Hugh of Saint Victor

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Hugh of Saint Victor

Hugh of Saint Victor (c. 1096 – 11 February 1141), was a Saxon canon regular and a leading theologian and writer on mystical theology.



As with many medieval figures, little is known about Hugh's early life. He was probably born in the 1090s. His homeland may have been Lorraine, Ypres in Flanders, or the Duchy of Saxony. [1] Some sources say that his birth occurred in the Harz district, being the eldest son of Baron Conrad of Blankenburg. Over the protests of his family, he entered the Priory of St. Pancras, a community of canons regular, where he had studied, located at Hamerleve or Hamersleben, near Halberstadt. [2]

Due to civil unrest shortly after his entry to the priory, Hugh's uncle, Reinhard of Blankenburg, who was the local bishop, advised him to transfer to the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris, where he himself had studied theology. He accepted his uncle's advice and made the move at a date which is unclear, possibly 1115–18 or around 1120. [3] He spent the rest of his life there, advancing to head the school. [2]


De claustro anime, 14th-century manuscript. Hereford, Cathedral Library, Manuscript collection, P.5.XII. Hugo de Sancto Victore - De claustro anime, 14th-century - BEIC 13980095.jpg
De claustro anime, 14th-century manuscript. Hereford, Cathedral Library, Manuscript collection, P.5.XII.

Hugh wrote many works from the 1120s until his death (Migne, Patrologia Latina contains 46 works by Hugh, and this is not a full collection), including works of theology (both treatises and sententiae), commentaries (mostly on the Bible but also including one of pseudo-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchies), mysticism, philosophy and the arts, and a number of letters and sermons. [4]

Hugh was influenced by many people, but chiefly by Saint Augustine, especially in holding that the arts and philosophy can serve theology.

Hugh's most significant works include:

Other works by Hugh of St Victor include:

Various other works were wrongly attributed to Hugh in later thought. One such particularly influential work was the Exposition of the Rule of St Augustine, now accepted to be from the Victorine school but not by Hugh of St Victor. [23]

A new edition of Hugh's works has been started. The first publication is: Hugonis de Sancto Victore De sacramentis Christiane fidei, ed. Rainer Berndt, Münster: Aschendorff, 2008.

Philosophy and theology

The early Didascalicon was an elementary, encyclopedic approach to God and Christ, in which Hugh avoided controversial subjects and focused on what he took to be commonplaces of Catholic Christianity. In it he outlined three types of philosophy or "science" [scientia] that can help mortals improve themselves and advance toward God: theoretical philosophy (theology, mathematics, physics) provides them with truth, practical philosophy (ethics, economics, politics) aids them in becoming virtuous and prudent, and "mechanical" or "illiberal" philosophy (e.g., carpentry, agriculture, medicine) yields physical benefits. A fourth philosophy, logic, is preparatory to the others and exists to ensure clear and proper conclusions in them. Hugh's deeply mystical bent did not prevent him from seeing philosophy as a useful tool for understanding the divine, or from using it to argue on behalf of faith.

Hugh was heavily influenced by Augustine's exegesis of Genesis. Divine Wisdom was the archetypal form of creation. The creation of the world in six days was a mystery for man to contemplate, perhaps even a sacrament. God's forming order from chaos to make the world was a message to humans to rise up from their own chaos of ignorance and become creatures of Wisdom and therefore beauty. This kind of mystical-ethical interpretation was typical for Hugh, who tended to find Genesis interesting for its moral lessons rather than as a literal account of events.

Along with Jesus, the sacraments were divine gifts that God gave man to redeem himself, though God could have used other means. Hugh separated everything along the lines of opus creationis and opus restaurationis. Opus Creationis was the works of the creation, referring to God's creative activity, the true good natures of things, and the original state and destiny of humanity. The opus 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.


Within the Abbey of St Victor, many scholars who followed him are often known as the 'School of St Victor'. Both Achard and Andrew of St Victor appear to have been direct disciples of Hugh.[ citation needed ] Others, who probably entered the community too late to be directly educated by Hugh, include Richard of Saint Victor and Godfrey. [24] One of Hugh's ideals that did not take root in St Victor, however, was his embracing of science and philosophy as tools for approaching God.[ citation needed ]

His works are in hundreds of libraries all across Europe.[ citation needed ] He is quoted in many other publications after his death,[ citation needed ] and Bonaventure praises him in De reductione artium ad theologiam.

He was also an influence on the critic Erich Auerbach, who cited this passage from Hugh of St Victor in his essay "Philology and World Literature": [25]

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.


