Philosopher, theologian, and critic of the crusades.
Born in Somerset (England) around 1214, Bacon entered the Franciscan Order between 1240 and 1257 as a professor at the university at Oxford. He was soon famed as a polymath whose inquisitive mind took him into regions that most contemporaries either could not imagine or did not dare to enter. Enemies accused him of practicing the black arts and astrology, of dabbling in heresy and alchemy. Modern scholars, in contrast, see him as a courageous pioneer of science, education, and the study of classical and modern languages. Bacon’s opposition to the crusades rested on Christian principles, astrological concepts, and practical politics, and they made him a center of polemical debate. His statement that Christ had urged his followers to abstain from violence was widely acknowledged as sound doctrine, but numerous popes had declared the crusades lawful wars. Bacon’s assertion that each of the six major religions could be identified with one of the planets and thus might be approached by appropriate methods at the right moment for converting its followers was more contentious, but at the time Franciscan missionaries were arguing that pagans could be persuaded of their errors by skilled missionaries (Muslims would be more difficult, because they had skilled philosophers). His pragmatic arguments were difficult to refute, because the Franks in the Holy Land were obviously on the defensive; moreover, Bacon was better acquainted with Arab thought than almost any contemporary. A man of strong opinions, with ability to defend them, Bacon provides modern scholars of the crusades with insights into medieval scholastic arguments on the concept of holy war.