The Learning of the Arabs Imported Into Christendom

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Pope Sylvester II., who filled the chair of St. Peter when the first morning of the eleventh century dawned upon Europe, formed the link between the wisdom and learning of the Arabians, and the ignorance and credulity of the Romans. He had studied at the Mahometan schools in the royal city of Cordova, where he had acquired much useful knowledge as to this life, which he began to teach and practice in Rome. But such was the dark superstition of the people generally, that they attributed his great acquirements to the arts of magic, and maintained that such powers could only be possessed through a compact with the evil one. For ages after Pope Sylvester was remembered with horror, lest the throne of St. Peter should have been filled by a necromancer. But as time passed on, and the darkness of the tenth century was more and more left behind, there arose a race of men who were distinguished, not merely for great philosophic attainments, but for the study of the holy scriptures, and for their devotedness to the progress of Christianity. To have learned to read, and to have attended to the meaning of words, at such a time, especially in connection with the sacred writings, were blessings to mankind. The superiority of the eleventh over the tenth century must be chiefly ascribed to the improvements and advancement in learning, as a means in the Lord's hands.
But we must say another word about Sylvester. It would be unfair to leave so great and so good a man under the dark shade of the people's prejudices. He is spoken of by enlightened and impartial history as the most eminent prelate of his age. His own name was Gerbert. "In learning peerless, in piety unimpeachable, was Gerbert of Ravenna," says Milman. He was the tutor, guide, and friend of Robert, the son and successor of Hugh Capet, who, by a great but silent revolution, was raised to the throne of the imbecile race of Charlemagne, in the year 987. The royal pupil seems to have profited by the instructions of Gerbert. He came to the throne of France about the year 996, and reigned till the year 1031. He was a great friend to learning, died lamented, and was surnamed the Sage. In 998 Gerbert was appointed pope by Otho III., Emperor of Germany, when he took the name of Sylvester II. He died May 12th, 1003.