Russell Lance Friedman

title.none: Lowe, The Contested Theological Authority of Thomas Aquinas (Russell Lance Friedman)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.028 04.02.28

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Russell Lance Friedman, University of Cologne,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Lowe, Elizabeth. The Contested Theological Authority of Thomas Aquinas: The Controversies between Hervaeus Natalis and Durandus of St. Pourcain. Series: Studies in Medieval History and Culture, vol. 17. New York: Routledge, 2003. Pp. xviii, 259. $75.00 0-415-94353-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.28

Lowe, Elizabeth. The Contested Theological Authority of Thomas Aquinas: The Controversies between Hervaeus Natalis and Durandus of St. Pourcain. Series: Studies in Medieval History and Culture, vol. 17. New York: Routledge, 2003. Pp. xviii, 259. $75.00 0-415-94353-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Russell Lance Friedman
University of Cologne

When Joseph Koch, in his Durandus de S. Porciano O.P. Forschungen zum Streit um Thomas von Aquin zu Beginn des 14. Jahrhunderts (Muenster i. W., 1927), began the systematic examination of the controversy surrounding Durand of St. Pourcain (d. 1334) he made it clear that Durand's difficulties with the Dominican order, spanning some 25 years and occupying the order at the highest intellectual and ecclesio-political levels, were part of the dispute surrounding Thomas Aquinas at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Durand, as is well known, was accused of having misrepresented or outright contradicted many theological and philosophical positions held by Aquinas. Thus, that Durand's controversy with his order played a role in the development of Thomism, its acceptance and its defense, is already a major point in Koch's book. But while quite a few works have appeared in the last 75 years dealing, to one degree or another, with Durand's conflict with the order and what it says about Thomism, the subject is far from exhausted, and specialist studies are needed on nearly every philosophical and theological issue.

Perhaps the most important of Durand's opponents--certainly the one that Durand himself took most notice of--was Hervaeus Natalis, regent master at Paris 1307-09 and again 1316-18, head of the Dominican province of France 1309-1318 and Master General of the order from 1318 until his death in 1323. Durand and Hervaeus had a long and detailed exchange on a variety of issues in many of the works they released, and the discussion between them was made even more pressing by the fact that Hervaeus sat on two commissions (1314 and 1316/17) that were charged with examining Durand's works for signs of heresy. Thus, coming to grips with the dispute between Durand and Hervaeus is an important element in understanding Durand's conflict with his order and the role of Thomas and Thomism in that.

Elizabeth Lowe's book is an attempt to look at the debate between Hervaeus and Durand not only from the perspective of intellectual history (i.e. by looking at what the two men wrote and thought) but also from the perspective of institutional history, especially the history of the Dominican order and its educational system. After a short Introduction, outlining the methodology of her book and earlier research on the subject, five chapters follow, describing "The Dominican Order and Its Educational Structure" (Ch. 1); "The Dominican Intellectual Tradition" (Ch. 2), which deals at some length with the place of Aristotle's thought among the Dominicans; "The Historical Background of the Controversies" (Ch. 3), which describes late thirteenth and early fourteenth century Thomism and resistance to it; "Selected Issues in the Controversies" (Ch. 4), offers case studies of three topics disputed by Hervaeus and Durand: relation and trinitarian theology, cognition, and the nature of theology; "The Controversies and the Question of Aquinas' Theological Authority" (Ch. 5) and a Conclusion round the book out.

All this is a promising start, with regard to both the methodology and the figures examined. Unfortunately the execution of the study is so poor that it severely compromises the book's usefulness. I'll discuss three problem areas: 1) the legion of minor errors and shortcomings that diminish the reader's confidence in the book; 2) problems with the conceptualization of later medieval thought and especially "schools"; and 3) problems with Lowe's presentation of the theology and philosophy that Durand and Hervaeus discussed. Finally, I'll offer a few thoughts of my own on Durand, Hervaeus, and Thomas' legacy at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

1) Lowe's book is a very slightly revised version of a dissertation defended at Fordham University in 1999 (the word 'dissertation' is still used to describe the work on pp. xvii, 7, 10, 37, 135). Several errors have been removed from the text of the dissertation; unfortunately dozens of new errors have been added, many of a typographical nature (e.g. pp. 27-28 sacri palacii, spelled correctly in the dissertation, has been altered in three places to sacri palii), but there are also incorrect additions of entire lines of text (e.g. pp. 17, 42) which the reader must untangle for herself. In Ch. 1, footnote 175 (p. 30) is misplaced in the book (it should follow the word 'Bologna' at the end of the preceding paragraph), and the rest of the footnotes in Ch. 1 must be moved up accordingly: 176 taking the place of 175, 177 the place of 176, etc.

