Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Philip the Chancellor on Virtue: Recruitment of Aristotle

THE SUMMA DE BONO OF PHILIP the Chancellor's treatment on the cardinal virtues begins with thee questions concerning them.  It is standard enough, and relies clearly on the introduction to the subject as contained in Peter Lombard's Sentences (Book III, Dist. 33).  It asks about the basis of the quadripartite number of the cardinal virtues and what justifies such division.  It addresses the ordering among the virtues and assesses prior opinions on that subject.  It asks why the cardinal virtues are called "cardinal," and whether they can be called divine virtues based upon the fact that they are, at least for the Christian, infused into the soul.  Finally, after an introduction to the cardinal virtues through these three questions, it launches into a lengthy discussion of the cardinal virtues themselves.  Contrary to the treatment of the virtues by prior teachers, Philip the Chancellor's treatment is extensive, covering about 300 pages in his Summa de Bono.*  He round up his discussion of the virtues after this extensive treatment by focusing on the connection among the virtues and their equality, here relying on the Sentences (Book III, Dist. 36).  In short, within a sort of envelope of convention we find a real developmental tour de force.

In order to develop the notion of virtues within the Christian moral context, Philip drew heavily from Aristotle, especially relying upon the so-called Ethica vetus (Nicomachean Ethics 2-3).  Thus we find central in his elaboration of the virtues, Aristotle's "four causes"** and Aristotle's famous analysis of virtue as a mean between two extremes, the so-called golden mean (aurea mediocritas or sectio aurea).

Four Virtues, from Palace at Esztergom, Hungary

Philip also drew from what R.E. Houser describes as the "moral psychology" of Aristotle, namely that each human had a soul whose powers were the proximate causes of both actions and passions.  Philip also relies on the Aristotelian method for introspection, namely one that relies on the notion of "object."  Therefore, Philip applies the Aristotelian assessment of the soul's interior by reference to its acts which are to be understood by reference to their object.  "Powers differ on acts," says Philip, "and acts based on their objects or causes of motion."  [Summa de bono, I.227).  As Houser describes the concept of "object" as the vehicle for understanding the soul's interior:

Object in Philip's usage meant that feature of a real thing or set of real things which serves as the term of a cognitive relation between things and their knowers. The object, then, provides an external and real basis for understanding the inner workings of the soul, a perceptible basis for knowing what is not directly perceptible and especially for distinguishing powers, acts, and passions from each other. Philip knew that Aristotle had used their objects to distinguish the five senses from each other and that this account of sensation had provided the model for his account of virtue: 'act, properly speaking, has a definite matter, such as seeing has color, hearing has sound.'

Houser, 44 (quoting Summa de bono, I.227).***

One of Philip the Chancellor's important principles was the connection or relationship between the Aristotelian causal principles, particularly the notion of material cause, and the psychological principles, in particular the notion of object.  By tying these two together, he was also able to draw out an objective component of moral virtue and its subjective component.

Since the object in its technical sense gives content to our understanding of a power, Philip thought of that object as a kind of matter. [He writes in the Summa, 2:206.2-207.6: "Therefore, diversity of rational powers is based on diversity of acts; but diversity of acts is based on specific diversity of their matter."] On the other hand, since a virtue perfects some power of the soul, he also thought of such powers as matter. As Philip used the term, then, matter can refer either to the power of the soul which is delimited by the object of its activity (this is the subjective senses of the matter) or to that object which so delimits a power or act (its objective sense).
Houser, 45.

These Aristotelian tools allowed Philip greatly to amplify his understanding of the cardinal virtues.  By using Aristotle's final, efficient, formal, and material causes to explain the cardinal virtues, focusing mainly on both the objective and subject components of their matter, Philip was able greatly to expand thinking about virtue.  It is what in part allowed him then to give an expansive treatment to a broad range of human virtues, the so-called "parts" of virtues which are subordinate-yet-related to one of the cardinal virtues.

*Philip's extensive treatment of the virtues was to influence later authors, including St. Albert the Great and Philips pupil Ulrich of Stasbourg who also wrote his own Summa de bono and whose book 6 thereof was entirely dedicated to treating the issue of the virtues.
**Aristotle's traditional causes are: material, formal, final, and efficient.
***One might note the importance of the object in the assessment of the morality of an act and its centrality in the first Papal encyclical to deal with morality in general, Veritatis splendor.  We have addressed this issue in a prior posting.  See Veritatis splendor Part 27: Objects of Acts.

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