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.

De Sacramentis 1.1.17

1.1.17 “On the work of the second day, when the firmament was made.” Having gone over the light made on the first day (again), Hugh returns to the firmament made on the second day (again). He observes that God did not move on to the work of the second day before evaluating or “judging” the work of the first day, calling it “good.” As for the firmament, he says that this was “created from nothing in that matter of the universe,” by which it is not precisely clear whether he means that the firmament was created immediately from nothing amidst the matter of the universe or that it was created mediately from the matter of the universe which was originally created from nothing. Hugh’s meaning, however, would seem to be the latter, given his earlier argument (see 1.1.4, for example) that only the initial bringing into being of the unformed heavens and the earth properly involved an act of creation, and that the work of the subsequent six days, accordingly, was a work of mere “disposition” or formation of that original matter. This would further imply that the firmament for Hugh is no mere division or separation of waters from waters, but is a material being itself. He writes, for example, of “its circumference intervening, as it were, as a middle body” and thus it “separate[s] and divide[s] that great and immense gathering of waters from one another.” The picture Hugh leaves us with is that of Earth surrounded by a series of concentric spheres, the first or innermost of which is one set of “waters” (one is tempted to call this the sea covering the Earth, but this is not quite right—see 1.1.21), the second is the firmament (Hugh hasn’t specified what it is made of yet—see next chapter–but this would appear to be “the sky,” and thus presumably made of air), and the third is another, outer sphere of waters (the “heavens,” our “outer space”).

De Sacramentis 1.1.16

1.1.16 “Whether God worked for six days without interval, or in some other manner.” Hugh wonders if God’s resting on the seventh day means that he was continually and unceasingly creating on the previous six days, or if it only means that there was no day-long interval between any two acts of God’s creation until the arrival of the seventh day. Hugh seems to find either position tenable: the former position, for example, involves God not only first creating the light but then subsequently directing it until “it completed its course;” the latter position, by contrast, he distinguishes as “easy and more readily adapted to reason for understanding.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.15

1.1.15 “What was done with that primal light after the creation of the sun; and whether the sun was made substantially from the same.” The creation of light on the first day of the week prompts the question of what happened to this light after the creation of the sun and its light on the third day of the week. One answer that has been posed is that “now no traces of it can be found ,ever since the brightness of the sun shone forth.” Another position is that “there are still left certain slight remnants of it which here and there periodically appear by night on the inner periphery of the firmament to those who gaze rather carefully.” (The Northern Lights as the residue of the original, first-day-of-creation light.) Hugh’s own position, however, is that it was precisely the light made on the first day of the week that was “afterwards transformed into the substance of the sun,” yet “with increased clarity” and hence with “a better form.” (The Sun as recycled first-day light.)


De Sacramentis 1.1.14

1.1.14 “What precaution is here signified regarding good work.” Hugh offers up a series of three “precautions” or applications of the foregoing discussion to our good works. First, make sure that you have the divine light in you, “so that all your works may be of light and not darkness.” Second, make sure that the light in you is not mixed with any darkness. Third, make sure that the works which you do in that unmixed light are good. Hugh concludes the chapter with the observation that he has been “touch[ing] upon a certain few mysteries of light,” but that it is now time to “return to the systematic exposition” of Genesis.

De Sacramentis 1.1.13

1.1.13 “Why Scripture says: ‘God saw the light.’” The question of this chapter is by or in what light did God see the light that he made at first and by which he called it “good,” given that “nothing can be seen without light.” His answer is that this first created, changeable light was seen by God in an uncreated, unchangeable light. It is by this same divine light, moreover, that God sees all of his works, and “by which we also should see every light.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.12

1.1.12 “The sacrament of the divine works.” Hugh here reflects on the allegorical significance of the previous chapter’s discussion of why the original light preceded the sun’s own light. He had said that the reason the lesser light was allowed to precede the “clear” or “full light” was because the original confusion of the created order was such as to make it “not worthy of full light,” and he begins this chapter by observing that in this “a great sacrament is commended.” In this context, and for Hugh generally, sacrament refers to the mysterious, allegorical, or spiritual meaning of a thing. The sacramental meaning of the sequence of creation is the way in which the individual fallen soul, like creation in the beginning, is in “a kind of darkness and confusion,” a state that it cannot arise out of and “be disposed to the order and form of justice, unless it be first illumined to see its evils, and to distinguish light from darkness, that is, virtues from vices, so that it may dispose itself to order and conform to truth.”


De Sacramentis 1.1.11

1.1.11 “That light illumined three days; and why it was made before the sun.” Hugh returns to the existence of light preceding that of the sun, stating that “the light itself made those first three days before the sun was made, and illumined the world.” While this and his previous discussions might have given the impression that the light which preceded the sun was on that account superior to the sun’s own light, Hugh goes on to imply just the opposite. In response to the question of why generic (if you will) light was created before what he calls the “clear light” of the sun, he answers that it was possibly due to “the confusion” (of the original unformed matter) that “was not worthy of full light; yet it received some light, that it might see how to proceed to order and disposition.”

De Sacramentis 1.1.10

1.1.10 “That visible and invisible light were made simultaneously, and equally divided from darkness.” The argument of this chapter is an odd and even troubling one. According to Hugh, when God was dividing visible light from darkness, at that same moment he was also dividing the “invisible light” of angelic moral goodness from the fallen or falling angels’ moral “darkness of sin.” This separation occurred through the good angels “being turned toward the light of justice and illumined by light.” This concurrence of the separation of visible and invisible light, however, was no mere coincidence, for Hugh suggests that it was in some sense necessary or fitting that these two events coincide, indeed, that the separation of visible light from visible darkness was in some sense even dependent upon the separation of the good angels from the bad: “For thus the exemplars of God’s work had to be in harmony, so that those works of wisdom which were visible might follow the productions of the invisible.”

This I find very strange and disturbing. In 1.1.5 Hugh made the claim that the “likenesses” of corporeal creatures were “preceded already in the angelic spirits,” suggesting that the angelic natures exercise some kind of exemplar causality relative to corporeal creation. It would seem, therefore, to be precisely this dependence of the visible order upon the invisible that Hugh has in mind when he states that the separation of light from darkness in the visible world must have its antecedent exemplar in the invisible world. This by itself would be fine, except that what Hugh identifies as the exemplar for the separation of light from darkness in the visible world is a separation of moral light and darkness in the invisible world. The problem with this, of course, is that it implies that something negative, namely sin or evil, specifically the sin or evil of the fallen angels, is an exemplar or positive pattern for an otherwise created good, namely physical darkness. Evil, in short, has been unwittingly enfranchised and elevated to the level of form: the moral darkness of the fallen angels is what provides the formal pattern upon which physical darkness is said to depend. Put differently, angelic evil is what makes physical darkness possible, is what gives physical darkness its darkness? The irony, however, is that Hugh himself seems to see his thesis about invisible, moral light and darkness providing the exemplary pattern for physical light and darkness as being required rather than contradicted by his otherwise Augustinian privation theory of evil: “God indeed divided both, and named both; but He did not also make both. For God is not that author of darkness but of light, because sin is darkness and sin is nothing… God said: ‘Be light made.’ … God never said: ‘Be darkness made.’”