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Hugh of St. Victor’s Influence on the Halensian Definition of Theology
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Hugh of St. Victor’s Influence on the Halensian Definition of Theology1


That thirteenth-century Franciscan theologians had a deep appreciation of the Victorine tradition is widely known. Perhaps most famous is Bonaventure’s paean of praise to Hugh of St. Victor in the De reductione artis, which praises Richard, but most of all Hugh as the master of all the divisions of high scholastic theology.2 That there is a Victorine influence on Alexander of Hales, and for that matter on the early Franciscan School, is also clear. Anthony of Padua seems to have known and revered Thomas Gallus, also known as Thomas of St. Victor and of Vercelli;3 traces of Hugh of St. Victor’s influence are apparent in Thomas of Celano’s vitae of St. Francis.4 [End Page 367] Frequent explicit references as well as implicit allusions, especially to Hugh of St. Victor, litter both Alexander’s undisputed writings and the so-called Summa fratris Alexandri (after 1240; also called Summa Theologiae/Summa minorum/Summa Halesiana, but hereafter Summa Halensis or SfA),5 an important, influential work now known to be a composite product of both Alexander himself and his students.6 But the exact nature of Hugh’s influence on the “Halensian” notion of theology7 has not been fully delineated.8

My contention is that the SfA takes up a signature feature of Hugh’s theology, namely, the notion of the “works of restoration,” and makes it its own.9 In so doing, though, the SfA inserts this Hugonian notion into a new, significantly different intellectual context, namely, the theological ferment occasioned by the rapidly expanding and deepening assimilation of Aristotelian philosophy into the medieval universities, with its particular conception of what constitutes a genuine “science” (scientia), and indeed the highest of sciences, and thus what can lay claim to the name “wisdom” (sapientia).10 [End Page 368]

Acclaimed by his contemporaries the “unanswerable doctor” and “prince of theologians” (doctor irrefragabilis et theologorum monarchus), Alexander of Hales (1180/85–1245) came to Paris from England in the early thirteenth century, becoming first master in the arts faculty by 1210 and then master in theology by 1221.11 Around 1236, already at least [End Page 369] fifty years of age, he entered the Franciscan order. In this way, the Franciscans acquired their first chair in theology at Paris, which was subsequently filled by Alexander’s successors, including Richard Rufus of Cornwall, Jean de la Rochelle, and most famously, Bonaventure. He died on August 21, 1245,12 presumably around the age of sixty.13

As “founder of the Franciscan school,” Alexander “gave the school its body of teachings and its characteristic spirit.”14 “Among the earliest scholastics to engage Aristotle’s newly translated writings, in particular, the Metaphysics,”15 he had a profound effect on the evolution of scholastic theology in [End Page 370] the second quarter of his century, and certainly ranks among the scholastic luminaries of the entire thirteenth. As one scholar recently observed, it was Alexander, “not Albert the Great, Bonaventure, [or] Thomas Aquinas” who “was for a long time afterward regarded as the most acclaimed master of the thirteenth century.”16 Alexander’s general importance in the development of scholastic theology from the uncertain haze of the late twelfth-century to the midday clarity of the late-thirteenth is oft-noted, but seldom analyzed in depth.17

The “works of restoration” (opera restaurationis) in Hugh of St. Victor

In order to appreciate Hugh’s influence on Alexander, a brief glance at the opening lines of Hugh’s great masterwork, the De sacramentis, is necessary.18 With a certain methodological self-consciousness at the dawn of medieval scholasticism,19 Hugh begins by specifying the nature of his undertaking in this way: [End Page 371]

The subject matter of all the divine Scriptures is the works of restoration (opera restaurationis) of humanity. For there are two works in which is contained all that has been done. The first is the work of foundation (opus conditionis). The second is the work of restoration (opus restaurationis). The work of foundation is that whereby those things which were not came...