Pereira (or Pererius), Benedictus

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(b. Ruzafa [near Valencia], Spain, 1535; d. Rome, Italy, 6 March 1610)

physics, mechanics, astrology.

Little is known of Pereira’s early life before his admission to the Society of Jesus in 1552. After joining the order, Pereira was sent to Sicily, and then Rome, to complete his education. In Rome he taught various disciplines and arts and became known also as an exponent of scripture, on which he left several commentaries.

Pereira’s most important work was his treatise on natural philosophy, De communibus omnium return naturalium, known also as Physicorum … libri. First published in Rome in 1562, this Aristotelian commentary went through many subsequent European editions and was used as a philosophy textbook in the flourishing Jesuit schools. It was widely read and is cited in several of the writings of the young Galileo. The section on dynamics (book XIV) is staunchly Aristotelian. Although various theories of violent motion were described, most were rejected, particularly the Parisian impetus theory. In his dislike for Parisian dynamics, Pereira belonged to a strong Italian tradition, upheld also by Girolamo Cardano, Gasparo Contarini, Andrea Cesalpino, and Girolamo Borro.

The De communibus was quoted frequently in the Renaissance debate on the nature of mathematics. Like some of his fellow Aristotelians, Pereira was reluctant to allow Aristotle’s admission that abstract mathematical demonstrations were of the greatest certainty. Pereira took the extreme position that neither mathematics nor any other science could satisfy Aristotle’s very strict criteria for certainty.

Pereira’s Adversus fallaces et superstitiosas artes (1591) was an outright attack on the occult arts, including alchemy and astrology. Like the De communibus, this treatise enjoyed a wide circulation, although for more notorious reasons. In denouncing magic, Pereira began with the paradoxical peemise that natural magic did exist, and was indeed the noblest part of physics, mathematics, and medicine. Because of this exalted status, however, natural magic was accessible to only a very few learned and good men. The evil, therefore, lay in the pretensions of the ignorant and wicked to such knowledge. Such pretensions resulted in abuses, deception, and poverty. Despite its intrinsic goodness, Pereira advocated that the pursuit of natural magic, and of alchemy in particular, be banned.

In the section on the interpretation of dreams, Pereira reverted to Aristotle and concluded that dreams ought neither to be heeded nor disregarded to excess. Those who accepted fixed rules in this matter should be denounced as followers of superstition.

The final section, which dealt with astrology, seems to have been inspired by Sixtus V’s bull of 1586 condemning judicial astrology. pereira used arguments from Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and other sources to show that the heavens do not manifest portents and that the rules of astrology are absurd-any fulfillment of predictions was ascribed to the work of demons. Pereira passed over in silence the acceptance of astrology by Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus. In his earlier De communibus, however, the Jesuit had cited Aquinas’ favorable opinion without adding a condemnation thereof.


I. Original Works. Pereira’s major works are De communibus omnium rerum naturalium principiis et affectionibus, libri quindecim (Rome, 1562), later reprinted in Rome (1576, 1585) Venice (1586, 1592, 1609), Paris (1579, 1585, 1589), Lyons (1585, 1588, 1603), Cologne (1595, 1598, 1601, 1603, 1609), and Ingolstadt (1590); and Adversus fallaces et superstitiosas artes, id est de magia, de observatione somniorum et de dibinatione astrologica, libri tres (Ingolstadt, 1591), later reprinted in Venice (1591,1592), Lyons (1592,1602,1602), Paris 91616), and Cologne (1598, 1612). An English trans, by Percy Enderbie, The Astrologer Anatomised, was issued in London in 1661 and again in 1674. Some of Pereira’s commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics are in Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, MSS 10476, 10478, 10491, and 10509.

II. Secondary Literature. Pereira’s religious and scientific works are listed in A. De Backer, ed., Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus, VI (Brussels-Paris), 499–507. Pereira is discussed briefly in Pierre Duhem, Études sur Léonard de Vinci, III (Paris, 1913), 203–204; Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, VI (New York, 1914), 409–413; and Neal W. Gilbert, Renaissance Concepts of Method (New York, 1960), 91. For Galileo’s citations of Pereira, see Galileo Galilei, Opere, A. Favaro, ed., I (Florence, 1890), 24, 35, 145, 318, 411.

Paul Lawrence Rose