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In the past two decades the evangelical academy has devoted a good deal of attention to the “Christian scholar” and “Christian scholarship.” While these discussions have born considerable fruit, they lack the scope to cast a vision for Christian higher education in general. Jim Halverson argues that the Christian academy needs to articulate a vision for Christian learning that encompasses all members of and stakeholders in Christian instructions of higher education. Since this is not the first time the Christian academy has confronted such a task, the author urges us to look at the educational theories of Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century scholar and teacher, as a suggestive template upon which to build such a vision. Mr. Halverson is Professor of History at Judson University.

The recent intensification of discussions on the relationship between faith and learning, particularly the enlargement of the discussion beyond the integration model, is an encouraging trend.1 Especially welcome have been contributions to the discussions that have focused on issues such as building Christian academic communities and inculcating morals in students.2 Even so, the discussion remains limited by several factors. First, most approaches to the relationship between faith and learning assume that an individual is already committed to both. These models are aimed at those who of us who are already both Christians and scholars. Justifying what we do to ourselves is the least of our worries. As the cost of higher education rises and Christian residential colleges face a dizzying array of competitors, these institutions must articulate the value of Christian higher education in a compelling way. An adequate approach to Christian higher learning should cast a vision that, if not always inspiring, is at least intelligible to everyone involved in Christian higher education, including students, parents, trustees, administration, and staff. Second, the conversation typically assumes a disjunction between teaching and scholarship. An adequate approach to Christian higher learning should address both the dedicated, accomplished scholar and the timid, ambivalent freshman. Finally, and most importantly, an adequate approach needs to situate higher learning within the Christian life in general. The overwhelming majority of students at Christian colleges and universities will not become academics; nor is it our job to turn all Christians into intellectuals. Nevertheless, we should be able to articulate to our students, who by the fact of their presence have the means and ability, that engaging in higher learning is an important part of their formation and development as redeemed persons. 

Fortunately, Christian higher education has faced this situation before. As the twelfth century opened in Europe, higher learning was still confined mostly to monks and was based on a limited corpus of classical texts. By the end of the century, Paris, Bologna, and Oxford hosted universities where scholars came to grips with a flood of new knowledge from the advanced Muslim cultures to the south. During this crucial time, scholars faced the challenge of articulating a vision for Christian higher education beyond the cloister. Hugh of St. Victor, in his Didascalicon, came closest to casting such a vision successfully, which, nearly 900 years later, provides a suggestive template for Christian scholars wishing to articulate a coherent purpose for the Christian academy today. Hugh understands all fields of knowledge, from theology to manufacturing techniques, as integral parts of God’s redemptive process. According to Hugh, all learning, and all work informed by learning, is the uniquely human response to and cooperation with God’s work of restoring a fallen creation. According to this vision, learning contributes to the restoration of the entire Christian person, as well as to the larger restoration of society.3 This vision of higher learning, and its relevance to our situation, has as much to do with Hugh’s cultural and intellectual context as the ideas themselves.

Hugh was the master of the school associated with the abbey of St. Victor just outside the medieval wall of Paris from 1120-1141.4 The abbey and school of St. Victor was founded in 1108 under the leadership of William of Champeaux, former master of the cathedral school of Notre Dame and one of the foremost theologians of his day, through the direct patronage of King Louis VI of France. This was no flight to the desert by a weary ecclesiastic. William continued teaching and remained an influential advisor to the king, as well as several popes. The location William chose also indicates an intention to remain engaged with the world beyond the cloister. St. Victor lay on the left bank of the Seine less than a mile from the royal residence on the Ile de la Cité. Beyond its profound impact on the intellectual life of Paris, St. Victor played a prominent role in the political and ecclesiastical life of the city. Like their founder, leading Victorines were active in the court of their patron Louis VI and the abbey served as the chancery for Louis VII.5

Nevertheless, the wider political and religious influence of St. Victor was incidental to the purpose of the house. William founded St. Victor in order to provide a ministry for the many students coming to Paris in the twelfth century.6 One scholar describes the function of St. Victor as bridging the “gap that was developing between scientific and spiritual culture, between learning and wisdom.”7 Thus, unlike a monastic school, St. Victor was a “public” school, offering instruction to any qualified students.8 Sermons preached in the daily chapter meeting were also open to the public.9 The mission of St. Victor was a response to a rapidly changing cultural climate. During the twelfth century, the schools of Paris, including St. Victor, were both attracting and producing some of the best and most influential scholars in Europe. This is because the masters and students in Paris were at the center of two significant changes in the intellectual life of Europe. First, Christian scholars were beginning to engage with the massive influx of new learning from the Muslim world. Second, they faced the institutional challenge of a greatly increased demand for learning. Besides these intellectual developments, several important cultural and social trends, each of which generated a demand for higher education, came together in Paris at this time. A religious revival focused on the imitation of the life and ministry of Jesus placed a premium on preaching, thus creating a demand for more educated priests.10 Politically, Louis VI was part of a trend among northern European princes who were, for the first time since Charlemagne, attempting to govern, rather than merely control, their territories.11 These rulers needed lawyers and civil servants as much as they needed soldiers.12 Finally, commerce was expanding throughout Europe. While Paris was not a commercial center to rival the Italian cities, it was on the northern European trade routes and boasted a “remarkably developed trade economy” by the early twelfth century.13 This new merchant class also required education. 

