ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

204. Mysticism of the School of St. Victor. Hugh of St. Victor. -- For a complete code of the laws that govern the ascent of the soul to God, we must turn to the great sanctuary of medieval mysticism, the monastery of St. Victor. Hugh of St. Victor was the initiator and prime representative of a remarkable current of thought that pursued its course through the whole of the twelfth century. Born at Hartingam, in Saxony, in the year 1096, he first entered the monastery of Hammerlève and then the convent of St. Victor at Paris. Here, about the year 1125, he assumed the direction of studies, holding this office till his death in 1141.

Besides his works on the Scriptures, his De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei (191) and his Eruditio Didascalica, a treatise on method, Hugh has written numerous works on mysticism, such as De Arca Noë Morali, De Arca Noë Mystica, De Vanitate Mundi, De Arrha Animae, De Amore Sponsi ad Sponsam, etc.

In regard to philosophy he does not adopt, as is commonly thought, the attitude of haughty contempt that characterizes both his own successors and a group of ascetic theologians who were his contemporaries. Hugh was himself a philosopher as well as a mystic. His Eruditio Didascalica is a sort of encyclopedic review of all the known sciences (126). Developing the plan suggested by Boëthius, it worked out a classification which clearly inspired much of the speculation put forth in the thirteenth century on the divisions of human knowledge. Moreover, Hugh took part in the philosophical discussions of his own time. He gives us an atomistic interpretation of the matter and form theory on the constitution of bodies; he discusses the Universals problem; and in general he follows the trend of the current Augustinian or pseudo-Augustinian theories.

But for him, knowledge is not an end in itself; it is only the vestibule of the mystic life. Mystic theology deals with the faith both in its objective data (fides quae creditur, materia fidei) and particularly in the affective feeling to which it gives rise (affectus, fides qua creditur). After the manner of St. Augustine, whom he follows closely, Hugh describes the various steps or stages in the ascent of the soul towards God. Cogitatio, which sees God in the material world; Meditatio, which discovers Him in the interior of the soul; Contemplatio, which gives us a supernatural intuition of Him: such are the three functions of the threefold eye of the soul.{1} Hugh's interpretation of the Scripture is moral and mystical: his thought moves perpetually in a world of allegory.

After Hugh's lifetime, mysticism flourished exuberantly at St. Victor. A growing tendency asserted itself to regard the act of faith as a purely affective sentiment, even independent of the motives of credibility. Philosophy came to be regarded as useless surplusage; and we can understand how the disputes between the schools of Ste. Geneviève and Notre Dame about realism, contributed to foster this attitude by bringing discredit on scholastic discussions. And once philosophical speculation fell into disrepute with the mystics, scholastic theology itself, as speculatively expounded in the works of the Summists, was also condemned and discarded.

RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR, prior of the convent from 1162 to 1173, was a pupil of Hugh, and is almost as distinguished as his master. He is the author of: De Exterminatione Mali et Promotione Boni; De Statu Interioris Hominis; De Eruditione Interioris Hominis; De Praeparatione Animi ad Contempiationem; Libri Quinque de Gratia Contemplationis; De Arca Mystica. Contempt for speculative learning is manifest in the writings of ACHARD and GODFREY of St. Victor. It culminates in Richard's successor, WALTER, for whom dialectic is the devil's art. He is the author of a book, referred to above (190), In Quatuor Labyrinthos Franciae.

The same tendencies may be traced outside the Convent of St. Victor, in the works of ADAM THE PREMONSTRATENSIAN and ADAM OF PERSEIGNE.

{1} There are numerous other states leading up to that of perfect contemplation: soliloquy, circumspection, rapture, etc.

<< ======= >>