|Illumination in Bonaventure’s Epistemology
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Illumination in Bonaventure’s Epistemology
By Alexander Koudlai
The telos of this essay is to support the axiology of the literary
work of the great man, which impressed me who lives almost eight hundred years
later. What makes it so important to me and may be to our contemporary culture?
The epistemology and metaphysics are considered there together and in such a
way that the ethics of human life is affected in a reasonably defensible
manner. Probably our contemporary axiology (and particularly in the matters of
acquiring and evaluating of knowledge) may benefit from the investigation of
Today we are used to hear that a theory has to be verifiable in
order to be considered as knowledge. By verifiable it is usually meant
empirically provable. The latter means observable to senses and capable of repeated
observations. The theories of ancient and medieval thinkers are usually treated
lightly and accused of dogmatism, i.e. of claims not supported by experience.
Nevertheless, it is not accurate because the spiritual and miraculous
experiences reported by many individuals from different countries in every
century and the communities of monks and nuns living in the monasteries (those
laboratories of spiritual life) do support those theories again and again. Our
W. James wrote of those prejudices of the scientific community of his time and
of their refusal even to consider those “hard cases” not easily explicable by
the contemporary scientific theories. There is still a huge problem in this
department today, and we just have to be aware about its existence. As James,
claiming himself to be a radical empiricist, suggested, if a theory (and he
meant a modern theory) cannot deal with some facts reported by honest people,
it is too bad for the theory and not for the facts. This sounds at least
consistent and fair.
When observation is artificially limited only to the observation by
physical senses, the observer risks to lock himself into a dogmatic circle,
especially when he judges about non-empirical claims, or claims of the human
observations which transcend merely sensual ones*. Those people who do this
usually claim themselves materialists and are opposed to theories of spiritual
thinkers. As we can see, the empiricists are not all materialists, who are
extremely dogmatic themselves, but even though their theories are based on
axioms which are not always shared by the rest of humanity and may seem
dogmatic in certain respects to those who prefer to think differently. Another
objection to theories of spiritual thinkers was that “they all disagree”, hence
the truth, the existence of which they claim, could not be the universal truth.
In my opinion, the ontological claims of different prominent
thinkers from different traditions have more points in common then not and
others are arguably convertible. Those thinkers from different times and
cultures universally claim the existence of truth beyond sensual experiences
and somehow human access to that truth. They also say that some people persist
in some kind of blindness to the truth and teachings of it. This blindness does
not exclude productive thinking in the empirical mode, but it does secure the
dissatisfaction of the soul and many kinds of suffering.
*Professor D. Robinson said once: “A scientist taking a corpuscular
approach to explanation of the world, usually sets parameters for observations
of corpuscles, build instruments capable to pick corpuscles, observes what
those instruments show him and then says: I claimed that the world was
corpuscular and see: it is corpuscular …” (The Great Ideas of Philosophy)
But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. . . . And if I
tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words;
therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God”. (John 8:45-47)
In the Lankavatara Sutra Buddha says:
Then there are materialistic philosophers. No respect nor service is
to be shown them because their teachings though they may be explained by using
hundreds of thousands of words and phrases, do not go beyond the concepts of
this world and this body and in the end they lead to suffering. As the
materialists recognize no truth as existing by itself...(D. Goddard “A Buddhist
Bonaventure respects the empirical knowledge. He read Aristotle’s
Physics and Metaphysics, but he also read Neo-Platonists and was impressed by
Plato’s theory of archetypes, which we cannot say where he received from*.
Bonaventure is a friar and a mystic, and the existence of the spiritual light,
bliss and the visions beyond physical senses is an immediate reality for him;
also he is a scholar. Therefore, he attempts to synthesize different
theoretical views into one consistent theory, which would account for the
empirical, speculative and spiritual knowledge, and would be consistent with
the Revelation of the Holy Scripture and Bonaventure’s favorite thinker St.
Augustine, “the wisest of them all”.
