Erasmus, Thomas More, and Juan Vives. Peter’s logic text, the Tractatus, was the common property of the medieval university shortly after its publication and formed the meat of dialectical study in the Universities of Paris, Vienna, Cologne, Freiburg, Leipzig, Ingolstadt and Tubingen for hundreds of years. Knowing Peter’s biographical contour and grasping a survey of his dialectics enlightens the dynamics of the pre-Reformation period and further illuminates the relationship between scholasticism, humanism, and Protestantism.

    Medieval logic has been a fruitful field of much research in the last fifty years.[2] The schoolmen excelled in the science and art of dialectic and utilized their art for the defense of Christianity.[3] Dialectics, to the contemporary mind may require some explanation. The term dialectic conjures many images askew of the medieval sense, namely Hegel’s dialectical philosophy and Marx’s dialectical materialism. To start, dialectics may be simply defined as the “art of disputation.”[4] The medieval schoolmen’s dialectics has made an interesting contribution to the very development of logic.[5] Moreover, the contribution of the medievals with all their precise logical terminology and intricate linguistic dialectics was one of the most vehemently attacked targets of scholasticism by the Renaissance humanists.
    Among those that formatively contributed to the development and the perpetuation of the medieval dialectics is the little known, Petrus Hispanus, Peter of Spain (1210-1277). This paper demonstrates that Petrus was viewed as a figure head of so-called dark age scholasticism to the Pre-Reformation humanists. By knowing more of him, his Tractatus, and how his treatise became fodder in the Renaissance, the dynamic relationship between scholasticism, humanism, and Protestantism is illumined.

Medieval Education — Then
    To fully consider medieval dialectics in relation to the Reformation, one must grasp the educational framework of medieval education. The influence of Petrus relates to the dialectical foundation in the medieval university. The place of dialectics in medieval education is firmly rooted in the larger educational paradigm, the seven liberal arts, or as they are also known, the Trivium and Quadrivium. Trivium, as a term, literally means the “three-fold way.” The three components are grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Quadrivium refers to the four other areas of study: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.
    The influence of this educational structure in the Christian West is owing especially to its formulation from the pagan, Martianus Capella. Capella, a Carthaginian, brought the elements of the Trivium and the Quadrivium together for an educational approach in an allegory de Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, (The Marriage of Philology and Mercury) written sometime prior to 330 A.D. “This was of importance for the Middle ages, which made the seven liberal arts the basis of education as the Trivium and Quadrivium.”[6] Cassiodorus (480-575) was the first known Christian writer to use the term “the seven liberal arts.”[7] The seven liberal arts, as these elements are known, became the core studies of the developing medieval university. “The concept is classical, but the term liberal arts and the division of the arts into the trivium and the quadrivium date from the Middle Ages.”[8]
    For the medievals the Trivium and the Quadrivium were more than mere curricula and more than a philosophy of education. C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to medieval and renaissance studies, The Discarded Image, illumines the universal value of the seven liberal arts to the world and life view of the medievals. They personified this educational curriculum, giving it “a place in the Model of the universe,” as in Dante’s Convivio which “mortises the Arts into the cosmic framework.”[9]
    Lewis brings out an interesting mnemonic couplet on the arts:

“Gram loquitur, Dia verba docet, Rhet verba colorat, Mus canit, Ar numerat, Geo ponderat, Ast colit astra.” [Grammar talks, dialectic teaches words, rhetoric colors words, music sings, arithmetic numbers, geometry considers, astronomy tends stars.][10]

Grammar teaches one Latin and Latin was synonymous with language. Dialectic teaches words or how to talk sense, argue, prove or disprove. Rhetoric colors words with structure and style. Lewis notes that, “There is no antitheses, indeed no distinction, between Rhetoric and Poetry.”[11]
    An illuminating description of the arts is found in Sister Miriam Joseph’s, The Trivium, a recent book length work on the subject (published in June of 2002):

The trivium includes those aspects of the liberal arts that pertain to mind, and the quadrivium, those aspects of the liberal arts that pertain to matter....Logic is the art of thinking; grammar, the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; and rhetoric, the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance. Arithmetic, the theory of number, and music, an application of the theory of number (the measurement of discrete quantities in motion), are the arts of discrete quantity or number. Geometry, the theory of space, and astronomy, an application of the theory of space, are the arts of continuous quantity or extension.[12]

    The Trivium formed the course of study for the medieval undergraduate. The bachelor then passed on to the Quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy—his conquest of which was denoted by the licence or degree of master of arts. To these seven arts, the thirteenth century added the three philosophies, natural, moral and metaphysical.[13] It is this academic landscape to which Renaissance Humanism of the Pre-Reformation era addressed itself.

