Alger of Liège (Alger of Cluny, Algerus Magister)
ALGER OF LIÈGE (ALGER OF CLUNY, ALGERUS MAGISTER)
Theologian, whose writings influenced the development of Canon Law; b. Liège, Belgium, in the mid–11th century; d. Cluny, France, about 1131 or 1132. According to his biographer, Nicholas of Liège, Alger received his education in his native city and was first appointed deacon and teacher at St. Bartholomew's, Liège. About 1101 he was transferred to St. Lambert's Cathedral, became a canon, and served as secretary to Bishop Otbert (1092–1117) and his successor, Frederick (1119–21). After Frederick's death on May 27, 1121, Alger entered Cluny and, though already advanced in years, was ordained.
Writings. Presumably while he was at St. Lambert's (1101–21), Alger wrote the Tractate Concerning the Legal Rights of the Cathedral. Before 1094 he had written a more important work, On Mercy and Justice (Liber de misericordia et justitia ), in which he criticized certain sacramental doctrines of St. peter damian (d. 1072) as too lax, and advocated a more thorough study of St. Augustine's sacramental teaching. Some 124 quotations from the works of St. Augustine serve to underline his own effort in this regard.
In later life, Alger wrote On The Sacraments of the Lord's Body and Blood (De Sacramentis corporis et sanguinis dominici ), generally dated 1110 to 1121. Much of its source material is derived from Ivo's Decretum. In addition to these works, his short treatise, On Free Will (Libellus de libero arbitrio ), of unknown date, and a number of Alger's letters are still extant. But it is more than doubtful that the little tract On the Sacrifice of the Mass, attributed to him, and the so–called Sentences of Master A., also often assigned to him, are actually his works.
Although Alger's work on the Eucharist was considered by peter the venerable to be far superior to the writings of lanfranc (d. 1089) and guitmand of aversa (d. 1095) on the same subject, its influence on later authors was not strong. His work On Mercy and Justice, however, lived on through Gratian's Decretum (see gratian, decretum of). It has been estimated that Gratian borrowed about 100 texts from it. More important, the Dicta Gratiani contain numerous explanations often copied verbatim from Alger. When Peter Lombard used Gratian's Decretum in the compilation of his Sentences, Alger's influence on theology was further intensified.
Doctrinal Teachings. In his search for a solution to the doctrinal problems conjured up by the contradictory claims of the gregorian reform, Alger points to the "invocation of the divine name" in Baptism as a constructive sacramental principle. Accordingly, he formulates the general rule: "All sacraments, no matter who administers them in the name of the Trinity, are in themselves true and holy" (De Sacramentis 2.10). He considers it "a crime to believe that the invocation of the divine name in His sacraments may be frustrated" (De Sacramentis 3.2). If administered by heretics, sacraments are valid but without divine grace. An exception to this rule is Baptism administered even by a pagan in case of necessity, for "necessity knows no law" (De Misericordia 1.55). In Alger's time the word "sacrament" was neither clearly defined nor restricted to only seven liturgical rites; it must also be noted that in formulating his rule Alger had Baptism, Holy Orders, and the celebration of the Mass in mind.
Alger heavily underlines the importance of faith and intention. By faith, he holds, all sacraments of the Church are brought to completion. The perfection and sum total of the Christian faith are found in the use of the Trinitarian name. Although Alger insists that God examines our intention and faith rather than our external actions, he stresses that to be valid the liturgical rite of the Church must be observed. Any ritual changes made outside the Church must be rejected as heretical. However, regional differences in the liturgical customs of the Church do not affect sacramental validity, for the unifying element is the unity of faith and changes should be judged according to the intention of those responsible for them. Similar clarifications account for an unusual amount of casuistry in Alger's work on the Eucharist. Unfortunately Hugh of Saint–Victor, Gratian, and Peter Lombard did not make
use of this work, but a number of manuscripts still extant in the libraries of Europe attest to its widespread popularity in the 12th century. The Sentences of Master A., which provided source material for the compilation of Gratian's Decretum, dates back to the School of anselm of laon rather than to Alger of Liège.
Bibliography: Alger's works are collected in Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 V., indexes 4 v. (Paris 1878–90) 180:739–972. His letters are collected in p. jaffÉ, Bibliotheca rerum germanicarum, 6 v. (Berlin 1864–73) 5:262–267, 373–379. The Eulogy by Nicholas of Liège is found in Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 V., indexes 4 v. (Paris 1878–90) 180:737–738. g. le bras, "Le liber de misericordia et justitia d'Alger de Liège," Nouvelle revue historique de droit français et étranger, 45 (1921) 80–118. "Alger de Liège et Gratien," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 20 (1931) 5–26. s. kuttner, "Zur Frage der theologischen Vorlagen Gratians," Zeitschrift der Savigny–Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung, 23 (1934) 243–268. l. brigue, Alger de Liège (Paris 1936). n. m. haring, "The Sententiae Magistri A. and the School of Laon," Mediaeval Studies, 17 (1955) 1–45; "A Study in the Sacramentology of Alger of Liège," Mediaeval Studies 20 (1958) 41–78.
[n. m. haring]