How do we know? Plato used to say that there is knowledge and
beliefs or opinions, and there are lovers of knowledge, or wisdom philosophers,
and lovers of opinions philodoxers. The beliefs (opinions) could be beautiful
but not true, while
* Possibly Plotinus, Porphyry, Augustine or some medieval writers
knowledge is always true. While certain beliefs when tested could
collapse, the truth is resilient to any tests whether empirical or speculative
(logical). Of course, Bonaventure is a believer, but he also thinks that he can
show for something more then just a belief. For Bonaventure the question: “How
do we know that something is true with certitude?” - is important. He thinks
about this kind of knowledge of anything as of illumined by light.
When the intellect knows something with certainty, it is because it
is enlightened from above. He writes in his On the Reduction of Arts to
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down
from the God of Lights, writes James . . . of the source of all illumination;
but at the same time. . . there are many lights which flow generously from that
fontal source of light.
Then pointing out the essentially internal nature of illumination of
all knowledge he categorizes the varieties of such illumination:
Even though every illumination of knowledge is internal, still we
can reasonably distinguish what can be called an exterior light of mechanical
art; an inferior light, or the light of sense perception; an interior light of
philosophical knowledge; and a superior light or the light of grace and of
Sacred Scripture. The first light illumines with respect to the forms of
artifacts; the second with respect to natural forms; the third, with respect to
intellectual truth; the forth and last with respect to saving truth. (p.37)
In other words, God of Lights gives knowledge to His creatures and
directly inspires different kinds of pursuits of knowledge (arts) according to
different aspects of that part of human nature, which is currently under
investigation, and this is always for the sake of that creature.
The creature is always enlightened directly from the Creator but in
different applications of that One Light and normally follows the lead
acquiring various kinds of useful knowledge co-operating in that intended
enlightenment in all different spheres of its life. This theory truly reduces
all kinds of knowledge to theology but in a meaningful and consistent way.
Whatever is our knowledge we can always associate it with light,
because we observe it empirically or intellectually. Even perfect spiritual knowledge
is called beatific vision. Observing we see by light in all cases, that is why
it is proper to relate all our knowledge to light. This approach is universal,
and may be even more universal than some Bonaventurians would like to admit. In
one of the ancient Upanishads of India it is described in the form of a dialog
between a teacher and a student:
How do you see at the daytime?
- I see by the light of the sun.
And when it is night?
- By the light of the moon.
And when there is no moon?
- Then by the light of a candle.
And when there is no sun, moon or candle?
- Then, teacher, I somehow see by the light within.
In the Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ (q. 4, p.
115-117) Bonaventure quotes from St. Augustine On the Teacher:
In every instance where we understand something, we are listening
not to someone who utters external words, but to that truth which guides us
from the mind itself (1).
The City of God:
Those whom we rightly prefer to all others have said that the very
God by whom all things were made is the light of our minds by which we learn
all things (4).
On the Trinity:
When our soul so pleases us that we prefer it to all corporeal
light, it is not the soul itself that pleases us but that art by which it was
created. For a created thing is worthy of approval in reference to that source
where it is seen to have been present before it was created. Now this is the
truth and pure goodness(5)
When we approve or disapprove of something rightly, we are shown to
approve or disapprove by virtue of other rules which remain altogether
unchangeable and above our mind (6).
