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The great st
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The great st

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  • 1. The great St. Augustine's life is unfolded to us in documents of unrivaled richness, and of no great character of ancient times have we information comparable to that contained in the "Confessions", which relate the touching story of his soul, the "Retractations," which give the history of his mind, and the "Life of Augustine," written by his friend Possidius, telling of the saint's apostolate. We will confine ourselves to sketching the three periods of this great life: (1) the young wanderer's gradual return to the Faith; (2) the doctrinal development of the Christian philosopher to the time of his episcopate; and (3) the full development of his activities upon the Episcopal throne of Hippo. From his birth to his conversion (354-386) Augustine was born at Tagaste on 13 November, 354. Tagaste, now Souk-Ahras, about 60 miles from Bona (ancient Hippo-Regius), was at that time a small free city of proconsular Numidia which had recently been converted from Donatism. Although eminently respectable, his family was not rich, and his father, Patricius, one of the curiales of the city, was still a pagan. However, the admirable virtues that made Monica the ideal of Christian mothers at length brought her husband the grace of baptism and of a holy death, about the year 371. Augustine received a Christian education. His mother had him signed with the cross and enrolled among the catechumens. Once, when very ill, he asked for baptism, but, all danger being soon passed, he deferred receiving the sacrament, thus yielding to a deplorable custom of the times. His association with "men of prayer" left three great ideas deeply engraven upon his soul: a Divine Providence, the future life with terrible sanctions, and, above all, Christ the Saviour. "From my tenderest infancy, I had in a manner sucked with my mother's milk that name of my Saviour, Thy Son; I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine Name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away" (Confessions I.4). But a great intellectual and moral crisis stifled for a time all these Christian sentiments. The heart was the first point of attack. Patricius, proud of his son's success in the schools of Tagaste and Madaura determined to send him to Carthage to prepare for a forensic career. But, unfortunately, it required several months to collect the necessary means, and Augustine had to spend his sixteenth year at Tagaste in an idleness which was fatal to his virtue; he gave himself up to pleasure with all the vehemence of an ardent nature. At first he prayed, but without the sincere desire of being heard, and when he reached Carthage, towards the end of the year 370, every circumstance tended to draw him from his true course: the many seductions of the great city that was still half pagan, the licentiousness of
  • 2. other students, the theatres, the intoxication of his literary success, and a proud desire always to be first, even in evil. Before long he was obliged to confess to Monica that he had formed a sinful liaison with the person who bore him a son (372), "the son of his sin" — an entanglement from which he only delivered himself at Milan after fifteen years of its thralldom. Two extremes are to be avoided in the appreciation of this crisis. Some, like Mommsen, misled perhaps by the tone of grief in the "Confessions", have exaggerated it: in the "Realencyklopädie" (3d ed., II, 268) Loofs reproves Mommsen on this score, and yet he himself is too lenient towards Augustine, when he claims that in those days, the Church permitted concubinage. The "Confessions" alone prove that Loofs did not understand the 17th canon of Toledo. However, it may be said that, even in his fall, Augustine maintained a certain dignity and felt a compunction which does him honour, and that, from the age of nineteen, he had a genuine desire to break the chain. In fact, in 373, an entirely new inclination manifested itself in his life, brought about by the reading Cicero's "Hortensius" whence he imbibed a love of the wisdom which Cicero so eloquently praises. Thenceforward Augustine looked upon rhetoric merely as a profession; his heart was in philosophy. Unfortunately, his faith, as well as his morals, was to pass though a terrible crisis. In this same year, 373, Augustine and his friend Honoratus fell into the snares of the Manichæans. It seems strange that so great a mind should have been victimized by Oriental vapourings, synthesized by the Persian Mani (215276) into coarse, material dualism, and introduced into Africa scarcely fifty years previously. Augustine himself tells us that he was enticed by the promises of a free philosophy unbridled by faith; by the boasts of the Manichæans, who claimed to have discovered contradictions in Holy Writ; and, above all, by the hope of finding in their doctrine a scientific explanation of nature and its most mysterious phenomena. Augustine's inquiring mind was enthusiastic for the natural sciences, and the Manichæans declared that nature withheld no secrets from Faustus, their doctor. Moreover, being tortured by the problem of the origin of evil, Augustine, in default of solving it, acknowledged a conflict of two principles. And then, again, there was a very powerful charm in the moral irresponsibility resulting from a doctrine which denied liberty and attributed the commission of crime to a foreign principle. Once won over to this sect, Augustine devoted himself to it with all the ardour of his character; he read all its books, adopted and defended all its opinions. His furious proselytism drew into error his friend Alypius and Romanianus, his Mæcenas of Tagaste, the friend of his father who was defraying the expenses of Augustine's studies. It was during this Manichæan period that Augustine's literary faculties reached their full development, and he was still a student at Carthage when he embraced error.
  • 3. His studies ended, he should in due course have entered the forum litigiosum, but he preferred the career of letters, and Possidius tells us that he returned to Tagaste to "teach grammar." The young professor captivated his pupils, one of whom, Alypius, hardly younger than his master, loath to leave him after following him into error, was afterwards baptized with him at Milan, eventually becoming Bishop of Tagaste, his native city. But Monica deeply deplored Augustine's heresy and would not have received him into her home or at her table but for the advice of a saintly bishop, who declared that "the son of so many tears could not perish." Soon afterwards Augustine went to Carthage, where he continued to teach rhetoric. His talents shone to even better advantage on this wider stage, and by an indefatigable pursuit of the liberal arts his intellect attained its full maturity. Having taken part in a poetic tournament, he carried off the prize, and the Proconsul Vindicianus publicly conferred upon him the corona agonistica. It was at this moment of literary intoxication, when he had just completed his first work on æsthetics (now lost) that he began to repudiate Manichæism. Even when Augustine was in his first fervour, the teachings of Mani had been far from quieting his restlessness, and although he has been accused of becoming a priest of the sect, he was never initiated or numbered among the "elect," but remained an "auditor" the lowest degree in the hierarchy. He himself gives the reason for his disenchantment. First of all there was the fearful depravity of Manichæan philosophy — "They destroy everything and build up nothing"; then, the dreadful immorality in contrast with their affectation of virtue; the feebleness of their arguments in controversy with the Catholics, to whose Scriptural arguments their only reply was: "The Scriptures have been falsified." But, worse than all, he did not find science among them — science in the modern sense of the word — that knowledge of nature and its laws which they had promised him. When he questioned them concerning the movements of the stars, none of them could answer him. "Wait for Faustus," they said, "he will explain everything to you." Faustus of Mileve, the celebrated Manichæan bishop, at last came to Carthage; Augustine visited and questioned him, and discovered in his responses the vulgar rhetorician, the utter stranger to all scientific culture. The spell was broken, and, although Augustine did not immediately abandon the sect, his mind rejected Manichæan doctrines. The illusion had lasted nine years. But the religious crisis of this great soul was only to be resolved in Italy, under the influence of Ambrose. In 383 Augustine, at the age of twenty-nine, yielded to the irresistible attraction which Italy had for him, but his mother suspected his departure and was so reluctant to be separated from him that he resorted to a subterfuge and embarked under cover of the night. He had only just arrived in Rome when he was taken seriously ill; upon recovering he opened a school of rhetoric, but, disgusted by the tricks of his pupils, who shamelessly defrauded him of their tuition fees, he applied for a vacant professorship at Milan, obtained it, and was accepted by the prefect, Symmachus. Having visited Bishop Ambrose, the fascination of that saint's kindness induced him to become a regular attendant at his preachings.
  • 4. However, before embracing the Faith, Augustine underwent a three years' struggle during which his mind passed through several distinct phases. At first he turned towards the philosophy of the Academics, with its pessimistic scepticism; then neo-Platonic philosophy inspired him with genuine enthusiasm. At Milan he had scarcely read certain works of Plato and, more especially, of Plotinus, before the hope of finding the truth dawned upon him. Once more he began to dream that he and his friends might lead a life dedicated to the search for it, a life purged of all vulgar aspirations after honours, wealth, or pleasure, and with celibacy for its rule (Confessions VI). But it was only a dream; his passions still enslaved him. Monica, who had joined her son at Milan, prevailed upon him to become betrothed, but his affianced bride was too young, and although Augustine dismissed the mother of Adeodatus, her place was soon filled by another. Thus did he pass through one last period of struggle and anguish. Finally, through the reading of the Holy Scripture light penetrated his mind. Soon he possessed the certainty that Jesus Christ is the only way to truth and salvation. After that resistance came only from the heart. An interview with Simplicianus, the future successor of St. Ambrose, who told Augustine the story of the conversion of the celebrated neo-Platonic rhetorician, Victorinus (Confessions VIII.1, VIII.2), prepared the way for the grand stroke of grace which, at the age of thirty-three, smote him to the ground in the garden at Milan (September, 386). A few days later Augustine, being ill, took advantage of the autumn holidays and, resigning his professorship, went with Monica, Adeodatus, and his friends to Cassisiacum, the country estate of Verecundus, there to devote himself to the pursuit of true philosophy which, for him, was now inseparable from Christianity. From his conversion to his episcopate (386-395) Augustine gradually became acquainted with Christian doctrine, and in his mind the fusion of Platonic philosophy with revealed dogmas was taking place. The law that governed this change of thought has of late years been frequently misconstrued; it is sufficiently important to be precisely defined. The solitude of Cassisiacum realized a long-cherished dream. In his books "Against the Academics," Augustine has described the ideal serenity of this existence, enlivened only by the passion for truth. He completed the education of his young friends, now by literary readings in common, now by philosophical conferences to which he sometimes invited Monica, and the accounts of which, compiled by a secretary, have supplied the foundation of the "Dialogues." Licentius, in his "Letters," would later on recall these delightful philosophical mornings and evenings, at which Augustine was wont to evolve the most elevating discussions from the most commonplace incidents. The favourite topics at their conferences were truth, certainty (Against the Academics), true happiness in philosophy (On a Happy Life), the Providential order of the world and the problem of evil (On Order) and finally God and the soul (Soliloquies, On the Immortality of the Soul).
  • 5. Here arises the curious question propounded modern critics: Was Augustine a Christian when wrote these "Dialogues" at Cassisiacum? Until now no one had doubted it; historians, relying upon the "Confessions", had all believed that Augustine's retirement to the villa had for its twofold object the improvement of his health and his preparation for baptism. But certain critics nowadays claim to have discovered a radical opposition between the philosophical "Dialogues" composed in this retirement and the state of soul described in the "Confessions". According to Harnack, in writing the "Confessions" Augustine must have projected upon the recluse of 386 the sentiments of the bishop of 400. Others go farther and maintain that the recluse of the Milanese villa could not have been at heart a Christian, but a Platonist; and that the scene in the garden was a conversion not to Christianity, but to philosophy, the genuinely Christian phase beginning only in 390. But this interpretation of the "Dialogues" cannot withstand the test of facts and texts. It is admitted that Augustine received baptism at Easter, 387; and who could suppose that it was for him a meaningless ceremony? So too, how can it be admitted that the scene in the garden, the example of the recluses, the reading of St. Paul, the conversion of Victorinus, Augustine's ecstasies in reading the Psalms with Monica were all invented after the fact? Again, as it was in 388 that Augustine wrote his beautiful apology "On the Holiness of the Catholic Church," how is it conceivable that he was not yet a Christian at that date? To settle the argument, however, it is only necessary to read the "Dialogues" themselves. They are certainly a purely philosophical work — a work of youth, too, not without some pretension, as Augustine ingenuously acknowledges (Confessions IX.4); nevertheless, they contain the entire history of his Christian formation. As early as 386, the first work written at Cassisiacum reveals to us the great underlying motive of his researches. The object of his philosophy is to give authority the support of reason, and "for him the great authority, that which dominates all others and from which he never wished to deviate, is the authority of Christ"; and if he loves the Platonists it is because he counts on finding among them interpretations always in harmony with his faith (Against the Academics, III, c. x). To be sure such confidence was excessive, but it remains evident that in these "Dialogues" it is a Christian, and not a Platonist, that speaks. He reveals to us the intimate details of his conversion, the argument that convinced him (the life and conquests of the Apostles), his progress in the Faith at the school of St. Paul (ibid., II, ii), his delightful conferences with his friends on the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the wonderful transformations worked in his soul by faith, even to that victory of his over the intellectual pride which his Platonic studies had aroused in him (On The Happy Life, I, ii), and at last the gradual calming of his passions and the great resolution to choose wisdom for his only spouse (Soliloquies, I, x). It is now easy to appreciate at its true value the influence of neo-Platonism upon the mind of the great African Doctor. It would be impossible for anyone who has read the works of St. Augustine to deny the existence of this influence. However, it would be a great exaggeration of this influence to pretend that it at any time sacrificed the Gospel to Plato. The same learned critic thus wisely concludes his study: "So
  • 6. long, therefore, as his philosophy agrees with his religious doctrines, St. Augustine is frankly neoPlatonist; as soon as a contradiction arises, he never hesitates to subordinate his philosophy to religion, reason to faith. He was, first of all, a Christian; the philosophical questions that occupied his mind constantly found themselves more and more relegated to the background" (op. cit., 155). But the method was a dangerous one; in thus seeking harmony between the two doctrines he thought too easily to find Christianity in Plato, or Platonism in the Gospel. More than once, in his "Retractations" and elsewhere, he acknowledges that he has not always shunned this danger. Thus he had imagined that in Platonism he discovered the entire doctrine of the Word and the whole prologue of St. John. He likewise disavowed a good number of neo-Platonic theories which had at first misled him — the cosmological thesis of the universal soul, which makes the world one immense animal — the Platonic doubts upon that grave question: Is there a single soul for all or a distinct soul for each? But on the other hand, he had always reproached the Platonists, as Schaff very properly remarks (Saint Augustine, New York, 1886, p. 51), with being ignorant of, or rejecting, the fundamental points of Christianity: "first, the great mystery, the Word made flesh; and then love, resting on the basis of humility." They also ignore grace, he says, giving sublime precepts of morality without any help towards realizing them. It was this Divine grace that Augustine sought in Christian baptism. Towards the beginning of Lent, 387, he went to Milan and, with Adeodatus and Alypius, took his place among the competentes, being baptized by Ambrose on Easter Day, or at least during Eastertide. The tradition maintaining that the Te Deum was sung on that occasion by the bishop and the neophyte alternately is groundless. Nevertheless this legend is certainly expressive of the joy of the Church upon receiving as her son him who was to be her most illustrious doctor. It was at this time that Augustine, Alypius, and Evodius resolved to retire into solitude in Africa. Augustine undoubtedly remained at Milan until towards autumn, continuing his works: "On the Immortality of the Soul" and "On Music." In the autumn of 387, he was about to embark at Ostia, when Monica was summoned from this life. In all literature there are no pages of more exquisite sentiment than the story of her saintly death and Augustine's grief (Confessions IX). Augustine remained several months in Rome, chiefly engaged in refuting Manichæism. He sailed for Africa after the death of the tyrant Maximus (August 388) and after a short sojourn in Carthage, returned to his native Tagaste. Immediately upon arriving there, he wished to carry out his idea of a perfect life, and began by selling all his goods and giving the proceeds to the poor. Then he and his friends withdrew to his estate, which had already been alienated, there to lead a common life in poverty, prayer, and the study of sacred letters. Book of the "LXXXIII Questions" is the fruit of conferences held in this retirement, in which he also wrote "De Genesi contra Manichæos," "De Magistro," and, "De Vera Religione." Augustine did not think of entering the priesthood, and, through fear of the episcopacy, he even fled from cities in which an election was necessary. One day, having been summoned to Hippo by a friend whose soul's salvation was at stake, he was praying in a church when the people suddenly gathered about him, cheered him, and begged Valerius, the bishop, to raise him to the priesthood. In spite of his tears Augustine was obliged to yield to their entreaties, and was ordained in 391. The new priest looked
  • 7. upon his ordination as an additional reason for resuming religious life at Tagaste, and so fully did Valerius approve that he put some church property at Augustine's disposal, thus enabling him to establish a monastery the second that he had founded. His priestly ministry of five years was admirably fruitful; Valerius had bidden him preach, in spite of the deplorable custom which in Africa reserved that ministry to bishops. Augustine combated heresy, especially Manichæism, and his success was prodigious. Fortunatus, one of their great doctors, whom Augustine had challenged in public conference, was so humiliated by his defeat that he fled from Hippo. Augustine also abolished the abuse of holding banquets in the chapels of the martyrs. He took part, 8 October, 393, in the Plenary Council of Africa, presided over by Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage, and, at the request of the bishops, was obliged to deliver a discourse which, in its completed form, afterwards became the treatise "De Fide et symbolo". As bishop of Hippo (396-430) Enfeebled by old age, Valerius, Bishop of Hippo, obtained the authorization of Aurelius, Primate of Africa, to associate Augustine with himself as coadjutor. Augustine had to resign himself to consecration at the hands of Megalius, Primate of Numidia. He was then forty two, and was to occupy the See of Hippo for thirty-four years. The new bishop understood well how to combine the exercise of his pastoral duties with the austerities of the religious life, and although he left his convent, his episcopal residence became a monastery where he lived a community life with his clergy, who bound themselves to observe religious poverty. Was it an order of regular clerics or of monks that he thus founded? This is a question often asked, but we feel that Augustine gave but little thought to such distinctions. Be that as it may, the episcopal house of Hippo became a veritable nursery which supplied the founders of the monasteries that were soon spread all over Africa and the bishops who occupied the neighbouring sees. Possidius (Vita S. August., xxii) enumerates ten of the saint's friends and disciples who were promoted to the episcopacy. Thus it was that Augustine earned the title of patriarch of the religious, and renovator of the clerical, life in Africa. But he was above all the defender of truth and the shepherd of souls. His doctrinal activities, the influence of which was destined to last as long as the Church itself, were manifold: he preached frequently, sometimes for five days consecutively, his sermons breathing a spirit of charity that won all hearts; he wrote letters which scattered broadcast through the then known world his solutions of the problems of that day; he impressed his spirit upon divers African councils at which he assisted, for instance, those of Carthage in 398, 401, 407, 419 and of Mileve in 416 and 418; and lastly struggled indefatigably against all errors. To relate these struggles were endless; we shall, therefore, select only the chief controversies and indicate in each the doctrinal attitude of the great Bishop of Hippo.
