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The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies
Vol. 2, No. 2 January 2006
ISSN #1552-9584

Table of Contents
Letter from the Editor 1

The Platonic-Aristotelian Hybridity of Aquinas’s Aesthetic

Author: Daniel Gallagher
Thomas Aquinas’s aesthetic theory stands as an example of intellectual
hybridity in medieval scholasticism. Aquinas was neither a pure
Aristotelian nor a pure Platonist in his understanding of beauty. Nor did he
simply select certain truthful elements from Plato and Aristotle and
reassemble them to suit his own purposes. Rather, recognizing a need to
integrate these two distinctive, though interrelated, theories of the
beautiful, Aquinas produced a kind of hybrid kalology that embraces both
the transcendental and aesthetic aspects of beauty.

Techniques for Preserving a Tradition: Incorporating Fortune and Faith in the Consolatio
Philosophiae 16
Author: Alexandra Cook
Elements of pagan theism and Christian theology appear in this salvific treatise, but most Boethian scholars dismiss
them as instances of unconscious syncretism. Yet Boethius deliberately effects an ideological synthesis by
internalizing and christianizing the Platonic dialogue. Boethius’s emphasis on the importance of the role of chance,
as expressed through both Lady Philosophy and Lady Fortune, reminds us that uncertainty is the necessary
foundation upon which faith is built. Faith itself permits what Derrida calls “a venture into absolute risk,” in which
ultimate consolation can perhaps be found.

Reading the Future and Freeing the Will: Astrology of the Arabic World and Albertus Magnus
Author: Scott Hendrix 30
Scholars have become increasingly aware of the importance of a work defending astrology as “the most Christian
science,” known today as the Speculum Astronomiae. There have been a number of articles and books written on the
subject; most scholars, however, have concentrated on the authorship and dating of the text. This study turns away
from the traditional scholarly orientation to focus instead on the content of the Speculum, its sources, and its impact
on the intellectual world of the medieval period.
Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006

Dear Readers,

In Italo Calvino’s short story “Henry Ford,” the famous industrialist states that technology should be used to
simplify our lives so we have the time to enjoy nature.1 As I compose this letter and various emails from a
grassy hill in Central Park in the heart of New York City, I can’t help but appreciate that sentiment. My
laptop has permitted a substantial office upgrade: instead of four walls, rows of elms and beeches provide a
graceful border, and I now have the best lighting system in the world. Birdsong and a cool breeze gentle the
sun’s heat as I organize the final stages of this issue’s publication.

My satisfaction with the locale is enhanced by the expediency of instant communication. The virtual
connectivity provided by the platform of cyberspace is the determining factor of Hortulus’s existence.
Although few of our staff live in proximity to each other and our writers hail from diverse universities, we
can communicate and collaborate across the greatest, or the smallest, of distances. As Thomas L. Friedman
writes in his recent history of the twenty-first century, our intellectual capital can be “disaggregated,
delivered, distributed, produced, and put back together again” in a unique way that gives us a whole new
freedom in the way we do work.2 Outsourcing, homesourcing, or, in my case, parksourcing, is steadily
becoming the dominant trend in global data transactions. My executive summer suite bears witness to this
technological triumph.

Hortulus is rooted in this intersection of the convenience of electronic networking and new methods of
perceiving and processing information, both of which are especially beneficial to the realm of education. The
availability, speed, and openness of information on the Internet permit associations and interpretations of
data heretofore unheard of. We try to incorporate the qualities of convergence and connectivity into each
article by providing links to relevant web sites, as well as “Respond” buttons that allow you to provide
feedback and create your own interface with the authors and their work. Of course the Internet offers many
possibilities for expansion along these lines, and we look forward to utilizing more ground in cyberspace’s
virtual garden with issue #3.

The Internet is an extraordinary synthesis of heterogeneous constructs, from its fledgling existence as the
government-sponsored ARPANet to its current efflorescence of millions of privately created pages of
information. Our first essay contest featuring the topic of hybridity hearkens to that theme. In the Current
Issue section you will find a selection of interesting articles on various blendings in philosophy, literature,
religion, and science. The Lighter Fare section lives up to its name with a trip to the medieval kitchen as well
as a collection of pieces on one of our favorite subjects, books.

So with the unique applications and forms of exchange made available by cyberspace, the question is not
whether it is worthwhile to go online, but from where would you like to go online? Hortulus can be enjoyed
anywhere you can bring your connection and computer (or PDA, cell phone, etc.), but of course I
recommend, like Calvino’s character Henry Ford, taking your equipment outdoors. You might be surprised at
how pleasantly productive that can be; my afternoon has certainly been both. I wish you a constructive (and
relaxing) summer, and I hope this little garden becomes a part of yours.

Hayley Weiner
Editor in Chief

1. See the collection of Italo Calvino’s short stories, Numbers in the Dark, trans. Tim Parks (New York:
Vintage, 1996), p. 238.

2. Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2005), p. 7.

Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006
Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006

The Platonic-Aristotelian Hybridity of Aquinas’s Aesthetic Theory

by Daniel Gallagher

The philosophical and theological legacy of Thomas Aquinas has suffered somewhat from being
presented as an overgeneralized caricature, a sort of “baptized” Aristotelianism. Undoubtedly,
Aquinas was heavily influenced by the thought of Aristotle, and found in the works of the
Stagirite a philosophical method quite effective for treating theological questions. By no means,
however, did Aquinas simply transpose in toto Aristotle’s system into a Christian context; the
enormous opus he completed in his short life reveals a philosophical and theological vision
spanning a wide range of ancient, classical, and medieval sources. Nor did Aquinas opt to
develop the thought of Aristotle strictly as an antidote to what he considered to be the errors of
Platonism. To the contrary, Aquinas demonstrates at times a surprising amount of sympathy for
Platonic philosophy.
One of the ways in which Aquinas reflects both Platonic and Aristotelian thought is in his theory
of the transcendentals. Plato famously taught that earthly things are traceable to ideas which
transcend the sensible realm. The ideas, or “true beings” (ontos on), lie behind all sensible
things.1 The ideas in which sensible things participate reveal being to be a unity rather than a
plurality, true rather than apparent, and good rather than evil.2 All sensible things, because they
participate in the being of the ideas, partake of these properties of unity, truth, and goodness, but
only in an imperfect way. For Plato, these transcendental properties are found primarily in the
ideas and only secondarily in sensible things.
Aristotle considerably alters the Platonic theory and teaches that, rather than transcending the
sensible realm, the ideas actually exist in the sensible realm as the forms which make things to be
of a certain kind and render them intelligible. He discusses the one and the true in books 6 and 10
of his Metaphysics, and the good in book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics. For Aristotle, in contrast
to Plato, the transcendentals are found primarily in things.
Plato and Aristotle agree that the one, the true, and the good are transcendentals. But there is
considerable disagreement between them as to how and where these transcendental properties
exist. Moreover, there is a difference in the respective ways in which they place beauty into the
scheme of transcendental properties. Plato includes beauty among the transcendentals of unity,
truth, and goodness in a somewhat indirect way. He argues in the Lysis and Timeaus that
whatever is good (agathon) is also beautiful (kalon), and in the Republic that everything that
exists participates in the good.3 Nowhere, however, does Aristotle discuss beauty as a
transcendental property.
How does Aquinas draw from the respective Platonic and Aristotelian traditions in respect to the
transcendentals? Aquinas bases his general theory of the transcendentals on Aristotle. He clearly
holds that the ideas do not exist apart from the material, sensible world, but in the things of the
world as their intelligible forms. Transcendentals are those properties of things which are not 2
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really distinct from the being of things. In order for a property to be transcendental, it must be
coextensive with being, but it must also add a conceptual aspect to being distinct in its own right.
So, rather than adding a specific difference, a transcendental property designates an aspect of
being present anywhere and everywhere being is found, but unique in its relation to our cognitive
faculty. Umberto Eco explains that transcendental properties “are a bit like differing visual
angles from which being can be looked at.”4 Jacques Maritain similarly described the
transcendentals as “concepts which surpass all limits of kind or category and will not suffer
themselves to be confined in any class, because they absorb everything and are to be found
Thomas Aquinas discusses the transcendentals in numerous places throughout his oeuvre.6 The
most explicit list of transcendental properties is found in the opening passages of the De veritate.
There, Aquinas lists being (ens), thing (res), unity (unum), otherness (aliquid), truth (verum), and
goodness (bonum) as transcendental properties.7 Beauty, or pulchrum, is conspicuously absent.
Several Thomistic scholars, however, have argued that Aquinas, following Plato, includes beauty
among the transcendentals in an indirect way.8 Others argue that Aquinas took the Aristotelian
route and excluded beauty from among the transcendentals.9
I argue that Aquinas in fact developed a hybridity of Platonic and Aristotelian thought in regard
to beauty. With Plato, Aquinas maintained that the primary instance of beauty (i.e., God)
transcends the sensible, material world and alone possesses beauty in all its perfection. Sensible
things participate in this beauty, but only in an imperfect way. At the same time, following
Aristotle, Aquinas maintained that the forms of things, in which beauty exists, are immanent to
the sensible world rather than belonging to a separate realm. In what follows, I explore more
deeply the way in which Aquinas develops this hybridity by interrelating the sensible, or
aesthetic, aspect of beauty to the transcendental aspect. We will see that he does so by means of
an intricate and involved line of reasoning that relates created, or finite, beauty, to uncreated, or
divine, beauty.
First of all, allow me to clarify what I mean by “hybridity” as it pertains to Aquinas’s philosophy
of beauty. If we understand hybridity as the blending of two different philosophical currents, it
would be hard to find points in Aquinas’s philosophy that are unequivocally hybrid. Aquinas was
less concerned with harmonizing different philosophical views than he was with searching for
the truth wherever it might be found. If, on the other hand, we understand hybridity to refer to a
progeny of thought displaying characteristics of both parents, we come close to discovering such
a hybridity in Aquinas’s philosophy of beauty. He was neither a pure Aristotelian nor a pure
Platonist in his aesthetic theory. Nor did he simply select certain attractive elements from Plato
and Aristotle and reassemble them to suit his own purposes. Rather, recognizing a need to
integrate the Platonic and Aristotelian theories of the beautiful, he produced a kind of hybrid
“kalology” embracing both the transcendental and aesthetic, or sensible, aspects of beauty.
In the next section, I set the stage for Aquinas’s hybridity by outlining the debate on beauty’s
place among the transcendentals at the time Aquinas’s own aesthetic ideas were coming to 3
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fruition. In Part II, I will examine some of the key ideas found in Aquinas’s commentary on
Dionysius’s De divinis nominibus that provide evidence for his hybrid theory.
Strictly speaking, there is no single Thomistic “system” of aesthetics. What Aquinas does have to
say about beauty is quite interesting and deliberate. What he says, and where he says it, depends
more on immediate and, at least in his eyes, more pressing philosophical or theological issues. A
comprehensive survey of the relevant texts reveals that Aquinas was concerned with two
overarching themes: the natures of transcendental beauty and sensible beauty, respectively. The
development of the former owes much to various forms of Platonism and Neoplatonism,
especially as they are further developed by Augustine and Dionysius. Aquinas adopts from Plato
the standard transcendental properties of the one, the good, and the true. He relies on Augustine’s
metaphysical basis for the interchangeability of these three transcendentals. Augustine argued
that whatever is exists as a unity, that whatever is true is true insofar as it exists, and that insofar
as a thing is, it is good.10 We will look more closely at the Dionysian influence on Aquinas in
Part III.
At the same time, Aquinas’s teaching on sensible beauty is built upon Aristotle’s philosophy of
nature and epistemology. Aristotle speaks of the form as the perfecting principle of a thing. The
substantial form is what brings matter out of a state of potentiality to actuality. At the same time,
the form is the primary cause of knowledge. When we know a thing, we know it in its actuality.
We know the thing, so to speak, as existing in some state of perfection; not in the sense that it is
without blemish, but rather in the sense that it has been brought out of a potential state so as to
exist as “this thing of a certain kind.”11 Against this Aristotelian background, Aquinas theorizes
that, in order for a thing to be beautiful, it must be fully realized in its particular form, and to
know beauty is to have apprehended the form. According to Aquinas, “beauty properly belongs
to the nature of a formal cause.”12
Aquinas, as I have noted, did not compose any single particular treatise on the beautiful. “This is
a consequence,” writes Jacques Maritain, “of the stern discipline of teaching to which the
philosophers of the Middle Ages were subjected. They were absorbed in sifting and exploring in
every direction the problems of the School and indifferent about leaving unexploited areas
between the deep quarries they excavated.”13 The lack of a single coherent treatise on beauty by
Aquinas forces us to pull together his thoughts and organize them in some systematic fashion. To
do so, we must first address a preliminary methodological question: which is primary,
transcendental beauty or sensible beauty? Although Aquinas never used the term “transcendental
beauty,” it is commonly accepted by contemporary Thomistic scholars to designate the beauty
possessed by every existing thing insofar as it exists.14 Unlike aesthetic beauty, it is not
necessarily dependent on sensory and intellectual knowledge. Aesthetic beauty, on the other
hand, is the perceivable beauty of things in which, once having been apprehended through the
senses, the intellect takes delight and finds rest. In light of Aquinas’s epistemology—an
epistemology heavily influenced by Aristotle and best summed up in the phrase “nothing exists
in the intellect without first having been apprehended by the senses” (in intellectu autem nihil 4
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est, nisi prius fuerit in sensu)—it would seem that sensible beauty has to be our starting point.15
If our knowledge of the beautiful is possible only through the empirical experience of beautiful
sensible things, then it would seem preferable to begin with a treatment of the sensible
characteristics of beauty.
A chronological study of Aquinas’s works, however, reveals that one of his earliest interests was
supersensible beauty. The fact that our knowledge of beauty begins in sense experience does not
necessarily mean that sensible beauty must always be the primary analogate in respect to
transcendent beauty.16 God, insofar as He embodies all perfections in an exceedingly
transcendent way, is ultimately the primary subject of the predication of any perfection.17 Beauty
is one such perfection. So even though Aquinas does not provide an explicit methodological
treatment of the analogous predication of beauty across the transcendent and sensible realms, we
must be careful lest we deduce, from a lack of textual evidence, that Aquinas was not interested
in the question of how beauty could be predicated analogously to both the supersensible and
sensible realms. The issue, in fact, had already been a point of extensive discussion in high
scholasticism.18 As I shall show in Part II, this issue had a direct impact on the debate over
beauty as a transcendental property.
Aquinas himself seems to move back and forth between the supersensible and sensible notions of
beauty with relative ease. For example, his famous statement of the three essential characteristics
of aesthetic beauty—integrity, proportion, and clarity—appears in his reply to an objection that
pertains as much to the supersensible order as to the sensible order. The question posed in the
Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae is “whether the sacred doctors have correctly designated
essential attributes to the persons of the Trinity.”19 The context for this question was the common
ancient Christian practice of applying certain characteristics specifically to one particular person
of the Trinity rather than another. Aquinas argued that those theologians who had assigned
beauty primarily to the second person of the Trinity did so with good reason.20 Granted, the
second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is the only incarnate and visible person of the three.
Thus, if Aquinas wanted to emphasize the sensible qualities of beauty, naturally he, and the
sacred doctors who preceded him, would assign them to the Son rather than to the Father or to
the Holy Spirit. However, as is clear from his emphasis in the article on the complete
identification of the Father’s perfection with the Son’s, the beauty of which he speaks is not
simply the visible beauty of the Son as seen in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. It also
refers to the beauty of the second person of the Trinity as existing from all eternity before having
taken flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and as having ascended back to the Father in
heaven. Thus, the context in which we find this passage describing the essential aesthetic
characteristics of the beautiful applies to both the sensible and the supersensible realms.
In sum, Aquinas does not hesitate to apply aesthetic qualities, whose primary subjects of
predication are sensible realities, analogously to the transcendent beauty of the second person of
the Trinity. That is to say that the three essential qualities of aesthetic beauty are made to bear
upon our understanding of transcendent beauty as it exists in the second person of the Trinity. In
conclusion, supersensible beauty is primary in the sense that beauty exists most perfectly and 5
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fully in God, but sensible beauty is primary in the sense that our initial knowledge of the
beautiful comes through the perception of the essential aesthetic characteristics of integrity,
proportion, and clarity.
Aquinas was introduced to the Platonic notion of transcendental beauty early in his philosophical
training. Between 1248 and 1252, while under the tutelage of Albert the Great in Cologne,
Aquinas had the occasion to attend Albert’s lectures on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s De
divinis nominibus. This work, by an anonymous Syrian monk of the sixth century C.E., was
canonical for the education of any medieval cleric.21Clerical veneration of this difficult and
highly Platonic work was due first and foremost to the alleged connection between its author and
the apostle Paul. The Dionysius who wrote the treatise was thought to be the same Dionysius
who had heard Paul preach at the Areopagus in Athens. One of Aquinas’s earliest extant
monographs is a summary of Albert’s lectures on divine names, titled Quaestiones in librum De
divinis nominibus Dionysii.
Apparently, Aquinas’s interest in the thought of Dionysius was not simply a stop on his journey
toward a full-blown Aristotelianism. Aquinas himself wrote a commentary on De divinis
nominibus that dates to no earlier than 1268, twenty years after he had heard Albert lecture on
Dionysius’s work in Cologne. Several Thomistic scholars have viewed Aquinas’s commentary as
little more than a collection of cursory remarks on a text every doctor in the church was expected
to comment upon during his career.22 Consequently, Aquinas’s commentary is often judged to be
of little value in the attempt to ascertain his original thoughts on beauty. A closer reading,
however, indicates that Aquinas took the Platonic ideas of Dionysius seriously. To take but one
example, the procedure of the Summa Theologiae displays an enormous amount of respect for
the merits of Dionysius’s via negativa methodology.23 In the opening questions of the Summa,
Aquinas first addresses what God “is not” before going on to explain what God “is.” In his
introduction to question 3 of the Prima Pars of the Summa, Aquinas writes: “Now that we have
examined whether God exists, it remains for us to examine in what way God exists. But since, in
the case of God, we cannot know whether something is, but rather whether it is not, we must first
consider in what way God is not before considering in what way God is.”24
Aquinas displays an equal amount of respect for Dionysius’s teaching on the interconvertibility
of the good and the beautiful as he does for Dionysius’s teaching on the via negativa. In his
commentary on Dionysius’s De divinis nominibus (In librum beati Dionysii De divinis nominibus
expositio), Aquinas writes: “Dionysius says that because the beautiful is the cause of things in so
many ways, it follows that the good and the beautiful are the same thing, because all things
‘desire the beautiful and the good’ as ‘cause’ for all things; and therefore there is nothing which
does not participate in the beautiful and the good, since each thing is beautiful and good
according to its own form; and furthermore, we can also dare to say that even prime matter
participates in the beautiful and the good.”25 This passage is one of the strongest pieces of
evidence that Thomas included the beautiful among the transcendentals because “the good and
the beautiful are the same thing.” 6
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By including beauty among the transcendental properties of existence, Aquinas places himself—
though not squarely—within the Platonic tradition. Plato’s dialogues had unambiguously
manifested an affinity toward beauty as a transcendental.26Both in the Lysis and in the Timaeus,
Socrates states that whatever is good is beautiful, and whatever beautiful, good. The Timaeus
further connects this idea with creation; everything that is made is both good and beautiful.
Aristotle, in contrast, does not include beauty among the transcendentals. In the Metaphysics, he
mentions only truth, goodness, and unity.27
In the early years of Christianity, Plato clearly exerted a greater influence than Aristotle.
Plotinus,28Augustine, and Dionysius all add beauty to Aristotle’s list of transcendental properties.
Augustine states the case unambiguously in his City of God, a work with which Aquinas would
have been quite familiar:29 “…the very order, changes, and movements in the universe, the very
beauty of form in all that is visible, proclaim, however silently, both that the world was created
and also that its Creator could be none other than God whose greatness and beauty are both
ineffable and invisible.”30 Goodness is the door, so to speak, through which beauty enters the hall
of the transcendentals.
Dionysius, like Augustine, also treats beauty as a transcendental property. His fidelity to the
Platonic approach is quite evident throughout De divinis nominibus.31 The interchangeability of
beauty and goodness, perceived in created things, gives all the greater testimony to the presence
and indistinguishability of beauty and goodness in the divine. Dionysius writes, “The Beautiful is
therefore the same as the Good, for everything looks to the Beautiful and the Good as the cause
of being, and there is nothing in the world without a share of the Beautiful and the
Good…This—the One, the Good, the Beautiful—is in its uniqueness the Cause of the multitudes
of the good and the beautiful.”32
Throughout the Middle Ages, the debate over beauty as a transcendental property continued to
gain momentum. On one side, there were those who could not bring themselves to believe that
beauty is to be found in every existing thing. For them, the meaning of “goodness” (kalon) in the
Platonic sense could refer analogously to the beauty of moral action or to the disposition of the
soul, but not to all things as they appear to the human senses.33 To say that good moral action is
“beautiful” is quite acceptable, but to say that every existent thing is “beautiful” insofar as it
exists is contrary to common experience. Moreover, to say such a thing would offend the beauty
of God by drawing parallels between God and even the ugliest of existing things. On the other
side of the debate were those who staunchly maintained the transcendental nature of beauty.
Bonaventure is most notable in this regard.34 For these thinkers, beauty is present wherever being
is present, and things are beautiful insofar as they exist.
By the early thirteenth century, there was a move toward a compromise. This position is best
expressed in the Summa fratris Alexandri of Alexander of Hales and John of La Rochelle. In this
work we find an “official” list of transcendentals that includes only unity, truth, and goodness.35
However, the text goes on to assert that, even though goodness and beauty are identical in
reality, they differ from each other conceptually (secundum rationem). The latter part of this
compromise shows an attempt to perpetuate the Platonic position. The former part of the 7
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compromise, however, constitutes a clear concession to the growing Aristotelianism of the age.
The compromise position, stemming from Bonaventure and his fellow Franciscans, asserted both
the transcendental aspects of beauty insofar as it held that goodness and beauty are identical in
things, but also maintained the aesthetic characteristic of beauty insofar as it held that, since
beauty is a “perceived” goodness, there is a conceptual distinction between goodness and beauty.
Aquinas adhered to this compromise position.36 He certainly was caught up in the rising tide of
Aristotelianism, and in the De Veritate he clearly follows the Aristotelian designation of three
transcendentals: the one, the true, and the good.37 However, he also argues for a conceptual
distinction between goodness and beauty rather than a real distinction. In other words, Aquinas
also lets beauty enter the transcendental hall through the back door. In order to understand why
he leaves the back door open, it will be necessary to take a closer look at his underlying Platonic
views as they emerge in his commentary on Dionysius’s De divinis nominibus.
As mentioned, most scholars read Aquinas’s In Dionysii De divinis nominibus as no more than
an extended expository gloss on Dionysius’s original work. Mark D. Jordan, for example,
proposes that Aquinas, in commenting on Dionysius’s work, “did not construct a treatment of the
beautiful according to his own notions or pedagogy. The existing remarks on beauty ought then
to be read as just what they are, namely, asides in discussions directed to other ends.”38 Although
it seems that Aquinas did not set out to construct a comprehensive treatment of the beautiful, I
argue that his remarks on beauty should be read as more than mere “asides.” Rather, I believe
they have some bearing on Aquinas’s broader thought regarding both the transcendental and
aesthetic properties of the beautiful.39 In chapter 4 of De divinis nominibus, Dionysius notes that
theologians have celebrated the good as beautiful.40 In later Scholastic philosophy, the concept of
beauty would eventually include more sensible, aesthetic dimensions.41 Dionysius employs the
term in ways equally transcendental and aesthetic. The beautiful, insofar as it is a divine name, is
as thoroughly transcendental as the good, light, love, and any other predicates that denote,
however imperfectly, the perfections of God.42 Supersensible beauty, enjoyed by God alone,
imparts sensible beauty to all creatures.
In his commentary on chapter 4, however, we see that Aquinas, while privileging the
transcendental dimensions, in no way undermines the aesthetic aspects of beauty. He does not
hesitate to join Dionysius in moving from the transcendental to the sensible as a direction for his
own thinking.43 Aquinas understands Dionysius to be attempting two things in his exposition of
the beautiful. First, he establishes beauty as a proper attribute of God.44 Second, he demonstrates
in what way beauty is attributable to God. Dionysius does not proceed deductively from one to
the other, but rather allows his explanations of the possibility of predication and the mode of
predication to play off one another reciprocally throughout chapter 4. Aquinas comments that the
predication of beauty to God occurs in two possible ways: first, beauty is predicated of God
insofar as God is the cause of all beauty; and second, that beauty is had by God without reference
to anything else (gratiose).45 Dionysius teases out the distinction between divine beauty and
created beauty through a method of comparison and contrast, which he bases on the more 8
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elementary distinctions between the one and the many and participation and the participants.
Aquinas notes that Dionysius makes these distinctions for three reasons: to show that beauty is
attributed differently to God and to creatures; to show how beauty is attributed to creatures; and
to show how beauty is attributed to God.
Aquinas believes that Dionysius implies a distinction in regard to how beauty is predicated to
God, and he himself supports that distinction by employing the notion of causality.46 Because
God’s beauty transcends even being itself, Dionysius calls God the all-beautiful (pagkalon) and
superbeautiful (hyperkalon). Aquinas uses the word pulcherrimus to refer to the former, and
superpulcher to refer to the latter. The notion of causality is the key to understanding the basis
for the distinction. According to Aquinas, pulcherrimus refers to God’s perfect beauty as
distinguished from the imperfect beauty of created things. Unlike the beauty of creatures, God’s
beauty does not fade away, is not subject to variation, is not distinguished by degrees, nor is it
dependent on the beholder.47 It is neither recognized nor described in terms of a lack or defect.
Superpulcher, on the other hand, refers to the beauty of God in the order of causality. Because
God’s beauty is above all being, it tends toward diffusing itself outwardly. God “possesses”
within Himself the font of all beauty. All beauty (omnis pulchritude) and each beautiful thing
(omne pulchrum) preexist in God, not by way of distinction (divisim), but uniformly
God is “beyond beautiful” in the words of Dionysius, or “superbeautiful” in the words of
Aquinas, not only in a way that makes it unnecessary for Him to create in order to enhance His
beauty, but more importantly because His beauty makes him tend toward the act of creation
insofar as the multiplicity of the effects of God’s beauty preexist in him “superabundantly” as
first cause (multiplices effectus in causa praeexistunt).48 Aquinas’s In Dionysii De divinis
nominibus pays more than lip service to Dionysius’s Platonism. Aquinas has no one to thank
more for his doctrine concerning the interconvertibility of goodness and beauty than Dionysius,
who had argued that the good and the beautiful are the same in reality, though different in
concept.49 Although the good and the beautiful, insofar as they constitute transcendental aspects
of being, are, according to Aquinas, “the same thing,” they are often distinguished from one
another on account of the ratio by which they are known.50 The good and the beautiful are
conceptually distinct, but not distinct in reality.51 The good, because it is primarily known to the
knower as desirable,52 and consequently pursued by him as an object to be possessed, belongs
primarily to the order of final causality.53 The beautiful, on the other hand, is pleasing simply in
having been seen. The knower does not seek to possess it as a further end. Unlike the good,
which pertains primarily to the appetitive power, the beautiful pertains primarily to the knowing
power (vis cognoscitiva).54 And since knowledge, insofar as it comes about through an
assimilation of like with like, regards the form of a thing, it follows that beauty belongs primarily
to the order of formal causality.
A philosophical hybridity emerges from the foregoing analysis of Aquinas’s In Dionysii De
divinis nominibus. In this work, Aquinas manifests sympathy for the Platonically inspired notion
of beauty as a transcendental property. Beauty, insofar as it may be predicated of any existing 9
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thing, surpasses the sensible realm and is common to created and divine realities. At the same
time, Aquinas adheres to the Aristotelian notion of knowledge through the senses. We find a
thing beautiful because, once perceived by the senses and known by the intellect, the thing is not
pursued for any ulterior motive or sought for any further possession. We can speak of beauty as a
transcendental property common to all existing things, and we can speak of beauty as the
presence of proportion, order, and luminosity in things that please us when seen. Because they
are analogically related, we may speak of the former (i.e., transcendental beauty) in terms of the
latter (i.e., aesthetic beauty), and vice versa. In short, Aquinas’s understanding of beauty as he
describes it in the In Dionysii De divinis nominibus allows him to go back and forth between
transcendental and aesthetic beauty as he does in question 39 of the Prima Pars Summae
In sum, Aquinas’s commentary on Dionysius’s De divinis nominibus shows that he had a strong
bent toward Platonic ideas relatively late in his career. He was doing more than fulfilling his
obligation to complete his commentary on a canonical work of the High Middle Ages. He was
clarifying some the key Neoplatonic ideas as they appeared in Dionysius’s thought, while
simultaneously looking at the text through an Aristotelian lens. Beauty belongs to a thing
primarily in the order of form. It is more than just an excitation of the senses. It is a conformity
of the thing to the mind. This proportion of beauty to the mind, effected through the perception
of the form, enters into Aquinas’s philosophy through the influence of Aristotle. By the time
Aquinas comments on Dionysius’s work, his thought on the relationship of form to matter, and
of form to intellect, has already matured. It is through the abstraction of the form that the mind
comes to know things, and abstraction is possible because of the similarity, or proportion,
between the mind and the form. So it is in the case of knowledge of the beautiful. The sense
faculty, which is a kind of knowledge, finds pleasure in the beautiful because of the similarity, or
proportion, between the beautiful and the senses.
Thus, the key to the hybridity of Aquinas’s aesthetics is his understanding of form. Rather than a
supersensible idea, the form becomes the individuating principle of an existing thing through
which the thing has existence, and by means of which that thing is known by the human intellect
as beautiful. Even as Aquinas embraces these Aristotelian notions of nature and knowledge, he
does not discard the Platonic notion of transcendental beauty. God is “superbeautiful”
(superpulcher), and things, insofar as their existence participates in the existence of God, are
beautiful in a thoroughly transcendental way. Aquinas concurs with the traditional Aristotelian
transcendentals of unity, goodness, and truth, while at the same time allowing beauty to join the
list, primarily because of its interconvertibility with goodness—a Platonically inspired notion.
The end result is a unique aesthetic theory, thoroughly hybrid in its genesis, that clearly reflects
both the transcendental as well as the sensible dimensions of beauty. 10
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Daniel Gallagher completed his M.A. in philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is
currently teaching and conducting doctoral research at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit,
Michigan. His primary interests lie in Thomistic and medieval aesthetics.

