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Philo-Sophia

'…the whole of human experience, without exception, is an interpretive structure mediated and sustained by signs' (J. Deely Basics of Semiotics)

 

Philosophy is reflection on the human situation at an ultimate level. It is fundamental thinking about the human situation

B. Lonergan Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Topics in Education (1988)

Dürer's Philosophia

 

To begin ...with Boethius

Given the image I have chosen above, there seems little alternative but to begin with that work so influential during Mediaeval times and out of which emerges the whole modern European philosophical impetus — yes, that is quite a statement, and if surprising in part shows how the history of philosophy and ideas is all too often neglected.

Boethius, that straddler between the Roman period and his last living steps into the medieval world, provides us with not only one of the most influential texts in Western Europe with his Consolation of Philosophy, but also, in so many ways, ensures that with his influence and his references, vital earlier philosophical works are valued through European philosophical development.

He harkens back to both Plato and Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists as well as both Roman and Christian thinkers. And it is to all that syncretic influx that his little book, written in prison during his final days, draws. Its popularity ensured that it ignited philosophical interest in the hearts and minds of many, of whatever station in life the reader happened to find him or herself — even Queen Elizabeth is said to have translated it into (Old) English.

Its influence is evident in Dante's and Chaucer's works in the literary spectrum, as well as on significant imagery found on major Cathedral carvings (such as Notre Dame in Paris). Resting, as it does, solidly within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, it also never attracted serious prohibitionary attention.

It is a little book that, from my perspective, needs to be read by anyone aspiring to philosophical understanding and European historical influence.

and Rudolf Steiner

This section is not about his vast influence in myriad areas, but more specifically about his philosophical contributions (for the former, cf 'Anthroposophy'). Also, though Rudolf Steiner has written a number of books specifically on philosophical topics, it is his Philosophy of Freedom (Die Philosophie der Freiheit) that stands as a monumental achievement yet to be critically appraised for not only its overall breadth and depth, but its originality.

The book is essentially divided into two key sections, with a third in seed-form: the first fundamentally an epistemological tome; the second essentially deals with ethical concepts; and the third harkening to a future whereby a form of monism becomes possible through the striving of individuals transcending the limitations of burden. In both the former of these, Steiner argues for a form of radical individualism out of which freedom becomes not only possible, but is ultimately a position for which we are to strive. One can see, in that sense, some points of resemblance (and perhaps influence) from Nietzsche — without the latter's nihilism.

Philosophy: history and development

It would be both imprudent and ridiculous to suggest that these two philosophers stand out in total isolation from the vast philosophical corpus. They are, rather, two giants that have their influence in the hearts and minds of vast numbers of individuals that transform social conditions. If the light of their contributions does not always appear to shine as a beacon from a tall lighthouse, it is because their influence can be described by a different metaphor: they provide a sheltered well to which one refreshes oneself from its living waters and out of which one's own inner light is itself refreshed and ignited anew.

To be sure, other individuals through humanity's history have similarly had such influence. Many, it seems, finding themselves at the silencing hands of powers that fear such individuals. And even here, Boethius, as mentioned, wrote that work in prison awaiting his death, and Steiner reputedly faced an assassination attempt with the slow rise of Nazism following WWI.

By far the two most important works on the history of philosophy and its development across time are, on the one hand, Rudolf Steiner's Riddles of Philosophy and on the other John Deely's astounding Four Ages of Understanding: the first postmodern survey of philosophy from ancient times to the turn of the twenty-first century. The 'four ages' therein mentioned divide the development of Western philosophy (and, one could argue, philosophy tout cours) into four language-dominated eras: the Greek; the Latin; the Modern (multi-lingual); and the recently entered 'post-modern' semiotic age.

To consider a brief history of thought, below will be links [or rather, I am slowly working on eventually providing mainly external links] to some important figures in the development of Western (and world) philosophy.

The Essence of Philosophy: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful

If I was going to try and encapsulate the whole essence of Philosophical enquiry, it would be with these three terms, first promulgated by Plato, and ever since forming in some manner or other an important triune essence of Western philosophical pursuit.

With Truth are questions that pertain to issues that deal with both epistemology and ontology; in regards to the Good are questions addressing ethics, political theory and justice; and surrrounding the Beautiful are questions pertaining to aesthetics and the pursuit of happiness.

