Circumstantial evidence about Against the Gentiles invites a fallacy of authorial intention.2 Those who commit it classify the work as a missionary manual and include it in histories of missionary activity. In fact, the surviving evidence in no way decides the intention or even the title of the work known both as Against the Gentiles and On the Truth of the Catholic Faith.
In a narration of the deeds of James I of Aragon, as part of a reminiscence of Raymond of Penafort, the Dominican chronicler Peter Marsilius recounts a story about the composition of Against the Gentiles.3 Peter's text was finished on April 2, 1313; the frame for the story of Raymond is a narrative about Christmas, 1274; and the story itself lies even further back - more than 40 years before the date of writing. At that time, Peter says, Raymond asked Thomas to compose a work "against the errors of unbelievers (contra infi-delium errores)" as an aid in conversion. "That master did what the humble rogation of such a father required; and he composed a summa called 'against the Gentiles,' which is believed not to have any equal for such material (pro illa materia)!'4 There have been some textual questions about this passage, but none is unanswerable.5 Let the text stand as received, but then read it carefully. The story is introduced to illustrate Raymond's zeal for conversions and to show his influence within the order. Since the story is not repeated in the contemporary lives of Raymond or in any of the canonization proceedings for Thomas, it is presumed that Peter was relying on a local legend from the Dominican house in Barcelona, where he had worked with Raymond years before. We are presented with the only extant attestation for a bit of local hagiography. It has been argued that Peter would not have invented this story because there were many among his readers who would have had first-hand
2 The arguments that follow assume the generally accepted chronology for Thomas's writings, as in Weisheipl, Friar Thomas, and Torrell, Initiation. I reject the elaborate reasonings by Pierre Marc that would advance the time of composition to the second Parisian regency. For a specific but abbreviated rejoinder to Marc, see the review by Clemens Vansteenkiste in Angelicum 45 (1968): 353-355, and fuller criticism in his unsigned review for Rassegna di letter-atura tomistica 2 (1970): 51-56, entry no. 67. The proposal to redate the Contra gentiles to the second Parisian regency was not new; it had already been considered and rejected in Pietro Castagnoli, "La data di composizione della Summa c. Gentiles di S. Tommaso," Divus Thomas [Piacenza] 31 (1928): 489-492, especially pp. 491-492. Marc's redating did not win general assent; consider the summary chart for works published ten years after Marc in Rassegna di let-teratura tomistica 14 (1981): 49. One favorable vote can be had in Thomas Murphy, "The Date and Purpose of the Contra Gentiles," Heythrop Journal 10 (1969): 405-415.
3 The text is discussed and quoted extensively in Marc, 1:72-77 and 612-613.
4 Barcelona, Bibl. centr. MS 1018, fol. 179r, as quoted in Marc, 1:73.
5 The issues are summarized in Marc, 1:74-76.
knowledge of the events mentioned.6 This argument is weakened by remembering that flattering inventions are less likely to be contested than scurrilous ones and by comparing this tale with the sorts of things being told, less than six years later, in the canonization proceedings for Thomas.
If we were to assume that the story is a luckily preserved fact rather than a pious invention, difficulties would multiply. The first difficulty is simply to know what Peter means and, particularly, what he intends by the phrase "such material (illa materia)." What is the "matter" or material of Against the Gentiles? To speak more practically, where exactly does it fit into the well organized Dominican missionary effort? Peter's story might be saying at least three different things: Against the Gentiles is a book to be given to potential converts, or it is a manual for field-training missionaries, or it represents a reference work that refutes all errors of unbelievers compendiously. Of these three readings of materia, only the third has any plausibility — and then not much. Still let me take them in order.
Against the Gentiles cannot have been directed to potential converts. From the first line and then on every page thereafter, Thomas speaks as one Christian to another. His rhetorical address is evident in the use of Scriptural and magisterial quotations, in a presumption of acquaintance with Christian letters, and even in the voice of the first person plural. Thomas argues in the prologue that the mysteries of Christian faith ought not to be presented argu-mentatively before non-believers for fear of making them think that faith depends only on probable arguments.7 Precisely these arguments appear in the plan of the fourth Book (as Thomas himself promises, 1.9 [no. 56]). How could Thomas have intended, then, that his book be placed into the hands of non-believers, without giving them offense and exposing Christian faith to scandal?
