The thirteenth century was one of the most theologically vibrant periods in the history of the Christian church. It was in this period that the subject matter of theology (usually called by contemporaries sacra doctrina or sacra pagina) was more closely defined, and that theology became a subject for study in educational institutions. Yet the ideas that made up the doctrines of theology were, for the most part, static. How could they, indeed, be anything else? Christian doctrine was largely worked out and agreed upon by the Councils and theologians of the early-church ('patristic') period in the fourth and fifth centuries, which, even as they defined the canon of Scripture, drew out of it the statements of faith that made up the creeds and the fundamentals of sacramental life. The basic structure of creation, sin, incarnation, grace, redemption, Trinity, sacrament and eschaton was in place long before the thirteenth century, and essential change was neither possible nor desirable to a belief system steeped in the concept of the authority of the past.
In this deepest sense of fundamental doctrine, then, the theological framework of the thirteenth-century church was, and could be, no different from that of its predecessors. What changed, however, and what justifies the thirteenth century's claim to reverberate in Christian theological history, was a double evolution: firstly, a refinement of what it meant to study theology; alongside, secondly, an opening up of the arena in which theological thinking might have some practical effect, with a broadening of the recipient constituency for its pronouncements.
It may seem to be a paradoxical, if not impossible, statement that Christian theology had become more comprehensive. How could it reach an area wider than the Christian church? How could its statements encompass more than the meaning and conduct of life in this world and the next? In theory, of course, such questions were merely rhetorical, and there was no wider sphere; but in practice the situation was rather different. Up to the thirteenth century, the church was thought of, and could realistically only think of itself, as little more than one part of that medieval division of society into the triad of those who worked, those who fought and those who prayed; but the thirteenth century saw the confluence of a set of circumstances which allowed this role to change. The expansion of the church's ambitions for its place in the world, which had begun with the aspirations of Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) and were furthered in the twelfth century, was at last able to be realised. The church embarked on an era of 'big government' - the so-called 'papal monarchy' - in which it not only attempted to make its mark on the broad canvas of the international political scene, but also aimed to have effects in depth, reaching down into the lives of the ordinary members of Christendom, and regulating their deeds, words and, if possible, thoughts.
The theological framework of Christianity in the thirteenth century was, then, especially important because it formed the skeleton of a body which was growing, flexing its muscles, and was prepared to fight off whatever, inside or outside the body, it perceived as a threat to its survival. Although the theological answer to the question 'what is church?' was not substantially different from that which Augustine would have given eight hundred years earlier, political, social and cultural realities meant that the reach and scope of the church and its doctrines encompassed the daily lives - literally the hopes and fears - of the population of most of Western Europe.
Why did these changes come about? Were they driven by external forces or by the internal logic of theology itself? A pivotal sequence in these impulses can be discerned in the reforms of the church promulgated by popes Leo IX (1048-54) and Gregory VII. Gregory's determination to have the church recognised as the premier force in the Christian world, along with his attempts to improve the moral standards of the clergy, may be judged to have failed in his own time: for he died after being forced into exile by secular political rivals. But the changes that his ambitions wrought in the longer term have led to their being named after him, the Gregorian Reform. And as we shall see, what Gregory could not himself achieve, his thirteenth-century successor, Innocent III (1198-1216), was to bring to fruition. A lasting effect of Gregorian policies was the increasing clericalisation of the church and the exclusion of lay people from most of its organisation, appointments and decision-making. In time, this had as a partial concomitant the effect of heightening lay people's awareness of their own individual salvation, and their desire to take a greater part in working towards it. Both sides of this clerical-lay divide were strengthened in the century after Gregory's papacy, in the phenomenon known as the twelfth-century Renaissance.
One of the features of this Renaissance was urban life, which experienced a growth and popularity it had not known since the Roman era. New towns grew up on old sites, were promoted as population centres, or simply sprang up spontaneously in favourable positions or on trade routes. The church and theology both affected and were affected by this move from country to town. The church had a somewhat ambivalent theology of town life, for whilst the Bible offered the malignant examples of the cities of Babel or Sodom in this world, its picture of the hoped-for end of human life was the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of peace. Church leaders began to realise that, in the face of a rather feeble system of parishes, monastic communities whose aim was to live outside the world offered inadequate service to the body of Christ. It was no longer sufficient for professional churchmen to pray on behalf of everyone else; intense groups of (mostly) lay believers were springing up like mushrooms after rain, and if their theology was to be kept within the bounds of orthodoxy, they needed education and pastoral care. Towns were places where new ideas might take hold, and the influx of strangers and those with no ties to the familiar could easily threaten to subvert Christian beliefs. The church needed a new ministry to the believing laity and to those who professed other faiths. It must take seriously the religious faith of ordinary people, providing structure and nurture; if it did not, there were others who were all too ready to step in.
