ALCUIN (English name, Ealhwine; lat. Flaccus Albinus)

The most prominent adviser of Charlemagne in his efforts to promote learning; b. in Northumbria (perhaps in York) 735 (730?); d. at Tours May 19, 804. He was of good birth and a relative of Willibrod. He was educated in the famous cathedral school of Archbishop Egbert of York (q.v.), under a master, Ethelbert (Albert), who seems to have been a man of many-sided learning and who is often praised by Alcuin. With him, or commissioned by him, Alcuin made several visits to Rome, and on such journeys became acquainted with Frankish monasteries and with men like Lul of Mainz and Fulrad of St. Denis. He succeeded Ethelbert as head of the school when the latter was made archbishop (766), and, after Ethelbert's retirement and the elevation of Eanbald to the archiepiscopal throne (778), was also custos of the valuable cathedral library at York. He went to Rome to obtain the pallium for Eanbald, and at Parma (781) met Charlemagne to whom he was already known. Shortly after his return to England he accepted a call from the Frankish king, who was then gathering scholars at his court, and, with the exception of a visit to his native land on political business in 790-793, spent the rest of his life on the Continent. Charlemagne gave him the income of several abbeys, and till 790 he acted as head of a court school, where not only the sons of the Frankish nobles, but Charlemagne and his family as well, profited by his instruction.

A true scholar and teacher, Alcuin seldom meddled in worldly affairs, and his letters (more than 300 in number) give little historical information, though they are rich in personal details. He took an active part in the Adoptionist controversy, wrote two treatises against Felix of Urgel, and opposed his colleague, Elipandus. At the Synod of Frankfort in 794 he assisted in the condemnation of Felix, and later, at the Synod of Aachen in 799 (800?), induced him to recant (see ADOPTIONISM). From 793 he was the constant and efficient helper of Charlemagne in founding schools, promoting the education of the clergy, and like undertakings. He was also in close association with contemporaries like Arno of Salzburg, Angilbert, abbot of Centula, and Adalhard of Corbie. In 796 his patron gave him the abbey of St. Martin, near Tours, and several other monasteries. Under his guidance the school of Tours became a nursery of ecclesiastical and liberal education for the whole kingdom. His distinguished pupils there included Sigulf, who supplied the information for his biography, Rabanus Maurus, and perhaps the liturgist, Amalarius of Metz. When old and feeble and almost blind, he left the management to his scholars, but he continued to be the counselor of his royal friend till his death.

Alcuin was mild in spirit, adverse to discord, orthodox in faith, equally interested in promoting the authority of Rome and the royal priesthood of Charlemagne. His great service was his part in the so-called Carolingian renaissance, his wise and efficient efforts to elevate and educate the clergy and the monks, to improve preaching, to regulate the Christian life of the people and advance the faith among the heathen, always by instruction rather than by force. His theology, while not original, rests on an intimate acquaintance with the Fathers, especially Jerome and Augustine. To ecclesiastical learning he added classical, but in such manner that it was always the servant of the former. He was able to give his master information concerning astronomy and natural science but, as he considered grammar and philosophy auxiliary to religion, so he regarded these branches of knowledge primarily as a means of knowing God.

His theological writings include a work on the Trinity which contains the germs of the later scholastic theology. His authorship of a Libellus de processu Spiritus Sancti and of some other works which have been attributed to him is doubtful. He wrote commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, the Song of Songs, John, and other books of the Bible, based upon the Church Fathers and following the current moral and allegorical exposition. At Charlemagne's request he revived the text of the Vulgate according to the best available sources. His skill as a teacher is evident in text-books on grammar and orthography, as well as in treatises on rhetoric and dialectics which resemble Cicero. His Latin poems, including epigrams, friendly letters, hymns, riddles, poems for special occasions, and the like, show more skill in versification than poetic gifts. The most important, the De pontificibus et sandia ecciestæ Eboracensis, gives valuable information concerning the state of culture in his native land and his own education [and contains (ll. 1530-61) a catalogue of the cathedral library at York, which is the earliest existing catalogue of an English library]. With the exception of the hymns, all his poems are partly in heroic and partly in elegiac verse. He prepared lives of Willibrod, Vedastus, and Richarius, which are mainly recasts and amplifications of older works. Of a liturgical and devotional character are a Liber sacramentalis and the De psalmorum usu. Intended more particularly for the laity are the De virtutibus et vitiis and a psychologico-philosophical treatise on ethics, De anima ratione ad Eulaliam virginem (i.e., Guntrade, the sister of Adalhard).