Marston, Roger (c. 1250–1303)

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(c. 12501303)

Roger Marston, the Augustinian Scholastic, was born in one of England's Marstons. He was educated at the Faculty of Arts and Theology at the University of Paris about 1270 and taught at Oxford and Cambridge between 1276 and 1285. He was the provincial of the English Franciscans between 1292 and 1298.

Marston's career may be characterized as a conscious effort to restore St. Augustine to his position as the great leader of Christian philosophers and theologians. In carrying out the proposals of his teacher, John Peckham (also an Augustinian), Marston exhibited a phenomenal knowledge of the writings of Augustine, as well as a fine sense of historical and textual criticism. He must have been attacked as an archconservative, because he defended himself by remarking that he did not cling to tradition out of mere habit, but that after a reasonable scrutiny of the evidence, he had formed opinions that harmonized the writings of the "saints" with the wisdom of the philosophers. Marston knew the Greek and Muslim philosophers, and interpreted them with a great deal of subtle skill, sometimes calling attention to fundamental ambiguities in their thought.

Marston needed all the resources at his command to counter the attacks directed against the Augustinian theory of divine illumination, which he deemed necessary to explain certitude. Since the attacks were made under the guise of Aristotle's authority, Marston attempted to reconcile Augustine's theory of knowledge with that of Aristotle, as seen through the latter's Islamic commentators. Thus, Roger claimed that the Eternal Light of Augustine is the same as the separate agent intellect of Avicenna and Averroes. However, the English friar would not allow man to be "dispossessed" of his own individual agent intellect, and hence he posits a double agent intellect: divine and human. This was one of the medieval solutions to the idealist-empiricist dilemma.

In the realm of the philosophy of nature, there was one doctrine of Thomas Aquinas to which Marston took serious exceptionnamely, the Thomistic contention that each individual being had but one form. Prior to Thomas, the far more common opinion had been that in material beings there was a plurality of forms. In man there were the forms of "vegetivity," "sensitivity," and "rationality," corresponding to the human functions of nutrition, sensation, and thought. Marston's solution to the question introduced a refinement that amounted to a synthesis of the Thomistic and traditional solutions, although it favored the latter. There is one substantial form for each being, but that single form admits of various subordinate and persisting degrees, or grades. Marston's theory of the grades of the form is the first organized version of this theory that has come down to us from the Middle Ages.

With respect to the majority of his philosophico-theological tenets, Marston followed the lead of Bonaventure. With Bonaventure (and against Thomas), he considered an eternal creature an impossibility. Prime matter can exist apart from all forms by divine intervention, because God is the "Form of all things" who conserves his handiwork just as water conforms to the intricate convolutions of a mold, as long as it is contained by the mold. On the subject of God's foreknowledge of future human actsa perennial problem in Christian philosophyMarston remarks that since an individual's memory of a past event does not constrain his free will with regard to the past, neither does God's foreknowledge constrain his free will with regard to the future.

For a medieval, Marston has an unusually personal style, and his remarks are often a source of valuable information for the historian.

See also Agent Intellect; Augustine, St.; Augustinianism; Averroes; Avicenna; Bonaventure, St.; Empiricism; Idealism; Medieval Philosophy; Peckham, John; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism.


works by marston

Quaestiones Disputatae, edited by Franciscani non-nominati. Quaracchi, 1932: Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica VII, lxxx + 497pp.)

Quodlibeta Quatuor, edited by G. Etzkorn and I. Brady. Grottaferrata, 1994: Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica XXVI, 2nd ed., 87 + 550 pp.). Introduction by Ignatius Brady includes a thorough treatment of Marston's life, career, and works.

works on marston

Etzkorn, G. "Roger Marston, O.F.M.: An Example of Thirteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Apologetics." Cithara 21 (1982): 316.

Etzkorn, G. "Roger Marston's Grades' Theory in the Light of His Philosophy of Nature." Miscellanea Mediaevalia 2 (1963): 535542.

Hissette, R. "Roger Marston a-t-il professé l'hylémorphisme universel?" Revue de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 39 (1972): 205223.

Magnani, P. Il problema delle Rationes Seminales in Ruggero di Marston. Milan: Marzorati, 1992.

Pérez-Estévez, A. "La materia en Roger Marston." Veridad y Vida 55 (1997): 217220.

Girard J. Etzkorn (1967, 2005)