The medieval world view, like most other systems of thought and belief, was a view held by a large group of people. Since no two people think, reason, or believe exactly the same things, there must have been many thousands of variations on the thought and belief systems of the time. Therefore, the medieval world view cannot be distilled into one simple essence of belief but rather can only be described by refering to the myriad variations of belief that existed at the time. Like most other systems, the medieval world view can be organized as a spectrum with an extreme at either end and moderation in between. In this case, the extremes are mysticism, the complete rejection of reason and acceptance of only faith, and at the other end, pure Aristotelean rationalism, requiring logical proof of any and all statements, even the most elementary beliefs of the Christian faith.

The first extreme, one of pure Christian mysticism, requires the complete literal acceptance of all holy scriptures and teachings, rejecting the human faculties of reason and logic as faulty and insufficient to fully understand or explain matters of faith. God, it argues, transcends human comprehension, and therefore, of neccessity, God's rules and scriptures also transcend human understanding. Since God and his truths cannot be fully comprehended by humans, human logic, reasoning and rationalism don't apply to them, they must simply be accepted on faith. These beliefs also led the mystics to doubt such rational processes as empiricism, the systematic acquisition of knowledge about the natural world through experience. They believed that even if empiricism gave knowledge of the natural world, the study of nature itself was altogether useless, for, as St. Francis said, "I would wish them rather to be strengthened by virtues, that when the time of tribulation comes they may have the Lord with them in their straits – for such a time will come when they will throw their good-for-nothing books into holes and corners." Essentially, the mystics distrusted human reason, but believed that even if human reason was a good way of learning about the physical world, it was irrelevant, for the world was just that – a physical, mortal existance – literally meaningless and irrelevant in the face of an eternity of immortal life after death. Pure mystics therefore shunned reason and perception of the physical world altogether, prefering to immerse themselves in scripture and prayer in preparation for the "ultimate mystical experience of union with the divine."

At the other end of the broad spectrum of the medieval belief system is the extreme of pure Aristotlean Neo-Platonicism. Aristotelean thinkers were the rationalists, the nominalists, diametrically opposed to the mystics - the realists. These logical thinkers prized reason above all else, including faith and church authority. As Adelard of Bath, an outspoken Aristotelean thinker, said, "Although man is not armed by nature nor is naturally swiftest in flight, he has something far better – reason...Between you and me only reason will be the judge." Although these thinkers were, for the most part, Christian believers, they felt the need to prove their beliefs rationally to themselves, rather than simply accept them as they appeared in scripture or were proposed by church leaders. Peter Abelard believed that if men were meant to simply accept what was told to them blindly, then reason "would have been given to each of us in vain. It would be sufficient that it were given to one (or a few at most), and the rest of us would be content with their authority and decisions." The rational thinkers of the time believed that by using the logical techniques of empiricism, syllogism, and quaestio, one could ascertain for one's self what was true and untrue. They encouraged others to "Use systematic doubt and question everything", often earning the dispproval of the church. In the eyes of the clergy, some things were not meant to be questioned or doubted by mere mortals. However, they held fast to their beliefs that "By doubting we come to enquiry; by enquiring we perceive the truth", often leading the church to brand them as heretics and sacreligious. To summarize, rational thinkers of the medieval period believed that everything true could be proven by rational thought and no fact, no matter where it came from, was safe from doubt or rational analysis. As Peter Abelard said, "Watch for error, even in Holy Scripture."

Of course, as is true in almost every case, not many during this period situated themselves on either extreme, most chose a position of some moderation, that is, somewhere between the two. Saint Augustine, the predominant Christian philospoher of the time, took up a position close to mysticism. He accepted reason as a gift from god to man, however, he warned men from "glorying in their own wisdom." Rather, he believed that man should submit himself utterly to God and acknowledge that his reason and knowledge was all due to God's gifts to him. He believed this so strongly, in fact, that he came to think that all man's actions were completely predestined by God, and that people who were to go to heaven were already chosen by God. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of a much later era than Augustine, also took a moderate viewpoint. He, however, accepted faith and reason completely, citing that each was a gift from god and that they supported, not opposed, each other. Similarly, he saw life in the physical world and afterlife in the supernatural world as parts of a whole, not as two seperate worlds, one good, the other evil. Described as a synthesis between Christianity and Aristotelianism, his philosophy used logic to prove points about faith and theology.

The medieval world view is far from a simple one that can be condensed into an essence or one single defining philosophy. Rather, it is a complex spectrum of views, ranging from the pious mysticism of Bernard and Saint Francis to the complete rationalism of Peter Abelard and Abelard of Bath. However, if one single defining philosophy were to be synthesized out of these two extremes, the defining world view of the Medieval time period would be that of Thomas Aquinas, a combination or pure mysticism and pure rationalism, the two most extreme viewpoints of the time.

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