Saint Victor, School of

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The Augustinian house of canons at St. Victor in Paris was founded in 1108 by William of Champeaux, the celebrated logician and theologian who retired there from the schools of Paris after undergoing a religious conversion and after Peter Abelard's attacks on his realism. The abbey survived until the French Revolution, but in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries it was especially famous for its public school and for the distinction of the masters and canons who resided and taught there. From William, St. Victor derived high religious ideals, a leaning toward the conservative theological tradition of the school of Anselm of Laon, and an active interest in the work of other Parisian schools. Its masters mediated between the theological orthodoxy and strictness of the CisterciansBernard of Clairvaux was a friend to St. Victorand the intellectual adventurousness of such secular masters as Abelard. St. Victor in the twelfth century combined Scholasticism and mysticism and exerted a most powerful influence upon the development of both philosophical and theological thought in that century. Not only did it possess among its canons some of the ablest writers of the age but it also attracted as long-staying guests such celebrated teachers as Peter Lombard and Robert of Melun. Besides producing a wealth of literature, its leaders also contributed to the fall of Abelard, to the damping of the enthusiasms of the Chartrains, to the containment of Gilbert of Poitiers, and to the correction of the Christological errors that abounded in the mid-twelfth century.

Hugh of St. Victor

St. Victor, unlike Chartres, was not devoted to the liberal arts. No commentary upon a nontheological text is known to have been written there, and purely literary writings were even relegated by the greatest Victorine, Hugh (d. 1141), to the position of mere appendices to the liberal arts. The Victorines did not encourage profane studies for their own sakes. The extreme, fanatical Walter (d. circa 1180) intemperately denounced the Aristotelian spirit of Abelard, Gilbert of Poitiers, William of Conches, and Peter Lombard. Absalon (d. 1203), too, warned against the dangers found in Aristotle.

Hugh vigorously challenged his humanist contemporaries who in the first half of the twelfth century thought more often of pagan philosophy than of Christ and his saints. Against the Chartrains he insisted upon the disparity between the cosmogony of Plato's Timaeus and Christian truth. Nonetheless, in his Didascalicon (which contains a program of Christian education) Hugh shows that he was thoroughly immersed in secular studies as the preliminary to divine science, for he considered the arts an indispensable aid to the understanding of Scripture. Hugh sought to pass through knowledge to wisdom and to promote that participation in the divine Wisdom for which man was made. Similarly, Godfrey (d. after 1194) also affirmed that the liberal arts and theology were inseparable and that together they offered a complete education.

Philosophical elements are found scattered in the writings of the Victorines. Inheriting the Boethian-Aristotelian theory of abstraction, Hugh appreciated the necessity for logic without exalting it as highly as did Abelard. In physics Hugh maintained the atomic theory of matter and accepted the principle of the conservation of matter. His psychology was Augustinian, and he found the proof for the existence of the immaterial soul in the fact of its self-consciousness.

Richard of St. Victor

Both Hugh and his disciple Richard (d. 1173) describe the ascent of the soul in contemplation; Richard especially is the theorist of the degrees of love. But whereas Hugh insisted upon the inadequacy of reason and the necessity for faith, Richard, who rivaled Hugh as a spiritual writer, was more scholastic and laid a stronger emphasis upon dialectic to supplement the traditional scriptural and patristic authorities. Inheriting from Anselm of Canterbury his zeal to search for the "necessary reasons" of faith and for an understanding of belief, he accounted for the trinity of persons in God in abstract style with a very original dialectic of mutual love; he was also the first medieval thinker to provide, in one of the great speculative achievements of the period, an empirical basis in the principle of causality for a proof of God's existence.

Victorine Theology

Essentially the Victorines provided a theology for contemplatives within the cloister rather than for the schools. Hugh was a systematizer of theology on Augustinian lines, using dialectic when needed. Richard became the mystical doctor of the later Middle Ages. Both Hugh and Richard were biblical exegetes and spiritual writers, and it is for this that they and such other Victorines as Andrew (d. 1175) and Gamier (d. 1170) and the poet Adam were best known in the Middle Ages. Godfrey was more pronounced in his humanism, combining Chartrain Platonism and Aristotelian dialectic with Victorine spirituality. Achard (abbot 11551160) also mingled Augustinian theology with Chartrain Platonism, but all the Victorines concurred in wishing to turn knowledge into wisdom and the reader of the profane sciences into a contemplative. They always returned to the internal and external experiences of the soul, and frequently to the use of allegory and symbolism in the penetration of divine truths. In the early thirteenth century the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius, which had been powerful upon Hugh, prevailed again upon Thomas Gallus, who was a forerunner of the mysticism of the later Middle Ages.

See also Abelard, Peter; Aristotle; Augustinianism; Bernard of Clairvaux, St.; Gilbert of Poitiers; Peter Lombard; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Pseudo-Dionysius; William of Champeaux; William of Conches.


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David Luscombe (1967)

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Saint Victor, School of

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