De Sacramentis 1.1.3

1.1.3. “The reason why God wished through intervals of time to bring His works to completion, and to make being before beautiful being.” What’s important for divine omnipotence, however, is not that God should be held to have created matter with form, but that he be recognized to have been able to do so had he wished. Because divine power is identical with divine goodness, the more relevant consideration has less to do with what is fitting for divine power than with what is “more suited to the benefit and interest of the rational creature itself.”

Here it should be said we get a crucial insight into the theological principle behind what we will see to be Hugh’s “sacramental” or spiritual/allegorical interpretation of both Scripture generally and of the opening chapter of Genesis in particular. In creating and disposing the world in the order that he did, God’s purpose was not so much to display his own power as it was in his goodness to accommodate the needs and interests of his creatures. If the operative or relevant principle behind the pattern of the creation week, therefore, was not divine power but divine goodness, it remains for the interpreter of Scripture to discern what the divine “lesson” or sacramental meaning for man must be behind that pattern. Divine goodness over divine power as the central theological principle, in short, necessitates allegorical, and more specifically, an anthropocentric interpretation of Scripture.

Hugh writes that the order of creation is one in which “not only homage but also example might be prepared for this same rational creature.” Put differently, God created the world in such a way that in it man might better “recognize what it [he] was.” The order of creation, therefore, including the order of matter and form, is going to be an anthropocentric one for Hugh. Hugh’s is a cosmic and metaphysical personalism: there is no answering metaphysical questions such as matter and form without a consideration of what is good for man and how it helps man to understand himself as man. Thus, God created matter first unformed and then later formed precisely to teach man, first, about creation’s dependence upon God for its form, and second, about man’s own need to “receive form,” as it were, through redemption. As Hugh describes it, it is a difference between “being” (unformed matter) and “beautiful being” (formed matter, or man in his creation or “foundation”) or even “happy being” (man in his restored state). In this way Hugh makes the order of creation to be an analogy for the order of redemption: in the divine “work of foundation” we have a type of the divine “work of restoration,” in the creation of the world a picture of its re-creation (cp. Tolkien’s creation-myth in the Ainulindalë and its dramatization of his argument concerning sub-creation and the gospel in his essay “On Fairy-Stories.”)

As to who was there from the beginning to receive this example, the answer is the angels who were created first and men who were created afterward but who would be taught by Scripture. Similar to Augustine in his own interpretation of Genesis (see Confessions bk. 11), Hugh ends on an irenic note, giving the unconvinced reader permission “with all freedom to seek out someone else better and more subtle to prove the point more clearly,” or to adopt another doctrine entirely “as he wishes.”


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