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John of Salisbury

Born: c. 1120
Birthplace: Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Died: 25-Oct-1180
Location of death: Chartres, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Chartres, France

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author, Diplomat

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Policraticus and Metalogicon

English author, diplomat and bishop, born at Salisbury between the years 1115 and 1120. Beyond the fact that he was of Saxon, not of Norman race, and applies to himself the cognomen of Parvus, "short", or "small", few details are known regarding his early life; but from his own statements it is gathered that he crossed to France about 1136, and began regular studies in Paris under Peter Abelard, who had there for a brief period re-opened his famous school on Mont St. Geneviève. After Abelard's retirement, John carried on his studies under Alberich of Reims and Robert of Melun. From 1138 to 1140 he studied grammar and the classics under William of Conches and Richard l'Evêque, the disciples of Bernard of Chartres, though it is still a matter of controversy whether it was in Chartres or not. Bernard's teaching was distinguished partly by its pronounced Platonic tendency, partly by the stress laid upon literary study of the greater Latin writers; and the influence of the latter feature is noticeable in all John of Salisbury's works. About 1140 he was at Paris studying theology under Gilbert de la Porrée, then under Robert Pullus and Simon of Poissy. In 1148 be resided at Moûtiers la Celle in the diocese of Troyes, with his friend Peter of Celle. He was present at the council of Reims, presided over by Pope Eugenius III, and was probably presented by St. Bernard of Clairvaux to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, at whose court he settled, probably about 1150. Appointed secretary to Theobald, he was frequently sent on missions to the papal see. During this time he composed his greatest works, published almost certainly in 1159, the Policraticus, sive de nugis curialium el de vestigiis philosophorum and the Metalogicus, writings invaluable as storehouses of information regarding the matter and form of scholastic education, and remarkable for their cultivated style and humanist tendency. After the death of Theobald in 1161, John continued as secretary to Thomas Becket, and took an active part in the long disputes between that primate and his sovereign, Henry II. His letters throw light on the constitutional struggle then agitating the English world. With Becket he withdrew to France during the king's displeasure; he returned with him in 1170, and was present at his assassination. In the following years, during which he continued in an influential situation in Canterbury, but at what precise date is unknown, he drew up the Life of Thomas Becket. In 1176 he was made bishop of Chartres, where he passed the remainder of his life. In 1179 he took an active part in the council of the Lateran. He died at or near Chartres on the 25th of October 1180.

John's writings enable us to understand with much completeness the literary and scientific position of the 12th century. His views imply a cultivated intelligence well versed in practical affairs, opposing to the extremes of both nominalism and realism a practical common sense. His doctrine is a kind of utilitarianism, with a strong leaning on the speculative side to the modified literary scepticism of Cicero, for whom he had unbounded admiration. He was a humanist before the Renaissance, surpassing all other representatives of the school of Chartres in his knowledge of the Latin classics, as in the purity of his style, which was evidently moulded on that of Cicero. Of Greek writers he appears to have known nothing at first hand, and very little in translations. The Timaeus of Plato in the Latin version of Chalcidius was known to him as to his contemporaries and predecessors, and probably he had access to translations of the Phaedo and Meno. Of Aristotle he possessed the whole of the Organon in Latin; he is, indeed, the first of the medieval writers of note to whom the whole was known. Of other Aristotelian writings he appears to have known nothing.

    Roman Catholic Bishop Chartres (1176-80)


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