Dialectics — A Survey of Development
    Logic as a science was born on Greek soil, but it was nourished as an art in the ivory towers of Europe. It survived an uncomfortable adolescence in the Reformation, with reason itself being the “devil’s whore” and all. With the rise of modern formal logic with Frege and Peirce, all the art was briskly queezed out and dialectical science became fully abstract, symbolic, and less useful for arguing about the number of angels which may dance on pins. There is now, of course, a move in the direction of re-introducing dialectics into the educational curriculum of early secondary education, not only in classical schools, but in the “critical thinking” movement so widespread in government education.[14]
    The most popular contemporary college text begins with the definition, “Logic is the study of the methods and principles used to distinguish good (correct) from bad (incorrect) reasoning.”[15] Students far and wide, however, must sit at the feet of Master Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). He first exposited “logic” in a set of books that generally go by the name Organon, meaning the “instrument” of reason.[16]
    The Peripetatics, the “walking” philosophers who followed Aristotle, were the first to group together several treatises of Aristotle under the title Organon as his logical works. Later medieval commentators followed this arrangement. The first book, the Categories, systematize terms and their classifications. This is typically the first section of all logic texts following Aristotle. Aristotle argues that the first principles or axioms of any science are “takes place only or most appropriately within dialectic.”[17]
    The second section in the Organon is De Interpretatione, which concerns propositions and their understanding. Then, the more formally descriptive logic texts are the Prior and Posterior Analytics, the Topics, and the Sophistical Refutations. These works detail the rules of valid inference and classify arguments as good and bad.
    The term “logic” is a near transliteration from the Greek word, λογος, and is commonly translated “word.” “Word” translates the Latin “verbum.” Those acquainted with the Greek New Testament will think immediately of the familiar John 1:1. An interesting consideration arises from this. The fierce Reformed logician and philosophy, Gordon Clark, questions whether verbum is a cognate of λογος. It is a telling fact that the Classical Greek dictionary of Liddell and Scott list the Latin “oratio” and “ratio” as cognates, but not “verbum.” Hence, the translation of John 1:1 as, “In the beginning was the word (λογος),” argues Clark, may properly be disputed. In ancient times, especially in the height of Stoicism, the term (λογος) is used to mean such things as computation, reckoning, account, measure, explanation, argument, discourse, reason, and so forth.[18] This is closer to our conception of logic, than to our conception of mere “word.”
    The Peripatetics give us more of our semantics for dialectics:

The whole science of discourse (ratio disserendi), which the ancient Peripatetics called “λογικη,” is divided into two parts: one of discovering, the other of judging. The part which purges and instructs judgment called “αναλυτικη” by them, we can name “analytical.” The part which aids competence (facultatem) in in discovering, called “τοπικη” by the Greeks, is called “Topical” (localis) by us.[19]

    The Organon passed through the Christian era because of Boethius’ Latin translation. Many have observed the significance of Boethius (c.480-c.525 A.D.) as the Latin translator of Aristotle for the medievals. Due to his translations of Aristotle, Boethius was the progenitor of the basic philosophical Latin vocabulary of the Middle Ages. Stump points out the immense importance of Boethius and the value of Peter’s Tractatus.

[Boethius was] for a long time the direct, perhaps the sole, source for the study of dialectic, and his work remained an important indirect source even when it was superseded by later treatments of the subject, such as that in Peter of Spain’s Tractatus, a standard logic textbook from the late thirteenth to the end of the fifteenth centuries.”[20]

So you have then the passing of the baton from Aristotle, to Boethius, to Peter.
    Key to the transmission of all this was Alcuin (735-804) in the “Carolingian Renaissance.” He was “Master of the Palace School” of Charlemagne. He sought to accumulate manuscripts in their library, which included Marius Victorinus (who translated into Latin Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione, Porphryry’s Isagoge) and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.[21]
    Later, it appears that Duns Scotus was the first writer to use explicit syllogistic forms. Of correlative importance to the medieval dialectical method is Abelard’s (1079-1142) Sic et Non (“Yes and No”). He was perhaps was the originator of the questionio method, which Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) followed in his great Summa and other works, and which became such a characteristic of scholasticism. During this stage, as an older contemporary of Thomas, Petrus Hispanus produced his compendium of logic, the Tractatus afterward called the Summulae Logicales. Copleston, the well-known historian of philosophy, notes that “in the thirteenth century there naturally appeared a variety of commentaries on the Aristotelian logic and of logical handbooks and treatises.”[22] He cites the Englishman William of Shyreswood (d. 1249), Introductiones ad logicam, the French Lambert of Auxerre and Nicholas of Paris.
    Some logic development was taking place through all this. Perhaps the high point of dialectical fermentation was precipitated by Petrus. Since, following him, the fourteenth century produced the universal thinkers, Walter Burley, William Ockham, John Buridan, Albert of Saxony, and Paul of Venice. Right up to the end, even in the years just prior to the Reformation, “important discoveries were being made in logic by men who were very much part of the medieval logical and philosophical world.”[23]
    The dialectics forged during the Reformation of one, Peter Ramus (French, Pierre De La Ramée) (1515-1572), a humanist and logician, provided an alternative to that which was developed in the Aristotelian stream.[24] His 1536 University of Paris Master of Arts thesis was “QuÆcumque ab Aristotele dicta sunt, commentitia sunt” (“All of Aristotle’s doctrines are false”), or QuÆcumque ab Aristotele dicta essent, commentitia esse (“Whatever is affirmed from Aristotle is contrieved”).[25] This second reading is found in the reprint of the first English translation of Ramus, The Logike of the Moste Excellent Philosopher P. Ramus Martyr, translated by Roland MacIlmaine (1574).[26] This is a translation of a constantly enlarging and reissued work criticizing Aristotle’s logic, which became known as Ramus’ Scholae Dialecticae. Hence, his influence in the British Isles and with English Puritans.
    Ramus, himself, converted to Protestant views and was murdered in the tragic St. Bartholomew’s massacre of Protestants in 1572: “he was singled out by his enemies and put to death with every circumstance of cruelty and brutality.”[27] He argued for a closer union between rhetoric and logic. His style was much like the celebrated Spanish Humanist who sharply criticized Petrus, Juan Luis Vives.[28] The impact of Ramus is evident in Reformation and post-Reformation dogmatics, which display the fruit of Ramus’ methodology. Ramus was exported to England and bore great fruit among the English Puritans divines. Godfrey remarks, “Among English Puritans the philosophy of Peter Ramus was dominant.”[29] One observance of this may be seen in the prominent Puritan literary prodigy, John Milton. Almost one hundred years after MacIlmaine’s translation, Milton published the Artis Logicae Plenior Institutio, ad Petri Rami (1672), in which he said: “Peter Ramus is believed the best writer on the art [of logic].”
    Ramus’ influence is felt quite practically, too. The `plaine style’ of preaching of English Puritans, explained in William Perkins’, The Art of Prophesying or a Treatise Concerning the Sacred and Only True Manner and Method of Preaching was based on techniques of interpretation taught by Peter Ramus.[30] The method divided each idea into parts, then subdivided again and again if necessary to the most basic components. Ramus’ influence is clear in the theological method of the Westminster Standards, wherein definition and subdivision become the essence of doctrinal affirmation.[31]
    Thus, one might characterize the development of dialectics in this way. It passed from Aristotle, to Boethius, to Peter, through the universal thinkers, and then had a church split, with Ramus heading up the non-conformists.

