Three Are the Perfection of Charity
The De Trinitate of Richard of St. Victor


"In contemplation more than human": thus in his Paradiso Dante spoke of the twelfth-century spiritual writer Richard of St. Victor.1 Although Richard was best known and most influential as a writer on Christian spirituality, he was also the author of several works of theology, the most original of which was his De Trinitate.2

The nature of love, relationships among the divine persons, human psychology as a mirror of divine reality: all of these topics, though of interest in spirituality, figure in the De Trinitate in the context of a theology of the Trinity. And an interesting trinitarian theology it is, for although Richard was firmly rooted in Augustine and the Western tradition of the Church, yet he lays a strong emphasis on the persons of the Trinity. Though he stresses the equality and symmetry of the persons, the "geometry" of Richard's doctrine of the Trinity is not that of a triangle but rather that of a straight line: a line, moreover, to whose structure the filioque is integral! And out of the understanding of divine love which is the foundation of Richard's approach, there emerges also an interesting understanding of the fully personal nature of the Holy Spirit.3 Indeed, at the root of Richard's project is a profound vision of the inherently triune mutuality of this divine love:

That love must be mutual is required by the fact that supreme happiness cannot exist without the mutuality of love... a further analysis of the nature of true charity reveals that three persons, not two, are necessary. For charity to be excellent, as well as perfect, it must desire that the love it experiences be a love shared with another... Thus charity is not only mutual love between two; it is fully shared love among three.4
Our study of the De Trinitate of Richard of St. Victor, then, will be not merely a look into a trinitarian theology of some originality and interest, but also an exploration of a voice from within the Western tradition which speaks of the Trinity with a fuller emphasis on the three divine persons.

The Victorine Tradition

The Abbey of Saint Victor was located near the left bank of the River Seine, just outside the walls of Paris, where William of Champeaux had retired to a solitary life in 1108 after his experiences at the hands of his pupil Peter Abelard. Despite his wish for a life of quiet contemplation, William soon found himself surrounded by students, and the Order of St. Victor was granted its charter in 1113, the same year in which William became a bishop and his prior Gilduin became abbot of the new Order. Under Gilduin, who according to tradition was also responsible for the Liber Ordinis of the Order of St. Victor, life at the Abbey assumed the shape in which it was to have an impact on Richard and his fellow Victorines.5

The Order retained from William an orientation toward contemplation and the exploration of spiritual development. It also acquired a reputation as a center for scholarship, and the application of reason to the analysis of spiritual life soon became a hallmark of Victorine thought. Baron, drawing on the Liber Ordinis, gives a portrait of "daily life at St. Victor": the two most prominent activities were the full round of regular hours of the divine office which the community observed, and the study and intellectual endeavor in which the community engaged.6 The rest of the communal life was structured around these two poles, which themselves were as one. Zinn notes:

Preaching also was essential at St. Victor. Richard preached, and so did many others, in liturgical settings and at the daily chapter meetings. These sermons were undoubtedly the source of a good bit of Victorine teaching, as one can see by examining the collections of sermons we possess.7
Moreover, what bound this entire life of worship and study together was an insistence on the practice of charity among the persons of the monastic community.8

Richard was not the only famous writer that the Victorine community produced. Among several others, at least as well known as Richard was Hugh of St. Victor, to whom Richard himself referred as "the principal theologian of our time."9

Of the life of Richard of St. Victor we know very little. Born in Scotland, he entered the Abbey of St. Victor as a young man.10 He was named subprior in 1159, and in 1162 prior. He remained in this post until his death in 1173, spending several years under the abbacy of the incompetent Ernisius, who after investigations was removed by the pope in 1171.11

Nor can we provide a chronology for Richard's writings. In addition to the De Trinitate, he was known for such mystical writings as the Benjamin Minor or Twelve Patriarchs, the Benjamin Major or Mystical Ark, and the Four Degrees of Violent Charity. The De Trinitate seems to be a work of Richard's later years, written probably toward the end of his life; the style, the structure, the content all bear witness to the workings of a mature theological life.12

An Overview of the De Trinitate13

The De Trinitate of Richard of St. Victor is a highly structured work, divided into a prologue and six books of twenty-five chapters each. As befits a work in the Western trinitarian tradition, the first two books deal with the one God: our knowledge of God, the unity of God, the divine attributes.14 The third book, the most original in the work, deals from the perspective of love with the necessity of there being precisely three persons in the Godhead. The fourth book establishes by subtle analysis a suitable definition for the word "person," compatible with the unity of God. The very striking arguments of the fifth book lay out the "geometry" of the divine perfections, while the sixth and final book deals with the various names of the three divine persons.

