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Medieval Philosophy 

Frederick Gopleston, S.J. 



New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland 

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a stream are trademarks of Doubleday, a division of Bantam 
Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 

First Image Books edition of Volume II of A History of Philosophy published 1962 
by special arrangement with The Newman Press. 

This Image edition published April 1993 

DeLicentia Superiorum Ordinis: Martinus D’Arcy, S.J., Praep. Prov. Angliae 
Nihil Obstat: T. Corbishley, S. J. Censor Deputatus 
Imprimatur: Joseph, Arehiepiscopus Birmingamiensis Die 24 Aprilis 1948 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publieation Data 

Copleston, Frederick Charles. 

A history of philosophy / Frederick Copleston. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and indexes.. 

Contents: v. 1. Greece and Rome—v. 2. Augustine to Scotus—v. 

3. Middle Ages and early Renaissance. 

1. Philosophy, Ancient. 2. Philosophy, Medieval. 3. Philosophy, 
Renaissance. I. Title. 

B72.C62 1993 
190—dc20 92-34997 


Volume II copyright 1950 by Frederick Copleston 
ISBN 0-385-46844-X 
All Rights Reserved 



Chapter Page 

I. Introduction .i 

Part I 

II. The Patristic Period. 13 

Christianity and Greek philosophy—Greek Apologists 
(Aristides, St. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, 
Theophilus)—Gnosticism and writers against Gnosticism 
(St. Irenaeus, Hippolytus)—Latin Apologists (Minucius 
Felix, Tertullian, Arnobius, Lactantius)—Catechetical 
School of Alexandria (Clement, Origen)—Greek Fathers 
(St. Basil, Eusebius, St. Gregory of Nyssa)—Latin 
Fathers (St. Ambrose)—-St. John Damascene—Summary. 

III. St. Augustine— I . 4 ° 

Life and writings—St. Augustine and Philosophy. 

IV. St. Augustine— II: Knowledge 51 

Knowledge with a view to beatitude—Against scepticism 
—Experiential knowledge—Nature of sensation—Divine 
ideas—Illumination and Abstraction. 

V. St. Augustine—III: God.68 

Proof of God from eternal truths—Proofs from creatures 
and from universal consent—The various proofs as stages 
in one process—Attributes of God—Exemplarism. 

VI. St. Augustine— IV: The World ... 74 

Free creation out of nothing—Matter— Rationes seminales 
—Numbers—Soul and body—Immortality—Origin of 

VII. St. Augustine— V: Moral Theory 8i 

Happiness and God—Freedom and Obligation—Need of 
grace—Evil—the two Cities. 

VIII. St. Augustine— VI: The State ... 87 

The State and the City of Babylon not identical—The 
pagan State does not embody true justice—Church 
superior to State. 

IX. The Pseudo-Dionysius. 91 

Writings and author—Affirmative way—Negative way— 
Neo-Platonic interpretation of Trinity—Ambiguous teach¬ 
ing on creation—Problem of evil—Orthodoxy or unor¬ 
thodox y? 

X. Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isidore .101 

Boethius's transmission of Aristotelian ideas—Natural 
theology—Influence on Middle Ages—Cassiodorus on the 
seven liberal arts and the spirituality of the soul— 
Isidore's Etymologies and Sentences. 



Part II 


Chapter Page 

XI. The Carolingian Renaissance . .106 

Charlemagne—Alcuin and the Palatine School—Other 
schools, curriculum, libraries—Rhabanus Maurus. 

XII. John Scotus Eriugena— I .112 

Life and works. 

XIII. John Scotus Eriugena— II .116 

Nature—God and creation—Knowledge of God by affir¬ 
mative and negative ways; inapplicability of categories 
to God—How, then, can God be said to have made the 
world?—Divine Ideas in the Word—Creatures as partici¬ 
pations and theophanies; creatures are in God—Man's 
nature—Return of all things to God—Eternal punish¬ 
ment in light of cosmic return—Interpretation of John 
Scotus’s system. 

Part III 

XIV. The Problem of Universals . . .136 

Situation following death of Charlemagne—Origin of dis¬ 
cussion in texts of Porphyry and Boethius—Importance 
of the problem—Exaggerated realism—Roscelin's 'nomi¬ 
nalism'—St. Peter Damian’s attitude to dialectic— 
William of Champeaux—Abelard—Gilbert de la Porr6e 
and John of Salisbury—Hugh of St. Victor—St. Thomas 

XV. St. Anselm of Canterbury .... 156 

St. Anselm as philosopher—Proofs of God's existence in 
the Monologium— The proof of God's existence in the 
Proslogium —Idea of truth and other Augustinian elements 
in St. Anselm’s thought. 

XVI. The School of Chartres.166 

Universalism of Paris, and systematisation of sciences in 
twelfth century—Regionalism, humanism—Platonism of 
Chartres—Hylomorphism at Chartres— Prima facie pan¬ 
theism—John of Salisbury’s political theory. 

XVII. The School of St. Victor .... 175 

Hugh of St. Victor; proofs of God’s existence, faith, 
mysticism—Richard of St. Victor; proofs of God’s exis¬ 
tence—Godfrey of St. Victor and Walter of St. Victor. 

XVIII. Dualists and Pantheists .... 183 

Albigensians and Cathari—Amalric of Bene—David of 

Part IV 

Chapter Page 

XIX. Islamic Philosophy. 186 

Reasons for discussing Islamic philosophy—Origins of 
Islamic philosophy—Alfarabi — Avicenna—Averroes — 

Dante and the Arabian philosophers. 

XX. Jewish Philosophy. 201 

The Cabala—Avicebron—Maitnonides. 

XXI. The Translations. 205 

The translated works—Translations from Greek and from 
Arabic—Effects of translations and opposition to Aris- 

Part V 


XXII. Introduction. 212 

The University of Paris—Universities closed and privi¬ 
leged corporations—Curriculum—Religious Orders at 
Paris—Currents of thought in the thirteenth century. 

XXIII. William of Auvergne. 218 

Reasons for treating of William of Auvergne—God and 
creatures; essence and existence—Creation by God 
directly and in time—Proofs of God’s existence—Hylo- 
morphism—The soul—Knowledge—William of Auvergne 
a transition-thinker. 

XXIV. Robert Grosseteste and Alexander of Hales 228 

(а) Robert Grosseteste's life and writings—Doctrine of 
light—God and creatures—Doctrine of truth and of illu¬ 

(б) Alexander of Hales’s attitude to philosophy—Proofs 
of God’s existence—The divine attributes—Composition 
in creatures—Soul, intellect, will—Spirit of Alexander’s 

XXV. St. Bonaventure—I. 240 

Life and works—Spirit—Theology and philosophy— 
Attitude to Aristotelian ism. 

XXVI. St. Bonaventure—II: God’s Existence 250 

Spirit of Bonaventure's proofs of God’s existence— 

Proofs from sensible world —A priori knowledge of God 
—The Anselmian argument—Argument from truth. 

XXVII. St. Bonaventure—III: Relation of Creatures 

to God. 258 

Exemplarism—The divine knowledge—Impossibility of 
creation from eternity—Errors which follow from denial 
of exemplarism and creation—Likeness of creatures to 
God, analogy—Is this world the best possible world? 




XXVIII. St. Bonaventure—IV: The Material Creation 271 

Hylomorphic composition in all creatures—Individuation 
—Light—Plurality of forms— seminales . 

XXIX. St. Bonaventure—V: The Human Soul . 278 

Unity of human soul—Relation of soul to body—Immor¬ 
tality of the human soul—Falsity of Averroistic mono¬ 
psychism—Knowledge of sensible objects and of first 
logical principles—Knowledge of spiritual realities—Illu¬ 
mination—The soul's ascent to God—Bonaventure as 
philosopher of the Christian life. 

XXX. St. Albert the Great.293 

Life and intellectual activity—Philosophy and theology 
—God— Creation—The soul—Reputation and importance 
of St. Albert. 

XXXI. St. Thomas Aquinas—I ..... 3 ° 2 

Ufe—Works—Mode of exposing St. Thomas's philosophy 
—The spirit of St. Thomas’s philosophy. 

XXXII. St. Thomas Aquinas—II: Philosophy and 

Theology ....... 3 * 2 

Distinction between philosophy and theology—Moral 
necessity of revelation—Incompatibility of faith and 
science in the same mind concerning the same object— 

Natural end and supernatural end—St. Thomas and St. 
Bonaventure—St. Thomas as ‘innovator’. 

XXXIII. St. Thomas Aquinas—III: Principles of Created 

Being ....... 3 2 4 

Reasons for starting with corporeal being—Hylomorphism 
—Rejection of rationes seminales —Rejection of plurality 
of substantial forms—Restriction of hylomorphic compo¬ 
sition to corporeal substances—Potentiality and act— 
Essence and existence. 

XXXIV. St. Thomas Aquinas—IV: Proofs of God’s 

Existence ....... 336 

Need of proof—St. Anselm's argument—Possibility of 
proof—The first three proofs—The fourth proof—The 
proof from finality—-The third way’ fundamental. 

XXXV. St. Thomas Aquinas—V: God’s Nature . 347 

The negative way—The affirmative way—Analogy— 

Types of analogy—-A difficulty—The divine ideas—No 
real distinction between the divine attributes—God as 
existence itself. 

XXXVI. St. Thomas Aquinas—VI: Creation . . 363 

Creation out of nothing—God alone can create—God 
created freely—The motive of creation—Impossibility of 
creation from eternity has not been demonstrated—Could 
God create an actually infinite multitude?—Divine omni¬ 
potence—The problem of evil. 

Chapter Page 

XXXVII. St. Thomas Aquinas—VII: Psychology . . 375 

One substantial form in man—The powers of the soul— 

The interior senses—Free will—The noblest faculty— 
Immortality—The active and passive intellects are not 
numerically the same in all men. 

XXXVIII. St. Thomas Aquinas—VIII: Knowledge . . 388 

'Theory of knowledge' in St. Thomas—The process of 
knowledge; knowledge of the universal and of the parti¬ 
cular—The soul's knowledge of itself—The possibility of 

XXXIX. St. Thomas Aquinas—IX: Moral Theory. . 398 

Eudaemonism—The vision of God—Good and bad—The 
virtues—The natural law—The eternal law and the 
foundation of morality in God—Natural virtues recognised 
by St. Thomas which were not recognised by Aristotle; 
the virtue of religion. 

XL. St. Thomas Aquinas—X: Political Theory . 412 

St. Thomas and Aristotle—The natural origin of human 
society and government—Human society and political 
authority willed by God—Church and State—Individual 
and State — Law — Sovereignty — Constitutions — St. 
Thomas's political theory an integral part of his total 

Note on St. Thomas's aesthetic theory. 

XLI. St. Thomas and Aristotle: Controversies 423 

St. Thomas's utilisation of Aristotle—Non-Aristotelian 
elements in Thomism—Latent tensions in the Thomist 
synthesis—Opposition to Thomist 'novelties’. 

XLIL Latin Averroism: Siger of Brabant . 435 

Tenets of the 'Latin Averroists’—Siger of Brabant— 

Dante and Siger of Brabant—Opposition to Averroism; 

XLIII. Franciscan Thinkers.442 

Roger Bacon, life and works—Philosophy of Roger Bacon 
—Matthew of Aquasparta—Peter John Olivi—Roger 
Marston—Richard of Middleton—Raymond Lull. 

XLIV. Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent . . 460 

(a) Giles of Pome. Life and works—The independence of 
Giles as a thinker—Essence and existence—Form and 
matter; soul and body—Political theory. 

(£) Henry of Ghent. Life and works—Eclecticism, illus¬ 
trated by doctrines of illumination and innatism—Idea 
of metaphysics—Essence and existence—Proofs of God’s 
existence—General spirit and significance of Henry's 

XLV. Scotus—I.476 

Life—Works—Spirit of Scotus's philosophy. 


Chapter Page 

XLVI. Scotus —II: Knowledge .487 

The primary object of the human intellect—Why the in¬ 
tellect depends on the phantasm—The soul’s inability to 
intuit itself in this life—Intellectual apprehension of the 
individual thing—Is theology a science?—Our knowledge 
is based on sense-experience, and no special illumination 
is required for intellectual activity—Intuitive and 
abstractive knowledge—Induction. 

XLVII. Scotus— III: Metaphysics .... 500 

Being and its transcendental attributes—The univocal 
concept of being—The formal objective distinction— 
Essence and existence—Universal—Hylomorphism— 
Rationes semtnales rejected, plurality of forms retained 

XLVTII. Scotus— IV: Natural Theology . 518 

Metaphysics and God—Knowledge of God from creatures 
—Proof of God's existence—Simplicity and intelligence 
of God—God's infinity—The Anselmian argument— 

Divine attributes which cannot be philosophically 
demonstrated—The distinction between tne divine attri¬ 
butes—The divine ideas—The divine will—Creation. 

XLIX. Scotus—V: The Soul.535 

The specific form of man—Union of soul and body—Will 
and intellect—Soul's immortality not strictly demon¬ 

L. Scotus— VI: Ethics. 545 

Morality of human acts—Indifferent acts—The moral 
law and the will of God—Political authority. 

LI. Concluding Review.552 

Theology and philosophy—'Christian philosophy’—The 
Thomist synthesis—Various ways of regarding and inter¬ 
preting mediaeval philosophy. 


I. Honorific Titles applied in the Middle Ages 

to Philosophers treated of in this Volume 567 

II. A Short Bibliography . . ... 568 

Index of Names.589 

Index of Subjects.598 




1. In this second volume of my history of philosophy I had 
originally hoped to give an account of the development of philo¬ 
sophy throughout the whole period of the Middle Ages, under¬ 
standing by mediaeval philosophy the philosophic thought and 
systems which were elaborated between the Carolingian renaissance 
in the last part of the eighth century a.d. (John Scotus Eriugena, 
the first outstanding mediaeval philosopher was bom about 810) 
and the end of the fourteenth century. Reflection has convinced 
me, however, of the advisability of devoting two volumes to 
mediaeval philosophy. As my first volume 1 ended with an account 
of neo-Platonism and contained no treatment of the philosophic 
ideas to be found in the early Christian writers, I considered it 
desirable to say something of these ideas in the present volume. 
It is true that men like St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine 
belonged to the period of the Roman Empire, that their philo¬ 
sophic affiliations were with Platonism, understood in the widest 
sense, and that they cannot be termed mediaevals; but the fact 
remains that they were Christian thinkers and exercised a great 
influence on the Middle Ages. One could hardly understand St. 
Anselm or St. Bonaventure without knowing something of St. 
Augustine, nor could one understand the thought of John Scotus 
Eriugena without knowing something of the thought of St. Gregory 
of Nyssa and of the Pseudo-Dionysius. There is scarcely any need, 
then, to apologise for beginning a history of mediaeval philosophy 
with a consideration of thinkers who belong, so far as chronology 
is concerned, to the period of the Roman Empire. 

The present volume, then, begins with the early Christian period 
and carries the histoiy of mediaeval philosophy up to the end of 
the thirteenth century, including Duns Scotus (about 1265-1308). 
In my third volume I propose to treat of the philosophy of the 
fourteenth century, laying special emphasis on Ockhamism. In 

1 A History of Philosophy, Vol. I, Greece and Rome, London, 1946 . 






that volume I shall also include a treatment of the philosophies of 
the Renaissance, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and of 
the ‘Silver Age' of Scholastic thought, even though Francis Suarez 
did not die until the year 1617, twenty-one years after the birth 
of Descartes. This arrangement may appear to be an arbitrary 
one, and to some extent it is. But it is extremely doubtful if it is 
possible to make any hard and fast dividing line between mediaeval 
and modem philosophy, and a good case could be made out for 
including Descartes with the later Scholastics, contrary to tradi¬ 
tion as this would be. I do not propose, however, to adopt this 
course, and if I include in the next volume, the third, some philo¬ 
sophers who might seem to belong properly to the ‘modem period', 
my reason is largely one of convenience, to clear the decks, so that 
in the fourth volume I may develop in a systematic manner the 
interconnection between the leading philosophical systems from 
Francis Bacon in England and Descartes in France up to and 
including Kant. Nevertheless, whatever method of division be 
adopted, one has to remember that the compartments into which 
one divides the history of philosophic thought are not watertight, 
that transitions are gradual, not abrupt, that there is overlapping 
and interconnection, that succeeding systems are not cut off from 
one another with a hatchet. 

2. There was a time when mediaeval philosophy was considered 
as unworthy of serious study, when it was taken for granted that 
the philosophy of the Middle Ages was so subservient to theology 
that it was practically indistinguishable therefrom and that, in so 
far as it was distinguishable, it amounted to little more than a 
barren logic-chopping and word-play. In other words, it was taken 
for granted that European philosophy contained two main periods, 
the ancient period, which to all intents and purposes meant the 
philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the modem period, when 
the speculative reason once more began to enjoy freedom after the 
dark night of the Middle Ages when ecclesiastical authority reigned 
supreme and the human reason, chained by heavy fetters, was 
compelled to confine itself to the useless and fanciful study of 
theology, until a thinker like Descartes at length broke the chains 
and gave reason its freedom. In the ancient period and the modem 
period philosophy may be considered a free man, whereas in the 
mediaeval period it was a slave. 

Apart from the fact that mediaeval philosophy naturally shared 
in the disesteem with which the Middle Ages in general were 

commonly regarded, one factor which was partly responsible for 
the attitude adopted towards mediaeval thinkers was doubtless 
the language used concerning Scholasticism by men like Francis 
Bacon and Ren6 Descartes. Just as Aristotelians are prone to 
evaluate Platonism in terms of Aristotle's criticism, so admirers of 
the movement apparently initiated by Bacon and Descartes were 
prone to look on mediaeval philosophy through their eyes, unaware 
of the fact that much of what Francis Bacon, for instance, has to 
say against the Scholastics could not legitimately be applied to the 
great figures of mediaeval thought, however applicable it may have 
been to later and ‘decadent' Scholastics, who worshipped the letter 
at the expense 'of the spirit. Looking on mediaeval philosophy 
from the very start in this light historians could perhaps scarcely 
be expected to seek a closer and first-hand acquaintance with it: 
they condemned it unseen and unheard, without knowledge either 
of the rich variety of mediaeval thought or of its profundity: to 
them it was all of a piece, an arid playing with words and a slavish 
dependence on theologians. Moreover, insufficiently critical, they 
failed to realise the fact that, if mediaeval philosophers were in¬ 
fluenced by an external factor, theology, modem philosophers 
were also influenced by external factors, even if by other external 
factors than theology. It would have seemed to most of these 
historians a nonsensical‘proposition were one to suggest to them 
that Duns Scotus, for example, had a claim to be considered as 
a great British philosopher, at least as great as John Locke, while 
in their praise of the acumen of David Hume they were unaware 
that certain thinkers of the late Middle Ages had already 
anticipated a great deal of the criticism which used to be con¬ 
sidered the peculiar contribution to philosophy of the eminent 

I shall cite one example, the treatment accorded to mediaeval 
philosophy and philosophers by a man who was himself a great 
philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. It is an interesting 
example, since Hegel's dialectical idea of the history of philosophy 
obviously demanded that mediaeval philosophy should be por¬ 
trayed as making an essential contribution to the development of 
philosophic thought, while Hegel personally was no mere vulgar 
antagonist of mediaeval philosophy. Now, Hegel does indeed 
admit that mediaeval philosophy performed one useful function, 
that of expressing in philosophic terms the ‘absolute content’ of 
Christianity, but he insists that it is only formalistic repetition 





of the content of faith, in which God is represented as something 
'external', and if one remembers that for Hegel faith is the mode 
of religious consciousness and is definitely inferior to the philo¬ 
sophic or speculative standpoint, the standpoint of pure reason, it 
is clear that in his eyes mediaeval philosophy can be philosophy 
only in name. Accordingly he declares that Scholastic philosophy 
is really theology. By this Hegel does not mean that God is not 
the object of philosophy as well as of theology: he means that 
mediaeval philosophy considered the same object as is considered 
by philosophy proper but that it treated that object according to 
the categories of theology instead of substituting for the external 
connections of theology (for example, the relation of the world to 
God as external effect to free creative Cause) the systematic, 
scientific, rational and necessary categories and connections of 
philosophy. Mediaeval philosophy was thus philosophy according 
to content, but theology according to form, and in Hegel’s eyes 
the history of mediaeval philosophy is a monotonous one, in which 
men have tried in vain to discern any distinct stages of real 
progress and development of thought. 

In so far as Hegel’s view of mediaeval philosophy is dependent 
on his own particular system, on his view of the relation of religion 
to philosophy, of faith to reason, of immediacy to mediacy, I can¬ 
not discuss it in this volume; but I wish to point out how Hegel’s 
treatment of mediaeval philosophy is accompanied by a very real 
ignorance of the course of its history. It would be possible no 
doubt for an Hegelian to have a real knowledge of the develop¬ 
ment of mediaeval philosophy and yet to adopt, precisely because 
he was an Hegelian, Hegel’s general standpoint in regard to it; but 
there can be no shadow of doubt, even allowing for the fact that 
the philosopher did not himself edit and publish his lectures on the 
history of philosophy, that Hegel did not possess the real know¬ 
ledge in question. How could one, for instance, attribute a real 
knowledge of mediaeval philosophy to a writer who includes Roger 
Bacon under the heading ‘Mystics’ and simply remarks ‘Roger 
Bacon treated more especially of physics, but remained without 
influence. He invented gunpowder, mirrors, telescopes, and died 
in 1297’? The fact of the matter is that Hegel relied on authors 
like Tennemann and Brucker for his information concerning 
mediaeval philosophy, whereas the first valuable studies on 
mediaeval philosophy do not antedate the middle of the nineteenth 

In adducing the instance of Hegel I am not, of course, concerned 
to blame the philosopher: I am rather trying to throw into relief 
the great change that has taken place in our knowledge of mediaeval 
philosophy through the work of modem scholars since about 1880. 
Whereas one can easily understand and pardon the misrepresenta¬ 
tions of which a man like Hegel was unconsciously guilty, one 
would have little patience with similar misrepresentations to-day, 
after the work of scholars like Baeumker, Ehrle, Grabmann, De 
Wulf, Pelster, Geyer, Mandonnet, Pelzer, etc. After the light that 
has been thrown on mediaeval philosophy by the publication of 
texts and the critical editing of already published works, after the 
splendid volumes brought out by the Franciscan Fathers of 
Quaracchi, after the publications of so many numbers of the 
Beitrage series, after the production of histories like that of 
Maurice De Wulf, after the lucid studies of Etienne Gilson, after 
the patient work done by the Mediaeval Academy of America, it 
should no longer be possible to think that mediaeval philosophers 
were ‘all of a piece’, that mediaeval philosophy lacked richness 
and variety, that mediaeval thinkers were uniformly men of low 
stature and of mean attainments. Moreover, writers like Gilson 
have helped us to realise the continuity between mediaeval and 
modem philosophy. Gilson has shown how Cartesianism was more 
dependent on mediaeval thought than was formerly supposed. A 
good deal still remains to be done in the way of edition and inter¬ 
pretation of texts (one needs only to mention William of Ockham’s 
Commentary on the Sentences), but it has now become possible to 
see the currents and development, the pattern and texture, the 
high lights and low lights of mediaeval philosophy with a synoptic 

3. But even if mediaeval philosophy was in fact richer and more 
varied than has been sometimes supposed, is it not tme to say 
that it stood in such a close relation to theology that it is practi¬ 
cally indistinguishable therefrom? Is it not, for example, a fact 
that the great majority of mediaeval philosophers were priests and 
theologians, pursuing philosophic studies in the spirit of a 
theologian or even an apologist? 

In the first place it is necessary to point out that the relation of 
theology to philosophy was itself an important theme of mediaeval 
thought and that different thinkers adopted different attitudes in 
regard to this question. Starting with the endeavour to understand 
the data of revelation, so far as this is possible to human reason. 




early mediaevals, in accordance with the maxim Credo , ut inielli- 
gam, applied rational dialectic to the mysteries of faith in an 
attempt to understand them. In this way they laid the founda¬ 
tions of Scholastic theology, since the application of reason to 
theological data, in the sense of the data of revelation, is and 
remains theology: it does not become philosophy. Some thinkers 
indeed, in their enthusiastic desire to penetrate mysteries by 
reason to the utmost degree possible, appear at first sight to be 
rationalists, to be what one might call Hegelians before Hegel. 
Yet it is really an anachronism to regard such men as 'rationalists’ 
in the modem sense, since when St. Anselm, for example, or 
Richard of St. Victor, attempted to prove the mystery of the 
Blessed Trinity by 'necessary reasons’ they had no intention of 
acquiescing in any reduction of the dogma or of impairing the 
integrity of divine revelation. (To this subject I shall return in 
the course of the work.) So far they were certainly acting as 
theologians, but such men, who did not make, it is true, any very 
clear delimitation of the spheres of philosophy and theology, cer¬ 
tainly pursued philosophical themes and developed philosophical 
arguments. For instance, even if St. Anselm is primarily important 
as one of the founders of Scholastic theology, he also contributed 
to the growth of Scholastic philosophy, for example, by his 
rational proofs of God's existence. It would be inadequate to dub 
Abelard a philosopher and St. Anselm a theologian without quali¬ 
fication. In any case in the thirteenth century we find a clear 
distinction made by St. Thomas Aquinas between theology, which 
takes as its premisses the data of revelation, and philosophy (in¬ 
cluding, of course, what we call 'natural theology’), which is the 
work of the human reason unaided positively by revelation. It is 
true that in the same' century St. Bona venture was a conscious 
and determined upholder of what one might call the integralist, 
Augustinian view; but, though the Franciscan Doctor may have 
believed that a purely philosophical knowledge of God is vitiated 
by its very incompleteness, he was perfectly well aware that there 
are philosophical truths which are ascertainable by reason alone. 
The difference between him and St. Thomas has been stated thus . 1 
St. Thomas held that it would be possible, in principle , to excogi¬ 
tate a satisfactory philosophical system, which, in respect of know¬ 
ledge of God for instance, would be incomplete but not false, 

1 This bald statement, however, though sponsored by M. Gilson, requires a 
certain modification. See pp. 245—q. 


whereas St. Bonaventure maintained that this very incomplete¬ 
ness or inadequacy has the character of a falsification, so that, 
though a true natural philosophy would be possible without the 
light of faith, a true metaphysic would not be possible. If a 
philosopher, thought St. Bonaventure, proves by reason and 
maintains the unity of God, without at the same time knowing 
that God is Three Persons in One Nature, he is attributing to God 
a unity which is not the divine Unity. 

In the second place, St. Thomas was perfectly serious when he 
gave philosophy its 'charter 1 . To a superficial observer it might 
appear that when St. Thomas asserted a clear distinction between 
dogmatic theology and philosophy, he was merely asserting a 
formalistic distinction, which had no influence on his thought and 
which he did not take seriously in practice; but such a view would 
be far from the truth, as can be seen by one example. St. Thomas 
believed that revelation teaches the creation of the world in time, 
the world’s non-eternity; but he maintained and argued stoutly 
that the philosopher as such can prove neither that the world 
was created from eternity nor that it was created in time, although 
he can show that it depends on God as Creator. In holding to 
this point of view he was at variance with, for example, St. 
Bonaventure, and the fact that he maintained the point of view 
in question shows clearly that he seriously accepted in practice 
his theoretical delimitation of the provinces of philosophy and 
dogmatic theology. 

In the third place, if it were really true to say that mediaeval 
philosophy was no more than theology, we should expect to find 
that thinkers who accepted the same faith would accept the same 
philosophy or that the differences between them would be confined 
to differences in the way in which they applied dialectic to the 
data of revelation. In point of fact, however, this is very far from 
being the case. St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Duns 
Scotus, Giles of Rome, and, one may pretty safely say, William of 
Ockham accepted the same faith, but their philosophical ideas 
were by no means the same on all points. Whether or not their 
philosophies were equally compatible with the exigencies of 
theology is, of course, another question (William of Ockham’s 
philosophy could scarcely be considered as altogether compatible 
with these exigencies); but that question is irrelevant to the point 
at issue, since, whether they were all compatible with orthodox 
theology or not, these philosophies existed and were not the same. 





The historian can trace the lines of development and divergence 
in mediaeval philosophy, and, if he can do this, there must clearly 
be such a thing as mediaeval philosophy: without existence it 
could not have a history. 

We shall have to consider different views on the relation between 
philosophy and theology in the course of this work, and I do not 
want to dwell any more on the matter at present; but it may be 
as well to admit from the very start that, owing to the common 
background of the Christian faith, the world presented itself for 
interpretation to the mediaeval thinker more or less in a common 
light. Whether a thinker held or denied a clear distinction between 
the provinces of theology and philosophy, in either case he looked 
on the world as a Christian and could hardly avoid doing so. In 
his philosophic arguments he might prescind from Christian revela¬ 
tion, but the Christian outlook and faith were none the less there 
at the back of his mind. Yet that does not mean that his philo¬ 
sophic arguments were not philosophic arguments or that his 
rational proofs were not rational proofs: one would have to take 
each argument or proof on its own merits or demerits and not 
dismiss them as concealed theology on the ground that the writer 
was a Christian. 

4. Having argued that there really was such a thing as mediaeval 
philosophy or at any rate that there could be such a thing, even 
if the great majority of mediaeval philosophers were Christians and 
most of them theologians into the bargain, I want finally to say 
something about the aim of this book (and of the succeeding 
volume) and the way in which it treats its subject. 

I certainly do not intend to attempt the task of narrating all 
the known opinions of all known mediaeval philosophers. In other 
words, the second and third volumes of my history are not 
designed to constitute an encyclopaedia of mediaeval philosophy. 
On the other hand, it is not my intention to give simply a sketch 
or series of impressions of mediaeval philosophy. I have en¬ 
deavoured to give an intelligible and coherent account of the 
development of mediaeval philosophy and of the phases through 
which it passed, omitting many names altogether and choosing 
out for consideration those thinkers who are of special importance 
and interest for the content of their thought or who represent and 
illustrate some particular type of philosophy or stage of develop¬ 
ment. To certain of these thinkers I have devoted a considerable 
amount of space, discussing their opinions at some length. This 

fact may possibly tend to obscure the general lines of connection 
and development, but, as I have said, it was not my intention to 
provide simply a sketch of mediaeval philosophy, and it is probably 
only through a somewhat detailed treatment of the leading philo¬ 
sophical systems that one can bring out the rich variety of 
mediaeval thought. To place in clear relief the main lines of 
connection and development and at the same time to develop at 
some length the ideas of selected philosophers is certainly not an 
easy task, and it would be foolish to suppose that my inclusions 
and omissions or proportional allotment of space will be acceptable 
to everybody: to miss the trees for the wood or the wood for the 
trees is easy enough, but to see both clearly at the same time is not 
so easy. However, I consider it a task worth attempting, and 
while I have not hesitated to consider at some length the philo¬ 
sophies of St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas, Duns Scotus and Ockham, 
I have tried to make intelligible the general development of 
mediaeval philosophy from its early struggles, through its splendid 
maturity, to its eventual decline. 

If one speaks of a ‘decline', it may be objected that one is 
speaking as philosopher and not as historian. True enough, but 
if one is to discern an intelligible pattern in mediaeval philosophy, 
one must have a principle of selection and to that extent at least 
one must be a philosopher. The word 'decline' has indeed a valua- 
tional colouring and flavour, so that to use such a word may seem 
to constitute an overstepping of the legitimate territory of the 
historian. Possibly it is, in a sense; but what historian of philosophy 
was or is merely an historian in the narrowest meaning of the term? 
No Hegelian, no Marxist, no Positivist, no Kantian writes history 
without a philosophic viewpoint, and is the Thomist alone to be 
condemned for a practice which is really necessary, unless the 
history of philosophy is to be rendered unintelligible by being 
made a mere string of opinions? 

By 'decline', then, I mean decline, since I frankly regard 
mediaeval philosophy as falling into three main phases. First 
comes the preparatory phase, up to and including the twelfth 
century, then comes the period of constructive synthesis, the 
thirteenth century, and finally, in the fourteenth century, the 
period of destructive criticism, undermining and decline. Yet 
from another point of view I should not hesitate to admit that the 
last phase was an inevitable phase and, in the long run, may be of 
benefit, as stimulating Scholastic philosophers to develop and 





establish their principles more firmly in face of criticism and, 
moreover, to utilise all that subsequent philosophy may have to 
offer of positive value. From one point of view the Sophistic phase 
in ancient philosophy (using the term 'Sophist' in more or less the 
Platonic sense) constituted a decline, since it was characterised by, 
among other things, a flagging of constructive thought; but it was 
none the less an inevitable phase in Greek philosophy, and, in the 
long run, may be regarded as having produced results of positive 
value. No one at least who values the thought of Plato and 
Aristotle can regard the activity and criticism of the Sophists as 
an unmitigated disaster for philosophy. 

The general plan of this volume and of its successor is thus the 
exhibition of the main phases and lines of development in mediaeval 
philosophy. First of all I treat briefly of the Patristic period, going 
on to speak of those Christian thinkers who had a real influence on 
the Middle Ages: Boethius, the Pseudo-Dionysius and, above all, 
St. Augustine of Hippo. After this more or less introductory part 
of the volume I proceed to the preparatory phase of mediaeval 
thought proper, the Carolingian renaissance, the establishment 
of the Schools, the controversy concerning universal concepts and 
the growing use of dialectic, the positive work of St. Anselm in the 
eleventh century, the schools of the twelfth century, particularly 
those of Chartres and St. Victor. It is then necessary to say some¬ 
thing of Arabian and Jewish philosophy, not so much for its own 
sake, since I am primarily concerned with the philosophy of 
mediaeval Christendom, as for the fact that the Arabs and Jews 
constituted an important channel whereby the Aristotelian system 
in its fullness became known to the Christian West. The second 
phase is that of the great syntheses of the thirteenth century, the 
philosophies of St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns 
Scotus in particular. The succeeding phase, that of the fourteenth 
century, contains the new directions and the destructive criticism 
of the Ockhamist School in a wide sense. Finally, I have given a 
treatment of the thought which belongs to the period of transition 
between mediaeval and modern philosophy. The way will then be 
clear to start a consideration of what is generally called 'modem 
philosophy' in the fourth volume of this history. 

In conclusion it may be as well to mention two points. The 
first is that I do not conceive it to be the task of the historian of 
philosophy to substitute his own ideas or those of recent or con¬ 
temporary philosophers for the ideas of past thinkers, as though 

the thinkers in question did not know what they meant. When 
Plato stated the doctrine of reminiscence, he was not asserting 
neo-Kantianism, and though St. Augustine anticipated Descartes 
by saying Si Jailor , sum, it would be a great mistake to try to 
force his philosophy into the Cartesian mould. On the other hand, 
some problems which have been raised by modem philosophers 
were also raised in the Middle Ages, even if in a different setting, 
and it is legitimate to draw attention to similarity of question or 
answer. Again, it is not illegitimate to ask if a given mediaeval 
philosopher could, out of the resources of his own system, meet 
this or that difficulty which a later philosopher has raised. There¬ 
fore, although I have tried to avoid the multiplication of references 
to modem philosophy, I have on occasion permitted myself to 
make comparisons with later philosophies and to discuss the ability 
of a mediaeval system of philosophy to meet a difficulty which is 
likely to occur to a student of modern thought. But I have strictly 
rationed my indulgence in such comparisons and discussions, not 
only out of considerations of space but also out of regard for 
historical propriety. 

The second point to be mentioned is this. Largely owing to the 
influence of Marxism there is a certain demand that an historian 
of philosophy should draw attention to the social and political 
background of his period and throw light on the influence of social 
and political factors on philosophic development and thought. But 
apart from the fact that to keep one's history within a reasonable 
compass one must concentrate on philosophy itself and not on 
social and political events and developments, it is ridiculous to 
suppose that all philosophies or all parts of any given philosophy 
are equally influenced by the social and political milieu . To under¬ 
stand a philosopher's political thought it is obviously desirable to 
have some knowledge of the actual political background, but in 
order to discuss St. Thomas's doctrine on the relation of essence 
to existence or Scotus's theory of the univocal character of the 
concept of being, there is no need at all to introduce references to 
the political or economic background. Moreover, philosophy is 
influenced by other factors as well as politics and economics. 
Plato was influenced by the advance of Greek mathematics; 
mediaeval philosophy, though distinguishable from theology, was 
certainly influenced by it; consideration of the development of 
physics is relevant to Descartes's view of the material world; 
biology was not without influence on Bergson, and so on. I regard 



it, therefore, as a great mistake to dwell so exclusively on econo¬ 
mics and political development, and to explain the advance of 
other sciences ultimately by economic history, that one implies 
the truth of the Marxist theory of philosophy. Apart, then, from 
the fact that considerations of space have not permitted me to say 
much of the political, social and economic background of mediaeval 
philosophy, I have deliberately disregarded the unjustifiable 
demand that one should interpret the 'ideological superstructure* 
in terms of the economic situation. This book is a history of a 
certain period of mediaeval philosophy: it is not a political history 
nor a history of mediaeval economics. 





Christianity and Greek philosophy—Greek Apologists ( Aristides , 

St. Justin Martyr , Tatian , Athenagoras, Theophilus) — Gnos¬ 
ticism and writers against Gnosticism (St. Irenaeus, Hippolytus) 

—Latin Apologists (Minucius Felix , Tertullian , Arnobius, 
Lactantius)—Catechetical School of Alexandria ( Clement , Origen) 

—Greek Fathers (St. Basil, Eusebius, St. Gregory of Nyssa )— 
Latin Fathers (Stf. Ambrose) — St. John Damascene — Summary, 

i. Christianity came into the world as a revealed religion: it 
was given to the world by Christ as a doctrine of redemption and 
salvation and love, not as an abstract and theoretical system, and 
He sent His Apostles to preach, not to occupy professors’ chairs. 
Christianity was 'the Way*, a road to God to be trodden in 
practice, not one more philosophical system added to the systems 
and schools of antiquity. The Apostles and their successors were 
bent on converting the world, not on excogitating a philosophical 
system. Moreover, so far as their message was directed to the 
Jews, the Apostles had to meet theological rather than philoso¬ 
phical attacks, while, in regard to the non-Jews, we are not told, 
apart from the account of St. Paul's famous sermon at Athens, of 
their being confronted with, or of their approaching, Greek 
philosophers in the academic sense. 

However, as Christianity made fast its roots and grew, it 
aroused the suspicion and hostility, not merely of the Jews and 
the political authorities, but also of pagan intellectuals and writers. 
Some of the attacks levelled against Christianity were due simply 
to ignorance, credulous suspicion, fear of what was unknown, mis¬ 
representation; but other attacks were delivered on the theoretical 
plane, on philosophical grounds, and these attacks had to be met. 
This meant that philosophical as well as theological arguments 
had to be used. There are, then, philosophical elements in the 
writings of early Christian apologists and Fathers; but it would 
obviously be idle to look for a philosophical system, since the 



interest of these writers was primarily theological, to defend the 
Faith. Yet, as Christianity became more firmly established and 
better known and as it became possible for Christian scholars to 
develop thought and learning, the philosophical element tended 
to become more strongly marked, especially when there was ques¬ 
tion of meeting the attacks of pagan professional philosophers. 

The influence of apologetic on the growth of Christian philo¬ 
sophy was clearly due primarily to a cause external to Christianity, 
namely hostile attack; but there was also another reason for this 
growth which was internal, independent of attacks from outside. 
The more intellectual Christians naturally felt the desire to 
penetrate, as far as it was open to them to do so, the data of 
revelation and also to form a comprehensive view of the world 
and human life in the light of faith. This last reason operated in 
a systematic way perhaps later than the first and, so far as the 
Fathers are concerned, reached the zenith of its influence in the 
thought of St, Augustine; but the first reason, the desire to pene¬ 
trate the dogmas of the Faith (an anticipation of the Credo , ut 
intelligam attitude), was operative in some way from the begin¬ 
ning. Partly through a simple desire to understand and appreciate, 
partly through the need of further clearer definition of dogma in 
face of heresy, the original data of revelation were rendered more 
explicit, ‘developed', in the sense of the implicit being made 
explicit. From the beginning, for instance, Christians accepted the 
fact that Christ was both God and Man, but it was only in the 
course of time that the implications of this fact were made clear 
and were enshrined in theological definitions, for example, that 
the perfect human Nature of Christ implied His possession of a 
human will. Now, these definitions were of course theological, 
and the advance from the implicit to the explicit was an advance 
in theological science; but in the process of argument and definition 
concepts and categories were employed which were borrowed from 
philosophy. Moreover, as the Christians had no philosophy of their 
own to start with (i.e. in the academic sense of philosophy), they 
very naturally turned to the prevailing philosophy, which was 
derived from Platonism but was strongly impregnated with other 
elements. As a rough generalisation, therefore, one may say that 
the philosophic ideas of the early Christian writers were Platonic 
or neo-Platonic in character (with an admixture of Stoicism) and 
that the Platonic tradition continued for long to dominate 
Christian thought from the philosophic viewpoint. In saying this, 



however, one must remember that the Christian writers did not 
make any clear distinction between theology and philosophy: they 
aimed rather at presenting the Christian wisdom or ‘philosophy' 
in a very wide sense, which was primarily theological, though it 
contained philosophical elements in the strict sense. The task of 
the historian of philosophy is to isolate these philosophic elements: 
he carjnot reasonably be expected to present an adequate picture 
of early Christian thought, for the very good reason that he is not, 
ex hypothesi, an historian of dogmatic theology or of exegesis. 

Since on the one hand pagan philosophers were inclined to 
attack the Church and her doctrine, while on the other hand 
Christian apologists and theologians were inclined to borrow the 
weapons of their adversaries when they thought that these 
weapons could serve their purpose, it is only to be expected that 
the Christian writers should show a divergence of attitude in regard 
to ancient philosophy, according as they chose to regard it as a foe 
and rival of Christianity or as a useful arsenal and store-house or 
even as a providential preparation for Christianity. Thus while in 
Tertullian's eyes pagan philosophy was little more than the foolish¬ 
ness of this world, Clement of Alexandria regarded philosophy as 
a gift of God, a means of educating the pagan world for Christ, as 
the Jews’ means of education had been the Law. He thought 
indeed, as Justin thought before him, that Plato had borrowed his 
wisdom from Moses and the Prophets (a Philonic contention); but 
just as Philo had tried to reconcile Greek philosophy with the Old 
Testament, so Clement tried to reconcile Greek philosophy with 
the Christian religion. In the end, of course, it was the attitude of 
Clement, not that of Tertullian, which triumphed, since St. 
Augustine made abundant use of neo-Platonic ideas when present¬ 
ing the Christian Weltanschauung. 

2. As the first group of those Christian writers whose works 
contain philosophic elements one can count the early apologists 
who were particularly concerned to defend the Christian faith 
against pagan attack (or rather to show to the Imperial authorities 
that Christianity had a right to exist), men like Aristides, Justin, 
Melito, Tatian, Athenagoras and Theophilus of Antioch. In a brief 
sketch of Patristic philosophy, a sketch which is admittedly only 
included by way of preparation for the main theme of the book, 
one can treat neither of all the apologists nor of any one of them 
fully: my intention is rather to indicate the sort of philosophical 
elements which their works contain. 



(i) Marcianus Aristides, styled a 'philosopher of Athens’, wrote 
an Apology, which is to be dated about a.d. 140 and is addressed 
to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. 1 A good deal of this work is 
devoted to an attack on the pagan deities of Greece and Egypt, 
with some animadversions on the morals of the Greeks; but at the 
beginning Aristides declares that ‘amazed at the arrangement of 
the world’, and understanding that ‘the world and all that is 
therein are moved by the impulse of another’, and seeing that 
‘that which moveth is more powerful than that which is moved’, 
he concludes that the Mover of the world 'is God of all, who made 
all for the sake of man’. Aristides thus gives in a very compen¬ 
dious form arguments drawn from the design and order in the 
world and from the fact of motion, and identifies the designer and 
mover with the Christian God, of whom he proceeds to predicate 
the attributes of eternity, perfection, incomprehensibility, wisdom, 
goodness. We have here, then, a very rudimentary natural 
theology presented, not for purely philosophic reasons, but in 
defence of the Christian religion. 

(ii) A much more explicit attitude towards philosophy is to be 
found in the writings of Flavius Justinus (St. Justin Martyr), who 
was bom at Neapolis (Nablus) of pagan parents about a.d. ioo, 
became a Christian, and was martyred at Rome about 164. In his 
Dialogue with Trypho he declares that philosophy is a most 
precious gift of God, designed to lead man to God, though its true 
nature and its unity have not been recognised by most people, as 
is clear from the existence of so many philosophical schools.* As 
to himself, he went first for instruction to a Stoic, but, finding the 
Stoic doctrine of God unsatisfactory, betook himself to a Peri¬ 
patetic, whose company he soon forsook, as he turned out to be 
a grasping fellow. 3 From the Peripatetic he went, with zeal still 
unabated, to a Pythagorean of repute, but his own lack of acquain¬ 
tance with music, geometry and astronomy unfitted him for 
philosophy in his prospective teacher’s eyes, and as he did not 
wish to spend a lot of time in acquiring knowledge of these 
sciences, he turned to the Platonists and was so delighted with the 
doctrine of the immaterial Ideas that he began to expect a clear 
vision of God, which, says Justin, is the aim of Plato’s philosophy. 4 
Shortly afterwards, however, he fell in with a Christian, who 
showed him the insufficiency of pagan philosophy, even of that of 

1 Quotations from the edition published in Texts and Studies, Vol. I. 

* a, 1. * 2, 3. * 2, 4-6. 



Plato . 1 Justin is thus an example of the cultured convert from 
paganism, who, feeling his conversion as the term of a process, 
could not adopt a merely negative and hostile attitude to Greek 

Justin's words concerning Platonism in the Dialogue show 
clearly enough the esteem in which he held the Platonic philosophy. 
He prized its doctrine of the immaterial world and of the being 
beyond essence, which he identified with God, though he became 
convinced that the sure and safe and certain knowledge of God, 
the true 'philosophy', is to be attained only through the acceptance 
of revelation. In his two Apologies he makes frequent use of 
Platonic terms, as when he speaks of God as the 'Demiurge '. 2 I 
am not suggesting that when Justin makes use of Platonic or 
neo-Platonic words and phrases he is understanding the words in 
precisely the Platonic sense: the use of them is rather the effect of 
his philosophic training and of the sympathy which he retained for 
Platonism. Thus he does not hesitate on occasion to point out 
analogies between Christian and Platonic doctrine, in regard, for 
example, to reward and punishment after death , 3 and his admira¬ 
tion for Socrates is evident. When Socrates, in the power of logos , 
or as its instrument, tried to lead men away from falsehood into 
truth, evil men put him to death as an impious atheist: so 
Christians, who follow and obey the incarnate Logos itself and 
who denounce the false gods, are termed atheists . 4 In other words, 
just as the work of Socrates, which was a service of truth, was a 
preparation for the complete work of Christ, so the condemnation 
of Socrates was, as it were, a rehearsal or anticipation of the 
condemnation of Christ and His followers. Again, the actions of 
men are not determined, as the Stoics thought, but they act rightly 
or wrongly according to their free choice, while it is owing to the 
activity of the evil demons that Socrates and those like him are 
persecuted, while Epicurus and those like him are held in honour . 6 

Justin thus made no clear distinction betv/een theology and 
philosophy in the strict sense: there is one wisdom, one 'philo¬ 
sophy', which is revealed fully in and through Christ, but for 
which the best elements in pagan philosophy, especially Platonism, 
were a preparation. In so far as the pagan philosophers divined 
the truth, they did so only in the power of logos : Christ, however, 
is the Logos itself, incarnate. This view of Greek philosophy and 

1 3, 1 flf. * E.g. Apol., I, 8, 2. * Ibid., I, 8, 4. 

'Ibid., I, 5, 3 flf. 'Ibid., II f 6 (7), 3. 


of its relation to Christianity was of considerable influence on 
later writers. 

(iii) According to Irenaeus, 1 Tatian was a pupil of Justin. He 
was of Syrian nationality, was educated in Greek literature and 
philosophy, and became a Christian. There is no real reason for 
doubting the truth of the statement that Tatian was in some sense 
a pupil of Justin Martyr, but it is quite clear from his Address to 
the Greeks that he did not share Justin's sympathy for Greek 
philosophy in its more spiritual aspects. Tatian declares that we 
know God from His works; he has a doctrine of the Logos, distin¬ 
guishes soul (4^x^) from spirit (irveujxa), teaches creation in time 
and insists on free-will; but all these points he could have got from 
the Scriptures and Christian teaching: he had little use for Greek 
learning and Greek thought, though he can hardly have escaped 
its influence altogether. He was in fact inclined to excessive 
rigorism, and we learn from St. Irenaeus and St. Jerome 2 that 
after Justin's martyrdom Tatian fell away from the Church into 
Valentinian Gnosticism, subsequently founding the sect of the 
Encratites, denouncing not only the drinking of wine and the use 
of ornaments by women but even marriage as such, which he said 
was defilement and fornication. 3 

Tatian certainly recognised the human mind’s ability to prove 
God's existence from creatures and he made use of philosophical 
notions and categories in the development of theology, as when he 
maintains that the Word, proceeding from the simple essence of 
God, does not 'fall into the void', as human words do, but remains 
in its subsistence and is the divine instrument of creation. He 
thus uses the analogy of the formation of human thought and 
speech to illustrate the procession of the Word, and, while holding 
to the doctrine of creation, he uses language reminiscent of the 
Timaeus in respect of the Demiurge. But, if he made use of terms 
and ideas taken from pagan philosophy, he did not do so in any 
spirit of sympathy, but rather with the notion that the Greek 
philosophers had taken from the Scriptures whatever truth they 
possessed and that whatever they added thereto was nothing but 
falsity and perversion. The Stoics, for instance, perverted the 
doctrine of providence by the diabolic theory of fatalistic deter¬ 
minism. It is indeed something of an historical irony that a writer 
who betrayed so pronounced an hostility towards Greek thought 

1 Against the Heresies, 1 , 28, 1 K.g. Adv. Jovin., 1, 3; Comm, in Amos. 

3 Iren., Against the Heresies, I, 28. 


and who drew so sharp a distinction between pagan 'sophistry' 
and Christian wisdom should himself end in heresy. 

(iv) A more tactful approach to the Greeks, and one in harmony 
with that of Justin Martyr, was the approach of Athenagoras, who 
addressed to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, 
'conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and above all philosophers’, 
a Plea for the Christians (irpeofSeta rrepl xp l <mav<ov) about the year 
a.d. 177. In this book the author is concerned to defend the 
Christians against the three accusations of atheism, cannibalistic 
feasts and incest, and in answering the first accusation he gives a 
reasoned defence of the Christian belief in one eternal and spiritual 
God. First of all he cites various Greek philosophers themselves, 
for instance Philolaus, Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. He quotes 
Plato in the Timaeus to the effect that it is difficult to find the 
Maker and Father of the universe and impossible, even when He 
is found, to declare Him to all, and asks why Christians, believing 
in one God, should be called atheists, when Plato is not so called 
because of his doctrine of the Demiurge. The poets and philo¬ 
sophers, moved by a divine impulse, have striven to find God and 
men pay heed to their conclusions: how foolish it would be, then, 
to refuse to listen to the very Spirit of God, speaking through the 
mouths of the Prophets. 

Athenagoras then goes on to show that there cannot be a multi¬ 
tude of material gods, that God, who forms matter, must transcend 
matter (though he scarcely succeeds in conceiving God without 
relation to space), that the Cause of perishable things must be 
imperishable and spiritual, and he appeals especially to the testi¬ 
mony of Plato. He thus adopts the same attitude as that of Justin 
Martyr. There is one true 'philosophy’ or wisdom, which is 
attained adequately only through the Christian revelation, though 
Greek philosophers divined something of the truth. In other 
words, their very respect for the Greek thinkers and poets should 
lead thoughtful men like Marcus Aurelius to appreciate and esteem, 
even if not to embrace, Christianity. His primary purpose is 
theological and apologetic, but he utilises philosophic arguments 
and themes in his pursuit of that purpose. For instance, in his 
attempt to prove the reasonable character of the doctrine of the 
resurrection of the body, he makes clear his conviction, as against 
the Platonic view, that the body belongs to the integral man, that 
man is not simply a soul using a body. 1 

1 On the Resurrection . 





(v) A similar appeal to the intelligent pagan was made by 
Theophilus of Antioch in his Ad Autolycum, written about a.d. 180. 
After emphasising the fact that moral purity is necessary for any¬ 
one who would know God, he proceeds to speak of the divine 
attributes, God’s incomprehensibility, power, wisdom, eternity, 
immutability. As the soul of man, itself invisible, is perceived 
through the movements of the body, so God, Himself invisible, is 
known through His providence and works. He is not always 
accurate in his account of the opinions of Greek philosophers, but 
he clearly had some esteem for Plato, whom he considered 'the 
most respectable philosopher among them’, 1 though Plato erred in 
not teaching creation out of nothing (which Theophilus clearly 
affirms) and in his doctrine concerning marriage (which Theophilus 
does not give correctly). 

3. The foregoing Apologists, who wrote in Greek, were mainly 
concerned with answering pagan attacks on Christianity. We can 
now consider briefly the great opponent of Gnosticism, St. 
Irenaeus, to whom we add, for the sake of convenience, Hippolytus. 
Both men wrote in Greek and both combated the Gnosticism which 
flourished in the second ceritury a.d., though Hippolytus's work 
has a wider interest, containing, as it does, many references to 
Greek philosophy and philosophers. 

Of Gnosticism suffice it to say here that, in general, it was a 
monstrous conflation of Scriptural and Christian, Greek and 
Oriental elements, which, professing to substitute knowledge 
(gnosis) for faith, offered a doctrine of God, creation, the origin 
of evil, salvation, to those who liked to look upon themselves as 
superior persons in comparison with the ordinary run of Christians. 
There was a Jewish Gnosticism before the ‘Christian’ form, and 
the latter itself can be looked on as a Christian heresy only in so 
far as the Gnostics borrowed certain specifically Christian themes: 
the Oriental and Hellenic elements are far too conspicuous for it 
to be possible to call Gnosticism a Christian heresy in the ordinary 
sense, although it was a real danger in the second century and 
seduced those Christians who were attracted by the bizarre theoso- 
phical speculations which the Gnostics offered as 'knowledge’. As 
a matter of fact, there were a number of Gnostic systems, such as 
those of Cerinthus, Marcion, the Ophites, Basilides, Valentinus. 
We know that Marcion was a Christian who suffered excommuni¬ 
cation; but the Ophites were probably of Jewish-Alexandrian 

1 Ad Autol., 3, 6. 

origin, while in regard to famous Gnostics like Basilides and 
Valentinus (second century) we do not know that they were ever 

Characteristic of Gnosticism in general was a dualism between God 
and matter, which, though not absolute, approached that of the later 
Manichaean system. The resulting gulf between God and matter 
was filled up by the Gnostics with a series of emanations or inter¬ 
mediary beings in which Christ found a place. The complement of 
the process of emanation was the return to God by way of salvation. 

In the system of Marcion, as one would expect, the Christian 
element was to the fore. The God of the Old Testament, the 
Demiurge, is inferior to the God of the New Testament, who 
remained unknown until He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. In 
the systems of Basilides and Valentinus, however, the Christian 
element is less important: Christ is depicted as an inferior being 
(an Eon) in a fantastic hierarchy of divine and semi-divine emana¬ 
tions, and His mission is simply that of transmitting to man the 
salvific knowledge or gnosis. As matter is evil, it cannot be the 
work of the Supreme God, but it is due to the ‘great Archon', who 
was worshipped by the Jews and who gave himself out as the one 
Supreme God. The Gnostic systems were thus not dualistic in the 
full Manichaean sense, since the Demiurge, identified with the God 
of the Old Testament, was not made an independent and original 
principle of evil (the neo-Platonic element was too prominent to 
admit of absolute dualism), and their main common characteristic 
was not so much the tendency to dualism as the insistence on 
gnosis as the means of salvation. The adoption of Christian 
elements was largely due to the desire to absorb Christianity, to 
substitute gnosis for faith. To enter further upon the differentiat¬ 
ing features of the various Gnostic systems and to detail the series 
of emanations would be a tiresome and profitless task: it is enough 
to point out that the general framework was a mixture of Oriental 
and Greek (e.g. neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic) themes, with 
a varying dosage of Christian elements, taken both from Chris¬ 
tianity proper and from apocryphal and spurious documents. To 
us to-day it is difficult to understand how Gnosticism could ever 
have been a danger to the Church or an attraction to any sane 
mind; but we have to remember that it arose at a time when a 
welter of philosophical schools and mystery-religions was seeking 
to cater for the spiritual needs of men. Moreover, esoteric and 
theosophical systems, surrounded with the pseudo-glamour of 





'eastern wisdom', have not entirely lost their attraction for some 
minds even in much more recent times. 

(i) St. Irenaeus (born about a.d. 137 or 140), writing against 
the Gnostics in his Adversus Haereses , affirms that there is one 
God, who made all things, Creator of heaven and earth. He appeals, 
for example, to the argument from design and to that from uni¬ 
versal consent, observing that the very heathen have learnt from 
creation itself, by the use of reason, the existence of God as 
Creator. 1 God created the world freely, and not by necessity. 2 
Moreover, He created the world out of nothing and not out of 
previously existing matter, as the Gnostics pretend relying on 
'Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Plato 1 . 3 But, though the human 
mind can come to know God through reason and revelation, it 
cannot comprehend God, whose essence transcends the human 
intelligence; to pretend to know the ineffable mysteries of God and 
to go beyond humble faith and love, as the Gnostics do, is mere 
conceit and pride. The doctrine of reincarnation is false, while the 
revealed moral law does not abrogate, but fulfils and extends, the 
natural law. In fine, 'the teaching of the Apostles is the true 

According to Irenaeus the Gnostics borrowed most of their 
notions from Greek philosophers. Thus he accuses them of borrow¬ 
ing their morals from Epicurus and the Cynics, their doctrine of 
reincarnation from Plato. In this tendency to attach Gnostic 
theories to Greek philosophies Irenaeus was closely followed by 

(ii) Hippolytus (died probably about a.d. 236), who was a 
disciple of Irenaeus, according to Photius, 5 and certainly utilised 
his teaching and writing. In the Proemium to his Philosophumena 
(now generally attributed to Hippolytus) he declares his intention, 
only imperfectly fulfilled, of exposing the plagiarism of the Gnostics 
by showing how their various opinions were taken from Greek 
philosophers, though they were made worse by the Gnostics, and, 
in order to do this more easily, he first recounts the opinions of the 
philosophers, relying for his information mainly, if not entirely, on 
the doxography of Theophrastus. The information, however, is 
not always accurate. His main accusation against the Greeks 
is that they glorified the parts of the creation with dainty 
phrases, but were ignorant of the Creator of all things, who 
made them freely out of nothing according to His wisdom and 

1 2, q, 1. * 2, 1, 1; 2. 5, 3. * 2, 14. 4. 4 4, 33, 8. 6 Bibl. cod. 121 

4. The foregoing authors wrote in Greek; but there was also a 
group of Latin Apologists, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Amobius 
and Lactantius, of whom the most important is Tertullian. 

(i) It is uncertain whether Minucius Felix wrote before or after 
Tertullian, but in any case his attitude towards Greek philosophy, 
as shown in his Octavius , was more favourable than Tertullian’s. 
Arguing that God's existence can be known with certainty from 
the order of nature and the design involved in the organism, 
particularly in the human body, and that the unity of God can 
be inferred from the unity of the cosmic order, he affirmed that 
Greek philosophers, too, recognised these truths. Thus Aristotle 
recognised one Godhead and the Stoics had a doctrine of divine 
providence, while Plato speaks in almost Christian terms when he 
talks in the Timaeus of the Maker and Father of the universe. 

(ii) Tertullian , however, speaks in a rather different way of 
Greek philosophy. Born about a.d. 160 of pagan parents and 
educated as a jurist (he practised in Rome), he became a Christian, 
only to fall into the Montanist heresy, a form of rigorous and 
excessive Puritanism. He was the first outstanding Christian 
Latin writer, and in his works his contempt for paganism and 
pagan learning is made clear and explicit. What have the philo¬ 
sopher and the Christian in common, the disciple of Greece, the 
friend of error, and the pupil of heaven, the foe of error and friend 
of truth? 1 Even Socrates' wisdom did not amount to much, since 
no one can really know God apart from Christ, nor Christ apart 
from the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Socrates was, self-confessedly, 
guided by a demon! 2 As to Plato, he said that it was hard to find 
the Maker and Father of the universe, whereas the simplest 
Christian has already found Him. 3 Moreover, the Greek philo¬ 
sophers are the patriarchs of the heretics, 4 inasmuch as Valentinus 
borrowed from the Platonists, Marcion from the Stoics, while the 
philosophers themselves borrowed ideas from the Old Testament 
and then distorted them and claimed them as their own. 6 

However, in spite of the antithesis he makes between Christian 
wisdom and Greek philosophy, Tertullian himself developed philo¬ 
sophical themes and was influenced by the Stoics. He affirms that 
the existence of God is known with certainty from His works, 6 
and also that from the uncreatedness of God we can argue to His 
perfection (/ mperfectum non potest esse t nisi quod factum est )] 1 but he 

1 Apol., 46. * De A luma, 1. 1 Apol., 46. 1 De Anitna, 3. 

* Apoi, 47. • De Resurrect ., 2-3. 7 Herm., 28. 





makes the astounding statement that everything, including God, 
is corporeal, bodily. 'Everything which exists is a bodily existence 
sui generis , Nothing lacks bodily existence but that which is 
non-existent': 1 'for who will deny that God is a body, although 
"God is a Spirit"? For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own 
kind, in its own form,' 2 Many writers have concluded from these 
statements that Tertullian maintained a materialistic doctrine and 
held God to be really a material being, just as the Stoics considered 
God to be material: some, however, have suggested that by 'body' 
Tertullian often meant simply substance and that when he attri¬ 
butes materiality to God, he is really simply attributing substan¬ 
tiality to God. On this explanation, when Tertullian says that 
God is a corpus sui generis , that He is corpus and yet spiritus , he 
would mean that God is a spiritual substance: his language would 
be at fault, while his thought would be acceptable. One is certainly 
not entitled to exclude this explanation as impossible, but it is 
true that Tertullian, speaking of the human soul, says that it must 
be a bodily substance since it can suffer. 3 However, he speaks 
ambiguously even on the nature of the soul, and in his Apology 4 
he gives as a reason for the resurrection of the bodies of the wicked 
that' the soul is not capable of suffering without the solid substance, 
that is, the flesh'. It is probably best to say, then, that, while 
Tertullian's language often implies materialism of a rather crass 
sort, his meaning may not have been that which his language 
would often imply. When he teaches that the soul of the infant is 
derived from the father's seed like a kind of sprout ( surculus , 
tradux ), 5 he would seem to be teaching a clearly materialistic 
doctrine; but this 'traducianism' was adopted partly for a theologi¬ 
cal reason, to explain the transmission of original sin, and some 
later writers who inclined to the same view, did so for the same 
theological reason, without apparently realising the materialistic 
implications of the doctrine. This does not show, of course, that 
Tertullian was not a materialist; but it should at least lead one to 
hesitate before forming the conviction that his general meaning 
always coincided with the words he used. His assertion of the 
freedom of the will and of the natural immortality of the soul will 
scarcely fit in, from the logical viewpoint, with sheer materialism; 
but that again would not justify one in flatly denying that he was 

1 De Came Christi, n 1 Adv. Prax., 7. * De Anxma, 7; cf. 8, 

4 48. 5 Cf. De Anima, 19. 

a materialist, since he may have held a materialistic theory without 
realising the fact that some of the attributes he ascribed to the soul 
were incompatible with a fully materialist position. 

One of the great services rendered by Tertullian to Christian 
thought was his development of theological and, to some extent, 
of philosophical terminology in the Latin language. Thus the 
technical use of the word persona is found for the first time in his 
writings: the divine Persons are distinct as Personae, but they are 
not different, divided, substantiaeA In his doctrine of the Word 2 he 
appeals explicitly to the Stoics, to Zeno and Cleanthes. 3 However, 
of Tertullian’s theological developments and of his orthodoxy or 
unorthodoxy it is not our concern to speak. 

(iii) In his Adversus Gentes (about 303) Arnobius makes some 
curious observations concerning the soul. Thus, although he 
affirms creationism, as against the Platonic doctrine of pre-exis¬ 
tence, he makes the creating agent a being inferior to God, and he 
also asserts the gratuitous character of the soul’s immortality, 
denying a natural immortality. One motive was evidently that of 
using the gratuitous character of immortality as an argument for 
becoming a Christian and leading a moral life. Again, while 
combating the Platonic theory of reminiscence, he asserts the 
experiential origin of all our ideas with one exception, the idea of 
God. He depicts a child brought up in solitude, silence and 
ignorance throughout his youth and declares that, as a result, he 
would know nothing: he would certainly not have any knowledge 
by 'reminiscence’. Plato’s proof for his doctrine in the Meno is 
not cogent. 4 

(iv) The origin of the soul by God's direct creation, in opposition 
to any form of traducianism, was clearly affirmed by Ladantius 
(about 250 to about 325) in his De opificio Dei .* 

5. Gnosticism, as combated by St. Irenaeus and Hippolytus, 
was, so far as it can reasonably be connected with Christianity, an 
heretical speculative system, or, more accurately, set of systems, 
which, in addition to Oriental and Christian elements, incorporated 
elements of Hellenic thought. One of its effects, therefore, was to 
arouse a determined opposition to Hellenic philosophy on the part 
of those Christian writers who exaggerated the connections 
between Gnosticism and Greek philosophy, which they considered 
to be the seed-ground of heresy; but another effect was to contri¬ 
bute to the effort to construct a non-heretical ‘gnosis’, a Christian 

* Sermo, Ratio. 4 Apol., at. 4 2,2off. 4 icj. 

1 Adv. Prax., I 2 . 




theologico-philosophical system. This effort was characteristic of 
the Catechetical School at Alexandria, of which the two most 
famous names are Clement and Origen. 

(i) Titus Flavius Clemens (Clement of Alexandria) was bom 
about 150, perhaps at Athens, came to Alexandria in 202 or 203 
and died there about 219. Animated by the attitude which was 
later summed up in the formula, Credo, ut intelligam, he sought to 
develop the systematic presentation of the Christian wisdom in a 
true, as opposed to a false gnosis. In the process he followed the 
spirit of Justin Martyr's treatment of the Greek philosophers, 
looking on their work rather as a preparation for Christianity, an 
education of the Hellenic world for the revealed religion, than as 
a folly and delusion. The divine Logos has always illumined souls; 
but whereas the Jews were enlightened by Moses and the Prophets, 
the Greeks had their wise men, their philosophers, so that philo¬ 
sophy was to the Greeks what the Law was to the Hebrews. 1 It 
is true that Clement thought, following Justin again, that the 
Greeks borrowed from the Old Testament and distorted, from 
vainglorious motives, what they borrowed; but he was also firmly 
convinced that the light of the Logos enabled the Greek philoso¬ 
phers to attain many truths, and that philosophy is in reality 
simply that body of truths which are not the prerogative of any 
one Greek School but are found, in different measure and degree, 
in different Schools, though Plato was indeed the greatest of all the 
philosophers. 2 

But not only was philosophy a preparation for Christianity: it 
is also an aid in understanding Christianity. Indeed, the person 
who merely believes and makes no effort to understand is like a 
child in comparison with a man: blind faith, passive acceptance, 
is not the ideal, though science, speculation, reasoning, cannot be 
true if they do not harmonise with revelation. In other words, 
Clement of Alexandria, as the first Christian man of learning, 
wanted to see Christianity in its relation to philosophy and to use 
the speculative reason in the systematisation and development of 
theology. Incidentally it is interesting to note that he rejects any 
real positive knowledge of God: we know in truth only what God 
is not, for example, that He is not a genus, not a species, that He 
is beyond anything of which we have had experience or which we 
can conceive. We are justified in predicating perfections of God, 
but at the same time we must remember that all names we apply 

1 Sfrom., 1, 5. * Paedagogus. 3, 11. 


to God are inadequate—and so, in another sense, inapplicable. In 
dependence, then, on some remarks of Plato in the Republic 
concerning the Good and in dependence on Philo Clement asserted 
the via negaiiva, so dear to the mystics, which reached its classical 
expression in the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius. 

(ii) Origen, foremost member of the Catechetical School at 
Alexandria, was bom in a.d. 185 or 186. He studied the works of 
Greek philosophers and is said to have attended the lectures of 
Ammonius Saccas, teacher of Plotinus. He had to abandon the 
headship of the Alexandrian School because of a synodical process 
(231 and 232) directed against certain features of his doctrine and 
also against his ordination (he had, it was said, been ordained 
priest in Palestine in spite of his act of self-mutilation), and 
subsequently founded a school at Caesarea in Palestine, where 
St. Gregory Thaumaturge was one of his pupils. He died in 254 
or 255, his death being the consequence of the torture he had had 
to endure in the persecution of Decius. 

Origen was the most prolific and learned of all Christian writers 
before the Council of Nicaea, and there is no doubt that he had 
every intention of being and remaining an orthodox Christian; but 
his desire to reconcile the Platonic philosophy with Christianity 
and his enthusiasm for the allegorical interpretation of the Scrip¬ 
tures led him into some heterodox opinions. Thus, under the 
influence of Platonism or rather of neo-Platonism, he held that 
God, who is purely spiritual, the (iovA? or tvAi; 1 and who transcends 
truth and reason, essence and being (in his book against the pagan 
philosopher Celsus 2 he says, following the mind of Plato, that 
God is ijrfxeiva voO xal ouatai;), created the world from eternity and 
by a necessity of His Nature. God, who is goodness, could never 
have been 'inactive’, since goodness always tends to self-communi¬ 
cation, self-diffusion. Moreover, if God had created the world in 
time, if there was ever a ‘time’ when the world was not, God's 
immutability would be impaired, which is an impossibility. 8 Both 
these reasons are conceived in dependence on neo-Platonism. God 
is indeed the creator of matter and is thus Creator in the strict 
and Christian sense, 4 but there is an infinity of worlds, one 
succeeding the other and all different from one another. 5 As ev'l 
is privation, and not something positive, God cannot be accused 
of being the author of evil.* The Logos or Word is the exemplar 

1 De priucipiis, i, i, 6. ’7, 38. * D» principiis, 1, a, 10; 3, 4, 3. 

* Ibid., a, l, 4 . * Ibid., 3,3,3; a.3, 4-3. • In Joann., a, 7. 


of creation, the ISia tStuv, 1 and by the Logos all things are created, 
the Logos acting as mediator of God and creatures. 2 The final 
procession within the Godhead is the Holy Spirit, and imme¬ 
diately below the Holy Spirit are the created spirits, who, through 
the power of the Holy Spirit, are lifted up to become sons of God, 
in union with the Son, and are finally participants in the divine 
life of the Father. 3 

Souls were created by God exactly like to one another in quality, 
but sin in a state of pre-existence led to their being clothed with 
bodies, and the qualitative difference between souls is thus due to 
their behaviour before their entry into this world. They enjoy 
freedom of will on earth, but their acts depend not merely on their 
free choice but also on the grace of God, which is apportioned 
according to their conduct in the pre-embodied state. Neverthe¬ 
less, all souls, and even the devil and demons, too, will at 
length, through purificatory suffering, arrive at union with God. 
This is the doctrine of the restoration of all things (iroxvipOomi;, 
dbroxaiAcmioi? jtovtuv) whereby all things will return to their ultimate 
principle and God will be all in all. 4 This involves, of course, a 
denial of the orthodox doctrine of hell. 

From even the little which has been said concerning Origen’s 
thought it should be clear that he attempted a fusion of Christian 
doctrine with Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy. The Son and 
the Holy Ghost in the Blessed Trinity, though within the Godhead, 
are spoken of in a manner which indicates the influence of the 
emanationism of Philonic and neo-Platonic thought. The theory 
of the Logos as 'Idea of ideas’ and that of eternal and necessary 
creation come from the same source, while the theory of pre¬ 
existence is Platonic. Of course, the philosophical ideas which 
Origen adopted were incorporated by him in a Christian setting 
and framework, so that he may rightly be considered the first 
great synthetic thinker of Christianity, but although he attached 
them to Scriptural passages freely interpreted, his enthusiasm for 
Greek thought led him sometimes into heterodoxy. 

6. The Greek Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were 
occupied mainly with theological questions. Thus Si. Athanasius, 
who died in 373, was the great foe of Arianism; Si. Gregory Nazian- 
zen, who died in 390 and was known as the Theologian, is partic¬ 
ularly remarkable for his work on Trinitarian and Christological 

1 Contra Celsum, 6, 64. ’ De principiis, 2. 6, 1. s Ibid., 6. 1-3. 

* Cf. ibid.. 3, 6, 1 ff.; 1. 6. 3. 


theology; St. John Chrysostom (died 406) is celebrated as one 
of the greatest orators of the Church and for his work on the 
Scriptures. In treating of dogmas like those of the Blessed Trinity 
and the Hypostatic Union the Fathers naturally made use of 
philosophical terms and expressions; but their application of 
reasoning in theology does not make them philosophers in the 
strict sense and we must pass them over here. One may point out, 
however, that St. Basil (died 379) studied in the University of 
Athens, together with St. Gregory Nazianzen, and that in his Ad 
Adolescentes he recommends a study of the Greek poets, orators, 
historians and philosophers, though a selection should be made 
from their writings which would exclude immoral passages: Greek 
literature and learning are a potent instrument of education, but 
moral education is more important than literary and philosophic 
formation. (St. Basil himself in his descriptions of animals 
apparently depended almost entirely on the relevant works of 

But, though we cannot consider here the theological speculations 
of the Greek Fathers, something must be said of two eminent 
figures of the period, the historian Eusebius and St. Gregory of 

(i) Eusebius of Caesarea was bom in Palestine about 265, became 
Bishop of Caesarea, his birthplace, in 313, and died there in 339 
or 340. Best known as a great Church historian, he is also of 
importance for his Christian apologetic, and under this heading 
comes his attitude towards Greek philosophy, since, in general, he 
regarded Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, as a preparation 
of the heathen world for Christianity, though he was fully alive to 
the errors of Greek philosophers and to the contradictions between 
the many philosophical Schools. Yet, though he speaks sharply on 
occasion, his general attitude is sympathetic and appreciative, an 
attitude which comes out most clearly in his Praeparaiio evangelica 
in fifteen books. It is greatly to be regretted that we have not got 
the twenty-five books of the work which Eusebius wrote in answer 
to Porphyry's attack on Christianity, as his reply to the eminent 
neo-Platonist and pupil of Plotinus would doubtless throw much 
light on his philosophical ideas; but the Praeparaiio evangelica is 
sufficient to show, not only that Eusebius shared the general 
outlook of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, but 
also that he had read widely in the literature of the Greeks. He 
was in fact an extremely learned man, and his work is one of the 


sources for our knowledge of the philosophy of those thinkers 
whose works have perished. 

One would probably only expect, given the attitude of his 
predecessors, to find Eusebius especially appreciative of Plato: in 
fact he devotes to Platonism three books (xi—13) of the Praeparatio. 
Clement had spoken of Plato as Moses writing in Greek, and 
Eusebius, agreeing with Clement, considered that Plato and Moses 
were in agreement, 1 that Plato may be called a prophet of the 
economy of salvation. 2 Like Clement and Origen, and like Philo 
also, Eusebius thought that Plato had borrowed the truths he 
exposes from the Old Testament; 3 but at the same time he is 
willing to admit the possibility of Plato having discovered the 
truth for himself or of his having been enlightened by God. 4 In 
any case, not only does Plato agree with the sacred literature of 
the Hebrews in his idea of God, but he also suggests, in his Letters, 
the idea of the Blessed Trinity. On thic point Eusebius is, of 
course, interpreting Plato in a neo-Platonic sense and is referring 
to the three principles of the One or Good, the Nous or Mind, and 
the World-Soul. 8 The Ideas are the ideas of God, of the Logos, the 
exemplar patterns of creation, and the picture of creation in the 
Timaeus is similar to that contained in Genesis. 9 Again, Plato 
agrees with the Scriptures in his doctrine of immortality, 7 while 
the moral teaching of the Phaedrus reminds Eusebius of St. Paul. 8 
Even Plato's political ideal found its realisation in the Jewish 
theocracy. 9 

Nevertheless, it remains true that Plato did not affirm these 
truths without an admixture of error. 10 His doctrine of God and of 
creation is contaminated by his doctrine of emanation and by his 
acceptance of the eternity of matter, his doctrine of the soul and 
of immortality by his theory of pre-existence and of reincarnation, 
and so on. Thus Plato, even if he was a ‘prophet’, was no more 
than a prophet: he did not himself enter into the promised land of 
truth, though he approached near to it: it is Christianity alone 
which is the true philosophy. Moreover, Plato's philosophy was 
highly intellectualist, caviar for the multitude, whereas Chris¬ 
tianity is for all, so that men and women, rich and poor, learned 
and unlearned, can be 'philosophers'. 

To discuss Eusebius’s interpretation of Plato would be out of 
place here: it is sufficient to note that he, in common with most 

>11,28. *13.13- ’ 10, 1; 10, 8; 10. 14. * 11 , 8 . • IT, 16; n, 20. 

* 11, 23; 11. 29; 11. 31. >11,27. *12,27. *13.12:12,16. ">13.19. 



other Christian Greek writers, gives the palm to Plato among 
Hellenic thinkers, and that, in common with all the early Christian 
writers, he makes no real distinction between theology in a strict 
sense and philosophy in a strict sense. There is one wisdom, which 
is found adequately and completely only in Christianity: Greek 
thinkers attained to true philosophy or wisdom in so far as they 
anticipated Christianity. Among those who anticipated the true 
philosophy Plato is the most outstanding; but even he stood only 
on the threshold of truth. Naturally the notion that Plato and 
other Hellenic thinkers borrowed from the Old Testament, 
although itself partly a consequence of their understanding of 
'philosophy’, helped also to confirm Christian writers like Eusebius 
in their very wide interpretation of 'philosophy', as including not 
only the result of human speculation but also the data of revelation. 
In fact, in spite of his very favourable judgement on Plato, the 
logical conclusion from Eusebius’s and others’ conviction that the 
Greek philosophers borrowed from the Old Testament would inevi¬ 
tably be that human speculation unaided by direct illumination 
from God is not of any great avail in the attainment of truth. For 
what are the errors with which even Plato contaminated the truth 
but the result of human speculation? If you say that the truth 
contained in Greek philosophy came from the Old Testament, that 
is to say, from revelation, you can hardly avoid the conclusion 
that the errors in Greek philosophy came from human speculation, 
with a consequently unfavourable judgement as to the power of 
that speculation. This attitude was very common among the 
Fathers and, in the Middle Ages, it was to be clearly expressed by 
St. Bonaventure in the thirteenth century, though it was not to be 
the view that ultimately prevailed in Scholasticism, the view of 
St. Thomas Aquinas and of Duns Scotus. 

(ii) One of the most learned of the Greek Fathers and one of the 
most interesting from the philosophic standpoint was the brother 
of St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who was born in Caesarea (in 
Cappadocia, not Palestine) about a.d. 335 and, after having been 
a teacher of rhetoric, became Bishop of Nyssa, dying about the 
year 395. 

Gregory of Nyssa realised clearly that the data of revelation are 
accepted on faith and are not the result of a logical process of 
reasoning, that the mysteries of faith are not philosophical and 
scientific conclusions: if they were, then supernatural faith, as 
exercised by Christians, and Hellenic philosophising would be 





indistinguishable. On the other hand, the Faith has a rational 
basis, in that, logically speaking, the acceptance of mysteries on 
authority presupposes the ascertainability by natural reasoning of 
certain preliminary truths, especially the existence of God, which 
are capable of philosophic demonstration. Accordingly, though 
the superiority of faith must be maintained, it is only right to 
invoke the aid of philosophy. Ethics, natural philosophy, logic, 
mathematics, are not only ornaments in the temple of truth but 
may also contribute to the life of wisdom and virtue: they are, 
therefore, not to be despised or rejected, 1 though divine revelation 
must be accepted as a touchstone and criterion of truth since 
human reasoning must be judged by the word of God, not the 
word of God by human reasoning. 2 Again, it is right to employ 
human speculation and human reasoning in regard to dogma; but 
the conclusions will not be valid unless they agree with the 
Scriptures. 3 

The cosmic order proves the existence of God, and from the 
necessary perfection of God we can argue to His unity, that there 
is one God. Gregory went on to attempt to give reasons for the 
Trinity of Persons in the one Godhead. 4 For instance, God must 
have a Logos, a word, a reason. He cannot be less than man, who 
also has a reason, a word. But the divine Logos cannot be some¬ 
thing of fleeting duration, it must be eternal, just as it must be 
living. The internal word in man is a fleeting accident, but in God 
there can be no such thing: the Logos is one in Nature with the 
Father, for there is but one God, the distinction between the Logos 
and the Father, the Word and the Speaker, being a distinction of 
relation. To enter into Gregory’s Trinitarian doctrine as such is 
not our concern here; but the fact that he tries, in some sense, to 
‘prove’ the doctrine is of interest, since it afforded a precedent for 
the later attempts of St. Anselm and Richard of St. Victor to 
deduce the Trinity, to prove it rationibus necessariis. 

Obviously, however, St. Gregory’s intention, like that of St. 
Anselm, was to render the mystery more intelligible by the appli¬ 
cation of dialectic, not to ‘rationalise’ the mystery in the sense of 
departing from dogmatic orthodoxy. Similarly, his theory that 
the word ‘man’ is primarily applicable to the universal and only 
secondarily to the individual man was an attempt to render the 

1 De Vita Moysis ; P.G., 44, 336 DG, 360 BC. 

1 Cf. De amnta et resurrectione; P.G., 46, 49 C. 

1 Cf. Contra Eunom.; P.G., 45, 341 B. 4 Cf. Oratio Catechetica\ P.G., 45. 

mystery more intelligible, the application of the illustration being 
this, that the word ‘God’ refers primarily to the divine essence, 
which is one, and only secondarily to the divine Persons, who are 
Three, so that the Christian cannot be rightly accused of tritheism. 
But, though the illustration was introduced to defeat the charge 
of tritheism and make the mystery more intelligible, it was an 
unfortunate illustration, since it implied a hyperrealist view of 

St. Gregory’s 'Platonism' in regard to universals comes out 
clearly in his De hominis opificio, where he distinguishes the 
heavenly man, the ideal man, the universal, from the earthly man, 
the object of experience. The former, the ideal man or rather 
ideal human being, exists only in the divine idea and is without 
sexual determination, being neither male nor female: the latter, 
the human being of experience, is an expression of the ideal and 
is sexually determined, the ideal being, as it were, ‘splintered’ or 
partially expressed in many single individuals. Thus, according 
to Gregory, individual creatures proceed by creation, not by 
emanation, from the ideal in the divine Logos. This theory clearly 
goes back to neo-Platonism and to Philonism, and it was adopted 
by the first outstanding philosopher of the Middle Ages, John 
Scotus Eriugena, who was much influenced by the writings of 
St. Gregory of Nyssa. It must be remembered, however, that 
Gregory never meant to imply that there was ever an historic 
ideal man, sexually undetermined; God’s idea of man will be 
realised only eschatologically, when (according to St. Paul’s words 
as interpreted by Gregory) there will be neither male nor female, 
since in heaven there will be no marriage 

God created the world out of an abundance of goodness and 
love, in order that there might be creatures who could participate 
in the divine goodness; but though God is goodness and created 
the world out of goodness, He did not create the world from 
necessity, but freely. A share in this freedom God has given to 
man, and God respects this freedom, permitting man to choose 
evil if he so wills. Evil is the result of man's free choice, God is 
not responsible. It is true that God foresaw evil and that He 
permits it, but in spite of this foreknowledge He created man, for 
He knew also that He would in the end bring all men to Himself. 
Gregory thus accepted the Origenist theory of the ‘restoration of all 
things’: every human being, even Satan and the fallen angels, will at 
length turn to God, at least through the purifying sufferings of the 




hereafter. In a sense, then, every human being will at length 
return to the Ideal and be therein contained, though Gregory 
certainly accepted individual immortality. This notion of the 
return of all things to God, to the Principle from whom they 
sprang, and of the attainment of a state in which God is ‘all in 
all', was also borrowed by John Scotus Eriugena from St. Gregory, 
and in interpreting the somewhat ambiguous language of John 
Scotus one should at least bear in mind the thought of St. Gregory, 
even while admitting the possibility of John Scotus having 
attached a different meaning to similar words. 

But, though St. Gregory of Nyssa shared Origen's theory of the 
restoration of all things, he did not share Origen's acceptance of 
the Platonic notion of pre-existence, and in the De hominis 
opificio 1 he says that the author of the De Principiis was led 
astray by Hellenic theories. The soul, which is not confined to 
any one portion of the body, is ‘a created essence (ou(j{a ysvvrrnf)), 
a living essence, intellectual, with an organic and sensitive body, 
an essence that has the power of giving life and perceiving sensible 
objects, so long as the bodily instruments endure'. 2 As simple 
and uncompounded (A^v xal Acnivecrov), the soul has the power of 
surviving the body, 3 with which, however, it will in the end be 
reunited. The soul is thus spiritual and incorporeal; but how is it 
different from body, for body, i.e. a concrete material object, is 
composed, according to Gregory, of qualities which in themselves 
are incorporeal? In the De hominis opificio 1 he says that the 
union of qualities like colour, solidity, quantity, weight, results in 
body, whereas their dissolution spells the perishing of the body. 
In the preceding chapter he has proposed a dilemma: either 
material things proceed from God, in which case God, as their 
Source, would contain matter in Himself, would be material, or, 
if God is not material, then material things do not proceed from 
Him and matter is eternal. Gregory, however, rejects both the 
materiality of God and dualism, and the natural conclusion of this 
would be that the qualities of which bodily things are composed are 
not material. It is true that, while asserting creation ex nihilo, 
Gregory asserts that we cannot comprehend how God creates the 
qualities out of nothing; but it is reasonable to suppose that in his 
eyes the qualities which form body are not themselves bodies: in 
fact they could not be, since there is no concrete body at all 
except in and through their union. Presumably he was influenced 

1 P.G., 44. 229ft. * De animn ei res.] P.G. 46, 29. * Jhid, 44. 4 Ch. 24 


by Plato’s doctrine of the qualities in the Timaeus. How, then, 
are they not spiritual? And, if they are spiritual, how does soul 
differ essentially from body? The reply would doubtless be that, 
though the qualities unite to form body and cannot, considered in 
abstraction, be called ‘bodies’, yet they have an essential relation 
to matter, since it is their function to form matter. An analogous 
difficulty recurs in regard to the Aristotelian-Thomistic doctrine 
of matter and form. Prime matter is not in itself body, but it is 
one of the principles of body: how, then, considered in itself, does 
it differ from the immaterial and spiritual? Thomistic philoso¬ 
phers answer that prime matter never exists by itself alone and 
that it has an exigency for quantity, an essential ordination to 
concrete body, and presumably Gregory of Nyssa would have to 
say something of the same sort in regard to his primary qualities. 
In passing, one may note that similar difficulties might be raised 
in regard to certain modem theories concerning the constitution 
of matter. Plato, one might reasonably suppose, would welcome 
these theories, were he alive to-day, and it is not improbable that 
St. Gregory of Nyssa would follow suit. 

From what has been said it is clear that Gregory of Nyssa was 
much influenced by Platonism, neo-Platonism, and the writings of 
Philo (he speaks, for example, of the VoUxns 0e$ as being the 
purpose of man, of the 'flight of the alone to the Alone’, of justice- 
in-itself, of eros and the ascent to the ideal Beauty); but it must 
be emphasised that, although Gregory undeniably employed Ploti- 
nian themes and expressions, as also to a less extent those of 
Philo, he did not by any means always understand them in a 
Plotinian or Philonic sense. On the contrary, he utilised expres¬ 
sions of Plotinus or Plato to expose and state Christian doctrines. 
For example, the ‘likeness to God’ is the work of grace, a develop¬ 
ment under the activity of God, with man’s free co-operation, of 
the image or eb«iv of God implanted in the soul at baptism. Again, 
justice-in-itself is not an abstract virtue nor even an idea in Nous', 
it is the Logos indwelling in the soul, the effect of this inhabitation 
being the participated virtue. This Logos, moreover, is not the 
Nous of Plotinus, nor is it the Logos of Philo: it is the Second 
Person of the Blessed Trinity, and between God and creatures 
there is no intermediary procession of subordinate hypostases. 

Finally, it is noteworthy that St. Gregory of Nyssa was the first 
real founder of systematic mystical theology. Here again he 
utilised Plotinian and Philonic themes, but he employed them in 





a Christian sense and within a Christocentric framework of thought. 
Naturally speaking man's mind is fitted to know sensible objects, 
and contemplating these objects the mind can come to know 
something of God and His attributes (symbolic theology, which 
is partly equivalent to natural theology in the modem sense). On 
the other hand, though man by nature has as his proper object of 
knowledge sensible things, these things are not fully real, they are 
mirage and illusion except as symbols or manifestations of imma¬ 
terial reality, that reality towards which man is spiritually drawn. 
The consequent tension in the soul leads to a state of ivcXTrurrla 
or ‘despair', which is the birth of mysticism, since the soul, drawn 
by God, leaves its natural object of knowledge, without, however, 
being able to see the God to whom it is drawn by love: it enters 
into the daikness, what the mediaeval treatise calls the Cloud of 
Unknowing. (To this stage corresponds the negative theology, 
which so influenced the Pseudo-Dionysius.) In the soul's advance 
there are, as it were, two movements, that of the indwelling of the 
Triune God and that of the soul's reaching out beyond itself, 
culminating in 'ecstasy'. Origen had interpreted the Philonic 
ecstasy intellectually, as any other form of 'ecstasy' was then 
suspect, owing to Montanist extravagances; but Gregory set 
ecstasy at the summit of the soul's endeavour, interpreting it first 
and foremost as ecstatic love. 

The 'darkness' which envelops God is due primarily to the utter 
transcendence of the divine essence, and Gregory drew the con¬ 
clusion that even in heaven the soul is always pressing forward, 
drawn by love, to penetrate further into God. A static condition 
would mean either satiety or death: spiritual life demands constant 
progress and the nature of the divine transcendence involves the 
same progress, since the human mind can never comprehend God. 
In a sense, then, the 'divine darkness' always persists, and it is 
true to say that Gregory gave to this knowledge in darkness a 
priority over intellectual knowledge, not because he despised the 
human intellect but because he realised the transcendence of 

St. Gregory's scheme of the soul's ascent certainly bears some 
resemblance to that of Plotinus; but at the same time it is 
thoroughly Christocentric. The advance of the soul is the work of 
the Divine Logos, Christ. Moreover, his ideal is not that of a 
solitary union with God, but rather of a realisation of the Pleroma 
of Christ: the advance of one soul brings grace and blessing to 

others and the indwelling of God in the individual affects the 
whole Body. His mysticism is also thoroughly sacramental in 
character: the ctxwv is restored by Baptism, union with God is 
fostered by the Eucharist. In fine, the writings of St. Gregory of 
Nyssa are the source from which not only the Pseudo-Dionysius 
and mystics down to St. John of the Cross drew, directly or 
indirectly, much of their inspiration; but they are also the 
fountain-head of those Christian philosophical systems which trace 
out the soul's advance through different stages of knowledge and 
love up to the mystical life and the Beatific Vision. If a purely 
spiritual writer like St. John of the Cross stands in the line that 
goes back to Gregory, so does the mystical philosopher St. 
Bona venture. 

7. Of the Latin Fathers the greatest, without a shadow of 
doubt, is St. Augustine of Hippo; but, because of the importance 
of his thought for the Middle Ages, I shall consider his philosophy 
separately and rather more at length. In this section it is sufficient 
to mention very briefly St. Ambrose (about 333 to 397), Bishop 
of Milan. 

St. Ambrose shared the typically Roman attitude towards 
philosophy, i.e. an interest in practical and ethical matters, coupled 
with little facility or taste for metaphysical speculation. In his 
dogmatic and Scriptural work he depended mainly on the Greek 
Fathers; but in ethics he was influenced by Cicero, and in his De 
officiis ministrorum, composed about 391 and addressed to the 
clergy of Milan, he provided a Christian counterpart to the De 
officiis of the great Roman orator. In his book the Saint follows 
Cicero closely in his divisions and treatment of the virtues, but 
the whole treatment is naturally infused with the Christian ethos, 
and the Stoic ideal of happiness, found in the possession of virtue, 
is complemented by the final ideal of eternal happiness in God. It 
is not that St. Ambrose makes any particularly new contributions 
to Christiati ethic: the importance of his work lies rather in its 
influence on succeeding thought, in the use made of it by later 
writers on ethics. 

8. The Greek Fathers, as has been seen, were mainly influenced 
by the Platonic tradition; but one of the factors which helped to 
prepare the way for the favourable reception eventually accorded 
to Aristotelianism in the Latin West was the \tfork of the last of 
the Greek Fathers, St. John Damascene. 

St. John Damascene, who died probably at the end of the year 




a.d. 749, was not only a resolute opponent of the ‘Iconoclasts’ but 
also a great systematiser in the field of theology, so that he can 
be looked on as the Scholastic of the Orient. He explicitly says 
that he does not intend to give new and personal opinions, but to 
preserve and hand on the thoughts of holy and learned men, so 
that it would be useless to seek in his writings for novelty of 
content; yet in his systematic and ordered presentation of the ideas 
of his predecessors a certain originality may be ascribed to him. 
His chief work is the Fount of Wisdom, in the first part of which he 
gives a sketch of the Aristotelian logic and ontology, though he 
draws on other writers besides Aristotle, e.g. Porphyry. In this 
first part, the Dialectica, he makes clear his opinion that philosophy 
and profane science are the instruments or handmaids of theology, 
adopting the view of Clement of Alexandria and the two Gregories, 
a view which goes back to Philo the Alexandrian Jew and was often 
repeated in the Middle Ages. 1 In the second part of his great work 
he gives a history of heresies, using material supplied by former 
writers, and in the third part, the De Fide Orthodoxa, he gives, in 
four books, an orderly treatment of orthodox Patristic theology. 
This third part was translated into Latin by Burgundius of Pisa in 
1151 and was used by, among others, Peter Lombard, St. Albert 
the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. In the East, St. John Damas¬ 
cene enjoys almost as much esteem as St. Thomas Aquinas in 
the West. 

9. From even the brief survey given above it is evident that one 
would look in vain for a systematic philosophical synthesis in the 
works of any of the Greek Fathers or indeed in any of the Latin 
Fathers save Augustine. The Greek Fathers, making no very clear 
distinction between the provinces of philosophy and theology, 
regarded Christianity as the one true wisdom or ‘philosophy’. 
Hellenic philosophy they tended to regard as a propaedeutic to 
Christianity, so that their main interest in treating of it was to 
point out the anticipation of Christian truth which they saw 
therein contained and the aberrations from truth which were also 
clear to them. The former they frequently attributed to borrowing 
from the Old Testament, the latter to the weakness of human 
speculation and to the perverse desire of originality, the vainglory, 
of the philosophers themselves. When they adopted ideas from 
Hellenic philosophy they generally accepted them because they 
thought that they would help in the exposition and presentation 

1 P.C., 94, 532 AB. 


of the Christian wisdom, not in order to incorporate them in a 
philosophic system in the strict sense. 

