Nicolas of Amiens

Nicolas Of Amiens, a scholastic philosopher, was born in the 12th century, probably in the French city after which he is surnamed. He is sometimes confounded with a cardinal Nicolas who flourished near the opening of the 12th century. It is a question, too, whether he be not the same person as a disciple of Gilbert de la Porrde, discovered by Martene and Durand in their second Voyage litteraire, and designated by a manuscript note as having expounded more clearly the opinions of his master. It would seem, however, that there is little ground for this supposition likewise, for a disciple of Gilbert de'la Porree would not have failed to use in his books, as M. Petit-Radel has well pointed out, the sophistical language of 'the school,' from which the writings of Nicolas appear free. It is possible, nevertheless, that he may have been one of the disciples of this illustrious master. We have few other hints regarding the life of Nicolas d'Amiens. A letter of Alexander III tells us that about the year, 1165 he still possessed no benefice. A prebend had been promised to Nicolas by Thierry, bishop of Amiens, and when Thierry was. suddenly removed by death, the pope ordered his successor, Robert, to fulfill immediately this promise. Nicolas enjoyed great credit at Rome. But by what services he had gained the powerful patronage of Alexander we are unable to say. Nicolas died after 1204. His writings now known are a Chronique, signalized by Mountfaucon in the library of the Vatican, and a treatise contained in the same library, also in the imperial library at Paris, under the title of Arsfidei catholicae. This treatise has never been published. It is contained in MS. No. 6506. It commences with these words: "Incipit prologus in Artemfidei catholicae, editam a Nicolao Andranensi." In the prologue the author addresses himself to pope Clement III (1187 to 1191), which tells us at what date Nicolas d'Amiens composed his book. The object of the work is to oppose a barrier to the invasion of heresies, and the author declares that he will use only arguments of a logical order to combat them. Formerly, it is true, they were confuted by the authority of the Scriptures. But the Scriptures have fallen into contempt; henceforth everything must be proved according to the principles of Aristotle, and to make faith agree with reason. It is an undertaking from which the author does not shrink. He divides his treatise into five books: the first is upon the Supreme Cause; the second, upon the world, the angels, the creation of man, and free will; the third, upon the Son of God; the fourth, upon the sacraments; the fifth, upon the resurrection. At the commencement of each book, following a procedure peculiar to himself, he places several series of definitions, of theses, of universally admitted propositions (communes animi conceptiones), which shall serve as foundations to his theorems. Then he reasons in this manner. The definition of Cause is thus conceived: "Cause is that which gives being to another object called the Caused." The first universally admitted proposition is this: "Everything derives its being from the generating principle of the Cause." The first theorem is this: "All that which is the cause of the cause is the cause of the caused; either, for example, the caused A, its cause B, or the cause of B C." In first declaring the definition of Cause, he infers the hypothesis, the first proposition twice reproduced, and again the definition of Cause. Thus the theorem is demonstrated. That said, the author passes to the following theorem, which he demonstrates in still briefer terms. His fourth theorem (book first) is thus conceived: "'Neque subjectam materiam sine forma, nequc. formam sine subjecta materia actu posse esse." This is a rash proposition, It conforms, it is true, io the principles of Aristotle; Aristotle does not admit the actuality of the first of forms, the soul, to the state of a separate substance: but is Nicolas d'Amiens of the same opinion? No, undoubtedly not. Here, then, he declares a proposition, all the consequences of which he does not suspect. At the same time it is certain that he rejects the thesis of matter without form, considered as anterior in order of generation to unformed matter; which is the thesis of the Platonicians, reproduced later by Duns Scotus. Nicolas d'Amiens is a very moderate realist, inasmuch as realism had just been condemned by the Church in the person of his master, Gilbert de la Porree. He prudently expresses himself upon the theorem of the divine attributes: "Deus est potentia qua dicitur potens, sapientia qua dicitur sapiens, caritas qua diligens; caeteraque nomina qua divinem naturae dicuntur competere, de Deo licet improprie prmedicant divinam essentiam." These are the express terms of St. Bernard arguing against Gilbert de la Porree before the Council of Rheims. See Hist. litt. de la France, xvii, 1.

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