Contemplation and the Cognition of God. Victorine Theological Anthropology and its Decline

Thesis author: 
Csaba Németh
Year of enrollment: 
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2002 - Sep, 2013
Thesis supervisor: 
György László Geréby
Thesis abstract: 

The subject of the dissertation is the doctrines of the twelfth-century theological school of the Saint-Victor monastery of Augustinian canons, located in Paris. The aim of the present work is twofold: first to find and describe the features characteristic of twelfth-century Victorine theological anthropology, and then to describe its immediate thirteenth-century afterlife and provide a plausible causal explanation for it.
Part I gives a general theoretical background to twelfth-century Victorine theological anthropology, by presenting first the elementary Patristic doctrines that largely defined the possible models of anthropology (Chapter I), and then a characteristically twelfth-century problem of epistemology and theological anthropology (Chapter II).
Part II investigates the theological anthropology of twelfth-century Victorines in its historical context. In order to see what a characteristically Victorine theological anthropology might be, first the relevant doctrines of twelfth-century Victorine authors are investigated. Chapters I-III deal with the theories of Hugh, Richard, Achard and Walther regarding image and likeness, the original (prelapsarian) state, the impact of the Fall on human nature and contemplation. Their writings share similar doctrinal positions, which are, at the same time, uncharacteristic of other authors. These positions can be summarised as follows. Image and likeness are conceived as the duality of a cognitive and affective aspect of the human soul, also called cognitio (ratio, intellectus) and dilectio (amor, affectus). Cognition and love remain separated: conceived as image and likeness, the two aspects cannot be converted into each other or exchange their respective functions. The prelapsarian state is conceived as a contemplation of God through the highest (and inborn) cognitive faculty of man (the intelligentia); the Fall is conceived as a loss of this contemplative vision, a fall into darkness (that is, into ignorance and concupiscence). The consequences of the Fall can be overcome in the direct, individual contemplative experience. Contemplation happens through the cooperation of grace and the highest cognitive faculty; it is described by visual imagery as a vision of God or of the Truth. These principles, as a comparison with Bernard of Clairvaux and William of Saint-Thierry shows, lead to different spiritual agendas, different rhetorics, different stylistic and literary preferences and different use of (pictorial) images.
In order to see Victorine doctrines in context it is necessary to understand that twelfth-century theology was, to use a term of Marcia Colish, a “theology in flux.” The Victorine theories on spirituality and anthropology were internally connected to doctrinal issues about which there existed no consensual position at that time. Hugh gave his own formulation for the prelapsarian cognition of God (and joined his theory on the “eye of contemplation”), while Richard and Achard interpreted the rapture of Saint Paul (2Cor 12:2-4) as the paradigm of contemplative ecstasy. The later doctrinal developments of these issues, as they occurred in the urban schools and later at the University of Paris, were largely independent from Victorine theories and became authoritative. The overview of these developments not only gives a contrast to the Victorines but also explains their reception (or the lack thereof).
Part II Chapter V investigates the twelfth-century doctrinal developments on prelapsarian cognition. Hugh’s doctrines were transcribed by the Summa sententiarum of Odo of Lucca (c. 1138-1141), and then modified by the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1156); the latter gradually became the textbook of theological education. The investigation also reveals that the masters of Notre-Dame, without being influenced by their Victorine contemporaries, perceived Adam’s prelapsarian and Paul’s enraptured vision of God as two issues that were extraordinary in the same way. The Ps.-Peter of Poitiers Gloss (c. 1160-1165) states that Adam saw God through a “middle” vision like Paul (quadam visione mediastina ut Paulus raptus ad tertium celum); Peter Comestor (Quaestio 331, c. 1160-1170) thinks that Adam’s condition cannot be formulated in the traditional duality of via/patria; Peter of Poitiers states that in his sleep (sopor) Adam non erat in via, neque in patria (Sententiae II, ix, c. 1167-1170); decades later Magister Martinus reports that Paul in his rapture was nec viator nec civis, nec in via nec in patria (Summa, c. 1195). These efforts at formulating the two extraordinary cases also show that the school theology, by creating a tertium besides the usual dual categories, reached a solution analogous to the Victorine one.
Part III investigates the thirteenth-century contexts and afterlife of the Victorine doctrines. The course of investigation here was dictated by the institutional changes of the early thirteenth century. With the emergence of the university, Saint-Victor, like the other schools of theology too, lost its importance. Victorine texts did not have much theological authority in themselves either, and only a few of them exerted an influence on the later theology. Before investigating the direct reception of the texts it was necessary to investigate that of the doctrines: in other words, to understand whether twelfth-century Victorine theories were compatible with thirteenth-century Scholastic doctrines at all. In the case of the two issues mentioned, the answer is negative. After the doctrinal developments of the first four decades of the thirteenth century, these basic Victorine theories became incompatible with the official and normative ecclesiastical doctrines.