  • 8. The Manichæan controversy and the problem of evil After Augustine became bishop the zeal which, from the time of his baptism, he had manifested in bringing his former co-religionists into the true Church, took on a more paternal form without losing its pristine ardour — "let those rage against us who know not at what a bitter cost truth is attained. . . . As for me, I should show you the same forbearance that my brethren had for me when I blind, was wandering in your doctrines" (Contra EpistolamFundamenti 3). Among the most memorable events that occurred during this controversy was the great victory won in 404 over Felix, one of the "elect" of the Manichæans and the great doctor of the sect. He was propagating his errors in Hippo, and Augustine invited him to a public conference the issue of which would necessarily cause a great stir; Felix declared himself vanquished, embraced the Faith, and, together with Augustine, subscribed the acts of the conference. In his writings Augustine successively refuted Mani (397), the famous Faustus (400), Secundinus (405), and (about 415) the fatalistic Priscillianists whom Paulus Orosius had denounced to him. These writings contain the saint's clear, unquestionable views on the eternal problem of evil, views based on an optimism proclaiming, like the Platonists, that every work of God is good and that the only source of moral evil is the liberty of creatures (City of God XIX.13.2). Augustine takes up the defence of free will, even in man as he is, with such ardour that his works against the Manichæan are an inexhaustible storehouse of arguments in this still living controversy. In vain have the Jansenists maintained that Augustine was unconsciously a Pelagian and that he afterwards acknowledged the loss of liberty through the sin of Adam. Modern critics, doubtless unfamiliar with Augustine's complicated system and his peculiar terminology, have gone much farther. In the "Revue d'histoire et de littératurereligieuses" (1899, p. 447), M. Margival exhibits St. Augustine as the victim of metaphysical pessimism unconsciously imbibed from Manichæan doctrines. "Never," says he, "will the Oriental idea of the necessity and the eternity of evil have a more zealous defender than this bishop." Nothing is more opposed to the facts. Augustine acknowledges that he had not yet understood how the first good inclination of the will is a gift of God (Retractions, I, xxiii, n, 3); but it should be remembered that he never retracted his leading theories on liberty, never modified his opinion upon what constitutes its essential condition, that is to say, the full power of choosing or of deciding. Who will dare to say that in revising his own writings on so important a point he lacked either clearness of perception or sincerity? The Donatist controversy and the theory of the Church The Donatist schism was the last episode in the Montanist and Novatian controversies which had agitated the Church from the second century. While the East was discussing under varying aspects the
  • 9. Divine and Christological problem of the Word, the West, doubtless because of its more practical genius, took up the moral question of sin in all its forms. The general problem was the holiness of the Church; could the sinner be pardoned, and remain in her bosom? In Africa the question especially concerned the holiness of the hierarchy. The bishops of Numidia, who, in 312, had refused to accept as valid the consecration of Cæcilian, Bishop of Carthage, by a traditor, had inaugurated the schism and at the same time proposed these grave questions: Do the hierarchical powers depend upon the moral worthiness of the priest? How can the holiness of the Church be compatible with the unworthiness of its ministers? At the time of Augustine's arrival in Hippo, the schism had attained immense proportions, having become identified with political tendencies — perhaps with a national movement against Roman domination. In any event, it is easy to discover in it an undercurrent of anti-social revenge which the emperors had to combat by strict laws. The strange sect known as "Soldiers of Christ," and called by Catholics Circumcelliones (brigands, vagrants), resembled the revolutionary sects of the Middle Ages in point of fanatic destructiveness — a fact that must not be lost sight of, if the severe legislation of the emperors is to be properly appreciated. The history of Augustine's struggles with the Donatists is also that of his change of opinion on the employment of rigorous measures against the heretics; and the Church in Africa, of whose councils he had been the very soul, followed him in the change. This change of views is solemnly attested by the Bishop of Hippo himself, especially in his Letters, 93 (in the year 408). In the beginning, it was by conferences and a friendly controversy that he sought to re-establish unity. He inspired various conciliatory measures of the African councils, and sent ambassadors to the Donatists to invite them to re-enter the Church, or at least to urge them to send deputies to a conference (403). The Donatists met these advances at first with silence, then with insults, and lastly with such violence that Possidius Bishop of Calamet, Augustine's friend, escaped death only by flight, the Bishop of Bagaïa was left covered with horrible wounds, and the life of the Bishop of Hippo himself was several times attempted (Letter 88, to Januarius, the Donatist bishop). This madness of the Circumcelliones required harsh repression, and Augustine, witnessing the many conversions that resulted therefrom, thenceforth approved rigid laws. However, this important restriction must be pointed out: that St. Augustine never wished heresy to be punishable by death — Vosrogamus ne occidatis (Letter 100, to the Proconsul Donatus). But the bishops still favoured a conference with the schismatics, and in 410 an edict issued by Honorius put an end to the refusal of the Donatists. A solemn conference took place at Carthage, in June, 411, in presence of 286 Catholic, and 279 Donatist bishops. The Donatist spokesmen were Petilian of Constantine, Primian of Carthage, and Emeritus of Cæsarea; the Catholic orators, Aurelius and Augustine. On the historic question then at issue, the Bishop of Hippo proved the innocence of Cæcilian and his consecrator Felix, and in the dogmatic debate he established the Catholic thesis that the Church, as long as it is upon earth, can, without losing its holiness, tolerate sinners within its pale for the sake of converting them. In the name of the emperor the Proconsul Marcellinus sanctioned the victory of the Catholics on all points. Little by little Donatism died out, to disappear with the coming of the Vandals.
  • 10. So amply and magnificently did Augustine develop his theory on the Church that, according to Specht "he deserves to be named the Doctor of the Church as well as the Doctor of Grace"; and Möhler (Dogmatik, 351) is not afraid to write: "For depth of feeling and power of conception nothing written on the Church since St. Paul's time, is comparable to the works of St. Augustine." He has corrected, perfected, and even excelled the beautiful pages of St. Cyprian on the Divine institution of the Church, its authority, its essential marks, and its mission in the economy of grace and the administration of the sacraments. The Protestant critics, Dorner, Bindemann, Böhringer and especially Reuter, loudly proclaim, and sometimes even exaggerate, this rôle of the Doctor of Hippo; and while Harnack does not quite agree with them in every respect he does not hesitate to say (History of Dogma, II, c. iii): "It is one of the points upon which Augustine specially affirms and strengthens the Catholic idea.... He was the first [!] to transform the authority of the Church into a religious power, and to confer upon practical religion the gift of a doctrine of the Church." He was not the first, for Dorner acknowledges (Augustinus, 88) that Optatus of Mileve had expressed the basis of the same doctrines. Augustine, however, deepened, systematized, and completed the views of St. Cyprian and Optatus. But it is impossible here to go into detail. (See Specht, Die Lehre von der Kirchenachdem hl. Augustinus, Paderborn, 1892.) The Pelagian controversy and the Doctor of Grace The close of the struggle against the Donatists almost coincided with the beginnings of a very grave theological dispute which not only was to demand Augustine's unremitting attention up to the time of his death, but was to become an eternal problem for individuals and for the Church. Farther on we shall enlarge upon Augustine's system; here we need only indicate the phases of the controversy. Africa, where Pelagius and his disciple Celestius had sought refuge after the taking of Rome by Alaric, was the principal centre of the first Pelagian disturbances; as early as 412 a council held at Carthage condemned Pelagians for their attacks upon the doctrine of original sin. Among other books directed against them by Augustine was his famous "De naturâ et gratiâ". Thanks to his activity the condemnation of these innovators, who had succeeded in deceiving a synod convened at Diospolis in Palestine, was reiterated by councils held later at Carthage and Mileve and confirmed by Pope Innocent I (417). A second period of Pelagian intrigues developed at Rome, but Pope Zosimus, whom the stratagems of Celestius had for a moment deluded, being enlightened by Augustine, pronounced the solemn condemnation of these heretics in 418. Thenceforth the combat was conducted in writing against Julian of Eclanum, who assumed the leadership of the party and violently attacked Augustine. Towards 426 there entered the lists a school which afterwards acquired the name of Semipelagian, the first members being monks of Hadrumetum in Africa, who were followed by others from Marseilles, led by Cassian, the celebrated abbot of Saint-Victor. Unable to admit the absolute gratuitousness of
  • 11. predestination, they sought a middle course between Augustine and Pelagius, and maintained that grace must be given to those who merit it and denied to others; hence goodwill has the precedence, it desires, it asks, and God rewards. Informed of their views by Prosper of Aquitaine, the holy Doctor once more expounded, in "De Prædestinatione Sanctorum", how even these first desires for salvation are due to the grace of God, which therefore absolutely controls our predestination. Struggles against Arianism and closing years In 426 the holy Bishop of Hippo, at the age of seventy-two, wishing to spare his episcopal city the turmoil of an election after his death, caused both clergy and people to acclaim the choice of the deacon Heraclius as his auxiliary and successor, and transferred to him the administration of externals. Augustine might then have enjoyed some rest had Africa not been agitated by the undeserved disgrace and the revolt of Count Boniface (427). The Goths, sent by the Empress Placidia to oppose Boniface, and the Vandals, whom the latter summoned to his assistance, were all Arians. Maximinus, an Arian bishop, entered Hippo with the imperial troops. The holy Doctor defended the Faith at a public conference (428) and in various writings. Being deeply grieved at the devastation of Africa, he laboured to effect a reconciliation between Count Boniface and the empress. Peace was indeed reestablished, but not with Genseric, the Vandal king. Boniface, vanquished, sought refuge in Hippo, whither many bishops had already fled for protection and this well fortified city was to suffer the horrors of an eighteen months' siege. Endeavouring to control his anguish, Augustine continued to refute Julian of Eclanum; but early in the siege he was stricken with what he realized to be a fatal illness, and, after three months of admirable patience and fervent prayer, departed from this land of exile on 28 August, 430, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. maimonides Moses ben Maimun (Arabic, Abu Amran Musa), Jewish commentator and philosopher, was born of Spanish Jewish parents at Cordova in 1135. After sojourning with his parents in Spain, Palestine, and Northern Africa, he settled down at Old Cairo, Egypt, in 1165. There he received the office of court physician, and at the same time, as head of the Jewish communities in Egypt, devoted himself to the exposition of the Talmud. He died at Cairo, 13 December, 1204, and was buried at Tiberias in Palestine. His writings include: (1) Commentaries: (a) "Kitáb al-Siraj", a commentary on the Mishnah, written in Arabic and translated into Hebrew (first published 1492), Latin (Oxford, 1654), and German (Leipzig, 1863); (b) "Mishneh Torah", or "Yad ha-Hazakah", written in Hebrew, and many times published (first ed. in Italy, 1480; latest, Vilna, 1900); translated in part into English in 1863 by Bernard and Soloweyczik; (2) Philosophical Works: (a) "Dalalat al-Ha’irîn", translated into Hebrew as "MorehNebûkîm" (1204), and into Latin as "Doctor Perplexorum", "Dux Dubitantium". The Arabic Original was published, with a French translation entitled "Guide des égarés" by Munk (13 vols., Paris, 1856-66). An English translation
  • 12. of portion of it by Townley appeared as "The Reasons of the Laws of Moses" (London, 1827), and a version of the whole work under the title "The Guide of the Perplexed" by Friedländer (London, 1889); (b) Minor Philosophical Works: "On the Unity of God", "On Happiness", "On the Terminology of Logic", "On Resurrection" etc.; (3) Medical and Astronomical Works: Several treatises on poisons, on hygiene, a commentary on Hippocrates, on the astronomical principles of the Jewish calendar etc. Through the "Guide of the Perplexed" and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted a very important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, St. Thomas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of the Arabian philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired through the abundant philosophical literature in the Arabic language an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of Aristotle, and strove earnestly to reconcile the philosophy of the Stagirite with the teachings of the Bible. The principle which inspired all his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Moreover, by science and philosophy he understood the science and philosophy of Aristotle. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of the Aristotelean text, holding, for instance, that the world is not eternal, as Aristotle taught, but was created ex nihilo, as is taught explicitly in the Bible. Again, he rejected the Aristotelean doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual. But, while in these important points, Maimonides forestalled the Scholastics and undoubtedly influenced them, he was led by his admiration for the neoPlatonic commentators and by the bent of his own mind, which was essentially Jewish, to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, he pushed too far the principle of negative predication in regard to God. The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God, but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc. The most characteristic of all his philosophical doctrines is that of acquired immortality. He distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect (this is his interpretation of the noûspoietikós of Aristotelean philosophy), and is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God. The knowledge of God is, therefore, the knowledge which, so to speak, develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial or spiritual nature. This immateriality not only confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, but also endows the soul with immortality. He who has attained a knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore, since he has it in his power to attain this salutary knowledge, is in a position not only to work out his own salvation, but also to work out his own immortality. The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so
  • 13. striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the later on the earlier doctrine. The difference between the two Jewish thinkers is, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis, Moses holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Law of God. Among the theological questions which Moses discussed were the nature of prophecy and the reconciliation of evil with the goodness of God. He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the free act of God before the man actually becomes the prophet. In his solution of the problem of evil, he follows the neo-Platonists in laying stress on matter as the source of all evil and imperfection. Maimonides First published Tue Jan 24, 2006; substantive revision Wed Jun 12, 2013 Moses ben Maimon [known to English speaking audiences as Maimonides and Hebrew speaking as Rambam] (1138–1204) is the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period and is still widely read today. The Mishneh Torah, his 14-volume compendium of Jewish law, established him as the leading rabbinic authority of his time and quite possibly of all time. His philosophic masterpiece, the Guide of the Perplexed, is a sustained treatment of Jewish thought and practice that seeks to resolve the conflict between religious knowledge and secular. Although heavily influenced by the Neo-Platonized Aristotelianism that had taken root in Islamic circles, it departs from prevailing modes of Aristotelian thought by emphasizing the limits of human knowledge and the questionable foundations of significant parts of astronomy and metaphysics. Maimonides also achieved fame as a physician and wrote medical treatises on a number of diseases and their cures. Succeeding generations of philosophers wrote extensive commentaries on his works, which influenced thinkers as diverse as Aquinas, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Newton. 1. Life and Works 2. Fundamental Orientation 3. Demythologized Religion 4. God and the Via Negativa
  • 14. 5. Creation 6. Practical Philosophy 7. Esotericism 8. Conclusion Bibliography Primary Sources Anthologies Secondary Sources Academic Tools Other Internet Resources Related Entries 1. Life and Works Maimonides was born to a distinguished family in Cordova, Spain in 1138.[1] At that point, Cordova was under Muslim rule and stood as one of the great intellectual centers of the world. In addition to Maimonides, it was the birthplace of Averroes. But events took a turn for the worse when the Almohads invaded in 1148 and offered all non-Muslims the choice of conversion, exile, or death. Maimonides' family was forced to leave Cordova and travel through southern Spain and arrived in Fez, Morocco in 1160. His first philosophic work of note was the Treatise on the Art of Logic. Around this time, he began work on his first religious masterpiece, the Commentary on the Mishnah, which was finished in 1168. It is noteworthy for the emphasis Maimonides places on Oral Torah, by which he means the details, specifications, and interpretations derived from the Written Torah, which was revealed to Moses at Sinai. It is also noteworthy for Maimonides' commentary on Chapter 10 of the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin. While discussing the claim that all Israel has a share in the world to come, Maimonides lists 13 principles that he considers binding on every Jew: the existence of God, the absolute unity of God, the incorporeality of God, the eternity of God, that God alone is to be worshipped, that God communicates to prophets, that Moses is the greatest prophet, that the Torah was given by God, that the Torah is immutable, that there is divine providence, that there is divine punishment and reward, that there will be a Messiah, that the dead will be resurrected.[2] This was the first attempt to introduce articles of faith to Judaism and set off a controversy that persists to this day [Kellner, 1986; 1999].
  • 15. Maimonides arrived in Egypt in 1166 and eventually settled in Fustat, a section of Cairo. With the publication of the Mishneh Torah, he established himself as a thinker for the ages. Not only does this work systematize all the commandments of the Torah, it tries to show that every part of Jewish law serves a rational purpose and nothing is given for the sake of mere obedience. Of particular note are Book One (The Book of Knowledge), which sets forth the philosophic foundations of Jewish belief, a theory of moral traits or dispositions, the need to study the Torah, the laws concerning idolatry, and the importance of repentance. Also of note is Book Fourteen (Judges), which ends by arguing that a Messiah will come, restore sovereignty to Israel, establish peace with the other nations, and lead the world in the study of science and philosophy. By contrast, the Messiah will not make people rich, introduce changes in the Torah, or be required to perform miracles. The Guide of the Perplexed was completed in 1190 and contains Maimonides' most extensive philosophic discussions. Ostensibly a letter written to an advanced student who cannot decide whether to follow philosophy or the teachings of his religion, it is in reality much more: a commentary on biblical terms that appear to ascribe corporeal qualities to God, an uncompromising defense of negative theology, an extended critique of the kalam, a systematic treatment of creation, prophecy, and providence, and a theory of jurisprudence. According to Maimonides, all of Jewish law aims at two things: the improvement of the body and the improvement of the soul. The former is in every case a means to the latter. The soul is improved by acquiring correct opinions and eventually knowledge on everything humans are capable of knowing. The more knowledge the soul acquires, the more it is able to fulfill the commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) to love God. The biggest stumbling block to love of God is the belief that the only way to remain true to the Bible is to interpret it literally. The result of literal interpretation is a material conception of God, which, in Maimonides' opinion, amounts to idolatry. The Guide has long been considered a controversial work and in some rabbinic circles was originally banned. By rejecting literal interpretation, it raises the question of whether Maimonides' reading of the Torah corresponds to what the prophets understood or represents a philosophic reconstruction that owes more to Aristotle and Alfarabi than it does to Moses. It also raises the question of whether the real meaning of the Torah is too controversial to be taught to the average worshipper and should be restricted to the educated few; in short the question of esotericism.
