Theologian, historian, (also known erroneously as Alexander Natalis); b. Rouen, Jan. 19, 1639; d. Paris, Aug. 21, 1724. In 1654 Alexandre entered the Dominican Order at Saint-Jacques in Rouen. He undertook his ecclesiastical studies in 1656 at Paris, received the baccalaureate in 1668 and the licentiate in 1674, (he was also awarded a Dominican master of theology in 1674), and was received doctor of theology of the faculty of Theology of Paris (Feb. 21, 1675).
After taking his academic degrees, he taught philosophy and theology for the Paris province of his Order, was regent of studies for his own and other provinces (1673–?), and was provincial of his province (1706–10). He tutored J. N. Colbert, son of the minister of Louis XIV.
In 1675, when Jean de Launoy, also of the Parisian faculty of theology equated the payment of annates with simony and questioned the Aquinian authorship of the Summa Theologiae, Alexander defended the payment of annates and vindicated the authorship of Aquinas in the work, Summa S. Thomae vindicata. He also wrote his Dissertatio polemica de confessione (1678) and the Dissertationum ecclesiasticarum trias, which included his thoughts on episcopal supremacy over priests, clerical celibacy, and the Vulgate (1678).
Alexandre's success as a lecturer in history prompted him to compose his great historical work Selecta historiae capita et in loca ejusdem insignia dissertationes historicae, chronologicae, criticae, dogmaticae (1676–86). Volumes covering the Church's first ten centuries were highly praised, but those dealing with the 11th and 12th centuries aroused indignation in Rome because of their Gallican tinge. In 1684 Innocent XI condemned the entire work as well as the Summa … vindicata, the Trias, and Alexander's polemical dissertation on confession. The penalty of excommunication was threatened for reading, retaining, or printing these works. A second prohibition came in 1685 with the condemnation of the volumes of the Selecta historiae capita devoted to the 13th and 14th centuries. The Dominican Master General Monroy deprived Alexander of all his privileges, but the French government interceded for him in Rome. Nevertheless, in 1687 a third prohibition censured the volumes of the history dealing with the 15th and 16th centuries. Benedict XIII withdrew the prohibition of Alexander's works (1724) and Benedict XIV removed the excommunication on the use of all editions (1754); yet the books remained on the Index, except the edition of the Selecta … capita of July 8, 1754, with notes and animadversions by Roncaglia (Hänggi, 161).
In 1686, Alexander turned to theology, writing his Theologia dogmatica et moralis secundum ordinem Catechismi Tridentini (1693), his last major work. It was intended not only for the theologians, but also for parish priests, confessors, and preachers. In its preface, he indicated a desire for reconciliation with Rome. He published many short treatises (mostly in French), engaged in polemics with the Jesuits, especially Gabriel Daniel, on probabilism, laxism, and molinism. The controversy was eventually stopped by the king. Alexander also entered the chinese rites controversy: his Apologie des Dominicains missionaires de la Chine (1699) was followed by Conformité des cérémonies chinoises avec l'idolatrie grecque et romaine (1700).
In 1701, he dedicated himself to providing guideposts for preachers, writing a literal and moral commentary on the New Testament (1703–10). In 1701 he became suspected of Jansenism by signing the Cas de Conscience, maintaining that absolution could be given to a cleric who declared that he held on certain points the sentiments of "those called Jansenists," especially that of respectful silence on the question of fact (see jansenism). He later wrote letters of explanation and made a retraction.
His third conflict with Rome arose over the bull Unigenitus (1714), not because he was a Jansenist, but because, with Archbishop Noailles, he thought some of Quesnel's condemned propositions were representative of Thomistic thought; he considered the bull not the work of the pope, but of the Molinists. Alexander's name was included in the list of "Appellants" to the next general council.
In his last years, blind and worn out, he lived at Saint-Jacques, Paris. On the feast day of St. Dominic in 1724, he renounced his appellancy, less than a month before he died at peace with the Church.
Bibliography: a. hÄnggi, Der Kirchenhistoriker Natalis Alexander (1639–1724) (Fribourg 1955). j. m. gres-gayer, Théologie et pouvoir en Sorbonne (Paris 1991). d. a. mortier, Histoire des Maîtres Généraux de l'Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs, 8 v. (Paris 1903–20). j. quÉtif and j. Êchard, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorm (Paris 1719–23) 2.2:810–813.
[j. a. doshner/
j. m. gres-gayer]