Humanism and Scholasticism in Sixteenth- Century Academe. Five Student Orations from the University of Salamanca [*]

By Van Liere, Katherine Elliot | Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Humanism and Scholasticism in Sixteenth- Century Academe. Five Student Orations from the University of Salamanca [*]


Van Liere, Katherine Elliot, Renaissance Quarterly


A collection of student orations by the Salamancan jurist Diego de Covarrubias, edited here in the appendix, offers a glimpse of the mental landscape of canon and civil lawyers in this era. The orations combine traditional scholastic forms of argumentation with humanistic themes, most prominently that of "arms and letters." The article sets the orations in their intellectual and institutional context, and traces the intellectual lineages for this central topos. Although Covarrubias was conversant with the humanist literary tradition, in which "arms and letters" stood for twin achievements of a well-rounded courtier, the main point of these exercises was to assert, following Bartolus, that the legal profession rightfully deserved to inherit the honor and privileges bestowed in ancient times upon men of arms.

Most intellectual historians would agree that the sixteenth century saw a hardening of the boundaries between "humanism" and "scholasticism," the two most familiar categories of scholarship in the early modern period. The reasons for this hardening of positions have long been debated. While traditional intellectual history, taking its cue from Renaissance polemicists, generally portrayed these two modes of scholarship as intrinsically antagonistic, revisionists have argued for several decades that the antagonism between humanists and scholastics was often rooted more in personal and disciplinary disputes, the most intense of which took place within the competitive atmosphere of the universities. [1] A recent study by Erika Rummel, which achieves a welcome synthesis of this revisionist position with the traditional view that humanism and scholasticism were fundamentally incompatible, also stresses the importance of the universities in exacerbating animosities between humanist teachers (who were mainly newcome rs to academic life) and the jealous, traditional-minded doctors of the theology faculties who resented the humanists' invasion of their terrain. [2] It is difficult not to conclude from both Rummel and the earlier revisionists that the universities in general, and the traditional "higher faculties" (theology, law, and medicine) in particular, were an obstacle to the progress of humanist thought in the sixteenth century.

Yet humanism and scholasticism in the sixteenth century were not simply contemporary programs for scholarship and education. Both were traditions nearly two centuries old which had profoundly influenced many diverse branches of learning, and not always in self-conscious opposition to one another. One place where the interplay between scholastic tradition and humanist innovation was particularly significant is the academic tradition of law where, as Paul Kristeller, Donald Kelley, and others have suggested, many of the literary and philosophical topoi often associated with Renaissance humanism appeared as early as the fourteenth century. [3] Humanists and jurists continued to share many common intellectual traditions in the sixteenth century, although the intensification of professional rivalries in this period sometimes obscures the fact. Modern scholarship, while generally nodding assent to the proposition that lawyers made an important contribution to the humanist movement in Italy, still tends to treat si xteenth-century legal studies as a wholly "scholastic" sphere into which humanist insights only penetrated when the traditional Bartolist method of legal interpretation (the mos italicus) was finally defeated by the humanist mos gallicus (the more historical-minded approach to the study of law championed by such humanists as Poliziano, Alciato, and Bud[acute{e ]]). [4] The debate between proponents of Bartolism and the mos gallicus was certainly an important part of the story of sixteenth-century jurisprudence, but to concentrate exclusively on it is to overlook the many subtler ways in which thinkers within the mainstream of legal studies, which remained dominated by Bartolism, were affected by the humanist movement. …

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