Jacques Maritain Center : A History of Western Philosophy Vol. II / by Ralph McInerny

Part III: The Twelfth Century

Chapter VI

Dominicus Gundissilinus

Dominicus Gundissalinus was a member of the Toledo school of translators of Islamic and Judaic writings which was established by the archbishop of that city, Raymond (1126-1151). Others of the school were John of Spain, Gerard of Cremona, and, later, Michael Scot and Herman the German. The writings of Gundissalinus are now placed in the second half of the twelfth century, probably under Archbishop John (1151-1166). Prior to the establishment of the Toledo school there had been translations made (for example, by Adelhard of Bath), but such efforts were sporadic and unorganized. Spain was the logical place for such work, for there intimate contact between Latin Christian culture and Judaism and Islam was a fact of life. Converts from these faiths were a major source of the works which came to be translated into Latin. Gundissalinus is thought to have been a convert from Judaism. The ancient texts which were thus introduced into the West had been filtered through a number of languages before finding their way into Latin. The Nestorian school at Edessa (431-489) translated many works from Greek into Syriac. It is interesting that Cassiodorus mentions both Alexandrian and Syrian scholarly efforts. (PL, 70, 1105) The object of these efforts was not Aristotle alone but also the works of the Alexandrian commentators. Such work is thought to have continued from the fifth to the eighth century. In the eighth century Syrian scholars were summoned to the courts of the Caliphs of Bagdad. One of these scholars, Henin Ben Isaac, translated works from Syriac into Arabic. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries this heritage became available to Jews and Christians. The last step, into Latin, was in itself a somewhat complicated one. At Toledo, for example, an Arabic or Jewish text was first translated into the vernacular, Spanish, and it was that version that someone might put into Latin. What was thus translated was not simply a text of Aristotle, say, but such a text together with an Arabian commentary on it. Thus at the same time that Aristotle and his Alexandrian commentators were introduced to the Latin West, Alkindi, Alfarabi, Algazel, Avicebron, Avicenna, and Averroes came to be known. This fact was to have not a little influence on Aristotle's fate in European universities.

Unlike most other translators, Gundissalinus wrote independent philosophical works. Besides his work on the divisions of philosophy (De divisione philosophiae), at which we will take a sustained look, he wrote on the creation of the world, the immortality of the soul, and unity.

De divisione philosophiae. Although this work exhibits a great deal of community with the tradition on the relationship between the arts and philosophy, a tradition to which we have been alluding in what has gone before, Gundissalinus strikes a note that is definitely new, a note which anticipates the sort of approach to the nature of philosophy which in the thirteenth century will be taken by Thomas Aquinas. In devoting a modest amount of space to Gundissalinus' map of philosophy, we leave it to the reader to compare what the Spaniard has to say with what has been said earlier about other twelfth-century views on the division of philosophy.

The De divisione philosophiae begins with a fairly familiar lament: Felix prior aetas: Alas, for the good old days. The phrase, as it happens, is lifted from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. Although once avidly pursued, philosophy is nowadays fallen into oblivion, for men are too concerned with worldly matters. To help rectify this situation, Gundissalinus proposes to write a kind of summary of wisdom in which he will do three things: show (1) what wisdom is, (2) what its parts are, and (3) the usefulness of each part.{1}

Since everyone prefers some things to other things, and things are preferred either with reference to flesh or to spirit, we must examine what is sought by flesh and what is sought by spirit. The goods sought by the flesh are of three kinds. Some are necessary, for they sustain us, and they are either provided by nature (for example, food and drink) or by art (for example, medicine). Others are such that they are pleasant (for example, fine clothes, well-prepared food, sex). Finally. some things are sought by flesh out of curiosity (curiositas), for example, superfluous possessions and riches. Those who seek such things are corrupt and abominable.

The concerns of spirit are also threefold. Some are harmful, such as moral vice; others are vain, such as worldly honor and magic; finally, some are useful, such as virtues and worthwhile sciences. It is in the latter that human perfection consists, since human perfection cannot be had in virtue without knowledge or in knowledge without virtue.

Sciences are of two kinds, human and divine. Divine science is that which is revealed to man by God, for example, the Old and New Testaments. The sign of such a science is that it is introduced by "The Lord God spoke . . ." and "Jesus said to his disciples . . . ."

