In 1277, after the Minister General of the Franciscans condemned Bacon's work because of the 'suspect novelties' it contained, the loyal Brothers of the Order tried to have him imprisoned. Bacon had always submitted his writings to the judgment of the Church, and now appealed to the new Pope. His appeal was lost and Bacon was actually imprisoned, but the exact amount of time he served is unknown. Some sources say two years, others much longer. His last work, published the year of his death (1294), was a stinging reproach of a corrupted Church. Although largely incomplete, Bacon's last contribution found him just as determined as any time in his life to expose ignorance.
Bacon's writings included treatises on optics (then called perspective), mathematics, chemistry, arithmetic, astronomy, the tides, and the reformation of the calendar. His skill in the use of optical and mechanical instruments caused him to be regarded by many as a sorcerer. Bacon believed that the Earth was spherical and that one could sail around it. He estimated the distance to the stars at 130 million miles, and he used a camera that projected an image through a pinhole to observe solar eclipses. Bacon's work became so popular that it encouraged others to experiment on their own, and by so doing helped bring about the Renaissance. He was acquainted with the properties of mirrors, knew the powers of steam and gunpowder, had a working knowledge in microscopy, and possessed an instrument very much like a modern telescope. Some say that he claimed that his telescope could make the most distant object appear near, that it could make stars appear at will, and even further, that it had the power of visualizing future events.
In England before the Reformation, the study of magic and alchemy were extremely common among the Roman clergy. The popular belief in magic was reinforced by the extraordinary effects of natural processes then known only to a small number of individuals who concealed their knowledge with the most intense secrecy. In England's early times, magic coexisted with witchcraft, and Roger Bacon was the first to display a separation between the two. Bacon accepted what he termed the 'natural magic' that occurred within mathematical and physical areas of experimentation, but he was decisively against the use of incantations, the invocation of spirits, and the casting of spells. He recognized that there were mysterious forces that appeared to be magical, such as those that moved the stars and the planets; but he argued that all knowledge that existed on Earth depended upon the power of mathematics.
Of course the occult traditions concerning Bacon are merely legendary, but they help to crystallize the popular idea of an English magician of medieval times. The Elizabethan History of Friar Bacon was probably the first to put these legends on record. It has no factual concern with the Bacon of science, for the Bacon of superstitious belief is a magician who cheated the Devil, made a brazen head that spoke, and engaged in all manner of black magic.
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