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Zanchi’s Aristotle (7): Divine Philosophy

At long last, we continue with Zanchi’s remarks on the history of philosophy in the prolegomena to his edition of Aristotle’s Physica.

In the previous installment, Zanchi claimed that it we had Solomon’s philosophy books, we wouldn’t need Aristotle. But–alas!–we don’t, and he wants to be clear about the real contributions the Greeks made to the study of nature, even if they cannot be taken as the originators of that study–the (human) originator, remember, was Adam.

But Zanchi reminds us again that, in his view, Adam was only the proximate source for philosophy: its real, ultimate source is God himself. Because God is the “author” of philosophy, Zanchi is comfortable calling it “divine.” Since that is the case, he has no doubt that it is appropriate for the Christian to study philosophy, and particularly natural philosophy (which is what he has in view here).

Although next the Greeks, by means of the contemplation of the things themselves and the careful investigation and study of nature, rescued this philosophy, which had already become diminished little by little, and almost buried, from the tomb and the darkness, and refined1 it once it had been rescued, and increased it once it had been refined, and committed it to writing for the use of all posterity once it had been increased, in such a way that all posterity owes an enormous debt to these same Greeks.2 If therefore we should look for channels, this philosophy came to us first through Adam, and next (as we have recounted it) through others. But if we should look for the source itself, from which it gushed out and came down3 to us through these channels, it is clear that it came4 first from God, and was conferred on men as a singular kindness: but what can be conferred on us by God, who is the best, except what is best and worthy of praise? Therefore, that the study of this philosophy–not insofar as it has been corrupted by men, but insofar as it has proceeded pure from God–is divine and the best, and for that reason is certainly most worthy of a Christian man, is clear from God, who is its best author.5

  1. perpolierunt: “to adorn, embellish, decorate, polish, improve, refine.”
  2. There is no main clause in this lengthy concession, and so it should be taken as still dependent on the last sentence translated in the previous installment.
  3. Or “flowed down.”
  4. Or “flowed.”
  5. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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