Hugh of St. Victor on the Sacred Scriptures

“For the whole Divine Scripture is one Book, and the one Book is Christ, for the whole Divine Scripture speaks of Christ and is fulfilled in Christ.  Our purpose in reading Scripture is that, by gaining knowledge of what He did and said and commended, we may be enabled to do what He told us and receive what He has promised.” Hugh of St. Victor, Noah’s Ark II. 11. in Hugh of Saint-Victor: Selected Spiritual Writings, trans. Religious of C. S. M. V. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1962), p. 86. [Emphasis added]

Hugh of St Victor-1

Hugh taught in Paris during the early twelfth century at the Abbey of St. Victor.  During this era the schools in northern France, especially in Paris, emerged as the most significant schools of theology in Western medieval society. Hugh’s writings demonstrate a combination of the contemplative and early scholastic method to theology.

Hugh followed the Christian tradition established by Christ Himself, St. Paul, and later Augustine of Hippo that the central focus of the Bible is Jesus.  Also, notice what Hugh asserts to be the purpose in reading Scripture: to gain knowledge of Christ’s actions and to  receive His promises.


Posted in Bible, Christ, Hugh of St Victor, teaching, theology | Leave a comment

Luther on Pride of Students

“We have many students here who are so full of knowledge after they have been in Wittenberg half a year that they suppose they are more learned than I am.  When they go out into the country to other people, their knowledge breaks out like a cloudburst.  It seems to weigh a hundred pounds, but if you put it on a scale, it would only weigh an eighth of an ounce.  That is what pride does.  They have learned only a word or two, or they have heard a single word.  Then this becomes pure Adam, all flesh, so that they all apply their knowledge to achieving some pre-eminence [sic].” Martin Luther, “Commentary on Psalm 26,” in Luther’s Works vol. 12, p. 189.

Humility lays the foundation for true learning in the Christian and classical tradition. Many students learn a small amount and become puffed up in their knowledge.  Luther points toward this example of how pride and ambition leads down a path toward destruction.  Pride based on knowledge, especially knowledge of some basic theology, is a dangerous vice.  It can lead to heresy.  As Luther explained: “Other bodily vices are so coarse that we feel them, but this one can always adorn itself with the honor of God and give the impression it has God’s Word on its side.” Ibid., p. 188.


Posted in education, Learning, Martin Luther | 1 Comment

The Strongest Consolation

“Thus the most precious treasure and strongest consolation we Christians have is this: that the Word, the true and natural Son of God, became man, with flesh and blood like that of any other human; that He became incarnate for our sakes in order that we might enter into great glory, that our flesh and blood, skin and hair, hands and feet, stomach and back might reside in heaven as God does, and in order that we might boldly defy the devil and whatever else assails us.  We are convinced that all our members belong in heaven as heirs of heaven’s realm.” Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1—4, in Luther’s Works, vol. 22, p. 110. [Emphasis added]

Dr. Luther taught that the central of the Christian message was the Incarnation, that is, the Word becoming flesh.  However, Luther asserted that the Christ became a human being for the purpose of transforming the lowly bodies (and souls) of believers into something glorious.  This is what Christians confess as the resurrection of the body.

Posted in Christ, Christmas, Martin Luther, theology | Leave a comment

Career Advice from the Renaissance

“To decide which is the most suitable career to himself, a man must take two things into account: the first is his own intelligence, his mind and his body, everything about himself; and the second, the question requiring close considerations, is that of outside supports, the help and resources which are necessary or useful and to which he must have early access, welcome, and free right of use if he is to enter the field for which he seems more suited than for any other.” Leon Battista Alberti, On the Family in Perspectives from the Past: Primary Sources in Western Civilizations, Vol. 1. 5th Ed. (Norton: New York, 2012), p. 391.

Leon Battista Alberti exemplified the ideals of the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth century.  His writings on painting and architecture revolutionized these fields and laid the foundation for other great masters. (Alberti on arts and learning)   He also embodied humanism rooted in the classical and Christian tradition.  However, in this work Alberti examines the ideal Renaissance family.  Here he gives advice on how to decide on one’s career.

Posted in education, Leon Battista Alberti, liberal arts, Renaissance | Leave a comment

Cicero on Just War

“Something else that must very much be preserved in public affairs is the justice of warfare.  There are two types of conflict: the one proceeds by debate, the other by force. Since the former is the proper concern of a man, but the latter of beasts, one should only resort to the latter if one may not employ the former.  Wars, then, ought to be undertaken for this purpose, that we may live in peace, without injustice; and once victory has been secured, those who were not cruel or savage in warfare should be spared.” Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Duties I. 34-35. eds. and trans. M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins (Cambridge 1991), pp. 14-15.

Cicero wrote that humanity’s proper concern is debate, not physical conflict.  This reflects an understanding of human beings as more than mere animals.  However, he recognized that wars were sometimes necessary to keep the peace and preserve justice.  He also pointed out that Roman law prescribed the correct manner by which to wage war.

“Indeed, a fair code of warfare has been drawn up, in full accordance with religious scruple, in the fetial laws of the Roman people.  From this we can grasp that no war is just unless it is waged after a formal demand for restoration, or unless it has been formally announced and declared beforehand. ” Cicero, On Duties I. 36, trans. Griffin and Atkins, pp. 15-16.

The “fetial laws” refers to a group of men, known as the fetiales, who oversaw foreign relations.  This group determined the legitimacy of declaring and waging war. Then they gave an ultimatum for recompense to the potential enemy as Cicero described above.

