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Franciscan Minute
By Br. F. Edward Coughlin, O.F.M.
he Englishman Alexander of Hales (d. 1245) was a
diocesan priest and, at an early age, was appointed re-
gent minister at the University of Paris. He was an im-
portant and influential thinker who taught the friars who first
established a house near the university before 1220.
Around 1236, Alexander became a Franciscan and his
chair of theology was secured at the Franciscan house to
later be occupied by his student Bonaventure, regent master
1254­1257, and a long line of other Franciscan theologians.
Alexander played an important role in establishing some of
the basic orientations within what would develop into the
distinctive Franciscan intellectual (theological-philosophical)
tradition and, thus, holds an important place of honor in
both theological and Franciscan circles.
While it might seem odd to recall the contribution of an
important medieval thinker in the Internet age, it is helpful to
note two things.
First, the thought of important medieval Franciscan
thinkers, including Alexander, Bonaventure and others, con-
tinues to be an important, alternative and, in some ways, dis-
tinctive way to think about fundamental theological
questions such as Who is Christ? Is there a connection be-
tween Christ and creation? What does it mean to be
Second, scholars who are collaborating across the globe
are now on computers doing the work that was traditionally
carried out in the monastic scriptorium.
In 2001, the English-speaking conference of the Order of
Friars Minor (ESC-OFM) established a commission to promote
the retrieval and study of early Franciscan tradition (CFIT).
One of the strategies has been to create and develop a web-
One of the most prominent features of the website is the
opportunity it offers an international audience to view, on-
line, the writings of Francis and Clare. The site offers the pos-
sibility of viewing simultaneously the English and the Latin
text, the possibility of comparing different texts in adjacent
columns, and/or to explore the reference to Sacred Scripture
embedded in the text with a click of the mouse. This modest
beginning is a prototype of what is envisioned as the first of
many sources from within the Franciscan tradition to which
students, scholars, and interested others will increasingly
have access through the Internet in any country, at any time.
The CFIT site also includes an opportunity to initiate or par-
ticipate in discussion board conversations, to download re-
sources (e.g., The Custodians Series), or to track the
availability of new books or projects that seek to explore and
make more accessible the resources of the Franciscan intel-
lectual­spiritual tradition.
In the early days of the Franciscan movement, there were
many disputes about the role and places of studies in the
movement inspired by Francis of Assisi. Francis himself, in a
letter to Anthony of Padua, largely settled the question. In
Recalling a medieval thinker in the Internet age
Alexander of Hales is depicted in this stained glass win-
dow in Doyle Hall. The window is located in the corri-
dor near the Department of History faculty offices.
Photo by Danny Bush
1223, he wrote, "It pleases me that you teach theology so
long as you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and de-
Francis would, however, never have imagined that text
-- and many other writings -- could be viewed and stud-
ied online through a simple search. Francis would con-
tinue to be concerned, of course, that the online
searchable study of a broad range of texts would become
an end in itself. Rather, Francis would hope that study
nourish and encourage the human spirit to "give praise
and thanks to God" as well as strengthen a person's re-
solve to "serve with great humility." (Canticle of the Crea-
tures can be viewed at
(Br. Ed Coughlin has served as St. Bonaventure's vice
president for the Franciscan Mission since 2005. In Au-
gust, he will begin an interim appointment as president of
Siena College.)