De Sacramentis 1.2.8

1.2.8. The three primordial causes of divine power, wisdom, and goodness are not identical with the Father, Son, and Spirit, yet they are in both Scripture and tradition associated or “assigned to” each other in this way. Why? Hugh’s explanation is that, in doing so, Scripture’s purpose was to counteract or correct certain human tendencies to misunderstood these words: “But Scripture counteracted … and called the Father powerful, lest you might believe Him impotent”; Scripture called the Son “wise,” “because He was in particular the one of whom it could be doubted more whether He was this or not”; and Scripture called the Spirit good or “kind” lest, because of the name “Spirit,” God “who was gentle be thought cruel.”

De Sacramentis 1.2.6

1.2.6 “On the three things which are perfect and make all perfect.”

The foregoing chapter distinguished and correlated divine will and power and in the process implied a third attribute, that of divine predestination. In the present chapter Hugh addresses the three of these directly and concurrently: “these three were one; these three were eternal.” He observes that all three are operative in the production of every effect.

My summary of the previous chapter was that “goodness wills, wisdom, distills, and power fulfills.” The way Hugh himself correlates the three attributes here is in this fashion: “The will moves, knowledge disposes, power operates.” Hugh doesn’t draw the connection himself, but this formula puts us in a position to correlate the present discussion with chapter three’s treatment of the four causes of creation. First, the divine will moves, but as Hugh has shown, it moves as a final cause: the divine will is nothing other than the divine goodness, so that in willing creation, God is willing nothing other than his own goodness as that which is to be communicated to and shared in by his creation. Second, knowledge disposes, that is, it “directs,” as it were, the divine will to what specifically and formally it is that will, in creation, be partaking of the divine goodness. So in the divine knowledge we have the formal cause of creation. Finally, divine power operates and thus is the efficient cause of creation, a cause, incidentally, that does not diminish in its exercise of power because it does not have itself as the material cause of what it creates.

De Sacramentis 1.2.5

1.2.5 “That both goodness and power were present to the divine will.”

But God’s will to create “sharers” in his goodness by itself (at least as an explanation) is not enough: God must also have the power to make his will efficacious. As Hugh’s neat formula (in Deferrari’s translation) has it, “that which [God] willed through antecedent goodness it fulfilled through subsequent power.” Goodness wills, power fulfills.

Between divine will or goodness and divine power, however, Hugh implies the intermediate principle of what he here calls “predestination,” but which the next chapter will call by the more general and familiar name of divine “wisdom,” knowledge, or judgment. Predestination here seems to refer to the act or power of divine deliberation by which God determines what specifically he will create in response to the impetus of divine will that there should be something other than God to which he might communicate something of his own goodness. So, to complete Hugh’s formula, we might say that goodness wills, wisdom distills, and power, finally, fulfills.

To the divine acts of, first, predestination of those things to be created (in which he says divine “goodness operated) and, second, the creation of those things predestined to be created (in which divine “power operated”), Hugh adds a third divine act, that of the beatification of those things first predestined and afterward created (in which both “power and goodness operated together”).


De Sacramentis 1.2.4

1.2.4 “What is the first cause of the foundation of rational beings.”

Hugh elaborates on the point from the previous chapter about God’s role as final cause of creation: the “foundation of the rational creature” is that “God in His eternal goodness wished that there be made sharers in His blessedness… That good, therefore, which He Himself was… was induced by goodness alone, not by necessity, to communicate itself, since it was characteristic of the best to wish to benefit.” The goal or purpose of creation, in short, was to provide creatures with whom God could share, and without any diminishment to himself, some of his own infinite goodness.


De Sacramentis 1.2.3

1.2.3 “Of the production of the primordial causes.”

This chapter is concerned with the nature of the causality or productive power exercised by the “primordial causes.” Although Hugh doesn’t explicitly enumerate and distinguish the Aristotelian four causes, each of these nonetheless makes its appearance in Hugh’s effort to characterize the productive power of the first cause(s).

