Tuesday, July 15, 2008

St. Bonaventure 2008

Bonaventure’s history: In 1257, he is called from professorship in Paris to replace John of Parma as General of the Franciscans. John of Parma had gotten himself, and therefore the Franciscan Order, embroiled in the polemics and condemnation of the theories of Joachim of Fiore which centered on the three ages of history, Father (Old Testament), Son (Incarnation to St. Francis) and Spirit (the new and final ”Order”). Ratzinger wrote: “Here it becomes clear not only that St. Francis himself is the bearer of the seal of God by reason of the Stigmata, but also that he shares in the function of the apocalyptic angel of the seal. He is to share in the task of sealing the elect of the final age. It is his task to sign the 144,000 elect with the seal of God, and in this way to establish the community of the final age. This new and final ‘Order’ which is to arise out of the tribulation of the final days will be a Franciscan Order; its proper form of life will be that of St. Francis. The obvious crisis of the moment is the meaning of revelation, its relation to the Sacred Scripture, and the exegesis thereof.

The mission of Bonaventure was to migrate from a conceptual scholasticism that he was teaching in Paris to an experiential (and Franciscan) theology that would give direction to the task at hand, and, as we might be able to see, to the task of the Church of our own time. In 1259, Bonaventure “withdrew into solitude on Mount Alverna, the holy Mount of the Order” where “he… had no other intention in mind than to allow himself to be drawn more deeply into the spiritual world of Francis in whose place he now stood.

“The Itinerarium mentis in Deum, which Bonaventure brought with him from these weeks of solitude, is a first sign of a new intellectual direction. From this book onward, the figure of St. Francis enters ever more into the center of his thought; indeed, it is precisely that Francis who has fittingly been called the ‘Christ-Image of the Middle Ages’… [In 1267] Bonaventure returned to the university pulpit ten years after his departure, and he entered again into the arena of doctrinal disputes which were becoming ever more critical. But it was a transformed Bonaventure. He did not return simply to take up a position within the interdisciplinary debates. Rather, he came back as an outsider to point out the limits of science from the perspective of faith. It is in this context that we must understand… the final work of this period, the Collationes in Hexaemeron, written in 1273, that clearly provides us with the synthesis and crown of the whole development. It is first in this world that Bonaventure offers a penetrating exposition of those problems which had led earlier to the downfall of John of Parma. These were the problems which had kept the entire Order in suspense to an ever-increasing degree; namely, the questions of Joachimism and Spiritualism. For this reason, the work, by its very nature, was forced to undertake a fundamental treatment of the theology of history.”

Ratzinger continues: “It is the intention of the Hexaemeron to hold up the picture of the true Christian wisdom in the face of the intellectual aberrations of the age. But for Bonaventure, who was entirely a man of his times, wisdom is unthinkable and unintelligible without reference to the historical situation in which it has it place. Consequently, the development of the ideal of wisdom naturally grows into treatment of the theology of history…

“Bonaventure arrives at a new theory of scriptural exegesis which emphasizes the historical character of the scriptural statements in contrast to the exegesis of the Fathers and the Scholastics which had been more clearly directed to the unchangeable and the enduring….

“Certainly Scripture is closed objectively. But is meaning is advancing in a steady growth through history; and this growth is not yet closed. As the physical world contains seeds, so also Scripture contains ‘seeds;’ that is, seeds of meaning. And this meaning develops in a constant process of growth in time. Consequently we are able to interpret many things which the Fathers could not have known because for them these things still lay in the dark future while for us they are accessible as past history. Still other things remain dark for us. And so, new knowledge arises constantly from Scripture. Something is taking place; and this happening, this history, continues onward as long as there is history at all. This is of fundamental importance for the theologian who explains Scripture. It makes it clear that the theologian cannot abstract from history in his explanation of Scripture; neither from the past nor from the future. In this way, the exegesis of Scripture becomes a theology of history; the clarification of the past leads to prophecy concerning the future.”

It is valuable to compare these remarks (1) with Ratzinger remarks on his habilitation thesis on Bonaventure; and (2) from Ratzinger’s commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

First, the habilitation thesis: “`revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself [the divine Person] not to the objectified result of this act [the written word]. And because this is so, the receiving subject [the person/subject/believer] is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the concilar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (‘by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.” [3]He immediately adds that this position was not understood to be “a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation .” (Milestones 108-109).