Richard's style of argumentation throughout is highly abstract, rational but not rationalistic: his quest for "necessary reasons" regarding the Trinity is an act of fides quaerens intellectum, a characteristically Victorine mixture of reason and spirituality.15 This approach is clearly set forth in the brief prologue to the De Trinitate, which Salet sums up as follows:

From faith, which is the foundation and origin of everything good, we ought with all our ardor to rise to the understanding of faith, climbing from the visible to spiritual realities, and to the Eternal himself.16

Book One: The Divine Substance

Richard opens by stating that there are three ways for human beings to gain knowledge: experience, reason, and faith. By experience, we grasp the temporal; by reason and faith, that which is eternal. If we hold firmly to faith, then by reason we can gain a deeper understanding of the truths of faith.17 It is this supremely joyful search for understanding of the eternal which Richard proposes to undertake, "by means of reasons not merely plausible, but truly necessary."18 For since what is eternal is necessary, it seems impossible that there should not be necessary reasons pertaining to it.19

Setting forth briefly what the faith teaches concerning God,20 Richard begins his search by noting that there are three modes of being: that of what is not eternal, and thus does not have being from itself; that of what is from itself, and so is eternal; and that of what is eternal without having being from itself.21 The first is the mode of being of creation;22 the second belongs to God, whose necessity is seen in the contingency of the first mode;23 the third, a hint of topics to come, also pertains to God.24 It is eternal being in these latter two modes with which Richard proposes to concern himself.25

Eternal being must be a rational substance, than which nothing is greater, and than which nothing is better.26 And this supreme substance must be unique, for it alone is supreme wisdom and supreme power, excluding all else equal or superior to itself.27 It is God and God alone who possesses deity, who is this supreme substance, and thus God is necessarily one in substance. Thus, there is one and only one God,28 whose wisdom and power constitute one absolute perfection:29 not merely the One than whom nothing is wiser or more powerful, but the One who is omniscient and omnipotent.30 And omnipotence and omniscience, argues Richard, are unique to God.31

Book Two: The Divine Attributes

Having dealt with the unity of God, says Richard, it remains to deal with the attributes of God's nature, "above all with those we encounter daily in divine worship."32

Richard starts with what is most easily understood: God is uncreated. Thus God is sempiternal, with neither beginning nor end, since he is unchanging truth.33 And since God, already perfect, can neither increase nor diminish, he is incorruptible, hence immutable, hence by sempiternity eternal.34 But God is infinite not only by eternity but also by magnitude, hence God is also immense.35 And there is a unique being who is immense, eternal, and uncreated.36 But then all else that is must be created, and have its being only by a gratuitous act of this uncreated being.37

Since (I.xvii) divinity is incommunicable, so then are the divine attributes since they are equivalent to the divine being.38 Thus, we cannot apply terms such as wisdom and power univocally to God and to humanity, but only in an equivocal sense.39

Not only is there but one God, there is also but one Lord, who due to his sovereign power is not lacking in any good or perfection;40 but since this Lord is God, he is his own highest good and absolute perfection.41 However, since God is indivisibly and immutably one, this good and perfection which pertain to God are thus simple, in "true and complete unity.42 Thus all God's attributes are one. To the creaturely mind, this divine simplicity is in its grandeur "incomprehensible and altogether impenetrable," though as Richard argues with many colorful illustrations, precisely because this grandeur is simple, something of it can be scaled down to be glimpsed within the creature's finite field of vision, "as in a glass darkly."43

In the light of this divine simplicity, Richard considers more carefully what it can mean to speak of the divine "substance." The term substance seems to imply accidents, and thus seems inappropriate to God; but so too divine attributes such as goodness or immensity seem to refer to qualitative or quantitative accidents. But if we will remember that these attributes are equivalent to God's incomprehensible simplicity, we will glimpse by analogy the sense in which we can speak of the ineffable divine substance.44 And in this paradoxical sense we may point to how God can be in all places and at all times, undergirding all the manifold and diverse qualities of his various creatures, and yet be bound by neither place nor time nor quality, the one omnipotent God for whom to will is to do; of whom, though God be ineffable, we may in this paradoxical sense properly speak.45

Book Three: Plurality and Trinity in God

In his third book Richard deals for the first time with the persons of the Trinity, and introduces his original perspective on divine love, or charity.

God, who is supreme perfection and goodness, cannot be lacking in supreme charity. But charity cannot be without more than one person, and for it to be supreme charity these persons must be condignus, "equally worthy." Thus there is in God a plurality of divine persons.46 And this charity is the fullness, not only of God's goodness, but also of God's happiness and God's glory, since God is the One than whom nothing is better, than whom nothing is more joyful, than whom nothing is more glorious. Goodness, happiness, and glory thus give "triple testimony" to the plurality of divine persons.47

Since God is immutable, these persons must be coeternal; and since they are worthy to share supreme charity, they must also share in everything supreme equality and supreme similitude: equally omnipotent, equally immense, equally divine; yet since the divine substance is one, "only one omnipotent, one eternal, one immense, only one God and Lord."48 If this plurality of persons in unity of substance seems incomprehensible, Richard recommends as a contrast the human being, in whom plurality of substances-- body and soul-- constitute a unity of person.49

A plurality of persons may be only a duality. Yet supreme charity, if it is to be perfect as well as supreme, calls for more than mere duality, as supreme goodness, happiness, and glory again bear triple testimony.50 For a single person in the Godhead would be solitary, with none with whom to share his love; but likewise, two persons in the Godhead, though they shared mutual charity, would lack the perfection of that charity which can be only by sharing their love with a third: perfect divine love must be "condilection," love shared with a third.51

