The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 16 (2015)

Sources of Spirituality in the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis (Book on Virtues and Vices) and Epistolae (Letters) of Alcuin of York

James F. LePreeMailto: Icon

Department of History, City College of New York

©2015 by James F. LePree. All intellectual property rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2015 by The Heroic Age. Permissions granted for educational and personal purposes only.

Abstract: This article will focus on the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis and Epistolae of Alcuin of York. It will highlight the spiritual sources which Alcuin utilized for both as well as his exegetical treatment of these sources. Although such an approach is not a novel one, past scholarship has presented Alcuin, in relation to his sources, as a mere verbatim copyist, so that to study Alcuin is merely to study his sources. This perhaps can be explained by the fact that the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis is still only available in the mid-nineteenth-century Patrologia Latina edition and exegetical scholarship on his Epistolae is almost non-existent. Nevertheless, as this study shall attempt to show for the first time, Alcuin's original treatment of the Porcarian and Cassianic monastic traditions illustrates the importance of Alcuin's writings as transmitters of such sources as Pseudo-Basil's De admonitio filium spiritualem and John Cassian's Institutes and Conferences and underscores the need for more recent critical editions of Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis and Epistolae and for further studies which will enable us to assess more precisely the full extent of the influence of monastic ideals on both.


§1. A classic example of Christian specula principum (Mirrors of Princes), is Alcuin of York's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis (Book on Virtues and Vices) written in the latter part of Alcuin's life, and dedicated to Count Wido of the Breton March. It was constructed to guide Wido through the vicissitudes of the civitas terrena (the earthly city). The Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis contains patristic, monastic, and ascetic sources that Alcuin drew upon to instruct Wido on the proper avoidance of vices and the cultivation of virtues. This study specifically investigates the impact of monastic ideals on the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis.

§2. Although this topic is not a new one, research indicates that the influence of monastic traditions on the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis needs to be more properly assessed and carefully explored. Moreover, in the light of recent scholarship, careful reevaluation and reappraisal of Alcuin's exegetical methods may lead to a revision of Alcuin's image as an unoriginal and derivative writer. Therefore, this study will assess the extent of Alcuin's attempt to reconstitute Carolingian spirituality on the firm foundation of monastic and ascetic values so that they might serve as the instrument of salvation for the Frankish populus dei.

Alcuin's Early Years

§3. Despite the abundance of evidence for Alcuin's later life, both in York and in Francia, neither the precise date, nor geographical locations of his birth, nor his lineage are known with absolute certainty. Scholars have attempted to establish some parameters. Drawing inferentially from the evidence of contemporary documents, Peter Godman and Donald Bullough, for example, have attempted to reconstruct the date and place of Alcuin's birth, as well as his familial history. Godman places Alcuin's family in Northumbria (1982, 133); Bullough more precisely in southern Deira (2004, 34). Both Godman and Bullough reject the claim of Alcuin's anonymous hagiographer, nobili gentis exortus prosapia (Vita Alcuini 1), as evidence for Alcuin's noble lineage, dismissing it as a mere hagiographical topos. Instead, they prefer to emphasize Alcuin's connections to Saint Wiligis and Saint Willibrord; Godman arguing for a possible noble lineage, Bullough suggesting rather a modest landowning family origin (Godman 1982, 133; Bullough 2004, 34). Finally, these two scholars diverge widely on the question of Alcuin's birth. Godman, citing internal evidence from Alcuin's Versus de patribus regibus et sanctis Euboricensis ecclesiae, has opted for a date of 737/738, while Bullough, questioning the validity of Godman's argument, prefers a date slightly before or after 740 (Godman 1982, xxxviii; Bullough 2004, 25–6).1

§4. Scholars have spoken with a unanimous voice on Alcuin's Northumbrian origins, their unanimity owed to inferential evidence drawn from his Epistolae. First in a letter dated to 783, and addressed to King Aethelred of Northumbria, Alcuin refers to Northumbrians as nostra gente, when speaking of the great calamity and misery that arose there upon the departure of Saint Paul from York and the birth of the Christian religion in that territory (Alcuin Epistola 22). Moreover, in a letter dated 795 to the monks of York, Alcuin expresses his gratitude in the following manner:

You cherished me in my infancy with maternal affection, sustained me in the playful time of my childhood with pious patience, taught me until manhood with the discipline of paternal correction, and strengthened me with the erudition of sacred teachings.
Vos fragile infantiae meae annos materno fovistis afectu; et lascivium puericiae tempus pia sustinuistis patientia et paternae castigationis disciplinis ad perfectam viri edocuistis aetatem et sacrarum erudition disciplinarum roborastis (Alcuin Epistola 34).

Further, in a letter dated 806, addressed to the newly elected Archbishop Eanbald of York, Alcuin alludes to the cathedral of York as the place where he was reared and educated (… in aecclesia ubi ego nutritus et eruditus fueram) (Alcuin Epistola 72).2

§5. As has been noted in his letter to the monks of York, Alcuin, from an early age, seems to have been exposed to the rigid spiritual discipline and sacred erudition of the vita regularis. This, in turn, has engendered endless debate among scholars concerning Alcuin's own donning of the monastic habit. Albert Hauck, in particular, has argued that the answer to this fundamental question depends on whether the community Alcuin belonged to at York was a church or a monasterium. Opting for the latter, Hauck accorded Alcuin monastic status, citing especially his intimate familiarity with Benedictine monastic ideals. More importantly, he emphasized Alcuin's desire, denied by Charlemagne, to return to Saint Boniface's monastery of Fulda so that he could live in accordance with the precepts of the Regula s. Benedicti (Hauck 1912–29, 2:130). Walter Delius, closely following Hauck, styled Alcuin "a former Anglo-Saxon monk remaining true to the role of the York cloister until the end of his days" (1931, 473).

§6. Many scholars have questioned these views. Arthur Kleinclausz, for instance, has noted that the Vita Alcuini refers to Alcuin as "one whose life was not interior to the monastic life," and characterized him as "a veritable monk, without ever having taken monastic vows" (Kleinclausz 1948, 169). More recently, Albrecht Diem, in general agreement with Kleinclausz, has denied monastic status for Alcuin, noting that in Alcuin's time, no clear distinction existed between monk and cleric (Diem 1995, 43). Mayke de Jong in similar fashion, has observed that for Alcuin, the issue of distinguishing between clerical and monastic status was unimportant and insignificant (De Jong 1995, 50–51; see also Bullough 2004, 165–166 and Lapidge 1994, 104).

