(rŏs`əlĭn), c.1045–c.1120, French scholastic philosopher, also called Roscellinus, Johannes Roscellinus, and Jean Roscelin. Roscelin was one of the first thinkers of the Middle Ages to deal with the problem of universals, or general concepts (see realismrealism,
in philosophy. 1 In medieval philosophy realism represented a position taken on the problem of universals. There were two schools of realism. Extreme realism, represented by William of Champeaux, held that universals exist independently of both the human mind and
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). Although very little of his writing has survived, he seems to have been an extreme nominalist, teaching that universals were nothing more than words. Roscelin's position was attacked by his pupil, Peter AbelardAbelard, Peter
, Fr. Pierre Abélard , 1079–1142, French philosopher and teacher, b. Le Pallet, near Nantes. Life

Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame and soon attacked the ultrarealist
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, but Abelard's own viewpoint on this question showed a considerable debt to Roscelin. Accused of the heresy of tritheism (teaching that the Three Persons of the Trinity are separate individuals), Roscelin was ordered (1092) by the Synod of Soissons to recant, but he escaped condemnation.



Born circa 1050 in Compiègne; died circa 1120. French medieval philosopher and theologian; representative of extreme nominalism.

Roscelin taught liberal arts in Compiégne and later, in Loches, where his pupils included Abélard. After 1092 he was a canon at the cathedral of Besançon. Only one of his works has survived—a rhetorical pamphlet containing an invective against Abélard (in J. P. Migne, Patrología, Latin series, vol. 178). There is information about Roscelin in polemical works by Anselm of Canterbury, Abélard, and John of Salisbury, as well as in the anonymous tract De generibus et speciebus (Of Categories and Species).

Roscelin formulated the nominalist thesis that substances are the only real things. Regarding sensory impressions as the point of departure for understanding the external world, he viewed general concepts and categories (universalia) as merely names or even as the “breathing of a word” (flatus vocis). He defended the applicability of the dialectic, defined as the art of logical reasoning, to theological questions.

Roscelin asserted that the reality of each of the three persons in the divine trinity presupposes their separate existence as individual substances—a view regarded by orthodox theologians as the heresy of tritheism. This doctrine was condemned by the church Council of Soissons (1092). Roscelin contributed to the development of the doctrine of “double truth.”


Stöckl, A. Istoriia srednevekovoi filosofii. Moscow, 1912. (Translated from German.)
Reiners, J. Der Nominalismus in der Frühscholastik. Mü nster, 1910.
Picavet, F. Roscelin, philosphe et théologien d’après la légende et d’après l’histoire. aris, 1911.


References in periodicals archive ?
Yet another factor conniving at the segregation of natural philosophy and theology is certainly to be linked to the arising trends of nominalism (or vocalism), represented foremost by Roscelin of Compiegne and Petrus Abelard (see Schulthess and Imbach 1996:101ff.
Schmitt's editions of Anselm, of the Monologion, the Proslogion, the Debate with Gaunilo, De grammatico, De veritate, De libertate arbitrii, De casu diaboli, two letters concerning Roscelin, the Epistola de incarnatione verbi, Cur Deus homo, the so-called `Philosophical fragments', the Meditatio redemptionis humanae, De conceptu virginali et de originali peccato, De processione spiritus sancti, the three letters on the sacraments (De sacramentis), and De concordia praescientiae et praedestinationis et gratiae Dei cum libero arbitrio.
The Trinity was an even more sensitive topic, and it was for their efforts to establish this doctrine on a rational footing that Roscelin, William of Conches, Gilbert of Poitiers, and, most famously, Peter Abelard incurred the wrath of monastic conservatives like Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux.
Relying on primary texts, provided at length in the Latin, as well a stupendous collection of secondary literature, Marenbon traces Abelard's life from his earliest studies with Roscelin and William of Champeaux to his appearances before the Councils of Soissons (1121) and Sens (1140) to his death outside Cluny in 1142.