John Peckham

Infobox Archbishop of Canterbury
Full name = John Peckham

caption = Interior of part of Canterbury Cathedral where Peckham was buried in the north transept.
birth_name =
consecration = 25 January 1279
began = unknown
term_end = 8 December 1292
predecessor = Robert Burnell
successor = Robert Winchelsey
birth_date =
death_date = 8 December 1292
deathplace = Mortlake
tomb = Canterbury Cathedral

John Peckham or Pecham (circa 1230–8 December 1292), was Archbishop of Canterbury in the years 1279–1292. He was a native of Sussex who was educated at Lewes Priory and became a Franciscan monk about 1250. He studied at Paris under Bonaventure, where he later taught theology. From his teaching, he came into conflict with Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom he debated on two occasions. Known as a conservative theologian, he opposed Aquinas' views on the nature of the soul. Peckham also studied optics and astronomy, and his studies in those subjects were influenced by Roger Bacon.

In around 1270, he returned to England, where he taught at the University of Oxford, and was elected the Franciscan provincial minster of England in 1275. After a brief stint in Rome, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1279. His time as archbishop was marked by efforts to improve discipline in the clergy as well as reorganize the estates of his see. Pluralism, or holding more than one clerical benefice, was one of the abuses that Peckham combated. He served King Edward I of England in Wales, where he formed a low opinion of the Welsh people and laws. Before and during his time as archbishop, he wrote a number of works on optics, philosophy, and theology, as well as writing hymns. Numerous manuscripts of his works survive. On his death, his body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, but his heart was given to the Franciscans for burial.

Early life

Peckham came from a humble family, possibly from Patchem in Sussex.Moorman "Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century" p. 159] He was born about 1230 and received his early education from the Cluniac monks of Lewes.Thompson "Pecham , John (c.1230–1292)" "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"] About 1250, he joined the Franciscan order and studied in their Oxford convent. Shortly afterwards he proceeded to the University of Paris, where he took his degree under St Bonaventura and became regent master, or official lecturer, in theology.Leff "Paris and Oxford Universities" p. 183]

For years Peckham taught at Paris, coming into contact with the greatest scholars of the day, among others St Thomas Aquinas.Lawrence "The Thirteenth Century" in Lawrence (ed.) "The English Church & the Papacy in the Middle Ages" p. 146-147] He famously debated Aquinas on at least two occasions during 1269 and 1270, during which Peckham defended the conservative theological position, and Thomas put forth his views on the soul.Knowles "The Evolution of Medieval Thought" p. 294] The Thomist doctrine of the unity of form was condemned after these debates.Leff "Paris and Oxford Universities" p. 228] His theological works later were used by his pupil Roger Marston who in turn inspired Duns Scotus. Peckham also studied other fields, however; and was guided by Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon's views on the value of experimental science.Leff "Paris and Oxford Universities" p. 288] Where Peckham met Bacon is not known, but it would have been at either Paris or Oxford. Bacon's influence can be seen in Peckham's works on optics (the "Perspectiva communis") and astronomy.

Return to England

Reorganization of the archdiocese

About 1270, he returned to Oxford and taught there, being elected in 1275 provincial minister of the Franciscans in England,Greenway [ "Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300: volume 2: Monastic cathedrals (northern and southern provinces):Canterbury Archbishops"] ] but he was soon afterwards called to Rome as "lector sacri palatii," or theological lecturer in the schools of the papal palace.Knowles "The Evolution of Medieval Thought" p. 169] In 1279 he returned to England as Archbishop of Canterbury, being appointed by Pope Nicholas III on the rejection of Robert Burnell, Edward I's preferred candidate. He was provided (appointed by the pope to the see) on 25 January 1279 and consecrated on 19 February 1279.Fryde "Handbook of British Chronology" p. 233]

Peckham's insistence on discipline offended contemporaries. His first act on arrival in England was to call a council at Reading, which met in July of 1279. Its main object was ecclesiastical reform, but the provision that a copy of "Magna Carta" should be hung in all cathedral and collegiate churches seemed to the king a political action. Another ruling was on non-residence of clergy in their livings. The only exception Peckham was prepared to make on non-residence was if the clerk needed to go abroad to study.Prestwich "Edward I" p. 250] At the Parliament of Winchester in 1279, the archbishop compromised and the parliament declared void any action of this council touching on the royal power. The copies of Magna Carta were taken down.Prestwich "Edward I" p. 251] One reason the archbishop may have backed down was that he was in debt to the Italian banking family of the Riccardi, who also were bankers to Edward and the pope, and Peckham was under threat of excommunication from the pope unless he repaid the loans.Prestwich "Edward I" p. 252]