Human science is that which is attained by human discourse, for example, all the arts which are called liberal. Some human sciences pertain to eloquence, others to wisdom. Grammar, poetry, rhetoric, and law belong to eloquence, for they enable one to speak correctly and ornately. Those belong to wisdom which enlighten the soul with respect to the knowledge of truth or elevate it to the level of the good. Now all of these sciences belong to philosophy; there is no science which is not part of philosophy. Here Gundissalinus sets himself a fourfold task: he will determine what philosophy is, what its intention or end is, what its parts are, and what each part is concerned with.

A. What Is Philosophy?

This discussion is divided into two parts, in the first of which Gundissalinus gives us definitions of philosophy. The second part establishes the intention of philosophy and assigns its parts. With respect to the definition of philosophy. Gundissalinus suggests some definitions drawn from what is proper to it and others taken from the effect of philosophy. As a matter of fact, six definitions of philosophy are given, four arising from what is proper to philosophy and two from its effect.

The first four definitions are (1) philosophy is the assimilation of man to the works of the creator insofar as humanly possible, (2) philosophy is the study of death, (3) philosophy is the knowledge of things human and divine conjoined with the effort to live well, (4) philosophy is the art of arts and the discipline of disciplines. Baur gives Isaac's book of definitions as the immediate source of the first two definitions and Isadore as the source of the next two. He also indicates (p. 169ff.), however, the ancient sources for these definitions, citing Theaetetus 176AB as the source of the first two.

As found in Plato, these seem to reflect a Pythagorean influence, a mystical direction of thought in which philosophy is ordered to religion, speculation to intuition and ecstasy. For Gundissalinus, however, the first definition has a straightforward, scientific meaning. Philosophy is the assimilation of man to the works of God in the sense that it is the perception of the truth of things, the truth of knowledge, and the truth of operation. But to know the truth of things is to know them in their causes. Gundissalinus then enumerates the four species of cause taught by Aristotle, dividing each species into spiritual and corporeal. The second definition, that which sees philosophy as solicitude for death, is interpreted as meaning the mortification of base desires, a prerequisite for the pursuit and acquisition of truth.

Baur's research into the sources of the third and fourth definitions is particularly interesting for us since, as has already been said, they are taken from Isadore. Where did Isadore get them? Baur sees these definitions as Stoic in origin, citing a fragment of the Pseudo-Plutarch in the Placita philosophorum. The fourth definition is thought to be derived from Aristotle. (Meta., 1,2)

The definition of philosophy from its effect is "Man's complete knowledge of himself." The relation of this definition to the dictum of the Delphic Oracle is noted by Baur, a dictum whose ethical import is clear. It can be seen to suggest that introspection is a source of knowledge of the macrocosm. We can see in this the option of Neoplatonism and Augustinianism: "Noli foras ire, in te redi: in interiore homine habitat veritas, et si tuam naturam mutabilem inveneris, transcende et te ipsum" [Go not about, retire within: truth dxvells in the inner man, and should you find your own truth mutable, go on beyond yourself]. (De vera religione, chap. 39, n. 72) Gundissalinus' interpretation of this definition could hardly be less mystical. In man substance and accident are found, and not only that but both spiritual and corporeal substance and accident. Now since whatever is is either substance or accident, spiritual or corporeal, man is a sort of compendium of being; for him to know himself will be in a way to know whatever is.

The sixth definition given of philosophy is etymological: philosophy is the love of wisdom; the philosopher is one who seeks wisdom. Wisdom itself is definable in two ways: first from its proper nature, second from its effect. "Wisdom is the true knowledge of first and sempiternal things." These first things are described in terms of emanation, somewhat redolent of the Fons vitae of Avicebron. The first genus is created immediately by God, and from it come other genera. Individuals and species receive their names and definitions from the genera, and, thus, owing to the genera each this is what it is and has what truth it has. Truth is that which is. Thus, we can say that wisdom is true knowledge of the first and sempiternal things. Finally, wisdom is the intellectual comprehension of what is true and false in every area.