It is no more likely that Against the Gentiles was intended to train Dominican missionaries in the field. There are external and internal reasons. Externally, Against the Gentiles is an unsatisfactory missionary manual by Dominican standards of the thirteenth century. The life of Raymond himself offers counter-examples. Raymond not only founded schools for Oriental studies within the Dominican order, as Peter narrates, but also figured promi
6 See Robert I. Burns, "Christian-Islamic Confrontation in the West: The Thirteenth-Century Dream of Conversion," American Historical Review 76 (1971): 1,386—1,434, at p. 1,410; Alvaro Huerga, "Hipótesis sobre la génesis de la 'Summa contra gentiles'y del 'Pugio fidei,'" Angelicum 51 (1974): 533-557, especially pp. 551-552 and 556.
7 References to the Contra gentiles will be made parenthetically to the Pera, Marc, Caramello edition. The citations will list book, chapter, and unique section numbers. This edition reproduces the text of Leonine Opera omnia vols. 13-15.
nently in public debates with non-Christians. In 1263, for example, Raymond helped to set the rules for a debate between the Dominican Paul "the Christian" and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman of Gerona.8 This Paul had converted from Judaism and his strategy was to argue from a detailed knowledge of rabbinical writings that the messiah had already come, that he was prophesied to be both divine and human, and that his advent had destroyed Jewish laws and ceremonies.9 The strategy of refutation from within had been adopted by Dominicans in campaigns of Jewish conversion through the 1250s and 1260s in Spain and France.10 They dealt similarly with Cathars and allied heretics.11
Equally expert devices and emphases figure in Dominican preaching to Islam. Here a central figure was another Raymond, Raymond Marti (Marti-nus, Martini).12 As early as 1250, Marti appears in Tunis as founder of an Arabic school. In 1267, he published the Muzzle of the Jews (Capistrum Judaeo-rum), a detailed attack on Judaism much like the internal criticism practiced by Paul "the Christian." In 1278, Marti presented the Dagger of the Faith (Pugio Fidei), an attack on Islam and Judaism. The work has figured prominently in the history of Against the Gentiles because it borrows directly from Thomas.13
8 Robert Chazan, "The Barcelona 'Disputation' of 1263: Christian Missionizing and Jewish Response," Speculum 52 (1977): 824—842, especially p. 826.
9 Chazan, "Barcelona 'Disputation,'"p. 826.
10 See Chazan, "Confrontation in the Synagogue at Narbonne . . .," Harvard Theological Review 67 (1974): 437—457.
11 See François Sanjek, "Raynerius Sacconi O.P., Summa de Catharis," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 44 (1974): 31—60; compare Thomas Kaeppeli, "Une Somme contre les hérétiques de s. Pierre Martyr (?)," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 17 (1947): 295—335. In the prologues edited by Kaeppeli, it is interesting to note the remarks on recourse to rationes naturales in controversy with heretics (pp. 301—302); compare Contra gent. 1.2 (no. 11b).
12 See generally André Berthier, "Un maître orientaliste du XIIIe siècle . . .," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 6 (1936): 267—311, especially pp. 295—312 on Raymond's "method."
13 These resemblances led Miguel Asín y Palacio to argue that Thomas had plagiarized portions of the Pugio; see his "El Averroismo teológico de Santo Tomás de Aquino," in Homenaje a don Francisco Codera .. ., ed. Eduardo Saavedra (Zaragoza: M. Escar, 1904), 271—331, especially pp. 320—323. The charge was refuted almost at once by Luis G. Getino on the basis of chronology; see Getino, La "Summa contra gentes" y el Pugio fidei . . . (Vergara: El Santísimo Rosario, 1905), pp. 8—19 generally, with replies to objections on pp. 19—27. The question of borrowings between Aquinas and Martí reappeared with Marc's redating of the Contra gentiles. Marc asserts a dependence of Contra gent. 1.6 on Martí's Capistrum Judaeorum; see Marc, 1:65—72, and Burns, p. 1,409, who adopts the thesis of redating apparently on the basis of Murphy's summary article. There is also the thesis of prior exchange between Aquinas and Martí in José María Casciaro, El diálogo teológico de Santo Tomás con musulmanes y judios, el tema de la profecía y la revelación (Madrid: CSIC/"Francisco Suarez," 1969), p. 44; J. I. Saranyana, "La creación 'ab aeterno': Controversia de Santo Tomás y Raimundo Martí con San Bonaventura," Scripta Theologica [Pamplona] 5 (1973): 147—155. These hypotheses become necessary only if one rejects the simpler explanation that Martí borrowed from Thomas in his Capistrum just as he would do later and at length in the Pugio.