Throughout the book there are problems with medieval names: the Dominican Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert KilwardBy has become Robert Kilwardy (e.g. p. 3), and on one occasion 'Peter Kilwardy' (p. 50); the Franciscan mystical writer whose work plays a part in the secular-mendicant dispute at the University of Paris in the mid-thirteenth century, Gerard de Borgo San Donnino, becomes on successive pages Gerard di San Donnino and Gerard of San Borgo Donnino (pp. 31-32); when he became pope, Jacques Fournier did not take the name John XXII, but Benedict XII (pace p. 78). Moreover, there are basic problems with chronology; e.g. on several occasions (pp. 66, 70, 72, 120, 186 n. 11) Lowe claims that Durand and the even earlier James of Metz were formatively influenced by the Franciscan Peter Auriol (d. 1322); but Durand's major ideas were formed in the first decade of the fourteenth century, while Auriol released no written work until the second decade. More significantly since it compromises her arguments, in order to maintain that Dietrich of Freiburg "was writing at the same time, in the same place, as was Durandus of St. Pourcain," Lowe has Dietrich teaching as regent master at St. Jacques "for almost a decade" after his return there in 1296-97 (64-65); normally Dietrich's regency at Paris is dated to 1296-98 (occasionally 1296/7-1300). These examples could easily be multiplied. Of course, taken individually none of these errors would be particularly problematic, but it does not inspire confidence that there are as many as there are.

There are problems with the way that Lowe has read the Latin. Thus, Lowe claims (30) that "friars who remained at the schools overly long were to be severely punished" appealing to the following Latin: "Quod fratres qui remanent a scholis dure puniantur," which means precisely the opposite of what she says (i.e. "friars remaining away from the schools are to be severely punished"). Sometimes these misreadings undermine Lowe's claims in the text. Thus, to support the claim that Hervaeus said "it was better to leave an (sic!) question unanswered than to provide a defective answer" (94), Lowe gives the following Latin: "Unde, si talis ratio esset insolubilis, nobis imputare debemus defectum nostrae ignorantiae, potius quam defectum veritati (sic! Correct reading: veritatis)." One last example: Lowe claims (101): "Clearly then, Durandus projected onto Aquinas and his early followers all the negative connotations associated with the professionalization of theology as an academic discipline. In fact, he says so explicitly." Offered in support of this claim is the following Latin text: " huic concordat communis doctrina quae dicit quod unus homo potest simul cognoscere eandem conclusionem per medium probabile et demonstrativum. Thomas prima secundae quaestionis" (Lowe's quotation ends like that, although the reference to Aquinas in Durand's text continues). In neither case is the connection between Latin and English apparent to me. Not a few further examples could be offered.

