Alexander of Hales

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English Franciscan theologian known by the scholastic titles of Doctor irrefragabilis and Doctor doctorum ; b. Hales Owen, Shropshire, c. 1185; d. Paris, Aug. 21, 1245.

Life. Born of a wealthy agrarian family, he studied arts at the University of Paris, where he became a master before 1210. About 1210 he began to study theology and became regent master c. 122022. He retained his professorship until 1241, when he relinquished it to john of la rochelle. As a theologian he acquired a considerable reputation. Early in his teaching career as regent master in theology he replaced the custom of lecturing on the Bible with lectures on the Sentences of peter lombard. Because of this unprecedented procedure, roger bacon, who originally had the highest admiration for him, mentioned Alexander's innovation as one of the causes for the decline of theology. In fact, however, Alexander's emphasis on speculative theology, use of philosophy, and study of the Fathers initiated the golden age of medieval scholasticism (see scholasticism). Later this custom was reserved for bachelors in theology. Between 1226 and 1229 he became a canon of St. Paul's in London with the prebend of Holborn, even though he remained in Paris. He played an important part in the struggle between university and crown; the reorganization of the university effected by the bull Parens scientiarum of gregory ix, April 13, 1231, was partly the work of Alexander. Toward the end of 1231 and the beginning of 1232 he was in England, where contemporary documents record him as canon of Lichfield and archdeacon of Coventry. From August 1235 until February 1236 he helped to negotiate peace between France and England. At the beginning of the academic year 123637, Alexander, already more than 50 years of age, disposed of his wealth and entered the Franciscan Order, thereby securing a chair in the university for the order. Among his outstanding Franciscan disciples were John of La Rochelle, Odo Rigaldus, and St. bonaventure. As a Franciscan master he participated in the general chapter at Rome, collaborated on the first exposition of the Rule (124142), and was probably dean of regent masters. He took an active part in censuring doctrines of the Dominican Étienne de Venizy (1241) and of the secular John Pagus (1244). Attending the Council of Lyons in 1244, he and robert grosseteste were part of a commission charged with examining documents preparatory to canonizing St. edmund of abingdon. His sudden death was mourned throughout Paris. The solemn funeral rites, held on Aug. 25, 1245, were presided over by odo of chÂteauroux, papal legate to France. The poet John of Garland sang his praises (Histoire littéraire de la France 21:372).

Works. Five major writings can be ascribed to him with certainty. (1) Exoticon, a youthful work about difficult words, is attributed to him in Cambridge, Glanville, and Caius College MS 136. (2) Glossa in 4 libros sententiarum, apparently a reportatio that was discovered in 1946, is a lectio cursoria, midway between a literal commentary and a fully developed series of questions on the text of Peter Lombard. (3) Quaestiones disputatae 'antequam esset frater,' including 68 questions of various length, were written between 1220 and 1236. They touch almost the whole domain of theology and demonstrate convincingly the author's propensity for speculative theology. (4) Quaestiones quodlibetales, of which four are known to be extant. (5) The Summa theologica, sometimes known as the Summa pseudo-Alexandri, must be discussed in terms of the Summa left incomplete by Alexander in 1245 and the expanded version issued in 1260 and published at Quaracchi. Of the present version only the following seem to have been in the original Summa fratris Alexandri : bk. 1, all except perhaps q. 74, De missione visibili ; bk. 2, all except the tracts De corpore humano and De coniuncto ; bk. 3, fragments. The work is called Summa fratris Alexandri in the manuscript tradition and in the bull De fontibus paradisi of Alexander IV, Oct. 7, 1255. The bull ordered that the Summa be completed by the Franciscans. william of melitona (Middleton) and his collaborators worked until 1260 without completing it. They utilized Alexander's Glossa and Quaestiones disputatae and incorporated many parts of their own writings, as well as those of Prevostino, or Praepostinus (c. 11451210); william of auxerre; and philip the chancellor. The final version of the Summa was imposed on the Franciscan school by two ministers general, Guiral Ot in 1331 and Leonard of Gaffoni in 1373. Alexander collaborated with John of La Rochelle, Robert of La Bassée and Odo Rigaldus in the Expositio super regulam of 124142. Although numerous biblical commentaries have been attributed to him (f. stegmÜller, Repertorium biblicum medii aevi 111757), only a Postillae super quatuor Evangelia and a Commentarius super Psalmos are generally accepted as his; but this question needs to be further investigated. Three Sermones can also be attributed to him with some certainty.

Thought. Although Alexander quoted freely from almost all the works of aristotle, including the pseudo-Aristotelian De causis, and had access to the full text of these works, he had no clear idea of the true meaning of Aristotelian philosophy. In his writings he adapted fragmentary texts of Aristotle to the teaching of St. augustine. His work belongs to a period when no collective theological effort had been made to assimilate the newly discovered Aristotelian world. His main theological authorities were Augustine, pseudo-dionysius, boethius, and many 11th-and 12th-century theologians, notably St. anselm of canterbury, St. bernard of clairvaux, gilbert de la porrÉe, and the pseudo-hermetic Liber 24 philosophorum.

His psychological notions, introduced when he was discussing the image of God in man, are strictly Augustinian or are inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian De spiritu et anima. Against William of Auxerre, Alexander maintains that the powers of the soul are not distinct from the substance, but only from the essence. Since essence is that by which the soul is what it is, its powers are not what makes the soul to be what it is; on the other hand, since substance is what makes a thing subsist in its indivisible unity, the soul cannot be complete without its powers or faculties (see faculties of the soul). This position was characteristic of the Franciscan school until the time of duns scotus. Alexander followed Augustine in his discussion of the problem of evil and in his notion of wisdom. The Summa theologica of 1260 remarkably illustrates what may be called the spirit of the 13th-century Franciscan school of theology at the University of Paris.

Bibliography: "Alexander of Hales," The History of Franciscan Theology, ed. k. osborne (St. Bonaventure, N.Y. 1994), 138. v. doucet, "A New Source of the Summa fratris Alexandri : The Commentary on the Sentences of Alexander of Hales," Franciscan Studies 6 (1946) 403417; alexander of hales, "Prolegomena," Summa Theologica, v.4. (Quaracchi-Florence 1948).

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Alexander of Hales

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