This light, which is the truth and goodness, come from within and
there from above. The latter is obvious to Bonaventure, because - he quotes
When the unjust person sees the rules according to which everyone
ought to live, where does he see them? Not in his own nature, since it is
certain his mind is changeable while these rules are unchangeable. And not in
any habit of his mind, since these are rules of justice. Where does he perceive
that he ought to possess something that he does not possess? Where then are
they written but in the book of that light which is called the truth, from
which every just law is copied? (Augustine, On the Trinity, chapter 15)
Further in the argument 8 Bonaventure presents the Augustinian
correction of Plato’s theory of reminiscence:
It is credible that even those who are unskilled in certain
disciplines can give the correct answers when they are able to receive the
eternal light of reason in which they perceive these immutable truths. This is
true, but not because they once knew them and have forgotten them, as it seemed
to Plato. (Retractations)
About this, I would argue that it is problematic that Plato speaking
of the mind and the eternal ideas did not understand that the mind should
ascend from its regular state. On the contrary, Plato speaks about this divine
perfection, which is not easily achieved by a philosopher while his soul goes
through four stages (symbolically “requires four incarnations”) in his quest
for perfect knowledge. So, the Divine Plato rather had quite similar approach
(but of course he did not use the terminology of the Christian theology), and
his reminiscence does include the possibility that the soul on some deepest
level is divine or participates in the knowledge of the Divinity. It is just
that in its regular state of forgetfulness of its deepest nature it can have
just glimpses of the light that is not essentially external to the soul itself.
This seem to be in compliance with Genesis 2:7 and the idea that we are all
children of One Father, and not bastards.
Bonaventure continues to quote:
The intellectual nature is linked not only to intelligible things
but also to immutable things. This nature is made in such a way that when it
moves to those things with which it is connected, or when it moves to itself,
it may give correct answers about such things as it is capable of seeing.
Then he concludes:
From these authoritative arguments of Augustine it is manifestly
clear that everything is known in the eternal reasons.
The essential connection of the intellect to the eternal reasons and
its capability of seeing those suggest our relation to those and to the light
itself. Bonaventure quotes from Anselm Proslogion, chapter 14:
How great is the light from which shines forth all truth that
manifests itself to the rational mind (12) How rich is that truth in which is
found everything that is true and outside of which is only emptiness and
And he concludes: “Therefore no truth is seen except in the eternal
truth”. It is not that dogmatic as it may seem to those contemporary thinkers
who claim: “There is no Truth…” Logically, their claim is a universal claim
itself, hence aspires to be true universally, hence, it claims itself the
existence of the universal truth it attempted to deny, hence does not have any
ontological value and constitutes rather invalid critique on purely emotional
Quoting Aristotle’s Ethics:
We all suppose that what we know by means of science cannot possibly
be other than it is. But, when those things that could be other than they are
pass beyond the range of our observation, we do not know whether they exist or
not. Therefore, the object of scientific knowledge is necessarily eternal. And
eternal things are ungenerated and incorruptible (16).
Therefore, there can be no such thing as certain knowledge unless
the very nature of eternal truth is involved. But this is found only in the
It is fascinating, how in the world of contingency, where everything
what we observe could be otherwise, there could be any certainty. Still we know
there is certainty. Where does it come from then? Obviously not from the world
of change and uncertainty. And what is this world? It is the world of the
eternal reasons, which belong to the very nature of God who is beyond all
change and doubt, and who illumines our minds, which are rather attached to
this world of change and are used to its various forms of entertainment.
It is very reasonable, that when the intellect is connected to
senses, analyzing their data, so to speak, it is habitually in the mode of
perception of precisely this kind of data, but when it is disconnected from
senses it may be in some other mode of perception, and not only of the sensual
memory content, but also what they call super sensual. Isn’t it the reason why
the monks or hermits everywhere practice asceticism? So, usually one mode of
perception and corresponding activity of the intellect excludes or hinders the
other mode of perception and formation of the relevant ideas.
The light is always given from God (or that center of light and
life) to a creature, but it is used differently for different kinds of
understanding and corresponding activity. That is why the scriptures, the true
spiritual teachers, and spiritual philosophy are important. It is because
without this category of light there is no that category of data and even
serious thinking about that dimension of life.
That by which we have certain knowledge is immutable because it is
necessary truth. But our mind is mutable. Therefore, that by which we know is
superior to our mind. But there is nothing above our mind other than God and
eternal truth. Therefore, the divine truth and the eternal reason is that by
which knowledge comes to be (17).
He does not see any other way to explain the existence of the
corruptible intellect, changeable world as its regular object, and at the same
time the existence of truth by which that corruptible intellect knows something
with certainty. And referring to different modes of knowledge he writes:
That by which we know excels every created truth. Therefore, it is
uncreated truth (21)
We know only by the truth, which is not a created one (or from this
world), but the eternal truth itself. The truth is a category of the intellect.
