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Francis of Meyronnes

Francis of Meyronnes

(b. Méyronnes, Provence, France. ca. 1285; d. Piacenza, Italy, ca. 1330)

theology, natural philosophy.

The dates of Francis’ birth and death are uncertain; he lived in the first half of the fourteenth century and was called de Mayronis, after his birthplace in the canton of St. Paul in the Basses-Alpes. He entered the Franciscan order of Provence, probably in the convent of Digne. Pope John XXII calls him Franciscus de Maironis de Digna in a letter of 23 May 1323. 1 He was a pupil of Duns Scotus and, according to the Benedictine scholar Johannes Trithemius, he taught in England; but it is not known if this was before or after he came to Paris (between 1302 and 1307). 2

As bachelor of the faculty of theology at Paris, Francis lectured on Peter Lombard’s Sentences and became a doctor of theology in 1323.3 He is reported to have inaugurated, between 1315 and 1320, the actus sorboniens. This was the scholastic debate that took place every Friday during the summer season and lasted twelve hours consecutively; during these debates, speakers had to respond to and hold their own against all adversaries who appeared.4 (The adoption of this scholastic practice, however, dates from before 1312 and is traceable to Robert de Sorbon.)5 The debate between Francis himself and Pierre Roger (later Pope Clement VI) in 1321 was famous and is probably what is referred to as the certamen Mayronicum. 6

In the spring of 1324 Francis was in Avignon. That year Pope John XXII sent him, together with the Dominican monk Domenico Grima, to Gascony to try to prevent a conflict between the armies of Charles IV of France and Edward III of England. Between 1323 and 1324 he was also minister provincial of Provence.7 His death took place in the convent of Piacenza sometime between 1327 and 1333; according to Roth, he was still alive in 1328. 8

Francis was a follower of the doctrines of Duns Scotus. His studies included science, metaphysics, and theology. As a theologian he commented on Aristotle’s cosmology, correcting it in the light of the physics presented in the Scriptures, a methodological position that was later to be definitively examined and abandoned by Galileo. The facts of Aristotelian physics that Francis inherited from medieval science thus came to be integrated with those of the Bible. 9

According to Francis, the universe was constituted of fourteen spheres: the empyrean, the crystalline, the firmament, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, sun, Venus, Mercury, moon, fire, air, water and earth; each of these has its own composition. At the center of these spheres, which are all in circular motion, is the immobile earth. Francis does not admit the possibility of the earth’s movement or the immobility of the heavens, a possibility that was beginning to be argued in Paris–as he himself relates in connection with a teacher who would consider that the earth moves and that the skies are immobile. 10

The world has been created by God, and Francis does not believe it to be ab aeterno or infinite. The reasoning that he uses to disavow the actual infinity of the world is of a philosophical and metaphysical nature. The world, because it was created, was begun, and what has a beginning must also have an end. But that which has an end or a conclusion is not infinite. Therefore, the physical world is not infinite. For this reason, Francis excludes the possibility that the world is actually infinite (infinitum in actu);11 such infinity belongs only to divine omnipotence. Movement, time, discrete quantity, and number—which are determinations of the physical world and are successions—cannot be constituents of the infinite.

Francis does admit that God, as omnipotent infinity, can cause through his infinite power an infinite world, but with the limitation that it be according to continuous quantity and according to intensity or degree. That is, it can never be caused according to numerical succession, for the elements of a series can always be reenumerated. In other words, Francis admits that the physical world is potentially infinite, in the manner of the continuous quantity (infinitely divisible material) that constitutes it. 12

In his doctrine on the movement of physical bodies Francis does not substantially modify the Aristotelian system of explaining the movement of projectiles. It is a movement that originates from without, and its cause is the medium, with the concurrence of four factors whereby the projectile is moved by whatever pushes it (motus pellentis), which divides the medium violently from behind; the medium then closes so that a void does not arise and this closing (clausio) pushes the moving body.13

More original, on the other hand, is Francis’ philosophical explanation of motion, which he understands as a fluxus formae (flux of form) rather than as a forma fluens (flowing form). In his exposition he embellishes the doctrines of Aristotle with new content.14

Francis does not completely accept the fundamental rules of Aristotelian dynamics and kinematics (Physics VII 5, 250a 1–20) as they had been formulated by the medieval scientific tradition. He asserts that the relationship (comparatio) established by Aristotle between the force of the mover, space, and time is not true; by means of this relationship it was argued that if a force can move an object in space for a certain time, the same force can move double the object through half the space in the same time. In fact, Francis argues, if, for example, Socrates can carry a quintal for a league, it does not follow that he can carry two quintals for half a league. According to Francis the inverse rule attributed to Aristotle is also not exact; for if a force can move an object in a given space for a certain time, it does not follow that half this force can move the entire object through half the space in the same time. For example, if thirty men can move a ship for thirty paces, it does not follow that fifteen men can move the same ship for fifteen paces in the same time.15


1. Cf. P. W. Lampen, “Francis de Meyronnes,” in France franciscaine, 9 (1926), 215–222; E. d’Alençon. “Francis de Meyronnes,” in A. Vacant et al., eds., Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, X (Paris, 1929), cols, 1634–1646.

