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Medieval Christian Thought

RELG 296
MWF 11:50-1:05
Dewing 310

Instructor: Adam Kotsko

Office: Humphrey House 109
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1:15-2:30; Thursday, 1:00-3:00

Course Description
This course traces the emergence of the distinctively Western form of Christianity in what are
now known as the “middle ages.” It begins with the work of the African Latin theologian
Augustine, whose work was in dialogue with the key questions of the patristic era but whose
idiosyncratic concerns deeply shaped the distinctive character of Western theology. It ends with
the so-called “medieval synthesis” of Thomas Aquinas and with the emergence of the lay
spiritual movements (specifically among women) that were to lay the groundwork for the
Protestant Reformation. In between, it investigates the beginnings of Christian mysticism.

Overall, then, the narrative thread moves from the earliest seeds of medieval theology to its
highest realization and ends as it begins to fall apart. In order to witness this transformation at
first-hand, the emphasis of the course is on engagement with primary texts. There is a significant
lecture component, in order both to provide the necessary historical background and to bridge the
conceptual gap that separates medieval patterns of thought from our own. The focus, however, is
on guided discussion, a focus that shapes both the lectures and the written assignments.

Course Goals
Upon completing this course, students should:
• understand the social pressures under which western medieval Christianity developed and
the ways that medieval Christian thinkers related to those pressures;
• identify the major thinkers who contributed to the formation of medieval theology;
• identify and explain the central questions and methods of medieval Christian theology;
• be able to identify the central themes and arguments of pre-modern texts and state them
in a clear and sympathetic way in class discussion; and
• be able to formulate criticisms in a way that is attentive to the original author’s intent and

Course Requirements
1. Communication: All students should check their e-mail regularly, at minimum once a
day, as that will be the professor’s primary way of communicating outside of class.
2. Readings: All readings should be completed before the class session for which they are
listed. In order to focus your reading, the professor will provide two study questions per
reading assignment, which you should come to class as prepared as possible to answer;
writing out answers beforehand is not required but is encouraged.
3. Class Participation: Class periods will include lecture elements, but each class period
will include an in-class discussion. Students are expected to arrive in class ready to
discuss the assigned readings in a way that is attentive and accountable to the texts,
providing specific references to back up their points, particularly with reference to the
study questions provided.
4. Reading quizzes: On Thursday of each week, students will be given a quiz in-class that
will deal with two randomly selected reading questions from the week (inclusive of the
questions for the previous Thursday’s reading) as well as one question covering the
lecture. Quizzes will be graded; each student’s lowest quiz grade will be dropped when
determining the final average of all quizzes.
5. Summary paper: Students will be required to write a detailed summary, not to exceed
five double-spaced pages, of Augustine’s Confessions (Book 11, 12, or 13). Students
must turn in a first draft of the first summary paper one week before the due date to
ensure it conforms to expectations; detailed comments will be provided. Failure to turn in
a draft will result in the loss of half a letter grade from the final paper. Papers should
reflect the following guidelines:
a. They should talk about what the author found most important, as opposed to what
you found most interesting as a reader. That means first of all that the summaries
should be proportional—if the author spent half the text on a given topic, you
should spend roughly half your paper on it.
b. The papers should be in your own words. Avoid paraphrase like the plague—it is
a sign that you haven’t fully digested the material, and it produces ambiguity that
could lead to accusations of plagiarism.
c. You should read through your text more than once and make sure that you can
confidently state the main points of the argument in your own words (perhaps
talking it out with your roommate or some other long-suffering soul) before you
begin writing. Paraphrase becomes most tempting when you are trying to write
your paper while reading the text for the first time, which is obviously a bad idea
but is sometimes attempted.
d. Papers should indicate the flow of the argument—what leads the author to the
next point, what he puts forth as supporting evidence, etc.
e. The papers should include brief illustrative quotations, generally not to exceed
one full line. You are attempting to condense a lengthy text for this assignment;
don’t waste space with excessive block quotes. Somewhere between 5-8 brief
quotations per page is a good guideline. All quotations must be appropriately
cited, with quotation marks clearly designating the author’s original words.
f. Your goal overall should be to produce a text that’s reliable, one that you yourself
would trust if it was your sole study guide for an exam question on the text.
6. Analytical paper: Students will be required to write one paper, not to exceed five
double-spaced pages, assessing Anselm’s argument in the Proslogion. Students are
expected to display the same rigorous accuracy in stating Anselm’s claims as in the
summary paper, but then take the next step of assessing whether his argument stands up
to scrutiny. Reference to Gaunilo’s Pro Insipiente and Anselm’s Reply to Gaunilo is
appropriate but not strictly required.
7. Comparative paper: Students will also be required to write one paper, not to exceed five
double-spaced pages, comparing and contrasting the works of two mystical authors from
among the course readings, to be chosen in consultation with the professor, focusing on
the question of how one gains access to God. It should draw on the skills required for the
analytical paper, but should have greater distance from the text and should move from
comparison to evaluation.
8. Attendance: Attendance is expected, in light of the fact that this is a discussion-heavy
class. While attendance will not be formally tracked, a clear pattern of absenteeism will
result in a reduction in your grade. In addition, Friday quizzes are to be done in class only
except under extenuating circumstances (exceptions will be dealt with on a case-by-case
9. Late papers and missed quizzes: Extensions and make-up quizzes are possible if agreed
upon in advance; please contact the professor by e-mail if you believe you will need
10. Academic integrity: All students are expected to fully abide by the Honor Code of
Kalamazoo College. Collaborative study is encouraged, but all submitted work must be
the student’s own—plagiarism, particularly submitting a pre-written paper as if it were
your own, is completely unacceptable and will be dealt with harshly.

