Aquinas and Aristotle


Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones de duodecim quodlibet (Twelve Questions on Various Subjects), Title Page. 

The teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotlea pioneering figure in the study of logic and the scienceswere central to Thomas Aquinas’ approach to philosophy. The teachings of classical philosophers and academics such as Aristotle, which were lost to Western Europe during the Dark Ages, had been preserved by the scholars of the Umayyad and Abbasid Islamic caliphates of the Middle East. These works were not merely copied and translated; scholars such as Ibn Rushd (known to the West as Averroes) had added their own commentaries. By the middle of the twelfth century, traveling scholars such as Peter Alfonsi (a Jewish-Spanish writer and physician) had brought these works to England, France, and the rest of Western Europe. However, translations of Aristotle from the original Greek to Latincompleted by European academics such as Robert Grosseteste (c.1175 - 1253) and William of Moerbeke (c.1215 - 1286)soon began to surpass the Arabic translations in use; these became the de facto references for Aristotle’s writings by the thirteenth century. This corpus of Aristotle’s work became part of what was known as Logica Nova, or 'New Logic.'

Aquinas himself studied Aristotle under the German friar and scholar Albert the Great while attending the Dominican Order’s school in Cologne, the city where this fifteenth-century reprint of Quodlibet Sancti Thome was later published. One of the most important concepts that Aquinas developed from his readings of Aristotle was his work on metaphysics, the study of the underlying essence of all things tangible and intangible. The notion that this essencewhich was God Himself in Aquinas' viewcould be studied and taught provided a foundation for works such as the Quodlibetal Questions, which used logic and theology together to answer questions on everything from marriage to the nature of angels.

The Catholic Church had a complicated relationship with the works of Aristotle and with those who promoted them, Thomas Aquinas included. The University of Paris banned the works of Aristotle on three separate occasions: 1210, 1215, and 1231. The fact that his works had to be banned multiple times suggests that these measures had little effect, and indeed, the university eventually lifted all such bans by 1255. At this point in time, Aristotle’s works had not just been accepted by the University of Paris: they had been made mandatory reading. The university may have accepted Aristotle’s place in contemporary thinking, but the Church continued to oppose such potentially heretical ideas. In 1277, a number of Aquinas’ works concerning Aristotle were among the 219 propositions condemned by the Bishop of Paris; these works were not sanctioned by the Church until 1325, two years after Aquinas’ canonization.

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