Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


The pantheism which appeared in the schools towards the end of the twelfth century was the outcome of many influences, of which the most important were the realistic Platonism of the school of Chartres, the natural drift of mysticism towards pantheism, the growing influence of Arabian speculation, and the revival of the study of Erigena's De Divisione Naturae.

Bernard of Tours (Bernardus Silvestris), who lived during the second half of the twelfth century, composed a work De Mundi Universitate,{2} which he dedicated to Theodoric of Chartres, thus indicating the affiliation of the first form of pantheism which appeared in the twelfth century to the school of Chartres. The work is an attempt at deducing a cosmic system from a monad by means of the doctrine of emanation. In method and manner it recalls the treatises of the Neo-Pythagoreans of Alexandria.


Life. Amaury (or Amalric) of Bène, or of Chartres, taught theology and dialectic at Paris during the second half of the twelfth century. After his condemnation in 1204, he was obliged to retire from Paris. His books were destroyed, and the date of his death is unknown. The birthplace of Amaury (which is near Chartres) suggests the early influence of the members of the school of Chartres, and it is now almost universally conceded that during the last decades of the twelfth century the works of Erigena were so widely known that it is natural to suppose that Amaury was acquainted with Erigena's doctrines.{3}

Sources. In the absence of primary sources, it is necessary to have recourse to secondary authorities. Chief among these is Gerson (1363-1429).


Stöckl, relying on Gerson's account, attributes to Amaury the following doctrines:

1. Identity of creature and Creator: "Cum in Ipso sint omnia, imo Ipse sit omnia . . . non facile posse negari Creatorem et creaturam idem esse."{4}

2. Substantial unity of all things: "Omnia esse unum. Deum esse essentiam omnium creaturarum et esse unum."{5}

3. Realism, based on identity of specific nature: "Alterius naturae non est Abraham et alterius Isaac, sed unius et ejusdem."{6}

This account, given by Gerson, is confirmed by the testimony of the Council of Paris (1210) at which Amaury was condemned, and by the work Contra Amaurianos, written about 1208, against the followers of Amaury, who seem to have been numerous at that time.

Associated with Amaury is Joachim de Floris (died 1202), who is referred to by St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus as maintaining "Essentia genuit essentiam."{7} Consult Denifle, Archiv, I, 50 ff.


Life. David of Dinant seems to have evolved his doctrine of pantheism independently of the influence of Amaury and of the school of Chartres. He drew largely from Arabian sources. Denifle publishes{8} a text in which Albertus Magnus refers to a certain Alexander as the man from whom David derived his heresy. It is more probable that it was Dominicus Gundisalvi who made David conversant with the literature of Arabian pantheism. It is certain at all events that David studied the philosophy of Erigena. profane learning. The twelfth century, however, was an age in which the genuine representatives of the Scholastic movement knew how to defend themselves. They were strong with the vigor of youth, and, believing in the justice of their cause, they successfully repelled every attack, so that out of the struggles which the twelfth century witnessed there came forth a victorious Scholasticism prepared for the great constructive task to be accomplished in the following century. The results achieved by Scholastism in the second period of its history include: (1) the success of the anti-realists; (2) the recognition of the Scholastic method as a legitimate method in philosophy and theology; (3) the establishment of a broader spirit of culture, of a "humanism" which admitted that the Neo-Latin civilization had much to learn from the civilizations of Greece and of the Orient. These results will appear in the writings of the first schoolmen of the third period.



Hellenistic philosophy, banished from Athens by Justinian (529) and driven from Alexandria by the Arabs (640), was perpetuated at Constantinople by an irregular and intermittent tradition which, after the great schism (858) that separated the East from the West, took the form of commentary on and exposition of the works of Plato and Aristotle. Michael Psellus (the elder) and Photius{9} are the chief representatives of this tradition in the ninth century; Arethas, Wicetas the Paphlagonian, and Suidas represent it in the tenth century; Michael Psellus (the younger) is the sole representative of Byzantine learning in the eleventh century: Johannes Italus, Anna Comnena, daughter of the Emperor Alexis, and Michael Ephesius brought Byzantine learning to its highest degree of development in the twelfth century; finally, Nicephorus Blemmydes and George Pachymeres are the best known of the Byzantine scholars of the thirteenth century, the age in which the learning of Constantinople made its first impression on the Scholastic movement.{10} Although the influence of the learning of Constantinople on the progress of philosophic thought in western Europe may be said to begin with the first Crusade (1096-1100), yet it was not until the taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 that the treasures of ancient Greek literature and philosophy were thrown open to the schoolmen. The debt which Scholasticism owes to Byzantine learning should not be exaggerated; at the same time we must not underrate the importance of the introduction of the original and complete works of Aristotle into western Europe at a time when the Aristotle of the Arabians was being invoked as the champion of pantheism and rationalism.


