Author: Roberto Hofmeister Pich
Part ofCoimbra’s Aristotelianism in the Portuguese and Spanish Colonies in South America (coord. by Roberto Hofmeister Pich)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: March, 4th, 2023
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.7703060

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Pich, Roberto Hofmeister, “Latin American Colonial Scholasticism”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.7703060”, URL = “”, latest revision: March, 4th, 2023.

Name and Historical-Geographical Delimitation

Scholastica colonialis (“colonial Scholasticism”) is an investigative project in the history of philosophy concerning the reception and development of Baroque scholasticism in Latin America from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th century. The project covers the period up to the independence processes in Spanish and Portuguese America, from 1809-1810 onwards. As such, the project covers the colonial and viceroyal period in Latin American history. It attempts to describe and interpret the scholastic philosophy that appeared in that period, with a special focus on the adoption of that philosophy in institutions of higher education (convents, seminaries, universities, etc.). It looks at the teaching and documented formulation of philosophical, theological and juridical ideas. The adjective colonialis is a neologism in Latin, highlighting a meaning that (at least partially) differs from the adjective colonicus (-a, -um), which might have led to the misleading expression Scholastica colonica. Both words, however, can be associated with the ancient and medieval urban center of Cologne in today’s Germany and with the human settler (colonus), bound to the land, or with the colonizer of a given land. The term Scholastica colonialis is used to designate a long period of reception and reconfiguration, with the unfolding of the ideas of medieval scholasticism in pre-modern scholasticism (purer scholastic thought) and in modern scholasticism (more eclectic scholastic thought that is compared or connected to modern philosophy) through the following singular perspective: the perspective of its transmission to and adoption and teaching in Catholic institutions in the regions of the Americas under the political control of Spain and Portugal. These processes essentially began with the maritime expansion and “discoveries” by both countries, and lasted up to the chronological limit mentioned above. In those centuries, having passed through processes of domination and colonization, the lands conquered by those two Iberian potencies remained, in different ways, macropolitically speaking, dependent on and controlled by a central European power that was, as a rule, monarchical or imperial. As such, those lands remained dependent on and controlled by the countries that conquered American territories and nations, and these countries culturally influenced their diverse and numerous peoples.

Beginning with a description of previous projects – by Walter Redmond, Mauricio Beuchot, Celina Ana Lértora Mendoza, José Carlos Ballón Vargas et aliiScholastica colonialis has as its long-term, exhaustive objective the completion and writing anew of inventories and catalogues of manuscripts and printed works, chiefly of the materials produced and found in Latin American colonial institutions, in which a true and unique register of colonial scholastic thought is preserved. Moreover, the project has in view the editing or at least the creation of a digital platform of colonial scholastic texts, as well as the conceptual analysis of its major fields, problems, and contents – either regarding global and speculative subjects or regarding local questions of the “New World.” From the beginning, Scholastica colonialis was understood as an integrated investigation project, having received the collaboration of groups of researchers both in Latin America (above all in Brazil, where the project was conceived, as well as Peru and Chile) and in Europe (above all Portugal but also Spain). The conceptual spheres of the project are the history of medieval philosophy and the history of pre-modern scholasticism. Since 2010, Scholastica colonialis, with its focus on Latin scholasticism, has had the explicit support of the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale (SIEPM).

