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What Is Medieval Theology?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Medieval theology typically refers to the study of religion during the time period known as the Middle Ages or the medieval era, about the 5th century to the 15th century. While much of Europe and the Western world were thrown into chaos and conflict during this time, monasteries and some other locations remained havens of learning and discourse. This resulted in a great deal of theological study and literature being produced, and so many of the spiritual and religious beliefs of those times can still be studied. Medieval theology often involves the works of medieval philosophers and religious leaders regarding views on free will and predestination and the nature of good and evil.

One of the most common aspects of medieval theology is the study of those religious leaders and philosophers who left a lasting mark on religion over hundreds or thousands of years. Augustine of Hippo, for example, was one of the last Roman philosophers and religious leaders to establish a great deal of the religious thought that would continue after his death. Thomas Aquinas is also looked to as a predominant theologian of the medieval period and his writings were the foundation for much of Western Christian thought since his life. There were other influential figures in medieval theology, including Islamic philosophers who thrived during the Dark Ages of medieval Europe.

The concepts of free will and predestination were some of the most important aspects of medieval theology. Different philosophical and theological approaches were taken to help people rationalize their ability to act with the concept of an omniscient creator. The idea of predestination established that people had no true free will, and that their actions were already known and preordained prior to them even happening. This idea was often used in medieval studies as justification for why some people had wealth and power, as rewards for the good lives they were predestined to live.

There was also a great deal of thought and consideration within medieval theology on the nature of good and evil. People wanted to better understand what was “good” and what was “evil” and how those ideas were even possible in a universe created by an all-powerful and benevolent deity. This was often explored through concepts such as predestination and “original sin” that served as means to explain why bad things happened to good people. Many of the issues discussed in medieval theology continue to be sources for philosophical and theological exploration, as these types of questions often do not have a right or definitive answer.

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