The Arabians received Aristotle's works from the Syrians and Persians, who in 529 gave shelter to the philosophers banished from Athens by Justinian. The most important of the translators and commentators who made Aristotle and Plato intelligible to these Oriental peoples are David the Armenian (sixth century), the Nestorian Christians of the schools of Edessa and Chalcis (fifth and sixth centuries), and Honain ben Isaac, who, in the ninth century, began a series of translations from Syriac into Arabic. It is, therefore, beyond dispute that the Arabians owe their knowledge of Greek philosophy to the Syrian Christians.

Sources. The classic works on Arabian philosophy are: Munk, Mélanges, etc. (Paris, 1859); articles by Munk in the Dictionnaire des sciences philosophiques; Renan's De Philosophia peripatetica apud Syros (Paris, 1852), and his Averroès et l'Averroïsme (Paris, 1869). To the bibliography given by Weber (p. 211) and Ueberweg (p. 406) add M. Forget's articles in Néo-Scolastique (1894), Figuier, Vies des savants du Moyen Age (Paris, 2883), and De Vaux, Avicenne (Paris, 1900).


Speculative thought among the Arabians passed through the following phases:

1. Primitive unquestioning belief in the Koran. From the middle of the seventh century until the middle of the eighth, the authority of the Koran was supreme among the followers of Mahomet.

2. Motazilites, or dissidents. This sect represented a rationalistic movement against the orthodox fatalism and anthropomorphism, -- a movement occasioned by the contact (A.D. 750) of the Mussulman with the civilization of Persia, Bahylonia, and Assyria.

3. Motacallimîn, or professors of the word. These were the first theologians of Islam. In their effort to expound the Koran rationalistically, and yet without exceeding the limits of orthodox belief, and in the use which they made of the philosophy of the Greeks, they resemble the schoolmen of Christian Europe. The Motacallimin received encouragement and patronage from the Abbassides, who began to rule as caliphs about the year 750.

4. Sufis, or mystics. These represented a more extreme phase of the theological reaction against rationalism. They flourished chiefly in the Persian portion of the Arabian empire. Distrusting reason and philosophy, they taught that the only source of truth is the Koran, and that the reading of the Koran is to be supplemented by ecstatic contemplation.

5. Philosophers. The philosophical movement among the Arabians extended from the ninth century to the end of the twelfth. The philosophers were, in a sense, the continuators of the dissident movement. As a rule, they disregarded the authority of the Koran, and built their systems of philosophy upon lines traced by the Greeks, whose works they obtained from the Syrian Christians. They were opposed by the mystics and persecuted by the caliphs both in Asia and in Europe.

The chief philosophers are: (1) Among the Arabians of the East, Alkendi (died 870), Alfarabi (died 950), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037), and Algazel (1059-1111); (2) Among the Arabians of the West, that is, in Spain, Avempace (died 1138), Abubacer (1100-1185), and Averroes (Ibn Roshd) (1126-1198).

Avicenna, physician, philosopher, and theologian, was born in the province of Bokhara. He composed a medical Canon and numerous philosophical works in which he expounded the doctrines of Aristotle and of his Greek commentators. He devoted special attention to metaphysics, maintaining the existence of a Sovereign Intelligence as the highest reality, and of matter, or the non-existent, as the lowest in the scale of being. The first emanation from the Supreme Intelligence is the active intellect, to which Avicenna assigns a metaphysical as well as a psychological rôle, teaching that it is the source of all heavenly and earthly intellects, and that it is the principle by which the potentially intelligible becomes actually intelligible to the human mind.{11}

Despite these Neo-Platonic principles, Avicenna maintained the Aristotelian doctrine of sensation and the moderate realistic doctrine of universals. The latter he expressed in the formula so often quoted by Albert and other schoolmen: "Intellectus in formis agit universalitatem." His definition of the soul{12} is identical with Aristotle's: "Completa definitio animae est perfectio prima vel actus primus corporis organici." Still, he returns to Neo-Platonic principles in his account of the origin of intellectual knowledge, as when{13} he teaches that intelligible species are acquired in two ways: by rational discourse, or demonstration, and by infusion ("infusio vel manatio divina").

