Roger Bacon


Summary of what I found:

This has been one of my most perplexing tasks. Almost everything in it is controversial, for example

  1. The date and place of his birth

  2. Whether and when he attended Oxford or Paris Universities, and what he did there

  3. Whether he should be credited as a ‘Father of Western science’

  4. Whether, where and for how long he was imprisoned.


Note: In the pieces on this website written in the same style as this one, a corroborated statement is indicated by Times New Roman Black Bold Font like this. Any other font or colour indicates a statement that was made by only one source.

Early Life

He was an English (6,11) Roger Bacon was an English (1,2) Franciscan friar, (1,3) theologian, (1) scientist, scholar (2) savant (8) and scholastic (9) philosopher (4,6) of the 13th century. (1,2) He is something of an enigma. (12) He has been called many things – ‘Britain’s first scientist’, ‘wonderful doctor’, ‘conjurer’ and ‘magician’. (12) Many of the details of his life are uncertain and they have been discussed and argued about by scholars (10,12) for centuries. (12) Little is known for certain about chronology of and inspiration for his major works. (10) He was conceived in Ilchester in Somerset, England, between 1213 or 1214 at the Ilchester Friary. (8) He was born in Ilchester, Somerset, (10,11) [OR] Bisley, Gloucester?, England. (14) [OR] The date and place of his birth are unknown (2) [OR] uncertain (1,6) (c. 1214 (1,6) [OR] 1219/20 (3) [OR] in 1214 (9) [OR] possibly in about 1220. (11,12) (the date depends on how literally a later statement of Bacon’s is interpreted). (11) The only known information in regards to his birth is his announcement in the 1267 biography Opus Tertium, saying “forty years have passed since I first learned alphabet”. (8) The 1214 conception date is implied that 40 years had passed since he registered at Oxford at age 13. (8) On the other hand, if what he stated was more in the literal sense, then it is more probable that he was conceived around 1220 to 1222, however the number forty was generally utilized in the Middle Ages basically as an equivalent word for “many”, leaving his real date of conception in uncertainty. (8) In the same entry he said that for all except two of the forty years he had been occupied with his studies. (8) In Latin his name was Rogerus or Rogerius Baconus, Baconis, also Frater Rogerus. (3) He lived a long and productive life. (5) He is thought to have come from a fortunate (8) relatively wealthy (2,6) [OR] rich (6,9) noble (10) family, (2,6) although not a major one. (10)


He was well-versed in the classics and enjoyed the advantages of an early training in geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. (14) It is uncertain if he ever actually studied in Oxford (12) [OR] Bacon studied at Oxford. (13) At thirteen years old he entered Oxford University, (8,10) where he spent the next eight years. (10) [OR] the Franciscan school at Oxford which, even in the 13th Century, was rapidly becoming one of the pre-eminent educational centres of Europe; (11) [OR] He was a student at the University of Paris as a young man. (9) He studied the works of the ancient Greeks as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. (9,10) [OR] He studied (2,6) modern science, theology, and philosophy at Oxford (6) [OR] optics, alchemy, and languages, elucidating the principles of reflection, refraction, and spherical aberration. (14) He became a master (5,7) of Arts (5,10) at Oxford. (5,7) He may have been a supporter of Grosseteste, (8,11) another English philosopher (8) and one of the Oxford masters and professors (11) who may well have taught him and definitely influenced him. (12) Other influential teachers were Adam Marsh (11,12) Thomas Wallensis (12) Richard Fitzacre, Edmund Rich and the French mathematician and scientist Pierre de Maricourt. (11)

University Teacher

At Oxford c 1422-37

He became a lecturer on (8,11) the ancient Greek philosopher (10) Aristotle (8,11) (c.384–c.322 B.C.E.) (10) and on Aristotelian and pseudo-Aristotelian treatises. (7,14) at Oxford. (2,4) He studied and lectured on the natural sciences (9) [OR] displayed no indication of his later preoccupation with science (14) in the faculty of arts. (7) Bacon spent forty years (9) from 1227 (8,9) [OR] 1222 (9) until 1267 (9) [OR] until somewhere between 1237 and 1245. (7) He was a popular teacher. (4) Although he was referred to as Doctor Mirabilis (1,2) (Latin: “wonderful teacher”) (1,11) there is no known confirmation that he was ever honoured with a doctorate in his lifetime. (8) The title of Doctor Mirabilis was awarded figuratively, after his death. (8) The newly translated Greek and Arabic treatises had an immediate effect on the University of Oxford. (14) The great scholar (7) Robert Grosseteste, (12,14) (c. 1175–1253), commented on some of Aristotle’s works and translated the Nicomachean Ethics from Greek to Latin. (14) The influence of Avicenna on Bacon has, however, been exaggerated. (14) If Bacon did study at Oxford, he would have met (12) [OR] Grosseteste had probably left shortly before Bacon’s arrival. (13) Grosseteste is often described as Oxford University’s first Chancellor (12,14) (although his role is better described as ‘master of students’ (magister scholarium)1. (12) His work and legacy almost certainly influenced the young scholar and it is possible Bacon subsequently visited him and William of Sherwood in Lincoln. (13) In 1247, Bacon was inspired by Grosseteste and he began investing his time and money in acquiring secret books, training assistants, meeting savants and constructing instruments. (7)

At Paris 1237-47

His next appointment was (7) at the University of Paris. (2,4) He joined somewhere between 1237 and 1245. (7) There is good evidence that he was there in 1245 and 1251. (12) He claimed that he saw the Franciscan professor Alexander of Hales (d. 1245) with his own eyes and that he heard the master scholar William of Auvergne (d. 1249) dispute twice in the presence of the whole university. (14) It is probable that his Master of Arts degree was conferred there, presumably not before 1241 (14) It was an important centre of European knowledge and intellectual life. (8) While there, he lectured on Latin grammar, Aristotelian logic, arithmetic, geometry, and the mathematical aspects of astronomy and music. (13) His Paris lectures, important in enabling scholars to form some idea of the work done by one who was a pioneer in introducing Aristotle into Western Europe, reveal an Aristotelianism strongly marked by Neoplatonist elements stemming from many different sources. (14) His faculty colleagues included Robert Kilwardby, Albertus Magnus, and Peter of Spain, the future Pope John XXI. (13) The Cornishman Richard Rufus was a scholarly opponent. (13) He became a Doctor of Theology. (9) He taught there, too (6,7) in the 1240s, perhaps in the early years of the decade. (10) [OR] he only learned and studied at Paris. (6) He was popular there, too (4,11) apparently received with applause as the equal of Aristotle, Avicenna or Averroës. (11) Bacon was one of the first people (6) to teach about (6,7) Aristotle in Paris: (6,7) he talked about Aristotelian Corpus (Compilation of (7) Aristotle’s work) (7,10) which included physics, meta-physics and the pseudo-Aristotelian De Vegetabilibus and the De Causis. (7) During this period he also wrote three works on logic, or the study of how to reason correctly. (10) In 1247 or soon after, he left his position in Paris. (13)

At Oxford 1247

At about that time a considerable change took place in Bacon’s intellectual development. (14) From that date forward he expended much time and energy and huge sums of money in experimental research, in acquiring “secret” books, in the construction of instruments and of tables, in the training of assistants, and in seeking the friendship of savants—activities that marked a definite departure from the usual routine of the faculty of arts. (14) The change was probably caused by his return to Oxford and the influence there of the great scholar Robert Grosseteste, a leader in introducing Greek learning to the West, and his student Adam de Marisco, as well as that of Thomas Wallensis, the bishop of St. David’s. (14) From 1247 to 1257 Bacon devoted himself wholeheartedly to the cultivation of those new branches of learning to which he was introduced at Oxford—languages, optics, and alchemy—and to further studies in astronomy and mathematics. (14) In 1257 another marked change took place in Bacon’s life. (14)

