Alain de Lille (älăN' də lēl) , (Also called Alain of Lille, Lanus ab insulis, or De Insulis, Alain von Ryssel, Alanus de lnsulis) (c. 1128 – c.1202) was a French scholastic philosopher, theologian, and poet, a Cistercian, honored by his contemporaries as the Universal Doctor because of the vastness of his knowledge. He was born in Lille, France, and taught at Paris and Montpellier before retiring to Cîteaux. Two long poems, De Planctu Naturae, an ingenious satire on the vices of humanity, and Anticlaudianus, a didactic poem giving rational support to the tenets of Christian faith, assured him a place of distinction in the Latin literature of the Middle Ages.
As a theologian Alain de Lille shared in the reaction against scholastic philosophy which took place during the second half of the twelfth century. His philosophy was characterized by rationalism tinged with mysticism, similar to that found in the writings of John Scotus Erigena. Alain declared that reason guided by prudence can, unaided, discover most of the truths of the physical order; but for the apprehension of religious truths and knowledge of God, the intellect must trust to faith. His greatest work Ars Fidei Catholicæ, a refutation, on rational grounds, of the errors of Mohammedans, Jews, and heretics claimed that theology itself could be demonstrated by reason. His philosophy was an eclectic synthesis of elements drawn from Neo-Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Pythagoreanism.
Alain de Lille (Alanus ab Insulis) was born, probably in Lille, some years before 1128. Little is known of his life. He seems to have taught in the schools of Paris, and he attended the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179. Afterwards he lived at Montpellier (he is sometimes called Alanus de Montepessulano), lived for a time outside the walls of a cloister, and finally entered to the Cistercian Monastery of Citeaux, where he died in 1202.
During his lifetime Alain was a celebrated teacher and scholar, with such a broad range of knowledge that he came to be called Doctor Universalis (Abelard was known as Peripateticus Palatinus, Bonaventure as Doctor Seraphicus, Thomas Aquinas as Doctor Angelicus and Doctor Communis). A legend relates that a scholar, cornered in a dialectical contest, once cried out that his opponent was "either Alain or the devil." As a writer, Alain combined poetic imaginativeness and dialectical precision. He modeled his style on that of Martianus Capella; in his later works, the influence of Boethius was evident.
The only collection of Alain's works is Migne’s somewhat uncritical edition, P. L., CCX. His two poems are published by Wright in "Satirical Poets of the Twelfth Century," II (Rerum Britannicarum Scriptores). Several of Alain's treatises are still unpublished, for instance, De Virtutibus et Vitiis (Codex, Paris, Bibl. Nat., n. 3238).
Among his very numerous works, two poems earned Alain a place of distinction in the Latin literature of the Middle Ages; one of these, De Planctu Naturae, is an ingenious satire on the vices of humanity. He created the allegory of grammatical "conjugation" which was to have its successors throughout the Middle Ages.
The Anticlaudianus, a didactic poem on morals written as an allegory, recalls the pamphlet of Claudian against Rufinus; it is skillfully versified and written in relatively pure Latin.
As a theologian Alain de Lille shared in the mystic reaction against scholastic philosophy which took place during the second half of the twelfth century. His mysticism, however, was far from being as extreme as that of the Victorines, a group of philosophers and mystics founded by Hugh of Saint Victor at the Augustinian abbey of Saint Victor, in Paris, who were known for their complete rejection of scholasticism.
Alain's principal work is Ars Fidei Catholicæ, dedicated to Clement III, was composed for the purpose of refuting, on rational grounds, the errors of Mohammedans, Jews, and heretics. "Tractatus Contra Hæreticos" and Theologicæ Regulæ were written for the same purpose.
In Anticlaudianus (tr. 1935), Alain declared that reason guided by prudence can, unaided, discover most of the truths of the physical order; but for the apprehension of religious truths and knowledge of God, the intellect must trust to faith. He elaborated on this doctrine in his treatise, Ars Fidei Catholicæ or Ars catholicae fidei, by saying that theology itself may be demonstrated by reason. Alain even ventured an immediate application of this principle—an attempt to use geometry to prove the dogmas defined in the Apostolic Creed. This bold attempt was entirely factitious and verbal, and only his employment of various terms not generally used in a theological context, such as “axiom,” “theorem,” and “corollary,” gave his treatise an appearance of originality.
Alain's theology was characterized by rationalism tinged with mysticism, similar to that found in the writings of John Scotus Erigena, and afterward in the works of Raymond Lully. He endeavored to prove that all religious truths, even mysteries of faith, arise from principles that are self-evident to the human reason unaided by revelation. His philosophy was an eclectic synthesis of elements drawn from Neo-Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Pythagoreanism. Alain esteemed Plato as the original philosopher, and regarded Aristotle merely as a subtle logician. His knowledge of Plato came from the works of Martianus Capella Apuleius, Boethius, and the members of the school of Chartres. His only direct exposure to the Dialogues was limited to Chalcidius's rendering of a fragment of the Timæus. He was acquainted with some of Aristotle's logical writings and with the commentaries of Boethius and Porphyry. His Pythagoreanism drew from the so-called Hermetical writers, Asclepius and Mercurius. His mysticism, which was more evident in his style of writing than in the content of his prose, was influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius and John Scotus Erigena.
Alain fused all of these elements into one system without a clear common basis or principle to tie them together. At different times, he divided the soul into two faculties (ratio, sensualitas) , three faculties (sapientia, voluntas, voluptas), and five faculties (sensus, imaginatio, ratio, intellectus, intelligentia). He taught that the body is matter and the soul is spirit, and that they are bound together by a physical spirit (spiritus physicus). His cosmology posited that God first created "Nature" to act as His intermediary (Dei auctoris vicaria) in the creation and organization of matter into the actual, visible universe.
Alain, the theologian admired for his great learning and known as `Doctor Universalis' of his day, the 'Alain who was very sage,' and the 'Doctor SS. Theologiae Famosus,' is known to modern scholars chiefly because of two lines in a poem by Chaucer (1343 – 1400) Parlement of Foules. which were taken from Alain’s De Planctu Naturae. He also influenced Roman de la Rose, by the French author Jean de Meun (or Jean de Meung, (c. 1250-c. 1305). Langlois states that more than five thousand verses of the Roman de la Rose are translated, imitated, or inspired by the De Planctu Natura. Alain de Lille is also among the medieval writers who influenced Dante.
Alain de Lille has often been confounded with other persons named Alain, in particular with Alain, archbishop of Auxerre; Alan, abbot of Tewkesbury; and Alain de Podio. Certain facts of their lives have been attributed erroneously to him, as well as some of their works; the Life of St Bernard should be ascribed to Alain of Auxerre; and the Commentary upon Merlin to Alan of Tewkesbury. Alan of Lille was not the author of a Memoriale rerum difficilium, published under his name, nor of Moralium dogma philosophorum, nor of the satirical Apocalypse of Golias once attributed to him; and it is exceedingly doubtful whether he really authored Dicta Alani de lapide philosophico. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that Alain de Lille was the author of the Ars catholicae fidei and the treatise Contra haereticos.
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