St. Thomas Aquinas and Medieval Philosophy by D.J. Kennedy, O.P. 1919

Condition of Philosophy in the Thirteenth Century -- What St. Thomas Found at Paris

ST. THOMAS GOES TO PARIS. -- In the year 1245, sometime between Easter and the midsummer, two travellers might have been seen trudging patiently and cheerfully along one of the many roads, not so numerous, indeed, then as now, but more picturesque in the grandeur of their natural beauty, which led out from the city of Cologne. They travelled on foot, carried no provisions and had "neither purse nor scrip." They were mendicant friars, journeying in truly apostolic fashion from Cologne to Paris, in obedience to the commands of the general chapter of the Order of St. Dominic, which was held that year at Cologne.

In those days it was not uncommon to see religious thus journeying from place to place, and our two friars would not have attracted special attention unless, perhaps, something of the nobility and greatness and sanctity of their souls manifested itself in their countenances. Historians, however, would give much to know what were their thoughts and what words were exchanged between them as they journeyed along, interrupting their prayers and meditations to converse about the mission on which they were sent and the plans of their superiors, which they were preparing to execute. Cognitio singularium non perficit intellectum, is a principle laid down by St. Thomas. History is useless unless it teach something: the knowledge of what those who have gone before us said or did is worthless, unless it fill our minds with principles which will serve as beacon-lights, pointing out the efforts, the dangers, the successes of the past, throwing light on the paths in which we must walk in the future. Ordinarily the sayings and doings of others are of no value, except in as far as they furnish subjects of amusement or occupation for those who might be doing something worse if they were not engaged in idle gossip; but the thoughts and sayings and the deeds of those who were truly great, and who exercised a salutary influence on their contemporaries and on future ages, must be carefully studied by all who wish to understand the philosophy of history. Of our two travelling friars it may be said without exaggeration that they were starting on a mission which was to change the face of the world; not indeed by conquests gained with the sword, but by triumphs of the pen, which they were to wield so assiduously and so mightily in the service of God and religion.

Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Practical Men. -- The two travelling friars were Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. We often think and speak of the saints and of great men as if they were like wax figures or automata, or men who lived and moved in a dream-land, forgetting that in reality they were warm- hearted, practical men. They were not angels, although the sublimity of their thoughts and the purity of their lives made them angelic, and this is in a special manner true of St. Thomas. They were men, living in the world, with temptations to overcome and duties to face. They did not always move about as if they were in a trance; they were not, either by virtue of necessity or by necessity of virtue, unpractical. They lived, indeed, in a sphere elevated above that occupied by the generality of mankind. Owing to the elevation in which they were placed they could survey with calmness and with cool, unbiased judgment, the strifes and turmoils that raged beneath them; but we must not forget that they were intelligent, and warm-hearted men; not indeed in the sense that they yielded to the vices or weaknesses which often prove but too forcibly the reality of our tainted nature, but in the sense that they did not go through the world stupidly or with their eyes closed. They were alive to the times in which they lived, being ready to recognize the good and to apply a remedy to the evils which came under their intelligent observation.

There is no reason, then, for supposing that Bl. Albert and St. Thomas journeyed from Cologne to Paris without conferring together in regard to their plans for the future. Moreover, they had serious matters to discuss. Humility is not stupidity, and they would have been stupid if they did not understand that the superiors of the Order had something important in view when the general chapter, held at Cologne in 1245, decreed that Albert should be sent to Paris to take the Doctor's cap and that he was to be accompanied by his young disciple, Thomas of Aquin, whom the General of the Order had brought all the way from Naples to Cologne that he might be trained under the care of one who was generally known as "the great professor." They knew that the Order of St. Dominic from its very beginning had been devoted to the study of the sacred sciences. Albert himself had been sent to Paris in the year 1228 "to look thoroughly into the studies and to put them on a footing to meet the requirements of the age." Many students and professors of the university had joined the new institution, and the general chapters each year made new regulations to perfect the system of studies and of graduation which was to produce such excellent results in the near and the distant future. They had too much humility to consider themselves more important than other professors and students of the order, but they must have felt that the trust which the order reposed in them carried with it a responsibility which had not been imposed upon the others. Bl. Albert and St. Thomas had learned to know each other at Cologne, and a strong, saintly affection had sprung up between the master and his favorite disciple. The young novice was so meditative and silent that his companions called him a dumb ox. Albert discovered the talent of the big, silent student, and ever afterwards his greatest care was to nurture, develop and direct the talent of the youth, concerning whom he had exclaimed in prophetic admiration; "We call this young man a dumb ox, but so loud will be his bellowing in doctrine that it will resound throughout the world."