Fields of Study


Medieval European philosophy often relied on appeals to the authority of Church Fathers such as St Augustine, and on works by Plato and Aristotle only known at second hand or through (sometimes highly inaccurate) Latin translations. (13) By the 13th century, new works and better versions—in Arabic or in new Latin translations from the Arabic—began to trickle north from Muslim Spain. (13) Bacon was fluent in several languages (11,13) (unlike most of his contemporaries) and lamented the corruption of the holy texts and the works of the Greek philosophers by numerous mistranslations and misinterpretations (11) by scholars working in Latin. (13) Bacon was an original theologian: (4) he called for a radical reform of theological study (11,13) He decried the prevailing Scholastic system, based as it was solely on tradition and prescribed authorities, (11) now shown to be frail and unsuitable. (7) He argued that, rather than training to debate minor philosophical distinctions, (11,13) that Scholasticism pursued, and theologians should focus their attention primarily on the scriptures and the classical philosophers in their original languages. (11) They should learn the languages of its original sources thoroughly, (13) and study all sciences closely, (11,16) He believed that humans were incapable of educational reform until they stopped supporting uninstructed popular opinions and concealed their ignorance by displaying apparent wisdom. (7) His linguistic work has been heralded for its early exposition of a universal grammar. (3) Bacon’s early linguistic and logical works are the Overview of Grammar (Summa Grammatica), Summa de Sophismatibus et Distinctionibus, and the Summulae Dialectices or Summulae super Totam Logicam. (13) These are mature but essentially conventional presentations of Oxford and Paris’s terminist and pre-modist logic and grammar. (13) His later work in linguistics is much more idiosyncratic, using terminology and addressing questions unique in his era. (13) In his Greek and Hebrew Grammars (Grammatica Graeca and Hebraica), in his work “On the Usefulness of Grammar” (Book III of the Opus Majus), and in his Compendium of the Study of Philosophy, Bacon stresses the need for scholars to know several languages. (13) Europe’s vernacular languages are not ignored—he considers them useful for practical purposes such as trade, proselytism, and administration—but Bacon is mostly interested in his era’s languages of science and religion: Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. (13) Bacon is less interested in a full practical mastery of the other languages than on a theoretical understanding of their grammatical rules, ensuring that a Latin reader will not misunderstand passages’ original meaning. (13) For this reason, his treatments of Greek and Hebrew grammar are not isolated works on their topic but contrastive grammars treating the aspects which influenced Latin or which were required for properly understanding Latin texts. (13) He pointedly states, “I want to describe Greek grammar for the benefit of Latin speakers”. (13) It is likely only this limited sense which was intended by Bacon’s boast that he could teach an interested pupil a new language within three days. (13) Passages in the Overview and the Greek grammar have been taken as an early exposition of a universal grammar underlying all human languages. (13) The Greek grammar contains the tersest and most famous exposition: Grammar is one and the same in all languages, substantially, though it may vary, accidentally, in each of them. (13) However, Bacon’s lack of interest in studying a literal grammar underlying the languages known to him and his numerous works on linguistics and comparative linguistics has prompted Hovdhaugen to question the usual literal translation of Bacon’s grammatica in such passages. (13) She notes the ambiguity in the Latin term, which could refer variously to the structure of language, to its description, and to the science underlying such descriptions: i.e. linguistics. (13)


His most noteworthy philosophical accomplishments were in the fields of (5) mathematics, (4,5) natural sciences (2,4) and language studies. (3,5) He was a gifted (4) mathematician. (4,9) and was an enthusiastic proponent and practitioner of the experimental method of acquiring knowledge about the world (11) and the addition of natural philosophy to the medieval curriculum. (13) He placed considerable emphasis on (1,3) the study of nature (3,6) through empiricism (1,3) and so was one of the earliest European advocates (1,3) [OR] the first European advocate (4) of the modern scientific method, (1,3) the principle of inductive experimental science (4) inspired by Aristotle and by the Arab scientist Alhazen. (3) He wanted a universal, or general, science, praising science as “most beautiful and most useful” branch of knowledge. (10) He wrote (6,10) in his ‘Opus Maius’2, (2,3) a long list of inventions he had in mind, naming (6,10) flying machines, (4,10) (over 200 years before Leonardo da Vinci’s). (4) He seriously studied the problem of flying in a machine with flapping wings. (14) He considered self-driven boats (10,14) steamships, telescope, eye glasses, microscopes (6,11) submarines (13) motorized carriages (14) and an “instrument small in size, which can raise and lower things of almost infinite weight.” (10); and proposed mechanically propelled ships and carriages. (14) He used a camera obscura (which projects an image through a pinhole) to observe eclipses of the Sun. (14) Bacon therefore represents a historically precocious expression of the empirical. (14)

Social role of science

At the time there were many who believed that a struggle with the antichrist (or great evildoer whose arrival on Earth was predicted in the Bible) was near at hand. (10) Bacon saw a science of experience as a Christian weapon for the fight. (10) A conspicuous feature of his philosophical outlook was his emphasis on the utility and practicality of all scientific efforts. (5,10) Bacon was convinced that mathematics and astronomy are not morally neutral activities, pursued for their own sake, but have a deep connection to the practical business of everyday life. (5) Bacon was committed to the view that wisdom should contribute to the improvement of life (5) by promoting the spread of Christianity, prolonging life, aid health, and uniting theology (the study of God and His ways) and the science of experience. (10) For example, his extensive works on the reform and reorganization of the university curriculum were, on the surface, aimed at reforming the study of theology; yet, ultimately, they contained a political program whose goal was to civilize humankind as well as to secure peace and prosperity for the whole of the Christian world, both in the hereafter and in this world. (5)