Second Scholasticism and Thomism as Essential Background

Thomism is a central line of theological and philosophical thought in colonial scholasticism. This is due, to a large extent, to the fact that the scholasticism that was called “second” and was developed from the 16th century onwards, especially in Iberian university centers, was itself profoundly shaped by the reception of Thomas Aquinas’s works. It was also forged by the collective efforts of Catholic intellectuals, who proposed a “Thomistic” theology and philosophy (or a theology and a philosophy of the “Thomistic school”). Along similar lines, the creative restatement of ancient-medieval traditions led Franciscan intellectuals to formulate a “Scotistic” theology and philosophy (or a theology and a philosophy of the “Scotistic school”). In fact, in the Old World, from the 16th century onwards, it was generally accepted that the theological synthesis produced by Thomas Aquinas, which was grounded on a predominantly Aristotelian philosophical basis, was solid and consistent enough to be universally accepted as a fair expression of the teachings of the Catholic faith. Indeed, in 1567, Pius V declared Thomas Aquinas “Doctor of the Church.” Especially in university chairs reserved for Dominican and, later, Jesuit masters – as well as in the “Superior Colleges” of these Orders – the fundamental theological work commented on and taken as the basis for the lectio was no longer the Sentences by Peter Lombard, but rather the Summa theologiae by Thomas Aquinas. Thomas de Vio (Cardinalis Caietanus OP (1469–1534), author of a renowned commentary on De ente et essentia (1495), was also the author of a complete commentary on the Summa theologiae, through which he determined that the Summa theologiae should be a kind of “theological textbook” for the centuries to come. It should be used as a starting point and taken as a fundamental companion for theologians. Cajetan’s commentaries to the Summa theologiae I, IaIIae, IIaIIae and III were concluded, respectively, in 1507, 1511, 1516, and 1522. The same Cajetan, as General Master of the Order of Preachers, beginning in 1508, would promote missionary work in the Americas, being responsible for sending the first Dominican friars to the New World, who, in 1510 reached the Island Española (today, the Dominican Republic), where the Friar Pedro de Córdoba created a convent. Regarding the reception of Thomas Aquinas’s legacy, in 1516, Francesco Silvestri OP (1474–1528) had published his commentary on the Summa contra gentiles. Shortly before that, in 1510, the German Konrad Köllin OP (1476–1536) had begun a line-by-line commentary on the Prima Secundae in Heidelberg – highly dependent on the commentaries by John Capreolus OP (c. 1380–1444) to be found in his Defensiones theologiae Divi Thomae Aquinatis, with which the “Prince of the Thomists,” in the function of sententiarius, initiated the revival of Thomism in Paris. The commentary written by Konrad Köllin would become, in 1512, an Expositio to IaIIae, published in Cologne, where he then worked as regent of the Studium of the Dominicans. Moreover, the Belgian Peter Crockaert OP (c. 1465–1514) had adopted the use of the Summa theologiae in his university courses in Paris from 1509 onwards, replacing Peter Lombard’s Sentences. In 1512, together with his student and disciple Francisco de Vitoria, Crockaert had organized an edition of the IIaIIae.

Since his admission as professor of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Salamanca in the second half of 1526, the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546) ratified the role of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae as the chief foundation for a theological education and he wrote commentaries on it. He was the first great figure and virtually the founder of the School of Salamanca, and a theoretician of classical-Thomistic natural law doctrine as well as a forerunner of the theory of international public law. In particular, Vitoria had the merit of combining the medieval Thomistic legacy with a concern for patristic, Renaissance humanist, and Western canonical-civil-juridical traditions and, with that Thomistic theoretical apparatus, of thinking theologically and philosophically about the “discovery” of the “New World.” From the Thomistic scholastic mind of Francisco de Vitoria appeared some of the first theological-philosophical treatises – anthropological, normative and political in content – related to the American lands, conquered and proto-colonized by the Spaniards. These are, in particular, the De indis recenter inventis relectio prior and the De indis recenter inventis relectio posterior (or: De iure belli) of the years 1538-1539, dealing, respectively, with the legal claims of the conquest of New World territories by the Spaniards and the legal claims of just wars against the Amerindian peoples, due to alleged offenses committed by them. Contemporary to Vitoria, Bartolomé de Las Casas (c. 1484–1566), who became a Dominican friar – his religious profession occurred in 1523 – and first studied the thought of Thomas Aquinas in the Caribbean, in the Convent of the Dominicans in Santo Domingo, related the thought of the “Angelic Doctor” to other concrete problems of the government of the Indies. For example, he connected Thomas Aquinas’s thought with the unjust system of the concession of lands and the economic exploitation of the encomiendas, and to the practices of catechesis and evangelization connected to the confinement and forced labor of the indigenous people in those estates. Las Casas’s polemical works, social-political critique and debate on human nature and the human status of the indigenous peoples are epitomized in his Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (1552). In his De unico vocationis modo omnium gentium ad veram religionem (completed c. 1537), Las Casas writes of the pacifist preaching of the Gospel, which takes place by means of the natural persuasion of the understanding and attraction of the will via the practice of good deeds, or, in a nutshell, through the truth of faith and through the practice of the good, which Christian faith both is and announces. This is grounded in Thomas Aquinas’s defense of the voluntariness of adhesion to proclaimed faith (see, for example, ST IIaIIae, q. 10, a. 8, “Whether the unfaithful must be compelled to faith”). Moreover, being acquainted with the texts of the Thomists of Salamanca who were inspired by Francisco de Vitoria, who polemicized about the themes of conquest, dominium, slavery, just war, and the natural rights of individuals and peoples, Las Casas proposed a Christian ethics of a Thomistic blend that was opposed to the conceptual defense of the conquest by the Spanish empire formulated by Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490–1573). This ethics was grounded in the unity of human kind and the recognition of the universality of the human being, as well as of his rights as a dignified image of God and a creature endowed with reason and will – and, thus, of agency too (see ST I, q. 82, a. 1, ad 3; IaIIae, q. 1, a. 1-2; q. 6, a. 1-2).

