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The Genesis of Kepler's Theory of Light: Light Metaphysics from Plotinus to Kepler

Author(s): David C. Lindberg
Source: Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 2 (1986), pp. 4-42
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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Engravingof Kepler (firsthalf of nineteenth
centulr'I. Courtesyof David C. Lindberg.

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The Genesis of Kepler's Theoryof
Light:LightMetaphysicsfrom
Plotinusto Kepler
By David C. Lindberg*
have
andcosmology
ISTORIANS OF JOHANNES KEPLER's astronomy
ceased to be embarrassedby his metaphysical
speculations.They acbecauseits"lovehisdefenseofheliocentrism
knowledge
thatKeplerundertook
thecosmosas the
liness"filledhim"withunbelievable
rapture";thathe regarded
and underlying
imageof the Creatorand searchedforits trinities
geometrical
reasons,placed thereby a God who "is foreverdoinggeometry."'Theyhave
notionthatthemanwho discovered
madetheirpeace withtheonce incredible
on modern
new laws of planetarymotionand set the astronomical
enterprise
and panpsychist.
foundations
was also a Neoplatonicenthusiast,
astrologer,
No aura ofNeoHistoriansof Kepler'sopticspaintquitea different
portrait.
platonicmystery
surrounds
thisKepler.Rather,we observea skilledmathematical physicistabsorbedin technicaldetail.We are showna Keplerwho broke
withthepast,clarified
thefoundations
ofoptics,and solveda seriesofproblems
thathad confounded
thecamera obscura, andthegeohispredecessors-vision,
that
metricaltheoryof the telescope.His biographer
Max Caspar has written
withhiscleargraspof
"Kepler,withan abundanceofnewthoughts
and insights,
theproblemsand proofs,preparedthegroundfora newtreatment
ofopticsand
solved,if not all, at least a good portionof, the tasks whichhe set forthis
fashionthattodaywe stillbuilduponthefoundations
science,in suchexemplary
laid by him."Vasco Ronchihas portrayed
a Kepler"freefromconcepts,which
althoughtwo thousandyearsold now appearedinsufficient
and absurd,"able
to "proceedrationallyand logicallytowardsa new structure
of the intricate
problemof light-image-vision."
AlistairCrombiehas discussedKepler'smechanizationof the problemof visionthroughthe use of artificial
models-the
* Departmentof the Historyof Science, Universityof Wisconsin,Madison, Wisconsin53706.
I am indebted to the National Science Foundation and the Graduate School of the Universityof
Wisconsinfor supportof the research on whichthis paper is based. I am also indebtedto Catherine
Chevalley, Stephen Straker,Daniel Siegel, and Ronald Numbersforcriticalcommentary.
I See Max Caspar, Kepler, trans. C. Doris Hellman (London: Abelard-Schuman,1959) (orig. Johannes Kepler, Stuttgart:Kohlhammer,1948), p. 397; quotingJohannesKepler, Mysteriumcosmographicum,ed. Max Caspar, in Gesammelte Werke,ed. WaltherVon Dyck and Max Caspar, 18 vols.
(Munich: Beck, 1937- ), Vol. I, p. 26. For an excellent review of Keplerian scholarship,see E. J.
Aiton, "JohannesKepler in the Light of Recent Research," Histoiy of Science, 1976, 14:77-100. On
the metaphysicalbackgroundof Kepler's astronomyand cosmology,see esp. Alexandre Koyrd, The
AstronomicalRevolution, trans. R. E. W. Maddison (London: Methuen, 1973) (orig. La reAolution
astronomique,Paris: Hermann, 1969). See also W. Pauli, "The Influenceof ArchetypalIdeas on the
ScientificTheories of Kepler," in C. G. Jungand W. Pauli, The Interpretationof Nature and the
Psyche (New York: Pantheon, 1955).
OSIRIS, 2nd series, 1986, 2: 5-42

5

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DAVID C. LINDBERG

camera obscura and the glass lens. Accordingto Crombie,when Kepler "applied
the mechanistichypothesisto this case he did so as an explicitlystrategicdecision enablinghim . .. to restrictthe analysis of vision simplyto discoveringhow
like any other." The themeof mechanithe eye operates as an optical instrument
zation has also been addressed by Stephen Straker,who argues thatKepler gave
up Robert Grosseteste's metaphysicsof lightand the notionof lightas the "procreativeparadigmof naturalactivity,"replacingit witha totallypassive lightthat
would provide a basis formechanizationof the science of optics.2
Occasionally the faint scent of Neoplatonism slips past the gatekeepers of
Kepler's optical reputation,but in generalstudentsof Kepler's optics have overlooked possible Neoplatonic influencein order to concentrateon his correct
solutions to importantproblems.3Can we accept the resultingportraitof a dichotomizedKepler, who, in turningfromastronomyto optics, thrustaside Neoplatonicaims and presuppositionsin orderto directhis formidableintellectto an
arrayof technicalproblems,despite the fact thatNeoplatonic philosophyhad a
greatdeal to say about light?The astronomicalKepler intimatelymingledNeoplatonicmetaphysicsand meticulousconcernfortechnicaldetail; can the optical
Kepler have done less?
To learn the answer we must undertakea two-partinvestigation.First, we
must examine the historyof Neoplatonic speculations about light.Neoplatonic
lightmetaphysicshas attractedconsiderableattentionfromhistorians,who have
produced some useful studies." However, these studies have tended to investigate loftyissues in theology and metaphysicswhile overlookingthe mundane
detail that must concern us: for example, they have not generallytreatedthe
natureof lightor dealt adequately withlightas a physicalor cosmological agent.
Moreover, they have not always done justice to the complexityof the Neoplatonictradition;manytributariesemptiedintothe Neoplatonic stream,givingrise
to a varietyof opinions and serious doctrinaldebates that require carefulanalysis. From a chronologicalstandpoint,coverage has sometimesbeen spotty.In
2 Caspar, Kepler, pp. 149-150; Vasco Ronchi, The Nature of Light:An Historical Survey,trans.V.
Barocas (London: Heinemann, 1970), p. 87; AlistairCrombie, "The MechanisticHypothesisand the
ScientificStudy of Vision: Some Optical Ideas as a Backgroundto the Inventionof the Microscope,"
in HistoricalAspects of Microscopy,ed. S. Bradburyand G. L'E. Turner(Cambridge:Heffer,1967),
p. 54; and Stephen Straker,"Kepler's Optics: A Study in the Developmentof Seventeenth-Century
Natural Philosophy" (Ph.D. diss., Indiana Univ., 1970), p. 423 et passim.
3 For the Neoplatonism, see, e.g., Ernst Mach, The Principlesof Physical Optics: An Historical
and Philosophical Treatment,trans. John S. Anderson and A. F. A. Young (London: Methuen,
1926), pp. 12-13; on Kepler's solutions to specifictheoreticalproblems,see, in additionto the authorscited in n. 1, Edmund Hoppe, Geschichteder Optik(Leipzig: Weber, 1926),pp. 26-30; Svetlana
Alpers, The Artof Describing: Dutch Artin the SeventeenthCentury(Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press,
1983), pp. 33-38; and David C. Lindberg,Theoriesof Visionfromal-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: Univ.
Chicago Press, 1976), pp. 185-208. Since no paper or book can deal withall importantaspects of its
subject, omission of Kepler's metaphysicsis not sure evidence of intellectualturpitudebut may
reflecta strategicdecision made in the interestsof economyand clarity.However, now thatwe have
scrupulouslyexamined the "enduring"core of Kepler's optics, it is urgentthat we investigatethe
context.
4 For general coverage, see Clemens Baeumker, Witelo: Ein Philosoph und Naturforscherdes
XIII. Jahrhunderts
(Beitrage zur Geschichteder Philosophiedes Mittelalters,3.2) (Munster:Aschendorff,1908), pp. 284-523; Klaus Hedwig, Sphaera lucis: Studien zur Intelligibilitat
des Seienden im
Kontext der mittelalterlichen
Lichtspekulation(Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters,N.S., 18) (Mtinster:Aschendorff,1980); and James McEvoy, "The Metaphysics of Light in the Middle Ages," Philosophical Studies, 1979, 26:126-143. Studies of specific
figuresare innumerable.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

7

we willprobein detailtheoriginsofNeoplatonicthought
thispaper,therefore,
on thoseaspectsgermaneto an assessmentof
concerning
light,concentrating
Kepler's opticalachievement.We will,moreover,tracethe development
and
transmission
of opticalpractitioners
of these notionsthrough
generations
and
untilthe eve of Kepler's own work,hopingthusto
Neoplatonicphilosophers
as theypresented
depictthealternatives
themselves
to him.
thetradition,
we mustattempt
it. We
to placeKeplerwithin
Havingportrayed
mustgive Kepler'sopticsthebroadestpossiblereading,goingbeyondthegeometrical
accomplishments
on whichso muchattention
has beenlavishedto considerhisopinionon thenatureoflightand theplace occupiedbylightwithinhis
physics,cosmology,and metaphysics-for
it is here,ifanywhere,
thatNeoplawilllurk.In thecourseof thisinvestigation,
tonicinfluence
it willbecomeevident that Kepler's optics, like his astronomy,
was profoundly
inspiredand
shapedby Neoplatonicthought.
Some may arguethatI have actuallywritten
two papers-one on NeoplatonismbeforeKepler,theotheron Kepler'sresponseto theNeoplatonictradition.Even if thisis so, I preferthepapersside by side, underthe same title,
because bothare illuminated
by thisjuxtaposition.
It capturesthesymmetry
in
Kepler'srelationship
to theNeoplatonictradition.
Kepler'sopticalachievement,
as I hopeto demonstrate,
cannotbe fullyappreciated
without
a consideration
of
theNeoplatonicthemesthatpervadeit; equally,ourunderstanding
of thetraditionof Neoplatoniclightmetaphysics
willremainincomplete
unlesswe explore
its continuation
and fulfillment
in Kepler'soptics.This paperis an attemptto
balancethetwosidesoftheequation.
I. ARISTOTLE

Despiteourinterest
inNeoplatonism,
we mustbeginwitha brieflookat Aristotle
(384-322B.C.), who presentedan enormously
influential
theoryofthenatureof
lightand establishedimportant
partsof theconceptualframework
withinwhich
lightwouldbe discussedfortwo thousandyears.Fundamental
to Aristotelian
metaphysics
is thedivisionof substanceintomatter
andform.The tangibleindividualsthatmakeup thesensibleuniverseare substances.Substance,however,
is not simple,buta compositeof matterand form.Matteris theindeterminate
itselfdevoidof properties,
substrate,
whichis endowedwithformto producea
definitesubstance.Form, the bearer of properties,musthave a substrate,
matter,in whichto inhere.Note that"matter"and "substance,"synonymous
today,werenotso withintheperipatetic
tradition.5
Thismuchis verystandardAristotelian
metaphysics,
uponwhichwe neednot
dwell.We must,however,inquirebriefly
whereto place corporeality
in relation
to form,matter,
and substance.To be corporealis to be a corpus or body-that
is, to occupyspace. Thusmatter,
devoidofall properties,
including
quantity,
is
necessarily
incorporeal.6
So also is form,whichmaybringto matter
theproperty
5For a good recent discussion of the Aristoteliannotions of substance, matter,and form,see
Abraham Edel, Aristotleand His Philosophy(Chapel Hill: Univ. NorthCarolina Press, 1982), Chs.
4-8.
6 That matteris devoid of quantityis specificallystated by Aristotlein Metaphysics8.3, 1029a2025.

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DAVID C. LINDBERG

of quantitybutwhichis notof itselfa dimensional
thing.It is substance,then,
thatis corporeal,forsubstancesare thethree-dimensional
beingsthatpopulate
ouruniverse.Are substancesnecessarilycorporeal,or are therealso incorporeal
Aristotle
substances?Here we mustproceedcautiously.
does granttheexistence
in thesuperlunary
worldof nonspatialbeings,suchas theprimemoverand the
intelligences
thatmove the planetaryspheres.7Since theseare independently
substances.Note,
existing,
nonspatialentities,
theyare bydefinition
incorporeal
however,thattheyare immaterial
as wellas incorporeal.
Although
substances,
theyare devoidof matterand consist,therefore,
of bareform.It maycomeas
in theuniverseare substances
of a surpriseto learnthatsomewhere
something
thatare notcompositesof matterand form,in apparentviolationof Aristotle's
ownmetaphysical
Aristotle'ssuccessors,lookingfora bettersolution
principles.
and buildingon Aristotle'sown crypticremarksabouttheintelligible
matterof
mathematical
objects,woulddevelopthe notionof a spiritualmatterthatcan
receive spiritualformsto produce spiritual(and therefore
incorporeal)substances.8

Withthisframework
in mind,we are preparedto examineAristotle'sown
theoryofthenatureoflight.Aristotle
towardtheatomistic
expressesindignation
theoryofcorporealemanations,
arguingthatlight"is neither
fire,norin general
anybody,noran emanationfromanybody(forin thatcase too it wouldbe a
is nota self-existent
bodyof some kind)."9Light,forAristotle,
buta stateof
something
else, nota substancebuttheactuality
medium.Now
ofa transparent
transparent
mediaare substancesthatpartakeof thesame natureas theuppermostheavenlybody, such as air and water.Lightis the actualization
of this
the achievement
transparency,
of thatstatein whichtransparency
is no longer
butactual,so thatbodiesseparatedfromtheobserverbythemedium
potential,
becomevisible.Such actualization
occursin thepresenceof fireor someother
luminousbody.As a stateofa mediumratherthana local motion,lightrequires
no timeforpassage,sincetheentiremediummayhaveitsstatetransformed
inan
instant.10
The trueobjectof vision,however,is notlightbutcolor.Color is a
characteristic
ofthesurfacesofbodies,whichhas thecapacitytoproducefurther
qualitative
changein theactuallytransparent.
Thusthetransparent
mustfirst
be
broughtto actualityby the presenceof a luminousbody. This actuallytransparentis then moved by the colored body to further
qualitativechange(a
"secondactuality"),and thelatteris transmitted
to theobserver,whoperceives
color.
Severalconclusionsfollowfromthisanalysis.First,it seemsclearthatlightis
immaterial.
To be sure, lightis affiliated
withmatter,forthereis a material
W. D. Ross, Aristotle:A CompleteExpositionof His Worksand Thought(New York: Meridian,
1959), pp. 175-180; and Edel, Aristotle(cit. n. 5), pp. 129-133.
8 Aristotle,Metaphysics 7.10, 1036a2-12; 7.11, 1036b32-1037a5. For a discussion of Aristotle's
intentin these passages, see Ross's note in Aristotle,Metaphysics,ed. David Ross, 2 vols. (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1924), Vol. II, pp. 199-200; and Thomas Heath, Mathematicsin Aristotle(Oxford:Clarendon, 1949),pp. 213-214. On spiritualmatter,see Augustine,De genesi ad litteram7.5-6; Theodore
Crowley, Roger Bacon: The Problem of the Soul in His Philosophical Commentaries(Louvain:
Editions de l'InstitutSuperieur de Philosophie; Dublin: James Duffy,1950), pp. 81-91; and D. E.
Sharp, Franciscan Philosophy at Oxfordin the ThirteenthCentury(Oxford: Clarendon, 1930), pp.
92-96, 103-105,247, 262, 390-391.
9 Aristotle,De anima 2.7.418bl4-16, trans.W. S. Hett (London: Heinemann, 1936), p. 105.
'0 Aristotle,De sensu 6.446b28-447a3.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

9

ofthetransparent
substrate
substanceofwhichlightis a state.Butsurelylightis
notitselfthatsubstrate.Second,it is equallyclearthatlightis nota substance.
existence;
medium,lighthas no independent
As a state of the transparent
and
without
a transparent
mediumto be actualized,therecan be no actualization
Here we
thatlightis incorporeal?
consequently
no light.Can we infer,further,
mustproceedverycarefully,
forthisquestioncameto dominatethesubsequent
analysisof light,and itsanswerdependson preciselywhatwe meanby "incorporeal." Lightis surelynot a body and of itselfpossesses no dimensionality;
it is incorporeal.Nonetheless,lightparticipates
in
strictly
speaking,therefore,
corporeality
by virtueof beinga stateofa corporealsubstance,thetransparent.
thedimensions
of
ithas a secondaryor deriveddimensionality
through
Similarly,
and by participatheactualizedmedium.In short,lightis corporealsecondarily
tion,eventhoughnotofitselfa corpus.
II. PLOTINUS AND THE NEOPLATONIC TRADITION

maythinkoflightmerelyas a physicalagentrepreTwentieth-century
physicists
spectrumand the object of a
sentinga narrowband of the electromagnetic
narrowscientific
specialty.But manyof theirpredecessorsregardedlightas a
centralfeatureof the world-at once a transcendental
realityand a physical
the
principlesof cosmogonyand epistemology,
agent,one of the fundamental
and a powerful
theologicalsymbol.Thistradition
sourceof lifeand movement,
to Plato,whomadeheavyuse of lightsymgoes back to antiquity,
particularly
bolismin his theoryof knowledgeand otheraspectsof his philosophy.Light
Platonic
also pervadetheBibleandpatristic
literature,
largelythrough
metaphors
influence.
as developedby Plotinus(d. 270), that
However,it is withinNeoplatonism,
system
lightdid fullestphilosophicalduty.Plotinusdevelopeda metaphysical
based on the principleof emanationor radiation.The sourceof all being,acself-sufficient
One,fromwhomproceeds
cordingto Plotinus,is thetranscendent,
all lesserbeingbyan overflowing
or emanation
ofitsessence,justas raysoflight
emanatefromthe sun. Emanationfromthe One gives rise to nous or mind;
to
further
emanationcarriesone downthescale of beingto soul and ultimately
the worldof sense experience.1'The imageof the One becomesprogressively
weakerthroughsuccessiveemanations;whenwe reach matter,we have "an
imagewhichhas escaped frombeingand truth,"totalprivationor negation,
absolutenonbeing.'2Matter,then,is both the antithesisof the One and its
a processofradiation.
productthrough
of
If theOne is trulyself-sufficient,
how can it "stir"itselfto theproduction
anysecondarybeing?"Whatare we to conceive,"Plotinusinquires,"as risingin
theneighbourhood
[theOne]?" He repliesthat"it mustbe a
of thatimmobility
circumradiation-produced
fromthe Supreme[theOne] butfromtheSupreme
11On the Stoic sources of Plotinus's doctrine,see A. H. Armstrong," 'Emanation' in Plotinus,"
Mind, N.S., 1937, 46:62-64; Armstrong,The Architectureof the IntelligibleUniversein the Philosophyof Plotinus: An Analyticaland Historical Study(Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. Press, 1940),pp.
53-54; on nous, see ibid., Chs. 4-5.
12 Plotinus,Enneads 2.4.15, trans.A. H. Armstrong,
3 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1966-67), Vol.
II, p. 147; on matter,see also Enneads 2.4 and 3.6 and Armstrong'ssynopses at the beginningof each
chapter.