He was a lucid observer of nature, and a rigorous experimenter. (4) As he himself complacently remarked, he ‘displayed a prodigious energy and zeal’ in the pursuit of experimental science. (14) As for actual experiments performed, he deferred to a certain Master Peter de Maricourt (Maharn-Curia), a Picard, who alone, he wrote, understood the method of experiment and whom he called dominus experimentorum (“master of experiments”). (14) Bacon, to be sure, did have a sort of laboratory for alchemical experiments and carried out some systematic observations with lenses and mirrors. (14) His studies on the nature of light and on the rainbow are especially noteworthy, and he seems to have planned and interpreted these experiments carefully. (14) He extolled it so ardently that he has often been viewed as a harbinger of modern science more than 300 years before it came to bloom. (14) He attributed the Secret of Secrets (Secretum Secretorum), the Islamic “Mirror of Princes” (Arabic: Sirr al-ʿasrar‎), to Aristotle, thinking that he had composed it for Alexander the Great. (13) Bacon produced an edited edition complete with his own introduction and notes and his writings of the 1260s and 1270s cite it far more than his contemporaries did. (13) This led Easton and others including Robert Steele to argue that the text spurred Bacon’s own transformation into an experimentalist. (13) (Bacon never described such a decisive impact himself). (13) The dating of Bacon’s edition of the Secret of Secrets is a key piece of evidence in the debate, with those arguing for a greater impact giving it an earlier date, but it certainly influenced the elder Bacon’s conception of the political aspects of his work in the sciences. (13) He upheld Aristotle’s calls for the collection of facts before deducing scientific truths, against the practices of his contemporaries, arguing that “thence cometh quiet to the mind”. (13) He argued that, under the prevailing Scholastic system, physical science was not carried out by experiment, but by arguments based solely on tradition and prescribed authorities, rather than by the initial collection of facts before deducing scientific truths as Aristotle had taught. (11) Bacon was more skeptical of hearsay claims than were his contemporaries, and suspicious of rational deductions compared with the superior dependability of confirming experiences) (14) He was considered a scientist because he insisted on observing things for himself instead of relying on what other people had written. (7,9) He called it the ‘science of experience’. (10) He was a major medieval proponent of experimental science. (14) He performed and described various experiments which were, for a time, claimed as the first instances of true experimental science, some five hundred years before the real rise of science in the West, and his popular image is as an isolated figure in an age supposedly hostile toward scientific ideas. (11) [OR] was essentially a medieval thinker, with much of his “experimental” knowledge obtained from books in the scholastic tradition. (3) Research on Bacon suggests that his characterization as an experimenter may be overwrought. (14) His originality lay not so much in any positive contribution to the sum of knowledge as in his insistence on fruitful lines of research and methods of experimental study. (14) His most notable “experiments” seem never to have been actually performed; they were merely described. (14) He suggested, for example, that a balloon of thin copper sheet be made and filled with “liquid fire”; he felt that it would float in the air as many light objects do in water. (14) He knew the powers of steam. (9)



Gunpowder (7,9) was first invented and described in China, Bacon was the first in Europe to (3,14) record its formula, (3,7) and in 1242 (14) for the first time (7,13) give exact directions for making (14) a mixture which could be used in making it. (7, 13) But though he knew that, if confined, it would have great power and might be useful in war, he failed to speculate further. (14) A passage in the Opus Majus and another in the Opus Tertium are usually taken as the first European descriptions of a mixture containing the essential ingredients of gunpowder. (13) Partington and others have come to the conclusion that Bacon most likely witnessed at least one demonstration of Chinese firecrackers, possibly obtained by Franciscans—including Bacon’s friend William of Rubruck—who visited the Mongol Empire during this period. (13) The most telling passage reads: We have an example of these things (that act on the senses) in [the sound and fire of] that children’s toy which is made in many [diverse] parts of the world; i.e. a device no bigger than one’s thumb. (13) From the violence of that salt called saltpetre [together with sulphur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder] so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment [containing it], that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise] exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning. (13) At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry William Lovett Hime of the Royal Artillery published the theory that Bacon’s Epistola contained a cryptogram giving a recipe for the gunpowder he witnessed. (13) The theory was criticized by Thorndike in a 1915 letter to Science and several books, a position joined by Muir, Stillman, Steele, and Sarton. (13) Needham et al. concurred with these earlier critics that the additional passage did not originate with Bacon and further showed that the proportions supposedly deciphered (a 7:5:5 ratio of saltpetre to charcoal to sulphur) as not even useful for firecrackers, burning slowly with a great deal of smoke and failing to ignite inside a gun barrel. (13) The ~41% nitrate content is too low to have explosive properties. (13) Its use in guns arose early in the following century. (14)


All his theoretical writings were originally in Latin, (1) and appeared in the often contentious intellectual atmosphere of the late medieval era. (4) A caustic cleric named Roger Bacon is recorded speaking before the king at Oxford in 1233. (13) Always direct and outspoken, (11) some of his expressions are imprudent and inaccurate. (Cathen) The judgments he passes on other scholars of his day are sometimes too hard, so it is not surprising that his friends were few. (Cathen) In Opus Maius Bacon criticises his (11,13) much-admired (11) contemporaries Alexander of Hales (11,13) (c. 1183 – 1245) and Albertus Magnus. (11,13) He argued that they were held in high repute despite having only acquired their knowledge of Aristotle at second hand during their preaching careers. (11,13) Albert was received at Paris as an authority equal to Aristotle, Avicenna, and Averroës, a situation Bacon decried: “never in the world ‘ such monstrosity occurred before.” (13)


Bacon had a wide range of interests and had a reputation as an unconventional scholar, pursuing learning in (2) alchemy (2,7) and magic, and it was these interests which earned him (2) the soubriquet ‘Doctor Mirabilis’. (2,5) His skill in the use of optical and mechanical instruments caused him to be (9) regarded by many as a sorcerer. (3,9) Bacon has been credited with a number of alchemical texts. (13) He was particularly famed for the story of his mechanical or necromantic brazen head. (3) The Letter on the Secret Workings of Art and Nature and on the Vanity of Magic (Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae et de Nullitate Magiae), also known as On the Wonderful Powers of Art and Nature (De Mirabili Potestate Artis et Naturae), a likely-forged letter to an unknown “William of Paris,” dismisses practices such as necromancy but contains most of the alchemical formulae attributed to Bacon, including one for a philosopher’s stone and another possibly for gunpowder. (13) It also includes several passages about hypothetical flying machines and submarines, attributing their first use to Alexander the Great. (13) On the Vanity of Magic or The Nullity of Magic is a debunking of esoteric claims in Bacon’s time, showing that they could be explained by natural phenomena. (13) Bacon is the ascribed author of the controversial alchemical manual “Speculum Alchemiae” (later translated into English as “The Mirror of Alchemy”). (11,13) It espouses the Arabian theory of mercury and sulphur forming the other metals, with vague allusions to transmutation. (13) Stillman opined that “there is nothing in it that is characteristic of Roger Bacon’s style or ideas, nor that distinguishes it from many unimportant alchemical lucubrations of anonymous writers of the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries”, and Muir and Lippmann also considered it a pseudepigraph. (13) During his time he wrote a book named ‘On the Marvellous Power of art and nature’. (6) [OR] ‘Letter on the Secret Working of Art and Nature, and on the Vanity of Magic’ ‘Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae’ (7) He disregarded magical practices and had the formula for the philosopher’s stone, alchemy, and linguistics, (7) Clegg unravels the controversy over (4) the “Voynich” cypher manuscript—which some claimed Bacon wrote in code (4,11) to detail his experiments with microscopes and astronomy. (4) The cryptic Voynich manuscript has been attributed to Bacon by various sources, including by its first recorded owner, but historians of science Lynn Thorndike and George Sarton dismissed these claims as unsupported, and the vellum of the manuscript has since been dated to the 15th century. (13)


Private Scholar

In 1247 [OR] around 1256 (8) he stopped teaching (6,8) because of bad health. (6) A passage in the Opus Tertium states that at some point he took a two-year break from his studies. (13) He returned to England from France, (10) and proceeded to study and experiment. (6) [OR] As a private scholar (13) it is unknown what his whereabouts were sometime around 1247 and 1256. (8,13) He was likely in Oxford c.  1248–1251, where he met Adam Marsh, and in Paris in 1251. (13) He seems to have studied most of the known Greek and Arabic works on optics (then known as “perspective”, perspectiva). (13)

