Category: Persons

Bonaventure

Bnaventure (c. 1214-1274) developed a Christocentric theological system, abundant in symbolic references, in which he employs Augustinian Neo-Platonism to challenge scholastic Aristotelianism.

Ioannes Fidanza of Bagnoregio in Latium (Lazio), commonly known as Bonaventrura, is counted among the most excellent intellectuals of the Latin Middle Ages. He held the position of magistrate (professor) of theology in the University of Paris, he was also a Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He received the appellation Doctor Seraphicus. Bonaventure articulated a concise theologico-philosophical system thoroughly influenced by Augustinian Neo-Platonism and Franciscan spirituality.

Bonaventure sets out to write in an age when the great synthesis of Aristotelianism and Christianity had already been shaped during the 13th c. Even though in his works Bonaventure adduces basic arguments from the Aristotelian logic, physics and psychology, he directs his criticism (inspired by Neo-Platonism) against Aristotelian metaphysics.

In contrast to Thomas Aquinas -who was his contemporary and colleague at the University of Paris-, Bonaventure rejects the Aristotelian concept of truth on the grounds that the philosopher deems it attainable by cognitive means alone - thus, dissociating truth from the gift of faith. Therefore, Aristotelian metaphysics is not only limited, but essentially false.

The Aristotelian God, defined as thought thinking itself, cannot think of anything else apart from itself. This means that it cannot think of the world. But if it cannot think of the world, it cannot love the world - a consequence that eliminates the possibility for divine providence. Furthermore, the world is for Aristotle eternal, and therefore it rules out the possibility of having been freely created by god. Bonaventure concludes that Aristotelian metaphysics is incompatible with Christian truth.

Along these lines, Bonaventure rejects Aristotle's assault against the platonic Forms. In keeping with a central tenet of the Augustinian theology, Bonaventure claims that Forms, that is, the eternal archetypes of every creature, do not exist in their own right, but only inside the divine mind. God's knowledge of himself is the same as the divine Word, i.e. the Son. Every created being exists insofar as it partakes of the Word. The Word is not dispersed in many Forms; this impression is produced by the deficiency of the human mind to grasp the Word in its unity. By dismissing the Forms, says Bonaventure, we renounce the possibility of certain knowledge. Conversely, certain knowledge pivots on the existence of the Forms, that is, of the divine Word.

Bonaventure endorses the Neo-Platonic principal that beings are begotten by a first cause, which they reflect and to which they return. A relation of similarity (similitudo) is established between god and beings. Every being is a vestige (vestigium) or shadow (umbra) of god. However, a higher level of likeness is established between god and man: the intellectual being is an image (imago) of god. Bonaventure abides to the Augustinian and Franciscan pronouncement that man achieves his higher end, i.e., happiness, not by steering himself towards god's sensible traces, but towards his own soul: towards the image of god. Bonaventure's work Itinerarium mentis ad Deum (among the most prominent in scholastic mysticism) spells out the idea of the gradual ascendance of the soul from sensible beings unto god.

Author: Thanos Samartzis
  • S. Bonaventura Opera Omnia τόμ. I-IX. Collegium S. Bonaventurae, Quaracchi, 1882-1902.
  • Bougerol, J.G. Introduction à l'étude de saint Bonaventure2. Paris, 1988.
  • Cullen, Ch. Bonaventure. Oxford, 2006.
  • Gilson, Ét. La philosophie de saint Bonaventure3. Paris, 1953.
  • Goff, J., Hellmann, W., Hammond, J.M. eds. A Companion to Bonaventure. Leiden, 2013.
  • Quinn, J. The Historical Constitution of St. Bonventure's Philosophy. Toronto, 1973.
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