Dialectics and the Loci Method — Prolegomena to Systematics
    This brings us to one of the more theological aspects of the influence of the development of dialectics: theological method. The common places of theology, loci communes, are stamped into the fabric of Protestant systematic theology. It is important to see that the loci method also has roots in the dialectical development from Aristotle onward. The method followed Aristotle’s Topoi. The Greek, topoi (τοποι), is the Latin, loci. A loci is the seat of an argument, or that from which an argument is drawn. Argument creates conviction through dialectical means. The concept of topoi involves the key notions to find out what one knows in each area. Whereas, Aristotle’s opening lines of the “Topics” says,

Our treatise proposes to find a line of inquiry whereby we shall be able to reason from opinions that are generally accepted about every problem propounded to us, and also shall ourselves, when standing up to an argument, avoid saying anything that will obstruct us. First, then, we must say what reasoning is, and what its varieties are, in order to grasp dialectical reasoning: for this is the object of our search in the treatise before us.[32]

Boethius’ De topic differentiis provides a way to produce arguments. In Petrus’ treatment of the Topics, they “are almost completely divorced from the predicables and from the dialectical dispute....and there is no evidence here of the technique of arguing by question and answer, which Boethius thinks in characteristic of dialectic.”[33] In the medieval development of the Topics, “the Boethian art of discovering arguments has been lost.”[34]
    The Loci tradition was then to absorb other disciplines. The effect was that it would crowd out the Aristotelian method of categories and classifications. Melanchthon’s De Methodo (Lib 1) says, “In the first place it may be simply said that Dialectics yields the explanation of doctrine.”[35] Melanchthon connects methodology of instruction to the concept of topoi and then in 1525, utilizing that method, he wrote the first Protestant theology (Loci Communes). This seminal systematics applied the loci method for the Protestant cause. As a result, Reformed theology has generally followed the common places and even today, theological examinations are conducted with the loci method.

A Biographical Overview of Petrus
    On Peter of Spain’s identity, there has been much confusion.[36] As it turns out, his biographical information is quite interesting. First, he was not “of Spain.” He was not a Spaniard at all, being born in 1210 in Lisbon, Portugal. He was named Pedro Giuliano. At the height of all its medieval glory, he was a student at the University of Paris. He subsequently studied medicine and became a personal physician of pope Adrian V. Then, of all things, he became pope himself! This medieval logician became Pope John XXI on September 13, 1226.[37] Not only was he not “of Spain,” despite the name, he was the one and only Portugese pope, thus far.[38] Further, he should not have been named pope John XXI. It was due to confusion in the medieval listing of popes that he became, John XXI; there is no John XX. Even so, this Pedro, not of Spain, was also the one and only Portugese pope. He served with distinction, however, since he is the only pope in heaven — at least, according to Dante. While other popes are in hell and many are being refined from their popery in purgatory, Petrus non Hispanus made it.[39]
    In the classic poem, The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), is the tale of the poet’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and, finally, through Heaven. The text pertaining to Petrus reads,

Illuminato and Augustine are here, who were of the first unshod poor brethren that with the cord made themselves God’s friends. Hugh of St. Victor is here with them, and Peter Comestor, and Peter of Spain, who down blow shines in twelve books;[40]

Earlier translations have it as: “Pietro Ispano, who gave Logic light, below there, in his twelve books.”
    Peter learned in the light of those dark ages, at the rich environment of the 13th Century University of Paris. One of his “masters” in Paris may have been Johannes Pagus and Albertus Magnus, Albert the Great, also teacher of Thomas Aquinas. Peter was the recipient of the Greek-Latin sources of logic, the Boethian-Aristotelian logic. Those who would have been the authorities in the field of grammar to Peter would have been Priscian and Donatus.[41]
    Peter’s reputation as a scholastic philosopher was widespread in the time prior to the Reformation. He was also an astronomer and professor and physician. He was also a noted commentator on Aristotle and one of the first western scholars to write on Aristotle’s De animalibus and the De anima.[42]  His death was even related to his scholarship. He had a library with an observatory added to his palace at Viterbo. Only nine months after his election to the papacy the ceiling of the library collapsed and killed him.