Hence, we know only by the eternal mind when it illumines our mind, and in this
way we participate in the eternal. But how is it possible? It is because we are
created in likeness of that divine mind itself on the first place, and that
divine mind therefore is the closest thing to our mind. That is why Bonaventure
considers the knowledge of God the most natural kind of knowledge to the human
being. Other kinds of knowledge depend on it.
As God is the cause of being, so the divine reality is the principle
of knowing and order of living. But God is the cause of being in such a way
that nothing can be done by any cause unless God moves that cause in the action
by means of the divinity itself and by the eternal divine power. Therefore,
nothing can be understood at all unless God immediately illumines the subject
of knowledge by means of the eternal, divine truth (24).
This is the most straight forward and absolute statement, and all
other arguments revolve around it just providing different hues and shades to
this major picture, this philosophical intuition which is very well supported
and expressed in detail. Accordingly, that part of our intellectual activity
“is called higher in as far as it turns to the eternal laws. It is called lower
in as far as it is concerned with the temporal things” (27).
It is obvious which one is preferable. Hence, it constitutes an
ethical foundation for the pursuits in the area of philosophy and the lifestyle
in general. This maxim could be expressed in the following manner: Love God,
know God and act with and for God. And this style of life is suitable for all
who understand this doctrine. It will be developed even further in the
Itinerarium, but in the Disputed Questions (IV) Bonaventure gives the last
argument for the God’s participation in the human knowledge (summarizes his
position on the illumination) in the following way:
According to the Saints, God is said to be master of all knowledge.
This is the case because God cooperates in general with every intellect, or
because God infuses the gift of grace, or because - in the act of knowing – the
intellect attains to the divine. If God cooperates in general, then we would be
lead to say that the divine being teaches the senses as well as the intellect.
But this is absurd. If it is because God infuses the gift of grace, then all
knowledge would be gratuitous or infused, and non would be innate or acquired.
But this is most absurd. Nothing remains, therefore, except to say that our
intellect attains to the divine as to the light of our minds and the cause of
the knowledge of all truth (34).
Here the ideas of cooperation and grace are understood as having
only limited application and not in general, while the preference is given to
the idea of attaining of the intellect to the divine in the general case of
The arguments for the negative position are considered in their
turn. They do not break the Bonaventure’s conviction that God does participate
in all our knowledge and that the latter is ultimately based on the
illumination, but they oblige him to explain the complications and restate his
positive position carefully in the Conclusion:
For knowledge with certitude, even in the state of wayfarers, the
intellect must attain to the eternal reasons as that reason which regulates and
motivates. It is not the sole principle of knowledge, nor is it attained in its
clarity; but together with the proper created reason it is known obscurely and
as in a mirror.
Bonaventure clarifies this conclusion explicitly on the next four
pages, but I would
emphasize a few important points:
In the case of certain knowledge the mind must be regulated by unchangeable
and eternal rules which operate not by means of habit of the mind but by means
of themselves as realities which are above the mind in the eternal truth
For certain knowledge, the eternal reason is necessary involved as a
regulative and motivating principle, but certainly not as the sole principle
nor in its full clarity (134).
But along with the created reason, it is continued by us in part as
is fitting in this life.
A creature is related to God as a vestige (as to its principle), as
an image (as to its object), and as a likeness (as to an infused gift) (p.135).
Bonaventure proclaims divine cooperation “in any work accomplished
by a creature”:
as far as it is a vestige. . . as the creative principle
as far as it is a likeness. . .in a manner of an infused gift
as far as it is an image . . . as the moving cause (136)
The difficulties with the opposition are resolved in the following
Since certain knowledge pertains to the rational spirit in as far as
it is an image of God, it is in this sort of knowledge that the soul attains to
the eternal reasons. But because it is never fully conformed to God in this
life, it does not attain to the reasons clearly, fully, and distinctly, but
only to a greater or lesser degree according to the degree of its conformity to
God. . . . . it always attains to the reasons in some way (136).
