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Averroism, Latin


A philosophical movement originating in the 13th century among masters of the faculty of arts in the University of Paris; also called integral, radical, and heterodox aristotelianism. Its main source was the philosophy of aristotle as interpreted by averroËs.

Origins. In the early Middle Ages Aristotle's philosophy was known in western Europe chiefly through Latin translations of his minor logical works. In the second half of the 12th and the first half of the 13th century, the rest of his works were translated, decisively influencing the development of philosophy and theology. Along with the corpus aristotelicum a rich and varied Arabic philosophical and scientific literature, including some of the works of avicenna and Averroës, was also translated into Latin. Averroës's commentaries on Aristotle were so highly regarded that he was called the Commentator.

The portion of Avicenna's works known in the Christian West was translated in the 12th century, and its influence was felt in the first decades of the 13th century. The impact of Averroës's works came shortly afterward. They were translated between 1220 and 1235 and were first quoted in the 1230s and 1240s by theologians such as william of auvergne, philip the chancellor, and St. albert the great. At this time the scholastics used Averroës's works without suspecting how dangerous they could be to Christian thought. There is no indication of a Christian following of Averroës at this early date.

On March 16, 1255, a statute of the faculty of arts at Paris prescribed the teaching of the works of Aristotle (Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis 1:277). This date marks the official reception of Aristotelianism into the university. Since Aristotle's works were usually read along with Averroës's commentaries on them, it was to be expected that Averroës's influence would grow with Aristotle's.

The first criticisms of the errors of Averroës appeared shortly afterward. In 1256 St. Albert wrote his De unitate intellectus contra Averroem at the request of Pope Alexander IV. A few years later St. thomas aquinas refuted Averroës's doctrine of the oneness of the intellect in his Summa contra Gentiles (2.7376). These works were directed against Averroës's own teachings. They give no hint that he was acquiring a following among the philosophers at Paris. In 1270, however, St. Thomas directed his De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas against Parisian Averroists, especially Siger of Brabant. In the first chapter he says that "for some time now the error concerning the intellect has been implanted in many minds, originating in the statements of Averroës." The criticism by St. bonaventure of the heterodox Parisian masters of arts in 1267 and the official condemnation of the Averroists in 1270 by the bishop of Paris are conclusive evidence of the existence at this time of a Latin Averroist movement.

Principal Proponents. Not all the medieval philosophers and theologians who used and admired Averroës's commentaries can be called Averroists. Masters of arts such as adam of buckfield, roger bacon, and John Sackville used them when lecturing on Aristotle; and theologians such as St. Albert and St. Thomas found the works of Averroës helpful, though they did not subscribe to his heterodox positions. The true Averroists were those who, like Averroës, tended to identify Aristotle's philosophy with philosophy itself, and generally accepted the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle. Like Averroës, they also advocated the freedom of philosophy from the influence of religion. The doctrine of Averroës that most clearly identified a scholastic as an Averroist was the oneness of the possible intellect in all men.

The leading Averroist in the 13th century was siger of brabant, a master of arts at Paris from about 1260 to 1273. Writing in 1492, A. nifo, himself an Averroist in his youth, called Siger the originator of the Averroist school. Siger taught an Aristotelianism strongly influenced by Averroës and to a lesser extent by the neoplatonism of Avicenna. Another leading figure in the movement was boethius of sweden (Dacia). From his few works that have survived and have been edited, he is known to have been an important logician and exponent of an Aristotelianism on some points contrary to the faith. One of the oldest manuscripts containing the heterodox propositions condemned by the bishop of Paris in 1277 names him as their principal exponent. While striving to find a modus vivendi for philosophy and theology, he advocated their strict separation. He also stressed the freedom of the philosopher to teach, even if his conclusions run counter to the faith. Other names associated with the condemnation of Averroism in the 13th century are Bernier of Nivelles and Goswin of La Chapelle. Nothing is known of their doctrine.

Unedited manuscripts, some anonymous, attest to the widespread influence of heterodox Aristotelianism in the late 13th and the early 14th century. A group of commentaries on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics reveals a naturalism in ethics opposed to Christian morality. James of Douai probably wrote one of these commentaries about 1275; another was written by Giles of Orléans in the beginning of the 14th century. Both were influenced by the ethical writings of Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Sweden. James of Douai was a man of moderate views, and in his Questions on the De anima he argued against the Averroistic doctrine of the oneness of the intellect.

Main Teachings. In the late Middle Ages and in the Renaissance the Averroists were conscious of forming a distinct school of philosophy. Averroism in the 13th century had not reached this stage of self-awareness but its characteristic spirit and general positions were already apparent.

