On not knowing what’s good fer ya

“[N]ot everyone is mature enough to know what is of advantage to him…” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 3.3)

On teaching

“[T]eaching, moreover, begins with those things which are better known and, by acquainting us with these, works its way to matters which lie hidden.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 3.9)

What to read and how

“If you are not able to read everything, read those things which are more useful. Even if you should be able to read them all, however, you should not expend the same labor upon all. Some things are to be read that we may know them, but others that we may at least have heard of them…” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 3.13)

Naming and knowing natures

“[A] man cannot come to know the natures of things if he is still ignorant of their names.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 6.3)

Evangelium Comercii

“Commerce penetrates the secret places of the world, approaches shores unseen, explores fearful wildernesses, and in tongues unknown and with barbaric peoples carries on the trade of mankind.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 2.23)

Pax Comercii

“The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and commutes the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon 2.23)

De Sacramentis 1.3.6-26

1.3.6. What is the “principal mirror” by which we know God, and why? It is the rational mind (“reason in itself”), for this “had been made nearest and most related to His image and likeness.” Why was the rational mind made in the likeness of God? So that “through itself it might find Him by whom it was made.” 

1.3.7. Hugh speaks of “what occurs to us first,” but he in fact lists at least four different things that first occur to the rational mind: first, that the rational mind is something (and not nothing); second, that it is none of the visible, corporeal things that it knows; third, that the rational mind is itself distinct from these visible things, being itself invisible; and fourth, that there are in fact invisible things.

1.3.8. Two more things that the rational mind knows: (a) that it did not always exist, and therefore had a beginning; (b) that it was not the cause of its own beginning.

1.3.9. The rational soul that did not exist was made by something that did, something that was the cause of the existence of everything else, and therefore something whose existence was itself necessary and without beginning. (Is this the closest we get to an argument for God’s existence from Hugh?

1.3.10. What the rational soul sees in itself (namely God as its cause), it also sees outside of itself: “without an author, [things] could have neither origin nor restoration.” Everything that is mutable must at some time not have existed (cp. Aquinas’s “third way”). In this they show themselves to have been made by God.

1.3.11. Not only does reason know through itself and external things that God exists, but it also knows that God is Triune, or three in one. Reason reveals that there should be “one principle and one end to which all things that existed from it might turn” and that without a single principle and ruler the world would lack unity. Hugh doesn’t explain here, however, how reason knows God also to be three.

1.3.13-16. Hugh discusses God’s immutability (1.3.13), which leads him to an aside on the bodily (1.3.15) and the spiritual (1.3.16) mutability of his creatures. Angels can neither grow nor shrink in substance, but they can experience passions of joy, grief, repentance, and desire. Their knowledge can also increase through learning or decrease through forgetfulness. Accordingly, they are subject to temporal change. While there is doubt on the matter, Hugh believes angels, being incorporeal, do not change in place, for they do not occupy space. They are speculations such as these that earned the medievals the Renaissance barb that they engaged themselves in endless and fruitless inquiries into “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” but again, Hugh raises these issues for a theological purpose, namely to better understand and highlight God’s own immutability: the created spirit “is not changed in place but in time; but that the creating Spirit is neither in place nor changed in place… nor changed in time, since He is absolutely invariable.”

1.3.17. God “substantially or essentially and properly and really is.” This is Hugh’s ways of saying that God is what most exists, indeed, that he is (as St. Thomas would later put it) existence itself (ipsum esse). It means that existing is part of God’s substance: it’s what he is. To be God is to be the one who exists. This means that God’s existence is not limited (“defined”) by what he is (as is the case with creatures), since God’s existence simply is what he is. Unlimited in this way, God must also be present in everything else that exists. Hugh answers objections that God’s omnipresence would involve his “defilement” by contact with human flesh.

1.3.18. The foregoing discussion of God’s omnipresence leads Hugh to a return to the subject of created spirits and place. His position is the paradoxical one that created spirits, while without spatial dimension and hence are not “circumscribed” by place, are nonetheless “enclosed” by place and that by nature and operation they can be “local.”

