ALES (Alesius), ALEXANDER (1500–1565), Scottish divine of the school of Augsburg, whose family name was Alane, was born at Edinburgh on the 23rd of April 1500. He studied at St Andrews in the newly-founded college of St Leonard’s, where he graduated in 1515. Some time afterwards he was appointed a canon of the collegiate church, and at first contended vigorously for the scholastic theology as against the doctrines of the Reformers. His views were entirely changed, however, on the execution of Patrick Hamilton, abbot of Fern, in 1528. He had been chosen to meet Hamilton in controversy, with a view to convincing him of his errors, but the arguments of the Scottish proto-martyr, and above all the spectacle of his heroism at the stake, impressed Alesius so powerfully that he was entirely won over to the cause of the Reformers. A sermon which he preached before the Synod at St Andrews against the dissoluteness of the clergy gave great offence to the provost, who cast him into prison, and might have carried his resentment to the extremest limit had not Alesius contrived to escape to Germany in 1532. After travelling in various countries of northern Europe, he settled down at Wittenberg, where he made the acquaintance of Luther and Melanchthon, and signed the Augsburg confession. Meanwhile he was tried in Scotland for heresy and condemned without a hearing. In 1533 a decree of the Scottish clergy, prohibiting the reading of the New Testament by the laity, drew from Alesius a defence of the right of the people, in the form of a letter to James V. A reply to this by John Cochlaeus, also addressed to the Scottish king, occasioned a second letter from Alesius, in which he not only amplifies his argument with great force, but enters into more general questions connected with the Reformation. In August 1534 he and a few others were excommunicated at Holyrood by the deputy of the archbishop of St Andrews. When Henry VIII. broke with the church of Rome Alesius was induced to go to England, where he was very cordially received (August 1535) by the king and his advisers Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell. After a short residence at Lambeth he was appointed, through the influence of Cromwell, then chancellor of the university, to lecture on theology at Cambridge; but when he had delivered a few expositions of the Hebrew psalms, he was compelled by the opposition of the papal party to desist. Returning to London he supported himself for some time by practising as a physician. In 1537 he attended a convocation of the clergy, and at the request of Cromwell conducted a controversy with Stokesley, bishop of London, on the nature of the sacraments. His argument was afterwards published under the title Of the Auctorite of the Word of God concerning the number of the Sacraments. In 1539 Alesius was compelled to flee for the second time to Germany, in consequence of the enactment of the statute of the Six Articles. He was appointed to a theological chair in the university of Frankfort-on-Oder, where he was the first professor who taught the reformed doctrines. In 1543 he quitted Frankfort for a similar position at Leipzig, his contention that it was the duty of the civil magistrate to punish fornication, and his sudden departure, having given offence to the authorities of the former university. He was in England again for a short time during Edward VI.’s reign, and was commissioned by Cranmer to make a Latin version of the First Prayer-Book (1549) for the information of Bucer, whose opinion was desired. He died at Leipzig on the 17th of March 1565.
Alesius was the author of a large number of exegetical, dogmatic and polemical works, of which over twenty are mentioned by Bale in his List of English Writers. (See also the British Museum catalogue.) In his controversial works he upholds the synergistic views of the Scottish theologian John Major. He displayed his interest in his native land by the publication of a Cohortatio ad Concordiam Pietatis, missa in Patriam suam (1544), which had the express approval of Luther, and a Cohortatio ad Pietatis Concordiam ineundam (1559).
The best early account of Alesius is the Oratio de Alexandro Alesio of Jacob Thomasius (April 1661), printed in the latter’s Orationes (No. XIV., Leipzig, 1683): the best modern account is by Dr A. W. Ward in the Dictionary of National Biography. See also A. F. Mitchell’s introduction to Gau’s Richt Vay (Scottish Text Society, 1888).