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Hugh of St.-Victor

Exegete and theologian. Descended from the courts of Blankenburg in Saxony, he early joined the Austin Canons Regular at Hamersleven, and settled finally about 1115 in the new monastery of St.-Victor in Paris. Conflicting accounts of these years exist for lack of information; he himself said: “Since my childhood I have been an exile.” From 1120 until death he was the leading master in the school of St.-Victor, where he was prior of the abbey for a time after 1133. A recognized scholar, he was concerned about the task of the trivium and quadrivium, distinctions between natural reason and divine faith and the objects of each, the nature of philosophy, scientific classification, the importance of the literal interpretation of Scripture, and rules for exegesis.

As a pure philosopher his contribution was limited. His forte was exegesis, and together with expounding Scripture he was a student of the science of interpretation—seen in his notes on the first books of the OT. He developed into a theologian (cf. his Summa Sententiarum and De sacramentis christianae fidei). He was given to studying the Fathers, and was called “the second Augustine.”

In the belief that original sin is a corruption contracted at birth, his theological system begins with Adam and goes through Advent and the final consummation, defining faith as “a certainty about things absent, above opinion and below science.” He was indebted to his contemporaries, Anselm of Canterbury, Anselm of Laon, and William of Champeaux. A mystic, Hugh wrote on mystical union and believed that as the soul ascends to God it acquires the gift of wisdom or contemplation which original sin canceled; he distinguished sharply between contemplation and Beatific Vision. His writings on all these subjects are many.

Bibliography: J.P. Kleinz, The Theory of Knowledge of Hugh of St. Victor (1945); R. Baron, Science et Sagesse chez Hugues de Saint-Victor (1957); J. Taylor, The Origin and Early Life of Hugh of St. Victor (1957).