Robert Kilwardby

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Cardinal, Dominican theologian; b. Leicestershire, England, c. 1215; d. Viterbo, Italy, Sept. 10, 1279. As a student (c. 1231) and later a master in arts at Paris (c. 1237c. 1245), just as the new Aristotelian learning invaded the university, Kilwardby gained a notable reputation as grammarian, logician, and author of philosophical commentaries. Before 1250 he became a Dominican, probably in England, and studied theology at Oxford. Asked to compose a summary of the origin, nature, and extent of all human sciences for beginners, he wrote De ortu scientiarum, which is extant in many manuscripts. Except for this philosophical work, he dedicated himself entirely to the sacred sciences. After lecturing on the Sentences (125254) and the Bible, he became master in theology in 1256, fulfilling his office as regent until 1261. To encourage serious study of patristic sources, he painstakingly composed alphabetical indices (tabulae ), analytical indices (concordantiae ), and chapter summaries (intentiones ) of important patristic writings.

Administrative Positions. In 1261 he was elected provincial of the English Dominicans "because of his sanctity and observance of the rule." During his provincialate, he eschewed political involvements and devoted himself entirely to his order, establishing at least seven new priories. Having governed the province "most wisely" for 12 years, he was absolved from office by the general chapter of the order in 1272 with the request that he not be reelected immediately. However, his province did reelect him that same year at Northampton, but this term lasted only a few months. Appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Gregory X on Oct. 11, 1272, he was consecrated by William Button, Bishop of Bath and Wells, on Feb. 26, 1273, and enthroned on September 17. Even as archbishop he avoided politics, preferring to be a pastor of souls. In 1273 he called the first full diocesan synod to plan ecclesiastical reform. In 1274 he attended the Council of Lyons, and in his metropolitan visitations he conscientiously enforced its decrees of reform. In his first visitation of Oxford (1276), he issued beneficial injunctions for Merton College, founded two years before by his friend walter of merton.

Condemnation of Thomism. The incident for which he is best known took place during his second visit to Oxford. On March 18, 1277, just 11 days after tempier condemned 219 theses at Paris, he issued a condemnation of 30 propositions in grammar, logic, and natural science, some of which had been maintained by thomas aqui nas. Defending his action against criticism of his confrere Peter of Conflans, archbishop of Corinth, he wrote that he did not intend to declare the propositions heretical, but only to prevent their being taught, because "some of them are philosophically at variance with truth, since some are close to intolerable error, and others patently iniquitous, being repugnant to the Catholic faith" [Denifle-Ehrle Arch 5 (1889) 614]. Of the 16 propositions in natural philosophy, five bear directly on the Thomistic doctrine of unicity of substantial form in natural bodies, and six presuppose or follow from it. To Kilwardby the new view was "fantastic," "false and impossible," and "repugnant to the Catholic faith." What he imagined to be consequences of the Thomistic doctrine were certainly contrary to faith; hence he aimed at suppressing the doctrine entirely.

On April 4, 1278, he was appointed cardinal bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina. By February 1279 he arrived in Rome, but on September 10 he died at Viterbo, where he was buried in the church of his Order. An outstanding theologian, he saw an incompatibility between certain fundamental views of pagan aristotelianism and the Christian platonism of the Fathers. Although he knew and taught the works of Aristotle, he interpreted them under the Platonizing influence of avicenna, avice bron, and St. augustine. Consequently he could view only with grave concern the innovations of albert the great and Thomas Aquinas.

Bibliography: É. h. gilson, A History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955) 355359, 703705. j. quÉtif and j. Échard, Scriptores ordinis praedicatorum (New York 1959) 1.1:374380. e. m. f. sommer-seckendorff, Studies in the Life of Robert Kilwardby, O.P. (Rome 1937). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 (Oxford 195759) 2:105152. r. schenk, "Christ, Christianity, and Non-Christian Religions" Christ among the Medieval Dominicans, ed. k. emery, jr. and j. p. wawrykow (Notre Dame 1998).

[j. a. weisheipl]