Hugh of Saint Victor: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hugh of Saint Victor (c. 1078 – 1141) was born in France, or more probably in Saxony. His early life is rather obscure and not much is known for certain of his origins. What is known is that he was appointed a canon of the Victorine canons around the turn of the twelfth century. Hugh quickly made a name for himself there for being a very well-read and educated person. He is named after the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris.


Philosophy and theology

Hugh of Saint Victor held the belief that philosophy was divided into four parts: theoretical, practical, mechanical and logical. This differed from the predominant view of St Augustine, a major influence for Hugh, who argued before Hugh's time that there were three schools of philosophy. Philosophy and reason, Hugh believed, were useful tools to understanding the divine, and Hugh used reason to argue on behalf of and to defend faith.

In the Didascalicon (or Didascalion), Hugh outlines three types of philosophy. The first three philosophies, Hugh said, help us mortals become better beings, through truth, which comes from theoretical philosophy, virtue, which comes from practical philosophy, and from physical relief, which comes from mechanical philosophy. The final philosophy, logic, exists to ensure clear and proper conclusions in the first three.

Hugh’s early book, the Didascalicon, was an elementary, encyclopedic approach to God and Christ. He purposefully avoided any controversial subject and stuck with the core stuff of Catholicism. Hugh had a fascination with mysticism and believed heavily in the spiritual, mysterious side of God, despite his belief that philosophy was a useful tool in understanding the divine.

Hugh believed divine Wisdom was the archetypal form of creation. He was heavily influenced by Augustinian exegesis of Genesis. Hugh believed that the creation of the world in six days was a mystery for man to contemplate, perhaps even a sacrament. God forming order from chaos to make the world was, to Hugh, a message to mortals telling them they need to rise up from their own chaos of initial unlearned ignorance and become a creature of Wisdom and therefore beauty. Hugh also found other aspects of Genesis interesting for moral lessons rather than the literal interpretation of events.

Hugh was quite a mystic. On the sacraments, Hugh believed that these, along with Jesus, were divine gifts that God gave man to redeem himself. Hugh believed that God had other options he could have used to save mankind. Hugh also separated everything along the lines of opis creationis and opis restaurationis. Opis Creationis was the works of the creation, referring to the works of man, while opis restaurationis was that which dealt with the reasons for God sending Jesus and the consequences of that. Hugh believed that God did not have to send Jesus and that He had other options open to Him. Why he chose to send Jesus is a mystery we are to meditate on and is to be learned through revelation, with the aid of philosophy to facilitate understanding.

Influences and legacy

Hugh was influenced by many people. Chief among his influences is Saint Augustine. Augustine and Hugh both submitted that some of the arts and philosophies can be used to help understand God, but beyond that the two begin to differ. Hugh’s legacy is rather impressive. He is quoted in many other publications after his death, and Bonaventure praises him in De reductione artium ad theologiam. Hugh also taught his ideas of mysticism to the influential Andrew and Richard of Saint Victor. He was also a founding member of the Victorine movement. One of Hugh’s ideals that did not transmit into the Victorine movement, however, was his embracing of science and philosophy as tools for approaching God.

He was also a major influence on the critic Edward Said, who cited this passage from Hugh of St Victor in numerous published works:

It is therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The person who finds his homeland sweet is a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.


Hugh’s works have survived in hundreds of libraries all across Europe. The very survival of these works—-and their commonness—-show how influential Hugh’s writing was. Hugh wrote several influential works from the 1120s on. Among these are his masterworks On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith and The Didascalicon of Hugh of St Victor. The work Sacraments of the Christian Faith is Hugh’s most celebrated masterpiece and presents the bulk of Hugh’s thoughts on theological and mystical ideas, ranging from God and angels to natural laws. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St Victor is written as an introductory guide to Christianity, reflecting Hugh’s desire to be an elementary teacher of Christianity. The Didascalicon reflects a very philosophical side of Hugh, in which he reflects on what basic elements of learning a Christian should focus on. (Didascalicon), De arca Noe morali (On the Moral Interpretation of the Ark of Noah), De arca Noe mystica (On the Mystic Interpretation of the Ark of Noah) reflect Hugh’s fascination with both mysticism and his interest in Genesis.

De anima is a treatise of the soul: the text will be found in the edition of Hugh's works in the Patrologia Latina of J. P. Migne. Part of it was paraphrased in the West Mercian dialect of Middle English by the author of the Katherine Group.[1]


Further reading

  • "Hugh of St. Victor" in: New Advent [1]
  • Acton Institute (1992) "In the Liberal Tradition: Hugh of St Victor (1096 – 1141)". Religion and Liberty, 2:1 (Jan.–Feb., 1992)
  • Evans, G. R. (2002) Fifty Key Medieval Thinkers. London: Routledge
  • Illich, Ivan (1993) In the Vineyard of the Text: a Commentary to Hugh's Didascalion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Moore, R. (1998) Jews and Christians in the Life and Thought of Hugh of St. Victor. USF
  • Taylor, Jerome, trans. (1961) The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor. New York and London: Columbia U. P.
  • Wilson, R. M., ed. (1938) Sawles Warde: an early Middle English homily; edited from the Bodley, Royal and Cotton MSS. Leeds: University of Leeds, School of English Language

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address