BECK index

Catholic Ethics 1250-1350

by Sanderson Beck

Bonaventure’s Ethics
Ethics of Thomas Aquinas
Roger Bacon and Moral Philosophy
Ramon Llull’s Spiritual Writings
Lives of Saints
Franciscans and the Spirituals
Béguines and Marguerite Porete
Dominicans and Eckhart’s Mystical Unity
Duns Scotus and William of Ockham

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
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Christian Ethics 1095-1250

In 1252 Pope Innocent IV issued the bull Ad Extirpanda that first authorized the use of torture to gain information but not recantation since forced confession was considered worthless. The torture was not to shed blood, mutilate, nor cause death. Toulouse and Carcassonne were relieved of the Inquisition in 1249; but it was restored with greater powers by Pope Alexander IV in 1255. One of the last Cathar refuges in Languedoc was captured that year when Quéribus was taken. The Cathars continued to flourish in Italy and Bosnia. Although Friedrich II detested heresy, he had not allowed the Inquisition to operate in his empire; his policy was continued by most of his successors until Louis IX’s brother Charles of Anjou became king of Sicily in 1266. He enabled the Church to institute the Inquisition in his Sicilian kingdom in 1269. Voices of dissent were squelched by the Albigensian crusade and the Inquisition; even the eminent theologian Thomas Aquinas justified such persecution of heresy. The della Scalas of Verona attacked Sirmione in 1276 and imprisoned 174 perfecti, who were burned with other Cathars in the Verona amphitheater two years later. Peter Autier and his brother Guillem were trained as perfecti in Lombardy and began a revival in western Languedoc in 1298; but the Inquisition regained its powers, and Peter Autier was executed in 1311.

Bonaventure’s Ethics

Bonaventure was born as Giovanni Fidanza in Bagnorea, Tuscany about 1217. His father was a physician, but Bonaventure believed he was saved from death by the intercession of Francesco (Francis) of Assisi. He entered the University of Paris in 1235 and earned his master of arts degree in 1243. Then he joined the Franciscan order and was named Bonaventure, studying theology in their college at the University for five more years. He was influenced by Alexander of Hales, who died in 1245. He began lecturing and wrote a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, attaining a master of theology degree in 1254. The next year Bonaventure was excluded from the University faculty because of a controversy over the mendicant orders. He defended the Franciscans from William of St. Amour’s charges that they defamed the Gospel by their begging and poverty.

In 1257 Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas were reinstated as faculty at the University of Paris by papal intervention. However, the same year Bonaventure was elected minister general of the Franciscans, and he turned his attention to monastic administration. He wrote a letter to the entire order criticizing their incautious handling of money, importunate begging, being too familiar with those outside the order, pursuing legacies and burial rights, luxurious living, and putting the wrong people in offices. He wrote another similar letter in 1266. Bonaventure showed how one could attain God through love in his Journey of the Mind to God, written in 1259. The next year he revised the constitutions of the Franciscan Order, and in 1263 he published a biography of Francesco of Assisi. In 1265 he declined the appointment as archbishop of York, but he was made bishop of Albano and a cardinal in 1273. At the Council of Lyons in 1274 Bonaventure preached for a reunion with the Eastern Church, but he died during the conference. While his contemporary Thomas Aquinas emphasized contemplation, Bonaventure recommended the mystical path of love to union with God.

Bonaventure divided moral philosophy into ethics, economics, and politics. Ethics has to do with a person’s actions as an individual, economics as a member of domestic society, and politics as a member of civil society. In Bonaventure’s philosophy the universe emanates from God, the divine is the exemplar of life, and God is the goal and perfect end. Human action is good when the will producing it is good, and the will is only good when it conforms to God as the directing principle and is ultimately united to God in a peaceful end. If the relation with God is broken, then evil enters. Although an evil intention makes an action bad, a good intention is not sufficient to make an action good. Not only must the end intended be good, but the action itself must also be good.

Bonaventure believed that to serve God is the greatest freedom, because to serve the divine is to rule. He defined natural law as the impression made on the soul by eternal law. Although some people may be ignorant of written laws, everyone can know the natural law that is imprinted in all by the Creator. From this natural law Bonaventure derived the precepts that God should be honored, loved, and feared; parents should be respected and revered; hierarchical order should be observed; peace should be maintained; all should be given their due; you should not do to others what you do not want them to do to you; and you should do to others what you want them to do to you. Bonaventure considered conscience a habit of the practical intellect that corresponds to science, a habit of the speculative intellect. Conscience derives from natural law; but in its practical application it may or may not conform to divine will because it is prone to error. When a rule of action is discovered to be contrary to natural law, a person is obligated to reform it. Bonaventure used the term “synderesis” to refer to that within the soul that does always incline the will toward good, that causes it to shrink from what is evil, and that feels remorse after evil is committed.

Bonaventure found that humans are social because they desire companionship; they are not self-sufficient but need others to satisfy natural desires; and they share their gifts with others. This includes sharing knowledge, and Bonaventure considered it a sin to know and to refuse to teach others just as it is a sin for a wealthy person to refuse to help the needy. Thus aid to fellows should be economical, educational, and moral. Order is part of natural law and also affects social order. Bonaventure compared society to an organism that requires cooperation between its elements, and various functions require a hierarchy of powers, offices, and dignities based on differing abilities, aptitudes, and merits. He believed that the need for submission and obedience makes authority naturally lawful so that humans can live in peace and harmony.

Justice is the general principle of social order. Bonaventure’s first law of justice is to worship, honor, praise, and obey God. The second law of justice regulates our relations to our neighbors, and is based on the two aspects of the golden rule, or what some call the golden and silver rules. Bonaventure called the principle stated in the negative (do not do to others what you do not wish others to do to you) the law of innocence, and the positive principle (do to others what you wish others to do to you) the law of beneficence or doing good. His third law of justice is the duty of rulers and subjects to work for the common good. Rulers are to govern, not for their own private interests, but for the good of all, and the subjects should aid the rulers by seeing that the rules are observed. Bonaventure’s fourth principle of moral justice is having correct judgment in regard to persons, things, and ways of acting. Yet even justice is not sufficient for social well-being because it tends to deteriorate if the most essential ingredient of love is lacking. More than anything, charity fosters and protects right order, and it promotes the practice of virtue and observance of law. Charity above all produces true and perfect harmony in society.

A good society depends on the mutual aid of its various members. Free will is what enables humans to act in conformity with their rational and social nature according to the divine plan imprinted in our spiritual nature. For Bonaventure the ultimate end of society is to help humans attain eternal happiness in union with God by providing the material, intellectual, and moral elements that enable people to live virtuously. Bonaventure believed society requires some authority to guide and direct all to the common goods, as the head directs the physical body. Bonaventure perceived a hierarchy in nature that should also be reflected in society with differing entities being influenced from those above while influencing those below to purify, illuminate, and perfect. Just below the divine hierarchy of God and the angels are humans, which he called the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Manual workers produce the material goods needed by all to live. Government administrators and workers are needed to protect, defend, and assist in order to uphold order, justice, and peace. Bonaventure saw the spiritual good being advanced by the prelates correcting the erring and instructing people while the contemplatives are devoted to prayer. Each of the three groups needs the others so that all may receive support, protection, and consolation. The secular and clerical authorities should cooperate together for the betterment of all.

Bonaventure believed that the natural desire for procreation in humans can find expression by natural law in marriage, which he defined as the union of a man and a woman living together in undivided partnership. The generative instinct that all animals share should be governed in humans by rational faculties. In addition to the conjugal love required for procreation humans have the social love of living together in friendship. All people are free to marry or not to marry, even slaves. No one is obliged to marry because the species is continued by others. Bonaventure believed the male characteristics of strength, virility, and stability complement the feminine traits of weakness, gentleness, and tenderness. Both men and women are equally endowed with rationality and are therefore equal. Women are meant to be companions of men but not their slaves; their obligations and rights are equal, though Bonaventure did grant the husband authority over the wife, as the prince rules a subject. The value of the marriage contract is for unity and stability as well as for teaching the children. Bonaventure recommended marriage for life and considered fidelity a moral good. Matrimony is a love-society.

Parental authority derives from their procreation of children, and Bonaventure believed the father should be educator, provider, and benefactor. The mother loves the home and is to help the father, who must defend the children and the peace of the domestic order. Yet parental authority declines as the child matures, and they may not interfere with their children’s innate right to choose their own life especially after they leave the household. Parents should watch over the moral development, inculcating good habits so their children may acquire virtues. Bonaventure considered it the duty of the father to leave his worldly goods to his children. Because children receive so much from their parents, they are obligated to revere, obey, and do good to their parents. Natural law commands children to love their parents even more than their own children. Yet the obligation to obey one’s parents ends when the son or daughter reaches majority and leaves their household. No one is bound to obey any authority that commands something against God’s law.

When the state is badly administered, Bonaventure blamed the people. He observed that leaders selected by heredity tend to govern badly, and he argued that societies in which the rulers are elected by the people are far better regulated. If order is not preserved but is perverted, the ruler deserves to lose his authority and power. Christians are obligated to obey earthly authorities but only in what is reasonable and not against God. If one is commanded to do anything contrary to God’s laws, Bonaventure held that one is forbidden to obey. The best government respects and takes into consideration the needs and desires of the people, but those in authority have the duty to constrain those who violate the right order. Those elected to positions of authority should have knowledge of law-making and administration. In discussing religious authorities Bonaventure believed that they should have the six virtues of justice, compassion, patience, an exemplary life, prudence, and piety.

Bonaventure believed that the responsibility of a father to care for his children grants him the right of having private property. Because people are corrupt, it is needed to prevent quarrels and contention, though some groups such as the Franciscans are able to share things in common. He did not condemn riches themselves but the inordinate desire for riches. Dissipation is when earthly goods are not well distributed. Aiding the poor is not merely charity but justice as well because excess riches should belong to the poor and be distributed to them. Bonaventure condemned usury as the misappropriation of what belongs to another. The rich should assist the needy and be satisfied with having a loan repaid in full. Yet Bonaventure believed that everyone who is capable should work, though not all work is manual labor. Those who supply people’s spiritual needs are also working for the good of society.

Bonaventure emphasized the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Prudence discovers and selects the virtuous mean; temperance guards it; justice distributes it; and courage defends it. Temperance modifies; prudence rectifies; justice orders; and courage stabilizes. He considered prudence the most essential of all the moral virtues. Of Aristotle’s twelve virtues of moderation he selected as sufficient for the eradication of vice the following six: chastity, generosity, fortitude, gentleness, goodness, and magnanimity. He also found the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love necessary for salvation. Bonaventure envisioned a society of mutual aid rather than competition, a society of friends, not rivals and strangers. He pleaded for mercy and sharing, hoping all would share their gifts. He wrote,

As good dispensers of the divine gifts,
each one is bound to administer to the other
according to what he has received.
This is done by aiding the needy, by teaching the ignorant,
by correcting the delinquent, by bearing with the malicious,
by comforting the afflicted, by elevating the fallen,
by having compassion on all unfortunates,
by showing peace and love to all men.1

For Bonaventure love is what unifies and crowns the social order that goes from God to ourselves to blood relatives to friends and associates to all humans including strangers and enemies and finally to our bodies. Love is the mother of all virtues, and charity is what produces a true and perfect oneness among all.

Ethics of Thomas Aquinas

Albertus Magnus was born about 1200 at Lauingen in Swabia. He attended the University of Padua and joined the Dominican Order in 1223 despite his family’s objections. He also studied and taught at Bologna and in various places in Germany, particularly Cologne. He studied the works of Aristotle, Averroes, and Avicenna at the University of Paris and received his doctorate in 1245, the year Thomas Aquinas became his student. Albertus began his extensive writing with commentaries on the Bible, Aristotle, and the Sentences of Peter Lombard. In 1248 with Thomas he returned to Cologne, where they established the first Dominican house of studies in Germany.