It might seem that power and wisdom could exist in God with only a single person; happiness, with only two; but the perfection of charity requires that all this be consummated in being shared with a third:

When one person gives love to another and he alone loves only the other, there certainly is love (dilectio) but it is not a shared love (condilectio). When two love each other mutually and give to each other the affection of supreme longing; when the affection of the first goes out to the second and the affection of the second goes out to the first and tends as it were in diverse ways-- in this case there certainly is love (dilectio) on both sides, but it is not shared love (condilectio). Shared love (condilectio) is properly said to exist when a third person is loved by two persons harmoniously and in community, and the affection of the two persons is fused into one affection by the flame of love for a third. From these things it is evident that shared love (condilectio) would have no place in Divinity itself if a third person were lacking to the other two persons.52
A vestige of this can be seen in the fact that even human community is incomplete without a third person, argues Richard. In the divine condilection is found the concord, the confederation, of consocial love.53

All that has been affirmed of the plurality of persons, concerning their equality in everything, is to be affirmed of the three persons as well. As with three identical gold statues we would say one gold in three statues, so, but in an incomprehensible manner, the three persons are supremely coequal, "one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity."54

Book Four: The Persons

Richard turns next to a more careful consideration of the word "person"; for, as he admits, it seems incredible that there can be a plurality of persons in unity of substance. Historically, this stumbling block has been the occasion of many heresies, even though vestiges of this incomprehensible truth impose themselves on our human experience.55

Richard rejects the Eastern term "hypostasis": he suspects in it "a certain poison," notes that "we are not Greeks," and complains that a term such as "substance" ought not to be complemented by another term at least as obscure! Richard registers his opinion that the Western Church has been led to use the word "person" under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.56 The only question to be answered is, "What does it mean?"

A word denoting substance may signify a more generic or a more specific property; with the word "person," what is signified is "an individual, singular, incommunicable property."57 Substance answers "what?" by categorizing something with a common property; person answers "who?" by giving a name or its equivalent through a singular property.58 Thus to name someone is implicitly to name a substance of reasonable nature, though in the case of God plurality of such personal properties does not imply plurality of substance, since the persons share one simple and hence indivisible being.59

Richard dissects the word "person" into two components: the mode of being, or nature, which one more generically or more specifically possesses; and the mode of obtaining being, or "obtention" (obtinentia), which is the principle of one's origin. Likewise, the word "existence" can be dissected: to "sist" (sistere) is to "be" in a given mode of being; to "ex-sist" (ex-) is to "be out from," to "be" with regard to the mode of origin of one' s being.60 To be a person solely by qualitative difference, solely by mode of being, is angelic personhood; to be a person solely by obtention, by "being out from," is divine personhood; to be a person according to both senses at once is human personhood.61

These distinctions enable Richard to speak with precision of the divine persons as incommunicable existences distinguished by mode or origin or by obtention, and of the divine substance as the common existence, the one simple mode of being (in the sense of sistere) which these three possess in common. Every personal property in God is incommunicable, and each divine person is nothing other than an incommunicable existence.62 Thus, we can speak of several existences without compromising the unity of substance.63

Richard compares his definition to others in use, and closes with further meditations on the personhood of God, human beings, and angels.64

Book Five: The Processions

Having defined precisely what he means by a divine person, Richard finds that his next step is to construct a "geometry" among the persons. His approach is striking: not only is his argument at times almost mathematical in tone, but the trinitarian "geometry" which results is that of a "straight line," albeit unmistakably Western in flavor! Richard lays out his guiding assumptions: the happiness of the Godhead necessitates the most "delectable" relationship possible among the persons; supreme beauty demands a perfectly harmonious ordering of the personal properties.65

There must be one and only one person who exists from himself and none other: at least one, else there would be an infinite regression of divine persons, each holding being from the one preceeding; at most one, since two distinct such persons must each possess his own power in all its fullness, dividing the divine power contrary to simplicity. This constitutes an incommunicable existence for precisely one person in the Godhead, identical to the mode of existence described in as that of existing eternally and from oneself. To exist eternally but not from oneself, also mentioned in, is a divine mode of existence as well-- namely, procession-- but it is common to the other divine persons and so not an incommunicable existence.66

To proceed further, Richard distinguishes three kinds of procession: immediate procession, mediate procession, and procession both mediate and immediate.67 The first procession in the Godhead must be immediate alone, else this second person would have no relationship in which to stand with the first person; and there must be at least one such person immediately processed, else there could be no plurality of persons.68 The third person proceeds both mediately and immediately, from both the other persons and not just from one; for the first person communicates fully to the second person everything not incommunicable, and this includes the power to give being and power to other persons of the Trinity!69

There can be no purely mediate procession, likewise no fourth person. The second and third persons are each unique in their individual modes of procession, hence the mode of procession of each constitutes his incommunicable existence. Thus Richard arrives at a characterization of the three divine persons: One who proceeds from none and is source of another; One who proceeds from another and is source of another; One who proceeds from another and is source of none. Richard notes that the third is in a sense complementary to the first, with the second as a middle term between them.70