Friar 1257

In 1256 (7) [OR] probably in 1252, (10) [OR] 1256 (13) [OR] plausibly (12) in 1257 (12,13) he became a (6,7) Franciscan friar (5,6) [OR] monk (8) joining the Franciscan order, the Christian group founded by St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), (10) because he was committed to a philosophical outlook that was deeply imbued with Christian principles as well as scientific curiosity and ambition. (5) [OR] Bacon’s entry into the Franciscan order is conjectural. (12) He was intently concentrated in his experiments and he was known to be socially awkward. (6) By the late 1250s, resentment against Henry III’s preferential treatment of his émigré Poitevin relatives led to a coup and the imposition of the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster, instituting a baronial council and more frequent parliaments. (13) In 1256 or 1257, he became a friar in the Franciscan Order in either Paris or Oxford, following the example of scholarly English Franciscans such as Grosseteste and Marsh. (13) Pope Urban IV absolved the king of his oath in 1261 and, after initial abortive resistance, Simon de Montfort led a force, enlarged due to recent crop failures, which prosecuted the Second Barons’ War. (13) Bacon’s own family were considered royal partisans: (13,Cathen) De Montfort’s men seized their property (8,13) and drove several members into exile3. (8,13) Because of ill health and his entry into the Order of Friars Minor, Bacon felt (as he wrote) forgotten by everyone and all but buried. (14) His university and literary careers seemed finished. (14)

Factions within Franciscan Order

By Bacon’s time the work begun by St. Francis had posed problems for his followers. (10) Franciscans were required to take a vow of poverty, but their work had grown to such size and importance that it was impossible to continue it unless the order owned property and other possessions. (10) The owning of property by the Franciscan order, however, was seriously questioned by a group of Franciscans. (10) Bacon joined this group. (10) He was openly critical of some of their values and beliefs. (10,12) Master General Bonaventure4 and Bacon remained much at odds due to their individual beliefs. (7) Bonaventure believed that astrology was helpful in only predicting the things solely dependent on movement of heavenly bodies and that base metals couldn’t be converted into gold/silver; Bacon differed on both accounts. (7) One theory is that people questioned him because of his scientific interests, but it is more likely that his views on Franciscan life proved unpopular with some Franciscans in England. (10) It was not surprising that they sometimes tried to muzzle him. (12) His feverish activity, his amazing credulity, his superstition, and his vocal contempt for those not sharing his interests displeased his superiors in the order and brought him under severe discipline. (14)Years later, in 12565, [OR] about 1257 (10) he was taken from England to France and,(10) sent to a (6,10) French (10) monastery (6,10) for unknown reasons, (10) [OR] because of upsetting fellow friars and superiors (6) with his aggressive personality. (6,14) [OR] for joining the anti group (10) [OR] for continuing to disseminate of Arabic alchemy, and protesting against the ignorance and immorality of the clergy. (11) He was imprisoned (10) briefly (11) [OR] for about 10 years (6) by Jerome of Ascoli, (11) [OR] Master General Bonaventure (7) the Minister- (11) [OR] Master- (7) General of the Franciscan Order. (7,11) He was unable to conduct experiments and studies6: (6) he was likely kept at constant menial tasks to limit his time for contemplation and came to view his treatment as an enforced absence from scholarly life. (13) [OR] During this period of confinement Bacon wrote his greatest works. (10) Disagreements among scholars concerning the order and purposes of these works show once again the many unknowns concerning Bacon’s life. (10) In 1260, (7,8) Bonaventure issued (7) a decree that prohibited friars from publishing books (7,8) or leaflets (8) without the Order’s prior approval. (7,8) This was probably on the grounds of 7 the Bishop of Paris’ Condemnations of 1277, which banned the teaching of certain philosophical doctrines, including deterministic astrology and the works of Aristotle. (11)

And Pope Clement IV, 1265-8

By the mid-1260s, he was undertaking a search for patrons who could secure permission and funding for his return to Oxford. (13) In order to bypass the Order’s decree he contacted (7,8) his fellow8 (8!!) Cardinal Guy (7,12) le Gros de Foulques (7) [OR] Foulquois, (12) bishop of Narbonne and cardinal of Sabina. (13) He had become a Cardinal (7,12) in 1261, (12) after a career as a lawyer and military man. (12) Bacon was acquainted with Guy, (12,13) because he had been the papal legate [OR] in the service of the Capetian kings of France (14) negotiating between England’s royal and baronial factions. (13) Guy became Pope as Clement IV (7,12) in 12659. (7) [OR] 1264. (12) In 126610, Roger sent him a letter (9,14) suggesting certain proposals covering the natural world, mathematics, languages, perspective, and astrology (14) [OR] improvements in the scientific curricula and installing laboratory experimentation in the educational system. (9) Bacon argued that a more accurate experimental knowledge of nature would be of great value in confirming the Christian faith, and he felt that his proposals would be of great importance for the welfare of the church and of the universities. (14) He made the bold claim that the entire educational system needed to be rebuilt, and that the foundations for this revitalization could be found in his work. (9) He gave to the pope a proposal for a universal encyclopaedia of knowledge and asked for a team of collaborators to be coordinated by a body in the Church to build the encyclopaedia. (9) He was asking Guy to bless his intention to write a comprehensive ‘encyclopaedia of current knowledge’. (12) Guy was unaccustomed to receiving proposals such as Bacon’s and misunderstood his request. (9,12) Bacon had had in mind a vast encyclopaedia of all the known sciences, requiring many collaborators, the organization and administration of which would be coordinated by a papal institute (14) whereas in fact, he had no money to research, let alone copy, such a work and attempts to secure financing from his family were thwarted by the Second Barons’ War. (13) In 1263 or 1264, a message garbled by Bacon’s messenger, Raymond of Laon, (13) led Guy to believe that Bacon had already completed a summary of the sciences (9,13) when the truth was that it was merely projected. (14) However, in 1265, Guy was summoned to a conclave at Perugia that elected him Pope Clement IV. (13) William Benecor, who had previously been the courier between Henry III and the pope, now carried the correspondence between Bacon and Clement. (13) In the confusion (9) Guy demanded that Bacon send the documents (7,9) containing his written works on philosophy, science and religion (12) and his view on the possibility of philosophy in theology (7) ‘as quickly as possible and in a fair hand’. (12) Clement’s reply of 22nd June 1266 commissioned “writings and remedies for current conditions”, instructing Bacon not to violate any standing “prohibitions” of his order, (13) but to reveal all of his beliefs and philosophies (9) in utmost secrecy (9,13) The Pope’s request provoked a flurry of activity on Bacon’s part, (9,12) because he revered the pope and could not disobey: (9) the command stimulated Bacon’s most famous writings. (12) While faculties of the time were largely limited to addressing disputes on the known texts of Aristotle, Clement’s patronage permitted Bacon to engage in a wide-ranging consideration of the state of knowledge in his era. (13) In 1266, (2) [OR] 1267 (11) at the request (2,3) [OR] command (8,14) of Pope Clement IV, (2,3) and sponsored by him, (6) to keep in touch with him concerning the spot of logic inside philosophy, (8) he quickly composed a three-volume encyclopaedia on the sciences (9) in Medieval Latin (11) [OR] collecting many of his observations, (2) briefly (4,14) “in a remarkably short time” (14) wrote on them (4,14) [OR] composed referenced works of around a million words in about a year. (13) He had to do this secretly and notwithstanding any command of his superiors to the contrary; and even when the irregularity of his conduct attracted their attention and the terrible weapons of spiritual coercion were brought to bear upon him, he was deterred from explaining his position by the papal command of secrecy. (14) He sent (3,7) the Opus majus (“Great Work”), the Opus minus (“Lesser Work”), and the Opus tertium (“Third Work”) (14) to the Pope. (3,7) Under the circumstances, his achievement was truly astounding. (14)

