|The Trinity: perfect model of communion
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 25
November , in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall the Holy Father
commented on two outstanding 12th-century theologians associated with
the Monastery of Saint-Victor in Paris: Hugh of Saint-Victor and Richard
of Saint-Victor, one of Hugh's disciples. The following is a translation
of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At these Wednesday
Audiences I am presenting several exemplary figures of believers who
were dedicated to showing the harmony between reason and faith and to
witnessing with their lives to the proclamation of the Gospel. I intend
to speak today about Hugh and Richard of Saint-Victor.
Both were among those
philosophers and theologians known as "Victorines" because they lived
and taught at the Abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris, founded at the
beginning of the 12th century by William of Champeaux. William himself
was a well-known teacher who succeeded in giving his abbey a solid
cultural identity. Indeed, a school for the formation of the monks, also
open to external students, was founded at Saint-Victor, where a
felicitous synthesis was achieved between the two theological models of
which I have spoken in previous Catecheses. These are monastic theology,
primarily oriented to contemplation of the mysteries of the faith in
Scripture; and scholastic theology, which aimed to use reason to
scrutinize these mysteries with innovative methods in order to create a
We have little information
about the life of Hugh of Saint-Victor. The date and place of his birth
are uncertain; he may have been born in Saxony or in Flanders. It is
known that having arrived in Paris
the European cultural capital at that time
he spent the rest of his days at the Abbey of Saint-Victor, where he was
first a disciple and subsequently a teacher. Even before his death in
1141, he earned great fame and esteem, to the point that he was called a
"second St Augustine". Like Augustine, in fact, he meditated deeply on
the relationship between faith and reason, between the secular sciences
and theology. According to Hugh of Saint-Victor, in addition to being
useful for understanding the Scriptures, all the branches of knowledge
have intrinsic value and must be cultivated in order to broaden human
knowledge, as well as to answer the human longing to know the truth.
This healthy intellectual
curiosity led him to counsel students always to give free reign to their
desire to learn. In his treatise on the methodology of knowledge and
pedagogy, entitled significantly Didascalicon (On Teaching)
his recommendation was: "Learn willingly what you do not know from
everyone. The person who has sought to learn something from everyone
will be wiser than them all. The person who receives something from
everyone ends by becoming the richest of all" (Eruditiones
Didascalicae, 3, 14; PL 176, 774).
The knowledge with which
the philosophers and theologians known as Victorines were
concerned in particular was theology, which requires first and foremost
the loving study of Sacred Scripture. In fact, in order to know God one
cannot but begin with what God himself has chosen to reveal of himself
in the Scriptures.
In this regard Hugh of
Saint-Victor is a typical representative of monastic theology, based
entirely on biblical exegesis. To interpret Scripture he suggests the
traditional patristic and medieval structure, namely, the literal and
historical sense first of all, then the allegorical and anagogical and,
lastly, the moral.
These are four dimensions
of the meaning of Scripture that are being rediscovered even today. For
this reason one sees that in the text and in the proposed narrative a
more profound meaning is concealed: the thread of faith that leads us
heavenwards and guides us on this earth, teaching us how to live.
Yet, while respecting these
four dimensions of the meaning of Scripture, in an original way in
comparison with his contemporaries, Hugh of Saint-Victor insists
and this is something new
on the importance of the historical and literal meaning.
In other words before
discovering the symbolic value, the deeper dimensions of the biblical
text, it is necessary to know and to examine the meaning of the event as
it is told in Scripture. Otherwise, he warns, using an effective
comparison, one risks being like grammarians who do not know the
To those who know the
meaning of history as described in the Bible, human events appear marked
by divine Providence, in accordance with a clearly ordained plan.
Thus, for Hugh of
Saint-Victor, history is neither the outcome of a blind destiny nor as
meaningless as it might seem. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is at
work in human history and inspires the marvellous dialogue of human
beings with God, their friend. This theological view of history
highlights the astonishing and salvific intervention of God who truly
enters and acts in history. It is almost as if he takes part in our
history, while ever preserving and respecting the human being's freedom
Our author considered that
the study of Sacred Scripture and its historical and literal meaning
makes possible true and proper theology, that is, the systematic
illustration of truths, knowledge of their structure, the illustration
of the dogmas of the faith. He presents these in a solid synthesis in
his Treatise De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei (The Sacraments of
the Christian Faith). Among other things, he provides a definition of
"sacrament" which, further perfected by other theologians, contains
ideas that are still very interesting today.
