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Marsilius of Inghen (1340–1396)


Marsilius of Inghen was a scholastic theologian, writer on logical textbooks, and prolific commentator on Aristotle. He played an important role in the foundation of the University of Heidelberg. His significance rests not only on his commentaries on Aristotlehis advocacy and popularization of the new, nominalist logic and semanticsbut also on an independent-minded theology that sometimes rejected post-Scotistic positions in favor of thirteenth-century positions (such as those of Thomas Aquinas or Bonaventure).

Marsilius of Inghen was a student at Paris, matriculating there in Arts in 1362, and then in Theology in 1366. At Paris, he was influenced by the thought of John Buridan, and he undertook significant administrative work, including rectorships (136768, 1371) as well as representation to the Papal court (1369, 137778). Marsilius's whereabouts are largely unknown between 1379 and the founding of the University of Heidelberg in 1386except, that is, for a Nijmegen banquet he attended in 1382. From 1386 to 1392, he was a Master at Heidelbergand was also an occasional Rectorup until his death in 1396 (Hoenen 1993, pp. 711; Santos Noya, 2000, Vol. 87, pp. 126).

He read the Sentences (the standard requirements to become a Master of Theology) from 1392 to 1394. Part of the preparation for this commentary was most likely done in Paris from 1367 to 1377. (Hoenen and Braakhuis 1993, pp. 3957; Santos Noya 2000, Vol. 87, pp. 3132).

Marsilius was a nominalist on universals. Like Ockham and Buridan he did not believe that universals exist outside the soul, and that the direct object of each science is merely the proposition in the mind. Real objects, he believed, are the objects of sciences via the signification of the proposition. Marsilius's logic and semantics can be described reliably as Buridanist, albeit with some points of dissent and less detail. As well, he differed from Buridan on the division of supposition, the signification of chimera, his definitions of ampliatio and appellatio, and his non-adoption of suppositio naturalis (Bos 1983, p. 254).

Marsilius's natural philosophy is empiricist; he holds that the starting point of natural philosophy is sense data and per se known principles. From this point he then leaps from singular observations to a universal proposition if there is no expectation of a counterexampledue to the mind's inclination to truth. Thus, a causal connection can be held to be universal, though one has not experienced all its instances.

In his theology, he criticized both the Scotistic position that the Divine Ideas are formally distinct from the Divine Essence, and the Ockhamist thesis that the Ideas are identical with the objects that are known. He held the Thomistic theses that God's Ideas of created things are not distinct from his essence and that the difference between the divine attributes exists only in the human mind due to its finitude. He also held that natural reason can prove that God is the cause of all and knows created things. Marsilius brought together the critical semantico-logical tradition of the fourteenth century and the themes of thirteenth century theologians such as Aquinas and Bonaventure (Hoenen 1993, pp. 235253).

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, he was regarded as a great advocate of nominalism, and grouped with Buridan, Ockham and Gregory of Rimini. His logical treatises exist in many manuscripts, and were widely used as textbooks in the fifteenth century. His theology of grace and divine foreknowledge was well known and quoted by late-scholastic writers such as Vitoria, De Soto, Molina, and Suarez. His Aristotelian commentaries were also well known and cited up to the early-modern period. For example, both Leonardo da Vinci and Gallileo Galilei refer to his commentary on Aristotle's De Generatione et Corruptione.

See also Buridan, John; Thomas Aquinas, St.; William of Ockham.


works by marsilius of inghen

Quaestiones super quattuor libros Sententiarum. Super primum quaestiones 17 and 821, edited by Manuel Santos Noya, et al. (Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vols. 8788.) Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

Treatises on the Properties of Terms. A first critical edition of the Suppositiones, Ampliationes, Apellationes, Restrictiones and Alienationes, with introduction, translation, notes, and appendices by Egbert P. Bos. (Synthese Historical Library, vol. 22.) Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1983.

works about marsilius of inghen

Braakhuis, H. A. G., and Maarten J. F. M. Hoenen, eds. Marsilius von Inghen. Acts of the International Marsilius of Inghen Symposium. Nijmegen, Netherlands: Ingenium, 1992.

