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Francis of Marchia

Francis of Marchia

(b. Appignano, Italy; fl. first half of the fourteenth century)

theology, natural philosophy.

Francis was a Friar Minor (Franciscan) whom Sbaralea identifies as a native of Pignano (Appignano), in the province of Ascoli Piceno, March of Ancona.1 Many other names were incorrectly attributed to him: he was variously called di Apiniano (Esculo), D’Ascoli (Asculanus), and Rossi (Rubeus). He completed his studies at the University of Paris, where he received his degree as a teacher of theology. In all probability he commented on the Sentences during 1319 and 1320 in accordance with the theological program at Paris. 2 Later, around 1328, he was a lecturer at the Studio Generale of the Franciscans at Avignon. 3 In the fifteenth century he was given the honorary title of doctor succinctus et praefulgens, which can be seen in the inscriptions on one of the frescoes in the Franciscan convent at Bolzano.

Francis took an active part in the internal struggles regarding poverty that were then dividing the order. Together with Michael of Cesena, William of Ockham, and Bonagrazia of Bergamo, he supported a rule of absolute poverty for the successors of Christ and for the church. He rebelled against Pope John XXII, supporting his opponent, Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian. 4 He was excommunicated by the pope and joined Louis in Pisa in 1328 and once again rebelled to protest his excommunication (1329–1331).5

Francis was expelled from the order in 1329. He was persecuted by ecclesiastical authorities in Italy in 1341. In 1344 he made a formal recantation (which was to serve as an example to all later dissidents) and was reconciled with the church and with the order. 6 The date of his death is not known.

Francis’ scientific thought is contained in his comments on Aristotle’s Physics and in his theological writings. In these works he shows an original approach to certain problems of mechanics. He was the first of the medieval philosophers to employ the theory of impetus (anticipating the principle of inertia) to explain the movement of projectiles. 7 The term “impetus” was not used by him in the technical sense as it later was by Jean Buridan; rather he speaks of a force left or impressed (vis derelicta), which is the intrinsic cause—transmitted by the motor to the object moved—of the movement of the projectile. He was also the first to maintain that the movement of a projectile is not caused by something extrinsic (ab alio) to the object moved. It is not a movement transmitted by the motor to the projectile via the medium through which it moves. He supposes that the proiciens leaves in the projectile a part of its force that then causes subsequent motion. In other words, the moving force (vis motrix) in the launching of a projectile is not transmitted to the medium (air or water) and thence to the projectile, but rather directly to the body itself. 8

Francis thus corrects Aristotle’s doctrine. The cause of the movement of projectiles is not to be sought in the activity of a force derived through the vortical movement of air or in its heaviness or lightness; it does not depend on the form of the heavens and is not transmitted by the medium. 9 The cause is a vis derelicta impressed by the motor on the object itself. 10 The medium contributes to the movement of the projectile but is not the cause of it. The impressed or derelicta force is neither a permanent form (such as heat generated by fire) nor is it a simpliciter fluens form (that is, one which flows simply, as the heating of water) but rather an intermediate form—that is, one that has a form that lasts for only a limited period of time (esse permanens ad determinatum tempus). 11 The movement of the projectile diminishes in speed and exhausts itself not because of the destruction of the subiectum—the projectile—but because of the cessation of the motivating force, which occurs in two ways: a pure and simple slackening in the force of the motor or a slackening in the force of the motor in the projectile, whose movement lasts only a short time because of the existential imperfection of the movement. 12 In the latter case the movement of the projectile diminishes just as images impressed on the eye by a source of light are exhausted and disappear when the source of light is removed. 13

Francis also invoked this principle to explain the movement of the celestial spheres. He suggested the idea that the divine intelligence impresses a driving power of this type on the celestial spheres–that is, an impetus implanted in the heavens themselves.14 He thus gave a purely mechanical explanation for the movement of the celestial bodies.

Francis was also a proponent of the then new theory of actual infinity. He derived this concept from that of divine cause. There exists an infinity that is positively real, being the effect of divine causality or omnipotence. This is an actual infinite which exceeds any finite beyond any determined proportion, accepted or acceptable.15 This is an actual infinite is so according to size, multiplicity, and extension. It is more a transfinite than a maximum.16 Francis also admits as a variation of this actual infinity an actual infinity according to succession. Movement and time would be in this category and are therefore conceived of by Francis as an actual successive infinity. In other words, on admitting actual infinity according to succession, Francis came to conceive of a world of infinite space, a new concept in medieval cosmology.


