03.07.04, Clarembald, The Boethian Commentaries

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Constant J. Mews

The Medieval Review baj9928.0307.004


Clarembald of Arras. George, David B., and John R. Fortin, eds. and trans.. The Boethian Commentaries of Clarembald of Arras. Series: Notre Dame Texts in Medieval Culture vol. 7. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002. Pp. xxxi, 153. ISBN: 0-268-02168-6.

Reviewed by:
Constant J. Mews
Monash University

Clarembald of Arras, a student of both Thierry of Chartres and Hugh of St Victor, is not the most well known of medieval thinkers. While that indefatigable editor of twelfth-century Boethian commentators, Nikolaus Haering, published an excellent edition of his commentaries on the De Trinitate and De hebdomadibus of Boethius in 1965, Clarembald has since attracted only occasional critical attention as a thinker. In 1995, John R. Fortin published a study of his thought, Clarembald of Arras as a Boethian Commentator (Kirksville, Mo.: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1995). The present volume seeks to make Clarembald more widely known through an annotated translation of the two major texts which he is known to have authored. In his own way, Clarembald illuminates that an important trend in twelfth-century thought, whereby Boethius is seen as bringing together seminal ideas of both Aristotle and Plato into a creative synthesis. As the translators explain in their introduction, Clarembald is profoundly indebted to the teaching of Thierry of Chartres, whose commentaries on Boethius are genuinely original and creative explorations of in the Christian Platonist tradition. They point out two original features in Clarembald's writing that deserve attention, his use of a number of new texts, not cited by Thierry in his commentaries, such as Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations, Euclid's Geometria, and Galen's Tegni and De Elementis ex Hippocrate. These were texts known to Thierry of Chartres, however. In bringing them into his discussion, Clarembald is effectively continuing a wider project which he shared with many intellectuals in the twelfth century, that of combining secular knowledge in a synthesis of sacred wisdom. George and Fortin also point out that Clarembald's use of the Aristotelian division of philosophy into theoretical and practical is not present in Thierry's commentaries on Boethius, without observing that this is a familiar theme in the writing of Hugh of St Victor, the other teaching whom Clarembald reveres with reverence.

From a historical perspective, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Clarembald's commentaries lies in the way he uses the authority of Boethius, whom he regularly praises as "the philosopher" to affirm orthodox tradition, against the teaching of both Peter Abelard (whom he seems to know only from Bernard's attack on Abelard's teaching) and Gilbert of Poitiers, whose writings had been condemned at the Council of Rheims in 1148. Exactly when Clarembald was writing is not certain, but it must have been within twenty years of Gilbert's condemnation. The introductory letter that Clarembald sends to Odo (who himself was a known critic of Gilbert) reveals that Gilbert's highly speculative and complex reading of the writings of Boethius may have prompted him to compose a commentary that seeks to combine philosophical breadth with sound orthodoxy. Clarembald was a friend of Walter of Mortagne, and may have done some teaching at Laon in 1157-59 and 1165-67, and thus sympathetic to showing how orthodox Christian teaching could be presented from a philosophical perspective, without falling into the heretical opinions of either Abelard or Gilbert.

The translation is generally helpful and lively, and shows that scholastic theological argument need not be obscure. At certain places, Latin terms are preserved, and not fully explained, such as intellectibilitas, a term which the translators explain in the introduction refers "to a supra-rational power that infuses knowledge of divine things into the mind." (xxii). It may have been helpful to relate the term to intelligibilitas, explained by Thierry of Chartres not as intelligibility, but as intelligence, or a force of the soul understanding pure forms, in other words as a fully human, rational power. Whereas Peter Abelard coined the neologism scibilitas, to argue that this was an abstraction derived from scibilitasor knowable, Thierry of Chartres and Clarembald identify intellectibilitas or intelligibilitas as a capacity to understand pure forms, existing outside of matter. This is a very different thought world from that of Peter Abelard.

The translation can be recommended as a way of introducing students to a pattern of Christian Platonism, closer to that of Thierry of Chartres than to that of Hugh of St Victor. My only regret is that a relatively minor thinker should have been privileged with a translation, while the more original commentaries of both Gilbert of Poitiers and of Thierry of Chartres, so well edited by Haering, still demand similar attention. There are relatively few obvious slips in the translation, marred only by the occasional misprint, such as Stulilogia for Stultilogia (the dismissive term used by Bernard of Clairvaux to describe Abelard's Theologia). It is to be hoped that the translation will encourage greater student interest in the fascinating world of twelfth-century scholasticism.

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Constant J. Mews

Monash University