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Liber de Causis


The Liber de Causis (or Liber Aristotelis de Expositione Bonitatis Purae; Book of Causes) is a Latin translation of an Arabic work that is derived from the "Elements of Theology" of Proclus (fifth century CE). The author of the Arabic work is unknown; some scholars consider it the twelfth-century composition of David the Jew (Abraham ibn Daud or Avendeath) at Toledo, while others believe it an eighth- or ninth-century product of a school of Neoplatonism in the Near East, possibly stemming from a still earlier Syriac source.

At least one Latin translation appeared before 1187, probably the product of the Toledan translator, Gerard of Cremona. The work then came to be ascribed variously to David, al-Fārābī, or Aristotle. By 1255 the Parisian Faculty of Arts, considering it a work of Aristotle, included it in the curriculum.

Among the many doctrines contained in the 211 chapters, or Propositions, of Proclus's "Elements of Theology," the following should be noted. Proclus uses the term theology to mean Neoplatonic metaphysics. The latter describes the necessary procession of the world, or being, from its ultimate origins. The most important of these originative principles are: first, the gods; second, the pure spirits, or Intelligences; third, souls. The supreme god, or the One, is not describable as "being," yet it is the universal cause of every being. Before producing Intelligences, the One effects a pair of opposite principles, Limit and Infinity, and then a series of subordinate gods, or "henads," which have the causal function of Plato's Forms. The immediate effect of each principle, whether the latter be a god, a spirit, or a soul, is an attribute that is both similar to, and yet more specific than, its source. The particularity of the effect is due to its recipient. Consequently, it is difficult for the reader to see how the One can produce all things without the cooperation of its subordinates.

The thirty-two propositions of the Liber de Causis summarize this material with the following changes: (1) the multitude of deities (Limit, Infinity, and henads) is eliminated and divinity is reserved to the One alone; (2) the first cause is described as "being" and its causality as "creation." These changes suggest that the Neoplatonic author was either Jewish, Islamic, or Christian. Nevertheless, because the causes of Proclus act solely from the necessity of their natures and are mutually interdependent, it is questionable whether the Liber de Causis actually presents a monotheistic theory of free creation.

After reading William of Moerbecke's Latin translation of the "Elements of Theology" (Elementatio Theologica, 1268), St. Thomas Aquinas noticed for the first time that the Liber de Causis was not a work of Aristotle, but a modification of Proclus. Unfortunately, this discovery had to be made again during the Renaissance.

The doctrines in the Liber de Causis influenced many thinkers, among them: William of Auvergne, Roger Bacon, Albert the Great, John Duns Scotus, and Meister Eckhart.

See also Albert the Great; al-Fārābī; Aristotle; Bacon, Roger; Duns Scotus, John; Eckhart, Meister; Neoplatonism; Proclus; Renaissance; Thomas Aquinas, St.; William of Auvergne.



Bardenhewer, Otto. Die pseudo-aristotelische Schrift über das reine Gute, bekannt unter dem Namen Liber de Causis. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1882.

Steele, Robert. Opera Hactenus Inedita Rogeri Baconi. Fasc. 102, "Questiones supra Librum de Causis. " Oxford and London: Clarendon Press, 1935.

on the liber de causis

Anawati, Georges C. "Prolégomènes à une nouvelle édition du De Causis arabe (Kitāb al-hayr al-ma)." Mélanges Louis Massignon 1 (1956): 73110.

Doresse, J. "Les sources du Liber de Causis. " Revue de l'histoire des religions 13 (1946): 234238.

Gilson, Étienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 236237. New York: Random House, 1955.

Michael W. Strasser (1967)

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