Thomas Aquinas went back to Paris four years later; but in 1256 Pope Alexander IV called Albertus to the papal court at Anagni to help Thomas and Bonaventure defend the mendicant orders against William of Saint-Amour and other Paris theologians; but Albertus resumed teaching at Cologne the next year. He was appointed bishop of Regensburg in 1259 but resigned two years later. However, he escaped Dominican control by teaching at Cologne as a bishop. In 1263 Pope Urban VI made Albertus legate to preach the crusade in Germany and Bohemia. In 1270 he settled in Cologne and made peace between the archbishop and the city. He attended the council at Lyons in 1274 and argued for Rudolf of Hapsburg as German king. After the death of Thomas Aquinas, Albertus went to Paris in 1277 to defend the writings of Thomas and some Aristotelian ideas. Albertus declined in old age and died at Cologne in 1280.

Albertus is considered the most prolific writer of the 13th century; his writings amount to 38,000 pages. He was one of the first in the recent West to write extensively about science and to base his thoughts on the observation of natural phenomena. He distinguished theology from philosophy: both use reason; but theology is based on revelation while philosophy uses natural experience. He found he needed the ideas of both Plato and Aristotle in order to attain the highest wisdom. He agreed with Plato on the being of the soul but also used Aristotle’s idea of the soul as the form of animation for the body. In his Summa de creaturis (Summary of Creatures) Albertus posited four philosophic principles that were co-created with the world—matter, Heaven, angelic nature, and time. He argued that moral virtues, such as courage, temperance, prudence, and justice, are not only good as means but are good for their own sake. His disciple Ulrich of Strasbourg developed his Platonic ideas while Thomas Aquinas was influenced more by the Aristotelian concepts. According to his critic Roger Bacon, Albertus was the only teacher at that time who was quoted by name while he was still alive.

Thomas Aquinas was born in a Roccasecca castle near Aquino between Naples and Rome early in 1225. His parents hoped he would become an abbot and at the age of five put him in the monastery of Monte Cassino, where he was educated. In 1239 Emperor Friedrich II expelled the monks for siding with the Pope, and Thomas began attending the University of Naples which had a liberal curriculum of philosophy and science. When Thomas joined the Dominican Order in 1244, his recently widowed mother was so upset that she had his brother Rinaldo with troops from Friedrich’s army abduct Thomas on his way to Paris and kept him under guard. A prostitute was sent into his room, but Thomas chased her out with a torch. Thomas persisted, and a year later he went to study under Albertus Magnus at Paris, where the works of Aristotle had become readily available.

In 1248 Thomas went with Albertus to Cologne. In 1252 he returned to Paris and lectured on the scriptures and then on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. In this work Thomas noted that God made all people equal in liberty though not in their natural perfections. In 1256 Thomas was appointed a professor of theology; he had to get a papal dispensation because he was three years under the required age. However, his teaching was delayed because of resentment that the Dominicans had two teaching positions at the University of Paris. Against criticism that the Dominicans, like monks, should not beg nor have the right to preach without specific permission, Thomas argued that they were ordained to preach and teach the sacred doctrine and so have a right to live by alms from the faithful.

In 1259 Thomas went to Italy and was appointed theological advisor and lecturer to the papal Curia. He taught during the next decade at Anagni, Orvieto, Rome, and Viterbo. In November 1268 Thomas was sent back to the University of Paris to refute Siger of Brabant and others following the ideas of Averroes. In 1270 Averroism was condemned, but Thomas was also suspected for advocating the autonomy of reason under faith. In 1272 he organized a Dominican house of studies at the University of Naples. On December 6, 1273 Thomas had a mystical experience that led him to say he could not continue his writing because all that he had written seemed like straw to him and that since God had ended his writing, his life might as well end too. Pope Gregory X summoned him to the Council of Lyons; but on the road his head was struck by a fallen tree that caused a clot on the brain. He lost his appetite and did not eat. After he was moved from a castle to an abbey, Thomas died on March 7, 1274 at the age of 49. Three years later the masters of Paris condemned 219 propositions, including 12 theses of Thomas Aquinas. His writings were attacked by two archbishops of Canterbury; but most criticism ended after Thomas was canonized by the Church in 1323.

While teaching at Paris between 1256 and 1259 Thomas Aquinas held regular disputations in which a student would present a problem challenged by the objections of others. The next day the professor would offer his solutions and proofs. The treatise De veritate gathered together 253 of these disputations. In Italy Thomas wrote his answers to challenges of Christianity in his Summa contra Gentiles, which was completed in 1264. He discussed ethical issues in the third book of this long treatise. He argued that every agent acts for good and that evil is thus unintentional and is caused accidentally. There is no sovereign evil, and it is not an essence but a privation. God is the end of all things, and knowledge of God is sought by intelligent beings. He noted that human happiness does not consist of carnal pleasures, honors, glory, wealth, worldly power nor material goods; neither is it seated in the senses nor in acts of moral virtue nor prudence nor in the knowledge most people have of God nor in the demonstrated knowledge of God nor knowledge by faith; but ultimate happiness is found in contemplating God beyond this life. Created intellect can only see the essence of God by divine light and does not see all of God. Divine providence does not exclude evil nor contingency nor free will nor chance because it is executed by secondary causes. A plurality of individuals with free choices causes unexpected events for others.

Thomas Aquinas also argued in the Summa contra Gentiles that God causes the movement of the will; but humans have free choices that are nonetheless subject to divine providence. Prayer can help humans fulfill their desires as they move toward God, though the practice of magic is not good according to virtue. Laws are given by God to humans, and rational creatures are governed for their own sake. Divine law directs humans according to reason. Carnal intercourse within marriage is not a sin, and Thomas believed that no food is sinful by nature. Thomas defended voluntary poverty as good because it frees people from vices related to wealth. He defended perpetual continence for an individual because others can perpetuate the species. Human actions are punished or rewarded by God, and Thomas believed that mortal sins could forfeit one’s last end for eternity. Sins are also punished by pain, and it is lawful for judges to punish. He believed that humans need divine assistance to attain beatitude; but divine grace does not compel one to virtue. This grace causes love of God, faith, and hope. Humans need divine aid to persevere in good, and those who fall away from grace by sin can be recovered again by grace.

Aquinas wrote his treatise On Kingship: To the King of Cyprus probably for Hugh II of Lusignan (r. 1253-67) about 1266. Like Aristotle, Thomas believed that the best form of government is kingship, followed by oligarchy and democracy, but the worst is tyranny. Thus rule by a single person can be more extreme than the others, though the moral degradation is greater when an oligarchy becomes corrupt. He advised tolerating a mild tyranny if the perils of trying to change it are likely to be more grievous, for a revolt usually makes the tyrant worse. A few should not presume privately to overthrow a tyrant; rather it should be done by public authority. The king should not seek worldly honor and human glory but look to God for an eternal reward. Tyrants who seek their own good instead of the common good do not benefit from friendship and totter on an unstable throne. Good kings are loved by many because they care for their subjects and thus are much more secure.

The king founding a state should use as a model the divine government of the world. Most important is to promote virtue and living well together, for this is the main purpose for which people gather. Thus the king should promote the good life so that citizens may attain heavenly happiness. Second is to make sure bodily goods are sufficient. The king should protect the people by appointing officers of integrity, by restraining people with laws and orders, punishments and rewards, and by keeping people safe from external enemies. He should also make sure the state has good living conditions with wholesome air and abundant food.

Thomas wrote Disputed Questions on Evil about 1268, and the sixth question explained his views on free choice. Will is necessarily directed toward union with God; but humans make many choices in the process of getting there. Human intellect makes rational choices; humans are free because they are intelligent. Action not guided by reason is neither human nor free. Will is the moving power, and intellect contributes rationality. Thomas believed that human freedom is conditioned by passions, habits, violence, and ignorance. The rational soul is what makes humans free and responsible. Options are available because of intelligence and will. Evil is a privation of goodness in action, a temporary defect in being that is ultimately resolved.

In his later years at the University of Paris, Thomas wrote a treatise On the Virtues. His analysis showed that virtues are habits that skillfully facilitate action and endure as character traits. For example, by acting courageously on several occasions a person develops the habit and thus the virtue of courage. Virtues are good habits, and vices are bad habits; they become a kind of second nature. They are not our first nature because they differ widely in people. Thomas held that virtues can perfect the powers of intellect, will, and sense appetites. Virtues can be acquired naturally by repeated practice, or they may be received from God. Virtues do not stifle freedom but rather enhance it by facilitating the use of abilities in the best way. Thomas believed that evil is not willed by God; but it is permitted so that humans might be free. By exercising their freedom humans gain creative ability or virtue.

Aquinas wrote a commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, accepting his analysis of most virtues as a mean between two extremes. The great work of Thomas Aquinas is the Summary of Theology (Summa Theologica), which was not finished when he died; but Dominicans completed it from his writings in the Disputations. His prolog introduces this long treatise as instruction for beginners in the Christian religion, and it became perhaps the most important textbook on Christian theology. In this work he gave five arguments for the existence of God that he got mostly from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Avicenna, and Maimonides. First, movement implies a prime mover. The second is that there must be a first efficient cause of everything. Third, things that exist contingently must ultimately depend upon a necessary being. Fourth, gradations of values such as goodness, truth, and nobility imply that there must be the greatest good, the highest truth, and the most noble. Fifth, the orderly nature of the universe implies that there must be an intelligent being who brought about that order. Thomas concluded that these are what all people call God.

In ethics Thomas adopted Aristotle’s idea that happiness or being blessed is the ultimate goal of life; but he added the Christian idea of Heaven or beatific vision of God as that ultimate fulfillment. Thomas also valued the four cardinal virtues of the Greeks—prudence, courage, temperance, and justice; but he also emphasized the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love). He held that only acts that are conscious, deliberate, and free fall within the domain of ethics or morality. He believed that the will is always directed toward the good according to reason, though people have many different concepts of what they think is good. As with Aristotle, happiness is achieved by making what is potential actual.

Once again Thomas denied that happiness consists in wealth, fame, power, physical goods, pleasure, or even knowledge. He does argue that comprehension and rectitude of will are required for happiness; but again for Aquinas beatitude is found in the intuitive knowledge or vision of God. The experience of God is what enables humans to actualize their potential. Divine grace is what perfects human nature. Both Aristotle and Aquinas are teleological in emphasizing the end or final goal of actions. Every deliberate action can be morally evaluated as good or bad; but for Thomas the intention is more important than the result morally. If a bad intention brings good results that is still morally reprehensible. For example, a person may give to charity for self-aggrandizement. However, good intentions that result in harm are also morally bad but as a result of ignorance rather than malice. The only morally good acts have both good intentions and good results. Most circumstances allow individuals free choice as to which actions to perform; but in some cases one is morally obligated to act, as when one sees a child drowning, for example. Aquinas derived moral laws from divine law. Reasonable means should be taken to preserve life.

Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that the intellectual ability to use reason is what separates humans from animals and is what makes ethics possible. However, humans have many passions that animals also have. Passions are good when they are in accord with right reason and subject to its control. When emotions obscure reason and are allowed to act, then they can be bad. Habits result from acts and dispose a person to act readily and easily according to the previous pattern. Good operative habits are called virtues, and bad habits are vices. Thomas listed the seven capital vices as vainglory (pride), envy, anger, covetousness (avarice), sadness, gluttony, and lust. He also accepted Aristotle’s view concerning intellectual virtues that perfect humans’ rational abilities. The intellectual virtue of prudence is very important because it helps develop the moral virtues too. Virtues enable one to act correctly spontaneously and sustain a more stable character. Grace acts through the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity, transcending the human virtues. These theological virtues are not governed by the Aristotelian mean, because they have no limit. It is impossible to love God too much, for example. Thomas also argued that love is always stronger than hatred, as it is impossible for hatred to be stronger than love.

Thomas defined law as an ordinance of reason made for the common good that is promulgated for the community, and he wrote, “The making of a law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has care of the whole people.”2 Aquinas believed it is derived from eternal law that divine wisdom has ordained to guide all creatures to perfection. Most creatures act naturally without conscious freedom of choice; but humans should know the eternal law and their relation to it so that they can seek the good and avoid evil. For Thomas natural law is a rational creature participating in eternal law through reflection. Human good can be discerned by understanding human nature and inclinations. The ultimate inclination is toward good. Humans also have the natural inclinations of other animals. As every creature seeks to survive, the natural inclination is to preserve life and avoid death. The inclination to preserve the species leads to propagation and in humans the education of children also. Humans develop rational inclinations to live in society and know the truth about God. This spiritual aspiration leads some individuals to contemplate the divine for the salvation of all humans.

