Robert Holcot

views updated


English Dominican theologian; b. Holcot, North-amptonshire, c. 1290; d. Northampton, 1349. Known as Doctor firmus et indefatigabilis, he studied and taught at the University of Oxford from c. 1326 to c. 1334, becoming master in theology in 1332. An early version of his commentary on the Sentences of peter lombard was completed during his years as bachelor: this he revised and amplified in 1336, adding the Sex articuli. In his Sermo finalis, given at Oxford, he alluded to the disturbances that caused the secession of masters to Stamford in 1334. Possibly a regent master at Cambridge, he was one of the scholars encouraged and engaged by richard of bury, Bishop of Durham. By 1343 he was assigned to Blackfriars, Northampton, and was licensed to hear confessions in the archdeaconry. He died during the Black Death and was buried in the church of his order at Northampton.

Works. The numerous manuscripts and early editions of his writings testify to his popularity both in England and on the Continent. He was particularly famous for his commentaries on Scripture that compensated for the excessive subtleties of decadent scholasticism. His Postilla super librum sapientiae, which, according to two Paris MSS, was written at Cambridge, "made its author famous overnight and his fame held throughout the next two centuries" (Wey, 219). It brought together the traditional teaching of Scripture and a type of prehumanist study deriving from Richard of Bury and his circle. The same combination of learning was expressed in his commentaries on Proverbs (Paris 1510), Song of Songs (Venice 1509), and the Book of Sirach (Venice 1509), which ends abruptly at ch. 7, perhaps because of his death. For the use of preachers, he composed Liber de moralizationibus (Basel 1586) and a set of sermon outlines. This widely used collection of moralized exempla is notable for its classical allusions and for its technique of moral illustrations in stories. Most of his Quodlibeta are unedited. His Quaestiones super libros Sententiarum (Lyons 1497, 1505, 1518) enjoyed a popularity among nominalists.

Doctrine. As a Dominican, Holcot was bound to follow the doctrine of St. thomas aquinas, and he claimed to do so. But in fact he often disagreed with St. Thomas, adopting the new ideas of william of ockham. Separating philosophy from theology, he insisted that theology has its own logica fidei, not conformable to the natural logic of Aristotle. He was skeptical about man's ability to know the existence and attributes of God through logica naturalis. Since all human knowledge comes through the senses, man cannot be certain of spiritual beings or form an idea of them. Man's knowledge of God and angels comes from revelation. Admitting the utility of reasoning in theology to make faith more explicit, Holcot did not admit that this produced a scientific habit distinct from faith.

Stressing the absolute freedom and power of God, he distinguished God's absolute power (potentia absoluta ) from His chosen power (potentia ordinata ). Although God has chosen the present plan of salvation, He could dispense with grace, supernatural virtues, the moral code, and accept man's natural actions as meritorious for salvation. thomas bradwardine criticized this view as a form of Pelagianism. Conceiving God and man as partial causes of human acts, Holcot held that God can be called the cause of man's sin but not its author. This doctrine was condemned at Paris in 1347. For him, the principle of causality (A is the cause of B, if B occurs every time it is preceded by A ) is not self-evident, but, at best, only probable.

Bibliography: r. holcot, "Utrum theologia sit scientia: A Quodlibet Question," ed. j. t. muckle, Mediaeval Studies 20 (1958) 127153. É. h. gilson, A History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955) 500502. a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 (Oxford 195759) 2:946947. j. c. wey, "The Sermo finalis of Robert Holcot," Mediaeval Studies 11 (1949) 219224.

[a. maurer]

About this article

Robert Holcot

Updated About content Print Article