Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A forgotten Scotsman

Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia ca. 1400–1482
Higher: Dante meeting "The Twelve Lights" in the Fourth Circle of Prudence: St. Thomas introduces Dante to other souls in the Heaven of the Sun
St Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus meet Dante. In the circle are: John Gratian; Peter Lombard; Dionysius the Aeropagite; Solomon; Boëthius; Paul Orosius (above the circle); Isidore of Seville (facing the star); Bede the Venerable (beside Isidore); Richard of St Victor; Siger de Brabant
(Paradiso' X.130) (1444-1452)

Lower: Detail showing Richard of St Victor
Manuscript (made for Alphonso V, King of Aragon, Naples and Sicily (reigned 1416 to 1458))
Yates Thompson 36, fol. 147
The British Library. London

Richard of St. Victor (c. 1123–73) is not celebrated on any lists of famous Scotsmen or Scotswomen. He seems to have been forgotten about.

However he was born in Scotand and was a Scotsman before going to the famous Augustinian abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris. He was prior of the Abbey from 1162 until his death there in 1173.

However he was remembered recently by Pope Benedict XVI in a recent discourse at the Vatican.

Richard of Saint Victor was one of the most important mystical theologians of 12th century Paris, then the intellectual centre of Europe.

In Dante's Paradise (Paradiso' X.130), he is mentioned among theologians and doctors of the church alongside Isidore of Seville and the Englishman Bede (the latter is the only other Briton in Dante's Paradise).

His writings on mystical contemplation earned for him the title "Magnus Contemplator", the great contemplator.

In Dante's Paradise he is described as "che a considerar fu più che viro" ("he whose meditation made him more than man") and being in the company of the Circle of heaven (the Fourth Circle of Prudence) containing some of the greatest theologians and philosophers: Thomas Aquinas: Gratian; Peter Lombard; Albertus Magnus; Solomon: Dionysius, the Aeropagite: Boëthius; Isidore of Seville; Paulus Orosius; Sigier of Brabant; and Bede. He is one of the "Twelve Living Lights" in that canto.

In real life, Richard of St Victor was a friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

He wrote an important treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity, the first serious alternative to Augustine's approach in the latter's own On the Trinity. In De Trinitate ("On the Trinity") he stressed that it was possible to reach the essentials of the doctrine of the Trinity by the process of speculative reasoning. Richard had great influence on Saint Bonaventure and the Franciscan mystics. Pope Benedict described this work as "one of the great books of history"

"A worthy disciple of Hugh of St. Victor is Richard, from Scotland. He was prior of the Abbey of St. Victor between 1162 and 1173, the year of his death. Richard also, naturally, assigns an essential role to the study of the Bible but, as opposed to his teacher, he favors the allegorical sense, the symbolic meaning of Scripture with which, for example, he interprets the Old Testament figure of Benjamin, son of Jacob, as symbol of contemplation and summit of the spiritual life.

Richard treats this argument in two texts. Benjamin minor and Benjamin major, in which he proposes to the faithful a spiritual way, which first invites the exercise of the different virtues, learning to discipline and order with reason the feelings and interior affective and emotional movements. Only when man has achieved a balance and human maturity in this field is he prepared to accede to contemplation, which Richard describes as "a profound and pure look of the soul directed to the wonders of wisdom, associated to an ecstatic sense of wonder and admiration" (Benjamin Maior 1,4: PL 196,67).

Contemplation is, therefore, the point of arrival, the result of an arduous journey, which entails dialogue between faith and reason, that is -- once again -- a theological discourse. Theology begins from the truths that are the object of faith, but it attempts to deepen its knowledge with the use of reason, appropriating the gift of faith. This application of reasoning to the understanding of faith is practiced in a convincing way in Richard's masterpiece, one of the great books of history, the De Trinitate (The Trinity). In the six books that make it up he reflects with acuity on the mystery of God one and triune.

According to our author, given that God is love, the only divine substance entails communication, oblation and affection between two Persons, the Father and the Son, who meet one another with an eternal exchange of love. But the perfection of happiness and of goodness does not allow for exclusiveness and narrow-mindedness; on the contrary, it calls for the eternal presence of a third Person, the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian love is participatory, harmonious and entails a superabundance of delight, enjoyment of incessant joy. That is, Richard assumes that God is love, analyzes the essence of love, which is what is involved in the reality of love, thus coming to the Trinity of Persons, which is really the logical expression of the fact that God is love.

Richard, nevertheless, is aware that love, though it reveals God's essence to us and makes us "understand" the mystery of the Trinity, is, however, only an analogy to speak about a mystery that exceeds the human mind, and -- poet and mystic that he is -- he takes recourse also to other images. For example he compares divinity to a river, to a loving wave that springs from the Father, flows back in the Son, later to be happily diffused in the Holy Spirit.

Dear friends, authors such as Hugh and Richard of St. Victor raise our soul to the contemplation of divine realities. At the same time, the immense joy we get from thought, admiration and praise of the Most Holy Trinity, establishes and sustains the concrete commitment to inspire us in that perfect model of communion and love to build our everyday human relations.

The Trinity is truly perfect communion! How the world would change if in families, in parishes and in all other communities relationships were lived following always the example of the three Divine Persons, where each one lives not only with the other, but for the other and in the other! I recalled it some months ago in the Angelus: "Love alone makes us happy, because we live in relation, and we live to love and to be loved" (L'Osservatore Romano, June 8-9, 2009, p. 1).

It is love that realizes this incessant miracle: as in the life of the Most Holy Trinity, plurality is repaired in unity, where everything is pleasure and joy. With St. Augustine, held in great honor by the Victorines, we can also exclaim: "Vides Trinitatem, si caritatem vides" -- you see the Trinity, if you see charity (De Trinitate VIII, 8,12)."

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