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Roger Bacon’s life and ideas in Russian historiography

Roger Bacon’s life and ideas in Russian historiography

By Aleksey Klemeshov

Religion, Ritual and Mythology Aspects of Identity Formation in Europe, edited by Joaquim Carvalho (Pisa University Press, 2006)

Introduction: Roger Bacon, a Franciscan philosopher and scientist who lived in the 13th century (the actual dates of his birth and death are unknown, but it is possible to calculate that he was born around 1210 and died in 1294), was one of the outstanding medieval thinkers. His life and views have attracted the attention of Russian historians for two centuries, and the aim of this paper is to review the impact of Bacon and his ideas on Russian historiography.

Until recently, religious and philosophical thought of the 13th century had featured very little in Russian historiography, partly due to the difficulty of working with the sources. Until the early 20th century, there were no critical publications of many of Bacon’s important works. There are, however, two complete editions of the Opus Majus [The Great Work], the philosopher’s principle writing. Samuel Jebb published the first and best edition of this work in 1733, in London, and it was republished in 1750, in Venice. Between 1897 and 1900, J.H. Bridges published the second edition using different manuscripts with his own introduction. In spite of the low quality of the second edition, together with the fact that Jebb’s edition was available in Russian libraries, most Russian historians only used Bridges’ edition.

After the Russian Revolution, many Russian historians could not use the libraries and archives of Western Europe and the USA. The ideological factor was of great importance, too. Until the early 20th century, research about Catholic religious and philosophical thought was not very popular in orthodox Russia. Even the widely-available works of Thomas Aquinas have not received worthy mention in the works of Russian historians.

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