Thus, for a “public” school, such as St. Victor, seeking to minister to students in a rapidly changing world, the older monastic vision for education would not suffice. Accordingly, William founded St. Victor as a community of canons regular rather than as a monastery. Canons regular were priests in a large church who lived in common under a strict, ascetic rule traditionally attributed to Augustine. The development of the canons regular was part of the general religious revival that began with the Gregorian Reforms of the late eleventh century and culminated in the formation of the Franciscan and Dominican orders in the early thirteenth. Canons regular often distinguished themselves from monks by referring to themselves as living mixed lives that combined the contemplative discipline of a monk with the active ministry of a priest.14 Thus, Victorines did not see their public intellectual and political activities as distractions from the “real work” of communal prayer and ascetic discipline; at St. Victor, the communal, ascetic life prepared the canon for the “real work” of ministry to the outside world.

While William of Champeaux may have cast the educational vision of St. Victor, Hugh articulated it. In his Didascalicon,Hugh lays out a comprehensive educational theory for the new masters and students of Paris, who, along with their colleagues in Bologna and Montpellier, were developing into the first cohort of knowledge workers in western civilization. Hugh includes these students in his vision by making a subtle, yet crucial, change to the educational theories of his time. The Didascalicon operates within both the classical tradition of higher learning as a pursuit of wisdom and the Christian adaptation of that tradition of identifying Wisdom as the second person of the Trinity.15 Like those before and after him, Hugh sees the pursuit of Wisdom as a source of delight in and as an occasion for praise of God. However, for Hugh, the pursuit of wisdom has an even larger purpose; he believes we are “restored through learning.”16 Book two of the Didascalicon is an introduction to the various arts or academic disciplines, only one of which is theology. Before describing each discipline, he claims a redemptive purpose for them all: “This, then, is where the arts lead, this is what they aim at, to restore within us the divine likeness.”17 To understand what Hugh means by this, the Didascalicon must be understood as a part of a larger project.18

The most efficient way to understand how the Didascalicon fits into Hugh’s larger theological commitments is to read it alongside his De sacramentis. Taken together, these two works describe the huan condition, explain God’s plan for the restoration of humanity, and teach individuals how to participate in the pro-cess of restoration. According to Richard Southern, these two works should be viewed as part of the first attempt in the Middle Ages “to give an all-embracing account of the Universe: first, in its original nature as studied in the natural arts and sciences, second, as displaying a developing relationship between God and mankind in the stages of redemptive history.”19 Hugh considers De sacramentis a “summa, as it were of all doctrine.”20 Although he does not attempt to touch on all theological topics in a systematic way, in De sacramentis Hugh organizes his theology around one over-arching theme: God’s restoration of fallen man.21

The subject matter of all Divine Scriptures is the works of man’s restoration. For there are two works in which all that has been done has been contained. The first is the work of foundation whereby those things which were not came into being. The work of restoration is that whereby those things which have been impaired are made better. Therefore, the work of foundation is the creation of the world with all its elements. The work of restoration is the Incarnation of the Word with all its sacraments.22

Hugh divides the process of restoration into two stages: “First he be justified from fault in order to be reconciled, afterwards that he be liberated from wretchedness in order to be reformed.”23For Hugh, human effort to restore in ourselves the image and likeness of God does not lead to salvation but is mandated by it. In fact, Hugh believes this to be the point of the redeemed life: “This is our entire task – the restoration of our nature and the removal of our deficiency.”24 Ultimately, God will complete our restoration.25 In the meantime, knowing who we were and what we have lost, we should be eager to recover as much of our original nature as possible in this life for our own sake as well as for others.

