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Bernard of Tours (d. After 1167)

(d. after 1167)

Bernard of Tours was a humanist who taught at Tours and was known as Bernardus Silvestris. He is uncertainly identified with Bernard, chancellor of Chartres circa 1156 and bishop of Quimper from 1159 to 1167. Very little else is known of his life except that he taught the art of writing and wrote an Ars Versificatoria, which has not been found. He also wrote a moralizing allegorical commentary on part of Vergil's Aeneid that displays leanings toward a naturalistic ethic. He translated into Latin an Arabic treatise on geomancy, the Experimentarius, and, inspired by Quintilian, composed the Mathematicus, a poem about an astrological prediction.

His most famous work, dedicated to Theodoric of Chartres in about 1150, is the De Mundi Universitate, an allegory in prose and verse on the origin of the world and man. The theme is Nature's appeal to Nous (mind), the providence of God, to end the chaos of hylē (matter), the primordial matter of the megacosmos. In Nous exist the exemplary forms of creation. Nous separates four elements out of hylē and informs the world with a soul ("entelechy," the Aristotelian εντελεχια). Nous next sends Nature to find Urania and Physis. Urania, queen of the stars, and Physis, in the lower world, use the remains of the four elements, in collaboration with Nature, to form man (the microcosmos). The sources of Bernard's inspiration were the Latin version of Plato's Timaeus with the commentary of Chalcidius, and also Ovid, Claudian, Macrobius, Boethius, and Augustine. There is, in addition, a marked biblical and a Hermetic influence.

The humanism of this work is more profane than Christian; the world is that of the Timaeus rather than that of Genesis. But the paganism, even unorthodoxy, of Bernard should not be exaggerated. Thus, Bernard was silent about a divine creation of matter, but his concern was to depict the organization of matter into the universe. There is no consistent dualism of God and matter; hylē is preexistent to the ordering work of Nous, but the problem of its eternity is not broached. One should not conclude from the emanation of a world soul from Nous that Bernard was a pantheist. We cannot, in fact, extract from this often nebulous work a unified view of Bernard's thought. Bernard's purpose was imaginative rather than strictly philosophical. Nonetheless, Bernard reflects the speculative interests of his time, particularly those of the Chartrains; he reflects their desire for a more rational explanation of the universe and of biblical cosmology with the aid of Greek ideas.

See also Augustine, St.; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Chartres, School of; Hermeticism; Humanism; Medieval Philosophy; Nous; Plato; Theodoric of Chartres.


works by bernard of tours

Commentum Super Sex Libros Eneidos. Edited by G. Riedel. Greifswald, 1924.

De Mundi Universitate. Edited by Carl Sigmund Barach and Johann Wrobel. Innsbruck: Wagner'schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, 1876.

"Experimentarius." Edited by M. B. Savorelli. Rivista critica di storia di filosofia 14 (1959): 283342.

Mathematicus. Edited by B. Hauréau. Paris, 1895.

works on bernard of tours

Curtius, E. R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. London, 1953. Pp. 108113. Translated from the German edition of 1948 by W. R. Trask.

Faral, E. "Le manuscrit 511 du Hunterian Museum." Studi medioevali, n.s., 9 (1936): 6988.

Gilson, E. "La cosmogonie de Bernardus Silvestris." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 3 (1928): 524.

Gregory, T. Anima Mundi. La filosofia di Guglielmo di Conches, Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1955. Pp. 6467.

Silverstein, T. "The Fabulous Cosmogony of Bernardus Silvestris." Modern Philology 46 (1948/1949): 92116.

Thorndike, Lynn. A History of Magic and Experimental Science. New York: Macmillan, 1929. Vol. II, pp. 99123.

David Luscombe (1967)

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