"The sacrament is a
corporeal or material element proposed in an external and tangible way",
he writes, "which by its likeness makes present an invisible and
spiritual grace; it signifies it, because it was instituted to
this end, and contains it, because it is capable of sanctifying"
(9,2: PL 176, 317).
On the one hand is the
visibility in the symbol, the "corporeity" of the gift of God. On the
other hand, however, in him [it?] is concealed the divine grace that
comes from the history of Jesus Christ, who himself created the
Therefore, there are three
elements that contribute to the definition of a sacrament, according to
Hugh of Saint-Victor: the institution by Christ; the communication of
grace; and the analogy between the visible
element and the invisible element: the divine gifts.
This vision is very close
to our contemporary understanding, because the sacraments are presented
with a language interwoven with symbols and images capable of speaking
directly to the human heart. Today too it is important that liturgical
animators, and priests in particular, with pastoral wisdom, give due
weight to the signs proper to sacramental rites
to this visibility and tangibility of Grace. They should pay special
attention to catechesis, to ensure that all the faithful experience
every celebration of the sacraments with devotion, intensity and
Richard, who came from
Scotland, was Hugh of Saint-Victor's worthy disciple. He was prior of
the Abbey of Saint-Victor from 1162 to 1173, the year of his death.
Richard too, of course, assigned a fundamental role to the study of the
Bible but, unlike his master, gave priority to the allegorical sense,
the symbolic meaning of Scripture. This is what he uses, for example, in
his interpretation of the Old Testament figure of Benjamin, the son of
Jacob, as a model of contemplation and the epitome of the spiritual
Richard addresses this
topic in two texts, Benjamin Minor and Benjamin Maior.
In these he proposes to the faithful a spiritual journey which is
primarily an invitation to exercise the various virtues, learning to
discipline and to control with reason the sentiments and the inner
affective and emotional impulses. Only when the human being has attained
balance and human maturity in this area is he or she ready to approach
contemplation, which Richard defines as "a profound and pure gaze of the
soul, fixed on the marvels of wisdom, combined with an ecstatic sense of
wonder and admiration" (Benjamin Maior 1,4: PL 196, 67).
Contemplation is therefore
the destination, the result of an arduous journey that involves dialogue
between faith and reason, that is
a theological discourse. Theology stems from truths that are the subject
of faith but seeks to deepen knowledge of them by the use of reason,
taking into account the gift of faith.
This application of reason
to the comprehension of faith is presented convincingly in Richard's
masterpiece, one of the great books of history, the De Trinitate
(The Trinity). In the six volumes of which it is composed
he reflects perspicaciously on the Mystery of the Triune God.
According to our author,
since God is love the one divine substance includes communication,
oblation and love between the two Persons, the Father and the Son, who
are placed in a reciprocal, eternal exchange of love. However the
perfection of happiness and goodness admits of no exclusivism or
closure. On the contrary, it requires the eternal presence of a third
Person, the Holy Spirit.
Trinitarian love is
participatory, harmonious and includes a superabundance of delight,
enjoyment and ceaseless joy. Richard, in other words, supposes that God
is love, analyzes the essence of love
of what the reality love entails
and thereby arrives at the Trinity of the Persons, which really is the
logical expression of the fact that God is love.
Yet Richard is aware that
love, although it reveals to us the essence of God, although it makes us
"understand" the Mystery of the Trinity, is nevertheless always an
analogy that serves to speak of a Mystery that surpasses the human mind.
Being the poet and mystic that he is, Richard also has recourse to other
images. For example, he compares divinity to a river, to a loving wave
which originates in the Father and ebbs and flows in the Son, to be
subsequently spread with joy through the Holy Spirit.
Dear friends, authors such
as Hugh and Richard of Saint-Victor raise our minds to contemplation of
the divine realities. At the same time, the immense joy we feel at the
thought, admiration and praise of the Blessed Trinity supports and
sustains the practical commitment to be inspired by this perfect model
of communion in love in order to build our daily human relationships.
The Trinity is truly perfect communion! How the world would change if
relations were always lived in families, in parishes and in every other
community by following the example of the three divine Persons in whom
each lives not only with the other, but for the other and
in the other! A few months ago at the Angelus I recalled: "Love
alone makes us happy because we live in a relationship, and we live to
love and to be loved" (Angelus, Trinity Sunday, 7 June
2009; L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, to June 2009, p. 1).
It is love that works this
ceaseless miracle. As in the life of the Blessed Trinity, plurality is
recomposed in unity, where all is kindness and joy. With St Augustine,
held in great honour by the Victorines, we too may
exclaim: "Vides Trinitatem, si caritatem vides
you contemplate the Trinity, if you see charity" (De Trinitate
VIII, 8, 12).