Hugh of Balma

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Carthusian mystical writer. Precise information regarding the dates or other circumstances of his birth and death is not available. It is known only that he was a Carthusian monk, and later prior of the Charterhouse of Meyriat. Sometime between 1246 and 1297 he wrote a work called De theologia mystica. This book has also been attributed to St. Bonaventure and printed in collections of his works under the title Theologia mystica. This is not to be confused with Bonaventure's De triplici via, of whose authenticity there is no question. Hugh's De theologia mystica was also sometimes known as De triplici via, and sometimes, from its first words, as Viae Sion lugent. This book was among the first to attempt a methodical description of the interior life according to the schema of the "three ways." In the purgative way the soul considers God's goodness in the mysteries of Creation and Redemption, and is cleansed of its sin by contrition. In the illuminative way, it meditates upon the Scriptures and becomes more enlightened and guided by grace. In the unitive way, it is closely united to God by the experience of divine wisdom in contemplation. In describing contemplation as a cognitio Dei per ignorantiam a knowledge of God by unknowingHugh showed himself a disciple of Pseudo-Dionysius. He held that the affective union with God in which contemplation culminates confers a knowledge far more penetrating than intellect and reason can provide. Among the means of arriving at truly contemplative prayer, Hugh made much of the usefulness of "anagogic movements" of the soul, short upward movements of mind and heart, fervent aspirations that build up and maintain the desire of tending toward God. The analogy of this type of prayer with that of the cloud of unknowing is evident. It may also be compared with the Jesus-Prayer of Hesychasm in the Eastern Church, as this was described in the Story of a Russian Pilgrim [see B. du Moustier, "The Jesus-Prayer," Cross and Crown (September 1960) 301312]. Through the De triplici via this simple way to unitive prayer seems to have influenced the teachings of Jean gerson, denis the carthusian, henry of herp (har phius van erp), bernardino of laredo, David Augustine baker, and many others. Most of these also show the influence of Hugh in other points of spiritual doctrine.

Bibliography: s. autore, in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 7.1:215220. a. m. sochay, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947) 5:102830. j. krΫnen, "La Pratique et la théorie de l'amour sans connaissance dans le Viae Sion lugent d'Hugues de Balma," Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 49 (1964) 161183.

[b. du moustier]