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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


BONAVENTURA

(1221 — 1274)

 

AUGUSTINIANISM

Giovanni di Fidanza, the Doctor Seraphicus ('Angelic Teacher'), known as San Bonaventura (or St Bonaventure), was born in Bagnorea, Tuscany. He entered the Franciscan Order in 1238 and studied in Paris under Alexander of Hales. He taught theology there and was appointed to the Franciscan Chair in 1257. As Minister-General of the Order he was actively involved in worldly affairs. In 1273 he was made Bishop of Albano and Cardinal by Pope Gregory X.

 

RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY/ METAPHYSICS

[1] Although Bonaventura makes a clear distinction between faith and reason and grants that philosophy is a rational activity and need not make use of theological dogma, he starts from the assumption that philosophy must be incomplete or erroneous unless guided by the light of faith [a]; all knowledge must presuppose and depend on revelation [see, for example, Commentary on the Sentences, II, 1; On the Six Days, I, 13]. And in general he tends to write as a theologian rather than as a philosopher interested in philosophical problems as such. His primary concern is with the soul's ascent to God. He accepts that God's existence can be proved from the material world [Sentences I, 3; Six Days III, 4; On the Mystery of the Trinity I, 1], but he sees such proofs as little more than reinforcing what he supposes to be the soul's prior awareness of God's existence through its own reflection on itself. We do not, however, have such knowledge from birth; indeed in many adults it may be only implicit or unclear. It is to them primarily that he addresses his proofs. Thus our recognition that the sensible world is finite and imperfect draws our attention to and clarifies the awareness we have of infinitude and perfection. He argues further that there must be a simple unchanging, self-caused Being to bring about composite and changeable things. Another argument starts from the human desire for happiness [Mystery I, 1]. This can be realized only when we possess the supreme Good, that is, God. But the desire for happiness presupposes we have knowledge in our soul that the Supreme Good exists [b]. Bonaventura also uses arguments which do not start from the sensible world. Thus he adopts the ontological argument [Ibid.; Sentences I, 8]. (As soon as we understand the idea of God as that than which nothing greater can be thought we have to accept that God's existence cannot be doubted and that we cannot think of Him as not existing. He rejects Gaunilo's objection by saying that his assumption is self-contradictory: that than which nothing greater can be thought is a perfect being, whereas 'island' refers to an imperfect thing.) And he appeals further to an argument from truth [Sentences I, 8] [c]. Every affirmative proposition presupposes a foundation for truth; and this, he says, can be understood only by reference to a first Truth — God.

[2] Bonaventura accepts the doctrine of exemplarism, the view that God is seen as the supreme cause of everything in that the Ideas of all things — possible, actual, universals, particulars — are contained in the Divine Word [a]. He uses the term 'emanation' to describe the procession of the world freely created by and from God [b], but he stresses that this must be understood in the context of the Christian account. Creation as a whole is a sign of God [Sentences II, 25]. Within God these infinitely various Ideas are identical with the divine essence and are not therefore distinct from each other: but as conceived by rational creatures they may be supposed to be distinct in that they connote different things. [See Six Days I and XII; Sentences I, 35.] Everything that can happen, whether good, evil, or possible, is already known to God in infinite and eternal act. While there is change and succession in the things mirrored in divine knowledge, there is no time or motion in God's act itself. Indeed, Bonaventura argues that the idea of creation requires time to have had a beginning; the world cannot be eternal. And he offers several arguments against eternal motion. For example, he suggests that as it is impossible for something to pass through an infinite series [c]; an eternal time would never have reached the present moment. Likewise if the world were eternal there would now be an infinity of rational souls — and this is impossible [Ibid. II, 1].

