Texts : Hugh of Fouilloy

This excerpt from the beginning of De avibus is taken from Willene B. Clark, Medieval Book of Birds: Hugh of Fouilloy's Aviarium, page 116-123.

Here Begins the Prologue of Book One

Desiring to fulfill your wishes, dearest friend, I decided to paint the dove whose wings are silvered and the hinderparts of the back in pale gold (Ps. 67:14), and by a picture to instruct the minds of simple folk, so that what the intellect of the simple folk could scarcely comprehend with the mind's eye, it might at least discern with the physical eye; and what their hearing could scarcely perceive, their sight might do so. I wished not only to paint the dove physically, but also to outline it verbally, so that by the text I may represent a picture; for instance, whom the simplicity of the picture would not please, at least the moral teaching of the text might do so. Therefore, for you to whom the dove's feathers are given, who fled the world in order that you might stay and rest in solitude, who do not seek delay with a raven's cry, eras, cras, but repentance with a dove's sigh, for you I say, I shall now paint not only the dove, but also the hawk.

See how the hawk and the dove sit on the same perch. I am from the clergy and you from the military. We come to conversion so that we may sit within the life of the Rule, as though on a perch; and so that you who were accustomed to seizing domestic fowl, now with the hand of good deeds may bring to conversion the wild ones, that is, laymen.

Therefore, let the dove sigh and the hawk sigh; let [each] utter the cry of grief. For the voice of the dove is a sigh, the voice of the hawk is a lament. Thus I have placed the dove at the beginning of this work because the grace of the Holy Spirit is always provided to any penitent; nor does one attain forgiveness except through grace. The discussion of the hawk, by which people of nobility are represented, is added after the dove. For when some nobleman is converted, he is made known to the poor through [his] example of good deeds. But I shall try to provide information as briefly as I can about certain birds as well as animals which Holy Scripture cites by way of an example of conduct.

Prologue Two

Because I must write for the unlettered, the diligent reader should not wonder that, for the instruction of the unlettered, I say simple things about subtle matters. Nor should he attribute it to levity that I paint a hawk or a dove, because the blessed Job and the prophet David bequeathed to us birds of this sort for our edification. For what Scripture means to the teachers, the picture means to simple folk. For just as the learned man delights in the subtlety of the written word, so the intellect of simple folk is engaged by the simplicity of a picture. I, however, work more to please the simple folk than to speak to the teachers and as it were pour liquids into a full vase. For whoever instructs the learned man by words pours liquids as if into a full vase.

Chapter 1: Here Begins the Little Book of a Certain Author for Rainier, a Lay-brother Known as the Kindhearted.

Here Begins the Three Doves

If you sleep among the midst of the lots, you shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the hinderparts of her back with the paleness of gold (Ps. 67:14).

In sacred Scripture, my brother, I found in my reading three doves, from which, if they are looked at closely, the minds of simple folk can be perfectly taught: that is, the dove of Noah, the dove of David, and the dove of Jesus Christ. Noah is interpreted as repose, David as strong of hand, Christ as Savior. To the sinner, however, it is said, "If you have sinned, cease from it." If, however, you wish to be Noah, cease from your sins; if you can be like David, do mighty deeds. If you wish to be saved, beg salvation from the Savior. Therefore, turn from evil, do good, seek after peace (Ps. 33:15). Turn toward Noah's ark. Fight with David the battles of the Lord. Seek after peace with Jesus in Jerusalem. Turn toward a tranquility of mind, resist temptations, await patiently the blessing of salvation.

Now, it is said concerning the dove of Noah, The dove returned in the evening, bearing in her mouth the bough of an olive tree with green leaves (Gen. 8:11). The dove returns to Noah's ark when the spirit is recalled from external matters to a tranquility of mind. It returns in the evening when, in the failing light of worldly fortune, it flees the pomp of vainglory, fearing lest it encounter the darkness of the night, that is, the depth of eternal damnation. It bears the olive [branch], because it seeks mercy. It bears the olive branch in its mouth, while through prayer it seeks pardon for its failures.

Now, it is said concerning the dove of David, and the hinderparts of her back with the paleness of gold. There is gold on the hinderparts of her back, because forgiveness in the future is promised to him who labors well. And likewise, one reads of the Savior when, at the descent of the dove upon Him, this utterance is heard: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:17). The dove is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is seen to have descended upon Jesus in the [River] Jordan, because grace is provided to any humble person cleansed of sins. Therefore, mercy is given to the penitent; forgiveness is promised to one who does good deeds; grace is given to the diligent.