Significant Works of Petrus Hispanus
    Two primary works are evidently part of Petrus’ corpus, the Tractatus and the Syncategoreumata. Peter’s treatise on syncategorematic words is a unique part of the genre of the thirteenth century. According to Spruyt, “The term syncategorema comes from a famous passage of Priscian in his Institutiones grammatice II , 15, in which a distinction is made between two types of wordclasses (partes orationis) distinguished by logicians, viz. nouns and verbs on the one hand, and syncategoremata, or consignificantia, on the other.”[43] Consignificantia do not have a definitive meaning on their own, rather, they acquire meaning in combination with other such words.
    The content of the Tractatus began with a restatement of Aristotelean logic, including the square of opposition. Then the distinctive contribution of medieval logic follows in the development of precise rules for argument. Not only did Petrus write the Tractatus from which the well-known Memoria Technica verses, containing feminine names for logical forms, Barbara, Celarent, etc. are derived from it.

The Influence of the Tractatus
    It appears that Peter’s logic text, the Tractatus, was the common property of the medieval university shortly after its publication, believed to have been written between 1230 and 1245. Kneale’s study magnum study of the development of logic says, “This work came to be accepted as the standard textbook of logic through all the later Middle Ages and was still in use as late as the beginning of the seventeenth century, by which time there had been no less than 166 printed editions.”[44] He observes that it contained better mnemonic verses than similar early works. It was even translated into Greek which caused some significant bibliographic confusion later. Some historians thought it was a translation of a Greek manuscript to Latin. The work went on to form the basic material for several later compendiums of logic.
    Peter’s Tractatus formed the meat of dialectical study in the Universities of Paris, Vienna, Cologne, Freiburg, Leipzig, Ingolstadt and Tubingen.[45] “In 1389 a statute was passed at the University of Vienna requiring of students in the faculty of arts that they should attend lectures on the logical works of Peter of Spain...” In fact, the Tractatus was of Peter would have been committed to memory by every undergraduate in most of the medieval universities. “The text held such a monopoly in the curriculum that first-year students at Paris were surnamed Summulistae.”[47] They were initiated, as the later humanists would jab, in the “mysteries” of Peter of Spain. By virtue of its sheer repetition in academic contexts, it defined the late scholastic mind. The editor of Thomas More’s work notes that the language Petrus “was the mental furniture of every university student” This Tractatus, afterwards called Summalaelogicales or “Compendium of Logic,” is therefore of immense importance, though it is hardly known today.

The Content of the Tractatus
William Kneale and Martha Kneale of Oxford describe the contents of the Tractatus succinctly:

The Summulae consists of twelve tracts, six about Aristotle’s themes (propositions, predicables, categories, syllogisms, topics, and fallacies) and six about specifically medieval themes (supposition, relatives, ampliation, appellation, restriction, and distribution). In some editions the latter are grouped together under the title De Terminorum Proprietatibus or Parva Logicalia.[50]
The first part was referred to as the logica antiquorum (ancient logic) and logica nova (new logic). This latter portion contains doctrines of what came to be known as the logica modernorum (modern logic). These include the medievals contribution to the analysis of terms and their properties.

Peter’s treatise on syncategorematic words forms part of a separate genre that developed from the beginning of the thirteenth century. The term syncategorema comes from a famous passage of Priscian in his Institutiones grammatice II , 15, in which a distinction is made between two types of wordclasses (partes orationis) distinguished by logicians, viz. nouns and verbs on the one hand, and syncategoremata, or consignificantia, on the other. The latter are defined as words that do not have a definitive meaning on their own, but acquire one only in combination with other, categorematic words.[51]