§7. Whether one accepts or rejects the evidence for Alcuin's monastic status, his monastic education left an imprint on an impressionable mind, one that was later to define sharply the parameters of his own intense spirituality.3 This is indicated years later when, as has been previously discussed, he fondly remembered his spiritual matres and magistri, the monks of York, and affectionately recalled, through the eyes of a dutiful young nutritus, their contribution to his physical and spiritual maturation. Moreover, as has been noted, Alcuin had requested permission from Charlemagne to leave the world and retire to the monastery of Fulda, preferring to live according to the Regula s. Benedicti. In addition, when Alcuin retired to his monastery of Tours in 796, his biographer reports that he led a monastic life, engaging in fasts, prayers, and mortifications of the flesh, Vita denique eius non monasticae inferior fuit. Nam quails in patribus superius nominates praecesserat, talis et in illo durabat; in ieiuniis scilicet, in orationibus, in carnis mortification … (Vita Alcuini 8).

Egbert, Aelbert and the Cathedral School of York

§8. In the community of York, two personalities stand out as shining luminaries with whom Alcuin formed intimate and lasting relationships; there was Archbishop Egbert of York (735–766), and Aelbert who succeeded him to the See of York in 767. Of the nature of his relationship with Egbert, Alcuin's own writings and the testimony of his anonymous biographer give some indication.4

§9. The portrayal of Egbert that comes down to us in the Vita Alcuini, confirmed by Alcuin's Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae, indicates that Egbert was instrumental in the development of Alcuin's spirituality, both by word and example. Egbert, according to Alcuin's biographer, was accustomed to pouring out twice a day the most fervent and secret prayers in his oratory, with both knees bent devoutly on the ground and hands outstretched to heaven in the form of a cross, this before he ended his fast and before he celebrated Compline. The anonymous author continues: "Following Compline, no student dared to go to bed without his blessing." More importantly, the anonymous author notes that of all his faithful followers, Egbert loved Alcuin the most because of the diversity of his merits:

… bis in die secretissimam orationem erat solitus fundere, purissimi cum irrigation fontis, genu utroque in terram flexo, manibusque diutius instar cruces in coelum erectis; ante scilicet quam cibum sumeret, et priusquam completorium cum suis omnibus celebraret. Quo celebrato, nullus discipulorum ipsiius sine eius benediction capiti suo data. Qui omnes quidem diligebat, maxime tamen Albinum, fidelissimum suorum actuum sequacem, propter meritorum distantiam) (Vita Alcuini 3).
Similarly, Egbert, following in his master's footsteps (Bede), studied thoroughly the secrets of the Holy Scriptures every morning until the sixth or very often the ninth hour Cuius iam, ut dictum est, sequens Hechbertus vestigial, totum thesaurum suum domini deputavit eloquia, scripturarum rimando penetralia. Nam a luce diei surgeente, si inevitabilis non obstitut praepeditio vel ulla solemnitas praecellens aut festivitas magna sanctorum, usque horam quasi ad sextam, saepissime et nonam, suo residens in lecto, discipulis cuique convenientia scripturae pandebat arcane) (Vita Alcuini 2). This description of Egbert's spirituality finds similar expression in Alcuin's Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae:

He was a most famous ruler of the church and a distinguished teacher, venerated by all the people, excellent in morals, just affable and savage to the wicked. He spent his days and nights engaging in various sacred duties, praying tirelessly and assiduously throughout the long nights, celebrating the solemnities of the Mass on holy days (Alcuin Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae ll. 1260–1265).

The personality who emerges as Alcuin's closest teacher, patron and friend, however, as characterized by Godman, was Archbishop Aelbert, Egbert's successor in the See of York in 767. This close friendship between magister and discipulus was fondly remembered by Alcuin, and in fact, finds confirmation in much of his later writing, particularly in his epistles and the Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae (Godman 1982, xxxvii). In Epistle 72, dated 796, Alcuin remarks to Archbishop Eanbald II that part of the literary collection in the cathedral library of York was bequeathed to him by his beloved teacher, Archbishop Aelbert. Moreover, in Epistle 78 dated 797, Alcuin mentions to Charlemagne how he reluctantly left behind in York books of exquisite erudition acquired through the diligence of his most beloved master, Aelbert. In another letter written in the same year and addressed to Eanbald, Alcuin recalls their service under Aelbert's instruction as he reminds him that, "these are dangerous times in Britain, the death of kings is a sign of misery and discord, the beginning of captivity, as you have often heard from our master previously mentioned" (Tempora periculosa sunt in Brittania; et mors regum miseriae signum est) (Alcuin Epistola 74).

§10. Alcuin's anonymous biographer paints a vivid portrait of Master Aelbert, "adorning" the minds of his pupils with secular erudition, and their souls with divine inspiration. In one instance, the anonymous Vita Alcuini records that Alcuin, reading the Gospel of John before Aelbert with fellow students, arrived at the part only the pure in heart comprehend—from the place where John himself reclined on the breast of the Lord to where Jesus crossed the Kidron with his disciples. Suddenly, he had the same vision experienced by Benedict of Nursia: the whole world gathered together under a beam of the sun (Vita Alcuini 4).5

§11. In another instance, Alcuin is said to have reluctantly learned from Aelbert the bitterness of secular literature so that he might penetrate God's holy mysteries: … qui noluit absincium saecularis litteraturae nosse, Dei quatenus intraret in potentiam (Vita Alcuini 4). Alcuin, himself, gives us a detailed description of the saecularia litteratura provided by Aelbert:

There [at York], he watered parched hearts with diverse streams of learning, and the varied dew of knowledge, training some of them in the arts and the rules of grammar and pouring over altars a flood of rhetorical eloquence. Some he polished with the whetstone of true speech, teaching others to sing in Kaonian Strain; training some to blow on the Castalian pipe; and to run with lyric over the peaks of Parnassus to others, this master taught the harmony of the spheres, the labors of the sun and moon, the five zones of heaven, the seven planets, their rising and setting, the movements of the air, the tremors of the earth and sea, the nature of man and cattle, of birds and wild beasts, the diverse forms and shapes of numbers (Alcuin Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae ll. 1432–48).6

§12. As Alcuin informs us, Aelbert also traveled abroad, particularly to Rome to obtain books for the Cathedral Library at York. As Alcuin in the same communications adds the phrase, "and due, to some extent, to my own efforts as well," it is highly probable that he accompanied Aelbert on his continental peregrinations (Alcuin Epistola 78).7 This is perhaps exemplified by epistolary evidence and the epitaph Alcuin wrote for Aelbert (according to Bullough) shortly after Alcuin returned from Rome in 81. In a letter addressed to the monastery at Murdach that cannot be dated with precision, Alcuin explains that while following in his master's footsteps, he had absorbed and greatly admired the Murdach monastic life and avowed that during that time, he himself was fervently inspired to become a member of the community (Alcuin Epistola 269; Bullough 2004, 112 and 116).

