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Theological Exegesis and Aquinas's Treatise ‘against the Greeks’

  • Mark D. Jordan (a1)


According to Pope Leo XIII, it could almost be said that Thomas Aquinas “presided” over the deliberations at Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438) when these councils confronted the Greek church.1 This judgment, which would be true at best and in part only for the later council, both enshrines and encourages a misreading of Thomas's short treatise Contra errores Graecorum. In fact, the Contra errores is neither as well informed nor as technically argued as other Latin polemics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is a treatise limited in form and argument, motivated by another, poorer treatise.



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1. Aeternia Patris (4 August 1879), in Acta Sanctae Sedis, 41 vols. (Rome, 18651908), 12 (1894): 110.

2. There are summary accounts in Dondaine, Antoine, “Nicolas de Cotrone et les sources du Contra errores Graecorum de Saint Thomas,” Divus Thomas 28 (1950): 313340, esp. 339–340; in Palémon Glorieux's edition of the Contra errores Graecorum (hereafter CEG) (Tournai, 1957), pp. 57; and in Dondaine's, Antoine edition of the CEG for the Leonine edition of Opera omnia (Rome, 1969), 40: A18–A19.

3. Geanakoplos, Deno John, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), pp. 139143, 146147, 175180.

4. See, for example, Norden, Walter, Das Papsttum and Byzanz (Berlin, 1903; reprint ed., New York, 1958), pp. 399433, esp. p. 420, n. 4;Nicol, Donald M., “The Greeks and the Union of the Churches: The Preliminaries to the Second Council of Lyon, 1261–1274,” in Medieval Studies presented to Aubrey Gwynn, S.J., ed. Watt, J. A., Morrall, J. B., and Martin, F. X (Dublin, 1961), pp. 454480, esp. 454–457;Wolter, Hans and Holstein, Henri, Lyon I et Lyon II (Paris, 1966), pp. 140142;Roberg, Burkhard, Die Union zwischen der griechischen und der lateinischen Kirche aufdem II. Konzil von Lyon (1274) (Bonn, 1964), pp. 91,250;Stiernon, Daniel, “Le probléme de l'union gréco-latine vu de Byzance,” in 1274: Année charnière, Colloques internationaux du CNRS (Paris, 1977), pp. 152156;Gill, Joseph, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198–1440 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1979), pp. 106112. Studies on the council proliferate, particularly because of the recent availability of Greek sources; see the selection in Capizzi, Carmelo, “II II° Concilio di Lione e l'Unione del 1274: Saggio bibliografico,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 51 (1985): 87122.

5. For a biography of Nicholas, see Dondaine, A., “Nicholas de Cotrone,” pp. 324331; and Sambin, Paolo, II vescovo Cotronese Niccolo da Durazzo e un inventario di suoi codici latini egreci (1276) (Rome, 1954). It is Dondaine who established Nicholas as the author of the Libellus; see his summary arguments, “Nicholas de Cotrone,” pp. 331–337.

6. Ibid., pp. 325–326, and Dondaine ed., CEG, A18.

7. On the marks of its original composition in Greek, see Dondaine, , “Nicholas de Cotrone,” pp. 317320.

8. Dondaine, ed., CEG, A8–A9.

9. Ibid., A9.

10. Ibid., A13; Glorieux, Palémon, “Autour du ‘Contra errores graecorum.’ Suggestions chronologiques,” in Autour d'Aristote (Louvain, 1955), pp. 501502, 508509.

11. Compare Summa contra Gentiles bk. 4, chap. 64, in Marc, Petrus, Liber de Vertate Catholicae Fidei contra errores Infidelium qui dicitur Summa contra Gentiles, 3 vols.(Turin, 19611967), 2: 371373, par.4040–44, and CEG, pars altera chap. 39, Dondaine ed., A103–104.

12. First argued in Dondaine, Hyacinthe, “Le Contra errores Graecorum de S. Thomas et le IVe livre du Contra Gentiles,” Revue des sciences philosophiques et thèologiques 1 (1941): 156162.

13. Glorieux, , “Autour du ‘Contra errores graecorum,’” pp. 504508.

14. Dondaine concedes that the opening of the CEG gives no evidence of Thomas's having seen the work before (Dondaine, A8), but he suggests that this silence is because Thomas had not seen the final, complete redaction (A18 A19).

15. Weisheipl, James A., Friar Thomas d'Aquino, rev. ed. (Washington, DC., 1983), pp. 146147.

16. Ibid., pp. 161–162.

17. On Nicholas's later career, see Dondaine, , “Nicolas de Cotrone,” pp. 330331.

18. Wolter, and Holstein, , Lyon J et Lyon II, pp. 169171.

19. Compare Franchi, Antonio, II Concilio II di Lione (1274) secondo la Ordinatio Concilii Generalis Lugdunensis (Rome, 1965), pp. 11, 122, and passim; also pp. 150–151.

20. Vat, Odulphus van der, Die Anfänge der Franziskaner-missionen und ihr Weiterentwicklung (Werl in Westfalen, 1934), esp. pp. 137176; and, more exhaustively, Roncaglia, Martiniano, Les frèer mineurs et l'église grecque orthodoxe au XIIIe siècle (Cairo, 1954).

21. Loenertz, R. J., “Les ètablissements dominicains de Pèra-Constantinople,” Echos d'Orient 34 (1933): 333334.

22. Gulabovitch, Girolamo, ed., “Disputatio Latinorum et Graecorum,”in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 12 (1919): 428465.

23. See Dondaine, , “Contra Graecos,” pp. 336350; compare Loenertz, Raymond J., “Autour du traitè de fr. Barthèlemy de Constantinople,” Archivum Fratrum praedicatorum 6 (1936): 361371, esp. 364. Loenertz had thought that the treatise was written by Bartholemew; Dondaine shows that Bartholemew was responsible only for a redaction of the treatise in 1305 (pp. 327–328).

24. Dondaine, , “Contra Graecos,” pp. 387391.

25. Cited in Dondaine, ed. CEG, A7, n. 6. Compare Madoz, J., “Una nueva redacción de los textos seudo-patristicos sobre el Primado, en Jacobo de Viterbo?Gregorianum 17 (1936): 562583, esp. 562, n. 1.

26. Oudin, Casimar, Commentarius de scriptoribus ecclesiae antiquis, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1722), 3: 334335.

27. Uccelli's discovery of the Libellus was announced in “De' testi esaminati da S. Tommaso d'Aquino nell'oposcolo contro gli errori de' Greci relativamenta all' infallibilità pontificia, ” Scienza e fede, ser. 3, 10 (1870): 291321. For the biographical circumstances, see Merkle, Sebastian, “Antonio Uccelli und Thomas Contra errores Graecorum,” Römische Quartalschrift 35 (1927): 209239, esp. 220–239. A thorough early examination of the authenticity of the citations was done by Reusch, F. H., Die Fälschungen in dem Tractat des Thomas von Aquin gegen die Griechen, Abhandlungen der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschafter, class 3, vol. 18, fasc.3 (Munich, 1889), pp. 675742. A sample of criticism directed against Thomas can be found in Lenain, Denys, “Notes d'histoire de la théologie,” Revue d'histoire et de littérature religieuses 5 (1900): 552553.

28. See the summary by Dondaine in his CEG, A9-A11.

29. Madoz, ,“Nueva redacciòn,” pp. 564565, passim; and see note 11 for the dating of Viterb's work.

30. Ibid., p. 582.

31. Dondaine ed., CEG, A14-A17.

32. Sambin, , II vescovo Cotronese, p. 17, items no. 8 and 18, with comments on pp. 18–22.

33. See M. A., and Rouse, R. H., “Florilegia of Patristic Texts,” in Les genres littéraires dans les sources théologiques et philosophiques médiévales (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1982), pp. 170176. For the earlier history in outline, Ghellinck, Joseph de, Patristique et Moyen Age, 2 vols. (Brussels, 1947), 2: 289294.