Opus Maius, 1266

This was his most important work, (11) ‘Opus Maius’, (2,3) (Latin for “Greater” (11) ([OR] “Great (9,14) Work”) (9,11) was published in 1266 [OR]1267 or ‘68. (13) He reminded the pope that, like the leaders of the schools with their commentaries and scholarly summaries, he could have covered quires of vellum with “puerilities” and vain speculations. (14) Instead, he aspired to penetrate realms undreamed of in the schools at Paris and to lay bare the secrets of nature by positive study. (14) It presented his views on how to incorporate Aristotelian logic and science into a new theology, supporting Grosseteste’s text-based approach against the “sentence method” then fashionable. (13) This was a huge, 840-page treatise (11) in seven main sections. (11,12) although only fragments ever appeared (11) The 7 sections were (4)

  1. causes of human ignorance (4) [OR] The Four General Causes of Human Ignorance Causae Erroris), (13)

  2. The relation of the sciences to theology (4) [OR] The Affinity of Philosophy with Theology (Philosophiae cum Theologia Affinitas) (13)

  3. Grammar and the power of languages [OR] On the Usefulness of Grammar (De Utilitate Grammaticae), (13)

  4. Mathematics, including astronomy and astrology (4,13) [OR] The Usefulness of Mathematics in Physics (Mathematicae in Physicis Utilitas) and the geography necessary in order to use them: (13) he studied the tides and arithmetic. (9) The section on geography was allegedly originally ornamented with a map based on ancient and Arabic computations of longitude and latitude, but has since been lost. (13) He was interested in astronomy (2,7) Drawing on ancient Greek and medieval Islamic astronomy recently introduced to western Europe via Spain, Bacon continued the work of Robert Grosseteste and criticized the then-current Julian calendar as It had become apparent that Eudoxus and Sosigenes’s assumption of a year of 365¼ days was, over the course of centuries, too inexact. (13) and the calendar, (4,9) and sought reform of (2,7) errors in the Julian (7,13) calendar (2,7) which he described as “intolerable, horrible, and laughable”. (13) In Part IV of the Opus Majus, Bacon proposed a calendrical reform similar to the later system introduced in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII. (13) He proposed that one day should be dropped every 125 years to make up for the error, (7,13) and to cease the observance of fixed equinoxes and solstices He believed that due to the errors in the calendar then in use Christians were celebrating Easter on the wrong day. (7) Bacon charged that this meant the computation of Easter had shifted forward by 9 days since the First Council of Nicaea in 325. (13) His proposal to drop one day every 125 years was not acted upon following the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268. (13) The eventual Gregorian calendar drops one day from the first three centuries in each set of 400 years. (13) He claimed that his telescope could make the most distant object appear near, that it could make stars appear at will, and even further, that it had the power of visualizing future events. (9) He estimated the distance to the stars at 130 million miles, and he used a camera that projected an image through a pinhole to observe solar eclipses. (9) Bacon believed that the Earth was spherical and that one could sail around it. (9) His (mistaken) arguments supporting the idea that dry land formed the larger proportion of the globe were apparently similar to those which later guided Columbus. (13)

  5. Optics (4,13) (perspectiva) [OR] On the Science of Perspective (De Scientia Perspectivae) (13) He ardently researched (7) optics, (2,4) and wrote treatises on it (then called perspective). (9) In Part V of the Opus Majus, Bacon discusses physiology of eyesight and the anatomy of the eye and the brain, considering light, distance, position, and size, direct and reflected vision, refraction, mirrors, and lenses. (13) His treatment was primarily oriented by the Latin translation of Alhazen’s Book of Optics. (13) He also draws heavily on Eugene of Palermo’s Latin translation of the Arabic translation of Ptolemy’s Optics; on Robert Grosseteste’s work based on Al-Kindi’s Optics; and, through Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham), on Ibn Sahl’s work on dioptrics. (13) He was acquainted with the properties of mirrors, had a working knowledge in microscopy, and possessed an instrument very much like a modern telescope. (9) He conducted many experiments paid for by his family (6) for example into the refraction of light through lenses, (2) leading to the development of spectacles. (2,14) Bacon once frightened his students by creating a rainbow by passing light through some glass beads. (9) This demonstration marked one of the earliest attempts to duplicate a natural phenomenon in the laboratory. (9) He used parts of glass spheres as magnifying glasses to demonstrate that light reflects from objects rather than being released from them. (7) However, in his so-called science of experience he did not make any known advances in what is today called physics, nor did he make any known practical inventions. (10)

  6. Experimental science (4,13) [OR] On Experimental Knowledge (De Scientia Experimentali), a philosophy of science that would guide the others. (13) There was a discussion of “weights” (likely some treatment of mechanics but this section of the Opus Majus has been lost). Alchemy, agriculture (inclusive of botany and zoology), medicine, (13) chemistry (9) and “experimental science”.

  7. Moral philosophy [OR] A Philosophy of Morality (Moralis Philosophia). (13)

It was an encyclopaedia (2) [OR] It was not intended as a complete work but as a “persuasive preamble” (persuasio praeambula), an enormous proposal for a reform of the medieval university curriculum and the establishment of a kind of library or encyclopaedia, bringing in experts to compose a collection of definitive texts on these subjects. (13) The Opus was an effort to persuade the pope of the urgent necessity and manifold utility of the reforms that he proposed. (14) He was also partially responsible for the addition of optics (perspectiva) to the medieval university curriculum. (13) He had planned to publish a comprehensive encyclopedia, (11,12) of all (2) experimental (4) natural (11) science (2,4) and natural philosophy (4) [OR] an introduction to perspectives on the best way to consolidate the reasoning of Aristotle and science into theology. (8,11) The various abbreviations used by scribes make it hard for non-medievalists to recognize the key passages. (12)

Page 389 of the 15th Century Digby manuscript in the Bodleian Library in Oxford states: Positis radicibus sapientiae Latinorum penes Linguas et Mathematicam et Perspectivam, nunc volo revolvere radices a parte Scientiae Experimentalis, quia sine experiential nihil sufficientia sciri potest [my emphasis] “Having laid down fundamental principles of the wisdom of the Latins so far as they are found in language, mathematics, and optics, I now wish to unfold the principles of experimental science, since without experiment nothing can be sufficiently known. There are two ways of acquiring knowledge, one through reason, the other by experiment. Argument reaches a conclusion and compels us to admit it, but it neither makes us certain nor so annihilates doubt that the mind rests calm in the intuition of truth, unless it finds this certitude by way of experience. Thus many have arguments toward attainable facts, but because they have not experienced them, they overlook them and neither avoid a harmful nor follow a beneficial course. Even if a man that has never seen fire, proves by good reasoning that fire burns, and devours and destroys things, nevertheless the mind of one hearing his arguments would never be convinced, nor would he avoid fire until he puts his hand or some combustible thing into it in order to prove by experiment what the argument taught. But after the fact of combustion is experienced, the mind is satisfied and lies calm in the certainty of truth. Hence argument is not enough, but experience is.” (12)

Here Bacon is making a point that brings to mind a passage in Ibn Sina’s Qanun, written two centuries earlier, namely:

If it is said that some parts of medicine are theoretical and other parts are practical, this does not mean that one part teaches medicine and the other puts it into practice … both parts of medicine are science, but one part is the science dealing with the principles of medicine, and the other with how to put those principles into practice. (12)