§13. In a much more informative letter, dated to 799, Alcuin, writing from the monastery of Saint-Martin at Tours, related to Charlemagne how, while traveling to Rome as a young man, he had lingered in the Lombard capital of Pavia for a few days. In the same letter, Alcuin adds that a dispute took place between a certain Jew, named Lullus, and a Master Peter, whom Alcuin identifies as the same Peter who distinguished himself teaching grammar in Charlemagne's Palace (Alcuin Epistola 112).8 More importantly, Alcuin relates how he followed Aelbert when the latter traveled to Rome, "a city venerated by all nations, and to the flourishing kingdom of the Franks" (Romam cunctis venerandam gentibus urbem vel iam Francorum florida regna petit) (Alcuin Epitaphium Aelberti).

§14. As previously noted, Alcuin's writing of the Epitaphium Aelberti in 781 coincided with a journey to Rome he undertook following the death of Aelbert. That journey, as Godman has observed, marked a major turning point in Alcuin's career (1982, xxxvi). A discussion of the circumstances surrounding that voyage will enhance Godman's meaning. According to the Vita Alcuini, the trip was organized by Eanbald, Alcuin's fellow student at the cathedral school of York and Aelbert's successor to the See there. In the author's words:

Having been ordered by Eanbald, successor to Aelbert, that Alcuin was to obtain the pallium from the Apostolic See, he came to Rome. Returning after he received the pallium, Alcuin encountered King Charles in the city of Parma. Addressing him, the king implored him with great entreaty to return to Francia following the completion of his mission.
Alcuin, wishing to contribute to the success of others, agreed to Charlemagne's appeal, with the permission of his own king and Archbishop, on the condition that he could return to them. And so, with Christ directing his footsteps, Alcuin came to King Charles, who welcomed him like a father by whom King Charles was introduced to the liberal arts (Vita Alcuini 5).9

However one chooses to interpret the events surrounding this encounter, one thing was certain; it would initiate an intimate friendship between the Frankish monarch and the York scholar that would usher in a new and highly significant phase in the development of Carolingian spirituality.

Alcuin at the Frankish Court

§15. As Peter Godman has indicated, "At Charlemagne's court, Alcuin was the center of the international elite of scholars and poets in whose works is celebrated the first brilliant phase of the Carolingian renovation" (1982, xxxvii). Although the notion that such a circle of distinguished scholars constituted an institutionalized palace school has been seriously challenged, it nevertheless reflected a serious attempt by Charlemagne to surround himself with the most renowned continental and insular litterati of his day, many of whom are known to us. The previously mentioned Lombard, Peter of Pisa, was characterized by Alcuin as a scholar who distinguished himself teaching grammar at the palace of Charlemagne. Other luminaries included: Paulinus, later Patriarch of Aquileia (787), best known for his speculum principis, the Liber Exhortationis, which was addressed to Duke Erich of Friuli and heavily indebted to Pseudo-Basil's De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem; Theodulf, a Goth from Spain, who later became Bishop of Orléans (790); Einhard, author of the Vita Karoli Magni; and a certain Jonas, portrayed even at an early age as an eminent scholar at Charlemagne's court, and identified by Alain Dubreucq as the Jonas who later became Bishop of Orléans (818) (Dubreucq 1995, 9–10).10 Nevertheless, Alcuin was esteemed above all others by Charlemagne and exercised a preponderant influence over both the ruler's private and public affairs. Privately, as his biographer Einhard relates in the Vita Karoli Magni, Charlemagne learned grammar from Peter of Pisa, but in other disciplines, his teacher was Alcuin. Einhard goes on to add that under Alcuin's tutelage, Charlemagne had a special interest in learning the rudiments of astronomy (Vita Karoli Magni 25).11

§16. Publicly, Alcuin served as close confidant to Charlemagne, advising him on the resolution of major Christological and Trinitarian issues, serving as lay administrator of important monastic communities, and acting as the major architect of Charlemagne's educational reforms. For instance at the Synod of Frankfort, held in 794, Alcuin played a major role in suppressing the heretical teachings of Bishop Felix of Urgel and Archbishop Elipand of Toledo. The heresy, known as Adoptionism or "the error of the Spaniards," as Alcuin called it, held that the crucified Christ or Christ in his human form was not the true son of God, but a son only by adoption. It was at this synod that Charlemagne accorded Alcuin a singular distinction. In the last chapter of the Acta, at Charlemagne's suggestion, the assembled bishops agreed to welcome Alcuin, a man distinguished in ecclesiastical doctrine, into the fellowship and prayers of the Holy Synod (Synodus Franconofurtensis 56).12 This recognition of Alcuin's theological expertise by Charlemagne receives further confirmation by Alcuin's anonymous biographer who states that at Charlemagne's request, Alcuin wrote for him a most useful book about the Holy Trinity (Postulanate namque imperatore Karolo scripsit librum de sancta Trinitate utilissimum …) (Vita Alcuini 12); this testimony is also supported by Alcuin in an epistle dated 802 where he stated that he was sending Charlemagne a short manual concerning faith in the one and indivisible Trinity (… direxi sanctissimae auctoritate vestrae de fide sanctae et individuae Trinitatis, sub specie manualis libelli sermonem …) (Alcuin Epistola 191).

§17. Alcuin also appears as the chief architect behind what are perhaps two of the most influential and most extensively quoted texts in Carolingian history, the Admonitio Generalis, promulgated in 799, and the Epistola de Litteris Colendis, dated to between 789 and 800 (Martin 1985, 227–373; Wallach 1959, 204–11). That Alcuin was the author of at least chapters 72 and 73 of the Admonitio Generalis and the entire text of the Epistola de Litteris Colendis is evident in the close grammatical parallels between those texts and his own writings (Diem 1995, 37–44; Schiebe 1958, 221–229).

