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Are “Deaf and Dumb” Stars and Their Movers at the Origins of Modern Science? Another Historiographical Case-Study

  • Paola Zambelli
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 135)

Abstract

I want to look at a question which seemed “curious” and “fatuous” to Albert,1 and which may seem even more so to the modern reader. However, the Master General of the Dominicans, John of Vercelli thought that it called for high-level consultation and in 1271 submitted forty-three problems to three eminent Dominicans: Albert, Thomas Aquinas, and Robert Kilwardby.

Keywords

Thirteenth Century Master General Heavenly Body Epistemologieal Model Voluntary Command 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Albertus Magnus, Problemata determinata, ed. J. A. Weisheipl (and P. Simon) in Opera omnia VII/1, Münster 1975, p. 54: “Decima septima quaestio de phantasia fatuitatis procedit” and cf ibid. passim. Cf. J. A. Weisheipl, ‘The Celestial Movers in Mediaeval Physics’, The Thomist, XXIV, 1961, p. 287: “To the casual reader these questions, too, might appear to be useless in this age of scientific progress. Angels, it is frequently thought, have no place in a discussion of scientific questions”; [see this article also printed in The Dignity of Science. Studies in the Philosophy of Science Presented to W. H. Kane, ed. by J. A. Weisheipl, Washington 1961, pp. 150–190].Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H. C. Wolfson, ‘Immovable Movers in Aristotle and Averroes’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, LXIII, 1958, pp. 249–251 (especially p. 243). Wolfson, p. 244, observes that the idea of a relation that is causally emanative was brought in only by Avicenna, who, together with Averroes, introduced the name of intelligences for Aristotle’s motors. Unfortunately, “the problem of the souls of the spheres is not dealt with in this paper”(p. 251 n.1).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    P. Mandonnet — reviewing J. Destrez, ‘La lettre de St. Thomas d’Aquin dite lettre au Lecteur de Venise’ and M.-D. Chenu, ‘Les réponses de St. Thomas et de Kilwardby à la consultation de Jean de Verceil’ (both in Mélanges Mandonnet, Paris, 1930) in Bulletin Thomiste, VII, 1930, p. 135 — was correcting, rightly in my opinion, Chenu’s observation that the list of 43 questions represented “les résidus d’une dispute quodlibétique (Mélanges cit., p. 211). However, Chenu must be given credit for linking the Responsio de 43 articulis with the two redactions of Aquinas’s Letter to the Venetian Reader (ibid., pp. 211, 191) and with some of the propositions condemned by Tempier in 1277 (p. 214): ”Sans doute il n’y a pas trace, dans notre questionnaire, de déterminisme astral; ni de nécessité des intermédiaires cosmiques pour l’agir divin; et cela suffit à séparer complètement son cas des tendances suspectes et des erreurs dénoncés par le document épiscopal. Mais ce sont le même préoccupations cosmologiques qui apparaissent“.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Chenu, ‘Les réponses’ cit., p. 211: “le plus gros bloc des questions a manifestement trait A. l’action des corps célestes sur les phénomènes terrestres, en particulier à l’influence des anges dans cette action des corps célestes”Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J. A. Weisheipl also remarks on the rapid and wide circulation of Thomas’s Responsio to the 43 problems or articles (‘The Celestial Movers’ cit., p. 286), which was inserted into a rather numerous series of Responsiones (see Opera Omnia, XVII, ed. H.-F. Dondaine, Roma 1979, pp. 300ff.) In the Introduction to his own critical edition of the Responsio de 43 articulis and of Thomas’s Responsione to Bassiano of Lodi (Opera omnia, XLII = Opuscula III, Roma 1979, p. 265), H.-F. Dondaine notes an analogous question-andanswer exchange between the General and Thomas Aquinas in the De forma absolutionis (ibid., XL, pp. C5–C6). I have already noted (ch. 2, n. 1 and passim) the wide circulation and the importance of the literary genre of “consultationes”. Before the critical edition by H.-F. Dondaine (‘Robert Kilwardby, De 43 questionibus’, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, XLVII, 1977, pp.5–50, the Father Provincial’s document had already been discovered and most of it published in 1930 by Chenu (see n. 2 above). Albert’s text was only identified in 1960 by the librarian N. R. Ker, who, before publishing it in his Mediaeval Manuscripts in British Libraries, I: London, Oxford, 1969, vol. 1, p.249, communicated it to D. A. Callus, ‘Une oeuvre récemment découverte de St. Albert le Grand’, Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 44, 1960, pp. 243–261, see especially J. A. Weisheipl, “The Problemata determinata XLIII ascribed to Albertus Magnus (1271)’, Mediaeval Studies, XXII, 1960, pp. 303–354.