On this page:
The Theory of Illumination in St. Bonaventure by Brother John
Be Meek and Humble of Heart (St.
Bonaventure's First Sermon) by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Saint Bonaventure's: The Journey of the Mind to God.
An essay by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
of Illumination in St. Bonaventure
By Brother John Raymond
The Monks of Adoration, Venice, Florida
Used with Permission
We see in
much of St. Bonaventure’s philosophical thought a considerable influence by St.
Augustine. So much so that De Wulf considers him the best representative of
Augustinianism. St. Bonaventure adds Aristotelian principles to the Augustinian
doctrine especially in connection with the illumination of the intellect
according to Gilson. Other philosophical writers will see Platonic tendencies
also in St. Bonaventure. Nevertheless, we see in the Theory of Illumination a
uniquely Bonaventurian synthesis with a great influence from St. Francis. We see
St. Augustine’s view of the soul looking outward at Creation, inward on itself,
and up or outside itself to God developed in a much more rigorous way by St.
Bonaventure. He says, "It is possible to contemplate God not only outside us and
within us but also above us: outside, through vestiges of Him; within, through
His image; and above, through the light that shines upon our mind".1
St. Bonaventure will take these three illuminations and show how they will lead
us to God. This "light" which is quoted above is the same light talked about by
St. Augustine. He says, "This is the light of Eternal Truth, since our very mind
is formed immediately by Truth Itself’".2 We see this reference to
St. Augustine concerning the Divine light which helps us see Eternal Truths.
Unlike St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure will systematically show how the outward,
inward, and upward light leads to glory, praise, and honor of the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit.
St. Bonaventure talks
about a light outside of us in Creation which shines forth to reveal the power,
wisdom and benevolence of God. He says, "The Supreme power, wisdom, and
benevolence of the Creator shine forth in created things in so far as the bodily
senses inform the interior senses".3 The shining forth in created
things is done in a threefold way: by the potential excellence of things, the
habitual course of things, and the actual existence of things. The bodily senses
serve the intellect by seeing vestiges of God in creatures. In the potential
excellence of things, man investigates rationally the weight, number, and
measure of things. This leads to seeing mode, species, order, substance, power,
and activity. From these vestiges one can be led to consider God’s power,
wisdom, and goodness. In the habitual course of things, the world is considered
according to its origin, development, and end. Again these considerations lead
us to see God’s power, providence, and justice. These considerations though
involve the way of faith. Finally, in the actual existence of things we
contemplate intellectually a certain hierarchy of existence. We see some things
merely exist; others exist and live; and others exist, live, and discern. We see
things are corporeal; some partly corporeal and spiritual. We reason there must
be others which are wholly spiritual. Again, we go from the changeable and
corruptible to the changeable and incorruptible. This leads us to consider the
unchangeable and incorruptible. This hierarchy of existence leads to the
existence, living, intelligent, purely spiritual, incorruptible, and immutable
Another aspect of the
light in Creation outside of us is seeing God in visible Creation. He is in
creatures by His essence, power, and presence. We abstract from the doors of our
senses that which is purely spiritual. We see an Aristotelian influence on St.
Bonaventure concerning this method of abstraction. These abstracted concepts are
made by reason which abstracts from place, time, and change so that we can make
judgements with certitude. Certitude can only come from the Eternal Art, "by
which, through which, and according to which all beautiful things are formed".4
So we go from the visible to the invisible by God’s very design of us and
created things. Thus, "creatures of this visible world signify the invisible
things of God... for every creature is by its very nature some kind of image and
likeness of the eternal Wisdom"5. Further, we are lead to God because
"the effect is the sign of the cause; the thing exemplified, of the exemplar;
and the way, of the end to which it leads".6 All this light
externally given to us disposes us for the next stage—to look at the Divine
things that shine forth in the mirror of our minds.
As we look within at
our natural powers, we see the imprint of God on our souls. St. Bonaventure says
that if we consider the three powers of the soul and their relationships, we
will see God through ourselves as through an image. Concerning the relationships
of the three powers of the soul, St. Bonaventure goes more into the realm of
Theology than philosophy. We will consider here more of the individual faculties
and how they are illumined by God. The memory retains and represents to us
successive, simple, and everlasting things. By the retention of the past,
present, and future the memory is an image of eternity which extends itself to
all times. The memory retains simple things which are the principles of
continuous and discrete quantities. These principles or simple forms can only
come to the memory from above. Everlasting things concern the principles and
axioms of the sciences which are changeless truths. These changeless truths in
the memory come from a changeless light present in itself.
