ALEXANDER OF HALES (Alexander Halensis)—a philosopher and theologian, called doctor irrefragibilis, b. around 1180 in Hales (probably the present-day Halesowen in the country of Shropshire, England), d. August 21, 1245 in Paris, one of the creators of the scholastic method.
Alexander came from a wealthy peasant family and studied in Paris. In Paris he became a lecturer of fine arts sometime before 1210, and after 1215 he became a lecturer in theology. He was the regent master continuously for 20 years in both departments. In 1231 he defended the university’s interests before the Roman Curia, helping to put a positive end to a strike of students and professors in Paris. In 1235, King Henry III of England named him as one of three delegates to restore friendly relations with France. In 1236 he entered the Franciscan order and became the first Franciscan to direct a university chair. He took part in the Council of Lyons and died after his return.
Alexander of Hales’ works were printed in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, scholars made detailed studied to determine the authenticity of some of these works, especially a Summa theologica that was also called Summa Halensis or Halesiana. Studies over many years have should that the Summa de virtutibus and the Commentarius super Apocalipsim are inauthentic, while the Expositio quatuor magistrorum super Regulam and a major portion of the Summa theologicaare authentic. They established that Alexander of Hales personally edited only the second book of the Summa theologica, and in the first and third book he used the help of his collaborators, especially John of La Rochelle; the fourth book is a compilation and was written after the death of Alexander, but not later than 1257. William of Meliton (not of Milton) was the chief editor of the fourth book. The first three books were published between 1924 and 1948 under the title Alexandri de Hales Summa theologica (4 volumes).
Studies led to the sensational discovery of authentic notes (reportationes) made during Alexander of Hale’s lectures and disputes by listeners. These notes are in two works. One was written in 1223–1227 as an explanation of the four books of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, and in its form it is somewhere between a scriptural gloss and a classical commentary. It was published in 1951–1957 under the title Magistri Alexandri de Hales Glossa in Quatuor Libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi (4 vol.). The second word is Quaestiones disputatae. The questions are divided into three groups: those from before Alexander’s entry into religious life, questions following his entry, and so-called new questions. Among 120 variants in the first group, 68 questions of discussion have been identified, and they were published in 1960 under the title of Magistri Alexandri de Hales Quaestiones disputatae antequam esset frater (3 vol.). The Franciscan College of St. Bonaventure in Quaracchi near Florence published the works of Alexander. Scholars are still working on the other manuscripts.
PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT. Alexander of Hales looks to neo-Platonism in the content of his philosophy, and to Aristotelianism in its form. He treated philosophical problems together with theological problems.
Alexander of Hales thought we can properly think about God only on the basis of revelation. It is of God’s essence not only that he is the supreme incomposite being (Aristotle), but primarily that he is the highest personal good. As such he is most perfectly imparted to other beings (ubi est summum bonum, ibi est summa diffusio), because the good by its nature is apt to be imparted (bonum est diffusivum sui). The manner of this imparting depends on the capacity of the one to whom God imparts himself. Alexander made this metaphysical conception into a universal principle in his philosophy and theology. Already in the question of God’s existence, he adapted the argument of Anselm of Canterbury and stated that God is the highest good (a good greater than which one cannot conceive). Our knowledge of God is innate, at least in a habitual sense, but our active knowledge of God occurs by reasoning based on an inspection of creating things, and by an analysis of the first truths that are found in the mind. In earthly life a special “intellectual vision” is possible. This vision occurs by an immediate divine light that is imparted to the soul in proportion to the degree of its love. God’s essence cannot be known.
The omnipotent God called creatures into being out of nothing, each according to a separate model (idea, ratio). We cannot conceive of a created thing without the Creator, who is the form that forms it (forma formans). In his eternal and essential operation, God calls forth beings—some are called forth directly, others indirectly (Anselm). God preserves all beings in existence, sets them in order, and is present in them by his essence (essentialiter), by his power (potentialiter), and by his operation (praesentialiter). Created beings are also present in God. An important feature that sets created beings apart from God is that they are composed of matter and form (hylemorphism). All matter, whether corporeal or spiritual, possesses besides its specific form a form of light (one of the versions of the metaphysics of light). The principle in individuation in beings is matter and form. Being is the first object of knowledge. The universal properties of being are unity, truth, and good.