  • 16. Maimonides' last two works of note are the Treatise on Resurrection, published in 1191, and the Letter on Astrology, published in 1195.[3] The former was written in answer to the charge that while he may profess belief in bodily resurrection, Maimonides did not really hold it. The charge is not without merit given that Maimonides' conception of the afterlife is purely intellectual and that his naturalism makes him suspicious of miracles. He defends himself by saying that the important issue is not whether and how resurrection will occur but whether it is possible for it to occur. As for the latter, once one accepts belief in creation, the possibility of bodily resurrection follows immediately. The Letter on Astrology was written at a time when many people believed that the heavenly bodies exert influence over human events. Nevertheless, he argues that there is no scientific basis for this belief and that it should be abandoned even if support for it can be found in the sacred literature. Facing ever-growing demands on his time, Maimonides worked himself into a state of exhaustion and died in Fostat in 1204. An old saying has it that from Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses. 2. Fundamental Orientation Maimonides presents a challenge to the modern reader because his view of truth is totally unhistorical. We saw that he was guided by the need to systematize. Given 613 original commandments, he argues that all are means to the fulfillment of the first two, which he interprets as belief in the existence of God and rejection of idolatry.[4] Together these commandments make up what we call monotheism. From Maimonides' perspective, however, there is more to monotheism than belief in a single deity. To satisfy the first two commandments, one must believe in a timeless, changeless, immaterial deity who is one in every respect and unlike anything in the created order. A person who fails to recognize such a deity is accorded the status of an idolater no matter how many other commandments she may fulfill or how fervently she may fulfill them. Simply put, to worship God under a false description is not to worship God at all. Not only is this true at present, as Maimonides sees it, it has been true since God first spoke to Adam. Early in the Guide (1.2), Maimonides argues that Adam is depicted as having the most perfect metaphysical knowledge a human being can achieve prior to his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. By necessity this would have to include belief in a timeless, changeless, immaterial deity. Even if the biblical text makes no mention of Adam's theology, Maimonides thinks (MT 14 Kings and Wars, 9.1) it would be impossible for someone to be this close to God and harbor a fundamental misunderstanding. Unfortunately Adam's knowledge was lost during the time of Enosh and had to be rediscovered by Abraham (MT 1, Idolatry, 1.1–2; GP 3.29). Again Maimonides thinks he is justified in saying that Abraham discovered proofs for the existence of a God who is neither a body nor a force in a body even
  • 17. though the Bible is silent on such matters. These proofs were supposedly passed down to Isaac and Jacob but lost during the Egyptian captivity when the Israelites adopted the pagan beliefs of their captors. When Moses arose to lead the people out of captivity, he faced a serious problem. If all he did were to offer philosophic proofs again, the people would forget them just as they had forgotten before. So instead of offering proofs alone, he offered the blueprint for a social order that would help the people remember their history and the principles on which it is founded. That is why in addition to the first two commandments, there are 611 others designed to create an environment in which people will have the time, health, and mental facility needed to grasp the truth of monotheism (GP 3.27–28). Judaism then is based on a particular philosophy. Maimonides (GP 1.71) takes this to mean that before Plato and Aristotle introduced science and philosophy to the Greeks, the patriarchs introduced it to Israel. To someone who asks why we have no explicit record of their philosophy, Maimonides answers that any record of such teaching was destroyed when Israel went into exile and suffered persecution. So despite the appearance of a split between Jerusalem and Athens, Maimonides thinks there is only one tradition worth preserving: that which affirms the truth. He makes this point in the Introduction to the Guide when he says that what Jewish tradition taught under the guise of ma'asehbereishit (the account of the beginning) is what Greeks thinkers taught as physics, while what Jewish tradition taught under the guise of ma'asehmerkavah (the account of [Ezekiel's] chariot) is what Greek thinkers taught under the guise of metaphysics. In short, Jewish tradition has always been philosophical. The problem is that these subjects are too difficult for the average worshipper to grasp and must be expressed as parables or metaphors that the educated few will interpret at one level and the average worshipper at another [Stern, 2013]. Looking at his own situation, Maimonides concludes that the tradition of learning that began in Israel has been lost once again. People pray to a material God and justify their actions on the basis of literal interpretation. Someone was needed to reverse this situation and reintroduce Jews to the teachings of their own tradition. Strictly speaking, such truths are Jewish only in the sense that Jews were the first to discover them. From an ethnic standpoint, they are no more Jewish than the Pythagorean theorem is Greek. All this goes to show that Maimonides did not conceive of progress as we do. Although he regarded mastery of science and philosophy as essential parts of human perfection, he did not view them as
  • 18. cumulative. Rather than take us into new territory, his goal was to reacquaint us with the territory that Moses and the patriarchs had already staked out. The important truths do not change. Human progress is measured by the degree to which they are identified and understood. That is why the primary function of the Messiah will be to teach these truths and help create conditions in which more people are able to reflect on them. 3. Demythologized Religion It is clear that the religion Maimonides envisions is not the normal kind. He recognizes that when one is first exposed to Bible stories and the ritual of daily prayer, one may need anthropomorphic descriptions of God and promises of material reward. As he points out time and again, the Torah speaks in the language of ordinary people. If it did not, its appeal would be greatly reduced. But, Maimonides continues, the purpose of the religion is to get one to the point where these things cease to matter and are eventually overcome. To take a few examples, the Bible often suggests that a prophet, or in one case the elders of Israel, saw God (e.g., Exodus 24:10, Numbers 12:8, Isaiah 6:1–3, Ezekiel 1:26–29). Maimonides counters (GP 1.4) by saying that the kind of seeing involved is intellectual rather than visual — as when one sees her way to the solution of a geometry problem. By the same token, when God is described as near or close, the Bible is not talking about physical location but intellectual apprehension — as when scientists say they are close to finding a cure for a disease (GP 1.18). The many places where the Bible says that God spoke to a prophet do not indicate that God has vocal cords that produce sound but that the prophet came to understand what God wants (GP 1.65). In a more complicated way, Jacob's dream refers to the hierarchical structure of the physical world and represents the path the philosopher follows from knowledge of the sublunar realm to knowledge of the spheres and awareness of the existence of God (GP 1.15). Again one is inclined to ask: Is this the religion of the prophets or a philosophically sanitized religion concocted by a medieval thinker under the sway of Aristotle? Maimonides would reply that there is no difference. The highest human achievement is the perfection of the intellect (GP 3.27), which is impossible without the pursuit of truth. As a sacred document, the Bible is a source of truth. While the truths contained in the Bible may not always be apparent, we know in principle that they are there if one wishes to dig deeply enough. It follows that if one's interpretation ascribes to the Bible a doctrine that is demonstrably false, such as the claim that God is corporeal, the interpretation is incorrect no matter how simple or straightforward it may seem. Should human knowledge advance and come up
  • 19. with demonstrations it previously lacked, we would have no choice but to return to the Bible and alter our interpretation to take account of them (GP 2.24). Anything else would be intellectually dishonest. Where does this take us? In the Parable of the Palace (GP 3.51), Maimonides describes the person who enters the inner habitation of the King as: He … who has achieved demonstration, to the extent that it is possible, of everything that may be demonstrated; and who has ascertained in divine matters, to the extent that that is possible, everything that may be ascertained; and who has come close to certainty in those matters in which one can only come close to it … This is not just an intellectual achievement but a spiritual one as well. In Maimonides' opinion, it is the goal to which all of the commandments of the Torah point. There is an obvious sense of satisfaction that goes with this, but it has nothing to do with satisfaction material needs or “ecstasy” as normally understood. 4. God and the Via Negativa Maimonides offers several proofs for the existence of God, all of which are versions of the cosmological argument (GP 2.1). Rather than begin with a definition of God and try to show that God's essence implies existence, he begins with a description of the world as we know it and tries to show that it implies the existence of God. According to one such argument, we assume that the heavenly bodies are engaged in eternal motion. We then recognize that it is impossible for there to be an infinite body or an infinite number of finite bodies. So every corporeal thing is finite. If it is finite, it can only contain a finite amount of power. If it can only contain a finite amount of power, it can only explain motion over a finite period of time. Because the heavenly bodies are always moving, the only thing that can explain that motion is an infinite power. Because an infinite power cannot be contained in a finite thing, it cannot be corporeal. If it is not corporeal, it is not subject to division or change. Seeing that its power is infinite, it cannot derive that power from something else. Thus the only way to explain the motion of the heavenly bodies is to posit the existence of a being that is neither a body nor a force in a body. Although Maimonides thinks this argument gives us sufficient grounds for saying that God is, he does not think it provides any grounds for saying what God is. To see why not, we have to recognize that God is not one in a way comparable to anything else: one person, one number, one idea. According to Guide 1.51:
  • 20. There is no oneness at all except in believing that there is one simple essence in which there is no complexity or multiplicity of notions, but one notion only; so that from whatever angle you regard it and from whatever point of view you consider it, you will find that it is one, not divided in any way and by any cause into two notions … If Maimonides is right, there can be no plurality of faculties, moral dispositions, or essential attributes in God. Even to say that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good is to introduce plurality, if one means thereby that these qualities are separate attributes. The same is true if we say that God is a composite of matter and form, genus and specific difference, or essence and accident. All introduce plurality where none can be tolerated. Aside from religious considerations, plurality is objectionable because it compromises logical priority. If God were a composite of F and G, some reason would have to be found for what brought them together and keeps them together. In short, if God were a composite, there would have to be a cause prior to God, which is absurd (GP 2. Intro., premise 21). For the same reason, God cannot be subsumed under a wider concept as man is subsumed under animal (GP 1.52). Once God fell under a genus, there would be something prior to or more inclusive than God, either of which is absurd. Without a genus or a minimal form of composition, there is no possibility of defining God and thus no possibility of saying what God is. Even superlatives are of no help. To say that God is the wisest or most powerful thing in the universe is still to subsume God under a wider description. Worse, to say that God is the wisest or most powerful thing is to imply that God's wisdom or power bears some likeness to ours. This Maimonides firmly denies (GP 1.56–57). The power manifested by a body is finite and can be measured in foot/pounds. No matter how powerful it is, we can easily imagine something whose power is greater. What is more, if we are talking about the power of a body, it always makes sense to ask from what it derives its power or how its power is related to something else, e.g. its goodness. None of this is true of God. Maimonides therefore concludes (GP 1.56) that it is not true to say that God's power is greater than ours, that God's life is more permanent than ours, than God's knowledge is broader than ours, or that God's will is more universal than ours, if that means that God can be put on the same scale as something else, that God is a bigger, stronger, better version of something in the created order. Does that mean that statements like “God lives” or “God is powerful” are nonsense? The answer is yes if one insists on interpreting them as normal subject/predicate propositions. But they can be understood if one analyzes them as disguised negations. Thus “God is powerful” should be taken as “God is not lacking in power.” Maimonides' appeal to negation (GP 1.58) is often misunderstood because in normal speech
  • 21. a double negative usually indicates a positive. If I say that this dog is not lacking in the power of sight, you would be justified in concluding that it can see for the simple reason that sight is a power normally associated with dogs. What Maimonides has in mind is a more extreme form of negation. Thus “God is powerful” means “God does not lack power or possess it in a way that makes it comparable to other things.” Can God do something like move a book off a shelf? Yes, to the extent that God does not lack power but no to the extent that God does not have to move muscles, summon energy, or receive a supply of food or fuel. The power to create the whole universe is so far beyond that needed to move a book that any comparison cannot help but mislead. From an epistemological standpoint, a statement like “God is powerful” is objectionable in so far as it implies that we have insight into the essence of God. The advantage of the negative formulation is that it implies nothing of the sort. To say that God does not lack power or possess it in a way comparable to other things is to say that God's power is beyond our comprehension. And similarly for God's life, wisdom, unity, or will. Thus most of the terms we use to describe God are completely equivocal as between God and us. There is then no reason to think that every time we praise God, we are identifying a separate part of the divine persona and comparing it to something else. As severe as Maimonides' position is, even this is not enough. Although negation is preferable to affirmation, even negation is objectionable to the degree that it introduces complexity: God is neither this nor that. What then? Maimonides' reply (GP 1.58) is that ultimately any kind of verbal expression fails us. Rather than provide a precise metaphysical account of the nature of God, the purpose of theological discourse is heuristic: to “conduct the mind toward the utmost reach that man may attain in the apprehension of Him.” Theological language is important to the degree that it eliminates error and sets us along the path of recognizing God's transcendence. Unless one could speak about God, she could easily fall into the trap of thinking that God is corporeal. But in the end, the only thing it reveals is that God is beyond the reach of any subject/predicate proposition. Thus GP 1.59: Know that when you make an affirmation ascribing another thing to Him, you become more remote from Him in two respects: one of them is that everything You affirm is a perfection only with reference to us, And the other is that He does not possess a thing other than His essence … Citing Psalm 65, Maimonides concludes that the highest form of praise we can give God is silence. Maimonides knows (GP 3.32) that a religion based entirely on silent reflection would never succeed, and insists that daily prayer is mandatory (MT 2, Prayer, 1.1). His point is that the qualities mentioned in prayer are either negations or descriptions of the effects of divine activity; in no case do they provide knowledge of God's essence. To illustrate this point, he asks us to consider the effect of fire on various
  • 22. things that could be put before it. It would soften wax, harden clay, blacken sugar, and whiten other things. This does not mean that fire is soft, hard, black, and white simultaneously but that it has these effects on various things. Applying this analogy to God, we can say that God is merciful to the extent that the order of nature (what God created) exhibits merciful characteristics and angry to the extent that it is harsh toward things that do not take proper care of themselves. The point is not that God possesses emotions similar to ours but that the effects of God's actions resemble the effects of ours. Maimonides refers to these qualities as attributes of action and identifies them with the goodness God revealed to Moses at Exodus 33. In that passage, God refuses to let Moses see the divine face (which Maimonides identifies with essence) but allows him to see God's backside (which Maimonides identifies with the consequences or effects that flow from God). We can therefore praise God as long as we realize that all such praise is indirect and leaves God's essence undescribed and unknowable. 5. Creation Throughout the Guide, Maimonides considers four accounts of creation: that of the kalam, Moses, Plato, and Aristotle. He rejects the kalam account (GP 1.71–73) according which one demonstrates that the universe must have been created and then reasons that if it was created, it must have a creator. Like Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides believes it is impossible to show by logical considerations alone either that the universe was created or that it is eternal. Though Maimonides says he believes in creation, he admits one can do no more than tip the scales in this direction. As of Guide 2.13, he limits his discussion to the theories of Moses, Plato, and Aristotle. Unfortunately Maimonides' characterizations of these alternatives are neither precise nor historically accurate [Seeskin, 2005]. Suffice it to say that his treatment of them is mainly thematic. Briefly stated, they are: Moses: the world was created de novo and entirely ex nihilo. Plato: the world was created de novo from a preexisting material substrate. Aristotle: matter. the world is eternal and its existence is best understood as eternal information of
  • 23. Based on his explicit remarks, Maimonides prefers the theory of Moses but allows one to hold that of Plato as a reasonable alternative. But there has always been a school of thought that maintains that he is secretly committed to the view of Aristotle [Harvey 1981]. My own position is with those who argue that Maimonides' explicit remarks are an accurate account of his view and that all the arguments he offers point in that direction [Davidson 1979; Feldman 1990; Hyman 1988; Wolfson 1973). The historical Aristotle did argue that the world is eternal and that whatever is eternal is necessary [On Generation and Corruption 338a1–4, Physics 203b 29, Metaphysics 1050b8–15]. His medieval followers took this to mean that while the world is ontologically dependent on God, there is no moment when it first comes to be and therefore does not owe its existence to a decision to create. As we might say, it exists not because of anything God does but simply because of what God is. Because God's nature does not change, according to this position, neither does the existence or fundamental structure of the world. The most important consequence of this view is that God does not exercise free choice, which is to say that according to the Aristotelian alternative, the world is governed by necessity. The standard arguments in favor of this position take one of two approaches: either they show that there is something inherent in the nature of the world that makes creation impossible or that there is something inherent in the nature of God that does. An example of the former is that change always proceeds from something to something else, as when a chicken springs from an egg or an acorn develops into a full grown oak tree. If this is true, it is impossible for something to come to be from nothing (ex nihilo). An example of the latter is that if God is perfect, it makes no sense to suppose that God could ever do anything new such as bring the world into being. Maimonides' answer to the first argument (GP 2.17) is that given the world as we know it, change does proceed from one thing to something else. But why should we assume the creation of the world has to follow the same pattern? An account of creation is a theory of origin, how a thing comes to be initially. By contrast, an account of change is a theory of development or alteration, how one existing thing emerges into another. For all we know, the origin of a thing may be completely different from its development later on. Thus it is presumptuous to suppose that we can extrapolate from our experience of the world as it is at present to the moment of its creation. It follows that the first argument against creation is not decisive, which means that creation remains a possibility. Maimonides' answer to the second argument (GP 2.18) is that in a perfect being, willing something new need not imply change. If I will today to take a trip tomorrow and events intercede to spoil my plans, I may have to change my mind, but to suppose that something analogous happens to God is absurd. Assume I will today to do something tomorrow independent of external circumstances — to think about