Relating all this to his treatment of charity from Book III, Richard lists three kinds of love: purely gratuitous love, purely indebted love, and a mixed love, both indebted and gratuitous. The love of the first person is purely gratuitous, receiving from none and giving to the other two. The love of the second person is mixed, receiving from the first and also giving to the third. The love of the third person is purely indebted, receiving from the other two and giving to none. That there are three persons in one God thus means precisely that these three share one love (which is God's being), each in the mode of love unique to that person.71 Each mode of love is perfectly equal to the others, each person loves the other two precisely for the modes of love proper to those persons, and thus among the three there is the supreme perfection of divine love.72

Book Six: The Names of the Persons

The final book, lengthy and rather disordered, does not quite seem to fit with the first five. It has been suggested that Richard did not have this book in final form at his death, and that his rough draft was appended to the De Trinitate more or less as it was.73

Richard considers the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as the name "Word" for the Son and "Gift" for the Spirit. He also concerns himself with the Son as image of the Father and as the Only-begotten, and with the attribution of power, wisdom, and goodness to Father, Son, and Spirit respectively.74

Perhaps most interesting in Book VI is Richard's characteristic explanation of the name "Gift" for the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, "fire divine," is God's "Gift" to believers because it is through the Spirit that God's love is in them, and since they are altogether the recipients of God's love, and the love appropriate to the Spirit is amor debitus, purely receptive love, this is precisely fitting.75

Analysis and Conclusions

A constellation of influences come together in Richard to shape a theology of the Trinity which is nonetheless highly original. We are now in a position to sum up some of the forces at work in Richard's thought, and to zero in on the landmarks from which one can map out the entire shape of Richard's trinitarian theology.

Richard seldom quotes directly, from Scripture or from other theologians.76 But by now we can see unmistakably the imprint on Richard, as on his entire era, of one theologian: Augustine. Richard borrows or adapts terminology, turns of phrase, arguments, and entire illustrations from Augustine's writings, and the intellectual climate at St. Victor contributed as well to an Augustinian cast of mind. Richard moves beyond or around Augustine on charity, the divine persons, psychological analogies; but even here over everything the Augustinian shadow falls.77

On Augustine's Neo-platonism "the Dionysian influence is superimposed and in part assimilated," largely, no doubt, through Hugh of St. Victor's commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius.78 Ribaillier attributes to this Richard's recurrent fascination with triads, threefold categorizations based on two pairs of opposites, arrangements in which one aspect is a middle term between two others.79

Anselm's impact is also present, especially in the quo majus cogitari non potest. Yet although Richard, much like Anselm, is carrying out a rational search from within the perspective of faith, Richard fills what he borrows from Anselm with more of a mystic's fire, wielding it under the double aspect of a quo majus and a quo melius.80

Richard shows himself aware of other figures as well: Gregory the Great, highly popular at St. Victor as an accessible complement to Augustine;81 Boethius, used among other purposes as a foil for Richard's concept of person;82 and many of the Church fathers, more those of the West than of the East.83

The Athanasian Creed echoes throughout the De Trinitate, a reminder that Richard wrote in the context of the worship community at St. Victor wherein, in the life of common charity stressed at the Abbey, Richard may have encountered a "human vestige" of what became his key concept of condilection.84

And on a cultural level we may note that the idea of love was "in the air" in much of the thought and literature of the twelfth century.85

For it is Richard's concept of divine love which is the most notable aspect of his trinitarian theology, and for this reason it is Book III that is the keystone of the De Trinitate. To this, we would argue, one must append Richard's treatment of the divine persons and processions. Richard integrates these topics of his fourth and fifth books seamlessly into the horizon of love in a way he does not fully achieve with his first two books, whose keynote really is that of substance.86

Love is the key to Richard's theology of the Trinity, and the key to his understanding of love is condilection: supreme charity is perfected only when two share their mutual charity with a third. Following Augustine's trinitarian analyses, it was possible to see how love is necessarily plural; however, as Dumeige puts it:

There were three terms with Saint Augustine: the lover, the beloved, the love; but Richard's conception is starkly different. His attention is directed entirely toward personal relations. Each is at once lover and beloved.87
Under Richard's concept of condilection, perfect divine love could be seen to involve not simply a lover, a beloved, and the vinculum caritatis between them, but rather charity shared among three self-evident persons.88 One result of this, something rare in any theology of the Trinity, is that the Holy Spirit stands forth clearly as a person in Richard's work, co-equal with the Father and the Son, in a clear and "natural" manner.89 From another angle, condilection yields as a corollary something akin to coinherence of the persons: "each is at once lover and beloved," with the third perfecting the love, each participating in turn with the other two, according to the mode of love peculiar to that person.90

