For there are two general principles which organise the structure of the Itinerarium, embodying, as it were, the theological statics and the theological dynamics. They are of equal theological importance. As to the 'statics', these are most visible in the purely formal elements of exposition and chapter division of the work, though they are by no means merely formal in their significance. The work is set out on the model of a 'ladder of ascent' and so on conventional principles of medieval hierarchy. The metaphors of 'lower' and 'higher', of 'outer' and 'inner' predominate. There is no doubt that the vestigia of God, which can be read in the 'Book of Nature', are more 'outer' and 'lower' in their theological significance than are the imagines of God which are read within our inward powers of the perception of creation. For the contemplation of these vestigia in the book of nature yields knowledge of its author only indirectly. We know the author thus only from the book, only, that is to say, as what we must say about God on the evidence with which nature provides us. Thus, from the Book of Nature we know God only as Creator, and that only by inference from evidence. But in the book of our inner powers of self-reflection, that is, of understanding, memory and love - and here Bonaventure does little more than paraphrase Augustine10 - we find an image of the inner life of God himself, a trinitarian life, which those inner powers not only perceive through that image, but also, through grace, participate in, so as in a manner to live by that very trinitarian life which they perceive. Through grace, our remembering and knowing and loving participate in the relations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so in the inner life by which they live in the Godhead itself.
Higher yet are those contemplations by which we know God no longer indirectly through vestigium and imago, but in some way directly through concepts proper to God, 'being' and 'goodness'. For to know God as 'existence' is to know God in his own light, for being is God. But our minds are not naturally habituated to know 'being'; 'being' as such is not that which we see, for it is particular 'beings' which are the proper objects of our minds. Rather 'being' is the light in which we see 'beings'. Hence, when the mind turns its gaze away from particular beings towards the light of 'being' in which it sees them, it appears to see nothing at all. For
just as the eye, intent on the various differences of colour, does not see the light through which it sees other things, or if it does see, does not notice it, so our mind's eye, intent on particular and universal beings, does not notice that being which is beyond all categories, even though it comes first to the mind, and through it all other things. (Itin., 5.4, p. 83)
Thus turned away from 'beings' they are turned towards 'that Being which is called pure being and simple being, and absolute being is the first being, the eternal, the most simple, the most actual, the most perfect, and the supremely one' (Itin., 5.5, p. 85).
Consequently, this knowledge of God, gained from our human grasp of 'being' as supremely One, surpasses our comprehension. For our mind, accustomed as it is to the opaqueness in beings and the phantasms of visible things, appears to see nothing when it gazes upon the light of the highest being. It does not understand that this very darkness is the supreme illumination of our mind, just as when the eye sees pure light, it seems to see nothing. (Itin., 5.4, p. 83)
Therefore, for Bonaventure, as for Thomas, this incomprehensibility of God derives from the divine simplicity: not that this simplicity of God is such as to remove the possibility of multiple names of God. On the contrary, Bonaventure piles up, as a series of entailments from this very simplicity, predicate after predicate, name after name. God, understood as 'being', is supremely 'one'; but this oneness of God is such that of it every variety of name may be predicated that can be truly predicated of a creature (God is omnimodum; Itin., 5.7, p. 87), because God is the supreme cause of everything (ibid.). There is here in Bonaventure, however, a distinctive emphasis not found in Thomas. For as these names pile up in Bonaventure's exposition, one name leading to another - because it is 'being' it is ' simple'; because 'simple', 'first'; because 'first', 'eternal'; because 'eternal', most 'actual'; because 'actual', most 'perfect', and so supremely 'one' (Itin., 5.6, p. 85) - they are increasingly represented in pairs of contraries. For 'being' is both 'first' and 'last', 'eternal' and 'most present', 'simple' and 'the greatest', 'supremely one' and 'containing every mode' (omnimodum); moreover, in each case it is the one because of being the other, it is 'precisely the last because it is the first', 'entirely present' because 'eternal', and so through all the other names which derive from the divine simplicity (Itin., 5.7, pp. 85-7). The result is a complex 'dialectic', and in the very strictest sense of the word: for each name entails, and is entailed by, its contrary.
Therefore, that which is in itself supremely one and simple is known to us only through that dialectical complexity: in God there is a coincidence of opposites, but there is no one name in which they all coincide so that in it their oppositions are reconciled, for each name both entails another and is at the same time opposed by what it entails. If there is a 'dialectic' here it is an unresolved, ultimately 'open' dialectic, by which is defined the ultimate incomprehensibility of the Godhead. If, therefore, the manner of reaching this conclusion differs, the apophatic conclusion is exactly the same as that of Thomas. What we can know of the God of metaphysics, the 'God of reason', is that we cannot know the meaning of that which we must say of him.
