The Divine Love
The two treatises De Laude Caritatis and
De Amore Sponsi ad Sponsam

Hugh of St Victor


Translated by A Religious of C.S.M.V.
Edited by Matthew C. Dallman




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III

HIS INVITATION TO HER

Come, O fair one, to Lebanon, from Lebanon. He invites and calls her, for He has come to her, not to remain with her, but to draw her to Himself. Come to Lebanon; come to Lebanon; thou shalt come, thou shalt be crowned. He says come twice in giving His invitation; and the third time he asserts, Thou shalt come. What is the force of this assertion? Surely it is simply the expression of the joy wherewith He rejoices with us in our good intention. It is as though He said, “I praise your obedience, I am not unaware of the devotion that you give to God. I call you, and you will respond; I invite you, and you are prepared. So you will come.”

But why does He say Come twice? So that he who is beyond himself may return to himself, and he who is in himself may rise above himself. He is in use in the first place, and He urges transgressors to return to the own hearts. He is also above us, so that when we have been made righteous He may invite us to Himself. “Come,” He says, “come. Come to yourself from without. Come in, and yet more in. Come wholly in above yourself to Me.”

Come from Lebanon, O bride, come from Lebanon. Come from the Lebanon that has been made white to the Lebanon that has not been made white, but is white. Come from a heart made clean to the Cleanser of hearts, Who is not cleansed but clean. You will not get to Me if you stay in yourself; but rise above yourself, and you will find Me.”

Come, and thou shalt pass over to Mount Seir. Seir means shaggy or hairy. And Seir is the same as Edom, that is Esau. Esau and Jacob were two brothers. (See Gen 25:19–end) Esau was the firstborn, but he was supplanted by Jacob, who was born after him. Esau was a hunter, given over to outdoor pursuits; Jacob was a simply man, who stayed at home. What do the two brothers stand for, if not the two urges that are in every man, the desire of the flesh and the desire of the spirit? The apostle says, Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is carnal. (1 Cor 15:46) Esau, that is, is born first. But when the desire of the spirit gains in vigour, then the desire of the flesh grows weak. Thus Esau’s place is taken by Jacob, the later born.

Again, the desire of the flesh gets that whereon it feeds from outside sources, as did Esau the hunter; but the desire of the spirit finds its delights within, like the simple Jacob. Seir, therefore, the hairy, is the shameful and unseemly impulse of the flesh. And it is well called hairy, for just as hair is rooted in the flesh but grows out beyond it, so does the fleshly instinct arise from necessity, but growing out beyond that it flows further into lust on every side. And just as hair can be cut without pain, but hurts if it is pulled out, so the desire of the flesh in respect of superfluities, being as it were exterior to the instinct, is cut off without loss; but where it is a matter of necessity, which is inside the flesh, as it were, then it cannot be uprooted without injury.

So much for Seir. Now let us see what Mount Seir means. For this Seir has a mountain, and a valley; and it also has a plain; but whereas it is weak in the valley and strong on the plain, on the mountain it is invincible. Seir on the mountain is the desire of the flesh in need; in the plain it is the same desire in sufficiency; and in the valley it is that desire given rein in lust. When the flesh takes only sufficient food to keep it alive, then it is Seir on the mountain. When it takes enough to keep it strong, it is Seir on the plain. But when it asks for luxury and licence, then it is Seir in the valley.

Why is it invincible on the mountain? Because as long as we are in this mortal state, food for the flesh is a necessity. Why is it strong on the plain? Because even a strong body is sometimes useful for the soul’s advance. Why is it weak in the valley? Because it is always superfluous to delight the flesh. So in the valley indulgence of desire is forbidden; in the plain it is allowed; on the mountain it is rewarded. In the valley it is enslaved; in the plain it fights; on the mountain it reigns. In the valley it is luxury; in the plain it is temperance; on the mountain it is austerity. In the valley by the help of grace it is easily trodden underfoot; on the plain it is with difficulty overcome; on the mountain our daily need supplies it with constant powers of resistance, so that is shall not be overcome.

He therefore who cuts off what is superfluous is trampling Seir in the valley. He who makes some reduction in necessary things is conquering Seir on the plain. But he who allows nature only just enough to keep her going renders obedience on Seir the mountain, as the more precise.[1]

You must know, however, that where Seir is easily conquered, there it is most dangerous to let it be the master. But where it is absolutely unconquerable, it cannot be borne without danger.[2]

Come, and thou shalt pass over to Mount Seir and Hermon. Hermon means “his accursed one.” Whose accursed one? The one accursed of the accursed himself, anathema of anathema, so to speak. So we must first consider the meaning of anathema, and then think why the genitive is added. Anathema is separation; anathema of anathema, therefore, means separation of separation. And may if that which has been separated is evil, then it will be a good thing to be separated from the separated thing. But what could be better described as anathema, accursed, separation, than the apostate angel? For he through pride at the beginning separated himself from the fellowship of the heavenly city, having deserved this by his offence. And being cut off from the unity of that body, because he did not want to be a member of the Head, he thus became himself the head of all the wicked. But we know that, whereas every mean is a member of this head according to his first begetting, whereby he is both conceived and born in sin, each one of the other hand who through the mysteries of faith has been reborn and made a member of Christ is separated from the unity of the aforesaid body. Anathema, the accursed, the separated, therefore denotes the devil and his members; but the anathema of anathema, the cursed of the cursed and the separated from the separated, are those who have been separated form the body of the devil and made the members of Christ.

