Memoria, Intellectus, V oluntas: the Augustinian Centre of Robert Crouse’s Scholarly Work 1



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Memoria, Intellectus, Voluntas: the Augustinian Centre of Robert Crouse’s Scholarly Work1

Wayne J. Hankey

Dalhousie University and King’s College, Halifax

Dionysius 30 (2012): 41–76.
I. “I loved Wisdom and sought her out from my youth. I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty”, Liber Sapientiae2

Robert Crouse dedicated a long and richly productive scholarly life to western intellectual and artistic culture, covering the whole range from the beginnings of Greek and Jewish literature to contemporary philosophy, poetry and theology. By his preaching, teaching, and publishing, by his own work, and by what he nurtured in others, he laboured to rethink the western spiritual heritage and, thus, to rebuild it. For the rebuilding, his prescription was the transformation of minds, and his aim was enabling vision: purified, simple intuition or understanding, the loving intellectus which is the goal of faith. For him the requisite was the hard intellectual work of restoring the union of philosophy with theology. Though eminently effective practically in everything from music to gardening, university administration and pastoral care, the primary service of Robert’s life to the university and the church was intellectual labour, understood Platonically in terms of recollection, not machinations wrought by synods and committees.

Robert wrote a memorial for his teacher, friend, fellow Nova Scotian, mediaevalist, and philosophical theologian, ultimately his ecclesiastical and theological opponent, Professor Eugene Rathbone Fairweather of Trinity College, Toronto. There was even more in common between them, including celibacy, the Anglican priesthood, Classical studies, theological doctorates from American universities, careers of university teaching, Anglo-Catholicism, and socialism; indeed, Eugene Fairweather also died at 80, ten years before Robert. However, because so much was common between them, Robert’s obituary serves not only to mark the greatest difference between these two friends, but also what was fundamental to Robert Crouse.

He dated Eugene Fairweather’s last “scholarly essay” in 1968; thirty-four years before his death and twenty years before his retirement from his professorial chair. Crucially, for Dr Crouse, that essay, like Fairweather’s first published in 1952, was devoted to the exposition of Aquinas’ existential act of being, a notion fathered on him by Étienne Gilson working across Queen’s Park Circle from Trinity at St Michael’s College.3 For Dr Crouse, all of Fairweather’s work on the history of theology was coloured by “that ‘existential’ Thomist perspective.” Gilson’s mediaeval scholarship generally, which must be distinguished from its existentialist heart, is the framework for Fairweather’s A Scholastic Miscellany of 1956 to which Robert contributed.4 In a review published in 1958, Robert raised hard questions about Gilson’s existential Thomism.5 Despite much devastating historical and philosophical criticism,6 Robert judged that the notion continued to dominate Dr Fairweather’s intellectual life, recording that his former teacher had intended to write an exposition of it in his retirement, but “the continual demands of synods, controversies, and committees prevented that undertaking.”

Set against what they shared, Robert’s own scholarly work presents a striking contrast to that of the Trinity Professor both in duration and character. Having started to publish in 1955, his intellectual work and publication spanned more than 50 years. His last scholarly writing, devoted to virtue in Dante’s Comedy, appeared in 2009.7 This was the final of his twenty-seven papers for the annual Atlantic Theological Conference which he helped found. Through the Conference, and his other work, he steadfastly laboured to maintain and rebuild what he perceived his former teacher to be demolishing. Always for Robert the first, unavoidable, and continuing requisite was hard intellectual work restoring the union of philosophy with theology. I have treated his contribution to the Conference in a lecture for the thirty-first meeting held in June of this year.8 What he contributed was genuinely intellectual and scholarly and, allowing for the differences required by differences of audience, it forms a piece with his academic writing which I shall treat in this essay.

Most of the scholarly publications I shall treat were also delivered to conferences, for example, the International Patristics Conference or the International Medieval Conference. Importantly, these were dominantly studies of texts; here the foundations of Robert’s teaching were laid. In them there was certainly nothing of the “method of correlation” which Robert diagnosed in Professor Fairweather, who had derived the approach from his doctoral supervisor, Paul Tillich. This method limited theology’s answers to the questions posed by contemporary culture, primarily manifest in philosophy. Robert’s recollection aimed rather to escape the strictures on mind which the contemporary world imposed. Part of the discipline such freedom demanded was the refusal of tempting concoctions like existential Thomism. For Robert such notions offered an easy way of making a past philosophical position the solution to present metaphysical problems by understanding the past in terms of the present and forgetting the actual structures and sources of both. In consequence, there is no single philosophical colouring to his intellectual work, but there are a method, an overall programme, and a centre.

