Bonaventure on charity vs. inordinate desire

In the intro to his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Bonaventure notes that because the good which men desire is twofold—the temporal and the eternal—the love whereby men might be drawn to this twofold good is similarly twofold: love or charity and inordinate desire(libido). Bonaventure is not saying, however, that charity is the love or desire of the eternal good, whereas inordinate desire (which is sin) is the love or desire of the temporal good. Rather, the point is that the existence of these two different kinds of goods creates the possibility for loving or desiring these goods in the wrong order. Augustine, for example, defines inordinate desire (libido) as “a desire of the mind, by which some temporal goods are put before eternal goods.” This is what puts the inordinate ininordinate desire: it is a form of love in which the objects of love have become disordered.Charity, by contrast, is ordinate or ordered love, and as such presupposes a plurality of loves which must be set in their right hierarchical order. Charity, therefore, is not the love of the eternal good to the exclusion of the temporal good, but the love of the eternal goodbefore the love of the temporal good. Indeed, later Bonaventure will hold that charity, or the love of the eternal good, positively requires the love of the temporal good precisely for the sake or on account of the love of the eternal good. Bonaventure’s own way of distinguishing charity from inordinate desire is to say that charity “returns” the lover to, and so terminates in, what is eternal, whereas inordinate desire “returns” the lover to, and so terminates in, what is merely temporal. Put differently still, what distinguishes charity and inordinate desire is not that one is the love of the temporal good while the other excludes it, but rather that inordinate desire terminates in, and so leaves the lover at the temporal good, whereas charity by contrast takes the lover through the temporal good to deliver him over to the eternal good. For this reason, what Bonaventure does say is that “the love of charity and inordinate desire are so opposed to one another that they cannot exist together”; what he does not say is that the love of the eternal good and the love of the earthly good themselves are so opposed to one another as to not exist together. In summary, then, in inordinate desire, the temporal good is a destination, whereas in charity the temporal good is freed from the suffocation of being its own, finite end, and liberated to be an open path and vehicle to the greater destination still of an eternal good that knows no limits. This is the hermeneutics of desire necessary for understanding Bonaventure’sCommentary on Ecclesiastes.

 

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