John of Salisbury

views updated May 17 2018


Political theorist, historian, philosopher, humanist of the twelfth century renaissance, and Bishop of Chartres; b. Old Sarum, near Salisbury, c. 1115; d. Chartres, October 25, 1180.

Life. Though little is known about his background, John's writings contain a large amount of biographical material and historical information. After undergoing his formative training in England, John began his higher education at Mont-Saint-Geneviève in Paris in 1136 under Peter abelard, robert of melun, and a teacher known only as Alberic. In 1137 finding himself insufficiently prepared in grammar, he went to study under william of conches, whom he calls the greatest grammarian since bernard of chartres. After three years of study, presumably at Chartres, John continued his education at Paris where he also tutored younger students. At some point he also studied under thierry of chartres, gilbert de la porrÉe, robert pullan, and Adam of the Little Bridge. His writings mention some of his notable life-long friends and acquaintances, who included peter of celle, Thomas becket, and Nicholas Breakspearlater Pope adrian iv.

In 1147 John returned to England, where he served in the household of theobald Archbishop of Canterbury for the next twenty years. As the bishop's consultant, confidant, friend, secretary, and advisor, John became familiar with the most powerful men in the realm. He represented the Archbishop on the continent, even at Rome, where he was attached to the papal court. In 1148 he attended the Church Council of Reims, where bernard of clairvaux and others challenged the orthodoxy of Gilbert Bishop of Poitiers. Because of his support for Theobald and later for Becket in their conflicts with King Henry II, John twice found himself in exile from England. He spent most of the seven years (116370) of the second exile at the Abbey Church of Saint Rèmi. John returned to England after his friend Thomas Becket was murdered (December 29, 1170) and remained there until his election as Bishop of Chartres in 1176. After being consecrated at Sens by Maurice Bishop of Paris, John returned to Chartres and took up the duties of the bishopric. He attended the Third Lateran Council of 1179. He died on October 25, 1180 and was buried at the abbey church of Notre Dame de Josaphat in Chartres.

Works and Thought. John read widely. He moves freely from the writings of the Church Fathers and Scripture to "pagan" poetry, and he uses any story or example that makes his point. Although John wrote both poetry and prose, the great bulk of his literary output lay in his letters, where he demonstrates the full range of his rhetorical skills. John's early works include his philosophical treatises. Entheticus, De dogmatic philosophorum also called the Entheticus Major (c. 1155), the Metalogicon (c. 1157), and the Policraticus (115759).

The first of these is a satire of princes and courtiers, in which contemporary people are compared to ancient poets and philosophers. It is a good example of the esteem that twelfth century humanists had for the ancient non-Christian world.

The Metalogicon is a book written against a clerk whom John calls Cornificius and his group of educational reformers, the Cornificians. Before turning his focus to logic, especially that of Aristotle (the Organon), John presents a defense of the traditional curriculum, the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic). John argues against the Conifician program that sought to shorten the course of study so students could advance onto their careers. In this work John offers the reader a wealth of information about himself and the schools in the first half of the twelfth century. It includes accounts of his teachers, his courses of study, and recollections about the teaching style of his teachers' teachers, like Bernard of Chartres, who instructed William of Conches and Gilbert de la Porrée.

The Policraticus is a work of political philosophy in which John adds to what he had begun in the Entheticus, by offering a more sustained and organized discussion of the art of government. John desires to harmonize ancient political philosophymost notably Aristotlewith Patristic and medieval Church teachings, and he creates an abstract framework for governing society and for making people better human beings and better Christians. Philosophy is presented as a tool to aid people in bringing about the reign of God. John outlines the traits, not only of good and bad princes, but of church officials as well. He chastises clerics and priests and presents a powerful call for reform of abuses within the Church. He calls tyrannyprivate, public, and ecclesiasticalan evil that we have the right to oppose, and he justifies the execution of tyrannical kings. Since the Policraticus was written during one of John's exiles from the court of Theobald, not surprisingly John attempts to analyze the relationship between Church and state. Interestingly, although John was loyal to Church authority in its struggle with the secular authority, he devises a plan of government that offers a large measure of autonomy to the state to govern without the oversight of ecclesiastical authority.

John's later writings include the Historia pontificalis (116364) in which John offers a mostly first-hand account of life in the papal court from 1148 to 1151. It presents to the reader a unique view of the pontiffs and the papal curia. John also wrote two biographies; The Life of Saint Anslem (1163), written at the request of Becket, and the Life of Thomas Becket (117173), which was composed shortly after the archbishop's martyrdom.