1.3.19-22. Not only does reason know God to be one, but it also knows God to be three, something made manifest in that which bears God’s likeness (1.3.19). For just as man’s wisdom or inner word is known only to himself but becomes manifest when it is “revealed through utterance,” so God’s own wisdom and inner word was hidden and invisible until he made it manifest through his extrinsic word (1.3.20). The more the things God has made are like God, the more perfectly do they manifest him, and this is especially the case with rational creatures who have been made in his image, and in whom is thus “the first trace of the Trinity.” This trace consists in the mind of the rational creature’s self-begetting of its own wisdom and subsequent love for that wisdom, in which “a kind of trinity arises, and oneness does not depart.” Never without his Wisdom or Love for his Wisdom, God is coeternal with his Love and his Wisdom (1.3.21). The mind-wisdom-love analogy articulates the plurality of persons within the godhead without compromising but preserving its fundamental unity (1.3.22).

1.3.23-25. Because of their differences, the persons of the Trinity were given different names according to their different roles. The Father was named Father because he begets the Son, the Son because he is begotten, and the Holy Spirit because he is “given for sanctification” (1.3.23). The Holy Spirit proceeds from and is given by both the Father and the Son. The persons are three only in those things that are “distinct and peculiar” to them, but are one in those things which are common (1.3.24). This brings up a limitation to the earlier mind-wisdom-love analogy, which is that in an individual rational creature, of course, mind and wisdom and love are not individual persons, are “certain affections and forms” of the individual who is a person (1.3.25).

1.3.26. Although power is (scripturally and traditionally) attributed to the Father, wisdom to the Son, and goodness to the Holy Ghost, these are in fact “common” to all three, and not even in a way that all three are powerful, wise, or good, but only one, because there is only one power, one wisdom, one goodness “in one nature and in one substance.” Hugh rehearses his earlier argument about why Scripture, to counteract the tendency towards erroneous thinking about the different members and names of the Trinity, particularly attributed power, wisdom, and goodness to the Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively, even though each of these are held in common.

De Sacramentis 1.3.6

1.3.6. What is the “principal mirror” by which we know God, and why? The “principal mirror” for knowing God is the rational mind (“reason in itself”), for this “had been made nearest and most related to His image and likeness.” Why was the rational mind made in the likeness of God? So that “through itself it might find Him by whom it was made.”

De Sacramentis 1.3.4

1.3.4. Is the Trinity entirely or exclusively a matter of faith? No, for by the above means (reason operating through itself an through those things which are outside it) God has “was shown to human consciousness, and faith aided by the evidence of truth confessed that God was, and that He was one, then that He was also three.”

De Sacramentis 1.3.3

1.3.3. God has made himself known by two ways: (a) human reason and (b) divine revelation. What human reason knows of God is further subdivided into (i) what reason knows of God in itself (see 1.3.6ff) and (ii) what reason knows of God through those things outside it. Divine revelation is similarly subdivided into (i) the illumination by aspiration and (ii) the instruction by teaching and miracles.

De Sacramentis 1.3.2

1.3.2. Why can God be neither “entirely known nor entirely unknown”? Hugh’s dialectic of divine presence and absence:

Therefore, in truth , God from the beginning wished neither to be entirely manifest to human consciousness nor entirely hidden, lest, if He were entirely manifest, faith would have no merit, nor lack of faith a place. For lack of faith would be convicted from the manifest, and faith in the hidden would not be exercised. But, if He were entirely hidden, faith indeed would not be aided to knowledge, and lack of faith would be excused on the ground of ignorance. Wherefore, it was necessary that God should show Himself, though hidden, lest He be entirely concealed and entirely unknown; and again, it was necessary that He should conceal Himself, though shown and known to some degree, lest He be entirely manifest, so that there might be something which through being known would nourish the heart of man, and again something which through being hidden would stimulate it.

De Sacramentis 1.3.1

1.3.1. Part three of De Sacramentis is on the Trinity. Belief in the Trinity is a matter of faith, characterized here in terms of believing what one has not seen. Nevertheless, faith does see something of what it believes, for just as what God is has never been and cannot be “comprehended fully” by man, so also “it could never be entirely unknown that He was.” God is both known and unknown, and it is between these two poles that faith exists.

