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Aquinas, Thomas, Saint
(Canonized by the Church of Rome)
Siger de Brabant
(knife in his back)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) has always been recognized by the church of Rome as its main philosopher. His ideas have always been moulded to harmonize with the doctrines of the Roman clerical authorities of which he was one.
Thomas was also known as Doctor Angelicus. His angelic service to the Roman church consisted of averting the dangers to which, in the 13th century, papal authority was exposed by the unexpected and sorry advent of some alien scary books, largely written by Aristotle and Arab minds basing themselves upon him. They penetrated Europe from the Arab world, creating all kinds of thoughts in the minds of their fresh European readership. This readership increasingly consisted, not as in earlier times, of monks and courtiers under firm and safe control of their masters, but people from relatively wealthy families of craftsmen and merchants in the speedily growing cities of Europe, who's mentality was shaped by a practical and technical life of making and improving vendible commodities and earning money, and thus being relatively -for the time unusually- free of authoritarian oppression. Doctor Angelicus managed to incorporate, neutralize and even sometimes positively employ the alien thoughts in the papal Roman frame of doctrines in such a way as to delay for two centuries the Reformation luring in steadily growing city life and its comparative independence of popes and sovereigns: he showed how being "Aristotelian" (an Aristotelian of the Aquinian mould, that is) and being a loyal fan of the papacy was compatible.
Rightly, clerical Rome considered alarming and destabilizing the new thoughts in those newly arrived alien scary books written by Aristotle, by Averroes (Ibn Rushd), writing about Aristotle, and by Thomas' contemporary Siger de Brabant, a Belgian philosopher teaching, like Thomas did for quite a while, in Paris, about Aristotle and Averroes. Rightly the papal establishment did feel the urgent need for a Doctor Angelicus. Aristotle and Averroes being both dead, and burning of books, like any chemical pesticide, never being hundred percent effective, Siger and his followers were the ones to tackle.
Averroes (Ibn Rushd) had carefully moulded his argument in Aristotelian terminology,
which, if you read it for the first time after an education, as the European
catholic clergy had, of mostly Bible reading and a little Plato, badly handed
over and intentionally mutilated by second rate catholic clergymen, astonishes
by its logical precision. The most worrying aspect of Averroes work was that he
conceded that scientific knowledge (the result of the exercise of reason) can
be, and often is, inconsistent with the literal text of the Koran. In such cases
the Koran should be interpreted metaphorically. Since common people ('amm)
neither understand the exercise of reason not the idea of a metaphor, they
should not bother about it and take the Koran literally everywhere. The problems
of reason and metaphor are technical issues for specialists (elite, khass).
A clear and extremely worrying implication of such a position in the christian context is: not all knowledge is managed by the church of Rome. This sounded quite logical to the new breed of craftsmen in the cities. They knew very well that their success in improving cloth, ploughs, weapons, candles, lenses, mills and much more represented a growth of knowledge that did not (and could not) originate from Bible reading. And where the Bible gets technical (think of the building instruction for Covenant and Sacred Tent, Ex.25 etc) they could easily see this was not a 13th century state of the art set of building instructions from a technical point of view. So, obviously, in the eyes of craftsmen-city dwellers there were things you'd better not call the pope for, things closer to reason than to faith.
If Thomas would succeed in getting this spike out of the Aristotelian novelty, at least in the eyes of the intellectual authorities in the cities, he would, he knew, almost certainly become a Saint.
The logic of Aquinas' position regarding faith and reason required that the fundamental consistency of the realities of nature be recognized. A physis ("nature") has necessary laws; recognition of this fact permits the construction of a science according to a logos ("rational structure"). Nature, discovered in its profane reality, should assume its proper religious value and lead to God by more rational ways. This understanding is exemplified in the way that Francis of Assisi admired the birds, the plants, and the Sun.
With this poor message Thomas Aquinas lost the intellectual debate in Paris dramatically, but help was soon to come: In 1270 the bishop of Paris, �tienne Tempier, condemned 13 claims in the teaching of Siger and his partisans as "errors" . Six years later the inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church in France summoned Siger and two others suspected of heterodoxy, but they fled to Italy, where they probably entered an appeal before the papal tribunal. A few months later, in March 1277, Tempier announced condemnation of 219 more propositions. In 1284 Siger was stabbed to death at Orvieto by his cleric, to whose company he is believed to have been restricted.
Dante, in the Divine Comedy, put Siger in the Heaven of Light in the brilliant company of 12 illustrious souls. All dead popes, without any exception, are in hell. Their is no mention of Thomas Aquinas in Dante. At the time, he probably was not very widely known. Thomas however, was canonized by the church of Rome in 1323.
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