The Evidence

Throughout his later works, the Opus maius, Opus minus, Opus tertium and others, Bacon tells the reader that he was not able to write an Opus principale. Due to the necessities of his duties as a Franciscan friar, he had to opt for work of rhetorical introduction (an Opus preambulatum). Still, Roger Bacon makes many references to some of the major Summae and Sententiae of his contemporaries. On the negative side, he condemns the Summa fratris Alexandri and the works of Richard Rufus (Bacon, Opus minus, Brewer, p. 326; Compendium studii theologiae, Maloney). On the positive side, he makes reference to one Summa, which he evidently cites with approbation.

In his Communia naturalium, part two, distinction five on causation, Bacon refers explicitly to one such Summa.7 This anonymous reference to a Summa is to the Summa sapientiale of the English Franciscan Master, Thomas of York. In the Communia naturalium, Bacon explicitly 'lifts' his general metaphysics from this great Summa. And indeed, by implication and in opposition to Richard Rufus (OFM), he presents himself as a follower of Thomas of York. Thomas of York was a younger contemporary of Roger Bacon.8 He incepted in theology at Oxford on 14 March 1253, and was highly regarded as a great representative of the Oxford tradition. In 1256, he became the sixth Regent of the Franciscan Studium in Cambridge. And was succeeded in Oxford by Richard Rufus, who had returned from Paris. There is no certainty about his life after this time.

One thing is certain. Roger Bacon, writing in Paris in the mid-1260's did know and use the Summa sapientiale of Thomas of York, which is sometimes called the Libri metaphysici fratris thomae de Eboraco. How influential was this text on the Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics of Roger Bacon, as presented for example, in the Communia naturalium, Opus maius and related works? On the basis of the traditional scholarship and on actual evidence, one has to admit that Roger Bacon takes over Thomas of York's style and content almost totally and completely. It is as though Bacon in Paris in the 1260's is the mouthpiece for Thomas of York. The following philosophical topics can serve as examples: (1) The doctrine of Matter and Privation, (2) The Doctrine of Form (static and dynamic), (3) The doctrine of universals and individuation, (4) The doctrine of causation, (5) The doctrine of the soul.

In regard to all of these topics, the judgment of the late Dorothy Sharp is correct. In reference to Matter, Form and Privation, she remarks: "In the Communia naturalium Bacon countenances the view of Thomas of York that these principles are three secundum rationem but two secundum rem' (Sharp, 1930, 122). Again, she notes, "Besides creation, Bacon's theory of which adds nothing to that of Grosseteste or Thomas of York, generation confers existence on things" (Sharp, 1930, 127). And in reference to Matter, she adds: "In this consideration Bacon has much that agrees with Thomas of York. Matter secundum essentiam is ingenerable and uncorruptible, being generable only per accidens or per suam privationem (1 Phys. p.49:28); matter comes into being through creation (C.N. 67:13) [Here, one notices an agreement with Maimonides]; matter is the subject of contraries desiring always the new and therefore indirectly desiring the corruption of its present form (C.N. 113:0); matter seeks its own good (C.N. 81:6); matter is knowable only by analogy with form (Quaest. Met. xi, p. 2:8); matter, like form, may be equivocally called substance, since both are parts of the substantial composite (C.N. 50:26); matter, though never existing without form, has its own true nature and essence, and therefore contributes to the composite (Comp. Stud. Theol. pp. 50, 66; Sharp, 1930, 131). "Again, Bacon like Thomas of York, rejects the theory of the numerical unity of matter in all things, a theory he refers to in the Opus tertium (p. 121) as the worst in philosophy" (Sharp, 1930, 132). Again, "His more general remarks about form add little to what has been said by Thomas of York: thus he holds that form is prior to matter in the sense that it is the term of generation and that to which the diversity of composites is chiefly due (C.N. 267:11 and 53:31); form is that which perfects the material principle (C.N. 122:11); form is the end that moves the efficient cause (C.N. 123:3); form is that through which the composite acts (C.N. 120:26)" (Sharp, 1930, 142-43). In brief, Bacon's agreement with Thomas is summed up in the statement that form is that which gives being, that which is the principle of operation and that which is the principle of knowledge (I Phy. p. 78:35). Further, in the judgment of Dorothy Sharp, Bacon's treatment of Individuation is inferior to that of Thomas of York. Yet, there is a line of dependence. Again, in the doctrine of causation and in the doctrine of the soul, Bacon's positions are much influenced by Thomas of York.

What has all of this evidence of philosophical dependence to do with Moses Maimonides and Roger Bacon? In the Summa sapientiale of Thomas of York, the references to The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses ben Maimon are constant and ubiquituous. Indeed, Dorothy Sharp correctly notes that "Maimonides or Rabbi Moses (as he is called) is a great favourite with Thomas, and it is not improbable that Thomas's strong personal tone, e.g. 'Voluimanifestare tibi' and 'oportet te scire,' was suggested by the writings of the Jewish Philosopher" (Sharp, 1930, 51, n.2). On each of these topics mentioned above from Thomas of York, Maimonides is quoted (positively and negatively) in company with Aristotle, Avicenna, Averroes and Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol). It would not be wrong to state that the two Jewish Philosophers, Maimonides and Ibn Gabirol, influence the interpretation of the above topics from both Thomas of York and Roger Bacon. And yet, there is a major anomaly in all of this. The anomaly here is that in the Communia naturalium and in other works written in Paris in difficult circumstances in the mid-1260's, Roger Bacon constantly refers to Aristotle, Avicenna, Averroes, and yet there are no explicit references to Maimonides. And this is so notwithstanding the fact that the material from Thomas of York from which his own doctrines are taken is filled with explicit references to The Guide of the Perplexed. That is indeed a puzzle. But the puzzle makes sense when one notices that Bacon tells us that he had to cloak and conceal great truths from the Vulgusphilosophantium at the University of Paris. This was especially the case with the issues of astrology, alchemy and scientia experimentalis. But it would also seem to have been the case with some issues in Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics which relate to Maimonides. That there were strong debates about the impact and role of the philosophy of Maimonides can be seen from the writings of Giles of Rome, one of the up-coming of the Vulgusphilosophantium at Paris in the mid-1260's, who became an important theologian in the 1270's. For example, the student of Thomas Aquinas, the able Giles of Rome makes clear reference in his Errores philosophorum to the errors of Maimonides (Giles of Rome [Aegidius Romanus], Errores philosophorum).

