Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

(Also called ALAIN OF LILLE, ALANUS AB INSULIS, or DE INSULIS, ALAIN VON RYSSEL etc.).

Monk, poet, preacher, theologian, and eclectic philosopher, b. probably at Lille, whence his name, about 1128; d. at Cîteaux, 1203. Alain, there is reason to believe, studied and taught for some time in Paris. In 1179 he took part in the Third Council of the Lateran. Later he entered the Monastery of Cîteaux, where he died in 1202 or 1203. Alain attained extraordinary celebrity in his day as a teacher and a learned man ; he was called Alain the Great, The Universal Doctor, etc. To this the legend alludes, according to which a scholar, discomfited in a dialectical contest, cried out that his opponent was "either Alain or the devil ". Alain's principal work is "Ars Fidei Catholicæ", dedicated to Clement III, and composed for the purpose of refuting, on rational grounds, the errors of Mohammedans, Jews, and heretics. With the same view he wrote "Tractatus Contra Hæreticos" and "Theologicæ Regulæ". He wrote two poems, "De Planctu Naturæ" and "Anticlaudianus". The only collection of Alain's works is Migne's somewhat uncritical edition, P.L., CCX. The two poems are published by Wright in "Satirical Poets of the Twelfth Century", II (Rerum Britannicarum Scriptores). There are several of Alain's treatises still unpublished for instance, "De Virtutibus et Vitiis" (Codex, Paris, Bibl. Nat., n. 3238). Alain's theology is characterized by that peculiar variety of rationalism tinged with mysticism which is found in the writings of John Scotus Erigena, and which afterwards reappeared in the works of Raymond Lully. The mysticism is, perhaps, more in the style than in the matter; the rationalism consists in the effort to prove that all religious truths, even the mysteries of faith, flow out of principles that are self-evident to the human reason unaided by revelation. His philosophy is a syncretism, or eclecticism, in which the principal elements are Platonism, Aristoteleanism, and Pythagoreanism. He esteemed Plato as the philosopher ; Aristotle he regarded merely as a subtle logician. His knowledge of Plato he derived from Martianus Capella Apuleius, Boethius, and the members of the school of Chartres ; his first-hand acquaintance with the "Dialogues" being 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. He derived his Pythagoreanism from the so-called Hermetical writers, Asclepius and Mercurius. Finally his mystic manner was influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius and John Scotus Erigena.

The effect of all these influences was an attempt on Alain's part to fuse into one system the various elements derived from different sources, without taking much pains to find a common basis or a principle of organic synthesis. Thus, in psychology he gives at different times three different divisions of the faculties of the soul : a twofold ( ratio, sensualitas ), a threefold ( sapientia, voluntas, voluptas ), and a fivefold ( sensus, imaginatio, ratio, intellectus, intelligentia ). The soul, he teaches, is spirit; the body, matter (in later Platonic sense); and the bond between them is a physical spirit ( spiritus physicus ). In cosmology he teaches that God first created "Nature", whose role it was to act as his intermediary ( Dei auctoris vicaria ) in the details of creating and organizing matter into the visible universe. At every step in this portion of his philosophy the influence of the neo-Pythagoreans appears. As a writer, Alain exhibited an unusual combination of poetic imaginativeness and dialectical precision. He modeled his style on that of Martianus Capella, though in his later years the influence of Boethius was, perhaps, predominant. He is to be enumerated among the medieval writers who influenced Dante.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 3:14-21
14 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19
1 Shout for joy, you upright; praise comes well from ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:49-53
49 'I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 23rd, 2014 Image

St. John of Capistrano
October 23: St. John was born at Capistrano, Italy in 1385, the son of a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter