Thursday, October 9, 2008

Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, 1235-1253

Today is the anniversary of the death of Robert Grosseteste, reforming bishop of the diocese of Lincoln and probable forerunner of the English reformation. Rather than relate the whole of his history I am going to refer readers to where they can get something of a more complete picture of the stature of this great English bishop and possible saint. The reason that I am doing this is because the very good bishop had a very great influence in my own life and I am going to attempt to bore you with the story.

Many, many years ago when I was at university we had a new professor of philosophy arrive from Hungary of all places. He was selected to teach a course in medieval philosophy and I rushed to be among the first who signed up. At the first class meeting I noticed the resemblance between he and my fencing master who was also an Hungarian. They looked alike and had much the same way of speaking - something like sabre slashes. It did not take him very long before he had developed a great disdain for our lack of intellectual preparation and he was not silent about it. When he assigned papers on certain medieval philosophical works, he got a complain that there were no English translations and that they were all in Latin. His response: "So, learn Latin, but make sure that you get your papers in on time." Strangely, most of us did. On another ocassions he was railing on about our general ignorance of European and even English history which led to an agonized cry that he was sure that no one in the class had the slightest idea of who Robert Grosseteste was or his importance.

That led me to raise my hand. When permitted to speak this fledgling Anglican told he and the class that Grosseteste was a thirteenth century bishop of Lincoln and probably the greatest intellectual of his time. I carried on about the diversity of his scientific writings, his conflicts with Henry III and support for Simon Montfort and the reforms which he brought to the diocese of Lincoln. I even went on about his eventual conflict with the pope over the provision of livings for Italian clerics who never showed to do the work. I guess I just went on and on.

When I finished the professor looked at me and said, "Get out; you've got your A." I replied, "I am not leaving a class where the professor knows about Grosseteste." And I didn't.

The Episcopal Church now counts him as a saint as his own diocese did for fifty years after his death. He never made it into the official Roman calendar of saints, probably for his challenging of the papacy on their corruption and the corruption which they were inflicting upon the English Church. So he was left to be forgotten, but how can you forget the man who is probably the father of the scientific method and the English intellectual tradition?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! C.B. Moss is spot on (per usual).

Perhaps it is time to revive an "extra-mural" version of the old Anglican Society of which C.B. Moss was such a prominent member.