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  • Freedom and Contingency in the Sentences Commentary of Francis of Meyronnes
  • Bert Roest

This review essay has been inspired by Francesco Fiorentino's 2006 study Libertà e contingenza nel pensiero tardomedievale,1 which provides a detailed analysis and an edition of the 38th distinction of Francis of Meyronnes' 'Conflatus' (the final version of his commentary on the first book of Lombard's Sentences). As with some of his earlier articles and book-length studies on Gregory of Rimini and other early fourteenth-century figures,2 Fiorentino grapples in this book with some central theological issues in the decades after Scotus's teachings in Paris, namely the relation between God as omniscient and omnipotent creator and his contingent creation, and the reconciliation between God's foreknowledge and human freedom.

There is a general understanding among specialists of late medieval Franciscan thought that the teachings of Scotus at Oxford and Paris had formed a watershed in dealing with these issues, and that most Franciscan theologians after Scotus took his teachings as a major point of departure. Yet the latest research indicates that this did not mean a slavish adherence to the Doctor Subtilis. The detailed studies and editions that are currently appearing show that we are confronted by significant independent masters, able to follow [End Page 323] the depths of Scotus's arguments but willing to develop their own stance within the debates of their time.

Francis of Meyronnes (ca. 1288-ca. 1327) is without doubt one of the more important Franciscan theologians in this very period. As his name already indicates, he was born in Meyronnes (Alpes de Haute-Provence), in a family that maintained close contacts with the Anjou dynasty (Counts of Provence and rulers of the Kingdom of Naples). Francis joined the Franciscan Order at Digne (Provence province), and received an education in logic and philosophy before he was allowed to pursue a lectorate course at the Paris studium generale (Fall 1304–July 1307), where he became acquainted with the theology of Scotus.

After his studies to become a lector, he taught between 1307 and 1320 as a lecturer's assistant and as a philosophy and theology lector in consecutive assignments in the schools of the custody and in provincial studia in the French and Italian provinces of the Order. He also fulfilled in this period a stint as Custos of the Sisteron custody. Based on his teaching performance, which would have included philosophical teachings as well as a series of lectures on the Sentences of Lombard pro exercitio in the provincial school network, he was allowed to return to Paris to read the Sentences pro gradu between 1320-1322. Immediately following these Sentences lectures, Francis completed the obligatory post-sentential exercises through participation in a number of disputed and quodlibetal questions (i.e. the Disputatio Collativa with Pierre Roger, O.S.B. [the future Clement VI]), in order to become eligible for the magisterium with the licentia ubique docendi. During this period between his Sentences lectures pro gradu and his promotion, he worked towards an edited version of his Sentences commentary and published some of his works on Augustine's De Trinitate, as well as several other texts related to his teaching and disputation activities.

Francis was able to build on his family connections with the house of Anjou. This showed for example in his contacts with Elzéar of Sabran, preceptor of King Robert of Naples (Francis eventually heard Elzear's final confession and held the official eulogy after his death on 27 September 1323). Either through Francis's contacts with Elzéar or directly, [End Page 324] King Robert obtained a sufficiently high opinion of Francis to sponsor his promotion to the magisterium theologiae. At the King's instigation, Pope John XXII wrote a papal letter to the chancellor of the University of Paris on 24 May 1323, asking him to bestow on Francis "the license to teach everywhere" (licentia ubique docendi). Thus, Francis became a magister bullatus. Yet it is a bit unfair to suggest, to quote Francesco Fiorentino, that he received the doctorate "secondo l'uso dell'epoca, senza alcun concorso competitivo."3 The procedure of granting the licentia ubique docendi by papal bull...