Founded in 1108 by william of champeaux, the Abbey of Saint-Victor, Paris, became one of the leading houses of Regular Canons in France in the 12th century. William was archdeacon of Paris and head of the cathedral school when he resigned in order to establish a small community of religious on the Left Bank of the Seine at a site dedicated to St. Victor of Marseilles. With urging from others, William soon resumed his teaching and attracted students to the new foundation. In 1113 William became bishop of Châlons. Leadership passed to Gilduin (d. 1155), who was named the first abbot of the community. Saint-Victor received gifts and endowments from King Louis VI and was known (like the Abbey of Saint-Denis) as a Royal Abbey. The Victorines followed the Rule of St. Augustine, developed on the basis of letters and writings of Augustine and used in the eleventh century and later as a vehicle for reforming cathedral clerics (canons) or as the rule of independent houses of religious (e.g. Premontré and Saint Victor). Most houses of Regular Canons combined the asceticism and prayer typical of monks with pastoral duties of priests. The Victorine Liber ordinis (written during Gilduin's abbacy) was a supplement to the Rule of St. Augustine and reveals much about organization and daily life, including the hierarchy of officials, ritualized behavior in chapter-house and church, a yearly cycle of daily readings in the refectory, the use of sign-language, books and the library, and the like. Saint-Victor was particularly significant in the history of twelfth-century thought because of the brilliant combination of biblical study, theological reflection, mystical writing, and liturgical observance that characterized writings of the leading thinkers in the community. Unfortunately, after Gilduin (1114–1155) and his successors Achard (1155–1161) and Gunther (1161–1162), the Abbey suffered financial problems and internal strife under the abbacy of Ernis (1162–1172), who was removed from office by Alexander III. In the thirteenth century the Abbey lost its grandeur as a center of learning, but it continued a significant role in the religious life of Paris, for the canons served as confessors for students in the schools, later the University. Saint-Victor gave rise to a number of other communities of Regular Canons in France, England, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, and Italy. The community was dispersed in the French Revolution and the buildings were destroyed. By 1813 the Abbey had disappeared from maps. Much of the medieval library of Saint-Victor remained intact and exists today in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Although William of Champeaux's interests in theological questions and biblical exegesis no doubt shaped the early intellectual climate of Saint-Victor, the formative intellectual and spiritual leader from the 1120s was Hugh of Saint-Victor (d. 1141). Hugh was one of the leading biblical interpreters, theologians, and mystical writers of his generation and his combination of these fields in his own work placed a distinctive mark on Victorine thought for the next several generations. Hugh stressed the place of the historical meaning of scripture as the foundation of all further interpretation (e.g., allegory and tropology). His De sacramentis christianae fidei was the first of the summae of theology that would become so characteristic of medieval theology from the twelfth century onward. His mystical writings, especially De arca Noe morali and Libellus de foramatione Arca (also knows as De arca Noe mysticis ) were among the foremost products of the revival of contemplative writing in the twelfth century and especially reflect the increasing desire to 'order' the stages of advance in asceticism/prayer/mysticism. They are notable for their use of visual images of biblical origin to provide a "structure" for initiation into the mystical path. Andrew of Saint-Victor, who may have been a direct student of Hugh's, dedicated himself single-mindedly to the literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and (following Hugh's lead) turned to contemporary Jews to inform his search for the literal meaning of the text. Adam of Saint-Victor's contributions to twelfth-century religious life underscore the importance of the liturgy at Saint-Victor: he brought the medieval liturgical sequence to perfection and left a significant body of sequences composed for use at the Abbey. In the "second generation "of Victorines, Richard of Saint-Victor stands out particularly for the depth of his understanding of the mystic way; his treatises On the Twelve Patriarchs (also known as Benjamin minor ) and On the Mystical Ark (also known as Benjamin major ) were major contributions to mystical literature and influenced thinkers as diverse as the Franciscan Bonaventure and the anonymous English author of The Cloud of Unknowing. In his poetry and prose, Godfrey of Saint-Victor continued the broad humanistic and spiritual vision of the founders, but the more narrow-minded Walter produced works violently opposed to the scholastic theology of the day and also to broad humanistic learning characteristic of Hugh, Richard, and Godfrey. Victorine thinkers also were instrumental in interpreting and spreading the writings and ideas of Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite. Hugh wrote a commentary on Dionysius' work entitled On the Celestial Hierarchy (using the translation made by John Scotus Eriugena) and Richard incorporated Dionysian ideas in his mysticism. A thirteenth-century Victorine, Thomas Gallus (or Thomas of Vercelli—he helped to found the community of Regular Canons at the Abbey of St. Andrew in Vercelli, Italy) also incorporated Dionysian themes into his writings, which included commentaries on the Song of Songs and an extract of Dionysius' writings.
The particular "spirituality" of Saint-Victor would be the pattern life and attitude set out in the writings of Hugh and Richard in particular. Their combination of a biblical foundation for thought, clear and creative theological reflection, and profound mystical writing was influential far beyond the walls of Saint-Victor and can be found in thought of Bonaventure, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing and also the current of spirituality identified with the late-medieval Brethren of the Common Life and the Abbey of Regular Canons at Windesheim. Recent scholars, especially Caroline Bynum, have found in the phrase docere verbo et exemplo ("to teach by word and example") a possible defining characteristic of Regular Canons, as opposed to Benedictine monasticism. Canons seem to have seen themselves in a role of "teaching" others (inside or outside the community) "by word and example" while monks appear to have been more concerned with an individual's spiritual development.
Little is known about the actual lives of individual canons of Saint-Victor. They wrote almost nothing about themselves; no "lives" like those of contemporary Cistercians exist and later generations did not supply much in the way of an historical recollection of the founders or their followers.
Bibliography: f. bonnard, Histoire de l'abbaye royale et de l'ordre des chanoines réguliers de Saint-Victor de Paris, 2 v. (Paris 1905–07). c. w. bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1982). j. chÂtillon, Le mouvement canonial au Moyen Age. Réforme de l'Église, spiritualité et culture. Études réunies par Patrice Sicard, Bibliotheca Victorina, 3 (Paris-Turnhout 1992); "De Guillaume de Champeaux à Thomas Gallus: Chronique d'histoire littéraire et doctrinale de l'école de Saint-Victor," Revue du Moyen Âge Latin 8 (1952) 139–62, 247–72. j. c. dickinson, The Origins of the Austin Canons and their Introduction into England (London 1950). l. jocquÉ and l. millis, eds. Liber ordinis Sancti Victoris Parisiensis, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 61 (Turnhout 1984). g. lawless, Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford 1987). j. longÈre, ed. L'abbaye parisienne de Saint-Victor au moyen âge (Turnhout 1991). b. mcginn, The Growth of Mysticism, v. 2 of The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (New York 1994) 363–418. g. ouy, et al. Le catalogue de la bibliothèque de l'abbaye de Saint-Victor de Paris de Claude de Grandrue 1514 (Paris 1983). g. ouy, Les manuscrits de l'Abbaye de Saint-Victor: Catalogue établi sur la base du répertoire de Claude de Grandrue (1514), 2 v. Bibliotheca Victorina, 10 (Turnhout 1999). b. smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, (3rd ed. Oxford 1983), chaps. 3 and 4. a. zumkeller, Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life, tr. e. colledge (New York 1980).
[g. a. zinn]