Chartres, School of

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A cathedral school existed at Chartres as early as the sixth century but did not become famous until the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Under Bishop Fulbert (d. 1028), a pupil of Gerbert of Aurillac, students, among them Berengar of Tours, flocked to Chartres to study the trivium and quadrivium, medicine and theology. Later, Bishop Ivo brought renown in canon law. The high point was reached in the early twelfth century under Bernard of Chartres and his brother Theodoric (Thierry) and their pupils Gilbert of Poitiers (de la Porrée), William of Conches, and Clarembald of Arras. Also associated with the school in various ways were Bernard of Tours, Adelard of Bath, Alan of Lille, and John of Salisbury. The Chartrains of this period were humanists who loved the literature and philosophy of classical antiquity. The richness of their program of studies is evident in Theodoric's Heptateuch, a handbook of the seven liberal arts and a collection of the authors who were read. In the early twelfth century Chartres was the center of Latin Platonism. Plato himself was known only indirectly through a fragment of the Timaeus in the translation and commentary of Chalcidius and through Macrobius, Apuleius, Seneca, and Boethius, whose Opuscula Sacra and Consolatio Philosophiae were much commented on. Devotion to Platonism produced realist interpretations of the problem of universals, speculations about the Ideas, matter and form, cosmological thought, and discussions about the world soul. Aristotle was generally less highly esteemed. The Chartrains knew only his logical writings (the Organon ), including the logica nova (the rediscovered Prior Analytics, Topics, and Sophistic Refutations ), which makes an early appearance in Theodoric's Heptateuch. Under the inspiration of Boethius, attempts were made to reconcile Aristotelianism and Platonism. Theology was presented largely in philosophical clothing. Confident of the harmony of faith and learning, the Chartrains attempted to establish the existence of God by numerical speculations, to synthesize Platonic cosmology and biblical revelation, and to compare the Platonic world soul with the Holy Spirit, as in William of Conches. God was considered to be the form of all being, a view that has been called pantheistic by some historians. Greek and Arabian writings on medicine, astronomy, and mathematics, including works by Hippocrates, Galen, Ptolemy, Euclid, al-Khwarizmi, Johannitius, and others were circulated and read in translation. In the early twelfth century Chartres was without a peer as a school of classical and humane learning and of Platonism, and it was rivaled in philosophy only by Paris. The bloom was fading fast by midcentury, but the influence of the school continued to be marked among the disciples of Gilbert of Poitiers, in thirteenth-century writings on natural philosophy, and still later in the works of Nicholas of Cusa.

See also Aristotle; Bernard of Chartres; Bernard of Tours; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Galen; Gerbert of Aurillac; Gilbert of Poitiers; Hippocrates and the Hippocratic Corpus; John of Salisbury; Nicholas of Cusa; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Theodoric of Chartres; William of Conches.


Clerval, A. Les écoles de Chartres au moyen âge. Paris: A. Picard, 1895.

Geyer, B. Die patristische und scholastische Philosophie. Basel, 1927, Pp. 226252.

Gregory, T. Anima Mundi. La filosofia di Guglielmo di Conches. Florence: G.C. Sansoni, 1955.

Parent, J. La doctrine de la création dans l'école de Chartres. Paris: J. Vrin, 1938.

Wulf, M. de. History of Mediaeval Philosophy. Translated by E. C. Messenger. London: Nelson, 1952. Vol. I, pp. 173188. Translation of Histoire de la philosophie médiévale. Louvain: Institut Supérieur de Philosophie, 1934.

David Luscombe (1967)