Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bradwardine, Thomas

BRADWARDINE, THOMAS (1290?–1349), archbishop of Canterbury, is commonly called Doctor Profundus. His surname is variously spelt Bragwardin (Gerson), Brandnardinus (Gesner), Bredwardyn (Birchington), and Bradwardyn (William de Dene). In public documents he is usually designated as Thomas de Bradwardina or de Bredewardina. His family may have originally come from Bradwardine near Hereford, but he himself says that he was born in Chichester, and implies that his father and grandfather were also natives of that city. Birchington indeed (Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 42) says that he was born at Hertfield (Hartfield) in the diocese of Chichester, and William de Dene (Ang. Sac. i. 376) gives Condenna (probably Cowden) in the diocese of Rochester as his birthplace, but neither of these writers supports his statement by any evidence.

At Chichester Thomas may have become acquainted with the celebrated Richard of Bury, afterwards bishop of Durham, who held a prebendal stall in Chichester Cathedral early in the fourteenth century, and from that enthusiast in study and diligent collector of books he may have first imbibed a taste for learning. Nothing, however, is known respecting his education before he went to Oxford, nor has the exact date of his going thither been ascertained. All we know for certain is that he was entered at the college, then recently founded by Walter de Merton, and in 1325 his name appears as one of the proctors of the university. In this capacity he had to take part in a dispute between the university and the archdeacon of Oxford. The archdeaconry was held in commendam by Galhardus de Morá, cardinal of St. Lucia; the duties of the office were discharged by deputy, and the emoluments were farmed by men whose object was to make as much gain for themselves as they could. They claimed spiritual jurisdiction over the university for the archdeacon. The chancellor and proctors resisted the claim, maintaining that the discipline of the university pertained to them. The cardinal archdeacon having complained to the pope, the chancellor, proctors, and certain masters of arts were summoned to Avignon to answer for their conduct, but they declined to appear and lodged a counter suit against the archdeacon in the king's court. The king, Edward III, compelled the archdeacon to submit to the arbitration of English judges, and the controversy ended in favour of the university, which was exempted from all episcopal jurisdiction.

During his residence in Oxford, Thomas Bradwardine obtained the highest reputation as a mathematician, astronomer, moral philosopher, and theologian. At the request of the fellow's of Merton he delivered to them a course of theological lectures, which he afterwards expanded into a treatise. This work earned him the title of Doctor Profundus: in his own day it was commonly called 'Summa Doctoris Profundi,' but in later times it has been entitled 'De Causâ Dei contra Pelagium, et de virtute causarum ad suos Mertonenses libri tres.' This treatise was edited by Sir Henry Savile in 1618 in a folio volume of nearly 1,000 pages. It continued to be for ages a standard authority amongst theologians of the Augustinian and Calvinistic school. Dean Milner gives a summary of its contents in his 'Church History' (iv. 79-106). According to Bradwardine the whole church had in his day become deeply infected with Pelagianism. 'I myself,' he says, 'was once so foolish and vain when I first applied myself to the study of philosophy as to be seduced by this error. In the schools of the philosophers I rarely heard a word said concerning grace, but we were continually told that we were the masters of our own free actions, and that it was in our own power to do well or ill.' He endeavours to prove, with much logical force and mathematical precision, that human actions are totally devoid of all merit, that they do not deserve grace even of congruity, that is as being meet and equitable - the most specious form of Pelagianism, and one which was most commonly entertained in that day. He maintains that human nature is absolutely incapable of conquering a single temptation without a supply of divine grace, and that this grace is the free and unmerited gift of God, whose knowledge and power are alike perfect. If God did not bestow His grace freely, He could not foresee how He would confer His gifts, and therefore His fore-knowledge would not be absolute; so that the doctrine of God's foreknowledge and free grace are linked together. Underlying all the hard and dry reasoning, however, of this treatise, there is a deep vein of warm and genuine piety which occasionally breaks out into fervent meditation and prayer, full of love, humility, and thankfulness.

The estimation in which Thomas Bradwardine was held as a theologian in his own century is indicated by the way in which Chaucer refers to him. In the 'Nun's Priest's Tale' the speaker, touching on the question of God's foreknowledge and man's free-will, is made to say:

But I ne cannot boult it to the bren,
As can the holy doctour S. Austin,
Or Boece, or the Bishop Bradwirdyn.

About 1335 Bradwardine was, with seven other Merton men, summoned to London by Richard of Bury, who had been made bishop of Durham in 1333 and chancellor in the following year, and who surrounded himself with a large retinue of esquires and chaplains, partly from a love of splendour, partly from a love of the society of men of learning who could assist him in the formation of his library. In 1337 the Bishop of Durham obtained for his chaplain Bradwardine the chancellorship of St. Paul's Cathedral with the prebend of Cadington Minor attached to it. He soon afterwards accepted also a prebendal stall in Lincoln Cathedral, although not without some scruples and hesitation, owing to the objections then becoming prevalent against the non-residence of beneficiaries.

