A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

Elucidarium (Honorius)

I can’t help but like the Elucidarium, a little book of popular-level theological instruction from around the year 1100. It’s written in dialogue form, sort of as a reverse catechism in which students ask questions and a teacher gives brief answers.

Here’s how the section on the Trinity goes:

Pupil: In what way is the Trinity understood as one God?
Master: Look at the sun, in which there are three: a fiery substance, brightness, and warmth, which are inseparable to such an extent that if you should wish to take the brightness out you would deprive the world of the sun, and, again, if you should try to remove the heat, you would lack a sun. Therefore, in the fiery substance, understand the Father, in the brightness, the Son, and in the warmth, perceive the Holy Spirit.

Pupil: Why is he called Father?
Master: Because he is the fount and source from which all things proceed. His wisdom is called the Son.

Pupil: Why Son?
Master: Because as brightness springs from the sun, so he proceeds from the Father. Moreover,
the love of both is called the Holy Spirit.

Pupil: Why Holy Spirit?
Master: Because he comes forth eternally from both as though breathed out by them. So then, that power of divinity which brought forth all things through the creation is called the Father; that which contains all things lest they be dissolved into nothing is called the Son; and that which gives life to and adorns all things through its inspiration is called the Holy Spirit. From the Father all things, through the Son all things, in the Holy Spirit all things. The Father is understood as memory, the Son as intelligence and the Holy Spirit as will.

There’s much to admire here: the judicious use of analogy, not expecting too much of it but just using it to shed light (yes, in a passage about the sun in a book called Elucidarium); the from-through-in structure of trinitarian action; the memory-intelligence-will triad from Augustine; the way the account of the Father leads naturally to the Son, which leads naturally to the Holy Spirit. The exposition of the Trinity is a bit of a conglomeration of various elements, but they are wisely ordered. The sequence of questions is also of mixed quality, and the Pupil seems distractible. The Master makes his way through it all, though. And did I mention that he keeps his answers pretty brief?

The Elucidarium is probably about 35,000 words in English; it covers 122 questions from God, through churchy things, to a surprisingly detailed eschatology (I. De Divinus Rebus; II. De Rebus Ecclesiasticis; III. De Futura Vita). Here’s the Wikipedia page; here’s the Latin text from PL 172 via Internet Archive (about 65 columns); here’s a great site from Oslo that gives Latin text, Old Norse, and Danish side-by-side; here’s a 12th-century manuscript in the Bib Nat Fr. You’re probably thinking, “Thanks and all, but where’s the English translation?” Well, the only one I’ve found is Clifford Teunis Gerritt Sorensen’s 1979 MA Thesis from Brigham Young University. Surely there’s an edition in print somewhere? Preferably an annotated one, because the issue of source material is fascinating in this kind of text: the author’s not creative in any large sense, but is combining and popularizing material.

And who is that author? Honorius Augustodunensis (1080–1140). R. W. Southern lists him as one of the “elaborators of Anselm’s thought,” and provides good arguments for locating him in England (R. W. Southern, St. Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape, 378ff). Southern also acknowledges him as “a master of popular and vigorous exposition…a man of indefatigable energy, who could state clearly, judge confidently, and arrange systematically his very widely scattered materials.” (379)

I’m looking forward to reading Honorius more carefully. He once had a very wide readership, as evidenced by how often he was translated in subsequent centuries, and how many manuscripts of his work exist. Honorius has in fact had less attention from theologians than from linguists. I can tell at a quick read that he’s no master mind of his age; “elaborator of Anselm” is a good category. But he was widely used and well beloved for a long time, and may be a better representative of medieval thought at large than a more original author would be.

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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