Hugh’s description of human nature reveals how learning contributes to human participation in restoration. Hugh’s basic understanding of human nature is typical of medieval theologians. Humans are composed of a body and a soul. Humans differ from animals and conform to God’s image because humans have a rational soul.26 We are rightly suspicious of any theory of human nature that sharply distinguishes body from soul and privileges rationality. However, we should not read Hugh, or his medieval peers, as we would read Enlightenment philosophes. The Latin term ratio does not refer to a modern notion of objective reason. Jerome Taylor captures Hugh’s use of the term well by translating ratio as “Idea or Pattern” and connecting it to the second person of the Trinity: “Wisdom which is the sole primordial Idea or Pattern of things.”27 According to Hugh, the Son as Wisdom, Idea, and Pattern is the ground of all creation. If the Son is Ratioin this sense, then the rational part of the human soul is the image and likeness of God lacking in brute animals. Unlike animals, humans can be wise, have ideas, and discern patterns in and impose patterns upon creation. Possession of a rational soul imparts more than merely intellectual capacities. Abstract thinking allows for the possibility of deliberate action, and thus, human behavior acquires moral significance. For Hugh, these ethical implications are inseparable from the intellectual ones. “For man resembles God in being wise and just – though to be sure man is changeably so while God stands changelessly both wise and just.”28 In other words, possessing a rational soul allows humans to “do justice and love mercy.” Hugh describes this beautifully in De sacramentis:

Man is made in the image and likeness of God…[I]mage according to reason, likeness according to love; image according to understanding the truth, likeness according to love of virtue.”29

While he follows tradition by privileging the soul or spirit over the body and identifying the body as a source of sin, Hugh argues that it is the combination of a rational soul and a body, which makes humans superior to all other creatures.

But since man has been composed of a two-fold nature, that he might be wholly blessed, he had its two goods. One belonged to the flesh, the other to the spirit, so that in one the sense of the flesh might be nourished unto enjoyment, in the other the sense of the mind might be replenished unto felicity. To the flesh belonged visible things, to the spirit invisible; to the flesh unto solace, to the spirit unto joy.”30

By possessing both a body and a rational soul, humans can appreciate and praise the works of God in ways impossible for other creatures. An embodied rationality allows humans both to understand God’s work in the physical world (whereas brute animals only sense the physical world) and combine our interior and exterior insights about God into a more perfect praise.31 According to Grover Zinn, “Hugh’s theology unites in an intimate manner that which is most inward, the renewal of the imago Dei at the innermost core of the human person, and that which is preeminently outer, namely the succession of deeds done in time which comprises the divine ‘work of restoration.’”32 Nor is this strictly theory for Hugh. The restoration of the total human being was the purpose of the communal regimen at St. Victor. As one scholar puts it, “prayer, work, reading, formal study and teaching were seen by early Victorines as integrated aspects of a total vision of Christian life – the restoration of the whole person to a life of union with God.”33

Hugh not only rejects body/soul dualism, but also he rejects the notion that a human being can be complete or restored as an isolated individual. The embodied soul is socially and culturally embedded. Here we see how the crucial distinction between the communal life of monks and canons shapes Hugh’s thinking. A monk lived in a community in order to advance his own spiritual life. In keeping with their origins in the apostolic life movement, Victorines embraced the idea that canons regular should be virtuous for the sake of others. Within the community a canon did not practice virtue primarily for his own spiritual state, but so that his brothers would not be unduly hindered in their spiritual life by his sinfulness. Hugh instructed his novices that they should be more diligent in behaving well in the presence of men, than in God’s presence alone. Here, Hugh reflects the “assumption that an individual living a cloistered life is responsible in whatever he says or does not only for the state of his own soul but also for the progress of his neighbor.”34 As the premier example of the mixed life of the canons regular, the Victorine vision of a life of union with God was not limited to the individual, but required the restored person to contribute to the restoration of the community by ministering to others through word and deed. 

With this in mind, we can return to Hugh’s claim that we are “restored by learning.” While Hugh’s views on learning are unique, they are drawn from a well-known didascalic tradition. Within this tradition, there are varieties of ways to classify the academic disciplines. The traditional seven liberal arts form the basis for Hugh’s curriculum. Classical authors had divided the liberal arts into two categories: linguistic and mathematical. The trivium or language arts were logic, rhetoric, and grammar. The quadrivium or mathematical arts were arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. For Hugh, these seven liberal arts form the basis of all learning because they “constitute the best instruments, the best rudiments, by which the way is prepared for the mind’s complete knowledge of philosophic truth.”35As we will see below, Hugh agreed with his predecessors that, above all, the seven liberal arts train the mind for rigorous thinking. Since the aspects of human nature that are restored through learning are the abilities for abstract reflection and deliberate action, the liberal arts, for Hugh, serve as the necessary starting point for the restorative process. Moreover, a thorough grounding in the liberal arts confers the ability to learn any other discipline without the need of a teacher.36 Studying the liberal arts gives students the ability to continue the restorative process of learning throughout their lives. However, since Hugh is casting a vision for all learning, the liberal arts comprise only two of the four categories of higher education that Hugh envisioned.37 The two remaining categories, the practical and mechanical arts, extend the restorative power of learning beyond the life of the mind. Hugh explains, “for the sake of wisdom the theoretical arts were discovered, for the sake of virtue the practical arts were discovered, for the sake of our [physical] needs the mechanical arts were discovered… for the sake of eloquence logic was discovered.”38