Hoenen, Maarten J. F. M. Marsilius of Inghen: Divine Knowledge in Late Medieval Thought. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1993.

Hoenen, Maarten J. F. M., and Paul J. J. M. Baakker, eds. Philosophie und Theologie des ausgehenden Mittelalters: Marsilius von Inghen und das Denken seiner Zeit. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

C. F. Ledsham (2005)

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Marsilius of Inghen (or Inguem or De Novimagio)


(b. near Nijmegen, Netherlands; d. Heidelberg, Germany, 20 August 1396)

natural philosophy.

Almost nothing is known of Marsilius’ early life. Although his name would suggest that he was born in the village of Inghen (now Lienden in de Betuwej, in the diocese of Utrecht),1 his biographers are not all in agreement on this point; Gustav Toepke and Gerhard Ritter, for example, hold that “Inghen” is a family name, and not derived from that of a place.2 The first document that mentions Marsilius is the register of the University of Paris, which gives 27 September 1362 as the date of his inaugural lecture as master of arts.3

Marsilius remained at the University of Paris for twenty years. As a magister regens of the arts he had a large student following. He served as rector of the university in 1367 and again in 1371; in 1362 and from 1373 until 1375 he was procurator of the English nation;4 and in 1368 and 1376 he represented the university at the papal court in Avignon. In the latter year Marsilius accompanied the pope, Gregory XI, to Rome; he was present there in 1378 when Urban VI—whom he strongly supported—was elected pope. He was thus present at the beginning of the Great Schism.

The University of Paris was rent by the schism. It is not known exactly when Marsilius left it for the University of Heidelberg, recently founded by Urban VI, but it is certain that he was rector of that institution for the first time in 1386 (he served six other terms in the post). In 1389 he made another journey to Rome, this time to pay homage to a new pope, Boniface IX, and to ask his aid for the university as well as his personal patronage. Marsilius died in Heidelberg seven years later.

In his writings Marsilius employed the traditional medieval method of composing commentaries and questions on the works of earlier authors. He wrote on the scientific works of Aristotle—particularly the Physica, the Parva naturalia, and De generatione et corruptione —and on the logical works of Aristotle, including the Posterior Analytics and Topics, which he dealt with in the manner prescribed by the nominalistic school of his time. He also wrote on theology, including a commentary on the four books of Sentences of Peter Lombard. His chief contributions to science lay in the field of physics, but even here his thought was always shaped by theological considerations.

Although Marsilius was born in the Netherlands and ended his life in Heidelberg, his work places him among the Parisian masters who may be considered to be the precursors of Leonardo and Galileo and the formers of the new physics of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The leader of this group was Jean Buridan, of whom Marsilius declared himself a disciple, and their gift to science was the formulation of the concept of impetus—an impressed force—which they applied to the theory of gravity, acceleration, and the motion of projectiles. This was the via moderna, and these were the “new physicists.”

Marsilius occupied a moderate and traditional position among these men, one much closer to the philosophical inquiries of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd (Averroës) than to the empiricism of Buridan. Evidence of his views may be found not only in his own writings, but also in those of his contemporaries. Blasius of Parma, for example, probably attended Marsilius’ lectures during his sojourn in Paris, and in his quaestio disputata on the physical problem of the contact of bodies—in which he discussed whether or not the void exists and whether the action between bodies occurs directly or at a distance—he supported the traditional Aristotelian theory of the horror vacui, which position he attributed also to Marsilius.5 Marsilius himself, as is clear in his works, never accepted the really novel implications for dynamics inherent in the doctrine of impetus.

