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Avicebron was a Jewish religious poet, moralist, and philosopher. He was born at Malaga in 1020 or 1021, and died at Saragossa in 1070. He was educated at Saragossa, where he spent the remainder of his life, devoting himself to moral and intellectual philosophy, and writing religoius poetry. His principal philosophical work, written in Arabic, was translated into Hebrew in the thirteenth century by Falaquera, and entitled "Mekor Chajim" [this was discovered and edited with French translation by Munk, "Melanges" etc. (Paris, 1857), and into latin in the twelfth century by Johannes Hispanus and Dominicus Gundisallinus (edited by Baumker, Munster, 1895) under the title "Fons Vitae". His poems were published by Munk ("Melanges", etc., Paris, 1857), and a Hebrew translation of his ethical writings (Riva, 1562, and Luneville, 1840). Avicebron's philosophy united the traditional neo-Platonic doctrines with the religious teaching of the Old Testament. From the neo-Platonists, whom he knew chiefly through such apocryphal writings as the "Theologia Aristotelis" and the "Liberde Causis" (see ARABIAN SCHOOL OF PHILOSOPHY), he derived the doctrine of emanation, namely: that there emanated from God, in the first place, the Universal Intelligence, that from the Universal Intelligence there emanated the World- Soul, and that from the World-Soul there emanated Nature, which is the immediate principle of productivity of material things. From the same neo-Platonic sources he derived the doctrine that matter is of itself wholly inert and merely the occasion which is made use of by the Infinite Agent to produce natural effects (Occasionalism). On the other hand, he drew from Biblical sources the doctrine that the Supreme Principle in the production of the universe was not the Thought of God, but the Divine Will, which, in Scriptural phrase, he calls the Word of God. In thus attempting to combine Jewish religious doctrine with the notion of emanation, he introduced into his philosophy elements which are logically incompatible.
His most celebrated doctrine, however, the one by which he was best known to the Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages, was that of the universality of matter. All created things, he taught, are composed of matter and form. God alone is pure actuality. Everything else, even the highest among the angels, is made up of matter (not mere potency, but matter like that of terrestrial bodies) and form, just as man is composed of body and soul. The matter, however, of angelic bodies, while it is like terrestrial matter, is of a purer kind and is called spiritual matter. In other words, there are no created "separate substances", as the Schoolmen called them. Between the pure spirituality of God and the crude materiality of terrestrial bodies there mediate substances composed of matter and form, which range in ascending scale of spiritual-materiality from the soul of man to the highest angelic nature. This doctrine is mentioned by almost all the great scholastics, and referred by them to the "Fons Vitae" for instance by Albert the Great (Summa Totius Theol., I, q. xlii, art. 22), by St. Thomas (Quaest. Disp., De Anima, art. 6; Opusculum de Subst. Separatis, passim), and Duns Scotus (De Rerum Princip. VIII.4). But, while the first two, in common with other Dominican teachers, refuted the author of "Fons Vitae" on this point, the last mentioned, together with Alexander of Hales and others of the Franciscan School, adopted his doctrine as part of their theory of the angelic nature.
BAUMKER, Avencebrolis Fons Vitae (Munster, 1895); MUNK, Melange, etc. (Paris, 1857); St. Thomas, Opusculum De Substantiis Separatis (Op. XV of Roman ed.; De Maria, Rome, 1886), III, 221 spp.; GUTTMANN, Die Philos. des Salom. Ibn Gabirol (Gottingen, 1889); STOCKL, Lehrb. der Gesch. der Phil. (Mainz, 1888), 555 sqq.; tr. Finlay (Dublin, 1903), 315 sqq.; TURNER, Hist. of Phil. (Boston, 1903), 315 sqq.
APA citation. (1907). Avicebron. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02156a.htm
MLA citation. "Avicebron." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02156a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Geoffrey K. Mondello.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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