The Averroists taught that the world and all species are eternal, and consequently that there was no first man. They adopted the Greek cyclical view of history, according to which all events, ideas, and religions eternally recur. For Siger and Boethius, this was a necessary conclusion of the philosophy of nature. God acts only indirectly on the world; hence miracles are unintelligible. God, the primary efficient cause, produced the world through intermediary separate substances, according to Siger of Brabant, reflecting the views of Avicenna; or God is only the final cause of the world, according to John of Jandun, following Averroës. God and all other celestial causes act on the world with necessity; contingency and indetermination are found only in the sublunar world, owing to the presence of matter. God's knowledge does not directly extend to contingent events.

Perhaps the most distinctive Averroistic tenet was the oneness of the possible intellect for the whole human race. This distinguishes Averroism from Avicennism, according to which the agent intellect is one for all men but each man possesses his own possible intellect. For the Averroists, the possible intellect is a separate substance that uses the sense faculties of individual men, and they can be said to understand insofar as their powers cooperate in the act of knowing. Since the individual does not possess his own intellective soul, human reason cannot demonstrate personal immortality. The ultimate end of man, or happiness, is in the present life. The highest felicity of man consists in philosophical contemplation.

The Latin Averroists did not deny their Christian faith, even though they taught doctrines contrary to it in their philosophy. In their view, the faith is true because it rests on the supernatural light of revelation. The conclusions of reason are less certain, being known by the inferior light of the human intellect. Hence a conclusion can be probable, or even necessary, in philosophy, while contradicting a revealed truth. To the theologians this was tantamount to a double truth, one for philosophy and another contradictory one for faith. The Latin Averroists themselves carefully avoided proposing a double truth. In cases of conflict between reason and faith, they invariably placed truth on the side of faith. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know whether this was done sincerely or as a cloak for unbelief (see double truth, theory of).

Theological Reaction. Latin Averroism was immediately opposed by the theologians. The Franciscan school, headed by St. Bonaventure, took the lead in attacking the Aristotelians who, mainly under the influence of Averroës, taught doctrines contrary to the faith. In his commentary on the Sentences (c. 1250), St. Bonaventure had argued against Aristotelian doctrines such as the eternity of the world. Later, in his Collationes de decem praeceptis (1267), he criticized Parisian masters who erroneously taught that the world is eternal, that there is only one intellect in all men, and that a mortal being cannot attain immortality. The following year, in his De donis Spiritus Sancti, he opposed an even longer list of errors taught by the philosophers at Paris. His most vigorous polemic against Aristotle and his medieval followers is in the Collationes in Hexaemeron (1273). The threat of Greek and Arabian philosophy to the faith was clearly growing stronger at this time.

In 1270 St. Thomas wrote the De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas in opposition to the masters in the Parisian faculty of arts who taught the Averroistic doctrine of the unity of the intellect. This treatise seems to have been the first to use the term Averroists. In the next few centuries the term was widely used. St. Thomas wrote his own commentaries on Aristotle, using the new and more accurate translations of his works by william of moerbeke, to make available an Aristotelianism unadulterated by Arabian interpretations.

In 1270 giles of rome exposed the errors of Aristotle, Avicenna, Averroës, and other non-Christian philosophers in his De erroribus philosophorum, and in his De plurificatione intellectus possibilis (c. 127275) he launched a direct attack on Averroism, based mainly on St. Thomas. About the same time giles of lessines sent St. Albert in Cologne a list of 15 propositions "taught by the most eminent masters in the schools of Paris." St. Albert replied in a treatise entitled De quindecim problematibus, criticizing the teaching of the Aristotelian masters at Paris as contrary not only to theology but also to sound philosophy.

Ecclesiastical Condemnations. The ecclesiastical authorities also tried to stem the rising tide of Aristotelian naturalism and Averroism. In 1270 the Bishop of Paris, Étienne tempier, condemned 13 propositions traceable to Aristotle as interpreted by Averroës and his followers at Paris, and he excommunicated those who knowingly taught them. The condemned errors included the oneness of the intellect, the eternity of the world and the human species, the mortality of the human soul, the denial of providence and free will, and the necessitating influence of the heavenly bodies on the sublunar world.

On Jan. 18, 1277, Pope John XXI asked Tempier to inform him of the errors taught at Paris and of the names of the masters who taught them. No report of the bishop to the pope is extant. On March 7, 1277, the bishop, seemingly on his own authority, condemned 219 propositions, all of which were linked with philosophical naturalism and Aristotelianism. Among the condemned propositions were some upheld by St. Thomas. No written source has been discovered for some of the proscribed theses, e.g., that the Christian religion hinders education, that this religion like others contains errors, and that theology rests on myths. Other theses exalt philosophy at the expense of faith, e.g., that there is no state superior to that of the philosopher. This was taught by Boethius of Sweden. Some propositions denied the Christian moral life and ultimate end of man. In the prologue to the condemnation the bishop censured those "who say that these things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic faith, as though there were two contrary truths " (Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis 1:543). On March 18, 1277, robert kilwardby, Archbishop of Canterbury, condemned a similar list of 30 propositions.

