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Two thirteenth-century theories of light:

Robert Grosseteste and St. Bonaventure


LUCIA MICCOLI

As the good is in the intelligible region to reason and the objects of reason, so is
this in the visible world to vision and the objects of vision. _ [W]hen the eyes are
no longer turned upon objects upon whose colours the light of day falls but that of
the dim luminaries of night, their edge is blunted and they appear almost blind, as
if pure vision did not dwell in them. _ But when, I take it, they are directed upon
objects illumined by the sun, they see clearly, and vision appears to reside in these
same eyes. _ Apply this comparison to the soul also in this way. When it is rmly
xed on the domain where truth and reality shine resplendent it apprehends and
knows them and appears to possess reason; but when it inclines to that region
which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away, it opines
only and its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again
seems as if it lacked reason. _ This reality, then, that gives their truth to the
objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is
the idea of good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of knowledge, and
of truth in so far as known. _ The sun, I presume you will say, not only furnishes
to visibles the power of visibility but it also provides for their generation and
growth and nurture though it is not itself generation. _ In like manner, then, you
are to say that objects of knowledge not only receive from the presence of the good
their being known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them from it,
though the good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and
surpassing power. (Plato VI, 508b509b, Eng. trans Plato 1970: 103107)
And God said, `Let there be light', and there was light. (Genesis 1: 3)
Your light and your truth shine on. (Psalms 42: 3)
You are dressed in glory and splendor, you are covered in light like a cloak.
(Psalms 103: 12)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life
was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not
understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He
came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men
might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the
Semiotica 1361/4 (2001), 6984

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70 L. Miccoli
light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
(The Gospel according to John 1: 19)

These texts are the basis upon which the Middle Ages built its ideas on the
metaphysics of light.
Plato basically uses the metaphor about light which had become
commonplace in Greek philosophy and literature in an epistemological
sense (Bultmann 1948: 136). The epistemological use which Plato made
of it must have had a great inuence: the knowledge of external things
is explained on the basis of an anity with the bodily vision determined
by the presence of the sun, just as the fact that objects of knowledge owe
their real existence to good is resolved with the conformity that there is
between the existence of real objects and the sun. In this way not only the
knowledge of things but also their being is explained by means of analogy
with the behavior of light.
If Plato provides the rst reference of Middle Ages thought on light,
then the other is the Bible. Many metaphors of light can be found, as
we have seen, in the Old Testament but the most famous passage of all,
the one which has inuenced medieval ages thought is no doubt the one
in the Gospel according to John.
The Middle Ages was full of similar images of light through authors
like Phylo of Alexandria and Plotinus. In Enneades V, 1,6 Plotinus tries to
explain how the one who is self-included and self-sucient in his being
can give rise to other beings:
Splendour spread all around which emanates like this from Him, but from He
who has stopped, like in the sun, the splendour which almost makes a halo around
Him; the splendour which regenerates, eternally from Him who is stopped. After
all, as long as they last, all Beings emanate a certain necessary existence all around
them and outside them from the bottom of their essence. This is connected to the
presence of their operating virtue and is like a gure of the archetypes from which
it germinated: re emanates eternal heat; and snow does not only retain cold
within itself; but a magnicent test of what has been said is given by all fragrant
substances. Something comes out of them for all of their lifetime stays around
them so that their neighbour gains pleasure from their very existences. Moreover,
all Beings who have reached maturity, generate; however, whatever is always
perfect, always generates and into eternity; and generates, of course, something
lower than his own being. (Plotinus 19471949, vol. III, part I: 1112. My
translation)

Further on he adds:
Well, in order to be more reasonable, we would like to see the operating force,
which ows, as it were, from Him, as if it owed from a sun. Let us, therefore take

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Two thirteenth-century theories of light 71


it for granted that even the complete spiritual absence is, in a certain sense, a light
and that He, on the other hand, has stopped on the top of the world of the
spirit and reigns over it without rejecting it widespread splendour by itself, but
by eternally radiating even though he is immobile on the world of the Spirit.
(19471949, vol. III, part I: 4344. My translation)

