Did Roger Bacon Read Maimonides

Jeremiah Hackett

The reception of the Guide of the Perplexed (Dux neutrorum) into the Latin West in the 13th c. followed on the translation of that work into Latin in the 1240's.1 Master Peter of Ireland, Rabbi Moses ben Solomon of Salerno and Friar Niccolo' da Giovinazzo OP (Nicholas Paglia) read the Latin version together around 1250 (Peter of Ireland, Expositio et Quaestiones in Aristotelis Librum De Longtitudine et Brevitate Vitae, 7-9).

Those who taught philosophy or indeed theology at European Universities would not have been acquainted with this text before the 1250's. Thus, Roger Bacon, who seems to have been a Magister actu regens in artibus at the University of Paris, perhaps between 1240 and 1247, could not have known the Guide of the Perplexed. Indeed, there are no references to this work in Bacon's Parisian Commentaries from the 1240's (Hackett, 1997, 9-23).

It has long been the view of Bacon scholarship that sometime after 1247, the Doctor Mirabilis dedicated his energy and financial resources to an investigation of languages, sciences and experimental books, topics which were not always covered in the University Curriculum at Paris (Hackett, 2000, 69-110). The most prominent of these books for Bacon is the Secretum secretorum (Bacon, Secretum secretorum; Williams, 1994). The question naturally arises: Did Roger Bacon, who quite clearly was a great bibliophile, read the Guide of the Perplexed in the period 1250-1278?

The reader of the modern editions of Roger Bacon's works comes up against a major problem: there are no explicit references to The Guide in the indices of the modern editions of Bacon's works. This is, indeed, surprising, in that by the 1260's it was quite common for major philosophers and theologians to make explicit reference to this work, especially in regard to theories on the knowledge and attributes of God (Dobbs-Weinstein, 1995; Burrell, 1988, 1986, 1984; Dienstag, 1975; Buijs, 1988). In fact, Roger Bacon provides us with a short account of this philosophical problem, but Maimonides's great work is not explicitly cited (Bacon, Moralis philosophiae, part I, Massa). Thus, a preliminary review of Bacon's texts come up with a negative result. It would appear in fact that Roger Bacon did not know and did not use the text of The Guide. This is indeed a most unusual situation for a Scholastic Philosopher in the second half of the 13th century. And it is especially so for Roger Bacon. For he is the one who had composed a Hebrew Grammar, a fragment of which still exists. Yet, there is no reference to Maimonides in this work (Nolan & Hirsch, 1902).

Also in the Moralis philosophiae, part four, where Bacon provides references to the Secta Iudei, there is no reference to Maimonides (Ed. cit., Part IV). In this account, the Jews are presented as a people who hope for both temporal and spiritual goods. The wise ones of Israel searched spiritually in the power of the Law, and sought not only bodily goods but also those of the soul. And they did so by virtue of the authority of God and the Law. They overcame the Nations by right and by right they were given the promised land. Indeed, the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel truly and spiritually looked forward to the Messiah. Indeed, both the Jews and the Christians received the one revelation from God.

One might expect a thinker with such a positive attitude to have known The Guide in the 1260's. Not only was it available; it was frequently cited by the new generation of theologians (1250-70). And since there are a number of philosophical issues where one might expect Bacon and Maimonides to be in agreement, one could suppose that he had consulted this work. In an effort to discover any heretofore unnoticed correspondences in both thinkers, I will examine the following five problems: (1) Language about God and Analogy, (2) Astrology, (3) Humility as a Virtue and the Crux of Magnanimity, (4) Moral Philosophy as the Finis (Completion) of Philosophical Studies, (5) The distinction of the Wise and the Vulgar, and (6) Philosophical style.

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