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17.06.07, Briggs and Eardley, eds., A Companion to Giles of Rome

17.06.07, Briggs and Eardley, eds., A Companion to Giles of Rome

A Companion to Giles of Rome makes an important contribution to the study of late thirteenth century thought. The book's two editors, Charles Briggs and Peter Eardley, have brought together an outstanding group of scholars to present a comprehensive portrait of the philosophical, theological, and political thought of Giles of Rome (1243/7-1316). Although Giles is not well known to many scholars today, he was a thinker of considerable renown in his own day. Indeed, Godfrey of Fontaines praised him in 1286 as the best philosopher and theologian at Paris (qui modo melior de tota villa in omnibus reputatur). And in 1287 the Augustinian Order made Giles their official doctor, mandating that all Augustinian lectors and students were to adopt and defend the opinions and positions of Giles--both those which he had written and those he had yet to write. One hurdle that all students of Giles face is the sheer volume of his writings (it was not without reason that he is sometimes called the Doctor verbosus). During the course of a forty-year career, Giles composed nearly a dozen commentaries on Aristotle, important philosophical treatises (among which one should mention the Theoremata de esse et essentia and the Contra gradus et pluralitatem formarum), commentaries on Peter Lombard, numerous sets of disputed questions, influential theological treatises (such as the Theoremata de Corpore Christi), various philosophical and theological opuscula, and political works (such as the De regimine principum and the De ecclesiastica potestate). Unfortunately, very few of his works exist in critical edition; often scholars must rely on early printed editions, with all the pitfalls that this entails. A Companion to Giles of Rome provides readers with a valuable initiation to Giles's thought. In addition to the book's eight chapters, it contains helpful tables giving the chronology of Giles's writings (275-276), and a list of the editions of his authentic works (277-281). A bibliography at the end of the book (282-306) provides a comprehensive list of the secondary literature on Giles.

In chapter 1, Charles Briggs presents a balanced account of the highlights of Giles's long (and often tumultuous) career: the early studies at Paris, his censure and banishment from the University in 1277; his rehabilitation and regency; his tenure as Prior General of the Augustinians; and then his consecration as Archbishop of Bourges. The reader is given a sense not merely of Giles's prominence as an academic, but also of someone who was deeply involved in the political and ecclesiastical affairs of his day--an individual with personal connections to both Phillip the Fair and Boniface VIII.

In chapter 2, Richard Cross examines Giles's theology. In many ways Cross's chapter establishes the context and provides the organizing principle for all the other chapters. For in many areas of Giles's thinking, one can notice the strong influence of Thomas Aquinas. In itself this is not surprising, since Giles is thought to have been Thomas's student during the latter's second Parisian regency (1269-1272). What is startling, however, is the degree to which Giles is often critical of Thomas: sometimes it is the positions of Aquinas that Giles takes issue with; at other times it is the arguments that Aquinas uses that Giles finds objectionable. Cross describes Giles's attitude in a particularly apt and memorable way: "Giles's approach is rather catlike: he tugs at loose threads in Thomas's weave, and keeps pulling to see how much will come unravelled. Unlike his feline analogues, however, Giles spends a great deal of time trying to reknit the materials into some new and better-fitting garment" (34-35). In recent years, some scholars have argued for the marked influence of Augustine on Giles's mature (post-1277) thought. A central task of Cross's chapter is to determine the extent to which Giles's theology may be called Augustinian. His conclusion is: "I have evidence to defeat the view that in crucial ways the central academic theological concerns articulated by Giles are no more distinctively Augustinian than Aquinas's are" (36). Cross discusses a wide range of topics, such as Giles's views on grace and predestination, the subject-matter of theology, the nature of beatitude, Giles's efforts to reconcile the unicity of substantial form with the doctrine of transubstantiation, Giles's defense of the possibility of eternal creation, and the distinction among the Trinitarian Persons. Perhaps the most important section of the chapter, however, is the discussion of Giles's innovative theory of modes. The latter is itself an integral part of his theory of the categories. According to Giles, one and the same thing cannot belong to two really distinct categories; however, a thing belonging to one category can take on the mode of being of another category. Thus substances and qualities can be extended, and the qualities of various things can be related to each other. Giles makes heavy use of this theory of modes: it explains how in the Eucharist the accidents of the bread can exist without their substance; it provides a model for understanding the relationship between the essence and esse of a creature; and it helps to provide an account of the hypostatic union.

In chapter 3 ("Natural Philosophy"), Silvia Donati and Cecilia Trifogli present a careful analysis of Giles's views on matter, motion, place, and time. While noting the heavy influence of Aquinas, the authors also stress the innovative character of Giles's thought: "on many controversial issues his views are either in open contrast with Aquinas's or develop them in an original direction" (73). Among Giles's contributions to the science of nature that the authors discuss are his reformulation of Averroes's notion of indeterminate dimensions as a quantity of matter (quantitas materiae), his rejection of essentially distinct kinds of prime matter, his analysis of the place of the heavens, and his rejection of the unity of time.

