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Petau, Denis (Petavius)

PETAU, DENIS (PETAVIUS)

Jesuit theologian and patrologist; b. Orleans, France, Aug. 21, 1583; d. Paris, Dec. 11, 1652. He received his master of arts degree at 16, defending his dissertation in Greek instead of Latin, and at 19 began to teach philosophy in Bourges (160305). He studied theology at the Sorbonne, and under the guidance of Isaac Casaubon devoted himself to patristic studies. In 1605 he became a Jesuit and was ordained in 1610. From 1611 to 1621 he taught rhetoric at the Jesuit colleges in Reims and La Flèche, and from 1621 to 1644 he taught positive theology at the Collège de Clermont in Paris, where after his retirement from teaching, he served as librarian until his death. Philip IV of Spain and Pope Urban VIII both sought his competent and erudite services, but without success.

Works. Guided by Fronton de Duc at Clermont, Petau edited the works of the fourth-century bishop synesius (1612), the 16 orations of the fourth-century Greek rhetorician Themistius (1613), three orations of julian the apostate (1614), the Breviarium historicum of nicephorus i (1616), and the complete works of St. epiphanius of constantia (1622). Petau's Doctrina temporum (2 v., 1627) was a thorough revision of scaliger's standard work of world chronology; the abridged version, Rationarium temporum (1633), was used by Bossuet for his Discours sur l'histoire universelle. Petau also wrote works of humanist and apologetical interest, as well as polemics against the Jansenists and Calvinists. His correspondence with famous persons was published in 1652.

The fame of Petau rests on his contribution to positive theology in his Dogmata theologia (4 v. 164450), in which he follows the lead of M. cano and J. maldonatus and traces the Church's doctrines to sources in Holy Scripture and tradition. Of ten books planned, five appeared: De Deo, De Trinitate, De angelis, De mundi opificio, and De Incarnatione each accompanied by an exhaustive discussion of the history of the topic, opposing heresies, the Church's decisions, and allied problems. Jansenists and other enemies of the Jesuits at the University of Paris caused a poor reception for the first three volumes in 1644; but outside scholars recognized their worth and the fourth volume appeared in 1650.

Theology. In his Prolegomena to the work, Petau discusses the nature and scope of theology in a fundamental manner and "leaves to others the frequently contentious and subtle theologizing of many scholastics." Recognizing that scholastic methods were useful in the clarification of positions and the refutation of heresy, he points out that some authors had trapped themselves in purely dialectical exercises or relied too much on the opinions of schools or champions. Petau's purpose was to make convenient for dogmaticians the evidence of the Scriptures and patristic theology as a basis for further study and development.

On two problems in particular, public penance and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Petau's contribution has been of considerable value. While editing the works of Synesius and of St. Epiphanius, he had already studied the history of penance in the early Church. In 1644 he published De la Pénitence publique et de la préparation à la communion to refute A. arnauld's Jansenistic propositions in the tract De la fréquente Communion. Citing the Fathers of the first three centuries and the Council of Nicaea, Petau argued that, while certain sins had been generally regarded as unabsolvable, the Church had never hesitated to grant absolution at the hour of death; and that in the first four centuries the practice of penance varied considerably from one period to another and from one church to another. In conclusion, he upheld the practice of frequent confession and Communion on the principle that the Church had power to regulate its discipline even in the matter of the Sacraments. While many of Petau's statements on the practice of penance in the early Church are open to question, he brought forth much new evidence on a historical problem that has not yet received a satisfactory solution.

In discussing the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul (De Trinitate 8.47), Petau contended that theologians of his day stopped short of the true scriptural doctrine taught by the Greek Fathers. Granting that justification is caused by the presence of created grace in the soul, Petau maintained that, since both the Scriptures and the Fathers insist that sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit: (1) the other Persons are present in the soul only through being inseparable from the Holy Spirit; and (2) as the Holy Spirit is called the "sanctifying power" of the Father and the Son, His action in the soul requires a special title, and a special mode whereby the union of the soul with the divinity terminates in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Though completely different from the hypostatic union, which is singularly characteristic of the Incarnation, this union of the Holy Spirit with the soul is still substantial, "so that the very substance of the Holy Spirit is joined with us in some mysterious and unusual way." Petau's theory was rejected by most theologians but in a modified form found favor with L. thomassin (De Incarnatione, 6.11) and J. B. franzelin (De Deo uno, 341342). More recently M. scheeben (Die Mysterien des Christentums, 30), T. de Régnon (Études de théotogie positive sur la sainte trinité, 4:524526), and G. Waffelaert (L'union de l'âme aimante avec Dieu ) have sought to render Pétau's theory acceptable by modifying his explanations.

Petau called the attention of theologians to the hesitations, misconceptions, and inexactitudes of many of the early Fathers with regard to the theology of the Trinity in the primitive Church, and was immediately accused of making "almost all the Fathers of the first three centuries deny the divinity of the Son of God" by the Jansenists, and the Anglican theologian G. Bull in his Defensio fidel Nicaenae, 1685. Actually Petau's work was of crucial significance in the appreciation of the development of doctrine through the centuries, as J. H. newman early came to realize. As a proponent of positive theology, Petau is one of the great theologians of all time.

See Also: patristic studies.

Bibliography: Theological works pub. in editions of: Opus de theologicis dogmatibus, 6 v. (Antwerp 1700); as Dogmata theologica, 8 v. (Vivès ed. Paris 186567). p. galtier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 12.1:131337. a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 15.2:185154. p. de letter, "Sanctifying Grace and the Divine Indwelling," Theological Studies 14 (1953) 242272. j. c. v. chatellain, Le P. Denis Pétau d'Orléans (Paris 1884). c. baumgartner, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 8:314. p. di rosa, "D. Petau e la chronologia," Archivum historicum Societatis Jesu 29 (1960) 354.

[f. x. murphy]

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