Hugh of Saint-Victor

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Biblical interpreter, theologian and mystical writer; b. end 11th century; d. Paris, Feb. 11, 1141.

Life. Very little is known about Hugh's origin and early youth. He reveals but one detail about that period when he writes: "Since my childhood I have been an exile" (Didasc. 3:20). According to one tradition, founded partly on Victorine and partly on German sources, he was descended from the family of the counts of Blankenburg in Saxony and related to Reinhard, Bishop of Halberstadt. After joining the community of Canons Regular of St. Augustine at Hamersleven, he was sent abroad by the bishop. Traveling with his uncle, Archdeacon Hugh of Halberstadt, he first obtained relics of the martyr Victor at Marseilles, then went to Paris. There around 1115 they settled in the newly founded monastery of Saint-Victor. The Victorine necrology records a major gift to the abbey by Hugh's uncle. Another substantial tradition points to a non-Saxon origin. Robert of Torigny, writing about Hugh as early as 1154, calls him Magister Lothariensis, and two manuscripts from the end of the 12th century (Douai 361 and 362) put his birthplace in the region of Ypres in Flanders. The diversity of opinions originating from the disagreement of the sources has lasted for several centuries. Even modern scholars are divided on the matter: neither F. E. Croydon, who rejects, nor J. Taylor, who supports the traditional view was able to settle the question for lack of sufficient evidence. It may well be that some combination of the two traditions, such as Saxon birth coupled with formation in the Low Countries before coming to Saint-Victor, offers the most suitable solution barring further discoveries.

About Hugh's later life, there are reliable but meager records. From the mid-1120s until his death he was the leading master at the school of Saint-Victor. His signature appears on official acts in 1127, 1139, and again between 1133 and 1140. Only a few times did he leave the abbey, once to visit the papal court under Innocent II (113043), either in France or in Italy. He took no part in the condemnation of Abelard's errors at Sens, June 2 and 3, 1140. Canon Osbert, who was in charge of the infirmary at Saint-Victor, left a written account of Hugh's pious death (Patrologia Latina 175:161163).

Doctrine. Although Hugh's merits as a scholar are well recognized, only in recent years, with the careful study of his works by Roger Baron, Heinrich Weisweiler, Ludwig Ott, Damien van den Eynde and others, has it been possible to be confident that his authentic works have been identified and spurious ones weeded out. Moreover, the careful work of van den Eynde now makes it possible to have a good sense of the sequence of Hugh's writings, something that is of great assistance in judging his mature thought. Among all the authors of the time, none dealt more thoroughly with a broad range of basic questions and topics such as: the method of reading and studying; the fundamental task of the trivium and the quadrivium; the distinction the "works of creation" (the natural order) and the "works of salvation" (the sacraments); the nature of philosophy, conceived as universal knowledge, and its division into "theoretical, practical, mechanical, and logical" parts; the classification, origin, and progress of all sciences; the primary importance of the literal sense for the interpretation of Scripture; the rules of exegesis; the creation of a "summa" of theological doctrine; and the formation of a body of literature directed toward instruction in the ascetic/contemplative life leading to what today is called mysticism.

As a philosophical thinker Hugh made only a limited contribution, but his effect on the study of the liberal arts and philosophy was exceptional. Except the Epitome in philosophiam, the treatise De unione spiritus et corporis, and the first half of the Didascalicon (critical ed. C. H. Buttimer, Washington 1939), none of his works is dedicated exclusively or even principally to philosophical matters. However, in his Didascalicon: On the Study of Reading, Hugh outlines a program of study for the pursuit of "Wisdom" embracing the parts of philosophy (Books 13) and the study of divine Scripture (Books 46). As a guide to subjects, a classification of the parts of philosophy, and a guide to reading, the Didascalicon exerted a long and deep influence on medieval intellectual culture. Hugh divides philosophy into four major categories of arts and disciplines: theoretical, practical, mechanical, and logical. For Hugh these are necessarily related to the "restoration of humanity" following the Fall, the primordial event which resulted in human ignorance, concupiscence and bodily weakness. The theoretical arts restore the loss of knowledge; the practical arts restore the loss of virtue, the mechanical arts ameliorate the weakness of body consequent on the Fall, while the logical arts insure clarity in pursuit of the others. The important place Hugh granted to the mechanical arts is striking. Integrated into this broader scheme are the seven "liberal arts" around which so much medieval philosophical learning was initially ordered. Hugh's concern with proper reading, the proper books to read, and the demeanor of the reader (see Book 3 of the Didascalicon ) reflects the insights of a master teacher, the central figure in a major school founded in the early part of the 12th century by William of Champeaux. William, former chancellor of the cathedral school of Notre Dame, Paris, left his position at the cathedral school to establish a small religious community on the left bank of the Seine. That community grew into the major abbey and school of Saint-Victor, a community of Regular Canons. The Victorine school was open to "outsiders" during Hugh's lifetime and later. Connected with Hugh's concern with reading is the fact that the preface to his Chronicon is an important text teaching an "art of memory," one of the few between classical antiquity and the 13th century.

