Thursday, September 22, 2011

Alexander Alesius

Alesius, Alexander (also Alexander Alan; Alane; 1500?–1565), Scottish-German theologian. He was among those theologians of the sixteenth century who converted to Reformation convictions after long inner struggles. More than any other, he influenced theological and ecclesiastical renewal in Scotland, England, and Germany by means of his experiences.

Born around 1500 in Edinburgh, he matriculated in 1512 at the University of Saint Andrews. In 1515 he turned to the Augustinian order and chose the career of a theologian. The martyrdom of Patrick Hamilton at the end of February 1528 so agitated the defender of late medieval theology that in 1529 Alesius, as a sharp critic of the lifestyle of the clergy, was threatened with imprisonment and had to flee. Traveling via Malmö, Brussels, and Cologne, Alesius arrived in Wittenberg in the fall of 1532.

His instruction from Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon now began, and their theology and methods would shape him for life. His treatise against the prohibition of Scottish bishops' reading the New Testament in the vernacular brought about the protest of Johannes Cochlaeus. In 1553 he traveled as an emissary of the Wittenberg theologians to Henry VIII. Until he had to flee in 1539, Alesius worked in Cambridge and London as an intermediary of the Wittenberg Reformation. Among his friends were John Bale, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer. In particular, he supported the reform efforts of Thomas Cromwell. In the summer of 1539, when the conservative forces gained control with the Act of Six Articles, Alesius fled from England and returned to Wittenberg.

Melanchthon recommended him to Frankfurt an der Oder. There he took part intensively in the reform of the university. A struggle with Christoph von der Straasen, lawyer and confidant of Elector Joachim II, led him in 1542 to Leipzig, the most important station of his life. He strongly supported the overdue reformation of the theology faculty. Appearing under his name were more than forty exegetical, dogmatic, and controversial theological writings, such as commentaries on the gospel of John, on Romans, on the pastoral letters, and on Psalms. He was hesitant to take part in internal Protestant controversies and thus rejected both the Interim and Andreas Osiander's doctrine of justification. In the argument over the Eucharist he favored in 1559 the Heidelberg theologians, but without publicly expressing himself.

Alesius died 17 March 1565 in Leipzig. Although he remained close to Melanchthon all his life, he nevertheless maintained his theological and methodological independence. A thorough knowledge of late medieval theology, his own life experiences, and rootedness in Reformation doctrine determined his life's work, which together with apologetics was characterized by the wish to regain and reform the unity of the church—the consensus ecclesiae—that was founded in the gospels.

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