Practical reason leads humans to adopt certain moral imperatives as a means to happiness. Actions that violate natural moral law are wrong not because God prohibits them; rather God prohibits them because they are wrong. Conscience is the awareness that guides us to what is right, and those who act against conscience sin. Reason may be hindered by desires or passions. Thomas analyzed the passions resulting from sexual desire (concupiscence) into three pairs of opposites, namely love and hate, desire and aversion, and pleasure and pain. Physical senses perceive evil as pain and experience good as pleasure; but joy is a mental apprehension of good, sorrow of bad. The passions or emotions related to anger (irascible) are hope and despair, fear and daring, and anger, for which Thomas found no opposite. All of these passions can be good or bad depending on how they are expressed in various circumstances. The intellectual virtue of prudence is responsible for regulating, ordering, and using them correctly.

Like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas believed that humans are naturally social and political because they live in communities and depend on mutual cooperation. Other animals are much more independent, but a human can survive alone only on a primitive level and with great difficulty. Societies thus must develop processes to achieve the common good. Thomas believed that communities should be established in the unity of peace, be directed to good action, and make sure there is sufficient supply of necessities for a good life. Human laws are derived from natural law, and those that are not are a perversion of law. Thus only just laws are binding on the conscience. For Aquinas a law is unjust if it imposes burdens on citizens that are not for the common good but are to satisfy the desires or the ambitions of the legislators, or if the legislators go beyond the powers given to them, or if the burdens are imposed unfairly in a disproportionate way. Unjust laws that contravene divine law should also not be obeyed. Those who persist in imposing unjust laws are tyrants and should be deposed for abusing their power unless the rebellion contemplated is worse than the condition it aims to remedy. The ruler represents the people and acts for the community. Aquinas recommended the unity of monarchy, though constitutional laws must protect the people from abuse by a tyrant.

In his views on unbelievers Thomas Aquinas did not believe that Jews and pagans should be compelled to the faith because believing depends on will. Yet he argued that they should be compelled by the faithful, if possible, to keep them from hindering the faith by their blasphemies, evil persuasions, and persecutions. Thus Christians often wage war with unbelievers, not to force them to believe, but to prevent them from hindering the Christian religion. I believe this violates the teaching of the Christ. Thomas also gave philosophical support to the Dominican preachers and the Inquisition in even the torture of heretics, who may disagree with his theology. He wrote,

There are unbelievers who at some time
have accepted the faith,
and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates.
Such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion,
that they may fulfill what they have promised,
and hold what they at one time received.3

In regard to war Aquinas agreed with Augustine that wars can be waged to advance the good or avoid evil if they are justified by the faults of those being attacked; but Thomas added that it must be done under the authority of the sovereign. He denied the right of private persons to declare war because they can seek redress of rights in the tribunal of a superior. Thomas believed the warlike pursuits are incompatible with the duties of bishops and clerics, though he did approve of religious orders established for soldiering provided their purpose is not worldly but to defend divine worship, public safety, the poor, and the oppressed.

Roger Bacon and Moral Philosophy

Roger Bacon was born into a wealthy English family in 1214 and was well educated. After studying under Robert Grosseteste and the Franciscan Adam Marsh at Oxford, Bacon lectured on Aristotle’s recently unbanned works at the University of Paris, where he criticized the excessive devotion paid to the theology of Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus. Bacon had directions for making gunpowder as early as 1242 before anyone else in the West, but he did not pursue it further. From 1247 Bacon became very interested in experimental science and new branches of learning such as languages, optics, and alchemy (chemistry) along with mathematics and astronomy.

Roger Bacon became a Franciscan about 1250 and taught at Oxford until 1257. By then he had spent £2,000 of his own money on books and research, exhausting his resources. That year he was forced to stop teaching because he had angered superiors. Bacon was allowed to write but not to publish. He wrote to Pope Clement IV about his idea for a scientific encyclopedia in 1266; but the Pope died while he was writing his Opus majus, Opus minus, and Opus tertium. In 1277 his Speculum astronomiae defended astrology against the condemnation by Stephen Tempier. Franciscan minister general Jerome of Ascoli (later Pope Nicholas IV) summoned Bacon to Paris for teaching novelties and had him imprisoned the next year. For fourteen years he was kept in a dark cell and not allowed to study or work. Bacon died soon after he was released from captivity in 1292.

In the first part of his Great Work (Opus majus) Roger Bacon described four causes why human ignorance fails to attain truth as following unworthy authorities, customs and habits, popular prejudices, and displaying the appearance of wisdom to cover up one’s ignorance. He explained that the Fathers did not pursue science because their circumstances were different. The second part treats of theology and states that the purpose of philosophy is to lead people to the knowledge and service of God, and it culminates in moral philosophy. In the third part Bacon emphasized the practical importance of studying languages scientifically, especially Hebrew and Greek for the scriptures. Bacon also wrote grammars of Hebrew and Greek.

In the fourth part of the Opus majus Bacon discussed mathematics as the key to the sciences. He noted that mathematical astronomy indicates the smallness of the Earth. He argued that the suspicion of astrology being deterministic is unjust because it does not eliminate free will. He observed that the movements of the heavenly bodies can influence humans, and gaining such knowledge can be used for good purposes. Optics is the study of the fifth part. He developed Grosseteste’s theory that light is transmitted in pulses like sound waves, and he prepared the way for the telescope and microscope by noting that refraction can cause objects to appear larger. In the sixth part Bacon discussed experimental science. Reasoning can guide the mind to conclusions, but only confirmation by experience removes doubt. Experience comes from observation by the senses, which can be aided by instruments and trustworthy witnesses, and it also comes from spiritual intuition, which is perceived by the mind from divine illumination. Bacon elucidated seven stages of internal knowledge as discoveries from the sciences, virtues that keep the mind like a clear mirror as al-Ghazali wrote, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated by Isaiah, the beatitudes of Jesus, spiritual senses, fruits like the peace of God, and the raptures of mystical states.

Roger Bacon believed that the seventh and last part of his Opus majus on moral philosophy was the most important. This science teaches us the laws and obligations of life, that these are to be believed and approved, and that people should live according to them. These duties, as scripture taught, are to God and the angels, to one’s neighbor, and to oneself. Bacon defined seventeen metaphysical premises that underlay moral philosophy. These may be summarized as follows:

1. God’s existence is proved by metaphysics.
2. God’s existence is naturally known by every person.
3. God is of infinite power, goodness, substance, and wisdom.
4. God is one in essence.
5. God is also triune, which is explained by metaphysics.
6. God created all things and rules nature.
7. God also created spiritual substances known as intelligences and angels.
8. God also created rational human souls.
9. God made souls immortal.
10. Felicity of the other life is the highest good.
11. Humans are capable of this felicity.
12. God morally directs the human race and all nature.
13. God promises future felicity to those who live correctly in accordance with God’s direction.
14. Worship is due to God with all reverence and devotion.
15. As human conduct toward God is regulated by reverence, human conduct toward neighbors is regulated by justice and peace, and one’s duty to oneself is regulated by integrity of life.
16. A human needs more than one’s own effort to please God with worship and as to how one should conduct oneself towards one’s neighbor and oneself.
17. Revelation is made to one mediator of God and humanity who should be believed when it is proved certainly that that one is the lawgiver and high priest.

Bacon gave Avicenna credit for this joining of metaphysics to moral philosophy. He referred to Socrates and Plato for the idea that every person has an angel guarding against all evils who guides one toward what is good. When the soul is separated from the body, the angel is a witness before God as to all the soul did in the body. This angel witnesses not only one’s acts but one’s thoughts as well. Bacon eloquently summarized Plato’s concept.

Your angel carefully perceives all things,
sees all things and understands them,
this guardian, individual overseer, household observer,
personal defender, intimate advocate, constant watcher,
personal judge, inseparable witness,
condemner of what is evil, approver of what is good,
provider in your uncertainties, forewarner in your doubts,
defender in your perils, aid in your needs,
who is able in dreams and in signs
and in person, when necessity requires, to curtail your ills,
prosper your good, control your prosperity, ease adversity.4

Bacon described the four hindrances to happiness in the next life as sin, preoccupation with the body, obstacles of the physical world, and lack of revelation. He cited Avicenna’s view that sin, the body, and the outer world distract us from the revelation of the soul. Bacon followed Avicenna’s outline that the laws needed are to regulate human relations such as marriage and government. The state should have administrators, servants, and skilled lawyers. The legislator teaches people to make laws on patrimonies, inheritances, and wills. Ordinances can help individuals to aid and defend each other by uniting against enemies of law to subdue them. Choosing the successor to the legislator should be done in mutual relationship between the subjects, prelates, and princes. Teachers may be appointed to instruct the young.

In regard to personal conduct everyone should keep one’s life pure and free from vices for the sake of future happiness. Love is the greatest good, and peace and justice are its companions; for humanity is a social animal. Bacon also cited the twelve virtuous means delineated by Aristotle as courage, chastity, liberality, generosity, magnanimity, high-mindedness, gentleness, friendliness, honesty, cheerfulness, modesty, and justice. Intellectual virtues include intuition, knowledge, art, prudence, and wisdom. Bacon noted that Seneca considered virtue the whole good and the only good in this life. Sin blinds, defiles, and weakens the rational soul and can even reduce one to the level of brutes. Bacon listed the seven mortal sins as avarice, pride, luxury, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth. Six of these are nourished by prosperity, but anger comes out of adversity. The first step in handling anger is to understand its horrible consequences. Bacon quoted and paraphrased extensively from the writings of Seneca on anger and other moral questions.

In the last section of the part on moral philosophy Bacon turned to the salvation of the human race and what guides people to the felicity of the other life. In an early effort at comparative religion Bacon discussed the Saracens, Tatars, pagans, idolaters (Buddhists), Jews, and Christians. He criticized the Tatars for their wars, identifying them with Mars, and the Muslims with the sensuality associated with Venus. He was also critical of the Jews, whom he related to Saturn, and he praised Christianity as the best religion, identifying it with Mercury. He did suggest that the Christians should accept the histories of the Jews and Saracens lest they with equal right reject the histories of the Christians. He argued that Moses and Muhammad lacked other witnesses and that since John the Baptist and the disciple Peter testified to Jesus, the Christ is the perfect lawgiver.

Ramon Llull’s Spiritual Writings

Ramon Llull was born on the island of Majorca in 1232 or early 1233 probably into a noble family. He wrote poetry in the court of Jaime I and traveled in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia. By 1257 he was married, and he had two children. As seneschal he was the administrative head of the household of the future Jaime II of Majorca. Late in life Ramon wrote a short account of his own life, which he began by confessing that as seneschal he was given to composing songs and doing other licentious things. One night while composing a love song to a lady he saw a vision of Jesus on the cross. After this vision was repeated three more times, Ramon Llull decided to dedicate his life to converting the many Muslims in the area by writing a book demonstrating the truth of the Catholic faith and by establishing monasteries where various languages could be learned. On the feast of Saint Francis in 1263 he was moved to give away his possessions after reserving a small portion to support his wife and children.

After making pilgrimages to regional holy places, Llull was persuaded by the Dominican Ramon Peñafort to return to Majorca rather than go to Paris. He bought a Saracen slave and learned Arabic, studying many subjects including religion (Bible, Qur'an, and Talmud), philosophy (Plato and Aristotle), and medicine (Avicenna, Matthew Platearius, and Constantine the African). After nine years of study Llull wrote the large Book of Contemplation in Arabic. When his Saracen slave blasphemed the Christ, Ramon hit him on the mouth and forehead. Later the slave attacked him with a sword; Llull was wounded but fought him off and kept his servants from killing him. A few days later the imprisoned slave hanged himself.

In 1274 Llull went up on a mountain for a week and received a vision of the book he was to write. This led to a series of books he wrote in which “Art” appeared in the title. Learning of his books, the king of Majorca summoned him to Montpellier, where Llull publicly read his Ars demonstrativa. In 1276 Jaime II inherited the Balearic Islands, Montpellier, and Roussillon, but he lost the islands in the war over Sicily in 1285. Using Montpellier as his base, Llull wrote his novel Blaquerna, The Principles of Medicine, and more Art treatises on sciences in which he described the principles of God which he called dignities. In 1288 Llull went to Paris and read his commentary on his Ars generalis. His observation of the students led him to limit his use of symbolic figures when he returned to Montpellier.