In my paper on his writing for the Atlantic Theological Conference, I identified the method as recollection in the Platonic tradition, which, by divine leading, moves from sense to intellect, truth, being, and God, as the first principle of thought and being. I located its first instance in The Way of Being of Parmenides. The programme is to reconstruct the unity of Hellenism and Christianity. The normative centre is Augustine. Astonishingly for lesser scholars like myself, the beauty and clarity of his sparse word perfect style, the authoritative certainty of his judgments, often the more acerbic because understated, and the programme are evident from the beginning.
II. Greek Blended with Hebrew

While still a student, Robert started publishing with a review of the translation of a philosophical work, Jacques Maritain’s Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism for The Canadian Forum, a journal of the left.9 The review began by quoting Maritain’s reasons for permitting the publication of a work by then more than 40 years old. As well as a description of philosophical movements at the beginning of the 20th century, Maritain regarded it as “probably a fair-to-middling account of basic Thomistic philosophy.” Robert commented sharply and immediately that “those who are looking for an account of basic Thomistic philosophy would be well-advised to look elsewhere”, but allowed that the book was “interesting and useful” for the history of ideas. He went on to show both a very remarkable knowledge of the history of philosophy in the 19th and 20th centuries and a suspicion of judging philosophical questions on religious grounds. The wrong relation of these necessarily connected sides of knowledge, to whose proper inner penetration he would devote his life, was also part of the problem with Gilson.10

In this review, we see one of the essentials of Robert Crouse’s programme of work; representing the unity of Hellenism and Christianity requires a critical knowledge of the whole history of philosophy. So, for example, in this review he considers the adequacy of the positions both of Bergson and of Maritain in relation to phenomenology, just as he will begin a discussion of Descartes published in 2007 by quoting Husserl.11 Again, at the 1967 Toronto Congress on the “Theology of Renewal”, he inquired as to whether, in the present philosophical circumstances, Aquinas might have preferred Wittgenstein to Aristotle and what such a possible philosophical shift would mean for the authority of the Patristic formulae of Christianity.12

Equally, for Robert, exactly understanding and entering each distinct position and text in the history also required all the linguistic, historical and literary disciplines of Classical philology, including the principal languages of modern scholarship. His teachers, James Doull, Harry Wolfson, George H. Williams, and Eugene Fairweather, shared with him both the view that these were the necessities of theology and the actual acquisition of these requisites. Contemporary theologians who could equal them are few and far between.

Robert’s excerpt from the Disputed Questions on Faith by a 13th-century Master General of the Franciscans, Matthew of Aquasparta, for Fairweather’s Scholastic Miscellany, published the year after the Maritain review, brings us directly to the abiding question of Robert’s work, as well as to the Augustinian tradition on which he focused. He translated and annotated the question as to whether objects of faith can also be proved by reason. In a note he explains the complementarity of nature and grace in a way which he ascribes to both Matthew and Aquinas, despite important differences of mode. The principles of this complementarity will be Robert’s own throughout his teaching and will be discovered and made normative by him in every sphere from philosophy and theology to politics and art:
Man’s intellectual operations, as image (imago) [of God], are dependent upon divine illumination, but such operations must not be described as supernatural or miraculous….They are natural in the sense that the very nature (ratio) of the image requires that it receive divine illumination to perform its proper function: this is in accord with the nature of the creature. (Cf. the position of Aquinas: “Because man’s nature is dependent upon a higher nature, natural knowledge is not sufficient for its perfection, and some supernatural knowledge is necessary”.)13
I cannot move forward from the first decade of Robert’s work without a word about the article which came out of his Master of Theology thesis written under Fairweather at Trinity: “The Augustinian Background of St. Anselm’s Concept of Justitia.” In it, he defines St. Anselm’s concept of Justitia as “universal rectitude of order”14 and traces it back to not only to Augustine but also to the pagan Greeks and to the Hebrews, as well as to their ancient concordance. I cannot give his whole argument here, but a suggestion of its character will appear from its first words: “The Greek idea of justice (dikē) was initially a religious idea.”15

After outlining the form it takes in the Hellenic poets and philosophers, Robert goes on to assert that “For the Hebrews, the concept of the justice of God was central”, but this does not set the Scriptures in opposition to the Greek and Roman poets and philosophers, just the contrary. Crucially for him, when the “seventy-two elders” (to whom tradition attributes the Septuagint) translated the Hebrew term for justice, “they chose the Greek term dikē and its derivatives.”16 In consequence:


For all those who read these writings in Greek, the ideas associated with the Greek term would inevitably be blended with the Hebrew concept. Philo Judaeus, writing some centuries later from the same Alexandrian background, shows how effectively these ideas could be blended by a philosophically minded Jew. St. Paul, who was familiar with both the Hebrew and the Greek of the Scriptures, chose the same Greek word (dikaisunē) to express the justice of God, a central idea in his theology, both as an attribute of God, and as a quality in man caused by God.17
For Robert, the Church Fathers, building on the methods and doctrines of Philo, simply continued the blending of Hellenic and Hebrew which they found in Scripture and “accepted the full implications of both Biblical and philosophical usage.”18 One of these was that justice, as both justification and sanctification—to use the technical language of Christian theology—, was, for them and for Robert, simultaneously an attribute of God imputed to the just and also really possessed by them. He never varied either from this teaching or from its being an implication of the unity of revealed theology with philosophy.19

Robert’s publishing in the 1960s began with an essay on the hellenization of Christianity, that is on the criticism of Christianity as fatally infected by pagan Hellenism—the criticism is implied in the characterisation. In it he identified the origins and modern history of how the elements, which he, part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, the Christian Fathers, and the mediaeval doctors, had blended together, came to be set against each other. This opposition ultimately put Christianity at war with its own doctrinal, sacramental and institutional traditions and structures. He determined that “the possibility of systematic and critical discussion of this problem, and the use of the concept of hellenization as a fundamental theme in the explication of the history of dogma, depended on the circumstances of the Reformation.”20 Prior to it such an


extensive criticism of theological tradition as the concept of hellenization implied seemed impossible….As in the case of biblical criticism, so too in the case of the history of dogma, the sacred character of Christian doctrine, hallowed by centuries of tradition, made such an enterprise seem impious.21
After tracing the impious enterprise from the 16th century through to Harnack and the 1950s, Robert concluded with words defending the unification he had discerned as requisite to Anselm’s Augustinian concept of Justitia. The statement also gives the most general principles of his scholarly programme and the structure he will discern in the divine forms, reasons, or words he would continue to study, as well as the texts he would explicate:
While schematizations of contrasts between Hebrew and Greek modes of thought and expression are useful, it is dangerous…to regard them as in any sense absolute….To say that Greek thought about God is static, for instance, is untrue; for the Greeks, God is full of active power. And it is similarly wrong to suppose that the Hebrews have no concept of the being of God. The real distinctions here, as elsewhere, are rather a matter of emphasis on different aspects of the same concept. Thus…Hebrew and Greek ways of thinking should be regarded as complementary rather than opposed. It is perhaps along such lines as these that there is now promise of some solution…. Perhaps it is no longer necessary to think of hellenization in terms of deterioration….[T]he hellenization of Christianity is implicit in the historicity of Christianity itself—in the enfleshment of revelation…22
III. Metaphysics and Sacra Doctrina: The Double Form of Theology

After the essay on Hellenization, Robert began working out the unity of the complementary Hebrew and Greek ways in terms of the relation of the arts, which, as conceived by the ancients and mediaevals, included the various philosophical sciences, to theology, both as Sacred Scripture and as First Philosophy, in Honorius Augustodunensis. To him Robert devoted his Harvard doctoral dissertation, and, until his death, he worked on a monograph on the De Neocosmo of Honorius. In a series of publications, he worked out this unity in the master of Honorius, Eriugena, and in Thomas Aquinas, in his teacher Albert the Great, and in their common master, Aristotle. In his first published essay on Honorius, “the Arts as via ad patriam”, “the path to our homeland”, Robert found the interdependent complementarity of philosophy and revealed theology which he sought to defend against post Reformation attacks:


Thus, in the view of Honorius, that tenfold philosophy which is comprehended in the programme of the arts is not only preparatory to the wisdom of the Scriptures, but is also, as a consideration of the species of the visible creation, one of two complementary aspects of that fulness of wisdom which is divine contemplation. As for Eriugena, so for Honorius, the authority of the Sacred Books and the reason of philosophy stand in no ultimate opposition, having a common source in the Divine Logos, who enlightens every man; they have also a common end and common good in the intellectual vision of God.23
Importantly for aspects of his further work, Robert identified the source of this system with its very positive evaluation of the human philosophical quest, not in Augustine, but rather in the humanism of Eriugena and the Greek Fathers.24 Evan King’s contribution to this volume will raise some questions about Robert’s views on what he calls “the subjective turn” in Meister Eckhart. Eckhart’s Augustinianism passes through Eriugena and Honorius, who contribute to giving it a Procline ground.