These persons are in Richard at once strongly co-equal and strongly distinguishable from one another. Co-equality follows from the emphasis upon the condignity of the persons which is necessary both to dilection and to condilection. Distinguishability follows even more strongly from Richard's fundamentally relational definition of divine person: no Augustinian threefold symmetry here! Unlike Boethius, Richard does not want to talk of a person as "the individual substance of a rational nature." For Richard, divine personhood, unlike that of humans and angels, is relational in a sense virtually at right angles to the substantial; substance, in the improper sense in which the word applies to the Godhead, pertains to what the three have in common.91

This distinguishability among the persons is reinforced by Richard's treatment of the divine processions. It is here that the "straight-line" structure of Richard's trinitarian theology arises. Salet is correct to suggest that this structure precipitates at the point where Richard introduces his distinctions between different modes of procession;92 but to call it "Greek," as Salet does, is, as Dumeige says, "to assign to the problem much too narrow limits."93 "Greek" though Richard's processions be, it may be more to the point simply to observe that he maintains a fine balance between the divine persons and the divine substance.94 This he achieves by his concepts of charity and personhood before ever he broaches the subject of processions. And a strange "Greek" Trinity it is when a very Western filioque is the linchpin that holds the whole symmetric linear structure together!

Divine love: perfect only as it is shared among three persons, related in a balanced structure of processions which is nothing other than the movement of love among the three in supremely harmonious order... Richard's mystical-intellectual vision of the Trinity may strike us strange today. Strange, for in an age when existence is touted over substance, and Einstein and Heisenberg have dissolved the world into a web of fundamentally relational forces, we may find ready at hand vestiges of a Ricardian Trinity more easily even than could someone in Richard's own day. Strange, for in an age when we strive to approach the Trinity through the concreteness of salvation history, and struggle from below with no expectation of mystical showings from on high, we may find opaque if not repellent a work of abstraction and ardor whose writer almost neglected to append mention of the trinitarian names.

A trinitarian theology strangely modern, strangely ancient, strangely both ancient and modern: perhaps it is under such a threefold heading, of the sort so beloved by Richard himself, that we can hear Richard and hear him in his own voice, the voice of a fellow member of the communion of saints and thus the voice of one neither ancient nor modern but strangely our contemporary, and we strangely his:95

Therefore it is necessary that each of those loved supremely and loving supremely should search with equal desire for someone who would be mutually loved and with equal concord willingly possess him. Thus you see how the perfection of charity requires a Trinity of persons... [and] so also true Trinity cannot be lacking where everything that is, is altogether perfect.96


Baron, R. Hugue et Richard de Saint-Victor. No location: Bloud & Gay, 1961.

Burnaby, John, ed. and trans. Augustine: Later Works. In the Library of Christian Classics, Ichthus edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955.

Deane, Sidney Norton, trans. St. Anselm: Proslogium; Monologium; an Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo. La Salle, Illinois: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1954.

Dumeige, Gervais. Richard de Saint-Victor et l'idée chrétienne de l'amour. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952.

Kirchenberger, trans. and introd. Richard of Saint-Victor: Selected Writings on Contemplation. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1957.

Ribaillier, Jean. De Trinitate: texte critique avec introduction, notes et tables. Vol. VI in Textes philosophiques du Moyen Age. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1958

Salet, Gaston. La Trinité: texte latin, introduction, traduction et notes. No. 63 in Sources chrétiennes. Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1959.

Schaff, Philip, ed. St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises. Vol III, First Series, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.

Zinn, Grover A., trans. and introd. Richard of St. Victor: the Twelve Patriarchs, the Mystical Ark, Book Three of the Trinity. In the Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.


1Grover A. Zinn, Richard of St. Victor: the Twelve Patriarchs; the Mystical Ark; Book Three of the Trinity, in the series "The Classics of Western Spirituality" (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), p. 1. See also Gervais Dumeige, Richard de Saint-Victor et l'idée chrétienne de l'amour (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952), p. 159: "Dante... in his Paradiso (Canto X) spoke of having seen, flaming, at the side of Isidore and of Bede, the ardent soul of Richard, che a considerar fu più che viro."

2R. Baron, Hugue et Richard de Saint-Victor (No location: Bloud & Gay, 1961), p. 49f. See also Clare Kirchenberger, Richard of Saint Victor: Selected Writings on Contemplation (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1957), p. 27. Of Richard's contemplative works, the Benjamin Minor, or Twelve Patriarchs, and the Benjamin Major, or Mystical Ark, are available in English translation in part in Kirchenberger and in the totality in Zinn. Kirchenberger also presents in English portions of others of Richard's contemplative works, including Of the Four Degrees of Violent Charity.

3Most of these observations are my own upon reading the De Trinitate. For a brief mention of some of these features of Richard's thought in the context of modern discussions, see Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ (New York: Crossroads, 1984), p. 314.

4Zinn, pp. 47-48. Zinn also observes with insight that this view of love is most nearly parallelled, in our own century, in the writings of the "Oxford Inkling" Charles Williams.

5See Baron, pp. 7-11; Dumeige, p. 13f.; Kirchenberger, pp. 15-17; Zinn, p. 2f.