Llull was going to embark from Genoa to convert Saracens, but fear of immediate martyrdom caused him to change his mind. Although a mystical vision guided him to join the Dominicans, he chose the Franciscans because they approved more of his writing, placing that above his own salvation. Llull suffered from illness, but his health improved when he finally did sail on his first mission to Tunis. He told the Muslims he would convert to their faith if they could persuade him it was better so that he would have the opportunity to convert them. After discussion and persecution, he was saved from death and deported. He was lecturing at Naples when Celestine V became Pope in 1294, and he dedicated to this spiritual Pope his short book Flowers of Love and Flowers of Intelligence. After failing to get Pope Boniface VIII to listen to him, Llull went back to Jaime II. Then he lectured at Paris from 1297 to 1299 and wrote more books. Llull went to Cyprus king Henri II but could not persuade him to send him to Egypt or Syria. In 1307 Llull went to Bourgie in Africa and debated someone he called a Muslim bishop (mufti or cadi). Llull was imprisoned for half a year and once again deported, surviving a shipwreck in which many drowned.

Ramon Llull continued his writing in Pisa, where he proposed to the council the founding of an order of Christian knights to battle the Saracens for Palestine. He was also concerned about scholars being led astray by Averroes. He proposed that missionaries study languages, and in 1312 the Council of Vienne ordained the teaching of Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldean at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Salamanca, and the Papal Court. The Templars had been dissolved, but their goods were transferred to the Hospitallers. In 1314 Llull went again to Tunis, where a sultan was receptive to Christian ideas, and he probably died there early in 1316.

Ramon Llull wrote in Arabic for Muslims, in Catalan for lay people, and in Latin for Christian clerics. The catalog of his books lists 263 works. His early work was influenced by al-Ghazali. Llull wrote The Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men in 1275. A philosophical Gentile in the woods meets a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim, and they explain to him the main teachings of their religions. Contained in the book are diagrams of several trees bearing “flowers” which are words indicating concepts such as his dignities, virtues, and vices. These are discussed in various combinations. The seven principles called dignities are goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, love, and perfection. The second tree pairs these dignities with the seven virtues faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, courage, and temperance. The third tree pairs the dignities with the seven deadly sins of gluttony, lust, avarice, laziness, pride, envy, and anger. Two more trees make more combinations of the same.

In the second book the Jew uses more combinations to elaborate on the following beliefs: there is only one God; God is the creator of all; God gave the Law to Moses; God will send a Messiah to free us from captivity; the Resurrection; God will judge the just and wicked on the Day of Judgment; and heavenly glory and Hell exist. In the third book the Christian deals similarly with his beliefs in one God, the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, creator, re-creator, and glorifier. Those pertaining to Jesus are that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin, crucified, descended into Hell, rose up again, ascended to Heaven, and will come to judge the good and wicked on the Day of Judgment. In the fourth book the Saracen describes how Muslims believe in one God, the Creator, Muhammad as Prophet, and the Qur'an as the law of God; the dead will be asked by an angel if Muhammad is the messenger of God; all things will die except God; the Resurrection; Muhammad will be heeded on the Day of Judgment; merits and faults will be weighed; all will pass along the path; and Paradise and Hell exist.

The Gentile is asked to choose his religion; but the three and the reader do not learn his choice. One of the wise men noted that people are so rooted in their faith from their upbringing that preaching and disputations are usually to no avail. Another pointed out that the love of temporal possessions distracts most from loving God and their neighbor. Yet they hope that by their discussions they might someday agree on one belief.

Ramon Llull organized his ideas more scientifically in his Ars Demonstrativa about 1283. In this treatise Llull used 23 letters of the alphabet (omitting J, U, and W) to represent various principles. A stands for God. B through R represent the divine dignities of goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth, glory, perfection, justice, generosity, simplicity, nobility, mercy, and dominion. These 16 attributes have their analogies under the categories represented by S, T, V, and X. S lists combinations of intellectual faculties such as memory, understanding, will loving, will hating, and knowing. T has the principles God, creature, operation, difference, concordance, contrariety, beginning, middle, end, majority, equality, minority, affirmation, doubt, and negation. V lists the same seven virtues and seven vices as above. X has predestination, being, perfection, merit, supposition, immediately, reality, power, free will, privation, imperfection, blame, demonstration, mediately, reason, and object. Sixteen analogous terms are also included in the disciplines of theology, philosophy, and law. Y stands for truth, and Z for falsehood.

Llull in the second distinction of his Ars Demonstrativa used the four elements earth, water, air, and fire in various combinations to describe conditions. The third distinction is intention and has the following sixteen analogous modes: remembering, understanding, willing, believing, contemplating, discovering, guiding, preaching, interpreting, solving, judging, teaching, disputing, counseling, accustoming, and healing. The fourth distinction answers various questions using these concepts often abbreviated by the letters.

At Montpellier in 1290 Llull began writing his Ars inventiva veritatis which led eventually to his works Ars brevis and Ars generalis ultima, both completed by 1308. He reduced his alphabetic symbols to nine letters and included definitions of his terms. The nine dignities are goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth, and glory. The analogous principles are reduced to difference, concordance, contrariety, beginning, middle, end, majority, equality, and minority. Nine analogous questions are whether? what? of what? why? how much? of what kind? when? where? and how? His analogous subjects are God, angel, heaven, man, imaginative, sensitive, vegetative, elementative, and instrumentative. The sequence of virtues is justice, prudence, courage, temperance, faith, hope, charity, patience, and pity. The analogous vices are avarice, gluttony, lust, pride, laziness, envy, anger, lying, and inconstancy.

Llull also included in this short work his definition of one hundred forms, which are the following concepts: entity, essence, unity, plurality, nature, genus, species, individuality, property, simplicity, composition, form, matter, substance, accident, quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, habit, position, time, place, motion, immobility, instinct, appetite, attraction, reception, fantasy, fullness, diffusion, digestion, expulsion, signification, beauty, newness, idea, metaphysics, potential, punctuality, line, triangle, square, circle, body, figure, directions, monstrosity, derivation, shade, mirror, color, proportion, disposition, creation, predestination, mercy, necessity, fortune, order, counsel, grace, perfection, explanation, transubstantiation, alteration, infinity, deception, honor, capacity, existence, comprehension, discovery, semblance, antecedent, power, generation, theology, philosophy, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, music, rhetoric, logic, grammar, morality, politics, law, medicine, government, chivalry, commerce, navigation, conscience, preaching, prayer, and memory.

About 1283 Ramon Llull wrote his utopian novel Blaquerna that describes exemplary characters and ideal institutions. Five years later his novel Felix, or the Book of Wonders aimed to reform his contemporary corrupt society. In the prolog Felix wonders at how little people know and love God, who created the world so well. Though filled with stories and parables, the novel has an encyclopedic structure under the ten categories God, Angels, Heaven, Elements, Plants, Metals, Beasts, Man, Paradise, and Hell, though the part on humans takes up most of the novel.

Felix’s father tells him to travel through the world to find out why people no longer love and know God while he is to exemplify this loving and knowing. In the book on God Felix finds a shepherdess who loves God, but she is devoured by a wolf while protecting her sheep. Felix begins to doubt God’s existence but finds a hermit, who explains to him that the world is an occasion for good, which is greater than evil. He draws a circle around Felix and asks him if what is outside the circle is greater. Just so is the infinite God greater than the circle of this world. His fear of death indicates life, while the hermit’s not fearing death shows his faith in God. The hermit says that men take pleasure in temporal delights and forget their Creator; but when one ceases to love these delights, the love of God is awakened. An unsatisfied merchant kept multiplying his wealth, took a wife and had children, and sought honors. Finally he realized that he could only gain satisfaction by loving and serving God.

A knight wanted to unite with a woman in physical love; but her question revealed that true love, not lust, unites a person with God. There must be only one God because otherwise no god would be omnipotent. When a wise and just king tried to take over the realm of a foolish king, he was defeated by the latter, causing the bad habits of war and poverty to spread. The hermit teaches that all people resemble God in their goodness, understanding, and will, but in wanting to be a god they act against God. Humans are like God, because God loves them and allows them to earn merit by doing good works. A knight afraid in the dark confuses the sun with God and is defeated by the squire whose father he has killed; but he persuades the squire to teach him rather than kill him. The hermit concludes that if people could pardon one another as the squire did the knight, then they could live in charity in accord with the one God. A maiden is preserving her virginity; but she is tempted to take a lover after her anger is aroused, showing how one sin can lead to another. A rich man suffers from both avarice and anger; but after changing his ill will to love, God enlightens him about his avarice too.

In the most popular Book of the Beasts animal fables symbolize human society with people of different natures. Some of it derives from India’s ancient Panchatantra by way of Persian works along with other Islamic stories. After Felix meets two Apostolic Brothers, the animal parable is told. Dame Reynard the fox persuades the animals to elect the lion king as most powerful though the ox recommends the grass-eating horse. After the lion dines on a calf and a colt, the ox and horse leave to serve man. In danger of being eaten by man, the ox flees back to his native land. Reynard is not chosen for the king’s council until she takes the side of poor grass-eaters and gets the support of the elephant, wild boar, goat, sheep, and others. However, leopard gets the fox Reynard removed so that she will not spy for the grass-eaters. Reynard plots to have the boar and lion fight each other; the elephant is suspicious, but she promises to make elephant king. Reynard persuades the ox to bellow. Called to the court, the ox tells the lion why the snake believes man is the most evil animal. Reynard persuades lion to send leopard and lynx as messengers to man with a dog and a cat as presents.

The human king is impoverishing his people by making them pay for his lavish court. He sends leopard and lynx back without gifts, asking for a bear and a wolf he can use in fighting for sport. The leopard is so disgusted by the king that he prefers being an irrational beast that will not exist after death to being a human king, who will bear the guilt for the harm done by a bad government. Dame Reynard praises the leopard’s wife so much that the lion takes her as his mistress. Fearing leopard, Reynard persuades lion to promote him so that leopard will not dare kill the fox. The leopard accuses the lion of treason and has to fight the lynx, who is killed because the leopard is right about the lion’s sins.

Reynard persuades lion to send the bear and wolf on his council to the human king. Snake complains to lion about the influence of Reynard and the ox. Reynard plots with peacock to get lion to eat the ox during the winter. So the ox is killed, and the lion, crow, and fox dine off of him. Reynard gets the timid rabbit made chamberlain. Reynard seems to eliminate his last competitor when he kills and eats the rooster; but the elephant does not go along with the king’s death despite Reynard’s promises. Elephant tells the lion of Reynard’s treason. After lion roars, rabbit and peacock are afraid, causing them to admit the truth about Reynard, who is then killed by lion. The lion king then appoints the elephant, boar, and other honored barons to the council and expels the rabbit and peacock. Felix brings this story to the king so that he will keep himself from the evil counsel of treacherous men.

In the long book on Man, Felix wants to learn about human nature and understand what causes humans to fall into sin or do good works. He sees Little-Do-I-Care arguing with What-Will-People-Say. The latter is proud and succumbs to temptation and is killed, but the former is detached and tells Felix how he learned about the human condition from a hermit. The holy hermit explains to Felix that humans unite soul and body in a being that includes vegetation, sensuality, imagination, reason, and movement. The vegetative body is composed of the four elements with a head and members, and it functions by appetite, retention, digestion, and expulsion. The sensitivity power of humans includes the five senses. Humans can imagine the objects of perception, and memory can retain and recall them. Reason also uses understanding and will, which likes and dislikes. Action results from motivation and all the faculties working together.

The hermit teaches that God created humans in order to be remembered, known, loved, honored, feared, obeyed, and served; these are the purposes of life. The hermit defines physical death as separation of body and soul, but spiritual death results from committing a mortal sin when one forgets and no longer knows or loves God. He describes the spiritual pleasures of the world as remembering, understanding, and willing, but the physical pleasures derive from the five senses. Humans are good when they act in harmony with God but evil when they act contrary to God. Both the active and contemplative lives can be good.