In another way, too, the monasteries were losing their dominance. Although, like many creative enterprises, 'regular' life (i.e., life under a religious rule) blossomed during the twelfth century, nevertheless new educational arenas meant that monasteries lost some of the functions and purposes they had made particularly their own. In theology, monasteries had a double disposition: firstly, almost all official theological thinking was done by monks producing contemplative treatises on biblical books or themes, or on aspects of Christian life especially relevant to the cloister, for example, meditations on the Song of Songs, or works on virginity or on spiritual friendship; and secondly, monastery schools provided much of the higher education available for those who might themselves go on to think about or write works of theology. During the twelfth century, both of these roles were opened up to others, so that by 1200 there was a greater variety of actors and, perhaps more importantly, audiences, for the theological stage. New works of theology were no longer mostly produced by monks writing for other monks, as the outcome of a life of ruminative study and prayer; the Bible and theology had become a valid subject for teaching and examination at the new secular schools or universities of urban Europe.
Education had been provided around cathedral cloisters for centuries, but in the late-twelfth century these 'secular' (so-called because their teachers, whilst being clerics, were not monks) cathedral schools came to the fore as providers and regulators of higher education. Some schools in important urban settings became known outside their locality and developed specialities which attracted students from far and wide. For theology, the schools at Paris, clustered around the cathedral of Notre Dame and the abbey of Augustinian canons at St Victor on the Left Bank (still called the Latin Quarter after the language of the schools) were pre-eminent. By 1200, anyone who aspired to the best education in theology made their way to Paris.
By 1200, too, Christendom had a new pope. Innocent III was an Italian who had studied theology in Paris and - perhaps - canon law in Bologna.1 He combined intelligence and determination with analytical skill, and seeing the dangers and opportunities of the times, he set out boldly to confront them. Circumstances and his own gifts allowed him to come closest to realising Gregory VII's dream of a dominant church. To give his vision of an invigorated and confident church a permanent strength by means of a more controlling central authority, he convened a new Council of the church at the Lateran palace in Rome in 1215. The legislation enacted at Lateran IV, as it is known, deals with relations with the Eastern church, and condemns heretics; but crucially it also lays out the way that clergy and laity should, together, make the body of Christ on earth. Bishops are reminded of their duty, especially with respect to teaching and preaching; and the laity, both men and women, are enjoined to make a private confession to their parish priest and to receive the eucharist at least once every year. Here are recognised in full the consequences and responsibilities of Gregory VII's clerical-lay division of the church, with clergy bound to make serious provision for those in their care, and lay people similarly charged with - or permitted, depending on one's viewpoint - an active contribution to the business ofbeing a Christian.
To make this ideal a reality, Innocent appreciated the need to train existing parish clergy more effectively, and for those clergy to live up to standards of behaviour increasingly expected by the church and by lay people, who saw their own priests often acting more poorly than the leaders of other quasiChristian sects or those of other faiths. He used bishops and legates who could
1 For Innocent, see B. Bolton, Innocent III: Studies on Papal Authority and Pastoral Care (Aldershot: Variorum, 1995); C. Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050-1250 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); J. E. Sayers, Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1198-1216 (London: Longman, 1994).
