Known as doctor mirabilis (“wonderful teacher”), Roger Bacon was born to wealthy parents at Ilchester, Somersetshire, England in 1214. He was educated at Oxford and later went to Paris in 1235. Bacon was proficient in arithmetic, astronomy, classics, geometry, and music. After receiving his master of arts, he lectured on Aristotle. Between 1247 and 1257 he was deeply involved in study of alchemy and mathematics.
He did not believe in claims made by contemporaries and loved doing scientific experiments. He argued strongly for his beliefs. Some give him credit for laying the foundation of modern science three centuries later. Bacon gave hints for making gunpowder. His experiments on the nature of light were notable.
He observed the eclipses of the Sun by means of a devise that projected images through a pinhole. A practicing alchemist, Bacon believed in the elixir of life and also tried to create the philosopher’s stone (which would change base metals into gold). His powers of observation led him to anticipate later inventions like flying machines, spectacles, steam ships, and microscopes.
Bacon was greatly influenced by the Franciscans in his student days and entered the Franciscan order in 1255. Bacon had contempt for those not sharing his views, and criticized them harshly. His works were banned by superiors, who directed their members not to publish anything without permission. He appealed to Pope Clement IV against this prohibition and it was revoked in 1266.
Within two years he finished a three-volume work, with volumes entitled Opus Majus (great work), Opus Minus (lesser work), and Opus Terilium (third work). Clement IV was a supporter of Bacon, but after his death in 1268, Pope Nicholas IV condemned his ideas. The friars, having different views from their superiors of the Franciscan order, were put behind bars.
Bacon was imprisoned in the covenant of Ancona, Italy around 1278. After 12 years he was released, and returned to England. Bacon had not changed his convictions in prison. He wrote about his sufferings in 1293 in his last book entitled Compendium studii theologiae. Some scholars do not believe that Bacon was really imprisoned.
Bacon held his views in spite of adverse circumstances. One of the greatest scholars, he was against subscribing to preconceived notions. Bacon tried his best to urge theologians to study the sciences, and called for reform in the study of theology.
He recommended the study of language in order to read original documents. Bacon saw the Bible as the focus of attention, and not a minor distinction in philosophical discourse. The medieval monk and proponent of experimental science died at Oxford on June 11, 1294, a legendary figure in the world of scholarship and science.