Grade summary:
• Class participation: 10%
• Reading quizzes: 30%
• Papers: 20% each
Course Texts
Required textbooks:
• Augustine, Confessions (Penguin Classics)
• Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works (Paulist)
• Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics)
• Thomas Aquinas, On Nature and Grace (Library of Christian Classics)
• Bonaventure, Journey into the Mind of God (Hackett)

Other required readings, marked in the course outline with asterisks (**) will be made available
via the most convenient means.

Outline of Course and Reading

Week 1: Augustine—hinge between patristic and medieval eras
• Tuesday: Course introduction
• Thursday: Augustine, Confessions, books 1 through 3

Week 2: Augustine (cont.)

• Tuesday: Augustine, Confessions, books 4 through 6
• Thursday: Augustine, Confessions, books 7 through 9

Week 3: Augustine (cont.)

• Tuesday: Augustine: Confessions, books 10 and 11
• Thursday: Augustine, Confessions, books 12 and 13

Week 4: The roots of Christian mysticism (Draft of Summary Paper due in class Tuesday)
• Tuesday: Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names
• Thursday: Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, Celestial Hierarchy

Week 5: The beginnings of scholasticism (Revised Summary Paper due in class Tuesday)
• Tuesday: Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion; Gaunilo, On Behalf of the Fool (in Anselm
text); Anselm, Reply to Gaunilo
• Thursday: Anselm, On Free Will, On the Fall of the Devil

Week 6: The meaning of the incarnation

• Tuesday: Anselm, Why God Became Man (focus particularly on book 2)
• Thursday: Anselm, On the Virgin Conception and Original Sin; Peter Abelard,
Commentary on Romans (selections)**

Week 7: Thomas Aquinas on the nature of God (Analytical Paper due in class Tuesday)
• Tuesday: Aquinas, Nature and Grace, part 1, questions 1-4 (pp. 35-77)
• Thursday: Aquinas, Nature and Grace, part 1, questions 20-23; prima secundae,
questions 82, 85 (pp. 78-136)

Week 8: Thomas Aquinas on grace and love

• Tuesday: Aquinas, Nature and Grace, prima secundae, questions 109-113 (pp. 137-202)
• Thursday: Aquinas, Nature and Grace, prima secundae, question 114; secunda secundae,
questions 23, 27 (pp. 203-218; 342-368)

Week 9: Franciscan and Beguine spirituality

• Tuesday: Bonaventure, Journey into the Mind of God
• Thursday: Julian of Norwich, Showings (selections)**; Hadewijch, Visions**

Week 10: Mystical union with God

• Tuesday: Meister Eckhart, Sermons (selections)**
• Thursday: Thanksgiving Day

Comparative Paper due via e-mail by noon Thursday, Finals Week

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