ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

248. His Place in Scholasticism. -- The Summa contains a theological as well as a philosophical system. The same is true of all similar Summae of the thirteenth century. The development of scholastic theology owes to Alexander the perfecting of a teaching method (249), the application of dialectic to dogma (181), the raising of new questions, but not any new or final solutions of those questions or others. Even in his own order, his theology was supplanted by the theology of St. Bonaventure and, later on, by that of Duns Scotus.{1} Alexander follows the divisions of the Lombard's Sentences, his own general plan of treatment was adopted by most of the Summae of the thirteenth century.{2}

It is in this theological setting we must search for the philosophy of Alexander. He was the first to make use of practically all Aristotle's works: just then, about 1231, their great worth was beginning to be appreciated. It was the Arabian commentaries, especially Avicenna's, that Alexander studied. His philosophy is in substance peripatetic; but it lacks the rigorous consistency and unity of the great, masterly syntheses that followed it. He takes his opinions and arguments from conflicting authorities: notably, he adopts from the earlier scholasticism many theories that are really irreconcilable with the peripatetic elements of his teaching. Often too, he lacks conviction, giving in a mixed and tedious fashion the various solutions that might be offered to the questions proposed, without himself espousing any of them.

St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure pay high tributes to the genius of Alexander. Even Bacon, who is so fond of maligning, has a good word to say of him, for he joins the name of Alexander with that of Albert the Great, calling them duo moderni gloriosi.{3} The real value of Alexander's contribution to scholastic philosophy and theology has been long unduly underrated, for the simple reason that it was eclipsed by the brighter galaxy of writers who immediately succeeded him.{4}

{1} "Exemplar apud fratres putrescit et jacet intactum" (ibid., p. 326).

{2} His Summa was divided into four parts, the first treating of God, the second of creatures, the third of Christ, the fourth of the sacraments and last things.

{3} Communia Naturalium, Liber i., c. 3, quoted by CHARLES, R. Bacon, p. 375. Cf. FELDER, op. cit., p. 287.

{4} The charge of plagiarizing from Alexander, preferred against St. Thomas, is without foundation (VACANT, Dict. Théol. Cath., 1900, s.v. Alexandre).

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