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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


WILLIAM OF AUVERGNE

(c. 1180 — 1249)

 

(MODIFIED) AUGUSTINIANISM

Born in Aurillac and educated in Paris, William taught theology there and was made Bishop in 1228, thereby becoming responsible for the university. He was criticized by Pope Gregory IX the following year for alleged administrative shortcomings. He was one of the earliest medieval philosophers to attempt a synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism (as received in the West from the Arabs), but within an Augustinian framework.

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[1] [See especially On the Universe and On the Trinity.] While William accepted the supremacy of faith, he regarded philosophy as an autonomous discipline in its own sphere, philosophical disputes being subject to examination by the reason alone [a], although he stressed it should remain sensitive to the requirements of Christian doctrine. He held a view of Being (esse) in a broad inclusive sense as that which is possessed by all things. But while he distinguished between being (esse) as essence, as connoted by a thing's definition, and the existence (ratio) of that thing [Universe, I, 3; Trinity I and II] this is not to be thought of as the distinction between possible being and being as necessary existence [b]. William therefore rejected the theory of necessary emanation and intermediate beings [ibid] (though he accepted the existence of immaterial angelic intelligences) [Universe, II, 2] [c]. Prior to creation, beings exist in God as exemplary forms, God being their exemplary cause [Universe, I, l] [d]. Created corporeal beings (which alone are composed of prime matter as well as form) exist in the world only 'accidentally' as a consequence of God's free will. They thus exist by 'participation' in the Divine Being [e]. In so far as they, together with the whole of Nature, are dependent on God's will and providence it would seem that there is little room in William's philosophy for individual free-will [f]. He argued that the world was created with or in time [Universe, I, 2]. It cannot have existed from eternity, because it would then have had to pass through an infinite time. This is impossible, for there cannot be an infinite regress [g]. So there must have been a first moment of time when the creation occurred. William believed that God's existence as Being can be proved [Trinity, VI]. In God alone are existence and essence identical; existence belongs to His definition. From the attributes of accidental being, such as 'dependent', 'caused', and 'secondary' we can therefore argue to the concepts of 'essential' being — 'independent', 'uncaused', and 'primary' — and thus to God's existence [h]. Further, given that objects have their being through participation, they cannot be self-dependent or self-caused. There must therefore be a necessary Being, God, to cause them and the universe as a whole [i]. William said we can talk about God as being or existing in Himself but only by using language analogically; the descriptive terms cannot be used univocally [Trinity, VII] [j].

 

PSYCHOLOGY

[2] [See On the Soul.] Each human being has a soul and a material body. The soul is the immaterial form of the body: it perfects and 'realizes' it [I, 1] [a]. William said it plays on the body as a harpist plays on his instrument. He stressed the simplicity and unity of the soul [for example, I, 2; IV, 1-3]. The vegetative, sensitive, and rational 'souls' are all functions of the one soul; and understanding, perceiving, willing are not regarded as separate faculties but as integrated aspects of the soul itself. He therefore thought of the soul as itself a spiritual substance [b]. There can be no active intellect in man, separable or otherwise [VII, 3]. Rather, activity is said to be a function of the soul when exercising its capacity to know — the soul as 'active understanding'. The 'active intellect' as such is more properly understood as being identical with God who has created all souls directly and actualizes their ('possible') substance (quod est) by 'informing' them (the quo est) [V, 1] [c]. The soul in its totality is immortal [V, 1 passim] [d]. This is clear, because it possesses the power to animate the body, and this cannot be destroyed by the body's death. (He also utilizes Plato's other proofs.) The soul is said by William to be at the limits of the two worlds — the world of sensible objects and the world of the Divine.

 

KNOWLEDGE

[3] According to William the soul has direct knowledge of itself [for example, On the Soul, III, 13] [a]. As for the acquisition of knowledge of the sensible world, this involves initially the reception by the senses of particular experiences. Such data are then worked on by the active understanding of the soul itself [V, 6], images being abstracted and given to the imagination. Images, however, can provide only incomplete and vague knowledge. If full, true knowledge is to be obtained, divine illumination is required [V, 7; VII, 6] [b]. God as the 'exemplar' or 'mirror' impresses universal and abstract ideas, the intelligible forms, as well as first principles and the laws of morality on the human intellect — now passive in relation to God. True forms are thus known intuitively not via ideas or images [c]. God, however, can be known only through Being [d].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

