Wayne John Hankey

title.none: Guagliardo, et. al., trans., Commentary on the Book of Causes (Hankey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9703.009 97.03.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Wayne John Hankey, Kings College and Dalhousie University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Guagliardo, Vincent A., O.P., Charles R. Hess, O.P., and Richard C. Taylor, trans. Commentary on the Book of Causes. Thomas Aquinas in Translation 1. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. Pp. xxxvii, 193. $26.95 (hb), $16.95 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-813-20843-2 (hb), 0-813-20844-0 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.03.09

Guagliardo, Vincent A., O.P., Charles R. Hess, O.P., and Richard C. Taylor, trans. Commentary on the Book of Causes. Thomas Aquinas in Translation 1. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. Pp. xxxvii, 193. $26.95 (hb), $16.95 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-813-20843-2 (hb), 0-813-20844-0 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Wayne John Hankey
Kings College and Dalhousie University

This first volume in a new series of translations of Thomas Aquinas proposed by the Catholic University of America Press appears after the death of Professor Guagliardo. These are not the only ways in which it represents a turning point as both a culmination of more than a generation of scholarly work and a new beginning for the study of Thomas.

The Liber de causis, or Book on the Exposition of Pure Goodness, is a 9th-century Arabic and monotheistic selection, rearrangement and mutation of propositions, and proofs or explanations of them, translated from Proclus' Elements of Theology mixed with a few passages and ideas borrowed from the Enneads of Plotinus. The character of its monotheistic modification of Proclus is usefully compared to that of the pseudo-Dionysius and Aquinas makes this comparison constantly. It came to Aquinas as the "Theology of Aristotle" and as such it was crucially important both for his understanding of Aristotle and for his own thought. The introduction, notes and appendices of this translation, the first published in English, list what and how much Thomas took from the Liber into his writing and doctrine. The Thomas who thereby functions within the tradition of Neoplatonism, on the basis of a Neoplatonic understanding of Aristotle, is not the Aquinas of whom most have heard, and the embrace of such a Thomas in the introduction of this volume, and making this Thomas more accessible to students by a translation, are remarkable steps forward. This is not, however, all which is momentous here.

The Latin text on which the translation is based is that of Henri-Dominique Saffrey, O.P., published in 1954.1 It was itself a notable accomplishment, being the first edition of a text of St. Thomas which accorded to strictly correct critical methods. The ecclesiastical and other circumstances of the Commission to which Pope Leo XIII had entrusted a new edition of the opera omnia prevented for 70 years its edition of Aquinas being properly done.

Though the current productions of the Commissio Leonina are now rightly welcomed as the beautiful works of scholarship they are, much remains undone. There are works which have never been published in the edition and much of what was published earlier needs to be redone. Other comparable medieval theologians, e.g. Albertus Magnus and Bonaventure, acquired complete new critical editions decades ago. Saffrey working outside the Leonina showed it the way forward. It is significant that Saffrey went on from his Super Librum de Causis Expositio to study with E.R. Dodds and to edit the Platonic Theology of Proclus.

Saffrey has assisted the translators by giving them his own improvements on his published text. The translators have used these, and the most recent scholarship on the Arabic and Latin texts of the Liber de causis itself, including a proposition not in the version Thomas had--supplied here in English in Appendix I. Thus, the translations offered are based on better texts than those available in any published Latin or Arabic editions. This commends the book before us to those who need a text of the Liber as well as to those who want the commentary of St. Thomas on it.

The great importance of this Commentary for students of Thomism is that, in it, for the first time but late in his life, we witness Aquinas working with the translation just done for him by William of Moerbeke of the Elements of Theology. Thomas detects and indicates in detail the degree to which the Liber is derived from Proclus and the extent of the departures and misunderstandings. He finds several points where one needs to go to Proclus to find better reasons for the Procline propositions than those which the Liber gives. The introduction credits Aquinas with the discovery (p. ix), implicit in this comparison of the two texts, that the Liber is not the work of Aristotle, though Leonard Boyle pointed out that this discovery must really have been already made by William of Moerbeke.

In the wake of this discovery, which did not unnerve Thomas, he can be witnessed in his Commentary working as an historian. He constantly compares the Liber, Proclus, the pseudo-Dionysius and Aristotle. As Saffrey noted, he has the texts of the Liber and of the Elements of Theology and the Dionysian corpus before his eyes. Evidently, he comes to know more clearly what Platonism is, though he is still reading, has read, and will read, almost nothing of Plato. Here, and in the De Substantiis separatis, written about the same time, we can see him weighing again the relation of his thought to the positions of Aristotle and Plato. The result of this weighing is by no means a simple following of Aristotle even as Thomas understands him.