6Baron, pp. 11-17; see also Dumeige, p. 19f., Kirchenberger, pp. 16-17. Baron, p. 17, sums up the life at St. Victor thus: "With the liturgical life, the life of intellectual work filled out the days."

7Zinn, p. 46. Zinn also notes at St. Victor the daily recitation, at Prime, of the Athanasian Creed, which was to leave its mark on Richard's thought in the De Trinitate.

8Dumeige, p. 18.

9Dumeige, p. 12. For a summary of the life and thought of Hugh of St. Victor, as well as a partial list of his works, see Baron, pp. 17-40.

10We do not know the date of Richard's arrival at St. Victor. Kirchenberger, p. 15, thinks it was "probably after Hugh's death (1141) or a little before." Zinn, p. 3, states that it was "sometime in the early 1150's."

11Baron, pp. 41-42; Dumeige, pp. 166-67; Kirchenberger, pp. 15, 19-20; Zinn, pp. 3-4. For a list of the documents which provide all our information on the life of Richard, see Dumeige, p. 165.

12Baron, p. 43; Dumeige, p. 169. For closely reasoned arguments on the chronology of Richard's works, see Dumeige, pp. 167-70.

13The critical edition of the original Latin text is Jean Ribaillier, De Trinitate: texte critique avec introduction, notes et tables (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1958). A French translation of the work is available in Gaston Salet, La Trinité: texte latin, introduction, traduction et notes (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1959). Salet bases his Latin text largely on that of Ribaillier. Although Ribaillier, p. 8, refers to an English translation by J. Bligh "in the course of publication," it seems that the only portion of the De Trinitate which has ever appeared in English is Book III, in Zinn, pp. 373-97. See Zinn's remarks, p. 46.

In this study, we will rely on Zinn for Book III, and for the rest of the De Trinitate supply our own English translation where necessary, relying on Salet's French version and "comparing" the results with the Latin.

Citation of the De Trinitate will be by book and chapter: IV.xvii for Book IV, Chapter xvii, and so forth.

14It is this initial thrust which causes Ribaillier to remark, p. 15, that the most appropriate title for the De Trinitate would actually be De Deo uno et trino!

15Given the level of abstraction, it is no surprise that the divine names, which are so closely bound to the concreteness of salvation history, come last in Richard's work. Salet, pp. 37-45, examines in depth the role which "necessary reasons" play in the thought of Richard, drawing a parallel from Anselm:

It seems that Richard took into account the formula of St. Anselm: "We do not admit anything in the least unbecoming to be ascribed to the Deity, and we do not reject the smallest reason if it be not opposed by a greater. For as it is impossible to attribute anything in the least unbecoming to God; so any reason, however small, if not overbalanced by a greater, has the force of necessity." [English version of Anselm supplied from Sidney Norton Deane's translation]
16Salet, p. 13.

17I.i-ii. Richard quotes from Isaiah 7:9: "If you do not believe, neither will you understand." Richard's three modes of knowledge had appeared earlier in Hugh of St. Victor, De Sacram., I.10.2: see Ribaillier, p. 86; Salet, p. 64.

18I.iii-iv. "Non modo probabiles, verum etiam necessarias rationes." Salet notes, p. 69, that the joy of this search is also remarked upon by Augustine, De Trin., 15.1-2.


20I.v. Richard paraphrases at length from the Athanasian Creed, which was daily recited in worship at the Abbey of St. Victor. Here for the first time Richard unfolds a formal structure which recurs as a motif throughout the De Trinitate, a threefold categorization formed by considering two sets of mutually exclusive alternatives, one of the four resultant combinations being internally inconsistent: "All that is or can be, either has being from eternity, or begins to be in time. Likewise, all that is or can be, either has being from itself, or has being from another who is from himself."


23I.viii. Salet, p. 78, refers the reader for a parallel to Augustine, De Trin., 15.4.6.

24I.ix. Richard uses the illustration of a ray of light which has its being from the sun, while existing all the while that the sun exists. As Salet intimates, p. 80, this is a frequent patristic illustration regarding the Son, "Light from Light" of the Father.


26I.xi-xii. Note the resonances with Anselm's quo majus cogitari non potest.

27I.xii-xv. Several sources, such as Dumeige, pp. 78-79, hear here an echo of the declaration of the Council of Reims, 1148, against Gilbert of Porrée, who had distinguished between God and the deity (i.e., supreme substance) of God, by which, claimed Gilbert, God is the Deity. Richard leaves no room for such a distinction.




31I.xxv. Note how Richard has shown both existence and uniqueness, not merely for God-- who is seen to be omnipotent and omniscient-- but also for omnipotence and omniscience-- which are seen to pertain to God. From a purely analytic viewpoint, of course, this or something logically equivalent thereto is necessary-- but the architectural symmetry of Richard's argument is notable. It reproduces over the space of several chapters on the logical level, the same chiastic structure which Richard frequently exhibits on the rhetorical level in the span of a single phrase.

