De Sacramentis 1.1.19

1.1.19 “The sacrament of the matters mentioned above.” Hugh asks why the firmament was made to divide waters from waters, and he begins his answer by stating that the reason is surely not to be found anywhere outside of man for whose sake these things were made. So the reason for the firmament dividing waters from waters, as in other matters, is ultimately a sacramental or allegorical one, benefitting and instructing man’s spiritual state. Hugh states that man’s “interior world” possesses the “form and exemplar of this world” (i.e., the world of a waters-dividing firmament). Earlier (1.1.10) Hugh argued that the division of light from darkness on the first day of the week had its “exemplar” in the simultaneous yet logically and ontologically prior separation of the good angels from the bad. Here he makes a similar argument with respect to the second day’s division of waters from waters, though with the added paradox that the exemplar or pattern for this particular division is to be found in man who has not yet been made. In the previous case, in other words, the exemplar was created concurrently with that which it was the exemplar of, but in this case the exemplar will not be created until the sixth day, four days after that which was patterned after it on the second day.

Interestingly, Hugh seems to slip off or lose sight slightly of very analogy he is developing here. Hugh’s intent is to draw an analogy between the Lord’s separation of waters above from waters below by means of the firmament with its “anti-/prototype” pattern in the human soul. The parallel Hugh actually puts forward is between the human soul and the earlier distinction between, not waters and waters, but heaven and earth: “a kind of earth placed below is the sensual nature of man, but heaven placed above, the purity of intelligence and reason animated by a kind of movement of immortal life.” Because man would later in the week be created as comprised of thee “two natures” of intellectual and corporeal substances, so the world was at first separated into a hierarchy of two unequal natures, heaven and earth. The problem, however, is that these two natures in men have two “contrary impulses”: “the flesh, pressed down by infirmity, desires one thing and the spirit, raised up by the contemplation of truth, aspires to another… for example, something … coming from the flesh drags downward; something coming from the spirit yearns for heaven, seeking the highest and immortal good. ” The collision of these two impulses results in confusion, necessitating the presence and role of a “mediatrix,” and this is where the “firmament” of reason steps in, dividing one impulse from another and so “separates inclinations and appetites, and judges between desires…”

Hugh returns to the waters/waters separation at the end of the chapter, but in the process gives the most extreme statement yet of a Neoplatonic antagonism between soul and body: “when very reason in stern judgment resolutely places itself as a kind of firmament in the midst, and on one side sets apart the waters above the heavens, but on the other those which are under the heavens, lower corruption cannot infect the higher purity of the soul, nor does that integrity which is above suffer itself to incline toward those base and worthless things which are below.” Instead of the more balanced, Augustinian perspective according to which sin is the result not of desiring lower things, but of a disordered desire of lower things above the higher, Hugh unfortunately opts for an absolute censure of lower things as unqualifiedly “base and worthless.”


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