“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)
Category Archives: Breviloquium
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.