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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

X. English Scholars of Paris and Franciscans of Oxford

§ 15. Alexander of Hales

Alexander of Hales, a native of Gloucestershire, studied in Paris at a time when the Physics and Metaphysics were not yet translated into Latin, and also later, when their study had been expressly prohibited (1215). This prohibition lasted until the dispersion of the university in 1229; and (although he may have been lecturer to the Franciscans at an earlier date) it was not until the return of the university in 1231 that he actually joined the order. As one of the leading teachers in Paris, he had a distinguished career. In his scholastic teaching he was an exponenet of realism. He was entrusted by Innocent IV with the duty of preparing a comprehensive Summa Theologiae and the ponderous work, which remained unfinished at his death in 1245, was completed by his pupils seven years later. In its general plan it follows the method of Peter Lombard, being one of the earliest comments on the Master of the Sentences. It was examined and approved by seventy divines, and the author became known as the Irrefragable Doctor; but a still greater Franciscan, Roger Bacon, who describes the vast work as tamquam pondus unius equi, declares that it was behind the times in matters of natural science, and was already being neglected, even by members of the author’s own order. The MS. of Alexander’s Exposition of the Apocalypse, in the Cambridge University Library, includes a portrait of the author, who is represented as reverently kneeling in the habit of a Franciscan Friar.

St. Francis himself regarded with suspicion the learning of his age. He preferred to have his followers poor in heart and understanding, as well as in their dress and their other belongings. Perfect poverty was, however, obviously incompatible with the purchase of books. A provincial minister of the order, who happended to possess books of considerable value, was not allowed to retain them. In the same spirit, on hearing that a great doctor in Paris had entered the order, St. Francis said to his followers: “I am afraid, my sons, that such doctors will be the destruction of my vineyard.” The preaching of the Franciscans among the common people owed its force less to their learning than to their practical experience. Their care for the sick, and even for the leper, gave a new impulse to medical and physical and experimental science; and they gradually devoted themselves to a more scientific study of theology. In their schools the student was expected to take notes and to reproduce them in the form of a lecture, and this practice, combined with the disputation between the teacher and the learner, brought into play readiness, memory and invention. Speculative theology was, in their hands, modified by the hard facts of practical life. Their sermons, however, not unfrequently appealed to the imagination and the feelings, and did not disdain either the sparkling anecdote or the pleasantly didactic allegory.

In September, 1224, two years before the death of the founder, a little band of nine Franciscans was ferried across the Channel by the monks of Fecamp and found a welcome at the priory of Canterbury. Some of them pressed forward to London, where they were received by the Dominicans, while two of them went on to Oxford. The Dominicans had already settled there in 1221, when the church of St. Edward had been assigned them in the Jewry, in the very heart of the town, and a school of theology had been opened under Robert Bacon. For about a week the two Franciscans “ate in the refectory and slept in the dormitory” of the Dominicans; then they hired a house near St. Ebbe’s in the south-west quarter, whence they soon moved to a marshy plot of ground outside the walls. part of that plot was known as Paradise. In 1245 they were followed by the Dominicans, who left the centre of the town for a suburban spot whose memory is now preserved in the name of Black Friars Road. In olden days, the Trill mill stream flowed past the Grey Friars mill and beneath the “Preachers’ Bridge,” until it reached the two mills of the Black Friars.

It was probably a migration from Paris that had, meanwhile, made Oxford a studium generale, or a publicly recognised place of studious resort. In 1167, John of Salisbury, then in exile owing to his devotion to the cause of Becket, sent a letter to Peter the Writer, stating that “the votaries of Mercury were so depressed, that France, the mildest and most civilised of nations, had expelled her alien scholars,” and, either in 1165 or in 1169, at a time when many Masters and Scholars beneficed in England were studying in Paris, Henry II required all clerks who possessed revenues in England to return within three months. It has been reasonably assumed that many of the students thus expelled or recalled, from Paris migrated to Oxford. But the earliest certain reference to the schools of Oxford belongs to 1189, when “all the doctors in the different faculties,” and their more distinguished pupils, and the rest of the scholars, were (as we have seen) entertained by Giraldus Cambrensis on the second and third days of his memorable recitation.