So the mysterious existence of certainty in our seemingly contingent
minds is explained
with this doctrine of light. The fact that we can doubt sometimes
even the very existence
of God and his light is explained by the lesser degree of conformity
of the image to the
exemplar. The latter is due to the deformity of gift and glory and
could be mended. The
observable fact that we do learn from the world of sense is also
Since the soul is not an image in its entirety, together with these
eternal reasons it attains to the likeness of things abstracted from the sense
image. These are proper and distinct principles of knowledge, and without them
the light of the eternal reason is insufficient of itself to produce knowledge
as long as the soul is in this wayfaring state.
But at the same time mysterious cases of knowledge by saints an prophets
seem to break the rule are also explained in the following lines:
. . . unless perhaps because of a special revelation, it transcends
this state. This happens in the case of those who are drawn up into ecstasy and
in the case of the revelations of certain prophets (p.136).
We can see that the theory does explain natural kinds of knowledge
as well as the
supernatural ones and gives it a real metaphysical perspective.
Aristotle’s knowledge and Plato’s wisdom find their reconciliation, and the teachings
of the Fathers are paid homage, the theology is confirmed by the philosophy.
Doesn’t it look like an ideal picture? To me it is very attractive, and it
gives me a great pleasure to continue the investigation of the theory, going
through more and more details. So let us also look at the Itineraruim.
As we have seen in the On the Reduction of Arts to Theology and the
Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, there are various kinds of
knowledge and the knowledge of the eternal reasons or the divine mind is the
highest of them all. While all of them naturally desirable to the human beings
– as Aristotle writes in his Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.”
(I:1) – the knowledge of God is the most desirable. I have also shown that
Bonaventure believed that this knowledge depends on the degree of mind's
conformity to God, and those degrees differ in different human beings.
Therefore, the question arrives: “How to get there?” Bonaventure attempts to
answer this in his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. He wants to show how this
conformity can be increased in the mind, and the model for the project (Saint
Francis) is chosen not accidentally.
The saint was that ecstatic soul who perceived the world pure and
beautiful and loved every creature in it as an expression of his Beloved, the
Creator of them all. This pure love, so common among saints, is understood by
Bonaventure as the most important precondition for that spiritual journey of
the mind to perfection. It is not by accident Bonaventure calls “upon the
Eternal Father through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that through the
intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother . . . . and through that
of blessed Francis. . . . He may enlighten the eyes of our mind…” (Prologue 1,
p.31.) Jesus had such love, that he sacrificed himself for the sake of men. His
Mother Mary had such love to her Son, and St. Francis had such love and deep
respect to Jesus and Mary.
It is interesting to me that a Russian Saint Seraphim Sarovsky (1754
– 1833) also loved and worshiped the Mother of God, constantly remembered her
and often was visited by Mary and her Blessed Son Jesus. The Saint even died
before the icon of the Mother of God standing on his knees in his final prayer.
He was extremely like St. Francis, and also many great miracles happened in his
life. The Saint’s ecstatic love to all creatures and God, their source, was
constantly felt by all people who ever met him and received multiple blessings
from that encounter. May be there are also other means to conform the mind to
God, but pure love surely is the most commonly mentioned by great Saints
condition, and they know it from their own experience. The latter is not easily
understood by those empiricists who speak of “impossibility” of spiritual
Thåy do not have the necessary precondition for sufficient
conformity of their minds to the divine mind, therefore, they do not have the
spiritual experience, hence , for them the theory like Bonaventure’s cannot be
easily verifiable. It is very much like when people who were told about certain
observable facts do not want (or incapable) to go to the laboratory and see for
themselves. Those are usually indifferent to the achievements of science or
very often even hostile to the whole enterprise, because they feel that the
talk about that knowledge of others reveals their ignorance, laziness or other
infirmities and incapability, which is not flattering to their egos. Modern
psychologists call it defense mechanisms, and denial in particular, when the
truth when painful for the psyche is denied explicitly but at the same time is
driven into sub-consciousness implicitly causing other trouble. But the
itinerary of the mind into God leads the soul to the ecstatic peace, as
Bonaventure puts it, and this very peace people of all ages and nations observe
in the characters of those saints and sages who are conformed to their
exemplar. This peace and extreme happiness are usually felt like physically
emanating from those wise men and women, and they do not depend on anything
material but on rather something extremely subtle. Saint Seraphim of Russia
described that in following words:
Fast, prayer, vigilance and all other Christian deeds are very good
in themselves, but not only observing of those constitutes the purpose of our
Christian life. Those are only means of the latter. The true purpose of our
Christian life is accumulation of the Holly Spirit of God. (Reverend Seraphim
Sarovsky, p.26-27, my translation).
