Holcot, Robert of (DNB00)
HOLCOT, ROBERT of (d. 1349), divine, is said to have been a native of Northampton, but the statement seems a mere inference from his surname, Holcot being a village in Northamptonshire. It has been conjectured that he was a kinsman of Robert of Holcot, who sat, according to Bridges (Northamptonshire, i. 9 b), as a knight of the shire in the parliament of 1328–9; but the latter appears in the parliamentary return (Accounts and Papers, 1878, vol. xviii. pt. i. p. 88) as ‘Hotot,’ and the correctness of this name is supported by other evidence (Palgrave, Parliamentary Writs, 1834, ii. 1024). Holcot's own derivation of his name is given in his commentary on the book of Wisdom (Prælect. i. 4, ed. 1586): ‘Sicut enim nomen a robore derivatum, ita cognomen habeo a foramine casæ datum; et ideo, sicut nomen meum Robertus in robore, ita Holkot cognomen intueor in foramine petræ,’ in allusion to Cant. ii. 14.
Wood states, without citing his authority, that Holcot was ‘primo iusticiarius, postea frater prædicator’ (Antiq. of the City of Oxford, ii. 320, ed. A. Clark, 1890), which may possibly mean that he was a student of law, or a lawyer, before he entered the Dominican order. He was brought up probably in the house of his order at Oxford, and became a doctor in theology of the university, for the statement cited from two Paris manuscripts by Quétif and Echard (Scriptt. O. P. i. 629 a, 630 a) that he belonged to Cambridge is unsupported by other evidence. On 23 March 1331–2, ‘fr. Rob. Holcote ordinis minor.’ (if this be the same person) was admitted to hear confessions by the Bishop of Lincoln. Richard of Bury, presumably after his appointment to the see of Durham in 1333, entertained, according to William Chambre, a number of clerks in his household, whom he chose for their theological attainments, and among those named are Bradwardine, Fitzralph, and Holcot. How long Holcot remained in this learned society we do not know, unless he be, as there are some grounds for believing, the author of Bury's ‘Philobiblon,’ which bears the date 24 Jan. 1344–5. In the end he returned to the active work of teaching, apparently at Oxford, and made himself a great name among the divines of his century by his expositions of the Bible. In 1349, according to Trithemius, while he was engaged in lecturing on Ecclesiasticus (his commentary on which extends only to the seventh chapter), he was stricken by the plague and died. Since Leland states that he was buried at Northampton (if this be what he means by ‘Avonæ mediterraneæ’), it is presumed that he had for some time retired from Oxford to that place, but positive evidence is wanting.
As a divine Holcot held generally to the tradition of his order as laid down by its greatest representative, St. Thomas Aquinas, though in some points (for instance in his doctrine of predestination) he has been observed to deviate from it. He maintained the Dominican view with respect to the immaculate conception so decidedly that his text (in the edition of the commentary on Wisdom, Basle, 1586) was amended by his discreet editor. A special matter on which he differed from his famous contemporary, Bradwardine, was his insistence upon the necessity of free will as an antecedent to merit. In his logical position Holcot followed Ockham, except that he devised a ‘logica fidei’ (or ‘logica singularis’), side by side with the ‘logica naturalis,’ in order to meet the dialectical difficulties presented by the doctrine of the Trinity, which Ockham placed wholly outside the sphere of logic. Holcot is also interesting as one of the first logicians with whom the doctrine of the ‘obligatoria’ has grown into a formulated school system (‘ars’).
Holcot's bibliography is beset with pitfalls. Many of his writings have been cited under more than one title; some (for instance, the commentaries on Wisdom and Proverbs) have been attributed to other authors, and one (the ‘Determinationes quarundam quæstionum’) is believed to be a compilation by his pupils. It is probable that in consequence of his sudden death his papers were left in disorder, so that even in his commentary on the ‘Sentences’ the sections appear in some manuscripts (e.g. Merton College, Oxford, No. 113) in a different order from that of the printed texts, which of course follow the arrangement of Peter Lombard. In the subjoined list a large number of duplications and other errors have been set right, but to aim at complete accuracy it would be necessary to collate the very numerous manuscripts and early editions of Holcot's works, which attest the authority he held among students abroad as well as in his own country far into the sixteenth century.
