During the mid-twelfth century, Europe huddled under the cloak of the Dark Ages until a group of scholars came together to translate Aristotle’s great works from Arabic into Latin. These scholars were Muslims, Jews and Christians working together and determined to breathe new life into the teachings of Aristotle, despite the opposition and fear of the Catholic Church. So controversial was this event that it caused riots at major European universities and sent the religious establishment reeling as a whole new concept of the natural world and the soul of man spread like wildfire.
Richard E. Rubenstein's Aristotle's Children reads like a history book and a fast-paced thriller put together as it chronicles the battle of traditional religious doctrine with erupting modernism set against the stage of the High Middle Ages, and developing once Aristotle’s writings were openly accepted by many religious scholars upon learning that all of Aristotle’s surviving works had been translated into Arabic for study and debate. The author, an expert on religious history and conflict and a professor at George Mason University, takes us on a long but exciting journey as we watch this discovery, and rediscovery, of Aristotle’s philosophies regarding the way the world works, cause and effect, and the emphasis on reason over faith. As the religious scholars from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian worlds dared examine and embrace these concepts, and in the process challenge those of the Catholic Church, there was a new birth of ideas and possibilities that literally changed the face of Western religious tradition, eventually culminating in the great work of Thomas Aquinas, who based his arguments of God’s existence on Aristotle’s earlier concepts of an Unmoved Mover and First Cause.
The story of Aristotle’s influence on the major Western religions is an eye-opener for readers unfamiliar with European history. Though the book focuses mainly on the effects on Christianity, all three Western religions were immensely changed and challenged by the writings of the fourth-century B.C. philosopher. In fact, the main word that comes to mind while reading this book is “illuminating", and the reader truly will be illuminated once they understand, as the author makes clear, the depth and breadth of Aristotle’s influence on the traditions we have come to know of today, and of the great struggle in making that influence into a vision that could, and would, survive religious intolerance, violence and suppression.
Think of Aristotle's Children as a lost-and-found story about a great thinker who was set aside for awhile, only to be rediscovered during a bleak and violent period of history. Today’s religions still bear the effects of Aristotle’s teachings and their incorporation into doctrines once set in stone. We can thank that coalition of brave scholars and their bold foresight, for had they not shed the light of truth on the teachings of a great mind, and made those teachings a subject of continuous debate and inquiry, we might still be living in some very dark ages.