[3] As for individual creatures, these are clearly dependent on God; and according to the doctrine of exemplarism they must resemble God in some way. [See, for example, ibid. I, 35 and 39; II, 16.] Bonaventura says this involves an imitation of something in God and not a univocal participation. By this he means that what is in God is not possessed by his creatures in the same sense; if it were it would lead to pantheism. Rather we must understand resemblance in terms of analogy [a] — of proportionality (as between things of different kinds) and especially of likeness. Creatures, he says, are 'traces' (vestigia) of God — as exemplata, that is, as effects of God, conforming to the divine ideas, and in proportion in that creatures too can produce effects. Rational creatures resemble God more closely in so far as they can have rational knowledge of Him and are thus images (imagines) of Him [b]. Irrational creatures on the other hand are directed to God only mediately as effects and differ from rational creatures proportionately. Bonaventura thus accepts a hierarchy of being [c] — though again of course this is a hierarchy only as viewed from the standpoint of created beings. From a conception of sensible beings we ascend to rational beings, rational beings in a state of grace, and ultimately souls themselves in heaven enjoying the beatific vision of God. Thus in the ascent we find an ever closer likeness of the Divine, and ever greater expression of the Word. The created world, Bonaventura adds, is thus perfect in the sense that it serves the purpose God intended. God could of course have created things differently [d]. He could, for example, have created a world in which all beings have better essences. Indeed, one could suppose that even within this actual world its substances could be changed into a higher class (in which case He would be making a different world), or that individual men might be improved morally or intellectually. Nevertheless we finite creatures cannot know God's reasons for acting as He does.

[4] Bonaventura's account of created beings and their production is subtle. Unlike God, who is immaterial and pure act, all created beings (corporeal and spiritual) are said to be composed of matter and form (the doctrine of hylomorphism) [Ibid. II, 3] [a]. Matter cannot exist on its own; it exists in association with form: but it is potential in so far as it is the basis of forms (having a disposition to receive them) of all beings [b]. Considered either in itself, abstracted from all forms, or potentially as the foundation for being as such, matter is the same in all things. But in relation to motion it differs as between substances that can change on receiving component forms (namely, bodies) and substances which cannot change (for example, spiritual beings or angels). Bonaventura argues for a plurality of forms in all bodies [c]. Moreover, in addition to their own forms they possess the form of light (lux) as the one basic substantial form — their position in the hierarchy of being reflecting their degree of participation in the form of light. Light is a central concept in Bonaventura's metaphysics. [Ibid. II, 13] He understands it as the composite of form and 'spiritual' matter. It is not itself material in the bodily sense but it represents the form of corporeal matter; and it is through light that corporeal matter is actualized, brought into being [d]. Light (lumen) is the principle of activity. Radiating from the heavenly bodies it is a power which permeates the universe as a kind of spiritual life-force, active in reproduction and in effect mediating between soul and body [e]. It also acts as an agent in the eliciting of 'seminal reasons' (rationes seminales) from matter [f]. Bonaventura explains the doctrine of seminal reasons in the following way. Matter as potentiality contains within itself most natural forms which are actualized through the action of light (in its 'illuminating' role). Matter, he supposes, contains these forms virtually; they are created within it. The agent's role is thus solely to bring to act what already exists potentially. It is these virtual forms he identifies as seminal reasons. Only God can create out of nothing. [On the above see, for example, ibid. II, 7, 13, 15, and 18.]

The composite of matter and form is the individuating factor — that which makes things what they are. Within this it is matter which is responsible for the distinctness and multiplicity of individual things as apart from others, while it is form that makes the individual a specific kind. For example, I am a man (form); I differ numerically from other men (matter): but matter and form together make me the individual I am. Moreover, because the form is rational — the highest substantial form — I am thereby made an individual person [g].

 

