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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/489

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siduously had they multiplied copies of precious manuscripts and of their own works. Zealously had they striven to find laymen willing to purchase and study those works and listen to their instructions. At last they persuaded Charlemagne to establish a school in Paris, and Alfred to found a university at Oxford, in order to educate aspirants for the priesthood and form doctors of theology. Nothing was thought of but to cultivate the kind and extent of learning: then existing. It was natural to procure for these schools copies of all the books then to be found. Few, indeed, were these—as brief sketches of Latin grammar, a few Latin vocabularies, a meager treatise on arithmetic and geometry, and a stray copy of the philosophical work by Porphyry, and another by Boetius. The rest was all Christian theology and philosophy, such as the works of St. Augustine and other fathers, besides the Bible and the canons of the Church. The savant chosen for Paris was the monk Alcuin, and the scholar selected for Oxford was another monk, Grimbaldus.

The deed was done. A school was established. Men were offered a great opportunity of becoming book-worms, and consequently to think and theorize. The result was inevitable. To meditate, they had to exercise their reasoning faculty, while they studied the philosophy they found in the few books they had, and pondered over theology, theology and ancient philosophy as harmonized with dogma.

One of the teachers who succeeded Alcuin was a doctor of philosophy named John Scotus Erigenus, an Irishman by birth. He wrote philosophical treatises in which a new question was raised. This question was, whether an abstract term or a word, such, for instance, as the word "humanity" represented a real being; an essence in nature; a real and single thing existing independent of any individual. Not whether there were many individual men included by a process of thought under a general name, but whether that general name "humanity" was not the name of a reality, antecedent in creation and in time to the existence of any individual—antecedent to Adam himself.

Vain as this question would seem, it raised a great debate among the clerks and doctors. Soon parties were formed among them, pro and con. The one party got the name of Realists, the other that of Nominalists. Minds became excited, curiosity was aroused. In order to prove one opinion or the other, information was sought in every direction. Every scrap which could be found of Plato's and Aristotle's works was rescued from oblivion, and quoted as authority by one or the other side. Other ancient books were disinterred. The savants began to investigate natural phenomena, and, above all, to closely scrutinize man himself, physically and intellectually.

Though the question in debate might appear at this day quite frivolous and easily answered, yet in those times it was necessary as a first step in the progress of getting rid of the fundamental errors and