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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > B > Michel Baius

Michel Baius


Theologian and author of a system known as Baianism, was b. at Melun in Hainaut, 1513, and d. at Louvain 16 September, 1589. Though poor, he succeeded in procuring, in the various colleges of the Louvain University, a complete course of studies, including humanities, philosophy, and theology. His first appointment, immediately after his ordination, was as principal of the Standonk College, 1541. Three years later he was given the chair of philosophy which he retained till 1550. In that year he took the degree of Doctor of Theology, was made President of the College Adrien and also substitute to the professor of Holy Scripture, then absent at the Council of Trent, the full professorship following two years later at the titular's death. Baius had very early formed a close friendship with John Hessels. While the three leaders of the university: Tapper, Chancellor; Ravestein, Professor of Theology; and Hasselius, Professor of Holy Scripture, were at the Council of Trent, Baius and Hessels profited by their absence to give vent to long cherished ideas and introduce new methods and new doctrines. On his return from Trent, in 1552, Chancellor Tapper found that evil influences had been at work and asked Cardinal de Granvelle, Archbishop of Mechlin, to interfere. Granvelle succeeded in quieting the innovators for awhile, but Tapper's death, in 1559, became the signal of fresh disturbances. At the request of the Franciscans, the Sorbonne of Paris had censured eighteen propositions embodying the main innovations of Baius and Hessels. Baius answered the censure in a memoir now lost, and the controversy only increased in acridity. Pope Pius IV, through Cardinal Granvelle, imposed silence upon both Baius and the Franciscans, without, however, rendering any doctrinal decision. When the sessions of the Council of Trent were resumed, in 1561, Baius and Hessels were selected to represent the university at Trent. The papal legate, Commendone, objected to the choice of the university, but Cardinal de Granvelle thought that the two innovators' presence at Trent would be good both for them and for the university. In 1563 he sent them to Trent, not, however, as delegates of the university, but as theologians of the King of Spain. Just before leaving for Trent Baius had published his first tracts. Unfortunately, the contents of those tracts were not within the programme of the last three sessions of the Council of Trent, and no public discussion of the disputed points took place. It is known, however, that Baius' and Hessels' views were distasteful to the Fathers, and that the Catholic king's prestige alone saved them from formal condemnation.

Baius returned to Louvain in 1564 and the same year published new tracts which, with the addition of another series, were collected in "Opuscula omnia", in 1566, the year of Hessels' death. It is likely that Hessels collaborated with Baius in these "Opuscula". Their defence rested now on Baius alone, and it was no small task. Ravestein, who had succeeded Tapper as chancellor, thought it was high time to call a halt, and informed Rome, requesting decisive action; 1 October, 1567, Pope Pius V signed the Bull, "Ex omnibus afflictionibus", in which were to be found a number of condemned propositions, but without mention of Baius' name. According to the usage of the Roman Chancery, the papal document was without punctuation, divisions, or numbers. Again, as had been done before in several instances, the objectionable propositions were not censured severally, but to the whole series were applied various "notes", from "heretical" down to "offensive". Moreover, not only was Baius' name not mentioned, but for obvious reasons of prudence in those days, so near the Reformation, the text itself was not to be made public. Those facts gave occasion to many quibbles on the part of the Baianists: What was the exact number of propositions?—76, 79, or 80?—Were they, or were they not, Baius' propositions?—Why had not a copy of the Bull been given to those on whose honour it was supposed to reflect? In the famous sentence, "quas quidem sententias stricto coram nobis examine ponderatas quamquam nonnullæ aliquo pacto sustineri possent in rigore et proprio verborum sensu ab assertoribus intento hæreticas, erroneas . . . damnamus", was the comma Pianum to be placed after intento or after possent, the meaning being reversed according as the comma came after the one or the other word? Nevertheless Baius did not stoop to these evasions at first, but when the papal Bull (1567) was brought to the university and read to the faculty, he subscribed with the other professors. Meanwhile, the text of the Bull having been divulged by some indiscreet person, Baius began to find fault with it and wrote to, or for, the pope two lengthy apologies, in vindication, he said, not so much of himself as of St. Augustine. The tone of the apologies was respectful in appearance rather than in reality. By a Brief, dated 1579, Pius V answered that the case had been maturely examined and finally adjudged, and demanded submission. After much tergiversation, wherein he stooped to the ridiculous evasion of the comma Pianum and the practical stultification of a papal act, Baius abjured to Morillon, de Granvelle's vicar-general, all the errors condemned in the Bull, but was not then and there required to sign his recantation. The absence of that formality contributed later to revive the discussions. In 1570, at Ravestein's death, Baius became dean of the faculty. Then rumors went abroad that the new dean was by no means in accord with orthodox teaching. Followers and adversaries suggested a clear pronouncement. It came under the title of the "Explicatio articulorum", in which Baius averred that, of the many condemned propositions, some were false and justly censured, some only ill expressed, while still others, if at variance with the terminology of the Scholastics, were yet the genuine sayings of the Fathers; at any rate, with more than forty of the seventy-nine articles he claimed to have nothing whatever to do. Baius, after two recantations, was simply reverting to his original position. The Bull was then solemnly published at Louvain, and subscribed by the whole faculty. Baius accepted it again. His apparent magnanimity even won him sympathy and preferments; he was in quick succession made Chancellor of Louvain, Dean of St. Peter's Collegiate Church, and "conservator" of the university's privileges. Thus was peace restored, but only for a while.

