As you will quickly discover when you begin this week's reading, the material presumes familiarity with the biblical Song of Songs (also called Canticle of Canticles, depending upon the Bible translation you're using). If you don't know the text, you'll need to read it through to have a sense of what Bernard and Richard are dealing with. Don't worry; it is very brief. See the Douai-Rheims translation of the medieval Latin text here.

While it is fair to consider both St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Richard of St. Victor as representative of the monastic tradition, there are important distinctions between the two that you might want to consider as you read and think about the material. St. Bernard was a member of the recently established Cistercian Order, and in spite of playing quite an active role in the affairs of Latin Christendom, in theory he embraced the monastic ideal of contemplative withdrawal from the world. Richard of St. Victor, on the other hand, was a canon at the school of St. Victor near Paris. A canon lived within a community of priests in service at a cathedral. While canons lived in religious communities as monks did, they simultaneously lived IN the world as secular clergy. By Richard's lifetime, canons were associated as much with the growing cathedral schools as they were with the administration of the cathedral and bishopric. Richard was intimately involved with teaching in the already famous school at St. Victor, and therefore his writing can also be seen as reflective of an emerging scholastic tradition.

The distinctions between the traditional monastic and emerging scholastic approaches can be seen most clearly when comparing Bernard's Sermons on the Song of Songs with Richard's Four Degrees of Passionate Charity, but see if you can pick up distinctions between the Four Degrees and On Loving God as well.

If you feel the need for more background, you can explore some readily available web resources by turning to the Guide to Web Resources on Medieval European Religion and History. To develop your understanding of Richard of St. Victori's thought, you may want to read an excellent discussion of the place of Pseudo-Dionysius in twelfth-century intellectual culture by Dale Coulter at ORB. There is a section on "Dionysian thought at the school of St. Victor" which has some useful insights into Richard's thought. Also keep in mind Bernard McGinn's three-volume series, The Presence of God for background. Bernard and Richard are discussed in volume II (on reserve in Mugar).