First, Hugh characterizes the efficient causality of the first cause’s production as being without any diminishment, reduction, or loss of itself. In my comments on the previous chapter I suggested that perhaps the divine ideas are examples of what Hugh means by a plurality of universal, first causes. In this chapter, however, his example of these things that cause or create without sufering in themselves is that of eternity, whose proper, created effect is that of time: “eternity did not fail in its state by ordaining time, nor did it minister substance from its own store”; “remaining what it was… it did not degenerate by creating lower things, so that its nature descended into those very things”; it “did not diminish itself”; “after things were made, it remained unfailing without movement.” And in a flourish of Augustinian rhetoric, Hugh finally describes the first cause as “assuming nothing new, losing nothing old, giving all and casting away nothing.”

Related to the efficient causality of the first cause is what Hugh has to say about the material causality of its production. The reason there is no tragic diminishment of the first cause’s being in producing its effects has to do with the first cause “not taking from itself the matter of what was made.” The first cause, in other words, is not the material cause of what it makes, meaning that none of the substance of the first cause is “used up” in its act of production. Put differently, “the work and the maker could not be the same by nature.” If the effect of the first cause was not made out of the first cause, then what was it made out of? As Hugh has already explained, it is not made out of anything; it is made of nothing.

Third, Hugh may be seen to address the formal causality of the first cause’s production when he says that “[t]his first cause of all things performed its own work according to itself…., since it did not receive the form of its work from without… For it made to its own likeness what it disposed to participation in itself, so that from itself that which with it was to possess the same good might take the same form.” This is virtually the same point that Augustine makes, for example, in the Confessions, namely that when God created the world, he did not look to anything outside himself, in Platonic, demiurgic fashion, for the form or exemplar of what he made, but rather looked to his own eternal mind. This means, of course, that God himself is the “likeness” by which creatures are made: their forms are ultimately nothing other than God himself, so that in possessing their own good (namely their form), they are possessing nothing other than God himself.

Lastly, Hugh addresses the final causality of the first cause’s production when he says that the “first cause of all things performed its own work… on account of itself…, since it did not have the cause for operating from any other source.” Nothing outside of God, in other words, was the goal or good “moving” God, so to speak, to create. This Hugh relates to the point about God’s formal causality, since God himself is the form of creation, he is also the good for which all creatures strive. But Hugh will develop this point in the next chapter.

One further point Hugh makes in this chapter that is worth dwelling on is his statement that the universally first, uncreated causes act “without movement and produce without transference.” Motion is a physical act, involving time and the communication of form or actuality to the effect, but the causality of universal causes is a metaphysical act, transcending or acting outside of time and expending none of its own resources or being. It is a real act, but it is not an observable process.


De Sacramentis 1.2.2

1.2.2 “On the primordial causes and their effects.”

This and the chapters to follow involve Hugh in a discussion of good, old-fashioned Neoplatonic metaphysics.

The order and disposition of all things from the highest even to the lowest in the structure of this universe so follows in sequence with certain causes and generated reasons that of all things that exist none is found unconnected or separable and external by nature.

First, reality is something “ordered” and “disposed.” Things do not exist in a state of isolation from or indifference towards each other, but have been purposely arranged into an intelligent, articulated structure. This structure, while mutually beneficial for all, is not democratically arranged, but involves a clear and highly delineated hierarchy in which lower orders of reality depend upon the higher, and yet the higher, while comparatively independent, serve to bring the lower to their own measure of completion or fulfillment (and so exercise their own sort of indirect dependence on the lower). Thus, creation comprises a kind of grand “eco-system” in which everything is connected to everything else in a vast and complicated web of symbiotic, even if unequal, relationships, one thing helping another to reach its end, to fulfill at once both its own being and its broader function in the cosmos.

The point may seem an obvious one, but this hierarchy of beings is primarily understood in terms of its specifically causal relations: “For all things, whatever there are, either are found to be the causes of subsequent effects or the effects of preceding causes.” It is not just one’s form, nature, and therefore objective degree of being that determines one’s place in the hierarchy, but also the link one forms in the causal chain that one runs both “horizontally” (within a given level of the hierarchy) and “vertically” (down and across the hierarchy). The direction of causality flows downward (from higher to lower) and, if you will, from “left to right” (i.e., from past to future), meaning that causes can be prior to their effects in both a logical and ontological sense than transcends time, and in a temporal sense.