To be sure, these are themselves no other than an awakening to Semiotics, which can itself be precisely described as the semiosis of semiosis. Semiosis pontifies Being and Object: to quote the final sentence in a text from an entirely different tradition (in this instance the Tibetan Buddhist Chögyam Trungpa's The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, p.156),

The whole world is symbol – not symbol in the sense of a sign representing something other than itself, but symbol in the sense of the highlights of the vivid qualities of things as they are.

 

timeline [in progress]

From quite an impressive range of possibilities, I have selected a few from each 300 year period. Others may have chosen different key figures.

  • 750–451
  • 450-151
  • ←BCE | CE→
  • 151-450
  • 451-750
  • 751-1050
  • 1051-1350
  • 1351-1650
  • 1651-1950
  • 1951-now
  • Thales

    625 – 545

  • Lao Tzu

    610 – 545

  • Pythagoras

    582 – 494

  • Buddha

    563 – 483

About Thales

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About Lao Tzu

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About Pythagoras

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About the Buddha

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  • Socrates

    469 – 399

  • Aristophanes

    448 – 388

  • Plato

    427 – 384

  • Aristotle

    384 – 322

About Socrates

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About Aristophanes

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About Plato

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Plato's Seventh Letter

About Aristotle

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  • Cicero

    106 BCE – 43 BCE

  • Philo

    20 BCE – 50 CE

  • Christ

    4 BCE – 33 CE

  • Ptolemy

    100 – 175

About Cicero

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About Philo

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About Christ Jesus of Nazareth

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About Ptolemy

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  • Plotinus

    203 – 270

  • Mani

    215 – 276

  • Iamblichus

    250 – 330

  • Augustine

    354 – 430

About Plotinus

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About Mani

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About Iamblichus

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Iamblicus's On the Mysteries of Egypt

About Augustine

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  • Proclus

    412 – 485

  • Pseudo-Dionysius

    455 – 535

  • Boethius

    480 – 525

  • Jizang

    549 – 623

Proclus Lycaeus Diadochus

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Pseudo-Dionysius

[source for temporary content: Wikipedia]

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum (before 532). The author is identified as "Dionysos" in the corpus, which later came to be attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the Athenian convert of St. Paul mentioned in Acts 17:34. His surviving works include Divine Names, Mystical Theology, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and various epistles. Some other works, such as Theological Outlines, are presumed to be lost.

Teachings

His works are mystical and show strong Neoplatonic influence. For example he uses Plotinus' well known analogy of a sculptor cutting away that which does not enhance the desired image. He shows familiarity with Proclus, which indicates he wrote no earlier than the 5th century, as well as influence from Saint Clement of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Fathers, Origen of Alexandria, and others. There is a distinct difference between Neoplatonism and Eastern Christianity. In Neoplatonism, it is often said, all life returns to the source to be stripped of individual identity, a process called henosis (see Iamblichus). However, in orthodox Christianity, theosis restores the Likeness of God in man by grace (by being united to God the Holy Trinity through participation in His divine energies). The liturgical references in his writings also date his works after the 4th century.

He appears to have belonged to the group which attempted to form a compromise position between monophysitism and the orthodox teaching. His writings were first cited in 519 in a work by Severus of Antioch, Adversus apologiam Juliani, who cited the Fourth Letter. Dionysius was initially used by monophysites to back up parts of their arguments, but his writings were eventually adopted by other church theologians as well, primarily due to the work of John of Scythopolis and Maximus the Confessor in producing an orthodox interpretation. The Dionysian writings and their mystical teaching were universally accepted throughout the East, amongst both Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. St. Gregory Palamas, for example, in referring to these writings, calls the author, "an unerring beholder of divine things." And in the West, the manuscripts grew to be very popular amongst theologians in the Middle Ages -- Thomas Aquinas cites Pseudo-Dionysius over 1700 times. Dionysius' portrayal of the "via negativa" was particularly influential among contemplatives and mystical theologians. Debates over the authenticity of the authorship of Dionysian corpus, however, began in the Renaissance.

