1 The Liber de causis at the Heart of Albert’s Philosophical Programme
It may not be an exaggeration to say that just as the prima causa enjoys ubiquitous presence in created reality according to the Liber de causis (henceforth: LDC), so does the LDC itself enjoy a similar presence in Albert the Great’s works.1 Ranging from his very first theological treatise, De natura boni (after ca. 1232–1234), to one of his very last philosophical works, the Problemata determinata (ca. 1271), the LDC features in all of Albert’s major treatises, regardless of their theological or philosophical intentions.2
The unmistakable climax of Albert’s appropriation of the LDC lies in his commentary on it, or rather in his creative fusion of commentary preceded by a hermeneutical framework. Written between 1264–1267, immediately after completing his commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Albert devised his De causis et processu universitatis a prima causa by prefixing this hermeneutical framework, which supplemented the insights contained in the LDC, with reflexions on the nature, characteristics, and activity of the prima causa in close reliance on Al-Ghazali’s Metaphysics.3 In its articulated systematic purpose, Albert’s commentary on the LDC complements Aristotle’s Metaphysics XI (lambda) in the Latin translation, and thus concludes his philosophical programme of real philosophy (philosophia realis).4 Initially, though, Albert had not planned to assign the LDC any systematic purpose within his own philosophical programme, which he began to write around 1250 by commenting on Aristotle’s Physics. Yet when he concluded his commentary on book XI of the Metaphysics, he came to realise that demonstrative proofs concerning the principles of substance, motion, and movers of the heavens were lacking, and he observed the danger of certain conflations between philosophical and theological arguments concerning these matters. As a consequence, Albert inserted his De causis et processu universitatis a prima causa into his overall philosophical programme.5 This is why the De causis not only temporally concluded Albert’s ambitious commentary project on Aristotle’s works (including pseudo-Aristotelian works, such as the LDC),6 but also anchored it scientifically and crowned it as the very foundation of philosophia realis.7 The LDC thus achieved the maximal point of significance in Albert’s scientific edifice, a significance of methodological primacy over Albert’s complete codification of the corpus Aristotelicum that can hardly be overestimated.
Yet, as we know all too well with our own work, every crowning achievement has its own history—a history that is usually characterised by less advanced and less developed stages. Such a history is also the history of the LDC in Albert’s appropriation thereof. But what exactly are these less advanced and less developed stages? How can they best be characterised? And how did they lead to the methodological primacy of the LDC over all scientiae reales? The primary purpose of this paper is to shed light on Albert’s appropriation of the LDC into his own system of thought as it evolved, and to consider the key developments in the beginning stages of it. In so doing, we hope to show that these early stages of Albert’s appropriation of the LDC provide us with crucial insights into his growing interest in this source as the systematic foundation of his overarching scientific edifice. Indubitably, in a paper as short as ours, we can only provide a glimpse of a history that is marked by great complexity. For not only does Albert’s appropriation of the LDC advance and develop as we proceed chronologically in our study of his works, but so too does his own system of thought—and, unsurprisingly it does so in light of his evolving appreciation of the LDC in different contexts, in different ways, and with different ends in mind. Such a complexity of interrelations raises the question of how we can best make sense of the history of Albert’s appropriation of the LDC. In recognising the potential shortcomings of our approach, we take as our analytic tools the notions of ‘significance’ or ‘weight’, perceived in terms of quantity, place, and manner. These three ways of perceiving significance or weight will aid us in elucidating the proliferations and intensifications of Albert’s appropriation of the LDC in a clear and structured way.
Under these conditions, then, we proceed by turning to what we have identified as the first phase of Albert’s appropriation of the LDC, a phase which encompasses his scholarly activity prior to the Parisian period. In the first section, we uncover Albert’s initial integration of select propositions of the LDC into the context of biblical theological subject matters, and identify them as decontextualized or ‘dissociated transformations’ of ideas. We show how in this phase, Albert did not grant the LDC an autonomous significance in terms of content, but rather put formal-systematic characteristics of individual propositions into the service of explaining moral and systematic theological themes. Subsequently, we turn to the second phase of his appropriation, now in Paris, and single out one particular work of his, the Summa de creaturis with its two parts, De IV coaequaevis and De homine. In this second section, we reveal how Albert begins to integrate key propositions of the LDC into his own understanding of the world’s coming-to-be, and thus grants the LDC, for the first time, an autonomous significance in terms of its genuine content. This ‘anchored transformation’, as we call it, of the insights contained in the LDC—a transformation characterised by “persistence in an original or closely related scientific context, and attachment to a native research question”—represents a key condition under which Albert was able to move beyond significance in content toward significance in method.8 In the third section, we briefly turn to the final phase of Albert’s early appropriation of the LDC. Here, in his commentary on the Sentences, we find Albert implement a second key move on his path toward the LDC’s significance in method: the clear division of the sciences of theology and philosophy.
