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2 Bacon´s Life: Conflicting Chronologies and Texts

2 Bacon´s Life: Conflicting Chronologies and Texts

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7 From Sapientes antiqui at Lincoln to the New Sapientes moderni. . .


has been working on languages and sciences in studio, and that he had expenses as

others commonly have. The problem then centers on which alphabetum is the

object of Bacon’s concern in Chap. XX, and what is the scope of in studio in the

context of his remarks on the education of his own young student, the young John.

Theodore Crowley has also argued that Bacon could have been at Oxford in one

of the Grammar schools directed by the Chancellor of the University, and Crowley

may well be correct in this supposition (Ibid.). This would mean that Bacon was

born c. 1220, educated at Oxford c. 1234–1241, and Professor at Paris

c. 1242–1247/1248. It is sometimes held that c. 1248 he returned to Oxford,

where he attended the lectures of Adam Marsh OFM. He would then have become

a Franciscan Friar c. 1256/1257.

Here we run into a number of problems. First, Chap. XX of the Opus tertium is

concerned with instruction in languages and mathematics, and the word

Alphabetum, has been taken by Crowley and Lindberg to mean the first alphabet

at the age of about 7, when Bacon was technically a Puer. A few paragraphs later in

Opus Tertium (1859), Chap. XX the word Alphabetum is explicitly used to speak

about the Alphabetum philosophiae, especially the basic knowledge of mathematics. Second, Bacon uses the standard terms such as Adolescens, Iuvenis, Senex.3

And since he is talking about a youth who is learning mathematics and is talking

about his own study of language and mathematics to indicate the he once was in the

position of the iuvenis Iohannes, he is hardly speaking about a Puer. As a iuvenis,

he would first have been taught by a grammar-master (Grammaticus) before

proceeding onto the study of mathematics around the age of 11. Third, the dating

of the birth at c. 1220 could not account for the following remark from the

Compendium studii theologiae: ‘Even the books of logic were not received and

taught until late in the day. For Blessed Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury was the

first to teach the Sophistical Elenchs [of Aristotle] in my times (temporibus meis),

and I both saw Master Hugh, who first taught the Posterior Analytics [of Aristotle],

and I perused the words [in his book]’ (Maloney 1988) [Text 3].

Sir Richard Southern holds that Blessed Edmund departed Oxford in 1222, and

Bernard G. Dodd, the expert on logic, dates the teaching of Master Hugh to c. 1210

(Southern 1992; Dodd 1982).4 Further, who is the great expert on natural philosophy and perspectiva mentioned in the Tractatus de experiential in communi who

mentored Bacon a iuventut? The only known expert on natural philosophy and

perspectiva during Bacon’s early years at Oxford was Robert Grosseteste.

Now it is important to read Bacon’s own words: sometimes he simply states that

he has seen some of the ancients, when for example as we will see below he states

many times Nam vidimus with regard to Robert Grosseteste and select scholars at

Lincoln, and at Oxford. But of course, the important issue is the force of the term


Speaking about the Iuvenis Iohannes, Bacon speaks of his in different contexts as puer, iuvenis,



See Dodd (1982) on the difficulties in establishing these dates for the teaching of Aristotle at



J. Hackett

Nam vidimus. There is only one text where he notes a particular conversation with

another scholar, that is, with Adam Marsh OFM. Otherwise, he always uses the

term Nam vidimus. The proper sense of the word perceive in Bacon is not the loose

sense of a general glance at someone, but rather a direct encounter with an

individual. He states that he witnessed some Franciscans questioning Master

Adam Marsh OFM concerning the nature of the Agent Intellect. [TEXT 4] This,

most likely was some time before 1257 and after Bacon ceased teaching in the Arts

at Paris c. 1248. He tells us that he had seen Thomas of Wales, Bishop of St. David

in Wales, but the latter died in 1255, and prior to that he had been a Bishop in

Wales. And then his hero Robert Grosseteste passed away in 1253. Thus, he had to

have seen these three scholars at some time before 1251, since he was in Paris at

that time and seems to have been there until 1257 and later. Thus, we must look to

the late 1220s to 1250 as the possible time for Bacon having seen the Sapientes


Roger Bacon had a life-long concern with government and with the education of

the Prince (Hackett 2006). Matthew Paris tells how Friar Robert Bacon of the Order

of Preachers, in a speech before the King at Oxford, June 24, 1233, denounced the

royal favorites, the Bishop of Winchester (Pierre des Roches) and Pierre de

Rivleaux. A young Clericus de curia regis, one Roger Bacon made a witty remark

about rocks. A. G. Little notes that while we do not have evidence that our Roger

