Giles of Rome O.S.A. (Ægidius a Colonna) was one of the most productive, remarkable and influential scholars active at the end of the 13th century.
He was an original, profound and courageous thinker who even by his contemporaries was exceptionally esteemed. He was a Scholastic theologian, philosopher, logician, archbishop, and general and intellectual leader of the Order of Saint Augustine; he played a major role in the political events of his time. As an extremely prolific author, his academic output included a very large body of writings that contains sixty very substantial works, not all of which were completed. It includes a great variety of philosophical and theological writing. Represented within it are commentaries on Aristotle, theological treatises, Scholastic questions, and sermons. His works were known for their clarity, thoroughness and originality of thought.
He was called Doctor Fundatissimus, (Latin for “Best-grounded Teacher”). He has exerted considerable influence through the centuries, and beyond the bounds of the Order of Saint Augustine. A biography of Giles has three areas upon which to focus: his writings as a scholar, his work as an influential agent of the Pope, and his contribution to the Order of Saint Augustine. Giles was born in Rome between 1243 and 1247. As a young Augustinian, Giles was sent to the original Augustinian studium generale (international study house) in Paris about the year 1260. (Although not at the same location throughout, an Augustinian study house continuously existed in Paris from 1260 until the French Revolution in 1790.)
Thomas Aquinas from 1269 to 1272 in Paris was a teacher and director of studies of Giles. Giles in turn performed the same service for those members of his Order who studied in Paris between 1285 and 1293. Giles said that Aquinas "put me on the path of truth." He is the most important of the immediate pupils of Thomas Aquinas. Giles spent fifteen years in studies in Paris, and was the first member of the Order to earn the degree of Master of Theology. A renowned scholar and the author of about twenty-five books on theology and philosophy, Giles became a professor at the University of Paris. It was Giles of Rome O.S.A. who composed the prayer, Anima Christi: "Spiritus Christi, sanctifica me", (Soul of Christ, sanctify me). It has often been by mistake attributed to later spiritual writers. Before leaving Paris during or soon after 1277, he completed his De regimine principum ("On the Rule of Princes"), which is dedicated to the boy, Philip the Fair (1268-1314). At the age of seventeen in 1285, Philip would become the King of France. Philip reappears later in the life of Giles, but as an adversary.
Giles positively influenced the provision of education with this, his best-known work. It was a handbook on good government, and in medieval times it was translated into nearly all languages of Western Europe, and into Hebrew. Contrary to the book, The Prince, by Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) written 228 years later, the handbook by Giles urged kings to be compassionate. He suggested that kings especially promote schools and provide learned persons to teach their subjects, if they wished to be worthy of the title of king rather than the title of dictator, despot or tyrant. Giles positively influenced the provision of education with this, his best-known work. It was a handbook on good government, and in medieval times it was translated into nearly all languages of Western Europe, and into Hebrew.
It was owing to his influence that the University of Paris recognised the courses that Augustinian students had previously taken in various study houses of the Order elsewhere in Europe.At the Augustinian General Chapters of the Order at Padua in 1281, Orvieto in 1284, Ratisbon in 1290, Rome in 1292 and Siena in 1295, Giles consistently promoted the process of education for candidates joining the Order. At the general chapter in Rome on 4th January 1292, Giles was unanimously elected Prior General. An early advocate of studies, one of Giles' first acts as Prior General was to urge each Augustinian provincial to "put all your energy into preserving and advancing theological studies, so that by means of studies, together with religious observance, our Order may grow."
As Prior General, in August 1294 he visited the King of France, Philip IV ("the Fair"), to gain royal assent in matters regarding to the selling of the site of the Augustinian Paris studium (an Augustinian international study centre) established by the second Prior General in 1290. It was to be replaced with a larger site near the Seine, on a street still named Quai des Grands-Augustins. The acquisition of the site at Quai des Grands-Augustins - previously owned by the Sack Friars - had a bizarre twist for Giles, because it caused an over-officious official of the Bishop of Paris to issue Giles with a decree of excommunication. (Augnet has a page on this matter.)
