14.1 Introduction

Medieval philosophers, like many others before and after them, invested an immense amount of intellectual energy in investigating the question of what the human being is. The feature they singled out as the one unique for human beings, differentiating them from the rest of animate nature, was the intellect, or the capacity of universal conceptual thought. On the other hand, there was a pressing need to distinguish humans from superior, incorporeal beings, such as angels and God himself. The need was assuaged by emphasizing the human intellect’s dependence on the material body. The resulting double-nature picture invited medieval thinkers to develop various more or less sophisticated strategies to answer the pivotal anthropological question.

Far from being unified, medieval accounts of the human being and the nature of the intellect evince two tendencies, not easily compatible. One strives for a unified explanation of nature, applicable to everything. Aristotelian hylomorphism epitomizes the tendency, treating the human as a kind of material being, in which the material body is in-formed by the soul, which serves as a principle of both bodily and intellectual operations. However, as the soul is merely a part of the composite, the issue of its separability and thus of personal immortality becomes problematic. On the other hand, the Platonic (or generally theological) tendency emphasizes a divine element of human nature transcending strictly material nature, potentially self-subsisting and separable and thus enabling at least a part of the human being to survive bodily death. Nevertheless, the tendency contests the unity of the human being, as the composition of two radically different natures calls for a special explanation.Footnote 1

Running after two hares, the bulk of medieval philosophers tried to embrace both hylomorphic composition and personal immortality. The hylomorphic model was even declared as the only one consonant with the Catholic faith at the Council of Vienne in 1312. Everybody denying that the intellective soul is per se and essentially the form of the human body was to be considered a heretic.Footnote 2 Interpreting the exact nature of the intellect-body relation was far from unanimous. The constitution did not calm the dispute over how many substantial forms there are in the human being, an issue arduously debated since the early thirteenth century.Footnote 3 Unitarians, like Thomas Aquinas or John Buridan, regarded the intellect as the only substantial form of the human being, inhering directly in the body. Such a claim, however, calls for a special explanation of why the intellect is not like the forms of other material objects, i.e., educed from matter , inseparable, and corruptible. On the contrary, the pluralist perspective (taken, among many others, by Peter Olivi, John Duns Scotus, or John Wyclif) postulates several substantial forms in a single human, often at least two: a sensory soul inhering in the body, which is educed from matter and thus corruptible, and the potentially separable intellect. In such a scenario the unity of the human being becomes problematic.Footnote 4

Although the literature on the issue is vast, the present paper aspires to shed some further light on the issue from an unconventional perspective. Instead of focusing on one or several pivotal figures and presenting their doctrine, the paper aims to reconstruct a more dynamic picture of the issue, focusing on written records of various disputational practices at late medieval Prague University, flourishing around 1400, where the anthropological topics regularly re-emerge. The overwhelming majority of such written records of acute debates of the era are extant in the form of short quaestiones (often without determination), drafted for various university acts (quodlibetal or ordinary disputations, determinations of students during exams). Often extant in a single manuscript copy, buried in not properly catalogued codices, they are usually considered too derivative, unimportant, and trifling to be transcribed in full and studied adequately.

The present paper suggests that even texts of this kind are worth studying, as they provide almost immediate access to actual late medieval disputational practices in raw form, not refined by several layers of author’s reworking and centuries of textual transmission, which every researcher has to face when dealing with texts by the renowned medieval thinkers. Besides, Prague university milieu around 1400 offers a unique vantage point at anthropological issues, since numerous doctrinal influences are entangled in Prague disputations then, from Buridanian De anima-commentaries, ubiquitous at Central European universities, to John Wyclif’s theories, studied nowhere so extensively as in Prague during this period. One of the aims of the paper is to suggest that these doctrinal influences were numerous and the boundaries between them were permeable and that, at least in the context of the nature of the intellect, it is not particularly effective to construe rigidly defined antagonistic groups of texts/authors (e.g., Buridanians vs. Wycliffites).

The paper builds upon an idiosyncratic type of textual sources, so tightly connected with medieval scholarly practices that the specific nature of the former is not intelligible without knowledge of the latter. Hence, Sect. 14.2 is devoted to a purely historical account of the institutional context of various types of late medieval university disputations and their manuscript outcomes, both with particular respect to the Prague Faculty of Arts.

Section 14.3 introduces the text base of the paper: a set of Prague quaestiones dealing with the nature of the intellect and its relation to the body from different perspectives and doctrinal stances, selected from manuscripts with records of various disputational occasions. Incidentally, several textual discoveries are announced in Sect. 14.2 and 14.3 (e.g., three Cracow codices preserving two sets of questions, possibly two hitherto unknown Prague quodlibets, or two commentary-like manuscript notes on De anima, possibly by John of Borotín and an anonymous Bohemian Wycliffite).

Section 14.4 presents one possible method of utilizing these allegedly second-rate texts. Basing my account on selected arguments harvested from the Prague questions, I delineate the conceptual tensions involved in the medieval articulation of the intellect’s nature. I focus on different properties attributed to the intellect, their logical relations, and mutual dependence, but also the incompatibility of some of them. Also, the considerably rich range of philosophical sources exploited by Prague masters is revealed here.

Finally, Sect. 14.5 delineates several main strategies to deal with the nature of the intellect employed by late medieval Prague scholars. While both the Alexandrist materialist position and the Averroist view of a single immortal intellect shared by all people are almost absent in the Prague context, the texts often tend towards Buridanian or Wycliffite positions. A Buridanian view, advocated by an anonymous participant of the 1409 Prague quodlibet, distinguishes between the rationally demonstrable materialist tendency and the indemonstrable “catholic truth” about the intellect both inhering in and separable from the body. On the other hand, Wycliffites (such as an anonymous student or Jacob of Mies) try to overcome the Buridanian position, so prone to the unsatisfying double-truth theory, by a conceptual innovation enriching Aristotelian anthropology by the Christological notion of the hypostatic union. Even if the human intellect were educed from matter, an immortal spirit is hypostatically united with such a composite. The last piece of the picture is a passage from peculiar notes on Aristotle’s De anima, loosely modelled after Buridan’s questions on De anima, where Buridan is explicitly Wycliffised.

