The History of Psychology

The Christian Era

Caesar Augustus

(“Augustus Primaporta” the Vatican)


Jesus in the Wilderness (Ivan Kramskoi, 1872)



Galen- (129-c. 210 CE) On the Naural Faculties, Exhortation to Study the Arts and , On the Diagnosis of Dreams (the Great Books Index). This important physician wrote about psychological disorder as medical problems.  A follower of  Hippocrates, a student of animal anatomy, and a famous practitioner (he developed his skill as physician to the gladiators and to emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus), Galen became the medical authority to physicians for the next thousand years.  The picture is of the Coliseum in Rome where Galen ministered to the combatants.



Epictetus' (c.55-c.135 CE.) The Discourses, The Enchiridion, and The Golden Sayings are located at the Internet Classics. This Stoic philosopher began life as a slave and developed the principle that virtue is the result of forbearance against the troubles of life.


Marcus Aurelius' (167 CE) Meditations are the thoughts of the finest of Roman Emperors. He was a follower of Epictetus’ Stoicism that was likely the source of his noble rein. This is his likeness.



PlotinusPlotinus' Six Enneads (204-270 CE) shows this philosopher’s carrying forth of Plato’s idealism; reality is to be understood in the realm of the spirit rather than in material.  Plotinus is, thus, a neoplatonist.  The ultimate reality is “the One” from which intelligence and soul emanate.  The sensory world is subordinate to these.  Unification with “the one” is this thinker’s dominant moral directive.  


The Early Documents of the Christian Church This remarkable site includes the Old and New Testament canons, works of Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Aquinas, and other important documents.  These writers crafted the early beliefs of Christianity and incorporated their assumptions concerning human psychology.  Among the important questions that arise which continue to be a part of modern psychology are: the nature and varieties of love, faith and belief as sources of knowledge, and the interaction of emotion, action, and morality.   

Christ on the Cross with the Virgin, St. Jerome, Mary Magdalene, & John the Baptist

Saint Augustine's (354-430 CE) Confessions and City of God, two of his many works as a theologian, present this great thinker's views of the human situation. The Confessions is an insightful study of Augustine's own development from infancy to adulthood. The City of God influenced the thinking of Europeans for at least the next six hundred years because of its depiction of the material world as distinguished from the kingdom of God. The 15th century painting is Bennozo Gozzoli’s “Death of Monnica” who was Augustine’s mother and the woman who converted him to Christianity.



Boethius' (c. 470 – c. 524) The Consolation of Philosophy  advocates reasoning and contemplation as the palliative for the stresses of life. It was written while in prison awaiting execution  and has helped many in their struggle with life.  Boethius was a writer on music theory and proposed a theory of the relationship of pitch and frequency (early psychophysics).  The picture is a cartoon of Boethius competing with Pythagoras in mathematics.  Boethius is using Arabic numerals (he was the first European to do so) and Pythagoras is using a clumsy abacus.  

35kb jpg detail from a triptych by Antonio Vivarini, 1446, tempera on canvas, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice; please do not write to ask about the imagePope Saint Gregory the Great (540?-604) was responsible for organizing and unifying the early Catholic Church around Rome.  Among the many standard that he set was the means by which sacred music should be performed – the “Gregorian Chant” or plainsong.  This was the music that came to symbolize the growing power of the church through the middle ages.  Because of his powerful presence, music became integrally connected to theological, philosophical and psychological  thought. 



The Qur’an (Koran) The holy book of Islam.  This is the sacred book of Islam written by Mohammed.  It expresses the fervent belief in one all powerful God and a moral code that is centered around worship of Allah.  The Ka’ba in the holy city of  Mecca, on the right is the oldest Islamic site of worship.  The Alhambra in Granada Spain (14th century) is a fourteenth century mosque which exemplifies the graceful architecture characteristic of Islamic designers.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (973-1037): On Medicine  (Internet Medieval Source Book):  is a compendium of scientific observation on anatomy, physiology, disease and treatment.  Included in this monumental work is great insight into the relationship between psychology and health.  Avicenna’s work was a great inspiration for the revitalization of thought in western Europe.


 Ibn Rushd (Averroës), 1126-1198 CE On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy (Internet Medieval Source Book):   Arguably this Islamic thinker brought the ideas and philosophical attitudes of the Greeks back to the attention of European scholars (particularly Aquinas) with his translations and interpretations. 



Saint Thomas Aquinas' (1225-1274) Summa Contra Gentiles  among other matters is a demonstration that, in addition to the revelation of God, truth can be established through reason and observation of the world. Aquinas, thus, reestablishes the value of knowledge which is gained with thought and through the senses.  The 14th century painting is “The Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas” by Sasetta.

Leonin (c. 1135-1201) and Perotin (c. 1160-1240) were two of the most important musical composers of the “School of Notre Dame de Paris” during the life of Aquinas.  In a time when music and theology were practically inseparable in serious thought, these great musicians developed the technique of sounding multiple voices simultaneously – “polyphony”, and helped set the standard for future musical composition.