§18. Let us address the contents of chapters 72 and 73 of the Admonitio Generalis, which reveal its fundamental purpose: to restore the spirituality of the Frankish populus dei, reunite the ecclesia under the auctoritas of Charlemagne as the rector ecclesiae, and establish the Frankish Christianum imperium as the instrument for the salvation of souls. To this end, Alcuin clearly conceived of the monastic schools as a training ground for both clergy and members of the laity, who would return to the world, and create a community of religious believers bound by the disciplina of the vita monastica. Individually assuming the ministerium of rector ecclesiae, each would implement a fundamental goal: the salvation of souls. According to the Admonitio Generalis, ministers of God—both those canons and members of monastic communities—should adorn themselves with good morals and lead upright lives. The author of the Admonitio Generalis further states that they are to do this in order to attract many to the service of God, not only children of servile condition, but freeborn boys as well. The author goes on to stress the importance of properly correcting books in all monastic and episcopal schools, especially those associated with psalms, letters, songs, mathematics, and grammar. The Admonitio Generalis explains that faulty texts cause Christians to make mistaken requests of God. Additionally, continues the author, boys should not be allowed to lapse into sin by reading and writing erroneous books. The author concludes by noting that if there is a need to write gospels, psalters, and missals, only men of mature age should write them, and with great care. As a result, secular education would serve as the handmaiden of theology. With masters properly imbued with monastic virtues to teach by word and example, students could gain eternal salvation by penetrating the mysteries of Sacred Scripture, subsequently passing on their spiritual knowledge to others.

§19. The monastic foundation and soteriological nature of Charlemagne's educational reforms are even more prominent in the Epistola de Litteris Colendis. First, if monks are to lead the Frankish populus dei to salvation, they must possess the spiritual understanding to undertake such an endeavor. For Alcuin, such understanding could only come, however regrettably, through the study of secular literature. Thus, for Alcuin, monks must "spoil the Egyptians" (in the Augustinian sense) by harnessing saecularia litteratura to the higher goal of spiritual enlightenment. According to Alcuin, monks should apply their minds eagerly in a manner pleasing to God, and cultivate the study of letters in order to penetrate the mysteries of the Holy Scriptures more easily and more correctly. Moreover, he adds that due to certain rhetorical devices and figurative language found in the sacred pages, the spiritual meaning of the Holy Scriptures would be more quickly understood due to the prior secular learning that monks will have had.

§20. But for Alcuin, it is not enough for monks merely to be morally upright and thoroughly trained in spiritualis scientia; they in turn must prepare other leaders, by both words and example, by their spiritual erudition and moral ways of life, both lay and clerical, to lead the Frankish people to salvation in the militia spiritualis. Alcuin explains how this might be accomplished:

We also hope that you, as soldiers of Christ, devoted inwardly, learned and morally pure teachers outwardly, because of the name of the Lord and a pious way of life, will have set a good example for members of the nobility. Thus, his spiritual vision is edified by your appearance. Having been instructed, and having persevered in singing and reading, as a result of our wisdom, he may return to the world, rejoicing and giving thanks to almighty God.
Optamus enim vos, sicut decet ecclesiae milites, et interius devotos et exterius doctos castossque bene videndo et scholasticos bene loquendo, ut, quicunque vos propter nomen Domini et sanctae conversationis nobilitatem ad videndum expetierit, sicut de aspect vestro aedificatur visus, ita quoque de sapientia vestra, quam in legend seu cantando perceperit, instructus omnipotenti Domino gratias agendo gaudens redeat (Epistola de Litteris Colendis).

§21. However, a critical question remains. How do members of the Frankish aristocratic laity who have not shared the disciplined environment of the monastic schools come under the spiritual aegis of monastic and ascetic values? Paulinus of Aquileia had already suggested a solution: the dissemination of monastic and ascetic values through the medium of the Liber Exhortationis. Presently, Alcuin also would bring Count Wido of the Breton March into his monastic and ascetic spiritual army through the pages of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis. It is to that work that we now turn.

The Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis

§22. Specula principum constituted a major literary genre in the Carolingian Period. Centered on the fundamental premise that salvation can only be attained by the avoidance of vices and cultivation of virtues, they played an important didactic role in providing rulers and members of the Carolingian aristocracy with instruction in the proper ordering of Christian society. Additionally, these literary specula, as the name implies, served as "mirrors" in which rulers and magnates alike could contemplate the health or sickness of their souls, by laying down parameters to enable readers to walk the royal road of virtue from the earthly to the heavenly kingdom.

§23. One of the most notable examples of these metaphoric "mirrors of princes" is Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis. As we know from the introduction to the treatise, the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis is dedicated to a certain Count Wido, almost certainly the same individual who, according to the author of the Annales Regni Francorum, was presiding over the March of Brittany (Annales regni Francorum an. 799; Bullough 2004, 78). We also know that Alcuin thought highly of Count Wido as a … viro perfecto et iudice incorrupto et misso fideli … (Alcuin Epistola 249).

§24. The Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis is prefaced by an introductory epistle and terminates with a brief but engaging peroration. Divided into 36 chapters it projects a literary landscape, diverse in both style and tone. The treatise is strictly theological in nature, presenting vivid eschatological overtones. A fundamental underlying theme mandates the cultivation of virtues and avoidance of vices as prerequisites for the attainment of eternal salvation. The first 26 chapters are based on excerpts primarily from the writings of patristic Fathers such as pseudo-Augustine (Wallach 1955, 180–187),13 Pseudo-Basil's De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem (Rochais 1951, 77–86), St. Jerome and Isidore of Seville. These chapters deal with the usual assortment of virtues and vices found in this literary genre. Chapters 28–34 were once primarily attributed by Arthur Kleinclausz to Augustine (1948, 221), but were convincingly shown by Wallach to be derived from the Moralia of Gregory the Great, the Sententiae of Isidore of Seville and the Conférences and Institutions Cénobitiques of John Cassian (Wallach 1959, 188).14

§25. These chapters treat the common theme of the eight principal vices: pride, gluttony, fornication, greed and anger, apathy in the practice of virtues, sadness, and vainglory. Concluding with chapter 34 in language calculated to appeal to a Carolingian warrior, Alcuin refers to the eight principal vices metaphorically as armies of impious leaders that are conquered by Christ through holy virtues. Finally, in chapter 35, the four cardinal virtues are discussed: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (cuius partes sunt, ut diximus, quatuor principales: prudentia, justitia, fortitudo, temperantia), a theme closely paralleling and possibly derived from Gregory's eighteenth homily on Ezekiel, qui dum prudentiam, fortitudinem, iustitiam atque temperantiam (Gregory Homily 18). Another possible source is Cassian's Conférences (21.12).

