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The Problem of the Relationship between Philosophical and Theological Wisdom in the Scholasticism of the 13th and early 14th Centuries

Author(s): Severin V. Kitanov

Journal: Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis
ISSN 0890-5118

Volume: 31;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 89;
Date: 2011;
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In the first ordinary question of the secular Oxford theologian Henry of Harclay (ca. 1270–1317), a question dealing with the possibility of accurately predicting the second coming of Christ, we read the following account of a story told by Alexander Neckham (1157–1217), a Christian theologian and Abbot of Cirencester (ca. 1212):We should also look at the remarkable story Alexander Neckham tells in his second book of On the Nature of Things, in the chapter called ‘On the Jealous’. It concerns the evidence for Antichrist’s coming. He writes that Aristotle, the Philosopher, when about to go the way of the flesh, gave instructions that all of his subtlest writings were to be placed with him in his tomb, so that they could be of no use to those who came after him. When he was alive, he fortified a place for his tomb with his own hands so that to this day no one has been able to enter it. This place, Neckham writes, will be given over to Antichrist when he comes. Antichrist, then, will work wonders by means of the cunning inventions (per ingenia subtilia) to be found in Aristotle’s writings, so much so that the foolish will take him for God. At that time, if anyone were to know where Aristotle’s tomb was and were to see it lying open, that person could (if the story is true) argue that Antichrist had come. [Transl. by Edwards & Henninger]The story Henry of Harclay narrates is an excellent illustration of the ambiguity characteristic of the attitude of thirteenth-century university professors toward Aristotle’s recently discovered legacy. On the one hand, one recognizes the immense respect and admiration for Aristotle’s intellectual acumen. On the other hand, one senses the enormous tension between Aristotle’s intellectual universe and the Christian worldview. Alexander Neckham’s2 association of Aristotle’s most sophisticated writings with the deviousness of the Antichrist creates the double impression of Aristotle as an individual of profound but ominous insight.
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