The humanist-scholastic debate in the Renaissance & Reformation


The humanist-scholastic debate in the Renaissance & Reformation

Erika Rummel

(Harvard historical studies, 120)

Harvard University Press, 1995

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Bibliography: p. 199-211

Includes index



In the last half of the 15th century, the classic Platonic debate over the respective merits of rhetoric and philosophy was replayed in the debate between humanists and scholastics over philology and dialectic. The dispute between representatives of the two camps fuelled many important intellectual developments of the Renaissance and Reformation. Erika Rummel delves into primary sources of the times, bringing the important issues to light and making a contribution to the understanding of the intellectual climate of early modern Europe. Rummel demonstrates how the issues of the period changed focus as humanists such as Lorenzo Valla and Desiderius Erasmus applied philological skills to Scripture. The controversy over form versus content entered a new phase, pitting humanists trained as philologists against scholastic theologians trained as dialecticians. Rummel traces the development of the quarrels over qualification and entitlement in the academy, as theologians and humanists disputed the intellectual and territorial boundaries of their respective disciplines. Finally, in the first half of the 16th century, the controversy entered the sphere of doctrinal dispute. The question of authority became centred not only on professional competence but also on the issues of faith and Christian teaching. This study is intended to attract the attention of those who believe these debates were merely personal and episodic; Rummel's research provides evidence that the polemics of the age arose from a fundamental conflict over methodology and the freedom to pursue research.


  • The protagonists and the issues
  • paradigms of the debate
  • the debate as epideictic literature
  • the debate at the universities
  • biblical scholarship - humanistic innovators and scholastic defenders of tradition
  • the debate and the reformation
  • humanist critique of scholastic dialectic
  • conclusion.

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