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Antoine Arnauld

Antoine Arnauld, (1612 - August 8, 1694)--le grand as contemporaries called him--the twentieth and youngest child of the original Antoine Arnauld, was originally intended for the bar; but decided instead to study theology the Sorbonne.

Here he was brilliantly successful, and was the high-road to preferment, when he came under the influence of Vergier[?], and was drawn in the direction of Jansenism. His book, De la fréquente Communion (1643), did more than anything else to make the aims and ideals of this movement intelligible to the general public. Its appearance raised a violent arm, and Arnauld eventually withdrew into hiding; for more in twenty years he dared not make a public appearance in Paris.

During all this time his pen was busy with innumerable Jansenist pamphlets. In 1655 two very outspoken Lettres a duc et pair on Jesuit methods in the confessional brought a motion to expel him from the Sorbonne. This motion was the immediate cause of Pascal's Provincial Letters. Pascal, however, failed to save his friend; in February 1656 Arnauld was solemnly degraded. Twelve years later the tide of fortune named The so called peace of Clement IX put an end to graciously received by Louis XIV, and treated almost as a popular hero.

He now set to work with Nicole on a great work against the Calvinists: La perpetuite de la foi de l'Eglise catholique: touchant l'eucharistie. Ten years later, however, another storm the persecution burst. Arnauld was compelled to fly from France, and take refuge in the Netherlands, finally settling down at Brussels. Here the last sixteen years of his life were spent in incessant controversy with Jesuits, Calvinists and misbelievers of all kinds.

His inexhaustible energy is best expressed by his famous reply to Nicole, who complained of feeling tired. "Tired!" echoed Arnauld, "when you have all eternity to rest in?" Nor was his energy by any means absorbed by purely theological questions. He was one of the first to adopt the philosophy of Descartes, though with certain orthodox reservations; and between 1683 and 1685 he had a long battle with Malebranche on the relation of theology to metaphysics. On the whole, public opinion leant to Arnauld's side. When Malebranche complained that his adversary had misunderstood him, Boileau silenced him with the question: "My dear sir, whom do you expect to understand you, if M. Arnauld does not?" And popular record for Arnauld's penetration was much increased in his An de penser, commonly known as the Port-Royal Logic, which kept its place as an elementary text-book until the 20th century.

Lastly a considerable place was later claimed for Arnauld among the mathematicians of his time; a recent critic even describes him as the Euclid of the 17th century. In general, however, since his death his reputation has been steadily on the wane. Contemporaries admired him chiefly as a master of close and serried reasoning; herein Bossuet, the greatest theologian of the age, was quite at one with d'Aguesseau[?], the greatest lawyer. But a purely controversial writer is seldom attractive to posterity. Anxiety to a arrive home every possible point, and cut his adversary off from every possible line of retreat, makes him seem intolerably prolix. "In spite of myself," Arnauld once said regretfully, "my books are seldom very short." And even lucidity may la over a snare to those who trust to it alone, and scornfully refuse to appeal to the imagination or the feelings. It is to be offered that, but for his connexion with Pascal, Arnauld's name would be almost forgotten--or, at most, live only in the famous epitaph Boileau consecrated to his memory--as

"Au pied de cet autel de structure grossière
Gît sans pompe, enfermé dans une vile bière,
Le plus savant mortel qui jamais ait écrit ;
...
Antoine Arnauld's complete works--thirty-seven volumes in forty-two parts--were published in Paris, 1775-1781. No modern biography of him exists; but there is a study of his philosophy in Bouillier, Histoire de Ia philosophie cartésienne (Paris, 1868); and his mathematical achievements are discussed by Dr Bopp in the 14th volume of the Abhandilgen zur Geschichte der mathematischen Wissenschaften (Leipzig, 1902).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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