It is just because of Peter’s discriminations on Syncategoremata that not only are logicians interested, but linguists have seen some important development in the Tractatus. The only English translation of the entire Tractatus available is interestingly titled, Language in dispute: an English translation by Francis P. Dinneen of Peter of Spain’s Tractatus called afterwards Summulae logicales.[52] Dineen’s translation is based on the critical edition established by L.M. De Rijk. Interestly, Dineen, an important linguist, made the translation not as a contribution to dialectics or the history of logic, but for the important linguistic developments in Petrus.[53] Dineen writes, “it is hoped that non-logicians, linguists and those just interested in language may find interest in reading it.”[54] Peter is, thus, giving a foretaste to the linguistic difficulties with using an ordinary language for logic. He is conscious of distinguishing significatio and suppositio. A term like “man” can mean in one sentence, a specific person: the man is walking. Or, “man” can mean all men: men are sinners. This is significatio and suppositio, respectively. This trajectory leads directly toward a denial of the Platonic universals, toward a nominalism that became full blown in William of Ockham. Copleston says, though, “Peter was a conservative in philosophy and was very far from showing any tendency to anticipate Ockham’s ‘nominalism’.”[55] Still, the logical development of the idea of suppositio led directly toward Ockham’s logic in his, Summa Logicae.
    Consider the ongoing development of modern “symbolic logic,” “propositional logic,” or “formal logic” — which looks very strange and complicated and quite technical in the very simplest forms (p D q; p é q; p fq; ~p f~q, etc.). The development goes much further, which is why the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says of logic: “Today, logic is both a branch of mathematics and a branch of philosophy.”[56]  The deeper study of logic moves one away from natural language into an almost mathematical world. On the other hand, the study of logical forms in ordinary language, as we see in the Tractatus, lead to a more rigid application and explanation of natural language. A richer view of language has been the recent development in the field of linguistics.[57] Dineen’s comment is important: “Even if, as Hispanus claimed, logical methods test the validity of how other disciplines argue to their conclusions, those methods do not endow dialecticians with a special ability to judge whether terms are appropriately defined.”[58]

Peter of Spain and the Humanists
    It is our common conception that Thomas Aquinas is the arch-medieval thinker and that the wrath of almighty humanists was justly bestowed upon him. However, according to the actual writings of the Renaissance humanists, comparatively, Aquinas was treated benignly over against Petrus.[59] In fact, the editor of Erasmus’ notes,

Unhappily, the Thomist synthesis was too daring to win widespread acceptance in the schools until the sixteenth, by the end of which Aqunas’s Summa Theologica had universally replaced the Sentences of Peter the Lombard as the basis for commentary in the theology schools.[60]
Then later in the intensity of Erasmus’ parody, the editor notes: “Folly, it should be noticed is much harder on Scotus and his followers than on Thomas Aquinas.”[61] Only at the end of the sixteenth century did Thomism become dominantl. Thus, Aquinas was much less a part of the academic landscape in the Renaissance, than was the primer of Petrus.
    Whereas references to Aquinas are relatively benign, Petrus was targeted by Erasmus, Thomas More, Vives, and Peter Ramus as the culprit of dialectical disaster. Petrus was an easy target. Erasmus speaks of the ubiquitous use of the Tractatus, saying that  “boys” are ripe for the universities when they “got by heart a great part of the Dialectic of Petrus Hispanus.”[62] More criticized him in the Responsio ad Lutheran. For Thomas More, it was Lombard through his Sentences which provided “the Trojan horse” of scholasticism. That taken with the questiunculae and Peter’s, Parva logicalia, which is the later sections of the Tractatus, became the object of “his impatience and disgust.”[63]
    Indeed, More, mimics the form of scholastic logic, even in Luther. He mocks Luther’s more medieval form of reasoning which is well-known through the formula of Petrus. The editor of More points out, “The language of the schoolmen is readily exemplified in the standard textbook of Peter of Spain, Summaelogicales.[64] More, in bitter sarcasm, scathingly attacks Luther using the logical form found in medieval dialectics, exemplified in Petrus.

I am certain that the reverend friar father is an ass; therefore the reverend friar father is an ass. If the reverend father should here grant me this antecedent premise, how many conclusions I may infer: he will undoubtedly have to eat hay; he will have to bear burdens; and what is most galling, he will have to do without beer; Father Tosspot would be vexed to hear that.[65]

    Remembering the ad fontes (to the sources) mindset of the humanists, the common criticism of Erasmus and Vives was that Latin had been wilfully defiled and obfuscated in the service of the dialectics of Petrus. The editor of Vives’ critical edition of In Pseudodialecticos says,

In the clever and forceful rhetoric of the tract itself Vives provides a fine example of the expository virtues of the Latin language which he extolled. The pretentious demeanor of the doctors, cloaked and bearded and mumbling their private lingo, was the object of the unceasing ridicule of the humanists. In no other of his extant works, distinctive among humanistic writings for their moderation, does the Spanish scholar, who mott was ‘sine querela’, indulge in such acrid polemics. It was for good cause, the freeing of higher learning from the trammels and aridities of a fossilized system of learning, which no longer had anything to do with life or reality. ....Vives reserved some choice sallvos for one whom he considered especially responsible for the corruption of the Latin language and the perversion of the discipline of logic, the 13th century logician and physician, Peter of Spain….[66]

The last six or seven tracts of this work, commonly referred to as the Parva logicalia, or Little Logicals, introduced the student to the elaborate, abstract vocabulary that so infuriated the humanists. It was “Lombard through his Sentences, according to More, [which] provided the Trojan horse whence has issued such a host of arid problems. Indeed the questiunculae of scholasticism, together with the Parva logicalia of Peter of Spain, occasioned his impatience and disgust.”[67]
    Vives and More ridiculed even the titles of the treatise, using a play on the title words parva logicales — little logicals. They said it contained “little logic.” The attack which was uniform by the humanists was that instead of attending to the higher concerns of philosophy, they spent their time sharpening their wits with myriad distinctions and endless quibbling which was futile. To the humanists “sophism” and “dialectics” were used interchangeably to refer to this sort of verbal quibbling.