Bacon ‘was ever a clerk of the royal court,’ ‘he had some knowledge of the inner

workings of a chancery’ (Little 1914). [Text 5] Still, we know that later in Paris

c. 1265, Bacon moved in Ambassadorial Circles, and had intimate knowledge of the

household of the brother of the King of France, Alphons of Poitiers. It would appear

that after 1280 at Oxford, the edition of the Secretum secretorum, the very important Mirror for Princes was written for a Royal patron.5 Further, we will note below

his close connections with Master Raymond of Laon, an official of Cardinal Guy le

Gros de Foulque, who in February 1265 was elected Pope Clement IV.

It was the firm conviction of the late James A. Weisheipl that Roger Bacon began

his teaching in the Arts at Paris c. 1237, and in this I am inclined to agree. Certainly,

I do not think he began to teach there much later than 1240. Now, it is standard lore

that Bacon ceased to teach at Paris c. 1247–1248, and that he returned to Oxford

from about 1248–1257. Sometime around 1256/1257 he joined the Franciscan

Order. Bacon writes about the twenty years when I especially worked in the arts

and sciences neglecto sensu vulgi. [Text 2] This phrase, however, is taken by most

scholars to mean he had lectured on the texts of Aristotle et sequaces eius vulgariter

or per modum scholasticum until 1247/1248. And then from 1248 to 1268 there is

the new ‘scientific’ work neglecto sensu vulgi. But as we will see, this is an

impossible hypothesis since Bacon tells us that from about 1256 to 1267 he did

not do any professional academic work.


The Secretum secretorum is a work that offers advice on statecraft and in the thirteenth century

was thought to have been written by Aristotle for Alexander the Great, when in fact, it was a

mid-twelfth century Latin translation of the tenth century Arabic work Kitab sir al-asrar.

7 From Sapientes antiqui at Lincoln to the New Sapientes moderni. . .


But since Bacon distinguishes himself as one of the Sapientes in opposition to the

leaders of the vulgus philosophorum et theologorum at Paris, and since in 1271 he

talks of himself as having been a long experienced scholar of Aristotle, Avicenna and

Averroes (sicut ego expertus sum omnino) [Text 6] I doubt he ever thought of himself

as one of the vulgus. My argument, as I will indicate below, is that the term neglecto

sensu vulgi has a specific determinate sense in Roger Bacon. It indicates work first in

Languages, namely the grammar and logic of that language, and more importantly, it

indicates a competence in the Quadrivium. This is precisely what Bacon states. For

Bacon, mathematics is the alphabetum philosophiae. Note the words of the text: he

had expenses, he organized scientific research, he organized schools. As we will see

below, he certainly did not perform this task as a Franciscan Friar beginning c. 1257,

nor did he do so as a puer. Writing in the Opus tertium, Bacon himself states that

almost twenty years ago he was the Magister Regens at the inception of new masters

in matters dealing with the Quadrivium, and none but he was fully competent in

geometry. [Text 6a] This could have been as late as 1250–1252. That he was in Paris

in 1251 is clear from his reference in Opus maius IV to have seen the leader of the

Pastoreaux Rebels (Bacon 1964, Opus maius). Further, as Alain de Libera has

argued, and as Thomas S. Maloney confirmed, the method and subject matter of

the Summulae dialectics (Summa Logica) is more appropriate and typical of the late

1240s than the early 1240s (Maloney 2009).6 Further, Bacon states that he heard

Richard Rufus of Cornwall ‘stultissimus’ solemnly lecture at Paris after he had

previously lectured at Oxford (1250–1253), that is, from 1253 to 1256. [Text 7]

But of course by this stage, Bacon is thinking of become a Franciscan friar and by

c. 1256–1257 he has become a Franciscan friar. The accumulated evidence here

suggests that we must push the date of birth back before c. 1220. Further, I believe I

have offered good reasons to question the common belief that Bacon was at Oxford

from 1248 to 1257 where he attended the theology lectures of Master Adam Marsh

O. F. M. It is likely that he did visit Oxford c. 1248 but he was back in Paris in 1251

and again 1253–1256, and remained there until possibly 1280. It is not impossible

that his two years of rest from teaching took place at Oxford.