Plotinus thus explains the origin of the visible world by means of the
metaphor of light and during the course of the argumentation he makes
irradiation the material which constitutes the real world when he states
that all existing things produce images of themselves directed at what
surrounds them. This argumentation, where Plotinus states that all things
irradiate images of themselves, could be used for metaphysical aims, and
would later have signicant repercussions on the physical interpretation
of the world and would be an important precedent in the doctrine of the
multiplication of the species of the thirteenth century.
Plotinus also provides some other ideas which were to be used later by
other medieval authors. In the rst Ennead for instance, Plotinus points
out that light or re is the form of matter: The beauty of color is
something simple, concerning a shape and is due to the victorious presence of light incorporated reality, reason, idea over the obscurity
of matter. This is why re is beautiful in itself more than any other body.
If it is compared to other elements, it could almost be likened to Idea: it
is in fact the highest in terms of position; the thinnest of all; almost at the
limit of incorporeal nature. It not only encloses other things in itself,
whereas the others enclose it; these things get hot when in contact with
it, whereas it never gets cold. Moreover, re has color inborn, the other
things receive the form of color from it: `It shines and radiates as if
it were an Idea. But whatever looses its light because of a lack of vigour,
is no longer beautiful, because it does not participate completely in
the idea of color' (19471949: I, 101). This statement of light as the
rst bodily form by Plotinus reappeared in the same form in Grosseteste
as well as in St. Bonaventure.
Even St. Augustine in his synthesis of Christianity and neoplatonism in
which light is the main element, uses the light metaphor1 to describe
not only the reality of the created Universe environment but also of its
Creator and of his relationship with the creatures. In De Trinitate, for
instance, St. Augustine states that the three persons of the Trinity make
up a single light and explains the relationship between them by means
of a consideration on light.2
The theory of illumination, which is one of the trademarks of the
Augustine tradition, is based on the light metaphor: God is the archetypal
light and all the other lights are nothing but derivations of it. God's

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72 L. Miccoli
uncreated light is light in the true sense of the word, whereas all other
light is partaken light. St. Augustine adds an important epistemologic
element to this nucleus that forms the heart of the illumination theory: the
identication between light and truth: `all that is manifest is light' and
the form of good shines upon all intelligible things so that they can
be known.3 In order to understand intelligible things, the mind must be
illuminated by divine light, just as the human eye has to be illuminated
by bodily light in order to see sensitive things.
The rich medieval tradition of using the motif of light for theological,
metaphysical, and epistemological purposes derives not only from the
ancient and patristic sources, but also from the neoplatonism Arab
interpretations.
The position of Al-Kindi is an excellent example of this. In De radiis
(Al-Kindi 1974; cf. also Federici Vescovini 1965: 4447; Thorndike 1923:
642646), which had a great inuence in the thirteenth century, above all
inside the Franciscan school in Oxford, Al-Kindi supports the theory
of the fundamental dependence of the bodily world on the arrangement of
the stars because they send their rays to the world. The irradiation
depends on the nature of star, on its position, the radiation mode (rays
coming from the centre of a star are stronger than those coming
from other parts of the star), and on the combination of rays coming from
dierent stars, so that `each dierent place has rays of diering strength
coming from the total harmony of the stars' (1974: 220. My translation).
Then, according to Al-Kindi, everything and not only stars emit light,
which goes in all directions `so that everywhere in the world contains
rays which come from everything which has actual existence' (1974: 224).
As a consequence of this everything in the sublunary world acts on all the
other things: the rays of re transmit heat, the rays of the earth transmit
cold, medicine spreads its rays throughout the body, colliding bodies emit
rays which transmit sound, magnets attract iron by means of their
radiation; even images of the mind produce rays and feelings, desire,
hope, and fear inuence the rays emitted by everybody and thus the things
which those rays strike.
The most important contribution of De radiis was that of having taught
medieval scholars, amongst whom were Grosseteste and Bacon, that
every creature in the universe is a source of radiation and that the universe
itself is made up of a great network of forces: this was to become the
central doctrine of the multiplication of the species theory formulated in
the thirteenth century.
Thirteenth century philosophers were also inuenced by another
treatise of Al-Kindi, De aspectibus, in which Al-Kindi analyzed radiation
from a mathematical and physical point-of-view. They considered this

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Two thirteenth-century theories of light 73