Universities, Thomism, Scotism, and Suarezianism in Colonial Latin America

As such, Scholastica colonialis is a historiographical category that is connected to “Second” scholasticism and to “Baroque” scholasticism. The term “Baroque” here is used not in the artistic sense, but in the sense of a joining of patristic and medieval Christian traditions, of the religious fragmentation provoked by Protestant Reformations, of the new understanding of the world and its parts, and of the need for finding new languages and syntheses for Christian truth, as well as answers to new problems of human existence (therefore a joining of the new together with classical-patristic-medieval traditions). The Scholastica colonialis project investigates Western philosophy transplanted to and, in some respects, mixed with the Americas, and not pre-Columbian philosophies. Being closely related to European and, above all, to Iberian, Catholic scholasticism, colonial scholasticism that was taught and produced in convents, monasteries, colleges, seminaries and universities brings with itself the characteristics and theories from universities such as Salamanca and Alcalá de Henares (Spain), and Coimbra and Évora (Portugal). Thinkers in philosophy and theology who taught or even studied in the young Catholic colonial institutions largely replicated the reception of Thomas Aquinas’s thought in the institutions of Spain and Portugal and in the Religious Orders generally speaking, especially in the Order of Preachers and the Society of Jesus. In that sense, one should keep in mind that the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, in Lima – which was called, at its foundation, “Real Universidad de la Ciudad de los Reyes” – was the first university in the Southern Hemisphere, opening on May 12th, 1551. On September 21st, 1551, the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México began its activities. Having studied in Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, the Augustinian Friar Alonso de la Vera Cruz (c. 1504–1584) probably was the first person to teach philosophy in the New World. He began his teaching of the artes in 1540, in the convent of San Juan Bautista de Tiripetío (founded by Vera Cruz himself), and later, from 1553 onwards, worked as a professor in the Universidad de México. His works on logic, Recognitio summularum and Dialectica resolutio, both from 1554, and shortly afterwards, his work on the philosophy of nature, Physica speculatio (1557), were the first philosophical works written in the Americas. Vera Cruz’s philosophical course had as its orientation the study program of the University of Salamanca. Vera Cruz remained close to the Summulae by Domingo de Soto OP (1494–1560) and, especially in logical-metaphysical themes, such as the debate on the nature of universals, he followed the Thomistic point of view. From 1553 to 1557, in the Mexican university, Vera Cruz himself took on the chair “Prima de Teología,” which was focused on the lectio of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae. His theological lecture, or Relectio de dominio infidelium et iusto bello (which took as a starting point the text of ST IIaIIae, q. 62, on “restitution,” or restitutio), which was read in 1553 and published at a later point, is a written testimony of Vera Cruz’s teaching activities in that chair.

At any rate, the history of colonial scholasticism as a history of philosophical ideas does not simply amount to versions or variances of Thomism. The logic by the Fanciscan Jerónimo Valera (1568–1625), namely, Commentarii ac quaestiones in universam Aristotelis ac Subtilis Doctoris Ioannis Duns Scoti logicam (Lima, 1610) was the first philosophical work to be published in South America. It included a short Summulae dialecticae and commentaries ad mentem Scoti to Porphyry’s Isagogé and to Aristotle’s Categories. Several metaphysical topics of Scotus’s thought are discussed as well, such as the object of metaphysics (in explanations on the ens reale and the ens rationis), universals and common natures, quantity as a metaphysical concept, and the theory of relations. A former student of Jerónimo Valera at the Convento de San Francisco de Lima, namely the Chilean Alfonso Briceño (1587–1668), made an outstanding academic and ecclesiastical career and published, in Madrid, two large volumes of Controversiae (1639-1642) around key topics of Scotus’s Ordinatio I. Briceño’s Controversiae is a useful tool for understanding the extent and characteristics of Scotism in Latin America in the first half of the 17th century. In fact, the spectrum and depth of the debates in which Briceño engaged are rather impressive. In the two volumes of the Prima Pars of his incomplete project of commenting on open disputes raised by Scotus’s Ordinatio I (a project actually related to Scotus’s whole opera), Briceño, in a total of 12 Controversiae of different lengths, both offers an exposition of what is, for him, the metaphysical basis of Scotus’s theology, and systematically constructs Scotus’s theology as a metaphysical doctrine of God. “Metaphysicalia” are treated everywhere in his published works. We should highlight the expositions in Controversies 1-8, structured according to the metaphysical properties of God, such as unity, truth, and goodness, as well as to divine pure perfections and the so-called modes of being. Every interpretation is accompanied by, and every final stance preceded by, controversies with Thomistic authors and “Scotizantes,” a word that bears the twofold meaning of authors aligned with Duns Scotus’s doctrine and those unable to correctly render his thought. Between 1687 and 1689, Juan de Fuica OFM (c. 1655/1660–c. 1735) dictated in Santiago de Chile a complete Philosophy Course, contained in the single manuscript Commentaria philosophica ad mentem Doctoris Subtilissimi Patris Fratris Ioannis Duns Scoti Sacratissimi Ordinis Minorum, et Theologorum Principis, which is today preserved at the Archivo Historico Franciscano. In his ingenious expositions and interpretations of the Scotist doctrine, Fuica quite often refers to Valera and Briceño. In his cursus on metaphysics, Fuica shows that the object of metaphysics, that is, the objective concept of the “real being in common” (ens reale in communi), can receive an “essentially relative definition” (definitio essentialiter relativa), in which one can find the aspect of “non-repugnance” or “non-contradictoriness,” which is effectively common to the real being and the being of reason. Fuica, thus, makes an original contribution to the understanding of the scope of metaphysics and its connection to mental objects and the human mind broadly speaking.

