Alan of Lille

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Alan of Lille (Alanus Insulis), Doctor Universalis, theologian, philosopher, poet, preacher, and polemist; b. Lille, c. 11161120; d. Cîteaux, 1202. During his life, Alan was renown for being the most widely learned person of his day. Although his fame during his life lay in teaching the liberal arts at Paris, he had great influence as a poet and theologian on later thinkers like Dante and Chaucer.

Life. It is difficult to create a sharp chronology of Allan's life; his early years are especially obscure. Yet, it is clear that Alan had exceptional training in the liberal arts and theology. Most likely he studied under Gilbert of Poitiers, at Paris or perhaps at Chartres, sometime between 1140 and 1142, before Gilbert became Bishop of Poitiers. Allan was a prominent teacher at Paris from around 1157 to 1170, which marked the apex of his career. Present scholarship points to his being at Montepellier perhaps first as student and later as teacher from c. 117185. At some point in the next decade he retired and lived with the Cistercians at Cîteaux, where he remained until his death in 1202. His remains were exhumed in 1960, when it was determined that he had been around 86 years old at the time of his death. Based on the pastoral tone of his writings as well as interest in the art of preaching, Alan appears to have been a secular cleric.

Works. Alan's literary production was large and diverse. His theological writings include his Summa, Quoniam homines, numerous Questiones disputatae, and his Theologicae regulae. In the last of these Alan sets out to prove theological truths by using the methods of geometry, a proto-scholastic method similar to Peter Lombard. Some of his conclusions are original, although others are borrowed. It is one of the first attempts to make a clear and systematic presentation of orthodox theological principles. We also have over seventy of his sermons, a Biblical dictionary entitled Distinctiones dictionum theologicarum, a small treatise on the De sex alis Cherubim, a confessional manual, and a commentary on the Song of Songs called Elucidatio in Cantica Canticorum. Other works include a list of moral principles, the Liber parabolarum, and his Ars praedicandi, one of the first works on the art of preaching. Alan also wrote an apologetic refutation of Christian heresies and against the Jewish and Islamic faiths entitled Contra haereticos.

The two of Alan's works that had the most lasting influence were his cosmological mythic poems, De Planctu naturae (c. 116070) and Anticlaudianus (c. 1183). In the former the goddess Nature, modeled on Boethius' Philosophia and Bernard Silvester's Natura, is the major protagonist. All of creation celebrates her arrival, but she complains to the narrator/poet that the actions of humanity violate reason and the natural order of the universe. This behavior is described in the language of sexual perversion and is symbolized by Nature's torn tunic, which is covered with the content of the cosmos. The poet, who plays both the foil and the representative of humanity, has a dialogue with her. Then the cosmos is once again brought into harmony with divine plan with the help of Genius, Nature's scribe and priest, who excommunicates the vices from the created order, and Hymen, who reconciles opposite forces of nature.

In the Anticlaudianus, Nature again is the main character who seeks to make a person who will renew the created order and fulfill the promise of humanity's destiny. This renewal is accomplished with the help of the heavenly virtues of Prudence and Ratio, who ascend into the heavenly spheres on a chariot made of the seven liberal arts, having been guided there by the five senses. Theologia and Fides lead them to God, who creates a perfect soul in His own image through the divine Noys. Nature then uses the elements to create the perfect body, which is bound together with the soul by Concordia, Music, and Arithmetic. After conquering an onslaught of Vices, this person becomes the archetypal human being and the new ruler of the new earth.

In both poems, pagan authors like Plato are vehicles for understanding Christian ideas. In doing this Alan follows Boethius, as well as his predecessor and inspiration Bernard Silvester. Allan's mythic poetry expresses his vision of the cosmos as a way by which the human race can approach divine truth. But our actions require more than reason, and ultimately it is theology and faith that will lead us to wisdom.

Bibliography: Most of Alan's works are compiled in Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne [Paris 187890] 210. These include Distinctiones dictionum theologicarum (Patrologia Latina 210 6851012), De sex alis Cherubim (Patrologia Latina 210 269280), Elucidatio in Canticum Canticorum, (Patrologia Latina 210 51110), Ars praedicandi (Patrologia Latina 210 111195), Contra haereticos (Patrologia Latina 210 305430). Several of Alan's sermons and other smaller works are edited by m. t. d'alverny, Alain de Lille: Textes inédits (Paris 1965). Summa Quoniam homines, ed. p. glorieux, AHDLMA xx: (1954) 113364. Numerous Questiones disputatae, unedited but see l. thorndike, Isis 51 (1950) 181185. Theologicae regulae, ed. n. haring, "Magister Alanus de Insulis, Regulae caelestis iuris," AHDLMA XLVIII (1981) 97226. De Planctu Naturae, ed. n. haring, Studi Medievali ser 3, xix: (1978) 797879. Anticlaudianus ed. r. bossuat (Paris 1955), trans. j. j. sheridan (Toronto 1973). De virtutibus et vitiis ed. o. lottin in Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles VI (Gembloux 1960). Literature. g. raynaud de lage, Alain de Lille, poète du xii siècle (Paris 1951). r. green, "Alan of Lille's Anticlaudianus: Ascenus mentis ad Deum" Annuale medievale 8 (1976) 316. a. ciotti, "Alano e Dante." Convivium 28 (1960) 25788. m. t. d'alverny, "Alain de Lille et la Theologia" in L'homme devant Dieu: Mélanges offerts au Père Henri de Lubac (Paris 1964) 11128. Also see the extensive introduction in d'Alverny's critical edition of Alan's sermons listed above. p. g. walsh, "Alan of Lille as a Renaissance Figure" in Renaissance and Renewal in Christian History (Oxford 1989). w. wetherbee, Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century (Princeton 1972). g. evans, Alan of Lille: The Frontiers of Theology in the Late Twelfth Century (Cambridge 1983).

[p. ellard]