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Thierry of Chartres


Also known as Magister Theodoricus Carnotensis

(b. Brittany, France, last quarter of the eleventh century; d. ca. 1155)

philosophy, theology.

As early as 1121 Thierry is believed to have taught at the cathedral school of Chartres, together with his brother Bernard, who was acting as chancellor (1119–1126). In 1127 he is recorded as archdeacon of Dreux, near Chartres, and before 1134 he is known to have taught in Paris, where Adalbert, later archbishop of Mainz (1137–1141), studied rhetoric, grammar, and logic under him. Among his students in Paris were also Master Bernard the Breton, later bishop of Quimper (1159–1167), the grammarian Master Peter Helias of Poitiers, Master Ivo of Chartres, Archbishop William of Tyre (1175–1185), John of Salisbury, later bishop of Chartres (1176–1180), and Master Clarembald, archdeacon of Arras.

Although Thierry’s fame was based mainly on his courses on the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric), he is believed to have taught mathematics with great success. In fact, he is considered to have introduced the use of the rota or zero into European mathematics. A Tractatus de rebus universalibus, now lost, was dedicated to “Master Thierry.” Bernard Silvestre dedicated his Cosmographia “to the most famous teacher, Thierry.” A translation from Arabic into Latin of Ptolemy’s Planisphaerium, made in Toulouse in 1144, is dedicated to “Thierry, the Platonist.” An epitaph edited by A. Vernet, which celebrates Thierry as “a worthy successor of Aristotle,” reveals that he was the first Latin scholar to comment on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and Sophistici Elenchi.

In the 1130’s Thierry began to teach in Paris. He was among the masters who attended the papal consistory at Reims in 1148, where the orthodoxy of Gilbert, bishop of Poitiers, was examined. About the same time, Thierry and Master Gerland of Besançon were guests of Archbishop Albero of Trier. At a later date Thierry seems to have returned to Chartres, for the death roll of Chartres cathedral calls him “chancellor and archdeacon of Notre-Dame [of Chartres].” He bequeathed to the cathedral his Library of the Seven Liberal Arts, called Eptatheucon (destroyed by fire in 1944, preserved on film), Justinian’s Institutes, Novellae, and Digest, and forty-five other books. A. Vernet maintains that Thierry retired (ca. 1155) to a Cistercian monastery to die and be buried in a monk’s habit.

Today Thierry is probably best known for his short commentary on the introductory chapters of Genesis, the Tractatus de sex dierum operibus, in the first part of which he explains the unfolding of the universe on the basis of physical laws and provides an analysis of the Biblical text. In the second part he calls upon the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy) to lead him to the knowledge of the creator of the universe.

According to Thierry, there are four causes that account for the existence of the universe: (1) God as efficient, (2) His wisdom as formal, (3) His goodness as final, and (4) the four elements (fire, air, water, earth) as material cause created by God “at the beginning” out of nothing. The first three causes reflect the Trinity, for the efficient cause is the Father, the formal cause the Son, and the final cause the Holy Spirit. The four elements were created in a single moment. When Scripture speaks of six days for the creation, we many interpret a natural day as the time in which one whole rotation of the sky, from sunrise to sunrise, is completed or as the period required for the illumination of the air all across the sky.

Thierry held that, once created, the heaven could not stand still because of its extreme lightness. Enveloping all things, it could not move forward from place to place but was bound to rotate in a circular motion. The highest and lightest element, fire, produced both light and heat. The second element, air, conveyed the heat to the third element, water, and by warming it suspended a mass of waters, called firmament, above the air as high as the region of the moon. As a result of this removal of water, the fourth element, earth, appeared in the form of islands. Because of the heat, the earth then conceived the power of producing plants and trees. Acting on the mass of waters suspended in the sky, the heat caused the stellar bodies to be formed, for all stars are made of water and are still nourished on moisture. Because of the greater intensity of heat caused by the stars, the water on earth began to produce such things as water animals and birds. Then earth, too, conceived the power of generating animals–among which was man, made in the image and likeness of God.

All this took place in successive steps during the first six rotations of the heaven. To regulate the orderly succession of time, the various seasons and climates, and the normal process of procreation, the Creator implanted “seminal causes” in the elements. Thierry held that, in addition, a divine power, called the world soul, presides and rules over all matter so as to give it form and order.


I. original works Thierry’s Eptatheucon is still unpublished. A fragment of his commentary on Cicero’s De inventione has been edited by W. H. D. Suringar in Historia critica scholiastarum RatinorumI (Leiden, 1834), 213–252. The latest edition of Thierry’s Tractatus de sex dierum operibus is found in Nikolaus M. Häring, ed., Commentaries on Boethius by Thierry of Chartres and His School (Toronto, 1971), 555–575. An analysis is given in N. M. Häring, “The Creation and Creator of the World According to Thierry of Chartres and Clarembald of Arras,” in Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littÉraire du moyen âge,22 (1955), 137–216, with text edition. Commentaries by Thierry and his school on the Theological Tractates of Boethius have been edited by N. M. Häring, Commentaries on Boethius, 57–528.

II. Secondary Literature. A. Vernet, “Une Épitaphe inÉdite de Thierry de Chartes,” in Recueil de travaux offerts à M. Clovis Brunel,2 (1955), 660–670; E. Jeauneau, “Simples notes sur la cosmologies de Thierry de Chartres,” in Sophia, 23 (1955), 172–183; and “MathÉmatiques et trinitÉ chez Thierry de Chartres,” in Paul Wilpert, Miscellanea mediaevalia, 2 (Berlin, 1963), 289–295; and “Note sur l’École de Chartres,” in Studi medievali, 3rd ser., V , 2 (1964), 1–45; F. Brunner, “Creatio numerorum, rerum est creatio,” in MÉlanges offerts à RenÉ Crozet (Poitiers, 1966), 719–725.

Nikolaus M. HÄring

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