Jacques Maritain Center : Aristotle and the Christian Church



We know not to what extent the restored books were corrected. The strictures of the commission cannot have been very severe, since we find the most objectionable passages in the condemned books paraphrased by Albertus Magnus (1193-1280). "Our censors," says Hauréau, "would undoubtedly have marked these passages, but without cutting them out; later on the remembrance of those prudent notes being lost, there would be found persons bold enough, not only to expound, but even to justify the whole of the Physics."{1} Roger Bacon fixes the date of 1237 as that prior to which all censure ceased to attach to the reading of the prohibited books.{2} Whatever the corrections may have been, they were soon swept away by the spirit of rationalism. No temporary torrent it, as Philip de G&rgrave;eve would have us regard its influx. More and more does it gain ground, and greater and greater is the havoc that it plays among young and old in the University. Religious studies have grown distasteful. Eudes, another Chancellor, sums up the statement of affairs at this period when he complains that the men of his day spend their whole time in the pursuit of secular knowledge and seem to care nothing for the science of God.{3} Roger Bacon bears witness to the continuous influence of Avicenna and Averroës in the schools.{4} In 1240, we find the Bishop of Paris condemning ten specific errors, all of them Arabo-Peripatetic in their nature.{5} In 1247, Eudes, now Papal Legate, publicly condemns two professors, John Brescian and Raimund; furthermore, he insists that logicians shall confine themselves to their own subjects and shall not meddle with questions of theology.{6} In the mean time, Aristotle's influence grows apace. A knowledge of his philosophy becomes indispensable. The University extends the course of studies so as to include nearly all his works then known. Thus, it inscribes upon the statute-books the following, upon which the student will be required to pass examinations : -- The Dialectics, the Topics, the Ethics, the Physics, the Metaphysics and the Natural History; the book on the Heavens; that on Meteors and that on Generation; the spurious book on Causality; the books on Sensation, on Sleep and Waking, on Plants, on the Distinction of Spirit and Soul, on Memory, and on Life and Death.{7} May we not say that Aristotle has monopolized the whole course of study? That which is his, and that which is not his, but which simply bears his name, are read without discrimination. Error must needs grow out of such uncritical reading. The Church continues to exercise all due vigilance. Alexander IV. invites Albert the Great to refute the errors that are rife.{8} Again, it is found necessary to expurge the Physics and the Metaphysics. Neither master nor student seems desirous to discriminate between the doctrine that is conformable and the doctrine that is opposed to the teachings of revealed religion. Indeed, a fundamental proposition, held by many of that day was that a statement may be true in philosophy and yet contrary to Faith, or true according to Faith and false according to reason. It is an old error which the Church has had to contend with from the beginning. It is the last subterfuge of a soul believing and yet carried away by intellectual inflation. And it is in order to remove this stumbling-block from such souls that Urban IV., in a Bull to the University, forbids any further reading of the Physics and Metaphysics until they shall have been freed from all the doctrines contrary to the Faith.{9} Here, too, has it been asserted that this prohibition of Urban was the outcome of the continuous opposition of Rome to Aristotle; here, too, have those making the charge been mistaken. The quarrel is not between Rome and Aristotle; it is between the Church and the irresponsible rationalism of the day. No greater patron of learning was there than Pope Urban IV. And in an especial manner was he a patron of philosophy. "To Urban IV.," says Tiraboschi, "is due, by all right and title, the glory of having revived philosophy in Italy."{10} One year previous to the issuing of this Bull, in 1261, Urban called to Rome the Angelical Doctor, and had him to comment upon the very works, the reading of which for the time being he was prohibiting in Paris. "About this time," says the historian, "Brother Thomas did and wrote much at the request of Urban. . . . Professing in Rome, he gathered together nearly the whole of philosophy, both natural and moral, and wrote commentaries thereon; but chiefly upon the Ethics and the Metaphysics, which he treated in a novel and peculiar manner."{11} Urban appreciates Aristotle, but he prizes still more the souls of the youths of Paris who are led astray from the teachings of the Church by false doctrines imposed upon them in the name of Aristotle. For him to act otherwise would be a betrayal of his trust as guardian of the faith and morals of Christendom. Hence his action in reviving the prohibition of Gregory. But for all that, the spirit of rationalism is not checked. Indeed, every effort made to check it, seems to cause it to become more rampant. Stephen Tempier, the Bishop of Paris) in 1268, sounds the alarm. He assembles the Church and University authorities. They discuss and condemn some of the leading errors afloat. Among them are many long known to the student of philosophy: that the intellect of all men is numerically one and identical; that the world is eternal; that the human will wishes and chooses by necessity. The assembly admonishes the Rectors and Proctors of the diverse faculties that things pertaining to Faith be not discussed in schools of philosophy, lest weak minds, in attempting to grasp its inscrutable mysteries should be led to disbelieve or doubt them altogether.{12} And not alone obscure and reckless men held and taught the condemned propositions; they were publicly broached and discussed by masters of the highest reputation.{13} The ablest men in the Church are called upon to cope with them, and to protect the teachings of Christian philosophy against the encroachment of rationalism. Brother Gilles of the Dominican Order begs Albert the Great to write a refutation of the condemned propositions. Albert, though arrived at that period in life when men who have borne the heat and the burden of the day seek repose, took his pen and wrote a vigorous tract against them.{14} Aquinas is recalled to Paris to resume his lessons. He also writes an unsparing refutation of the errors afloat.{15} The University makes it matter of expulsion for any professor of philosophy to broach in public any theological question, if within a given time after receiving warning he recall not what he has said. Also, if in public disputations, he should decide any question against what is of Faith, he shall be expelled unless he makes public retraction and reparation.{16} The struggle grows more intense. The University forbids public discussion of Averroistic doctrines; they become a general topic of private discussion and private tuition. Banished from the chairs, they are whispered in corners and in closets. St. Thomas alludes to this subterfuge in his tract against them: "All that we have written against this error," says he -- he is alluding to the error of the unity of the human intellect -- "is not from the evidences of Faith, but from the sayings and reasonings of philosophers themselves. Still, should some author, inflated with pride through false science, desire to refute what we have advanced, let him not speak in corners, nor before boys incapable of pronouncing upon such arduous questions; but if he dares, let him refute our writing. He will then find, not only in me who am least of all, but in many others as well, those who are sustainers of the truth, and by whom his errors will be refuted and his ignorance reclaimed."{17} The University, in consequence, raises its voice against the teaching of theology and philosophy in private, and everywhere outside of the regularly appointed chairs.{18}

