Jansenist theologian; b. Chartres, Oct. 19, 1625; d. Paris, Nov. 16, 1695. Nicole studied philosophy at Paris where he took his master's degree in 1644 before turning his attention to theology. He received his baccalaureate from the Sorbonne in 1649. His relatives among the nuns at port-royal arranged for him to join the group who shared the ideas of the recently deceased Abbé Saint-Cyran (see duvergier de hauranne, jean) and operated a school for boys near the convent. Nicole taught literature and formed a friendship with the brilliant Antoine Arnauld, younger brother of Mère Angélique (see arnauld), Abbess of Port-Royal, and spiritual director of the nuns. Nicole collaborated with Arnauld on many writings, although often Arnauld's part was merely to give his approval. These writings are published among the 43 volumes of the collected works of Arnauld (Lausanne 1775–83).
Nicole was a close collaborator with Pascal and was so highly regarded as a writer that many read him despite their lack of interest in his generally religious subjects. His writings are chiefly polemical and were often published under pen names. He wrote much in defense of jansenism and against the Jesuits, although his posthumously published writings on grace are far from Jansenistic. Despite its good qualities, his writing against the quietists, produced at the request of Bossuet, goes to extremes in the rejection of mysticism. He also defended the position of the maurists on monastic studies against A. J. de rancÉ, founder of the Trappist reform.
Although far more moderate than most of the Jansenists, both in substance and in style, Nicole is characteristically Jansenist in his commitment to endless controversy and his love for fine distinctions. He probably originated the famous distinction between doctrine and fact with which Port-Royal tried to evade the condemnation of the five propositions from the augustinus, which they were willing to accept as erroneous, but not as contained in the book. Although he was refused Sacred Orders by his bishop, Nicole leaped to the defense of clerics, who were not so ready with the pen, when they were attacked for rejecting the condemnation of the five propositions. He was constantly trying to enlist St. Thomas Aquinas in defense of his case, and even wrote a book titled Conformity of the Jansenists and the Thomists concerning the Five Propositions.
Among his numerous writings a few are especially deserving of mention. His fame was established by his Latin translation of the Provincial Letters of Pascal, published with notes and additions under the name of William Wendrock. He wrote extensive scholarly works against the Calvinists in defense of transubstantiation and the Real Presence, as well as a more general attack on Calvinist positions that produced a whole literature of controversy. Perhaps his greatest work is his Essais de morale, which first appeared in four volumes and were printed, emended, added to, and reprinted again and again until the edition of 1753 filled 14 volumes. The weakness of human nature and the incapacity of the natural man for virtue dominates his characteristic Jansenism in morality. In response to attacks on Jansenism he wrote two works that were later published together and give important details of life at Port-Royal, Les Imaginaires et les visionnaires ou dix-huit lettres sur i’hérésie imaginaire.
Bibliography: j. carreyre, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903—50) 11.1:634–646. h. bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1917–36) 4:418–588. h. hurter, Nomenclator literarius theologiae catholicae (Innsbruck 1903–13) 4:444–448. l. willaert, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 7:948–949.