The author expresses his deep gratitude to Prof. Christopher Begg, without whose support and guidance
this study would never have come to completion.

1. See Plato, Phaedo 102b-c 3-5; and idem, Republic 596a 6-7. All references to Plato’s works correspond
to the marginalia indices as found in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and
Huntington Cairns, trans. Lane Cooper et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961).

2. Plato, Phaedo 131-133, 135-136; and idem, Republic 5.479-480, 7.518, 9.582b-c.

3. Plato, Lysis 216; idem, Timaeus 30-34; and idem, Republic 6.507, 7.540.

4. Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Hugh Bredin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1988), p. 21.

5. Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. J. F. Scanlan (New York: Scribner, 1930), p. 30.

6. See Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate c. 1 a. 1, cap 21 a. 1-3; idem, De natura generis c. 2; idem, De
potential q. 9 a. 7; and idem, In 1 Sententia c. 8 q. 1 a. 3. All references to Aquinas’s works in Latin
correspond to the Biblioteca de Autores Christianos editions of his work (Salamanca: B. A. C., 1951). All
English translations are my own.

7. Aquinas, De veritate ques. 1 art. 1.

8. See for example Josef Jungmann, Aesthetik (Freiburg: Breisgau, 1884); Francis Kovach, Philosophy of
Beauty (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974); Etienne Gilson, “The Forgotten Transcendental:
Pulchrum,” in Elements of Christian Philosophy (New York: Greenwood, 1960), pp. 159-63; and
Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. Scanlan. Umberto Eco includes beauty among the transcendentals,
but only implicitly; see Eco, Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Bredin.

9. See for example Jan A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas
Aquinas (New York: Brill, 1996); Edgar de Bruyne, L’esthétique du Moyen Age (Louvain: Éditions de
l’Institut supérieur de philosophie, 1947); and Maurice de Wulf, Art et Beauté (Louvain: Institut
supérieur, 1943).

10. Augustine of Hippo, De moribus Manichaeorum 2.6: “Nihil autem est esse quam unum esse”; idem,
Soliloquia 2.5: “Verum mihi videtur esse id quod est”; and idem, De vera religione 11.21: “Inquantum
est, quidquid est, bonum est.” All references to Augustine’s work correspond to the Patrologia Latina
(PL) series, ed. Jacques Paul Migne, vols. 34-47. All English translations are my own.

11. See Walter Brogan, Heidegger and Aristotle: The Twofoldness of Being (New York: SUNY Press,
2005), pp. 32-36, 41-42.

12. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (hereafter cited as ST) 1 q. 12 a. 1: “Et quia cognitio fit per 11
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assimilationem, similitudo autem respicit formam, pulchrum proprie pertinet ad rationem causae
formalis.” [And since knowledge comes about through assimilation, but likeness through form, the
beautiful properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause.]

13. Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. Scanlan, p. 1.

14. Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, trans. Hugh Bredin (London: Yale University Press,
1986), pp. 14-19.

15. Iohannes Amos Commenius, Orbis Pictus: “Nothing is in the intellect which will not first have been
in the sense faculty.” See ST 1 q. 55 a. 2 ad 2, 2-2ae q. 173 a. 2.

16. By “primary analogate,” I mean the side of the analogy that is more easily grasped in respect to the
other. In the analogy “a point is to a line as a surface is to a solid,” the latter side of the analogy is primary
insofar as we have sensible knowledge of solids, whereas points and lines are geometrically abstract

17. See especially ST 1 q. 13 a. 6, in which Aquinas argues that all that can be attributed to God is said
about Him per prius in respect to creatures. We can turn to Aquinas’s teaching on beatitudo as but one
example of how God stands as the primary subject of predication for qualities shared by God and human
beings; see ST 1-2ae q. 3 a. 2 ad 4: “…cum beatitudo dicat quandam ultimam perfectionem, secundum
quod diversae res beatitudinis capaces ad diversos gradus perfectionis pertingere possunt. Secundum hoc
necesse est quod diversimode beatitudo dicatur. Nam in Deo est beatitudo per essentiam: quia ipsum esse
eius est operatio eius, qua non fruitur alio, sed seipso.” Because there is no real distinction between God’s
blessedness and existence, the quality of blessedness applies most perfectly to God. Aquinas goes on to
explain how other beings capable of blessedness can only achieve it through operatio. All of the qualities
that apply to God, insofar as they are possessed by God per essentiam, are predicated of him in a way
similar to beatitudo.

18. See Jan A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas
(New York: Brill, 1996), pp. 335-41.

19. ST 1 q. 39 a. 8.

20. ST 1 q. 39 a. 8: “Species autem, sive pulchritudo, habet similitudinem cum propriis filii. Nam ad
pulchritudinem tria requiruntur. Primo quidem, integritas sive perfectio, quae enim diminuta sunt, hoc
ipso turpia sunt. Et debita proportio sive consonantia. Et iterum claritas, unde quae habent colorem
nitidum, pulchra esse dicuntur. Quantum igitur ad primum, similitudinem habet cum proprio filii,
inquantum est filius habens in se vere et perfecte naturam patris. Unde, ad hoc innuendum, Augustinus in
sua expositione dicit, ubi, scilicet in filio, summa et prima vita est, et cetera. Quantum vero ad secundum,
convenit cum proprio filii, inquantum est imago expressa patris. Unde videmus quod aliqua imago dicitur
esse pulchra, si perfecte repraesentat rem, quamvis turpem. Et hoc tetigit Augustinus cum dicit, ubi est
tanta convenientia, et prima aequalitas, et cetera. Quantum vero ad tertium, convenit cum proprio filii,
inquantum est verbum, quod quidem lux est, et splendor intellectus, ut Damascenus dicit.”

