Peter Aureol (c. 1275/1280–1322)

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(c. 1275/12801322)

Peter Aureol (or Petrus Aureolus, Petrus Aureoli, Peter Oriole, etc.), the French Franciscan philosopher and theologian called "Doctor Facundus," was born near Gourdon, Lot, between 1275 and 1280 and died in 1322. He entered the Franciscan order before 1300, probably at Gourdon, and was assigned to the province of Aquitaine. In 1304, Peter was at Paris, but whether he studied under John Duns Scotus is uncertain. His first work was Tractatus de Paupertate (1311). In 1312 he was lector at the studium generale at Bologna, where he composed his only purely philosophical work, the unfinished Tractatus de Principiis Naturae in four books. From 1314 to 1315, as lector at Toulouse, he wrote the original and influential tract De Conceptione B. M. V. and the Repercussorium against certain opponents of the tract. From 1313 to 1316, probably also at Toulouse, he composed his extensive Scriptum Super I Sententiarum, dedicated to John XXII. At the Chapter General of Naples in 1316, Peter was nominated to lecture on the Sentences at Paris. The newly elected general of the order, Michael of Cesena, who had just finished his own Sentences at Paris, gave his consent as required although Peter openly opposed him. Peter lectured at Paris from 1316 to 1318; his Reportata, formerly called "the first redaction," is now believed to belong to this period. In a letter dated July 14, 1318, John XXII asked the chancellor of Paris to grant Peter the licentiate. Peter is later mentioned (November 13, 1318) as among the master regents. For the next two years he taught Scripture at Paris while composing his often-published Compendium Sensus Litteralis Totius Scripturae (1319). At the end of 1320, Peter became provincial of Aquitaine but was nominated archbishop of Aix and consecrated by the pope himself in 1321. He died either at Avignon or at Aix.

Although Peter's doctrines have never been thoroughly studied, he has long been regarded as a highly critical thinker who often discarded as useless philosophical theories of his timefor example, he rejected contemporary opinions on the cosmic influence of the intelligences. In particular, he criticized many theories of Thomas Wylton and Hervaeus Natalis. He often attacked Duns Scotus, yet he also frequently followed and defended him.

Peter's own philosophical system is characterized by skeptical and empirical traits. In epistemology he supported a form of conceptualisma doctrine midway between the realism of the great Scholastics and the nominalism of William of Ockhamin which the intelligible species is not merely the medium quo but itself the immediate object of our knowledge. Universal concepts have some psychic reality but no objective foundation; any principle of individuation is thus rendered superfluous. Knowledge of the individual, because of its high degree of clarity and truth, is to be preferred to knowledge of the universal. In keeping with the principle of economy often called Ockham's razor, the constitutive elements of beings are to be limited, so that without extremely cogent reasons we should not accept a plurality of "realities" in a thing. In other philosophical fields Peter had many theories of his own. He defended the existence of neutral propositions, neither true nor false, and this led him to think that God cannot know with certainty future contingent events. Peter emphasized that man's knowledge of God is largely dependent upon the psychological dispositions of the individual; moreover, ontologically there is no common ground of being between men and God. In cosmology Peter had his own opinions on the plurality of forms, the notion of an infinite, the subjectivity of time, and the meaning of movement. He thus bears witness to the fact that there was no dogmatic uniformity in medieval Scholasticism.

See also Duns Scotus, John; Empiricism; Epistemology, History of; Medieval Philosophy; Skepticism, History of; Universals, A Historical Survey; William of Ockham.


Peter's Tractatus de Paupertate was edited in Firmamenta Trium Ordinum B. P. N. Francisci (Paris, 1511), Part IV, folio 116r129r. The Tractatus de Principiis Naturae is preserved only in manuscript. De Conceptione B. M. V. and the Repercussorium were edited at Quaracchi, Italy, in 1904. The Sententiarum was edited in Rome in 1516; the critical edition by E. M. Buytaert, in 2 vols. (to date), (St. Bonaventure, NY, 19531956), includes the prologue and Book 1 (Distinctions 18), and the difficult question of the double redaction of the Sentences is discussed in the introduction. The Reportata was edited in 2 vols. (Rome, 15961605). The Compendium was edited by P. Seeboeck (Quaracchi, 1896). Peter's other works include Compendiosa Expositio Evangelis Joannis, Friedrich Stegmüller, ed., in Franziskanische Studien 33 (1951): 207219; Recommendatio et Divisio S. Scripturae; Commentariorum in Isiam ; one Quodlibet (1320) of 16 questions (edited Rome, 1605); and unedited questions and sermons.

secondary sources

Barth, T. Article on Peter in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche. 2nd ed., Vol. VII (1963), p. 350.

Beumer, J. "Der Augustinismus in der theologische Erkenntnislehre des P. A." Franziskanische Studien 36 (1954): 137171.

Gilson, Étienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 476480, 777779. New York: Random House, 1955.

Maier, Anneliese. Article on Peter in Enciclopedia cattolica. Vol. II (1949), 409411.

Maier, Anneliese. "Literarhistorische Notizen über P. A." Gregorianum 29 (1948): 213229.

Pelster, Franz. "Estudios sobre la transmisión manuscrita de algunas obras de P. A." Estudios eclesiasticos 9 (1930): 462479, and 10 (1931): 449474.

Pelster, Franz. "Zur ersten Polemik gegen Aureoli." Franciscan Studies 15 (1955): 3047.

Pelster, Franz. "Zur Überlieferung des Quodlibet und anderer Schriften des P. A." Franciscan Studies 14 (1954): 392411.

Stegmüller, Friedrich. Repertorium Biblicum. Vol. IV, notes 64156422.

Stegmüller, Friedrich. Repertorium Comment. in Sententiae Petri Lombardi. 2 vols. Würzburg, 1947. Vol. I, notes 314318, 657663.

Teetaert, A. "Pierre Auriol." In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. Vol. XII. Paris, 1935. Cols. 18101881.

A. Emmen, O.F.M. (1967)