Far from confirming Thomas's missionary intention, however, the borrowings show how little Thomas could be used in direct missionary activity. Marti turns to Thomas almost exclusively in Dagger of the Faith 1. That first book, only ten percent of the whole, is intended to combat the errors "of the naturalists and the philosophers."14 Marti uses Thomas against errors arising from the reading of Aristotle and the Peripatetics. Thomas supplies most of Marti's argument on the eternity of the world, God's knowledge of singulars, and the resurrection of the dead.15 When it comes to a detailed consideration of the claims and counter-claims of competing canons, or to the intricacies of Islamic and Jewish theology, borrowings from Thomas almost disappear. According to the judgment of one expert missionary, Thomas's Against the Gentiles helps in philosophical preliminaries, but not in missionary work properly speaking.
External comparisons are confirmed internally by scattered remarks in Against the Gentiles about Islamic religion. In the "prologue" to the work (1.1—9), there are two pertinent passages. The first pleads Thomas's excuses for not being able to contest particular errors. He is not familiar with them, he says, nor can he proceed against all adversaries on the basis of common Scriptural authorities (1.2, nos. 10—11a). Thomas mentions the "Mohammedans and pagans" as not sharing any Scriptural authority with Christians. The second passage contrasts the sober motives for accepting Christian revelation with improper persuasions to various errors. Thomas describes the inducements offered by Mohammed, namely "carnal pleasures" and easy living, which he promised in colorful fables, without the supporting evidence of miracles or previous prophecy, to a credulous and isolated people (1.6, no. 41). The description is backed by no particular knowledge ofIslam. Indeed Thomas's source is not contemporary Dominican research, but the century-old Summula of Peter the Venerable.16 Some readers have seen here a "singular discretion" on Thomas's part as he reduces Koranic religion to the preaching of violence, perhaps in order to justify the Christians' crusades.17 It
14 Raymundus Martinus, Pugio Fidei adversus mauros et judaeos, ed. Joseph de Voisin (Leipzig, 1587; rptd. Farnborough: Gregg, 1967), pp. 192-253.
15 Marc provides an exhaustive summary of the textual relations in 1:62-65.
16 The Summula is edited in Migne PL 189:651-658; for the parallels to Thomas, see especially cols. 653D-655C, and compare Peter's Letter 4.17 to Bernard (PL 189:321-345). For the composition of Peter's anthology of Islamic writings, see Marie-Thérèse d'Alverny, "Deux traductions latines du coran au moyen âge," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire au moyen âge 16 (1947-1948): 69-131, especially pp. 69-71, 74-79.
17 Simone Van Riet, "La Somme contre les Gentils et la polémique islamo-chretienne," in Aquinas and Problems of His Time, ed. G. Verbeke and R. Verhelst (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1974), 150-160, especially p. 158.
is simpler to suppose, as Thomas has admitted, that he knew little about Islamic belief, or, indeed, about the course of Islamic civilization.18 How could he write a paradigmatic missioner's manual for an order that prided itself on expert acquaintance with the languages and beliefs of its adversaries? It was not only the ideal of the order. We have from Thomas himself a letter On the Reasons of Faith against the Saracens, Greeks, and Armenians.19 Written just after completion of Against the Gentiles, it repeats charges against the infidels only as claims made by a correspondent. Thomas reminds him that no one ought to attempt a demonstration of the truths of the faith.20
Against the Gentiles is not a manual for training missionaries — and so we are left with the third possibility, that it was intended to provide a reference book of philosophical arguments against the conceptual errors instanced in unbelievers, to be read by Christians living in intellectual contact with them. Here again the story of Raymond's request must be reinterpreted, always assuming its credibility. Perhaps Thomas received such a request and wrote what he could, within the limits of his knowledge: a foundational work that would undergird any detailed missionary attack. Perhaps he already had a work of comprehensive pedagogy in hand that he adapted for Raymond's sake, adding topical references in the prologue and elsewhere.21 Of course, a fundamental work structured according to the needs of Christian pedagogy is not easily classed as missionary, except in that sense in which every Christian reader is constantly being called to conversion. Any number of works, including the Summa of Theology, have been used as foundations for missionary activity. Such uses have not drawn them into the class of missionary manuals.
Circumstantial arguments about the work's intention have run aground. We must turn from them to the work itself in order to appreciate its experiment in persuasion.
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