act as his lieutenants on the ground; often, like him, they had been students or masters in Paris, and were influenced by a towering figure of late-twelfth-century moral theology, Peter the Chanter. Peter had pioneered the use of biblical interpretation and theological thinking for practical moral purposes in lay contexts, considering such issues as usury, prostitution and the just war. The gifted biblical scholar and preacher Stephen Langton (c. 1155-1228), master in Paris and archbishop of Canterbury, and the teacher and cardinal legate Robert Cour^on (d. 1219) were both able to put a theology of pastoral care to work in practice, even before the canons of Lateran IV were framed. They represent Innocent's willingness to use academically orientated theologians to address the practical and moral problems of the church.2
When a new group of men appeared, offering to carry the faith to the laity in new ways, Innocent saw a God-given chance: he recognised the mendicant followers of Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226) and Dominic Guzman (c. 1171-1221) as, in their different ways, the means to spearhead the church's fight for souls. As Stephen Langton and Robert Cour^on furthered the aims of Lateran IV in their own ecclesiastical legislation, so two great bishop-theologians of the next generation encouraged the friars working in their dioceses to satisfy the spiritual needs of their people. Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170-1253), bishop of the largest diocese in England, Lincoln, had the burgeoning schools at Oxford under his control. Dominican friars had arrived in Oxford in 1221, Franciscans in 1224, making their way deliberately to the schools there. Grosseteste had acted as tutor to the Franciscans in Oxford before he became a bishop, and he continued to support them and their ministry whilst promulgating legislation concerning the pastoral care of the laity and the training and morals of the clergy. As well, he wrote his own treatises on confession and penance for clergy use. Across the Channel, Bishop William of Auvergne (c. 1180-1249) in Paris was a similar supporter of the mendicants. He was a professor in the schools when he was made bishop, and was also the author of a wide range of theological works, including treatises for the use of clergy on the sacraments, confession and penance, and preaching.3 Writing on confession, these two secular bishops were drawing on a tradition of works for the use of confessors
2 For Peter and his circle, see J. W. Baldwin, Masters, Princes and Merchants: The Social Views of Peter the Chanter and his Circle (2 vols., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). For pastoral care more generally, see L. E. Boyle, Pastoral Care, Clerical Education and Canon Law, 1200-1400 (London: Variorum, 1981); J. W. Goering, William de Montibus (c. 11401213): The Schools and the Literature of Pastoral Care (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1992).
3 See N. Valois, Guillaume d'Auvergne (Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1880).
which had an important revival around the time of Lateran IV. Without the support, approval and encouragement of Robert and William, and bishops like them, the development of practical pastoral theology would have been quite different. And as it turned out, Innocent's seal of approval for the Franciscans and Dominicans was to provide more than simply the stimulus for the evangelical and pastoral momentum of the church; much more fundamentally, the Orders were to set the course for academic theology for the rest of the thirteenth century.
From its inception, Dominic's Order of Preachers was envisaged by him as a group of men trained specifically to teach and preach the orthodox faith. It is no surprise that, in 1218, barely three years after Innocent's approval of their enterprise, the Dominicans had set up a house in Paris and were eager to learn from the schools. Their establishment turned out to be a two-way street, for not only did they want to learn from the best theologians, but the best scholars began to want to learn from them. The Preachers were the first university chaplains: their house in Bologna attracted both students and teachers into the Order, and at Paris they had similar success. In 1230, John of St Giles, master of theology, became a Dominican, whilst continuing his university teaching. The Franciscans were quick to join in, and they too turned heads: around 1235, Alexander of Hales, like John an established academic, took the habit of the Order of Friars Minor mid-sermon, climbing back into the pulpit in a gesture of typical Franciscan theatricality. These were to be the first of a long line; from that time on, the friars began a steady movement towards dominance of the theology faculty and of theological writing. Mendicant scholars coming into the university in the late 1220s and early 1230s were not inventing from scratch. For example, around 1216, the secular master, Thomas of Chobham, had written a very popular Summa confessorum, a pragmatic manual for priests needing to fulful their Lateran IV obligations.4 Rather, the friars grasped the existing situation and used their considerable organisational and distributional powers to stretch their influence far beyond the schools.
Whereas the audience for theology expounded by monks was largely one of other monks, the friars saw their audience as the whole world. The sense of audience is always present in works by mendicants. They developed a new, less formally exegetical preaching style and produced books of sermon exempla - stories and jokes intended, in Bonaventure's (c. 1217-74) words, to make the lesson 'stick in your mind'; and they responded to the money
4 Thomas of Chobham, Thomae de Chobham: Summa confessorum, ed. F. Broomfield (Analecta mediaevalia Namurcensia 25; Louvain and Paris: Nauwelaerts, 1968).
economy of the thirteenth century by incorporating and sometimes parodying its vocabulary of debt and payment, profit and reward into the relationship of God and humankind. When, around 1230, the granting of indulgences became more common, the language used to defend them was of storing up credit in the treasury of merit. The vocation of the laity was increasingly valued. Both orders of friars developed 'Third Orders' - attenuated Rules of life for lay people - and confraternities of laymen were formed to practise the works of corporal mercy. Married life began to be valued as a means to salvation, and an elevated theology of the body was manifested in various ways, from the introduction of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264 to new interest in religious processions and drama, or the use of the rosary for prayer (erroneously attributed to Dominic) - all ways in which the body, and not simply the mind, might worship.
