Scripture as Cosmology, Psychology, Epistemology

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 1

We’ve begun reading Bonaventure’s delightful synopsis of the Christian faith, the Breviloquium, in my medieval thought class. According to St. Bonaventure, the “breadth, length, height, and depth” (Eph. 3:18) of Sacred Scripture refers to its exhaustive, universal scope. He writes: :

in language that is sometimes literal, sometimes symbolic, as in a kind of summa, it [Sacred Scripture] describes the contents of the entire universe, and so covers the breadth; it narrates the course of history, thus comprehending the length; it portrays the excellence of those who will ultimately be saved, thus manifesting the height; and it depicts the misery of those who will be damned, thus plumbing the depth, not only of the universe, but of the very judgments of God. In this way it describes the breadth and length and height and depth of the entire universe, insofar as it is expedient to have knowledge of it for salvation. (Brev. prologue.3)

According to Bonaventure, then, Scripture is nothing less than a divinely inspired cosmology, taking within its purview all of created existence. More than this, yet related to it, is how this “procedure” of Scripture, which is creation’s own procedure, corresponds to the human mind’s nature:

This manner of proceeding was demanded by the very nature of our human capacities, for our mind was made to grasp many and great things in a truly magnificent way. Like a certain noble mirror, it was designed to reflect the whole complex of created reality, not only naturally but also supernaturally. Thus, the procedure of Sacred Scripture may be considered as fully responding to the demands of our human faculties.

In structuring Scripture in the way that he has (i.e., according to the above quadrad of breadth, length, height, and depth), God has accommodated Scripture to the structures of the human mind’s own manner of knowing. God has ordained an adequatio or mutual conforming, we might say, of Scripture and mind. If so, it stands to reason that to understand the human mind and its ways of knowing, we must understanding something of the structure of Scripture itself. Both Scripture and the mind, after all, are each a “mirroring” of reality, meaning that Scripture and the mind are and are to be mirrors of each other. The structure of Scripture is the structure of the mind. On the opening page of his Breviloquium Bonaventure comments how Scripture simply is theology. As it turns out, Scripture is also psychology. 

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