Medieval misunderstandings

During the medieval period Dionysius the Areopagite and St. Denis of France, though two distinct figures historically, were conflated; it was thought that after his conversion by Paul, the Areopagite had traveled to France, preached, and been martyred there. This confusion of historical detail was compounded by the common acceptance of Pseudo-Dionysius's writings as the authentic work of the Biblical figure. The great Abbey of Saint-Denis just north of Paris claimed to have the relics of Dionysius. Around 1121, Pierre Abélard, a Benedictine monk at Saint Denis Basilica, turned his attention to the story of their patron saint, and disentangled the three different Dionysiuses. The monks were offended at the apparent demotion of Saint Denis, and Abélard did not remain long at Saint Denis. The confusion over the text might stem from the text being an oral tradition (declamatio) that was only at a later date finally put to record. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "It must also be recognized that 'forgery' is a modern notion. Like Plotinus and the Cappadocian Fathers before him, Dionysius does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition."

The monastery of St. Denis, which had inadvertently conflated the two Dionysiuses, had a good Greek edition of Pseudo-Dionysius's works given to them by Charles the Bald, which was translated into Latin by John Scotus Eriugena in the late 9th century. This translation widely popularized both Pseudo-Dionysius' teaching and his explanation of the angels.

Authorship

The authorship of the Dionysian Corpus was initially disputed; Severus and his party affirmed its apostolic dating, largely because it seemed to agree with their Christology. However, this dating was disputed by Hypatius of Ephesus, who met the monophysite party during the 532 meeting with Emperor Justinian I; Hypatius denied its authenticity on the grounds that none of the Fathers or Councils ever cited or referred to it. Hypatius condemned it along with the Apollinarian texts, distributed during the Nestorian controversy under the names of Pope Julius and Athanasius, which the monophysites entered as evidence supporting their position.

The first defense of its authenticity is undertaken by John of Scythopolis, whose commentary, the Scholia (ca. 540), on the Dionysian Corpus constitutes the first defense of its apostolic dating, wherein he specifically argues that the work is neither Apollinarian nor a forgery, probably in response both to monophysites and Hypatius—although even he, given his unattributed citations of Plotinus in interpreting Dionysius, might have known better. Dionysius' authenticity is criticized later in the century, and defended by Theodore of Raithu; and by the 7th century, it is taken as demonstrated, affirmed by both Maximus the Confessor and the 649 Lateran Council. From that point forward, the authorship is largely not in question until the Renaissance.

The Florentine humanist Lorenzo Valla (d. 1457), in his commentaries on the New Testament, did much to establish that the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum could not have been St. Paul's convert, though he was unable to identify the actual historical author. The fictitious literary persona had long been accepted on face value by all its readers, with a couple of exceptions such as Nicholas of Cusa noted by modern historians, but whose reservations went unheard.

William Grocyn pursued Valla's lines of text criticism, and Valla's critical viewpoint of the authorship of the highly influential Corpus was accepted and publicized by Erasmus from 1504 onward, for which he was criticized by Catholic theologians. In the Leipzig disputation with Martin Luther, 1519, Johann Eck used the Corpus, specifically the Angelic Hierarchy, as argument for the apostolic origin of papal supremacy, pressing the Platonist analogy, "as above, so below".

During the 19th century modernist Catholics too came generally to accept that this self-identified disciple of St. Paul must have lived after the time of Proclus, whose works he paraphrased in transforming Neoplatonism into Christian terms—which is the philosophical approach that had interested the Christian Neoplatonist Valla in the first place.

Dionysius' identity is still heavily under dispute. The compilers of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy find pseudo-Dionysius to be most probably "a pupil of Proclus, perhaps of Syrian origin, who knew enough of Platonism and the Christian tradition to transform them both. Since Proclus died in 485, and since the first clear citation of Dionysius' works is by Severus of Antioch between 518 and 528, then we can place Dionysius' authorship between 485 and 518-28." Ronald Hathaway provides a table listing most of the major identifications of Dionysius: e.g., Ammonius Saccas, Dionysius the Great, Peter the Fuller, Dionysius the Scholastic, Severus of Antioch, Sergius of Reshaina, unnamed Christian followers of everyone from Origen of Alexandria to Basil of Caesarea, Eutyches to Proclus. Georgian academician Shalva Nutsubidze and Belgian professor Ernest Honigmann were authors of a theory identifying pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite with Peter the Iberian. A more recent identification is with Damascius, the last scholarch of the School of Athens.