Because reality is a hierarchy, it follows that some things are only causes and not effects of some prior cause, while other things are effects without being themselves causes. As for “intermediate things,” the more prior they are (whether logically/ontologically or temporal), the more they are causes, and the more posterior they are, the more they are effects. Hugh says that “the first things are the most causal,” by which he might mean no more than the fact that by virtue of their ultimacy they are the causes of everything that follows after them. It is possible that Hugh may also have the first principle of the Book of Causes in view here, according to which any first or ultimate cause is more the cause of any of its remote effects than any of the intermediate causes, for prior causes cause not only the intermediate causes, but also the causality or power of the intermediate causes as well. This means that remote effects are not only just as much, but are more the cause of their remote effects than are those intermediate causes that may seem “nearer” the effects in the chain of causality.

Hugh says that “some first causes are created, and these are first in their kind; others are uncreated, and these are universally first.” This reference to uncreated causes in the plural may seem odd, but is characteristically Neoplatonic: although the uncreated cause is single and unified absolutely or in itself, because its effects are multiform or diverse, and have their own, distinct line of causality running from them to the first cause, the first cause may be (or at least is) viewed from the vantage point of that diversity. As Hugh goes on to say, “For those which are first in their own kind are first in relation to something, but are not universally first, since although they precede all things that follow, yet they themselves also have something to which they are found to be posterior, in as much as they do not precede all things.” Examples of these universally first, uncreated causes would presumably be the divine ideas in the mind of God: they are the ultimate causes of the respective things they produce, while having no “cause” of themselves.

De Sacramentis 1.2.1

1.2.1 “On the cause of man’s creation, and on the primordial causes of all things.”

Hugh restates his point from his preface that this work was undertaken not on his own initiative but on that of others, and that it is a work “especially suited for beginners.” He says that although man was made after everything else in time, he is before everything else in the order of causes, for all things else were made for his sake.

The world was made for man, and so causally man is prior to the world. Man, however, was made for “the sake of God,” and so God is before all. So the world was made to serve man, and man was made to serve God. Hugh is careful to clarify that in creating man for his own “sake” and to serve himself, God had no need or lack that was filled up or satisfied by his creation of man. Man is in a “middle position” of serving that which is above him and beings served by that which is below, so that he “might receive from both sides and claim all for himself, and that all might redound to man’s good, both the homage which he received and that which he rendered.” Man serves God and is “helped” in this by those things below him.

Hugh’s statement that man can “claim all for himself,” including not only creation below him but also God above him, is a bold one, yet Hugh takes it quite seriously, as he goes on to say that “all good belonged to man, that is, both what was made for his own sake, and that for whose sake he himself was made.” Man can “claim” God for himself because in some sense God “belongs” to man? Audacious. But Hugh would be bolder still when, distinguishing the good below man as being for his “necessity” while the good above him as being for his “happiness” (which he explicitly identifies as being “in the Creator”), he says that both of these goods “were brought to man since both were due man.” Hugh seems to have a quasi-Aristotelian conception of nature here, according to which a natural substance is, you might say, “entitled” to the ends towards which it is ordered by nature. Thus, if man is made for the sake of God, having the possession of God as his end, then everything else being equal (i.e., if man does not forfeit his claim through sin), man has a sort of “right” to God. As Hugh himself explains it, God is “due man, because for the sake of one [God], man was made, that he might posses and enjoy it…”

Hugh has already clarified that although man was made for God’s sake, God on account of his perfection or complete goodness nevertheless had no need of man or his help, but he poses the question now, “Why did god make the creature if He Himself could not have been helped by the creature?” The answer to this question, which he admits “may trouble some,” will be pursued in the following pages, but he gives some indication of where the answer to this question must lie, namely “in the sole author of things.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.30

1.1.30 “That there are four points with which the subsequent discussion deals.”

The four points to be considered in the works of restoration are “first, why man was created; then, of what nature he was created; then how he fell; finally, moreover, how he was restored.”

Looking at the table of contents provided in Deferrari’s translation, however, I can’t tell that this outline precisely represents the path that Hugh actually pursues in the parts to follow. Part two is indeed on the cause of man’s creation and all things else, but parts three through five seem to take a detour: part three is on the Trinity, part four on the divine will, and part five on the creation of the angels and free will. Part six then returns to the “creation of man,” but the chapter headings suggest that this section corresponds to Hugh’s “second point,” namely “of what nature he [man] was created,” with parts seven (on the fall of man) and eight (on his restoration) covering points three and four, respectively.


De Sacramentis 1.1.29

1.1.29 “That the discussion is especially concerned with the works of restoration.”