I quote this Saint as well as some other enlightened teachers of
different times and places here only in order to show the universal appeal of
those ideas expressed by Bonaventure in XIII century, which constitute the
object of my investigation. When we read the descriptions of lives and
teachings of real Saints and sages, it becomes obvious that they possess
certain extraordinary knowledge and powers. It is also obvious that they live
extraordinary style of life. One is connected with the other. So, it is not
just about theories we have to learn in school in order to acquire similar
intuitions and other abilities, but we have to consider also the lifestyle
variable in this experiment. I believe that in this way we have much better
chances to receive the data, so to speak. It is precisely on this account
Bonaventure writes his Itinerarium, where besides another theoretical
representation of his doctrine of light he also emphasizes the desirable
character of the soul which might be successful in this journey to God, so in
the process she might see for herself the light from above together with the
eternal archetypes this light might reveal to the soul. Of course, as students
of philosophy we are interested mostly in the doctrine expressed there, but
would those really speak to us if the intuitions were nor ours? Is not it the
reason why any doctrine seems appealing to some and crazy to others? People
often say: “It may be clever, but it is not real”. As we remember, Kant wrote
in his Critique of Pure Reason: “Concepts without intuitions are empty…” We can
consider mere concepts only on the basis of their internal consistency, but the
mind unenlightened by intuitions can still think about any of them as possible
dreams of a logician. It is not the case with Bonaventure’s concepts in the
Itinerarium, because they refer to the real experiences of light by Saints and
others being on their way to become Saints. I see that it is, without a doubt,
also an experience of Bonaventure himself. Having said this, let us gather some
more information on illumination presented in seven consequent steps but
looking at the theory expressed only in Chapter II:
We may behold God in the mirror of visible creation, not only by
considering creatures as vestiges of God, but also by seeing Him in them; for
He is present in them by His essence, His power and His presence. And because
this is the higher way of considering than the preceding one, it follows as the
second level of contemplation, on which we ought to be led to the contemplation
of God in every creature that enters our mind through the bodily senses (1).
It is not that Bonaventure suddenly becomes a pantheist here
speaking of essential presence of God in creatures, but creatures get their
reality only because of that presence of God (the only true, and not merely
superficial reality!). They are real and could be known as real only through
this kind of contemplation and not by sensual contemplation with abstraction.
Still he says that those creatures on this stage enter our mind through the
bodily senses. This is one of the legitimate categories of knowledge
Bonaventure does not want to ignore (being in this an Aristotilian), so he
It should be noted that this world, which is called the macrocosm,
enters our soul, the microcosm, through the portals of the five senses in so
far as the sense objects are apprehended, enjoyed and judged. (2)
I would notice also that this kind of knowledge heavily depends on
the connection of the mind to the senses and looses its secondary reality as
soon as the mind gets disconnected from the senses in the case of those saints
who meditate in isolation for a long time. And who still sometimes show their
knowledge of this physical world; and not just a confused knowledge, but sharp
and precise. Here I will give a description by witnesses of one of those cases:
Once a peasant from the nearby village came to us when we were
visiting to Saint Seraphim in his retreat place a few miles in the forest from
the Sarov monastery. He asked: “Who is the man of God?” We pointed at the old
man working in his small garden. The peasant ran to the Saint and fell face
down before him embracing his feet: “Help, my horse got stolen – and now all my
family will surely die!” St. Seraphim lifted the man and embraced him pressing
his forehead against the man’s one. Then he said: “Go to the village so and so,
enter the second fenced property on the left. There you will find your horse
tied to the fence behind the house. Quietly untie it and take it home without
talking to anyone”.
