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WAS ST. THOMAS AQUINAS A PLATONIST? FORTY YEARS AGO, few students would have called St. Thomas Aquinas a Platonist. At that time he was almost universally recognized as a brilliant exponent of medieval Aristotelianism. In fact, St. Thomas was considered by many to be a " pure " Aristotelian. This position was aptly expl'essed by Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy : Aquinas, unlike his predecessors, had a really competent knowledge of Aristotle. His friend William of Moerheke provided him with translations from Greek, and he himself wrote commentaries. Until his time, men's notions of Aristotle had been obscured by Neoplatonic accretions. He, however, followed the genuine Aristotle, and disliked Platonism, even as it appears in Saint Augustine. He succeeded in persuading the Church that Aristotle's system was to be preferred to Plato's as the basis of Christian philosophy, and that Mohammedans and Christian Averroists had misinterpreted Aristotle.1 Russell, however, although correct in saying that St. Thomas "had a really competent knowledge of Aristotle," neither knew how his philosophy was different from that which had come before nor had any idea of the extent to which the overpowering influence of Neoplatonism had been elt by almost all medieval thinkers, including St. Thomas. Concerning St. Thomas's Aristotelianism , Wayne Hankey has observed the following: Indeed one might say that his Aristotelianism should be seen within the context of his Neoplatonism. Certainly he generally reads Aristotle through Neoplatonic spectacles, but more significant is that the movement toward a more positive view of Aristotle is a feature of the later Neoplatonism and especially of its Christian 1 Bertrand Russell, A. History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945), p. 453. 209 210 LUIS CORTEST adherents. Nor is it exclusively a feature of the Iamblichan tradition ; for Porphyry's view of the first principle is closer to Aristotle's than are the positions of either Plotinus or Iamblichus and his followers, and he is responsible for the assimilation of Aristotle's logic into Neoplatonism after Plotinus's critique. It is perhaps enough to mention that Porphyry, Boethius, and the Arabs provide the main western medieval sources for the knowledge of Aristotle until the time of St. Thomas.2 On the surface, it would seem that Russell, never an admirer of Thomistic philosophy, was neither accurate nor objective in his evalu::tion of St. Thomas's Platonism. This judgment of Russell's position, however, might perhaps be too severe. It must be remembered that modern Neoplatonic studies were only in their infancy when Russell's text was first published in 1945. Actually, this scholarship dates, for the most part, from the time of Dodd's edition of Proclus's Elements of Theology in 1933.3 In fact, only in recent years have these studies been cultivated by an impressive number of scholars. Even in the early years of Neoplatonic scholarship, however, there were a few works devoted to St. Thomas Aquinas and Platonism. In 1939, Cornelio Fab:m published his important study, La nozione metafisica di partecipazione secondo S. Tommaso d'Aquino in Milan. This work not only stressed the importance of the Platonic doctrine of participation in the works of St. Thomas, but also considered the Thomistic corpus in terms of medieval Neoplatonism. Along with Fabro's works, many others soon appeared focusing on the Platonic side of St. Thomas, including those of L. B. Geiger,4 Joseph Santeler,5 and Arthur Little.6 Some concluding remarks f:mm Little's 2 Wayne Hankey, ".Aquinas' First Principle: Being or Unity?" Dionysius, IV (1980), 147-148. a Eric Robertson Dodds, Proclus. The Elements of Theology (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1933). 4 L. B. Geiger, La Participation dans la Philosophie de S. Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Vrin, 1942). 5 Joseph Santeler, Der Platonismus in der l!Jrkenntnislehre des Heiligen Thomas von Aquin (Innsbruck: F. Rauch, 1939). s .Arthur Little, The Platonic Heritage of Thomism (Dublin: Golden Eagles Books, 1950) . WAS ST. THOMAS AQUINAS A PLATONIST( 211 book, The Platonic Heritage of Thomism, are indicative of the scholarship from this period in Thomistic studies: Whether wittingly or unwittingly he [St. Thomas] taught a Platonic doctrine rejected by Aristotle when he taught...


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