2 Albert’s Pre-Parisian Appropriations of the Liber de causis
It was most likely during his initial period of lecturing in the Teutonian province at the Dominican Order’s convents in Hildesheim, Freiburg, Regensburg, and Strasbourg that Albert composed his first scholarly work, the De natura boni (ca. 1230s). In heavy reliance on a paraenetic approach, this moral theological treatise examines the concepts of a virtuous life and right ethical conduct. Shortly after completing this treatise, and in line with the second pillar of the theological commentary practices of his days, Albert composed three systematic theological treatises for his early lecturing activities: the first redactions of the De sacramentis, De incarnatione, and De resurrectione. These have been dated with high probability to his pre-Parisian period before 1242.9 In all four treatises, the LDC is present in a rather limited way and highly decontextualized from its original meaning and purpose. Only six of the thirty-one propositions of the LDC can be found in these treatises, all in highly isolated contexts which draw on them, mostly for the purpose of expounding biblical or systematic theological themes by way of philosophical authority. Yet already we can discern a clear development with regard to place and manner of appropriation.
In Albert’s De natura boni, we were able to identify proposition XVI(XVII) as the only case of appropriation from the LDC: omnis virtus unita plus est infinita quam virtus multiplicata.10 Albert uses this proposition in order to illustrate the biblical concept of ‘overshadowing’ as pertinent to the annunciation for Mary’s immaculate conception, and he reasons that this is in analogy to our every-day experience of the effects that shadows have on our vision if there is an excess of sunlight. Just like they concentrate or unify our visual capacity, so too does the biblical overshadowing concentrate in its unifying powers for the annunciation.11 This biblical context is, of course, far from the original context and meaning of this proposition in the LDC. But Albert’s principal interest seems to lie in the formal aspects of the LDC’s isomorphism between unity and power as attributes of first and secondary causes alone, an interest that may well have led him to decontextualize proposition XVI entirely from its original context.12
As we progress in Albert’s early works, we find such a decontextualizing use of individual propositions from the LDC to be the rule rather than the exception. Albert’s first systematic theological treatise, De sacramentis, draws on proposition I together with its accompanying commentary: omnis causa primaria plus est influens super causatum suum quam causa universalis secunda.13 Located in a sed contra as the first authority before Augustine’s De baptismo puerorum, its principal purpose is to account for the hierarchical order of the sacraments. In systematic analogy to the first cause of the LDC, Albert presents the sacrament of baptism as the first, per se, and necessary cause in the order of the sacraments upon which all subsequent sacraments depend in their causal efficacy.14 In its original meaning of the LDC, proposition I has, of course, no thematic relation to the order of the sacraments, but is rather concerned with the relationship of the first universal cause of all there is to the subsequent primary causes. Yet Albert’s analogous use of it reveals his salient attention to its formal-systematic characteristics in their flexible applicability to new thematic contexts.
