The Medieval Review 11.10.21

Poirel, Dominique. l'École de Saint-Victor de Paris: Influence et Rayonnement du moyen âge à l'époque moderne. Bibliotheca Victorina. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers nv, 2010. Pp. 719. 115 EUR. ISBN 978-2-503-53562-3. . .

Reviewed by:

Ineke van 't Spijker
Independent Scholar

This volume is an impressive tribute to the scholarship relating to the community of Augustinian canons of Saint-Victor in Paris. The traditional date for its foundation is 1108, and was the occasion for a conference in 2008, though this date may be debatable. [1] However that may be, the community soon prospered under the leading scholar Hugh. In an original approach, it is not so much the community and its members, but rather the context in which they operated and the influence they had on contemporary and later theology and culture, that is the focus of the contributions. These can be divided in three parts, as Dominique Poirel announces with clarity in his introduction: the means by which influence was exercised; the areas of knowledge on which Victorine influence can be investigated; and the milieus on which they might have an impact. Poirel also considers the reasons underlying the Victorine influence, which, after a peak in the twelfth century, diminishes in importance over the following two centuries, followed by a resurgence in the later fourteenth and in the fifteenth centuries especially in movements such as the Devotio Moderna. He points to the institutional framework of the School of Saint- Victor; to the universal character of its project; a universality that also, in the third place, applies to an intellectual method, in which classification and divisions abound. [2]

The first part, dealing with the means of its influence, starts with an article by Pascale Bourgain, "Existe-t-il en littérature un style victorin?". Hugh of Saint-Victor is the heir to authors such as Augustine and Gregory the Great, and adapts their "wave-like phrase" to his pedagogical ends. There is also an influence of Anselm's affective and devotional style, often intimate, often in strikingly short sentences, like little bricks, in parallelisms, and repetitions, reflecting oral communication. In Richard the use of rhymed prose is more dominant, but one gets the impression of a 'manner' rather than a personal impulse. In later writers, a more scholastic style takes over. But in the work of Antony of Padua, one finds again a style reminiscent of that of Hugh.

Julian Führer situates Saint-Victor within the context of canonical reform. A royal charter was issued in 1113 for Saint-Victor, transferring the foundation of an unsuccessful community in Puiseaux in 1112 (to which William of Champeaux had retired following criticism of his motives for withdrawing from the world, and before he returned to Saint-Victor). Royal and episcopal involvement was a sine qua non in many foundations of regular canons, and most (two exceptions are Arrouaise and Prémontré) were to be found, just as Saint-Victor, in the neighbourhood of a town. Although some other communities of canons established networks, Saint-Victor succeeded in forming a significant congregation of communities.

Rolf Grosse approaches from a different angle the pivotal relation between Saint-Victor and the Capetian kings, in which bishops played a major role, often leading to tumultuous dynamics. Shifting allegiances between parties ended in the murder of the Victorine prior Thomas in 1133, after which Louis VI, and after him Louis VII, sought a rapprochement with the community. Louis VII was further involved in canonical reform, through which the Victorine congregation developed its structure. With its often ambivalent relation with the king, the community found support in the bishop and the pope.

Shifting from institutional and political to scholarly perspectives, Cédric Giraud discusses the place of the school of Saint-Victor in the midst of contemporary developments. The tension born of its origins, between teaching and a regular life, as exemplified by the activities of William of Champeaux, becomes, in Hugh of Saint-Victor, a leading ideal, combining knowledge and wisdom. The questions raised by the need for biblical interpretation and interpretation of patristic authorities give rise to the emergence of 'masters,' who pronounce their sententiae. Hugh, as one such master, organizes his teaching according to salvation history, which at the same timeand here lies an example of Hugh's originalityis a history of the soul.

Constant Mews illustrates the lively interconnections between different schools and masters in twelfth-century Paris, in this case Abelard and Hugh of Saint-Victor, by showing how Robert of Melun combines elements of both masters' teaching. Robert follows the structure of Hugh's De sacramentis in his Sententiae, but is, as Abelard, more interested in language than Hugh, using the notion of metaphor (translation) rather than Hugh's Augustinian idea of the signification of both words and things in Scripture.

Jacques Verger discusses the relation between Saint-Victor and the University of Paris, which it is hard to differentiate from the relation with other religious establishments but for the remaining interest in its illustrious twelfth-century members and its famous library. In the thirteenth century Saint-Victor played some pastoral role for students; in the later Middle Ages it seems to have functioned as a sort of college for a small number of students of theology.