Now, as I will argue towards the conclusion of this chapter, I am convinced that

Bacon was indeed a very sincere and committed Franciscan, but he was a Franciscan in a mold similar to but yet different from Bonaventure and his friend Richard

Rufus of Cornwall. Still, he shared much in terms of theological method with his

English colleague, John Pecham. The latter represents Bacon’s philosophical and

theological interests, with the possible exception of Bacon’s deep commitment to

the applications of astrologia to human affairs (Hackett 2003).

It is clear from the Opus tertium that apart from Richard Rufus of Cornwall

(stand in for Bonaventure?) and Alexander of Hales, the main object of Bacon’s


Alain de Libera, however says that it is ‘probable’ that the work was given a final redaction in

Oxford around 1250, and mention of a redaction implies an earlier and initial composition at Paris.

De Libera sees it as an Oxford influenced work presented at Paris, between 1245 and 50. See xvii–

xxii for a discussion of a possible argument by Bacon on this matter c. 1252.


J. Hackett

criticism is the vulgus philosophantium at Paris, and the Capita eorum, namely,

Albertus Coloniensis. The more I read these texts, the more I see that Roger Bacon

is proposing a ‘Research Program’ to the Pope in Science, Philosophy and Theology that is directly defined over against the ‘Research Program’ of Albert of

Cologne, and his followers at Paris, including the regular teachers of Philosophy

such as Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia, and Albert’s student, Thomas

D’Aquino. [Text 8] We must turn to Bacon’s own training and to his debts to those

he calls the ancient wise ones.


Bacon and the Sapientes antiqui

Now Roger Bacon often writes about the circle of scholars around Robert

Grosseteste. In both the Opus maius, and the Opus tertium, he states: ‘For we

have seen some of the ancient wise persons who worked in languages such as the

aforementioned Lord Robert, the translator and Bishop, and Thomas the Venerable

Bishop of St. David, recently deceased, and Brother Adam Marsh and Master

Hermann, the translator and certain other wise scholars.’ [Text 9]

Again, in the Compendium studii philosophiae (1271), he states that the modern

Seculares who c. 1267 teach theology have dismissed the old ways, and are drawn

solely to honors and riches. ‘And so they totally dismiss the ways of the ancient

wise teachers some of whom we have seen in our own times, such as, Lord Robert,

once Bishop of Lincoln, of holy memory, Lord Thomas, Bishop of St. David in

Wales, Brother Adam Marsh and Master Robert Marsh, and Masters William Lupus

[the treasurer of Lincoln Cathedral] and Master William of Sherwood.’ [Text 9]

These men who flourished in the 1230s and by the 1240s, were a major part of

Grosseteste’s administrative staff as indicated by the following quote from Sir

Richard Southern: ‘In his general plan, the group of friars in his household were

his missionaries, and his Archdeacons were his chief local agents comparable to

Royal Sheriffs. To this office he appointed men who were his close collaborators in

his learned enterprises and administration-such men as John of Basingstoke,

Thomas Wallensis, William Lupus, William of Arundel, Richard of Gravesend

and Robert Marsh. If he had his way, episcopal government would have been the

strongest ruling force in England’ (Southern 1992). Many of these men are the very

ones that Bacon claims he has seen (Nam vidimus).

When we add to this the fact established by A. B. Emden that members of a

Bacon family resided in the 1240s at a domus scholarum, a graduate residence at

Oxford, and possessed a copy of Avicenna’s Healing, and when one of them,

Nicholas Bacon was appointed a diocesan official in 1244/1245 (Emden 1966)7


The association of Nicholas and Peter Bacon with this small graduate household, and Nicholas’s

presumed ownership of a copy of the treatises of Avicenna and other Arab Philosophers invite

speculation whether Nicholas and Peter may not have been related to the distinguished

7 From Sapientes antiqui at Lincoln to the New Sapientes moderni. . .


by Robert Grosseteste, one must think seriously about Roger Bacon’s connections

with Oxford and Lincoln. As we will see below, writing to the Pope c. 1268, he

speaks of not being able to contact his brother the scholar in England.