21. Gilson, “Forgotten Transcendental,” pp. 159-63.

22. See for example Mark D. Jordan, “The Evidence of the Transcendentals and the Place of Beauty in
Thomas Aquinas,” International Philosophical Quarterly 29 (1989), 393-407; Umberto Eco, Art and
Beauty, trans. Bredin, pp. 13-18; and Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. Scanlan, pp. 1-3. 12
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23. See ST 1 questions 1-4.

24. ST 1 q. 3: Cognito de aliquo an sit, inquirendum restat quomodo sit, ut sciatur de eo quid sit. Sed quia
de Deo scire non possumus quid sit, sed quid non sit, non possumus considerare de Deo quomodo sit, sed
potius quomodo non sit.

25. Thomas Aquinas, In librum beati Dionysii De divinis nominibus exposition 4.8:…et [Dionysius] dicit
quod, quia tot modis pulchrum est causa omnium, inde est quod bonum et pulchrum sunt idem, quia
omnia desiderant pulchrum et bonum, sicut causam omnibus modis; et quia nihil est quod non participet
pulchro et bono, cum unumquodque sit pulchrum et bonum secundum propriam formam; et ulterius,
etiam, audaciter hoc dicere poterimus quod non-existens, id est materia prima, participat pulchro et bono.
Note that the italicized words in the Latin text are Aquinas’s citations from Dionysius’s De divinis

26. Plato, Lysis 216d; idem, Timaeus 87c, 53b.

27. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1003b 22-23; 1054a 13-19. All citations of Aristotle correspond to the
marginalia indices in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random, 1941).

28. Enneads 5.8.9, 6.6.18, 6.7.31-32. All references to Plotinus’s Enneads correspond to the marginalia
indices of Plotinos: Complete Works, ed. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (Grantwood, N.J.: Comparative
Literature Press, 1918).

29. Aquinas draws heavily upon The City of God as a primary source for the composition of his Summa
Theologiae. See especially Questions 24-29 of the Prima Secundae in the Summa Theologiae.

30. Augustine of Hippo, City of God 11.4.2:…mundus ipse ordinatissima sua mutabilitate et mobilitate et
uisibilium omnium pulcherrima specie quodam modo tacitus et factum se esse et non nisi a Deo
ineffabiliter atque inuisibiliter magno et ineffabiliter atque inuisibiliter pulchro fieri se potuisse proclamat.

31. Pseudo-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus 4.10, 7. All citations of the Pseudo-Dionysius correspond to
marginalia indices of The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, trans. John D. Jones (Milwaukee:
Marquette University Press, 1980).

32. Pseudo-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus 4.6.

33. In the Symposium 212a, as Socrates retells his famous conversation with Diotima, he says that “it is
only when he discerns beauty itself through what makes it visible that a man will be quickened with the
true, and not the seeming, virtue—for it is virtue’s self that quickens him, not virtue’s semblance.” See
Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns, trans. Cooper et al., p. 563. Elsewhere Socrates
lays down the premise that not just some, but many things, appear ugly to the senses. Cf. Plato, Greater
Hippias 286a ff.

34. Cf. Bonaventure, In sententiis 2 34.2.6; and idem, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum 2.10.

35. Alexander of Hales and John of La Rochelle, Summa Fratris Alexandri 1.1.2.

36. Aquinas, In Dionysii De divinis nominibus 4.5; ST 1 q. 5 a. 4 ad 1, 1-2ae q. 27 a. 1 ad 3. 13
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37. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate 1.1.

38. Jordan, “Evidence of the Transcendentals,” p. 395. Cf. Armaund Mauer, About Beauty: A Thomistic
Interpretation (Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1983), pp. 8-13.

39. For similar arguments, see Lawrence Dewan, “St. Thomas and the Divine Names,” Science et Esprit
32 (1980), 19-33; Luis Clavell, “La Belleza en el comentario tomista al De divinis nominibus,” Anuario
filosófico 17 (1984), 93-99.

40. Cf. Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. Scanlan, pp. 30-32.

41. ST 1 q. 5 a. 4 ad 1; 2-2ae q. 27 a. 1 ad 3. See Eco, Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Bredin, pp. 1-

42. Pseudo-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus 1.6/596B, 2.1/637B, 2.7/645A.

43.It is more common for authors to move from sensible beauty to supersensible beauty. This is the
method adopted by Armand Mauer, for example, in About Beauty: A Thomistic Interpretation (Houston:
Center for Thomistic Studies, 1983). Raymond Spiazzi, “Toward a Theology of Beauty,” The Thomist 17
(1954), 351, also represents this approach when he writes of the metaphysician that “from beings he
ascends to being, and returns to the former…He can, then, start from beauty and return to beauty; and
return in a circular movement from one form of knowledge and enjoyment to another.”

44. In this regard, sacred scripture suffices for Aquinas in establishing the predication of beauty to God.
Aquinas, In Dionysii De divinis nominibus 4.5, refers to passages from the Canticle of Canticles, Psalm
95, and the First Letter of John.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.: “Deus semper est pulcher secundum idem et eodem modo et sic excluditur alteratio
pulchritudinis…non est in eo generatio aut corruptio pulchritudinis, neque iterum augmentum vel
diminutio eius, sicut in rebus corporalibus apparet.” [God is always beautiful in one and the same way
and thus any alteration of beauty is excluded from him…there is in him no generation or corruption of
beauty, neither is there any increase or decrease in his beauty, as there appears to be in corporeal things.]

48. Ibid.

49. Rosa Padellaro de Angelis, L’influenza de Dionigi l’Areopagita sul pensiero medioevale (Rome:
ELIA, 1975). For a bibliography of Dionysius’s influence on Aquinas and on mediaeval philosophy in
general, see Kevin F. Doherty, S.J., “Toward a Bibliography of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite: 1900-
1955,” The Modern Schoolman 33 (1956), 257-68; and idem, “Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite: 1955-
1960,” The Modern Schoolman 40 (1962/63), 55-9.

50. Aquinas, In Dionysii De divinis nominibus c. 4 lect. 22. Cf. ST 1.5.4 ad 1, 1-2ae 27.1 ad 3, 2-2ae
145.2 ad 1.

51. Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1985),
pp. 122-24. 14
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52. ST 1 q. 5 a. 1c ad 1, 1 q. 5 art. 3c ad 1, 1 q. 5 a. 5, 1 q. 6 a. 1c, 1 q. 6 a. 2 ad 2, 1 q. 16 a. 3.4c, 1 q. 19

a. 9c, 1 q. 48 a. 1c, 1-2ae q. 22 a. 1c. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 3.24 n. 6; idem, De
Malo q. 1 a. 1 sed contra; idem, Sententia Metaphysicae 12.l.7 n. 4. See also Fran O’Rourke, Pseudo-
Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (New York: Brill, 1992), pp. 85-89.

53. ST 1 q. 5 a. 4, 1 q. 65 a 2, 1 q. 82 a. 4, 1-2ae q. 1 a. 4, 2-2ae q. 23 a. 7, 2-2ae q. 141 a. 6; Thomas

Aquinas, Scriptum super Sententiis 2 d. 1 q. 2 a. 2 s.c. 2, 2 d. 15 q. 3 a. 3 s.c. 1, 3 d. 27 q. 2 a. 4 q. 3;
idem, Summa Contra Gentiles 3 c. 20 n. 1, 3 c. 109 n. 6; and idem, De Veritate q. 3 a. 3 ad 9, q. 21 a. 6
arg. 1.

54. ST 1 q. 5 a. 4 ad 1, 1-2ae q. 27 a. 1 ad 3. 15
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Techniques for Preserving a Tradition: Incorporating Fortune and Faith in

the Consolatio Philosophiae
by Alexandra Cook

While nearly every text credited to Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius bears the mark of his
intention to transmit Greek philosophy to the West and to preserve the classical tradition, it is in
the Consolatio Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), his final work, that the value of
that pagan legacy is most urgently at stake.1 The Consolation is Boethius’s last piece, written
while he was in exile for purported treason against Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths.2 Boethius
was executed shortly afterward. The tragic context of the text’s production gives a particular
poignancy to its consolatory efforts and a particular weight to the source from which the narrator
seeks comfort. In the Consolation, the pagan legacy that Boethius worked so hard to preserve is
called upon to perform the momentous feat of reconciling the narrator to the loss of all the
earthly goods that made life pleasurable, and indeed to the possibility of the loss of life itself.
Yet because Boethius was also a Christian—indeed, he was the author of several Christian
theological tractates—both ancient and modern scholars have puzzled over why the author, at
this crisis in his life, sought comfort primarily from Neoplatonic philosophical ideas rather than
Christian theological ones.3 What, Boethian scholars ask, does this choice tell us about
Boethius’s attitude toward Christianity? During the period in which Boethius wrote, many
proponents of Neoplatonic philosophic were outspokenly critical of Christianity.4 Christian
thinkers responded in kind, and both groups criticized aspects of pagan theism. Yet in contrast to
many of his scholarly peers, Boethius took special care to create a philosophical treatise that,
insofar as it is possible, offers an integration of philosophy and a few select elements of popular
pagan theology that rarely contradicts the tenets of Christian doctrine. Ironically, because
Boethius was careful to avoid religious conflict, his true views via the relationship between
Christianity, Greek philosophy, and pagan theology have become the subject of one of the most
heated controversies in modern Boethian studies.
The figures of Lady Philosophy and Lady Fortune have often been called into service to settle or
at least to further the debate about Boethius’s ideological loyalties, for they seem to function as
some of the most visible evidence of Boethius’s devotion to, respectively, Neoplatonic
philosophy and a species of pagan theism. For example, Pierre Courcelle declares, “Que Boèce
soit Chrétien ou non, toute allusion à l’Écriture ou aux théologiens aurait été, après qu’il eût
choisi ce personnage fictif de Philosophie, une faute de logic et de gout.” [Whether or not
Boethius was a Christian, all allusion (in the Consolation) to the Scriptures or to the theologians
would be, after he had chosen the fictive personage of Lady Philosophy, a fault of logic and of
taste.] Courcelle subsequently classifies Lady Philosophy’s use of both pagan and Christian
theological terms as “lapses” in Boethius’s purported efforts to write an exclusively
philosophical treatise and to retain clear and inviolable distinctions between the realms of reason
and faith.5 Edmund Reiss makes a similar argument about Philosophy, noting that the physical 16
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details of Lady Philosophy’s description make up a symbolic iconography which ultimately

