The first medieval theologian to develop a systematic treatise on Free will,the Virtues, and the Natural law.

586J   Guillermus Altissodorensis, c.1150-1231 (sometimes also called William of Beauvai or Auxerre)

Summa aurea in quattuor libros sententiarum :  a subtilissimo doctore Magistro Guillermo altissiodore[n]si edita. quam nuper amendis q[uam]plurimis doctissimus sacre theologie professor magister Guillermus de quercu diligenti admodum castigatione emendauit ac tabulam huic pernecessariam edidit .

Impressa est Parisiis: Maxima Philippi Pigoucheti cura impensis vero Nicolai vaultier et Durandi gerlier alme vniuersitatis Parisiensis librariorum iuratorum, 3 Apr. 1500.                                $25,000

Folio, 28.5 x 20.5 cm. Signatures a–z &,ç8 A–M⁸N¹⁰AB⁶C⁸.  First edition. Large woodcut device (Davies 82) on title, Durand Gerlier’s woodcut device (Davies 119) within 4-part border at end. Gothic types, double column.  signatures:  There are some old manuscript marginalia.  Bound in contemporary calf over wooden boards. Two beautiful initials in gold, green, blue and lavender .

First edition  of the major work by William of Auxerre. In this commentary on Peter Lombard, William treats creation, natural law, the nature of man, a tripartite God, usury, end the Last Judgment, among other topics. He applies the critical reasoning of classical philosophy to that of scholastic philosophy.  He was an Archdeacon of Beauvais before becoming a professor of theology at the university in Paris. 


William of Auxerre’s  Summa Aurea, contains an ample disquisition on usury and the natural law basis of economic matters. His Summa Aurea still shows a debt to Peter Lombard, yet it advances his ontological argument, furthermore it shows inovation and an intellectual awareness and insistence on the physical that had not been seen earlier. The “Summa Aurea”, which is not, as it is sometimes described, a mere compendium of the “Books of Sentences” by Peter the Lombard. 

  Both in method and in content it shows a considerable amount of originality, although, like all the Summæ of the early thirteenth century, it is influenced by the manner and method of the Lombard. It discusses many problems neglected by the Lombard and passes over others. It is divided into four books:  The One and True God (bk. 1); creation, angels, and man (bk. 2); Christ and the virtues (bk. 3); Sacraments and the four last things (bk. 4). The Summa aurea had extraordinary influence on contemporary authors, such as Alexander of Hales and Hugh of Saint–Cher, and on later scholastics, such as St. Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure.     The teacher by whom William was most profoundly influenced was Praepositinus, or Prevostin, of Cremona, Chancellor of the University of Paris from 1206 to 1209.  

The names of teacher and pupil are mentioned in the same sentence by St. Thomas: Haec est opinio Praepositini et Autissiodorensis (in I Sent., XV, q. 11). William was, in turn, the teacher of the Dominican, John of Treviso, one of the first theologians of the Order of Preachers. The importance of the “Summa Aurea” is enhanced by the fact that it was one of the first Summæ composed after the introduction of the metaphysical and physical treatises of Aristotle. 

William of Auxerre, is considered the first medieval writer to develop a systematic treatise on free will and the natural law.  Probably a student of the Parisian canon and humanist Richard of St. Victor, William became a Master in theology and later an administrator at the University of Paris. After a long career at the university, he was commissioned in 1230 to serve as French envoy to Pope Gregory IX to advise Gregory on dissension at the university. William pleaded the cause of the students against the complaints of King Louis IX.

In 1231 William was appointed by Gregory to a three-member council to censor the works of Aristotle included in the university curriculum to make them conform sufficiently to Christian teaching. Contrary to the papal legate Robert of Courçon and other conservatives, who in 1210 condemned Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics as corruptive of Christian faith, William saw no intrinsic reason to avoid the rational analysis of Christian revelation. Confident of William’s orthodoxy, Gregory urged the King to restore him to the university faculty so that he and Godfrey of Poitiers might reorganize the plan of studies. William fell ill and died before any of these projects were begu

William’s emphasis on philosophy as a tool for Christian theology is evidenced by his critique of Plato’s doctrine of a demiurge, or cosmic intelligence, and by his treatment of the theory of knowledge as a means for distinguishing between God and creation. He also analyzed certain moral questions, including the problem of human choice and the nature of virtue. His fame rests largely on the Summa aurea, written between 1215 and 1220 and published many times (Paris, n.d.; 1500; 1518; Venice 1591). Inspired by the Sentences of peter lombard, preceding as he did the Aristotelian revival, William was largely influenced by St. Augustine, St. Anselm of Canterbury, Richard and Hugh of saint–victor, and Avicenna.. (J. Ribaillier, ed., Magistri Guillelmi Altissiodorensis Summa aurea, 7 vols. (Paris 1980–1987). Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955) 656–657. P. Glorieux, Répertoire des maîtres en théologie de Paris au XIIIe siècle (Paris 1933–34); C. Ottaviano, Guglielmo d’Auxerre …: La vita, le opere, il pensiero (Rome 1929). r. m. martineau, “Le Plan de la Summa aurea de Guillaume d’Auxerre,” Études et recherches d’Ottawa 1 (1937) 79–114

Goff G718; ISTC: ig00707500; Hain-Copinger 8324; BMC. VIII.122;  GW 11861; Polain B1787; Oates 3078; IGI Fabritius, Bibl. Latina, ed. 1754, III/p. 139). S.T.C. French Books, p. 213.  Us copies: Astrik L. Gabriel, Notre Dame IN, Boston Public, Bryn Mawr, Columbia, Huntington, Univ.of Chicago, Univ. of Wisconsin. |(also see my fascicule XIX, 2019: #1 for another copy of this edition now in private ownership)   

586J Guillermus de Auxerre 1500