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Alexandre Guy Pingré

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Born in Paris 11 September, 1711; died 1 May, 1796. He was educated in Senlis at the college of the Genovefan fathers, Regulars of the Order of St. Augustine, which he entered at sixteen. In 1735 he was made professor of theology there. About 1749 he accepted the professorship of astronomy in the newly-founded academy at Rouen. Already famous for detecting an error of four minutes in Lacaille's calculation of the lunar eclipse of 23 December, 1749, in 1753 he further distinguished himself by the observation of the transit of Mercury and was consequently appointed corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences. Later he was made librarian of Ste-Geneviève and chancellor of the university. He built an observatory in the Abbey of Ste-Geneviève and there spent forty years of strenuous labour. He compiled in 1753 the first nautical almanac for the year 1754, and subsequently for 1755-57, when Lalande was charged with the publication. Lacaille had calculated for his treatise, "L'art de vérifier les dates ", the eclipses of the first nineteen centuries of the Christian era; Pingré in a second edition took up his calculations and extended them over ten centuries before Christ. In 1760 he joined an unsuccessful expedition to the Island Rodriguez in the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus on 6 June, 1761. More satisfactory results were obtained from an expedition to the French Cape on Haiti where the next transit was observed on 3 June, 1769. About 1757 he became engrossed in the history of comets, and in his "Cométographie ou Traité historique et théorique des comètes" (2 vols., Paris, 1783-4), the material contained in all the ancient annals and more recent publications is methodically arranged and critically sifted. In 1756 he published a "Projet d'une histoire d'astronomie du dix-septième siècle", completed in 1786. Through Lalande's influence the National Assembly granted three thousand francs to defray the expenses of publication, but it proceeded slowly and at Pingé's death was discontinued. In 1901 the whole work was re-edited by Bigourdan under the title: "Annales célestes du dix-septième siècle". Pingré also published "Manuale Astronomicon libri quinque et Arati Phænomena, cum interpretatione Gallica et notis" (2 vols., 1786), and numerous astronomical observations in the "Mémoires de l'Institut" (1753-87), in the "Journal de Trévoux", in the "Phil. Trans." etc.

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In encyclopedic works it is commonly asserted that Pingré took an active part in Jansenistic quarrels, and hence was relegated to provincial towns and colleges. Consequently he is often said to have fallen a victim to Roman intolerance. The fact is that during his earlier career Pingré seems to have been imbued with Jansenistic views, as is borne out by the "Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques", the great Jansenist organ. In 1737 Mgr de Salignac, Bishop of Pamiers, active against Jansenism, summoned Pingré, who was severely rebuked and finally had to submit to an examen by some Jesuit fathers. He expressed himself willing to condemn the five propositions, de cæur et d'esprit , at the same time maintaining that he could not condemn them as propositions of Jansenius, as they were not to be found in his works. (It should be remembered that in 1653 and 1656 the popes had declared repeatedly that the propositions were de facto contained in the "Augustinus".) In 1745 a general chapter of the fathers of Ste-Geneviève was convened; by order of the king Father Chambroy was elected superior general. Strict orders had been issued to the superiors of the conventual establishments that only such members should be deputed as were willing to subscribe to the papal Bulls and especially "Unigenitus". This measure excited opposition. Father Pingré, then living at Senlis, and some of his fellow religious entered a vehement protest against the proceedings of the chapter. Father Scoffier, one of the most determined opponents of the election, was removed from Senlis. A similar disciplinary punishment was inflicted on Pingré, then professor of theology. According to an introductory notice prefaced to the memoirs of the Jansenist Abbé Arnauld d'Andilly, in the collection "Mémoires sur l'histoire de France de Michaud et Poujoulat" (2nd series, IX), Pingré is their editor (Leyden, 1756). He was therefore an active Jansenist, at least until 1747; his influence, however, never became serious nor lasting. In the ecclesiastical history of the eighteenth century, especially in the "Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiatique pendant le 18e siècle" of Picot, his name is not mentioned.

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