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Alcher of Clairvaux


Cistercian monk at the Abbey of Clairvaux c. 1150 to 1175. Certain works that have been attributed to him fall within the framework of the monastic literature of the day; one that seems the most authentic is a treatise on the love of God (De diligendo Deo; Patrologia Latina, 40:847). He is known chiefly for the opusculum De spiritu et anima, written in the tradition of speculative mysticism as a treatise on the nature and functions of the soul and ordered to the practice of the virtues of a Christian and religious life (Patrologia Latina, 40:779832). During the high scholastic era this work was attributed to St. augustine, hence its importance in the history of psychology. In their commentaries on the Sentences, c. 1250, albert the Great (In 1 sent. 8.25) and thomas aquinas (In 4 Sent. 44.4.3) recognized that it could not be the work of Augustine, but it had already exerted strong influence.

The De spiritu et anima is "a compilation of the doctrines of Augustine" (Aquinas) with additions from Boethius, Macrobius, Hugh of SaintVictor, Cassiodorus, and St. Isidore of Seville. Alcher limited himself to juxtaposing the borrowed elements; as a result the coherence of his work suffered. Yet from this confused mass some great ideas emerged. The soul is a unique substance, and its socalled powers are only the functions by which its activity is manifested without impinging upon its absolute simplicity. The soul governs everything that constitutes human life, even its most humble functions. The higher functions are affectivity and knowledge: the first operates through the concupiscible and irascible appetites, which act as the seat of the four passions of love, hate, hope, and fear and which give birth to vice or to virtue, according to the use that men make of them. Knowledge includes five hierarchical degrees, from sense, whose object is material things, to intelligence (intelligentia ), which is direct contact with God. Alcher insisted also that the images of the Trinity are realized in the soul.

Bibliography: e. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy, 168169, 632, 658. p. michaudquantin, "Une Division 'augustinienne' des puissances de l'âme au moyenâge," Revue des études augustiniennes, 3 (1957) 235248. g. thÉry, "L'Authenticité du De spiritu et anima dans S. Thomas et Albert le Grand," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 11 (1921) 373377. l. lewicki, Collectanea ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum, 18 (1956) 161164, summary of Polish theses.

[p. michaudquantin]

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