  • 24. the numerical characteristics of pi. And assume that when tomorrow comes, I do exactly as planned. While I would be undertaking something new, to the degree that I had intended to do it all along, it would be misleading to say that I underwent a change. Certainly I did not undergo a change of mind. Maimonides takes this to mean that it is possible for a being not affected by external circumstances to will something new as long as it is part of his original intention. This is sometimes expressed by saying that changing one's will is not the same as willing change. So once again, the argument against creation is not decisive. Maimonides is aware that all his arguments establish is the possibility of creation, not its actuality. To go further, and argue for the actuality of creation, he returns to the claim that everything that is eternal is necessary. If it could be shown that there are features of the world that are not necessary, it would follow that the world must have been created. Here Maimonides challenges Aristotle and his followers on the issue of astronomy. Medieval Aristotelians believed as follows. God thinks and manifests self-awareness. Because God is one and simple, what emerges from God must be one and simple as well. In this way, God generates the first heavenly intelligence. According to Alfarabi, because the first intelligence is aware of two things — itself and God — it is capable of generating two things: the second heavenly intelligence and the outermost sphere of the universe. By contrast, Avicenna held that because the first intelligence is aware of God and duality in itself, it generates three things. The difference need not concern us here. The important point is that God's production of the outermost sphere is indirect; the immediate cause is the activity of the first intelligence. The process continues until we get the ten intelligences and nine primary spheres that make up the standard picture of medieval cosmology. Maimonides criticizes this account in two ways. First if the originator of a causal sequence is one and simple, there is no way for complexity to arise, and everything else in the sequence should be one and simple as well (GP 2.22). Even if the sequence contains thousands of members, there is no way to account for the complexity of a celestial sphere, which is a composite of matter and form. When we get to the inner spheres, we have to account for even more because not only is there the sphere itself but the stars or planets attached to it. They too are composites of matter and form. How can we have such complexity if we start with something that is radically one? Second, there are features of the heavenly bodies that defy scientific explanation and thus appear to be contingent in the sense that they were chosen rather than necessitated (GP 2.19–24). If the outer
  • 25. spheres impart motion to the inner ones, we would expect spherical motion to slow as we move closer to the earth. But this is hardly the case. As Maimonides points out (GP 2.19): We see that in case of some spheres, the swifter of motion is above the slower; that in the case of others, the slower of motion is above the swifter; and that, again in another case, the motions of the spheres are of equal velocity though one be above the other. There are also other very grave matters if regarded from the point of view these things are as they are in virtue of necessity. If there is no explanation for why the spheres behave in this fashion, or why some stars and planets emit more light than others, or why some regions of the heavens are relatively crowded while others are empty, there is no reason to think the phenomena in question are what they are by virtue of necessity. If there is no necessity, there are no grounds for eternity. The alternative is to say that God created the world as a result of a free choice and fashioned it in a particular way. Maimonides recognizes (GP 2.24) that his argument does not constitute a demonstration. Just because science cannot explain something now, it does not follow that it will never be able to explain it. As he himself admits, science can and does make progress. But in the case of the heavenly bodies, he thought progress very unlikely. Because they too far away to make close observations, and too high in rank, we can only rely on inferences based on accidental qualities size, speed, and direction. As long as this is true, we will never know their essential natures and will never be able to support claims of necessity. As long as this is true, creation, though not demonstrated, will always be preferable to eternity. Maimonides (GP 2.25) also offers a practical reason for believing in creation: How can a God without free will issue commandments? Beyond this there is a textual reason: belief in creation does less violence to scripture than belief in eternity. He concludes that the theory of Moses offers the best alternative, while that of Plato, which retains the idea of creation de novo, is acceptable. Though some people fault Maimonides for not coming up with a stronger argument on behalf of Moses, he would reply by saying that given the limits of our knowledge, this is the strongest argument we can expect. Although Maimonides is often seen as part of the Aristotelian tradition, and often expresses praise for Aristotle, his account of creation indicate that he is willing to depart from Aristotle when he thinks the arguments lead in that direction. 6. Practical Philosophy
  • 26. We have already seen that for Maimonides the highest perfection is intellectual and consists in ascertaining in divine matters everything that can be ascertained. Proper behavior, whether for the individual or the community, is a means to this end (GP 3.27). On a political level, this means that the state must do more than protect life and property; it must see to it that all its citizens are educated in religious matters and that a small number achieve mastery (GP 2.40). On a personal level, it means that morality is not an end in itself but a way of controlling the passions and creating an atmosphere in which science and philosophy can flourish (GP 3.8). While intellectual perfection is oriented to truth and falsity and aims at demonstration, moral perfection is oriented to good and bad and rests on commonly accepted opinions. Accordingly Adam was blessed with perfect metaphysical knowledge in the Garden of Eden but still did not know that it is wrong not to cover one's genitals. Although this knowledge cannot be known with scientific precision, it does not follow that it is arbitrary. On the contrary, it is among the most basic customs one can imagine. Maimonides expresses this point (GP 2.40) by saying that revealed law “although it is not natural, enters into what is natural.” I take this to mean that unlike scientific truth, law presupposes a social context and a sense of shame. In Maimonides' opinion, it still needs to be studied in detail. Thus the quote continues: “It is a part of the wisdom of the deity with regard to the permanence of this species.” Maimonides' practical philosophy begins with Eight Chapters, an introduction to his commentary on the tractate PirkeiAvot and part of his Commentary on the Mishnah.[5] In concert with Plato and Aristotle, he holds that like the body, the soul can be diseased or healthy. Just as those with sick bodies seek a physician, those with sick souls need to seek the wise rulers, who are physicians of the soul. Not surprisingly major portions of his work attempt to show that Jewish law is based on a thorough understanding of the soul and the conditions needed for its perfection. Chief among them is the attainment of a mean between extremes. In Eight Chapters 3, he writes: “The virtues are states of the soul and settled dispositions in the mean between two bad states, one of which is excessive, the other deficient.” Later, in the first book of the Mishneh Torah (1, Character Traits, 1.4), he follows up by saying: “The right way is the mean in every one of a person's character traits.” Like Aristotle, Maimonides recognizes there will be variations from one person to another and that sometimes a person may have to overshoot the mean for therapeutic reasons (Eight Chapters 4 and MT 1, Character Traits, 2.2). Also like Aristotle, he stresses that virtue is a habit that can only be developed by practice. A wise ruler will therefore prescribe actions and moral habits that must be repeated until they are no longer burdensome and become part of a person's character. If a person develops the wrong habits and goes to excess, the ruler “must follow the same course in treating it as in the medical treatment of bodies,” which is to reestablish equilibrium (“Eight Chapters” 4).
  • 27. Maimonides claims his theory is sound in its own right and can be distilled from the sayings of the prophets and sages. He offers Psalm 19:8 (“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”) as evidence that the Bible recognizes the idea of psychic health and disease. He also connects adherence to the mean with the doctrine of imitatio Dei (imitation of God), by arguing that (GP 2.28): “The works of the deity are most perfect, and with regard to them there is no possibility of an excess or a deficiency.” As God governs nature, so Maimonides thinks, the wise ruler will attempt to govern society. It is true, as Maimonides says many times, that Jewish law does not ask people to live as hermits, starve themselves, beat themselves, or jeopardize their health. Though it allows for a category of extremists in the laws dealing with the Nazirite, Maimonides is right to say that it treats the Nazirite with suspicion (“Eight Chapters” 4). The qualities that really matter are good judgment, kindness, and compassion — all things Maimonides explains by going back to the doctrine of the mean. People are asked to give to charity, honor their parents, refrain from certain sexual relations, not hate or take vengeance, and not eat certain foods in order establish a moderate disposition. By the same token, the holidays are arranged so that some involve rejoicing while others involve moderate forms of self-denial. In no case does the law require anything for the sake of obedience alone. Maimonides points out there are cases where the analogy between body and soul breaks down, in particular the fact that legal reasoning is different from medical reasoning. The physician does not treat the concept humanity but the particular person who comes to her. But this is not true of the law, which, in Maimonides' opinion (GP 3.34), treats the general case and pays no attention to rarities. That is why the law is not dependent on time and place but tries to establish a standard that is absolute and universal. To take a modern example, the law prescribes a limit to the amount of alcohol a person can have in his blood and still be able to drive. Undoubtedly there are variations among individuals that allow one person with a certain amount of alcohol to be much more alert than another. But it is not the purpose of the law to take these differences into account. All it can do is set a norm and enforce it equally. Still anyone familiar with Maimonides will see that acceptance of the mean is hard to reconcile with other aspects of his thought. When he describes God as governor of the universe balancing justice with mercy, the doctrine of the mean makes good sense; when he describes God as lacking emotion and incomparable to anything in the created order, it does not. Similarly, when he describes prophets as law-givers, the mean is an appropriate standard; when he describes them as people who begrudge the time they spend with others and prefer to contemplate God alone in silent meditation (GP 3.51), it fails.
  • 28. Much has been written on which of these approaches represents Maimonides' real view [Fox, 1990, Davidson, 1987, Schwarzschild, 1990]. Fortunately we do not have to survey all of this literature because the problem arises in the space of a few paragraphs in MT 1, Character Traits, 1.4–6. Unlike “Eight Chapters,” where the only justification for overshooting the mean is therapeutic, this passage recognizes that there are times when deviation from the mean represents a higher standard. As Maimonides puts it, a person whose character traits are balanced can be called wise (hakham), while a person who goes beyond the mean when circumstances warrant is known as pious (hasid): Whoever moves away from a haughty heart to the opposite extreme so that he is exceedingly lowly in spirit is called pious; this is the measure of piety. If someone moves only to the mean and is humble, he is called wise; this is the measure of wisdom. The same applies to all the rest of the character traits. The pious of old used to direct their character traits from the middle way toward one of the two extremes; some character traits toward the last extreme, and some toward the first extreme. This is the meaning of “inside the line of the law” *i.e. going beyond the letter of the law+. Piety then involves going beyond the mean to a higher standard. In this connection Maimonides cites Numbers 12:3, which does not say that Moses was meek but that he was very meek. Similar remarks apply to Maimonides' analysis of anger. For Aristotle [NicomacheanEthics 1125b31– 1126a8] a person should be praised for being angry with the right people in the right way and at the right time. A person who allows himself to be abused by insults without getting angry lacks feeling and behaves in a manner that is slavish. Virtue is worthy of honor. Just as it is wrong to ask for too much, it is equally wrong to ask for too little. With respect to anger, Maimonides disagrees, claiming (MT 1, Character Traits, 2.3) it is “an extremely bad character trait” and that “it is proper for someone to move away from it to the other extreme and to teach himself not to be angry, even over something it is proper to be angry about” *Frank, 1990+. For Aristotle meekness indicates a loss of self-esteem; for Maimonides it is not a virtue but virtue par excellence. By ascribing it to Moses, he implies that it represents the highest level a person can achieve. A similar sentiment is expressed earlier in the Mishneh Torah (1, Basic Principles, 4. 12), when Maimonides discusses the need to study physics and metaphysics. He concludes with praise for those who are lowly of spirit:
  • 29. When a man reflects on these things, studies all these created beings, from the angels and spheres down to human beings and so on, and realizes the divine wisdom manifested in them all, his love for God will increase, his soul will thirst, his very flesh will yearn to love God. He will be filled with fear and trembling, as he becomes conscious of his lowly condition, poverty, and insignificance, and compares himself with any of the great and holy bodies; still more when he compares himself with any one of the pure forms that are incorporeal and have never had association with any corporeal substance. He will then realize that he is a vessel full of shame, dishonor, and reproach, empty and deficient. It is not that Maimonides has abandoned the idea that nature avoids excess or deficiency but that he seems to be saying the highest level of human excellence sometimes requires an extreme. Thus Moses went without water for forty days and nights when he was alone on the mountain and attained such a high level of concentration that in Maimonides opinion “all the gross faculties in the body ceased to function.” Seen in this light, the highest goal is not practical wisdom in the Aristotelian sense but humility, awe, and shame in the presence of God. In other places, Maimonides argues that our goal should not be to moderate emotion but to rise above it. We saw that God is not subject to emotion. Maimonides takes this to mean that the ideal state is one in which a person acts in a completely dispassionate way deciding cases on their merit without recourse to feeling. While such a person must still make the appropriate judgment, there will be no character trait or disposition from which it springs. According to Guide 1.54: It behooves the governor of a city, if he is a prophet, to acquire similarity to these attributes [jealousy, hatred, or anger], so that these actions may proceed from him according to a determined measure and according to the deserts of the people who are affected by them and not merely because of his following a passion. He should not let loose the reins of anger nor let passion gain mastery over him, for all passions are evil; but, on the contrary, he should guard against them as far as this lies within the capacity of man. Sometimes, with regard to some people, he should be merciful and gracious, not out of mere compassion and pity, but in accordance with what is fitting. In the treatise on Character Traits, he admits that there may be times when it is necessary for a person to show anger, but insists that inwardly she should remain completely tranquil. What happened to balance and the idea of mental health? The answer is that while they are still valuable, they are not ends in themselves. Throughout his rabbinic and philosophic works, Maimonides insists (MT 1, Character Traits, 3.1) that it is impossible to love God and achieve the highest levels of concentration if one is sick, undisciplined, or living in fear of bodily harm. But in the end, moral perfection is only a necessary condition for intellectual perfection.
  • 30. Like Plato, Maimonides believes in the therapeutic effects of philosophy. In the last chapter of the Guide (3.54), he claims that philosophy teaches that most of the things to which people direct their lives are “nothing but an effort with a view to something purely imaginary, to a thing that has no permanence.” Just as Job came to see that the things he once valued are unimportant, philosophy teaches us to give up our obsession with money, garments, and land and focus attention on the eternal. In the end, the relation between moral and intellectual virtue is more complicated than Maimonides first presents. It is not just that the former is a means to the latter but that after the latter is achieved, after one comes to see that earthly goods are fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying, his behavior will undergo a transformation: rather than aim for a moderate amount of earthly goods, he will forgo them and spend as much time as possible in a state of awe and reverence, where the distinction between moral and intellectual perfection may even break down. 7. Esotericism Since the publication of the Guide, scholars have struggled with a thorny issue: whether to take Maimonides' words at face value or whether to take them as hints or clues pointing to a hidden or deeper meaning (Ravitzky, 1981, 1990, 2005; Strauss, 1952). By rejecting literal interpretation and playing down the importance of miracles, he knew he was taking a controversial stand. As he notes in the Introduction to the Guide, Jewish law prohibits one from discussing esoteric matters like the Account of the Beginning or the Account of the Chariot in public. The idea is that these matters should only be discussed with an advanced student capable of finding the truth on her own. In Maimonides' view, both the Bible and the rabbinic commentaries that grew up around it are esoteric in the sense that the real meaning is often different from the surface or apparent meaning. The reason for this is that the people who read them have different levels of comprehension. But Maimonides goes further, saying that in some cases it is necessary for an author to contradict himself. Of the seven reasons for using contradictions, Maimonides says he will avail himself of two. The first is relatively unproblematic: sometimes it is necessary for a teacher to say one thing to reach a student's level of understanding and say something else when the student becomes more advanced. The second is more troublesome: on very obscure matters, it is necessary to launch a discussion that proceeds according to one assumption and later launch one that proceeds according to another. He then adds: “In such cases the vulgar must in no way be aware of the contradiction; the author accordingly uses some device to conceal it by all means.”
  • 31. This raises several questions. (1) Does Maimonides employ contradictions of the troublesome variety? (2) If so, where? (3) Of two contradictory discussions, which represents his view? In the twentieth century, Leo Strauss argued that contradictions are central to understanding the Guide and that the more evidence Maimonides presents for a particular view, the less likely it is that he held it. [Strauss, 1952]. There is general agreement that Maimonides' writing is esoteric to the degree that he addresses difficult topics and does not put everything he has to say on a particular topic in any one place. The question is whether his esotericism goes deeper than this. We saw for example that he criticizes Aristotle's on the eternity of the world. Does this mean that he believed in creation or that if you strip away the surface meaning, he is really committed to eternity? As often happens, one question leads to another: Do we settle the matter by examining the strength of his arguments or by looking for hidden clues? Of late the esotericist reading appears to be losing favor [Davidson, 2005, Ivry, 1991, Manekin 2005, Ravitzky, 2005, Seeskin, 2000]. 8. Conclusion How one assesses Maimonides' philosophy depends on one's own philosophic view. For a traditional theist like Aquinas, he is right to say that there are issues, e.g. creation, that cannot be resolved by demonstration and to insist that all attempts to anthropomorphize God are misguided. The problem is that in rejecting anthropomorphism, he may have gone too far. If God bears no likeness to the created order, and if terms like wise, powerful, or lives are completely ambiguous when applied to God and us, the conception of divinity we are left with is too thin for the average worshipper to appreciate. For a naturalist like Spinoza, Maimonides is too willing to dismiss science and take refuge in traditional concepts like creation and divine volition. Granted that medieval astronomy did not have a good explanation of planetary motion; with the advent of the scientific revolution, it found one – at least in Spinoza's opinion. If Maimonides were to remain true to his word and accept the strongest argument wherever it leads, as far as Spinoza's is concerned, he would have to embrace the new science, the eternity of the world, and the necessity of every event that takes place in it. In order to do this, he would have to abandon the idea that the Bible is a source of philosophic and scientific truth and look to it only for the light it sheds on how to live. Needless to say, this would be a disaster for Maimonides. Even if Maimonides were to make this move and read the Bible for its ethical content, problems would remain. Maimonides is an elitist. Closeness to God is measured by how much knowledge one acquires. The result is that people whose situations prevent them from pursuing advanced studies cannot be close to God or love God. Whether it is right or wrong, this view offends modern sensibilities, which are much more democratic.