Nevertheless, there are, as we have seen, philosophic elements in 
the writings of the Fathers. For instance, they make use of rational 
arguments for God’s existence, particularly the argument from 
order and design; they speculate about the origin and nature of the 
soul; St. Gregory of Nyssa even had some ideas which fall under the 
heading of philosophy of nature or cosmology. Still, since their 
arguments, the arguments for God’s existence, for example, are 
not really worked out in any developed, systematic and strict 
manner, it may appear out of place to have considered them at all. 
I think, however, that this would be a mistake, as even a brief 
treatment of Patristic thought is sufficient to bring out one point 
which may tend to be forgotten by those who know little of 
Christian philosophic thought. Owing to the fact that St. Thomas 
Aquinas, who has in recent times been accorded a peculiar status 
among Catholic philosophers, adopted a great deal of the Aristo¬ 
telian system, and owing to the fact that early thinkers of the 
'modern era’, e.g. Descartes and Francis Bacon, fulminate against 
Scholastic Aristotelianism, it is sometimes taken for granted that 
Christian philosophy, or at least Catholic philosophy, means 
Aristotelianism and nothing else. Yet, leaving out of account for 
the present later centuries, a survey of Patristic thought is suffi¬ 
cient to show that Plato, and not Aristotle, was the Greek thinker 
who won the greatest esteem from the Fathers of the Church. This 
may have been due in great part to the fact that neo-Platonism was 
the dominant and vigorous contemporary philosophy and to the 
fact that the Fathers not only saw Plato more or less in the light 
of neo-Platonic interpretation and development but also knew 
comparatively little about Aristotle, in most cases at least; but it 
also remains true that, whatever may have been the cause or 
causes, the Fathers tended to see in Plato a forerunner of Chris¬ 
tianity and that the philosophic elements they adopted were 
adopted, for'the most part, from the Platonic tradition. If one 
adds to this the further consideration that Patristic thought, 
especially that of Augustine, profoundly influenced, not only the 
early Middle Ages, not only such eminent thinkers as St. Anselm 
and St. Bonaventure, but even St. Thomas Aquinas himself, it 
will be seen that, from the historical viewpoint at least, some 
knowledge of Patristic thought is both desirable and valuable. 



Life and writings — St. Augustine and Philosophy. 

x. In Latin Christendom the name of Augustine stands out as 
that of the greatest of the Fathers both from a literary and from 
a theological standpoint, a name that dominated Western thought 
until the thirteenth century and which can never lose its lustre, 
notwithstanding the Aristotelianism of St. Thomas Aquinas and 
his School, especially as this Aristotelianism was very far from 
disregarding and still further from belittling the great African 
Doctor. Indeed, in order to understand the currents of thought in 
the Middle Ages, a knowledge of Augustinianism is essential. In 
the present work the thought of Augustine cannot be treated with 
the fullness which it merits, but treated it must be, even if 

Bom at Tagaste in the Province of Numidia on November 13th, 
a.d. 354, Augustine came of a pagan father, Patricius, and a 
Christian mother, St. Monica. His mother brought up her child 
as a Christian, but Augustine's baptism was deferred, in accordance 
with a common, if undesirable, custom of the time. 1 The child 
learnt the rudiments of Latin and arithmetic from a schoolmaster 
of Tagaste, but play, at which he wished always to be the winner, 
was more attractive to him than study, and Greek, which he began 
after a time, he hated, though he was attracted by the Homeric 
poems considered as a story. That Augustine knew practically no 
Greek is untrue; but he never learned to read the language with 

In about a.d. 365 Augustine went to the town of Madaura, 
where he laid the foundation of his knowledge of Latin literature 
and grammar. Madaura was still largely a pagan place, and the 
effect of the general atmosphere and of his study of the Latin 
classics was evidently to detach the boy from the faith of his 
mother, a detachment which his year of idleness at Tagaste (369- 
70) did nothing to mitigate. In 370, the year in which his father 
died after having become a Catholic, Augustine began the study of 
rhetoric at Carthage, the largest city he had yet seen. The 

1 Conf., I, II, 17. 



licentious ways of the great port and centre of government, the 
sight of the obscene rites connected with cults imported from the 
East, combined with the fact that Augustine, the southerner, was 
already a man, with passions alive and vehement, led to his 
practical break with the moral ideals of Christianity and before 
long he took a mistress, with whom he lived for over ten years 
and by whom he had a son in his second year at Carthage. In 
spite, however, of his irregular life Augustine was a very successful 
student of rhetoric and by no means neglected his studies. 

It was soon after reading the Hortensius of Cicero, which turned 
the youth's mind to the search for truth, that Augustine accepted 
the teaching of the Manichaeans, 1 which seemed to offer him a 
rational presentation of truth, in distinction from the barbaric 
ideas and illogical doctrines of Christianity. Thus Christians main¬ 
tained that God created the whole world and that God is good: 
how, then, could they explain the existence of evil and suffering? 
The Manichaeans, however, maintained a dualistic theory, accord¬ 
ing to which there are two ultimate principles, a good principle, 
that of light, God or Ormuzd, and an evil principle, that of dark¬ 
ness, Ahriman. These principles are both eternal and their strife 
is eternal, a strife reflected in the world which is the production of 
the two principles in mutual conflict. In man the soul, composed 
of light, is the work of the good principle, while the body, composed 
of grosser matter, is the work of the evil principle. This system 
commended itself in Augustine's eyes because it seemed to explain 
the problem of evil and because of its fundamental materialism, 
for he could not yet conceive how there could be an immaterial 
reality, imperceptible to the senses. Conscious of his own passions 
and sensual desires, he felt that he could now attribute them to an 
evil cause outside himself. Moreover, although the Manichaeans 
condemned sexual intercourse and the eating of flesh-meat and 
prescribed ascetic practices such as fasting, these practices obliged 
only the elect, not the ‘hearers’, to which level Augustine belonged. 

Augustine, now detached from Christianity both morally and 
intellectually, returned to Tagaste in 374 and there taught grammar 
and Latin literature for a year, after which he opened a school oi 
rhetoric at Carthage in the autumn of 374. He lived with his 
mistress and their child, Adeodatus, and it was during this period 
that he won a prize for poetry (a dramatic piece, not now extant) 

1 Manichaeanism, founded by Manes or Mani in the third century, originated in 
Persia and was a mixture of Persian and Christian elements. 


and published his first prose work, Depulchro et apto. The sojourn 
at Carthage lasted until 383 and it was shortly before Augustine’s 
departure for Rome that an event of some importance occurred. 
Augustine had been troubled by difficulties and problems which 
the Manichaeans could not answer; for example, the problem of the 
source of certitude in human thought, the reason why the two 
principles were in eternal conflict, etc. It happened that a noted 
Manichaean bishop, Faustus by name, came to Carthage, and 
Augustine resolved to seek from him a satisfactory solution of his 
difficulties; but, though he found Faustus agreeable and friendly, 
he did not find in his words the intellectual satisfaction which he 
sought. It was, therefore, with his faith in Manichaeism already 
somewhat shaken that he set out for Rome. He made the journey 
partly because the students at Carthage were ill-mannered and 
difficult to control, whereas he had heard good reports of the 
students’ behaviour at Rome, partly because he hoped for greater 
success in his career in the imperial metropolis. Arrived at Rome, 
Augustine opened a school in rhetoric, but, though the students 
were well behaved in class, they had the inconvenient habit of 
changing their school just before the payment of fees was due. He 
accordingly sought for and obtained a position at Milan as muni¬ 
cipal professor of rhetoric in 384; but he did not leave Rome 
without having lost most of his belief in Manichaeanism and having 
been consequently attracted towards Academic scepticism, though 
he retained a nominal adherence to Manichaeanism and still accepted 
some of the Manichaean positions, for example their materialism. 

At Milan, Augustine came to think a little better of Christianity 
owing to the sermons on the Scriptures delivered by St. Ambrose, 
Bishop of Milan; but though he was ready to become a catechu¬ 
men again, he was not yet convinced of the truth of Christianity. 
Moreover, his passions were still too strong for him. His mother 
wished him to marry a certain girl, hoping that marriage would 
help to reform his life; but, being unable to wait the necessary 
time for the girl in question, he took another mistress in place of 
the mother of Adeodatus, from whom he had parted in sorrow in 
view of the proposed marriage. At this time Augustine read 
certain 'Platonic treatises in the Latin translation of Victorinus, 
these treatises being most probably the Enneads of Plotinus. The 
effect of neo-Platonism was to free him from the shackles of 
materialism and to facilitate his acceptance of the idea of imma¬ 
terial reality. In addition, the Plotinian conception of evil as 



privation rather than as something positive showed him how the 
problem of evil could be met without having to have recourse to 
the dualism of the Manichaeans. In other words, the function of 
neo-Platonism at this period was to render it possible for Augustine 
to see the reasonableness of Christianity, and he began to read the 
New Testament again, particularly the writings of St. Paul. If 
neo-Platonism suggested to him the idea of the contemplation of 
spiritual things, of wisdom in the intellectual sense, the New 
Testament showed him that it was also necessary to lead a life in 
accordance with wisdom. 

These impressions were confirmed by his meeting with two men, 
Simplicianus and Pontitianus. The former, an old priest, gave 
Augustine an account of the conversion of Victorinus, the neo- 
Platonist, to Christianity, with the result that the young man 
'burned with the desire to do likewise’, 1 while the latter spoke of 
the life of St. Anthony of Egypt, which made Augustine disgusted 
with his own moral state. 2 There followed that intense moral 
struggle, which culminated in the famous scene enacted in the 
garden of his house, when Augustine hearing a child’s voice over 
a wall crying repeatedly the refrain Tolle lege! Tolle lege! opened 
the New Testament at random and lighted on the words of St. Paul 
in the Epistle to the Romans, 8 which sealed his moral conversion. 4 
It is perfectly clear that the conversion which then took place was 
a moral conversion, a conversion of will, a conversion which 
followed the intellectual conversion. His reading of neo-Platonic 
works was an instrument in the intellectual conversion of Augustine, 
while his moral conversion, from the human viewpoint, was pre¬ 
pared by the sermons of Ambrose and the words of Simplicianus 
and Pontitianus, and confirmed and sealed by the New Testament. 
The agony of his second or moral conversion was intensified by the 
fact that he already knew what he ought to do, though on the 
other hand he felt himself without the power to accomplish it: to 
the words of St. Paul, however, which he read in the garden, he 
gave, under the impulse of grace, a Teal assent’ and his life was 
changed. This conversion occurred in the summer of 386. 

A lung ailment from which he was suffering gave Augustine the 
excuse he wanted to retire from his professorship and at Cassicia- 
cum, through reading and reflection and discussions with friends, 
he endeavoured to obtain a better understanding of the Christian 
religion, using as an instrument concepts and themes taken from 

1 Crmf,, 8, 5. 10. 1 Ibid.. 8 t 7, 16. ■ Rom., 13, 13-14. 4 Conf. 8, 8-12. 



neo-Platonic philosophy, his idea of Christianity being still very 
incomplete and tinctured, more than it was to be later, by neo¬ 
platonism. From this period of retirement date his works Contra 
Academicos , De Beata Vita and De Or dine. Returning to Milan 
Augustine wrote the De Immortalitate Animae (the Soliloquia were 
also written about this time) and began the De Musica. On Holy 
Saturday of 387 Augustine was baptised by St. Ambrose, soon 
after which event he set out to return to Africa. His mother, who 
had come over to Italy, died at Ostia, while they were waiting for 
a boat. (It was at Ostia that there occurred the celebrated scene 
described in the Confessions A) Augustine delayed his return to 
Africa and while residing at Rome wrote the De libero arbitrio , 
the De Quantitate Animae and the De moribus ecchsiae Catholicae 
et de moribus Manichaeorum . In the autumn of 388 he set sail 
for Africa. 

Back at Tagaste, Augustine established a small monastic com¬ 
munity. From this period (388-91) date his De Genesi contra 
Manichaeos , De Magistro and De Vera Religione , while he com¬ 
pleted the De Musica. It is probable that he also polished up or 
completed the De moribus , mentioned above. At Cassiciacum 
Augustine had resolved never to marry, but he did not apparently 
intend to seek ordination, for it was contrary to his own wishes 
that the Bishop of Hippo ordained him priest in 391, when he was 
on a visit to that seaport town, about a hundred and fifty miles due 
west of Carthage. The bishop desired Augustine's help, and the 
latter settled down at Hippo and established a monastery. Engaged 
in controversy with the Manichaeans he composed the De uiilitaie 
credendi , the De duabus animabus, the Disputatio contra Fortuna - 
turn, the De Fide et Symbolo , a lecture on the Creed delivered 
before a synod of African bishops, and, against the Donatists, the 
Psalmus contra partem Donati . He started a literal commentary on 
Genesis , but, as its name implies {De Genesi ad litteram liber imper - 
fectus), left it unfinished. The De diver sis quaestionibus (389-96), 
the Contra Adimantum Manichaeum . De sermone Domini in monte , 
the De Mendacio and De Continentia , as well as various Commen¬ 
taries (on Romans and Galatians) also date from the early period 
of Augustine's priestly life. 

In the year 395-6 Augustine was consecrated auxiliary Bishop 
of Hippo, setting up another monastic establishment within his 
residence very shortly after his consecration. When Valerius, 

1 9, io, 23-6, 



Bishop of Hippo, died in 396, within a year of Augustine's conse¬ 
cration, he became ruling Bishop of Hippo in Valerius's place, and 
remained in that post until his death. This meant that he had to 
face the task of governing a diocese in which the Donatist schism 
was well entrenched instead of being able to devote himself to a 
life of quiet prayer and study. However, whatever his personal 
inclinations, Augustine threw himself into the anti-Donatist 
struggle with ardour, preaching, disputing, publishing anti-Dona¬ 
tist controversy. Nevertheless, in spite of this activity, he found 
time for composing such works as the De diversis quaestionibus ad 
Simplicianum (397), part of the De Doctrina Christiana (the fourth 
book being added in 426), part of the Confessions (the whole work 
being published by 400), and the Annotationes in Job . Augustine 
also exchanged controversial letters with the great scholar St. 
Jerome, on Scriptural matters. 

In the year 400 St. Augustine started on one of his greatest 
treatises, the fifteen books De Trinitate , which were completed in 
417, and in 401 began the twelve books of the De Genesi ad 
litteram, completed in 415, In the same year (400) appeared the 
De catechizandis rudibus, the De Consensu Evangelistarum , the De 
Opera Monachorum , the Contra Faustum Manichaeum (thirty- 
three books), the first book of the Contra litteras Petiliani (Donatist 
Bishop of Cirta), the second book dating from 401-2 and the third 
from 402-3. These were followed by other anti-Donatist works, 
such as the Contra Cresconium grammaticum partis Donati (402), 
though various publications have not been preserved, and several 
writings against the Manichaeans. In addition to this controversial 
activity Augustine was constantly preaching and writing letters: 
thus the letter to Dioscorus, 1 in which, in answer to certain 
questions about Cicero, Augustine develops his views on pagan 
philosophy, still showing a strong predilection for neo-Platonism, 
dates from 410. 

Imperial edicts were issued in the course of time against the 
Donatists, and about the year 411, after the conference that then 
took place, Augustine was able to turn his attention to another 
set of opponents, the Pelagians. Pelagius, who exaggerated the 
role of human volition in man's salvation and minimised that of 
grace, denying original sin, visited Carthage in 410 accompanied 
by Coelestius. In 411, after Pelagius had left for the East, 
Coelestius was excommunicated by a Council at Carthage. Pelagius 

1 Epist., 118. 



had tried to use texts from Augustine's De libero arbitrio in support 
of his own heresy, but the bishop made his position quite clear in 
his De peccatorum mentis et remissione, et de baptismo parvulorum, 
ad Marcellinum , following it up in the same year (412) by the De 
spiritu et littera, and later by the De fide et operibus (413), the 
De natura et gratia contra Pelagium (415) and the De per/ectione 
iustitiae hominis (415). However, not content with his anti- 
Pelagian polemic, Augustine began, in 413, the twenty-two books 
of the De Civitate Dei (completed in 426), one of his greatest and 
most famous works, written against the background of the bar¬ 
barian invasion of the Empire, and prepared many of his Enarra - 
tiones in Psalmos . In addition he published (415) the Ad Orosium, 
contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas, a book against the heresy 
started by the Spanish bishop, Priscillian, and in the course of 
further anti-Pelagian polemic the De Gestis Pelagii (417) and the 
De Gratia Christi et peccato originali (418). As if all this were not 
enough, Augustine finished the De Trinitate, and wrote his In 
Joannis Evangelium (416-17) and In Epistolas Joannis ad Parihos 
(416), not to speak of numerous letters and sermons. 

In 418 Pelagianism was condemned, first by a Council of African 
bishops, then by the Emperor Honorius, and finally by Pope 
Zosimus, but the controversy was not yet over, and when Augustine 
was accused by Julian, heretical Bishop of Eclanum, of having 
invented the concept of original sin, the Saint replied in the work 
De nuptiis et concupiscentia (419-20), while in 420 he addressed 
two books, Contra duas epistolas Pelagianorum ad Bonifatium 
Papam, to the Pope, and followed them up by his Contra Iulianum 
haeresis Pelagianae defensorem (six books) in 421. The De anima 
et eius origine (419), the Contra mendacium ad Consentium (420), 
the Contra adversarium Legis et Prophetarum (420), the Enchiridion 
ad Laurentium, De fide, spe, caritate (421), the De cura pro mortuis 
gerenda, ad Paulinum Nolanum (420-1), also date from this period. 

In 426 Augustine, feeling that he would not live very much 
longer, provided for the future of his diocese by nominating his 
successor, the priest Eraclius, the nomination being acclaimed by 
the people; but the Saint’s literary activity wa$ by no means over, 
and in 426-7 he published the De gratia et libero arbitrio ad 
Valentinum , the De correptione et gratia and the two books of 
Retradiones, which contain a critical survey of his works and are 
of great value for establishing their chronology. All this time the 
situation of the Empire was going from bad to worse, and in 429 


Genseric led the Vandals from Spain into Africa; but Augustine 
continued writing. In 427 he published the Speculum de Scriptura 
Sacra, a selection of texts from the Bible, and in 428 his De 
haeresibus ad Quodvultdeum , followed by the De praedestinaiione 
sanctorum ad Prosperum and the De dono perseverantiae ad Pros- 
perum in 428-9. In addition, Augustine began the Opus imperfec- 
turn contra Julianum in 429, a refutation of an anti-Augustinian 
treatise by the Pelagian Julian which had been written some time 
previously but had come into the Saint's hands only in 428; but 
he did not live to finish the work (hence its name). Augustine also 
came into contact with Arianism, and in 428 appeared his Collatio 
cum Maximino Arianorum episcopo and his Contra Maximinum 

In the late spring or early summer of 430 the Vandals laid siege 
to Hippo, and it was during the siege that Augustine died on 
August 28th, 430, as he was reciting the Penitential Psalms. 
Possidius remarks that he left no will, since, as one of God's 
paupers, he had nothing to leave. The Vandals subsequently burnt 
the city, though the cathedral and the library of Augustine were 
left intact. Possidius wrote the Life of Augustine, which is to be 
found in the Latin Patrology. Those who read what he (Augustine) 
has written on divine things can profit much; but I think that they 
would profit more were they able to hear and see him preaching in 
the church, and especially those who were privileged to enjoy 
intimate conversation with him.' 1 

2. It may perhaps seem strange that I have spoken of St. 
Augustine's theological controversies and listed a large number of 
theological treatises; but a sketch of his life and activity will 
suffice to make it plain that, with a few exceptions, Augustine 
did not compose purely philosophical works in our sense. In a 
book like this, one does not, of course, intend to treat of Augustine’s 
purely theological doctrine, but, in order to elicit his philosophical 
teaching one has to have frequent recourse to what are primarily 
theological treatises. Thus, in order to obtain light on Augustine's 
theory of knowledge, it is necessary to consult the relevant texts of 
the De Trinitate, while the De Genesi ad litter am expounds the 
theory of rationes seminales and the Confessions contain a treat 
ment of time. This mingling of theological and philosophical 
themes may appear odd and unmethodical to us to-day, used as 
we are to a clear distinction between the provinces of dogmatic 

1 Vita S. Aug., 31. 



theology and philosophy; but one must remember that Augustine, 
in common with other Fathers and early Christian writers, made 
no such clear distinction. It is not that Augustine failed to recog¬ 
nise, still less that he denied, the intellect's power of attaining 
truth without revelation; it is rather that he regarded the Christian 
wisdom as one whole, that he tried to penetrate by his understand¬ 
ing the Christian faith and to see the world and human life in the 
light of the Christian wisdom. He knew quite well that rational 
arguments can be adduced for God's existence, for example, but it 
was not so much the mere intellectual assent to God’s existence 
that interested him as the real assent, the positive adhesion of the 
will to God, and he knew that in the concrete such an adhesion to 
God requires divine grace. In short, Augustine did not play two 
parts, the part of the theologian and the part of the philosopher 
who considers the 'natural man’; he thought rather of man as he 
is in the concrete, fallen and redeemed mankind, man who is able 
indeed to attain truth but who is constantly solicited by God's 
grace and who requires grace in order to appropriate the truth that 
saves. If there was question of convincing someone that God 
exists, Augustine would see the proof as a stage or as an instru¬ 
ment in the total process of the man's conversion and salvation: 
he would recognise the proof as in itself rational, but he would be 
acutely conscious, not only of the moral preparation necessary to 
give a real and living assent to the proof, but also of the fact that, 
according to God's intention for man in the concrete, recognition 
of God's existence is not enough, but should lead on, under the 
impulse of grace, to supernatural faith in God's revelation and to 
a life in accordance with Christ's teaching. Reason has its part to 
play in bringing a man to faith, and, once a man has the faith, 
reason has its part to play in penetrating the data of faith; but it 
is the total relation of the soul to God which primarily interests 
Augustine. Reason, as we have seen, had its part to play in the 
intellectual stage of his own conversion and reason had its part to 
play after his conversion: generalising his own experience, then, he 
would consider the fullness of wisdom to consist in a penetration 
of what is believed, though in the approach to wisdom reason 
helps to prepare a man for faith, ‘The medicine for the soul, which 
is effected by the divine providence and ineffable beneficence, is 
perfectly beautiful in degree and distinction. For it is divided 
between Authority and Reason. Authority demands of us faith, 
and prepares man for reason. Reason leads to perception and 



cognition, although authority also does not leave reason wholly 
out of sight, when the question of who may be believed is being 
considered.’ 1 

This attitude was characteristic of the Augustinian tradition. 
St. Anselm’s aim is expressed in his words Credo ut intelligam, 
while St. Bonaventure, in the thirteenth century, explicitly 
rejected the sharp delimitation of the spheres of theology and 
philosophy. The Thomist distinction between the sciences of 
dogmatic theology and philosophy, with the accompanying dis¬ 
tinction of the modes of procedure to be employed in the two 
sciences, no doubt evolved inevitably out of the earlier attitude, 
though, quite apart from that consideration, it obviously enjoys 
this very great advantage that it corresponds to an actual and 
real distinction between revelation and the data of the 'unaided' 
reason, between the supernatural and natural spheres. It is at 
once a safeguard of the doctrine of the supernatural and also of 
the powers of man in the natural order. Yet the Augustinian 
attitude on the other hand enjoys this advantage, that it contem¬ 
plates always man as he is, man in the concrete, for de facto man 
has only one final end, a supernatural end, and, as far as actual 
existence is concerned, there is but man fallen and redeemed: there 
never has been, is not, and never will be a purely 'natural man' 
without a supernatural vocation and end. If Thomism, without 
of course neglecting the fact that man in the concrete has but a 
supernatural end, places emphasis on the distinction between the 
supernatural and the natural, between faith and reason, Augus- 
tinianism, without in the least neglecting the gratuitous character 
of supernatural faith and grace, always envisages man in the 
concrete and is primarily interested in his actual relation to God. 

This being so, it is only natural that we should have to unravel 
Augustine's 'purely philosophical' ideas from the total fabric of his 
thought. To do this is, of course, to survey Augustinianism more 
or less from a Thomist viewpoint, but that does not mean that it 
is an illegitimate approach: it means that one is asking what ideas 
of Augustine are philosophical in the academic understanding of 
the term. It does indeed mean tearing his ideas from their full 
context, but in a history of philosophy, which presupposes a 
certain idea of what philosophy is, one can do nothing else. It 
must, however, be admitted that a concentration of this sort on 
Augustine’s philosophical ideas, using the word in the Thomist 

1 De vera relig., 24, 45. 



sense, tends to give a rather poor idea of the Saint's intellectual 
achievement, at least to one who is trained in the academic and 
objective atmosphere of Thomism, since he never elaborated a 
philosophical system as such, nor did he develop, define and 
substantiate his philosophical ideas in the manner to which a 
Thomist is accustomed. The result is that it is not infrequently 
difficult to say precisely what Augustine meant by this or that 
idea or statement, how precisely he understood it: there is often 
an aura of vagueness, allusion, lack of definition about his ideas 
which leaves one dissatisfied, perplexed and curious. The rigid 
type of Thomist would, I suppose, maintain that Augustine's 
philosophy contains nothing of value which was not much better 
said by St. Thomas, more clearly delineated and defined; but the 
fact remains that the Augustinian tradition is not dead even 
to-day, and it may be that the very incompleteness and lack of 
systematisation in Augustine's thought, its very 'suggestiveness', 
is a positive help towards the longevity of his tradition, for the 
'Augustinian' is not faced by a complete system to be accepted, 
rejected or mutilated: he is faced by an approach, an inspiration, 
certain basic ideas which are capable of considerable development, 
so that he can remain perfectly faithful to the Augustinian spirit 
even though he departs from what the historic Augustine actually 



Knowledge with a view to beatitude—Against scepticism — 
Experiential knowledge—Nature of sensation—Divine ideas 
—Illumination and Abstraction. 

1. To start with the ‘epistemology’ of St. Augustine is perhaps to 
give the impression that Augustine was concerned with elaborating 
a theory of knowledge for its own sake or as a methodological 
propaedeutic to metaphysics. This would be a wrong impression, 
however, since Augustine never sat down, as it were, to develop 
a theory of knowledge and then, on the basis of a realist theory of 
knowledge, to construct a systematic metaphysic. If Spinoza, 
according to his own words, 1 aimed at developing the philosophy 
of God or Substance because it is only contemplation of an infinite 
and eternal Object which can fully satisfy mind and heart and 
bring happiness to the soul, far more could an analogous statement 
be made of Augustine, who emphasised the fact that knowledge of 
the truth is to be sought, not for purely academic purposes, but as 
bringing true happiness, true beatitude. Man feels his insufficiency, 
he reaches out to an object greater than himself, an object which 
can bring peace and happiness, and knowledge of that object is an 
essential condition of its attainment; but he sees knowledge in 
function of an end, beatitude. Only the wise man can be happy 
and wisdom postulates knowledge of the truth; but there is no 
question in Augustine's thought of speculation as an end in itself. 
When the young man Licentius, in the Contra Academicos, main¬ 
tains that wisdom consists in seeking for the truth and declares, 
like Lessing, that happiness is to be found rather in the pursuit of 
truth than in the actual attainment and possession of truth, 
Augustine retorts that it is absurd to predicate wisdom of a man 
who has no knowledge of truth. In the De Beata Vita 2 he says 
that no one is happy who does not possess what he strives to 
possess, so that the man who is seeking for truth but has not yet 
found it, cannot be said to be truly happy. Augustine himself 
sought for truth because he felt a need for it, and looking back on 
his development in the light of attainment, he interpreted this as 

1 De InUllectvs Ermndatione. 1 2, 10 and 14; 4, 27 Q. 





a search for Christ and Christian wisdom, as the attraction of the 
divine beauty, and this experience he universalised. This univer- 
salisation of his own experience, however, does not mean that his 
ideas were purely subjective: his psychological introspection 
enabled him to lay bare the dynamism of the human soul. 

Yet to say that Augustine was not an 'intellectualist' in an 
academic sense and that his philosophy is eudaemonistic is not to 
say that he was not acutely conscious of the problem of certitude. 
It would, however, be a mistake to think that Augustine was 
preoccupied with the question, ‘Can we attain certainty? 1 As we 
shall see shortly, he did answer this question, but the question 
that occupied his attention in the mature period of his thought 
was rather this, 'How is it that we can attain certainty? 1 That we 
do attain certainty being assumed as a datum, the problem 
remains: 'How does the finite, changing human mind attain certain 
knowledge of eternal truths, truths which rule and govern the 
mind and so transcend it?' After the breakdown of his faith in 
Manichaeism, Augustine was tempted to relapse into Academic 
scepticism: his victory over this temptation he expressed in the 
Contra Academicos, where he shows that we indubitably do attain 
certainty of some facts at least. This granted, his reading of 
‘Platonic works’ suggested to him the problem, how it is that we 
are able not only to know with certainty eternal and necessary 
truths, but also to know them as eternal and necessary truths. 
Plato explained this fact by the theory of reminiscence; how was 
Augustine to explain it? The discussion of the problem no doubt 
interested him in itself, for its own sake; but he also saw in what 
he considered to be the right answer a clear proof of God’s exis¬ 
tence and operation. The knowledge of eternal truth should thus 
bring the soul, by reflection on that knowledge, to knowledge of 
God Himself and God's activity. 

2, As I have already said, in the Contra Academicos Augustine 
is primarily concerned to show that wisdom pertains to happiness, 
and knowledge of truth to wisdom; but he also makes it clear that 
even the Sceptics are certain of some truths, for example, that of 
two disjunctive propositions one is true and the other false. ‘I am 
certain that there is either one world or more than one world, and, 
if more than one, then that there is either a finite or an infinite 
number of worlds.’ Similarly I know that the world either has no 
beginning or end or has a beginning but no end or had no beginning 
but will have an end or has both a beginning and an end. In other 


words, I am at least certain of the principle of contradiction. 1 
Again, even if I am sometimes deceived in thinking that appear¬ 
ance and reality always correspond, I am at least certain of my 
subjective impression. 'I have no complaint to make of the senses, 
for it is unjust to demand of them more than they can give: 
whatever the eyes can see they see truly. Then is that true which 
they see in the case of the oar in the water? Quite true. For, 
granted the cause why it appears in that way (i.e. bent), if the oar, 
when plunged into the water, appeared straight, I should rather 
accuse my eyes of playing me false. For they would not see what, 
granted the circumstances, they ought to see. . . . But I am 
deceived, if I give my assent, someone will say. Then don’t give 
assent to more than the fact of appearance, and you won’t be 
deceived. For I do not see how the sceptic can refute the man 
who says, “I know that this object seems white to me, I know 
that this sound gives me pleasure, I know this smell is pleasant to 
me, I know that this tastes sweet to me, I know that this 
feels cold to my touch." ’ a St. Augustine refers in the above 
passage to the Epicureans and it is clear that what he means is 
that the senses as such never lie or deceive us, even if we may 
deceive ourselves in judging that things exist objectively in the 
same way that they appear. The mere appearance of the bent oar 
is not deception, for there would be something wrong with my 
eyes were it to appear straight. If I go on to judge that the oar is 
really bent in itself, I am wrong, but as long as I simply say, ‘It 
appears to me bent’, I am speaking the truth and I know that I am 
speaking the truth. Similarly, if I come out of a hot room and 
put my hand in tepid water, it may seem to me cold, but as long 
as I merely say, ‘This water seems cold to me', I am saying some¬ 
thing the truth of which I am certain of, and no sceptic can 
refute me. 

Again, everyone who doubts knows that he is doubting, so that 
he is certain of this truth at least, namely the fact that he doubts. 
Thus every one who doubts whether there is such a thing as truth, 
knows at least one truth, so that his very capacity to doubt should 
convince him that there is such a thing as truth. 3 We are certain, 
too, of mathematical truths. When anyone says that seven and 
three make ten, he does not say that they ought to make ten, but 
knows that they do make ten. 4 

1 C. Acad., 3, 10, 23. s Ibid,, 3, 11, 26. 

3 De vfita relig., 39, 73. 4 Da lib. arbii., 12, 34. 





3. But what of real existences? Are we certain of the existence 
of any real object or are we confined to certain knowledge of 
abstract principles and mathematical truths? Augustine answers 
that a man is at least certain of his existence. Even supposing 
that he doubts of the existence of other created objects or of God, 
the very fact of his doubt shows that he exists, for he could not 
doubt, did he not exist. Nor is it of any use to suggest that one 
might be deceived into thinking that one exists, for 'if you did not 
exist, you could not be deceived in anything.’ 1 In this way St. 
Augustine anticipates Descartes: Si fallor, sum. 

With existence Augustine couples life and understanding. In 
the De liber0 arbitrio 2 he points out that it is clear to a man that 
he exists, and that this fact would not and could not be clear, 
unless he were alive. Moreover, it is clear to him that he under¬ 
stands both the fact of his existence and the fact that he is living. 
Accordingly he is certain of three things, that he exists, that he 
lives and that he understands. Similarly, in the De Trinitate , 3 he 
observes that it is useless for the sceptic to insinuate that the man 
is asleep and sees these things in his dreams, for the man is 
affirming not that he is awake but that he lives: ‘whether he be 
asleep or awake he fives.’ Even if he were mad, he would still be 
alive. Again, a man is certainly conscious of what he wills. If 
someone says that he wills to be happy, it is mere impudence to 
suggest to him that he is deceived. Sceptical philosophers may 
babble about the bodily senses and the way in which they deceive 
us, but they cannot invalidate that certain knowledge which the 
mind has by itself, without the intervention of the sense. 4 ’We 
exist and we know that we exist and we love that fact and our 
knowledge of it; in these three things which I have enumerated 
no fear of deception disturbs us; for we do not attain them by any 
bodily sense, as we do external objects.’ 6 

Augustine thus claims certainty for what we know by inner 
experience, by self-consciousness: what does he think of our know¬ 
ledge of external objects, the things we know by the senses? Have 
we certainty in their regard? That we can deceive ourselves in 
our judgements concerning the objects of the senses Augustine 
was well aware, and some of his remarks show that he was con¬ 
scious of the relativity of sense-impressions, in the sense that a 
judgement as to hot or cold, for example, depends to a certain 
extent on the condition of the sense-organs: moreover, he did not 

1 De lib. arbit., 2, 3, 7. *2,3,7. *15,12,21. 4 Ibid. * De Civil. Dei, 11,26. 

consider that the objects apprehensible by the senses constitute 
the proper object of the human intellect. Being chiefly interested 
in the soul’s orientation to God, corporeal objects appeared to him 
as a starting-point in the mind’s ascent to God, though even in this 
respect the soul itself is a more adequate starting-point: we should 
return within ourselves, where truth abides, and use the soul, the 
image of God, as a stepping-stone to Him. 1 Nevertheless, even if 
corporeal things, the objects of the senses, are essentially mutable 
and are far less adequate manifestations of God than is the soul, 
even if it is through concentration on the things of sense that the 
most harmful errors arise, we are dependent on the senses for a 
great deal of our knowledge and Augustine had no intention of 
maintaining a purely sceptical attitude in regard to the objects of 
the senses, (it is one thing to admit the possibility of error in 
sense-knowledge and quite another to refuse any credence at all 
to the senses". ■ Thus, after saying that philosophers may speak 
against the senses but cannot refute the consciousness of self¬ 
existence, Augustine goes on at once to say, 'far be it from us to 
doubt the truth of what we have learned by the bodily senses; 
since by them we have learned to know the heaven and the earth.’ 
\We learn much on the testimony of others, and the fact that we 
are sometimes deceived is no warrant for disbelieving all testi¬ 
mony: so the fact that we are sometimes deceived in regard to the 
objects of our senses is no warrant for complete scepticism. ‘We 
must acknowledge that not only our own senses, but those of other 
persons too, have added very much to our knowledge.’ 2 For 
practical fife it is necessary to give credence to the senses, 3 and 
the man who thinks that we should never believe the senses falls 
into a worse error than any error he may fall into through believing 
them. Augustine thus says that we ‘believe’ the senses, that we 
give credence to them, as we give credence to the testimony of 
others, but he often uses the word 'believe' in opposition to direct 
inner knowledge, without meaning to imply that such ‘belief is 
void of adequate motive. Thus when someone tells me a fact 
about his own mental state, for example, that he understands or 
wishes this or that, I ‘believe’: when he says something that is 
true of the human mind itself, not simply of his own mind in 
particular, 'I recognise and give my assent, for I know by self- 
consciousness and introspection that what he says is true.’ 4 In 

1 Cf. De vera relig. t 39* 72; Serm, t 330, 3; Retract 1, 8, 3; etc. 

* De Trinit 13, 12, 21. 1 Con/,, 6, 3, 7. 4 De Trinit , 9, 6, 9. 




fine, Augustine may have anticipated Descartes by his *Si jailor , 
sum , but he was not occupied with the question whether the 
external world really exists or not. That it exists, he felt no doubt, 
though he saw clearly enough that we sometimes make erroneous 
judgements about it and that testimony is not always reliable, 
whether it be testimony of our own senses or of other people. As 
he was especially interested in the knowledge of eternal truths and 
in the relation of that knowledge to God, it would hardly occur to 
him to devote very much time to a consideration of our knowledge 
of the mutable things of sense. The fact of the matter is that his 
'Platonism’, coupled with his spiritual interest and outlook, led 
him to look on corporeal objects as not being the proper object of 
knowledge, owing to their mutability and to the fact that our 
knowledge of them is dependent on bodily organs of sense which 
are no more always in the same state than the objects themselves. 
If we have not got ‘true knowledge' of sense-objects, that is due, 
not merely to any deficiency in the subject but also to a radical 
deficiency in the object. In other words, Augustine's attitude to 
sense-knowledge is much more Platonic than Cartesian. 1 

4. The lowest level of knowledge is, therefore, that of sense- 
knowledge, dependent on sensation, sensation being regarded by 
Augustine, in accordance with his Platonic psychology, as an act 
of the soul using the organs of sense as its instruments. Sentire 
non est corporis sed animat per corpus . The soul animates the 
whole body, but when it increases or intensifies its activity in a 
particular part, i.e. in a particular sense-organ, it exercises the 
power of sensation. 2 From this theory it would seem to follow 
that any deficiency in sense-knowledge must proceed from the 
mutability both of the instrument of sensation, the sense-organ, 
and of the object of sensation, and this is indeed what Augustine 
thought. The rational soul of man exercises true knowledge and 
attains true certainty when it contemplates eternal truths in and 
through itself: when it turns towards the material world and uses 
corporeal instruments it cannot attain true knowledge. Augustine 
assumed, with Plato, that the objects of true knowledge are 
unchanging, from which it necessarily follows that knowledge of 
changing objects is not true knowledge. It is a type of knowledge 
or grade of knowledge which is indispensable for practical life; but 

1 Scotus repeated St. Augustine’s suggestion that the status of sense-knowledge 
may be connected with original sin. 

1 Cf. De Musica, 6-5, 9, 10; De Trinit., ix, 2, 2-5. 


the man who concentrates on the sphere of the mutable thereby 
neglects the sphere of the immutable, which is the correlative 
object of the human soul in regard to knowledge in the full sense. 

Sensation in the strict sense is common, of course, to men and 
brutes; but men can have and do have a rational knowledge of 
corporeal things. In the De Trinitate 1 St. Augustine points out 
that the beasts are able to sense corporeal things and remember 
them and to seek after what is helpful, avoiding what is harmful, 
but that they cannot commit things to memory deliberately nor 
recall them at will nor perform any other operation which involves 
the use of reason; so that, in regard to knowledge of sense-objects, 
human knowledge is essentially superior to that of the brute. 
Moreover, man is able to make rational judgements concerning 
corporeal things and to perceive them as approximations to eternal 
standards. For instance, if a man judges that one object is more 
beautiful than another, his comparative judgement (granted the 
objective character of the beautiful) implies a reference to an 
eternal standard of beauty, while a judgement that this or that 
line is more or less straight, that this figure is a well-drawn circle, 
implies a reference to ideal straightness and the perfect geometrical 
circle. In other words, such comparative judgements involve a 
reference to ‘ideas’ (not to be understood as purely subjective). ‘It 
is the part of the higher reason to judge of these corporeal things 
according to incorporeal and eternal considerations, which, if they 
were not above the human mind, would certainly not be immut¬ 
able. And yet, unless something of our own were subjoined to 
them, we should not be able to employ them as standards by 
which to judge of corporeal things. . . . But that faculty of our 
own which is thus concerned with the treatment of corporeal and 
temporal things, is indeed rational, in that it is not common to us 
and the beasts, but is drawn, as it were, out of the rational 
substance of our mind, by which we depend upon and adhere to 
the intelligible and immutable truth and which is deputed to 
handle and direct the inferior things.’ 2 

What St. Augustine means is this. The lowest level of know¬ 
ledge, so far as it can be called knowledge, is sensation, which is 
common to men and brutes; and the highest level of knowledge, 
peculiar to man, is the contemplation of eternal things (wisdom) 
by the mind alone, without the intervention of sensation; but 
between these two levels is a kind of half-way house, in which 

1 12, 2, 2. * Ibid. 



mind judges of corporeal objects according to eternal and incor¬ 
poreal standards. This level of knowledge is a rational level, so 
that it is peculiar to man and is not shared by brutes; but it 
involves the use of the senses and concerns sensible objects, so that 
it is a lower level than that of direct contemplation of eternal and 
incorporeal objects. Moreover, this lower use of reason is directed 
towards action, whereas wisdom is contemplative not practical. 
The action by which we make good use of temporal things differs 
from the contemplation of eternal things, and the former is classed 
as knowledge, the latter as wisdom. ... In this distinction it must 
be understood that wisdom pertains to contemplation, knowledge 
to action/ 1 The ideal is that contemplative wisdom should in¬ 
crease, but at the same time our reason has to be partly directed to 
the good use of mutable and corporeal things, 'without which this 
life does not go on’, provided that in our attention to temporal 
things we make it subserve the attainment of eternal things, 
'passing lightly over the former, but cleaving to the latter ’. 2 

This outlook is markedly Platonic in character. There is the 
same depreciation of sense-objects in comparison with eternal and 
immaterial realities, the same almost grudging admission of 
practical knowledge as a necessity of life, the same insistence on 
'theoretic’ contemplation, the same insistence on increasing puri¬ 
fication of soul and liberation from the slavery of the senses to 
accompany the epistemological ascent. Yet it would be a mistake 
to see in Augustine’s attitude a mere adoption of Platonism and 
nothing more. Platonic and neo-Platonic themes are certainly 
utilised, but Augustine’s interest is always first and foremost that 
of the attainment of man's supernatural end, beatitude, in the 
possession and vision of God, and in spite of the intellectualist way 
of speaking which he sometimes uses and which he adopted from 
the Platonic tradition, in the total scheme of his thought the 
primacy is always given to love: Pondus tneutn, amor metis . 2 It is 
true that even this has its analogy in Platonism, but it must be 
remembered that for Augustine the goal is the attainment, not of 
an impersonal Good but of a personal God, The truth of the 
matter is that he found in Platonism doctrines which he considered 
admirably adapted for the exposition of a fundamentally Christian 
philosophy of life. 

5. The objects of sense, corporeal things, are inferior to the 
human intellect, which judges of them in relation to a standard in 

1 De Trinit., 12, 14, 22. 1 Ibid., 12, 13, 21. * Con/., 13, 9, 10. 


reference to which they fall short; but there are other objects of 
knowledge which are above the human mind, in the sense that they 
are discovered by the mind, which necessarily assents to them and 
does not think of amending them or judging that they should be 
otherwise than they are. For example, I see some work of art and 
I judge it to be more or less beautiful, a judgement which implies 
not only the existence of a standard of beauty, an objective 
standard, but also my knowledge of the standard, for how could 
I judge that this arch or that picture is imperfect, deficient in 
beauty, unless I had some knowledge of the standard of beauty, of 
beauty itself, the idea of beauty? How could my supposedly 
objective judgement be justified unless there were an objective 
standard, not mutable and imperfect, like beautiful things, but 
immutable, constant, perfect and eternal? 1 Again, the geometer 
considers perfect circles and lines, and judges of the approximate 
circles and lines according to that perfect standard. Circular 
things are temporal and pass away, but the nature of circularity 
in itself, the idea of the circle, its essence, does not change. Again, 
we may add seven apples and three apples and make ten apples, 
and the apples which we count are sensible and mutable objects, 
are temporal and pass away; but the numbers seven and three 
considered in themselves and apart from things are discerned by 
the arithmetician to make ten by addition, a truth which he 
discovers to be necessary and eternal, not dependent on the 
sensible world or on the human mind. 2 These eternal truths are 
common to all. Whereas sensations are private, in the sense that, 
e.g., what seems cold to one man does not necessarily seem cold to 
another, mathematical truths are common to all and the individual 
mind has to accept them and recognise their possession of an 
absolute truth and validity which is independent of its own 

Augustine's attitude in this matter is obviously Platonic. The 
standards of goodness and beauty, for example, correspond to 
Plato’s first principles or 4 px<xt the exemplary ideas, while the ideal 
geometrical figures correspond to Plato’s mathematical objects, 
•ris tjux(b]tjuxnxd the objects of 8tivoia. The same question which 
could be raised in regard to the Platonic theory recurs again, 
therefore, in regard to the Augustinian theory, namely, ‘Where 
are these ideas?’ (Of course, one must remember, in regard to 

1 Cf. De Trinit 9, 6, 9-1 x. 

•Cf. ibid., 12, 14, 22-3; 12, 15, 24; De lib . arbit., 2, 13, 35; 2, 8, 20-4. 

6 o 




both thinkers, that the 'ideas' in question are not subjective ideas 
but objective essences, and that the query 'where?* does not refer 
to locality, since the 'ideas* are ex hypothesi immaterial, but rather 
to what one might call ontological situation or status.) Neo- 
Platonists, seeing the difficulty in accepting a sphere of impersonal 
immaterial essences, i.e. the condition apparently at least assigned 
to the essences in Plato's published works, interpreted the Platonic 
ideas as thoughts of God and 'placed' them in Nous, the divine 
mind, which emanates from the One as the first proceeding hypo¬ 
stasis. (Compare Philo's theory of the ideas as contained within 
the Logos.) We may say that Augustine accepted this position, if 
we allow for the fact that he did not accept the emanation theory 
of neo-Platonism. The exemplar ideas and eternal truths are in 
God. 'The ideas are certain archetypal forms or stable and immut¬ 
able essences of things, which have not themselves been formed 
but, existing eternally and without change, are contained in the 
divine intelligence.' 1 This theory must be accepted if one wishes to 
avoid having to say that God created the world unintelligently. 2 

6 . A difficulty, however, immediately arises. If the human 
mind beholds the exemplar ideas and eternal truths, and if these 
ideas and truths are in the mind of God, does it not follow that the 
human mind beholds the essence of God, since the divine mind, 
with all that it contains, is ontologically identical with the divine 
essence? Some writers have believed that Augustine actually 
meant this. Among philosophers, Malebranche claimed the support 
of Augustine for his theory that the mind beholds the eternal ideas 
in God, and he tried to escape from the seemingly logical conclusion 
that in this case the human mind beholds the essence of God, by 
saying that the mind sees, not the divine essence as it is in itself 
(the supernatural vision of the blessed) but the divine essence as 
participable ad extra, as exemplar of creation. The ontologists too 
claim the support of Augustine for their theory of the soul's 
immediate intuition of God. 

Now, it is impossible to deny that some texts of Augustine taken 
by themselves favour such an interpretation. But, granting that 
Augustine seems on occasion to teach ontologism, it seems clear 
to me that, if one takes into account the totality of his thought, 
such an interpretation is inadmissible. I should certainly not be 
so bold as to suggest that Augustine was never inconsistent, but 
what I do believe is that the ontologistic interpretation of 

1 De Ideis, 2. * Cf. Retract., 1 , 3, 2. 

Augustine fits in so badly with his spiritual doctrine that, if there 
are other texts which favour a non-ontologistic interpretation (and 
there are such texts), one should attribute a secondary position 
and a subordinate value to the apparently ontologistic texts. 
Augustine was perfectly well aware that a man may discern 
eternal and necessary truths, mathematical principles, for example, 
without being a good man at all: such a man may not see these 
truths in their ultimate Ground, but he undoubtedly discerns the 
truths. Now, how can Augustine possibly have supposed that such 
a man beholds the essence of God, when in his spiritual doctrine he 
insists so much on the need of moral purification in order to draw 
near to God and is well aware that the vision of God is reserved to 
the saved in the next life? Again, a man who is spiritually and 
morally far from God can quite well appreciate the fact that 
Canterbury Cathedral is more beautiful than a Nissen hut, just as 
St. Augustine himself could discern degrees of sensible beauty 
before his conversion. In a famous passage of the Confessions he 
exclaims: ‘Too late am I come to love Thee, 0 thou Beauty, so 
ancient and withal so new; too late am I come to love Thee ... in 
a deformed manner I cast myself upon the things of Thy creation, 
which yet Thou hadst made fair.’ 1 Similarly, in the De quantitate 
anitnae 2 he clearly affirms that the contemplation of Beauty comes 
at the end of the soul’s ascent. In view of this teaching, then, it 
seems to me inconceivable that Augustine thought that the soul, 
in apprehending eternal and necessary truths, actually apprehends 
the very content of the divine mind. The passages which appear 
to show that he did so think can be explained as due to his adoption 
of Platonic or neo-Platonic expressions which do not, literally 
taken, fit in with the general direction of his thought. It does not 
seem possible to state exactly how Augustine conceived of the 
status of the eternal truths as apprehended by the human mind 
(the ontological side of the question he probably never worked 
out); but, rather than accept a purely neo-Platonic or an onto¬ 
logistic interpretation, it seems to me preferable to suppose that 
the eternal truths and ideas, as they are in God, perform an 
ideogenetic function; that it is rather that the ‘light’ which comes 
from God to the human mind enables the mind to see the charac¬ 
teristics of changelessness and necessity in the eternal truths. 

One may add, however, a further consideration against an 
ontologistic interpretation of Augustine. The Saint utilised the 

1 Conf., io, *7, 38. • 33, 79. 




apprehension of eternal and necessary truths as a proof for the 
existence of God, arguing that these truths require an immutable 
and eternal Ground. Without going any further into this argu¬ 
ment at the moment it is worth pointing out that, if the argument 
is to have any sense, it clearly presupposes the possibility of the 
mind’s perceiving these truths without at the same time perceiving 
God, perhaps while doubting or even denying God’s existence. If 
Augustine is prepared to say to a man, ‘You doubt or deny God’s 
existence, but you must admit that you recognise absolute truths, 
and I shall prove to you that the recognition of such truths implies 
God’s existence,’ he can scarcely have supposed that the doubter 
or atheist had any vision of God or of the actual contents of the 
divine mind. This consideration seems to me to rule out the 
ontologistic interpretation. But before pursuing this subject any 
further it is necessary to say something of Augustine’s theory of 
illumination, as this may make it easier to understand his position, 
though it must be admitted that the interpretation of this theory 
is itself somewhat uncertain. 

7. We cannot, says Augustine, perceive the immutable truth of 
things unless they are illuminated as by a sun. 1 This divine light, 
which illumines the mind, comes from God, who is the ‘intelligible 
light', in whom and by whom and through whom all those things 
which are luminous to the intellect become luminous. 2 In this 
doctrine of light, common to the Augustinian School, Augustine 
makes use of a neo-Platonic theme which goes back to Plato’s 
comparison of the Idea of the Good with the sun, 3 the Idea of the 
Good irradiating the subordinate intelligible objects or Ideas. For 
Plotinus the One or God is the sun, the transcendent light. The 
use of the light-metaphor, however, does not by itself tell us very 
clearly what Augustine meant. Happily we have to help us such 
texts as the passage of the De Trinitate 4 where the Saint says that 
the nature of the mind is such that, ‘when directed to intelligible 
things in the natural order, according to the disposition of the 
Creator, it sees them in a certain incorporeal light which is sui 
generis, just as the corporeal eye sees adjacent objects in the 
corporeal light’. These words seem to show that the illumination 
in question is a spiritual illumination which performs the same 
function for the objects of the mind as the sun’s light performs 
for the objects of the eye: in other words, as the sunlight makes 
corporeal things visible to the eye, so the divine illumination makes 

1 Solil.. 1, 8, 15. * Ibid., i. I, 3. •Rep., 514-18. ‘12, 15, 24. 


the eternal truths visible to the mind. From this it would appear 
to follow that it is not the illumination itself which is seen by the 
mind, nor the intelligible Sun, God, but that the characteristics of 
necessity and eternity in the necessary and eternal truths are made 
visible to the mind by the activity of God. This is certainly not an 
ontologistic theory. 

But why did St. Augustine postulate such an illumination; why 
did he think it necessary? Because the human mind is changeable 
and temporal, so that what is unchangeable and eternal transcends 
it and seems to be beyond its capacity. ‘When the human mind 
knows and loves itself, it does not know and love anything immut¬ 
able,' 1 and if truth ‘were equal to our minds, it also would be 
mutable’, for our minds see the truth, now more now less, and by 
this very fact show themselves to be mutable. In fact, truth is 
neither inferior nor equal to our minds, but ‘superior and more 
excellent’. 2 We need, therefore, a divine illumination, in order to 
enable us to apprehend what transcends our minds, ‘for no 
creature, howsoever rational and intellectual, is lighted of itself, 
but is lighted by participation of eternal Truth’. 3 ‘God hath 
created man’s mind rational and intellectual, whereby he may take 
in His light... and He so enlighteneth it of Himself, that not only 
those things which are displayed by the truth, but even truth 
itself may be perceived by the mind’s eye.’ 4 This light shines upon 
the truths and renders visible to the mutable and temporal human 
mind their characteristics of changelessness and eternity. 

That the divine illumination is something imparted and sui 
generis is explicitly stated by St. Augustine, as we have seen. It 
hardly seems possible, therefore, to reduce the illumination-theory 
to nothing more than a statement of the truth that God conserves 
and creates the human intellect and that the natural light of the 
intellect is a participated light. Thomists, who wish to show St. 
Augustine the same reverence that St. Thomas showed him, are 
naturally reluctant to admit a radical difference of opinion between 
the two great theologians and philosophers and are inclined to 
interpret St. Augustine in a way that would attenuate the dif¬ 
ference between his thought and that of St. Thomas; but St. 
Augustine most emphatically did not mean by Tight’ the intellect 
itself or its activity, even with the ordinary concurrence of God, 
since it is precisely because of the deficiencies of the human 

1 De Trinit., 9, 6, 9. * De lib. arbit., 1, 13, 35. 

• In. Ps. 119; Serin., 23, 1. 4 In Ps. 118; Serm., 18, 4. 



intellect that he postulated the existence and activity of the divine 
illumination. To say that St. Augustine was wrong in postulating 
a special divine illumination and that St. Thomas was right in 
denying the necessity of such an illumination is an understandable 
attitude; but it seems to be carrying conciliation too far, if one 
attempts to maintain that both thinkers were saying the same 
thing, even if one affirms that St. Thomas was saying clearly and 
unambiguously what St. Augustine had said obscurely and with 
the aid of metaphor. 

I have already indicated that I accept the interpretation of 
Augustine’s thought, according to which the function of the divine 
illumination is to render visible to the mind the element of necessity 
in the eternal truths, and that I reject the ontologistic interpreta¬ 
tion in any form. This rejection obviously involves the rejection 
of the view that according to Augustine the mind beholds directly 
the idea of beauty, for example, as it is in God; but I am also 
unwilling to accept the view that according to Augustine God 
actually infuses the idea of beauty or any other normative idea 
(i.e. in reference to which we make comparative judgements of 
degree, such as that this object is more beautiful than that, this 
action juster than that, etc.) ready-made into the mind. This 
extreme ideogenetic view would make the function of divine 
illumination that of a kind of separate active intellect: in fact, 
God would Himself be an ontologically separate active intellect 
which infuses ideas into the human mind without any part being 
played by the human sensibility or intellect other than the mind’s 
purely passive role. (This reference to an active intellect is not, of 
course, meant to imply that Augustine thought or spoke in terms 
of the Aristotelian psychology.) It does not seem to me that such 
an interpretation, although doubtless much can be said for it, 1 is 
altogether satisfactory. According to St. Augustine, the activity 
of the divine illumination in regard to the mind is analogous to 
the function of the sun’s light in regard to vision, and though the 
sunlight renders corporeal objects visible, Augustine certainly did 
not think of it as creating images of the objects in the human 
subject. Again, although the divine illumination takes the place 
in Augustine’s thought of reminiscence in the Platonic philosophy, 
so that the illumination would seem to fulfil some ideogenetic 
function, it must be remembered that Augustine’s problem is one 

1 See, for example, the article on Augustine by Portali6 in the Dictionnaire de 
tfUologie caiholique . 


concerning certitude f not one concerning the content of our concepts 
or ideas: it concerns far more the form of the certain judgement 
and the form of the normative idea than the actual content of the 
judgement or the idea. In the De Trinitate 1 Augustine remarks that 
the mind "gathers the knowledge of corporeal things through the 
senses of the body', and, so far as he deals at all with the formation 
of the concept, he would seem to consider that the human mind 
discerns the intelligible in the sensible, performing what is in some 
way at least equivalent to abstraction. But when it comes to 
discerning that a corporeal thing is, for example, more or less 
beautiful, to judging the object according to a changeless standard, 
the mind judges under the light of the regulative action of the 
eternal Idea, which is not itself visible to the mind. Beauty itself 
illuminates the mind's activity in such a way that it can discern 
the greater or less approximation of the object to the standard, 
though the mind does not behold Beauty itself directly. It is in 
this sense that the illumination of Augustine supplies the function 
of Plato's reminiscence. Again, though Augustine does not clearly 
indicate how we obtain the notions of seven and three and ten, the 
function of illumination is not to infuse the notions of these 
numbers but so to illuminate the judgement that seven and three 
make ten that we discern the necessity and eternity of the judge¬ 
ment. From a passage already referred to, 3 as from other passages, 3 
it seems to follow that, while we obtain the concept of corporeal 
objects, a horse, for example, in dependence on the senses, and of 
an immaterial object like the soul through self-consciousness and 
interpretation, our certain judgements concerning these objects 
are made in the light of "illumination' under the regulative action 
of the eternal Ideas. If the illumination has an ideogenetic function, 
as I believe it to have in Augustine's view, then this function has 
reference not to the content of the concept, as if it infused that 
content, but to the quality of our judgement concerning the concept 
or to our discernment of a character in the object, its relation to 
the norm or standard, which is not contained in the bare notion of 
the thing. If this is so, then the difference between St. Augustine 
and St. Thomas does not so much consist in their respective atti¬ 
tudes towards abstraction (since, whether Augustine explicitly 
says so or not, his view, as interpreted above, would at least 
demand abstraction in some form) as in the fact that Augustine 

1 9. 3. 3. * Ibid. 

* 1. 8, 15; In Joann . Evang ., 35, 8, 3; De Trinit 9, 13. 24; etc. 




thought it necessary to postulate a special illuminative action of 
God, beyond His creative and conserving activity, in the mind's 
realisation of eternal and necessary truths, whereas St. Thomas 
did not. 

On this view of illumination one can understand how it was that 
St. Augustine regarded the qualities of necessity and unchange¬ 
ability in the eternal truths as constituting a proof of God's 
existence, whereas it would be inexplicable on the ontologistic 
interpretation, since, if the mind perceives God or the divine ideas 
directly, it can need no proof of God's existence. That Augustine 
did not explain in detail how the content of the concept is formed, 
may be regrettable, but it is none the less understandable, since, 
though interested in psychological observation, he was interested 
therein, not from an academic motive, but rather from spiritual 
and religious motives: it was the soul's relation to God which 
concerned him primarily and, while the necessity and unchange¬ 
ability of the eternal truths (as contrasted with the contingency 
and changeability of the human mind) and the doctrine of illu¬ 
mination helped to set this relation in a clear light and to stimulate 
the soul in its Godward direction, an investigation concerning the 
formation of the concept as such would not have had such a clear 
relation to the Noverim me, noverim Te. 

To sum up. St. Augustine asks himself the question, How is it 
that we attain knowledge of truths which are necessary, immutable 
and eternal? That we do attain such knowledge is clear to him 
from experience. We cannot gain such knowledge simply from 
sense-experience, since corporeal objects are contingent, change¬ 
able and temporal. Nor can we produce the truths from our 
minds, which are also contingent and changeable. Moreover, such 
truths rule and dominate our minds, impose themselves upon our 
minds, and they would not do this if they depended on us. It 
follows that we are enabled to perceive such truths under the 
action of the Being who alone is necessary, changeless and eternal, 
God. God is like a sun which illumines our minds or a master 
who teaches us. At this point the difficulty in interpretation 
begins. The present writer inclines to the interpretation that, 
while the content of our concepts of corporeal objects is derived 
from sense-experience and reflection thereon, the regulative in¬ 
fluence of the divine ideas (which means the influence of God) 
enables man to see the relation of created things to eternal super¬ 
sensible realities, of which there is no direct vision in this life, and 


that God's light enables the mind to discern the elements of 
necessity, immutability and eternity in that relation between 
concepts which is expressed in the necessary judgement. Owing, 
however, to St. Augustine’s use of metaphor and to the fact that 
he was not primarily interested in giving a systematic and carefully 
defined 'scholastic' account of the process of knowledge, it does not 
seem possible to obtain a definitive interpretation of his thought 
which would adequately explain all the statements he made. 




Proof of God from eternal truths—Proofs from creatures and 
from universal consent—The various proofs as stages in one 
process—Attributes of God — Exemplarism . 

i. It is probably true to say that the central and favourite proof 
of God's existence given by St. Augustine is that from thought, 
i.e. a proof from within. The starting-point of this proof is the 
mind’s apprehension of necessary and changeless truths, of a truth 
’which thou canst not call thine, or mine, or any man’s, but which 
is present to all and gives itself to all alike.* 1 This truth is superior 
to the mind, inasmuch as the mind has to bow before it and 
accept it: the mind did not constitute it, nor can it amend it: the 
mind recognises that this truth transcends it and rules its thought 
rather than the other way round. If it were inferior to the mind, 
the mind could change it or amend it, while if it were equal to the 
mind, of the same character, it would itself be changeable, as the 
mind is changeable. The mind varies in its apprehension of truth, 
apprehending it now more clearly now less clearly, whereas truth 
remains ever the same. ’Hence if truth is neither inferior nor 
equal to our minds, nothing remains but that it should be superior 
and more excellent.' 2 

But the eternal truths must be founded on being, reflecting the 
Ground of all truth. Just as human imaginations reflect the 
imperfection and changeable character of the human mind in 
which they are grounded, and as the impressions of sense reflect 
the corporeal objects in which they are grounded, so the eternal 
truths reveal their Ground, Truth itself, reflecting the necessity 
and immutability of God. This refers to all essential standards. 
If we judge of an action that it is more or less just, for example, 
we judge of it according to an essential and invariable standard, 
essence or ’idea': human actions in the concrete may vary, but the 
standard remains the same. It is in the light of the eternal and 
perfect standard that we judge of concrete acts, and this standard 
must be grounded in the eternal and all-perfect Being. If there is 
an intelligible sphere of absolute truths, this cannot be conceived 

1 De lib, arbit., 2, 12, 33. * Ibid L 



without a Ground of truth, 'the Truth, in whom, and by whom, 
and through whom those things are true which are true in every 
respect’. 1 

This argument to God as the Ground of eternal and necessary 
truth was not only accepted by the ‘Augustinian School’, but 
reappears in the thought of several eminent philosophers, like 

2. St. Augustine does indeed prove the existence of God from 
the external, corporeal world; but his words on the subject are 
rather of the nature of hints or reminders or summary statements 
than developed proofs in the academic sense: he was not so much 
concerned to prove to the atheist that God exists as to show how 
all creation proclaims the God whom the soul can experience in 
itself, the living God. It was the dynamic attitude of the soul 
towards God which interested him, not the construction of dialecti¬ 
cal arguments with a purely theoretical conclusion. To acknow¬ 
ledge with a purely intellectual assent that a supreme Being exists 
is one thing; to bring that truth home to oneself is something more. 
The soul seeks happiness and many are inclined to seek it outside 
themselves: St. Augustine tries to show that creation cannot give 
the soul the perfect happiness it seeks, but points upwards to the 
living God who must be sought within. This basically religious 
and spiritual attitude must be borne in mind, if one is to avoid first 
looking on Augustine's proofs as dialectical proofs in a theoretic 
sense and then belittling them as inadequate and trifling state¬ 
ments of what St. Thomas was to express much better. The 
purposes of the two men were not precisely the same. 

Thus when Augustine, commenting on Psalm 73, remarks, ‘How 
do I know that thou art alive, whose soul I see not? How do I 
know? Thou wilt answer, Because I speak, because I walk, 
because I work. Fool! by the operations of the body I know thee 
to be living, canst thou not by the works of creation know the 
Creator?’ he is indeed stating the proof of God’s existence from 
His effects; but he is not setting out to develop the proof for its 
own sake, as it were: he brings it in by way of commentary in the 
course of his Scriptural exegesis. Similarly, when he asserts in the 
De Civitate Dei * that ‘the very order, disposition, beauty, change 
and motion of the world and of all visible things silently proclaim 
that it could only have been made by God, the ineffably and 
invisibly great and the ineffably and invisibly beautiful’, he is 

1 Soft/., i, 1, 3. * ix, 4, 2. 




rather reminding Christians of a fact than attempting to give a 
systematic proof of God's existence. Again, when Augustine, 
commenting on Genesis, 1 states that "the power of the Creator and 
His omnipotent and all-swaying strength is for each and every 
creature the cause of its continued existence, and if this strength 
were at any time to cease from directing the things which have 
been created, at one and the same time both their species would 
cease to be and their whole nature would perish . . . he is stating 
the fact and necessity of divine conservation, reminding his 
readers of an acknowledged fact, rather than proving it philoso¬ 

Augustine gives, again in very brief form, what is known as the 
argument from universal consent. ‘Such', he says, ‘is the power of 
true Godhead that it cannot be altogether and utterly hidden 
from the rational creature, once it makes use of its reason. For, 
with the exception of a few in whom nature is excessively depraved, 
the whole human race confesses God to be the author of the 
world.' 2 Even if a man thinks that a plurality of gods exists, he 
still attempts to conceive ‘the one God of gods' as ‘something than 
which nothing more excellent or more sublime exists. . . . All 
concur in believing God to be that which excels in dignity all 
other objects.' 3 No doubt St. Anselm was influenced by these 
words of Augustine when he took as the universal idea of God in 
the ‘ontological argument' ‘that than which no greater can be 

3. Professor Gilson, in his Introduction a Vetude de Saint 
Augustin , 4 remarks that in the thought of St. Augustine there is 
really one long proof of God’s existence, a proof which consists of 
various stages. 5 Thus from the stage of initial doubt and its 
refutation through the Si fallor, sum, which is a kind of methodical 
preliminary to the search for truth, assuring the mind of the 
attainability of truth, the soul proceeds to consider the world of 
sense. In this world, however, it does not discover the truth which 
it seeks and so it turns inwards, where, after considering its own 
fallibility and changeableness, it discovers immutable truth which 
transcends the soul and does not depend on tht soul. It is thus led 
to the apprehension of God as the Ground of all truth. 

The picture of Augustine’s total proof of the existence of God 

1 De Gen. ad Hit., 4, 22, 22. 1 In Joann. Evang., 106, 4. 

J De doct. Christ., 1, 7, 7. 4 Ch. 2. 

s Cf. also G. Grunwald: Geschickte der Gottesbeweise itn Mittelalter , in Beitrdge, 

6 . 3. P* 6 . 


given by M. Gilson is doubtless representative of the Saint's 
mind and it has the great advantage not only of bringing into 
prominence the proof from thought, from the eternal truths, but 
also of linking up the 'proof' with the soul's search for God as the 
source of happiness, as objective beatitude, in such a way that the 
proof does not remain a mere academic and theoretic string or 
chain of syllogisms. This picture is confirmed by a passage such 
as that contained in Augustine’s two hundred and forty-first 
sermon, 1 where the Saint depicts the human soul questioning the 
things of sense and hearing them confess that the beauty of the 
visible world, of mutable things, is the creation and reflection of 
immutable Beauty, after which the soul proceeds inwards, dis¬ 
covers itself and realises the superiority of soul to body. 'Men 
saw these two things, pondered them, investigated both of them, 
and found that each is mutable in man.' The mind, therefore, 
finding both body and soul to be mutable goes in search of what is 
immutable. 'And thus they arrived at a knowledge of God the 
Creator by means of the things which He created.' St. Augustine, 
then, in no way denies what we call a ‘natural’ or 'rational' 
knowledge of God ; but this rational knowledge of God is viewed 
in close connection with the soul’s search for beatifying Truth and 
is seen as itself a kind of self-revelation of God to the soul, a 
revelation which is completed in the full revelation through Christ 
and confirmed in the Christian life of prayer. Augustine would 
thus make no sharp dichotomy between the spheres of natural and 
revealed theology, not because he failed to see the distinction 
between reason and faith, but rather because he viewed the soul's 
cognition of God in close connection with its spiritual search for 
God as the one Object and Source of beatitude. When Hamack 
reproaches Augustine with not having made clear the relation of 
faith to science, 2 he fails to realise that the Saint is primarily 
concerned with the spiritual experience of God and that in his 
eyes faith and reason each have their part to play in an experience 
which is an organic unity. 

4. Augustine insists that the world of creatures reflects and 
manifests God, even if it does so in a very inadequate manner, and 
that 'if any thing worthy of praise is noticed in the nature of 
things, whether it be judged worthy of slight praise or of great, 
it must be applied to the most excellent and ineffable praise of 

1 Serm., 241, 2, 2 and 3, 3. 

* Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 3rd edit., t. 3, p. 119. 


the Creator.' Creatures tend indeed to not-being, but as long as 
they are, they possess some form, and this is a reflection of the 
Form which can neither decline nor pass away. 1 Thus the order 
and unity of Nature proclaims the unity of the Creator,* just as 
the goodness of creatures, their positive reality, reveals the good¬ 
ness of God 3 and the order and stability of the universe manifest 
the wisdom of God. 4 On the other hand, God, as the self-existent, 
eternal and immutable Being, is infinite, and, as infinite, incom¬ 
prehensible. God is His own Perfection, is 'simple', so that His 
wisdom and knowledge, His goodness and power, are His own 
essence, which is without accidents. 6 God, therefore, transcends 
spate in virtue of His spirituality and infinity and simplicity, as 
He transcends time in virtue of His eternity: 'God is Himself in 
no interval nor extension of place, but in His immutable and 
pre-eminent might is both interior to everything because all things 
are in Him and exterior to everything because He is above all 
things. So too He is in no interval nor extension of time, but in 
His immutable eternity is older than all things because He is 
before all things and younger than all things because the same 
He is after all things.' 6 

5. From all eternity God knew all things which He was to make: 
He does not know them because He has made them, but rather 
the other way round: God first knew the things of creation though 
they came into being only in time. The species of created things 
have their ideas or rationes in God, and God from all eternity saw 
in Himself, as possible reflections of Himself, the things which He 
could create and would create. He knew them before creation as 
they are in Him, as Exemplar, but He made them as they exist, 
i.e. as external and finite reflections of His divine essence. 7 God 
did nothing without knowledge, He foresaw all that He would 
make, but His knowledge is not distinct acts of knowledge, but 
'one eternal, immutable and ineffable vision'. 8 It is in virtue of 
this eternal act of knowledge, of vision, to which nothing is past 
or future, that God sees, 'foresees', even the free acts of men, 
knowing 'beforehand 1 , for example, 'what we should ask of Him 
and when, and to whom He would listen or not listen, and on what 
subjects'.® An adequate discussion of this last point, which would 

1 De lib. arbit., 2, 17, 46, * Ibid., 3, 23, 70. * De Trinit xx, 5, 8. 

4 De Civit. Dei, 1 x, 28. 

1 De Trinit., 5, 2, 3; 5, II, 12; 6, 4, 6; 6, 10, 11; 15, 43, 22; In Joann. Evang., 99, 
4; etc. 

4 De Gen. ad litt., 8, 26, 48. F Cf. ibid., 5, 15, 33; Ad Orosium, 8, 9. 

1 De Trinii 15. 7, 13. 1 Ibid., 15, 13. 22. 



necessitate consideration of the Augustinian theory of grace, 
cannot be attempted here. 

Contemplating His own essence from eternity God sees in Him¬ 
self all possible limited essences, the finite reflections of His infinite 
perfection, so that the essences or rationes of things are present in 
the divine mind from all eternity as the divine ideas, though, in 
view of Augustine's teaching on the divine simplicity previously 
mentioned, this should not be taken to mean that there are 
'accidents' in God, ideas which are ontologically distinct from His 
essence. In the Confessions 1 the Saint exclaims that the eternal 
'reasons' of created things remain unchangeably in God, and in 
the De Ideis 2 he explains that the divine ideas are ‘certain arche¬ 
typal forms or stable and unchangeable reasons of things, which 
were not themselves formed but are contained in the divine mind 
eternally and are always the same. They neither arise nor pass 
away, but whatever arises and passes away is formed according 
to them.' The corollary of this is that creatures have ontological 
truth in so far as they embody or exemplify the model in the 
divine mind, and that God Himself is the standard of truth. This 
exemplarist doctrine was, of course, influenced by neo-Platonic 
theory, according to which the Platonic exemplary ideas are con¬ 
tained in Nous, though for Augustine the ideas are contained in 
the Word, who is not a subordinate hypostasis, like the neo- 
Platonic Nous, but the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, 
consubstantial with the Father. 3 From Augustine the doctrine of 
exemplarism passed to the Middle Ages. It may be thought of as 
characteristic of the Augustinian School; but it must be remem¬ 
bered that St. Thomas Aquinas did not deny it, though he was 
careful to state it in such a way as not to imply that there are 
ontologically separate ideas in God, a doctrine which would impair 
the divine simplicity, for in God there is no real distinction save 
that between the three divine Persons. 4 Still, though Aquinas 
was in this respect a follower of Augustine, it was St. Bonaventure 
who most insisted in the thirteenth century on the doctrine of 
exemplarism and on the presence of the divine Ideas in the Word 
of God, an insistence which contributed to his hostile attitude 
to Aristotle the metaphysician, who threw overboard the ideas 
of Plato. 

1 I. 6, 9. *2. * De Trinit., 4, 1, 3. 

4 Cf. e.g. Summa Theol., Ia, 15, 2 and 3. 




Free creation out of nothing—Matter —Rationcs seminales— 
Numbers—Soul and body — Immortality—Origin of soul. 

One would hardly expect, once given the general attitude and 
complexion of Augustine’s thought, to find the Saint showing very 
much interest in the material world for its own sake: his thought 
centred round the soul’s relation to God; but his general philo¬ 
sophy involved a theory of the corporeal world, a theory consisting 
of elements taken from former thinkers and set in a Christian 
framework. It would be a mistake, however, to think that 
Augustine drew purely mechanically on previous thinkers for his 
theories: he emphasised those lines which seemed to him best 
calculated to underline nature’s relation to and dependence on God. 

1. A doctrine which was not developed by pagan thinkers, but 
which was held by Augustine in common with other Christian 
writers, was that of the creation of the world out of nothing by 
God’s free act. In the Plotinian emanation-theory the world is 
depicted as proceeding in some way from God without God becom¬ 
ing in any way diminished or altered thereby, but for Plotinus 
God does not act freely (since such activity would, he thought, 
postulate change in God) but rather necessitate naturae, the Good 
necessarily diffusing itself. The doctrine of free creation out of 
nothing is not to be found in neo-Platonism, if we except one or 
two pagan thinkers who had most probably been influenced by 
Christian teaching. Augustine may have thought that Plato had 
taught creation out of nothing in time, but it is improbable, in 
spite of Aristotle’s interpretation of the Timaeus, that Plato really 
meant to imply this. However, whatever Augustine may have 
thought about Plato’s views on the matter, he himself clearly 
states the doctrine of free creation out of nothing and it is essential 
to his insistence on the utter supremacy of God and the world’s 
entire dependence on Him. All things owe their being to God. 1 

2. But suppose that things were made out of some formless 
matter? Would not this formless matter be independent of God? 
First of all, says Augustine, are you speaking of a matter which is 

1 De lib. arbit 3, 15, 42. 



absolutely formless or of a matter which is formless only in 
comparison with completely formed? If the former, then you are 
speaking of what is equivalent to nothingness. That out of which 
God has created all things is what possesses neither species nor 
form; and this is nothing other than nothing.’ If, however, you 
are speaking of the latter, cf matter which has no completed form, 
but which has inchoate form, in the sense of possessing the capacity 
to receive form, then such matter is not altogether nothing indeed, 
but, as something, it has what being it has only from God. 'Where¬ 
fore, even if the universe was created out of some formless matter, 
this very matter was created from something which was wholly 
nothing.’ 1 In the Confessions a Augustine identifies this matter 
with the mutability of bodies (which is equivalent to saying that 
it is the potential element) and observes that if he could call it 
'nothing’ or assert that it does not exist, he would do so; but if 
it is the capacity of receiving forms, it cannot be called absolutely 
nothing. Again, he remarks in the De vera religione 3 that not only 
the possession of form but even the capacity to receive form is a 
good, and what is a good cannot be absolute nothing. Yet this 
matter, which is not absolutely nothing, is itself the creation of 
God, not preceding formed things in time but concreated with 
form, 4 and he identified the ‘unformed matter which God made 
out of nothing’ with the heaven and earth mentioned in the first 
verse of the first chapter of Genesis as the primary creation of 
God. 8 In other words, St. Augustine is stating in rudimentary 
form the Scholastic doctrine that God created out of nothing not 
absolutely formless ‘prime matter', apart from all form, but form 
and matter together, though, if we choose to think of Augustine’s 
statements as a rudimentary expression of the more elaborate 
Scholastic doctrine, we should also remember that the Saint is 
not so concerned with developing a philosophical doctrine for its 
own sake as with emphasising the essential dependence of all 
creatures on God and the perishable nature of all corporeal 
creatures, even when once constituted in existence. They have 
their being from God, but their being is bound up with their 

3. A theory which was dear to Augustine himself and to his 
followers, though it was rejected by St. Thomas, and which was 
calculated to exalt the divine agency at the expense of the causal 

1 Cf. De vera relig 18, 35-6. *12, 6, 6. * Loc. cit. 

4 De Gen. ad htt 1, 15, 29. 6 De Gen . contra Manich., 1, 17, 11. 




activity of creatures, was that of the rationes seminales or 'seminal 
reasons', the germs of those things which were to develop in the 
course of time. Thus even man, as regards his body at least, to 
leave the origin of the soul out of account for the moment, was 
created in the rationes seminales, 'invisibly, potentially, causally, 
in the way that things are made which are to be but have not yet 
been made'. 1 The rationes seminales are germs of things or invisible 
powers or potentialities, created by God in the beginning in the 
humid element and developing into the objects of various species 
by their temporal unfolding. The idea of these germinal poten¬ 
tialities was to be found, and doubtless was found by Augustine, 
in the philosophy of Plotinus and ultimately it goes back to the 
rationes seminales or X6yot <yKcpjxaTixoC of Stoicism, but it is an idea 
of rather vague content. Indeed, St. Augustine never supposed 
that they were the object of experience, that they could be seen 
or touched: they are invisible, having inchoate form or a poten¬ 
tiality to the development of form according to the divine plan. 
The seminal reasons are not purely passive, but tend to self¬ 
development, though the absence of the requisite conditions and 
circumstances and of other external agencies may hinder or 
prevent their development. 2 St. Bonaventure, who maintained 
the theory of St. Augustine on this point, compared the ratio 
seminalis to the rosebud, which is not yet actually the rose but 
will develop into the rose, given the presence of the necessary 
positive agencies and the absence of negative or preventive 

That St. Augustine asserted a rather vague theory regarding 
objects which are not the term of direct experience will appear 
less surprising if one considers why he asserted it. The assertion 
was the result of an exegetic, not a scientific problem, and the 
problem arose in this way. According to the book of Ecclesiasticus 8 
'He that liveth for ever created all things together', while on the 
other hand according to the book of Genesis the fishes and birds, 
for instance, appeared only on the fifth ‘day’ of creation, while 
the cattle and beasts of the earth appeared only on the sixth ‘day’. 
(Augustine did not interpret ‘day’ as our day of twenty-four hours, 
since the sun was made only on the fourth ‘day’.) How then can 
these two statements be reconciled, that God created all things 
together and that some things were made after others, that is to 
say, that not all things were created together? St. Augustine's 

1 De Gen. ad 6, 5, S. * De Trinit., 3, 8, 13. * 18, 1. 


way of solving the problem was to say that God did indeed create 
all things together in the beginning, but that He did not create 
them all in the same condition: many things, all plants, fishes, 
birds, animals, and man himself, He created invisibly, latently, 
potentially, in germ, in their rationes seminales . In this way God 
created in the beginning all the vegetation of the earth before it 
was actually growing on the earth, 1 and even man himself. He 
would thus solve the apparent contradiction between Ecclesiasticus 
and Genesis by making a distinction. If you are speaking of actual 
formal completion, then Ecclesiasticus is not referring to this, 
whereas Genesis is: if you are including germinal or seminal 
creation, then this is what Ecclesiasticus refers to. 

Why did not Augustine content himself with ‘seeds’ in the 
ordinary sense, the visible seeds of plants, the grain and so on? 
Because in the book of Genesis it is implied that the earth brought 
forth the green herb before its seed,* and the same thing is implied 
in regard to the other living things which reproduce their kind. 
He found himself compelled, therefore, to have recourse to a 
different kind of seed. For example, God created in the beginning 
the ratio seminalis of wheat, which, according to God’s plan and 
activity, unfolded itself at the appointed time as actual wheat, 
which then contained seed in the ordinary sense. 3 Moreover, God 
did not create all seeds or all eggs in act at the beginning, so that 
they too require a ratio seminalis . Each species, then, with all its 
future developments and particular members, was created at the 
beginning in the appropriate seminal reason. 

From what has been said it should be clear that the Saint was 
not considering primarily a scientific problem but rather an 
exegetic problem, so that it is really beside the point to adduce 
him either as a protagonist or as an opponent of evolution in the 
Lamarckian or Darwinian sense. 

4. St. Augustine made use of the Platonic number-theme, which 
goes back to Pythagoreanism. Naturally his treatment of number 
sometimes appears to us as fanciful and even fantastic, as when he 
speaks of perfect and imperfect numbers or interprets references to 
numbers in the Scriptures; but, speaking generally, he looks on 
number as the principle of order and form, of beauty and perfection, 
of proportion and law. Thus the Ideas are the eternal numbers, 
while bodies are temporal numbers, which unfold themselves in 

1 De Gen. ad Utt 5, 4, 7-9. * Gen. 1. 11. 

1 De Gen. ad litt. t 5, 4, 9. 




time. Bodies indeed can be considered as numbers in various ways, 
as being wholes consisting of a number of ordered and related 
parts, as unfolding themselves in successive stages (the plant, for 
example, germinates, breaks into leaf, produces flower and fruit, 
seminates), or as consisting of a number of parts well disposed in 
space; in other words, as exemplifying intrinsic number, local or 
spatial number, and temporal number. The 'seminal reasons' are 
hidden numbers, whereas bodies are manifest numbers. Again, 
just as mathematical number begins from one and ends in a 
number which is itself an integer, so the hierarchy of beings begins 
with the supreme One, God, which brings into existence and is 
reflected in more or less perfect unities. This comparison or 
parallel between mathematical number and metaphysical number 
was derived, of course, from Plotinus, and in general Augustine's 
treatment of number adds nothing of substance to the treatment 
already accorded it in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. 

5. The peak of the material creation is man, who consists of 
body and immortal soul. Augustine is quite clear about the fact 
that man does consist of soul and body, as when he says that 'a 
soul in possession of a body does not constitute two persons but 
one man'. 1 Why is it necessary to mention such an obvious point? 
Because Augustine speaks of the soul as a substance in its own 
right ( substantia quaedam rationis particeps , regendo corpori acco- 
modata ) 2 and even defines man as 'a rational soul using a mortal 
and earthly body'. 3 This Platonic attitude towards the soul has 
its repercussions, as we have already seen, in Augustine’s doctrine 
of sensation, which he represents as an activity of the soul 
using the body as an instrument, rather than as an activity 
of the total psycho-physical organism: it is, in fact, a temporary 
increase of intensity in the action by which the soul animates a 
certain part of the body. The soul, being superior to the body, 
cannot be acted on by the body, but it perceives the changes in 
the body due to an external stimulus. 

6. The human soul is an immaterial principle, though, like the 
souls of brutes, it animates the body. A man may say or even 
think that his soul is composed of air, for example, but he can 
never know that it is composed of air. On the other hand he 
knows very well that he is intelligent, that he thinks, and he has 
no reason to suppose that air can think. 4 Moreover, the soul's 

1 In Joann. Evang 19, 5, 15. 1 De quant, animat , 13. 21. 

* De moribus eccl., 1. 27, 52; In Joann. Evang., 19, 5, 15. 

4 De Gen. ad litt., 7. 21, 28; De Trinit., 10, 10, 14. 


immateriality and its substantiality assure it of immortality. On 
this point Augustine uses arguments which go back to Plato. 1 For 
example, Augustine utilises the argument of the Phaedo that, as 
the soul is the principle of life and as two contraries are incom¬ 
patible, the soul cannot die. Apart from the fact that this argu¬ 
ment is not very convincing in any case, it could not be acceptable 
to Augustine without modification, since it would seem to imply 
that the soul exists of itself or is a part of God. He adapted the 
argument, therefore, by saying that the soul participates in Life, 
holding its being and essence from a Principle which admits of no 
contrary, and by arguing that, as the being which the soul receives 
from this Principle (which admits no contrary) is precisely life, it 
cannot die. The argument, however, might clearly be taken to 
imply that the animal soul is immortal also, since it too is a 
principle of life, and so would prove too much. It must, then, be 
taken in conjunction with another argument, also derived from 
Plato, to the effect that the soul apprehends indestructible truth, 
which shows that it is itself indestructible. In the De quantitate 
animae 2 Augustine distinguishes the souls of beasts, which possess 
the power of sensation but not that of reasoning and knowing, 
from human souls, which possess both, so that this argument 
applies only to human souls. Plato had argued that the human 
soul, as capable of apprehending the Ideas, which are eternal and 
indestructible, shows itself to be akin to them, to be 'divine', that 
is to say, indestructible and eternal, and Augustine, without 
affirming pre-existence, proves the immortality of the soul in an 
analogous manner. In addition, he argues from the desire of 
beatitude, the desire for perfect happiness, and this became a 
favourite argument among Augustinians, with St. Bonaventure, 
for example. 

7. Augustine clearly held that the soul is created by God, 3 but 
does not seem to have made up his mind as to the precise time and 
mode of its origin. He seems to have toyed with some form of the 
Platonic pre-existence theory while refusing to allow that the soul 
was put into the body as a punishment for faults committed in a 
pre-earthly condition, but the chief question for him was whether 
God creates each individual soul separately or created all other 
souls in Adam’s, so that the soul is 'handed on' by the parents 
(Traducianism). This second opinion would appear logically to 

1 Cf. Solil., 2, 19, 33; Ep. t 3, 4; De Immortal An., ch. i-O. 1 28, 34ft. 

8 De anima ei cuts originc, 1, 4, 4. 

8 o 


involve a materialistic view of the soul, whereas in fact Augustine 
certainly did not hold any such view and insisted that the soul is 
not present in the body by local diffusion; 1 but it was for theologi¬ 
cal, not philosophical, reasons that he inclined towards tradu- 
cianism, as he thought that in this way original sin could be 
explained as a transmitted stain on the soul. If original sin is 
looked on as something positive and not as in itself a privation, 
there is indeed a difficulty, even if not an insuperable difficulty, 
in affirming individual creation by God of each single human soul, 
but even apart from that it does not alter the fact that tradu- 
cianism is inconsistent with a clear affirmation of the soul's 
spiritual and immaterial character. 

1 Ep., 156. 



Happiness and God—Freedom and Obligation—Need of grace — 

Evil—the two Cities . 

1. St. Augustine's ethic has this in common with what one 
might call the typical Greek ethic, that it is eudaemonistic in 
character, that it proposes an end for human conduct, namely 
happiness; but this happiness is to be found only in God. The 
Epicurean who places man's supreme good in the body, places his 
hope in himself,' 1 but ‘the rational creature . . . has been so made 
that it cannot itself be the good by which it is made happy’: 2 the 
human being is mutable and insufficient to itself, it can find its 
happiness only in the possession of what is more than itself, in the 
possession of an immutable object. Not even virtue itself can be 
the end: ‘it is not the virtue of thy soul that maketh thee happy, 
but He who hath given thee the virtue, who hath inspired thee to 
will, and hath given thee the power to do.' 3 It is not the ideal 
of the Epicurean that can bring happiness to man, nor even that 
of the Stoic, but God Himself: ‘the striving after God is, therefore, 
the desire of beatitude, the attainment of God is beatitude itself/ 4 
That the human being strives after beatitude or happiness, and 
that beatitude means the attainment of an object, Augustine knew 
well from his own experience, even if he found confirmation of this 
fact in philosophy; that this object is God, he learnt also from his 
personal experience, even if he had been helped to realise the fact 
by the philosophy of Plotinus. But when he said that happiness 
is to be found in the attainment and possession of the eternal and 
immutable Object, God, he was thinking, not of a purely philo¬ 
sophic and’ theoretic contemplation of God, but of a loving union 
with and possession of God, and indeed of the supernatural union 
with God held up to the Christian as the term of his grace-aided 
endeavour: one cannot well separate out in Augustine's thought a 
natural and a supernatural ethic, since he deals with man in the 
concrete, and man in the concrete has a supernatural vocation: he 
regarded the neo-Platonists as disteming something of that which 

1 Serm 150, 7, 8. 
s Serm., 150, 8, 9. 

1 Ep., 140, 23, 56. 

4 De moribus eccX 1, II, 18, 



was revealed by Christ, neo-Platonism as an inadequate and 
partial realisation of the truth. 

The ethic of Augustine is, then, primarily an ethic of love: it is 
by the will that man reaches out towards God and finally takes 
possession of and enjoys Him. 'When therefore the will, which is 
the intermediate good, cleaves to the immutable good . . . , man 
finds therein the blessed life’; 1 'for if God is man's supreme good 
. . . it clearly follows, since to seek the supreme good is to live 
well, that to live well is nothing else but to love God with all the 
heart, with all the soul, with all the mind.' 2 Indeed, after quoting 
the words of Christ, as recorded by St. Matthew, 3 Thou shalt love 
the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole 
soul, and with thy whole mind' and ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour 
as thyself', Augustine asserts that ‘Natural philosophy is here, 
since all the causes of all natural things are in God the Creator’, 
and that, ‘Ethics are here, since a good and honest life is not 
formed otherwise than by loving as they should be loved those 
things which we ought to love, namely, God and our neighbour.' 4 
Augustine's ethic thus centres round the dynamism of the will, 
which is a dynamism of love ( pondus tneum , amor meus), b though 
the attainment of beatitude, ‘participation in the immutable 
good’, is not possible for man unless he be aided by grace, unless 
he receives ‘the gratuitous mercy of the Creator'. 6 

2. The will, however, is free, and the free will is subject to 
moral obligation. The Greek philosophers had a conception of 
happiness as the end of conduct, and one cannot say that they 
had no idea of obligation; but owing to his clearer notion of God 
and of divine creation Augustine was able to give to moral obliga¬ 
tion a firmer metaphysical basis than the Greeks had been able to 
give it. 

The necessary basis of obligation is freedom. The will is free to 
turn awp.y from the immutable Good and to attach itself to mutable 
goods, taking as its object either the goods of the soul, without 
reference to God, or the goods of the body. The will necessarily 
seeks happiness, satisfaction, and de facto this happiness can be 
found only in God, the immutable Good, but man has not the 
vision of God in this life, he can turn his attention to and cling to 
mutable goods in place of God, and 'this turning away and this 
turning to are not forced but voluntary actions’. 7 

1 De lib . arbit., a, 19, 52. 1 De moribus eccl 1, 25, 46. 1 22. 37-9* 

4 Ep, t 137, 5, 17. * Conf., 13. 9, 10. * Bp., 140, 21, 14. 

7 De lib, arbit ., 2, 19, 35. 


The human will is, then, free to turn to God or away from God, 
but at the same time the human mind must recognise the truth, 
not only that what it seeks, happiness, can be found only in the 
possession of the immutable Good, God, but also that the direction 
of the will to that good is implanted by God and willed by God, 
who is the Creator. By turning away from God the will runs 
counter to the divine law, which is expressed in human nature, 
made by God for Himself. All men are conscious to some extent 
of moral standards and laws: 'even the ungodly . . . rightly blame 
and rightly praise many things in the conduct of men.' How are 
they enabled to do so, save by seeing the rules according to which 
men ought to live, even if they do not personally obey these laws 
in their own conduct? Where do they see these rules? Not in their 
own minds, since their minds are mutable, whereas the ‘rules of 
justice' are immutable; not in their characters, since they are ex 
hypothesi unjust. They see the moral rules, says Augustine, using 
his customary, if obscure, manner of speaking, ‘in the book of 
that light which is called Truth'. The eternal laws of morality are 
impressed in the heart of man, 'as the impression of a ring passes 
into the wax, yet does not leave the ring'. There are indeed some 
men who are more or less blind to the law, but even they are 
‘sometimes touched by the splendour of the omnipresent truth'. 1 
Thus, just as the human mind perceives eternal theoretic truths 
in the light of God, so it perceives, in the same light, practical 
truths or principles which should direct the free will. Man is by 
his nature, his nature considered in the concrete, set towards God; 
but he can fulfil the dynamism of that nature only by observing 
the moral laws which reflect the eternal law of God, and which 
are not arbitrary rules but follow from the Nature of God and the 
relationship of man to God. The laws are not arbitrary caprices 
of God, but their observance is willed by God, for He would not 
have created man without willing that man should be what He 
meant him to be. The will is free, but it is at the same time subject 
to moral obligations, and to love God is a duty. 