Dialectics: The Quest for Mental Alchemy
    The first words of the Tractatus are significant:

Dialectica est ars artium et scientia scientiarium ad omnium methodorum principia viam habens.[68] [Dialectic is the art of arts and science of sciences possessing the way to the principles of all curriculum subjects.]

    There is a certain attraction and romance of the medieval world. This is captured by Dorothy Sayers:

There is, of course, also the human and historic panorama of those astonishing centuries--a spectacle none the less moving and impressive in itself because it has sometimes been over-romanticized: the founding of the grammar schools and the great universities; the gathering of scholars from all corners of Europe to hear famous masters lecture in a language that all Europe could understand; the disputes and rivalries of the Faculties; the songs and torchlight along the banks of the Seine; the tragedy of Abelard; Sigier of Brabant fleeing from condemnation to die at the hands of a crazy clerk; Aquinas seeing in ecstasy “that which makes all my writings seem but straw;” Dante visiting Paris and Bologna in his exile, and gathering the great doctors of all the rival schools to dance together like the circling stars in the shouting and splendour of the Paradiso.[69]

    A distinctive piece of this attraction is also glimmering in the opening line of the Tractatus, “Dialectic is the art of arts and science of sciences . . .” This leads one to see the medieval vision for dialectics. Copleston observes that “A similar statement of the fundamental importance of dialectic was made by Lambert of Auxerre.”[70] While alchemists searched for valid and invalid chemical connections between the elements, dialecticians looked for valid and invalid relations of ideas. To change lead into gold was a quest of power; but so was unlocking all knowledge by a series of mental inquiries. Dialectics is the art of all arts because it is the ground and foundation of all the other arts. It is the science of all sciences (remembering that scientia is the Latin for knowledge) because through it all knowledge was accessible. Like Socrates who led the slave boy to discover within himself the Pathagorean theorum, dialectics was the mental alchemy to unlock the world of knowledge.
    Remember, too, the deep ontology of ideas following the Platonic, neo-platonic, and Augustinian realism of ideas. The larger medieval vision went to seed, though. The scientia vision of a set of logical skills which would unlock the secrets of knowledge and wisdom degenerated in worthless triflings about words. The wooden use of logical Latin which was pressed and shaped to be an inadequate precise logical language. So it appeared to even the educated that dialectics was a mere linguistic game with no connection to reality beyond the sophisms of the dialecticians. It was this loss of real world applicability, coupled with an exaggerated technical usage of Latin—over against the literary use of the classics which brought the curses of the Humanists.

Medieval Education –- Now
It would appear that there has been a recapitulation of the dynamics of the Pre-Reformation, in logic, apologetics, rhetoric, and educational approach. Along with appreciating the academic landscape of the Pre-Reformation, one may also observe the current restatement of classical, medieval, and renaissance education within Christendom today. The current educational revival is an important consideration which may motivate contemporary Protestants toward a fuller understanding of medieval dialectics and the Reformation. There is wide spread educational interest in the medieval educational method of the Trivium. In today’s educational milieu, the Trivium is being cultivated over-against existentialist and progressivist approaches to schooling and seems to be quite successful and popular.[71] Currently there are three major associations which foster the Trivium’s application in contemporary Christian schooling.[72] The classical education movement is wielding major influence within educational reform movements all across America, even beyond Christian communions. This was documented by the Capital Research Center in a book entitled, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern.[73]
    There is an unprecedented proliferation of the curricula resources for classical home education, as well. It is an interesting feature of the contemporary return to the Trivium that such “classical and Christian education” is being self-consciously propagated in and by Christians who embrace Reformed doctrine. Yet, they imbibe both a Renaissance return “to the sources” (ad fontes) and a strong component training in logic and dialectics, complete with knowing the square of opposition, rules for immediate inference, distribution, and a vocabulary laden with medieval logical terms and concepts. In fact, the movement of classical education within Christian circles inculcates the teaching of Latin and Greek for a return to the sources of Western civilization, a hearty training in the dialectical arts which rose to their highest point in the medieval period, and an emphasis on rhetorical facility, which had a rebirth in the Renaissance. Yet, in most of the movement, the leading theological paradigm is committed to distinctly Reformed dogmatics.
    The Trivium in current usage involves several educational functions. In contemporary application, the Trivium functions as (1) an approach to learning - each subject has its own grammar, logic, and rhetoric; (2) as an approach to students -  there is a grammar (elementary) stage of learning, a dialectical stage, and rhetorical stage, (3) the Trivium implies a set of subjects, Latin, logic, and rhetoric. The modern application of the Trivium and especially its dialectical component is a quest for the imparting the skills of educational facility, or to put it in Dorothy Sayers’ oft-repeated terms, the “tools of learning.”[74] Miriam Joseph says, “The trivium is the organon, or instrument, of all education at all levels because the arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric are the arts of communication itself in that they govern the means of communication —namely, reading, writing, speaking, and listening.”[75] This was not unlike the medieval goal of education. The medieval mind desired a not merely to know words, but to think well with them and unlock every subject by means of dialectical method. We will do well to remember that dialectics should not be divorced from the literary sources of the classics and the rhetorical use of language. It should rather build into that, rather than become the summative goal. Logic must lead to language; dialectic must flourish into rhetoric. Then we may realize the fullest use of dialectics, “the art of arts and science of sciences.”


