More Than a Feeling

“For virtue is nothing else than an affection of the mind ordered according to reason, and such affections are said to be very numerous according to the various inclinations of the same mind, yet having one root and origin, the will.  For one will, according as it inclines itself to various things either by seeking or avoiding, forms various affections, and receives divers names according to the same affections, although, however, all these things are in one will, and are one will.”* 

In this famous early twelfth-century theological text, Hugh explained the nature of virtue.  The interconnection of emotion and reason form the basis of virtue.  Notice, virtue exists when reason controls the affections.  The will must seek or avoid certain things and thus form affections.  According to twelfth-century theologians, how does the will do this?  Simply put: Love.  Twelfth century theologians understood love as the source from which all affections and actions flow.  Bernard of Clairvaux stated that love exists in the emotion and the action and love must shape the will toward feeling or action. When the divine love motivates the will then truly right emotions and good deeds follow.**   

In a devotional work, On the Praise of Charity, Hugh of St Victor extolled the power of love by identifying it as God’s primary motivation for becoming a human being:

“O charity, for you alone were able to draw God down from heaven to earth. O how powerful is your bond, whereby both God could be bound and the human, having been bound, broke the bounds of iniquity! I do not know if I am able to say anything greater in your praise than that you draw God down from heaven and elevate the human from earth to heaven.  Your great virtue is that by means of you God is brought all the way down to earth and the human is exalted all the way up to heaven.”*** 

Hugh followed this section with a meditation on the Incarnation and Passion of Christ.  He described Christ as a man conquered by love as she motivates him to obey his Father’s will.  Love has wounded Christ and therefore wounds his followers deeply in their hearts.  For God is love (caritas). This is the only virtue which is also God Himself and from it flows all of life.  Hugh concludes: 

Charity cures every weakness of the soul.  Charity pulls up all vices by the roots.  Charity is the source of all the virtues.  Charity illumines the mind, purifies the conscience, delights the soul, [and] reveals God.****       


*Hugh of St Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith I.VI.17 (English trans. at p.105) {Emphasis added}

**Bernard, Sermon on Song of Songs 50. II.3 (English trans. vol. 3, p. 31); Bernard On Loving God

***Hugh of St Victor, On the Praise of Charity, trans. Hugh Feiss, OSB, On Love: Victorine Texts in Translation (Hide Park, NY 2012), p. 164.

****Ibid., 166.  


This entry was posted in Bernard of Clairvaux, Christ, Cross, Hugh of St Victor, Incarnation, Love, medieval, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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