1902 Encyclopedia > Antoine Arnauld

Antoine Arnauld
French theologian and philosopher
(1612-1694)




ANTOINE ARNAULD, one of the greatest French theologians and philosophers, was born at Paris, Feb. 8, 1612. His father was the most famous advocate of the time, and had gained special distinction by his defence of the university against the Jesuits in 1594. Of his large family, Antoine was the twentieth and youngest child. As he was at first destined to follow his father's profession, he turned his attention to legal studies as soon as he had completed the usual course of education at the colleges of Calvi and Lisieux. But the earnest advice of his mother, a deeply religious woman, who afterwards became an inmate of Port-Royal, induced him to give up the profession of a lawyer and to engage in the service of the church. He received his first instructions in theology from Lescot, confessor of Richelieu, but his teacher's influence over his mind was greatly weakened by the study of some works of Augustine, which, at the request of his mother, had been recommended to him by St Cyran. The thesis which he presented for the degree of bachelor in 1635 showed manifest traces of Augustine's influence, and gave great offence to Lescot. Arnauld now entered the Sorbonne, and from 1638 to 1640 professed the courses of theology and philosophy requisite for a licence. In 1641 he was ordained priest, and took his degree of doctor. After being twice rejected on formal grounds, or, perhaps, from the hostile influence of Lescot, he was, in 1634, admitted a member of the Society of the Sorbonne. In 1641 his mother died. Her last words, in which she implored him to hold stedfastly by the truth, made a deep impression on his mind. He gave up several benefices which he had obtained, and resolved to devote himself with all his soul to the defence and propagation of what he believed to be the truth. Between 1641 and 1643 he composed a treatise in two vols, Be la Necessité de la Foi (not published till 1700), and another, Théologie Morale des Jésuites. In August 1643 he published his famous work, Be la Fréquente Communion, expressly directed against the Jesuits, who held that the mere mechanical reception of the sacraments was sufficient, and that previous preparation and actual repentance were of secondary importance. They had even gone the length of saying, that the more a man sinned the more frequently and boldly should he approach the table of communion. Arnauld's book was sanctioned by many doctors of the Sorbonne, and by several bishops and archbishops. It wTas denounced by the Jesuits, one of whom, by name Nouet, preached against its heretical tenets, and called Arnauld an heresiarch worse than Calvin or Luther. This, however, carried matters too far; the Sorbonne and the bishops, who had given their sanction, were implicated in such a condemna-tion, and, by their influence, Nouet was compelled to retract. But the Jesuits insisted that the work must be judged at Rome, and laid special stress on a sentence in the preface, due not to Arnauld, but to De Barcos. This sentence they held to be adverse to the Papal supremacy, and they so wrought upon Mazarin as to obtain from him a decree commanding Arnauld and De Barcos to repair to Borne. Such intense excitement and indignation were roused by this decree, which struck a blow at the freedom of the French Church, that Mazarin apologised and withdrew it. De Barcos, who had made preparations for his journey to Rome, now learned that the Jesuits were forming bolder and more dangerous designs against Arnauld and himself. He withdrew into concealment and warned Arnauld, who followed his example. The book was examined at Rome and defended by Bourgeois, a doctor of the Sorbonne; and only the one sentence in the preface fell under Papal censure.