point of view to be applicable to the theory of rays contained in De radiis.
The thirteenth century authors, who knew both treatises and probably
considered them to be two aspects of the same problem, no doubt discovered the possibility of a mathematical and physical analysis of the
theory of universal radiation of forces in Al-Kindi's work.
Another text had a great inuence on the theory of the multiplication of
the species: Fons Vitae by Avicebron.4 The central point of Avicebron's
theory is the universal hylomorphism doctrine according to which all
substances excluding God consist of matter and form. The theory of the
plurality of forms is equally important. According to this theory a great
number of forms are added to the universal matter created by God along
with the universal form in order to reach the actuality in the various beings
in the universe. This great number of forms determines the particular state
and the particular place of everything in the scale of beings.
These ideas would have had a particular inuence on the Franciscans of
the thirteenth century and above all on St. Bonaventure. What interests us
most, however, is Avicebron's teachings on emanation. The inuence
which any intermediate substance has on the others occurs
thanks to the sublime universal cause because power which is the author of all
things and moves all things by itself works until it nds something which receives
its action _ And because the rst author is the one who distributes the form
which is within him, he cannot stop it owing from him; he is thus the
source which maintains, develops and includes everything that is. All the
substances must, therefore, obey his action and imitate him in giving their
forms and in granting their energy, for all the time that they nd a matter ready
to receive it. _ In brief, the rst emanation, which includes all the substances,
makes emanation of substances from one to another necessary. Take the sun as
an example of this, it does not emanate for itself and does not communicate its
rays except for the fact that it falls under the rst emanation and obeys it.
(Avicebron 1859: 106108. My translation)

All substances, thus, emanate their form as an imitation of the rst


author: this emanation, however, does not imply a ow of essence or of
substance but simply of its force (vis) or of its rays (radius). Avicebron
claims that these forces or rays are spiritual even when they come from
the body and insists that everything which `emanates from something
is the image of the thing from which it emanates' (Avicebron 1859: 136).
The action which Avicebron has in mind is a metaphysical action rather
than a physical one and this is the thing which distinguishes the doctrine
of Avicebron and that of Al-Kindi of the universal radiation of force.
Robert Grosseteste's thought comes from the mingling of neoplatonism
and Arab tradition. He develops a vast philosophy of light of neoplatonic

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74 L. Miccoli
inspiration, which consists of: (1) an epistemology of light, in which he
sustains that intelligible things can only be gathered if they are illuminated
by a spiritual light; (2) a metaphysics or cosmogony of light; (3) a physics
of light; (4) a theology of light which is used as a metaphor on light to
express theological truth. Here we will be treating the second and the third
of these points above all.
In Grosseteste's De luce he states:
And it is clear also because every superior body is the species and the perfection of
the subsequent body, according to the light generated by itself; and just as the
number one can, in a certain way, be every subsequent number, in the same way
the rst body is each of the derived bodies because of the multiplication of its light.
(in Rossi 1986: 120. My translation)

and describes the generation of bodily things by means of the action of


a point of light created from nothing (ex nihilo). Grosseteste thus shows
his complete refusal of the idea of emanation which use of the metaphor
of light implied within a neoplatonic perspective.
The main point of Grosseteste's doctrine is that light is the prime bodily
form. At the beginning of time, God had created a point of light as the
rst form of the prime matter. However, both the point of light and
the prime matter have no extension. The extension comes about when the
point of light, whose characteristic is its capacity to spread out in all
directions at the same time, takes the matter with it during its expansion
creating a sphere.
I consider that the prime bodily form which some call corporeity, to be light. The
very nature of light means that it spreads out in all directions. This means that
a large limitless sphere is generated instantaneously from a luminous point, unless
an opaque body comes between it. Corporeity is what is necessarily produced by
the extension of the matter in the three dimensions, even though both the corporeity and the matter is essentially simple substance, without any dimension.
Actually it was not possible for the form, which was simple and without dimension, to give dimension to every part of the matter, which was in turn simple and
without dimension, unless it multiplied itself and immediately extended itself in
every direction. In this way it would drag matter while extending because form as
such cannot be separated from matter, since it is not divisible from it, nor can
matter be deprived of form. (in Rossi 1986: 113114. My translation)

According to Grosseteste, therefore, innitesimal quantities innitely


multiplied produced a nite quantity. During the multiplication process,
the corporeal substance produced becomes increasingly rareed until it
reaches the completion of its potential at the maximum of rarefaction.
The outermost sphere generated in this way, which has no consistency but

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is fully actualized prime matter and prime form, is the rmament which is
the external limit of the bodily universe. The rmament, in turn, diuses
its light inside towards the center of the universe, producing additional
rarefaction in the highest areas and leaving the lowest regions more condensed (cf. Rossi 1986: 1213). The nine celestial spheres and four element
spheres are produced by this rarefaction and subsequent condensation
process.
If this is the outline which denes Grosseteste's cosmology of light, in
other words if his theory on the origin of the universe is well structured
and developed, we can say that his physics of light is less rich. Actually
we can see some mentions of his physics of light in a few paragraphs of
De lineis, angulis et guris:
the natural agent extends his force from himself to the patient both when it acts
on the sense and on the matter. This force is sometimes called species and
sometimes resemblance, and is the same thing whatever it is called; it transmits the
same inux to the sense and to the matter or to its opposite, just as heat transmits
the same inux to touch and to a cold body _ but dierent eects are obtained
because of the dierence of that which is subjected to the action. As far as the
senses are concerned, this force does actually have a certain spiritual and more
noble action, once it has been received; as far as its opposite or matter is concerned, it has a material action, like the sun with the same inuence on dierent
objects produces dierent eects: it can actually dry mud and melt ice.
(Grosseteste in Rossi 1986: 129130. My translation)

