Alexander of Hales (c. 1185–1245)

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(c. 11851245)

Alexander of Hales, "Doctor Irrefragabilis," friar minor, was an English Scholastic at the University of Paris. He was born in Hales Owen, Shropshire, and died in Paris.

Alexander was a student at Paris about 1200 and received his M.A. before 1210. He joined the faculty of theology, becoming a master regent about 1220. After 1222 Alexander made an innovation in the university by using the Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard as the basic text for theological courses. His newly published Glossa (identified only in 1945) was the result of this work. At the height of his career, about 1236, he became a Franciscan, "edifying the world and giving new status to the Order" (in the words of Roger Bacon). After he was put in charge of the school at the Paris friary, he continued his teaching, especially through his Disputed Questions, and had some part to play in the "great Summa weighing more than a horse, which the friars out of reverence ascribed to him and called 'the Summa of Friar Alexander'" (R. Bacon). At the same time, he participated in the affairs of the order, attending the chapter that deposed Brother Elias in 1239, and was a coauthor of an Exposition of the Rule of St. Francis ; he was also active in the affairs of the church, both in the university and in the First Council of Lyon (12441245). His sudden death after his return from Lyon apparently resulted from an epidemic current in Paris. An epitaph in the convent church saluted him as Gloria doctorum, decus et flos philosophorum (Glory of learned men, the honor and pride of philosophers).


Alexander's own doctrines are found in his Glossa and Disputed Questions (which are divided in the British Museum manuscript Royal 9. E. 14. into two series: those written before and those written after he became a friar); the Summa ascribed to him does not necessarily represent his opinions. Both the Gloss and the Questions labor under the disadvantage of being students' reportations (although some copies seem to have had a kind of official approval); both, however, justify the encomium of Bernard of Bessa: maximus in theologia et philosophia magister (greatest master in theology and philosophy). Alexander is both theologian and philosopher, masterfully handling a wide range of questions. Undoubtedly a traditionalist whose prime sources are Augustine, John of Damascus, and Pseudo-Dionysius, and whose thought is close to the scholastic traditions of his predecessors, Alexander nonetheless surpasses his contemporaries in the breadth and profundity of his questions and in the new problems and tracts he introduced into theology. To this extent he was an innovator who helped open the way for the scholastic renaissance of the mid-thirteenth century. In particular, as head of the friars' studium at Paris, he initiated a certain approach that came to characterize such representatives of the Franciscan school as Odo Rigaldus, Bonaventure, and Matthew of Aquasparta.

The problems of the distinction between philosophy and theology, and the nature of theology as a science, much discussed after 1240, are not treated explicitly (though it is possible that Alexander wrote a question on the subject; see below). These problems are implicitly considered in scattered remarks on the kinds of human knowledge and the validity of arguments, in the general organization of material into specific questions and problems, and in the principles used in the solution of the problems. For example, our knowledge of God arises both from authority and from reason; that is, either from faith, which "depends on hearing" (Romans 10.17), or from knowledge drawn from the things God has made. Proofs of God's existence are suggested rather than developed at length: one is derived from the transcendental attributes of truth, goodness, and unity found in things; others are argued from the changing to the Unchanged, from dependent being to the Highest Being, from participated and partial good to the summum bonum (Glossa I, pp. 3941). In the tradition of Augustine, Alexander finds analogies of the triune God in all creatures, thus setting the pattern for the Franciscan school, which, with St. Francis, delights to make of creation a "ladder" to the Creator. At the same time, Alexander shows the simplicity of the divine being to be in marked contrast to the composite character of all created being (Glossa I, p. 254; Quaestiones, pp. 14, 19). The doctrine here, that of quo est (the substance) and quo est (essence), is derived ultimately from Boethius, not from Avicenna, who seems to have been unknown to Alexander. In contrast to the Summa Fratris Alexandri and to Bonaventure, Alexander vehemently rejects any composition of matter and form either in angels or in the human soul (Glossa II, p. 28; other texts are in V. Doucet, Prolegomena, pp. 237, 268, n. 2). Apart from a lengthy question on immortality (Quaestiones, pp. 556565), only passing remarks embody his notion of the soul. His attention is drawn more to the problem of free will (Ibid., pp. 566608, plus an unedited question). Here, Alexander teaches that man by his nature is free and that freedom of choice resides both in the intellect and in the will. The primary purpose for which man has been given this freedom is to choose that which is morally good. Alexander considers the moral life of man in such Disputed Questions as "On Ignorance," "On Scandal," "Love of Neighbor," "Fraternal Correction," "On Impediments to Reason," "On Lying," and "Conscience" (the last two as yet unpublished). To the last question must be joined his study of synderesis (Glossa II, pp. 380385), which seems to make Alexander, not Philip the Chancellor, the creator of such a tract in Scholasticism.

Literary Problems of the "Summa Fratris Alexandri"

Since the Summa attributed to Alexander was unfinished at his death, William of Militona, who became master regent in 1248, seems to have undertaken its completion, for in 1255 Pope Alexander IV charged the provincial of Paris to supply Militona with capable assistants who without delay would bring the work to a finish. The text as it now stands consists of four parts. Book I deals with the nature of theology, the existence and nature of God, the divine names, and the Trinity. Book II is divided into two sections: II1, creation in general, the angels, the six days of creation, the soul, the body, and the human composite, and II2, a lengthy study of moral theologythe nature of evil, definition and classification of sins, and original and actual sins. Book III considers the Incarnation and mysteries of Christ's life, law (eternal, natural, positive, the commandments), grace, and faith (tome IV). Book IV treats of man's reparation through the sacraments, the mass, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; quite evidently a section on "Last Things" was to be included as the climax of the work.