B. The Division of Philosophy

Philosophy is an attempt to understand all things insofar as this is humanly possible. A first division of things is that into those which result from our willing (for example, laws, constitutions, wars, rites, and so on) and those which do not. Only God in no way comes to be; every creature comes to be, whether before time (angels and matter), with time (celestial bodies and earthly elements), or in time (everything else). Those which come to be in time either will never have an end (for example, soul) or will have an end. Of those things which will have an end, some are due to nature, others to art.

1. Theoretical and Practical Philosophy. Since whatever is is due either to our willing or to God or nature, philosophy is first divided into two parts. The first, having to do with human affairs, is practical philosophy, which seeks to know what we ought to do; the second, theoretical philosophy, having to do with everything other than human works, seeks to learn what ought to be known. Gundissalinus goes on to make several distinctions calculated to clarify this initial division of philosophy. Theoretical philosophy is in the intellect, consisting only in the mind's knowledge; practical philosophy is in doing (in effectu) and consists in the execution of a work. Philosophy is sought for the perfection of the soul, and this is achieved by science and operation. Operation pertains to the sensible part of the soul, speculation to the rational part. The rational part of the soul is divided by the concern with divine things not elements of our work and with human things. The end of the speculative is in knowledge, the end of the practical in knowledge of what ought to be done. The principles of this division are, in the first place, objects (divine and human things), mode (knowing and knowing for doing), and the parts of soul involved (rational and sensible). But, lest one think that practical philosophy is action, Gundissalinus makes clear that, as philosophy, it is rational knowledge of what ought to be done.

2. Divisions of Theoretical Philosophy. In assigning the parts of theoretical philosophy our author gives two accounts of how the division is made and then compares them with the doctrine of Boethius, De trinitate, chapter two. We will set down in schematic form the divisions given in the text.

First Division

Theoretical knowledge has as its object whatever does not result from our willing. But such things are

With respect to the things which would fall under 2a, our author notes that they can be considered in two ways, either according to proper matter and motion or without them. Examples of the first mode would he the consideration that fire is one, the elements are four, hot and cold are causes, the soul is a principle. These things -- namely one, four, cause, and principle -- can exist apart from matter. The second mode pertains to 2b (i), and refers to the consideration of mathematicals apart from proper matter and motion. What this seems to be saying is this: mathematicals exist in material and mobile things but can be considered without including proper matter and motion. So too such things as cause, principle, and unity are found in material and mobile things, but, unlike mathematicals, they are also sometimes found existing apart. from matter and motion. Thus, although matter and motion are not accidental to material and mobile causes, matter and motion accidunt to cause as such.

Second Division

Whatever is understood

That each of these divisions is in agreement with the doctrine of Boethius is next shown. The two divisions come down to saying that speculation is concerned either (1) with what is not separate from its matter either in existing or in the intellect, or (2) with what is separated from matter in the intellect but not as it exists, or (3) with what is separate from matter in existing and in the intellect. The science concerned with the first kind of things is called physics or natural science; the science concerned with the second, mathematics; that concerned with the third, first science or first philosophy or metaphysics. It is precisely these sciences and such objects which Boethius describes when he says that physics is in abstracta and with motion; mathematics, abstract and with motion; theology, abstract and without motion. What is more, this division of speculative philosophy is the one given by Aristotle.

3. Division of Practical Philosophy. Our author introduces this division by noting that future happiness requires not only science of what should be understood but also knowledge of what is good. Thus, practical philosophy too is necessary. And, as it happens, practical philosophy too is divided into three parts.

One part of it is the science that has to do with intercourse with all men, something which requires knowledge of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, and secular law. These provide for that science of ruling states and of knowing the rights of citizens which is called political science. Second, there is a science concerned with the household and one's own family. By means of it knowledge is had of the relations of man with wife, children, and servants and of all domestic matters. This science, usually called economics (from the Greek oikia, home), Gundissalinus calls family government.

A third science is that by which a man knows how to regulate himself. This is ethics or moral science. Since a man lives either alone or with others and, if with others, either with his family or with his co-citizens, the division of practical philosophy is seen to be adequate.