Modern editions

Latin text
English translations

See also

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  1. B McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism, (1994), p365
  2. 1 2 Catholic Encyclopedia:Hugh of St. Victor
  3. McGinn (1994), p365, gives 'around 1120' as the date.
  4. A helpful, though not necessarily complete, list of Hugh's work – along with modern editions and translations – is printed in Hugh Feiss, ed, On Love, (2010), pp15-20.
  5. Reprinted in PL 176:173-618 and in Hugonis de Sancto Victore De sacramentis Christiane fidei, ed. Rainer Berndt, Münster: Aschendorff, 2008. There is an English translation in Hugh of St Victor, On the sacraments of the Christian faith: (De sacramentis), translated by Roy J Deferrari, (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1951). An English translation of the Prologues is made in Franklin T. Harkins and Frans van Liere, eds, Interpretation of scripture: theory. A selection of works of Hugh, Andrew, Richard and Godfrey of St Victor, and of Robert of Melun, (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012), pp253-268.
  6. The Latin text is in Henry Buttimer, Hugonis de Sancto Victore. Didascalicon. De Studio Legendi, (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1939). An older English translation is in Jerome Taylor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St Victor, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961). A more recent translation is Franklin T. Harkins and Frans van Liere, eds, Interpretation of scripture: theory. A selection of works of Hugh, Andrew, Richard and Godfrey of St Victor, and of Robert of Melun, (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012), pp61-202.
  7. These three treatises are printed in PL 176:617-740.
  8. An older edition of the Latin text is in PL 175:928A. The modern edition is Hugonis de Sancto Victore Opera III: Super Ierarchiam Dionysii, (Turnhout: Brepols), CCCM, vol. 178.
  9. David Luscombe, "The Commentary of Hugh of Saint-Victor on the Celestial Hierarchy", in T. Boiadjiev, G. Kapriev and A. Speer, eds, Die Dionysius-Rezeption im Mittelalter, (Turnholt:Brepols, 2000), pp160-164; D. Poirel, "Le 'chant dionysien' du IXe au XIIe siècle", in M. Goullet and M. Parisse (eds), Les historiens et le latin medieval, (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001), pp151–176.
  10. For further commentary on this work, see Rorem, Paul (2008). "The Early Latin Dionysius: Eriugena and Hugh of St. Victor". Modern Theology. 24 (4): 601–614. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2008.00488.x.
  11. Reprinted in PL 175:115A.
  12. Reprinted in PL 176. A detailed study of this work exists in Dominique Porel, Livre de la nature et débat trinitaire au XXe siècle, Le De tribus diebus de Hugues de Saint-Victor, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002), 169-198. Much of this introduction is summarised in the introduction to the English translation in Boyd Taylor Coolman and Dale M Coulter, eds, Trinity and creation: a selection of works of Hugh, Richard and Adam of St Victor, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010).
  13. Reprinted in PL 176:845-856.
  14. Reprinted in PL 177:285-294.
  15. 1 2 3 Reprinted in Roger Baron, ed., Hugonis de Sancto Victore Opera Propaedeutica (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966).
  16. Reprinted in Muller, Karl, ed., Hugo von St. Victor: Soliloquium de Arrha Animae Und De Vanitate Mundi (Bonn: A. Marcus Une E. Weber's Verlag,1913). There is an English translation in Soliloquy on the Earnest Money of the Soul, trans Kevin Herbert, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1965).
  17. See Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism, (1994), pp384-390. Latin text: Barthélemy Hauréau, Hugues de Saint-Victor. Paris, 1859 (pp. 177−210). A French translation is in Roger Baron, Hugues de Saint-Victor: La contemplation et ses espèces, (Tournai-Paris: Desclée, 1958).
  18. An English translation is in Franklin T. Harkins and Frans van Liere, eds, Interpretation of scripture: theory. A selection of works of Hugh, Andrew, Richard and Godfrey of St Victor, and of Robert of Melun, (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012)
  19. Printed in PL176:993-998
  20. Printed in PL175:405-414.
  21. Printed in PL176:405-414.
  22. Eggebroten, Anne. ""Sawles Warde": a retelling of "De Anima" for a female audience" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  23. Thomas F Martin OSA, Our Restless Heart: The Augustinian Tradition, (2003), p82
  24. B McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism, (1994), p366
  25. Erich Auerbach (2009). Damrosch, David; Melas, Natalie; Buthelezi, Mbongiseni (eds.). The Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 124.

Further reading