 

> Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
> Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry

About Boethius

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Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy

About Jizang

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  • Alcuin of York

    735 – 804

  • Shankara

    788 – 820

  • John Scotus Eriugena

    815 – 877

  • Avicenna

    980 – 1037

About Alcuin of York

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About Shankara

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About John Scotus Eriugena

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About Avicenna

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  • RABaD

    1125 – 1198

  • Averroes

    1126 – 1198

  • Bonaventure

    1217 – 1274

  • Aquinas

    1224 – 1274

R. Abraham ben David of Posquières
The Raavad

[Source for temporary text: www.chabad.org]

(Born about 4885 d. Chanukah 4959; 1125-1198)

Rabbi Abraham Ben David, popularly known by the abbreviation RABaD (after the initials of his name), was born in the south of France about twenty years before the celebrated Maimonides.

He was fortunate in that Posquieres, his birthplace, was not far from the city of Lunel. In Lunel at that time had assembled the cream of Talmudists, and the university there was the refuge of persecuted scholars from every country in the world. It is believed by many that Lunel had begun to function as a Torah center since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Into this sphere of profound learning came Abraham Ben David for his own education.

Rabbi Abraham did not return to Posquieres until he was forty, and by then, he had already served as a member in the Rabbinical court in both Lunel and Nimes. In addition to his scholarship, he was renowned for his wealth and widespread benevolence He largely supported the students in the academy of his community. And in between good deeds and education, he managed also to write a few important commentaries of his own. Foremost among his writings are his notes (hasagoth) to the Mishne Torah of Maimonides. Rabbi Abraham was a very severe critic, but he was prompted chiefly by his fervent Orthodoxy. Rabbi Abraham feared that the Mishne Torah, which merely cites the last word on the Jewish law, might replace the actual studying of the various scholarly arguments which comprise the Talmud. People may be inclined to use the Mishne Torah as their bible, and henceforth ceases to discuss and weigh Jewish problems throughly. However, time proved that both these men contributed very much to the advancement of Jewish learning.

Rabbi Abraham's wealth and standing in the community proved to be a handicap, for the greedy governor of Posquieres found a way to take advantage of this. He had the Rabbi imprisoned, hoping to receive a large ransom for his release. For many years, Rabbi Abraham dwelt within the four walls of his ancient French prison. His mind remained active and fertile with spiritual matters, and he did not mind the imprisonment, nor did be take steps to be released. The greedy governor soon forgot all about Rabbi Abraham. But G-d did not. Several years later, on the order of a high nobleman in the king's court, he was freed.

He wrote extensively until his death. He composed commentaries to the "Sifra" and to several Talmudic tomes. Later authors quoted him often, among them the noted Bezalel Ashkenazi, in his 'Shittah Mekubbetzeth' (Gathered Interpretations). His pupils numbered some of Israel's great. Among them, Abraham Ben Nathan, author of "Hamanhig' (The Guide), Meir Ben Isaac, author of "Sefer Haezer' (Book of Help) and others. He had two sons, David and Isaac, the latter later became known as "Isaac the Blind" and "Father of the Cabalah."


[source for temporary content: /www.jewishencyclopedia.com]

French Talmudic commentator; born in Provence, France, about 1125; died at Posquières, Nov. 27, 1198. Son-in-law of Abraham ben Isaac Ab-Bet-Din (RABaD II). The teachers under whose guidance he acquired most of his Talmudic learning were Moses ben Joseph (according to Michael, "Or ha-Ḥayyim," p. 24, the latter was the chief teacher of RABaD, but the manuscript note to which Michael refers reads quite differently in Buber's introduction to "Shibbale ha-Leḳeṭ") and Meshullam ben Jacob of Lunel. RABaD (abbreviation for Rabbi Abraham ben David) remained in Lunel after completing his studies, and subsequently became one of the rabbinical authorities of that city. He went to Montpellier, where he remained but a short time, and then removed to Nîmes, where he lived for a considerable period. Moses ben Judah ("Temim De'im," p. 6b) refers to the rabbinical school of Nîmes, then under Abraham's direction, as the chief seat of Talmudic learning in Provence.

Persecution.