3. The relationship of man to God, however, is the relationship 
of a finite creature to the infinite Being, and the result is that the 
gulf cannot be bridged without the divine aid, without grace: grace 
is necessary even to begin to will to love God. ‘When man tries 
to live justly by his own strength without the help of the liberating 
grace of God, he is then conquered by sins; but in free will he has 

1 De Trinit., 14, 15, 21. 


it in his power to believe in the Liberator and to receive grace.’ 1 
'The law was therefore given that grace might be sought; grace 
was given that the law might be fulfilled.’* ’Our will is by the law 
shown to be weak, that grace may heal its infirmity.’* 'The law of 
teaching and commanding that which cannot be fulfilled without 
grace demonstrates to man his weakness, in order that the weak¬ 
ness thus proved may resort to the Saviour, by whose healing the 
will may be able to do what in its feebleness it found impossible.’* 

It would be out of place here to enter on the question of 
Augustine’s doctrine of grace and its relation to the free will, 
which is in any case a difficult question; but it is necessary to 
grasp the fact that when Augustine makes the love of God the 
essence of the moral law, he is referring to that union of the will 
with God which requires the elevation effected by grace. This is 
only natural, once given the fact that he is considering and 
treating man in the concrete, man endowed with a supernatural 
vocation, and it means that he supplements and completes the 
wisdom of philosophy with the wisdom of the Scriptures. One 
can, for purposes of schematism, try to separate Augustine the 
philosopher and Augustine the theologian; but in his own eyes the 
true philosopher is a man who surveys reality in the concrete, as 
it is, and it cannot be seen as it is without taking into account the 
economy of redemption and of grace. 

4. If moral perfection consists in loving God, in directing the 
will to God and bringing all other powers, e.g. the senses, into 
harmony with this direction, evil will consist in turning the will 
away from God. But what is evil in itself, moral evil? Is it some¬ 
thing positive? It cannot, first of all, be something positive in the 
sense of something created by God: the cause of moral evil is not 
the Creator but the created will. The cause of good things is the 
divine goodness, whereas the cause of evil is the created will 
which turns away from the immutable Good: 8 evil is a turning- 
away of the created will from the immutable and infinite Good.* 
But evil cannot strictly be termed a ‘thing’, since this word 
implies a positive reality, and if moral evil were a positive reality, 
it would have to be ascribed to the Creator, unless one were willing 
to attribute to the creature the power of positive creation out of 
nothing. Evil, then, is 'that which falls away from essence and 
tends to non-being_It tends to make that which is cease to be.’ T 

1 Expos, quarumdam prop, ex epist. ad Rom., 44. 1 De spir. et lift., 19, 34. 

• Ibid., 9, 1 j. 4 Ep., 145, 3. 4. * Enchirid., 13. 

• De lib. orbit., 1, 16, 33. * De moribus eccl., 2, 2, 2. 



Everything in which there is order and measure is to be ascribed 
to God, but in the will which turns away from God there is 
disorder. The will itself is good, but the absence of right order, 
or rather the privation of right order, for which the human agent 
is responsible, is evil. Moral evil is thus a privation of right order 
in the created will. 

This doctrine of evil as a privation was the doctrine of Plotinus, 
and in it Augustine found the answer to the Manichees. For if 
evil is a privation and not a positive thing, one is no longer faced 
with the choice of either ascribing moral evil to the good Creator 
or of inventing an ultimate evil principle responsible for evil. This 
doctrine was adopted by the Scholastics generally from Augustine 
and finds adherents among several modem philosophers of note, 
Leibniz, for example. 

5. If the principle of morality is love of God and the essence of 
evil is a falling-away from God, it follows that the human race can 
be divided into two great camps, that of those who love God and 
prefer God to self and that of those who prefer self to God: it is 
by the character of their wills, by the character of their dominant 
love, that men are ultimately marked. Augustine sees the history 
of the human race as the history of the dialectic of these two 
principles, the one in forming the City of Jerusalem, the other the 
City of Babylon. ‘Let each one question himself as to what he 
loveth; and he shall find of which (city) he is a citizen.’ 1 'There 
are two kinds of love; . . . These two kinds of love distinguish the 
two cities established in the human race ... in the so to speak 
commingling of which the ages are passed.’ 2 ‘You have heard and 
know that there are two cities, for the present mingled together 
in body, but in heart separated.’ 3 

To the Christian history is necessarily of profound importance. 
It was in history that man fell, in history that he was redeemed: 
it is in history, progressively, that the Body of Christ on earth 
grows and develops and that God’s plan is unfolded. To the 
Christian, history apart from the data of revelation is shorn of its 
significance: it is small wonder, then, that Augustine looked on 
history from the Christian standpoint and that his outlook was 
primarily spiritual and moral. If we speak of a philosophy of 
history in Augustine’s thought, the word ‘philosophy’ must be 
understood in a wide sense as Christian wisdom. The knowledge 
of the facts of history may be mainly a natural knowledge, for 

1 In Ps., 64, 2. 8 De Gen , ad Hit., n, 15, 20. 8 In Ps.. 136, 1. 



example, knowledge of the existence and development of the 
Assyrian and Babylonian empires; but the principles by which the 
facts are interpreted and given meaning and judged are not taken 
from the facts themselves. The temporal and passing is judged in 
the light of the eternal. That Augustine’s tendency to concentrate 
on the aspect of Assyria under which it appeared to him as an 
embodiment of the City of Babylon (in the moral sense) would 
not commend itself to the modern historian is understandable 
enough; but Augustine was not concerned to play the part of an 
historian in the ordinary sense, but rather to give the 'philosophy' 
of history as he envisaged it, and the ‘philosophy’ of history, as 
he understood it, is the discernment of the spiritual and moral 
significance of historical phenomena and events. Indeed, so far as 
there can be a philosophy of history at all, the Christian at least 
will agree with Augustine that only a Christian philosophy of 
history can ever approach adequacy: to the non-Christian the 
position of the Jewish people, for example, is radically different 
from the position it occupies in the eyes of the Christian. If it 
were objected, as it obviously could be, that this involves a 
theological interpretation of history, a reading of history in the 
light of dogma, the objection would not cause Augustine any 
difficulty, since he never pretended to make that radical dichotomy 
between theology and philosophy which is implied in the objection. 



The State and the City of Babylon not identical—The pagan 
State does not embody true justice—Church superior to State. 

i. As I have already remarked, Augustine saw in history, as he 
saw in the individual, the struggle between two principles of 
conduct, two loves, on the one hand the love of God and submis¬ 
sion to His law, on the other hand love of self, of pleasure, of the 
world. It was only natural, then, that as he saw the embodiment 
of the heavenly city, Jerusalem, in the Catholic Church, so he 
should see in the State, particularly in the pagan State, the 
embodiment of the City of Babylon, and the result of Augustine’s 
attitude in this matter is that one is tempted to assume that for 
him the City of God can be identified with the Church as a visible 
society and the City of Babylon with the State as such. Does he 
not ask, 'Without justice what are kingdoms but great bands of 
robbers? What is a band of robbers but a little kingdom?’ And 
does he not approve the pirate’s reply to Alexander the Great, 
'Because I do it with a little ship, I am called a robber, and you, 
because you do it with a great fleet, are called an emperor'? 1 
Assyria and pagan Rome were founded, increased and maintained 
by injustice, violence, rapine, oppression: is not this to affirm that 
the State and the City of Babylon are one and the same thing? 

Undeniably Augustine thought that the most adequate historical 
embodiments of the City of Babylon are to be found in the pagan 
empires of Assyria and Rome, just as he certainly thought that the 
City of Jerusalem, the City of God, is manifested in the Church. 
None the less, the ideas of the heavenly and earthly cities are moral 
and spiritual ideas, the contents of which are not exactly coter¬ 
minous with any actual organisation. For instance, a man may be 
a Christian and belong to the Church; but if the principle of his 
conduct is self-love and not the love of God, he belongs spiritually 
and morally to the City of Babylon. Again, if an official of the 
State is governed in his conduct by the love of God, if he pursues 
justice and charity, he belongs spiritually and morally to the City 
of Jerusalem. ‘We see now a citizen of Jerusalem, a citizen of the 

1 De Civit. Dei, 4, 4. 




kingdom of heaven, holding some office upon earth; as, for 
example, wearing the purple, serving as magistrate, as aedile, as 
proconsul, as emperor, directing the earthly republic, but he hath 
his heart above if he is a Christian, if he is of the faithful. . . . Let 
us not therefore despair of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, 
when we see them engaged in the affairs of Babylon, doing some¬ 
thing terrestrial in a terrestrial republic; nor again let us forthwith 
congratulate all men whom we see engaged in celestial matters, 
for even the sons of the pestilence sit sometimes in the seat of 
Moses. . . . But there will come a time of winnowing when they 
will be separated, the one from the other, with the greatest 
care. . . Even if, then, the City of Babylon in the moral and 
spiritual sense tends to be identified with the State, particularly 
the pagan State, and the City of Jerusalem tends to be identified 
with the Church as a visible organisation, the identification is not 
complete: one cannot legitimately conclude that because a man is, 
for example, a Church official, he is necessarily a citizen of the 
spiritual City of Jerusalem, for as far as his spiritual and moral 
condition is concerned he may belong to the City of Babylon. 
Moreover, if the State were necessarily coincident with the City of 
Babylon, no Christian could legitimately hold office in the State, 
or even be a citizen, if he could help it, and St. Augustine certainly 
did not subscribe to any such opinion. 

2. But if the State and the City of Babylon cannot simply be 
identified, St. Augustine certainly did not think that the State as 
such is founded on justice or that true justice is realised in any 
actual State, not at any rate in any pagan State. That there is 
some justice even in a pagan State is sufficiently obvious, but true 
justice demands that that worship should be paid to God which 
He requires, and pagan Rome did not pay that worship, indeed 
in Christian times she did her best to prevent its being paid. On 
the other hand pagan Rome was obviously a State. How, then, is 
the conclusion to be avoided that true justice must not be 
included within the definition of the State? For, if it is, one would 
be reduced to the impossible position of denying that pagan Rome 
was a State. Augustine accordingly defines a society as a ‘multitude 
of rational creatures associated in a common agreement as to the 
things which it loves'. 2 If the things which it loves are good, it 
will be a good society, while, if the things which it loves are bad, 
it will be a bad society; but nothing is said in the definition of a 
1 In Pi., 51, 6. 1 De Civil. Dei, 19 , 24. 



people as to whether the objects of its love are good or bad, with 
the result that the definition will apply even to the pagan State. 

This does not mean, of course, that in Augustine's eyes the State 
exists in a non-moral sphere: on the contrary, the same moral law 
holds good for States as for individuals. The point he wants to 
make is that the State will not embody true justice, will not be 
a really moral State, unless it is a Christian State: it is Christianity 
which makes men good citizens. The State itself, as an instrument 
of force, has its roots in the consequences of original sin and, given 
the fact of original sin and its consequences, is a necessary institu¬ 
tion; but a just State is out of the question unless it is a Christian 
State. ‘No State is more perfectly established and preserved than 
on the foundations, and by the bond, of faith and of firm concord, 
when the highest and truest good, namely God, is loved by all and 
men love each other in Him without dissimulation because they 
love one another for His sake.' 1 The State, in other words, is 
informed by love of this world, when it is left to itself; but it can 
be informed by higher principles, principles which it must derive 
from Christianity. 

3. From this there follow two consequences of importance. 
(1) The Christian Church will try to inform civil society with its 
own celestial principles of conduct: it has a mission to act as the 
leaven of the earth. Augustine's conception of the Christian Church 
and her mission was essentially a dynamic and a social conception: 
the Church must permeate the State by her principles. (2) The 
Church is thus the only really perfect society and is definitely 
superior to the State, for, if the State must take her principles from 
the Church, the State cannot be above the Church nor even on a 
level with the Church. In maintaining this view St. Augustine 
stands at the head of the mediaeval exaltation of the Church 
vis-d-vis the State, and he was only consistent in invoking the 
help of the State against the Donatists, since, on his view, the 
Church is a superior society to which Christ has subjected the 
kingdoms of the world, and which has the right to make use of 
the powers of the world. 2 But if Augustine's view of the relation 
of Church to State was the one which became characteristic of 
western Christendom and not of Byzantium, it does not follow 
that his view necessarily tended to undermine the significance of 
civic and social life. As Christopher Dawson has pointed out, 3 

1 Ep. t 137, 5, 18. 1 Cf. ibid., 105. 5, 6; 35, 3. 

• A Monument to St. Augustine, pp. 76-7. 


although Augustine deprived the State of its aura of divinity, he 
at the same time insisted on the value of the free human personality 
and of moral responsibility, even against the State, so that in this 
way he ‘made possible the ideal of a social order resting upon the 
free personality and a common effort towards moral ends’. 



Writings and author—Affirmative way—Negative way — Neo- 
Platonic interpretation of Trinity—Ambiguous teaching on 
creation—Problem of evil—Orthodoxy or unorthodoxy? 

I. During the Middle Ages the writings which were then ascribed 
to St. Paul’s Athenian convert, Dionysius the Areopagite, enjoyed 
high esteem, not only among mystics and authors of works on 
mystical theology, but also among professional theologians and 
philosophers, such as St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. 
The reverence and respect paid to these writings were, of course, 
in great part due to the mistaken notion as to their authorship, a 
mistake which originated in the author’s use of a pseudonym. 
‘Dionysius the Presbyter, to his fellow-presbyter Timothy.’ 1 In 
533 the Patriarch of Antioch, Severus, appealed to the writings of 
Dionysius, in support of his Monophysite doctrine, a fact which 
can be safely taken to mean that the writings were already regarded 
as possessed of authority. But, even if Severus appealed to the 
works in question in support of heretical doctrine, their ascription 
to St. Dionysius would free them from any suspicion as to their 
orthodoxy. In the Eastern Church they were widely circulated, 
being commented on by Maximus the Confessor in the seventh 
century and appealed to by the great Eastern Doctor, St. John 
Damascene, in the eighth century, though Hypatius of Ephesus 
attacked their authenticity. 

In the West, Pope Martin I appealed to the writings as authentic 
at the first Lateran Council in 649, and about the year 858 John 
Scotus Eriugena, at the request of Charles the Bald, made a 
translation from the Greek text which had been presented to 
Louis the Fair in 827 by the Emperor Michael Balbus. John 
Scotus, besides translating the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, 
also commented on them, thus furnishing the first of a series of 
commentaries in Western Christendom. For example, Hugh of St. 
Victor (d. 1141) commented on the Celestial Hierarchy , using 
Eriugena's translation, while Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253) and 
Albert the Great (d. 1280) also commented on the writings. 

1 Exordium to the Divine Names. 




St. Thomas Aquinas composed a commentary on the Divine Names 
about 1261. All these authors, as also, for example, Denis the 
Carthusian, accepted the authenticity of the writings; but in time 
it was bound to become clear that they embodied important 
elements taken from developed neo-Platonism and that they con¬ 
stituted in fact an attempt to reconcile neo-Platonism and 
Christianity, so that they would have to be attributed to an 
author of a much later date than the historic Dionysius the 
Areopagite. However, the question of the authenticity of the 
writings is not the same as the question of their orthodoxy from 
the Christian standpoint, and though in the seventeenth century, 
when critics began to attack the authenticity of the writings, their 
orthodoxy was also assailed, a recognition of their unauthentic 
character did not necessarily involve an admission of their incom¬ 
patibility with Christian doctrine, though it was obviously no 
longer possible to maintain their orthodoxy on the a priori ground 
that they were composed by a personal disciple of St. Paul. 
Personally I consider that the writings are orthodox in regard to 
the rejection of monism; but that on the question of the Blessed 
Trinity it is highly questionable at least if they can be reconciled 
with orthodox Christian dogma. Whatever the intentions of the 
author may have been, his words, besides being obscure, as 
Aquinas admitted, are scarcely compatible, as they stand, with 
the Trinitarian teaching of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. It 
may be objected that insufficient attention is paid to the dogma 
of the Incarnation, which is essential to Christianity, but the 
author clearly maintains this doctrine, and in any case to say little 
about one particular doctrine, even a central one, is not the same 
as to deny it. Taking the relevant passages of the Pseudo- 
Dionysius in the large, it does not seem possible to reject them as 
definitely unorthodox on this point, unless one is prepared also to 
reject as unorthodox, for example, the mystical doctrine of St. John 
of the Cross, who is a Doctor of the Church. 

But though no one now supposes that the writings are actually 
the work of Dionysius the Areopagite, it has not proved possible to 
discover the real author. Most probably they were composed at 
the end of the fifth century, as they apparently embody ideas of 
the neo-Platonist Proclus (418-85), and it has been conjectured 
that the Hierotheus who figures therein was the Syrian mystic 
Stephen Bar Sadaili. If the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius 
actually depend to any degree on the philosophy of Proclus, they 


cannot well have been composed before the closing decades of the 
fifth century, while as they were appealed to at the Council of 533, 
they can hardly have been composed much after 500. The ascrip¬ 
tion of about 500 as the date of their composition is, therefore, 
doubtless correct, while the supposition that they originated in 
Syria is reasonable. The author was a theologian, without doubt 
an ecclesiastic also; but he cannot have been Severus himself, as 
one or two writers have rashly supposed. In any case, though it 
would be interesting to know with certainty who the author was, 
it is probably unlikely that anything more than conjecture will 
ever be possible, and the chief interest of the writings is due, not 
to the personality of the author, but to the content and influence 
of the writings, these writings being the Divine Names (De divinis 
Nominibus ), the Mystical Theology ( De mystica Theologia), the 
Celestial Hierarchy [De coelesti Hierarchia) and the Ecclesiastical 
Hierarchy (De ecclesiastica Hierarchia ), as well as ten letters. The 
works are printed in Migne's Patrologia Graeca , volumes 3-4; but 
a critical edition of the text has been begun. 

2. There are two ways of approaching God, who is the centre of 
all speculation, a positive way (xorraipaTixT)) and a negative way 
(dtTKxpomx^). In the former way or method the mind begins "with 
the most universal statements, and then through intermediate 
terms (proceeds) to particular titles', 1 thus beginning with ‘the 
highest category'. 2 In the Divine Names the Pseudo-Dionysius 
pursues this affirmative method, showing how names such as 
Goodness, Life, Wisdom, Power, are applicable to God in a 
transcendental manner and how they apply to creatures only in 
virtue of their derivation from God and their varying degrees of 
participation in those qualities which are found in God not as 
inhering qualities but in substantial unity. Thus he begins with 
the idea or name of goodness, which is the most universal name, 
inasmuch as all things, existent or possible, share in goodness to 
some degree, but which at the same time expresses the Nature of 
God: ‘None is good save one, that is, God.' 3 God, as the Good, is 
the overflowing source of creation and its final goal, and ‘from the 
Good comes the light which is an image of Goodness, so that the 
Good is described by the name of “Light", being the archetype of 
that which is revealed in the image'. 4 Here the neo-Platonic 
light-motive is brought in, and the Pseudo-Dionysius's dependence 

1 Myst. ThtoX., 2. ‘ Ibid., 3. 

3 Div . Nanus, 2, 1; St. Matt. 19. 17. 4 Div. Nanus, 4. 4. 




on neo-Platonism is particularly manifest in his language when he 
goes on to speak of the Good as Beauty, as the 'super-essential 
beautiful’, and uses the phrases of Plato’s Symposium, which 
reappear in the Enneads of Plotinus. Again, when in chapter 13 
of the Divine Names 1 the Pseudo-Dionysius speaks of 'One' as 'the 
most important title of all’, he is clearly writing in dependence on 
the Plotinian doctrine of the ultimate Principle as the One. 

In brief, then, the affirmative method means ascribing to God 
the perfections found in creatures, that is, the perfections which 
are compatible with the spiritual Nature of God, though not 
existing in Him in the same manner as they exist in creatures, 
since in God they exist without imperfection and, in the case of 
the names which are ascribed to the Divine Nature, without real 
differentiation. That we start, in the affirmative way, with the 
highest categories, is, says the author, 2 due to the fact that we 
should start with what is most akin to God, and it is truer to 
affirm that He is life and goodness than that He is air or stone. 
The names 'Life' and 'Goodness’ refer to something which is 
actually in God, but He is air or stone only in a metaphorical 
sense or in the sense that He is the cause of these things. Yet the 
Pseudo-Dionysius is careful to insist that, even if certain names 
describe God better than others, they are very far from represent¬ 
ing an adequate knowledge and conception of God on our part, and 
he expresses this conviction by speaking of God as the super¬ 
essential Essence, the super-essential Beautiful, and so on. He is 
not simply repeating phrases from the Platonic tradition, but he is 
expressing the truth that the objective reference or content of 
these names as actually found in God infinitely transcends the 
content of the names as experienced by us. For example, if we 
ascribe intelligence to God, we do not mean to ascribe to Him 
human intelligence, the only intelligence of which we have imme¬ 
diate experience and from which we draw the name: we mean that 
God is more, infinitely more, than what we experience as intelli¬ 
gence, and this fact is best expressed by speaking of God as 
super-intelligence or as the super-essential Intelligence. 

3. The affirmative way was mainly pursued by the Pseudo- 
Dionysius in the Divine Names and in his (lost) Symbolical 
Theology and Outlines of Divinity, whereas the negative way, that 
of the exclusion from God of the imperfections of creatures, is 
characteristic of the Mystical Theology. The distinction of the two 

1 13, 1. 1 Myst. Tkecl ,, 3. 


ways was dependent on Proclus, and as developed by the Pseudo- 
Dionysius it passed into Christian philosophy and theology, being 
accepted by St. Thomas Aquinas, for example; but the palm is 
given by the Pseudo-Dionysius to the negative way in preference 
to the affirmative way. In this way the mind begins by denying 
of God those things which are farthest removed from Him, e.g. 
"drunkenness or fury/ 1 and proceeds upwards progressively denying 
of God the attributes and qualities of creatures, until it reaches 
"the super-essential Darkness'. 2 As God is utterly transcendent, 
we praise Him best "by denying or removing all things that are— 
just as men who, carving a statue out of marble, remove all the 
impediments that hinder the clear perception of the latent image 
and by this mere removal display the hidden statue itself in its 
hidden beauty'. 3 The human being is inclined to form anthropo¬ 
morphic conceptions of the Deity, and it is necessary to strip away 
these human, all-too-human conceptions by the via remotionis ; but 
the Pseudo-Dionysius does not mean that from this process there 
results a clear view of what God is in Himself: the comparison of 
the statue must not mislead us. When the mind has stripped away 
from its idea of God the human modes of thought and inadequate 
conceptions of the Deity, it enters upon the "Darkness of Unknow¬ 
ing', 4 wherein it "renouncesall the apprehension of the understand¬ 
ing and is wrapped in that which is wholly intangible and invisible 
. . . united ... to Him that is wholly unknowable'; 5 this is the 
province of mysticism. The "Darkness of Unknowing' is not due, 
however, to the unintelligibility of the Object considered in itself, 
but to the finiteness of the human mind, which is blinded by excess 
of light. This doctrine is doubtless partly influenced by neo- 
Platonism, but it is also to be found in the writings of Christian 
mystical theologians, notably St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose writings 
in turn, though influenced, as far as language and presentation are 
concerned, by neo-Platonic treatises, were also the expression of 
personal experience. 

4. The neo-Platonic influence on the Pseudo-Dionysius comes 
out very strongly in his doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, for he 
seems to be animated by the desire to find a One behind the 
differentiation of Persons. He certainly allows that the differen¬ 
tiation of Persons is an eternal differentiation and that the Father, 

1 Myst. Theol, 3. 1 Ibid., 2. » Ibid. 

4 The author of the mediaeval mystical treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, 
doubtless wrote in immediate or mediate dependence on the writings of the 
P&eudo-Dionysius. 1 Myst. Theol., 1. 



for example, is not the Son, and the Son not the Father, but so far 
as one can achieve an accurate interpretation of what he says, it 
appears that, in his opinion, the differentiation of Persons exists 
on the plane of manifestation. The manifestation in question is an 
eternal manifestation, and the differentiation an eternal differen¬ 
tiation within God, to be distinguished from the external mani¬ 
festation of God in differentiated creatures; but God in Himself, 
beyond the plane of manifestation, is undifferentiated Unity. One 
can, of course, attempt to justify the language of the Pseudo- 
Dionysius by reference to the Nature of God which, according to 
orthodox Trinitarianism, is one and undivided and with which 
each of the divine Persons is substantially identical; but it would 
seem most probable, not to say certain, that the author was 
influenced, not only by Plotinus’s doctrine of the One, but also by 
Proclus’s doctrine of the primary Principle which transcends the 
attributes of Unity, Goodness, Being. The super-essential Unity 
would seem to represent Proclus’s first Principle, and the distinc¬ 
tion of three Persons in unity of Nature would seem to represent 
the neo-Platonic conception of emanation, being a stage, if an 
eternal stage, in the self-manifestation or revelation of the ultimate 
Godhead or Absolute. When we speak of the all-transcendent 
Godhead as a Unity and a Trinity, it is not a Unity or a Trinity 
such as can be known by us . . . (though) ‘we apply the titles of 
"Trinity” and “Unity” to that which is beyond all titles, express¬ 
ing under the form of Being that which is beyond being. . . . (The 
transcendent Godhead) hath no name, nor can it be grasped by 
the reason. . . . Even the title of "Goodness” we do not ascribe 
to it because we think such a name suitable. .. Z 1 (The Godhead) 
‘is not unity or goodness, nor a Spirit, not Sonship nor Fatherhood, 
. . . nor does it belong to the category of non-existence or to that 
of existence.’* 

It is true that such phrases could be defended, as regards the 
intention of the author if not as regards his actual words, by 
pointing out that it is correct to say that the term 'Father', for 
instance, belongs to the first Person as Person and not to the Son, 
though the divine substance exists in numerical identity and 
without intrinsic real differentiation in each of the three divine 
Persons, and also by allowing that the term ’Father’, as applied 
to the first Person, though the best term available in human 
language for the purpose, is borrowed from a human relationship, 

* Div. S' amis, 13, 3. a Myst. Theol., 3. 


and applied to God in an analogical sense, so that the content of 
the idea of ‘Father' in our minds is not adequate to the reality in 
God. Moreover, the Pseudo-Dionysius certainly speaks of ‘a 
differentiation in the super-essential doctrine of God', referring to 
the Trinity of Persons and the names applicable to each Person in 
particular, 1 and explicitly denies that he is 'introducing a confu¬ 
sion of all distinctions in the Deity', 2 affirming that, while names 
such as 'Super-vital' or 'Super-wise' belong to 'the entire Godhead', 
the 'differentiated names', the names of 'Father', 'Son' and 
'Spirit', ‘cannot be interchanged, nor are they held in common'. 3 
Again, though there is a 'mutual abiding and indwelling' of the 
divine Persons ‘in an utterly undifferentiated and transcendent 
Unity', this is 'without any confusion'. 4 Nevertheless, though 
much of what the Pseudo-Dionysius has to say on the subject of 
the Blessed Trinity can be interpreted and defended from the 
standpoint of theological orthodoxy, it is hardly possible not to 
discern a strong tendency to go behind, as it were, the distinction 
of Persons to a super-transcendent undifferentiated Unity. Prob¬ 
ably the truth of the matter is that the Pseudo-Dionysius, though 
an orthodox Trinitarian in intention, was so much influenced by 
the neo-Platonic philosophy that a tension between the two 
elements underlies his attempt to reconcile them and makes itself 
apparent in his statements. 

5. In regard to the relation of the world to God, the Pseudo- 
Dionysius speaks of the 'emanation' (ttp6oSo<;) of God into the 
universe of things; 6 but he tries to combine the neo-Platonic 
emanation theory with the Christian doctrine of creation and is 
no pantheist. For example, since God bestows existence on all 
things that are, He is said to become manifold through bringing 
forth existent things from Himself; yet at the same time God 
remains One even in the act of 'self-multiplication' and without 
differentiation even in the process of emanation. 8 Proclus had 
insisted that the prior Principle does not become less through the 
process of emanation and the Pseudo-Dion3'sius repeats his teach¬ 
ing on this matter; but the influence of neo-Platonism does seem 
to have meant that he did not clearly realise the relation of 
creation to the divine will or the freedom of the act of creation, 
for he is inclined to speak as though creation were a natural and 
even a spontaneous effect of the divine goodness, even though 

1 Div . Names , a, 5. * Ibid., 2. • Ibid., 3. 4 Ibid„ 4. 

6 Ibid., 5, 1. • Ibid., 2, 11. 




God is distinct from the world. God exists indivisibly and without 
multiplication of Himself in all individual, separate and multiple 
things, and, though they participate in the goodness which springs 
from Him and though they may in a certain sense be thought of 
as an ‘extension’ of God, God Himself is not involved in their 
multiplication: the world, in short, is an outflowing of the divine 
goodness, but it is not God Himself. On this point of God’s 
transcendence as well as on that of His immanence the Pseudo- 
Dionysius is clear; but his fondness for depicting the world as the 
outflowing of the over-brimming Goodness of God, as well as for 
drawing a kind of parallel between the internal divine Processions 
and the external procession in creation, lead him to speak as 
though creation were a spontaneous activity of God, as if God 
created by a necessity of nature. 

That God is the transcendent Cause of all things, the Pseudo- 
Dionysius affirms several times, explaining in addition that God 
created the world through the exemplary or archetypal Ideas, the 
‘preordinations’ (Ttpoopiofxoi) which exist in Him: 1 in addition, God 
is the final Cause of all things, drawing all things to Himself as 
the Good. 2 He is, therefore, ‘the Beginning and the End of all 
things’, 8 ‘the Beginning as their Cause, the End as their Final 
Purpose’. 4 There is, then, an outgoing from God and a return to 
God, a process of multiplication and a process of intercommunion 
and return. This idea became basic in the philosophy of the 
‘Areopagite’s* translator, John Scotus EriUgena. 

6. As the Pseudo-Dionysius insisted so much on the divine 
goodness, it was incumbent on him to give some attention to the 
existence and the consequent problem of evil, and this he gave in 
the Divine Names* relying, partly at least, on Proclus's De 
subsistentia mali . In the first place he insists that, although evil 
would have to be referred to God as its Cause, were it something 
positive, it is in fact not something positive at all: precisely as 
evil it has no being. If it is objected that evil must be positive, 
since it is productive, sometimes even of good, and since debau¬ 
chery, for example, which is the opposite of temperance, is 
something evil and positive, he answers that nothing is productive 
precisely as evil, but only in so far as it is good, or through the 
action of good: evil as such tends only to destroy and debase. 
That evil has no positive being of itself is clear from the fact that 

1 Div. Names, 5, 8. * Ibid,, 4, 48. * Ibid,, 4, 35. 

4 Ibid,, 5, 10. 1 4, 18 ff. 


good and being are synonymous: everything which has being 
proceeds from the Good and, as being, is good. Does this mean, 
then, that evil and non-existence are precisely the same? The 
Pseudo-Dionysius certainly tends to speak as if that were the 
case, but his real meaning is given in his statement that ‘all 
creatures in so far as they have being are good and come from the 
Good, and in so far as they are deprived of the Good, neither are 
they good nor have they being’. 1 In other words, evil is a depriva¬ 
tion or privation: it consists, not simply in non-being or in the 
absence of being, but rather in the absence of a good that ought 
to be present. The sinner, for instance, is good in so far as he has 
being, life, existence, will; the evil consists in the deprivation of 
a good that ought to be there and actually is not, in the wrong 
relation of his will to the rule of morality, in the absence of this 
or that virtue, etc. 

It follows that no creature, considered as an existent being, can 
be evil. Even the devils are good in so far as they exist, for they 
hold their existence from the Good, and that existence continues 
to be good: they are evil, not in virtue of their existence, their 
natural constitution, but ‘only through a lack of angelic virtues’:* 
‘they are called evil through the deprivation and the loss whereby 
they have lapsed from their proper virtues.’ The same is true of 
bad human beings, who are called evil in virtue of ‘the deficiency 
of good qualities and activities and in virtue of the failure and fall 
therefrom due to their own weakness’. ‘Hence evil inheres not in 
the devils or in us as evil, but only as a deficiency and lack of the 
perfection of our proper virtues.' 8 

Physical, non-moral evil is treated in a similar manner. ‘No 
natural force is evil: the evil of nature lies in a thing’s inability 
to fulfil its natural functions.’ 4 Again, ‘ugliness and disease are a 
deficiency in form and a want of order’, and this is not wholly 
evil, ‘being rather a lesser good'. 5 Nor can matter as such be evil, 
since ‘matter too has a share in order, beauty and form’: 6 matter 
cannot be evil in itself, since it is produced by the Good and since 
it is necessary to Nature. There is no need to have recourse to two 
ultimate Principles, good and evil respectively. ‘In fine, good 
comes from the one universal Cause; evil from many partial 
deficiencies.’ 7 

If it be said that some people desire evil, so that evil, as the 

1 Div. Names, 4, 20. * Ibid., 23. * Ibid., 24. 4 Ibid., 26. 

* Ibid., 27. • Ibid., 28. 7 Ibid., 30. 



object of desire, must be something positive, the Pseudo-Dionysius 
answers that all acts have the good as their object, but that they 
may be mistaken, since the agent may err as to what is the proper 
good or object of desire. In the case of sin the sinner has the 
power to know the true good and the right, so that his 'mistake* 
is morally attributable to him. 1 Moreover, the objection that 
Providence should lead men into virtue even against their will is 
foolish, for 'it is not worthy of Providence to violate nature 1 : 
Providence provides for free choice and respects it.® 

7. In conclusion one may remark that, although Ferdinand 
Christian Baur 3 would seem to have gone too far in saying that 
the Pseudo-Dionysius reduced the Christian doctrine of the 
Trinity to a mere formal use of the Christian terms void of the 
Christian content and that his system will not allow of a special 
Incarnation, it must be admitted that there was a tension in his 
thought between the neo-Platonic philosophy which he adopted 
and the Christian dogmas, in which, we have no real reason to deny, 
he believed. The Pseudo-Dionysius meant to harmonise the two 
elements, to express Christian theology and Christian mysticism 
in a neo-Platonic philosophical framework and scheme; but it can 
scarcely be gainsaid that, when a clash occurred, the neo-Platonic 
elements tended to prevail. A specific and peculiar Incarnation 
was one of the major points in Christianity that pagan neo- 
Platonists, such as Porphyry, objected to, and though, as I have 
said, we cannot be justified in asserting that the Pseudo-Dionysius 
denied the Incarnation, his acceptance of it does not well adapt 
itself to his philosophical system, nor does it play much part in 
his extant writings. One may well doubt whether his writings 
would have exercised the influence they did on Christian mediaeval 
thinkers, had the latter not taken the author's pseudonym at its 
face value. 

1 Div. Names, 4, 35. * Ibid,, 33. 

■In his Christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes, Vol. 2, 
p. 42. 



Boethius's transmission of Aristotelian ideas—Natural theology 
—Influence on Middle Ages—Cassiodorus on the seven liberal 
arts and the spirituality of the soul — Isidore's Etymologies and 

1. If one of the channels whereby the philosophy of the ancient 
world was passed on to the Middle Ages was the writings of the 
Pseudo-Dionysius, another channel, and in some respects a com¬ 
plementary one, was constituted by the writings of Boethius 
(c. a.d. 480-524/5), a Christian who, after studying at Athens and 
subsequently holding high magisterial office under the king of the 
Ostrogoths, Theodoric, was finally executed on a charge of high 
treason. I use the word 'complementary* since, while the Pseudo- 
Dionysius helped to impregnate early mediaeval philosophy, 
especially that of John Scotus Eriugena, with elements drawn 
from neo-Platonic speculation, Boethius transmitted to the early 
mediaevals a knowledge of at least the logic of Aristotle. His 
works I have listed in my volume on Greek and Roman philo¬ 
sophy, 1 and I shall not repeat them here; suffice it to recall that 
he translated into Latin the Organon of Aristotle and commented 
thereon, besides commenting on the Isagoge of Porphyry and 
composing original treatises on logic. In addition he wrote several 
theological opuscula and while in prison his celebrated De 
Consolatione Philosophiae. 

It is uncertain whether or not Boethius translated, in accordance 
with his original plan, other works of Aristotle besides the Organon; 
but in his extant works mention is made of several salient Aristo¬ 
telian doctrines. The earlier mediaeval thinkers were predomi¬ 
nantly concerned with the discussion of the problem of universals, 
taking as their starting-point certain texts of Porphyry and 
Boethius, and they took little notice of the Aristotelian meta¬ 
physical doctrines to be found in Boethius's writings. The first 
great speculative thinker of the Middle Ages, John Scotus Eriugena, 
was more indebted to the Pseudo-Dionysius and other writers 
dependent on neo-Platonism than to any Aristotelian influence, 

1 p* 485. 






and it was not until the Aristotelian corpus had become available 
to the West at the close of the twelfth and the beginning of the 
thirteenth centuries that a synthesis on Aristotelian lines was 
attempted. But that does not alter the fact that Aristotelian 
doctrines of importance were incorporated in the writings of 
Boethius. For instance, in his theological work against Eutyches 1 
Boethius speaks clearly of 'matter', the common substrate of 
bodies, which is the basis for, and renders possible, substantial 
change in bodies, corporeal substances, while its absence in incor¬ 
poreal substances renders impossible the change of one immaterial 
substance into another or the change of a corporeal substance into 
an incorporeal substance or vice versa. The discussion is carried 
on in a theological setting and with a theological purpose, for 
Boethius wishes to show that in Christ the divine Nature and the 
human Nature are distinct and both real, against Eutyches who 
held that 'the union with Godhead involved the disappearance of 
the human nature'; 2 but within that theological setting a philo¬ 
sophical discussion is included and the categories employed are 
Aristotelian in character. Similarly, in the De Trinitate , 3 Boethius 
speaks of the correlative principle to matter, namely form. For 
instance, earth is not earth by reason of unqualified matter, but 
because it is a distinctive form. (For ‘unqualified matter' Boethius 
uses the Greek phrase (S^ota QXyj, taking it doubtless from Alexander 
of Aphrodisias. 4 On the other hand, God, the Divine Substance, is 
Form without matter and cannot be a substrate. As pure Form, 
He is one. 

Again, in the De Trinitate , 6 Boethius gives the ten Categories or 
Praedicaynenta and goes on to explain that when we call God 
'substance', we do not mean that He is substance in the same 
sense in which a created thing is substance: He is 'a substance 
that is super-substantial'. Similarly, if we predicate a quality of 
God, such as 'just' or 'great', we do not mean that He has an 
inhering quality, for 'with Him to be just and to be God are one 
and the same', and while 'man is merely great, God is greatness'. 
In the Contra Eutychen 6 occurs Boethius's famous definition of 
person, naturae rationalis individua substantia, which was accepted 
by St. Thomas and became classical in the Schools. 

2. In his doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, Boethius relied largely 
on St. Augustine; but in the De Consolatione Philosophiae he 

1 Contra Eutychen, 6. 1 Ibid .. y * 2.' 

4 Cf. the latter's De Anima, 17, 17, and his De anima ibri mantissa , 124, 7. 

4 4 * ‘ 3 . 

developed in outline a natural theology on Aristotelian lines, thus 
implicitly distinguishing between natural theology, the highest 
part of philosophy, and dogmatic theology which, in distinction 
from the former, accepts its premisses from revelation. In the 
third book 1 he at least mentions the rational argument for the 
existence of God as unmoved Mover, while in the fifth book 2 he 
treats of the apparent difficulty in reconciling human freedom with 
the divine foreknowledge. 'If God beholdeth all things and cannot 
be deceived, that must of necessity follow which His providence 
foreseeth to be to come. Wherefore, if from eternity He doth 
foreknow not only the deeds of men, but also their counsels and 
wills, there can be no free-will.' 3 To answer that it is not that 
future events will take place because God knows them, but rather 
that God knows them because they will take place is not a very 
satisfactory answer, since it implies that temporal events and the 
temporal acts of creatures are the cause of the eternal foreknow¬ 
ledge of God. Rather should we say that God does not, strictly 
speaking, 'foresee' anything: God is eternal, eternity being defined 
in a famous phrase as interminabilis vitae tota simul et perjecta 
possession and His knowledge is the knowledge of what is eternally 
present to Him, of a never-fading instant, not a foreknowledge of 
things which are future to God. Now, knowledge of a present 
event does not impose necessity on the event, so that God's 
knowledge of man's free acts, which from the human viewpoint 
are future, though from the divine viewpoint they are present, 
does not make those acts determined and necessary (in the sense 
of not-free). The eternity of God's vision, ‘which is always present, 
concurs with the future quality of an action'. 

Boethius drew not merety on Aristotle, but also on Porphyry 
and other neo-Platonic writers, as well as on Cicero, for example, 
and it may be that the division of philosophy or speculative science 
into Physics, Mathematics and Theology was taken directly from 
the Isagoge of Porphyry; but it must be remembered that Porphyry 
himself was indebted to Aristotle. In any case, in view of the 
predominantly neo-Platonic character of foregoing Christian philo¬ 
sophy, the Aristotelian element in the thought of Boethius is more 
remarkable and significant than the specifically neo-Platonic 
elements. It is true that he speaks of the divine Goodness and its 
overflowing in a manner reminiscent of neo-Platonism (in the De 
Consol. Phil. 5 he says that 'the substance of God consisteth in 

1 12. 2 2ff. 8 5, 3. *5.6. 5 3, 9 - 


nothing else but in goodness’) and that he sometimes uses such 
terms as defluere in connection with the procession of creatures 
from God; 1 but he is quite clear about the distinction between 
God and the world and about the Christian doctrine of creation. 
Thus he expressly affirms that God, ‘without any change, by the 
exercise of a will known only to Himself, determined of Himself 
to form the world and brought it into being when it was absolutely 
nothing, not producing it from His own substance’, 2 denying that 
the divine substance in externa dilabatur 3 or that ‘all things which 
are, are God’. 4 

3. Boethius, then, was of very considerable importance, for he 
transmitted to the earlier Middle Ages a great part of the know¬ 
ledge of Aristotle then available. In addition, his application of 
philosophical categories to theology helped towards the develop¬ 
ment of theological science, while his use of and definition of 
philosophical terms was of service to both theology and philosophy. 
Lastly we may mention the influence exercised by his composition 
of commentaries, for this type of writing became a favourite 
method of composition among the mediaevals. Even if not parti¬ 
cularly remarkable as an original and independent philosopher, 
Boethius is yet of major significance as a transmitter and as a 
philosopher who attempted to express Christian doctrine in terms 
drawn, not simply from the neo-Platonists, but also from the 
philosopher whose thought was to become a predominant influence 
in the greatest philosophical synthesis of the Middle Ages. 

4. Cassiodorus ( c. 477-c. 565/70) was a pupil of Boethius and, 
like his master, worked for a time in the service of Theodoric, 
King of the Ostrogoths. In his De artibus ac disciplinis liberalium 
litterarum (which is the second book of his Institutiones) he treated 
of the seven liberal arts, i.e. the three scientiae sermocinales 
(Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) and the four scientiae reales 
(Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy). He did not aim 
at novelty or originality of thought, but rather at giving a synopsis 
of the learning he had culled from other writers, 5 and his book on 
the arts, like that of Martianus Capella, was much used as a 
text-book in the early Middle Ages. In his De anitna Cassiodorus 
drew on St. Augustine and on Claudianus Mamertus (died c. 474) 
in proving the spirituality of the human soul. While the soul 
cannot be a part of God, since it is changeable and capable of 

1 Cf. Lib . de hebdotn., 173. 1 De Fide Catholicu . * De Consol. Phil., 3, 12. 

4 Quomodo Substantiae. I do not, of course mean to imply that there is any 
doctrine of creation in Aristotle, 5 Deavima. 12. 



evil, it is not material and cannot be material, since it can have 
what is spiritual as the object of its knowledge, and only that 
which is itself spiritual can know the spiritual. As spiritual, the 
soul is wholly in the whole body and wholly in each part, being 
indivisible and unextended; but it operates in a given part of the 
body, e.g. a sense-organ, now with greater, now with less intensity. 1 

5. Cassiodorus, then, was much more a 'transmitter' than an 
original thinker, and the same can be said of Isidore (died c. 636), 
who became Archbishop of Seville in the Visigothic kingdom and 
whose encyclopaedia, the Originunt seu Etymologiarum libri XX, 
was very popular in the early Middle Ages, being included in every 
monastic library of note. In this work Isidore deals with the seven 
liberal arts, as also with a great number of scientific or quasi- 
scientific facts and theories on subjects from Scripture and 
jurisprudence and medicine to architecture, agriculture, war, 
navigation, and so on. He shows his conviction about the divine 
origin of sovereignty and the paramount authority of morality, 
law and justice in civil society, even in regard to the conduct and 
acts of the monarch. In addition to his Etymologies Isidore's Libri 
tres sententiarum, a collection of theological and moral theses taken 
from St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great, was also widely 
used. His treatise on numbers, Liber Numerorum, which treats of 
the numbers occurring in the Sacred Scriptures, is often fanciful 
in the extreme in the mystical meanings which it attaches to 

1 De anima, 4. 






Charlemagne—Alcuin and the Palatine School—Other schools, 
curriculum, libraries—Rhabanus Maurus. 

i. In a.d. 771 the death of Carloman left Charles (Charlemagne) 
sole ruler of the Frankish dominions, and his subsequent destruc¬ 
tion of the Lombard kingdom and his general policy made him, by 
the close of the century, the paramount sovereign in Western 
Christendom. His coronation as emperor by the Pope on December 
25th, 800, symbolised the success of his imperial policy and the 
culmination of Frankish power. The Frankish Empire was later to 
break up and the imperial crown was to pass to Germany, but for 
the moment Charlemagne was undisputed master in Western 
Christendom and was enabled to set on foot the work of reorganisa¬ 
tion and reform which had become a crying need under the 
Merovingian dynasty. The emperor was by no means simply a 
soldier nor even simply soldier and political organiser combined: 
he had also at heart the work of raising the cultural level of his 
subjects by the extension and improvement of education. For 
this purpose he needed scholars and educational leaders, and since 
these were not easily obtainable in the Frankish kingdom itself, 
he had to introduce them from abroad. Already in the fifth 
century the old culture of Romanised Gaul was fast on the wane 
and in the sixth and seventh centuries it was at a very low point 
indeed; what schools there were, were teaching only reading, writing 
and some rudimentary knowledge of Latin, besides, of course, giving 
religious instruction. It was to remedy this lamentable state of 
learning and education that Charlemagne made use of foreign 
scholars like Peter of Pisa and Paul the Deacon, who were both 
Italians. The former appears to have been already advanced in 
age when he taught Latin at the Palace School of Charlemagne, 
while the latter (Paul Wamefrid, the Deacon), who had come to 
France in 782, in an attempt to obtain the freedom of his brother, 

I 06 


a prisoner of war, taught Greek from 782 to 786, when he retired 
to Monte Cassino, where he composed his History of the Lombards , 
Another Italian teacher at the Palatine School was Paulinus of 
Aquileia, who taught from about 777 to 787. 

In addition to the group of Italian grammarians one may men¬ 
tion two Spaniards who came to France as refugees: Agobard, who 
became Archbishop of Lyons ir 816, and Theodulf, who became 
Bishop of Orleans and died in 821. The latter was familiar with 
the Latin classics and was himself a Latin poet. Incidentally the 
oldest known mediaeval manuscript of Quintilian comes from 
Theodulf s private library. From the point of view of practical 
importance in the educational work of Charlemagne, however, the 
Italians and the Spaniards are overshadowed by the celebrated 
English scholar, Alcuin of York. 

2. Alcuin (c. 730-804) received his early education at York. 
Learning had been making progress in England since the year 669, 
when Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek monk, arrived in the country as 
Archbishop of Canterbury and, together with Abbot Hadrian, 
developed the school of Canterbury and enriched its library. This 
work was carried on by men like Benedict Biscop, who founded 
the monasteries of Wearmouth (674) and Jarrow (682), and 
Aldhelm, who, after studying under Theodore and Hadrian, 
organised the monastery of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, of which he 
became abbot. A more important figure in Anglo-Saxon scholar¬ 
ship was, however, that of the great exegete and historian Bede 
{674-735), a priest and monk of Jarrow. It was due to the labours 
of Bede's friend and pupil Egbert, who became Archbishop of 
York shortly before Bede's death, that the school of York became 
the leading cultural and educational centre of England and noted 
for the richness of its library. 

At York Alcuin was more particularly under the care of 
Aelbert, in company with whom he travelled to Rome, meeting 
Charles on the way, and when Aelbert succeeded Egbert as 
Archbishop of York in 767, the chief work in the school devolved 
on Alcuin. However, in 781, Alcuin was sent by Aelbert to Rome, 
and in Parma he met Charles for the second time, the king 
utilising the meeting to urge the English scholar to enter his 
service. After receiving the permission of his own king and his 
archbishop, Alcuin accepted the invitation and in 782 took over 
the direction of the Palatine School, which he maintained (save 
for a short visit to England in 786 and a longer one from 790 to 


793) until 796, when he accepted the abbacy of St. Martin at 
Tours, where he spent the last years of his life. 

Probably about the year 777 Charlemagne wrote a letter to 
Baugulf, Abbot of Fulda, 1 in which he exhorts the abbot and 
community to zeal for learning, and this is merely one of the 
examples of his constant solicitude in the cause of education. The 
school which is, however, particularly associated with the name of 
Charlemagne is the so-called Palace or Palatine School, which 
though not a new creation of the emperor, owed its development 
to him. Before its development under Charlemagne the school 
would seem to have existed for the purpose of training the royal 
princes and children of the higher nobility in the knightly way of 
life; but the emperor laid emphasis on intellectual training and, as 
a result of his reform, the pupils appear to have been drawn from a 
wider circle than the court. French writers have commonly 
claimed that the Palatine School was the origin of the University 
of Paris; but it must be remembered that the emperor’s court 
was at Aachen or Aix-la-Chapelle, and not at Paris, though it 
would seem to have been later removed to Paris by Charles the 
Bald (d. 877). However, as the University of Paris eventually 
grew up out of an amalgamation of the Parisian schools, it may 
be said that the Palatine School was in some sense a remote 
ancestor of the University, even if the connection was somewhat 

Charlemagne's main instrument in the organisation of the 
Palatine School was Alcuin, from whose writings we can form some 
idea of the curriculum. Alcuin was certainly not an original 
thinker, and his educational works, written in dialogue form, rely 
for the most part on former authors. For example, the De Rhetorica 
makes use of Cicero, with additions from other authors, while in 
other treatises Alcuin draws on Donatus, Priscian, Cassiodorus, 
Boethius, Isidore, Bede. But, though Alcuin was unoriginal and 
mediocre as a writer and can hardly be held to merit the title of 
philosopher, he seems to have been eminent and successful as a 
teacher, and some of the best-known figures of the Carolingian 
renaissance, e.g. Rhabanus Maurus, were his pupils. When he 
retired to the abbey of St. Martin at Tours, he continued this 
work of teaching, as is clear from a celebrated letter to the 
emperor, in which Alcuin describes how he serves to some youths 

y If, however, Baugulf became abbot only in 788, the letter cannot be dated 
before that year. 



the honey of the Holy Scriptures, while others he tries to intoxi¬ 
cate with the wine of ancient literature: some are nourished on 
the apples of grammatical studies, while to others he displays the 
order of the shining orbs which adorn the azure heavens. (Charle¬ 
magne had a considerable personal interest in astronomy and the 
two men corresponded on this subject.) 

At Tours Alcuin enriched the library with copies of manuscripts 
which he brought from York, the best library in western Europe. 
He also devoted his attention to improving the method of copying 
manuscripts. In a letter of 799 1 he speaks of his daily battle with 
the 'rusticity' of Tours, from which one may conclude that the 
path of reform was not always an easy one. It is certain that 
Alcuin also gave attention to the accurate copying and amending 
of the manuscripts of the Scriptures, since he speaks explicitly of 
this in letters to Charlemagne in 800 2 and 801; 3 but it is not 
certain exactly what part he took in producing the revision of the 
Vulgate which was ordered by the emperor, known as the ' Alcuinian 
revision'. However, in view of the important position occupied by 
the scholar in the implementation of the emperor's reforms, it 
would seem only reasonable to suppose that he took a leading part 
in this important work, which helped to arrest the progress of 
manuscript corruption. 

3. As regards the development of other schools (i.e. other than 
the Palatine School and that of Tours), one may mention the 
schools attached to the monasteries of St. Gall, Corbie and Fulda. 
In the monasteries education was provided not only for those 
pupils who were destined to become members of the religious order, 
but also for other pupils, though it appears that two separate 
schools were maintained, the schola claustri for the former class of 
pupil, the schola exterior for the latter. Thus at St. Gall the schola 
claustri was within the precincts of the monastery, while the schola 
exterior was among the outer buildings. A capitulary of Louis the 
Pious (817) ordained that the monasteries should only possess 
schools for the 'oblates'; but it seems that not much notice was 
taken of this ordinance. 

If one sets the Palatine School in a class by itself, the other 
schools fall, then, into two main classes, the episcopal or capitular 
schools and the monastic schools. As for the curriculum this 
consisted, apart from the study of theology and exegesis, especially 
in the case of those pupils who were preparing for the priesthood 
1 Ep., 4, 172. 9 Ibid., 195. * Ibid., 205. 


or the religious life, in the study of the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric 
and dialectic) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astro¬ 
nomy and music), comprising the seven liberal arts. There was, 
however, little fresh or original work done on these subjects. Thus 
grammar, which included literature, would be studied in the 
writings of Priscian and Donatus, and in the text-books of Alcuin, 
for example, though some commentaries were composed on the 
works of the ancient grammarians, by Smaragdus, for instance, 
on Donatus, and a few undistinguished grammatical works were 
written, such as the Ars grammaiicae of Clemens Scotus, who began 
teaching at the Palatine School in the later years of Charlemagne. 
Logic too was studied in the handbooks of Alcuin or, if something 
more was required, in the works of the authors on whom Alcuin 
relied, e.g. Boethius. In geometry and astronomy little work was 
done in the ninth century, though the theory of music was 
advanced by the Musica enchtriadis, attributed to Hoger the 
Abbot of Werden (d. 902). Libraries, e.g. the library of St. Gall, 
received a considerable increase in the ninth century and they 
included, besides the theological and religious works which com¬ 
posed the bulk of the items listed, legal and grammatical works, 
as well as a certain number of classical authors; but it is clear that, 
as far as philosophy is concerned, logic or dialectic (which, accord¬ 
ing to Aristotle, is a propaedeutic to philosophy, not a branch of 
philosophy itself) was the only subject studied. There was only 
one real speculative philosopher in the ninth century, and that 
was John Scotus Eriugena. Charlemagne's renaissance aimed at 
a dissemination of existing learning and what it accomplished 
was indeed remarkable enough; but it did not lead to original 
thought and speculation, except in the one instance of John 
Scotus's system. If the Carolingian empire and civilisation had 
survived and continued to flourish, a period of original work would 
doubtless have eventuated at length; but actually it was destined 
to be submerged in the new Dark Ages and there would be need 
of another renaissance before the mediaeval period of positive, 
constructive and original work could be realised. 

4. Because of his importance for education in Germany one 
must mention, in connection with the Carolingian renaissance, 
the name of Rhabanus Maurus, who was bom about 776 and who, 
after having been a pupil of Alcuin, taught at the monastery of 
Fulda, where he became abbot in 822. In 847 he was appointed 
Archbishop of Mainz and continued in that post until his death 


in 856. Rhabanus concerned himself with the education of the 
clergy, and for this purpose he composed his work De Institutione 
Clericorunt in three books. In addition to a treatment of the 
ecclesiastical grades, the liturgy, the training of the preacher and 
so on, this work also deals with the seven liberal arts, but Rhabanus 
showed no more originality in this work than in his De rerum 
naturis , an encyclopaedia which was derived very largely from that 
of Isidore. In general the author depended almost entirely on 
former writers like Isidore, Bede and Augustine. In regard to 
exegesis he favoured mystical and allegorical interpretations. In 
other words, the Praeceptor Germaniae was a faithful product of 
the Carolingian renaissance, a scholar with a real enthusiasm for 
learning and a lively zeal for the intellectual formation of the 
clergy, but markedly unoriginal in thought. 


Life and works 

One of the most remarkable phenomena of the ninth century is 
the philosophical system of John Scotus Eriugena, which stands 
out like a lofty rock in the midst of a plain. We have seen that 
there was a lively educational activity in the course of the century 
and, considering the standard, materials and opportunities of the 
time, a growing interest in learning and scholarship; but there was 
little original speculation. This is a fact which need cause no 
surprise in regard to a period of conservation and dissemination; 
but it is all the more remarkable that an isolated case of original 
speculation on the grand scale should suddenly occur, without 
warning and indeed without any immediate continuation. If John 
Scotus had confined himself to speculation on one or two parti¬ 
cular points, we might not have been so surprised, but in point of 
fact he produced a system, the first great system of the Middle 
Ages. It may, of course, be said that he relied largely on the 
former speculations of St. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, and 
particularly on the work of the Pseudo-Dionysius, and this is quite 
true; but one can scarcely avoid the impression, when reading his 
De Divisione Naturae, that one is watching a vigorous, profound 
and original mind struggling with the categories and modes of 
thought and ideas which former writers had bequeathed to him 
as the material on which and with which he had to work, moulding 
them into a system and impregnating the whole with an atmo¬ 
sphere, a colour and a tone peculiar to himself. It is indeed 
interesting, if not altogether profitable, to wonder on what lines 
the thought of John Scotus would have evolved, had he lived at 
a later and richer period of philosophical development: as it is, 
one is confronted with a mind of great power, hampered by the 
limitations of his time and by the poverty of the material at his 
disposal. Moreover, while it is, of course, a mistake to interpret 
the system of John Scotus in terms of a much later philosophy, 
itself conditioned by the previous development of thought and the 
historical circumstances of the time, for example, the Hegelian 
system, one is not thereby debarred from endeavouring to discern 


the peculiar characteristics of John's thought, which, to a certain 
extent, altered the meaning of the ideas and categories he 
borrowed from previous writers. 

Of the life of John Scotus we do not know very much. He was 
bom in Ireland about 810 and studied in an Irish monastery. 
‘Eriugena' means 'belonging to the people of Erin', while the 
term 'Scotus' need not be taken as indicating any near connection 
with Scotland, since in the ninth century Ireland was known as 
Scotia Maior and the Irish as Scoti . It was doubtless in an Irish 
monastery that he acquired his knowledge of the Greek language. 
In the ninth century the study of Greek was, speaking generally, 
peculiar to the Irish monasteries. Bede, it is true, attained to a 
working knowledge of the language, but neither Alcuin nor 
Rhabanus Maurus knew any Greek worth speaking of. The former 
used Greek phrases in his commentaries but, though he must have 
known at least the Greek alphabet, these Graeca were taken over 
from the writings of other authors, and, in general, it has been 
shown that the occurrence of Greek phrases in a manuscript points 
to Irish authorship or to some association with or influence from 
an Irish writer. The attention given to Greek at St. Gall, for 
instance, was due originally to Irish monks. However, even if the 
presence of Graeca in a manuscript indicates an Irish influence, 
direct or indirect, and even if the study of Greek in the ninth 
century was characteristic of the Irish monasteries, it would be 
extremely rash to conclude that all Irish writers who used Greek 
phrases, still less that all Irish monks, studied and knew Greek in 
any real sense. The use of a Greek phrase is, by itself, no more a 
proof of a real knowledge of the Greek language than the use of 
a phrase like fait accompli is, by itself, a proof of a real knowledge 
of French, and the number of even Irish monks who knew much 
more than the rudiments of Greek was doubtless small. John 
Scotus Eriugena at any rate was among their number, as is shown 
clearly by the fact that he was able, when in France, to translate 
from the Greek writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa and the works of 
the Pseudo-Dionysius, and even attempted the composition of 
Greek verse. It would be absurd to take John’s knowledge of the 
language as typical of the century or even as typical of Irish 
monasteries: the truth of the matter is that he was, for the ninth 
century, an outstanding Greek scholar. 

Sometime in the forties John Scotus crossed over to France. In 
any case he was at the court of Charles the Bald by 850 and 



occupied a prominent position in the Palatine School. There is 
no sure evidence that he was ever ordained priest; but, whether 
layman or not, he was induced by Hincmar, Bishop of Rheims, to 
intervene in a theological dispute concerning predestination and 
the result was his work De praedestinatione which pleased neither 
side and brought its author under suspicion of heresy. John 
thereupon turned his attention to philosophy and in 858 he under¬ 
took, at the request of Charles the Bald, the translation of the 
works of the Pseudo-Dionysius from Greek into Latin. These 
works had been presented to Louis the Fair in 827 by the Emperor 
Michael Balbus, but they had never been adequately translated. 
John, then, undertook not only to translate them, but also to 
comment on them, and in fact he published commentaries on the 
Pseudo-Dionysius’s writings, except on the Mystical Theology, 
though Pope Nicholas I made it a subject of complaint that the 
publication had taken place without any reference to him. John 
Scotus also published translations of the Ambigua of Maximus the 
Confessor and the De Hominis Opificio of St. Gregory of Nyssa, 
and it appears that later he commented on St. John’s Gospel and 
on Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae and theological 

The work for which John Scotus is celebrated, however, is the 
De Divisione Naturae, which he composed probably between 862 
and 866. This work consists of five books and is written in dialogue 
form, a form of composition which was popular at the time and 
which was much used by Alcuin and others. It is not a very easy 
work to interpret, since the author’s attempt to express Christian 
teaching and the philosophical doctrine of Augustine on lines 
suggested by the Pseudo-Dionysius and the neo-Platonic philo¬ 
sophy leaves room for dispute whether John Scotus was an 
orthodox Christian or very nearly, if not quite, a pantheist. Those 
scholars who maintain his orthodox intentions can point to such 
statements as that ‘the authority of the Sacred Scriptures must 
be followed in all things’, 1 while those who maintain that he 
regarded philosophy as superior to theology and anticipated the 
Hegelian rationalism can point, for example, to the statement* 
that 'every authority’ (e.g. that of the Fathers) 'which is not 
confirmed by true reason seems to be weak, whereas true reason 
does not need to be supported by any authority’. However, one 
cannot profitably discuss the question of interpretation until the 
* De Div. Nat., l, 64. * Ibid., 1, 69. 


doctrine of the De Divisione Naturae has first been exposed, though 
it is as well to indicate beforehand the fact that there is a dispute 
about its correct interpretation, 

John Scotus seems not to have outlived Charles the Bald, who 
died in 877. There are indeed various stories about his later life 
which are given by chroniclers, e.g. that he became Abbot of 
Athelney and was murdered by the monks, but there seems to be 
little evidence for the truth of such stories, and probably they are 
either legends or are due to a confusion with some other John. 



Nature—God and creation—Knowledge of God by affirmativt 
and negative ways ; inapplicability of categories to God — How, 
then , can God be said to have made the world?—Divine Ideas in 
the Word—Creatures as participations and theophanies; creatures 
are in God—Maris nature—Return of ail things to God — 
Eternal punishment in light of cosmic return—Interpretation of 
John Scotus* s system . 

I. At the beginning of the first book of the De Divisione Naturae 
John Scotus explains through the lips of the Master, in a dialogue 
which takes place between a Magister and a Discipulus , what he 
means by 'Nature 1 , namely the totality of the things that are and 
the things that are not, and he gives various ways of making this 
general division. For example, things which are perceived by 
the senses or are penetrable by the intellect are the things that are, 
while the objects that transcend the power of the intellect are the 
things that are not. Again, things which lie hid in their scmina, 
which are not actualised, 'are not', while the things which have 
developed out of their seeds 'are*. Or again, the objects which are 
objects of reason alone may be said to be the things which are, 
while the objects which are material, subject to space and time 
and to dissolution, may be called the things which are not. 
Human nature, too, considered as alienated from God by sin may 
be said 'not to be', whereas when it is reconciled with God by 
grace, it begins to be. 

The term 'Nature', then, means for John Scotus Eriugena, not 
only the natural world, but also God and the supernatural sphere: 
it denotes all Reality. 1 When, therefore, he asserts* that nature 
is divided into four species, namely Nature which creates and is 
not created, Nature which is created and creates, Nature which is 
created and does not create, and Nature which neither creates nor 
is created, thus apparently making God and creatures species of 
Nature, it might well seem that he is asserting a monistic doctrine, 
and indeed, if these words be taken in their literal significance, we 
should have to conclude that he was. Nevertheless at the begin¬ 
ning of Book 2, in a long and somewhat complicated period, he 

*Cf. 3. i. *i,i. 


makes it clear that it is not his intention to assert that creatures 
are actually a part of God or that God is a genus of which creatures 
are a species, although he retains the fourfold division of 'Nature' 
and says that God and creatures may be looked at as forming 
together a universitas, a 'universe' or totality. The conclusion is 
warranted that John Scotus did not intend to assert a doctrine 
of pantheistic monism or to deny the distinction between God and 
creatures, though his philosophic explanation or rationalisation 
of the egress of creatures from God and their return to God 
may, taken by itself, imply pantheism and a denial of the 

2. 'Nature which creates and is not created' is, of course, God 
Himself, who is the cause of all things but is Himself without cause. 
He is the beginning or first principle, since all creatures proceed 
from Him, the 'middle' {medium)] since it is in Him and through 
Him that creatures subsist and move; and the end or final cause, 
since He is the term of the creature's movement of self-develop¬ 
ment and perfection. 1 He is the first cause, which brought 
creatures into existence from a state of non-existence, out of 
nothing [de nihilo ) 2 This doctrine of God is in accordance with 
Christian theology and contains a clear enunciation of the divine 
transcendence and self-existence; but John Scotus goes on to say 
that God may be said to be created in creatures, to be made in 
the things which He makes, to begin to be in the things which 
begin to be. It would, however, be an anachronism to suppose 
that he is asserting an evolutionary pantheism, and maintaining 
that nature, in the ordinary sense, is God-in-His-otherness, for he 
proceeds to explain 3 that when he says that God is made in 
creatures, he means that God 'appears' or manifests Himself in 
creatures, that creatures are a theophany. Some of the illustra¬ 
tions he uses are indeed somewhat unfortunate from the orthodox 
standpoint, as when he says that, just as the human intellect, 
when it proceeds into actuality in the sense of actually thinking, 
may be said to be made in its thoughts, so God may be said to be 
made in the creatures which proceed from Him, an illustration 
which would seem to imply that creatures are an actualisation of 
God; but, whatever illustrations John Scotus may use and however 
much he is influenced by the philosophical tradition which derived 
from neo-Platonism, it seems clear that his intention at least was 
to conserve the real distinction between God and creatures and 


1 1. 11. 

1 1. 12. 

» Ibid . 


that God, in relation to creation, is Natura quae creat et non 
creaiur. On the truth of this formula be is emphatic. 

3. In attaining to some knowledge of the Natura quae creat et 
non creatur one can use the affirmative (xaraipaTixifj) and negative 
(inoipixTod)) ways. When using the negative method one denies 
that the divine essence or substance is any of those things, ‘which 
are’, i.e. which can be understood by us: when using the affirmative 
method one predicates of God those things 'which are’, in the 
sense that the cause is manifested in the effect. 1 This twofold 
method of theology was borrowed by John Scot us from the 
Pseudo-Dionysius, as he himself plainly affirms, 2 and it was from 
the same writer that he took the idea that God should not be 
called, e.g. Truth or Wisdom or Essence, but rather super-Truth, 
super-Wisdom and super-Essence, since no names borrowed from 
creatures can be applied to God in their strict and proper sense: 
they are applied to God metaphorice or translative. Moreover, in a 
succeeding passage 3 John Scotus indulges in a most ingenious 
piece of dialectic in order to show that the use of the affirmative 
method does not contradict the doctrine of the ineffable and 
incomprehensible character of the Godhead and that the negative 
method is the fundamental one. For example, by the affirmative 
method we say that God is Wisdom, while by the negative way 
we say that God is not wisdom, and this appears at first sight to 
be a contradiction; but in reality, when we say that God is 
Wisdom, we are using the word ‘wisdom’ in a ‘metaphorical’ sense 
(an 'analogical' sense, the Scholastic would say), while when we say 
that God is not wisdom, we are using the word in its proper and 
primary sense (i.e. in the sense of human wisdom, the only wisdom 
of which we have direct experience). The contradiction is, there¬ 
fore, not real, but only verbal, and it is reconciled by calling God 
super-Wisdom. Now, as far as words go, to predicate super- 
Wisdom of God would seem to be an act of mind pursuing the 
affirmative way, but if we examine the matter more closely we 
shall see that, although the phrase belongs formally and verbally 
to the via affirmativa, the mind has no content, no idea, corre¬ 
sponding to the word ‘super’, so that in reality the phrase belongs 
to the via negativa, and the addition of the word ‘super’ to the 
word ‘wisdom’ is equivalent to a negation. Verbally there is no 
negation in the predicate ‘super-Wisdom’, but in regard to the 
mind’s content there is a negation. The via negativa is thus 
1, 13. * 1, 14. * Ibid. 


fundamental, and as we do not pretend to define what the ‘super’ 
is in itself, the ineffability and incomprehensibility of the Godhead 
is unimpaired. Of course, if we say that the use of the word ‘super’ 
is simply and solely equivalent to a negation, the obvious objection 
arises (and would be raised by a Logical Positivist) that there is 
no meaning in our minds when we use the phrase, that the phrase 
is non-significant. John Scotus, however, though he does not 
discuss this real difficulty, provides one answer when he indicates 
that when we say that God is, for example, super-Wisdom, we 
mean that He is more than wisdom. If this is so, then the addition 
of ‘super’ cannot be simply equivalent to a negation, since we can 
say that ‘a stone is not wise’ and we certainly mean something 
different when we say ‘God is not wise' and ‘a stone is not wise’: 
we mean that if ‘wise’ be taken to refer to human wisdom, then 
God is not wise, in the sense that He is more than human wisdom, 
whereas a stone is not wise, in the sense that the stone is less than 
wise. This thought would seem to be indicated by John Scotus’s 
concluding example. ‘(God) is essence’, an affirmation; ‘He is not 
essence’, a negation; 'He is super-essential’, an affirmation and 
negation at the same time. 1 The thesis and the antithesis are thus 
reconciled dialectically in the synthesis. 

If, then, God cannot be properly termed wise, for this term is 
not predicated of purely material things, much less can we predi¬ 
cate of Him- any of the ten categories of Aristotle, which are found 
in purely material objects. For example, quantity can certainly 
not be predicated of God, as quantity implies dimensions, and God 
has no dimensions and does not occupy space. 2 Properly speaking, 
God is not even substance or oucta, for He is infinitely more than 
substance, though He can be called substance translative, inasmuch 
as He is the creator of all substances. The categories are founded 
on and apply to created things and are strictly inapplicable to 
God: nor is the predicate ‘God’ a genus or a species or an accident. 
Thus God transcends the praedicamenta and the praedicabilia, and 
on this matter John Scotus is clearly no monist but he emphasises 
the divine transcendence in the way that the Pseudo-Dionysius 
had done. The theology of the Blessed Trinity certainly teaches 
us that relation is found in God, but it does not follow that the 
relations in God fall under the category of relation. The word is 
used metaphorice or translative and, as applied to the divine 
Persons, it is not used in its proper and intelligible sense: the 
* 1, 14. *15. 





divine Telations’ are more than relations. In fine, though we can 
learn from creatures that God is, we cannot learn what He is. We 
learn that He is more than substance, more than wisdom and so 
on; but what that more is, what substance or wisdom mean as 
applied to God, we cannot know, for He transcends every intellect, 
whether of angels or of men. 

4. But though the doctrine of the inapplicability of the cate¬ 
gories to God would seem to place the transcendence of God and 
the clear distinction between Him and creatures beyond all doubt, 
consideration of the categories of facere and pati seems to lead 
John Scotus to a very different conclusion. In a most ingenious 
discussion 1 he shows, what is obvious enough, that pati cannot be 
predicated of God and at the same time argues that both facere 
and pati involve motion. Is it possible to attribute motion to 
God? No, it is not. Then neither can making be attributed to God. 
But, how in this case, are we to explain the Scriptural doctrine 
that God made all things? In the first place, we cannot suppose 
that God existed before He made the world, for, if that were so, 
God would not only be in time but also His making would be an 
accident accruing to Him, and both suppositions are impossible. 
God’s making, therefore, must be co-eternal with Himself. In the 
second place, even if the making is eternal and identical with God, 
and not an accident of God, we cannot attribute motion to God, 
and motion is involved in the category of making. What does it 
mean, then, to say that God made all things? ’When we hear that 
God makes all things, we should understand nothing else but that 
God is in all things, i.e. is the essence of all things. For He alone 
truly is, and everything which is truly said to be in those things 
which are, is God alone.' 2 Such a statement would seem to come 
very near, to put it mildly, to pantheism, to the doctrine of 
Spinoza, and it is small wonder that John Scotus prefaces his 
discussion with some remarks on the relation of reason to authority 3 
in which he says that reason is prior to authority and that true 
authority is simply ’the truth found by the power of reason and 
handed on in writing by the Fathers for the use of posterity'. The 
conclusion is that the words, expressions and statements of 
Scripture, however suited for the uneducated, have to be rationally 
interpreted by those capable of doing so. In other words, John 
Scotus does not think of himself as unorthodox or intend to be 
unorthodox, but his philosophic interpretation of Scripture 

1 1, 70-2. 1 1. 72. * 1,69. 


sometimes seems equivalent to its rationalisation and to the setting 
of reason above authority and faith. However, this point of view 
should not be overstressed. For example, in spite of the pantheistic 
passage quoted he goes on to reaffirm creation out of nothing, and 
it is clear that when he refuses to say that God makes or made the 
world, he is not intending to deny creation but rather to deny of 
God making in the only sense in which we understand making, 
namely as an accident, as falling under a particular category. 
God's existence and essence and His act of making are ontologi- 
cally one and the same, 1 and all the predicates we apply to God 
really signify the one incomprehensible super-Essence. 2 

The truth of the matter seems to be that John Scotus, while 
maintaining the distinction between God and creatures, wishes at 
the same time to maintain the conception of God as the one all- 
comprehensive Reality, at least when God is regarded altiori 
theoria . Thus he points out 3 that the first and fourth divisions of 
Nature (Natura quae creat et non crcatur and Natura quae nec creat 
nec creatur) are verified only in God, as first efficient cause and 
final cause, while the second and third divisions (Natura quae et 
creatur et creat and Natura quae creatur et non creat) are verified in 
creatures alone; but he goes on to say 4 that inasmuch as every 
creature is a participation of Him who alone exists of Himself, all 
Nature may be reduced to the one Principle, and Creator and 
creature may be regarded as one. 

5. The second main division of Nature (Natura quae et creatur 
et creat) refers to the ’primordial causes’, called by the Greeks 
7rpo)T6-nj7Ta t I8£au, etc. 5 These primordial causes or praedestina - 
Hones are the exemplary causes of created species and exist in the 
Word of God: they are in fact the divine ideas, the prototypes of 
all created essences. How, then, can they be said to be ’created? 
John Scotus means that the eternal generation of the Word or 
Son involves the eternal constitution of the archetypal ideas or 
exemplary causes in the Word. The generation of the Word is not 
a temporal but an eternal process, and so is the constitution of the 
praedestinationes : the priority of the Word, considered abstractly, 
to the archetypes is a logical and not a temporal priority. The 
emergence of these archetypes is thus part of the eternal procession 
of the Word by ’generation’, and it is in this sense only that they 
are said to be created. 6 However, the logical priority of the Word 
to the archetypes and the dependence of the archetypes on the 

1 1 , 77 . 1 1 , 75 . 8 2 , 2 . 9 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 9 2, 20 . 


Word mean that, although there never was a time when the Word 
was without the archetypes, they are not omnino coaeternat 
[causae) with the Word. 1 

In what sense, then, can the primordial causes be said to create? 
If one were to press statements such as this, that the tcputAtutcov 
is diffused ( diffunditur) through all things giving them essence, or 
again that it penetrates all the things which it has made, 2 one 
would naturally incline to a pantheistic interpretation; yet John 
Scotus repeats 3 that the Holy Trinity ‘made out of nothing all 
things that it made’, which would imply that the prototypes are 
causes only in the sense of exemplary causes. Nothing is created 
except that which was eternally pre-ordained, and these eternal 
praeordinationes or 0cta are the prototypes. All creatures 

‘participate’ in the archetypes, e.g. human wisdom in the Wisdom- 
in-itself. 4 He drew copiously on the Pseudo-Dionysius and 
Maximus for his doctrine and it would seem that he intended to 
reconcile his philosophic speculation with orthodox Christian 
theology; but his language rather gives the impression that he is 
straining at the leash and that his thought, in spite of his orthodox 
intentions, tends towards a form of philosophic pantheism. That 
his intentions were orthodox seems clear enough from the frequent 
cauielae he gives. 

Is there actually and ontologically a plurality of praedestina- 
tiones in the Word? John Scotus answers in the negative. 5 Num¬ 
bers proceed from the monas or unit, and in their procession they 
are multiplied and receive an order; but, considered in their origin, 
in the monad, they do not form a plurality but are undivided from 
one another. So the primordial causes, as existing in the Word, 
are one and not really distinct, though in their effects, which are 
an ordered plurality, they are multiple. The monad does not 
become less or undergo change through the derivation of numbers, 
nor does the primordial cause undergo change or diminution 
through the derivation of its effects, even though, from another 
point of view, they are contained within it. On this point John 
Scotus adheres to the neo-Platonic standpoint, according to which 
the principle undergoes no change or diminution through the 
emanation of the effect, and it seems that his philosophy suffers 
from the same tension that is observable in neo-Platonism, i.e. 
between a theory of emanation and a refusal to allow that emana¬ 
tion or procession impairs the integrity of the principle. 

1 2, 21. * 2, 2J. J 2, 24, COl. 580. 4 2, 36. * Cf. 3, I. 


6 . Naiura quae creatur et non creat consists of creatures, exterior 
to God, forming the world of nature in the narrow sense, which 
was made by God out of nothing. John Scotus calls these creatures 
'participations’, and asserts that they participate in the primordial 
causes, as the latter participate immediately in God. 1 The primor¬ 
dial causes, therefore, look upwards towards the ultimate Principle 
and downwards towards their multiple effects, a doctrine which 
obviously smacks of the neo-Platonic emanation theory. ‘Partici¬ 
pation’ means, however, derivation from, and, interpreting the 
Greek utroxh or imtwoIb as meaning (iCTa£x 0U<Ja or 
(■ post-essentia or secunda essentia), he says that participation is 
nothing else than the derivation of a second essence from a higher 
essence. 2 Just as the water rises in a fountain and is poured out 
into the river-bed, so the divine goodness, essence, life, etc., which 
are in the Fount of all things, flow out first of all into the primordial 
causes and cause them to be, and then proceed through the primor¬ 
dial causes into their effects. 3 This is clearly an emanation 
metaphor, and John Scotus concludes that God is everything 
which truly is, since He makes all things and is made in all things, 
‘as Saint Dionysius the Areopagite says’. 4 The divine goodness is 
progressively diffused through the universe of creation, in such a 
way that it ‘makes all things, and is made in all things, and is all 
things’. 8 This sounds as if it were a purely pantheistic doctrine of 
the emanation type; but John Scotus equally maintains that the 
divine goodness created all things out of nothing, and he explains 
that ex nihilo does not imply the pre-existence of any material, 
whether formed or unformed, which could be called nihil : rather 
does nihil mean the negation and absence of all essence or sub¬ 
stance, and indeed of all things which have been created. The 
Creator did not make the world ex aliquo, but rather de omnino 
nihilo .* Here again, then, John Scotus tries to combine the 
Christian doctrine of creation and of the relation of creatures to 
God with the neo-Platonic philosophy of emanation, and it is this 
attempt at combination which is the reason for diversity of inter¬ 
pretation, according as one regards the one or other element in his 
« thought as the more fundamental. 

This tension became even clearer from the following considera¬ 
tion. Creatures constitute, not only a ‘participation’ of the divine 
goodness, but also the divine self-manifestation or theophany. All 
objects of intellection or sensation are ‘the appearance of the 

1 3, 3. * Ibid. a 3, 4 4 Ibid, 1 Ibid, * 3. 5 - 



non-appearing, the manifestation of the hidden, the affirmation 
of the negated (a reference to the via negativa), the comprehension 
of the incomprehensible, the speaking of the ineffable, the approach 
of the unapproachable, the understanding of the unintelligible, 
the body of the incorporeal, the essence of the super-essential, the 
form of the formless’, etc. 1 Just as the human mind, itself invisible, 
becomes visible or manifest in words and writing and gestures, so 
the invisible and incomprehensible God reveals Himself in nature, 
which is, therefore, a true theophany. Now, if creation is a 
theophany, a revelation of the divine goodness, which is itself 
incomprehensible, invisible and hidden, does not this suggest a 
new interpretation of the nihilum from which creation proceeds? 
Accordingly John Scotus explains in a later passage 2 that nihilum 
means 'the ineffable and incomprehensible and inaccessible bright¬ 
ness of the divine goodness’, for what is incomprehensible may, 
per excellentiam, be called 'nothing', so that when God begins to 
appear in His theophanies, He may be said to proceed ex nihilo in 
aliquid. The divine goodness considered in itself may be said to 
be omnino nihil , though in creation it comes to be, ‘since it is the 
essence of the whole universe’. It would indeed be an anachronism 
to ascribe to John Scotus a doctrine of Absolutism and to conclude 
that he meant that God, considered in Himself apart from the 
‘theophanies’, is a logical abstraction; but it does seem that two 
distinct lines of thought are present in his teaching about creation, 
namely the Christian doctrine of free creation ‘in time' and the 
neo-Platonic doctrine of a necessary diffusion of the divine good¬ 
ness by way of 'emanation'. Probably he intended to maintain 
the Christian doctrine, but at the same time considered that he 
was giving a legitimate philosophic explanation of it. Such an 
attitude would, of course, be facilitated by the fact that there was 
at the time no clear distinction between theology and philosophy 
and their respective spheres, with the result that a thinker could, 
without being what we would nowadays call a rationalist, accept 
a revealed dogma like the Trinity, and then proceed in all good 
faith to 'explain' or deduce it in such a way that the explanation 
practically changed the dogma into something else. If we want to 
call John Scotus an Hegelian before Hegel, we must remember 
that it is extremely unlikely that he realised what he was doing. 

The precise relation of the created nature to God in the philo¬ 
sophy of John Scotus is not an easy matter to determine. That 
1 3 * 4 - * 3 . 19 . 


the world is eternal in one sense, namely in its rationes, in the 
primordial causes, in God’s will to create, occasions no difficulty, 
and if the author, when he maintains that the world is both eternal 
and created, meant simply that as foreseen and willed by God it 
is eternal, while as made it is temporal and outside God, there 
would be no cause for surprise; but he maintains that the world is 
not outside God and that it is both eternal and created within 
God. 1 As regards the first point, that the world is not extra Deum t 
one must understand it in terms of the theory of participation and 
‘assumption’ ( est igitur participate divinae essentiae assumptio ). a 
As creatures are derived from God and owe all the reality they 
possess to God, apart from God they are nothing, so that in this 
sense it can be said that there is nothing outside God: if the divine 
activity were withdrawn, creatures would cease to be. But we 
must go further. 3 God saw from eternity all that He willed to 
create. Now, if He saw creatures from all eternity, He also made 
them from all eternity, since vision and operation are one in God. 
Moreover, as He saw creatures in Himself, He made them in 
Himself. We must conclude, therefore, that God and creatures 
are not distinct, but one and the same ( unum et id ipsum), the 
creature subsisting in God and God being created in the creature 
‘in a wonderful and ineffable manner’. God, then, ‘contains and 
comprehends the nature of all sensible things in Himself, not in 
the sense that He contains within Himself anything beside Him¬ 
self, but in the sense that He is substantially all that He contains, 
the substance of all visible things being created in Him’. 4 It is at 
this point that John Scotus gives his interpretation of the ‘nothing’ 
out of which creatures proceed as the divine goodness, 6 and he 
concludes that God is everything, that from the super-essentiality 
of His nature (in qua dicitur non esse) He is created by Himself in 
the primordial causes and then in the effects of the primordial 
causes, in the theophanies. 8 Finally, at the term of the natural 
order, God draws all things back into Himself, into the divine 
Nature from which they proceeded, thus being first and final 
Cause, omnia in omnibus . 

The objection may be raised that first of all John Scotus says 
that God is Natura quae creat et non creatur and then goes on to 
identify with God the Natura quae creatur et non creat : how can 
the two positions be reconciled? If we regard the divine Nature as 

1 See the long discussion in 3, 5 ft. 
4 3. 18 * 3 , 19. 

* 3 . 9 - 
* 3 . 

* 3 . l 7 - 



it is in itself, we see that it is without cause, fivapxoc and dbal-noc, 1 
but at the same time it is the cause of all creatures: it is, then, 
rightly to be called ‘Nature which creates and is not created’. 
From another point of view, looking on God as final Cause, as 
term of the rhythm of the cosmic process, He may be called ‘Nature 
which neither creates nor is created’. On the other hand, considered 
as issuing out from the hidden depths of His nature and beginning 
‘to appear’, He appears first of all in the primordial causes or 
rationes aeternae. These are identical with the Word, which con¬ 
tains them, so that, in ‘creating’ the primordial causes or principles 
of essences, God appears to Himself, becomes self-conscious, and 
creates Himself, i.e. as generating the Word and the rationes 
contained in the Word. God is thus ‘Nature which both creates 
and is created'. In the second stage of the divine procession or 
theophany God comes to be in the effects of the primordial causes, 
and so is ‘Nature which is created’, while, since these effects 
have a term and include together all created effects, so that 
there are no further effects, He is also ‘Nature which does not 
create’. 2 

7. John Scotus’s allegorical explanation of the Biblical account 
of the six days of creation, 3 which he explains in terms of his own 
philosophy, brings him, in the fourth book, to his doctrine of man. 
We can say of man that he is an animal, while we can also say that 
he is not an animal, 4 since while he shares with the animals the 
functions of nutrition, sensation, etc., he has also the faculty of 
reason, which is peculiar to him and which elevates him above all 
the animals. Yet there are not two souls in man, an animal soul 
and a rational soul: there is a rational soul which is simple and is 
wholly present in every part of the body, performing its various 
functions. John Scotus is therefore willing to accept the definition 
of man as animal rationale , understanding by animal the genus 
and by rationale the specific difference. On the other hand the 
human soul is made in the image of God, is like to God, and this 
likeness to God expresses the true substance and essence of man. 
As it exists in any actual man it is an effect: as it exists in God it is 
a primordial cause, though these are but two ways of looking at 
the same thing. 5 From this point of view man can be defined as 
Notio quaedam intellectualis in mente divina aeternaliter facta * Thai 
this substance of man, the likeness to God or participation in God, 
exists, can be known by the human mind, just as the human mind 

1 3 . 2 3 2 Ibid. 3 3. 24 fif. * A, 5- i 4. 7. * Ibid, 


can know that God exists, but what its substance is the human 
mind cannot know, just as it cannot know what God is. While, 
then, from one point of view man is definable, from another point 
of view he is undefinable, since the mind or reason of man is made 
in the image of God and the image, like God Himself, exceeds our 
power of understanding. In this discussion of the definition of 
man we can discern Aristotelian elements and also neo-Platonic 
and Christian elements, which give rise to different attitudes and 
views on the matter. 

John Scotus emphasises the fact that man is the microcosm of 
creation, since he sums up in himself the material world and the 
spiritual world, sharing with the plants the powers of growth and 
nutrition, with the animals the powers of sensation and emotional 
reaction, with the angels the power of understanding: he is in fact 
what Poseidonius called the bond or teapot, the link between the 
material and spiritual, the visible and invisible creation. From 
this point of view one can say that every genus of animal is in man 
rather than that man is in the genus animal. 1 

8. The fourth stage of the process of Nature is that of Natura 
quae nec creat nec creatur , namely of God as the term and end of 
all things, God all in all. This stage is that of the return to God, 
the corresponding movement to the procession from God, for there 
is a rhythm in the life of Nature and, as the world of creatures 
proceeded forth from the primordial causes, so will it return into 
those causes. ‘For the end of the whole movement is its beginning, 
since it is terminated by no other end than by its principle, from 
which its movement begins and to which it constantly desires to 
return, that it may attain rest therein. And this is to be under¬ 
stood not only of the parts of the sensible world, but also of the 
whole world. Its end is its beginning, which it desires, and on 
finding which it will cease to be, not by the perishing of its 
substance, but by its return to the ideas (rationes), from which it 
proceeds.’ 2 The process is thus a cosmic process and affects all 
creation, though mutable and unspiritualised matter which John 
Scotus, following St. Gregory of Nyssa, represented as a complex 
of accidents and as appearance, 3 will perish. 

Besides the cosmical process of creation as a whole, there is the 
specifically Christian theme (though John Scotus not infrequently 
does a little ‘rationalising’) of the return of man to God. Fallen 
man is led back to God by the incarnate Logos, who has assumed 

1 4 . 8 - 2 5 . 3 - 3 I* 34 - 


human nature and redeemed all men in that human nature, and 
John Scotus emphasises the solidarity of mankind both in Adam's 
fall and in Christ’s resurrection. Christ brings mankind back to 
God, though not all are united to God in the same degree, for, 
though He redeemed all human nature, 'some He restores to the 
former state of human nature, while others He deifies beyond 
human nature’, yet in no one except Himself is human nature 
substantially united with the Godhead. 1 John Scotus thus affirms 
the unique character of the Incarnation and of the relation of 
Christ’s human nature to the Deity, though, when he gives the 
stages of the return of human nature to God, another—and less 
orthodox—point of view seems to show itself. The^e stages are: 2 
(i) the dissolution of the human body into the four elements of the 
sensible world; (2) the resurrection of the body; (3) the change of 
body into spirit; (4) the return of human nature in its totality into 
the eternal and unchangeable primordial causes; and (5) the return 
of nature and the primordial causes to God. ‘For God will be all 
in all, where nothing will exist but God alone.’ Yet if at first sight 
this latter viewpoint seems quite inconsistent with orthodox 
theology and especially with the unique position of Christ, John 
Scotus clearly did not mean to assert a real pantheistic absorption 
in God, since he goes on to state that he does not mean to imply 
a perishing of individual substance but its elevation. He uses the 
illustration of the iron made white-hot in the fire and observes 
that, though the iron may be said to be transmuted into fire, the 
substance of the iron remains. Thus when, for example, he says 
that the human body is changed into spirit, what he refers to is 
the glorification or 'spiritualisation’ of the human body, not to a 
kind of transubstantiation. Moreover, it must be remembered that 
John Scotus expressly states that he is basing his teaching on the 
doctrine of St. Gregory of Nyssa and his commentator Maximus, 
and his teaching must accordingly be understood in the light of 
that statement. Lest it be thought, he says, that he is entirely 
neglecting the Latins in favour of the Greeks, he adds the testi¬ 
mony of St. Ambrose. Though the heavens and the earth will 
perish and pass away (their perishing being interpreted as a 
reditus in causas, which means the cessation of the generated 
material world), that does not mean that the individual souls of 
men, in their reditus in causas, will cease to exist: their deificatio 
no more means their substantial absorption in God than the 

5. 25- 1 5. 8. 


permeation of the air by light means its destruction or transub¬ 
stantiation. John Scotus is quite clear on that point. 

The fact is that in the case of the cosmic 'return’, as elsewhere, 
John Scotus tries to combine the teaching of the Scriptures and 
the Fathers with philosophical speculation of the neo-Platonic 
tradition or rather to express the Christian Weltanschauung in 
terms of such speculation. As the Christian wisdom is looked at 
as a totality, no clear distinction being made between revealed 
theology and philosophy, the application of John’s speculative 
method necessarily means a de facto rationalisation on occasion, 
however orthodox his intentions may have been. For instance, 
though he insists on the fact that the return to God does not spell 
the annihilation or the complete absorption of the individual 
human being and though he expresses himself perfectly clearly on 
this point, yet his attitude towards matter as the term of the 
descending divine procession leads him to say 1 that before the 
Fall human beings were not sexually differentiated and that after 
the resurrection they will return to this state (in support of which 
views he appeals to St. Paul, St. Gregory and Maximus). Man, 
had he not fallen, would have been sexually undifferentiated and 
in the primordial cause human nature is sexually undifferentiated: 
the reditus in causam involves, therefore, a return to the state of 
human nature in causa and a liberation from the state consequent 
on the Fall. The reditus in causam, however, is a stage in the 
cosmic process of Nature, so that John Scotus has to maintain 
that the resurrection of the body takes place by nature, natura et 
non per gratiam , 2 though he appeals for support in this to St. 
Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus and St. Epiphanius. On the other 
hand, it is certain, theologically at least, that something is attri¬ 
butable to grace, and John Scotus accordingly attributes the 
deificatio, which is not attained by all human beings, to the free 
gift and disposition of God, to grace. This is an example of his 
attempt to combine revelation with the exigencies of his specula¬ 
tive system, an attempt for which, of course, he undoubtedly 
received support from the writings of earlier Christian authors. 
On the one hand John Scotus, owing to his Christian intentions, 
must attribute the resurrection in at least one aspect to God's free 
grace operating through Christ, while on the other hand, his 
philosophical doctrine of the return of all things to God means 
that he must make the resurrection in some degree a natural and 
1 5* 20 - * 5» 23. 



necessary process, not only because human nature itself has to 
return into its cause, but because all creation has to return into 
its cause and endure eternally, and this it does effectively as being 
contained in man, the microcosm. 1 

9. But if there is to take place a cosmic return to God in and 
through human nature, so that God, as St. Paul says, will be 'all 
in all', how is it possible to maintain the theologically orthodox 
doctrine of the eternal punishment of the damned? The Scriptures 
teach that the fallen angels and human beings who are finally 
impenitent will be eternally punished, while on the other hand 
reason teaches that evil cannot be without end, since God will be 
all in all and evil is diametrically opposed to God, who is good¬ 
ness. 2 How can one reconcile these two positions without rejecting 
either authority or reason? John Scotus's answer 3 is ingenious and 
affords a good example of his ‘rationalisation'. Nothing that God 
has made can be evil: the substances or natures, therefore, of the 
devils and evil men must be good. On this point he quotes the 
Pseudo-Dionysius. The demons and evil men will never, then, 
suffer annihilation. All that God has made will return to God and 
all 'nature' will be contained in God, human nature included, so 
that it is impossible that human nature should undergo eternal 
punishment. What, then, of the punishments described in the 
Scriptures? In the first place they cannot be corporeal or material 
in character, while in the second place they can only affect what 
God has not made and what, in this sense, is outside 'nature'. Now, 
God did not make the perverse will of demons or evil men, and it 
is this which will be punished. But, if all things are to return to 
God and God will be all in all, how can punishment be contained 
in God? Moreover, if the malice has disappeared and all impiety, 
what is there left to punish? The punishment must consist in the 
eternal prevention by God of the will's tendency to fix itself on 
the images, conserved in the memory, of the objects desired on 
earth. God, then, will be all in all, and all evil will have perished, 
but the wicked will be eternally punished. 11 is obvious, however, that 
from the viewpoint of orthodox theology ‘wicked' and 'punished' 
must be placed in inverted commas, since John Scot us has ration¬ 
alised the Scriptural teaching in order to satisfy the exigencies of 
his philosophical system. 4 All human nature, all men without 
exception, will rise with spiritualised bodies and the full possession 
of natural goods, though only the elect will enjoy 'deification'. 5 

1 5 » 25. *5.26-7. *5,27-8. * 5 , 29 - 3 ^. 1 5 - 36. 


