Preaching Precedes Theology: Roger Bacon on the Failure of Mendicant Education

Franciscan Studies 68:83-95 (2010)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on a topic that is of interest to all of us, inasmuch as it pertains to our summer endeavor, Franciscan education. I will do so, however, from the perspective of Roger Bacon – the Doctor Mirabilis – a friar who held his Order's education system in contempt. His scathing attacks included equally strong words for the Augustinians, Carmelites and Dominicans, whom he lumped together with the Franciscans and dismissed as the ordines puerorum. Although he was a Franciscan, let me assure you that Bacon did not intend the "order of young boys" to be an endearing description of his confreres – but more about this later.Bacon's sharpest attacks are found in his Compendium studii philosophiae, written around 1271-1272. For those of you who are not familiar with this English friar, let me sketch out his biography. In all seriousness, what we know of his provenance, education, and career is indeed sketchy. Depending on how we read selected autobiographical remarks, he was born around 1214 or 1220 and died around 1292. After studying in Oxford, he became one of the first masters to comment on Aristotle in the Faculty of Arts in Paris during the 1240s and subsequently returned to England. Whether it was there, or perhaps later in France that he entered the Minorite Order is uncertain, nevertheless we find him in the Franciscan habit in 1256 and living in Paris. It will be from the vantage point of Paris that Brother Bacon will argue for radical curricular reform and critique the prevailing mendicant educational system. Later, perhaps back in England after 1268, he continues his criticism until his death in 1292.As I begin, allow me a few moments to explain why I think Bacon's critique should not be ignored by Franciscans nor relegated to an obscure footnote by educators. To offer a critique of a position, belief, or view is something that is to be expected from those in colleges and universities who have been educated in what we call "critical thinking." However, as Michael Roth noted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, to critique is the beginning, not the end or goal of the process. His article, entitled "Beyond Critical Thinking," warns educators that many of our best students are considered intelligent because of their sharply-honed, acquired ability to take apart, unmask, or deconstruct the beliefs of others. Experts at exorcizing and banishing meaning from firmly held texts, they are likewise unable to find or construct meaning in their own lives from these sources which have inspired, formed, and challenged countless individuals through the centuries.Let me offer you an example from my own experience at Flagler College. I have taught everything from Introduction to the Old Testament to upper-level Contemporary Theological Thought. Over the years I have seen that taking a critical approach to the material is crucial, yet there is a corresponding need to assist students along the path toward wisdom through the integration of our academic critique within a coherent worldview. For any number of reasons it is an exhilarating, empowering, and I would say, even a liberating experience for some to learn that the Scriptures are problematic, and thereby open to various interpretations. This opens the door for some to challenge the authority their parents and pastors have wielded over them, while emboldening other students to challenge and even embarrass peers. For example, one of my students discovered that the King James Bible contained John 5:4 which many modern translations eliminated since scholars hold that it was something similar to a gloss. He subsequently challenged others by questioning how they could believe that God had an eternal claim on anyone when scholars were not even sure what parts of the Bible were legitimate, or even true. His proof text in these discussions..



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Roger Bacon.Jeremiah Hackett - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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