Thursday, November 06, 2008

Aristotle and His Introduction to Western Europe

From the fall of Rome until 1450, Aristotle’s works, originally written in Greek, were unavailable to most educated Europeans. Boethius (480–525) produced some early translations into Latin but these were largely ignored, and only his translations of the Categories and De interpretatione were widely studied before the twelfth century.

During the ninth and tenth centuries, an Arabic tradition of Aristotelianism was developed by Syrians, Persians, Turks, Jews, and Arabs, who wrote and taught in their own countries, in Africa, and in Spain until the twelfth century. Much of the Arabic and Hebrew works passed into the Latin tradition between 1130 and 1550. During the twelfth century, new Latin translations from Greek and from the Arabic commentaries ofAvicenna and Averroes, and the Hebrew works of Maimonides (1125–1204), introduced Aristotle to the medieval Christian scholastics, and initiated an intellectual revival. During the thirteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church began to react to the challenges posed by new developments in philosophy. The teaching of Aristotelian books was condemned at Paris in 1210, 1215, and 1231; and lists of propositions inspired by certain interpretations of Aristotle were condemned at Paris and Oxford in 1270 and 1277.

Some Christian theologians attempted to appropriate the teachings of Aristotle and interpret them in a way that was compatible with Christian doctrines. Albertus Magnus paraphrased the entire works of Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas produced a synthesis of Aristotelianism and Christian doctrines that became essential to Roman Catholic theology. Since the 1870s, the Roman Catholic Church has reasserted a Thomistic Aristotelianism.

During the fourteenth century, John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham responded by elaborating philosophical and theological teachings which were radically opposed to Aristotelianism.

Soon after the beginning of Latin Aristotelianism in Europe during the twelfth century, Aristotelian teachings were introduced into the Greek schools of Athens and Alexandria by certain Armenians and Syrians. The Armenian tradition was still alive in the nineteenth century in such places as Madras and Venice; and the Syrian tradition, which never completely disappeared, was still active in the fourteenth century.