§26. However, it is in the introductory epistle and peroration that Alcuin reveals his fundamental purpose for composing a work of such moral exhortation. Alcuin reminds Count Wido (a man occupied with military affairs) that he promised to write a short treatise of moral advice as urgently requested. Alcuin further states that he wishes to place in Wido's hands sentences of paternal admonition on which to gaze to arouse his enthusiasm for eternal salvation:

Memor sum petitionis tuae et promissionis meae, qua me obnixe flagitasti, aliqua tuae occupationi, suam te in bellicis rebus habere novimus, exhortamentum brevi sermon conscribere, ut habeas jugiter inter manus manuals paternae admonitionis sententias, in quibus teipsum considere debuisses, atque ad aeternae beatitudinis excitare stadium … (Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis).

§27. Alcuin then proceeds to employ the usual Carolingian literary trope of humility when he apologizes to Wido that his writing may not seem eloquent, but he nevertheless emphasizes its spiritual value with reassurance that his words are inspired with the intent of holy charity. Finally, Alcuin informs his reader that he has divided his work into separate chapters, so that Wido, burdened with the thoughts of many worldly affairs (possibly an allusion to his comitial duties), might more easily remember his words:

… minus eloquenter videas esse compositos, tamen certissime me scito sanctae charitatis vigore essem esse dictatos, singulis siquidem huic sermonem seriem distinxi capitulis, sciens te in multis saecularium rerum cogitationibus occupatum, quatenus facilius vestrae devotionis memoriae haec mea dicta inhaerere potuissent (Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis).

§28. In the peroration, Alcuin once again draws attention to the importance of his manual for Wido's eternal salvation. Repeating the introductory remarks that he has composed a brief treatise, in accordance with Wido's request, Alcuin adds that in his little work Wido can learn what he should avoid, and—in words closely resembling Cassian's—what he should pursue to climb to the summit of spiritual perfection, … quid cavere, vel quid agere debeas, atque ad culmen perfectionis ascendere debeas (Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis).15 Addressing Wido's fear that he may not be worthy to enter the portals of heaven because of his lay status and his secular way of life, Alcuin reassures him with the following:

The kingdom of God is open to every sex, age and person equally, according to the value of their merits. There is no difference based on whether one was of the world, lay or cleric, rich or poor, junior or senior, slave or master, but each will be crowned with eternal glory, according to their measure of good works.
… ita omni sexui aetati, et personae aequaliter secundum meritorum dignitatem regni Dei patet introitus. Ubi non est distinction, quis esset in saeculo laicus vel clericus, dives vel pauper, junior vel senior, servus vel dominus; sed unusquisque secundum meritum boni operas perpetua coronabitur gloria (Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis).

§29. Alcuin's notions on virtues and vices, as we have seen, derived not only from the writings of the fathers such as Gregory and Isidore, but also from various monastic and ascetic sources. In fact, a cursory examination of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis reveals that it rests firmly—at least in terms of monastic and ascetic influence—on the Porcarian and Cassianic monastic traditions. The Porcarian monastic tradition, the topic of our present discussion, is represented by the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem. Paul Lehmann, the most recent editor of the text, dated it to the mid-fifth century, and attributed it to the hand of Rufinus of Aquileia, who he claims translated it into Latin from an original Greek work of Bishop Basil of Caesarea, now lost (Lehmann 1955, 3–29). More recently, however, Adalbert de Vogüé dated the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem to around 500 and identified the author as Abbot Porcarius of Lérins. De Vogüé based his conclusion on remarkably close thematic and textual similarities between the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem and Porcarius's Monita, a book of spiritual exhortations, presumably intended for his monastic community at Lérins (de Vogüé 1996, 4–72 and 1991–2006, 7.418–429).

§30. That Alcuin drew inspiration from the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem for his Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis is not surprising, since evidence suggests that the former was widely available in the Carolingian period both during and after Alcuin's lifetime, accessible both directly in full text, and indirectly through the late seventh-century Defensor of Ligugé's Liber Scintillarum (Rochais 1951, 9–44). Scholars such as Franz Brunhölzl, Albert Hauck, Hans Hubert Anton, and more recently, Franz Sedlmeier have all noted that Paulinus of Aquileia drew extensively from the full text of the De admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem for his Liber Exhortationis, copying extensive passages verbatim from the former (Brunhölzl 1992, 1.254; Hauck 1912–29, 2.162, n.2; Anton 1968, 83; Sedlmeier 2000, 50–5). Second, comparative textual evidence suggests that Smaragdus, ninth-century abbot of Mihiel drew from the full text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem for specific passages in chapter 4 of the Expositio in Regulam S. Benedicti (Spannagel and Engelbert 1974, 103).16

§31. Finally, but no less crucial for our argument, it is interesting to note that such Carolingian magnates such as Eberhard of Fruili, possessed a copy of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem in his private library (Riché 1963, 98–9).

§32. As in the case of Paulinus and Smaragdus, a close relationship also exists between passages found in the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem and Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis, possibly filtered through the pages of the Liber Scintillarum:

Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 5

… sicut enim ex carnalibus escis aliter caro, ita ex divinis eloquiis interior homo nutritur.

De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem 12

Sicut enim ex carnalibus escis aliter caro, ita ex divinis eloquiis interior homo nutritur ac pascitur.

Liber Scintillarum 81

Sicut enim ex carnalibus / Escis aliter caro, ita et divinis / Interior homo nutritur ac pascitur.

Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 9

Avarus vir inferno est similes, qui nunquam impletur.

De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem 9

Avarus enim vir inferno est similes infernus igitur, quantoscunque devoraverit, non dicit satis est …

Liber Scintillarum 25

Avarus vir similes est infernum, / Avariciam palam saevit.

Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 9

Qui patienter tolerat malo in future coronam merebitur sempiternam.

De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem 19

Qui enim patienter pertulerit mala, in futuram coronabitur.

Liber Scintillarum 2

Qui pacienter tollerat mala, / In futuro coronam merebitur.

§33. To begin, Alcuin's remarks, sicut enim ex carnalibus escis alitur caro, ita ex divinis eloquiis interior homo nutritur et pascitur can almost certainly be ascribed to the extracts from the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem found in Defensor's Liber Scintillarum or from the full text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem itself. Similarly, Alcuin's comments, avarus vir inferno est similes, qui nunquam impletur seems to be derived from either the text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem or passages preserved in the Liber Scintillarum's chapter on avarice. Further, Alcuin's exhortation, qui patienter tolerat mala in futuro coronam merebitur sempiternam can with a fair degree of certainty be attributed to Defensor's florilegium of Pseudo-Basil's comments found in the Liber Scintillarum's chapter on patience—or again, Alcuin may have borrowed it from the full text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem.