reveals their “essentially traditional nature,” harking back to conventions inaugurated in Plato’s
Phaedrus and continued in his Crito; for Reiss, as for Courcelle, Lady Philosophy is strictly a
philosophical figure.6 On the other hand, C. J. de Vogel registers her surprise that, despite
Boethius’s well-documented love of Platonic philosophy, the Consolation’s narrator professes
such heartfelt belief in the figure of Lady Fortune: Fortune is an analogue to the pagan goddess
Fortuna, a figure embraced by proponents of popular pagan theism but scorned by the elevated
elite of philosophy, and whose appearance is therefore puzzling in the work of such an erudite
scholar. De Vogel concludes that the presence of this figure can be classed as an “unconscious”
bit of syncretism, a “spontaneously voiced pagan belief.”7 As these examples show, modern
scholars tend to read the Ladies Philosophy and Fortune as representatives of two very different
and opposing ideological systems, nor do they believe that Boethius blurred the boundaries
between these religious and philosophical systems deliberately. Instead they claim that such
transgressions are unpremeditated, unconscious acts for which Boethius should not be held
responsible. In such cases the underlying assumption is that Boethius, like so many of his late
antique contemporaries, wanted to maintain certain distinctions between the ideological
frameworks that appear in the Consolation; furthermore, that to do so was indeed his
responsibility (as a loyal Neoplatonist).
One of the reasons for scholarly confusion about Boethius’s true philosophical or religious
loyalties may be attributed to Boethius’s only provisional concern with these distinctions. Using
theoretical terms and paradigms offered by Derrida in his metaphysical history of Western
religion, The Gift of Death, I will argue that, rather than being used to maintain certain religious
or philosophical distinctions, Lady Philosophy and Lady Fortune—these “corporeal”
representations of Neoplatonic philosophy and of pagan theism—are used by Boethius as a
means of “incorporation” whereby he demonstrates that aspects of pagan theism merge with
Neoplatonism, and aspects of Neoplatonism converge with Christianity. The means by which
they bring about this incorporation is closely tied to their status as allegorical figures: by
definition, they are symbols that stand for something else. The presence of allegory makes
available the possibility for substitution as well as the possibility that a one-to-one
correspondence between the sign and the thing signified may not hold. I argue that it is the
resourcefulness of these transformations of signifiers that chiefly interests Boethius; he is more
interested in the ability of the twin figures of Philosophy and Fortune to connote multiple
meanings than in their ability to denote one fixed idea.
Derridean Perspectives: Deconstructing the Breaks and Boundaries of
Conversion History
Derrida’s The Gift of Death offers a powerful and well-theorized framework for interpreting
conversionary breaks between what he calls “orgiastic fusion” (a phrase he uses to characterize
the dynamics of pagan theism), Platonism, and Christianity.8 My use of the term “incorporation”
borrows from his definition: Derrida describes the breaks between these conversionary stages as
a process of “incorporation and repression” in which each new stage contains elements of what 17
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came before but whose proponents deny that such continuities exist. Through this process of
denial and repression, Derrida argues, a kind of fantasmatic stability-through-rupture is achieved.
The Consolation does indeed enact a series of incorporations in which paganism becomes part of
Platonism and Platonism merges with Christianity. But Derrida’s notion that such incorporation
is typically paired with repression is more helpful for analysis of the critical reactions to the
Consolation than it is for analysis of the text itself. It is precisely because the Consolation rarely
follows this aspect of the Derridean formulation—because it makes only provisional efforts to
repress and deny the elements of continuity that survive the movement from one “conversionary
stage” to another, because it places far more emphasis upon instances of incorporation without
repression—that this text has for so long proven a conundrum for critics. Derrida argues that to
some extent, “stability” (or safety) is achieved and retained through “rupture.” That is, the
emphasis upon breaks and separations, and differences between these stages, make it safe for the
continuities to exist, though to maintain this safety their existence is repressed. The Consolation
is an anomaly to the extent that it does not participate in this pattern of denial. Boethius shows
very little interest in enforcing the boundaries maintained by so many of his contemporaries. By
extension, he does not participate in an established formula for making the conversionary process
safe. Because of this anomalous factor, the Consolation—while very popular in late antiquity
and in the mid-to-late Middle Ages—was often, then, perceived as a dangerous text; now, for the
same reason, it is perceived as a bit of a puzzle.9
Some contemporary Boethian critics, when seeking to determine the extent to which the
Consolation champions Platonist ideologies over Christian ones, or vice versa, cite assertions
made by contemporaries of Boethius who were far more invested than was he in maintaining the
lines of demarcation between these ideological frameworks. For example, Courcelle, in order to
prove his assertion that Boethius prioritized pagan Platonism over Christian doctrine in the
Consolation, notes that Boethius used the terms fortuna (fortune) and fatum (fate), “which
Augustine had proscribed.”10 But Derrida’s text suggests that those late antique thinkers (such as
St. Augustine) who are most interested in defining clear boundaries and making hermetic
distinctions between one conversionary stage and another may also be those with the deepest
investment in repressing those elements which are incorporated from other systems. When
Courcelle accepts Augustine’s division of the formal and ideological boundaries between
Christianity and paganism, he can also be said to be participating in the narrative of progressive
history that Augustine wished to propagate. Augustine makes it a matter of responsibility to
distinguish between Christian belief and the pagan ideas denoted by the terms fortuna and fatum.
Courcelle’s historicist formulation of critical responsibility imitates Augustinian method and
follows Augustinian rule. That is, Courcelle uses a historiographical method whereby, to create
an historically accurate lens through which to analyze this late antique text, he attempts to view
Boethius’s work from the perspective of the author’s scholarly predecessors and contemporaries.
But in this case, Courcelle’s strategy results in an interpretation whereby late antique modes of
interpretation are reproduced, rather than examined as such. When Courcelle assumes that it is
his own responsibility to confirm the differences between the respective systems of pagan theism 18
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and Neoplatonism, he follows Augustine’s advice, but does not delve into what might have
motivated Augustine’s particular set of interpretive rules.
Derrida offers an abstract and theoretical means of distinguishing between Platonic and Christian
ideologies that proves a very useful supplement to such historicist endeavors: he characterizes
the conversion from the Platonic to the Christian subject as a shift from a viewpoint that purports
to exile mystery and secrecy to one in which they are perceived as constitutional to the
construction of the subject itself. The Platonic subject, Derrida explains, assumes that it is
possible to achieve an exterior/accessible gaze upon itself and upon the abstract Good of the
summum bonum. This exterior gaze enables the Platonic subject to see itself clearly and to take
full responsibility for its actions. In contrast, Derrida asserts, the Christian subject is marked by
the interior/inaccessible gaze of another subject, a (personalized) God who sees internal secrets
from which the subject itself is barred. The Christian subject, by definition, will never know
everything about itself.
As I will show, the Consolation does not place complete confidence in the narrator’s access to
self-knowledge and in the power that such understanding conveys, in true Platonic fashion.
Rather, it acknowledges the existence of areas of secrecy which in turn allow for the possibility
of uncertainty and risk, and, ultimately, of faith. If Boethius’s narrator cannot predict how he will
be judged—and consequently rewarded or punished—because the contents of his own soul are a
mystery, he will be forced to rely upon and have faith in Lady Philosophy, the secret sharer to
whom his real self is visible.
In the Consolation, Boethius personifies good as the goodness of a personalized authority figure
who sees the internal secrets of the narrator, those parts of the soul that are constitutionally
unreadable to him. But Lady Philosophy is not simply an independent agent in the text of the
Consolation. Indeed, one clear implication is that Lady Philosophy is an aspect of the narrator,
Boethius’s “I” persona—because she represents Boethius’s accumulated philosophical
knowledge. But how is it possible that Lady Philosophy be both an aspect of the narrator and
also an independent agent?
Two centuries before, Augustine created a dialogue founded upon the same seeming
contradiction. In the Soliloquies, he represents his mind in conversation with itself, but expresses
this conversation as occurring between a knowledge-seeking self and a (female) figure who
personifies Reason. Acknowledging the originality of this narrative structure, Augustine claimed
to have invented a genre whose achievement was to internalize the process of dialogue. While
Augustine uses a question-and-answer dialogue in a pursuit of wisdom, a format that of course
employs an identifiably Socratic method, what is different about Augustine’s dialogue is that, as
Reason points out, “we are speaking to ourselves alone”; the dialogue is not represented as
occurring between different historical personages.11 The unique status of “Reason” is apparent in
the opening lines of the Soliloquies:
When I had been pondering many different things to myself for a long time, and had for
many days been seeking my own self and what my own good was, and what evil was to
be avoided, there suddenly spoke to me—what was it? I myself or someone else, inside 19
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me or outside me? (This is the very thing I would love to know but don’t)—At any rate,
Reason said to me…12
The participants in this dialogue are therefore identified as the narrator, the “I” persona of
Augustine himself, and Reason, whose status is left ambiguous: is she “inside” the narrator or
“outside” him, a part of himself or an independent entity? Unlike Boethius’s narrator,
Augustine’s narrator poses this question directly, but he refuses to resolve the query for his
readers, claiming he is unable to answer it. To further complicate matters, while on the one hand
Reason may be identified with some part of the narrator, on the other hand she seems to operate
as a kind of conduit to God himself, insofar as she claims that while “it is God himself who
illuminates,” it is she upon whom the narrator must rely to “display God as clearly to [the
narrator’s] mind as the sun appears to the eyes.”13 Thus Reason is a liminal figure, a kind of go-
between who can both stand in for a part of the narrator himself and also act as a divine emissary
of God.
As in the Soliloquies, the dialogue of the Consolation occurs between the author’s “I” persona
and a female figure who acts as his instructor. Furthermore, the figure of “Reason” as one that
may represent both the narrator’s own mental powers and, at the same time, act as an
independent agent, bears a striking resemblance to Boethius’s “Lady Philosophy.” Though
Boethius himself does not openly acknowledge the fact that she is, in some sense, the product of
his own mental processes, readers must be aware that Philosophy, as a creation of Boethius the
author, represents his accumulated philosophical knowledge. Of course, readers might also
conclude that Boethius the author knows things that his “I” persona does not. But if we assume
that the abject despair and ignorance of the narrator is a purely artificial device, meant to provide
the author—in the guise of Lady Philosophy—the opportunity to correct the narrator and display
his own wisdom, we lose any sense that the professed ignorance of the narrator also expresses an
honest desire for knowledge on Boethius the author’s part. Of course, this question is to some
extent unresolvable, but I propose that a more satisfying reading will follow if we assume that
Boethius, like Augustine, is using his own writing process as part of a sincere search for the
salvific knowledge that can comfort him in his plight. The narrator and Lady Philosophy indeed
represent a split self: their conversation is, in one sense, a dialogue between the helpless
unknowing part of the self and the self that knows. Furthermore, like Augustine’s Reason,
Philosophy’s knowledge seems to come at least in part from her proximity to God. Ultimately,
both Reason and Philosophy are liminal figures that can satisfy two kinds of desires via
authority: as authorities in their own right, they satisfy the desire for a personalized, concrete and
accessible authority figure; as conduits to God, they satisfy the desire for an authority that
preserves a certain mystery, whose greatness is testified to by the fact that mere mortals can’t
achieve direct access but must make use of a go-between.
Like Augustine’s Soliloquies, Boethius’s Consolation represents an internal dialogue, a mind in
conversation with itself; like Augustine, Boethius emphasizes learning as a product of solitude
and spiritual contemplation rather than public exposition. Through his internalization of Platonic
philosophy, we see Boethius’s Christianization of Platonic philosophy, because the working out 20
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of the relationships between two parts of the soul bears the mark of the Christian formulation of
the secret sharer: Lady Philosophy, a many-faceted symbol, represents both the part of the
narrator’s soul that knows, and the personalized, subjective gaze of God, an individual—rather
than an objective “Good”—that gazes upon the narrator and sees him for what he truly is.
Philosophy’s Precarious Consolations
I n the Consolation, Lady Philosophy is cast in the role of a savior who will rescue the Boethius
character from the ruin that random Fortune has made of his life. However, from her first
appearance in the Boethius character’s cell, she displays a surprising affinity with the quality of
uncertainty that she has supposedly arrived to abolish. In an essay titled “My Chances/Mes
Chances: A Rendezvous with some Epicurean Stereophonies,” Derrida traces the philological
links between the unforeseeable, chance, and the idea of a fall: “…the
unforeseeable…[involves]…that which falls and is not seen in advance…it comes from above,
like destiny or thunder…Grasping everything in advance, anticipation, does not let itself be taken
by surprise; there is no chance for it.”14 The details of Lady Philosophy’s arrival in the narrator’s
cell link her with the unforeseeable, the fall, and the psychological weight of “destiny or
thunder,” so that in this moment she seems to represent the qualities of chance itself even more
than she does the tenets of philosophy. The abrupt quality of her entrance and her banishment of
the muses of poetry with whom the prisoner has been beguiling himself mark her as an
independent entity whose arrival is not orchestrated or anticipated by the author; hence her
arrival is that of the unforeseen and the unforeseeable. The physical description which reports
that Lady Philosophy’s head “penetrates the heavens” implies her fall from thence: “It is difficult
to say how tall she might be, for at one time she seemed to confine herself to the ordinary
measure of man, and at another the crown of her head touched the heavens; and when she lifted
her head higher yet, she penetrated the heavens themselves, and was lost to the sight of man.”15
The fact that this unanticipated arrival is crucial to the prisoner, that it will make all the
difference to his life, his death, and his soul, invests her arrival with the importance of “destiny
or thunder.” What is initially most frightening about this consolatory figure is that her help
cannot be anticipated, counted upon, or fathomed. Like the misfortune whose randomness is, to
the narrator, its most terrifying aspect, Lady Philosophy’s arrival seems random, based on her
own whim. At the very least, Boethius represents her arrival as something that the prisoner does
not have the agency to bring about independently. Immediately after her unexpected appearance,
Lady Philosophy claims that the narrator “is in no real danger,” for his only problem is that he
has forgotten his real self—which she can help him to recover.16
The idea of banishing danger by recovering certain truths is one that borrows heavily from
Platonic philosophy. On this score, the Consolation owes perhaps its most significant debt to
Plato’s Phaedo, in which Socrates, like Boethius, ponders philosophical truths while he awaits
death at the hands of his accusers. Yet ultimately, the Consolation revises the Phaedo’s
formulations as to what constitutes true danger and loss. One of the most important revisions is
the Consolation’s new emphasis on the existence of a forgotten or secret self. 21
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In the Phaedo, Socrates tries to console his students about his impending death by explaining
that death itself does not constitute a real danger, particularly for the philosopher. The soul,
Socrates explains, is united with ideas of the perfect Forms, including the Form of the Good. The
individual is born with a knowledge of these Forms, but forgets them upon being imprisoned in
the body. The philosopher can prepare himself for death by remembering and revering the ideal
Forms that the soul remembers, and by devaluing the worldly goods and possessions that please
the body. For this reason, the philosopher can be said to be constantly preparing himself for
death, and looks upon it as no danger.
For Socrates, the soul is the perceiving agent that, by definition, is not tied to bodily senses.
While mortals have never literally seen absolute/ideal beauty or goodness, the soul can perceive
their Forms, and one can best enhance this perceptual ability “by applying [one’s] pure and
unadulterated thought”—that is, the intellect unaided by any bodily sense—“to the pure and
unadulterated object.”17 It is clear that Socrates places an extremely high premium on this pure
intellection, which can give mortals access to pure unadulterated truths and can ultimately
transform what death itself means. It is also clear that Socrates feels quite confident that the pure
and unadulterated “objects” which are the idealized Forms are fully accessible, at least to the
perceptual ability of the trained philosopher. His confidence in these invisible but accessible
Forms is illustrated by the position he adopts in doing the consolatory work of the Phaedo: it is
Socrates himself, the one condemned to death but also the one most highly trained in philosophy,
who is least in need of consolation from others. On the contrary, he himself adopts the
consolatory role and tries to comfort his students by helping them to perceive the truths that have
long since comprised his own comfort.
In contrast to the Phaedo’s emphasis upon the accessibility of the ideal Forms and their
perceptual “visibility,” the Consolation employs a thematic focus on ways that accessibility to
certain ideal truths may be blocked or obscured. Unlike Socrates, the narrator of the Consolation
has lost sight of the “truths” that have the power to transform his experience of death, so that,
rather than mourning the end of his bodily life, he rejoices in the prospect of his soul’s eternal
unity with the Good. As Philosophy observes, “[Once, the narrator] sought and told all Nature’s
secret causes. / But now he lies / His mind’s light languishing,…His eyes cast down beneath the
weight of care, / Seeing nothing / But the dull, solid earth.”18 His inability to see anything but
the earth signifies the fact that at this moment, the narrator is preoccupied by the material world:
his perceptual powers can only register that which is accessible to the bodily senses. Nor is the
narrator confident that he can regain a clear-sighted vision—that is, the ability to perceive the
elevated realm of ideas and ideals—on his own. Instead, he must rely upon the figure of Lady
Philosophy, whom Boethius represents as an authoritative teacher who can help the narrator to
recover what he has forgotten. As noted above, Lady Philosophy can be said to represent an
aspect of the narrator himself, insofar as she is meant to represent his memory of the
philosophical truths he learned in his previous life as a philosopher; he refers to her as “the nurse
who had brought me up, whose house I had from my youth frequented.” If this is the case, the
fact that Boethius chooses to represent the narrator’s self as split or divided between the part that
remembers/knows (Lady Philosophy) and the part that doesn’t (his mournful, imprisoned, 22
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despairing self) suggests the paradoxical possibility that there is self-knowledge from which the
self can be barred.19 Furthermore, the narrator’s need for a figure to return to him the self-
knowledge that he lacks also works to emphasize the fact that such a lack exists. Paradoxically,
then, the source of the narrator’s consolation—Lady Philosophy and her possession of
knowledge which he has lost—also opens up a dangerous gap between the narrator and the
salvific knowledge of his real self upon which his consolation is said to rest.
Philosophy and Fortune: Guides to the Good and to God
In the first two books of the Consolation, Lady Philosophy’s lessons center upon the figure of
the Lady Fortune, whom the narrator identifies as the one who is to blame for his present plight.
Before his imprisonment, the narrator was wealthy, respected, and happy. Now, as the self-
described victim of “adverse fortune,” he has been accused of treason against the senate, thrown
in jail, and is at present “deprived of all [his] goods, stripped of [his] honors,” and “the object of
evil gossip.”20 Lady Philosophy sets out to console him by proving that the world is “rationally
directed,” rather than being “run by random and chance events.”21 Initially, then, the twin
figures of Philosophy and Fortune are caught up in an apparent opposition: Philosophy is the
representative of abstract truth and the rational, though not always evident or visible, force of
divine order, which ensures that the rewards of salvation and safety are accessible to those who
work for them; Fortune plays her foil as the irrational representative of material wealth, bodily
pleasure, and the dangerous power of chance to bestow or withdraw these goods at random. Like
other pagan gods, Fortune is often linked to the idea of degraded materiality, all the more so
because it is her special province to distribute earthly treasures: Lady Philosophy offers a list of
Fortune’s useless gifts—riches, jewels, fine clothes—and scoffs that man “can only appear
splendid to himself by the possession of lifeless stuff.”22 C. J. de Vogel characterizes Lady
Fortune as “anti-intellectual, anti-reason,” and notes that she was the special bane of
philosophers as a goddess of irrationality and chaos.23 Her reputation for fickleness and caprice
and her status as one who gives with one hand and takes with the other imbue her figuration with
the potential for risk and danger that accompany the loss of her gifts. It is this risk and danger (or
rather, the perception that this danger is real) that Lady Philosophy must help the narrator to
However, in the Consolation, the simple oppositional relationship between Lady Philosophy
(representative of divine order, the invisible but “real” and abstract truths of philosophy, safety,
and permanence) and Lady Fortune (representative of popular pagan theism, irrationality,
material and visible goods, transition, chance, and danger) does not retain its dialectical integrity.
The similarities and links between these apparently oppositional figures is suggested when
Philosophy speaks for Lady Fortune in book 2 (when Fortune “speaks,” she is quoted directly,
but with the understanding that Lady Philosophy speaks for her; that is, Philosophy speaks as if
she is Lady Fortune). Ventriloquizing Fortune, Philosophy announces that if the things that
Boethius claims he lost were really his, he never would have lost them. That is, the riches and
good reputation that he formerly enjoyed are earthly treasures and, by their very nature,
transitory and mutable. Earthly goods cannot be permanent possessions; one cannot expect to 23
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retain them forever, therefore one should never consider them truly one’s own. With this retort,
Philosophy “stands in” for Fortune and gives her the voice she needs to defend herself against
the Boethius character’s accusations of ill-treatment.
Philosophy makes an emphatic point of speaking as if she is Lady Fortune, because she wants to
convince the Boethius character that Fortune must be understood on her own terms. Fortune is,
by her essential nature, transitory and fickle. She is often accused of being deceptive because she
supposedly seduces the recipients of good fortune into expecting permanent happiness. However,
as Lady Philosophy points out, if one truly knows Lady Fortune and understands her basic
nature—a nature which Fortune reveals precisely by being changeable—then one learns to
expect change, transition, mutability, and bad fortune as well as good. Fortune’s words and
actions, as they appear in the Consolation, resonate with the contradictory connotations of the
Greek term pharmakon, which is defined as both “a poison” and “a remedy.” While the narrator
initially perceives Fortune’s actions as poisonous, Philosophy uses Fortune’s own words as a
curative for Boethius’s ailment—which stems, in part, precisely from his initial inability to
understand what Fortune means.
When, ventriloquized by Lady Philosophy, Fortune chastises the narrator for overvaluing earthly
goods, she participates in Philosophy’s Platonic mission to lead the prisoner back to a
recognition of what is true. Therefore, while Philosophy has spoken for Fortune, Fortune has also
spoken for Philosophy. Philosophical axioms about Fortune confirm that when she retracts her
favor, she has offered the one who has lost it the opportunity to discover what is transitory in life
and what is stable and can never be retracted. In other words, by revealing her own limitations as
a goddess and emphasizing the fact that what she gives cannot be retained, Fortune gives her
most profound gift and leads the prisoner back toward the Good.
If Fortune reveals a surprising affinity with the Platonic aim of returning to the Good, Lady
Philosophy, as she is figured in the Consolation, seems to have a set of affiliations that link her
with the material world she derides. Lady Philosophy has arrived to help the prisoner brush away
the illusions foisted upon him by his attachment to the material world—illusions that are linked
to his love of the body and that which pleases the body (i.e., material pleasure). But why does
this message come to him from the figure of Lady Philosophy? Given that Lady Philosophy’s
self-ascribed task is to help the prisoner shed his habit of giving excessive importance to the
material world, why did the author of the Consolation choose to represent philosophy as an
embodied presence? Lady Philosophy is not a set of abstract tenets signifying ideation, but a
corporealised figure who, like her supplicant, has a physical form. Indeed, this form is described
in great detail: the narrator describes her “burning eyes,” the freshness of her complexion despite
the fact that she seems ancient, the delicate workmanship of her dress, emblazoned with two
Greek letters signifying the practical and theoretical divisions of philosophy, and the book and
scepter that she carries.24 On the one hand, these physical details serve as allegorical signifiers of
philosophy’s legendary powers; on the other hand, the fact that she is represented in human form
may also signify her affiliation with certain mortal limitations. 24
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Many late antique texts that engage in the cultural debate of the pagan vs. the Christian treat as
problematic the allegorical representation of either classical philosophical truths or pagan deities
in mortal form, precisely because this association with the human figure threatens to contaminate
any idealized purity. Perhaps the most famous text of this kind is Augustine’s fourth-century
manifesto De Civitate Dei Adversos Paganos (The City of God Against the Pagans), in which he
points out that even the classical tradition’s most eminent scholars, including Varro, Cicero and
Seneca, admit that the practice of representing the gods in human form leads to the belief that the
pagan deities are susceptible to various kinds of human weakness.25 The classical scholars cited
above rationalize their tolerance of this disrespectful idea by claiming that only the “common
folk” (vulgo) believe in the literal existence of the pagan gods as anthropomorphic figures.
According to these scholars, all educated people know that the figures of the gods are meant to
be read allegorically. Augustine reads such rationalizations as elitist hypocrisy: he feels that the
hubris of the pagans is in fact their greatest sin.
But Boethius evidences none of the elitism shown by his classical forebears. Instead, he uses the
limitations implied by Lady Philosophy’s anthropomorphic figuration in the service of furthering
his syncretism of philosophical and religious traditions. As she is represented in the Consolation,
Lady Philosophy never displays the mortal passions that often sway the pagan gods. However,
her appearance as a human figure suggests that she represents a particularly mortal wisdom.
Lady Philosophy may therefore be said, like the Lady Fortune, to give the most profound gift
when she reveals her own limitations. Although Lady Philosophy wants to lead the prisoner back
to the Good and back to a recognition of/appreciation for God, she cannot approximate God
himself: at the limit of human wisdom is where God begins.
Lady Philosophy’s first direct acknowledgment that reason has its limits occurs when, in book 4,
the narrator asks how God can mete out harshness to the good and grant the desires of the
wicked. Lady Philosophy replies that she will try to explain “the depth of God” by giving the
narrator those few examples that “human reason can grasp”; she goes on to say that while some
evil men may appear just and good to their fellow men, to God, who “knows all,” their
wickedness is apparent.26 Philosophy further claims that though some men seem to be rewarded
for wickedness, providence arranges all things for the ultimate good of all. For example, in the
case of a hypothetical man who has a nature such that “the want of property could very likely
provoke him to crime,” providence offers as a remedy for this sickness “the provision of
money.”27 Perhaps in anticipation of protest against this rather unsatisfactory explanation,
Philosophy ultimately retorts, “But it is grievous that I should talk of all this as if I were a god.
For it is not allowed to a man either to comprehend with his natural powers or to express in
words all the devices of the work of God.”28 As the representative of mortal wisdom, Philosophy
cannot speak “as if [she] were a god”; she is mistress only over what man may “comprehend
with his natural powers.” By extension, because man is ultimately incapable of understanding
God’s divine motives, he must at a certain point rely on faith rather than knowledge.
The conflict between faith and knowledge surfaces again in the fifth and final book of the
Consolation when the narrator expresses anguish at the possibility that God’s foreknowledge 25
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might exclude the possibility of free will. For the narrator, it is crucial to believe that free will
exists, for without it man’s prayers and efforts are meaningless. But God’s very omniprescience
threatens Boethius’s faith that free will exists. That is, if God has foreknowledge of the future
(because he is omnipotent and all-knowing by definition), doesn’t it follow that what he knows
will be true in the future must come to pass—that is, it must necessarily follow? If this is true,
even men’s vices are determined by necessity rather than by their own wills, in which case there
is no sense in hoping for anything to happen or praying for anything to be averted.
At this moment, the narrator reveals that in a certain sense, he longs for uncertainty, for
uncertainty is the foundation that makes both faith and prayer possible. Through prayer, “men
seem able to converse with God and to be joined by the very manner of their supplication to that
inaccessible light, even before they receive what they seek.”29 For Boethius, the act of
supplication is itself more important than the specific thing asked for, because it is an
acknowledgment of God. Prayer is the “sole intercourse between men and God” because man
can gain access to that “inaccessible light” only by an acknowledgement of its inaccessibility and
a hope that God will grant his mortal supplicants grace. The narrator insists upon retaining his
belief that the mind of God is open to mortal influence, and that prayer is a kind of dialogue or
“intercourse” between two parties. As C. J. de Vogel points out, the narrator’s definition of
prayer is very different from that of the Greek philosophers, who thought it impious to believe
that the course of human events might be altered by the interference of human supplication.30
Indeed, insofar as the narrator’s definition of prayer emphasizes the idea of a personal
relationship between God and human subject, it is closer to the Christian concept of that
relationship than to the Platonic version.31
The distinctive relationship between uncertainty or risk and religious belief is aptly summarized
in Derrida’s The Gift of Death: he defines religious belief as “an involvement with the other
beyond knowledge and certainty which constitutes a venture into absolute risk.”32 In the
Consolation, these abstract notions are most obviously made concrete in the figure of Lady
Fortune, the pagan goddess whom the narrator initially believes governs his fortunes in a manner
beyond knowledge, certainty, or his ability to predict. Initially, it appears that Fortune is vilified
for this very quality of randomness. However, ultimately this quality comes to serve as the
foundation for the narrator’s most profound wish: to retain his capacity for faith.
The narrator’s profound investment in the idea of faith alerts us to the fact that his version of
pagan philosophy is a hybrid that incorporates crucial elements of Christianity as well as pagan
theism. While Lady Philosophy initially seems to exhibit what Carol Harrison has recently
termed the “startling optimism” of classical philosophy, characterized by “its unerring conviction
of man’s autonomous will, his capacity for rational self-determination and for perfectibility
through knowledge,” by the end of the Consolation Lady Philosophy has forsaken assurance for
humility.33 In her final words to the prisoner she urges him to “offer up humble prayers to
heaven,” and to do good, for he acts “before the eyes of a judge who sees all things.”34 Lady
Philosophy cannot act as final judge of the narrator’s true self, for she is the representative of
mortal wisdom who cannot “see all things”; that power is reserved for God. In Boethius’s 26
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version of Platonic philosophy, at least as it is rendered in the Consolation, a place is retained for
mystery and secrecy: they can be found in the “inaccessible light” of God. It is this “secret
sharer” to whom Lady Philosophy urges the narrator to offer his ultimate supplication and to
whom she refers him for his ultimate consolation.