Albert establishes a similar formal decontextualization in the same treatise with regard to proposition XXIII(XXIV) of the LDC: causa prima existit in rebus omnibus secundum dispositionem unam, sed res omnes non existunt in causa prima secundum dispositionem unam.15 This time, however, he draws on it in his reply to an objection rather than in a sed contra argument. In connecting proposition XXIII(XXIV) to pseudo-Dionysius’ statement from his De divinis nominibus that ipsa quidem [trinitas] universis adest; non omnia autem ipsi adsunt,16 Albert accounts for the systematic theological theme of unique substantial change in Eucharistic transsubstantiation, and he reasons that although this change affects the underlying subject of bread and wine, it does in no way affect Christ’s body.17 Formally speaking, proposition XXIII(XXIV) may well be said to fulfil a similar purpose as in the LDC, where it accounts for unified versus participating inherences. Thematically speaking, however, its main purpose in the LDC is to illustrate the difference between the unified inherence of the first cause in all things in accordance with its universal presence and the ascending participation of all caused things in this first cause in accordance with their limited receptivity. Once again, Albert relies on a proposition from the LDC in formal-systematic and decontextualizing terms, but this time in clear position to reinforce his own theological argumentation and in connection to other authorities.18
An even more prominent argumentative positioning of the LDC and a more skilful connection with other authorities emerge from Albert’s appropriation of proposition VIII(IX) in his De incarnatione: et intelligentia est habens yliathim quoniam est esse et forma et similiter anima est habens yliathim.19 Embedded in the context of two Aristotelian definitions of materiality and receptivity, Albert explains that the soul of all humans, including Adam and Christ, is ‘receptive by nature’ (anima passibilis est per naturam). Materiality, however, can be said in a number of ways, of which only the third way as propounded by proposition VIII(IX) of the LDC is applicable to the human soul:
In the third way, it is called matter, as it has a receptive nature [ratio] because it is an individual thing [hoc aliquid] with regard to any form, be it that it is a form of nature or a form of intention. And in this way, it is understood in the Liber de causis where it is said that an intelligence is composed of hyliatico and form. And, therefore, said as matter largely speaking, the soul has a nature [ratio] of matter and a nature [ratio] of imperfection, not with regard to its substantial form, but with regard to the accidental forms.20
The Arabic notion yliathim (including all its cognates and implying ‘determination’ in its original meaning) was merely transliterated in Gerard of Cremona’s Latin translation, and remained undefined in its meaning there.21 Latin authors, including Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, mistakenly identified its meaning as ‘matter’ or ‘receptivity’ in false etymological association with the Greek hyle, rather than as a formal attribute of the intelligence.22 Yet Albert’s explanation in our passage above clearly reveals the ‘skilful interpretation’ of this difficult term that is usually ascribed to Thomas Aquinas. For he conceives of yliathim in an immaterial receptive way with regard to the human soul—a way that he may have likely been familiar with through his reading of Averroes’ Long Commentary on the De anima.23 Although applied to a Christological context and yet again decontextualized from its original meaning, Albert’s use of proposition VIII(IX) here reveals an important advancement in his manner of appropriation. Featured in a crucial explanatory reply and in immediate synthesis with Aristotelian definitions on the same theme, we can see how Albert shapes his systematic theology in reliance on an increasingly philosophical substantiation in which the LDC plays an evolving role.24
A similar synthetic integration of the LDC, yet in application to the more general theme of anthropology can be witnessed in Albert’s De resurrectione, where he incorporates proposition XVII(XVIII)—vita est processio procedens ex ente primo quieto, sempiterno, et primus motus—into his solutio to the question about the nature of eternal life.25 Following upon three other definitions of life, (1) the biblical-Christian teleological conception with reference to the beatific vision, (2) the Aristotelian conception as motion of a vegetative genus following nature,26 and (3) Alfred of Sareshel’s definition as “continuous act of the soul in relation to the body”, Albert defines the fourth meaning of life in reliance on this proposition as “the procession proceeding from the first being which is always at rest and eternal”.27 While this definition of life was still absent from his earlier systematic theological treatise De sacramentis, which concentrated more on the physiological and ethical perspectives of life, Albert now considers human life holistically by including its transcendent origin and telos.28 Indeed, in analogy to the intrinsic principles of this-worldly life, the human soul and intellect, it is also God, the cause of eternal life, who is ‘intrinsic’ to the human soul and intellect, albeit not essentially. This advanced synthetic stage of appropriation of the LDC in Albert’s pre-Parisian period marks its culmination, yet again it is evident that his use of proposition XVII(XVIII) remains thematically unrelated to its original meaning in the LDC, where it serves to demarcate the causative act of the first cause (per modum creationis) modally from the causative acts of the secondary causes (per modum formae).29
In sum, then, Albert’s pre-Parisian appropriation of individual propositions from the LDC is limited to six propositions and is marked by qualitative decontextualizations. Albert’s appropriations during this phase are exclusively characterised by a concentration on formal-systematic aspects of individual propositions, which are then put into service for explications of moral and systematic theological themes. At the same time, the individual propositions of the LDC move to more and more prominent settings in Albert’s works, leaving the argumenta rather quickly, migrating via the sed contrae and responsiones to the solutiones at the very heart of Albert’s argumentation. With this changed position in the argumentative structure, the LDC is increasingly connected to other authorities, anticipating Albert’s integrative approach to the material at hand. But what happens when Albert begins to discuss theological themes closely related to the LDC’s own concerns? How can we characterise its significance and weight then? To answer these questions, we turn to the next stage of Albert’s early appropriation of the LDC.
