5 minute read


Renaissance Aristotelianisms

During the third and final stage in the evolution of Latin Aristotelianism, the traditional conception of the Aristotelian encyclopedia of the sciences became increasingly untenable. This period began in the year 1438 with the arrival of the Greeks at the Council of Florence. The aged philosopher George Gemistus Plethon (c. 1355–1450 or 1455) charged the Latins not only with being unacquainted with Platonic philosophy, but also with misunderstanding Aristotle's teaching. These misunderstandings arose because the Latins had been misled by Averroës to believe that the philosopher's works contained a demonstrative summary of scientific truth. Nevertheless, the Renaissance witnessed a vast increase in the literature of commentary on Aristotle's works. But at the same time Aristotelianism became but one among many philosophies, with Platonism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism also claiming attention. And the hierarchically unified worldview offered by Scholastic Aristotelianism had by the sixteenth century broken down, so that we must speak, in this period, not of one, but of several Aristotelianisms.

Catholic Aristotelianism.

The encounter of the Christian Aristotelianism adumbrated by Thomas Aquinas with a secular Aristotelianism that had arisen in the Italian medical faculties resulted in the radical transformation of the Aristotelian speculative sciences in the sixteenth century. The Scholastic understanding of Aristotle's science of human nature was challenged in particular by Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), who maintained that according to Aristotle the doctrine of the soul belongs to physics as a part of the doctrine dealing with corpus animatum (animated physical bodies). Because the soul is a material form, it is impossible to prove its immortality. The proponents of Christian Aristotelianism took up this challenge. They sought to retain Aristotle's deductive theory of science but were forced to modify radically Aristotle's ideas of the subject matter of natural philosophy. Their efforts were based on the search for metaphysical rather than physical proofs for the soul's immortality. Dominicans like Tommaso de Vio (Cajetan, 1469–1534) and Crisostomo Javelli (d. c. 1538) and Jesuits like Benito Perera (c. 1535–1610) and Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) constructed a new science of metaphysics based on the revealed idea of creation. The high point of this development was reached with the publication of Suárez's Disputationes metaphysicae (Metaphysical disputations) at Salamanca in 1597. Suárez retained the Aristotelian–Scholastic understanding of science and used the Scotist distinction of reality into ens infinitum, ens creatum immateriale, and ens creatum materiale (infinite being, immaterial created being, and material created being) to render the growing crisis of the Aristotelian physics as the science of corpus mobile (changeable physical bodies) irrelevant to Scholastics.

Italian secular Aristotelianism.

Constrained by the immense amount of scientific material that the Renaissance had recovered, Aristotelian authors in Italy wrote increasingly during the sixteenth century about the teaching of this new body of doctrine and sought to situate Aristotle's theory of science within a broader context. Jacopo Zabarella (1533–1589), professor at Padua, was the author who brought these developments together most successfully in his tract De methodis (On method) of 1578. He distinguished scientific "method" from "orders" of presentation. There are two "methods" of discovery: (1) the compositive or synthetic method, which is the demonstrative method of "science," as Aristotle had conceived it; and (2) the resolutive or analytic method belonging to the operative disciplines or "arts," which begin with the end of an action and seek to discover the means and principles by which this end may be attained. "Orders" of presentation are simply ways of presenting the available material clearly. There are two "orders" corresponding to the two "methods" described above.

Lutheran Aristotelianism.

Despite Luther's rejection of Aristotle, the Aristotelian conception of science gained a central place in Protestant universities. Lutheran authors of the late sixteenth century tended to regard theology as a practical science and, following Zabarella, came to think that theological doctrine should be presented according to the analytic "order." In his Epitome theologiae (Epitome of theology) of 1619, Georg Calixt (1586–1656) first applied Zabarella's idea of the analytic method to theology. But the Formula concordiae (Formula of concord) of 1577 established a Lutheran orthodoxy, and philosophical textbooks, like the Exercitationes metaphysicae (1603–1604; Metaphysical exercises) of the Wittenberg professor Jacob Martini (1570–1649) and the Metaphysica commentatio (1605; A metaphysical commentary) of Cornelius Martini (1568–1621) of Helmstedt, turned to the metaphysics proposed by Suárez, which all those who admitted the idea of creation could accept. Their understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology opened the way for the free development in Lutheranism of a natural theology as a theoretical science, presented in accordance with Zabarella's synthetic order. The first independent treatise on Theologia naturalis (Natural theology) was published by Christoph Scheibler (1589–1653) at Giessen in 1621.

Calvinist Aristotelianism.

Reformed theologians of the early seventeenth century regarded their science as essentially theoretical. In the works of authors like Bartholomew Keckermann (1571/73–1609) of Heidelberg and Danzig, Clemens Timpler (1567–1624) of Heidelberg and Steinfurt, and Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638) of Herborn, the idea of a synthetic presentation of doctrine was maintained, but the encyclopedia of the disciplines was enlarged and transformed by a theory of the arts, a "technology." Reformed theologians began to use the term "system" for ordered compilations of Christian teaching. For the Marburg professor Rudolph Goclenius (1547–1628), who used the word for the first time in his Lexicon philosophicum (1613; A philosophical lexicon), "ontology" has the role of assigning to each of the scientific disciplines its proper place in this new encyclopedia of the practical, productive disciplines.


The last edition of the Latin text of Aristotle's works was published by the Jesuit Silvester Maurus (1619–1687) in the year 1668. After the Thirty Years' War, Protestant Aristotelianism generally disappeared. But Catholic Scholasticism continued to enjoy a shadowy existence in the seminaries decreed by the Council of Trent (1545–1563). A new literary form appeared, the cursus philosophicus, a summary of Scholastic teaching in philosophy, generally written in the form of disputations on the works of Aristotle. The purpose of the cursus was to provide the basic philosophical knowledge necessary for the study of Catholic theology, and it tended increasingly to return to the teaching of one of the great thirteenth-century doctors, like Thomas Aquinas (Thomism) and Duns Scotus (Scotism).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidAristotelianism - Greek Aristotelianism, Arabic Aristotelianism, Medieval Jewish Materialism, Medieval Latin Aristotelianism, Renaissance Aristotelianisms, Modern Study Of Aristotle