restricted access Bonaventure’s Ideal and Hugh of St. Victor’s Comprehensive Biblical Theology
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Bonaventure’s Ideal and Hugh of St. Victor’s Comprehensive Biblical Theology

St. Bonaventure paid lavish tribute to Hugh of St. Victor, both explicitly by name and implicitly through the respectful appropriation of some aspects of his work. Ironically, the Franciscan’s most famous explicit tribute is within an implicit but substantial departure from Hugh’s way of organizing theology. Both authors, even where they differ from each other, can help us moderns, or post-moderns, recover a unity to theology, indeed a cohesion to knowledge in general. My purpose here is basically to join in Bonaventure’s appreciation for Hugh, and tangentially to point out one way they diverged.

Whatever post-modern theology turns out to be, it now seems clear that in the modern twentieth century most theological work was plagued by fragmentation into sub-specialties: biblical, historical, systematic, and practical, to name four departments, not to mention liturgical, spiritual, moral and political. Such scholarly specializations have worked against curricular coherence in theological education, and thus against integrated or holistic ministry. Over fifty years ago, Joseph Sittler warned seminary faculties about “the maceration of the minister,”1 but we have pursued our separate sub-disciplines nonetheless.

Pre-modern theology holds up some helpful models of authors who held together Bible and doctrine and liturgy and so on, in a well-balanced whole, with effective ministry as the result. Everyone appreciates the interdisciplinary breadth of a bishop like Augustine, or of an Old Testament professor like Martin Luther, or of polymaths like Hildegard of Bingen [End Page 385] or Albert the Great. Perhaps above all, Franciscans and Victorines supply multiple models of holistic learning, especially Bonaventure and Hugh. A well-known comment by Bonaventure about several predecessors seems to subdivide theology into three parts, each one with specialists, although one name embraced it all in a unified whole.

Therefore, the whole of sacred Scripture teaches these three truths: namely, the eternal generation and incarnation of Christ, the pattern of human life, and the union of the soul with God. The first is concerned with faith; the second with morals; and the third, with the ultimate goal of both. The effort of the doctors should be aimed at the study of the first; that of the preachers, at the study of the second; that of the contemplatives, at the study of the third. The first is taught chiefly by Augustine; the second, by Gregory; the third, by Dionysius. Anselm follows Augustine; Bernard follows Gregory; Richard follows Dionysius. For Anselm excels in reasoning; Bernard, in preaching; Richard, in contemplation. But Hugh excels in all three.2

Whether doctrine or preaching or contemplation, Hugh of St. Victor, like Bonaventure himself, excels in all of theology, broadly understood. Indeed, Hugh’s breadth goes beyond theology as we understand it, to include philosophy, history, and grammar, all the liberal arts, everything from “practical geometry” and community etiquette to contemplative, even mystical, experience.

Yet Bonaventure’s triplex praise for Hugh is actually a substantial departure from the Victorine’s own theological structure. At issue are the spiritual senses of scripture, as used to organize theology. In the immediately prior sentence, Bonaventure identified a threefold spiritual meaning: [End Page 386]

While in its literal sense it [scripture] is one, still in its spiritual and mystical sense, it is threefold, for in all the books of sacred Scripture, beyond the literal meaning which the words express outwardly, there is a threefold spiritual meaning: namely the allegorical, by which we are taught what to believe concerning the divinity and humanity; the moral, by which we are taught how to live; and the anagogical, by which we are taught how to cling to God.3

This familiar four-fold pattern – literal plus three, yielding the “quadriga” – gives Bonaventure his triad of faith and morals and union with God, but it departs from the Victorine’s own ordering of theology according to the senses of scripture. For Hugh, in short, the literal historical meaning is followed by two other senses, not three, namely, the allegorical (or doctrinal) and the tropological (or “moral”), and all this is within his framework of the works of creation and the works...