Certain inconsiderate views of the master regarding the authority of the Holy See, and even of the Council of Trent, and, on the part of his disciples, the ill disguised hope that Gregory XIII might declare void all that had been done by his predecessor, bade fair to reopen the whole question. Pope Gregory XIII would not permit this. The Bull, "Provisionis nostræ" (1579), confirmed the preceding papal acts and the Jesuit Toletus* was commissioned to receive and bring to the pope the final abjuration of Baius. We have it under the name of "Confessio Michaelis Baii". It reads, in part: "I am convinced that the condemnation of all those propositions is just and lawful. I confess that very many (plurimas) of these propositions are in my books, and in the sense in which they are condemned. I renounce them all and resolve never more to teach or defend any of them." Despite this recantation, Baius' errors had sunk too deep into his mind not to occasionally crop up in rash tenets. Up to the last few years of his life sad contests were raised by, or around, him, and nothing short of the official admission by the university of a compact body of doctrine could quell those contests. Baius died in the Church, to which his studiousness, attainments, and rashness came near to infringing. The evil seed he had sown bore fruits of bitterness later on in the errors of Jansenism.

His system

Baius' system has been conveniently called Baianism, as a more objective name for it would be difficult to find. It is contained in a series of opuscula, or pamphlets: "On Free Will"; "Justice and Justification"; "Sacrifice"; "Meritorious Works"; "Man's Original Integrity and the Merits of the Wicked"; "The Sacraments"; "The Form of Baptism"; "Original Sin"; "Charity"; "Indulgences"; "Prayers for the Dead". Baius himself collected all those pamphlets in "M. Baii opuscula theologica" (Louvain, 1566). The Marurist Gerberon gave a more complete edition: "M. Baii opera cum bullis pontificum et aliis ad ipsius causum spectantibus" (Cologne, 1696). This edition was put on the Index in 1697 on account of its second part, or "Baiana", in which the editor gives useful information about, but shows too much sympathy for, Baius. The gist of Baianism is also found in the 79 propositions censured by Pius V (Denzinger, Enchiridion, 881-959). All cavil apart, the first 60 are easily identified in Baius' printed works, and the remaining 19—"tales quae vulgo circumferrentur", says an old manuscript copy of the Bull "Ex omnibus"—represent the oral teaching of the Baianist wing. In the preface to "Man's Original Integrity" Baius says: "What was in the beginning the integrity natural to man? Without that question one can understand neither the first corruption of nature (by original sin) nor its reparation by the grace of Christ." Those words give us the sequence of Baianism: (1) the state of innocent nature; (2) the state of fallen nature; (3) the state of redeemed nature.

State of innocent nature

From the fact, so strongly asserted by the Fathers, of the actual conjunction of nature and grace in the first man, Baius infers their necessary connection or even practical identity. In his view, primitive innocence was not supernatural, at least in the ordinary acceptation of that word, but due to, and demanded by, the normal condition of humanity (which cannot, without it, remain in the state of salvation). And that primitive state, natural to man, included among its necessary requirements destination to heaven, immunity from ignorance, suffering, and death, and the inherent power of meriting. None of these was, nor could rightly be called, a gratuitous gift of grace.