Bibliography: Sources: Entheticus de Dogmatic philosophorum (Entheticus Major), ed. r. e. pepin, Traditio 31 (1975) 127193. Metalogicon, ed. j. b. hall and k. s. b. keats-rohan, (Turnhout, Brepols 1991). Policraticus, ed. c. c. j. webb, 2 vols., (Oxford 1909); English trans. c. nederman, (Cambridge 1990). Life of Thomas Becket, ed. j. c. robertson and j. b. sheppard, Materials for the History of Archbishop Thomas Becket, II Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores, vol. 67 (1876) 301322. The Life of Saint Anslem, Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 199 10091040. Historia Pontificalis, ed. m. chibnall (London 1956, Nachdruck 1986). The Letters of John of Salisbury, Volume I, The Early Letters (115361), ed. w. j. millor, h. e. butler and c. n. l. brooke (London 1955). The Letters of John of Salisbury, Volume II, The Later Letters (11631180), ed. w. j. millor and c.n. l. brooke (Oxford 1979). Literature. k. l. forhan, "A Twelfth-Century 'Bureaucrat' and the Life of the Mind: The Political Thought of John of Salisbury," Proceedings of the PMR Conference (Villanova, Pennsylvania 10, 1985), 6574. h. leibeschÜtz, Medieval Humanism in the Life and Writings of John of Salisbury (Nendeln, Lichtenstein 1968). c. c. j. webb, John of Salisbury (London 1932). m. wilks, ed., The Life and Times of John of Salisbury (Oxford 1984). c. nederman, "Aristotelianism in John of Salisbury's Policraticus," in Journal of the History of Philosophy, XXI, 1983, 203229; "Aristotelian Ethics and John of Salisbury's Letters," Viator, XVIII, 1987, 161173. k. s. b. keats-rohan, "The Chronology of John of Salisbury's Studies in France," Studi medievali, XXVIII, 1987, 193203.

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John of Salisbury

views updated May 29 2018

John of Salisbury

The English bishop and humanist John of Salisbury (c. 1115-1180) is generally considered to have been the most cultured man of his day. He associated with great scholars, rulers, and churchmen, and his writings testify to the wide scope of his interests.

John was born in Old Sarum near Salisbury. In 1136 he began a career as student and then scholar in the schools of Paris (where he studied with Peter Abelard) and Chartres, then the center of humanistic studies of the arts and of the Latin classics. He became proficient in rhetoric, literary analysis, logic, and law, both ecclesiastical and Roman.

In 1148 John probably entered the service of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, where he remained until 1150, when he went to Rome to assume a post of uncertain nature in the Papal Curia. From 1153 or 1154 he was again at Canterbury, as Theobald's private secretary. In 1159 John completed his first major work, Policraticus, or Statesman's Book. Policraticus was the first medieval study of the state and the prince; John's analyses of the conduct of good and bad princes testify to his understanding of the new power attained by centralized authority in the 12th century, thanks to the end of the Viking invasions and the development of stable feudal relationships.

The Metalogicon, written shortly after Policraticus, is a work of educational theory, assessing the role of the arts and defending them against narrow-minded critics. John utilized in Metalogicon the newly discovered works of Aristotle, which would dominate education in the following century.

About this time (1162), Thomas Becket, whom John had befriended while Becket was still chancellor of England, succeeded Theobald as archbishop. John sided with Becket in his controversy with Henry II of England and in 1164 went into voluntary exile because of his views. Early in 1170 he returned to England and was present at Becket's martyrdom on December 29. While in exile, he had written the Historia pontificalis (probably begun in 1164; Papal History), an unfinished but fascinating account of the papal court during the years 1148-1152.

John remained at Canterbury, at work on an unfinished biography of Becket, until 1176, when he was elected bishop of Chartres, an office he held until his death on Oct. 25, 1180. Charitable, honest, and reasonable, he appears in all his works as a model Christian humanist.

Further Reading

The source of most information about John is his letters, a collection of which, edited and translated by W. J. Millor and S. J. and H. E. Butler, was revised by C. N. L. Brooke (1955). The best introduction to John is the biography by C. C. J. Webb, John of Salisbury (1932). Hans Liebeschütz, Medieval Humanism in the Life and Writings of John of Salisbury (1950), provides the intellectual context for John's career. □

John of Salisbury

views updated May 29 2018

John of Salisbury (c.1120–80). Scholar and clerical author. His letters and books drew on his own experience in church politics and reflected the immense range of his classical and Christian scholarship. Born at Salisbury, a student at Paris (1136–46) in the days of Abelard, in his Metalogicon he defended the value of logic as an intellectual discipline. As political secretary to Archbishop Theobald (1147–61) of Canterbury he used his friendship with Adrian IV to promote Canterbury's interests at the papal curia and then used his insider knowledge to discuss both the theory of church–state relations and contemporary history in his Policraticus and the Memoirs of the Papal Court. He acted as adviser to Becket during his quarrel with Henry II and then became an active hagiographer, promoting the cult of the murdered archbishop. In 1176 he was elected bishop of Chartres.

John Gillingham