PSYCHOLOGY

[5] [See Sentences II, 17, 18, 24.] Of the numerous created beings, the human soul is unique in that it is created by God out of nothing. According to Bonaventura it is composed of both form and matter, but both of these are 'spiritual' [a]. Although an individual's soul is 'simple' in that it contains no measurable parts, and its matter is unextended and unchangeable, it has four functions, that is, faculties which are not distinct — vegetative, sensitive, rational (and its several aspects), and volitional (will). The rational soul animates the body and has the desire to perfect it [b] in the same way that the body has the desire to follow the soul [ibid. II, 17, I]. The body too is composed of matter and form, and is transmitted seminally through the generations of men. The relationship of soul to body is thus a union of two complete beings, each of which has its own form and matter; it is not a relationship of soul as form and body as matter [c]. Bonaventura also distinguishes two different but inseparable aspects of the rational soul — the active intellect, which is unique to each individual soul, and the passive or possible intellect. There is no separate universal active intellect. However, the possible intellect is not completely passive, and the active intellect is not wholly 'in act' [see under 'Knowledge' below — sec. 6] [d]. Given his theological presuppositions and 'proofs', and his account of the nature of the human soul as simple and self-subsistent, Bonaventura took it for granted that the soul is immortal — eventually to enjoy a vision of God. But he does also offer a number of proofs [ibid. II, 19]. Two in particular should be mentioned. (1) Because it is the function and ultimate end of the soul to possess God as the supreme Good, it must be made in His image and therefore cannot be mortal. Moreover, the spiritual matter united to the form of the body must also be immortal, since its own satisfaction is found fully within this union. (2) The natural desire of the soul for happiness itself constitutes a proof in its own right [e]. The soul must be immortal, for otherwise there could be no possibility of this perfect happiness being attained. (Bonaventura regards 'ethical' proofs as superior to more metaphysical ones involving, for example, consideration of the soul's ability to reflect on itself or of its incorruptibility — in contrast to corporeal matter.)

 

KNOWLEDGE

[6] According to Bonaventura, our knowledge starts from sense perception; the intellect when created is an 'empty tablet' (tabula rasa) and has no knowledge of sensible things. He thus rejects innate ideas as understood in a strict sense [a]. In the process whereby sensible knowledge is acquired the sensible object acts on the passive sense organ and produces in it a sensible species which itself acts on the active faculty of sensation. This latter can become aware of and 'judge' the content of the sensation and thence perceive the quality of the object. The various sensations are unified by the imagination acting on a 'common sense'. The job of the passive or possible intellect (aided by the active intellect) is to abstract the species from the imagination and to judge it. In this respect the passive intellect exhibits activity [b]. The active intellect can itself have no knowledge unless it receives information from the possible intellect, towards which therefore it is in a sense not 'in act' [See Sentences II, 24].

If thus far Bonaventura's theory of knowledge is empirical, and if he rejects 'crude' innatism, how does he account for intelligible knowledge of spiritual realities and virtues [see sec. 7]? His answer [see, for example, Six Days, XII; Journey of the Soul; The Mystery of the Trinity] is that the soul has a capacity (or 'virtual innateness') to come to such knowledge as soon as it has knowledge of the relevant ideas or species; and this capacity may be said to be a natural light. The soul as the 'image of God' naturally leads towards God in its desire and will for happiness — a will to which the intellect is subordinate (he calls the will the "rational affection of appetite" [Sentences III, 33]). The soul has a dim awareness of God [c] as its object but to make this awareness explicit — to turn it into reflective (non-intuitive) knowledge, the soul must rely on the illumination provided by the activity within it of the Divine Ideas (rationes aeternae) [c]. These Ideas, although in themselves unknown to man, stimulate and regulate the intellect so that what is unchanging, certain and real can be revealed in fallible sensory experience [c]. The intellect is thereby enabled to ascend the hierarchy of being. The soul thus exhibits different degrees of reason as it comes progressively to apprehend ever 'higher' aspects of being. It sees sensible things as the effects of God, in which he is still present; contemplates God as active in the soul — in both its natural operations and when 'elevated' by grace; and finally contemplates God as the Good and ultimate Being — the limits of knowledge beyond which there is only mystical experience [d].

 