3 The Liber de causis in Albert’s Summa de creaturis
Beginning with his treatise of the Summa de creaturis, which was meant to synthesise theology and philosophy in a holistic worldview and which comprises the two well-known treatises De IV coaequaevis and De homine, Albert implemented many more insights found in the LDC into the strongly overlapping systematic contexts of creation and anthropology. In its overall structure and method, Albert’s Summa de creaturis relied on the near-contemporary theological Summa de bono by Philip the Chancellor (d. 1236). Yet in its thematic content it is, to a large extent, a foray into the previously uncharted territory of the philosophical writings of Aristotle and the Peripatetics. Albert’s Summa de creaturis indeed aimed at proposing a unifying and systematically coherent account of theological and philosophical viewpoints concerning the two fundamental themes of creation and anthropology, and to determine the synthetic truth of these matters.30 In order to decide on this truth, Albert had to incorporate a large panoply of sources. But which of the seemingly unlimited insights contained in these sources would have to be integrated where and how? And how should any of these insights be interpreted in light of his own intention to reveal the synthetic truth of theology and philosophy? These choices of integration and interpretation presented an especially challenging task for Albert in his Summa de creaturis, since they more often than not seemed to require reconciling the irreconcilable.
Albert, nonetheless, faced up to this task with considerable scholastic flexibility and dedication, and, to a great extent, relied on the LDC in so doing. Contrary to his pre-Parisian period, Albert’s reliance on the LDC thus sees a steep quantitative increase in his Summa de creaturis. As far as we can tell, Albert quotes the LDC twenty-five times explicitly in his De IV coaequaevis, referring to fourteen different propositions. Similarly, in his De homine Albert quotes the LDC thirty-four times, again referring to fourteen propositions, nine of which were cited in the De IV coaequaevis as well.31 More important than quantitative increases are place and especially manner of Albert’s reliance on the LDC. Despite maintaining a number of decontextualizations of individual propositions and despite discussing a number of them in less prominent settings such as the argumenta and sed contrae, a fundamental development in Albert’s appropriation is evident. For the first time, the LDC becomes a lead authority in his argumentation in a context closely related to the concerns of the LDC itself; in other words, Albert grants the LDC an autonomous relevance in terms of content which he did not grant this work previously in his decontextualizing appropriations in his pre-Parisian period.
This is particularly the case in two thematically related solutiones of Albert’s De IV coaequaevis: the first is concerned with the question of whether “the intrinsic mover, which is indivisible in quantity and motion, is a celestial soul or not?”; the second is concerned with the question of whether “the angels understand by species, and if so, what are these?”32 In reply to the first question, Albert bundles together four different propositions from the LDC—propositions VII(VIII), XII(XIII), XIV(XV), and XXII(XXIII)—and in his reply to the second question, he relies heavily on proposition IX(X).33 The use of these five different propositions in these solutiones may be considered a decisive development vis-à-vis his earlier inclusions. More interesting, however, is the fact that the solutions deal with the very same theme that the LDC does, namely celestial intelligences and their causal activity. In his earliest systematic work, Albert thus adopts insights contained in the LDC as the truth on the matters of the world’s coming-to-be. It is this adoption that can be identified as the first anchored transformation of the LDC in Albert’s works, precisely because it addresses the very same theme that the LDC does. In order to understand this better, we will examine now this first anchored transformation in detail.
