I have been studying the theological writings of Henry of Ghent for a few years, and with the New Year I have thought it fitting to begin a blog devoted to all things pertaining to the Solemn Doctor.

My intentions for this blog is firstly to make the theological and philosophical teachings of Henry of Ghent available to a wider audience. It would be fair to say that mostly academics who study medieval theology or medieval philosophy have read Henry's texts. There are several English translations of small representative passages by folks like Roland Teske and Jos Decorte. As representative examples these translations are indeed to be appreciated; nonetheless in order for a willing person to come to understand Henry's cathedral of philosophical and theological teachings, much much more work needs to be done on several fronts (e.g., the production of critical editions, translations, rigorous explanation and analysis of Henry's teachings). Secondly, I aim to post things such as translations of and commentaries on passages from Henry's writings (e.g., on what it means to be a 'person', what 'mutual love' is, and various interesting and delicate issues in his Trinitarian theology.)

One of the most well-known medieval theologians is St. Thomas Aquinas. There are various reasons for Thomas's popularity. Thomas's teachings are fascinating in and of themselves. Thomas was a Dominican and was made the doctor of that religious order - this entailed that many students were institutionally required to study Aquinas's writings and encouraged to agree with them. Furthermore, there are many English translations of Aquinas's writings. A person who does not know Latin could read massive amounts of Thomas's writings and so this person could be informed about many topics that Thomas wrote on. Not so for Henry of Ghent. Who was Henry of Ghent? (For a full biography, see Pasquale Porro's article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Henry of Ghent was a 'secular' priest. This just means that he was a priest but not in any religious order like the Dominicans or the Franciscans. However, what enabled Henry's teachings to be well known during his career was the fact that he taught at the University of Paris from 1276-1291/2. In the 13th century 'Masters' of theology usually did not teach in the University as long as Henry did. The reason is that if a Master was in a particular religious order, he could hold the chair of Master for as long as the relevant head of the religious order thought he should occupy that teaching chair. For example, Thomas Aquinas occupied the Dominican chair at the University of Paris twice in his life because for various reasons Aquinas was sent here and there depending on the needs of the religious order. But with Henry, there was no religious order that sent him on different missions, as it were, away from the University. Thus, Henry had a long career at the University of Paris; consequently Henry lectured and taught many new students who were studying for their undergraduate degree. Henry was fairly well-known during his life; but because there was no particular religious order that made Henry's texts the prescribed texts for new students to study, this meant that after his word-of-mouth notariety faded, Henry's teachings (so far as I know) became less known and less understood.

There are some historical accidents that have kept Henry's teachings on the radar for students of the history of theology. Firstly, Duns Scotus - a Francsican friar - was a well-known theologian who lived in the generation of theologians just after Henry. Even more, Duns Scotus (according to a recent conference paper by William Courtenay) traveled to Paris in the late 1280s or early 1290s and very likely met Henry of Ghent who was teaching at Paris at that time. Richard Cross has described Scotus's Trinitarian theology as a systematic destruction of Henry's Trinitarian theology. Even more, as Etienne Gilson has said, one can hardly study Duns Scotus without also needing to know Henry of Ghent. To be sure, there were intermediaries between Henry and Duns Scotus, like William of Ware (Scotus's putative teacher), Richard of Conington and Robert Cowton. These three theologians in one way or another discussed Henry's teachings, to which Scotus critically responded.

Another historical accident is that another popular Franciscan friar, William of Ockham - like Scotus - summarized and criticized Henry's teachings on a wide range of topics, e.g., Trinitarian theology. Nevertheless, Henry's Quod. and SQO were not wholly overlooked; the Encycl. Britannica puts it this way:

Henry has been generally neglected by historians because of the inaccessibility of his works. Significant for the development of ethical theory in the European Middle Ages, however, is the fact that the great British philosopher John Duns Scotus devoted much of his energy to answering Henry’s arguments. Despite attacks from other eminent thinkers, such as William of Ockham and Durandus of Saint-Pourçain, Henry’s writings were widely read between the 14th and 18th century. During the 16th century the Servites erroneously adopted him as their official doctor.