Although secular clerics continued to teach in the university, the friars very quickly began to dominate professional theology. This did not happen without complaint from secular academics, but scholars of both orders benefited from being part of an international organisation which had a stake in producing an elite of excellently educated teachers whose work would be an engine for the practical ministry of the rest of the Order. The Order could support them materially, and arrange for the copying and distribution of their works, and its missionary needs were the source of innovation and creativity in the types of works produced. In addition, the Order provided them with a steady stream of pupils, successive generations of eager listeners, ready to discuss issues and solutions with the pointed interest of those who would soon be arguing and debating in the outside world. The mendicant ideal of communal poverty, embraced in order to live like Christ and the Apostles and allowing the friars to travel light, proved hugely popular. The best and brightest no longer flocked to join Bernard in Cistercian solitude; they joined the missionary shock troops of Francis and Dominic. The great theological names of the thirteenth century are mendicants: Albert the Great, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas. Their works had the lasting advantage over their talented secular contemporaries of being kept 'in print' as, in effect, set texts for their confrères.
Nevertheless, the focus on practical, pastoral theology was not absolute, or rather, it was not separable from more abstract theological thinking. The Dominican Hugh of St Cher (d. 1263) sums up the relationship: 'first the bow is bent in study...then the arrow is loosed in preaching'.5 The ideas that were
5 The phrase is taken from his commentary on Gen 9.13, referring to the rainbow.
taken out from the schools were based on ground-breaking research by the academic elite. They pursued knowledge on a number of fronts. All theology had to be based on the foundation of the Bible and its interpretation; but whereas much patristic and Carolingian exegesis went straight to the discernible moral or spiritual lessons, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries developed a new interest in the literal or historical sense of the text. Without a correct literal foundation, no reliable moral meaning could be expounded. The building of this foundation involved learning biblical languages, or finding those, often Jews, who could interpret, and it meant trying to understand the original context and meaning of biblical geography and customs: Jerome's little works on the interpretation of Hebrew place and proper names became a standard addition to most thirteenth-century Bibles. It also gave rise to careful textual criticism using different versions of Scripture, resulting in correctoria -lists of places where the texts conflicted, and variant readings.
Twelfth-century scholars had developed a new respect for the whole created universe, as a beneficent impression of God's essential nature. To this end, theologians began to study natural science, mainly by trying to recover ancient texts about cosmological and physical subjects.6 The characteristic medieval method of working is always to look for an authoritative text which could be used as a basis for exegesis and commentary. In this way, novelty and change could take place, but always with one foot in something already known. Texts from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures might be employed, if they seemed to be useful for the understanding of God's work of creation.
It should not be too surprising, then, that the works of Aristotle, an ancient pagan Greek, but a polymath with a comprehensive, systematic and encyclopaedic approach to knowledge, were irresistible to twelfth- and thirteenth-century scholars. Some of Aristotle's works, mostly on logic, were known in their translations by the early-sixth-century scholar Boethius, and were used for teaching the liberal arts. Twelfth-century interest stimulated more translations, either made directly from the Greek, or via a roundabout route of translations from Arabic versions which had travelled from the eastern Mediterranean to Islamic Spain. The textual traditions were not always clear: some of what was transmitted as Aristotle's opinions was commentary or paraphrase made by the Arab scholars Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1037) or Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126-98). A citation of 'Aristotle' might mean either a
6 See, M.-D. Chenu, La théologie comme science au XIIIe siècle, 3rd edn (Bibliothèque thomiste 33; Paris: Vrin, 1957).
genuine text, or an opinion ofAvicenna or Averroes, or even a pseudonymous work, especially in the case of the influential Liber de causis.
