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.

Bonaventure, Theologian of Time

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 3

Some semi-baked thoughts contrasting Bonaventure and Aquinas on time:

In Bonaventure’s discussion of the “length” of Scripture, we see his interest in developing a theology of time. More than Aquinas, Bonaventure is interested in the temporal aspect of creation. One area where this may be seen is in their respective positions on the question of the eternity of the world. In contrast to the radical Aristotelians founds in the Arts faculty at the University of Paris–according to whom creation had no beginning since, as Aristotle had so cogently argued in his Physics, it makes no sense to speak of a “beginning” in time that has no moment prior to it–both Bonaventure and Aquinas held to the orthodox position that creation had a distinct, precise moment of beginning. Unlike Bonaventure, however, Aquinas did believe that the world’s having a temporal beginning was an article of faith, something that was revealed by Scripture, and therefore was not subject to philosophical demonstration. As far as Aquinas was concerned, there was nothing inconceivable about God having created the world from all eternity. On such a hypothesis, the world would still be created, that is, it would depend upon God’s creative act for its being, but there needn’t be any point when God “began” creating. Thus, while Aquinas found Aristotle’s arguments for the eternality of the world to lack necessity, he did think Aristotle was successful in at least showing the possibility, even if not the factuality, of the world’s eternality.

In contrast to Aquinas’s fideism on this point (ironic given Bonaventure’s conservativism relative to Aquinas), Bonaventure held that the notion of an eternal creation was logically contradictory, inasmuch as the notion of beginningness was built-in to the very meaning of creation. For Bonaventure, the temporal beginning of creation was not merely an article of faith, but was something capable of philosophic demonstration (cp. also Aquinas and Bonaventure’s differing views on the demonstrability of the Trinity; even here, however, while seemingly more rationalistic than Aquinas, Bonaventure was actually simply following Anselm, whom Aquinas criticizes in the Summa).

There are a couple ways of looking at this disagreement. On the one hand, we might see Aquinas as preserving the necessity of Scripture for our knowledge about the origin of the world. On the other hand, implicit in his position is a kind of skepticism towards our ability to know the temporal beginningness of the world, and perhaps as a consequence, a degree of ambivalence towards its importance. Aquinas does say, to be fair, that the world’s temporal beginning better displays (than would its eternity) God’s power and creation’s dependence on God. Yet I don’t think it is accidental that Bonaventure’s fascination with and attention to time in his theology is comparatively absent from Aquinas. The greater influence of Aristotle on Aquinas, after all, means that time, in and of itself, is something more “natural” to him and therefore something, again, in and of itself, that is understandable by reason alone. Aquinas more than Bonaventure will tend to see time more as Aristotle the pagan saw it, as a comparatively desacralized, more theologically neutral space. For Bonaventure, by way of contrast, time can only be understood as created time, which is to say, as Genesis time,and therefore as time-with-a-beginning. Time has a sacramental character that is not as clear in Aquinas’s own philosophical treatment of the subject. (Cp. here, by the way, Thomas’s distinct, compartmentalized treatises in the Summa on “creation” on the one hand and “the work of six days” on the other. Again, where Bonaventure gives us a paradigm of faith seeking understanding, in Aquinas we have reason laying the philosophical foundation upon which the article of faith may later be added).

Related to all of this is Bonaventure’s statement that the length of Sacred Scripture “corresponds to God’s governance of the universe.” Aquinas is also very interested in the subject of divine governance, but for Aquinas the order of the universe is more static, unchanging, whereas Bonaventure’s correlation of divine governance with history reveals an eschatological metaphysics that doesn’t stand out to me as much in Aquinas.

Bonaventure and the Music of the Ainur

Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, part 2

In my series of posts on the “Metaphysics of the Music,” I’ve been looking at some of the classical, medieval, and specifically Thomistic antecedents to the Music of the Ainur in Tolkien’s Ainulindalë. Interestingly, in his imaginative summary of his argument for the correspondence between the original seven days of creation and the seven ages of creation history, Bonaventure probably comes as close to anticipating Tolkien as anyone:

And so the whole course of this world is shown by Scripture to run in a most orderly fashion from beginning to end, like an artfully composed melody. In it, one can contemplate, by means of the succession of events, the diversity, multiplicity, and symmetry, the order, rectitude, and excellence, of the many judgments that proceed from the divine wisdom governing the universe. Just as  no one can appreciate the loveliness of a song unless one’s perspective embraces it as a whole, so none of us can see the beauty of the order and governance of the world without an integral view of its course. (Breviloquium, prolog., sect. 2)

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. 

Did Aquinas have an Aesthetic?