Moreover, as in Thomas, the light of Christian faith proper, through which is revealed to us the inner nature of God as a Trinity of persons, does nothing to remedy this apophatic deficiency; rather the emphasis on the divine unknowability is intensified by this revelation. 'When you contemplate these things [of the Trinity], take care that you do not believe you can understand the incomprehensible' (Itin., 6.3, p. 91), Bonaven-ture says, proceeding to list the names and relations of the Trinity of persons. Each considered singly will lead to the Truth, but compared with one another will 'lift you up to the heights of admiration', such is their irreconcilable complexity (Itin., 6.3, p. 93). But that complexity is brought to its final degree of intensity, and our awe the more provoked, by that most ultimate of all mysteries, which is the hypostatic union of all possible predicates, all the names of all that is, all the names of all creation, the vestigia of the external world and the imagines of the inner, the names of the highest metaphysical concepts of 'being' and 'goodness', the names of God as One and as Three, united in the two natures in one person, which is Jesus Christ. In Christ is the first Principle joined with the last. God is joined with man . . . the eternal is joined with time-bound man . . . the most simple is joined with the most composite; the most actual is joined with Him who suffered supremely and died; the most perfect and immense is joined with the insignificant; He who is both supremely one and supremely omnifarious is joined to an individual that is composite and distinct from others, that is to say, to the man Jesus Christ... (Itin., 6.5, p. 93)
... [who unites] the first and the last, the highest and the lowest, the circumference and the center, the Alpha and the Omega, the caused and the cause, the Creator and the creature. (Itin., 6.7, p. 95)
It is precisely at this Christological juncture of his exposition that it is possible to see the point of the open-ended apophaticism of Bonaven-ture's account of the 'being' and 'goodness' of God, his doctrine of the divine oneness and Trinity. For were Bonaventure to have allowed, as any form of possibility to the human mind, whether through its own naturally acquired knowledge or through divine revelation, that that dialectic should close in on a conceptual resolution, on some definition of God, some finally resolved description of the divine nature, then that 'coincidence of opposites' which so characterises his Christology would have collapsed into the simple incoherence of straightforward contradictori-ness. It is one thing to say that we have to name Christ by so many names that we have no way of knowing how they can thus coexist as true of one and the same person; for that is but to say that the hypostatic union of natures in Christ is an incomprehensible mystery. It is quite another to say that two or more names which we know could not coexist, which are contradictories, are true of one and the same subject, for that is quite comprehensibly to say nothing at all about anything, as to say of one and the same shape that it is both a square and a circle is not to say anything, nor is it anything said about anything.
Now it is precisely because we know that we cannot know the quid est of God - that we cannot know the divine nature - that it follows that to say of one and the same person that he is both human and divine cannot be a contradiction. For the Creator and the creature could stand in relations of exclusion one of the other, as circles and squares do, only if the Creator stood on the same ground as the creature such that the one could exclude the other from it.11 Bonaventure's elaborate - indeed sometimes baroquely rhetorical - rehearsal of the 'coincidence of opposites' within the divine oneness and Trinity is designed not to show that contradictory predicates are true of God, but that those things must be affirmed of the divine being in such a degree of complexity that there could not be any proper concept of God at all: we simply could not know what it is to be God. If it follows from this that the union of the Creator in the creature must be utterly incomprehensible to us, this is also to show that that union is not impossible with the impossibility of an incoherent self-contradictoriness. Because, and only if, God is unknowable to us is the Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ possible.
Therefore, if Christ is truly 'the image of the invisible God' (Itin., 6.7, p. 95), then equally this same Christ is our access precisely to that invisibility itself; if Christ is, in some sort, a resume of all the created order, that book in which some knowledge of the author can be read, then equally it is in Christ that the unknowable mystery of that author is most deeply intensified. In Christ, therefore, are united and intensified to their maximal degree both all that can be said about God and the incomprehensibility of that speech, its failure. In Christ we learn how to speak of God; but in Christ we discover that speech to be broken open into brilliant failure - a knowing-unknowing, a 'brilliant darkness'. It is impossible, in
11 For further discussion of this point, see pp. 216-20 below.
Bonaventure, to construe the darkness of God and the light of Christ in opposition to each other.
Was this article helpful?