08 December 2006

suarez and keckermann

Allow me to begin by stressing that I am not an expert on Francisco Suarez (though I'm learning) and have even less knowledge of his Reformed contemporary, Bartolomaeus Keckermann (1571-1609). In light of that, what follows should be seen more as an arrow pointing towards an interesting avenue for research than any sort of developed thesis.

There is a story to be told about the place of Suarez (1548-1617) within early modern shifts in theology and philosophy (particularly metaphysics) and, as I've already suggested, that story intersects in intriguing ways with the story of Protestant scholasticism. The thought of the German Reformed theologian, Bartolomaeus Keckermann remains, I think, an important part of how those stories intersect.

Though now often forgotten and much neglected, Keckermann decisively shaped early Reformed scholasticism, with an influence that extended to even colonial New England. Dying relatively young, the bulk of Keckermann’s writings appeared in the last decade of his life, from around 1600 until his death in 1609. And the scope of Keckermann’s vision was broad, proposing a comprehensive and systematic curriculum for Christian learning. In this connection we can note his various “Systema” on assorted topics. Keckermann’s Systema logicae went through fifteen printings of seven different editions. His Systema SS. Theologiae went through eight printings of three editions. His Scientiae metaphysicae compendium systema went through four printings. Suffice it to say, Keckermann's work was relatively well known, at least among Reformed academics, in the early 17th century.

In his project Keckermann followed out and expanded upon Vermigli’s positive approach to natural theology, maintaining the unity of truth whether derived from reason or revelation. This does not entail, for Keckermann, that one ought to pursue a natural theology that is logically prior to and unconstrained by revelation, or that natural theology can grant the knowledge necessary for salvation. It does, however, make room for drawing upon non-Christian philosophical figures such as Aristotle where their views did not run contrary to Scripture.

Keckermann’s writings, in fact, maintain a significant focus on Aristotle and, more generally, issues of philosophy and metaphysics. This focus leads him to criticize so prominent a figure as the French Reformed logician Petrus Ramus (1515-1572) since, as Keckermann saw it, Ramus did not deal with metaphysics and, moreover, his focus on definitions and division of topics leaves out discussion of the essences of things themselves.

His immediate historical context instead leads Keckermann to view Aristotle as chief among the ancient philosophers since, like Keckermann’s systematizing contemporaries, Aristotle is comprehensive and deals with the relevant range of academic disciplines. In many respects Aristotle was especially suited to the temperament of the day and, in particular, Keckermann’s own penchant for “systematic” thought. Keckermann, however, emphasizes that Aristotle needs to be read within the history of interpretation and, especially, within the context of modern authors who have a better method and who edit and explore topics in a matter more suited to the contemporary situation. Among those modern authors, Keckermann would have included Suarez.

In particular, Keckermann seems to admire Suarez’s major contribution to the study of Aristotelian metaphysics, namely, the logical re-organization of Aristotle’s treatment of topics in the Metaphysical Disputations, a methodical arrangement that very much resonated with Keckermann’s own projects and interests. While the degree of direct influence is difficult to determine, Suarez’s metaphysics had been published in Germany prior to Keckermann’s treatment of the subject and Keckermann’s organization is strongly reminiscent of Suarez’s at a number of points. Moreover, departures from Suarez are most apparent where Keckermann notably diverges from Suarez on matters of substance.

Keckermann, therefore, does not follow Suarez slavishly, as is clear from his treatment of God in relation to the notion of Being. One place in which Suarez had departed from Aquinas in a somewhat more Scotist direction was on the question of Being, positing and placing God within a univocal notion of Being, over against Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy. (While Suarez's subtle position is beyond my present scope, I doubt it's entirely correct to label Suarez either a Scotist or a Thomist on the question of Being.)

On this matter, however, Keckermann re-asserts a more Thomistic analogical understanding, seeming directed against Scotus as mediated by Suarez. Among later Reformed scholastics, Keckermann is followed here by J.H. Alsted and Johannes Maccovius, while Gilbertus Jacchaeus (whom we will mention in more detail in another post) favors Suarez’s position. Still others take up mediating views, such as Franco Burgersdijk, who saw Being as univocal, but distinguished within a univocal notion of Being between “being of itself” and “being by participation,” thereby drawing upon more Thomistic concepts.

There are two primary points to take away from this brief note.

First, if we are correct in supposing that Saurez influenced Keckermann (and the evidence is indirect, though strongly probabitve), the primary influence seems to be more one of shaping the overall form of Keckermann's thought (particularly how he arranges topics and appropriates Aristotle), rather than the substance, recognizing of course that even the shape of a discussion affects how answers are formulated.

Second, on more substantial questions (particularly questions of the univocity and analogy of being), Suarez's treatment molded subsequent discussion and, within that discussion, there was diversity of viewpoints on the issues from the very inception of Reformed scholasticism.