The way Thomas reads and assimilates these elements of his thought has been usefully compared and contrasted with the same matters in his teacher (and survivor) Albertus Magnus. The writing of Alain de Libera on this is well employed in the introduction. It is a pity that Edward Booth's remarkable Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology in Islamic and Christian Thinkers was not also used. 2 In fact, it undertakes the same comparison which Thomas made and illumines the background and thinking of Aquinas in these complex relations better than any other single book. Simon Tugwell, in a far more accessible work, has also usefully compared how Albert and Thomas stand to these predecessors.3 There is also no reference to it in this volume.

Despite very intelligent reading and comparison of the texts before him in relation to the newly added Elements of Proclus, it is remarkable that Thomas appears not to have changed his mind from the judgments he made very early. In his Commentary on the Sentences (II Sent. 14,1,2), he opined that Dionysius mostly followed Aristotle ("Dionysius fere ubique sequitur Aristotelem"). Commenting on the Liber, again and again he finds Aristotle, Dionysius, the author of the Liber and the Christian faith in agreement. They all reduce the Platonic self- subsistent highest forms to predicates of the one God. This telescoping of the Neoplatonic hypostases will not prevent Dionysius, and Aquinas himself, from maintaining much the same order as the Platonists when they follow Proclus in making these perfections into conceptual names of God.

Students of later Neoplatonism do not emerge from reading this Commentary thinking that the assimilation of Dionysius and Aristotle makes Thomas an Aristotelian as opposed to a Platonist. I see nothing in Aquinas here or elsewhere to justify the hints in the introduction (at x) that Aquinas suspected earlier than his reading of the Elements of Theology that the Liber was not the theology of Aristotle. In fact, the judgments reiterated in this Commentary tend to show the opposite. Perhaps the greatest fault in the usual view of Thomas is a failure to appreciate what this attribution accepted during most of his life must have meant for his understanding of Aristotle.

The monotheistic reduction of subsistent forms to divine predicates is by no means all Thomas finds to approve in the Liber. Much else which he approves--and very early took into his own thinking--are doctrines the author took in turn from Proclus. There is an extremely useful list of 17 on pages xxx and xxxi. Among these, most regard how being is understood. Partly on account of the Liber, Thomas' doctrine of being is profoundly idealist and Procline--there is nothing in the Commentary, in the scholarship cited, or in the introduction, to comfort those who would revive an Existential or anti-idealist Thomism.

Rather, a Procline doctrine of the Liber taken over by Thomas which is now getting more attention is one which draws together thought and being. The effective notion is that perfect "esse" has "reditio completa" on its own essence. Studies not referred to in the work before us which bear usefully on this include recent books by Francois-Xavier Putallaz, Rudi A. te Velde and Vivian Boland. 4 As Putallaz and others indicate, this aspect of Thomas was partly taken up in the Transcendental Thomism of the Jesuits.

Patrick Quinn has recently treated another Procline and Thomistic doctrine found in the Liber and listed in the introduction--the notion of soul as horizon. The Quinn book is also too new for us to expect to find it used by the authors of this translation, but it adds to the substantial list of recent monographs positively treating the Neoplatonism of Aquinas.5

An effect of these studies, as well as of this translation of the Commentary of St. Thomas, must be to nuance our understanding of Neoplatonism. The first step is to decline it in the plural both within the antique world and in its Islamic, Jewish and Christian continuations. A second step, suggested by this Commentary, would be to include the medieval retrieval of Aristotle within its history. A third is to recognise the importance of the Christian and Arabic transformations by which it was mediated to the Western Middle Ages.

By the time he is writing his Commentary on the Liber, Thomas has a considerable sense for the way Aristotle and the Procline developments of Platonism were modified in their Greek Christian mediation through pseudo-Dionysius and in their Arabic mediation through the Liber de causis, and Arabic philosophers. His Commentary is useful, then, not only as a text within the history of a more refined understanding of Neoplatonism, but also as a comment on it.

In this context, an earlier translation of Thomas' Commentary on the Liber into a modern language appeared. A devoted student of the Liber, and of the Arabic mediation of Greek philosophy, Cristina D'Ancona-Costa, published in 1986 a translation of the Commentary in Italian. While I was writing this review, her latest book arrived. It is a study of the transmission of Greek metaphysics by Arabic philosophy.6 It will be welcomed by many of those who will use the translation we are considering.

