The Implications of Mauricius Hyspanus
The mysterious ‘third man’ of the statutes of 1215
In the search for possible sources for the Amalrician heresy, there just remains the third figure, mentioned by Robert de Courçon in the statutes which he gave to the nascent university of Paris in 1215, when lectures were forbidden on the doctrines of three dangerous teachers, David de Dinant, Amaury the heretic and Mauricius of Spain.
These prohibitions were clearly in reaction to the condemnation of the Amalricians. David and Amaury were indeed hugely important influences; but who was this Maurice from Spain? Three Spanish writers, Dominicus Gundissalinus, and the authors of The Treatise on the Soul (Tractatus de Anima) and The Flow of Being (De Fluxu Entis) have been suggested; but none of them have a connection to anyone called Maurice. All the modern scholars, who have tried to identify this figure, have failed to find any famous teacher or writer who was called Maurice of Spain, let alone a Maurice of Spain who could have had a pernicious influence on Paris students. Most of them have come to the conclusion that he must have been a Muslim, a Moor (Maurus) from Spain.
Was Mauricius originally Mahauricius?
Although the historian R. de Vaux claimed that the word Maurus was not used at this time to describe a Muslim, it does occur in the Latin translations of pseudo-Kindi and of Ibn Tumart, and it can be found in an open letter from Innocent III in 1213. The historian, M. Bouygès, has found a form of this word for a Moor, which is very close to that used in the statutes: Mahauricius. This is presumably the result of an attempt to make a word for a ‘Mahometan’ from Mahaumet (Muhammad). It would not be at all surprising for Mahauricius to have turned into Mauricius. This would be following a common development in language, by which a less common name is replaced by a more common one. (This happened in the 12th century to Robert of Ketton (in Rutland), who soon became known as Robert of Chester, – the unknown Ketenensis becoming the extremely well known Cestrensis.)
Any search for a ‘Mahauricius Hyspanus’ must look for a Spanish Muslim teacher or writer whose ideas had reached Paris by the first decade of the 13th century.
The historian, P. Mandonnet, thought that he must be the Spanish Islamic philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd); but this is unlikely, as his works were only introduced into France towards 1230. An earlier Islamic philosopher, whose work was indeed being translated into Latin in the later twelfth century, was Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā). The knowledge to be found in Avicenna’s works and related books was certainly finding its way to Paris. Avicenna, however, never lived anywhere near Spain. He spent most of his life in what would nowadays be Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.
There is, however, another 13th-century mention of a Mauricius in a scholastic context. It is extremely likely that Mauricius Hyspanus is the same person as the philosopher and commentator on Aristotle who was called ‘Maurit’ by Albertus Magnus later in the century, when he was discussing the question of the Agent Intelligence (“the Philosopher” in this quotation refers to Aristotle):
“This is the opinion of the Philosopher, according to three commentators, namely Averroes, Maurit and Rabbi Moses.”
(This seems to confirm that Mauricius was not Averroes.) Who was the third commentator on Aristotle who could rank with Averroes and Maimonides (Rabbi Moses)? Once again the obvious answer would be Avicenna, who was the acknowledged expert on the Agent Intelligence before either of the others.
Could Avicenna have been known as a Spaniard?
How could Avicenna, who had lived in Persia and lands even farther east, have been perceived as an inhabitant of Spain? Was it enough that his books had entered France from Spain, where they had been translated, together with other Avicennist material? It is certainly true that in a piece of work written in 1290, Avicenna actually figured as one of five philosophers from Córdoba in a fictitious debate (supposedly composed by Virgil!).
That Mauricius of Spain could refer to Avicenna may surprise even some historians; but in the later Middle Ages and even as late as the 16th century, many scholars – including Abraham Zacuto (d.1510) and Bernard de Luxembourg (d.1535) – did indeed think that Avicenna had lived and worked in Spain. Earlier, some scholars in the 14th century had felt obliged to question this assumption. On a 13th-century manuscript of Avicenna’s Animals (De Animalibus), against the text where Avicenna writes about the region of “Iurgen and Canhasim”, a 14th-century hand has added the gloss (an explanatory note) that Iurgen is in Persia. Since Avicenna says that he lives here,
“from this it is clear that he was neither Spanish nor Berber.”
The annotator gives other proofs that Avicenna lived in Persia, and concludes:
“It is obvious that he was not Spanish or African.”
Clearly, in the fourteenth century when this gloss was written, it must have been generally believed that Avicenna had lived at the western, rather than, – as was the case, – at the eastern, extremity of Islam. This misunderstanding – that Avicenna had lived in Spain – may have established itself at the time of Avicenna’s first introduction into France from Spain.
That Avicenna should be referred to as the ‘Moor from …’ rather than by his name, is understandable. None of the earliest manuscripts bear his name; and of the known manuscripts dating from the first half of the 13th century, half were copied with no attribution. Avicenna’s works were constantly being quoted in the Treatise on the Soul and in the writings of Gundissalinus and other Latin Avicennists, who were keen to make use of the new Latin translations that were being made of Avicenna’s and other Arabic works in Spain, – but Avicenna’s name was hardly ever mentioned.
