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Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’: Arabic/Islamic Philosophy’s Roles in the Development of the Philosophy and Theology of Thomas Aquinas

October 7, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Image of a fresco from a Catholic chapel depicting religious figures in multi-colored robes. The composition is schematic and joins a wealth of personifications and historical exempla in a serial and symmetric arrangement. In the middle of the upper section, St Thomas Aquinas, seated on a throne wearing a black robe and surrounded by an aureole, presents an open book to the viewer. Floating above the saint's throne are the four winged cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. Seated to the left of Thomas, from the viewer's standpoint, are Job, David, Paul, Mark, and John the Evangelist; to the right, Solomon, Isaiah, Moses, Luke, and Matthew. Crouching at the feet of the saint, their bearing and gestures expressing resignation, are the heretics, Sabellius, Averroës, and Arius. In the lower register a uniform row of fourteen thrones extends like a line of choir stalls across the wall. Seated on the thrones on the right side are female personifications of the liberal arts, their antique and biblical representatives at their feet.
Image: “Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas,” Andrea da Frienze, 1366-67, Fresco, Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence. This large fresco, just outside the modern train station, was preceded by a much smaller fresco on the topic of the “Triumph” at the Santa Catarina Church in Pisa around 1323. Aquinas is enthroned in the upper middle. Above him float the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues with Caritas in the highest position. On Aquinas’ right are Solomon, Isaiah, Moses, Luke, and Matthew, on his left Job, David, Paul, Mark, and John. Immediately below Aquinas in the middle is Averroes (Ibn Rushd), the Cordoban philosopher, with heretics Sabellius on one side and Arius on the other.

Monday Seminar:

Richard C. Taylor

Solmsen Fellow (2019-2020)

Philosophy, Marquette University; annual visiting professor, Institute of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium


Following the canonization of Aquinas in 1323 Lipo Memmi painted “The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas” at the Santa Catarina Church in Pisa around 1323 and later ca. 1366-67 Andrea Da Firenze painted a much more elaborate and triumphal version the West Wall of the Spanish Chapel at Santa Maria Novella, in Florence. Both depict Thomas sitting quiet and content, manuscript in his hands, surrounded by saints and scholars above an image of poor disconsolate Averroes / Ibn Rushd. Yet it was Averroes who not only taught the Latins how to read Aristotle but also, surprisingly enough, provided Thomas with the model the Italian theologian adopted to provide a rational account of one of the most important doctrines of Christianity, the promise of ultimate human happiness in seeing God face-to-face. And it was another figure from the Arabic tradition, the Persian Avicenna / Ibn Sina who provided Thomas with metaphysical teachings central to the latter’s famous distinction of essence and existence, key to the theologian’s conception of God and creation. What is more, it was from insights of the Arabic writing philosophers Avicenna and Averroes that Thomas initially developed his conceptions of natural human knowing and even of the nature of the human soul. The focus of my book project is on what was taught in the Arabic traditions regarding (i) philosophy and religion, (ii) the metaphysics of being, including God and creation, (iii) the nature of human knowing, (iv) the nature of the human soul, and (v) the nature of ultimate human happiness and just how, through his study of Latin translations, Aquinas drew on, critiqued, and crafted what he learned into his own distinctive teachings on those five key topics. For the IRH seminar I will contextualize my project and highlight key aspects of the importance of the Arabic tradition to the theology and philosophy of Aquinas.

Richard C. Taylor‘s Biography: Following studies in ancient Greek thought and medieval philosophy in Arabic and Latin, the focus of my research work over the last 40 years has been largely on philosophical writings in these three traditions. In 2009 I published a translation and study of the Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle by Averroes. Recently I have taught courses on Aquinas and the Arabic philosophical tradition at Marquette University, Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City, the Divinity School of Marmara University in Istanbul, and the University of Pisa. I have also co-taught on Aquinas and the Arabic tradition at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium with Prof. Andrea Robiglio using live video technology via the internet. In 2005 I co-founded the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Project and since 2008 I have been director of the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group (AAIWG) which has over 60 active international members. I have served as president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association and president of the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy. Currently I am vice-president of the International Society for the History of Arabic/Islamic Science and Philosophy. Last academic year was my 37th year at Marquette University.


October 7, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Categories:


University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States