ETHICS

[7] [See, for example, Sentences II, 25 & 28; III, 33.] As one might expect, Bonaventura's ethics were Christian and firmly grounded in the Augustinian tradition. Morally virtuous actions are actions directed towards the cardinal virtues of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice but which are, as it were, transformed and exalted through His gifts of faith, hope, and charity [a]. To bring about good ends requires the collaboration of the will and the subordinate intellect. Through intellectual apprehension of first principles ('synderesis') and through conscience, which is informed by the practical intellect, the soul is habituated to judge the fundamental principles according to which one should act [b] — and which should conform to the law of God. The will, which possesses natural 'affections' or inclinations towards ends, intends and initiates the actions required to bring them about. It is the goodness of ends, that makes the will good, and correspondingly, the moral goodness of actions depends on those right ends, that is, the motives or intentions of the agent. But because of the fallibility of the conscience and the limitations of the will in the face of vacillating sensory impressions and bodily desires man requires divine illumination if he is to do good [c]. Given this, and through habitual exercise of the practical intellect and the good will, the soul will gradually become morally virtuous. Human imperfection is not considered by Bonaventura to be either good or evil: it is not good because it is not itself some thing; it is not evil because it is not a privation of a good. Rather the imperfection arises from the nature of the human condition [see ibid. II 7 and 34]. Evil acts result from a bad conscience — one which is directed away from God. But man remains free to respond to God's love [d].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In Bonaventura we find the most complete expression of medieval Augustinianism — which came to be regarded as one of the two main traditions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Thomism being the other). While a number of Aristotle's ideas are accepted into his system, this is only to the extent that they are consistent with or reinforce his fundamentally Augustinian world view. And, as one might expect, his philosophy as a whole is subordinated to what is revealed through faith by God's grace. For example, as a result of the spread of Aristotelian philosophy and empirical science he found it necessary to take greater account of the sensible world than some of his predecessors. He nevertheless regarded all created beings as 'exemplars' or manifestations of God and as possessing both matter and form (even spiritual beings). Truth, knowledge of spiritual reality and of virtues, properly speaking is to be attained only through the Divine Ideas the substantial soul finds within itself — though he also allows sensible knowledge as a result of abstraction by the individual soul. It was precisely this assimilation of the sensible world into the theological that philosophers in the opposing Thomist tradition were to criticize. (And the doctrine of divine illumination raises a further difficulty in that it is questionable whether God's intervention can be sufficient to overcome man's inherent imperfection without undermining his freedom.). But Bonaventura held fast to the Augustinian heritage — as, for example, in his acceptance of a plurality of forms and seminal reasons. As a result his system lacks the unity of Aquinas's synthesis and tends to be dualistic as regards the sensible and intelligible realms.

 

READING

Bonaventura: Commentary on the 'Sentences' of Peter Lombard; Quaestiones Disputatae (Disputed Questions) — especially De Scientia Christi ('On the Knowledge of Christ'); De Mysterio Trinitatis; (On the Mystery of the Trinity); Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Mind to God); In Hexaemeron sive Illuminationes Ecclesiae (On the Six Days of Creation or Enlightenment of the Church). For English versions: see The Works of Bonaventure and Breviloquium, trans. J. de Vinck; and also R. McKeon, op. cit., vol. II, ch. 2.

Studies

E. Gilson, The Philosophy of St Bonaventure.

J. F. Quin, The Historical Constitution of St Bonaventure's Philosophy.

A. Speer, 'Bonaventure', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

 

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Bonaventure

 

Note: As Bonaventura and Aquinas were contemporaries and indeed both teachers at Paris it is reasonable to suppose they were fully aware of each other's philosophical positions. But although their ideas were for the most part developed independently within the different contexts of their respective traditions, for convenience the connections between them are presented below in most cases on the assumption that Aquinas was reacting against Bonaventura's Augustinianism.

 

[1a] Reason guided by faith

   Augustine

Anselm

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[1i]

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

 

[1b]

Proofs for God's existence — from material world:

 

   
 

i world's imperfection and finitude to the infinite perfect being

   Plato

   Anselm

   Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

   Nicholas of Cusa

 

[1c]

[1c]

[3g]

[1j]

[2d]

 

 

ii composition & change to simple, unchanging, self-caused being

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Augustine

Henry of Ghent

 

[5g]

[12e]

[3b]

[1j]

 

 

iii desire for happiness

   Augustine

[8a]

 

[1c]

from knowledge in the soul/ absolute standards:

 

   
 

i ontological argument

   Anselm

   Descartes

 

[1e]

[3c]

 

 

ii argument from truth to First Truth, or to greatest perfection

   Aristotle

   Anselm

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Nicholas of Cusa

[12f]

[1f]

[1h]

[3d]

[1j]

[2d]

 

[2a; cf. 3b] Exemplarism

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Grosseteste

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[1c 2c]