14.2 Prague University Disputations Around 1400: Scholarly Practices and Manuscript Sources

The first step in investigating the contributions of Prague scholars around 1400 to the medieval debate on the nature of the human intellect is to set the contents and boundaries of the textual corpus. To emphasize the dynamic and controversial aspect of the issue, I deliberately focus almost exclusively on the outcomes of disputations held at the Prague Faculty of Arts, which means that I put aside texts designed for lecturing purposes (chiefly De anima commentaries) and texts originating at the Faculty of Theology (primarily Sentences commentaries). Nevertheless, I do not follow this resolution blindly, as I make use of quotations from some Prague notes on De anima to corroborate claims based on the disputations-connected material and treat Jacob of Mies’s question, written probably in the theological milieu, as an exemplification of the Wycliffite approach.

Before the textual base can be delineated, several idiosyncrasies of late medieval university disputations and their written outcomes ought to be introduced. Since written manuscript sources are closely related to oral disputation practice, the latter needs to be depicted to make the former more intelligible.

First and foremost, two structural patterns can be recognized in the Prague disputation questions. Both proceed from the nature of the particular type of disputation to which the questions are connected, and, thus, they differ slightly from the traditional quaestio format. First, there are questions without any response, designed as a preparation for the disputing master, embracing arguments contra concedentem (i.e., arguments to be used against the respondent affirming the question) and contra negantem (i.e., those by which a negative answer to the question is repulsed); particular arguments are also often independent of each other. The other kind is the actual determination proposed by the respondent, often called “position” (positio) in the manuscripts. It usually comprises of notabilia (definitions and distinctions of the terms used and theories implied in the title of the question) and conclusions with corollaries, both supplied with justifications. Solutions of the opposing arguments are often missing in the positions; the dialectical development of ideas, typical for the traditional quaestio format, must have taken place in the actual disputation between proponent and respondent and was rarely recorded.Footnote 5

The texts investigated here are products of various types of university disputations, each with its specific features.Footnote 6 The following sketch focuses primarily on the idiosyncrasies of written outcomes of Prague disputations as preserved in manuscript sources, delineating the corpus of disputation-connected texts, from which I select the sources on the nature of intellect. The most important disputations at the Prague Faculty of Arts were the quodlibetal ones, organized once a year, in which all masters affiliated at the faculty were expected to participate. A quodlibetarius, elected several months before to host the session, presided over the disputation and proposed a question to each participant.Footnote 7 The textual outcomes of the quodlibets are twofold. First, there are the so-called handbooks or manuals, book-length texts prepared by the quodlibetarii and including dozens of questions for particular masters, usually in the form of preparations.Footnote 8 Second, in some cases, the positions authored by individual masters are extant, usually dispersed in codices with materials resulting from various university acts.

Until now, research has identified 13 quodlibets taking place at Prague Arts Faculty from the 1390s to 1410s, where at least the name of the presiding master is known. The manuscripts containing the handbooks are extant merely in seven cases.Footnote 9 I assume that this corpus of seven quodlibetal handbooks may be expanded by two further sets of questions extant in three codices originating from Prague but preserved in Cracow. I argue that they may represent material connected with two hitherto unknown Prague quodlibets.

The first set of questions is preserved in two Cracow manuscripts (Biblioteka Jagiellońska [hereafter: BJ] 649, ff. 2v–163v, and BJ 624, ff. 1r–216v) and manifests all the salient features of Prague quodlibetal handbooks. The copy in BJ 649, which seems complete and well-organized, begins with a question which is unnumbered and explicitly designated quaestio principalis, on which the quodlibetarius himself usually disputed.Footnote 10 Additionally, there are 63 numbered questions (in the form of preparations) for other participants of the quodlibets. A so-called problema (a further question of minor importance, often curious) is attached to each question, just as in other Prague quodlibetal handbooks. The copy is to be dated to the 1390s according to the watermarks.Footnote 11

The copy in BJ 624, written in a very similar, perhaps identical hand, provides the quaestio principalisFootnote 12 and 61 other questions (in comparison to BJ 649, two quodlibetal questions are missing in this copy). However, the majority of the questions are unnumbered, and their ordering is confused, both by the scribe and by the binding of the codex.Footnote 13 The set includes 15 additional questions, apparently connected with an earlier Prague quodlibet organized by Henry of Ribenicz in the early 1390s, whose handbook is extant in a Leipzig manuscript.Footnote 14 The watermarks suggest the 1390s as the date of the copy and that BJ 624 is slightly older than BJ 649.Footnote 15 The Ribenicz intrusion corroborates the Prague origin of the codex, propounded by the authors of the catalogue, and suggests the mid-1390s as the earliest date of the quodlibet.

Another set of questions is preserved in Cracow codex BJ 736 on ff. 81r–199r.Footnote 16 Although both its Prague origin and its quodlibetal nature are probable in this case, neither is indubitable. Again, the initial question has a special status (it is unnumbered and includes both the position and a discussion of its conclusions), while other 90 questions are numbered preparations (albeit without problemata). The authors of the catalogue call the set quaestiones ordinariae; yet, they do not look like the outcome of ordinary disputations. In Prague, ordinary disputations took place every Saturday and lasted only until evening (ad horam vesperorum). It does not seem possible to discuss 91 questions in one day. Still, the set of questions may be a guide for organizing ordinary disputations, rather than an outcome of a single event or a series of disputations. Nevertheless, a regular element of these sessions was a disputation on sophisms (no more than three per session), in each of which three participants responded (the first by conceding, the second by negating, the third by doubting); yet no sophisms or preparations to a disputation of sophisms are included in BJ 736.Footnote 17 In conclusion, the set of questions shares more similarities with other Prague quodlibetal handbooks than with the outcomes of other types of disputation.

