Arnald of Vilanova: Physician and Prophet

Arnald of Vilanova: Physician and Prophet

Daly, Juanita A.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)


In the wake of the pioneering studies of Finke and Diepgen, written in the first decade of this century, scholarly interest in Arnald of Vilanova has increased steadily. Yet this increase in scholarly inquiry, far from bringing the figure of Arnald into focus, has produced two Arnalds: Arnald the physician and Arnald the prophet. The former is a scientist known in his lifetime and long after his death as the greatest physician of his age; the latter, a seemingly separate entity, is a prophet whose apocalyptic vision influenced both royal and papal courts at the turn of the fourteenth century. What is lost in their split image is the common conviction that informed both Arnald’s medicine and his theology. In the absence of a coordinating vision, Arnald is left a failed figure on both counts. Unfortunately, the peculiar facts that surround Arnald’s texts have discouraged any synthetic approach. For one thing, it was not critical practice that first divided Arnald’s theological works from his medical works, but the posthumous condemnation of his theological works in 1316. The condemnation was the final result of Arnald’s defense of his apocalyptic ideas against the threats of the Court of Inquisition, with whom he had been in contention since his arrest under a charge of heresy in 1299. Arnald had run afoul of the Court when, on a diplomatic mission for James II of Aragon to Philip IV of France, he presented his tract De Tempore Adventu Antichristi to the Doctors at the Sorbonne. In the tract Arnald announced that the appearance of the Antichrist was imminent and that the world would end page 30 around 1378. The Parisian theologians were not overjoyed at this news–even less at Arnald’s warning that the Church, in preparation for the event, must be drastically reformed. Arnald was promptly jailed and charged with heresy. It was only through the intervention of Philip’s minister and Arnald’s friend, William of. Nogent, that Arnald was spared further imprisonment. More insulted than intimidated, Arnald launched a vigorous campaign in defense of his theological works, a defense which he pursued until his death on September 6, 1311. In the intervening years he badgered both popes and kings in defense of his theories, in an attempt to establish for his theological notions the same credibility and high esteem his medical opinions enjoyed. The years between his arrest and his death were the years of his greatest output of apocalyptic writings, many of which he took great pains to edit and present to Pope Boniface VIII, and later Celestine V, for inclusion in the Vatican archives. He presented others to various royal and ecclesiastical libraries across Europe.

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