Christian scholars were thirsty for the kind of material that Aristotle could supply. He appealed not only in his attempt to do everything; his work presented the results ofobservation ofthe whole ofthe natural world, animate and inanimate, and he ventured to draw conclusions from nature for the wider realm of ethics (the Politics was not translated until the later thirteenth century): in Aristotle's view, what was could teach us what ought to be. With twelfth- and thirteenth-century scholars themselves attempting encyclopaedic works, and the Summa - a title embracing the notions both of summary and summit - as the emblematic treatise of the scholastic community, Aristotle's authoritative display of multiple expertise was bound to be mesmerising; it was, at least, impossible to ignore. Further, he combined the width of his interests with a talent for division and structure, and in this he appealed to the medieval desire for categorisation and taxonomy. Part of his method was to increase and refine knowledge by ever more accurate definitions, and thirteenth-century theologians employed the same technique.
As products of the schools, the theology and theologians of this era are sometimes called 'scholastic', but the 'scholastic method' is more tightly defined than this. It applies to works which proceed by questioning, in breadth and depth. Each question is approached argumentatively, amassing pros and cons drawn from authoritative texts - Scripture, patristic writers, law or selected modern masters in weighted order of importance. To solve the question, each of the opposing arguments must be answered and the individual question takes its place in the accumulated body of knowledge that a Summa represents. Drawing on legal practice, the method dates at least to the logician Peter Abelard, and was popularised in the textbook of twelfth-century theology, Peter Lombard's Sentences. It was, thus, not influenced by Aristotle directly, and its appeal to authorities was not an Aristotelian trait; but the measured progression of its arguments was encouraged by his example.
By 1200 almost all of Aristotle's works were available in translation and were taken up by the Paris arts faculty, which was accustomed to reading his logical treatises. The new works fuelled the expansion of the faculty, over time, into the centre for what we would consider natural and experimental science, and philosophy. The arts faculty was a stepping stone for students going on to higher studies - in Paris, generally to theology - and it was from a training in arts that theologians acquired their knowledge of Aristotle. Arts students were the youngest (around fifteen to twenty-one years old) and arts masters, at barely more than twenty-one, were the least experienced scholars.
They took up Aristotelian ideas with gusto, and developed them with an abandon that left the more conservative theologians reeling. Their reaction was to clamp down: in 1210, Peter of Corbeil, archbishop of Sens and former master in the schools, held a council at Paris at which he condemned and burnt the work of two scholars, Amalric of Bene and David of Dinant, and prohibited public and private lectures on Aristotle's works of natural philosophy.
The ban was renewed in 1215 by Robert Cour^on, now papal legate in Paris and charged with organising the curriculum of studies there. Robert allowed the reading of Aristotle's logic and ethics, but not his metaphysics or natural philosophy, including all 'commentaries or summaries' of them, a move which may have been aimed at the work of Avicenna and other Arab scholars. Aristotle's views challenged basic tenets of the Christian creed, and those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well. Belief in the eternity of the world was in obvious contradiction of the creation of the world in time by God; and his theories on how we can know things, which for Christians was a matter of divine illumination of the human intellect, had important implications for the possibility of the resurrection of humans as individual beings at the Last Judgement. Under Aristotelian influence, it was easy to produce theologies that were pantheistic or subsumed incorporeal individuals into a single undivided intelligence. Most worryingly, from the theologians' point of view, Aristotle's reasoning method had no place for divine revelation; in the long run, the judging of all conclusions by the standard of empirical, rational provability was to be the most damaging legacy of the Aristotelian revival.
The prohibitions seem to have had some effect, if we judge by an advertisement from the newly founded University of Toulouse in 1229, which boasted that it would teach 'the books of natural philosophy banned in Paris'. And yet, although there may have been no lecturing on the natural philosophy, it is clear that theologians were reading it, as we know from the appearance of quotations from banned texts in works by unimpeachable secular masters from about 1220 onwards. That Aristotle was not Christian was not in itself an insuperable problem. Platonic ideas, adapted by Augustine, had a central place in Christian thinking, and Roman poets and authors were often drawn on for examples of right behaviour. As Christian theologians grew more knowledgeable of Jewish biblical interpretation, commentators from that tradition, especially Maimonides and Rashi, were quoted with admiration, and even given preference (for particulars of exegesis, though not, obviously, for their overall understanding) over some Christian readings of texts. The earliest theologians using Aristotle in the schools, masters William of Auxerre, Philip the Chancellor, William of Auvergne and Alexander of Hales (and Grosseteste in England), enlisted Aristotle in much the same way as they did Jewish and Roman ideas - taking what they thought was useful and discarding the rest.
