Sylvius, Francis (du Bois)

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Theologian; b. province of Hainault, Belgium, 1581; d. Douai, France, Feb. 27, 1649. He studied the humanities at Mons and later took up philosophy at Louvain. He then moved to the University of Douai, which had been founded in 1559 by Philip II. After teaching there for a time, he received the doctorate in theology in 1610. Sylvius succeeded William Estius in the chair of theology at the university in 1613. In 1618 he became canon, and in 1622, dean of the collegiate church of Saint-Amé. This latter office brought with it the rank of vice chancellor of the university.

Sylvius's writings show him to have been a thorough and penetrating disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas. His most important work was his commentary on the Summa theologiae of Aquinas, which was first published at Douai during the years 1620 to 1635. This four-volume commentary required a second edition almost immediately (162248). Jean Paquot probably exaggerates when he says Sylvius's commentary on the Summa is superior to any other, but it does, nonetheless, have distinctive merit. Sylvius produced several other works defending and explaining Thomistic doctrines, e.g., Explicatio doctrinae S. Thomae et confirmatio thesium ex eodem de motione primi motoris (Douai 1609); Liber sententiarum de statu hominis post peccatum (Douai 1614).

In addition to his speculative work, he retained a lively interest in the practical application of theological ideas. To this end he translated the Rule of St. Benedict into French, prepared new editions of the pastoral instructions of St. Charles Borromeo (1616; 1624), and of the practical manual Petri Binsfeldii enchiridium theologiae pastoralis locupletatum (1622).

In the work entitled Resolutiones variae (1640; 1644) Sylvius practices the art of casuistry, i.e., the application of general principles in moral theology to hypothetical concrete cases. His treatment of these questions is often excessively complex, and in this he reflects the spirit of his day. Generally speaking, he favors the system described as "moderate probabilism" as a practical norm in moral judgments.

From his earliest days as a theologian, Sylvius stood firmly against the opinions put forward by Jansenius [see, e.g., Litterae eximiorum DD. G. Colvenerii, F. Sylvii et V. Rendour quibus testantur se Jansenii doctrinam semper proscriptam voluisse (1648)]. His later works show that he became much concerned with the dangers inherent in the thought of Jansenius. Not long before his death, he sent an urgent letter to the Holy See, warning of the Jansenist peril confronting the Church.

Sylvius, along with his predecessor in the chair of theology, Estius, brought much honor to the newly established University of Douai. In the midst of bitter theological controversy he maintained a delicate balance in attitude as well as doctrine. Sylvius must be described as one of the better Thomists of the early 17th century. (see thomism.)

Bibliography: É. amann, in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 14:292325.

[m. kelley]