If one focuses on the different theological and philosophical materials produced in the centers for higher education, above all in the courses of arts (i.e., in the cursus philosophicus) and in the faculties of theology – keeping in mind that most colonial theologians and philosophers were members of the Religious Orders – one can verify, grosso modo, as was likewise the case in Europe, the following intellectual identities: that Franciscans were primarily guided by John Duns Scotus, whereas Thomas Aquinas guided the Benedictines, Augustinians, Dominicans, and Jesuits (in this last case, in a characteristically eclectic way). It has been demonstrated, however, that many Jesuits, including Miguel de Viñas (1642–1718), who, during his magisterial activity in the Colegio Máximo de San Miguel (Santiago de Chile), wrote his Philosophia scholastica (published 1709, in Genoa), defended the idea that the Company of Jesus should find in Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) – the “Doctor Eximius” – the guiding mind of its theological and philosophical teaching. Jesuits would rather belong to the “school of Suárez” (Jesuitica vel Suaristica Schola), which, at any rate, was closely related to the thought of Thomas Aquinas. In that sense, one can understand that, in theoretical philosophy especially, focused on the triennial course of logic, philosophy of nature and metaphysics (cursus philosophicus [triennalis]), colonial intellectuals were in search of expositions of Aristotle’s works quite often through the guidance (ad mentem) of John Duns Scotus or of Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, courses ad mentem Suarez (or rather ad mentem Societatis Jesu) were also dictated, especially by Spanish magistri working in Latin America. We find, for example, in the collections of the Biblioteca Ecuatoriana Aurelio Espinosa Pólit (Quito, Ecuador), which is a Jesuit “Fundación” dedicated to research in history, humanities, and natural sciences, as well as a library of a distinguished kind, the Universa dialecticae naturae in disputationes collecta, iuxta Societatis doctrinam atque intelligentiam Eximii Doctoris P. Francisci Suarez, Philosophiae ac Theologiae facile principis, by Sebastián Sabater SJ (17th century), finished in 1676 in the Jesuit College of Palma de Mallorca. Such comprehensive expositions by the scholastic minds in Latin America, sometimes textbookish and in many cases truly systematic, had as their models, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, magisterial expositions and even collective works of the Salmanticenses, of the Complutenses, and of the Conimbricenses. In the case of the Cursus Conimbricensis (1592-1606), that is, the philosophical course built by the Jesuits of Coimbra (which also encompassed writings by Aristotle on ethics), the influence of the Ratio Studiorum of the Society of Jesus on its structure and selection of contents is evident. Thus, the works produced by Catholic scholars combined the appeal of explanations of Aristotle with, increasingly, the appeal of explaining the guiding minds of the different philosophical traditions. This opened the door for theoretical debates and distinctions among authors and “schools,” modifying in a significant way the common textual order of exposition, and creating a kind of systematic theoretical philosophy that might be identified as cursus philosophicus thomisticus (more frequently) or scotisticus (among Franciscan authors). Moreover, one should bear in mind that, in colonial Brazil, Thomistic thought, which in this case was inherited especially from theologians educated in the Universities of Coimbra and Évora, was widely present in Jesuit colleges, where the curriculum of arts followed the dictates of the Cursus Conimbricensis. Among the colleges founded by the Jesuits one can mention the College of Bahia (1553), of São Paulo (1554), of Rio de Janeiro (1567), of Maranhão (1622, in the city of São Luís), and of Pará (c. 1690, in the city of Belém). The first course of philosophy or of “Artes” in Brazil opened in 1572, in the “Colégio da Bahia,” bestowing, in time, degrees of bachelor, licensed, and master of arts (the College of Bahia closed 1759). Gonçalo Leite SJ (c. 1546–1603), the first professor of philosophy in that College, and the first in colonial Brazil, entered the Company of Jesus in Coimbra in 1565, and apparently studied philosophy and theology in the University of Coimbra. The second course of philosophy in Brazil, which started in 1663 at the “Colégio do Rio de Janeiro,” had as its first professor Eusébio de Matos SJ. Eusébio de Matos, incidentally, was the brother of the lawyer and satirical-Baroque poet Gregório de Matos (1636–1696), who was educated in Coimbra. Francisco de Faria SJ wrote the Conclusiones metaphysicae de ente reali, which was printed in Rio de Janeiro in 1747. All instruction in Jesuit colleges was guided by the pedagogy, didactics, and contents of the program of the Ratio Studiorum, which was officially promulgated in 1599. As is well known, the program was committed to the teaching of Aristotle in philosophy, and, in theology, the teaching of Thomas of Aquinas.