Exegesis. Hugh was an exegete, practical and theoretical; besides expounding many parts of the Bible, he was concerned with the method and rules of its interpretation. Beryl Smalley, who brought to scholarly attention Hugh's insistence on the fundamental role of history and the literal sense in Christian Biblical exegesis, rightly stressed the innovative aspect of this. Henri de Lubac considered Hugh to be merely a continuator of traditional 3-or 4-fold Biblical exegesis. While Hugh did follow tradition, his emphasis on history as the foundation of all Biblical study and interpretation (especially allegory and tropology) truly brought a new focus to the exegetical project. The Didascalicon (Books 46) offered an outline of an ideal syllabus of readings for scripture study (what Biblical books to read for "history," what for "allegory"), the distinction of the three senses (there called "disciplines" to be mastered in sequence by the student) of history, allegory, and tropology (using Gregory the Great's illustration of history as the foundation, allegory as the structure, and tropology as the beautiful coloring of a building), and general directions for the reader, cautions against error, and an affirmation of the place of a firm doctrinal foundation preceding allegorical exegesis. Nevertheless, it remained for another work to provide the true introduction to the craft of Biblical interpretation. Often relegated to a secondary place, Hugh's De scripturis et scriptoribus sacris is shown by its placement in manuscripts to be the work Hugh intended as an introduction to the practice of exegesis (the Didascalicon seems more like a handbook for a school master). In formal structure, and in the fact that in manuscripts it prefaces Hugh's literal notes on Genesis and other books of the Hebrew Bible, De scripturis is an accessus ad auctores text, modeled directly on the accessus form then widely used in the arts faculty for non-Biblical texts. It covers the usual topics: titulus libri, nomen auctoris, materia libri, modus tractandi, ordo libri, utilitas, and cui parti philosophiae supponitur. Hugh's extant works of Biblical exegesis are directed toward the literal sense of the Hebrew Bible. Notulae (Adnotationes elucidatoriae) exist for the Pentateuch, Judges, Ruth, Kings, and Lamentations, with commentary on diverse Psalm texts found as Book II of Hugh's Miscellanea printed in vol 177 of Migne. A brief summation of exegetical principles is found in the opening prologue to Hugh's De sacramentis ; there he points out that the historical sense is served by the trivium (grammar, dialectic and rhetoric), while allegory and tropology are served by the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy) plus physics. His spiritual writings often draw directly on Biblical verses and images; see especially De arca Noe morali and De vanitate mundi, plus the Libellus de formatione arche (also known as De arca Noe mystica ).

Theology. Hugh was one of the most creative and innovative theologians of the 12th century and deeply influenced succeeding generations through the creation of the first summa of theology in the Parisian schools and through his theological analysis and conclusions. His major work, De sacramentis christianae fidei (On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith) raises and answers essentially all significant theological questions, while keeping to what Hugh understood to be an historical and Biblical framework. Structuring his thought around the two great divine works, the work of creation (the natural world) and the work of restoration (Christ and all his sacraments, those that preceded and those that followed the Incarnation), Hugh utilized the quaestio form then becoming popular in the schools and in the work of Abelard for the purpose of exploring reflection on theological matters. He was indebted to William of Champeaux and Anselm of Laon, whose Biblical commentary and question tradition preceded his own work. Hugh was thought of in the middle ages as a "second Augustine." Bonaventure, who owed much to Hugh's influence in theology and spirituality, reflected the specialization of the 13th century when he noted that while individual patristic and contemporary writers were masters of the fields of rational thought (theology), preaching, and contemplation (here Richard of Saint-Victor figured), only one was master of all three: Hugh of Saint-Victor.