[13d e]

[4c]

[1c]

[1e]

[3b]

[1d]

[3c]

 

[2b c; cf. 3d] 'Emanation'; free creation and time; arguments against eternity of world

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Averroes

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

Nicholas of Cusa

[12c e]

[4b 6a]

[2e]

[1e]

[3f]

[3e]

[2e 2j]

 

[3a b; cf. 6c] Resemblance of creatures to God: predication not univocal; analogy

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[2c]

[3a]

[3c]

[1g]

[1c]

 

[3c] Hierarchy of being

   Augustine

   Averroes

Aquinas

Nicholas of Cusa

[4a]

[2g]

[3b]

[2f]

 

[3d; cf. 2c 6c] God's omnipotence and freedom

   Alexander of Hales

Henry of Ghent

[1a]

[1e]

 

[4a] Universal hylomorphism: matter (potency) and form (act) of all created beings

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Grosseteste

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[13c 14b]

[4a]

[1d]

[1e]

[2a]

[2e]

 

[4b] Matter: potential basis of forms of all created beings

   Aristotle

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[14a]

[2a]

[1c]

[2f]

 

[4c] Plurality of forms in composite substances

   Grosseteste

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[1d]

[2c]

[1h]

[2d]

 

[4d] Form of Light: composite of form and 'spiritual' matter; actualizes corporeal matter    Grosseteste [1a c]

 

[4e] Light: principle of activity — mediates between mind and body    Grosseteste [1a 2a]

 

[4f] Seminal reasons

   Augustine

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[4e]

[2c]

[2h]

 

[4g] Individuation — of matter by its form; individual person

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Grosseteste

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[2b]

[14a]

[1d]

[2b]

[1i]

[2g]

 

[5a; cf. 5c] Soul created ex nihilo; composite of 'spiritual' form and 'spiritual' matter

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[7b]

[2a]

[5a e]

[1h]

[4a c]

 

[5b] Soul a simple substance; animating principle of body; faculties as functions — not distinct

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[5a b 5d]

[1h]

[4b]

 

[5c] Soul-body relationship: union of two composite beings

   Averroes

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[3d]

[2a]

[5a d e]

[1h]

[4a]

 

[5d] Active and possible intellects in each soul (neither completely active or passive); no separated universal active human intellect

   Averroes

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[3b]

[2a]

[5b 5f]

[4b]

 

[5e] Immortality of the soul (Christian context)

   Plato

   Augustine

   Averroes

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[9b sec. 10]

[7a]

[3e]

[5e]

[1h]

[4c]

 

[6a c] Knowledge: innate ideas only in 'virtual' sense; starts from sense-perception

   Plato

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

Nicholas of Cusa

[8a b]

[16a]

[1b]

[3a]

[6c f]

[2a c]

[5a]

[1a]

 

[6b] Knowledge: acquisition through imagination, 'common sense', abstraction, judgement — via possible and active intellects

   Aristotle

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[16b-d 17b]

[3b]

[6c 6d]

[2a]

[5d]

 

[6c; cf. 3d and 7a] 'Intelligible' knowledge via soul's natural light and illumination of Divine Ideas; intellect subordinate to will

   Plato

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

   Grosseteste

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[8b]

[2a 7b 8b]

[3a b]

[1e 2a]

[5c 6d]

[1e 2b d]

[3d 4d 5b]

 

[6c d] Knowledge/ contemplation of God; mystical experience

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

Aquinas

Nicholas of Cusa

[1h 2c]

[3a]

[7a]

[1a]

 

[7a] Cardinal virtues transformed by God

   Augustine

   Aquinas

[8a]

[8b]

 

[7b] 'Synderesis' and conscience; habituation    Aquinas [8a]

 

[7c] Goodness of will and ends; intentions as test, but divine illumination required

   Chrysippus

   Augustine

   Abelard

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[6d]

[8c]

[3b c]

[8b]

[6b 6b]

 

[7d] Evil as privation, but human imperfection due to human condition; bad conscience as aversion God, but man is free to respond

   Augustine

   Abelard

   Alexander of Hales

   Aquinas

[5a b]

[3a]

[1d]

[4a]