4. Logic and the Schema of Philosophy. The six sciences already enumerated contain whatever can and should be known. Because this is so and because they are precisely the parts of philosophy, the intention of philosophy is said to be the understanding of all things insofar as this is humanly possible. And since philosophy has as its effect the perfection of the soul, it has been pointed out that the end of practical philosophy is the love of the good, that. of speculative philosophy the knowledge of the truth.

Truth, however, is either known or unknown. Examples of known truths are that two is more than one and that the whole is greater than its part. Unknown truths, such as that the world began and that angels are composed of matter and form(!) require demonstration. What is unknown comes to be known through something else previously known. Logic is the science which teaches how to bring about this transformation. For this reason logic is naturally prior to every theoretical science and is necessary to each. However, since truth is expressed in propositions and these are composed of terms, grammar, whose concern is the composition of terms, must precede logic.

Gundissalinus holds that every science is either a part or an instrument of philosophy. Examples of parts would be mathematics and physics; of an instrument, grammar. Grammar is only an instrument, for although it is necessary in order to teach philosophy, it is not necessary in order to know it. But since philosophy inquires into the dispositions of its subject, logic is not only an instrument but also a part of philosophy.

Baur (p. 193) draws up the following schema to represent the doctrine of Gundissalinus' De divisione philosophiae.

It is clear that the liberal arts do not as such constitute the main concern of Gundissalinus in his division of philosophy. He mentions them but once, and then seemingly suggests that any human science can be called a liberal art. The mechanical arts come up for discussion, briefly, when economics is considered. His understanding of them would seem to be that these arts transform natural matter in order to make objects useful for man. Gundissalinus suggests a division of them according to the natural matter transformed, according to whether their matter is inanimate or (formerly) animate body. When medicine is distinguished from the liberal arts, we are not faced with anything new, for Isadore (IV, 13, 1-5) makes the same distinction. We need not look in the De divisione philosophiae for any precisions on the meaning of the phrase "liberal art" or for any distinction of art from science. Gundissalinus is content to accept Cassiodorus on the definitions of art and science, indicating that these are simply different names for the same thing. Indeed, for Gundissalinus metaphysics is an art and the metaphysician an artifex. What the schema just set down indicates (if it be supplemented by the division of mathematics into its parts{2}) is that the trivium and quadrivium have been wholly subsumed under the more important division of philosophy as a whole. It is this division and the use he makes of it that sets the work of Gundissalinus off from all other views discussed earlier, even those of Hugh of St. Victor. The exact nature of Gundissalinus' difference from the others we shall now endeavor to make plain.

The reader will have noted the similarity of the division of Gundissalinus and that of Aristotle discussed in volume one (McInerny, A History of Western Philosophy: From the Beginnings of Philosophy to Plotinus [Notre Dame, 1963], pp. 222ff.). Should this be a surprise? As Gundissalinus himself indicates, the division of speculative philosophy that he sets down is that of Aristotle, but it is as well the division Boethius gives in his De trinitate, chapter two. Moreover, this division, doubtless thanks to Boethius, is present in many of the books which influenced the tradition of the liberal arts up to and into the twelfth century. In Isadore, for example, we find this division of speculative philosophy. Nevertheless, there is a difference. The division of philosophy which is most operative in the tradition we have been examining is that which divided philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics. This is the division set down by St. Augustine, (Cf. De civ. dei, VIII, 4; II, 7; XI, 25.) Moreover, it is the division favored by Cicero. This division is clearly the one most influential on Cassiodorus, Isadore, Alcuin, Rhabanus Maurus, Scotus Erigena, Gilbert of la Porrée, and John of Salisbury. Baur sees the work of Cassiodorus as primarily an introduction to the study of Sacred Scripture, having this in common with Augustine's De doctrina christiana before him and, after him, with Rhabanus Maurus' De clericorum institutione. For this reason, secular sciences were shrunk to the seven liberal arts, and physical and metaphysical speculation was set aside. "Theology, in the sense of the theology of Christian revelation, takes the place of metaphysics as the queen of the sciences." (p. 353) The justice of Baur's remark will be clear if one considers the manner in which Rhabanus Maurus, for example, discusses the notion of wisdom as it enters into the definition of philosophy. The wisdom involved is precisely that revealed by Christ in the Scriptures. If the liberal arts are useful for the Christian, if they are the pillars on which wisdom is raised, this is simply, according to Augustine, Cassiodorus, Alcuin, Rhabanus Maurus, and so forth, because they are useful in reading the Scriptures.