Then using stories, the hermit contrasts faith and disbelief, hope and despair, charity and cruelty, justice and injustice, wisdom and folly, power and weakness, temperance and gluttony, generosity and avarice, chastity and lust, diligence and laziness, humility and pride, continence and envy, patience and anger, happiness and unhappiness, loyalty and disloyalty, good and bad manners, truth and falsehood, merit and blame, obedience and disobedience, order and disorder, wealth and poverty, freedom and servitude, similarity and dissimilarity (to God), praise and blame, perfection and imperfection, nobility and baseness, growth and diminution, gaining and losing, boldness and cowardliness, honor and dishonor, beauty and ugliness, consolation and disconsolation, joy and sorrow, concordance and contrariety, beginning and end, greatness and smallness, and accustoming and disaccustoming.

Then the hermit explains to Felix that free will to choose good or evil still exists despite God’s ultimate predestination. The hermit tells more stories to illustrate the importance of abstinence, conscience, confession, penance, prayer, alms, intention, temptation, vainglory, building (character), government, election, sin, resurrection, and miracles. The next book describes the rewards of paradise, and the last book the punishments of hell. Felix became a monk and spread these wonders as he traveled. After he died, other monks were called Felix and carried on these teachings.

Lives of Saints

Lives of Christian saints were written and circulated over the centuries, but they became especially popular in the 13th century. Then many lives of saintly women were put into French verse. Not always historically accurate, they often contained legends and miracles invented centuries after the person was supposed to have lived.

Two French poems were about Agnes. She lived near the end of the era of pagan Rome about 304 and by age thirteen had dedicated her life to Christ. The prefect’s son falls in love with her; but she refuses to marry or serve as a Vestal virgin. When she is disrobed, her hair grows to cover her nudity. She is put in a house of prostitution, but the prefect’s son falls dead. She resurrects and converts the son, but the prefect Symphronius breaks his promise to convert and sentences her to death for sorcery. The flames at the stake burn spectators but not her. Finally Agnes is beheaded. Her tomb is venerated as Rome becomes Christian.

Six French poems recount the legend of Catherine of Alexandria. She challenges the religion of the ruler Maxence and wins a debate against his best scholars, who convert and become martyrs. Catherine is imprisoned and tortured on a wheel but miraculously survives. She is beheaded, and angels take her body to Sinai, where her tomb emits healing oil.

Margaret of Antioch was especially popular in England, and no less than eight French poems described her legend. She is banished by her father when she becomes a Christian, and having taken a vow of chastity she refuses to marry the tyrant Olybrius. In prison she is whipped and overcomes the devil and his brother. She is disrobed, hanged up, and burned before being thrown into a tank of water. Five thousand people are converted by her miraculous survival, but they are beheaded. Before she suffers that fate, Margaret prays that pregnant women who pray to her may have healthy children.

Not all the saints were pure their whole lives. Mary the Egyptian was a woman of pleasure for seventeen years in Alexandria. To continue her trade she joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She could not enter a church and prayed to Mary for forgiveness. Then Mary swam across the Jordan River and lived in abstinence in the desert for forty years.

Beautiful Thais was also an Egyptian woman of pleasure and quite wealthy; but Paphnutius goes to her as a layman and asks for a private room. Then Paphnutius persuades her that God has compassion on all repentant sinners. She confesses and publicly burns her possessions, which is foolish because she could have given them to the poor. She lives in a monastery on bread and water for three years. Paphnutius consults St. Anthony, whose disciple Paul assures him that he saw Thais in heavenly glory. Paphnutius tells her; when Thais dies fifteen days later, angels take her soul to heaven.

Paula was married to the Roman senator Toxotius and had five children before she became a widow. She studied under Jerome and went with him to Bethlehem in 385 and lived in a communal hospice there until she died in 404.

Three French poems honor the Hungarian princess Elizabeth (1207-31). She married a landgrave; but when he died in 1227, she was disinherited. Elizabeth joined the Third Order of St. Francis and helped the poor and the sick.

The most influential collection of saints’ lives was written in Latin by the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine mostly between 1259 and 1266. In 1286 Jacobus declined to be archbishop of Genoa, but he accepted the office in 1292. Three years later his efforts to resolve conflicts between the Guelfs and Ghibellines achieved a reconciliation in Genoa; but this was only temporary, and war broke out again. Jacobus de Voragine claimed only to have compiled what became known as The Golden Legend before he died in 1298. He drew mostly from Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius, Tripartite History by Cassiodorus, and Scholastic History by Peter Comestor. The book was intended to inspire many to a more Christian life and was immensely popular. In the decades around 1500 there were more editions of The Golden Legend than of any other book in Europe, and more than 900 manuscripts are still extant.

Jacobus de Voragine organized the lives of the saints around the church calendar among its major festivals. Although he did piously pass on miracles and legends, he was skeptical of some obvious contradictions. The lives of the apostles Peter and Paul emphasize their martyrdoms that occurred about the same time in Rome during the reign of Nero. Travels of the disciples Andrew, Thomas, Simon, and Jude are recounted. Matthias was elected to replace Judas as the twelfth disciple; he preached in Judea and according to legend in Macedonia. Jacobus wrote that James the Less, whom he identified with the son of Alphaeus, looked very much like Jesus, but he denied that he was his brother by the same parents. Mary Magdalene and Martha were sisters and had been quite wealthy, but both went on to preach. Jacobus described the preaching of the four evangelists Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, whom he identified with the four symbols of the apocalypse with Matthew as the man, Luke as the ox, Mark as the lion, and John as the Eagle. The apostle Barnabas was a cousin of John Mark and was commended for his orderliness. The apostle Bartholomew preached in India. Clement was taught by Peter and was ordained by him to be the next bishop of Rome. Ignatius was a disciple of the evangelist John and was bishop of Antioch; he is portrayed as a martyr before Emperor Trajan.

Many of the legends detail the tortures and deaths of martyrs, some during the Decian persecution but most during the reign of Diocletian. The legendary George slays a dragon and is martyred by Diocletian. The soldier Sebastian is shot full of arrows for having helped Christians. The gigantic Christopher was also martyred in Asia Minor. Many women saints are portrayed, including those mentioned above as eulogized in French poetry. Nicholas saved three daughters from being sold into prostitution by secretly giving their father gold so that they could marry. Nicholas was made bishop of Myra in Lycia in the 4th century and saved three innocent soldiers from being executed by the Emperor. The lives of well known Christians such as Basil, Martin, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Benedict, and Pope Gregory I are described. The legends of Barlaam and Josaphat are taken from the work attributed to John of Damascus. One of the longest lives is that of the English king Edward the Confessor. Recent saints include Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Becket, Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, and Louis IX. Although Jacobus de Voragine was a Dominican, Francesco is presented most sympathetically. By 1300 the Christian ethic as represented by such figures has clearly become the dominant religion and philosophy of European culture.

Franciscans and the Spirituals

Pope Innocent IV gave the Poor Ladies a new Rule in 1247. Clare also practiced such severe asceticism and penance that her health was poor for 28 years. She wrote a Rule calling for more intense poverty and died two days after Innocent IV approved it with the papal bull Solet annuere in 1253. When Clare died, the Poor Ladies had 68 nunneries in Italy, 21 in Spain, 14 in France, and 8 in the Germanic countries.

Isabel, sister of Louis IX, got a special Rule approved by Pope Alexander IV for her convent at Longchamps in 1259. Many of the women who joined convents were from noble families, and most nunneries only accepted women bringing a dowry. In 1266 Pope Urban IV promulgated a new Rule for the Order of St. Clare, and after that the houses either followed that “Urbanist Rule” or the more zealous held to the “First Rule” of Clare. The end of the crusades resulted in some nuns being massacred. In 1289 the Egyptian Muslims murdered all the Poor Clares in Tripoli, and two years later at Tolemaida the mother-general led the women in disfiguring themselves to preserve their virginity before they were massacred. About 1300 there were 413 nunneries following the First Order.

John of Parma was elected minister general in 1247 and served ten years; he curbed abuses and visited many houses. Franciscan missionaries were sent to the Mongol court by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 and by Louis IX in 1253. That year the mendicant Orders lost their professorships at the University of Paris for not participating in a strike, but Pope Innocent IV got them reinstated. In 1255 William of Saint-Amour published De periculis novissimorum temporum, arguing that friars should not have the right to practice pastoral functions such as teaching, preaching, hearing confession, and conducting burials, and he condemned begging. Bonaventure responded that teaching and preaching are best done by those who practice voluntary poverty as taught in the Gospel, which includes begging, and that the Pope had granted the friars the right to preach.

John of Parma was influenced by the prophetic visions of Joachim of Fiore, whom many considered heretical. His prophetic vision was promoted in 1254 with the publication of the Introduction to the Everlasting Gospel by Gerard of Borgo San Donnino. Joachim of Fiore, who had died about 1202, had described three periods of history as symbolized by the Father who governed by the Judaic law, the age of the Son under the priests of the Christ, and the imminent era of the Holy Spirit in which the sacraments of the Church would be replaced by a loving community living in freedom. The Father used fear for punishment by law, the Son imposed discipline for wisdom, and the freedom of the Holy Spirit would bring love. Many Franciscans were identifying Francesco as the herald of the new era, vitalizing the Spirituals in their criticism of the established authorities. Yet Pope Alexander IV persuaded John of Parma to resign despite the protests.

Bonaventure was teaching at Paris when a general chapter at Rome elected him minister general in 1257. At the general chapter of Narbonne in 1260 Bonaventure was commissioned to compile the various materials and write a biography of Francesco, which he completed in 1263. Three years later the general chapter of Paris approved his work as the official biography and ordered the friars to dispose of the previous biographies of Thomas of Celano and others. Bonaventure gave up authority over the Third Order of the Penitent Brothers because he did not want the main Order associated with their heresies. By 1260 there were an estimated 17,500 friars in the Order. Bonaventure served until his death in 1274 and continued the policies of John of Parma that included receiving money through intermediaries, using houses and land, and promoting academic studies more than manual labor. The most famous Franciscan preacher of the second half of the 13th century was Berthold of Ratisbon. His sermons in Germany made the terrors of hell seem present as he denounced avarice and selfishness. By 1300 there were about 30,000 Franciscans in more than 1,100 houses.

According to the theology of Joachim de Fiore the year 1260 was to begin the age of the Spirit. Flagellation became a popular trend that year after the hermit Raniero Fasani founded the lay confraternity Disciplinati at Perugia. The Apostolic Brothers were founded by Gerard Segarelli of Parma about 1260 to fulfill the teachings of Francesco and Joachim’s prophecies. In 1286 they were ordered to accept a recognized rule, but they refused and were declared heretics. In 1290 Pope Nicholas IV issued a bull condemning them. Four Apostolic Brothers were burned at the stake in 1294, and in 1300 Segarelli was so executed too. The sect lasted until 1307 when the remainder were captured in the mountains near Vercelli, and their new leader was burned to death.

The Franciscan Peter Olivi (1248-98) had been attacked for his views in 1283 and 1285, but he obeyed to preserve community. He explained the concept of capital as the added value of money that is invested, arguing for the strict Spirituals that they should not use objects that contain invested wealth either. The Dominican Gilles de Lessines wrote of a similar concept in his treatise On Usury in 1278.

In 1281 Pope Martin IV gave the mendicant orders permission to preach and hear confession anywhere without permission from bishops or parish priests. Controversies between the more zealous Spirituals and the relaxed Conventuals continued under the leadership of the latter with the exception of the Spiritual Raymond Gaufridi, who was minister general from 1289 to 1295. The Rule of 1289 excluded anyone suspected of heresy from the Order and decreed that any heretics admitted accidentally should be turned over to the Inquisition. Gaufridi released the Anconan Spirituals from prison. They hailed the saintly monk who became Pope Celestine V as the angelic pope predicted by Joachim, and he granted them an exemption in 1294 to join a new order called the Poor Hermits. Pietro de Macarata was the leader of the Poor Hermits, and they were persecuted by the larger community. Angelo Clareno (1247-1337) went to Italy to meet Celestine, who abdicated in December 1294.

In May 1295 Olivi wrote a letter of consolation to the sons of King Charles II of Naples, and in September he condemned the Franciscans who denied the legitimacy of Celestine’s abdication or who tried to leave the order. Olivi was a spiritual leader of the Zealots as well an intellectual master. After Olivi’s death in 1298 his teachings were condemned at the general chapter meeting of 1299, and anyone using his books was excommunicated. Olivi’s teachings were condemned at the general chapter meeting of 1299, and anyone using his books was excommunicated. Olivi’s grave became a place of pilgrimage and miracles. His Lecture on the Apocalypse was translated into the vernacular and continued to be influential even after Pope John XXII condemned it in 1326.

