Monastic Schools

During the early Middle Ages (500-1000 CE) monastic schools began to take shape and heavily influence education. Their influence was felt for over a millennia providing education directly or indirectly to a countless number of people.


The monastic schools grew out of the philosophy of Asceticism. Asceticism is the belief in a life of severe self-denial from the viewpoint that the body was evil. Practitioners of asceticism would forego marriage, financial gain, and most earthly pursuits, in order to focus on spiritual development usually in isolation. This a strong reaction to the non-Christian world’s focus on eating a drinking

There were two common ways to follow Asceticism. Hermits would often live in nearly complete isolation to pursue spiritual development. Monks, on the other hand, practice asceticism as well but would stay near communities of people in order to provide spiritual care for others. In addition, monks would live together in monasteries to support and encourage each other. Of course, at least in the past, monks were only men. Women could become nuns if they desired to live in similar conditions among women.

The largest order of monks was the Bendectin Order. The monasteries served as an asylum for the oppressed, as a missionary station, and most importantly as a preserver of knowledge.


The curriculum of the monastic schools consisted of the 7 liberal arts. These seven subjects can be broken into two categories, which are the trivium and the quadrivium.

The Trivium consisted of three subjects which were Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Latin was the lingua Franca of the Chuch at the time so its grammar was taught extensively. Logic was derived from the ideas of Aristotle and included deductive and inductive reasoning. Rhetoric is another term for public speaking and this was studied for the purpose of developing communication skills.

The quadrivium consisted of four subjects which were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Many of the subjects are not studied as they are today. Arithematic study the mysterious or gnostic properties of numbers. Geometry was studied superficial and of little use. Astronomy was treated almost the same as astrology.

However, music was studied for the purpose of worship. The chants that the monks sang came to be called Gregorian chants named after Pope Gregory who had the chants codified. This is some of the earliest written version of western music. The notational system was different from modern notation using four lines instead of five and use squares instead of ovals to indicate notes.

The significance of Gregorian chants cannot be overestimated as they laid the foundation for modern music. Chants in the halls of monasteries provided the beginnings of most music found today.


Radical views in terms of the body led to the idea of asceticism. From this focus on self-denial comes the idea of living among like-minded people in monasteries. While in monasteries the monks would pursue education for personal development. This led to the liberal arts curriculum that is still used in part to this day.



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