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(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 ?
I may have missed a more recent use of the term but for me nominalism means that philosophical conception which arose at the end of the 11th century in the writings of Roscellinus, that universalis sunt nomina, vocis flatus, and found final expression almost 300 years later in William of Occam.
(1079 - 1142) French scholastic philosopher and theologian Ab elard studied under Roscellinus (b 1050), exponent of extreme nominalism, then under William of Champeaux (1070 - 1121), supporter of realism.