The linguistic arts, the trivium of the seven liberal arts, are the starting point for higher education in Hugh’s curriculum.39 The linguistic arts include logic or the theory of argument, grammar (encompassing not just basic grammatical rules, but also the equivalent of the modern fields of linguistics and semiotics), and rhetoric or theories of eloquence and persuasiveness. Traditionally, the trivium

Figure 1. Hugh of St. Victor’s Fourfold Division of the Arts

was taught before the quadrivium and Hugh keeps this order. Similar to today’s academy, Hugh and his contemporaries were consumed with the knotty problems of the relationship between language and reality.40 In fact, Hugh sounds almost postmodern when he accuses ancient philosophers of erring because they “transferred to the real world whatever conclusion they had reached by reasoning… for real things do not precisely conform to the conclusions of our reasoning.”41 The solution, however, was not to abandon rationality. For Hugh, reason was not merely a method for arriving at objective truths, but it was the very image of God in us. Even though the language of fallen humans does not correspond perfectly to God’s nature or creation, the rules of grammar, logic, and rhetoric are the basis for all learning. When Hugh talks about learning, he means reading and arguing. One learns through engaging a text, hearing a lecture (a reading), or presenting an argument derived from the first two activities. Just as the ancients erred in their conclusions about the natural world through indiscriminant use of language, texts are opaque to those who do not understand the “nature of words and concepts” or cannot utilize the appropriate “trains of reasoning.”42Moreover, Hugh envisions learning as a communal and cooperative endeavor. St. Victor aimed to be a redemptive community, where each member worked to restore the divine image and likeness in his brother, as well as in himself. Without the rules of grammar, argument, rhetoric, rational explanation,43 “clear-sighted” argumentation, and persuasion, the prerequisites for a thriving community of learning, are impossible.44

If the linguistic arts provide the necessary tools for higher learning, the theoretical arts form the heart of Hugh’s curriculum. By “theoretical,” Hugh does not mean any discipline that generates theory. For Hugh, all academic disciplines are theoretical in that broad sense. Theoretical arts are those disciplines in which the theory is the practice. For instance, the linguistic arts generate theories about language, which can then be utilized in practice. Rhetoric is not the equivalent of public speaking, but the theory of public speaking. In the theoretical arts, however, the practice is the generating of theories. The theoretical arts lie at the heart of Hugh’s curriculum because this ability to generate theories and discover patterns is the highest expression of the divine likeness in humankind, the closest humans can come in this world to achieving the first goal of restoration through learning: the contemplation of the truth.45 Hugh identifies three theoretical arts: theology, the physical sciences, and mathematics (divided into the traditional quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy).46The role of theology is obvious and is mentioned only to fit it into Hugh’s larger scheme. Theology, as the study of and meditation upon Scripture, occupies the entire second half of the Didascalicon and the majority of his other writings.47

He explains mathematics and the physical sciences more fully. While today science and mathematics are valued for their practical uses, Hugh, his predecessors, and his successors up until the seventeenth century saw these disciplines as second only to theology as providing access to the knowledge of God. Hugh’s description of mathematics shows clearly its role in the restoration of the divine likeness in humankind. As we pointed out above, the Son is the “Wisdom which is the sole primordial Idea or Pattern of things.”48 Mathematics, for Hugh, reveals the patterns of creation, which are grounded in the divine nature. Thus arithmetic, which Hugh defines as the power of number, gives us unique insight into the created order because “the power of number is this – that all things have been formed in its likeness.”49 In addition to arithmetic, the other three mathematical arts reveal various patterns in the universe: proportions (music), spatial relationships (geometry), and time and motion (astronomy). The physical sciences are unique because they make up the only discipline that deals directly with things. The linguistic and mathematical arts deal with concepts and are the necessary preparation for contemplating truth, not in the abstract, but in God’s creation.50 For Hugh, the physical sciences seem to function primarily as natural theology. Thus, the linguistic and mathematical arts prepare the human mind for contemplating the Truth as revealed through Scripture (theology) and through creation (physical sciences). Given such developments as non-Euclidian geometry and particle physics, the contemporary academy would be right in seeing Hugh’s confidence in mathematics and physics as naïve. It may be impossible to claim simple corre-spondence of mathematical and physical laws with the mind of God, but Hugh’s vision for higher learning can withstand these developments. While not capable of certitude, mathematics and the physical sciences do give us unique insight into God’s creation. Along with the linguistic arts, mathematical and scientific reasoning are essential components of restoration of the divine image through the development of abstract thinking. 