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Chenu, “Les réponses” cit., pp. 212–213).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 222. The italics are mine and put there to show that even Chenu had come to terms with the atemporal nature attributed to Aquinas’s thought.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    T. Litt’s monograph, Les corps célestes dans l’univers de saint Thomas d’Aquin, Louvain-Paris 1963, has prompted lively discussion. Among various other articles and reviews, see B. Montagnes, ‘Bulletin de philosophie: Anthropologie’, Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, XLVII, 1963, pp. 703–704; XLIX, 1965, p. 116. He praises Litt’s “rigorously historical study”, which allows us to read “les textes de St. Thomas sans commettre d’anachronisme”. However, he observes that “s’il y a un domaine où Saint Thomas suit Aristote sans discussion, ni hésitation, c’est celui de la representation physique du cosmos, dont la pièce maîtresse est constituée par la théorie des corps célestes… Or cette hiérarchie physique est-elle purement et simplement confondue par Saint Thomas avec les degrés d’être?… même pour Saint Thomas la superposition physique des corps célestes incorruptibles aux corps sublunaires corruptibles n’est pas identique à la hiérarchie métaphysique de substances materielles et des substances séparées, entre lesquelles l’homme tient une place originale”. Cfr. J.L. Russell, ‘St. Thomas and the heavenly bodies’, Heytrop Journal, VIII, 1967, pp. 27–39, whose point of departure is the (super-rogatory) statement that such a theory “is now completely outdated and has disappeared from scholastic philosophy” (p. 27) and that “Thomas’s theory may seem strange and implausible to the modern reader” (p. 33). But he concludes: “An understanding of mediaeval ideas on celestial causality will throw light on several problems in the history of philosophy. It explains, for instance, why natural science never developed to any great extent during the Middle Ages… when in the seventeenth century, the mediaeval theory of celestial causality collapsed, philosophers found themselves with no theory of physical causality wich could stand up to scientific scrutiny and, still worse, with an inherited climate of opinion which took it for granted that physical substances cannot act for themselves…. The vacuum created by the failure of mediaeval cosmology remained unfilled”.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    F. Van Steenberghen, ‘Deux monographies sur la synthèse philosophique de Saint Thomas’, Revue philosophique de Louvain, LXI, 1963, pp. 90–91. Although he praises the Cistercian Litt’s historical research and repeats his fundamental query “à quel point St. Thomas était étranger au souci caractéristique de l’esprit scientifique moderne”, which prompted “des salutaires réflexions sur les conditions de succès de la renaissance thomiste”, Van Steenberghen concludes that it is still “possible et légitime de reprendre les thèses fondamentales de l’ontologie du maître: mais sa métaphysique spéciale du monde corporel ou sa cosmologie doit être repensée de fond en comble, en tenant compte de ce que la science contemporaine nous apprend sur la nature et les propriétés des corps”.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mandonnet, review-article cit., p. 137.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    M.-D. Chenu, ‘Aux origines de la “science moderne”, Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, XXIX, 1940, p. 209. The Duhem reference is to “Les précurseurs parisiens de Galilée”, in Etudes sur Léonard de Vinci, Paris 1913, pp. 34–53.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Mandonnet, review-article cit., p. 138.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    M.-D. Chenu, ‘Aux origines’ cit., pp. 212–213.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    M.-D. Chenu, ‘Aux origines’ cit., pp. 208–209. Cf. Duhem, Études sur Léonard cit., pp. 34–53, and especiallly pp. vi-xi, cited by Chenu in order to exemplify Duhem’s theses “en passe de devenir classiques”: “Buridan proposes a formula of the law of projectile movement which is so precise that we can recognize the role which Galileo will attribute to impetus or momentum, Descartes to quantity of movement, and Leibniz to live force”. Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Chenu, ‘Les réponses’ cit., pp. 221–222.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Chenu, ‘Les réponses’ cit., pp. 218–219.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Chenu, ‘Les réponses’ cit., pp. 219. Chenu continues on Kilwardby (pp. 219–221), who supports an opinion which is “rationabilis nec philosophica carens ratione”, according to which celestial bodies, heavy or light like the ones compounded by elements, are moved by their nature and by their natural inclinations (“Rationabiliter ponitur quod non moventur ilia corpora a spiritibus, sed instinctu propriorum ponderum”, q. 3; “Unicuique enim stellae vel orbi indidit Deus inclinationem quasi proprii ponderis ad motum quem peragit. Ut ex multorum motuum correlata proportione una fiat sufficiens conservatio generis et generabilium usque ad tempus perinfinitum”, q. 2). Only in exceptional and “reserved” cases do angels remain “rectores et gubernatores…, quorum ministerio, nutu Dei, stetit sol contra Gabon et retrocessit sol in horologio Achaz” (q. 2). Thomas knew this point of view and rejected it with equal energy in his q. 5: “Quod autem corpora celestia a sola natura sua moveantur sicut corpora gravia et levia est omnino impossibile; unde nisi moveantur a Deo immediate, consequens est quod vel sint animata celestia corpora et moveantur a propriis animabus, vel quod moveantur ab angelis, quod melius dicitur”. Chenu’s comment recalls the importance given by Thomas to secondary causes. “As a good Aristotelian, he grants natures, the internal principles of movement, their full and autonomous efficiency”. This is indeed one of the fundamental aspects of his philosophy of the natural world which he opposed to the Augustinianism and to the hylomorphism of Avicebron’s Fons vitae. However, “Thomas’s ‘naturalism’ is surrounded by a metaphysics of being and causality which incapsulates it without breaking its design or detracting from its efficiency”. From the De veritate, q. 5, a. 8 and the Summa theologiae, I Pars, q. 110, a. 1, Chenu adduces that in the Responsio de XLIII articulis and parallel texts, “we find ourselves on a metaphysical level of generally Platonic inspiration, although it has been radically modified by the substitution of a theory of causality for the theory of participation. Kilwardby, on the other hand, stays on the physical level, on the level of motus; one might almost say on the level of experience. The angel has nothing left to do. This level is only inhabited by the intrinsic nature of the heavenly bodies — as it was then conceived — and it is to this alone that he recurs in order to explain the celestial movements”.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    On Grosseteste see R. C. Dales, ‘Mediaeval De-animation of the Heavens’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XLI, 1980, pp. 540–542, where starting from Weisheipl’s studies the author briefly reconstructs the question’s antecedents, observing that “heavens were the last parts of the cosmos to lose their souls”, p. 531. On Giles of Lessines, see Weisheipl, ‘The Problemata’ cit., p. 308 and ‘The Celestial Movers’ cit., p. 307, who cites the De unitate formae, P. II, c. 5, ed M. De Wulff, Louvain 1902 (= Les Philosophes Belges, I), p. 38 which, in differentiating between angels and intelligences, asserts: “Haec est positio multorum magnorum et praecise domini Alberti quondam Ratiponensis episcopi”.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Dietrich von Freiberg, Tractatus de animatione caeli, hg. v. L. Sturlese, in Opera omnia. III: Schriften zur Naturphilosophie und Metaphysik, mit einer Einleitung von K. Flasch, Hamburg, F. Meiner Verlag, 1983, pp. 11, 46; L. Sturlese, ‘Il De animatione caeli di Teodorico di Freiberg’, in Xenia Medii Aevi Historiam illustrantia oblata T. Kaeppeli O.P. cit., pp. 175–247. See too Weisheipl, ‘The Celestial Movers’cit., pp. 307–308, n. 61, who quotes from the De intellectu et intelligibili: “tenendum quod dicti philosophi, loquentes de intelligentiis, non loquebantur de angelis, de quibus scriptura sacra loquitur, quae loquitur mysteria abscondita a sapientibus et prudentibus et revelat ea parvulis”.