De Sacramentis 1.1.14

1.1.14 “What precaution is here signified regarding good work.” Hugh offers up a series of three “precautions” or applications of the foregoing discussion to our good works. First, make sure that you have the divine light in you, “so that all your works may be of light and not darkness.” Second, make sure that the light in you is not mixed with any darkness. Third, make sure that the works which you do in that unmixed light are good. Hugh concludes the chapter with the observation that he has been “touch[ing] upon a certain few mysteries of light,” but that it is now time to “return to the systematic exposition” of Genesis.

De Sacramentis 1.1.13

1.1.13 “Why Scripture says: ‘God saw the light.’” The question of this chapter is by or in what light did God see the light that he made at first and by which he called it “good,” given that “nothing can be seen without light.” His answer is that this first created, changeable light was seen by God in an uncreated, unchangeable light. It is by this same divine light, moreover, that God sees all of his works, and “by which we also should see every light.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.12

1.1.12 “The sacrament of the divine works.” Hugh here reflects on the allegorical significance of the previous chapter’s discussion of why the original light preceded the sun’s own light. He had said that the reason the lesser light was allowed to precede the “clear” or “full light” was because the original confusion of the created order was such as to make it “not worthy of full light,” and he begins this chapter by observing that in this “a great sacrament is commended.” In this context, and for Hugh generally, sacrament refers to the mysterious, allegorical, or spiritual meaning of a thing. The sacramental meaning of the sequence of creation is the way in which the individual fallen soul, like creation in the beginning, is in “a kind of darkness and confusion,” a state that it cannot arise out of and “be disposed to the order and form of justice, unless it be first illumined to see its evils, and to distinguish light from darkness, that is, virtues from vices, so that it may dispose itself to order and conform to truth.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.11

1.1.11 “That light illumined three days; and why it was made before the sun.” Hugh returns to the existence of light preceding that of the sun, stating that “the light itself made those first three days before the sun was made, and illumined the world.” While this and his previous discussions might have given the impression that the light which preceded the sun was on that account superior to the sun’s own light, Hugh goes on to imply just the opposite. In response to the question of why generic (if you will) light was created before what he calls the “clear light” of the sun, he answers that it was possibly due to “the confusion” (of the original unformed matter) that “was not worthy of full light; yet it received some light, that it might see how to proceed to order and disposition.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.10

1.1.10 “That visible and invisible light were made simultaneously, and equally divided from darkness.” The argument of this chapter is an odd and even troubling one. According to Hugh, when God was dividing visible light from darkness, at that same moment he was also dividing the “invisible light” of angelic moral goodness from the fallen or falling angels’ moral “darkness of sin.” This separation occurred through the good angels “being turned toward the light of justice and illumined by light.” This concurrence of the separation of visible and invisible light, however, was no mere coincidence, for Hugh suggests that it was in some sense necessary or fitting that these two events coincide, indeed, that the separation of visible light from visible darkness was in some sense even dependent upon the separation of the good angels from the bad: “For thus the exemplars of God’s work had to be in harmony, so that those works of wisdom which were visible might follow the productions of the invisible.”

This I find very strange and disturbing. In 1.1.5 Hugh made the claim that the “likenesses” of corporeal creatures were “preceded already in the angelic spirits,” suggesting that the angelic natures exercise some kind of exemplar causality relative to corporeal creation. It would seem, therefore, to be precisely this dependence of the visible order upon the invisible that Hugh has in mind when he states that the separation of light from darkness in the visible world must have its antecedent exemplar in the invisible world. This by itself would be fine, except that what Hugh identifies as the exemplar for the separation of light from darkness in the visible world is a separation of moral light and darkness in the invisible world. The problem with this, of course, is that it implies that something negative, namely sin or evil, specifically the sin or evil of the fallen angels, is an exemplar or positive pattern for an otherwise created good, namely physical darkness. Evil, in short, has been unwittingly enfranchised and elevated to the level of form: the moral darkness of the fallen angels is what provides the formal pattern upon which physical darkness is said to depend. Put differently, angelic evil is what makes physical darkness possible, is what gives physical darkness its darkness? The irony, however, is that Hugh himself seems to see his thesis about invisible, moral light and darkness providing the exemplary pattern for physical light and darkness as being required rather than contradicted by his otherwise Augustinian privation theory of evil: “God indeed divided both, and named both; but He did not also make both. For God is not that author of darkness but of light, because sin is darkness and sin is nothing… God said: ‘Be light made.’ … God never said: ‘Be darkness made.’”

“Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature”

Brisbois, Michael J. “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature: An Analysis of the Structure of Middle-earth.” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 197-216. A semi-systematic examination of differing aspects of and relations to “nature” in Tolkien’s legendarium. Interesting topic with great potential, but somewhat imperfectly executed here. Summary of Randall Helm’s five “internal laws” is interesting and helpful, but Brisbois’s categories of Passive, Active, Essential, Ambient, Independent, and Wrathful seem to obscure as much as they reveal.

De Sacramentis 1.1.9

1.1.9 “Of what nature this light was made and where.” Light was the first thing created, but it was not created out of nothing but out of the original matter (which was created out of nothing). With the creation of light the first day was begun (though time preceded even this). Light is not only material, but also corporeal (because able to illumine corporeal, visible things), spatial (because corporeal or bodily), and mobile (because distinguishing day and night, and being able to “complete a space of time”). Hugh clarifies that light was indeed made before or, as he puts it, even “instead of and in place of the sun” with the consequence that it was light and not the sun that was first “circulated by its motion” and responsible for “distinguishing night and day.”

Because light was first created in the place and course of the sun, it follows that, upon its creation, light also must have made its first appearance in the same place where the sun first appears each day, and like the sun, thereafter “traveling around in the same path, and descending first to its setting” so that “it might make the evening, and then, on being recalled to its rising, it might illumine the dawn.” This would seem to suggest that the sun, in rising and setting where it does, is merely following the light which precedes it.

Hugh’s explanation for why Scripture says that “there was evening and morning one day” is clever. As he points out, the first day, which began with the creation of light, was not and could not be preceded by any dawn, since before the creation of light there was only darkness. Therefore scripture includes the dawn following the first evening with the first day (the first evening taking place before the first dawn). Dawn, therefore, “must always refer to the preceding day.”

Hugh concludes the chapter by correlating his present teaching about light and the first day with his earlier discussion about time. Time (because change) began when the visible and invisible things were created, but until there was light, there was in this time neither night nor day. With the introduction of light, however, darkness and light could be differentiated, and so time could now be divided by day and night.


De Sacramentis 1.1.8

1.1.8 “On the mystery of light; why it was made first.” Hugh asks why God made light first, referring to this as the “mystery of light.” His answer: God “made light first, that afterwards he might make all things in light.” In proof of this he cites Jesus’s statement to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John that the one who does the truth “cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God” (John 3:21). We have already seen how, for Hugh, God created the world in such a way as to set an “example” for his rational creatures, particularly when he created matter first and added form later, thereby anticipating the pattern to be followed in the work of restoration, when man who was “first made unformed in a certain mode of its own, [would] afterwards … be formed through conversion to its Creator” (1.1.3).  In a similar vein, we find Hugh reasoning here from the premise of man’s “relation to light,” as it were, in the work of redemption and, in particular, as expressed in the gospels, to the order of creation itself: if redeemed man is one who comes to and performs his works in the light, then it is fitting that God himself should have set an example for this in conducting his own work of disposition “in the light.” As Hugh is careful to clarify, however, God “did not make light that He Himself might see by light, but that He might make His works manifest by light, because they were done in God.” God did not need the light to see what he was doing, in other words, but so that others might see what he was doing. The irony, of course, is that there was as yet no one present to whom God’s works might be made manifest through this light (angels, being incorporeal, for Hugh would not have needed light to see). The not insignificant fact remains, however, that had human beings been present from the start, by God creating light first, his work of disposition would have been manifest to them. In that fashion, at least, one might say that human beings were present, if not in person, then at least in and through this divine accommodation and solicitude.