Through all this strife with rationalism, perhaps all the better because of the strife, have the Schoolmen, to all intents and purposes, completed their work. Thomas is dead, and Bonaventura is dead, and Albert is fast approaching the close of his long and wonderful career. But the rationalistic influx grows broader and deeper. The condemned errors are no longer counted by the tens; they are counted by the hundreds.{19} They extend to Oxford, and it is found needful that the same syllabus of them be there introduced.{4} All Europe seems flooded with the doctrines that flow from the Eternal Gospel, from Amaury, from David of Dinant, from Averroë s. These are the tares of the teeming intellectual activity that the thirteenth century produced. Women become infected with the new doctrines and believe themselves heaven sent. The Beguin Wilhelmina, of Milan, represents herself as the Holy Ghost, and miracles are said to have been worked at her tomb.{20} An Englishwoman, beautiful and eloquent, passes through Italy, teaching that the Holy Ghost has become incarnate in her for the redemption of woman.{21} These are only a few of the many wild vagaries that thrived, directly or indirectly, under the shadow of Arabo-Aristotelian teachings.

Lastly, now that in the vast storehouses of an Albert and a Thomas -- not to mention an Alexander of Hales, a Bonaventura, and others only a little less renowned -- are to be found the method and the principles of refutation of all possible objections that can be raised in the name of Aristotle; now that it has been proved that if adversaries of the Faith find in him weapons of attack, its defenders find also in him no less effective weapons of resistance, the Church pays his genius a crowning honour. She herself installs him in the University. In 1366, two Cardinal Legates from Pope Urban V., deputed to reform the University in all its faculties, make obligatory upon all aspiring to the Bachelor's Degree the study of the Logic and Psychology of Aristotle. Nor can any one receive his Master's Degree, who has not read the Physics, the Metaphysics, the Ethics and the minor works of the Stagyrite.{22} "Henceforth," says Hauréau, after noticing this event, "Aristotle shall be the universal teacher."{23} Yes, in a certain sense. We shall determine that sense by inquiring into the spirit in which the great minds among the Schoolmen accepted Aristotle as Master. Were they mere formalists repeating or imitating the Philosopher? The accusation has been made and the impression remains. With what justice we shall see.

{1} In Notices et Extraits des MSS., tom. xxi. p. 227.

{2} Emile Charles, Roger Bacon, p. 412.

{3} "Sed moderni totum tempus in saeculari scientia expendunt, parum vel nihil de scientia Dei curantes" (apud Launoy, De Var. Arist. Fort, p. 63).

{4} Emile Charles, loc. cit., p. 314.

{5} They are reported by S. Bonaventura, In 11. Sent. Dist., xxiii. a. ii. quaest. iii. in finem.

{6} Talamo, L'Aristotelismo della Scobastica nella Storia della Filosofia, p. 231.

