ALCUIN (Alcuin, Alchoin, Albuin, Alcwin, Athwine)—a pedagogue and theologian, co-creator of the Carolingian renaissance, b. around 730, probably in Northumbria (County York), d. in 804 in Tours.
Alcuin had a thorough education in the cathedral school in York. He studied under Egbert and Bishop Aelbert who ordained him to the diaconate. In 767 he began to direct the York school and library and demonstrated great pedagogical and teaching ability. In 781, Charlemagne invited Alcuin to Aquisgranum (Aachen) and entrusted him with the reform of schooling in Gaul. Alcuin worked on this project almost to the end of his life. He began by introducing a new and more legible script called Carolingian miniscule (it replaced Merovingian cursive script). He also introduced a program of studies based on the seven liberal arts (artes liberales) and the study of Sacred Scripture for which he wrote textbooks. His work as a reformer was linked with his work as a teacher: in the years 781 to 795 he directed the palace school (schola palatina) where the members of the royal family and the royal court were educated. In 796 he directed the cathedral school of St. Martin in Tours where he established a scriptorium. By his efforts schools sprang up in Fulda, Ferrieres, and Fontelle. Alcuin was active in social life as an advisor to Charlemagne and in religious life. He took part in the theological disputes of the time and contributes, among other things, to showing errors associated with the dual nature of Christ in the views of Archbishop Elipandus of Toledo and Bishop Felix of Ungel (the 794 Synod in Frankfurt and the 799 Synod in Aix-Chapelle). They had stated that Christ was only the adopted son of God (a position called adoptionism). Alcuin’s work was continued by his students,. These included Elinhard who was the biographer of Charlemagne, the humanist Servatus Lugus, the logician Paschasius Rodbert, the theologian Gottschalk, and the most illustrious among them, the philosopher and theologian Rabanus Maurus.
Alcuin’s aim in his writing was more to present the existing heritage of Christian thought that to present his own views. A great part of his writings consist in compendiums of various domains of knowledge for didactic purposes. He wrote textbooks on the seven liberal arts (including De grammatica, De dialectica, De rhetorica, and De musica), a textbook on ethics—De virtutibus et vitiis, and commentaries on the Sacred Scripture (Quaestiunculae in Genesim, Commentaria in S. Johannis Evangelium, Compendium in Canticum Canticorum, Commentaria super Ecclesiastem) based on the writings of the Fathers of the Church (Augustine and St. Jerome). In order to propagate the Bible he began a new edition of the text on the basis of the Vulgate. He worked on his stylistic corrections and critical apparatus in Tours in the years 797 to 800, but never finished this work. The result of this work was that a one-volume bible was published in the scriptorium of Tours. The text that Alcuin developed was used in the Catholic Church until Vatican Council II.
Alcuin was the author of over a dozen treatises in philosophy and theology, including De fide sanctae et individuae Trinitatis based on St. Augustine’s writings, and the treatise De animae ratione ad Eulaliam Virginem which was also inspired by Augustine’s doctrine. He wrote dogmatic works—Adversus haeresim Felicis and Adversus Felicem contained polemics against adoptionism, a few hagiographies (De vita s. Martini, Vita s. Vedasi, Vita b. Richardi, Vita s. Willibardi), liturgical works (Liber Sacramentorum, De Psalmorum usu), and poetic works (Carmina). He left behind an extensive body of correspondence (around 400 letters), including letters to Charlemagne. His collected works were published in PL (100–101).
F. Gabrol, in: DIctionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, P 1907, I 1072–1092; U. Borkowska, F. Grygleiwcz, EK I 375–376; J. Strzelczyk, Iroszkoci w kulturze srediowieczne Europy [Iroszkoci (?) in the culture of mediaeval Europe], Wwa 1987, 242–277; E. Shipley Duckett, Carolingian Portraits […], Michigan 1969, 19882 (passim).
Anna Z. Zmorzanka