Marsilius’ concept of motion served him as a basis for an explanation of the entire physical world, both celestial and terrestrial. He avoided mechanical interpretation, and held that the motions of the heavens and the astronomical spheres are spiritual, eternal, incorruptible, and ungenerable; the bodies are moved in a “natural” motion that is circular and perfect and impressed upon them by angelic intelligences.6 The initial source of this virtus impressa is, of course, God, the Creator and First Mover, the prime immobile mover who put into movement the whole caelum or the entire astrological universe. The perfect circular motion of the universe has since been maintained by the moving intelligences within the spheres.7 Marsilius defined such motion as perfect “local” motion because it has no contrary and remains in its rightful place by nature—that is, within the order willed by God.8

The god-moved caelum in its turn moves the terrestrial world, which is not eternal but rather perpetual, beginning with time and lasting without end. The terrestrial world is not only generable but also corruptible and inferior, and moved almost exclusively by “unnatural” motions—or rather, by violent motions and “alterations” that provoke the birth and death of beings. In fact, according to Marsilius, all motion of natural, inferior, terrestrial things presupposes the action of a violent cause, whether such motion be “de loco naturale,” away from the natural place, or “adlocum naturale,” toward it. 9 Motion “de loco naturale” is acting against the natural order, while in the case of motion “ad locum naturale,” it must already have so acted.10 Typical violent motions are embodied in projectiles, tops, and smiths’ wheels; the terrestrial world is moved by a plurality of moving causes which come from the heavens and are subordinate one to the other. These causes produce various effects by their concurrence. The destiny of an individual, for example, is shaped by concurrences among the Father, the heavens, God, and the moving intelligences;11 God and the heavens influence human actions.

Marsilius thus appears to have accepted the doctrine of astrological determination on a philosophical level. He cited as an example the hungry dog that starves because it cannot decide which of two pieces of bread, placed at equal distances from it, to seize.12 In reality, however, Marsilius maintained that man is free because the stars influence only the dog, but not the man, and that not everything in the world necessarily happens under absolutely determinate influences; chance or contingency can also play a part. Indeed, since he held that almost all motions of the inferior world are either violent or a mixture of local and violent movement, caused by a plurality of coincident agents, he also believed that it is possible to ascertain casual and fortuitous effects of which the primary cause is one among those that are concurrent and subordinate. Marsilius was thus able to admit the possibility of such extraordinary natural phenomena as eclipses, comets, and monsters.13

His system thus enabled Marsilius to explain physical mutations as instances of qualitative and violent alterations of bodies; the study of modifications of such essential physical qualities as heat and cold therefore assumed great importance.14 Although he drew upon Buridan’s doctrine of impetus to explain the special case of arrows and projectiles—or violent motion in its strictest sense—he moderated it in such a way that it might be reconciled with Aristotle’s basic physical principle that every motion in the terrestrial world is caused by an agent outside the mobile. In other words, Marsilius did not fully accept Buridan’s actual principle of impetus, whereby the mobile is permitted a permanent intrinsic moving force15 which is impeded by the medium through which it moves. In Marsilius’ view, the violent motion of a projectile is not impeded by the air through which it moves; rather, it is aided by it. The impetus that moves the projectile is a disposition given it by the first mover, which sets it into motion. The impetus is initially confined to that part of the mobile that is in contact with the mover, then diffused through the whole.16 Such impetus does not last long; it becomes corrupt in the absence of intervention from the surrounding medium. The medium may, however, receive the impetus of the mobile to reinforce the speed of the moving body.17

Marsilius regarded the world as a plenum. He believed that no void could exist in the physical universe and that all heavy bodies tend to the center of the earth, which is the only center as God is the only prime mover. Were the universe sustained by many prime movers, there would be many worlds and many centers, but this, too, is impossible.18 He therefore could not admit Ockham’s thesis concerning the possibility of other worlds. Here again, as in all traditional problems of physics, Marsilius stood for a reconciliation of the via antiqua of Aristotle with the via moderna of the Parisian masters.19


1. J. Fruytier, Nieuw nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek, VIII, 908–090.

2. G. Toepke, Die Matrikel der Universität Heidelberg von 1386 bis 1662 (Heidellberg, 1884), I, 678–685; G. Ritter, “Marsilius von Inghen und die okkamistische Schule in Deutschland,” p. 210.

