Life and Works of Peter Gracilis

By Jeffrey C. Witt

Edition: 0.0.0-dev | July 30, 2018

Original Publication: , , July 30, 2018

License Availablity: free, Published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Life and Works of Peter Gracilis

Peter Gracilis was a late medieval theologian and member of the Augustinian Hermits who flourished during the second half of the fourteenth century. The present proposal is to complete a semantically encoded critical edition (available for display in both online and print presentations) of the first question of his most important theological work, his commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences. However, given that Gracilis is almost completely unknown even to specialists of medieval thought, it is important here to introduce not only the proposed edition, but also provide a bit of background on who Peter Gracilis was and where he fits within the present historiography of late medieval thought.

Peter Gracilis (d. c. 1393) delivered his lectures on Peter Lombard's Sentences at Paris between 1377 and 1378. 1 During this time he was a socius of Franciscus Martini, Gerardus de Büren, Jacobus de Chiva, Johannes le Maye, Henricus de Tremonia, Johannes de Florentia, Robertus de Voto, Egidius de Campis, Gerardus de Hoysen, Nicolaus de Mesereyo, Henricus de Hassia (i.e., Henry Totting of Oyta), and Pierre d'Ailly. The only members of this cohort that are even relatively well known are Henry Totting of Oyta and Pierre d'Ailly. Further, only Gerardus de Büren and Pierre d'Ailly, alongside Gracilis, have extant theological works. The other important point to note is that with respect to the Sentences commentaries written during this time period, none of them have been edited extensively. 2

We do not know much about Peter Gracilis. Adolar Zumkeller noted that he was an Augustinian Hermit from the monastery at Rheims, and, alongside Damasus Trapp, is one of the few scholars in the twentieth century to have studied him seriously. Unfortunately, both Zumkeller and Trapp had a rather negative view of Gracilis. Zumkeller wrote that in his commentary on the Sentences Gracilis followed Johannes [Hiltalingen] of Basel, often word for word. A. Zumkeller, Theology and History of the Augustinian School in the Middle Ages, tr. John E. Rotelle (Augustinian Press, 1996), 51-52. Zumkeller here agrees with Trapp, who argued that Gracilis followed not only the footsteps by the very phrases of Hiltalingen in way so deceptive that it does not cast the best light on Gracilis. He read secundum Hiltalingen without ever mentioning him. Trapp, "Augustinian Theology of the 14th Century: Notes on Editions, Marginalia, Opinions and Book-Lore", Augustiniana 6 (1956), 146-274, here 254. And, given this initial judgment of Zumkeller and Trapp, one must ask: why bother to produce a critical edition of Gracilis's work? Here we will first discuss these issues as related to the charge of "plagiarism" followed by some general remarks about how this proposed edition will be of service to a broader academic audience.

(1) It must be noted that scholarship has shifted considerably in the last fifty years and that the judgments of Zumkeller and Trapp regarding the issue of "plagiarism" are shaped by a particular focus on late medieval intellectual history that prioritized originality of thought. The problem, however, is that this is not an intellectual virtue shared by medieval thinkers themselves. Many late fourteenth-century theologians - e.g., Pierre d'Ailly and Peter Gracilis - borrowed heavily from other works when composing their commentaries on the Sentences. What scholars are now recognizing is that medieval theologians who flourished during the second half of the fourteenth century in Paris often borrowed heavily from other authors: d'Ailly would borrow material, verbatim, from William of Ockham, Gregory of Rimini, and John Mirecourt, while Peter Gracilis preferred to borrow material from John of Basel. And, to interpret such textual borrowing as deceptive or as a kind of plagiarism is particularly anachronistic. Further, it is important to note that the initial judgments by Zumkeller and Trapp were all based on a precursory reading of the manuscript. Zumkeller or Trapp, to our knowledge, never produced a transcription of Gracilis's commentary. Their judgments are preliminary at best. Our edition is already showing signs of originality with respect to thought and in the ways that Gracilis re-uses and re-combines old arguments. Thus, in order to more fully understand the textual relationship between Gracilis and John of Basel, it is important to first edit the text prior to make judgments about Gracilis's originality, etc.

(2) Given that theologians such as Peter d'Ailly and Peter Gracilis produced commentaries that borrowed heavily from other scholars, it is important, we think, to study more fully the patterns of borrowing that took place. The reason is that in order to understand more fully the intellectual milieu of Parisian theology in the late fourteenth century, we simply have to edit more texts and have a solid basis by which to make the important textual comparisons. In short, a digital edition of Peter Gracilis's commentary - which can be meticulously searched and textually compared with other source texts - will be of service not only to the study of late medieval Augustinianism, or late medieval philosophical theology, but also to scholars working in the history of late medieval education. The commentary on the Sentences was, after all, a pedagogical tool and part of the master's requirements to be licensed to teach theology within the University. Therefore, to understand the nature of these complex commentaries will also provide important information about theological education at Paris in the second half of the fourteenth century.

(3) The other main reason for producing an edition of Peter Gracilis's commentary on the Sentences, qu. 1, is that he is an important witness to the state of Augustinian theology in the second half of the fourteenth century. There has been extensive research into Augustinian theology during the late medieval period - from scholars of the Late Middle Ages and those studying the Reformation and its antecedents 3 - because of the influence the order would have on a young Martin Luther. However, tracing the development of late medieval Augustinian theology in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries has proven difficult because of the lack of sources. From this perspective Peter Gracilis, while relatively unknown, potentially provides important information about the development of late medieval Augustinian theology.

  • 1 -- On Gracilis's sentential cohort, see William J. Courtenay, "Theological Bachelors at Paris on the Eve of the Papal Schism. The Academic Environment of Peter of Candia," in Philosophy and Theology in the Long Middle Ages: A Tribute to Stephen F. Brown, edd. K. Emery Jr., R. L. Friedman and A. Speer (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 921-952.
  • 2 -- The commentary of Pierre d'Ailly is currently being edited by Monica Brinzei, Christopher Schabel, and John T. Slotemaker. The first volume was printed by Brepols (CCCM 258) as Questiones super primum, tertium, et quartum librum Sententiarum, I: Principia et questio circa prologum, ed. M. Brinzei (2013).
  • 3 -- The literature on late medieval Augustinianism is immense. Here, we can note simply that for a discussion of the state of the field within medieval studies, one must begin with the works of Adolar Zumkeller, Damasus Trapp, Heiko Augustinus Oberman, and Eric Leland Saak. For studies focused on late medieval Augustinianism as related to the Reformation, see the work of Alister McGrath, David C. Steinmetz, and Markus Wriedt.