That is the significance of Hermon. Now let us consider the meaning of Mount Hermon. For what we said just now of Seir is true of Hermon, too; some are the mountain, some the plain, and some the valley. Those can be called the valley of Hermon, who have indeed through faith been separated from the devil, yet through their carnal life lie prostrate still in very low desires. The plain of Hermon is the faithful who, keeping a certain mean, have neither been dragged to the depths through the lusts of the flesh, nor have the power to reach the heights through spiritual converse. And the mountain of Hermon is those who have not only been separated from the devil by faith, but also through their outstanding virtue and their steadfastness of mind have risen up in active opposition to him. And these, who he sees to be not only separated from himself, but also risen up against him, are of a truth the ones whom the old enemy detests the most. It is these, therefore, these whom he perceives not only to have left him but to be fighting against him, whom he strives to crush by ceaseless persecution. So the more they show their individual hostility to the common enemy of all, the worse will be the tribulations that they often bear.

We cannot, therefore, give a better interpretation of Mount Seir than the austerity[3] of the saints, not of Mount Hermon than of their endurance.

It goes on, from the lions’ lairs. How otherwise shall we interpret the lions’ lairs than as fierceness asleep? And what is fierceness asleep, but the ruthless lust of the flesh, which delights its victims for the moment certainly, when they indulge it, but subsequently tortures them, through conscience first and then through punishment. Let Solomon tell you how the penalty of future condemnation “sleeps” in fleshly lust indulged.

The lips of the harlot, he says,
Drop as a honeycomb,
and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But her latter things are bitter as wormwood,
and her tongue as sharp as a two-edged sword.
[4]

Again, the Lord says to blessed Job about the ancient enemy:

He sleepth under the shadow,
in the covert of the reed,
and in the moist places.
(Job 40:21)

For the devil tarries in hearts that, being cold within for want of the warmth of divine love, are swimming outwardly in a stream of fleshly lusts; and the pleasures that seem mild enough while they are being indulged in will be felt as fierce afterwards, when they receive their punishment.

It goes on, from the leopards’ mountains. A leopard is the offspring of a lion and a pard or panther. The lion is fierce and the panther is spotted. So if the lion because of its fierceness stands for the evil spirits, then the panther because of its diversity fittingly denotes the heretics, who by shattering the unity of the faith with their various distorted doctrines as it were defile the body with spots. Who are the leopards, then, but the proud lover of this present world, whom the devil first makes traitors to the faith through heretical teaching, and then inflames to vices through love of this world? The leopards’ mountains are the riches and pomps of this world; they pride themselves on these, and rail the more bitterly at the life of the elect when they behold them brought low and themselves exalted in the world. Rightly, therefore, does the Bridegroom say to the bride,

Come, and thou shalt pass over to Mount Seir and Hermon,
from the lions’ lairs, from the leopards’ mountains.


And what is the force of “from the lions’ lairs” and “to Mount Seir”? Surely it means from lack of self-control to chastity, from self-indulgence to austerity. And what is the meaning of “from the leopards’ mountains” to Mount Hermon? Surely it means from pride to humility, and from fierceness to gentleness.

Observe, too, that He says “from the lairs” and “from the mountains” in the plural, but “to the mountain” in the singular. It is from the lairs to the mountain, and from the mountains to the mountain—that is, our progress is from the many to the One. For the more we try to draw near to God by fleeing the world, the more we are gathered together into the One. Which may He grant us evermore to be.

AMEN.

[1] Another difficult passage. Qui autem ad sustentamentum tantum naturae necessaria tribuit, quasi Seir in monte exactiori obsequium reddit. I do not understand the meaning of exactiori here. Exigentiori, more demanding, asking something that cannot be refused, would give some sense; but that is not the word!
[2] Hugh next discusses the alternative reading of Savir for Seir, Savir meaning either “night-bird” or “stench.” As this adds nothing to his exposition, I have left it out.
[3] This seems the nearest we can get to parsimonia, and rather better than “frugality.”
[4] Pr 5:3f. A quotation from Pr 9:16–18 follows in the text, but it is so confused that I have left it out.



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