The Prague origin of the codex is not self-evident either. As the authors of the catalogue assert, at least some parts of the codex originated in Prague. They suggest the handwriting of the part with the set of questions resembles that of BJ 624 and 649; the date of the part seems to be “after 1395” (according to watermarks). The codex was probably bound in Poland, perhaps for its first owner, John of Radochonice (Johannes de Radochoncze), who earned his bachelor’s degree in Prague in 1407Footnote 18 and later moved to Cracow where he continued in arts and theology studies.Footnote 19 He may have procured the quires later bound into BJ 736 (one of which contained a copy of the aforementioned set of questions) during his bachelor’s studies in Prague.Footnote 20

Besides annual quodlibetal disputations, several minor types of disputations took place more frequently, some of them weekly, like the already mentioned ordinary disputations, held by masters every Saturday. Furthermore, there were extraordinary disputations of newly incepted masters on Tuesdays and ThursdaysFootnote 21 and bachelor’s disputations on feast day afternoons.Footnote 22 Nevertheless, these activities were so frequent and brief that their actual contents (the questions and sophisms determined during these disputations) were scarcely written down. However, some Prague codices include quires with questions (and sophisms) without determination, with blank spaces between the paragraphs, which were, most likely, intended as preparations for these minor disputations.Footnote 23

Finally, more ceremonial disputations took place during promotions of the candidates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees (promotio of bachelors and inceptio of masters). On these occasions, a sophism and a question were proposed to the candidate; after his determination, the older master promoting the candidate delivered a speech recommending the latter (recommendatio), and the candidate was officially declared bachelor or master.Footnote 24 The promotional acts were obviously recorded, as various codices include quires with questions (positions), often intermingled with sophisms and recommendations. The questions in those manuscripts are usually very concise, the reason probably being that the candidates had to speak off the cuff, as the statutes forbade them to read aloud from a sheet of paper or a book (de carta vel libro) during the promotion.Footnote 25

14.3 The Intellect Disputed: A Review of Sources

Most of the texts considered here can be dated to the period between 1390 and 1420. A thorough examination of the codices related to various types (and instances) of Prague disputations (kept mostly in Prague, Cracow and Leipzig libraries today) has resulted in a corpus of 10 questions dealing with the nature of the intellect and its relation to the body. They have so far been not only unedited, but also unstudied; most of them are extant in a single manuscript copy. Their titles, in a tentative chronological order, are as followsFootnote 26:

  1. 1.

    Anonymus, Quodlibet, q. 11: Utrum anima hominis sit extensa, MSS Cracow, BJ 649, ff. 34r–35v; BJ 624, ff. 76v–78v. 1390s. Type and structure: Preparation; 8 arguments pro, 8 arguments contra.

  2. 2.

    Anonymus, Quodlibet (?), q. 16: Utrum animam humanam esse indivisibilem et immortalem sive incorruptibilem possit ostendi naturali ratione, MS Cracow, BJ 736, ff. 116r–117v. 1390s. Preparation; 8 arg. contra, 6 arg. pro.

  3. 3.

    Anonymus, Quodlibet (?), q. 17: Utrum sit evidenter probabile naturali ratione quod anima intellectiva sit forma substantialis hominis inhaesive, MS Cracow, BJ 736, ff. 117v–118v. 1390s. Preparation; 8 arg. contra, 7 arg. pro.

  4. 4.

    Matthias de Legnitz, Quodlibet, q. 52: Utrum animam intellectivam esse formam hominis possit ratione evidenti ostendi, MS Stralsund, Stadtarchiv 1067, ff. 253ra–va. 1397.Footnote 27 Position; 2 suppositiones, 2 notabilia, 5 conclusions (with corollaries), 2 arg. contra conclusiones.

  5. 5.

    Anonymus, Utrum anima intellectiva educta de potentia materiae sit corruptibilis, MS Prague, Národní knihovna VIII.E.5, ff. 55v–56v. 1400s–1410s (possibly 1402).Footnote 28 Position; 3 notabilia, 3 conclusions (with corollaries).

  6. 6.

    Matthias de Knin, Quodlibet, q. 91: Utrum anima intellectiva sit forma inhaerens corpori humano de potentia materiae per generationem educta, MS Prague, Knihovna metropolitní kapituly L.45, ff. 100v–101r. 1409. Preparation; 9 arg. pro, 4 arg. contra.

  7. 7.

    A response to Knín’s question by an anonymous master participating in his quodlibet: Anonymus, Utrum anima intellectiva sit forma inhaerens corpori humano de potentia materiae per generationem educta, MS Prague, Národní knihovna X.H.18, ff. 40r–42r. 1409. Position; article 1 (8 notabilia), article 2 (3 opinions, 2 conclusions with corollaries), article 3 (3 conclusions with corollaries).

  8. 8.

    Procopius de Cladrub, Quodlibet, q. 26: Utrum anima intellectiva [1] habens operationem propriam, quam non communicat corpori, [2] sit perpetua et immortalis, MS Prague, Knihovna metropolitní kapituly L.27, ff. 41v–43r. 1417. Preparation; 6 arg. pro supposito [1], 10 arg. contra quaesitum [2], 6 arg. contra suppositum [1], 12 arg. pro quaesito [2].

  9. 9.

    Jacobellus de Misa, Utrum intellectus hominis est homo, MS Prague, Národní knihovna V.H.13, ff. 140r–141r. 1410s (before 1419). Position; 3 suppositions, 3 conclusions with corollaries.

  10. 10.

    Anonymus, Utrum intellectus qui est potentia animae rationalis sit potentia organica, MS Prague, Knihovna metropolitní kapituly M.92, ff. 147v–148r. 1410s–1440s. Preparation; 7 arg. pro, 4 arg. contra.

Only four of the ten texts have certain authors: the Bohemian masters Matthias of Knín, Prokop of Kladruby, Jacob of Mies, and the Silesian master Matthias of Legnica.Footnote 29 The texts are mainly the outcomes of (or preparations for) Prague quodlibetal disputations (no. 1–4, 6–8), but also of promotional disputations (no. 5 and possibly 9), and also of a disputation whose purpose is uncertain (no. 10).

