Sylvester of Ferrara, Francis (c. 1474–1528)

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(c. 14741528)

Francis Sylvester of Ferrara, a leading Thomistic commentator, sometimes listed under Francis, sometimes under his family name Silvestri, and cited in the Latin literature as Ferrariensis, was born in Ferrara, Italy. He entered the Dominican order in 1488, and took his magistrate in theology at Bologna in 1507. He later taught philosophy and theology at Bologna and other cities in northern Italy. Sylvester's "Commentary on Summa Contra Gentiles " has been printed with the definitive edition of that work of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Leonine edition of Opera Omnia S. Thomae (Vols. XIIIXV, Rome, 19181926). Among his other philosophical writings are two commentaries on Aristotle: Annotationes in Libros Posteriorum (Venice, 1535), and Quaestionum Libri de Anima (Venice, 1535).

A critic of Scotist and Ockhamist thought, Sylvester of Ferrara held some highly personal views, modifying Thomism in directions different from those of his contemporary Cajetan. In psychology and epistemology, Sylvester taught a theory of intellectual abstraction by compresence in which the actual object of understanding is quite different from the intelligible determinant that is impressed on the possible intellect (species impressa is not the intelligibile ). The agent intellect performs two distinct actions, one on the phantasm and the other on the possible intellect. He modified Thomas's view that the proper object of the understanding is the universalized nature of sensible things, by teaching that the possible intellect forms a proper concept of the singular. In metaphysics, he also modified Thomism, saying that pure essencesfor example, the natures of angelsmay be multiplied numerically in existence, although how this is done is unknown. Concerning the individuation of bodies, Sylvester held that this is accomplished by matter as marked by definite dimensions (materia signata quantitate determinata ).

Perhaps Sylvester is best known for his explanation of metaphysical analogy as that general characteristic of beings whereby they all somewhat resemble each other and yet are different. Contrary to the theory of Cajetan that all analogy reduces to that of proportionality, Sylvester argued that in every instance of analogy there is a first analogate which determines the meaning of the other analogates (analogia unius ad alterum ). In endeavoring to harmonize various texts of Thomas, Sylvester may have minimized the essential character of analogy, moving in the direction of attribution and metaphor.

Among twentieth-century followers of Sylvester's theory of analogy are such important Thomists as F. A. Blanche, J. M. Ramirez, and N. Balthasar.


For a concordance to the Latin text of the Commentary on Summa Contra Gentiles, use Indices in Commentariis Caietani et Ferrariensis, in Vol. XVI of the Leonine edition of Opera S. Thomae (Rome, 1948). See also G. P. Klubertanz, St. Thomas Aquinas on Analogy (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1960), pp. 10ff., and F. A. Blanche, "Surle Sens de quelques locutions concernant l'analogie," in Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 10 (1921): 5259 and 169193.

Vernon J. Bourke (1967)