1. G. Sbaralea, Supplementum et castigatio ad scriptores, I (Rome, 1908), 257.

2. Cf. MS Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, VII, C.27: “Explicit fratris Francisci de Marchia super primum Sententiarum secundum reportationem factam sub eo tempore, quo legit Sententias Parisius anno Domini 1320.”

3. Cf. Etienne Baluze and J. D. Mansi, Miscellanea, II (Lucca, 1761), 140.

4. Cf. M. D. Lambert, Franciscan Poverty: The Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ and the Apostles (London, 1961).

5. Cf. MS Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Santa Croce, pluteo 31, sinistra 3, fols. 1–63.

6. Cf. Wadding, VII, 371–372.

7. Cf. Clagett, pp. 530–531.

8. La teoria dell’impeto, pp. 59 f. Cf. Maier, Zwei Grundprobleme, pp. 168 f., and Clagett, pp. 527 f.

9.La teoria dell’impeto, p. 10. 10.

10.Ibid., p. 9.

11.Ibid., p. 11.

12.Ibid., pp. 20–21.

13.Ibid., p. 21.

14.Ibid., pp. 18–19; cf. Clagett, p. 531.

15. In Sententias, d. 2, MS, Rome, Biblioteca Vaticana (Chigiano), B. VII 113, fols. 28v-33v; and Vat. lat. 4871, fols. 100r-101v.

16. Cf. A. Maier, Ausgehendes Mitteater, I, 68 f.


I. Original Works. Most of Francis’ writings, not having been published, exist only in MS. The works fall into three categories, according to the subjects with which they are concerned: (1) politics, (2) theology, and (3) science and philosophy. A partial listing of MSS follows.

Political Works. MS Florence, Laurenziana, Santa Croce, pluteo 31, sinistra 3, fols. 1–63, contains his protest against the pope. His formal retraction was published in L. Wadding, Annales minorum (Florence, 1932), vol. VII.

Theological Works. Many of Francis’ theological writings were in the form of commentaries on the Sententiae of Peter Lombard. Various MSS are cited in F. Stegmuller, Repertorium commentariorum in Sententias (Würzburg, 1947), pp. 237, 302; V. Doucet, “Commentaires sur les Sentences, Supplément au répertoire de F. Stegmuller,” in Archivum franciscanum historicum, 47 (1954), 116–117; A. Maier, Ausgehendes Mittelalter, I (Rome, 1964), 68 ff; and P. O. Kristeller, Iter italicum, II (London-Leiden, 1967), 445.

Scientific and Philosophical Works. Several of the works in this class took the form of Quodlibeta (MS Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, lat. 16110, sec. XIV); and Commentaries on Aristotle, among them Quaestiones super primum et secundum librum Metaphysicorum (MS Florence, Laurenziana, Fesulano, supp. 161, fols. 67–73) and Expositio super Physicam (Rome, Vaticana Ottoboniano, lat. 1816, fols. 30r-49r). Garcia y Garcia and Piana also attribute Bologna, Biblioteca del Real Collegio di Spagna, MS 104, fols. 48ra-102vb, to Francis, although P. Kuenzle credits it to Francis of Méyronnes. La teoria dell’impeto, G. Federici Vescovini, ed. (Turin, 1969), pp. 1–21, presents In Sententias IV, 1, MS Biblioteca Vaticana (Chigiano), B. VII, 113, fols. 175ra-177va, as part of a collection of medieval Latin texts dealing with impetus.

II. Secondary Literature. On Francis and his works, see M. Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (Madison, Wis., 1959), pp. 526–531, which includes an English trans. of the text on impetus: F. Ehrle, “Der Sentenzenkommentar Peters von Candia,” in Franziskanische Studien, supp. IX (1925), pp. 253–259; A. Garcia y Garcia and C. Piana, “Los manuscritos filosofico, historico y cientificos del Real Colegio de Espagna de Bolonia,” in Salmanticensis, 14 (1967), 81–169; P. Kuenzle, “Petrus Thomae oder Franciscus de Mayronis?,” in Archivum franciscanum historicum, 61 (1968), 462–463; A. Maier, Die Vorlaüfer Galileis im 14. Jahrhundert (Rome, 1949), pp. 133 ff.; Zwei Grundprobleme der scholastischen Naturphilosophie (Rome, 1952), pp. 166–180, which contains a portion of the impetus text; Ausgehendes Mittelalter, I (Rome, 1964), 357, 461, and II (1967), 467, 478; M. Schmaus, “Der Liber propugnatorius des Thomas Anglicus.” in Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalter, 29 (1930), 34, n. 59; and A. Teetaert, “Pignano (François de),” in Dictionnaire de théologie Catholique, XII (1935), cols. 2104–2109.

Graziella Federici Vescovini

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