As for the topics of the texts, various properties of the intellect are investigated, especially its relation to the body (whether it is educed from matter, is extended, or even is an organic potency—no. 1, 5–7, 10) and the issue of its (im)mortality and (in)corruptibility (no. 2, 5, 8). Some titles are reminiscent of the Vienne constitution about the intellect as the substantial form of the body (no. 3, 4; no. 9 even asks whether a human being is identical with its intellect); the issue of the intellect’s inherence in the body also appears (no. 3, 6, 7). Some questions are rephrased epistemically, asking whether particular properties of the human intellect can be rationally demonstrated (no. 2–4).

Bearing in mind the ephemeral nature of these texts, a question arises: why should we deal with such second-rate sources at all? First of all, they provide a unique insight into how intellectuals at the newly founded universities in Central Europe delved into philosophical issues related to the nature of the intellect. The choice of the Prague university milieu of the 1400s is motivated both philosophically and historically, as it represents a real “melting pot” of various philosophical traditions, but the details of their overlaps and struggles are as yet understudied. Since the studied texts are connected with disputational practices, investigating them offers a picture of what late medieval university scholars were actually doing.Footnote 30

Further, the disputation-connected texts can compensate for the lack of full-fledged Prague De anima-commentaries in the period under consideration. The lectors of Aristotle’s De anima in Prague around 1400 usually made use of Buridan’s questions on De anima (or its various variants and abbreviations), or else of commentaries from the same philosophical tradition (for example, questions by Lawrence of Lindores). Texts originating directly from Prague are scarce; there are only a few expositions of the authoritative text, some longer, like that by Jenek of Prague (1375); some shorter and more elementary, like those by Henry Totting of Oyta (1360s) and the anonymous exposition of De animasecundum Buridanum” from the 1370s.Footnote 31

I have been able to identify two peculiar materials connected with the De anima tradition, which can be added to this scanty list. First, there are notabilia related to questions on De anima III, written in the hand of the Bohemian master John of Borotín (d. after 1458), most likely around 1410.Footnote 32 Second, there are questions on De anima II–III, with titles borrowed from Buridan’s second (or penultimate) redaction of De anima questions,Footnote 33 but with contents completely reworked by a Bohemian author of Wycliffite leanings, possibly in the 1410s.Footnote 34 I briefly elaborate on both texts in the last section of the paper.

Another shortcoming of the disputational texts is their derivativeness: their authors borrowed many of the arguments incorporated in the questions from the popular treatises of the time. Besides Buridan and Wyclif, they refer to authors such as John Eucles, Thomas of Strasbourg, John of La Rochelle, or John of Jandun. This apparent weakness can turn out to be an advantage, since texts tightly bound to the scholarly practices of Prague masters become a precious document witnessing a clash of philosophical traditions and a gradual transition from Aristotelianism, mostly Buridanian, to Wycliffism, with different positions and accents lurking under the same terminology. Similarly, the occasional reappearance of various arguments in the questions need not be interpreted as plagiarism, but rather as constituting a terminological and doctrinal framework shared across several generations of Prague scholars. Also, repeating passages present in older materials may corroborate the Prague origin when not fully certain (especially in the questions from BJ 736).Footnote 35

Further, since the disputation context allows (even invites) one to propose bolder claims and push their consequences further than a declaratory text, such as a lecture or a commentary, the questions sometimes encompass sophisticated arguments even for heterodox positions (such as Alexandrism), or for positions explicitly condemned by the Church (e.g., the denial of the claim that an intellect is a substantial form inhering in a body). The environment of late medieval Prague Faculty of Arts might arguably have been liberal. Institutional restrictions prohibiting the artistae from discussing theology-related matters (such as the immortality of the human soul), notorious at Paris university, but also in Cologne or Vienna, are not documented in Prague.Footnote 36

Finally, the questions are also philosophically valuable, at least to a certain extent. Despite their sketchiness, one frequently stumbles upon a sharp and compelling piece of reasoning in them. As some arguments are excerpts from massive texts, such as commentaries on Aristotle or the Sentences, sometimes unedited, it is possible quickly to focus on the sharpest arguments, which would otherwise remain buried in the source texts among a load of other text. Historians of philosophy may object that especially the preparations are useless for their agenda. How is one to reconstruct a well-argued philosophical position, if there is no position maintained in the source text? In the next section, I try to demonstrate that even mere sets of arguments pro and contra can serve as material for conceptual analysis and for uncovering the framework in which the thinkers conceptualized philosophical issues. The last section will be, by contrast, devoted mainly to questions in the form of position, reconstructing some doctrinal stances of Prague philosophers.

14.4 The Nature of the Intellect: Conceptual Tensions Between Materialism and Immortality

Once the corpus of the Prague questions on the nature of the intellect has been established, its contents can be examined. This section aims to present how the philosophical problems associated with the nature of the intellect were articulated in late medieval disputational practice. It exploits the arguments, especially from the preparations, to reconstruct the medieval setting of the anthropological issue. This setting, which is complex and not entirely coherent at face value, was a seedbed for the emergence of various conceptual tensions. Several properties are ascribed to the intellect, some of which seem to be, at least at first glance, mutually exclusive.

