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Traditional Catholic theology is marked by its preference for Manualist Thomistic thought perhaps best represented under the lens of the pre-conciliar theologian, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Naturally, after the Vatican II council, the dominate theological thought has been the Nouvelle théologie—a counter to Aeterni Patris and Neo-Scholasticism of the 19thCentury. The post here will not get into detail about the conflict between the two movements, but it’s important to understand that the shift and development of Neo-Scholasticism was a response to the Enlightenment dominated by skepticism with the introduction of Hume’s, Cartesian, and Kantian philosophical schools of thought. These particular schools of thought turned epistemology on its head and developed a “philosophy [that] turned inward…our understanding of the world…rather than coming to a knowledge of the object through the senses led to further regression of epistemology”[1]

The Papal encyclical Aeterni Patris wriiten by “Pope Leo XIII explained the importance of returning to the Classical model of thinking, “And here it is well to note that our philosophy can only by the grosses injustice be accused of being opposed to the advance and development of natural science. From when the Scholastics, following the opinion of the holy Fathers, always held in anthropology that the human intelligence is only led to knowledge of things without body and matter by things sensible.”[2][3]

In recent years, the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C. influence is growing in the younger Catholic academic circles. In some respect, they still hold on to the post-conciliar thought of the Nouvelle théologie of Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Semi-Universalism and Henri De Lubac’s immanence of God being inherent in Man’s supernatural desire for Him; however, the development of the particular theology dominating these popular mainstream circles is the Nouvelle Theologie with a sprinkling of Thomism into a new development in the 20th and 21st centuries. The best popular representation of these positions is Bishop Robert Barron.

I have been naturally attracted to Augustinian thought rather than Thomistic thought. There’s something, perhaps, appealing to the notion of forms existing metaphysically in their own nature and that there’s an innate recognition of these things in the world. I’ve been musing over the idea of beauty; its role in axiological argument, and preferences being shaped by one’s capability to recognize the beautiful. Of course, I’m currently studying theology in a Thomistic setting where a tension grows by questioning of the said school of thought. In recent months, reflecting on what has been going on during the Amazonian synod in Rome, and being influenced by Neo-Scholasticism setting but still having a love for Augustinian thought, I’ve begun to read St. Bonaventure.

The words of St. Bonaventure are composed with the beauty and beating heart of Augustine and Divine Illumination and framed the Aristotelean thought of clarity. Pope Benedict XVI has experienced his preference for St. Bonaventure but being a proponent of the Nouvelle théologie I am surprised when reading St. Bonaventure that although he is Augustinian in his thought he is still very Aristotelean. At the moment, many are concerned of the allegations of paganism in Rome and the worship of nature and idols. By reading St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey, St. Bonaventure makes an appeal toward recognizing the vestiges from God’s creation to elevate the person toward God. St. Bonaventure recognizes that it’s the senses that moves the person toward God but being created in the likeness of God there’s light within us (awareness) that precedes the senses gaining knowledge. During my own studies of Thomism, I have thought that the idea that all knowledge coming from the senses is ultimately true, but yet, at the very basic foundation there is consciousness. Is this the same as Cartesian Cogito Ergo Sum? No. Descartes thought is one that is turned inward toward the I am of self; whereas, St. Bonaventure’s is turned toward recognition of the great I AM:

 In the beginning

I call upon the First Beginning,

from whom

all illuminations descend

as from the Father of Lights,

from whom

comes every good and every perfect gift.[4]

The journey for St. Bonaventure is a six step journey in the image of the Seraph that gave St. Francis the stigmata to rest in the presence of God on the seventh day. Bonaventure writes, “There is no other path but through the burning love of the Crucified, a love which so transformed Paul into Christ when he was carried up to the third heaven(2 Cor. 12:2) that he could say: With Christ I am nailed to the cross. I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me(Gal. 2:20). This love also so absorbed the soul of Francis that his spirit shone through his flesh when for two years before his death he carried in his body the sacred stigmata of the passion.[5]

There is no immanence within the thought of St. Bonaventure, the journey toward God is one that always goes through Christ Jesus, he prays:

First, therefore, I invite the reader

to the groans of prayer

through Christ crucified,

through whose blood

we are cleansed from the filth of vice—

so that he not believe

that reading is sufficient without unction,

speculation without devotion,

investigation without wonder,

observation without joy,

work without piety,

knowledge without love,

understanding without humility,

endeavor without divine grace,

reflection as a mirror without divinely inspired wisdom.

To those, therefore, predisposed by divine grace,

the humble and the pious,

the contrite and the devout,

those anointed with the oil of gladness,

the lovers of divine wisdom, and

those inflamed with a desire for it,

to those wishing to give themselves

to glorifying, wondering at and even savoring God,

I propose the following considerations,

suggesting that the mirror presented by the external world

is of little or no value

unless the mirror of our soul

has been cleaned and polished.

Therefore, man of God,

first exercise yourself in remorse of conscience

before you raise your eyes

to the rays of Wisdom reflected in its mirrors,

lest perhaps from gazing upon these rays

you fall into a deeper pit of darkness.[6]

Thus, after St. Bonaventure’s Prologue, he begins the journey by the recognition of God with the rejection of the Albigensian heresy that rejected the good of creation, St. Bonaventure points towards the good of the creature as a ladder that will lead the soul to rest in God.




[1]Phillip, The Affirmation of Real Objective Metaphysical Objects in Catholic Thought, unpublished paper, Holy Apostles College and Seminary, 2019.

[2]Aeterni Patris (August 4, 1879) | LEO XIII. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_04081879_aeterni-patris.html.

[3]Phillip, The Affirmation of Real Objective Metaphysical Objects in Catholic Thought

[4]Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 53.

[5]Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 54–55.

[6]Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 55–56.