34. Valentini, Roberto, “Vicenzo di Beauvais e la conoscenza della letteratura cristiana in Francia nella prima meta del secolo XIII,” Didaskaleion 4 (1915): 109167, esp. 128, 133, 138, 144, 145, 155. Valentini's criteria for asserting direct knowledge are also rather loose; see his remarks at pp. 116–117.

35. See Dondaine, , “Contra Graecos,” pp. 350384, for the textual problems in the “appendices”to the anonymous CEG; Lechat, R., “La patristique grecque chez un théologue latin du XIIe siècle: Hughes Etherien,” in Mélanges d'histoire offerts à Charles Moeller (Louvain, 1914), 1: 498500, for difficulties in the documentation of Hugh Etherianus; and Loenertz, Raymond J., “L'épître de Théorien le Philosophe aux prêtres d'Oreine,” in Mémorial Louis Petit: Mélanges d'histoire et d'archéologie byzantines (Bucharest, 1948), pp. 321322, for the use of fiorilegia in the anonymous Dominican CEG.

36. See the opening remarks in Pelikan, Jaroslav, “The Doctrine of Filoque in Thomas Aquinas and its Patristic Antecedents,”in St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274–1974: Commemorative Studies (Toronto, 1974), 1:315316.

37. Pars Prior prologue, lines 3–4: “ad nostrae fidei assertionem.”Citations to the CEG henceforth will be given parenthetically by section and line numbers as in the Leonine edition. “PP”will mean the Pars Prior, “PA”the Pars Altera. A lower-case “prol”in place of the section numbers indicates the prologue; “epil”indicates the epilogue.

38. These passages are 7.27–32, 10.150–155, 64.16–17 (and 70.4–5), and 90.6.

39. Gardeil, A., “La réforme de la théologie Catholique: La documentation de saint Thomas,” Revue Thomiste 11 (1903): 211. This essay is part of a larger project completed in “La réforme de la théologie catholique: Les procédés exégètiques de saint Thomas,” Revue Thomiste 11(1903): 428456 (for the CEG, see esp. 433, 444). There followed a series of replies to objections under the general title of “La documentation de saint Thomas,” in Ibid., 12 (1904): 207–211, 486–493, 583–592; and 13 (1905): 194–197. Gardeil's views were endorsed, for example, by Renaudin, Paul, “Le théologie de saint Cyrille d'Alexandrie d'après S. Thomas,” Revue Thomiste 18 (1910): 176178.

40. Dondaine, ed. CEG, A19.

41. The passages are surveyed in Jordan, Mark D., Ordering Wisdom; The Hierarchy of Philosophical Discourse in Aquinas (Notre Dame, 1986), pp. 2239.

42. Quodlibetales, q.6 a.3.

43. For the comparison with Cano, see Corbin, Michel, Le chemin de la théologie chez Thomas d'Aquin (Paris, 1974), pp. 99, 842854, with qualifications at pp. 850–851; for the comparison with Trent on tradition, see Geenen, G., “The Place of Tradition in the Theology of St. Thomas,” Thomist 15 (1952): 110135.

44. He does so, for example, with the claim that the Cistercian Liber de spiritu et anima was a work by Augustine; see Thomas's remarks on the text's authorship at Sent. 4 dist.44 q.3 a.3 sol.2. Parallel passages and similar cases are surveyed by Geenen, G., “S.Thomas d'Aquin et les sources pseudépigraphiques,” Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 20 (1943): 7377.

45. Resp. ad lectorem Bisuntinum, qq.1–3 and 5.

46. Summa theol. 2–2 q. 5 art. 1 ad im.

47. Quodlib. 2 q.4 a.2 corp.; Summa theol. 2–2 q.10 a.12 corp. The passages form a doublet.

48. Principium biblicum 2 (Verardo ed., no. 1204).

49. This principle applies particularly to scripture; see, for example, Super evangel. Matt., chap.4 lect.1.

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