The starting point of several debates was the constitution of the Council of Vienne (1312) proclaiming that the intellect is the substantial form of the human being. The claim itself guided medieval intellectuals to a certain anthropological preunderstanding: they construed the human soul as a form in the Aristotelian sense. Historically, the claim was designed as a safeguard against Averroism and its doctrine of a single intellect only loosely connected with all human individuals.Footnote 37 Nevertheless, even such an Averroist single intellect can be understood as a form, albeit not informing the particular humans but merely assisting them in their operations. Similarly, the intelligences, being movers of the celestial spheres, are their forms: although they do not strictly inform them, they still function as the principles of the spheres’ motion. To evade the threat of Averroism, late medieval philosophers (especially in the Buridanian tradition) carefully distinguished between two types of forms: those inhering in their subjects (intrinsically sustaining them and moving according to the movements of the subjects) and forms merely assisting the subjects in operation, present to, adhering to and appropriated by the subjects, yet extrinsic to them.Footnote 38 The relation of the intellect to the body must be tighter: it is not only the substantial form of the body (as the Vienne constitution asserts), but a form inhering in the body. Matthias of Knín provides a simple Aristotelian argument for such a claim: a property of being A evinced by a subject S presupposes the form of A inhering in S. Since the human body “lives rationally” (vivere intellective et racionaliter), it must be so due to an intellective form inhering in the body.Footnote 39

However, the emphasis on inherence creates room for unwanted consequences, balancing on the edge of materialism. How do forms inhere in matter? Medieval scholars distinguished among three opinions on this issue. First, Platonists embrace the opinion that forms are impressed into matter by an external supernatural agent, so-called form giver (dator formarum ). The second opinion (attributed to Anaxagoras) suggests that all forms are already present in matter, even in actuality; however, they coalesce and lurk in the matter, insensible to us. The third opinion is Aristotelian, according to which forms are in matter merely potentially and are educed or derived from potentiality to actuality (educuntur de potentia in actum) by an external mover.Footnote 40

If the question of the origin of the intellect is posed and universal applicability is considered a virtue of the theory, then an Aristotelian-minded thinker should accept the third opinion and account for the intellect as a form educed from the potentiality of the body. Both Matthias of Knín and Prokop of Kladruby present similar articulations of the materialist intuition while asserting that any form of a body must be caused by this body.Footnote 41 Such an intuition is corroborated by an argument targeted at the Platonizing notion of the intellect as a form infused into the body by an external principle. Without the intellect educed from matter, univocal generation would not be possible: if the intellect (i.e., the substantial form) were given to the offspring not by the parent but by an external principle, the parent and the offspring would not be of the same species.Footnote 42

One finds even bolder materialist claims in the Prague questions. Matthias of Knín and Prokop of Kladruby employ variants of the argument implying that nothing supernatural takes place in the production of the intellect. Built upon the eduction model, the argument assumes that the nobler matter is, and the more harmonious complexion it has, the nobler and ontologically superior the form educed from it is. However, humans are endowed with the noblest matter among all animals, with complexion balanced in the most perfect way. Consequently, a soul superior to the sensory one must originate from such well-balanced matter, which is nothing other than the intellect itself.Footnote 43

In the Buridanian tradition, such materialist tendencies and the terminology of the intellect educed from matter are usually connected with the late ancient Aristotelian scholar Alexander of Aphrodisias.Footnote 44 Defining Alexander’s position, Buridan asserts that the intellect is a material form, which is extended and educed from matter, and its subtlety results from “the noble complexion of the human body.”Footnote 45 The Bohemian scholars seem to build upon this sketchy exposition of Alexander’s position and supplement it with notions from the medical tradition and John Wyclif. One version of Knín’s argument justifies the claim that the matter of the human body is so noble and harmonious that it is capable of bringing forth the intellect simply by the authority of Alexander.Footnote 46 In another instance, he invokes Avicenna’s assertion from Canon that God himself gave to man the most tempered complexion.Footnote 47 Interestingly, Prokop of Kladruby justifies the same claim by a passage borrowed from John Wyclif’s De compositione hominis, who proposes that human souls are forms educed from matter.Footnote 48 In all three instances, the form educed from a human body is identified with the intellective soul.

Both lines of thought corroborating the materialist view of the human soul (the impossibility of univocal generation and the pointer to the most refined nature of human body) are not frequent in late medieval De anima commentaries. However, they resemble two articles from the notorious list of theses condemned in Paris in 1277 by Bishop Stephan Tempier.Footnote 49

In light of the fact that many medieval scholars understood Tempier’s list as condemning the articles included,Footnote 50 the late medieval Prague Faculty of Arts seems to have been much more benevolent to discuss the arguments on behalf of heterodox positions. As these arguments occur in a purely dialectical context (in a preparation for disputation, not in a position actually propounded), they might even have been intended as disguised references to the condemned doctrines. In such case the respondent might have been expected to recognize these hints and take special care in dealing with the intricacies of the heterodox doctrines.

The materialist consequences of the hylomorphic framework, which are in an implicit tension with the Christian doctrine of personal immortality, emerge not only in the context of commenting on Aristotle, but also among philosophically trained theologians, namely amidst the disputes regarding unicity vs plurality of forms. The preparation from one of the 1390s quodlibets echoes a particular chapter in the story of these debates, testifying that purely theological literature also gained access to the handbooks of Prague quodlibetarii.Footnote 51 The anonymous author of asks “whether the human soul is extended,” addressing a tension arising from the claim that there is only one substantial form in a human being. If the intellect is the only form of a human, then it should also adopt properties of the lower sensory soul which is, as a material form, educed from the potency of matter and materially extended. However, if the intellect is understood as immaterial, the sensory part of the soul evinces properties incompatible with the properties of the intellect, and, thus, the former cannot be identified with or subsumed within the latter.

The set of arguments for the affirmative answer in this preparation begins with the assumption that the human soul is a form educed from the potency of matter (which is taken for granted), which naturally implies that the soul is extended.Footnote 52 However, the most interesting justification of the same claim is a thought experiment about a handicapped man’s new hand. Imagine a man deprived of his hand which is, however, miraculously re-created by God. How will the newly acquired hand be animated? A newly created soul will not inform the hand since the man would consequently have two souls, nor does the soul informing the body before the miracle move to the new hand from other parts of the body, leaving them inanimated. Thus, the most plausible option is that the soul extends itself into this new part of the body. This picture, however, testifies that the human soul is actually extended.Footnote 53 To the objection that it is rather the sensory soul that informs the limbs, endowing them, for example, with the sense of touch, it may be replied that if unity of forms is taken for granted, it must be ultimately the intellect itself which informs all parts of the body, providing them, among others, with bodily functions.Footnote 54

The Prague master did not design the thought experiment himself; most likely, his ultimate source was the early fourteenth-century Carmelite theologian Gerard of Bologna. Gerard endorsed unitarianism and investigated whether or not this position results in the claim that the intellect, as the sole form of the body, is extended. He gathered several arguments for the claim without taking a determinate position.Footnote 55 The anonymous Prague quodlibetarius, however, does not seem to have drawn directly on Gerard, but rather on the Augustinian theologian Thomas of Strasbourg, whose commentary on the Sentences (written in the 1330s in Paris and later influential at Prague University) includes a version of the argument with the newly-created hand.Footnote 56 Altogether, many arguments included in Prague disputation-connected texts imply a surprisingly materialist view of human nature. This view results from various tenets and influences, from the basic principles of Aristotelian hylomorphic physics, the legacy of Alexander of Aphrodisias’s provocative view, to the unitarian position proposing that the human being is informed by only one substantial form.