Having reviewed his overall project of examining the work of restoration in the previous chapter, and why he has begun with the original work of foundation, Hugh now summarizes the foregoing argument concerning the work of foundation. God first created the matter of the world in and with time but before any day; in six days this matter was “disposed into form—arranged in the first three days and in the following three adorned.” Man for whose sake everything else was made came last on the sixth day. Of interest here is Hugh’s statement that Adam and Eve were “placed in paradise, first to abide there and to work, so that after his work was finished and his obedience fulfilled, he might be transported from there to that place where he was destined to abide forever.” So Eden was only to be a temporary home. Hugh says that it is now “proper that at the very beginning of the book we first investigate the cause of man’s creation.” He makes the Augustinian point that “man was first rationally created by God and afterwards mercifully restored.” At the same time, Hugh sees divine grace as being operative in both creation and redemption: “In the one case also, when he was created, rational work was done gratuitously; in the other, when he was redeemed, the work of grace was fulfilled rationally.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.28

1.1.28 “Why the works of foundation are recounted first, then the works of restoration.” Hugh is drawing near to the end of part one of book one on the “period of six days in the work of foundation,” and so he rehearses for us here what he is about in this work. His book is about the “sacrament of man’s redemption, which was formed from the beginning in the works of restoration.” Before the works of restoration, however, are the works of foundation, and so despite the sacramental subject matter of the present treatise, Hugh has seen fit to begun rather with these. By the works of foundation, he reminds us, he means the works of creation by which God brought all things into being from nothing, in contrast to which the works of restoration  “by which those things which had perished were restored.” Paralleling the six days of the works of foundation are the six ages of the works of restoration, determined “for the renewal of man.” He further defines the works of restoration as “the Incarnation of the Word, and those things which the Word with all His sacraments performed in the flesh and through the flesh, whether those sacraments which preceded from the beginning of the world to figure the Incarnation itself, or those which follow after, even to the end of the world, to announce and declare it.” Scripture not only speaks about these, but is “about these and for all these Divine Scripture was made.” He ends the chapter, finally, by restating the distinction between the subject matter of Scripture, namely the works of restoration, and the that of the “books of the gentiles,” the works of foundation.


De Sacramentis 1.1.27

1.1.27 “The sacrament why fishes and birds were made of the one matter and were not placed in the one abode.”What is the sacramental significance of the fact that birds, though made of the same elements as the fish below, were nonetheless raised up to inhabit a higher place? In this we have a picture of, on the one hand, the common nature and “whole descent of the human race” and, on the other hand, how “some are justly left below in that corruption in which they were born” and “others are raised above by the gift of grace to the lot of their heavenly country.” So, birds and fish, Jacob and Esau, elect and reprobate.


De Sacramentis 1.1.26

1.1.26 “Whether from the elements themselves those things were made which were made for their adornment.” The previous chapter may have left the reader (as it did me) with the impression that, in speaking of flying things, fish, and beasts, cattle, and creeping things as “ornaments” of the air, waters, and earth, respectively, Hugh meant their respective places of habitation. This, in any event, would seem to be most in keeping with a more Hebraic understanding of the text and cosmos. Hugh begins the present chapter, however, referring to these things as “adornments of the elements.” This is perhaps a too-physicalist reading of Genesis, but by the same stroke, it is not so bad as a Genesis-interpretation of the physical elements of air, water, and earth: these elements are not indifferent but rather ordered towards, and thus find the perfection of their being in, the living creatures which they help to comprise.

The question of the chapter is whether these creatures which adorn the elements were also made out of the elements they are respectively associated with (i.e., were birds made out of air, fish out of water, etc.?). Hugh insists that the land animals were made from the earth, allows that the sea creatures could have been made from the water, but denies that birds could have been made from the air, the reason being that “air did not possess, so to speak, such corporeity that the bodies of living things, which require solid matter, might be created from it,” whereas “the nature of waters was more akin to the earth and had more corporeity, and on this account was more adapted for forming bodies.” As one might expect, however, Hugh’s real interest in these matters is as fodder for further sacramental reflection (see next chapter).