But the real center of RABaD's activity was Posquières, after which place he is often called. It is difficult to determine when he removed to Posquières; but about 1165 Benjamin of Tudela, at the outset of his travels, called upon him there. This traveler speaks of RABaD's wealth and benevolence. Not only did he erect and keep in repair a large school-building, but he cared for the material welfare of the poor students as well. It was his great wealth which brought him into peril of his life; for, in order to obtain some of it, Elzéar, the lord of Posquières, had him cast into prison, where, like Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, he might have perished, had not Count Roger II. of Carcassonne, who was friendly to the Jews, intervened, and by virtue of his sovereignty banished the lord of Posquières to Carcassonne. Thereupon Abraham ben David returned to Posquières, where he remained until his death. Among the many learned Talmudists who were his disciples in Posquières were Isaac ha-Kohen of Narbonne, the first commentator upon the Talmud Yerushalmi; Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, author of "Ha-Manhig"; Meir ben Isaac of Carcassonne, author of the "Sefer ha-'Ezer"; and Asher ben Meshullam of Lunel, author of several rabbinical works. RABaD's influence on Jonathan of Lunel also is evident, though the latter did not attend his lectures.

Literary Works.

Besides being an active teacher, Abraham was a prolific author; for he not only wrote answers to hundreds of learned questions—which responsa are still partially preserved in the collections "Temim De'im," Orḥot Ḥayyim," and "Shibbale ha-Leḳeṭ"—but he also wrote a commentary on the whole Talmud and compiled several compendiums of rabbinical law. Most of his works are lost; but those which have been preserved, such as the "Sefer Ba'ale ha-Nefesh" (The Book of the Con-scientious), a treatise on the laws relating to women, published in 1602, and his commentary on Torat Kohanim, published in 1862 at Vienna, are sufficient evidence of his untiring industry and remarkable intellect. Neither his codifications of law nor his commentaries are true examples of his strength. The title of "Baal Hasagot" (Critic), given him frequently by the rabbis, shows that they realized the direction in which his ability lay. Indeed, critical annotations display his powers at their best, and justify his being ranked with Alfasi, Rashi, and Maimonides.

It may, in addition, be safely asserted that Abraham ben David did even more for the study of the Talmud (which for so many centuries was for the Jews their only intellectual sphere) than the celebrated Spanish scholars. Without accusing Maimonides of intending to supplant the study of the Talmud itself by means of his compendium, the "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," it is nevertheless a fact that if Alfasi and Maimonides had not encountered such keen opposition, rabbinical Judaism would have degenerated into an exclusive study of the legal code, which would have been fatal to any original intellectualdevelopment in a considerable portion of the Jewish people. This danger was not so imminent for those Jews who lived in lands where Arabian culture ruled; for there the study of the Hebrew language and poetry, and especially of the sciences and philosophy, would always have afforded a wide field for intellectual development. It was, therefore, sufficient that the leading Jewish rabbis domiciled in Moorish countries should devote much attention to furnishing a clew to the labyrinth of the Talmud, intricate and perplexing as the latter had become by the addition of the copious post-Talmudic literature of law and custom. Some sort of guide had become imperatively necessary for the practical application of this voluminous and intricate material. But in Christian countries like France and Germany, where the largest communities of Jews existed, throughout the Middle Ages there was no such outlet for Jewish intellectuality as the culture of literature or of the sciences which existed in Moorish Spain. Their own religious law was the only field open to the intellects of the Jews of Germany and northern France.

Rashi and RABaD.

That the Jewish mind remained fresh and productive, in spite of the restrictions that hampered the people during the Middle Ages, is due mainly to the efforts of such men as Rashi and Abraham ben David, who utilized the Talmud as an arena in which they could exercise their intellect. In his commentary, Rashi furnished a smooth and well-paved road to the Talmud; while RABaD, by his acute criticism, pointed out the way intelligently and with discrimination. This critical tendency is characteristic of all the writings of RABaD. Thus, in his commentary upon Torat Kohanim (pp. 41a, 71b; compare also Harkavy's "Responsen der Geonim" in "Studien und Mittheilungen," iv. 164), we find the caustic observation that many obscure passages in rabbinical literature owe their obscurity to the fact that occasional explanatory or marginal notes not tending to elucidate the text have been incorporated.

Attitude as a Critic.