Man is the center of creation and is composed of soul and body. He is directed to God more than to his neighbour or himself. Man is rational and free. The human soul is an indestructible spiritual substance immediately created by God. It rules over the body and is found in its entirety in every part of the body. The soul is an image of the Holy Trinity, for in itself it joins into a unity of essence three powers; it enters into an immediate bond with God by way of intellect; its connect with the body is indirect. In his anthropology, Alexander of Hales connected the Augustinian with the Aristotelian conception. He thought of the soul and its union with the body in terms of the principle of hylemorphism: just as the body has its senses, so the human spirit has its senses (sensus spirituales), and the function of the spiritual senses is chiefly religious. Following Augustine, he recognized three powers in the soul: ratio, intellectus, and intelligentia, and these had as their respective objects the corporeal world, the world of spirits (God, ideas), and the first principles. Following Aristotle, he distinguished between the vegetative soul, the sensory soul, and the intellect soul, and also between the agent intellect and the possible intellect. The key to the metaphysical ontology of the person was for Alexander the distinction of being into esse naturale, rationale, and morale. This division corresponded to the Platonic division of the sciences. Esse naturale means nature as the subject in composition. Esse rationale includes the concepts of essence and hypostasis: if an essence is determined by accidents (res naturae), it constitutes an individual hypostasis. Esse morale refers to the person, who is a hypostasis set apart by the attribute of dignity (proprietas dignitatis). The formal constitutive element of the person is that the person cannot be imparted to another, namely, that the person is not dependent upon another being. The definition of the person formulated by Alexander bears the name magistralis. Alexander’s intention was to provide a definition that in its scope would refer equally to men and to God; he used this definition especially in his theology of the Trinity and his Christology.
THEOLOGICAL THOUGHT. Alexander started from an Augustinianism that was joined with eastern patristics and early scholasticism, especially that of the twelfth century. The connection of these sources was somewhat original, for in Alexander’s thought it lead to an anthopological approach in theology. This approach emphasizes the things that can show man as “more glorious”. In this tendency, the aspect of the history of salvation sometimes came into collision with the metaphysical aspect. For one thing, in Alexander’s arguments the starting point is often internal human experience. The testimony of Sacred Scripture and comparison with the experiences of other believers serves as the criterion for the correctness of this experience. The theological conception of God corresponds strictly to the philosophical conception. The Highest Love is conceived as a synonym for the Highest Good: in God it is the principle of internal diffusion (the Holy Trinity), and external diffusion (creation, redemption, salvation).
Alexander began his doctrine on the Holy Trinity with the creative activity in which love is the single reason for the fecundity of the person. God as love (the Father) needs a beloved (the Son), and for perfect reciprocity he needs a fellow beloved (the Holy Spirit). Alexander differed from Richard of St. Victor and defined processions in God on the basis of a thesis of Aristotle: the subject acts according to the mode of its nature or will. God is the highest power who imparts himself according to the mode of an intellectual nature—knowledge (birth), and according to the mode of will understood as a desire for personal friendship whereby those who love are united (spiration). This act of the will is the principle (principium) in the Father, a motion (motus) in the Son, and a terminal point (terminus) in the Holy Spirit.