§34. If there is a question concerning the manner in which the above mentioned passages of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem were transmitted to Alcuin for incorporation in the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis, the answer is quite clear when dealing with his letters. In one specific letter, there is no doubt that Alcuin relied on the full text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem. In that letter dated 801–802, Alcuin clearly borrows the words of Pseudo-Basil, not found in any known florilegium. Echoing almost verbatim from the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem, Alcuin admonishes his former students, Onias, Candidus, and Nathanahelios, that "riches of this world are foreign to us. We bring nothing into this world and we can carry nothing out, for our possession is the kingdom of heaven" (Alcuin Epistola 251). Let us compare Alcuin's letter and chapter 9 of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem:

Alcuin Epistola 251

Alienae sunt a nobis huius saeculi facultates id est extra nostram sitae naturam. Nihil enim intulimus in hunc mundum, haud dubium, quia nec auferre quid possumus. Nostra autem possessio regnum caelorum …

De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem 9

Alienatae sunt a nobis saeculi hujus facultates, nostra autem possessio regum coelorum est.17

Therefore, we can conclude that for his Pseudo-Basilian expressions, Alcuin drew both upon the extracts of Defensor's Liber Scintillarum, and, like his friend and confidant, Paulinus, upon the original text of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem as well.

§35. Another source used extensively by Alcuin in his Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis are the writings of John Cassian. Yet while Alcuin does reproduce verbatim Cassian's remarks on a particular subject, to some extent, in other instances (as Donald Bullough has noted), he manipulates and rewords Cassian in a highly original manner (Bullough 1983, 140). More recently, Michael Fox echoed Bullough's sentiments, "Alcuin quotes some of his authorities verbatim, while he paraphrases and manipulates others" (2003, 2). It is in Alcuin's discussion of vainglory in chapter 34 of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis that we see most clearly his literary originality as well as his skilled exegetical elaborations. Here Alcuin is unquestionably drawing on Cassian, not randomly, but in a calculated deliberate manner, in his discussion of vainglory; tailoring it to his own style, adding expressions omitted in Cassian, most appropriate for a secular soldier, yet superfluous or meaningless for a monastic audience. Let us compare the fundamental similarities and significant differences between the two authors:

Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 34

… ista pestis, id est, vania gloria. Avaritia est, et undique bellatori contra vitia pugnanti, ex omni parte victori etiam vitiorum occurit. Nam et in habitu et in forma corporis in incessu, in voce et in opera, in vigiliis in jejuniis, in oratione, in remotione, in lectione, in scientia, in taciturnitate, in obedientia, in humilitate, in patientiae longanimitate militem Christi vulnerare conatur, et velut perniciossimus scopulus tumentibus undis obtectus improvisum ac miserabile naufragium prospere navigantibus, dum non cavetur, importat. Nam cui sub specie pulchrae vestis ac nitidae cenodoxiam non potuit generare, pro squalid et inculta ac viliori conatur insesrere; quem non potuit per honorem dejicere, humilitate supplantat; quem scientiae et elocutionis ornate nequivit extollere, gravitate taciturnitatis elidit. Si jejuna palam, gloria causa contexerit, eodem vitio elationis intus in seipso homo subtunditur. Ne vanae gloriae contagion maculetur, orationes prolixus sub fratrum vitat celebrare conspectus et quod eos latenter exerceat, non effugit aculeos vanitatis. Alium quod patentissimus prolixitate tentatur. Non solum ergo saecularibus operibus sed etiam suis virtutibus hominem hic morbis nititur sauciare.

Institutions Cénobitiques 11:1–6

… etenim cetera vita seu perturbationes uniformes ac simplices esse noscuntur haec vero multiplex et multiformis ac varia, undique bellatori et ex omni parte victori occurrens. Nam et in habitu et in forma, in incessu, in voce, in opere, in vigiliis, in ieiuniis, in oratione, remotione, in lectione, in scientia, in taciturnitate, in obedientia, in humilitate, in longanimitate militem Christi vulnerare conatur, et velut quidam perniciossimus scopulus tumentibus undis obtectus ac miserabile naufragium secundo navigantibus vento dum non cavetur nec praevidetur, inportat. Nam cui sub specie scientiae succinctae. vestis ac nitidae χένοδοξιάν non potuit generare, pro squalid et inculta ac viliore conatur inserere: quem non potuit per honorem deicere, humilitate subplantat: quem scientae et elocutionis ornatu nequivit extollere, gravitate taciturnitate elidit. Si ieiunet palam gloria vanitatis pulsatur: Si illud prolixus sub fratram latenter exerceat nullumque habeat conscium facti, non effugit aculeos vanitatis. Alium quod patientissimus sit operum ac laboris alium quod ad oboediendum promptissimus, alius lectionis, alius vigiliarum prolixitate temptatur. Nec alius quemquem hic morbis nisi suis nititur virtutibus sauciare …

§36. Here, from the outset, Alcuin introduces his subject in words calculated to appeal to a Carolingian count. He refers to vainglory as a pestilence, avarice in many forms which attacks everywhere, on all sides; to the warrior as a fighter against vices, as well as a conqueror of vices. If we compare Alcuin's ista pestis, id est, vana gloria, multiformis avaritia est, et undique bellatori contra vitia pugnanti, ex omni parte victori etiam vitiorum occurit with Cassian's etenim cetera vita seu perturbationes uniformes ac simplices esse noscuntur haec vero multiplex et multiformis ac varies, undique bellatori et ex omne parte victori occurrens, we note that while there are some interesting textual divergences, source attribution is almost certainly without question. Both, for example, refer to vainglory as attacking the warrior and conqueror everywhere, on all sides. Yet, interestingly enough, Alcuin identifies vainglory as a pestilence, a many-faceted form of avarice: ista pestis, id est, vana gloria multiformis avaritia est. Cassian, employing the vague haec to refer to vainglory, simply states that it manifests itself in many various forms. Similarly, both Cassian's and Alcuin's military metaphors reflect the status of their particular audiences. Cassian's use of bellaltori and victori are enough to identify them as soldiers and conquerors for his monastic readers; since the metaphor was clear, he does not have to explain further. Alcuin, on the other hand, must explain the spiritual meaning of his metaphoric language to his secular audience in unequivocal terms; he evokes a warrior fighting against vices (bellatori contra vitia pugnanti) and a conqueror of vices (victori etiam vitiorum).18