Part III Chapter I investigates the doctrinal development of raptus. In Richard’s writings, Paul’s rapture is coextensive with (or even a paradigm of) contemplative ecstasy. In the school theology, the rapture of Saint Paul has been continuously discussed in theological literature from the 1170s onwards; Biblical commentaries, theological questions and summae developed it into an issue by itself. Chapter I demonstrates that the visio mediastina (as a third, separate form of cognition, reserved for Paul’s rapture) had been gradually eradicated from the theological vocabulary by the 1230s. The change is documented, among others, in the writings of Stephen Langton, the Summa Aurea of William of Auxerre (1215-1220), the Ms Douai 434 and the Summa of Roland of Cremona (mid-1230s?). This change also affected the concepts of theology: after it, to the two states of via and patria there can belong only two forms of vision, the mediated and immediate one. By the late 1230s, the cognition that Paul had in his raptus was assimilated to the eschatological vision. Raptus is a unique, extraordinary and exceptional case, an immediate vision of God, a miracle, always exemplified with Saint Paul’s case; however, for Richard (and also for Achard), Paul’s rapture was the paradigm according to which ecstasy used to happen: a possible spiritual experience that “used to happen” to contemplatives. The thirteenth-century Scholastic separation of the miraculous raptus and the possible contemplative experience made the Victorine position unthinkable.
Part III Chapter II investigates thirteenth-century doctrinal development regarding the prelapsarian cognition (c. 1220 to c. 1300). This development took place through the exegesis of Peter Lombard’s Sentences and manifested itself in glosses (until the 1240s) and commentaries (from the early 1240s onwards) written on Sent. II dist. 23 and IV dist. 1. The text presented a persistent hermeneutical problem, since it stated that Adam saw God sine medio (IV dist. 1). The original concept behind the term, the Victorine idea of the original immediate vision of God, was unthinkable; therefore theologians started to find a medium (or different media) that is present now but was absent before the Fall. The early thirteenth-century Glosses written by Alexander Halensis (1223-1227), Hugh of Saint-Cher OP (1231-1232) and Jean de la Rochelle OFM (1236-1245) give the traditional Augustinian meaning nubes peccati The later sources indicate that the prelapsarian cognition became a debated issue in Paris at some point in the 1240s. The first Sentences commentaries, written by Odo Rigaldi OFM (c. 1242-1245), Albert the Great OP (c. 1246) in Paris and Richard Fishacre OP (c. 1241-1245) in Oxford, suggest that, for a few years, the question was a subject of free theological opinion: these works offer various and seemingly independent formulations of the problem. The situation changed with the Summa Halensis (dated c. 1241-1245): it pronounces theological censures against certain positions and declares the authentic doctrine. One of the rejected positions is based on Hugh’s text (De sacr. I, vi, 14) and attributes to Adam a vision of God in an immediate and “diminished” way (diminute) – which seems to be a contemporary formulation of Hugh’s original idea. The declared doctrine, however, teaches that Adam saw God before the Fall not immediately but through a “clean mirror,” and after it “through a mirror in an enigma” (cf. 1Cor 13:12). The declaration, repeated in all the later commentaries, put a stop to doctrinal development and made the Victorine concept practically unthinkable, therefore unintelligible, after the 1240s.
Part III Chapter III covers the direct reception of Victorine texts in the spiritual literature of the thirteenth century. Richard (but also Hugh) was regarded as an authority on contemplation: the last chapter investigates the way in which their writings were used by such later authors as Thomas Gallus, Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Hugh of Balma and Rudolph of Biberach. Most of these authors (with the exception of Aquinas) represent an affective spirituality, where the closest possible experience of God is conceived as an (affective) union with God through an affective faculty; in this context, any intellectual cognition of God can be only secondary and lower in rank. However alien this model was to twelfth-century Victorines, their texts were excerpted and utilised to support it, although the preferences of the single authors varied. Anthony of Padua used Richard’s spiritual writings and, as Châtillon observed, carefully erased his original references to raptus and face-to-face vision from the context of contemplation. The writings of Saint Bonaventure (d. 1274) show a combination of the principles of Hugh, Richard and Thomas Gallus: he takes over Hugh’s theory about three eyes and makes it the basic structure of his own theological anthropology by duplicating the original triple division (see Brevil. II, vi, Itin. I, 6, In Hexaem. coll. V. 24). The most comprehensive use of adapted Victorine material can be observed in the De septem itineribus of Rudolph of Biberach. In Rudolph, Richard’s sixfold scheme of contemplation appears as one of several possible models of contemplation (Iter III); using passages from Richard’s De IV gradibus and Hugh’s In Hierarchiam, he demonstrates the superiority of love to cognition (Iter IV); Richard’s doctrines on corporeal and spiritual visions (Iter V, cf. In Apocalypsin) appear as sensual and intellectual revelations, only to be surpassed by the supra-intellectual revelation, the affective union with God.
In sum, what the dissertation has considered as a Victorine theological anthropology is a set of doctrinal positions elaborated first by Hugh and later enriched by other twelfth-century Victorines. This set of positions is characteristic of Victorine theologians, but also set them apart from other traditions, such as Cistercian theology or the school theology of the later twelfth century. This Victorine model, however, did not have much influence on the formation of Scholastic theology. Moreover, due to different premises and the conceptual changes occurring between c. 1160 and c. 1245, it became incompatible with the new Scholastic model of theological anthropology, thus creating a hermeneutical problem for both thirteenth-century theologians and modern scholars. The dissertation closes with appendices containing unedited source material on the prelapsarian cognition: transcripts from a dozen less well-known books of sentences (from c. 1145-c. 1245), anonymous glosses and the commentaries of Odo Rigaldi and Richard Fishacre written on the relevant distinctions of Peter Lombard’s Sentences.