Reply to Review

by Edith Sylla,
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004.08.09

Edith Sylla's review of the British Academy edition of Richard Rufus of Cornwall's In Physicam Aristotelis serves scholars well in several respects. They can, for example, see how the edition compares with the transcriptions Cecilia Trifogli made independently and compare the claims of Timothy Noone and Peter Raedts about Rufus' works.

Sylla's doubts about the date and attribution of the work, however, are misleading. She should not have said: “For Wood's claim that this is the earliest such text, the attribution to Richard Rufus is essential.” The date of the text can be established quite independently. The manuscript itself was written before 1250; paleographical evidence indicates a date around 1240. Also, the text is frequently cited by lecturers active in the mid-thirteenth-century, including Roger Bacon, whose lectures on the libri naturales ended about 1247.

Most of Bacon's citations of Rufus are paraphrases. However, at least one of his citations of Rufus' In Physicam includes a short verbatim quotation. According to Bacon, proponents of a position he rejects (alia positio) believe that a measure such as a denary does not number ten things because they are those ten things but because one is replicated ten times among them. At In Physicam 4.3.18 (p. 180), Rufus uses the same words to explain what appears to him (mihi videtur). The two statements are reproduced below using the stylistic conventions of the Bacon edition (Opera hactenus inedita (OHI) 13: 277).

Bacon, OHI 13: 277
Similiter dicunt de denario quia
non numerat hec .x.
quia hec .x., sed quia in his est
totius replicatum.
Rufus, In Phys., p. 180
Propterea mihi videtur ...
Denarius mensurat hec .x. non
quia hec, sed quia in his est
unum totius replicatum,
et illud invenitur in omnibus decem.

So the lectures must have been given before 1245, probably before 1240, which suffices to establish the claim that they are the earliest surviving lectures on the Physics, quite without reference to any dates in their author's career. They are not, however, earlier than the first of Grosseteste's notes on the Physics. So Sylla need not fear an attempt “to take the laurels ... away from, say, Robert Grosseteste.”

The attribution of this Physics commentary to Richard Rufus was much more difficult to establish than its date, since no header or colophon naming him survives. However, it was obvious at once that he might be its author, since the same manuscript quires preserve Rufus' first and last lectures as a member of the arts faculty at Paris, his Memoriale in Metaphysicam Aristotelis (MMet) and his Scriptum in Metaphysicam Aristotelis (SMet). Part of a larger collection, in the thirteenth-century they were foliated 1-44 (SMet), 45-57 (In Phys.) and 162-172 (MMet). Those quires include an index written in one of the original hands. The index is faded and very hard to read, but it includes at least six references to SMet and six references to In Phys. So originally In Phys. followed SMet without a break, and they were indexed together, which indicates that they were taken to be works by the same author.

The circa 1410-1412 Amplonian catalog attributes the Erfurt redaction of SMet, like the Physics commentary, to Walter Burley (fl. ca. 1300-1344). But unlike the Physics commentary, SMet also survives with a header naming Richard Rufus in Vat. Lat. 4538. Moreover, SMet can be dated not just before 1245, but before 1238, since it is cited as a work by a secular author in Rufus' Sententiae Oxonienses, as Gedeon Gál established in 1950 ("Commentarius in «Metaphysicam» Aristotelis," Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, p. 214). And Thomas Eccleston's De adventu (col. 3, 6) indicates that Richard Rufus joined the Franciscan Order at Paris as a Master of Arts in 1238.

Though manuscript evidence made the attribution of In Physicam to Richard Rufus probable, further evidence was desirable. The introduction to In Phys. provides such evidence, including references to In Phys., mostly from SMet, and statements of characteristic views shared by SMet and In Phys.. The references were difficult to verify and one was mistakenly characterized. Since the marginal reference to "Bonaventura, Ricardus" reported by Anneliese Maier (Zwei Grundprobleme, 190) in the excerpt she published from Franciscus de Marchia's discussion of projectile motion appears in only one manuscript and was not penned by the original scribe, we cannot consider this a reference to Bonaventure and Richard by its author.

As In Physicam's introduction notes, most of the self-references are not probative. The last two of the five references are very strong, however. Both the fourth (discovered by Adrien Pattin) and the fifth are references to Rufus' views on instantaneous change -- a case where Rufus' views differ from Aristotle's, since unlike Aristotle, Rufus has to account for creation and annihilation, changes to or from pure nothingness. Rufus holds that when something is created from nothing, what is changing is the same as what has changed, and the change is instantaneous, since there is nothing intermediate between contradictories (In Phys. 6.1.8-11, pp. 192-195). In researching a series of authors, Roberto Plevano found no other author prior to 1250 who held this distinctive position. So these references like the manuscript evidence indicate that Richard Rufus is the author of In Phys. And, of course, if SMet cites In Phys., it was written before 1238.

