Reading and the Work of Restoration: History and Scripture in the Theology of Hugh of St. Victor






Publication: Church History
Author: Cotts, John D
Date published: December 1, 2011

doi:l0.1017/S00096407HOOI351 Reading and the Work of Restoration: History and Scripture in the Theology of Hugh of St. Victor. By Franklin T. Harkins. Mediaeval Law and Theology 2; Studies and Texts 167. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2009. xii + 336 pp. $80 cloth.

Hugh of St. Victor's ordered vision of the Christian universe, and his striking use of metaphors like the Ark of Noah, make him an attractive figure through whom to consider any number of key elements hi twelfth-century thought and exegesis. Franklin T. Harkins has provided a carefully argued interpretation of the place of reading history in Hugh's sacramental theology and its implications for the understanding of human redemption. Following traditional scholarly emphases on the highly ordered nature of Hugh's educational program, Harkins offers some unique insights by considering history as the linchpin of a Christian's progress to wisdom and, by necessary association, to salvation. Through a multi-layered reading of the historical narrative of scripture, Hugh's readers can reverse the effects of the Fall and restore themselves to their pre-lapsarian state.

In chapter 1, Harkins introduces the role of memory in twelfth-century education, especially as derived from the work of Augustine, while also exploring the classical roots of memory-training. For Hugh, "the memorization and intemalization of history must be the starting-point of all theological education" (13). The influence of Cicero, Quintillian, and especially Augustine (in this case, with the effect of distracting from Harkins's main argument) are all considered. Like Augustine, Hugh regards memory as a mystery that unlocks eternal truths of God. When God created man, he implanted the Word in his mind, but a depraved will disordered the mind at the time of the Fall. Thus, re-ordering the fallen mind through reading and the training of memory is the essential work of salvation.

The remaining chapters explore Hugh's educational program, which is analogous to the work of restoration. The liberal arts, the focus of chapter 2, are "certain roads along which homo lapsus sets out on his journey toward divine Wisdom and eternal beatitude" (73). They thus take man from his creation ?? his restoration after the Fall. The created order is itself a reflection of divine wisdom, and that divine wisdom also determines man's proper end. The world thus is a book (80) for man to interpret properly, but his ability to do so is compromised by the Fall, of which the chief consequence was ignorance. This ignorance is conquered by reading, beginning with the liberal arts because they pertain to visibilia mundi (115).

In chapter 3, Harkins turns to the reading of sacred scripture, focusing primarily on Didiscalicon and De scripturis et scriptorihus sacris, the latter of which Harkins argues is the later and more fundamental work for understanding Hugh's views on scriptural study. Historia, here, refers both to the content of scripture and to its literal sense. Again following the lead of Augustine, Hugh (and many other twelfth-century writers) emphasized the importance of this literal sense, upon which a reader could then build the allegorical and tropological senses. Also like Augustine, Hugh saw historia as being divided into the grand narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. Upon that historical framework Hugh designs a method for reading and interpretation. In the revealed word of God, the reader finds truths from history that cannot be gleaned from the liberal arts, though the arts are a precondition for this study.

Chapter 4 treats the allegorical sense, through which, Hugh believes, the reader can discover spiritual truths in the historical narrative of scripture. This is a very instructive discussion of sacraments as they appear in that history, in both new and old testaments. Sacraments, or mysteries, provide a "layer of ordered courses" (200) that allow the reader to make sense of (that is, to order) his knowledge of scripture. In contrast with other treatments of allegory and the sacraments, Hugh places more importance on the historical narrative as a source for sacramental knowledge (207). The sacraments become indicators of historical progress, but they are also the basis for an individual's recovery from original sin. An allegorical reader thus progresses to redemption by learning about sacraments that are revealed in history even as they point to eternity.

In the fifth and final chapter, Harkins turas to tropology, the moral reading of scripture. Ultimately, reading effects one's restoration by inspiring virtuous behavior in the reader. Scripture allows one to order love properly toward the higher rungs of the Neoplatonic ontologica! hierarchy. Tropological reading provides a disciplina vivendi, an ordered guide to the moral life. At the end of Hugh's program of scriptural interprétation, the reader becomes an ethical embodiment of Christian love.

Because Harkins's book is so careful and thorough, it provides a useful overview of Hugh's educational assumptions and exegetical practices, but with a refreshing focus on history to bind the various writings together. Its scholarly framework, however, is somewhat narrow (aside from a somewhat unnecessary foray into reader-response theory in chapter 5), and intellectual historians may be frustrated by the relative paucity of larger claims about twelfth-century thought. Hugh is explained through his context, rather than vice versa. Also, additional editing would have been welcome since the book offers a great deal of background information that may be essential to a doctoral dissertation but comes off as excessive in a monograph (for example, Hugh himself disappears in favor of Augustine for some twentythree pages in chapter 1). These minor issues aside, Harkins has skillfully outlined how the act of reading operated as a microcosm for the central Christian drama of bringing man back to his original state.

Author affiliation:

John D. Colts

Whitman College

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