Alexander of Hales was a medieval theologian. Hales is in the West Midlands of England. The word hales means a nook or a remote valley. At the time of Alexander, the population of this sleepy little burg was less than five hundred people.
We’re not sure exactly when Alexander was born, but we settle on the date 1185. Very little else is known about his childhood. We assume that his family was wealthy because he was sent off to the University of Paris to study, and that was not something that everyone did. After his time at Paris, he held a number of church positions and titles, but largely he was a teacher at the University of Paris. He became a Franciscan monk in 1236, and he died in Paris in 1245.
Alexander was significant in bringing Aristotle into the discussion of theology. When we talk about this, we talk about all of the A’s that were involved, that is, the number of people whose name started with an A. There’s Aristotle. Then there’s Averroes, the Muslim scholar who translated Aristotle from Greek into Latin so the medievalists could read and study him. There’s Albertus Magnus, or Albert the Great, another great faculty member at the University of Paris. He was the teacher of Aquinas (Thomas Aquinas).
Another A was Alexander. He preceded Albertus Magnus. Alexander was the first to bring the theological lectures around to Aristotle, using his method and some of his terms as aids to teach theology. Alexander of Hales was the founder, or the father, of Scholasticism. He published his own Summa Theologica. We talk about Thomas Aquinas’s Summa, but Alexander had one too. His Summa was not finished at the time of his death, and many others added to it. In fact, about seventy years after he died, his book was still being added to. One person described Alexander’s Summa as being as heavy as a horse. It was a massive tome.
The other thing that makes Alexander interesting is that he participated in public university-wide debates. He participated in a famous one that spanned over three days. (We presume they would take breaks from time to time.) But this debate spanned three days, and anyone—students, faculty, citizens of Paris—could ask any question of the master, and the master would have to field it. Alexander of Hales withstood three long days of this debate. That’s how he earned the Latin title Doctor Irrefragibilis, which we translate as the “irrefutable teacher.” He was unable to be refuted during those three days of debates. He also earned the title Doctor Doctorum, which means the “teacher of teachers.”
Alexander of Hales, born in a small village in Midwestern England, made it all the way to the University of Paris as a medieval theologian.