When they went together to Paris, Albert was about fifty-two years of age, and he knew from experience something of the remarkable intellectual activity which has caused the thirteenth century to be called "the classical epoch of the Middle Ages." He had studied at Paris, at Padua and at Bologna; had lectured in various cities on the works of Aristotle and on the Scriptures. People went in crowds to hear him and looked upon him as a prodigy of learning. In truth he was one of the glories of the Middle Ages, and he could tell his young pupil much about the professors and students of Paris, and of the other universities in which he had studied, or which he had visited.

THE UNIVERSITY OF PARIS. -- Paris by this time had become the first philosophical and theological school of the world, and her university was the most important of the many excellent universities which were much more numerous in those days than is generally supposed by those who know nothing about this period except what they read in the works of prejudiced authors.

The very importance of the university to which professors and students flocked from all parts of the world, became the occasion of many disorders; for, where there were so many gathered together, fired with ambition and enjoying the privileges which were lavished on teachers and students, it was but natural for youth to become relaxed, and for the professors to become haughty, ambitious and anxious to acquire a great name by upsetting old theories and introducing new doctrine.

Of these dangers and dangerous doctrines did Albert speak to Brother Thomas, then about twenty years of age, as he brought to Paris the young Count of Aquino, who was to become the brightest light of the Paris University, and the greatest theologian of the Catholic church.

The story of St. Thomas' vocation to the Order of St. Dominic, and of the violent opposition of his mother and brother is well known His mother was ambitious to have her son become abbot of the celebrated Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, under the shadow of which he was born and within whose walls seven years of his boyhood had been spent. She was, therefore, very much disappointed when her son, who had been sent to study at Naples, received the habit of the Friars Preachers. The constancy of Thomas triumphed over all opposition, and he made his profession in the convent of Naples, whence he was soon afterwards transferred to Cologne, passing through Paris on the journey, in company with John the Teuton, who was master-general of the Order. His course of studies had not been completed when, in 1245, Albert was ordered to Paris to take the Doctor's cap and Thomas was sent with him to continue his studies under the greatest master of the age.

What St. Thomas Found at Paris. -- What did St. Thomas find at Paris? An answer to this question must be given before we can understand his influence on religious thought. A complete and perfectly satisfactory answer cannot be given in the space of one article, and from the innumerable topics that might be treated the most important only will be selected with a view to establishing the following proposition: The thirteenth century needed a learned and saintly man to Christianize philosophy and to systemize theology. This was the life work of St. Thomas, whom Cardinal Bessarion called "the most saintly of learned men and the most learned of the saints." Because he accomplished this gigantic task in such a perfect manner that down to our own times no improvement has been made on his work, except in the acts of the Councils of the Church, which is always guided by the Holy Ghost, Leo XIII, adding new words of praise to the many enconmiums which had been heaped upon the name of St. Thomas by his predecessors, proposed the Angel of the Schools as the model teacher and Doctor, and appointed him to be the special patron of all Catholic schools, colleges, and universities throughtout the world.

THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY. -- Pope Leo XIII did many things which astonished the non-thinking people of our age. He was known to be a learned scholar as well as a saintly man. He was revered and even loved by many non-Catholics, and for this reason his acts have not been severely criticised; but outsiders must be puzzled to know why this enlightened nineteenth century pope so repeatedly called his children back to the standard of the thirteenth century, as he did in several of his immortal encyclicals, especially in his Letters on the Rosary, on the Restoration of Scholastic Philosophy, on the Christian Constitution of States, and on the Condition of the Working Classes. Many persons will be suprised to learn that the thirteenth century deserves to be called a golden age in the history of the world. When St. Thomas went to Paris it was the most important centre of learning in the world, and was particularly noted as a school of theology. Here, as elsewhere, the Christian schools and episcopal seminaries had become the foundations of universities. The change had been brought about so gradually that it is very difficult to assign the exact date of the foundation of the University of Paris. We know that in 1215, Innocent III, who had studied at Paris, gave to his Alma Mater a body of academic statutes, and from that day forward it was in a special manner under the protection of the Roman Pontiffs; but this act of Pope Innocent supposes that the University had been established.

A. T. Drane, in her "Christian Schools and Scholars," says that 1200 was the date of the formal recognition of the University. Church and state vied with each other in encouraging and assisting both professors and students, and the University of Paris could at one time boast of forty thousand students gathered within its walls from all parts of the world.

Intellectual Activity and Progress. -- In the thirteenth century the human race attained the summit of intellectual greatness. Before that time Plato and Aristotle had carried human reason as high as unaided reason could go; but they were pagans and, great as they undoubtedly were, they made many mistakes. The study of their works will convince any candid mind of a truth which was defined by the Vatican Council, viz., that revelation is necessary for the human race in its present condition, in order that even those truths about things divine which of themselves are not beyond reason may be known in a short time, by all, with certitude and without error.

In the thirteenth century intellectual progress, under the guidance of faith, had reached that point where it could be said with truth: "Reason could go no higher; faith could not receive more numerous or stronger arguments from reason to explain and defend her dogmas."This perfection was attained only after St. Thomas had lived and had written his immortal Summa. This is the great accomplishment which, according to Leo XIII, made St. Thomas the prince of all Christian philosophers. Towards this object were directed, under the the guidance of Providence, the mightly efforts made in those times for the progress of mankind in all branches of knowledge. Paris, Bologna, Padua, Toulouse, Montpelier, Bordeaux, Siena, Bourges, Orleans, Salamanca, Valladolid, Vienna, Heidelberg, Cologne, Oxford, and Cambridge -- to say nothing of less important places -- are indebted for their universities and for their renown as seats of learning to that grand movement of intellectual activity which was at its height in the thirteenth century, and which continued in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, so that, before the period of the Reformation, sixty-six such institutions had been founded in various European countries

The world was progressing rapidly. Man is naturally inquisitive, anxious to know; hence there has always been an effort to establish schools and to perfect methods of training young minds. The history of these schools in various countries, from the birth of Christianity, when St. Mark established the first Christian school in Alexandria, down to our own times, forms one of the brightest and most interesting pages in the history of the Catholic Church.

In the thirteenth century men were no longer satisfied with the old Christian schools and seminaries. For years the Trivium, i.e., grammar, logic, and rhetoric, had formed the standard of perfection for the ordinary schools, whilst the higher schools taught the Quadrivium, which embraced arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. To these was added in the episcopal seminaries a practical training in chant and the liturgy, together with the study of the Scriptures.

In the thirteenth century men wanted something higher; they wanted a university, i.e., "an aggregation of schools governed by a body of Doctors, who divide among themselves the several branches of instruction which, in the public schools, are united under one master." In other words, instead of having all branches taught by one man, who was supposed to know almost everything, they decided that it would be better to have a body of teachers, each one a specialist in his own branch, without being ignorant of other branches; hence they established the universities, the most illustrious of which was the University of Paris.

