Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bonaventura
BONAVENTURA. John of Fidanza, or Fidenza, more commonly known as St Bonaventura, was born at Bagnarea in the Papal States, in the year 1221. He was at an early age destined by his mother for the church, and is said to have received his cognomen of Bonaventura from Francis of Assisi, who performed on him a miraculous cure. He entered the Franciscan order in his twenty-second year, and is said to have studied at Paris under Alexander of Hales. This does not seem very probable, but he certainly studied under Alexander's successor, John of Rochelle, to whose chair he succeeded in 1253. Three years before that period his fame had gained for him permission to read upon the Sentences, and in 1255 he received the degree of doctor. So high was his reputation both for brilliancy of intellect and purity of mind that, in the following year, he was elected general of his order. He at once set himself to work to introduce better discipline, and by his mild regulations succeeded in effecting much good. He was an advocate of asceticism, and looked upon the monastic life as the surest means of grace. It is worthy of notice that by his orders Roger Bacon was interdicted from lecturing at Oxford, and compelled to put himself under the surveillance of the order at Paris. Bonaventura was instrumental in procuring the election of Gregory X., who rewarded him with the titles of cardinal and bishop of Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great Council of Lyons in the year 1274. At this meeting he died. Bonaventura's character seems not unworthy of the eulogistic title, “Doctor Seraphicus,” bestowed on him by his contemporaries, nor of the place assigned to him by Dante in his Paradiso. He was formally canonized in 1482 by Sixtus IV.
His works, as arranged in the Lyons edition (7 vols., folio), consist of expositions and sermons, filling the first three volumes ; of a commentary on the Sentences of Lombardus, in two volumes, celebrated among mediaeval theologians as incomparably the best exposition of the third part ; and of minor treatises rilling the remaining two volumes, and including a life of St Francis. The smaller works are the most important, and of them the best are the famous Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum, Breviloquium, De Itethtc- tione Artiuni ad Theologiam, /Soliloquium, and De septem itineribiis ceternitatis, in which most of what is individual in his teaching is contained. In philosophy Bonaventura presents a marked contrast to his great contemporaries, Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon. While these may be taken as representing respectively physical science yet in its infancy, and Aristotelian scholasticism in its most perfect form, he brings before us the mystical and Flatonizing mode of speculation which had already to some extent found expression in Hugo and Richard of St Victor, and in Bernard of Clairvaux. To him the purely intellectual element, though never absent, is of inferior interest when compared with the living power of the affections or the heart. He rejects the authority of Aristotle, to whose influence he ascribes much of the heretical tendency of the age, and some of whose cardinal doctrines such as the eternity of the world he combats vigorously. But the Platonism he received was Plato as understood by St Augustine, and as he had been handed down by the Alexandrian school and the authors of the mystical works passing under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. Bonaventura accepts as Platonic the theory that ideas do not exist in rerum natura, but as thoughts of the divine mind, according to which actual things were formed ; and this conception has no slight influence upon his philosophy. Like all the great scholastic doctors he starts with the discussion of the rela tions between reason and faith. All the sciences are but the handmaids of theology ; reason can discover some of the moral truths which form the groundwork of the Christian system, but others it can only receive and apprehend through divine illumination. In order to obtain this illumination the soul must employ the proper means, which are prayer, the exercise of the virtues, whereby it is rendered fit to accept the divine light, and meditation which may rise even to ecstatic union with God. The supreme end of life is such union, union in contemplation or intellect and in intense absorbing love ; but it cannot be entirely reached in this life, and remains as a hope for futurity. The mind in contemplating God has three distinct aspects, stages, or grades, the senses, giving empirical knowledge of what is without and discerning the traces (vestigia) of the divine in the world ; the reason, which examines the soul itself, the image of the divine Being ; and lastly, pure intellect (intelligentia] which, in a transcendent act, grasps the Being of the divine cause. To these three correspond the three" kinds of theology, theologia symbolica, theologia propria, and theologia mystica. Each stage is subdivided, for in contemplating the outer world we may use the senses or the imagination ; we may rise to a knowledge of God per vestigia or in vestigiis. In the first case the three great properties of physical bodies weight, number, measure, in the second the division of created things into the classes of those that have merely physical existence, those that have life, and those that have thought, irresistibly lead us to conclude the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Triune God. So in the second stage, we may ascend to the knowledge of God, per imaginem, by reason, or in imagine, by the pure understanding (intellectus} ; in the one case the triple division memory, understanding, and will, in the other the Christian virtues faith, hope, and charity leading again to the conception of a Trinity of divine qualities eternity, truth, and goodness. In the last stage we have first intelligentia, pure intellect, contemplating the essential being of God, and finding itself compelled by necessity of thought to hold absolute being as the first notion, for non-being cannot be conceived apart from being, of which it is but the privation. To this notion of absolute being, which is perfect and the greatest of all, objective existence must be ascribed. In its last and highest form of activity the mind rests in the contemplation of the infinite goodness of God, which is apprehended by means of the highest faculty, the apex mentis, or synderesis. This spark of the divine illumination is common to all forms of mysticism, but Bonaventura adds to it peculiarly Christian elements. The complete yielding up of mind and heart to God is unattainable without divine grace, and nothing renders us so fit to receive this gift as the meditative and ascetic life of the cloister. The monastic life is the best means of grace.
Bonaventura, however, is not merely a meditative thinker, whose works may form good manuals of devotion ; he is a dogmatic theologian of high rank, and on all the disputed questions of scholastic thought, such as universals, matter, the principle of individualism, or the intellectus agens, he gives weighty and well-reasoned decisions. He agrees with Albert in regarding theology as a practical science ; its truths, according to his view, are peculiarly adapted to influence the affections. He discusses very carefully the nature and meaning of the divine attributes ; considers universals to be the ideal forms pre-existing in the divine mind according to which things were shaped ; holds matter to be pure potentiality which receives individual being and determinateness from the formative power of God, acting according to the ideas ; and finally maintains that the intellectus agcns has no separate existence. On these and on many other points of scholastic philosophy the Seraphic Doctor exhibits a combination of subtilty and moderation which makes his works peculiarly valuable.
plete early edition was that in 7 vols. fo., Home, 1588-96. They nave also been published at Lyons, 7 vols., 1668, and at Venice, 14 yols., 1751, sqq. The best edition is that by A. C. Peltier, begun in 1863. Of detached works the editions and translations are very numerous. The following are perhaps the most important : Breviloqviivm ct Itinerarium Mentis ad Dcum, ed. Hefele, 3d ed., 1862 ; Theologie Seraphiquc, cxtraite ct Iraduitc dcs ceuvres de St B., by Alix, 2 vols., 1853-56. For Bonaventura s philosophy, see Erdmann, Haureau, Stb ckl ; the works on the history of mysticism by Schmid, Gorres, Helfferich, Noack, and Freger; and Ozanam, Dante et la Philosophic Catholiquc ait XIJl m Siecle. There are two mono graphs on him, Margeric (A. de), fascii sur la philosojihie de St Bonavcnturc, 1855, and HoUenberg, Studicn zu Bonaventura, 1862. Notices of his life are given in the Venice edition, and in that ofPeltier ; also in the Histoire Litt. dc la France, vol. xix.