ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

Chapter V.

Some Non-Scholastic Directions in Philosophy.


348. Life and Works. -- Roger BACON was born in England about 1210-15, studied at Oxford and then at Paris, where he afterwards taught (towards 1245). From early youth he devoted himself to the study of languages and of the natural sciences. Between 1251 and 1257 he joined the Franciscans, probably at their Oxford house. Here he pursued his researches without interruption, notwithstanding the hostility of his superiors, who would not allow him to publish his works. The elevation of an intimate friend of his to the Papacy was a momentous event in his career: Clement IV., in a letter of June the 22nd, 1266, requested Bacon to send him a copy of the work he was anxious to publish, and this, notwithstanding the prohibition of the latter's superiors, In the course of 1267, Bacon addressed to his protector the Opus Majus and the Opus Minus, and, a little later on, the Opus Tertium. Other writings followed in quick succession. But a coalition was formed against him on the death of his protector. According to a chronicle of the twenty-four generals of the order of Friars Minor (first half of fourteenth century), Jerome d'Ascoli, the general of that time, sent Bacon to Rome in 1278, to answer for his "suspected" doctrines, and the latter appears to have been confined for some time (ad tempus) in prison.{1} The supposed imprisonment for a term of fourteen years is, however, not proven. He died about 1292 or 1294.

The Opus Majus, dedicated to Clement IV., is Bacon's chief work. It comprises seven parts: causes of our errors; relations of philosophy and the sciences to theology; linguistics; mathematics; perspective; experimental science; moral philosophy. The Opus Minus was intended by Bacon as an abridgment of the Opus Majus. But it contains, over and above, an exposition of speculative alchemy and an essay on the decadence of theology and its causes (" septem peccata studii principalis quod est theologiae ").{2} The Opus Tertium sums up and explains the two previous works, examines some new scientific questions in detail and contains a good deal of information about Bacon's own career. Those three works were intended as a preamble to a more ambitious synthetic work, Scriptum Principale, of which Bacon has left us the plan, but which he never executed. It was to deal with: (1) grammar and languages; (2) mathematics; (3) natural sciences (the Communia Naturalium are data for this); (4) metaphysics and ethics.{3} Besides commentaries written in his youth on various parts of Aristotle; a Compendium Studii Philosophiae (towards 1271-76), in which he again animadverts on the current defects in those studies; a treatise De Multiplicatione Specierum (a study of the efficiency of physical agents); and a Compendium Stadii Theologiae, Bacon's last work; a large number of neglected opuscula and treatises are also attributed to him.

{1} D'ARGENTRÉ, Coll. Jud., i., p. 226.

{2} BREWER, p. xxxiv, 322.

{3} BRIDGES, I., pp. xiv sqq.; BREWER, pp. 1 sqq. The Opus Majus will be referred to in the text according to Bridges' edit., the Opus Minus and Opus Tertium according to Brewer's.

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