Thomass Alleged Aristotelianism or Aristotle among the Authorities

Wishes that Thomas had provided sciences he could not, or had written texts that he decided against, are nowhere denser than around the topic of Thomas's Aristotelianism. The same topic provides the best site for thinking about his relation to philosophic authority in general. The quest to extract a discrete philosophy from Thomas, quite distinct from his theology and supposedly more credible before secular audiences, has expressed itself time and again in efforts to make Thomas a pure Aristotelian. At the same time, and curiously, if Thomas's philosophical contribution is pure Aristotelianism, then his relation to philosophical authority must seem rather abject - as abject, say, as the relation certain modern Thomists want to establish with Thomas as philosophical arbiter. How one describes Aristotle in Thomas reveals how one situates Thomas's thought with regard to philosophy, how one narrates the historical life of philosophy or justifies the usefulness of pagan science after the preaching of the Gospel. At the same time, strong claims about Thomas's relation to Aristotle often reveal most about how the claimant imagines Thomas's authority for the present. To resist allegations of Thomas's "Aristotelianism," then, is not only to resist certain misreadings of Thomas, it is also to insist on a more helpful conception of intellectual inheritance, not least in philosophy. The conception makes for a large difference. A false conception about intellectual inheritance will misdirect one's reading anywhere in Thomas, since his genres are above all genres for inheriting intellect well.

The first defect of the allegations is their employment of the term "Aristotelianism," and the simplest way to expose the defect is to recall certain features of that term's genealogy. In pointing to the form and history of this term, I might seem to be quibbling. I am actually beginning from the assumptions built into the allegations about Thomas's relation to Aristotle before moving on to examine their evidence and their consequences.

The term "Aristotelianism" and its philosophic siblings are unattested in ancient Greek or Latin.1 Beginning with the patristic authors, there are such terms as "Arianism" or "Sabellianism," terms drawn from religious polemic.2 The polemical extension to a term like "Platonism" or "Aristotelianism" is made in neo-Latin and the early modern vernaculars.3 With the Enlightenment, the polemical intent is only amplified. Once the ancient schools of philosophy are pictured as no different than (heretical) sects, once philosophy and religion are both treated as manipulable dogmas, then the Enlightened Philosophes can begin to speak of every (other) philosophic doctrine as an "ism."4 Such terms enter academic writing with Enlightenment historiography of philosophy, most influentially in Jakob Brucker's Critical History of Philosophy.5 Brucker organizes his works, in the ancient manner, by schools (sectae), but one finds sprinkled throughout a whole family of "-isms": Pla-tonismus, Peripateticismus, Averroismus.6 Brucker imagines that there is an essence of pure Aristotelianism, adulterated in the Middle Ages, purified at the Renaissance.7 Unfortunately, the modern academic study of medieval philosophy began under the sway of Brucker's imaginings. Its first proponents accommodated themselves all too easily to the jargon prevailing in

1 There is one fragment from the scarcely preserved comic poet Alexis that speaks of "Pythagorisms" (as quoted by Athenaeus in the Deipnosophists 4.52 [=161], ed. Georg Kaibel, 3 vols. [Leipzig: Teubner, 1887-1890], 1: 363.25-364.1). Alexis's jibe refers to the involved locutions affected by Pythagoras's followers.

2 These Christian coinages are to be distinguished from the earlier forms, such as Attikismos, Kanôbismos, Kilikismos, or Mêdismos, that refer to linguistic or cultural idiosyncrasies. The only ancient warrants for the sectarian use would be terms like Korubantismos or Manichaismos, though even here the emphasis is on shared cultic practice, not doctrine.

3 In an English rhyming dictionary of 1570, both "Platonisme" and "Platonismus"appear in a list of names of "sectes and fashions, whom we call after the masters and beginners of opinions and doctrines." See Peter Levens, Manipulus vocabulorum (1570; rptd. Menston, England: Scolar Press, 1969), s.v. Isme.

4 Thus, in the first volume of the great Encyclopédie, there is a facetious and condescending article "Aristotélisme" (1:652-673), while the 1771 edition of the Dictionnaire de Trévoux offers this charming definition: "Aristotelianism. The teaching of Aristotle and his partisans which was in vogue in the schools until the time of Descartes." See the Dictionnaire universel françois et latin, vulgairement appelé Dictionnaire de Trévoux, 8 vols. (Paris: Compagnie des librairies associés, 1771), s.v. "Aristotélisme."

5 Iacob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae a mundi incunabulis ad nostram usque aetatem deducta (1742). I cite from the second edition in six volumes (Leipzig: Weidemann and Reich, 1766-1767).

