Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hugh of ST. Victor (1096-1141) Instructions for Learning

Hugh of ST. Victor, Didascalicon in Renewing the Mind: A Reader in the Philosophy of Catholic Education edited by Ryan N. S. Topping. Catholic University Press of America, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8132-2731-3

Hugh of ST. Victor provided instruction on how the seven liberal arts can provide the foundation to pursue all learning. Hugh asserts "these seven (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) they (the ancients) considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than listening to a teacher" (120). In other words, the liberal arts provides the tools for life-long learning. It is liberal because it is not vocational or job training. An example of this type of learning is that you teach someone how to fish, instead of endlessly feeding him or her.

In addition, Hugh presents instruction on learning. He states that three things are needed for learning: aptitude or the ability to learn, practice, and discipline. Natural endowment means they "must cultivate by assiduous effort the natural endowments they have;" and by discipline he means that they must cultivate virtue in their life because the intellectual and the moral life is connected. Hugh also gives instruction on the order of expounding a text and the method of expounding a text. For example he says that exposition includes the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning. The letter is the arrangement of words; the sense is the obvious meaning of the text; and the inner meaning is the "deeper understanding which can be found only through interpretation and commentary." The order of inquiry follows this order. The method of expounding the text consists of analysis. The expounder of the text must begin at the finite and move to the infinite. In other words, the student must begin with what he knows and move to what he does not know. The author believes the reading and studying of the text lays the foundation for meditation. Hugh states that there are three types of meditation: the first focuses on morals, the second on the commandments, and the third on the divine works. Hugh also gives instruction on the methods of remembering what the learner reads. Not everything has to be remembered, just the important principles.

In the section on discipline, Hugh asserts that morals equip learning. Next, he declares that the "beginning of discipline is humility." He thinks the lessons of discipline are many, but he emphasizes: "first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon anyone else." These lessons agree with Fr. Schall's ideas about the need to be teachable.

In the next section Hugh speaks c"concerning eagerness to inquire." This is not something that is taught, but encouraged. He shows how we can learn much from the ancient authors that have stood the test of time.

The last four precepts he discusses are quiet, scrutiny, parsimony, and living on foreign soil. Concerning quiet, there must be both inner and outer quiet. The learner must have sufficient leisure to pursue his studies. On scrutiny, he implies earnestness in considering things. It is compatible with the eagerness to inquire. Parsimony is being able to live simply. This requires the virtue of temperance and moderation. Last, Hugh speaks about living on foreign soil. Many students in the Middle Ages had to travel where the teachers were located. He asserts that living on foreign soil teaches us that earth is not our permanent home.

One thing that was impressed on my mind during this reading was the importance of ordering our life for study. In some sense, the path of learning is the path of a monk. Their lives were ordered for religious service. A student's life must be ordered if learning is to take place. What do I mean by this? I basically mean that we must have sufficient leisure time to pursue our studies. For example, if a person wanted to pursue learning over a long period of time he might choose a career that would allow him sufficient time to study. He must eat a temperate diet because excessive foods or the wrong types of food could hinder learning. In addition, he would need a place for quiet and freedom from distractions. This does not necessarily mean excessive amount of time, but it does mean arranging one's life to pursue his studies.

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