State of fallen nature

The downfall of man is not, and cannot be, according to Baius, the mere forfeiting of gratuitous or supernatural gifts, but some positive evil reaching deep into our very nature. That evil is original sin. By original sin Baius understands, instead of a simple privation of grace, habitual concupiscence itself, transmitted according to the laws of heredity and developed according to the laws of physical and psychical growth. It is a sin or moral evil by itself, even in irresponsible children, and that outside of all relation to a will, be it original or personal. What, then, becomes of human liberty as a source of moral responsibility? Baius does not think it necessary that, in order to be moral agents, we should be free from internal determinism, but only from external compulsion. From so tainted a source, Redemption apart, only tainted actions can flow. They may sometimes appear virtuous, but it is only an appearance (vitia virtutes imitantia). In truth all human actions, not purified by Redemption, are vices pure and simple and damning vices at that (vitia sunt et damnant).

State of redeemed nature

The gifts of primitive innocence, forfeited by original sin, are restored by Jesus Christ. Then and then only do they become graces, not, indeed, on account of their supernatural character, but because of fallen man's positive unworthiness. Aided by grace, the redeemed can perform virtuous actions and acquire merits for heaven. Does that entail a higher status, an inner renovation or sanctifying grace?—Baius does not consider it necessary. Moral action, whether called justice, or charity, or obedience to the law, is the sole instrument of justification and virtue and merit. The rôle of grace consists exclusively in keeping concupiscence under control, and in thus enabling us to perform moral actions and fulfil the law. True, Baius speaks of the remission of sin as necessary for justification, but this is only a fictio iuris; in fact, a catechumen before baptism, or a penitent before absolution may, by simply keeping the precepts, have more charity than certain so-called just men. If the catechumen and penitent are not styled just, it is only in deference to Holy Scripture, which requires for complete justice both newness of life (i.e. moral action) and pardon of sin (i.e. of the reatus, or liability to punishment). To grant that kind of pardon is the only object and efficacy of the sacraments of the dead, baptism and penance. With regard to the sacraments of the living, the Eucharist—the only one on which Baius expressed his views—has no other sacrificial value than that of being a good moral action drawing us close to God.

A mere glance at the above sketch cannot fail to reveal a strange mixture of Pelagianism, Calvinism, and even Socinianism. Baius is a Pelagian in his concept of the primitive state of man. He is a Calvinist in his presentation of the downfall. He is more than a Lutheran and little short of the Socinian in his theory of Redemption. Critics know that all these errors were in a manner harmonized in Baius' mind, but they are not agreed as to what may have been the genetic principle of that theological formation. Some find it in the 38th proposition: "Omnis amor creaturæ rationalis aut vitiosa est cupiditas, quâ mundus diligitur, quæ a Joanne prohibetur, aut laudabilis illa charitas, quâ per spiritum sanctum in corde diffusâ Deus amatur" (The rational creature's love is either vicious desire, with its attachment to the world, which St. John forbids, or that praiseworthy charity which is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and through which God is loved). Others see it in a wrong analysis of man, the higher faculties, appertaining to the moral and religious life, being violently torn apart from the lower powers, and so magnified as to become identical with grace and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Others, again, think it is optimism in appraising man's native condition, or pessimism in gauging his condition after sin, the result being the same with regard to the value of Redemption. Taking the question from an historical standpoint, we find that Baius was from the beginning a humanist with a perfect enthusiasm for Christian antiquity in general, St. Paul and St. Augustine in particular, and a dislike almost amounting to abhorrence for the thoughts and methods of medieval schoolmen. The self-assumed task of interpreting the Apostle of the Gentiles and the great African Doctor apart from the traditional current of Scholastic thought was perhaps an impossibility in itself, but certainly one for Baius' limited erudition and paradoxical mind. To this all-absorbing mania, much more than to a lack of sincere loyalty to the Church, must we trace Baius' blindness to the already defined dogmas and his half-revolts against the living magisterium. A partial explanation of, if not excuse for, that monomania is, however, found in the fact that at the very outset of his theological career Baius came under the influence of men who, like the Dominican Peter de Soto, believed the Catholic reaction against the Reformers had gone somewhat too far, and suggested that more stress be laid on Scripture and Patrology and less on Thomism. That, in his intention at least, Baius only wanted to take the most advantageous position in order the better to defend the Faith against heretics, we know from a letter he wrote (1569) to Cardinal Simonetta: "After reading Peter the Lombard and some other Scholastic Doctor, I endeavoured to bring theology back to Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers, those at least who still enjoy some credit with the heretics: Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Leo, Prosper, Gregory, and the like." Such are the various causes which may in a measure account for the position taken by Baius. The chronology of his writings teaches us little more. It fails to give us a true insight into the logical development of his thought. It may be, after all, that each of the above-mentioned genetic principles held priority in his mind at different times and in different needs.

