Roger Bacon was an English Scholastic philosopher, scientist and one of the most influential teachers of the 13th century.
He was born in Ilchester, Somersetshire in 1214. Roger Bacon was educated at the universities of Oxford and Paris. He remained in Paris after completing his studies and taught for a while at the University of Paris. When he returned to England in about 1251, he entered the religious order of the Franciscans and lived at Oxford. He carried on active studies and did experimental research in alchemy, optics, and astronomy.
Bacon was critical of the methods of learning of the times, and in the late 1260s, at the request of Pope Clement IV, he wrote his Opus Majus (Major Work). In this work he represented the necessity of a reformation in the sciences through different methods of studying languages and nature. The Opus Majus was an encyclopedia of all science, embracing grammar and logic, mathematics, physics, experimental research, and moral philosophy. The response of the pope to Bacon’s masterpiece is not known, but the work could not in any circumstances have had much effect in Bacon’s time, because it reached Clement during the period of his fatal illness.
Bacon’s revolutionary ideas about the study of science caused his condemnation by the Franciscans for his heretical views. In 1278 the general of the Franciscan order, Girolamo Masci, later Pope Nicholas IV, forbade the reading of Bacon’s books and had Bacon arrested. After ten years in prison, Bacon returned to Oxford. He wrote Compendium Studii Theologiae (A Compendium of the Study of Theology, 1292) shortly before his death.
Despite his advanced knowledge, Bacon accepted some of the popular but later disproved beliefs of his time, such as the existence of a philosopher’s stone and the efficacy of astrology. Although many inventions have been credited to him, some of them undoubtedly were derived from the study of Arab scientists. His writings brought new and ingenious views on optics, particularly on refraction; on the apparent magnitude of objects; and on the apparent increase in the size of the sun and moon at the horizon. He found that with sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal, a substance (now known as gunpowder) could be produced that would imitate lightning and cause explosions. The previous use of gunpowder by the Arabs, however, has since been shown. Bacon considered mathematics, together with experimentation, the only means of arriving at a knowledge of nature. He studied several languages and wrote Latin with great elegance and clarity. Because of his extensive knowledge he was known as Doctor Admirabilis. Six of his works were printed between 1485 and 1614, and in 1733 the Opus Majus was edited and published.