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Theologian and controversialist, b. 19 October, 1625, at Chartres, d. 16 November, 1695, at Paris. He studied at Paris, became Master of Arts, 1644, and followed courses in theology, 1645-46. Under Sainte-Beuve's direction he applied himself earnestly to the study of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, devoting part of his time to teaching in the schools of Port-Royal. In 1649 he received the degree of Bachelor of Theology, and then withdrew to Port-Royal des Champs, where he fell in with the Jansenistic leaders, especially Antoine Arnauld, who found in him a willing ally. He returned to Paris in 1654 under the assumed name of M. de Rosny. Four years later, during a tour in Germany, he translated Pascal's "Provinciales" into classic Latin, adding notes of his own and publishing the whole as the work of William Wendrock. In 1676 he sought admission to Holy orders, but was refused by the Bishop of Chartres and never got beyond tonsure. A letter which he wrote (1677) to Innocent XI in favor of the Bishops of Saint-Pons and Arras, involved him in difficulties that obliged him to quit the capital. In 1679 he went to Belgium and lived for a time with Arnauld in Brussels, Liège, and other cities. About 1683 de Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, to whom he had sent a sort of retractation, authorized Nicole to return to Chartres, then to Paris. Here he took part in two celebrated controversies, the one involving Quietism in which he upheld Bossuet's views, the other relating to monastic studies in which he sided with Mabillon against the Abbé de Rancey. His last years were saddened by painful infirmities and his death came after a series of apoplectic attacks.
Pierre Nicole was a distinguished writer and a vigorous controversialist and, together with Pascal, contributed much to the formation of French prose. As a controversialist, he too frequently placed his talent at the service of a sect; however, many are of the opinion that he did not wholly share the errors of the majority of the Jansenists. At any rate, we generally find in him only a mitigated expression of these errors clothed in great reserve. On the other hand, he started the resistance fund known as "la boîte à Perrette". (See JANSENIUS.) Niceron (Mèmoires, XXIX, Paris, 1783) enumerates no less than eighty-eight of his works, several of which were, however, very short. The principal works of Nicole relating either to Protestantism or Jansenism are: "Les imaginaires et les visionnaires" or "Lettres sur l'hérésie imaginaire", namely, that of the Jansenists (Liège, 1667); "La perpétuité de la foi catholique touchant l'Eucharistie", published under Arnauld's name, but the first three volumes of which (Paris, 1669-76) are by Nicole, the fourth and fifth (Paris, 1711-13) by the Abbé Renaudot; "Préjugés légitimes contre les Calvinistes" (Paris, 1671); "La défense de l'Eglise" (Cologne, 1689), being a reply to the "Défense de la Réformation" written by the minister, Claude, against the "Préjugés légitimes"; "Essais de morale" (Paris, 1671-78); "Les prétendus Réformés convaincus de schisme" (Paris, 1684); "De l'unité de l'Eglise" or "Réfutation du nouveau système de M. Jurieu" (paris, 1687), a condensed and decisive criticism of the theory of the "fundamental articles"; "Réfutation des principales erreurs des Quiétistes" (Paris, 1695); "Instructions théologiques et morales sur les sacrements" (Paris, 1706), "sur le Symbole" (Paris, 1706), "sur l'Oraison dominicale, la Salutation angélique, la Sainte Messe et les autres prières de l'Eglise (Paris, 1706), "sur le premier commandement du Décalogue" (Paris, 1709); "Traité de la grâce générale" (Paris, 1715), containing all that Nicole had written at different times on grace; "Traité de l'usure" (Paris, 1720).
GOUJET, Histoire de la vie et des ouvrages de Nicole (Paris, 1733); BESOIGNE, Vie de Nicole in the Histoire de Port-Royal, V; (Both of these authors are Jansenists and write as such.) an anonymous Biography of Nicole in the Continuation des essais de morale (Luxemburg, 1732), CERVEAU, L'esprit d e Nicole (Paris, 1765); MERSAN, Pensees de Nicole (Paris, 1806); FLOSS in Kirchenlex., s. v.; HURTER, Nomenclator, II.