Bradwardine, Thomas (c. 1300–1349)

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(c. 13001349)

Thomas Bradwardine studied arts at Balliol College and theology at Merton College, Oxford. In September 1337, he was appointed chancellor of Saint Paul's in London. From 1346 to 1348, as a king's clerk, he enjoyed a prominent position in the household of Edward III. In June 1349 he was elected archbishop of Canterbury; soon afterwards, in October, he died of the Black Death.

Like many Mertonians, Bradwardine was a logician and a mathematician. He wrote a treatise De insolubilibus (an insolubile is a self-referential sentence, such as the "liar paradox"), a Geometria speculativa, and a treatise De continuo. In his Tractatus de proportionibus velocitatum in motibus (1328) he attempted to introduce mathematic functions into Aristotelician physics. His masterpiece, however, is a voluminous theological and philosophical work, De causa Dei contra Pelagium, divided into three books (1344). It originates from lectures he had given in Oxford and London and, more radically, from a deep spiritual change he had experienced in his youth: "When I was applying myself to philosophy Pelagius's opinion seemed to me nearer to truth. But afterwards (I was not yet a theological student) I thought I saw from afar the grace of God preceeding all merits in time and in nature, in the same way that in all movements He is the first Mover." (bk. I, ch. 35, p. 308). This conversion induced Bradwardine to fight for God's cause against "the new Pelagians, " a group of post-ockhamists theologians that included Richard Fitzralph, Adam Wodeham, and Robert Holcot.

To these thinkers the issues of chief concern were grace and merit, future contingents, prescience, and predestination. On the first point, Bradwardine, as an ardent Augustinian, strongly reasserts that grace is a mere gift, not a retribution: in no way man can merit it, and, moreover, without God's special help man cannot act right.

Concerning future contingents, the new Pelagians' opinion stressed the contrast between the necessitythat is, the fixityof the past and the contingency of the future. This view could hardly be reconciled with the idea of an immutable and truthful God: If God or a prophet were to reveal a future event, is it possible that it would not happen? If it is possible, then God can deceive and lie. Countering this opinion, which he had first rejected in his question, De futuris contingentibus, Bradwardine closely examines the notions of contingency and necessity; he argues they are founded on the power of the will. Aristotle wrote, "What is, necessarly is, when it is. (De interpretation, ch. 9). But Duns Scotus observed that when man wills A at time t, he has the power not to will A, not only before or after t, but also at time t. Therefore a kind of necessity, the "consequent" necessity of present, is compatible with contingency. Regarding God, Bradwardine extends this conclusion to all times: For God, past, present, and future are equally contingent and equally necessary. Consequently He can undo any past event (in an improper meaning of undo ), not because He could alter it (this would be a contradiction), but because at each instant of time He is yet freely willing the past event. In this way, there is no longer antinomy between the necessity of the prophecy and the contingency of the future event.

The same argument about contingent causality clears up the most famous tenet of Bradwardine's teaching, the assertion of "antecedent necessity": Since God's will is the first cause of everything and cannot be thwarted, everything happens by necessity in relation to His will. That is the proper definition of theological determinism. But again, according to Bradwardine, when man is willing something, though his act is determined by God, he does not lose the power to do the opposite act at the same time. So it seems there is in Bradwardine's doctrine an original attempt to conciliate God's predetermination and human freedom of will.

See also Determinism and Freedom; Duns Scotus, John; Pelagius and Pelagianism; Precognition.


works by bradwardine

De causa Dei contra Pelagium. Franfurt am Main: Minerva, 1964. This is a reprint of a work that was originally edited by Henry Savile in London and published in 1618.

De proportionibus velocitatum in motibus. In Thomas of Bradwardine: His Tractatus de ProportionibusIts Significance for the Development of Mathematical Physics, edited by Lamar H. Crosby Jr. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

"Insolubilia." In "La problématique des propositions insolubles au xiiiesiècle et au début du xive, suivie de l'édition des traités de W. Shyreswood, W. Burleigh et Th. Bradwardine, " edited by Marie-Louise Roure. Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, 37 (1970): 205326.

"De futuris contingentibus." In "Le De futuris contingentibus de Thomas Bradwardine, " edited by Jean-François Genest. Revue des études augustiniennes, 14 (1979): 249336.

works on bradwardine

Leff, Gordon. Bradwardine and the Pelagians: A Study of His "De Causa Dei" and Its Opponents. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1957.

Oberman, Heiko A. Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine: "A Fourteenth Century Augustinian." Utrecht: Kemink & Zoon, 1958.

Genest, Jean-François. Prédétermination et liberté créée à Oxford au xive siècle. Buckingham contre Bradwardine. Paris: J. Vrin, 1992.

Sylwanowicz, Michael. Contingent Causality and the Foundations of Duns Scotus' Metaphysics. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996.

Jean-François Genest (2005)