By creatively reimagining the relationship between the liberal arts and theology, Hugh has provided a vision for both developing the human intellect and creating an academic community. Nevertheless, Hugh understands that Christian higher education must reach beyond the individual scholar, or even the academic community. As difficult as it may be for a Christian intellectual to face, all this talk of restoring the divine likeness in our minds and contemplating the truth is not likely to impress a new freshman, a parent of a prospective student, or a potential donor. Students and stakeholders in our institution rightly demand some sort of practical value for the expense of a college education. As a teacher in a “public” school, in the highly competitive educational marketplace of twelfth-century Paris, Hugh faced similar demands. His answer makes his vision of Christian higher education most useful to us. Recall that for Hugh, there are two things that restore the divine image in us: “the contemplation of truth and the practice of virtue.”51 Furthermore, Hugh believes that the meeting of physical needs and the enjoyment of creation are integral parts of the restoration of the divine image in us.52 In addition to contemplation of the truth, the linguistic and theoretical arts prepare the learner to learn the practical and mechanical arts, which lead to virtuous behavior and provide for the physical necessities of life.

In our contemporary culture, something is practical if it is useful, if it can make a person or process more productive or efficient. Hugh understands the practicality differently:

Philosophy is divided into theoretical, practical, mechanical, and logical. These four contain all knowledge. The theoretical may also be called speculative; the practical may be called active, that is moral, from the fact that morals consist in good action.53

For Hugh, practicality lies not in doing more, but in doing well. Thus, Hugh divides the practical arts according to an ever-widening field of virtuous action. Ethics pertains to the practice of virtue as it contributes to the restoration of the individual, economics to the restoration of the immediate community, and political science to the restoration of society. While Hugh works from Aristotle’s definition of economics as the management of households, his understanding of what constitutes a household is broad. In his late classical sources, the term “household” could refer to a Roman patrician clan or the retinue of a barbarian warlord. In his own time, a household could be a noble or princely court, a prosperous merchant clan, an urban guild, or a cloistered community. Thus, Hugh understands economics as what we would call management theory today. Unlike modern management theory, however, the goal was not the creation of more productive and efficient organizations. Instead, the application of management theory should create a wisely ordered organization, which would reflect God’s wise ordering of creation.

Political science, in turn, expands the scope of restorative action to “the common welfare of civil society.”54 Although his description of political science is brief, it is not abstract. Since the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century, there had been no such thing as a functioning state in France. Tenth- and eleventh-century French kings were merely one of several powerful princes. Louis VI began the process of creating a French state with St. Victor and its canons as part of that process. Overall, the reign of Louis VI would have given hope to those who envisioned a restoration of society. He was diligent, and relatively successful, in bringing an uncommon measure of peace to the royal estates. He was the first French king since the ninth century to rally a significant number of French noblemen to his military standard. Symbolically, but perhaps more importantly, Louis VI was the first French monarch to style himself King of France rather than King of the Franks.55 Like any medieval prince, his chief means of bringing about peace was through the sword.56 Nevertheless, he was also one of the princes of his day who sponsored a revival of Roman law to bring order to the feudal chaos. Moreover, from the point of view of the Victorines, their royal patron used his sovereign power to further the restoration of the church. Nor was their good opinion of him based solely on his support of St. Victor.57 Unlike his excommunicate father, Louis supported the reform popes (albeit with mixed motives) and sought the counsel of moderate reformers such as abbot Suger of St. Denis and bishop Ivo of Chartres.58 From Hugh’s point of view, northern France would seem a place on its way to being restored from the political chaos and social instability of the eleventh century to a society that better reflected God’s intentions for human community.

The final group of disciplines discussed by Hugh is the mechanical arts, a classification that includes both the theoretical foundations of various productive techniques and a philosophy of technology in general. The mechanical arts come closest to our idea of practical skills. Hugh names seven mechanical arts: fabric making, armament, commerce, agriculture, hunting, medicine, and theatrics. These categories are quite broad, seeking to encompass all the crafts in seven mechanical arts to parallel the seven liberal arts. For instance, agriculture and hunting encompass not only food production, but its preparation and distribution as well. Neither his identifying seven mechanical arts to complement the seven liberal arts or his positive attitude toward technology and the crafts is original with Hugh. The mechanical arts as fields of knowledge have classical roots, which Hugh acknowledges. Hugh’s contemporaries, and the eleventh-century monastic writers on whom they drew, were often interested in new technologies and wrote about them positively. Even so, Hugh is unique in claiming that mechanical arts play a role in God’s restorative process.59 In the tradition upon which Hugh draws, restoration is an almost exclusively spiritual process. Moreover, as an ascetic, mystic, and prominent advocate of the ecclesiastical reform movements of the day, we might expect Hugh to take a dim view of arts that focus on material improvement. While privileging contemplation and virtue over the fruit of human technique, Hugh includes the mechanical arts among the disciplines that contribute to human restoration because human work, even the most mundane, is a deliberate activity, which thus reflects Wisdom. This is why Hugh claims that the mechanical arts are not effective apart from the other arts.60 While the mechanical arts do not directly restore the divine likeness, as the theoretical and practical arts do, they serve two necessary functions. First, they “provide the necessaries required by our infirm part” that is, the body, the aspect of human nature most affected by the Fall.61 For Hugh, the body is not merely an impediment to the soul in humankind’s present state. God created man with both a body and a soul so that he might be “wholly blessed” through enjoying and taking solace in God’s physical creation.62 Second, God provides humans with the ability, through abstract thought and deliberate action, to devise ways to survive and thrive in the physical world so that “man’s reason shines forth much more brilliantly in inventing these very things than ever it would have had man naturally possessed them.”63

