Thomas Bradwardine

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Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290 – 26 August 1349) was an English cleric and doctor of theology, scholastic philosopher, mathematician, physicist, courtier, and was elected Archbishop of Canterbury twice. The first election was annulled by King Edward III (to whom Bradwardine was chaplain and confessor) saying he "could ill spare so worthy a man". Within the year, his second election in 1349 was consecrated by Pope Clement VI at Avignon, but upon his return home Thomas died of the prevailing Great Mortality, the Black Death, forty days after his consecration and before he was to be enthroned. As one of the Oxford Calculators at Merton College, Oxford, he contributed to the mathematization of scholastic philosophy and kinematics. He earned the highest reputation following the immediate popularity of his great work De causa Dei contra Pelagium (cause of God against the Pelagians) among learned men of England and the Continent, and thereafter was commonly entitled Doctor Profundus ("the profound doctor").


  • O great and wonderful Lord our God, thou only light of the eyes, open, I implore thee, the eyes of my heart, and of others my fellow-creatures, that we may truly understand and contemplate thy wondrous works. And the more thoroughly we comprehend them, the more may our minds be affected in the contemplation with pious reverence and profound devotion. Who is not struck with awe in beholding thy all-powerful will completely efficacious throughout every part of the creation? It is by this same sovereign and irresistible will, that whom and when thou pleasest thou bringest low and liftest up, killest and makest alive. How intense and how unbounded is thy love to me, O Lord! whereas my love, how feeble and remiss! my gratitude, how cold and inconstant! Far be it from thee that thy love should even resemble mine; for in every kind of excellence thou art consummate. O thou who fillest heaven and earth, why fillest thou not this narrow heart? O human soul, low, abject, and miserable, whoever thou art, if thou be not fully replenished with the love of so great a good, why dost thou not open all thy doors, expand all thy folds, extend all thy capacity, that, by the sweetness of love so great, thou mayest be wholly occupied, satiated, and ravished; especially since, little as thou art, thou canst not be satisfied with the love of any good inferior to the One supreme? Speak the word, that thou mayest become my God and most enviable in mine eyes, and it shall instantly be so, without the possibility of failure. What can be more efficacious to engage the affection than preventing love? Most gracious Lord, by thy love thou hast prevented me, wretch that I am, who had no love for thee, but was at enmity with my Maker and Redeemer. I see, Lord, that it is easy to say and to write these things, but very difficult to execute them. Do thou, therefore, to whom nothing is difficult, grant that I may more easily practise these things with my heart than utter them with my lips. Open thy liberal hand, that nothing may be easier, sweeter, or more delightful to me, than to be employed in these things. Thou, who preventest thy servants with thy gracious love, whom dost thou not elevate with the hope of finding thee?
    • Sample of Bradwardine devotional writing quoted by James Burnes, The Church of England Magazine under the superintendence of clergymen of the United Church of England and Ireland Vol. IV (January to June 1838)

De causa Dei contra Pelagium[edit]

