John of Jandun (c. 1286–c. 1328)

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(c. 1286c. 1328)

John of Jandun, also known as Jean de Jandun and Johannes de Janduno, was foremost among the Averroists at Paris in the fourteenth century. He was born in the village of Jandun in the French province of Champagne. The estimate of his date of birth is based on the year 1310, the earliest date found on any writing definitely attributable to him; at the time of this first or very early publication, John would have been a recent master of arts, and reckoning by the age and curricular requirements in effect at the University of Paris in the early fourteenth century, he could not have been much more than twenty-four years of age. John was active throughout the next decade and a half as master of arts at the Collège de Navarre, in Paris, although he was nominally canon at Senlisthe kind of preferment awarded a practicing teacher and scholar during the Middle Ages. At Paris he lectured on the standard curriculum of the Faculty of Arts: Aristotle's Physics, De Coelo et Mundo, De Anima, Metaphysics, Parva Naturalia, and Rhetoric and Averroes's De Substantia Orbis. John's commentaries on these works date from 1310 to 1323. Additional writings from this period attest to his interest in particular problems arising in his lectures and commentaries; there still survive many independent quaestiones and disputationes, which, in the medieval tradition, supplemented the normal course of studies with special studies and advanced seminars.

By 1324 he was closely associated with Marsilius of Padua, also a master of arts at Paris, in connection with Marsilius's famous and controversial Defensor Pacis, published that year. Although John does not seem to have shared in the actual composition of the work, he was apparently an intellectual intimate of Marsilius. The Defensor Pacis, a powerful affirmation of the temporal and civil authority over the spiritual and papal, occasioned enough ecclesiastical outrage for John and Marsilius to deem it prudent to leave Paris and seek the protection of Louis IV of Bavaria. Louis was himself embroiled with Pope John XXII on matters of political and spiritual authority and was soon to harbor another intellectual fugitive from Paris, William of Ockham. In 1326 and 1327 a series of papal bulls appeared specifically attacking John and Marsilius, and the final one, dated October 23, 1327, excommunicated them as "heretics and heresiarchs."

The remainder of John's life was brief. He followed Louis in the invasion of Italy and was rewarded with the episcopate of Ferrara. Probably en route to assume his new duties, he died at Todi, not later than August 31, 1328.


To treat John of Jandun's philosophy, as many historians have done, as a blind recapitulation of the Commentator (the title by which Averroes was referred to throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) and his special views on Aristotle would be an oversimplification. It is true that John did, at one point in his commentaries, call himself the "ape of Averroes," but this was in the context of a particular passage of Aristotle's Metaphysics, where John considered Averroes's remarks perfectly adequate. It is also true that John preferred, generally, Averroes's rendering of Aristotle, but it is not illuminating to call him "Averroist" without severe qualifications. Other medieval philosophers (for example, Siger of Brabant) can be termed Averroist, but their speculative positions were sometimes methodologically quite distinct from those of John. It is probably most accurate to place him in the philosophical tradition and method sometimes exemplified in Christian Augustinianism, always recognizing, however, that he was oriented intellectually within the traditions of the Faculty of Arts rather than those of the Faculty of Theology.

John's espousal of a sensus agens (active principle in the process of sensation), of a plurality of substantial forms in the individual (one for each of the three functions of living: vegetating, sensing, and thinking), of the soul's ability to grasp separate substances (that is, forms) directly, of form as the immanent and essential cause of natural activity, and of other kindred doctrines can be found in the thinking of many Augustinian theologians close to his time, such as Bonaventure, Peter John Olivi, Roger Marston, John Duns Scotus, and Peter Aureol. John's own advocacy of these views arose, however, out of the use of Averroes in the analysis of Aristotle for the Faculty of Arts curriculum. Although John's version of Averroism and the tradition called Christian Augustinianism had much in common methodologically, they sprang from different institutional contexts.

