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

Back to Contents



We recognize the praise of charity already in so many, that it may seem, perhaps, a thing presumptuous, rather than pious, on my part if I begin to say somewhat in praise thereof. For from the world’s beginning, who was there of the saints who did not display the grace of charity, either by word or deed? Charity made a martyr of Abel (Gen 4:1–15), and charity led Abraham (Gen 12:1–9) out of his own country; for through charity the one suffered death when he had done no wrong, and the other of his own will forsook the native soil; and both of them through charity exchanged earth for heaven. It is charity alone which from the beginning has persuaded the servants of God to flee the attractions of this world, to trample on their passions, to curb the lust of the flesh, to subdue their desires, to despise honours, and at the last to spurn all pleasures of this present life and also, through their longing for the life that lasts, not to fear death itself.

This power of love Paul had experienced when he said:

Who shall separate us from the love of God?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,
or hunger, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
For my hope is that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor might, nor heights, nor depth,
nor any creature,
shall be able to separate us from the charity of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:35, 38f)

For the same reason the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs exhorts the Bride about the virtue of love, saying:

Set Me as a seal upon thine heart,
set Me as a seal upon thine arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is hard as hell.
(S. of S. 8:6) [1]

For death quenches the living, but hell has no mercy even for the dead. And love is strong as death, for it destroys the longing of fleshly desire, just as death destroys the flesh’s power of feeling. Jealousy is hard as hell, for it compels those who are inwardly drawn by longing after things eternal not only to spurn pleasures, but also to endure all harsh and thwarting things in order to obtain the object of their love.

Let us consider through how many torments the martyrs made their passage to the heavenly kingdom. What a mighty fire of love it was the burned in them, as we believe, since we behold them for the sake of God not sparing their own selves! Let us consider what it was that they renounced, what they pursued, and whither they passed over. We see what renounced; what they pursued we see not, but believe; and whither they have gone, that we have heard. They renounced temporal good, they pursued those eternal, through torments they passed on.

Now let us look at our own heart, and see if it agrees to our forsaking all things pertaining to this world, to our not loving glory, nor honour, nor rejoicing in things fair. Lord, Thine eyes have seen mine imperfection. (Ps 139:15) How far removed do I behold myself to be, I will not say from that perfection, but from even its first beginning! And indeed for the friends of God it was not enough that they should spurn these benefits for love of things eternal and tread them underfoot; having renounced them all, and hastening with eagerness to their self-offering, they could not be deterred by threats, nor yet by torments. Charity drew them; so neither did cupidity withdraw them, nor suffering frighten them off. They ran, therefore; they left the world behind, for they had God in front.

But tortures were applied to test them, alike as to the depth of their desire for God and as to the steadfastness with which they set the world at nought. Truth was put to the test, charity was proved, iniquity was put to shame. Fearless they came to the tortures, and their flesh outwardly despised its wounds according as their inward heart had felt the wound of love. They came, and they passed over; and dying, they confessed what the desire was wherewith they ran, while yet they lived.

O charity, how flavoursome you were to them, how sweet to those whom you compelled to bear such great things for your sake! With cords you drew them to you, and you could not lose them, although the world with its allurements would have drawn them back, and with the pains that it inflicted would have driven them away. They ran together, for you drew them; they passed over, because you helped them; they came through, because you received them. How unquenchably you burned in their hearts, for you could not be overcome by reproaches, nor yet by bribes, nor yet by sufferings! Like rivers in flood, those things swept down on them; but many rivers, many waters, could not quench charity. (Cf. S. of S. 8:7)

[1] The Latin aemulatio is used here in a good sense, which the English “jealousy” lacks, except where it is used with reference to God in the Old Testament.