Monastic schools (Latin: Scholae monasticae) were, along with cathedral schools, the most important institutions of higher learning in the Latin West from the early Middle Ages until the 12th century. Since Cassiodorus's educational program, the standard curriculum incorporated religious studies, the Trivium, and the Quadrivium. In some places monastic schools evolved into medieval universities which eventually largely superseded both institutions as centers of higher learning.
Since the cenobitic rule of Pachomius (d. 348 AD) and the sixth-century Rule of the Master and the Rule of St. Benedict, monks and nuns were required to actively engage in reading. This reading took on the characteristics of a school that dealt with both religious and secular subjects. Beginning in the 5th century a variety of abbots took upon themselves the responsibility of educating those who entered the monastery at a young age. The earliest of these monastic schools had more of a spiritual and ascetic focus than a scriptural or theological one, but it has been suggested that these were the qualities that led many monks trained at the monastic school at Lerins to be selected as bishops.
The Roman statesman Cassiodorus had abandoned politics in 537 and later in the century established a monastery on his own lands at Vivarium in southern Italy. Cassiodorus stipulated that his monastery would be a place of study, providing a guide for that study in his Introduction to the Divine and Human Readings (Institutiones), which encompassed both religious texts and works on the liberal arts. Cassidorus set out this program of study as a substitute for the Christian school he and Pope Agapetus had hoped to establish in Rome. In any event, the curriculum that Cassiodorus set out involved the literary study of well-established texts that he had listed in his Institutiones, following the rules that he laid out in his De orthographia.
Centers of learning were also found in seventh-century Spain, both at major monasteries and at episcopal centers. Students at the monastery of Saints Cosmas and Damian, at Agali near Toledo, learned such scientific subjects as medicine and the rudiments of astronomy.
In the heyday of the monastic schools in the 9th and 10th centuries, the teachings of important scholars such as Alcuin, Hrabanus Maurus, Heiric of Auxerre and Notker Balbulus raised the prestige of their abbeys and attracted pupils from afar to attend their courses.
Although some monastic schools contributed to the emerging medieval universities, the rise of the universities did not go unchallenged. Some monastic figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux considered the search for knowledge using the techniques of scholasticism to be a challenge to the monastic ideal of simplicity. The rise of medieval universities and scholasticism in the Renaissance of the 12th century offered alternative venues and new learning opportunities to the students and thus led to a gradual decline of the monastic schools.
- Kottje 1999
- Riché 1976, pp. 126-7, 282-98
- Riché 1976, pp. 112-20
- Riché 1976, pp. 100-5
- Riché 1976, pp. 132-4
- Riché 1976, pp. 158-69
- Riché 1976, pp. 296-7
- Leclercq, Jean (1982) , The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (Third ed.), New York: Fordham University Press, pp. 198–207, ISBN 0-8232-0407-3
- Ferzoco, George; Muessig, Carolyn, eds. (2000), Medieval Monastic Education, New York: Leicester University Press, ISBN 0-7185-0246-9