Himself a graduate of the earlier Paris studium, Giles helped the Augustinian studium in Paris to be the best general studium in the Order throughout the following centuries (it lasted until closed by the French Revolution in 1789). His time in the office of Prior General was brief, for in April 1295 Pope Boniface VIII appointed him as Archbishop of Bourges in France. He continued to be helpful to studies within the Order during his twenty years as an archbishop; part of that time, from spring of 1296 until August 1299, was at papal command spent in Rome assisting Pope Boniface VIII.
While Archbishop of Bourges, Giles was a loyal champion of Pope Boniface VIII and was called by the pope to spend extended periods of time at the papal curia rather than at Bourges. During the crisis between the Pope and France from 1296 to 1303, Giles was with the Pope in Rome continuously from early 1296 until August 1299. King Philip IV of France challenged clerical immunities from royal taxation and the courts. This elicited from Pope Boniface VIII the intemperate papal bull, Unam sanctam (1302). The bull strongly implied that all temporal rulers derived their authority from the pope and roundly designated all people as subjects of the pope that the pope granted the king to rule.
Unam sanctam became a rich target for critics that papal apologists like Giles of Rome actually widened by advancing fulsome claims for papal world dominium (lordship) that fused the issues of jurisdictions and property rights. This effectively invited the opponents of papal authority to take aim at clerical wealth as well. The power play between Boniface and Philip IV reads like fiction, with evil deeds and possibly murder. (Boniface died under strange circumstances in 1302, after being kidnapped and held in prison by men that King Philip allegedly had recruited.) Giles wrote On Ecclesiastical Power at the height of the conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV of France (i.e., the Philip the Fair who had helped Giles earlier). This publication was the earliest fully articulated and philosophically developed defence of the "hierocratic" ideology of the medieval papacy. On Ecclesiastical Power was a discourse on the relationship between royal (secular) and papal (spiritual) power.
Although the Augustinian Order had received favours from King Philip IV while Giles had been Prior General, Giles' document provided a full exposition of the papal point of view. Giles based his theory that all government must be legitimised by the pope on scriptural, philosophical, patristic, and canonical sources. His conclusion that the pope is the rightful ruler and final judge of the world - even in secular matters - was the definitive statement on papal power in the Middle Ages. Giles offered a high degree of support for the papal rights of Boniface VIII, and Boniface was supportive in defining and safeguarding the rights of the Augustinian Order in the structure of the Church. Boniface did this in a skilful way, however, balancing the respective rights and responsibilities of both religious clergy and diocesan bishops in a reasonable way that impartially settled the main conflicts between them. His settlement, which was reconfirmed twelve years later by Pope Clement V, has remained essentially in force right up to the present day.
After the death of Pope Boniface, the prestige of Giles decreased with the election of Pope Clement V in 1303. Clement was the candidate manoeuvred into position by the French king, Philip IV, and he transferred the office of the Pope to Avignon in France. Clement was previously Betrand de Got (1264-1314), and as Archbishop of Bordeaux had had serious conflicts with Giles as the Archbishop of Bourges. The bad behaviour of Clement towards both Giles and the Bourges area after he became pope is difficult to believe, but is too complicated for a biography of this brevity to include.
The coming of a new Pope, however, did not prevent Giles from playing a significant role in the debates of his time, which again need not be of concern in an article as brief as this one. Giles died at Avignon, France on 22nd December 1316. He was first buried in the Augustinian church at Avignon. His bones were later transferred to the church of the Augustinian stadium generale (international house of study) in Paris, where his tomb was marked by an inscription until it was destroyed during the French Revolution. He bequeathed his books to the Paris studium, "out of whose abundance I was nourished right from my early years."
In summary, it can be said that Giles of Rome occupies first place in Augustinian intellectual history. More than any other person, he shaped and promoted the teachings which traditionally characterised the Augustinians. In turn, the Augustinians have always considered him to be their first master, not only in time but also in importance. The first writers about Giles gave him the title of Blessed, although no formal process towards declaring him a saint was ever initiated. Copies of some of his sermons still exist. Unfortunately, even today there is not yet a complete, let alone critical edition of his printed works. Nor has a complete account of the theological teaching of Giles of Rome yet been written.Photo GalleryThe images on this page have no connection with Giles of Rome O.S.A.. For Augnet material about St Rita of Cascia, click here.)
Giles of Rome (Ægidius a Colonna). A brief biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Egidio_Colonna AN4325