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10

DAVID C. LINDBERG

unaltering-and may be compared to the brilliantlightencirclingthe sun and
ceaselessly generated fromthat unchangingsubstance." Plotinus has thus far
been discoursingon a metaphysicalplane, about the source of being. But at this
point,in order to elucidate the process by which being emanates fromthe One,
he appeals to an analogy fromthe physicalrealm:
All existences,as longas theyretaintheircharacter,
produce-aboutthemselves,
fromtheiressence,in virtueofthepowerwhichmustbe in them-somenecessary
in image
attachedto themand representing
outward-facing
hypostasiscontinuously
theengendering
archetypes:
thusfiregivesout its heat;snowis cold notmerelyto
itself;fragrant
substancesare a notableinstance,for,as longas theylast,something
is diffused
fromthemandperceivedwherever
theyarepresent.Again,all thatis fully
achievedengenders;therefore
theeternally
achievedengenders
an eternal
eternally
being.1'
This passage conveys two importanttruths.First, it states a principleof universal activity: everythingthat exists produces an image or likeness of itself,
which it directs into its surroundings.This idea would become one of the hallmarksof Neoplatonic emanationism.Second, Plotinusproclaimsa unitybetween
the physical and metaphysicalrealms. The visible is the image of the invisible
and the invisible is equally the archetypeof the visible; both obey the law of
emanation. Visible lightthus acquires a place of special importancein Plotinian
philosophy; as the instance of emanation most accessible to the senses, light
inevitablybecomes the paradigmcase, the door to an understandingof the universal principleof emanation.Let us, then,take a close look at Plotinus'stheory
of the natureof visible light.
Plotinusbegins withan analogy. Discussing beautyin the firstEnnead, he asks
how an architectis able to judge a house to be beautiful.The answer is thatthe
corporealhouse is the incorporealidea of a house stampedupon externalmatter.
"When sense-perception,then,sees theformin bodies bindingand masteringthe
nature opposed to it, which is shapeless, . . . it gathers into one that which
appears dispersed and bringsit back and takes it in, now withoutparts, to the
soul's interiorand presentsit to thatwhichis withinas somethingin tune withit
and fitting
it and dear to it." Justas the house representsthe masteryof matter
by the incorporealformin the architect'smind,so color resultsfromthe mastery
of matterby the incorporealformthatwe call "light": "And the simplebeautyof
colour comes about by shape and the masteryof darknessin matterby the presence of lightwhich is incorporealand formativepower and form."1'4
This state13 Plotinus,Enneads 5.1.6, trans. Stephen MacKenna, rev. B. S.
Page (2nd ed., London: Faber &
Faber, 1956), p. 374, with altered paragraphingand punctuation.I have been forced to rely on a
myriadof differenteditions and translationsof Plotinus's Enneads because Armstrong'sexcellent
translationcurrentlyextends only throughthe thirdEnnead, MacKenna's translationis always florid
and occasionally incomprehensible,and both thisand Guthrie'stranslation(see n. 14) are frequently
awkward. I have thereforechosen fromamong the various translationsand, when necessary,introduced correctionsand revisions.
14 Plotinus,Enneads 1.6.3, trans. Armstrong,
Vol. I, p. 241. Plotinusproceeds to identifyfiretoo
as formin relationto the otherelementsand notes that "it has colour primarilyand all otherthings
take the formof colour fromit." Armstronghas arguedthatthisassociation of lightwithfire,the least
substantialof bodies-both given the status of color-producingform-gives "light a very special
status on the frontierof spiritand matter."This, Armstrongthinks,was an early and naive tumble
into the doctrinalborderlandbetween Stoicism and Neoplatonism that was not to be repeated in
Plotinus's philosophicalworks; Architectureof the IntelligibleUniverse(cit. n. 11), p. 55. However,

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

11

mentwas to prove enormouslyinfluential,
givingrise to the idea of lightas the
formof all corporeal substance,whichbecame a majorthemein the workof later
writers.
Plotinusreturnsto lightin the fourthEnnead, now employingthe Aristotelian
notion of activityor actualization (energeia). Light, he argues, is the actualization of a luminousbody-an actualizationthathas the capacity to radiate itself
outwardinto its surroundings:
On the one hand,thereis in the luminousbodyan actualization,
a kindof superabundantlife,a principle
on theotherhand,beyondthelimits
and sourceofactivity;
characteristic
of theluminousbodyexistsa secondactualization
of thisbody,and
whichis
whichneverseparatesitselffromthebody.Everybeinghas an actualization
itsimage;so that,as soonas thebeingexists,itsactualization
existsalso; andso long
as thebeingsubsists,its actualization
radiatesneareror further.... Thusthelight
thatemanatesfrombodiesis theactualization
oftheluminousbodywhichis active
exteriorly.
Plotinus then adds, returningto the idea of form,that "the lightin the bodies
whose originalnatureis such, is theformalbeingof the originallyluminousbody.
When such a body has been mingledwith matter,it produces color."'15 Thus
in every luminous body there is a form(eidos) or actualization(energeia) that
is the source of the body's activity,sendingforthits power or image intothe surroundings.
Several points made in the last two paragraphsrequireclarification:first,the
claim thatlightis incorporeal;second, the idea of two actualizationsor lights,the
one internalto the luminousbody, the otherradiatingoutside it. Both claims are
clarifiedin a passage fromthe second Ennead on the fierynature of the sun.
Afterquoting Plato on the origin of the sun, Plotinus continues: "By firehe
[Plato] does not mean eitherof the otherkindsof firebut the lightwhichhe says
is otherthanflame,and only gentlywarm. This lightis a body, but anotherlight
shines fromit which has the same name, which we teach is incorporeal.This is
givenfromthatfirstlight,shiningout fromit as its flowerand splendour."16The
firstlightis lightwithinthe luminousbody, representing
its formor actualization;
thislightis held to be corporeal. The otherlight,offspring
and image of the first,
is lightradiatingsphericallyoutward fromthe luminousbody; Plotinus affirms
this second lightto be incorporeal.
How are we to understandthe corporealityof Plotinus's firstlight?How can
the form of a luminous body-how can the formof anything-be corporeal?
Indeed, when Plotinus referredearlier to lightas "incorporeal and formative
power and form,"did he not have thisfirstlightin mind?The answer is foundin
the distinction,which we have already seen in Aristotle,between intrinsicand
derivedcorporeality.Forms of themselvesare nondimensionaland are therefore,
strictlyspeaking,incorporeal.But theformof a corporealbody has secondaryor
derivedcorporeality.Justas Aristotelianlighthas corporealbeingby virtueof its
Plotinus expresses the same idea in Enneads 4.5.7, writtenlater in his career (quoted in the next
paragraph).On the datingof various portionsof theEnneads, see Armstrong'snote,Enneads, Vol. I,
p. 231, and the orderingin Plotinus, Complete Works,trans. Kenneth S. Guthrie,4 vols. (Alpine,
N.J.: PlatonistPress, 1918).
15 Plotinus,Enneads 4.5.7, trans.Guthrie,Vol. II, pp. 526-527, witha change in punctuation.
16 Plotinus,Enneads, 2.1.7, trans.Armstrong,
Vol. II, pp. 29-31.

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12

DAVID C. LINDBERG

presencein thetransparent
medium,so Plotinian
first
lightis corporealbyvirtue
of itsbodilyexistencein thesun or otherluminousbody;itparticipates
in corporeality
itshost.
through
What,then,are we to makeof theincorporeality
of Plotinus'ssecondor radiatinglight?Thisis, first
ofall, a denialoftheatomistic
theorythatlightrepresentstheflowof corpusclesfromtheluminousbody.'7Moreimportant
forour
purposes,it is also an emphaticrejectionof theAristotelian
viewthatradiating
lighthas corporealexistenceas a stateor property
of a corporealmedium.Plotinusdoes notbelievethata corporealmediumis necessaryfortheradiationof
light:"If [light]is a quality,somequalityof somesubstance,thenlight,equally
withotherqualities,willneeda bodyin whichto lodge:if,on thecontrary,
it is
an activity
risingfromsomething
else [Plotinus'sview],we can surelyconceiveit
existing,
thoughtherebe no neighbouring
bodybut(shoulditbe possible)a blank
void whichit willoverleapand so appearon thefarther
side." Radiatinglight
employsno mediumbecause "no otherobject can possess it. .

.

. Lighttherefore

is nota modification
oftheair,buta self-existent
inwhosepathairhappensto be
present."The actualization
thatis lightgoesforth
fromtheluminous
body,leaps
over the intervening
space, and actualizesa suitablerecipient,bringing
forth
coloror a mirror
imageaccordingto thenatureoftherecipient;
theactualization
"mustbe thought
ofas beinglodged,bothintheactiveandpowerful
sourceand
8 It is neverlodgedin themedium.
inthepointat whichitsettles."'
III. THE NEOPLATONIC TRADITION OF THE MIDDLE AGES

The influenceof Plotinuswas powerfuland widespread.A successionof followersdevelopedand systematized
his teaching,disseminating
it in bothChristianand non-Christian
circles.ThisPlotinian
legacycan be seen in SaintAugustine(354-430),whomadeextensiveuse oflightmetaphors,
thoughon thenature
oflighthe adoptedtheStoicposition,treating
sensiblelightas themostsubtleof
theelements-acorporealsubstanceandyetthecorporealsubstancemostnearly
19Neoplatonicbooks,including
akinto theincorporeal.
an abridgement
ofa portion of Plotinus's Enneads (which circulated as The Theology of Aristotle,

therebyintroducing
enormousconfusionintomanyquestions,including
thenatureoflight),weretranslated
intoArabicandgaverisetoa Neoplatonictradition
in Islam. One of the earlymembersof thistradition
was al-Kindi(d. ca. 873),
knownas "the firstphilosopher
of the Arabs." Neoplatonicmetaphysics
pervadesal-Kindi'sphilosophy:
beingis arranged
intoa hierarchy
ofperfection,
the
One is portrayed
as thetotallyself-contained
and unmovedfirst
cause, and soul
is explainedas an emanation
fromthedivinebeinganalogousto theradiation
of
lightfromthesun.20
17 Against the atomistictheory,Plotinus argues that a visible
object gives rise to its image in a
mirror"withoutlettingany of its substance escape by wastage" (Enneads 4.5.7, trans.Guthrie,Vol.
II, p. 528).
18
Plotinus,Enneads 4.5.6, trans. MacKenna, pp. 334-335 (withsome slightrevision).
19For Augustine,see
Frangois-JosephThonnard, "La notion de lumiereen philosophieaugustinienne," Recherches augustiniennes,1962, 2:125-175; and Roger Bacon's Philosophyof Nature: A
CriticalEdition, withEnglish Translation,Introduction,and Notes, of De multiplicationespecierum
and De speculis comburentibus,by David C. Lindberg(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. xxxixxli. For Augustine's theoryof the natureof light,see his De genesi ad litteram7.15, 7.19, 12.16; and
De libero arbitrio3.5.16.
20
This discussion of al-Kind! parallels that in Bacon's Philosophyof Nature, ed. Lindberg,pp.

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

13

But the portionof al-Kindi'sphilosophythatwe musttrace,because of its
influence
is hisastrology,
whichwas emon subsequentemanationist
doctrines,
bodied in a worklatertranslatedintoLatin as De radiisor Theoricaartium
magicarum.Al-Kind!believedthateach starsendsradiationintotheterrestrial
region,radiationthatvariesaccordingto thenatureand positionofthestar,the
precisemode of radiation,and the combinedeffectof radiationfromdifferent
stars.The astrologermustalso take intoaccountthemotionsof the starsand
planetsand theconditionoftherecipient
matter.
Thismuchis standardastrological
doctrine.Butal-Kindipressesfurther,
probablyundertheinfluence
ofPlotinus,to arguethatnotonlydo starsradiateforce,
but "everything
in thisworld,whethersubstanceor accident,producesraysin
themannerof stars."Such radiationproceedsin all directions,
"so thatevery
place in theworldcontainsraysfromeverything
thathas actualexistence,"and
therebyeach thingin the sublunary
worldacts on all otherthings.21
Al-Kind!
devotesthe remainder
of his treatiseto examplesand applications
of thisdoctrine.He arguesthatraysof firetransmit
heat,whiletheearth'sraystransmit
cold; medicines,takeneitherinternally
or externally,
diffuse
theirraysthrough
thepatient'sbody;magnetsattractironthrough
theirradiation;bodiesin collision send forthraysthatconveysound;even imagesin the mindradiate.AlKind!also deals at lengthwiththeraysproducedby words,thusexplaining
the
efficacy
of incantations
and prayers.Finally,he discussestheraysissuingfrom
imagesand figures
and explainstheoperationofritualsacrifice.
Certainfeatures
ofDe radiis(itsdeterminism
and itsanalysisofprayer)wereobviouslyheretical
froma Christian
standpoint
and had littleor no long-term
influence
in theWest.
Its morelastingcontribution
was to teachcertainmedievalscholars,including
RobertGrossetesteand RogerBacon, thateverycreaturein the universeis a
sourceofradiationand theuniversea vastnetwork
offorces.
Al-Kindialso wroteanothertreatise,De aspectibus,in whichhe investigated
the mathematics
and physicsof radiation.Here he arguesthatraysare threedimensional
bodies,ratherthanthe one-dimensional
linesof Euclideanoptics,
and indeedthatradiation
issuingfroma sourceformsa singlecontinuous
radiant
body.As forthenatureofthisradiantbody,al-Kindi'sconclusionharksbackto
Aristotle
(through
Galen).He repeatedly
refersto lightas an "impression"
on the
medium;a rayoflight,he argues,is "theimpression
ofluminousbodiesin dark
bodies,denotedby thename 'light'because of thealteration
of accidentsproducedin thebodiesreceiving
theimpression."22
Al-Kindithusendowsradiating
lightwitha corporeality
thatit did not have forPlotinus:whereasthe second
lightof Plotinus"leaps over" the mediumto actualizea recipientbeyond,
xliv-xlvi. On al-Kindi, see also cAbdurra'man Badawi, Histoire de la philosophieen Islam, 2 vols.
(Paris: Vrin, 1972), Vol. II, pp. 385-477; and Majid Fakhry,A Historyof Islamic Philosophy(New
York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 82-112.
21 "Al-Kindi, De radiis," ed. M.-Th. d'Alverny and F. Hudry, Archives d'histoiredoctrinale et
litterairedu moyenage, 1974,41:139-260, on 224, 228. For summariesof De radiis, see Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and ExperimentalScience, 8 vols. (New York: Columbia Univ. Press,
1923-1956),Vol. I, pp. 642-646; and Graziella Federici Vescovini, Studi sulla prospettivamedievale
(Turin: Giappichelli, 1965), pp. 44-47.
22 Al-Kindi, De aspectibus, Prop. 11, in "Alkindi, Tideus and Pseudo-Euklid: Drei
optische
Werke," ed. Axel AnthonBjornbo and Sebastian Vogl, Abhandlungenzur Geschichteder mathematischenWissenschaften,1912,26(3):1-176, on p. 13; see also Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision,pp. 24-26,
30-31, and Ch. 2 generally.

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DAVID C. LINDBERG

14

al-Kindi's (like Aristotle's) is a qualityembodied in the medium.If forPlotinus
the mediumis a hindrance,foral-Kindi it is a necessity.23
Emanationistdoctrinecontinuedto flourishin the Islamic world. One recipient
of thisdoctrinewho had a wide influencein medieval Latin Christendomwas the
Spanish Jew Avicebron (d. ca. 1058). In his Fons vitae, writtenin Arabic and
later translatedinto Latin, Avicebrondiscusses the metaphysicsof emanation:
bestowsHis innerbeing,forall thatis
The FirstMaker,sublimeand holy,liberally
flowsfromHim. And sincethe FirstMakerbestowstheformthatis withinHim,
thereis nothing
to preventit fromflowing
consequently
forth;and thusHe is the
it. Therefore,
it is
and comprehending
sourcewho preservesall thatis, embracing
their
necessaryforall substancesto obey His actionand imitatehimin conferring
formsand bestowingtheirforces,as long as theyencountersuitablerecipient
matter....

