Viator for the Shrine

Over at the Shrine, a question was asked about the term homo viator, which descibes "the wanderer" (which is the name of a paper I write for), the Christian as a pilgrim or "wayfarer" en route. In this life we are all pilgrims on the road toward the patria, the "fatherland", heaven. This is an image used especially by St. Augustine. He uses the word viator, as a matter of fact.

In classical texts, in addition to a "wayfarer" (which is the style of RayBan sunglasses I wear) a viator is just as likely to be a fellow who summons other people to court

A quick look into some texts rapidly revealed that the term homo viator isn’t used often in Patristic or medieval texts, though it is present. The nominative homo viator is found in Bonaventure’s prologue to the Breviloquium:

3. For in its development Holy Scripture has not been circumscribed by the rules of reasoning, defining, and dividing unlike the other fields of knowledge, nor is it restricted to only part of the universe, but rather it procedes by supernatural inspiration for the sake of providing man the wayfarer (homini viatori) with as much knowledge as he needs to save his soul; using a language sometimes literal and sometimes figurative, it describes as it were the content of the entire universe and so covers the breadth, it describes the whole course of history thereby comprehending the length, it displays the glory of those in the end to be saved thus showing the height it recounts the misery of the reprobate, and thus reveals the depth not only of the universe but also of God’s judgment.

And in thus describing the breadth, length, height, and depth of the entire universe, in so far as this knowledge serves the purpose of salvation, Holy Scripture itself develops, as will be shown later, according to the same fourfold pattern. This manner of development was called for by man’s capacity of understanding: for the human intellect was made to grasp great things and many things in a grand and manifold way, like some noble mirror made to reflect the whole complex of the created world, not only naturally, but also supernaturally; so that the development of Scripture may be thought of as answering all that man’s capacity demands.

Today is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, as you probably know. He talks about the viator (s. 89, in CCL 24a):

Incedentes: incedit qui non stat in triuiis peccatorum, qui peregrinum se hoc sentit in saeculo, qui asperas uirtutum intrat intrepidus mansiones, qui montes iustificationum, mandatorum colles indefessus uiator ascendit, ut praesentia parentis dei patriae caelestis beatitudine perfruatur.

Back to Augustine, he pairs viator with patria several times in his works. Here is an example from the Quaestiones evangeliorum 2.19:

stabulum est ecclesia, ubi reficiuntur uiatores de peregrinatione in aeternam patriam redeuntes. … The Church is an inn, where wayfarers returning to the eternal fatherland are refreshed from their journey.

There was in that quote a touch of the exitus/reditus pairing. There are other Augustinian citations as well. For example, in s. 255:

Et in hoc quidem tempore peregrinationis nostrae ad solatium uiatici dicimus alleluia; modo nobis alleluia canticum est uiatoris: tendimus autem per uiam laboriosam ad quietam patriam, ubi retractis omnibus actionibus nostris, non remanebit nisi alleluia… And indeed, during this time of our exile and our wayfaring, we say Alleluia is for us the song of a wayfarer; but by a toilsome road we are wending our way to our restful fatherland where, all our busy activies over and done with, there will remain nothing other than Alleluia.

Sounds to me like the Sabine Farm is a foretaste of the patria. Hmmm…

You might also want to check out Paul G. Kuntz, "Augustine: From Homo Erro to Homo Viator" in Augustinian Studies 11 (1980): 79-89. Also, this issue of Christ as patria can be deepend by a reading of Goulven Madec’s La Patrie et la voie: le Christ dans la vie et la pensée de saint Augustine. Desclée, 1989.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Response to Viator for the Shrine

  1. I’m afraid I don’t have a reference to hand – I am temporarily seperated from most of my theologiclal books, but IIRC, St Thomas added the idea of God watching the path of the ‘Homo Viator’ from a tower – from the tower, God sees the entirity of the journey, whilst the ‘homo viator’ only sees part of the path at any given time.