Alexandra Cook is a Ph.D. candidate in medieval literature at UC Santa Barbara, with a specialty
in Chaucer. This summer, she plans to finish her dissertation, "Risking Desire: Chaucerian
Representations of Erotic Love and the Pagan Past" (under the direction of L. O. Aranye
Fradenburg) before taking up her tenure-track position as an assistant professor at the University
of Alabama in the fall of 2006.

1. Boethius’s lifetime ambition, as he declared in De interpretatione, was first to translate with
commentary the entire body of Aristotle’s work on logic, ethics, and physics, then to translate with
commentary all of Plato, and finally to demonstrate that the two philosophies are fundamentally in
agreement. (At age 44, when he was put to death, Boethius had accomplished only a small part of this
project, having completed a translation with commentary on Aristotle’s work on logic.) Boethius’s
ambitious plans for such an extensive set of translations were motivated in part by the fact that Italian
scholars’ knowledge of Greek declined throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. Edmund Reiss, in his
useful overview titled Boethius (Boston: Twayne, 1982), p. 4, argues: “Rather than blame this loss on the
advent of the barbarians, it may be more accurate to say that the loss was a product of the political
decadence and intellectual stagnation of the Roman world, which allowed the barbarian invasions to be
possible.” At a time when few translations existed, an ignorance of Greek meant a real loss of knowledge
and, indeed, of culture itself.

2. In the early sixth century, Theodoric governed the Romans of Italy in the capacity of a patrician
designated by the Byzantine emperor Zeno.

3. Shortly following Boethius’s execution, legends sprang up depicting the author of the Consolatio
Philosophiae as a Christian martyr (two of these accounts are documented by Reiss in Boethius, pp. 84-
87), but in recent centuries he is more often thought of as “the last representative of…ancient
philosophy,” according to Edward Zeller, who is quoted in Edward Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages
(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1928), p. 139. In the nineteenth century, Zeller asserted that
Boethius’s Platonic and Neoplatonic leanings cancelled out any possibility that his feelings were those of
a true Christian; see Zeller, quoted in Rand, Founders, p. 139: “…though he may have associated himself
externally with the Christian Church, his real religion is philosophy.” In the twentieth century, as Pierre
Courcelle notes, new critical attempts have been made to emphasize Boethius’s Christian sensibilities; see
Pierre Courcelle, Late Latin Writers and Their Greek Sources, trans. Harry E. Wedeck (Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 318-27. Still, Boethius continues to confound scholarly efforts to
establish him properly either as the representative of pagan philosophy’s last stand or as the advocate of
Christianity’s new regime.

4. For a summary of the attacks that pagan philosophers made upon Christianity in late antiquity, see
Pierre Courcelle, “Anti-Christian Arguments and Christian Platonism: From Arnobius to St. Ambrose,” in
The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. Arnaldo Momigliano 27
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(Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), pp. 151-92. Also see J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, “Latin Apologists of the age
of the Great Persecution: Arnobius and Lactantius,” in Continuity and Change in Roman Religion
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), pp. 252-77.

5. Pierre Courcelle, La Consolation de Philosophie dans la Tradition Littéraire: Antécédents et postérité

de Boèce (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1967), p. 24.

6. Reiss, Boethius, p. 141.

7. C. J. De Vogel, “Boethiana II,” Vivarium 10 (May 1972), 1-40 at 35.

8. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

9. For a succinct summary of the historical debates about whether Boethius is the first Christian
scholastic, a theologian and greatly honored martyr, or the last Roman, whom pagan wisdom consoles on
the threshold of death, see Courcelle, La Consolation de Philosophie, introduction.

10. Courcelle, Late Latin Writers, p. 320.

11. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Soliloquies; and, Immortality of the Soul, trans. Gerard Watson
(Warminster, Eng.: Aris and Phillips, 1990), p. 23.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., p. 41.

14. Jacques Derrida, “My Chances/Mes Chances: A Rendezvous with some Epicurean Stereophonies,” in
Taking Chances: Derrida, Psychoanalysis, and Literature, ed. Joseph H. Smith, William Kerrigan, and
Jacques Derrida (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), p. 5.

15. Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. S. J. Tester, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge,
Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 133. All Latin citations and translations from the Consolation
are from this edition.

16. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 1.Prosa 2, pp. 138-9.

17. Plato, Phaedo, trans. Hugh Tredennick, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and
Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series 71 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 48.

18. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 1.Prosa 2, p. 139.

19. Ibid. 1.Prosa 2, p. 141.

20. Ibid. 1.Prosa 6, p. 169.

21. Ibid. 1.Prosa 6, p. 167.

22. Ibid. 2.Prosa 5, p. 205.

23. De Vogel, “Boethiana II,” p. 26. 28
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24. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 1.Prosa 1, pp. 133-135.

25. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, The City of God Against the Pagans trans. William Green, Loeb
Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1978), 4.30-31.

26. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 4.Prosa 6, pp. 365-367.

27. Ibid. 4.Prosa 6, p. 369.

28. Ibid. 4.Prosa 6, p. 371.

29. Ibid. 5.Prosa 3, p. 401.

30. De Vogel, “Boethiana II,” p. 4.

31. The terms Boethius uses to refer to God are ambiguous; it is often difficult to determine if they are
meant to be linked to Neoplatonic or to Christian theological traditions. In “Boethiana II,” C. J. de Vogel
argues that Boethius’s use of the phrase summo illi rerum Principi is properly translated “the Lord of all
things”; in this phrase she sees a reference to God in personal and therefore Christian form. As she
explains, pp. 6-7: “[Neoplatonists] avoided [a personal form of reference to God]…because…they felt the
personal form would stand for something more limited than the impersonal. Plotinus did his utmost to
place his First Principle beyond Being, thinking and deliberate will or purpose, and in this he was
followed by later Neoplatonists. Boethius, on the other hand, who in our passage fights almost violently
for the possibility of a real colloquy between men and God, naturally used the personal form: Princeps
omnium rerum.” Christine Mohrman counters by saying that the phrase summo illi rerum Principi retains
some philosophical connotations, but concedes that “by using princes, and not principium he makes,
perhaps, a certain concession to the Christian conception of a personal God. Thus, the God of Grace
imperceptibly draws near to the ‘First Principle’ of philosophers.” See Christine Mohrman, “Some
Remarks on the Language of Boethius’ Consolatio Philosophiae,” in Latin Script and Letters A.D. 4000-
9000: Festschrift Presented to Ludwig Bieler on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, ed. John J. O’Meara
and Bernd Naumann (Leiden: Brill, 1976), pp. 54-61. Finally, Pierre Courcelle, Late Latin Writers, p.
321, terms Boethius’s reference to the prima divinitas “a lapse in pagan theology.” Boethius’s use of
ambiguous terminology is yet another instance of the degree to which he makes it difficult to pin down
his religious and ideological loyalties.

32. Derrida, Gift of Death, p. 5.

33. Carol Harrison, Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity; Christian Theology in Context
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 100.

34. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 5.Prosa 6, p. 435 29
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Reading the Future and Freeing the Will:

Astrology of the Arabic World and Albertus Magnus
by Scott Hendrix

Albertus Magnus, or “Albert the Great,” wrote the work now known as the Speculum
astronomiae around the year 1260.1 In part, the Speculum acted as an introduction to the science
of astrology and the sources necessary for the serious astrologer. Yet more importantly, it
provided a thorough and knowledgeable defense of the science of astrology in the face of
religiously motivated opposition. In order to accomplish these goals, Albert drew on a large
number of astrological and astronomical texts written by authors from various backgrounds, but
his most important sources were those of Arabic writers in Latin translation.2 This study analyzes
how these works influenced Albert’s understanding of astrology, as well as the ways in which he
made conscious or even unconscious use of this Arabic scholarship.
The integration of the scientific principles of astrology and its sister science, astronomy, into the
Western tradition involved far more than a transmission of Greek scholars, such as Ptolemy,
through Arabic intermediaries. Arabic scholars creatively blended many traditions to create a
hybridized Arabic science. The evidence demonstrates that the transmission of scientific ideas to
the Latin Christian world from the Arabic world involved extensive Arabic contributions, not
only in technical aspects, but also in how those sciences were understood and accepted. I argue
that Arabic philosophical justifications for the acceptability of the predictive sciences, within a
religious context which held free will to be axiomatic, provided Albert with a ready-made
response to religious critics of judicial astrology, that is, making judgments about future events
or discovering the most propitious times to perform certain actions.3
While it is widely known that Arabic science influenced the West, it is less well known that
Arabic justifications for these sciences could also impact the usage and development of such
sciences by Christian scholars.4 Yet the Christian and Muslim worldviews of the period were not
so very different: the two groups shared a deity as well as certain religious texts and Aristotelian
modes of interpreting their religious beliefs.5 Contemporaries, however, often focused on the
differences; even some modern scholars have asserted that Latin Christendom was too hostile
toward Islam to be influenced to any significant degree by these competing religious ideas.6 In
fact, medieval Christian attitudes toward Islamic religious thought are often portrayed as filled
with barely restrained outrage.7 Within the context of such an interpretation, it would seem that
Christian scholars in the medieval period might borrow Arabic science, but would not be
interested in the philosophical justifications that were used to integrate that science into a
competing religious tradition.
Fortunately, current research is beginning to undermine the simplistic interpretation stressing
vitriolic Christian attitudes toward Islam. The work of Thomas Burman indicates that some
Christian intellectuals did in fact study the Qu’ran with a measure of respect.8 For example, Peter
the Venerable, the twelfth-century abbot of Cluny, did not content himself with a regurgitation of
standard Christian attacks on Islam.9 Instead, his refutations of Christian misperceptions of
Muslim attitudes toward such central subjects as the Christian Trinity and the Prophet
Muhammad indicate a close study of the Qu’ran and a desire for accuracy.10 Christian polemic
was not overly concerned with accuracy; such a close scrutiny of the Qu’ran seems indicative of 30
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real interest and respect. Furthermore, Thomas Burman has shown that the translation of the
Qu’ran that Peter worked from demonstrates that Robert of Ketton made frequent appeal to
Muslim commentaries in order to insure the highest degree of clarity possible.11 If such men as
Peter the Venerable and Robert of Ketton could treat the Qu’ran with respect in applying
themselves to a careful study of the text and its meanings, it stands to reason that some scholars
of the Christian West could approach preexisting Islamic justifications for science created by
their Muslim counterparts with equal respect. In some ways a borrowing of ideas seems natural,
since the two religions do have common ground.12
Albert the Great’s Speculum astronomiae provides extensive evidence of cross-cultural
borrowing of scientific and philosophical ideas in its presentation of astronomy and astrology.13
But in order to understand the influence of scholars of the Arabic world on Albert’s work, it is
first necessary to understand how and why astrology could be considered a hard science in the
thirteenth century. Modern scholars have so discredited astrology that it now merits little
attention beyond the realms of the history of science.14For a large number of medieval
intellectuals, from Albert to Peter d’Ailly, there was no question of judicial astrology’s efficacy.
Numerous empirical studies15 and sophisticated mathematical theories promoted confidence in
the discipline.16Judicial astrology held an important place in the structural framework of the
medieval intellectual tradition that informed politics, military science, philosophy, and cultural
and social mores, to name only a few areas of its recognized influences.17 From advice given to
kings to the guidance that astrologers offered to merchants, it is difficult to overestimate
astrology’s wide-ranging impact.18 This impact was long lasting as well, remaining alive in the
minds of scholars as late as Johannes Kepler.19 None of this would have been possible without
Arabic contributions; thus it is important that we understand how astrology was practiced as a
science in the Arabic world and how Europe received it. As a result we see that the West
inherited both a system of thought as well as an accompanying body of philosophical
justifications that had been elaborated by scholars working in a Muslim milieu.
Astrology elicited suspicion in the Arab world from the earliest period of Islam. Astrologers
were associated with the ancient kahhan (diviner priests), whom Mohammad, according to
tradition, had denounced.20 There were no Arabic translations of scientific astrological treatises
until the ninth century, which both limited the practice of astrology and fostered suspicion of
predictive sciences. The first translation of an astronomical text did not occur until 803, when
either Ibrahim al-Fazari or his son Muhammad translated the Indian Sindhind, a work based on
Alexandrian Greek learning. The Sindhind was a treatise on astronomy and mathematics not
designed for practical application, and as such served as an immediate catalyst for heightened
interest in the celestial sciences. Shortly thereafter, an unknown scholar translated Ptolemy’s
Almagest to fill the gaps left by the Sindhind. The Almagest, along with Euclid’s Elements,
provided the basis for the practice of applied astronomy, or what would come to be known as
astrology. Such an interest in the applied science of judicial astrology, rather than mathematical
astronomy, was emblematic of the Arabic approach to Greek learning, which was directed not at
abstract subjects such as poetry or drama but rather at the practical arts, such as astronomy and
It did not take long, however, for Islamic intellectuals to attack the practice of astrology. Early
assaults on its accuracy, such as the poem written in 838 by Abu Tammam al-Habib ibn Aws,
had little impact.21 Much more serious, however, were the charges leveled against the astrologers
for their supposed opposition to the Islamic faith. This is typified by the anonymous accusation 31
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directed at Abu Ma’ shar that he had “studied astrology until he became an atheist.”22 A charge
of atheism was dangerous indeed, for it threatened to implicate those students of the so-called
foreign sciences, which included medicine, the natural sciences, mathematics, geography,
alchemy, and mechanics.23
Such attacks on astrology were problematic for practitioners, but this did not stop astrologers
from plying their craft in almost every domain of public life.24 Thus even before the science of
astrology had been fully developed, almost every court had an astrologer in residence, and
Arabic elites made ready use of astrologers as advisors. Despite the religious opposition it
encountered, a system of astrology based on Greek learning was quite attractive to the
sophisticated intellectuals of the eighth- and ninth-century Arabic world and those who
employed them, because it promised to explain the universe in terms of a well-defined structure
of interrelated bodies interacting in a predictable and logical fashion.25 The founding of Baghdad
in 762 is the most notable example of an elite appealing to an astrologer. The Caliph al-Mansur
had the first stone of the city laid in accordance with the astrological casting of an election,
meant to determine the most propitious time for an action, by the Persian Jew Masha’allah (d.
Given such an important role in both courtly life and society at large, astrologers thrived in spite
of continuing opposition. They could not ignore accusations, however, that their science opposed
Islamic faith. The primary motivation for these charges was the concern that a science promising
to predict the future removed any possibility for the free exercise of human will. Since free will
was just as axiomatic for the dominant expressions of the Islamic faith as for Christianity, this
was a most serious accusation.27
The Muslim astrologer whose works most influenced the West addressed this charge, and it was
his justification that Albert would promote in his own defense of astrology. Abu Ma’ shar Ja’far
bin Muhammad al-Balkhi, known to the West as Albumasar, was born in Khurasan in 787 and
died in Iraq in 886.28 Abu Ma’ shar argued that astrology was superior to all other forms of
natural philosophy. He believed it provided the basis for the other sciences, while such fields as
medicine merely expanded its principles in a narrowly utilitarian fashion.29 To promote
astrology, Abu Ma’ shar wrote compendiums of astrological axioms intended as practical
manuals.30 However, he viewed himself as much more than simply a compiler of others’ ideas.
He believed that all thought was derived from a single antediluvian revelation; thus, by piecing
together elements from different sources, a scholar could arrive at a single “Truth.”31 Ultimately
his methodology led him to an important original contribution of how to reconcile astrology with
Islamic religious principles. Abu Ma’ shar introduced the concept of the “rational soul,” or man’s
free will coupled with the cognitive abilities that differentiated him from animals, which was free
from the influence of the stars.32 This soul, along with all else that a man possessed, came from
God.33 In a blending of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic ideas, Abu Ma’ shar envisioned the soul,
divine gift to man, descending from the heavens through three spheres: the divine (the sphere of
light), the ethereal (the eight celestial spheres), and the hylic (the sublunar core, including the
Abu Ma’ shar associated God with the Aristotelian Prime Mover, who was the efficient cause of
all earthly actions, following Aristotle’s delineation of causes.35 Thus God creates man, provides
him with a soul, and influences that “rational soul” toward actions; but since man has free will,
this is an influence, powerful though it may be, that may be overcome through exercise of the
will.36 These influences did not provide the only motivation for the soul. Since it had descended 32
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from the divine to the hylic realm, it desired to return, signifying a desire within the human soul
to understand the divinity of God and act in accordance with His will.37 In order to achieve
connection with God in the mystical sense, and to comprehend His divine plan for the universe
so that man may order his life by it, it is necessary to understand the celestial intermediaries.
Astrology thus provided the closest possible approximation to an understanding of His will.
Albert recognized that Abu Ma’ shar’s justification for astrology could be instrumental to a
defense of the science within a Christian context. The theory that the stars only influenced
human actions, rather than governed them absolutely, effectively negated, at least for Albert, the
argument used by those who opposed astrology based on its presumed conflict with Christian
beliefs in the freedom of the human will. He states:
concerning something for which it is contingent that it will be…before it is, it is
always possible for it both to be and not to be…it does not follow…[that] before it
is, it cannot not be…for every contingent being…it can always be and not be…it is
not the same thing to be necessarily when it is as to be simply by necessity…and yet
it will be because it is not necessary that potentiality [must] be reduced to
actuality…regarding that about which it is signified…it can always be before that
[time], and [up until that time when] it finally reverts back to the nature of the
impossible…this is the opinion of Albumasar [Abu Ma’ shar], from which the
famous Aristotle seems to depart to some extent.38
Put more clearly, Albert claims that nothing is predetermined in either a positive or negative
fashion. For Albert, there was a distinct difference between something that comes to be
“necessarily,” as preordained, and something that comes to be after a foretelling of that event.
Not until the event comes to pass does it “revert back to the nature of the impossible.” At that
point, and only at that point, the event in question attains actuality; but until the event occurs, it
is simply a contingent possibility.
Albert openly credits Abu Ma’ shar for the formulation of a theory designed to make the science
of astrology acceptable to Islamic authorities.39 Interestingly, Albert uses this philosophical
argument in the same manner within a Christian context without any suggestion that this usage
might be problematic. It is also important to emphasize that Albert considered Abu Ma’ shar
more authoritative than Aristotle in the field of astrology.40 This was a reasonable attitude, for if
Abu Ma’ shar developed little that might be considered wholly original, his application of Greek
models to astrological theory formed the basis for medieval astrological thought, both eastern
and western.41 Furthermore, he extended the arguments of Aristotle by insisting that if celestial
influences led to the generation and eventual death and corruption of terrestrial creatures, then it
is only logical to assume that a study of the heavens could allow one to determine the course of
future events.42
Albert further developed his own understanding of astrological theory to explain that, far from
compromising Christian orthodoxy by proposing that celestial influence negated mankind’s free
will, understanding heaven’s effects upon the human body could perfect Christian belief.43 He
proposed that astrology, as “the link [between] natural philosophy and metaphysics,”44 could
allow one to live a life more fully Christian. Only through the study of the heavens could one
come to know God, as well as the effects of the stars upon our bodies, for
if God…has ordered this world…as to operate in created things…through stars…as
if through instruments…what could be more desirable to the thinking man than to 33
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have a middle science [between natural philosophy and metaphysics] that may teach
us how this and that change in the mundane world is effected by the changes in the
heavenly bodies.45
Therefore, if the “thinking man” wished to experience the “creator of creatures,”46 he should
investigate the natural manifestations of God’s will upon the Earth through His agents, the stars.
In a less mystical, less Neoplatonic sense, this is very similar to Abu Ma’ shar’s argument that
astrology is congruent with, rather than opposed to, religious orthodoxy. Abu Ma’ shar argued
that through understanding the celestial intermediaries, one might understand God’s divine plan
and thus connect with God in a mystical sense.47 Nevertheless, he stopped short of arguing that
the study of astrology could actually make one a better Muslim.
Thus the possibility that astrology could be harmonious with a monotheistic faith that held free
will as a crucial tenet had been suggested before the science was introduced to the West in the
twelfth century.48 However, the theory that the stars merely influenced human action was far
from satisfying to all Islamic religious leaders, just as it would fail to satisfy all members of the
Christian church. The continuing controversy
over this theoretical justification led to an
interesting development in the East that had
important implications for astrology as it was
transmitted to Europe. It would serve, to a great
degree, to split the sciences of astrology and
Astrology and astronomy formed interconnected
components of the same science from
antiquity.49 Opposition to the science, as detailed
above, led to a very creative institutional
response. The position of muwaqqit, or
timekeeper, was created at mosques in the early
eleventh century.50 This was a lucrative post that
required a scholar skilled in the astronomical
arts to maintain the calendar and perform
Fig. 1. Jörg Breu, In Astrologos. Woodcut from astronomical observations for the mosque.
Andrea Alciato, Book of Emblems (1531), p. C7r. However, the position was completely closed to
(Reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.) anyone who had any association with predictive
This prohibition meant that, with the exception of the few astrologers employed by secular
authorities, practitioners of the science were largely relegated to the streets.51 Over time this led
to the division of the science that had once been known simply as ‘ilm al-nujum, or the science
of the stars, into its component parts of ‘ilm ‘ahkam al-nujum (the science of the decrees of the
stars, or astrology) and ‘ilm al-hay’ a (the science of the [heavenly] configurations, astronomy).52
In this way, tensions within the Arabic world split the interconnected astronomical science of
Ptolemy, passing on the individual components to Latin scholars such as Albert. Therefore,
although Albert recognized that the “two great wisdoms” were each “called by the name of
astronomy,” he clearly differentiated between the “science of the configuration of the first
heaven” (astronomy) and the “science of the judgments of the stars,” which is a literal translation
of the Arabic ‘ilm ‘ahkam al-nujum, astrology.53 34
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The Speculum begins with a discussion of what some medieval scholars would refer to as
“theoretical” astronomy, meaning that part of the science that modern astronomers would still
recognize.54 In the first two chapters, Albert analyzes the functions of the medieval astronomer
and the sources that such an astronomer could utilize to gain a greater understanding of
astronomical movements and events. Within this section there are certain functions that a modern
astronomer might disavow, such as the measurement of epicycles,55 but one would have to agree
with Albert that there is nothing within this discipline that should excite the opposition of
Albert clearly conceived of the division of astrology and astronomy as being something intrinsic
to the study of the heavens. He states that “there are two great wisdoms and each is called by the
name of astronomy.”57Because the singular passive verb censetur takes the ablative of name
(nomine) in this sentence, there is no doubt from a linguistic standpoint that Albert conceived of
the two sapientiae as each (utraque) representing a distinct subject. This is certainly borne out in
Albert’s treatment of these “two great wisdoms” in the rest of the text. He devotes only two
chapters to the first “wisdom,” which we may call mathematical astronomy; it only treats
celestial motion, and derives its importance from its status as a necessary subdiscipline of the
study of astrology. Albert reserves the other fifteen chapters for an analysis of judicial astrology
in all its variety. Tellingly, Albert refers to each component of astrology as a “part” of the larger
whole, whereas his language leaves no doubt about the independent nature of astronomy and
astrology. The two scientiae are definitely linked, but each can stand alone. It is the latter that is
the most important, allowing humans to “attain” as close an understanding as possible of God’s
sublime ordering of the universe “through the mute and deaf stars as if they were his
instruments.”58 In this way, we may see that a division that arose out of the religious conditions
of the Arab world became embedded in Albert’s understanding of the science, or rather sciences,
since he considered them separate from one another.
So far I have attempted to demonstrate that Albert and Abu Ma’ shar agreed as to the importance
of judicial astrology. I have also sought to show that Abu Ma’ shar provided Albert with an
astrological model. So what was the system that Abu Ma’ shar shared with Albert the Great?
Borrowing elements from Greek and Indian natural philosophy, articulated by scholars writing in
Arabic, and blended with original elements, the astrological system that Abu Ma’ shar passed on
to Albert the Great was thoroughly hybridized. It will be useful to explore that system before
demonstrating the way in which Albert appropriated Arabic philosophical justifications for the
practice of astrology.59 While Albert himself was no astrologer, he referred to specific
astronomical and astrological points in order to illustrate his positions.60 What is more, without
the astrological system developed by Arabic scholars and transmitted to the West by translators
such as Adelard of Bath and Hermann of Carinthia,61 Albert’s defense of astrology would have
been moot: there would have been no practice of astrology to defend.
Astrology was built on the premise that the supralunary world of celestial bodies in constant
motion influenced terrestrial events through the transmission of rays of light imparted with
divine power.62 The human body was presumed to be a microcosmic representation of the larger
macrocosm of the universe. Celestial motion, combined with the qualities of individual celestial
objects, affected the four humors of the human body by imparting these light rays.63 In this way,
celestial influence was held to be one of the most important determining factors that doctors
considered when attempting to deal with human ailment.64 35
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Abu Ma’ shar derived the basis for this system from Ptolemy’s Almagest, a second-century
Alexandrian fusion of Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian ideas65 that established the Earth as the
center of the universe. Seven planets—the sun, moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and
Mercury—revolved around it in complex relationships with the twelve star groupings known as
the zodiac.66 The zodiac was conceived as an imaginary circular band in which each sign
occupies thirty degrees.67 Later scholars elaborated this basic model to include Egyptian decans
(stars or groups of stars that intersected the ecliptic) or the apparent path that the Sun takes
around the Earth as measured against the backdrop of the stars.68 Each decan intersects the
ecliptic at ten-degree intervals for a total of thirty-six decans; each served as the primary
influence, or ruler, over a specific ten-day period.69 The addition of the paranatellonta, or stars
that rise and set to the north or south of degrees on the ecliptic, further elaborated the astrological
model.70 Although it seems to detract from the coherence of a system based upon the 360 degrees
of the ecliptic, these paranatellonta appear to have been divided into 365 sections, apparently so
that the astrologer could assign one to each day of the year.71
Finally, Ptolemy divided the sky into twelve celestial houses by projecting three overlapping
areas onto the heavens. Four pivotal points intersected the sky: the ascending point of the ecliptic
on the Eastern horizon, the descending point of the ecliptic on the lower meridian, the
intersection of the ecliptic with the upper meridian, and the descending point of the ecliptic with
the upper meridian.72 The planets moved from one house to another every two hours, and each
combination of planet and house could impart various characteristics to a newborn. Thus, casting
nativities, or horoscopes indicating an individual’s future prospects, relied heavily upon the
precise time of birth.73
Astrologers supplemented these mechanistic principles by ascribing characteristics to each
zodiacal sign and planetary body based upon Egyptian and Roman mythology. The application
of these characteristics allowed the astrologer to make judgments about an individual’s character
based on nativity casting. For instance, a native (the individual whose destiny was being
foretold)74 born with Saturn as the lord of the ascendant might possess any number of negative
characteristics, from timidity to self-absorption.75 If born under the sign of Aries he might be
talkative, kingly, brave, lustful, or any combination thereof.76 With each stellar body and zodiacal
sign representing a wide array of often conflicting characteristics, astrologers often created vague
and ambiguous nativities.77
Other types of predictive judgments failed to achieve higher levels of precision. Every
astrological indicator presented multiple possibilities; furthermore, the system involved a far
more complex interpretation of the interrelationships of planets, houses, zodiacal systems, and
other stellar signifiers than is possible to discuss here. How any given astrologer interpreted his
results was ultimately a matter of personal judgment. It is likely, however, that he would have
argued that the system was not ambiguous but rather so complex that absolute precision in
measurements and calculations was of paramount importance.78 Yet the ambiguities, or
complexities if you will, served to mask the underlying mistaken assumptions by making any
failed horoscope seem less the result of a nonfunctioning system than a simple failure in
interpretation.79 Nonetheless, as a theoretical model, astrology was impressive enough to
convince Albert the Great, who was hailed by such contemporaries as Ulrich Engelbert of
Strassburg as “a man in every science so divine that he may well be called the wonder and
miracle of our time,”80of its efficacy. 36
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The astrology that so interested Albert was an enticingly elaborate system, but it had been
brought to this point not by the Greeks but by scholars writing in Arabic, such as Abu Ma’ shar.
It might seem odd to emphasize this Arabic element, given the important place that Ptolemy’s
works held in the lexicon of astrology. However, the science that Ptolemy contributed to is what
medieval intellectuals would recognize as astronomy proper, rather than its applied aspect that
came to be known as “the science of the judgments of the stars,” or astrology.81Ptolemy did refer
to Aristotelian concepts that were important to predictive astrology, such as a hierarchy of
celestial influences that began with the Prime Mover and affected the generation and corruption
of terrestrial creatures, but these ideas were not well developed in his works.82It was then left to
Arabic or Arabic-influenced scholars of the ninth and tenth century to provide a thorough
integration of these concepts with the mathematical and theoretical models provided by the
Three Arabic texts representative of the astrological system developed in the Arabic world are al-
Bitruji’s De motibus caelorum, which teaches us about astronomy; Masha‘allah’s Tres libri, a
text demonstrating how to apply astronomical data in order to make predictions; and Thabit’s De
imaginibus, a work articulating methods one may use to harness and direct celestial influence.
The different content of these texts reveals much about astrological practice and theory in the
Arabic world, which influenced Albert as well as many other European scholars. The first two
texts are relatively unproblematic for someone who has already accepted the premises of
astrology. However, Albert’s inclusion of Thabit’s work as an important source is at first
surprising for its strongly magical nature, at least until one understands the importance of a
magical work of this sort within the context of Albert’s Christian beliefs. I will examine this in
its place.
As mentioned previously, the science of astronomy became separated into its component parts of
theoretical astronomy and astrology.83 Although in the East this was not fully completed within
the academic curriculum until the thirteenth century, the process was well under way by the tenth
century.84 The division is quite apparent in al-Bitruji’s text, written in 1185 in Spain, for there is
no mention of anything within it that could be considered astrological.85 What it does provide is
an astronomical system through which one may understand and describe a wide variety of
celestial motions. Albert provided a specific description of the province of astronomy within the
second chapter of the Speculum,86 in which he states that the astronomer should be able to
measure the size of stellar objects and their distances from the Earth,87 the configuration of the
heavens and the motions of the second heaven, which contains the “fixed and wandering stars,”
and understand the science of heavenly motions and planetary eclipses.88
Within these areas that Albert considered the proper province of astronomy, al-Bitruji’s work
discussed almost all of the relevant criteria. For example, he modified the Ptolemaic system of
motion by defining and explaining the motion of the so-called “fixed” stars, which in fact
changed position gradually, at the rate of one degree every one hundred years.89 Furthermore, he
postulated the existence of a set of poles for each planet, thus taking into account individual
planetary rotations, rather than the single set of poles for the rotation of the universe around the
Earth that Ptolemy relied upon.90
Al-Bitruji’s text is an excellent example of Arabic astronomical theory in that it supplies
sophisticated mathematical models useful for understanding the movements of celestial bodies.
The astronomer’s computational models, when applied to data obtained through observation,
would allow the astrologer to gather and process the hard data he needed to practice his science. 37
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Those who followed Abu Ma’ shar’s view of astrology would have seen astronomy in this way,
because astrology, in dealing with substantive causes and effects, was far more important than
the study of mathematical abstractions.91 Thus, European scholars apparently found al-Bitruji’s
work to be worthy of dissemination because it both provided a handy guide to the technicalities
that an astrologer must master, and in many cases allowed for more accurate predictions of
celestial motion than did Ptolemy’s Almagest.92
Both Ptolemy and al-Bitruji (or alternatively, Ptolemy and thus al-Bitruji) worked from the
Aristotelian model of planetary motion in which all motive force in the universe is imparted by
the Prime Mover from the highest, starless sphere, the Primum Mobile, that encompasses the
entire universe.93This motive force travels
in a great chain from the highest sphere
through the seven below it, with each
individual motion set into action through a
single mover acting upon a single
movement, or moved body.94 In other
words, following the Aristotelian doctrine
that every motion must be imparted by a
motive force, the Prime Mover imparts
motion to the Sphere of Saturn, which in
turn imparts motion to the Sphere of
Jupiter and so forth, all the way down to
the terrestrial realm, where earthly
creatures receive the influence of the
Prime Mover, altered by passage through
each of the planetary spheres.95
The second and larger section of al-
Bitruji’s work, filling eleven chapters out
Fig. 2. The Ptolemaic Universe. of twenty, goes beyond the theories and
Woodcut from Andrew Borde, The First Book of the descriptions of celestial motion to
Introduction of Knowledge 1542 (1547). undertake a complex analysis of the
(Reproduced from Anniina Jokinen, “Medieval mathematical models that enable the
Cosmology,” Luminarium.) astronomer to understand it. The author
explains how to use geometric and
trigonometric calculations to articulate the movements of each of the seven planets.96 Important
modifications of the Ptolemaic system include the addition of planetary rotation and the
replacement of epicycles (in which planets orbit an imagined central point) with the theory of
trepidation (in which they orbit the Earth at variable rates of speed).97 This resulted in apparent
retrograde motion of certain planets, such as Mercury, in relation to the other planets and the
“fixed” stars.
In order to understand how to interpret the astronomical data gathered through al-Bitruji’s
teachings, the astrologer needed the direction provided by works such as Masha‘allah’s Tres
libri. This text contains three short pieces that are wholly astrological, with no astronomical
techniques mentioned and not a mathematical formula to be found. For those who viewed
astrology as applied astronomy, as Albert seems to have done, the Tres libri would have been the
practical complement to the abstractly mathematical work of authors such as al-Bitruji. 38
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Masha‘allah was a Persian Jew from Basra who worked as an astrologer in Baghdad from about
762 until 815.98 He was the first scholar to introduce elements of Aristotelian physics into Arabic
science, probably through the use of Harranian translations of the Philosopher’s works. He
blended Aristotelian physics and cosmography with Pahlavi and Syriac astrological doctrines. In
his astrological histories, a science perfected in Sasanid Iran, he also interjected elements of
Zoroastrian millennialism, or the belief in dramatic epochal changes occurring to mark the end of
an age.99
The Tres libri, when taken together, provide a thorough guide for the production of astrological
prognostications based on “hard” astronomical data. These instructions allowed an astrologer to
apply himself to a wide variety of the forms of judicial astrology. For example, Masha‘allah
explains how to make a determination of the “revolutions of the years of the world,” or predict
the events for a given year.100 He states that such predictions will take the form of generalized
judgments rather than providing a day-by-day description of future events. Nevertheless, it was
easy to see the utility of even such limited knowledge of the future.
In order to obtain the judgment in question, it was necessary to consider a number of variables.
According to the first chapter of De revolutione, the opening work in Masha‘allah’s Tres libri,
one must first find the “lord of the ascendant,” or the planet nearest to the first degree of the
zodiac to rise on the first day of the new year.101 When the sun rises, the astrologer must carefully
determine its position relative to this lord. If the relative positions of the sun and the lord of the
ascendant are “free from evil,” then one may determine that the year will be one of good weather
and victory in battle.102 When the astrologer takes into account the relative positions of the moon
or other planets, then the generalized nature of the coming year may be revealed. As with all
other aspects of astrology, however, this relatively straightforward system is modified by a host
of complicating factors. The first of these is the determination of the “triplicity” within which the
ascendant belongs.103 All zodiacal signs belong to one of four triplicities, which are groupings of
three signs of the zodiac according to their supposed natures.104 Furthermore, each triplicity has
an assigned lord by day, another by night, and one which shares the lordship during both night
and day.105 Only by measuring the relationship of the lord of the ascendant within the triplicity to
the lords of that triplicity could an astrologer arrive at a final judgment as to the disposition of
that year.
For the purpose of this study, the intriguing point about this system is not so much its complexity
but rather the way in which Masha‘allah blended differing cultural traditions to create a useful,
and thoroughly hybridized, model. Although it is difficult to determine the provenance of each
aspect of this theory, it is clear that it contains elements of Alexandrian Greek and Sasanian
traditions. The Sasanians placed great emphasis on the triplicities and their lords in their political
and historical astrology, while Masha‘allah’s basic model, featuring the transmission of
influences through the spheres to the sublunar realm, is familiar from Ptolemy’s Almagest.106
De receptione, the prologue of the third of Masha‘allah’s Tres libri, elucidates an important point
in the author’s theory: he states that the entire system functions “by the will of God” and that
knowledge about any given event may be “prohibited by the will of God.”107 Masha‘allah’s
assertion that celestial influence and astrological forecasting function according to divine will is
congruent with his concern as a Jew to recognize that ultimately all power rests with God. If the
astrologer was successful, then it was “by the will of God.”108 Without His assent, there could be
no successful divination. Masha‘allah appears to have been the first to associate successful 39
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astrological divination with God’s will, an idea that Albert would later adopt,109 which neatly
refuted the claims of those who would associate astrology with demonology.
It is understandable that monotheistic Jews and Muslims produced works structured around the
idea of God’s omnipotence, which would be quite attractive to a Christian author such as Albert.
However, not all scholars writing in Arabic were monotheists. Thabit ibn Qurra, the author of De
imaginibus, was a committed Sabien, a pagan religion that maintained a system of worship
centered on the seven planets whose seven ruling angels acted as mediators to earthly
concerns.110According to early tradition, Thabit worked as a moneychanger in the market of
Harran while writing philosophy in his spare time.111An intensive education nourished his
interest: we know he was fluent in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. The High Priest of Harran
excommunicated him in 872, although there are no clues as to what transgression Thabit might
have committed among the Sabiens.112 Thereafter, Thabit traveled to Baghdad where he lived
until his death in 901. During the course of his life he wrote 150 books in Arabic on logic,
mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, as well as another fifteen texts in Syriac.113
Thabit’s De imaginibus is on the “more valuable astronomy…the science of images.”114 The
images in question are charms made from “tin, lead, silver, or gold” with the name of the
ascendant and its corresponding lord, as well as the lord “for the hour and the day,” carved upon
them.115 The inscription is placed beside the sign of the planet from which one hopes to receive a
beneficial influence. With the properly constructed charm one might be able, for example, to rid
an area of vermin, ward off the effects of a malefic planet, affect the judgment of kings, or even
bring ruin to a city.116
Albert’s inclusion of a section on images in his own work, based on Thabit’s text, is
problematic.117The difficulty with image magic arises from its attractiveness: rather than simply
studying the heavens for predictive signs of the future, the use of astrological images represented
a means by which one might harness the power of the heavens to alter reality. This was the art of
the magician, and the use of images in such a manner often raised considerable ire among
Church officials.118Even Albert himself commented in his Sententiae that the use of images
“inclines [men] to idolatry by imputing divinity to the stars and…is employed for idle or evil
Although Albert does provide a disclaimer in the Speculum about refraining from using
images,120a single sentence at the end of two chapters discussing the application and benefits of
images suggests that he did not find concerns about their usage credible. He did not intend to
warn people away from the use of images; rather, he argued that images function “from the
celestial virtue by the command of God” and only present a problem to the practitioner “if the
conditions [upon which the use of the image is based] are secretly necromantic.”121 Therefore, in
his Speculum he is not warning the individual away from the use of images, but rather from the
misuse of such images. Maintaining the permissibility of image magic strengthened Albert’s
overall argument for the value of astrology as a science that did not conflict with free will. Albert
wrote the Speculum during a time when many viewed astrology with great suspicion, due to a
fear that a predictive science might call free will into question. If one could counteract the
influences of the stars, or change them to suit the will of man, then this would seem to negate
any idea that celestial influence interfered with the freedom of the will.122
In keeping with the Arabic tradition of borrowing foreign ideas to construct new philosophies
and accompany practical applications, Albert inherited these constructs forged by Islamic, 40
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Jewish, and even pagan scholars, and applied them to a defense of astrology. Sometimes, as with
the case of Abu Ma’ shar, Albert openly incorporated these philosophical arguments into the
Speculum while directly citing the authors. In other cases the influence may have been
unconscious. The result was the transmission of a hybridized body of scientific and philosophical
ideas, with effects that reverberated throughout the West well past the medieval period.123
Astrology remained an important, though controversial, academic discipline in the West even
beyond the Scientific Revolution.124 As long as intellectuals debated astrology’s merits, the
Speculum astronomiae, and the body of arguments woven throughout it formulated by eastern
Jews and Muslims, remained a vital component of that debate.125