§37. Next, Alcuin, in discussing the various ways vainglory can harm a Christian, follows Cassian very closely with slight grammatical variation. According to Alcuin, vainglory can ruin a soldier of Christ in appearance, in gait, in voice, in work, in vigils, in fasts, in prayer, in renunciation, in reading, in knowledge, in silence, in obedience, in humility, and in long-suffering patience, a virtue not listed in Cassian's account.19 Both describe how an unsuspecting soul, unaware of a rock hidden beneath treacherous waves, is suddenly and unexpectedly shipwrecked. Alcuin uses the words: et velut perniciossimus scopulus tumentibus undis obtetus improvisum ac miserabile naufragium prospere navigantibus dum non cavetur, importat. Cassian employs slightly different terms: et velut quidam perniciossimus scopulus tumentibus undis obtectus inprovisum ac miserabile naufragium secundo navigantibus vento, dum non cavetur nec praevidetur, inportat. 20

§38. Continuing to draw from Cassian for his discourse on vainglory, Alcuin warns Wido about Satan. If the devil cannot induce vainglory with beautiful and glittering vestments, he will do so by using a dirty, unpolished, and rude appearance. Alcuin then proceeds to enumerate the various ways in which the devil can use vainglory to cast down a Christian:

Whom he cannot cast down through honor, he overthrows by humility; whom he cannot flatter with the adornment of knowledge and elocution, he destroys by the weight of silence. One who fasts openly is inspired by vainglory; if he hides it to disdain praise, he succumbs to the sin of pride.

Additionally, Alcuin echoes and closely parallels Cassian's remarks that a man, who tries to escape contamination by vainglory, by avoiding extended prayer in the in the presence of his brother, will find that praying in seclusion will not stop the darts of pride. Alcuin further observes that vainglory attempts to flatter one soul who is most patient in work and labor, another who is most servile in obedience, and another who excels his peers in humility. Finally, and most importantly, it is important to note Alcuin's exegetical originality by his adaptation of Cassian's nec alias quamquam hic morbus nisi suis nitritur virtutibus sauciare (Institutions Cénobitiques 11.4) for his secular audience, with the inclusion of saecularibus operibus (Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 34), a phrase conspicuously absent in Cassian. As he explains to Wido, "this disease attempts to wound a man, not only through his secular works but also through his virtues."21

§39. The Cassianic tradition continued to exercise considerable influence over Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis in his chapters on gluttony and sadness. Although the discussion of gluttony and sadness were common themes in both sacred and profane literature, evidence suggests that Cassian's thought served as the source for Alcuin's inspiration and prose on both subjects. For example, both Alcuin in chapter 28 of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis and Cassian in book 5 of the Institutions Cénobitiques recognize the tripartite nature of gluttony. For Alcuin, it is quae tribus modis regnare videtur in homine or the three ways gluttony can rule over a man (Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 28), while Cassian refers to the triplex enim natura gastrimargia or the triple nature of gluttony (Institutions Cénobitiques 5.12).22

§40. The influence of Cassian's language continues as Alcuin elaborates on gluttony's nature. Closely paralleling Cassian's remarks that the first manifestation of gluttony appears when a monk is drawn to the table before the established canonical hour of refreshment, una quae canonicam refectionis horam praevenire conpellit (Institutions Cénobitiques 5.23), Alcuin relates to his reader that when a man desires to take food before the established canonical hour, it is for the sake of gluttony, dum homo horam canonicam et statuam gulae causa anticipare cupit (Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 28).

§41. This textual relationship is further evident as both Cassian and Alcuin use similar language in ascribing excessive overeating and the preparation of exotic foods to the sin of gluttony. In his account, Cassian using the expressions alia quae tantummodo ventris ingluvie et saturitate quarumlibet gaudet escarum and quae accuratioribus epulis esculentioribus oblectatur teaches that a monk who delights only in gorging his stomach and entertaining himself with more elaborate and delicate feasts is guilty of the sin of gluttony (Institutions Cénobitiques 5.12). In a similar fashion, Alcuin, echoing Cassian's expressive language, admonishes Wido with the words aut exquisitiores cibos sibi praeparare iubet when he warns him to avoid the sin of gluttony by not ordering more exotic food to be prepared than is necessary for the body. Further, with the words si plus accipet in edendo vel bibendo propter desiderium intemperantiae suae, quam suae proficiat saluti, he adds that Wido should not eat or drink more than is needed for survival because of desires born of intemperance (Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 28).23

§42. Turning our attention to the sin of sadness, we find that Cassian once again seems to have provided a monastic and ascetic model for Alcuin. In both chapter 33 of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis and chapter 11 of Cassian's fifth conference, we learn that there are two distinct types of sadness (tristitiae genera sunt duo). Moreover, both Alcuin and Cassian exhibit distinct parallels in their discussions of vices generated by sadness. Both list as coming from sadness; the vices of rancor, pusillanimity, bitterness, and despair (tristitia: rancor, pusillanimitas, amaritudo desperatio). Alcuin differs from Cassian only in his addition of malice (malitia), which he presumably drew from Gregory the Great's Moralia in Iob 31.45.

§43. Thus, the evidence presented here seems to establish Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis as an important early Carolingian transmitter of the Porcarian and Cassianic monastic traditions.


§44. Alcuin's reputation as theological originator of Charlemagne's education reforms and architect of Carolingian spirituality is well known. What has not been emphasized is his extensive use of monastic and ascetic values and sources as means to redeem a society he perceived to be in a grave state of spiritual deprivation and moral depravity. Admittedly, some scholars have drawn attention to Alcuin's use of monastic and ascetic sources in his literary and legal writings, such as Albrecht Diem's comparative study on the Regula s. Columbani and Alcuin's Epistula de Litteris Colendis (Diem 1995, 27–44). Moreover, Luitpold Wallach's analysis of the close relationship between Cassian's Institutions Cénobitiques and Conférences and Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis, as well as Henri Rochais's study on Alcuin's use of the De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem, extracted from the florilegia of the Liber Scintillarum are significant. Nevertheless, as this study has attempted to demonstrate, the Cassianic influence on the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis has not been fully addressed. More significantly, Alcuin's original exegetical treatment of Cassian's writings has not been adequately explored. Furthermore, the hitherto undiscovered parallels between Alcuin's Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis, Epistolae, and Pseudo-Basil's De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem constitute areas of study that call for more extensive investigation to be precisely assessed.


