John Of Salisbury
school latin writers life
JOHN OF SALISBURY (c. 1115-1180), a distinguished writer of the 12th century, was born at Salisbury in Wiltshire between the years 1110 and 1120. From the cognomen Aunts, which he applies to himself, and from the fact that he was of Saxon, not of Norman race, it may be inferred that his name was Short, or Small, or Little. Few details are known regarding his early life or rank in society; but from his own statements it is gathered that he crossed to France about the year 1131, and began regular studies in Paris under Abelard, who had there for a brief period reopened his famous school on Mont St Genevieve. After Abelard's retirement, John carried on his studies under Alberich, Robert of Melun, and Robert Pulleyn. Three years he spent at the great school of Chartres, mainly under William of Conches, though it would seem that he had been a pupil of the founder of the school, Bernard Silvester. 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. Returning to Paris, he spent some years there, partly as teacher, partly as pupil of Adam de Ponto Parvo and Gilbert de la Porrde. Whether lie attended any of the teachers of the Victorin school is uncertain, but his mode of thinking in theological subjects bears unmistakable traces of the peculiar views of these writers. Probably in the year 1147 or 1148 he crossed to England, with a letter of recommendation from Peter of Celli to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury. For thirteen years he acted as secretary to Theobald, and was frequently ambassador from the English primate to the papal see. During this time he composed his greatest works, published almost certainly in 1159, the Policraticns, sive de Xuyis Curicdium et de Vestigiis Philosophorum and the Metalogicus, writings invaluable as storehouses of information regarding the matter and form of scholastic education, and remarkable for their cultured literary style and humanist tendency. After the death of Theobald in 1061, John continued to occupy the post of secretary to his successor, the famous chancellor Thomas Becket, and took an active part in the long disputes between the primate and his sovereign, Henry II. His letters are of great value for the light they throw upon the obscure course of the constitutional struggle then agitating the English world. With Becket he withdrew to France during the king's displeasure; he returned with him in 1169, and was present at his assassination in 1170. 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 St Thomas a Becket, and somewhat later the Life of St Anselm. In 1176 he was made bishop of Chartres, where he passed the remainder of his life. The date of his death has been variously given as 1182, 1181, or 1180 ; the strongest reasons are in favour of the last.
John's writings are not in any strict sense philosophical, but they give much information regarding the general currents of thinking at the time, and enable us to understand with much completeness the literary and scientific position of the 12th century. So far as his own views are concerned, they are such as one might expect from a cultured intelligence well versed in practical affairs. His doctrine, on the whole, is a kind of a utilitarianism, with a strong leaning, on the side of speculative questions, to the modified, literary scepticism of Cicero. For Cicero, indeed, he has unbounded admiration, and his Latin style, unusually excellent when compared with the average Latinity of the scholastic writers, is evidently moulded on that of Cicero. The remarkable feature of his writings, apart from their value as giving information respecting studies in the 12th century, is their strongly marked humanist tendency. To some extent this is common to John and to his predecessors in the school of Chartres, but no other writer seems to have possessed so extensive and competent an acquaintance with the great works of Latin classical literature. Of Greek writers he appears to have known nothing at first hand, and very little in translations. The Tintmus 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 Phxdo and Hen°. Of Aristotle he possessed, in Latin version, the whole of the Orgamon ; he is, indeed, the first of the medimval writers of note to whom the whole was known. Of other Aristotelian writings he appears to have known nothing.
The Polieratieus seems first to have been printed in 1476, in folio; a quarto reprint reappeared in 1513, and an octavo in the same year, but from different MS. sources ; the most common edition is that of 1639. The Hetalogicits was first printed in 1610; the best known edition is that of 1639. The Enthetims, or more correctly Xutheticus, was first printed in 1843 by C. Petersen. The collected editions of the works are by J. A. Giles, 5 vole., Oxford, 1848, and by Migne, in the Pettrologix Clicrsits, vol. 199, - neither accurate. The most complete study of John of Salisbury is the monograph by Schaarsclamidt, Johannes Sarisbcrienis nach Leben mid Studien, Sehriflen and Philosophic, which is a model of accurate and complete workmanship.