De Sacramentis 1.2.22

1.2.22. God is omnipotent, which refers to both his power for doing all things but also his inability to suffer anything (i.e., power involves a kind of “inability”). For example, God cannot destroy himself, for this “would not be power, but non-power…. And so He is truly omnipotent, because He can not be impotent.” Some say that, because of God’s foreknowledge, he cannot make anything other or better than what he does make, limiting God’s power to what he in fact does do. Hugh doesn’t so much argue as assert the contrary: “God can make anything other than He makes, yet in such a way that in making anything He Himself is not different.” (The error that God can’t do or make other than he does, in other words, assumes that God is dependent upon creation, such that any change in creation would imply a corresponding change in God. But God independence of creation is such that, had he done or made things differently, there would be no corresponding change in God. Creation would be different, but God would be the same.)

As for the claim that neither can God make the world better than he has made it, this can either mean that there is no perfection lacking which could be added to it, or else that there is some perfection lacking, but that the world simply cannot receive it. The former, however, makes creation equal to God, and the latter attributes a deficiency or imperfection to the world such that it could be made better, contrary to the hypothesis. So, God can make things better than they are, not by correcting things which he made badly, but by making already good things even better.

The chapter concludes with a review of the “primordial causes” and their proper effects:

Primordial cause

Created effect











De Sacramentis 1.2.21

1.2.21. Divine predestination is a further aspect of providence, whereby there is specifically as “preparation of grace” on behalf of the thing (in this case, the rational creature) under divine providence. Predestination is positive, directing the elect unto salvation, and is not used to refer to those evils which God “foreknows” and “permits.”

De Sacramentis 1.2.20

1.2.20. Divine providence, then, is God’s universal care for all things by which he provides those things that are “due” and “fitting” to a thing, whether it be good or evil. Divine disposition is that aspect of divine providence by which God either actively or passively/permissively disposes or orders things to their due or fitting end. Just as providence is twofold, being divided between God’s making his own things good and permitting those “things that are others” to be evil, so divine disposition is also twofold. On the one hand, goods are disposed by God both to be what they are and hence to be good, and so are ordered. On the other hand, evils are not disposed by God to be what they are (precisely because they are evil; i.e., God does not make evils to be evil in the way that he makes good things to be good; as the Good itself, God makes the good to be good, but for that same reason he does not make evil things to be evil in the same way). Yet the fact that evil things are evil is nevertheless “disposed” by God (albeit permissively) and so evil things are likewise ordered. If it helps: God puts the good in good, and while he permits evil, he does not “put the evil in evil.”

De Sacramentis 1.2.19

1.2.19. The foregoing discussion of divine foreknowledge raises the question of divine providence, defined here as God’s “care of those things which must be furnished to subjects.” Providence is further characterized over against its opposite, namely “abandonment,” which God does to nothing that is his own. Providence is further describes as God providing for each thing “individually, that each may have what is due and befitting.” Providence, therefore, is not only gratuitous, but something that is “owed,” in a sense, to creation. This providential care, however, is over not only those things that are good, but also over those things which God has “permitted” to be evil, dispensing to them also those things which are “due.”

De Sacramentis 1.2.14-18

1.2.14-18. Two problems are posed. First, isn’t God’s status as Creator dependent upon his actually creating something, making God after a fashion dependent upon his creatures? Second, doesn’t God’s foreknowledge of future things confer a necessity on those things? Hugh begins with the question of foreknowledge. God’s knowledge, which is identical with his being, can’t in any way be dependent on his creatures (ch. 14). All things existed previously in God, but they did not exist in God (“there”) because they would later exist in creation (“here”), but vice versa (ch. 15). What God foreknows to be, will be, and what will not be was never foreknown to be. Nor is God’s foreknowledge passive, but is coupled with his predestinating power, so that what God foreknows to be, he actively brings it about to be (ch. 18).

De Sacramentis 1.2.9-13

1.2.9-13. The distinction between and order among divine goodness, knowledge, and power are a creaturely distinction and order, however, as these are supremely unified and equal within God himself. At the same time, these distinctions aren’t entirely without objection grounding in God, for in these distinctions “the ineffable Trinity is found.” We get a “a more perfect likeness” of these Trinitarian causes in rational creatures, who themselves act according to “will and plan and power.” In these we receive “the first admonition and recollection that God is threefold,” yet this natural revelation or indication of God’s Trinitarian nature was still limited and would need the further, clearer revelation of Scripture, inasmuch as God’s goodness, wisdom, and power are not divided according to the persons but are in fact one in substance or nature.