  • The mischievous Pelagians maintain that this sort of grace is not given freely by God but is to be obtained by preceding merits. I myself was once so foolish and empty, when I first applied myself to the study of philosophy, as to be seduced by this error.
  • When I heard those parts of the Scriptures read in the Church which extol the grace of God, and lower the free-will of man, for example, 'It is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,' and many similar passages,—this doctrine of grace was very disagreeable to my ungrateful mind. But afterwards I began to perceive some few distant rays of light respecting this matter. I seemed to see, but by no means clearly, that the grace of God is prior, both in nature and in time, to any good actions that men can possibly perform; and I return thanks to God, from whom proceeds every good thing, for thus freely enlightening my understanding.
  • St. Augustine confesses that he himself had been formerly in a similar mistake. 'I was once,' says he, 'a Pelagian in my principles; I thought that faith towards God was not the gift of God, but that we procured it by our own powers, and that then, through the use of it, we obtain the gifts of God; I never supposed that the preventing grace of God was the proper cause of our faith, till my mind was struck in a particular manner by the apostle's argument and testimony: What hast thou that thou hast not received, and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?' In this whole business I follow the steps of Augustine.
  • God gives his grace freely, in the strictest sense of the word, and without merit on the part of man. For if God did not bestow his grace in this perfectly gratuitous manner, but on account of some subordinate contingent uncertain cause, he could not possibly foresee how he should bestow his free gifts.
  • The word grace evidently implies that there is no antecedent merit. And in this way the apostle to the Romans appears to argue, when he says, 'And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.' All this is perfectly intelligible, even in the conduct of liberal and magnificent human characters. They frequently bestow their gifts from a pure spirit of liberality, without the smallest previous claim on the score of merit. And shall not God, whose perfections are infinite, do more than this?
  • St. Paul says, that God commendeth his love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us: and that when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. St. Paul was in a peculiar manner a child of grace: with gratitude, therefore, he honours and extols its efficacy in all his epistles; and particularly in his epistle to the Romans throughout he defends his doctrines with great precision and copiousness. 'Every mouth,' says he, 'must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. By the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified. Man must be justified freely by his grace. By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.'
  • The Pelagians produce such Scriptures as these: 'The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you' (2 Chron. xv. 2). 'Turn ye, ...and I will turn unto you' (Zech. i. 3) From which they would infer, that the grace of God is proportioned to the merits of men. But all this would be to no purpose, if they would but compare one Scripture with another; for example: 'Turn us, O God of our salvation' (Ps lxxxv. 4); and, 'after that I was turned, I repented' (Jer. xxxi. 19); and, 'turn us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned' (Lam v. 21)
  • Undoubtedly, such expressions as, 'Turn yourselves,' &c. relate to the free power which every man has to will; but if Pelagius had half an eye, he might see that God, in giving the precept which directs us to turn unto him, influences also the human will, and excites it to action; not, indeed, in opposition our free choice, but the reverse, as I have all along maintained. Hence it is written, 'Without me ye do nothing.' And again, 'I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which with me.' And lastly, 'I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and shall be clean; and I will cleanse you from your idols. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will put within you; and I will take away the stony heart, and will give you a heart of flesh.'

Quotes about Bradwardine[edit]

  • In 1525 he filled the office of proctur in the university [Oxford]. His great work "concerning the cause of God against the Pelagians," was first delivered in the form of lectures at Oxford. These he afterwards, while chancellor of the diocese of London, at the request of the students of Merton, enlarged and polished. The publication of this book earned for its author the highest reputation. It was speedily in the hands of nil the learned men both in England and on the continent; and Bradwardine was thenceforward known by the title of "the profound doctor." His subject was treated with a mathematical accuracy, and his reasoning was pursued in one connected series of arguments, very different from the discursive remarks of the divines who had preceded him.
    • James Burnes, The Church of England Magazine under the superintendence of clergymen of the United Church of England and Ireland Vol. IV (January to June 1838)
  • Bradwardine was solicitous to employ the many talents now entrusted to him to the glory of his divine Master. It was his care to mitigate as far as possible the impetuosity of the king's temper, when immoderately fired with warlike rage, or unbecomingly elated with the advantages of victory. And so much meekness and persuasive eloquence mingled with his addresses to the army, that the soldiers, wrought upon by his earnest admonitions, were more than ordinarily restrained from practising the excesses attendant upon war. In fact, so truly did Bradwardine sustain amid arms the character of an ambassador of peace, and so influential was the spirit which evidently swayed him, that some of the writers of that time do not hesitate to attribute the conquests of the English king rather to the virtues and holiness of his chaplain than to his own conduct, or the prowess of his troops.
    • James Burnes, The Church of England Magazine under the superintendence of clergymen of the United Church of England and Ireland Vol. IV (January to June 1838)
  • If I were to grasp once, in emulation,
    work of the absolute, origin-creating mind,
    its opus est, conclusive
    otherness, the veil
    of certitude discovered as itself
    that which is to be resolved,
    I should hold for my own, my self-giving,
    my retort upon Emerson's 'alienated majesty',
    the De Causa Dei of Thomas Bradwardine.
    • Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph of Love VIII

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