This is what Robert Grosseteste says about the physics of light, but its
explanation is to be found in a few sentences of another work; De natura
locorum. There, after having stated the geometrical rules which govern the
propagation of the rays, Grosseteste writes:
These rules, bases and foundations have been obtained by the power of geometry,
a diligent investigator of natural things can in this way specify the causes of all
the natural eects. He cannot do this in any other way, as has already been
demonstrated in general terms, because every natural action is varied in terms
of force and weakness according to the variations of line, angles and gures.
(Grosseteste 1912: 6566. My translation)

If all the natural eects can be explained geometrically in terms of


lines, angles, and gures, this is because all natural eects are caused
by radiation of force.
Grosseteste follows Al-Kindi in the analysis of geometric optics with his
rules on the straight line propagation and on the reection and refraction
of light, and he also extends the physics of light so that the theme of

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76 L. Miccoli
light becomes the thing which distinguishes his presence in the history of
ideas (cf. the classics studies of Baur 1912 and of Crombie 1953).
On the other hand, it is also true to say that his theory of light should be
interpreted in the exegetic tradition of the book of Genesis, because the
fundamental assumption of his whole theory is verse 1: 3 of the book of
Genesis: `dixitque Deus: at lux'. Also just as in the book of Genesis,
light illuminates and gives form to matter, in De luce light is considered
the rst forma corporeitatis of a prime matter without form. As P. Rossi
states: `This is why light is considered a corporeity because it is in its
nature to spread, to extend in every direction, giving dimensions to the
prime matter, which is dragged by the light in its necessary spreading. It is
not correct to say that light gives origin to corporeity but light itself
is corporeity, three-dimensionality' (1986: 1011). This is why Grosseteste
is able to conclude:
Light, therefore, which is the rst form in the prime matter created, was spread at
the beginning of time and pulled as large a quantity of matter as the structure
of the universe by multiplying itself for everywhere in an endless process and
by extending itself in every direction in the same measure. (in Rossi 1986: 114.
My translation)

The treatment of the cosmogonic process follows this statement,


according to the structure which we have already mentioned and which
gives rise to a dened and perfect universe, which is also to a certain
respect harmonious. The opuscule ends on the theme of harmony and on
the proportion of the universe. According to J. Mc Evoy (1982: 162167)
the novelty and originality of it comes from the fact that Grosseteste
makes a synthesis of the cosmology contained in the book of Genesis
and the Aristotelian cosmology of De coelo. In other words Grosseteste
uses the conception of the mathematical structure of the reality, expressed
in a verse of the book of Knowledge (11: 21) `omnia numero, pondere
et mensura disposuisti' to overcome the Aristotelian conception of the
deep distinction between the matter which makes up the celestial bodies
and that which makes up the sublunary world: in this sense light, the rst
corporeal form is the unifying element of the whole universe, because it is
the foundation of a system `in which the rst sphere has the principles of
all the others in itself, because they derive from the spreading and the
multiplication of its light' (Rossi 1986: 15. My translation).
A direct consequence of the conception of light as original corporeity
is the statement that natural phenomena can be interpreted by means of
the laws of optics: this is the theme running through De lineis, angulis
et guris in which Grosseteste (in Rossi 1986: 125131) tries to reduce
the representation of phenomena, if not their explanation, to geometrical

