In his examination of Richard of St. Victor’s De Trinitate, Todd Vasquez explores the various ways in which the 12th century theologian and spiritual writer expressed his understanding of the Trinity. More than just a straightforward exposition of doctrine, the Victorine’s major work is a complex treatise that calls for a careful reading to appreciate its various forms of trinitarian expression. Here is Vasquez’s abstract:
Richard of Saint Victor deliberately constructs his treatise De Trinitate with trinitarian structures to sustain the hearts and shape the minds of his readers with the contemplation of the Trinity. His work fits within a genre of writing in the Middle Ages where the formation of the theological apprentice was at the heart of crafting one’s theological work. And while probably not unique among other compositions on the Trinity, Richard imbues his treatise with some “trinitarian dimensions” that make us appreciate the level of his creativity as a theologian and the impact these further dimensions had upon his readers’ spiritual formation.
Richard’s work has three major levels. Level one is a linear argument for the Trinity. It begins by establishing that God is one substance, then that God is three persons, and finally how the unity of divine substance fits with the triunity of persons. That is one level. And to read the work the first time is to encounter and be taken by this argument. Level two is the style and structure with which that argument is made. In addition to arguing for the Trinity, Richard argues for the Trinity “trinitarianly”; and to discover Richard’s deliberate use of triads and an organization to his treatise reflective of its main subject matter is to find delight in another dimension of the work. It is to read the work again—a second time—with a view to how this linear argument is designed and organized. Finally, in addition to the linear argument and its structure, there are also “allusions” such as Richard’s attempt to make his triadic structures appropriate to each person of the Trinity. So while at the level of (a) argument/content he makes a case for the Power, the Wisdom, and the Goodness of the Divine, and at the level of (b) structure he builds with triads, he also appropriates the (c) significance for each person of the Trinity: Power of the Father, Wisdom of the Son, and Goodness of the Spirit.
The dissertation consists of three sections: Section I, “Introduction & Background,” establishes the context for the thesis; Section II, “Articulating the Trinity ‘Trinitarianly’ for the Formation of Souls,” argues the main thesis; and Section III, “Objections & Response,” handles objections and is followed by a brief conclusion. The introductory section answers questions leading up to a detailed study of the structuring of Richard’s De Trinitate. Section II develops the substance of the thesis in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 argues for the structural dimension of the thesis and is divided into five parts. Part one, “Inventional, Ordering Devices,” shows how Richard structures his written works in accordance with their main objects of study in order to aid his readers’ contemplation. Part two, “Breadth: Beginning with the End in Mind” looks at the broader horizon of Richard’s De Trinitate by showing how the Power-Wisdom-Goodness triad structures the linear layout of the treatise. Part three, “Depth: Richard’s Trinitarian Structures in Book III,” looks at the detail of Richard’s work in book III where his trinitarian structuring is the most ornate. In part four, “Perspective: Additional Trinitarian Structures and Triads,” we show the declining intricacy of these trinitarian structures and triads in the rest of the work. And part five, “Book VI and Discovering De Trinitate in Relief” brings all of these dimensions together to reveal Richard’s treatise as a work of art still attached to the marble from which it was carved and discovers the method by which he “drew out” contemplations from his previous work. Then, in chapter 5, “Forging These ‘Trinitarian Dimensions’ in the Faithful,” we show how Richard uses these forms to shape the trinitarian consciousness of his readers and consummate trinitarian love within his community. Section III takes up objections to the thesis and gives a response, concluding that neither forms of meditative practice in the 12th century nor borrowing paradigms from theological predecessors accounts for the trinitarian structuring of De Trinitate. We fittingly end our work with a summary of our findings and a meditative reflection on the “craftsmanship” and “artistry” of Richard as a “constructive theologian.”