  • 32. Finally for an atheist, Maimonides' philosophy shows us what happens if you remove all anthropomorphic content from your conception of God: you remove all content of any kind. In the end, you are left with a God whose essence is unknowable and indescribable Of what possible value is such a conception either to philosophy or religion? At his trial for impiety in 399 B.C., Socrates was asked how it is that the wisest person in Athens claims to be ignorant of the knowledge he seeks. His answer (Apology 23a-b) is that he is wise because unlike others, he recognizes that when measured against divine wisdom, human wisdom is of little or no value. Although it is doubtful that he read Socrates' words, there is little question that this is the insight Maimonides is trying to preserve. That person is wisest who recoils in awe and humility in the face of something infinitely greater than he or she can fathom. This is the point where piety and wisdom come together. Viewed in a sympathetic light, Maimonides' elitism stems from the recognition that few people will be satisfied with this. Although not everyone in the history of philosophy would agree, there is no question that Maimonides' view has a long history and remains a powerful alternative. Lll>>> Literary Forms of Medieval Philosophy First published Thu Oct 17, 2002; substantive revision Thu Jun 6, 2013 Medieval philosophical texts are written in a variety of literary forms, many peculiar to the period, like the summa or disputed question; others, like the commentary, dialogue, and axiom, are also found in ancient and modern sources but are substantially different in the medieval period from their classical or modern instantiations of these forms. Many philosophical texts also have a highly polemical style and/or seem deferential to the authoritative sources they cite. Further, medieval philosophical thinkers operated under the threat of censure from political and religious authority, moving them, some have argued, to write esoterically or indirectly to protect themselves from persecution for their true views. All these literary and rhetorical features make medieval philosophical texts considerably more difficult to understand and interpret than modern or even classical philosophical texts. Moreover, the broad range of genres used in medieval philosophy raises questions about the nature of philosophical writing in general when compared to the much more restricted set of accepted forms in modern and contemporary philosophical works. 1. Historical Sources 2. Literary Forms
  • 33. 2.1 Allegory and Allegoresis 2.2 Aphorism 2.3 Axiom 2.4 Commentary 2.5 Dialogue 2.6 Disputation, Quaestio, Quodlibetal Question 2.7 Meditation, Soliloquy 2.8 Sentences and Sentences Commentaries 2.9 Sophismata, Insolubilia, Obligationes 2.10 Summa 3. Role of Authorities 4. Esotericism, Censorship, and Polemics 5. Development in the Literary form of Medieval Philosophy Bibliography Academic Tools Other Internet Resources Related Entries 1. Historical Sources Medieval philosophical texts have as their formal sources Greek commentaries, Neoplatonic treatises, dialogues, and allegories, as well as Aristotelian treatises, and the works of Augustine. Before the formal development of universities and university curricula that dictated the established forms for writing philosophical/theological texts in the 13th century, medieval philosophical texts were written in a wide variety of forms. From the 10th to the 12th century, writers in the Christian, Jewish and Arabic traditions composed dialogues, allegories, axiomatic works, disputations, and summae, while the 13th and 14th centuries in the Latin West were dominated by commentary, principally on Peter Lombard's Sentences and the works of Aristotle, various forms of the disputed question, and the summa.
  • 34. The sources and history of these different forms will be discussed under each of the forms considered. After the discussion of the principal literary forms, the role of authoritative authors and influence of concerns about censorship and persecution on the form and rhetoric of medieval philosophical texts, the historical development in these literary forms within the medieval period will be considered. 2. Literary Forms 2.1 Allegory and Allegoresis The models for allegorical writings and allegorizing of traditional texts (allegoresis) come to the Middle Ages through Neoplatonic sources and, for Jewish and Arabic thinkers, from traditions of biblical commentary and the Qur'an itself (Shatz 2003; Ivry 2000). As Ivry puts it, the Qur'an effects “a significant change in the Biblical legacy, treating individual persons and events as universal types and symbols. This approach turns the Qur'anic presentations of Biblical stories into allegories, the persons involved into emblems of virtue or vice” (Ivry 2000, 155). Jewish philosophers themselves read the Hebrew bible and rabbinic literature philosophically, interpreting its stories as having another, esoteric meaning behind the literal one. The Jewish philosopher, Philo, is the most important figure in the development of this kind of philosophical allegorization, though his influence is accepted to be greater on Christian than Jewish thinkers, most significantly on Augustine. Nonetheless, Jewish philosophers regularly allegorize scripture and are also influenced by allegorical readings given in rabbinic and midrashic literature (Shatz 2003). Neoplatonic writers developed allegorical readings of both Plato and classical literature, finding in these diverse texts figures of the spiritual journey from this world to the next. They also composed their own allegories on similar themes. The underlying presupposition of allegory is that things can come to stand for something else. For the Neoplatonists this possibility is based on the relationship of material things to the One from which they have emanated. Because things come from the One, they are fragmentary reflections of the fullness of that goodness. For those within the religious traditions of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, allegory is based on the inspired character of scripture into which God has inserted many layers of meaning. Though Islamic philosophers had an independent religious tradition of allegorical literature from which they could draw, the allegories from medieval Islamic thinkers tend to concern the same Neoplatonic themes of the ascent of the soul and the Neoplatonic structure of the cosmos, allegorizing the stages of emanation from and return to the One. The most common form of Islamic philosophical allegory is on the theme of the heavenly ascent or journey, a philosophical rather than prophetic rewriting of the spiritual journey of the prophet Mohammed. Avicenna wrote two allegories of this type, Risâlat at-tair (Treatise of the Bird) and HayyibnYaqzân. (Heath 1992, has also translated from Persian an allegory of
  • 35. Avicenna's, Mi'râjNâma, The Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven.) In the Treatise of the Bird, a group of birds fly on a long journey in search of truth over nine mountain ranges, each a dangerous and a tempting resting place; in the second, the narrator, consulting Hayy, a sage, makes a cosmic journey from west to east, ending in a vision of God (Avicenna 1980). IbnTufayl'sHayyibnYaqzân takes its name from Avicenna's allegory and claims to reveal in it the secrets of Avicenna's “Oriental philosophy” (Avicenna 1980; IbnTufayl 2009). IbnTufayl's version may have been one of the models for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. This story of a boy abandoned on an island and raised by a gazelle recounts the boy's survival and progress in understanding from what is necessary for survival, to a grasp of the laws of the universe, culminating in a mystical experience. The boy's progress symbolizes the path and powers of unaided human reason, able to advance from complete ignorance to union with the divine. In the Latin West, philosophical allegory flourished in the 12th century. Authors like Bernard Silvestris, Thierry of Chartres, William of Conches, and Alan of Lille took up allegoresis and allegory as a way of assimilating works and ideas from classical antiquity, especially the creation myth and cosmology of Plato's Timaeus. One of the most important, Bernard Silvestris'sCosmographia, is an allegorical account of the origins of the world, both narrative and structural. Bernard tells the story of Natura asking Noys to bring some order to prime matter. Book I traces the creation of the material world, and book II, the creation of man (Bernard Silvestris 1973). Bernard's main source for this myth of creation is Plato's Timaeus but his myth making is combined with philosophical and scientific speculation. Like Alan of Lille's allegories, De PlanctuNaturae and Anticlaudianus, Bernard's work is both allegorical and encyclopedic, two forms which were also combined in an important classical model for these works, MartianusCappella's The Marriage of Mercury and Philology. What is remarkable about these works is the combination of allegory with science and philosophy. These writers do not think of the mythic and the scientific as opposing discourses. Rather, the creation of new myths is associated with the work of creation, linking the work of God as artifex with that of the composer of allegory. Science and allegory are also linked by the activity of de-allegorization, the process of extracting the abstract and philosophical message hidden in the allegory. According to Brian Stock, until the middle of the 12th century, it was taken as a given that allegories contained hidden philosophical information (Stock 1972, 31). The controversial and difficult question is why these medieval thinkers chose the allegorical form, and whether the text can be understood without its allegorical form. Avicenna tells us that what he purports to do by allegory is to convey one message to the “many” in sensible imagery they can understand, while conveying a different message to the philosophically minded few (Heath 1992, 150–153). Neoplatonic and Christian writers, although citing the importance of not ‘casting one's pearls before swine’, also cite the need to provide access through the senses to a non-sensible reality and the need to use obvious metaphors so that their language will not be taken for a literally true representation of the divine. In the secondary literature, the most common interpretation of the reason for the allegorical
  • 36. form is that the allegory is an heuristic device that makes the difficult and abstract message easier to understand. On this view, the allegorical form can be stripped away without changing the meaning of the text. Others have argued that for some writers, the allegorical form is chosen because the mystical message or account of spiritual union with the good exceeds what can be expressed in the literal language of logic and argument (Sweeney 2006, 38–61,157–175). On this view, the allegorical form is an essential aspect of the text and, hence, cannot be excised without detriment to the author's meaning. Lastly, some argue that the motive for allegory is esoteric. On this view, most famously propounded by Leo Strauss and his followers, writers fearing persecution and misinterpretation decided to “hide” their true views behind the façade of allegory, in order to protect both themselves and their message. (For more on esotericism, see below section 4.) 2.2 Aphorism This form is not terribly common in the medieval period. Two works worthy of mention are Al-Farabi's political aphorisms and a text attributed to Hermes Trimegistus, but thought to have been written in the 12th century by a Christian Neoplatonist, called The Book of Twenty-Four Philosophers. This text consists of twenty-four definitions of God, the most famous of which is, “God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere,” quoted by Alan of Lille, Meister Eckhart and others (Hudry 1997). Al-Farabi's work, known as “Selected Aphorisms” gets this title from its opening lines, in which Al-Farabi says the work consists of selected aphorisms from the ancients (Plato and Aristotle) “concerning that by which cities ought to be governed and made prosperous...” (Butterworth, 2001, 5–6). This “primer for politics” contains discussion of the nature of the soul, virtue, the virtuous regime and happiness. Its disjointed character and the way in which Al-Farabi composes it not from his own views but those of Aristotle and Plato make the form of the work central to its meaning: Is Al-Farabi endorsing views but without saying outright they are his own because to hold them might be dangerous? What the principles of selection at work? What is not being said? The aphoristic form seems to raise some of the same questions about possible esoteric motivations as does the allegorical form. In the case of The Book of the Twenty-Four Philosophers the form seems to derive from the inaccessibility of the divine nature to human intellection. Thus one comes closer to avoiding misrepresentation of the divine nature by using paradoxical or metaphoric formulations rather than literal ones. Some medieval works fall somewhere between aphorism and axiom in genre, most significantly works connected to the important and influential Liber de causis. The Liber circulated as a work of Aristotle under the title Liber Aristotelis de expositionebonitatispurae until the 13th century when Thomas Aquinas found its source in Proclus's Elements of Theology. Like Proclus's theology, the work seems to present its principles as axioms, but the principles and their explanation/derivation is not really demonstrative and the principles themselves are highly abstract Neoplatonic metaphysical principles
  • 37. that are sometimes as paradoxical as they are self-evident. Boethius's theological opuscule known as De Hebdomadibus (this work is traditionally the third of five theological tractates) and Alan of Lille's RegulaeCaelestisIuris are presented as axiomatic but also esoteric, with the express statement of the author that their principles are not accessible to the many. (See below, section 2.3, on axiom for more discussion of these works.) 2.3 Axiom There are two different sources for axiomatic works in the Middle Ages: Euclid and Proclus. For Proclus the axiomatic form mirrors the metaphysical structure of emanation. As all being emanates from the One, all propositions are derived from axioms. In his commentary on Euclid, Proclus contends that the scientific structure in which all propositions are proved from first principles is peculiar to the mathematical sciences, as befitting the middle status of mathematics between metaphysics and physics. Two important axiomatic works, Boethius' De Hebdomadibus and Alan of Lille's RegulaeCaelestisIuris, seem to follow both Proclus's Elements of Theology, taking Neoplatonic metaphysical principles as their axioms, and the model of deriving conclusions from those principles, the method Proclus attributes to Euclid and to mathematics alone. The axiomatic form in Euclid is more complex, relying not just on first principles (communis animi conceptio), the only type of principle used by Boethius and Alan, but also on definitions, petitiones, theorems, etc. Euclid is the model for Nicolas of Amiens's ArsCatholicaeFidei. However, even when thinkers like Nicolas of Amiens use the Euclidean axiomatic model, they are still relying on the justification and principles of Neoplatonic metaphysics, grounding the form in the metaphysics of emanation. The influence of this form goes beyond 12th-century attempts to compose axiomatic philosophical/theological works in the tradition of Boethius's De Hebdomadibus (like Alan's RegulaeCaelestisIuris and Nicholas of Amiens's ArsCatholicaeFidei). First, the form is taken up by Leibniz in his axiomatic works. Second, early medieval notions of science are indebted to these Neoplatonic models of science, models that continue to be influential even after the reappearance of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. Further, the geometric methods of “analysis” and “synthesis” (“resolutio/compositio”), which work to and from first principles or axioms and is linked to axiomatic method in both its Proclusian and Euclidean forms, is important not only for later medieval thinkers like Aquinas, but also for Descartes, Newton, and Galileo (Sweeney 1994). 2.4 Commentary
  • 38. The ancient tradition of commentary on Aristotle begins with the edition of Aristotle by Andronicus of Rhodes, although not much survives today from this period. The study of Aristotle became part of the Neoplatonic school curriculum, which began with the Categories and progressed through the Organon to the Physics and Metaphysics. The curriculum culminated in the study of the Platonic dialogues, ending with the Timaeus and Parmenides. This school context for commentaries became part of the commentaries in the form of introductory remarks to the Aristotelian corpus and to individual works. Thus authors covered a certain number of introductory questions about the context for studying Aristotle and the particular Aristotelian work under consideration, responses which assume the Neoplatonic curriculum. (For more on the ancient commentary tradition, see Sorabji 1990.) The greatest influence in the Middle Ages, both Latin and Islamic, is the Neoplatonic tradition of commentary beginning with Porphyry. Porphyry authored a work, no longer extant, showing the ultimate harmony of Plato and Aristotle. In his commentary on the PeriHermenias, Boethius repeated the same view and the ambition to prove it through his work of translation and commentary (Boethius, 1880, 79–80). Porphyry also originates the view of Aristotle's Categories as about words not things, and more specifically as about words as they apply to sensible things, thus leaving open the possibility that words might operate in a very different way when they refer to Platonic forms (Marenbon 1999, 107–116). This view of the categories as categories of words is also transmitted by Boethius to the Middle Ages where it becomes standard. The larger view of Aristotle's teachings enshrined in this interpretive shift is that Aristotle and Plato's view can both be true, and hence, harmonious, if they are understood as writing about different things, Aristotle about the sublunary world and Plato about the world beyond matter and change. Throughout the Middle Ages, there is some degree of Neoplatonic distortion of Aristotle's teaching in commentaries on his works. It tends to be less significant in the logical works and in the non-theological portions of the Physics and greater in the De Anima and sometimes Metaphysics commentaries. The placement of Aristotelian works in this kind of context is transmitted to the Latin Middle Ages by Boethius. Boethius thus brings to the medieval tradition of commentary both the obvious and more subtle Neoplatonic distortions of the Aristotelian corpus. First, Boethius's commentaries are highly indebted to Neoplatonic sources. The thesis that Boethius simply copied his commentaries from a single codex's collection of Greek commentators' remarks is too extreme, but it is nevertheless clear that Boethius relied heavily on Neoplatonic sources. We can see this in his commentary on the Categories, where we have all of Boethius's sources. Here Boethius uses Porphyry as his main source, while supplementing this material with other Neoplatonic sources (Ebbesen 1990, 376–77). Had Boethius managed to get to the Physics or Metaphysics for commentary, we might have seen his own Neoplatonic interpretations of Aristotle emerge more strongly. As it is, such leanings are evident, for example, in his commentary on the PeriHermeneias. In his discussion of future contingents, Boethius follows the Neoplatonists, arguing for the view that while there is real contingency in the sublunary world, there is also necessity operating at other levels. Though he does not argue for providence until writing his Consolation, he does make room for such a possibility in his PeriHermeneias commentary. There he argues, following Alexander of Aphrodisias, that some things are necessitated, some subject to human control, and some are matters of chance; Aristotle is right that some things are undetermined,
  • 39. yet the Stoics are also right that some things are necessitated and all things, though not necessitated by it, are subject to the divine will (Boethius, 1880, 220–236, Sweeney 2006, 16–20; Chadwick 1981, 159– 63). Thus Boethius follows the Neoplatonic strategy of placing Aristotle's view in a larger philosophical context where it can be seen as part of but not the whole truth. Averroes (IbnRushd), who comes to be known as “the Commentator” in the Latin West because of his magisterial grasp of Aristotle, is another important influence in the medieval commentary tradition. He declares on numerous occasions that his aim in commenting on Aristotle is to explain the Aristotelian text, a task he adheres to faithfully and with great success even though he lacked any knowledge of Greek. He does not introduce non-Aristotelian material to explain Aristotle; he does not even, for example, make reference to Porphyry's introduction to the Categories, the Isagoge, to help make sense of the Categories. He does, however, add to the Aristotelian text in two ways. First and most ubiquitously, he divides Aristotle's text into sections and chapters, some of which follow the divisions we now have, some of which he devises himself. The origin of the modern textual divisions of Aristotle's work is not known and those divisions are not authoritative. Averroes may have worked with a text that contained no divisions at all; thus he would have had to supply them all (Butterworth 1983, 6–8). Further, Averroes adds explanations of aspects of Aristotle's text that are especially unclear or terse, and adds references to other works in the Aristotelian corpus to help explain particular texts. Averroes, like other ancient and medieval commentators, assumed that there was no significant change or development in Aristotle's views over time and therefore that his different works are consistent with each other. Averroes wrote three different kinds of commentaries, which have come to be known as “short,” “middle,” and “long” commentaries. Scholars have now shown that these terms, though used to describe various kinds of commentary by Averroes or his editors, are often very fluid and do not mark off clear cut genres (Gutas 1993, 31–42). Nonetheless, it is clear that Averroes composes different kinds of commentaries to serve different pedagogical goals. He writes summaries or synopses of Aristotle's works, as well as full-blown commentaries. Some commentaries work toward an explanation of the letter of the text; in these the source text is first cited and then interpreted virtually word for word. This is done sometimes in the form of a continuous text, other times in the form of marginal notations to the main text. Still other commentaries, the type traditionally known as “middle” commentaries, are explanations of the sense rather than the letter, paraphrasing rather than commenting thoroughly on the source text (Gutas 1993, 33–5). In the Latin West during the 12th and 13th centuries the goal of commentary was to explain the author's intention. However, until the end of the 13th century, commentators worked on the assumption that the author intended to express the truth; thus every effort was made to bring an author's text into harmony with the truth as the author understands it from what he takes to be authoritative sources.