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laws. This may have meant conrmation of the validity of Grosseteste's
cosmological approach for himself.
If the theme of light is used by Grosseteste in the mathematicalcosmological sense, then in St. Bonaventure it takes on connotations
which are more typically aesthetic-metaphysical. St. Bonaventure is,
actually, `the XIIIth Century thinker who gave the most importance to
beauty as an intrinsic and fundamental aspect of the physical universe
and who focused the most attention on the aesthetic value' (Corvino 1980:
247) of light.
In one of his early works Bonaventure considered the pulchrum as
one of the transcendental properties of the being, that is one of those
properties which all the beings have in common, like the unum, the
verum, and the bonum.5 Compared to the traditional doctrine, this was an
absolute novelty which, however, Bonaventure did not dare to take
up again and develop in the future. In the Breviloquium (in Bonaventura
18821902, V, 1891: 219) only three transcendental properties of the being
are actually indicated; St. Bonaventure, however, indicates another six
properties6 of the things created which derive from the impression of
order and harmony which God wanted to give the world and which,
therefore, are resolved in a certain way in aesthetic values.
The fact is, however, signicant because it indicates a characteristic
dimension of his speculative behavior. The rst impression which the
sensitive world produces in whoever perceives it, is an impression of
beauty, of sweetness, of healthiness. In St. Bonaventure's opinion all
knowledge came from sensation,7 but every sensation is not a simple act
of apprehension of the external object because it is accompanied by a
feeling of pleasure (oblectatio) which is something instinctive and prior to
any reasoning. In other words it is a moment of pure subjective pleasure.
If we then analyze this feeling, we will see that it has a triple specication
according to the senses used because it is either determined by the beauty
of the perceived object, as it is with sight, or by the sweetness, as it is with
smell and hearing, or by its capacity to satisfy a vital need, like in taste
and touch.8 The moment of purely instinctive pleasure gives way to
the moment of intellectual reection (diiudicatio) whereby we become
conscious of the feeling we have experienced and we try to understand
the cause of it.9 Understanding the cause means discovering what is
objectively valid in the thing which is able to raise appreciation in us.
Beauty, that is the sensitive value of things, in particular does not only
exist in relation to a feeling or to an emotive state of the subject who is
feeling but has an objective basis in things because it corresponds to
qualities which belong to their nature: these qualities are proportion and
luminosity.10

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78 L. Miccoli
This theme was not exclusive to St. Bonaventure but was researched by
a large number of his contemporaries, however, for obvious reasons it was
above all developed by the Franciscan school (Robert Grosseteste is just
one example). Proportion makes up the quantitative and numerical aspect
of the beauty of the world (symmetry, ordered size ratios), whereas
luminosity is the qualitative aspect (brightness of light, variety of colors).
The two aspects are complementary but go back to a common origin:
the idea of an ordered world in accordance with mathematical relationships which, as we have already said, originate from the biblical Book of
Wisdom (11: 21): omnia numero, pondere et mensura disposuisti. This
concept which comes from such an authoritative source was added to
and developed according to the teachings of the Pythagorean tradition,
known to medieval people mainly through the writings on music of
St. Augustine and Boethius.
In De institutione musica, I, 10 Boethius (1966 [1867]: 196197) recounts
the episode of Pythagoras who had discovered the relationship between
mathematics and music while passing a blacksmith's yard and hearing
that the dierent sounds were produced by the dierent weight of the
hammers which struck the anvil, in accordance with constant proportions. On the other hand the Latin term numerus also means `rhythm':
this is why the concept of harmony was commonly linked to that of
mathematical relationships. Thus, Bonaventure talks about harmony and
proportion referred to characteristics of the beauty of Creation, he does
not only intend them as the similarity of parts which are dissimilar to one
another like symmetry, but also as disparity, possibility of grading,
alternation of dierent things.11 The concept of proportion is also the
basis of the principle of analogy on which St. Bonaventure's metaphysics
is founded.12
The other aspect of the sensitive world, luminosity, had already been
brought up by Grosseteste in the Franciscan school with his theory on
light which tried to bring both the quantitative and numerical aspects as
well as the qualitative ones back to a single principle: light, in fact, conceived as the active principle of corporeity, spreads by its very nature in all
directions, in such a way that bodies extended into space generate from
the dimensionless luminous point and these bodies can be studied
from a geometrical point of view.
Light is, therefore, the principle of the mathematical structure of the
universe; it was the rst thing created by God and because of its capacity
for spreading and multiplying it produced all other existing things.
At the same time, because light in itself is the principle of beauty
(lux per se pulchra est), it takes the intrinsic beauty of Creation into
account. This theory is taken up again by St. Bonaventure who inserts it