Why had not this idea been more fully realized before the thirteenth century? Why were not our modern battleships built many centuries ago? Rome was not built in a day, and in like manner centuries passed before man had progressed up to the standards of the universities. Scholasticism. -- Scholasticism can be traced from its rise in the ninth century to its perfection in the thirteenth. The celebrities of the ninth century were Alcuin (735- 804), Rabanus Maurus (776-856), Scotus Erigena, Henry of Auxerre, and his pupil, Remigius, the first who publicly taught dialectics at Paris. Then came the tenth century, called the age of iron, because it was a time of sterility. The eleventh century was noted for the disputes on the nature of the Universals, with the Nominalism of Roscelin, the exaggerated Realism of William of Champeaux, and the moderate Realism of St. Anselm, who also established the true principles on which reason should be proceed in her inquiries into the mysteries of revealed religion. In the twelfth century there were many aberrations. Abelard, puffed up with pride and self-sufficiency, introduced a very dangerous species of Rationalism; Amaury de Bene and David of Dinant fell into Pantheism; Averroes and other Arabian philosophers gave out poisonous interpretations of Aristotle's works; whilst on the other hand, the justly celebrated Peter Lombard became the father of systematized theology by writing his famous "Book of the Sentences," which was the favorite text-book of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, being afterwards replaced by the "Summa Theologiae" of Alexander of Hales, and finally, by the much more celebrated "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas. In the meantime, Hugh and Richard, sweet mystics of the school of St. Victor, had endeavored both by written words and saintly example to remind the world of scholars that, though Abelard was great in the eyes of men, his opponent, St. Bernard, was great in the eyes of God, that reason is at best but a weak instrument of knowledge, unless it be strengthened by faith, and that the science of the love of God was much more important than skill in dialectics and the art of syllogizing.

The grand intellectual movement which we are considering culminated in the glories of the thirteenth century, giving to the world first, William of Auvergne, Alexander of Hales (Doctor Irrefragabilis), Vincent of Beauvais, author of the famous Specula or Encyclopedia of all knowledge, Roger Bacon ( Doctor Mirabilis), Henry of Ghent (Doctor Solemnis), and Raymond Lullus (Doctor Illuminatus), author of the Ars Universalis or Ars Magna, wherein he taught a universal method and classified all knowledge and all things known.

These great minds constitute only the lesser lights of the thirteenth century. They are eclipsed by the greater lights that came afterwards, Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus. Here we have Scholasticism in the truest and best sense of the word -- reason applied to revelation, defending, systematizing, explaining and developing the mysteries of faith.

Advantages of the New System. -- This universal mental activity and the system of studies to which it gave rise produced many desirable results, but it became at the same time the occasion of many evils, which were not suppressed in a day but were gradually crushed or extirpated, thanks to the vigilance of the bishops and to the influence of learned and saintly men who were raised up by Providence just at the time when they were most needed. The task which confronted St. Thomas was that of discerning and determining what was good that he might exert his influence to promote and encourage it, and what was bad, that he might contend against it with all the force of his voice and pen. Some were rash enough to cry out against the new system simply because it was a departure from the simplicity of ancient times. They should have paused to think that the world will not remain stationary, and that many evils will always be found mixed in the beneficial results of rapid progress. As a matter of fact the establishment of the universities, with the progress of the Scholastics in philosophy and theology, notwithstanding certain evils much deplored, conferred upon the world benefits which have produced salutary results even down to our own times.