The real strength of RABaD is shown by his criticisms of the works of various authors. The tone which he employs is also characteristic of his attitude toward the persons under criticism. He treats Alfasi with the utmost respect, almost with humility, and refers to him as "the sun by whose brilliant rays our eyes are dazzled" ("Temim De'im," p. 22a). His language toward Zerahiah ha-Levi is harsh, almost hostile. Though only eighteen years old, this scholar possessed the courage and the ability to write a sharp criticism upon Alfasi, and RABaD refers to him as an immature youth who has the audacity to criticize his teacher. However, in fairness it must be stated that Zerahiah had himself provoked this treatment by sharply criticizing RABaD, and by incorporating into his own work some of RABaD's interpretations without acknowledgment to the author (compare Gross, l.c., 545, and Reifmann, "Toledot," p. 54).

Maimonides and RABaD.

Abraham's criticism of the "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah" of Maimonides is also very harsh. This, however, was not due to personal feeling, but to radical differences of view in matters of faith between the two greatest Talmudists of the twelfth century. Maimonides' aim was to bring order into the vast labyrinth of the Halakah by presenting final results in a definite, systematic, and methodical manner. But in the opinion of RABaD this very aim was the principal defect of the work. A legal code which did not state the sources and authorities from which its decisions were derived, and offered no proofs of the correctness of its statements, was, in the opinion of Abraham ben David, entirely unreliable, even in the practical religious life, for which purpose Maimonides designed it. Such a code, he considered, could be justified only if written by a man claiming infallibility—by one who could demand that his assertions be accepted without question. If it had been the intention of Maimonides to stem the further development of the study of the Talmud by reducing it to the form of a code, RABaD felt it his duty to oppose such an attempt, as contrary to the free spirit of rabbinical Judaism, which refuses to surrender blindly to authority.

Judaism a Religion of Deed, not of Dogma.

RABaD was thus an opponent to the codification of the Halakah; but he was even more strongly opposed to the construction of a system of dogmas in Judaism, particularly according to the method followed by Maimonides, who often set up the concepts of the Aristotelian philosophy as Jewish theology. Maimonides, for instance, in accordance with his philosophical conviction and in the true spirit of Judaism, declares the incorporeality of God to be a dogma of Judaism, or, as he formulates it, "whosoever conceives God to be a corporeal being is an apostate" ("Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, Teshubah," iii. 7). In the circles with which RABaD was connected, a certain mystical anthropomorphistic conception of the Deity was usual; and therefore it was but natural that a statement which practically declared his best friends apostates should arouse his resentment. He, therefore, appended to Maimonides' formula this brief but emphatic criticism: "Why does he call such persons apostates? Men better and worthier than he have held this view, for which they believe they have found authority in the Scriptures and in a confusing view of the Haggadah." The phrase concerning the Haggadah shows that RABaD is himself far from advocating the anthropomorphistic view. His opposition to Maimonides' statement of the doctrine of the incorporeality of God is only directed against its being raised into a dogma. Judaism is to Abraham ben David a religion of deed, and not one of dogmas. His attitude toward the teachings of Maimonides in regard to the future life and the eternity of the world is in harmony with this point of view. According to him the opinion of Maimonides on this question was as distinctly heretical as the corporeality of God from the standpoint of Maimonides; yet he has no word of vituperation for its author, but merely contents himself with recording his difference of opinion (l.c. viii. 2, 8). Thus, the ultra-conservative Talmudist was broader-minded and more tolerant than the greatest of the medieval Jewish philosophers (compare Smolensky, "'Am 'Olam," chap. 13).

Abraham ben David is particularly severe on the attempts of Maimonides to smuggle in his philosophic views under cover of Talmudic passages. To cite one example Sorcery, according to both Biblical and rabbinical law, is, under certain conditions, an offense punishable with death. The opinions in the Talmud on the various acts coming under the category of sorcery differ widely, owing, no doubt, to the fact that it was not practicable to look upon every superstitious practise, from which Talmudic Judaism itself was not entirely free, as a heinous offense. Maimonides, who, from the point of view of his philosophy, looks upon sorcery, astrology, augury, and the like as pure absurdities, decides that even the innocent actions which Scripture narrates of Eliezer (Gen. xxiv 14), and ofJonathan (I Sam. xiv. 8-10) are to be considered as falling under the ban. Here RABaD is not content with merely correcting the statement of Maimonides, but he declares that, in his opinion, Maimonides deserves the ban for the calumnious views he expresses concerning these Biblical personages (Yad. 'Akum, xi. 4). This suffices to explain the principle that actuated Abraham ben David in his intense opposition to Maimonides, and particularly to his "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," which David himself designates as a great achievement (Kilayim, vi. 2). However, his criticisms are not merely bitter, but wonderfully skilful. They are seldom more than a few lines long; yet the defenders of Maimonides have written without success page after page of laborious reasoning in support of their master. Abraham's remarkable command of the entire Talmudic literature, his extraordinary acuteness of intellect, and his phenomenal critical powers are shown at their best in this criticism of "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah"; and, as he wrote it only a few years before his death, and at an advanced age, it is all the more noteworthy.