De Sacramentis 1.1.25

1.1.25 “How in the three following days the world was adorned.” Hugh now outlines the work of the next three days, describing it as the “adornment” of the aforementioned “uncovered” earth, “gathered” water, and “cleared” air. He describes the air as having “received ornaments in the flying things; and the waters, in the fishes.” The discussion of the creation of man on the sixth day, however, shifts from this theme of the living animals being a mere adornment or ornamentation to a very different kind of relationship: “man was made on this last day out of earth and on earth, yet not for earth, nor for the sake of earth, but for heaven and for the sake of Him who made earth and heaven. Therefore, man was made, not as an adornment of the earth, but as its lord and possessor.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.24

1.1.24 “That in these three days the disposition of things was made.” Hugh summarizes the work of the first three days: “the firmament was spread…, the earth was uncovered…, and the masses of waters were collected within their receptacles, and the air was made clear, the four elements of the world were distinguished and arranged in their places.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.23

1.1.23 “Why Scripture does not say that those waters which are above heaven were gathered into one place.” This is the second instance thus far—the first being 1.1.20—of Hugh assuming a certain hermeneutical burden of proof when Scripture mentions something in one place and doesn’t mention it in a similar case. The silence in the second situation is assumed to be significant, and what is more, the significance is thought to be a sacramental one. This form of argument from silence is indicative of Hugh’s hermeneutics of excess in general: it is not just the said, but in many cases precisely the un-said that requires and excites comment. There is no principle of parsimony or economy here, such as will later dominate philosophy and theology in, for example, the case of William of Ockham in the fourteenth century and in the hermeneutics of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

Unlike 1.1.20, however, where Hugh first and somewhat tentatively ventures a numerological interpretation of why Scripture does not record God as praising his work on the second day before moving on to his sacramental interpretation, here Hugh goes directly to the allegorical significance: “Great are the sacraments in all these matters.” He finds it “strange that the waters which are under heaven are gathered together into one place, and that those which are above heaven are not gathered…” What this means, Hugh suggests, is the ungathered waters above us refers to the charity which the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 5:5 as being “poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” He cites additional passages (all by Paul) to the effect that this divine charity and peace comes to us from “above,” and so the spiritual meaning of the ungathered waters above us is that charity, too, “ought always to be spread out and extended.” The gathering and constraining of the waters under the firmament, however, is symbolic of how “the lower affection of the soul is constrained by a definite law” and so “brought into subjection.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.22

1.1.22 “How the earth brought forth plants” Gen. 1:11 speaks of God calling forth the plants and trees, but of primary interest to Hugh in this chapter, once again, is the natural agency by which God, in this case, watered the earth and so, presumably, made it able to be fruit-bearing. Hugh focuses here on the role of the great abyss, which he characterized in the previous chapter as a mere “receptacle” for the waters under the firmament after they had condensed and descended from above. After receiving the waters, the abyss’s next function was that of operating as a “fountain” by and from which “the waters deep within the bowels of the earth were conducted by hidden channels and passages,” and by which the waters on the surface of the earth were likewise distributed “in all directions by a wonderful and tireless departure from and return to one place in accordance with an eternal law.” So the abyss is first receptacle and afterward fountain. Yet the abyss is only able to act as a fountain and source of water to the extent that it goes on receiving water. Hugh like the medievals generally may have been ignorant of evaporation theory, but he did understand that the source of the earth’s streams, for example, must be replenished from somewhere, somehow, and this in an endless, “tireless” cycle. It is possible that Hugh alludes here to Ecclesiastes 1:7 (Hugh wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes): “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again” (KJV). As St. Bonaventure would comment on this passage a century later, “Rivers flow out in a hidden way, but return openly, because they come out through underground passages and springs. So all things move in a circle and are subject to vanity.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.21

1.1.21 “How the waters were gathered together into one place that dry earth might appear.” Hugh at last turns to the work of the third day, God’s separating under heaven the waters from the waters on earth, so that dry land might appear (Gen. 1:9). Hugh explains this by reintroducing the “great abyss” first and last mentioned in 1.1.6: when Genesis says that God gathered the waters into one place, that one place, Hugh surmises, was none other than the abyss which was “made in the body of the earth of so great a capacity that it could have been the receptacle for all the waters.”