1. It is generally agreed that the Vita Alcuini was written in the early ninth century by an anonymous author of the monastery of Ferrières (Bullough 2004, 25–26). Godman dates the Vita Alcuini more precisely between 823 and 829 (1982, xxxviii). [Back]

2. Alcuin's epistle to the monks of York has also been discussed by De Jong 1995, 45. [Back]

3. Alcuin's monastic education may have been entrusted to monks attached to the York cathedral school or members of the secular clergy. For the fluid nature of the boundaries between monk and cleric in Alcuin's time, see De Jong 1995, 628–629 and Bullough 2004, 166–7. [Back]

4. For the genealogy and careers of Egbert and Aelbert, see Alcuin Versus de Patribus Regibus et Sanctis Eboricensis Ecclesiae ll. 1250–1530. For Alcuin's personal relationship with Egbert and Aelbert, see Bullough 2004, 169–237. [Back]

5. For a further discussion of Alcuin's vision, see Bullough 2004, 173 and De Jong 1995, 49. See also Cassian Institutions Cénobitiques 5.34. [Back]

6. Alcuin lists the specific authors collected by Aelbert in the York cathedral library in verses 1535–60. Fur further discussion of the York cathedral school in Alcuin's time and a reconstruction of authors and curriculum, see Stallbaumer 1971, 286–297; Lapidge 1994, 105–112, and Bullough 2004, 252–260. [Back]

7. For a discussion of the letter, see Lapidge 1994, 105–107. The importing of texts from the continent for insular cathedral libraries was a common practice among Anglo-Saxon prelates (Levison 1949, 132–134). [Back]

8. See also Bullough 2004, 344. For the identification of Master Peter with Peter of Pisa, the distinguished grammarian, see Dümmler's remarks in Alcuin Carmina 4, n. 3. [Back]

9. For the most recent analysis of the encounter between Alcuin and Charles at Parma, see Bullough 2004, 331–336. [Back]

10. Studies on the Carolingian renovatio and Charlemagne's court scholars have been exhaustive. See, for example, Greeley 2000, 69–124 and Brown 1997, 1–151. [Back]

11. For Charlemagne's love of astronomy, see also Alcuin Epistolae 83, 99 and 103. Philippe Dupreux, in a more recent study, has also noted that Alcuin exercised the same function for Charlemagne's younger son, Louis the Pious (1997, 93–94). [Back]

12. For Alcuin's part in the Adoptionist heresy, see Alcuin Epistolae 22, 29, 93, 99, 122 and Vita Alcuini 7. For detailed modern studies, see Kleinclausz 1948, 71–90 and Bullough 2004, 419–441. [Back]

13. Although pseudo-Augustine is generally identified as Quodvultdeus, the fifth century bishop of Carthage, Sedlmeier argues convincingly for the identification of pseudo-Augustine as Bishop Caesarius of Arles (Sedlmeier 2000, 55–59). [Back]

14. Although Wallach attributes Alcuin's comments at the end of each chapter in the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis on the subject of virtue overcoming vice to Isidore's Sententiae, it is much more likely that Alcuin's source was the De Octo Vitiis Principalibus of Columbanus. Compare, for instance, Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 33: … tristitia, quae vincitur per laetitiam spiritualem et spem futurorum with Isidore Sententiae 2.37: … tristitiae maerorem spes aeterni gaudii superat … and Columbanus De Octo Vitiis Principalibus: Tristitia vero laetitia spiritali et spe future beatitudinis vincenda est." [Back]

15. Alcuin's words find similar expression in the writings of only two pre-Carolingian sources: Cassian Conférences 1.23, … perfectionis culmen ascenderit and Jerome Commentarii in Prophetas Minores 3.18 ("On Joel"), perfectionis culmen ascenderit …. It is more likely, given the internal evidence of the Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis, that Alcuin borrowed from Cassian, while Jerome was almost certainly Cassian's source. [Back]

16. Compare Smaragdus's Unus prospectus eit tibi fili: Si uno domino servire desideras, omnimodo abscide a te carnalem amorem, ne a te dei excludat amorem (Expositio in Regulam S. Benedicti 4) with Pseudo-Basil's Unus prospectus sit tibi, fili, si uno domino servire desideras. Nec in diversas res occupies animum tuum, sed omnimodo abscide a te carnalem amorem, ne carnalis amor te Dei amorem excludat (De Admonitio ad Filium Spiritualem 2). Also compare Smaragdus's Multi per vinum a daemonibus capti sunt. Nec est aliud ebrietas quam manifestissimus daemon (4) with Pseudo-Basil's …alii per vinum a daemonibus capti sunt. Nec est aliud ebrietas quam manifestissimus daemon (14). [Back]

17. See also Jerome Epistulae 22, aliena nobis auri argentique sunt pondera, nostra possession spiritalis est. [Back]

18. For a further discussion of Cassian's thoughts on vainglory, see De Vogüé 1991–2006, 6.60–165. [Back]

19. Compare Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 34: Nam et in habitu et in forma corporis, in incessu, in voce, et in opera, in vigiliis, in jejuniis, in oration, in remotione, in lectione, in scientia, in taciturnitate, in obedientia, in humilitate, in patienetiae longanimitate militem Christi vulnerare conatur …" with Cassian Institutions Cénobitiques 11.3: Nam et in habitu et in forma, in incessu, in voce, in opera, in vigiliis, in ieiuniis, in oration, in remotione, in lectione, in scientia, in tacturnitate, in obedientia, in humilitate, in longanimitate militem Christi vulnerare conatur…. [Back]

20. The navigation metaphor was a recurrent theme in the pre-Carolingian and Carolingian Christian literary tradition. [Back]

21. Compare Alcuin Liber de Virtutibus et Vitiis 34: Non solum ergo saecularibus operibus, sed etiam suis virtutibus hominem hic morbus nitritur sauciare with Cassian Institutions Cénobitiques 11.4: Nec alias quemquam hic morbis nisi suis nitritur virtutibus sauciare. See also Wallach 1955, 189. In light of the evidence presented here, Wallach's remarks that Alcuin's chapter on vainglory was derived word for word from 11.3–4, 11.6, and 11.29 of Cassian's Institutions Cénobitiques are manifestly incorrect. [Back]

22. Compare also Columbanus De Octo Vitiis Principalibus: Gula triplex vincenda est per abstinentiam ieiunii de hora nona in horam nonam et parcitatem cibique vilitatem. [Back]

23. Both compare with Cassian Conférences 5.22: Et ut singillatim nunc de uniuscuiusque vitii generibus disputemus, gastimargiae genera sunt tria: Primum quod ad refectionem perurget monachum ante horam statuam ac legitimam festinare; secundum quod expletione ventris et quarumlibet escarum voracitate laetatur; tertium quod accuratiores ac delicatissimos desiderat cibos. For further discussion on Cassian's notions of gluttony, see De Vogüé 1991–2006, 6:217–22. Sedlmeier 2000, 179–80 and Stuardi 1999, 78–9. [Back]

Works Cited

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———. 2004. Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation. Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Vol. 16. Leiden and Boston: Brill.  [Back]

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Last Modifed: 18-May-2016