Peckham, John (c. 1225–1292)

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(c. 12251292)

John Peckham, or Pecham, the English philosopher and theologian, and defender of Augustinian doctrines, was born in Patcham, near Brighton, Sussex. Educated at the monastery at Lewes, he continued his studies at Oxford and Paris, and sometime during the 1250s he joined the Franciscan friars at Oxford. Subsequently he became a master of theology in Paris in 1269 and returned to Oxford in 1272. Peckham was provincial of the English Franciscans from 1275 to 1277 and then lectured at the papal court for two years. In 1279 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury and held this office until his death.

Peckham's philosophical career represents a concentrated effort to counteract the growing allegiance to Aristotle through a return to the thought of Augustine. There seems little doubt that he was motivated to take this stand by the Lenten sermons of St. Bonaventure, who in the late 1260s had alerted his friars to the growth of heterodox Aristotelianismwhich was apparent, for example, in the work of Siger of Brabant. Peckham did not reject all philosophy that stemmed from Greek and Arabic sourcesas a matter of fact, he systematically used Aristotelian terminologybut his approach was a highly selective use of non-Christian philosophers to the extent that their works could be made to harmonize with the thought of Augustine. Among the disciples of Peckham who perpetuated this attitude were Matthew of Acquasparta, Roger Marston, and, later, Vital du Four.

Peckham's theory of knowledge shows the persistence of a special type of apriorism in the Franciscan school of this period. Clues to this apriorism are to be found in the Summa of Alexander of Hales, which taught that the human intellect is incapable of a satisfactory a posteriori analysis of the first principles or of the most basic "perceptibles," such as time and space. Similarly, Augustine said: "If we both see that which you say to be true, and both see that which I say to be true, where, I ask you, do we see it? Neither I in you, nor you in me, but both in the unchangeable Truth itself, which is above our minds" (Confessions XII.24). Peckham concludes that more is required for the operation of the intellect than mere sensation that "contacts" accidents but does not reach the essence of things.

Even granting the intellect's power of abstracting essences, Peckham says that the mind does this either knowingly or unknowingly. If knowingly, then the mind knows before abstracting, and hence it is useless to abstract. If unknowingly, then the mind is at the mercy of chance and can hardly be called an intellect at all. Consequently, the intellect is not a passive Aristotelian tabula rasa, but a beam moving outward and casting its light on things. However, this explanation is not sufficient because in matters of intellectual knowledge, certitude, and evidence, man must be assisted by a divine illuminationa divine active intellectin addition to his own human active intellect. This assistance by divine illumination is not a direct vision of God or an infusion of ideas. Rather, it is an assistance over and above that given by God as the conserving cause of all that exists. Its purpose is to guarantee necessity and certitude (considered irrevocably unobtainable through sensation) for our knowledge.

In the realm of natural theology, there was one key axiom that pervaded Franciscan philosophical circles in Peckham's timethat creatures are entirely dependent upon the First Cause with regard both to the fact of existing and to their ability to act. From this it follows that whatever causal powers a creature may possess are ontologically delegated to it by the First Cause. The important corollary of this principle is that the First Cause can bypass the agency of the creature and intervene to produce the effect immediately. Peckham invokes this principle to some extent in the illumination theory of knowledge. He also uses it to defend the autonomous existibility of prime matter without any form against the contrary opinion of Thomas Aquinas.

Peckham also took rather strong exception to Thomas's opinion that no single thing ever has more than one form. All medieval philosophers were agreed that the First Cause was pure form and that prime matter was completely formless. Against Thomas, Peckham and his confreres held that in each thing there are many forms, or at least many grades of one form. The dispute soon fossilized into two schoolsthe Dominicans and the Franciscansand as often as not their arguments generated more heat than light. In any case, Peckham held that in humanity there are several formsvegetative, sensitive, and rationalin a gradated order that cooperates toward the good and unity of the being as a whole.

John Peckham's career represents a sincere effort to perpetuate and to update the doctrines of Augustine. He suffered much distress as archbishop of Canterbury when, as a stubborn defender of Augustine, he incurred the wrath of the equally stubborn Dominican defenders of Thomas.

Many of the points that were merely hinted at in Peckham's philosophy were taken up by his disciples and elaborated in full-length treatises. A final judgment of this English Franciscan must await the publication of many of his works that are still in manuscript.

See also Alexander of Hales; Aristotelianism; Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Augustinianism; Bonaventure, St.; Marston, Roger; Matthew of Acquasparta; Siger of Brabant; Thomas Aquinas, St.


works by peckham

Tractatus Pauperis. Caps. 16, edited by A. Van den Wyngaert, Paris, 1925, 372; caps. 79, edited by F. Delorme, in Studi Francescani, series 3, 4 (1932): 4762, 164193; caps. 10, 16, edited by A. G. Little, in British Society of Franciscan Studies 2: 2755, 6387; caps. 1114, edited by F. Delorme, in Collectanea Franciscana 14 (1944): 90117; caps. 14, edited by F. Delorme, in Fr. Richardi de Mediavilla Quaes. Disp. de Privileg. Martini Papae IV 7988, Quaracchi, 1925.

Tractatus de anima. Edited by G. Melani. Biblioteca di Studi Franciscani. Florence, 1948.

Perspectiva communis. Edited by D. Lindberg. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970.

Tractatus de perspectiva. Edited by D. Lindberg. St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, 1972.

De numeris misticis. Edited by B. Hughes. Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 78 (1985): 328, 333383.

Quodlibeta Quatuor. Edited by G. Etzkorn and F. Delorme. Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica XXV. Grottaferrata, 1989.

Quaestiones Disputatae. Edited by G. Etzkorn, L. Oliger, H. Spettmann, I. Brady, and V. Potter. Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica XXVIII. Grottaferrata, 2002.

Tractatus de sphaera. Edited by B. MacLaren. PhD diss. Eastern Kentucky University.

works on peckham

Boureau, A. Théologie, science et censure au XIIIe siècle. Le cas de Jean Peckham. Paris: Belles Lettres, 1999.

Callebaut, André. "Jean Peckham O.F.M. et l'augustinisme." Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 18 (1925): 441472.

Crowley, Theodore. "John Peckham O.F.M., Archbishop of Canterbury, versus the New Aristotelianism." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 33 (1951): 242255.

Douie, Decima L. Archbishop Pecham. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952. Includes a good bibliography.

Ehrle, Franz. "J. Peckham über den Kampf des Augustinismus und Aristotelismus in der zweiten Hälfte des 13 Jahrhunderts." Zeitschrift für katholosche Theologie 13 (1889): 172193.

Etzkorn, G. "John Pecham, O.F.M.: A Career of Controversy." In Monks, Nuns and Friars in Mediaeval Society, edited by E. King, J. Schaefer, and W. Wadley, 7182. Sewanee, TN: University of the South, 1989.

Etzkorn, G. "Révision dans l'ordre des Quodlibets de Jean Pecham." Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 19 (1977): 65.

Spettmann, Hieronymus. "Die Psychologie des Johannes Pecham." In Vol. XX of Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelaters, 1102. Münster, 1919.

Teetaert, A. "Peckham Jean." In Dictionaire de Théologie Catholique, XII/1, 1933, col. 100140. One of the best overall articles on Peckham.

Girard J. Etzkorn (1967, 2005)