To her credit, Lowe has uncovered and mentions quite a bit of older and little-used literature on Durand and Hervaeus; nevertheless I wonder sometimes about the use of bibliography in the book. One thing is that there are many errors in both notes and bibliography (misspelled names or titles, incorrect or incomplete references, etc.), but another is that recent works that should probably be referred to aren't. Thus, M. Michele Mulchahey's impressive survey of the structure and development of Dominican education in the later Middle Ages, "First the Bow is Bent in Study..." Dominican Education before 1350 (Toronto, 1998) is used by Lowe, but is nearly absent from her Ch. 1 that directly concerns the Dominican educational system. In not a few spots a reference to Mulchahey's work would have been an advantage, since she treats many of the same issues as Lowe at greater length (e.g. the Dominican Ratio studiorum mentioned by Lowe pp. 29, 45). It's also strange that James A. Weisheipl's excellent, but dated Friar Thomas D'Aquino (1974) is referred to far more often than is Jean-Pierre Torrell's splendid and up-to-date Saint Thomas Aquinas, The Person and His Work (original French edition 1993, English translation CUA Press, 1996). And surely Luca Bianchi's fine study of the acceptance of Aristotle at the University of Paris (part II, pp. 89-162 of his Censure et liberte intellectuelle a l'Universite de Paris, Paris, 1999) should at least have been mentioned at points in Ch. 2. Most serious of all, however, is the fact that Lowe apparently does not know Kaeppeli and Panella's four volume Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum medii aevi (Rome, 1978-93), using instead the eighteenth century Scriptores compiled by Quetif and Echard. Much has been discovered in the meantime, and at least some of Lowe's misstatements regarding the works of Durand, Hervaeus, and other Dominican authors (e.g. she claims (77) that the first version of Durand's Sentences commentary is lost, although at another juncture (8) she writes that "only the first two books are extant"--when in fact we seem to have all of it except book III) might have been avoided had she used the now standard reference work on all medieval Dominican authors.

Related to these bibliographic gaps is the lack of support for many statements made. Thus, Lowe describes as "given" on the basis of historical research that "despite the formation and growth of the Thomist camp, the majority of Dominican lectors remained loyal to the Augustinian tradition" (58) and "most Dominican lectors prior to the 1310's were within the Augustinian tradition" (137, see also 129). With the exception of three well known examples of Dominican thinkers from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries who held some non-thomistic views (Dietrich of Freiburg, Meister Eckhart, and James of Metz [64-67]) no evidence is offered for this statement. Equally unsupported are claims about Durand's popularity. Durand must have had a following; but we have precious little evidence as to how popular he actually was and how many followers he actually had. Thus, to write about Durand's "growing popularity...among Dominican lectors in the lower studia" (133) or his "soaring popularity" (139) is speculation and should have been identified as such (Mulchahey, First the Bow, p. 153, allows herself similar poetic license: "Interest [in Durand's ideas] spread through Durand's own order like wildfire. By the following year discussion of the new opinions had become fashionable in local schools and advanced studia alike"--no evidence for this claim is offered). These two examples do not by any means exhaust the occurrences of this type of problem.

