Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hugh of St. Victor: Sacraments of the Natural Law

CALLED AN ALTER AUGUSTINUS, HUGH OF SAINT VICTOR (ca. 1078-1141), likely Saxon born, is, like many of our medieval teachers of the natural law, a man of shrouded origin. These theological and philosophical stars of the medieval age seem to arise from the amorphous and anonymous mass of men, shine their brief light upon the stage, and then depart into eternity, much like a meteor might do in an unclouded sky. Even those of noble descent, such as Hugh of St. Victor, have little earthly history to tell us. It is as if they follow their master, Christ, in having hidden, unrecorded years.

We do know some of Hugh of St. Victor. We know that he was probably the eldest son of Conrad, Count of Blankenburg. We also know that he studied at the monastery of St. Pancras, at Hamersleben near Halberstadt. He took up the habit of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, but then, at the suggestion of Reinhard, bishop of Halberstadt, departed to the monastery of St. Victor in Paris. There he studied under William of Champeaux's successor, Gilduin. "Whatever his prehistory, Hugh's real career began in Paris, where he started writing and teaching within a few years of his arrival at St. Victor." Paul Rorem, Hugh of St. Victor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 11. Eventually, certainly by 1127, Hugh of St. Victor was raised to the position of "master," or magister, at the School of St. Victor, and was elected head of the school in 1133. It is after the Victorines in Paris, and not after his father or earthly family, that he has been named.

Initial D, showing Hugh of St. Victor Teaching
Preface to De arra anime.
f.1r of MS K.25
© The Master and Fellows of St John's College Cambridge

It is Hugh of St. Victor's glory that he was able to take and moderate the Abelardian rationalistic method that so engaged Peter Abelard, and incorporate it, and in creative fidelity synthesize and reconcile it, within the Catholic tradition in a manner that the restless Abelard had no genius for doing. A stolid son of the Church, wed to dogma and fidelity to her teachings, but equally devoted to reason, Hugh of St. Victor yet had a great love of God, and a decided Dyonisian mystical bent. Hugh of St. Victor was thus a stepping stone which led over the river of the age, into the future banks of Scholasticism, and into the glories of the Thomistic Summae. An advocate of both reason and faith, of both nature and the supernatural, Hugh of St. Victor distinguished between the works of nature, the opera creationis, from the works of supernature or restoration (grace), the opera restaurationis. But he aimed at studying, learning, understanding, and reconciling both. As Pope Benedict XVI put it in his General Audience of November 25, 2009, the School of St. Victor is "where a felicitous synthesis was achieved between the two theological models of [a] monastic theology, primarily oriented to contemplation of the mysteries of the faith in Scripture . . and scholastic theology, which aimed to use reason to scrutinize these mysteries with innovative methods in order to create a theological system." If we take the best of St. Anselm of Laon, and the best of Peter Abelard, and mix them together, we come up with a Hugh of St. Victor.

Magister Hugh of St Victor composing the Didascalicon
Vucanius 45, f° 130
Bibliothek der Rijkuniversiteit, Leiden

Hugh of St. Victor is known for philosophical and moral writings, including his early book, the Disdascalion (or Eruditionis Didascaliae). In the Disdascalion, St. Hugh distinguishes between theoretical, practical, mechanical, and logical philosophy. "Philosophia dividitur," Hugh of St. Victor says, "in theoreticam, practicam, mechanicam et logicam. Haec quatuor omnem continent scientiam." Erud. Didasc., II,2. The pursuit of theoretical reason leads to truth. The study of practical reason is intended to lead to virtue. The pursuit of mechanical philosophy allows for physical relief. The fourth prong of philosophy, logic, applies to the prior three philosophies, as a means to assure that proper conclusions are reached from the premises.