Both St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus ascribe to Avicenna the doctrine of the unity and transcendency of the active intellect. The former says:{14} "Intellectum agentem ponit Avicenna quandam substantiam separatam,"{15} "Avicenna ponit quod intellectus agens est unus in omnibus, quamvis non intellectus possibilis."

Historical Position. Avicenna was the first of the Arabians of the East to depart from the Neo-Platonic interpretation of Aristotle. The remnant of Neo-Platonism in his system of philosophy is proof of his inability to escape altogether from the influence of his predecessors. Averroës, who represents the Arabian philosophy of the West, looked upon Avicenna as a materialistic pantheist; Algazel and other mystics regarded him as a rationalist; and many of the schoolmen spoke of him as the first of the mediaeval Occasionalists.

Averroës was born in the year 1126 at Cordova. His career, like that of Avicenna, shows the bitterness of the intolerance prevailing among the followers of Islam, inclined as they were to side with the mystics, whom they regarded as orthodox, rather than with the philosophers, whom they suspected of hostility to the Koran. Like Avicenna, too, he was a physician. Exiled to Morocco on account, it is said, of his political doctrines, he died there in the year 1198. Averroës was regarded as the greatest of all the Arabian commentators of Aristotle. He composed besides his commentaries several treatises on astronomy, medicine, and philosophy, and also a controversial work, Destructio Destructionis, in answer to Algazel's Destructio Philosophorum. His admiration for Aristotle knew no bounds. "Aristotelis doctrina," he says, "est summa veritas, quoniam ejus intellectus fuit finis humani intellectus."{16}

In logic Averroës limits himself to the task of commenting on Aristotle's Organon. He adopts Avicenna's formula, "Intellectus in formis agit universalitatem." Science, he teaches, treats of individual things under the form of universality which the intellect abstracts.{17}

Metaphysics. Matter and form are the principles of being. Matter is not to be conceived as identical with not-being. It is the eternal potency out of which the First Mover extracted (extractio is to be substituted for creatio) the successive forms, or forces, which determine matter to different modes of existence.{18}

Heavenly bodies are endowed with a more excellent kind of form than are terrestrial bodies. The Prime Mover imparts motion to the celestial sphere, which in turn moves the planetary spheres. The mover of the sphere of the moon is the active intellect.{19}

Psychology. The most characteristic of Averroës' psychological doctrines is that of the unity of the active intellect. Whenever Aristotle speaks of the intellect as separate from matter or unmixed with matter, Averroës understands him to mean that the power by which the potentially intelligible is rendered actually intelligible is physically and topically separate from the body and is numerically one and common to all men. The passive intellect, which Averroës calls the material intellect, is also one: "Possumus opinari intellectum materialem esse unicum in cunctis individuis."{20} In the context of the passage just quoted, the active and passive intellects are called parts of the same intellect. Still, in a certain sense, it is true that there are as many intellects as there are individuals, for the separate intellect is communicated to the individual soul, just as the light, while remaining one, is communicated to the multiplicity of objects which it illuminates.{21} This communication is described as continuatio or copulatio, and the schoolmen understood Averroës to mean that the continuation of the individual soul with the transcendent intellect takes place by means of the phantasmata of the sensitive soul.{22}

It is evident from this doctrine that, according to Averroës, the individual soul contains nothing superior to matter, and is, therefore, corruptible. The impersonal intellect is immortal; but there is no personal immortality. Nevertheless, Averroës apparently believed in personal immortality. St. Thomas represents him as saying: "Per rationem concludo de necessitate quod intellectus est unus numero, firmiter tamen teneo oppositum per fidem."{23} The distinction to which allusion is made in this quotation was adopted by the Averroists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when they maintained, in opposition to the fundamental principles of Scholasticism, that what is true in philosophy may be false in theology, and vice versa.

Historical Position. Averroës was known as the commentator of Aristotle. He intended, no doubt, to reproduce as faithfully as he could the doctrines of the Stagirite. He did not, however, succeed in breaking with the pantheistic and rationalistic tradition of the Moorish schools; indeed, he emphasized in his commentaries those points of Aristotle's teaching which were opposed to Christian dogma, so that St. Thomas was obliged to judge him "non tam Peripateticus quam Peripateticae philosophiae depravator."


