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Theodoric of Chartres


Theodoric of Chartres (or Thierry of Chartres) was a twelfth-century philosopher and younger brother of Bernard of Chartres. He appears first as a master in 1121, when he spoke in support of Peter Abelard at the latter's trial for heresy at Soissons. In the 1130s he was teaching the arts in Paris, and in 1142 he became chancellor at Chartres. He attended the trial of Gilbert of Poitiers at Rheims in 1148 and shortly afterward became a monk. The date of his death is unknown.

Theodoric's rhetorical teaching survives in a commentary on Cicero's De Inventione. Three versions of his exposition of Boethius's De Trinitate and a fragmentary exposition of Boethius's De Hebdomadibus are also extant, as is a commentary on the beginning of the book of Genesis (the De Sex Dierum Operibus ). In the last-named work Theodoric's Platonizing cosmology and his mathematical bent found their expression. In his Heptateuch, a bulky collection of the sources for each of the seven liberal arts, Theodoric revealed his fidelity to the ancients. Grammar was represented by the works of Donatus and Priscian, rhetoric by Cicero, astronomy by Ptolemy; but the place of honor went to Boethius for his writings on music, arithmetic, geometry, and, especially, dialectic. Theodoric reproduced Boethius's translations and commentaries on the whole of Aristotle's Organon, with the exception of the Posterior Analytics.

Theodoric regarded the arts as the indispensable instrument of philosophy, which consisted of physics, mathematics, and theology. He based his Trinitarian speculation upon arithmetic, applying the Pythagorean-Platonic dialectic of unity-multiplicity to St. Augustine's dictum that the Father is unity, the Son equality, and the Spirit the agreement of unity and equality. Unity can only engender its equality; both are one substance but have different properties and are called persons by the theologians. Theodoric's argument emphasized the unity of the Trinity but made difficult a numerical distinction between the divine persons. The dialectic of unity-multiplicity was perhaps more appropriately used to explain the relationship of the Creator to creation. Unity is God and is immutable and eternal; the principle of multiplicity is the domain of creation. Unity is the forma essendi of creatures, their unique and entire being, totally and essentially omnipresent. Things are not pantheistically identified with the One; multiplicity is distinct from, and subordinate to, unity. The divine unity in an ineffable way absorbs the forms of all beings in itself, but only images of these forms are joined to matter. Theodoric's thought here moves close to his brother's theory of native forms.

Although Theodoric stressed the universal causality and omnipresence of the Creator, he presented creation as an ordered system of secondary causes. Matter was created by God from nothing, but the fashioning of the world out of the four elements occurred by the action of the circular motion of heaven and of the diffusion of heat in the underlying elements. The four elements of matter (which Genesis collectively designates by the names of heaven and earth) arranged themselves into four concentric spheres. The heaven of air and fire enveloped the water and Earth and, being supremely light, tended to move by turning about. Fire became ardent and illumined the air and heated the water, vaporizing it to reveal islands on Earth and to incubate life in the water and on land. The mechanistic character of this explanation is supplemented by a recognition of the role of spirit, which fills and animates the world. Through the "seminal reasons" introduced by God into creation, nature is capable of its own continuation after the completion of the work of six days. Theodoric's doctrine of creation represents an adventurous application of the teachings of the Platonic Timaeus to the biblical account.

Theodoric was a bold speculator, molded by and helping to mold the Platonic tradition of Latin Christendom. He seems also to have been the first medieval schoolman to have commented on the recently rediscovered Prior Analytics and Sophistic Refutations of Aristotle. Moreover, it was to him that Hermann of Carinthia sent his translation of Ptolemy's Planisphere, just as Bernard of Tours dedicated his De Mundi Universitate to Theodoric. Other disciples and admirers included Clarembald of Arras and John of Salisbury and, in the fifteenth century, Nicholas of Cusa.

See also Abelard, Peter; Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Bernard of Chartres; Bernard of Tours; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Gilbert of Poitiers; John of Salisbury; Matter; Medieval Philosophy; Nicholas of Cusa; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition.


Commentary and text of works by Theodoric are De Septem Diebus et Sex Operum Distinctionibus, edited by N. M. Haring, in "The Creation and Creator of the World According to Thierry of Chartres and Clarenbaldus of Arras," in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 22 (1955): 137216; and the following additional articles by Haring: "The Lectures of Thierry of Chartres on Boethius' De Trinitate, " in Archives 25 (1958): 113226; "A Commentary on Boethius' De Trinitate by Thierry of Chartres," in Archives 23 (1956): 257325; and "Two Commentaries on Boethius (De Trinitate and De Hebdomadibus ) by Thierry of Chartres," in Archives 27 (1960): 65136.

Extracts of Theodoric's commentary on Cicero's De Inventione were edited by P. Thomas, "Un commentaire du moyen âge sur la rhétorique de Cicéron," in Mélanges Charles Graux (Paris, 1884), pp. 4145; by W. H. D. Suringar, Historia Critica Scholiastarum Latinorum, Vol. I (Leiden, 1834), pp. 213252; and by R. Ellis, "Petronianum," in Journal of Philology 9 (1880): 61.

On the above extracts see P. Delhaye, "L'enseignement de la philosophie morale au XIIe siècle," in Mediaeval Studies 11 (1949): 7799, Appendix C, 9799; and F. Masai, "Extraits du commentaire de Thierry de Chartres au De Inventione de Cicéron," in Scriptorium 5 (1951): 117120, 308309. There is an edition of the prologue to the Heptateuch by E. Jeauneau in Mediaeval Studies 16 (1954): 171175; there is a summary of the contents of the prologue in A. Clerval, Les écoles de Chartres (Paris, 1895), pp. 220240.

A biography of Theodoric is A. Vernet, "Une épitaphe inédite de Thierry de Chartres," in Receuil de travaux offerts à M. Clovis Brunel, 2 vols. (Paris, 1955), Vol. II, pp. 660667.

Theodoric's doctrines are discussed in Étienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (London, 1955), pp. 145148; J. M. Parent, La doctrine de la création dans l'école de Chartres (Paris and Ottawa, 1958), passim; and W. Jansen, Der Kommentar des Clarenbaldus von Arras zu Boethius "De Trinitate" (Breslau, 1926), passim.

David Luscombe (1967)

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