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Vestigia Dei or visible traces of the invisible in medieval philosophy

Class at Faculty of Arts |


The course investigates philosophical conceptions of the relationship between the invisible and the visible as a manifestation of the invisible, as they manifested in the history of Western thought. Specifically, we will be concerned with a twofold relationship: first, between visible nature and its invisible, divine ground, and second, between visible things and their invisible inner forces, both perspectives being intertwined variously.

In medieval philosophy, this problem was seen as the relationship between God and the created world, in which its divine Creator has left his "traces" or "vestiges", through the recognition of which it is possible to learn something about the Creator himself. Such a conception has its biblical justification and its philosophical prehistory.

At the same time, it is an idea that culminates in the Renaissance doctrine of signatures, according to which external forms reveal internal forces and effects. This doctrine goes hand in hand with the idea of the created world as a "book of God" that can be "read" not only for the sake of knowledge about the world, but also about its Creator.

We will try to trace first the origins of this perspective in Plato and in Neo-Platonism, in the so-called physiognomonics in medicine, and in Old and New Testament texts, through its manifestations in Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite, to its development in Hugo of St. Victor and Bonaventure, as well as later in Nicholas of Cusa, in Renaissance Neo-Platonism, and finally in natural philosophy and medicine (Paracelsianism) of the 16th century.

In conclusion, we will also pay attention to the further development of this doctrine in later centuries.