1 See for more information.
2 Alexander Broadie, Introduction to Medieval Logic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987); Philotheus Boehner, Medieval Logic: An Outline of Its Development from 1250-c. 1400 (Manchester: Manchester University, 1952); William Kneale and Martha Kneale, The Development of Logic (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962); Eleonore Stump, Boethius’s de Topic Differentiis (Ithyca, NY: Cornell, 1978); Joseph Mullaly,  The Summulae Logicales of Peter of Spain (Notre Dame, 1945); Peter of Spain: Tractatus Syncategorematum and Selected Anonymous Treatises, Joseph P. Mullally and Roland Houde, Tr. (Milwaukee: Marquette University, 1964); Especially the multiple articles by Lambertus Marie de Rijk (1924-) on Petrus, e.g., “On the genuine text of Peter of Spain’s’ Summule Logicales’, Part I. General problems concerning possible interpolations in the manuscripts,” Vivarium 6: 1-34 (1968).
 3 It might be interesting in these days of increased Islamic sensitivity to note that their art aimed at the conversion of Muslims. It is interesting to observe the recapitulation of the medieval times, both in dialectical method and content. Thomas Aquinas’, Summa Contra Gentiles was written as a kind of missionary training manual at the request of St Raymond of Penafort for equipping those engaged in the conversion of the Moors in Spain. It also specifically mentions pagans, Jews, and Muslims. Evangelical apologetics has provided a substantial expansion and restatement of Thomism (Norman Geisler, et al). Christian Reformed (CRC) philosopher Alvin Plantinga gained fame and ushered in a new millennium of Christian philosophy with the defense of Anselm’s ontological argument with modal logic by Christian philosopher and careful responses to the problem of evil. This has led to a Copernican Revolution in epistemology, as well. See the popular version of this in God, Freedom, and Evil ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) and for the impact of Reformed epistemology, A. C. Plantinga & N. Wolterstorff (Eds.), Faith and Rationality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1983) and the big trilogy by Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and finally, Warranted Christian Belief, all published by Oxford.
4  C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1964), 189.
5  For an overview of this see, William Kneale and Martha Kneale, The Development of Logic (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962).
6 Fredrick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, vol. I, Greece and Rome (New York: Image, 1962 [1985]), 484.
7 Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts (two volumes), translated and introduced by Stahl, Johnson, and Burge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971); Martianus Capella’s An Introduction to Divine and Human Readings, translated by Leslie Webber Jones (New York: Octagon Books, 1966).
8 Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric - Understanding the Nature and Function of Language (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002), 3.
9 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1964), 185-186.
10 Lewis, 186.
11  Lewis, 190-191.
12  Joseph, 3.
13 “English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet” in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes, ed. by A.W. Ward, A.R. Waller, W.P. Trent, J. Erskine, S.P. Sherman, and C. Van Doren (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Cambridge, England: University Press, 1907–21).
14 Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001); Richard W. Paul, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World (Dillon Beach CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1995).
15  Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic, 8th edition (New York: Macmillan: 1990), 3.
16  Alexander Broadie, Introduction to Medieval Logic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 4.
17 See Topics 101a37-63, cited in Stump, 19.
18 See Gordon Clark, The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation: 1989), 14. I think that despite the connotations of “logic,” which Clark admits, surely the term “word” is much less than an accurate translation, given Greek usage and the paramount significance of the prologue of John’s Gospel.
19 Eleonore Stump, Boethius’s de Topic Differentiis (Ithica, NY: Cornell, 1978), 29.
20 Boethius’s De topicis differentiis, translated, with notes and essays on the text, by Eleonore Stump (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978), 24. Stump also cites Rijk, pp. 55-78 for the proliferation of the Tractatus.
21  Copleston, vol. II Augustine to Scotus, 106-111. According to the New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia (entry on “Alcuin”), “The course of studies embraced, in the words of Alcuin, ‘liberal studies and the holy word,’ or the seven liberal arts comprising the trivium and the quadrivium, with the study of Scripture and the Fathers for those more advanced.” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I, online edition
22 Fredrick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, vol. III (New York: Image, 1962 [1985]), 51.
23  Alexander Broadie, Introduction to Medieval Logic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 2.
24 The frequently cited work on Ramus is Walter J. Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1983).
25 To be fair, some have suggested this title is apocryphal. See James Veazie Skalnik, Ramus and Reform: University and Church at the End of the Renaissance (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University, 2002), part of the Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, vol. LX.
26 The Logike of the Moste Excellent Philosopher P. Ramus Martyr, translated by Roland MacIlmaine (1574), ed. Catherine M. Dunn (Northridge, CA: San Fernando valley State College, 1969), xi.
27 See the entry on Ramus in The New Advent Encyclopedia. It also notes that “His two principal works, “AristotelicÆ Animadversiones” and “DialecticÆ Institutiones”, both of which were written in elegant humanistic Latin and published in Paris in 1543, brought him into still sharper conflict with the official world of scholarship.”
28  Juan Luis Vives, In Pseudodialecticos, a Critical Edition with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Charles Fantazzi, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979).