In his communication on Honorius to the Congrès international de philosophie médiévale published in 1969, Robert traced the diverse relations of theology to philosophy back to Aristotle, maintaining that, for him as well as for his Jewish and Christian disciples, the particular philosophical sciences are both subordinate to theology and also enter into it. He devotes two subsequent articles to this. They reflect work he had been doing in the seminar on Aristotle’s Metaphysics he taught over several years with James Doull in which I was a student. Although they are small in length, they are essential to his theology as well as to his view of the history of philosophy. They are important for his subsequent work on Aristotle and Boethius, about which Eli Diamond and Michael Fournier write in this volume, and are at the heart of his judgments about the problems of Christian theology after the 13th century and to his devastating criticism of the Tractarians and Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th and 20th centuries.25 In the Tractarian endeavour to revive Patristic theology and spirituality without the Hellenic metaphysics on which it depended, Robert located the roots of the intellectual problems which manifested themselves at the origins of the movement, and, by the second half of the 20th, had turned Anglo-Catholicism into a destructive force for Christian orthodoxy. He acknowledged that Eugene Fairweather, in succession to Eric Mascall, and using the same Gilsonian Thomist metaphysics of existential esse, had at least recognised the problem and tried to deal with its profound anti-intellectualism, but not successfully.26

Robert showed how the particular philosophical sciences or arts are both propaedectic to Wisdom (or First Philosophy, or theology, or the science of being as being, to give Aristotle’s names for it) and are also part of the end they serve. He ultimately located this duality in an aporia in Book Lambda of Aristotle’s Metaphysics: the Divine self-thinking is present to the cosmos both as its leader and as the order of its parts.27 Crucially, as Robert showed in Aristotle’s followers like Aquinas and Albert, this mutual implication of opposed sides was carried forward not only to work out the relation of philosophy to its highest form, theology, but also to work out the relation between metaphysics and Sacred Scripture. In consequence, the question forming this aporia is crucial to considering the extent to which the natural (or physical) and supernatural (or metaphysical) difference is present in pagan philosophy outside its blending with Jewish and Christian revelation. Robert teaches that the nature – grace difference and interconnection falls within ancient pagan philosophy; for it the human rise to God depends on what is beyond human capacity.28 The questions are about the extent of the overlap with Jewish and Christian understanding of the same matters. Robert’s interpretations of the relation of Platonism and Scripture in Augustine, of Lady Philosophy in the Consolatio of Boethius, and of divine human friendship in Aristotle are parts of this discussion which did not cease within his own writings. Indeed, the Aristotelian aporia out of which it arises will not be dissolved by us. Let me summarize the results of his research on the formula “philosophia ancilla theologiae” in Aquinas, Albert and Aristotle.

Robert begins by noting something he learned from one of his two great teachers at Harvard, Harry Wolfson: the locus classicus of philosophy as handmaid of theology is in Philo, who used it to relate the arts and sciences to philosophy and philosophy to “the wisdom of biblical revelation.”29 Although this use was taken over by the Christian schools in Alexandria, becoming a Patristic commonplace, Thomas and Albert get it directly and explicitly from the source. Aristotle’s use of it thus remains important:


[H]e observes that the science of the end, or of the good must be principal, and that the other sciences, as “handmaids” (δούλας) may not contradict it but must serve and obey. This highest science, or wisdom, is theology—the divine science, θεία τω̃ν επιστημω̃ν, which appropriately belongs to God alone, or at least to God principally.30
Robert found “important to emphasize”, not only for the sake of getting the history right, but because it expressed his own conviction, that:
[F]or St. Thomas and St. Albert…the primary reference of the concept…[is]the relationship which obtains between the particular philosophical sciences and theology, whether theology takes the form of metaphysics, or the form which it has in sacred doctrine, deriving its principles from revelation. Theologia for these doctors, though double in form, is radically one; for it is in the first place that wisdom according to which God knows himself, and in that self-knowing knows all things. But, since, as Aristotle remarks, “the divine power cannot be jealous”, we are given to share in that divine science, not indeed as our possession, but sicut aliquid ab eo mutuatum.31
Robert signalled that the issue had become acute in the 13th century, primarily and immediately because the Christian doctors recognised “a genuine and coherent expression of divine science in the Metaphysics of Aristotle.”32

In the other article devoted to this formula, Robert reminds us of an aspect of the common Hellenic heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which is of crucial importance for us today.


In the meeting, conflict, and mutual enrichment of cultures which characterized much of the history of Medieval thought and institutions, perhaps no question was more important for philosophy than that of defining its own role, that of scientific reason, in relation to traditions of divinely revealed, prophetic, knowledge. Inevitable difficulty lay in the fact that philosophy, in its Aristotelian form, presented itself as “divine science”, and could hardly confine itself to the limited scope of refining exegetical techniques in the interpretation of sacred scriptures. At its highest, metaphysical, level, it constituted a theology, rationally demonstrated, which might be compared with the sacred doctrine authoritatively delivered in the scriptures of the several religions. The relationship between these theologies, variously worked out by philosophers in each of the religious traditions, often in significant cultural interdependence, was, and continues to be, of the utmost importance for the religious and intellectual life of those communities. 33
IV. Recurrens in te unum: Augustinian Platonism


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