2) Again, those problems are mostly noteworthy because there are so very many of them, and they leave the impression that there is very little here that one can trust without first checking it independently. Just as worrying, however, is the conceptualization behind Lowe's book, which is built around an outdated scheme of "Neo-Augustinians" (often just "Augustinians") vs. "Aristotelians" or "Thomists." And these categories are no mere loose descriptions applied for historical convenience. On the contrary: "The clash between the Thomists and conservative Augustinian thinkers... dominated the higher studia of the fourteenth century" (132); there is talk of "party lines" (103); and thinkers "belong" to these schools (52). Lowe claims to define Augustinianism "in terms of its anti-Pelagian emphasis" (172 n. 122), which would make very nearly every medieval theologian an Augustinian (and what would we say about philosophy?); but in practice throughout her book 'Augustinian' means to one extent or another "anti-Aristotelian." And further, since Thomas was an Aristotelian (see e.g. p. 52, where three "Aristotelian tenets" [unicity of substantial form, matter as the principle of individuation, and real distinction between essence and existence] are listed as binding together the Thomistic school), to be Neo-Augustinian is to be anti-Thomist. One final step: hence, it is often implied, because Durand is an anti-Thomist, he is a representative of the Neo-Augustinians (e.g. pp. 98, 101). The idea that Thomas (and Albert the Great) supported a moderate Aristotelianism that fit between the extreme Augustinianism/anti-Aristotelianism of certain members of especially the Franciscan educational elite (e.g. John Pecham, Matthew of Aquasparta, also Henry of Ghent) and the radical Aristotelianism of e.g. Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia, and that the major doctrinal battles of the second half of the thirteenth century were fought along these lines, had its heyday in the middle of the twentieth century. But already then there was strong evidence that it was overly simplistic and grounded as much, if not more, in the (conscious or unconscious) desire to locate Thomas as the golden mean than in the quest for evidence-based historical accuracy (see e.g. Die Psychologie des Johannes Pecham from 1919, where H. Spettmann argues that Pecham was not an anti-Aristotelian, but tried to meld the Aristotelian and Augustinian ideas available to him). In this connection, Lowe would have profited from reading Bonnie Kent's thoughtful considerations on the historiography of the later thirteenth century in Virtues of the Will (CUA Press, 1995), esp. pp. 5-19, 246-54. This isn't to say that on some topics--e.g. epistemology and the use of divine illumination--some thinkers aren't more "Augustinian" than others; merely that on many (if not most) issues lines aren't hard and fast, that "Augustinianism" does not necessarily mean "anti-Aristotelianism," and that grouping thinkers so rigidly in this way is almost sure to lead to historical anachronism. What is true for Neo-Augustinianism and for Aristotelianism, is just as true for other unfortunate catch-all terms used by Lowe in her book: Scotists, Nominalists, and (worst of all) Ockhamists (52). Use of cover-all terms like these, especially with no attempt made to qualify or explain them, simply doesn't do justice to the enormous breadth and the complexities of medieval thought and of medieval thinkers: the eclecticism, the innovation, and the varieties of influence. Moreover, these ready-made historical schemes skew both Lowe's overall story (which is the story of Dominican Neo-Augustinian resistance to Thomas' moderate Aristotelianism, culminating in the debate between Durand and Hervaeus) and particular aspects of her presentation. An example of the latter--as mentioned above, Lowe wants to claim that "the majority of Dominican lectors remained loyal to the Augustinian tradition." Yet, Lowe herself stresses (e.g. pp. 135-36) that the representational nature of Dominican government would hinder the imposition of minority decisions through legislation (I don't honestly know how much weight we should give this, but Lowe thinks it important). This would seem to speak against her claim about the massive majority of "Augustinian" Dominican lectors; but she holds to this claim anyway, apparently because she had decided on the "Thomistic-Augustinian conflict" being the central one in the period.

3) Chapter Four of the book contains case studies of three aspects of Durand's debate with Hervaeus: relation and trinitarian theology, cognition, and the nature of theology. Chapter Five is also a type of case study on Durand's and Hervaeus' views of "authority." Here again minor problems abound that rock one's confidence in Lowe's grasp of the issues. Thus, theologians will be surprised to find that the generation of the Son precedes the procession of the Holy Spirit in a "chronological" or "temporal" order (91-92); medieval theologians generally held God to be eternal, and so not subject to time, and they normally talk about a "logical" or "natural" order between the emanations. Again, generation is not the same as spiration (pace 91); the former is the emanation of the Son from the Father, the latter is the emanation of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son. As the examples of problematic Latin given above illustrate, there are quite a few spots in which Lowe makes a statement in the text about what Durand or Hervaeus wrote, and when one checks the Latin she gives, either the statements are taken out of context or simply misunderstood. But the major problem with this section of the book is that it comes across, at least to this reader, as a loosely tied together set of facts (sometimes falsehoods) and interpretations. Lowe hasn't attempted to make a chronological study of Durand's debate with Hervaeus on these topics, but rather picks and chooses statements from various places in their works in an attempt to portray Durand as an anti-Thomist and Hervaeus as a Thomist. And it really seems to me that it was a foregone conclusion that Durand was the anti-Thomist and Hervaeus the Thomist: while there is occasional acknowledgement in the book that things may not be that cut and dried (e.g. pp. 90, 92, 105) and that there may be several "Thomisms" hinging on various interpretations of the Angelic Doctor, there is no real attempt to flesh this out. One example: Lowe (92), referring to Hester Gelber's work, mentions that both Hervaeus and Durand borrowed elements of their trinitarian theology from John Duns Scotus; but she merely mentions this and doesn't explore what consequences it might have for the issue of Thomas' theological authority and Durand's and Hervaeus' Thomism (an aside: Isabel Iribarren has been publishing on this and related topics recently). Final analysis: among the quotations that Lowe gives in these case studies there are undoubtedly some accurate and interesting ones that also bear on the matter at hand, and one can say, with some reservations, that on the most general level Lowe's descriptions of the two thinkers' positions are acceptable; but the presentation is so disjointed that no overall picture of the thinkers, their debate, and Aquinas' position in it, emerge, and there are numerous problems in the details.

