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History of Philosophy
Averroism in the Schools
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

When, in the first decades of the thirteenth century, the Greek text of Aristotle was introduced into the schools and the Christian philosophers began to compose commentaries on the Latin translations made from it, the followers of the Arabian commentators commenced to give a more decidedly Anti-Christian direction to their interpretation of Aristotle. In this way there sprang up two hostile schools of Aristotelianism, -- the orthodox Aristotelianism of the schoolmen and the heterodox Aristotelianism of the Averroists. The unity of the active intellect, the immortality of the individual soul, the freedom of the will, and the question of fatalism were some of the points on which the schoolmen and the Averroists differed in their interpretation of the philosopher. But the most characteristic doctrine of the Averroists, a doctrine which involved the denial of the most vital principle of Scholasticism, was that what is true in philosophy may be false in theology, and vice versa.

Towards the end of the thirteenth century Averroism appeared in the University of Paris, and was made the subject of several ecclesiastical inquiries and condemnations. Its chief representatives were Siger of Brabant [1] (died 1282 or 1288), Boetius the Daclan, and Bernier of Nivelles.
[1] Cf. Baeumker, Die Impossibilia des Siger von Brabant (München, 1898); Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant et l'Averroïsme latin au XIIIme Siècle (Fribourg Suisse, 1899); Archiv f. Gesch. d. Phil., 1899, p. 74.
Among the opponents of Averroism are to be reckoned the great schoolmen, who, like Albert and St. Thomas, composed treatises for the express purpose of refuting the doctrines of the Averroists, and controversialists, like Raymond Lully, who undertook an extensive campaign against the errors of the Arabians.


Life. Raymond Lully, Doctor Illuminatus, is in some respects one of the most remarkable figures in the history of mediaeval philosophy. His whole life was dominated by the idea of converting the Moorish world to Christianity. This he hoped to accomplish by the preaching of the gospel, by the refutation of the errors of the Arabians, and by the scientific demonstration of the revealed truths of the Christian religion. He was an apostle, a controversialist, and a theosophist. He was also an inventor, having contrived, among other things, a logical machine by means of which he hoped to prove all truth.

Raymond was born at Majorca in 1234 or 1235. After spending some years at the court of Aragon, he entered the order of St. Francis [2] and devoted the remainder of his life to the conversion of the Moors. He was stoned by the Mussulmans at Tunis in 1315.
[2] A different account is given by Figuier, op. cit., pp. 256 ff.
Sources. Raymond's works occupy eleven folio volumes in the Mainz edition (1721-1742). The most important of his treatises, Ars Brevis, Duodecim Principia Philosophiae, and Ars Magna, were published at Strasburg in 1651.


Raymond's theosophy appears in the doctrine that all truths, including the mysteries of faith, are demonstrable by human reason. The doctrine, however, is not to be understood in the rationalistic sense: for Raymond maintains that reason, in order to attain the highest truths, must be aided by faith:
Et sicut voluntas non posset amare objectum primum sine charitate, sic 
intellectus non potest intelligere primum objectum sine fide. [3]  
Qui bene scit cognoscere et intelligere res quae consistunt in 
intellectu et sensibiles, optime potest intelligere et cognoscere si 
voluerit, quod sicut esset dissonum rationi quod tres Dii essent, sic 
esset dissonum quod tres persona divinae non essent. [4]  
[3] Ars Magna, P. IX, C. 63; Strasburg edition, p. 455.