But this discussion may lead us to a further, more complex but no less significant respect in which human beings were, and in a sense even now are or can be present when God first created light, and that respect, of course, is through the revelation of Scripture itself. When Genesis reveals to us the way in which God made the world, after all, it is making that act of creation in a very real sense present to us. In making the creation event present to us, however, it is also making us present in and to it. When God made the world, after all, he made it in such a way as to be the subject of thus susceptible to a future revelation, a fact that was just as true in the past when God first made the world as it is now when we read that revelation in the present. What this means is that Genesis is a very peculiar kind of account, one that reveals not only a particular and purported historical content, but in doing so, implicitly reveals the manner in which that content is able to give rise to its own account. Put differently, in reading Genesis, we are not only reading about God’s act of creation, or rather, precisely because we are reading about God’s act of creation, we are on that account also reading about the establishment of the very conditions for the possibility of its future revelation. Thus, when God reveals to us how he made the world, he is necessarily putting on display more than the act of creation itself, but also that act of creation as revealable, which, I am suggesting here, is a remarkable revelation in its own right. Put more succinctly still, the world was not only made and then revealed, but more precisely, was made to be revealed. This may also be seen to put a different perspective on many of our contemporary debates over how properly to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis, and reveals as grossly inadequate any interpretation that would seek to marginalize the text by treating it as merely poetic or literary account. For on the above reckoning, Genesis is not only about God’s act of creation, but in a very real sense is the point of creation: God created the world, at least in part, in order that Genesis might record that creation. This finally, is what I suggest is implied in Hugh of St. Victor’s argument that God created light first, if not exactly to manifest his works, then at least that his works might be made manifest.

De Sacramentis 1.1.7

1.1.7. “On the distinction made by form.” Although Hugh has already begun in the previous chapter, particularly in his discussion of God’s creation of light on the second day, to address God’s work of disposition in six days, he seems to see himself formally turning to this subject in the present chapter. (The previous chapter had ended with the statement that “on the first creation, before nature came into form and disposition, we wish these words to suffice,” and the present chapter begins with “Next, we must treat in order how this disposition itself was accomplished. This is perhaps a good example of the comparative lack of systematicity that would lead St. Thomas, for example, in the following century to undertake a new kind of summa of the Christian faith.) Having treated the subject of creation, in other words, Hugh now turns to the subject of the divine work of disposition. As Hugh describes God’s labor over six days, he “disposed, and ordered, and reduced to form all that he had made.” The main concern of the present chapter, however, is the aforementioned distinction between creation and disposition. Whereas creation is ex nihilo and occurs at the very beginning, the work of disposition presupposes the work of creation, so that “he should not by any means think that, when first these things are said to have been made, they were created from nothing, but rather he should understand that they were formed from the matter itself, which was first created from nothing.” When Scripture thus refers to things being “created” during the six days, “the reference is not to the matter by which they begin to be, but to the form by which they begin to be what they are.”

Hugh’s synthesis of medieval quadriga, Augustinian semiotics, and the Liberal Arts

Here’s an attempt to schematize Hugh’s Synthesis of Medieval Hermeneutics, Augustinian Semiotics, and the Liberal Arts Tradition.

Tolkien’s Platonic Ontology?

Weinreich, Frank. “Metaphysics of Myth: The Platonic Ontology of ‘Mythopoeia’.” In Tolkien’s Shorter Works, edited by Margaret Hiley and Frank Weinreich, 325-347. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree, 2008. A nearly line-by-line commentary on Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia” poem, arguing for the underlying presence of a Platonic metaphysics and epistemology. Fabulously mistaken when it is not simply unintelligible. As I think Ralph Wood has commented in one place, Tolkien’s metaphysics is far more Aristotelian than Platonic, and as I argued at length in my dissertation, more Thomistic than anything else.

Classical Mythology in Tolkien

Noel, Ruth S. The Mythology of Middle-earth. Houghton Mifflin, 1977. A possibly useful but not overly compelling early “study of Tolkien’s mythology and its relationship to the myths of the ancient world.” After the Introduction, Part II is devoted to “Themes” (Fate, Subterranean Descent, Denial of Death, Language, and Chronology), Part III to “Places” (Middle-earth, Númenor, and The Blessed Realm), Part IV to “Beings” (Hobbits, Sméagol-Gollum, Men, and The Old Gods), and Part V to “Things” (Dragons, Rings of Power, Weapons, and Barrows).