It is unlikely that these masters - all renowned and sophisticated thinkers -did not see the consequences of taking Aristotle on his own terms. But this period was one in which the church was increasingly and confidently defining itself over and against groups of 'others'. It was formulating arguments against the challenges of the beliefs of Jews, Muslims and heterodox groups of various sorts, contending with them and asserting the superiority of orthodox Christian doctrine and practice. Certainly by 1231, Gregory IX (who had himself studied theology in Paris) ordered the offending Aristotelian books to be expurgated of their errors, but he did not ban them outright. By now, it was clear that the tide could not be turned back, or perhaps it seemed better to embrace Aristotle than to oppose him. Mostly, he was simply mined for useful nuggets; there were few who took seriously his complete rational-empirical worldview for the anti-Christian system that it represented. In 1255, the new Paris arts faculty statutes, previously prescribing merely his logical works and De anima, included almost the entire corpus of his natural philosophy as set books.
The new statutes seem to have provided an impetus to the arts faculty's sense of itself as different from theology; the masters had developed a self-identity as 'philosophers' (Aristotle was often known simply as 'The Philosopher') which the influx of newly valid material only confirmed. As a term and an idea this was not new - Peter Abelard (1079-1142/3) had referred to himself as a philosopher, but he likewise incurred suspicion from theologians. This time, when the arts masters were spreading their wings, two brilliant mendicant masters were starting their academic careers in theology. The varied responses of the Franciscan Bonaventure and the Dominican Thomas Aquinas reflected and summarised the charisms of their respective Orders, whilst showing how theology could deal with Aristotle and what the future might hold.
Like Aquinas, Bonaventure was an Italian, sent to Paris by the Order which recognised his scholarly gifts. He and Thomas were contemporaries in the schools, serving out the terms of their mastership at the same, turbulent time, when the mendicant masters were in dispute with the seculars and when opposition to the mendicant emphasis on the ideal of poverty was growing. Bonaventure's purely academic career was cut short in 1257 when he was elected master-general ofthe Franciscans at a time when the Order's persistent civil war over the nature of the poverty to which it was vowed threatened its very existence. Some modern scholars have concluded that Bonaventure's somewhat dismissive response to the challenge of Aristotelian ideas is a product of this curtailed scholarly life and the energy and imagination he was forced to put into the Order's affairs. But his relative lack of interest in the theological problems posed by Aristotle's philosophical formulations is entirely consistent with Bonaventure's own tastes. His clarity of mind was matched by a limpid Latin style which make his academic theology a joy to read; but even aside from the turn of fate that took him away from the schools, his preference seems to have been towards writing that more directly fitted the work of the church.
Bonaventure was not hostile to Aristotle and his methods, but he did not think that reason could solve the deepest problems of theology or bring anyone closer to God. Of course, this is not to say that Bonaventure did not use rational arguments: his apologetic treatise on behalf of poverty written to counter William of St Amour (d. 1272) and the secular campaigners against the mendicants is a classic of exegetical reasoning. But if he does not take on the philosophical challenge to Christian belief, it is because he sees the answers it produces as largely sterile for the building up of faith. Bonaventure does not debate the question of the eternity of the world on philosophical terms; he knows from common Christian doctrine that it is wrong, and judges that the philosophical sphere can remain separate and inferior. Instead, he turned to the writing of practical treatises detailing the process of the contemplative approach to God. Two in particular, The Soul's Journey to God and The Six Wings of the Seraph, became spiritual classics, leading the faithful believer up the steps towards a closer, mystical union with God. With his mystical theology of contemplation (including an influential treatise, Meditationes vitae Christi, which was wrongly attributed to him), Bonaventure presages a situation in which all Christians are confident that, with their own faith and in their own language, they can by grace make their way to God.