Doctrine of the Church

The Catholic teaching, already outlined against the Pelagians by various councils and popes from the fifth century, is fully presented against the Reformers by the Council of Trent, especially Session V, Decree on Original Sin, and Session VI, Decree on Justification. In those two sessions, both anterior to Baius' writings, we find three statements which are obviously irreconcilable with Baius' three main positions described above: (1) Man's original justice is represented as a supernatural gift; (2) Original Sin is described not as a deep deterioration of our nature, but as the forfeiture of purely gratuitous privileges; (3) Justification is depicted as an interior renovation of the soul by inherent grace. The condemnation by Pius V of the 79 Baianist tenets is an act of the supreme magisterium of the Church, an ex cathedrâ pronouncement. To say, with the Baianists, that the papal act condemns not the real and concrete tenets of the Louvain professor, but only certain hypothetical or imaginary propositions; to pretend that the censure is aimed not at the underlying teaching, but only at the vehemence or harshness of the outward expressions, is to practically stultify the pontifical document. From the tenor of the Bull, "Ex Omnibus", we know that to each of the 79 propositions one or several or all of the following censures will apply: hæretica, erronea, suspecta, temeraria, scandalosa, in pias aures offendens. For a more precise determination of the Catholic doctrine, we have to consult, besides the Council of Trent, the consensus Catholicorum theologorum. That consensus was voiced with no uncertainty by such universities as Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, and Louvain itself, and by such theologians as Cunerus Petri (d. 1580—"De gratiâ", Cologne, 1583); Francisco Suárez (d. 1617—"De gratiâ Dei" in Op. Omn., VII, Paris, 1857); Bellarmine (d. 1623—"De gratiâ et libero arbitrio", in Controversiæ, IV, Milan, 1621); Ripalda (d. 1648—"Adversus Baium et Baianos", Paris, 1872); Stayaert (d. 1701—"In propositiones damnatas assertiones", Louvain, 1753); Tournély (d. 1729—"De Gratiâ Christi", Paris, 1726); Casini (d. 1755—"Quid est homo?" ed. Scheeben, Mainz, 1862). It should not, however, be omitted here that, even apart from Jansenism, which is a direct offshoot of Baianism, some traces of Baius' confused ideas about the natural and the supernatural are to be found here and there in the history of theology. The Augustinian School, represented by such able men as Noris, Bellelli, and Berti, adopted, though with qualifications, the idea of man's natural aspiration to the possession of God and beatific vision in Heaven. The standard work of that school, "Vindiciæ Augustinianæ", was even once denounced to the Holy See, but no censure ensued. More recently Stattler, Hermes, Günther, Hirscher, and Kuhn evolved a notion of the supernatural which is akin to that of Baius. While admitting relatively supernatural gifts, they denied that the partaking of Divine nature and the adoption to eternal life differ essentially from our natural moral life. That theory was successfully opposed by Kleutgen and seems now to have died out. The new French theory of "immanence", according to which man postulates the supernatural, may also have some kinship with Baianism, but it can only be mentioned here as it is yet the centre of rather fervid discussions. Matulewicz, "Doctrina Russorum de Statu iustitiæ originalis" (Cracow, 1903), says that modern Russian theology embodies in great measure the condemned views of Baius.


Besides works mentioned in article, DUCHESNE, Histoire du Baianisme (Douai, 1731); DE LA CHAMBRE, Traité historique et dogmatique sur la doctrine de Baius (s. l., 1739); LIGUORI, Trionfo della chiesa (Naples, 1772); LINSENMAN, Michel Baius (Tübingen, 1867); SCHEEBEN in Kirchenlex., s.v., and in Der Katholik (Mainz, 1868); SCHWANE-DEGERT, Histoire des dogmas (Paris, 904), VI; LE BACHELET in Dict. de théol. cath., s.v.; WILHELM AND SCANNELL, Manual of Catholic Theology (New York, 1906); KROLL, The Causes of the Jansenist Heresy in Am. Cath. Quart. (1885), 577.

About this page

APA citation. Sollier, J. (1907). Michel Baius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Sollier, Joseph. "Michel Baius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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