Scarcely was this controversy over, when a fresh cause of trouble arose. In 1640 appeared the Augustinus of Jansen, bishop of Ypres, the great object of which was to show that the doctrines of Augustine on grace, freewill, and redemption, were opposed to those of the Jesuits, which were really semi-Pelagian. This work fell under Papal censure in 1642, in the bull In eminenti, which condemned it as a revival of the errors of Bajus. Arnauld, in 1643, wrote some observations and considerations on the bull, and in 1644-45 a first and second apology for Jansenius. For a time there was little opposition made by the Jesuits, and Arnauld, besides superintending at Port-Royal, occupied himself in translating into French some of Augustine's works, and into Latin his own treatise De la Frequente Communion. At last, in 1649, one Cornet proposed to the Sorbonne seven propositions which he maintained to be heretical. Of these, five were drawn from the Augustinus of Jansen. The other two proposi-tions were allowed to drop, and after much controversy the five were condemned by a Papal bull in 1653. Two years later the due de Liancourt, whose chaplain was a Jansenist, and whose grand-daughter was an inmate of Port-Royal, was refused absolution by a Jesuit confessor unless he dismissed his chaplain and withdrew his grand-daughter from the heretical community. Arnauld wrote two letters upon this affair—the first anonymously, the second signed with his name, and addressed to the due de Luines. In this second letter it was stated,—1st, that the fathers of the church exhibit to us, in St Peter, a saint who was deficient in saving grace ; 2d, that the five heretical propositions were not contained in the Augustinus. This second statement contains the celebrated distinction of the questions " de jure " and " de facto." As a matter of right,—of faith,—the propositions were heretical, wher-ever they occurred; but as a matter of fact, they were not to be found in Jansen's book in the sense ascribed to them by his opponents. The Jesuits held that this was really a rejection and defiance of the Papal bull; and, in 1656 they prevailed on the Sorbonne to expel Arnauld, deprive him of his doctorate, and pass a decree to the effect that all future members of their body must sign the censure. Arnauld's defence against this decree was undertaken by Pascal, who, in his brilliant Provincial Letters, brought down the dispute to the level of public comprehension. Arnauld continued to live in retirement, and, in company with Nicole, composed the valuable Port-Royal treatises on grammar, logic, and geometry. In 1668 the peace of the church allowed him to emerge from his retirement. He was received with great honour, and devoted himself to defending Jansenism from the imputation of leading to Calvinistic heresy. To refute this calumny he had already published (in 1664) the work known as the Petite perpetuite de la Foi; and in 1663 appeared the first volume of the Grande perpetuite de la Foi de l'Eglise sur PEucharistie, which was continued in 1671 and 1674

This great defence of transubstantiation, though appearing under Arnauld's name, was mainly the work of Nicole. Arnauld followed it up with several polemical writings against the impious and immoral tendencies of Calvinism. During this time also he was engaged in his elaborate assault on the moral doctrines of the Jesuits ; the first volume of the Morale Pratique des Jésuites appeared in 1669, and seven other volumes followed at intervals up to 1694.

In 1679 Arnauld was again compelled to conceal himself. He fled from France, and, pursued by the enmity of the Jesuits, went from Mons to Tournai, thence to Ghent, from Ghent to Brussels, and, after having been driven into Holland, settled at Brussels from 1682 to 1690. In 1690 he was again compelled to leave his refuge, but, after wan-dering about for four years, returned to Brussels, where he died on the 8th August 1694. He was buried in secret, and his heart was sent to be interred at Port-RoyaL Dur-ing the last years of his life his activity never slackened. While continuing the large works already begun, he entered on a long philosophical discussion with Male-branche, in the course of which he published his treatise Des Vraies et des Fausses Idées, 1683, the Réflexions Philosophiques et Théologiques, 1685, and a number of letters to Malebranche. He was also engaged in keen controversy with his old friends Nicole and Domat. Of his unwearied activity a characteristic illustration is his reply to Nicole, who urged him to rest from his labours. "Rest!" replied he, " shall we not have the whole of eternity to rest in Î "

As a theologian Arnauld stands high among French writers, not only from the matter of his works, but from their style. He was the first to introduce a pure and grammatical mode of composition, and to lay aside the infinitely numerous subtleties of the preceding centuries. His writing is singularly vigorous and clear. His philosophic reputation rests on his doctrine of external percep-tion and his work on logic. He was perhaps the first to oppose the theory of representative ideas, or of percep-tion through the ideas of objects, which ideas exist apart from the perceived thing and the perceiving mind. Ac-cording to him, we perceive things in ideas, but the idea is the same as the perception ; we have, in short, only a modification of the mind, conditioned by, or containing objectively, the thing itself. This mental state is subjective, but with an objective reference ; to mark the first charac-teristic, it may be called perception, to mark the second, idea. In many points Arnauld anticipates Reid's objections to representative ideas, but their theories of percep-tion can scarcely be regarded as identical. The Art de Penser, familiarly known as the Port-Royal Logic, is the best specimen of the logic of the Cartesian school. It is fresh, clear, and instructive, not overburdened with the useless paraphernalia of scholastic forms, but rich in practi-cal precepts and examples. It is, however, in the main popular, and falls far short of a scientific presentation of the theory of thought. It has been frequently republished in France, and has been much used both in England and in Germany. The complete edition of Arnauld's works, with life by Larrière, is in 45 volumes, 4to, Paris and Lausanne, 1775-1783.








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