Giles of Rome (c.1243/7–1316) is now probably most famous for the defence of papal supremacy which was offered in his De ecclesiastica potestate (1302). However, to readers in the later Middle Ages, Giles was perhaps best known for his political treatise, De regimine principum (c.1280). The work survives in almost three hundred Latin manuscripts and was also translated into many vernaculars, including the Middle English version by John Trevisa. John Watts has described the political theory produced in late medieval France and England as being ‘mostly Egidian in its assumptions’ and Giles’s work was also a source for poets such as John Gower and Thomas Hoccleve. Yet, despite the fame of his political works, Giles was, as the editors to this volume note in their introduction, ‘first and foremost a theologian’. An Austin friar and a student of Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, Giles became prior general of his order in 1291, with his teachings—both those written and those ‘still to be written’—being adopted as the Austins’ official doctrine; he eventually rose to be archbishop of Bourges In addition to his political and theological works, Giles also wrote widely on philosophy and metaphysics with a number of his works in these fields being studied in the universities. It is surprising, given his medieval influence and modern fame, that this useful collection is the first general survey of Giles’s work. Its eight chapters offer a wide-ranging investigation of Giles’s thought, and the book also includes a chronology of his writings, a list of catalogues of their manuscripts and a bibliography of secondary literature. After an account of Giles’s life and legacy by Charles Briggs, the remaining chapters provide a thematic assessment of Giles’s œuvre. In his discussion of Giles’s theology, Richard Cross examines Giles’s teachings on free will, grace and predestination and his theological metaphysics, and, as in many of the chapters, shows how Giles’s engagement with the thought of Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas allowed him to arrive at his own original positions. Silvia Donati and Cecilia Trifogli then discuss Giles’s natural philosophy, focusing on the topics of matter, motion, place and time. Marin Pickavé looks at the way Giles characterised metaphysics, reviews his ideas on being and existence, individuation and the nature of accidents, and establishes how Giles’s metaphysics was related to his theological outlook. Giorgio Pini offers a detailed account of Giles’s theory of cognition: his view of cognition as a causal event was part of a wider metaphysical view of reality as a hierarchy made up of different degrees of actuality. Peter Eardley explores Giles’s ethics and moral psychology in terms of the themes of freedom of the will, the nature of evil and the purpose of human life. In his examination of Giles’s work on logic, rhetoric and language, Constantino Marmo stresses Giles’s role in introducing medieval readers to Aristotle’s Rhetoric and, like many of the contributors to this volume, traces how Giles’s thought evolved over time as he corrected his own previous opinions. Finally, Roberto Lambertini explores Giles’s political thought with an emphasis on his views of kingship and his defence of papal power. Since this volume is dedicated to Giles’s thought, it inevitably has an emphasis on his originality and intellectual brilliance. Nevertheless, its overall assessment of Giles’s achievement is a balanced one, with many of the contributors noting the weaknesses and problematic nature of Giles’s specific conclusions and modes of argument. The volume appears in the ‘Companions to the Christian Tradition’ series which is aimed at an audience working at an ‘advanced level’ and, certainly, many of its chapters tend to assume a high degree of prior knowledge of medieval philosophy and theology on the part of their readers. The approach of most of the contributors is to present ideas as developing in the abstract or as the result of intellectual disputation. In itself, this is a perfectly legitimate way of explicating what are often difficult philosophical issues, but historians reading the book might have hoped for more emphasis on the historical and institutional context of Giles’s writings; for instance, this reviewer would welcome discussion of the 1277 condemnation of fifty-one of his propositions as part of the bishop of Paris’s censuring of what he saw as the dangerous influence of Aristotelian and Averroistic doctrines at the university of Paris. It is a pity, too, that Lambertini’s extremely clear and accessible discussion of Giles’s political thought should also be the shortest of the book’s chapters, since it is this aspect of Giles’s work which is perhaps most relevant to readers of this journal. For Lambertini, Giles’s preferred form of government was ‘a hereditary monarchy in which the sovereign is not bound by law’ (p. 265). His conclusion would seem to buttress the views of those such as R.H. Jones who regarded the De regimine principum (a copy of which was owned by Richard II’s tutor, Sir Simon Burley) as being an influence on Richard’s experiment in absolutism. Yet a manuscript of Giles’s treatise was also owned by Richard’s opponent, Thomas, duke of Gloucester, while Trevisa’s Middle English translation of the text was produced under the patronage of Sir Thomas Berkeley, who played an active role in the deposition of Richard II in 1399. After all, while Giles’s work provided a defence of strong monarchical power, it also offered a warning against royal tyranny. Like much medieval political theory, Giles’s views were rather elastic in nature and so could be adapted for a range of different, and even conflicting, purposes. The chapters in this volume are all by leading scholars in the field and together provide a comprehensive survey of the work of one of the most influential thinkers of the later Middle Ages. The book will be essential reading for scholars of medieval theology and philosophy, but it also deserves to find a wide audience among those interested in late medieval politics and imaginative literature. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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