It would be a mistake to interpret all these interlocking symmetric structures in a purely formal manner, as does Ribaillier, pp. 24ff., who identifies some but not all of these structures. If to some degree a writer's message is embodied in the medium he adopts, then we could argue that Richard is in some sense trying to incarnate in the very rhythm of his reasoining something of the flow, the feel, of his faith in its search for understanding through necessary reasons.

If this is the case, then the way to "hear" Richard's argument to the full is to "listen" to is, now on the large scale of its logic, now on the small scale of its rhetoric, much as one would "listen" to the themes and movements in a piece by Mozart (with apologies to Barth!). I think we could strongly argue that for Richard's religious audience, the content of his argumentation, and its rhythm rhetorical and logical, in interplay with one another, served to convey the "meat" of his work far more effectively than any of these elements could have alone.

Interestingly enough, these rhythms in Richard's logic initially struck me on the level not of music but of mathematics! There is to the rhythm and structure of Richard's thought an elegance and beauty almost mathematical-- that is to say, for most of us mathematicians on a not-at-all-formal level-- almost musical!

32II.i: "maxime de hic quae in laudibus divinis quotidiano usu frequentamus." Salet, p. 110, and Ribaillier, p. 108, both think the reference is to the Athanasian Creed.

33II.ii: "Nam hoc est sempiternem esse carere initio et fine."


35II.v. The terms are "magnitudo" and "immensus." In, Richard defines the latter as "quod nulla mensura comprehenditur." Richard's proof is interesting: if there were more than one immense being, then each would be incommensurable relative to the rest, hence each would be greater than the rest and at the same time less than the rest; which is absurd. Uniqueness follows automatically for the other attributes considered, since each is equivalent to the divine substance, as is God's immensity itself! "That there can be only one immense, we have concluded from the attribute of immensity. That there cannot truly be several eternals, is already proven by consideration of the attribute of immensity, out of the mutual relationship of immensity and eternity." (


38II.x-xiii. Richard points out, II.xi, that he need prove this only via divinity, not also by consideration of God's power and wisdom as well-- by the principle of equivalence enunciated in Moreover, it would hardly be proper to use the terms "power" and "wisdom" univocally of God and of creatures: God is wisdom, while in the human being there is wisdom (II.xiii).


40II.xiv-xvi. For Richard, "God" is an absolute term, but "Lord" is applicable only relatively to the One "whose freedom yields first place to no power, whose power or dominion is limited by no impossibility." (II.xv) Lordship applies to God only relative to something outside of God. Ribaillier directs us to Augustine, who makes a similar argument: "For if a lord also is not so called unless when he begins to have a slave, that appellation likewise is relative and in time to God; for the creature is not from all eternity, of which He is the Lord." (Augustine, De Trin., 5.16.17 in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), First Series, vol. 3, p. 95)


42II.xvii-xix. Ribaillier also refers us, on the simplicity of God, to Augustine, De Trin. 6.6.8; Anselm, Monologium, 16-17.

43II.xx-xxi. Here obviously Richard's mystical side emerges. His illustrations, which leave Salet at something of a loss, are also decidedly mystical in tone: from any one grain of wheat, one can glimpse something of all the wheat, indeed all the diverse grain, that is; from a single hair, something of all hair; from a single leaf, something of all the foliage on every tree. Indeed, were the whole earth to be ground to dust, one could know something of it from each speck, even had the original size of the earth been infinite. So can the tiny creature rise to some dim knowledge of God.

Notice how it is precisely God's simplicity which allows Richard to carry through in this argument!

44II.xii. For similar questions over the use of "substance" to designate God, cf. Augustine, De Trin., 7.5.10 ("In God, Substance is Spoken Improperly, Essence Properly").

45II.xxiii-xxv. This doxological tone lies just beneath the surface throughout these chapters. Notice also the tacit reprise, from earlier in the second book, of the issues of lordship and of language about God.

46III.ii. Salet detects here the influence of Gregory the Great, In Evang., 17.1. Solitary love is for Richard possible, but without community there can be no charity; see Dumeige, pp. 41-42.

47III.iii-v. Richard makes a great deal of this "triple testimony" or "triple cord" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) of goodness, happiness, and glory: we see here another example of the threefold patterns which Richard delights in using. Dumeige argues, p. 84, that Richard's use of "glory" in this passage must be seen in the context of the glorification of God in the worship life at St. Victor. Richard's thought here follows the Athanasian Creed. According to Salet, p. 184, the closing phrase of III.viii comes from a preface for the mass of the Feast of the Holy Trinity: "et in personis proprietas et in substantia unitas et in majestate aequalitas."

49III.ix-x. From where is Richard getting this?


51III.xiv-xv. Zinn, p. 389: "The word [condilection], which seems to have been Richard's own invention, represents a crucial element in Richard's Trinitarian theology." See also Dumeige, p. 89.

52III.xix. The heart of Richard's trinitarian theology in a nutshell.

53III.xvi-xx. Richard's use of Latin in III.xx is a tour de force, impossible to reproduce in English: consodalitas, concordialis, consocialis, confoederare, concorditer, concordare, concordia, confluere, confoederatio, consolidare.