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organically into his doctrinal system. Just as light `spreads and multiplies
itself'13 for Robert Grosseteste it also does so for St. Bonaventure because
of its own intrinsic energy; and just as for Robert Grosseteste light is the
rst form created in the prime matter, it is so for St. Bonaventure too.
On the basis of an Aristotelian text quoted many times before (Aristotle,
Physics, II, 2, 194b, in Aristotle 1973: III, 32), St. Bonaventure (in
Secundum Sententiarum, d. 12 a. 1 q. 1 concl., in Bonaventure 18821902:
294) considers that matter is always in relation to a form and thus
matter which is totally lacking in any form is only imaginable by means
of an act of abstraction from our mind, but does not exist in nature.
All beings, except God who is pure form and pure act, consist of matter
and form: in spiritual substances there is spiritual matter and in corporeal
substances there is corporeal matter but matter considered alone is neither
spiritual nor corporeal14 because it is something intangible. There is no
Matter in any place or in any time which can be potential alone, in other
words `a potential being which is really halfway between the non-being
and the being in act'.15
Even at the beginning of time, when the prime matter was directly
created by God, it was created with a cover of some form: the idea of
primordial chaos is a poetical image not a scientic and philosophic
concept.16 In other words corporeal matter was never a formless and inert
mass, because the rst form which was given to it from the beginning of
time was light as active principle. This idea seems to have been given more
credit with experience, because there are no bodies on earth which are so
opaque that they cannot become shiny or sparkling by means of some
process of renement or purication like in the case of sand which
becomes glass or of mineral which becomes a gem.17 The greater or lesser
participation in the active principle of light is what makes up the degree
of reality and of perfection of the bodies.
The fundamental characteristic of light is that of being the most `active'
of all corporeal forms, so much so that it was considered almost an
intermediary between the corporeal forms and spiritual ones. It is the rst
form which actuates the bodies, which gives them extension (because of
its spreading, its capacity for multiplying, dragging the passive and inert
matter with itself ), preparing them to receive any other form. It also gives
all the other forms stability and operative capability.18
Light cannot, therefore, be simply an accidental form but a substantial
form; however, the color and the brilliance which are accidental forms
and sensitive qualities derive from the light which strikes a body as its
substantial form.19
The Bonaventurian doctrine of light implies some important
consequences regarding the simple elements which make up the bodies.

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80 L. Miccoli
According to St. Augustine there are four elements: water, air, re, and
earth; St. Augustine, like nearly all Christian thinkers, does not think
that celestial bodies are made of a dierent matter to that which makes up
the bodies of the sublunary world. Aristotle on the other hand considered
ve elements, in other words, apart from the four elements already
mentioned, he suggested a fth (ether) characteristic of the heavens
which is distinguished from the others because of its inalterability and
incorruptibility.
St. Bonaventure sides with Aristotle's theory, but adds an important
modication, because he identies the fth element as light (cf. the
question entitled: `An Firmamentum sit idem cum ignis elemento',
In secundum Sententiarum, d. 14 p. 1 a. 1 q. 2, in Bonaventure 18821902:
338341). In some critics' opinions this choice may be motivated by a love
for symmetry, by a need to obtain a perfect correspondence between
microcosm and macrocosm: because man's external senses are ve, there
have to be ve elements (Mc Evoy 1973: 333334). Actually St. Augustine
(De genesi ad litteram, 1887: III, 4, 6) as well as Aristotle (De anima,
l, 424b, in Aristotle 1973: III, 161) had tried to make the number of senses
of man correspond to the elements of the bodies, but because he suggested
four elements and ve senses, there was no balance; St. Bonaventure
(Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. 2, 3, in Bonaventure 18821902, V, 1891:
300), on the other hand, by adding light as the object of sight, managed
to make things balance.
Having seen that the real reason is this, it does not mean that the
Bonaventurian theory is without some interesting conclusions from a
philosophical and scientic point-of-view. It should be rst noted that
Aristotle considered a fth element for religious needs, because he considered the heavens the seat of the Gods (De coelo, I, 3, 270b, in Aristotle
1973: 247) and, therefore, consisting of an eternal and almost divine substance whose nature was very dierent from that of the bodies in the
sublunary world. By identifying the fth element as light, St. Bonaventure
managed to make the theory of Aristotle void of any religious-Pagan
signicance and could follow his astronomic doctrines without having
to accept the implications which did not concern scientic knowledge.
The unusual similarity introduced by the power of light in the corporeal
complexion of man thus becomes a key concept. It must not, however, be
considered in quantitative terms as if all the elements had been weighed
and mixed without considering their diering properties, but rather in a
qualitative sense which consists of a proportioned equilibrium of the
elements joined together according to appropriate proportions and to
the needs of the form to which the body is destined. The celestial nature
can, thus, be predicated to anything if taken in the qualitative sense. It is

