Research Project


Mantic, Fate and Freedom in Medieval Europe, esp. in the works of Thomas of Aquinas and Meister Eckhart

Prof. Dr. Loris Sturlese
Università del Salento, Lecce, Faculty of Arts and Literature; Scuola Normale Superiore del Salento, Director
Research stay: November 2009 – September 2010,

With his analysis of Thomas of Aquin's attitude towards prognostication, Prof. Sturlese proved the advantage of a relecture and new interpretation of Aquin's treatises, which had attracted little interest in the last 40 years. Furthermore, he encouraged discussion at the consortium substantially by holding an international workshop on "Mantic, Fate and Freedom in the Medieval Ages" (publication in preparation).

Lectures at the IKGF:

  • Together with the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Studies of European Middle Age and Renaissance (IZEMIR) of the University Erlangen-Nuremberg: "Meister Eckhart and his Sources" ("Meister Eckhart und seine Quellen"), Feb. 3rd, 2010.
  • Tuesday lecture: "Thomas Aquinas and Medieval Prognostics", June 15th, 2010.
  • Round Table Feature, Annual Conference 2010: Fate, Astrology and Philosophy in Latin Medieval Europe ("Schicksal, Astrologie und Philosophie im lateinischen Mittelalter")

Workshop including publication on "Mantic, Fate, and Freedom in Medieval Europe" ("Mantik, Schicksal und Freiheit im Mittelalter")

June 8.-9., 2010
Invited speakers included: Prof. Alexander Fidora (Universidad autónoma de Barcelona), Prof. Thomas Ricklin (LMU München), Dr. Marienza Benedetto (Università di Bari), Prof. Alessandro Palazzo (Università di Trento), Prof. Stefano Caroti (Università di Parma), Prof. Alessandra Beccarisi (Università del Salento) and Dr. László Sándor Chardonnens (IKGF Visiting Fellow).

Thomas of Aquinas and Medieval Prognostics

The doctrine of prognostics or mantic practices of Thomas Aquinas is interesting for a variety of reasons. The main one is that Thomas presented, as always, a clear and, for his historical period, very representative approach to this issue. Furthermore, his answer is representative of the theological arguments put forward in the Middle Ages. Finally, this area of his work has, until now, been neglected by researchers. Thomas Aquinas was questioned on two occasions about the topics of astrological mantic practices, that is divination (or "prediction") based on the observation of celestial bodies. He delivered his first answer in a short treatise entitled De iudiciis astrorum ('About astrological mantic practices'). The second answer consists of a medium-length treatise composed in five chapters with the title De sortibus ('About drawing lots'). In connection with this question a third thesis from the same period is noteworthy, De operationibus occultis naturae ('About the secret impacts of nature'), which contains important information about Thomas’s opinion of celestial influences.

The main thrust of Thomas’ approach can be summarized as follows: first that "the power of the celestial bodies affects the terrestrial bodies"; second that "human will is not subservient to the necessity of the celestial bodies", and third that "those persons who adhere to astrological mantic practices, are the chosen victims of the devil’s manoeuvres". The influence exerted by these celestial bodies does not operate inevitably, but they have an impact upon human behavior. Thomas never questioned the authenticity of astrological mantic practices. Indeed, he assumed that it occurred – in the case of nature, unconditionally, but in the case of human will only as a manifestation of the devil’s work.

References to the influence exerted by celestial bodies show that Thomas’s doctrine of mantic practices was embedded in a particular cosmological context – a context, which also included the effects of "separate substances", angels and demons. In this context, the "secret effects of nature" were the product of a chain of causation that began with the celestial bodies but also presupposed the effects of the celestial bodies' forms and of the separate substances, which instrumentalized the celestial bodies. This spectrum of effects covered a broad and heterogeneous complex of phenomena, such as ordeals, necromantic pictures, the healing powers of the Shadow of Peter, the tide, the 'Lunatics', the power of magnetic stones, palm reading, geomancy, the critical days, spatulamancy, the roll of the dice, dreams, the effect of rhubarb, healing relics, and spontaneous worm production, but also the appearance of angels and the taking into service of the Satan and demons, as well as necromancy. As a theologian, Thomas attempted to analyze all of these systematically. He mostly referred back to ad hoc pseudo-explanations. Above all, one point clearly stands out in this complex of questions and explanations – that is the important role that the celestial bodies play in the knowledge.

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