The peasant left in a hurry. On the next day he came back and
thanked the Saint heartily: “You saved us all”. The saint answered: “Go and
thank God who helped you and not the humble Seraphim who is nothing”. The man
returned to his family (My translation by memory).
Having mentioned the existence of the Intelligences (angels) and
that they receive power from the first cause, God, which they in turn dispense
in the work of administration . . . , i.e., the work which is assigned for them
by God (like also in the case of those great Saints with miraculous powers) sent
for service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation, Bonaventure
continues to present in detail the regular kind of knowledge of the physical
Man . . . . has five senses, which serve as five portals through
which knowledge of all things existing in the visible world enters his soul . .
. Through these portals . . . enter also common sense objects, such as number,
form, rest and motion. And since everything that is moved is moved by another .
. . .we are led, when we perceive bodily motion, . . . . to the knowledge of
spiritual motions, as through the effect of the knowledge to the knowledge of
In this common mode of acquiring knowledge the sense perception in
connected with the active intellect, which forms an immediate idea of an object
in passive intellect by means of abstraction. The knowledge of super-sensual
but real is deduced in a manner of philosophical speculation. Again:
The whole of the visible world enters the human soul through
apprehension. . .
Yet things enter not through their substances, but through
similitudes generated in the medium, and through the medium they pass into the
organ and thence into the apprehensive faculty. Thus the generation of the
species in the medium, and from the medium they pass into the organ. From the
external organ they pass into the internal organ, and the directing of the
apprehensive faculty upon it leads to the apprehension of all those things which
the soul apprehends outside itself (4).
When does the divine light belong in this doctrine? For Bonaventure
it is the certainty of knowledge even of sensibles constitutes the ground for
deduction of the existence and even the necessity of that light in the process
of knowing. As C. M. Cullen mentioned of the theory: “The mind is a necessary
but not a sufficient condition for the attaining of truth”. And I would add
that the mind could be in different modes depending on different degrees of its
conformity, therefore, the above portion of the theory applies only to the
empirical mode.Bonaventure following Aristotle (in his Metaphysics) continues
with the notion of “the delight we take in our senses” (A I,1):
From this apprehension, if it is a suitable object, pleasure
follows. The senses are delighted in an object, perceived through the
abstracted similitude . . . , proportion is observed in the similitude in so
far as it has the character of the species of form, and then it is called
beauty, because beauty is nothing other then numbered equality, or a certain
disposition of parts, together with a suavity of color. Again, proportionality
is observed in so far as it has the character of power or strength, and then it
is called sweetness, when the active power does not disproportionally exceeds
the recipient sense. For the senses are pained by extremes and delighted by
moderation . . . . Thus through pleasure, external delights enter the soul by
means of their similitudes… (5).
Where does the beauty come from? It comes from the Good, or the
ordering aspect of the First Principle, which is reflected in nature and the
human soul. Many goods, or those mini reflections, become possible for the soul
because of the constant participation in the Good, or “contuition of God, and
the divinely given signs wherein we can see God” (11).