Later Averroism. After the condemnations, Averroism continued to be attacked by theologians, such as Raymond lull, who wrote several treatises against Averroës and his followers. Despite these criticisms, Averroism remained alive at Paris and spread to England and Italy.

The outstanding Averroist in Paris in the early 14th century was john of jandun, the self-styled "ape of Averroës." Jandun praised Averroës as the "most perfect and glorious friend and defender of philosophical truth." Associated with him at Paris was marsilius of padua. Both Marsilius and John of Jandun were adversaries of the pope and, with william of ockham, took refuge with the Emperor Louis of Bavaria. Marsilius's Defensor pacis is an example of political Averroism, advocating the separation of Church and State and the subordination of the former to the latter.

The Englishman john baconthorp was called "the prince of the Averroists" during the Renaissance, though in fact he accepted none of the heterodox teachings of Averroës. He wrote outstanding and somewhat benign commentaries on Aristotle and Averroës that won him the acclaim of Renaissance Averroists. Another 14th-century Englishman, thomas of wilton, was more favorable to Averroism. A master of arts and theology at Paris and chancellor of St. Paul's in London, Thomas believed that human reason left to itself cannot refute the doctrine of Averroës.

Through petrarch, a violent anti-Averroist, it is known that Averroism reached Italy in the early 14th century, accompanied by skepticism in religion. Among the radical Italian Averroists was Anthony of Parma, a master of arts and famous doctor and philosopher of nature. Averroistic Aristotelianism was represented at Bologna by Thaddaeus of Parma and Angelo of Arezzo. Angelo's Averroism is evident even in his logical treatises. A. Maier has recently added two more names to the list of Bolognese Averroists, Matthew of Gubbio and Anselm of Como.

From Bologna Averroism made its way to Padua and Venice, where its main representatives were Paolo veneto, Gaetano da Thiene (see cajetan, st.), Alexander Achillini (14631512), and Nicoletto Vernia (142099). Pietro pomponazzi was a product of Paduan Averroism. Though he sharply criticized the Averroist doctrine of the soul in his De immortalitate animae, the spirit of Averroism is reflected in his naturalism and in his separation of faith and reason.

Appreciation. Latin Averroism was a serious danger to the Church because it set reason in conflict with faith. According to Christian tradition, as expressed by the Fathers of the Church and the great scholastic theologians, natural knowledge cannot be contrary to divine revelation because God is the source of both (see St. Thomas, C. gent. 1.7). Although the Latin Averroists wished to exalt reason and philosophy, in fact they degraded them by opposing them to the truth of faith. They misunderstood the nature of philosophy, making it an inquiry into the thought of the great philosophers of the past, especially Aristotle, rather than an investigation of reality. Centered as it was on the texts of Aristotle and his commentators, Latin Averroism was one of the most pedantic and unprogressive philosophical movements in the Middle Ages. It disappeared with the eclipse of Aristotelianism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

See Also: arabian philosophy

Bibliography: e. renan, Averroès et l'averroïsme (2d ed. Paris 1860). p. f. mandonnet, Siger de Brabant et l'averroïsme latin au XIII e siècle, 2 v. (Les Philosophes belges 67; 2d ed. Louvain 190811). f. van steenberghen, Siger de Brabant d'après ses oeuvres inédites, 2 v. (ibid. 1213; Louvain 193142); Aristotle in the West, tr. l. johnston (Louvain 1955). m. grabmann, Der lateinische Averroismus des 13. Jahrhunderts und seine Stellung zur christlichen Weltanschauung (Munich 1931); Mittelalterliches Geistesleben, v.2 (Munich 1936). r. de vaux, "La première entrée d'Averroès chez les Latins," Revue des sciences philsophiques et théologiques 22 (1933) 193245. r. a. gauthier, "Trois commentaires averroistes sur l'Ethique à Nicomaque," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 2223 (194748) 187336. a. maier, An der Grenze von Scholastik und Naturwissenschaft (Essen 1943; 2d ed. Rome 1952); Die Vorläufer Galileis im 14. Jahrhundert (Rome 1949). b. nardi, Sigieri di Brabante nel pensiero del Rinascimento italiano (Rome 1945); Saggi sull' Aristotelismo Padovano dal secolo XIV al XVI (Florence 1958). É. h. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955). h. ley, Studie zur Geschichte des Materialismus im Mittelalter (Berlin 1957).

[a. maurer]

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