From the intellect we
come to see an image of God. The intellectual activity consists in understanding
terms, propositions, and inferences. With terms we go from definitions of the
least general to the more general. We must understand the highest and most
general term to know the less general. Thus, we must know being per se to know
the definition of a particular substance. We must have some knowledge of
Absolute Being. How can we know specific being is defective and incomplete
unless we have a knowledge of a Being free from all defect? With propositions we
must have certainty that they are true to comprehend their meaning. The mind
itself is changeable and yet we know truth is changeless. Created light is
subject to change. Thus, the intellect must be informed from some other light
which is unchangeable. This light comes from God. With inferences the conclusion
follows necessarily from the premises. The necessity of the inference does not
come from the contingent existence of a thing in matter or a fictional existence
in the mind. Therefore it must come from an exemplarity in the Eternal Art
concerning the relational character of things. So we see the intellect must have
some connection or joining with eternal Truth itself in order to understand any
truth with certitude.
The Will consists in
counsel, judgement, and desire. From each of these aspects of the Will St.
Bonaventure will show how they are enlightened or are stamped with the image of
God. Counsel involves inquiring into that which is better. To know that which is
better we must have an idea of that which is the best. This notion of the
highest good must of necessity be impressed upon those who give counsel. Again
with judgement we see an impression of the Divine. Our judgements are made
according to law. We must be certain the law is right to use it. Our mind judges
itself and yet does not judge the law. Therefore, the law is above our mind and
is stamped on it. Desire is concerned with what moves it most. The object loved
most moves it most. We love happiness most. Happiness is only attained when we
have reached our best and highest end. Therefore, we seek the highest Good. In
summary, all three faculties of the soul lead to God and are enlightened by Him.
St. Bonaventure says, ". . .how close the soul is to God, and how through their
activity, the memory leads us to eternity, the intelligence to Truth, and the
elective faculty to the highest Good".7 We see the soul incapable of
operation without access to an illumination from above. He says we "...have
certain and infallible laws as lights and beacons shining down into our mind
from the eternal law. And thus our mind…can be guided through itself to
contemplate that eternal Light".8
Finally, we arrive at
the light which shines upon our mind from above. St. Bonaventure says, "This is
the light of Eternal Truth, since ‘our very mind is formed immediately by Truth
Itself’".9 We see the direct influence of St. Augustine in this
statement as he is quoted concerning his doctrine of the illumination of the
mind from above to see Eternal Truths. St. Bonaventure goes on to elaborate on
two ways of contemplating the invisible and eternal things of God. In one method
the soul fixes its gaze on Being Itself. When we consider Being Itself, we are
looking at "...the principal root of the vision of the essential attributes of
God. as well as the name through which the others become known" 10 We
discover the essential attributes of God through the corresponding opposites
which are inseparable from them. For example, non-being is the privation of
being. It cannot come into our intellect except through being. We see that one
necessarily implies the other. Therefore, "that Being which is called pure being
and simple being and absolute being is the first being, the eternal, the most
simple, the most actual, the most perfect, and the supremely one".11
St. Bonaventure says "these, things are so certain that their opposites cannot
be thought of by one who really understands being itself".12 If we
consider these things "in the pure simplicity of your mind, you will be somewhat
suffused by the illumination of Eternal Light".13
The second method
fixes the souls gaze on the Good Itself. Most of St. Bonaventure’s discussion is
centered on the Trinity. From a philosophical point of view, he does borrow an
argument similar to the Ontological Argument for God’s existence of St. Anselm.
He says, "…the highest good is unqualifiedly that in comparison with which a
greater cannot be thought. And this good is such that it cannot rightly be
thought of as non-existing, since to be is absolutely better than not to be".14
St. Bonaventure says that good is claimed to be self-diffusive. Therefore,
the highest good is the most self-diffusive. He goes from here to discuss the
proper attributes of the Divine Persons. The most perfect illumination of the
mind occurs at this stage when we behold "‘Christ the Son of God, Who is by
nature the image of the invisible God’".15
In conclusion, we have
seen how St. Bonaventure goes through the illuminations of God which are
contained outside of us, within us, and above us. We are illuminated outside of
us by vestiges of God when we consider the potential excellence of things, the
habitual course of things, and the actual existence of things. God also shines
forth in visible Creation in creatures themselves. We abstract from the sense
image that which is purely spiritual. So the visible leads to the invisible
things of God. Within ourselves or our soul we find the Memory, Intellect, and
Will stamped with and leading to illuminations from above. With the Memory’s
capability of remembering past, present, and future it becomes an image of
eternity where all is present. The Intellect must be enlightened by eternal
Truth to have certitude. The Will is stamped with and seeks the highest Good.