The art that Hugh refers to as “armament” is the best example of the breadth and purpose Hugh envisions for the mechanical arts. Hugh defines armament as all human tool making and construction.God created man with a body, but with little natural ability to protect himself, “unarmed” as Hugh puts it. Since other creatures are not rational, God displays his goodness through them by giving them the means to protect themselves. At the most basic level, the unarmed human arms himself, thereby displaying the divine image through deliberately fashioning tools and constructing shelter in order to ameliorate the physical effects of the Fall.64 Beyond providing basic shelter, armament contributes to the restorative process in several ways. Northern French churchmen were well aware that the modicum of peace, stability, and legal and ecclesiastical reform won by the Anglo-Norman and Capetian princes had been achieved at the point of a sword. Literal arms, such as weapons, personal armor, and fortifications, could be used restoratively, if they were employed “for the common welfare of civil society.” Furthermore, Hugh clearly believed that armament went beyond meeting physical needs to include the work of the visual artist. As a theologian and teacher, Hugh took great interest in the visual arts. In opposition to such prominent colleagues as Bernard of Clairvaux, he was the most influential member of the reform party to embrace the avant-garde of early twelfth-century art. Besides delivering a series of lectures on the visual arts at St. Victor, he participated with abbot Suger in the development of the innovative art program of the Abbey Church of St. Denis.65 One scholar sees in the art program at St. Denis, a visual articulation of the restorative themes Hugh described in De sacramentis.66 Most significantly, Hugh was himself an accomplished artist. His painting, TheMystic Ark, has been called “the most complex single work of figural art from the entire Middle Ages.”67

Another mechanical art that warrants our attention is commerce. Though brief, Hugh’s view on commerce is positive, almost enthusiastic. This is surprising. The general religious response to the nascent commercial culture of the time was an emphasis on the poverty of Jesus and the apostles. The Victorines were part of this trend and adopted a strict interpretation of their vow of poverty. Yet Hugh has an unequivocally positive view of commerce. “The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and commutes the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all.”68 Hugh’s theory of commerce rests upon the combination of two prior types of arts: linguistic and practical. Hugh defines commerce as a “peculiar sort of rhetoric… for eloquence is in the highest degree necessary to it.”69 It also involves ethics and economics in that it allows “private good” to be enjoyed by the community as a whole. Here is a perfect of example of Hugh’s vision for the arts as restorative of the whole person. As the product of deliberate action by a person whose mind has been partially restored through the linguistic and practical arts for the sake of physical and social well-being, commerce is a uniquely human activity.70

Responding to an intellectual culture immersed in philosophical, scientific, and artistic controversy, Hugh’s Didascalicon does not give practical advice or examples concerning what any particular discipline would look like; it provides a blueprint for framing the appropriate question: how can the redeemed person participate in God’s work of restoring the individual, human society, and all creation? All higher learning, from the most abstract theories to the most practically minded applications, contributes to the restoration of the divine image in us. Such a vision meets the three criteria I suggest as necessary for adequate approach to Christian higher education. Hugh’s vision has obvious application to the scholar pursuing the latest discoveries, but it can also inform the work of the Christian academic as he or she participates in the restorative community that is a Christian institution of higher education. For Hugh’s educational vision is also a vision for the Christian life. Christian higher education should produce Christians, that is, restored persons prepared to participate in God’s work of restoration in whatever role they find themselves. Within this community, student learning is a vital component both for their development as redeemed persons called to participate in the restoration of the divine image in themselves, as well as preparation for their role in participating with Christ in the restoration of human society and creation. Here, Hugh’s vision is especially helpful. Students and their parents rightly want some tangible result from the investment of time and money required to pursue a college degree, usually articulated as a “good job.” Hugh did not demand that his students become scholars, pastors, or ascetic mystics, though some did. The school of St. Victor taught students who would go on to “good jobs” in royal and ecclesiastical courts or noble and merchant households. These influential knowledge workers were ideally placed to apply their restored minds to restoring the human community. Far from discouraging these aspirations, or telling students they can pursue wealth and influence, as long as they also cultivate a spiritual life and participate in “Christian ministry,” Christian colleges and universities should prepare these students to achieve so-called “worldly” goals, while teaching them how those aspirations can be part of a coherent Christian life. 