  • 40. This attitude toward texts is generally thought to emerge from the tradition of biblical exegesis, where the biblical text is assumed to be true, to be in accord with the basic articles of faith, and, hence, as needing to be interpreted from within those parameters. Moreover, as interpreters began to collect different interpretations of biblical texts, they tended to deal with conflicts between authorities by attempting to harmonize different opinions rather than simply keeping some and discarding others. So, in an analogous way, for example, Aquinas supports Aristotle's astronomy even in the face of conflicting mathematical evidence from Ptolemy. He argues that Ptolemy's account “saves the appearances” but may not in fact be true since the phenomena could be saved in some other way (Aquinas 1964, I, lec. 3; Lohr 1982, 93–94). Also, Aquinas tries to save Aristotle from unambiguously holding the position that the world is eternal, arguing that Aristotle's argument for the eternity of motion might be merely hypothetical (Aquinas 1964, Bk. I, lec. 29). In general, medieval Latin commentators through the 13th century rarely abandon the principle that the text makes some kind of sense. Thus, even when the Aristotelian text is extremely cryptic, corrupt, or terse, commentators make every effort to give the text a clear and consistent sense, even if it must be almost completely constructed. A very striking example of the commentator's art in this regard is Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, especially his commentary on the very difficult passages on the workings of the intellect (De Anima III, 5; Aquinas 1994, III, lec. 7–10). As Kenny and Pinborg note, Ockham justified a less literal reading of Aristotle by asserting that Aristotle often speaks metaphorically; at the other extreme, Latin Averroists offered views that might be seen as contrary to Church teaching by maintaining that they were only interpreting Aristotle, not developing their own view (Kenny and Pinborg 1982, 29–30). A less dramatic but nonetheless important change introduced by medieval commentators, continuing in commentaries after 1300, is making divisions of the text and adding descriptions of the overall structure and forward progression of its arguments. These divisions and outlines of the text serve to give unity and coherence to a text even if it might lack these features on its own. Starting in 1255, study in the work of the arts faculty at Paris was officially centered around the works of Aristotle. Further, the commentaries of the masters of arts rather than of theology brought a different hermeneutic to the interpretation of Aristotle. No longer committed to Aristotle as a source for the truth (the truth was possessed by theology), the masters of arts did not try to bring Aristotle into harmony with other authoritative sources and felt free to expose rather than try to save Aristotle from holding what they took to be erroneous positions. Because Aristotle was no longer considered an essentially error-free authoritative source, commentaries shifted to an emphasis on questions arising from the text rather than the exposition of text (Lohr 1982, 95–6). This shift is heralded by most scholars as marking an important development toward modern notions of both science and commentary. Nonetheless, even with this change in the status of the Aristotelian works, Aristotle remained an authority in the sense that his texts were still the starting point for discussion, and medieval philosophy in general remained centered on authoritative texts and, hence, on their commentaries. This emphasis on the commentary points to two important differences between medieval and much contemporary
  • 41. philosophy. First, medieval philosophical writers understood their own work as emerging out of a tradition of authorities rather than in abstraction from or in opposition to a tradition (See below section 3, “Role of Authorities”). Second, their work emerges out of an encounter with texts rather than in unmediated contact with ideas, problems, or arguments. (On the assumptions and characteristics of a commentary-based notion of philosophy see Smith 1991, 3-7.) These ways of doing philosophy do not mean that medieval philosophers were incapable of originality, only that their original thought comes out of an acknowledged connection with what went before and sometimes. Nor does it mean that medieval philosophers were not engaged with ideas but only words and texts. For, they would argue, we can only confront ideas through the language in which they are expressed. 2.5 Dialogue The classical source for medieval writers of dialogue should have been Plato; but Western writers had no direct access to Plato's dialogues, with the exception of the first half of the Timaeus. The number and diversity of dialogues from the medieval period is, hence, surprising, with instances among the works of writers from Augustine to Ockham and Nicolas of Cusa, and across the different religious traditions. Though it has been argued that dialogue as a philosophical form dies off in late antiquity, especially in the Christian tradition, this is clearly false in the medieval period (Goldhill 2008, 5–8). Not only are philosophical dialogues plenty but, perhaps because they were not overwhelmed by Plato as a model, medieval dialogue writers came up with many variations on the form. While a good number use real or realistically-described characters, there are also many where the participants are allegorical figures, like Boethius's Lady Philosophy in the Consolatio or “Reason” in Augustine's Soliloquies. While some instances of this form, for example Boethius's commentary in dialogue form on Porphyry's Isagoge, simply make use of the form as a vehicle for straightforward exposition, others make the dialogue form intrinsic to the argument. And while the standard form of a philosophical dialogue is between a teacher and student figure, a number of medieval dialogues ignore this convention. Abelard's Dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian (Collationes), for example, traces a dispute between three equal partners, none of whom is the “teacher” whom the others more or less meekly follow. Abelard's dialogue is essentially a dispute without a master to resolve it. Even if, as many scholars think, the dialogue is unfinished and Abelard meant to add a resolution of the dialogue in the form of a final adjudication by someone playing the role of master, it is noteworthy that, unlike in most philosophical dialogues, the magisterial point of view is absent until the end rather than being the one that directs the discussion. Other dialogue writers like Gilbert Crispin, PetrusAlphonsi, Raymund Lull, and Nicolas of Cusa also write dialogues in which the participants are representatives of the major religions, Christian, Jew, Moslem, pagan or philosopher. While some take care to give the victory to the Christian, even transforming the other participants into converts to Christianity, Gilbert, Petrus, Abelard and Raymund Lull all opt for
  • 42. subtler conclusions. Abelard's dialogue sets up a “judge” for the debate who never proffers a judgment. Even if Abelard had added this final judgment, the dialogue would still not indicate a clear winner. Dialogue is a favorite form in the growing AdversosIudaeos literature of the late 11th and 12th centuries. And insofar as the dialogue form was especially prevalent in this period it is part of a growing rationalism. Writers composing dialogues between Christian and Jewish (or pagan) spokesmen are at the same time shifting the grounds of those arguments from proof texts from scripture to arguments grounded in the notion that the truths of the faith were self-evident and could be convincing even to those not sharing common beliefs or authoritative texts (Cohen 1999, 167–218). There are dialogues by Jewish thinkers in which philosophical and different religious perspectives debate, partially in response to Christian polemical dialogues, most famously Judah Halevi's dialogue known as the Kuzari. The work is a dialogue between a pagan king, who speaks as a philosopher, and a Jewish sage and includes the appearance of representatives of Islam and Christianity working to convert the king. Though the dialogue form continues to be used in the Latin West after the 12th century, its place as the form for rational argumentation is overtaken by the more formal and elaborate school form of disputation in the 13th (Novikoff 2012, 341–343, 349). When the convention of composing a dialogue between a teacher and student is used, usually the author can be identified more or less with the “teacher.” In IbnGabirol's (Avicenbron) dialogue, best known by its Latin title, Fons vitae, the student is mostly restricted to asking the teacher for explanations and demonstrations. Anselm's dialogue partner in Cur Deus Homo is the student Boso who as a Christian asks the questions that a non-Christian monotheist would ask about the Incarnation. Boethius, however, casts himself as student rather than teacher in the Consolatio. Of those who compose dialogues between teacher and student a good number, such as those of Augustine, Eriugena, Anselm, Boethius, Nicolas of Cusa, expect and trace a conversion or transformation in the “student” figure of the dialogue in a way that Plato's dialogues do not. Anselm explicitly makes of his interlocutor a partner in the dialogue who is supposed to anticipate conclusions and implications and/or who more truly motivates the entire discussion (Sweeney 1999). Like Anselm, other medieval dialogue writers play with the convention that the teacher takes the lead in the discussion, in effect asking as well as answering questions. In Eriugena'sPeriphyseon, it is sometimes the student, sometimes the teacher who moves the discussion forward. In William of Conches' dialogue, Dragmaticonphilosophiae, the ‘Prince’ asks questions of the ‘philosopher’ who represents William's views. In an interesting variation, William of Ockham's Dialogus has the student ask the questions while the teacher responds reluctantly and almost objectively without any attempt to transform or convert the student. The variety of ways in which the dialogue form is taken up in the medieval period alone is enough to make the form as such quite interesting. In addition, as Jacobi points out, because the dialogue, unlike the disputation and commentary, is not a school form, it was always taken up as a choice and with some degree of self-consciousness on the part of the writer (Jacobi 1999, 10). They chose this form over some other for a reason that affects the argument and the position they take. (For bibliographical listings for
  • 43. some 160 dialogues written from the 4th century to the 15th as well as essays on the dialogues of 19 different medieval dialogue writers, see Jacobi 1999.) Goldhill's contention that there is something in Christianity inhospitable to dialogue is literally false but gets at a more difficult question about how and whether dissent is tolerated in medieval Christianity, with parallel questions that have and should be asked about medieval Jewish and Muslim culture. (See below, sections 3 and 4.) While neither medieval philosophical dialogues nor the forms of disputation which grew out of them can be reduced to catechism-like question and answer (Goldhill 2009, 5), it is a complex matter to determine whether the rational form of dialogue and disputation foster real open discussion and dissent or control it within strict and non-threatening limits. The same question could, of course, meaningfully be asked about dialogue in antiquity, in non-Christian religious traditions, and in the modern era. In an important sense, it is often too much rather than too little faith in reason in the Latin West, expressed in medieval dialogue and disputation, which leads some to the notion that reason can prove the truth of Christianity over Judaism or Islam, and, then, to condemnation of resistance to Christianity as irrational (Cohen 1999; Sweeney 2012a, 324–5). 2.6 Disputation, Quaestio, Quodlibetal Question In the Latin West, as the universities developed in the 13th and 14th centuries, two forms for philosophical and theological speculation were incorporated into the curriculum, the disputed question and the Sentences Commentary. The De Fallaciis attributed to Aquinas defines a disputed question as a set of syllogistic arguments on different sides of a question to be resolved (Bazán 1985, 22). Bazán gives a more complete definition as follows: “a disputed question is a regular form of teaching, apprenticeship and research, presided over by a master, characterized by a dialectical method which consists of bringing forward and examining arguments based on reason and authority which oppose one another on a given theoretical or practical problem and which are furnished by participants, and where the master must come to a doctrinal solution by an act of determination which confirms him in his function as master” (Bazán 1985, 40). Disputations took place both privately between a master and his students, and publicly or “solemnly” at an event that replaced regular classes at the university and was attended by the larger university community. The latter practice was eventually codified by university statute, which prescribed that masters would hold a certain number of disputations at various times of the year, sometimes as frequently as once a week. Most scholars agree that the process came to be divided into two sessions. In the first session, supporting and opposing arguments for a given thesis or question were brought forward, and, in a preliminary way, clarified and determined by a student serving as the respondens under the supervision of the master. During the second session, the master himself would make the determination, give his answer and respond to all the opposing arguments. Some disputed questions we have in written form are clearly taken from different stages in this process, either a
  • 44. reportatio of the first day's session, some abbreviation of the debate, or one reflecting the master's answer and response to opposing objections, redacted after the second day's debate. Disputation arises out of and is an academic formalization of the philosophical dialogue (Novikoff 2012) and comes into the classroom as an outgrowth of the lectio, the careful reading and commentary on authoritative texts (Kenny and Pinborg 1982, 20–25). This type of reading involved the consultation of authoritative sources on those texts. From the differences among sources came the need to resolve such differences, a process eventually formalized into the posing of a question. A question is tied to a specific textual problem or conflict, but has, like the disputation, arguments on opposing sides and the response or resolution and replies to opposite objections by the master. The disputation is centered around a systematic rather than a textual question, and the supporting and opposing arguments are supplied by students. A special form of disputation, quodlibetal (quodlibet = any whatever) questions, differed from ordinary disputations in that they were open to the broader public — other masters, students from other schools, other church and civil authorities — and took place only during Advent and Lent. The questions were not set by the master but could be posed by any member of the audience and without any prior notice to the master who would determine the question. These questions might reflect contemporary controversies or might be designed to pose a question that brought to the fore a difficulty for the particular master of whom it is asked because of his other stated views. The popularity of these public spectacles shows the importance and influence of scholastic disputation on the larger culture. (Novikoff 2012, 2013). An important function of the master in both quodlibetal and disputed questions is the determinatio, in which the master ordered the various smaller questions into articles of a given question. Like the division of the text that is part of the work of commentary, this strategy involves both making distinctions, for which medieval scholastics are well-known, but also a synthesis, finding the unity of a text and the unity of a set of diverse questions under larger questions in disputation. The collections that have been made of the quodlibetal literature show how diverse the questions posed were and how much less unified the treatment. (Glorieux 1925–35; Schabel 2006–7) We can see, by the contrast, how much more a matter of literary art the more unified and organized disputed questions are that are based on questions set by and organized in sequence by a master. All of these forms, disputation, quaestio, and quodlibetal question, represent what has been called “the institutionalization of conflict” in medieval intellectual life. Raising questions or objections about anything from basic matters of Christian belief — the existence of God, the coherence of the doctrine of
  • 45. the Trinity — to important contemporary controversies — the power of the papacy or secular princes, the ecclesiastical corruption — was not only permitted but encouraged as part of the structure of university life. Thus, there was an important kind of intellectual and academic freedom enshrined in these practices of formal and public debate. On the other hand, those questions were also in some ways controlled exactly because they were brought into an existing institution and structured in a particular way. Thus, the questions, even though asked, were in another way made less dangerous and subversive by being posed and controlled from within the university, which itself operated under the watchful eye of the Church. (For a study of the ways in which medieval philosophical disputation made its way out of the university, affecting the larger culture, see Novikoff 2013.) 2.7 Meditation, Soliloquy ‘Meditation’ as a term for a form of medieval philosophical writings belongs most properly to Anselm and most famously to his Proslogion and Monologion; it is closely related to soliloquy and Augustine's Confessions, as well as some of the works of Bonaventure. (Anselm calls his Proslogion an “address” instead of a meditation or soliloquy. The Proslogion is addressed to God, but its method for understanding God is similar to the Monologion which Anselm calls a meditation.) In all these works, the form is that of an introspective search, often in the explicit form of an internal dialogue. While sentence collections and disputed questions make very explicit the different sources and vocabularies that clash with each other and with that of the author of a question, meditation and soliloquy show no particular reliance on authoritative sources. The source for Anselm's meditations is the practice of monastic meditation on texts from scripture or on one's own spiritual condition. Anselm takes these techniques for focusing the mind and uses them as mode of inquiry into problems of speculative theology and philosophy. Anselm's meditations make no direct reference to outside sources, either scriptural or philosophical, but represent Anselm's own thought process as he struggles with what he cannot quite understand or prove. In monastic style, he has so thoroughly ‘ruminated’ on his source texts, scripture and Augustine's De Trinitate, that they are essentially invisible to contemporary readers. This independence from authority and emphasis on internal exploration also characterizes Augustine's Soliloquies, a ‘dialogue’ between Augustine and ‘Reason’, as well as Abelard's Soliloquium, a ‘dialogue’ between “Peter” and “Abelard” on the meaning and overlap between the names ‘Christian’, ‘philosopher’ and ‘logician’. In his Itinararium mentis in Deum, Bonaventure draws on a particularly Franciscan form of contemplation, following the path of St. Francis's mystical ascent to God, based on Francis's vision of the six-winged seraph. In Bonaventure, as in Anselm, meditation is connected to the mystical project of achieving union with God.
