Richard of St Victor

Richard Of St. Victor, a celebrated mystic and writer of the 12th century, concerning whose life but little is known. He was of Scottish extraction, and at an early age entered the Augustinian convent of St. Victor at Paris, where he became the pupil of the learned and pious Hugo (q.v.). He was made sub-prior of the abbey in 1159 and prior in 1162, and in the latter capacity contended persistently against the bad administration and the unedifying life of the abbot Ervisius, until he effected the removal of the latter from his office. Nothing further has been handed down with reference to the circumstances of his life, save that he was a friend of St. Bernard, and died in 1173. A number of writings from his hand have been preserved, divided, as respects character, into exegetical, ethical, dogmatical, and mystical, or contemplative, works. As the exegesis is little more than mystical allegory, the works in which it is contained possess simply historical value; but those which deal with other subjects have much higher merit, though the mystical element is everywhere apparent. Of his ethical works, mention is made of his tracts, De Statu Interioris Hominis: — De Eruditione Interioris Hominis: — De Esterminatione Mali et Promotione Boni: — De Differentia Peccati Mortalis et Venialis. Of his dogmatic writings the following are prominent, De Verbo Incarnato, where, in imitation of Augustine, sin is praised as felix culpa, because it necessitated the incarnation of Christ: — two books, De Emmanuele, against the Jews: — and, very particularly, six books, De Trinitate, with which compare De Tribus Appropriatis Personis in Trinitate. In these works the author appears as one of the most skilful dialecticians and experienced psychologists of his time. Like his master Hugo, he aims to unite knowledge and faith, scholasticism and mysticism. He acknowledges the right of philosophical inquiry, but insists that for the Christian thinker faith is the necessary prerequisite of knowledge. This principle governs him in the work on the Trinity, which is perhaps the most remarkable product of his mind. He first shows that reason proves the existence of but one supreme substance, which is God. An examination of the divine attributes follows, particularly of power and knowledge, and it is argued that in their perfection they can belong only to the one Absolute Being. The idea of love is then introduced, in order to effect the transition to the subject of the Trinity. As love, like all the attributes of the Deity, must be perfect, it implies necessarily a plurality of Persons. Abstract love (amor) cannot become concrete (caritas) without an object upon which it may fasten. The Supreme Love can only be expended on a Supreme Object; and as it is eternal, its object must be so likewise. But as it is a proof of weakness not to allow society in love, these two Persons, who love each other, desire a third Person whom they may love with equal fervor. As there can be no inequality in the divine nature, these Persons differ simply in their origin — one being self-originated, and the others deriving their origin from him, though in an eternal sense. In his mystical writings Richard appears as the first to undertake a scientific theory of contemplation, on which account he bore the name of Magnus Contemplator. He begins with a sober psychological analysis, by which he shows that reason (ratio) and inclination or will (affectio) are the fundamental powers, and that they are aided, the former by the imagination, the latter by the senses. Reason needs to perceive the forms of visible things before it can ascend to the contemplation of the invisible, and the will needs sensual objects in order to the exercise of its powers. The human spirit is the reflection of the divine, and the recognition of self and the purification of the heart are necessary to an apprehension of God, though even then supernatural help and revelation are needed. The highest aim of contemplation can only be realized "per mentis excessum," caused by the direct operation of grace, or brought about by practice, and consisting in a widening (dilatatio) of the spirit to greater keenness and comprehension, in an elevation (sublevatio) by which it is exalted above itself, but retains its consciousness of external things, or in an alienation or transport (alienatio) in which such consciousness is lost, and a trance-like state ensues, in which present and future are seen in visions. This entire process of contemplation rests on the idea of love to God, and has for its object the recognition of God. There is no hint of an absorption into the Divine Being. The influence of this theory is seen in the tendency of the more distinguished of the scholastics to rate the objects of contemplation above those of dialectics from this time, and in the more or less complete reproduction of the theory itself in the writings of Bonaventura and in the mysticism of Gerson. With Richard of St. Victor the glory of that school came to an end. The first edition of his works appeared in Paris in 1528; reprinted at Lyons in 1534; at Cologne in 1621. The best edition is that of Rouen (1650, fol.). Concerning the MSS. of unprinted works, see the Hist. Lit. de la France, 13, 486. See Schmid, Mysticismus d. Mittelalters (Jena, 1824), p. 308 sq.; Engelhard, R. von St. Victor u. Joh. Ruysbrock (Erlangen, 1838); Liebner, R. a Sto. V. de Contempl. Doctrina (Gott. 1837 and 1839, 4to), pt. 1, 2; Helfferich, Christl. Mystik (Gotha, 1842), 2, 373 sq.; Noack, Christl. Mystik

(Königsb. 1853), 1, 91 sq.; Baur, Christl. Lehre v. d. Dreieinigkeit, 2, 521 sq.

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