The conclusion is, then, that the divine nature is the end and 
term of all things, which will return into their raiiones aeternae and 
there abide, 'ceasing to be called by the name of creature', for 
God will be all in all, 'and every creature will be cast into the 
shade, i.e. changed into God, as the stars at the rising of the sun'. 1 

10. Although the De Divisione Naturae did not have the effect 
that its outstanding quality as a systematic metaphysic deserved, 
it was utilised by a succession of mediaeval writers from Remigius 
of Auxerre to Amalric of Bene, including Berengarius, Anselm of 
Laon, William of Malmesbury, who praised the work, though he 
disapproved of John Scotus's predilection for Greek authors, and 
Honorius of Autun, while the Pseudo-Avicenna borrowed from 
the work in his De Intelligentiis, written in the middle or later part 
of the twelfth century. However, the fact that the Albigensians 
appealed to the book, while Amalric of Bene (end of twelfth 
century) used the doctrine of John Scotus in a pantheistic sense, 
led to its condemnation in 1225 by Pope Honorius III, who 
ordered that the work should be burnt, though the order was by 
no means always fulfilled. This condemnation of the De Divisione 
Naturae and the interpretation which led to the condemnation 
naturally raises the question, whether John Scotus was or was not 
a pantheist. 

That John Scotus was in intention orthodox has already been 
given as my opinion; but there are several points that might be 
mentioned by way of summary argument in support of this state¬ 
ment. First of all, he draws copiously on the writings and ideas 
of authors whom he certainly regarded as orthodox and with 
whose ideas he felt his own thought to be in harmony. For example, 
he makes extensive use of St. Gregory of Nyssa, of the Pseudo- 
Dionysius (whom he regarded as St. Dionysius the Areopagite), 
and, not to appear to neglect the Latins, quotes St. Augustine and 
St. Ambrose in favour of his.views. Moreover, John Scotus con¬ 
sidered his speculation to be founded on the Scriptures themselves. 
For instance, the theory of the fourth stage of Nature, Deus omnia 
in omnibus , has its foundation in the words of St. Paul: 2 ‘And 
when all things shall be subdued unto him, then the Son also 
himself shall be subject unto him that put all things under him, 
that God may be all in all,' while the doctrine of the body 'becom¬ 
ing spirit' at the resurrection is based on the Pauline statement 
that the body is sown in corruption and raised in incorruption, 
1 3, 23. 1 x Cor., xj. 28. 




that the risen body is a ‘spiritual* body. Again, John Scotus draws 
from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel the conception of the 
Logos by whom all things were made, in his account of creation, 
while the theme of deificatio was common in the writings of the 

But, even if John Scotus wrote as though his system had a 
foundation in Scripture and Tradition, might it not be that he 
was consciously rationalising the text of Scripture, that he had, 
to put it crudely, ‘his tongue in his cheek*? Does he not say 1 that 
authority proceeds from true reason and reason in no way from 
authority; that every authority which is not approved by true 
reason seems to be weak; that true reason does not need the 
confirmation of any authority and that authority is nothing else 
but the truth found by the power of reason and handed on by the 
Fathers in their writings for the use of posterity; and does not this 
indicate that he set no store by authority? It seems to me that, 
to judge by the context, when John Scotus speaks about 'authority* 
here, he is not referring to the words of Scripture but to the 
teaching of the Fathers and to the interpretation they had put on 
the words of the Scriptures. Of course, although it is true that 
authority must rest on reason, in the sense that the authority 
must have good credentials, the statement of John Scotus to the 
effect that authority is nothing else than the truth found by 
reason and handed on by the Fathers is, as it stands, unacceptable 
from the theological standpoint (I mean, if compared with the 
orthodox doctrine of Tradition); but what John Scotus apparently 
means is, not that the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is 
simply a truth found by reason and not revealed, but that the 
attempted 'explanation' or development of the dogma by this or 
that Father is simply the result of the Father’s rational effort and 
is not final. He does not mean to suggest that the bare dogma, as 
found in Scripture and preserved by, for example, St. Augustine, 
can legitimately be questioned, but rather that the intellectual 
development of the dogma given by St. Augustine, though worthy 
of respect, is the work of reason and cannot be placed on the same 
level as the dogma itself. His position is, therefore, this. If St. 
Paul says that God will be omnia in omnibus, this is a revealed 
truth, but when it comes to deciding what St. Paul meant by this 
statement and how precisely it is to be understood, reason is the 
final court of appeal. I am not trying to suggest that this attitude 

1 x, 69. 


is theologically acceptable: my point is rather that, whether his 
actual view is acceptable or not, John Scotus is not questioning 
a dogma as such or claiming a right to deny it, but is claiming the 
right to interpret it, and that his ‘rationalisation’ consists in this. 
He has not got his tongue in his cheek when he appeals to Scripture, 
for he sincerely believed that the data of revelation have to be 
interpreted rationally and, as we would say, philosophically. This 
is partly due to the fact that he makes no clear-cut distinction 
between theology and philosophy. His system presupposes the 
'Christian wisdom' (including truths discoverable by reason alone, 
e.g. God's existence, and truths which are revealed, but not dis¬ 
coverable by reason alone, e.g. the Trinity of Persons in the 
Godhead) and is a speculative attempt to exhibit the Christian 
wisdom as an organic and interconnected whole, without making 
any clear distinction between the spheres of philosophy and reve¬ 
lation, and this attempt inevitably involves some rationalisation. 
I repeat that I am not trying to defend John Scotus’s rationalisa¬ 
tion, but to explain his attitude, and my thesis is that it is a 
mistake to interpret his 'rationalisation' as if it post-dated the 
clear division of philosophy and theology: his attitude is not 
essentially different from that of later mediaeval theologians who 
attempted to prove the Trinity rationibus necessariis . If John 
Scotus had consciously been a 'philosopher’ in the narrow sense 
and nothing more, we would have had to call him a rationalist in 
the modern sense; but he was both theologian and philosopher in 
combination (in confusion, if one prefers), and his rationalisation 
was, psychologically , quite compatible with a belief in revelation. 
Therefore, when he says 1 that he does not want to seem to resist 
the Apostle or the testimony summae ac sanctae aucloritatis , he is 
quite sincere. Indeed his true attitude is admirably indicated by 
his statement 2 that 'it is not for us to judge the opinions of the 
holy Fathers, but to accept them with piety and reverence, though 
we are not prohibited from choosing (among their opinions) that 
which appears to reason to agree better with the divine words'. 
John Scotus accepts, for instance, the doctrine of eternal punish¬ 
ment, because it is revealed, and he accepts it sincerely; but he 
does not consider that this prevents him from attempting to 
explain the doctrine in such a way that it will fit in with the rest 
of his system, a system which he regards as fundamentally based 
on revelation. 

1 x. 7. 

1 2, 16. 


The discussion may seem to have strayed from the point at 
issue; but this is not so in reality. For instance, revelation, 
Christian dogma, teaches clearly that the world was made by God 
from nothing and that creatures are not God. Now John Scotus’ 
general system demands that creatures should return to God and 
that God should be all in all. Regarding both truths as founded on 
divine teaching, John Scotus has to reconcile them rationally, in 
such a way that the reditus in Deum does not lead to the conclusion 
to which it might seem to lead, namely pantheistic absorption, 
and that the presentation of the distinction between God and 
creatures does not contradict the Pauline statement that God will 
be all in all. The process of reconciliation may involve him in 
what the Thomist theologians would call ‘rationalisation’, but his 
cautelae, e.g. that creatures return to God and ‘become’ God, not 
ita ut non sint but 'ut melius sint’ , are not sops thrown to the 
theologians with the writer’s tongue in his cheek, but they are 
sincere expressions of John Scotus’ desire to preserve Christian 
teaching or what he regards, rightly or wrongly, as Christian 

That a tension develops between the Christian and neo-Platonic 
elements in John Scotus’ thought has already been pointed out, 
but it is as well to emphasise it again, as it has a bearing on the 
question of his ‘rationalism’. In accordance with the neo-Platonic 
tradition inherited through the Pseudo-Dionysius, John Scotus 
maintained 1 that God in Himself, Natura quae creat et non creatur, 
is impenetrable to Himself, unknown to Himself, as being infinite 
and super-essential, and that He becomes luminous to Himself 
only in His theophanies. This is, of course, an echo of the neo- 
Platonic doctrine that the One, the ultimate Godhead, is beyond 
thought, beyond self-consciousness, since thought andself-conscious- 
ness involve a duality of subject and object. Now, that God in 
Himself is incomprehensible to the created mind is certainly a 
Christian tenet, but that He is not self-luminous is not the teaching 
of Christianity. John Scotus, therefore, has to reconcile the two 
positions somehow, if he wishes to retain them both, and he 
attempts to do so by making the first ‘theophany’ the emergence 
of the Logos containing the primordial causes, so that in and 
through the Logos God becomes (though not temporally) self- 
conscious, appearing to Himself. The Logos thus corresponds to 
the neo-Platonic Nous, and a rationalisation arises out of the 

* E.g. 3. *3- 


desire to preserve both the Christian doctrine and the principles 
of what John Scotus regards as true philosophy. The desire to 
preserve Christian doctrine is sincere enough, but a tension be¬ 
tween the two elements is inevitable. If one takes a particular set 
of isolated statements of John Scotus one would have to say that 
he was either a pantheist or a theist. For example, the statement 
that the distinction between the second and third stages of Nature 
is due only to the forms of human reasoning 1 is in itself clearly 
pantheistic, while the statement that the substantial distinction 
between God and creatures is always preserved is clearly theistic. 
It might seem that we should opt for one or the other set in an 
unqualified manner, and it is this attitude which has given rise to 
the notion that John Scotus was a conscious pantheist who made 
verbal concessions to orthodoxy with his tongue in his cheek. But 
if one realises that he was a sincere Christian, who yet attempted 
to reconcile Christian teaching with a predominantly neo-Platonic 
philosophy or rather to express the Christian wisdom in the only 
framework of thought which was then at hand, which happened to 
be predominantly neo-Platonic, one should also be able to realise 
that, in spite of the tension involved and the tendency to rationa¬ 
lise Christian dogma, as far as the subjective standpoint of the 
philosopher was concerned a satisfactory reconciliation was 
effected. This does not, of course, alter the fact that not a few 
statements, if taken in isolation, affirm a pantheistic doctrine and 
that other statements are irreconcilable with orthodox theological 
teaching on such points as eternal punishment, and it was in view 
of such statements that the De Divisione Naturae was subsequently 
condemned by ecclesiastical authority. However, whether ortho¬ 
dox or not, the work bears testimony to a powerful and acute 
mind, the mind of a speculative philosopher who stands head and 
shoulders above any other thinker of his day. 

1 2 . 2 . 






Situation following death of Charlemagne—Origin of discussion 
in texts of Porphyry and Boethius—Importance of the problem — 
Exaggerated realism—Roscelins ' nominalism '— St. Peter Da¬ 
mian's altitude to dialectic—William of Champeaux — Abelard — 
Gilbert de la Porrie and John of Salisbury—Hugh of St. Victor 
—SL Thomas Aquinas. 

i. One might have expected that the revival of letters and 
learning under Charlemagne would lead to a gradual and progres¬ 
sive development of philosophy and (the retention of what was 
already possessed having been provided for) that thinkers would 
be able to extend knowledge and pursue a more speculative path, 
especially as western Europe had been already supplied with an 
example of philosophical speculation and systematising by John 
Scotus Eriugena. In point of fact, however, this was not the case, 
since historical factors outside the sphere of philosophy plunged 
the empire of Charlemagne into a new Dark Age, the Dark Ages 
of the tenth century, and belied the promise of the Carolingian 

Cultural progress depended to some extent on the maintenance 
of the tendency to centralisation which had been apparent during 
the reign of Charlemagne; but after his death the empire was 
divided and the division of the empire among the descendants of 
Charlemagne was accompanied by the growth of feudalism, that 
is, by decentralisation. As nobles could be rewarded practically 
only through gifts of land, they tended, through the acquisition 
of land, to become more and more independent of the monarchy: 
their interests diverged or conflicted. Churchmen of the higher 
grades became feudal lords, monastic life was degraded (for 
example, through the common practice of the appointment of lay- 
abbots), bishoprics were used as means of honouring or rewarding 
servants of the king. The Papacy, which might have attempted 
to check and to remedy the worsening conditions in France, was 



itself at a very low ebb of spiritual and moral prestige, and, since 
education and learning were mainly in the hands of monks and 
ecclesiastics, the inevitable result of the break-up of the empire of 
Charlemagne was the decay of scholarship and educational activity. 
Reform did not begin until the establishment of Cluny in 910, and 
the influence of the Cluniac reform made itself felt only gradually, 
of course. St. Dunstan, who had been in the Cluniac monastery 
of Ghent, introduced the ideals of Cluny into England. 

In addition to the internal factors which prevented the fruit of 
the Carolingian renaissance coming to maturity (such as the 
political disintegration which led in the tenth century to the 
transference of the imperial crown from France to Germany, the 
decay of monastic and ecclesiastical life, and the degradation of 
the Papacy), there were also operative such external factors as 
the attacks of the Norsemen in the ninth and tenth centuries, who 
destroyed centres of wealth and culture and checked the develop¬ 
ment of civilisation, as also the attacks of the Saracens and the 
Mongols. Internal decay, combined with external dangers and 
attacks, rendered cultural progress impossible. To conserve, or 
to attempt to do so, was the only practicable course: progress in 
scholarship and philosophy lay again in the future. Such interest 
in philosophy as existed, centred largely round dialectical ques¬ 
tions, and particularly round the problem of universals, the 
starting-point for the discussion being supplied by certain texts of 
Porphyry and Boethius. 

2. Boethius, in his commentary on the Isagoge of Porphyry, 1 
quotes Porphyry as remarking that at present he refuses to state 
whether genera and species are subsistent entities or whether they 
consist in concepts alone; if subsisting, whether they are material 
or immaterial and, further, whether they are separate from 
sensible objects or not, on the ground that such exalted matters 
cannot be treated in an introduction. Boethius himself, however, 
goes on to treat of the matter, first of all remarking on the 
difficulty of the question and the need of care in considering it 
and then pointing out that there are two ways in which an idea 
may be so formed that its content is not found in extramental 
objects precisely as it exists in the idea. For example, one may 
join together arbitrarily man and horse, to form the idea of a 
centaur, joining together objects which nature does not suffer to 
be joined together, and such arbitrarily constructed ideas are 

1 P.L., 64, col. 82-6. 


'false'. On the other hand, if we form the idea of a line, i.e. a 
mere line as considered by the geometer, then, although it is true 
that no mere line exists by itself in extramental reality, the idea 
is not 'false', since bodies involve lines and all we have done is to 
isolate the line and consider it in abstraction. Composition (as in 
the composition of horse and man to form the centaur) produces 
a false idea, whereas abstraction produces an idea which is true, 
even though the thing conceived does not exist extramentally in 
a state of abstraction or separation. 

Now, the ideas of genera and species are ideas of the latter type, 
formed by abstraction. The likeness of humanity is abstracted 
from individual men, and this likeness, considered by the mind, 
is the idea of the species, while the idea of the genus is formed by 
considering the likeness of diverse species. Consequently, ‘genera 
and species are in individuals, but, as thought, are universals’. 
They 'subsist in sensible things, but are understood without 
bodies'. Extramentally there is only one subject for both genus 
and species, i.e. the individual, but that no more prevents their 
being considered separately than the fact that it is the same line 
which is both convex and concave prevents our having different 
ideas of the convex and concave and defining them differently. 

Boethius thus afforded the material for an Aristotelian solution 
of the problem, though he goes on to say that he has not thought 
it proper to decide between Plato and Aristotle, but that he has 
been following out the opinions of Aristotle since his book is 
concerned with the Categories of which Aristotle was the author. 
But, though Boethius afforded material for a solution of the 
problem of universals on the lines of moderate realism and though 
his quotations from Porphyry and his comments on them started 
the discussion of the problem in the early Middle Ages, the first 
solution of the mediaevals was not on the lines suggested by 
Boethius but was a rather simpliste form of extreme realism. 

3. The thoughtless might suppose that in occupying themselves 
with this problem the early mediaevals were canvassing a useless 
topic or indulging in a profitless dialectic juggling; but a short 
reflection should be sufficient to show the importance of the 
problem, at least if its implications are considered. 

Although what we see and touch are particular things, when we 
think these things we cannot help using general ideas and words, 
as when we say, 'This particular object which I see is a tree, an 
elm to be precise.' Such a judgement affirms of a particular object 



that it is of a certain kind, that it belongs to the genus tree and 
the species elm; but it is clear that there may be many other 
objects besides the actual one perceived to which the same terms 
may be applied, which may be covered by the same ideas. In 
other words, objects outside the mind are individual, whereas 
concepts are general, universal in character, in the sense that they 
apply indifferently to a multitude of individuals. But, if extra¬ 
mental objects are particular and human concepts universal, it is 
clearly of importance to discover the relation holding between 
them. If the fact that subsistent objects are individual and 
concepts general means that universal concepts have no founda¬ 
tion in extramental reality, if the universality of concepts means 
that they are mere ideas, then a rift between thought and objects 
is created and our knowledge, so far as it is expressed in universal 
concepts and judgements, is of doubtful validity at the very least. 
The scientist expresses his knowledge in abstract and universal 
terms (for example, he does not make a statement about this 
particular electron, but about electrons in general), and if these 
terms have no foundation in extramental reality, his science is an 
arbitrary construction, which has no relation to reality. In so far 
indeed as human judgements are of a universal character or 
involve universal concepts, as in the statement that this rose is 
red, the problem would extend to human knowledge in general, 
and if the question as to the existence of an extramental founda¬ 
tion of a universal concept is answered in the negative, scepticism 
would result. 

The problem may be raised in various ways, and, historically 
speaking, it has taken various forms at various times. It may be 
raised in this form, for instance. 'What, if anything, in extra¬ 
mental reality corresponds to the universal concepts in the mind?' 
This may be called the ontological approach, and it was under this 
form that the early mediaevals discussed the matter. Or one may 
ask how our universal concepts are formed. This is the psycho¬ 
logical approach and the emphasis is different from that in the 
first approach, though the two lines of approach are closely 
connected and one can scarcely treat the ontological question 
without answering in some way the psychological question as well. 
Then again, if one supposes a conceptualist solution, that universal 
concepts are simply conceptual constructions, one may ask how it 
is that scientific knowledge, which for all practical purposes is a 
fact, is possible. But, however the problem be raised and whatever 


form it takes, it is of fundamental importance. Perhaps one of the 
factors which may give the impression that the mediaevals were 
discussing a comparatively unimportant question is this, that they 
practically confined their attention to genera and species in the 
category of substance. Not that the problem, even in this 
restricted form, is unimportant, but if the problem is raised in 
regard to the other categories as well, its implications in regard to 
at least the greater part of human knowledge becomes more 
evident. It becomes clear that the problem is ultimately the 
epistemological problem of the relation of thought to reality. 

4. The first solution to the problem given by the mediaevals 
was that known as ‘Exaggerated Realism*. That it was chrono¬ 
logically the first solution is borne out by the fact that the 
opponents of this view were for some time known as the moderni, 
while Abelard, for instance, refers to it as the antiqua doctrina. 
According to this view, our generic and specific concepts correspond 
to a reality existing extramentally in objects, a subsistent reality 
in which individuals share. Thus the concept Man or Humanity 
reflects a reality, humanity or the substance of human nature, 
which exists extramentally in the same way as it is thought, that 
is, as a unitary substance in which all men share. If for Plato the 
concept Man reflects the ideal of human nature subsisting apart 
from and ‘outside* individual men, an ideal which individual men 
embody or ‘imitate* to a greater or less extent, the mediaeval 
realist believed that the concept reflects a unitary substance 
existing extramentally, in which men participate or of which they 
are accidental modifications. Such a view is, of course, extremely 
naive, and indicates a complete misunderstanding of Boethius*s 
treatment of the question, since it supposes that unless the object 
reflected by the concept exists extramentally in exactly the same 
way that it exists intramentally, the concept is purely subjective. 
In other words, it supposes that the only way of saving the 
objectivity of our knowledge is to maintain a naive and exact 
correspondence between thought and things. 

Realism is already implied in the teaching of e.g. Fredegisius 
who succeeded Alcuin as Abbot of St. Martin's Abbey at Tours 
and maintained that every name or term supposes a corresponding 
positive reality (e.g. Darkness or Nothing). It is also implied in 
the teaching of John Scotus Eriugena. We find a statement of the 
doctrine in the teaching of Remigius of Auxerre (c. 841-908), who 
held that the species is a partitio substantialis of the genus and 


that the species, e.g. Man, is the substantial unity of many indi¬ 
viduals {Homo est multorum hominum substantialis unitas), A 
statement of this kind, if understood as meaning that the plurality 
of individual men have a common substance which is numerically 
one, has as its natural consequence the conclusion that individual 
men differ only accidentally from one another, and Odo ofTournai 
(d. 1113) of the Cathedral School of Tournai (who is also called 
Odo of Cambrai, from the fact that he became Bishop of Cambrai) 
did not hesitate to draw this conclusion, maintaining that when a 
child comes into being God produces a new property of an already 
existing substance, not a new substance. Logically this ultra- 
realism should result in sheer monism. For example, we have the 
concepts of substance and of being, and, on the principles of 
ultra-realism, it would follow that all objects to which we apply 
the term substance are modifications of one substance and, more 
comprehensively, that all beings are modifications of one Being. 
It is probable that this attitude weighed with John Scotus 
Eriugena, in so far as the latter can justly be called a monist. 

As Professor Gilson and others have pointed out, those who 
maintained ultra-realism in the early Middle Ages were philo¬ 
sophising as logicians, in the sense that they assumed that the 
logical and real orders are exactly parallel and that because the 
meaning of, for example, ‘man* in the statements ‘Plato is a man' 
and ‘Aristotle is a man* is the same, there is a substantial identity 
in the real order between Plato and Aristotle. But it would, I 
think, be a mistake to suppose that the ultra-realists were in¬ 
fluenced simply by logical considerations: they were influenced 
also by theological considerations. This is clear in the case of Odo 
of Tournai, who used ultra-realism in order to explain the trans¬ 
mission of original sin. If one understands by original sin a 
positive infection of the human soul, one is at once faced by an 
apparent dilemma: either one has to say that God creates out of 
nothing a new human substance each time a child comes into being, 
with the consequence that God is responsible for the infection, or 
one has to deny that God creates the individual soul. What Odo 
of Tournai maintained was a form of traducianism, i.e. that the 
human nature or substance of Adam, infected by original sin, is 
handed on at generation and that what God creates is simply a 
new property of an already existing substance. 

It is not always easy to assess the precise significance to be 
attached to the words of the early mediaevals, as we cannot always 


tell with certainty if a writer fully recognised the implications of 
his words or if he was making an emphatic point in controversy, 
perhaps as an argumentum ad hominem, without consciously wish¬ 
ing his statement to be understood according to its literal meaning. 
Thus when Roscelin said that the three Persons of the Blessed 
Trinity might well be called three gods, if usage permitted, on the 
ground that every existing being is an individual, St. Anselm 
(1033-1109) asked how he who does not understand how a 
multitude of men are specifically one man, can understand how 
several Persons, each of whom is perfect God, are one God. 1 On 
the strength of this statement St. Anselm has been called an 
ultra- or exaggerated realist, and indeed the natural interpretation 
of the statement, in the light of the theological dogma involved, is 
that, just as there is but one Substance or Nature in the Godhead, 
so there is but one substance or nature (i.e. numerically one) in all 
men. Yet it might be that St. Anselm was arguing ad hominem 
and that his question, as intended, amounts to asking how a man 
who does not realise the specific unity of men (supposing, rightly 
or wrongly, that Roscelin denied all reality to the universal) can 
possibly grasp the far greater union of the divine Persons in the 
one Nature, a Nature which is numerically one. St, Anselm may 
have been an ultra-realist, but the second interpretation of his 
question is supported by the fact that he obviously understood 
Roscelin to hold that universal have no reality but are mere 
flatus vocis and by the fact that in the Dialogus de Grammatico 2 he 
distinguished between primary and secondary substances, men¬ 
tioning Aristotle by name. 

5. If the implied principle of the ultra-realists was the exact 
correspondence of thought and extramental reality, the principle 
of the adversaries of ultra-realism was that only individuals exist. 
Thus Eric (Heiricus) of Auxerre (841-76) observed that if anyone 
tries to maintain that white or black exist absolutely and without 
a substance in which they adhere, he will be unable to point to any 
corresponding reality but will have to refer to a white man or a 
black horse. General names have no general or universal objects 
corresponding to them; their only objects are individuals. How, 
then, do universal concepts arise and what is their function and 
their relation to reality? Neither the understanding nor the 
memory can grasp all individuals, and so the mind gathers 
together ( coarctat ) the multitude of individuals and forms the idea 

1 De fide Trin., 2. 1 10. 


of the species, e.g. man, horse, lion. But the species of animals or 
plants are themselves too many to be comprehended by the mind 
at once, and it gathers the species together to form the genus. 
There are, however, many genera and the mind takes a further 
step in the process of coarctatio, forming the still wider and more 
extensive concept of usia (ouota). Now, at first sight this seems 
to be a nominalist position and to remind one of the shorthand 
note theory of J. S. Mill; but, in the absence of more extensive 
evidence, it would be rash to affirm that this actually was Eric’s 
consciously held view. Probably he merely meant to affirm 
emphatically that only individuals exist, that is, to deny ultra¬ 
realism, and at the same time to give attention to the psycholo¬ 
gical explanation of our universal concepts. We have not sufficient 
evidence to warrant an affirmation that he denied any real 
foundation to the universal concept. 

A similar difficulty of interpretation arises in regard to the 
teaching of Roscelin (c. 1050-1120), who, after studying at 
Soissons and Rheims, taught at Compiegne, his birthplace, Loches, 
Besan^on and Tours. His writings have been lost, except for a 
letter to Abelard, and we have to rely on the testimony of other 
writers like St. Anselm, Abelard and John of Salisbury. These 
writers make it perfectly clear indeed that Roscelin was an oppo¬ 
nent of ultra-realism and that he maintained that only individuals 
exist, but his positive teaching is not so clear. According to St. 
Anselm, 1 Roscelin held that the universal is a mere word (flatus 
vocis) and accordingly he is numbered by St. Anselm among the 
contemporary heretics in dialectic. Anselm goes on to remark that 
these people think that colour is nothing else but body and the 
wisdom of man nothing else but the soul, and the chief fault of the 
'dialectical heretics’ he finds in the fact that their reason is so 
bound up with their imagination that they cannot free themselves 
from images and contemplate abstract and purely intelligible 
objects. 2 Now, that Roscelin said that universals are words, 
general words, we cannot call in question, since St. Anselm’s 
testimony is quite clear; but it is difficult to assess precisely what 
he meant by this. If we interpret St. Anselm as more or less an 
Aristotelian, i.e. as no ultra-realist, then we should have to say 
that he understood Roscelin’s teaching as involving a denial of 
any kind of objectivity to the universal; whereas if we interpret 
Anselm as an ultra-realist we can then suppose that Roscelin was 

1 De fide Trin., 2; P.L. 158, 265A. 2 De fide Trin., 2; P.L. 158, 265B. 


merely denying ultra-realism in a very emphatic way. It is, of 
course, undeniable that the statement that the universal is a mere 
flatus vocis is, taken literally, a denial not only of ultra-realism 
and moderate realism but even of conceptualism and the presence 
of universal concepts in the mind; but we have not sufficient 
evidence to say what Roscelin held about the concept as such, if 
indeed he gave any attention to the matter: it might be that, in 
his determination to deny ultra-realism, the formal subsistence of 
universals, he simply opposed the universale in voce to the subsis¬ 
ted universal, meaning that only individuals exist and that the 
universal does not, as such, exist extramentally, but without 
meaning to say anything about the universale in mente, which he 
may have taken for granted or never have thought about. Thus 
it is clear from some remarks of Abelard in his letter on Roscelin 
to the Bishop of Paris 1 and in his De divisione et definitione that, 
according to Roscelin, a part is a mere word, in the sense that 
when we say that a whole substance consists of parts, the idea of 
a whole consisting of parts is a 'mere word’, since the objective 
reality is a plurality of individual things or substances; but it 
would be rash to conclude from this that Roscelin, if called upon 
to define his position, would have been prepared to maintain that 
we have no idea of a whole consisting of parts. May he not have 
meant simply that our idea of a whole consisting of parts is purely 
subjective and that the only objective reality is a multiplicity of 
individual substances? (Similarly he appears to have denied the 
logical unity of the syllogism and to have dissolved it into separate 
propositions.) According to Abelard, Roscelin’s assertion that the 
ideas of whole and part are mere words is on a par with his 
assertion that species are mere words; and if the above interpreca¬ 
tion is tenable in regard to the whole-part relation, we could apply 
it also to his doctrine of genera and species and say that his 
identification of them with words is an affirmation of their sub¬ 
jectivity rather than a denial that there is such a thing as a 
general idea. 

One has, of course, no axe to grind in interpreting Roscelin. He 
may indeed have been a nominalist in a naive and complete sense, 
and I am certainly not prepared to say that he was not a nominalist 
pure and simple. John of Salisbury seems to have understood him 
in this sense, for he says that ‘some have the idea that the words 
themselves are the genera and species, although this view was long 

1 P.L., 178, 358B. 


ago rejected and has disappeared with its author’, 1 an observation 
which must refer to Roscelin, since the same author says in his 
Metalogicus 2 that the view which identifies species and genera 
with words practically disappeared with Roscelin. But though 
Roscelin may have been a pure nominalist and though the frag¬ 
mentary testimony as to his teaching, if taken literally, certainly 
supports this interpretation, still it does not seem possible to assert 
without doubt that he paid any attention to the question whether 
we have ideas of genera or species or not, still less that he denied it, 
even if his actual words imply this. All we are entitled to say with 
certainty is that, whether nominalist or conceptualist, Roscelin 
was an avowed anti-realist. 

6. It has been remarked earlier that Roscelin proposed a form 
of ‘Tritheism’ which excited the enmity of St. Anselm and which 
led to his being condemned and having to retract his theory at a 
Council at Soissoiis in 1092. It was the fact of such incursions into 
theology on the part of the dialecticians which was largely respon¬ 
sible for the hostility shown towards them by men like St. Peter 
Damian, The peripatetic dialecticians or sophists, laymen who 
came from Italy and travelled from one centre of study to another, 
men like Anselmus Peripateticus of Parma, who attempted to 
ridicule the principle of contradiction, naturally put dialectic in a 
rather poor light through their verbal sophistry and jugglery; but 
as long as they restricted themselves to verbal disputes, they were 
probably little more than an irritating nuisance: it was when they 
applied their dialectic to theology and fell into heresy, that they 
aroused the enmity of theologians. Thus Berengarius of Tours 
(c. 1000-88), maintaining that accidents cannot exist without 
their supporting substance, denied the doctrine of Transubstantia- 
tion. Berengarius was a monk and not a Peripateticus, but his 
spirit of disregard of authority seems to have been characteristic 
of a group of dialecticians in the eleventh century, and it was mainly 
this sort of attitude which led St. Peter Damian to pronounce 
dialectics a superfluity or Otloh of St. Emmeran ( c . 1010-70) to 
say that certain dialecticians put more faith in Boethius than in the 

St. Peter Damian (1007-72) had little sympathy with the 
liberal arts (they are useless, he said) or with dialectics, since they 
are not concerned with God or the salvation of the soul, though, as 
theologian and writer, the Saint had naturally to make use of 
1 Polycraticus, 7, 12; P.L., 199, 665A. 8 2, 17; P.L., 199, 874C. 


dialectic himself. He was, however, convinced that dialectic is a 
very inferior pursuit and that its use in theology is purely sub¬ 
sidiary and subordinate, not merely because dogmas are revealed 
truths but also in the sense that even the ultimate principles of 
reason may fail to apply in theology. For instance, God, according 
to St. Peter Damian, is not only arbiter of moral values and the 
moral law (he would have had some sympathy with Kierkegaard's 
reflections on Abraham), but can also bring it about that an 
historical event should be 'undone', should not have occurred, and 
if this seems to go counter to the principle of contradiction, then 
so much the worse for the principle of contradiction: it merely 
shows the inferiority of logic in comparison with theology. In 
short, the place of dialectic is that of a handmaid, velut ancilla 
dominae. 1 

The ‘handmaid’ idea was also employed by Gerard of Czanad 
(d. 1046), a Venetian who became Bishop of Czanad in Hungary. 
Gerard emphasised the superiority of the wisdom of the Apostles 
over that of Aristotle and Plato and declared that dialectic should 
be the ancilla theologiae. It is indeed often supposed that this is 
the Thomist view of the province of philosophy, but, given St. 
Thomas’s delineation of the separate provinces of theology and 
philosophy, the handmaid idea does not fit in with his professed 
doctrine on the nature of philosophy: it was rather (as M. De Wulf 
remarks) the idea of a 'restricted group of theologians’, men who 
had no use for the newfangled science. However, they could not 
avoid using dialectic themselves, and Archbishop Lanfranc (who 
was born about the year 1010 and died as Archbishop of Canterbury 
in 1089) was only talking common sense when he observed that it 
is not dialectic itself, but the abuse of it, which should be con¬ 

7. The opposition of a saint and a rigorist theologian to dialectic 
is also one of the motifs in the life of Abelard, whose controversy 
with William of Champeaux forms the next stage in the story of 
the discussion on universal, though it affected only Abelard’s life, 
not the ultimate triumph of his fight against ultra-realism. 

William of Champeaux (1070-1120), after studying at Paris and 
Laon, studied under Roscelin at Compiegne. He adopted, however, 
the very opposite theory to that of Roscelin, and the doctrine he 
taught at the Cathedral School of Paris was that of ultra-realism. 
According to Abelard, who attended William’s lectures at Paris 

1 De div. omnipP.L., 145, 63. 



and from whom we have to derive our knowledge of William's 
teaching, the latter maintained the theory that the same essential 
nature is wholly present at the same time in each of the individual 
members of the species in question, with the inevitable logical 
consequence that the individual members of a species differ from 
one another, not substantially but only accidentally. 1 If this is so, 
says Abelard, 2 there is the same substance in Plato in one place 
and in Socrates in another place, being made Plato through one 
set of accidents and Socrates through another set of accidents. 
Such a doctrine is, of course, the form of ultra-realism current in 
the early Middle Ages, and Abelard had no difficulty in showing 
the absurd consequences it involved. For example, if the human 
species is substantially, and therefore wholly, present in both 
Socrates and Plato at the same time, then Socrates must be Plato 
and he must be present in two places at once. 3 Furthermore, such 
a doctrine leads ultimately to pantheism, since God is substance 
and all substances will be identical with the divine substance. 

Under pressure of criticism of this kind William of Champeaux 
changed his theory, abandoning the identity-theory for the 
indifference-theory and saying that two members of the same 
species are the same thing, not essentially (essentialiter) , but indif¬ 
ferently [indiffer enter). We have this information from Abelard, 4 
who evidently treated the new theory as a mere subterfuge, as 
though William were now saying that Socrates and Plato are not 
the same, but yet are not different. However, fragments from 
William's Sententiae 5 makes his position clear. He there says that 
the two words ‘One' and ‘same' can be understood in two ways, 
secundum indifferentiam et secundum identitatem eiusdem prorsus 
essentiae, and goes on to explain that Peter and Paul are ‘indif¬ 
ferently* men or possess humanity secundum indifferentiam in that, 
as Peter is rational, so is Paul, and as Peter is mortal, so is Paul, 
etc., whereas their humanity is not the same (he means that their 
essence or nature is not numerically the same) but like ( similis ), 
since they are two men. He adds that this mode of unity does not 
apply to the divine Nature, referring, of course, to the fact that 
the divine Nature is identical in each of the three divine Persons. 
This fragment, then, in spite of somewhat obscure language, is 
clearly opposed to ultra-realism. When William says that Peter and 
Paul are one and the same in humanity secundum indifferentiam 

1 Hist, calam 2; P.L., 178, 119AB. * Dialedica, edit. Geyer. p. 10. 

* De generibus el speciebus; Cousin, Ouvrages inidits d'Abtlard, p. 153. 

4 Hist, calam., 2; P.L., 178, 119B. 4 Edit. Lefftvre, p. 24. 


he means that their essences are alike and that this likeness 
is the foundation of the universal concept of man, which applies 
‘indifferently' to Peter or Paul or any other man. Whatever 
Abelard may have thought about this modified theory or under 
whatever interpretation he may have attacked it, it would seem 
to be in reality a denial of ultra-realism and not much different 
from Abelard's own view. 

It should be mentioned that the above is somewhat of a simpli¬ 
fication, in that the exact course of events in the dispute between 
Abelard and William is not clear. For instance, although it is 
certain that William, after being defeated by Abelard, retired to 
the Abbey of St. Victor and taught there, becoming subsequently 
Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne, it is not certain at what point in the 
controversy he retired. It would seem probable that he changed 
his theory while teaching at Paris and then, under fresh criticism 
from Abelard, whether justified or not, retired from the fray to 
St. Victor, where he continued teaching and may have laid the 
foundation for the mystical tradition of the abbey; but, according 
to M. De Wulf, he retired to St. Victor and there taught the new 
form of his theory, the indifference-theory. It has also been held 
that William held three theories: (i) the identity-theory of ultra- 
realism; (ii) the indifference-theory, which was attacked by Abelard 
as indistinguishable from the first theory; and (iii) an anti-realist 
theory, in which case he would presumably have retired to St. 
Victor after teaching the first and second theories. This may be 
correct, and possibly it is supported by Abelard's interpretation 
and criticism of the indifference-theory; but it is questionable if 
Abelard’s interpretation was anything more than polemical and I 
am inclined to agree with De Wulf that the indifference-theory 
involved a denial of the identity-theory, i.e. that it was not a 
mere verbal subterfuge. In any case the question is not one of 
much importance, since all are agreed that William of Champeaux 
eventually abandoned the ultra-realism with which he had begun. 

8. The man who worsted William of Champeaux in debate, 
Abelard (i079-1142), was born at Le Pallet, Palet or Palais near 
Nantes, deriving thence his name of Peripateticus Palatinus , and 
studied dialectic under Roscelin and William, after which he 
opened a school of his own, first at Melun, then at Corbeil and 
subsequently at Paris, where he conducted the dispute with his 
former master. Later he turned his attention to theology, studied 
under Anselm of Laon and started teaching theology himself at 



Paris in 1113. As a result of the episode with H 61 oise Abelard 
had to withdraw to the abbey of St. Denis. In 1121 his book De 
Unitate et Trinitate divina was condemned at Soissons and he 
then founded the school of Le Paraclet near Nogent-sur-Seine, 
only to abandon the school in 1125, in order to become Abbot of 
St. Gildas in Brittany, though he left the monastery in 1129. 
From 1136 to 1149 at any rate, he was teaching at Ste. Genevieve 
at Paris, where John of Salisbury was one of his pupils. However, 
St. Bernard accused him of heresy and in 1141 he was condemned 
at the Council of Sens. His appeal to Pope Innocent II led to his 
further condemnation and an injunction against lecturing, after 
which he retired to Cluny and remained there until his death. 

Abelard was, it is clear, a man of combative disposition and 
unsparing of his adversaries: he ridiculed his masters in philosophy 
and theology, William of Champeaux and Anselm of Laon. He 
was also, though somewhat sentimental, egoistic and difficult to 
get on with: it is significant that he left both the abbey of St. Denis 
and that of St. Gildas because he was unable to live in peace with 
the other monks. He was, however, a man of great ability, an 
outstanding dialectician, far superior in this respect to William of 
Champeaux; he was no mediocrity who could be ignored, and we 
know that his brilliance and dialectical dexterity, also no doubt 
his attacks on other teachers, won him great audiences. His 
incursions into theology, however, especially in the case of a 
brilliant man of great reputation, made him seem a dangerous 
thinker in the eyes of those who had little natural sympathy for 
dialectic and intellectual cleverness, and Abelard was pursued by 
the unremitting hostility of St. Bernard in particular, who appears 
to have looked on the philosopher as an agent of Satan; he 
certainly did everything he could to secure Abelard's condemna¬ 
tion. Among other charges he accused Abelard of holding an 
heretical doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, a charge the truth of 
which Abelard stoutly denied. Probably the philosopher was no 
rationalist in the usual sense, so far as intentions were concerned 
(he did not mean to deny revelation or explain away mystery); 
but at the same time, in his application of dialectic to theology he 
does seem to have offended against theological orthodoxy, in fact 
if not in intention. On the other hand it was the very appli¬ 
cation of dialectic to theology which made theological progress 
possible and facilitated the Scholastic systematisation of theology 
in the thirteenth century. 


Abelard had no difficulty, as we have seen, in showing the 
absurdities to which William of Champeaux’s ultra-realism logi¬ 
cally led; but it was incumbent on him to produce a more satis¬ 
factory theory himself. Accepting Aristotle’s definition of the 
universal, as given by Boethius ( quod in pluribus natum est 
praedicari, singulare vero quod non), he went on to state that it 
is not a thing which is predicated but a name, and he concludes 
that 'it remains to ascribe universality of this sort to words alone’. 1 
This sounds like the purely nominalistic view traditionally ascribed 
to Roscelin (under whom Abelard had studied), but the fact that 
he was willing to speak of universal and particular words shows 
that we cannot immediately conclude that Abelard denied any 
reality corresponding to the universal word, for he certainly did 
not deny that there is reality corresponding to the particular 
words, the reality in this case being the individual. Moreover, 
Abelard proceeded (in the Logica nostrorum petitioni sociorum) to 
distinguish vox and sermo and to say, not that Universale est vox, 
but that Universale est sermo. Why did he make this distinction? 
Because vox signifies the word as a physical entity {flatus vocis), 
a thing, and no thing can be predicated of another thing, whereas 
sermo signifies the word according to its relation to the logical 
content and it is this which is predicated. 

What then is the logical content, what is the intellectus univer¬ 
salis or universal idea, which is expressed by the nomen universale ? 
By universal ideas the mind ‘conceives a common and confused 
image of many things . . . When I hear man a certain figure arises 
in my mind which is so related to individual men that it is common 
to all and proper to none.’ Such language suggests indeed that, 
according to Abelard, there are really no universal concepts at all, 
but only confused images, generic or specific according to the 
degree of confusion and indistinctness; but he goes on to say that 
universal concepts are formed by abstraction and that through 
these concepts we conceive what is in the object, though we do 
not conceive it as it is in the object. ‘For, when I consider this 
man only in the nature of substance or of body, and not also of 
animal or of man or of grammarian, obviously I understand 
nothing except what is in that nature, but I do not consider all 
that it has.’ He then explains that when he said that our idea of 
man is ‘confused’, he meant that by means of abstraction the 
nature is set free, as it were, from all individuality and is 

1 Ingredientibus, edit. Geyer, 16. 


considered in such a way that it bears no special relation to any 
particular individual but can be predicated of all individual men. 
In fine, that which is conceived in specific and generic ideas is in 
things (the idea is not void of objective reference), but it is not 
in them, i.e. in individual things, as it is conceived. Ultra-realism, 
in other words, is false; but that does not mean that universals 
are purely subjective constructions, still less that they are mere 
words. When Abelard says that the universal is a nomen or sermo , 
what he means is that the logical unity of the universal concept 
affects only the predicate, that it is a nomen and not a res or 
individual thing. If we wish, with John of Salisbury, to call 
Abelard a ‘nominalist’, we must recognise at the same time that 
his ‘nominalism’ is simply a denial of ultra-realism and an assertion 
of the distinction between the logical and real orders, without 
involving any denial of the objective foundation of the universal 
concept. The Abelardian doctrine is an adumbration, in spite of 
some ambiguous language, of the developed theory of 'moderate 

In his Theologia Christiana and Theologia Abelard follows St. 
Augustine, Macrobius and Priscian in placing in the mind of God 
formae exemplares or divine ideas, generic and specific, which are 
identical with God Himself, and he commends Plato on this point, 
understanding him in a neo-Platonic sense, as having placed the 
Ideas in the divine mind, quam Graeci Noyn appellant . 

9. Abelard’s treatment of the problem of universals was really 
decisive, in the sense that it gave a death-blow to ultra-realism by 
showing how one could deny the latter doctrine without at the 
same time being obliged to deny all objectivity to genera and 
species, and, though the School of Chartres in the twelfth century 
(in contradistinction to the School of St. Victor) inclined to ultra¬ 
realism, two of the most notable figures connected with Chartres, 
namely Gilbert de la Porr6e and John of Salisbury, broke with the 
old tradition. 

(i) Gilbert de la Porrie or Gilbertus Porretanus was bom at 
Poitiers in 1076, became a pupil of Bernard of Chartres and himself 
taught at Chartres for more than twelve years. Later he taught at 
Paris, though he became Bishop of Poitiers in 1142. He died 
in 1x54. 

On the subject of each man having his own humanity or human 
nature Gilbert de la Porr6e was firm; 1 but he had a peculiar view 

1 In Boeth. de dual. nat.\ P.L., 64, 1378. 


as to the inner constitution of the individual. In the individual we 
must distinguish the individualised essence or substance, in which 
the accidents of the thing inhere, and the formae substantiales or 
fortnae nativae . 1 These native forms are common in the sense that 
they are alike in objects of the same species or genus, as the case 
may be, and they have their exemplars in God. When the mind 
contemplates the native forms in things, it can abstract them from 
the matter in which they are embodied or rendered concrete and 
consider them alone in abstraction: it is then attending to genus 
or species, which are subsistentiae , but not substantially existing 
objects. 2 For example, the genus is simply the collection [collectio) 
of subsistentiae obtained by comparing things which, though 
differing in species, are alike. 3 He means that the idea of the 
species is obtained by comparing the similar essential determina¬ 
tions or forms of similar individual objects and gathering them 
together into one idea, while the idea of the genus is obtained by 
comparing objects which differ specifically but which yet have 
some essential determinations or forms in common, as horse and 
dog have animality in common. The form, as John of Salisbury 
remarks apropos of Gilbert's doctrine, 4 is sensible in the sensible 
objects, but is conceived by the mind apart from sense, that is, 
immaterially, and while individual in each individual, it is yet 
common, or alike, in all the members of a species or genus. 

His doctrines of abstraction and of comparison make it clear 
that Gilbert was a moderate realist and not an ultra-realist, but 
his curious idea of the distinction between the individual essence 
or substance and the common essence ('common' meaning alike in 
a plurality of individuals) landed him in difficulties when he came 
to apply it to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and distinguished 
as different things Deus and Divinitas , Pater and Paternitas, just 
as he would distinguish Socrates from humanity, that is, from the 
humanity of Socrates. He was accused of impairing the unity of 
God and teaching heresy, St. Bernard being one of his attackers. 
Condemned at the Council of Rheims in 1148, he retracted the 
offending' propositions. 

(ii) John of Salisbury (c. 1115-80) went to Paris in 1136 and 
there attended the lectures of, among others, Abelard, Gilbert de 
la Porr£e. Adam Parvipontanus (Smallbridge) and Robert Pulleyn. 
He became secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, first to 

1 In Bocih. de Trinit.\ P.L., 64, 1393. Cf. John of Salisbury, Metalog., 2, 17; 
P.L., 64, 875-6. 

8 P.L., 64, 1267. 3 Ibid., 64, 1389. 4 Ibid., 64, 875-6. 



Archbishop Theobald and then to St. Thomas k Becket, being 
subsequently appointed Bishop of Chartres in 1176. 

In discussing the problem of universals, says John, the world 
has grown old: more time has been taken up in this pursuit than 
was required by the Caesars for conquering and governing the 
world. 1 But anyone who looks for genera and species outside the 
things of sense is wasting his time: 2 ultra-realism is untrue and 
contradicts the teaching of Aristotle, 3 for whom John had a predi¬ 
lection in dialectical matters, remarking, apropos of the Topics , 
that it is of more use than almost all the books of dialectic which 
the modems are accustomed to expound in the schools. 4 Genera 
and species are not things, but are rather the forms of things which 
the mind, comparing the likeness of things, abstracts and unifies 
in the universal concepts. 6 Universal concepts or genera and 
species abstractly considered are mental constructions {figurata 
rationis), since they do not exist as universals in extramental 
reality; but the construction in question is one of comparison of 
things and abstraction from things, so that universal concepts are 
not void of objective foundation and reference. 6 

xo. It has been already mentioned that the School of St. Victor 
inclined to moderate realism. Thus Hugh of St . Victor (1096-1141) 
adopted more or less the position of Abelard and maintained a 
clear doctrine of abstraction, which he applied to mathematics and 
to physics. It is the province of mathematics to attend to actus 
confusos inconfusej abstracting, in the sense of attending to in 
isolation, the line or the plane surface, for example, although 
neither lines nor surfaces exist apart from bodies. In physics, too, 
the physicist considers in abstraction the properties of the four 
elements, although in concrete reality they are found only in 
varying combinations. Similarly the dialectician considers the 
forms of things in isolation or abstraction, in a unified concept, 
though in actual reality the forms of sensible things exist neither 
in isolation from matter nor as universals. 

11. The foundations of the Thomist doctrine of moderate 
realism had thus been laid before the thirteenth century, and 
indeed we may say that it was Abelard who really killed ultra¬ 
realism. When St. Thomas declares that universals are not sub¬ 
sisted things but exist only in singular things, 8 he is re-echoing 
what Abelard and John of Salisbury had said before him. Humanity, 

1 Polycrat., 7, 12. * Metal., 2 , 20. * Ibid. 4 Ibid., 3, 10. 

1 Ibid., 2, 20. 1 Ibid., 3, 3. 7 Didasc., 2, 18; P.L., 176, 785. 

• Contra Gent., 1, 65. 


for instance, human nature, has existence only in this or that man, 
and the universality which attaches to humanity in the concept is 
a result of abstraction, and so is in a sense a subjective contribu¬ 
tion. 1 But this does not involve the falsity of the universal 
concept. If we were to abstract the specific form of a thing and 
at the same time think that it actually existed in a state of 
abstraction, our idea would indeed be false, for a false judgement 
concerning the thing itself would be involved; but, though in the 
universal concept the mind conceives something in a manner 
different to its mode of concrete existence, our judgement about 
the thing itself is not erroneous; it is simply that the form, which 
exists in the thing in an individualised state, is abstracted, i.e. is 
made the object of the exclusive attention of the mind by an 
immaterial activity. The objective foundation of the universal 
specific concept is thus the objective and individual essence of the 
thing, which essence is by the activity of the mind set free from 
individualising factors, that is, according to St. Thomas, matter, 
and considered in abstraction. For example, the mind abstracts 
from the individual man the essence of humanity which is alike, 
but not numerically the same in the members of the human species, 
while the foundation of the universal generic concept is an essential 
determination which several species have in common, as the 
species of man, horse, dog, etc., have 'animality' in common. 

St. Thomas thus denied both forms of ultra-realism, that of 
Plato and that of the early mediaevals; but, no more than Abelard 
was he willing to reject Platonism lock, stock and barrel, that is to 
say. Platonism as developed by St. Augustine. The ideas, exem¬ 
plar ideas, exist in the divine mind, though not ontologically 
distinct from God nor really a plurality, and, as far as this truth 
is concerned, the Platonic theory is justified. 2 St. Thomas thus 
admits (i) the universale ante rem , while insisting that it is not a 
subsistent thing, cither apart from things (Plato) or in things 
(early mediaeval ultra-realists), for it is God considered as perceiv¬ 
ing His Essence as imitable ad extra in a certain type of creature; 
(ii) the universale in re t which is the concrete individual essence 
alike in the members of the species; and (iii) the universale post 
rem , which is the abstract universal concept. 3 Needless to say, the 
term universale in re , used in the Commentary on the Sentences , is 
to be interpreted in the light of St. Thomas's general doctrine. 

1 S.T ., la. 85, 1, ad 1; la, 85, 2, ad 2. 1 Contra Gent., 3, 24. 

9 In Sent., 2; Dist . 3, 2 ad 1. 


i.e. as the foundation of the universal concept, the foundation 
being the concrete essence or quiiditas ret . 1 

In the later Middle Ages the problem of universal was to be 
taken up afresh and a different solution was to be given by William 
of Ockham and his followers; but the principle that only indivi¬ 
duals exist as subsistent things had come to stay: the new current 
in the fourteenth century was set not towards realism but away 
from it. The history of this movement I shall consider in the 
next volume. 

1 The distinction between universal* ante rem, in re and post rem had been 
made by Avicenna. 




St. Anselm as philosopher—Proofs of God's existence in the 
Monologium— The proof of God's existence in the Proslogium— 

Idea of truth and other Augustinian elements in St. Anselm's 

i. St. Anselm was bom at Aosta in Piedmont in 1033. After 
preliminary studies in Burgundy, at Avranches and afterwards at 
Bee he entered the Benedictine Order and later became Prior of 
Bee (1063), and subsequently abbot (1078). In 1093 he became 
Archbishop of Canterbury in succession to his former teacher, 
friend and religious superior Lanfranc, and in that post he died 

In general the thought of St. Anselm is rightly said to belong to 
the Augustinian tradition. Like the great African Doctor, he devoted 
his chief intellectual effort to the understanding of the doctrine of 
the Christian faith and the statement of his attitude which is 
contained in the Proslogium 1 bears the unmistakable stamp of the 
Augustinian spirit. 'I do not attempt, 0 Lord, to penetrate Thy 
profundity, for I deem my intellect in no way sufficient thereunto, 
but I desire to understand in some degree Thy truth, which my 
heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand, in order 
that I may believe; but I believe, that I may understand. For 
I believe this too, that unless I believed, I should not understand.’ 
This Credo, ut intelligam attitude is common to both Augustine 
and Anselm, and Anselm is in full accord with Augustine when he 
remarks in the Cur Deus Homo * that it is negligence if we make 
no attempt to understand what we believe. In practice, of course, 
this means for Anselm an application of dialectic or reasoning to 
the dogmas of faith, not in order to strip them of mystery but in 
order to penetrate them, develop them and discern their implica¬ 
tions, so far as this is possible to the human mind, and the results 
of this process, for instance his book on the Incarnation and 
Redemption (Cur Deus Homo), make Anselm of importance in the 
history of theological development and speculation. 

Now, the application of dialectic to the data of theology remains 

1 P.L., 158, 227. * Ibid., 158, 362. 


r 57 

theology, and St. Anselm would scarcely earn a place in the history 
of philosophy through his theological speculation and develop¬ 
ments, except indeed as the application of philosophical categories 
to revealed dogmas necessarily involves some treatment and 
development of those philosophical categories. In point of fact, 
however, the use of the Credo, ut intelligam motto was not confined 
by Anselm, any more than by Augustine, to the understanding of 
those truths exclusively which have been revealed and not dis¬ 
covered dialectically, but was extended to truths like the existence 
of God, which are indeed believed but which can be reached by 
human reasoning. Besides, then, his work as dogmatic theologian 
there is also his work as natural theologian or metaphysician to be 
considered, and on this count alone St. Anselm deserves a place 
in the history of philosophy, since he contributed to the develop¬ 
ment of that branch of philosophy which is known as natural 
theology. Whether his arguments for the existence of God are 
considered valid or invalid, the fact that he elaborated these 
arguments systematically is of importance and gives his work a 
title to serious consideration by the historian of philosophy. 

St. Anselm, like St. Augustine, made no clear distinction be¬ 
tween the provinces of theology and philosophy, and his implied 
attitude of mind may be illustrated as follows. The Christian 
should try to understand and to apprehend rationally all that he 
believes, so far as this is possible to the human mind. Now, we 
believe in God’s existence and in the doctrine of the Blessed 
Trinity. We should, therefore, apply our understanding to the 
understanding of both truths. From the point of view of one who, 
like the Thomist, makes a clear distinction between philosophy and 
dogmatic theology the application of reasoning to the first truth, 
God’s existence, will fall within the province of philosophy, while 
the application of reasoning to the second truth, the Trinity, will 
fall within the province of theology, and the Thomist will hold 
that the first truth is demonstrable by human reasoning, while the 
second truth is not demonstrable by human reasoning, even though 
the human mind is able to make true statements about the 
mystery, once revealed, and to refute the objections against it 
which human reasoning may raise. But, if one puts oneself in the 
position of St. Anselm, that is, in a state of mind anterior to the 
clear distinction between philosophy and theology, it is easy to 
see how the fact that the first truth is demonstrable, coupled with 
the desire to understand all that we believe, the attempt to satisfy 


this desire being regarded as a duty, naturally leads to an attempt 
to demonstrate the second truth as well, and in point of fact St. 
Anselm speaks of demonstrating the Trinity of Persons by 'neces¬ 
sary reasons' 1 and of showing in the same way that it is impossible 
for a man to be saved without Christ. 2 If one wishes to call this 
'rationalism', as has been done, one should first of all be quite 
clear as to what one means by rationalism. If by rationalism one 
means an attitude of mind which denies revelation and faith, St. 
Anselm was certainly no rationalist, since he accepted the primacy 
of faith and the fact of authority and only then went on to attempt 
to understand the data of faith. If, however, one is going to extend 
the term 'rationalism' to cover the attitude of mind which leads to 
the attempt to prove mysteries, not because the mysteries are not 
accepted by faith or would be rejected if one could not prove them, 
but because one desires to understand all that one believes, without 
having first clearly defined the ways in which different truths are 
accessible to us, then one might, of course, call the thought of 
St. Anselm 'rationalism' or an approximation to rationalism. But 
it would show an entire misunderstanding of Anselm's attitude, 
were one to suppose that he was prepared to reject the doctrine 
of the Trinity, for example, if he was unable to find rationcs 
necessariae for it: he believed the doctrine first of all, and only 
then did he attempt to understand it. The dispute about Anselm's 
rationalism or non-rationalism is quite beside the point, unless one 
first grasps quite clearly the fact that he had no intention of 
impairing the integrity of the Christian faith: if we insist on inter¬ 
preting St. Anselm as though he lived after St. Thomas and had 
clearly distinguished the separate provinces of theology and 
philosophy, we shall only be guilty of an anachronism and of a 

2. In the Monologium 3 St. Anselm develops the proof of God's 
existence from the degrees of perfection which are found in 
creatures. In the first chapter he applies the argument to good¬ 
ness, and in the second chapter to 'greatness', meaning, as he tells 
us, not quantitative greatness, but a quality like wisdom, the more 
of which a subject possesses, the better, for greater quantitative 
size does not prove qualitative superiority. Such qualities are 
found in varying degrees in the objects of experience, so that the 
argument proceeds from the empirical observation of degrees of, 

1 D» fide Trin., 4; P.L., 158, 274 * Cur Deus Homo ; P.L., i>8, 361 

s PL., 158 


for example, goodness, and is therefore an a posteriori argument. 
But judgement about different degrees of perfection (St. Anselm 
assumes, of course, that the judgement is objectively grounded) 
implies a reference to a standard of perfection, while the fact that 
things participate objectively in goodness in different degrees 
shows that the standard is itself objective, that there is, for 
example, an absolute goodness in which all good things participate, 
to which they approximate more or less nearly, as the case may be. 

This type of argument is Platonic in character (though Aristotle 
also argued, in his Platonic phase, that where there is a better, 
there must be a best) and it reappears in the Via quarta of St. 
Thomas Aquinas. It is, as I have said, an a posteriori argument: it 
does not proceed from the idea of absolute goodness to the exis¬ 
tence of absolute goodness but from observed degrees of goodness 
to the existence of absolute goodness and from degrees of wisdom 
to the existence of absolute wisdom, the absolute goodness and 
wisdom being then identified as God. The developed form of the 
argument would necessitate, of course, a demonstration both of 
the objectivity of the judgement concerning the differing degrees 
of goodness and also of the principle on which St. Anselm rests the 
argument, the principle, namely that if objects possess goodness 
in a limited degree, they must have their goodness from absolute 
goodness itself, which is good per se and not per aliud. It is also 
to be noted that the argument can be applied only to those 
perfections which do not of themselves involve limitation and 
finiteness: it could not be applied to quantitative size, for instance. 
(Whether the argument is valid and demonstrative or not, it is 
scarcely the province of the historian to decide.) 

In the third chapter of the Monologium St. Anselm applies the 
same sort of argument to being. Whatever exists, exists either 
through something or through nothing. The latter supposition is 
absurd; so whatever exists, must exist through something. This 
means that all existing things exist either through one another or 
through themselves or through one cause of existence. But that 
X should exist through Y, and Y through X, is unthinkable: the 
choice lies between a plurality of uncaused causes or one such 
cause. So far indeed the argument is a simple argument from 
causality, but St. Anselm goes on to introduce a Platonic element 
when he argues that if there is a plurality of existent things 
which have being of themselves, i.e. are self-dependent and un¬ 
caused, there is a form of being-of-itself in which all participate. 


and at this point the argument becomes similar to the argument 
already outlined, the implication being that, when several beings 
possess the same form, there must be a unitary being external to 
them which is that form. There can, therefore, be but one self* 
existent or ultimate Being, and this must be the best and highest 
and greatest of all that is. 

In chapters seven and eight St. Anselm considers the relation 
between the caused and the Cause and argues that all finite objects 
are made out of nothing, ex nihilo, not out of a preceding matter 
nor out of the Cause as matter. He explains carefully that to say 
that a thing is made ex nihilo is not to say that it is made out of 
nothing as its material: it means that something is created non ex 
aliquo , that, whereas before it had no existence outside the divine 
mind, it now has existence. This may seem obvious enough, but 
it has sometimes been maintained that to say that a creature is 
made ex nihilo is either to make nothing something or to lay oneself 
open to the observation that ex nihilo nihil fit , whereas St. Anselm 
makes it clear that ex nihilo does not mean ex nihilo tamquam 
materia but simply non ex aliquo. 

As to the attributes of the Ens a Se, we can predicate of it only 
those qualities, to possess which is absolutely better than not to 
possess them. 1 For example, to be gold is better for gold than to 
be lead, but it would not be better for a man to be made of gold. 
To be corporeal is better than to be nothing at all, but it would 
not be better for a spirit to be corporeal rather than incorporeal. 
To be gold is better than not to be gold only relatively , and to be 
corporeal rather than non-corporeal is better only relatively. But 
it is absolutely better to be wise than not to be wise, living than 
non-living, just than not-just. We must, then, predicate wisdom, 
life, justice, of the supreme Being, but we cannot predicate 
corporeity or gold of the supreme Being. Moreover, as the 
supreme Being does not possess His attributes through participa¬ 
tion, but through His own essence, He is Wisdom, Justice, Life, 
etc., 2 and furthermore, since the supreme Being cannot be com¬ 
posed of elements (which would then be logically anterior, so that 
He would not be the supreme Being), these attributes are identical 
with the divine essence, which is simple. 3 Again, God must 
necessarily transcend space in virtue of His simplicity and 
spirituality, and time, in virtue of His eternity. 4 He is wholly 
present in everything but not locally or determinate , and all things 
1 Ch, 15. * Ch. 16. 1 Ch. 17. 4 Ch. 20-4. 



are present to His eternity, which is not to be conceived as endless 
time but as interminabilis vita simul perfecte tota existens . 1 We may 
call Him substance, if we refer to the divine essence, but not if we 
refer to the category of substance, since He is incapable of change 
or of sustaining accidents. 2 In fine, if we apply to Him any name 
that we also apply to creatures, valde procul dubio intelligenda est 
diversa significatio . 

St. Anselm proceeds, in the Monologium, to give reasons for the 
Trinity of Persons in one Nature, without giving any clear indica¬ 
tion that he is conscious of leaving the province of one science to 
enter that of another, and into this subject, interesting as it may 
be to the theologian, we cannot follow him. Enough has been said, 
however, to show that St. Anselm made a real contribution to 
natural theology. The Platonic element is conspicuous and, apart 
from remarks here and there, there is no considered treatment of 
analogy; but he gives a posteriori arguments for God's existence 
which are of a much more systematic character than those of 
St. Augustine and he also deals carefully with the divine attributes, 
God's immutability, eternity, etc. It is clear, then, how erroneous 
it is to associate his name with the 'Ontological Argument' in such 
a way as to imply that St. Anselm's only contribution to the 
development of philosophy was an argument the validity of which 
is at least questionable. His work may have not exercised any 
very considerable influence on contemporary thinkers and those 
who immediately followed him, because of their preoccupation 
with other matters (dialectical problems, reconciling the opinions 
of the Fathers, and so on), but looked at in the light of the general 
development of philosophy in the Middle Ages he must be acknow¬ 
ledged as one of the main contributors to Scholastic philosophy 
and theology, on account both of his natural theology and of his 
application of dialectic to dogma. 

3. In the Proslogium St. Anselm develops the so-called 'onto¬ 
logical argument', which proceeds from the idea of God to God as 
a reality, as existent. He tells us that the requests of his brethren 
and consideration of the complex and various arguments of the 
Monologium led him to inquire whether he could not find an 
argument which would be sufficient, by itself alone, to prove all 
that we believe concerning the Divine Substance, so that one 
argument would fulfil the function of the many complementary 
arguments of his former opusculum. At length he thought that he 
1 Ch. a 4 . * Ch. 26. 


had discovered such an argument, which for convenience sake 
may be put into syllogistic form, though St. Anselm himself 
develops it under the form of an address to God. 

God is that than which no greater can be thought: 

But that than which no greater can be thought must exist, not only 
mentally, in idea, but also extramentally: 

Therefore God exists, not only in idea, mentally, but also extra¬ 

The Major Premiss simply gives the idea of God, the idea which 
a man has of God, even if he denies His existence. 

The Minor Premiss is clear, since if that than which no greater can 
be thought existed only in the mind, it would not be that than 
which no greater can be thought. A greater could be thought, 
i.e. a being that existed in extramental reality as well as in idea. 

This proof starts from the idea of God as that than which no 
greater can be conceived, i.e. as absolutely perfect: that is what 
is meant by God. 

Now, if such a being had only ideal reality, existed only in our 
subjective idea, we could still conceive a greater being, namely a 
being which did not exist simply in our idea but in objective 
reality. It follows, then, that the idea of God as absolute perfection 
is necessarily the idea of an existent Being, and St. Anselm argues 
that in this case no one can at the same time have the idea of God 
and yet deny His existence. If a man thought of God as, for 
instance, a superman, he would be quite right to deny ‘God's' 
existence in that sense, but he would not really be denying the 
objectivity of the idea of God. If, however, a man had the right 
idea of God, conceived the meaning of the term ‘God 1 , he could 
indeed deny His existence with his lips, but if he realises what the 
denial involves (i.e. saying that the Being which must exist of its 
essence, the necessary Being, does not exist) and yet asserts the 
denial, he is guilty of a plain contradiction: it is only the fool, the 
insipiens t who has said in his heart, ‘there is no God/ The abso¬ 
lutely perfect Being is a Being the essence of which is to exist or 
which necessarily involves existence, since otherwise a more perfect 
being could be conceived; it is the necessary Being; and a necessary 
being which did not exist would be a contradiction in terms. 

St. Anselm wanted his argument to be a demonstration of all 
that we believe concerning the divine Nature, and, since the argu¬ 
ment concerns the absolutely perfect Being, the attributes of God 
are contained implicitly in the conclusion of the argument. We 



have only to ask ourselves what is implied by the idea of a Being 
than which no greater can be thought, in order to see that God 
must be omnipotent, omniscient, supremely just and so on. 
Moreover, when deducing these attributes in the Proslogium , St. 
Anselm gives some attention to the clarification of the notions in 
question. For example, God cannot lie: is not this a sign of lack 
of omnipotence? No, he answers, to be able to lie should be called 
impotence rather than power, imperfection rather than perfection. 
If God could act in a manner inconsistent with His essence, that 
would be a lack of power on His part. Of course, it might be 
objected that this presupposes that we already know what God's 
essence is or involves, whereas what God's essence is, is precisely 
the point to be shown; but St. Anselm would presumably reply 
that he has already established that God is all-perfect and so that 
He is both omnipotent and truthful: it is merely a question of 
showing what the omnipotence of perfection really means and of 
exposing the falsity of a wrong idea of omnipotence. 

The argument given by St. Anselm in the Proslogium was 
attacked by the monk Gaunilo in his Liber pro Insipiente adversus 
Anselmi in Proslogio ratiocinationem, wherein he observed that the 
idea we have of a thing is no guarantee of its extramental existence 
and that St. Anselm was guilty of an illicit transition from the 
logical to the real order. We might as well say that the most 
beautiful islands which are possible must exist somewhere, because 
we can conceive them. The Saint, in his Liber Apologeticus contra 
Gaunilonem respondentem pro Insipiente, denied the parity, and 
denied it with justice, since, if the idea of God is the idea of an 
all-perfect Being and if absolute perfection involves existence, this 
idea is the idea of an existent, and necessarily existent Being, 
whereas the idea of even the most beautiful islands is not the idea 
of something which must exist: even in the purely logical order 
the two ideas are not on a par. If God is possible, i.e. if the idea 
of the all-perfect and necessary Being contains no contradiction, 
God must exist, since it would be absurd to speak of a merely 
possible necessary Being (it is a contradiction in terms), whereas 
there is no contradiction in speaking of merely possible beautiful 
islands. The main objection to St. Anselm's proof, which was 
raised against Descartes and which Leibniz tried to answer, is 
that we do not know a priori that the idea of God, the idea of 
infinite and absolute Perfection, is the idea of a possible Being. 
We may not see any contradiction in the idea, but, say the 


objectors, this 'negative' possibility is not the same as 'positive' 
possibility; it does not show that there really is no contradiction 
in the idea. That there is no contradiction in the idea is clear only 
when we have shown a posteriori that God exists. 

The argument of the Proslogium aroused little immediate in¬ 
terest; but in the thirteenth century it was employed by St. 
Bonaventure, with a less logical and more psychological emphasis, 
while it was rejected by St. Thomas. Duns Scotus used it as an 
incidental aid. In the ‘modem' era it has had a distinguished, if 
chequered career. Descartes adopted and adapted it, Leibniz 
defended it in a careful and ingenious manner, Kant attacked it. 
In the Schools it is generally rejected, though some individual 
thinkers have maintained its validity. 

4. Among the Augustinian characteristics of St. Anselm's philo¬ 
sophy one may mention his theory of truth. When he is treating 
of truth in the judgement, 1 he follows the Aristotelian view in 
making it consist in this, that the judgement or proposition states 
what actually exists or denies what does not exist, the thing 
signified being the cause of the truth, the truth itself residing in 
the judgement (correspondence-theory); but when, after treating 
of truth (rectitude) in the will, 2 he goes on to speak of the truth of 
being or essence 3 and makes the truth of things to consist in being 
what they 'ought' to be, that is, in their embodiment of or corre¬ 
spondence to their idea in God, the supreme Truth and standard 
of truth, and when he concludes from the eternal truth of the 
judgement to the eternityof the causeof truth, God, 4 he is treading 
in the footsteps of Augustine. God, therefore, is the eternal and 
subsistent Truth, which is cause of the ontological truth of all 
creatures. The eternal truth is only cause and the truth of the 
judgement is only effect, while the ontological truth of things is 
at once effect (of eternal Truth) and cause (of truth in the judge¬ 
ment). This Augustinian conception of ontological truth, with the 
exemplarism it presupposes, was retained by St. Thomas in the 
thirteenth century, though he laid far more emphasis, of course, on 
the truth of the judgement. Thus, whereas St. Thomas’s charac¬ 
teristic definition of truth is adaequatio rei et intellectus, that of 
St. Anselm is reditudo sola mente perceptibilis. 5 

In his general way of speaking of the relation of soul to body 
and in the absence of a theory of hylomorphic composition of the 

1 Dialogus de Veritate, 2 ; P.L., 158. 1 Dial., 4, * Ibid., 7 ff. 

* Ibid.. 10. * Ibid.. 11. 



two, Anselm follows the Platonic-Augustinian tradition, though, 
like Augustine himself, he was perfectly well aware that soul and 
body form one man, and he affirms the fact. Again, his words in 
the Proslogium 1 on the divine light recall the illumination-theory 
of Augustine: Quanta natnque est lux ilia , de qua micat omne verum, 
quod rationali menti lucet. 

In general perhaps one might say that though the philosophy of 
Anselm stands in the line of the Augustinian tradition, it is more 
systematically elaborated than the corresponding elements of 
Augustine's thought, his natural theology, that is, and that in the 
methodic application of dialectic it shows the mark of a later age. 

1 Ch. 14. 




Universalism of Paris, and systematisation of sciences in twelfth 
century — Regionalism, humanism—Platonism of Chartres — 
Hylomorphism at Chartres —Prima facie pantheism—John of 
Salisbury's political theory. 

i. One of the greatest contributions made by the Middle Ages to 
the development of European civilisation was the university 
system, and the greatest of all mediaeval universities was unques¬ 
tionably that of Paris. This great centre of theological and 
philosophical studies did not receive its definitive charter as a 
University in the formal sense until early in the thirteenth century; 
but one may speak, in an untechnical sense, of the Parisian schools 
as already forming a ‘university’ in the twelfth century. Indeed 
in some respects the twelfth century was more dominated by 
French learning than was the thirteenth century, since it was in 
the thirteenth century that other universities, such as Oxford, 
came into prominence and began to display a spirit of their own. 
This is true of northern Europe at least: as to the South, the 
University of Bologna, for instance, received its first charter in 
1158, from Frederick I. But, though France was the great centre 
of intellectual activity in the twelfth century, a fact which led to 
the oft-quoted saying that 'Italy has the Papacy, Germany the 
Empire, and France has Knowledge’, this does not mean, of course, 
that intellectual activity was pursued simply by Frenchmen: 
European culture was international, and the intellectual supre¬ 
macy of France meant that students, scholars and professors came 
in large numbers to the French schools. From England came men 
like Adam Smallbridge and Alexander Neckham, twelfth-century 
dialecticians, Adelard of Bath and Robert Pulleyn, Richard of St. 
Victor (d. 1173) and John of Salisbury; from Germany, Hugh of 
St. Victor (d. 1141), theologian, philosopher and mystic; from 
Italy, Peter Lombard (c. 1100-60), author of the celebrated 
Sentences, which were made the subject of so many commentaries 
during the Middle Ages, by St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, 
for example. Thus the University of Paris may be said to have 
represented the international character of mediaeval European 



culture, ac the Papacy represented the international, or rather 
supra-national, character of mediaeval religion, though the two 
were, of course, closely bound together, as the one religion gave 
a common intellectual outlook and the language of learning, the 
Latin tongue, was the language of the Church. These two unities, 
the religious and the cultural, so closely bound together, were what 
one might call effective and real unities, whereas the political unity 
of the Holy Roman Empire was rather theoretical than effective, 
for, though the absolute monarchies were a development of the 
future, nationalism was already beginning to increase, even if its 
growth was checked by feudalism, by the local character of 
mediaeval political and economic institutions and by the common 
language and intellectual outlook. 

This growing and expanding university life naturally found an 
intellectual and academic expression in the attempt to classify and 
systematise the science, knowledge and speculation of the time, 
an attempt which shows itself already in the twelfth century. We 
may give two examples, the systematisations of Hugh of St. Victor 
and of Peter Lombard. The former, in his Didascalion} more or 
less follows the Aristotelian classification. Thus Logic is a propae¬ 
deutic or preamble to science proper and deals with concepts, not 
with things. It is divided into Grammar and into the Ratio 
Disserendi, which in turn subdivides into Demonstratio, Pars 
Probabilis and Pars Sophistica (Dialectic, Rhetoric and Sophistic). 
Science, to which Logic is a preamble and for which it is a necessary 
instrument, is divided under the main headings of Theoretical 
Science, Practical Science and 'Mechanics'. Theoretical Science 
comprises Theology, Mathematics (Arithmetic, dealing with the 
numerical aspect of things; Music, dealing with proportion; 
Geometry, concerned with the extension of things; Astronomy, 
concerned with the movement of things), and Physics (which has 
as its subject-matter the inner nature or inner qualities of things, 
and thus penetrates farther than Mathematics). Practical Science 
is subdivided into Ethics, 'Economics' and Politics, while Mecha¬ 
nics comprises the seven 'illiberal arts' or scientiae adullerinae, 
since the craftsman borrows his form from nature. These ‘illiberal 
arts' are Wool-making, etc., Armoury and Carpentry, Navigation 
or Commerce, which, according to Hugh, 'reconciles peoples, 
quiets wars, strengthens peace, and makes private goods to be for 
the common use of all', Agriculture, Hunting (including cookery), 

1 P.L .. 176 


Medicine and Theatricals. It is clear that Hugh’s classification 
depended, not only on Aristotle, through Boethius, but also on the 
encyclopaedic work of writers like Isidore of Seville. 

Peter Lombard, who was educated at the School of St. Victor, 
taught at the Cathedral School of Paris, and ultimately became 
bishop of that city between 1150 and 1152, composed his Libri 
Quattuor Sententiarum, a work which, although unoriginal in respect 
of content, exercised a tremendous influence, in that it stimulated 
other writers to the work of systematic and comprehensive exposi¬ 
tion of dogma and became itself the subject of compendia and 
many commentaries, up to the end of the sixteenth century. The 
Sentences of the Lombard are admittedly a text-book 1 and were 
designed to gather the opinions or sententiae of the Fathers on 
theological doctrines, the first book being devoted to God, the 
second to creatures, the third to the Incarnation and Redemption 
and to the virtues, the fourth to the seven Sacraments and to the 
last things. The greatest number of quotations and the bulk of 
the doctrine are taken from St. Augustine, though other Latin 
Fathers are quoted, and even St. John Damascene makes an 
appearance, though it has been shown that the Lombard had seen 
only a small part of Burgundius of Pisa’s Latin translation of the 
Fons Scientiae. Obviously enough the Sentences are predominantly 
a theological work, but the Lombard speaks of those things which 
are understood by the natural reason and can be so understood 
before they are believed, i.e. by faith: 2 such are the existence of 
God, the creation of the world by God and the immortality of 
the soul. 

2. We have seen that the developing and expanding intellectual 
life of the twelfth century showed itself in the growing predomi¬ 
nance of the ‘university’ of Paris and in the first attempts at 
classification and systematisation of knowledge; but the position 
of Paris did not mean that regional schools were not flourishing. 
Indeed, vigour of local life and interests was a complementary 
feature in the mediaeval period to the international character of 
religious and intellectual life. For example, though some of the 
scholars who came to Paris to study remained there to teach, 
others returned to their own lands or provinces or became attached 
to local educational institutions. Indeed there was a tendency to 
specialisation, Bologna, for instance, being noted for its school 
of law and Montpellier for medicine, while mystical theology 

1 Cf. the Prologue. 2 3, 24, 3. 


was a prominent feature of the School of St. Victor, outside 

One of the most flourishing and interesting of the local schools 
of the twelfth century was that of Chartres, in which certain 
Aristotelian doctrines, to be noted presently, began to come into 
prominence, associated, however, with a very strong admixture of 
Platonism. This school was also associated with humanistic 
studies. Thus Theodoric of Chartres (Thierry), who, after being in 
charge of the school in 1121, taught at Paris, only to return to 
Chartres in 1141, where he became chancellor in succession to 
Gilbert de la Porr6e, was described by John of Salisbury, himself 
a humanist, as artium studiosissimus investigator . His Heptateuchon 
was concerned with the seven liberal arts and he vigorously com* 
bated the anti-humanists, the 'Comificians', who decried study 
and literary form. Similarly William of Conches (c. 1080-1154), 
who studied under Bernard of Chartres, taught at Paris and 
became tutor to Henry Plantagenet, attacked the Comificians and 
himself paid attention to grammatical studies, thereby drawing 
from John of Salisbury the assertion that he was the most gifted 
grammarian after Bernard of Chartres. 1 But it was John of 
Salisbury (1115/20-1180) who was the most gifted of the humanist 
philosophers associated with Chartres. Though not educated at 
Chartres, he became, as we have seen earlier, Bishop of Chartres in 
1176. A champion of the liberal arts and acquainted with the 
Latin classics, with Cicero in particular, he had a detestation for 
barbarity in style, dubbing those persons who opposed style and 
rhetoric on principle 'Comificians'. Careful of his own literary 
style, he represents what was best in twelfth-century philosophic 
humanism, as St. Bernard, though not perhaps with full intention, 
represents humanism by his hymns and spiritual writings. In the 
next century, the thirteenth, one would certainly not go to the 
works of the philosophers as such for Latinity, most of them being 
far more concerned with content than with form. 

3. The School of Chartres, though its floreat fell in the twelfth 
century, had a long history, having been founded in 990 by 
Fulbert , a pupil of Gerbert of Aurillac. (The latter was a very 
distinguished figure of the tenth century, humanist and scholar, 
who taught at Rheims and Paris, paid several visits to the court 
of the German Emperor, became in turn Abbot of Bobbio, Arch¬ 
bishop of Rheims and Archbishop of Ravenna, and ascended the 

1 Metal., 1, 5. 


papal throne as Sylvester II, dying in 1003.) Founded in the 
tenth century, the School of Chartres preserved, even in the 
twelfth century, a certain conservative spirit and flavour, which 
shewed itself in its Platonist tradition, especially in its devotion 
to the Timaeus of Plato and also to the more Platonically inclined 
writings of Boethius. Thus Bernard of Chartres , who was head of 
the school from 1114 to 1119 and chancellor from 1119 to 1124, 
maintained that matter existed in a chaotic state before its infor¬ 
mation, before order was brought out of disorder. Called by John 
of Salisbury the 'most perfect among the Platonists of our time’, 1 
Bernard also represented Nature as an organism and maintained 
the Platonic theory of the World-Soul. In this he was followed by 
Bernard of Tours (Silvestris ), who was chancellor at Chartres about 
1156 and composed a poem De mtttwftMwtvemfaie.usingChalcidius's 
commentary on the Timaeus and depicting the World-Soul as 
animating Nature and forming natural beings out of the chaos of 
prime matter according to the Ideas existing in God or Nous. 
William of Conches went even further by identifying the World- 
Soul with the Holy Spirit, a doctrine which led to his being 
attacked by William of St. Theodoric. Retracting, he explained 
that he was a Christian and not a member of the Academy. 

In conjunction with these speculations in the spirit of the 
Timaeus one may mention the inclination of the School of Chartres 
to ultra-realism, though, as we have seen, two of the most out¬ 
standing figures associated with Chartres, Gilbert de la Porr6e and 
John of Salisbury, were not ultra-realists. Thus Clarembald of 
Arras, a pupil of Theodoric of Chartres, who became Provost of 
Arras in 1152 and Archdeacon of Arras in 1160, maintained, in his 
Commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius, as against Gilbert de 
la Porr6e, that there is but one and the same humanity in all men 
and that individual men differ only propter accidentium varietatem} 

4. In spite, however, of their fondness for the Timaeus of Plato, 
the members of the School of Chartres showed also an esteem for 
Aristotle. Not only did they follow Aristotle in logic, but they also 
introduced his hylomorphic theory: indeed it was at Chartres that 
this theory made its first appearance in the twelfth century. Thus, 
according to Bernard of Chartres, natuial objects are constituted 
by form and matter. These forms he called formae nativae and he 
represented them as copies of the Ideas in God. This information 
we have from John of Salisbury, who tells us that Bernard and his 

1 Metal., 4. 35. 1 Ed. W. Janssen, p. 42. 


disciples tried to mediate between or reconcile Plato and Aristotle. 1 
For Bernard of Tours too the forms of things are copies of the 
Ideas in God, as we have already seen, while Clarembald of Arras 
represented matter as being always in a state of flux and as being 
the mutability or vertihilitas of things, the form being the perfec¬ 
tion and integrity of the thing. 2 He thus interpreted the matter of 
Aristotle in the light of Plato’s teaching about the mutability and 
evanescent character of material things. William of Conches 
indeed struck out on a line of his own by maintaining the atomic 
theory of Democritus;* but in general we may say that the 
members of the School of Chartres adopted the hylomorphic theory 
of Aristotle, though they interpreted it in the light of the Timaeus . 4 

5. The doctrine that natural objects are composed of matter and 
form, the form being a copy of the exemplar, the Idea in God, 
clearly makes a distinction between God and creatures and is non- 
pantheistic in character; but certain members of this School used 
terminology which, if taken literally and without qualification, 
would naturally be understood to imply pantheism. Thus Theo¬ 
doric of Chartres, who was the younger brother of Bernard, 
maintained that ‘all forms are one form; the divine form is all 
forms’ and that the divinity is the forma essendi of each thing, 
while creation is depicted as the production of the many out of the 
one. 5 Again, Clarembald of Arras argued that God is the forma 
essendi of things and that, since the forma essendi must be present 
wherever a thing is, God is always and everywhere essentially 
present.® But, though these texts, taken literally and in isolation, 
are pantheistic or monistic in character, it does not appear that 
either Theodoric of Chartres or Clarembald of Arras meant to 
teach a monistic doctrine. For instance, immediately after saying 
that the divine form is all forms Theodoric observes that, though 
the divine form is all forms by the fact that it is the perfection and 
integrity of all things, one may not conclude that the divine form 
is humanity. It would seem that Theodoric’s doctrine must be 
understood in the light of exemplarism, since he says expressly 
that the divine form cannot be embodied, and cannot, therefore, 
be the actual concrete form of man or horse or stone. Similarly, 
Clarembald of Arras's general doctrine of exemplarism and his 

1 A fetal., 2, 17. 1 Ed. W. Janssen, pp. 44 and 63. • P.L., 90, 1132. 

4 Gilbert de La Porrte draws attention to the hylomorphic theory when com¬ 
menting on Boethius's Contra Eutychen or Liber de duabus Naturis et una Persona 
Ckristi ; P.L. , 64, 1367. 

• De sex dierum operibus, ed. W. Janssen, pp. 16, ax, 108, 109^ 

• Ed. W. Janssen, p. 39. 


insistence that the forms of material things are copies, imagines , 
is incompatible with full pantheism. The phrases which seem to 
teach a doctrine of emanation are borrowed from Boethius, and it 
is probable that they no more express a literal understanding of 
emanation in Theodoric or Clarembald than they do in Boethius: 
in a sense they are stock phrases, canonised, as it were, by their 
antiquity, and they should not be pressed unduly. 

6 . Although John of Salisbury was not educated at Chartres, it 
is convenient to say something here of his philosophy of the State, 
as given in his Polycraticus. The quarrels between the Holy See 
and the Empire and the investiture controversies had naturally 
led to those writers who took part in the disputes having to express 
some view, even if only by the way, on the function of the State 
and its ruler. One or two writers went beyond mere asides, as it 
were, and gave a rude sketch of political theory. Thus Manegold 
of Lautenbach (eleventh century) even referred the power of the 
ruler to a pact with the people 1 and declared 2 that if the king 
forsakes rule by law and becomes a tyrant, he is to be considered 
to have broken the pact to which he owes his power and may be 
deposed by the people. Such ideas concerning the reign of law and 
justice as essential to the State and concerning the natural law, of 
which the civil law should be an expression, were based on texts 
of Cicero, the Stoics and the Roman jurists, and they reappear in 
the thought of John of Salisbury, who also made use of St. 
Augustine's De Civitate Dei and the De Officiis of St. Ambrose. 

Although John of Salisbury did not put forward any compact 
theory after the fashion of Manegold of Lautenbach, he was 
insistent that the prince is not above law and declared that 
whatever the whitewashers of rulers might trumpet abroad to the 
contrary, he would never allow that the prince is free from all 
restrictions and all law. But what did he mean when he said that 
the prince is subject to law? Partly at least he had in mind (and 
this was indeed his main consideration) the natural law, in 
accordance with the Stoic doctrine that there is a natural law, to 
which all positive law does, or ought to, approximate. The prince, 
then, is not free to enact positive laws which go counter to, or are 
irreconcilable with, both the natural law and that aequitas which 
is rerum convenientia , tribuens unicuique quod suum est. The posi¬ 
tive law defines and applies natural law and natural justice, and 
the attitude of the ruler on this matter shows whether he is prince 

1 Liber ad Gebehardum, 30 and 47. 1 Ibid., 47. 


or tyrant. If his enactments define, apply or supplement natural 
law and natural justice, he is a prince; if they infringe natural law 
and natural justice, he is a tyrant, acting according to caprice and 
not fulfilling the function of his office. 

Did John of Salisbury understand anything else by law, when 
he m ain tained that the prince is subject to the law? Did he main¬ 
tain that the prince is in any way subject to defined law? It was 
certainly the common opinion that the prince was subject in some 
way to the customs of the land and the enactments of his ancestors, 
to the local systems of law or tradition which had grown up in the 
course of time, and, although John of Salisbury’s political writing 
shows little concern with feudalism, since he relied so largely on 
writers of the Roman period, it is only reasonable to suppose that 
he shared the common outlook on this matter. His actual judge¬ 
ments on the power and office of the prince express the common 
outlook, though his formal approach to the subject is through the 
medium of Roman law, and he would certainly not have envisaged 
the application in an absolutist sense to the feudal monarch 
of the Roman Jurist’s maxim, Quod principi placuit legis habet 

Now, since John of Salisbury praised Roman law and regarded 
it as one of the great civilising factors of Europe, he was faced 
with the necessity of interpreting the maxim quoted above, with¬ 
out at the same time sacrificing his convictions about the restricted 
power of the prince. First of all, how did Ulpian himself under¬ 
stand his maxim? He was a lawyer and it was his aim to justify, 
to explain the legality of the Emperor’s enactments and constitu- 
tiones. According to Republican lawyers the law governed the 
magistrate, but it was obvious that in the time of the Empire 
the Emperor was himself one of the sources of positive law, and 
the lawyers had to explain the legality of this position. Ulpian 
accordingly said that, though the Emperor's legislative authority 
is derived from the Roman people, the people, by the lex regia, 
transfers to him and vests in him all its own power and authority, 
so that, once invested with his authority, the will of the Emperor 
has the force of law. In other words, Ulpian was simply explaining 
the legality of the Roman Emperor's enactments: he was not 
concerned to establish a political theory by maintaining that the 
Emperor was entitled to disregard all natural justice and the 
principles of morality. When John of Salisbury observed, with 
express reference to Ulpian’s dictum, that when the prince is said 


to be free from the law, this is not to be understood in the sense 
that he may do what is unjust, but in the sense that he ought to 
follow equity or natural justice out of a real love of justice and 
not from fear of punishment, which does not apply to him, he was 
expressing the general tradition of feudal lawyers and at the same 
time was not contradicting Ulpian's maxim. When in the late 
Middle Ages some political theorists detached Ulpian's maxim 
from the person of the Emperor, and transferring it to the national 
monarch interpreted it in an absolutist sense, they were forsaking 
the general mediaeval outlook and were at the same time changing 
the legal maxim of Ulpian into an abstract statement of absolutist 
political theory. 

In conclusion it may be remarked that John of Salisbury 
accepted the supremacy of the ecclesiastical power ( Hunc ergo 
gladium de manu Ecclesiae accipit princeps)} while he carried, his 
distinction between prince and tyrant to its logical conclusion by 
admitting tyrannicide as legitimate. Indeed, since the tyrant is 
opposed to the common good, tyrannicide may sometimes be 
obligatory, 2 though he made the curious stipulation that poison 
should not be employed for this purpose. 

1 Polycrat., 4, 3. * Ibid., 8, 10. 



Hugh of St. Victor; proofs of God's existence, faith, mysticism— 
Richard of St. Victor; proofs of God’s existence—Godfrey of St, 
Victor and Walter of St. Victor. 

The Abbey of St. Victor outside the walls of Paris belonged to the 
Augustinian Canons. We have seen that William of Champeaux 
was associated with the abbey, retiring there after being worsted 
by Abelard, but the school is of note principally owing to the work 
of two men, one a German, Hugh of St. Victor, the other a 
Scotsman, Richard of St. Victor. 

1. Hugh of St. Victor was born in Saxony in 1096 of noble 
parentage, and made his early studies in the monastery of Hamers- 
leben near Halberstadt. After taking the habit he went to Paris 
in 1115 to continue his studies in the Abbey of St. Victor. In 
1125 he started lecturing and from 1133 until his death in 1141 
he was* in charge of the school. One of the foremost theologians, 
dogmatic and mystical, of his time, he was yet no enemy to the 
cultivation of the arts, considering not only that the study of the 
arts, if rightly pursued, conduces to progress in theology, but also 
that all knowledge is of utility. ‘Learn everything; you will see 
afterwards that nothing is superfluous.’ 1 His chief work, from the 
philosophical viewpoint, is the Didascalion in seven books, in which 
he treats of the liberal arts (three books), theology (three books) 
and religious meditation (one book), but his writings on the 
theology of the Sacraments are also important to the theologian. 
He also compared exegetic and mystical works and a commentary 
on the Celestial Hierarchy of the Pseudo-Dionysius, using the Latin 
translation of John Scotus Eriugena. 

Of Hugh's classification and systematisation of the sciences 
mention has already been made, in connection with the systema¬ 
tising tendency already discernible in the twelfth century and due 
partly to the application of dialectic in theology, as also of his 
theory of abstraction, in connection with the discussion on uni¬ 
versal. 2 These two points bring out the Aristotelian aspects of 
his thought, whereas his psychology is distinctly Augustinian in 
1 P.L., 176, 800C. 1 See p. 153. 

J 75 


character. 'No one is really wise who does not see that he exists; 
and yet, if a man begins truly to consider what he is, he sees that 
he is none of all those things which are either seen in him or can be 
seen. For that in us which is capable of reasoning, although it is, 
so to speak, infused into and mingled with the flesh, is yet distin¬ 
guishable by reason from the substance of the flesh and is seen to 
be different therefrom/ 1 In other words, consciousness and intro¬ 
spection bear witness, not only to the existence of the soul, but 
also to its spirituality and immateriality. Moreover, the soul is of 
itself a person, having, as a rational spirit, personality of itself and 
through itself, the body forming an element in human personality 
only in virtue of its union with the rational spirit. 2 The mode of 
union is one of 'apposition' rather than of composition. 3 

Hugh contributed to the systematic advance of natural theology 
by giving a posteriori arguments both from internal and external 
experience. As regards the first line of proof, it rests upon the 
experiential fact of self-consciousness, the consciousness of a self 
which is 'seen' in a purely rational way and cannot be material. 
Regarding self-consciousness as necessary to the existence of a 
rational being, Hugh maintains that, as the soul has not always 
been conscious of its existence, there was a time when it did not 
exist. But it could not have given itself existence: it must, then, 
owe its existence to another being, and this being must be a 
necessary and self-existent being, God. 4 This proof is somewhat 
compressed, involving the premisses that the cause of a rational 
principle must itself be rational and that an infinite regress is 
impossible. Its 'interiority' certainly reminds one of Augustine, 
but it is not Augustine’s proof from the soul’s knowledge of eternal 
truths, nor does it presuppose religious, still less mystical, 
experience since it rests on the natural experience of the soul’s self- 
consciousness, and it is this reliance on experience which 
characterises Hugh’s proofs of God’s existence. 

The second proof, that from external experience, 5 rests on the 
experienced fact of change. Things are constantly coming into 
being and passing away, and the totality, which is composed of 
such changing things, must itself have had a beginning. It requires, 
therefore, a Cause. Nothing which lacks stability, which ceases to 
be, can have come into being without a Cause external to itself. 
The idea of such a proof is contained in the De Fide Orthodoxa of 

1 P.L., 176, 825A. * Ibid., 176, 409. 8 Ibid, 

* De Sacramentis, 3, 7; P.L., 176, 219. 

* De Sacramentis, 3, 10; P.L., 176. 219, and Sent. 1, 3; P.L., 176, 43. 


