Henry of Harclay (c. 1270–1317)

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Henry of Harclay, the English scholastic theologian and philosopher, was born in the diocese of Carlisle. After studying at Oxford and Paris, he was ordained a priest in 1297 and obtained his master of theology about 1310. He taught at Oxford, becoming chancellor of the university in 1312. He wrote an unedited "Commentary on the Sentences," and "Disputed Questions," most of which are unpublished. He died at Avignon.

Early in his career, while commenting on the Sentences, Henry defended the main theses of John Duns Scotus. Later, he criticized Scotism, teaching a doctrine of universals close to that of William of Ockham. He held that there are no common natures or essences in reality; there are only individuals, each of which has its own nature. Since there are no common natures, there is no need of the Scotist haecceity to render them individual. As Ockham later said, realities are individual not by an added "thisness" but by themselves.

Henry's doctrine of universals is based on this notion of reality. According to him, an individual can be conceived of either distinctly or indistinctly. When distinctly conceived, it is known through a particular concept; when indistinctly conceived, it is known through a universal concept. A universal is a confused concept by which the mind knows one individual without distinguishing it from others in the same genus or species. Inasmuch as an individual can be known through general concepts, Henry called it universal. For example, Socrates indistinctly conceived is man, animal, and body. Ockham criticized Henry's conceptualism because it ascribed some universality to things outside the mind.

Henry rejected the Scotist doctrine of the divine ideas as essences of creatures existing in God with cognitional being. He adopted a variation of the theory that the ideas are really the same as the divine essence itself known by God as imitable by creatures. God is known through concepts univocal to Him and creatures.

Henry stressed the omnipotence of God and the radical contingency of creatures. He claimed that no creature is naturally indestructible; the human soul is immortal not by nature but by divine grace. According to Henry, St. Thomas Aquinas betrayed Christianity by teaching the natural immortality of the soul.

See also Duns Scotus, John; Immortality; Scotism; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Universals, A Historical Survey; William of Ockham.


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Maurer, Armand. "Henry of Harclay's Questions on the Divine Ideas." Mediaeval Studies 23 (1961): 163193.

Pelster, Franz. "Heinrich von Harclay, Kanzler von Oxford, und seine Quästionen." Miscellanea Francesco Ehrle 1 (1924): 307356.

Armand A. Maurer (1967)