3. H. Denifle and E. Chatelain, Chartularium universitatis parisiensis, III (Paris, 1897), see index.

4. H. Denifle and E. Chatelain, Auctarium chartularium universitatis parisiensis. Liber procuratorum nationis Anglicanae (Paris, 1897), I, cols. 272, 559, passim.

5. “Quaestio magistri Blasii de Parma utrum due copora,” MS Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria 2567, 198 (Frati 1332), fo. 59 r-a; see G. Federici Vescovini, “Problemi di fisica,” pp. 192, 209.

6.Quaestiones subtilissimae super octo libros physicorum (Lyons, 1518),II, qu. 4, fols. 25v-a, b ff.

7.Quaestiones super quattuor libros Sententiarum, II, qu. II, ad. 2, fols. 208v-a–209v-a, ff.; qu. X, ads. 2 and 3, fols. 243v-b–245r-a, b (Strasbourg, 1501).

8.Physicorum, II, qu. 4, fols. 25v-a, b; …Sententiarum, II, qu. 10, ad. 2, fol. 244r-b; ad. 3, fols. 245r-a, b.

9.Physicorum, VII, qu. 1, fols. 79r-b-v-a; VIII, qu. 2, fol. 80v-a.

10.Ibid., II, qu. 4, fol. 26r-a, 2a conc.

11.Ibid., II, qu. 8, fol. 29r-a; II, qu. qo, fol. 30r-b.

12.Ibid., II, qu. 14, fol. 33r-b.

13.Ibid., II, qus. 8, 9, 10, 13, fols. 29r-b, 30r-b-v-a, 31r-b-v-a.

14.Ibid, VII, qu. 4, fol. 81v-b. MS Paris, BN 16401, fols. 149v–177v; “Utrum qualitas suscipiat magis et minus,” BN 6559, fol. 121r.

15. M. Clagett, The Science of Mechanics (Madison, Wis., 1959; 2nd ed., 1961), pp. 536–537, lines 7, 8, 9.

16.Abbreviationes libri phyicorum Aristotelis VIII, not. 4, qu. IV (Venice or Pavia, ca. 1490), fols. L 4r-a–-5r–a.

17.Ibid., fol. L. 5r-a.

18.Quaestiones … physicorum, VIII, qu. 9, fol. 85v-b.

19. G. Ritter, Studien zur Spätscholastik, II, Via antiqua und via moderna … (Heidelberg, 1922), p. 39 and passim.


I. Original Works. There are no modern eds. of Marsilius’ writings, but only MSS and rare eds. of collections of questions and of commentaries on the physics of Aristotle and biological problems of generation and corruption. Among the former are “Abbreviatura physicorum sive quaestiones variorum abbreviatae,” MS Vienna 5437, fols. lr–410v; Erfurt O.78, anno 1346, fols. 41–132; Erfurt Q.314, anno 1394, fol. 106; Vienna VI, 5112, fols. 184–283v, printed at Pavia ca. 1480; Venice or Pavia, ca. 1490; Venice, 1521—see A. C. Klebs, “Incunabula scientifica et medica,” in Osiris, 4 (1938), 667; and Quaestiones subtilissimae super octo libros physicorum IX (different edition from Pavia and Lyons, 1518; repr. Venice, 1617), repr. under the name of Duns Scotus and inserted in Lyons 1639 among the works of Duns Scotus (Lyons, 1639). He also wrote works in the form of question on the psycho-biological problems of Aristotle: “Quaestiones de parvorum naturalium libris,” MS Erfurt F.334, anno 1421, fol. 1–61; and MS Novacella [near Bressanone], Convento dei Canonici Regolari, 440, fols. 1–88, 89–268; and “Quaestiones de generatione et corruptione”: MS Florence, Riccardiana 745 (N. II 26), fols. 96–137v (“per manus Nycolay Montfort”); MS Florence, Riccardiana 746 (K. II 38), fol. 76, anno 1407; Milan, Ambrosiana G. 102 inf., fols. 1r-a–87v-a; Modena, Estense 687 (Alpha F 5, 20) (Kristeller, Iter italicum, I [London-Leiden, 1963], 372); Modena, Estense Fondo Campori 1374 (Gamma T 4, 18) (vandini, 441); Padua, Biblioteca Universitaria MS 693 (Kristeller, Iter …,II [London-Leiden. 1967], 14); Venice Marciana, 121a (2557) (G. Valentinelli, Bibliotheca manuscripta ad S. Marci Venetiarum, V, Venice, 1868, pp. 50–51), anno 1393; Marciana, 324 (4072) (G. Valentinelli, Bibliotheca manuscripta ad S. Marci venetiarum, VI, Venice 1868, p. 218); Vienna 5494, fol. 209; Munich, Staatsbibliothek, 26929, anno 1407, fols. 88r-a–193r-b; Erfurt Q.311, anno 1414, fols. 1–74v; Oxford, Bodleian cm. 238, fol. 101; Vienna 4951, anno 1501, fols. 164r–223v—published at Padua, 1476 (?), 1480; Venice, 1493, 1504, 1505, 1518, 1520, 1567; Strasbourg, 1501, together with works by others; Paris, 1518.

