3rd International Grosseteste Conference: Day 2

The second day of the conference, and another intriguing array of papers, building the theme of how scientific and theological instincts and interests cohere (or did not), in Grosseteste and his contemporaries. The first parallel sessions included, Robert Ball on readers of Grosseteste on the Psalms, and Philippa Hoskin on the use of Aristotle in Grosseteste’s advice to his clergy. The theme of pastoral care as a the locus for learning emerged in a number of the papers from the conference. The purpose of learning was all important: reform and the right use of reason underlying the ideal. Grosseteste’s care for his clergy, by encouragement and by discipline was striking, and fully integrated to his translation of Aristotle’s Nichomacean Ethics and his earlier reading and absorption of the theological and philosophical authorities. In the second session, Ordered Universe’s Richard Bower presentedRichard the mathematical interpretation of the De luce, and how the complex modelling of the medieval cosmos was realised. The mathematical modelling, as the paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society showed, took a very long time, and involved the simulation of a huge number of possible universes based on the calculations – the one that Grosseteste presents is indeed possible in this working out. At the same time Christopher Bonfield talked on on medicine and health in the first half of the 13th century, and Jack Cunningham on Lateran IV and the development of Grosseteste’s cosmology. Jack’s paper explored the context of early thirteenth century Paris, and the condemnations of heresies in the second clause of Lateran IV, as well as Grosseteste’s use of Jewish-Arabic texts by Avicebron.

20140719_114124Our second keynote, was delivered by Tom McLeish, in a paper of wider arc and reach, taking Grosseteste as the fulcrum, in between biblical and patristic thought about the natural, and created world, and modern science. The  need for deeper and stronger narratives to express scientific positions and debates more generally, but also more centrally to our societies as a whole, came through strongly; narratives that, mutatis mutandis, were rather more obviously existent in earlier periods. A lively debate ensued about the nature of science, and theology, or religion, Science of Theology rather than Science and Theology, and the wider implications of those valances and emphases. Taking Tom’s talk against Grosseteste’s Hexaemeron, and the pre-eminent role given in creation to Christology, as that which unifies: God to man, Creation to Creator, Church to Christ and so forth, was striking. Unity and complexity emerge as powerful themes to explore.

A lovely occasion followed, with the presentation of the Bishop Grosseteste Schools Essay Prize, another wonderful initiative from Bishop Grosseteste University. The two winners from local schools were invited to attend the second day of the conference and each received a copy of Tom’s Faith and Wisdom in Science (signed and presented in person!).

Roger Bacon
Roger Bacon


In the afternoon, the final parallel session included Lydia Harris, speaking on medical topics, of conception, creation andconsciousness, and  Cecilia Panti on the theological use of science and philosophy in Grosseteste and Adam Marsh. The examples of the rainbow, and of the angels, the latter emerging in Grosseteste’s first letter in particular, were the key locations for this theme. The relation between Grosseteste, Marsh and Bacon is intriguing, and Cecilia laid out the evidence for Bacon’s familiarity with his older master: it is possible, and plausible, that Bacon did study under Grosseteste, but, as is all too often the case, the evidence is not conclusive.

An afternoon visit to Lincoln Cathedral made a wonderful break in the proceedings, although Grosseteste’s tomb was covered some scaffolding, this did not distract from the magnificence and majesty of the building. We did visit the 20140719_150144Chapter House with Grosseteste commemorated in nineteenth-century glass (a rather Protestant interpretation of his actions it would have to be said :))

Back at Bishop Grosseteste University, we settled in for the conference dinner, with an address by the Vice-Chancellor, Rev. Professor Peter Neil, and from Jack, and an opportunity to thank Jack formally for all of his organisation and hospitality.

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