Isaac of Stella

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Cistercian abbot, philosopher, theologian; b. England c. 1100; d. Étoile (Stella), near Chauvigny c. 1169. Isaac provides many details of his life in his works [Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 217 v. (Paris 187890) 194:16891893]. It is likely he began his ecclesiastical career in the curia of Theobald of Canterbury, and he probably studied theology at Paris (cf. Sermon 48; 1853D). A love of solitude (Sermon 14; 1737B) drew him to Cîteaux, where he may have been received in 1145. Isaac was probably already a priest, for in 1147 he was chosen abbot of Stella, an abbey that had joined the Cistercian reform, under Pontigny, only two years before. Many of Isaac's sermons or conferences as abbot contain references to a sojourn on a solitary island, Ré, about two miles from La Rochelle, where he had led a group of hardy monks to establish a new foundation. The most striking of his sermons is a series given at Ré during the week of Sexagesima. In them Isaac sought to provide better spiritual food for Lent by setting before his monks a course of theology comparable to the Proslogion of St. Anselm of Canterbury and deeply influenced by St. Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. For Isaac, monastic life was based on the Incarnation, the kenosis, the Mystical Body, Divine Sonshipthemes to which he constantly returns.

In 1162 Isaac wrote his epistle on the soul at the request of alcher of clairvaux (Patrologia Latina, 194:187590). This work was indirectly influential through its use in the famous De spiritu et anima (Patrologia Latina, 40:779832), once attributed to Augustine but now considered, without great reason, as the work of Alcher. The epistle follows the Cisterican tradition, wherein a writer usually accompanied his spiritual works with a tract on man or the soul to provide the psychological basis for his mysticism. Isaac situates the soul midway between God and corporeal things in the hierarchy of being. He treats of the simplicity of the soul and the relation of the soul to its powers; enumerates the five cognitive powers as sense, imagination, reason, intellect, and intelligence; and explains their use as steps to wisdom (Patrologia Latina, 194: 1880B; cf. Sermon 4, 1702A). He also considers the union of soul and body, and says it takes place in the imagination, the phantasticum animae (Patrologia Latina, 194: 1881C) (see soul, human).

Isaac may also have written commentaries on Ruth and on the Canticle of Canticles, but the only other published work is the De officio missae, written about 1167 [Patrologia Latina, 194:188993; Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 4 (1932) 13537].

Bibliography: f. p. bliemetzrieder, "Isaak von Stella. I: Beiträge zur Lebensbeschreibung," Jahrbuch für Philosophie und spekulative Theologie 18 (1904) 134, and "Isaac de Stella: Sa spéculation théologique," Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 4 (1932) 134159. l. bouyer, The Cistercian Heritage, tr. e. a. livingstone (Westminster, Md. 1958). g. b. burch, Early Medieval Philosophy (New York 1951). b. mcginn, Golden Chain: A Study in the Theological Anthropology of Isaac of Stella (Washington, D.C. 1972).

[i. c. brady]