Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170-1253)


By Jack Cunningham, published 4th January 2017

England’s forgotten philosopher

Jack Cunningham considers a medieval philosopher, the significance of whose ideas has grown in importance through the centuries.

An appreciation of Grosseteste the thinker has not always been at its appropriate level during the almost 800 years since his death. If historians have paid attention to the great man this  has largely been focused on his life rather than his writings. What is more Grosseteste has, with his well-documented disagreements with the papacy, provided a useful  figure for Protestant historians who were quick to score polemical points. Since his contemporary Matthew Paris told his audience that the ghost of Robert Grosseteste  actually killed Pope Innocent IV with a blow from his crosier, then it is not hard to see why writers like the great English Reformed historian John Foxe (1516-87)  might have been inclined to consider him as one of their own: a type of proto-reformer of the thirteenth-century. In the second half of the nineteenth century German and English scholars began to turn to the  writings of Grosseteste and a greater understanding of him as a philosopher and scientist began to emerge. In 1924 the Cambridge Professor of  Metaphysics, Alexander Smith, addressing the British Academy predicted that Grosseteste  would soon enjoy a renaissance. When three years later George Lemaître put forward...

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