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Gilbert de la Porrée


Scholastic theologian and philosopher; b. Poitiers, France, c. 1075; d. there, Sept. 4, 1154.

Life. Gilbert first studied under Master Hilary at the cathedral school of Poitiers, then became the student of bernard of chartres, and later went to Laon. Before 1124 he returned to Chartres, where he was made chancellor of the cathedral several times (112636). For a short time he taught in Paris, where in 1141 john of salisbury "heard him in logic and theology" (Metal. 2.10). In 1142 he was consecrated bishop of Poitiers and seems not to have continued to teach theology.

When Gilbert spoke on the Trinity at a diocesan synod at Poitiers in 1146, two archdeacons, Calon of Thouars and Arnold of Brioux, denounced his doctrine to Pope Eugenius III, who convened a consistory in Paris shortly after Easter of 1147. The accusations were supported by the Parisian Master Adam of Petit Pont and by Hugh of Champfleury. Two witnesses, Rotold, bishop of Evreux, and a Master Ivo of Chartres, denied the charges. The pope ordered Godescalc, Abbot of St. Martin, to examine Gilbert's commentary on Boethius's Tractate on the Trinity and adjourned the inquiry until the Council of Reims. The council opened on March 21, 1148. The trial took place at a consistory convened after the closing of the council. But since Gilbert and his followers appeared before the consistory thoroughly prepared, the debates again threatened to end in a deadlock. In order to reach a decision, Bernard drew up a profession of faith as a reply to the four errors (capitula ) of which Gilbert was accused. To ensure their acceptance he arranged a meeting in his own quarters and put the matter to a vote. The cardinals of the papal court reacted indignantly to this procedure and "agreed among themselves to support the cause of the Bishop of Poitiers, saying that the Abbot had attacked Master Peter [Abelard] in exactly the same way" (John of Salisbury, Hist. pont. 9).

Gilbert was accused of saying that the divine essence is not God (Otto of Freising, Gesta Frid. 1.56; Geoffrey of Auxerre, C. Gilb. 64), of rejecting the statement that God is the divinity (Hist. pont. 8), and of saying that the divine nature was not made flesh and that it did not assume human nature (C. Gilb. 67). Another accusation was directed against Gilbert's assertion that no divine Person can be made the predicate of a sentence (Gesta Frid. 1.50).

Gilbert agreed with St. Bernard's profession of faith; the pope commanded him to correct any conflicting statements that might occur in his book on the Trinity. Gilbert concurred and was acquitted of the charges but made no change in his commentary. He pardoned his two archdeacons and returned to his diocese "with fulness of honor" (Gesta Frid. 1.57). Gilbert was nearly 70 years old when he faced his accusers.

Thought. Gilbert's apparently novel views are based on his principles of speculative grammar. Following Boethius, he divided the speculative sciences into natural, mathematical, and theological. Beginning with concrete composite objects, human language or scientific terminology follows two levels of reality. Concrete terms, such as substance, animal, white, person, and Plato, belong to the first level, the realm of natural science. But the human mind cannot grasp a concrete object unless it perceives the immediate reason why the object is a substance, or an animal, or white, etc. So the mind separates the concrete object from the numerous forms that make it what it is. Abstract terms such as substantiality, corporeality, and whiteness best express the abstract realm of mathematical science. But every concrete noun or adjective connotes its form just as every abstract term connotes the corresponding concrete reality in which it inheres. The direct meaning of a concrete or abstract work is called its substance, the connotation, its quality. Grammatical position and context indicate whether the intention is to express the substance or the quality of a word. Since the predicate is always universal, the word "man" in the sentence "Plato is a man" expresses the universal form that causes Plato to be a man. However, in the sentence "A man spoke" or "I saw a man," the same word expresses a concrete human being or even a person.

Although Gilbert was willing to make concessions to traditional patterns of speech, he transferred these rules of speculative grammar to theology. The sentence "The Father is God" would mean that He is God through His divinity and not, for instance, through His goodness or His eternity. Gilbert insisted that such insufficiency of human language must not be interpreted to the detriment of the absolute simplicity of God. According to him the sentence "The divine essence is God" is open to misunderstanding because Scripture uses the word "God" to designate either the divine nature (Mk 12.29) or a divine Person (Ps 46.6). If "God" is used in the sense of person, the statement is false. Gilbert could not accept the sentence "God is the divinity," for the abstract term "divinity" in the predicate would convey the idea that God causes God to be God.

As John of Salisbury relates, Gilbert's opponents maintained that his "novelty of speech" was "inconsistent with accepted beliefs" (Hist. pont. 8). He declares further that Gilbert's "doctrine seemed obscure to beginners, but all the more compendious and profound to advanced students" (ibid. 12); Gilbert himself, however, professed in his prologue to Boethius that he thought his teaching was so traditional "that it appeared that he had stolen rather than invented it." His doctrine continues to be the object of controversy.

Works. At his trial in Reims Gilbert demanded that he be judged on the evidence of his writings on the Psalms, on the Epistles of St. Paul, and on Boethius (Hist. pont. 10). He must have written them in that order. There are indications that his commentary on the Psalms was compiled before the death of anselm of laon (1117). It is still unpublished. The numerous manuscripts of this work are listed in F. Stegmüller, Repertorium biblicum medii aevi, 7 v. (Madrid 194961) 2:2511. Gilbert's commentary on St. Paul, written before 1140 and still unpublished, is a more mature work. The many manuscripts listed in Repertorium biblicum medii aevi 2:2528 attest to its popularity. His commentary on four Sacred Tractates of Boethius, written in the early 1140s, was first published in the Basel edition (1570) of the works of Boethius (Patrologia Latina, 217 v. [Paris 187890] 64:12471412). More than 40 manuscripts of the work are known to exist. A critical edition by N. M. Haring is found in Studies and Texts 13 (Toronto 1966). Two of Gilbert's letters are extant, one to his beloved teacher Bernard of Chartres [Bibliothèque de l'École de Chartres 16 (1855): 461], the other to Abbot Matthew of Saint-Florent de Saumur (Patrologia Latina 188:1258). Much remains to be done concerning the authenticity of numerous other works attributed to Gilbert.

Bibliography: a. berthaud, Gilbert de la Porrée, évêque de Poitiers, et sa philosophie (Poitiers 1892). r. l. poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought and Learning (2d ed. rev. Gloucester, Mass. 1961). a. hayen, "Le Concile de Reims et l'erreur théologique de Gilbert de la Porrée," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 1011 (193536): 29102. m.e. williams, "The Teaching of Gilbert Porreta on the Trinity," Analecta Gregoriana 56 (Rome 1951). n. m. haring, "The Case of Gilbert de la Porrée, Bishop of Poitiers, 11421154," Mediaeval Studies 13 (1951): 140; "Das sogenannte Glaubensbekenntnis des Reimser Konsistoriums von 1148," Scholastik 40 (1965): 5590. s. gammersbach, "Gilbert von Poitiers und seine Prozesse im Urteil der Zeitgenossen," Neue Münstersche Beiträge zur Geschichtsforchung 5 (Cologne 1959). f. vernet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 6.2:13501358. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 191131) 3:210215.

[n. m. haring]

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