The first solution—that on the question of the celestial soul—is found in the context of Albert’s discussions on the third coequal, the empyreal heaven. In article 1, which precedes our question, Albert had identified God as the prime mover of the heavens in reliance on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and referred to Him as “the external mover disproportionate to the moved”, and “the first cause outside every genus […] whose caused things comprise all of creation”.34 Yet Albert also introduced two other movers, hierarchically beneath God and intrinsic to nature, the so-called forma coniuncta caelo (the second mover) and the forma materialis (the third mover).35 With this three-fold division of celestial movers, Albert revealed his indebtedness to the Peripatetic tradition as well as to the LDC, even though he had not yet adopted the latter’s four-fold division of the causae primariae of proposition VIII(IX), as he will in his commentary on the LDC.
In the following article, our article under consideration, Albert discusses the nature and activity of the two internal celestial movers. Here, in addition to the LDC, he cites Aristotle, Moses Maimonides, and Averroes (De substantia orbis)36 to support his identification of the forma coniuncta caelo or heavenly intelligence with the ‘celestial souls’ (animae orbium).37 However, it is the LDC with propositions XII(XIII) and XIV(XV) that enables him to distinguish these celestial souls sharply from human souls. Albert thus reasons with the help of the LDC that while the celestial souls cognise by way of fully self-reflexive cognition as propounded in both propositions, this activity remains unachievable for human souls.38 This sharp difference in cognitive activity serves Albert subsequently to account for the ontology and causal activity of the celestial souls: each celestial soul possesses the two powers of intellect and moving appetite, each is totally self-sufficient in its existence and in its activity, and each attends to body like “nature to ship, […] moving and ruling [body]”.39 To support this last claim concerning the celestial soul’s causal activity, Albert draws yet again on the LDC, this time on proposition XXII(XXIII): Omnis intelligentia divina scit res per hoc quod est intelligentia, et regit eas per hoc est divina.40 While the causality still remains unclear in this appropriation of the LDC, in his reply to argumentum five, Albert finally explains how he envisions it in greater detail, and suggests that the celestial souls “cause all diversity in inferior beings in accordance with nature by their motion of causes”, which is based on their self-cognition.41 In reliance on proposition VII(VIII) of the LDC, Albert determines all knowledge of the celestial souls to be neither particular nor universal, but rather causal. Each celestial soul is “a mover according to the predetermination of its determined work, never in error […], and always correct in its work, because it never accepts a thing except by the fact that it truly is its cause according to nature.”42 But how exactly does Albert envision the causal activity of these celestial souls to occur? And what role does the LDC play in this conception?
To answer these questions, we must turn to Albert’s discussion of the fourth coequal, the angels, in which proposition IX(X) of the LDC plays an important role.43 By identifying the biblical angels with the celestial souls we just considered, Albert grounds their causality in their “deiform” cognition44—deiform for two reasons: on the one hand, because of the forms by which they cognise; on the other hand, because of their peculiar act of cognition. Regarding these forms Albert suggests, this time relying on pseudo-Dionysius and Augustine, that angelic cognition occurs by way of infused intelligible species, a suggestion that clearly foreshadows Aquinas’ conception of angelic cognition.45 Yet Albert goes beyond the purely cognitive level and identifies these species or formae ad res, as “exemplars of the natural causes” or “seminal rational causes from which all work of nature is produced.”46 This causal conception of the formae ad res in the angels sounds a bit startling, given that we would expect exemplars or seminal causes to be in God. Yet Albert is quick to suggest a significant causal limitation. While God contains the exemplars in identity to His substance and essence and thus has full creative power through them, the angels contain them according to their own property and measure as natural causes and thus have limited causal power through them, limited to the motion and change of matter.47
Similarly, for Albert the angelic cognition is deiform because of its act, which he identifies as static, immediate, and a certain mode of cognition, full of forms. This last formulation is, of course, a reference to proposition IX(X) of the LCD according to which omnis intelligentia plena est formis.48 Quoting the commentary to this proposition, Albert thus accounts for the angelic hierarchies: the universality of the forms contained in them gives away the simplicity of their form. Or, the other way around, the simpler the essence, the more universal and the less in quantitative terms the forms of understanding.49 This is yet again an understanding that Thomas Aquinas will adopt for the remainder of his career.50
To sum up Albert’s reliance on the LCD in his Summa de creaturis, we find that in explicit reliance on propositions VII(VIII), IX(X), XII(XIII), XIV(XV), and XXII(XXIII) he introduces his conception of the causal activities of the celestial souls or angels. In so doing, he not only distinguishes their cognitive activity from that of humans, but also separates their natural causation through change and motion from God’s creative activity ex nihilo. As we learn from the very beginning and very end of the De IV coaequaevis, the relation between the creative activity of God and the natural causality of the celestial souls differs. On the one hand, creation ex nihilo is limited to the world’s installation, schematically accounted for by the hexaemeron and causally restricted to an efficient creation of nature “in its principles”. On the other hand, following upon this initial installation, divine causality propagated (propagavit) all coming to be “with nature” (cum natura), and perpetually reduced nature’s workings to perfection (usque ad perfectionem deduxit opera).51 This “mediate creation”, as we may call it, is something that Albert openly endorses in reliance on proposition VIII(IX) of the LDC, and that he will come to develop as one of his leading philosophical principles, expressed by the well-known formula opus naturae est opus intelligentiae.52
