Boethius and the Middle Ages

Some introductory remarks

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, last of the Romans and first of the scholastics in a famous word by Martin Grabmann, is rightly considered to be one of the most important transmitters of ancient thought into the Middle Ages: He did not only translate and/or comment authors like Aristotle, Cicero and Porphyry, but in his own works he also attempted to demonstrate the compatibility of Plato and Aristotle as was done by many Neoplatonists of his time. However this demonstration was possible only because he reorganized his sources in a specific way which also enabled him to articulate his proper epistemological, ontological and metaphysical ideas. Due to this combination of transmission and originality, visible mostly in his Consolatio philosophiae and the Opuscula sacra, Boethius became, together with Augustine, Cassiodorus, Isidore and other influencing authors of late antiquity, a key figure for the time preceding the rediscovery of Aristotle. Yet Boethius did not only precede the reception of Aristotle, but he also prepared it, in so far as philosophers and theologians of the twelfth century figured out the Aristotelian heritage of his texts, some of them using his thoughts moreover as a framework for the approach to the newly translated Arab philosophers – a constellation that led Marie-Dominique Chenu to name this epoch as the aetas boetiana. Although the emergence of the Aristotelian corpus in the thirteenth century had a considerable impact on the academic scene which resulted among other things in the decline of the systematic importance of Boethius’ work, the latter did not disappear completely. Thus, after a short period in which thinkers like Thomas Aquinas examined Boethius’ texts primarily in the perspective of the Aristotelian theory of science and knowledge, they have mostly survived due to their originality, and the Consolatio has become a philosophical “best seller” (H.R. Patch). The importance of Boethius’ philosophical career for the development of medieval philosophy suggests to dedicate one complete issue of Convenit to this topic.

This seemed to us all the more desirable as our research project, that has taken care of the composition of this issue, analyzes the theories of science and knowledge in the philosophical discourse of the Middle Ages. Our project is one out of fifteen subprojects of a transdisciplinary Humanities Research Unit (Kulturwissenschaftliches Forschungskolleg) founded in 1999 by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). In the general framework given by the common title The Culture of Knowledge and Social Change (Wissenskultur und gesellschaftlicher Wandel) the project lead by professor Matthias Lutz-Bachmann enquires into the transformation of knowledge and its conception in the Renaissance of the twelfth century focusing particularly on the preparation of the reception of the Aristotelian corpus. In this context one part of the project deals with Dominicus Gundissalinus and his Latin background not only as an enabling condition, but also as a selecting perspective in the reception and translation of Arabic philosophy to show the continuity between the western Latin tradition and the newly received texts. Another part concentrates on Alan of Lille and his reception and transformation of the Porretan theory of the sciences and the constitution of a philosophical theology. In both cases the research has shown more and more how crucial Boethius’ influence is for the specific enterprises of the considered authors and thus for the reception of Aristotle.

This issue of Convenit starts with the first Portuguese translation of Tractate I of the Opuscula sacra, the De Trinitate, by Jean Lauand (São Paulo). Before the general discussion of the Trinity this tractate contains the important distinction of the denominations, objects and methods of the sciences reminiscent of the sixth book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The political dimensions of Boethius’ Consolatio is discussed in an article by Andreas Wagner (Frankfurt) who shows how the consolation of philosophy entails the dismissal of politics. However he ends up by demonstrating that this manifest content of the book contradicts the address of the public in its writing and publication. Stephanie Vesper (Frankfurt) returns to the Opuscula sacra, considering the third tractate, De Hebdomadibus, in order to analyze the consistency of its notion of substantiality, and relates Boethius’ theory of emanation to his Trinitarian speculations in De Trinitate I and II. To underline his debt and difference to his neoplatonic predecessors she compares Boethius’ ideas with those of Plotinus. Starting the section concerning the reception of Boethius in the Middle Ages Alexander Fidora (Frankfurt) examines Dominicus Gundissalinus’ interpretation of the Boethian methodology of the sciences. He shows how by modifying it, the Toledean author elaborates a complex noetic theory which in turn conditions his reception of the Arabic falsafa. Returning to the Boethian De Hebdomadibus Andreas Niederberger (Frankfurt) analyzes the methodological background of Alan of Lille’s Regulae theologiae and argues for a deeper consideration of the impact of the Liber de causis. According to his conclusion the methodology of the Regulae can only be understood if the connection between ontology and epistemology is acknowledged. Peter Hoffmann (Frankfurt) studies the first quaestio of Saint Thomas’ commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate reconstructing the Thomasian idea of the foundation of knowledge. This leads the author to discuss the fundamental distinction drawn between philosophy and theology. The article of Ricardo da Costa (Vitória) and Adriana Zierer (Niterói) deals with the medieval reception of the image of the wheel of fortune stemming from the Consolatio Philosophiae and the way in which the Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull uses this metaphor in his Ars. As becomes clear he employs the wheel to criticize the new social values of the bourgeoisie of the cities in the thirteenth century. Jordi Pardo Pastor (Barcelona) points out the parallels between the concept of divine love in Boethius and Ramon Llull. He follows the ascent of the lover to the beloved in Llull’s Llibre d’Amich e Amat, a motive he can show to be present also in the Consolatio. Finally, in addition to the two papers on Ramon Llull and Boethius we include an article by José Higuera Rubió (Salvador) on the horror vacui in Llull and Leibniz.

We thank all the contributors for their cooperation, Jean Lauand and the Editora Mandruvá for their support and the offer to organize this monographic issue of Convenit.


Alexander Fidora
Andreas Niederberger

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