In sum, the firstemanation,which embraces all substances, compels all

othersubstancesto emanateintoone another.Andas an exampleof this,consider
thesun,whichdoes notemanateofitselfnorbestowitsraysexceptbyreasonofthe
andobeysit.24
emanation
factthatitfallsunderthefirst
All substances emanate theirformsin obedience to a universallaw of emanation.
Neoplatonism reached the Latin West by many routes. Augustine's writings,
composed in Latin, were influentialthroughoutthe Middle Ages. Other sources
were translatedinto Latin: the works of Pseudo-Dionysiusfromthe Greek; the
Liber de causis of Proclus, al-Kindi's De radiis and De aspectibus, Avicebron's
Fons vitae, and Avicenna's Shifa fromthe Arabic. But there were also rival
philosophicaltraditionsin the West. Platonismin its originalformwas presentin
Plato's Timaeus, translatedearlyin the Middle Ages; thephysicaland metaphysical worksof Aristotle,newlyavailable by theend of the twelfthcentury,exerted
a powerfulinfluence;and Christiantheologywas, of course, omnipresent.Finally,therewere technicaltreatiseson a wide varietyof subjects, includinggeometricaloptics. The attemptto reconcile these diverse materialsgave rise to a
variety of philosophical products, includinga Neoplatonized Aristotelianism
withinwhichthe doctrineof emanationand otheraspects of Plotinianlightmetaphysics remainedpotentelements.25
One of the foundersof the Westerntraditionof Neoplatonized Aristotelianism
and a centralfigurein the intellectuallife of the thirteenth
centurywas Robert
Grosseteste (ca. 1168-1253). Grosseteste adopted as much of the Neoplatonic
emanationistmetaphysicsas he could withoutfallinginto the heresy of pantheism,and lightthereforepermeateshis philosophyas symboland analogue. In
De ordine emanandi causatorum a Deo he points out that "the Father is the
cause of the Son, and the Son emanates fromthe Father." An emanationist
metaphysicsis again evident in De luce, where it is argued that "every higher
body, in virtueof the lightwhich proceeds fromit, is the formand perfectionof
the body that comes afterit. And just as unityis potentiallyevery numberthat
comes afterit, so the firstbody throughthe multiplication
of lightis every body
23 Note that al-Kindi's
radiatinglighthas the same kind of derived corporealityin the mediumas
Plotinus's firstlighthas in the luminousbody.
24
Avencebrolisfons vitae, 3.13, ed. Clemens Baeumker (Beitrage zur Geschichteder Philosophie
des Mittelalters,1.2) (Munster: Aschendorff,1892), pp. 107-108.
25
There was no purely(or even predominantly)
Platonicor Neoplatonic traditionin medievalLatin
Christendomfromthe thirteenth
centuryto the end of thefifteenth.
When one speaks of Platonismor
Neoplatonismduringthis period, Neoplatonized Aristotelianismis always meant.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

15

that comes afterit."26 Yet Grosseteste holds firmlythat God does not create
throughintermediaries,by a successive overflowingof essences; rather, all
thingsemanate directlyfromthe divine being. James McEvoy, who has brilliantlyanalyzed Grosseteste's lightmetaphysics,summarizesas follows:
God is theverysubstanceand essenceofspiritual
light,and no lightofthespiritcan
shinesave byparticipation
intheuncreated
froma sourcetends
light.Lightstreaming
to forma hierarchy
of diminishing
power,and the createdlightsin theirvarying
degreesof participation
imitatethe natureof the sourceof light,each shiningor
reflecting
uponthenextthelightwhichithas itselfreceivedfromabove.The guiding
principle
ofthewholeconception
is thatofunity.Thereis a singleinfinite
fountain
of
light,whoseunityremainsperfect
evenwhenitsrayis participated
inby many.The
generation
and extensionoflightdownwards
fromthisspiritual
sunleavesitinitself
unchanged,
and stilltranscendent
undivided,
to thehierarchy
formed
byitseffusion.
Although
totallypresentto all it shinesupon,it loses nothing
ofitsinteriority
in its
Sinceall lightcomesfromone singlesource,downwards
outgoing.
fromtheFatherof
Lights,theworkoftheassimilation
andtransmission
oflightwithin
thegradesofthe
hierarchy,
downevento thelowest,is as muchtheactivity
oftheluxsupremaas of
thelowerbeingsthemselves.27
Lightis prominentnot onlyin Grosseteste's theologyand metaphysicsbut also
in his cosmogonyand physics, where he addresses the visible world. In De luce
Grosseteste develops an elaborate cosmogonical scheme that aims to reconcile
Neoplatonic emanationismwiththe Biblical account of ex nihilocreation-all, of
course, withina broadly Aristotelianframework.Grosseteste's cosmogonyhas
been frequentlyand eloquentlyexpounded; let us look brieflyat the mainlines of
the argument.28
In the beginning,God created firstmatter,an altogetherdimensionless entity,and firstform,a dimensionlesspoint of light.In Grosseteste's
identification
of lightas firstform,Plotinianinfluenceis already apparent. The
pointof lightinstantaneouslydiffuseditselfintoa sphere,drawingmatterwithit
(since matterand formare inseparable except in thought),thus bringingdimension to matterand givingrise to body. Lightis thusthe firstformof corporeityor
the firstcorporeal form:
The first
corporealform,whichsomecall corporeity,
is in myopinionlight[lux].For
lightof itsverynaturediffuses
itselfin everydirection
in sucha waythata pointof
lightwillproduceinstantaneously
a sphereof lightof any size whatsoever,
unless
someopaque bodystandsin theway. Now theextensionof matterin threedimensions is a necessaryconcomitant
of corporeity,
and thisdespitethefactthatboth
and matter
corporeity
are inthemselves
simplesubstanceslackingall dimension.
But
a formthatis initselfsimpleandwithout
dimension
couldnotintroduce
dimension
in
everydirection
intomatter,
whichis likewisesimpleand without
dimension,
except
by multiplying
itselfand diffusing
itselfinstantaneously
in everydirection
and thus
extending
matter
initsowndiffusion.
Fortheformcannotdesertmatter,
becauseitis
inseparable
fromit,and matter
itselfcannotbe deprivedofform.
26
Robert Grosseteste,De ordineemanandi causatoriuma Deo, in Die philosophischenWerkedes
Robert Grosseteste, ed. Ludwig Baur (Beitrage zur Geschichte der Philosophiedes Mittelalters,9)
(Munster:Aschendorff,1912), p. 147; and Grosseteste,De luce, ibid., p. 6, quotingfromGrosseteste,
On Light, trans. Clare C. Riedl (Milwaukee: MarquetteUniv. Press, 1942), p. 15.
27 James McEvoy, The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), pp.
65-67,
136.
28 The best account is thatof McEvoy, ibid., pp. 151-158; see also Lindberg,Bacon's
Philosophy
of Nature (cit. n. 19), pp. xlix-lii.

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16

DAVID C. LINDBERG

The resultof this multiplicationwas a great sphere of simplebody, the basis of
the corporeal universe:
Thuslight,whichis thefirst
itselfby itsvery
formcreatedin first
matter,
multiplied
naturean infinite
inevery
number
oftimeson all sidesandspreaditselfoutuniformly
direction.
In thiswayit proceededin thebeginning
to extendmatter,
whichit could
not leave behind,by drawingit out alongwithitselfintoa mass the size of the
material
universe.29
The spherical diffusionof light came to an end when the outermostparts
reached the limitof rarefaction,thus fullyactualizingthe potentialityof matter
and givingrise to the firmament
or outermostsphere(a perfectbody "because it
has nothingin its compositionbut firstmatterand firstform"). The firmament
then radiated its light(lumen) inward, since "lightis the perfectionof the first
body and naturallymultipliesitselffromthe firstbody."30In the returnof light
towardthe centerof the universe,additionalrarefactionwas produced,forlight
always carries matterwith it. Successive celestial spheres were thus produced,
each rarefiedto the maximumdegree and thus perfectin thatit lacked potentiality for any additional change, while the lower regionacquired greaterdensity
throughthe influxof additionalmatter.This regionof greatdensitywas differentiatedinto the fourelementsof the terrestrialregion,which were subject to furthercondensationand rarefaction,and thus to change, because of theirincomplete actualization.
One of the most strikingfeaturesof thiscosmogonical scheme is its firmstatementof the unityof the cosmos. To be sure, the celestial-terrestrial
dichotomyof
Aristotleis still apparent in the claim of celestial perfection(total actualization
throughmaximumrarefaction)and terrestrialimperfection(the potentialityof
incompleterarefaction).But underlyingthe differencesis a fundamentalunity,
based on lightas firstcorporeal form.All of the bodies of the universe,celestial
and terrestrialalike, are the productsof radiatinglight:"the formand perfection
of all bodies is light,but in the higherbodies it is more spiritualand simple,
whereas in the lower bodies it is more corporeal and multiplied."'31 Moreover,
throughthe unitybased on light,motionis engenderedin all bodies of the universe: "But since lower bodies participatein the form [firstlight]of higher
bodies, the lower body by participationin the same formas the higherbody
receives motion fromthe same incorporeal motive power as does the higher
body."32One feels almost thatthe differencebetween heaven and earthis quantitativeratherthan qualitative, for terrestrialelements are denied the diurnal
motionof the heavens only because the "lightin themis impure,weak, and far
removedfromthe puritywhich it has in the firstbody."33
Finally, in the mundane world lightacts as the universalagent of causation.
Grosseteste adopts the essentials of al-Kindi's claim that everythingacts on
29
Grosseteste,Philosophischen Werke,ed. Baur, pp. 51-52; quotingfromOn Light, trans.Riedl,
pp. 10-11, withaltered punctuation(both cit. n. 26).
30 Grosseteste,On Light, trans. Riedl, p. 13; Philosophischen
Werke,ed. Baur, p. 54.
31 Grosseteste, On Light, trans. Riedl, p. 15; Philosophischen
Werke,ed. Baur, pp. 56-57.
32 Grosseteste, Philosophischen Werke,ed. Baur, p.
57; cf. On Light, trans. Riedl, p. 16, from
whichI have borrowedsome wording.
33 Grosseteste, On Light, trans. Riedl, p. 16; Philosophischen Werke,ed. Baur, p. 57. On lightas
the principleof unityin the cosmos, see McEvoy, Philosophyof Grosseteste,pp. 156-158.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

17

else through
theradiation
everything
offorceorlight:"A naturalagentmultiplies
itspowerfromitselfto therecipient,
whether
itacts on senseor on matter.This
poweris sometimes
calledspecies,sometimes
a likeness,anditis thesamething
whateverit maybe called,and theagentsendsthesame powerintosenseand
intomatter,or intoits contrary,
as heatsendsthesame thingintothesense of
touchand intoa cold body." Thatsuchradiations
are responsible
forall causationcan be inferred
fromanotherpassagein thesamework,whereGrosseteste
statesthat"all causes of naturaleffectsmustbe expressedby meansof lines,
angles,and figures,
forotherwiseit is impossibleto grasptheirexplanation."
AndinDe naturalocorumhe writesofthegeometrical
rulesgoverning
thepropagationoflight:"These rules,foundations,
and fundamentals
havingbeengiven
by thepowerof geometry,
thediligentinvestigator
of naturalthingscan in this
mannerspecifythecauses of all naturaleffects.Andhe can do thisin no other
way."34Ifall naturaleffects
are expressible
intermsoflines,angles,andfigures,
itis becauseall naturaleffects
are reducibleto theradiation
oflight.
ManyfeaturesofGrosseteste'sphilosophy
oflightreappearedin theworksof
theinfluential
Franciscan(eventually
minister
generalof theFranciscanOrder)
SaintBonaventure
(ca. 1217-1274).Lightwas one ofthecentralrealitiesofBonaventure'sworld.As forGrosseteste,
itwas thefirst
corporealform,thesource
of all corporealexistenceand activity.It servedcosmogonicalfunctions,
as
God's principalinstrument
in the creation;indeed,Bonaventure
associatedsix
different
illuminations
withthesix daysofcreation.All knowledge,
Bonaventure
held,comesby divineillumination.
Visual sensation,of course,occursthrough
the radiationof light;all otherformsof sensationoccurthrough
an analogous
multiplication
of similitudes.
Lightis also responsibleforthelinkagebetween
bodyand soul.35 Even theSon descendedfromtheFatherbya processofemanationresembling
thatby whichthe objectof sense sendsits similitude
intothe
senseorgan:
A senseobjectcan stimulate
a cognitive
faculty
onlythrough
themediumofa similitude whichproceedsfromthe object as an offspring
fromits parent.... In like
manner,knowthatfromthe mindof the Most High, . . . fromall eternity
there
emanateda Similitude,an Image,and an Offspring;
and afterwards
... He was
unitedto a mindand a bodyand assumedtheformofa man.36

accordingto Bonaventure,
God createdtheempyreum
(the
-In thebeginning,
outermost
celestialsphere),fromwhichlightradiatedinstantaneously
in all directions.Insofaras itwas spiritual
in nature,thislightbrought
angelicbeinginto
existence.Insofaras it was corporeal,it conferred
extensionand gave rise to
body.Lightis thusthefirstformofeverycorporealsubstance;as pureactivity,
it endows corporealsubstanceswiththeiractive powers;accordingto their
34 Robert Grosseteste,De lineis, angulis, et figuris,quoted frommy translation
in A Source Book
in Medieval Science, ed. Edward Grant(Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1974),pp. 385-386,
385; and Grosseteste,De natura locorum,in PhilosophischenWerke,ed. Baur, pp. 65-66.
35 Saint Bonaventure's De reductioneartiumad
theologiam:A Commentarywithan Introduction
and Translation,ed. and trans. Sister Emma Therese Healy, Vol. I of Worksof Saint Bonaventure,
ed. PhilotheusBoehner and Sister M. Frances Laughlin (Saint Bonaventure,N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1955), pp. 46-53, 61-68; and Joseph AnthonyMazzeo, Medieval Cultural Traditionin Dante's
Comedy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 73-76. On Bonaventure'sphilosophyof light,
see also Hedwig, Sphaera lucis (cit. n. 4), pp. 161-173.
36
Bonaventure,De reductioneartium,trans.Healy, pp. 29-31.

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18

DAVID C. LINDBERG

degreeofparticipation
in theformoflight,all bodiesin theworldcan be hierarchicallyarranged.The affinities
betweenthe cosmogoniesof Bonaventure
and
Grossetesteare apparent,thoughit shouldbe notedthatwhereascreationfor
Grossetestebeganwitha centralpointof lightinstantly
outwardto
emanating
forma sphere,forBonaventure
itbeganwiththesphericalempyreum
sendingits
lightinward.37
Bonaventuredrawsa distinction
betweenspirituallightand corporeallight,
admitting
an analogicalrelationship
butno more.38
He discoursesat somelength
on the corporeality
of cosmiclight,presenting
on bothsides of the
arguments
question.He concludesfroma varietyofconsiderations
thatthecosmiclightof
thefirstday of creation,thefirstcorporealformby whichthematerialuniverse
came intobeing,is itselfcorporeal.As the argument
unfolds,however,it becomes clear thatBonaventurehas only secondaryor derivedcorporeality
in
mind.Lightis notbody,buttheformofbody.Aristotle
teachesthatformis the
principleof activity;since light"is the mostactiveof all corporealthings,"it
mustbe form.Moreover,everybodyis a compositeofformand matter;therefore,iflightis form,it cannotalso be body.Finally,iflightwerebody,sinceit
has thecapacityof multiplying
itself,then"somebodycouldmultiply
itselfoutside itselfwithoutthe presenceof othermatter,whichis impossibleforany
createdthing."39
Butis lightsubstantial
or accidentalform?Bonaventure
reportsarguments
for
bothsides of thequestion.He theningeniously
resolvestheissue by accepting
bothconclusions.Whatmadethispossiblewas a distinction
betweentwokinds
oflightthathad beenformulated
by Avicenna.In hisDe anima (a portionofhis
Shifa) Avicennahaddistinguished
betweentheluminous
qualityofthesunor fire
(luxin theLatintranslation
ofthework)and thesplendoror effect
ofluxon the
surrounding
medium(translated
intoLatinas lumen). In theWest,Grosseteste
carriedthedistinction
betweenluxand lumenin a somewhat
different
direction,
identifying
lux withfirstcorporealform,emanating
fromits punctiform
origin
intoa greatcosmicsphere,and lumenwiththelightemanating
inwardly
fromthe
outermost
sphere-thoughGrosseteste
didmanageto retainthenotionthatluxis
theprimary
lightand lumenitsoffspring.40
Bonaventure
graspsthedistinction
in
itsoriginalAvicennanform,arguingthat"Light[lux]can be understood
in two
ways: in one sense,it is theveryformthatgivesbeingto a lucidbodyand by
which,principally,
a luminousbodyis active... ; intheothersenselightis the
fulgorsurrounding
theluminousbodyand resulting
fromtheexistenceoflightin
suchmatter,
and thislightis theobjectof senseand theinstrument
ofactivity."
Lightin theformersense is substantial
form;in thelattersense it is accidental
form.Here Bonaventure
employsthetermluxequivocallyto coverbothsenses;
37 Bonaventure,Super quatuor libros sententiarum
2, Dist. 13, Art. 2, Quest. 2, Opera omnia, ed.
A. C. Peltier, 15 vols. (Paris: Vives, 1864-1871), Vol. II, pp. 553, 538-539; and Bonaventure,De
reductioneartium,trans. Healy, pp. 45-47.
38 Mazzeo, Medieval Cultural Tradition(cit. n. 35), pp. 76-77;
and GertrudeKelly Hamilton,
"Three Worlds of Light: The Philosophyof Light in Marsilio Ficino, Thomas Vaughan, and Henry
Vaughan" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. Rochester, 1974), p. 65.
39 Bonaventure,Super quatuor libros sententiarum
2, Dist. 13, Art. 1, Quest. 1, Opera omnia, ed.
Peltier,Vol. II, pp. 545-548; and ibid., Art. 2, Quest. 1, p. 552.
40 Grosseteste,Philosophischen Werke,ed.
Baur, pp. 55-56, quotingfromOn Light, trans.Riedl,
pp. 13-14. On this distinction,see David C. Lindberg, "The Science of Optics," in Science in the
Middle Ages, ed. Lindberg(Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 356-357.