In the previous post I cited Leo Spitzer’s comment that Aquinas does not seem to have had “the Augustinian ear for world harmony, ascribing to music a holy character only insofar as it was an element of the liturgy; as an Aristotelian he ‘reflects’ the world as it is, rather than attempting to re-create it by forging it together into a unit.” If so, the alleged tone-deafness of St. Thomas in matters of metaphysics might be related to the general absence of an explicit aesthetics in Thomas’s thought. John Milbank, for example, observes on the one hand that “[j]ust because there was no aesthetics in Aquinas’s theological philosophy, the aesthetic is therein everywhere present,” while on the other hand suggesting that “the latency of fundamental beauty in Aquinas meant that it was also for him a blind spot: one could even say that Aquinas probably supposed his own theology to have more to do with abstract reason than was really the case. This blindness invited a later rationalistic reduction by nominalism and neo-scholasticism of the Patristic legacy in which he stood, and to resist this one indeed requires a more explicit aesthetics, conjoined to a more explicit poetics…” (Milbank, “Scholasticism, Modernism, and Modernity,” 670). Related to this is Francesca Aran Murphy’s observation that, unlike Franciscans such as St. Bonaventure, none of the Dominican scholastics, including Albert the Great and St. Thomas, ever explicitly listed beauty as a transcendental and therefore convertible property of being. On the other hand, Murphy points out that, “whilst both Albert and Thomas say little of beauty in the main body of their writings, they both succumb to its lure in their respective Commentaries on The Divine Names of Pseudo-Dionysus. In these texts, each of these writers speaks of the universal extent of beauty, and names God as its first cause. In The Divine Names, Dionysius defines the beautiful as one of the sources of being” (Murphy, Christ the Form of Beauty: A Study in Theology and Literature, 213). Also, as Milbank is concerned to show, Thomas’s aesthetic vision, however blurred by his intellectualism, was to his credit at least sufficiently clear to inspire, through the work of Jacques Maritain, the “more explicit poetics” of twentieth-century Catholic artists and writers such as David Jones, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sacred scripture vs. sacred doctrine: Aquinas on metaphor

My previous post contrasting Augustine and Aquinas got me noticing how, in the preface to question one of the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas says that he will address the question of whether sacred doctrine “rightly employs metaphors and similes,” whereas the question he actually answers in article nine is whether sacred scripture “should use metaphors.” In Aquinas’s Franciscan counterpart and contemporary, St. Bonaventure, “sacred doctrine” still means something like “sacred scripture,” the study of holy writ not yet being fully distinguished from the holy writ itself. In Aquinas, by comparison, these two realities receive more of their own identity, something I think is implicit in this opening passage of the Summa Theologiae (elsewhere in question one Aquinas will formally distinguish between the two by explaining how sacred scripture provides sacred doctrine with its first principles or axioms)In this small inconsistency between Aquinas’s promise to find a place for metaphor and simile in sacred doctrine, and his actual argument defending a place for metaphor and simile in sacred scripture, we perhaps have the signs of a growing crack between the ever-new wine of Scriptural content, and the what will prove to be an increasingly brittle wine-skin of the form of Scholastic logic and its conceptual apparatus. For Aquinas, scripture may be allowed to “rightly employ metaphors and similes,” but his own practice of sacred doctrine, significantly enough, almost never will.

Being for eternity

Q. 3.1 of Bonaventure’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes asks what Solomon means when he says that all human labor under the sun is vain, when this would seem to include even those labors done in the service of God (an “heretical opinion”). Bonaventure’s answer is to proffer yet another distinction, one that nevertheless adds an important and helpful perspective or qualification to Bonaventure’s remarks in general about the “vanity of changeability.” Amongst created things, Bonaventure says, there are those things which come into being concurrently or “with time” (angels and matter) and those things which come into being “in time” (they have their being within time and thus “after” time itself had started). Of these latter beings, some exist “in and under time” (i.e., they have both their beginning and ending in time). Of these, finally, he further distinguishes between those things which exist “for and under time” (they both “cease work and bearing fruit” in time) and those which are “for eternity” (they “cease work” in time, but they “continue to bear fruit” after time). They are the works of the former camp (those that exist only “for and under time”) that Solomon has in mind when he refers to the work of men done under the sun (i.e., “under the sun” means “under time”), and which are therefore done in vain. And although Bonaventure does not make the point expressly, he would presumably have us place those aforementioned works, for example, done in the service of God in the latter category, of those things that are done “for eternity” and which therefore “cease work” in time while nevertheless continuing to “bear fruit” into eternity. For Bonaventure, in short, then, there are two kinds of works: those that are done “under sun,” which therefore not only terminate in time, but also have their “fruit” terminate there as well; and those that are done in time (and thus, in this sense, are “under the sun”), but which are nonetheless “for eternity”: like all human labors they will cease in time, but their “fruit” or consequences will continue to reverberate throughout eternity.

As I mentioned above, this distinction amongst things which have their beginning and ending in time, by dividing them into those which, ceasing to work in time, either continue or fail to continue to bear fruit into eternity, would seem to soften or qualify Bonaventure’s general indictment of all mutable or changeable being with a kind of “vanity.” In this way Bonaventure might be seen to redeem creaturely mutability through Christian eschatology. A dominant trend in much Greek thinking, after all, was to distinguish between changeable becoming and unchanging being and to denigrate the vagaries of the former in light of the stability of the latter. Here Bonaventure may be seen to bridge the difference through the distinction between what which begins and ends “under the sun” (i.e., the temporal) and that which may have its beginning “under the sun” but which nevertheless will continue, or at least have its “fruit” continue, on into eternity. In this way there is an aspect of changeable being, we might say, which is allowed to escape or be “rescued from” the vanity that otherwise characterizes the changeable realm, by allowing it to participate and endure in that which is eternal. Put differently, viewed from this vantage point, the central distinction is perhaps no longer to be placed between the vanity of changeability and the permanence of the unchangeable, but between that which is not only changeable, but unlasting, and that which, while changeable, will nevertheless be blessed with an endless and enduring legacy. The answer to the ancient philosophical problem of change or mutability, therefore, is not a present transcending (which is to say, escaping) of time through contemplation or intellection into the eternal, unchanging realm of being, but is a present, eschatological hope that in the future we will see even our deeds done here on earth taken up and, as it were, memorialized for all eternity.