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Alexander of Hales: Wikis


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Alexander Hales (also Halensis, Alensis, Halesius, Alesius; called Doctor Irrefragabilis and Theologorum Monarcha) was a scholastic theologian. He was born at Hales, Gloucestershire, England ca. 1183, and died in Paris on August 21, 1245. He was educated in the monastery at Hales, studied and lectured at Paris, and by 1210 was a master of the sacred page in the faculty of theology. He entered the Franciscan order sometime around 1236 thus creating the first formal connection between the Order and the University of Paris.


His work


A medieval scholastic

While it is common for scholars to state that Alexander was the first to write a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, it is not quite accurate. There were a number of "commentaries" on the Sentences, but Alexander appears to have been the first magisterial commentary. In doing so, he elevated Lombard's work from a major theological resource to an authoritative text from which masters could teach. The commentary (or more correctly titled a Gloss) survived in student reports from Alexander's teaching in the classroom and so it provides a major insight into the way theologians taught their discipline in the 1220s.

For his contemporaries, however, Alexander's fame was his inexhaustible interest in disputation. His disputations prior to his becoming a Franciscan cover over 1,600 pages in their modern edition. His disputed questions after 1236 remain unpublished. Alexander was also one of the first scholastics to participate in the Quodlibetal, a university event in which a master had to respond to any question posed by any student or master over a period of three days. Alexander's Quodlibet also remains unedited. It is because of this questioning that he became known as the 'Doctor irrefragabilis'.


When he became a Franciscan and thus created a formal Franciscan school of theology at Paris, it was soon clear that his students lacked some of the basic tools for the discipline. Alexander responded by beginning a Summa theologiae that is now known as the Summa fratris Alexandri. Alexander drew mainly from his own disputations, but also selected ideas, arguments and sources from his contemporaries. It treats in its first part the doctrines of God and his attributes; in its second, those of creation and sin; in its third, those of redemption and atonement; and, in its fourth and last, those of the sacraments. This massive text (Roger Bacon sarcastically referred to it weighing as much as a horse!) was unfinished at his death and his students, William of Middleton and John of Rupella, were charged with its completion. It was certainly read by the Franciscans at Paris, including Bonaventure. Bonaventure once referred to Alexander as "our father and master" (noster pater et magister), but it is unlikely that the Seraphic Doctor ever studied under Alexander.

Alexander was an innovative theologian. He was part of the generation that first grappled with the writings of Aristotle. While there was a ban on using Aristotle's works as teaching texts, theologians like Alexander continued to exploit his ideas in their theology. Two other uncommon sources were promoted by Alexander: Anselm of Canterbury, whose writings had been ignored for almost a century gained an important advocate in Alexander and he used Anselm's works extensively in his teaching on Christology and soteriology; and, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, whom Alexander used in his examination of the theology of Orders and ecclesiastical structures.

His doctrines

Among the doctrines which were specially developed and, so to speak, fixed by Alexander of Hales, are those of the thesaurus supererogationis perfectorum, and of the character indelibilis of baptism, confirmation, and ordination. That doctrine had been written about much earlier by Augustine of Hippo and was eventually defined a dogma by the Council of Trent. He also posed an important question about the cause of the Incarnation: would Christ have been incarnated if humanity had never sinned? The question eventually became the focal point for a philosophical issue (the theory of possible worlds) and a theological topic (the distinction between God's absolute power (potentia absoluta) and His ordained power (potentia ordinata).

John Gerson tells us “The doctrine of Alexander is of a wealth surpassing all expression. It is said that someone asked St. Thomas what was the best manner of studying theology; he replied that it was by attaching oneself to a Master. And to which Doctor? he was asked again. To Alexander of Hales, the Angelic Doctor replied."[1]

Compare Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, founded in 1245/6.


  1. ^ Gerson, Opera omnia. Epistola Lugdunum missa cuidam fratri Minori, vol. 1, p. 554.

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