Finally, we come to the illumination from above when we contemplate the
invisible and eternal things of God. When we look at Being Itself, we discover
essential attributes of God of which the opposites could not be conceived of or
separated from Being Itself such as non-being. Another way of contemplating the
light above us is through fixing our gaze on the Good Itself. We see as the
basis for all these illuminations St. Augustine’s influence concerning a Divine
Light which illumines the mind to perceive Eternal Truths. Also, Sacred
Scripture has a great influence on St. Bonaventure’s development of all aspects
of Creation containing or pointing to some aspect or likeness of God. Of course,
the height of illumination for the mind is contemplating the Son of God Who
joined the Divine Nature with human nature. He is the doorway for us to pass
through to gain access to the "Father of Lights" which St. Bonaventure refers to
in beginning his treatise.
- St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis
in Deum. Edited by Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M., Ph.D. (New York: Saint
Bonaventure University, 1956), p. 81.
- Ibid., p.45.
- Ibid., p.59.
- Ibid., p.61.
- Ibid., p. 69.
- Ibid., p. 71.
- Ibid., p. 81.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- Ibid., p. 85.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- Ibid., p. 95.
Bettoni, Efrem, Saint Bonaventure.
Translated by Anqelus Gambatese, O.F.M., Indiana, University of
Notre Dame Press, 1964.
St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in
Deum. Translated by Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M., Ph.D., New York,
Saint Bonaventure University, 1956.
St. Bonaventure, Vol. I of The Works of
St. Bonaventure. Translated by Jose de Vinck, New Jersey,
St. Anthony Guild Press, 1960.
St. Bonaventure, Vol. III of The Works of
St. Bonaventure. Translated by Jose de Vinck, New Jersey,
St. Anthony Guild Press, 1960.
Bougerol, J. Guy, O.F.M., Introduction to
the Works of St. Bonaventure. Translated by Jose de Vinck,
New Jersey, St. Anthony Guild Press, 1964.
Gilson, Eteinne, The Philosophy of St.
Bonaventure. Translated by Dom Illtyd Trethowan, New Jersey,
St. Anthony Guild Press, 1965.
Quinn, John Francis, The Historical
Constitution of St. Bonaventure’s Philosophy, Canada,
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973.
Be meek and humble of
by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
In Saint Bonaventure's first
sermon on Saint Francis, he said "Learn from me, that is, be meek and humble
after my example. A person is meek by loving his brethern, humble by loving
lowliness or 'minority." To be meek is to be a brother to everybody; to be
humble is to be less than everybody." Jesus teaches us "Unless you turn
and become children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
In the 21st Century there
seems to be little understanding of meekness and humility. A friend of mine
keeps telling me, you don't have to be a doormat for other people. Well, I know
how he means that: he means don't let others take advantage of you. But if we
start reasoning that way, meekness and humility go right out the window.
St. Bonaventure has another
view on meekness: "Meekness is necessary for the inward and outward practice
of virtue so that one may remain serene in conscience and be well pleasing in
the judgment and minds of one's neighbors.... Meekness is necessary to attain
eternal life. The Gospel tells us: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit
the earth." We know from the psalms that the meek shall possess the
land and shall delight in abundance of peace.
Then St. Bonaventure speaks
about humility: "The fruits of humility are manifold. First, it calms the
anger of God, while moving him to suspend judgment due to guilt." The
second fruit of humility: "it finds grace." Third, "it brings
righteousness to perfection." And, the fourth fruit, "it leads to
If there were more people who
did their best to be meek and humble of heart, there would be less anger, and
subsequently, less war. The whole question in the Middle East can be resolved
when everyone turns to God... in other words, when everyone involved, no matter
what background or religion, makes a personal interior conversion to loving God,
to strive for meekness and humility. We don't have to tell anyone that we're
striving to become meek and humble; it'll be very evident by your behavior and
relationships with others.
Quotations in italic are from "The
Disciple and the Master: St. Bonaventure's Sermons on St. Francis of Assisi," by
Eric Doyle, OFM (Editor/Translator). 1983 Franciscan Herald Press.
essay by Fred Schaeffer, SFO, on
Saint Bonaventure's: The Journey of the Mind to God
"Since happiness is
nothing else than the enjoyment of the Supreme Good, and the Supreme Good is
above us, no one can enjoy happiness unless he rise above himself, not, indeed,
by a bodily ascent, but by an ascent of the heart. But we cannot rise above
ourselves unless a superior power raise us." Some sentences later, Saint
Bonaventure gives us one of the keys "Prayer...is the mother and origin of every
upward striving of the soul."