The new note struck by Gundissalinus, a note possible only because of the influx of the Arabian Aristotelianism, is that there is a wisdom distinct from what has been revealed, a metaphysics to which philosophical sciences are ordered. It was impossible for earlier thinkers to so interpret the third member of Boethius' division in the De trinitate, chapter two. Theology was the knowledge of God handed down in the Scriptures; philosophy was a melange of propaedeutic arts and revealed wisdom. The materials with which Gundissalinus is dealing are precisely those which in the thirteenth century will pose the problem of a relationship between philosophy and theology. This problem is not formally posed prior to the introduction of the corpus aristotelicum into the Latin West. There is, of course, the problem of faith and reason, but that is not the same problem as that of the relation between philosophy and theology.

It may not be immediately evident that a difference exists between Gundissalinus and Hugh of St. Victor. That such a difference does exist is clear from the fact that the Victorine school is usually considered to be a mystical one. What does this mean? As we have seen, the purpose of philosophy, the goal of philosophy, is a wisdom which will rectify the nature of man which has been disintegrated by sin. "Omnium autem humanarum actionum seu studiorum, quae sapientia moderatur, finis et intentio ad hoc spectare debet, ut vel naturae nostrae reparetur integritas, vel defectuum quibus praesens subiacet vita temperetur necessitas" [The end or intention sought in any human action or pursuit, guided by wisdom, is either that the integrity of nature might be restored or that the harshness stemming from the flaws to which our present life is subjected be tempered]. (Didase., I, 5, p. 12, 3-6) The wisdom with which Hugh is concerned is not the speculative science which is metaphysics, anymore than it would appear to be that theological science whose beginnings had long been had. The goal of philosophy is one of union with God, a condition of man which is no more attained in the sciences than it is attained in the mechanical arts or in philosophical knowledge of them, but via them. We have tried to indicate how Gundissalinus, on the other hand, can so interpret definitions of philosophy whose origins are mystical or ethical that they have a straightforward scientific meaning. In this Gundissalinus is the precursor in a special way of the directions taken by philosophical thought in the thirteenth century.

In his study of unity, in his work on the soul, Gundissalinus, while paying deference to such writers as Boethius, draws much of his inspiration from Arab thinkers. Thus, as translator and independent thinker, Gundissalinus provides for us, writ small as it were, the problem which faces the West with the influx of the Aristotelian corpus together with Arab commentaries. Like the last generation of Greek commentators on Aristotle, men contemporary with Boethius, there is a good deal of Neoplatonism among the Arab commentators on Aristotle. This creates difficulties not only for a true understanding of the text of Aristotle but also with Christian orthodoxy.

Bibliographical Note

Dominicus Gundissalinus: De divisione philosophiae, edited by Ludwig Baur, Beitrage, vol. 4, II/III (1903); De processione mundi, edited by G. Buelow, Beitrage, vol. 24, III (1925); De unitate, edited by P. Correns, Beitrage, vol. 1, I (1891). See J. T. Muckle, "The Treatise De anima of Dominicus Gundissalinus," Mediaeval Studies, 2 (1940), pp. 23-103; A. H. Chroust, "The Definitions of Philosophy in the De Divisione Philosophiae of D. Gundissalinus," The New Scholasticism, 25 (1951), pp. 253-281.

{1} A general admission of indebtedness to the remarkable work of Ludwig Baur must be made here. Baur not only edited the text and wrote a brilliant analysis of it from the point of view of its sources but also traced the history of Einleitungslitteratur from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Written in 1903, these historical studies of Baur remain today indispensable for research into questions concerning introductions to philosophy, divisions of philosophy, the Platonic and Aristotelian currents in Scholasticism, and so on. Exact reference to Baur is in the Bibliographical Note at the end of this chapter. {2} On page 32 of the text Gundissalinus gives the division of mathematics to be found in Cassiodorus: mathematics is concerned either with magnitude or multitude. Magnitudes are either immobile and the concern of geometry, or mobile and the concern of astrology; multitude is either considered in itself, as by arithmetic, or with reference to something else, as in music.

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