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Richard of St. Victor

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Theologian, native of Scotland, but the date and place of his birth are unknown; d. 1173 and was commemorated on 10 March in the necrology of the abbey. He was professed at the monastery of St. Victor under the first Abbot Gilduin (d. 1155) and was a disciple of the great mystic Hugo whose principles and methods he adopted and elaborated. His career was strictly monastic, and his relations with the outer world were few and slight. He was sub-prior of the monastery in 1159, and subsequently became prior. During his tenure of the latter office, serious trouble arose in the community of St. Victor from the misconduct of the English Abbot Ervisius, whose irregular life brought upon him a personal admonition from Alexander III, and was subsequently referred by the pope to a commission of inquiry under the royal authority; after some delay and resistance on the part of the abbot his resignation was obtained and he retired from the monastery. A letter of exhortation was addressed by the pope to "Richard, the prior" and the community in 1170. Richard does not appear to have taken any active part in these proceedings, but the disturbed condition of his surroundings may well have accentuated his desire for the interior solace of mystical contemplation. Ervisius's resignation took place in 1172. In 1165, St. Victor had been visited by St. Thomas of Canterbury, after his flight from Northampton; and Richard was doubtless one of the auditors of the discourse delivered by the archbishop on that occasion. A letter to Alexander III, dealing with the affairs of the archbishop, and signed by Richard is extant and published by Migne. Like his master, Hugo, Richard may probably have had some acquaintance and intercourse with St. Bernard, who is thought to have been the Bernard to whom the treatise "De tribus appropriatis personis in Trinitate" is addressed. His reputation as a theologian extended far beyond the precincts of his monastery, and copies of his writings were eagerly sought by other religious houses. Exclusively a theologian, unlike Hugo, he appears to have had no interest in philosophy, and took no part in the acute philosophical controversies of his time; but, like all the School of St. Victor, he was willing to avail himself of the didactic and constructive methods in theology which had been introduced by Abelard. Nevertheless, he regarded merely secular learning with much suspicion, holding it to be worthless as an end in itself, and only an occasion of worldly pride and self-seeking when divorced from the knowledge of Divine things. Such learning he calls, in the antithetical style which characterizes all his writing, "Sapientia insipida et doctrina indocta"; and the professor of such learning is "Captator famae, neglector conscientiae". Such worldly-minded persons should stimulate the student of sacred things to greater efforts in his own higher sphere—"When we consider how much the philosophers of this world have laboured, we should be ashamed to be inferior to them"; "We should seek always to comprehend by reason what we hold by faith."

His works fall into the three classes of dogmatic, mystical, and exegetical. In the first, the most important is the treatise in six books on the Trinity, with the supplement on the attributes of the Three Persons, and the treatise on the Incarnate Word. But greater interest now belongs to his mystical theology, which is mainly contained in the two books on mystical contemplation, entitled respectively "Benjamin Minor" and "Benjamin Major", and the allegorical treatise on the Tabernacle. He carries on the mystical doctrine of Hugo, in a somewhat more detailed scheme, in which the successive stages of contemplation are described. These are six in number, divided equally among the three powers of the soul — the imagination, the reason, and the intelligence, and ascending from the contemplation of the visible things of creation to the rapture in which the soul is carried "beyond itself" into the Divine Presence, by the three final stages of "Dilatio, sublevatio, alienatio". This schematic arrangement of contemplative soul-states is substantially adopted by Gerson in his more systematic treatise on mystical theology, who, however, makes the important reservation that the distinction between reason and intelligence is to be understood as functional and not real. Much use is made in the mystical treatises of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture for which the Victorine school had a special affection. Thus the titles "Benjamin Major" and "Minor" refer to Psalm 67, "Benjamin in mentis excessu". Rachel represents the reason, Lia represents charity; the tabernacle is the type of the state of perfection, in which the soul is the dwelling-place of God. In like manner, the mystical or devotional point of view predominates in the exegetical treatises; though the critical and doctrinal exposition of the text also receives attention. The four books entitled "Tractatus exceptionum", and attributed to Richard, deal with matters of secular learning. Eight titles of works attributed to him by Trithemius (De Script. Eccl.) refer probably to manuscript fragments of his known works. A "Liber Penitentialis" is mentioned by Montfauçon as attributed to a "Ricardus Secundus a Sancto Victore", and may probably be identical with the treatise "De potestate solvendi et ligandi" above mentioned. Nothing is otherwise known of a second Richard of St. Victor. Fifteen other manuscripts are said to exist of works attributed to Richard which have appeared in none of the published editions, and are probably spurious. Eight editions of his works have been published: Venice, 1506 (incomplete) and 1592; Paris, 1518 and 1550; Lyons, 1534; Cologne, 1621; Rouen, 1650, by the Canons of St. Victor; and by Migne.


HUGONIN, Notice sur R. de St. Victor in P.L., CXCVI; ENGELHARDT, R. von St. Victor u. J. Ruysbroek (Erlangen, 1838); VAUGHAN, Hours uith the Mystics V (London, 1893); INGE, Christian Mysticism (London, 1898); DE WULF, Histoire de la philosophie medievale (Louvain, 1905); BUONAMICI, R. di San Vittore saggi di studio sulla filosofia mistica del secolo XII (Alatri, 1898); VON HUGEL, The Mystical Element in Religion (London, 1909); UNDERHILL, Mysticism (London, 1911).

About this page

APA citation. Sharpe, A. (1912). Richard of St. Victor. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Sharpe, Alfred. "Richard of St. Victor." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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