Books by Avicenna and other Arabic philosophers had not been translated to bring the work of great Islamic thinkers to the attention of the Latin world; they were just seen as the best means of access to the lost wisdom of the ancient Greeks. When they first became available in the West, little attention was paid to the identity of the commentator, who had interpreted Aristotle, Plato et al. in Arabic. Not a great deal of attention was paid to the translator, either, who had then turned their work into Latin. It is doubtful whether many of the scholars, who eagerly sought the new knowledge being translated for them, could distinguish, either between books by Avicenna and those by other Arabic writers, or between books translated from Arabic and those written in Latin to popularise Avicennist ideas.
A condemnation of Avicenna
This soon changed. In the following decades, as the study of Aristotle became more and more important in Paris, the work of individual commentators, and the differences between them, came in for more careful study. One scholar who was particularly interested in Avicenna was Guillaume d’Auvergne (d.1249). In one of his books he criticised Avicenna (surely unfairly) for remaining a Muslim, and thereby condoning what Guillaume saw as the disgraceful concept of a voluptuous paradise. This led him to make a remark, which seems to corroborate the fact that Avicenna had indeed at one time been publicly censured in the West:
“For this reason the condemnation of Avicenna was all the more just.”
It is likely that Guillaume d’Auvergne was referring to Robert de Courçon’s condemnation of Mauricius Hyspanus at the University of Paris. What other condemnation could he have had in mind? Guillaume would have known about the 1215 statute: he was a Paris scholar who was keen to ‘correct’ and to christianise Avicenna; and when he had been made Bishop of Paris in 1228, he had taken on an important supervisory relationship with the university.
Surprising as this outcome may seem, all the evidence points to the fact that it was Avicenna who was condemned in 1215 as the ‘Muhammadan from Spain’ (Mauricius Hyspanus, later reduced to Maurit) who was believed to have been one of the three most dangerous influences upon the Amalricians of Paris. If Avicenna was condemned, however, it was probably not so much for his own books, as for the whole corpus of books on religion, philosophy and science, – often, but not necessarily, influenced by Avicenna, – which were bringing new insights to Western Europe from the better educated civilisation of Islam.
One Arabic book which was particularly influential, early on, was the Fountain of Life (Fons Vitae) by Avencebrol (Solomon ibn Gabirol). If this work was targeted in the censure of Mauricius Hyspanus, as it may well have been, the description was again only half right. Its author had indeed lived in Spain, but was a Jew, not a Muslim. Like the works of Avicenna and other Avicennists, the Fountain of Life may have been one of the commentaries and summaries of Aristotelian ideas condemned by the Council of Paris. The combination of mystical religion and Neoplatonic philosophy which was bound together in Avicennism, and which can be tracked from the Middle East to late 12th-century Latin Europe, could have made a huge contribution to the development of the Amalrician heresy.
Early Latin Avicennism
At the end of the 12th century, the intellectuals of the Latin West, who were keen to improve their knowledge of the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle, had turned to translations of Ibn Gabirol, Avicenna and other Islamic Avicennists. What they received was a multiple dose of a philosophy which tried to harmonise the two, which is generally called Neoplatonism or, in this specific case, Avicennism. This mixture of emanationist metaphysics and speculative mysticism was welcomed by certain Cistercian intellectuals, such as Johannes Toletanus, as well as by associates of the Platonists and Hermeticists, such as Gundissalinus. Some Amalricians could well have been close to both groups. This could account for the repeated condemnations, with the Amalricians, of summaries or commentaries on Aristotle, as these probably referred to Avicennist works.
Latin Avicennism is likely to have been a very important source of ideas and encouragement for the Amalricians. Avicennist pantheism – that creation is the ceaseless outpouring of forms upon matter, that everything participates in the oneness of being (which is God), that all things in this world of multiplicity come from an ultimate unity (which is the source of their being), and long to return to that source, etc. – would have been immediately understood. The mystical teachings which often accompanied the Avicennist tradition – that the soul needed to purify itself so that it could reach up towards God, which would bring an irradiating illumination of the intelligence, a renewed and uplifted spiritual life and the assurance of eternal peace in union with the source of all being – would have been even more important.
The banning of ‘summaries and commentaries’ on Aristotle
One of the Avicennist works which the Amalricians could have appreciated was The Treatise on the Soul, attributed to the Cistercian monk who became the Archbishop of Toledo. This was sometimes taken by contemporaries to be a book by Avicenna, because it was confused with the Ibn Daūd / Gundissalinus translation of Avicenna’s own treatise On the Soul. Another early Latin Avicennist book, which combined the Neoplatonist teachings of Avicenna and Ibn Gabirol with those of Eriugena, was also taken to be a work by Avicenna. This is The Flow of Being (De Fluxu Entis), which can be found in a 13th-century manuscript as Avicenna’s Book on Primary and Secondary Substances. Both of these Latin Avicennist books were, therefore, sometimes thought to be Avicenna’s own work and so could have contributed to the condemnations of Avicenna in 1215.