Cite this article
Jim Halverson, “Restored Through Learning: Hugh of St. Victor’s Vision for Higher Education”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 41:1 , 35-50


  1. See, for example, Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Husteldt Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), especially the introduction.
  2. Two excellent examples are Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty, Christianity and the Soul of the University (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006); and Mark R. Schwehn, Exiles from Eden: Academic Vocation in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  3. This reading of Hugh is contrary to Jan W. M. van Zwieten, “Scientific and Spiritual Culture in Hugh of St. Victor,” in Centers of Learning: Learning and Location in Pre-Modern Europe and the Near East, eds. Jan Willem Drijvers and Alasdair A. MacDonald (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 177-186.
  4. Jerome Taylor gives a brief account of Hugh’s life in the introduction to his translation of the Didascalicon. See The Didascalicon of Hugh of Saint Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, trans. Jerome Taylor(New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 36-39. For a fuller discussion of Hugh’s biography, see Thomas McGonigle, “Hugh of Saint Victor’s Understanding of the Relationship Between the Sacramental and Contemplative Dimensions of the Christian Life” (PhD diss., Harvard Divinity School, 1976), 10-75.
  5. On the close relationship between the abbey of St. Victor and the royal household, see Fourier Bonnard, Histoire de l’Abbey Royale et de l’Ordre des Chanoines Réguliers St-Victor de Paris: Premiere Periode, 1113-1500 (Paris: Arthur Savaéte, 1904), 1-29; and Elizabeth M. Hallam, Capetian France: 987-1328 (New York: Longman, 1980), 143.
  6. Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400-1400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 229.
  7. F. A. van Liere, “Andrew of St. Victor (d.1175): Scholar Between Cloister and School”, in Drijvers and MacDonald, Centers of Learning, 187.
  8. n his classic treatment of monastic learning, Jean Leclercq drew a sharp distinction between the theologies of the rural cloisters and the urban schools. This distinction, while valid for the second half of the twelfth century, does not aptly describe the early part of the century. Hugh of St. Victor stood between these two extremes living in a cloistered community, which administered an urban school. See Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study in Monastic Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), 193-204. Van Liere notes this purposely-ambiguous nature of the Victorines in “Andrew of St. Victor,” 187-196.
  9. McGonigle, “Hugh of Saint Victor,” 37.
  10. For an excellent discussion of how these trends coalesced in Paris, see R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, vol. I (London: Blackwell, 1997), 198-212. See also Herbert Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. Steven Rowan (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995); C. H. Lawrence, The Friars: The Impact of the Early Mendicant Movement on Western Society (London: Longman, 1994); and Lester Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 1978
  11. Political historians have typically contrasted the relative lawlessness of the French royal domain at this time to the sophisticated and efficient government of the neighboring Anglo-Norman realm. While the French royal domain may not have been as well governed as Henry I’s England and Normandy, it was more highly developed than historians have traditionally admitted. See, for example, Lindy Grant, Abbot Suger of St. Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France (London: Longman, 1998), 50-74; Robert-Henri Bautier, “Paris au temps d’Abelard,” in Abelard en sons temps: Actes du Colloque International Organisé a l’Occa-sion du 9e Centenaire de la Naissance de Pierre Abelard (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1981), 21-77.
  12. For the inclusion of bureaucrats in what had been traditionally military households, see David Crouch, William Marshal: Court Career, and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire, 1147-1219(London: Longman, 1990), 133-147.
  13. Grant, Abbot Suger, 57.
  14. Caroline Walker Bynum, “The Spirituality of Regular Canons in the Twelfth Century,” in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 36-58.
  15. Ivan Illych, In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary on Hugh’s Didascalicon (Chicago: Uni-versity of Chicago Press, 1993), 7-13.
  16. Hugonisde Sancto Victore Didascalicon de Studio Legendi, ed. Charles Buttimer (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1939), 6: “Reperamur autem per doctrinam” (47). Taylor translates this passage as “restored through instruction.” I believe this is too narrow a translation given the context.
  17. Hugh, Didascalicon 1991, 23: “Hoc ergo omnes artes agunt, hoc intendunt, ut divina simu-litudo in nobis reperatur…”
