Studies in Scholasticism. By Marcia L. Colish


Pp. xii, 318 , Ashgate Variorum , Aldershot and Burlington VT , 2006 , $140.00 .

Marcia Colish is well known for her work on medieval intellectual history. Among other projects, her publications include at one extreme a major survey of European thought from 400 to 1400, and at the other a magisterial detailed examination of the twelfth-century scholar Peter Lombard and his Sentences (the book which remained the basic set text for the theology degree at medieval universities through to the Reformation). This Variorum volume brings together a selection of her articles published in journals and volumes of essays, making readily available material otherwise scattered and not always easily accessible.

Most of the eighteen articles deal specifically with aspects of twelfth century scholasticism, unsurprisingly centring around Peter Lombard. Many of the essays were written as preliminary studies for her monograph on him, or spring from it; their original publication dates accordingly range from the mid-1980s through to 2005. Given that common origin and perspective, it is scarcely surprising that there is a certain amount of repetition in the arguments, and duplication in the material, even when used for differing contexts. This basic twelfth-century focus is maintained across the first fifteen items in the collections. In addition to throwing light on the Lombard (especially nos VI, VIII–XI), Colish turns her attentions to the philosophy of Gilbert de la Porree (also known as Gilbert of Poitiers) and his adherents (nos IV–V). Peter Abelard is virtually unavoidable in any analysis of early twelfth-century intellectual history, and is not avoided here (nos VI-VII). Another major early influence, the School of Laon, is also subjected to examination (no. III). Other articles (I, II, XII–XV) range in content from closely focussed assessments of particular issues to more extensive summaries and syntheses of the evolution of early scholastic thought. As examples of the broad approach, the first article in the volume looks at ‘Systematic theology and theological renewal in the twelfth century’, while item XII surveys ‘From the sentence collection to the Sentence commentary and the summa: Parisian scholastic theology, 1130–1215’. More narrowly, item XIV dissects ‘Early scholastic angelology’, while no. XV examines ‘Christological nihilianism in the second half of the twelfth century’.

The last three articles break away from the focus on twelfth-century writers and their scholasticism. No. XVI extends coverage into the thirteenth century with a consideration of ‘Avicenna's theory of efficient causation and its influence on St. Thomas’. The final two essays are on the twelfth century, but change the perspective to examine the broader issue of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. In ‘Haskins's Renaissance seventy years later: beyond anti-Burckhardtianism’ (no. XVII, written in 1997 but not published until 2003), Colish provides a major overview of the changes in academic approaches to that movement and its constituent elements in the decades since the appearance of Haskins's fundamental opus in 1927, providing extremely useful historiographical guidance. The last article in the collection, ‘Remapping scholasticism’, offers a similarly impressive and important historiographical survey of changes in scholarly attitudes in recent decades, is less ambitious in its range.

As is customary with volumes in the series of Variorum Collected Studies, the original pagination of the articles is maintained where the text is basically a photographic reproduction. However, this volume adopts a novel practice with four of the pieces. No. XVI is ‘re-set in order to make corrections’, while three others (nos II, VI, and XIII –‘Authority and interpretation in scholastic theology’, ‘Peter Lombard and Abelard: the Opinio Nominalium and divine transcendence’, and ‘The development of Lombardian theology, 1160–1215’) are re-set ‘for copyright reasons’. In each case the original pagination is embedded into the text, but the reset text also has its own separate pagination. It will be interesting to see how this departure impacts on future citation of these pieces.

The point of the Variorum volumes is rarely to publish new work, but to make existing publications more widely accessible. Most users of the volume will therefore probably know roughly what they are looking for; but given the range of material here they are still likely to find something extra and unexpected which will be well worth reading.