Other works of Hugh of St. Victor include what is probably his masterpiece, De Sacramentis Christinae Fidei (On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith), a forerunner of the Scholastic summae. He also authored other works such as the De arca Noe mystica (On the Mystic Interpretation of the Ark of Noah), and a number of Scriptural and Patristic commentaries and mystical works. From a theological standpoint, Hugh of St. Victor's De Sacramentis is particularly notable for its definition of a Sacrament of the New Law as an outward sign, with corporal or material elements, proposed in an external and tangible way, which makes present an invisible and spiritual grace. It both signifies that grace and effects it, because for that end it was instituted by Christ, and therefore, it contains the grace and is capable of sanctifying. De Sacr., I.9.2: 176 PL 317.

We shall take a look at Parts 11 of Book I of Hugh of St. Victor's De Sacramentis Christinae Fidei, which is titled "On the Natural Law," De naturali lege.

Hugh of St. Victor's Weltanschaung was awash in the notion of sacrament. We are, of course, familiar with the Seven Sacraments of the Church, but for Hugh of St. Victor, the notion of sacrament was much broader than the Sacraments of the New Law. In his view, the relationship between God and man was fundamentally sacramental. Therefore, for Hugh of St. Victor, sacraments have always existed, and there are sacraments even of the natural law. Sacramenta ab initio ad restaurationem et curationem hominis instituta sunt; alia sub naturali lege, alia sub scripta lege, alia sub gratia. De Sacr., I.11.1. "Sacraments," Hugh of St. Victor states, "were instituted from the beginning for the restoration and cure of man, some under the natural law, some under the written law, some under grace." In addressing the sacraments of the natural law, Hugh of St. Victor focuses on that period of time from the Fall to Abrahamic circumcision and the revelation of the Mosaic law. The sacraments of the natural law include, tithes (decimas), sacrifices of animals (sacrificia), and oblations of inanimate things (oblationes). De Sacr., I.11.3; I.12.4; 176 PL 344, 351.

The sacraments of the natural law, like the sacraments of the written, Mosaic law, prefigure the Sacraments of the New Law (signa quaedam fureunt et figurae eroum que nunc sub gratia exhibit sunt sacrmentorum). De Sacr., I.11.1. In a sort of chain of prefiguration, the sacraments of the natural law prefigure the sacraments of the Mosaic law, which are fulfilled in the Sacraments of the New Law. The sacraments of the natural law are "a kind of shadow of the truth." Those of the Mosaic law are "a kind of image or figure of the truth." And those of the New Law are the very "body of truth." But even the Sacraments of the New Law yield to the life of the spirit in the end times, the eschaton. Rorem, 85.

We therefore see that the first sacraments which are prescribed under the natural law are, as it were, a shadow of truth; those [sacraments] that followed under the written law, are, as it were, an image and figure of truth; and those [sacraments] that are consequently last and are under grace are neither a shadow or an image, but are the very body of truth. . . . The first sacraments were shadows, the second images, the third body, and after these in the fourth sport follows the truth of the spirit.

Videntus ergo prima illa sacramenta quae sub naturali lege praecesserunt, quasi quaedam umbra veritatis; illa vero quae postea sub scripta lege secuta sunt, quasi quaedam imago vel figura veritatis; ista autem quae sub gratia novissime consequuntur non iam umbra vel imago, sed corpus veritatis. . . . Prima ergo sacramenta umbra fuerunt; secunda imago; tertia corpus; post quae quarto loco sequitur veritas spiritus.
De Sacr., I.11.6; 176 PL 346.

This chain-like relationship between the sacraments in the thought of Hugh of St. Victor leads him to make statements of this kind:

Wherefore, first through obligation and thereafter through circumcision, and lastly through baptism, the form of the sacrament of expiation and justification was instituted, since in that very form and similarity, cleansing is found obscurely in oblation, is expressed more evidently in circumcision, but is declared through baptism manifestly.