Exegesis, history, and theology are the (often interconnected) areas of knowledge in which the influence of the Victorines can be investigated. Gilbert Dahan shows how the innovative exegesis of Hugh of Saint-Victor is soon overtaken by the developments in exegesis in the universities. Nevertheless, the works of the twelfth-century Victorine exegetes, Hugh, Richard, and Andrew, remain of interest to later readers. Their influence can be traced in hermeneutical reflection, especially that of Hugh, who affirms the need for literal interpretation as the basis for further exegesis, and whose influence on Robert of Melun is noticeable; in their literal exegesis itself; and, more importantly, in theological exegesis, influencing issues such as the doctrine of sin.

Isabelle Guyot-Bachy concludes that the Victorine influence on historical writing is to be seen in Hugh's justification of history as a legitimate activity rather than in historical summaries, for example, in Hugh's Chronicon or Richard's Liber Exceptionum, which were meant as memory-aids.

Using manuscript repertories, Danielle Jacquart traces the presence of and interest in scientific works in the Victorine community. Openness to new works and translations in the twelfth century seem to decrease after that period, but still astronomy and astrology, mathematics, optics, and medicine, are all represented in the library.

In a wide-ranging reading of Hugh's Didascalicon, Mathieu Arnoux shows how Hugh, in the new urban landscape of the twelfth century, initiates a novel appreciation of the artes mechanicae as a legitimate object of philosophy, thus justifying the work of artisans and others. Like Augustine, Hugh sees dominion of one over the other, not work, as a result of the Fall.

For Antoine Guggenheim, Hugh's 'theological humanism' unites human sciences, theological understanding, and mystical experience. For Hugh, historical and allegorical readings are parts of the same act. Thomas Aquinas is indebted to Hugh's distinction of littera, sensus, and sententia, as well as to his historical perspective.

As Rainer Berndt shows, Hugh unites universal and personal history by his notion of sacrament. Abelard's analytic approach to Christian doctrine as comprising fides, sacramentum, and caritas, and other later works which take their point of departure in the theological virtues, still allow for a reading of history as salvation history. In Aquinas, faith is not so much what enables a universal dimension of personal history, as an individual intellectual position.

Charles de Miramon sketches how within Hugh's ecclesiology his original distinction of spiritualia and terrena in a part of De sacramentis, which would play a role in twentieth-century ecclesiological discussions, can be seen in the context of polemical debates between monks and canons. His distinction between laymen and clergy is also of great importance against the background of, among other things, conflicts between king and clergy. Thus, its character as a classic of medieval theology should not blind us to the particularities of its origins.

Csaba Németh examines the Victorine commentaries on the works of Pseudo-Dionysius. Hugh 'overwrites' earlier commentaries by Eriugena, especially regarding the issue of theophanies. Németh traces aspects of Hugh's theology in which his reading of Pseudo- Dionysius is reflected: his theology of wisdom and light; his view of the world as theophany, and his notion of symbol and anagogy. He also discusses Dionysian elements in later Victorines, especially in Richard. Thomas Gallus' reading of the Areopagite shows his distance from earlier Victorines, in his emphasis on the cognitive potential of the affectus.

Through an analysis of the place of ratio in Hugh's thought, where reason, in a ternary structure reflecting divine trinity, mediates between the visible and the invisible and discerns between good and evil, Thierry Lesieur argues for Hugh's reflection on the necessity to come to an acknowledgement of society and of the 'carnal' aspects of the world, including a new appreciation of man's affects.

Grover A. Zinn charts the presence of Hugh's works, especially of his De institutione novitiorum, in medieval and later catalogues. With the ark-treatises, De institutione occupies, he shows, a central place in the curriculum as envisaged by Hugh, sharing with other works his program to proceed from the visible to the invisible. It was popular in later centuries in both Benedictine and mendicant communities.

Margot Fassler surveys the study of Victorine Sequences in the years 1993-2009, in an article which is a version of her preface to a new edition of her Gothic Song: Victorine Sequences and Augustinian Reform in Twelfth-Century Paris (Cambridge, 1993; second edition: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010). She shows how the sequences, the texts of which were organized in exegetical families, with a same melody, would result in exegetical layers resonating in the communal singing, thus supporting the project of shaping the human person. A CD included in the volume with a performance of several of the sequences and Marian pieces from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries gives us a contemporary interpretation of these works.

Jean-Baptiste Lebigue explores how the liturgical model of Saint- Victor was followed by the Order of the Holy Trinity, founded at the end of the twelfth century, for the sake of ransoming Christians held captive by non-Christiansa remarkable conformation, given the loose character of the actual congregation of the Victorine communities.