So another important historical accident is that a religious order called the Servites, who in the 16th c. made Henry the doctor of their order; this entailed the production of new editions of Henry's writings, namely Jacob Badius's 1518 edition of Henry's 15 Quodlibetal Questions [= Quod.], and the 1520 edition of Henry's Summa Quaestionum Ordinariarum [= SQO]. And as we know, with new editions comes new readers. I will say something about Henry's Quod. and SQO in another post. Also, it is important to mention that historians haven't paid as much attention to Henry because of the state of Henry's texts, to which I now turn.

In the 20th century Raymond Macken began the very long work of making critical editions of Henry's Quod. and SQO. To make a critical edition scholars must learn about all the manuscripts, how they related to one another, and through paleographic and other skill-sets can produce a critical edition. If we have a critical edition, then we have a good basis for making English translations. This leads to something of a back and forth activity; some scholars work to produce critical editions, which take a long time to produce, and other scholars are eager to make translations.

Some scholars don't want to wait around for the critical editions to get published, so folks like Roland Teske and Jos Decorte have translated a chunk of Henry's texts based on a 16th c. edition of Henry's text (the Badius edition). Likewise, there are texts that I have translated from the 16th c. edition and for which there is not yet a critical edition. Thus, any translation based on the 16th c. edition is provisional for now, but may be superseded in the future on the basis of any crucial grammatical or interpretive findings from the production of a critical edition.

Thanks to the slowly growing collection of critical editions, and to growing interest in Henry's theology and philosophy, now is a time for obtaining a greater understanding of and appreciation for Henry of Ghent. I hope to show in the following posts why Henry of Ghent may be of interest to theologians in general.

In my next post I will say something about the translations I have done and will post. Also, I will make some remarks about what I take to be new areas of research on Henry of Ghent that have been hitherto neglected. New research in these areas may help to make clear the complexity of Henry teachings, especially his metaphysics and philosophical psychology.


  1. This is a welcome addition to the blogosphere. I'm slavering at the mouth in anticipation. Did you take advantage of the giant Leuven sale?


  2. Excellent! This sort of thing is needed; without Henry those of us non-medievalists interested in medieval thought have gaping holes in their knowledge of it, and that's not going to be remedied unless there's more exposure and accessibility of the sort you're working for here.

  3. Welcome to medieval blog land. I am working on a translation of Scotus's questions on the perihermenias. As background for this I am reading his question on individuation, on Ockham's position against Scotus, and on Scotus' position as (apparently) against Henry. I am not near my library right now, but from memory Scotus attacks Henry's position that individuation is a twofold negation (i.e. of identity with others, and of being further potentially divisible as a true species is).

    I think the relevant questions of the quodlibet are 5, edited by Plevano but in prep, and 8, edited by Porro, also in prep.

    Do you know if these have been published? Do you have an interest in this part of Henry's work?

    In any case, I shall follow your posts with interest.

    Best, Ockham

  4. Welcome Ocham,

    I am indeed interested in the individuation question; in fact I am in the midst of writing a chapter that deals with this issue within the context of some Trinitarian issues. In any case, I don't think Quod. 5 nor Quod. 8 are out yet. You should look at Quod. 5.8-- that is an important one. But just so you know, I think Scotus got Henry's view wrong. So does M. Pickave. You should get Pickave's article in PSMLM 5 on Henry's acct. of individuation. Click the 'SMLM' link in my Medieval Goods list to get the article. His article is the best place to start (S. Brown's would be next- from _Individuation in Scholasticsm_). In the chapter I am writing presently I give further support of Pickave's reading which (hopefully) shed's more light on Henry's peculiar view.

  5. Hi Scott – just noticed your new blog thanks to a link on The Smithy. Good luck with it!