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See S. Donati, ‘La dottrina di Egidio Romano sulla materia dei corpi celesti’, Medioevo, XII, 1986, pp. 229–280, who says that the supporters of the negative theory were Averroes and, after him, Siger, Geoffroy de Fontaines, Petrus de Alvernia, and the Dominican Durandus de Sancto Portiano. Thomas Aquinas was the first person responsible for the thesis of the hylemophic composition of celestial bodies, which was also accepted by Hervé Nédellec, Jacques de Metz and Henri de Gand. Giles of Rome, finally, maintained the thesis of the identify of “matter” in celestial and corruptible bodies, which was then accepted by Jacobus of Viterbo, Agostino Trionfo, and Ockham himself (pp. 231–233).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    This characteristic remark is in ‘Aux origines de la “science moderne”’ cit., p. 210. Contrary to what Weisheipl wrote (‘The Celestial Movers’ cit., p. 288: “Mandonnet was quick to point out the modernity of Kilwardby’s universal mechanics. This suggestion was developed at some length by F. Chenu”), here Chenu explicitly takes his distance from Mandonnet and says that he must therefore “take full responsibility for his own interpretations” even though he is grateful to Mandonnet for “information and reflections”, which have helped him to evaluate the implications of Kilwardby’s answer (Aux origines’ cit., p. 207, n. 2). If, as we shall see, the differences between Chenu and Duhem concern the thirteenth-or fourteenth-century, Aristotelian-Averroist or nominalist origins of the vis motiva theory, those between Chenu and Mandonnet have some bearing on the timeliness and validity of Thomas’s “concordisme” and his synthesis. On p. 208, Chenu observes: “Les théologiens mediévaux… identifièrent aux intelligences motrices des philosophes les anges de la révélation chrétienne. De ce concordisme et des problèmes qu’il introduit, on peut suivre les détours chez Saint Thomas par example Quest. de potentia, qu. 6, art. 6, ou dans le de substantiis separatis”. Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Opera omnia cit., XLII, Roma 1979, pp. 354–356, where Mandonnet’s dating is used without bringing in any new elements, and no other biographical data is available on Gerard. But, due to the ingenuousness of his questions, there is no temptation to identify him with Gerard of Feltre, even though we also know too little about the latter to exclude that he was a reader at Besançon.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Opera omnia cit., XLII, Roma 1979, pp. 355–356. With the exception of the last article which dealt with sin and confession, Thomas criticized all of the others (“Nec tamen huiusmodi sunt extendenda, nec populo praedicanda”, p. 355/40–42): “Primus igitur articulus est quod stella quae Magis apparuit figuram habebat Crucis; secundus articulus est quod habebat figuram hominis; tertiam quod habebat figuram Crucifixi… Quartus articulus est quod parvule manus pueri Ihesu nati creaverunt stellas” (p. 355/9–12, 2829).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Opera omnia cit., XLIII, Roma 1976, pp. 207–208 where Dondaine proposes this date and confirms that the dedicatee was a papal chaplain in Orvieto between August and December 1263, while Thomas was there as the Dominican reader in theology. The two Italians’ friendship continued, and the episode, in which Jacobus questioned Aquinas on the subject of sortes, is a curious one, because Thomas was consulted in order to resolve the long contest between his friend and another candidate for the position of bishop of Vercelli after 1268. The two candidates had an equal number of votes from the local canons, and since there was no pope then (sede vacante) the contest was undecided. See ibid., p. 237, cap. V/ 125 ff., where Thomas does not allow for this type of drawing by lots: “si id quod est per divinam ispirationem faciendum aliquid forte velit sorti committere, sicut ad ecclesiasticas dignitates sunt homines promovendi per concordiam electionis quam Spiritus Sanctus facit”. Dondaine points out the originality of this work, which corresponds to q. 95, “De superstitione divinativa” in Thomas’ Summa Theologiae Ila Ilse. A precedent for these texts is in the Summa halensis, since in Thomas’s commentary on the Sententiae there are only the most cursory of references to magic and “divinatio per daemones” and no mention at all of the various types of “sortes”, “spatulomantia” (chapt. 3/65), geomantic procedures (chapt. 3/69–173, chapt. 4/44–47), and “aruspicium” (chapt. 3/115–116). According to the Speculum astronomiae, all of the latter were divinatory practices “quae non merentur dici scientiae, sed garamantiae” (XVII/9–10 and passim). About these practices in the whole Middle Ages cf. D. Harmening, Superstitio. Überlieferungs-und theoriegeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur kirchlich-theologischen Aberglaubenliteratur des Mittelaters, Berlin, E.Schmidt, 1979.