St. John Damascene; 1 but Hugh of St. Victor attempts to supply 
the deficiencies in St. John Damascene's procedure. 

In addition to the proof from change Hugh gives a teleological 
proof in several parts.* In the world of animals we see that the 
senses and appetites find their satisfaction in objects: in the world 
in general we see a great variety of movements (the reference is to 
local motion), which, however, are ordered in harmony. Again, 
growth is a fact of experience, and growth, since it means the 
addition of something new, cannot be accomplished solely by the 
thing which grows. Hugh concludes that these three considera¬ 
tions exclude chance and postulate a Providence which is respon¬ 
sible for growth and guides all things according to law. 3 The proof 
is clearly somewhat unconvincing in the form given, but it is based 
onfacts of experience, as the starting-point, and this is characteristic 
of Hugh’s proofs in general. Hugh adopted the theory of William 
of Conches concerning the atomic structure of matter. These atoms 
are simple bodies, which are capable of increase and growth. 4 

Hugh was thus quite clear about the possibility of a natural 
knowledge of God’s existence, but he was equally insistent on the 
necessity of faith. This faith is necessary, not only because the 
ocidus contemplations, whereby the soul apprehends God within 
herself et ea quae in Deo erant, has been completely darkened by 
sin, but also because mysteries which exceed the power of the 
human reason are proposed to man’s beliefs. These mysteries are 
supra rationem, in that revelation and faith are required to appre¬ 
hend them, but they are secundum rationem, not contra rationem: 
in themselves they are reasonable and can be the object of know¬ 
ledge, but they cannot be the object of knowledge in the strict 
sense in this life, as man’s mind is too weak, especially in its 
sin-darkened state. Knowledge, then, considered in itself, stands 
higher than faith, which is a certitude of the mind concerning 
absent things, superior to opinion but inferior to science or 
knowledge, since those who comprehend the object as immediately 
present (the scientes) are superiorto those who believe on authority. 
We may say, therefore, that Hugh of St. Victor made a clear 
distinction between faith and knowledge and that, though he 
recognised the superiority of the latter, he did not thereby impugn 
the necessity of the former. His doctrine of the superiority of 
knowledge to faith is by no means equivalent to the Hegelian 

1 1, 3; P.G., 94, 796A. * P.L., 176. 826. 

3 Cf. De Fide Orthodoxa, i, 3; P.G., 94, 795B. 

4 De Sacramentis, 1, 6, 37; P.L., 176, 286. 


doctrine, since Hugh certainly did not consider that knowledge 
can, naturally at least, be substituted for faith in this life. 

But, though the oculus contemplationis has been darkened by 
sin, the mind, under the supernatural influence of grace, can ascend 
by degrees to contemplation of God in Himself. Thus supernatural 
mysticism crowns the ascent of knowledge in this life as the 
beatific vision of God crowns it in heaven. To enter upon a 
discussion of Hugh's mystical teaching would scarcely be in place 
here; but it is worth pointing out that the mystical tradition of 
St. Victor was not simply a spiritual luxury; their mystical 
theology formed an integral part of their theologico-philosophical 
synthesis. In philosophy God’s existence is proved by the natural 
use of reason, while in theology the mind learns about the Nature 
of God and applies dialectic to the data of revelation accepted on 
faith. But philosophical knowledge and theological (dialectical) 
knowledge are knowledge about God: higher still is the experience 
of God, the direct knowledge of God, which is attained in mystical 
experience, a loving knowledge or a knowing love of God. On the 
other hand, mystical knowledge is not full vision, and God's 
presence to the soul in mystical experience blinds by excess of 
light, so that above both knowledge about God by faith and direct 
mystical knowledge of God there stands the beatific vision of 

2. Richard of St. Victor was born in Scotland but went to Paris 
early in life and entered the Abbey of St. Victor, where he became 
sub-prior about 1157 and prior in 1162. He died in 1173. The 
abbey passed through a difficult period during these years, as the 
abbot, an Englishman named Ervisius, wasted its goods and ruined 
its discipline, behaving in such an independent manner that Pope 
Alexander III called him ‘another Caesar’. With some difficulty 
he was induced to resign in 1172, a year before the death of 
Richard. However, even if his abbot was a somewhat independent 
and high-handed individual, the prior, we are told by the abbey 
necrology, left behind him the memory of a good example, a holy 
life and beautiful writings. 

Richard is an important figure in mediaeval theology, his chief 
work being the De Trinitate in six books, but he was also a 
philosopher, as well as being a mystical theologian who published 
two works on contemplation, the Beniamin minor , on the prepara¬ 
tion of the soul for contemplation, and the Beniamin mator, on 
the grace of contemplation. In other words, he was a worthy 



successor of Hugh of St. Victor, and like him he insisted on the 
necessity of using the reason in the pursuit and investigation of 
truth. 'I have frequently read that there is only one God, that He 
is eternal, uncreated, immense, omnipotent and Lord of all: . . . 

I have read concerning my God that He is one and three, one in 
Substance, three in Persons: all this I have read; but I do not 
remember that I have read how all these things are proved.' 1 
Again, Tn all these matters authorities abound, but not argu¬ 
ments; in all these matters experimenta desunt , proofs are becoming 
rare; so I think that I shall have done something, if I am able to 
help the minds of the studious a little, even if I cannot satisfy 

The general attitude of St. Anselm is evident in the above 
quotations: Credo , ut intelligam . The data of the Christian religion 
presupposed, Richard of St. Victor sets out to understand them 
and to prove them. Just as St. Anselm had declared his intention 
of trying to prove the Blessed Trinity by 'necessary reasons', so 
Richard declares at the beginning of his Be Trinitate 2 that it will 
be his intention in that work, so far as God grants, to adduce not 
only probable, but also necessary reasons for the things which we 
believe. He points out that there must be necessary reasons for 
what necessarily exists; so that, as God is necessarily Three in One, 
there must be a necessary reason for this fact. Of course, it by no 
means follows from the fact that God is necessarily Triune (God is 
the necessary Being) that we can discern this necessity, and 
Richard admits indeed that we cannot fully comprehend the 
mysteries of Faith, particularly that of the Blessed Trinity, 3 but 
that does not prevent his attempting to show that a plurality of 
Persons in the Godhead necessarily follows from the fact that God 
is Love and to demonstrate the trinity of Persons in one Nature. 

Richard's speculation on the Trinity had a considerable in¬ 
fluence on later Scholastic theology; but from the philosophical 
viewpoint his proofs for the existence of God are of greater import. 
Such proofs, he insists, must rest on experience: 'We ought to 
begin from that class of things, of which we can have no manner 
of doubt, and by means of those things which we know by expe¬ 
rience to conclude rationally what we must think concerning the 
objects which transcend experience.' 4 These objects of experience 
are contingent objects, things which begin to be and can cease to 

1 De Trinit i, 5; P.L., 196, 893BC. * P.L., 196, 892C. * Ibid., 196, 72A. 

4 Ibid. t 196, 894. 


be. Such things we can come to know only through experience, 
since what comes into being and can perish cannot be necessary, 
so that its existence cannot be demonstrated a priori, but can be 
known only by experience. 1 

The starting-point of the argument is thus provided by the 
contingent objects of experience; but, in order that our reasoning 
on this basis may be successful, it is necessary to start from a 
clearly solid and, as it were, immovable foundation of truth; 2 that 
is, the argument needs a sure and certain principle on which it 
may rest. This principle is that every thing which exists or can 
exist has being either of itself or from another than itself, and 
that every thing which exists or can exist either has being from 
eternity or begins to be in time. This application of the principle 
of contradiction allows us to form a division of being. Any 
existent thing must be either (i) from eternity and from itself, 
and so self-existent, or (ii) neither from eternity nor from itself, 
or (iii) from eternity, but not from itself, or (iv) not from eternity 
but yet from itself. This logical division into four admits imme¬ 
diately of a reduction to a threefold division, since a thing which 
is not from eternity but is a se, is impossible, for a thing which 
began to be obviously cannot either have given itself being or be 
a necessary existent. 8 A beginning in time and aseity are thus 
incompatible, and it remains to refer back to the things of 
experience and apply the general principle. The things of expe¬ 
rience, as we observe them in the human, animal and vegetable 
kingdoms, and in nature in general, are perishable and contingent: 
they begin to be. If, then, they begin to be, they are not from 
eternity. But what is not from eternity cannot be from itself, as 
already said. Therefore it must be from another. But ultimately 
there must exist a being which exists of itself, i.e. necessarily, 
since, if there is no such being, there would be no sufficient reason 
for the existence of anything: nothing would exist, whereas in 
point of fact something does exist, as we know by experience. If 
it be objected that there must indeed be an ens a se but that this 
may very well be the world itself, Richard would retort that he 
has already excluded this possibility by pointing out that we 
experience the contingent character of the things of which the 
world is composed. 

If in this first proof Richard’s procedure shows a marked change 
from that of St. Anselm, in his next proof he adopts a familiar 

1 P.L., 196, 892. 1 Ibid., 196, 893. 3 Cf. ibid., 196, 893. 


Anselmian position. 1 It is a fact of experience that there are 
different and varying degrees of goodness or perfection, the 
rational, for example, being higher than the irrational. From this 
experiential fact Richard proceeds to argue that there must be a 
highest, than which there is no greater or better. As the rational 
is superior to the irrational, this supreme substance must be intel¬ 
lectual, and as the higher cannot receive what it possesses from 
the lower, from the subordinate, it must have its being and 
existence from itself. This necessarily means that it is eternal. 
Something must be eternal and a se, as has been already 
shown, since otherwise nothing would exist, and experience 
teaches us that something does exist, and, if the higher cannot 
receive what it possesses from the lower, it must be the highest, 
the supreme Substance, which is the eternal and necessary 

In the third place Richard attempts to prove the existence of 
God from the idea of possibility. 2 In the whole universe nothing 
can exist, unless it has the possibility of being (the potentiality or 
power to be) from itself or receives it from another. A thing which 
lacks the possibility of being, which is completely impossible, is 
nothing at all, and in order that anything should exist, it must 
receive the ability to exist [posse esse) from the ground of possi¬ 
bility. (That the objects in the universe cannot receive their 
possibility from themselves, cannot be self-grounded, Richard here 
takes for granted: in his first proof he has already shown the 
incompatibility of aseity and temporality or beginning to be.) 
This ground of possibility, then, which is the source of the possi¬ 
bility and the existence of all things, must be self-dependent, 
ultimate. Every essence, every power, every wisdom, must depend 
on this Ground, so that the latter must itself be the supreme 
Essence as the ground of all essences, the supreme Power as source 
of all power, arid supreme Wisdom as source of all wisdom, since 
it is impossible that a source should confer a gift greater than 
itself. But there can be no wisdom apart from a rational substance 
in which it is immanent: so there must be a rational and supreme 
Substance, in which supreme wisdom is immanent. The Ground 
of all possibility is, therefore, the supreme Substance. 

These arguments are, of course, exercises of the rational, discur¬ 
sive intelligence, of the oculus rationis , superior to the oculus 
imaginationis , which views the corporeal world, but inferior to the 

1 De Trinit., i, n; P.L., 196, 895-6. * De Trinit., 1, 12; P.L., 196, 896. 


oculus inteUigentiae , by which God is contemplated in Himself. 1 
On the inferior level the objects of sense are viewed immediately 
as present; on the middle level the mind thinks discursively about 
things not immediately visible, arguing, for example, from effect 
to cause or vice versa ; on the superior level the mind views an 
invisible object, God, as immediately present. 2 The level of 
contemplation is thus, as it were, the spiritual analogue of sense- 
perception, being like to it in immediacy and concreteness in 
contrast with discursive thought, though it differs in that it is a 
purely spiritual activity, directed to a purely spiritual object. 
Richard's division of the six stages of knowledge, from the percep¬ 
tion of God's beauty in the beauty of creation to the mentis 
alienatio , under the action of grace, influenced St. Bonaventure in 
the composition of his Itinerarium mentis in Deum . 

3. Godfrey of St. Victor (d. 1194) wrote a Fons Philosophiae, in 
which he classifies the sciences and treats of such philosophers and 
transmitters as Plato, Aristotle, Boethius and Macrobius, devoting 
a special chapter to the problem of universals and the professed 
solutions of the problem. Walter of St. Victor (died after 1180) was 
the author of the celebrated diatribe Contra Quattuor Labyrinthos 
Franciae , Abelard, Peter Lombard, Peter of Poitiers and Gilbert 
de la Porr6e, the representatives of dialectical theology, who, 
according to Walter, were puffed up with the spirit of Aristotle, 
treated with Scholastic levity of the ineffable things of the Blessed 
Trinity and the Incarnation, vomited out many heresies and 
bristled with errors. In other words, Walter of St. Victor was a 
reactionary who does not represent the genuine spirit of St. Victor, 
of Hugh the German and Richard the Scotsman, with its reasoned 
combination of philosophy, dialectical theology and mysticism. 
In any case the hands of the clock could not be put back, for 
dialectical theology had come to stay and in the following century 
it attained its triumph in the great systematic syntheses. 

1 De gratia coniemplationis , 1, 3, 7; P.L., 196, 66CD, 72C. 

1 De gratia coniemplationis, i, 3, 9; P.L., 196, xioD. 


Albigensians and Cathari—Amalric of Bene—David of Dinant. 

1. In the thirteenth century St. Dominic preached against the 
Albigensians. This sect, as well as that of the Cathari, was already 
widespread in southern France and in Italy during the twelfth 
century. The principal tenet of these sects was a dualism 
of the Manichaean type, which came into western Europe 
by way of Byzantium. There exist two ultimate Principles, 
the one good and the other bad, of which the former caused the 
soul, the latter the body and matter in general. From this hypo¬ 
thesis they drew the conclusion that the body is evil and has to be 
overcome by asceticism and also that it is wrong to marry and 
propagate the human race. It may seem strange that a sect whose 
members held such doctrines should flourish; but it must be 
remembered that it was considered sufficient if the comparatively 
few perfecti led this ascetic existence, while their less exalted 
followers could safely lead a more ordinary life, if they received 
the blessing of one of the 'perfect' before death. It must also be 
remembered, when one is considering the attention which the 
Albigensians and Cathari received from the ecclesiastical and civil 
powers, that the condemnation of procreation and of marriage as 
evil leads naturally to the conclusion that concubinage and 
marriage are on much the same footing. Moreover, the Cathari 
denied the legitimacy of oaths and of all war. It was, then, only 
natural that the sects were looked on as constituting a danger to 
Christian civilisation. The sect of the Waldenses, which still exists, 
goes back to the Catharist movement and was originally a sect of 
dualists, though it was absorbed by the Reformation and adopted 
anti-Romanism and anti-sacerdotalism as its chief tenets. 1 

2. Amalric of Bene was bom near Chartres and died as a 
professor of theology at Paris about 1206/7. St. Thomas Aquinas 2 
observes that 'others said that God is the formal principle of all 
things, and this is said to have been the opinion of the Amalricians', 
while Martin of Poland says of Amalric that he held God to be the 

1 The sources for our knowledge of the doctrine of the Albigensians are not rich, 
and the history of th^ movement is somewhat obscure. 

* S.T., la, 3, 8, in corpore. 


essence of all creatures and the existence of all creatures. Appar¬ 
ently he interpreted in a pantheistic sense the teaching of John 
Scotus Eriugena, as well as the phrases used by Theodoric of 
Chartres and Clarembald of Arras, even going so far as to say 
that the Persons of the Trinity are creatures, that all three became 
incarnate and that every single man is as much God as was Christ. 
From this doctrine some of his followers seem to have drawn the 
conclusion that sin is an unreal concept, on the ground that, if 
every man is divine, there can be no question of his sinning. 
Whether Amalric consciously upheld real pantheism or not, he 
was in any case accused of heresy and had to retract, his doctrines 
being condemned in 1210, after his death, along with those of 
John Scotus Eriugena. 

3. If for Amalric of Bene God is the form of all things, for 
David of Dinant He was identified with prime matter, in the sense 
of the potentiality of all things. Very little is known of the life of 
David of Dinant, or of the sources from which he derived his 
doctrines, or of the doctrines themselves, since his writings, 
condemned in 1210 and forbidden at Paris in 1215, have perished. 
St. Albert the Great 1 ascribes to him a De tomis, hoc est de divisioni- 
bus, while the documents of the Council of Paris (1210) ascribe to 
him a Quaterni or Quaternuli, though Geyer, for example, supposes 
that these two titles refer to the same work, which consisted of a 
number of sections or paragraphs (quaterni). In any case we have 
to rely for our knowledge of his doctrine on quotations and reports 
by St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas and Nicholas of Cusa. 

In the Summa Theological St. Thomas states that David of 
Dinant 'very foolishly affirmed that God is prime matter’. Else¬ 
where 3 he says that David divided things into three classes: bodies, 
souls and eternal substances, bodies being constituted of Hyle , 
souls of Nous or mind, and the eternal substances of God. These 
three constituent sources are the three indivisibles, and the three 
indivisibles are one and the same. Thus all bodies would be modes 
of one indivisible being, Hyle , and all souls would be modes of one 
indivisible being, Nous; but these two indivisible beings are one, 
and were identified by David with God, who is the one Substance. 
Tt is manifest (according to David) that there is only one substance 
not only of all bodies, but also of all souls, and that this substance 
is nothing else but God himself. ... It is clear, then, that God is 

1 S.T., la, 4, 20, 2, quaest . incidetts. 1 la, 3, 8, incorpore. 

* 2 Sent., 17, 1, 1. 


the substance of all bodies and all souls, and that God and Hyle 
and Mens are one substance,’ 1 

David of Dinant tried to prove this position dialectically. For 
two kinds of substances to differ from one another they must 
differ in virtue of a difference, and the presence of a difference 
implies the presence of a common element. Now, if matter 
differed from mind, there would have to be a differentia in prime 
matter, i.e. a form and a matter, and in this case we should go on 
to infinity.* St. Thomas puts the argument this way.® When 
things in no way differ from one another, they are the same. Now, 
whatever things differ from one another, differ in virtue of differen¬ 
tiae, and in this case they must be composite. But God and prime 
matter are altogether simple, not composite things. Therefore they 
cannot differ in any way from one another, and must consequently 
be the same. To this argument St. Thomas replies that composite 
things such as, for example, man and horse, do indeed differ from 
one another in virtue of differentiae, but that simple things do not: 
simple things should be said, strictly speaking, to be diverse 
[diver sa esse), not to be different [differre). In other words he 
accuses David of playing with terms, of choosing, to express the 
diversity of God and matter, a term which implies composition in 
God and matter. 

Why did St. Albert and St. Thomas think it worth while giving 
such attention to a pantheistic system, the theoretical support of 
which was more or less a dialectical quibble? Probably the reason 
was not so much that David of Dinant exercised an extensive 
influence as that they feared that the heresy of David might 
compromise Aristotle. The sources from which David drew his 
theories constitute a disputed point, but it is generally agreed that 
he drew on the exposition of ancient materialism given in the 
Physics and Metaphysics, and it is clear that he utilises the 
Aristotelian ideas of prime matter and form. In 1210 the same 
Council of Paris which condemned David’s writings forbad also 
the public and private teaching of the natural philosophy of 
Aristotle in the University. Most probably, then, St. Thomas 
wished to show that David of Dinant’s monism by no means 
followed from the teaching of Aristotle; and in his reply to the 
objection already cited he expressly refers to the Metaphysics. 

1 S. Alb. M., S.T., Ila, t. 12, q. 72, membr. 4, a. 2, n. 4. 

‘ Ibid., Ia, t. 4, q. 20, membr. 2; In Melaph., t. 4. c. 7. 

• S.T., Ia, 3, 8. ob. 3. 






Reasons for discussing Islamic philosophy—Origins of Islamic 
philosophy—A Ifarabi—A vicenna—A verroes—Dante and the 
Arabian philosophers. 

i. To come upon a chapter on the philosophy of the Arabs in a 
work devoted to mediaeval thought, in the sense of the thought of 
mediaeval Christendom, might astonish a reader who was making 
his first acquaintance with the philosophy of the Middle Ages; but 
the influence, positive and negative, of Islamic philosophy on that 
of Christendom is now a matter of common knowledge among 
historians, and one can scarcely avoid saying something on the 
subject. The Arabian philosophy was one of the principal channels 
whereby the complete Aristotle was introduced to the West; but 
the great philosophers of mediaeval Islam, men like Avicenna and 
Averroes, were more than mere transmitters or even commenta¬ 
tors; they changed and developed the philosophy of Aristotle, 
more or less according to the spirit of neo-Platonism, and several 
of them interpreted Aristotle on important points in a sense which, 
whether exegetically correct or not, was incompatible with the 
Christian theology and faith. 1 Aristotle, therefore, when he 
appeared to mediaeval Christian thinkers in the shape given him 
by Averroes, for example, naturally appeared as an enemy of 
Christian wisdom, Christian philosophy in the wide sense. This 
fact explains to a large extent the opposition offered to Aristote- 
lianism in the thirteenth century by many upholders of the 
Christian tradition who looked on the pagan philosopher as the foe 
of Augustine, Anselm and the great philosophers of Christianity. 
The opposition varied in degree, from a rather crude dislike and 
fear of novelty, to the reasoned opposition of a thinker like St. 
Bonaventure; but it becomes easier to understand the opposition 

1 It is true, however, that some Islamic philosophers, like Avicenna, facilitated 
through their writings a Christian interpretation of Aristotle. 



if one remembers that a Moslem philosopher such as Averroes 
claimed to give the right interpretation of Aristotle and that this 
interpretation was, on important questions, at variance with 
Christian belief. It explains too the attention paid to the Islamic 
philosophers by those (particularly, of course, St. Thomas Aquinas) 
who saw in the Aristotelian system not only a valuable instrument 
for the dialectical expression of Christian theology but also the 
true philosophy, for such thinkers had to show that Aristotelianism 
did not necessarily involve the interpretation given to it by the 
Moslems: they had to dissociate themselves from Averroes and to 
distinguish their Aristotelianism from his. 

In order, then, fully to understand the polemics of St. Thomas 
Aquinas and others, it is necessary to know something of mediaeval 
Islamic philosophy; but it is also necessary for a connected reason, 
namely that there arose in Paris a School of philosophers who 
claimed to represent integral Aristotelianism, the chief figure of 
this School being the celebrated opponent of St. Thomas, Siger of 
Brabant. These 'integral 1 Aristotelians, the genuine Aristotelians 
as they thought themselves to be, meant by genuine Aristote¬ 
lianism the system of Aristotle as interpreted by Averroes, the 
Commentator par excellence . In order, therefore, to understand 
this school and an important phase of the controversies at Paris, 
it is obviously necessary to be acquainted with the place of 
Averroes in the history of philosophy and with his doctrine. 

But, though some treatment of mediaeval Islamic philosophy 
must be given, it does not come within the scope of this book to 
discuss the Islamic philosophy for its own sake. It has indeed its 
own peculiar interest (for example, its relations to Islamic theology, 
their attempted reconciliation and the tension between them, as 
well as the relation of Islamic thought to mysticism in the Islamic 
world, and of Islamic philosophy to Islamic culture in general, 
have their own intrinsic interest), but the reader must expect here 
no more than a brief sketch of Islamic philosophy in the mediaeval 
period, a treatment of it less for its own sake than in function of 
its influence on the thought of mediaeval Christendom. This 
perhaps rather one-sided treatment is not designed to belittle the 
achievements of Moslem philosophers, nor does it involve a denial 
of the intrinsic interest of Islamic philosophy for its own sake: it is 
simply dictated by the general purpose and scope of this book, as 
well as, of course, by considerations of space. 

2. If Islamic philosophy was connected with the philosophy of 


Christendom in the way just mentioned, it was also connected with 
Christianity in its origins, owing to the fact that it was Christian 
Syrians who first translated Aristotle and other ancient philo¬ 
sophers into Arabic. The first stage consisted of the translation of 
Greek works into Syriac at the school of Edessa in Mesopotamia, 
which was founded by St. Ephrem of Nisibis in 363 and was closed 
by the Emperor Zeno in 489 because of the Nestorianism which 
prevailed there. At Edessa some of the works of Aristotle, princi¬ 
pally the logical works, as well as Porphyry’s Isagoge , were 
translated into Syriac, and this work was continued in Persia, at 
Nisibis and Gandisapora, whither the scholars betook themselves 
on the closure of the school. Thus works of Aristotle and Plato 
were translated into Persian. In the sixth century works of 
Aristotle and Porphyry and the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius 
were translated into Syriac at the Monophysite schools of Syria. 

The second stage consisted in the translation of the Syriac 
translations into Arabic. Even before the time of Mohammed 
(569-632) there had been a number of Nestorian Christians who 
worked among the Arabs, mainly as physicians, and when the 
'AbbSsid dynasty replaced that of the Ommaiades in 750, Syrian 
scholars were invited to the Arab court at Baghdad. Medical 
works were translated first of all; but after a time philosophical 
works were also translated, and in 832 a school of translators was 
established at Baghdad, an institution which produced Arabic 
versions of Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, Por¬ 
phyry and Ammonius* Plato's Republic and Laws were also 
translated, as well as (in the first half of the ninth century) the 
so-called Theology of Aristotle, which consisted of a compilation of 
the Enneads (4-6) of Plotinus, erroneously attributed to Aristotle. 
To this must be added the fact that the Liber de Causis, really the 
Institutio Theologica of Proclus, was also attributed to Aristotle. 
These false attributions, as well as the translation into Arabic of 
neo-Platonic commentators on Aristotle, helped to popularise 
among the Arabs a neo-Platonic interpretation of the Aristotelian 
system, though other influences, as well as Aristotle and the neo- 
Platonists, contributed to the formation of Islamic philosophy, 
e.g. the Islamic religion itself and the influence of Oriental religious 
thought, such as that of Persia. 

3. The Moslem philosophers may be divided into two groups, 
the eastern group and the western group. In this section I shall 
treat briefly of three thinkers belonging to the eastern group. 



(i) Alfarabi , who belonged to the school of Baghdad and died 
about 950, is a good example of a thinker upon whom the influences 
mentioned above made themselves felt. Thus he helped to intro¬ 
duce the Islamic cultured world to the logic of Aristotle, while by 
his classification of the departments of philosophy and theology 
he made philosophy self-conscious, as it were, marking it off from 
theology. Logic is a propaedeutic and preparation for philosophy 
proper, which Alfarabi divided into physics, comprising the parti¬ 
cular sciences (psychology being included and the theory of know 
ledge being treated of in psychology) and metaphysics (physics 
and metaphysics being the two branches of theoretical philosophy) 
and ethics or practical philosophy. His scheme for theology 
included as sections (1) omnipotence and justice of God; (2) the 
unity and other attributes of God; (3) the doctrine of sanctions in 
the next life; (4) and (5) the individual’s rights and the social 
relations of the Moslem. By making philosophy a separate 
province, then, Alfarabi did not mean to supplant or undermine 
the Islamic theology: rather did he place schematisation and 
logical form at the service of theology. 

In addition, Alfarabi utilised Aristotelian arguments in proving 
the existence of God. Thus, on the supposition that the things of 
the world are passively moved, an idea which fit f ed in well with 
Islamic theology, he argued that they must receive their move¬ 
ment from a first Mover, God. Again, the things of this world are 
contingent, they do not exist of necessity: their essence does not 
involve their existence, as is shown by the fact that they come 
into being and pass away. From this it follows that they have 
received their existence, and ultimately one must admit a Being 
which exists essentially, necessarily, and is the Cause of the 
existence of all contingent beings. 

On the other hand, when it comes to the general system of 
Alfarabi, the neo-Platonic influence is manifest. Thus the theme 
of emanation is employed to show how from the ultimate Deity or 
One there proceed the Intelligence and the World-Soul, from the 
thoughts or ideas of which proceeds the Cosmos, from the higher 
or outer spheres to the lower or inner spheres. Bodies are composed 
of matter and form. The intelligence of man is illuminated by the 
cosmic intelligence, which is the active intellect of man (the voO; 
$7 tIxt7}to< of Alexander of Aphrodisias). Moreover, the illumina¬ 
tion of the human intellect is the explanation of the fact that our 
concepts ‘fit* things, since the Ideas in God are at once the 


exemplar and source of the concepts in the human mind and of 
the forms in things. 

This doctrine of illumination is connected, not only with neo¬ 
platonism, but also with Oriental mysticism. Alfarabi himself 
became attached to the mystical school or sect of the Sufis, and 
his philosophy had a religious orientation. The highest task of 
man is to know God, and, just as the general process of the 
universe is a flowing out from God and a return to God, so should 
man, who proceeds from God in the einanative process and who is 
enlightened by God, strive after the return to and likeness with 

(ii) The greatest Moslem philosopher of the eastern group is 
without a doubt Avicenna or Ibn Sind (980-1037), the real creator 
of a Scholastic system in the Islamic world. 1 A Persian by birth, 
born near Bokhara, he received his education in the Arab tongue, 
and most of his works, which were extremely numerous, were 
written in Arabic. A precocious boy, he learnt in succession the 
Koran, Arabic literature, geometry, jurisprudence, logic. Out¬ 
stripping his instructors, he studied by himself theology, physics, 
mathematics and medicine, and at sixteen years of age he was 
already practising as a doctor. He then devoted a year and a half 
to the study of philosophy and logic, but it was only when he 
chanced upon a commentary by Alfarabi that he was able to 
understand to his satisfaction the Metaphysics of Aristotle, which 
he had read, he tells us, forty times without being able to under¬ 
stand it. The rest of his life was a busy and adventurous one, as 
he acted as Vizir to several Sultans and practised medicine, expe¬ 
riencing in his travels the ups and downs of life and the favour and 
disfavour of princes, but being always the philosopher, pursuing 
his studies and writings wherever he was, even in prison and on 
horseback. He died at Hamadan at the age of fifty-seven, after 
performing his ablutions, repenting of his sins, distributing abun¬ 
dant alms and freeing his slaves. His principal philosophical work 
is the As-Sifa, known in the Middle Ages as the Sufficientiae, which 
comprised logic, physics (including the natural sciences), mathe¬ 
matics, psychology and metaphysics. The Najdt was a collection 
of texts, taken from the first work and arranged in a different 

Avicenna's division of philosophy in the wide sense into logic, 

1 The name Avicenna, by which Ibn SIna was known to the mediaeval world, 
comes from the Hebrew version, Aven Sina. 



the propaedeutic to philosophy, speculative philosophy (physics, 
mathematics and theology) and practical philosophy (ethics, eco¬ 
nomics and politics) offers no remarkable features, save that 
theology is divided into first theology (equivalent to ontology and 
natural theology) and second theology (involving Islamic themes), 
and this marks off Islamic theology from the Greek. But his 
metaphysic, in spite of its borrowing both from Aristotle and from 
neo-Platonism, shows features of its own, which make it plain 
that, however much he borrowed from former philosophers, 
Avicenna had thought out his system carefully and independently 
and had welded it into a system of a peculiar stamp. For instance, 
although he is at one with Aristotle in assigning the study of 
being as being to metaphysics, Avicenna employs an un-Aristote- 
lian illustration to show that the mind necessarily apprehends the 
idea of being, though it is acquired normally through experience. 
Imagine a man suddenly created, who cannot see or hear, who is 
floating in space and whose members are so disposed that they 
cannot touch one another. On the supposition that he cannot 
exercise the senses and acquire the notion of being through sight 
or touch, will he thereby be unable to form the notion? No, 
because he will be conscious of and affirm his own existence, so 
that, even if he cannot acquire the notion of being through external 
experience, he will at least acquire it through self-consciousness. 1 

In Avicenna's eyes the notion of necessity is also a primary 
notion, for to him all beings are necessary. It is necessary, how¬ 
ever, to distinguish two kinds of necessity. A particular object in 
the world is not necessary of itself: its essence does not involve 
existence necessarily, as is shown by the fact that it comes into 
being and passes away; but it is necessary in the sense that its 
existence is determined by the necessary action of an external 
cause. Accordingly a contingent being means, for Avicenna, a 
being the existence of which is due, not to the essence of the being 
itself, but to the necessary action of an external cause. Such 
beings are indeed caused and so ‘contingent’, but none the less the 
action of the cause is determined. 

This leads him on to argue that the chain of causes cannot be 
infinite, since then there would be no reason for the existence of 
anything, but that there must be a first cause which is itself 
uncaused. This uncaused Being, the necessary Being, cannot 
receive its essence from another, nor can its existence form part 
1 1, 281 and 363. 


of its essence, since composition of parts would involve an anterior 
uniting cause: essence and existence must therefore be identical 
in the necessary Being. This ultimate Being is necessary of itself, 
whereas 'contingent 1 beings are not necessary of themselves but 
necessary through another, so that the concept 'being', as applied 
to necessary and contingent being, has not the same sense. They 
are not, then, species of one genus; but rather does Being belong 
par excellence , properly and primarily, to the necessary Being 
and is predicated of contingent being only secondarily and 

Closely allied with the distinction between the possible and the 
necessary is the distinction between potentiality and act. Poten¬ 
tiality, as Aristotle said, is the principle of change into another as 
other, and this principle may exist either in the agent (active 
potency) or in the patient (passive potency). Moreover, there are 
degrees of potency and act, ranging between the lower limit, pure 
potentiality, prime matter, and the upper limit, pure act, the 
necessary Being, though Avicenna does not use the phrase 'Pure 
Act' quoad verbum . From this position Avicenna proceeds to show 
that God is Truth, Goodness, Love and Life. For example, the 
Being which is always in act, without potentiality or privation, 
must be absolute Goodness, and since the divine attributes are 
ontologically indistinguishable, the divine Goodness must be 
identical with absolute Love. 

As God is absolute Goodness, He necessarily tends to diffuse His 
goodness, to radiate it, and this means that He creates necessarily. 
As God is the necessary Being, all His attributes must be necessary: 
He is, therefore, necessarily Creator. This in turn involves the 
conclusion that creation is from eternity, for, if God is necessarily 
Creator and God is eternal, creation must be eternal. Moreover, if 
God creates by the necessity of His Nature, it follows also that 
there is no free choice in creation, that God could not create 
otherwise or create other things than He actually creates. But 
God can produce immediately only by a being like Himself: it is 
impossible for God to create material things directly. The logically 
first being to proceed from God is, therefore, the first Intelligence. 
This Intelligence is created, in the sense that it proceeds from God: 
it receives, then, its existence, and in this way duality begins. 
Whereas in the One there is no duality, in the primary Intelligence 
there is a duality of essence and existence, in that existence is 
received, while there is also a duality of knowledge, in that the 


primary Intelligence knows the One or God as necessary and itself 
as 'possible*. In this way Avicenna deduces the ten Intelligences 
which exhibit a growing multiplicity and so bridges the gap 
between the unity of God and the multiplicity of creation. The 
tenth Intelligence is the 'giver of forms', which are received in 
prime matter, pure potentiality (or rather potentiality 'deprived 
of' form, and so, in a sense, 'evil'), and so rendered capable of 
multiplication within the species. The separate Intelligences can 
differ from one another only specifically, in virtue of their greater 
or less proximity to the One and the decreasing simplicity in the 
process of emanation; but, as matter is the principle of individua¬ 
tion, the same specific form can be multiplied in a plurality of 
individual concrete objects, though prime matter has first to be 
taken out of its state of indetermination and disposed for the 
reception of specific form, first through the forma corporeitatis and 
then through the action of external causes which predispose matter 
for the reception of one particular specific form. 

The tenth Intelligence has another function to perform besides 
that of Daior formarum , for it also exercises the function of the 
active intellect in man. In his analysis of abstraction Avicenna 
will not credit the human intellect as such with the final act of 
abstraction, the apprehension of the universal in a state of pure 
intelligibility, as this would mean that the intellect passes from a 
state of potentiality to act entirely by its own power, whereas no 
agent can proceed from passive potency to act except under the 
influence of an agent external to itself but like itself. He distin¬ 
guished, therefore, the active and passive intellects, but made the 
active intellect a separate and unitary intelligence which illumines 
the human intellect or confers on it its intellectual and abstract 
grasp of essences (the essence or universal post rent, to be distin¬ 
guished from the essence ante rent and in re). 

Avicenna's idea of necessary creation and his denial that the 
One has direct knowledge of the multiplicity of concrete objects 
set him at variance with the theology of the Koran; but he tried, 
so far as he could, to reconcile his Aristotelian-neo-Platonist system 
with orthodox Islam. For example, he did not deny the immor¬ 
tality of the human soul, in spite of his doctrine concerning the 
separateness of the active intellect, and he maintained a doctrine 
of sanctions in the after life, though he interpreted this in an 
intellectualist manner, reward consisting in the knowledge of 
purely intelligible objects, punishment in the deprivation of such 


knowledge. 1 Again, though his analysis and explanation of 
creation and the relation of the world to God necessarily involved 
a theory of emanation and, in this respect, tended towards 
pantheism, he tried to safeguard himself from pantheism by 
affirming the distinction between essence and existence in all 
beings which proceed, immediately or mediately, from God. Pos¬ 
sibly the Islamic doctrine of the divine omnipotence, when inter¬ 
preted 'speculatively*, tends to pantheism, and it may well be that 
some fundamental principles of Avicenna's system would favour 
pantheism; but he was certainly no pantheist by intention. 

When portions of the writings of Avicenna were translated into 
Latin in the twelfth century, the Christian world found itself faced 
for the first time with a closely knit system which was bound to 
exercise a strong attraction on certain minds. Thus Gundissalinus 
(d. 1151) translated into Latin the Spanish translation made 
by Joannes Hispanus (Avendeath) and utilised the thought of 
Avicenna in his De Anima , following the Avicennian psychology 
(and citing the latter's allegory of the 'flying man’), though he left 
Avicenna for Augustine by making the active intellect, as source 
of illumination, identical with God. Moreover, in his De Proces - 
stone Mundi he attempted to reconcile the cosmogony of Avicenna 
with Christian doctrine, though his example in this matter was not 
followed. Before the entire Metaphysics of Aristotle became avail¬ 
able, uncertainty reigned as to which doctrines were to be attri¬ 
buted to Avicenna and which to Aristotle. Thus Roger Bacon 
thought that Avicenna must have followed Aristotle throughout, 
though he (Bacon) had not got books M and N of the Metaphysics 
and so could not check the truth or untruth of this supposition. 
The result was that William of Auvergne (died c. 1249), the first 
vigorous opponent of Avicenna, attributed the cosmogony of 
Avicenna to Aristotle himself. This cosmogony, said William, was 
erroneous, in that it admitted intermediaries in the process of 
creation, thus allowing to creatures a divine power, denied the 
divine freedom, asserted the eternity of the world, made matter 
the principle of individuation and regarded the separate active 

1 It should be noted that it was the Averroistic doctrine of the unicity of the 
passive or possible intellect which necessarily involved the denial of personal 
immortality. The doctrine of the unicity of the active intellect does not necessarily 
involve such a denial, whether the active intellect is identified with a subordinate 
Intelligence or with God in His function as illuminator. As for Aristotle, he may 
not have believed in personal immortality himself, but the rejection of personal 
immortality does not necessarily follow from his doctrine of the active intellect, 
whereas it does follow from the doctrine of Averroes. On this point the positions 
of Avicenna and Averroes must be clearly distinguished. 


intellect as the efficient cause of human souls. None the less 
William himself followed Avicenna by introducing into Latin 
Scholasticism the distinction between essence and existence. 
Moreover, denying Avicenna's doctrine of the active intellect, he 
pretty well identified it with God. Other thinkers, such as 
Alexander of Hales, John of la Rochelle and St. Albert, while 
denying the doctrine of a separate active intellect, made use of 
Avicenna's theory of abstraction and of the necessity of illumina¬ 
tion, whereas Roger Bacon and Roger Marston found Avicenna's 
error to consist only in not identifying the separate and illuminat¬ 
ing active intellect with God. Without going any further into the 
question of Avicenna's influence, which would require a distinct 
monograph, one can say that he influenced Latin Scholasticism in 
regard to at least three themes, that of knowledge and illumination, 
that of the relation of essence and existence, and that of matter as 
the principle of individuation. 1 Criticism of Avicenna by a Latin 
Scholastic does not mean, of course, that the Scholastic learnt 
nothing from Avicenna. For instance, St. Thomas found it 
necessary to criticise the Moslem philosopher's treatment of possi¬ 
bility, 2 but that does not mean that St. Thomas did not develop 
his own position partly through a consideration of Avicenna's 
doctrine, even if it is difficult to assess the precise degree of 
influence exercised by the latter's writings on the greatest of the 
Scholastics. Scotus, however, was much more influenced by 
Avicenna than was St. Thomas, though he certainly could not be 
called with propriety a disciple of Avicenna. 

(iii) Algazel (1058-1111), who lectured for a time at Baghdad, 
opposed the views of Alfarabi and Avicenna from the viewpoint 
of Mohammedan orthodoxy. In his Maqdsid or Intentiones Philo- 
sophorutn he summed up the views of these two philosophers, and 
this exposition, translated into Latin by Gundissahnus, gave the 
impression, when taken by itself, that Algazel agreed with the 
opinions expressed. Thus William of Auvergne coupled together 
as objects of attack the 'followers of Aristotle', Alfarabi, Algazel 
and Avicenna, being unaware of the fact that Algazel had pro¬ 
ceeded to criticise the systems of the philosophers in his Destrudio 
philosophorum , 8 which tried to show how the philosophers contra¬ 
dicted themselves. This book elicited later from Averroes a 

1 On Avicenna's influence, cf. Roland-Gosselin, commentary on the De enle et 
essentia, pp. 59 and 150. 

1 Cf. De Pot., 5, 3; Contra Gent., 2, 30. 

* More properly Incoherentia philosoyhorum. 


Destructio desiructionis philosophorum . In his Revivification of the 
Religious Sciences he gave his positive views, defending the 
orthodox doctrine of the creation of the world in time and out of 
nothing against Avicenna's ideas of emanation and of the eternity 
of the world. He defended also the doctrine of God’s universal 
causality, making the connection between cause and effect to 
depend on the divine power, not on any causal activity on the 
part of creatures. The philosopher sees consequence or constant 
conjunction and concludes to the relation of cause and effect, 
whereas in truth the following of one event on another is simply 
due to the power and action of God. In other words he maintained 
an occasionalistic doctrine. 

Algazel was very far from being simply a philosopher who wished 
to counteract the unorthodox tendencies of his Hellcnising prede¬ 
cessors: he was also an eminent Sufi, a mystic and spiritual writer. 
Leaving his work at Baghdad he retired into Syria, where he lived 
a life of asceticism and contemplation. Sometimes indeed he 
emerged from his retirement and in any case he had disciples: he 
even founded a kind of theological college and a school of Sufism 
at his place of retirement, Tus; but the major interest of his life 
was the revival of religion, in the sense of mysticism. Drawing not 
only on previous Islamic sources, but utilising neo-Platonic ideas, 
and even ideas from Judaism and Christianity, he built up a 
system of spirituality which was personalist, i.e. non-pantheistic, 
in character. Some of Algazel’s expressions would seem at first 
sight to imply or involve pantheism, but his neo-Platonism was 
put at the service of religious mysticism rather than of speculation. 
It is not that he tends to identify the world with God, but rather 
that his fusion of the Islamic doctrines of predestination and 
divine omni-causality with strongly emphasised religious mysticism 
leads him into a kind of panentheism. The Semitic monotheism, 
when seen in the light of neo-Platonism and fused with mysticism, 
could lead him probably in no other direction. In the field of 
purely philosophical speculation he shows a somewhat sceptical 
attitude and he represents the protest of religious mysticism 
against rationalism as well as that of Islamic theology against 
Aristotelian philosophy. 

4. The background of the Moslem philosophers of the West was 
provided by the brilliant Islamic civilisation which grew up in 
Spain in the tenth century and which, at that period, was so 
greatly superior to what western Christendom had to offer. The 


first philosopher of the western group was Ibn Masarrah (d. 931), 
who adopted ideas from the Pseudo-Empedocles, while Avempace 
or Ibn Bajja (d. 1138) and Abubacer or Ibn Tufail (d. 1185) 
represented mystical tendencies; but the greatest figure of this 
group is undoubtedly Averroes, who occupies that prominent 
position in the western group which Avicenna represents in the 
eastern group. 

Averroes or Ibn RuSd (the Commentator of the Latin Scholastics) 
was bom at C6rdoba in 1126, the son of a judge. After studying 
theology, jurisprudence, medicine, mathematics and philosophy, 
he occupied judicial posts, first at Seville and afterwards at 
C6rdoba, becoming physician to the Caliph in 1182. Subsequently 
he fell into disfavour with the Caliph al-Mansur and was banished 
from court. He later crossed to Morocco, dying there in 1198. 

Being convinced that the genius of Aristotle was the final 
culmination of the human intellect, Averroes naturally devoted a 
great deal of energy to the composition of commentaries. These 
fall into three classes: (i) the lesser or ‘middle’ commentaries, in 
which Averroes gives the content of Aristotle’s doctrine, adding 
his own explanations and developments in such a way that it is 
not always easy to distinguish what comes from Aristotle and what 
from Averroes; (ii) the greater commentaries, in which Averroes 
gives first a portion of the actual text of Aristotle and then adds 
his own commentary; and (iii) the little commentaries (para¬ 
phrases or compendia), in which he gives the conclusions arrived 
at by Aristotle, omitting proofs and historical references, and which 
were designed for students unable to go to the sources or larger 
commentaries. (Apparently he composed the middle commen¬ 
taries and the compendia before the greater commentaries.) The 
entire Organon of Aristotle, in the lesser commentary and in the 
compendium, is extant, as also Latin translations of all three 
classes of commentary for the Posterior Analytics , the Physics , the 
De Caelo t the De Anima and the Metaphysics . In addition to these 
and other commentaries in Latin translations the Christian 
Scholastics possessed Averroes’s answer to Algazel (i.e. the Destructio 
desiructionis philosophorum)] several logical works, a letter on the 
connection between the abstract intelligence and man, a work on 
the beatitude of the soul, etc. 

The metaphysical scale reaches from pure matter as the lowest 
limit to pure Act, God, as the highest limit, between these limits 
being the objects composed of potency and act, which form Natura 


naturata. (The phrases of the Latin translation, Naiura naturans 
and Naiura naturata , reappear eventually in the system of 
Spinoza.) Prime matter, as equivalent to non-being, as pure 
potentiality and the absence of all determination, cannot be the 
term of the creative act: it is, therefore, co-eternal with God. God, 
however, draws or educes the forms of material things from the 
potency of pure matter, and creates the Intelligences, ten in 
number, connected extrinsically with the spheres, so that the 
Avicennian emanation-theory is avoided and real pantheism is 
excluded. The order of the creation or generation of things is, 
however, determined. 

Nevertheless, even if Averroes's rejection of emanation makes 
him in a sense more orthodox than Avicenna, he did not follow 
Avicenna in accepting personal immortality. Averroes did indeed 
follow Themistius and other commentators in holding that the 
intellectus materialis is the same substance as the intellectus agens 
and that both survive death, but he followed Alexander of 
Aphrodisias in holding that this substance is a separate and 
unitary Intelligence. (It is the Intelligence of the moon, the 
lowest sphere.) The individual passive intellect in the individual 
man becomes, under the action of the active intellect, the 'acquired 
intellect', which is absorbed by the active intellect in such a way 
that, although it survives bodily death, it does so not as a personal, 
individual existent, but as a moment in the universal and common 
intelligence of the human species. There is, therefore, immortality, 
but there is no personal immortality. This view was earnestly 
combated by St. Thomas Aquinas and other Scholastics, though it 
was maintained by the Latin Averroists as a philosophical truth. 

More interesting, however, than Averroes's particular philoso¬ 
phical doctrine is his notion of the general relation of philosophy 
to theology. Holding, as he did, that Aristotle was the completer 
of human science, 1 the model of human perfection and the author of 
a system which is the supreme truth, interpreting Aristotle as 
holding the unicity of the active intellect and accepting the 
doctrine of the eternity of matter, Averroes had necessarily to 
attempt a reconciliation of his philosophical ideas with orthodox 
Islamic theology, especially as those were not wanting who were 
ready to accuse him of heresy because of his devotion to a pagan 
thinker. He accordingly attempted this reconciliation by means 
of the so-called ‘double truth' theory. This does not mean that, 

1 Dt Anima, 3, 2. 



according to Averroes, a proposition can be true in philosophy and 
false in theology or vice versa : his theory is that one and the same 
truth is understood clearly in philosophy and expressed allegori¬ 
cally in theology. The scientific formulation of truth is achieved 
only in philosophy, but the same truth is expressed in theology, 
only in a different manner. The picture-teaching of the Koran 
expresses the truth in a manner intelligible to the ordinary man, 
to the unlettered, whereas the philosopher strips away the allegori¬ 
cal husk and attains the truth 'unvarnished', free from the 
trappings of Vorstellung. Averroes’s idea of the relation of philo¬ 
sophy to theology resembles somewhat that of Hegel, and it would 
be unacceptable, and was unacceptable, to the orthodox Islamic 
theologian; but it was not the absurd idea that one proposition 
can be true in philosophy and the diametrically opposite proposi¬ 
tion true in theology. What Averroes did was to make theology 
subordinate to philosophy, to make the latter the judge of the 
former, so that it belongs to the philosopher to decide what 
theological doctrines need to be allegorically interpreted and in 
what way they should be interpreted. This view was accepted by 
the Latin Averroists, and it was this view, moreover, which drew 
upon Averroes, and upon philosophy generally, the hostility of the 
Islamic theologians. In regard to statements attributed to 
Averroes which taken literally imply that one proposition, for 
example, that the active intellect is numerically single, is true in 
philosophy and false in theology, it has been suggested that this 
was simply a sarcastic way of saying that the theological doctrine 
is nonsense. When Averroes says that some proposition is true in 
the fideistic theology of the conservatives, who rejected philosophy, 
he means that it is 'true' in the School of the enemies of science, 
i.e. that it is simply false. He had no use for the traditionalists as 
the traditionalists had no use for him, and his attitude in this 
matter led to the prohibition in Islamic Spain of the study of 
Greek philosophy and to the burning of philosophic works. 

5. Of the influence of Averroes in Latin Christendom I shall 
speak later; but it may be of interest to add a word here on the 
attitude of Dante (1265-1321) towards the Arabian philosophers. 1 
The question of Dante's attitude to the Arab philosophers arose 
when scholars began to ask themselves seriously and without 
prejudice why Dante, who in the Divina Commedia places 
Mohammed in hell, not only placed Averroes and Avicenna in 

1 For some further remarks on this subject see pp. 439-40. 



Limbo, but also placed the Latin Averroist Siger of Brabant in 
heaven and even went so far as to put his eulogium into the 
mouth of St. Thomas Aquinas, who was a doughty opponent of 
Siger. Obviously Dante was treating these men as philosophers, 
and it was because of this fact that he placed the two Islamic 
thinkers as high in the scale as he could: as they were not Christians, 
he did not consider that he could release them from Inferno alto¬ 
gether, and so he placed them in Limbo. Siger on the other hand 
was a Christian, and so Dante placed him in heaven. That he 
made St. Thomas speak his praises and that he put him on the 
left of St. Thomas, while St. Albert the Great was on Aquinas's 
right, is explicable if we remember that the Thomist system 
presupposes a philosophy which is built up by natural reason alone 
and that to build up a philosophy by reason alone was precisely 
what Siger of Brabant professed to do: it is not necessary to 
suppose that Dante approved all Siger's notions, but he takes him 
as the symbol of 'pure philosophy'. 

However, why did Dante single out Avicenna, Averroes and 
Siger of Brabant? Was it simply because they were philosophers 
or did Dante owe something himself to the Moslems? It has been 
shown by Bruno Nardi, 1 and the theme has been resumed by Asin 
Palacios, 2 that Dante owed to the systems of Alfarabi, Avicenna, 
Algazel and Averroes important points in his philosophy, for 
example, the light-doctrine of God, the theory of the Intelligences, 
the influence of the celestial spheres, the idea that only the intel¬ 
lectual part of the soul is directly and properly created, the need 
of illumination for intellection, etc. Some of these ideas were 
found in the Augustinian tradition, it is true; but it has been 
shown that Dante, far from being a Thomist pure and simple, 
owed a considerable debt to the Moslems and to Averroes in 
particular. This will explain why he singles out for special treat¬ 
ment the most eminent of the Islamic philosophers, and why he 
places in heaven the greatest of the Latin Averroists. 

1 Intorno al tomismo di Dante e alia quistione di Sigieri (Giornale Dantesco, 
XXII, 5). 

1 Islam and the Divine Comedy (abridged Engl. Transl., London, 1926). 


The Cabala—A vicebron — Maitnonides . 

1. Philosophy among the Jews really owes its origin to inter¬ 
course with other nations and cultures. Thus in the first volume 
of this history I have already treated of Philo, the Alexandrian 
Jew (c. 25 b.c.-c. a.d. 40), who attempted a reconciliation of the 
Jewish Scriptural theology and Greek philosophy, producing a 
system in which elements of the Platonic tradition (the theory of 
Ideas), of Stoicism (doctrine of the Logos) and of Oriental thought 
(intermediary beings) were combined. In the philosophy of Philo 
the transcendence of God was strongly emphasised, and this insis¬ 
tence on the divine transcendence was characteristic of the doctrine 
of the Cabala , as modified by Greek, particularly by Platonic, 
theories. The Cabala consisted of two works, the Jezirah (creation), 
which was probably composed after the middle of the ninth century 
a.d., and the Sohar (brightness), which was built up from the 
beginning of the thirteenth century and committed to writing by 
a Spanish Jew about the year 1300. Additions and commentaries 
were subsequently made. The Cabalistic philosophy shows the 
influence of neo-Platonism in its doctrine of emanation and inter¬ 
mediary beings between God and the world, and one of the 
channels by which neorPlatonism influenced the construction of 
the emanationist philosophy of the Sohar was the thought of the 
Spanish Jew who was known to the Latin Scholastics as A vicebron. 

2. Salomon I bn Gabirol or Avicebron (so called by the Latin 
Scholastics, who thought that he was an Arab) was bom at 
Malaga about 1021, was educated at Saragossa and died in 1069/70. 
He was naturally influenced by the Arabian philosophy and his 
chief work, the Fons Vitae, was originally composed in Arabic. The 
Arabic original is, however, no longer extant, though we possess the 
work in the Latin translation of Joannes Hispanus (Avendeath) 
and Dominicus Gundissalinus. The work consists of five books and 
had a considerable influence on the Christian Scholastics. 

The neo-Platonic influence shows itself in the emanationist 
scheme of Avicebron's philosophy. The summit of the hierarchy 
of being and the source of all limited being is, of course, God, who 
is one and unknowable by the discursive reason, apprehensible 



only in the intuition of ecstasy. To this Avicebron added a peculiar 
doctrine concerning the divine will by which are created, or from 
which emanate, all lesser beings. The divine will, like God Him¬ 
self, transcends the composition of matter and form and can be 
apprehended only in mystical experience; but the exact relation 
of the divine will to God is not easy to determine. The distinction 
drawn between the divine essence and the divine will would 
appear to make of the latter a distinct hypostasis, though on the 
other hand the divine will is depicted as being God Himself as 
active ad extra , as God in His appearance. In any case there is a 
substitution of Will for Logos. From God, via the divine will, 
whether God under one aspect or a distinct hypostasis, proceeds 
the cosmic spirit or World-Soul, which is inferior to God and is 
composed of matter and form, materia universalis and forma 
universalis . From the World-Soul in turn proceed pure spirits and 
corporeal things. 

The interesting point about Avicebron’s system is, however, not 
his emanationist scheme, but rather his doctrine of universal 
hylomorphic composition in all beings inferior to God, a doctrine 
which was derived, at least indirectly, from Plotinus and which 
influenced one tradition of Christian Scholasticism. Just as from 
the World-Soul proceed the individual forms, so from the World- 
Soul proceed also spiritual matter, which is present in the Intelli¬ 
gence and in the rational soul, and corporeal matter. Matter, then, 
which does not of itself involve corporeality, is the principle of 
limitation and finiteness in all creatures: it is the hylomorphic 
composition in creatures which marks them off from God, for in 
God there is no composition. This doctrine of universal hylo¬ 
morphic composition in creatures was maintained by St. 
Bonaventure, for example, the great Franciscan contemporary of 
St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, there is a plurality of forms in 
every being which possesses in itself a plurality of grades of 
perfection, as the human being, for example, the microcosm, 
possesses the perfections of corporeality, vegetative life, sensitive 
life and intellectual life. Every corporeal being possesses the forma 
corporeitatis , but it has further to be given its determinate place 
in the hierarchy of being, and this is accomplished by the reception 
of the form or forms by which it becomes, e.g. living thing, animal, 
dog. It has been maintained that the doctrine of Avicebron was 
the real origin of the Augustinian School's theory of the plurality 
of forms, but, even granting this, it must also be remembered that 


the doctrine fitted well into the scheme of the Augustinians' 
philosophy, since Augustine had himself taught that the function 
of the lower forms is to lead on to the higher forms and that this 
is true also of these forms as represented in human knowledge, i.e. 
that contemplation of the lower stages of being should lead the 
mind to higher stages. 

3. The most interesting of the Jewish mediaeval philosophers is, 
however, Moses Maimoniies , who was bom at C6rdoba in 1135 
and died in Cairo in 1204, having had to abandon Moorish Spain, 
which was no longer favourable to philosophers. In his Guide of 
the Doubting he attempted to give to theology its rational basis in 
philosophy, which for him meant the philosophy of Aristotle, 
whom he reverenced as the greatest example of human intellectual 
power apart from the Prophets. We must hold fast to what is 
given us in sense-perception and what can be strictly demonstrated 
by the intellect: if statements contained in the Old Testament 
plainly contradict what is plainly established by reason, then such 
statements must be interpreted allegorically. This view, however, 
did not mean that Maimonides discarded the teaching of theology 
whenever Aristotle held something different to that which the 
Scripture taught. For example, theology teaches the creation of 
the world in time out of nothing, and this means both that God 
must be the author of matter as well as of form and that the world 
cannot be eternal. If the eternity of the world could be demon¬ 
strated by reason in such a way that the opposite was clearly seen 
to be an impossibility, then we should have to interpret the 
Scriptural teaching accordingly; but, as a matter of fact, the 
Scriptural teaching is clear and the philosophical arguments 
adduced to prove the eternity of the world are inconclusive: we 
must, then, reject Aristotle's teaching on this point. Plato came 
nearer to the truth than Aristotle, but even he accepted an un¬ 
created matter. The creation out of nothing of both matter and 
form is also necessary, according to Maimonides, if the fact of 
miracles, plainly taught in the Old Testament, is to be allowed, 
since, if G^d is able to suspend the operation of natural laws, He 
must be the absolute Sovereign of nature and He would not be 
that unless He were Creator in the full sense of the word. To the 
fanatics Maimonides's allegorical interpretation of some of the 
Scriptural pictures of God seemed to be a selling of the Holy 
Scripture to the Greeks, and some Jews in France even went so 
far as to try to enlist the aid of the Inquisition against this 


'heresy’; but in point of fact he was merely saying that there can 
be a fountain of certain truth besides theology. In other words, he 
gave a charter to philosophy, and he thus influenced the growth of 
philosophical interest among the Jews in Spain, even if his chief 
influence lay in the province of theology. That he was no blind 
worshipper of Aristotle has been shown already. Aristotle, thought 
Maimonides, went wrong in teaching the eternity of the world, and 
even if philosophy cannot demonstrate creation in time, it can at 
least show that the arguments brought up in favour of the 
Aristotelian position are inconclusive and unsound. 

Relying partly on the natural theology of Alfarabi and Avicenna, 
Maimonides proved the existence of God in various ways, arguing 
from creatures to God as first Mover, as necessary Being and as 
first Cause. These arguments he supported from statements of 
Aristotle in the Physics and Metaphysics. But if Maimonides 
anticipated most of the types of proof given later by St. Thomas, 
he was more insistent than the latter on the inapplicability of 
positive predicates to God. God is pure Act, without matter and 
without potency, infinitely removed from creatures, and, in regard 
to ‘qualities’, we can say what God is not, rather than what He is. 
He is one and transcendent (between God and the world there is a 
hierarchy of Intelligences or pure spirits), but we cannot form any 
adequate positive idea of God. St. Thomas, of course, would admit 
this, but Maimonides was rather more insistent on the via negativa. 
We can, however, ascribe to God activities, the activities of crea¬ 
tion and providence, for example, provided that we realise that 
the difference of names does not correspond to any difference in 
God Himself and that God Himself is unchangeable. Unlike 
Avicebron, Maimonides admitted a special providence on God’s 
part in regard to particular creatures, though this is true only of 
men, so far as the material world is concerned. The active intellect 
is the tenth Intelligence (the Intelligences are without ‘matter’), 
but the passive intellects of the just are immortal. Immortality, 
then, he admitted only in a limited extension, for the just; but he 
maintained the freedom of the will, whereby men become just, 
and he denied the determining influence of the celestial bodies and 
spheres in regard to human conduct. In fine, Moses Maimonides 
made a better business of reconciling Greek philosophy with 
Jewish orthodoxy than Avicebron had made of it, and it is note¬ 
worthy that the influence of the Aristotelian system is more in 
evidence in the former’s philosophy than in the latter’s. 



The translated works—Translations from Greek and from Arabic 
—Effects of translations and opposition to Aristotelianism. 

i. Before the twelfth century part of the Organon of Aristotle 
(the Categories and the De Interpretatione) had been available to 
mediaeval philosophers in the Latin version by Boethius ( Logica 
vetus), but the entire Organon became available fairly early in the 
twelfth century. Thus about 1128 James of Venice translated the 
Analytics, the Topics and the Sophistical Arguments from Greek into 
Latin, the newly translated books of the Organon being known as 
the Logica nova . It appears that portions at least of other books 
of the Organon besides the Categories and the De Interpretatione 
had survived into the twelfth century in the translation of 
Boethius; but in any case a complete translation of the Organon 
into Latin had been effected by the middle of the century. It is 
to be noted that the translation by James of Spain was made from 
the Greek, as was also the translation of the fourth book of the 
Meteorologica made by Henricus Aristippus before 1162. Henricus 
Aristippus was Archdeacon of Catania in Sicily, an island which 
was an important centre in the work of translation. Thus it was 
in twelfth-century Sicily that Ptolemy’s j^tyiXT] auvTa^; and the 
Optics, some of the works of Euclid and Proclus’s Elementatio 
physica were translated from Greek into Latin. 

Sicily was one centre of the work of translation; Spain was 
another, the most famous school of translators being that of 
Toledo. Thus under Archbishop Raymond (1126-51) Joannes 
Hispanus (Avendeath) translated from the Arabic into Latin (via 
Spanish) the Logic of Avicenna, while Dominicus Gundissalinus 
translated (with help from other scholars) the Metaphysics of 
Avicenna, parts of his Physics, his De Sufficientia, De Caelo et 
Mundo and De Mundo, the Metaphysics of Algazel and the De 
Scientiis of Alfarabi. Dominicus Gundissalinus and John of Spain 
also translated from Arabic into Latin the Fons Vitae of Avicebron. 

A distinguished member of this group of scholars was Gerard of 
Cremona, who took up work at Toledo in 1134 and died in 1187. 
He translated from Arabic into Latin Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics 



(together with the commentary of Themistius), Physics , De Caelo 
et Mundo, De Generatione et Corruptione, Meteorologica (first three 
books); Alkindi's De Intellectu, De Somno et Visione, De quinque 
Essentiis ; the Liber de Causis and some other works. 

The Toledo school of translators was still of importance in the 
thirteenth century. Thus Michael Scot (Michael Scottus, died 
c. 1235) translated at Toledo the De Caelo et Mundo , the De Anima , 
the zoological writings and also (probably) the Physics of Aristotle, 
as well as Averroes's commentaries on the De Caelo et Mundo and 
the De Anima , Avicenna's compendium of the De Animalibus, 
while Herman the German, who died in 1272, as Bishop of Astorga, 
translated Averroes’s 'middle commentary' on the Nicomachean 
Ethics and also his compendium of the same work and his com¬ 
mentaries on the Rhetoric and the Poetics . 

2. It will be seen from what has already been said that it is a 
mistake to imagine that the Latin Scholastics were entirely depen¬ 
dent on translations from Arabic or even that translation from the 
Arabic always preceded translation from the Greek. Thus Henricus 
Aristippus's translation of the fourth book of the Meteorologica 
from the Greek preceded Gerard of Cremona's translation of the 
first three books of the same work from the Arabic. Moreover, 
some of the Metaphysics had been translated from the Greek before 
the Arabic translation was made. The translation from the Greek, 1 
which did not comprise simply the first three books and a small 
part of book four, as was formerly supposed, was in use at Paris 
by 1210 and was known as the Metaphysica vetus, in distinction 
from the translation from the Arabic, which was made by Gerard 
of Cremona or Michael Scot and was known (in the first half of the 
thirteenth century) as the Metaphysica nova . Books K, M, N, as 
well as smaller passages, were missing in this translation. In the 
second half of the century the title Metaphysica nova or Translatio 
nova was given to the translation from the Greek by William of 
Moerbeke (after 1260), upon which translation St. Thomas based 
his commentary. It has also been shown that there was a translatio 
media from the Greek, on which St. Albert the Great based his 
commentary and which was known to St. Thomas. 

As regards the ethical writings of Aristotle, a translation of 
Books 2 and 3 of the Nicomachean Ethics was available by the end 
of the twelfth century. This translation had been made from the 
Greek (possibly it was the work of Boethius himself) and was 

1 St. Thomas's Translatio Boethii. 



known as the Ethica vetus, while a later translation (of Book i) 
was known as the Ethica nova. A full translation, generally ascribed 
to Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253), was then made from the Greek, 
the first three books being a recension of the Ethica vetus and the 
Ethica nova. The Magna Moralia were translated by Bartholomew 
of Messina in the reign of King Manfred (1258-66); but only the 
seventh book of the Eudemian Ethics was known in the thirteenth 

The De Anima was translated from the Greek before 1215, the 
translation from the Arabic by Michael Scot being somewhat later. 
William of Moerbeke produced a further version from the Greek or 
a corrected edition of the first translation from the Greek. Similarly 
there was a translation of the Physics from the Greek before the 
two translations from the Arabic by Gerard of Cremona and 
Michael Scot, while a translation of the De Generatione et Corrup¬ 
tione from the Greek preceded the translation from the Arabic by 
Gerard of Cremona. The Politics were translated from the Greek 
about 1260 by William of Moerbeke (there was no translation from 
the Arabic), who probably also translated the Economics about 
1267. This eminent man, who was bom about 1215 and died in 
1286, as Archbishop of Corinth, not only translated Aristotle’s 
works from the Greek and re-edited earlier translations (thus 
enabling his friend, St. Thomas Aquinas, to write his commen¬ 
taries), but also translated from the Greek some commentaries by 
Alexander of Aphrodisias, Simplicius, Joannes Philoponus and 
Themistius, as also some works of Proclus and the latter’s exposi¬ 
tion of the Timaeus of Plato. 1 His translation of Proclus’s 
Elementatio theologica brought to St. Thomas the realisation that 
the Liber de Causis was not the work of Aristotle, as it was 
previously supposed to be, but was based on the work of Proclus. 
It was also William of Moerbeke who translated the Rhetoric of 
Aristotle. As to the Poetics, the mediaevals possessed only 
Herman the German’s translation of Averroes’s commentary. 2 

As modern investigation has shown that translations from the 
Greek generally preceded translations from the Arabic, and that, 
even when the original translation from the Greek was incomplete, 
the Arabic-Latin version soon had to give place to a new and 

1 The Timaeus of Plato was known to the West, thanks to Cicero and Chalcidius, 
but it was not until the twelfth century that the Meno and Phaedo were translated 
(by Henricus Aristippus). 

• How far St. Thomas actually used William’s translation has been much 


better translation from the Greek, it can no longer be said that 
the mediaevals had no real knowledge of Aristotle, but only a 
caricature of his doctrine, a picture distorted by the hand of 
Arabian philosophers. What can, however, be said is that they 
were not always able to distinguish what was to be ascribed to 
Aristotle from what was not to be ascribed to Aristotle. A great 
step forward was taken when St. Thomas came to realise that the 
Liber de Causis was not the work of Aristotle. He was already 
quite conscious of the fact that Averroes's commentaries were not 
to be taken as the unquestionable interpretation of Aristotle's 
philosophy, but even he seems to have thought, at least for a time, 
that the Pseudo-Dionysius was not far from being a follower of 
Aristotle. The fact of the matter is, not that the mediaevals had 
no reliable texts of Aristotle, but that they were deficient in 
historical knowledge: they did not, for example, adequately realise 
the relation of Aristotle to Plato or of neo-Platonism to Plato and 
Aristotle. That St. Thomas was an able commentator on Aristotle 
can be denied only by those unacquainted with his commentaries; 
but it would be foolish to claim even for St. Thomas a knowledge 
of the history and development of Greek philosophy such as is 
open to the modern scholar. He made good use of the information 
available to him; but that information was rather limited. 

3. The translation of works of Aristotle and his commentators, 
as well as of the Arabian thinkers, provided the Latin Scholastics 
with a great wealth of intellectual material. In particular they 
were provided with the knowledge of philosophical systems which 
were methodologically independent of theology and which were 
presented as the human mind's reflection on the universe. The 
systems of Aristotle, of Avicenna, of Averroes, opened up a wide 
vista of the scope of the human reason and it was clear to the 
mediaevals that the truth attained in them must have been inde¬ 
pendent of Christian revelation, since it had been attained by a 
Greek philosopher and his Greek and Islamic commentators. In 
this way the new translations helped to clarify in the minds of 
the mediaevals the relation between philosophy and theology 
and contributed very largely to the delimitation of the provinces 
of the two sciences. It is, of course, true that Aristotle's 
system not unnaturally took the limelight in preference to those 
of his commentators, and his philosophy tended to appear in the 
eyes of those Latins who were favourably impressed as the ne plus 
ultra of human intellectual endeavour, since it constituted the 



most sustained and extensive effort of the human mind with 
which they were acquainted; but they were quite well aware that 
it was the work of reason, not a set of revealed dogmas. To us, 
looking back from a long way off, it may seem that some of the 
mediaevals exaggerated the genius of Aristotle (we also know that 
they did not realise the existence of different strata or periods in 
Aristotle’s thought), but we should put ourselves for a moment in 
their place and try to imagine the impression which would be 
made on a mediaeval philosopher by the sight of what in 
any case is one of the supreme achievements of the human 
mind, a system which, in regard to both completeness and close 
reasoning, was unparalleled in the thought of the early Middle 

However, the system of Aristotle did not meet with universal 
welcome and approbation, though it could not be ignored. Largely 
because the Liber de Causis (until St. Thomas discovered the truth), 
the so-called Theologia Aristotelis (extracts from the Enneads of 
Plotinus) and the De secretis secretorum (composed by an Arab 
philosopher in the eleventh or beginning of the twelfth century) 
were wrongly attributed to Aristotle, the latter's philosophy tended 
to appear in a false light. Moreover, the attribution of these books 
to Aristotle naturally made it appear that the Arab commentators 
were justified in their neo-Platonic interpretation. Hence it came 
about that in 1210 the Provincial Council of Paris, meeting under 
the presidency of Peter of Corbeil, Archbishop of Sens, forbad the 
public or private teaching of Aristotle’s ‘natural philosophy' or of 
the commentaries on them. This prohibition was imposed under 
pain of excommunication and applied to the University of Paris. 
In all probability ‘natural philosophy' included the metaphysics 
of Aristotle, since when the statutes of the university were sanc¬ 
tioned by Robert de Coupon, Papal Legate, in 1215 Aristotle's 
works on metaphysics and natural philosophy, as well as compendia 
of these works and the doctrines of David of Dinant, Amalric of 
Bene and Maurice of Spain (probably Averroes, the Moor or 
Maurus) were prohibited, though the study of Aristotle's logic was 
ordered. The study of the Ethics was not forbidden. 

The reason for the prohibition was, as already indicated, largely 
due to the ascription to Aristotle of works which were not by him. 
Amalric of Bene, whose writings were included in the prohibition 
of 1215, maintained doctrines which were at variance with 
Christian teaching and which would naturally appear to find some 





support in the philosophy of Aristotle, if the latter were interpreted 
in the light of all the books attributed to him, while David of 
Dinant, the other heretical philosopher whose writings were pro¬ 
hibited, had actually appealed to the Metaphysics , which had been 
translated into Latin from the Greek version brought from 
Byzantium before 1210. To these considerations must be added 
the undoubted fact that Aristotle maintained the eternity of the 
world. It was, therefore, not unnatural that the Aristotelian 
system, especially when coupled with the philosophies of David of 
Dinant, Amalric of Bene and Averroes, should appear as a danger 
to orthodoxy in the eyes of the traditionalists. The logic of 
Aristotle had long been in use, even if the full Organon had come 
into circulation only comparatively recently, but the complete 
metaphysical and cosmological teaching of Aristotle was a novelty, 
a novelty rendered all the more dangerous through association 
with heretical philosophies. 

However, in 1231 Pope Gregory IX, while maintaining the 
prohibition, appointed a commission of theologians, William of 
Auxerre, Stephen of Provins and Simon of Authie, to correct the 
prohibited books of Aristotle, and as this measure obviously 
implied that the books were not fundamentally unsound, the 
prohibition tended to be neglected. It was extended to Toulouse 
in 1245 by Innocent IV, but by that date it was no longer possible 
to check the spread of Aristotelianism and from 1255 all the 
known works of Aristotle were officially lectured on in the Univer¬ 
sity of Paris. The Holy See made no move against the university, 
though in 1263 Urban IV renewed the prohibition of 1210, 
probably out of a fear of Averroism, the renewed prohibition remain¬ 
ing a dead letter. The Pope must have known perfectly well that 
William of Moerbeke was translating the prohibited works of 
Aristotle at his own court, and the prohibition of 1263 must have 
been designed as a check to Averroism, not as a seriously meant 
attempt to put an end to all study of the Aristotelian philosophy. 
In any case the prohibition was of no effect, and finally in 1366 the 
Legates of Urban V required from all candidates for the Licentiate 
of Arts at Paris a knowledge of all the known works of Aristotle. 
It had by then long been clear to the mediaevals that a work like 
the Liber de Causis was not Aristotelian and that the philosophy of 
Aristotle was not, except, of course, in the eyes of the Latin 
Averroists, bound up with the interpretation given it by Averroes 
but could be harmonised with the Christian faith. Indeed the 

dogmas of faith themselves had by then been expressed by 
theologians in terms taken from the Aristotelian system. 

This brief summary of the official attitude to Aristotle on the 
part of ecclesiastical and academic authority shows that Aristote¬ 
lianism triumphed in the end. This does not mean, however, that 
all mediaeval philosophers of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries extended an equal welcome to Aristotle or that they all 
understood him in the same way: the vigour and variety of 
mediaeval thought will be made clear in succeeding chapters. 
There is truth in the statement that the shadow of Aristotle hung 
over and dominated the philosophic thought of the Middle Ages, 
but it is not the whole truth, and we would have a very inadequate 
idea of mediaeval philosophy in the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries if we imagined that it was inspired and characterised 
by a slavish acceptance of every word of the great Greek philo¬ 






The University of Paris—Universities closed and privileged cor¬ 
porations — Curriculum—Religious Orders at Paris—Currents 
of thought in the thirteenth century. 

i. The leading philosophers and theologians of the thirteenth 
century were all associated, at some period, with the University 
of Paris, which arose out of the body of professors and students 
attached to the Cathedral School of Notre Dame and the other 
schools of Paris, the statutes of the university being sanctioned by 
Robert de Coupon, Papal Legate, in 1215. Alexander of Hales, 
St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, 
Matthew of Aquasparta, Roger Marston, Richard of Middleton, 
Roger Bacon, Giles of Rome, Siger of Brabant, Henry of Ghent, 
Raymond Lull, Duns Scotus (d. 1308), all either studied or taught 
(or both) at Paris. Other centres of higher education were, how¬ 
ever, growing in importance and acquiring a tradition of their 
own. Thus with the University of Oxford were associated the 
names of men like Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon and Duns 
Scotus, and whereas Paris was the scene of the triumph of Aris- 
totelianism, the name of Oxford recalls a characteristic mingling 
of the Augustinian tradition with 'empiricism’, as in the philosophy 
of Roger Bacon. Yet in spite of the importance of Oxford, 
Bologna and, at times, the Papal Court, the University of Paris 
was easily the most important centre of higher studies in the 
Christendom of the thirteenth century. Scholars might come to 
Paris for their studies and then return to Oxford or Bologna to 
teach, thus carrying with them the spirit and ideals of the great 
university, and even those scholars who never themselves set foot 
in Paris were subject to Parisian influence. Robert of Grosseteste, 
for instance, who possibly never studied at Paris, was certainly 
influenced by professors of Paris. 

The international character of the University of Paris, with its 



consequent importance in the intellectual expression and defence 
of Christianity, naturally made the maintenance of religious ortho¬ 
doxy within its precincts one of the interests of the Holy See. 
Thus the Averroistic controversy must be seen in the light of the 
university’s international standing: it represented in itself the 
intellectual culture of the Middle Ages, as far as philosophy and 
theology were concerned, and the spread within its walls of a 
system of thought which was irreconcilable with Christianity could 
not be a matter of indifference to Rome. On the other hand it 
would be a mistake to suppose that there was any rigid imposition 
of one particular tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas met with diffi¬ 
culties, it is true, in his acceptance and propagation of Aristote- 
lianism; but such difficulties did not last, and even if the philosophy 
of Aristotle came in the end to dominate the intellectual life of the 
university, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there was 
still plenty of room for different philosophical outlooks. 

2. The universities, to be constituted as such, had to receive a 
formal charter, either from pope or emperor (the University of 
Naples received its charter from Frederick II) or, later, from kings. 
These charters conferred considerable privileges on professors and 
students, privileges which were jealously guarded. The two most 
important privileges were those of internal jurisdiction (which still 
survives at Oxford, for example) and of power to give the degree, 
which carried with it licence to teach. The students were exempt 
from military service, except in special circumstances, and the 
university was generally exempt from a great deal of taxation, 
particularly local taxation. In northern Europe the professors 
controlled the university, the rector being elected, whereas the 
universities of southern Europe were often distinctly democratic 
in their governmental arrangements, but in either case the univer¬ 
sity was a largely independent and closed corporation, which main¬ 
tained its privileges against Church and State. In this respect the 
universities of Oxford and Cambridge represent more faithfully 
the mediaeval tradition and practice than do those continental 
universities where rectors and professors are appointed by the 

3. In mediaeval times, and the same is true of a much later 
period as well, students entered the university at a much earlier 
age than they do at present. Thus boys of thirteen or fourteen 
might begin attending the university, and if one remembers this 
fact, the number of years required in order to obtain the doctorate 

214 the thirteenth century 

will not appear so surprising. The course in arts lasted some four 
and a half to six years, according to the university (though at 
Oxford some seven years were required), and for a time at least 
the student had to qualify in the faculty of arts before he could 
proceed to theology. In the theological course he had to spend 
four years in attending lectures on the Bible and then two more 
years in attending lectures on the Sentences, after which, if by then 
twenty-six years of age, he became a Baccalaureate and lectured 
for the two following years on two books of the Bible. He could 
then lecture on the Sentences and finally, after several years spent 
in study and disputations, he could take the doctorate and teach 
theology, the minimum age for this being thirty-four. For teaching 
the arts the minimum age required was twenty. At Paris the 
tendency was to increase the number of years required for obtain¬ 
ing the doctorate, though at Oxford the arts course was longer 
and the theological course shorter than at Paris. 

Those students who took the doctorate and left the university 
were known as magistri non regentes, whereas those who remained 
to teach were known as magistri regentes ; but, however many 
students there may have been who fell into the first class, it is 
clear that the long university course was designed to produce 
professors and teachers by career. 

As for the curriculum, the general practice in the university of 
the thirteenth century was to lecture or listen to lectures on certain 
texts. Thus, apart from the writings of the grammarians like 
Priscian and Donatus and certain other classical texts, the writings 
of Aristotle came to dominate the arts school altogether in the 
course of time, and it is significant that 'Latin Averroism’ was 
represented principally by professors in that faculty. In theology 
the Bible and the Sentences of Peter Lombard dominated the 
scene, and the professor gave his own views by way of commentary. 
Besides the lectures there was another essential feature of the 
curriculum, namely the disputation, which took the form either of 
an ‘ordinary’ disputation {disputatio ordinaria ) or the ’general’ 
disputation (de quolibet). The disputationes de quolibet, in which a 
choice was made from a great variety of topics, were held at 
solemn feasts, and after the disputation in the strict sense, that is, 
between a defendant or respondens and the objectors, opponentes, 
the professor summed up the whole matter, arguments, objections 
and replies, and finished by giving his considered solution ( deter- 
minatio) of the point at issue, in which he began with the words. 


Respondeo dicendum. The final result, arranged by the professor, 
was then published as a Quodlibet. (St. Thomas left some eleven 
or twelve Quodlibets.) The disputatio ordinaria was also followed 
by a determinatio and was published as a quaestio disputata. There 
were other forms of disputation as well; but these two, the 
disputatio ordinaria and the disputatio de quolibet, were the most 
important. They were designed to increase the student’s under¬ 
standing of a particular theme, and his power of argument and of 
refuting objections. In fact, generally speaking, mediaeval univer¬ 
sity education aimed rather at imparting a certain body of 
knowledge and dexterity in dealing with it than at increasing 
factual knowledge as in a modern research institute. Of course, 
scholars certainly aimed at increasing knowledge speculatively; 
but the increase of scientific knowledge, for example, had little 
place in mediaeval education, though in the fourteenth century 
science made some progress at Paris and at Vienna. 

4. Of considerable importance in the life of Paris and Oxford were 
the religious Orders, particularly the two mendicant Orders 
founded in the thirteenth century, the Dominicans and the 
Franciscans. The former Order established itself in Paris in 1217, 
the latter a few years later, and both Orders then proceeded to 
claim chairs of theology in the university, i.e. they claimed that 
their chairs of theology should be incorporated in the university 
and that their professors and students should enjoy the university 
privileges. There was considerable opposition to this claim from 
the teaching body of the university; but in 1229 the Dominicans 
received one chair and in 1231 a second, in the same year that 
the Franciscans obtained their first chair (they did not receive a 
second). Roland of Cremona and John of St. Giles were the first 
Dominican professors, Alexander of Hales the first Franciscan 
professor. In 1248 the General Chapter of the Dominican Order 
decreed the erection of studia generalia (houses of study for the 
whole Order, distinct from the houses of study of particular 
provinces) at Cologne, Bologna, Montpellier and Oxford, while the 
Franciscans meanwhile erected studia generalia at Oxford and 
Toulouse. In 1260 the Augustinians opened a house at Paris, the 
first official doctor being Giles of Rome, while the Carmelites 
opened houses at Oxford in 1253 and at Paris in 1259. Other 
Orders also followed suit. _ 

The religious Orders, particularly the Dominicans and Fran¬ 
ciscans, accomplished a great work in the intellectual field and 




produced men of outstanding eminence (we have only to think of 
St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican, 
of Alexander of Hales and St. Bonaventure in the Franciscan 
Order); but they had to put up with a good deal of opposition, 
doubtless inspired in part by jealousy. Not only did their oppo¬ 
nents demand that no religious Order should occupy more than 
one chair at one time, but they even set about attacking the 
religious state itself. Thus in 1255 William of St. Amour published 
a pamphlet, De pericidis novissimorum temp or um, which drew from 
St. Thomas's pen the Contra impugnantes Dei cultum . William of 
St. Amour's pamphlet was condemned and in 1257 the seculars 
were forbidden to publish writings against the regulars; but in spite 
of this prohibition Gerard of Abbeville restarted the opposition with 
his Contra adversarium perfectionis christianae . St. Bonaventure 
and St. Thomas, however much they might disagree on matters 
philosophical, were united in a determination to defend the religious 
Orders, and both published replies to Gerard's work, and these in 
their turn evoked a counterblast from Nicholas of Lisieux, writing 
on behalf of the seculars. The quarrel between regulars and 
seculars broke out again on various later occasions, but, as far as 
the main point was concerned, the incorporation into the university 
of the regular chairs, judgement had been given in favour of the 
regulars and it wasnot revoked. One result followed, however, which 
is worthy of mention, and that is the founding of the College of 
the Sorbonne in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, chaplain to Louis IX, 
for the education of students in theology, secular students being 
admitted. If I call the founding of the College of the Sorbonne 
and similar colleges a 'result' of the controversy between seculars 
and regulars, all I mean is that such colleges were founded partly 
perhaps to counterbalance the influence and position of the 
regulars and certainly in order to extend to a wider field the 
benefits of the type of education and training provided by the 

5. In the thirteenth century one can distinguish various currents 
of thought which tended eventually, in the religious Orders, to 
become more or less fixed in traditional schools. First of all there 
is the Augustinian current of thought, conservative in character 
and generally reserved in its attitude towards Aristotelianism, its 
attitude varying from marked hostility to partial acceptance. This 
current is characteristic of the Franciscan thinkers (and indeed of 
the first Dominicans), represented by Grosseteste, Alexander of 


Hales and St. Bonaventure. Secondly there is the Aristotelian 
current of thought, which became characteristic of the Dominicans, 
represented by St. Albert the Great (in part) and (fully) by St. 
Thomas Aquinas. Thirdly there are the Averroists, represented 
by Siger of Brabant. Fourthly one has to take into consideration 
the independent and eclectic thinkers like Giles of Rome and Henry 
of Ghent. Fifthly, at the turn of the century, there is the great 
figure of Duns Scot us who revised the Franciscan tradition in the 
light of Aristotelianism and who, rather than St. Bonaventure, 
became the accepted Doctor of his order. I cannot enter in detail 
into the thought of all the philosophers of the thirteenth century; 
but I shall endeavour to put in clear relief their salient charac¬ 
teristics, show the variety of thought within a more or less common 
framework and indicate the formation and development of the 
different traditions. 




Reasons for treating of William of Auvergne—God and creatures; 
essence and existence—Creation by God directly and in time — 
Proofs of God’s existence — Hylomorphism—The soul — Know¬ 
ledge-William of Auvergne a transition-thinker. 

i. William of Auvergne (or William of Paris), author of a De 
Trinitate or De primo principio ( c . 1225), a De Anima (1230), a 
De universo creaturarum ( c . 1231) and other smaller treatises, was 
Bishop of Paris from 1228 to 1249, the year in which he died. He 
is not, it is true, one of the best-known thinkers of the Middle 
Ages; but he claims our attention as a philosopher and theologian 
who was Bishop of Paris at the time when Gregory IX appointed 
the commission of theologians to amend the works of Aristotle and 
thus tacitly modified the Church's attitude towards the pagan 
philosopher. Indeed William of Auvergne represents the attitude 
adopted by Gregory IX when he (William) says in his De Anima 
that although Aristotle often contradicts the truth and so must be 
rejected, his teaching should be accepted when it conforms to the 
truth, that is, when it is compatible with Christian doctrine. In his 
fundamental line of thought William continues the tradition of 
Augustine, Boethius and Anselm, but he knew not only the works 
of Aristotle, but also the writings of the Arabian and Jewish 
philosophers and he did not hesitate to utilise their ideas exten¬ 
sively. In general, therefore, one may say that in William of 
Auvergne we see an intelligent and open-minded adherent of the 
old tradition who was willing to utilise the new currents of thought 
but who was perfectly conscious of the points in which the Arabians 
and Aristotle himself were at variance with Christian doctrine. He 
is, then, an embodiment of the meeting of the twelfth and thir¬ 
teenth centuries and has a title to be considered when one is 
treating of the earlier thinkers of the latter century. Moreover, 
he was a secular priest who occupied the episcopal see of Paris at 
the time when the mendicant Orders obtained their first chairs, 
and on this count too there is justification for discussing his 
philosophical ideas before proceeding to deal with the thinkers of 
the Franciscan and Dominican Orders. Nor is he himself a 


negligible figure: on the contrary, his thought is vigorous, original 
and systematic. 

2. From Avicenna, William of Auvergne adopted the distinction 
between essence and existence and made it the explanation of the 
creature’s finitude and dependence. Esse, existence, does not 
belong to the ratio or essence of any object save that one object 
(God) in which it is identical with the essence; of all other objects 
existence is predicated only ‘accidentally’, i.e. it belongs to them 
by participation (per participationem). If we consider any finite 
object, we realise that there is a distinction between its ratio or 
essential nature and its existence, it is not necessary that it should 
exist; but if we consider the necessary Being, we realise that its 
essence cannot be conceived without existence. In fine, 'in every¬ 
thing (other than God) ens is one thing, esse or entitas another’. 1 
This means that God alone is pure existence, existence being His 
essence, whereas objects do not exist essentially, because they 
must, but because their existence is acquired, received. The rela¬ 
tion, then, of objects other than God to God must be one of 
creature to Creator, from which it follows that the theory of 
emanation is false: 2 God is absolutely simple. Things did not 
pre-exist in God as parts of God, as they would have had to do 
if they flowed from God as the waters from a fountain, but only 
in the fortnae exemplares, which are identical with God. God sees 
Himself as the exemplary cause of all creatures. 3 

3. If William of Auvergne rejects the neo-Platonist-Arabian 
theory of emanation, he rejects also the notion of creation by way 
of intermediaries. The hierarchy of Intelligences posited by 
Aristotle and his followers has no foundation in reality; 4 God 
created the world directly. From this it follows that He exercises 
providence in regard to individual things and William appeals at 
length to the instinctive activities of the brutes as an illustration 
of the operation of divine providence.® Again, the Aristotelian 
doctrine of the eternity of the world is rejected. Whatsoever 
people may say and however much they may try to excuse 
Aristotle, it is a certain fact that he held that the world is eternal 
and that it did not begin to be, and Avicenna followed him in this 
opinion. 6 Accordingly William not only gives the reasons why 
Aristotle and Avicenna held this opinion, but he even tries to put 
them in the best light by improving on their arguments, after 

1 Cf. De Universo, i, 3, 26; 2, 2, 8; De Trinitate, 1 and 2. 

* De Universo, 1, 1, 17. 9 Ibid., 1, 1, 17. 4 Ibid,, 1. 1, 248. 

9 Ibid., 1. 3, 2-3. 4 Ibid., 1, a, 8. 





which he refutes the arguments. For example, the idea that if 
God preceded the creation of the world, an infinite duration 
would have to be passed through before creation, and the idea 
that there would be empty time before creation both rest on a 
confusion of time with eternity. The idea of infinite duration 
elapsing before creation would have significance only if eternity 
were the same as time, i.e. if it were not eternity, if God were in 
time; and the idea of empty time before creation is also meaning¬ 
less, since before creation there can be no time. We have to speak 
of God preceding creation, of existing before the world, it is true, 
but at the same time we must remember that such phrases are 
borrowed from temporal duration and that when applied to what is 
eternal, they are used in an analogical, not in a univocal sense. 

However, as William of Auvergne remarks, 1 it is not sufficient 
to contradict one's opponents and to show the insufficiency of their 
arguments unless one goes on to prove one's own position posi¬ 
tively. He, therefore, gives various arguments for the creation of 
the world in time, some of which appear again in St. Bonaventure 
and are declared inconclusive by St. Thomas. For example, 
William argues, taking the words out of his adversary's mouth, as 
it were, that if the world had been eternally in existence, an 
infinite time would have been passed through before the present 
moment. But it is impossible to pass through an infinite time. 
Therefore the world cannot have existed from eternity. Therefore 
it was created in time, that is, a first moment of time is assignable. 
Again, supposing that the revolutions of Saturn stand to the 
revolutions of the sun in a proportion of one to thirty, the sun 
will have made thirty times as many revolutions since creation as 
Saturn. But if the world exists from eternity, both Saturn and the 
sun will have made an infinite number of revolutions. Now, how 
can an infinity be thirty times greater than another infinity? 

From what has been already said it is clear that William of 
Auvergne did not simply deny the neo-Platonic conception of 
emanation and the Aristotelian idea of an eternal world, while 
maintaining the Augustinian doctrine of direct and free creation 
by God in time. On the contrary, he vigorously and exactly 
detailed and refuted the arguments of his opponents and elaborated 
systematic proofs of his own thesis. That he was able to do this 
was largely due to the fact that he was acquainted at first hand 
with the writings of Aristotle and the Arabians and did not 

1 De Universo, j, 2, n. 

hesitate to utilise not only the Aristotelian logic and the Aristote¬ 
lian categories but also the ideas of Aristotle, Avicenna and others, 
when they were acceptable. His utilisation of Avicenna's distinc¬ 
tion between essence and existence, for instance, has been already 
mentioned, and indeed he was the first mediaeval Scholastic to 
make this distinction an explicit and fundamental point in his 
philosophy. To this distinction, which enabled him to develop 
clearly the relation of creature to Creator, William added the 
doctrine of analogy. Apropos of the statement that finite things 
possess esse r by participation', he observes that the reader is not 
to be upset or troubled by the fact that the same word or concept 
is applied to both God and creatures, since it is not applied in the 
same sense [univoce) or equally: it is applied primarily to God, 
who is esse f and only secondarily to creatures who have es$e t who 
participate, that is, in existence in virtue of receiving it through 
God's creative act. Health, he comments, is predicated of man, of 
urine, of medicine and of food, but it is not predicated in the same 
sense or in the same way. 1 The illustration of health is somewhat 
hackneyed, but it shows that William of Auvergne had appre¬ 
hended the doctrine of analogy, which is essential to a theistic 

4. In regard to proofs of God's existence it is a curious fact that 
William of Auvergne made little use of the proofs used by Aristotle 
or even by Maimonides. The Aristotelian proof of God as first 
unmoved mover is not given, and although William certainly looks 
on God as the first efficient cause, his characteristic proof is one 
that recalls at least the line of argument adopted by St. Anselm, 
even though Anselm's argument is not reproduced. The argument 
in question is from the being which exists by participation to the 
being which exists essentially, per essentiam. This immediately 
suggests the proof from contingency, which appears in the Arabian 
and Jewish philosophy, but William prefers to argue from the one 
concept to the other. For example, the concept esse adunatum has 
as its correlative concept esse non causatum, esse causatum involves 
esse non causatum , esse secundarium, esse primum , and so on. 2 
William speaks of the analogia oppositorum and points out how the 
one concept or word necessarily involves its correlative concept or 
word, so that Grunwald 3 can say that William prefers a purely 
logical or even grammatical mode of proof, in that from one word 

1 De Trinit ., 7. 1 Ibid., 6. 

* Geseh. <Ur Gottesbeweise im MittelalUr; BeitrUge, 6, 3, p. 92. 



he concludes to another word which is contained in or presupposed 
by the first word. That the argument does tend to give this impres¬ 
sion is true, and, if it were a purely verbal argument, it would be 
open to the retort that the words, or concepts, esse participatum or 
esse causatum certainly involve the words, or concepts, esse per 
essentiam or esse non causatum, but this is no proof that esse per 
essentiam or esse non causatum actually exists, unless it has first 
been shown that there is an esse participatum or an esse causatum. 
Otherwise the proof would be no more a demonstration of God’s 
existence than is St. Anselm’s a priori argument. However, 
although William does not sufficiently develop the experiential 
character of the proof in regard to its starting-point, his argument 
is by no means purely verbal, since he shows that the object which 
comes into being cannot be self-dependent or self-caused. Esse 
indigentiae demands esse sufficientiae as the reason for its existence, 
just as esse potentiate requires being in act to bring it into a state 
of actuality. The whole universe requires necessary Being as its 
cause and reason. In other words, though one may often get the 
impression that William is simply analysing concepts and hypo- 
stasising them, he gives a proof which is not merely logical or 
verbal but also metaphysical. 