In order to be out in the open about them, I'd like to offer some of my own views concerning the subject matter of Lowe's book.

a) Thomism. Lowe seems to be impressed by the slow growth of Thomism, at least in part because she wants to hold that most ordinary Dominicans (the fratres communes) were still in the "Augustinian school" when Durand got into trouble. What impresses me is how quickly Thomas became the major thinker of the Dominican order. Already in 1279, in the wake of the Condemnations of 1277, there was Dominican legislation on Thomas; in 1286, just twelve years after Aquinas' death, all lectors in the order were required to uphold his thought; the later thirteenth century witnesses many treatises written by Dominicans with the explicit purpose of defending his doctrine (see particularly on the growth in legislation Mulchahey, First the Bow, 143-67). Why Thomas? Several answers present themselves: the quality and cohesiveness of his thought; the fact that he wrote works on a very broad spectrum of topics from systematic theology to Aristotelian commentaries; the fact that he was heavily involved in important early Dominican educational initiatives (Mulchahey, First the Bow, 278-306) and was one of the order's top teachers for twenty years. In my view, Thomas and his thought became the major vehicle for the creation and the maintenance of a Dominican intellectual identity, the rallying point around which intellectual Dominicans gathered and through which they (to a greater or lesser extent) defined themselves in contrast to other intellectual groupings (I've argued for this elsewhere, and William J. Courtenay suggested it already in his Schools and Scholars in Fourteenth-Century England [Princeton, 1987], 175-78).

b) Varieties of Thomism. Even with all the tools of modern historical criticism there are still today many disagreements about what Thomas meant at what point in his career. Why, then, should it be at all surprising that late thirteenth and early fourteenth century "Thomists" (by which I mean scholars who consciously and explicitly adhere to doctrines that Thomas Aquinas supported) should be a heterogeneous bunch? More study is needed to determine just how big an umbrella Thomism was; but to be successful as history, that study will have to take its point of departure in a very open-minded approach to "Thomism."

c) Durand. Lowe writes (123, also 73, slightly more nuanced: 105): "...what is certain is that Durandus' polemics, as well as his theology, were fundamentally anti-Thomist; that he knew it...." I disagree. There are certainly issues on which Durand thought that Thomas Aquinas was wrong and on which he appears not to have had much compunction about saying so; one example of this is his dumping of the Thomist theory of concept formation (I'll be publishing more on this in the near future). There were also questions, however, in which Durand pulled a line that is recognizably Thomistic; a case in point is the issue of predestination (see my article, "The Sentences Commentary, 1250-1320," Mediaeval Commentaries on theSentencesof Peter Lombard, ed. Evans [Brill, 2002], 110-11, 122-23). Finally, there are instances in which it appears that Durand believed that his own position and Thomas' coincided, while Hervaeus and other early fourteenth century Thomists thought otherwise; one example is to be found in Durand's ideas on God's knowledge of future contingent events (see Chris Schabel's "Durand and the Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents," the second introduction to idem, R.L. Friedman, and I. Balcoyiannopoulou, "Peter of Palude and the Parisian Reaction to Durand of St. Pourcain on Future Contingents," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum71 [2001], 215-39; on pp. 184-215 of the same article I give an overview of Durand's controversy with his order, and a discussion of his Sentences commentary). In his theory of future contingents, Durand harked back to an early Dominican interpretation of Thomas; Hervaeus had another interpretation. Is it fair for us to say who is right by labeling Durand an "anti-Thomist"? Just how many of Durand's positions are genuinely "anti-Thomistic", and how many are "Thomistic" in one sense or another (no matter what Hervaeus said) will only be determined by systematically studying Durand's works. And, again, we will have to be sensitive to the fact that various forms of Thomism coexisted in the Dominican order. In this case the question boils down to: how did the medievals interpret Thomas?