However, Peckham worked hard to reorganize the estates of the diocese, and held an inquiry in 1283 through 1285 into the revenues of the see. He set up administrative structures in the manors that divided them into seven administrative groups.DeBoulay "The Lordship of Canterbury" p. 248] Peckham, though, was almost continually in debt, and because he was a Franciscan, he had no personal property to help with his living expenses. He had inherited the diocesan debts that his predecessor had allowed to accumulate, and never managed to clear them.Moorman "Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century" p. 173]

Visits to Wales

Nevertheless Peckham's relations with the king were generally good, and Edward called on him for help in bringing order into conquered Wales, sending him on a diplomatic mission to Llywelyn the Last. In 1282 he attempted to mediate between the Welsh and King Edward, but given that Edward would not budge on the main issues, it was a hopeless mission.Prestwich "Edward I" p. 191-192] In the end, Peckham excommunicated some of the Welsh who were resisting Edward, not unsurprising given Peckham's views of the Welsh.Prestwich "Edward I" p. 200] Peckham visited the Welsh dioceses as part of his tour of all his subordinate dioceses. While there, Peckham criticised the Welsh clergy for their unchaste lives, conspicuous consumption, and heavy drinking. He also found the Welsh clergy to be uneducated, although he did order a Welsh-speaking suffragan bishop to be appointed to help with pastoral duties in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield.Walker "Medieval Wales" p. 87]

Peckham also had problems with his subordinate Thomas Bek, who was Bishop of St David's in Wales. Bek tried to revive a scheme to make St David's independent from Canterbury, and to elevate it to metropolitan status. This had originally been put forth by Gerald of Wales around 1200, but had been defeated by the actions of Hubert Walter, then the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bek did not manage even the four-year fight that Gerald had managed, for Peckham routed him quickly.Walker "Medieval Wales" p. 77-79]

Ecclesiastical matters

Skirmishes with Edward over clerical privileges, royal power, Peckham's use of excommunication, and ecclesiastical taxation continued, but in October of 1286, Edward issued a writ entitled "Circumspecte Agatis" which specified what types of cases the ecclesiastical courts could hear. These included moral issues, matrimonial issues, disputes about wills and testaments, the correction of sins, and slander and physical attacks on the clergy.Prestwich, "Edward I" p. 257]

Peckham was very strict in his interpretations of canon law, and once wrote to Queen Eleanor that her use of loans from Jewish moneylenders to acquire lands was usury and a mortal sin.Prestwich, "Edward I" p. 125] He also felt that Welsh laws were illogical and conflicted with Biblical teachings.Prestwich, "Edward I" p. 186] He also mandated that the clerical tonsure worn by the clergy should not just include the top of the head, but also have the nape and over the ears shaved, which allowed the clergy to be easily distinguished from the laity. To help with this, the archbishop also forbade the clergy from wearing secular clothing, especially military garb.Moorman, "Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century" p. 149] He also forbade an effort by the Benedictine order in England to reform their monastic rule, to allow more time for study and for more education for the monks. Peckham's reason was that they were against custom, but he may also have had concerns that these reforms would have drawn recruits away from the Franciscans.Southern "Western Society" p. 236]

At an ecclesiastical council held at Lambeth in 1281, Peckham ordered the clergy to instruct their congregations in doctrine at least four times a year. They were to explain and teach the Articles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, the Works of Mercy, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Virtues and the Sacraments. This command was issued as a canon, or law, of the council, and the group is known as the Lambeth Constitutions.Swanson "Religion and Devotion" p. 59-60] Even later these constitutions were collected as the Ignorantia sacerdotum.Wallace, "Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature" p. 396] The six doctrines comprised the minimum theological knowledge the archbishop considered necessary for the laity to know.Wallace, "Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature" p. 548] The constitutions, which were originally in Latin, were the basis and inspiration for pastoral and devotional works throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages, and were eventually translated into English in the 15th century.