In this book he made use of scientific materials already written, added new material, and included a section on moral theory. (10) With respect to the sciences, the overall tone of Opus majus is a plea, attempting to persuade the pope (the head of the Catholic Church) about the importance of experimental knowledge, (10) It ranged over all aspects of science, from grammar and logic to mathematics (11,12) and physics. (11) It contains detailed treatments of mathematics, optics (11,12) alchemy, the manufacture of gunpowder, astrology and the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies. (11) However, it should be remembered that Bacon was also a Franciscan monk, and the work was also a plea for reform addressed to the Pope. (11) Science and Aristotle’s philosophy could be applied in establishing a new way of learning. (7) This would bring about the welfare of the Church, (7) by improving training for missionaries and providing new skills to be employed in the defence of the Christian world against the enmity of non-Christians and of the Antichrist. (11) In Part I Bacon recognizes some philosophers as the Sapientes, or gifted few, and saw their knowledge in philosophy and theology as superior to the vulgus philosophantium, or common herd of philosophers. (13) He held Islamic thinkers between 1210 and 1265 in especially high regard calling them “both philosophers and sacred writers” and defended the integration of Islamic philosophy into Christian learning. (13)

Opus Minus

After dispatching his Opus Maius to Rome, Bacon apparently worried that it may not have reached the Pope, (12,13) or that it might have been too long for a busy Pope to read, and that it was incomplete. (12) Accordingly he rapidly wrote (12) a smaller second work, the (11,13) ‘Opus Minus’ (7,9) (Lesser Work), (9) to summarise and supplement the Opus Maius. (11,12) This was despatched later the same year (11,12) by ‘special courier’ – a favourite pupil of Bacon’s named John. (12) It was accompanied by two other works (13) ‘De Multiplicatione Specierum’ (7,8) and ‘De Speculis Comburentibus’, and an optical lens. (13)

Opus Tertium

He then wrote his Opus Tertium (9,10) (Third Work) (9) This was a much expanded volume, (12) intended to complement the other two and expand on some sections which had only been covered cursorily (unfortunately, over half of this work has been lost). (11) He probably wrote additional books on astrology and alchemy. (8,13) These, too, were sent to Clement in Rome in 1267. (3) The book (2,3) [OR] books (7,9) explained to the pope the rightful role of the sciences in the university curriculum and the interdependence of all disciplines. (9) The entire process has been called “one of the most remarkable single efforts of literary productivity”. (13) Easton’s review of the texts suggests that they became separate works over the course of the laborious process of creating a fair copy of the Opus Majus, whose half-million words were copied by hand and apparently greatly revised at least once. (13) Other works by Bacon include his “Tract on the Multiplication of Species” (Tractatus de Multiplicatione Specierum), “On Burning Lenses” (De Speculis Comburentibus), the Communia Naturalium and Mathematica, and his Computus. (13)

Death of Clement IV

His luck ran out when the Pope passed away (7,8) in November (appendix 1) 1268 (7,8) and left no official review or opinion on his works (7,12) thus Bacon lost his best supporter and protector. (8,13)

Further writings 1268-77

After Clement’s death (4,9) 1268 (7,8) [OR] 1278, (6) Bacon’s chances of seeing the encyclopedia project through to completion vanished and even worse, (9) represented a defeat for the prospect of revamping the university curriculum, (9,14) by assigning to the sciences their rightful place in the curriculum of university studies. (14) Undaunted, Bacon embarked on another great project and started to write (9,14) the Communia (7,9) [OR] Communium (10) naturalium (7,9) (General Principles of Natural Philosophy), (9,10) one of his finest works. (10) He also wrote the Communia mathematica, (7,9) (General Principles of Mathematical Science) (9,14) and ‘Compendium (7,14) Studii Philosophie’. (7) [OR] Compendium philosophiae (14) (“Compendium of Philosophy”). (14) He never finished this work and only part of it was published. (9) [OR] it appeared in 1272. (14) In philosophy—and even Bacon’s so-called scientific works contain lengthy philosophical digressions—he was the disciple of Aristotle; even though he did incorporate Neoplatonist elements into his philosophy, his thought remains essentially Aristotelian in its main lines. (14) Bacon had always submitted his writings to the judgment of the Church, and now appealed to the new Pope, (9) Gregory X (1272-6) (Cathen) The appeal was lost. (9)

Imprisonment 1277

Like Galileo, (4) Bacon suffered imprisonment in his quest for the true nature of the world, (4,8) but the details of his alleged ‘imprisonment’ are unclear. (12,13) Modern scholarship notes that the first reference to Bacon’s “imprisonment” dates from eighty years after his death on the charge of unspecified “suspected novelties” and finds it less than credible. (13) In 1277, (9) [OR] between 1277 and 1279 (7,8) the Minister General of the Franciscans (9,13) Jerome of Ascoli, probably acting on behalf of the many clergy, monks, and educators attacked by Bacon’s 1271 Compendium Studii Philosophiae. (13) The ‘Condemnations of 1277’ banned the teaching of certain philosophical doctrines, including deterministic astrology. (13) The ‘Condemnations’ condemned Bacon’s work because of the “suspect novelties” it contained. (9,14) [OR] for being a magician (4,6) [OR] because he disliked Bacon’s over-the-top credulity in speculative chemistry (8) [OR] because of (7,14) excessive credulity of his (14) beliefs in alchemy (7,14) and astrology (14) his general disregard for (7) and brutal treatment of (8,14) other innovators, (7,8) and his penchant for millenarianism under the influence of the prophecies of Abbot Joachim of Fiore, a mystical philosopher of history. (14) Contemporary scholars who do accept Bacon’s imprisonment typically associate it with Bacon’s “attraction to contemporary prophesies”, his sympathies for “the radical ‘poverty’ wing of the Franciscans”, interest in certain astrological doctrines, or generally combative personality rather than from “any scientific novelties which he may have proposed”. (13) He was expelled from the Franciscans and (2,4) in 1290 (6) was imprisoned (2,4) [OR] placed under house arrest (7,13) in a convent in Paris (6) by the loyal Brothers of the Order (9,14) or by the church. (4) This imprisonment lasted two years, (9) [OR] 12 years, 1280-1292. (6) [OR] the exact amount of time he served is unknown. (9,14) [OR] In 1278 Bacon returned to the Franciscan House at Oxford, where he resumed his studies and is speculated to have spent his remaining days. (8,12)

Last Years

In 1272 (10) [OR] 1292. (13,14) [OR] 1294 (8) when he was about 80 years old11, (6) he published (8,10) his last (8,9) dated written work (8) on the study of philosophy. (10) It was called ‘Compendium studii theologiae’. (8,13) In it the old, angry, (10,14) argumentative (10,13) Bacon re-emerges (10,14) in a stinging reproach of a corrupted Church. (9) Although largely incomplete, Bacon’s last contribution found him just as determined as any time in his life to expose ignorance. (9) In it he claimed to see the presence of the antichrist in the then-warring Christian groups, and he took in general the extreme view of Franciscan life. (10) It was an anticlimax: adding nothing new, it is principally devoted to the concerns of the 1260s. (13) It is possible that an imprisonment in the final years of his life stems from this book. (10)


He seems to have (16) died (1,3) in Oxford (2,10) in 1294, (6,9) [OR] June of (8) 1292, (7,8) [OR] about 1292 (1,3) not long after his release, (2) [OR] after the publication of his last work. (16) He was laid to rest in Oxford. (8,13)


