Richard of Saint-Victor

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Theologian, mystical writer; b. probably Scotland, date unknown; d. March 10, 1173. A Regular Canon of the Abbey of Saint-Victor, Paris, Richard of Saint-Victor was a major mystical writer of the second half of the twelfth century, who contributed also to theology, exegesis, and school and homiletic literature. Like all of the leading figures in the early years of the Abbey's history, little is known of Richard's life; he was probably from Scotland and most likely entered the Abbey near the middle of the twelfth century. He was subprior and became prior in 1161. He played an important role in the interior life of the Abbey of Saint-Victor as prior and as its leading spiritual guide in the third quarter of the twelfth century. His influence was strongest in the literature of contemplation. bonaventure's Itinerarium mentis in Deum shows Richard's influence, as does Bernardino of Laredo's Ascent of Mount Sion. The author of the Cloud of Unknowing draws upon passages from The Twelve Patriarchs (Benjamin major ).

Richard was strongly influenced by the effective founder of the Victorine school of exegesis, theology, and mysticism, hugh of saint-victor (d. 1141). Richard's Liber Exceptionum is based on Hugh's Didascalicon and Chronicon, while his mysticism builds on Hugh's practice of using biblical images, such as Noah's Ark, as symbolic structures to represent the mystic's path to contemplative ecstasy. In exegesis, Richard gave attention both to allegory and to the literal sense of Scripture. Like other Victorine exegetes, Richard consulted Jews and Jewish sources for the literal sense of Hebrew Scripture, but in De Emanuele Richard strongly criticizes what he sees as Andrew of Saint-Victor's Judaizing literal interpretation of Isaiah 7:14. Richard's treatise on Ezekiel's visions of the Jerusalem Temple (In visionem Ezechielis ) contains a strong justification for interpreting Ezekiel's description of the Temple literally (as opposed to the exegesis of Gregory the Great) and also presents in the manuscripts some of the first medieval architectural drawings showing the elevation of a building. His commentary on the Revelation of John analyzes four kinds of vision (ordinary [trees, the sea]; the deeper meaning of scripture [the burning bush symbolizing Mary's virginity]; images in visionary experience; imageless visionary experiences) and situates John's visions in the Apocalypse as falling into the third kind. In theology Richard developed a distinctive argument for the necessity of God as a Trinity, based on an analysis of the nature of love (De Trinitate ). In the Revelation commentary and elsewhere Richard shows a knowledge of the ideas of dio nysius the pseudo-areopagite, a knowledge mediated through the writings of Hugh of Saint-Victor.

Richard's two major contemplative treatises are The Twelve Patriarchs (Benjamin major ) and The Mystical Ark (Benjamin minor ). In The Twelve Patriarchs Richard takes the patriarch Jacob, his two wives, their two handmaidens, and the 12 sons and one daughter of the four women to symbolize the rational soul (Jacob), the faculties of the mind (the four women; will, sensation, imagination, reason) and the stages of discipline of body and mind that lead to contemplative ecstasy (the 13 children). The dynamic progression of the narrative of births, etc., provides Richard with a rich canvas on which to unfold his ideas concerning the development and psychological dynamics of the spiritual life. In The Mystical Ark (the Ark of the Covenant) Richard again uses a set of biblical images to explore both structure and development in the mystical life. The "construction" of the Ark and the two accompanying Cherubim presents the materials to develop a six-stage division of the mind's "ascent" to contemplative ecstasy, or "alienation of mind" (alienatio mentis ) which is an experience of divine presence, mediated in the "emptiness" in the space above the Ark and between the two Cherubim in the visualization of biblical images. Richard made extensive spiritual commentaries on Psalms. But again and again he was drawn back to the dynamics of the spiritual life in works such as: De exterminatione mali et promotione boni (using the symbol of the 12 stones on which the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land), De eruditione interioris hominis (using the dream of Nebuchadnezzar to explore again the dynamics of the spiritual life) and De quatuor gradiabus violentae charitatis (a brilliant exploration of the centrality and transforming power of love in the mystical quest). All address the subtle processes and culmination of the life of discipline in quest of divine presence.

See Also: victorine spirituality.

Bibliography: Works. richard of saint-victor, Omnia opera. Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 196. De Trinitate, ed. j. ribaillier, TPMA 6 (Paris 1958). De statu interioris hominis, ed. j. ribaillier, Archives d'histoire doctrinale et litéraire du moyen-âge 34 (1967) 7128. L'Édit d'Alexandre ou les trois processions, ed. j. chatillon and w.-j. tulloch, TPMA 5 (Paris 1958). Liber exceptionum, ed. j. chatillon, TPMA 5 (Paris 1958). Opuscules théologiques, ed. j. ribaillier, TPMA 15 (Paris 1967). Selected Writings on Contemplation, tr. c. kirchberger (New York 1957). The Twelve Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, and Book Three on the Trinity, tr. g. a. zinn (New York 1979). Les quatre degrés de la violente charité, ed. g. dumeige (Paris 1955). Les douze Patriarches ou Benjamin Minor, tr. j. chatillon and m. duchet-suchaux, Sources chrétiennes 419 (Paris 1997). Studies. m.-a. aris, Contemplatio: Philosophische Studien zum Traktat Benjamin Maior des Richard von St. Victor: Mit einer verbesserten Edition des Textes, Fuldaer Studien (Frankfurt am Main 1996). s. chase, Angelic Wisdom: The Cherubim and the Grace of Contemplation in Richard of St. Victor, Studies in Spirituality and Theology 2 (Notre Dame and London 1995). j. chatillon, "Les quatre degrés de la charité d'apres Richard de Saint-Victor (I)," Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 20 (1939) 237264; "Les trois modes de la contemplation selon Richard de Saint-Victor," Revue du moyen-âge latin 4 (1948) 2352, 343366; "Richard de Saint-Victor," Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, 13.593654. g. dumeige, Richard de Saint-Victor et l'idée chrétienne de l'amour (Paris 1952). r. javelet, "Thomas Gallus et Richard de Saint-Victor mystiques," Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 19 (1962) 206233. g. a. zinn, "Personification Allegory and Visions of Light in Richard of St. Victor's Teaching on Contemplation," University of Toronto Quarterly 46 (1977): 190214; "Book and Word: The Victorie Background of Bonaventure's Use of Symbols," S. Bonaventura (12741974), 2.143169 (Grottferrata 1973).

[g. a. zinn]