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7 Franciscan Studies 60 (2002) BEYOND THE PRIME MOVER OF ARISTOTLE: FAITH AND REASON IN THE MEDIEVAL FRANCISCAN TRADITION In his work entitled Metaphysics,1 the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, leads the reader on a search for the knowledge of first causes. Such knowledge, he argues, transcends all other sciences. It is here that we find a clear statement of his argument for the theory of the four causes. Then, in book twelve of the same work, he leads us beyond the four causes to the Prime Mover. This, argues Aristotle, is pure being, pure actuality, total knowledge which has itself alone as its object.2 It is here that we encounter Aristotle’s God; a God defined as “noesis noeseos;” that is, “thought of thought.” This God is subsistent thought which eternally thinks itself in an eternal act of selfconsciousness .3 This God is not the creator of the world. In fact, Aristotle’s world has no creator, for it exists eternally, without beginning or end. And this God has no loving, providential care for the world or for human beings. But as pure, self-contained, monadic Being it is the transcendent end toward which all movement in the world is directed. In this sense it is “the object of the world’s desire.”4 In what sense would this Aristotelian understanding of God and the metaphysics in which it plays such an important role be seen as compatible with or coherent with the Christian understanding of God and of theology? This was a major question for Christian scholars of the thirteenth century. This was part of the problem involved at that time when, after centuries of familiar engagement with Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy, Western Christian culture came to a confrontation with this “new philosophy.” How can such a philosophy possibly be related to the tradition of Christian wisdom? Not all 1 Aristotle, The Metaphysics, tr. John H. McMahon (Amherst, N.Y., 1991). 2 Aristotle, op. cit., 12, 6-9. p. 255ff. 3 Werner Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development, tr. R. Robinson (Oxford University Press, 1962) 2nd edition, pbk, p. 346. Jaeger formulates Aristotle’s concept of the divine as follows: “ . . . thought thinks itself, and in this creative act it eternally enjoys its own absolute perfection.” 4 Jaeger, op. cit., p. 222. ZACHARY HAYES 8 scholars of the thirteenth century dealt with this question in the same way. We would like to discuss Bonaventure’s approach to the problem. The issue involves a perennial question of the relation between what is possible to pure, natural human reason on the one hand, and what insight might be possible in the light of the Christian religious experience on the other hand. While it is clear from Bonaventure’s writings that he was a metaphysical thinker, and while it is clear that he was quite familiar with the philosophy of Aristotle, it must also be said that he never took up the cause of the Aristotelian movement in the way that marks the work of his contemporary, Thomas Aquinas. The matter of Bonaventure’s assessment of Aristotle had been the subject of considerable debate among scholars of the twentieth century. At the present time, it is fair to say that Bonaventure related to Aristotle in a way that was respectful yet critical. Already in his early Sentence Commentary he calls Aristotle the “princeps et dux” of the Peripatetics.5 This seems to reflect a genuine respect for the Philosopher. His view involves a positive recognition of what the great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle were able to accomplish. But respectful as he was, he was also critical, not hesitating to point out problems with the Aristotelian philosophy. In his Sentence Commentary6 Bonaventure expresses his conviction that Aristotle had made some serious mistakes. For example, the idea of the eternity of the world appeared to be in open contradiction with the biblical tradition concerning creation. In Bonaventure’s view, the most serious of these philosophical mistakes was Aristotle’s rejection of the Platonic theory of exemplarity. Bonaventure mentions this already in the Sentence Commentary,7 but the issue becomes even more obvious in the later Collations, both...


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