The Commentary of St. Thomas on the Liber de causis is, then, a book of importance for more than Thomists. It is essential for them if they are to understand how Thomas worked, reasoned and judged. This translation is well done and based on texts better than those now published. It is well introduced. Its bibliography is up-to-date and it uses the best scholarly literature. To this, the notes supply generous references and from it draw crucial quotations. Its notes, lists and appendices provide useful indications of how Aquinas used what he found in the Liber. All and all, it is to be highly commended and recommended. It is not, however, without faults.

There are misprints or bad references at pp. xxi (text and note 38), 110, 111, note 1, and 176. Some references in the footnotes are unreasonably obscure (e.g. p. 14, note 13).

Following the translation requires at least occasional reference to the Latin text, though this is not really the fault of the translators. The process by which Greek became Arabic, and Arabic Latin, produces some linguistic results so odd, obscure, or just plain wrong that further translation does not penetrate their meaning. In fact, the wonder is often how Thomas managed to understand what was before him. His genius is demonstrated on the not infrequent occasions, in this and other commentaries, when he manages to grasp the thought of the author when the text before him says literally the opposite of what the author wrote. The need for on-going reference to the Latin, and the decision not to translate the quotations of non-English scholars in the notes does raise a question as to whether this book would be of much use for any except advanced students.

There are a number of points where the introduction and commentary in the notes might also be discussed. At pp. xvi and xviii (indirectly at p. 48, note 17), the God of Aquinas is contrasted to that of the author of the Liber and Proclus as "personal". It is hard to know what such a contrast could mean for Aquinas, or, indeed, for any ancient or medieval author. The Boethian definition of person accepted by Aquinas would not exclude the gods or god of pagan or Arabic philosophy. At p. xiv, a creationist view is contrasted as biblical with a Procline and Neoplatonic view. This begs the question of the role of Proclus, particularly, and Neoplatonism, generally, in enabling the Bible, which at best only ambiguously teaches creation from nothing, to be represented by theologians as having this doctrine.

Finally, at p. xx, we are told that the Liber is, for Thomas, metaphysics rather than theology proper, and reference is made to the beginning of the Commentary. That, when read, (3-4) turns out to lead the philosophic quest for the ultimate happiness through intellectual contemplation to the gospel hope for eternal life in the knowledge of the one true God. Thomas is explaining, thus, why theology is one with the philosophic knowledge of causes. He evidently does it in a way which defies any simple opposition of theology and metaphysics. We would do better to understand how Thomas relates these by looking at what he writes here, than by bringing to his text distinctions borrowed from elsewhere.

All such faults are, however, to be forgiven Father Guagliardo because of the imagination, courage, and magnanimity of the conclusion of his introduction. It dares associate Hegel, Plotinus, Proclus, Aquinas and the medievals in grand philosophy. I judge that Thomas is happy in such company.

1 Super Librum de Causis Expositio, ed. H.-D. Saffrey, O.P., Textus Philosophici Friburgenses 4/5 (Fribourg: Societe Philosophique, Louvain: Editions E. Nauwelaerts, 1954).
2 Edward Booth, O.P., Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology in Islamic and Christian Thinkers, Cambridge Studies in medieval life and thought III, 20 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
3 Simon Tugwell, O.P., Albert and Thomas. Selected Writings, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).
4 Francois-Xavier Putallaz, Le sens de la reflexion chez Thomas d'Aquin, Etudes de philosophie medievale, vol. lxvi (Paris: Vrin, 1991); Rudi A. te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas, Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, vol. xlvi (Leiden, New York, Koln: Brill, 1995); Vivian Boland, O.P., Ideas in God According to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Sources and Synthesis, Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vol. lxix (Leiden: Brill, 1996).
5 Patrick Quinn, Aquinas, Platonism and the Knowledge of God, (Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt. : Avebury, 1996). Fran O'Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas, Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, vol. 32 (Leiden: Brill, 1992), which belongs in such a list, is employed by the translators
6 C. D'Ancona-Costa, Tommaso D'Aquino: Commento al Libro delle cause (Milan: Rusconi, 1986); idem, La Casa della Sapienza: La trasmissione della metafisica greca e la formazione della filosofia araba, Istituto Italiano per gli studi filosofici, Socrates 18 (Milano: Guerini, 1996).