As we have seen, the LDC stands at the very heart of Albert’s early solution to the question of creation. Its appropriation in Albert’s Summa de creaturis, particularly in his De IV coaequaevis, can be identified as an anchored transformation of the insights contained in the LDC. Contrary to Albert’s dissociated transformation of the LDC in his pre-Parisian phase, the LDC is now granted an autonomous thematic relevance in Albert’s works that it did not possess before. The insights contained in it are woven into Albert’s thought mostly in their original meaning and are no longer formalised or abstracted from their original context as was the case before. Since the aim of Albert’s Summa de creaturis differs from the earlier theological works in that it intends to provide a holistic understanding of the world by way of a synthesis of theological and philosophical considerations, it seems to have been a natural move for Albert to take the LDC at face value. Yet Albert’s anchored transformation of the LDC in his Summa de creaturis should not only be interpreted in light of his earlier transformations in his previous works but also in light of his ensuing integrations, and particularly in light of his integration of it into his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences. For it is in this work, which he composed shortly after his Summa de creaturis, that Albert’s use of the LDC takes on a different yet crucial meaning on the path to its systematic relevance for Albert’s overall philosophical programme. Indeed, it is in his Sentences that we can witness the turning point in Albert’s methodological efforts, away from his conciliatory approach to theology and philosophy and towards a a clear-cut division between both scientific realms.
4 Albert’s Sentences: Systematic Reorientation and the Liber de causis
On the surface, Albert’s commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences (1246) seems to take a stark turn for orthodoxy on the three questions of the angels’ ontology, their movement of the heavens, and their involvement in mediate creation. The sensitivity of such topics, particularly in a commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, led, as we shall see, to a more prudent treatment of them, which may indeed explain Albert’s move away from his earlier conflation of the biblical angels with the Peripatetic intelligences or celestial souls. Devoting an entire question to this ‘mistake’ of conflation, as he calls it in book II of his Sentences—a mistake which was committed by certain people (quidam)53—Albert proclaims that “we shall never fall into the error of saying that angels are necessary for the motion of the heavens.”54 Likewise, he declares that the philosophers commit an error maledictus in maintaining that the heavens are naturally moved by the triad of celestial movers: the first cause, the intelligence, and the heavenly soul.55 Following the most orthodox theological source of his times, John Damascene’s De fide orthodoxa, Albert insists instead “that it should be more truthfully maintained that [the heavens] are only moved by divine command and will”, and similarly that “nothing is more safely said than that the [heavens] are moved by the will of God alone, and, by their proper nature, which does not oppose motion.”56
These questions comprise a crucial stage in Albert’s systematic development, particularly because he now shifts from his conciliatory project between theology and philosophy to the clear division of the two sciences in book II of his Sentences. When Albert began to consider the scientific character of theology here along Aristotelian criteria for the first time, he soon realised that his previous efforts at a conciliatory synthesis between the two sciences could not do justice to either of them. Albert revised his understanding of their relationship as a result, and began to distinguish sharply between them along the Aristotelian criteria of scientific principles, subject matter, unity, and goal. Yet Albert’s methodological separation of theology and philosophy did not only result in a legitimation of theology as an independent discipline and a safeguarding of its status as a subject taught at the University of Paris. More importantly, it also gave rise to a far-reaching scientific autonomy of all philosophical disciplines and granted them a scientific standing of equality as opposed to than their previous reduction under theology. Accordingly, when Albert recapitulates his earlier scholarly efforts in book II of the Sentences on creation, he distances himself from his reductionism and explains that “elsewhere still much was discussed concerning this matter, and [it was done so] extensively; yet there, we were following what certain masters of theology said, who wished to reduce the opinions on the natural [sciences] to theology.”57
There is no surprise then, that, inasmuch as Albert refrains from reducing philosophy to theology, he also refrains from conflating the angels with the celestial intelligences in his commentary on the Sentences, a separation that he will maintain for the remainder of his career.58 But there is another reason than the systematic one in Albert’s eyes that the angels should be distinguished from the celestial intelligences: angels cannot be considered celestial movers and causes, because their missions as described in the Bible differ fundamentally from the propagative purposes of the celestial intelligences described in the LDC (and of course by other philosophical thinkers in the Peripatetic tradition).59 Aristotelian method as applied to theology and Biblical content thus provided Albert with strong reasons for distinguishing angels from celestial intelligences from the mid-1240s onwards. The status and purpose of the angels within theology was thus restored in a traditional sense. Yet what did Albert have to say about the celestial intelligences in his theology, their ontological status, and their purpose in moving the heavens and mediating creation?
