20.04.11 Evans (ed.), Victorine Christology

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Ritva Palmén

The Medieval Review 20.04.11

Evans, Christopher P., ed. Victorine Christology: A Selection of Works of Hugh and Achard of St. Victor, and of Robert of Melun, and excerpts taken from the Summa sententiarum. Victorine Texts in Translation. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols , 2018. pp. 484. ISBN: 978-2-503-57980-1 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Ritva Palmén
University of Helsinki, Finland
ritva.palmen@helsinki.fi

Victorine Texts in Translation (VTT) is an American project that offers English translations and annotations of the most influential Victorine works. The aim is to draw more attention to the rich Victorine literary tradition previously under-studied in academic research. The project has delivered a considerable number of high quality translations of texts written by the twelfth-century Victorine canons Hugh, Richard, Adam, Andrew, Achard, Walter, and Godfrey as well as other closely related scholars like Robert of Melun, Peter Comestor, Maurice of Sully, and Leonius of Paris. Victorine Christology is the seventh volume of the series, which has three more volumes in preparation. The Medieval Review has published three assessments of the earlier volumes: Trinity and Creation: A Selection of Works of Hugh, Richard, and Adam of St Victor (VTT 1, 2010) by Philip O'Mara in TMR 11.10.05; On Love: A Selection of Works of Hugh, Adam, Achard, Richard, and Godfrey of St Victor (VTT 2, 2011) by Albrecht Classen in TMR 12.02.15, andInterpretation of Scripture: Practice: A Selection of Works of Hugh, Andrew, and Richard of St Victor, Peter Comestor, Robert of Melun, Maurice of Sully, and Leonius of Paris (VTT 6, 2015) by Marshall E. Crossnoe in TMR 16.09.16.

As other volumes of the series do, this seventh volume also starts with a useful list of references to Victorine works. The lengthy General Introduction written by Christopher P. Evans, the editor of the book, presents the texts and themes of the volume, quoting several of the key paragraphs. These materials are partly repeated in the individual introductions, textual apparatus, and the translations of the texts themselves. Given that reading the volume from cover to cover may feel redundant, this structure is justifiable for those who wish to consult individual texts.

The introduction familiarizes the reader with the twelfth-century Christological models, called the homo assumptus theory, the subsistence theory, and the habitus theory, promoted by Hugh of St. Victor, Gilbert of Poitiers and Peter Lombard respectively. It contextualizes Christological controversies in the twelfth century, compares the three prevailing theories, and provides an analysis of Victorine Christology and its reception by late twelfth-century and thirteenth-century theologians. While the Victorine position did not survive the twelfth century and medieval theologians eventually rejected the homo assumptus theory, the following selected Victorine texts demonstrate the overall importance of the Victorine position in the Christological debate and its later development.

As will be shown, since Hugh of St Victor's formulations on the nature of Christ as God and man set the general frame for Victorine Christology, the volume offers key passages from Hugh's texts and then moves to succeeding treatises that formulate and defend Hugh's thinking in the context of twelfth-century doctrinal debate. Compared to the earlier volumes of Victorine Texts in Translation, the discussion is more focused on one theme, the excerpts testifying to the uniformity of Victorine Christological views.

Unlike the proponents of the earlier partes theory, Hugh and his followers preferred to talk about assumed man united to the Word in a personal union. The first translated text with an introduction by Joshua Benson is Hugh's sophisticated Christological discussion found in his On the Wisdom of Christ's Soul. This treatise offers Hugh's most elaborate contribution to the problem of the knowledge of Christ's human soul. Hugh asks whether the soul which divinity assumed in Christ's person has as much knowledge and wisdom as divinity itself. Hugh's theological masterpiece is On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith, written in the 1130's. Keeping in mind the subject of the volume, John Froula has translated the Christological discussion from the second book of On the Sacraments (II.1.1-13). The VTT series includes other chapters translated from On the Sacrament as well, which is understandable if one takes into account the extensive scope of Hugh's treatise, pioneering the medievalsumma genre. For the purposes of this volume, the most interesting discussion of On the Sacraments concerns the mode of union in Christ, i.e., how the assumed man is in union with the person of the Word. Hugh's Christology is based on the idea that Christ's human soul had by grace what his divinity had by nature. While the text is theologically sophisticated and focused, in Victorine fashion Hugh's immediate context of teaching is also evident. He proposes questions such as how young God can be said to be, and sometimes addressing the audience directly: "You are the boys, and you were not able until now to deal with the shroud of infancy" (154-5).