Hugh's theology follows the pattern of the historical economy of salvation, beginning with the Creation of the cosmos and the fall of the first humans, culminating in Christ's Incarnation, and ending with the consummation of all things. Deeply indebted, like most in his generation, to the thought of Augustine, Hugh made extensive use of the works of previous thinkers. He rarely cites his sources, hence his dependence is harder to note. The work of Weisweiler and Ott has, however, made quite clear his extensive citation and paraphrase of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Hilary of Poitiers, as well as texts from Ivo of Chartres and other more nearly contemporaries. His definition of faith as "a certainty about things absent, above opinion and below science," became classical throughout scholasticism. He contributed notably to the elaboration of the definition of a Sacrament in the strict sense of the term, considering extensively each that would become constitutive of the "seven sacraments." Moreover, he was the only theologian of his day who emphasized the role of absolution in Penance and associated divine grace with Matrimony, which he considered (as did Bonaventure later) the sole sacrament established before the Fall. Thanks to his initiative, theology was enriched with two hitherto neglected treatises, one on the Church, the other on the Last Things. Although he wrote no separate treatise on ethics, the portion of De sacramentis devoted to that topic shows the clarity and breadth of his thought on such topics, with an emphasis on the analysis of the nature of love, and, in the case of marriage, an emphasis upon the vow between two persons, rather than consummation, as the essential element. Hugh commented on Eriugena's translation of the Celestial Hierarchy of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, thus introducing the thought of that enigmatic Eastern Christian writer of the 6th century to a wider audience. One also finds in Hugh's theology and especially his spirituality a distinctive Dionysian element, found particularly in Hugh's sense that the material world is a divinely meant "upward leading" guide for the spiritual quest.

Spirituality. Hugh's spiritual writings were part of the great upsurge in mystical and devotional writing fueled in part by the spirit of reform and regeneration that took root in the later 11th and early 12th century, producing the Cistercian Order, numerous wandering preachers, a renewal of the "apostolic life," and a greater concern with the systematic ordering of the spiritual life. Hugh shared the heritage of centuries of "monastic mysticism" (to use Bernard McGinn's phrase) with the Cistercians; he was also part of the new move to systematize thought in the schools and brought that spirit to his analysis of the mystical quest. Hugh's two major spiritual treatises, De arca Noe morali and Libellus de formatione arche (also known as De arca Noe mystica ) utilize a drawing based on Christ seated in Majesty (based on Isaiah's vision recounted in Isaiah, 6) and incorporating a diagram of Noah's Ark to represent the line of history, the centrality of Christ, and the 12 stages of the mystic's quest. This drawing (described by Hugh but thus far not found in a realized form) functioned much like a device for focusing and meditation, as well as for spiritual transformation and the conveying of spiritual/theological teaching. Hugh also wrote other spiritual treatises: De vanitate mundi (which again uses vivid visual images and the image of the Ark as well), De arrha anima (The Soul's betrothal gift, which concerns with love relation between the soul and the divine), De substantia dilectionis (On the substance of love), and others. Hugh presents the spiritual quest as a return from fallen humanity's scattered, diffuse, misdirected love of the material world to a unifying (and unified) love evoked by the Incarnate Christ, the divine Bridegroom, who has come to call humans back to reformation, transformation and experience of the divine presence. This return begins with the material reality of the world, which is a manifestation of God's creative power and functions as an initial "vehicle" of divine presence, moves through a deeper understanding of Scripture as the "new" voice of God which speaks to fallen humanity, and finally comes to an inward transformation (presented as a melting) which reforms human beings into the lost image of God.