5. William of Auvergne accepted the Aristotelian doctrine of 
hylomorphic composition, but he refused to admit Avicebron’s 
notion that the Intelligences or angels are hylomorphically com¬ 
posed. 1 It is clear that Aristotle did not think that the rational 
soul contains materia prima, since he clearly asserts that it is an 
immaterial form, and the account of prime matter given by 
Averroes, according to which prime matter is the potentiality of 
sensible substance and sensible substance the final act of prime 
matter, clearly implies the same, that is, that prime matter is the 
matter of sensible substance only. Moreover, what could be the 
use of prime matter in the angels, what function could it serve? 
Matter in itself is something dead; it cannot contribute in any way 
to intellectual and spiritual operations or even receive them. As 
he had already utilised the distinction between essence and 
existence to explain the finitude of creatures and their radical 
difference from God, William did not require universal hylomor¬ 
phic composition for this purpose, and as he considered that to 
postulate the presence of prime matter in the angels would hinder 
rather than facilitate the explanation of their purely spiritual 

1 De Universe, 2, 2, 8. 



operations, he restricted prime matter to the sensible world, as 
St. Thomas did after him. 

6. In his psychology, as set forth in the De Anima, William of 
Auvergne combines Aristotelian and Augustinian themes. Thus 
he expressly adopts the Aristotelian definition of the soul as 
perfectio corporis physici organici potentia vitam habentis , 1 though 
he warns the reader that he is not quoting Aristotle as an unques¬ 
tionable authority, but proposes to show the truth of the definition. 
That he has a soul should be clear to every man, since he is 
conscious that he understands and judges; 2 but the soul is not the 
whole of man’s nature. If it were, then a human soul joined to an 
aerial body, for example, would still be a man, whereas in point 
of fact it would not be. Aristotle, then, was correct in saying that 
the soul is to the body, as form is to matter. 3 However, that does 
not prevent him from saying that the soul is a substance on the 
ground that it must be either substance or accident and cannot be 
an accident, and he uses the Augustinian comparison of the soul 
with a harpist, the body being the harp. It might appear that in 
man there are three souls, one being the principle of life (vegetative 
soul), the second being the principle of sensation (animal or sensi¬ 
tive soul) and the third being the principle of intellection (rational 
soul); but a little reflection will show that this cannot be so. If 
there was an animal soul in man, distinct from the rational or 
human soul, then humanity, human nature, would not involve 
animality, whereas in point of fact a man is an animal because he 
is man, animality belonging to human nature. 4 There is, then, one 
soul in man, which exercises various functions. It is created and 
infused by God alone, neither generated by the parents nor educed 
from the potentiality of matter, 6 and it is, moreover, immortal, 
as William proceeds to show by arguments, some of which are of 
Platonic origin. For example, if the malice of an evil soul does 
not injure or destroy its esse , how can bodily death destroy it? 6 
Again, since the body receives life from the soul and the soul’s 
power is such that it vivifies a body which, considered in itself, is 
dead, that is, lacking life, the fact that the body ceases to live 
cannot destroy the vital power inherent in the soul. 7 Further, the 
soul can communicate with substantiae separatae and is thus like 
to them, immortal; but as the human soul is indivisible and one, it 

1 De Anima, 1, I. * Ibid., i, 3. 8 Ibid., 1, 2. 

4 Ibid., 4, 1-3. 8 Ibid., 5, iff. • Ibid., 6, 1. 

7 Ibid., 6, 7. 

224 THE THIRTEENTH century 

follows that the whole human soul is immortal, not simply a 
rational part. 1 

But though he accepts the Peripatetic doctrine of the soul as 
form of the body (one must make the reservation that he some¬ 
times uses Platonic-Augustinian expressions in regard to the soul's 
union with the body), William of Auvergne follows St. Augustine 
in refusing to recognise a real distinction between the soul and its 
faculties. 2 Only a substance can understand or will, an accident 
could not do so. Therefore it is the soul itself which understands 
or wills, though it exercises itself in regard to different objects, or 
to the same objects, in different ways, now by apprehending them, 
now by desiring them. From this it would naturally follow that 
the Aristotelian distinction between the active and the passive 
intellects must be rejected, and indeed William of Auvergne rejects 
the doctrines of the active intellect and of the species intelligibilis 
altogether. The followers of Aristotle and of his commentators 
swallow the theory of the active intellect without any real reflec¬ 
tion, whereas not only are the arguments adduced to prove the 
theory insufficient, but also very good arguments can be adduced 
to prove the contrary, the argument from the simplicity of the 
soul, for example. The active intellect is, then, to be rejected 
as a useless fiction. 3 A fortiori, of course, William rejects the 
Arabian idea of a separate active intellect, an idea which, 
following Averroes, he ascribed (and probably rightly) to Aristotle 

7. In regard to the active intellect, then, William of Auvergne 
parts company with Aristotle and the Arabians in favour of 
Augustine, and the Augustinian influence is observable also in his 
theory of knowledge. Like Augustine he emphasises the soul's 
knowledge of itself, its direct self-consciousness, and, again like 
Augustine, he minimises the importance of the senses. It is true 
that man is inclined to concentrate on bodily things, the objects 
of the senses; that is why a man may neglect the data of self- 
consciousness and even be so foolish as to deny the very existence 
of the immaterial soul. It is also true that for sense-perception the 
senses are necessary, obviously enough, and that corporeal objects 
produce a physical impression on the organs of sense. But the 
intelligible forms, abstract and universal, by which we know the 
objects of the corporeal world, cannot arise either from the objects 
themselves or from the phantasms of such objects, since both the 
1 De Anima , 6, 8. * Ibid, 9 Ibid,, 7, 3. 



objects and the images are particular. How, then, are our abstract 
and universal ideas of sensible objects produced? They are 
produced by the understanding itself, which is not purely passive, 
but active, effectrix earum (scientiarum quae a parte sensibilium ei 
advenire videntur) apud semetipsam et in semetipsa . 1 This activity 
is an activity of the soul itself, though it is exercised on the 
occasion of sense-impressions. 

What guarantee is there, then, of the objective character of 
abstract and universal ideas? The guarantee is the fact that the 
intellect is not merely active but also passive, though it is in 
regard to God that it is passive, not in regard to the things of 
sense. God impresses on the intellect not only the first principles, 
but also our abstract ideas of the sensible world. In the De Anima 2 
William teaches explicitly that it is not only the first principles 
(regulae primae et per se notae) and the laws of morality ( regulae 
honestatis) which are known in this way, but also the intelligible 
forms of sensible objects. The human soul occupies a position on 
the bounds of two worlds (velui in horizonte duorum mundorum 
naturaliter esse constituiam et ordinatam), the one being the world 
of sensible objects, to which it is joined by the body, the other 
being, not Plato's universal Ideas or Aristotle's separate Intelli¬ 
gence, but God Himself, creator ipse, who is the exemplar, the 
speculum, the liber vivus, so present to the human intellect that 
the latter reads off, as it were, in God ( absque ullo alio medio) the 
principles and rules and intelligible forms. In this way William of 
Auvergne makes the active intellect of Aristotle and the Arabians 
to be God Himself, combining this theory with the Augustinian 
theory of illumination, interpreted ideogenetically. 

8. It may cause surprise that a special chapter has been dedi¬ 
cated to a man whose name is not among the most famous of 
mediaeval thinkers; but William of Auvergne is of interest not 
only as a vigorous and systematic philosopher, but also as an 
illustration of the way in which the metaphysical, cosmological 
and psychological ideas of Aristotle and the Arabians could affect 
an open-minded man who stood, generally speaking, in the line of 
the older tradition. William of Auvergne was quite ready to 
accept ideas from the Aristotelians; he adopted Aristotle's defini¬ 
tion of the soul, for instance, and utilised Avicenna's distinction 
between essence and existence; but he was first and foremost a 
Christian philosophei and, apart from any personal predilection 
1 De Anima , 5, 6. * 7, 6. 



for Augustine, he was not the type of man to adopt Aristotelian 
or supposedly Aristotelian doctrines when these seemed to him to 
be incompatible with the Christian faith. Thus the Aristotelian 
doctrine of the eternity of the world, the neo-Platonic-Arabian 
notions of emanation and of 'creation' by intermediaries, the theory 
of a separate, unitary and infra-divine active intellect, he unhesi¬ 
tatingly rejected. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that 
he rejected these ideas as incompatible with Christianity and left 
it at that, for he was clearly satisfied in his own mind that the 
arguments for the offending positions were inconclusive and 
insufficient, while the arguments for his own tenets were conclu¬ 
sive. In other words, he was a philosopher and wrote as a 
philosopher, even though in his works we find theological and 
philosophical themes treated together in the same book, a feature 
common to most other mediaeval thinkers. 

One may say, then, that William of Auvergne was a transition- 
thinker. He helped, through his intimate acquaintance with the 
writings of Aristotle and of the Arabian and Jewish philosophers, 
and through his limited acceptance of their theories, to pave the 
way for the completer Aristotelianism of St. Albert and St. Thomas, 
while, on the other hand, his clear rejection of some leading notions 
of Aristotle and his followers paved the way for the explicitly 
anti-Aristotelian attitude of an Augustinian like St. Bonaventure. 
He is, as I have said earlier, the embodiment of the meeting of the 
twelfth and thirteenth centuries: he is, one might say, the twelfth 
century meeting the thirteenth century sympathetically, yet by 
no means with uncritical admiration or acceptance. 

But though we are entitled to regard William of Auvergne as a 
transition-thinker in respect of the rising influence and growing 
acceptance of Aristotelianism, i.e. as a stage in the development 
of thought from the older Augustinianism to the Christian Aris¬ 
totelianism of St. Thomas, we are also entitled to look upon his 
philosophy as a stage in the development of Augustinianism itself. 
St. Anselm had made comparatively little use of Aristotelianism, 
of which he had but a very restricted knowledge; but later 
Augustinians were forced to take account of Aristotle, and we find 
Duns Scotus in the thirteenth century attempting the construction 
of a synthesis in which Augustinianism would be expounded and 
defended with the help of Aristotle. Of course, whether one should 
regard these thinkers as Augustinians who modified and enriched 
Augustinianism under the influence of Aristotle or as incomplete 


Aristotelians, is disputable, and one's estimate of William's philo- 
s phy will differ, according as one adopts the one or the other 
point of view, but unless one is determined to view mediaeval 
philosophy simply in function of Thomism, one should be prepared 
to admit that William of Auvergne could be regarded as preparing 
the way for Duns Scotus just as well as preparing the way for 
St. Thomas. Probably both judgements are true, though from 
different viewpoints. In a sense any pre-Thomistic mediaeval 
philosopher who made some use of Aristotle was preparing the 
way for a more complete adoption of Aristotelianism, and there 
can be no difficulty in admitting it; yet it is also legitimate to ask 
whether Aristotelian elements were employed in the service of the 
Augustinian tradition, so that the resulting philosophy was one in 
which characteristic Augustinian themes predominated, or whether 
they were employed in the construction of a philosophy which was 
definitely orientated towards Aristotelianism as a system. If one 
asks this question, there can be little doubt about the answer so 
far as William of Auvergne is concerned; so that M. Gilson can 
affirm that 'the complex Augustinian of the thirteenth century 
is almost completely represented by the doctrine of William of 
Auvergne' and that while nothing could stop the invasion of the 
Schools by Aristotle, 'the influence of William certainly did much 
to retard and limit its progress'. 1 

1 La Philosophie au Moyen Age, third edition. 1944 - PP- 4 2 3 ~ 4 * 




(а) Robert Grosseteste's life and writings—Doctrine of light—God 
and creatures—Doctrine of truth and of illumination . 

(б) Alexander of Hales's attitude to philosophy—Proofs of God's 
existence—The divine attributes—Composition in creatures — 

Soul, intellect , will—Spirit of Alexander's philosophy. 

When one is treating of mediaeval philosophy, it is not easy to 
decide in what way one will group the various thinkers. Thus one 
might very well treat Oxford and Paris separately. At Oxford the 
general tendency in metaphysics and psychology was conservative, 
Augustinian, while at the same time an interest was developed in 
empirical studies, and the combination of these two factors would 
afford some reason for tracing the course of philosophy at Oxford 
from Robert Grosseteste to Roger Bacon in a continuous line; 
while as regards Paris the Augustinianism of Alexander of Hales 
and St. Bonaventure on the one hand and the Aristotelianism of 
St. Albert and St. Thomas on the other hand, together with the 
relation between the two Schools, might make it desirable to treat 
them in close proximity. However, such a method has its disad¬ 
vantages. For example, Roger Bacon died (c. 1292) long after 
Alexander of Hales (1245), in regard to whose writings he made 
some slighting remarks, and also after St. Albert the Great (1280), 
towards whom he seems to have felt a special hostility, so that it 
would seem desirable to consider Roger Bacon after considering 
these two thinkers. One might, even then, leave over Robert 
Grosseteste for consideration with Roger Bacon, but the fact 
remains that Grosseteste died (1253) well before the Oxford con¬ 
demnation of series of theses, among which figured some of those 
maintained by St. Thomas {1277 and 1284), whereas Roger Bacon 
was alive at the time of the condemnations and criticised that of 
1277, in so far as he felt that it concerned him personally. While 
admitting, then, that there would be a great deal to say in favour 
of another mode of grouping, in which more attention would be 
paid tc spiritual affinities than to chronology, I decided to treat 
first of Robert Grosseteste at Oxford and Alexander of Hales at 
Paris, then of Alexander's disciple St. Bonaventure, the greatest 
representative of the Augustinian tradition in the thirteenth 



century, then of the Aristotelianism of St. Albert and St. Thomas 
and of the ensuing controversies, and only afterwards to consider 
Roger Bacon, in spite of his spiritual affinity with Grosseteste. 


i. Robert Grosseteste was bom in Suffolk about 1170 and 
became Chancellor of Oxford University about 1221. From 1229 
to 1232 he was Archdeacon of Leicester and in 1235 he became 
Bishop of Lincoln, a post which he occupied until his death in 
1253. Besides translations (it has already been mentioned that he 
probably translated the Ethics directly from the Greek), Robert 
Grosseteste composed commentaries on the Posterior Analytics, 
the Sophistical Arguments , the Physics, though the Commentary' 
on the Physics was rather a compendium than a commentary, and 
on the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius. The statement by Roger 
Bacon to the effect that Grosseteste neglexit omnino libros Aris- 
totelis et vias eorum 1 cannot, therefore, be taken as meaning that 
he was ignorant of the writings of Aristotle, but must be under¬ 
stood in the sense that, though acquainted with the thought of 
Aristotle, Grosseteste approached philosophical problems in a 
different manner. Bacon's further words make this clear, as he 
says that Grosseteste was dependent on other authors than 
Aristotle and that he also relied on his own experience. 

Of original works Robert Grosseteste published books: De unica 
forma omnium, De InteUigentiis, De statu causarum, De potentia et 
actu, De veritate, De veritate propositions, De scientia Dei, De ordine 
emanandi causatorum a Deo and De libero arbitrio, the authen¬ 
ticity of the De Anirna not being certain. In works such as those 
just named it is quite clear that Grosseteste stood in the Augus¬ 
tinian tradition, although he knew the philosophy of Aristotle and 
utilised some of his themes. But with his Augustinianism he 
combined an interest in empirical science which influenced Roger 
Bacon and excited his admiration, so that Bacon was led to say of 
his master that he knew the sciences better than other men 2 and 
was able to explain causes by the aid of mathematics. 8 Thus 
Grosseteste wrote De uiilitate artium , De generatione sonorum, De 
sphaera , De computo, De generatione stellarum, De cometis, De 
impressions aeris , De luce, De lineis , angulis et figuris, De natura 
loccrum , De iride, De colore , De calore solis, De differentiis localibus, 

1 Compendium studii, ed. Brewer, p. 469. 1 Ibid., p. 472. 

• Opus Maius t ed. Bridges, 1, 108. 




De impressionibus elementorum , De motu corporali , De motu super- 
caelestium, De finitate motus et temporis and Quod homo sit minor 

2. The philosophy of Robert Grosseteste centres round the idea 
of light, so dear to the mind of the Augustinian. In the De luce 1 
Grosseteste remarks that the first corporeal form, which some call 
corporeity, is in his judgement light. Light unites with matter, 
that is, with Aristotelian prime matter, to form a simple substance 
without dimensions. Why does Grosseteste make light the first 
corporeal form? Because it is the nature of light to diffuse itself 
and he uses this property of light to explain how a substance 
composed of non-dimensional form and non-dimensional matter 
acquires tridimensionality. If we suppose that the function of 
light is to multiply itself and to diffuse itself and so to be respon¬ 
sible for actual extension, we must conclude that light is the first 
corporeal form, since it would not be possible for the first corporeal 
form to produce extension through a secondary or consequent 
form. Moreover, light is the noblest of all forms and bears the 
greatest resemblance to the separate intelligences, so that on this 
title also it is the first corporeal form. 

Light (lux) diffuses itself in all directions, 'spherically', forming 
the outermost sphere, the firmament, at the farthest point of its 
diffusion, and this sphere consists simply of light and prime matter. 
From every part of the firmament light (lumen) is diffused towards 
the centre of the sphere, this light (the light of experience) being 
qorpus spirituale, sive mavis dicere spiritus corporalis 2 This diffu¬ 
sion takes place by means of a self-multiplication and generation 
of light, so that at intervals, so to speak, there arises a new sphere, 
until the nine celestial and concentric spheres are complete, the 
innermost being the sphere of the moon. This sphere in turn 
produces light, but the rarefaction or diffusion is less as the light 
approaches the centre, and the four infra-lunar spheres, of fire, air, 
water and earth are produced. There are, then, thirteen spheres in 
all in the sensible world, the nine celestial spheres, which are 
incorruptible and changeless, and the four infra-celestial spheres, 
which are corruptible and capable of change. 

The degree of light possessed by each kind of body determines 
its place in the corporeal hierarchy, light being the species et 
perfectio corporum omnium . 3 Grosseteste also explains colour in 
terms of light, declaring that it is lux incorporata perspicuo . 4 An 

1 Ed. Baur, p. 51. * P, 55. 3 P. 56. 4 De colore, p. 78. 

23 I 

abundance of light in perspicuo puro is whiteness, while lux pauca 
in perspicuo impuro nigredo est f and he explains in this sense the 
statement of Aristotle 1 and Averroes that blackness is a privation. 
Light again is the principle of motion, motion being nothing else 
but the vis multiplicativa lucis 2 

3. So far light has been considered as something corporeal, as a 
component of the corporeal; but Grosseteste extends the concep¬ 
tion of light to embrace the spiritual world as well. Thus God is 
pure Light, the eternal Light (not in the corporeal sense, of course), 
and the angels are also incorporeal lights, participating in the 
eternal Light. God is also the 'Form of all things', but Grosseteste 
is careful to explain that God is not the form of all things as enter¬ 
ing into their substance, uniting with their matter, but as their 
exemplary form. 3 God precedes all creatures, but 'precedes' must 
be understood as meaning that God is eternal, the creature 
temporal: if it is understood as meaning that there is a common 
duration in which both God and creatures exist, the statement 
will be incorrect, since the Creator and the creature do not share 
any common measure. 4 We naturally imagine a time in which 
God existed before creation, just as we naturally imagine space 
outside the universe; but reliance on the imagination in such 
matters is a source of error. 

4. In the De veritate propositionis b Grosseteste says that veritas 
sermonis vel opinionis est adaequatio sermonis vel opmionis et rei, 
but he concentrates more on 'ontological truth', on the Augustinian 
view of truth. He is willing to accept the Aristotelian view of the 
truth of enunciation as adaequatio sermonis et rei or adaequatio rei 
ad intellectum, but truth really means the conformity of things to 
the eternal Word quo dicuntur and consists in their conformity to 
the divine Word. 0 A thing is true, in so far as it is what it ought 
to be, and it is what it ought to be when it is conformed to the 
Word, that is, to its exemplar. This conformity can be perceived 
only by the mind, so that truth may also be defined with St. Anselm 
as rectitudo sola mente perceptibilis . 7 

From this it follows that no created truth can be perceived 
except in the light of the supreme Truth, God. Augustine bore 
witness to the fact that a created truth is visible only in so far as 
the light of its ratio eterna is present to the mind. 8 How is it, then, 

1 Physics, 201 a 6; Metaph., 1065 b 11. * De motu corporali et luce, p. 92. 

* De unica forma omnium, p. 109. 

4 De ordint emanandi causatorum a Deo, p. 149. P. 144. 

• De veritate, pp. 134-5. 7 Ibid., p. 135. • Ibid., p. 137. 




that the wicked and impure can attain truth? They cannot be 
supposed to see God, who is seen only by the pure of heart. The 
answer is that the mind does not perceive the Word or the ratio 
eterna directly, but perceives truth in the light of the Word. Just 
as the bodily eye sees corporeal objects in the light of the sun 
without looking directly at the sun or even perhaps adverting to 
it at all, so the mind perceives truth in the light of the divine 
illumination without thereby perceiving God, the Veritas summa , 
directly or even without necessarily realising at all that it is only 
in the divine light that it sees truth. 1 Thus Grosseteste follows the 
Augustinian doctrine of divine illumination, but explicitly rejects 
any interpretation of the doctrine which would involve a vision 
of God. 

Into Grosseteste's views on mathematics, perspective, etc., I 
cannot enter: enough has been said to show how Grosseteste's 
philosophy was built upon Augustinian lines by a man who yet 
knew and was willing to utilise Aristotelian ideas. 


5. There was within the Franciscan Order a party of zealots 
who adopted a hostile attitude towards learning and other accom¬ 
modations to the needs of life, which they regarded as treason to 
the simple idealism of the Seraphic Father; but these ‘Spirituals’ 
were frowned upon by the Holy See, and in point of fact the 
Franciscan Order produced a long line of distinguished theologians 
and philosophers, the first eminent figure being that of the English¬ 
man, Alexander of Hales, who was born in Gloucestershire between 
1170 and 1180, entered the Franciscan Order about 1231 and died 
in 1245. He was the first Franciscan professor of theology at Paris 
and occupied the chair until within a few years of his death, having 
as his successor John of la Rochelle. 

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what contributions to philo¬ 
sophy are to be ascribed to Alexander of Hales in person, since the 
Summa theologica which passes under his name, and which drew 
caustic comments from Roger Bacon, comprises elements, parti¬ 
cularly in the latter portion, taken from the writings of other 
thinkers and seems to have attained its final form some ten years 
or more after Alexander's death. 2 In any case, however, the work 
represents a stage in the development of western philosophy and 

1 De veritate , p. 138, 

* References below are to the Summa theologica in the Quaracchi edition, 
according to volume and section. 


a tendency in that development. It represents a stage, since the 
Aristotelian philosophy as a whole is clearly known and utilised: 
it represents a tendency, since the attitude adopted towards 
Aristotle is critical, in the sense that Alexander not only attacks 
certain doctrines of Aristotle and the Aristotelians but also con¬ 
siders that the pagan philosophers were unable to formulate a 
satisfactory ‘philosophy’, in the wide sense, owing to the fact that 
they did not possess the Christian revelation: a man on a hill can 
see more even of the valley than the man at the foot of the hill 
can see. He followed, therefore, his Christian predecessors (the 
Fathers, especially St. Augustine, Boethius, the Pseudo-Dionysius, 
St. Anselm, the Victonnes) rather than Aristotle. 

6. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity cannot be attained by 
man’s unaided reason, owing to the weakness of the human 
intellect, 1 but God’s existence can be known by all men, whether 
they are good or bad. 2 Distinguishing God’s existence (quia est) 
from His nature (quid est) Alexander teaches that all can know 
God’s existence by means of creatures, recognising God as efficient 
and final cause. 3 Moreover, though the natural light of reason is 
insufficient to attain to a knowledge of the divine nature as it is 
in itself, that does not mean that all knowledge of God's nature is 
barred to the natural intellect, since it can come to know some¬ 
thing of God, for example, His power and wisdom, by considering 
His operation in creatures, a degree of knowledge open to those 
who are not in a state of grace.* This type of knowledge is not 
univocal but analogical. 6 For example, goodness is predicated of 
God and of creatures, but while it is predicated of God per naturam, 
as being identical with His nature and as the self-existent source 
of all goodness, it is predicated of creatures per participationem, 
inasmuch as creatures depend on God, are God’s effects, and 
receive a limited degree of goodness from Him. 

In proving God’s existence Alexander makes use of a variety of 
arguments. Thus he uses Richard of St. Victor’s proof from 
contingency, St. John Damascene's argument from causality and 
Hugh of St. Victor’s argument from the soul’s knowledge that it 
had a beginning; but he also employs St. Augustine's and St. 
Anselm’s proof from the eternity of truth and accepts the latter’s 
proof from the idea of the Perfect, as given in the Proslogium , 6 In 
addition he maintains that it is impossible to be ignorant of God’s 

1 I, no. 10. * i, no. 15. * 1, no. 21. 6 i, no. 15. 

* I, no. 21. - i, no. 25. 




existence. 1 This is a startling proposition, but it is necessary to 
bear in mind certain distinctions. For instance, we must distin¬ 
guish habitual knowledge and actual knowledge {cognitio habitu, 
cognitio actu). The former, says Alexander, is a habit naturally 
impressed on the intellect, enabling the intellect to know God, and 
would seem to be little more than implicit knowledge, if ‘implicit 
knowledge* can be called knowledge at all. St. Albert the Great 
comments, rather sarcastically, that this distinction is a solutio 
mirabilis 2 Actual knowledge itself must also be distinguished, 
since it may comprise the soul's recognition that it is not a se or 
it may mean a concentration on creatures. In so far as actual 
knowledge of the first sort is concerned, the soul cannot fail to 
know God’s existence, though it would appear that the actual 
recognition of God may even here be ‘implicit’, but in so far as the 
soul is turned away from God by sin and error and rivets its 
attention on creatures, it may fail to realise God’s existence. In 
this latter case, however, a further distinction must be introduced 
between knowledge of God in ratione communi and knowledge of 
God in ratione propria . For example, the man who places his 
happiness in riches or sensual pleasures knows God in a sense, 
since God is Beatitude, but he does not have a true notion of God, 
in ratione propria. Similarly the idolater recognises God in 
communi , for example, as ‘Something’, but not as He really is, in 
ratione propria. Such distinctions may indeed appear somewhat 
far-fetched, but Alexander is taking into account such facts as 
St. Paul’s 3 saying that the heathen know God but have not 
glorified Him as God or St. John Damascene's declaration that 
the knowledge of God is naturally impressed on the mind. 4 The 
view that the human mind cannot be without any knowledge of 
God is characteristic of the Augustinian School; but, in view of the 
fact that idolaters and, at least, professed atheists exist, any 
writer who wishes to maintain such a view is bound to introduce 
the distinction between implicit and explicit knowledge or between 
knowledge of God in ratione communi and knowledge of God in 
ratione propria. 

7. Alexander treats of the divine attributes of immutability, 
simplicity, infinity, incomprehensibility, immensity, eternity, 
unity, truth, goodness, power and wisdom, giving objections, his 
own reply to the general question and answers to the objections. 

1 1, no. 26. 1 S.T., p.l., tr. 4, q. 19. 

Romans 1. 4 De fide orthod,, i, cc. 1 and 3; P.O., 94. 790 and 794. 


Appeals to former writers and quotations from authorities like 
Augustine and Anselm are frequent, nor is the doctrine developed 
in a particularly original fashion, but the arrangement is syste¬ 
matic and careful, and a considerable amount of general philo¬ 
sophical reflection is included. For instance, when treating of the 
unity of the divine nature, Alexander begins by considering unity 
in general, defining unitas as indivisio entis and unum as ens 
indivisum in se, divisum autem ab aliis , 1 and goes on to consider 
the relation of unity to being, truth and goodness. 2 As regards the 
divine knowledge, Alexander maintains, following Augustine and 
Anselm, that God knows all things in and through Himself. The 
exemplar or eternal ‘ideas' of creatures are in God, though, 
considered in themselves, they do not form a plurality but are 
identical with the one divine essence, so that it is by knowing 
Himself that God knows all things. How, then, does He know 
evil and sin? Only as defect, i.e. a defect from goodness. If light, 
says Alexander, following the Pseudo-Dionysius, were gifted with 
the power of knowing, it would know that this or that object was 
unreceptive of its action: it would not know darkness in itself 
without any relation to light. This involves, of course, the view 
that evil is nothing positive but rather a privation, 3 for, if evil 
were something positive, it would be necessary either to maintain 
dualism or to say that evil has an exemplar in God. 

In treating of the divine will Alexander raises the question 
whether or not God can order actions which are against the natural 
law. The immediate origin of the question is a problem of Scrip¬ 
tural exegesis; how, for example, to explain God’s order to the 
Israelites to despoil the Egyptians, but the question has, of course, 
a much wider significance. God, he answers, cannot order an 
action which would be formally contrary to the natural law, since 
this would be to contradict Himself; He cannot, for instance, will 
that man should have any other end but God, since God is 
essentially the final end. Nor could God order the Israelites to 
steal in the proper sense of the word, as implying an act directed 
against God Himself, a sin. God can, however, deprive the 
Egyptians of their property and so order the Israelites to take it. 
He can also order the Israelites to take something that belongs to 
another, since this affects only the ordo ad creaturam , but cannot 
order them to take it ex cupiditate , since this affects the ordo 
ad Deum and would involve self-contradiction on God’s part. 4 

1 i, no. 72. 1 1, no. 73. *Cf. i, nos. 1239. 4 1, no. 276. 


Similarly, God could order the prophet Osee to have intercourse 
with a woman who was not his wife, in so far as this act involved 
the ordo ad creaturam, but He could not order Osee to do this ex 
libidine , since this would involve the ordo ad Deum. Alexander’s 
distinctions on this matter are somewhat obscure and not always 
satisfactory, but it is in any case clear that he did not believe that 
the moral law depends on God's arbitrary fiat , as Ockham was 
later to maintain. 

8. God is the immediate Creator of the world, in regard both to 
matter and form, and the non-eternity of the world can be proved. 1 
Thus Alexander rejects the Aristotelian notion of the eternity of 
the world, but he accepts the doctrine of hylomorphic composition. 
This composition is found in every creature, since ’matter' equals 
potentiality, but a more fundamental composition, also found in 
every creature, is that between the quo est and the quod est . 2 It 
may appear that this is the distinction between essence and 
existence, but it seems rather that the quod est refers to the 
concrete being, a man, for instance, and the quo est to the abstract 
essence, humanity, for example. In any case the distinction is a 
'rational' distinction, since we can predicate the quo est of the 
quod est, in a certain sense at least, as when we say that this being 
is a man. There is no real distinction between a man and his 
humanity; yet the humanity is received. In God there is no 
dependence, no reception, and so no composition between the quod 
est (Deus) and the quo est (Deitas). 

9. In accordance with his general spirit of reliance on tradition, 
Alexander of Hales gives and defends seven definitions or descrip¬ 
tions of the human soul. 3 For example, the soul may be defined 
as Deifortne spiraculum vitae or as substantia quaedam rationis 
particefis , regendo corpori accommodata 5 or as substantia spiritualis a 
Deo creata , propria sui corporis vivificatrix* Other definitions are 
taken from St. Augustine, St. John Damascene and Seneca. The 
soul, insists Alexander, is not a substance simply in the sense that 
it is a substantial form, but it is an ens in se, a substance simpliciter , 
composed of 'intellectual' matter and form. If in this respect he 
follows the Platonic-Augustinian tradition, even suggesting that 
the soul must be a substance since it stands to the body as the 
sailor to the ship, he also insists that the soul vivifies the body. 

1 2, no. 67. * 2, nos, 59-61. * 2, no. 321. 

4 Cf. De sp. et an., c. 42, (placed among works of Augustine; P. L. 40, 811) 
and St. Aug., De Gen. ad litt., 7 cc, 1-3. 

* St. Aug., De quant . an., c. 13, n. 22. 4 Cassiodorus, De Anima, c. 2. 


An angel is also spiraculum vitae, but an angel is not spiraculum 
vitae corporis, whereas the soul is the principle of the body’s 

Each human soul is created by God out of nothing. 1 The human 
soul is not an emanation of God, part of the divine substance, 2 nor 
is it propagated in the manner postulated by the traducianists. 
Original sin can be explained without recourse to a traducianist 
theory. 3 The soul is united with the body after the manner of the 
union of form with matter (ad modum forrnae cum materia),* but 
this must be interpreted in an Augustinian sense, since the rational 
soul is joined to its body ut motor mobili et ut perfectio formalis suo 
perfectibili .* The soul has the three powers of the vis vegetativa, 
the vis sensitiva and the vis intellectiva, and though these powers 
are not to be called parts of the soul, in the strict sense of the word 
‘part’, 8 they are yet distinct from one another and from the 
essence of the soul. Alexander, therefore, explains Augustine’s 
assertion of the identity of the soul and its powers by saying that 
this identity is to be referred to the substance, not to the essence 
of the soul. 7 The soul cannot subsist without its powers nor are 
the powers intelligible apart from the soul, but just as esse and 
operari are not identical, so are essentia and potentia not 

The active and passive intellects are duae differentiae of the 
rational soul, the former referring to the spiritual form of the soul, 
the latter to its spiritual matter, and the active intellect is not 
separate from the soul but belongs to it. 8 But together with the 
Aristotelian classification of the rational powers of the soul 
Alexander gives also the classifications of St. Augustine and St. 
John Damascene and attempts to reconcile them. For example, 
‘intellect’ in the Aristotelian philosophy refers to our power of 
acquiring knowledge of intelligible forms by means of abstraction, 9 
and it corresponds, therefore, to the Augustinian ratio, not to the 
Augustinian intellectus or intelligentia, which has to do with 
spiritual objects. Intellect in the Aristotelian sense has to do 
with embodied forms and abstracts them from the phantasmata, 
but intellect in the Augustinian sense has to do with non-embodied, 
spiritual forms, and when there is question of knowing those forms 
which are superior to the human soul, the intellect is powerless 
unless it is illuminated by God. 10 Alexander provides no clear 

1 2, nos. 329 and 322. * 2, no. 322. • 2, no. 327. 4 2, no. 347. 

8 2, no. 345. *2, no. 351. T 2, no. 349, • 2. no. 372. 

• 2, no. 368. ld 2, no. 372. 




explanation of what this illumination precisely is, but he at least 
makes it clear that he accepts the Aristotelian doctrine of abstrac¬ 
tion in regard to the corporeal world, though in regard to the 
spiritual world the doctrine of Aristotle has to be supplemented by 
that of Augustine. One may also remark that Alexander was quite 
right in seeing in the Peripatetic classification a psychological 
analysis and in the Augustinian classification a division according 
to the objects of knowledge. 

Alexander gives three definitions of free will, that of St. Anselm 
(potestas servandi rectitudinem propter se), that of St. Augustine 
(,facultas rationis et voluntatis , qua bonum eligitur gratia assistente 
et malum eadem desistente) and that of St. Bernard ( consensus ob 
voluntatis inamissibilem libertatem et rationis indeclinabile indicium) 
and attempts to reconcile them. 1 Liberum arbitrium is common to 
God and the soul, but it is predicated neither universally nor 
equivocally, but analogically, primarily of God, secondarily of the 
creature. 2 In man it is one faculty or function of reason and will 
in union, and it is in this sense only that it may be termed distinct 
from reason and will: it is not in reality a separate power of the 
soul. Moreover, inasmuch as it is bound up with the possession of 
reason and will, it is inseparable from the soul, that is, as far as 
natural liberty is concerned. Following St. Bernard, Alexander 
distinguishes libertas arbitrii and libertas consilii et complaciti and 
declares that, while the latter may be lost, the former cannot. 

10. Alexander of Hales is of interest, since his main work is a 
sustained effort of systematic thought, being a Scholastic presenta¬ 
tion of the Christian theology and philosophy. In regard to form 
it belongs to the mediaeval period of the Summas, sharing in the 
merits and defects of that type of compilation, in their succinctness 
and orderly arrangement as in their aridity and absence of 
developments which, from our point of view, might be desirable. 
As regards content, on the one hand Alexander's Summa stands in 
close connection with the past, as the author is determined to be 
faithful to tradition and very frequently quotes Augustine or 
Anselm, Bernard or John Damascene, instead of developing his 
own arguments. This does not mean that he appeals simply to 
authority, in the sense of merely citing famous names, since he 
often quotes the arguments of his predecessors; but it does mean 
that the developed arguments which would have been desirable 
even at the time he wrote, are absent. However, his work is, of 

1 Cf. 2, nos. 393-6. 1 2, no. 402. 


course, a Summa, and a Summa is admittedly a summary. On the 
other hand the work shows a knowledge of Aristotle, though he 
is not often explicitly mentioned, and it makes some use of the 
Peripatetic doctrine. There is always present, however, the desire 
to harmonise the elements taken from Aristotle with the teaching 
of Augustine and Anselm, and the general tendency is towards a 
contrast between the God-enlightened Christian thinkers on the 
one hand and the Philosophers on the other hand. It is not that 
Alexander gives the impression of being a polemical writer nor 
that he confuses philosophy and theology, 1 but he is chiefly 
concerned with the knowledge of God and of Christ. To say that, 
is simply to say that he was faithful to the tradition of the 
Augustinian School. 

1 Cf. 1, no. 2. 




Life and works — Spirit—Theology and philosophy—Attitude to 

I. St. Bonaventure, Giovanni Fidanza, was bom at Bagnorea 
in Tuscany in the year 1221. Healed of a sickness while a child, 
through his mother’s invocation of St. Francis of Assisi, he entered 
the Franciscan Order at a date which cannot be exactly deter¬ 
mined. It may have been shortly before or after 1240, but in any 
case Bonaventure must have become a Franciscan in time to study 
under Alexander of Hales at Paris before the latter’s death in 
1245. The teaching of Alexander evidently made a great impres¬ 
sion on his pupil, for in his Praelocutio prooemio in secundum 
librum Sententiarum praemissa Bonaventure declares that just as 
in the first book of the Sentences he has adhered to the common 
opinions of the masters, and especially to those of ‘our master and 
father of happy memory Brother Alexander', so in the following 
books he will not stray from their footsteps. 1 In other words 
Bonaventure imbibed the Franciscan, i.e. the Augustinian, tradi¬ 
tion, and he was determined to keep to it. It might perhaps be 
thought that this determination indicated simply a pious conserva¬ 
tism and that Bonaventure was ignorant of or at least ignored and 
adopted no definite and positive attitude towards the new philoso¬ 
phical tendencies at Paris; but the Commentary on the Sentences 
dates from 1250-1 (he started lecturing in 1248, on St. Luke’s 
Gospel) and at that date Bonaventure cannot have made his 
studies at Paris and yet have been ignorant of the Aristotelian 
philosophy. Moreover, we shall see later that he adopted a very 
definite attitude towards that philosophy, an attitude which was 
not simply the fruit of ignorance but proceeded from reflection and 
reasoned conviction. 

St. Bonaventure was involved in the same difficulties between 
regulars and seculars in which St. Thomas Aquinas was involved, 
and in 1255 he was excluded from the university, that is, he was 
refused recognition as a doctor and professor of the university 

1 Alexander appears again as 'our father and master' in 2 Sent., 23, 2, 3; II, 
P- 547' 


staff. He may have been readmitted in 1256, but in any case he 
was accepted, along with Aquinas, in October 1257, as a result of 
Papal intervention. He was then a professor of theology at the 
university, as far as acceptance was concerned, and would doubt¬ 
less have proceeded to exercise that office had he not been elected 
Minister General of his Order on February 2nd, 1257. The fulfil¬ 
ment of the normal functions of his office would by itself 
have prevented his living the settled life of a university professor, 
but in addition there were differences of opinion at the time within 
the Order itself in regard to its spirit, practice and function, and 
Bonaventure was faced with the difficult task of maintaining or 
restoring peace. However, in 1259 he wrote the Itinerarium mentis 
in Deum, in 1261 his two lives of St. Francis, in 1267 or 1268 the 
Collationes de decern praeceptis (Lenten sermons), the De decern 
donis Spirilus sancti (about 1270), the Collationes in Hexaemeron 
in 1273. The Breviloquium was written before 1257. The Com¬ 
mentaries on the Scriptures, short mystical treatises, sermons, and 
letters on points connected with the Franciscan Order make up his 
other writings at various periods of his life. 

Although in 1265 Bonaventure had succeeded in inducing the 
Pope to rescind his appointment to the Archbishopric of York, he 
was appointed Bishop of Albano and Cardinal in 1273. In 1274 
he was present at the Council of Lyons, where he preached on the 
reunion of the Eastern Church with Rome, but on the conclusion 
of the Council he died (July 15th, 1274) and was buried at Lyons in 
the presence of Pope Gregory X. 

2. St. Bonaventure was not only himself a man of learning, but 
he also encouraged the development of studies within the Francis¬ 
can Order, and this may appear strange in the case of a Franciscan 
saint, when it can hardly be said that the founder had envisaged 
his friars devoting themselves to erudition. But it is, of course, 
perfectly clear to us, as it was to Bonaventure, that an order 
consisting largely of priests, with a vocation which involved 
preaching, could not possibly fulfil its vocation unless its members, 
at least those who were destined for the priesthood, studied the 
Scriptures and theology. But it was impossible to study Scholastic 
theology without acquiring a knowledge of philosophy, so that 
philosophical and theological studies were both necessary. And 
once this general principle was admitted, as admitted it must be, 
it was hardly practicable to set a limit to the degree of study. If 
the students were to be trained in philosophy and theology, they 





had to have professors and the professors had not only to be 
competent themselves but to educate their successors. Moreover, 
if apostolic work might involve contact with learned men, perhaps 
also with heretics, one could not set on a priori grounds a limit to 
the study which might be advisable. 

One might indeed multiply such practical considerations, which 
justified the development of studies within the Franciscan Order; 
but, as far as Bonaventure is concerned, there is an equally 
important consideration to be mentioned. St. Bonaventure was 
perfectly faithful to the spirit of St. Francis in regarding union 
with God as the most important aim in life; but he saw very well 
that this would scarcely be attained without knowledge of God 
and the things of God, or at least that such knowledge, so far from 
being a hindrance to union with God, should predispose the soul 
to closer union. After all, it was the study of the Scriptures and of 
theology which he recommended and himself pursued, not the 
study of questions which had no connection with God, and this 
was one of the reasons why he disliked and mistrusted the meta¬ 
physical philosophy of Aristotle, which had no place for personal 
communion with the Godhead and no place for Christ. There is, 
as M. Gilson has pointed out, a certain parallel between the life of 
St. Francis and the teaching of St. Bonaventure. For just as the 
former's personal life culminated in mystical communion with 
God, so the latter's teaching culminated in his mystical doctrine, 
and just as Francis had approached God through Christ and had 
seen, concretely , all things in the light of the divine Word, so 
Bonaventure insisted that the Christian philosopher must see the 
world in its relation to the creative Word. Christ, as he expressly 
says, is the medium or Centre of all sciences, and so he could not 
accept the Aristotelian metaphysic, which, so far from knowing 
anything of Christ, had rejected even the exemplarism of Plato. 

In the end the Franciscan Order accepted Duns Scotus as its 
doctor par excellence ; but though it was doubtless right in so doing 
and though Scotus was undoubtedly a man of genius, a thinker of 
great speculative and analytic ability, one may perhaps say that 
it was St. Bonaventure who stood nearer in thought, as in time, to 
the spirit of the Seraphic Father. Indeed, it is not without reason 
that he was accorded the title of the Seraphic Doctor. 

3. St. Bonaventure's view of the purpose and value of study, 
determined as much by his own inclinations and spiritual tenden¬ 
cies as by his intellectual training under Alexander of Hales and 


his membership of the Franciscan Order, naturally placed him in 
the Augustinian tradition. St. Augustine's thought centred round 
God and the soul's relation to God, and, since the man who is 
related to God is the concrete and actual man of history, who has 
fallen from grace and who has been redeemed by grace, Augustine 
dealt with man in the concrete and not with the ‘natural man', 
not, that is, with man considered apart from his supernatural 
vocation and in abstraction from the operation of supernatural 
grace. This meant that St. Augustine could make no very rigid 
distinction between philosophy and theology, even though he 
distinguished between the natural light of reason and supernatural 
faith. There is, of course, adequate justification for treating in 
philosophy of man in ‘the state of nature', since the order of grace 
is super-natural and one can distinguish between the order of grace 
and the order of nature; but the point I want to make is simply 
this, that if one is principally interested in the soul's advance to 
God, as Augustine and Bonaventure were, then one's thought will 
centre round man in the concrete, and man in the concrete is man 
with a supernatural vocation. Man considered in the ‘state of 
nature', is a legitimate abstraction; but this legitimate abstraction 
will not appeal to one whose thought centres round the actual 
historical order. It is largely a question of approach and method. 
Neither Augustine nor Bonaventure would deny the distinction 
between the natural and the supernatural, but since they were 
both primarily interested in the actual historical man, who, be it 
repeated, is man with a supernatural vocation, they naturally 
tended to mingle theological and philosophical themes in one 
Christian wisdom rather than to make a rigid, methodological 
distinction between philosophy and theology. 

It may be objected that in this case St. Bonaventure is simply a 
theologian and not a philosopher at all; but one can give a similar 
answer in the case of Bonaventure as in that of Augustine. If one 
were to define a philosopher as one who pursues the study of Being 
or the ultimate causes, or whatever other object one is pleased to 
assign to the philosopher, without any reference to revelation and 
prescinding completely from dogmatic theology, the Christian dis¬ 
pensation and the supernatural order, then of course neither 
Augustine nor Bonaventure could be termed a philosopher; but if 
one is willing to admit into the ranks of the philosophers all those 
who pursue what are generally recognised as philosophical themes, 
then both men must be reckoned philosophers. Bonaventure may 




sometimes treat, for instance, of the stages of the soul's ascent 
from knowledge of God through creatures to immediate and 
interior experience of God and he may speak of the stages without 
any clear demarcation of what is proper to theology and what is 
proper to philosophy; but that does not alter the fact that in 
treating of knowledge of God through creatures, he develops 
proofs of God’s existence and that these proofs are reasoned argu¬ 
ments and so can be termed philosophical arguments. Again, 
Bonaventure's interest in the material world may be principally 
an interest in that world as the manifestation of God and he may 
delight to see therein vestigia of the Triune God, but that does not 
alter the fact that he holds certain opinions about the nature of 
the world and its constitution which are cosmological, philosophi¬ 
cal, in character. It is true that to isolate Bonaventure’s philoso¬ 
phical doctrines is in a sense to impair the integrity of his system; 
but there are philosophical doctrines in his system and this fact 
entitles him to a place in the history of philosophy. Moreover, as 
I shall mention shortly, he adopted a very definite attitude 
towards philosophy in general and the Aristotelian system in 
particular, and on this count alone he merits a place in the history 
of philosophy. One could hardly exclude Kierkegaard from the 
history of philosophy, although his attitude towards philosophy, 
in his understanding of the term, was hostile, for he philosophised 
about philosophy: still less can one exclude Bonaventure whose 
attitude was less hostile than that of Kierkegaard and who repre¬ 
sents a particular standpoint in regard to philosophy, the stand¬ 
point of those who maintain not only that there is such a thing as 
Christian philosophy, but also that every independent philosophy 
is bound to be deficient and even partly erroneous as philosophy. 
Whether this standpoint is right or wrong, justified or unjustified, 
it deserves consideration in a history of philosophy. 

Bonaventure was, then, of the Augustinian tradition; but it 
must be remembered that a great deal of water had flowed under 
the bridge since the time of Augustine. Since that time Scholas¬ 
ticism had developed, thought had been systematised, the Aris¬ 
totelian metaphysic had been fully made known to the western 
Christian world. Bonaventure commented on the Sentences of 
Peter Lombard and he was acquainted with the thought of 
Aristotle: we would only expect, then, to find in his writings not 
only far more elements of Scholasticism and of the Scholastic 
method than in Augustine but also an adoption of not a few 


Aristotelian ideas, for Bonaventure by no means rejected Aristotle 
lock, stock and barrel: on the contrary he respected him as a 
natural philosopher, even if he had no high opinion of his meta¬ 
physics, of his theology at least. Thus from the point of view of 
the thirteenth century the Bonaventurian system was a modern 
Augustinianism, an Augustinianism developed through the cen¬ 
turies and re-thought in relation to Aristotelianism. 

4. What then was Bonaventure’s view of the general relation of 
philosophy to theology and what was his view of Aristotelianism? 
The two questions can be taken together, since the answer to the 
first determines the answer to the second. 

As has already been remarked, Augustine distinguished faith 
and reason, and Bonaventure naturally followed him, quoting 
Augustine’s words to the effect that what we believe we owe to 
authority, what we understand to reason. 1 It follows from this, 
one might think, that philosophy and theology are two separate 
sciences and that an independent philosophy of a satisfactory 
character is, at least theoretically, possible. Indeed Bonaventure 
actually makes an explicit and clear distinction between dogmatic 
theology and philosophy. For example, in the Breviloquium 2 he 
says that theology begins with God, the supreme Cause, with whom 
philosophy ends. In other words, theology takes its data from 
revelation and proceeds from God Himself to His effects, whereas 
philosophy starts with the visible effects and argues to God as 
cause. Again, in the De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam 3 he 
divides ‘natural philosophy’ into physics, mathematics and meta¬ 
physics, while in the In Hexaemeron 4 he divides philosophy into 
physics, logic and ethics. 

In view of the above, how can it be maintained that St. Bona¬ 
venture did not admit of any rigid distinction between philosophy 
and theology? The answer is that he admitted a methodological 
distinction between the sciences and also a distinction of subject- 
matter, but insisted that no satisfactory metaphysic or philoso¬ 
phical system can be worked out unless the philosopher is guided 
by the light of faith and philosophises in the light of faith. For 
instance, he was well aware that a philosopher can arrive at the 
existence of God without the aid of revelation. Even if he had not 
been convinced of this by his own reason and by the testimony of 
the Scriptures, the philosophy of Aristotle would have been 

1 Aug., De utilitate credendi, ii, 25; Bonav., Breviloq., 1, 1,4. 

* 1, 1. 1 4. 4 4, 2. 



sufficient to persuade him of the fact. But he was not content to 
say that the knowledge of God so attained is incomplete and 
stands in need of the completion provided by revelation: he went 
further and stated that such purely rational knowledge is, and 
must be, in important points erroneous. This point he proved 
empirically. For example, ‘the most noble Plotinus of the sect of 
Plato and Tully of the academic sect', in spite of the fact that their 
views on God and the soul were preferable to those of Aristotle, fell 
into error since they were unaware of the supernatural end of man, 
of the true resurrection of the body and of eternal felicity. 1 They 
could not know these things without the light of faith, and they 
fell into error precisely because they had not got the light of faith. 
Similarly, a mere metaphysician may come to the knowledge of the 
supreme Cause, but if he is a mere metaphysician he will stop 
there, and if he stops there he is in error, since he thinks of God 
otherwise than He is, not knowing that God is both one and three. 
'Philosophical science is the way to other sciences; but he who 
wishes to stop there, falls into darkness.' 2 In other words, 
Bonaventure is not denying the power of the philosopher to attain 
truth, but he maintains that the man who is satisfied with philo¬ 
sophy, who is a mere philosopher, necessarily falls into error. It is 
one thing if a man comes by reason to know that there exists one 
God and then goes on to recognise, in the light of faith, that this 
unity is a unity of Nature in Trinity of Persons, and quite another 
thing if a man stops short at the unity of God. In the latter case 
the man affirms the unity of Nature to the exclusion of the Trinity 
of Persons, and to do this is to fall into error. If it is objected that 
it is not necessary to exclude the Trinity, since a philosopher may 
prescind from revelation altogether, so that his philosophical know¬ 
ledge, though incomplete, remains valid and true, Bonaventure 
would doubtless answer that if the man is simply a philosopher and 
rests in philosophy, he will be convinced that God is one in Nature 
and not three in Persons. In order to make due allowance for the 
completion, he must already possess the light of faith. The light 
of faith does not supply the rationed arguments for God's existence 
(there is such a thing as philosophy), but it ensures that the 
philosophy remains 'open' and that it does not close in on itself 
in such a way that error results. 

Bonaventure’s view of Aristotelianism follows easily enough 
from these premisses. That Aristotle was eminent as a natural 

1 In Hexaem 7, 3 Q. * De Demis, 3, 12. 


philosopher, that is, in regard to sensible objects, Bonaventure 
admits: what he will not admit is that Aristotle was a true meta¬ 
physician, that is, that the metaphysics of Aristotle are satis¬ 
factory. Some people, seeing that Aristotle was so eminent ift 
other sciences, have imagined that he must also have attained 
truth in metaphysics; but this does not follow, since the light of 
faith is necessary in order to form a satisfactory metaphysical 
system. Moreover, Aristotle was so competent in other sciences 
precisely because his mind and interests were of such a kind that 
he was not inclined to form a philosophy which should point 
beyond itself. Thus he refused to find the principle of the world 
outside the world: he rejected the ideas of Plato 1 and made the 
world eternal.* From his denial of the Platonic theory of ideas 
there followed not only the denial of creationism, but also the 
denial of God’s knowledge of particulars, and of divine foreknow¬ 
ledge and providence. 3 Again, the doctrine of the unicity of the 
intellect is at least attributed to Aristotle by Averroes, and from 
this there follows the denial of individual beatitude or punishment 
after death. 4 In short, though all pagan philosophers have fallen 
into error, Aristotle was more involved in error than Plato or 

Possibly one may obtain a clearer view of Bonaventure’s notion 
of the relation of philosophy to theology if one bears in mind the 
attitude of the Catholic philosopher in practice. The latter works 
out arguments for the existence of God, for example, but he does 
not make himself an atheist for the time being nor does he deny 
his faith in the dogma of the Trinity: he philosophises in the light 
of what he already believes and he will not conclude to a unity in 
God of such a kind that it will exclude the Trinity of Persons. On 
the other hand his arguments for God’s existence are rational 
arguments: in them he makes no reference to dogma, and the value 
of the proofs as such rests on their philosophical merits or demerits. 
The philosopher pursues his arguments, psychologically speaking, 
in the light of the faith which he already possesses and which he 
does not discard during his philosophical studies, and his faith 
helps him to ask the right questions and to avoid untrue conclu¬ 
sions, though he does not make any formal use of the faith in his 
philosophic arguments. The Thomist would, of course, say that 
the faith is to the philosopher an extrinsic norm, that the philo¬ 
sopher prescinds from his faith, even though he does not deny it, 
1 In Hexaitrt., 6, 2 . 1 Ibid.. 4. * Ibid., 2-3. * Ibid., 4. 



and that a pagan could, theoretically at least, reach the same 
conclusions in philosophy. St. Bonaventure, however, would reply 
that, even though the philosopher may make no formal use of 
dogma in this or that metaphysical argument, he certainly 
philosophises in the light of faith and that this is something 
positive: the action of faith is a positive influence on the mind of 
the philosopher and without it he will inevitably fall into error. 
One cannot exactly say that St. Bonaventure believed only in a 
total Christian wisdom comprising indifferently philosophical and 
theological truths, since he admitted a classification of the sciences 
in which philosophy figures; but, this latter point once admitted, 
one can say that his ideal was the ideal of a Christian wisdom in 
which the light of the Word is shed not only on theological but 
also on philosophical truths, and without which those truths would 
not be attained. 

I have argued that since St. Bonaventure certainly treated of 
philosophical questions, he has a claim to be included in a history 
of philosophy, and I do not see how this contention can be 
seriously disputed; but it remains true that he was a theologian, 
that he wrote as a theologian and that he did not really consider 
philosophical questions and problems for their own sake. St. 
Thomas Aquinas was also primarily a theologian, and he wrote 
primarily as a theologian; but he did consider philosophical prob¬ 
lems at length and even composed some philosophical works, which 
St. Bonaventure did not do. The Commentary on the Sentences 
was not what we would to-day call a philosophical work. It seems, 
therefore, to constitute something of an exaggeration when 
M. Gilson maintains, in his magnificent study of St. Bonaventure's 
philosophical thought, that there is a Bonaventurian philosophical 
system, the spirit and content of which can be sharply defined. We 
have seen that St. Bonaventure recognised philosophy as a definite 
science, separate from theology; but as far as he himself is con¬ 
cerned, he might be called a philosopher per accidens. In a sense 
the same is true, of course, of any mediaeval thinker who was 
primarily a theologian, even of St. Thomas; but it is most relevant 
in the case of a thinker who was chiefly concerned with the soul's 
approach to God. Moreover, M. Gilson probably tends to exag¬ 
gerate St. Bonaventure's hostility to pagan philosophy and to 
Aristotle in particular. I have indeed admitted that St. Bona¬ 
venture attacked the Aristotelian metaphysic (this is a fact which 
cannot be denied) and that he considered that any philosopher 


who is merely a philosopher will inevitably fall into error; but it is 
desirable in this connection to call to mind the fact that St. Thomas 
himself insisted on the moral necessity of revelation. On that point 
St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas were in agreement. They both 
rejected pagan philosophy where it was incompatible with Chris¬ 
tianity, though they differed as to what precise points were to be 
rejected and how far one could go in following Aristotle. 

However, though I think that M. Gilson's genius for capturing 
the peculiar spirit of the individual thinker and for setting it in 
clear relief leads him to exaggerate the systematic aspect of St. 
Bonaventure's philosophy and to find a greater opposition between 
the views of Bonaventure and Thomas in regard to the pagan 
philosophers than probably exists in actual fact, I cannot subscribe 
to the judgement of M. Fernand Van Steenberghen 1 that the 
philosophy of St. Bonaventure is an eclectic and neo-platonising 
Aristotelianism, put at the service of an Augustinian theology. 
That Bonaventure made considerable use of Aristotelianism is 
perfectly true; but the inspiration of his philosophy is, in my 
opinion, what for want of a better word we call ‘Augustinian . As 
I remarked in regard to William of Auvergne, it depends to a large 
extent on one's point of view whether one calls those Augustinian 
theologians who adopted selected Aristotelian doctrines in philo¬ 
sophy incomplete Aristotelians or modified Augustinians; but in 
the case of a man whose whole interest centred round the soul s 
ascent to God, who laid such stress on the illuminative action of 
God and who, as M. Van Steenberghen himself states when 
criticising M. Gilson, never worked out a philosophy for its own 
sake, it seems to me that ‘Augustinian' is the only fit word for 
describing his thought, if for no better reason than the principle 
that maior pars trahit minorem and that the spirit must take 
precedence of the letter. 

1 Aristote en Occident, p. 147. 



Spirit of Bonaventure s proofs of God 1 s existence—Proofs from 
sensible world —A priori knowledge of God—The Anselmian 
argument—Argument from truth . 

I. We have seen that St. Bonaventure, like St. Augustine, was 
principally interested in the soul’s relation to God. This interest 
had an effect on his treatment of the proofs for God’s existence; 
he was chiefly concerned to exhibit the proofs as stages in the 
soul’s ascent to God or rather to treat them in function of the 
soul’s ascent to God. It must be realised that the God to whom 
the proofs conclude is not, then, simply an abstract principle of 
intelligibility, but is rather the God of the Christian consciousness, 
the God to whom men pray. I do not, of course, mean to suggest 
that there is, ontologically, any discrepancy or any irreconcilable 
tension between the God of the ‘philosophers’ and the God of 
experience; but since Bonaventure is primarily interested in God 
as Object of worship and prayer and as goal of the human soul, he 
tends to make the proofs so many acts of drawing attention to the 
self-manifestation of God, whether in the material world or within 
the soul itself. Indeed, as one would expect, he lays more emphasis 
on proofs from within than on proofs from the material world, 
from without. He certainly does prove God’s existence from the 
external sensible world (St. Augustine had done this) and he shows 
how from the knowledge of finite, imperfect, composite, moving 
and contingent beings man can rise to the apprehension of the 
infinite, perfect, simple, unchanging and necessary Being; but the 
proofs are not systematically elaborated, the reason for this being, 
not any inability on Bona venture's part to develop the proofs 
dialectically, but rather his conviction that the existence of God 
is so evident to the soul through reflection on itself that extra¬ 
mental creation serves mainly to remind us of it. His attitude is 
that of the Psalmist, when he says: Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei, et 
opera manuum eius annuntiat firmamentum. Thus it is quite true 
that the imperfection of finite and contingent things demands and 
proves the existence of absolute perfection, God; but, asks St. 
Bonaventure in a truly Platonic manner, ‘how could the intellect 



know that this being is defective and incomplete, if it had no 
knowledge of Being without any defect?’ 1 In other words, the 
idea of imperfection presupposes the idea of perfection, so that 
the idea of perfection or the perfect cannot be obtained simply by 
way of negation and abstraction, and consideration of creatures in 
their finiteness and imperfection and dependence serves simply to 
remind the soul or to bring the soul to a clearer awareness of what 
is in some sense already evident to it, already known to it. 

2. St. Bonaventure does not deny for a moment that God’s 
existence can be proved from creatures: on the contrary he affirms 
it. In the Commentary on the Sentences * he declares that God can 
be known through creatures as Cause through effect, and he goes 
on to say that this mode of cognition is natural to man inasmuch 
as for us sensible things are the means by which we arrive at the 
knowledge of ' intelligibilia’ , that is, objects transcending sense. 
The Blessed Trinity cannot be proved in the same way, however, 
by the natural light of reason, since we cannot conclude to the 
Trinity of Persons either by denying certain properties or limita¬ 
tions of creatures or by the positive way of attributing to God 
certain qualities of creatures.* St. Bonaventure thus teaches 
clearly enough the possibility of a natural and 'philosophic’ 
knowledge of God, and his remark on the psychological naturalness 
of this approach to God through sensible objects is Aristotelian in 
character. Again, in the In H exaimer on* he argues that if there 
exists being which is produced, there must be a first Being, since 
there must be a cause: if there is being ab alio, there must be 
Being a se: if there is a composite being, there must be simple 
Being: if there is changeable being, there must be unchanged 
Being, quia mobile reducitur ad immobile. The last statement is 
obviously a reference to the Aristotelian proof of the existence of 
the unmoved mover, though Bonaventure mentions Aristotle only 
to say that he argued on these lines to the eternity of the world 
and that on this point the Philosopher was wrong. 

Similarly in the De Mysterio Trinitatis * Bonaventure gives a 
series of brief arguments to show how clearly creatures proclaim 
the existence of God. For instance, if there is ens ab alio, there 
must exist ens non ab alio, because nothing can bring itself out of 
a state of non-being into a state of being, and finally there must 
be a first Being which is self-existent. Again, if there is ens 

1 Itin., 3, 3. * 1, 3, 2: Utrum. Devs sit cognoscibitis per creaturas. 

* l Sent., 3. 4. * 5. * 9 - * 1. 1 . 10-20. 




possibile, Being which can exist and can not exist, there must be 
ens necessarium , being which has no possibility of non-existence, 
since this is necessary in order to explain the eduction of possible 
being into a state of existence; and if there is ens in potentia , there 
must be ens in actu, since no potency is reducible to act save 
through the agency of what is itself in act; and ultimately there 
must be actus purus , a Being which is pure Act, without any 
potentiality, God. Again, if there is ens mutabile, there must be 
ens immutabile because, as the Philosopher proves, motion has as 
its principle an unmoved being and exists for the sake of unmoved 
being, which is its final cause. 

It might indeed appear from such passages, where Bonaventure 
employs Aristotelian arguments, that the statements to the effect 
that Bonaventure regarded the witness of creatures to God's 
existence in function of the soul's ascent to God and that he 
regarded the existence of God as a self-evident truth, cannot stand. 
But he makes it quite clear in various places 1 that he regards the 
sensible world as the mirror of God and sense-knowledge or know¬ 
ledge obtained through sense and reflection on sensible objects as, 
formally, the first step in the stages of the soul's spiritual ascent, 
the highest stage of which in this life is the experimental knowledge 
of God by means of the apex mentis or synderesis scintilla (on this 
point he shows himself faithful to the tradition of Augustine and 
the Victorines), while in the very article of the De Mysterio 
Trinitatis where he gives the proofs cited he affirms emphatically 
that God's existence is indubitably a truth naturally implanted in 
the human mind [quod Deum esse sit menti humanae indubitabile, 
tanquam sibi naturaliter insertum). He goes on to declare that, in 
addition to what he has already said on this matter, there is a 
second way of showing that the existence of God is an indubitable 
truth. This second way consists in showing that what every 
creature proclaims is an indubitable truth, and it is at this point 
that he gives his succession of proofs or rather of indications that 
every creature really does proclaim God’s existence. Subsequently 
he adds that there is a third way of showing that God's existence 
cannot be doubted and proceeds to give his version of St. Anselm's 
proof in the Proslogium . There can, then, be no doubt at all that 
Bonaventure affirmed that God's existence is self-evident and 
cannot be doubted: the question is rather what exactly he meant 
by this, and we will consider this in the next section. 

1 For example, in the Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. r. 


3. In the first place St. Bonaventure did not suppose that 
everyone has an explicit and clear knowledge of God, still less that 
he has such a knowledge from birth or from the first use of reason. 
He was well aware of the existence of idolaters and of the insipiens, 
the fool who said in his heart that there is no God. The existence 
of idolaters does not, of course, cause much difficulty since idolaters 
and pagans do not so much deny the existence of God as possess a 
wrong idea of God; but what of the insipiens ? The latter sees, for 
example, that the impious are not always punished in this world 
or at least that they sometimes appear to be better off in this 
world than many good people, and he concludes from this that 
there is no divine Providence, no divine Ruler of the world. 1 
Moreover, he explicitly affirms, 2 in answer to the objection that 
it is useless to prove the existence of that which is self-evident, of 
that concerning which no one doubts, that though the existence 
of God is indubitable so far as objective evidence is concerned, it 
can be doubted propter defectum considerationis ex parte nostra 
because ot want of due consideration and reflection on our part. 
Does not this look as if Bonaventure is saying no more than that 
objectively speaking, the existence of God is indubitable (i.e. the 
evidence, when considered, is indubitable and conclusive), but that 
subjectively speaking it may be doubted (i.e. because this or that 
human being does not give sufficient attention to the objective 
evidence); and if this is what he means when he says that God's 
existence is indubitable and self-evident, how does his position 
differ from that of St. Thomas? 

The answer seems to be this. Although St. Bonaventure did not 
postulate an explicit and clear idea of God in every human being, 
still less any immediate vision or experience of God, he certainly 
postulated a dim awareness of God in every human being, an 
implicit knowledge which cannot be fully denied and which can 
become an explicit and clear awareness through interior reflection 
alone, even if it may sometimes need to be supported by reflection 
on the sensible world. The universal knowledge of God is, there¬ 
fore, implicit, not explicit; but it is implicit in the sense that it cam 
at least be rendered explicit through interior reflection alone. St. 
Thomas admitted an implicit knowledge of God, but by this he 
meant that the mind has the power of attaining to the knowledge 
of God's existence through reflection on the things of sense amd by 
arguing from effect to cause, whereas St. Bonaventure meant 
1 De Mysterio Trinitatis, l, 1, conctusio. 1 Ibid., 12. 




something more by implicit knowledge, that is, virtual knowledge 
of God, a dim awareness which can be rendered explicit without 
recourse to the sensible world. 

Application of this view to Bonaventure's concrete instances 
may make the understanding of it easier. For instance, every 
human being has a natural desire for happiness (appetitus beati- 
tudinis). But happiness consists in the possession of the supreme 
Good, which is God. Therefore every human being desires God. 
But there can be no desire without some knowledge of the object 
(sine aliquali notitia ), Therefore the knowledge that God or the 
supreme Good exists is naturally implanted in the soul. 1 Similarly, 
the rational soul has a natural knowledge of itself, because it is 
present to itself and is knowable by itself. But God is most present 
to the soul and is knowable. Therefore a knowledge of its God is 
implanted in the soul. If it be objected that while the soul is an 
object proportionate to its own power of knowing, God is not, the 
reply can be made that, if that were true, the soul could never 
come to the knowledge of God, which is obviously false. 2 

According to the above line of argument, then, the human will 
is naturally orientated towards the supreme Good, which is God, 
and not only is this orientation of the will inexplicable unless the 
supreme Good, God, really exists, but it also postulates an a priori 
knowledge of God. 3 This knowledge is not necessarily explicit or 
clear, since if it were there could be no atheists, but it is implicit 
and vague. If it is objected that an implicit and vague knowledge 
of this kind is not knowledge at all, it may be answered that an 
unprejudiced man who reflects on the orientation of his will 
towards happiness can come to realise that the direction of his 
will implies the existence of an adequate object and that this 
object, the complete Good, must exist and is what we call God. 
He will realise not only that in seeking happiness he is seeking 
God, but that this search implies an inkling, as it were, of God, 
since there can be no search for what is entirely unknown. There¬ 
fore, by reflecting on itself, on its own dependence and on its own 
desires for wisdom, peace or felicity, the soul can recognise God's 
existence and even God's presence, God's activity within it: it is not 
necessary for it to seek without, it has only to follow Augustine's 

1 De Mysterxo TrinitaHs, 1,1,7. * Ibid., 10. 

* When speaking here of a ‘natural' orientation of the will, I do not mean to 
use the term in a strictly theological sense, but rather in the sense that the will 
of man in the concrete is directed to the attainment of God, prescinding altogether 
from the question whether or not there is a desidtrium naturale videndi Deum . 


advice and enter within itself, when it will see that it was 
never without some inkling, some dim awareness, a 'virtual' know¬ 
ledge of God. To seek for happiness (and every human being must 
seek for happiness) and to deny God's existence is really to be 
guilty of a contradiction, to deny with the lips what one affirms 
with the will and, in the case of wisdom at least, with the intellect. 
Whether this line of argument is valid or not, I do not propose to 
discuss here. It is obviously open to the objection, cogent or 
otherwise, that if there were no God, then the desire for happiness 
might be frustra or might have some other cause than the existence 
of God. But it is at least clear that St. Bonaventure did not 
postulate an innate idea of God in the crude form under which 
Locke later attacked innate ideas. Again, when St. Bonaventure 
declares that the soul knows God as most present to it, he is not 
affirming ontologism or saying that the soul sees God immediately: 
he means that the soul, recognising its dependence, recognises, if 
it reflects, that it is the image of God: it sees God in His image. 
As it necessarily knows itself, is conscious of itself, it necessarily 
knows God in at least an implicit manner. By contemplating itself 
it can make this implicit awareness explicit, without reference to 
the external world. Whether the absence of reference to the 
external world is more than formal, in the sense that the external 
world is not explicitly mentioned, is perhaps disputable. 

4. We have seen that for St. Bonaventure the very arguments 
from the external world presuppose some awareness of God, for he 
asks how the mind can know that sensible things are defective and 
imperfect if it has no previous awareness of perfection, in com¬ 
parison with which it recognises the imperfections of creatures. 
This point of view must be borne in mind when considering his 
statement of St. Anselm's proof, which he adopted from the 
Proslogium . 

In the Commentary on the Sentences 1 St. Bonaventure resumes 
the Anselmian argument. God is that than which no greater can 
be thought. But that which cannot be thought not to exist is 
greater than that which can be thought not to exist. Therefore, 
since God is that than which no greater can be thought, God 
cannot be thought not to exist. In the De Mysterio Trinitatis 2 he 
quotes and states the argument at somewhat greater length and 
points out 3 that doubt may arise if someone has an erroneous 
notion of God and does not realise that He is that than which no 

1 I, 8, i, 2. * i, i, 2 1 —4* # Ibid., conclusio. 



greater can be thought. Once the mind realises what the idea of 
God is, then it must also realise not only that the existence of God 
cannot be doubted, but also that His non-existence cannot even 
be thought. As regards Gaunilo’s objection about the best of all 
possible islands St. Bonaventure answers 1 that there is no parity, 
for while there is no contradiction involved in the concept of a 
Being than which no greater can be thought the idea of an island 
than which no better can be thought is a contradiction in terms 
(cppositio in adiecto), since 'island' denotes an imperfect being 
whereas 'than which no better can be thought' denotes a perfect 

This method of argument may appear to be purely dialectical, 
but, as already mentioned, Bonaventure did not regard the idea 
of the perfect as obtained simply through a negation of the 
imperfection of creatures, but as something presupposed by our 
recognition of the imperfection of creatures, at least in the sense 
that man's desire of the perfect implies a previous awareness. In 
accordance with the Platonic-Augustinian tradition Bonaventure 
presupposed, then, a virtual innate idea of the perfect, which can 
be nothing else but God's imprint on the soul, not in the sense that 
the soul is perfect but in the sense that the soul receives the idea 
of the perfect or forms the idea of the perfect in the light of God, 
through the divine illumination. The idea is not something 
negative, the realisation of which in concrete existence can be 
denied, for the presence of the idea itself necessarily implies God's 
existence. On this point we may note the resemblance at least 
between St. Bonaventure's doctrine and that of Descartes. 2 

5. St. Augustine's favourite argument for the existence of God 
had been that from truth and the existence of eternal truths: St. 
Bonaventure utilised this argument as well. For example, every 
affirmative proposition affirms something as true; but the affirma¬ 
tion of any truth affirms also the cause of all truth. 3 Even if 
someone says that a man is an ass, this statement, whether correct 
or not, affirms the existence of the primal truth, and even if a man 
declares that there is no truth, he affirms this negation as true and 
so implies the existence of the foundation and cause of truth. 4 No 
truth can be seen save through the first truth, and the truth 

1 De Mysterio Trinitatis, 1, 1, 6, 

1 Cf. E. Gilson’s Commentary on the Discours de la Mithode, concerning the idea 
of the perfect. 

• 1 Sent., 8, x, 2, conclusio. 

4 Ibid., 5 and 7. Cf. De Mysterio Trinitatis, 1,1, 26. 


through which every other truth is seen, is an indubitable truth: 
therefore, since the first Truth is God, God’s existence is in¬ 
dubitable. 1 

But here again St. Bonaventure is not pursuing a merely verbal 
and dialectical argument. In a passage of the In Hexaemeron , 2 
where he points out that the man who says there is no truth 
contradicts himself, since he affirms it as true that there is no 
truth, he remarks that the light of the soul is truth, which so 
enlightens the soul that it cannot deny truth’s existence without 
contradicting itself, and in the Itinerarium mentis in Deum 8 he 
maintains that the mind can apprehend eternal truths and draw 
certain and necessary conclusions only in the divine light. The 
intellect can apprehend no truth with certainty save under the 
guidance of Truth itself. To deny God's existence, then, is not 
simply to be guilty of a dialectical contradiction; it is also to deny 
the existence of the Source of that light which is necessary for the 
mind’s attainment of certitude, the light quae illuminat omnem 
hominem venientem in hunc mundum: it is to deny the Source in 
the name of that which proceeds from the Source. 

1 De Mysterio Trinitatis, i, i, 25. 1 4. I. 9 3 * 




Exempiarism—The divine knowledge—Impossibility of creation 
from eternity—Errors which follow from denial of exempiarism 
and creation—Likeness of creatures to God , analogy—Is this 
world the best possible world? 

i. WEhaveseen that the lines of proof adopted by St. Bonaventure 
lead, not to the transcendent and self-enclosed unmoved Mover of 
Aristotle (though he does not hesitate to utilise the Philosophers 
thought and to cite him when he considers it apposite), but to the 
God, at once transcendent and immanent, who is the Good which 
draws the will, the Truth which is not only foundation of all 
particular truths but also the Light which through its radiation 
within the soul makes the apprehension of certain truth possible, 
the Original which is mirrored in the human soul and in nature, 
and the Perfect which is responsible for the idea of the perfect 
within the human soul. In this way the arguments for God's 
existence stand in close relation to the spiritual life of the soul, 
revealing to it the God whom it has always sought, if only in a 
semi-conscious fashion, and the God who has always operated 
within it. The further knowledge of God which is given by 
revelation crowns the philosophic knowledge and opens up to the 
soul higher levels of spiritual life and the possibility of a closer 
union with God. Philosophy and theology are thus integrated 
together, the former leading on to the latter, the latter shedding 
light on the deeper meaning of the former. 

A similar integration of philosophy and theology is seen in 
Bonaventure's doctrine of exempiarism, which in his eyes was a 
matter of the greatest importance. In the In Hexaemeron 1 he 
makes exempiarism the central point of metaphysics. The meta¬ 
physician, he says, proceeds from the consideration of created, 
particular substance to the uncreated and universal substance 
(not in the pantheistic sense, of course), and so, in so far as he 
deals in general with the originating Principle of all things, he is 
akin to the natural philosopher who also considers the origins of 

1 i. 13. 



things, while in so far as he considers God as final end he shares 
his subject-matter to some degree with the moral philosopher, 
who also considers the supreme Good as the last end, giving his 
attention to happiness in the practical or speculative order. But 
in so far as the metaphysician considers God, the supreme Being, 
as exemplary cause of all things, he shares his subject-matter with 
no one else (cum nullo communicat et verus est tnetaphysicus ). The 
metaphysician, however, if he will attain the truth concerning 
exempiarism, cannot stop at the mere fact that God is the 
exemplary Cause of all things, for the medium of creation, the 
express image of the Father and the exemplar of all creatures, is 
the divine Word. Precisely as a philosopher he cannot come to 
a certain knowledge of the Word, it is true; 1 but then if he is 
content to be a mere philosopher, he will fall into error: he must, 
enlightened by faith, proceed beyond mere philosophy and realise 
that the divine Word is the exemplary Cause of all things. The 
purely philosophic doctrine of exempiarism thus prepares the way 
for the theology of the Word and, conversely, the theology of the 
Word sheds light on the truth attained by philosophy, and in this 
sense Christ is the medium not only of theology, but also of 

An obvious conclusion in regard to Aristotle follows from this 
position. Plato had maintained a doctrine of archetypal ideas or 
essences and, whatever Plato himself may or may not have 
thought, the neo-Platonists at least 'located' these ideas in the 
divine mind, so that St. Augustine was enabled to praise Plato 
and Plotinus on this account; but Aristotle rejected the ideas of 
Plato and attacked his theory with bitterness (in principio Meta - 
physicae et in fine et in mullis aliis locis exsecratur ideas Platonis ).* 
In the Ethics too he attacks the doctrine, though the reasons he 
gives are worthless (nihil valent rationes suae ). 3 Why did he attack 
Plato? Because he was simply a natural philosopher, interested 
in the things of the world for their own sake, and gifted with the 
sermo scientiae but not with the sermo sapientiae. In refusing to 
despise the sensible world and in refusing to restrict certainty to 
knowledge of the transcendent Aristotle was right as against Plato, 
who, in his enthusiasm for the via sapientiae, destroyed the via 
scientiae , and he rightly censured Plato on this point, but he 
himself went to the opposite extreme and destroyed the sermo 
sapientiae . 4 Indeed, by denying the doctrine of exempiarism, 

1 In Hexaim i, 13. * Ibid., 6, 2. # Ibid . 4 Swn., 18. 



Aristotle necessarily involved himself also in a denial of divine 
creation and divine providence, so that his error was worse than 
that of Plato. Now, exemplarism, on which Plato insisted, is, as 
we have seen, the key to and centre of metaphysics, so that 
Aristotle, by rejecting exemplarism, excluded himself from the rank 
of metaphysicians, in Bonaventure's understanding of the term. 

But we have to go beyond Plato and learn from Augustine, to 
whom was given both the sermo sapientiae and the sermo scientiae , 1 
for Augustine knew that the ideas are contained in the divine 
Word, that the Word is the archetype of creation. The Father 
knows Himself perfectly and this act of knowledge is the image 
and expression of Himself: it is His Word, His similitudo expres- 
siva 2 As proceeding from the Father the Word is divine, the 
divine Son (filius denotes the similitudo hypostatica , the similitudo 
connaturalis) , 3 and as representing the Father, as Imago , as 
similitudo expressa, the Word expresses also, represents, all that 
the Father can effect ( quidquid Pater potest) . 4 If anyone could 
know the Word, he would know all knowable objects (si igitur 
intelligis Verbum, intelligis omnia scibilia ). a In the Son or Word 
the Father expressed all that He could make (i.e. all possible beings 
are ideally or archetypally represented in the Word) and all that 
He would make. 6 The ‘ideas' of all creatures, therefore, possible 
and actual, are contained in the Word, and these ideas extend 
not only to universals (genera and species ), but also to singular or 
individual things. 7 They are infinite in number, as representing 
all possibles, as representing the infinite power of God. 9 But when 
it is said that there is an infinity of ideas in the Word, it is not 
meant that the ideas are really distinct in God, for there is no 
distinction in God save the distinctions of Persons: considered as 
existent in God, they are not distinct from the divine Essence or 
from one another (ideae sunt unum secundum rem ). 9 It follows 
that, not being distinct from one another, they cannot form a real 
hierarchy. 10 However, although the ideas are ontologically one and 
there is no real distinction between them, there is a distinction of 
reason, so that they are plures secundum rationem intelligendi . 11 
The foundation of the distinction cannot be any real distinction 
in the divine Essence, since not only are the ideas ontologically 
identical with the simple divine Essence, but also there is no real 
relation on the part of God to creatures, for He is in no way 

1 Serm ., 4, 19. * Brevxloq., i, 3. * Ibid. 4 In Htxaim.. 3. 4. 

4 Ibid. * Ibid., I, 13. T 1 S«n*., 35, art. unicus, 4. 4 Ibid., 5. 

4 Ibid., 2. « Ibid., 6. 11 Ibid., 3. 


dependent on creatures, though there is a real relation on the part 
of creatures to God and God and creatures are not the same, so that 
from the point of view of the things signified or connoted the ideas 
are distinct secundum rationem intelligendi. In God the ideas are 
one, but from our point of view they stand midway, as it were, 
between God the knower and the thing known, the distinction 
between them being, not a distinction in what they are (i.e. not a 
real distinction) but a distinction in what they connote, and the 
foundation of the distinction being the real multiplicity of the 
things connoted (i.e. creatures), not any real distinction in 
the divine Essence or in the divine knowledge. 

Plato was working towards this theory of ideas, but as he lacked 
the light of faith, he could not ascend to the true doctrine but 
necessarily stopped short: in order to possess the true doctrine of 
ideas, it is necessary to have knowledge of the Word. Moreover, 
just as creatures were produced through the medium of the Word 
and could not have been produced save through the Word, so they 
cannot be truly known save in the light of their relation to the 
Word. Aristotle may have been, indeed was, an eminent natural 
philosopher, but he could not know truly even the selected objects 
of his studies, since he did not see them in their relation to the 
Word, as reflections of the divine Image. 

2. God, then, in knowing Himself knows also all ways in which 
His divine essence can be mirrored externally. He knows all the 
finite good things which will be realised in time, and this knowledge 
Bonaventure c alls the cognitio approbationis , the knowledge of 
those things to which His beneplacitum voluntatis extends. He 
knows too, not only all the good things which have been, are and 
will be in the course of time, but also all the evil things, and this 
knowledge Bonaventure calls the cognitio visionis. Needless to say 
St. Bonaventure does not mean to imply that evil has its exem¬ 
plary idea in God: evil is rather the privation in the creature of 
that which it ought to have according to its idea in God. God 
knows too all possible things, and this knowledge Bonaventure 
terms cognitio intelligeniiae. Its objects, the possibles, are infinite 
in number, whereas the objects of the two former types of know¬ 
ledge are finite. 1 The three types of knowledge are, however, not 
accidents in God, distinct from one another: considered onto¬ 
logically, as in God, they are one act of knowledge, identical with 
the divine essence. 

1 Cf. i Sent., 39, 1, 2 and 3; De Scientia Christi, 1. 



God's act of knowledge is infinite and eternal, so that all things 
are present to Him, even future events: there is no succession in 
the divine knowledge, and if we speak of God’s 'foreknowledge' 
we must understand the futurity as concerning the objects them¬ 
selves (in the sense that they succeed one another in time and are 
known by God to succeed one another in time), not as concerning 
the divine knowledge itself. God knows all things by one eternal 
act and there is no temporal succession in that act, no before and 
after; but God knows eternally, through that one act, things as 
succeeding one another in time. Bonaventure therefore makes a 
distinction in regard to the statement that God knows all things 
praesenter, pointing out that this praesentialitas must be under¬ 
stood in reference to God (a parte cognoscentis), not in reference to 
the objects known (a parte cognitorum). If it were understood in 
the latter sense, the implication would be that all things are present 
to one another, which is false, for they are not all present to one 
another, though they are all present to God. 1 Imagine, he says, 2 
an eye fixed and motionless on a wall and observing the successive 
movements of all persons and things down below with a single act 
of vision. The eye is not changed, nor its act of vision, but the 
things under the wall are changed. This illustration, remarks 
Bonaventure, is really in no way like what it illustrates, for the 
divine knowledge cannot be pictured in this way; but it may help 
towards an understanding of what is meant. 

3. If there were no divine ideas, if God had no knowledge of 
Himself and of what He can effect and will effect, there could be 
no creation, since creation demands knowledge on the Creator’s 
part, knowledge and will. It is not a matter for surprise, then, 
that Aristotle, who rejected the ideas, rejected also creation and 
taught the eternity of the world, a world uncreated by God. At 
least he is judged to have held this by all the Greek Doctors, like 
Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Damascene and Basil, and 
by all the Arabian commentators, while you will never find 
Aristotle himself saying that the world had a beginning: indeed he 
censures Plato, the only Greek philosopher who seems to have 
declared that time had a beginning. 3 St. Bonaventure need not 
have spoken so cautiously, since Aristotle certainly did not believe 
in a divine creation of the world out of nothing. 

St. Thomas saw no incompatibility, from the philosophical 
standpoint, between the idea of creation on the one hand and of 

1 Cf, 1 Sent., 39, 2, 3, conclusto. * Ibid., 2, conclusio. a In Hexaim., 6, 4. 


the world's eternity on the other, so that for him the world might 
have had no beginning in time and yet have been created, that is, 
God might have created the world from eternity; but St. Bona¬ 
venture considered that the eternity of the world is impossible and 
that God could not have created it from eternity: if it is created, 
then time necessarily had a beginning. It follows that to deny 
that time had a beginning is to deny that the world was created, 
and to prove that eternal motion or time without a beginning is 
impossible is to prove that the world was created. St. Bonaventure, 
therefore, regarded the Aristotelian idea of the world's eternity as 
necessarily bound up with a denial of creation, and this opinion, 
which Aquinas did not share, sharpened his opposition to Aristotle. 
Both Bonaventure and Aquinas naturally accepted the/act of the 
world having had a beginning in time, since this is taught by 
theology; but they differed on the question of the abstract possi¬ 
bility of creation from eternity, and Bonaventure’s conviction of 
its impossibility naturally made him resolutely hostile to Aristotle, 
since the latter's assertion of it as a fact, and not merely as a 
possibility, necessarily seemed to him an assertion of the indepen¬ 
dence of the world in relation to God, an assertion which he thought 
was primarily due to the Philosopher’s rejection of exemplarism. 

For what reasons did Bonaventure hold eternal motion or time 
without a beginning to be impossible? His arguments are more or 
less those which St. Thomas treats as objections to his own position. 
I give some examples. 

(i) If the world had existed from eternity, it would follow that 
it is possible to add to the infinite. For instance, there would have 
been already an infinite number of solar revolutions, yet every day 
another revolution is added. But it is impossible to add to the 
infinite. Therefore the world cannot have always existed. 1 

St. Thomas answers 2 that if time is supposed eternal, it is 
infinite ex parte ante , but not ex parte post , and there is no cogent 
objection to an addition being made to the infinity at the end at 
which it is finite, that is, terminates in the present. To this St. 
Bonaventure retorts that, if one considers simply the past, then 
one would have to admit an infinite number of lunar revolutions. 
But there are twelve lunar revolutions to one solar revolution. 
Therefore we are faced with two infinite numbers, of which the 
one is twelve times greater than the other, and this is an im¬ 

1 2 1, 1, 1, 2, 

1 Contra Gent., 2, 3$. 



(i ; ) It is impossible to pass through an infinite series, so that if 
time were eternal, that is, had no beginning, the world would 
never have arrived at the present day. But it is clear that it has. 1 
To this St. Thomas answers* that every passing through or 
transitus requires a beginning term and a final term. But if time 
is of infinite duration, there was no first term and consequently no 
transitus, so that the objection cannot arise. St. Bonaventure 
retorts, however, that there is either a revolution of the sun which 
is infinitely distant, in the past, from to-day's revolution or there 
is not. If there is not, then the distance is finite and the series 
must have had a beginning. If there is, then what of the revolution 
immediately following that which is infinitely distant from 
to-day’s? Is this revolution also infinitely distant from to-day’s 
or not? If not, then the hypothetically infinitely distant revolution 
cannot be infinitely distant either, since the interval between the 
‘first’ and second revolution is finite. If it is, then what of the 
third and fourth revolutions, and so on? Are they also infinitely 
distant from to-day’s revolution? If they are, then to-day’s 
revolution is no less distant from them than from the first. In 
this case there is no succession and they are all synchronous, 
which is absurd. 

(iii) It is impossible for there to be in existence at the same time 
an infinity of concrete objects. But, if the world existed from 
eternity, there would be in existence now an infinity of rational 
souls. Therefore the world cannot have existed from eternity. 3 

To this Aquinas answers 4 that some say that human souls do 
not exist after the death of the body, while others maintain that 
only a (common) intellect remains: others again hold a doctrine of 
reincarnation, while certain writers maintain that an infinite 
number in act is possible in the case of things which are not 
ordered (in his quae ordinem non habent). St. Thomas naturally 
held none of the first three positions himself; as to the fourth 
position his own final attitude seems to be doubtful, so that 
Bonaventure was able to remark rather caustically that the theory 
of reincarnation is an error in philosophy and is contrary to the 
psychology of Aristotle, while the doctrine that a common intellect 
alone survives is an even worse error. As to the possibility of an 
infinite number in act he believed that it was an erroneous notion, 
on the ground that an infinite multitude could not be ordered and 

1 2 Sent., 1, i, 1, 2, 3. 1 Contra Gent., 2, 38: S.T ., la, 46, 2, ad 6. 

* 2 Sent., 1, 1, 1, 2, 5. 4 Contra Gent., 2 1 38. 


so could not be subject to divine providence, whereas in fact all 
that God has created is subject to His providence. 

Bonaventure was thus convinced that it can be philosophically 
proved, as against Aristotle, that the world had a beginning and 
that the idea of creation from eternity involves a 'manifest contra¬ 
diction', since, if the world was created from nothing, it has being 
after not-being (ess£ post non-esse) 1 and so cannot possibly have 
existed from eternity. St. Thomas answers that those who assert 
creation from eternity do not say that the world was made post 
tiihilutn, but that it was made out of nothing, the opposite of 
which is 'out of something'. The idea of time, that is to say, is in 
no way implicated. In Bonaventure's eyes it is bad enough to say 
that the world is eternal and is uncreated (that is an error which 
can be philosophically disproved), but to say that ifc was created 
eternally out of nothing is to be guilty of a glaring contradiction, 
'so contrary to reason that I should not have believed that any 
philosopher, of however little understanding, could have asserted 

4. If the doctrine of exemplarism is denied, and if God did not 
create the world, it is only natural to conclude that God knows 
only Himself, that He moves only as final Cause, as object of 
desire and love (ut desideratum et amatum) and that He knows no 
particular thing outside Himself. 8 In this case God can exercise 
no providence, not having in Himself the rationes rerum , the ideas 
of things, by which He may know them. 4 The doctrine of St. 
Bonaventure is, of course, that God knows things other than 
Himself, but that He knows them in and through Himself, through 
the exemplary ideas. If he did not hold this, he would have to say 
that the divine knowledge receives a complement or perfection 
from things outside of God, depends in some way on creatures. In 
reality it is God who is completely independent: creatures are 
dependent on Him and cannot confer on His Being any perfection/ 
But if God is wrapped up in Himself, in the sense of having no 
knowledge of creatures and exercising no providence, it follows 
that the changes or movements of the world proceed either from 
chance, which is impossible, or from necessity, as the Arabian 
philosophers held, the heavenly bodies determining the move¬ 
ments of things in this world But if this be so, then all doctrine 
of reward or punishment in this life disappears, and in point of 

1 2 Sent., 1, 1, 1, 2, 6. * Ibid., conciusio. * In Hcxaem., 6, 2. 

* Ibid., 3. 5 Cf. 1 Sent., 39, 1, 1, conciusio. 


fact you will never find Aristotle speaking of a beatitude after the 
present life. 1 All these erroneous conclusions follow, then, from a 
denial of exemplarism, and it is more than ever clear that exem- 
plarism is the key to a true metaphysic and that without it a 
philosopher will inevitably fall into errors if he discusses meta¬ 
physical themes. 

5. From the doctrine of exemplarism it follows that there is 
some resemblance between creatures and God; but we have to 
distinguish various kinds of resemblance ( similitudo ) in order to 
attain to a correct idea of the relation of creatures to God, in 
order to avoid pantheism on the one hand and an independent 
world on the other hand. In the Commentary on the Sentences 2 
Bonaventure says that similitudo may mean the agreement of two 
things in a third (and this he calls similitudo secundum univoca- 
tionem), or it may mean the likeness of one thing to another 
without any agreement in a third thing being implied, and it is 
in this sense that the creature is said to be a likeness of God. In 
the same conclusio (ad 2) he distinguishes similitudo univocationis 
sive participationis and similitudo imitationis , et expressions , going 
on to remark that the former does not hold good of the relation 
between creatures and God, because there is no common term 
(quia nihil est commune , because there is nothing common to God 
and the creature, that is). What he means is that God and the 
creature do not participate in Being, for example, univocally 
(precisely in the same sense), for if they did, the creature would 
be God and pantheism would result. The creature is, however, an 
imitation of God, of the idea of it in God, and God expresses the 
idea externally in the finite creature. Therefore, when Bonaventure 
rejects similitudo participationis, we must understand participation 
as referring here to participation in something common to both 
God and creatures in a univocal sense, in a tertium commune as 
he puts it. 

It may be objected that if there is nothing common between 
God and creatures, there can be no likeness; but the community 
which St. Bonaventure wishes to exclude is univocal community, 
to which he opposes analogy . The likeness of the creature to God 
or of God to the creature (exemplaris ad exemplatum) is one kind of 
analogy, the other being that of proportionalitas (habitudo duorum 
ad duo), which exists between sets of things belonging to different 
genera, though in the case of the relation between creatures and 

1 In Hexaem., 6, 3. 1 1, 35, art . u»., 1. conclusio. 


God it is only the creature which is a member of a generic class. 
Thus a teacher is to his school what a pilot is to his ship, since 
both direct. 1 In the latter place Bonaventure distinguishes 
proportion in a wide sense, which includes proportionality, from 
proportion in a strict sense, which exists between members of the 
same class, arithmetical numbers, for example. Proportion in this 
strict sense cannot, of course, exist between God and creatures. 