The men of those times could give us lessons on methods of learning and the time that should be devoted to the acquisition of knowledge. They did not make the mistake of supposing that a few years spent in a school and a few more spent in college made a man fit to enlighten the world and to propound luminous principles for the guidance of mankind. We know at least one scholar, John of Salisbury, the friend of St. Thomas à Becket, whose academic career extended over the space of twelve years, at the end of which time "he found himself possessed of a vast fund of erudition and an empty purse."This was not, perhaps, the general rule, for John of Salisbury was the first scholar of his day, but it is certain that the system then followed required so much time as to draw from Fleury the remark that, "the system was excellent had its execution been possible; but life was too short to allow of a man's perfecting himself in every known branch of learning before entering on his theological studies." According to the statutes of Innocent III, promulgated at Paris in 1215 by his legate, Robert de Courçon, no one was to profess the arts before the age of twenty-one, or without having previously studied for six years under some approved master. To teach theology the statutes required that a man should be at least thirty-five years of age and that he should have studied under some approved master.

The rule was for a Bachelor to begin by explaining the Sentences in the school of some doctor for the space of a year. At the end of that time he was presented to the chancellor of the cathedral of Paris, and if on examination he was judged worthy, he received a license and became Licentiate, until he was received as Doctor, when he opened a school of his own in which he explained the "Sentences" for another year. At the end of that time he was allowed to receive some Bachelor under him. The whole Doctor's course called for three years of teaching; nor could anyone take a degree unless he had taught according to these regulations. It was this thorough course of studies wich produced the great doctors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

University Colleges. -- For training the intellect the system was perfect, but the discipline of the soul was sometimes neglected, and to guard against this evil, colleges were established where the young men were exercised in religious duties and enjoyed the benefit of a regular training, in order to preserve the purity of their morals in the midst of many dangers and temptations. All the religious orders -- the Trinitarians, Franciscans, Bernardines, Carmelites, Augustinians, Benedictines, Premonstratensians, Dominicans, and even the Carthusians and monks of Cluny -- had their colleges or houses, where their subjects lived and enjoyed the benefits of the university course without being exposed to the corrupting influences by which they were surrounded.

The bishops, in order to protect their students, imitated the example of the regulars, and established colleges which were to take the place of the episcopal seminaries.

The Sorbonne. -- The first and most famous of these colleges was the Sorbonne, named after its founder, Robert de Sorbon, who was chaplain to St. Louis. This college, which was opened for the reception of secular students in 1253, was called by Crevier the greatest ornament of the university. In time it came to be regarded as the first theological school in the world, and its name has often been applied to the University itself.

Evils of the New System. -- Before the university and Scholasticism reached the perfection which they had attained when the Sorbonne was established there was a period of formation and of gradual growth and development during which, besides the lack of discipline and the corruption of morals, there existed other imperfections and evils against which thoughtful men of the day raised their voices and took up their pens.

John of Salisbury and the "Cornificians." -- John of Salisbury, in the twelfth century, complained bitterly that the study of dialectics and the prominence given to logical disputations had caused the neglect of good literature; and his caustic pen was ever ready to attack the "Cornificians," by which term he designated those who devoted themselves to philosophy rather than to the study of grammar, rhetoric, etc. Some justification for his severe criticisms is to be found in the conduct of the dialecticians themselves. They regarded logic and subtle reasoning as an end, not as a means of acquiring further knowledge. They wasted their time and talents in discussing useless questions, and fell into many serious errors.

Rationalism in the Schools. -- Before Scholastic criticism was introduced scholars were diligent readers more than profound thinkers. They could tell what others had written on a subject, but they seldom investigated for themselves, and their writings were compilations rather than original compositions. With the revival of philosophical studies men began to investigate for themselves; and it is not surprising that they soon went to the other extreme, with the result that there was introduced into the schools an insidious species of Rationalism which, without denying the mysteries of faith, contended that reason could prove and explain them.

Raymond Lullus. -- Raymond Lullus (1235-1315), in a proposition which was condemned in 1376 by Gregory XI, asserted that "all articles of faith, and the sacraments of the Church can be proved and are proved by reasons which are demonstrative, necessary and evident." Faith, he said, was necessary for rustics but not for philosophers, and reason is a safer guide than faith for knowing the things that are of faith.

