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.

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.