Alexander Alane

Alexander Alane was a Scotsman born April 23, 1500 in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the age of 15, he graduated from St. Andrews and became a canon (clergy who lives at the church) in the St. Andrews collegiate church. Alexander became quite the defender of the Roman Catholic Church. So much so that, when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, Alexander was unconvinced and continued to stand for the old faith instead of Luther’s “heresy.” Thankfully, his thinking would later change.

In the year 1528, the Scottish Reformer Patrick Hamilton was deceived into attending a debate with the Archbishop Beaton. But instead of being given the opportunity to argue the merits of his views, Hamilton was imprisoned and given over to Alexander Alane in hopes of converting him back to Roman Catholicism. But Hamilton was no match for the godly reformer. His godly testimony made an impact on the life of the twenty-eight year old Alexander.

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 won over to the cause of the Reformers.1

After Hamilton’s martyrdom, Alexander embraced Reformation doctrine especially because of Hamilton’s godly testimony as compared to his superior’s immoral life style. His new thinking became known when he preached against the immorality of the clergy before the Synod of St. Andrews. He was imprisoned for this preaching for almost a year, but later escaped to the continent with the help of some friends. He eventually settled in Wittenberg, Germany where he met Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon who gave him the Latin name Alesius (pronounced “uh-lee-shus”).

All went well for Alexander despite his being condemned as a heretic by the Scottish church. But in 1533, when the Scottish laity decreed that the common people could not read the New Testament, Alexander blew his top. He wrote several strong letters to King James V arguing that the Scriptures should be made available to the common man. (He eventually wrote 28 books about this subject.) But the only answer given him was his excommunication by the deputy for the archbishop of St. Andrews in 1534.

Things changed, however, when King Henry VIII took the throne. In 1535 Alexander was able to visit England with a letter of recommendation from Melanchthon. There he was well received by the king and his advisors and was given a post at Cambridge University. But the good times were not to last. After only a few lectures about the Hebrew psalms, a papal party saw to it that he was dismissed. Then in 1540, when King Henry VIII began to lean toward Roman Catholicism again, Alexander decided it would be better for him to return to Germany.

But Alexander’s work was “not in vain in the Lord.” After a short term at another school, the Lord enabled him to teach at Leipzig University for 21 years. During that time, change did take place in Scotland. In 1543, the Scottish Parliament passed a decree allowing the reading of the Bible. Then toward the end of his life, the Scottish Reformation broke loose in 1560. Despite the fact that he never returned to his native country, Alexander enjoyed a fruitful ministry in Germany. It was there that Alexander Alane died March 17, 1565.

The life story of Alexander Alane reminds me of that of the Apostle Paul. Both were zealously involved with the persecution of the Church (Gal. 1:13-17). And after being converted, both were greatly used by the Lord away from their native land. May the Lord open the eyes of more like Alexander Alane who will preach the true gospel both here and in other lands.


“Alesius, Alexander.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001–04. April 11, 2007.

“Alesius, Alexander.” Who’s Who in Christian History. Ed. J. D. Douglas. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992. 15.

“Alexander Alane.” The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes. Vol. III. 1907–21. April 11, 2007.

“Alexander Ales.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 11, 2007.

“Alexander Ales.” About: Medieval History. April 11, 2007.

“Hamilton, Patrick.” Who’s Who in Christian History. Ed. J. D. Douglas. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992. 301.

“Luther, Martin.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 11, 2007.

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