Another crucial tenet emerging in the Prague disputations is the personal immortality of humans. The recurrent claim is that the intellect not only inheres in matter (which accords with its individuality, against Averroism), but at the same time is understood as an incorporeal entity, potentially separable from the body and, thus, immortal (against Alexandrism). Two anonymous quodlibetarii argue for the incorporeal nature of the intellect from a Neoplatonic perspective. The intellect evinces a unique property: it is a form capable of reverting upon itself (super se ipsam conversiva). Such a property, however, is an unmistakable sign of incorporeal nature, as substantiated by references to Proclus’s Elements of Theology.Footnote 57

Needless to say, the Aristotelian tradition also emphasizes the unique nature of the intellect. The Prague authors were well aware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Aristotelians, especially among the Christian thinkers, did not understand the intellect as an ordinary material form, which comes to being by eduction from matter. Instead, they tend to view the intellect as an immaterial form infused into the body by a divine principle. Matthias of Knín introduces an argument asserting that it is precisely the unique immaterial and incorporeal nature of the intellect that makes its eduction from matter impossible. The intellect is created “from above” by the First Cause.Footnote 58 After all, Aristotle himself explicitly advocates this conception of the human intellect as something divine in an embryological passage of his De generatione animalium: whereas the vegetative and the sensitive souls are gradually derived from the matter provided by the mother and father’s semen, the intellect is infused into the foetus from the outside.Footnote 59

If an act of creation (and not simple generation) produces the individual human intellect, it does not perish like an ordinary material form (due to the disintegration of the hylomorphic composite), but is immortal, annihilable only by God himself. The Prague sources sometimes justify the immortality of the intellect by a simple reference to the Christian faith.Footnote 60 Prokop of Kladruby provides further reasoning for personal immortality from an ethical perspective, borrowing a series of arguments for immortality from Summa de anima by the early thirteenth-century Franciscan John of La Rochelle.Footnote 61 Prokop points out that the post-mortal life of all souls is necessary if rewards and punishments are to be redistributed among good and bad people according to justice.Footnote 62

Various conceptual tensions apparent in medieval conceptualizations of human nature become explicit and burning in the Prague disputation texts. On the one hand, the emphasis on the intellect’s inherence in the human body tempted medieval intellectuals to treat the intellect as an ordinary material form—and the Prague masters were willing to develop arguments pushing the Aristotelian principles to the materialist consequences. On the other hand, the emphasis on the unique immaterial and immortal nature of the intellect was ubiquitous. The dialectic nature of the preparations considered in this section demanded sharpening the reasoning but provided no room for harmonizing these tensions. The next section reconstructs the possible doctrinal positions held by Prague intellectuals.

14.5 Doctrinal Sources and Positions in Prague Disputations

Amidst the lively Prague debates on the human intellect, four different strategies to overcome the alleged incoherence between the intellect’s inherence and personal immortality crystallized. Two of the options disregard the dilemma and stress only one of its horns. The materialist Eduction Model of the human intellect, setting the immortality issue aside and focusing on the inherence claim, takes the intellect to be a form educed from matter. On the contrary, the Adherence Model favours the intellect’s immortality and postulates a single intellect for all humans, not inhering in each body as its substantial form, but merely assisting, or (to use the terminology common in the Prague sources to describe such an Averroist position) adhering to humans in intellectual operations. Third, the Inherence Model, the most popular one in late medieval philosophy and also adopted by two of the Prague questions, proposes both the intellect’s inherence and personal immortality. Besides these three positions, notoriously epitomized as “the three famous opinions” in the Buridanian tradition,Footnote 63 the Hypostatic Union Model is idiosyncratic for the Prague intellectual environment. Derived from John Wyclif, it tries to preserve both inherence and immortality by postulating an immortal and created spirit hypostatically united with the human soul educed from the potency of matter.

Hardly any scholars at medieval universities embraced the Alexandrist Eduction Model, and only a few supported the Averroist Adherence Model (and if so then indirectly). The Prague scholars around 1400 were no exception in this matter. A modern interpretation is at pains to ascribe an Alexandrist leaning to Jenek of Prague on the basis of his De anima commentary; nevertheless, Jenek does not subscribe to the crucial claim of all medieval definitions of Alexander’s position: that the intellect is derived from the harmonious complexion of the human body.Footnote 64

Nor had the Adherence Model found a devoted advocate among Prague masters. Nevertheless, compared to Alexandrism, Averroist influences are more palpable in the Prague texts. For example, the relation of the intellect to the body, usually illustrated by the metaphor of a helmsman navigating a ship, gets a new expression in Matthias of Knín. An argument against the intellect’s inherence in the body compares the body/intellect relation to the relation between a tunic and a body. As the body does not inhere in the tunic, but rather the tunic is attached to the body, so the body is something temporarily attached to an eternal and self-subsistent intellect.Footnote 65

The most tangible evidence of Averroist leanings occurs in John of Borotín’s Notabilia on De anima, in a passage implying a version of the plurality thesis: there are two substantial forms of the human; one inhering in and educed from the body, constituting an essential unity with the body; the other one providing an operation to the body, but not inhering in it. The inhering form is the vegetative and sensitive soul (anima cogitativa in Averroist terminology); the other form, the intellective soul, is merely “appropriate to” the body. Borotín probably borrowed the doctrine from the early fourteenth-century Averroist John of Jandun’s questions on De anima, which is particularly noteworthy as no extant manuscript of Jandun’s text is of Bohemian origin.Footnote 66

