BIEL Gabriel—theologian and philosopher, follower of nominalism, b. 1410 in Speyer, in the Rhine Palatinate, d. 1495 in Einsiedeln.
Biel studied in Heidelberg, Erfurt, and Kologne, where he became familiar with the philosophical and theological thought of St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1484 he received the chair of theology in the University of Tübingen. He belonged to the Brothers of the Common Life, the founders and propagators of the movement of devotio moderna. Besides strictly theological questions, he was keenly interested in philosophical problems, especially epistemological problems, but also in thought in the areas of ethics and the philosophy of politics.
Biel’s greatest philosophical work was Epitome et Collectorium ex Occamo super “Quatuor Libros Sententiarum” (T 1495, ed. crit. I–V, T 1973–1977), which in keeping with the intention of its author was to be an abbreviation of W. Ockham’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Biel’s work clearly influenced M. Luther and F. Melanchthon. The treatise quickly acquired the rank of a classical manual of nominalist thought. It influenced theological thought in Germany (Erfurt, Wittenberg) and in the Iberian Peninsula where separate chairs were established in theological faculties for commentary on the work. This influence was so great that in some schools modernists were called Gabrielists (M. Luther came to be called a disciple of Ockham’s school, among other reasons, because he knew Biel’s works well). Other works of Biel are Tractatus magistri Gabrielis B. de communi vita clericorum (Marienthal 1468–1477), Tractatus de postestate et utilitate monetarum (T 1488, Ph 1930), in which he was a pioneer in his support of the morality of business, that all people should receive just recompense for work, and he wrote against the falsification of money; Sermones in festis (I–IV, T 1499); Sermo historialis passionis dominicae (T 1489); Canonis missae expositio (Reutlingen 1488, Wie 1963–1976).
With respect to Ockham’s critical (nominalistic) thought, in many passages Biel gave a fuller treatment of questions raised by the master. Apart from this his works, especially the Epitome […], were marked by a critically developed panorama of the views of other medieval thinkers—from St. Anselm of Canterbury to Duns Scotus. Biel saw the weak points of Ockham’s doctrine. Among other things, he called into doubt the possibility of possessing an intuition of an object that did not exist. However, in agreement with the thought of other nominalists he granted intuition the supreme role in the course of cognition. In the thesis concerning a real difference between existence and essence in being, very strongly accented by Aquinas, Biel supported the solution that this is merely a mental difference. In the philosophy of God he was firmly in support of ascribing to God the attributes of unlimited freedom, omnipotence, and simplicity (in connection with this the religious act of faith is a simple act). As for the choice of methods, in the particular sciences and in philosophy, the method of induction is the most proper, while in philosophy the most proper method is deduction.
In the theological portion of Biel’s work (he divided theology into apologetic and systematic) his doctrines (thoroughly nominalist) that man could perform an act of creation by a special intervention of God, and that man has a disposition stemming from nature to receive grace, deserve specially emphasis. He also supported the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and taught that the efficacy of the sacraments stems not from their nature but from God’s decision. It should be emphasized that according to Biel most of the truths proclaimed by theology are not matters of intellectual investigations but of religious faith (fideism). This does not mean, however, that this position is completely opposed to any kind of intellectualism, but completely in support of voluntarism.
On the basis of voluntarism, Biel also constructed psychological voluntarism (traces of St. Augustine’s psychology are apparent here). The powers of the soul do not constitute distinct “parts”—the intellect is a reasoning faculty (the soul), the will is the ruler (the soul) whose object is desire and love. The movement of the will is man’s most important action. Man is therefore more a volitive being than a rational being.
T. Davitt, The Nature of Law, St. Louis 1951, 55–68; L. Grane, Gabriel B. Lehre von der Allmach Gottes, Zietschrift für Theologie und Kirche 53 (1956), 53–74; H. A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medievl Theology. Gabriel B. and Late Medieval Nominalism, C 1963, Durham 19833; R. Damerau, Das Herrengebet nach einem Kommentar des Gabriel B., Gie 1965; W. Ernst, Gott und Mensch am Vorabend der Reformation. Eine Untersuchung zur Moralphilosophie und -theologie bei Gabriel B., L 1972; R. P. Desharnais, Gabriel Biel: Last or Distinguished Among the Schoolmen?, International Studies in Philosophy 10 (1978), 51–58; S. Swieżawski, Między średniowieczem a czasami nowymi: Sylwetki myślicieli XV wieku [Between medieval tims and the new times: silhouettes of the thinkers of the fifteenth century], Wwa 1983, 190–205.