2. J. Trithemius, De scriptoribur ecclesiasticis (Paris, 1494), fol. 123b.

3. H. Denifle and E. Chatelain, eds., Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis, II (Paris, 1891), 272, no. 823; P. Feret, La faculte de theologie de Paris, Moyen-âge, III (Paris, 1896), 323, no. 2.

4. Bartholomaeus de Rinonico Pisanus, De conformitate vitae IV (Florence, 1906), 339, 523, 540, 544; Gilberti Genebrardi, Chronographiae libri, IV (Cologne, 1518), 1014.

5. Cf. Vatican Library, MS Borghese 39; cf. A. Maier, Ausgehendes Mittelalter, I (Rome, 1964), 333; II (Rome, 1967), 257 ff.

6. Cf. P. Glorieux, “L’enseignement au moyen-âge, techniques et méthodes en usage à la Faculte de Théologie de Paris,” in Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire ddu moyen-age, 35 (1968), 134.

7. Biblioteca Comunale, Assisi, MS 684. Cf. d’Alencon, col. 1646.

8. B. Roth, Francis von Meyronnes, sein Leben, seine Werke, seine Lehre vom Formalunterschied in Gott (Weil in Westfalen, 1936), p. 49.

9.Commentum in secundum librum Sententiarum (Venice, 1520), distinctio 14, quaestio V, fol. 150v, cols. a-b.

10.Ibid., fol. 150v, col. b. Cf. P. Duhem, “Francis de Meyronnes et la question de la rotation de la terre,” in Archivam franciscanum historicum, 6 (1913), 23–25.

11.Commentum in primum librum Sententiarum, dist. 43, qu. X, fol. 128v. col. b; dist. 43, qu. IX, fol. 127v, cols. a-b; dist. 44, qu. X, fol. 129v, vol. a; Expositio in Physicam, bk. III (Ferrara, 1495), fol. Gv, cols. a-b; fol. Kr, cols, a-b.

12.Ibid., fol. Kr, cols. a-b; fol. Kii r, col. a ff., Commentum in primum librum Sententiarum, loc. cit

13.Ibid., dist. 14, qu. VII, fol. 15lr, col.b.

14.Ibid., dist. 16, qu. IV, fol. 68r, col, b; dist. 14, qu. IX, fol. 152r, col. b; Expositio in physicam, bk. V, fol. Mv, col. a.

15.Ibid.,, bk. VII, fol. Ov, cols. a-b.


I. Original Works. Francis of Meyronnes was the author of numerous writings on various subjects, including theology, metaphysics, logic, physics, politics, and piety; almost all are in MS or in eds. published at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries. There are no modern eds. of his scientific works. For a detailed indication of the MSS and first eds. of all his works, see B. Roth, pp. 50 ff. (see n. 8); on his political thought, see P. de Lapparent, “L’oeuvre politique de Francis de Meyronnes,” in Archives d’histoire doctrinale et litteraire du moyen age, 13 (1942), 57–74. On his comments to the Sentences, see F. Stegmuller, Repertorium commentariorum in libros Sententiarum (Wurzburg, 1947), and V. Doucet, “Commentaires sur les Sentences, Supplément au répertoire de F. Stegmuller,” in Archivum franciscanum historicum, 47 (1954), 114–116; and annals of the Archivum: XLVI, 164–166, 342; XLVII, 98, 114–116; 149, 153, 403; L, 203; LIV, 230; LV, 369, 531; LVI, 209; LVII, 363, 408, 573 (indications of MSS of his commentaries on Aristotle); LVIII, 187, 192, 264, 408; LIX, 86; LX, 263, 450, 466; LXI, 462–463. See also P.O. Kristeller, Iter italicum, I (London, 1963), 76, 312, 317, 420; II, 71, 216, 326, 390, 413, 465–466.

Francis’ scientific thought is contained in his commentaries on Aristotle, especially in Expositio in physicam (Ferrara, 1495; Venice, 1517), in his comments to the Sentences; and in the quaestiones quodlibetales. For indications of MSS and rare eds., see espcially Roth.

II. Secondary Literature. Bibliographical indications are in Roth, which is the most nearly complete study to date. For more recent indications of Francis’ political and theological thought, see the annals of the Archivum franciscanum historicum, loc. cit. On his scientific thought, in addition to the study by Duhem cited in note 10, see his Système du monde, vols. VI-X (Paris, 1956–1959), passim, and particularly VI, 451–474. See also A. Maier, Zwischen Philosophie und Mechanik (Rome, 1958), p. 96; Ausgehendes Mittelalter, I (Rome, 1964), 71, 247, 468; and Zwei Grundprobleme der scholastischen Naturphilosophie (Rome, 1951), pp. 51, 53, 56, 164, 197, 232, 238. See also B. Nardi, “La filosofia della natura nel Medioevo,” in Acts of theThird International Conference of Medieval Philosophy, La Mendola, 1964 (Milan, 1966), p.23.

Graziella Federici Vescovini

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