This question leads us to the heart of Albert’s unique appropriation of the LDC in his Sentences. His main point in this regard was to propose that the question of celestial motion and causality as exerted by the separate intelligences does not fall under the domain of theology as propounded in the Sentences.
Those things, however, that are presented in the Liber de causis ought to be avoided, because the philosophers who speak of the intelligences posit them to be causes [of things in the world].60
Albert’s suggestion here of avoiding the LDC’s views on the propagation of the celestial intelligences in the theology of the Sentences does not mean that this theme does not fall under theology per se. Indeed, as we saw in the previous section of this paper, Albert’s synthetic worldview in his Summa de creaturis allowed him explicitly to incorporate insights of the LDC into his theology, and most prominent among them was the propagation of the celestial intelligences. The general distinction that needs to be drawn to solve this seeming dilemma is that Albert’s theology as promulgated in his commentary on the Sentences needed to fulfil obligations of adherence to Biblical authority and traditional orthodoxy. His discussion of creation was thus controlled by standards that were not his own; standards that differed noticeably from the wider conception of theology that Albert’s own theological works set forth. In contrast his own standards embraced a much greater scope of authoritative texts and explicitly included philosophical sources without a forced reinterpretation such as the LDC. When, in his Sentences, Albert thus propounds an orthodox interpretation of creation and rejects the relevance of the LDC for his understanding thereof, this does not mean that he reverses his positive attitude toward the relevance of the LDC for the truth of the matter of creation. On the contrary, we find that when he revisits the question in his De caelesti hierarchia, Albert is outspoken again about the celestial intelligences, and reasons that it is plausible to regard them as the proximate movers of the heavens.61 In his Super Ethica and all his following works, Albert openly affirms the existence of the celestial intelligences and their causal propagative activities, and maintains this view too for the remainder of his career.62
This suggests that Albert’s understanding of the conciliability of faith and reason, of theological truth with philosophical truths was other than that of some of his contemporaries. For him, faith was open to rational arguments that decidedly extended, broadened, and advanced contemporary understandings of revealed truth, more often than not well beyond the tastes of traditionalists, as in the case of the LDC’s view on celestial propagation. The decided advantage of Albert’s understanding of theology as a flexible enterprise was that there could not be any contradiction between faith and reason. Theology’s boundaries were permeable rather than impenetrable in Albert’s eyes; they gave space to breathe the air of philosophy, and to inhale it into its system.
A second advantage, which resulted from Albert’s rejection of any possible contradiction between faith and reason within theology, was the freedom it created for the use of philosophical works in their original meaning, content, and systematic relevance independently of theology. This philosophical autonomy extended most importantly to the LDC, for it was this treatise that eventually came to present the methodologically crowning achievement of Albert’s overall philosophical programme. Albert’s anchored transformation of the LDC in his Sentences marks a crucial step on the path to this autonomy and significance of the LDC. For it is in this work that Albert moves away from welcoming the LDC as a treatise in service of theology to appreciating the intrinsic value of its insights on its own grounds, an appreciation that was required to clear the way for the developments later to come.
