Hugh of St. Victor

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Hugh of St. Victor

(d. Pairs, France, 11 February 1141)

scientific classification, geometry.

Probably from Saxony or Flanders originally, Hugh came to Paris at an early age and joined the canons regualr of the abbey of St. Victor. He lectured on theology in the famous school attached to this monastery, and was its greatest representative. He wrote a very large number of exegetical, philosophical, and theological works which exercised a profound influence on the scholasticism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The most famous of them is the De sacramentis christianae fidei.

Preoccupied with giving a scientific basis to the teaching of theology, Hugh wrote an introductory treatise to the sacred sciences, the Didascalicon or De studio legendi, composed before 1125. Book II of this work contains a division of philosophy which is a classification of the sciences, inspired by that of Boethius. According to Hugh, philosophy encompasses four parts: theorica, practica (that is, moral philosophy), mechanica, and logica. Theorica in turn is divided into theologia, mathematica, and physica, limiting itself to indicating that it is the science of nature and that it examines the causes of things in their effects and their effects in their causes. Hugh lingers a great deal longer on mathematics, to which he gives a preponderant place; it is indispensable to the knowledge of physics and ought to be studied before the latter. The word mathematica has two senses: When the t is not aspirated, this term designates “the superstition of those who place the destiny of men in the constellations” of the heavens; when the t is aspirated, it designates, on the contrary, the science of “abstract quantity,” itself identified with the intellectibile, as opposed to the intelligible, the object of theology. Mathematica thus defined is divided into four sciences, in which are recognized the four disciplines of the Carolingian quadrivium: arithmetic, the science of numbers and their properties; music, divided into music of the world (the study of the harmony of the elements, the planets, and the divisions of time), human music (the study of the body and its functions and humors, of the soul and its powers, and of the relations of the body and the soul), and instrumental music; geometry, which is subdivided into planimetria, altimetria, and cosmimetria; and finally astronomy, the subject matter of which is identical in part with that of the preceding sciences, but which is a study of the stars from the point of view of movement and time. The classification of the sciences in the Didascalicon gives a place not onlyl to theorica, but to mechanica as well, that is, to the mechanical arts (the arts of clothing, armament, navigation, agriculture, hunting, medicine, and the theater). Hugh was thus the first to raise technology to the dignity of science. In this regard he was the first of a great number of the authors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The division of the sciences in the Didascalicon was resumed a short time later in a dialogue entitled Epitome Dindimi in philosophiam. The interest that he had shown for mathematics reappeared in Practica geometriae, the authenticity of which, sometimes contested, is now well established. Composed at about the same time as the Didascalicon, this treatise, which shows the influence of Macrobius and especially of Gerbert (Gerbert d’Aurillac), testifies to the state of geometry in the West before the great diffusion of Arabic science. In it Hugh presented the methods of calculating and measuring used in altimetria (the measurement of heights and depths), in planimetria (the measurement of the lengths and widths of surfaces), and in cosmimetria, a discipline intermediate between geometry and astronomy which is concerned with the measurement of the dimensions of the terrestrial sphere and of the celestial sphere. His descriptions of these sciences involve chiefly the properties of triangles and more precisely those of the right-angled triangle, but Hugh also described the methods that can be employed for these mensurations: surveying, measurement of shadows, use of mirrors or the astrolabe, etc. At the end of his Practica geometriae he alluded to an astronomical treatise which was supposed to follow, but it is not known if this is a reference to a lost work or simply to a project that Hugh never carried out.


I. Original Works Hugh’s writings, frequently published, have been reproduced by Migne, in Patrologia latina, CLXXV-CLXXVII (Paris, 1854), following the ed. produced in Rouen in 1658 by the canons regular of St. Victor. This ed. sins by default and by excess; it is incomplete and contains apocryphal works, but it may still be used if one takes as a guide D. van den Eynde’s Essai sur la succession et la date des écrits de Hugues de S. V., in Spicilegium Pontificii Athenaei Antoniani, XIII (Rome, 1960).

Recent editions of the scientific works are Didascalicon, de studio legendi: A Critical Text, C. H. Buttimer, ed., in The Catholic University of America: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Latin, X (Washington, 1939); “Epitome Dindimi in philosophiam,” R. Baron, ed., in Traditio, 11 (1955), 105–119; “Practica geometriae,” R. Baron, ed., in Osiris, 12 (1956), 176–224; and Hugonis de Sancto Victore opera propedeutica; Practica geometriae, De grammatica. Epitome Dindimi in philosophiam, R. Baron, ed., in Publications in Mediaeval studies. The University of Notre Dame, XX (Notre Dame, Ind., 1966).

For recent translations of his work, see On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De sacramentis), English vers. by R. J. Deferrari (Cambridge, Mass., 1951); J. Taylor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor, Translated From the Latin With Introduction and Notes, in Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies, no. 64 (New York, 1961).

II. Secondary Literature. Information on Hugh’s work and life is in R. Baron, Science et sagesse chez Hugues de S.-V. (Paris, 1957); and Études sur Huges de S.-V. (Paris, 1963); F. E. Croydon, “Notes on the Life of Hugh of St. Victor,” in Journal of Theological Studies, 40 (1939), 232–253; J. Taylor, The Origins and Early Life of Hugh of St. Victor (Notre Dame, Ind., 1957); and R. Javelet, “Les origines de Hugues de S.-V.,” in Revue des sciences religieuses, 34 (1960), 74–83.

Hugh’s scientific thought is discussed in M. Curtze, “Practica geometriae. Ein anonymer Traktat aus dem Ende des zwölften Jahrhunderts,” in Monatshefte für Mathematic und Physik, 8 (1897), 193–220; P. Tannery,Mémoires scientifiques, J. L. Heiberg, ed., vol. V, Science exactes aumoyen âge (1887–1921) (Toulouse-Paris, 1922), 308–313, 326–328, 357–358, 361–368; R. Baron, “Hugues de S.-V. auteur d’une Practica geometriae,” in Mediaeval Studies, 17 (1955), 107–116; “Sur I’introduction en Occident destermes ’geometria, theorica et practica,’” in Revue d’histoire des scienes et de leurs applications, 8 (1955), 298–302; and “Note sur les variations au XIIe siècle de la triade géométrique altimetria, planimetria, cosmimetria,” in Isis, 48 (1957), 30–32; L. Thorndike, “Cosmimetria or Steriometria,” ibid., p. 458; and J. Châtillon, “Le Didascalicon de Hugues de S.-V.,” in Cahiers d’ histoire mondiale, 9 (1966), 539–552.

Jean ChÂtillon

Hugh of St-Victor

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Hugh of St-Victor (c.1096–1142). Medieval theologian, of whom little is known. About 1115 he entered St-Victor, a house of Augustinian canons in Paris. Together with other later members of the Abbey, notably Richard of St-Victor and Thomas Gallus, he represents the distinctive and influential ‘Victorine’ school of theology, which is marked by the influence of Dionysius the Areopagite (on whose Celestial Hierarchy Hugh wrote a commentary), and sees the whole created order as a set of symbols manifesting the glory of God and drawing people to contemplation.