Secondly, he comments on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by asking: “What is Sacred Scripture, after all? What makes this rather heterogeneous collection of literary works, which came into being over a period of roughly a thousand years, into a book, into a holy book that is interpreted as such? As one pursues this question, the specific features of the Christian faith and of its understanding of revelation become quite clear. The uniqueness of the Christian faith consists, first, of the fact that it is related to historical events, or, better yet, to a coherent story that has actually taken place in history. In this respect, the question about the fact, about the real event, is essential to it, and therefore it must allow room for the historical method. But these historical events are significant for the faith only because faith is certain that God himself has acted in them in a specific way and that the events carry within themselves a surplus meaning that is beyond mere historical facticity and comes from somewhere else, giving them significance for all time and for all men. This surplus cannot be separated from the facts; it is not a meaning subsequently posed upon them from without; rather, it is itself present in the event, even though it transcends mere facticity. This act of transcending is anchored in fact, and therein lies the significance of the whole biblical story… but because the history itself is more than what this people has done and undergone…, it is not only the people speaking in these books, but also the God who acts in it and through it. The figure of the ‘author,’ which is so important for historical research, therefore has three levels: The individual author [1] is supported by the people as a whole [2]. This is evident precisely in the ongoing continuations and modifications of the book; in this regard source criticism…has provided us with valuable findings. Ultimately it is not merely an individual author who is speaking; instead, the texts develop in a process of reflection, of cultivation, of new understanding, a process that goes beyond every individual author. Yet precisely in this process of advancing, which relativizes all the individual authors, a profound transcendence is at work: in this process of advancing, of purification, of development, the inspiring Spirit [3] is active, who guides actions and events in the Word and, in the events and actions, propels back to the Word…[4]

“From[5] this complex nature of the literary creation called ‘Bible,’ it automatically follows that one cannot determine the meaning of its individual texts from what the first author – who in most cases is hypothetically ascertained – intended to say historically. Indeed, all the texts are involved in an ongoing process of revision, in which their potential for significance progressively unfolds; hence no text belongs just to ne individual historical author. Because the text itself has the character of a process, it is not permissible, even on the basis of its own literary nature, to pin it down to a particular historical moment and to encapsulate it in that moment (which at the same time would relegated it irretrievably to the past), whereas reading the Scripture as Bible means precisely that one finds the present in the historical Word and opens oneself to the future. The doctrine of the multiple senses of Scripture, which was developed by te Church Fathers and systematized in the Middle Ages, is recognized again today as being scientifically appropriate, given the nature of this unique structure of texts…[6]

“This dynamic view of the Bible, in the context of the lived and ongoing history of the people of God, leads then to another important insight about the nature of Christianity: ‘Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”,’ says the Catechism succinctly (CCC 108). This is an extremely important statement. The faith does not refer simply to a book, which as such would be the sole and final authority for the believer. In the center of the Christina faith stands, not a book, but a person – Jesus Christ, who is himself the living Word of God and who interprets himself, so to speak, in the words of Scripture, which conversely can understood correctly, however, only in the life with him, in a living relationship to him. And since Christ has built and is building for himself the Church, the people of God, as his living organism], his ‘Body,’ it follows that part and parcel of the relationship with him is fellowship with the pilgrim people, which is actually the human author and proprietor of the Bible, as we have heard. If the living Christ is the genuine norm for interpreting the Bible, that means that we understand this book correctly only within the synchronic and diachronic understanding of the faith [that is, the understanding at any given time and over time] shared by the whole Church. Outside of this lived connection, the Bible is merely a more or less heterogeneous literary anthology, not a present-day signpost for our life. Scripture and tradition cannot be separated…. The Catechism sets forth this connection, which includes at the same time the Church’s authority to interpret Scripture, as the Second Letter of Peter explicitly testifies: ‘First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation’ (2 Peter 1, 20)…. (I)t is becoming apparent that any interpretation that is detached from the life of the Church and from her historical experiences remains non-obligatory and cannot rise above the literary genre of a hypothesis…”

[1] J. Ratzinger “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Herald Press (1989) 3.
[2] Ibid 7-9.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” (1998), 108-109.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Is the Catechism Up-To-Date? On the Way to Jesus Christ, Ignatius (2005) Ibid 148-149.
[5] Ibid 150.
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid 151-152.

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