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Philosophers and Scholars

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Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas.
15th c Italian Gothic Painting

Benozzo GOZZOLI (1420 - 1497) Primary
c. 1450-1497
15th c
Florence. Tuscany. Italy.
Paris. Louvre.
This painting represents the triumph of the great Medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas. On either side we can see the ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle, whose competing views of the world were synthesized by the Medieval scholastic philosophers. St. Thomas steps on a philosopher whose ideas have been vanquished by his argument. The various clerical philosophers and rulers who took part in the great debates are grouped below them. The great universities that had developed out of cathedral schools in the 12th century were devoted to perfecting students in the art of formulating ideas and establishing verbal proofs. One of the famous university teachers, the Parisian monk Abelard, who has become more renowned for his ill-fated affair with Heloise than for his daring contributions to knowledge, published a treatise entitled "Sic et Non" in which he brought together the many contradictions contained in the Bible and in the writings of the Church Fathers. If all these contradictory statements were based on revelations, which were to be accepted? The Scholastic philosophers of the 13th century, the most famous of whom was THOMAS AQUINAS, set themselves the awesome task of creating some order or system out of all this burgeoning intellectual activity. They eventually produced a magnificent synthesis which correlated the spheres of faith and reason. In his great "Summa Theologica" Aquinas set up a mechanism to resolve the contradictions that Abelard, Bacon and others had found between traditional Christian writings and the dictates of reason and experience. In each instance Aquinas would state the case, the objections to it, then the contrary statement and the counter argument. He would then answer the objections one by one and finally give the resolution. According to the art historian Erwin Panofsky, the abstract logic of such a procedure with its balanced division and subdivision represents the same kind of thinking that went into the construction of the great Gothic cathedrals which we will examined. Vincent of Beauvais wrote a treatise known as the "Speculum" or "Great Mirror," in which he summed up all of human knowledge. A monk described his great treatise as "about as much as a man could carry." Even with the wonders of computer compression and dense disk storage, we can only speculate if we will be able to reduce present day human knowledge to what "a man can carry." Perhaps a descendant of the Internet will make that knowledge available to us as the decoration of the great cathedrals made it accessible to the pilgrims who visited them.

Caption: GOZZOLI Benozzo | Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas. | 15 c | Italian | Gothic

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