The architectural program of the Victorines, argues Martina Schilling, was flexible enough to allow for local possibilities and constraints. In a study of the abbey of Saint-André in Vercelli, it appears, the arrangement of buildings is at the service of the regular life of the canons, as well as a figurative manifestation of its ideals. The orientation of the refectory has less to do with its practical than with its symbolic function: evoking the Last Supper, making the place to eat into a liturgical space.

The remaining articles focus on the presence of Victorine influence among Dominicans, Franciscans, Carthusians, and in the Modern Devotion. The influence of the Victorine theologians on the Dominicans, especially Vincent de Beauvais and Robert Kilwardby, is the subject of an article by Eduard Frunzeanu and Monique Paulmier- Foucart. In Vincent's encyclopedic Speculum maius Hugh's and Richard's enterprises in the Didascalicon and the Liber exceptionum are reflected, but his selections show significant differences. Instead of the Victorine program of the soul's journey to contemplation, the purpose of the friars is preaching to the world. Where Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, in critical re-reading of Hugh, criticize his positions, for example on the soul as defining personhood, and on the question whether Christ was a man during the three days of his burial, Robert Kilwardby finds a way to justify Hugh's views.

By tracking explicit quotations of Hugh in the works of Franciscan theologians, Sylvain Piron is able to identify the moment of decline in the Victorines' importance. After a notable presence of Hugh in the works of Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure and his students, Peter of John Olivi is rather critical on the few occasions that he mentions Hugh. Olivi does make use of Andrew of Saint-Victor in his exegetical works, however. For Duns Scotus, Richard's De Trinitate was important, but as the object of his criticism of a position of Richard that the divine essence can be said to engender essence.

Carthusian authors such as Hugh of Balma or Guigues du Pont were equally critical in their use of Victorine views, as Christian Trottmann shows. Thomas Gallus had already amended Richard's contemplative itinerary by situating the highest degree of knowledge of God not in the intellect but in the principalis affectio or scintilla synderesis. Via Bonaventure's addition of a last degree of excessus mentis, to be aspired by all believers, Hugh of Balma develops his view of an unmediated union of love, ultimately not accompanied by knowledge, even when intellectual endeavours serve as a propaedeutical preparation, to be discarded at the end.

The Victorines enjoyed a revival of interest in the Modern Devotion, as Nikolaus Staubach shows. Not only Hugh's learning program, as exemplified in his Didascalicon, but also the Victorine organisational structure was a model for the Windesheim congregation. It was not a reciprocal interest, well evidenced by the failure of a Windesheimian effort of reform of Saint-Victor in the late fifteenth century.

With an overview of the editions of Hugh's and Richard's Opera omnia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Jean-Louis Quantin ends the history of Saint-Victor's influence. After the first editions--1518 for Richard and 1526 for Hugh--the text itself remained remarkably stable. What changed in following editions was the 'peritext.' Whereas the first editions were at least partly a 'corporate' effort by the community at the time, to reclaim its glorious past, later changes often reflected the religious controversies of the period.

In his concluding remarks Jaques Dalarun posits that the remaining influence of Saint-Victor is in its structure, its method, especially its method of education, and its instruments, especially its library. There is a certain irony pointed to by Dominique Poirel in his Introduction, that is, that the Victorines' initial success in pedagogical, exegetical, and theological renewal, in their acknowledgement of the world, resulted in their being left behind once developments of scholarship which they were part in initiating, overtook them. From Dalarun's concluding perspective, this irony perhaps loses some of its sharpness.



1. See the article by Julian Führer, p. 58, n. 3. Constant Mews argues that William of Champeaux, its reputed founder, did not leave his arch-deaconate until 1111; see his article p. 133 n. 52, and also idem, "William of Champeaux, the Foundation of Saint-Victor (Easter, 1111), and the Evolution of Abelard's Early Career", in Irène Rosier-Catach, ed. Arts du langage et théologie aux confins des XIe-XIIe siècles. Textes, matres, débats, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), pp. 83-104. Charles de Miramon, "Quatre notes biographiques sur Guillaume de Champeaux," in the same volume, pp. 45-80, is inclined to see William's conversion as a long and complex process, thus leaving some time within the years 1108-1111 as the possible date for William's withdrawal to Saint-Victor while still an arch-deacon.

2. Especially ternaries: Jacques Dalarun in his Conclusion of the volume speaks of a "saturation trinitaire" (650).