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

19

subsequentlyhe substituteslumen for lightas accidental form.Lumen, he proceeds to argue, is not body, but a corporealformor accidentalqualitythatpasses
through a medium instantaneouslyby a process of "generation and diffusion." "Since lumen is a corporeal form," he notes, "it requires a mediumto
convey it."'41
We have seen thatGrossetesteand Bonaventure,whileadoptinglargeportions
of Neoplatonic lightmetaphysics,includingthe notionof lightas the formof a
luminousbody, firmlyrejected Plotinus's interpretation
of radiatinglightas an
incorporealentityneeding no medium. They preferredthe opinion of Aristotle
and al-Kindi, which made radiatinglighta qualificationof the medium-in their
view, corporeal form.Roger Bacon (ca. 1220-ca. 1292), Grosseteste's follower
and Bonaventure's contemporary,adopted a similarposition.42Bacon never developed a full metaphysicsof light; rather,he took the physics of lightas expressed by al-Kindi and Grosseteste-the claim that radiationis the universal
instrument
of naturalcausation-and developed it into a systematicdoctrine.In
De multiplicationsspecierum,Bacon painstakinglyexplored the physicaldetails
of thisemanation-which he called the multiplication
of species. In the course of
writingDe multiplicationsspecierum,Bacon gave the natureof radiatinglighta
more extended analysis thanit had ever beforereceived.
The termspecies goes back to classical Latin, withthe meaning"aspect" or
"appearance." Augustineemployed it to denote the likeness in the senses and
intellectof a perceived object, and this usage remainedcurrentthroughoutthe
Middle Ages. With Grosseteste and Bacon, however, the meaningof the term
was broadened to denote the likeness emanatingfroman object, whetheror not a
percipientbeing is presentto receive it. It became the forceor power by which
any object acts on its surroundings,a synonymfor al-Kindi's universalforce.
Bacon points out that it has different
names in different
contexts:form,image,
similitude,species, idol, phantasm,simulacrum,intention,virtue,passion, and
impression.Whateverits name, it
is thefirsteffectofan agent;foralljudgethatthrough
species[all]othereffects
are
produced.Thusthewise and thefoolishdisagreeaboutmanythingsin theirknowledge of species,buttheyagreein this,thattheagentsendsfortha speciesintothe
matteroftherecipient,
so that,through
thespeciesfirst
produced,it can bringforth
out of the potentiality
of the matter[of the recipient]
the completeeffectthatit
intends.41

We need not follow Bacon's explorationof the nature of species and their
multiplicationin all of its detail." A few claims, however,requireour attention.
Bacon argues thata species resemblesthe agentfromwhichit issued-in nature,
definition,specificessence, and operation-and thatby its action it convertsthe
41
Bonaventure,Super quatuor libros sententiarum2, Dist. 13, Art. 2, Quest. 2-Art. 3, Quest. 1,
Opera omnia, ed. Peltier(cit. n. 37), Vol. II, 555-559, quotingfrompp. 555, 558, 559.
42
On Bacon's sources, see Bacon's Philosophy of Nature, ed. Lindberg (cit. n. 19), p. liv; and
Lindberg, Theories of Vision (cit. n. 3), pp. 107-109. To admit Grosseteste's influenceon Bacon is
not to grantthatBacon actually studiedwithGrosseteste.
43 Bacon, De multiplications
specierum 1.1.42-69, 75-80, trans. Lindberg(cit. n. 19), pp. 4-7. On
the termspecies see PierreMichaud-Quantin,Etudes sur le vocabulairephilosophiquedu moyenaige,
with Michael Lemoine (Rome: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 1970), pp. 113-150, on p. 113; and Bacon's
Philosophyof Nature, ed. Lindberg,pp. liv-lv.
44 For a detailed account, see Bacon's Philosophyof Nature, ed. Lindberg,pp. liii-lxxi.

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20

DAVID C. LINDBERG

recipientintothe likeness of the agent.Lumen, forexample, is the species of lux,
and its effectis to convertthe recipientmediuminto the likeness of the parent
lux. Bacon insists not only that celestial thingsinfluencethe terrestrialrealm
throughtheirspecies, but thatterrestrialthingsact reciprocallyon the heavens.
the physicalunityof the cosmos.
Bacon thusjoins Grossetestein affirming
The question that mustprincipallyconcern us is the natureof lightor species
and the mode of its generationand multiplication.Bacon considersfivepossible
modes of generationand dismisses all but one. The most significantof those
dismissed is that which maintainsthat something(eithersubstance or accident)
actually departs fromthe agent; this, he claims, is impossiblebecause "neither
accident nor a piece of substance can departfroma subject withoutcorruptionof
the whole substance," and the most active producersof species are spiritualand
celestial substances, which are incorruptible.Afterfurtherdiscussion, Bacon
concludes thatspecies are generatedby a "bringingforthout of the active potentialityof the recipientmatter."45Moreover, this occurs only by directcontact
betweenagentand recipient.Thus an agentproduces its species in the partof the
mediumimmediatelyadjacent to itself;thatfirstpartof the mediumthenacts as
agent, replicatingitselfin the immediatelyadjacent second part of the medium,
and so forthuntil resistance of the mediumor loss due to secondary radiation
bringsthe process to an end. Bacon summarizesin his Opus maius:
Buta speciesis notbody,noris it movedas a wholefromone placeto another;but
is not
thatwhichis produced[byan agent]inthefirst
partoftheair[orothermedium]
in whichit
separatedfromthatpart,sinceformcannotbe separatedfromthematter
itproducesa likenessto itselfinthesecond
inheresunlessit shouldbe mind;rather,
thereis no changeof place,buta generation
partof theair,and so on. Therefore,
thedifferent
partsofthemedium;noris itbodywhichis generated
through
multiplied
of itselfbutis produced
there,buta corporealformthatdoes nothave dimensions
of the air; and it is notproducedby a flowfromthe
accordingto the dimensions
oftheair.46
ofthematter
forth
outofthepotentiality
body,butbya drawing
luminous
What is the significanceof Bacon's position? It is importantto see that he
allies himselfwith Aristotleand al-Kindi and Grosseteste, against Plotinus,on
the relationshipof lightto the medium.All, of course, reject the atomisticview
that light is body issuing froma luminous source. But whereas Plotinus also
rejected any connectionbetween lightand materialmedia, Bacon followedAristotle in making light an actualization of potentialitiespresent in the medium;
without a medium, there is no propagation of light. While maintainingthat
species are not themselvesbodies (we know thisbecause species enteringa medium, which for Bacon is a plenum, do not cause its sides to bulge outward),
Bacon insists that species are embodied in the mediumand acquire dimensionalitythroughit. They play corporeal formto the matterof the medium. "Therefore," Bacon writes,"since the mediumis the materialcause, in whichand from
the potentialityof which a species is generatedby the agent and generator,this
species cannot have a corporeal naturedistinctfromthe medium." This is evident because an effect,whethercomplete or incomplete,"does not have a new
corporeal dimension,but thatwhich belongs to the mediumor body in which [it]
Bacon, De multiplicationespecierum 1.3.6-8, 52, trans.Lindberg,pp. 44-45, 46-47.
The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, ed. JohnHenry Bridges, 3 vols. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1900), Vol. II, pp. 71-72.
45

46

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

21

is generated."Bacon also rejectsthe ancientdistinction
betweencorporeality
and materiality.
He can see no difference
betweenthetermsand informs
us that
he willemploytheminterchangeably.47
Does itfollowthatthespeciesofcorporealthingsare corporeal(thatis, material)?Unequivocallyyes! The species of a corporealagentmustresemblethe
agentthatproduceditinnature,definition,
and specificessence.Moreover,such
a speciesis "neithersoul norintelligence
northefirst
cause; andeverything
else
is trulycorporeal."Therefore,since the opinionthatspecies are incorporeal
"cannotbe saved by anyrational
nordoes it haveanyprobability,
judgment,
as
is evidentto anymanwhowishesto dismissthefoolishness
ofthevulgarand to
followreason,I therefore
stateunconditionally
thatthe speciesof a corporeal
thingis trulycorporealand has trulycorporealbeing."48
If thespeciesof a corporealagentis necessarily
corporeal,can it nonetheless
have a spiritualmode of existencein the medium?Absolutelynot, since the
modeof existencemustagreewiththeessencehavingthatmode.Furthermore,
the mode of existencein a recipientmustbe consistent
withthe modeof the
recipient:"since the corporealmediumreceivingthe species . . . has entirely
corporealbeing,thisspeciescan have onlycorporealbeing."49
But severalobjectionsmustbe dealtwith.Peoplehavebeendisposedto attribute
immaterial
or
"spiritual"beingto species in a mediumbecause of the need to explainwhy
radiating
speciescan intersect
(as whentwoor moreraysoflightpass through
a
singleaperture)withoutinterference;
forif the species weretrulymaterial,it
wouldseemthatintersection
shouldresultin mixingand loss ofindividual
identity.Bacon's reply,an ingeniousdodge,is thatalthoughthespeciestrulymix,
nonethelessfromthe pointof mixtureto theobserver'seye come one species
thatcontinuesitsoriginallineofpropagation
and othersthatdo not;theformer
concealsthelatterbecause ofitsgreaterstrength,
thusgivingthesameresultas
thoughno mixinghad occurred.50
How, then,are we to interpret
thestatements
of Aristotle,
Avicenna,and Averroesthathave been takento implya spiritual
modeof existenceforspecies in themedium,the senses,or thebrain?Bacon
believesthatthese authorshave been mistranslated
and therefore
misunderstood.IfAverroesseemsto arguethatthespeciesofa corporealagenthas immaterialor spiritualexistencein the medium,whathe reallymeansis "insensible
being,to whichsome vulgar[scholar]or thetranslator
appliedthename'spiritual' because of the similarity
betweenspiritualthingsand insensibles."Likewise,whenAristotle
arguesthatthesensesreceivethespeciesofthingswithout
theirmatter,he does notmeanto endowthesespecieswithspiritual
being,but
merelyto indicatetheirinsensibility.
"For spiritualthingsare insensible,and
therefore
in commonusage we interchange
theterms,converting
thename'insensible'to 'spiritual,'so thateverything
thatlacksbeingsensibleto us is saidto
have intelligible
and spiritual
being;butthisis to use 'spiritual'equivocally,and
47 Bacon, De multiplicationsspecierum
3.1.37-42, 3.2.56-60, trans. Lindberg, pp. 180-181;
190-191. On the mergingof the ideas of materialityand corporeality,see Section VII below.
48 Ibid., 3.2.6-7, 76-80, pp. 186-187, 190-191.
49 Bacon, De multiplicationsspecierum
3.2.33-36, trans. Lindberg,pp. 188-189. Bacon pins the
blame for the notion that the species of a corporeal thingmighthave a spiritualmode of existence
chieflyon Averroes; see ibid., 3.2.17-36, pp. 188-189, and accompanyingnotes; and Lindberg,
"Science of Optics," pp. 357-358.
50 Bacon, De multiplications
specierum3.3.1-55, in Bacon's Philosophyof Nature, ed. and trans.
Lindberg,pp. 195-205. On the unsatisfactory
characterof this solution,see ibid., pp. lxvii-lxviii.

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DAVID C. LINDBERG

22

[the thinglacking sensible being] remainsin truth[an object] of corporealnature
and corporeal being."'51
Bacon's resolute defense of the corporealityof lightor species, supportedby
the authorityof Aristotle,Grosseteste,Bonaventure,and others,determinedthe
majorityview of generationsof European scholars.52Two immediatefollowers
were his youngercontemporaryWitelo, a Polish scholar attached to the Papal
Curia, and JohnPecham, Bacon's Franciscan brother-though,in truth,neither
man wasted a great deal of ink on what musthave seemed a thoroughlysettled
issue. Witelo (d. after 1281) stated his position in the preface to his weighty
Perspectiva:
Lightis the diffusion
of the supremecorporealforms,applyingitselfthrough
the
natureof corporealformto the matterof inferior
bodies and impressing
the descendedformsof the divineand indivisible
artificers
alongwithitselfon perishable
bodies in a divisiblemanner,and everproducing
in themnew
by its incorporation
specificor individual
forms,in whichthereresultsthrough
theactuality
of lightthe
divineformation
ofboththemovedorbsandthemovingpowers.Therefore,
because
lighthas theactuality
ofcorporealformit makesitselfequal to thecorporealdimensionsof thebodiesintowhichit flowsand extendsitselfto thelimitsof capacious
bodies.53

Lightis the diffusionof corporealform,adapted to the dimensionsof a corporeal
mediumthat receives it. The corporeal natureof lightis reinforcedin Witelo's
theoryof refraction,wherethe resistanceof the mediumto the passage of lightis
a centralaxiom.54Pecham (d. 1292) says even less on the subject. In his Tractatus de perspectiva he argues that, properlyspeaking,light(lux) is accidental
form-and he clearly has in mindthe accidental formof a corporeal substance.
And in both thattreatiseand his better-known
Perspectiva communis,he drops
hintsbroad enough to indicatethatlightor species proceeds throughthe medium
by a process of self-replication.55
In the fourteenthcentury,the focus of the problemshiftedto the epistemological realm. The cause of this shiftwas the attemptby a numberof scholars, of
whom Williamof Ockham (d. ca. 1349) ultimatelybecame the mostprominent,to
dispense withspecies as the agentsof perception.Ockham opposed theexistence
of species on a numberof grounds,includingour inabilityto perceive them. He
also argued thatthe notionof an intermediary
between the object of perception
and the percipientbeingwas an unnecessarymultiplication
of entities;he thought
it quite sufficient
to suppose thatan object acts at a distance on the sense organ
or the intellectwithoutthe mediationof species. AlthoughOckham may have
Ibid., 3.2.91-98, pp. 192-193.
Aristotelianslike AlbertusMagnus, uncontaminatedby Baconian influence,of course expressed
a similarview. On Albertus,see Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision (cit. n. 4), pp. 105-106.
53 Witelo, Perspectiva, in Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision, pp. 118-119.
54 See David C. Lindberg, "The Cause of Refractionin Medieval Optics," BritishJournalforthe
Historyof Science, 1968, 4:30-34. Witelo also echoes Baconian themesin treatinglightas a visible
instanceof all naturalaction; see A. C. Crombie,RobertGrossetesteand the OriginsofExperimental
Science, 1100-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), p. 215; AleksanderBirjenmajer,Etudes d'histoire des sciences en Pologne (Studia Copernicana, 4) (Wroclaw: Ossolineum, 1972), pp. 275-302;
and Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision, p. 119.
55 John Pecham, Tractatus de perspective, ed. David C. Lindberg (Franciscan InstitutePublications,Text Series, 16) (St. Bonaventure,N.Y.: Franciscan Institute,1972), pp. 29-30; JohnPecham
and the Science of Optics: Perspectiva communis,edited withan Introduction,English Translation
and CriticalNotes by David C. Lindberg(Madison: Univ. WisconsinPress, 1970), pp. 39-40.
51
52

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

23

had a few followers,the principalresponse to his theoryseems to have been
dismayand protest.Amongthe youngermembersof his own university(Oxford)
and his own order (the Franciscan) in the 1320s and 1330s (the decades immediately following his Oxford career), we find universal condemnation of his
teachingand a returnto the Baconian theoryof species. WalterChatton,Robert
Holcot, Adam Wodeham, and othersinsistedthatperceptionand cognitionoccur
throughspecies or similitudesmultipliedin a corporeal mediumfromthe sense
object to the sense organ. It mightbe debated whetherthese similitudesare of
the same essential nature as the objects fromwhich they issue (Bacon's own
position),but it was undisputedthatspecies are formsor qualities in a corporeal
medium.56
IV. FICINO AND THE RESTORATION OF PLOTINIAN NEOPLATONISM

In the second halfof the fifteenth
century,the Neoplatonized Aristotelianismof
Grosseteste, Bonaventure, and Bacon came to be rivaled-in some quarters,
eclipsed-by a purerversion of Neoplatonic philosophy.Chiefagent in this developmentwas Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), founderof the Platonic Academy in
Florence, whose translationsof Plato and Plotinusprovideddirectaccess to the
primarysources and inspireda Neoplatonic revival. Along withhis translations,
Ficino produced originalcompositionsof considerable power and influence,in
which he endeavored (as had Augustine,Grosseteste, and Bonaventurebefore
him) to develop a synthesisof Neoplatonic philosophyand Christiantheology.57
For Ficino, as for Plotinus, lightwas the connectingtissue of the universe.
God was conceived as the invisibleand infinite
light,fromwhichdescends visible
and finitelight-mere shadow in comparison to the infinitelight.All creatures
participatemore or less in the truedivinelight,thusarrangingthemselveshierarchically. Light is the animatingforce of the universe and the active power in
bodies, a manifestation
of the "innerfecundity"of things.Lighthas thepower of
instantaneousexpansion, wherebyit liberallyimpartsits goodness to all of creation. These are themesthatpervade Ficino's works. In De luminehe writes:
Whatis light[lux]in God? Immenseabundanceof his goodnessand truth.Whatis
lightin angels?Certitude
of understanding
flowing
fromGod and profusedelightof
will.Whatis lightin theheavens?Abundanceof lifefromtheangels,unfolding
of
powerfromtheheaven,and laughter
ofthesky.Whatis lightinfire?A certainvital
energyplantedby the heavenlybodies,and efficacious
propagation.
In thingsthat
lacksense,lightis graceoverflowing
fromheaven.In sentient
beingsitis exhilaration
of spiritand vigorof thesenses. In all things,then,lightis theemanation
of inner
fecundity;
everywhere,
itis theimageofdivinetruth
andgoodness.
Lightin this "worldlytemple" is
to be reveredabove all else as theimageof God. It is also a certaininstantaneous
expansionof utmostbreadth,which,withoutharmto itselfand owing to its
56
Katherine H. Tachau, "The Problem of the species in medio at Oxfordin the Generationafter
Ockham," Mediaeval Studies, 1982, 44:394-443; Tachau, "Vision and Certitude in the Age of
Ockham" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, 1981); and Lindberg, Theories of Vision, pp.
140-142.
57 On Ficino, see Paul Oskar Kristeller,The Philosophyof
Marsilio Ficino (New York: Columbia
Univ. Press, 1943); see also Kristeller,Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (Stanford:
StanfordUniv. Press, 1964).