6 For example, Brucker, Historia critica, 4:149-151 ("Platonismus"), 3:882 and 4:162 ("Averroismus"), and 4:200 ("Peripateticismus"). Brucker is addicted to technical terms of dubiously Greek origin. In one place, for example, he speaks of the "Aristotelomania of the Scholastics" (Historia critica 3:885-886).

7 For example, Brucker, Historia critica 4:156.

historiography.8 Beyond historiography, the category of "Aristotelianism" was written into some programs of "neo-Thomism" or "neo-Scholasti-cism."9 Thomas's philosophic standard-bearers may have thought they were in a war against the Enlightenment or Kant or Hegel, but they had already absorbed the enemy's vocabulary and table for the organization of knowledge. The philosophical charter of "neo-Thomism" counted against a philosophically adequate reading of Thomas.10

Whatever else might be said of it, a term like "Aristotelianism" does not accord with Thomas's view of philosophy in history. For Thomas, "philosophy (philosophia)" names primarily a hierarchy of bodies of knowledge that can be built up as intellectual virtues in human souls. Philosophy is, second, a pedagogy for building intellectual virtues that is enacted in teachings and textual traditions. A philosophical teaching is not principally a set of propositions shared by several minds; it is a series of like statements formulated in the several minds that teach it and learn it, that write it and read

8 The Enlightenment usages can be heard in Victor Cousin's Introduction to the Ouvrages inédits d'Abélard (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1836), pp. Ixii—Ixiii, where he discusses the perpetual opposition between Plato and Aristotle. The link with Brucker is through Tennemann, who is explicitly cited at the beginning of Cousin's Introduction. A few years later, Barthélemy Hauréau ends his prize-winning memoir on medieval philosophy by meditating on "péripatétisme" and its relation to the triad "réalisme," "nominalisme," "conceptualisme." See his De la philosophie scolastique, 2 vols. (Paris: Pagnerre, 1850), 2:499. In the augmented version, Hauréau adds remarks on "péripatétisme" to the preliminary discussion of Scholastic philosophy; see his Histoire de la philosophie scolastique, 3 vols. (Paris: Durand et Pedone-Lauriel, 1872—1880), 1:33—35. The usage is ubiquitous by the century's end. See, for example, Salva-tore Talamo, LAristotelismo della scolastica nella storia della filosofia (1873; 3rd exp. edn., Siena: S. Bernardino, 1881), passim; and Th. Heitz, Essai historique sur les rapports entre la philosophie et la foi de Bérenger de Tours à S. Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Victor Lecoffre, 1909), pp. 87—91. Even very fine historians picked up the usage. So, for example, Franz Ehrle not only deploys the "-ism" terms, but justifies them by appeal to differentiating core-insights; see his "Beiträge zur Geschichte der mittelalterlichen Scholastik, 2: Der Augustinismus und der Aristotelismus in der Scholastik gegen Ende des 13. Jahrhunderts," Archiv für Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters 5 (1889): 603-635.

9 Obviously the question of Thomas's relation to Aristotle is much older than Enlightenment historiography. It is as old as the reading of Thomas, being debated already in the controversy of the Correctoria just after the condemnations of 1277. The question was also taken up repeatedly in Renaissance or early modern criticisms and defenses of Thomas. It had become fixed enough by the sixteenth century to merit a separate chapter in Melchior Cano's methodological reflections; see his De locis theologicis 10.5, which both pleads for balance and provides a short list of Aristotle's errors. Admitting all of this, I do still argue that the language of "Aristotelianism" and its presuppositions of method misdirected even sympathetic study of Thomas from the nineteenth century on.

10 See Anton C. Pegis, The Middle Ages and Philosophy: Some Reflections on the Ambivalence of Modern Scholasticism (Chicago: H. Regnery, 1963); and, more recently, Hankey, "Pope Leo's Purposes and St Thomas' Platonism,"pp. 42-44.

it.11 So it is not helpful to ask about Thomas's relation to Aristotle in terms of "Aristotelianism," because to do so implies either the reduction of philosophy to ideology or the sublimating of philosophy into subsistent bodies of propositions. Thomas held neither view. Indeed, he rejected both. The task, then, is to find a more adequate way of conceiving philosophical inheritance, a way more consonant with Thomas's own views of his relation to Aristotle.

One alternative suggests itself immediately, even in Brucker: the ancient divisions among "schools" of philosophers. Here the school is not a retrospectively constructed grouping of thinkers who are held to have subscribed to a body of propositions. It is the historically unfolding community, constituted by genealogies of teachers and students, by shared ways of life mutated over time, by evolving languages, topics, and procedures. If there is no mention of "Aristotelianism" in the ancient texts, there are abundant mentions of the "Peripatetics," conceived as a community of inquirers into which one can choose to enter — or not.