Except in a few manuscripts and in the protest of Roger Bacon, however, the compilatory nature of the Summa was forgotten. All four books came to be attributed to Alexander, despite the manifest contradictions and conflicting opinions in the various parts. Only since the end of the nineteenth century, with the renewal of interest in medieval Scholasticism, has the question of authorship attracted attention. A few writers, it is true, have gone to an extreme in claiming that the whole Summa was a compilation of the last half of the thirteenth century, in basic dependence on Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, and Bonaventure. But more mature and solid scholarship has established that, if by and large the Summa is a compilation, it existed as a whole by 1257. The first three books were in existence before the death of Alexander, with three notable exceptions: The last tract of Book I was added between 1250 and 1253, while in Book II1 the two sections "On the Human Body" and "The Human Composite" were composed after Bonaventure, almost certainly in 12551257, as was the last book. On the other hand, modern research is forced to agree with Roger Bacon that Alexander was not the author, in the strict sense, of the pre-1245 Summa. At most, it appears that he planned and organized the work, while the details were left to others. Internal criticism of style, language, and doctrine would show essentially two authors at work, neither of whom, by reason of doctrinal positions, can be Alexander. Books I and III were almost certainly the work of John of La Rochelle, although the presence of other collaborators may be detected. Both parts of Book II, on the other hand, were written or compiled by some unknown friar who possessed a keen philosophical mind and a greater spirit of independence.

doctrines of the pre-1245 "summa"

The work of the "Summists" was largely one of compilation, yet not without a certain new and fresh viewpoint. If they drew on earlier material, they did not hesitate to insert their own views or add fresh tracts written specifically for the Summa. Relatively new was the opening inquisition on the nature of theology, based on the tract in manuscript Vatican Latin 782, folio 184d186d (which may be by Alexander himself); it bears witness to the growing influence of Aristotle's ideal of a science. This inquisition is followed by an original tract on natural theology, remarkable for its metaphysical doctrine of God and creatures. This doctrine holds that the very conditions of finite being demand the existence of a First Being, even as the positive perfections of finite things reflect and lead to the infinite. The unknown author of Book II does not hesitate to repeat some of this material in an interesting and well-balanced dissertation on Creator and creature; he examines in detail the meaning of the act of creation, the properties of created being that reflect the divine cause, and those properties peculiar to creatures: composition, changeableness, time and space, and the beauty and order of the universe. Several questions seem to have bearing on problems that arose in the early thirteenth century under the influence of the newly known Arabian philosophers.

The importance of the Summa lies chiefly, perhaps, in its presentation and defense of the so-called Augustinian traditions in theology and philosophy without neglecting whatever was solid in the new philosophical literature. It may rightly be called the Summa Minorum, embodying the fundamental doctrines of the Franciscan school of the early thirteenth century.

See also Albert the Great; Augustine, St.; Bacon, Roger; Bonaventure, St.; John of Damascus; John of La Rochelle; Matthew of Acquasparta; Peter Lombard; Pseudo-Dionysius; Thomas Aquinas, St.


For texts of Alexander, see Glossa in Quattuor Libros Sententiarum Petri, 4 vols. (Quaracchi, 19511957); Quaestiones Disputatae "Antequam Esset Frater," 3 vols. (Quaracchi, 1960)the series "after he became a friar" awaits publication at Quaracchi; Expositio Quattuor Magistrorum Super Regulam Fratrum Minorum, L. Oliger, ed. (Rome, 1950). The text of the Summa is Doctoris Irrefragabilis Alexandri de Hales Summa Theologica, 4 vols. (Quaracchi, 19241948), books IIII; Book IV is found in several early editions, such as Nuremberg, 1482, and Cologne, 1622.

With regard to studies of Alexander's works, writings previous to 1948 that are concerned with doctrinal problems rather than literary ones must be interpreted in the light of new discoveries. For literary and historical aspects, see V. Doucet, Expositio Quattuor Magistrorum III Necnon in Libros I et II Summa Fratris Alexandri (Quaracchi, 1948), partially translated in Franciscan Studies, Vol. 7 (1947): 2641, 274312; Ibid., Vol. 6 (1946): 403417; and Doucet's introductions to the authentic Glossa and Quaestiones.

Doctrinal studies on the authentic Alexander are just beginning to appear: A. Fuerst, A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Omnipresence of God (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1951); E. Lio, Determinatio "Superflui" in Doctrina Alexandri Halensis (Rome: Apud Pontificium Athenaeum Antonianum, 1953); A. Hufnagel, "Die Wesensbestimmung der Person bei Alexander von Hales," in Freiburger ZPT, Vol. 4 (1957): 148174; Bettoni, Il problema della cognoscibilità di Dio nella scuola francescana (Padua, 1950); see also Franciscan Studies, Vol. 10 (1950): 164185, 286312; Vol. 19 (1959): 334383; Vol. 20 (1960): 96148; Vol. 22 (1962): 32149.

For earlier and somewhat outdated studies on Alexander as author of the Summa, see I. Herscher, "A Bibliography of Alexander of Hales," in Franciscan Studies, Vol. 5 (1945), 434454; and P. Boehner, "The System of Metaphysics of Alexander of Hales," in Ibid., 366414.

Ignatius Brady, O.F.M. (1967)

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Alexander of Hales (c. 1185–1245)

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