Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism

Zanchi’s Aristotle (2)

In our next installment of his prolegomena to Aristotle’s Physica, Zanchi begins to respond to the charges brought against Christians pursuing philosophy at all, a pursuit in which he here gives pride of place to natural philosophy, as Melanchthon does too. For Zanchi, it is “nearly divine.” Why? Because it comes from God; that is to say, philosophy is a creature of God and is therefore good, and so it should be honored as all his other good gifts should be honored.

But what is “philosophy”? Here too Zanchi is theocentric: it is “the wisdom and knowledge that concerns the things created by God and their causes.” It is a knowledge of creation and of causes: it seeks to understand why things are the way they are. Zanchi’s Christian philosophy assumes that there is a rational account to be given for the “the way things are,” because the “things” under investigation are divinely established.

Finally, note the catholicity of the group of those whom he considers “philosophers”: not just the Greeks and Romans, but also the Babylonians and Hebrews, stretching all the way back to Adam! Zanchi makes the startling assertion that philosophy is concreated with the first man. Having been given it by God, Adam then passed it down to his posterity and thus it spread over the earth. The idea of a “Greek mind” vs. a “Hebrew mind” would have been for him risible.

And first of all, then, I respond as follows to those who censure philosophy as a whole: this study of both philosophy as a whole, and particularly of physical science and natural philosophy, is most honorable and nearly divine, and for that reason is by far most worthy of a free and Christian man–so far is it from being unworthy and fit for censure, as those men imagine. But in order to demonstrate that this is so, where could I better begin, than from God, the author and giver of this philosophy as well as of all other good things? Indeed, it is necessary that that wisdom, which has been conferred by God on men as a singular kindness, is a thing divine and best, and for that reason worthy of a free and Christian man. For what can be conferred on men by God the Best that is not [itself] the best and excellent? But surely it is obvious to every pious man that philosophy–namely, the wisdom and knowledge that concerns the things created by God and their causes–has flowed down to us as if through certain channels from God, as from the first fount of all good things, first through Adam and his sons, next through the Chaldeans and Hebrews, finally through the Greek Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers, Roman as well as Greek.1

  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.