[4] Liber Contemplationis, I, Dist. V, Q. II.
The logical machine which Raymond invented seems to have been contrived and constructed on the principle that not only are ideas representations of realities but the combinations of ideas are representations of the truth existing in real things. The machine was made up of letters, which symbolized the elements of thought, and of different geometrical figures, such as circles, squares, triangles, etc., along which the letters could be moved so as to form different combinations, each resultant combination representing a conclusion and each process of movement representing a proof. It is possible that Raymond was led to the idea of constructing a logical machine by his study of the cabalistic philosophy of the Jews. He frequently expresses his great admiration for what he calls the superabundans sapientia, the mystic doctrine of Jewish philosophy:
Est igitur Kabbala habitus animae rationalis ex recta ratione divinarum 
rerum cognitivus; propter quod est de maximo etiam divino, consequutive 
divina scientia vocari debet. [5]  
[5] De Auditu Kabbalistico, Prol., Strasburg edition, p. 44.
Historical Position. Raymond's contemporaries did not agree as to the value of his contributions to philosophy and theology. Some regarded him not only as orthodox in his teaching but as specially illumined from on high -- Doctor Illuminatus: they commented on his works, and provided for the foundation of special chairs to perpetuate his doctrines in the universities of Barcelona and Valencia. Others, on the contrary, so vehemently denounced his teachings as heterodox that the inquisitor of Aragon was instructed to draw up a list of propositions from the writings of Raymond and forward it to Rome. It is uncertain whether the propositions were formally condemned: it is, however, generally admitted that, were it not for the savor of heterodoxy attaching to his doctrines, Raymond would have been canonized.

Retrospect. Before passing to the fourth period of Scholastic philosophy, let us look back at the period which we have just studied. It is the Golden Age of Scholasticism. During the thirteenth century Christian revelation and scientific knowledge were harmonized in the great synthetic systems of Christian philosophy; the dogmatic doctrines of the Patristic period were welded into a more consistent body of theological speculation; the whole range of human knowledge was surveyed, and whatever was found to be true was given its proper place in systems of constructive thought. It was an age of vast creative enterprises in the world of speculation. It was an age on which the Christian philosopher and the Christian historian who have begun to understand it love to dwell. They realize that it was not a dark age but an age of enlightened faith, which more than any other understood the paramount importance of the supernatural element in life, and which, while it gave to reason its legitimate rights, was more willing than any other age to give unto God the things that are God's. During the thirteenth century the Church triumphed in Italy in the temporary rule of her Visible Head: she triumphed throughout the Holy Roman Empire in the acknowledgment which emperors made of their dependence on the Holy See; [6] but it was in the Christian schools of Europe, and especially of France, that she achieved a still more honorable triumph, in the recognition of the true value of theological science and in the universal acknowledgment of the principle that there can exist no contradiction between the data of revelation and the truths which human reason discovers. Soon all this was to he changed; the struggles with the Empire, the exile to Avignon, and the western schism were to disrupt the external harmony in which sanctity and learning had thriven, while the growing influence of the Averroists and the decay of Scholasticism were to bring about the final dissolution of Scholastic philosophy by establishing the maxim that what is true in philosophy may be false in theology.
[6] Cf. Lavisse et Rambaud, Histoire générale, etc., II, 279-291, and III, 312.
The thirteenth century was an age of men rather than of schools: it was dominated by the personality of the great masters of Scholasticism. It was an age of great intellectual activity. There was not, as is sometimes asserted, merely one school, and that an uninvitingly orthodox one. The unanimity with which the greatest of the schoolmen advocated the fundamental principles of Scholasticism was compatible with a considerable degree of variety as to the details of method and doctrine. Roger Bacon and Albert the Great advocated the use of observation and experiment, and sought to introduce a reform in scientific method; St. Thomas refuted pantheism, innatism, and other errors, and gave a positive development to Aristotelian philosophy; St. Bonaventure formulated a system of Christian mysticism which was destined to become the inspiration of the orthodox mystics of later times; Henry of Ghent furnished arguments for the refutation of scepticism and developed the exemplarism of St. Augustine; and Scotus inaugurated an age of criticism and formulated a system of voluntarism which should have stimulated the later Scholastics to enlarge and strengthen the philosophical synthesis of Scholasticism in presence of the dangers which were soon to threaten it. Indeed, it is only the superficial student of the thirteenth century who can fail to recognize that it was a period of immense intellectual activity.


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