John of Acton

views updated


Priest and noted English canonist; d. November 1349. He received a doctor of civil law degree from Oxford c. 1311 and a doctor of Canon Law degree from Cambridge before 1330. While at Cambridge he engaged in a fictitious quaestio disputata with M. Walter Elveden c. 1335 (Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, MS 483, flyleaf). A canon of Lincoln by papal provision in 1329, he became rector of Willingham by Stow, Lincolnshire, in 1330, and an official of the Court of York in 1335.

He is chiefly known for his famous gloss, composed c. 1333 to 1335, on the Legatine Constitutions of the 13th century Legates, Otto and Ottobuono. In this he performed a valuable service for the Church in England, providing a comprehensive gloss on every significant word of the constitutions of 1237 (Otto) and 1268 (Ottobuono). He shows a wide knowledge of the classic sources and commentators of Canon Law, although, as Maitland has noted, he is a little too human to be strictly scientific: his gloss often is a growl against greedy prelates, hypocritical friars, rapacious officials, and papal exactions. The gloss has been printed twice, and many manuscripts survive. In 1346, three years before his death, he also wrote a Septuplum, a two-part work of moral theology that has not yet been edited.

Bibliography: john of acton, Constitutiones legatime, seu legatine regionis Anglicane, as appendix to w. lyndwood, Provinciale seu Constitutiones Angliae, 2 pts. (Oxford 1679). s. lee, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900) 1:67. f. w. maitland, Roman Canon Law in the Church of England (London 1898). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, 3 v. (Oxford 195759) 1:1112; Biographical Register of the Scholars of the University of Cambridge before 1500 (Cambridge, Eng.1963) 2. l. boyle, "The Curriculum of the Faculty of Canon Law at Oxford in the First Half of the 14th Century, " in Oxford Historical Society, Oxford Studies Presented to Daniel Callus (Oxford 1964).

[l. e. boyle]