Henry of Ghent

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Secular scholastic philosopher and theologian, known as Doctor solemnis and Summus doctorum; b. Ghent, c. 1217; d. Tournai, June 29, 1293. After early studies at the cathedral school of Tournai, he studied arts at Paris, then theology, probably under william of auvergne and Geoffrey of Bar. As regent master in theology, he lectured at Paris from 1276 to 1292, becoming the most illustrious teacher in the last quarter of the century. Although he was canon of Tournai from 1267, archdeacon of Bruges in 1276 and of Tournai in 1278, he was intimately connected with affairs of the university (see paris, university of). He actively supported the condemnation of Latin averroism in 1277, joined other masters in opposing their chancellor, Philip of Thory, in 1284, and was so violent an opponent of the mendicant orders between 1282 and 1290 that he was strongly reprimanded by the future boniface viii on Nov. 29, 1290. He attended the Council of Lyons in 1274 and took an active part in the synods of Sens, Montpellier, Cologne, and Compiègne. His contemporaries sometimes referred to him under the titles of Doctor reverendus and Doctor digressivus.

Principal Works. Between 1276 and 1292, Henry held both ordinary disputations and disputations de quolibet that were later published as his major contributions to theology. The ordinary disputations were published as a Summa theologiae (ed. Paris 1520; Ferrara 1646, etc.) in three parts. Although the prologue announced a complete course in theology dealing equally with God and creatures, the three parts deal exclusively with the nature of theological knowledge (arts. 120), the One God (arts. 2152), and the Trinity (arts. 5375). Consequently his Summa cannot be compared with the more complete and influential Summa theologiae of St. thomas aquinas. The 15 Quodlibeta, each consisting of many varied questions posed by students, were held during Advent and Lent from 1276 to 1292 (ed. Paris 1518; Venice 1613, etc.). Henry also wrote questions on the Metaphysics of aristotle and a commentary on the Physics (1278). Of the biblical lectures he was obliged to give as master, only an exposition of the first chapter of Genesis is known. Apart from sermons and a few treatises, other works listed by P. Glorieux are doubtful or spurious.

Historical Heritage. Henry was an independent thinker in the Augustinian tradition, equally opposed to the Christian Aristotelianism of St. Thomas Aquinas and to the Averroist Aristotelianism of siger of brabant. After the condemnation of Latin Averroism in 1277, Christian thinkers were ready for a new type of platonism and Augustinianism that would replace thomism. Consequently, in the last quarter of the 13th century there were at least two Augustinian approaches in Christian thought: the older Platonic Augustinianism of the Franciscan school and the new Avicennian Augustinianism developed by secular masters, notably, by Henry of Ghent. His historical heritage was, therefore, mainly Platonic, Augustinian, and Avicennian. His philosophy might be described as a Christian Avicennism wherein the fatalistic emanationism of Avicenna was replaced by the Christian concept of free creation in time.

Viewing the relation of faith and reason as distinct but harmonious, Henry did not disagree with St. Thomas essentially on this point. However, for him the notion of divine omnipotence occupies the central position in theology, a position it was to retain, in opposition to Thomistic theology, throughout the 14th century.

Essential Doctrines. Explaining the process of knowledge, Henry combined Aristotelian abstraction with Augustinian reflection and illumination. In knowing physical realities, the intellect grasps concrete, existing things, while a higher knowledge reaches the world of possible essences, in themselves indifferent to existence, and of eternal truths that govern them, both being the object of metaphysical knowledge. Possible essences he divided into three primary genera: substance, quality, and quantity; these william of ockham later reduced to two by identifying quantity with material substance. To substance belongs esse in se; to quantity and quality belongs esse in alio. These may also have an esse ad aliud, giving rise, in human thought, to relation and the other six categories (sex principia ). Thus, the Aristotelian predicaments are no longer categories of being, but classification of concepts, later to be developed by nominalism. At the root of Henry's thought is a misconception of analogy that scotism later developed as the univocity of being.

Between real and rational distinctions, Henry introduced a distinctio intentionalis to account for essential components, such as animality and rationality in the essence man. This was appropriated by duns scotus as a distinctio formalis and extended to the whole realm of being.

For Henry, divine causality is exercised in two stages: (1) from all eternity God produced the exemplar ideas, or possible essences (ideata ) by which His essence may be imitated in various esse essentiae, (2) in time, by a free act of will, God decided to give some of these essences actual existence (esse existentiae ). Thus possible essences proceed from God by an eternal and necessary emanation, as Avicenna taught, while actual existence is a free creation de novo, as Christianity teaches. Henry's contemporaries and successors found this doctrine a threat to the Christian concept of creation ex nihilo. While he tried to preserve divine omnipotence in the creation of existents, he succumbed to neoplatonism and Avicennism in the explanation of essences.

As all Neoplatonic philosophers, Henry was unable to resolve the duality between ideas and individual reality. Unique among scholastic thinkers, he maintained that there are no divine ideas of individuals, but only of species. Thus metaphysics, which is the science of universal ideas and possible essences, can never reach the individual. Concrete individuals, for him, are known only by the senses and by the intellect working with the data of sense; but this "physical knowledge" is not metaphysics. No sincere truth can be expected from sense knowledge alone, but it can be expected from reason judging sense knowledge in the pure light of eternal truth and divine illumination. Henry doubted that man can know truth about anything by his own natural powers alone and without some special divine illumination; at least such truths could not be called "science." Thus, while the rational soul is created to know the rules of eternal truth, man cannot attain the pure truth naturally by his natural powers (ex puris naturalibus naturaliter ), but must receive them from God, who freely offers Himself to whom He wills (Sum. theol. 1.1.2).

For Henry, the distinction between essence and existence is not a real one, since existence is not a thing (aliqua res ) added to the essence of a creature (Quodl. 1.9). However, since an essence as such is something other than an existing essence, their distinction is not purely mental (ratione ), but also intentional (intentione ).

In natural philosophy, Henry did not conceive primary matter as a pure potentiality, but as a nature and a substance having its capacity for form from God (Quodl. 1.10). The weak and potential being (esse ) of matter is not derived from form, but from God, who has a specific idea (propriam ideam ) of it in His mind. Henry insisted on the unicity of form in all creatures other than man (Quodl. 4.13). A single natural generation terminates in only one form; yet the rational soul is not the term of generation, but of creation. Therefore the term of human generation is a corporeal form (forma corporeitatis ) distinct from the rational form created by God.

Widely read, attacked, and defended, Henry had considerable influence on thinkers from the 14th to the 18th centuries, particularly on Platonists who wanted an alternative to Thomism. Though strongly attacked by Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, james of metz, and durandus of saint-pourÇain, he unmistakably influenced their thought. In the 16th century, the Order of Servites, finding itself without an official doctor, thought that Henry had been a Servite and adopted him. This prompted the numerous editions of his major works.

Bibliography: j. paulus, Henri de Gand: Essai sur les tendances de sa métaphysique (Paris 1938); "Les Disputes d'Henri de Gand et de Gilles de Rome sur la distinction de l'essence et de l'existence," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyenâge 1517 (194042) 323358. a. maurer, "Henry of Ghent and the Unity of Man," Mediaeval Studies 10 (1948) 120. r. j. teske. Quodlibetal Questions on Free Will (Milwaukee 1993). w. vanhamel, ed. Henry of Ghent: Proceedings of the International Colloquium on the Occasion of the 700th Anniversary of his Death (1293) (Leuven 1996).

[j. paulus]