Metafiction and Tolkien’s “Mythology for England”

Flieger, Verlyn. “Do the Atlantis story and abandon Eriol-Saga.” Tolkien Studies 1 (2004): 43-68. An examination of Tolkien’s use of the metafictional device (similar to, but not quite as successful as Vladimir Brljak’s article), focusing on Tolkien’s goal of writing a “mythology for England.” Argues that Tolkien opted to assimilate his early, “Eriol/Aelfwine the Mariner” framework device within the later “inherited memory” method of time travel found in The Notion Club Papers (the “Atlantis story”). This would have the effect of connecting England with the legendarium not only geographically and historically but also psychologically through a kind of collective consciousness and memory. (For a further discussion of Tolkien’s idea of inherited memory, see Flieger, “The Curious Incident of the Dream at the Barrow.”)

Reincarnation, Inherited Memory, and the Merry’s Dream at the Barrow

Flieger, Verlyn. “The Curious Incident of the Dream at the Barrow: Memory and Reincarnation in Middle-earth.” Tolkien Studies 4 (2007): 99-112. Correlates Tolkien’s ideas of Elvish reincarnation and his later time-travel mechanism of inherited memory (most developed in The Notion Club Papers found in vol. 9 of The History of Middle-earth, Sauron Defeated), and argues that the latter in particular is behind Merry’s “dream” of being attacked and killed by the men of Carn Dum.

The Three Elven Rings

Fisher, Jason. “Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why? Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings.” Tolkien Studies 5 (2008): 99-108. A mildly interesting discussion of an otherwise marginal and therefore not terribly illuminating issue, namely the Three Elven Rings—Narya , “The Ring of Fire,” Vilya, “The Ring of Air,” and Nenya, “The Ring of Water”—and their connections with their principal wearers, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, respectively.

“Beowulf” and “The Two Towers”

Fehrenbacher, Richard W. “Beowulf as Fairy-story: Enchanting the Elegiac in The Two Towers.Tolkien Studies 3 (2006): 101-115. Fehrenbacher, a professor at the University of Idaho, conducts a close comparison of Beowulf and the Rohan episodes of The Two Towers to argue that in the latter Tolkien is attempting to “transform … the doomed and monstrous world of Beowulf’s northern paganism into a victorious and hopeful one by employing his theory of Fantasy as outlined […] in his essay ‘On Fairy-stories.’ ” His argument of how Rohan itself is in need of and is treated to a kind of “Recovery” (in the fairy-story sense) through its encounter with Gandalf, Aragorn, et al., is a bit strange and perhaps slightly contrived, but otherwise the comparisons and contrasts he develops between Beowulf and The Two Towers are very compelling. (For a related study comparing Tolkien’s work and another Old English work, The Battle of Maldon, see Bowman, “Refining the Gold.”)

Irony in “Leaf, by Niggle”

Esolen, Anthony. “Time and the Neighbor: J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Leaf, by Niggle’.” In Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature. ISI Books, 2007. An excellent reflection, focusing on the idea of irony, on Tolkien’s profound, allegorical and semi-autobiographical short story.

Tolkien’s use of Metafiction

Brljak, Vladimir. “The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist.” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010). An excellent, fascinating study of Tolkien’s use of metafictionist devices (his “books within books”—for example, the so-called Red Book of Westmarch upon which the LOTR is supposed to be based). Not only examines how Tolkien uses metafictionism, but also its importance in creating distance between the reader and the text and thus eliciting the kind of desire for the “untold stories” discussed in his letters and hinted at in his Beowulf essay. Highly recommended. (For a related discussion, see also Flieger, “Do the Atlantis story.”)

Elladan, Elrohir, and the Sons of Zeus

Branchaw, Sharrylyn. “Elladan and Elrohir: The Dioscuri in The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 137-146. A somewhat pedantic and otherwise uninteresting study of the possible classical antecedents behind or influences upon Tolkien’s invention of Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond (“Dioscuri” refers to the twin sons of Zeus).

Tolkien’s use of “The Battle of Maldon”

Bowman, Mary R. “Refining the Gold: Tolkien, The Battle of Maldon, and the Northern Theory of Courage.” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 91-115. A worthwhile even if not overly profound examination of Tolkien’s use of notable themes (especially courage) and scenes from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon. Argues that Tolkien successfully incorporates into his fiction the German notions of heroism and courage, particularly the idea of “indomitability,” while at the same time purging them of their more pagan, despairing elements. (For a related study comparing Tolkien’s work and Old English poetry, in this case, The Two Towers and Beowulf—with a brief discussion of The Battle of Maldon—see Fehrenbacher, “Beowulf as Fairy-Story.”)