Bacon was largely ignored by his contemporaries in favour of other scholars such as Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas, (13) [OR] his studies were talked about everywhere and eventually won him a place in popular literature as a kind of wonder worker (14) and his works were studied by Bonaventure, John Pecham, and Peter of Limoges, through whom he may have influenced Raymond Lull. (13) He was clearly not an isolated genius. (13) He remained in obscurity for a long time until his works were rediscovered and published in the 18th Century. (11) [OR] By the early modern period, the English considered him the epitome of a wise and subtle possessor of forbidden knowledge, a Faust-like magician who had tricked the devil and so was able to go to heaven. (13) As early as the 16th Century, natural philosophers like Bruno, Dee, and Francis Bacon were attempting to rehabilitate Bacon’s reputation and to portray him as a scientific pioneer who had avoided the petty bickering of his contemporaries to attempt a rational understanding of nature. (13) Much more is now known about Bacon’s extensive writings, and they are rightly admired for their scholarship and lucidity. (12) They have probably been more intensively studied than those of Grosseteste. (12) it is not clear how far they are original or the extent to which they were derived from contact with contemporary scholars such as Grosseteste, Adam Marsh, Thomas Wallensis and others, (12) or by early Muslim scientists like Avicenna and Averroës, he is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of Empiricism and the modern scientific method (although later studies have emphasized his reliance on occult and alchemical traditions). (11) In the early modern era a survey of how Bacon’s work was received over the centuries found that it often reflected the concerns and controversies that were central to his readers. (3,6) His reputation has fluctuated from miracle-worker to charlatan. (4) He is considered to be the most important cultivator of the natural sciences during the Middle Ages (9) and one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method. (6) He was the first modern (5) scientist (5,11) and a martyr to scientific progress. (5) Although Bacon is often celebrated as the first true experimental scientist in Britain, this accolade may more properly be accorded to Robert Grosseteste (c 1170–1253). (12) In the 19th century he was credited as a forerunner of modern science (6,10) inspired by and promoting the works of Aristotle and later Arabic works, such as the works of Muslim (3,6) scientists Alhazen, (3,6) Avicenna and Averroës. (11) There has been a backlash against this portrayal of Bacon as a scientist ahead of his time, (4,5) emphasizing that he was essentially a medieval thinker, (5,6) with much of his “experimental” knowledge obtained from books, in the scholastic tradition. (6) Later studies emphasized his reliance on occult and alchemical traditions. (1) There is no evidence that Bacon made any important contribution to science. (10) And yet his thinking (4,5) in many ways (10) was well in advance of his contemporaries. (4,5) [OR] it was a ‘scholastic accolade’ (3) He was partially responsible for a revision of the medieval university curriculum, which saw the addition of optics to the traditional quadrivium. (3) He has been described variously as a rebel, (5) traditionalist (5,6) and reactionary. (5) Unfortunately, these romantic epithets tend to blur the actual nature of his philosophical achievements. (5) He was a reader, writer, and champion of science, (10) an innovative thinker and a courageous scholar, not afraid to challenge current beliefs about philosophy, science and religion. (12) His work was so popular that it encouraged others to experiment on their own, and by so doing helped bring about the Renaissance. (9) [OR] Bacon died without any important followers, and was quickly forgotten. (11) However, this interpretation (of both Bacon’s work and of the prevailing medieval attitudes to science) has been challenged more recently, and he has been portrayed more as a brilliant and combative (if somewhat eccentric) scholar, endeavouring to take advantage of the new learning which was just then becoming available, while still remaining true to traditional notions and attitudes, and not as isolated as had been supposed. (11) Humboldt said that Bacon was ‘the most important phenomenon of the Middle Ages’. (12) However, in the course of the 20th century, Husserl, Heidegger, and others emphasized the importance to modern science of Cartesian and Galilean projections of mathematics over sensory perceptions of nature; Heidegger in particular noted the lack of such an understanding in Bacon’s works. (13)


  1. Wikiquote
  2. BBC
  3. Wikipedia Summary
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. Simple Wikipedia
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12

  13. Wikipedia full article (13)

  14. Britannica (14)

Appendix I Clement IV (GUIDO LE GROS) from New Advent

Born at Saint-Gilles on the Rhone, 23 November, year unknown; elected at Perugia 5 February, 1265; d. at Viterbo, 29 November, 1268. After the death of Urban IV (2 October, 1264), the cardinals, assembled in conclave at Perugia, discussed for four months the momentous question whether the Church should continue the war to the end against the House of Hohenstaufen by calling in Charles of Anjou, the youngest brother of St. Louis of France, or find some other means of securing the independence of the papacy. No other solution offering itself, the only possible course was to unite upon the Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina, by birth a Frenchman and a subject of Charles. Guido Le Gros was of noble extraction. When his mother died, his father, the knight Foulquois, entered a Carthusian monastery where he ended a saintly life. Guido married, and for a short time wielded the spear and the sword. Then devoting himself to the study of law under the able direction of the famous Durandus, he gained a national reputation as an advocate. St. Louis, who entertained a great respect and affection for him, took him into his cabinet and made him one of his trusted councillors. His wife died, leaving him two daughters, whereupon he imitated his father to the extent that he gave up worldly concerns and took Holy orders. His rise in the Church was rapid; 1256, he was Bishop of Puy; 1259, Archbishop of Narbonne; December, 1261, Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina. He was the first cardinal created by Urban IV (Babel, Hierarchia Catholica, 7). He was in France, returning from an important legation to England, when he received an urgent message from the cardinals demanding his immediate presence in Perugia. Not until he entered the conclave, was he informed that the unanimous vote of the Sacred College had confided into his hands the destinies of the Catholic Church. He was astonished; for only a man of his large experience could fully realize the responsibility of him whose judgment, at this critical juncture, must irrevocably shape the course of Italian and ecclesiastical history for centuries to come. His prayers and tears failing to move the cardinals, he reluctantly accepted the heavy burden, was crowned at Viterbo, 22 February, and, to honour the saint of his birthday, assumed the name of Clement IV. His contemporaries are unanimous and enthusiastic in extolling his exemplary piety and rigorously ascetic life. He had a remarkable aversion to nepotism. His first act was to forbid any of his relatives to come to the Curia, or to attempt to derive any sort of temporal advantage from his elevation. Suitors for the hands of his daughters were admonished that their prospective brides were “children not of the pope, but of Guido Grossus”, and that their dowers should be extremely modest. The two ladies preferred the seclusion of the convent. The Neapolitan question occupied, almost exclusively, the thoughts of Clement IV during his short pontificate of 3 years, 9 months, and 25 days, which, however, witnessed the two decisive battles of Benevento and Tagliacozzo (1268), and the execution of Conradin. The negotiations with Charles of Anjou had progressed so far under the reign of Urban IV that it is difficult to see how the pope could now well draw back, even were he so inclined. But Clement had no intention of doing so. The power of Manfred and the insecurity of the Holy See were increasing daily. Clement had already, as cardinal, taken an active part in the negotiations with Charles and now exerted himself to the utmost in order to supply the ambitious but needy adventurer with troops and money. Papal legates and mendicant friars appeared upon the scene, preaching a formal crusade, with the amplest indulgences and most lavish promises. Soldiers were obtained in abundance among the warlike chivalry of France; the great difficulty was to find money with which to equip and maintain the army. The clergy and people failed to detect a crusade in what they deemed a personal quarrel of the pope, a “war hard by the Lateran, and not with Saracens nor with Jews“ (Dante, canto xxvii); though, in reality, Saracens, implanted in Italy by Frederick II, made up the main strength of Manfred’s army. Although reduced at times to utter destitution, and forced to pledge everything of value and to borrow at exorbitant rates, the pope did not despair; the expedition arrived, and from the military point of view achieved a brilliant success. Charles, preceding his army, came to Rome by sea, and upon the conclusion of a treaty, by which the liberties of the Church and the overlordship of the Holy See seemed to be most firmly secured, he received the investiture of his new kingdom. On 6 January, 1266, he was solemnly crowned in St. Peter’s; not, as he had wished, by the pope, who took up his residence in Viterbo and never saw Rome, but by cardinals designated for the purpose. On 22 February was fought the battle of Benevento, in which Charles was completely victorious; Manfred was found among the slain. Naples opened her gates and the Angevin dynasty was established. Though a good general, Charles had many weaknesses of character that made him a very different ruler from his saintly brother. He was harsh, cruel, grasping, and tyrannical. Clement was kept busy reminding him of the terms of his treaty, reproving his excesses and those of his officials, and warning him that he was gaining the enmity of his subjects. Nevertheless, when a little later, young Conradin, disregarding papal censure and anathemas, advanced to the conquest of what he deemed his birthright, Clement remained faithful to Charles and prophesied that the gallant youth, received by the Ghibelline party everywhere, even in Rome, with unbounded enthusiasm, “was being led like a lamb to the slaughter”, and that “his glory would vanish like smoke”, a prophecy only too literally fulfilled when, after the fatal day of Tagliacozzo (23 August, 1268), Conradin fell into Charles’ merciless hands and was beheaded (29 October) on the market-place of Naples. The fable that Pope Clement advised the execution of the unfortunate prince by saying “The death or life of Conradin means the life or death of Charles”, is of a later date, and opposed to the truth. Even the statement of Gregorovius that Clement became an accomplice by refusing to intercede for Conradin, is equally groundless; for it has been shown conclusively, not only that he pleaded for his life and besought St. Louis to add the weight of his influence with his brother, but, moreover, that he sternly reproved Charles for his cruel deed when it was perpetrated. Clement followed “the last of the Hohenstaufen” to the grave just one month later, leaving the papacy in a much better condition than when he received the keys of St. Peter. He was buried in the church of the Dominicans at Viterbo. Owing to divergent views among the cardinals, the papal throne remained vacant for nearly three years. In 1268, Clement canonized St. Hedwig of Poland (d. 1243).

