Developments In The Arts Faculty In The 13th Century

The universitas magistrorum et studentium or "community of masters and students" that formed the nascent University of Paris at the turn of the 13 th century had inherited a serious collection of texts that were authoritative in all the areas of the ancient liberal arts. A new inheritance, however, was arriving from centers of translation, such as the one in Toledo, where Gerard of Cremona, Dominic Gundissalinus, and John Ibn Daud were busy providing new texts of Aristotle or ones attributed to him, along with a strong collection of commentaries on these Aristotelian works. Boethius had earlier translated some of the logical works of Aristotle and had written commentaries on them. The new translations, even if they were better, did not replace the long-standing Boethian texts of Aristotle's old logic: the Isagoge of Porphyry, and the Categories and On Interpretation. The new logic brought new translations of the Prior Analytics and Topics, replacing earlier translations attributed by some to Boethius. Using Greek and Arabic texts, translators such as James of Venice improved on the text of the Sophistical Refutations and presented for the first time the Posterior Analytics.

Due in large part to the translating efforts of Gerard of Cremona, a number of the nonlogical works of Aristotle also became available. He translated the Physics, On Generation, On the Heavens, and the first three books of On the Meteors from the Arabic, and these were joined by the efforts of Henricus Aristippus, based on a Greek text, for Book IV of On the Meteors and On Generation. Anonymous translations from the Greek of the Physics, On the Soul, and of books I through IV of the Metaphysics also appeared before the beginning of the 13 th century. These texts of Aristotle had been available centuries before in the Arabic world and had drawn commentaries from Avicenna and Averroes, aiming to help people of the Muslim world deal with conflicts between the Koran and Aristotle's philosophy. It is this collection of texts and the Arabic commentaries associated with Aristotle's "natural philosophy" that at the beginning of the 13 th century presented the Latin West with an increasingly real challenge to the traditional Christian vision of reality that had been based in a significant way on the theological vision of Saint Augustine.

In 1210, along with the condemnation of heretical teachings by David of Dinant, the decree marking that condemnation also asserted,

"Neither may the books of Aristotle concerning natural philosophy, nor the comments on them, be read publicly or in secret at Paris, and this shall be forbidden under penalty of excommunication." Five years later, the new statutes of the university repeated the prohibition. A cautious approach to Aristotle's natural philosophy also can be found in Pope Gregory IX's letter to the masters of theology in 1228, warning them to keep philosophy in its position as a handmaid to their own study and to avoid adulterating the divine message of the Scriptures by succumbing to the imaginings of the philosophers. Gradually, however, the complex Aristotelian corpus entered the curriculum in Paris. The 1255 statutes show that, in effect, the Arts Faculty had changed from a curriculum centered on the liberal arts that Augustine championed in On Christian Doctrine to a faculty where the principal study, at least at an introductory level, was the philosophy of Aristotle.

In reality, the statutes of 1255 give such a short period of time for the study of each of the texts of Aristotle required for graduation that the level of study was quite rudimentary. The study of the texts of Aristotle was done in summary fashion, not by an elaborate commentary or on any added series of questions. We find the more extensive and profound commentaries, such as those of Saint Thomas on the Nichomachean Ethics, On the Soul, Physics, and the Metaphysics, only later. From the sermons of Saint Bonaventure in the late 1260s and the condemnations of 1270 and 1277, however, we can chart the advance of Aristotle's philosophy in the Arts Faculty and discover the fundamental conflicts between Aristotle's philosophy, especially as expounded by Averroes, and the traditional Christian positions concerning the creation of the world, the nature of the human intellect, God's knowledge of the world, and his providence that guides it.

The intensity of the conflict in the Arts Faculty waned at the end of the 13 th century. Debates over the interpretations of Aristotle's texts continued to take place in the Arts Faculty. Realistic and nominalistic views of his categories and the application of them throughout his works on natural philosophy competed. It came to the point that there were just a few fundamental ways of reading his texts and the disagreements began to find fixed forms and traditions. Staying in the Arts Faculty in the late 13th century not only might indicate a general interest in the philosophy of Aristotle but could also hint at a primary allegiance to his teachings. Aristotle's philosophy, for some, was a way of life that might set itself up against the Christian way of life. Therefore, wanting to stay in the Arts Faculty might seem to entail a commitment to a philosophy considered to be the sole intellectual pursuit that dealt with reality.

Matters had changed by the turn of the century. If Walter Burley can be taken as an early 14th-century example, the alternative between either being a philosopher or being a theologian had become less acute. One could be — and indeed, most were—both. Throughout most of his academic life, from 1300 to 1337, Burley wrote on the logic and physics of Aristotle and never seemed to be charged with the suspicion that he thought theology, which he studied at Paris in the second decade of the century, was based on a faith that had no intellectual content. The university Arts Faculty in the 14th century, and thereafter, at Paris and Oxford, had become a center for studying Aristotle's philosophy and most often for studying it philosophically. The latter expression, "philosophically," needs explanation. At the time of Thomas Aquinas in the last half of the 13th century, some radical Aristotelians, when they ran into difficulties with Church authorities, attempted to justify themselves by saying they were only proceeding "philosophically," by which they meant that they were merely reciting what Aristotle had said. For Thomas Aquinas himself, on the other hand, and most other medieval authors of the late 13th and succeeding centuries, "studying philosophically" meant that the members of the Arts Faculty were judging whether or not Aristotle's positions corresponded to reality. In other words, they were asking: Is what Aristotle says true?

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