Pope Boniface VIII rescinded Celestine’s order and in May 1297 excommunicated Angelo Clareno, demanding that Gaufridi resign. The Colonna family stole 200,000 florins from a convoy but restored the money. They denied the legitimacy of Boniface and called for a general council. Their Longhezza declaration was signed by the poet Jacopone de Todi (1228-1306) on May 10, 1297, and they were besieged at Palestrina before they surrendered in September 1298. Jacopone was imprisoned and excommunicated, and he was not released until after Boniface died in 1303. His poems praised poverty and satirized the more indulgent brothers and the more worldly church. After Pietro de Macarata died in 1305, Angelo Clareno became the leader of the Spirituals. On December 30, 1317 Pope John XXII censured the Poor Hermits in his Sancta Romana universalis ecclesia. Angelo went into the Celestine Order and stayed in the house of Cardinal Jacopo Colonna in Avignon until his death in 1318. Then Angelo returned to Italy and guided his followers who were called Fraticelli. In the 1320s he wrote a history of the Franciscans that included much criticism.

Ubertino of Casale (1259-1330) served with Peter Olivi at Santa Croce in Florence for two years, and he became the leading reformer in Tuscany and Umbria. In 1305 while observing silence in a convent Ubertino wrote his Arbor Vitae crucifixae Jesu Christi with an apocalyptic interpretation inspired by Joachim. He denied that Celestine’s resignation was legitimate and considered Boniface VIII and Benedict XI as forming the mystical antichrist. His criticism of papal misconduct led to his excommunication. He went to Avignon and advocated strict poverty for the Franciscans. Pope Clement V summoned the minister general Gonsalvus of Balboa (1304-13) and Ubertino to the Council of Vienne in 1311 to discuss church reform and the controversies of the Franciscans. Ubertino influenced Clement, who issued the bull Exivi de paradiso on November 20, 1312; but the order continued to be divided between the more ascetic Spirituals and the majority Conventuals who wanted large convents, studies, and papal privileges. Ubertino, like Angelo, retained the friendship of a pope, who let him join the Benedictines so that he would not be under his Franciscan enemies. Some Spirituals fled to Sicily, and they were excommunicated in 1314.

The general chapter in 1316 elected Michele of Cesena minister general, and on August 7 of that year the cardinals chose Pope John XXII. On March 14, 1317 John wrote to Friedrich of Austria, asking him to expel Tuscan friars from Sicily. The reformers gathered at the friaries of Narbonne and Béziers against the Community. The Pope summoned 64 friars to Avignon, and Angelo Clareno described their suffering. John XXII promulgated the Quorundam exigit on October 7, 1317, and a few days later Michele summoned friars from Narbonne and Béziers. Most of them submitted, but 25 Spirituals were handed over to the Provence inquisitor Michele le Moine. He induced twenty more to make a public abjuration; but one of them recanted and was imprisoned. The remaining four Spirituals were burned in the marketplace at Marseilles on May 7, 1318. The Beguines of Provence considered them martyrs for defending their Rule.

Meanwhile on January 23, 1318 Pope John XXII had issued Gloriosam ecclesiam in which he condemned the dissident friars for the following five heresies: they accused the Roman church of being carnal and corrupt while considering themselves spiritual; they denied that Roman priests had jurisdiction; they opposed taking oaths; they taught that sinful priests could not confer sacraments; and they believed only they truly observed the Gospel. The Inquisition also went after people who supported the heretical Spirituals, and on October 14, 1319 three lay persons were burned at the stake in Narbonne. The same fate happened to others as the investigations extended into Languedoc and Catalonia.

Also in 1317 Pope John XXII ordered Ubertino to retire in a convent, and later the Franciscans expelled him. Summoned to Avignon in 1322 by Pope John, Ubertino was excommunicated again in 1325. On December 8, 1322 in his Ad conditorem canonum Pope John renounced the ownership of the goods used by the Franciscans, reversing an eighty-year-old policy that justified the Franciscans’ belief that they had no possessions. On January 14, 1323 the doctor of law Bonagrazia of Bergamo protested this before the Pope and the cardinals. Pope John modified his bull, but Bonagrazia was held in prison for a year.

In 1324 Ludwig of Bavaria accused Pope John of heresy and sided with the friars. Pope John ordered his views to be taught in the universities, and in 1328 he summoned Michele of Cesena to Avignon for his order’s intransigence. Ludwig was crowned emperor in Rome on May 12, and he chose the Franciscan Pietro of Corbaro to be Pope Nicholas V. Michele, Bonagrazia, and William of Ockham fled Avignon on May 26, and they took refuge in the Emperor’s court. John XXII deposed Michele on June 6. Nicholas joined Emperor Ludwig at Pisa, where he excommunicated John XXII on February 19, 1329. Only half the provincial ministers were at the general chapter of Paris in 1329 that elected Gerald Eudes (Odonis) minister general.

The Franciscan Observants began in 1334 when Giovanni della Valle and four others from the convent at Foligno were given permission to observe the rule literally in their new settlement at Brugliano. Pope Clement VI was opposed, but in 1350 he allowed Gentile of Spoleto to continue the reform endeavor. However, the Pope’s concession was revoked in 1355, and Gentile was imprisoned. The Observants were reborn in 1368 when Minister General Tommaso of Frignano gave Paoluccio of Trinci and a few friars permission to live in extreme poverty at the deserted hermitage of Brugliano. Their movement spread, and by 1380 Paoluccio became general commissary over twelve hermitages in central Italy. By 1414 the number of reform houses in Italy was 34.

Franciscan missions to China were pioneered by Giovanni of Montecorvino (1247-1328). He was commissioned in Rome in 1289 and reached China in 1294. He built a church in Khanbaliq (Beijing) in 1299 and one by the imperial palace in 1305. Giovanni was the first archbishop in China and was invested with jurisdiction over the entire kingdom. Some friars were martyred, but after the mission to the north in 1321 they had eighteen friaries in China.

Béguines and Marguerite Porete

The Béguines were women who lived a religious  life outside of the regular orders. They began in the 12th century. Some lived in communities, and others as individuals. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1216 had forbade any new orders from forming, and this was confirmed at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Most Béguines supported themselves by their own income or work, but a few may have begged. Some followed the Rule of the Third Franciscan Order, and others were supervised by a Dominican prior. Béguine communities formed at Mechlin in 1207, Louvain in 1234, Bruges in 1244, and Brussels in 1245. By 1300 there were Béguinages in nearly every commune in the Low Countries.

Béguine communities spread in the textile and trading cities of Brabant, Flanders, and in the Rhineland, and some of the guilds tried to stifle their competition. In 1300 the Béguines had 74 Dominican convents in Germany. These houses became overcrowded, and so did the houses of the Poor Clares and the Cistercians. By 1350 Cologne had more than a hundred communities with about 1,170 residents or 15% of the women in the city. Strasbourg accepted only women with good reputations and had 600 Béguines. Some Béguines supported themselves by needlework, others by taking care of the sick. Many poor women, who could not afford the dowries needed to join the traditional convents, were welcomed by the Béguines. Women with personal property retained control over it in the Béguines. Many Béguines in Mainz, Cologne, and Lübeck taught in schools. During the plagues some city councils forced them to perform hospital service.

Mechtild of Magdeburg was born in 1210 in the ruling class of Saxony, but in 1230 she gave up her rank and property to live under Dominican direction as a dedicated Béguine. She criticized the clergy so sharply that about 1270 she was driven to take refuge in a Cistercian monastery at Helfta under the Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn. The Abbess left no writing and is not to be confused with the younger Gertrude the Great, who never became an abbess. Mechtild of Magdeburg denounced contemporary morals and made prophecies like Hildegard. Her poetry adapted the imagery of chivalry to her spiritual passion. Her verses, dramatic dialogs, and prose in the Low German vernacular were collected in her Book of the Flowing Light of the Godhead. Her writings were translated into Latin before she died. She was not canonized and is not to be confused with Mechtild of Hackeborn, who was canonized and was the younger sister of the Abbess Gertrude. Mechtild of Hackeborn at the age of seven joined her sister in the monastery at Rodardsdorf, and later at Helfta she became the teacher of Gertrude the Great. This Mechtild was inspired to write The Book of Special Grace, which was taken to Florence.

Marguerite Porete was a Béguine who wrote The Mirror of Simple Souls in Old French, and it was translated into Latin and Middle English. She sent her book to a Franciscan and a Cistercian, and it was also approved by the theologian Godfrey of Fontaines at the University of Paris. However, Guy of Colmieu, the bishop of Cambrai, condemned this book sometime between 1296 and 1306, and it was burned in front of her at Valenciennes. In April 1310 the inquisitor William of Paris gathered 21 theologians to judge Marguerite’s book based on fifteen suspected articles. On May 9 Marguerite refused to take an oath or answer their questions. She had violated the bishop of Cambrai’s ban by distributing copies of her book, and on May 31 she was condemned as a heretic. Guiard de Cressonessart had tried to defend her; but he recanted and was imprisoned for life. On June 1 Marguerite Porete was burned to death in Paris.

The Mirror of Simple Souls is a mystical dialog between the Soul, Love, and Reason. Love explains that Charity obeys nothing but Love and possesses nothing of her own. Charity gives to all without retaining anything. Reason asks Love to explain the nine points which are:

1. One cannot find the Soul that is released through pure Love.
2. The Soul is saved by faith without works.
3. The Soul is alone in Love.
4. The Soul does nothing for God.
5. The Soul omits nothing to do for God which she might be able to do.
6. One cannot teach the Soul anything.
7. One cannot take anything from the Soul.
8. One cannot give anything to the Soul.
9. The Soul possesses no will.

No one understands such Souls except God. The Soul loves nothing except for the sake of the love of God. The Soul is joy itself and swims in the sea of joy. The Soul is free and is beyond the subjection of Reason, which wishes to serve the Soul. Those who have no more will live in the freedom of charity. Paradise is nothing other than to see God. God has given free will to the Soul.

Marguerite describes seven stages of the pious Soul. First, the Soul is touched by God through grace. Second, the Soul considers that God counsels his special lovers to go beyond what he commands. Third, the Soul considers herself in the love of the work of perfection. Fourth, the Soul is drawn by the height of love into the delight of thought through meditation. Fifth, God is what is from whom all things are, and she is not if she is not of God. Sixth, the Soul does not see herself because of the abyss of humility she has within her. Seventh, Love keeps within herself to give us eternal glory, which we will not understand until our soul has left our body. The Soul understands divine power, wisdom and goodness by understanding her own weakness, ignorance, and wretchedness. The Soul wills only the will of God.

The ecumenical Council of Vienne in 1311-12 condemned the Béguines for violating the ban on new orders, and Ad nostrum accused them and the male Beghards of eight errors for being “Free Spirits” who believed they could attain perfection without obeying the laws of the Church. The Free Spirits were committed to poverty and asceticism, but not all of them were Béguines or Beghards. The Beghards were more willing to conform, and in 1321 Pope John XXII allowed them to continue; but the Béguines suffered a century of persecution. In France the Béguines were supported by King Charles IV, and the statutes they received from the Dominican prior that were promulgated in 1327 were confirmed and extended in 1341 by Philip VI. All their residences were managed by a council under the direction of the Dominican prior.

The Brethren of the Free Spirit believed they transcended authorities and customary morality, and they would dress in the fine clothes of the aristocrats or take off their clothes at times. Their traditional domain was in Cologne, and synods were organized against them in 1307 and 1322. They were led by the former priest Walter from Holland who had been a missionary at Mainz. When he was captured in 1325, about fifty of the Free Spirits were executed by burning or drowning in the Rhine. In 1335 a community of heretical Beghards was discovered in Cologne after living in a House of Voluntary Poverty for thirty years. The Béguines and Beghards were also active in Bavaria. In 1353 Pope Innocent VI appointed the first papal inquisitor in Germany to counter the Beghards.