While talk of schools is a much more adequate way of describing philosophy, it is hardly adequate to the relation between Thomas and Aristotle. For Thomas, membership in a school of philosophy does not befit Christians. One can see this both in his terminology and in the forms of some of his historical arguments. Thomas speaks about philosophy, of course, as a habit of knowing needed by an educated Christian believer. When he speaks of the schools of philosophy or of philosophers, he means the condition of wisdom under paganism. I cannot find that the epithet "philosopher" is ever deliberately applied by Thomas to a Christian.12 Again, Thomas never includes Christians in his doxographies of philosophy, even when he does include philosophic writers beyond those mentioned

11 This becomes a technical issues in the disputes over the unity of mind; see Contra gent. 2.75 (nos. 1,547, 1,557-1,559).

12 One apparent counter-example seems to involve textual corruption. In the received text of Expos. Pery, Thomas refers to a "Joannes Grammaticus" as "philosophus" (1.6, para. 4). In Sent. De caelo 1.8 and throughout Averroes, "Joannes Grammaticus" is John Philoponus, a Christian. But Gauthier proposes now to read "Philonus" for "philosophus," thus removing the puzzling epithet and positing a mis-association by Thomas; see Expos. Pery 1.6 (Leonine Opera omnia 1*/1:34.85-87). In any case, Thomas would not have known of Philo-ponus's faith, since he learns of him only at second hand as an Aristotelian commentator. More will be said below about the sense of philosophus, but it should be noted at once that Thomas's refusal to use it of Christians is not uncommon in thirteenth-century authors. For a very suggestive survey of passages, especially in Albert, see M.-D. Chenu, "Les 'Philosophes' dans la philosophie chrétienne médiévale," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 26 (1937): 27-40.

in the ancient or patristic narratives from which he draws.13 Thomas is quite ready to posit that the compiler of the Book of Causes was one of the Arab philosophers.14 He is not willing to name a similar group of Christians. "Philosophers" properly so-called are not always ancient, but they seem always to be unbelievers. I will come back to this telling usage below, but it serves for the moment to warn against holding that Thomas might understand himself as a member of an Aristotelian school.15

Thomas's positive conception of his relation to Aristotle can be inferred more successfully from the kind of evidence that he had before him - and that we have before us. He had texts of Aristotle; we have texts of Aristotle and Thomas. The relations of Aristotle to Thomas, whatever else they might be, will be at least relations to and among texts. The texts of Thomas can take up towards the texts of Aristotle any of the local relations that texts have to each other - including quotation, allusion, annotation, revisionist imitation, eclectic incorporation, tense repression, direct refutation, or silent correction. Local textual relations are then qualified by the textual wholes within which Thomas places them and by the other textual relations with which he juxtaposes them. This is what Thomas understands as the proper use of a philosophical "authority" (auctoritas), of a textual precedent deserving attention. Almost every text in Thomas enacts an arrangement of pertinent authorities. He disposes them in constellations. His texts cannot be well understood without noticing the interpretations, valuations, and omissions in these constellations. Thomas appropriates the content of Aristotle in the first instance through Aristotelian text-pieces. Wherever it may end, any inquiry about Thomas and Aristotle must begin with them.

The simple-sounding admonition is quite difficult to obey, because it prohibits us from doing what contemporary Thomists like to do best -

13 Some of the passages are open to question. In Summa theol. 1.44.2, for example, Thomas speaks of "some" who managed to consider "being so far as it is being." There is no textual warrant, I think, for following the Ottawa editors in construing this as a reference to "Christian teachers" (note on 1:281).

14 Super De causis prol.: "so that it seems to have been excerpted from the aforementioned book of Proclus by someone among the Arab philosophers."

15 Brian Davies writes that this kind of argument supposes an artificially strict sense of the term. By contrast, "if we take philosophers to be people prepared to try to think clearly without necessarily invoking religious doctrines as premises in their arguments, Aquinas is unquestionably a philosopher." See Davies, Aquinas (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 12. This is puzzling. Surely any number of people whom we would not ordinarily call "philosophers" are prepared to think clearly without invoking religious doctrines as premises: consider astrophysicists, legal historians, and poets. In any case, the telling thing remains that Thomas, who knew the Greek texts from which our contemporary philosophers also claim descent, was unwilling to call himself or any other Christian a philosopher.

either constructing "systematic" paraphrases at some great height above the texts or burying themselves in philological details without worrying about sense. The admonition proposes instead a series of local readings in which the handling of textual precedents is watched closely, in context and in relation to previous handlings. It requires, in other words, a rather "Scholastic" reading of these "Scholastic" texts.

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