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Teaching of Moses Maimonides

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Moses ben Maimun (Arabic, Abu Amran Musa), Jewish commentator and philosopher, was born of Spanish Jewish parents at Cordova in 1135. After sojourning with his parents in Spain, Palestine, and Northern Africa, he settled down at Old Cairo, Egypt, in 1165. There he received the office of court physician, and at the same time, as head of the Jewish communities in Egypt, devoted himself to the exposition of the Talmud. He died at Cairo, 13 December, 1204, and was buried at Tiberias in Palestine. His writings include: (1) Commentaries: (a) "Kitáb al-Siraj", a commentary on the Mishnah, written in Arabic and translated into Hebrew (first published 1492), Latin (Oxford, 1654), and German (Leipzig, 1863); (b) "Mishneh Torah", or "Yad ha-Hazakah", written in Hebrew, and many times published (first ed. in Italy, 1480; latest, Vilna, 1900); translated in part into English in 1863 by Bernard and Soloweyczik; (2) Philosophical Works: (a) "Dalalat al-Ha’irîn", translated into Hebrew as "Moreh Nebûkîm" (1204), and into Latin as "Doctor Perplexorum", "Dux Dubitantium". The Arabic Original was published, with a French translation entitled "Guide des égarés" by Munk (13 vols., Paris, 1856-66). An English translation of portion of it by Townley appeared as "The Reasons of the Laws of Moses" (London, 1827), and a version of the whole work under the title "The Guide of the Perplexed" by Friedländer (London, 1889); (b) Minor Philosophical Works: "On the Unity of God", "On Happiness", "On the Terminology of Logic", "On Resurrection" etc.; (3) Medical and Astronomical Works: Several treatises on poisons, on hygiene, a commentary on Hippocrates, on the astronomical principles of the Jewish calendar etc.

Through the "Guide of the Perplexed" and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted a very important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, St. Thomas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of the Arabian philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired through the abundant philosophical literature in the Arabic language an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of Aristotle, and strove earnestly to reconcile the philosophy of the Stagirite with the teachings of the Bible. The principle which inspired all his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Moreover, by science and philosophy he understood the science and philosophy of Aristotle. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of the Aristotelean text, holding, for instance, that the world is not eternal, as Aristotle taught, but was created ex nihilo, as is taught explicitly in the Bible. Again, he rejected the Aristotelean doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual. But, while in these important points, Maimonides forestalled the Scholastics and undoubtedly influenced them, he was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators and by the bent of his own mind, which was essentially Jewish, to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, he pushed too far the principle of negative predication in regard to God. The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God, but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc.

The most characteristic of all his philosophical doctrines is that of acquired immortality. He distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect (this is his interpretation of the noûs poietikós of Aristotelean philosophy), and is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God. The knowledge of God is, therefore, the knowledge which, so to speak, develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial or spiritual nature. This immateriality not only confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, but also endows the soul with immortality. He who has attained a knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore, since he has it in his power to attain this salutary knowledge, is in a position not only to work out his own salvation, but also to work out his own immortality. The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the later on the earlier doctrine. The difference between the two Jewish thinkers is, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis, Moses holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Law of God.

Among the theological questions which Moses discussed were the nature of prophecy and the reconciliation of evil with the goodness of God. He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the free act of God before the man actually becomes the prophet. In his solution of the problem of evil, he follows the neo-Platonists in laying stress on matter as the source of all evil and imperfection.


Sources

GUTTMANN, Verhältniss des Thomas v. Aquin zum Judentum (Breslau, 1891); BEER, Leben u. Werken des Maimonides (Prague, 1850); GEIGER, Moses ben Maimon (Breslau, 1850); BARUCH, Two lectures on Maimonides (London, 1847); Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Moses Ben Maimon; GUTTMANN, Die Scholastik in ihrer Bez. zum Judentum (Brfeslau, 1902); STÖCKL, Gesch. der Phil. des Mittelalters, II (Mainz, 1865), 265 sqq.; TURNER, History of Philosophy (Boston, 1903), 316 ff.

About this page

APA citation. Turner, W. (1910). Teaching of Moses Maimonides. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09540b.htm

MLA citation. Turner, William. "Teaching of Moses Maimonides." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09540b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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