Expositions of the Text: Aquinas’s Aristotelian Commentaries
Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 1 (1996)
A slow but steady swing of a pendulum has been discernible during the second half of the twentieth century in an old debate on the nature of the Aristotelian commentaries of St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1950, Jean Issac, O.P., wrote that in the Aristotelian commentaries Aquinas expresses his own philosophical views, just as the Summa theologiae puts forth his theology. In this appropήationist reading (as I shall call it), what Aquinas presents in the commentaries are his own views, albeit only philosophical ones which do not rely on Christian revelation. Etienne Gilson countered and claimed that Aquinas’s “commentaries on Aristotle are so many expositions of the doctrine of Aristotle, not of what might be called his own philosophy.” And more recently Mark Jordan argued that these works are of the genre of a literal commentary, and such a commentary “does not assert that the text under explication is true. It asserts only that the text merits careful reading.” In this histoήcistreading (as I shall call it), Aquinas intends only to offer an exegesis of Aristotle’s writings, not to present his own views on the matters under discussion.
In what follows I shall argue that Aquinas’s commentaries on Aristotle were guided by sophisticated hermeneutical principles missed by both the appropriationist and the historicist.