The Cursus Philosophicus, Theological Disputations, and Commentaries on Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae

In the cursus philosophicus, masters of arts with Thomistic or Scotistic orientations formulated expositions and treatises of formal or “minor” logic, from the perspective of terminist logic, loosely connected to medieval works such as the Summulae logicales by Peter of Spain, and more directly related to the post-Renaissance scholastic model of the Summulae dialecticae ordered by the Salmantine master Domingo de Soto. At any rate, in the minor logic the masters discussed terms (on the mental basis of apprehensions), propositions (on the mental basis of judgments) and arguments (on the mental basis of inferential reasonings). In the “greater” logic, masters followed the tradition of philosophical expositions and commentaries focused on all or some of the works of Aristotle’s Organon – to some extent, the selection of works to be commented on depended on the range of subjects that had been treated before, in the summulae. In most cases, those expositions referred to the Isagoge by Porphyry, the Categories, the Perihermeneias and the Posterior Analytics, and in some cases also to the Sophistical Refutations and the Topics, by the Stagirite. Following the tendencies and chief concerns of the Religious Orders, Thomistic or Scotistic positions also appear in the selections of certain contents, theories, disputes, and systematization in the second part of the course (philosophy of nature, with an emphasis on the eight Books of the Physics and the three Books of On de the Soul) and in the third part (metaphysics). In logic, for example, we can highlight the disputes on the object of logic as a science and, as a consequence, the efforts for understanding the kind of entity that logical objects are – i.e., entia rationis – and how they are distinguished from other sciences’ objects. From those disputes on, authors introduced expositions and debates about the theory of distinctions (real distinction, distinction of reason, and formal distinction, this last one being contested by the Thomists and defended by the Scotists). Such logical-metaphysical debates still played an important role, for example, in the Tractatus primus (De logica sive philosophia rationali) of the Philosophia platonica seu cursus philosophicus, rationalem, naturalem, et transnaturalem philosophiam, sive logicam, physicam et metaphysicam, complectens (dictated in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1748, and still preserved as a manuscript), by the Friar Gaspar da Madre de Deus OSB (1715–1800). In fact, as we read in the title of Gaspar da Madre de Deus’s course, metaphysics was usually understood as the science of the (real) concept of the “real being” (ens reale). It was thus viewed as a “transnatural,” “transcategorical,” or “transcendental” science or philosophy. The study of the composite substance, in turn, was part of both metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.