Bacon states explicitly to the Pope that when he was in the other form of life as a

Master of Arts he had spent about 2000 Parisian librae on books, experiences, and

on travel to visit the Sapientes. He tells us that he visited all the Sapientes. Since he

praises Grosseteste, his household, and Master Adam Marsh as the greater clerics of

the world and as the greater Sapientes, we must assume that he used this money to

visit such persons. The other wise ones mentioned are Albert the Great (whom he

could have seen at Paris c. 1245–1248), whom he would have met at Paris

c. 1245–1248. And then there is the Biblical Scholar who is referred to as

Sapientissimus who flourished in Paris in the late 1260s and 1270s.

Now, I do not doubt that Bacon had visited Oxford, and I believe he may even

have visited Lincoln. But when he did so is still a mystery. Did it take place in the

1230s prior to his move to Paris to teach in the Arts? Could it have taken place after

1251? This latter hypothesis as we have just seen is impossible. Thus, there is

reason to think that he met some of these scholars before 1248 or at possibly some

of them between 1248 and 1251.

But how can we account for his knowledge of the works of Robert Grosseteste?

Scholars hold that he must have learned about them in the 1250s when Grosseteste’s

Library was given to the Franciscan Studium at Oxford following Grosseteste’s

death in 1253. But this position which was proposed by the late James McEvoy is

difficult to sustain. A period at Oxford or at home somewhere in England

c. 1248–1251 would account for his contact with Master Adam Marsh and for his

knowledge of Grosseteste’s scientific works such as De iride, De cometis, De lineis,

etc. One has to assume that Adam Marsh had access to these works. Such an

encounter would account for Bacon’s great knowledge of Perspectiva, especially

the Optics of Ibn al-Haytham. Bacon notes that the subject was taught only at

Oxford, that just on two separate occasions. And since this required knowledge of

Ibn al-Haytham (al-Hacen’s) Optics, it must have been in the late 1240s.8 If he is

correct about the claim that optics was taught only at Oxford prior to 1270, then,

Bacon, the comprehensive master of Optics, must have learned his craft at Oxford.

[Text 10]

contemporary bearing their surname, Fr. Roger Bacon, O. F. M., among whose many interests, the

works of these philosophers were certainly one. Emden is of the view that Master Nicholas Bacon

may have been the ‘same man as Nicholas Bacon, clerk, who was instituted in 1244 or 1245 by

Bishop Grosseteste as rector of the moiety of Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire.’ Also, A. G. Little had

suggested that the Master Thomas Bacon who was suggested by Adam Marsh O. F. M. as a socius

to Richard Rufus of Cornwall O. F. M. in 1252 may have been a brother of Roger Bacon.


On the dating of De aspectibus, see Smith (2001). Commenting on the dispute about dating,

Smith notes: ‘The earliest incontestable evidence for its circulation is to be found in Bartholomeus

Anglicus’ De proprietatibus rerum, where De aspectibus is quoted several times. This work

probably dates to the late 1240s.


J. Hackett

We come now to the big unasked and unanswered Question: when and where did

Bacon get such a good training in Mathematics, and above all his skilled training in

grammar and logic? (Pinborg 1979) We have just seen that he already had training

in mathematics and perspectiva. But where did he get his training in Greek?

It was the considered belief of S. A. Hirsch that Roger Bacon’s command of

Greek, that included knowledge of grammar, orthography, idiom, etymology was

acquired in England from mature teachers of Greek such as Nicholaus

Graecus (1914).9 There is not time here to develop this topic, but the arguments

of S. A. Hirsch seem to be very strong. This thesis is borne out by the great interest

in Greek and Hebrew exhibited by Bacon c. 1272 in the Compendium studii

philosophiae and in other related texts of that time. [Text 11]. This raises a question

about Bacon’s concerns: was he working with the named Sapientissimus on the

Biblical Text at the Franciscan House of Studies in the late 1260s? At any rate, his

interest in Greek at this time is professional and serious. And so, there is reason to

think that he may have acquired this knowledge from scholars associated with the

circle of scholars influenced by Grosseteste.


