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Conclusion As early as Petrus Ramus in the sixteenth century, Aristotle’s detractors labeled his followers as “atheists.” Atheism in early modern Europe is notoriously difficult to define as well as to detect. Since atheism was a crime punishable by death, extremely few publicly declared their lack of belief in the divine. The supposed discoveries of atheists by polemicists, inquisitors, and civil prosecutors cannot be simply trusted given that they are likely to hide or twist the views of the prosecuted . The records of investigations and trials present the voice of inquisitors rather than that of the accused. Prudence, Nicodemism, and imposture undoubtedly led many to hide their views. Reading between the lines to uncover their supposedly true belief, however, creates the risk of introducing anachronism or the historian’s biases into blank spaces of the textual record.1 The association of Aristotelianism with atheism followed the contours of polemics around heresy. Ramus linked the atheism of Aristotelianism with a denial of providence and absolute divine omnipotence. Mersenne grouped impious Aristotelians together with deists, skeptics, and Machiavellians; Boyle with Socinians and anti-Trinitarians. When Benedictus Spinoza produced sophisticated arguments that undermined deism, scholars linked Aristotle to the incipient forms of atheism that converge with the modern conception of atheism as the denial of the existence of the divine. Thus as atheism emerged in its modern sense, prominent thinkers considered Aristotle to be its underpinning. Bayle’s Aristotle Pierre Bayle’s scholarly works, in particular his Dictionnaire historique et critique, were key to this final early modern transformation of Aristotle. Like his predeces- 170 subv erting aristotle sors, Bayle used history and erudition to recast the Aristotelian tradition. He promoted intellectual toleration as one of the primary messages in his several entries on sixteenth-century Italian natural philosophers as well as on Aristotle and Averroes . One of Bayle’s goals for his dictionary was to correct Louis Moreri’s Le grand dictionnaire historique, published some twenty years before Bayle’s great work. In a few instances surrounding Aristotelians, Bayle points out errors of fact, for example , Moreri’s incorrect dating of Pomponazzi’s death.2 But Moreri’s reference work is not rich with details on Aristotelians, and Bayle’s inclusion of so many Aristotelians from the previous century reflects his own philosophical interests. That Bayle included entries on Piccolomini, Pomponazzi, Zabarella, and Nifo was not the result of his work’s exhaustiveness. He wrote no entries for medieval and arguably more important Aristotelians such as Thomas Aquinas, Ockham, or Scotus. Rather the inclusion of these Renaissance Italian figures resulted from their position in the polemics of seventeenth-century Europe, particularly in France and the Netherlands, and from Bayle’s interest in Spinoza, Cartesian philosophy , and intellectual and religious liberty. Religion looms large in all these entries. Especially striking is the extent to which Bayle considered Aristotle’s moral and religious life but discussed his philosophy only in a limited fashion. The portrait of Aristotle and his Italian followers that Bayle paints is one of lack of conformity to Christianity. Not surprisingly, given Bayle’s famed defense of the possibility of an ethical atheist, his skepticism, and perhaps his own unorthodoxy, he did not condemn their lack of conformity to Christianity. Rather, his interpretation of Aristotelianism illustrated the hypocrisy of universities and churches in their intolerance toward Cartesianism. On the one hand, the assimilation of Aristotle’s thought with Christianity defies an accurate historical understanding of Greek philosophy . On the other hand, that the leading Aristotelians of the sixteenth century held Aristotelian thought to be incompatible with Christianity, positing views that, according to Bayle, were Spinozist avant la lettre, shows the unreasonableness of bans of Cartesian thinking. Whereas the Aristotelians attempted to demonstrate that philosophy could not prove the immortality of the soul or the existence of a providential God, Descartes at least gave what he believed were convincing proofs of these issues. In Bayle’s eyes, rejecting Descartes in favor of Aristotle was unreasonable, because the former was a self-proclaimed Christian who believed reason could demonstrate the truth of Christianity and the latter was a pagan whose reconciliation with Christianity stemmed from historical accident rather than from a profound understanding of his life and views. Bayle’s entry on Aristotle highlights the tensions between the entrenched posi- Conclusion 171 tion of Aristotelianism in theology and Aristotle’s life and philosophical positions that appear to oppose precepts of Christianity. Bayle noted that the acceptance of Aristotle was common to both...


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