Affirmative and negative in the Christology of Bonaventure dynamics

Which brings us to the 'dynamics' of the structure of the Itinerarium. We have noted that the hierarchical principles of Bonaventure's exposition could lead us to read the movement from vestigia through imagines to the highest concepts of God, from 'outer' to 'inner' thence 'above', as successive phases of affirmativeness into an ultimate negativity. But such a reading is defensible only on neglect of a contrary movement of'centring', a movement which clearly predominates in Bonaventure's thought. In any case, as I have explained elsewhere,12 within the classical medieval accounts, even hierarchical structures are not properly understood in terms of a simple successiveness; for each level in a hierarchical order 'contains' and 'resumes' the levels below it. From 'above', as it were, hierarchy has to be understood inclusively; it is only from 'below' that there is any 'exclusion'. From 'below', therefore, what we know of God from vestigia provides no access to what we know of God from imagines. From 'above', however, what we can know of God from imagines includes all that we can know from vestigia. If, therefore, the static structure of the Itinerarium would suggest a rising scale of 'knowing-unknowing', from our imperfect and indirect knowledge of God in inanimate nature, to the perfect image of God in Christ, we shall have to remember that in Christ is resumed, as in a minor mundus (Itin., 2.3, p. 53), all that can be known of God from all creation and all revelation.13

It is in Christ, therefore, that the structuring hierarchical principle of 'ascent' converges upon a centripetal Christological dynamic: all creation and all divinity centre upon the hypostatic union in Christ, there to be dissolved in the dramatic destruction of Christ's death on the cross. Just as we might have thought that some higher synthesis had been achieved, some resolution which held together within a comprehensive and comprehensible grasp the apparent opposition between the human and the

12 See my Darkness of God, pp. 113-14.

13 Christopher Hilton puts it neatly (in a draft of his Cambridge PhD dissertation on The Theology of Contemplative Prayer: The Shewings of Julian of Norwich and its Later Appropriations): 'The scala [of Bonaventure's Itinerarium] should be seen not as a linear ladder, but as a circular stairway where with each turn of the stairway the climber comes again to the same place on the circumference of the circle, but on a higher, richer, more complex level. With each level the climber is able to see the inclusive relation of the steps . . . The circular stairway has joined earth with heaven, with the Crucified as the central core around which the stair turns necessarily at all levels.'

divine, between the temporal and the eternal, between the divine simplicity and unity and the diverse complexity of creation, that resolution is dashed from our hands by the transitus, the 'passing over' into death, which is Christ's passion; 'in this passing over', Bonaventure tells us, 'Christ is the way and the door' (Itin., 7.1, p. 97).

Let us, then, die and enter into this darkness. Let us silence all our care, our desires, and our imaginings. With Christ crucified, let us pass out of this world to the Father, so that, when the Father is shown to us, we may say with Philip: It is enough for us [Jn, 13:1]. (Itin., 7.6, p. 101)

In Christ, therefore, is resumed all our knowledge of God, indirect and inferential through the external created order of nature, 'inner' through the graced image of the Trinity in the soul, 'above', through our understanding of the highest names of God; and in Christ is resumed also the 'passing over' of all that knowing into the darkness of unknowing, both the affirmativity and the negativity and the interactions of the one with the other, their simultaneous necessity and deficiency: all are in Christ, and are demanded, as necessities of Christological theology. Therefore, if we do our natural theology, our metaphysics of God, if our epistemol-ogy must be formulated in terms of complex articulations of the relations between the apophatic and the cataphatic, it is because of, not in spite of, what a properly Christian theology demands of the human mind. Indeed it is in Christ, especially in the cross of Christ, that those articulations are most concretely realised.

It is in some such terms that we can speak of Bonaventure's 'mystical theology'. For if, speaking now quite generally, the 'mystical' is in some way tied up with the moment of theological negation, of a 'passing beyond', and if, on an adequate account of the apophatic dimension of theological discourse, it has to be understood as determinative of that discourse as mystical in principle and as such; then this can be so only in so far as we have abandoned a whole raft of accounts of the relations between the 'apophatic' and the 'cataphatic'. For we are diverted from this account in so far as we suppose that there is some such discourse as 'apophatic discourse'. The apophatic is not given in some negative vocabulary which takes over from the affirmative when we get a mystical urge; it is not engaged in by means of some negative chasing game with the affirmative up the ladder of speech about God, thus at the top either to win or to lose out to the affirmative. Rather it is that the tensions between affirmation and negation within all theological speech are, precisely, what determine it to be theological speech, and to be, in the only worthwhile sense of the term, 'mystical'. In Bonaventure's terms, therefore, the 'mystical' is essentially incarnational and Christological.

Moreover, those tensions which characterise theological language at once as theological and as mystical are finally unresolvable: the necessity of our linguistic resources of theology can never supply their deficiency; nor can the perception of their deficiency ever reduce the necessity of them. We know both the need for, and the failure of, theological talk simultaneously in the one act of its utterance; we both say and unsay in the same theological word. And if these constraints of thought and speech hold for Bonaventure's Christocentric theology, demanding of him a philosophical epistemology equal to the theological claims made upon it, they will be seen to hold for Thomas's account of Eucharistic presence: as in Bonaventure, for Thomas, these dynamic interactions of the affirmative and negative are demanded by theological exigencies and by the nature of faith itself in its doctrinal articulations.

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