ALAIN DE LILLE (Alanus ab Insulis)—one of the most important philosophers and theologians of the twelfth century, a humanist and poet called doctor universalis, b. around 1128 in Lille, d. 1203 in the Citeaux Abbey in the Côte d’Or.
He lectured in Paris and Montpellier in the second half of the twelfth century and became an authority in theology. He entered the Cistercian cloister in Citeaux and remained there until his death.
The first group of his writings is an attempt to defend the doctrinal unity of the Christian world against the growing threat from sects and heresies (the Waldenses and Albigensians), and from other religions (Islam and Judaism). His treatise De fide catholica contra haereticos sui temporis anticipated the philosophical summas of the thirteenth century. In the treatise, Alain de Lille proved the chief philosophical truths that lay at the foundations of the Christian faith, and also put theological methods in order.
Alain de Lille presented a unique attempt to rationalize theology by formalizing it after the model of the mathematical and deductive science in the works: Regulae de sacra theologia seu Maximae theologicae, and Ars catholicae fidei (historians have ascribed the second word to Nicholas of Amiens). Under the influence of the remarks of Boethius in De hebdomadibus and his aphoristic form in Liber de causis, Alain de Lille presented a deductive plan for theological knowledge that began from axioms or maxims that he regarded as immediately evident. The first theses were taken from Plotinus’ theology of unity: God as the pure and absolute Unity (Monad) and the ascending hierarchy of beings, where the unity of each thing in the plurality of beings comes from the unity of the Monad (God), because only God exists, as God is perfectly simple and unchanging. Alain de Lille used a similar principle to deduce the dogma of the Holy Trinity, using a thesis from the Books of the 24 Philosophers: “Monas gignit Monadem et in se suum reflectit ardorem” (The Monad bears the Monad and in himself reflects his heart) (Maximae theologicae, 3). Alain de Lille borrowed from this same book a geometrical definition of God which would be very successful, especially in the modern epoch (Pascal, Kepler, Voltaire): “God is the intellectually knowable sphere whose center is found everywhere and whose periphery is found nowhere” (ibid, 7). The Ars catholicae fidei was constructed after the model of Euclid’s Elements, and is based on definitions that establish the meanings of terms (such as: cause, substance, matter, form, etc.), postulates and axioms. The “art” of the Catholic faith constructed in this way, i.e., a method for the rational justification of the Christian faith, expressed a profound confidence in the reason and was intended as a tool to convince the opponents of the faith. This is evidence of what could be accomplished with the help of philosophy when it was in the service of theology before the “libri naturales” of Aristotle appeared in Europe.
The second group of Alain de Lille’s writings consists in two works that brought their author particular acclaim in the Middle Ages: his Anticlaudianus and De planctu naturae. The Anticlaudianus is a polemic with a poem of Claudianus. The second, written in Latin prosimetrun imitated Boethius’ Consolation. These works presented nature allegorically, providing a Christian interpretation of nature in keeping with the spirit of the school of Chartres. Nature, although it was created by God, is the autonomous cause of the beings that flow out of it. Nature is the principle of their order and beauty. Nature performs the function of the Platonic Demiurge: it creates its works by its own power, but in accordance with the ideas, which are from God. Man as the summit of nature needs the perfections of all the sciences and virtues that support nature in the formation of nature’s most sublime work. The subordination of nature to God its creator entails the subordination of the sciences concerning nature to the science concerning God (theology).
In Alain de Lille’s writings all the major tendencies of the twelfth century are present: the Christian rationalism of Bernard of Tours, the methodological procedures of Theodoric of Chartres, and John of Salisbury’s arguments for the immateriality and immortality of the soul.
Alain de Lille’s works have been published in the following editions: PL 210, 111-684; De virtutibus et vitiis (ed. O. Lottin, MS 12 (1950), 20–56); Quoniam homines (ed. P. Glorieux, AHDLMA 28 (1953), 113–364); Anticlaudianus (ed. R. Bossuat, P 1955); De virtutibus det de vitiis et de donis Spiritus sancti (ed. O. Lottin, in: Pyschologie et Morale, Ge 1960, VI 45–90); Textes inédits (ed. M. T. d’Alverny, P 1965).
M. Baumgartner, Die Philosophie des Alain de Insulis im Zusammenhang mit den Aunschauungen des 12. Jahrhunderts dargestellet, “Beiträge” 2, 4, Mr 1896; M. Grabmann, SM II 252–276; G. R. de Lage, Alain de Lille poéte du XIIe siècle, P 1952; P. Glorieux,