Scott Hendrix graduated from Athens State University in 1998 with a B.A. in both history and
English. After teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea for a year, he entered the
University of Tennessee in Knoxville, earning an M.A. in history in 2001. Currently ABD for his
Ph.D., he is writing his dissertation on the reception and influence of Albertus Magnus’s
Speculum astronomiae from ca. 1260 to 1589. Scott will be a Carl Shurz fellow at the University
of Erfurt in Germany in late 2006 and early 2007 while he completes his dissertation. He will
complete his doctorate in May of 2007.

1. Albertus Magnus, Speculum astronomiae, in Paola Zambelli, The Speculum astronomiae and Its
Enigma: Astrology, Theology, and Science in Albertus Magnus and his Contemporaries (Boston: Kluwer
Academic, 1992); Richard Lemay, “The Paris Prohibitions of 1210/15, the Formula of Absolution of
Gregory IX (1231), and the Incipit of Albertus Magnus’ Speculum astronomiae: Origin and Canonical
Character of the Speculum astronomiae” (unpublished paper, 1974). I recognize that many still consider
Albert’s authorship of the Speculum astronomiae to be debatable, though I do not find these arguments
convincing. There is not room in this study for an analysis of the debate; those who wish to review the
points under consideration may examine these studies: Pierre Mandonnet, “Roger Bacon et le Speculum
Astronomiae (1277),” Revue neoscolastique de philosophie 17 (1910), 313-35; P. Mandonnet, Siger de
Brabant et l’averroïsme latin au XIIIme siécle, 2 vols. (Louvain, Institut supérieur de philosophie de
l’Université, 1911), 1:244-48; Aleksander Birkenmajer, Etudes d’ histore des sciences et de la
philosophie du Moyen Age, trans. Claire Brendel et al. (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich,
1970), pp. 143-45; and Lynn Thorndike, “Further Consideration of the Experimenta, Speculum
astronomiae, and De Secretis Mulierum Ascribed to Albertus Magnus,” Speculum 30 (1955), 413-43.

2. Albert knew no Arabic, but as Tester has detailed, by the end of the thirteenth century the collection of
works that would come to be accepted as the canonical corpus of astrological works had been translated
into Latin. See S. J. Tester, A History of Western Astrology (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1987),
p. 152.

3. The terms “judicial,” “prognosticative,” and “predictive” are all virtually synonymous when applied to

4. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae pars 3, 4.91.2, 2.95.5; idem, Summa Contra Gentiles bk. 1,
“God,” trans. A.C. Pegis (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), pp. 211, 276; ibid.,
bk. 2, “Creation,” trans. J. F. Anderson, pp. 24, 25-30; idem, A Shorter Summa, ed. Peter Kreeft (San
Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), p. 142; John D. North, “Medieval Concepts of Celestial Influence: A Survey,”
in Astrology, Science, and Society: Historical Essays, ed. Patrick Curry (Wolfeboro, N.H.: Boydell Press,
1987), p. 5; Thomas Bradwardine, De Causa Dei contra Pelagium, ed. Henry Savile (Frankfurt a.M.:
Minerva, 1964), pp. 256, 466; and Meister Eckhart, “Sermones et Lectiones super Ecclesiastici cap. 24,”
in Die deutschen und lateinschen werke, vol. 2, ed. Heribert Fischer, Josef Koch, and Konrad Weiss 41
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(Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1992), p. 298. Albert’s distinction of celestial influence that affected
our corporeal substance, but not our soul, was widely accepted, though there was a great deal of
disagreement as to whether or not a study of celestial motion could be used to determine future influence
upon a person. Nevertheless, even harsh critics of predictive astrology normally accepted celestial
influence as an important determinant of the functioning of our bodies. See Birkenmajer, Etudes d’
histore, pp. 276-77; and Lynn Thorndike, “A Hitherto Unnoticed Criticism of Astrology: Liber de
reprobatione iudiciorum astrologiae,” Isis 31 (Nov. 1939), 68-78, esp. 76-78.

5. Norman Daniels, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 1962).

6. Ibid., pp. 121. 271, 275; R. W. Southern, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 13; Marie-Therese D’Alverny, “La connaissance de l’Islam en
occident du IXe milieu du VIIe siècle,” L’Occidente l’Islam nell’alto medioevo, vol. 2 (Spoleto:
Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto Mediovo, 1965), pp. 577-78; Elogius, Liber
apologecitus martyrum, in Corpus scriptorium muzarabicorum 12, vol. 2, ed. Juan Hill (Madrid: 1973),
pp. 375-76, 398-99, 481, 486-87; and Eneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Der Briefwechsel des Eneas Silvius
Piccolomini 68, Fontes rerum Austriacarum 2, ed. Rudolf Wolkan (Vienna: in Kommission bei Hölder,
1909-), p. 200.

7. Daniels, Islam, passim.

8. Thomas Burman, “Tafsir and Translation: Traditional Arabic Quran Exegesis and the Latin Qurans of
Robert of Ketton and Mark of Toledo,” Speculum 73 (1998), 703-32. In 1142 Robert of Ketton completed
a translation of the Qu’ran directly from Arabic into Latin at the behest of Peter the Venerable.

9. James Kritzeck, Peter the Venerable and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), pp. 113-

10. Ibid., p. 117-28. Peter the Venerable studied the Qu’ran through Robert of Ketton’s 1142 Latin

11. Burman, “Tafsir,” pp. 703-32.

12. Muslims view both the Old and New Testaments as holy, though corrupt, texts. The Christian
patriarchs from Adam forward are revered by Muslims, as is Jesus, though He is considered a prophet,
rather than the Son of God. Finally, in the Middle Ages Muslim scholars studied the same Aristotelian
texts as their Christian counterparts, and applied Aristotle’s philosophy in much the same way as well.
See Edward Booth, Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology in Islamic and Christian Thinkers (Cambridge, Eng.:
Cambridge University Press, 1983); F. E. Peters, Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in
Islam (New York: New York University Press, 1968); and William Montgomery Watt, Muslim-Christian
Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions (London: Routledge, 1991).

13. Tester, History of Western Astrology, p. 152.

14. Richard Lemay, “The True Place of Astrology in Medieval Science and Philosophy: Towards a
Definition,” in Astrology, Science, and Society, ed. Curry, pp. 57-74 at p. 60.

15. Albert makes this point in his Super Ethica: Commentum et Quaestiones, ed. Wilhelm Kubel
(Aschendorf: Monasterium Westfalorum, 1968), p. 176.

16. David Pingree, “Astrology,” in Religion, Learning, and Science in the ‘Abbasid Period, ed. M. J. L.
Young, J. D. Latham, and R. B. Serjeant (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 290-
99 at p. 290; and Laura Smoller, History, Prophecy, and the Stars: The Christian Astrology of Pierre
d’Ailly, 1350-1420 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), passim. Thomas Aquinas went so far as
to suggest that all terrestrial events depend upon celestial influence. See his In octo libros Politicorum 42
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Expositio, ed. R. M. Spiazzi (Rome: Marietti, 1966), p. 305; see also the insightful analysis of this
component of Thomas’s thought in Tullio Gregory, “Temps astrologiques et temps chretien,” in Le Temps
Chrétien de la fin de l’Antiquité au Moyen Age, IIIe-XIIIe siècles, ed. Jean-Marie Leroux (Paris: Editions
du CNRS, 1984), pp. 559-63.

17. Lemay, “True Place of Astrology,” p. 61. Masha‘allah’s De revolutione, in his Tres libri, provides
examples of astrology’s usefulness to merchants making investments or setting out on journeys, while
Abu Ma’ shar’s Flores demonstrates the ways in which an astrologer can apply his art to such topics as
determining the sex of a child, who its father might be, and other questions that could be of vital interest
to its relations. See Masha‘allah, De revolutione annorum mundi, in Tres libri, trans. John of Spain
(Nuremberg: Ionnem Montanum, 1449), proem; and Abu Ma’ shar, Flores Astrologia (Augsburg:
Ratdolt, 1488), liber IV.

18. Hilary Carey, Astrology at the English Court and University in the Later Middle Ages (London:
Macmillan, 1992); and Abu Ma’ shar, Flores Astrologiae.

19. Sheila J. Rabin, “Kepler’s Attitude Toward Pico and the Anti-Astrology Polemic,” in Renaissance
Quarterly 3 (Autumn, 1997): 750-70.

20. George Saliba, A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories during the Golden Age of Islam
(New York: New York University Press, 1994), p. 67.

21. Ibid., p. 68.

22. Ibid.

23. Religion, Learning, and Science, ed. Young, et al., p. xv; George Makdisi, The Rise of Humanism in
Classical Islam and the Christian West, with Special Reference to Scholasticism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 1990), pp. 2, 88.

24. Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, p. 70; Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the
Twelfth Century: The Recovery of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy through Arabic Astrology (Beirut:
American University of Beirut, 1962), p. xxvi.

25. O. Negebauer, The Exact Sciences (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 144. In this way
astrology was not far removed from modern mechanistic theories that are attractive, in part, because of
their regularity and ability to explain the universe in a consistent manner.

26. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, pp. xxix-xxx. The casting of astrological elections in order to determine a
propitious time to begin important building projects was relatively common in both the Islamic East and
the Latin Christian West. See Mary Quinlan-McGrath, “The Foundations Horoscope(s) for St. Peter’s
Basilica, Rome, 1506: Choosing a Time, Changing the Storia,” Isis 92 (December, 2001), 716-41.