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Two thirteenth-century theories of light 81


in this sense that it is said that the spirit, which belongs to the complexion
of every animal body and in a privileged manner to the human body, is of
celestial nature: it comes from a mixture of the elements in a certain
harmony and in a certain agreement.
Now the harmony which is to be found in the human body is of a degree
higher than that to be found in any other body and from this it is derived
that its vital warmth, its spirit and its energy reach a single degree of
conformity to the ve elements. The fact that light comes into the constitution of the human body in a privileged manner is proved by the
quality of its complexion and its dignity.
St. Bonaventure thus hopes to have demonstrated that the dignity of
the human body is something unique which consists of incomparable
harmony and of proportioned conjunction of its parts. At this state of our
pilgrimage this harmony makes the human body similar to the nature of
the heavens and pregures its glorication after the resurrection and
its exaltation beyond the Heavens, in the light of the Empyrean
(cf. Bonaventure, In secundum Sententiarum, d. 17 a. 2 q. 2 ad 6,
in Bonaventure 18821902: 423).
Notes
1. Thonnard 1962 identies ten dierent senses in which St. Augustine uses the term `light'.
2. `Verbun enim Patris est Filius, quod et Sapientia eius dicitur. Quid ergo mirum si
mittitur, non quia inaequalis est Patri, sed quia est emanatio quaedam claritatis
omnipotentis Dei sinceris? Ibi autem quod manat et de quo manat unius eiusdem
substantiae est. Neque enim sicut aqua de foramine terrae aut lapidis manat, sed sicut lux
de luce. Nam quod dictum est: Candor est enim lucis aeternae, quid aliud dictum est
quam lux est lucis aeternae? Candor quippe lucis quid, nisi lux est? Et ideo coaeterna luci
de qua lux est' (De Trinitate, 4.20, in St. Augustine 1973: 220).
3. `sed potius credendum mentis intellecualis ita conditam esse naturam, ut rebus
intelligibilibus naturali ordine disponente Conditore subiuncta sic ista videat in quadam
luce sui generis incorporea, quemadmodum oculus carnis videt quae in hac corporea luce
circumadiacent, cuius lucis capax eique congruens est creatus' (St. Augustine 1973: 496).
4. Cf. Avicebron, Fons Vitae, 1859, also for translations into Medieval Latin, English, and
French.
5. `Cum assignantur quator conditiones entis communiter, scilicet unum, verum, bonum
et pulchrum, quaeritur qualiter distinguuntur et penes quid sumantur _' (in Henquinet
1932: 654).
6. `Omnis enim creatura constituitur in esse ab eciente, conformatur ad exemplar
et ordinatur ad nem; ac per hoc est una, vera, bona; modicata, speciosa, ordinata,
mensurata, discreta et ponderata' (in Henquinet 1932: 654).
7. `Homo igitur, qui dicitur minor mundus, habet quinque sensus quasi quinque portas, per
quas intrat cognitio omnium, quae sunt in mundo sensibili, in animam ipsius'
(Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. 2, 3, in Bonaventura l8821902,
V, 1891: 300).