We have at least now established one fact: Roger Bacon did definitely read the many citations from The Guide of the Perplexed as these are presented in philosophical form in the Summa sapientiale of Thomas of York. Indeed, Bacon, writing in the 1260's takes over completely the Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy of Thomas of York as influenced by his philosophical auctoritates, including and especially, Moses Maimonides. There are evidently two lines of influence from Jewish Philosophy on the philosophy of Roger Bacon. The first is that of Avicebron (Solomon ibn Gabirol), an influence which has been recognized in the scholarship for some time. The second is the indirect influence of Maimonides through Thomas of York.

Yet, what can one say of a more direct influence? Is it the case that a bibliophile of Roger Bacon's stature simply ignored The Guide of the Perplexed, a text which had received intense examination from 1250 to the 1270's? The following argument, which is tentative and brief is offered as further evidence that Roger Bacon may have indeed absorbed much from the great work by Maimonides. The argument is based on remarks in the section of the Communia naturalium entitled De coelestibus (Bacon, Communia naturalium, II, pt.5, 414-56, Steele, 1913).

In Book II, ch. 24 of the Guide, Maimonides addresses the issue of Ptolemy's epicycles and eccentrics (Maimonides, Guide, II, 24, 322-27). He argues on the basis of the Aristotelian thesis that in Natural Philosophy, there must be an immobile being around which circular motion takes place. Further, Thebit ben Chora is cited as proof that there must be the body of a sphere between every two spheres. Following Ptolemy, Maimonides notes that human matters should not be compared to those that are divine. He then addresses the evident difficulty: if Aristotle's position is correct, then there are no epicycles and eccentric circles, and everything revolves around the center of the earth. Yet, the calculations of Ptolemy are correct. Indeed, one cannot account for the retrograde motion of a heavenly body and other motions without assuming the existence of epicycles. And yet how can one account for the rolling motion around a center which is not immobile?

This perplexity, of course, for Maimonides, does not affect the Astronomer, whose purpose is not to tell us definitively about the true reality of the spheres. That is the task of the Physicist or the Metaphysician. The job of the astronomer is to posit an astronomical system and then to attempt to save the appearances. Things beneath the moon are known by reasoning by means of causes and effects. Of all that is above the moon, "man grasps nothing but a small measure of what is mathematical; and you know what is in it. I mean thereby that the deity alone fully knows the true reality, the nature, the substance, the form, the motions, and the causes of the heavens" (Maimonides, Guide, II, 24, 326-27).

When one turns to Roger Bacon's De coelestibus (C.N. Bk.. II, pt. 5), one finds an extended confrontation of the positions of Ptolemy and Aristotle (Bacon, Communia naturalium, II, pt. 5, 418 ff, 428 ff). These positions or theses are developed in a formal Scholastic manner with additional items from Al-Fraganus and Al-Betruji. Chapters 1317 set out a formal comparison of the arguments from Ptolemy and the Natural Philosophers (Aristotelians) in regard to the epicycles and eccentrics. Bacon reviews all of the Aristotelian arguments, and then in Ch. 16 he remarks that although they seem to destroy the position of Ptolemy, there are genuine experimental reasons which seem to confirm Ptolemy's calculations and positions. In Ch. 17, he reviews once more the objections against the position of the Natural Philosophers. And once again, Bacon takes the position of the Natural Philosophers seriously and acknowledges the strength of their objections. He notes in passing that the arguments of the Natural Philosophers had been neglected up to the time of Averroes and Al-Betruji.

Bacon, in true Scholastic manner, attempts a reconciliation of the conflicting positions. He notes that although the mathematicians and the natural philosophers are diverse in the manner in which they attempt to solve the appearances in the heavens, all of them have one and the same goal. Yet, they approach that goal by the use of different means. He ends his account with a short note on Ptolemy.

We can see that Bacon deals with exactly the same problem which confronted Maimonides, and that he does so in exactly the same frame of reference which one finds in The Guide. Thus, it would be natural to think that he must have known, and may have used the relevant section of The Guide. Yet, Bacon uses other sources, and his method of approach is that of the formal Scholastic philosopher. Unlike Maimonides, he does not avail himself of the distinction between the upper and lower realms in regard to the moon. And he does not do so because in using the De aspectibus of Ibn al-Haytham, he believes that instruments will enable us to see further into the heavens. Still, like Aristotle, he is not willing to jettison the arguments based on Natural Philosophy, and like Ptolemy, he wishes to acknowledge the validity of the astronomical calculations. Thus, he attempts a formal unification of both positions.

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