{7} It is interesting to note the distribution of those varied subjects. After mentioning the Dialectics, Topics, and Ethics, the statute continues "Physicam Aristotelis, Metaphysicam et librum de Animalibus in festo S. Joannis Battiste. Librum Coeli et Mundi, librum i. Meteororom cum 4 in Ascensione. Librum de Anima si cum Naturalibus legatur, in festo Ascensionis: si autem corn Logicalibus, in festo Annunciationis B. Virginis. Librum de Generatione, in Cathedra S. Petri. Librum de Causis, in 7 septimanis. Librum de Sensu et Sensato, in 6 septimanis. Librum de Somno et Vigilia, in 5 septimanis. Librum de Plantis, in 5 septimanis. Librum de Differentia Spiritus et Animae, in 2 septimanis. Librum de Memoria et Reminiscentia, in 2 septimanis. Librom de Morte et Vita, in una septimana" (Du Boulay, Hist. Univ. Par., tom. iii. pp. 280, 282).

{8} Albert tells us that he wrote his Exposition of the Gospel of St. John "ad instantiam Alexandri IV., pro extirpandis haeresibus tunc vigentibus Romae lecta." Again, after refuting the pantheistic doctrine of a universal intellect actuating all minds, he says: Haec omnia aliquando collegi in curia existens ad praeceptum Domini Alexandri Papae, et factos fuit inde libellus quem multi habent et intitulatur Contra Errores Averroës et hic etiam posita sunt ut perfectior scientia Summae" (Sum. Theol., part. ii. tr. xiii. q. 77, m. 3, Opp., tom. xviii.).

{9} Du Boulay, Hist. Univ. Par., tom. iii. p. 365.

{10} Storia della Letteratura Italiana, tom. iv. p. 270. Tiraboschi here prints the dedication of a mathematical work to Urban, by Campano de Navarre, in which Urban is eulogized as the patron and protector of philosophy.

{11} "Tunc frater Thornas redit de Parisiis ex certis caussis, et ad petitionem Urbani molta fecit et scripsit. . . . Isto autem tempore Thomas tenens studium Romae, quasi totam philosophiam sive moralem sive naturalem exposuit, et in scriptum, seu commentem redegit: sed praecipue Ethicam et Metaphysicam, quodam singulari et novo modo tradendi (Tolomaeus, Hist. Eccles., lib. xxii. cap. xxiv. p. 2154. In vol. xi., Rerum Italicarum Scriptores).

{12} Du Boulay, Hist. Univ. Par., tom. iii. p. 397.

{13} "Articolos quos in scholis proponunt Magistri Parisiis, qui in Philosophia majores reputantur" (Letter of Egidios to Albert the Great. See Sighart, Vie de Albert le Grand, cap. xxv. p. 272).

{14} Opusculum. Opp., tom. xxi.

{15} Tract, Contra Averroistas.

{16} Statute, April 1, 1271, apud Du Boulay, tom. iii. p. 398.

{17} Opusculum, xv. De Unitate Intellectus Contra Averroistas, in finem. Opp., tom. xvi. p. 224.

{18} Statute of 2276, Stat. Universit. Contra docentes Theolog. in locis privatis, Du Boulay, tom. iii. p. 430.

{19} See the Syllabus of errors afloat in the Paris University, prepared in 1277, at the request of Pope John XXI. (Du Boulay, ibid., pp. 434-444). In 1284, by Robert Kilwardby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

{20} Muratori, Antiq. Ital. Med. AEvi, tom. v. col. 90-93.

{21} Vide Le Clerc, Hist. Litt. de la France, tom. xxiv. p. 117.

{22} We here give that part of the statute bearing upon Aristotle:

"Item quod audiverint veterem artem totam, librum Topicorum, quoad 4 libros et libros Elenchorom, priorum aut posteriorum completè, etiam librum de Anima in toto vel in parte . . .

"Item quod nullus admittatur ad Licentiam in dicta Facultate, nec in examine B. Mariae, nec in examine B. Genovesae, nisi ulterius predictos libros audiverit Parisius, vel in alio studio generali librum Physicorum, de Generatione et Corroptione, de Coelo et Mundo, Parva Naturalia, videlicet libros de Senso et Sensato, de Somno et Vigilia, de Memoria et Reminiscentia, de longitudine et brevitate vitae, librum Mechanicae, vel qui actu audiat eundem, et quod aliquos libros Mathematicos audiverit.

"Item quod nullus de caetero admittatur ad Magisterium in Artibus, nisi praedictos libros audiverit, nec non libros morales, specialiter librum Ethicorum pro majori parte et librum Metheororum, saltem tres primos libros omni dispensatione interdictâ" (Bulmos, Hist. Univ. Par., tom. iv. p. 390).

{23} Hist. de la Phil. Schol., tom. ii. cap. vi. p. 108

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