Dominicans and Eckhart’s Mystical Unity

Humbert of Romans was elected master of the Dominican Order in 1254 at a general chapter held in Budapest. He united the Dominican nuns under a single set of constitutions and revised the constitutions of the brothers to improve discipline, adding a statute on academic life. Louis IX asked Humbert to advise the Carthusians and the houses of Clermont, Poitiers, and Anjou. He intervened to protect the mendicants at the University of Paris, and he worked with the Franciscans in the mutual defense of their orders that were attacked as harbingers of the Antichrist. He resigned his position in 1263 to devote himself to writing at Lyons. His book On the Officials of the Order provided commentary on the Dominican constitutions, and On the Formation of Preachers was used as a textbook for this hitherto rare profession. Humbert emphasized having the right motives for preaching and obeying the community of preachers. He analyzed various aspects of preaching and then provided sermons for different kinds of audiences and occasions.

In 1267 Pope Clement IV ordered the Dominican friars to teach the nuns in the Dominican convents, and Herman of Minden, the provincial in Teutonia, reiterated this mission in 1286 and 1290. By the early 14th century the province had seventy such convents with about fifty women in each.

Eckhart von Hochheim was born about 1260 near Erfurt in Thuringia. He studied with the Dominicans at their monastery in Cologne, where he probably knew Albertus Magnus before his death in 1280. Eckhart moved on to Paris about 1277, and he returned there in 1293 to teach. In between he was prior of Erfurt and provincial vicar of Thuringia. He lectured at Paris from 1300 to 1303 and then went back to Erfurt. He earned his master’s degree and became known as Meister Eckhart. He was made Dominican prior in Saxony. In 1307 the general chapter appointed Eckhart vicar general to visit and restore the province of Bohemia. He returned to teach at Paris in 1311. By 1314 he was preaching in Strasbourg, and in 1320 he became prior in Frankfurt. After 1323 he was teaching advanced students at Cologne. He supervised and preached in the Dominican monasteries of Alsace and Switzerland.

A Beghard named Walter had been burned in 1322, and in 1325 several Beghards were burned in the Rhine region. That year Archbishop Heinrich of Virneburg began investigating the influential preacher Eckhart. His friend Nicholas of Strasbourg was appointed papal visitator, and after examining Eckhart he exonerated him. However, the Archbishop continued his investigation. On January 24, 1327 Eckhart stopped that by appealing to the Holy See. He believed that he was not a heretic because he was faithful to the Church and because heresy is more a question of will than of the mind. Eckhart publicly protested his innocence in the Dominican church at Cologne on February 13, 1327. When sentence was pronounced against him, he went to Avignon, where he had to wait with William of Ockham and others who were being charged. He died there late in 1327 or early in 1328. On March 27, 1329 Pope John XXII issued In agro dominico, which condemned as heretical seventeen propositions taken from Eckhart’s writings. The bull contains Eckhart’s deathbed recantation in which he revoked and deplored the 28 articles under suspicion and any others insofar as they could generate heretical opinions in the minds of the faithful.

In addition to his sermons in German, Eckhart wrote several treatises in the vernacular. After Albrecht I was assassinated in 1308, he wrote The Book of Divine Consolation for his daughter Queen Agnes, the widow of King Andras III of Hungary. Eckhart began by noting that humans may suffer three kinds of tribulation—damage to material possessions, loss of family and friends, and personal suffering in one’s body or reputation. Eckhart taught that there is no sorrow or affliction in God and that to be free of suffering one should hold to God and no one else. The good and just person rejoices in the works of justice and is not perturbed by outward harms. God is the only source of good, of essential truth, and so of consolation.

Eckhart taught that all suffering comes from loving those external things that harm can take from one. Sorrow comes from holding them dear. If one runs after created things, one is running away from God. There can be no affliction or harm without consolation. The good person only wills what is the will of God, and such persons accept everything as if they had wanted it. The good person’s will ought to be wholly united with God’s will even if it results in personal harm. To receive God’s joy, one is obliged to pour out the created things to become empty. Eckhart gave the example of losing one thousand marks. He wrote, “You should thank God who gave you a thousand marks to lose, and who permits you to exercise the virtue of patience and so to gain that eternal life which many thousands of men will not possess.”5 Everything which is temporal is only loaned to humans. Why should they complain when it is taken back?

Eckhart described the inner work that is not bound by time or place. This work is to love God and to want goodness. The inner work is to want everything that is good and to oppose and flee from anything that is corrupt and evil. A son of God born in God loves God for himself and in himself. Like God, he never wearies of loving and working. The influence of the highest nature is more joyful than one’s own nature. The heavenly Father sent his son to become human and to suffer. You want to become God’s son so that you need not suffer. As Augustine wrote, patience is suffering for God’s sake, and that is nobler than any external thing that can be taken away. Yet God suffers with man; if God is willing to suffer, then I ought to suffer gladly too. If a friend’s compassion makes suffering less, then God’s compassion consoles one even more. If God has already suffered, then my sufferings will turn into consolation and joy. If my suffering is in God, then how can it be sorrow? Jesus said, “Blessed are they who suffer for justice.” (Matthew 5:10)

The Book of Benedictus includes The Book of Divine Consolation and The Aristocrat. In the latter Eckhart refers to the nobleman in Luke 19:12. Whoever knows oneself knows all created things, because all created things are body or spirit; but inside of the outer person is the heavenly person, the new person or what Eckhart calls the noble person. The good angel inclines one to what is good, but the evil spirit inclines humans to the transient and to vice. The outer person has sown weeds in the field. The flesh counsels vice, but the Spirit counsels the love of God, joy, peace, and virtue. If the laborer is bad, the weeds smother the good seed so that it cannot grow. The first stage of the inner person is to live according to the example of good people. Second, one runs to God’s teaching and divine wisdom. Third, one constrains one’s desires by love and zeal for God. Fourth, one grows in the love of God and accepts sorrow gladly. In the fifth stage one lives in peace and wisdom. Finally in the sixth stage one is transformed into God’s child and eternal life. In that noble one is found truth and goodness. Knowledge is the light of the soul, and even knowledge of bad things is good; but blessedness is when the soul contemplates God directly. When one rests completely in the being of God, the soul knows and loves God, the starting point for knowing oneself. Thus the noble person draws one’s being from the blessing of God.

Eckhart also gave a series of talks in German to young people called Counsels on Discernment.  His first counsel praised the virtue of obedience that makes one a faithful servant of God. The most powerful prayer comes from emptiness that enables one to be filled with Spirit. An empty spirit is attached to nothing. He suggested starting with oneself by abandoning oneself. If one does not get away from oneself, wherever one runs one will find obstacles and troubles. Doing holy works does not make us holy; rather we are holy and can make all our works holy. Seek God, and you will find God in every good thing. If one’s heart is full of God, created things find no place in it. One should always lift oneself up by the two powers of reason and will. To  be inclined to sin is not sin, but to want to sin is sin. Virtue and vice are determined by will. The will is just when it is without any self-seeking, when it forsakes itself and is formed into God’s will. A good will never seeks God in vain. To have committed sins is not sin if we are sorry for them. God is present and accepts you for what you are now, not for what you have been. To love God is to trust in God, and one can never love God too much. The best penitence is to have aversion to everything that is not God in oneself and all creatures. The person who is not satisfied with God is far too greedy. No one under any circumstances should think that one is far away from God. If we are guilty of sin, we should confess to God first.

One should become accustomed to seeking nothing for oneself and to accepting God in everything. One should not deny nor suspect one’s inwardness. “The less we own, the more it is our own.”6 Let God work in you, and do not worry whether he is working with nature or above nature. Eckhart concluded his advice as follows:

For as much as you are in God, so much are you at peace,
and as far as you are distant from God,
so far are you from peace.
Whatever is in God, it has peace.
As much in God, so much in peace.
So see by this how much you are in God,
or if you are not, whether you are or are not at peace;
for if you are not at peace,
there cannot then be peace in you,
for lack of peace comes from created things
and not from God.
And there is nothing in God that is to be feared;
everything that is in God is only to be loved.
And so there is nothing in him that is to be mourned.
He who has all his will and his wish has all his joy;
and no one has this
whose will is not wholly one with the will of God.
May God grant us this union. Amen.7

The virtue that Eckhart emphasized most of all is detachment. In his essay on that subject he explained that he considers it the best virtue because all other virtues are related to created things. He even praised detachment above love because love compels him to love God; but detachment compels God to love him. Love compels one to suffer all things for God’s love, but detachment leads one to be receptive to nothing but God. Detachment is so close to nothingness that nothing is more subtle except God alone. Perfect detachment cannot exist without humility, but one can be humble without detachment. Detachment draws one into purity, simplicity, unchangeability, and equality between God and the person. To be empty of created things is to be full of God. If a person rests in the highest place, then God can work his will in that person. The heart that has detachment prays for nothing else than uniformity with God. The poor in spirit are blessed because they have abandoned everything for God. Detachment is best because it purifies the soul, cleanses the conscience, enkindles the heart, awakens the spirit, and shows us where God is by separating us from created things so that we are united with God.

Johannes Tauler was born about 1300 in an affluent family in Strasbourg. He began training in the Dominican Order in 1314, the year Eckhart visited Strasbourg. Tauler studied at Cologne, and he would become Eckhart’s disciple by studying his works. Tauler became a lector in Strasbourg, and he was friends with the mystics Christina Ebner, Margareta Ebner, and Heinrich Süs (Suso). They were leaders in the Friends of God movement that was not recognized by the Church. The conflict between Ludwig of Bavaria and Pope John XXII caused Tauler and Süs to leave towns that were under the interdict in 1339. Tauler spent four years in Basle, where he increased his influence with the Friends of God. He was a spiritual director, and he is best known for his inspiring and practical sermons. According to The History and Life of the Reverend Doctor John Tauler, when he was about fifty, Nicolas of Basle criticized the successful preacher for seeking his own honor rather than God’s. Tauler heeded his advice and stopped preaching for two years until Nicolas urged him to resume his sermons. His first sermon before a large congregation was a failure, but his second sermon at a nunnery was so impressive that fifty people fell to the ground. After that, he continued to preach with a new effectiveness. He emphasized the Holy Spirit that sanctifies and enlightens. Tauler died during a second wave of the plague in 1361 at the monastery of Saint Nicholas in Undis, where his sister had become a nun.

Heinrich von Berg was born on March 21, probably in 1295. His noble father had been forced to take up a trade, and Heinrich chose to be known by his mother’s name Süs or Suso in Latin. He entered a Dominican house in Constance when he was thirteen, two years before Church law allowed. His parents made a substantial donation, and Heinrich felt guilty that his place in the Order had been gained by simony. When he was eighteen, he had a mystical experience and began to practice extreme asceticism. He carved the letters IHS into his chest to represent Christ and believed that the scar glowed. He wore a hair shirt and an iron chain, but loss of blood forced him to put aside the chain. So he exchanged the hair shirt for one studded with 150 tacks pointed at his flesh. At night he had his hands tied around his neck. He never entered a room that was warmed by a fire. After sixteen years of self-torturing he had a vision that he should not do that anymore. So his self-disciplining became mental rather than physical.

Heinrich studied under Meister Eckhart at Cologne in 1323-24, and in 1327 he returned to Constance to be a professor at a priory school. About the time that Eckhart died and was condemned, he wrote the Little Book of Truth, defending his ideas in more traditional terms that were less pantheistic or quietistic. He also defended Eckhart against the distortions of his teaching by the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Süs was charged with writing and publishing a heretical book and lost his teaching position. His Little Book of Eternal Wisdom was also blocked from being published for a while. When Pope John XXII put the empire of Ludwig the Bavarian under interdict in 1326, the Dominicans obeyed the ban on religious services until 1334. On August 6, 1338 Emperor Ludwig got the Imperial Diet at Frankfurt to reinstate public worship in the empire. Those not obeying starting on January 13, 1339 could be punished, and many Dominicans went into exile. Süs was in exile until he moved to Ulm about 1348. He made pastoral journeys and continued his writing, and he died on January 25, 1366 at Ulm.