Appendix II Master General Bonaventura

After having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. On 24 November 1265, he was selected for the post of Archbishop of York; however, he was never consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266. During his tenure, the General Chapter of Narbonne, held in 1260, promulgated a decree prohibiting the publication of any work out of the order without permission from the higher superiors. This prohibition has induced modern writers to pass severe judgment upon Roger Bacon‘s superiors being envious of Bacon’s abilities. However, the prohibition enjoined on Bacon was a general one, which extended to the whole order. Its promulgation was not directed against him, but rather against Gerard of Borgo San Donnino. Gerard had published in 1254 without permission a heretical work, Introductorius in Evangelium æternum (An Introduction to the Eternal Gospel). Thereupon the General Chapter of Narbonne promulgated the above-mentioned decree, identical with the “constitutio gravis in contrarium” Bacon speaks of. The above-mentioned prohibition was rescinded in Roger’s favour unexpectedly in 1266.[Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of Pope Gregory X, who rewarded him with the title of Cardinal Bishop of Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great Second Council of Lyon in 1274.

Appendix III Master General Jerome Masci

Jerome Masci (Girolamo Masci) was born on 30 September 1227 at Lisciano, near Ascoli Piceno. He was a pious, peace-loving man whose goals as a Franciscan friar were to protect the Church, promote the crusades, and root out heresy. According to Heinrich of Rebdorf, he was a Doctor of Theology. As a Franciscan friar, he had been elected the Order’s superior (minister) for Dalmatia during the Franciscan general chapter held at Pisa in 1272. Pope Gregory X(1271-1276), was sending a legate to the Greek Emperor, Michael Palaiologos, in 1272, to invite the participation of Greek prelates in the Second Council of Lyons. The Pope’s ambition was to achieve a reunion of Eastern and Western Christendom. St Bonaventure, then Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) was asked to select four Franciscans to accompany the Legation as Nuncios. He chose Friar Jerome Masci as one of the four. When Bonaventure, died suddenly during the fifth session of the Order’s General Chapter at Lyons on 15 July 1274, Friar Jerome Masci was elected to succeed him as the Franciscan Minister General, even though he was absent at the time, only then returning with the Greek delegates from the embassy to Constantinople. Jerome was the associate of John of VercelliMaster General of the Dominican Order, when the latter was sent by Pope Nicholas III (Giovanni Caetani Orsini) on 15 October 1277, to arrange a peace between Philip IV of France and Alfonso III of Aragon. Jerome and John of Vercelli were again appointed to the same task on 4 April 1278. At the same time, Jerome was ordered to continue for the time being as the Franciscan Minister General. In 1278 Jerome was made Cardinal Priest by Pope Nicholas III, and at some point after 16 May 1279 was assigned the titular church of Santa Pudenziana. Even after his appointment as a cardinal, he was allowed to remain as Minister General of the Franciscans until the next general chapter. In the event, however, he was unable to attend the chapter for reasons of ill health, as a letter of apology of Pope Nicholas III, written in May 1279, indicates. On 12 April 1281 he was promoted Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina by Pope Martin IV. He became the first Franciscan pope and chose the name Nicholas IV in remembrance of Nicholas III, who had made him a Cardinal.[10]

Appendix IV: The Franciscan gagging order

Forbade him to publish any work out of the order without special permission from the higher superiors “under pain of losing the book and of fasting several days with only bread and water.” This prohibition has induced modern writers to pass severe judgment upon Roger’s superiors being jealous of Roger’s abilities; even serious scholars say they can hardly understand how Bacon conceived the idea of joining the Franciscan Order. Such critics forget that when Bacon entered the order the Franciscans numbered many men of ability in no way inferior to the most famous scholars of other religious orders. The prohibition enjoined on Bacon was a general one, which extended to the whole order; its promulgation was not even directed against him, but rather against Gerard of Borgo San Donnino. Gerard had published in 1254, without permission, his heretical work, “Introductorius in Evangelium æternum”; thereupon the General Chapter of Narbonne in 1260 promulgated the above-mentioned decree, identical with the “constitutio gravis in contrarium” Bacon speaks of. The prohibition was rescinded in Roger’s favour unexpectedly in 1266. 

Appendix V: the Condemnations of 1210-77

1 I am puzzled that RW Southern’s biography of Grosseteste does not mention Roger Bacon, despite the Preface in AC Crombie’s Robert Grosseteste and the origins of experimental science, published half a century earlier, which states: ‘In the 13th C, the Oxford school, with Robert Grosseteste as its founder, assumes a paramount importance: the work of this school in fact marks the beginning of the modern tradition of experimental science’. (12)

2 Q.v. infra

3 The date of this makes it impossible as a cause for Roger becoming a friar.

4 See Appendix II

5 Inconsistent date with (7) which says he became a friar in that year

6 See Appendix IV

7 If this implies causality the dates are wrong.

8 Bacon was not, of course, a cardinal.

9 Appendix I is a 1200 word account of the Life and work of Clement IV from the Catholic Encyclopaedia: it does not mention Bacon at all.

10 Guy was Pope by then: the mistaken communication seems to have occurred before that.

11 Multiplying the confusion about his birth date.


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