Wednesday Audience: The Theology of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas


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VATICAN CITY, 17 MAR 2010 (VIS) - In this morning's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square, Benedict XVI continued his catechesis on St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, today comparing him with his contemporary St. Thomas Aquinas.

"Both of them", the Pope explained, "scrutinised the mysteries of the Revelation, drawing on the resources of human reason in that fruitful dialogue between faith and reason that characterised the Christian Middle Ages, making it a period of great intellectual vivacity, as well as of faith and ecclesial renewal". Both the Franciscan Bonaventure and the Dominican Thomas were members of the mendicant orders which, "with their spiritual freshness, ... renewed the entire Church in the thirteenth century, attracting many followers". Both also "questioned themselves as to whether theology is a practical discipline, or whether it is theoretical and speculative".

"The conclusion reached by St. Thomas is that theology ... is theoretical because it seeks a greater knowledge of God, and it is practical because it seeks to orient our lives towards goodness. But knowledge has the primacy: we first have to know God, then act in accordance with God. This primacy of knowledge over action is significant in the fundamental orientation of St. Thomas' ideas".

For his part, St. Bonaventure "increases the alternatives between theory (primacy of knowledge) and practice (primacy of action) by introducing a third element, which he calls 'wisdom' affirming that it embraces the other two". Wisdom, says Bonaventure, "seeks contemplation (as the highest form of knowledge) and its intention is 'ut boni fiamus', that we should become good. ... Thus, for St. Bonaventure the primacy of love is decisive.

"In this way", the Holy Father added, "St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure give different definitions of man's ultimate destiny, his complete happiness. For St. Thomas the supreme goal ... is to see God. In the simple act of seeing God all problems find their solution and we are happy, nothing else is necessary. For St. Bonaventure, on the other hand, man's final destiny is to love God, the encounter and union of His love and ours. ... In this context, we could say that the highest category for St. Thomas is truth, while for St. Bonaventure it is goodness; yet it would be wrong to see a contradiction between these two positions. ... Both have created different traditions and different spiritualities, thus demonstrating the fruitfulness of faith which is one in the diversity of its expressions".

The Holy Father then turned his reflections to the influence Pseudo- Dionysus, a fourth century Syrian theologian, had on St. Bonaventure. "While for St. Augustine 'intellectus' - seeing with reason and with the heart - is the ultimate category of knowledge", the Pope explained, Pseudo-Dionysus held that "in the ascent towards God it is possible to reach a point in which reason can no longer see. But in the night of the intellect, love can discern ... what remains inaccessible to reason".

"In the dark night of the Cross all the greatness of divine love appears: where reason no longer sees, love does. ... This is not anti-intellectual or anti-rational; it accepts the path of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ". Thus St. Bonaventure founded "a great school of mysticism which ... represents a high point in the history of the human spirit".

"For St. Bonaventure, all our life is a journey, a pilgrimage, an ascent towards God. But we cannot climb towards the heights of God only by our own efforts. God Himself must help us, He must 'pull us up', Pope Benedict concluded.