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Studying Aristotelian Logic in Ninth-Century Byzantium

Christophe Erismann, Université de Lausanne, Fellow 2014–2015, Spring

My fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks allowed me to study carefully two fascinating examples of the use of Aristotelian logic in ninth-century Byzantine theological debates. This research was greatly facilitated by the exceptional quality of the bibliographical resources available at Dumbarton Oaks and by the extraordinary commitment of the permanent staff.

The first inquiry focused on the discussion of the particularity versus universality of the humanity of Christ, which is addressed both by Theodore the Stoudite, who defends universal humanity, and by Patriarch Photios, who rejects it. The study of this problem allows us to reconstruct both authors’ theories of universals, and to show how their solutions to a theological question are determined by their understanding of the ontological status of universal entities. The second study dealt with the use of the Aristotelian category of relatives (pros ti) in the iconoclastic crisis. As has been established by Paul Alexander, the last phase of the debate on icon worship is characterized by a frequent use of Aristotelian logical concepts in the works of authors favorable to icons, such as Patriarch Nikephoros of Constantinople, Metrophanes of Smyrna, and Theodore the Stoudite. The image and its model are analyzed in terms of Aristotelian relatives. This generates highly interesting and innovative considerations about the simultaneity by nature as a property of relatives. These two inquiries have confirmed that, in order to understand the development of logic in ninth-century Byzantium, the study of theological writings—in addition to philosophical ones—is crucial.