A large number of Thomistic philosophical courses written in Latin America have been preserved. Antonio Rubio SJ (1548–1615), on the basis of his sixteen years of philosophical and theological teaching activity in Mexico – in the “Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo” – had already written a course that was quite close to the ideas and interpretations of Thomas Aquinas in his extensive Commentarii in universam Aristotelis dialecticam, first published in 1603. In their turn, the abridged and didactic commentaries by Antonio Rubio on the logic of Aristotle were already published as Logica mexicana in the edition of 1606. The Logica mexicana gained fame as an international handbook on logic, and became, for example, the standard work for that discipline in the University of Alcalá de Henares, in Spain, and in the University of Córdoba, in Argentina. Moreover, an important example of a creative and eclectic reception of Baroque scholasticism in Latin American colonial times is the work of the Peruvian Juan de Espinosa Medrano (c. 1632–1688), “El Lunarejo,” professor of philosophy and theology at the Seminary of San Antonio Abad del Cusco (founded in 1598). Important logical and metaphysical debates appear in his Philosophia thomistica seu Cursus philosophicus (Rome, 1688), with emphasis on Espinoza Medrano’s Thomistic defense of the reality of non-particular entities (“universals”) against new nominalist tendencies in metaphysics shared by Iberian scholastic thinkers. In fact, Thomists and Scotists should be viewed as “Peripatetics,” for they adopt (different) forms of realism, according to which “universals” or “essences” are aspects of extramental reality. Peripatetics usually reject Platonism, seeing in it a doctrine that advances the thesis that universals or “ideas” exist apart from particular things. But El Lunarejo connected to the defense of his account of universals an apology for Platonic realism about “ideas,” assimilating ideas into the Aristotelian-Thomistic (and Scotistic) account of “essences” in extramental reality. In short, the “universals” of Peripatetic philosophy are essential beings that are real, unchangeable, non-temporal, and non-spatial, which differ from concrete individual things and also from God. Rejecting neo-Platonic accounts of the “ideas” and having the purpose of making credible Plato’s understanding of the object of knowledge, Espinoza Medrano had no choice but to describe ideas in the way that Peripatetics understand essences. In that sense, Platonic ideas are similar in every aspect to Aristotle’s universals, setting aside the discussion of the separate existence of ideas. Espinoza Medrano’s interpretation bears similarities to the accounts of Dominic of Flanders OP (c. 1425–1479) and Francisco de Araújo OP (1580–1664).

Theological debates about specific topics could assume several forms, such as the disputatio and the tractatus, containing relevant philosophical ideas. Discussions on epistemology appear, for example, in texts with the title De visione Dei or the like, in which the possibility and structure of the cognition of God are examined. This is Alfonso Briceño’s main topic in cognition theory, treated by him in his long Controversy 9 (“On the knowability of God through us”), in which topics such as the theory of species, theory of concepts, mental acts, object of knowledge, intuitive cognition, abstractive cognition, beatific vision, etc., are discussed by him by means of detailed and comprehensive revisions of medieval and current scholastic literature. Of course, theological education in studia, higher colleges and universities was widely influenced by the model of Iberian Scholastic thinkers taking the Summa theologiae as the basis for study and teaching. In a similar way, Franciscan authors used Scotus’s opera theologica as the basis for the study of theology. From the chairs of the faculties of theology, characteristic ways of studying and exposing Aquinas’s Summa were created. These included disputes on controversial topics of the Summa theologiae I (see, for example, the Disputationum theologicarum, in Primam Partem Divi Thomae, Tomus Primus, de Deo uno (1663), by Leonardo Peñafiel SJ (1597–1657), who was born and worked as a theologian in the Viceroyalty of Peru). They also included the commentaries, interpretations, and expositions accompanying the thematic sections of the Summa theologiae IaIIae and IIaIIae, for example the Tractatus de actibus humanis (1759) by Jacinto Antonio Buenaventura OP (1731–1785), which focuses on topics covered in IaIIae, q. 6-48, or the De iustitia et iure (c. 1762) by Juan Antonio Ferraro SJ [1717–????] which takes into consideration themes treated by Aquinas in IIaIIae, q. 57-122. In fact, Tractatus de actibus humanis and Tractatus de conscientia (which has IaIIae, q. 19 as its background) were important loci for discussing the role of practical certainty for the goodness of an act and in forming right – and, thus, morally well-grounded – conscience. On the basis of such interpretations and analyses, and in connection with several different kinds of practical issues of singular relevance in Iberian colonies – particularly in the economy (such as the slave trade, the general obligation of work and payment of taxes) and in politics (such as waging war) – the topics of “tutiorism,” “probabilism(s)” and the like were widely debated and discussed in Latin American scholasticism. In the case of the theological themes of Summa theologiae III, many treatises on the incarnation, the perfections of Christ, and the sacraments can be found. So, for example, under the name of Juan Amorillo OSA, who was active in Mexico at the end of the 16th century, we have information about a manuscript, preserved in the National Library of Mexico, containing treatises on Christ’s incarnation, grace, and sacraments; we are also told of manuscripts from the first years of the 17th century, by Juan Pérez de Menacho SJ (1565–1626), from Lima, which are preserved at the National Library of Colombia and are supposed to contain three commentaries on themes of the Tertia Pars of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae, such as the Eucharist (III, q. 72-84). A single and remarkable author such as the Jesuit master José de Aguilar (1652–1708), from Peru, alongside his own complete Cursus philosophicus (dictated and published in Lima in 1701), was able to produce an impressive number of writings on the contents of the Summa theologiae I. The writings were posthumously published in 1731, in Córdoba (in the colonial region of Tucumán, today’s Argentina), with the title Tractationes posthumae in Primam Partem Divi Thomae, Volumes I-V.