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74) chose a different path. Originally, the Dominicans were rather cut off from knowledge of Aristotle: they did not study in the arts faculty before going on to theology, but were taught in their own Dominican teaching centres; and their 1228 Constitutions forbade them to study profane sciences and liberal arts. But it was Thomas' German Dominican teacher in Paris, Albert of Lauingen (known even in his own day as 'the Great'), who mirrored Aristotle's own fascination with the natural world and the possibilities of science. Albert (d. 1280) was alive to all kinds of new ideas. As well as paraphrastic commentaries on virtually the whole Aristotelian corpus, he wrote commentaries on the works of the Neo-Platonist mystic, Ps.-Dionysius. For him, theology could not move forward without addressing and embracing this new knowledge, although not uncritically and certainly not at the expense of faith. His belief that philosophy had to be addressed in its own terms made him fearless as a scholar: his work on Aristotelian science was immensely influential in the arts faculty, and yet Alexander IV (1254-61) asked him to write a refutation of Averroes' theories which contradicted the possibility of the immortality of the individual soul. Nevertheless, his own Order was still dubious, reiterating at General Chapters in 1271, 1278 and 1280 the primacy of theology over other forms of knowledge.
With such a teacher, however, it is no wonder that Aquinas felt he could not turn his back on the problems that Aristotelianism posed. Thomas attempted to produce not merely a refutation of the arguments in philosophical terms, but a new sort of synthetic philosophical theology, still known as Thomism, that conformed to the demands of both disciplines. Nature could take its place alongside grace; reason and revelation were complementary not competitive. As part of the argument, Thomas declared theology, like philosophy, to be a science, that is to say, an ordered body of knowledge accessible to reason. Although he argued, of course, for orthodox Christianity against the Aristotelians, nevertheless on occasion Thomas showed his annoyance with those theologians who did not think that the philosophical argument needed to be addressed, for instance in his short treatise of 1270-1, De aeternitate mundi contra murmurantes: the murmurantes, or grumblers, in this case are Christian thinkers who do not see the point of arguing. In the 1260s, Thomas found himself faced by powerful opponents in the form of the philosophers Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia and their followers (the so-called Latin Averroists). They espoused - or were thought to - a potent combination of Aristotelian and Averroist views, debating the eternity of the world against Creation and the doctrine of the unity of the passive intellect, which eradicated the possibility of individual resurrection. They were charged with belief in 'double truth', the idea that there was one truth for philosophy, reached by reason, and another for theology, gained by revelation, with primacy given to the former over the latter.
Siger himself seems to have been more radical than revolutionary, quite clear that he was seeking philosophical and not eternal truth; and he moderated his views on reading Thomas' arguments against them. But once again, the more conservative theologians intervened, this time in the form of the bishop of Paris (and former student at the schools), Stephen Tempier. In 1270 and 1277 he issued two lists of propositions whose content was condemned. They comprehensively cover all the disputed issues, so much so that Thomas himself, who had died in 1274, was caught by some of them. Fighting fire with fire had led to his own fingers being burned.
The writings of Siger and the Averroists' survive only in part, but it is not clear from what remains that they formally taught any of the opinions condemned by Tempier. It may be that he and the pope took more seriously than the protagonists themselves the heated verbal arguments characteristic of teaching in the schools; or perhaps Tempier judged more accurately than they the fatal blow which rationalism could deal to theology. Although the condemnations caused the two sides to pull back for the rest of the century, the progress of reason and science was ultimately inexorable. Thomas' attempt at synthesis was brilliant but hopeless; even his genius could not hold back the tide. Over time, philosophical theology was confined to an increasingly narrow academic ghetto, and science and rationality moved to conquer the world.
The seeds of the scientific revolution were planted. Sacra doctrina, which started the century as queen ofthe sciences, had seen her upstart handmaiden, philosophy, cheekily rise to claim the throne, with the aid of the infidel Aristotle. Ironically, the queen had welcomed the rascal to her palace and colluded in the coup d'état. From her omniscient place at the centre, sacra doctrina had become theology, one subject amongst many, just another examination paper in the schools. Ahead of her, a future of arguing for her own relevance, and eventual house-arrest inside the walls of the academy; her claim to comprehensive knowledge could never be accepted again. Within her own walls, as long as certain questions of science and philosophy were ignored, all could seem well. The church was rampant, and the practical theology of pastoral care was expanding into more and more areas of ordinary life. Lay people as well as clergy were recognised as essential members of the Body of Christ, and their private spiritual well-being was the subject of mystical as well as practical theology. Thus, in their own arena, theologians remained essentially united, working towards the single purpose of building up the faith of the people of God. This was also what Aquinas conceived to be his purpose; but his intellectual legacy was to philosophy rather than theology. Once Aristotle had arrived, neither Thomas' embrace nor Bonaventure's reserve could ultimately uphold the supremacy of theology.
Was this article helpful?