Javelli and the Reception of the Scotist System of Distinctions in Renaissance Thomism

In Tommaso De Robertis & Luca Burzelli (eds.), Chrysostomus Javelli: Pagan Philosophy and Christian Thought in the Renaissance. Springer Verlag. pp. 143-167 (2023)
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This chapter uncovers a less investigated aspect of the relationship between the two most important scholastic schools of the Renaissance, Thomism and Scotism: the influence of Scotist literature on distinctions as seen in some sixteenth-century Thomists. The chapter has a primary focus on Chrysostomus Javelli’s engagement in his discussion of divine attributes with the Scotist doctrine of distinctions, but also considers other Thomist sources. First, the beginnings of the highly specialised Scotist literature on distinctions are traced back to the start of the fourteenth century; I show how some early followers of Duns Scotus, in particular Francis of Meyronnes and Petrus Thomae, systematised Scotus’ ontology of the various grades of being by compiling lists of subtle distinctions to be applied to various levels of reality. I give some indications as to the later reception of these models of distinctions in the Scotist school. Special attention is paid to Étienne Brulefer, since his summary of Petrus Thomae’s model of seven distinctions was Javelli’s source for the Scotist doctrine. I then investigate how Javelli worked with Brulefer’s summary, and how he sought to integrate the Scotist doctrine into his own discussion of divine attributes. Thomists traditionally allowed only a rational or mental kind of distinction among divine attributes, and between them and the divine essence. Javelli, however, endeavours to show how the Thomist position may be reconciled with the Scotist doctrine of a formal or ex natura rei distinction. He did not always endorse this conciliatory approach; I hypothesise that he changed his mind on the subject over time. Finally, I show how other Renaissance Thomists reacted to the Scotist system of distinctions; in particular, I draw attention to the Thomists Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, Bartolomeo Manzoli, and Mattia Gibboni da Aquario, who all wrote treatises on Thomist distinction theory modelled on the Scotist system of distinctions. In some of this literature, lists of distinctions based on Thomist metaphysics were compiled in order to replace the Scotist system. I argue that Javelli’s approach is more conciliatory and, in fact, has some overlap with the concordist thought of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who himself considered Scotus and Aquinas to be in fundamental agreement as regards the distinction between divine attributes.

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Claus Asbjørn Andersen
Université Catholique de Louvain


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