Wednesday, December 4

What Does Bonaventurian Theology Teach?

St. Bonaventure was a well know follower of St. Francis who taught that there is a specific unity and harmony in the created cosmos. He believed that humanity was able to perceive this harmony and unity, as we are both physical (our bodies) and non-physical (our souls). St. Francis was known to have a deep appreciation for the created world, something which St. Bonaventure picked up on and continued. He understood perfection to essentially be demonstrated through reconciliation, loving relationships and wise discernment.

In Genesis, God gave humanity the dominion mandate not to rule others but to care for others, including non-humans. Bonaventure described humans as being unique among God’s work in that we were created with a body-soul union, and that the various aspects of the soul is the very core of human action – it senses, it grows, it has intellect. However, although the soul is non-physical and non-material, the soul is co-dependent upon our body, which is itself physical and material. Thus, our soul is currently tied to the things of the flesh. Bonaventure taught that much as there is a harmony and unity that reflects the nature of God, so too does the human. Our body is subject to the soul, and the soul is subject to God. The two-fold nature of the person reflects, in some respect, the nature of the Divine Being. Indeed, he claims that in this earthly life, the soul is dependent upon the body, but in future heavenly life, the body will be dependent upon the soul.

Imitation (mimesis), or rather, “image,” is an extremely important concept in Bonaventurian thought. According to Genesis 1:26, we are created in the very image of God, and God breathed the soul (breathed life) into mankind.  St. Augustine once noted that our memory is what contains the past, present and future – and St. Bonaventure picked up on this when he noted that the image of God is still contained or imprinted upon the mind, so that through memory, intellect and will we can perceive God. This divine imprint allows us to have a sense of God’s existence and nature, so that we can come to Him. The image of God is not what is found on the mind, however – it is the likeness of God that we bear as humans, and the sense that our true self or true identity can only be found in God. Bonaventure essentially understood that the Word of God is the image of the Father, and that we are the image of the Word. In this view, we are each a sort of word spoken by the Father and each contain a part of God (his imprint or fingerprints). Since the Word of God became flesh and lived as Jesus, it is through our relationship with Jesus that we can come to God and discover our true self. The love of God displayed on the cross is the kind of transformative love that we receive from God, so that God is manifested in the human experience through love itself.

As aforementioned, mimesis/imitation is an important Bonaventurian concept. From birth we imitate those around us, which seemingly shapes us as individuals. Bonaventure’s concept of sin is that mankind wanted to imitate God (to be “like God” as the serpent tempts Eve), and as a result of this, creation fell to corruption. For Bonaventure, there once existed a time when mankind lived in perfect good with God. Adam and Eve stood before God face to face in His image, and the spiritual and natural world freely interacted and both realms were open to each other. Yet when humanity tried to grasp God’s power and God’s knowledge, we fell into darkness. This is why there is a burning desire within humanity, as we always seek to reacquire that which we have utterly lost. Try as we might, we cannot re-obtain this lost innocence. The sin of some affected the lives of all, and the darkness and corruption of sin is still felt today. When sin entered into creation, the image of God in man was distorted so that a sort of wedge has been driven between the soul and the body, the supernatural and the natural. This problem is solved in the person of Jesus, who took on flesh as the Godman and as the truth of existence and the core of reality, took on the sin for mankind and through faith (trust) in Him, we can become reconciled to God. This is St. Bonaventure’s view of humanity.

As humans, however, we are all on a journey to God. St. Bonaventure taught that we must start with expanding our mind and then moving forward through faith to find a mystical union with God. Christ was not merely the renewal of humanity but of all creation, he argued, and this journey to God illuminates the steps creation must take. After St. Bonaventure left the University of Paris, he began to write more spiritually. It is through these spiritual writings that we find his idea of the soul’s journey to God. According to Bonaventure, we have come from God, we live and breath in the image of God and we are ourselves coming back to God. In The Soul’s Journey Into God, Bonaventure lays out the journey to God in six steps, with the seventh as the stage where we find blissful wisdom and virtue. He contended that the human is created with an insatiable, unquenchable desire. We seek all of our lives to satisfy this desire and find a way to at least be content with it – yet apart from God, no satisfaction will arise.

This journey begins in poverty, or rather, with the poor in spirit. Those who are poor in spirit and have hardened hearts will be transformed, essentially given a new heart and by the end of this journey, be rich in spirit. To enable this journey to occur at all, one must engage in prayer with God. This form of communication that is faster and stronger than any wireless connection in our world is an instantaneous uplink to the Divine. The dialogue between the lover and the loved, between the Creator and His creation, is one of prayer. With this foundation the journey truly begins. Creation is the start, in which our original parents – Adam and Eve – had what Bonaventure called a “triple eye.” This “triple eye” is the eye found on our body, the eye of reason and the eye of meditation, yet when humanity fell to sin, we became blind through our various senses to the supernatural. We are like those who have fallen to the ground, yet Christ comes along to pick us up if we choose to accept His aid. While we currently walk in the shadow of the divine because of sin, it is through Jesus that we can come out of the darkness and into light.

Bonaventure believed that God is infinite and we are finite. As finite or imperfect creatures, we cannot hope to experience the perfect and divine being unless we approach him through means other than our own. In other words, we exist as body and soul (physical and spiritual), and since God is Spirit we can only approach Him through our soul. The imprint of the Great Artist that has been left in the very core of our souls can be reached if we only look inward enough. Although sin has darkened our understanding and experience, there is still a divine light that sheds light on truth, and it is with this truth that we can reach God. This concept of illumination is one also taught by St. Augustine. We gain knowledge not simply for knowledge’s sake, but in order to find and become closer to God. Our image, however, is a fallen image of God. We exemplify both God’s divine nature but also the tragedy of the human drama, so that our image of God is a tainted one. We are dim images of the true light. Although our ancestors sinned and the ladder was broken between God and Man, the Godman in the person of Jesus descended and repaired this ladder, so that through Jesus we can come to the Father. Indeed, regardless of how much knowledge and learning we gain in this life, apart from Christ we could never hope to achieve mystical union with God.

St. Bonaventure also wrote a work called The Tree of Life, a work focused specifically on the life and person of Jesus Christ. In the work, Bonaventure often uses relational words to enable and provide the reader with the opportunity to engage with the life of Jesus and participate with Him in his life as One. Jesus opens up our spiritual senses and through the man in Jesus, we can experience God. Once our spiritual senses are recovered, we can then relate to the divine. Bonaventure often quoted Isaiah 45:15, “truly, you are a hidden God,” to illustrate that when our senses are blinded we cannot seem to find God. When we accept Jesus, however, we are not simply to do nothing further. Instead, we ought to be completely and utterly transformed so that continually grow in the image of God. Jesus is therefore the beginning, the middle and the end of our journey to God. This journey must also be transformative in nature.

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