54III.xxi-xxv. Richard has borrowed the illustration of the three gold statues directly from Augustine, De Trin., 8.6.11.

55IV.i-iii. Richard notes Arianism and Sabellianism as two opposite limit cases of the temptations to trinitarian heresy, IV.i. The example of a vestige which Richard gives in the sense of sight, the eye, and what is seen, may be loosely based on Augustine, De Trin., 11.2.2.

56IV.iv-v. And so much for the Greeks! "Alias ergo subintelligitur proprietas generalis, alis proprietas specialis; ad nomen autem personae, proprietas individualis, singularis, incommunicabilis."


59IV.viii-x. Richard returns here to his earlier contrasting example of the human person: "just as the plurality of substances [in a human being] do not destroy the unity of the person, so [in God] the several persons do not divide up the unity of the substance." (IV.x)


61IV.xiii-xv. Note again one of Richard's threefold groupings-- like his three modes of existence in, formed by crossing two sets of twofold distinctions, one case yielding an impossibility.

62IV.xvi-xviii. Hence divine personhood and incommunicability of existence are logically equivalent to one another. See also IV.xxi-xxii: incontrast to Boethius' classic definition of person as "substantia individua naturae rationalis," Richard proposes technically to define a divine person as "incommunicabilis existentia divinae naturae."


64IV.xx-xxv. In a sense which it would take too long to unfold here in detail, Richard's angelology reminds me strangely of that of Karl Barth, CD III.3.


66V.iii-v. Note again one of Richard's threefold distinctions. Salet, p. 314, believes it is the distinction employed here which lends to Richard's theology of the Trinity its "straight-line" character.


69V.viii. In other words: the incommunicable existence of the Father is being from himself and not from another, not being fons et origo trinitatis... therefore the filioque follows!

70V.ix-xv. I pass over many extraneous arguments. Note again Richard's threefold classification.

71V.xvi-xx. The loves appropriate to the three persons are: "amor gratuitus," "amor debitus," and "amor permixtus, id est ex uno debitus et ex alio gratuitus."

72V.xxi-xv. Richard's summary in V.xxv is such a striking portrait of his treatment of the divine processions that I translate it here in part:

It is common to two alone to give all plenitude (F., S.). It is common to two alone to receive plenitude (S., Sp.). It is common to two alone not to have both (F., Sp.). For the property of one is in giving alone (F.); the property of another is in receiving alone (Sp.); while the property of a third is in receiving and giving (S.). It is common to two alone to have a person proceeding from them (F., S.). It is common to two alone to proceed from another (S., Sp.). It is common to two alone not to have both (F., Sp.). For the property of one is to have another proceeding from him (F.); the property of another is to proceed (Sp.); while the property of a third is to proceed from another as well as to have another proceeding from him. (S.)."
73Ribaillier, pp. 8-11.

74Salet, pp. 22-24. Salet also observes with surprise, p. 382, how Richard in VI.iv does not ground the names "Father" and "Son" in Christ's use of them in the gospels, but rather appeals to an analogy based on common usage of the words-- after having attributed the use of the word "person," IV.iv, to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!

75VI.xiv; cf. Dumeige, pp. 97-100; Augustine, De Trin., 15.17-19.

76Richard quotes two scriptural passages repeatedly: "If you do not believe, you will not understand" (Isaiah 7:9, LXX), and "Ever since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." (Romans 1:20) Most of the patristic citations are in Book VI. For a complete list of citations, see Ribaillier, pp. 17ff.

77Dumeige, pp. 27-31; Kirchenberger, p. 47; Ribaillier, pp. 22-24; Salet, p. 10.

78Kirchenberger, p. 56; Zinn, p. 4.

79Ribaillier, pp. 24ff. Whether or not there is something of French structuralism in Ribaillier's observation, in any event, the structures are there in Richard.

80Dumeige, p. 80; Salet, p. 33.

81Dumeige, pp. 31-32.

82Dumeige, pp. 91ff.; Salet, p. 484.

83Dumeige, pp. 32ff.

84Dumeige, pp. 18-19, 70; Ribaillier, p. 19; Zinn, p. 46.

85Dumeige, pp. 3ff.; Kirchenberger, p. 49. For a literary perspective on this phenomenon, see C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: 1958).

86Ribaillier, p. 15.

87Dumeige, p. 90.

88Dumeige, p. 31.


90See, for example, especially passages such as V.xxv.

91Dumeige, pp. 91-97; Salet, pp. 484-86. Richard's criticism of Boethius, IV.xxi, is that Boethius' definition of person is too general. One needs to make Richard's distinctions regarding "obtention" and "ex-sistence" to formulate a definition of divine person which is suitable, argues Richard; and this "definition of person does not seem to be appropriate to a solitary person." (IV.xxi)

92Salet, p. 314.

93Dumeige, p. 100.

94Dumeige, p. 101.

95Some of these closing observations are my reinterpretation of conversations over the past several years with Dr. James Fishbaugh, former professor of pastoral care at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. For any flaws in content, however, as well as for the calculatedly Ricardian style into which these observations are cast, I alone am responsible.