Quapropter primum per oblationem; et postea per circumcisionem, ad ultimum per baptismum, expiationis et justificationis sacramentum formari institutum est, quia eiusdem mundationis forma et similitudo, in oblatione quidem occulte inventitur, in circumcisione vero evidentius exprimitur, per baptismum autem manifeste declaratur.
De Sacr., I.11.6, 176 PL 346. Contrary to the Sacraments of the New Law, these sacraments of the natural law "are not themselves signs of an invisible grace but rather the signs of the later visible sacramental signs." Rorem, 85. Their efficaciousness was delayed until the Passion of the Word opened up the gates of heaven. Passio namque Salvatoris quae primo loco sacramenta gratiae ad effectum saulutis sanctificat, mediantibus istis etiam illa prioris temporis sacramenta sanctificabat, ut eadem salus esset, et his qui recta fide signa futuorum in illis venerati sunt, et his qui effectum salutis in istis percipiunt. De Sacr., I.11.2; 176 PL 343.

Hugh of St. Victor Teaching Three Monks
From the Arca Morali
(Bodleian Library, Oxford)
Ms. Laud. Misc. 409, f° 3v

Hugh of St. Victor closes his section on the natural law by discussing the demands of the natural law, which are in essence tripartite. Tria sunt genera operum. I.11.7. The first principle is that good ought to be sought after, and that evil ought never to be pursued. There is good and evil that depends upon place and time. But there is good and evil that is absolutely good and evil, and these the natural law either requires or prescribes, respectively. The first precept of the natural law is written in the heart (in corde hominis scripsit). That is the Golden Rule, and it is prohibitive (de prohibendis) or hortatory (de praecipiendis). What you do not want done to you, do not do unto others (Tob. 4:15). What you want others to do to you, so do unto others. (Matt. 7:12). Other fundamental precepts of the natural law include the revelations of the Ten Commandments, particularly the so-called "Second Table" of the law (the last seven of the Ten Commandments), which deal with the relations among men. Illa vero quae sub lege naturali in duobus praeceptis clausa fuerant, per scriptam legem postea setpem illis, quae in secunda tabula proposita sunt praeceptis explicata sunt et distincta, es quibus primum erat. De Sacr., I.11.7; 176 PL 348. These include the Commandments to honor one's father and mother, and the prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, coveting one's neighbor's wife, and coveting one's neighbor's goods. Of these seven, only one is hortatory (unum solummodo secundum praeceptionem datum est); the rest are prohibitive (sex reliqua secundum prohibitionem). De Sacr., I.11.7; 176 PL 347. The commandment to honor one's father and mother does not limits itself to carnal parents, but it also imposes a duty to honor and obey God, nunc propter Deum homini superiori obedientiam atque honorem exhibere non dedignetur. De Sacr., I.11.7; 176 PL 348.

In short, according to Hugh of St. Victor, the natural law requires us do good, and to avoid evil. It enjoins us from doing to others what we don't want done to ourselves, and it demands that we do that good to others that we would want done to ourselves. It also has one clear demand: that we love, respect, and honor our parents, and, by inference, God himself. It also has a number of clear prohibitions: against murder, against adultery, against theft and lying, against coveting another's goods and spouse. In our desire to worship the God that created us, the natural law additionally impels us to offer the reasonable worship of tithes, sacrifices, and oblations of some kind to God. These natural law sacraments are shadow of truth, quasi quaedam umbra veritatis, of the Sacramental graces which are provided us within the confines of the Church under the authority of Christ.

There is some significance to Hugh of St. Victor's reference to the Golden Rule and the Second Table of the Ten Commandments as a summary of the content of the natural law. The Church Fathers, as we have seen, largely referred to the Two Commandments of Christ, love of God and love of neighbor (Matt. 22:39), as an ideal summary of the content of the natural law. Hugh of St. Victor slightly departed from this and elected to stress the Golden Rule and the Second Table of the Decalogue as natural law's summary content. "This appeal to different texts," however, as Crowe states, "hardly constitutes an essential difference between the medieval theologians and the Fathers in the question of the natural law." Crowe, 81. Hugh of St. Victor's influence is also felt in Gratian. "Hugh [of St. Victor] is the most pronounced influence on Gratian." Crowe, 81. But Gratian is a matter for another day.

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