But though Bonaventure speaks of analogy of proportionality, 
the analogies to which he gives most attention are those of likeness, 
for he loved ever to find expressions, manifestations, images and 
vestigia of God in the world of creatures. Thus in the Commentary 
on the Sentences , 2 after excluding similitudo per convenientiam 
omnimodam in natura , which holds good between the three divine 
Persons, each of whom is identical with the divine Nature, and 
similitudo per participationem alicuius naturae universalis, which 
holds good between man and ass, in virtue of their common 
sharing in the genus animal, he admits proportionality, similitudo 
secundum proportionalitatem (giving here the example of the pilot 
and the charioteer in relation to the objects they direct) and 
similitudo per convenientiam ordinis (sicui exemplatum assimilatur 
exemplari), and proceeds to discuss these latter types of analogy, 
both of which, as already mentioned, hold good between the 
creature and God. 

Every creature, says Bonaventure, is a vestigium of God, and the 
two types of analogy (that of the exemplatum to the exemplar and 
that of proportionality) apply to every creature, the first inasmuch 
as every creature is the effect of God and is conformed to God 
through the divine idea, the second inasmuch as the creature also 
produces an effect, although not in the same way as God produces 
His effect (sicut enim Deus producit suum effectum, sic et agens 
creatum, licet non omnino —for the creature is not the total cause 
of its effect). But though every creature is a vestigium Dei, this 
general conformity of the creature to God is comparatively remote 
(magis de longinquo): there is another type of likeness which is 
closer (de proximo) and more express and which applies only to 
certain creatures. All creatures are ordered to God, but only 
rational creatures are directed immediately (immediate) to God, 
the irrational creatures being directed to God mediately (mediante 
creatura rationali). The rational creature alone can know God, can 

1 Cf. 1 Sent., 3, 1, art . un. t 2, 3 and 1 ibid., 48, i, 1, conclusio . 

1 2 Sent., 16, 1, 1, conclusio . 



praise God and serve God consciously, and so has a greater 
conformity to God, a greater convenientia ordinis than the irra¬ 
tional creature. Now, the greater the convenientia ordinis , the 
greater and closer and more express is the resemblance or 
similitudo. This closer resemblance is called by Bona venture imago. 
Every creature is, then, a vestigium Dei , but only the rational 
creature is an imago Dei , for it resembles God in the possession of 
spiritual powers through which it can become ever more and more 
conformed to God. 

A similar difference between the rational creature and the irra¬ 
tional creature can be observed if we consider the analogy of 
proportionality. We can say, if we make the due allowances and 
reservations, that as God is to the creature, as Cause, that is, to 
His effect, so is the creature to its effect, and this holds good of all 
creatures in so far as they are active agents: but the effect 
considered is extrinsic to the agent, whereas in the case of rational 
creatures, and of them alone, there is an intrinsic proportion. In 
God there is a unity of Nature in a Trinity of Persons, and in man 
there is a unity of essence with a trinity of powers which are 
ordered to one another, the relation between them resembling in 
some way the relations in God ( quasi consimili modo se habentium, 
sicut se habent personae in divinis). Bona venture does not mean 
that we can prove the doctrine of the Trinity by the natural light 
of reason from a consideration of human nature, for he denies the 
possibility of any strict philosophical proof of the mystery, but 
rather that, guided by the light of faith, we can find an analogy 
to the Trinity in human rational nature. As the divine Nature is 
to the three divine Persons, so [quasi consimili modo) is the human 
nature or essence to its three powers. This is an 'express' resem¬ 
blance of proportion and on this count, too, man is to be called the 
image of God. The word 'express' means that the Blessed Trinity 
has expressed itself, manifested itself to some degree in the 
constitution of human nature, and it is clear that for Bona venture 
the analogy of resemblance (i.e. exemplati ad exemplar) is more 
fundamental than the analogy of proportionality, the latter being 
really treated in function of the former and having no concrete 
value or meaning apart from it. 

In this way Bona venture is enabled to order the hierarchy of 
being according to the closeness or remoteness of the likeness of 
the creature to God. The world of purely sensible things is the 
vestigium or umbra Dei, though here too he finds analogies of the 


Trinity; it is the liber scriptus forinsecus. When considered by the 
natural philosopher who is nothing else but a natural philosopher 
it is simply natura: such a man cannot read the book of nature, 
which is to him no vestigium Dei but something considered for its 
own sake and without reference to God. 1 The rational creation 
stands above the purely sensible creation and is imago Dei, God's 
image in a special sense. But the phrase 'image of God' is itself 
of wide application, for it covers not only the natural substance of 
men and angels, but also that supernatural likeness which is the 
result of the possession of grace. The soul in grace is the image of 
God in a higher sense than is the purely natural essence of man, 
and the soul in heaven, enjoying the beatific vision, is God's image 
in a yet deeper sense. Thus there are many grades of analogy, of 
likeness to God, and every grade must be seen in the light of the 
Word, who is the consubstantial image of the Father and the 
Exemplar of all creation, reflected in creatures according to various 
degrees of 'expression'. We may note not only the constant 
integration of theology and philosophy, but also the fact that the 
various degrees of likeness stand in close relation to the intellectual 
and spiritual life of man. The ascent to God on the part of the 
individual involves a turning from the umbra or pure vestigium, 
contemplated by the senses, from the liber scriptus forinsecus, to 
the interior reflection of God, the imago Dei , the liber scriptus 
intrinsecus, in obedience to the command of Augustine to go 
within oneself, and so ultimately to the contemplation of God in 
Himself, the exemplatum. The fact that St. Bonaventure does not 
treat theology and philosophy in watertight compartments of their 
own enables him to link up his vision of the universe with the 
ascetical and mystical life and so to deserve the name of a 
specifically Christian thinker. 

6 . Is this world, which reflects so admirably the Divine Creator, 
the best of all possible worlds? We must first of all distinguish 
two questions. Could God make a better world than this world? 
Could God have made this world better than it is? Bonaventure 
answers to the first question that God could have made a better 
world than this one, by creating nobler essences, and that this 
cannot be denied without thereby limiting the divine power. As 
to the second question, it all depends on what you mean by 
'world' and by 'better'. If you refer to the substances which go 
to make up the world, are you asking if God could make these 

1 In Hexaim., 12, 15. 



substances better in the sense of making them nobler essences or 
substances, that is, of a higher kind, or are you asking if God 
could make these substances accidentally better, that is, while 
remaining within their own class? If the former, then the answer 
is that God could indeed change the substances into nobler ones, 
but it would not be the same world and God would not be making 
this world better. If the latter, then God could make this world 
better. To take an example. If God changed a man into an angel, 
the man would no longer be a man and God would not be making 
the man better; but God could make a man better by increasing 
his intellectual power or his moral qualities. 1 Again, while God 
could make this man or this horse a better man or horse, we must 
make another distinction if it is asked whether or not God could 
make man as such better, in the sense of placing him in better 
conditions. Absolutely speaking He could; but if one takes into 
consideration the purpose for which He has placed man in these 
conditions or allowed him to be in these conditions it may very 
well be that He could not make man better. For instance, if God 
brought it about that all men served Him well, He would be 
making man better, from the abstract viewpoint; but if you 
consider the purpose for which God has permitted man to serve 
Him well or ill, He would not be making man better by practically 
overriding his free will. Finally, if anyone asks why, if God could 
have made or could make the world better, He has not done so or 
does not do so, no answer can be given save this, that He so willed 
and that He Himself knows the reason ( solutio non potest dari nisi 
haec, quia voluit , et rationem ipse novit ) 2 

1 I Sent., 44, 1, 1, conclusia. 9 Ibid., ad 4. 



Hylomorphic composition in all creatures — Individuation — 

Light—Plurality of forms —Rationes seminales. 

1. St. Bonaventure accepted from his master, Alexander of 
Hales, the doctrine of the hylomorphic composition of all creatures, 
the doctrine, that is, that all creatures are composed of matter and 
form. By ‘matter’ he naturally meant in this connection the 
principle of potentiality in the widest sense, not ‘matter’ in the 
sense in which matter is opposed to spirit. ‘Matter considered in 
itself is neither spiritual nor corporeal’, and so in itself it is indif¬ 
ferent to the reception either of a spiritual or of a corporeal form; 
but as matter never exists on its own, apart from a definite form, 
and as, once united with a corporeal or a spiritual form, it always 
remains corporeal or spiritual as the case may be, it follows that 
the matter actually present in a corporeal substance is different 
in kind from that in a spiritual substance. 1 ‘Matter’ may be 
regarded in more than one way. If one considers it from the point 
of view of ‘privation’ [perprivationem) , abstracting from all forms, 
whether substantial or accidental, one must admit that it is 
essentially the same in all creatures, ‘for if either kind of matter is 
separated from all forms and all accidents, no difference at all will 
be seen.’ But if matter is looked at ‘analogically’ {secundum 
analogiam), that is, as potentiality, as a foundation for form, one 
must make a distinction. In so far as matter is looked on as 
providing a foundation for form in regard simply to being (in 
ralione entis), it is essentially the same in both spiritual and 
material creatures, since both spiritual and material creatures 
exist and subsist, and one can consider their existence by itself, 
without going on to consider the precise way in which they exist 
or the kind of things they are. This is the way in which the 
metaphysician considers matter, and so in the eyes of the meta¬ 
physician matter is similar in the spiritual and in the material 
creation. If, however, matter is simply looked on in its relation to 
motion in the wide sense, understood, that is, as change, then it 
is not the same in creatures which cannot undergo substantial 

1 2 Sent 3, 1, 1, 2, conclusio ad 3. 





change or receive corporeal forms and in creatures which can 
undergo substantial change and receive corporeal forms, though 
it can be considered as analogically similar, inasmuch as angels are 
susceptible of, for example, divine influence. It is the natural 
philosopher or physicus who considers matter in this light. 

Without going into the further distinctions made by Bonaventure 
and without attempting a judgement on his doctrine, one can say, 
then, that his teaching on the hylomorphic composition of all 
creatures is this, that matter is the principle of potentiality as such. 
Both spiritual creatures and material creatures are dependent 
beings, not self-existent beings, so that if one considers potentiality 
in abstraction from all form, looking on it as a co-principle of 
being, one can say with the metaphysician that it is essentially the 
same in both. If, however, one considers it as actually existent, as 
standing in relation to a concrete form, spiritual or material, it is 
not the same in both. The natural philosopher considers bodies 
and is concerned with matter, not its abstract essence but as 
existent in a particular type of being, as standing in a concrete 
relation to a certain kind of form, material form; and matter 
considered in this light is not to be found in spiritual beings. One 
might, of course, object that if matter as concretely existing, as 
united with form, is of different kinds and remains different, there 
must be something in the matter itself which makes it of different 
kinds so that its similarity in the spiritual and material created 
orders cannot be more than analogical; but Bonaventure admits 
that matter never actually exists apart from form and only states 
that if it is considered, as it can be considered, in abstraction from 
all form, as mere potentiality, then it can justly be said to be 
essentially the same. If the angels have an element of possibility, 
of potency in them, as they have, they must possess matter, for 
matter, considered in itself, is simply possibility or potency. It is 
only in the Being who is pure Act, without any potency or 
possibility, that there is no matter, 

2. Is matter the principle of individuation? Some thinkers, says 
St. Bonaventure, 1 have held this, relying on the words of Aristotle, 
but it is very difficult to see how that which is common to all can 
be the principal cause of distinction, of individuality. On the 
other hand, to say that form is the principle of individuation and 
to postulate an individual form, following on that of the species, 
is to go to the opposite extreme and forget that every created form 
1 2 Sent,, 3, 1, a, 3, conclusio. 


is capable of having another like it. It is better to hold that 
individuation arises from the actual union of matter and form, 
which appropriate one another, as it were, through their union. 
Seals are made by different impressions in wax, and without the 
wax there would be no plurality of seals, but without the different 
impressions the wax would not become many. Similarly, matter is 
necessary if there is to be distinction and multiplicity, number, but 
form is also necessary, for distinction and multiplication presup¬ 
pose the constitution of a substance through the elements compos¬ 
ing it. That an individual substance is something definite, of a 
definite kind, it owes to the form; that it is this something, it owes 
principally to matter, by which the form acquires position in place 
and time. Individuation denotes principally something substantial, 
a substance composed of matter and form, but it also denotes 
something which can be considered an accident, namely number. 
Individuality ( discretio individualis) denotes two things: individua¬ 
tion, which arises from the union of the two principles, matter and 
form, and secondly distinction from other things, which is the 
origin of number; but the former, individuation, is the more 

Personality ( discretio personalis) arises when the form united 
with matter is a rational form, and it thus adds to individuality 
the dignity of rational nature, which holds the highest place among 
created natures and is not in potency to a higher substantial form. 
But there is something more needed to constitute^ personality, 
namely that within the suppositum there should be no other nature 
of a greater eminence and dignity, that within the suppositum 
rational nature should possess actualem eminentiam, (In Christ the 
human nature, though perfect and complete, does not possess 
actualem eminentiam and so is not a person.) ‘We must say, then, 
that just as individuality arises from the existence of a natural 
form in matter, so personality arises from the existence of a noble 
and supereminent nature in the substance/ 1 

As St. Bonaventure attributes matter, that is, a spiritual matter, 
to the angels, he is able to admit a plurality of individual angels 
within the same species without being compelled like St. Thomas 
to postulate as many angelic species as there are angels. The 
Scriptures show us some angels as exercising similar functions and 
this argues similarity of being, while the Tove of charity 1 also 
demands the multiplicity of angels within the same species. 2 

1 2 Sent., 3, 1, 2, 2, conclusio. * Ibid., 3, 1,2, 1. 




3. In the corporeal creation there is one substantial form which 
all bodies possess, and that is the form of light. 1 Light was created 
on the first day, three days before the production of the sun, and 
it is corporeal in Bonaventure's opinion, although St. Augustine 
interpreted it as meaning the angelic creation. It is not, properly 
speaking, a body but the form of a body, the first substantial 
form, common to all bodies and the principle of their activity, and 
the different kinds of body form a graded hierarchy according as 
they participate more or less in the form of light. Thus the 
'empyrean' stands at one end of the scale, while the earth stands 
at the other, the lower end. In this way the light-theme, so dear 
to the Augustinian School and going back to Plotinus and to 
Plato's comparison of- the Idea of the Good with the sun, finds a 
prominent place in the philosophy of St. Bonaventure. 

4. Obviously if Bonaventure holds that light is a substantial 
form, possessed by all bodies, he must also hold that there can be 
a plurality of substantial forms in one substance. For him there 
was no difficulty in holding this, since he looked on form as that 
which prepares the body for the reception of other and higher 
perfections. While for St. Thomas substantial form was limitative 
and definitive, so that there could not be more than one substantial 
form in a body, for St. Bonaventure form looked forward and 
upward, so to speak, not so much rounding off the body and 
confining it as preparing it for fresh possibilities and perfections. 
In the In Hexaemeron 2 he went so far as to say that it is mad 
(insanum ) to say that the final form is added to prime matter 
without there being something which is a disposition for it or in 
potency to it, without there being any intermediate form, and he 
loved to trace a parallel between the order of grace and that of 
nature. Just as the gift of knowledge disposes for the gift of 
wisdom and is not itself annulled by the gift of wisdom, and as 
the gifts do not annul the theological virtues, so one form pre¬ 
disposes for a higher form and the latter, when received, does not 
expel the former but crowns it. 

5. It is only to be expected that St. Bonaventure, who avowedly 
walked in the path of the Augustinian tradition, would accept the 
doctrine of rationes seminales, especially as this doctrine lays 
emphasis on the work of the Creator and diminishes the inde¬ 
pendence of the natural agent, though it was no more a ‘scientific' 
doctrine in the modern sense of the word with St. Bonaventure 

1 Cf, 2 Sent., 13. 1 4, 10. 


than it was with St. Augustine: for both men it was required by 
true Scriptural exegesis or rather by a philosophy which took 
account of the data of revelation, with the added reason in the 
case of Bonaventure that it was held by his great predecessor, the 
Christian philosopher par excellence , who was endowed with both 
the sermo sapientiae and the sertno scientiae . T believe that this 
position should be held, not only because reason inclines us to it, 
but also because the authority of Augustine, in his literal 
commentary on Genesis, confirms it/ 1 

Bonaventure thus maintained a certain latitatio formarum of 
things in matter; but he refused to accept the view that the forms 
of things which appear in time were originally in matter in an 
actual state, like a picture covered with a cloth, so that the 
particular agent only uncovers them, like the man who takes away 
the cloth from the picture and lets the painting appear. On this 
view contrary forms, which exclude one another, would have been 
together at the same time in the same subject, which is impossible. 
Nor will he accept the view that God is the only efficient cause in 
the eduction of forms, for this would mean that God creates all 
forms in the way in which He creates the rational human soul and 
that the secondary agent really does nothing at all, whereas it is 
clear that its activity really does contribute something to the 
effect. The second of these two views would reduce or do away 
altogether with the activity of the created agent, while the first 
would reduce it to a minimum, and Bonaventure is unwilling to 
accept either of them. He prefers the view ‘which seems to have 
been that of Aristotle, and which is now commonly held by the 
doctors of philosophy and theology 1 that ‘almost all the natural 
forms, corporeal forms at least, such as the forms of the elements 
and the forms of mixtures, are contained in the potency of matter 
and are reduced to act ( educuntur in actum) through the action of 
a particular agent/ But this may be understood in two ways. It 
may mean that matter has both the potency to receive the form 
and the inclination to co-operate in the production of the form and 
that the form to be produced is in the particular agent as in its 
effective and original principle, so that the eduction of the form 
takes place by the multiplication of the form of the agent, as one 
burning candle may light a multitude of candles, or it may mean 
that matter contains the form to be educed not only as that in 
which and, to a certain extent, by which the form is produced, but 

1 2 Sent., 7, 2, 2, 1, tesp . 


also as that from which it is produced, though in the sense that it 
is concreated with matter and in matter, not as an actual, but as 
a virtual form. On the first hypothesis the forms are not indeed 
said to be created by the agent, since they do not come out of 
nothing, though all the same a new essence would seem to be 
produced in some way, whereas on the second hypothesis no new 
essence or quiddity is produced, but the form which existed in 
potency, virtually, is reduced to act, is given a new dispositio. The 
second hypothesis, therefore, attributes less to the created agent 
than does the first, since the created agent simply brings it about 
that what formerly existed in one way now exists in another way, 
whereas on the first hypothesis the created agent would produce 
something positively new, even if not by way of creation out of 
nothing. If a gardener tends the rose-tree so that the rose-buds 
can blossom into roses he does something, it is true, but less than 
he would do, were he to produce a rose-tree from some other form 
of tree. Bonaventure, then, anxious to avoid attributing even the 
semblance of creative powers to a created agent, chooses the 
hypothesis which attributes less to the work of the created agent 
and more to the work of the Creator. 

The forms which are educed were, therefore, originally in matter 
in a virtual state. These virtual forms are the rationes seminales. 
A ratio seminalis is an active power, existing in matter, the active 
power being the essence of the form to be educed, standing to the 
latter in the relation of esse incompletum to esse completum or of 
esse in potentia to esse in actu . 1 Matter is thus a seminarium or 
seed-bed in which God created in a virtual state corporeal forms 
which would be successively educed therefrom. This applies not 
only to the forms of inorganic things, but also to the souls of brutes 
and vegetables. Needless to say, Bonaventure is aware that the 
activity of particular agents is necessary for the birth of an animal, 
but he will not admit the traducianist theory, according to which 
the soul of a new animal is produced by ‘multiplication’ of the soul 
of the parent, yet without any diminution on the latter’s part, as 
this theory implies that a created form can produce a similar form 
out of nothing. 1 What happens is that the parent animals act 
upon what they have themselves received, the seminal principle, 
the seminal principle being an active power or potency containing 
the new soul in germ, though the activity of the parents is necessary 
in order that the virtual should become actual. Bonaventure thus 

1 2 Sent., 18, I, 3, retp. * Ibid., l. ly I, I, resp. 



steers a middle course between attributing too little or nothing to 
the created agent and attributing what seemed to him too much, 
his general principle being that while God produces things out of 
nothing, a created agent can only produce something which already 
existed in potency, by which he means in a virtual state. 1 It is, 
however, useless to look for an exact description and explanation 
of the concrete working of his theory of rationes seminales, since 
it is founded partly on authority and partly on a priori philosophic 
reasoning, not on empirical observation or scientific experiment. 

1 Cf. 2 Sent 7, 2 , 2 . 2, resp. 



Unity of human soul—Relation of soul to body—Immortality of 
the human soul—Falsity of Averroistic monopsychism — Know¬ 
ledge of sensible objects and of first logical principles—Knowledge 
of spiritual realities — Illumination—The soul's ascent to God — 
Bonaventure as philosopher of the Christian life . 

i. We have seen that, according to St. Bonaventure, the souls of 
animals are produced seminaliter ; but this does not, of course, 
apply to the human soul, which is produced immediately by God, 
created by Him out of nothing. The human soul is the image of 
God, called to union with God, and on this count [propter digni¬ 
tatem) its production was fittingly reserved by God to Himself. 
This reasoning involves theology, but Bonaventure also argues 
that since the human soul is immortal, incorruptible, its production 
can be effected only by that Principle which has life and perpetuity 
of itself. The immortality of the human soul implies a Matter' in 
the soul which is incapable of being an element in substantial 
change; but the activity of created agents is confined to working 
on transmutable matter and the production of a substance with 
unchangeable matter transcends the power of such agents. It 
follows that the traducianist view must be rejected, even if 
Augustine inclined to it on occasion because he thought that 
thereby he could explain the transmission of original sin. 1 

What is it that God creates? It is the entire human soul, not the 
rational faculty alone. There is one soul in man, endowed with 
rational and sensitive faculties, and it is this soul which God 
creates. The body was contained seminaliter in the body of Adam, 
the first man, and it is transmitted by means of the seed, but this 
does not mean that the body has a sensitive soul, educed from the 
potency of matter and distinct from the created and infused 
rational soul. The seed contains, it is true, not only the super¬ 
fluity of the father’s nourishment, but also something of his 
humiditas radicalis , so that there is in the embryo, before the 
infusion of the soul, an active disposition towards the act of 
sensation, a kind of inchoate sensibility; but this disposition is a 

1 2 Sent,, 18, 2 , 3, resp. 




disposition to accomplishing the act of sensation through the 
power of the soul, once it has been infused: at the complete 
animation of the embryo by the infusion of the soul this inchoate 
sensibility ceases or rather it is subsumed under the activity of the 
soul, which is the principle of sensation as well as of intellection. 
In other words, St. Bonaventure is careful to maintain the 
continuity of life and the reality of parentage while avoiding any 
splitting of the human soul into two. 1 

2. The human soul is the form of the body: St. Bonaventure 
uses the Aristotelian doctrine against those who hold that the 
souls of all men are one substance. The rational soul is the act 
and entelechy of the human body: therefore since human bodies 
are distinct, the rational souls which perfect those bodies will also 
be distinct’: 2 the soul is an existent, living, intelligent form, 
endowed with liberty. 3 It is present wholly in every part of the 
body, according to the judgement of St. Augustine, which Bona¬ 
venture approves as preferable to the theory that the soul is 
primarily present in a determinate part of the body, the heart for 
instance. 'Because it is the form of the whole body, it is present in 
the whole body; because it is simple, it is not present partly here 
and partly there; because it is the sufficient moving principle 
[motor sufficiens) of the body, it has no particular situation, is not 
present at one point or in a determinate part/ 4 

But though Bonaventure accepts the Aristotelian definition of 
the soul as the form of the body, his general tendency is Platonic 
and Augustinian in character, inasmuch as he insists that the 
human soul is a spiritual substance, composed of spiritual form 
and spiritual matter. It is not enough to say that there is in the 
soul composition of ex quo est and quod est, since the soul can act 
and be acted upon, move and be moved, and this argues the 
presence of ‘matter’, the principle of passivity and mutability, 
though this matter transcends extension and corruptibility, being 
spiritual and not corporeal matter. 5 This doctrine may seem to 
contradict the admitted simplicity of the human soul, but 
Bonaventure points out 8 that ‘simplicity’ has various meanings 
and degrees. Thus ‘simplicity’ may refer to absence of quantita¬ 
tive parts, and this the soul enjoys, being simple in comparison 
with corporeal things; or it may refer to absence of constitutive 
parts, and this the soul does not enjoy. The main point, however, 

1 Cf. 2 Sent., 30, 3, i and 31,1,1. * Ibid,, 18, 2, 1, contra 1. 

* Breviloq., 2, 9. 4 1 Sent., 8, 2, art. un., 3, resp . 6 2 Sent., 17, 1, 2, resp. 

8 Ibid., ad 5. 

28 o 


is that the soul, though form of the body and moving principle of 
the body, is also much more than this, and can subsist by itself, 
being hoc aliquid , though as a hoc aliquid which is partly passive 
and mutable it must have in it spiritual matter. The doctrine of 
the hylomorphic composition of the human soul is thus calculated 
to ensure its dignity and its power of subsistence apart from 
the body. 

If the soul is composed of form and spiritual matter, it follows 
that it is individuated by its own principles. 1 If this is so, however, 
why is it united with the body, for it is an individual spiritual 
substance in its own right? The answer is that the soul, even 
though a spiritual substance, is so constituted that it not only can 
inform a body but also has a natural inclination to do so. Con¬ 
versely, the body, though also composed of matter and form, 
has an appetitus for being informed by the soul. The union 
of the two is thus for the perfection of each and is not to the 
detriment of either soul or body. 2 The soul does not exist 
simply, or even primarily, to move the body 3 but to enjoy God; 
yet it exercises its powers and potentialities fully only in informing 
the body and it will one day, at the resurrection, be reunited 
with the body. Aristotle was ignorant of this, and it is not 
to be wondered at that he was ignorant of it, for ‘a philosopher 
necessarily falls into some error, unless he is aided by the light 
of faith'. 4 

3. The doctrine of the hylomorphic composition of the human 
soul naturally facilitates the proof of its immortality, since 
Bonaventure does not link the soul so closely to the body as does 
the Aristotelian doctrine; but his favourite proof is the one drawn 
from the consideration of the ultimate purpose of the soul (ex 
consideratione finis ). The soul seeks for perfect happiness (a fact 
which no one doubts, ‘unless his reason is entirely perverted'). But 
no one can be perfectly happy if he is afraid of losing what he 
possesses: on the contrary, it is this very fear which makes him 
miserable. Therefore, as the soul has a natural desire for perfect 
happiness, it must be naturally immortal. This proof presupposes 
the existence of God, of course, and the possibility of attaining 
perfect happiness, as also the existence of a natural desire for 
human happiness; but it was Bonaventure's favourite proof 
because of its spiritual character, because of its connection with 

* Cf., ibid. 17, 1, 2, ad 6. 

* Ibid. 


the movement of the soul towards God: it is for him the ratio 
principalis , the principle argument. 1 

In a rather similar way he argues 2 from consideration of the 
formal cause, from the nature of the soul as the image of God. 
Because the soul has been made for the attainment of happiness, 
which consists in the possession of the supreme Good, God, it must 
be capable of possessing God (capax Dei) and so must be made in 
His image and likeness. But it would not be made in the likeness 
of God if it were mortal. Therefore it must be immortal. Again 
(arguing ex parte materiae), Bonaventure declares that the form of 
the rational soul is of such dignity that it makes the soul like to 
God, with the result that the matter which is united to this form 
(i.e. the spiritual matter) finds its satisfaction and completion in 
union with this form alone, so that it must be likewise immortal. 

Bonaventure gives other arguments, such as that from the neces¬ 
sity of sanctions in an after life 3 and from the impossibility of 
God's bringing the good to frustration. In the latter proof he 
argues that it would be against divine justice for that which has 
been well done to tend towards evil and frustration. Now, 
according to all moral teaching a man ought to die rather than 
commit injustice. But if the soul were mortal, then its adhesion 
to justice, lauded by all moral philosophers, would come to 
nothing, and this is contrary to divine justice. More Aristotelian 
in character are the arguments drawn from the soul's power of 
reflection on itself and from its intellectual activity, which has no 
intrinsic dependence on the body, to prove its superiority to 
corporeal matter and its incorruptibility. 4 But though these 
Aristotelian proofs are probably more acceptable to us, as pre¬ 
supposing less and as involving no theology, in Bonaventure’s eyes 
it was the proofs borrowed from Augustine or dependent on his 
line of thought which were more telling, especially that from the 
desire of beatitude. The Augustinian proof from the soul's 
apprehension of and assimilation to abiding truth is given by 
Bonaventure, 6 but it does not appear as a potissimus modus of 
proving the soul’s immortality. This qualification is reserved for 
the proofs drawn from the desire for beatitude. 

If it were objected against Bonaventure that this form of proof 
presupposes the desire for union with God, for beatitude in the full 
sense, and that this desire is elicited only under the action of grace 

1 2 Sent., 19, 1, 1, resp. * Ibid. 

* Ibid., 7 ft.; cf. De Anima, Bk, 3. 

1 2 Sent., 18, 2, 1, ad 1. 
* Ibid., 18, 2, 1, ad 6. 

9 Ibid., sed contra 3, 4. 
1 2 Sent., 11. 




and so belongs to the supernatural order and not to the order of 
nature, which is the object of the philosopher’s study, the Saint 
would doubtless answer that he had not the slightest intention of 
denying the work of grace or its supernatural character, but that, 
on the other hand, the true philosopher considers the world and 
human life as they are and that one of the data is precisely the 
desire for complete happiness. Even though the desire may imply 
the operation of grace, it is a datum of experience and so can be 
taken into account by the philosopher. If the philosophei cannot 
explain it without recourse to theology, that is only another proof 
of Bonaventure’s principle that no philosophy can be satisfactory 
unless it is illumined by the light of faith. In other words, whereas 
the ’Thomist’ systematically eliminates from the data of experience 
all he knows to be supernatural and then, as philosopher, considers 
the resulting ’nature’, the Bonaventurian philosopher starts from 
nature in the sense of the given. It is perfectly true that grace is 
not something ’given’ in the sense of visible or apprehensible with 
certainty by unaided reason, but some of its effects are given in 
experience and these the philosopher will take into account, though 
he cannot explain them without reference to theology. The 
Thomist approach and the Bonaventurian approach are therefore 
different and one cannot force them into the same mould without 
thereby distorting one or the other. 

4. All that has been said on the human soul implies the indivi¬ 
duality of the soul, but Bonaventure was quite aware of the 
Averroistic interpretation of Aristotle and argued explicitly against 
it. Averroes maintained that both the active and passive intellects 
survive death, and, whatever Aristotle himself may have 
taught, his commentator, Averroes, certainly held that these intel¬ 
lects are not individual to each man, are not parts or faculties of 
individual men, but rather unitary substances, cosmic intelligences. 
Such a position, however, is not only heretical and contrary to the 
Christian religion, but also against reason and experience. 1 It is 
against reason since it is clear that the intellectual soul is a perfec¬ 
tion of man as man, and men differ from one another, are individual 
persons, as men and not merely as animals, which would be the 
case if the rational soul were numerically one in all men. It is 
against experience, since it is a matter of experience that different 
men have different thoughts. And it is no good saying that this 
difference of thoughts comes simply from the diversity of species 

1 2 Sent., 18, 2, 1, resp. 


in the imaginations of different men, that is, that it is only the 
perishable imagination, fed by the senses, which is different in 
different individuals, since men differ in ideas, for example, of the 
virtues, which are not founded on sense-perception and which are 
not abstracted from imaginative species . Nor, from the point of 
view of Bonaventure, is it a good argument to say that the intel¬ 
lectual soul is independent of the body and cannot therefore be 
individuated by it, for the soul is not individuated by the body 
but by the union of its two constitutive principles, spiritual matter 
and spiritual form. 

5. In regard to the content of the soul's knowledge of sensible 
objects, this is dependent on sense-perception, and St. Bonaventure 
agrees with Aristotle that the soul does not of itself have either 
knowledge or species of sensible objects: the human intellect is 
created in a state of ’nudity' and is dependent on the senses and 
imagination. 1 The sensible object acts upon the sense organ and 
produces therein a sensible species, which in turn acts upon the 
faculty of sensation, and then perception takes place. It will be 
noted that St. Bonaventure, in admitting a passive element in 
sensation, departs from the teaching of St. Augustine; but at the 
same time he holds that the faculty of sensation or sensitive power 
of the soul judges the content of sensation, for example, that this 
is white, the passive reception of the species being attributed 
primarily to the organ, the activity of the judgement to the 
faculty. 2 This judgement is not, of course, a reflective judgement, 
it is rather a spontaneous awareness; but it is possible because the 
faculty of sensation is the sensitive faculty of a rational soul, for 
it is the soul which communicates to the body the act of sensation. 3 
The separate sensations, for example, of colour and touch, are 
unified by the ’common sense' and preserved in the imagination, 
which is not the same as ’memory' if the latter is taken as meaning 
recordatio or recalling at will. 4 Finally the active and passive 
intellects, working in co-operation, abstract the species from the 
imagination. The active and passive intellects are not two powers, 
one of which can work without the other, but are two ’differences' 
of the same intellectual faculty of the soul. We can indeed say 
that the active intellect abstracts and the passive intellect receives, 
but Bonaventure qualifies this statement by affirming that the 

1 2 Sent., 3, 2, 2, 1, resp . and ad 4. * Ibid., 8, 1, 3, 2, ad 7. 

* Ibid., 25, 2, art. un., 6, resp. 

* Ibid., 7, 2, 1, 2, resp., where Bonaventure distinguishes memory as habit. 
reientio speciei, from the act of remembering or recordatio. 




passive intellect has the power of abstracting the species and 
judging it, though only with the help of the active intellect, while 
the active intellect is dependent for its activity of knowing on the 
information of the passive intellect by the species. There is, in 
fact, only one complete act of intellection and the active and 
passive intellects co-operate inseparably in that act. 1 

Clearly, then, apart from various ‘Augustinianisms’, such as the 
refusal to make a real distinction between the faculties of the soul, 
Bonaventure’s view of the way in which we acquire our knowledge 
of sensible objects approximates more or less closely to the 
Aristotelian theory. He admits that the soul, in regard to know¬ 
ledge of such objects, is originally a tabula rasa , 2 and he has no 
place for innate ideas. Moreover, this rejection of innate ideas 
applies also to our knowledge of first principles. Some people have 
said that these principles are innate in the active intellect, though 
acquired as far as the possible intellect is concerned; but such a 
theory agrees neither with the words of Aristotle nor with the 
truth. For if these principles were innate in the active intellect, 
why could it not communicate them to the possible intellect 
without the help of the senses, and why does it not know these 
principles from the very beginning? A modified version of innatism 
is that the principles are innate in their most general form while 
the conclusions or particular applications are acquired, but it 
would be difficult on such a view to show why a child does not 
know the first principles in their general form. Moreover, even 
this modified innatism contradicts both Aristotle and Augustine. 
Bonaventure doubtless considered that a theory which united 
against it both Aristotle and Augustine could not possibly be true. 
It remains then to say that the principles are innate only in the 
sense that the intellect is endowed with a natural light which 
enables it to apprehend the principles in their universality when 
it has acquired knowledge of the relevant species or ideas. For 
example, no one knows what a whole is or a part until he has 
acquired the species or idea in dependence on sense-perception; 
but once he has acquired the idea, the light of the intellect enables 
him to apprehend the principle that the whole is greater than the 
part. 3 On this matter, therefore, St. Bonaventure is at one with 
St. Thomas. 

6 . But though we have no innate knowledge of sensible objects or 
of their essences or of the first principles, logical or mathematical, 

1 2 Sent., 24, 1, 2, 4. 1 Ibid., resp . * Ibid., 39/ 1, 2, resp. 


it does not follow that our knowledge of purely spiritual 
realities is acquired through sense-perception. ‘God is not known 
by means of a likeness drawn from sense’, 1 but rather by the soul's 
reflection on itself. It has no intuitive vision of God, of the divine 
Essence, in this life, but it is made in the image of God and is 
orientated towards God in desire and will, so that reflection on its 
own nature and on the direction of the will enables the soul to 
form the idea of God without recourse to the external sensible 
world. In this sense the idea of God is ‘innate’, though not in the 
sense that every man has from the beginning a clear, explicit and 
accurate knowledge of God. The direction of the will, its desire 
for complete happiness, is the effect of the divine action itself, and 
reflection on this desire manifests to the soul the existence of the 
Object of the desire, which indeed it already knows in a kind of 
vague awareness, though not necessarily in an explicit idea. ‘The 
knowledge of this truth (God’s existence) is innate in the rational 
mind, inasmuch as the mind is an image of God, by reason of which 
it has a natural appetite and knowledge and memory of Him in 
whose image it has been made and towards whom it naturally 
tends, that it may find its beatitude in Him.* 2 The knowledge of 
God is of various kinds: God has a comprehensive knowledge of 
Himself, the Blessed know Him clearly (elate et perspicue), we 
know Him partly and in a hidden way (ex parte et in aenigmate), 
this last knowledge being contained implicitly in or implied by the 
knowledge which each soul has that it did not always exist and 
must have had a beginning. 8 

The knowledge of the virtues too must be ‘innate’ in the sense 
that it is not derived from sense-perception. An unjust man can 
know what justice is; but obviously he cannot know justice 
through its presence in his soul, since he does not possess it, nor 
can he know it through abstraction from sensible species, since it 
is not an object of sense and has no likeness in the world of sense. 
He cannot know it by its effects, since he would not recognise the 
effects of justice unless he previously knew what justice is, just as 
one cannot recognise the effects of a man’s activity as the effects 
of a man’s activity unless one previously knows what a man is. 4 
There must, therefore, be some a priori or innate knowledge of the 
virtues. In what sense is it innate? There is no innate idea (species 
innata) in the sense of a clear idea or intellectual likeness of the 

1 2 Sent., 39, 1, 2, resp. 1 D$ Myst. Trinit., 1, i, resp. 

* Ibid., 1, 2, ad 14. 4 De Scientia Christi, 4, 23. 




virtue in the mind from its beginning; but there is present in the 
soul a natural light by which it can recognise truth and rectitude, 
and there is present also an affection or inclination of the will. 
The soul knows, therefore, what rectitude is and what an affection 
or inclination of the will is, and in this way it recognises what 
rectitudo affectionis is. As this is charity, it knows what charity is, 
even though it does not actually possess the virtue of charity. 1 

Thus the knowledge of the virtues is innate in much the same 
sense as knowledge of God is innate, not as an innate explicit 
species or idea, but in the sense that the soul has in itself all the 
material needed to form the explicit idea, without its being 
necessary for it to have recourse to the sensible world. The innate 
idea of Bonaventure is a virtually innate idea. Of course, there is 
one big difference between our knowledge of the virtues and our 
knowledge of God, for while we can never apprehend the essence 
of God in this life, it is possible to apprehend the essence of the 
virtues. However, the ways in which we arrive at the knowledge 
of the virtues and of God arc similar, and we can say that the soul 
possesses an innate knowledge of the principles necessary to its 
conduct. It knows by self-reflection what God is, what fear is and 
what love is, and so it knows what it is to fear and to love God. 2 
If anyone quotes in opposition the Philosopher's dictum nihil est 
in intellectu , quod prius non fuerit in sensu , the answer is that the 
dictum must be understood as having reference only to our know¬ 
ledge of sensible objects or to the acquisition of ideas which are 
capable of being formed by abstraction from sensible species. 3 

7. But though Bonaventure will not admit that the first prin¬ 
ciples relating to the world about us or indeed even the first 
principles of conduct are explicit in the mind from the beginning 
or infused into it from outside apart from any activity on 
the part of the mind itself, it does not follow that he is prepared 
to dispense with the Augustinian doctrine of illumination; on the 
contrary, he regards it as one of the cardinal truths of metaphysics. 

Truth is the adaequatio rei et intellectus , 4 involving the object 
known and the knowing intellect. In order that truth in this 
sense, truth apprehended, may exist, conditions are required on 
the part of both subject and object, immutability on the part of 
the latter and infallibility on the part of the former. 5 But if 
Bonaventure is prepared to echo in this way the words of the 

1 1 Sent., 17, x. art. un., 4, resp. * 2 Sent., 39, 1, 2, resp. * Ibid. 

* 1 Sent., resp., ad 1. 2, 3; ci. Breviloq., 6. 8. * De Scientia Chrtsti, 4. resp. 


Theaetetus , demanding these two conditions in order that cognitio 
certitudinalis, certain knowledge, may exist, he is necessarily faced 
by problems similar to those with which Plato and Augustine were 
faced, since no created object is strictly immutable and all sensible 
objects are perishable, while the human mind is not of itself 
infallible in regard to any class of object. It must, therefore, 
receive help from outside, and naturally Bonaventure had recourse 
to the Augustinian theory of illumination, which commended itself 
to him, not only because St. Augustine had held it but also because 
it emphasised both the dependence of the human intellect on God 
and the interior activity of God in the human soul. For him it was 
both an epistemological truth and a religious truth, something that 
could be established as a necessary conclusion from a study of the 
nature and requirements of certainty and also something upon 
which one could profitably meditate in the religious sense. Indeed 
for him the intellectual life and the spiritual life cannot properly 
be separated. 

The human mind, then, is subject to change, doubt, error, while 
the phenomena which we experience and know are also changeable. 
On the other hand it is an indubitable fact that the human mind 
does possess certainties and knows that it does so and that we 
apprehend unchanging essences and principles. It is only God, 
however, who is unchanging, and this means that the human mind 
is aided by God and that the object of its certain knowledge is seen 
in some way as rooted in God, as existing in the rationibus aeternis 
or divine ideas. But we do not apprehend these divine ideas 
directly, in themselves, and Bonaventure points out with Augustine 
that to follow the Platonic doctrine is to open the door to scepti¬ 
cism, since if the only certain knowledge attainable is direct 
knowledge of the eternal archetypes or exemplars and if we have 
no direct knowledge of these archetypes, the necessary conclusion 
is that true certainty is unattainable by the human mind. 1 On 
the other hand it is not sufficient to say that the ratio aeterna 
influences the mind in this sense only, that the knowing mind 
attains not the eternal principle itself but only its influence, as a 
habitus mentis , for the latter would be itself created and subject 
to the same conditions as the mind of which it is a disposition. 2 
The rationes aeternae , then, must have a direct regulative action on 
the human mind, though remaining themselves unseen. It is they 
which move the mind and rule the mind in its certain judgements, 
1 De Scientia Christi, 4, resp . * Ibid. 

2 88 



enabling it to apprehend the certain and eternal truths in the 
speculative and moral orders and to make certain and true judge¬ 
ments even concerning sensible objects: it is their action (which is 
the divine illumination) which enables the mind to apprehend the 
unchanging and stable essences in the fleeting and changing objects 
of experience. This does not mean that Bonaventure contradicts 
the approval he has given to Aristotle's doctrine about our know¬ 
ledge of the sensible world, but it does mean that he considers it 
insufficient. Without sense-perception we would never indeed 
know sensible objects and it is quite true that the intellect 
abstracts, but the divine illumination, the direct action of the 
ratio aeterna, is necessary in order that the mind should see in the 
object the reflection of the unchanging ratio and be able to make 
an infallible judgement concerning it. Sense-perception is required 
in order that our ideas of sensible objects should arise, but the 
stability and necessity of our judgements concerning them are due 
to the action of the rationes aeternae , since neither are the sensible 
objects of our experience unchanging nor are the minds which 
know them infallible of themselves. The dim (obtenebratae) species 
of our minds, affected by the obscurity of phantasmata , are thus 
illumined in order that the mind should know. Tor if to have real 
knowledge means to know that a thing cannot possibly be other¬ 
wise, it is necessary that He alone should cause us to know, who 
knows the truth and has the truth in Himself/ 1 Thus it is through 
the ratio aeterna that the mind judges all those things which we 
know by the senses. 2 

In the Itinerarium Mentis in Deum 3 St. Bonaventure describes 
how the exterior sensible objects produce a likeness of themselves 
(similitudo) first in the medium and then through the medium on 
the organ of sense, and so on the interior sense. The particular 
sense, or the faculty of sensation acting through the particular 
sense, judges that this object is white or black or whatever it is, 
and the interior sense that it is pleasing, beautiful, or the reverse. 
The intellectual faculty, turning itself towards the species, asks 
why the object represented is beautiful and judges that it is 
beautiful because it possesses certain characteristics. But this 
judgement implies a reference to an idea of beauty which is stable 
and unchanging, not bound to place or time. This is where the 
divine illumination comes in, namely to explain the judgement in 
its unchanging and supertemporal aspect by reference to the 
1 In Htxdtm 12, 5. 1 Itin. Mentis in Deum , 2, 9. ■ 2, 4-6. 


directing and regulating ratio aeterna , not to supersede or annul 
the work of the senses or the activity of abstraction. All sensible 
objects which are known enter the mind through the three 
psychical operations of apprehensio , oblectatio and diiudicaiio , but 
the latter operation, to be true and certain, must be a judgement 
made in the light of the rationes aeternae . 

Now, as we have seen earlier, the rationes aeternae are onto- 
logically identified and are in fact identical with the Word of God. 
It follows then that it is the Word which illuminates the human 
mind, that Word which enlightens every man who comes into the 
world. ‘Christ is the interior teacher and no truth is known except 
through Him, not by His speaking as we speak, but by His 
enlightening us interiorly. ... He is intimately present to every 
soul and by His most clear ideas He shines upon the dark ideas 
of our minds/ 1 We have no vision of the Word of God and though 
the light is so intimately within us, it is invisible, inaccessibilis : we 
can only reason to its presence from observation of its effects. 2 
Thus Bonaventure's doctrine of illumination and his interpretation 
of Augustine do not involve ontologism. His doctrine completes 
his seemingly Aristotelian affirmation of abstraction and his denial 
of the properly innate character of even the first principles, giving 
to his teaching a peculiar and non-Aristotelian, an Augustinian 
flavour and colour. We abstract, yes, but we could not seize the 
intelligible and stable merely through abstraction, we need also 
the divine illumination: we can attain knowledge of moral prin¬ 
ciples by interior reflection, yes, but we could not apprehend their 
unchanging and necessary character without the regulative and 
guiding action of the divine light. Aristotle failed to see this, he 
failed to see that as we cannot know creatures fully unless we see 
them as exemplata of the divine exemplar , so we cannot form certain 
judgements about them without the light of the divine Word, of 
the Ratio Aeterna. Exemplarism and illumination are closely 
connected, the true metaphysician recognises them both: Aristotle 
recognised neither. 

8 . There are only four faculties of the soul, the vegetative and 
sensitive powers, the intellect and the will; but Bonaventure 
distinguishes various ‘aspects' of the soul and, in particular, of 
the intellect or mind according to the objects to which its attention 
is directed and according to the way in which it is directed. It 
would, then, be a mistake to suppose that he meant that ratio, 

1 In Hexaem „ 12, 5. 'Ibid., 12, 11. 




intellectus, intelligentia and apex mentis or synderesis scintilla 1 are 
all different faculties of the soul:, they denote rather different 
functions of the rational soul in its upward ascent from sensible 
creatures to God Himself. In the Commentary on the Sentences 2 
he says expressly that the division of the reason into lower and 
higher ( ratio inferior and ratio superior) is not a division into 
different faculties: it is a division into officia and dispositions , 
which is something more than a division into aspects ( aspectus ). 
The lower reason is reason turned towards sense-objects, the higher 
reason is reason turned towards intelligible objects, and the term 
‘lower’ and ‘higher’ thus refer to different functions or officia of the 
same faculty; but there is this further point to be added, that the 
reason as directed to intelligibles is strengthened and invigorated, 
whereas, directed to sensibles, it is in a manner weakened and 
drawn down, so that although there is only one ratio, the distinc¬ 
tion between higher and lower reason corresponds not only to dif¬ 
ferent functions, but also to different dispositions of the one reason. 

The stages of the upward ascent of the mind scarcely need much 
elaboration, as they are more connected with ascetical and mystical 
theology than with philosophy in our sense; but since they are 
connected with philosophy in Bonaventure’s understanding of the 
term, it is as well to touch very briefly on them, as they illustrate 
his tendency to integrate philosophy and theology as closely as 
possible. Walking in the footsteps of Augustine and the Victorines 
Bonaventure traces the ascending stages of the soul's life, stages 
which correspond to different potentialities in the soul and lead 
him from the sphere of nature into that of grace. Starting from 
the soul’s sensitive powers ( sensualitas) he shows how the soul 
may see in sensible objects the vestigia Dei, as it contemplates 
sensible things first as God’s effects, then as things wherein God 
is present, and he accompanies it, with Augustine, as it retires 
within itself and contemplates its natural constitution and powers 
as the image of God. The intelligence is then shown contemplating 
God in the soul’s faculties renewed and elevated by grace, being 
enabled to do so by the Word of God. In this stage, however, the 
soul still contemplates God in His image, which is the soul itself, 
even if elevated by grace, and it can proceed yet further, to the 
contemplation of God supra nos, first as Being, then as the Good. 
Being is good, and the contemplation of God as Being, the perfec¬ 
tion of being, leads to the realisation of Being as the Good, as 

1 I tin. Mentis in Deum, i, 6 . 1 2 Sent., 24, 1, 2, 2, resp. 


diffusivum sui , and so to the contemplation of the Blessed Trinity. 
Further than this the intellect cannot go: beyond lies the luminous 
darkness of mystical contemplation and ecstasy, the apex affectus 
outstripping the mind. The will, however, is a faculty of the one 
human soul and, though issuing from the substance of the soul, it 
is not a distinct accident, so that to say that the affection of the 
will outruns the intellect is simply to say that the soul is united to 
God by love so closely that the light infused into it blinds it. There 
can be but one higher stage, reserved for the next life, and that is 
the vision of God in heaven. 

9. It will be remembered that the three cardinal points of 
metaphysics for Bonaventure are creation, exemplarism and illu¬ 
mination. His metaphysical system is thus a unity in that the 
doctrine of creation reveals the world as proceeding from God, 
created out of nothing and wholly dependent on Him, while the 
doctrine of exemplarism reveals the world of creatures as standing 
to God in the relation of imitation to model, of exemplatum to 
exemplar , while the doctrine of illumination traces the stages of 
the soul's return to God by way of contemplation of sensible 
creatures, of itself and finally of Perfect Being. The divine action 
is always emphasised. Creation out of nothing can be proved, as 
also God's presence and activity in creatures and especially in the 
soul itself: God's action enters into the apprehension of every 
certain truth, and even though for the establishment of the higher 
stages of the soul's ascent the data of theology are required, there 
is in a sense a continuity of divine action in increasing intensity. 
God acts in every man's mind when he attains truth, but at this 
stage the activity of God is not all-sufficient, man is also active 
through the use of his natural powers: in the higher stages God's 
action progressively increases until in ecstasy God takes possession 
of the soul and man's intellectual activity is superseded. 

Bonaventure may thus be termed the philosopher of the 
Christian life, who makes use of both reason and faith in order to 
produce his synthesis. This integration of reason and faith, 
philosophy and theology, is emphasised by the place he accords 
to Christ, the Word of God. Just as creation and exemplarism 
cannot be properly understood apart from the realisation that it 
is through the Word of God that all things are created and that 
it is the Word of God, the consubstantial image of the Father, 
whom all creatures mirror, so illumination in its various stages 
cannot be properly understood apart from the realisation that it is 


the Word of God who illumines every man, the Word of God who 
is the door through which the soul enters into God above itself, 
the Word of God who, through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent, 
inflames the soul and leads it beyond the limitations oi its clear 
ideas into the ecstatic union. Finally it is the Word of God who 
shows us the Father and opens to us the beatific vision of heaven. 
Christ in fact is the medium omnium scientiarum , 1 of metaphysics 
as of theology, for though the metaphysician as such cannot attain 
to knowledge of the Word through the use of the natural reason, 
he can form no true and certain judgements without the illumina¬ 
tion of the Word, even if he is quite unaware of this, and in 
addition his science is incomplete and vitiated by its incomplete¬ 
ness unless it is crowned by theology. 

1 In Hexabn i, n. 



Life and intellectual activity—Philosophy and theology — God — 
Creation—The soul—Reputation and importance of St. Albert. 

i. Albert the Great was bom in 1206 at Lauingen in Swabia, 
but left Germany in order to study the arts at Padua, where he 
entered the Dominican Order in 1223. After having lectured in 
theology at Cologne and other places he received the doctorate at 
Paris in 1245, having Thomas Aquinas among his pupils fi;om 1245 
to 1248. In the latter year he returned to Cologne accompanied by 
Thomas, in order to establish the Dominican house of studies there. 
His purely intellectual work was interrupted, however, by adminis¬ 
trative tasks which were laid upon him. Thus from 1254 until 
1257 was Provincial of the German Province and from 1260 
until 1262 Bishop of Ratisbon. Visits to Rome and the preaching 
of a Crusade in Bohemia also occupied his time, but he seems to 
have adopted Cologne as his general place of residence. It was 
from Cologne that he set out for Paris in 1277, to defend the 
opinions of Thomas Aquinas (died 1274), and it was at Cologne 
that he died on November 15th, 1280. 

It is clear enough from his writings and activities that Albert 
the Great was a man of wide intellectual interests and sympathies, 
and it is hardly to be expected that a man of his type would ignore 
the rise of Aristotelianism in the Parisian Faculty of Arts, espe¬ 
cially as he was well aware of the stir and trouble caused by the 
new tendencies. As a man of open mind and ready intellectual 
sympathy he was not one to adopt an uncompromisingly hostile 
attitude to the new movement, though,on the other hand, he was 
not without strong sympathy for the neo-Platonist and Augus- 
tinian tradition. Therefore, while he adopted Aristotelian elements 
and incorporated them into his philosophy, he retained much of 
the Augustinian and non-Aristotelian tradition, and his philosophy 
bears the character of a transitional stage on the way to that fuller 
incorporation of Aristotelianism which was achieved by his great 
pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, being primarily a theolo¬ 
gian, Albert could not but be sensible of the important points on 
which Aristotle's thought clashes with Christian doctrine, and that 



uncritical acceptance of Aristotle which became fashionable in a 
section of the Faculty of Arts was impossible for him. It is indeed 
no matter for surprise that though he composed paraphrases on 
many of the logical, physical (for example, on the Physics and De 
Caelo et Mundo), metaphysical and ethical works ( Nicomachean 
Ethics and Politics) of Aristotle, he did not hesitate to point out 
errors committed by the Philosopher and published a De unitate 
intellectus against Averroes. His declared intention in composing 
the paraphrases was to make Aristotle intelligible to the Latins, 
and he professed to give simply an objective account of Aristotle’s 
opinions; but in any case he could not criticise Aristotle without 
showing something of his own ideas, even if his commentaries are 
for the most part impersonal paraphrases and explanations of the 
Philosopher’s works. 

It has not been found possible to determine with any degree of 
accuracy the dates of Albert’s writings or even the order in which 
he published them, but it seems that the publication of his 
Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and the Summa 
de Creaturis antedate the publication of his paraphrases of 
Aristotle’s works. He also published Commentaries on the books 
of the Pseudo-Dionysius. The De unitate intellectus appears to 
have been composed after 1270, and the Summa theologiae, which 
may be a compilation due to other hands, remained unfinished. 

One cannot pass over in silence a remarkable side of Albert’s 
interest and activity, his interest in the physical sciences. In an 
enlightened manner he insisted on the necessity of observation and 
experiment in these matters, and in his De vegetalihus and De 
animalibus he gives the results of his own observations as well as 
ideas of earlier writers. Apropos of his description of trees and 
plants he remarks that what he has set down is the result of his 
own experience or has been borrowed from authors whom he 
knows to have confirmed their ideas by observation, for in such 
matters experience alone can give certainty. 1 His speculations are 
often very sensible, as when, in opposition to the idea that the 
earth south of the equator is uninhabitable, he affirms that the 
reverse is probably true, though the cold at the poles may be so 
excessive as to prevent habitation. If, however, there are animals 
living there, we must suppose that they have coats thick enough 
to protect them against the climate and these coats are probably 
white in colour. In any case it is unreasonable to suppose that 

1 Liber 6, de Veget. et Plantis, Tract, i, c. I. 



people living on the lower part of the earth would fall off, since 
the term ‘lower' is only relative to us. 1 Naturally Albert relies 
very much on the opinions, observations and guesses of his 
predecessors; but he frequently appeals to his own observation, to 
what he has personally noticed of the habits of migrating birds, or 
of the nature of plants, for example, and he shows a robust 
common sense, as when he makes it plain that a priori arguments 
for the uninhabitable character of the 'torrid zone' cannot out¬ 
weigh the evident fact that parts of lands which we know to be 
inhabited lie in that zone. Again, when speaking of the lunar halo 
or 'rainbow', 2 he remarks that according to Aristotle this pheno¬ 
menon occurs only twice in fifty years, whereas he and others 
have observed it twice in one year, so that Aristotle must have 
been speaking from hearsay and not from experience. In any 
case, whatever value the particular conclusions drawn by St. 
Albert have, it is the spirit of curiosity and the reliance on obser¬ 
vation and experiment which is remarkable and helps to distin¬ 
guish him from so many Scholastics of a later period. Incidentally 
this spirit of inquiry and wide interests brings him near, in this 
respect, to Aristotle, since the Philosopher himself was well aware 
of the value of empirical research in scientific matters, however 
much later disciples may have received all his dicta as unquestion¬ 
able and lacked his inquiring spirit and many-sided interests. 

2. St. Albert the Great is quite clear as to the distinction 
between theology and philosophy, and so between the theology 
which takes as its foundation the data of revelation and the 
theology which is the \tork of the unaided natural reason and 
belongs to metaphysical philosophy. Thus metaphysics or first 
theology treats of God as the first Being ( secundum quod substat 
proprietatibus entis primi), while theology treats of God as known 
by faith [secundum quod substat attributis quae per fidem attri - 
buuntur). Again, the philosopher works under the influence of the 
general light of reason given to all men, by which light he sees the 
first principles, while the theologian works by the supernatural 
light of faith, through which he receives the revealed dogmas. 3 
St. Albert has, therefore, little sympathy for those who deny or 
belittle philosophy, since not only does he make use of dialectic in 
theological reasoning, but he also recognises philosophy itself as 
an independent science. Against those who assert that it is wrong 

1 Cf. De Natura Locorum, Tract. 1, cc. 6, 7, 8, 12. 

* Liber 3, Meteorum, Tract. 4, c. 11. * 1 Summa TkeoL , I, 4, ad 2 et 3. 



to introduce philosophic reasoning into theology, he admits that 
such reasoning cannot be primary, since a dogma is proved 
tamquam ex priori, that is, a dogma is shown by the theologian to 
have been revealed and is not a conclusion from philosophic 
argument; but he goes on to say that philosophic arguments can 
be of real utility in a secondary capacity, when dealing with 
objections brought by hostile philosophers, and speaks of the 
ignorant people who want to attack in every way the employment 
of philosophy and who are like ‘brute animals blaspheming against 
that of which they are ignorant’. 1 Even in the Order of Preachers 
there was opposition to philosophy and the study of such ‘profane’ 
science, and one of the greatest services rendered by St. Albert was 
to promote the study and use of philosophy in his own Order. 

3. The doctrine of St. Albert is not a homogeneous system, but 
rather a mixture of Aristotelian and neo-Platonic elements. For 
instance, he appeals to Aristotle when giving a proof for God’s 
existence from motion, 2 and he argues that an infinite chain of 
principia is impossible and contradictory, since there would in 
reality be no principium. The primum principium or first principle 
must, by the very fact that it is the first principle, have its exis¬ 
tence from itself and not from another: its existence (esse) must be 
its substance and essence. 3 It is the necessary Being, without any 
admixture of contingence or of potency, and Albert shows also 
that it is intelligent, living, omnipotent, free, and so on, in such a 
way that it is its own intelligence; that in God’s knowledge of 
Himself there is no distinction between subject and object; that 
His will is not something distinct from His essence. Finally he 
carefully distinguishes God, the first Principle, from the world by 
observing that none of the names which we ascribe to God can be 
predicated of Him in their primary sense. If, for example, He is 
called substance, this is not because He falls within the category 
of substance, but because He is above all substances and the whole 
category of substance. Similarly, the term ‘being’ primarily refers 
to the general abstract idea of being, which cannot be predicated 
of God. 4 In fine, it is truer to say of God that we know what He is 
not rather than what He is. 6 One may say, then, that in the 
philosophy of St. Albert God is depicted, in dependence on 
Aristotle, as first unmoved Mover, as pure Act and as the self- 

> Comm, in Epist. 9 B .Dion. Areop., 7, 2. 

- Lib. I, de cawsts et proc. universitatis, 1,7. * Ibid., I, 8. Ibid., 3, b. 

» Comm, in Epist. 9 B. Dion. Areop., 1. 



knowing Intellect, but emphasis is laid, in dependence on the 
writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, on the fact that God transcends 
all our concepts and all the names we predicate of Him. 

4. This combination of Aristotle and the Pseudo-Dionysius safe¬ 
guards the divine transcendence and is the foundation for a 
doctrine of analogy; but when it comes to describing the creation 
of the world Albert interprets Aristotle according to the doctrine 
of the Peripatetici , that is to say, according to what are in reality 
neo-Platonic interpretations. Thus he uses the words fluxus and 
emanatio [fluxus est emanatio formae a primo fonte % qui omnium 
fortnarum est fons et origo) 1 and maintains that the first principle, 
intellectus universaliter agens, is the source whence flows the second 
intelligence, the latter the source whence flows the third intelli¬ 
gence, and so on. From each subordinate intelligence is derived 
its own proper sphere, until eventually the earth comes into being. 
This general scheme (Albert gives several particular schemes, 
culled from the 'ancients') might seem to impair the divine trans¬ 
cendence and immutability, as also the creative activity of God; 
but St. Albert does not, of course, think of God as becoming less 
through the process of emanation or as undergoing any change, 
while he also insists that a subordinate cause works only in 
dependence on, with the help of, the higher cause, so that the 
whole process must ultimately be referred to God. This process is 
variously represented as a graded diffusion of goodness or as a 
graded diffusion of light. However, it is clear that in this picture 
of creation St. Albert is inspired far more by the Liber de causis, 
the neo-Platonists and the neo-Platonising Aristotelians than by 
the historic Aristotle, while on the other hand he does not appear 
to have realised that the neo-Platonic notion of emanation, though 
not strictly pantheistic, since God remains distinct from all other 
beings, is yet not fully in tune with the Christian doctrine of free 
creation out of nothing. I do not mean to suggest for a moment 
that St. Albert intended to substitute the neo-Platonic emanation 
process for the Christian doctrine: rather did he try to express the 
latter in terms of the former, without apparently realising the 
difficulties involved in such an attempt. 

St. Albert departs from the Augustinian-Franciscan tradition by 
holding that reason cannot demonstrate with certainty the world's 
creation in time, that is, that the world was not created from 
eternity, 2 and also by denying that angels and the human soul are 

1 Lib . i, de causis et proc . universitatis, 4, 1, 1 In Phys. $ 8, 1, 13. 


composed of matter and form, in this evidently thinking of matter 
as related to quantity; but on the other hand he accepts the 
doctrine of the rationes seminales and that of light as the forma 
corporcitatis. Moreover, besides adopting doctrines sometimes 
from Aristotelianism and sometimes from Augustinianism or neo¬ 
platonism, St. Albert adopts phrases from the one tradition while 
interpreting them in the sense of the other, as when he speaks of 
seeing essences in the divine light, while meaning that the human 
reason and its operation is a reflection of the divine light, an effect 
thereof, but not that a special illuminating activity of God is 
required over and above the creation and conservation of the 
intellect. In general he follows the Aristotelian theory of abstrac¬ 
tion. Again, Albert by no means always makes his meaning clear, 
so that it remains doubtful whether or not he considered that the 
distinction between essence and existence is real or conceptual. 
As he denied the presence of matter in the angels, while affirming 
that they are composed of 'essential parts’, it would indeed seem 
reasonable to suppose that he maintained the theory of the real 
distinction, and he speaks in this sense on occasion; but at other 
times he speaks as if he held the Averroist theory of a conceptual 
distinction. We are left in difficulty as to the interpretation of his 
thought on this and other points owing to his habit of giving 
various different theories without any definite indication of which 
solution to the problem he himself adopted. It is not always clear 
how far he is simply reporting the opinions of others and how far 
he is committing himself to the affirmation of the opinions in 
question. It is impossible, then, to speak of a completed 'system' 
of Albert the Great: his thought is really a stage in the adoption of 
the Aristotelian philosophy as an intellectual instrument for the 
expression of the Christian outlook. The process of adopting and 
adapting the Aristotelian philosophy was carried much further by 
St. Albert’s great pupil, Thomas Aquinas; but it would be a 
mistake to exaggerate the Aristotelianism even of the latter. Both 
men remained to a great extent in the tradition of Augustine, 
though both men, St. Albert in an incomplete, St. Thomas in a 
more complete fashion, interpreted Augustine according to the 
categories of Aristotle. 

5. St. Albert was convinced that the immortality of the soul can 
be demonstrated by reason. Thus in his book on the nature and 
origin of the soul 1 he gives a number of proofs, arguing, for 

1 Liber de naiura et origine animat, 2, 6; cf. also De Anima, 3. 



example, that the soul transcends matter in its intellectual 
operations, having the principle of such operations in itself, and so 
cannot depend on the body secundum esse et essentiam . But he 
will not allow that the arguments for the unicity of the active 
intellect in all men are valid, arguments which, if probative, would 
deny personal immortality. He treats of this matter not only in 
the De Anima, but also in his special work on the subject, the 
Libellus de unitate intellectus contra Averroem . After remarking 
that the question is very difficult and that only trained philo¬ 
sophers, accustomed to metaphysical thinking, should take part 
in the dispute, 1 he goes on to expose thirty arguments which the 
Averroists bring forward or can bring forward to support their 
contention and observes that they are very difficult to answer. 
However, he proceeds to give thirty-six arguments against the 
Averroists, outlines his opinion on the rational soul and then 
answers in tum ? the thirty arguments of the Averroists. The 
rational soul is the form of man, so that it must be multiplied in 
individual men: but what is multiplied numerically must also be 
multiplied substantially. If it can be proved, then, as it can be 
proved, that the rational soul is immortal, it follows that the 
multiplicity of rational souls survive death. Again, esse is the act 
of the final form of each thing (formae ultimae), and the final or 
ultimate form of man is the rational soul. Now, either individual 
men have their own separate esse or they have not. If you say 
that they do not possess their own individual esse , you must be 
prepared to admit that they are not individual men, which is 
patently false, while if you admit that each man has his own 
individual esse, then he must also have his own individual 
rational soul. 

6. St. Albert the Great enjoyed a high reputation, even during 
his own lifetime, and Roger Bacon, who was far from being an 
enthusiastic admirer of his work, tells us that 'just as Aristotle, 
Avicenna and Averroes are quoted ( allegantur ) in the Schools, so 
is he'. Roger Bacon means that St. Albert was cited by name, 
which was contrary to the custom then in vogue of not mentioning 
living writers by name and which gives witness to the esteem he 
had won for himself. This reputation was doubtless due in large 
part to the Saint's erudition and to his many-sided interests, as 
theologian, philosopher, man of science and commentator. He had 
a wide knowledge of Jewish and Arabian philosophy and frequently 

"c. 7. 



quotes the opinions of other writers, so that, in spite of his frequent 
indefiniteness of thought and expression and his mistakes in 
historical matters, his writings give the impression of a man of 
extensive knowledge who had read very widely and was interested 
in many lines of thought. His disciple, Ulric of Strasbourg, a 
Dominican, who developed the neo-Platonic side of St. Alberts 
thought, called him "the wonder and miracle of our time'; 1 but, 
apart from his devotion to experimental science, St. Albert’s 
thought is of interest to us primarily because of its influence on 
St. Thomas Aquinas, who, unlike Ulric of Strasbourg and John of 
Fribourg, developed the Aristotelian aspect of that thought. The 
master, who outlived his pupil, was devoted to the latter’s 
memory, and we are told that when St. Albert, as an old man, 
used to think of Thomas at the commemoration of the dead in the 
Canon of the Mass, he would shed tears as he thought of the death 
of him who had been the flower and glory of the world. 

St. Albert’s reputation as a man of learning and wide-ranging 
interests was justly merited; but his chief merit, as several 
historians have noticed, was that he saw what a treasure for the 
Christian West was contained in the system of Aristotle and in 
the writings of the Arabian philosophers. Looking back on the 
thirteenth century from a much later date, one is inclined to 
contemplate the invasion and growing dominance of Aristote- 
lianism in the light of the arid Scholastic Aristotelianism of a later 
period, which sacrificed the spirit to the letter and entirely mis¬ 
understood the inquiring mind of the great Greek philosopher, his 
interest in science and the tentative nature of many of his conclu¬ 
sions; but to regard the thirteenth century in this light is to be 
guilty of an anachronism, for the attitude of the decadent 
Aristotelians of a later period was not the attitude of St. Albert. 
The Christian West possessed nothing of its own in the way of 
pure philosophy or of natural science which could compare with 
the philosophy of Aristotle and the Arabians. St. Albert realised 
this fact clearly; he saw that a definite attitude must be adopted 
towards Aristotelianism, that it could not simply be disregarded, 
and he was rightly convinced that it would be wasteful and even 
disastrous to attempt to disregard it. He saw too, of course, that 
on some points Aristotle and the Arabians held doctrines which 
were incompatible with dogma; but at the same time he realised 
that this was no reason for rejecting in its entirety what one had 
1 Summa de bono t 4, 3, 9. 


to reject in part. He endeavoured to make Aristotelianism intelli¬ 
gible to the Latins and to show them its value, while pointing out 
its errors. That he accepted this or that point, rejected this or 
that theory, is not so important as the fact that he realised the 
general significance and value of Aristotelianism, and it is surely 
not necessary to be a rigid Aristotelian oneself in order to be able 
to appreciate his merits in this respect. It is a mistake so to stress 
St. Albert’s independence, in regard to some of Aristotle’s scientific 
observations, for example, that one loses sight of the great service 
he did in drawing attention to Aristotle and displaying something 
of the wealth of Aristotelianism. The passage of years certainly 
brought a certain unfortunate ossification in the Aristotelian 
tradition; but the blame for that cannot be laid at the door of 
St. Albert the Great. If one tries to imagine what mediaeval 
philosophy would have been without Aristotle, if one thinks away 
the Thomistic synthesis and the philosophy of Scotus, if one strips 
the philosophy of St. Bonaventure of all Aristotelian elements, 
one will hardly look on the invasion of Aristotelianism as an 
historical misfortune. 



Life — Works—Mode of exposing St. Thomas s philosophy—The 
spirit of St. Thomas's philosophy. 

i. Thomas Aquinas was bom in the castle of Roccasecca, not far 
from Naples, at the end of 1224 or beginning of 1225, his father 
being the Count of Aquino. At the age of five years he was placed 
by his parents in the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino as an 
oblate, and it was there that the future Saint and Doctor made his 
first studies, remaining in the monastery from 1230 to 1239, when 
the Emperor Frederick II expelled the monks. The boy returned 
to his family for a few months and then went to the University of 
Naples in the autumn of the same year, being then fourteen years 
old. In the city there was a convent of Dominican friars, and 
Thomas, attracted by their life, entered the Order in the course of 
the year 1244. This step was by no means acceptable to his 
family, who no doubt wished the boy to enter the abbey of Monte 
Cassino, as a step to ecclesiastical preferment, and it may have 
partly been due to this family opposition that the Dominican 
General resolved to take Thomas with him to Bologna, where he 
was himself going for a General Chapter, and then to send him on 
to the University of Paris. However, Thomas was kidnapped by 
his brothers on the way and was kept a prisoner at Aquino for 
about a year. His determination to remain true to his Order was 
proof against this trial, and he was able to make his way to Paris 
in the autumn of 1245. 

Thomas was probably at Paris from 1245 until the summer of 
1248, when he accompanied St. Albert the Great to Cologne, where 
the latter was to found a house of studies (studium generate) for 
the Dominican Order, remaining there until 1252. During this 
period, first at Paris, then at Cologne, Thomas was in close contact 
with Albert the Great, who realised the potentialities of his pupil, 
and while it is obvious that his taste for learning and study must 
in any case have been greatly stimulated by intimate contact with 
a professor of such erudition and such intellectual curiosity, we can 
hardly suppose that St. Albert's attempt to utilise what was 
valuable in Aristotelianism was without direct influence on his 



pupil's mind. Even if St. Thomas did not at this early date in his 
career conceive the idea of completing what his master had begun, 
he must at least have been profoundly influenced by the latter's 
open-mindedness. Thomas did not possess the all-embracing 
curiosity of his master (or one might say perhaps that he had a 
better sense of mental economy), but he certainly possessed greater 
powers of systematisation, and it was only to be expected that the 
meeting of the erudition and open-mindedness of the older man 
with the speculative power and synthesising ability of the younger 
would result in splendid fruit. It was St. Thomas who was to 
achieve the expression of the Christian ideology in Aristotelian 
terms, and who was to utilise Aristotelianism as an instrument of 
theological and philosophical analysis and synthesis; but his 
sojourn at Paris and Cologne in company with St. Albert was 
undoubtedly a factor of prime importance in his intellectual 
development. Whether or not we choose to regard St. Albert's 
system as incomplete Thomism is really irrelevant: the main fact 
is that St. Albert (mutatis mutandis) was Thomas's Socrates. 

In 1252 St. Thomas returned from Cologne to Paris and con¬ 
tinued his course of studies, lecturing on the Scriptures as Bacca - 
laureus Biblicus (1252-4) and on the Sentences of Peter Lombard 
as Baccalaureus Sententiarius (1254-6), at the conclusion of which 
period he received his Licentiate, the licence or permission to teach 
in the faculty of theology. In the course of the same year he 
became Magister and lectured as Dominican professor until 1259. 
Of the controversy which arose concerning the Dominican and 
Franciscan chairs in the university mention has already been made. 
In 1259 he left Paris for Italy and taught theology at the studium 
curiae attached to the Papal court until 1268. Thus he was at 
Anagni with Alexander IV (1259-61), at Orvieto with Urban IV 
(1261-4), Santa Sabina in Rome (1265-7), and at Viterbo with 
Clement IV (1267-8). It was at the court of Urban IV that he 
met the famous translator, William of Moerbeke, and it was Urban 
who commissioned Thomas to compose the Office for the feast of 
Corpus Christi. 

In 1268 Thomas returned to Paris and taught there until 1272, 
engaging in controversy with the Averroists, as also with thosp 
who renewed the attack on the religious Orders. In 1272 he was 
sent to Naples in order to erect a Dominican studium generate , 
and he continued his professorial activity there until 1274, when 
Pope Gregory X summoned him to Lyons to take part in the 


Council. The journey was begun but never completed, as St. 
Thomas died on the way on March 7th, 1274, at the Cistercian 
monastery of Fossanuova, between Naples and Rome. He was 
forty-nine years of age at the time of his death, having behind 
him a life devoted to study and teaching. It had not been a life 
of much external activity or excitement, if we except the early 
incident of his imprisonment, the more or less frequent journeys 
and the controversies in which the Saint was involved; but it was 
a life devoted to the pursuit and defence of truth, a life also 
permeated and motivated by a deep spirituality. In some ways 
Thomas Aquinas was rather like the professor of legend (there are 
several stories concerning his fits of abstraction, or rather concen¬ 
tration, which made him oblivious to his surroundings), but he 
was a great deal more than a professor or theologian, for he was 
a Saint, and even if his devotion and love are not allowed to 
manifest themselves in the pages of his academic works, the 
ecstasies and mystical union with God of his later years bear 
witness to the fact that the truths of which he wrote were the 
realities by which he lived. 

2. St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard 
dates probably from 1254 to 1256, the De principiis naturae from 
1255, the De ente et essentia from 1256 and the De Veritate from 
between 1256 and 1259. It may be that the Quaestiones quod- 
libetales 7,8,9,10 and 11 were also composed before 1259, i.e. before 
Thomas left Paris for Italy. The In Boethium de Hebdotnadibus 
and the In Boethium de Trinitate are also to be assigned to this 
period. While in Italy St. Thomas wrote the Summa contra 
Gentiles, the De Potentia, the Contra err ores Graecorum, the De 
emptione et venditione and the De regimine principum. To this 
period belong also a number of the Commentaries on Aristotle: for 
example, those on the Physics (probably), the Metaphysics, the 
Nicomachean Ethics, the De Anima, the Politics (probably). On 
his return to Paris, where he became engaged in controversy with 
the Averroists, St. Thomas wrote the De aeternitate mundi contra 
murmur antes and the De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, the 
De Malo (probably), the De spiritualibus creaturis, the De anima 
(i.e. the Quaestio disputata), the De unione Verbi incarnati, as well 
as the Quaestiones quodlibetales 1 to 6 and the commentaries on 
the De causis, the Meteorologica 1 and the Perihermeneias, also 

1 The supplement to the Commentary on the Meteorologica seems to have been 
completed by an anonymous writer, drawing on Peter ol Auvergne. 


belong to this period, while during his stay at Naples St. Thomas 
wrote the De mixtione elementorum, the De motu cordis, the De 
virtutibus, and the commentaries on Aristotle’s De Caelo and De 
generatione et corruptione. As to the Summa Theologica, this was 
composed between 1265 (at the earliest) and 1273, the Pars pritna 
being written in Paris, the Prima secundae and Secunda secundae 
in Italy, and the Tertia pars in Paris between 1272 and 1273. The 
Supplementum, made up from previous writings of St. Thomas, 
was added by Reginald of Pipemo, St. Thomas’s secretary from the 
year 1261. One must add that Peter of Auvergne completed the 
commentary on the De Caelo and that on the Politics (from Book 3, 
lectio 7), while Ptolemy of Lucca was responsible for part of the 
De regimine principum, St. Thomas having written only the first 
book and the first four chapters of the second book. The Compen¬ 
dium theologiae, an unfinished work, was a product of the later 
years of St. Thomas’s life, but it is not certain if it was written 
before or after his return to Paris in 1268. 

A number of works have been attributed to St. Thomas which 
were definitely not written by him, while the authenticity of 
certain other small works is doubtful, for example, the De natura 
verbi intellectus. The chronology which has been given above is 
not universally agreed upon. Mgr. Martin Grabmann and P&re 
Mandonnet, for instance, ascribing certain works to different years. 
On this subject the relevant works mentioned in the Bibliography 
can be consulted. 

3. To attempt to give a satisfactory outline of the 'philosophical 
system’ of the greatest of the Schoolmen is to attempt a task of 
considerable magnitude. It does not indeed appear to me an 
acute question whether one should attempt a systematic or a 
genetic exposition, since the literary period of St. Thomas’s life 
comprises but twenty years and though there were modifications 
and some development of opinion in that period, there was no 
such considerable development as in the case of Plato and still 
less was there any such succession of phases or periods as in the 
case of Schelling. 1 To treat the thought of Plato genetically 
might well be considered desirable (though actually, for purposes 
of convenience and clarity, I adopted a predominantly systematic 
form of exposition in my first volume) and to treat the thought of 
Schelling genetically is essential; but there is no real reason against 

1 Recent research, however, tends to show that there was more development in 
St. Thomas's thought than is sometimes supposed. 


presenting the system of St. Thomas systematically: on the 
contrary, there is every reason why one should present it systema¬ 

The difficulty lies rather in answering the question, what precise 
form the systematic exposition should take and what emphasis and 
interpretation one should give to the component parts of its 
content. St. Thomas was a theologian and although he distin¬ 
guished the sciences of revealed theology and philosophy, he did 
not himself elaborate a systematic exposition of philosophy by 
itself (there is theology even in the Summa contra Gentiles), so that 
the method of exposition is not already decided upon by the 
Saint himself. 

Against this it may be objected that St. Thomas certainly did 
fix the starting-point for an exposition of his philosophy, and 
M. Gilson, in his outstanding work on St. Thomas, 1 argues that 
the right way of exposing the Thomistic philosophy is to expose 
it according to the order of the Thomistic theology. St. Thomas 
was a theologian and his philosophy must be regarded in the light 
of its relation to his theology. Not only is it true to say that the 
loss of a theological work like the Summa Theologica would be a 
major disaster in regard to our knowledge of St. Thomas’s philo¬ 
sophy, whereas the loss of the Commentaries on Aristotle, though 
deplorable, would be of less importance; but also St. Thomas's 
conception of the content of philosophy or of the object which the 
philosopher (i.e. theologian-philosopher) considers, was that of 
le rivilable, that which could have been revealed but has not been 
revealed and that which has been revealed but need not have 
been revealed, in the sense that it can be ascertained by the 
human reason, for example, the fact that God is wise. As M. 
Gilson rightly remarks, the problem for St. Thomas was not how 
to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the 
essence and nature of philosophy, but how to introduce philosophy 
without corrupting the essence and nature of theology. Theology 
treats of the revealed, and revelation must remain intact; but 
some truths are taught in theology which can be ascertained 
without revelation (God’s existence, for example), while there are 
other truths which have not been revealed but which might have 
been revealed and which are of importance for a total view of 
God's creation. St. Thomas’s philosophy should thus be regarded 
in the light of its relation to theology, and it is a mistake to collect 

1 Le Thomisme, jth edition, Paris, 1944. 


the philosophical items from St. Thomas's works, including his 
theological works, and construct a system out of them according 
to one's own idea of what a philosophical system should be, even 
though St. Thomas would very likely have refused to recognise 
such a system as corresponding with his actual intentions. To 
reconstruct the Thomistic system in such a way is legitimate 
enough for a philosopher, but it is the part of the historian to 
stick to St. Thomas’s own method. 

M. Gilson argues his point with his customary lucidity and 
cogency, and it seems to me that his point must, in general, be 
admitted. To begin an historical exposition of St. Thomas's 
philosophy by a theory of knowledge, for example, especially if 
the theory of knowledge were separated from psychology or the 
doctrine of the soul, would scarcely represent St. Thomas’s own 
procedure, though it would be legitimate in an exposition of 
'Thomism' which did not pretend to be primarily historical. On 
the other hand, St. Thomas certainly wrote some philosophical 
works before he composed the Summa Theologica , and the proofs 
of the existence of God in the latter work obviously presuppose a 
good many philosophical ideas. Moreover, as those philosophical 
ideas are not mere ideas, but are, on the principles of St. Thomas's 
own philosophy, abstracted from experience of the concrete, there 
seems to me ample justification for starting with the concrete 
sensible world of experience and considering some of St. Thomas's 
theories about it before going on to consider his natural theology. 
And this is the procedure which I have actually adopted. 

Another point. St. Thomas was an extremely clear writer; but 
none the less there have been and are divergences of interpretation 
in regard to certain of his doctrines. To discuss fully the pros and 
cons of different interpretations is, however, not possible in a 
general history of philosophy: one can do little more than give the 
interpretation which commends itself in one’s own eyes. At the 
same time, as far as the present writer is concerned, he is not 
prepared to state that on points where a difference of interpreta¬ 
tion has arisen, he can give what is the indubitably correct 
interpretation. After all, concerning which great philosopher's 
system is there complete and universal agreement of interpreta¬ 
tion? Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel? In the 
case of some philosophers, especially in the case of those who have 
expressed their thought clearly and carefully, like St. Thomas, 
there is a pretty generally accepted interpretation as to the main 


body of the system; but it is doubtful if the consent ever is or 
ever will be absolute and universal. A philosopher may write 
clearly and yet not express his final thought on all problems which 
arise in connection with his system, especially as some of those 
problems may not have occurred to him: it would be absurd to 
expect of any philosopher that he should have answered all 
questions, settled all problems, even that he should have rounded 
off and sealed his system in such a way that there could be no 
possible ground for divergence of interpretation. The present 
writer has the greatest respect and reverence for the genius of 
St. Thomas Aquinas, but he does not see that anything is to be 
gained by confusing the finite mind of the Saint with Absolute 
Mind or by claiming for his system what its author himself would 
certainly never have dreamed of claiming. 

4. The philosophy of St. Thomas is essentially realist and 
concrete. St. Thomas certainly adopts the Aristotelian statement 
that first philosophy or metaphysic studies being as being; but it 
is perfectly clear that the task he sets himself is the explanation 
of existent being, so far as this is attainable by the human mind. 
In other words, he does not presuppose a notion from which 
reality is to be deduced; but he starts from the existent world 
and inquires what its being is, how it exists, what is the condition 
of its existence. Moreover, his thought concentrates on the 
supreme Existence, on the Being which does not merely possess 
existence, but is Its own existence, which is the very plenitude 
of existence, ipsum esse subsistens: his thought remains ever in 
contact with the concrete, the existent, both with that which has 
existence as something derived, something received, and with that 
which does not receive existence but is existence. In this sense it 
is true to say that Thomism is an 'existential philosophy’, though 
it is very misleading, in my opinion, to call.St. Thomas an ‘existen¬ 
tialist’, since the Existenz of the existentialists is not the same 
thing as St. Thomas’s esse ; nor is St. Thomas’s method of approach 
to the problem of existence the same as that of the philosophers 
who are now called existentialists. 

It has been maintained that St. Thomas, by bringing esse to the 
forefront of the philosophic stage, advanced beyond the philo¬ 
sophies of essence, particularly beyond Plato and the philosophies 
of Platonic inspiration. There is certainly truth in this contention: 
although Plato did not disregard the question of existence, the 
salient characteristic of his philosophy is the explanation of the 


world in terms of essence rather than of existence, while even for 
Aristotle, God, although pure Act, is primarily Thought, or Idea, 
the Platonic Good rendered 'personal'. Moreover, although 
Aristotle endeavoured to explain form and order in the world and 
the intelligible process of development, he did not explain the 
existence of the world; apparently he thought that no explanation 
was needed. In neo-Platonism again, though the derivation of the 
world is accounted for, the general scheme of emanation is primarily 
that of an emanation of essences, though existence is certainly not 
left out of account: God is primarily the One or the Good, not 
ipsum esse subsistens, not the 1 am who am. But one should 
remember that creation out of nothing was not an idea at which 
any Greek philosopher arrived without dependence on Judaism 
or Christianity and that without this idea the derivation of the 
world tends to be explained as a necessary derivation of essences. 
Those Christian philosophers who depended on and utilised neo- 
Platonic terminology spoke of the world as flowing from or 
emanating from God, and even St. Thomas used such phrases on 
occasion; but an orthodox Christian philosopher, whatever his 
terminology, regards the world as created freely by God, as 
receiving esse from ipsum esse subsistens. When St. Thomas 
insisted on the fact that God is subsistent existence, that His 
essence is not primarily goodness or thought but existence, he was 
but rendering explicit the implications of the Jewish and Christian 
view of the world’s relation to God. I do not mean to imply that 
the idea of creation cannot be attained by reason; but the fact 
remains that it was not attained by the Greek philosophers and 
could hardly be attained by them, given their idea of God. 

Of St. Thomas’s general relation to Aristotle I shall speak later; 
but it,may be as well to point out now one great effect which 
Aristotelianism had on St. Thomas’s philosophical outlook and 
procedure. One might expect that St. Thomas, being a Christian, 
a theologian, a friar, would emphasise the soul’s relation to God 
and would begin with what some modem philosophers call ‘sub¬ 
jectivity’, that he would place the interior life in the foreground 
even of his philosophy, as St. Bonaventure did. In point of fact, 
however, one of the chief characteristics of St. Thomas’s philo¬ 
sophy is its 'objectivity' rather than its ‘subjectivity’. The imme¬ 
diate object of the human intellect is the essence of the material 
thing, and St. Thomas builds up his philosophy by reflection on 
sense-experience. In the proofs which he gives of God’s existence 


the process of argument is always from the sensible world to God. 
No doubt certain of the proofs could be applied to the soul itself 
as a starting-point and be developed in a different way; but in 
actual fact this was not the way of St. Thomas, and the proof 
which he calls the via manifestior is the one which is most dependent 
on Aristotle’s own arguments. This Aristotelian 'objectivity' of 
St. Thomas may appear disconcerting to those for whom ‘truth 
is subjectivity’; but at the same time it is a great source of 
strength,.since it means that his arguments can be considered in 
themselves, apart from St. Thomas’s own life, on their own merits 
or demerits, and that observations about 'wishful thinking’ are 
largely irrelevant, the relevant question being the objective 
cogency of the arguments themselves. Another result is that St. 
Thomas’s philosophy appears ‘modem’ in a sense in which the 
philosophy of St. Bonaventure can hardly do. The latter tends 
to appear as essentially bound up with the general mediaeval 
outlook and with the Christian spiritual life and tradition, so that 
it seems to be on a different plane from the ‘profane’ philosophies 
of modem times, whereas the Thomistic philosophy can be 
divorced from Christian spirituality and, to a large extent, from 
the mediaeval outlook and background, and can enter into direct 
competition with more recent systems. A Thomistic revival has 
taken place, as everybody knows; but it is a little difficult to 
imagine a Bonaventurian revival, unless one were at the same 
time to change the conception of philosophy, and in this case the 
modem philosopher and the Bonaventurian would scarcely speak 
the same language. 

Nevertheless, St. Thomas was a Christian philosopher. As 
already mentioned, St. Thomas follows Aristotle in speaking of 
metaphysics as the science of being as being; but the fact that his 
thought centres round the concrete and the fact that he was a 
Christian theologian led him to emphasise also the view that ‘first 
philosophy is wholly directed to the knowledge of God as the last 
end’ and that ’the knowledge of God is the ultimate end of every 
human cognition and operation'. 1 But actually man was created 
for a profounder and more intimate knowledge of God than he 
can attain by the exercise of his natural reason in this life, and so 
revelation was morally necessary in order that his mind might be 
raised to something higher than his reason can attain to in this 
life and that he should desire and zealously strive towards 

1 Contra Gent., 3, 25. 


something 'which exceeds the whole state of this life.' 1 Metaphysics 
has its own object, therefore, and a certain autonomy of its own, 
but it points upwards and needs to be crowned by theology: 
otherwise man will not realise the end for which he was created 
and will not desire and strive towards that end. Moreover, as the 
primary object of metaphysics, God, exceeds the apprehension of 
the metaphysician and of the natural reason in general, and as 
the full knowledge or vision of God is not attainable in this life, 
the conceptual knowledge of God is crowned in this life by 
mysticism. Mystical theology does not enter the province of 
philosophy, and St. Thomas's philosophy can be considered with- 
out reference to it; but one should not forget that for St. Thomas 
philosophical knowledge is neither sufficient nor final. 

1 Contra Gent., 1, 5. 



Distinction between philosophy and theology—Moral necessity of 
revelation—Incompatibility of faith and science in the same 
mind concerning the same object—Natural end and supernatural 
end — St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure — St. Thomas as 'inno¬ 
vator . 

i. That St. Thomas, made a formal and explicit distinction 
between dogmatic theology and philocophy is an undoubted and 
an indubitable fact. Philosophy and the other human sciences 
rely simply and solely on the natural light of reason: the philo¬ 
sopher uses principles which are known by the human reason (with 
God's natural concurrence, of course, but without the supernatural 
light of faith), and he argues to conclusions which are the fruit of 
human reasoning. The theologian, on the other hand, although he 
certainly uses his reason, accepts his principles on authority, on 
faith; he receives them as revealed. The introduction of dialectic 
into theology, the practice of starting from a revealed premiss or 
from revealed premisses and arguing rationally to a conclusion, 
leads to the development of Scholastic theology, but it does not 
turn theology into philosophy, since the principles, the data, are 
accepted as revealed. For instance, the theologian may attempt 
with the aid of categories and forms of reasoning borrowed from 
philosophy to understand a little better the mystery of the 
Trinity; but he does not thereby cease to act as a theologian, since 
all the time he accepts the dogma of the Trinity of Persons in one 
Nature on the authority of God revealing: it is for him a datum 
or principle, a revealed premiss accepted on faith, not the conclu¬ 
sion of a philosophical argument. Again, while the philosopher 
starts from the world of experience and argues by reason to God 
in so far as He can be known by means of creatures, the theologian 
starts with God as He has revealed Himself, and the natural 
method in theology is to pass from God in Himself to creatures 
rather than to ascend from creatures to God, as the philosopher 
does and must do. 

It follows that the principal difference between theology and 



philosophy lies in the fact that the theologian receives his principles 
as revealed and considers the objects with which he deals as 
revealed or as deducible from what is revealed, whereas the 
philosopher apprehends his principles by reason alone and con¬ 
siders the objects with which he deals, not as revealed but as 
apprehensible and apprehended by the natural light of reason. In 
other Words, the fundamental difference between theology and 
philosophy does not lie in a difference of objects concretely 
considered. Some truths are proper to theology, since they cannot 
be known by reason and are known only by revelation, the mystery 
of the Trinity, for example, while other truths are proper to 
philosophy alone in the sense that they have not been revealed; 
but there are some truths which are common to both theology and 
philosophy, since they have been revealed, though at the same 
time they can be established by reason. It is the existence of these 
common truths which makes it impossible to say that theology and 
philosophy differ primarily because each science considers dif¬ 
ferent truths: in some instances they consider the same truths, 
though they consider them in a different manner, the theologian 
considering them as revealed, the philosopher as conclusions of a 
process of human reasoning. For example, the philosopher argues 
to God as Creator, while the theologian also treats of God as 
Creator; but for the philosopher the knowledge of God as Creator 
comes as the conclusion of a purely rational argument, while the 
theologian accepts the fact that God is Creator from revelation, 
so that it is for him a premiss rather than a conclusion, a premiss 
which is not hypothetically assumed but revealed. In technical 
language it is not primarily a difference of truths considered 
‘materially', or according to their content, which constitutes the 
difference between a truth of theology and a truth of philosophy, 
but rather a difference of truths considered ‘formally 1 . That is to 
say, the same truth may be enunciated by both the theologian and 
the philosopher; but it is arrived at and considered by the theolo¬ 
gian in a different way from that in which it is arrived at and 
considered by the philosopher. Diversa ratio cognoscibilis diversi- 
tatem scientiarum inducit . . . . ‘There is, therefore, no reason why 
another science should not treat of the very same objects, as 
known by the light of divine revelation, which the philosophical 
sciences treat of according as they are knowable by the light of 
natural reason. Hence the theology which belongs to sacred 
doctrine differs generically from that theology which is a part of 


3 i 4 

philosophy.’ 1 Between dogmatic theology and natural theology 
there is a certain overlapping; but the sciences differ generically 
from one another. 