The translation into
the English language by Fr. Philotheus Boehner, OFM. It is not the most recent
translation but one similar to the time in 1997 when I took a short course on
"The Journey of the Mind to God," given for Franciscan novices by the Franciscan
Sisters of Oldenburg, in Oldenburg, Indiana. A weekend course on Saint
Bonaventure, and perhaps especially this particular work, is hardly enough to
scratch the surface. To truly understand the spiritual and theological scope of
this work would take at least a semester or more. So just to let you know I'm
not an expert on Saint Bonaventure but I've read and studied several of his
works. Friary libraries are great - they generally have the series of
Bonaventure's works published by St. Anthony's Guild of Paterson, New Jersey -
but these seem to be totally out of print and especially not available to people
in small towns because there are no Catholic libraries about.
Let's continue. On any
work by Saint Bonaventure one needs to realize that he uses much symbolism and
metaphorical language. He states that our mind has three principle ways of
perceiving. This is a philosophical statement which one could compare to "Let
it be, He made it, and it was made." "It reflects the threefold
substance in Christ, who is our ladder" (as in ascent) "His corporeal substance,
His spiritual substance, and His divine substance."
six steps in the ascent to God. The whole world was created in six days, on the
seventh day, God rested. The Seraphim that Isaiah saw had six wings, and there
were several other examples of six days given. "Correspondingly,...there are six
graduated powers of the soul." These six powers are "the senses, the
imagination, reason, understanding, intelligence, and the summit of the mind or
spark of synderesis" (A term coined by St. Jerome, referring to the very apex of
A given in all of this
"He, therefore, who wishes to ascend to God must first avoid sin, which deforms
nature. He must bring the natural powers of the soul under the influence of
grace, which reforms them, and this he does through prayer; he must submit them
to the purifying influence of justice, and this, in daily acts; he must subject
them to the influence of enlightening knowledge, and this in meditation; and
finally, he must hand them over to the influence of the perfecting power of
wisdom, and this in contemplation."
All this takes a lot
of holy living. We're not likely to get there overnight. The basic ingredient in
this formula to Heaven is prayer and avoiding sin, any sin, at all costs. It can
be done and it has been done as the lives of hundreds of venerables, blesseds
and saints will teach us. And it can be done as members of the laity. I have no
doubts at all, and I can name a number of people who are well on their way to
giving their all to Jesus Christ.
"He who contemplates considers the actual existence of things; he who believes,
the habitual course of things; he who investigates with his reason, the mighty
excellence of things."
God is in all vestiges
of this world and through understanding of him in these objects we can find Him.
He is there in the trees of the field, and they stand in silent adoration. He is
present on the path we're walking on, because He is part of His Creation. So
also, He is in us, as He created us. These ideas are very present in
Bonaventure's writing. Beauty is an equality of proportion and from which we
derive pleasure and then use our judgment to discover why we take pleasure. It
is judgment that leads to a better way of beholding what is eternal because God
is a necessary part in our judgment.
much time on our memory, "the memory has to be informed not only from the
outside by phantasms but also from above." And he continues: "And thus it is
clear from the activities of the memory that the soul itself is an image of God
and a similitude so present to itself and having Him so present to it that it
actually grasps Him and potentially 'is capable of possessing Him and of
becoming a partaker in Him.'"
therefore, seeks whatever it seeks only because of the highest Good, because
what it seeks either leads to the highest Good or has some likeness to it. So
great is the power of the highest Good that nothing can be loved by a creature
except through the desire for that Good, so that he who takes the likeness and
the copy for truth errs and goes astray."
Unfortunately, in the
20th and 21st Centuries, people have come to disobey God. Their idea of the
highest good is the flesh. My fervent hope is that they will find their way to
obey God again and so be able to recognize the greatness of Him who loves them
image of our soul, therefore, must be clothed with the three theological
virtues, by which the soul is purified, enlightened, and perfected."
Let us strive to be
obedient to God in all things, let us shun riches and power, and let us live a
chaste life, always living in the image of a loving God. And, if we, Secular
Franciscans, live by the Rule of Saint Francis, if we do it well, Heaven will
begin here on earth as we are gently led by the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit, closer and closer into the arms of God. Saint Bonaventure in "The
Journey of the Mind to God," has given us a way to accomplish this important
quotations taken from:
St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum. Translated by Philotheus
Boehner, O.F.M., Ph.D., New York,
The Franciscan Institute,
Saint Bonaventure University, 1956.