Authorities. In addition to Munk's Mélanges and Frank's La Cabbale, etc. (Paris, 1843), Max Doctor's Die Philosophie des Josef (ben) Zaddik (Münster, 5895), Baeumker's edition of Avicebrol's Fons Vitae (Münster, 1892), and Guttmann's Die Scholastik des XIII Jahrh. in ihren Beziehungen sum Judentum (Breslau, 1902) may be mentioned as authorities on the history of Jewish philosopby.

The Jews, before their contact with Arabian civilization, developed a system of mystic philosophy based upon the cabalistic Sephiroth, or mystic numbers. It was, however, after they had come in contact with the Arabians in the East and in the Moorish kingdom, that Greek learning passed from the mosque to the synagogue, and the systems of philosophy were developed which influenced the course of Christian thought during the thirteenth century.

Avicebrol (1020-1070) was born at Malaga. His real name was Salomon ben Gabirol, the name Avicebrol being the Latinized form of what was supposed to be an Arabian name. Indeed, it was only in recent times that the nationality of this philosopher was determined with certainty. His principal work, Fons Vitae, was probably composed in Arabic; Munk found a Hebrew copy of the work, and quite recently the Latin translation, made about the beginning of the twelfth century, has been published.{24}

Avicebrol's philosophy is a blending of Jewish religious doctrines with the doctrines of the Neo-Platonists. The importance attached to contemplation, and to a striving towards union with the divine, the doctrine of the preëxistence of the soul, of knowledge by means of reminiscence, of the eternity of matter, -- all these are evident signs of Neo-Platonic influence.

The most characteristic of Avicebrol's tenets is the doctrine ascribed to him by Albertus Magnus{25} and St. Thomas,{26} that all things finite, whether corporeal or incorporeal, are composed of matter and form; that matter is, consequently, the substratum of all finite existence.{27}

González{28}calls attention to the similarity existing between Avicebrol's doctrine of universal matter and the doctrines of Duns Scotus regarding materia primo-prima. Indeed, all the first Franciscan masters maintained that matter is coextensive with finite being.

Moses Maimanides (1135-1204), who was born at Cordova in 1135 and died at Cairo in 1204, was the greatest of the Jewish Aristotelians. His philosophical treatise, entitled Guide of the Doubting, is an exposition of Aristotelian philosophy combined with Jewish religious teaching: "Intentio hujus libri," he says, "est docere sapientiam legis secundum veritatem et ex fundamentis."{29}

Moses departs from the teaching of Aristotle whenever he considers that Jewish dogma is opposed to Peripatetic philosophy. He maintains, for instance, that the world is not eternal, except in the sense that it proceeds by natural necessity from its cause which is eternal. He is willing, however, to grant that the eternity of the world is possible, although he does not agree with the Aristotelians who hold that it is necessary. In treating of the immortality of the soul, he cites passages from the Bible, quotes the opinions of the Greek and Arabian commentators, distinguishes between the soul that is born with us, and the intellect which is acquired, and ends by asserting that only the souls of the just are immortal.{30} This doctrine of acquired immortality became one of the most distinctive doctrines of the Jewish school.

Historical Position. Although less original than Avicebrol, Maimonides was destined to exercise a more profound influence on succeeding generations of philosophers. To him may be traced the scientific movement which manifested itself among the Jews of the thirteenth and the two following centuries, and he is commonly regarded as the one who, of all the Jewish thinkers, contributed most to the system of Spinoza.

Anonymous Works. There were three works of doubtful authorship, which, on being translated from Arabic into Latin, became for the schoolmen common sources of information concerning Arabian, Jewish, and even Greek philosophy: (1) The Secretum Secretorum, a scientific miscellany, attributed to Aristotle; (2) Theologia Aristotelis, or De Secretiori AEgyptiorum Philosophia, which was sometimes attributed to Aristotle, but which is in reality a collection of excerpts from the Enneades of Plotinus; (3) Liber de Causis, which, under various titles, was ascribed to Aristotle, to St. Augustine, to Avempace, and to Gilbert de la Porrée. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas decided against its Aristotelian authorship, the former ascribing it to a certain Jew named David, the latter judging it to be an Arabian compilation of a work by Proclus.{31} The preponderance of evidence is in favor of St. Thomas' opinion.


The influence which Arabian and Jewish learning exercised on the schoolmen of the thirteenth century was very great. It was the Arabians and Jews who gave the first impulse to the study of the physical and metaphysical works of Aristotle. We must not, however, exaggerate the debt which Christian philosophy owes to the Arabians and Jews; we must remember that:

1. Although the first translations which brought Greek philosophy within the reach of the schoolmen were made from the Arabic, these, as we shall see, were soon followed by the more accurate translations made from the Greek.

