Aristotle’s Unfortunate Relation with Church

The title needs some explanation. Aristotle was born in 384 BC. He lived long before Christianity appeared on the scene. So how could Aristotle possibly have anything to do with the Church? Especially when he was a philosopher, writer, and scientist, and the Church was something of a different domain.

But it is true. Aristotle had a very good connection with the Church. Though not at the beginning, as time went by, their mutual alliance became so strong that it suffocated the entire scientific atmosphere for more than five hundred years.

Plato and Aristotle (from Raphael's School of Athens)
Plato and Aristotle (from Raphael’s School of Athens)

Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, was a student of another famous Greek philosopher Plato. (Plato, by the way, was a student of Socrates.) He was also the private tutor of the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great.

With help from his powerful student, Aristotle conducted research on a large scale. He wrote a lot, on different topics, made various observations, devised methods, tried to summarise almost everything known at that time in a logical way. The diversity and depth of his knowledge were overwhelming, not only for his contemporaries but also for many future generations to come. It seemed like Aristotle’s writings were all that needed to be known.

When Alexander died, Aristotle found himself in an unfavourable situation and left Athens to avoid being killed like Socrates. One year later, he died. All his books were sold to the library of Alexandria in Egypt.

It was a time of decline for Greek city-states. Slowly entire Europe fell into darkness. Intellectual practices ceased, and many great works of the past were forgotten.

Luckily, Arabs had translated several of Aristotle’s books. Later, around the eleventh century, the Europeans rediscovered various ancient texts (including Aristotle’s) from the Arabic translations. Academic activities were resuming in Europe, and Aristotle’s books were reintroduced by re-translating them from Arabic.

By that time, the Dark Ages of Europe was ending, and being able to reclaim their ancient Greek heritage put the European scholars in great amazement.

They spent a lot of time on this newly reclaimed inheritance. Deciphering those ancient books became more important than judging their correctness.

At that time, the Church was the dominant political and social power in Europe. The newly introduced ancient books were viewed unfavourably at first. In fact, the teaching of Aristotelian physics was prohibited in many places. Aristotelian physics never complied well with religious views.

But the situation changed when Christian scholars like Thomas Aquinas successfully reconciled Aristotelian thought with Christian doctrine.

Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle's "Physics"
Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s “Physics”

As a result, all of Aristotle’s works, absolutely everything that was known by his name, became part of a stagnant worldview controlled by the Church.

Throughout his life, Aristotle was a sharp criticiser of others’ scholarly works. He did his best to revise and reorganise his thoughts with new information. But with the protection of the Church, his own thoughts became immune to criticism.

Anything against Aristotle was considered an attack against the Christian religion. Any revision of scientific knowledge was no longer possible.

And this is how Aristotle’s unfortunate relation with Church began. The man whose name was once synonymous with knowledge, became its greatest enemy.

Freeing science from the grip of Aristotle was a dangerous but inevitable struggle. With the passage of time, scholars gathered the courage to criticise his theories and writings. The final blow supposedly came from the tower of Pisa. But that’s a different story.

2 thoughts on “Aristotle’s Unfortunate Relation with Church

  1. Aristotle promoted misogynistic ideas that benefited aristocratic men — like himself. His blatant degrading statements relating to women fashioned a philosophy that dominated several civilizations for centuries and is continuing to do so.


    1. Be careful. My mom who grew up during the time of Elvis I guess, went to catholic school and church while mass was still in Latin. Women were not allowed to study the Bible. She became an atomic physicist during the nuclear age but that just shows how messed up the world still is concerning female rights.


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