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Hugh of St. Victor

From 1096
 to 1141

"The pursuit of commerce reconciles nations, calms wars, strengthens peace, and commutes the private good of individuals into the common benefit of all."

So wrote Hugh of Saint Victor. Hugh (1096-1141) was a canon regular at the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris. His choice of vocation is significant in that the canons regular were part of a movement that sought to recapture the asceticism of the early church and to combine that with service in their neighborhoods. Their small scale and flexible rule allowed them to put smaller benefactions to use in the administration of churches, hospitals, and schools than normally would have been utilized by larger and older monasteries. It was to that mission of education that Hugh was devoted.

Hugh arrived at Saint Victor in 1115, and soon after he began teaching at the Abbey's school. He was eventually made master of the school, which was open to students beyond the Abbey's community and which the University of Paris eventually recognized as a residential college.

Hugh's Didascalicon (c.1127) is an ideal version of the medieval curriculum, but it is also a disquisition on the nature of philosophy. By reinvigorating a traditional formula, Hugh concluded that “Philosophy is the discipline which investigates comprehensively the ideas of all things, human and divine.” That is to say, the highest good is to pursue-first by study-the theoretical aspects of all branches of knowledge. Hugh's innovation was to include the “mechanical” arts, the disciplines necessary to the support of bodily life, as an integral branch of philosophy. These mechanical arts include commerce, the benefits of which Hugh experienced as the commercial revolution swept Europe and linked her with the rest of the world. “Commerce penetrates the secret places of the world, approaches shores unseen, explores fearful wildernesses, and in tongues unknown and with barbaric peoples carries on the trade of mankind.”

Hugh wrote many works, but none were on political or economic theory. A teacher, a theologian, and a mystic, Hugh did much to lay the theoretical foundations for the medieval universities and for the development of the natural law tradition that produced the thinker whom Lord Acton considered the first Whig–St. Thomas Aquinas.