So here are the dates to keep in mind:

1231 Parens scientiarum: classes resume at Paris
1238 Rufus enters the Franciscan Order at Paris (Eccleston, De adventu col. 6)
SMet must have been written before this event.
1245 Last date the codex (Erfurt Q290) which preserves In Phys. could have been copied
1247 Last date Bacon's Questiones super libros octo Physicorum could have cited In Phys.
1250 Date of Rufus' Sententiae Oxonienses that quotes SMet (Bacon, Compendium 4.86)

We started by showing In Phys. was written between 1231 and 1245 (or at the very latest 1247) and SMet was written between 1231 and 1238. Since there is good evidence that SMet cites views stated in In Phys. and not elsewhere, that dates In Phys. between 1231 and 1237.

As Sylla rightly remarks, establishing what are and are not distinctive views is usually very difficult, since we need many more editions “before we can really determine which views were original and which views were common.” This is indeed hard to know, and doubtless impossible to know with complete certainty, since so many works have been lost from the medieval period. However, if a view is not reported in another known author, active before 1245, that will have to suffice — as in the case, for example, of Rufus' claim that in cases of instantaneous change what is changing has changed. Similarly, there is Rufus' account of substantial change in terms of weak identify, common to In Phys. and SMet. Variations are quite common in Bonaventure and others from about 1250, as Elizabeth Karger has shown, but not before then.

So a philosophical profile drawn from views otherwise unattested before 1245 emerges. Rufus was concerned to understand properly Aristotle's views and willing to depart from them if, but only if, Rufus thought that theological considerations required as much. In her work on naming, Karger showed that Rufus moved from stating a clear account of Aristotle's views on naming to establishing a distinctively Christian alternative. By contrast, Rufus did not think that the doctrine of the Eucharist required a revision of the Aristotelian account of accidents. At least as Rufus understood Aristotle, he denied that separated accidents could exist. As Sylvia Donati and Fabrizio Amerini have recently shown, Rufus was followed in that respect by Roger Bacon and Albert the Great. From about 1250, however, theologians such as St. Bonaventure allowed an exception for the Eucharist (Sent., OO 4.272-274). This did not prompt Rufus to change his mind. Even when lecturing on the Sentences according to Bonaventure, Rufus denied that revision was necessary. Such opinions were constructs (ficta) contrary to philosophy rightly understood (In Phys., p. 64). Thus, accounting for the Eucharist did not require Christian philosophers to revise Aristotle's philosophy. The doctrine of creation, however, did seem to require a theory of instantaneous mutation different from Aristotle's account of motion. Similarly, safeguarding God's knowledge of creatures dictated a departure in the case of naming. Rufus took himself to be bound both by the demands of his faith and by philosophy rightly understood.

Returning now to the attribution, here is a summary of the evidence: In Phys. dates from the time of Richard Rufus' lectures as an Arts master. It was thought to be by the same author as SMet when it was copied around 1240. A couple of references from Rufus's SMet can definitely be verified in In Phys. and in no other known work. Moreover, the views it states fit the profile of views stated by Rufus elsewhere. Thus the attribution to Richard Rufus is the conclusion dictated by the evidence. If and when we have more editions of similar works, as Sylla says, conclusions about its attribution will be more secure. But the evidence will always be limited, and it will never be secure in the sense that twentieth century attributions are secure, unless there are a number of entirely unexpected manuscript discoveries.

The chronology of Bacon's life, like Rufus', has been difficult to establish, partly on account of Fernand van Steenberghen's claim that the libri naturales, including the Physics, were not taught before 1245. Like many of Rufus' works, Bacon's early lectures have survived only in a single manuscript, Amiens 406, which dates from the end of the thirteenth century or the beginning of the fourteenth century. Some but not all of the works in Amiens 406 are explicitly ascribed to Bacon. One of the works in Amiens 406, however, is attributed instead to Peter Bacon. No known scholastic author ever cited a view stated in these works as Roger's. This does not mean that we should doubt the attribution to Roger Bacon. We should be aware, however, that our certainty about the works preserved in Amiens 406 rests at least as much on the fact that they were discovered in 1848 rather than 1984, as it does on the evidence at hand. We must be suspicious of textbooks, and of “what everyone knows.” As Henry Brooks Adams wrote: “Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.”

Rega Wood, October 2007