5 Concluding Remarks
Without hesitation, then, we conclude that the LDC permeates Albert’s corpus from its very beginnings until its very end, but it does so in different contexts, in different ways, and with different ends. Initially, Albert integrated the LDC by way of decontextualizing transformations of select propositions into the context of genuinely biblical theological subject matters with the purpose of achieving a better understanding of these unrelated subject matters. Then, in his first theological Summa de creaturis, Albert grounded structure and content in the biblical gloss on Genesis and interpreted the major theme of propagation as preceded by creation in implicit reliance on the creative system of the LDC, as well as in explicit reliance on half of the LDC’s propositions.63 Here, Albert appropriated the LDC by way of an anchored transformation and preserved the original meaning of central themes contained in it, but he did so with the decided purpose to conciliate the LDC’s philosophical truths with the theological truths as contained in the Bible and Christian tradition. Finally, Albert’s systematic separation of philosophy and theology in his commentary on the Sentences led him to a renewed and more authentic appreciation of the LDC in his works to follow. While he seemingly rejected the LDC’s thematic relevance for the question of creation within the traditional theological context of his qualifying work on the Sentences, he nonetheless paved the way for the LDC’s philosophical liberation in the works to come. His clear discrimination between, on the one hand, the being and roles of biblical angels and, on the other hand, the being and roles of the celestial intelligences, allowed him to come to an improved appraisal of the LDC’s importance on the levels of content and method. At the end of this long journey, the LDC thus attained the highest possible significance in Albert’s scientific edifice due to its foundational purpose for his philosophia realis.
Thematically speaking, it would, nonetheless, be fair to say that the LDC has stood at the heart of Albert’s thought ever since its earliest anchored transformation in his Summa de creaturis. Far from the double truth or double standards, Albert’s unique appropriation of the LDC, particularly in his early works of the Summa de creaturis and the Sentences, is truly a significant intellectual achievement in the history of Aristotelian philosophy,64 an achievement whose effects and influence on later thinkers and especially his student, the young Thomas Aquinas, is yet to be fully appreciated.
Liber de causis
De IV coaequaevis I.1.1, p. 308b; II.4.1, p. 360a; De homine, p. 53.3–20; p. 85.11–17; p. 86.63–74; 595.32–49.
De IV coaequaevis II.3.3, p. 351b; IV.70, p. 723a.
De homine, p. 75.47–49; p. 76.61–69; p. 96.20–69; p. 390.30–37; p. 409.42–52; p. 471.66–472.3; impl. p. 75.9–12.
De IV coaequaevis I.2.1, p. 320 sq.; De homine, p. 459.46–57; p. 584.14–35; impl. p. 588.28–36.
impl. De homine, p. 414.1–15.
De homine, p. 424.29–38.
De IV coaequaevis IV.21.1, p. 462a; IV.38.1, p. 552a.
Prop. VII (VIII)
De IV coaequaevis III.16.2, p. 444b; De homine, p. 41.69–42.15.
De IV coaequaevis I.1.3, p. 312b; De homine, p. 65.39–50; p. 92.32–38; p. 410.57–411.7.
De IV coaequaevis IV.21.1, p. 465a; IV.24.2, p. 479a; p. 480b; De homine, p. 390.30–37; p. 428.58–62; impl. p. 411.66–412.14.
De IV coaequaevis III.16.2, p. 443b; IV.63.1, p. 669a; De homine, p. 420.45–48; p. 426.62–427.4.
De homine, p. 75.55–60; 76.61–69.
De IV coaequaevis III.16.2, p. 443b; De homine, p. 420.49–53; p. 422.20–25.
De homine, p. 424.29–33.
De IV coaequaevis III.16.3, p. 446b; impl. De homine, p. 584.51–52.
De IV coaequaevis III.16.2, p. 443b.
De IV coaequaevis I.1.1, p. 310a; III.11.2, p. 422b.
De IV coaequaevis IV.20.1, p. 459a; De homine, p. 470.35–38.
Prop. XXX(XXXI) [?]
De IV coaequaevis II.3.1, p. 339a; II.3.4, p. 353b; cf. I Sententiarum 8.8, p. 231a; 9 divisio textus, p. 271a; Super Dionysium De divinis nominibus c. 10, p. 396.36–38
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