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23.03.04 Schumacher/Bychkov (eds./trans.), A Reader of Early Franciscan Theology

23.03.04 Schumacher/Bychkov (eds./trans.), A Reader of Early Franciscan Theology

When editors were working to publish the Summa Halensis in the mid-twentieth century, as part of Alexandri de Hales Summa Theologica, they noticed that it was not the sole work of Alexander of Hales, but of several different authors. [1] Later research has proven them correct. The Summa Halensis is the product of a collaboration between Franciscans, including Alexander of Hales and John of La Rochelle, at the university of Paris in the 1230s and 1240s. Rather than being a mishmash of theological sections, it is a coherent work which showcases early Franciscan intellectual thought.

The Summa Halensis has received much attention in the past few years from scholars. Part of it was republished with an accompanying German translation by Michael Basse in 2018. It has also been the feature of conferences and two volumes of articles: The Summa Halensis: Doctrines and Debates and The Summa Halensis: Sources and Contexts. Each of these scholarly works has been published open-access by De Gruyter. It will, undoubtedly, become more popular (if academic works can be considered “popular”) as a result of these recent works. Lydia Schumacher, one of the editors of this reader, is behind much of the recent attention devoted to the Summa Halensis. She edited both volumes of articles concerning the Summa Halensis and is one of the leading experts on it. Oleg Bychkov, the other editor, is a specialist in medieval philosophy and theology, and has co-edited multiple works by John Duns Scotus.

The Reader provides a guide by Schumacher and Simon Maria Kopf with suggestions on how to cite the Summa Halensis (ix). The guide is based on the Quaracchi edition which has been the standard edition used by scholars since its publication in the twentieth century. The editors use this citation style when citing the excerpts featured in the reader. This guide is very useful because the standard citation style is rather complex. Perhaps one minor quibble is that the editors suggest naming Alexander of Hales as the author when citing the Summa Halensis in the first instance. Though the editors are fully aware that this work is a collaboration and Alexander of Hales may have not been the author of a specific passage, this decision is unsatisfying. While there is a long tradition of ascribing the work to Alexander of Hales, perhaps it would be more logical and accurate to simply omit a specific author to the Summa Halensis. Though the Summa Halensis derives its Latin name from an old attribution to Alexander of Hales, it would likely create more confusion to change its Latin name since scholars have referred to the work as the Summa Halensis for years. Nevertheless, this is a minor issue which should not detract from the value of the work.

The introduction of the book is very valuable. Schumacher and Bychkov provide a good, brief introduction to the Summa Halensis, which incorporates much of the recent work on it. Perhaps more could be said about the Summa Halensis, but this is a minor issue since several recent volumes have been published open-access. Nevertheless, the introduction is good and leaves one hungering for more knowledge.

As this audience knows, medieval theological and philosophical texts had a particular style of organization which can be daunting and perplexing to those approaching the sources for the first time. The introduction does not provide a discussion of this organization style. This does not necessarily mean that those lacking prior experience with such texts should avoid this book. A savvy undergraduate could probably figure out the organization. However, instructors using this book in their course would best serve their students by providing an explanation about how to read these types of sources before sending their pupils into the excerpts of the Summa Halensis.

The introduction also includes brief summaries of the arguments made by the excerpts included in the reader. This is helpful, especially for students delving into medieval philosophy for the first time who may become lost in the organization of the text. It is also helpful for scholars because it draws attention to distinguishing arguments made by the Summa Halensis. For example, the translators take the opportunity to reaffirm in their summary of the different methods of interpreting Scripture that the Summa Halensis views theology as consisting of virtue and practical efficiency as opposed to speculative knowledge (15). This is a useful tool that helps readers recognize overarching themes developed by the Summa Halensis.

The editors provide an explanation on the text and translation in the introduction. Their intended audience is wide, ranging from undergraduates to Franciscans and academic researchers. The translation itself is based on the Quaracchi edition published between 1924 and 1948. Despite early modern editions being available, this edition has become the standard source for modern scholars. This work is presented as a joint translation with Schumacher focusing on chapters 3, 4, 6, and 9 and Bychkov on chapters 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8. The introduction notes that the translation styles of each translator differ, though no specifics in this regard are mentioned, thereby leaving one to wonder what the differences were. Nevertheless, the introduction expounds several general guidelines which led the translators. The translation is intended to provide an understandable and transparent text for English-speaking readers. Calque translation is avoided. Yet, the translators have attempted to retain some degree of closeness to the Latin text so that researchers can follow along with the Latin text. This appears to have succeeded. A casual glance at the Latin text and the English translation seems to be good and fairly easy to follow.

The Latin editors sought to supply full references for quotations within the Latin text. The translators for this reader have supplied references for authors explicitly mentioned within the text, but not for implicit citations. They instead direct readers to the Latin edition which contains implicit citations. This is adequate for undergraduate students, but researchers may be better served by having the Latin text at hand.

The work is divided into nine chapters or selections which deal with various theological subjects: theology as a science, human knowledge of God, the existence of God, the divine nature, transcendentals, the Trinity, Christology, free choice, and moral theology. The editors included excerpts from these subjects because they were fundamental to the significance of the early Franciscan intellectual tradition (1). The editors include discussions about the innovations made in each of these subjects in the introduction. For example, it is here that the editors note that the approach of the Summa Halensis to the divine nature deviates from Augustine’s approach. While Augustine and other medieval writers emphasize the simplicity of the divine nature, the Summa Halensis emphasizes the infinity of God (23). It is discussions like these in the introduction that allow readers to grasp how the Summa Halensis fits into medieval theology.

Perhaps anticipating the fact that most readers will approach the book in an electronic format, the publishers have elected to forgo an index. While some traditionalists may find this surprising, it is sensical choice. Since it is possible to download the book as a pdf, one is able to search the text for a certain word or phrase. Its lack of an index does not seem to hinder the usefulness of the book.

Overall, the book is useful. It makes the Summa Halensis more accessible to an English-reading audience. Advanced undergraduates and some scholars are likely to find it useful, whether in advancing their own knowledge or for research purposes. Furthermore, the price of the book (free) is impossible to beat, especially in a time when academic works are increasingly costly. The publication of this book is a good start to educating a general audience about medieval philosophy. One may hope that this book will eventually be surpassed by an English translation of the entire work. Until then, this book will do nicely.



1. Doctoris irrefragabilis Alexandri de Hales Ordinis minorum Summa theologica, 4 vols. (Quaracchi: Collegium S. Bonaventurae, 1924-1948).