Thomas Aquinas: St Albert's onetime lackey?

When my beloved teacher, James A. Weisheipl, OP, wrote his Friar Thomas d’Aquino back in 1974 he contended that Thomas Aquinas’s earliest scripture commentaries were cursory readings on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations done while Thomas was with St. Albert the Great in Cologne, in the period 1248-1252. For Weisheipl these early works and their supposed sterilitas doctrinae were not the product of the precocious bachelor of the Sentences doing his work in Paris from 1252-1256, but were better considered the work of a talented young Dominican in St. Albert’s retinue in Cologne, a baccalaureus biblicus—even though no contemporary witness ever said that Thomas lectured on the Bible, even cursorie, while with Albert in Cologne. Besides, as the “dumb ox” (bos mutus) story indicated, Thomas was just too smart to have been with Albert only as a student or even as an—gasp!—assistant.

Or, as Fr Dewan put it to me once, “Fr Weisheipl couldn’t imagine that Thomas was ever Albert’s lackey”!

As it happens, in discoveries made this past decade it is now pretty clear that Thomas was indeed an assistant to St. Albert, doing some legwork so that Albert could have the best text available as he produced his commentaries on the works of Pseudo-Dionysius (a copy of whose Albertine commentaries we have in Thomas’s own autograph). In 2005 Maria Burger published some of the research she conducted as part of the Cologne edition of St. Albert’s works. She found a manuscript from Cologne’s Cathedral church library (Codex 30) that contained an 11th-century copy of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, running the gamut from the Celestial Hierarchy to the Divine Names. But found in the margins and between the lines of this 11th-century hand were notes written in the telltale littera illegibilis of the young Thomas Aquinas. It turns out that his task had been to compare the Latin text found in Codex 30 (which contained the original Eriugena translation) with Eriugena’s revised translation and with John the Saracen’s translation—all of which Thomas did with diligence. As Burger showed in her original article (PDF), Albert then used Thomas’s marginal and interlinear notes in the course of composing his commentaries on Pseudo-Dionysius.

I am looking to see whether I can make available the English translation of her article (which appeared just recently in “Thomas Aquinas’s Glosses on the Dionysius Commentaries of Albert the Great in Codex 30 of the Cologne Cathedral Library,” in Via Alberti Texte – Quellen – Interpretationen [Münster: Aschendorff, 2009] 561-582). Here is the abstract from that latter article:

Albertus Magnus commented on the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the years 1248–1250. The bases for these commentaries were the Latin translations by John Scotus Eriugena and John Sarracenus. Codex 30 of the Dombibliothek in Cologne conveys the Dionysius text in an older version of the Eriugena translation that Albert had evidently employed for purpose of comparison. Maria Burger finds numerous interlinear and marginal entries in this codex that, on the basis of careful handwriting analysis, can be assigned to Thomas Aquinas. He was Albert’s student and assistant in Cologne at that time and prepared a copy of the entire text in his own hand which is to this day preserved in the manuscript Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale I B 54. For this reason it is possible to make a more precise comparison of the entries in Codex 30 with Thomas’ handwriting. In addition, the marginalia in the Cologne Codex permit a more exact dating of Albert’s commentary on De caelesti hierarchia, the text with which the corpus of commentaries begins.

The people in Cologne have placed hi-res images of Codex 30, among others, available on a website devoted to church manuscripts from Cologne (link to main site). If you’d like to see some folios, click here, and then scoot ahead to, say, folio 35r, and hunt around from there (note that the images come in three sizes, the highest resolution of which zooms in tremendously).

So it does seem that Thomas was a trusted assistant—hardly a lackey—to St. Albert.

PS: Adriano Oliva dealt with Weisheipl’s dating of the cursory biblical works with great care in his Les débuts de l’enseignement de Thomas d’Aquin et sa conception de la Sacra doctrina (Paris: J. Vrin, 2006), 207-224. The three commentaries, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, should be dated to Paris in the early 1250’s (most likely starting around 1252).

Thomistic Scholarship and Plagiarism

Readers may be interested in the article “40 Cases of Plagiarism” appearing in Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 51/2009 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), pp. 350-391, compiled by Pernille Harsting, Russell L. Friedman, and me. It presents evidence of plagiarism in a number of publications under the name of Martin W. F. Stone on mainly medieval and Renaissance philosophy.

