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Egidio Colonna

Augustinian; Scholastic philosopher and theologian (c. 1247-1316)

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Colonna, EGIDIO (LLGIDIUS A COLUMNA), a Scholastic philosopher and theologian, b. about the middle of the thirteenth century, probably 1247, in Rome; hence the name AEGIDIUS ROMANUS, or GILES OF ROME, by which he is generally known; d. at Avignon, December 22, 1316. Having entered the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine at Rome, he was sent to Paris for his philosophical and theological studies, and became there the disciple of Thomas Aquinas. Egidio Colonna was the first Augustinian appointed to teach in the University of Paris, and his deep learning earned for him the title of Doctor fundatissimus. In 1281, at the Thirty-sixth Council of Paris, in which several differences between bishops and mendicant orders were arranged, he sided with the bishops against the regulars. Referring to this, a contemporary philosopher, Godfrey of Fontaines, mentioned him as the most renowned theologian of the whole city (qui modo melior de totae villa in omnibus reputatur). King Philip III entrusted to him the education of his son, who later, in 1285, ascended the throne as Philip IV. When the new king, after his coronation at Reims, entered Paris, Egidio gave the address of welcome in the name of the university, insisting on justice as the most important virtue of a king. (For the text, see Ossinger, in work cited below.) Some time before this several of his opinions had been found reprehensible by Archbishop Etienne Tempier of Paris, and in 1285 Pope Honorius IV asked him for a public retractation. This, however, was far from lessening his reputation, for in 1287 a decree of the general chapter of the Augustinians held in Florence, after remarking that Egidio’s doctrine “shines throughout the whole world” (venerabilis magistri nostri Aegidii doctrina mundum universum illustrat), commanded all members of the order to accept and defend all his opinions, written or to be written. After filling several important positions in his order he was elected superior general in 1292. Three years later Pope Boniface VIII appointed him Archbishop of Bourges, France, although Jean de Savigny had already been designated for this see by Pope Celestine V. The French nobility protested on the ground that Colonna was an Italian, but his appointment was maintained and approved by the king. He was present at the Council of Vienne (1311-1312) in which the Order of Knights Templars was suppressed.

The writings of Egidio Colonna cover the fields of philosophy and theology. There is no compiete edition of his works, but several treatises have been published separately. In Holy Scripture and theology he wrote commentaries on the “Hexameron”, the “Canticle of Canticles“, and the “Epistle to the Romans“; several “Opuscula” and “Quodlibeta”, various treatises, and especially commentaries on Peter the Lombard’s “Four Books of Sentences”. In philosophy, besides commentaries on almost all the works of Aristotle, he wrote several special treatises. But his main work is the treatise “De regimine principum”, written for, and dedicated to, his pupil, Philip IV. It passed through many editions (the first, Augsburg, 1473) and was translated into several languages. The Roman edition of 1607 contains a life of Egidio. The work is divided into three books: the first treats of the individual conduct of the king, the nature of his true happiness, the choice and acquisition of virtues, and the ruling of passions; the second deals with family life and the relations with wife, children, and servants; the third considers the State, its origin, and the proper mode of governing in times of peace and war. Egidio’s pedagogical writings have been published in German by Kaufmann (Freiburg, 1904).

The attitude of Egidio Colonna in the difficulties between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV was long believed to have been favorable to the king. But the contrary is now certain, since it has been proved that he is the author of the treatise “De potestate ecclesiastics”, in which the rights of the pope are vindicated. The similarity between this treatise and the Bull “Unam Sanctam” seems to support the view taken by some writers that Egidio was the author of the Bull. He had already taken an active part in ending the discussions and controversies concerning the validity of Boniface’s election to the papacy. In his treatise “De renunciatione Papae sive Apologia pro Bonifacio VIII” he shows the legitimacy of Celestine’s resignation and consequently of Boniface’s election. In philosophy and theology he generally follows the opinions of his master, St. Thomas, whose works he quotes as scripta communia. The “Defensorium seu Correctorium corruptorii librorum Sancti Thomae Aquinatis” against the Franciscan William de la Mare of Oxford is by some attributed to Egidio; but this remains uncertain. Nevertheless, on many points he holds independent views and abandons the Thomistic doctrine to follow the opinions of St. Augustine and of the Franciscan School. He even errs in asserting that, before the fall, grace had not been given to Adam, an opinion which he wrongly attributes to St. Augustine. After the decree of the general chapter of 1287, mentioned above, the opinions of Egidio Colonna were generally accepted in the Augustinian Order. He thus became the founder of the Aegidian School. Among the most prominent representatives of this school must be mentioned Giacomo Capoccio of Viterbo (d. 1307) and Augustinus Triumphus (d. 1328), both contemporaries of Egidio, and also students and professors in the University of Paris; Prosper of Reggio, Albert of Padua, Gerard of Siena, Henry of Frimar, Thomas of Strasburg—all in the first half of the fourteenth century. For some time after this other opinions prevailed in the Augustinian Order. But as late as the seventeenth century should be mentioned Raffaello Bonherba (d. 1681) who wrote “Disputationes totius philosophiae … in quibus omnes philosophicae inter D. Thomam et Scotum controversiae principaliter cum doctrina nostri Columnae illustrantur” (Palermo, 1645, 1671); and Augustino Arpe (d. 1704) who wrote “Summa totius theologise Aegidii Columnae” (Bologna, 1701, and Genoa, 1704). Federico Nicolo Gavardi (d. 1715), the most important interpreter of Colonna, composed “Theologia exantiquataiuxta orthodoxam S. P. Augustini doctrinam ab Aegidio Columna doctore fundatissimo expositam . . (6 vols. fol., Naples and Rome, 1683-1696); this work was abridged by Anselm Hormannseder in his “Hecatombe theologica” (Presburg, 1737). Benignus Sichrowsky (d. 1737) wrote also “Philosophia vindicata ab erroribus philosophorum gentilium iuxta doctrinam S. Augustine et B. Aegidii Columnae” (Nuremberg, 1701).


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