What makes the Father to be the Father? Anselmian paternity vs. Bonaventurean innascibility

According to St. Bonaventure, the personal property that distinguishes the Father from the Son and the Spirit is his “innascibility” (innascibilitas), the fact, that is, that unlike the Son, he is entirely unbegotten (Breviloquium 1.3). As Russell Friedman has pointed out in his Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham, this position becomes somewhat characteristic of the Franciscans generally.

Anselm seems to see things a little differently. In his Monologion, chapter 39, he writes that “it is the distinguishing characteristic of the second [person of the godhead] that is born from the first, and it is the distinguishing characteristic of the first [person] that the second is born from him” (Williams trans.). For Anselm, in other words, what makes the Father to be the Father has less to do with what he and the son do not share in common (the Son being begotten, the Father unbegotten), than it does with–in perhaps proto-Dominican fashion–with the relation that the Father and Son do share in common. The Son is the Son because he is begotten by the Father, and the Father is the Father because he begets the Son.

Trinitarian Neighbors, Neighborly Trinities

“our neighbor is an image of the Trinity, and, as an image of the Father, deserves our respect; as an image of the Son, our truthfulness; and as an image of the Holy Spirit, our love…” (Bonaventure, Breviloquium 5.9.5)

Jesus Christ, Natural Philosopher and Renaissance Man

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 9

The quest for and “re-birth” of ancient wisdom and learning during the Renaissance was driven by a desire for the kind of knowledge of and insight into the world that Adam was believed to have possessed prior to the Fall, but which he lost through his sin against God. The idea that Adam possessed a thorough scientific knowledge of the natural world, however, was of medieval origin, as may be seen, for example, in Bonaventure’s characterization of the knowledge had “according to an integral human nature, as Adam had [before the fall]; by virtue of this he knew all things related to the structure of the universe” (Breviloquium 4.6.1). For Bonaventure, however, the lost knowledge of Adam had already been recovered, in principle, in the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, who “understood everything that has to do with the organization of the material universe, much more fully than did Adam” (4.6.7). The Incarnation, in other words,was the Renaissance, the (re)birth of divine Wisdom itself.

Augustine’s “Sin of Angelism”

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 8

The twentieth-century Thomist Jacques Maritain famously accused Descartes of being guilty of the “sin of angelism”: in thinking that man was essentially a thinking thing that needed no body to exist or to carry out its activity of thought, Descartes mistook the specifically angelic psychology for the human one.

Maritain, however, wasn’t the first to indict someone of angelism: Bonaventure beat him to the punch, and his target was Augustine. Having made his case why it was fitting that God should have created the world over six days, namely to display his Trinitarian attributes of divine power, wisdom, and benevolence, Bonaventure says that,

if from another point of view, it is said that all things were made at once, this is simply considering the work of the seven days from the perspective of the angels. At any rate, the first manner of speaking (i.e., creation over six days) is more in keeping with the Scripture and with the authority of the saints, both those before and after Saint Augustine. (Breviloquium 2.2.5)

In privileging a non-successive, instantaneous creation over one accomplished over the Scriptural six days, Augustine was assuming an angelic rather than a properly human perspective on creation.

Hexameral Omnipotence: Augustine vs. Bonaventure

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 6

Augustine, based on a bad Latin translation of a (compared to Genesis) sub-authoritative text (Ecclesiasticus 18:1), taught not only that God created all things simultaneously, but that this manner of creation was in fact more in keeping with divine power. As he writes in his Literal Commentary on Genesis (4.33), “For this power of Divine Wisdom does not reach by stages or arrive by steps.”

For Bonaventure, by contrast, it is rather God’s act of creating over six days that better displays his power, because in doing so, he also displays his wisdom and goodness. He writes:

Now God could have done all of these things simultaneously, but preferred to accomplish them over a succession of times. First of all, this would serve as a clear and distinct manifestation of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness.

As yesterday’s post pointed out, these attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness are “appropriated” by the three persons of the Trinity. This overstates matters, but there is a sense in which, from a Bonaventurean point of view, the Augustinian doctrine of simultaneous creation is monistic: it is all power without wisdom and goodness, all Father without Son and Spirit.

Bonaventure’s Trinitarian Hexameron

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 5

According to Bonaventure, why did God bring physical nature into existence over the course of six days? Because of the Trinity, of course. Here’s how he correlates the two:

Because all things flow from the first and most perfect Principle, who is omnipotent, all wise, and all-beneficent, it was most fitting that they should come into being in such a way that their very production might might reflect these same three attributes or perfections. Therefore, the divine operations that fashioned the world machine was three-fold: creation, particularly reflecting omnipotence; distinction, reflecting wisdom; and embellishment reflecting unbounded goodness. (Breviloquium 2.2.2)

God’s power, he goes on to explain, was exhibited in God’s bringing the world into being from nothing “before any day,” his wisdom in his work of distinction over the first three days, and his goodness in his work of embellishment or adornment in the second three days. As he had argued earlier, these three attributes of omnipotence, wisdom, and goodness are “appropriated” by the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So, in creating the world in six days, God displayed the Trinity.

The Quadriga: Bonaventure’s Hermeneutics of Humility

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 4

In his defense of the Quadriga or four-fold method of interpreting Scripture (literal, allegorical, tropoglocial, and anagogical), Bonaventure argues that this multiplicity of Scripture’s “mystical understandings” is “appropriate to the subject matter of Scripture, its hearer or student, its origin, and its end.” This one-in-many hermeneutic is fitted to the subject matter of Scripture insofar as Scripture gives us a Triune God who is one-in-many, a Christ through whom all things were first made and then re-made (a many-through-one), and a unified body of belief that nevertheless effectively communicates itself to the “differing states of believers” (a from-one-to-many).

As the final point indicates, Bonaventure also believes the Quadriga as a method of interpretation to be uniquely fitted to its hearer. As he explains:

For no one is a suitable hearer of Scripture without being humble, pure, faithful, and attentive. So, as a deterrent to pride, under the husk of the obvious literal meaning are hidden profound mystical understandings. This depth of meaning lying within the humble letter of the text abashes the arrogant, keeps out the unclean, drives away the deceitful, and arouses the idle to an understanding of the mysteries.

As Bonaventure would see it, an exclusively literal interpretation of Scripture lends itself to a certain pride, a confidence, that is, that the meaning of Scripture can be limited and so contained by the historical-grammatical intention of the text. Bonaventure’s concern is that, in the interest of chastening human speculation and fanciful readings of the text, such a narrow hermeneutic actually indulges in a different form of human arrogance, the assumption that the meaning and riches of the text are so much manna to be breezily gleaned from the ground, and little more. To Bonaventure’s mind, a recognition of the unfathomable allegorical, tropological, and anagogical depths of Scripture provides a check to such hermeneutical pride, and opens the text to a hermeneutical quest that must be as endless as the eternity  in which we will have to carry it out.