Abelard. -- Raymond Lullus, however, did little more than re-echo the errors of one who had preceded him by more than a century, the celebrated and unfortunate Abelard (1079-1142), who enjoys the unenviable distinction of being the great champion of Scholastic Rationalism. Abelard was talented and brilliant, but he lacked humility, and pride marred a career which might have been productive of much good to the Church. He would not submit to authority; he would not even consent to be taught. He attended the lectures of William of Champeaux, not with a desire to listen and to learn but with the secret design of shining before his fellow-students and perplexing his master by proposing subtle, vexatious questions, and soon set up an independent school, where he taught not only logic, but even Scripture and Theology. This was against the established custom, according to which no scholar could teach who had not previously gone through a regular course of study under an approved master, and Abelard was really attempting to teach branches which he had never studied. Logic, in his hands, became not a means for acquiring the knowledge of truth, but an end; and he used it not for the purpose of knowing the truth but rather to prove that what others said was not true. His brilliancy and wit attracted crowds of students, his pride became greater as his fame increased, and he soon attempted to explain the profoundest mysteries of faith by the light of reason. To believe without doubting, he said, was the religion of women and children; to doubt all things before we believe them was alone worthy of the dignity of man, and proofs of the truths of revealed religion were to be furnished by reason.

The school of St. Victor opposed the errors of Abelard. St. Bernard emerged from the solitude of Citeaux to attack the new heresy and Abelard's treatise on the Holy Trinity was condemned at the Council of Soissons, and also at Sens in 1140.

Abelard died a few years later, but the seeds of Rationalism which he had sown were to bear fruit after his death. Crevier relates the story of Simon of Tournai, "who blasphemously boasted that it was as easy for him to disprove, as to prove the existence of God. He offered to do so on the following day, but in the midst of his impious speech was struck with apoplexy, and the event was regarded as a manifestation of the Divine displeasure." We have already seen that his errors were afterwards revived by Raymond Lullus, who lived from 1235 to 1315; and in the time of St. Thomas there was need of a master-mind to determine the true relations of faith and reason.

Averroes. -- Another false system which was introduced into Paris in the twelfth century, and which perhaps more than any other error of the times, exercised an influence on the writings of St. Thomas, was named after its author, Averroism. Averroes, the son of an Arabian physician, was born at Cordova, in the beginning of the twelfth century. It is difficult to determine his religion since he scoffed alike at Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. He is the most illustrious representative of the Moorish school of philosophy, and was remarkably well-versed in grammar, medicine, jurisprudence, philosophy and theology. He is best known as the great "Commentator" on the works of Aristotle, and his works found their way to Paris at a time when there existed a veritable craze for the study of philosophy. St. Thomas says that he was "not so much a Peripatetic as a perverter of Peripatetic philosophy." (Non tam fuit Peripateticus quam peripateticae philosophiae depravator.) In his works are to be found Rationalism, Pantheism, destruction of the human personality, and denial of the immortality of the individual soul. These errors cluster around one grand principle, viz., that all mankind has one common intellect. This hypothesis was invented by the "Commentator" to explain the existence of universal ideas as found alike in all minds. All men have the same ideas of a horse, a dog, an angel, a circle, a quadrangle, etc., and Averroes concluded from this that all men had one intellect. It would be charitable to suppose that the Parisian doctors did not see the far-reaching conclusions of this pernicious doctrine, which they embraced with the avidity of men hungry for knowledge, being blinded and infatuated with the desire of singularity. We find them teaching that after death all souls are merged in one, and thus that all distinction of reward and punishment would be impossible.