  • 46. Anselm retains the personal and intimate nature of meditation also characteristic of Augustine's Confessions. It is worth noting that among the other works that Anselm labels ‘meditations’ are a “meditation on lost virginity” and a “meditation on redemption.” These are highly personal works, concerned with the existential conditions of sin and salvation. The Proslogion and Monologion share with them this personal or existential character. As Anselm Stolz points out, each step of Anselm's argument in the Proslogion either takes the form of or concludes in prayer (Stolz 1967, 198–201). According to scholars who take the form of the Proslogion as meditation seriously, that form makes it impossible to understand the argument as a “proof” for God's existence designed to convince an agnostic or atheist on a purely rational level. Rather, they argue, the text is an attempt by Anselm to address and approach God and is thus written by and for a believing Christian trying to understand and achieve union with God. On the other hand, other scholars take as most significant in the form not Anselm's prayers but his complete reliance on his own reason without apparent recourse to authority, making the form itself an important model for independent and truly philosophical discourse. Both the introspective element and independence from authority are retained in Descartes' Meditations, about which similar questions have been raised concerning its form. In the Middle Ages, the importance of the form shows the continuation of philosophy or philosophical theology as what Pierre Hadot has called a “way of life.” On this view, until the high scholasticism of the 13th and 14th centuries, philosophy was essentially a spiritual and personal project of self-discipline and self-transformation, rather than an abstract and school-based problem-solving set of techniques (Hadot 1995, 269–70). Christianity before the 13th century, Hadot argues, presented itself as a philosophy, a way of life, and Christian monasticism and its practices of meditations were meant to be a path into this spiritually transformative experience (See Hadot 1995, 126–141 for the links between ancient “spiritual exercises” and “Christian philosophy.”) 2.8 Sentences and Sentences Commentaries Sentences as a genre is a development of earlier collections of sayings or citations of the fathers. Such collections, known as florilegia, were collections of citations organized around the order of scripture. The development of the scholastic sentences collection can be attributed jointly to Anselm of Laon, Abelard, and Peter Lombard. Anselm of Laon and his school, so famously criticized by Abelard in his HistoriaCalamitatum, can be credited with developing a critical approach to the authorities they cited; they sometimes disregarded or criticized opinions rather than always seeking to preserve them all (Colish 1994, 42–46). The next significant development is in the organization of these collections, from an organization following the order of scripture to an organization based on systematic questions of theology. Such a change brings speculative and philosophical questions to the fore, questions concerning the divine nature and metaphysics, and anthropological and ethical problems. Peter Abelard's Sic et Non opposes authoritative quotations from church fathers on particular questions arranged in an order and on topics that are systematic rather than narrative. What Abelard attempted in the various versions of Theologia but did not ever manage successfully was to gather those various
  • 47. questions into a systematic organization and division of theology as a discipline. This was the achievement of Peter Lombard. Peter Lombard's Sentences was by far the most successful instance of the form. Commenting on it became an academic requirement for the master of theology in the 13th century, a status it retained until the later 15th century, with new commentaries still appearing in the 18th (Silano 2007, xxx). (The nature of these commentaries varies quite a bit, early commentaries tending to be line by line glosses, and later ones more often a series of quaestiones on more or less selected topics raised by Peter. See Evans 2002 and Rosemann 2009.) Though Peter claims in his prologue merely to have made a collection of the views of Church Fathers and most historians have taken him at his word, his advance lies in the organization of particular questions into a unified plan, based on Augustine's distinction between things to be enjoyed (God alone) and things to be used (everything else). Secondly, Peter offers his own responses to questions, engages and refutes opinions of contemporaries when necessary, and in many cases, uses the form to articulate, justify, and create a consensus view. Besides giving theology an organization and making a place for all questions to be considered, Peter often explicitly leaves some questions open. Peter thus invites others to join in the debate and conversation rather than simply accept or reject his views. All of these features made his work especially fruitful for later commentary. Further, Peter Lombard, unlike Abelard, attempted to give substantive and metaphysically based rather than merely verbal solutions to theological problems, a method more in tune with the 13th century curriculum focused on Aristotle, than the 12th, organized around the trivium arts, also positioning Peter's Sentences for the preeminence it achieved in the 13th century. The great mystery about the Lombard's Sentences is how a book so important for centuries has been so greatly neglected by scholars, even by those interested in and sympathetic to medieval scholasticism. One intriguing suggestion is that it is tied to the genre of the work and the different notion of authorship thereby implied. GiulioSilano argues that the work is most analogous to a modern legal casebook, and that Peter, as the casebook author, is governed most directly not by his views but those of the authorities, and the pedagogical goal is not the expression and promulgation of his views, or even the mere learning of the authorities' views but rather the initiation of the student into the a discipline like jurisprudence, a way of thinking and applying past authorities to present questions or conflicts (Silano 2007). Thus we discount and misunderstand Peter Lombard's achievement if we evaluate it in light of modern notions of authorship and originality. 2.9 Sophismata, Insolubilia, Obligationes
  • 48. As the disputed question as a form began to fade in importance in the theological faculty, it was replaced by variations on the disputation form in the arts faculty, focusing on questions of logic and natural philosophy. Of these three types of literature which become more significant in the 13th and 14th centuries, obligatio is the only one that unambiguously refers to a form of argument. Sophismata and insolubilia can refer either to the propositions that might be discussed in a debate or treatise or other form, or a form of argument for discussing these types of propositions. The literature concerning these kinds of problems ranges from formal disputes on the propositions which attempt to solve or avoid the problem posed by the statements to treatises or rules about how to solve the puzzles the disputes over them reveal. As a type of proposition, sophismata are ambiguous propositions about which arguments might plausibly be given both that they are true and that they are false. Insolubilia are propositions that are either very difficult or impossible to hold as true or false. These propositions are usually self-referential paradoxes like liar paradox (e.g., ‘everything I say is false’). The influential view of William Heytesbury was that insolubles should be resolved in the context of an obligatio, a specialized form of disputation, and Heytesbury proposes rules for solving insolubilia as well as sophismata in this way (Spade 1982, 252). (For a catalog of insolubilia literature, see Spade 1975). Sophismata discussed in the form of a disputation usually involve the offering of arguments both for the truth and falsity of the proposition, resolved by a master. The resolution might only be a statement about whether the sophism is true or false; then, more elaborate replies to objections to the master's view might be discussed. This form can be complicated by the addition of a response offered and defended and then further attacked, and then once again defended by responses to the new set of opposing arguments. Oral disputations on sophisms, the origin of much of the sophismataliterature,were an important part of the school curriculum (See Courtenay 1987). Students would serve as opponent and then respondent in a series of disputations under the direction of a master. The discussion of sophisms occurs in three different settings in the medieval literature: first, sophisms which are discussed in works on different topics where the sophism raises certain questions germaine to that topic; second, works by a single author which examine a series of sophisms (e.g. the sophismata of Albert of Saxony or John Buridan), and third, collections of sophisms discussed by diverse authors (Read 1993). In the obligational form of disputation, an opponent puts something forward to a respondent. The respondent then ‘obligates’ himself to take a certain position on the case put forward by the opponent throughout the dispute. There are different types of obligations based on the type of claim the opponent proposes and the stance the respondent adopts towards it. (On the different types, see Stump 1982, 319–323.) The goal of the opponent is to trap the respondent into a contradiction and the goal of the respondent is to avoid the contradiction. The setting of the discussion is crucial since the obligation often involves the evaluation of statements that depend on the disputational context. So, for example, the respondent is often obligated to take a position on propositions which make reference to their granting or denying something within the disputation (e.g., ‘that you are in Rome must be granted *by
  • 49. you+’) (Stump 1982, 327). In other cases, the difficulty is caused by reference to the passage of time within the dispute. So it is posited that something is true at A, but it becomes false and impossible that it be true later in the disputation since the instant A has passed (Stump 1982, 328). Often, the dispute between the opponent and respondent is set up to result in a paradox. In such cases, the solution must happen outside the debate between the two parties, in which there is a further distinction or disqualification of something originally granted in the disputation. Although it has usually been supposed that medieval interest in sophismata and insolubilia came from medieval scholars' exposure to ancient sources, like Arisotle's Sophistical Refutations, rediscovered in the Middle Ages, Angel D'Ors has suggested that the origins might be instead in earlier medieval sources concerned with the problem of skepticism, like Augustine's Soliloquia, and Contra Academicos, as well as Anselm's De Veritate, Proslogion and so forth (D'Ors 1997). D'Ors further suggests that discussions of sophisms which continue in theological texts show not the interest in sophisms bleeding over into theology, but theological contexts as the impetus for interest in logical sophisms (D'Ors 1997). 2.10 Summa The aspiration of the summa form is two-fold: first, to completely emancipate the subject matter, whether logical, theological, or philosophical from the structure dictated either by scripture or authoritative sources; and second, to cover completely an entire discipline, often but not always, in summary form. The summa form was invented by Peter Helias. His Summa super Priscianum was written around 1150, more than a century before Peter of Spain composed his logical summa and Thomas Aquinas his theological summa. Peter Helias's summa combines a commentary on Priscian's text with a systematic consideration of all the aspects of grammar (Reilly 1993, 16). What Peter Lombard's Sentences are to the sentences genre, Thomas Aquinas's two great summae, the Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologiae are to the summa form. As with sentences collections, there are two aspects of the form to be considered: the overall organizing structure and the method of confronting individual problems or questions. In terms of overall structure, the Contra Gentiles is a reflection of Aquinas's distinction between those things which can be known by reason alone (e.g., that God exists) and those things which cannot be arrived at without revelation (e.g., the Trinity and Incarnation). Hence the first three books of the Summa Contra Gentiles, dealing with God and creation, use arguments which depend only on reason to reach and support its conclusions. The fourth book is
  • 50. concerned with those things that are known only through revelation, in which revelation offers the principles from which conclusions are drawn. The form for handling individual issues and problems in the Contra Gentiles is not the quaestio but a more affirmative defense of specific positions and against specific heresies. And though it is unclear whether the title summa is original (Jordan 1986, 182–3), the work fits the summa form in its systematic arrangement of topics and its attempt to include all possible arguments for a given position and against its contrary. It has been argued that the Contra Gentiles is not a polemical but a protreptic work, addressed to Christians, calling on them to deepen their understanding of the faith, specifically about how to persuade others to Christian belief (Jordan 1986, 190, 194). On this view the gentiles in the title are not Muslims and Jews but “pre- or extra-Christian man, and metaphorically, the human mind under the tutelage of nature” (Jordan 1986, 184). The Summa Theologiae by contrast, uses an abbreviated form of the disputed question. The questions are, however, artificial, carefully composed imitations of disputations, not tied to any actual oral debate as true disputed questions are. This gives Aquinas the opportunity to arrange the objections and authorities so as to achieve a rhetorical as well as a logical effect. Thus Aquinas's Summa Theologiae is different from Peter Lombard's Sentences in two ways. The gathering of authorities around a given question is for Peter one of the main purposes of his work, to some degree an end in itself, while for Aquinas those citations serve the end of constructing an answer to the question. Further, while Peter dispenses with the question format when he finds an issue uncontroversial or largely settled by consensus, Aquinas always places issues in the format of a question, always finds arguments on both sides of an issue. For Peter, the question format is more a means to an end, and when the authorities he surveys are in agreement, he treats the matter like settled case law. But what Aquinas wants to teach beginning students of theology, for whom he says the work is composed, is that speculation, not fixed answers, is at the heart of the philosophical and theological enterprise. What he passes on to those students is not information so much as training in a certain way of thinking. At the macro level, the Summa Theologiae is organized into three parts; first, a consideration of God; second, the rational creature's movement toward God; and third, of Christ as the way to God. (For a recent discussion of and summary of the debates over how to understand this organization, see Johnstone 2000.) In his prologue, Aquinas claims that the main contribution of his work is in its organization of topics and questions, following the order required by the subject instead of a book or a particular disputation. In this sense, both Aquinas's summae represent a further and almost complete emancipation from a textual order to a logical order. Within that logical structure, Aquinas devotes long passages to scripture, to the Genesis account of creation (Part I, qq. 67–74), Hebrew scripture considered as the “Old Law” (Part II, first part, qq. 98–106) and the life of Christ (Part III, qq. 27–59). Moreover, the work retains its tie to texts in individual questions which, as individual systematic questions are addressed, interpret authorities according to their response, ultimately harmonizing rather than simply discarding discordant voices.
  • 51. After Aquinas, the summa remains a form for the systematic organization of an entire area of study, though often it becomes a summary, a collection of answers, a manual in which to look up answers to particular questions rather than a series of questions. Ockham's Summa Logicae shares with the summa genre in theology the attempt to organize an entire discipline systematically. Ockham's principle of organization is first to divide logic into terms and propositions and then to consider the various types of terms and propositions. Ockham's form for considering particular types of terms or propositions is generally straightforward exposition occasionally mixed with a presentation of opposing positions and responses to the arguments for that position. In form, it shows a progression toward the modern treatise, such as that of Hume or Locke on human nature or understanding. 3. Role of Authorities If there is one formal characteristic found in medieval philosophical texts of every relevant period and among all the religious affiliations of its practitioners, it is the citation of authoritative texts, whether scripture, Plato, Aristotle, or other revered teachers. To contemporary readers, such references seem to show a slavish deference to authority and lack of autonomy or originality in the writer. The explanation of this phenomenon is, of course, a good deal more complex. The main way of approaching authoritative sources used by medieval writers was to find ways to forge agreements with and among authorities by reinterpreting them. Besides the strategies we might recognize in modern practices of interpretation, there are number of ways in which medieval authors make a greater effort to bring an author's view into conversation and agreement with contemporary discussions. This sometimes involves placing an author's claims in a larger context, such as supporting Aristotle's metaphysical claims but in a limited way, as valid only for the sublunary world. So, for example, Maimonides argues that Aristotle's account of the eternity of motion makes perfect sense as an inference from the world as we now experience it, but is limited to that context. Just as a boy reared on an island without women would have difficulty imagining how children might be conceived and born, Aristotle, Maimonides argues, might simply have had an experience too limited to allow him to develop any other accounts of the origin of things (Maimonides 1974, 295). Maimonides' handling of Aristotle in this example is more colorful and explicit than other medieval thinkers, but the principle he uses is common. Alternately, medieval interpreters often take a given citation out of context and assign it a new context. Hence, for example, Aquinas cites Augustine in support of his claim that theology is a science analogous to an Aristotelian science as described in the Posterior Analytics; however, Aquinas does not note that Augustine uses the term ‘science’ in a much older and less technical way (Aquinas 1981, I, q. 1, a. 2). Alan of Lille supports the Pauline claim that the “invisible things of God are known through the visible things that are made” only after arguing that the kind of knowledge in question is the knowledge of faith (Alan of Lille 1954, 135–6). While Aquinas cites and supports the categorization of sin in terms of Gregory the Great's scheme of the seven deadly sins, he clearly subordinates Gregory's classification to
  • 52. his own way of organizing notions of sin (Sweeney 2012b). Though these examples are chosen to show the difference between modern and medieval interpretive practice, we cannot attribute such interpretations to bad faith on the part of writers like Aquinas or Alan of Lille or Maimonides. That is, they are not deliberately misinterpreting their sources. Rather their strategies for harmonizing authorities discordant with each other and with their own views are part of a hermeneutic whose basic assumption is that these authorities are all seeking and attempting to express part of a single truth. It is not a distortion or disservice to an authoritative source to put its views in a new context, making them appropriate to contemporary issues and fitting that source into the picture of the truth as it is presently known. The underlying concordance of all authorities is taken as a given and interpreters work toward showing how it might be operative in particular cases. As Silano notes, many of the tensions and even outright contradictions between authoritative sources would have disappeared had the compilers, commentators, and masters determining a question placed those authoritative claims in their historical/cultural context rather than simply set them against each other. But they would also, thereby, deprive these sources of their normative status, in the same way in which a judicial decision interpreted in terms of its historical/cultural context is no longer binding (Silano 2007, xxv-xxvi). Silano points out that the task of the 12th and 13th centuries in the Latin West is the establishment of authorities which will form the parameters within which discussion and dissention can take place, rather than their dethronement through historical relativization (Silano 2007, xxv-xxvi). The way in which scripture is cited is somewhat different from the way Aristotle or even church authorities like Augustine are used. First, scripture is a language in which these authors are thoroughly fluent. They cite scripture from memory, almost proverbially. Further, when scripture is cited in argumentative forms like the disputation, most often it does not carry the weight of the argument. Either scripture is cited in opposing arguments on one side or the other, in which case scripture passages seem to articulate a limit or boundary the opposing view seems to transgress. But the positions or arguments articulated pro or con on a given question are not the final word but something the master may accept or reject, which will require an interpretation of the passage from scripture which accepts, rejects, or qualifies its relevance and apparent position on the question. When scripture is cited in the master's own answer, it functions as a support for something for which independent arguments are given. Scripture is also sometimes used to give a position moral and spiritual weight, to reiterate the moral and spiritual center of a writer's thought. It thus can act as an almost existential reminder of why these arguments matter and what is at stake in them. If these are strategies that in general characterize the Latin tradition until the 13th century, there is a different strategy at work in some philosophers in the Arabic and Jewish traditions. While these authors also attempt in many cases to show the deep concordance between, for example, scripture and the philosophers, they also at times use authoritative texts to put forward views which they themselves would like to promulgate even as they leave them in the mouths of those other authors, like Aristotle or Plato.