  18. There is some disagreement concerning the originality of Hugh in relationship to Augustine on this topic. For a discussion of the influence of De doctrina christiana on Hugh, see Grover Zinn, “The Influence of Augustine’s De doctrina christiana upon the Writings of Hugh of Saint Victor,” in Reading and Wisdom in the Middle Ages: the De doctrina Christiana of Augustine in the Middle Ages, ed. Edward D. English (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1995), 48-60. While I see Hugh breaking with Augustine on this point, Eileen Sweeney sees Hugh as merely extending Augustine’s ideas. Eileen C. Sweeney, “Hugh of St. Victor: The Augustinian Tradition of Sacred and Secular Reading Revised,” in Reading and Wisdom,61-83.
  19. R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, vol. II (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 62.
  20. On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith, (De sacramentis) of Hugh of Saint Victor, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1951), 3.
  21. Hugh’s focus on the concept of restoration as the key to understanding the human condi-tion and the divine will is itself part of a larger religious and intellectual trend. Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable, eds., Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 37-67.
  22. Hugh, De sacramentis, 3.
  23. Ibid,, 249.
  24. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 52.
  25. Hugh, Didascalicon de Studio Legendi, 101.
  26. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 48-50; Hugh, De sacramentis, 93-98
  27. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 51.
  28. Ibid., 55.
  29. Ibid., 95. For a detailed explanation of Hugh’s highly nuanced understanding of virtue, see Ineke van‘t Spijker, “Hugh of Saint Victor’s Virtue: Ambivalence and Gratuity,” in Virtue and Ethics in the Twelfth Century, eds. István P. Bejczy and Richard G. Newhauser (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 75-94.
  30. Hugh, De sacramentis, 98.
  31. Ibid., 97..
  32. Grover A. Zinn, “Historia fundamentum est: the Role of History in the Contemplative Life According to Hugh of St. Victor,” in Contemporary Reflections on the Medieval Christian Tradition: Essays in Honor of Ray C. Petry, ed. George H. Shriver (Durham: Duke University Press, 1974), 136.
  33. McGonigle, “Hugh of Saint Victor,” 43.
  34. Bynum, “Spirituality of Regular Canons,” 40-41.
  35. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 87.
  36. Ibid.
  37. See Figure 1.
  38. Hugh, 152.
  39. Ibid., 57-59.
  40. Colish, Medieval Foundations, 275-288.
  41. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 58.
  42. Ibid., 59.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid., 82.
  45. Ibid., 54-55 and 73.
  46. Ibid., 62.
  47. Ibid., 102-150.
  48. Ibid., 51.
  49. Ibid., 67.
  50. Ibid., 72-3.
  51. Ibid., 54.
  52. Hugh, De sacramentis, 98.
  53. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 63.
  54. Ibid., 74
  55. James B. Collins, From Tribes to Nation: The Making of France, 500-1799 (Florence, KY: Thom-son Learning, Inc., 2002), 62.
  56. To the contemporary Christian the behavior of so-called Christian kings in the Middle Ages seems wildly hypocritical. We should be, perhaps, a bit more sympathetic. Christopher Brooke describes “medieval kingship as a strenuous occupation. If he played strictly by the rules, the king had to combine some of the qualities of general, prize fighter, judge and monk.” Christopher Brooke, Europe in the Central Middle Ages 962-1154, 3rd ed. (London: Pearson Education Ltd., 2000), 192.
  57. For the relationship of St. Victor to Louis VI, see note 5 above.
  58. Collins, From Tribe to Nation, 264-267.
  59. The best analysis of Hugh’s view of the mechanical arts is by Elspeth Whitney, Paradise Restored: The Mechanical Arts from Antiquity through the Thirteenth Century, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1990), 75-128. My description of Hugh on the mechanical arts is largely dependent on this work. Also, John H. Van Engen, “Theophilus Presbyter and Rupert of Deutz: The Manual Arts and Benedictine Theology in the Early Twelfth Century,” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies11 (1980): 147-163 and Brian Stock, “Experience, Praxis, Work, and Planning in Bernard of Clairvaux : Observations on the Sermones in Cantica,” in The Cultural Context of Medieval Learning, eds. John E Murdoch and Edith Dudley Sylla (Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1975), 219-268.
  60. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 153.
  61. Ibid., 55.
  62. Hugh, De sacramentis, 98.
  63. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 56.
  64. Ibid., 76.
  65. Conrad Rudolph, Artistic Change at St-Denis: Abbot Suger’s Program and the Early Twelfth-Century Controversy over Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 32-47.
  66. Ibid.
  67. Conrad Rudolph, “First, I Find the Center Point”: Reading the Text of Hugh of Saint Victor’s The Mystic Ark,Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004), 2-3.
  68. Hugh, The Didascalicon, 77.
  69. Ibid., 76.
  70. Ibid., 79.

Jim Halverson

Judson University