The cabalists look upon Abraham ben David as one of the fathers of their system, and this is true to the extent that he was inclined to mysticism, which led him to follow an ascetic mode of life and gained for him the title of "the pious." He frequently spoke of "the holy spirit (or Elijah) disclosing to him God's secrets in his studies" (see his note to "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," Lulab, viii. 5; Bet ha-Beḥirah, vi. 11), great mysteries known only to the initated ("Yesode ha-Torah," i. 10). It may be asserted with confidence that RABaD was not an enemy to secular science, as many deem him. His works prove that he was a close student of Hebrew philology; and the fact that he encouraged the translation of Baḥya's "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot" (compare Gross, l.c. 1874, p. 165) proves that he was not hostile to philosophy. This philosophic work argues strongly against the anthropomorphistic conception of the Deity; and the favor with which Abraham ben David looked upon it is sufficient ground on which to acquit him of the charge of having held anthropomorphistic views. Moreover, his works show acquaintance with philosophy; for instance, his remark on "Hilkot Teshubah," v., end, is a literal quotation from Honein b. Isaac's "Musre ha-Philosophim," pp. 11, 12—or Loewenthal, p. 39, below—which is extant only in Al-Ḥarizi's translation.

About Averroes

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About St Bonaventure

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About St Thomas Aquinas

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  • Ficino

    1433 – 1499

  • Trithemius

    1462 – 1516

  • Agrippa

    1486 – 1535

  • Poinsot

    1589 – 1644

About Ficino

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About Trithemius

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Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim

preliminary text – source: Catholic Encyclopedia 1907

Born 14 September, 1486, at Cologne; died at Grenoble or Lyons in 1534 or 1535. One of the remarkable men of the Renaissance period. Described as a "knight, doctor, and by common reputation, a magician", Agrippa earned and repaid the bitter enmity of his more conservative contemporaries. We find him a student at Cologne and Paris (1506), in Spain (1507-08), a teacher of Hebrew at D"le (1509), a teacher in England (1510), about which time he finished his work "De occulta philosophiâ (Antwerp, 1531), a mixture of Neoplatanism and the Cabbala. He spent some time in Italy in the military service of the Emperor Maximilian, who rewarded his bravery by making him a Ritter or knight. He soon turned however, to other pursuits, studied medicine, Hebrew, alchemy, theology, and finally devoted himself to "Cabalism" under the influence of Reuchlin (q.v.) and Raymund Lully (q.v.). He lived and taught in various places, making friends or enemies wherever he went, but was apparently not very successful financially, as he was banished from Cologne for debt, and spent his last days in poverty, a typical example of the irregular, vicissitudinous life led by his kind at that time. His numerous works, chiefly philosophical, have a strong bias toward "occultism", and run counter to the received opinions of his time in theology and scholastic philosophy. He lived and died nominally a Catholic, but was openly in sympathy with Luther, whose tone towards the Church and her institutions he adopted, while professing that he was merely attacking abuses, not the Church, an attitude frequently assumed at that period.

His famous work "De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum", published in 1527, has been translated into many European vernaculars and is well described as a "compound of erudition and ignorance, gravity and vanity". It abounds in denunciations of scholasticism, veneration of relics and saints, the canon law and the hierarchy, and calls for a return to the Scriptures as the philosopher's stone (Lydius lapis) of Christian teaching. For the rest he is no follower of Luther or his companions. They interest him as the first who stood out with success against Catholic orthodoxy. Giordano Bruno (q.v.) made use of his writings, and their influence was long powerful. Among his minor writings are the often quoted booklet "De nobilitate et præcellentia feminei sexus declamatio", dedicated to Margaret of Austria, "Libellus de sacramento matrimonii", a commentary on the "Ars Brevrs", of Raymond Lully, etc. A complete edition of his works appeared at Lyons in 1600.

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