2. According to St. Thomas, almost the whole of philosophy is 
directed to the knowledge of God, at least in the sense that a good 
deal of philosophical study is presupposed and required by natural 
theology, that part of metaphysics which treats of God. Natural 
theology, he says, is the last part of philosophy to be learnt. 2 
Incidentally, this statement does not support the view that one 
should start the exposition of the Thomist philosophy with 
natural theology; but in any case the point I now want to make 
is that St. Thomas, seeing that natural theology, if it is to be 
properly grasped, requires much previous study and reflection, 
insists that revelation is morally necessary, given the fact that 
God is man’s end. Moreover, not only does natural theology 
require more reflection and study and ability than most men are 
in a position to devote to it, but also, even when the truth is 
discovered, history shows that it is often contaminated by error. 
Pagan philosophers have certainly discovered God's existence; but 
error was often involved in their speculations, the philosopher 
either not realising properly the unity of God or denying divine 
providence or failing to see that God is Creator. If it were a 
question simply of astronomy or natural science, errors would not 
matter so much, since man can perfectly well attain his end even 
if he holds erroneous opinions concerning astronomical or scientific 
matters; but God is Himself man’s end, and knowledge of God is 
essential in order that man should direct himself rightly towards 
that end, so that truth concerning God is of great importance and 
error concerning God is disastrous. Granted, then, that God is 
man’s end, we can see that it is morally necessary that the 
discovery of truths so important for life should not be left simply 
to the unaided powers of those men who have the ability, the zeal 
and the leisure to discover them, but that these truths should also 
be revealed. 3 

3. At once the question arises whether the same man can at the 
same time believe (accept on authority by faith) and know (as 
a result of rational demonstration) the same truth. If God's 
existence, for instance, has been demonstrated by a philosopher, 
can he at the same time believe it by faith? In the De Veritate* 

■ Contra Gent., l, 4 
4 M. 9 - 


St. Thomas answers roundly that it is impossible for there to be faith 
and knowledge concerning the same object, that the same truths 
should be both known scientifically (philosophically) and at the 
same time believed (by faith) by the same man. On this supposi¬ 
tion it would seem that a man who has proved the unity of God 
cannot believe that same truth by faith. In order, then, that it 
should not appear that this man is failing to give assent to articles 
of faith, St. Thomas finds himself compelled to say that such truths 
as the unity of God are not properly speaking articles of faith, 
but rather praeambula ad artic-ulos . 1 He adds, however, that 
nothing prevents such truths being the object of belief to a man 
who cannot understand or has no time to consider the philosophical 
demonstration, 1 and he maintains his opinion that it was proper 
and fitting for such truths to be proposed for belief. 8 The question 
whether a man who understands the demonstration but who is not 
attending to it or considering it at the moment, can exercise faith 
in regard to the unity of God he does not explicitly answer. As to 
the opening phrase of the Creed {Credo in unurn Deum, I believe 
in one God), which might seem to imply that faith in the unity of 
God is demanded of all, he would, on his premisses, have to say 
that the unity of God is here not to be understood by itself but 
together with what follows, that is, as a unity of Nature in a 
Trinity of Persons. 

To go into this question further and to discuss with what sort 
of faith the uneducated believe the truths which are known 
(demonstratively) by the philosopher, would be inappropriate here, 
not only because it is a theological question, but also because it is 
a question which St. Thomas does not explicitly discuss: the main 
point in mentioning the matter at all is to illustrate the fact that 
St. Thomas makes a real distinction between philosophy on the 
one hand and theology on the other. Incidentally, if we speak of 
a 'philosopher', it must not be understood as excluding the 
theologian: most of the Scholastics were both theologians and 
philosophers, and St. Thomas distinguishes the sciences rather 
than the men. That St. Thomas took this distinction seriously 
can also be seen from the position he adopted towards the question 
of the eternity of the world (to which I shall return later). He 
considered that it can be demonstrated that the world was created, 
but he did not think that reason can demonstrate that the world 

1 S.T., la. 2, 2, ad 1; De Verit., 14, 9, ad 9. 

• S.T., la, 2, 2, ad 1. • Contra Gent., 1, 4. 

1 5 . 7 *., la, 1, i, ad 2. 

* Cl. S.T., la, I, 1; Contra Gent., 1, 4. 



was not created from eternity, although it can refute the proofs 
adduced to show that it was created from eternity. On the other 
hand we know by revelation that the world was not created from 
eternity but had a beginning in time. In other words, the theolo¬ 
gian knows through revelation that the world was not created 
from eternity, but the philosopher cannot prove this—or rather 
no argument which has been brought forward to prove it is 
conclusive. This distinction obviously presupposes or implies a 
real distinction between the two sciences of philosophy and 

4. It is sometimes said that St. Thomas differs from St. Augus¬ 
tine in that while the latter considers man simply in the concrete, 
as man called to a supernatural end, St. Thomas distinguishes two 
ends, a supernatural end, the consideration of which he assigns to 
the theologian, and a natural end, the consideration of which he 
assigns to the philosopher. Now, that St. Thomas distinguishes 
the two ends is quite true. In the De Veritate 1 he says that the 
final good as considered by the philosopher is different from the 
final good as considered by the theologian, since the philosopher 
considers the final good (bonum uUimum) which is proportionate 
to human powers, whereas the theologian considers as the final 
good that which transcends the power of nature, namely life 
eternal, by which he means, of course, not simply survival but the 
vision of God. This distinction is of great importance and it has 
its repercussion both in morals, where it is the foundation of the 
distinction between the natural and the supernatural virtues, and 
in politics, where it is the foundation of the distinction between 
the ends of the Church and the State and determines the relations 
which should exist between the two societies; but it is not a 
distinction between two ends which correspond to two mutually 
exclusive orders, the one supernatural, the other that of ‘pure 
nature’: it is a distinction between two orders of knowledge and 
activity in the same concrete human being. The concrete human 
being was created by God for a supernatural end, for perfect 
happiness, which is attainable only in the next life through the 
vision of God and which is, moreover, unattainable by man by 
his own unaided natural power; but man can attain an imperfect 
happiness in this life by the exercise of his natural powers, 
through coming to a philosophic knowledge of God through 
creatures and through the attainment and exercise of the natural 

1 M. 3. 


virtues . 1 Obviously these ends are not exclusive, since man can 
attain the imperfect felicity in which his natural end consists 
without thereby putting himself outside the way to his super¬ 
natural end; the natural end, imperfect beatitude, is proportionate 
to human nature and human powers, but inasmuch as man has 
been created for a supernatural final end, the natural end cannot 
satisfy him, as St. Thomas argues in the Contra Gentiles 2 ; it is 
imperfect and points beyond itself. 

How does this affect the question of the relation between 
theology and philosophy? In this way. Man has one final end, 
supernatural beatitude, but the existence of this end, which 
transcends the powers of mere human nature, even though man 
was created to attain it and given the power to do so by grace, 
cannot be known by natural reason and so cannot be divined by 
the philosopher: its consideration is restricted to the theologian. 
On the other hand, man can attain through the exercise of his 
natural powers to an imperfect and limited natural happiness in 
this life, and the existence of this end and the means to attain it 
are discoverable by the philosopher, who can prove the existence 
of God from creatures, attain some analogical knowledge of God, 
define the natural virtues and the means of attaining them. Thus 
the philosopher may be said to consider the end of man in so far 
as this end is discoverable by human reason, i.e. only imperfectly 
and incompletely. But both theologian and philosopher are con¬ 
sidering man in the concrete: the difference is that the philosopher, 
while able to view and consider human nature as such, cannot 
discover all there is in man, cannot discover his supernatural 
vocation; he can only go part of the way in discovering man’s 
destiny, precisely because man was created for an end which 
transcends the powers of his nature. It is, therefore, not true to 
say that for St. Thomas the philosopher considers man in a 
hypothetical state of pure nature, that is, man as he would have 
been, had he never been called to a supernatural end: he considers 
man in the concrete, but he cannot know all there is to be known 
about that man in the concrete. When St. Thomas raises the 
question whether God could have created man inpuris naturalibus 8 
he is asking simply if God could have created man (who even 
in this hypothesis was created for a supernatural end) without 

1 Cf. In Boethium de Trinitate, 6, 4, 5; In 1 Sent., prol., I. 1; De Veritate, 14, 2; 
5 .T., la, Ilae, 5, 5. 1 3, 27ff. 

• In 2 Jent., 29, 1, 2; ibid., 29, 2. 3; S.T ., la, 95. I. 4: Qnodlibet, I, 8. 



sanctifying grace, that is to say, if God could have first created 
man without the means of attaining his end and then afterwards 
have given it; he is not asking if God could have given man a 
purely natural ultimate end, as later writers interpreted him as 
saying. Whatever, then, the merit of the idea of the state of pure 
nature considered in itself may be (this is a point I do not propose 
to discuss), it does not play a part in St. Thomas's conception of 
philosophy. Consequently he does not differ from St. Augustine 
so much as has been sometimes asserted, though he defined the 
spheres of the two sciences of philosophy and theology more 
clearly than Augustine had defined them: what he did was to 
express Augustinianism in terms of the Aristotelian philosophy, a 
fact which compelled him to utilise the notion of natural end, 
though he interpreted it in such a way that he cannot be said to 
have adopted a starting-point in philosophy totally different from 
that of Augustine. 

Actually the idea of the state of pure nature seems to have been 
introduced into Thomism by Cajetan. Suarez, who himself adopted 
the idea, remarks that ‘Cajetan and the more modem theologians 
have considered a third state, which they have called purely 
natural, a state which can be thought of as possible, although 
it has not in fact existed’, 1 Dominicus Soto 2 says that it is a 
perversion of the mind of St. Thomas, while Toletus 3 observes 
that there exist in us a natural desire and a natural appetite 
for the vision of God, though this opinion, which is that of 
Scotus and seems to be that of St. Thomas, is contrary to that of 

5. St. Thomas certainly believed that it is theoretically possible 
for the philosopher to work out a true metaphysical system without 
recourse to revelation. Such a system would be necessarily imper¬ 
fect, inadequate and incomplete, because the metaphysician is 
primarily concerned with the Truth itself, with God who is the 
principle of all truth, and he is unable by purely human rational 
investigation to discover all that knowledge of Truth itself, of 
God, which is necessary for man if he is to attain his final end. 
The mere philosopher can say nothing about the supernatural end 
of man or the supernatural means of attaining that end, and as the 
knowledge of these things is required for man’s salvation, the 
insufficiency of philosophical knowledge is apparent. On the other 

1 De Gratia , Prolegom,, 4, c. i. n. a. * In 4 Sent., 49, 2, 1 ; p. 903, 1613 edit. 

* In Sumtnam Sancti Thomae , la. 1. 1, t. I. pp. 17-19, 1869 edit. 


hand, incompleteness and inadequacy do not necessarily mean 
falsity. The truth that God is one is not vitiated by the very fact 
that nothing is said or known of the Trinity of Persons; the further 
truth completes the first, but the first truth is not false, even taken 
by itself. If the philosopher states that God is one and simply 
says nothing about the Trinity, because the idea of the Trinity has 
never entered his head; or if he knows of the doctrine of the 
Trinity and does not himself believe it, but simply contents him¬ 
self with saying that God is one; or even if he expresses the view 
that the Trinity, which he understands wrongly, is incompatible 
with the divine unity; it still remains true that the statement that 
God is one in Nature is a correct statement. Of course, if the 
philosopher states positively that God is one Person, he is stating 
what is false; but if he simply says that God is one and that God 
is personal, without going on to state that God is one Person, he 
is stating the truth. It may be unlikely that a philosopher would 
stop short at saying that God is personal, but it is at least theoreti¬ 
cally possible. Unless one is prepared to condemn the human 
intellect as such or at any rate to debar it from the discovery of 
a true metaphysic, one must admit that the establishment of a 
satisfactory metaphysic is abstractly possible, even for the pagan 
philosopher. St. Thomas was very far from following St. Bona- 
venture in excluding Aristotle from the ranks of the meta¬ 
physicians: on the contrary, the latter was in Thomas's eyes the 
philosopher par excellence, the very embodiment of the intellectual 
power of the human mind acting without divine faith, and he 
attempted, wherever possible, to interpret Aristotle in the most 
‘charitable’ sense, that is, in the sense which was most compatible 
with Christian revelation. 

If one emphasises simply this aspect of St. Thomas's attitude 
towards philosophy, it would seem that a Thomist could not 
legitimately adopt a consistently hostile and polemical attitude 
towards modem philosophy. If one adopts the Bonaventurian 
position and maintains that a metaphysician cannot attain truth 
unless he philosophises in the light of faith (though without, of 
course, basing his philosophical proofs on theological premisses), 
one would only expect that a philosopher who rejected the super¬ 
natural or who confined religion within the bounds of reason alone, 
should go sadly astray; but if one is prepared to admit the possi¬ 
bility of even a pagan philosopher elaborating a more or less 
satisfactory metaphysic, it is unreasonable to suppose that in 



several centuries of intensive human thought, no truth has come 
to light. It would seem that a Thomist should expect to find fresh 
intellectual illumination in the pages of the modem philosophers 
and that he should approach them with an initial sympathy and 
expectancy rather than with an a priori suspicion, reserve and 
even hostility. 

On the other hand, though St. Thomas's attitude towards the 
pagan philosophers, and towards Aristotle in particular, differed 
from that of St. Bonaventure, it is not right to exaggerate their 
difference of outlook. As has already been mentioned, St. Thomas 
gives reasons why it is fitting that even those truths about God 
which can be discovered by reason should be proposed for men's 
belief. Some of the reasons he gives are not indeed relevant to the 
particular point I am discussing. For example, it is perfectly true 
that many people are so occupied with earning their daily bread 
that they have not the time to give to metaphysical reflection, 
even when they have the capacity for such reflection, so that it is 
desirable that those metaphysical truths which are of importance 
for them in their lives should be proposed for their belief: other* 
wise they will never know them at all, 1 just as most of us would 
have neither the time nor the energy to discover America for 
ourselves, did we not already accept the fact that it exists on the 
testimony of others; but it does not necessarily follow that those 
who have the time and ability for metaphysical reflection will 
probably draw wrong conclusions, except in so far as metaphysical 
thinking is difficult and requires prolonged attention and concen- 
tration, whereas 'certain people', as St. Thomas remarks, are lazy. 
However, there is this further point to be borne in mind, 2 that on 
account of the weakness of our intellect in judging and on account 
of the intrusion of the imagination falsity is generally (plerutnque ) 
mixed with truth in the human mind's conclusions. Among the 
conclusions which are truly demonstrated there is sometimes 
[aliquando) included a false conclusion which has not been demon¬ 
strated but is asserted on the strength of a probable or sophistical 
reasoning passing under the name of demonstration. The practical 
result will be that even certain and sure conclusions will not be 
whole-heartedly accepted by many people, particularly when they 
see philosophers teaching different doctrines while they themselves 
are unable to distinguish a doctrine which has been truly demon¬ 
strated from one which rests on a merely probable or sophistical 

1 Contra Gent., 1,4. 1 Ibid. 


argument. Similarly, in the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas 
observes that the truth about God is arrived at by the human 
reason only by a few men and after a long time and ‘with the 
admixture of many errors'. 1 When the Saint says that it is desirable 
that even those truths about God which are rationally demon¬ 
strable should be proposed as objects of belief, to be accepted on 
authority, he emphasises indeed the practical requirements of the 
many rather than the speculative insufficiency of metaphysics as 
such, but he does admit that error is frequently mixed with the 
truth, either because of over-hastiness in jumping to conclusions 
or because of the influence of passion and emotion or of imagina¬ 
tion. Possibly he did not himself apply this idea with perfect 
consistency in regard to Aristotle and was too ready to interpret 
Aristotle in the sense which was most compatible with Christian 
doctrine, but the fact remains that he acknowledges theoretically 
the weakness of the human intellect in its present condition, 
though not its radical perversion. Accordingly, though he differs 
from St. Bonaventure in that he admits the abstract possibility, 
and indeed, in Aristotle’s case, the concrete fact, of a ‘satisfactory’ 
metaphysic being elaborated by a pagan philosopher and also 
refuses to allow that its incompleteness vitiates a metaphysical 
system, he also admits it is likely that any independent meta¬ 
physical system will contain error. 

Perhaps it is not fanciful to suggest that the two men's abstract 
opinions were largely settled by their attitude towards Aristotle. 
It might, of course, be retorted that this is to put the cart before 
the horse, but it will appear more reasonable if one considers the 
actual circumstances in which they lived and wrote. For the first 
time Latin Christendom was becoming acquainted with a great 
philosophical system which owed nothing to Christianity and 
which was represented by its fervent adherents, such as Averroes, 
as being the last word in human wisdom. The greatness of 
Aristotle, the depth and comprehensiveness of his system, was a 
factor which could not be ignored by any Christian philosopher of 
the thirteenth century; but it could be met and treated in more 
than one way. On the one hand, as expounded by Averroes, 
Aristotelianism conflicted on several very important points with 
Christian doctrine, and it was possible to adopt a hostile and 
unreceptive attitude towards the Aristotelian metaphysic on this 
count. If, however, one adopted this course, as St. Bonaventure 

1 S.T., la, r, 1, in corpore. 


did, one had to say either that Aristotle’s system affirmed philoso¬ 
phical truth but that what was true in philosophy might not be 
true in theology, since God could override the demands of natural 
logic, or else that Aristotle went wrong in his metaphysics. St. 
Bonaventure adopted the second course. But why, in Bona- 
venture’s view, did Aristotle go wrong, the greatest systematiser 
of the ancient world? Obviously because any independent philo¬ 
sophy is bound to go wrong on important points simply because 
it is independent: it is only in the light of the Christian faith that 
one can elaborate anything like a complete and satisfactory 
philosophical system, since it is only in the light of the Christian 
faith that the philosopher will be enabled to leave his philosophy 
open to revelation: if he has not that light, he will round it off and 
complete it, and if he rounds it off and completes it, it will be 
thereby vitiated in part at least, especially in regard to those parts, 
the most important parts, which deal with God and the end of 
man. On the other hand, if one saw in the Aristotelian system a 
magnificent instrument for the expression of truth and for the 
welding together of the divine truths of theology and philosophy, 
one would have to admit the power of the pagan philosopher to 
attain metaphysical truth, though in view of the interpretation of 
Aristotle given by Averroes and others one would have also to 
allow for and explain the possibility of error even on the part of the 
Philosopher. This was the course adopted by St. Thomas. 

6 . When one looks back on the thirteenth century from a much 
later date, one does not always recognise the fact that St. Thomas 
was an innovator, that his adoption of Aristotelianism was bold 
and ’modem'. St. Thomas was faced with a system of growing 
influence and importance, which seemed in many respects to be 
incompatible with Christian tradition, but which naturally capti¬ 
vated the minds of many students and masters, particularly in the 
faculty of arts at Paris, precisely because of its majesty, apparent 
coherence and comprehensiveness. That Aquinas boldly grasped 
the bull by the horns and utilised Aristotelianism in the building 
up of his own system was very far from being an obscurantist 
action: it was, on the contrary, extremely ‘modem’ and was of 
the greatest importance for the future of Scholastic philosophy 
and indeed for the history of philosophy in general. That some 
Scholastics in the later Middle Ages and at the time of the 
Renaissance brought Aristotelianism into discredit by their obscu¬ 
rantist adherence to all the Philosopher’s dicta , even on scientific 


matters, does not concern St. Thomas: the plain fact is that they 
were not faithful to the spirit of St. Thomas. The Saint rendered, 
on any count, an incomparable service to Christian thought by 
utilising the instrument which presented itself, and he naturally 
interpreted Aristotle in the most favourable sense from the 
Christian standpoint, since it was essential to show, if he was to 
succeed in his undertaking, that Aristotle and Averroes did not 
stand or fall together. Moreover, it is not true to say that St, 
Thomas had no sense of accurate interpretation: one may not 
agree with all his interpretations of Aristotle, but there can be no 
doubt that, given the circumstances of the time and the paucity 
of relevant historical information at his disposal, he was one of 
the most conscientious and the finest commentators of Aristotle 
who have ever existed. 

In conclusion, however, it must be emphasised that though 
St. Thomas adopted Aristotelianism as an instrument for the 
expression of his system, he was no blind worshipper of the 
Philosopher, who discarded Augustine in favour of the pagan 
thinker. In theology he naturally treads in the footsteps of 
Augustine, though his adoption of the Aristotelian philosophy as 
an instrument enabled him to systematise, define and argue 
logically from theological doctrines in a manner which was foreign 
to the attitude of Augustine: in philosophy, while there is a great 
deal which comes straight from Aristotle, he often interprets 
Aristotle in a manner consonant with Augustine or expresses 
Augustine in Aristotelian categories, though it might be truer to 
say that he does both at once. For instance, when treating of 
divine knowledge and providence, he interprets the Aristotelian 
doctrine of God in a sense which at least does not exclude God’s 
knowledge of the world, and in treating of the divine ideas he 
observes that Aristotle censured Plato for making the ideas inde¬ 
pendent both of concrete things and of an intellect, with the tacit 
implication that Aristotle would not have censured Plato, had the 
latter placed the ideas in the mind of God. This is, of course, to 
interpret Aristotle in meliorem partem from the theological stand¬ 
point, and although the interpretation tends to bring Aristotle 
and Augustine closer together, it most probably does not represent 
Aristotle’s actual theory of the divine knowledge. However, of 
St. Thomas's relation to Aristotle I shall speak later. 



Reasons for starting with corporeal being — Hylomorphism — Re¬ 
jection of rationes seminales— Rejection of plurality of substan¬ 
tial forms—Restriction of hylomorphic composition to corporeal 
substances—Potentiality and act—Essence and existence. 

I. In the Summa Theologica, which, as its name indicates, is a 
theological synopsis, the first philosophical problem of which St. 
Thomas treats is that of the existence of God, after which he 
proceeds to consider the Nature of God and then the divine 
Persons, passing subsequently to creation. Similarly, in the Summa 
contra Gentiles , which more nearly resembles a philosophical 
treatise (though it cannot be called simply a philosophical treatise, 
since it also treats of such purely dogmatic themes as the Trinity 
and the Incarnation), St. Thomas also starts with the existence of 
God. It might seem, then, that it would be natural to begin the 
exposition of St. Thomas's philosophy with his proofs of God's 
existence; but apart from the fact (mentioned in an earlier chapter) 
that St. Thomas himself says that the part of philosophy which 
treats of God comes after the other branches of philosophy, the 
proofs themselves presuppose some fundamental concepts and 
principles, and St. Thomas had composed the De ente et essentia , 
for example, before he wrote either of the Summae. It would not 
in any case be natural, then, to start immediately with the proofs 
of God's existence, and M. Gilson himself, who insists that the 
natural way of expounding St. Thomas's philosophy is to expound 
it according to the order adopted by the Saint in the Summae , 
actually begins by considering certain basic ideas and principles. 
On the other hand, one can scarcely discuss the whole general 
metaphysic of St. Thomas and all those ideas which are explicitly 
or implicitly presupposed by his natural theology: it is necessary 
to restrict the basis of one's discussion. 

To a modern reader, familiar with the course and problems of 
modem philosophy, it might seem natural to begin with a discus¬ 
sion of St. Thomas's theory of knowledge and to raise the question 
whether or not the Saint provides an epistemological justification 


of the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. But although St. 
Thomas certainly had a Theory of knowledge' he did not live after 
Kant, and the problem of knowledge did not occupy that position 
in his philosophy which it has come to occupy in later times. It 
seems to me that the natural starting-point for an exposition of the 
Thomist philosophy is the consideration of corporeal substances. 
After all, St. Thomas expressly teaches that the immediate and 
proper object of the human intellect in this life is the essence of 
material things. The fundamental notions and principles which 
are presupposed by St. Thomas's natural theology are not, accord¬ 
ing to him, innate, but are apprehended through reflection on and 
abstraction from our experience of concrete objects, and it seems, 
therefore, only reasonable to develop those fundamental notions 
and principles first of all through a consideration of material 
substances. St. Thomas's proofs of God's existence are a posteriory, 
they proceed from creatures to God, and it is the creature's nature, 
the lack of self-sufficiency on the part of the immediate objects of 
experience, which reveals the existence of God. Moreover, we can, 
by the natural light of reason, attain only that knowledge of God 
which can be attained by reflection on creatures and their relation 
to Him. On this count too it would seem only ‘natural' to begin 
the exposition of the Thomist philosophy with a consideration 
of those concrete objects of experience by reflection on which we 
arrive at those fundamental principles which lead us on to develop 
the proofs of God's existence. 

2. In regard to corporeal substances St. Thomas adopts from 
the very outset the common-sense standpoint, according to which 
there are a multiplicity of substances. The human mind comes to 
know in dependence on sense-experience, and the first concrete 
objects the mind knows are material objects into relation with 
which it enters through the senses. Reflection on these objects, 
however, at pnce leads the mind to form a distinction, or rather 
to discover a distinction, in the objects themselves. If I look out 
of my window in the spring I see the beech-tree with its young 
and tender green leaves, while in the autumn I see that the leaves 
have changed colour, though the same beech-tree stands out there 
in the park. The beech is substantially the same, a beech-tree, in 
spring and autumn, but the colour of its leaves is not the same: 
the colour changes without the beech-tree changing substantially. 
Similarly, if I go to the plantation, one year I see the larches as 
small trees, newly planted; later on I see them as bigger trees: their 


size has changed but they are still larches. The cows in the field 
I see now in this place, now in that, now in one posture, now in 
another, standing up or lying down, now doing one thing, now 
another, eating the grass or chewing the cud or sleeping, now 
undergoing one thing, now another, being milked or being rained 
on or being driven along, but all the time they are the same 
cows. Reflection thus leads the mind to distinguish between 
substance and accident, and between the different kinds of accident, 
and St. Thomas accepts from Aristotle the doctrine of the ten 
categories, substance and the nine categories of accident. 

So far reflection has led us only to the idea of accidental change 
and the notion of the categories: but further reflection will intro¬ 
duce the mind to a profounder level of the constitution of material 
being. When the cow eats grass, the grass no longer remains what 
it was in the field, but becomes something else through assimila¬ 
tion, while on the other hand it does not simply cease to be, but 
something remains in the process of change. The change is 
substantial, since the grass itself is changed, not merely its colour 
or size, and the analysis of substantial change leads the mind to 
discern two elements, one element which is common to the grass 
and to the flesh which the grass becomes, another element which 
confers on that something its determination, its substantial 
character, making it to be first grass, then cow-flesh. Moreover, 
ultimately we can conceive any material substance changing into 
any other, not necessarily directly or immediately, of course, but 
at least indirectly and mediately, after a series of changes. We 
come thus to the conception on the one hand of an underlying 
substrate of change which, when considered in itself, cannot be 
called by the name of any definite substance, and on the other 
hand of a determining or characterising element. The first element 
is 'prime matter', the indeterminate substrate of substantial 
change, the second element is the substantial form, which makes 
the substance what it is, places it in its specific class and so 
determines it as grass, cow, oxygen, hydrogen, or whatever it 
may be. Every material substance is composed in this way of 
matter and form. 

St. Thomas thus accepts the Aristotelian doctrine of the hylo- 
morphic composition of material substances, defining prime matter 
as pure potentiality and substantial form as the first act of a 
physical body, ‘first act 1 meaning the principle which places the 
body in its specific class and determines its essence. Prime matter 


is in potentiality to all forms which can be the forms of bodies, but 
considered in itself it is without any form, pure potentiality: it is, 
as Aristotle said, nec quid nec quantum nec quale nec aliud quidquam 
eorunt quibus determinate ens . 1 For this reason, however, it cannot 
exist by itself, for to speak of a being actually existing without act 
or form would be contradictory: it did not, then, precede form 
temporally, but was created together with form. 2 St. Thomas is 
thus quite clear on the fact that only concrete substances, indi¬ 
vidual compositions of matter and form, actually exist in the 
material world. But though he is at one with Aristotle in denying 
the separate existence of universal (though we shall see presently 
that a reservation must be made in regard to this statement), he 
also follows Aristotle in asserting that the form needs to be 
individuated. The form is the universal element, being that which 
places an object in its class, in its species, making it to be horse 
or elm or iron: it needs, then, to be individuated, in order that it 
should become the form of this particular substance. What is the 
principle of individuation? It can only be matter. But matter is 
of itself pure potentiality: it has not those determinations which 
are necessary in order that it should individuate form. The 
accidental characteristics of quantity and so on are logically 
posterior to the hylomorphic composition of the substance. St. 
Thomas was, therefore, compelled to say that the principle of 
individuation is materia signata quantitate , in the sense of matter 
having an exigency for the quantitative determination which it 
receives from union with form. This is a difficult notion to under¬ 
stand, since although matter, and not form, is the foundation of 
quantitative multiplication, matter considered in itself is without 
quantitative determination: the notion is in fact a relic of the 
Platonic element in Aristotle’s thought. Aristotle rejected and 
attacked the Platonic theory of forms, but his Platonic training 
influenced him to the extent of his being led to say that form, 
being of itself universal, requires individuation, and St. Thomas 
followed him in this.- Of course, St. Thomas did not think of forms 
first existing separately and then being individuated, for the forms 
of sensible objects do not exist in a state of temporal priority to 
the composite substances; but the idea of individuation is certainly 
due originally to the Platonic way of thinking and speaking of 
forms: Aristotle substituted the notion of the immanent substantial 
form for that of the ‘transcendent’ exemplar form, but it would 

1 In 7 Metaphlectio 2 . * S.T., la, 66, i, in corpore. 


not become an historian to turn a blind eye to the Platonic legacy 
in Aristotle's thought and consequently in that of St. Thomas. 

3. As a logical consequence of the doctrine that prime matter as 
such is pure potentiality, St. Thomas rejected the Augustinian 
theory of rationes seminales : l to admit this theory would be to 
attribute act in some way to what is in itself without act. 2 Non¬ 
spiritual forms are educed out of the potentiality of matter under 
the action of the efficient agent, but they are not previously in 
prime matter as inchoate forms. The agent does not, of course, 
work on prime matter as such, since this latter cannot exist by 
itself; but he or it so modifies or changes the dispositions of a given 
corporeal substance that it develops an exigency for a new form, 
which is educed out of the potentiality of matter. Change thus 
presupposes, for Aquinas as for Aristotle, a ‘privation’ or an 
exigency for a new form which the substance has not yet got but 
‘demands’ to have in virtue of the modifications produced in it 
by the agent. Water, for example, is in a state of potentiality to 
becoming steam, but it will not become steam until it has been 
heated to a certain point by an external agent, at which point it 
develops an exigency for the form of steam, which does not come 
from outside, but is educed out of the potentiality of matter. 

4. Just as St. Thomas rejected the older theory of rationes 
seminales , so he rejected the theory of the plurality of substantial 
forms in the composite substance, affirming the unicity of the 
substantial form in each substance. In his Commentary on the 
Sentences St. Thomas seems indeed to accept the forma corporeitatis 
as the first substantial form in the corporeal substance; 3 but even 
if he accepted it at first, he certainly rejected it afterwards. In the 
Contra Gentiles 4 he argues that if the first form constituted the 
substance as substance, the subsequent forms would arise in some¬ 
thing which was already hoc aliquid in actu, something actually 
subsisting, and so could be no more than accidental forms. 
Similarly he argues against the theory of Avicebron 5 by pointing 
out that only the first form can be the substantial form, since it 
would confer the character of substance, with the result that other 

1 In 2 Sent., 18, I. 2. 

1 St. Thomas certainly employed the name, rationes seminales, but he meant 
thereby primarily the active forces of concrete objects, e.g. the active power 
which controls the generation of living things and restricts it to the same species, 
not the doctrine that there ^re inchoate forms in prime matter. This last theory 
he either rejected or said that it did not fit in with the teaching of St. Augustine 
(cf. loc. cit., S.T ., la, 115, 2; De Veritate , 5, 9, ad 8 and ad 9). 

* Cf. In 1 Sent., 8, 5, 2; 2 Sent., 3, 1, 1. 

4 4, 81. 6 Quodhbet , 11, 3, 3, in corpore. 


subsequent forms, arising in an already constituted substance, 
would be accidental. (The necessary implication is, of course, that 
the substantial form directly informs prime matter.) This view 
aroused much opposition, being stigmatised as a dangerous inno¬ 
vation, as we shall see later when dealing with the controversies 
in which St. Thomas’s Aristotelianism involved him. 

5. The hylomorphic composition which obtains in material 
substances was restricted by St. Thomas to the corporeal world: 
he would not extend it, as St. Bonaventure did, to the incorporeal 
creation, to angels. That angels exist, St. Thomas considered to be 
rationally provable, quite apart from revelation, for their existence 
is demanded by the hierarchic character of the scale of being. We 
can discern the ascending orders or ranks of forms from the forms 
of inorganic substances, through vegetative forms, the irrational 
sensitive forms of animals, the rational soul of man, to the infinite 
and pure Act, God; but there is a gap in the hierarchy. The 
rational soul of man is created, finite and embodied, while God is 
uncreated, infinite and pure spirit: it is only reasonable, then, to 
suppose that between the human soul and God there are finite and 
created spiritual forms which are without body. At the summit 
of the scale is the absolute simplicity of God: at the summit of 
the corporeal world is the human being, partly spiritual and partly 
corporeal: there must, therefore, exist between God and man beings 
which are wholly spiritual and yet which do not possess the 
absolute simplicity of the Godhead. 1 

This line of argument was not new: it had been employed in 
Greek philosophy, by Poseidonius, for example. St. Thomas was 
also influenced by the Aristotelian doctrine of separate Intelli¬ 
gences connected with the motion of the spheres, this astronomical 
view reappearing in the philosophy of Avicenna, with which St. 
Thomas was familiar; but the argument which weighed most with 
him was that drawn from the exigencies of the hierarchy of being. 
As he distinguished the different grades of forms in general, so he 
distinguished the different 'choirs’ of angels, according to the object 
of their knowledge. Those who apprehend most clearly the good¬ 
ness of God in itself and are inflamed with love thereat are the 
Seraphim, the highest ‘choir’, while those who are concerned with 
the providence of God in regard to particular creatures, for 
example, in regard to particular men, are the angels in the 
narrower sense of the word, the lowest choir. The choir which is 

1 Cf. De spirit. ereat I, 5. 



concerned with, inter alia, the movement of the heavenly bodies 
(which are universal causes affecting this world) is that of the 
Virtues. Thus St. Thomas did not postulate the existence of angels 
primarily in order to account for the movement of the spheres. 

Angels exist therefore; but it remains to be asked if they are 
hylomorphically composed. St. Thomas affirmed that they are 
not so composed. He argued that the angels must be purely 
immaterial, since they are intelligences which have as their correla¬ 
tive object immaterial objects, and also that their very place in 
the hierarchy of being demands their complete immateriality. 1 
Moreover, as St. Thomas places in matter an exigency for quantity 
(which possibly does not altogether square with its character of 
pure potentiality), he could not in any case attribute hylomorphic 
composition to the angels. St. Bonaventure, for example, had 
argued that angels must be hylomorphically composed, since other¬ 
wise they would be pure act and God alone is pure act; but St. 
Thomas countered this argument by affirming that the distinction 
between essence and existence in the angels is sufficient to safeguard 
their contingency and their radical distinction from God. 2 To this 
distinction I shall return shortly. 

A consequence of the denial of the hylomorphic composition of 
the angels is the denial of the multiplicity of angels within one 
species, since matter is the principle of individuation and there is 
no matter in the angels. Each angel is pure form: each angel, 
then, must exhaust the capacity of its species and be its own 
species. The choirs of angels are not, then, so many species of 
angels; they consist of angelic hierarchies distinguished not speci¬ 
fically but according to function. There are as many species as 
there are angels. It is of interest to remember that Aristotle, when 
asserting in the Metaphysics a plurality of movers, of separated 
intelligences, raised the question how this could be possible if 
matter is the principle of individuation, though he did not answer 
the question. While St. Bonaventure, admitting the hylomorphic 
composition of angels, could and did admit their multiplicity 
within the species, St. Thomas, holding on the one hand that 
matter is the principle of individuation and denying its presence 
in the angels on the other hand, was forced to deny their multi¬ 
plicity within the species. For St. Thomas, then, the intelligences 
really became separate universal, though not, of course, in the 

1 S.T ., la, 50, 2; De spirit, creat., 1,1. 

* De spirit, creat., 1,1; S.T., la, 50, 2, ad 3; Contra Gent., 2, 30; Quodlibet, 9, 4, 1. 


sense of hypostatised concepts. It was one of the discoveries of 
Aristotle that a separate form must be intelligent, though he failed 
to see the historic connection between his theory of separate 
intelligences and the Platonic theory of separate forms. 

6. The establishment of the hylomorphic composition of material 
substances reveals at once the essential mutability of those sub¬ 
stances. Change is not, of course, a haphazard affair, but proceeds 
according to a certain rhythm (one cannot assume that a given 
substance can become immediately any other substance one likes, 
while change is also guided and influenced by the general causes, 
such as the heavenly bodies); yet substantial change cannot take 
place except in bodies, and it is only matter, the substrate of 
change, which makes it possible. On the principle which St. 
Thomas adopted from Aristotle that what is changed or moved is 
changed or moved ‘by another’, ab alio, one might argue at once 
from the changes in the corporeal world to the existence of an 
unmoved mover, with the aid of the principle that an infinite 
regress in the order of dependence is impossible, but before going 
on to prove the existence of God from nature, one must first 
penetrate more deeply into the constitution of finite being, 

Hylomorphic composition is confined by St. Thomas to the 
corporeal world; but there is a more fundamental distinction, of 
which the distinction between form and matter is but one example. 
Prime matter, as we have seen, is pure potentiality, while form is 
act, so that the distinction between matter and form is a distinc¬ 
tion between potency and act, but this latter distinction is of 
wider application than the former. In the angels there is no 
matter, but there is none the less potentiality. (St. Bonaventure 
argued that because matter is potentiality, therefore it can be in 
angels. He was thus forced to admit the forma corporeitatis, in 
order to distinguish corporeal matter from matter in the general 
sense. St. Thomas, on the other hand, as he made matter pure 
potentiality and yet denied its presence in the angels, was forced 
to attribute to matter an exigency for quantity, which comes to 
it through form. Obviously there are difficulties in both views.) 
The angels can change by performing acts of intellect and will, 
even though they cannot change substantially: there is, therefore, 
some potentiality in the angels. The distinction between poten¬ 
tiality and act runs, therefore, through the whole of creation, 
whereas the distinction between form and matter is found only 
in the corporeal creation. Thus, on the principle that the reduction 


of potentiality to act requires a principle which is itself act, we 
should be in a position to argue from the fundamental distinction 
which obtains in all creation to the existence of pure Act, God; but 
first of all we must consider the basis of potentiality in the angels. 
In passing, one can notice that the distinction of potency and act 
is discussed by Aristotle in the Metaphysics . 

7. We have seen that hylomorphic composition was restricted 
by St. Thomas to corporeal substance; but there is a profounder 
composition which affects every finite being. Finite being is being 
because it exists, because it has existence: the substance is that 
which is or has being, and ‘existence is that in virtue of which a 
substance is called a being'. 1 The essence of a corporeal being is 
the substance composed of matter and form, while the essence of 
an immaterial finite being is form alone; but that by which a 
material substance or an immaterial substance is a real being ( ens) 
is existence (esse), existence standing to the essence as act to 
potentiality. Composition of act and potentiality is found, there¬ 
fore, in every finite being and not simply in corporeal being. No 
finite being exists necessarily; it has or possesses existence which 
is distinct from essence as act is distinct from potentiality. The 
form determines or completes in the sphere of essence, but that 
which actualises the essence is existence. ‘In intellectual substances 
which are not composed of matter and form (in them the form is 
a subsistent substance), the form is that which is; but existence is 
the act by which the form is; and on that account there is in them 
only one composition of act and potentiality, namely composition 
of substance and existence. ... In substances composed of matter 
and form, however, there is a double composition of act and 
potentiality, the first a composition in the substance itself, which 
is composed of matter and form, the second a composition of the 
substance itself, which is already composite, with existence. This 
second composition can also be called a composition of the quod 
est and esse, or of the quod est and the quo est .' 2 Existence, then, is 
neither matter nor form; it is neither an essence nor part of an 
essence; it is the act by which the essence is or has being. 'Esse 
denotes a certain act; for a thing is not said to be (esse) by the fact 
that it is in potentiality, but by the fact that it is in act.' 3 As 
neither matter nor form, it can be neither a substantial nor an 
accidental form; it does not belong to the sphere of essence, but is 
that by which forms are. 

1 Contra Gent., 2, 54, 1 Ibid. 8 Ibid., 1, 22. 


Controversy has raged in the Schools round the question whether 
St. Thomas considered the distinction between essence and exis¬ 
tence to be a real distinction or a conceptual distinction. Obviously 
the answer to this question depends largely on the meaning 
attached to the phrase 'real distinction’. If by real distinction 
were meant a distinction between two things which could be 
separated from one another, then certainly St. Thomas did not 
hold that there is a real distinction between essence and existence, 
which are not two separable physical objects. Giles of Rome 
practically held this view, making the distinction a physical dis¬ 
tinction; but for St. Thomas the distinction was metaphysical, 
essence and existence being the two constitutive metaphysical 
principles of every finite being. If, however, by real distinction is 
meant a distinction which is independent of the mind, which is 
objective, it seems to me not only that St. Thomas maintained 
such a distinction as obtaining between essence and existence, but 
that it is essential to his system and that he attached great 
importance to it. St. Thomas speaks of esse as adveniens extra, in 
the sense that it comes from God, the cause of existence; it is act, 
distinct from the potentiality which it actualises. In God alone, 
insists St. Thomas, are essence and existence identical: God exists 
necessarily because His essence is existence: all other things 
receive or ‘participate in' existence, and that which receives must 
be distinct from that which is received. 1 The fact that St. Thomas 
argues that that whose existence is other than its essence must 
have received its existence from another, and that it is true of 
God alone that His existence is not different from or other than 
His essence, seems to me to make it perfectly clear that he 
regarded the distinction between essence and existence as objective 
and independent of the mind. The ‘third way’ of proving the 
existence of God appears to presuppose the real distinction between 
essence and existence in finite things. 

Existence determines essence in the sense that it is act and 
through it the essence has being; but on the other hand existence, 
as act, is determined by essence, as potentiality, to be the existence 
of this or that kind of essence.* Yet we must not imagine that 
essence existed before receiving existence (which would be a 
contradiction in terms) or that there is a kind of neutral existence 
which is not the existence of any thing in particular until it is 
united with essence: the two principles are not two physical things 

1 Cf. S.T., la, 3, 4; Contra Gent., x, 22. 1 De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 9. 



united together, but they are two constitutive principles which are 
concreated as principles of a particular being. There is no essence 
without existence and no existence without essence; the two are 
created together, and if its existence ceases, the concrete essence 
ceases to be. Existence, then, is not something accidental to the 
finite being: it is that by which the finite being is a being. If we 
rely on the imagination, we shall think of essence and existence as 
two things, two beings; but a great deal of the difficulty in under¬ 
standing St. Thomas's doctrine on the subject comes from 
employing the imagination and supposing that if he maintained 
the real distinction, he must have understood it in the exaggerated 
and misleading fashion of Giles of Rome. 

The Moslem philosophers had already discussed the relation of 
existence to essence. Alfarabi, for example, had observed that 
analysis of the essence of a finite object will not reveal its existence. 
If it did, then it would be sufficient to know what human nature 
is, in order to know that man exists, which is not the case. Essence 
and existence are, therefore, distinct, and Alfarabi drew the some¬ 
what unfortunate conclusion that existence is an accident of the 
essence, Avicenna followed Alfarabi in this matter. Although 
St. Thomas certainly did not regard existence as an 'accident', in 
the De ente et essentia 1 he follows Alfarabi and Avicenna in their 
way of approaching the distinction. Every thing which does not 
belong to the concept of the essence comes to it from without 
(adveniens extra) and forms a composition with it. No essence can 
be conceived without that which forms part of the essence; but 
every finite essence can be conceived without existence being 
included in the essence. I can conceive ‘man' or ‘phoenix' and 
yet not know if they exist in nature. It would, however, be a 
mistake to interpret St. Thomas as though he maintained that 
the essence, prior to the reception of existence, was something on 
its own, so to speak, with a diminutive existence proper to itself: 
it exists only through existence, and created existence is always 
the existence of this or that kind of essence. Created existence and 
essence arise together, and although the two constitutive principles 
are objectively distinct, existence is the more fundamental. Since 
created existence is the act of a potentiality, the latter has no 
actuality apart from existence, which is ‘among all things the 
most perfect’ and ‘the perfection of all perfections'. 2 

St. Thomas thus discovers in the heart of all finite being a 

1 C. 4. % De Petenlia, 7, 2, ad 9. 


certain instability, a contingency or non-necessity, which imme¬ 
diately points to the existence of a Being which is the source of 
finite existence, the author of the composition between essence and 
existence, and which cannot be itself composed of essence and 
existence but must have existence as its very essence, existing 
necessarily. It would indeed be absurd and most unjust to accuse 
Francis Suarez (1548-1617) and other Scholastics who denied the 
‘real distinction’ of denying the contingent character of finite being 
(Suarez denied a real distinction between essence and existence 
and maintained that the finite object is limited because ab alio); 
but I do not personally feel any doubt that St. Thomas himself 
maintained the doctrine of the real distinction, provided that the 
real distinction is not interpreted as Giles of Rome interpreted it. 
For St. Thomas, existence is not a state of the essence, but rather 
that which places the essence in a state of actuality. 

It may be objected that I have evaded the real point at issue, 
namely the precise way in which the distinction between essence 
and existence is objective and independent of the mind. But St. 
Thomas did not state his doctrine in such a manner that no 
controversy about its meaning is possible. Nevertheless it seems 
clear to me that St. Thomas held that the distinction between 
essence and existence is an objective distinction between two 
metaphysical principles which constitute the whole being of the 
created finite thing, one of these principles, namely existence, 
standing to the other, namely essence, as act to potency. And 
I do not see how St. Thomas could have attributed that importance 
to the distinction which he did attribute to it, unless he thought 
that it was a 'real' distinction. 



Need of proof — St. Anselm's argument—Possibility of proof — 

The first three proofs—The fourth proof—The proof from finality 
—The 'third way' fundamental. 

t. Before actually developing his proofs of God’s existence St. 
Thomas tried to show that the provision of such proofs is not a 
useless superfluity, since the idea of God’s existence is not, 
properly speaking, an innate idea nor is 'God exists’ a proposition 
the opposite of which is inconceivable and cannot be thought. To 
us indeed, living in a world where atheism is common, where 
powerful and influential philosophies eliminate or explain away 
the notion of God, where multitudes of men and women are 
educated without any belief in God, it seems only natural to think 
that God’s existence requires proof. Kierkegaard and those philo¬ 
sophers and theologians who follow him may have rejected natural 
theology in the ordinary sense; but normally speaking we should 
not dream of asserting that God’s existence is what St. Thomas 
calls a per se notum. St. Thomas, however, did not live in a world 
where theoretic atheism was common, and he felt himself com¬ 
pelled to deal not only with statements of certain early Christian 
writers which seemed to imply that knowledge of God is innate in 
man, but also with the famous argument of St. Anselm which 
purports to show that the non-existence of God is inconceivable. 
Thus in the Summa Theologica 1 he devotes an article to answering 
the question ntrum Deum esse sit per se notum, and two chapters 
in the Summa contra Gentiles 2 to the consideration de opinione 
dicentium quod Deum esse demonstrari non potest, quum sit per se 

St. John Damascene 3 asserts that the knowledge of God’s 
existence is naturally innate in man; but St. Thomas explains 
that this natural knowledge of God is confused and vague and 
needs elucidation to be made explicit. Man has a natural desire 
of happiness ( beatitudo ), and a natural desire supposes a natural 
knowledge; but although true happiness is to be found only in 
God, it does not follow that every man has a natural knowledge 

1 La, 2, i. * i, io-n. * De fide orthodoxa, I, 3. 



of God as such: he has a vague idea of happiness since he desires 
it, but he may think that happiness consists in sensual pleasure 
or in the possession of wealth, and further reflection is required 
before he can realise that happiness is to be found only in God. 
In other words, even if the natural desire for happiness may form 
the basis for a proof of God’s existence, a proof is none the less 
required. Again, in a sense it is per se notum that there is truth, 
since a man who asserts that there is no truth inevitably asserts 
that it is true that there is no truth, but it does not follow that 
the man knows that there is a primal or first Truth, a Source of 
truth, God: further reflection is necessary if he is to realise this. 
Once again, although it is true that without God we can know 
nothing, it does not follow that in knowing anything we have an 
actual knowledge of God, since God’s influence, which enables us 
to know anything, is not the object of direct intuition but is 
known only by reflection. 1 

In general, says St. Thomas, we must make a distinction between 
what is per se notum secundum se and what is per se notum quoad 
nos. A proposition is said to be per se nota secundum se when the 
predicate is included in the subject, as in the proposition that man 
is an animal, since man is precisely a rational animal. The proposi¬ 
tion that God exists is thus a proposition per se nota secundum se, 
since God's essence is His existence and one cannot know God's 
nature, what God is, without knowing God’s existence, that He is; 
but a man has no a priori knowledge of God’s nature and only 
arrives at knowledge of the fact that God’s essence is His existence 
after he has come to know God’s existence, so that even though 
the proposition that God exists is per se nota secundum se, it is 
not per se nota quoad nos. 

2. In regard to the 'ontological' or a priori proof of God's 
existence given by St. Anselm, St. Thomas answers first of all 
that not everyone understands by God ‘that than which no greater 
can be thought'. Possibly this observation, though doubtless true, 
is not altogether relevant, except in so far as St. Anselm considered 
that everyone understands by ‘God’ that Being whose existence 

1 It may appear that St. Thomas's attitude in regard to 'innate 1 knowledge of 
God does not differ substantially from that of St. Bonaventure. In a sense this is 
true, since neither of them admitted an explicit innate idea of God; but St. 
Bonaventure thought that there is a kind of initial implicit awareness of God, or 
at least that the idea of God can be rendered explicit by interior reflection alone, 
whereas the proofs actually given by St. Thomas all proceed by way of the 
external world. Even if we press the 1 Aristotelian' aspect of Bona venture's epis¬ 
temology, it remains true that there is a difference of emphasis and approach io 
the natural theology of the two philosophers. 



he intended to prove, namely the supremely perfect Being. It 
must not be forgotten that Anselm reckoned his argument to be 
an argument or proof, not the statement of an immediate intuition 
of God. He then argues, both in the Sumnta contra Gentiles and 
in the Summa Theologica, that the argument of St. Anselm involves 
an illicit process or transition from the ideal to the real order. 
Granted that God is conceived as the Being than which no greater 
can be thought, it does not follow necessarily that such a Being 
exists, apart from its being conceived, that is, outside the mind. 
This, however, is not an adequate argument, when taken by itself 
at least, to disprove the Anselmian reasoning, since it neglects the 
peculiar character of God, of the Being than which no greater can 
be thought. Such a Being is its own existence and if it is possible 
for such a Being to exist, it must exist. The Being than which no 
greater can be thought is the Being which exists necessarily, it is 
the necessary Being, and it would be absurd to speak of a merely 
possible necessary Being. But St. Thomas adds, as we have seen, 
that the intellect has no a priori knowledge of God’s nature. In 
other words, owing to the weakness of the human intellect we 
cannot discern a priori the positive possibility of the supremely 
perfect Being, the Being the essence of which is existence, and we 
come to a knowledge of the fact that such a Being exists not 
through an analysis or consideration of the idea of such a Being, 
but through arguments from its effects, a posteriori. 

3. If God’s existence cannot be proved a priori, through the 
idea of God, through His essence, it remains that it must be proved 
a posteriori, through an examination of God's effects. It may be 
objected that this is impossible since the effects of God are finite 
while God is infinite, so that there is no proportion between the 
effects and the Cause and the conclusion of the reasoning process 
will contain infinitely more than the premisses. The reasoning starts 
with sensible objects and should, therefore, end with a sensible 
object, whereas in the proofs of God's existence it proceeds to an 
Object infinitely transcending all sensible objects. 

St. Thomas does not deal with this objection at any length, and 
it would be an absurd anachronism to expect him to discuss and 
answer the Kantian Critique of metaphysics in advance; but he 
points out that though from a consideration of effects which are 
disproportionate to the cause we cannot obtain a perfect know¬ 
ledge of the cause, we can come to know that the cause exists. 
We can argue from an effect to the existence of a cause, and if the 


effect is of such a kind that it can proceed only from a certain 
kind of cause, we can legitimately argue to the existence of a cause 
of that kind. (The use of the word ‘effect’ must not be taken as 
begging the question, as a peiitio principii: St. Thomas argues 
from certain facts concerning the world and argues that these facts 
require a sufficient ontological explanation. It is true, of course, 
that he presupposes that the principle of causality is not purely 
subjective or applicable only within the sphere of ‘phenomena’ in 
the Kantian sense; but he is perfectly well aware that it has to be 
shown that sensible objects are effects, in the sense that they do 
not contain in themselves their own sufficient ontological explana¬ 

A modem Thomist, wishing to expound and defend the natural 
theology of the Saint in the light of post-mediaeval philosophic 
thought, would rightly be expected to say something in justifica¬ 
tion of the speculative reason, of metaphysics. Even if he con¬ 
sidered that the onus of proof falls primarily on the opponent of 
metaphysics, he could not neglect the fact that the legitimacy and 
even the significance of metaphysical arguments and conclusions 
have been challenged, and he would be bound to meet this 
challenge. I cannot see, however, how an historian of mediaeval 
philosophy in general can justly be expected to treat St. Thomas 
as though he were a contemporary and fully aware not only of the 
Kantian criticism of the speculative reason, but also of the attitude 
towards metaphysics adopted by the logical positivists. Never¬ 
theless, it is true that the Thomist theory of knowledge itself 
provides, apparently at least, a strong objection against natural 
theology. According to St. Thomas the proper object of the 
human intellect is the qutdditas or essence of the material object: 
the intellect starts from the sensible objects, knows in dependence 
on the phantasm and is proportioned, in virtue of its embodied 
state, to sensible objects. St. Thomas did not admit innate ideas 
nor did he have recourse to any intuitive knowledge of God, and 
if one applies strictly the Aristotelian principle that there is 
nothing in the intellect which was not before in the senses (Nihil 
in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu), it might well appear 
that the human intellect is confined to knowledge of corporeal 
objects and cannot, owing to its nature or at least its present state, 
transcend them. As this objection arises out of the doctrine of 
Thomas himself, it is relevant to inquire if the Saint attempted to 
meet it and, if so, how he met it. With the Thomist theory of 


human knowledge I shall deal later; 1 but I shall give immediately 
a brief statement of what appears to be St. Thomas's position on 
this point without development or references. 

Objects, whether spiritual or corporeal, are knowable only in so 
far as they partake of being, are in act, and the intellect as such 
is the faculty of apprehending being. Considered simply in itself, 
therefore, the intellect has as its object all being; the primary 
object of intellect is being. The fact, however, that a particular 
kind of intellect, the human intellect, is embodied and is dependent 
on sense for its operation, means that it must start from the things 
of sense and that, naturally speaking, it can come to know an 
object which transcends the things of sense (consideration of self- 
knowledge is here omitted) only in so far as sensible objects bear 
a relation to that object and manifest it. Owing to the fact that 
the human intellect is embodied its natural and proper object, 
proportionate to its present state, is the corporeal object; but this 
does not destroy the primary orientation of the intellect to being 
in general, and if corporeal objects bear a discernible relation to 
an object which transcends them, the intellect can know that such 
an object exists. Moreover, in so far as material objects reveal 
the character of the Transcendent, the intellect can attain some 
knowledge of its nature; but such a knowledge cannot be adequate 
or perfect, since sense-objects cannot reveal adequately or perfectly 
the nature of the Transcendent. Of our natural knowledge of God's 
nature I shall speak later: 2 let it suffice to point out here that when 
St. Thomas says that the corporeal object is the natural object of 
the human intellect, he means that the human intellect in its 
present state is orientated towards the essence of the corporeal 
object, but that just as the embodied condition of the human 
intellect does not destroy its primary character as intellect, so its 
orientation, in virtue of its embodied state, towards the corporeal 
object does not destroy its primary orientation towards being in 
general. It can therefore attain to some natural knowledge of 
God, in so far as corporeal objects are related to Him and reveal 
Him; but this knowledge is necessarily imperfect and inadequate 
and cannot be intuitive in character. 

4. The first of the five proofs of God's existence given by St. 
Thomas is that from motion, which is found in Aristotle 3 and was 
utilised by Maimonides and St. Albert. We know through sense- 
perception that some things in the world are moved, that motion 

1 See Ch. XXXVIII. * See Ch. XXXV. * Metaph Bk. 12; Physics , Bk. 8. 


is a fact. Motion is here understood in the wide Aristotelian sense 
of reduction of potency to act, and St. Thomas, following Aristotle, 
argues that a thing cannot be reduced from potency to act except 
by something which is already in act. In this sense 'every thing 
which is moved is moved by another'. If that other is itself moved, 
it must be moved by yet another agent. As an infinite series is 
impossible, we come in the end to an unmoved mover, a first 
mover, 'and all understand that this is God'. 1 This argument 
St. Thomas calls the manifestior via . 2 In the Summa contra 
Gentiles 3 he develops it at considerable length. 

The second proof, which is suggested by the second book of 
Aristotle's Metaphysics 4 and which was used by Avicenna, Alan 
of Lille and St. Albert, also starts from the sensible world, but 
this time from the order or series of efficient causes. Nothing can 
be the cause of itself, for in order to be this, it would have to exist 
before itself. On the other hand, it is impossible to proceed to 
infinity in the series of efficient causes: therefore there must be a 
first efficient cause, 'which all men call God'. 

The third proof, which Maimonides took over from Avicenna and 
developed, starts from the fact that some beings come into exis¬ 
tence and perish, which shows that they can not be and can be, 
that they are contingent and not necessary, since if they were 
necessary they would always have existed and would neither come 
into being nor pass away. St. Thomas then argues that there must 
exist a necessary being, which is the reason why contingent beings 
come into existence. If there were no necessary being, nothing at 
all would exist. 

There are several remarks which must be made, though very 
briefly, concerning these three proofs. First of all, when St. Thomas 
says that an infinite series is impossible (and this principle is 
utilised in all three proofs), he is not thinking of a series stretching 
back in time, of a ‘horizontal’ series, so to speak. He is not saying, 
for example, that because the child owes its life to its parents and 
its parents owe their lives to their parents and so on, there must 
have been an original pair, who had no parents but were directly 
created by God. St. Thomas did not believe that it can be proved 
philosophically that the world was not created from eternity: he 
admits the abstract possibility of the world’s creation from 
eternity and this cannot be admitted without the possibility of a 
beginningless series being admitted at the same time. What he 

1 S.T., la, 2, 3, in corpore. * Ibid. 3 i, 13. 4 C. 2. 



denies is the possibility of an infinite series in the order of actually 
depending causes, of an infinite Vertical' series. Suppose that the 
world had actually been created from eternity. There would be 
an infinite horizontal or historic series, but the whole series would 
consist of contingent beings, for the fact of its being without 
beginning does not make it necessary. The whole series, therefore, 
must depend on something outside the series. But if you ascend 
upwards, without ever coming to a stop, you have no explanation 
of the existence of the series: one must conclude with the existence 
of a being which is not itself dependent. 

Secondly, consideration of the foregoing remarks will show that 
the so-called mathematical infinite series has nothing to do with 
the Thomist proofs. It is not the possibility of an infinite series 
as such which St. Thomas denies, but the possibility of an infinite 
series in the ontological order of dependence. In other words, he 
denies that the movement and contingency of the experienced 
world can be without any ultimate and adequate ontological 

Thirdly, it might seem to be rather cavalier behaviour on St. 
Thomas's part to assume that the unmoved mover or the first 
cause or the necessary being is what we call God. Obviously if 
anything exists at all, there must be a necessary Being: thought 
must arrive at this conclusion, unless metaphysics is rejected 
altogether; but it is not so obvious that the necessary being must 
be the personal Being whom we call God. That a purely philoso¬ 
phical argument does not bring us to the full revealed notion of 
God needs no elaboration; but, even apart from the full notion 
of God as revealed by Christ and preached by the Church, does a 
purely philosophical argument give us a personal Being at all? 
Did St. Thomas's belief in God lead him perhaps to find more in 
the conclusion of the argument than was actually there? Because 
he was looking for arguments to prove the existence of the God 
in whom he believed, was he not perhaps over-hasty in identifying 
the first mover, the first cause and the necessary being with the 
God of Christianity and religious experience, the personal Being 
to whom man can pray? I think that we must admit that the 
actual phrases which St. Thomas appends to the proofs given in 
the Summa Theologica (et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum, causam 
cfficientem primam quam omnes Deum nominant, quod omnes dicunt 
Deum) constitute, if considered in isolation, an over-hasty conclu¬ 
sion; but, apart from the fact that the Summa Theologica is a 


summary (and mainly) theological text-book, these phrases should 
not be taken in isolation. For example, the actual summary proof 
of the existence of a necessary being contains no explicit argument 
to show whether that being is material or immaterial, so that the 
observation at the end of the proof that this being is called by 
everyone God might seem to be without sufficient warrant; but 
in the first article of the next question St. Thomas asks if God is 
material, a body, and argues that He is not. The phrases in the 
question should, therefore, be understood as expressions of the 
fact that God is recognised by all who believe in Him to be the first 
Cause and necessary Being, not as an unjustifiable suppression of 
further argument. In any case the proofs are give* by St. Thomas 
simply in outline: it is not as though he had in mind the composi¬ 
tion of a treatise against professed atheists. If he had to deal with 
Marxists, he would doubtless treat the proofs in a different, or at 
least in a more elaborate and developed manner: as it is, his main 
interest is to give a proof of the praeambula Jidei . Even in the 
Summa contra Gentiles the Saint was not dealing primarily with 
atheists, but rather with the Mohammedans, who had a firm belief 
in God. 

5. The fourth proof is suggested by some observations in 
Aristotle’s Metaphysics 1 and is found substantially in St. Augustine 
and St. Anselm. It starts from the degrees of perfection, of good¬ 
ness, truth, etc., in the things of this world, which permit of one 
making such comparative judgements as 'this is more beautiful 
than that', 'this is better than that'. Assuming that such judge¬ 
ments have an objective foundation, St. Thomas argues that the 
degrees of perfection necessarily imply the existence of a best, a 
most true, etc., which will be also the supreme being (maxitne ens). 

So far the argument leads only to a relatively best. If one can 
establish that there actually are degrees of truth, goodness and 
being, a hierarchy of being, then there must be one being or 
several beings which are comparatively or relatively supreme. But 
this is not enough to prove the existence of God, and St. Thomas 
proceeds to argue that what is supreme in goodness, for example, 
must be the cause of goodness in all things. Further, inasmuch as 
goodness, truth and being are convertible, there must be a 
supreme Being which is the cause of being, goodness, truth, 
and so of all perfection in every other being; et hoc dicimus 
Deum . 

1 2. 1; 4. 4- 


As the term of the argument is a Being which transcends all 
sensible objects, the perfections in question can obviously be only 
those perfections which are capable of subsisting by themselves, 
pure perfections, which do not involve any necessary relation to 
extension or quantity. The argument is Platonic in origin and 
presupposes the idea of participation. Contingent beings do not 
possess their being of themselves, nor their goodness or onto¬ 
logical truth; they receive their perfections, share them. The 
ultimate cause of perfection must itself be perfect: it cannot receive 
its perfection from another, but must be its own perfection: it is 
self-existing being and perfection. The argument consists, then, in 
the application of principles already used in the foregoing proofs 
to pure perfections: it is not really a departure from the general 
spirit of the other proofs, in spite of its Platonic descent. One of 
the main difficulties about it, however, is, as already indicated, to 
show that there actually are objective degrees of being and 
perfection before one has shown that there actually exists a Being 
which is absolute and self-existing Perfection. 

6. The fifth way is the teleological proof, for which Kant had 
a considerable respect on account of its antiquity, clarity and 
persuasiveness, though, in accordance with the principles of the 
Kritik der reinen Vernunft, he refused to recognise its demonstra¬ 
tive character. 

St. Thomas argues that we behold inorganic objects operating 
for an end, and as this happens always or very frequently, it 
cannot proceed from chance, but must be the result of intention. 
But inorganic objects are without knowledge: they cannot, then, 
tend towards an end unless they are directed by someone who is 
intelligent and possessed of knowledge, as 'the arrow is directed 
by the archer'. Therefore there exists an intelligent Being, by 
whom all natural things are directed to an end; et hoc dicimus 
Deutti. In the Summa contra Gentiles the Saint states the argu¬ 
ment in a slightly different manner, arguing that when many 
things with different and even contrary qualities co-operate 
towards the realisation of one order, this must proceed from an 
intelligent Cause or Providence; et hoc dicimus Deum. If the proof 
as given in the Summa Theologica emphasises the internal finality 
of the inorganic object, that given in the Summa contra Gentiles 
emphasises rather the co-operation of many objects in the realisa¬ 
tion of the one world order or harmony. By itself the proof leads 
to a Designer or Governor or Architect of the universe, as Kant 


observed; further reasoning is required in order to show that this 
Architect is not only a ‘Demiurge’, but also Creator. 

7. The proofs have been stated in more or less the same bold 
and succinct way in which St. Thomas states them. With the 
exception of the first proof, which is elaborated at some length in 
the Summa contra Gentiles, the proofs are given only in very bare 
outline, both in the Summa Theologica and in the Summa contra 
Gentiles. No mention has been made, however, of Aquinas’s (to 
our view) somewhat unfortunate physical illustrations, as when he 
says that fire is the cause of all hot things, since these illustrations 
are really irrelevant to the validity or invalidity of the proofs as 
such. The modem disciple of St. Thomas naturally has not only 
to develop the proofs in far greater detail and to consider diffi¬ 
culties and objections which could hardly have occurred to St. 
Thomas, but also to justify the very principles on which the 
general line of proof rests. Thus, in regard to the fifth proof given 
by St. Thomas, the modem Thomist must take some account of 
recent theories which profess to render intelligible the genesis of 
the order and finality in the universe without recourse to the 
hypothesis of any spiritual agent distinct from the universe, while 
in regard to all the proofs he has not only, in face of the Kantian 
Critique, to justify the line of argument on which they rest, but 
he has to show, as against the logical positivists, that the word 
‘God’ has some significance. It is not, however, the task of the 
historian to develop the proofs as they would have to be developed 
to-day, nor is it his task to justify those proofs. The way in which 
St. Thomas states the proofs may perhaps cause some dissatis¬ 
faction in the reader; but it must be remembered that the Saint 
was primarily a theologian and that, as already mentioned, he 
was concerned not so much to give an exhaustive treatment of 
the proofs as to prove in a summary fashion the praeambula fidei. 
He, therefore, makes use of traditional proofs, which either had 
or seemed to have some support in Aristotle and which had been 
employed by some of his predecessors. 

St. Thomas gives five proofs, and among these five proofs he 
gives a certain preference to the first, to the extent at least of 
calling it the via mani/estior. However, whatever we may think 
of this assertion, the fundamental proof is really the third proof 
or ‘way’, that from contingency. In the first proof the argument 
from contingency is applied to the special fact of motion or 
change, in the second proof to the order of causality or causal 


production, in the fourth proof to degrees of perfection and in the 
fifth proof to finality, to the co-operation of inorganic objects in 
the attainment of cosmic order. The argument from contingency 
itself is based on the fact that everything must have its sufficient 
reason, the reason why it exists. Change or motion must have its 
sufficient reason in an unmoved mover, the series of secondary 
causes and effects in an uncaused cause, limited perfection in 
absolute perfection, and finality and order in nature in an Intelli¬ 
gence or Designer. The 'interiority' of the proofs of God's existence 
as given by St. Augustine or St. Bonaventure is absent from the 
five ways of St. Thomas; but one could, of course, apply the 
general principles to the self, if one so wished. As they stand, the 
five proofs of St. Thomas may be said to be an explicitation of the 
words of the Book of Wisdom 1 and of St. Paul in Romans 2 that God 
can be known from His works, as transcending His works. 

1 Ch. 13. 1 Ch. z. 



The negative way—The affirmative way — Analogy—Types of 
analogy—A difficulty—The divine ideas—No real distinction 
between the divine attributes—God as existence itself '. 

I. Once it has been established that the necessary Being exists, 
it would seem only natural to proceed to the investigation of God's 
nature. It is very unsatisfactory simply to know that a necessary 
Being exists, unless at the same time we can know what sort of a 
Being the necessary Being is. But a difficulty at once arises. We 
have in this life no intuition of the divine essence; we are dependent 
for our knowledge on sense-perception, and the ideas which we 
form are derived from our experience of creatures. Language too 
is formed to express these ideas and so refers primarily to our 
experience and would seem to have objective reference only within 
the sphere of our experience. How, then, can we come to know a 
Being which transcends sense-experience? How can we form ideas 
which express in any way the nature of a Being which transcends 
the range of our experience, the world of creatures? How can the 
words of any human language be at all applicable to the Divine 

St. Thomas was well aware of this difficulty, and indeed the 
whole tradition of Christian philosophy, which had undergone the 
influence of the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, himself depen¬ 
dent on neo-Platonism, would have helped, if help had been 
needed, to prevent him indulging in any over-confidence in the 
power of the human reason to penetrate the divine essence. 
Rationalism of the Hegelian type was quite foreign to his mind, 
and we find him saying that we cannot come to know of God quid 
sit , what He is (His essence), but only an sit or quod sit, that He 
is (His existence). This statement, if taken alone, would seem to 
involve complete agnosticism as regards the divine nature, but 
this is not St. Thomas's meaning, and the statement must be 
interpreted according to his general doctrine and his explanation 
of it. Thus in the Summa contra Gentiles 1 he says that ‘the divine 
substance exceeds by its immensity every form which our intellect 

1 1. 14. 




attains; and so we cannot apprehend it by knowing what it is, 
but we have some notion of it by coming to know what it is not/ 
For example, we come to know something of God by recognising 
that He is not, and cannot be, a corporeal substance: by denying 
of Him corporeality we form some notion of His nature, since we 
know that He is not body, though this does not give us of itself 
a positive idea of what the divine substance is in itself, and the 
more predicates we can deny of God in this way, the more we 
approximate to a knowledge of Him. 

This is the famous via remotionis or via negativa, so dear to the 
Pseudo-Dionysius and other Christian writers who had been 
strongly influenced by neo-Platonism; but St. Thomas adds a very 
useful observation concerning the negative way. 1 In the case of 
a created substance, he says, which we can define, we first of all 
assign it to its genus by which we know in general what it is, and 
then we add the difference by which it is distinguished from other 
things; but in the case of God we cannot assign Him to a genus, 
since He transcends all genera, and so we cannot distinguish Him 
from other beings by positive differences (per affirmativas different 
lias). Nevertheless, though we cannot approach to a clear idea of 
God's nature in the same way in which we can attain a clear idea of 
human nature, that is, by a succession of positive or affirmative 
differentiations, such as living, sensitive or animal, rational, we 
can attain some notion of His nature by the negative way, by a 
succession of negative differentiations. For example, if we say that 
God is not an accident, we distinguish Him from all accidents; if 
we say that He is not corporeal, we distinguish Him from some 
substances; and thus we can proceed until we obtain an idea of 
God which belongs to Him alone ( propria consideratio) and which 
suffices to distinguish Him from all other beings. 

It must, however, be borne in mind that when predicates are 
denied of God, they are not denied of Him because He lacks any 
perfection expressed in that predicate, but because He infinitely 
exceeds that limited perfection in richness. Our natural knowledge 
has its beginning in sense and extends as far as it can be led by 
the help of sensible objects. 2 As sensible objects are creatures of 
God, we can come to know that God exists, but we cannot attain 
by means of them any adequate knowledge of God, since they are 
effects which are not fully proportionate to the divine power. But 
we can come to know about Him what is necessarily true of Him 

1 Contra Cent., 1, 14, * S.T., la, 12, 12. in corpore. 


precisely as cause of all sensible objects. As their cause, He 
transcends them and is not and cannot be a sensible object Him¬ 
self: we can, then, deny of Him any predicates which are bound 
up with corporeality or which are inconsistent with His being the 
first Cause and necessary Being. But hate non removentur ab eo 
propter ejus defectum , sed quia superexcedit . 1 If we say, therefore, 
that God is not corporeal, we do not mean that God is less than 
body, that He lacks the perfection involved in being body, but 
rather that He is more than body, that He possesses none of the 
imperfections necessarily involved in being a corporeal substance. 

Arguing by means of the negative way St. Thomas shows that 
God cannot be corporeal, for example, since the unmoved Mover 
and the necessary Being must be pure Act, whereas every corporeal 
substance is in potentiality. Again, there cannot be any composi¬ 
tion in God, either of matter and form or of substance and 
accident or of essence and existence. If there were composition of 
essence and existence, for instance, God would owe His existence 
to another being, which is impossible, since God is the first Cause. 
There cannot in fine be any composition in God, as this would be 
incompatible with His being as first Cause, necessary Being, pure 
Act. We express this absence of composition by the positive word 
'simplicity', but the idea of the divine simplicity is attained by 
removing from God all the forms of composition which are found 
in creatures, so that 'simplicity' here meins absence of composi¬ 
tion. We cannot form an adequate idea of the divine simplicity 
as it is in itself, since it transcends our experience: we know, 
however, that it is at the opposite pole, so to speak, from simplicity 
or comparative simplicity in creatures. In creatures we experience 
the more complex substance is the higher, as a man is higher than 
an oyster; but God's simplicity means that He possesses the fullness 
of His being and perfection in one undivided and eternal act. 

Similarly, God is infinite and perfect, since His esse is not some¬ 
thing received and limited, but is self-existent; He is immutable, 
since the necessary Being is necessarily all that it is and cannot 
be changed; He is eternal, since time requires motion and in the 
immutable Being there can be no motion. He is one, since He is 
simple and infinite. Strictly speaking, however, says St. Thomas, 
God is not eternal, but is eternity, since He is His own subsistent 
esse in one undivided act. To go through all the various attributes 
of God which can be known by the negative way is unnecessary: 

1 S.T., la, 12, 12, in corpore. 


it is sufficient to have given some examples to show how, after 
proving that God exists as unmoved Mover, first Cause, and 
necessary Being, St. Thomas then proceeds to remove from God, 
to deny of God, all those predicates of creatures which are incom¬ 
patible with God’s character as unmoved Mover, first Cause and 
necessary Being. There cannot be in God corporeality, composi¬ 
tion, limitation, imperfection, temporality, etc. 

2. Predicates or names such as 'immutable'and 'infinite' suggest 
by their very form their association with the negative way, immut¬ 
able being equivalent to not-mutable and infinite to not-finite; 
but there are other predicates applied to God which suggest no 
such association, such as good, wise, etc. Moreover, while a 
negative predicate, says St. Thomas, 1 refers directly not to the 
divine substance, but to the 'removal' of something from the 
divine substance, that is, the denial of some predicate's applica¬ 
bility to God, there are positive predicates or names which are 
predicated of the divine substance affirmatively. For example, the 
predicate 'non-corporeal' denies corporeality of God, removes it 
from Him, whereas the predicate good or wise is predicated 
affirmatively and directly of the divine substance. There is, then, 
an affirmative or positive way, in addition to the negative way. 
But what is its justification if these perfections, goodness, wisdom, 
etc., are experienced by us as they are in creatures, and if the 
words we use to express these perfections express the ideas we 
derive from creatures? Are we not applying to God ideas and 
words which have no application save within the realm of expe¬ 
rience? Are we not faced with the following dilemma? Either we 
are predicating of God predicates which apply only to creatures, 
in which case our statements about God are false, or we have 
emptied the predicates of their reference to creatures, in which 
case they are without content, since they are derived from our 
experience of creatures and express that experience? 

First of all, St. Thomas insists that when affirmative predicates 
are predicated of God, they are predicated positively of the divine 
nature or substance. He will not allow the opinion of those who, 
like Maimonides, make all predicates of God equivalent to negative 
predicates, nor the opinion of those who say that 'God is good’ or 
'God is living’ means simply ‘God is the cause of all goodness’ or 
‘God is the cause of life’. When we say that God is living or God 
is life, we do not mean merely that God is not non-living: the 

1 S.T., la, 13, 2, in cerpott. 


statement that God is living has a degree of affirmation about 
it that is wanting to the statement that God is not a body. Nor 
does the man who states that God is living mean only that God 
is the cause of life, of all living things: he means to say something 
positive about God Himself. Again, if the statement that God is 
living meant no more than that God is the cause of all living 
things, we might just as well say that God is body, since He is the 
cause of all bodies. Yet we do not say that God is body, whereas 
we do say that God is living, and this shows that the statement 
that God is living means more than that God is the cause of life, 
and that a positive affirmation is being made concerning the 
divine substance. 

On the other hand, none of the positive ideas by means of which 
we conceive the nature of God represent God perfectly. Our ideas 
of God represent God only in so far as our intellects can know 
Him; but we know Him by means of sensible objects in so far as 
these objects represent or mirror God, so that inasmuch as 
creatures represent God or mirror Him only imperfectly, our ideas, 
derived from our experience of the natural world, can themselves 
represent God only imperfectly. When we say that God is good 
or living, we mean that He contains, or rather is the perfection of, 
goodness or life, but in a manner which exceeds and excludes all 
the imperfections and limitations of creatures. As regards what is 
predicated (goodness, for example), the affirmative predicate which 
we predicate of God signifies a perfection without any defect; but 
as regards the manner of predicating it every such predicate 
involves a defect, for by the word (nomen) we express something 
in the way it is conceived by the intellect. It follows, then, that 
predicates of this kind may, as the Pseudo-Dionysius observed, be 
both affirmed and denied of God; affirmed propter nominis rationem, 
denied propter significandi modum . For example, if we make the 
statement that God is wisdom, this affirmative statement is true 
in regard to the perfection as such; but if we meant that God is 
wisdom in precisely that sense in which we experience wisdom, it 
would be false. God is wise, but He is wisdom in a sense transcend¬ 
ing our experience; He does not possess wisdom as an inhering 
quality or form. In other words, we affirm of God the essence of 
wisdom or goodness or life in a 'supereminent' way, and we deny 
of God the imperfections attendant on human wisdom, wisdom as 
we experience it. 1 When, therefore, we say that God is good, the 

1 Contra Gent., i, 30. 



meaning is not that God is the cause of goodness or that God is 
not evil, but that what we call goodness in creatures pre-exists in 
God secundum modum altiorem . From this it does not follow that 
goodness belongs to God inasmuch as He causes goodness, but 
rather that because He is good, He diffuses goodness into things, 
according to the saying of Augustine, "because He is good, we 
exist". 1 

3. The upshot of the foregoing considerations is, therefore, that 
we cannot in this life know the divine essence as it is in itself, but 
only as it is represented in creatures, so that the names we apply 
to God signify the perfections manifested in creatures. From this 
fact several important conclusions must be drawn, the first being 
this, that the names we apply to God and to creatures are not to 
be understood in an univocal sense. For example, when we say 
that a man is wise and that God is wise, the predicate "wise" is not 
to be understood in an univocal sense, that is, in precisely the 
same sense. Our concept of wisdom is drawn from creatures, and 
if we applied precisely this concept to God, we should be saying 
something false about God, since God is not, and cannot be, wise 
in precisely the same sens* in which a man is wise. On the other 
hand, the names we apply to God are not purely equivocal, that 
is to say, they are not entirely and completely different in meaning 
from the meaning they bear when applied to creatures. If they 
were purely equivocal, we should have to conclude that we can 
gain no knowledge of God from creatures. If wisdom as predicated 
of man and wisdom as predicated of God signified something com¬ 
pletely different, the term "wise" as applied to God would have no 
content, no significance, since our knowledge of wisdom is drawn 
from creatures and is not based on direct experience of the divine 
wisdom. Of course, it might be objected that, though it is true 
that if the terms predicated of God were used in an equivocal 
sense, we should know nothing of God from creatures, it does not 
follow that we can know anything about God from creatures; but 
St. Thomas's insistence that we can know something of God from 
creatures is based on the fact that creatures, as effects of God, 
must manifest God, though they can do this only imperfectly. 

Yet if the concepts derived from our experience of creatures and 
then applied to God are used neither in an univocal nor in an 
equivocal sense, in what sense are they used? Is there any half¬ 
way house? St. Thomas replies that they are used in an analogical 

1 s.r.. Ia, 13, 2. 


sense. When an attribute is predicated analogically of two different 
beings, this means that it is predicated according to the relation 
they have to some third thing or according to the relation the one 
has to the other. As an example of the first type of analogical 
predication St. Thomas gives his favourite example, health. 1 An 
animal is said to be healthy because it is the subject of health, 
possesses health, while medicine is said to be healthy as being the 
cause of health, and a complexion is said to be healthy as being 
the sign of health. The word "healthy 1 is predicated in different 
senses of the animal in general, the medicine and the complexion, 
according to the different relations they bear to health; but it is 
not predicated in a purely equivocal sense, for all three bear some 
real relation to health. Medicine is not healthy in the same sense 
that animal is healthy, for the term "healthy" is not employed 
univocally, but the senses in which it is used are not equivocal or 
purely metaphorical, as when we speak of a smiling meadow. But 
this, says St. Thomas, is not the way in which we predicate 
attributes of God and creatures, for God and creatures have no 
relation to any third object: we predicate attributes of God and 
creatures, in so far as the creature has a real relation to God. 
When, for example, we predicate being of God and creatures, we 
attribute being first and foremost to God, as self-existing being, 
secondarily to creatures, as dependent on God. We cannot predi¬ 
cate being univocally of God and creatures, since they do not 
possess being in the same way, nor do we predicate being in a 
purely equivocal sense, since creatures have being, though their 
being is not like the divine being but is dependent, participated 

As regards what is meant by the words we apply to God and 
creatures, it is attributed primarily to God and only secondarily 
to creatures. Being, as we have seen, belongs essentially to God, 
whereas it does not belong essentially to creatures but only in 
dependence on God: it is being, but it is a different kind of being 
from the divine being, since it is received, derived, dependent, 
finite. Nevertheless, though the thing signified is attributed 
primarily to God, the name is predicated primarily of creatures. 
The reason is tnat we know creatures before we know God, so 
that since our knowledge of wisdom, for example, is derived from 
creatures and the word primarily denotes the concept derived 
from our experience of creatures, the idea of wisdom and the word 
1 Contra Gent., I, 34; S.T., Ia, 13, 5. 



are predicated primarily of creatures and analogically of God, even 
though in actual fact wisdom itself, the thing signified, belongs 
primarily to God. 

4. Analogical predication is founded on resemblance. In the De 
Veritale 1 St. Thomas distinguishes resemblance of proportion 
(convenientia proportions) and resemblance of proportionality ( con - 
venientia proportionalitatis). Between the number 8 and the 
number 4 there is a resemblance of proportion, while between the 
proportions of 6 to 3 and of 4 to 2 there is a resemblance of 
proportionality, that is, a resemblance or similarity of two propor¬ 
tions to one another. Now, analogical predication in a general 
sense may be made according to both types of resemblance. The 
predication of being in regard to created substance and accident, 
each of which has a relation to the other, is an example of analogi¬ 
cal predication according to proportion, while the predication of 
vision in regard to both ocular and intellectual vision is an 
example of analogical predication according to proportionality. 
What corporeal vision is to the eye, that intellectual apprehension 
or vision is to the mind. There is a certain similarity between the 
relation of the eye to its vision and the relation of mind to its 
intellectual apprehension, a similarity which enables us to speak 
of Vision 1 in both cases. We apply the word ‘vision* in the 
two cases neither univocally nor purely equivocally, but analo¬ 

Now, it is impossible to predicate anything analogically of God 
and creatures in the same way that it is possible to predicate being 
of substance and accident, for God and creatures have no mutual 
real relationship; creatures have a real relation to God, but God 
has no real relation to creatures. Nor is God included in the defini¬ 
tion of any creature in the way that substance is included in the 
definition of accident. It does not follow, however, that there can 
be no analogy of proportion between God and creatures. Though 
God is not related to creatures by a real relation, creatures 
have a real relation to God, and we are able to apply the same 
term to God and creatures in virtue of that relation. There are 
perfections which are not bound up with matter and which do 
not necessarily imply any defect or imperfection in the being of 
which they are predicated. Being, wisdom and goodness are 
examples of such perfections. Obviously we gain knowledge of 
being or goodness or wisdom from creatures; but it does not follow 

1 2, II, in corpore . 


that these perfections exist primarily in creatures and only secon¬ 
darily in God, or that they are predicated primarily of creatures 
and only secondarily of God. On the contrary, goodness, for 
instance, exists primarily in God, who is the infinite goodness and 
the cause of all creaturely goodness, and it is predicated primarily 
of God and only secondarily of creatures, even though creaturely 
goodness is what we first come to know. Analogy of proportion is 
possible, then, in virtue of the creature's relation and likeness to 
God. To this point I shall return shortly. 

It has been argued that St. Thomas came to abandon analogy 
of proportionality in favour of the analogy of proportion (in the 
acceptable sense); but this does not seem to me likely. In the 
Commentary on the Sentences 1 he gives both types of analogy, 
and even if in later works, like the De Potentia, the Sumnta contra 
Gentiles and the Summa Theologica , he seems to emphasise analogy 
of proportion, that does not seem to me to indicate that he ever 
abandoned analogy of proportionality. This type of analogical 
predication may be used in two ways, symbolically or properly. 
We can speak of God as ‘the Sun', meaning that what the sun is 
to the bodily eye, that God is to the soul; but we are then speaking 
symbolically, since the word ‘sun' refers to a material thing and 
can be predicated of a spiritual being only in a symbolic sense. 
We can say, however, that there is a certain similarity between 
God's relation to His intellectual activity and man's relation to 
his intellectual activity, and in this case we are not speaking merely 
symbolically, since intellectual activity as such is a pure perfection. 

The foundation of all analogy, then, that which makes analogical 
predication possible, is the likeness of creatures to God. We do not 
predicate wisdom of God merely because God is the cause of all 
wise things, for in that case we might just as well call God a stone, 
as being the cause of all stones; but we call Him wise because 
creatures, God's effects, manifest God, are like to Him, and because 
a pure perfection like wisdom can be formally predicated of Him. 
But what is this likeness? In the first place it is only a one-way 
likeness, that is, the creature is like to God, but we cannot properly 
say that God is like the creature. God is the absolute standard, as 
it were. In the second place creatures are only imperfectly like 
God; they cannot bear a perfect resemblance to Him. This means 
that the creature is at the same time both like and unlike God. It is 
like God in so far as it is an imitation of Him; it is unlike God in 

1 In 4 Sent., 49, 2, 1, ad 6. 



so far as its resemblance to Him is imperfect and deficient. Analo¬ 
gical predication, therefore, lies between univocal and equivocal 
predication. In analogical predication the predicate is applied to 
God and creatures neither in precisely the same sense nor in 
totally different senses; it is applied at the same time in similar 
and dissimilar senses. 1 This notion of simultaneous similarity and 
difference is fundamental in analogy. The notion may, it is true, 
occasion considerable difficulties from the logical standpoint; but 
it would be inappropriate to discuss here the objections of modem 
positivists to analogy. 

St. Thomas distinguishes, then, analogy of proportion (analogia 
secundum convenientiam proportionis) and analogy of proportionality 
[analogia secundum convenientiam proportionalitatis). As we have 
seen, he does not admit in regard to God and creatures that 
analogy of proportion which is applicable to substance and accident 
in respect of being; by analogy of proportion in natural theology 
he means that analogy in which a predicate is applied primarily 
to one analogue, namely God, and secondarily and imperfectly to 
the other analogue, namely the creature, in virtue of the creature's 
real relation and likeness to God. The perfection attributed to the 
analogues is really present in both of them, but it is not present in 
the same way, and the one predicate is used at the same time in 
senses which are neither completely different nor completely 
similar. Terminology has changed since the time of St. Thomas, 
and this kind of analogy is now called analogy of attribution. 
Analogy of proportionality, the resemblance of proportions, is 
sometimes called analogy of proportion, in distinction from the 
analogy of attribution; but not all Scholastics and commentators 
on St. Thomas employ the terms in precisely the same way. 

Some Scholastics have maintained that being, for example, is 
predicable of God and creatures only by analogy of proportionality 
and not by analogy of attribution. Without, however, wishing to 
enter on a discussion of the value of analogy of proportionality as 
such, I do not see how we could know that God has any perfection 
save by way of the analogy of attribution. All analogical predica¬ 
tion rests on the real relation and likeness of creatures to God, and 
it seems to me that the analogy of proportionality presupposes 
analogy of proportion or attribution and that the latter is the more 
fundamental of the two kinds of analogy. 

5. If one reads what St. Thomas has to say of analogy, it may 

1 Cf, S. 7 \, la, 13, 5, in corpore. 


appear that he is simply examining the way in which we speak 
about God, the verbal and conceptual implications of our state¬ 
ments, and that he is not actually establishing anything about our 
real knowledge of God. But it is a fundamental principle with 
St. Thomas that the perfections of creatures must be found in the 
Creator in a super-eminent manner, in a manner compatible with 
the infinity and spirituality of God. For example, if God has 
created intellectual beings, God must be possessed of intellect; we 
cannot suppose that He is less than intellectual. Moreover, a 
spiritual being must be an intellectual form, as Aristotle says, 
and the infinite spiritual being must be possessed of infinite intelli¬ 
gence. On the other hand, God's intelligence cannot be a faculty 
distinct from His essence or nature, since God is pure Act and not 
a composite being, nor can God know things successively, since 
He is changeless and incapable of accidental determination. He 
knows future events in virtue of His eternity, by which all things 
are present to Him. 1 God must possess the perfection of intellec¬ 
tuality, but we cannot form any adequate concept of what the 
divine intelligence is, since we have no experience of it: our 
knowledge of the divine intelligence is imperfect and inadequate, 
but it is not false; it is analogical knowledge. It would be false 
only if we were unaware of its imperfection and actually meant to 
ascribe to God finite intelligence as such: we cannot help thinking 
and speaking of the divine intelligence in terms of human concepts 
and language, since there are no others available to us, but at the 
same time we are aware that our concepts and language are 
imperfect. We cannot, for instance, help speaking as though God 
'foresaw' future events, but we are aware that for God there is 
not past or future. Similarly we must ascribe to God the perfection 
of free will in respect of other objects than Himself, but God's free 
will cannot involve changeableness: He willed freely to create the 
world in time, but He willed it freely from all eternity, in virtue 
of the one act of will which is identical with His essence. Of the 
divine free will we can, therefore, form no adequate conception; 
but the relation of creatures to God shows us that God must 
possess free will and we can realise some of the things which the 
divine free will cannot mean; yet the positive reality of the divine 
free will exceeds our comprehension, precisely because we are 
creatures and not God. Only God can comprehend Himself. 

It can scarcely be denied, however, that a grave difficulty arises 

1 Cf. S.T., la, 14, 13. 



in connection with the doctrine of analogy. If our idea of intelli¬ 
gence, for example, is derived from human intelligence, it obviously 
cannot, as such, be applied to God, and St. Thomas insists that no 
predicate which is applied to God and creatures is applied univo- 
cally. On the other hand, unless we were willing to acquiesce in 
agnosticism, we could not allow that such predicates are used in a 
purely equivocal sense. What, then, is the positive content of our 
concept of the divine intelligence? If St. Thomas adhered simply 
to the via negativa the difficulty would not arise: he would be 
saying simply that God is not not-intelligent or that He is super- 
intelligent, admitting that we have no positive idea of what the 
divine intelligence is. But St. Thomas does not stick simply to 
the via negativa : he admits the via affirmativa. Our idea of divine 
intelligence has, therefore, a positive content; but what can that 
positive content be? Is the reply that a positive content is obtained 
by denying the limitations of human intelligence, its finiteness, 
discursive character, potentiality and so on? In this case, however, 
we either attain a positive concept of the divine intelligence as such 
or we attain a concept of the ‘essence’ of intelligence, apart from 
finitude or infinity, which would seem to be univocal in respect of 
God and creatures. It might even appear that the negations either 
cancel out the content altogether or make it into an idea of the 
essence of intelligence which would be univocal in respect of divine 
and human intelligence. It was for this reason that Duns Scotus 
later insisted that we can form univocal concepts applicable to 
both God and creatures, though there is no univocity in the real 
order in respect of God and creatures. It is sometimes said that 
analogical concepts are partly the same as and partly different 
from univocal concepts; but the same difficulty recurs. The 
element of ‘sameness’ will be an univocal element, while the ele¬ 
ment of ‘difference’ will either be negative or it will have no 
content, since we have no immediate experience of God from which 
the idea can be derived. But further consideration of this point is 
best reserved for our treatment of St. Thomas’s doctrine of 
knowledge. 1 

6 . Mention of the divine intelligence naturally leads one on to 
raise the question what St. Thomas thought of the doctrine of the 
divine ideas. In the first place he establishes that there must be 
ideas in the divine mind, necesse est ponere in mente divina ideas , 2 
since God has created things not by chance, but intelligently, 

1 Cf. Ch. XXXVIII, sect. 4. * S.T., la, i 5 , 1. 


according to the exemplary idea He conceived in His mind. He 
remarks that Plato erred in asserting the existence of ideas which 
were not in any intellect, and he observes that Aristotle blamed 
Plato on this account. As a matter of fact, Aristotle, who did not 
believe in any free creation by God, did not blame Plato for making 
the ideas independent of the divine mind, but for maintaining their 
subsistence apart from the human mind, if one is considering their 
subjective reality, and apart from things, if one is considering 
their objective reality as forms. In asserting the existence of ideas 
in the divine mind St. Thomas is therefore following in the wake 
of the tradition which began with Plato, was developed in Middle 
Platonism and neo-Platonism and lived on, in a Christian setting, 
in the philosophy of Augustine and those who followed him. 

One of the reasons why the neo-Platonists placed the ideas in 
the Nous, the second hypostasis or first emanating divine being, 
and not in the One or supreme Godhead was that the presence of 
a multiplicity of ideas in God would, they thought, impair the 
divine unity. How did St. Thomas meet this difficulty, when the 
only real distinction he could admit in God was the distinction 
between the three divine Persons in the Trinity (and with this 
distinction he was not, of course, concerned as philosopher)? His 
answer is that from one point of view we must say that there is a 
plurality of ideas in God, as Augustine said, since God knows each 
individual thing to be created, but that from another point of 
view there cannot be a plurality of ideas in God, since this would 
contradict the divine simplicity. What he means is this. If by 
idea one refers to the content of the idea, then one must admit 
a plurality of ideas in God, since God knows many objects; but if 
by idea one means the subjective mental determination, the 
species, then one cannot admit a plurality of ideas in God, since 
God’s intellect is identical with His undivided essence and cannot 
receive determinations or any sort of composition. God knows 
His divine essence not only as it is in itself, but also as imitable 
outside itself in a plurality of creatures. This act of knowledge, 
as it exists in God, is one and undivided and is identical with His 
essence; but since God not only knows His essence as imitable in 
a multiplicity of creatures, but also knows that in knowing His 
essence He knows a multiplicity of creatures, we can and must 
speak of a plurality of ideas in God, for ‘idea’ signifies, not the 
divine essence as it is in itself, but the divine essence as the 
exemplar of this or that object. And it is the exemplar of many 


objects. In other words, the truth or falsity of our statements in 
regard to God must be estimated in terms of human language. 
To deny a plurality of ideas in God without qualification would 
be to deny that God knows a plurality of objects; but the truth 
that God knows His essence as imitable by a plurality of creatures 
must not be stated in such a way as to imply that there is a 
multiplicity of real species or really distinct modifications in the 
divine intellect. 1 

This discussion of the divine ideas is of some interest because it 
shows that St. Thomas is by no means simply an Aristotelian, but