His published works are: 1. Commentaries on Proverbs, Paris, 1510, 1515, &c. 2. On Canticles, s.l. aut a., Venice, 1509. 3. On Wisdom, s.l. aut a., s.l. 1480, with about seventeen later editions; and 4. On Ecclesiasticus, i–vii., Venice, 1509. The last lecture in the commentary on Wisdom is entitled ‘De studio sacræ scripturæ,’ and has sometimes been wrongly taken for a separate work (cf. Panzer, Ann. Typogr. iii. 481). 5. ‘Quæstiones’ on the ‘Sentences’ of Peter Lombard, Lyons, 1497, 1510, 1518, to which are generally appended the three following works: 6. ‘Conferentiæ’ (sometimes entitled ‘Super articulis impugnatis’). 7. ‘De imputabilitate peccati.’ 8. ‘Determinationes quarundam quæstionum’ (or ‘Determinationes quæstionum xv.’). 9. ‘De origine, definitione, et remedio peccatorum’ (probably the work also described as ‘De peccatis mortalibus et eorum remediis’), Paris, 1517. 10. ‘Moralitates historiarum’ (also known as ‘Moralizationes’), Venice, 1505; Paris, 1510; Basle, 1586, &c. To these should perhaps be added the well-known ‘Philobiblon sive De amore librorum,’ usually attributed to Bishop Richard of Bury (printed at Cologne, 1473; Spires, 1483; Paris, 1500, &c.), the authorship of which has been much disputed. Probably the truth is represented by the title found in several manuscripts ‘Incipit prologus Philobiblon Ricardi Dunelmensis episcopi, quem librum compilavit Robertus Holcote de ordine predicatorum sub nomine dicti episcopi.’ In other words, Holcot wrote the book at the request and in the name of the bishop, apparently to celebrate his fifty-eighth birthday, 24 Jan. 1344–5 (p. 151, ed. Thomas), while the bishop's supervision and co-operation need not be excluded. The form of the title might easily lead to the ascription of the book to Bury, but it is difficult to understand how, if it were Bury's own work, it could have come to be attributed to Holcot. At the same time too much stress should not be laid upon the evidently malicious account of Bury's small literary attainments and great pretensions given by A. Murimuth, ‘Continuatio Chronicarum,’ p. 171, ed. E. M. Thompson, 1889.
Holcot's unpublished works are: 1. Postils on the twelve Minor Prophets. 2. A commentary on the four Gospels (and perhaps a separate one on St. Matthew). 3. ‘Moralizationes scripturæ pro evangelizantibus verbum Dei’ (or ‘Allegoriæ utriusque Testamenti,’ possibly the same work as the ‘Exempla scripturæ’ said by Tanner to have been published at Paris in 1500). The manuscript at Magdalen College, Oxford (No. lxviii.), referred to as containing this work really contains the ‘Moralitates historiarum’ (see Coxe, Cat. of Oxford MSS., Magd. Coll., p. 40 a), but another manuscript in the same library (No. clviii., clix.) seems to present the text of the former under the title ‘Reductorium morale,’ with a note that ‘in Avinione fuit factum, Parisiis vero correctum et tabulatum, A.D. 1342’ (ib. p. 74), which suggests that it is a compend by a disciple. 4. ‘De prædicatoris officio.’ 5. ‘De præscientia et prædestinatione’ (once preserved at Merton College, see Bale, MS. Selden, supra, 64, f. 208). 6. ‘De fautoribus, defensoribus, et receptoribus hæreticorum libri xiv.’ 7–10. Four books of sermons. 11. ‘Determinatio Oxoniensis.’ 12. ‘Dictionarium quoddam.’ 13. ‘De motibus naturalibus.’ 14. ‘De effectibus stellarum.’ 15. ‘De ludo scaccorum libri iv.’ Of all these the ‘incipits’ are recorded, and many of them are preserved in known manuscripts. The following have only their titles quoted, with no further means of identification. 16. A commentary on Ecclesiastes. 17. ‘De immortalitate animæ.’ 18. ‘De libertate credendi.’ 19. ‘Lecturæ scholasticæ.’ 20. ‘Super quinque universalia.’ 21. ‘De amore,’ which can hardly be other than the ‘Philobiblon.’
[Meyer, De illustr. Viris de O. P., printed by Denifle, Archiv für Litt.-und Kirchen-Geschichte des M.A., ii. 191, 1886; Trithemius's Catal. Scriptt. Eccles., f. cxv. a, Cologne, 1531, 4to; Leland's Comm. de Scriptt. Brit. cdxi. pp. 370 seq.; Bale's MS. (Bodl. Libr.) Selden, supra 64, ff. 155 b, 164 b, 208; Scriptt. Brit. Catal. v. 84, pp. 433 f.; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptt. pp. 463 ff.; Quétif and Echard's Scriptt. Ordinis Prædicatorum, i. 629–32; Fabricius's Bibl. Lat. med. et. inf. æt. iii. 254 f., ed. Florence, 1858; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. pp. 407 f.; the Rev. W. E. Buckley in Northamptonshire Notes and Queries, ii. 25–30, 47 f., 1886; C. von Prantl's Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande, iv. 6–9, Leipzig, 1870; The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury, ed. E. C. Thomas, 1888.]