The Accounting Franciscan

Leave it to a poor man to figure out how to handle money properly. The man with the august title, “Father of Accounting,” was a Franciscan Friar named Luca Pacioli (1445-1517). Born of poor parents in Sansepulcro, Tuscany, he entered the Friars Minor in 1472, at the suggestion of none other than Pope Paul II.

Prior to his entry into the religious life, Pacioli had achieved great proficiency at mathematics, studying privately under a brilliant tutor and reading voraciously in the library of the Count of Urbino. Access to the library and to his private tutor came to the young mathematician thanks to his artist friend and fellow townsman, Piero della Francesca, the pioneer in perspective. After becoming a Franciscan, Friar Luca was employed as a teacher at the university of Perugia

In 1494, the only date of Pacioli’s life that is absolutely certain, the forty-nine-year-old friar published a work which sought to correct the poor methods of mathematical instruction in his day: the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Summary of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion and Proportionality). The one section of this treatise that gained the good friar his title “Father of Accounting” was Particularis de Computis et Scripturis. It constitutes the first written description of double-entry accounting, known also as the “Venetian method,” because it was employed by Venetian businessmen. The complete work was published on the Gutenberg press and soon became the most widely read book on mathematics in Italy.

After achieving great fame because of the Summa , Friar Luca was invited to Milan, to teach at the court of Lodovico Maria Sforzo. One of his students there was Leonardo da Vinci, whom Pacioli taught perspective and proportionality. During their seven-year association, each helped the other with a masterpiece. Da Vinci illustrated Friar Luca’s book De Divina Proportione (“Of Divine Proportions”), while the perspective and proportionality he learned from Pacioli allowed him to produce his famous “The Last Supper.”

In 1514, Pope Leo III called him to Rome to teach, but, for whatever reason, it does not seem that he arrived there. It is believed that he died on June 19, 1517, in the monastery of his Order in Sansepulcro.

With proficiency in fields as diverse as mathematics, theology, sports and games, military strategy, and architecture, Friar Luca Pacioli certainly counts as what is commonly called a Renaissance man. His memory is held in reverence by mathematicians and accountants alike. The interest that still exists for his work is apparent by this fact: An English translation of De Divina Proportione is slated to be published by Abaris Books in January of 2005.