Two texts of the present corpus advocate the Inherence Model. One is a question from the codex with materials from Matthias of Legnica’s quodlibet, asking whether one may rationally demonstrate that the intellective soul is the form of the human.Footnote 67 The position comprises a set of conclusions and corollaries supported by a shallow and clumsy reasoning, defending, step by step, that the intellective soul is a substance, a form, a substantial form, the substantial form of a human being, and, finally, that evident reasoning can demonstrate the last claim.Footnote 68 Legnica’s justification of the Inherence Model is a little simple-minded. Any inhering form makes a subject such-and-such; thus, just as a form of whiteness makes the subject white, a soul inhering in matter makes it animated.Footnote 69 Further, humans are ex definitione capable of reasoning, which is granted by the intellective soul, i.e., a form inhering in the human body. As this capacity constitutes the essential property of the human being, the form enabling it is a substantial (and not merely an accidental) form.Footnote 70 Admittedly, this is only a trivial rendering of the Inherence Model, not conceptualizing its possible shortcomings. The author does not address the issue of the intellect’s separability and immortality at all. On the contrary, he emphasizes that the intellect is not separated but immersed in the matter.Footnote 71

A more refined version of the Inherence Model, indebted to the Buridanian approach to the issue, is found in the position of an anonymous participant in Matthias of Knín’s quodlibet in 1409. Already the title of the question intimates Buridanian framework, as it asks whether the intellective soul is both a form inhering in the body and educed from the potentiality of matter. The Buridanian influence is not surprising given the immense popularity John Buridan’s works (and his questions on De anima in particular) enjoyed at the newly-founded Central European universities.Footnote 72 Prague University, of course, was no exception.Footnote 73

John Buridan delineates three possible positions in the issue of the nature of the intellect —Alexandrism, Averroism, and the Catholic faith. The first two, being intrinsically coherent but mutually exclusive, are both unacceptable for a medieval Christian, as Alexandrism cannot secure personal immortality and Averroism the intellect’s individuality. In the second move, Buridan highlights the epistemic aspect of the issue. In his view, if one sets aside every assumption provided by the faith and follows natural reason alone, then the Alexandrist materialist position is preferable; “a pagan philosopher would hold Alexander’s opinion.”Footnote 74 However, a Christian “should hold firmly” (firmiter tenendum est) the third position, the Catholic faith, which in Buridan’s account amounts to a combination of both Alexandrist and Averroist claims, proposing both the intellect’s inherence in the body and its immortality. Nevertheless, as these properties are incoherent, the position is not demonstrable by natural reason alone, unaided by faith.Footnote 75

Buridan’s framing effectively set a new paradigm of how to deal with the issue of the nature of the intellect.Footnote 76 The anonymous participant of Knín’s quodlibet draws on this Buridanian lore, his immediate source being the commentary on De anima attributed to an obscure master called John Eucles. The commentary, once ascribed to Albert of Saxony, is dated 1412 and preserved in a single Leipzig manuscript.Footnote 77 The date of Knín’s quodlibet and of the anonymous position, whose author draws on Eucles, entitle us to push the terminus ante quem of Eucles’s commentary before 1409 and understand the Leipzig manuscript as a later copy of Eucles’s commentary. The commentary apparently gained a certain popularity in Prague; it is even possible that it was composed there.Footnote 78

Regarding the nature of the intellect, the Prague master is faithful to the Buridanian framework, textually following Eucles. Nevertheless, in contrast to Eucles, who distinguishes between the materialist and the orthodox approach to the issue very carefully and investigates the two attitudes in separate articles in each question, thus obscuring his own stance,Footnote 79 the Prague master’s preference for the non-materialist version of the Inherence Model is more palpable. After the mandatory introduction of the three famous opinions,Footnote 80 he states that the intellect is not a material and extended form (since it does not require a corporeal organ) and that it inheres in the body (if it did not, what would guarantee that the intellect moved with the body which always has the intellect at its disposal?).Footnote 81

Only after that, he points out that there are two ways to deal with the issue. The philosophical way prevents one from postulating anything not based on previous experience or not justified by an argument stronger than the one for its opposite. However, we have no experience confirming the post-mortal existence of the intellect. Further, arguments based on the principles of natural philosophy imply that the human intellect is mortal, rather than the opposite. Therefore, pure natural reason dictates that the intellect is not everlasting, but a corruptible form educed from the potency of matter and even materially extended.Footnote 82

But if the investigation follows the Christian faith, it reaches the conclusion that the human intellect is, in a way, eternal. Being created by God (and not generated naturally like other forms) it came into existence at a certain point of time, but since then it is everlasting (although still annihilable, at least in principle, by God).Footnote 83 It is telling that the author labels this conclusion as constituting the response to the question (conclusio responsalis), choosing the approach as his ultimate stance. Also, he does not copy the conclusion from Eucles but elaborates on his own, taking into consideration two passages from Thomas Aquinas (explicitly) and Conrad of Ebrach (implicitly).Footnote 84

The anonymous author responds to the question whether the intellect inheres in and is educed from matter by accepting the first claim while denying the second. Effectively, it amounts to disconnecting the claim about the intellect’s inherence in the body from the claim that it is just an ordinary material form, which seems logically connected. The author does not make much effort to justify the disconnection.Footnote 85 Ultimately, he does not seem to develop much the inherited conceptual tension between inherence and immortality, but only (not in a particularly original way) acknowledges that there are two possible approaches, of which one is preferable for extraphilosophical reasons.