Giles's metaphysics is the subject of Martin Pickavé's chapter. Giles's contributions to metaphysics have often been overshadowed by the polemics surrounding his defense of the real distinction between essence and esse, which, as Pickavé notes, "still contributes to the somewhat misleading impression of Giles as having been an early Thomist" (114). In this chapter, several of Giles's key metaphysical positions are presented in themselves, in an effort "to give a fairly neutral introduction to some of Giles's key views on metaphysics" (114). Pickavé covers a wide range of topics: Giles's conception of metaphysics as ontology; the role of form in the constitution of material objects; essence and existence; individuals and universals; accidents and the categories; and our ability to know God and separate substances. While the breadth of the chapter is admirable, there are times when the author seems to move a little too quickly. For example, with respect to essence and existence, Pickavé distinguishes two types of arguments used by Giles to establish the real distinction: theological arguments--chief among these is that the doctrine of creation requires the real distinction--and philosophical arguments (the author provides only one example of such an argument, namely, that if the essence of a material object were not really distinct from its existence, it would be impossible for that object not to exist). However, it is not clear what the distinction between these two types of arguments amounts to. In the Theoremata de esse et essentia, which is commonly regarded as a philosophical work, Giles tells us that just as generation reveals that matter is different from form, so creation makes us know that essence differs from esse. And in Quodlibet VI, q. 4, Giles describes the act of creating (creare) as a making-of-existence (essefactio). On Giles's view the ability to acquire or lose existence is part of the very nature of all finite beings (creatures). Thus both the philosopher and the theologian make use of the notion of creation. Of more serious concern, however, are the author's references to Giles's Expositio super Praedicamenta in his discussion of the categories (140-141). The problem is that this is usually not regarded as an authentic work of Giles; indeed, the book's editors do not list it in their bibliography of Giles's works (277-281). Be this as it may, Pickavé's concluding remarks are fundamentally sound: "If I had to identify one signature doctrine in Giles's metaphysics, I would be inclined to pick his theory of modes rather than his account of the real distinction" (148). Without a doubt the doctrine of the real distinction is of paramount importance for Giles, but it remains true that much of his metaphysics is underwritten by his theory of modes.

In chapter 5, Giorgio Pini provides an insightful analysis of Giles's theory of cognition. Although Giles's thinking shows the influence of Aquinas, his account of account of knowledge differs from Aquinas's in important ways. Distinctive of Giles is his effort to explain cognition solely in terms of efficient causality, whereby an agent acts on a patient to bring about a cognitive act. While both Aquinas and Giles make use of intelligible species, they part company with respect to the role that such species play in intellectual cognition. For Aquinas, an intelligible species is an essential feature (as a necessary condition) of any act of intellection, since it is the form that actualizes the intellect. On Giles's view, however, intellection is not an "informing" of the intellect, but rather an act caused in the intellect by its object. Intelligible species serve merely as causal proxies; they are needed for the cognition of objects that cannot themselves be present to the intellect. Intelligible species are caused by objects and are able to replace these objects in the causal production of intellectual acts. Pini works out the details of this process in a very clear and accessible manner, and also points out some problems for Giles's theory.

Giles's ethics and moral psychology are the subjects of Peter Eardley's chapter. Eardley focuses on three topics: freedom of the will; moral weakness; and the nature of human happiness. These were topics of great controversy in Giles's day. Debates on human freedom often involved sorting out the appropriate roles played by reason and will in acts of human volition. The tricky point was to explain how the intellect can exert some causality over the will without endangering the will's autonomy. The problem of moral weakness is one of explaining how moral agents can knowingly do objectively bad acts. Giles's youthful defense of the claim that there is no malice in the will unless there is error in reason (non est malitia in voluntate nisi sit error in ratione), which suggests an extreme form of intellectualism, ran afoul of ecclesiastical authorities. It was among the articles condemned by the Bishop of Paris in 1277; however, it was later conceded by the Theology masters (and hence came to be known as the propositio magistralis) at the time of Giles's censure. The dispute about the nature of human happiness is not about objective happiness (which all would locate in God), but rather subjective happiness (i.e., what is happiness in us, or more precisely, what type of activity does happiness consist in). On this issue, Giles's view is different from Aquinas's, for Giles holds that happiness consists in an act of the will rather than the intellect. Eardley's treatment of these topics is both clear and informative. He pays careful attention to the historical context of Giles's discussions (often noting the relations between Giles's positions and those of his contemporaries), and he is sensitive to the evolutions in Giles's thinking.

In the final two chapters of the book the reader is reminded again of how extensive Giles's intellectual interests were. In chapter 7 ("Logic, Rhetoric, and Language"), Costantino Marmo analyzes a number of issues in Giles's Super libros Rhetoricorum (it should be noted that Giles was one of the first to comment on Aristotle's Rhetoric), Super libros Elenchorum, and Super libros Posteriorum analyticorum. In chapter 8 ("Political Thought"), Roberto Lambertini draws upon Giles's De regimine principum and De ecclesiastica potestate to examine his thinking on the nature and limits of royal (temporal) and papal (spiritual) power.

A Companion to Giles of Rome is a most welcome addition to Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition. The book will be a necessary reference work for those interested in Giles or his contemporaries, and it should serve as a stimulus for further research on the Doctor fundatissimus.