He also wrote on the mutations of qualities: “Utrum qualitas suscipiat magis et minus,” MS Paris, BN 16401, fols. 149v–177v; BN 6559, fol. 121r.

Marsilius’ works on logic, such as commentaries on the logic of Aristotle in the nominalists’ via moderna form are MS Vat. lat. 3072, “Tractatus de suppositionibus”; Pistoia, Archivio Capitolare del Duomo, MS 61 (Kristeller, Iter, II, p. 75); Rome, Vat. lat. 3072 (Kristeller, Iter, II, p. 316); and Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale G.III, 12 (Pasini, lat. 449), fols. 167r-a–171r-b; “Consequentiae,” MS Rome, Vat. lat. 3065; “De obligationibus, insolubilia,” Rome, Pal. lat. 995 (Arist. lat., II [1955], 1190–1191, n. 1777), published in Textus dialectices de suppositionibus, ampliationibus …(Cracow, n.d.); commentaries on the Parva logicalia (Basel, 1487; Hagenow, 1495, 1503; Vienna, 1512, 1516; Turin, 1729); and Expositio super analitica (Venice, 1516, 1522).

Works on theological and moral arguments are Quaestiones super quattuor libros Sententiarum (Hagenow, 1497; Strasbourg, 1501); and commentaries on the ethics of Aristotle, MS Rome, Pal. lat. 1022 (Kristeller, Iter, II, 392).

II. Secondary Literature. There are no specific monographs on Marsilius, only partial studies. See the following, listed chronologically: P. Duhem, études sur Léonard de Vinci, III (Paris, 1913), 403–405; and Le système du monde, IV (Paris, 1916), 164–168; G. Ritter, “Marsilius von Inghen und die okkamistische Schule in Deutschland,” in Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil. Kl. (1921), 4, 210; J. Fruytier, Nieuw nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek, VIII (Leiden, 1930), 903–904, A. Maier, Die Vorläufer Galileis in 14 Jahrhundert (Rome, 1949), p. 3 and passim; Zwei Grundprobleme der scholastischen Naturphilosophie (Rome, 1951), pp. 275 ff; An der Grenze von Schoastik … (Rome, 1952), pp. 188 ff.; and Metaphysische Hintergrunde der Spätscholastischen Naturphilosophie (Rome 1955), pp. 40, 90, 133, 146, 222, 396; G. Federici Vescovini, “Problemi di fisica aristotelica…,” in Rivista di filosofia, 51 (1960), 190–193, 209; cf. Blasii qu. de gener. II, 2. MS Vat. Chig. O.IV.41, f. 37 2b; A. Birkenmajer, études d’histoire des sciences et de la philosophie du moyen age, I (Wroclaw, 1970), 368, 612, 654; II (Wroclaw, 1672), 181, 187, 192–194; and G. Federici Vescovini, Le questioni “De anima” de Biagio Pela cani da Parma (Florence, 1973), p. 35 passim.

Graziella Federici Vescovini

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