Bacon and His Patron, Cardinal Guy le Gros de

Foulque (Guido Fucoldi)

We come now to the high point of Bacon’s life, his encounter with the man who

would become Pope Clement IV. Before looking at the chronology, allow me once

again to draw on the wisdom of the late John North. In his important essay Roger

Bacon and the Saracens, he paints a picture of the concerns of Roger Bacon that

serves as an antidote to the over the top speculations of nineteenth-century historians and philosophers (North 1999). He places Roger Bacon in the context of the

worlds of Islam and the Latin West in the mid-thirteenth century. While at times he

seems more concerned with warfare in England, Italy and France, the world of

Islam especially is close to Bacon’s concerns. And it is in this context that the figure

of Pope Clement IV takes on much significance. Bacon thought that the latter would

be the good Pope who would lead the charge to prevent the expansion of Islam,

especially after the destruction of Bagdad by the Mongols in 1258, and the loss of

Damascus to the Mamlucks in 1260, where ‘the old axis of Saladin had been

re-instated.’ Now, Bacon is truly interested in geo-politics and warfare and this

interest is closely tied into his great interest in the Secretum secretorum and his

moral philosophy.

1260 is a very important year for Roger Bacon. First, the war between the King

and the Barons begins and lasts until 1264, and the man who would be Pope in

1265, Cardinal Guy le Gros de Foulque, was ambassador of the Papal Court to


Hirsch points to the close connection between Bacon’s Greek Grammar and the treatment of

etymologies in the 1271 Compendium studii philosophiae.

7 From Sapientes antiqui at Lincoln to the New Sapientes moderni. . .


England, but had been detained in France and was not allowed to enter England. In

this war, Bacon’s family suffered the costs of ransom, and he lost contact with his

brother the scholar. Where did this scholar brother reside? Was it at Oxford?

Further, any chance that Roger Bacon might continue his scholarly pursuits was

finished by the statutes of the Council of Narbonne under the presidency of

Bonaventure. It should be noted here that Cardinal le Gros de Foulque was

Archbishop of Narbonne in 1260. No writing especially De antichristo could be

published without the permission of the superiors, especially Bonaventure. Caught

in this bind, what does Bacon do? He does an end-run around his superiors. That is

never good policy. Given the statutes of Narbonne, it had practical consequences,

namely, a time of isolation on bread and water. To return to the matter of Islam,

North remarks:

The Saracens were for Bacon ‘a sect in one of the principal nations,’ a sect bound by the law

of Mohammed. How then could he reconcile himself to paying homage to the Saracens,

when their religious views were in direct conflict with those of his own church? (Ibid.).

We come now to the re-birth of Roger Bacon as an active scholar c. 1266. We

have the Mandatum that Pope Clement IV sent to Bacon in June 1266. Scholars are

in agreement that in July 1266, Bacon received a directive or Mandatum from Pope

Clement IV to write a work on philosophy and on other matters:

To our dear son, Brother Roger, called Bacon, of the Order of Friars Minor. We have

received your devoted letters gladly. And indeed we have attended carefully to the

explanation of them which our beloved son, Sir William, called Bonecour, related orally

to us, as faithfully as possible. So that we can obtain a clearer idea of what you intend, we

command you by apostolic letters notwithstanding [non obstante] the contrary instruction

of any prelate, to send to as soon as you can a fair copy of that work, which, when we were

in a lesser office [Cardinal-Legate], we asked you to communicate to our beloved son

Raymond of Laon, and explain in your explicit writings to us the remedies that you think we

should adopt to address those issues that you have described on the occasion of such great

danger, and do this quickly and as secretly as possible. [Text 12]

This then is the Papal Mandate issued in June, 1266. Yet, as is clear, Bacon had

earlier contact with Cardinal Guy le Gros de Foulque (Guido Fucoldi), sometime

prior to his becoming Pope in 1265. What did the Cardinal think of Bacon’s ideas?

How important was his encouragement as a motive for Bacon to begin writing? In

the Gasquet Fragment, which is an introduction to the Opus maius, Bacon states

explicitly that he had received a prior, first Mandatum from Pope Clement IV when

the latter was in ‘a lesser office, namely that of Cardinal.’ This fact has been

downplayed in the scholarship. Bacon had received an explicit Mandatum to

write from Cardinal Le Gros de Folque. In this introduction to the Opus maius,

Bacon writes: ‘Certainly, your Magnificence was aware, since both Mandates

asserted it, that I was under obligation by the strictest precept that I not communicate any writing which I made in this state of life [as a Franciscan Friar], just as all

our congregation is known thus to be firmly obliged, and so I utterly shrank from

writing.’ [Text 13] This is a very important text, in that he provides us with a true

picture of Bacon’s actual absence from active work in the arts and sciences. By

1267, he had been an exile for about ten years. Further, he had written nothing.

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2 Bacon´s Life: Conflicting Chronologies and Texts

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