John Peckham or Pecham (circa 1230–8 December 1292), was Archbishop of Canterbury in the years 1279–1292. He was a native of Sussex who was educated at Lewes Priory and became a Franciscan monk about 1250. He studied at Paris under Bonaventure, where he later taught theology. From his teaching, he came into conflict with Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom he debated on two occasions. Known as a conservative theologian, he opposed Aquinas' views on the nature of the soul. Peckham also studied optics and astronomy, and his studies in those subjects were influenced by Roger Bacon.
In around 1270, he returned to England, where he taught at the University of Oxford, and was elected the Franciscan provincial minster of England in 1275. After a brief stint in Rome, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1279. His time as archbishop was marked by efforts to improve discipline in the clergy as well as reorganize the estates of his see. Pluralism, or holding more than one clerical benefice, was one of the abuses that Peckham combated. He served King Edward I of England in Wales, where he formed a low opinion of the Welsh people and laws. Before and during his time as archbishop, he wrote a number of works on optics, philosophy, and theology, as well as writing hymns. Numerous manuscripts of his works survive. On his death, his body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, but his heart was given to the Franciscans for burial.
For years Peckham taught at Paris, coming into contact with the greatest scholars of the day, among others St Thomas Aquinas. He famously debated Aquinas on at least two occasions during 1269 and 1270, during which Peckham defended the conservative theological position, and Thomas put forth his views on the soul. The Thomist doctrine of the unity of form was condemned after these debates. His theological works later were used by his pupil Roger Marston who in turn inspired Duns Scotus. Peckham also studied other fields, however; and was guided by Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon's views on the value of experimental science. Where Peckham met Bacon is not known, but it would have been at either Paris or Oxford. Bacon's influence can be seen in Peckham's works on optics (the Perspectiva communis) and astronomy.
Peckham's insistence on discipline offended contemporaries. His first act on arrival in England was to call a council at Reading, which met in July of 1279. Its main object was ecclesiastical reform, but the provision that a copy of Magna Carta should be hung in all cathedral and collegiate churches seemed to the king a political action. Another ruling was on non-residence of clergy in their livings. The only exception Peckham was prepared to make on non-residence was if the clerk needed to go abroad to study. At the Parliament of Winchester in 1279, the archbishop compromised and the parliament declared void any action of this council touching on the royal power. The copies of Magna Carta were taken down. One reason the archbishop may have backed down was that he was in debt to the Italian banking family of the Riccardi, who also were bankers to Edward and the pope, and Peckham was under threat of excommunication from the pope unless he repaid the loans.
However, Peckham worked hard to reorganize the estates of the diocese, and held an inquiry in 1283 through 1285 into the revenues of the see. He set up administrative structures in the manors that divided them into seven administrative groups. Peckham, though, was almost continually in debt, and because he was a Franciscan, he had no personal property to help with his living expenses. He had inherited the diocesan debts that his predecessor had allowed to accumulate, and never managed to clear them.
Peckham also had problems with his subordinate Thomas Bek, who was Bishop of St David's in Wales. Bek tried to revive a scheme to make St David's independent from Canterbury, and to elevate it to metropolitan status. This had originally been put forth by Gerald of Wales around 1200, but had been defeated by the actions of Hubert Walter, then the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bek did not manage even the four-year fight that Gerald had managed, for Peckham routed him quickly.
Peckham was very strict in his interpretations of canon law, and once wrote to Queen Eleanor that her use of loans from Jewish moneylenders to acquire lands was usury and a mortal sin. He also felt that Welsh laws were illogical and conflicted with Biblical teachings. He also mandated that the clerical tonsure worn by the clergy should not just include the top of the head, but also have the nape and over the ears shaved, which allowed the clergy to be easily distinguished from the laity. To help with this, the archbishop also forbade the clergy from wearing secular clothing, especially military garb. He also forbade an effort by the Benedictine order in England to reform their monastic rule, to allow more time for study and for more education for the monks. Peckham's reason was that they were against custom, but he may also have had concerns that these reforms would have drawn recruits away from the Franciscans.
At an ecclesiastical council held at Lambeth in 1281, Peckham ordered the clergy to instruct their congregations in doctrine at least four times a year. They were to explain and teach the Articles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, the Works of Mercy, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Virtues and the Sacraments. This command was issued as a canon, or law, of the council, and the group is known as the Lambeth Constitutions. Even later these constitutions were collected as the Ignorantia sacerdotum. The six doctrines comprised the minimum theological knowledge the archbishop considered necessary for the laity to know. The constitutions, which were originally in Latin, were the basis and inspiration for pastoral and devotional works throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages, and were eventually translated into English in the 15th century.
The crime of "plurality," or pluralism, which was the holding by one cleric of two or more benefices, was one of Peckham's targets, as were clerical absenteeism and laxity in the monastic life. His main instrument was a system of "visitation," which he used with an unprecedented frequency. Disputes resulted, and on some points Peckham gave way, but his powers as papal legate complicated matters, and he did much to strengthen the court of Canterbury at the expense of the lower courts. The quarrel with Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, arose from similar causes. It involved an appeal over the jurisdiction of the archbishop, that Thomas sent to Rome in 1281, but Thomas died before the case could be decided. He also decreed that the clergy should preach to their flocks at least four times a year.
Peckham often was in conflict with his subordinate bishops, mainly because of his efforts to reform them, but Peckham's own attitude and handling of his clergy contributed to the problem. He once wrote to Roger de Meyland, the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield "These things need your attention, but you have been absent so long that you seem not to care. We therefore order you, on receipt of this letter, to take up residence in your diocese, so that -- even if you are not competent to redress spiritual evils -- you may at least minister to the temporal needs of the poor." The historian Richard Southern says that Peckham's disputes with his suffragan bishops were "conducted in an atmosphere of bitterness and perpetual ill-will", which probably owed something to a "petulant strain in Peckham's character". Peckham's conflicts started because his own ideals were those of a Franciscan, but most of his clergy were concerned with more mundane and materialistic affairs. These strains between the archbishop and his subordinates were intensified by clashes over ecclesiastical and secular authority, as well as Edward's great need for income.
Peckham died on 8 December 1292 at Mortlake and was buried in the north transept, or the Martyrdom, of Canterbury Cathedral. His heart, however, was buried with the Franciscans under the high altar of their London church. His tomb still survives. He founded a college at Wingham, Kent in 1286, probably a college of canons serving a church.
Peckham is the earliest of the Archbishops of Canterbury to have his registers, the principal records of archiepiscopal administration, held in at Lambeth Palace Library.