Finally, some Prague intellectuals were prone to the Hypostatic Union Model of the human being. The source of this conceptualization of the issue, going beyond the framework of the Inherence Model, is John Wyclif, especially his anthropological work De compositione hominis.Footnote 86 Wyclif seems a little reluctant to use the terminology of forms and inherenceFootnote 87; in his view, the human being principally consists of two different natures: a material body and an immaterial created spirit. The unity of a human being is guaranteed by the fact that both natures constitute a single person, being hypostatically united, as Wyclif asserts using Christological terminology.Footnote 88 Into this general framework he incorporates Aristotelian terminology, evidently inclining to the pluralist position: the human soul both inheres in the human body and is educed from the potency of matter, but a spiritual, eternal and individual intellect is joined to the animated body.Footnote 89 It is not crystal clear what Wyclif means by the “human soul,” which he regards as a material form. Probably only the sensory soul, as he seldom speaks about the intellect as educed from matter. The question can hardly be solved hereFootnote 90; however, it is worth mentioning that some Bohemian authors inclined to the latter reading, in which even the intellective soul is educed from the potency of matter and immortality is provided by an immaterial spirit united to the ensouled body.

The first Prague question, implicitly reworking the Wycliffian lore, is the position presented in a promotional act of an anonymous candidate at the Faculty of Arts. The title of the question is suggestive of Alexandrism, as it asks whether the intellective soul, educed from the potency of matter, is corruptible. Yet, the author of the position actually shows himself to be a keen student of Wyclif’s De compositione hominis, from which he tacitly borrows in his text.Footnote 91 He recasts the Aristotelian setting of the question in Wyclif’s light. The crucial step in developing the response is to distinguish carefully between “intellective soul” and “human soul.” The intellective soul is “a created spirit.”Footnote 92 As such, it is not educed from matter and does not cease to be with the corruption of its subject.Footnote 93 On the contrary, the human soul is, according to the famous Aristotelian definition, an act of the physical body, which cannot exist per se without the body. In Wyclif’s words, it is nothing else than the fact that an organic essence is animated (essenciam organicam animari).Footnote 94 Being a corporeal act, the human soul can cease to exist.Footnote 95

The created spirit and the human body’s animating principle (animatio), albeit entailing different properties, are the same thing as they express two aspects of a single human being.Footnote 96 Although humans are mortal, as for their corporeal life, they are also “personally identified” with their incorporeal, spiritual, and created intellects and in this regard immortal.Footnote 97 The anonymous author concludes that the question is false in the first sense (as the intellect is neither educed nor corruptible), but true in the second one (since the human soul as the animating principle of the body is both educed and corruptible).Footnote 98

A more sophisticated rendering of Wyclif’s position is provided in the question entitled “Whether the human intellect is [identical with] the human,” attributed in its single manuscript copy to the famous Bohemian reformist Jacob of Mies (ca. 1370–1429). The text, composed probably in a theological milieu, almost completely omits Aristotelian hylomorphic terminology. Jacob singles out the intellect as the human “essential intrinsic being” (esse essentiale intrinsecum), which makes the human what she is.Footnote 99 Consequently, he identifies the human being with her intellect, which is immortal and incorruptible.Footnote 100 Simultaneously, perhaps to avoid any suspicion of Averroism, he hints that there are many everlasting intellects, one for each human individual.Footnote 101 The human body, on the contrary, is mortal and corruptible, and these properties, consequently, also apply to human individuals.Footnote 102 The corporeal and incorporeal substances are of the same subject, and the unity of such a twofold composite is saved by the fact that they constitute a single person.Footnote 103

Jacob, regrettably, does not address the self-ruining shortcomings of such robust dualism, e.g., the issue of mental causation (how the ontological gap between body and intellect is to be overcome, or how the intellect draws on the sensory material). Jacob’s aim was not to construct a plausible psychological theory; he strives to sketch a metaphysical picture of the human being allowing one to account not only for ordinary humans, but also for Jesus Christ, the only person who is truly God and truly man. Thus, in Jacob’s account, anthropology is continuous with Christology, which again resembles Wyclif. Since every human is a “personal union” of two different natures, it is easier to explain how God became man.Footnote 104

14.6 Conclusion

The paper has delved into some ephemeral texts resulting from late medieval Prague university disputations. As I tried to demonstrate, these minor texts witness, perhaps even more faithfully than works by the honourable grand authors, how vibrant and dynamic exchanges took place in the late medieval market of ideas.

The texts related to the issue of the intellect reveal tangible conceptual tensions between the far-reaching materialist consequences of some Aristotelian principles and the postulate of human immortality, whether religion-driven or a simple component of human dignity. Some texts devise strategies to overcome these tensions. The Buridanian approach, manoeuvring between the Alexandrist position, which was rationally plausible but untenable for medieval Christians, and the position of faith, which was well tenable but rationally implausible for them, left an unpleasant taste of a double-truth theory.

Idiosyncratic to the early fifteenth-century Prague intellectual milieu is the urge to rethink the issue anew from the perspective of John Wyclif. While admittedly not strong in the psychological analysis, Wyclif presents a peculiar metaphysics of the human being with the materiality-immortality tension built in from the beginning. Wyclif’s Prague readers were evidently fascinated by this strategy and applied it also in questions framed by Buridanian (or generally Aristotelian) terminology.

The ultimate epitome of this tendency can be the anonymous Questions on De anima. Here, in the question on whether the intellect is the substantial form inhering in the body, the notorious Buridanian triad of opinions is reworked significantly. Alexandrism and Averroism remain, but the third option is not labelled “faith” and defined merely as proposing that the intellect is created and infused to the body. More surprisingly, a fourth position is added representing an extravagant reading of Wyclif’s theory: the human intellect is educed from matter and thus corruptible, but a spirit is also united to the intellect by hypostatic union, becoming thus a true intellective soul and serving as the substantial form inhering in the body.Footnote 105

Texts such as these invite us to reconsider the prevailing historical narrative about philosophy at the early fifteenth-century Prague University, which allegedly abandoned its position of the “stronghold of Buridanism” and went under the full influence of Wyclif.Footnote 106 Perhaps the relation between the two traditions is more entangled. Rather than simply dismissed and replaced by Wyclif, Buridan may have been gradually Wycliffised.Footnote 107