William in Paris, like Grosseteste in Oxford, sought to stem the advancing tide of Aristotelianism. But rather than uncompromisingly opposing to it a thoroughgoing Platonism he tried to assimilate into an Augustinian framework what he supposed to be the most valid features of the thought of Avicenna and Averroes — though he treated their writings and those of Aristotle himself critically. Thus we find discussions of, for example, the relationship of existence to essence, God's freedom to create directly in time, and the unity and immortality of the soul, all of which continued to engender controversy throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Understandably there are difficulties in William's philosophy. One might mention the apparent tension between human and divine freedom; the concept of a unitary soul which is separate from the material body and yet 'perfects' it; and an understanding which is active in relation to sensory experience yet passive in relation to God's illuminating power. William's concept of God as Being, and thus as simple and indefinite, was also criticized by some as failing to comprehend or signify the full richness and power of the Creator. Nevertheless William was an original and systematic thinker who was to influence both Bonaventura's Augustinianism and the Aristotelianism of Aquinas.

 

READING

William of Auvergne: Magisterium Divinale (The Divine Teaching), especially De Universo (On the Universe of Creatures), De Trinitate (On the Trinity), and De Anima (On the Soul) — all of which have been translated by F. C. Wade and R. Teske, with introduction and notes by R. Teske.

Studies

S. P. Marrone, William Auvergne and Robert Grosseteste: New Ideas of Truth in the Early Thirteenth Century.

R. J. Teske, 'William of Auvergne', in J. J. E, Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

William of Auvergne

 

[1a] Primacy of faith over reason but this has own sphere

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Maimonides

Bacon (Roger)

   Aquinas

[1i]

[5d]

[1a]

[1a]

[1f]

[1a]

 

[1b; cf. 1h] Being as essence and existence: not possible versus necessary being

   Avicenna

Bacon (Roger)

   Henry of Ghent

[1c 3c]

[1a]

[1b]

 

[1c] No emanation or intermediate beings

   Avicenna

   Maimonides

Albert

[3a-d]

[2f]

[1g]

 

[1d] Exemplary forms

   Augustine

   Henry of Ghent

[4c]

[1d]

 

[1e] Free creation by God's will; omnipotence of God; participation of creatures; hylomorphism in corporeal beings

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Maimonides

Grosseteste

   Alexander of Hales

Albert

[12e 13c]

[2c 4b]

[1b 2f]

[1d]

[1a]

[1k 2a]

 

[1f] Providence and freedom    Augustine [5a]

 

[1g] Creation in time — proof: no infinite regress

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Henry of Ghent

[12e]

[6a]

[3a]

[1f]

 

[1h i] God's existence — proofs: existence and essence; first cause

   Avicenna

   Anselm

Albert

[1d]

[1b f]

[1b]

 

[1j] God and predication; no univocity — analogy

   Averroes

   Maimonides

   Henry of Ghent

[2b]

[2b]

[1g]

 

[2a] Soul as form of the body

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Maimonides

Albert

Bacon (Roger)

   Henry of Ghent

[15b]

[4b]

[3d]

[4c]

[2a]

[1c]

[1h]

 

[2b] Soul as simple unity of functions

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

[15c]

[7a b]

[4a]

 

[2c] Active intellect: identical with God; the soul's quod est & quo est: 'possibility' actualized

   Aristotle

   Boethius

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Maimonides

   Alexander of Hales

Albert

Bacon (Roger)

   Henry of Ghent

[15d]

[1b]

[1h 3f 4c]

[3b e]

[2g 4a]

[2c]

[2a c]

[2a]

[2b]

 

[2d] Soul — immortality

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Maimonides

[9b sec. 10]

[15e]

[7a]

[4d]

[3e]

[4c]

 

[3a] The soul's self-knowledge

   Augustine

   Avicenna

[1e]

[5c]

 

[3b] Knowledge and sensible world; soul's activity but also divine illumination

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Maimonides

Albert

Bacon (Roger)

[16c d]

[2a 8b]

[5a]

[4a]

[3b]

[2a]

 

[3c] Knowledge of universal ideas, first principles, etc. — impressed on soul by God; intuitive knowledge of truth

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Maimonides

Bacon (Roger)

[16a e]

[2c 8b]

[5b]

[4a]

[2a 2c]

 

[3d] God known only via being    Avicenna [5e]