What Has Aristotle to do With the Pope? The Quest for Universal Power in the Thirteenth Century
Bennett, Daniel McCormac
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An older generation of historians argued that the translation of Aristotle's political works into Latin in the second half of the thirteenth century caused a secularizing revolution in political thought that severely weakened the authority of the Latin Church over secular kings, overthrowing what is often termed the "papal monarchy." However, this thesis has recently undergone severe criticism, to which I offer a contribution, but also a corrective. Aristotle's political thought had nothing to do with the decline of papal power, for his claim that political institutions were natural to mankind was completely acceptable to the Latin Church. The difficulty lay in theologians' interpretation of Aristotle's metaphysical thought, and it was necessarily theologians in the end who had to argue in favor of papal monarchy. Because of Aristotle's soaring popularity in the intellectual climate of the thirteenth century, the papal monarchy could only stay intellectually vibrant if its defenders could keep up with the rise of Aristotelian philosophy generally. The Dominicans Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas built a magnificent synthesis of Aristotle's thought with Christian theology, and they both adduced Aristotle in favor of papal monarchism. However, Aquinas's contemporary, the great Franciscan theologian a, Bonaventure, while a committed papal monarchist, had deep misgivings about Aristotle's metaphysics. He helped promote a reactionary movement that culminated in a massive condemnation of Aristotelian ideas (many of them defended by Thomas) at Paris by Bishop Etienne Tempier in 1277, followed by similar censures at Oxford lasting well into the 1280s. These reactions against Aristotle were severely harmful to the fate of the papal monarchy, for they set ecclesiastical authority against the very theologians that the papacy needed to harmonize the popular Greek thinker's thought with Christianity.