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    In his critical edition Dondaine uses Walz’s dating of post-1260 (Opera omnia cit., XLIII, Roma 1976, pp. 189–190). Another series of 108 articles on the divine attributes could be added to these writings by Thomas, all of which were promoted by Italian correspondents or dedicatees. They were criticized in the catechism of Peter of Tarentasia, Regent Master at the University of Paris and a Dominican. Thomas was examining questions posed by the Dominican General John of Vercelli. However, like John’s other consultation with Aquinas of 1269 (De forma absolutionis), their content is not pertinent to this study. The Responsio de 108 articulis’s authenticity was recently established by H.-F. Dondaine (Opera omnia cit., XLII, Roma 1979, pp. 264–266) and dated between 1264 and 1268, and it does have one article which is worth citing: “Quod vero XCVIII proponitur: ‘Sol est agens improportionatum, effectum communem in inferioribus facit’, non est verum si simpliciter accipiatur, sed solum secundum respectum: sicut dicitur quod terra ad primum celum optinet locum puncti et non habet proportionem ad ipsum, scilicet secundum aspectum nostrum”.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Opera omnia cit., XLII, pp. 163 ff. where Dondaine accepts Mandonnet’s dating of Aquinas’s second stay in Paris (1269-1272). Mandonnet had pointed out parallel passages (“échos abrégés”) in the Summa Theologiae, Ila Ilae, q. 96 and in Quodlibet XIII, art.12. It can be inferred from the date that the “Miles ultamontanus” to whom the piece is dedicated is an Italian. This dedicatee, together with Jacob of Tonengo and Bassiano of Lodi, confirms the impression that Central and Northern Italy were particularly prone to those interests and discussions which lay behind Gerard of Feltre’s Summa de astris and the Speculum astronomiae. Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Mandonnet, review-article cit., p. 136: “Robert Kilwardby… fut prié de fournir une qualification des articles. Il le fit, à mon avis, indubitablement après avoir lu le referé de Thomas d’Aquin, et il n’est pas difficile de voir qu’il vise beaucoup plus à repousser les doctrines de cet adversaire qu’à donner son jugement sur le propositions en discussion”. It is already well known and confirmed by Dondaine (‘Robert Kilwardby’ cit., p. 6) that Thomas received the request on 1 April 1271, and threfore it should not be dated in connection with the General Chapter held at Montpellier during the following May. Mandonnet had proposed that dating because Kilwardby participated in the General Chapter as English Provincial. The several week difference in dating is slight, but it forces us to partly modify Mandonnet’s thesis on Kilwardby, who “n’avait pas attendu le chapître de Montpellier pour connaître les positions de son célèbre adversaire [Thomas d’Aquin]; mais il trouva là l’occasion de rompre directement une lance avec lui, puisque les circonstances les plaçaient l’un en face de l’autre” (review-article cit., p. 139).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    P. Duhem, Système du monde, Paris 1958, V, pp. 440–465 and passim. Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    J. A. Weisheipl, ‘The Celestial Movers’, cit., p. 312: “Once Albert has established in his reply to the Master General that angels are not the same as intelligences discovered by philosophers, he can easily dismiss the first five questions as fatuous: the existence of angels, the messengers of God, cannot be proved in philosophy. They have nothing to do with the problems of natural science; and even if God were not the first mover of the Heavens — which He really is — the existence of angels would still not be demonstrated”.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    C. Vansteenkiste, ‘Il quinto volume del nuovo Alberto Magno’, Angelicum, XXXIX, 1962, pp. 205–220. His advice to compare the Problemata determinata XLIII with the work being reviewed — none other than the Metaphysica — is worthy of note.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    K. Flasch, “Einleitung” in Dietrich von Freiberg, Opera omnia cit., III.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Zambelli
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di FilosofiaUniversitá di FirenzeItaly

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