This vigorous justification of the arts of reasoning and verbal expression will surely fortify modern proponents of classical education. John of Salisbury-English churchman, close friend of Thomas Becket, contemporary to Hugh of St. Victor-was no stranger to pedagogical controversy. (Indeed, the barbs directed at his chief adversary-an 'ignoramus' of 'bloated gluttony, inflated arrogance, evil lust'-make attacks by today's pundits appear tame.) John champions the liberal arts ('called liberal.because their object is to effect man's liberation, so that, freed from cares, he may devote himself to wisdom') and eloquently builds the case that logic, grammar, and rhetoric are the foundations of all learning. His most notable allies from antiquity are Plato, Cicero, and especially Aristotle, but he also draws on the Church Fathers and great masters of his day, including Peter Abelard. John prizes common sense, preferring instructors who elucidate their subject plainly (even Aristotle receives chiding for obfuscation), and he often displays a ready wit: 'All take pride in being logicians, not only those who have become engaged to the science with a few sweet pleasantries, but even those who have not yet made her acquaintance.' Long available in Latin, this translation offers us the Metalogicon
in English for the first time in its entirety-and not a moment too soon.
An Eighth Day View:
"The Metalogicon," completed in 1159, is recognized as a landmark in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and education. Undertaken to defend the thorough study of the trivium against attack at the hands of those who wished less attention accorded to grammar, logic, and rhetoric, it is a treasure-trove of information about twelfth-century teaching as well as an enduring classic in its own right.
The study of grammar in John of Salisbury's time included familiarization with the ancient Latin classics, and involved not only a reading of them but also an analysis and imitation of their style. It thus anticipated the humanism of the Renaissance. The study of logic, as it was then pursued, comprised learning and putting into practice the principles of Aristotle's "Organon."
In "The Metalogicon," a leading medieval scholar summarizes the essential lineaments of existing twelfth-century education, describes his experiences while a student at Chartres and Paris, and affords personal glimpses of such contemporary intellectual leaders as Peter Abelard, Gilbert de la Porree, and Thierry of Chartres.
John of Salisbury (ca. 1115-1176) studied with almost all the great masters of the early twelfth century, served as an aid to Thomas a Becket (1118-1170), was friend to Pope Hadrian IV, an annoyance if not an enemy to England's King Henry II, and died as Bishop of Chartres.
Daniel D. McGarry was a professor of history at Saint Louis University. He died in 1999. His translation of "The Metalogicon" was the first to appear in any modern language.