Roger Bacon

For future (natural) scientists in the middle ages, the universities of Oxford and Paris were interesting places. And one of the most interesting professors of science was Roger Bacon. He used mathematics and experiments to gain new knowledge. He encouraged his students to study foreign languages and to learn from both ancient Greek philosophers and Islamic scientists, especially when it comes to optics and to experiments which shall explain the nature of light. But he is also aware that there can be prejudices and pseudo-scientific thoughts which can keep a scientist from following an objective way of thinking and studying. And this is what the following text is about. It’s the very beginning of Bacon’s “Opus Maius”, a manual for students of sciences.

  • 1214 AD
    Roger Bacon was born in Ilchester, Somerset
  • 1214 AD
    Bouvunes’ battle
  • 1245 AD
    Start living in Paris
  • 1245 AD
    Council of Lyon
  • 1255 AD
    Leaves Paris
  • 1257 AD
    Bacon entry into the Franciscan order, returns to Oxford and starts teaching there
  • 1265 AD - 1268 AD
    The pope released him from all prohibitions and limitations imposed upon him by his superiors in the Franciscan order. He asked him to send his work, of which he heard, to Viterbo.
  • 1265 AD - 1268 AD
    Pontificate of Pope Clement IV Montaperti’s battle Benevento’s battle (Angioinis won the battle)
  • 1266 AD-1268 AD
    He wrote Opus maius, Opus minus, and Opus tertium.
  • 1268 AD
    He started to write Communia Naturalium, Communia Mathematica
  • 1271 AD
    He wrote Compendium studii philosophiae
  • 1277 AD
    Jerome of Ascoli, the General of the Franciscans, again condemned Bacon’s doctrine
  • 1289 AD
    Bacon was confined until this date
  • 1289 AD
    Campaldino’s battle (Guelfi’s troops defeated Ghibellini’s troops)
  • 1292 AD
    Bacon died in Oxford, where was buried


[1] Quatuor vero sunt maxima comprehen- dendae veritatis offendicula, quae omnem quemcumque sapientem impediunt et vix aliquem permittunt ad verum titulum sapientiae pervenire, videlicet: fragilis et indignae auctoritatis exemplum, consuetudinis diurnitas, vulgus sensus imperiti, et propriae ignorantiae occultatio cum ostentatione sapientiae apparentis.
[2] Ex his autem pestibus mortiferis accident omnia mala humano generi: nam ignorantur utilissima et maxima et pulcherrima sapientiae documenta et omnium scientiarum et artium secreta.
[3] Sed peius est, quod homines horum quatuor caligine excaecati non percipiunt suam ignorantiam, sed cum omni cautela palliant et defendunt, quatenus remedium non inveniant.
[4] Et quod pessimum est: cum sint in tenebris errorum densissimis , aestimant se esse in plena luce veritatis.
[5] Propter quod verissima reputant esse in fine falsitatis, optima nullius valoris, maxima nec pondus nec pretium obtinere et e contario falsissima celebrant, pessima laudant, extollunt, vilissima caecutientes aliud esse omnem sapientiae fulgorem, fastidientes quae magna facilitate possunt adipisci.
[6] Et propter stultitiae magnitudinem ponunt summos labores, consumunt tempora multa, magnas expensas effundunt in iis, quae nullius utilitatis vel parvae sunt nec dignitatis alicuius secundum iudicium sapientis.
[7] Et ideo necesse est, ut violentia et malitia harum quatuor causarum omnis mali cognoscantur in principio et reprobentur et longe a consideratione sapientiae relegentur.
[8] Nam ubi haec tria dominantur, nulla ratio movet, nullum ius indicat, nulla lex ligat, fas locum non habet, naturae dictamen perit, facies rerum mutatur, ordo confunditur, praevalet vitium, virtus extinguitur, falsitas regnat, veritas exsufflatur.
[9] Et ideo nihil magis necessarium est considerationi, quam certa damnatio istorum quatuor per sententias sapientium electas, quibus non poterit contradici.

[1] Actually, the biggest obstacles for comprehension of the truth are four, which impede all the wise men, and hardly allow someone to reach the true title of wisdom, that are: the example of frail and unworthy auctority, the continuity of habits, the unskilled-sensed folk, and the concealment of their own ignorance with the exhibition of an apparent wisdom.
[2] To tell the truth, from these deadly epidemics happen all the bad things to human beings: in fact the most useful, the biggest and the most beautiful documents of wisdom are ignored and those of all the sciences and arts are secret.
[3] But it is worse that men, made blind by the fog of these four vices, do not perceive their ignorance, but they hide it and defend it with every type of device until they find a solution.
[4] And the worst is that even if men are sur rounded by the most dense shadow of mistake, they believe to be in the full light of truth.
[5] Therefore, they consider the absolutely true things being false, the best one being without value, the biggest one having no importance nor price and, on the contrary, they praise the most false, they worship the worst ones, they raise the most coward, as they do not see that all the light of knowledge is another, as they are annoyed by those which they can understand easily.
[6] And, due to the hugeness of their stupidity, they undertake the biggest labours, waste a lot of time, pour off a lot of money in those things, which have not got any utility or are insignificant nor have any dignity according to the wise men.
[7] Thus, it is necessary to know from the beginning the violence and the malice of these four motivations of every bad thing and to condemn and to relegate them far from the consideration of knowledge.
[8] Indeed, where these things are established, no reason can move, no right can judge, no law can impose, there is no right, the natural order dies, the appearance of reality changes, the order gets confused, the vice prevails, the virtue switches off, the falsehood rules, the truth blows away.
[9] Thus, nothing is more necessary for our analysis than an absolute condemnation of these four causes according to the considerations of the wise men, which can not be contradicted.

French miniature from a manuscript of Règle de St. Benoît (Regula Benedicti), St. Gilles abbey, 1129. San Benedetto gives his Rule to St. Maurus and other monks.

French miniature from a manuscript of Règle de St. Benoît (Regula Benedicti), St. Gilles abbey, 1129. San Benedetto gives his Rule to St. Maurus and other monks.

Perotin, Viderunt omnes, 13th century

Roger Bacon moved to Paris in 1245. At that time the Polifonic School of Notre Dame of Paris was one of the most important centres of music culture of all Europe. Students from all over the continent came there to study all the innovations about polyphony and notation. Perotin was a magister of the school and he contributed to increase the Magnus Liber Organi, a collection of ancient polyphonic compositions made by his predecessor Leonin.