2010-2011 School Year Resolution III (via Hugh of St. Victor)

Who was Hugh of St. Victor?  Living in the 12th century, he was a theologian and monk at the Abbey of St. Victor where flourished "a happy synthesis" between monastic scriptural study and scholastic theology.  "Happy synthesis" are Pope Benedict's words from his address on Hugh of St. Victor (25 November 2009).  Continues Pope Benedict: 

According to Hugh of St. Victor, all sciences, in addition to being useful to understand the Scriptures, have value in themselves and should be cultivated to enhance man's learning, and also to correspond to his desire to know the truth. This healthy intellectual curiosity induced him to recommend to students that they never stifle the desire to learn and -- in his treatise on the methodology of learning and pedagogy, titled significantly Didascalicon (on teaching) -- he recommended: "Learn happily from everyone what you do not know. He will be the wisest of all who has desired to learn something from all. He who receives something from everyone, ends us by being the richest of all" (Eruditiones Didascalicae, 3,14: PL 176,774).

So Hugh of St. Victor was first student, then teacher.  The Didascalicon outlines the proper attitudes and virtues of the student, which follow below in my synthesized outline form.  His wisdom is perennial--worth thinking about.  If you were a student, what would you do differently?  If you were leading the young, what would you change?
In outline form:
There are three basic qualities necessary for and characteristic of the life of study: disciplina, exercitum, and natura [1].

I. Disciplina, which combines moral behavior with knowledge and has three parts:

a. Humility, which demands three things:

i. That a student hold neither knowledge nor writing as vile.
ii. That a student never scorn to learn from someone.
iii. That a student, when he is proficient, not condemn others.

b. Quietness of life “so that the mind does not wander . . . [and] so that peace and opportunity suffice for honest and useful studies.” [2]  This includes both interior and exterior quiet.

c. Frugality, since gluttony and soft living do not prepare one for the arduous labor good study demands.[3]

II. Exercitum, or the habits of good study which cultivate our natural abilities (three habits)

a. Detachment--because he who pines for home or friends cannot engross himself in study.

b. Eagerness to inquire--which implies hard work and a love to learn. If a student tires easily from the early complexity of study, he will find the heights of wisdom even more irksome.

c. Scrutiny--which looks for the most efficient way to study: “in every affair, two things are necessary, clearly work and a plan for the work . . . [without it] he is, as it is said, always learning, never reaching knowledge.”[4]

III. Natura, or a good memory and a good mind, and the blessing to be able to afford study.
(which Hugh admits is often beyond our control.  Natura is a grace.)
In short: “the good student ought to be humble and tamed, detached from inane cares and sensual diversions, diligent and sedulous so that he learns freely from all things, never presumes upon his own knowledge, flees authors of perverse doctrine like poison, learns to consider a matter long before he judges, seeks not to appear learned but to be so, loves grasped words of the wise, and studies to hold these things to the heart of his eyes as a true mirror of his countenance.”[5]

The Didascalicon is available here in Latin (free) or here in English.
[1] Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon de studio legendi, prepared with commentary by Charles Henry Buttimer (Ph.D. dissertation, The Catholic University of America, 1939), 57. Book III.6.
[2] Hugh, Buttimer text, 67. Book III.16.
[3] Hugh, Buttimer text, 68-69. Book III.18.
[4] Hugh, Buttimer text, 103-104. Book V.5.
[5] Hugh, Buttimer text, 64. Book III.13.



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