One can hardly overestimate the significance that Aquinas’s Summa theologiae IIaIIae exerted on polemical literature and texts on applied ethics in the Latin American colonial period, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as its influence on the chairs dedicated to moral theology. It influenced the understanding of very different themes, such as the justice of commutations and contracts in general and the justice that relates to the commerce of slaves and to restitution in particular (for example, the idea of coordinating the obligation of restitution according to three “headings” (capita) for analyzing an unjust commutation, that is, the thing unjustly received, the unjust reception of something, and the participation in the unjust reception of a thing; see, among others, Tomás de Mercado OP (1223–1575), Suma de tratos y contratos [1571] II.21, and Epifanio de Moirans OFM Cap., Servi liberi seu naturalis mancipiorum libertatis iusta defensio XII, n. 122). It fact, it deeply influenced the understanding of the formal doctrine of natural law, civil-positive law, and the law of peoples, as well as the theory of justice and of particular justice (distributive, commutative and, especially, corrective and punitive justice). In several colonial institutional contexts, in theoretical philosophy and theology (metaphysics and dogmatics), a culture of true dispute for the most loyal interpretation of Thomas Aquinas emerged, which was, in its turn, filtered by centuries of reception and commentaries on Aquinas’s works. This stands out in colonial institutions of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. In the Universidad Tomística or Universidad Santo Tomás (founded by the Dominicans in 1580) and later in the “Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario” (founded by the Dominicans in 1653), the artes followed the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas. The same is true for the artes and the course of theology at the Universidad Javeriana, which was founded in 1623 by the Jesuits. In the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé (founded in 1604, also by the Jesuit Fathers), Aquinas’s works were the center of the Ratio Studiorum. Martín de Eusa SJ (1631?–1693), who worked as a professor at the Universidad Javeriana from 1661 to 1680 and was twice the principal of the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé, in Bogotá (Colombia), echoes his courses on moral theology ad mentem Thomae in his Controversia de restitutione necessaria pro iniuriis et damnis in omnibus humanorum bonorum generibus. In this work, he synthesizes the teachings of a large number of Baroque-scholastic authors who wrote commentaries on the question restitution, as expounded by Thomas Aquinas in ST IIaIIae, q. 62, a. 1-8, with special consideration for the work of Juan de Lugo SJ (1583–1660, Disputationes de iustitia et iure, 1642). The Jesuit Juan Martínez de Ripalda (1641–1707), in a phase of consolidation of the cursus philosophicus in the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé and at the Universidad Javeriana as well, had the project of explaining – contrasting the points of view of the scotistarum schola, as well as those of the nominales, with the doctrines of thomistarum schola – the true Thomistic doctrine in his De usu et abusu doctrinae Divi Thomae (1704), with regard to several fields: the object of metaphysics, human cognition, freedom of the will and divine actions. It was a matter of dispute indeed, where masters of arts and theologians would find in Nueva Granada the flag of the most orthodox Thomistic legacy and, concomitantly, the philosophy that claimed to offer the mens propria Aristotelis.