Bibliography: Works. hugh of saint-victor, Omnia opera, Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v. (Paris 187890) 175177. Hugonis de Sancto Victore, Didascalicon: de studio legendi. A Critical Text, ed. c. h. buttimer (Washington, D.C.1939). The "Didascalicon" of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, tr. j. taylor (New York 1961). Hugh of Saint Victor on the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De sacramentis), tr. r. j. deferrari (Cambridge 1951). Hugh of Saint-Victor: Selected Spiritual Writings, tr. A Religious of C.S.M.V. (London 1962). L'Oeuvre de Hugues de Saint-Victor, coll. "Sous la règle de Saint Augustin," dir. p. sicard (Turnhout v. 1, 1997; v. 2, 2000). Hugues de Saint-Victor et son École, intr. and tr. p. sicard (Turnhout 1991). Textes Spirituels de Hugues de Saint-Victor, tr. r. baron (Tournai 1962). Hugonis de Sancto Victore: Opera Propaedeutica. Practica geometriae, De grammatica, Epitome Dindimi in Philosophiam, ed. r. baron (Notre Dame 1966). r. baron, "Hugues de Saint-Victor: Contribution à un nouvel examen de son oeuvre," Traditio 15 (1959) 223297; "Études sur l'authenticité de l'oeuvre de Hugues de Saint-Victor d'apres les mss. Paris Maz., 717, BN 14506 et Douai 3606," Scriptorium 10 (1956) 182220. p. gautier dalchÉ, La "Descriptio mappe mundi" de Hugues de Saint-Victor. Texte inédit avec introduction et commentaire (Paris 1988). d. van den eynde, Essai sur la succession et la date des écrits de Hughes de Saint-Victor (Spicilegium Pontificii Athenaei Antonianum 13; Rome 1960). General. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 191131) 3:112118. f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschicte der Philosophie, ed. k. praechter (Berlin 192328) 2:261267. j. de ghellinck, Le Mouvement théologique du XII esiècle (Bruges 1948). Life. f. e. croydon, "Notes on the Life of Hugh of St. Victor," Journal of Theological Studies 40 (London 1939) 232253. r. baron, "Notes biographiques sur Hugues de Saint-Victor," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 51 (Louvain 1956) 920934. j. taylor, The Origin and Early Life of Hugh of St. Victor (Notre Dame, Ind.1957). Exegesis. b. smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages 3rd ed. (Oxford 1983), chap. 3. h. de lubac, Exégèse médiévale, 2 v. (Paris 195964) 2.1:287359. Doctrine. h. weisweiler, Die Wirksamkeit der Sakramente nach Hugo von St. Victor (Freiburg 1932); "Die Arbeitsmethode Hugos von St. Viktor. Ein Beitrag zum Entstehen seines Hauptwerke De sacramentis," Scholastik 2024 (1949) 5987, 232267. l. ott, "Untersuchungen zur theologischen Briefliteratur de Frühscholastik," Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 34.2 (Münster 1937) 126347. d. lasi, Hugonis de S. Victore theologia perfectiva (Studia Antonia 7; Rome 1956). r. baron, Science et Sagesse chez Hugues de Saint-Victor (Paris 1957). j. p. kleinz, The Theory of Knowledge of Hugh of St. Victor (CUA Philosophical Studies 87; Washington 1945). b. lacroix, "Hugues de Saint-Victor et les conditions du savoir au moyen-âge," An Etienne Gilson Tribute, ed. c. j. o'neil (Milwaukee 1959). j. ehlers, Hugo von St. Viktor: Studien zum Geschichtsdenken und zur Geschichtsschreibung des 12. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden 1973); "Arca significat ecclesiam: ein theologisches Weltmodell aus der ersten Hälfte des 12. Jahrhunderts," Jahrbuch des Institutes für Frühmittelalterforschung der Universität Münster 6 (Münster 1972) 121187. i. illich, In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon (Chicago and London 1993). a. m. landgraf, Introduction à la littérature théologique de la scolastique naissante (Montréal 1973). a. m. piazzoni, ed. "Il De unione spiritus et corporis di Ugo di San Vittore," Studi Medievali 21 (1980) 861888. r. roques, "Connaissance de Dieu et théologie symbolique d'après l'In Hierarchiam coelestem sancti Dionysii de Hugues de Saint-Victor," in r. roques, Structures Théologiques de la Gnose à Richard de Saint-Victor. Essais et analyses critiques (Paris 1962) 294364. p. sicard, Diagrammes médiévaux et exégèse visuelle. Le "Libellus de formatione arche" de Hugues de Saint-Victor Bibliotheca Victorina 4; Turnhout-Paris 1993). r. w. southern, "Aspects of the European Tradition of Historical Writing, 2: Hugh of St. Victor and the Idea of Historical Development," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, fifth series, v. 21 (London 1971). j. w. m. van zwieten, The Place and Significance of Literal Exegesis in Hugh of St Victor (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 1992). g. a. zinn, "Hugh of St. Victor and the Art of Memory," Viator 5 (1974) 211234; "Hugh of St Victor, Isaiah's Vision, and De arca Noe," in The Church and the Arts, ed. d. wood (Oxford 1992); "Hugh of St. Victor's De scripturis et scriptoribus sacris as an Accessus Treatise for the Study of the Bible," Traditio: Studies in Ancient and Medieval History, Thought, and Religion 52 (1997) 111134.

[g. a. zinn/

d. van den eynde]