27. Some Arabic and Latin Christian scholars would also confront the charge that a model of the world
that allowed for the possibility of judicial astrology conflicted with God’s omnipotence. From the late
thirteenth century, theologians frequently discussed the potentia Dei absoluta (absolute power, or
potency, of God) and presumed conflicts with points of Aristotelian physics, but astrology was not central
to this discussion. See Gordon Leff, The Dissolution of the Medieval Outlook (New York: Harper and
Row, 1976), pp. 28-29; and Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (London:
Sheed and Ward, 1955), p. 410. This was one of the issues for Parisian theologians who were involved in
formulating the 219 Condemnations of 1277. See Edward Grant, “The Condemnation of 1277, God’s
Absolute Power, and Physical Thought in the Late Middle Ages,” Viator 10 (1979), 211-44. For an
example of a Christian intellectual who considered astrological beliefs to represent an irreconcilable
conflict with God’s omnipotence, see the analysis of Charles Trinkaus, “Coluccio Salutati’s Critique of
Astrology in the Context of His Natural Philosophy,” Speculum 64 (Jan., 1989), pp. 46-68. Albert did not
concern himself with such presumed conflicts between astrology and God’s omnipotence: he saw the stars 43
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as a conduit for God’s influence that in no way limited His ability to act on the world. See Albertus
Magnus, Summa Theologiae sive De Mirabili Scientia Dei, Quaestiones 1-50, vol. 1, ed. A. Dionysius
Siedler, P.A., Wilhelm Kubel, and Heinrich George Vogels (Aschendorf: Monasterii Westfalorum, 1978),
pp. 64, 130; and Albertus Magnus, Super Dionysium de Divinis Nominibus, vol. 1, ed. Paul Simon
(Aschendorf: Monasterii Westfalorum: 1972), 154-57. Considerations of the compatibility, or lack
thereof, between astrological divination and free will dominated the discussion in the thirteenth century,
with overt concerns that celestial influence compromised belief in God’s omnipotence achieving greater
prominence after the Reformation. See Richard Dales, “Robert Grosseteste’s Views on Astrology,” in
Medieval Studies 29 (1967), pp. 357-63; and Keith Hutchison, “Supernaturalism and the mechanical
philosophy,” History of Science 21 (1983), 297-333, especially Martin Luther’s argument on pp. 315-16.

28. Pingree, “Astrology,” p. 297.

29. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, p. 242.

30. David Pingree, The Thousands of Abu Ma’ shar (Leiden: Brill, 1968), pp. 14-18.

31. Ibid., pp. 18, 33. North has pointed out that Abu Ma’ shar’s astrology was itself an “amalgam of
Hellenistic and Indian astrology.” See John D. North, “Celestial influence—the major premiss of
astrology,” in “Astrologi hallucinati”: Stars and the End of the World in Luther’s Time, ed. Paola
Zambelli (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1986), pp. 45-100. North discusses Abu Ma’ shar on pp. 52-61.

32. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, p. 84. For Abu Ma’ shar this was different from the passive potency that Plato
referred to in the Republic, which is often translated as the “rational soul.” For Plato, this soul was
separate from the will, which acts at the behest of the rational soul. Abu Ma’ shar’s concept is closer to
the way in which medieval scholars, such as Albertus, viewed Aristotle’s intellectual or intelligible soul,
though will and intellect are closely combined in Abu Ma’ shar, whereas Albert sees will as a component
of the intellectual soul. See Plato, Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett (London: Vintage, 1991), pp. 147-73;
Jan N. Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); and
Albertus Magnus, Questiones, ed. Albert Fries (Aschendorf: Monasterii Westfalorum, 1993), pp. 219-20.

33. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, pp. 82-83, quoting from Abu Ma’ shar’s Introductorium maius: “The third
cause of his being, the virtue of heavenly bodies by the will of God produces in him whatever else he
has…[including] the differentiation of his species from all others and his individuality…[as well as] the
establishment of a suitable harmony between his vital and rational soul on one hand and his body on the
other.” The translation is Lemay’s.

34. Vicky Armstrong Clark, “The Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises of Albumasar: Medieval
Astrological Imagery in the West” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1979), p. 22.

35. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, p. 84.

36. Ibid., p. 102.

37. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” p. 22. The rest of the information in this
paragraph comes from this source.

38. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 264: Nam de contingenti quod erit…antequam sit semper
possible est de esse et non esse…non sequitur ergo antequam esset, non potuit non esse…omne enim
contingens…potest et esse et non esse…non enim idem est esse necessario quando est, et simpliciter esse
ex necessitate et tamen erit, quia non est necesse illam potentiam ad actum reduci…de eo de quo
significatum…nihilominus semper ante hoc potest esse, et tandem revertitur ad naturam impossibilis. Et
haec est sententia Albumasaris, a qua tamen famosus Aristoteles in aliquo declinare videtur. All
translations from the Speculum are taken from Zambelli, The Speculum astronomiae and Its Enigma,
unless otherwise noted. 44
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39. Zambelli, The Speculum astronomiae and Its Enigma, pp. 95-96. Albert appears to have borrowed this
doctrine from Abu Ma’ shar’s Introductorium maius, though the formulation was a commonplace that
seems to have first appeared in pseudo-Ptolemy’s Centiloquium.

40. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, passim. Albert references Abu Ma’ shar 24 times, and Aristotle
twice. One of these references to Aristotle, on page 264, is to explain why Aristotle is wrong to disagree
with Abu Ma’ shar.

41. Richard Lemay has pointed out that translators applied themselves to Abu Ma’ shar’s Introductorium
maius prior to Aristotle’s major works. This translation, made in 1140, preceded translations of
Aristotle’s De generatione et corruptione and his Meteorlogica by a decade or more, and received a great
deal of attention. See Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, introduction; and Tester, History of Western Astrology,

42. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, p. 64.

43. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, pp. 258-63.

44. Ibid., pp. 218-20: est ligamentum naturalis philosophiae et metaphysicae.

45. Ibid., p. 220: si…ordanavit Deus…mundum istum…velit operari in rebus creatis…per stellas…sicut
per instrumenta…quid desideratius concionatori quam habere mediam scientiam , quae doceat nos
qualiter mundanorum ad hoc et ad illud matatio caelestium fiat corporum mutatione.

46. Ibid.: creatorem creaturarum.

47. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” p. 22.

48. Tester, History of Western Astrology, p. 152.

49. Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, p. 32. This is the way that Ptolemy, the second-century
Alexandrian astronomer, presents the study of the heavens in his Tetrabiblos, also known as the
Quadripartitum in the West. See Claudius Ptolemeus, Tetrabiblos, ed. Frank Egleston Robbins
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1940), passim.

50. Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, p. 32. The rest of the information in this paragraph comes from
the same source.

51. Ibid., p. 33.

52. Ibid., p. 66; Shlomo Pines, “The Semantic Distinction between the Terms Astronomy and Astrology
according to Al-Biruni,” Isis 55 (1964), 343-49.

53. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, pp. 208, 218: Duae sunt magnae sapientiae et utraque nomine
astronomiae censetur … prima est in scientia figurae celi primi…secunda…est scientia iudiciorum
astrorum. My thanks to Thomas Burman for pointing out the literal nature of the Latin translation taken
from the Arabic term. Albert had no knowledge of Arabic; as such, he was dependant upon the
translations of others, which were often quite literal. However, his adoption of the specific terminology
employed in the translations he worked from is indicative of a high degree of borrowing from Arabic
sources. Laura Ackerman Smoller notes the conjunction between scholars’ level of influence from Arabic
sources and their view of astronomy and astrology as separate sciences; see Smoller, History, Prophecy,
and the Stars, p. 27. Some medieval scholars called what we would now recognize as astronomy the
“theoretical” portion of the science, while astrology was the “applied” portion. Hereafter I shall refer to
this theoretical part of the science as astronomy, while the applied portion will be called astrology. See
Derek Parker and Julia Parker, A History of Astrology (London: Deutsch, 1983), pp. 94-95. 45
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54. Parker and Parker, History of Astrology, pp. 94-95.

55. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, pp. 208-10. An epicycle was the perfect circle that medieval
cosmographers believed each planet made around a point that it orbited as the planet then orbited around
the Earth.

56. Ibid., p. 212. Albert states that “it [astronomy] cannot be contradicted, save by someone who opposes
the truth.”

57. Ibid., p. 208: duae sunt magnae sapientiae et utraque nomine astronomiae censetur. I have supplied
my own translation here for Albert’s Latin. While Zambelli’s translations are normally quite good, in this
case her translation does not seem to reflect the nuances of the text.

58. Ibid., 220.

59. We should remember that Albert was a philosopher of science, but not a scientist himself. There is no
evidence that he practiced astrological divination, nor did he contribute independently to the field. He did
creatively blend elements from a wide variety of sources, but astrology as Albert understood it was
largely derived from Abu Ma’ shar.

60. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, pp. 218-22.

61. Tester, History of Western Astrology, p. 152.

62. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” p. 6. The rest of the information in this
paragraph comes from this source. Both Albert and Abu Ma’ shar shared the idea that light was the
affecting force that transmitted celestial influence. Albert believed that God imparted the sun with divine
power, which then “flowed” downward to the other celestial bodies and eventually to man, in the form of
light. See Albertus, Super Dionysium, 1:156-57. Albert’s view that rays of light transmitted divine
influence was far from universal. For an overview of this subject, see North, “Medieval Concepts of
Celestial Influence,” pp. 5-18.

63. Nancy Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1990), pp. 67-68; Roger French, “Foretelling the Future: Arabic Astrology and English Medicine in the
late Twelfth Century,” Isis 87 (Sept. 1986), 453-80, esp. 454-56. French stresses the importance of Abu
Ma’ shar’s influence on European medicine.

64. Siraisi, Medicine, pp. 67-68.

65. Tester, History of Western Astrology, pp. 3, 43, 57, 71-72.

66. Abul-Rayhan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of
Astrology, trans. R. Ramsay Wright (London: Luzac, 1934), pp. 58, 60, 69, 96-97, 217-24, 262-68, 256-

67. Ibid., pp. 269-71.

68. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” p. 7; and al-Biruni, Art of Astrology, p. 55.

69. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” pp. 7-8.

70. Fred Gettings, Dictionary of Astrology (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), p. 231.

71. Clark, “Illustrated Abridged Astrological Treatises,” p. 8.

72. al-Biruni, Art of Astrology, pp. 149, 275-95; Gettings, Dictionary of Astrology, pp. 153-54. 46
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73. al-Biruni, Art of Astrology, pp. 265-74, 276-95, 327-30.

74. Ibid., pp. 217-24, 240-54.

75. Ibid., p. 250.

76. Ibid., p. 360.

77. Pierre Brind ‘Amour, Nostradamus Astrophile (Ottawa: Les Presses de l’Universitie d’Ottawa, 1993),
pp. 431-33, passim. Masha‘allah’s De revolutione, discussed on p. 19, provides a perfect example of the
ambiguity that one would find in the average astrological judgment.

78. Smoller, History, Prophecy, and the Stars, p. 39. Peter d’Ailly asserted that astrological inaccuracies
proved “the difficulty of knowing rather than the impossibility of the knowledge.”

79. The complexity of this system would have been a strength. Any failed predictions could be seen as
the fault of the astrologer, rather than of the system. See Smoller, History, Prophecy, p. 20.

80. Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science During the First Thirteen Centuries
of our Era, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), p. 527.

81. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 218: Secunda magna sapientia…est scientia iudicorum astrorum.
Ptolemy, The Almagest, trans. R. Catesby Taliaferro (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1952), pp. 16, 5-
56, passim; and Betsey Price, “The Physical Astronomy and Astrology of Albertus Magnus,” in Albertus
Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays, 1980, ed. James A. Weisheipl (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Medieval Studies, 1980), pp. 155-85 at p. 157.

82. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, pp. 64, 86, 101.

83. Saliba, History of Arabic Astronomy, p. 66.

84. Ibid.

85. Francis J. Carmody, “Introduction to De motibus Caelorum,” in Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji al-Ishbili Abu
Ishaq, De Motibus Caelorum, ed. Francis J. Carmody (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952), p.

86. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 209.

87. Ibid., pp. 209-11.

88. Ibid.

89. Carmody, “Introduction to De motibus,” p. 37.

90. al-Bitruji, De Motibus, p. 72.

91. Lemay, Abu Ma’ shar, p. 242.

92. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 214: “Voluit…Alpetragius corrigere principia et suppositiones


93. al-Bitruji, De Motibus, pp. 79-80.

94. Ibid., pp. 74-78. 47
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95. Gettings, Dictionary of Astrology, pp. 307-8.

96. Al-Bitruji, De Motibus, pp. 112-50.

97. Ibid., pp. 99-150.

98. Pingree, “Astrology,” p. 294. The rest of the information in this paragraph comes from this source.

99. E. S. Kennedy and David Pingree, The Astrological History of Masha‘allah (Cambridge, Eng.:
Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 39-142.

100. Masha‘allah, De revolutione, proem.

101. Ibid., chap. 1; Al-Biruni, Art of Astrology, p. 322.

102. Masha‘allah, De revolutione, chap. 1. The rest of the information in this paragraph comes from the
same source.

103. Ibid., chap. 1.

104. Al-Biruni, Art of Astrology, p. 230.

105. Ibid., p. 259.

106. Kennedy and Pingree, Astrological History, pp. v-vii; Ptolemy, Almagest, trans. Taliaferro, pp. 16,
75-76; and E. S. Kennedy, “Ramification of the World-Year Concept in Islamic Astrology,” Proceedings
of the Tenth International Congress of the History of Science (Paris: Collection des travaux de
l’Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences, 1962), pp. 23-43.

107. Masha‘allah, de Receptione, in Tres libri, trans. John of Spain, prologue: Dispositio significator
iussu dei…prohibitionem iussu dei.

108. Ibid.: Dispositio significator iussu dei…

109. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 234: “Si et tunc aequales fuerint significatores, differe in aliud
tempus, vel…supersedere eo, quod Dominus voluit celare a nobis.” Compare these ideas with
Masha‘allah’s prologue to de Receptione: “Dispositio significator iussu dei, qui si fuerit in esse effectus
rei significabit euis effectum et si fuerit in esse prohibitionis significabit eius prohibitionem iussu dei.”
While Albert does not cite Massa ‘allah by name in this location, Zambelli points out, quite rightly in my
opinion, that Albert is drawing on Masha‘allah’s de Receptione.

110. M. Tardieu, “Sabiens Coraniques et ‘Sabiens’ de Harran,” Journal Asiatique 274 (1986) 1-44.
Muslim religious leaders granted this Northern Mesopotamian pagan group tolerance by associating them
with the unidentified “sabiens” of the Qu’ran.

111. De Lacy O’Leary, How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs (London: Routledge, 1951), p. 173.

112. Ibid.

113. A. Zahoor, “Translators of Scientific Knowledge in the Middle Ages,” (1992, 1997); available from; INTERNET.

114. Thabit ibn Qurra al-Harrani, De Imaginibus, in Thabit ibn Qurra al-Harrani and Francis J. Carmody,
The Astronomical Works of Thabit b. Qurra (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), p. 180. 48
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115. Ibid., p. 181: “Cum ergo volueris de ea aperari, incipies sub ascendente…et figurabis
imagniem…ex…stanno vel plumbo vel argento vel auro. Et sculpas super imaginem nomen ascendentis
et domini eius et domini hore et domini diei et nomen.” For Sabiens, construction of images provided for
direct influence upon the actions of the ruling angels. This was effectively a form of ritual prayer. See H.
Corbin, Temple et Contemplation: Essais sur l’islam iranien (Paris, 1980), pp. 143-70; and Z. Vesel,
“Reminiscences de la magie astrale dans les Haft Peykar de Nezami,” Studia Iranica 23 (1994), 1-11.

116. al-Harrani, De Imaginibus, pp. 181, 182, 188.

117. Nicolas Weill-Parot, Les “images astrologiques” au moyen âge et à la renaissance: spéculations
intellectuelles et pratiques magiques (XIIe-XVe siècle) (Paris: Champion, 2002), presents the most in-
depth study of the relationship between image magic and the Speculum. For the controversial nature of
the subject, see especially pp. 435-57.

118. Weill-Parot, Les “images astrologiques,” 457. Weill-Parot illustrates that such concerns were by no
means universal, nor did fears that image magic involved association with demons mean that church
officials systematically refused to employ them. In 1301 Arnaud de Villeneuve prescribed the use of an
astrological image for Pope Urban VIII’s kidney stone. Despite the protest of a number of cardinals,
Urban followed this prescription and praised its efficacy. For more on the controversial nature of image
magic and Albert’s status as an authority on the subject, see Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the
Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 71-75.

119. Thorndike, History of Magic, 2:557.

120. Albertus, Speculum astronomiae, p. 270.

121. Ibid., pp. 248-50: Habebit effectum iussu Dei a virtute caelesti…qoud si tacite conditiones
necromanticae sunt, intolerabilis est.

122. Weill-Parot, Les “images astrologiques,” p. 390.

123. The Speculum is extant in sixty manuscript copies, spread across Europe and the United States,
indicating that this work enjoyed widespread popularity. See Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Le Speculum
astronomiae, une enigme? Enquete sur le manuscripts (Sismel: Edizioni del Galluzo, 2001), pp. 3-4.

124. See Tester, History of Western Astrology, p. 181. As late as 1799 the professor of astronomia at the
University of Bologna was still required to produce an annual almanac for medical use. For an
examination of contacts between members of the Royal Society in England and astrologers, and the
concomitant continuing perception of astrology as a valuable academic discipline in seventeenth-century
England, see Bernard Capp, English Almanacs 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979).

125. Both supporters and opponents of astrology appealed to the authority of the Speculum, and the work
was published as late as 1615. See Albertus Magnus, Speculum astronomiae: nunc primum e ms. codice
in lucem editum: Praemittuntur autem ejusdem authoris libelli, De virtutibus herbarum, lapidum, &c.
(London, 1615). For examples of others using the Speculum as a source, see Eckhart, “Sermones et
Lectiones,” 2:298; Pico della Mirandola,Disputationes Adversus Astrologiam Divinatricem, vol. 1, ed.
Eugenio Garin (Florence: Vallecchi Editore, 1946), pp. 66, 94; and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von
Nettesheim, De occulta philosophia libri tres, ed. Vittoria Perrone (New York: Brill, 1992). 49

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