Robert of Melun (DNB00)

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ROBERT of Melun (d. 1167), bishop of Hereford, was an Englishman by birth. He must have been born in the latter part of the eleventh century, for he is described as ‘grandævus’ when he was made bishop of Hereford in 1163, and is said to have taught in France for over forty years (Robert of Torigni, iv. 219; Materials for History of T. Becket, iii. 60). Apparently, therefore, he went to France about 1120. He was for a time a pupil of Abelard, and it has been conjectured that he was the successor of William of Champeaux in the schools at Notre-Dame at Paris (Schaarschmidt, J. Sarisberiensis, p. 72). But Robert's life as a teacher was connected with Melun, and it is probably there that John of Salisbury [q. v.] was his pupil in 1137. Among others of Robert's pupils were John of Cornwall [q. v.] and Thomas Becket. In 1148 Robert was one of the doctors who were summoned to Rheims to take part in the examination of the heresy of Gilbert de la Porrée (John of Salisbury, Hist. Pontificalis, viii. 522). In 1163 he was summoned to England by Thomas Becket, who expected to find in him a staunch supporter (cf. Mat. Hist. T. Becket, v. 444, 451). Through the archbishop's influence Robert was elected bishop of Hereford, and he was consecrated by Thomas at Canterbury on 22 Dec. 1163 (Gervase of Canterbury, i. 176).

Robert had previously been employed to induce Thomas to yield to the king's wishes, and in January 1164 he was present at the council of Clarendon. In the subsequent controversy he took a moderate part on the king's side; Henry had detached him from the archbishop by the advice of Arnulf of Lisieux (Rog. Hov. i. 221). He was present at Northampton in October 1164, when he begged Becket to let him bear his cross. It was at Robert's request that Henry prohibited any outrage against the archbishop, and Robert was one of the bishops whom Thomas sent to the king to ask leave for him to depart (Mat. Hist. T. Becket, iii. 69, iv. 319, 324). In June 1165 Robert was commissioned by Alexander III to join with Gilbert Foliot [q. v.] in remonstrating with Henry, and for this purpose they had a meeting with the king during his Welsh expedition in August (ib. i. 58, iv. 355, v. 176; Rog. Hov. i. 243, 245). In 1166 there was again talk of employing Robert as a mediator. Becket and John of Salisbury both complain bitterly of Robert's attitude at this time, and especially because he had spoken of the former as a disturber of the church (Mat. Hist. T. Becket, iv. 422, 444, 451). Towards the end of 1166 Becket summoned Robert to come to him in France. Robert was at Southampton in January 1167, with the intention of crossing over by stealth, when he was stopped by John of Oxford in the king's name (ib. vi. 74, 151). He died on 27 Feb. 1167 through grief, as it was said, at being prevented from obeying the archbishop's summons.

Robert enjoyed a great renown as a theologian and teacher. John of Cornwall (Eulogium, ap. Migne, Patrologia, cxcix.) speaks of him as one who had most assuredly taught nothing heretical. Herbert of Bosham (Mat. Hist. T. Becket, iii. 260) says he was a renowned master in the schools of sacred and profane letters, and not less renowned for his life than for his learning. John of Salisbury, when speaking in the ‘Metalogicus’ of his two masters, Alberic and Robert of Melun, says: ‘The one was in question subtle and large, the other in responses lucid, short, and agreeable. If their qualities had been combined in one person, our age could not have shown their equal in debate. For they were both men of sharp intellect, and in study unconquerable.’ Robert afterwards ‘went on to the study of divine letters, and aspired to the glory of a nobler philosophy’ (Metalogicus, ii. 10). But, writing in 1165–6, John speaks of Robert's learning as esteemed only by the ignorant and those who knew him not; before his character was known he had the shadow of some name, though not of a great one. John says also that, according to Robert's friends, when he taught in the schools he was greedy of praise, and had as great a love for glory as he had contempt for money (Mat. Hist. T. Becket, v. 444, vi. 16, 20).

In his teaching Robert had dissociated himself from the nominalism of his master, Abelard. But while his own doctrine was incontestably realist, he disavowed the heterodox conclusions to which realism tended. ‘He appears to have set himself as a moderating influence against the reckless application of dialectical theories which was popular in his time’ (Poole, Illustrations of Mediæval Thought, p. 205; Hauréau, Hist. Philos. Scol. ii. 492–3). His disciples were called Robertines, and under this name Godfrey of St. Victor (Migne, Patrologia, cxcvi. 1420) makes reference to Robert's doctrine:

    Hærent saxi vertice turbæ Robertinæ,
    Saxeæ duritiæ vel adamantinæ,
    Quos nec rigat pluvia neque ros doctrinæ.

Robert's great work was a ‘Summa Theologiæ,’ also styled ‘Summa Sententiarum’ and ‘Tractatus de Incarnatione.’ The ‘Summa’ is divided into five portions, the first dealing with general questions, the second with God, the third with the angels, the fourth with man, and the fifth with the Incarnation. Du Boulay printed some considerable fragments in his ‘History of the University of Paris,’ ii. 585–628; other extracts are given by Dom Mathoud in his ‘Notæ in Robertum Pullum,’ Paris, 1655, and by Hauréau in his ‘Histoire de la Philosophie Scolastique,’ i. 492–3. There is an account of its contents in Oudin's ‘Commentarius de Scriptoribus Ecclesiæ,’ ii. 1452–1453. M. Hauréau speaks of the ‘Summa’ as very useful for the history of scholastic theology, and thinks that St. Thomas Aquinas, though he never cites it, had read and profited by it (Nouvelle Biographie Générale, xlii. 376). Robert also wrote: 1. ‘Quæstiones de Divina Pagina’ in MS. Bibliothèque Nationale, 1977, inc. ‘Quæritur quid sit juramentum.’ Robert's answers, which are generally short and indecisive, seem to indicate that he was himself in doubt (ib.). 2. ‘Quæstiones de Epistolis Pauli,’ in the same manuscript.

Robert of Melun has often been confused with other bishops of Hereford of the same name, viz. Robert Losinga, Robert de Bethune, and his immediate successor, Robert Foliot (cf. Tanner, Bibl. Brit.-Hib. pp. 636–7). He must also be distinguished from his contemporary, Robert Pullen [q. v.], with whose career his own presents points of likeness.

[John of Salisbury's Metalogicus, Entheticus 55, Historia Pontificalis (ap. Pertz's Mon. Hist. Germ. xx.), and Epistolæ; Materials for History of Thomas Becket, Roger of Hoveden (Rolls Ser.); Oudin, De Scriptt. Ecclesiæ, ii. 1451–4; Hist. Litt. de France, xiii. 371–6; Hauréau's Hist. de la Philosophie Scolastique, i. 491–500 (where there is an account of Robert's philosophy), Hugues de St. Victor, and art. in Nouvelle Biographie Générale, xlii. 375–7.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.234
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
367 ii 6 Robert of Melun: for p. cxcix read vol. cxcix.