ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

228. Prohibitions of Aristotle's Works at Paris. -- Early in the thirteenth century the works of Aristotle were repeatedly condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. A council convoked at Paris in 1210 by Peter of Corbeil forbade the teaching, whether public or private, of the Natural Philosophy and the commentaries of Averroës (nec libri Aristotelis de naturali philosophia nec commenta legantur Parisius publice vel secreto),{1} at the same time as it condemned the teachings of Amalric of Bène and ordered the Quaternuli of David of Dinant to be publicly burned. It is likely that the libri de naturaliphilosophia included not only the Physics of Aristotle, but also his Metaphysics. Five years later, the Papal legate, Robert de Courçon, renewed these censures at the seat of the youthful university: while allowing the Ethics, he expressly prohibited the Physics, the Metaphysics and the Summae de eisdem.{2} And this time again Aristotle was reckoned with the heretics: the followers of David, of Amalric and of Maurice of Spain.{3}

There were various reasons for those ecclesiastical censures. The immense volume of new philosophical material, brought to light by the introduction of the greater works of Aristotle, could not fail to produce confusion in the schools. The theologians became alarmed at certain teachings which ran counter to Catholic dogma: the theory of the eternity of the world, for instance. The Arabian commentaries aggravated the heterodoxy of those theories and introduced others that were no less objectionable, and always under cover of Aristotle. And then, too, the badly translated texts of Aristotle lent themselves to divergent interpretations, thus favouring the designs of all who wanted to propound novel or dangerous teachings (see Ch. IV.).

As soon as the first panic subsided and the scholastics got time to make a closer acquaintance with the new peripatetic theories and see what in them was compatible with Catholic dogma and what not, the Church quietly relaxed the rigour of its early prohibitions. If these were not expressly withdrawn they were allowed to fall into disuse; the authorities took no notice of things, and so usage abrogated the law. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX., a sincere patron of learning, entrusted to three theologians (William of Auxerre, Simon of Authie and Stephen of Provins) the task of correcting the condemned books, evidently with the intention of putting the amended editions on the programme of the Paris Faculty of Arts, ne utile per inutile vitietur; and he delegated to the abbot of St. Victor and the prior of the Dominican convent the power of absolving those who had incurred the ecclesiastical censures.{4} These first steps seem to have been ineffectual; but from 1255 onward the Physics and Metaphysics were regularly prescribed by the Faculty of Arts for the University courses.{5} The fact that the ecclesiastical authorities did not then interfere is a sufficient proof that the prohibitive measures were allowed to become and remain a dead letter; henceforward the authorities dealt only post factum with those who sheltered themselves behind the name of Aristotle for the purpose of teaching error. We may add that the censures of 1210 and 1215 had no binding force outside Paris,{6} and that the honour Aristotle received at Paris afterwards amply condoned for the suspicion with which he was treated there in the beginning.

{1} Chartul. Univ. Paris., i., p. 70.

{2} Robert de Courçon (fl. 1128) is the author of a Summa devoted to questions in moral theology and canon law. One of the most interesting portions of it, dealing with usury, has been published by G. LEFÈVRE, Le traité de Usura de Robert de Courçon (LilIe, 1902). It is noteworthy that the author does not invoke (as later authors do) certain texts of the Ethics and the Politics in condemnation of usury. From this M. Lefèvre infers that the opposition to usury grew up spontaneously prior to the thirteenth century, without any support from the authority of Aristotle.

{3} Chartul., i., p. 78. We find them reiterated in 1263 in a document of Urban IV., confirming the University statutes of Gregory IX. (ibid., p. 427).

{4} Chartul., i., pp. 138 and 543.

{5} Ibid., p. 278. Cf. 231

{6} We find the Toulouse masters boasting of the fact in 1229 (ibid., p. 135).

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