  • 53. As is clear from the development of the sentences collection, summa, and commentary, there are significant changes over time in the ways in which authorities were used and cited (see the discussion of these individual forms above). It is possible to see the evolution of the treatment of authoritative sources as growing positively toward a more modern ‘scientific’ attitude towards interpretation and commentary, one which is neutral, critical, and historically informed rather than dedicated to finding the ‘truth’ in a given author no matter how hidden. But while there is considerable development toward modern standards of scholarship in the 13th and 14th centuries, there are also virtues in the earlier types of approach to authoritative sources. These earlier authors are highly sophisticated interpreters of biblical and philosophical texts, finding levels of conflict and concord among different authors that modern interpreters would tend to miss. 4. Esotericism, Censorship, and Polemics Many late Classical and medieval philosophical texts contain esoteric elements. The desire to hide the real message of a text in its earlier forms springs from some form of gnosticism. Gnostic sects, needing to protect their knowledge from dissemination among non-initiates, hid their true message in ways that could only be deciphered by those who possessed the secret knowledge. Leo Strauss makes the additional argument that the motives for esotericism in Jewish and Islamic medieval thinkers are political. Revelation in Judaism and Islam deals fundamentally with law, with the correct social order, whereas in Christianity it is the revelation of a creed or set of dogmas, Strauss argues. Hence, to interpret revelation in Judaism and Islam is always a political act. Interpreting law is much further from the task of philosophy than interpreting dogma, placing philosophy on the periphery of Islamic and Jewish society as opposed to being an integral part of the official training of students as it was in the Christian West. The inherently marginal character of philosophy in these societies makes it politically dangerous to be a philosopher. Further, Strauss argues, for these thinkers human nature is essentially and inevitably divided between “the few” who are capable to doing and understanding philosophy, and “the many” who were not capable of digesting the truths of philosophy and who must be protected from philosophy. Exposure of the many to philosophy tends to undermine the authority of revelation and the religious and political authority given the power to explain and promulgate the revealed law. For Strauss, the difference between Jewish and Islamic thinkers, on the one hand, and Christian thinkers, on the other, is also exemplified in the different literary sources on which they relied. For Christian thinkers, the models are Aristotle and Cicero, for Jewish and Islamic thinkers, the models are the dialogues of Plato, especially the Republic and the Laws. Strauss's thesis is that these writers hid in their exoteric teaching an esoteric teaching to be discerned by reading between the lines. In practice, this means taking small inconsistencies and other discrepancies in the text as indicative of a deeper or hidden view, looking for the author's “real” views in the mouths of characters in a dialogue or allegory who are otherwise presented unfavorably, etc. Strauss's views on how to interpret the literary form of medieval
  • 54. philosophical texts are controversial, but they have made the literary form and hermeneutics applied to these texts a question that must, especially for Islamic and Jewish writers, be confronted. For Maimonides, for example, an esoteric or ‘dualist’ reading would claim that Maimonides holds Aristotelian positions on the eternity of the world, the possibility of miracles and on other matters which would bring him into conflict with Judaism but must hide such views from political and religious authorities, signalling them only obliquely to the few in the Guide for the Perplexed but expressing nonAristotelian views in his work commenting on Jewish law and scriptures. Daniel Frank (2003, 144–5) argues against this view that Maimonides “may best be understood philosophically as engaged in critical dialogue with Aristotle, almost invariably disagreeing with him, but indebted to Aristotle for his mode of discourse, argument forms, and philosophical vocabulary.” Moreover, Frank points out that the plausibility of extreme esotericism in Islamic and Jewish philosophical texts may be exaggerated by an unhistorical dichotomy between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism (also discussed above, section 2. 4) (Frank 2003, 142–3). That is, because we see a conflict between and author's Aristotelian and Neoplatonic views, we speculate that one view is their ‘real’ view, and the other, their ‘cover’ view, while thinkers in this context would have seen Aristotelian and Neoplatonic positions as quite compatible. (On Maimonides and esotericism, see also Ravitsky 2005). While rejecting the extreme position Strauss takes on medieval philosophical texts, many scholars have noted the esoteric elements present in some medieval texts by Christian as well as Islamic and Jewish writers. (See Butterworth 2001) Boethius, for example, presents his theological views not to the many but to his trusted teachers and advisors, writing in a highly dense and technical language in his De Hebdomadibus accessible only to the learned (Boethius 1973, 38–41). As late as the end of the 12th century, Alan of Lille writes in theological texts of the need to protect the sacred truths of theology from the incursions of uneducated students in the liberal arts (Alan of Lille 1981, 119–122), and, in the 11th century, Anselm complains of the work he intended only for his fellow monks in the Cur Deus Homo being disseminated without his consent and in a form he did not approve (Anselm 1998, 261–2). Like many medieval authors, he expresses great concern that his work will be misunderstood and strives to protect himself from misinterpretation. In the Latin, Christian world, though philosophy and speculative theology is accepted as a legitimate endeavor, enshrined by the 13th century in the university curriculum, philosophical writers were sometimes censured by theological authorities. This threat, some have argued, influenced some writers to pull their punches, to make concessions or professions of ignorance or humility that were not authentically part of their views. Hence, for example, some have argued that Abelard's statement in his theology disclaiming any ability or pretense to address the issues necessary for salvation or to give anything more than verisimilitudes about the divine, is a concession to his persecutors more than a sincere statement of his view of his own work (Abelard 1987, 123, 201; Sweeney 2006, 90–3). Christian writers operating before the formation of the universities and the development of acceptable university forms of writing, i.e., commentaries on Aristotle, on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, disputed
  • 55. questions, etc., need to justify their writing, to explain the nature of its audience, to show the author's submission to the proper authorities. Readers must consider whether these kinds of statements can simply be disregarded as obligatory but not sincere, and whether they affect the presentation of the philosophical and theological arguments in the text. While it might be tempting to see them merely as pro forma, it is clear that complete disregard of such remarks is anachronistic. Such views, for example, contributed to the now thoroughly rejected view of Abelard as pure rationalist and as a rebel against church authority. Nonetheless, concern about avoiding conflict or censure is real among these writers. For example, after the condemnation of many Aristotelian positions in 1277, authors take care to note when they are simply citing or describing a point of view in order to consider it or argue against it, signaling with a phrase like “dico recitative” that they are not subscribing to that position. Parallel to the highly formalized and structured debate of the disputations in the later Middle Ages, there are also highly formalized ways of engaging in debate with one's contemporaries that shift to some degree over time. In the 12th and 13th centuries, for example, while it is acceptable to attach names of church teachers and authorities from earlier generations to opposing positions, even to positions opposed by the contemporary writer of a text, one's contemporaries or from the recent past were never directly named but merely referred to as “someone” or “certain people” who might hold a given position. However, this should not be interpreted as deference to one's contemporaries or as an attempt to quell controversy, since authors became adept at signaling their opponents without actually naming them, paraphrasing or parodying their views or catchphrases as modes of ridicule or play. In the late 13th century, Duns Scotus begins to give partial references to the contemporary thinkers and texts with which he is in conversation; Peter Aureol in the 14th century gives full and accurate citations. Gregory of Rimini (d. 1358) begins to develop something closer to a “historico-critical approach to theology,” carefully citing authoritative texts. This development parallels one in some medieval sermons, where the writers find ways of referring (often by puns) to themselves as author of the sermon. The shift is from an interest in the arguments to interest in the individual thinkers. One cause for these changes might be the internationalization of the writers and texts. In a more parochial world, everyone would know who held certain positions; but in a wider context, those, for example, at Oxford might not be known and needed to be named in Paris. These changes might have also been caused by the growing self-consciousness and sense of individuality historians have noticed in other aspects of medieval academic and social life. 5. Development in the Literary form of Medieval Philosophy
  • 56. The Islamic and Jewish traditions, as well as the Latin tradition until the 13th century can be characterized by the diversity of literary forms for philosophical texts. A good deal of the philosophical creativity among these writers goes into the form in which they choose to write. The genres that dominate the 13th and 14th century, the Sentences commentary, the disputed question, and the logical developments of these forms in obligationes and sophismata, are academic, highly choreographed forms. In contrast to the earlier period, these forms do not allow an author much creative latitude. It is possible to read the development and waning of various forms and the movement toward standard forms in medieval philosophy in different ways. From one point of view, the variety of forms which flourished from the 10th to the 12th century can be seen as the high point from which the narrowing into the academic forms of the 13th and 14th centuries seems like a loss, not only in variety but from the connection to the larger spiritual and existential concerns treated in, for example, the allegories of Boethius or Avicenna and the meditations of Anselm. From another point of view (the more prevalent assumption of the secondary literature), the disputed question and other forms of high scholasticism are that toward which the earlier centuries made somewhat uneven but steady steps. In these forms, some might argue, philosophy finds its center in arguments for and against different positions. (See Kretzmann 1997, 301, where he argues that issues of style and rhetoric are not relevant to Aquinas' “unadorned, straightforward, pellucid way of expounding, analyzing, and arguing — [which is] ideal for philosophy.” The assumption, one arguably bequeathed to the Western philosophical tradition through Latin Medieval school forms, is that “straightforward argument” is not itself a style, rhetoric, and/or genre but the pure form of rationality and, hence, philosophy. At the same time as these developments in the form of philosophical/speculative thought, philosophy also becomes itself as the enterprise of reason alone, functioning independently of theology in the arts faculty. We can also see different medieval forms as indebted to either Plato or Aristotle as philosophical models. Even without the Platonic dialogues, the influence of Plato through Neoplatonism is evident in the forms that flourish before the 13th century, in allegory, meditation, and dialogue. These forms emphasize both the spiritual character of the highest truths philosophical/theological discourse strives to discover and reveal, and the difficulty, both intellectual and moral, of achieving insight. Much more work needs to be done on the literary forms of medieval philosophy. There are so many forms instantiated in so many ways in different periods and from within different religious traditions. Consideration of these forms is especially important for a more complete understanding of medieval philosophical texts because so many of these forms are foreign to contemporary readers. Sometimes the form is important because an author was constrained by practice or academic statute to use it, as with disputations and Sentences commentaries; hence, how an author comes to use or manipulate a given form for his own ends is a significant part of understanding the text. When an author uses a nonstandard form, that form is self-consciously chosen and thus in a different way a significant part of an author's meaning. It would be helpful to have studies of particular authors who have used different forms, and more studies tracing the development of a given genre through different authors and periods (as in Jacobi 1999 on dialogue and Whitman 2000 on allegory, Evans 2002 and Rosemann 2009 on Sentence commentaries). Finally, more historical work needs to be done by individual scholars
  • 57. equipped to look at the different genres across different periods and from within and across works arising out of Christian, Jewish and Arabic religious traditions. mnipresence First published Fri Jul 15, 2005; substantive revision Fri Jul 24, 2009 Omnipresence is the property of being present everywhere. According to Western theism, God is present everywhere. Divine omnipresence is thus one of the divine attributes, although it has attracted less philosophical attention than such attributes as omnipotence, omniscience, or being eternal. There is, however, an interesting philosophical question involving omnipresence: How can a being who is supposed to be immaterial be present at or located in space? Philosophers have attempted to answer this question by proposing an account of omnipresence in terms that could apply to an immaterial being. This essay will examine some of the details of that approach. 1. Some Issues Involving Omnipresence 2. Presence, Power, and Essence 3. Two Recent Treatments 4. The World as God's Body Bibliography Academic Tools Other Internet Resources Related Entries 1. Some Issues involving Omnipresence According to classical theism, God is omnipresent, that is, present everywhere. But classical theism also holds that God is immaterial. How can something that is not, or does not have, a body, be located in space? Anselm (1033–1109) noticed that there was something puzzling here. In chapter 20 of his Monologion he argued that “the Supreme Being exists in every place and at all times.” But in the following chapter, he argued that God “exists in no place and at no time.” Finally, he tried to reconcile these “two conclusions—so contradictory according to their utterance, so necessary according to their proof”, by distinguishing two senses of “being wholly in a place.” In one sense those things are wholly in a place “whose magnitude place contains by circumscribing it, and circumscribes by containing it.” In
  • 58. this sense, a thing is contained in a place. But God is not thus contained in space, for it is “a mark of shameless impudence to say that place circumscribes the magnitude of Supreme Truth.” On the other hand, God is in every place in the sense that he is present at every place. According to Anselm, “the Supreme Being must be present as a whole in every different place at once.” This gives us a term for God's relation to space, but not yet an explanation. We will look at an account developed by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) in the next section. First, however, one other topic deserves mention. The statement of the problem just given presupposes the traditional view that God does not have a body. Some treatments of the problem of omnipresence, however, seem to have the consequence that God is related to the world as though it is his body. The last section of this entry will take up that issue. 2. Presence, Power, and Essence Thomas Aquinas held that God's presence is to be understood in terms of God's power, knowledge and essence. (In this view he followed a formula put forth by Peter Lombard (late 11th C.-1160) in his Sentences, I, xxxvii, 1.) He writes, “God is in all things by his power, inasmuch as all things are subject to his power; he is by his presence in all things, inasmuch as all things are bare and open to his eyes; he is in all things by his essence, inasmuch as he is present to all as the cause of their being” (Summa Theologica I, 8, 3). Aquinas attempts to motivate this claim with some illustrations: But how he [God] is in other things created by him may be considered from human affairs. A king, for example, is said to be in the whole kingdom by his power, although he is not everywhere present. Again, a thing is said to be by its presence in other things which are subject to its inspection; as things in a house are said to be present to anyone, who nevertheless may not be in substance in every part of the house. Lastly, a thing is said to be substantially or essentially in that place in which its substance is. Perhaps there is a sense in which a king is present wherever his power extends. In any event, Aquinas seems to have thought so. He distinguished two kinds of being in place: by “contact of dimensive quantity, as bodies are, [and] contact of power” (S.T. I, 8, 2, ad 1). In Summa contra Gentiles he wrote that “an incorporeal thing is related to its presence in something by its power, in the same way that a corporeal thing is related to its presence in something by dimensive quantity,” and he added that “if there were any body possessed of infinite dimensive quantity, it would have to be everywhere. So if there were an incorporeal being possessed of infinite power, it must be everywhere” (SCG III, 68, 3). So the first aspect of God's presence in things is his having power over them. The second aspect is having every thing present to him, having everything “bare and open to his eyes” or being known to him. The
  • 59. third feature, that God is present to things by his essence, is glossed as his being the cause of their being. This way of understanding God's presence by reference to his power and his knowledge treats the predicate ‘is present’ as applied to God as analogical with its application to ordinary physical things. It is neither univocal (used with the same meaning as in ordinary contexts) nor equivocal (used with an unrelated meaning). Rather, its meaning can be explained by reference to its ordinary sense: God is present at a place just in case there is a physical object that is at that place and God has power over that object, knows what is going on in that object, and God is the cause of that object's existence. This account of omnipresence has the consequence that, strictly speaking, God is present everywhere that some physical thing is located. Perhaps, however, this is exactly what the medievals had intended. Anselm had said, for example, that “the supreme Nature is more appropriately said to be everywhere, in this sense, that it is in all existing things, than in this sense, namely that it is merely in all places” (Monologion, 23). 3. Two Recent Treatments More recent philosophers have agreed that God's presence is to be understood analogically. Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000), for example, claimed that “the relation of God to the world must necessarily be conceived, if at all, by analogy with relations given in human experience” (Hartshorne, 1941). Rather than taking the relations to be knowledge of and power over things, however, Hartshorne assumed that God's relation to the world is analogous to that of a human mind's relation to its body. Hartshorne developed this idea by making distinctions between kinds of knowledge and kinds of power. Some things that human beings know are known immediately, by “vivid and direct intuition”, while other things are known only indirectly or through inference. Hartshorne held that the former kind of knowledge is infallible, and it is the kind of knowledge human beings have of their own thoughts and feelings. Since this kind of knowledge is the highest form of knowledge, it is the kind God has, and he has it with respect to the entire cosmos. Similarly, some things human beings have power over they control directly; other things can be controlled only indirectly. Human beings have direct control only over their own volitions and
  • 60. movements of their own bodies. Again, since this is the highest kind of power, it is the kind of power God has— and he has it over every part of the universe. Thus far Hartshorne may be seen as developing the medieval view of divine presence. God is present everywhere by having immediate knowledge and direct power throughout the universe (with the addition that his presence extends to unoccupied regions of space). But Hartshorne endorsed a surprising addition. He held that whatever part of the world a mind knows immediately and controls directly is, by definition, its body. The world, therefore, is God's body. Richard Swinburne (Swinburne, 1977) also begins his discussion of omnipresence by asking what it is for a person to have a body. Although he insists that God is an immaterial spirit, he supposes this claim to be compatible with a certain “limited embodiment.” Swinburne develops his account by appeal to the notions of a “basic action” (an action one performs, perhaps raising one's arm, without having to perform another action in order to do it) and of “direct knowledge” (knowledge that is neither inferential nor dependent on causal interaction). He then says that “the claim that God controls all things directly and knows about all things without the information coming to him through some causal chain, e.g., without light rays from a distance needing to stimulate his eyes, has often been expressed as the doctrine of God's omnipresence.” Swinburne's account is thus, as he notes, in the spirit of that of Aquinas. 4. The World as God's Body As we have seen, Hartshorne explicitly endorses as a consequence of the doctrine of divine omnipresence that the world is God's body, and Swinburne is willing to accept a “limited embodiment.” But some philosophers have been loath to accept divine embodiment as a consequence of omnipresence. Charles Taliaferro, for example, while endorsing this overall account of omnipresence, notes that the basic actions human beings perform “can involve highly complex physical factors…*including+ many neural events and muscle movements, whereas with God there is no such physical complexity” (Taliaferro, 1994). Taliaferro then adds that this immediacy in the case of God's action is precisely a reason to say that “the world does not function as God's body the way material bodies function as our own.” Edward Wierenga adds a second objection. He holds that as Hartshorne and Swinburne develop accounts of God's power and knowledge, God would have the same knowledge of and control over what happens in empty regions of space as he does with respect to those regions occupied by material objects (Wierenga, 1997). In other words, Hartshorne's and Swinburne's accounts of omnipresence, unlike that of Aquinas, do not interpret God's presence as presence in things. But it would be implausible to count a thing as part of God's body on the basis of his knowledge of and power
  • 61. over the region of space that thing occupies, when God's knowledge and power would extend in the same way to that region if it were unoccupied. So it seems as though one could accept the traditional account of divine omnipresence without having to conclude that the world is God's body.

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