29  “Biblical Authority in the Sixteeenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A Question of Transition” by W. Robert Godfrey, in Scripture and Truth, D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, editors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 235.
30  See Perry G. E. Miller, The New England Mind, vol. 1, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1954), 331-362.
31  This and more is argued by Jack B. Rogers, Scriptures in the Westminster Confession: A Problem of Historical Interpretation for American Presbyterianism (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1967). For an alternate and balanced view, see Godfrey in Scripture and Truth, as well as other articles in the same volume.
32  Translated by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, available online
33  Stump, 235.
34    Stump, 235-236.
35 Translation provided by Richard Gamble in the Reformation Dogmatics seminar of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL (1999).
36 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes the lengthy and pedantic matter in this way: “There is also another, earlier tradition, according to which the author of the Tractatus was regarded as Spanish, and a member of the Dominican order. Yet another attribution, dating from the fifteenth century, was to a Petrus Ferrandi Hispanus (d. between 1254 and 1259), which would be consistent with the idea that the work originated from the first half of the thirteenth century. According to still another attribution, the Summule was compiled by a Black Friar no earlier than in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.” See the entry on “Peter of Spain,” Joke Spruyt (2001).
37  Great Books of the Western World, vol. 19, Dante Chaucer, ed. Mortimer Adler (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1990), 162, n14.
38  There is a regular conference held in Portugese, Conferências Petrus Hispanus, which hosts the Petrus Hispanus Lectures, even now.
39  Dante’s Paridiso: Canonto XII, see below.
40 Paridiso: Canonto XII, trans. by Princeton University, 1975 in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 19, Dante Chaucer, ed. Mortimer Adler (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1990), 105.
41  Spruyt, Joke, “Peter of Spain”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
42   The Correspondence of Erasmas: Letters 446 to 593, 1516-1517, trans. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson, annotated by James K. McConica. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), 11.
43  Spruyt, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
44  William Kneale and Martha Kneale, The Development of Logic (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962), 234.
45  Joseph Mullaly,  The Summulaelogicales of Peter of Spain (Notre Dame, 1945), 133-158.
46  Fredrick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, vol. III, Ockham to Suarez, 148.
47 Syncategoreumata, in English & Latin by Peter of Spain (Petrus Hispanus Portugalensis), first critical edition with an introduction and indexes by L.M. de Rijk; with an English translation by Joke Spruyt (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1991), 16.
48 Thus we are informed by Ramus in his Scholae in liberales artes (1569). See note 29: col. 1049 referred to by Walter Ong, Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, 1958), 58.
49 The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. V, Pt. 2, Edited by John M. Headley, on Responsio Ad Lutherum, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), 924.
50 The Development of Logic (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962), 234-235.
51  Sprygt, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
52  (Amsterdam, Philadelphia: J. Benjamins 1990).
53  Dineen is also the author of a widely cited textbook: An Introduction to General Linguistics (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1967).
54 Dineen, in the “Foreword.”
55 Copleston, vol. III, 122.
56 Shapiro, Stewart, “Classical Logic”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
57 Naom Chomsky, Knowledge of Language (New York: Praeger, 1986).
58  Dineen, xix.
59 For example, he is not addressed in Vives, Pseudodialecticos, nor in Erasmus’, In Praise of Folly.
60 Introduction to Praise of Folly and Letter to Martin Dorp 1515 by Erasmus of Rotterdam, trans. Betty Raddice with an Introducation and notes by the A.H.T. Levi (New York: Penguin, 1971), 18.
61 Folly, 162, n 106.
62 The Correspondence of Erasmas: Letters 446 to 593, 1516-1517, trans. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson, annotated by James K. McConica. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), 11.
63 The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. V, Pt. 2, Edited by John M. Headley, on Responsio Ad Lutherum, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), 779.
64 Complete Works of More, V, 910.
65  The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. V, Pt. 1, Edited by John M. Headley, on Responsio Ad Lutherum, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), 317.
66  Fantazzi, 15-16.
67 The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol. V, Pt. 2, Edited by John M. Headley, on Responsio Ad Lutherum, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), 779.
68 Rijk rejects the superlatives in his critical edition, Tractatus, Peter of Spain, First Critical Edition from Manuscripts with an Introduction. Edited by L.M. De Rijk (The Netherlands: Koninklijke Van Gorcum & Comp., 1972).
70  Curtis 1950,  vii-viii [Dorothy L. Sayers]).
71 Copleston, vol. III, 51-52.
72 For the seminal article on the recovery of the Trivium, see Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 article, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” included in the book which has spawned the current movement, Douglas Wilson’s, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Downer’s Grove: Crossway, 1992), now revised and expanded into The Case for Classical Education (2002). For a succinct survey of this educational approach, I refer the reader to Gregg Strawbridge, Classical and Christian Education: Recapturing the Educational Approach of the Past (Lancaster, PA: Veritas Press, 2002).
73 The Association of Classical and Christian Education (ACCS), Moscow, ID; Covenant Classical School Association (CCSA), Franklin, TN; and the Eastern Consortium for Classical, Christian Schooling (ECCCS), Lookout Mountain, TN.
74 This book is a 2002 updated version of a similar title published by the Capital Research Center, Washington, D.C., in 1997.
75 See Sayers’ essay.
76 Joseph, 6.