Explaining further judgment as “an action which, by purifying and
abstracting the sensory likeness received sentiently by the senses, causes it
to enter into the intellective faculty” (6), and repeating that “this whole world
must enter the human soul through the doors of the senses”, Bonaventure says:
“Yet these activities are vestiges in which we can see our God. For
the perceived species is a similitude generated in the medium and then
impressed on the organ itself, through this impression it leads us to its
starting point, that is to the object to be known. Hence, this process
manifestly suggests that the Eternal Light begets of Himself a Likeness or a
co-equal, constubstantial, and co-eternal Splendor; that He who is the image of
the invisible God and the brightness of his glory and the image of his
substance, Who is everywhere by His first generation like an object that
generates its similitude in the entire medium, is united by the grace of union
to the individual of rational nature as the species is united with the bodily
organ, so that through this union He may lead us back to the Father, as to the
Fountain-head and Object” (7)
In this formula the explanation of the regular knowledge finds its
teleology and transcends the empirical knowledge itself forming the true
Here the big question: WHY? finally may be answered. The final cause
of this kind of knowing finds its explanation, and it is inseparable with the
notion of the Eternal Light.
If, therefore, all knowable things must generate likeness of
themselves, they manifestly proclaim that in them, as in mirrors can be seen
the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the Son, eternally emanating
from God the Father (7).
Bonaventure emphasizes this final cause in his theory of knowledge
again and again. He follows Aristotelian logic but shows that the philosopher
stopped short and never actually became a true metaphysician. That is why he also
needs Plato, whom he also attempts to correct, taking him as having proclaimed
the impossibility of empirical knowledge at all. There is the way of knowing by
abstraction and the way of knowing by ascending directly to archetypes into the
divine mind. There is also a midground where the regular knowledge is judged by
the eternal, which is never completely absent from the human mind. That is what
Bonaventure says about judgment, which speaks for “beholding of eternal truth”:
For judgment has to be made by reason that abstracts from place,
time, and change, and hence it abstracts from dimension, succession, and
transmutation by a reason which cannot change nor have any limits in time or
space. But nothing is absolutely immutable and unlimited in time and space
unless it is eternal, and everything that is eternal is either God or in God. .
All things shine forth in this light. . . . Therefore, those laws by
which we judge with certainty about all sense objects that come to our
knowledge, since they are infallible and indubitable to the intellect of him
who apprehends, since they cannot be eradicated from the memory of him who
recalls, for they are always present, since they do not admit of refutation or
judgment by the intellect of him who judges, because St. Augustine says, No one
judges of them but by them, these laws must be changeless and incorruptible,
since they are necessary. . . . eternally in the Art (9).
As I see it, the theory is consistent, broad, has many levels,
answer many questions and reconciles different positions. It is realistic and
highly speculative, includes empirical considerations but also transcends their
artificial limitations. It entails the moral theory and calls for a certain
type of action. These actions are seen in efforts of self-perfection in the
traditional Christian mode where the highest respect is shown to the First
Principle, the Word and the Holy Ghost. The final destination of all efforts to
know invariably lies there, and our minds being created and in this sense unsubstantial
are still grounded in the divine source and in this way participate in the
divine light of this source. It could be considered more and more but now is
the time to stop at this point leaving the rest for the future investigation.
Works of Saint Bonaventure: 1) Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, The
Franciscan Institute, 1956; 2) Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ,
1992; 3) Disputed Questions on the Mystery of the Trinity, 1979; 4) On the
Reduction of the Arts to Theology, 1996; 5) On the Eternity of the World,
Marquette University Press, 1964
2. Aristotle: The Basic Works, Random House, New York 1941: 1) Phyisica;
2) De Anima; 3) Metaphysica; 4) Ethica Nicomachea
3. Plato: Complete Works, Hackett Publishing Company, 1997: 1)
4. The Holy Bible, the New King James Version, 1990
5. Cullen C. M. , Bonaventure, Oxford University Press 2006.
6. Gilson E., History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages,
Random House< New York, 1954.
7. Âåëèêèå Ñâÿòûå Ðîññèè, Ïðåïîäîáíûé Ñåðàôèì
Ñàðîâñêèé â âîñïîìèíàíèÿõ ñîâðåìåííèêîâ, Ñðåòåíñêèé ìîíàñòûðü, 2000.
8. A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard, Beacon Press, Boston
9. Upanishads, the principle texts selected and translated from the
original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, © 1975.
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