Posted in Cicero, government, war | Leave a comment

Dr. Luther on War and Peace

“It is indeed a splendid and needful thing to build strong castles against one’s enemies; but that is nothing when compared with the work of a prince who builds a stronghold of peace, that is, loves peace and administers it.  Even the Romans, the greatest warriors on earth, had a saying that to make war without necessity was to go fishing with a golden net: if it was lost, the fishing could not pay for it; if it caught anything, the cost was too much greater than the profit.* One must not begin a war or work for it; it comes unbidden, all too soon.  One must keep peace as long as one can, even though one must buy it with all the money that would be spent on the war or won by the war.  Victory never makes up for what is lost by war.”  Martin Luther, “Commentary on Psalm 82,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 13, pp. 56-57.  [Emphasis added]

*According to footnote 25, this reference to the Roman saying is found in Suetonius, On the Life of the Twelve Caesars, Augustus 25, where the text reads: “He used to say that a war or a battle should not be begun under any circumstances, unless the hope of gain was clearly greater than the fear of loss; for he likened such as grasped at slight gains with no slight risk to those who fished with a golden hook, the loss of which, if it were carried off, could not be made good by any catch.”Life of Augustus

Posted in Martin Luther, war | Leave a comment

The Languages and the Gospel

“Although the gospel came and still comes to us through the Holy Spirit alone, we cannot deny that it came through the medium of languages, was spread abroad by that means, and must be preserved by the same means.  For just when God wanted to spread the gospel throughout the world by means of the apostles he gave the tongues for that purpose [Acts 2:1-11].  Even before that, by means of the Roman Empire he had spread the Latin and Greek languages widely in every land in order that his gospel might the more speedily bear fruit far and wide.  He has done the same thing now as well.  Formerly no one knew why God had the languages, but now for the first time we see that it was done for the sake of the gospel, which he intended to bring to light and use in exposing and destroying the kingdom of Antichrist.” Martin Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 359. [Emphasis added]

Martin Luther understood the significant connection between the study of the classical languages and the proper understanding of the Bible.  In this work (published in 1524) Dr. Luther exhorted civic leaders throughout Germany to establish schools to train future secular rulers and pastors.  Luther asserted that the return of study of classical Latin and Greek laid the foundation for the Reformation.  In 1523 he identified the rebirth of linguistic studies as a forerunner to the Reformation, that is, its John the Baptist Luther on Languages.

Posted in gospel, languages, Martin Luther, teaching | Leave a comment

The Freedom of the Christian

“To make the way smoother for the unlearned—for only them do I serve—I shall set down the following two propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit:                 A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.                                                               A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.                                                 These two theses seem to contradict one each other.  If, however, they should be found to fit together they would serve our purpose beautifully.  Both are Paul’s statement, who says in I Cor. 9 [:19], ‘For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all,’ and in Rom. 13 [:8], “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved.  So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ [Gal. 4:4], and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, ‘in the form of God’ and ‘of a servant’ [Phil. 2:6-7]” Martin Luther, The Freedom of A Christian, in Luther’s Works vol. 31, p. 344

With these words Martin Luther laid the theological foundation for the true Reformation of late medieval theology and practice.  In 1520 Luther clearly expressed a definitive break with the Roman church and late medieval scholastic theology.  In The Freedom of A Christian, which he sent to Pope Leo X with a open letter, Dr. Luther explained how a sinner could obtain true freedom from sin through Christ’s righteousness and express this freedom in love for one’s neighbor.  How does one obtain this freedom?  Luther explained:

“One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom.  That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11 [:25], ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he lives’ [sic]; and Matt. 4 [:4], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Ibid., 345.

However, one receives the Word by faith alone in Christ’s promise.  Dr. Luther concludes: “The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies.  To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching.  Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God.” Ibid., 346.


Posted in Christ, gospel, Martin Luther, theology | Leave a comment

John of Salisbury on Virtue and Happiness

“That purpose towards which all rational creatures turn is true happiness.  For in fact there is no one who does not wish to be happy; but those who desire this do not all advance along a single path.  A single route is laid out for all but it branches into many paths like a king’s highway.  This highway is virtue; for no one advances towards happiness except by way of virtue.  Perhaps one who lacks the works of virtue and is no doubt without works at all is attracted to happiness, but one never advances towards it except along the track of the virtues.  Virtue is, therefore, deserved of happiness; happiness rewards virtue.  And these are the greatest goods (summa bona): the one of the journey, the other of the homecoming.  For nothing surpasses virtue so long as the exile is a foreigner to God; nothing is better than happiness so long as the citizen is ruled by and rejoices with the Lord.” John of Salisbury, Policraticus VII. 8., ed. and trans. Cary J. Nederman (Cambridge 1990), p. 157.

Posted in happiness, John of Salisbury, virtue | Leave a comment

Exaltation of the Cross

“God, who deigned to redeem the human race through the precious blood of Thy only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, graciously grant that whoever approaches to adore the life-giving cross, may be freed from the bonds of their sins.” [My translation] The Sarum Missal, Ed. J. Wickham Legg, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1916), p. 320.

This is the collect recorded in one of the more famous medieval liturgies.  By the twelfth century the feast for the Exaltation of the Cross was a well-established date on the liturgical calendar.  Numerous medieval sermon collections contain homilies for this feast. Here is one example from the early twelfth century:

“This Holy Cross should be venerated by angels and adored by human beings.  Certainly, through the Cross the devil was taken captive, the world was freed, and hell plundered, [while] paradise rejoiced.  All Christian people throughout the world have been invited to the heavenly kingdom.  The celestial homeland exults over the triumph of the Cross, the Church rejoices, [while] the Jewish perfidy falls apart.  Death is laid low by the victory of the Holy Cross….the Holy Cross has become for us the key to heaven [and] the powerful destruction of hell.” [My translation] Honorius Augustodunensis, De exaltatione sanctae crucis [On the Exaltation of the Holy Cross], Patrologia Latina 172: 1001-02.


Posted in Christ, Cross | Leave a comment