The love of novelty turned the heads of Christian philosophers, and professors of a Catholic university maintained such propositions as the following: That the will is not free; that there is but one intellect for all men; that all lower things are under the necessary influence of the heavenly bodies; that God cannot bestow immortality; that the soul corrupts; that God does not know individual things; that the acts of men are not governed by a Divine Providence, and many other equally erroneous and startling PANTHEISM. -- Amaury de Bene. -- Almaric (Amaury) de Bene (1205) publicly taught that human nature could be identified with the Divinity; that the Eternal Father became incarnate in Abraham, the Eternal Son in Mary, and the Holy Ghost in us, and that all things in reality are one because all things in reality are God. This was Averroistic pantheism. Because all things are one in the mind of God, followers of Averroes concluded that the one intellect of all men was the intellect of God, and thus the distinction between God and His creatures soon vanished.

David of Dinant. -- David of Dinant taught that God is the primary substance of all things. St. Thomas applies to this man's argument in support of his error one of the strongest expressions used in his "Summa," calling it very foolish (stultissime posuit). David taught that God and the first matter (materia prima) were identical, because since both were simple, there was nothing which could constitute a difference between them. No, says St. Thomas, they are so far apart that there could not be such a slight distinction between them as a Scholastic difference (differentia); they are entirely diverse, hence they cannot be identical. Albertus Magnus, in his old age, took up his pen to write against these pernicious doctrines, which were promptly condemned by the Church.

Decree Against Aristotle. -- Radically to extirpate these evils it was determined at a Council held at Paris in 1210 to forbid the study of Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics. The prohibition was afterwards modified by Gregory IX, but the evil had not been fully abated, and, before the end of the thirteenth century, the Parisian doctors again taught pagan errors. "Even those who did not push the abuse to such extremes," says Crevier, "altered, at least in part, the purity of the Christian dogma by interpretations more conformable to the spirit of Aristotle than of the Fathers," and it was this evil more than any other which vitiated the Christian philosophy of the thirteenth century when St. Thomas went to Paris.

Remedy for Evils. -- Contemplating this sad state of affairs in the first theological school in the world, we may well ask: What remedy did Providence apply to this great evil? And the answer comes: He sent into the world St. Thomas of Aquin, who was to regenerate philosophy and to become the Christian Aristotle. How St. Thomas accomplished the task which Providence had prepared for him and for which he was providentially prepared will be more fully explained in another article.

Light in the Darkness. -- Suffice it to say, for the present, that, with the discerning eye of a genius and of a saint, he surveyed the field, and soon determined in his own mind what course was to be pursued. First he saw that it would be impossible, even if it were desirable, to suppress the general movement in favor of deep philosophical studies, which swept over the world as irresistibly as the tide of the mighty ocean advances to the seashore.

Aristotle to be Christianized. -- In the next place, he saw that the most deplorable errors of the times sprang from reading Aristotle as he was misrepresented by the Arabian commentators; and he knew well from his master, Albert, and from the writings of Boethius and St. Isidore of Seville, that the doctrines of the Stagyrite would not necessarily make a philosopher rationalistic, Averroistic, or pantheistic. Cardinal Gonzalez, in his history of philosophy (Fr. tr., vol. II, p. 114), justly rejects the oft-repeated statement that Europe is indebted to the Arabian philosophers, and especially to Averroes, for the knowledge of Aristotle's writings. Nothing could be more false, he says; Boethius, who lived in the sixth century, St. Isidore, who lived in the sixth and part of the seventh, were well acquainted with the writings of Aristotle. Boethius, who had spent a number of years in Greece, tells us that he translated and commented upon all the works of Aristotle that came into his hands. Neither Boethius nor St. Isidore fell into any of the extravagant errors which were taught at Paris, and St. Thomas saw that the evil lay not in Aristotle but in Aristotle misunderstood and misrepresented, as he was in the writings of Averroes and other Arabian philosophers. He resolved, therefore, to purify and Christianize the philosophy of Aristotle, in order to make it what it should be, the handmaid of Christian theology. God, Who is the Author of reason as well as of revelation, by His grace and in His mercy moved St. Thomas to make this resolution when he saw the condition of philosophy in the thirteenth century.

Next Chapter V: Influence of St. Thomas on Philosophy