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DAVID C. LINDBERG

andgladlytoall things.
itselfmostfreely
abundance,goodness,andliberality,
imparts
It is the cause, preservation,
and animationof all thingsthatare born;and other
thingsit elevatesto thelife,truth,andjoy fromwhichit descends.Withoutit, all
thingsappear to die; in its presence theyrevive....

Lightin all thingsmade by God

is a certainradianceof divinebrightness
and, so to speak,God makingHimselfas
thoughfinite,
adaptingHimselfto thecapacityofHis works.58
De lumineis a veritablehymnto the metaphysicsof light.
In none of his works did Ficino presenta well-developedcosmogonyor cosmology of light. Gertrude Kelly Hamilton is quite right,however, to see the
suggestionof a cosmogonyin Ficino's Praedicationes.59There we finda scheme
left undeveloped, but in outline reminiscentof Grosseteste and Bonaventure.
Commentingon the firstday of creation,Ficino points out thatGod's firstcreative act was to produce matterthathad no formor magnitudeand thereforewas
not yet body. In the second momentof creation-Ficino can only have in mind
the creationof lightin Genesis 1:3-matter was extendedin length,breadth,and
depth,thus producingcorporeal substance. Light is thereforethe firstcorporeal
form,or "the firstformof the firstbody."60
Cosmological themes are also touched upon in Ficino's frequentencomia to
the power and majestyof the sun. The sun, he pointsout, "regulatesand guides
all thingscelestial, like a veritablelord of the sky."'6'It impartsvital heat to all
things,generatingand movingthem; it furnisheslightto all the stars and gives
life to the signs of the zodiac; and it determinesplanetarymovements.Ficino
was, of course, a believer in astrology. He held that the sun determinesthe
qualities of the seasons and sheds lightand warmth;moreover,"the returnof the
Sun to the degree and the minuteof the birthdateof each person renews his
fortuneforone year."62 The relationshipof the moon and sun at the timeof birth
determinesthe individualhoroscope. If contextdoes not make it clear thatFicino
supposed some or all astrologicalinfluenceto be exertedthroughthe radiationof
lightand analogous powers, the point is explicitlystated in his commentaryon
Plotinus: "Our spiritis consonantwiththe heavenlyrays which,occult or mani"63
fest,penetrateeverything.
However importantFicino's cosmology of lightmay be, his returnto a purer
versionof Neoplatonic philosophyis mostevidentin his discussion of the nature
of light.To begin with,althoughhe appears to accept the generalview thatlux
and lumenare relatedas parentand offspring,
Ficino does not in practicesharply
distinguishthe two lights.64This reflectsthe heritageof Neoplatonism,which
58
Marsilio Ficino, De lumine 5, 16, in Opera omnia, 2 vols. (Basel, 1576; rpt., Turin: Bottega
d'Erasmo, 1959), Vol. I, pp. 978, 984-985. Cf. Marsile Ficin, Thgologieplatoniciennede l'immortalite des dimes,ed. and trans.RaymondMarcel, 3 vols. (Paris: Soci&t6d'6dition"Les Belles Lettres,"
1964), Vol. II, p. 239.
59 Marsilio Ficino, Praedicationes, Opera omnia, Vol. I, pp. 492-493; and Hamilton, "Three
Worlds of Light" (cit. n. 38), p. 58.
60 Ficino, De lumine 9, Opera omnia, Vol. I, p. 979. Note Ficino's careful observation of the
traditionaldistinctionbetween body and matter.
61 Marsilio Ficino, De sole 3, in The Italian Philosophers: Selected Readings from Petrarch to
Bruno, ed. and trans.ArturoB. Fallico and HermanShapiro, Vol. I ofRenaissance Philosophy(New
York: Modern Library, 1967), p. 121; cf. ibid. 6, p. 127.
62
Ibid. 2-4, pp. 120-122, quoting3, p. 122.
63
On Ficino's astrology,see D. P. Walker,Spiritualand Demonic Magic fromFicino to Campanella (Studies of the WarburgInstitute,22) (London: WarburgInstitute,1958); forthe quoted passage,
see p. 23.
64 For the lux-lumendistinction,
see Ficino, De lumine 11, Opera omnia, Vol. I, pp. 980-981.

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KEPLER'STHEORYOF LIGHT

25

emphasizes continuity,ratherthandiscontinuity,
in the world. If I read himcorrectly, Ficino holds, ultimately,that there is a single infinitelight,variously
participatedin; and althoughhe adheres more or less to the conventionalterminologyof lux and lumen, he understandsthatin factthereis no abruptdiscontinuityin the line of descent of the various lightswhere a linguisticbreak can be
unequivocallymade.
What is the nature of these lights?Once again the dominanttheme is continuity. Correspondingto the hierarchyof lightsis a hierarchyof natures-the
infinite,divine light is altogetherincorporeal, while lights descending fromit
partake increasinglyof corporeality.Nevertheless, they do not reach very far
into corporeality,and Ficino asserts repeatedlythat the visible lightin which
we are principallyinterestedis incorporeal-thoughhe also admitsoccasionally
thatit falls shortof perfectincorporeality.For example, in De luminehe argues
thatthe
light[lux]apparentto our eyes cannotbe thefirstlight,bothbecause it is proportionedto . . . corporealeyesand becauseit is mobileand presentin one thingwhile
on another.Therefore,
dependent
we mustascendto somehigher
light,unfettered
by
such conditions,alreadyexistingin and throughitself,incorporealthroughand
through.
Since even thislightvisibleto us is almostincorporeal,
and likewisethe
cause of incorporeal
images,. . . it is clearthatitcannothaveitsoriginin corporeal
mass [mole]or formor power;rather,it originates
froma lighthigherthanbodies,
clearer,and immeasurably
greater.65
Ficino defends the incorporeality(or quasi-incorporeality)of lighton several
grounds. Its apparent instantaneouspropagationacross vast cosmic spaces is
perhaps the most strikingevidence. Moreover, lightpenetrateshard and soft
bodies, large and small spaces, withequal ease and in the same time. Light can
issue continuouslyfroma lucid body withoutany corruptionor diminutionof the
body. And then thereis the authorityof Plotinus,who denies the occurrenceof
corporeal change (such as approach, recession, contraction,and expansion) in
light. All these things prove "that light [lumen] is spiritualrather than corporeal."66 "Lumen is a certain spiritual,instantaneous,and extremelydiffuse
emanationfrombodies by theirnature,withoutdetrimentto themselves." And
yet Ficino does not fail to remindus on occasion that light,in truth,is only
"67
"quasi-spiritual.
As a spiritualor quasi-spiritualentity,how does lightinteractwith material
things?Into what sort of relationshipcan it enterwithbody? Light, Ficino assures us, is not a quality of the body or mediumthat receives illumination,but
the "proper and naturalactivityof the illuminatingbody." Thus lightis never
confinedto a specificplace; it is not "so much in the illuminatedbody as present
to it." It is not dependentforits existence on a corporeal medium,but only on
the activityof a luminous source. A corporeal medium,farfrombeing a necessity, is a hindrance: "Light does not mingle with the illuminatedtransparent
substance, . . . for mixingof this sort does not pertainto celestial activityand
powers (that is, to rays), but to elementalqualities. No elementalqualities are
necessary for the presence of light; it is sufficientthat light encounter no
65
56
67

Ibid. 6, p. 978.
Ibid. 9, 13, pp. 979, 982; cf. Theologieplatonicienne(cit. n. 58), Vol. I, p. 236.
Ficino, De lumine2, 13, Opera omnia, Vol. I, pp. 977, 982.

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terrestrial
opacityunsuitedforreceivingcelestial things."68The Plotiniancharacterof Ficino's remarksis striking:lightas the activityof a luminousbody and the
of a mediumhad been basic themesof Plotinus's theoryof light.
superfluity
It follows fromthe foregoingargument,Ficino believes, that light(lumen) is
"between substance, which is (as it were) self-subsistent,and quality, which
depends on both an agent and a recipient."69Light is totallydependenton and
inseparable fromthe lucidityof its source, while servingas the intermediary
throughwhich the source communicatesilluminationand heat to bodies in its
vicinity.This can be clarifiedby an analogy: Ficino maintainsthatlightis to the
illuminatedmediumas soul is to the body thatit animates. In the scale of being,
God and the angels are, of course, located at the summit,whilebody and quality
are at the base. Soul, Ficino argues, is the intermediary
between these superior
and inferiorbeings, participatingsimultaneouslyin the immortality
of angels and
the changes and motionsof quality,thusintroducingunityintotheuniverse.Soul
"embraces the superiorwithoutabandoningthe inferior,and so throughit the
two are united." In the same way, the visible lightof the sun unitesthe celestial
and terrestrialregions:
Soul does thesamethingas thelight[lumen]ofthesun.For lightdescendsfromthe
sunintofireand fillsitwithout
thesun.It alwaysadheresto thesunand
abandoning
alwaysfillsthefire.It perfects
theairwithoutbeingcorrupted
of
bythecorruption
theair. In thesameway,thethirdessence[soul]mustadhereto thedivineand fill
thatwhichis mortal.Whileadhering
to thedivine,it knowsthedivinebecauseit is
unitedto the divine,and spiritual
spiritually
unionbegetsknowledge.Whileit fills
bodies,movingthemfromwithin,
itanimatesthem.70
Soul is not unitedto its body quantitatively,pointforpoint,but is whollypresent
in each individualpartof the body.71This distinguishesit fromquality,whichcan
be divided along with the body in which it inheres. In a passage dealing with
color, Ficino again stresses the analogy between lightand soul:
On the earth'ssurfacelight[lumen], infusedintovariousmixtures
of thefourelements,especiallythe earthly,assumestheformsof variouscolors,likecorpuscles
whose littlesouls [animulae] are scintillaeof lightinfusedintothem.If you could
separatethese[scintillae]fromthosemixtures
andpreservethem,youwouldperhaps
see whatrationalsoulsare likewhenseparatedfrombody.72
If Ficino sometimesseems ambivalentabout the natureof light,thisis (in part)
the legacy of Neoplatonism,whichforeverconfrontsthe dilemmaof maintaining
unitywhile acknowledgingdiversity.In every featureof the universe there is
both continuityand polarity.Distinctionsmustbe made, but thereare no places
on the continuumwhere lines of demarcationcan be drawn. It is vacillation
between these two truthsthat leads Ficino into seemingcontradictions:lightis
spiritual,yet not quite spiritual;lightproceeds withouta medium,yet "perfects
the air" and "fillsthatwhich is mortal." But vacillationdoes not entirelyexplain
68
69
70

985.
71
72

Ibid. 11, p. 980; cf. The'ologieplatonicienne,Vol. III, p. 35.
Ficino, De lumine 11, Opera omnia, Vol. I, p. 980.
Ficino, The'ologieplatonicienne,Vol. I, pp. 137, 139; cf. De lumine16, Opera omnia, Vol. I, p.
Ficino, The'ologieplatonicienne,Vol. I, p. 140.
Ficino, De lumine 13, Opera omnia, Vol. I, p. 982.

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

27

theambiguities
ofFicino'saccountoflight.In thefinalanalysis,lightis ofitself
thereis no possibility
ofdefining
In Ficino'sjudgment,
mysterious
and ineffable.
absolutelywhatlumenis, and we are oftenreducedto declaringwhatit is not.
Ficino thus associates the investigation
of lightwiththe via negativaof the
tradition.
pseudo-Dionysian
notan image
Light"is notcolor,nottransparency,
of the heavenly bodies.

. .

. Therefore,we know light,as we know God, only

through
negationsand comparisons."73
and withit Plotinian
Ficino's attemptto revivePlotinianlightmetaphysics,
teachingon thenatureoflight,was notwithout
impactin thesixteenth
century.
Nonetheless,majorityopinion continuedto favor traditionalAristotelianBaconiandoctrine.The bestopticianofthecentury,
FrancescoMaurolico(14941575),addressedhimselfexclusivelyto the mathematics
of light,avoidingany
discussionofits natureor metaphysical
basis; at theverymost,one mightinfer
fromhisuse oftheword"species"thathe was preparedto acceptthecustomary
connotations
of thatterm.74
GirolamoCardano(1501-1576) includeda chapter
entitled"De luce et lumine"in his De subtilitate;
therehe notedthatlux is a
qualityof bodies,whichgivesriseto its likeness,lumen,in theadjacenttransparentmediumor to color in opaque bodies. A fewyearslaterJuliusCaesar
Scaliger(1484-1558) issueda hotattackon someofCardano'sdoctrines,
particularlyhisclaimsthatthemoonhas itsownlightandthatheatandlightareinseparableand therefore
ultimately
thesamething.In thecourseofhisdiatribe,Scaligerexaminedthenatureoflux, lumen,radius,andcalorandtheirrelationships.
He arguedthatlux,thequalityofa luminous
body,does notexitfromthatbody;
whatissues fromthebodyis lumen(thespeciesor likenessof lux),also metaphorically
called radius.Lumenis theactualityof theadjacenttransparent
medium;heatand lumenare companionsbutare notinseparableand certainly
are
not the same thing.75
For Cardanoand Scaliger,and probablyforMaurolico,
radiating
lightis stillthequalification
ofa corporealmedium.
The same maybe trueof thegreatestEnglishmathematician
of thesixteenth
JohnDee (1527-1608).76
century,
Unfortunately,
Dee remainedalmostentirely
silenton the natureand mode of propagationof light,and we can inferhis
opinionon thesubjectonlyfromhisgeneralallegianceto theBaconiandoctrine
ofthemultiplication
ofspecies.WhatmakesDee's workworthy
ofourattention
is hisfirmdefenseofal-Kindi'sand Bacon's physicsoflight.Dee maintains
that
in theuniverse-substanceand accident,spiritual
everything
substanceas well
as corporealsubstance-sendsitsspeciesinall directions,
so that"everyplacein
Ibid. 12, p. 981. Cf. Ficino, De sole 2, in Italian Philosophers(cit. n. 61), p. 120.
Francesco Maurolico, Photismi de lumine et umbra ad perspectivamet radiorumincidentiam
facientes. Diaphanorum partes, seu libritres.... Problemata ad perspectivamet iridempertinentia
(Naples, 1611). For an analysis of Maurolico's optical contributions,
see Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision
(cit. n. 3), pp. 178-182; and Lindberg, "Optics in Sixteenth-Century
Italy," in Novita!celesti e crisi
del sapere: Attidel Convegno Internazionaledi Studi Galileiani, ed. P. Galluzzi (Supplementto the
Annali dell'Istitutoe Museo di Storia della Scienza, 2) (Florence: Istitutoe Museo di Storia della
Scienza, 1983), pp. 131-148.
75 HieronymiCardani De subtilitatelibriXXI (Nuremberg:JohannesPetreius, 1550), p. 93; and
JuliusCaesar Scaliger, Exotericarumexercitationumliber XV: De subtilitatead HieronymumCardanum (Paris: Michael Vascosan, 1557), pp. 207-208, 213-216. Kepler cites the optical writingsof
Cardano and Scaliger.
76 This is the view of JohnHeilbron in his introduction
to JohnDee on Astronomy:Propaedeumata
aphoristica (1558 and 1568), Latin and English, ed. and trans. Wayne Shumaker(Berkeley: Univ.
CaliforniaPress, 1978), pp. 61-63.
73
74

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28

DAVID C. LINDBERG

All species
theuniversecontainsraysofall thingsthathaveactualexistence."77
submitto opticalanalysis.Radiation
obeythelaws ofopticsand musttherefore
maybe sensibleor insensible;and it is responsibleformagneticaction,solar
it to be
Of thelatter,Dee states:"I affirm
heat,sensation,and astralinfluence.
mostcertainthatabouteverysinglethingin theuniversetheraysof all seven
or
or sensiblerays,eitherprincipal
planets-theraysofa moresecretinfluence,
and mingleat all times,and thatthereremainsa perpetual
accidental-converge
in theuniverse."78
ofall thesein everything
conjunction
by Plotinusand
opticalwritermostheavilyinfluenced
The sixteenth-century
of Ferrara,
Ficino was the professorof Platonicphilosophyat the University
philosophia,PatrizideFrancescoPatrizi(1529-1597).In his Nova de universis
God theFatheris the
velopedhisownversionofNeoplatoniclightmetaphysics.
firstlight(lux),sourceof all others;fromHimdescend,as lesserlights,theSon
Further
emanation
andtheHoly Spirit,imagesoftheFatherand His goodness.79
lux, celestiallux, and corporeallumen.Patrizidisgives rise to supercelestial
Lux is
coursesat lengthon the natureof lux and lumenand theirrelationship.
it
is
an
"intermediary
neither
butbothsimultaneously;
corporealnorincorporeal
and corporealnature."Lux in thecorporealrealm
divinity
betweenincorporeal
and purelyincorthe truestimageof thattrulyinfinite
"is in one way infinite,
lightinno wayexcept
poreallight.As ithappens,itfallsshortofthatincorporeal
simultaneously
its
three-dimensionality),
thatit issuesforthas a body(owingto
space. Lux is
as
it
occupies
simply
insofar
finiteand infinite."
Lux is corporeal
matter
norform,butbothmatter
thepurestand simplestofall things;itis neither
andformin perfectunity.80
the mediationof rays;rayscan thusbe
Lumenis derivedfromlux through
otherthana
consideredsecondlightand lumenthirdlight.Lumen"is nothing
lumengathbutunified
diffused
ray,whilea ray,by thesametoken,is nothing
thatlumenis "an
eredintoitself."Patrizi,whohas no fearofparadox,maintains
It is
body,"a corpusincorporeum.
three-dimensional
immaterial,
incorporeal,
"It is notso much
buta self-subsistent:
medium,
nota qualityofthetransparent
containedwithinthe transparent
as presentto it." We knowthisbecause the
lumenpassingthroughit. Patrizi
can be movedwithoutaffecting
transparent
concludesthatlumenfunctions
as lifeextending
all things;by its mostalluringsweetnessit giveslifeand
through
nourishes,
bothwithinandwithout.... Alongwithcelestiallumencomesgentleand
all things.Andin all things
vitalheat,in whichis thepowerof movingand forming
lumenis thepouring
fecundity,
thesurestand mostevidentimage
forth
ofinnermost
77 Dee, Propaedeumata aphoristica,trans.Shumaker,p. 123,withone correction.Dee here quotes
al-Kindiverbatim;see above, n. 21. The resemblancebetweenDee's Propaedeumata aphoristicaand
Bacon's De multiplicationsspecierum is striking.On Dee's use of Bacon, see Nicholas H. Clulee,
"Astrology,Magic, and Optics: Facets of JohnDee's Early NaturalPhilosophy,"Renaissance Quarterly,1977,30:632-680. On Dee's other sources (includingal-Kindi), see Heilbron's introductionto
JohnDee on Astronomy,pp. 53-55.
78 Dee, Propaedeumata aphoristica, pp. 127-129, 133, 179-181, 189, quotingfromp. 191.
79 Francesco Patrizi, Nova de universisphilosophia (Venice: Robertus Meiettus, 1593), fols. lv,
23r; on Patrizi's philosophy,see Kristeller,Eight Philosophers(cit. n. 57), Ch. 7.
80 Patrizi,Nova de universisphilosophia, fols. 2v, 3r; on lux as occupyingspace, see Elizabeth E.
Maechling, "The Doctrine of Light in the Philosophy of Francesco Patrizi (M.Phil. diss., Univ.
London, 1977), pp. 23-24.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