The crime of "plurality," or pluralism, which was the holding by one cleric of two or more benefices, was one of Peckham's targets,Moorman, "Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century" p. 220-221] as were clerical absenteeism and laxity in the monastic life. His main instrument was a system of "visitation," which he used with an unprecedented frequency. Disputes resulted, and on some points Peckham gave way, but his powers as papal legate complicated matters, and he did much to strengthen the court of Canterbury at the expense of the lower courts.Lawrence, "The Thirteenth Century" in Lawrence (ed.) "The English Church & the Papacy in the Middle Ages" p. 137] The quarrel with Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, arose from similar causes. It involved an appeal over the jurisdiction of the archbishop, that Thomas sent to Rome in 1281, but Thomas died before the case could be decided.Lawrence, "The Thirteenth Century" in Lawrence (ed.) "The English Church & the Papacy in the Middle Ages" p. 128] He also decreed that the clergy should preach to their flocks at least four times a year.Moorman, "Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century" p. 80-81]

Peckham often was in conflict with his subordinate bishops, mainly because of his efforts to reform them, but Peckham's own attitude and handling of his clergy contributed to the problem.Southern "Western Society" p. 194-196] He once wrote to Roger de Meyland, the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield "These things need your attention, but you have been absent so long that you seem not to care. We therefore order you, on receipt of this letter, to take up residence in your diocese, so that -- even if you are not competent to redress spiritual evils -- you may at least minister to the temporal needs of the poor."quoted in Southern "Western Society" p. 194] The historian Richard Southern says that Peckham's disputes with his suffragan bishops were "conducted in an atmosphere of bitterness and perpetual ill-will",Southern "Western Society" p. 194] which probably owed something to a "petulant strain in Peckham's character". Peckham's conflicts started because his own ideals were those of a Franciscan, but most of his clergy were concerned with more mundane and materialistic affairs. These strains between the archbishop and his subordinates were intensified by clashes over ecclesiastical and secular authority, as well as Edward's great need for income.Southern "Western Society" p. 211]

Death and legacy

The numerous manuscripts of Peckham's works to be found in the libraries of Italy, England and France, testify to his industry as a philosopher and commentator. Queen Eleanor persuaded him to write for her a scholarly work in French, which was later described as "unfortunately rather a dull and uninspired little treatise."Prestwich "Edward I" p. 123] His poem "Philomena" is considered one of the finest poems written in its time.Wallace "Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature" p. 362]

Peckham died on 8 December 1292 at Mortlake and was buried in the north transept, or the Martyrdom, of Canterbury Cathedral. His heart, however, was buried with the Franciscans under the high altar of their London church.Burton "Monastic and Religious Orders" p. 120] His tomb still survives. He founded a college at Wingham, Kent in 1286, probably a college of canons serving a church.DeBoulay "The Lordship of Canterbury" p. 127]


A number of his works have survived, and some have appeared in print in various times:
* "Perspectiva communis" [cite web |url= |title= Google Books: John Pecham and the Science of Optics: Perspectiva Communis |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books]
* "Collectarium Bibliae"
* "Registrum epistolarum" [cite web |url= |title=Google Books: Registrum Johannis Pecham Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books] Mullins "Texts and Calendars I" section 6.77]
* "Tractatus de pauperitate" [cite web |url= |title=Google Books: Tractatus Tres de Paupertate |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books] Mullins "Texts and Calendars I" section 13.2]
* "Summa de esse et essentia"
* "Quaestiones disputatae"
* "Quodlibeta" [cite web |url= |title=Google Books: Johannis de Pecham Quodlibet Romanum |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books]
* "Tractatus contra Kilwardby"
* "Tractatus de anima" [cite web |url= |title=Google Books: Tractatus de Anima Ioannis Pecham |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books]
* "Canticum pauperis"
* "De aeternitate mundi" [cite web |url= |title= Google Books: Questions Concerning the Eternity of the World |accessdate=2008-03-30 |publisher=Google Books]
* "Defensio fratrum mendicantium"

Peckham is the earliest of the Archbishops of Canterbury to have his registers, the principal records of archiepiscopal administration, held in at Lambeth Palace Library. [ Holdings of Lambeth Palace Library] accessed on 6 March 2008]




Further reading


External links

* [ History of Medieval Philosophy]

NAME= Peckham, John
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Archbishop of Canterbury
DATE OF DEATH=8 December 1292

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