The Christological debate continues in the anonymous Summa Sententiarum, introduced and translated for the first time into English by Joshua Benson. This text is followed by Achard of St Victor's Sermon 4: On the Resurrection, translated by Hugh Feiss. However, the largest chunk of the book contains several chapters from Robert of Melun's magisterial Sentences, also translated into English and annotated for the first time by Christopher P. Evans. The work of Robert of Melun, one of the most understudied scholars of the twelfth century, remains mostly unedited and has been difficult to access. Since the critical edition is still on its way, this translation is an important contribution for those interested in medieval philosophical theology and Christology in particular. For those interested in Robert's work, it is good to know that some chapters of the Sentences have been translated by Nancy van Baak in VTT 3. While comparing and evaluating the Latin edition and the English translation of Robert's treatise remains for the future readers, his high standard for theological and philosophical discussions becomes evident from the English rendering and ensures that scholars will look to examine the Latin original as well.

Sentences is an attempt to systematize Hugh of St Victor's and Peter Abelard's intellectual insights by focusing on the language central to both Hugh and Abelard and to propose an alternative to Peter Lombard's project. Among other things, Sentences includes the most extensive discussion and refutation of the current Christological models (the Abelardian partes theory, the Porretan subsistence theory and the Lombardian habitus theory), which also justifies the fact that the translation constitutes almost 200 pages of the volume. The text itself describes how Robert was a vocal critic of Peter Lombard, contesting his and his students' habitus theory, which identified human nature simply as the body and soul that did not constitute something when conjoined to the Word. Robert himself defends Hugh's Christology by challenging various historical and contemporary Christological heresies and providing detailed arguments to support his own views. Robert's devotion to Christology is evident and he seems to be hesitant about whether he has said all that is required in order to make his own points clear. The outcome is an exhaustive literary production which contains intricate theological discussion, but redundant phraseology as well. The subtitles speak for themselves: "The same about the above," "More about the same," and even "The same about the same."

Specifically Victorine theological anthropology is manifested throughout the text, as shown in the Christological formulations. Robert repeats Boethius' formulation that a person is a rational substance of an individual nature and adds that rational soul and body are two distinct things that cannot be substantially conjoined. Through personal union, the body shares in the personal identity of the soul while remaining substantially distinct; the body is one person with the soul. While the general intention is to deliberate specifically Christological issues, the text offers glimpses of twelfth century humanism discussing the ways in which human nature is constituted, how human personhood should be defined, what knowledge is and how language signifies. Utilising examples based on everyday life, like the ways in which an architect designs buildings and needs various instruments and materials to utilise his knowledge, Robert offers analogies and points of departure to discuss what kind of wisdom assumed man had. He also displays his knowledge of current trends in logic, explaining how the terminist logic can be used as part of Christological formulations (377, 412).

Many of the Victorine texts still await modern critical editions. The VTT project fills the existing gap in Victorine research, and a rise in studies analysing different aspects of Victorine thinking is more than likely. The project is praiseworthy for presenting each volume both in hard cover (Brepols) and paperback (New City Press), offering extensive distribution among students interested in medieval studies. Some unfortunate typographical errors have remained in the printed volume. For instance, Lauge Olaf Nielsen, one of the most prominent scholars in twelfth-century philosophical theology has been spelled wrongly twice (Launge Olaf Neilsen and Nielson, 23 and 117). The volume ends with an extensive bibliography, indexes of scriptural, ancient and medieval authors, as well as a useful subject index. As such, the volume is an indispensable tool for all interested in Victorine intellectual thinking, as medieval scholars eagerly await the succeeding volumes of the series.

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