Un regard scientifique sur les monothéismes depuis les origines jusqu’à l’époque moderne


Home > La recherche

THEOLOGY AS SCIENCE (FROM THE MIDDLE-AGES TO THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD)

by claire - published on , updated on

Area of excellence

Philosophies and theologies

This project aims at considering religious rationalities beyond religion. It is indeed necessary to consider not only the historical, sociological or literary evidence, but also its broader meaning. The discipline devoted to such questions has come to be known as theology.

Through Antiquity and the Middle-Ages, theology has provided the foundational structure of Western rationality. The word remains ambiguous however. It can refer both to the self-understanding of a given religious tradition, provided though its core propositions, or to the attempt to understand the divide by way of a rational discourse that can extand beyong the religious culture or tradition within which it was first formulated.

 

STUDYING THEOLOGY AS SCIENCE

The study of theology as science responds to two objectives:

1. Study how metaphysical speculations on gods, the divine and God, were transformed into a scholarly discipline. Such speculations became closely connected, already in the Grek tradition as reflected in Neoplatonism, with the idea of divine revelation.
2. Show how the monotheistic traditions developed into theologies, using on the model provided by Greek thought.

 

| Research Questions

This project revolves around three central research questions:
1. The universal and the individual: Are philosophical theologies a part of pristine philosophy? Can we consider the Greek notion of logos as a form without content, that can be applied to religious traditions (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic), to various contents deprived of form?
2. Master science and the ancillary sciences: Must rational theology have the last word on questions of revelation, or is the opposite true? Do rational theologies have to rely on a form of revelation?
3. The interpreter and the interpreted: Who interprets who? Must religious narratives be considered in terms of reason? Or should reason adapt to the complex and sometimes contradictory narrative traditions of the ancient world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and seek to explain such contradiction?

 

| A Historical Perspective

In order to address such questions, it is important to adopt a historical perspective, attentive to the continuies that bond the ancient, medieval and early modern worlds. A seminar will precisely attempt to survey the question thorough these periods.

It is important to underline that the word θεολογία first appears in writings of Plato (Republic, II, 379 a 5), where it refers to ancient mytho-poetical narratives (of Homer or Hesiod, for instance). Thus, θεολογία is initially not a divine science. Indeed Aristotle clearly distinguished between “theology” (θεολογία) and a “theological science” (θεολογικὴ ἐπιστήμη). In the ancient world, “theology” was considered as belonging to philosophy.

 

THEOLOGY, PHILOSOPHY AND PHYSICS

| From early on, theology sought to define itself as “science”

From early on, theological thinking came to be distinguished from mytho-poetical narratives about the gods, and be defined as a form of “science” in contrast with such narratives. The Platonic as well as the Aristotelian models strongly connects the division of philosophy into so many constitutive parts to the broader division of science. In book E of the Metaphysics, Aristotle thus defines the “theological” science as a “theoretical” science, dealing with a motionless object subsisting within itself. The organic model provided by the Stoics, which divides philosophy into logic, ethics, and physics, considers theology to be a part of physics, given that for the Stoics the World is itself a god and there are no transcendent, supra-mundane, gods.
A third model, associated with the idea of spiritual progress and philosophical psychagogy, will blossom in the Neoplatonic schools of late Antiquity (4th-6th centuries). This model views theology a part of both the Aristotelian and Platonic curricula, considering it as the crowning achievement of philosophical teachings (book Λ [10] of the Metaphysics indeed corresponds to the culmination of Aristotle’s philosophical propaedeutic), and culminating with the study of Plato’s Timaeus (the physical dialogue) and Parmenides (the ultimate theological dialogue for Neo-Platonists, who provide the corresponding level of reality for each of its famous “hypotheses”).

 

| The Late Antique Constitution of Dogmatic and Philosophical theologies

The last centuries of the Roman Empire were marked by a double phenomenon:
 First, the constitution of a Christian dogmatic theology, using many concepts taken from Greek philosophy, especially from the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions;
 Second, the progressive transformation of “Pagan” philosophy, most conspicuously in the works of Plotinus (3rd century), into a synthetic system associating Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism, a true “science” with its own instruments of validation.

In the philosophical schools, daily readings of canonical texts led to the emergence of standardized exegetical commentaries, which lay the grounds of a scientific theology conceived as a part of philosophy, but also as its crowning achievement, its telos.
The hermeneutical tools, the search for apodictic arguments, the revelatory authority bestowed by the Chaldaic and Orphic traditions, all served to confirm the sacred character of the philosophical doctrines of Aristotle or Plato, and underlined the need to study these doctrines in systematic fashion. This endeavor was perfected by Proclus (who died in 485) and culminated with a proper “theology as a science”, well before a similar development appeared in the medieval Christian tradition.

 

| Proclus’s "Elements of Theology"

In the writings of Proclus, one indeed encounters an original genre, the “theological sum”, seeking to systematize the theological teachings disseminated in the Platonic dialogues, as well as a “treatise on divine names.” Thus the Platonic Theology, the systematic scope of which, inspired by the theorems and demonstrations of the Euclidian moden, was only matched by the Elements of theology, often considered a sort of distant precursor of Spinoza.
This transversal program, building on the partnership developed between LEM and the University Laval (“Reason and revelation: the critical legacy of Antiquity”, under the auspices of of the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) aims at studying the successive steps leading to the emergence of theology as science, from Antiquity to the Middle-Ages and eventually, the early modern period.

Postscript :

LEM’s Programs

Philosophies and religions


Abraham’s God /
philosophers’ God

The divine names

Philosophical Exegesis of the Koran

Controversies on
canonical Islamic writings

Translation Proclus’s "Elements of Theology"

Program ANR Liber de causis

Albert le Grand and the Liber de causis

Translating Duns Scot