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82 L. Miccoli
8. `Ad hanc apprehensionem, si sit rei convenientis, sequitur oblectatio. Delectatur
autem sensus in obiecto per similitudinem abstractam percepto vel ratione speciositatis,
sicut in visu, vel ratione suavitatis, sicut in odoratu et auditu, vel ratione salubritatis,
sicut in gustu et tactu, appropriate loquendo. Omnis autem delectatio est ratione
proportionalitatis' (Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. 3, 5, in Bonaventura
18821902, V, 1891: 300).
9. `Post hanc apprehensionem et oblectationem t diiudicatio, qua non solum diiudicatur,
utrum hoc sit album vel nigrum, quia hoc pertinet ad sensum particularem; non solum
utrum sit salubre vel nocivum, quia hoc pertinet ad sensum interiorem; verum etiam,
qua diiudicatur et ratio redditur, quare hoc delectat; et in hoc actu inquiritur de ratione
delectationis, quae in sensu percipitur ab obiecto. Hoc est autem, cum quaeritur ratio
pulchri, suavis et salubris: et invenitur, quod haec est proportio aequalitatis'
(Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. 2, 6, in Bonaventura 18821902, V,
1891: 301).
10. `Pulchritudo autem rerum secundum varietatem luminum, gurarum et colorum
in corporibus simplicibus, mixtis et etiam complexionatis, sicut in corporibus
caelestibus et mineralibus, sicut lapidibus et metallis, plantis et animalibus'
(Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, c. 1, 14, in Bonaventura 18821902, V,
1891: 229).
11. `necesse est quod ex quadam convenienti diversitate, in quadam proportionali
gradatione consurgat quaedam convenientia ordinata et pulchritudo in genere creaturae
perfecta' (Bonaventure, In secundum Sententiarum, 6d. 9 a. un. Q. 8, in Bonaventura
18821902, II, 1885: 255256).
12. In order to resolve the antinomy between the univocalness or the equivocalness (the use
of identical words to indicate things which have nothing in common) of the attributes
which we give to God and to nished Beings St. Bonaventure uses mathematical
concepts of proportion (intended as a ratio between quantities of a dierent size) and
proportionality (intended as the similarity between two ratios). He then tries to dene
the concept of analogy on the basis of these models, in other words a way of attributing
which comes halfway between univocalness and equivocalness, which he considered
to be the only valid way to understand the mysterious reality which transcends our
experience.
13. `quanto lumen est maius, tanto magis se diundit et multiplicat' (Bonaventure,
In secundum Sententiarum, 2, d. 2, a. 1 q. 2 fund. 4, in Bonaventura 18821902, II,
1885: 73); `cum lucis sit ex se ipsa se ipsam multiplicare' (Bonaventure, In secundum
Sententiarum, d. 13 a. 2 q. 1 conclus., in Bonaventura 18821902, II, 1885: 318).
14. `nam materia in se considerata nec est spiritualis nec est corporalis' (Bonaventure,
In secundum Sententiarum, d. 3 p. 1 a. 1 q. 2 ad 3, in Bonaventura 18821902, II,
1885: 98).
15. `Quamvis ens in potentia simpliciter inter non-ens et ens-actu sit medium _'
(Bonaventure, In secundum Sententiarum, in Bonaventura 18821902, d. 12 a. 1 q.
1 ad 6, II, 1885: 294).
16. `Quidam namque voluerunt dicere quod materia illa diceretur chaos propter formarum
multitudinem et contrarietatem, quae erat in partibus materiae _ Sed iste modus
ponendi potius est poeticus quam philosophicus, quia magis sequitur imaginationis
ctionem quam rationem' (Bonaventure, In secundum Sententiarum, q. 3 concl.,
in Bonaventura 18821902, II, 1885: 300).
17. `Et quod omnia corpora naturam lucis participent, hoc satis de plano ostendunt, quia
vix est corpus opacum, quin per multam tersionem et politionem possit eci luminosum, sicut patet, cum de cinere t vetrum, et de terra carbunculus' (Bonaventure,

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Two thirteenth-century theories of light 83


In secundum Sententiarum, d. 13 a. 2 q. 2 concl., in Bonaventura 18821902, II,
1885: 321).
18. `Forma enim lucis cum ponitur in eodem corpore cum alia forma, non ponitur sicut
dispositio imperfecta, quae nata sit perci per ultimam formam, sed ponitur tamquam
forma et natura omnis alterius corporalis formae conservativa et dans ei agendi
ecaciam; et secundum quam attenditur cuiuslibet formae corporalis mensura in
dignitate et excellentia' (Bonaventure, In secundum Sententiarum, d. 13 a. 2 q. 2 ad 5,
in Bonaventura 18821902, II, 1885: 321).
19. `Verum est enim quod lux, cum sit forma nobilissima inter corporalia, sicut dicunt
philosophi et Sancti, secundum cuius partecipationem maiorem et minorem sunt corpora magis et minus entia, est substantialis forma. Verum est etiam quod, cum lux sit per
se sensibilis, sit etiam instrumentum operandi, sit etiam augmentabilis et minuibilis,
salva forma substantiali, quod ipsa habet naturam formae accidentalis' (Bonaventure,
In secundum Sententiarum, d. 13 a. 2 q. 2, in Bonaventura 18821902, II, 1885: 321).

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Grosseteste, Roberto (1912). De natura locorum. In Die philosophischen Werke des Robert
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Henquinet, Francois Marie (1932). Un brouillon autographe de S. Bonaventure sur le
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McEvoy, Jan (1973). Microcosm and Macrocosm in the Writings of St. Bonaventure.
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centenary of his death), 309343. Grottaferrata: Collegio S. Bonaventura.

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84 L. Miccoli
(1982). The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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Columbia University Press.
Lucia Miccoli (b. 1949) is Professor of Medieval Philosophy at Bari University, Italy. Her
principal research interests include epistemology and the relationship between science and
technology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Her major publications include
`Quaestiones disputatae a magistro Gentili de Cingulo super Prisciano minori' (1983),
`L'oggetto della conoscenza scientica nel Prologo del Commento alle Sentenze di G. da
Rimini' (1987), and `Il problema dei futuri contingenti in Anselmo d'Aosta' (1987).

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