d) Durand and Hervaeus. To a certain extent, as Joseph Koch suggested (Durandus, 412-13), Durand's problems probably have their origin in a harder line being taken with regard to the adherence to Thomistic doctrine by Berengar of Landorra when he became Master General of the Dominican Order in 1313, and Durand was simply the first person to feel the impact. But it seems most likely to me that Berengar was giving his consent to Hervaeus' desire to censure Durand. As already mentioned, Lowe rightly states that Dominican thinkers other than Durand--Dietrich of Freiburg, Meister Eckhart, and James of Metz (64-67)--held views critical of (or at least diverging from) Thomas and yet did not end up the object of long and intense investigations on that account. But consider that Hervaeus did write a polemical piece against James of Metz, and that Dietrich and Eckhart were slightly too far advanced in the educational system for Hervaeus to have comfortably done that with them; consider that Hervaeus wrote a type of defense of Thomas Aquinas against Henry of Ghent early in his career. Furthermore, it should be remembered that Durand's ideas proved provocative not only to "Thomists," but also to rather independent thinkers like Peter Auriol and Thomas Wylton. It appears, then, that Durand's thought was generally speaking provocative, and that, on the issue of Thomas Aquinas, Hervaeus was easily provoked. On this basis, the conclusion that I arrive at is that the controversy had as much to do with the personalities of Hervaeus and Durand as with anything else. We can at least suggest that Hervaeus decided that Durand, whom Hervaeus had known of for many years and who was Bachelor at St. Jacques under Hervaeus, was going too far in not holding to the Thomistic line of which Hervaeus approved. This would explain the pronounced Parisian character of the conflict over Thomas Aquinas in the early fourteenth century: Dominicans at Oxford in the 1320s and 30s seem basically unconcerned with towing a Thomistic line (see, e.g., Hester Gelber's forthcoming book It Could Have Been Otherwise: Contingency and Necessity in Dominican Theology at Oxford, 1300-1350). So, the personalities of the two thinkers--as far as we can reconstruct them from their writings and actions--would seem to go a long way to understanding the source of the conflict between them (pace 131, 138).

e) Aftermath of the controversy. Certainly, the enforcement by the Dominican order in Durand's case of the earlier legislation on Thomas would make Thomas an even more central figure in the Dominican order. And the fact that a group of Dominican theologians at Paris (e.g. Peter of Palude, James of Lausanne, John of Naples) followed Hervaeus' lead, attacking Durand and defending Thomas, undoubtedly helped stabilize and propagate Thomas' reputation and teaching. But what all this says about Thomas' theological authority depends very much on how one defines 'authority' (as, it should be said, Lowe is aware, although I find her discussion somewhat diffuse and inconclusive; cf. Ch. 5).

The bottom line in all this is that we won't have a good grasp of the history of early fourteenth century Thomism, and the role Hervaeus and Durand played in it, without many more studies of specific aspects of that history. Elizabeth Lowe chose an interesting and important topic in the intellectual history of the later medieval period, and, as mentioned, the methodology she proposed is promising. Thus, it is a shame and a real missed opportunity that Lowe didn't make her book live up to its promise.

Ultimately, all of the problems with this book are Elizabeth Lowe's responsibility. Nevertheless, the present reviewer would like gently to suggest that a press with the reputation and resources of Routledge might also have taken more care to avoid this regrettable situation. In his short Foreword to the book (vii), Francis G. Gentry, editor of the series in which Lowe's book appears, writes that "the goal of the [series] is to enhance research in the field by providing an outlet for monographs by scholars in the early stages of their careers on all topics related to the broad scope of Medieval Studies." This is without question a noble purpose. And yet, just because a monograph is written by a younger scholar does not ipso facto mean that the monograph will "enhance research in the field." Equally, it is not in the interests of a younger scholar that her (or his) book appears before it is ready for publication--quite the contrary. One looks in vain for the sort of safeguards that might have given Lowe a much-needed excuse to make this into a genuine contribution to the field. The many errors of a typographical nature suggest that copyediting was left basically to the book's writer. Far more significantly, no editorial board is mentioned on which a specialist in medieval philosophy or theology might have sat and offered qualified comments on the book; no anonymous reviewer is thanked or mentioned in any way. This way of proceeding doesn't serve the field, it doesn't serve Routledge, and it hasn't served Elizabeth Lowe.