29

of divinebeautyand goodness.And so through
lumenthe entireworldbecomes
luminousand visibleand aesthetically
pleasing.81
Lumen can also serve as the basis forthe returnof thecreatureto the Creator.If,
in the orderof being, all lightsdescend ultimatelyfromGod, thenin the orderof
knowingwe can ascend, by the studyof light,to God, the "Father of lights"just as Aristotleascended fromthe studyof motionto knowledgeof its cause, the
primemover.82
V. KEPLER'S METAPHYSICS AND COSMOLOGY OF LIGHT

We have examined the course of Neoplatonic emanationismand the major alternatives available to Kepler on the natureof light.Althoughit is generallyimpossible to identifythe specificsources of Kepler's thoughton light,since (with a
few exceptions) he does not cite them,we can learn a greatdeal about Kepler's
positionfromsimilaritiesof doctrine.Viewed againstthis background,Kepler's
works unmistakablyreveal theirphilosophicalorigins.
Kepler leftno explicitlytheological or metaphysicaltreatise,but theological
and metaphysicalremarkspervade his scientificworks. Specifically,Kepler expresses a deep and abidingcommitmentto Neoplatonic emanationism.He associates lightwiththe underlyingmathematicalarchetypesand presentsit as one of
the principalagents employed by the Creatorin His governanceof the universe.
In Kepler's view, it is lightthat links spiritualand corporeal realities,that delights the eye and animates all things. With Plotinus, Ficino, and Patrizi, he
believes that the studentof lightis rewardedwithan understandingof the ultimate realities.
In his earliest work on optics, Ad Vitellionemparalipomena (1604), Kepler
introduceslightas the offspringof sphericityand both lightand sphericityas
images of the Trinity.All things,he insists,are meantas images of theirCreator
insofaras theiressences permit.In seekingto create the best possible world,the
Creator
foundnothing
morebeautiful
or moreexcellentthanHimself.Thatis why,whenhe
conceivedthecorporealworld,he gave it a formas likeHimselfas possible.Thus
thewholegenusofquantities,
originated
andin itthedistinction
betweenthecurved
and the straight
and the mostexcellentof all figures,
the sphericalsurface.For in
the sphere,theall-wiseCreatorproducedforhis pleasuretheimageof his
forming
holyTrinity.
Therefore,
thecentralpointmaybe regarded
as theoriginofthesphere,
thesurfaceas theimageoftheinnermost
point,and each pathcomingto thesurface
as an infinite
movement
ofthepointoutsideitself,so as to producea certainequality
ofall movements.... Hence,everywhere
betweenthepointandthesurfacethereis
absoluteequality,closestunity,loveliestharmony,
connection,
relation,
proportion,
and symmetry.
And althoughthereare plainlythesethreethings-center,
surface,
andspace between-nevertheless
theypossesssuchunitythatnoneofthemcouldbe
removed,evenin thought,
without
destroying
thewhole.83
Patrizi,Nova de universisphilosophia, fols. 9v, lOr, lv.
See ibid., titlepage; see also Patrizito Baccio Valori, quoted in Maechling,"Doctrine of Light"
(cit. n. 80), p. 8.
83 Johannes Kepler, Ad Vitellionemparalipomena, quibus astronomiae pars optica traditur
(Frankfurt,1604), ed. Franz Hammer, in Gesammelte Werke(cit. n. 1), Vol. II, p. 19 (hereafter
Paralipomena). In treatingthis work I have benefitedfromtwo translations:JohannKepler, Les
81
82

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30

DAVID C. LINDBERG

The centerof the sphere is the counterpartof God the Father, originof all else;
the circumference,image of the centralpoint,representsChristthe Son; and the
interveningspace symbolizesthe Holy Spirit.84
Whateveraspires to perfectionmustacknowledgeand imitatethismostperfect
shape. "Thereforebodies, althoughof themselvesconfinedwithintheirown surfaces and unable to multiplythemselvesintoa sphere,are endowed withvarious
virtues;these virtues,nestingwithinthe bodies but a littlefreer[to leave] than
the bodies themselves,deprived of corporeal matterbut consistingof a certain
matterof their own that can assume geometricaldimensions,issue forthand
strive for sphericity."Magnetic virtue is one such emanation; virtusmotrix,
whichdrivesthe planets,is another.Preeminentin beautyand importance,however, is light:
How marvelous,then,ifthatsourceof everything
in theworld,whichthe
beautiful
divineMoses introduces
intonewlycreatedmatteron thefirstday [ofcreation]for
theshapingandanimating
ofall things-howmarvelous,
I say,ifthissourceandmost
excellentthinginthewholecorporealworld[i.e., light],
originofanimalfaculties
and
linkbetweenthecorporealandspiritual
worlds,shouldproceedaccording
tothesame
laws bywhichtheworldwas to be ordered.Thusthesunis a certainbodyin which
residesthatfacultyof communicating
itselfto all thingsthatwe call light.On this
account,it requiresthe middleplace in thewholeworld,thecenter,so thatit can
uniformly
and perpetually
diffuse
itselfintothewholesphere.All otherthingsthat
in lightimitatethesun.
participate
Thus lightis not onlythe image of the triuneGod; it is also the originof the soul's
faculties,the bond thatconnects the spiritualworld withthe world of corporeal
matter,and a mirrorof the laws of nature.85
The association between lightand soul reappears in the Harmonice mundi
(1619), where Kepler develops a panpsychicphilosophyand, in particular,explores the natureof the terrestrialsoul. Kepler presentsa varietyof argumentsto
prove the animationof the earth; for example, he findsterrestrialanalogues of
animal functions(nourishment,respiration,sense perception,and memory)and
products (excrement, tears, mucus, pus, and ear wax). In the course of this
discussion, he inquiresinto the natureof the anima tellurisand concludes thatit
is a kindof light:
Sincealready[we havedetermined]
as a certainty
thattheearthpossessesa soul,we
cometo a consideration
ofitsessence.Notonlyis ita lightofthesamesortas thatof
firesand fireflies-light
thatdependsonlyon itselfand noton illumination
fromthe
fondementsde l'optique moderne: Paralipomenes a Vitellion(1604), ed. and trans. CatherineChevalley (Paris: Vrin, 1980); and (forCh. 1) Jole Shackelford,"Kepler on the Nature of Light, or Eine
kleineLichtmetaphysik,includingan English translationof Chapter One of Kepler's Ad Vitellionem
paralipomena" (1983).
84 This symbolism,drawnfromNicholas of Cusa, is spelled out in Kepler's Mysterium
cosmographicum,trans.A. M. Duncan, ed. E. J. Aiton (New York: Abaris, 1981), p. 95; and Kepler, Epitome
of Copernican Astronomy4, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis, in Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Great Books of the Western World, 16) (Chicago: Encyclopaedia
Britannica,1952), pp. 839-1004, on pp. 853-854. On Kepler's sphericalsymbolism,see also Gerard
Simon, Kepler: Astronome,astrologue (Paris: Gallimard,1979), pp. 133-143.
85 Kepler, Paralipomena, pp. 19-20. It is certainthatlightis intendedin thispassage
because of the
referenceto its introductionon the firstday of creation. Similar views are expressed in Johannes
Kepler, Harmonice mundi, 4.1, ed. Max Caspar, Gesammelte Werke(cit. n. 1), Vol. VI, p. 224;
quoted by Pauli, "ArchetypalIdeas" (cit. n. 1), pp. 160-162.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

31

sun. . . butitalso plainlyappearsto be a certainflame...,as we demonstrate
from
heat.Forwithout
and sensibleexistenceofsubterranean
theperpetual
soul,no [such
heat] can persistin actualityin bare matter;indeed,it cannotexistpotentially
in
substancesissuingfromanimalsand plantsunlessproducedby a soul and byforms
derivedfromfire.
A littlelater in the same work the luminousnatureof the soul is.again defended.
The soul, Kepler argues, assumes in actualitythe formof a point,but potentially
the figureof a circle:
intoa
Sinceitis energy(energia),thesoulspreadsitselffromitspunctiform
dwelling
thatsurround
itspherically
itmustperceiveexternal
orrulethe
circle.Whether
things
rootedin itsfixedpoint,
body,whichalso surrounds
it,thesoul lies hiddenwithin,
itsspecies.Buthowshould
ofthebodythrough
fromwhichitissuesto theremainder
Sinceitis
itissueforth
ifnotin straight
lines,forthatis whatitmeansto issueforth?
lightand flame,how else couldit proceedthanin straight
lines,as otherlightsproceed fromtheirsources?86
Light is associated with life not only throughsoul, the animatingprincipleof
every living thing,but also throughvital heat. In the Paralipomena, Kepler
speaks of the flamein the heart, "the hidden lamp of the heart," nourishedby
blood from the vena cava, ruler over the vital functionsof the body. "Thus
animal heat depends on light,to say nothingof the fact that the soul, of itself
invisible,is fittingly
held to have an essence cognateto light;and by virtueof this
designationit would come withlightintoassociation withheat, inasmuchas light
is the offspringof the soul." Heat in the earth is also related to light, the
"guardianof heat," as one can see fromthe volcanic flamesof Mount Aetna. In
roots and seeds thereis a littlefire,whichgives forthits lightin glowwormsand
rottingwood. The thrustof the argumentis thatlightis the universalsource of
heat: "heat in all other thingsis adventitious,being dependenton the heat of
light."87
VI. KEPLER'S ASTROLOGY

If lightis active in the terrestrialrealm, it is equally prominentin the linkage
between heaven and earth. Despite his scorn formany featuresof astrologyas
traditionallypracticed (he accuses its practitionersof "infantilecredulity"),
Kepler was a firmbeliever in the realityof astrologicalinfluence.For a philosopher of Neoplatonic persuasion, committedto the unityof the cosmos, it could
hardlybe otherwise.Kepler developed his positionon thetruenatureof astrological influencein a small treatiseentitledOn the More Certain Fundamentals of
Astrology,publishedin 1601.88
Two kinds of astrologicalcause are at work, he argues, one physical and the
other mathematical.The physical cause proves to be totallyoptical, dependent
86
Kepler, Harmonice mundi,Gesammelte Werke,Vol. VI, pp. 268-269, 271, 275. I was led to this
last passage by Pauli, "ArchetypalIdeas," pp. 178-179,and have borrowedseveral phrases fromhis
translation.
87 Kepler, Paralipomena, pp. 35-36.
88
"Johannes Kepler's On the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology,Prague, 1601," ed. J.
Bruce Brackenridge,trans. Mary Ann Rossi, in Proceedings of theAmericanPhilosophical Society,
1979, 123(2):85-116, quotingfromp. 99.

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32

DAVID C. LINDBERG

on the radiationof lightfromthe heavensto earth.Throughits light,the sun
moreor less according
suppliesheatto theearth,imparting
to theseason.As the
inthewinter,
theearthreturns
to itsnaturalcold state.The moon
sunwithdraws
function.
is influential
throughreflectedsolar light,whichhas a humidifying
Kepleradvancesempiricalevidenceforthisclaim,notingthat"all thingsinvariably moistswell withthe waxingmoonand subsidewiththe waningmoon."
Thusocean tidesare produced,and thehumorsofthebodyare alteredin quantity.Finally,the planetssend bothan innateand a reflected
lightto theearth.
Insofaras the lightis innateand therefore
direct,it heats; insofaras it is reithumidifies:
"Bothofthesepowersthey[theplanets]possessandexerflected,
cise throughbenefitof light,whichtheyhave receivedand send down to us
For theproperqualityoflightinasmuchas itis lightis heating;but
continuously.
the properqualityof lightinsofaras it is reflected,
is humidifying."89
In the
and humidity.
absenceoflight,theearthis cold and dry;lightbringswarmth
Buthowcan different
effects?
for
planetshave different
Despitehiscontempt
the astrologicaltradition,Kepler retainedthe traditional
planetaryqualities
a
(Mars,forexam-le,is hotand dry,Saturncoldandmoist);he simplyfurnished
newexplanation.The sun,whichsuppliesonlydirectlight,givesus meanheat;
themoon,whichhas no lightof itsown and merelyreflects
solarlight,imparts
meanhumidity.
But each oftheplanetshas twolights:itsinnatelight,supplying
solarlight,supplying
The reflected
heat,and reflected
humidity.
lightis altered
by thecoloroftheplanetary
body;thus,forexample,Marshas a blacksurface
thatweakensthe solarlightreflected
fromit,givingtheplaneta ruddyappearance. Innatelightis also altered,acquiringcolor and heat-producing
properof theplanetary
substance.The weakening
tiesfromtheinternaldisposition
of
boththereflected
and innatelightwill,of course,affecttheheat-producing
and
on theearth.If we examineall of
moisture-producing
poweroftheraysincident
thepossiblecombinations
of heatingand humidifying-each
of thesetwoqualitiesbeingpresentinexcess,deficiency,
or meandegree-andassignthemappropriately
to theplanets,we can explainplanetary
influence.
Saturn'sraysconvey
of heat and excess of humidity;
deficiency
Jupiter'sraysconveythe meanof
bothqualities.Mercury,by contrast,is represented
by two possibilities:
mean
heatand excess humidity
or deficiency
of heatand meanhumidity;
butthetwo
cases offerthesameratiobetweentheheatingand thehumidifying
qualitiesand
have thesameeffect.90
therefore
This physicalcause of astrological
influence
is accompaniedby a geometrical
cause, farnoblerbecause it is formalratherthanmaterial.Pairsof planetssend
theirraysoflightto theearth,and theanglebetweentheseraysis perceivedby
theterrestrial
soul, whichis "appreciative
of geometry."
If theanglesare harmonic,thatis, correspondto one of the fivetraditional
aspects or the three
othersaddedby Kepler,thesoul demonstrates
itsappreciation
by increasing
its
vegetativeactivity."Every animatefaculty,"Keplerargues,"is the imageof
God the Geometerin creation,and He is inspiredto His taskby his celestial
ofaspectsor harmony."
geometry
Therefore,
thesouloftheearthmustrespond
89 Ibid.,
pp. 91-93; quotingfrompp. 92 (with several changes), 93. For similarideas in Ficino, see
De sole, in Italian Philosophers (cit. n. 61), p. 128.
90"Kepler's On theMore CertainFundamentals," ed. Brackenridge,trans.Rossi, pp. 93-95 and n.
18, pp. 109-110.

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

33

to listencarefully
in thesamemanner:as "theear is stimulated
and
byharmony
thegeometric
thusto hearmuchmore,. . . so theearthis stimulated
through
so thatit
concourseof vegetating
rays(whichwe said warmedand humidified)
to itsfunction
of vegetation
and exudesa
appliesitselfso muchmorediligently
copious supplyof vapors."91 Once again the agentof celestialactionis light,
althoughhereit is notthenatureof lightthatis efficacious
buttheresponseof
theterrestrial
soul to itsgeometrical
configuration.
Light(or a forceakinthereto)makesitsfinalcosmologicalappearanceas the
forceof Kepler'splanetary
whichwe will
motivating
system,thevirtusmotrix,
considerafterwe have investigated
thenatureofvisiblelight.
VII. KEPLER ON THE NATURE OF LIGHT

If Neoplatonicinfluence
is apparentin Kepler'smetaphysics
and cosmologyof
light,itsholdon Kepleris demonstrated
ofhis
beyonddoubtbyan examination
viewson thenatureof visiblelight.Keplertoucheduponlightin almostevery
bookhe wrote,buthe dealtwithitsnaturemostfullyinthefirst
chapter("On the
Nature of Light") of Ad Vitellionemparalipomena.

