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The Catholics, the Cathars, and the Concept of Infinity in the Thirteenth Century

Anne A. Davenport
Isis
Vol. 88, No. 2 (Jun., 1997), pp. 263-295
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/236574
Page Count: 33
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Catholics, the Cathars, and the Concept of Infinity in the Thirteenth Century
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Abstract

This essay examines mathematical arguments used by two thirteenth-century theologians, Alexander Nequam and Richard Fishacre, to defend the consistency of divine infinity. In connection with their arguments, the following question is raised: Why did theologians judge it appropriate to appeal to mathematical examples in addressing a purely theological issue? Inquiry into the broader social and political context suggests that the struggle of the church against heresy at this time played a crucial role in stimulating Catholic concern over divine infinity and that the controversy between Cathar heretics and Catholics, in particular, partially explains why divine infinity acquired a distinctly "scientific" character within scholastic theology. A secondary aim is to call attention to the fact that an important root of the modern notion of the "proper" infinite is found in what were at the time and have since remained in historians' classifications theological writings.

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