Robert Grosseteste

c.1168-1253. Bishop of Lincoln and initiator of the English scientific tradition. Little is known of his life, but he was born of poor parents and studied at either Oxford or Paris. He became a member of the Arts faculty at Oxford and was made chancellor sometime between 1214 and 1221. He then became lecturer to the Oxford Franciscans (1229), leaving this post to take the bishopric of Lincoln (1235), England's largest diocese, where he remained till his death. He was a zealous bishop, deposing many abbots and priors because they neglected to staff adequately the parish churches in their care. He attended the Council of Lyons (1245) and in 1250 visited Rome, where he delivered a sermon in which he declared that the papal court was the origin of all the evils in the church; he objected also to the appointment of Italian friends and relatives of the pope to rich English benefices. The last years of his life were spent in a struggle to stop one of these appointments.

Grosseteste was just as independent in his dealings with the English monarch. He believed churchmen should not hold civil office and asserted that a bishop did not in any way derive his authority from the civil power. At times he refused to carry out royal orders in his diocese and threatened the king with excommunication.

He combined the churchman's active life with a variety of scholarly interests. He lived at a crucial period in the intellectual history of W Europe when the philosophic and scientific works of Aristotle were being recovered from the Muslims. As a teacher, commentator, and translator he took an active part in this movement. Although basically Augustinian in outlook and relying on standard authors, he was heavily influenced by Muslim, Jewish, and Aristotelian works. He never wrote a comprehensive philosophical work or devised a system, but his views had a profound effect upon later scientific thought. The most important of his many works are De Luce (“Light”), De Motu Corporali et Luce (“Corporal Motion and Light”), Hexameron, and commentaries on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics and Physics. Basic to Grosseteste's view of the universe is his metaphysics of light. He believed light was the first form to be created in prime matter, and from it all else developed. He also taught that God's existence could be proved from the argument of motion. Twentieth-century scholars have been interested in his recovery and elaboration of scientific method.

S.H. Thomson, The Writings of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, 1235-1253 (1940); A.C. Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science (1953); D.A. Callus (ed.), Robert Grosseteste, Scholar and Bishop (1955).