Philosophy of Nature, Transition and Disappearance of Colonial Scholasticism

A remarkable number of texts dedicated to the philosophy of nature, usually the second part of the cursus philosophicus, were produced during the colonial period. In general, they suffer from an unfortunate lack of scholarly attention. Antonio Rubio’s published works are a good example of this situation. Rubio’s Logica mexicana had 18 editions and has been the object of important studies, but of the 55 editions of Rubio’s philosophical works, two thirds were on the philosophy of nature, namely commentaries on the Physics, On the Soul, On Generation and Corruption, and On the Heavens, which remain essentially uninvestigated The Argentinian scholar C.A. Lértora Mendoza published several works on the history of the natural sciences in the Viceroyalty of “Rio de la Plata” and especially in the Viceroyalty of “Nueva Granada.” Such studies show that the teaching of physicalia comprised three groups of works to be commented upon: (a) beyond Aristotle’s Physics, the Aristotelian treatises De caelo, De generatione et corruptione, De meteoris, and in some cases the Parva naturalia, which means here De memoria et reminiscentia and De somno et vigilia; (b) second, the so-called “Animastics” or treatises on Aristotle’s De anima; (c) finally, some interfaces with metaphysics, since, in some cases, teachers of metaphysics expounded questions related to De caelo and De anima. Until almost the end of the colonial period, with few exceptions, the 16th-17th century European model of teaching the philosophy of nature was followed, with expositions of the physical works usually embracing the order of the Aristotelian books, always beginning with the eight Books of the Physics, focusing on themes which had metaphysical and theological implications. Latin American intellectuals mastered the Aristotelian and medieval philosophy of nature, but, in contrast to what happened in Europe from the end of the 17th century onwards, experimental approaches to physical investigation and teaching did not play a significant role for them. For Latin American intellectuals, the study of physics was characterized by disputes on internal scholastic issues, which prompted conceptual disagreements and polemics both inside the Orders and among the Orders. Irrespective of the reasons for such an “anachronism” in the study and teaching of natural philosophy, and leaving aside the hypothesis that the selection of topics reflected the masters’ search for the conceptual conditions of the possibility of change and motion – and, to a certain extent, their search for the conditions of the possibility of the experience of change and motion – four topics seem to have been predominant in academic physics from the late 16th to the 18th century in colonial scholasticism. (i) Firstly, there was the debate on prime matter. For Aristotle, matter as such is one of the intrinsic co-principles which, together with form, constitute natural being. It is the potential principle of any physical compositum. Aristotle saw it as “pure potency,” but medieval thinkers (and Suárez) interpreted Aristotle’s terminology in different ways. They disputed, for example, whether prime matter had some actuality (and, thus, reality) of its own – as Scotus and Suárez thought it did – or not (as Aquinas thought). (ii) Secondly, there was the discussion on the multiplicity of subordinate forms. For Aristotle, the substantial composite has only one form. But some medieval authors proposed the so-called forma corporeitatis of living beings, in order to explain, for example, the identity of a dead body, that is, a body without a soul as animating principle. That structural form was thought to be subordinated to the specific form of the living being (a plant, a lion, a human being, etc.), and it had the role of universally assuring corporeal homogeneity from a formal point of view. (iii) Thirdly, there were debates on the multiplicity of non-subordinated forms. Thomists, following Aristotle, considered the co-existence of two forms of different species in the same being impossible. For Aquinas, not even God in His omnipotence could produce a being that would be at the same time cat and dog, not due to a defect of His omnipotence, but because it was about an impossible thing. Thomists worked with the principle that an objective impossibility or an intrinsic contradiction not only was an absolute limit of feasibility, but also of cognoscibility. However, Jesuits and Franciscans used to demand more rigorous conditions for a metaphysical impossibility – where a metaphysical possibility was always open to a logically absolute power of divinitus and immediately effecting something, i.e., an “absolute possible.” Against the Thomists, Franciscans and Jesuits argued that the co-existence of forms of different species was an absolute possible. (iv) Fourthly, there was the topic of the relationship between uncreated cause and created causes. Of course, the theory of causality is central in Aristotle’s physics. But now, Baroque scholastic thinkers – and up to the end of the 18th century our Latin American masters – discussed the nature of the relationship between God as uncreated efficient cause and the created efficient causes in the physical world. Four themes were central, namely divine concourse, physical premotion, concourse for evil or sin, and the relationship between divine concourse and free causality. One of the results of such an emphasis on conceptual issues of a metaphysical blend in approaching the philosophy of nature – issues that were not Aristotelian and were not concerned with theoretical and experience-based developments in the scientific approach to nature either – was that it blocked the reception, teaching, and pursuit of modern physics, i.e. of Newton’s mechanics, in the New World.

The colonial scholasticism that has been characterized so far, especially its philosophical basis, disappears almost entirely at the beginning of the 19th century. This is partially due to its substitution, both as a pure and as an eclectic orientation of philosophical study, by modernist philosophy influenced by the Entlightenment – which was, to a large extent, anti-scholastic. Eclectic scholastic thinkers of the period after the expulsion of the Jesuits (1767), such as the Franciscan José Elias del Carmen Pereira (1760–1825), professor at the Universidad de Córdoba (Argentina) and author of a Physica generalis (1784), exemplify this scientific-philosophical transition. For that transition, especially in the philosophy and science of nature, it is useful to contrast the work of José Elias Del Carmen Pereira with the Physica ad Aristotelis mentem (1758), by Juan Bautista Aguirre SJ (1725–1786), professor at the Pontificia Universidad de San Gregorio Magno, founded in 1622, in Quito (Ecuador). Acquainted with (modern) classical mechanics, Juan Bautista Aguirre supports the role of experience and experimentation for the knowledge of nature, but he stills defends the greater explanatory power of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature regarding motion and change.


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