John's interpretations of Averroes's commentaries on Aristotle were both acute and influential (as late as the seventeenth century his writings were still used alongside those of Averroes by the Paduan pedagogue Cesare Cremonini), but his place in intellectual history is due less to the conspicuous originality of his thought than to his unusually explicit delineation of the respective domains of faith and reason. Whenever confronted, in his analysis of Aristotle, with a conclusion severely at variance with some doctrine of Christian faith, John appended an apologia of the following kind: "It must be noted that, although the dicta are according to the principles of Aristotle and the Commentator, it must be replied firmly according to faith and truth that the world is not eternal." Similar passages abound in John's commentaries; whenever conclusions of reason arrived at in the logic of Aristotle and Averroes differed from the dictates of Christian dogma, John introduced statements proclaiming the consistency of the reasoning but immediately ceding truth itself to the preeminent demands of faith.

Such remarks have had two interpretations. First, John has been indicted, with other so-called Averroists; as holding a theory of "double truth"that is, that statements of faith, on the one hand, and conclusions of reason, on the other, can be simultaneously true, yet contradictory. This charge has been discounted effectively by Étienne Gilson; no medieval writings maintaining such a self-inconsistent view have yet been found. Medieval thinkers never stated more than the position that although reason can systematically reach certain conclusions, Christian faith is nevertheless the final arbiter of truth when such conclusions conflict with matters of doctrine.

Second, certain of John's disclamatory passages have been interpreted as actually revealing a fundamental religious insincerity. For example, he said:

This is not known per se, nor is it demonstrable by any human proof, but we believe this to be so solely by divine authority and by the Sacred Scriptures. And to the credulity toward things of this kind and similar things, the habit of listening to this sort of thing from childhood adds a good deal.

Or again:

If anyone knows how to prove this and to make it accord with the principles of philosophy, let him rejoice in this possession, and I will not grudge him, but declare that he surpasses my ability.

And finally:

although every form inherent in matter is corruptible I say, however, that God can perpetuate it and preserve it eternally from corruption. I do not know the manner of this; God knows it.

Such statements have been interpreted as indicating a radical insincerity in John's thinking, a covert mocking of Christian faith. Thus, some historians have suggested that John was not merely maintaining a "double truth" but actually affirming the superior reliability of the conclusions of unaided reasoning in the mode of Aristotle and could therefore stand as an early precursor of seventeenth-century rationalism and libertarianism.

On close examination, however, John's position on the relation between the claims of faith and claims of reason does not seem to have been distinctively more radical than the thinking of many other medievals. (Similar disclaimers of reason in favor of faith can be found in many commentaries on Aristotle, including those of Thomas Aquinas.) Such discrepancies and apparent conflicts reflect, in small part, a strong institutional rivalry between the faculties of arts and theology and, in large part, a fundamental intellectual crisis occasioned by the confrontation between Greek rationalism and Christian dogma.

See also Aristotle; Augustinianism; Averroes; Averroism; Duns Scotus, John; Marsilius of Padua; Marston, Roger; Olivi, Peter John; Peter Aureol; Sensa; Siger of Brabant; Thomas Aquinas, St.


works by john of jandun

Quaestiones de Anima. Fourteen printings in Venice between 1473 and 1587.

Quaestiones Super Libros Physicorum. Twelve printings in Venice, Paris, and Lyons between 1488 and 1598.

Quaestiones in Duodecim Libros Metaphysicae. Four printings in Venice between 1525 and 1586.

John's most influential writings, the commentaries on Aristotleincluding those listed abovecan be found only in Renaissance editions. Some lesser writings exist in printed editions published in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. All of John's works can be found in manuscript form in various European libraries.

works on john of jandun

Gilson, Étienne. "La doctrine de la double vérité." In Études de philosophie médiévale, 5175. Strasbourg: University of Strasbourg, 1921.

Gilson, Étienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. New York: Random House, 1955.

MacClintock, Stuart. Perversity and Error. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956.

Valois, N. "Jean de Jandun et Marsile de Padoue, auteurs du Defensor Pacis." In Histoire littéraire de la France, Vol. XXXIII, 28623. Paris, 1903.

Stuart MacClintock (1967)