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Chapter T wo Humanists’ Invectives and Aristotle’s Impiety Giles of Rome, Thomas Aquinas, Ramon Llull, and other ecclesiastical authorities critiqued Aristotelianism from within, believing that, if his texts were interpreted in the correct way, they were necessary for considerations of nature and theology. As a result, church decrees institutionalized Aristotelianism. The Council of Vienne endorsed a doctrine of the human soul based on the Aristotelian distinction of forma per se; and the Fourth Lateran Council endorsed the concept of transubstantiation, providing a theological understanding of the Eucharist that was in accord with Aristotelian concepts.1 Beginning in the fourteenth century, assaults on Aristotle’s thought came from humanists and men of letters outside of universities. Unlike earlier Scholastic polemicists, these humanists largely saw the study of nature as meaningless—futile for gaining wisdom or accessing religious truth. For many of them Aristotle was not an authority to be followed but rather the fount of misguided approaches to learning that privileged syllogistic logic over rhetoric and the study of nature over ethics. Although the specific complaints about Aristotle’s followers varied among humanists , in general, they frequently found their contemporaries in universities abhorrent because of their allegedly barbarous or nonclassical writing style and vocabulary, their dependence on Muslim Arabic-writing authors, and their supposed impiety. Furthermore, humanists considered the centrality of Aristotle and his commentators to university instruction to have shackled Scholastic thought, thereby rendering it narrow in its scope and beyond humanistic visions of erudition , Christianity, and human nature. Some Scholastics thought that careful interpretations of Aristotle could be reconciled with Christianity, but many hu- Humanists’ In v ectiv es and Aristotle’s Impiet y 29 manists were more skeptical of that possibility, believing dependence on Aristotle and his commentators rendered university education pernicious and pointless. Petrarca One of the earliest and most influential humanists, Francesco Petrarca (1304– 1374) pioneered an approach to attacking Aristotle that conflated Scholasticism, natural philosophy, and Aristotelian thought with one person: Averroes. Two of Petrarca’s works, Invectives against a Physician and On His Own and Others’ Ignorance addressed the use of Averroes among university-trained physicians. In immoderate fashion, characteristic of humanist invective, Petrarca offered complaints that addressed primarily two issues: Averroes’ impiety and his chosen genre, the commentary. In Invectives against a Physician, Petrarca accused his unnamed and most likely fictional addressee of secretly wishing “to challenge Christ, over whom you privately prefer Averroes.” The anonymous physician, against whom Petrarca rants, is like the fool of Psalms who says in his heart, “There is no God.” In his attack on this physician, Petrarca noted that the conflicting theories of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Epicurus, Democritus, Pythagoras, have put forward remarkable opinions on the number of worlds or the nature of the soul, but the physician’s “master,” that is Averroes, asserted even more amazingly “the unity of the intellect,” one of the same doctrines to which Thomas, Etienne Tempier, and Llull objected.2 Thomas and Llull used argument and textual analysis in their attempts to counter Averroes, Petrarca looked beyond specific philosophical convictions in his attacks. According to Petrarca, Averroes’ danger comes not just in his philosophy but also in his being an example of someone who is openly impious. In a letter to Ludovico Marsili, Petrarca urged him to write against “the rabid dog Averroes . . . who barks against the Lord Christ, against the Catholic faith.”3 In a similar light, Petrarca has his hypothetical physician say, “How can someone named Christ threaten me? Averroes defamed him with impunity, as no poet or indeed any mortal has done.” He concluded: “You physicians worship Averroes; you love him; and you follow him simply because you oppose and hate Christ, who is the living truth.”4 Averroes has replaced Christ as an object of worship, according to Petrarca. Somewhat improbably, Petrarca believed reading or following Averroes’ positions was a disguised way of undermining the Christian faith. He wrote, “Since you do not dare to blaspheme publicly the one [Christ] whom the world worships, you practically worship his sacrilegious and blasphemous enemy [Averroes]. This 30 subv erting aristotle is the way of spite and cowardly malevolence: when you are afraid to disparage someone, you applaud the detractors.”5 In On His Own and Others’ Ignorance, Petrarca linked Averroes’ impiety to his chosen method of writing the commentary . By commenting on Aristotle’s works, he “in a way made them his own,” but Averroes is suspect, because his praise of Aristotle is a clever way...


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