That Martin W. F. Stone succeeded in publishing the words and research results of Fernand van Steenberghen, Ralph McInerny, Carlos Bazán, John Wippel, and Lawrence Feingold (among others) as his own, in academic journals and in books with reputable publishing houses, must surely cause scholars to take note. Arguably, the situation is especially pressing for Thomists; nine of Stone’s plagiarized pieces are currently listed in the Bibliographia Thomistica, and one piece is listed in Thomistica 2006: An International Yearbook of Thomistic Bibliography. The editor of the Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale, Kent Emery, Jr., highlights the relationship of Stone’s work to Thomistic scholarship in an editorial in the same issue of the Bulletin, observing:

Or how was it possible that the scrivener hugely plagiarized the essay of an eminent Thomist published in a volume bringing together “Thomistic doctrines and modern perspectives,” and then published his workmanship in a volume bringing together “Thomistic and Analytical Traditions,” edited by another eminent Thomist and crammed full of essays by yet other eminent Thomists (see Case 14, pp. 367-68)? One thing is clear: Eminent Thomists do not necessarily read the essays of other eminent Thomists, which, if they had, they might have been able to detect that someone was ripping-off another person’s essay. (p. xii)

Elsewhere, Emery argues forcefully that the situation demands reflection among members of the scholarly community:

That there are those who commit acts of plagiarism is one thing; that such acts can be repeated successfully, without detection, in 40 articles, over a period of at least 11 years, in the pages of the most “prestigious” journals and at the most “prestigious” presses, is quite another thing altogether, which exposes some pathology in the contemporary body academic that cries out for diagnosis (p. 348)

So far, retractions have been issued by:

 Discussion and news reports on the issue include here, and here.

Allow me to repeat two requests made in the introduction to “40 Cases of Plagiarism.” First, as the great majority of Stone’s pieces examined in the article have not, at present, been retracted by the editors and publishers of these pieces, we encourage the many authors, editors, and publishers whose legal copyright and intellectual property rights have been infringed, to seek retractions of all the pieces plagiarizing their original work. Secondly, we caution that the evidence published in the Bulletin article is not exhaustive, and urge other readers to supplement our findings.

Ten reasons I am not a Thomist

Me: “My name is Mark, and I am not a Thomist.”

Others at the meeting: “Hi, Mark.”

Yes, I *do* hide behind the Summa!
At moments I am sorely tempted to despair when I realize how much work one must do to master Saint Thomas’s teaching. Twice this past semester at Marquette University I was on a board of examiners for what we call our “doctoral qualifying exams”—usually called “comps” (for ‘comprehensive exams’)—when I realized I simply didn’t know some things that Thomas himself would have known cold, and would have assumed that most of his readers would have known, too. One of my fellow-examiners is an expert in the teaching of St. Augustine, while another is a cracker-jack reader of the Old Testament. In one instance we were talking about Augustine’s teaching on some point or other when I realized I didn’t know what book of Augustine I’d have to consult in order to track the teaching down (De doctrina christiana? De trinitate? I dunno!), and in the other I realized that I couldn’t rattle off the minor prophets if I had to.

After the exam we were sitting around just chatting, when I told my colleagues I had an announcement to make. “I am not a Thomist,” I said. “That’s too bad for us,” a colleague responded, “because that’s why we hired you!” An explanation was in order. I told them that I didn’t feel that I could really consider myself a full student of Thomas’s teaching until I had a reasonable mastery of some basic texts and skills. And so, until I acquire them, I can’t be a Thomist.

So here is a list of ten things I haven’t done yet, that I need to do. What do you think?

I am not a Thomist because:

  1. I have not yet read all of the writings of Augustine, cover-to-cover.
  2. I have not yet read all of the Bible (in the vulgata), cover-to-cover.
  3. I have not yet read the Metaphysics, cover-to-cover.
  4. I have not yet read Gratian’s Decretum, cover-to-cover (but I have read Raymond of Peñafort; does that count?).
  5. Yeesh! I haven’t read Lombard, cover-to-cover (big feelings of inadequacy!).
  6. I don’t know the medieval or Dominican liturgy very well at all.
  7. I don’t really know the doctrine of St. Albert.
  8. I haven’t memorized Isidore’s Etymologies.
  9. I remember reading through Damascene’s De fide orthodoxa, but I’ve forgotten what it says!
  10. I haven’t read through the whole Corpus Dionysiacum, or Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, or…..ugh.

Are you a not-Thomist, too? If so, let me know why (by discussing it, or by leaving a comment).


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University, and founded on Squarespace in November of 2004. He studied with James Weisheipl, Leonard Boyle, Walter Principe, and Lawrence Dewan, at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto, Canada).