Hugh goes on to posit natural processes by which God accomplished this “gathering” of the waters. He notes that “the nature of the waters in the beginning was very thin and light, and dispersed like a kind of cloud.” This mist or vapor described would appear to include the entirety of the “waters below” which had been separated by the firmament from the “waters above” on the previous day. Afterward, however, and “by the divine power and command,” the misty waters-below the firmament began to be “pressed together into one mass… and to become dense, turning downward by its very weight and falling to the lowest level.” In this manner the water was “received by the earth” in, as has been said, the abyss within the earth, but also within the aforementioned (1.1.6) channels on the surface of the earth prepared beforehand as receptacles of the water. This condensation of the watery vapor had two effects: the first was that the space between the earth and the firmament which it had formerly occupied, now vacated, was “left clear and pure.” This open space would appear to be what we call “the sky.” The second effect of the condensing/gathering of the watery vapor was that “the very surface of the earth also began to appear.” Hugh describes the initial state of the earth’s surface as “muddy and slimy and bare, like land that had not yet brought forth any plants with which it could be clothed and covered.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.20

1.1.20 “Why God is not said to have seen the work of the second day, that it was good.” Hugh finds it “strange” that God did not say that his work of the second day was “good” when he “certainly saw that it was good.” Hugh gives two reasons for this, both of which are highly speculative, and the second of which would seem to give us yet another example of the problem noted earlier (1.1.10 and, to a lesser extent, 1.1.19), namely of Hugh making the evils which were to occur later an exemplary cause or, as it is in this case, at least a reason or explanation for God’s pre-fall action during creation week. Hugh himself somewhat acknowledges the speculative nature of the first explanation he gives for God’s evaluative silence on the second day of creation: “Perhaps, because the number two is a sign of division, which is the first to depart from oneness.” Hugh doesn’t say anything further on the subject, yet clearly the implication is that unity is better than division. What Hugh is more interested in, however, is the “sacramental” possibilities of the passage: “Some sacrament is here commended.” Hugh says that God’s “second works were not praised, not because they were not good, but because they were a sign of evils,” namely of the later, “second” works of “devil and man.” (This implies that God’s work of the first day was praised, not only because it was good but because they were a sign of all God’s good works, including the second. So one might say that the work of the second day was commended in the commendation of the first.) As in Hugh’s argument in 1.1.10 that the “exemplar” of God’s separation of physical light and darkness was his antecedent separation of angelic good and evil, so here Hugh once again seems to be guilty of making evil itself a kind of exemplary cause and sacramental meaning of creation. (This may be distinguished from when he makes the restoration of evil, as opposed to evil itself, an exemplary and sacramental cause of creation, as when he argues in 1.1.3, for example, that in God’s creating the world first formless and then giving it form we have anticipated the work of re-formation that is human salvation.) Why, in short, does God not praise his own work of firmament-making on the second day? Because he wanted to show in advance his disapproval of the sin of men and the demons that would come later? As I’ve indicated before, I find this kind of sacramental meaning highly suspect.

It occurs to me, however, that there is an ambiguity in Hugh’s treatment of this issue that may have some bearing on the merits or legitimacy of his sacramental interpretation, and that is that it is not clear whether the issue here is God’s own purported silence on the second day of creation regarding the goodness of his work, or the silence of Scripture’s record as to God’s praise of his work on the second day. As I argued earlier (see on 1.1.8), Hugh actually provides us with a helpful perspective for considering precisely the interdependence of the creation event on the one hand and Scripture’s record of that event on the other (the creation narrative as the “completion” of the creation event, as it were), so that I wouldn’t want to overdraw the distinction between the two here. Nonetheless, the distinction is real, so that if we are uncomfortable with the idea (as I apparently am) of later acts of sin or rebellion determining or explaining the way in which God created in the beginning an as-yet unfallen world, the fact that Scripture itself, including its record of creation, was written in, to, and for a post-fallen situation might nonetheless be of some help in explaining some of the apparent peculiarities in Scripture’s own method of recounting God’s pre-fall creation of the world. Thus, even if God had pronounced his work of the second day “good” in the same manner as he did the other days, since it was good, after the fall God might nonetheless have purposed that Scripture not record this pronouncement in part for the sacramental significance it would have for men in the post-fall condition that it would be Scripture’s primary task to address.

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.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.18

1.1.18 “Of what matter the firmament was made; and of what nature it was made.” Hugh asks about the “nature of the firmament, … whether it was made from pure fire, or from air, or even from water, or finally from two or three of these combined..” He answers that he frankly does not know, no that “much labour should be expended in the investigation of these matters, which reason does not understand and authority… does not approve.” What we do know is the function of the firmament, which is to divide waters from waters.