Proposition1 ofthischaptermaintains
thatit is thenatureoflightto emanate
fromits sourceand communicate
itselfto distantbodies.Proposition
2 informs
us thateverypointoftheluminousbodyis a sourceofemanation,
andfromeach
of these.pointsourcesproceedsan infinity
of linesin sphericalfashion.In the
thirdproposition,
Keplermaintains
thatlightis suitedforpropagation
to infinity,
arguingthatlightis weightless
and thusoffersno resistanceto thepowerofthe
luminousbody thatpropelsit: "therefore,
the proportion
of the powerto the
weightis infinite."
The same lineof argument
demonstrates
thatlightis propagatedwith"infinite
swiftness"
and thatitis attenuated
latitudinally,
as raysfrom
a givenpointspreadout,butnotlongitudinally.92
In Proposition
4, Kepleraffirms
therectilinear
propagation
oflight-surely
the
mosttraditional
and basic of all opticalprinciples.However,he defendsthis
principlewithnovel arguments.
Whereashis predecessorssimplyassumedits
truthor defendedit on observational
groundsor by appeal to theprincipleof
economy,Keplergivestherectilinear
oflightmetaphysical
propagation
foundations.Lightis propagatedin straight
lines because all things,insofaras their
essencespermit,imitatetheirCreator.The mostperfect
geometrical
expression
of the divineTrinityis the sphere,and lightmusttherefore
"striveforsphericity."The equalityand symmetry
ofrectilinear
propagation
producethesphere:
"If lightwereto utilizea curvedpath,therewouldbe no equalityin itsdiffusion
and consequently
no resemblanceto a sphere."Moreover,natureseeks either
greatestunityor mostcompleteseparation.Bothare bestachievedthrough
rectilinearmotion-theformer
through
rectilinear
motiontowarda center,as in the
descentof heavy bodies, the latterthroughrectilinear
motionaway froma
center,as intheemanation
oflight.93
The straight
linealongwhichlightis propagatedis calledtheray.A rayis notlightandis certainly
notcorporeal,butsimply
91Ibid., pp. 96-98 and n. 28, p. 112, quotingfrompp. 97, 98.
92
Kepler, Paralipomena, Props. 1-3, p. 20; Props. 5-7, p. 21.
93 Ibid., pp. 19-21, quoting fromp. 20; cf. Les fondementsde loptique moderne,ed. and
trans.
Chevalley [cit n. 83], p. 109). On Kepler's predecessors, see David C. Lindberg,"Laying the Foundations of Geometrical Optics: Maurolico, Kepler, and the Medieval Tradition," in Lindberg and

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34

DAVID C. LINDBERG

a geometrical
linerepresenting
themotionoflight;itrepresents
themotionrather
thanthemobile.Keplerignoresthedistinction
betweenluxand lumen,employingthetermsinterchangeably
to denoteluminosity,
in a luminousbody
whether
or emanating
fromit.94
itspropaWe havethusfarlearnedhowlightis named,certainrulesgoverning
ofthemetaphysics
thoserules.Butwhatis the
gation,and something
underlying
natureof light?Kepleris betterat tellingus whatit is not.He attachesan appendixto the firstchapterof his Paralipomenain whichhe assemblesa long
seriesof Aristotelian
thesesaboutlightand visionand thenproceedssystematicallyto refutethem.It is his purpose,as he putsit,to taketheAristotelians
to
the "schoolof the Optici."95KeplerattacksAristotle
on a broadfrontbutconcentrates
hisforceson theAristotelian
notionthatlightis a state(habitus)ofthe
mediumwherebyits transparency
becomes actual-a
potentially
transparent
stateinducedby the presenceof a luminousbody-and thefurther
notionthat
colormovesor alterstheactuallytransparent,
thussendinga qualitative
change
thetransparent
mediumto theeye of an observer.To definetransparthrough
ency in termsof lightand lightin termsof transparency,
as Keplerbelieves
Aristotle
does, is to begthequestion.Rather,transparency
is solelya function
of
the "internaldispositionof the body," and thisis totallyindependent
of the
presenceor absenceof light.96
Light,forits part,is an emanation
froma luminousor illuminated
bodyand does notdependforitsexistenceon a transparent
medium.It is a "species"-we willreturnin a momentto thisterm-whichnot
onlycan be propagated
without
a mediumbutwhich,intheabsenceofall media,
wouldyieldperfectly
precisevision.As forcolor,Keplermaintains
thatitsvisibilitydependsnoton illumination
ofthemedium(inorderto bringitto a stateof
actualtransparency)
buton illumination
of thecoloredobjectitself.Experience
teachesthatyoucan illuminate
themediumall youwish,butcoloredobjectswill
notbe seen unlessillumination
fallson them.97
We mustreturn
to thetermspecies,sometimes
employedbyKeplerto denote
emanating
light.I disagreevehemently
withthosewhohave arguedthatKepler
continuedto employthearchaicterminology
of specieswhiledivesting
it of its
traditional
content.98
In theabsenceofarguments
to thecontrary,
we mustsuppose thatKeplerunderstoodand acceptedthe customary
connotations
of the
termshe employed.As a ruleKeplerwas extraordinarily
preciseinhischoiceof
terminology
(forexample,he coinedtermswhenno existingone wouldsuffice),
and thereis no reason,unlessone is determined
at all coststo portray
himas a
modern,to supposethatthetermspeciesis an exception.Kepler'susualpreference is forthetermslux(in opticalcontexts)and virtus(in astronomical
or cosmologicalcontexts);radiusandradiatioappearwhenthegeometry
ofradiation
is
at issue,andlumenis employedas a synonym
oflux.Speciesis introduced
as yet
anothersynonym-or,on occasion,as partofan explanation
ofthenatureoflux
or virtus.For example,intheAstronomia
nova(1609)Keplerarguesthat"justas
GeoffreyCantor, The Discourse of Lightfrom the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
(Los Angeles:
Clark Memorial Library, 1985), pp. 1-41.
94 See, e.g., Kepler,
Paralipomena, p. 40; see also Chevalley's introduction,
Fondements,p. 71.
95 Kepler, Paralipomena, p. 38.
96
Ibid., pp. 22, 45-46.
97 Ibid., replyto Thesis 16, p. 42; cf. replyto Thesis 10, p. 40.
98
Ronchi, Nature of Light, p. 92; and Straker,"Kepler's Optics," p. 504 (both cit. n. 2).

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KEPLERWS THEORY OF LIGHT

35

light[lux],illuminating
all earthlythings,is theimmaterial
speciesof thefirein
thebodyof the sun, so thispower[virtusmotrix],
and drawingthe
embracing
planetary
bodies,is theimmaterial
in thesun."99In
speciesofthevirtueresiding
Chapter1 oftheParalipomenahe maintains
thatwhatmovestheeye invisionis
"neitherthebodyof thesun or of color,northemedium,butspecies(whether
lights[lumina]or raysofthesunand colors)."Anotherpassagein theParalipomena is particularly
tellingbecause in it Keplerfoiststhe termspecies onto
Witelo,who had neveremployedit. Arguing
againstWitelo'sbeliefthatforms
(translatedby Kepler as "species") are fixedin the humorsof the eye, thus
thepersistence
explaining
of vision,Keplerpointsoutthat"a speciesis always
presentalongwiththebodyof whichit is thespecies,and ifthebodyis hidden
byan opaque obstruction,
thespeciesis destroyed
bytheshadow."100
It is clearthatKeplerdrewthetermspeciesfromthemedievalphilosophical
tradition,
where(as we have seen) it was employedto denotethe likenessor
powerthatall thingsemanatein orderto influence
theirsurroundings-the
"first
effect,"
as RogerBacon putit,"ofanynaturally
actingthing."It was an expression of Neoplatonicemanationism-ofthe notionthatall existingthingsare
centersof activity,
radiating
similitudes
and influences
in all directions.
I see no
reasonto doubtthatKeplerunderstood
thisand intended
itin hisownuse ofthe
term.Indeed,thisveryidea appearsin his claimthatbodies,thoughunableto
escape theirown boundaries,containvirtues"nestingwithin"them,which
"issueforthand striveforsphericity."
The idea equallyappearsin theclaimthat
"thesunis a certainbodyin whichresidesthefaculty
ofcommunicating
itselfto
all thingswhichwe call light."'0'It thusseemsundeniable
thatinusingtheterm
species Kepleracceptedtheconceptualframework
thatlay behindit.
However,therewere unresolvedissues withinNeoplatonicemanationism.
Boththecorporeality
and theincorporeality
of specieshad been defended,and
Keplerwouldbe compelledto choose betweenthesealternatives.
On one side
was theconsiderableweightof theBaconiantradition,
alliedon thisissue with
thepronouncements
ofAristotle
and ratified
bycenturies
ofscholasticcommentary,proclaiming
the corporeality
of lightor species. On the otherside were
Plotinus,Ficino,Patrizi,and a fewothers,urgingthe incorporeality-or
quasi
incorporeality-of
light.Kepler,as we shallsee, repudiated
theBaconiantraditionand cast hislot withPlotinusand theincorporealists.
Beforewe examineKepler's argument
on the subject,we musttakenoteof
certainconceptualand linguisticchangesthathad occurredsince antiquitychangesthatinducedKeplerto identify
matterwithcorporealsubstance.'02
In
defining
matteras the indeterminate
substrate,devoidof properties,
Aristotle
had in effectdeclaredit beyondvisualization.Yet generations
of philosophers
9 JohannesKepler,
Astronomianovta3.33, ed. Max Caspar, Gesammelte Werke(cit. n. 1). Vol.
III, p. 240. On Kepler's terminologyand its meaning,see Chevalley's introduction,
Fondements(cit.
n. 83), pp. 69-71; and Catherinede Buzon [Chevalley], "La propagationde la lumieredans l'optique
de Kepler," in Roemer et la vitesse da la lumiere(Paris: Vrin, 1978),pp. 75-78.
'?? Kepler, Paralipomena, pp. 45, 37. For a similarclaim, see Plotinus,Enneads 4.5.7. On Witelo,
see Perspectiva 3.6, in Opticae thesaurusAlhazeni Arabis libriseptem .... Item VitellonisThuringopoloni libriX, ed. FriedrichRisner(Basel, 1572), rpt.ed. David C. Lindberg(New York: Johnson
Reprint,1972), pp. 87-88.
101Bacon, De multiplicationespecierum, 1.1.27-29, trans. Lindberg(cit. n. 19), p. 3; and Kepler,
Paralipomena, p. 19.
102
See Ivor Leclerc, The Nature of Physical Existence (London: Allen Unwin, 1972), Chs. 9-10.

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36

DAVID C. LINDBERG

to visualizeit; and to visualizeit was, ofcourse,
couldnotresistthetemptation
as corporeal
to investit withproperties
and to conceiveit(howeverunwittingly)
at theirdissubstance.They wereencouragedin thisdeed by theterminology
posal, fortheprimary
meaningof hyle(Greek)and materia(Latin)had always
stuff.
beenthatoftimber,
thematerialofconstruction-very
substantial
Further
idea ofmatter:
intrinsic
to Aristotle's
the
supportcouldbe foundin therelativity
matterof a buildingis brickand mortar,
whiletheformis theshapegiventhem
as thebuildingis erected;thematterofbrick,in turn,is clay; and thematter
of
clay, finally,
is a certain"primematter"beyondwhichit is impossibleto go.
Onlythelastofthesematters
lacks substantial
existenceofitsown;brickshave
independent
existencebeforeanything
is builtwiththem,and clay existsindebeforeitis madeintobricks.Amongscholasticcommentators
we thus
pendently
see thedevelopment
oftheidea of "secondmatter,"
withitthenotions
carrying
of substantiality
A finalstepin theshiftofmeaningresulted
and corporeality.103
fromthetendency
ofNicholasofCusa, GiordanoBruno,and otherRenaissance
it notmerelyas a passive
scholarsto elevatethe statusof matterby regarding
recipient
offormsbutas theactivecontainer
or motherofforms.Brunoargues
that"mattersends the formsout fromitself,and does not receivethemfrom
without";thatmatteris "deprivedofformsandwithout
them,notinthemanner
in which ice lacks warmth,. . . but in the mannerin whichthe pregnantwoman

04 Kepler
is withoutprogeny,whichshe obtainsand sendsforthfromherself."'
clearlyacceptsthisredefinition,
so thatwhenhe speaksofmatteror materialhe
has in mindcorporealsubstance;thatis, he employsthetermswithessentially
theirmodernmeanings.No otherinterpretation
makessenseof his equationof
matter
withweight,density,
andthree-dimensionality
or hisassociationofmatter
and resistance.105
We are now preparedto appreciateKepler'sdefenseof theimmateriality
or
incorporeality
oflightand species.Keplerinforms
us oftheimmateriality
oflight
inthefirst
chapterofhisParalipomena,wherehe definesitas a two-dimensional
geometricalsurfaceand maintainsthatit has "neithermatternor weightnor
106Buton whatarguments
resistance."
does thisconclusionrest?One is thatonly
an immaterial
or incorporeal
entitycouldbe propagated
instantaneously:
For,as is demonstrated
inAristotle's
bookson motion,
thereis a certainrelationship
betweenthe timeand the ratioof motiveforceto weightor quantityof the mobile.... But heretheratioofthemotivepowerto thelightthatit movesis infinite,
sincelighthas no matterand therefore
no weight.Therefore,
themediumdoes not
103 James A.
Weisheipl, O.P., "The Concept of Matter in FourteenthCenturyScience," in The
Concept of Matterin Greekand Medieval Philosophy,ed. Ernan McMullin(Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ.
Notre Dame Press, 1963), pp. 150-156. We have seen Bacon's equation of matterand substance (see
in Section III above, near n. 47).
104 Giordano Bruno, De la causa, trans. Sidney Greenberg,in The Infinite
in Giordano Bruno, With
a Translationof His Dialogue: Concerningthe Cause, Principle,and One (New York: King's Crown
Press, 1950), p. 153. On matter,see also pp. 134-157; and Leclerc, Nature of Physical Existence(cit.
n. 102), p. 133.
105 Kepler, Paralipomena, props. 5-14, pp. 21-23. However, foran exception,ibid., p. 20, quoted
in Section V above (at n. 85), where Kepler refersto an incorporealor mathematicalmatterpossessed by the virtuesissuingfrombodies.
106 Kepler, Paralipomena, Props. 3, 8, pp. 20-21. In Prop. 1, p. 20, he also refersto lightas a
"geometricalbody"-a characterizationhe later rejects in the Astronomianova (see Section VIII
below, atn. 113).

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KEPLER'S

THEORY OF LIGHT

37

resistlight,sincelightlacks matterby whichresistancecouldoccur.Therefore
the
swiftness
oflightis infinite.107
Anotherargumentforthe immateriality
of lightis drawnfromthe phenomena
of refraction.If lightwere corporeal substance, it would encountercontinuing
resistance within a transparentsubstance; consequently, it would be continuously retardedand continuouslybent. But no such thingis observed. On the
contrary,refractionis exclusively a surface phenomenon; light is bent as it
crosses the boundary of a transparentmedium and thereaftercontinues on a
straightcourse. If, as Kepler believes, thingsare able to act on each otheronlyif
they belong to the same genus, then it follows fromthe surface characterof
reflectionand refractionthat light is itselfa surface.108But how do surfaces
interact,and why should the course of light (itselfan immaterialsurface) be
altered by an encounterwith the surface of a dense body? Kepler argues that
both the surface that is lightand the surface of the dense body participatein
density.Lightundergoeslateralattenuationas it spreads froma pointsource into
a spherical form,and this introducesrarityand density(immaterialin kind, of
course). The surfaceof the reflectingor refracting
body participatesin the density of the body to which it belongs: "Density is an effectof matter,which
occupies three dimensions,two of which belong to the surface. Therefore,the
surfaceparticipatesin the densityof bodies in its own measure." Thus a dense
medium resists light "not insofar as it has solidity . . ., but insofaras it is
bounded by a dense surface."109
On the mechanismof resistanceand encounter,Kepler argues:
It is inquired.. . by whatfacultya translucent
surfacecouldact on light.I answer
thatmotionis applicableto lightbythefirst
[proposition
ofthischapter]andthusalso
thespeciesand theremaining
accidentsofmotion,[including,]
certainly,
impacton a
densersurface,theovercoming
of it,and a certainresistancefromthethingthatis
overcome.It is evidentthatthesamethingnecessarily
occursinthemotionofphysical objects, [as] when a sphereis propelledinto waterand passes beneaththe
"0
surface.
Kepler proceeds to additionalmechanicalanalogies, but none of themsatisfactorilyanswers the basic question, and we are leftto wonder at the notionof two
surfaces, one material and the other immaterial,interactingin mechanical or
quasi-mechanicalfashion. In Kepler's defense, we must acknowledgejust how
intractablethe problemwas. Both the claim thatlightis immaterialand the assertionthat it interactswith materialsurfaces seemed to rest on solid observational ground-the formeron the infiniteswiftnessof lightand the factthatlight
is not furtherretardedonce it has penetratedthe surfaceof a refracting
medium,
Kepler, Paralipomena, Prop. 5, p. 21. Note thatKepler appears to derive the infiniteswiftness
of lightfromthe premiseof immateriality.
I do not believe, however,thatwe can inferthe mode of
discoveryfromthe mode of presentation;I thinkit more likelythatKepler began witha commitment
to the infinitespeed of light(an ancient and medieval commonplace) and took this as evidence of
immateriality.
108 "Whatever is impeded is impeded or expelled by thatwhich is of the same genus, as body by
body" (ibid., Prop. 10, p. 22). The best analysis of Kepler's theoryof refractionis thatof Straker,
"Kepler's Optics" (cit. n. 2), Ch. 7.
109Kepler, Paralipomena, Prop. 6, p. 21, Props. 13-14, p. 23.
110 Ibid., Prop. 20, p. 27.
107

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38

DAVID C. LINDBERG

and refraction.
If reconciliathelatteron themanifest
phenomenaof reflection
claimswas difficult,
to distionof theapparently
conflicting
surelyan attempt
card one of themin orderto embracetheotherwouldhave been fraught
with
We can hardlyblameKepler,then,forendeavoring
equal difficulty.
to reconcile
ratherthandiscard.
VIII. KEPLER'S VIRTUS MOTRIX