On the joint recommendation of Archbishop Stratford and the Bishop of Durham he was appointed one of the royal chaplains. Although the title of confessor was borne by all the king's chaplains, the language of Birchington seems to imply that Bradwardine actually received the confession of Edward III, which, considering what the life of the king then was, must have been a very difficult and unpleasant office if it was conscientiously discharged. He joined the court in Flanders and accompanied the king, 16 Aug. 1338, in his progress up the Rhine to hold a conference at Coblenz with his brother-in-law Lewis of Bavaria.

At Cologne Bradwardine reminded the king that Richard Coeur de Lion had offered public thanksgiving in the cathedral for his escape from the Duke of Austria. That cathedral had been destroyed by fire, but the new structure, which has not been completed till our own day, was in course of erection. The plans were submitted to the king, and after consultation with Bradwardine he subscribed a sum equal to 1,500l. according to the present value of money. Bradwardine continued to be in attendance upon the king up to the date of the victory of Cressy and the capture of Calais. He was so diligent in his exhortations to the king and the soldiers that many attributed the successes of the English arms to the favour of Heaven obtained through the wholesome warnings and the holy example of the royal chaplain. After the battles of Cressy and Neville's Cross he was appointed one of the commissioners to treat of peace with King Philip.

Archbishop Stratford died 23 Aug. 1348, and the chapter of Canterbury, thinking to anticipate the wishes of the king, elected Bradwardine to the vacant see without waiting for the congé d'élire. The king, however, was offended by the irregularity, and requested the pope to set aside the election and appoint John of Ufford by provision. The appointment was merely a device in order to vindicate his own right of nomination, which had been infringed by the premature action of the chapter; for John of Ufford was aged and paralytic, and died of the plague before his consecration.

After the death of John of Ufford the chapter applied for the congé d'élire, which was sent with the recommendation to elect Bradwardine. The pope, Clement VI, also issued a bull in which he affected to supersede the election of the chapter, and appointed Thomas by provision. Bradwardine was on the continent at the time of his election, and repaired without delay to the papal court at Avignon for consecration, which took place 19 July 1349. The pope was so completely in the power of Edward at this time that he had once bitterly remarked, if the King of England were to ask him to make a bishop of a jackass, he could not refuse. The cardinals had resented the saying, and one of them, Hugo, cardinal of Tudela, a kinsman of the pope, had the ill taste to make the consecration of Bradwardine an occasion for indulging their spleen. In the midst of the banquet given by the pope, the doors of the hall being suddenly thrown open a clown entered seated upon a jackass and presented a humble petition that he might be made archbishop of Canterbury. Considering the European reputation of Bradwardine for learning and piety, the joke was remarkably unsuitable; the pope rebuked the offender, and the rest of the cardinals marked their displeasure by vying with one another in the respect which they paid to the new archbishop.

Although the Black Death was now raging in England, Bradwardine hastened thither. He landed at Dover on 19 Aug., did homage to the king at Eltham, and received the temporalities from him on the 22nd. Thence he went to London, and lodged at La Place, the residence of the Bishop of Rochester in Lambeth. On the morning after his arrival he had a feverish attack, which was attributed to fatigue after his journey, but in the evening tumours under the arms and other symptoms of the deadly plague which was then ravaging London made their appearance, and on the 26th the archbishop died. Notwithstanding the infectious nature of the disease, the body was removed to Canterbury and buried in the cathedral.

His works are:

  1. 'De Causâ Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum,' edited by Sir Henry Savile, London, 1618.
  2. 'Tractatus de proportionibus,' Paris, 1495.
  3. 'De quadraturâ, circuli,' Paris, 1495.
  4. 'Arithmetica speculativa,' Paris, 1502.
  5. 'Geometria speculativa,' Paris, 1530.
  6. 'Ars Memorativa,' manuscript in the Sloane collection, British Museum, No. 3744. This last is an attempt at a plan for aiding the memory by the method of mentally associating certain places with certain ideas or subjects, or the several parts of a discourse.

[Sir Henry Savile, in the preface to his edition of Bradwardine's work De Causâ Dei contra Pelagium, has collected all the notices of his life, which are but scanty. See also Birchington and William of Dene, Hist. Roff., and William de Chambre, Hist. Dunelm., in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, vol. i.; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops, vol. iv.]

W. R. W. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.35
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
189 ii 22-23 Bradwardine, Thomas: for soon afterwards read had already in 1333
190 i 5 before Archbishop insert In 1347 Bradwardine became archdeacon of Norwich