In the early 1360s Süs edited his four books and published them as Exemplar in order to preserve them as he wrote them. He revised and extended his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom in a Latin translation entitled The Clock of Wisdom. Both his German and Latin versions were more widely read than any other book in those languages for the next century until The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis was published. The  Exemplar also included his Little Book of Letters and The Life of the Servant, his hagiographic autobiography. Süs’s spiritual daughter Elsbeth Stagel collected his letters of advice and wrote down conversations that she had with him. At first he burned the letters she showed him, but then he had a revelation and accepted them.

Probably the first well known autobiography in German, Süs considered The Life of the Servant the story of a beginner’s quest for spirituality. He described in detail his struggles and the supernatural raptures he experienced. He found that his masochistic asceticism stimulated manifestations of divine consolation that God uses to attract beginners. In a vision Meister Eckhart told him that he lived in “overflowing glory” that had made his soul Godlike. Süs’s father appeared to him after his death to warn him about the horrifying pain in purgatory and what he had done to cause it. Later his father came back and told him that his efforts on his behalf had released him. His mother came back and showed him the great reward God gave her for her holy life. Süs practiced silence at meals and reported that in thirty years he spoke only once at a meal while traveling. He described most of his experiences as suffering but found that God compensated him. He wrote that Christ appeared to him as a seraph and taught him how to suffer. He began to discern the difference between true and false detachment. Eventually he experienced sublime flights of the soul.

The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom is a dialog between the servant and the responses of eternal Wisdom in a meditation on the suffering of Jesus from his sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane to his death on the cross. The deception of worldly love is compared to lovable God. Eternal Wisdom explains why God may appear to be angry and yet be lovable, why God withdraws and how one knows when he is present, and why God allows his friends to suffer on Earth. The never-ending pain of hell is contrasted to the immeasurable joy of Heaven. Suffering is noble, and good comes from contemplating God’s suffering. The mother of Jesus was a witness at his crucifixion, and she is called the Queen of Heaven. The servant needs to learn how to die and live inwardly. Eternal Wisdom explains how to receive God with love and praise.

Duns Scotus and William of Ockham

On December 10, 1270 Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris condemned thirteen propositions, but it had little effect on the university. After Pope John XXI was elected, he asked Bishop Tempier to report on theological conditions in Paris. On March 7, 1277 Tempier condemned 219 propositions, and eleven days later Archbishop Kilwardby of Canterbury condemned thirty more related propositions. The “Condemnation” complained that teachers and students at Paris believed that some things may be “true according to philosophy but not according to Catholic faith.” Excommunicated would be anyone who teaches any of the stated errors or in any way defends them or even listens to them unless they report them to the chancery of Paris within seven days. The Church also condemned books and leaflets dealing with necromancy, fortune-telling, invocations of devils, or similar things that are contrary to good morals. Some of the propositions condemned are the following:

167. That there can be no sin in the higher powers of the soul. And thus sin comes from passion and not from the will.
168. That a man acting from passion acts by compulsion.
169. That as long as passion and particular science are present in act, the will cannot go against them.
172. That happiness is had in this life and not in another.
174. That after death man loses every good.
177. That raptures and visions are caused only by nature.
180. That the Christian law impedes learning.
181. That there are fables and falsehoods in the Christian law just as in others.8

Giles of Rome was an Augustinian who studied under Thomas Aquinas at Paris. In 1277 when Bishop Tempier condemned the 219 propositions, 51 of them were from Giles’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Giles left Paris and wrote On the Instruction of Rulers and the Governance of Kings, which became an influential text on political theory. Its three books covered rule of self, rule of the household, and rule of the kingdom. He came back to Paris in 1285 and was rehabilitated. Two years later the writings of Giles were made the official teaching of the Augustinian order. In his book On the Errors of the Philosophers, he criticized the ideas of the non-Christian philosophers Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna, al-Ghazali, al-Kindi, and Maimonides.

In 1301 De ecclesiastica potestate by Giles propounded papal supremacy over temporal rulers because the spiritual transcends the worldly. His theory of papal absolutism was used as a justification by Pope Boniface VIII when he issued his Unam Sanctum on November 18, 1302. Giles recognized the two powers of the Pope and the king, but he argued that if the earthly power of the king is wrong, then the spiritual power of the Pope must judge. He argued that the Church, like Christ, possesses all power, spiritual and temporal. Although the Christ does not use his temporal power, the Church can. The ecclesiastical power is supreme because it is more universal (catholic) than earthly power. Giles believed that God wants clerics to be free from earthly power and for those who take asylum with clerics to have immunity. The duty of the earthly power is to administer justice in the world so that wrongs do not occur in human affairs. This enables those who rule spiritually to rule more freely. The earthly power is subordinate to the ecclesiastical power which attains what is best more perfectly.

About 1302 Jean of Paris wrote On Kingly and Papal Power to challenge the ideas of Giles and favor King Philip IV, arguing that a Pope could be deposed for heresy or other crimes.

John Duns Scotus was born at Maxton in Scotland, probably in 1265. He entered the order of the Franciscans in 1278, and he took the habit in 1280. After studying philosophy for eight years and theology for nearly four years, he was ordained a priest on March 17, 1291. After a short time at Oxford he studied at the University of Paris from 1293 to 1296. Then he went back to Oxford and wrote his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard entitled Opus Oxoniense. Scotus returned to Paris in 1302, and his teaching on Peter’s Sentences was collected by students in the Reportata Parisiensia. In June 1303 he supported Pope Boniface VIII against King Philip the Fair and had to leave Paris. He taught another year at Oxford and returned to Paris in 1304, earning his doctorate in theology the next year. He wrote a strong argument for Mary’s immaculate conception of Jesus, and the ensuing controversy may have caused him to leave Paris. In the summer of 1307 he was appointed a professor at Cologne, but Scotus died on November 8, 1308. Although many of his works were incomplete, they were widely circulated. In the 16th century his defense of the papacy against the divine right of kings theory was so unpopular among English reformers that the term “Dunsman” became a name of reproach, whence comes the English word “dunce.” In the 17th century his books on theology outnumbered those of all the other schools combined.

Duns Scotus emphasized the freedom of the will over the intellect, and he believed that love is superior to knowledge. The will seeks the good, and the intellect seeks the truth. The good is superior to the truth as charity is superior to wisdom. The will is freer than the intellect because knowledge is determined by its objects. For the will to be free it cannot be determined by the intellect, whether human or divine. God has absolute freedom as the Creator. Because of freedom the future cannot be known completely, even by God. An act cannot be praised or blamed unless it proceeds from the free will; but the morally good act must also be in accord with right reason. No act is good solely for this reason except the love of God which can never be evil. Scotus believed that the goodness of the will depends on the object, other circumstances, and mainly on the end or purpose. However, a good end does not make all actions morally good. The right circumstances must occur together in the morally right act. Evil things must not be done so that good results may be attained. Thus a morally good act must be free, objectively good, and done with the right intention and in the right way. Every free act by a human is good or bad in some way, though some actions are indifferent.

Scotus believed that the divine will is the cause of good. His primary ethical principle is that God should be loved above all things. God by his very nature can only will what is good. However, what God wills is good, not because God wills it, but rather God wills it because it is good. God provides a moral obligation that transcends the quest for self-perfection. To transgress moral law is not only irrational but also a sin. Humans can discern the validity of divine precepts through the natural use of reason. In specific situations God can make exceptions, but only for good reasons. He wrote that conscience (synderesis) always protests against evil and that the protesting pertains to the will. “Synderesis protests effectively because it shows what good ought to be willed.”9

Duns Scotus described political authority as coming from the common consent and choice of the community. Independent peoples may by mutual consent elect one prince in order to attain a continual state of peace. Legislators need to have legitimate authority and prudence in order to legislate according to right reason. The legislator should not pass laws for his private advantage but rather for the common good. Positive human laws should not be in conflict with the natural moral law or with the divine positive law. Duns Scotus believed that philosophy can serve theology by proving the existence of an infinite being, and one of his last books was A Treatise on God as First Principle.

William of Ockham was born in Surrey, England about 1285. He joined the Franciscans at an early age and attended Oxford University, beginning the study of theology in 1310. In 1323 John Lutterell, the dismissed chancellor of Oxford, took to the Holy See at Avignon 56 propositions from Ockham’s commentary on the Sentences, and the next year Ockham went to the papal court at Avignon. A commission prepared a list of 51 condemned propositions from Ockham’s works, but Ockham fled from Avignon. The Franciscan minister general Michele Cesena arrived at Avignon in December 1327, and he persuaded Ockham to help defend him on the charges related to poverty. On May 26, 1328 Michele, Ockham, and two others left Avignon, and Pope John XXII excommunicated them in June. The four fugitives joined Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria at Pisa and went with him to Munich. Ockham and Marsilio of Padua wrote in defense of the Emperor. In the 1330s Ockham wrote fifteen works on politics, and he argued that the Pope has no authority to deprive any person of one’s natural rights and God-given liberties. A pope who is a heretic may be deposed by a general council of the church, but not by the emperor. In 1339 he defended the right of England’s King Edward III to tax church property. After Ludwig died on October 11, 1347, Ockham tried to reconcile himself with the Church; but he died during the black plague at Munich in 1349.

Ockham is most famous for his law of succinctness (lex parsimoniae) that is called “Ockham’s razor,” which is that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. This basic methodological rule is that any explanation of a phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible based on evident experience and reasoning. In other words, the simplest explanation is best. Albert Einstein suggested that we should make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Ockham argued that only individual things are real and that generalizations or concepts are abstractions of the mind used to describe individual things. His radical epistemology called these concepts “terms” or “names,” and his philosophy came to be called “nominalism.” He thus challenged the “realism” of Duns Scotus who, like Plato, considered universal ideas to be real. These medieval theories can be confusing, because the modern concept of realism is closer to the view of Ockham that only individual things are real. Ockham explained abstract knowledge as understanding and judgments rather than the awareness of actual things which he called intuition and which can include more than sense perception. Ockham wrote that a universal is not real in itself, but it predicates for things it signifies. Ockham was still interested in theology, but he considered it a question of faith rather than of reason. Thus he began to open a chasm between religious theology and secular philosophy.

Like Duns Scotus, Ockham believed that freedom is a principal characteristic of rational creatures, and therefore they have moral responsibility for their freely chosen actions. Regardless of what reason seems to dictate, the will is still capable of choosing and may act contrary to reason. Also the will enables humans to go against sense appetites even after they have formed into habits. Ockham believed that because humans depend on their Creator, they are morally obligated to choose what God wills and not choose what God does not will. Thus for Ockham the divine will is the basis of morality. Ockham also believed that moral action is in accord with right reason and should be willed because it is in accord with right reason. A person may be mistaken as to what is right reason, but one is still morally obligated to follow one’s conscience. These two moral theories reflect Ockham’s split between religion and philosophy. From the religious point of view one must follow divine will, but the philosophical perspective would have one follow right reason. He merges them by arguing that it is divine will to follow right reason.

Ruusbroec and Modern Devotion Communities
Imitation of Christ


1. Bonaventure, S. de Diversis, De Modo Vivendi, IX, p. 724 quoted in The Social Thought of Saint Bonaventure by Matthew M. De Benedictis, p. 255.
2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part 1 of Second Part, Question 90, Article 3, Answer.
3. Ibid., Part 2 of Second Part, Question 10, Article 8, Answer.
4. Roger Bacon, Opus Majus tr. Robert Belle Burke, Volume 2, p. 647.
5. Meister Eckhart, The Book of Divine Consolation in Meister Eckhart tr. Edmund College and Bernard McGinn, p. 223-224.
6. Meister Eckhart, Counsels on Discernment in Meister Eckhart tr. Edmund College and Bernard McGinn, p. 282.
7. Ibid., p. 285.
8. “Condemnation of 219 Propositions” in Philosophy in the Middle Ages ed. Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh, p. 591.
9. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio II, dist. 39 in Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality tr. Allan B. Wolter, p. 203.

Copyright © 2008 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
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Crusaders and Byzantine Decline 1250-1400
Eastern Europe 1250-1400
Catholic Ethics 1250-1350
German Empire 1250-1400
Scandinavia 1250-1400
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1250-1400
Italian City States 1250-1400
Dante and Marsilius
Petrarca and Boccaccio
Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400
France and National War 1250-1400
England, Scotland, and Ireland 1250-1400
Mystics, Wyclif, Gower, and Chaucer
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronology 750-1300
World Chronology 1300-1400
Chronology of Europe to 1400

BECK index