We turn,finally,to Kepler's searchforthe motivating
forceof the planetary
system,thevirtusmotrix-at once an expressionof Kepler'scosmologyoflight
and a measureof his viewson thenatureof light.It is wellknownthatKepler
appliedhimselfnotonlyto theproblemof planetary
kinematics
dis(ultimately
and epicyclesin
cardingthe Ptolemaicand Copernicanapparatusof deferents
favorofellipticalorbits)butalso to thedynamics
ofplanetary
motion.It was not
enoughsimplyto devise techniquesforpredicting
planetarypositions;it was
necessaryalso to discoverthenatureof theforcethatmovesthem.How does
one explainthis concernforthe dynamicsof motionsthathad always been
treated,withfairlysatisfactory
results,kinematically?
Therewereundoubtedly
manyreasons.To explorenaturewas to learnabouttheCreator.Moreover,the
at least,serioustension-between
incompatibility-or,
thegeometrical
modelsof
astronomical
in eitheritsPtolemaicor itsCopernicanform,and Arkinematics,
istotelian
physicswas acknowledged
byeverybody;
Keplerwas farfromthefirst
to look forways of alleviating
the problem.Furthermore,
thetraditional
kinematicapproachwas onlyfairlysatisfactory;
itdidnotgiveperfect
results,particularlyas measuredagainstthe new astronomical
data of Tycho Brahe, and
Keplersaw in planetary
dynamicsthemakingof an alternative
method.He reportsthathe attempted
to perfectastronomy
by following
the methodsof the
ancientsbutthat"none succeededexceptthatwhichconcentrates
on thephysical causes." Andwhatmusthavebeenmostencouraging
is thatthissuccessled
to another-to a proofof the Copernicanheliocentric
cosmology,of which
Keplerwas alreadyan adherent:"I inquiredintocelestialphysicsandthenatural
causes of motion,and fromthisinvestigation
at last wereborncleararguments
bywhichtheCopernicanopinion. .. is provedtrueandtheothertwo[Ptolemaic
and Tychonic]false.""'
Kepler knewfromPtolemythatthe speed of a givenplanetvarieswithits
distancefromthecenteroftheuniverseand,indeed,thatat perihelion
andaphelion the speeds are inverselyproportional
to the distance.Keplergeneralized
thisinverseproportionality
to the entireorbitand arguedthatit resultsfroma
force,a virtusmotrix,emanating
fromthesun situatedat thecentralpoint.The
sun rotateson its axis, and thisrotationalmotionis transmitted
by the virtus
motrixto theplanetary
body.The speedofanyplanetat anyparticular
pointof
its orbitis determined
by thestrength
of thevirtusmotrixat thatpointand the
inherent
inertia,or resistanceto motion,oftheplanet.'12
Is the virtusmotrixto be identified
withlight?Almost,butnotquite.Kepler
maintains
thatlightand themotivevirtueare "akin."He evenclaims,in a burst
of enthusiasm,
that"light[lux]and themotivevirtueof thesun agreein all of
I Kepler, Astronomianova (cit. n. 99), p. 20. For an illuminating
analysis of Kepler's celestial
physics, see Koyrd,AstronomicalRevolution,trans. Maddison (cit. n. 1), pp. 167-264.
112 Ibid., pp. 185, 202-204, 206. On virtusmotrix,see also pp. 185-224; and Kepler, Astronomia
nova, 3.33-34, pp. 236-246.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

39

theirattributes."But as Kepler explores the nature of the virtusmotrix,it becomes apparentthat in fact it shares only certainattributeswithlight.Both are
immaterialspecies of a quality of the sun. Both emanate instantaneouslyfrom
theirsource to a surfaceor body capable of receivingthem,and neitherloses any
of its power in passage. Both are geometricalsurfaces:
This[motive]virtue(or species)willnotbe a geometrical
body,buta certainsurface,
exactlyas light.Thus in generalthespeciesemanating
fromthingsdo
immaterially
notproceedaccordingto corporealdimensions,
eventhoughtheyissuefroma body
(inthiscase thebodyofthesun).Thisfollows,indeed,fromthelawofemanation,
for
emanation
is terminated
notinandofitself,
butbythesurfacesofilluminated
bodies;
and therefore,
as lightis considereda certainsurfacebecause its emanationis receivedand terminated
by surfaces,so the virtusmotrixis consideredas thoughit
werea certaingeometrical
bodybecause it is terminated
or receivedby theentire
bodiesofthethingsitmoves.1"3
Finally,neitherof themcan be said to exist in the intervening
space: "The virtus
motrixcannot be or subsist anywherein the entireworld except in the moved
bodies; consequently,it can never be in the mediumbetweenthe source and the
mobile, although,so to speak, it was there, exactly as light." This bears a remarkableresemblance to Plotinus's claim that lightis a "self-existentin whose
path air happens to be present"but whichis never "possessed" by the air, and to
Ficino's assertionthatlightis not "so muchin the illuminatedbody as presentto
it."11I4 The mediumis not a requirement
fortransmissionbut merelyintervening
substance, an obstacle to be leapt over.
But there are cold facts that make it impossible to maintaina true identity
between lightand virtusmotrixor to view lightas the vehicle of virtusmotrix.
One planet can be eclipsed by anotherin such a way as to receive no visible light
fromthe sun; yet it must continue to receive virtusmotrix,since it does not
immediatelycease to move. Moreover, light emanates sphericallyfrom its
source, while the virtusmotrixemanates circularlyfromthe sun. Kepler's defense of the circularityof virtusmotrixis confusingand perhaps, as Alexandre
Koyre has argued, weak."' Nevertheless, what required this solution was the
fact, not open to dispute, thata planet's speed varies inverselywithits distance
fromthe sun. If this is so, then there is no good alternativebut to substitute
circularfor spherical emanation; it is instructiveto see the details of Kepler's
theoryof the virtusmotrixbeing dictated ultimatelyby observationaldata. A
finaldifferencebetween lightand motive virtueis the mode of theirreception.
Light is terminatedby the surfaces of bodies, motive virtue by their "whole
corporeity.
"n116
We mustacknowledge,then,thatlightand virtusmotrixare similarratherthan
113 Ibid., 3.33, p. 240. This last passage is quoted by
Koyr6,AstronomicalRevolution,pp. 200-201.
On the relationshipbetween lightand virtusmotrix,see also Simon, Kepler (cit. n. 84), pp. 334-336.
114 Kepler, Astronomianova, 3.35, p. 240 (forsimilar
claims, see ibid., p. 241; and Kepler, Paralipomena, p. 40); cf. Plotinus,Enneads 4.5.6 (quoted at n. 18 above); and Ficino, De lumine11 (quoted
at n. 68 above). The notionof virtusmotrixas an immaterialemanationappears also in Kepler's notes
to the 1621 edition of his Mysteriumcosmographicum,trans. A. M. Duncan, ed. E. J. Aiton (New
York: Abaris Books, 1981), pp. 169 (n. 4), 171 (n. 7), and 219 (n. 5). Peter Barker and Bernard R.
Goldstein, "Is SeventeenthCenturyPhysics Indebted to the Stoics?" Centaurus, 1984,27:155, have
called attentionto probable Stoic residues in these passages fromthe Mysterium.
115 Kepler, Astronomianova, 3.35, 36, pp.
247-248, 250-252; and Koyr6,AstronomicalRevolution,
pp. 212-213.
116
Kepler, Astronomianova, 3.33, p. 240; and Koyrd,AstronomicalRevolution,pp. 200-201.

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40

DAVID C. LINDBERG

thatjust as light,illuminating
all earthly
identical."It remains,therefore,
things,
is theimmaterial
speciesofthefirethatis inthebodyofthesun,so this[motive]
and drawingtheplanetary
powerembracing
bodies,is theimmaterial
speciesof
inestimable
and
thus
the
first
source
of
the
the virtueresidingin
sun,
strength
As
far
as
I
can
there
is
in
the
world."
of
motion
[actusprimus] every
see,
nothing
betweenlightand virtus
thatcalled fora distinction
in Kepler's metaphysics
criedoutfortheiridentimotrix.
On thecontrary,
Kepler'sNeoplatonicinstincts
and to theseinstincts
he verynearlyyielded.But in theend,his sensification,
and forceda distinction
tivityto thephenomenaprevailedoverhis metaphysics
if
betweenthetwosolaremanations.
Nevertheless,
Kepleryieldedtheminimum;
lightand motivevirtuecould not be identical,thentheywould be different
speciesof thesamegenus."Companions,"Keplercalledthem,and investigated
as he couldnotgather
themtogether,
drawingfromtheone suchunderstanding
fromtheother.'"7
IX. CONCLUSIONS

It mustnow be apparentthatKepler's thoughton lightwas deeplyrootedin
Neoplatonicphilosophy.WhenKeplerarguedthatlightis the "mostexcellent
thingin the wholecorporealworld,originof animalfacultiesand linkbetween
the corporealand spiritualworlds,"he was echoingthemesthatwe have encounteredin thewritings
of Plotinusand Ficino.His conclusionthatlightis the
universalprincipleof animationis standardNeoplatonicdoctrine.The unityof
and intervening
Kepler's cosmos-in whichcenter,periphery,
space are as
and solarforcebindsall
oftheholyTrinity,
closelylinkedas thethreemembers
celestialbodiesintoa singlephysicalsystem-isa naturaldevelopment
of Neoand of the cosmogonicalspeculationsof Grosseteste,
platonicemanationism
Bonaventure,
and Ficino.
But Kepler was no uncriticalconsumerof Neoplatoniclore. He was proat
foundlyinfluenced
by Neoplatonicdoctrine,but thishad to be harmonized
everypointwiththe teachingsof sense, intellect,and biblicalrevelation.Plotinus'semanationism,
itturnedout,couldnotbe acceptedwithout
modification.
In Plotinianphilosophy,
itis theverybeingoftheOne thatoverflows
intolower
a processofemanation;lightis theimageoftheOne insofaras it
thingsthrough
partakesof the same essence. The same notionis foundin Avicebron,Ficino,
and Patrizi.Kepler,however,insistson a muchdeepercleavagebetweencreatureand Creator.Lightis a divineimage,butnotthedivineoffspring.
Lightis
the product,not of emanationfromthe Godhead,but of a divinedecisionto
produce,ex nihilo,an imageofHimself:"The Creatorfoundnothing
morebeautifulor moreexcellentthanHimself.Thatis why,whenHe conceivedthecorporealworld,He gaveita formas likeHimselfas possible."Lightis stillmadein
God's image,but Keplerhas expressedthepointin sucha way as to separate
himself
fromthepantheistic
notionthatthetwopartakeofthesameessence.
Keplerclearlyacceptsthenotion,rootedin Neoplatonicemanationism,
ofall
creaturesas centersof activity.We have seen thisprinciplein Plotinus,who
arguedthatall thingssendforth
a virtuerepresenting
thearchetype
within,
andin
al-Kindi,who developedthe pointintoa fullastrologicalsystem,maintaining
117

Kepler, Astronomianova, 3.33, pp. 240, 241.

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KEPLER'S THEORY OF LIGHT

41

thateverything
sendsradiationintoeverything
else, "so thateveryplace in the
worldcontainsraysfromeverything
thathas actualexistence."Grosseteste
and
Bacon tookover thistheoryand developedit intoa comprehensive
physicsor
etiologyoflightthatsaw all bodiesas centersofenergy,
emanating
speciesinall
directions;Grossetesteand Bacon wentso faras to denyall otherformsof
naturalcausation.And JohnDee, of course, adoptedand disseminated
the
Baconian gospel. Now Kepler expressedpreciselythe same point,arguing
thatcorporealthings,"althoughof themselvesconfinedwithintheirown surfaces . . ., are endowedwithvariousvirtues."The latter,"nestingwithinthe
bodiesbuta littlefreer[toleave]thanthebodiesthemselves,
. . . issueforth
and
striveforsphericity."
Underpressureofthephenomena,
Keplerfounditnecessary to differentiate
various sortsof radiatingvirtue-light,magnetism,
and
virtusmotrix,forexample.But thiswas a development,
ratherthana repudiation,ofNeoplatonicdoctrine.
Finally,Kepler'stheoryofthenatureoflightwas surelyofNeoplatonicinspiration.Keplerwas confronted
witha varietyof ancientand medievalspeculationsaboutthenatureoflight.The atomistic
theory,accordingto whichlightis
itselfbody, had been virtually
withoutmedievaldefendersbut was regaining
in Kepler's own day.118The Aristotelian
respectability
opinion,accordingto
whichlightis a property
or stateof a corporealmediumand thuscorporealby
participation,
flourished
amongperipateticsof course, but it had also been
Aristotelians
of the MiddleAges-Grosseteste,
adoptedby the Neoplatonizing
Bonaventure,
and Bacon-and through
combinedAristotelian
and Baconianinfluencehadbecomea philosophical
statusand
premisewithnearlyself-evidential
a cornerstone
ofopticalthought.
the
Againstthisbackdrop,Ficinoreintroduced
incorporealism
ofPlotinus,whichtreatedlightas an incorporeal
self-existent
and
themediumas an obstacleratherthana necessity.Faced withthesealternatives,
KeplerjoinedPlotinusand theincorporealists.
Whydid he do so? A completeanswer,of course,is out of reach.We will
neverknowenoughof Kepler'supbringing,
formaleducation,personalrelationships,professional
circumstances,
religiousoutlook,and emotionalmake-upto
judgepreciselywhyhe believedwhathe believed.We can assert,however,that
in theChristianized
Neoplatonicphilosophy
formgivenit by Ficinowas a force
to be reckonedwithat the end of the sixteenth
century,thatforthe deeply
religiousKepleritsapparentcompatibility
withChristian
theology
was no insignificant
consideration,
and thatone oftheattractions
oftheincorporealist
theory
oflightwas surelyitsaffiliation
withNeoplatonicmetaphysics.
However,Kepler
possessedan extraordinarily
and any beliefalso had to pass
rigorousintellect,
rationaland empiricalmuster.In thecase of light,it appearsthatits acknowledgedswiftness
and theirrefutable
factthatrefraction
was exclusively
a surface
phenomenon
providedpowerful
supportfortheincorporealist
theory.
Whilechoosingtheincorporealist
theoryoflight,Kepleralso creatively
modifiedit. AlthoughKepler's theoryis fundamentally
Plotinian,it is not merely
Plotinian.WhileadoptingPlotinus'spositionon therelationship
of lightto the
medium,Keplercombinedit withthegeometrical
opticsof theBaconiantradition.This set thestagefortwoaccomplishments.
First,Keplersurpassedall of
118
On Thomas Harriot's attempt to convert Kepler to the corpuscular theory, see Straker,
"Kepler's Optics" (cit. n. 2), pp. 507-508.

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42

DAVID C. LINDBERG

his predecessorsin the masteryof this geometricaltraditionand thereby
of
equippedhimselfto solve severalproblemsthathad perplexedgenerations
successfultheoriesofvisionand
to formulate
opticalpractitioners-specifically,
forour purposes,Kepler
the camera obscura."19Second, and moreimportant
to theheartofthescienceofoptics.His claim
carriedthismathematical
program
butthattheverynawas notsimplythatlightcan be describedmathematically
to light;Keplertook
Plotinusdeniedall corporeality
tureoflightis mathematical.
substance.Devoid ofall matteror
thenextstepand madelighta mathematical
realmof matheto theintelligible
corporealsubstance,lightbelongsinevitably
it
that
be
"impossible
to discoverthe
may
matics.To be sure,Kepleradmits
a noble
natureof light,"buthe quicklyadds that"it is nevertheless
innermost
to probe thingsthatpertaincloselyto the natureof lightbefore
undertaking
AndwhenKeplerdoes probethenature
proceeding
to thebehavioroflight."'120
surface-notsomecorporealthingposof light,he findsit to be a mathematical
surfacein and of itself,an
surface,buta mathematical
sessinga mathematical
realities,hereas in
entity.The ultimate
geometrical
immaterial,
self-subsistent,
thesearchforcosmicorder,proveto be mathematical.
modernmatheof Kepleras empiricist,
How, then,shallwe viewtheportrait
and mechanizer
ofoptics?Thispictureis notso muchfalseas
maticalphysicist,
to theempiricaldata,
incomplete.Keplersurelyhad an awesomecommitment
presupposiwhichdrovehimon occasionto give up deeplyheldphilosophical
He was a
ofthephenomena.
tionsratherthanviolatewhathe tookto be thetruth
physicistof uncommontalent,and, if he wouldhave been surmathematical
his workmayhave preparedfor
prisedto discoverthathe was a "mechanist,"
up, then,the "modernist"
of optics.'2'Witha littletouching
themechanization
of Keplercan be judgeda tolerablerendition
of one of his aspects.It
portrait
initsisolation,itslack
as his,although
thatwe can acknowledge
revealsa profile
We
ofcontext,itfailsto conveythefull,variegated
richnessofthemanhimself.
to one
willdrawcloserto thetrueKepleras we see hisvariousaspectsinrelation
There
ofhismindandpersonality.
another,as we beginto graspthetopography
of Kepleras a founderof modern
is no need, then,to renouncetheportrayal
in
achievements
science; thereis only the necessityof seeinghis scientific
context.
119On this mathematicaltraditionand Kepler's relationshipto it, see Lindberg,Theoriesof Vision
(cit. n. 3), Chs. 6, 7, 9; Lindberg, Pecham and the Science of Optics (cit. n. 55); and Lindberg,
"Laying the Foundations of GeometricalOptics" (cit. n. 93).
120 Kepler, Paralipomena, p. 39.
121 Juse the expression
"mechanizationof optics" to denote in generalthe effortto reduce optics to
the laws of mechanics-more specifically,the reductionof optics to the laws of motionof corpuscles.
Crombieand Straker,who employthe same expression,define"mechanization"muchmorebroadly.
See Crombie, "Mechanistic Hypothesis," and Straker,"Kepler's Optics" (both cit. n. 2).

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