Could they have given any encouragement to the Amalricians? In the case of The Flow of Being, the Amalricians might have appreciated its updating of Eriugena, if they were, as some speculate, readers of the latter’s work, and they would probably have admired its desire to understand the common basis of all religion. As for The Treatise on the Soul, the illuminist mystical teaching of its final chapter could have been close to their own experience, and might have been greatly appreciated.
It does seem likely that, in censuring summaries and commentaries on Aristotle in 1209/10 and again in 1215, the two decrees of Paris may have been aimed, not just at David de Dinant’s use of Aristotle, but also at Avicennist works, seen as commentaries on Aristotle, which could have influenced Amaury de Beynes and the Amalricians. These ‘summaries and commentaries’ probably referred both to the recent translations of Avicenna, Ibn Gabirol et al. and to Latin Avicennist writings, which were all seen as potential sources of error.
This supposition is probably helped by the testimony of the chronicler, Giraldus Cambrensis, in a text which is unfortunately seriously defective in the middle. He mentioned that
“certain Aristotelian books, which have recently been found and brought over from [or translated in] the Toledo area of Spain, books of logic dealing in a way with doctrine, although at first appearance they seemed to be books of philosophy, examining or discussing the natural world …[the next part of the text is hopelessly defective] … of more sound doctrine … novelties … heresies … because they stuck to them with the greatest passion, were forbidden, recently in France, to be studied any more in the schools.”
Whether the Mauricius Hyspanus of the 1215 decree refers specifically to Avicenna’s work, or whether it refers, in more general terms, to the new religious and philosophical ideas which had originated in Islam, contemporaries clearly thought that they had played an important part in influencing the Amalricians.
Contact between Amalricians and Neopythagorean mystics
The 1215 statutes of the University of Paris condemned Maurit / Avicenna for being one of the three most dangerous influences on the recent Amalrician heresy. Given the known links between the 12th-century Platonists / Hermeticists and the Latin Avicennists, and the connection between some of the latter and Cistercian intellectuals, that may not be so surprising.
Latin Avicennism is a particularly important influence because, through it, the Amalricians could have been in contact, not just with new ideas, but with a new, living mystical tradition that was just beginning to come into Latin Christian Europe. There is no evidence that the Amalricians had any connection with the Avicennist group that used the Journey of the Soul, but they could have been in contact with others, who appreciated the practical mystical teachings, which tended to be found in the vicinity (as it were) of Avicennist philosophy.
There is some evidence that the Amalricians were in contact with one group, which was interested in the mystical teachings that were coming into Latin Europe from Islam. When the Amalricians were sentenced in Paris, they were all degraded from their orders, – which shows that they were all clerics. One of their (perhaps self-appointed) spokesmen, however, was called Guillelmus de Arria aurifaber (William the goldsmith from Aire) or Wilhelmus Aurifex propheta eorum (William the gold-maker, their prophet). Wilhelmus cannot have been a goldsmith by trade, because he was a cleric, a student of theology and either a deacon or a priest. What, then, was the significance of his name, aurifex, the gold-maker? It is almost certain, as the historian Norman Cohn suggested, that the name was derived from the symbolism of alchemy. In alchemy, the Amalricians could have found teachers of mystical techniques.
This may help to explain a curious reference in the preface to the polemical tract Against the Amalricians. Garnier de Rochefort, if he is the author, piles up Biblical quotations and allusions, to show that the Amalricians epitomise all the wrongdoers of Scripture. They are blasphemers, Pharisees, wolves in sheep’s clothing etc. but, curiously, the opening sentence of the tract compares them to the traitor, Alcimus, a Jewish High Priest who favoured the Seleucid rulers against devout Jewish rebels, in the second century B.C. (from 1 Maccabees, chap.7). This was a strikingly inept comparison, since the Amalricians were being persecuted, as rebels, by the rulers and ‘high priests’ of their time! If there was an Alcimus in the Amalrician story, betraying people to their political masters, it would have to have been Raoul de Namur, or the hostile canons of Saint-Victor. What drew Garnier who, as a well-read Cistercian, had a thorough knowledge of his Bible, to this inappropriate story? Was it the name of the villain? This was written in the Latin Vulgate Bible as ‘Alchimus’, who came, speaking honeyed words to deceive a strict and devout group of Jews, called Hasidaeans, into supporting him, so that he could betray them. Maybe this villain had the perfect name to introduce the denunciation of a group, which dabbled in alchemy. The opening sentence of the tract Against the Amalricians is this Biblical quotation from 1 Maccabees:
“Alchimus came to the Hasidaeans of Judaea.”
When Avicennism crossed the expanding mental horizon of Latin clerical intellectuals towards the end of the 12th century, a religious tradition of personal mystical experience came with it, in the spiritual practice of alchemists, and in the remarkable case of the group who used The Journey of the Soul. Although there is no evidence of any connection between the Amalricians and the Journey of the Soul, there are indications that some of the heretics were involved with the alchemical version of the same illuminist and pantheist tradition.
It would be entirely appropriate for some of the Amalricians, the illuminist prophets of a new spiritual age, to have been adepts of the Hermetic art. The transformation of nature, particularly of human nature, was what they believed religion was all about. They lived (and died) in the expectation that the base materials of the human condition could be transmuted into the pure gold of the new life in the spirit.