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Contents of the Speculum Doctrinale

Like the other specula, the first book of the Speculum Doctrinale contains the Libellus Apologeticus, the apologetic introduction to the whole Speculum Maius. Vincent of Beauvais here explains in detail the basic principles of the Speculum Maius and offers a justification and defence of his content choices. This Libellus ends - like the other specula - with a short prologue that deals specifically with the content of the speculum in question, here the Speculum Doctrinale. This is followed, as in the other specula, by the table of contents of the specific speculum, here again, the Speculum Doctrinale. At the end of this first book is a resumé of the Moral part of the Speculum Maius, a description of the Fall.

The content of the Speculum Doctrinale is a continuation of that of the Speculum Naturale — which, as the first part of the Speculum Maius, immediately precedes the Speculum Doctrinale. Vincent of Beauvais therefore continues, in Book II of the Speculum Doctrinale, with the Fall of Man and he shows how it can be restored through science and study. He continues with an account of linguistics, especially Latin and Greek, which is a prerequisite for studying any science. The third and fourth books cover grammar (III), logic, rhetoric and poetics (IV).


In Book V, Vincent describes monastic ethics and practical morality, and then in Book VI highlights the theoretical side of ethics. Book VII deals with economics, both in monastic and family settings. Books VIII to XI focus on politics and law. First, Vincent discusses politics itself as a way of governing a state (VIII), and then deals specifically with legal issues in the remaining books, types of acts subject to justice (IX), crimes against God (X) and against man himself, both against his fellow man and against himself (XI).

From book XII, Vincent moves on to the artes mechanicae, with weaving, architecture, woodworking, armoury, as well as military art, theatre, shipping, commerce, hunting, agriculture and alchemy. Books XIII to XV are devoted to medicine. First Vincent discusses practical medicine with all its interventions (XIII), then moves on to the theory of medicine (XIV) and then to all types of diseases, their symptoms and causes (XV).

Books XVI and XVII discuss philosophy. First up is physics as philosophy of nature (XVI) to be followed by a book on mathematics and metaphysics called the first and highest subfield of philosophy.


Vincent of Beauvais places the discussion of theology in the last book (XVIII). Being “ancillae theologiae” (‘maid-servants of theology’), all other sciences precede it; she is the highest science in the medieval world. The text of this book contains only 64 chapters. It deals, after the heretical types of theology, very briefly with true theology, after which Vincent proceeds to its sources. Logically, the various books of the Bible are dealt with first and then the best-known Catholic doctors, concluding with a description of Richard and Hugo of Saint-Victor. As it stands, the book ends with a chapter on the profundity of the Divine Scriptures. It is generally accepted by present-day scholars, that this book was prematurely discontinued and originally must have been more extensive.

Image: Krakow, Biblioteka Jagiellońska, Rkp. 498 IV, f° 6ro.

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