2. If Christian Europe owes its knowledge of Aristotle to the Arabians, the Arabians themselves owe their knowledge of Aristotle to the Christian scholars of Syria.

3. Although the Arabians contributed largely to the growth and development of the study of medicine in Europe, and although their contributions to mediaeval geography, astronomy, arithmetic, and chemistry were also important, yet in philosophy they exercised only an indirect influence. They provoked discussion and controversy; but to their direct influence not a single important tenet of Scholasticism can be traced.{32} The Scholastic movement was a creation of the Christian mind; Arabian philosophy was always anti-Christian in spirit and teaching. The impulse that made Scholasticism originated with the Carolingian renaissance. The movement was continued by Erigena, Gerbert, Roscelin, Anselm, and other Christian thinkers; and received new force from the introduction of the physical and metaphysical works of Aristotle. Scholastic philosophy owes nothing to the Arabians except what they contributed to the introduction of these works.

The influence of the Jews was more important than that of the Arabians. The Jews of Moorish Spain enjoyed a large, measure of liberty, and among them philosophy found a home when Arabian philosophers were persecuted and their works consigned to the flames. Among the Jews and in the Jewish schools the works of the Greeks and of the Arabians were preserved, translated into Hebrew, and handed over to the Christian scholars, who in turn translated them into Latin. In this way the influence of the Arabians, restricted as it was, was chiefly exercised through the literature and philosophy of the Jews.

{1} Cf. Jundt, Histoire du panthéisme au Moyen Age (Paris, 1875).

{2} This work was published by Barach under the title Bernardi Silvestris De Mundi Universitate, sive Megacosmos et Microcosmos (Innsbruck, 1876), and was ascribed (wrongly, as Clerval has shown) to Bernard of Chartres.

{3} Cf. Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, edd. Denilie et Chatelain (Paris, 1889 ff.), I, 107.

{4} Gerson, Opera (Hague, 1728), Vol. IV, p. 826.

{5} Ibid.

{6} Ibid.

{7} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol., Ia, XXXIX, 5; Albertus Magnus, Sum. Theol., P. I, Tract. VII, Q. XXX, Memb. 3, Art. 1.

{8} Chartul., I, 71.

{9} Cf. Migne, Patr. Graeca, Vols. CI-CIV.

{10} Cf. Krumbacher, Geschichte der Byzantinischen Litteratur (Munich, 1897).

{11} St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, II, 42; Opusculum De Substantiis Separatis, Cap. 10. cf. Archiv f. Gesch. der Phil., X, 2 (January, 1904).

{12} De Anima, II, fol. 5. This and following quotations from the works of the Arabians are given by Stöckl, Gesch. der Phil. des Mittelalters, II, 25ff.

{13} Op. cit., VIII, fol. 23.

{14} C. G., II, 74.

{15} Op. cit.. II, 76.

{16} Prooemium in Aristotelis Physica.

{17} Compendium Metaphysica, Tract. II.

{18} Cf. Destructio Destructionis, Disp. 1.

{19} "Intellectus autem agens ordinatur ex ultimo horum in ordine et ponamus ipsum esse motorem orbis Lunae." Compend. Metaph., Tract. IV.

{20} De An., fol. 165.

{21} Destr. Destr., Disp. 1, dubium 8.

{22} Cf. St. Thomas, C. G., II, 73; III, 43; also, Opusculum De Unitate Intellectus contra Averroistas. Cf. Albert, De Natura et Origine Anima and De Unitate Intellectus contra Averroem.

{23} Opusc. XXII, p. 493.

{24} Avicebrolis Fons Vitae, ed. Baeumker (Münster, 5892).

{25} Summa Totius Theologiae, I, 4, 22.

{26} Quaestio Disputata De Anima, Art. 6.

{27} Cf. Fons Vitae, V, 21.

{28} Op. cit., II, 486.

{29} Preface to Guide.

{30} Guide, etc., trans. by Munk, Vol. II, 205.

{31} Cf. Bardenhewer, Die pseudo-aristotelische Schrift über das reine Gute (Freiburg im B., 1882), p. 41.

{32} Exception must be made in favor of Avicebrol, whose Fons Vitae had a direct influence on the Franciscan school. cf. Wittmann, Die Stellung des heil. Thomas von Aquin zu Avencebrol (Münster, 900), pp. 15 ff.

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