The act of creation was based on God’s essence, according to the exemplar of the idea that united the plurality of “eternal reasons”, i.e., according to the Son as the perfect image of the Father. Alexander describes the attributes of created beings according to Augustinian conceptual groups (ternaries). The image of God in beings (imago creationis) is more explicit when their nature is marked by greater simplicity. The fullest harmony of the universe (universum) occurred with the incarnation of the Son of God, who reunited all things in himself and became their term. In view of man’s good, God would have willed the Incarnation, even if salvation had not been necessary (Duns Scotus held this thesis). On account of original sin, man’s internal equilibrium was upset, and this hurt the intellect more than the will. The highest and original moral norm is “synderesis”—the innate ability to make a correct judgment (iudicatorium). Synderesis is directed exclusively toward the good and against evil. It awakens the reproaches of conscience and as such never completely disappears. The principle of man’s guilt or merit is his ability to make a free choice (liberum arbitrium), and in this ability the will is the determining factor. Alexander of Hales emphasized the normative value of conscience and the need to respect the conscience in others, and he began a discussion among theologians concerning whether man is obligated by an erroneous conscience. He also introduced in theology a prototype of a treatise on law: according to him, the eternal, natural, Mosaic, and evangelical law express different internal and external modes whereby man is directed to God. The innate natural law is a reflection of the eternal law in man’s rational nature. It is the norm for the reason (by the mediation of conscience), and for the will (by the mediation of synderesis). It is inviolable in its essence, but not with respect to its effects.
Alexander held the original view that man recieved the first three commandments of the decalogue, and the fourth commandment in a general form, when he was created. God could dispense man from the commandments of the second tablet (Thomas Aquinas held the opposite view). The law of Moses and the law of the Gospel, despite their many differences, are united in God’s salvific will. In the world, the good prevailed over evil at the moment of the incartion. With regard to human nature, redemption was necessary in order to renew the image of God (imago recreationis).
Redemption began with the incarnation, which was the indirect cause of redemption. The Son of God took visible, corporeal substance from the Virgin Mary, and invisible power (ratio seminalis) from the Holy Spirit and under the immediate action of the Holy Spirit, and the result was the hypostatic union. […]. When he spoke of the nature of redemption, Alexander of Hales referred to Anselm’s conception. Christ as redeemer not only liberated us from Satan’s slavery, but as mediator he satisfied God on our behelf, chiefly by his sufferings and death on a cross which he took upon himself out of love. Redemption could have happened in a different way, but this way was the most fitting. This satisfaction is universal, but it does not have effects by necessity. Christ’s incarnation, sufferings, and resurrection prepared human nature to receive ever increasing grace. Christ’s sufferings are a cause, and his resurrection is a cause and sign of our justification.
DOCTRINAL SIGNIFICANCE. With the discovery of Glossa and Quaestiones disputatae, Alexander of Hales received his rightful place in the scholastic doctrinal genealogy. He comes immediately after William of Auxerre, and before the first Dominican masters and Phillip the Chancellor. The conviction accepted by the mid-nineteenth century, that Alexander of Hales was the chief initiator of the golden age of scholasticism, was confirmed. He was the first master to officially introduce the Sentences of Peter Lombard into the university as a text that served as the basis of lectures. He was the first to give the disputed question (quaestio disputata) the form of a treatise. He was daring in adopting P. Abelard’s dialectic, and thereby he gained the name of founder of the scholastic method beside Abelard. Alexander drew upon the conceptions of Aristotle to an unprecedented degree, doing so at first in opposition to the ecclesiastical bans of 1210 and 1215, which were lifted only in 1231. Although this has not been the opinion until recently, Alexander had access to Aristotle’s complete doctrine, in part in the Arab and Jewish version. While he did not arrive at an organic synthesis of the conceptions of Aristotelianism with Christian thought, he paved the way for such a synthesis. He introduced new problems and new approaches to problems in theology. He was the first to attempt to unify the traditions of the eastern and western Fathers, and to unify Augustinianism with the thought of Anselm and the Victorian School. He began the custom of writing theological summas as the fruit of the life’s work of the theologian. He was already called a great doctor by his contemporaries and was the founder of the Franciscan school that was further developed by Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas also refer to Alexander of Hale’s teaching and continue it in many points. His doctrine was officially recognized by the Church in a bull by Pope Alexander IV in 1255 called De fontibus paradisi. Under the influence of this bull, which recommended Alexander’s Summa as a textbook for the study of theology (for one reason, in view of the strength of its arguments), posterity gave him the title of unbreakable doctor.
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Józef Wawro, Jan Warminski