Academic journal article Theological Studies

God, Creation, and the Possibility of Philosophical Wisdom: The Perspectives of Bonaventure and Aquinas

Academic journal article Theological Studies

God, Creation, and the Possibility of Philosophical Wisdom: The Perspectives of Bonaventure and Aquinas

Article excerpt

FOLLOWING THE RENEWAL of Scholastic philosophy and theology promoted by Pope Leo XIII, and particularly following the publication, in the late 19th century, of the critical edition of the works of St. Bonaventure by the Franciscan fathers of Collegio San Bonaventura at Quaracchi, Florence, studies of the Seraphic Doctor grew more and more numerous. (1) The scholarship was somewhat eclectic; there never was, at least in fundamental or dogmatic theology, a recognizable "Bonaventureanism," as there was a "Thomism." Yet there was one debate at least that was pursued with considerable tenacity: the question whether, and in what sense, Bonaventure could be said to have had a philosophy distinct from his theology. One of the striking features of the debate about this "Bonaventurean question" (2) was that it was pursued mostly by Thomists and judged by the canons of a Thomistic understanding of philosophy.

The second half of the 20th century saw a shift in Bonaventure studies away from this approach. Several factors contributed to this shift, including the breakdown of the Thomistic hegemony in philosophy and theology in Catholic circles, a broadening interest in medieval theology in general beyond the customary categories of Scholasticism (e.g., the consideration of "monastic theology" and "vernacular theology" in addition to Scholastic theology), and the appearance of groundbreaking studies of Bonaventure that deliberately eschewed the older approach. (3)

The "Bonaventurean question," in its older formulation, has therefore somewhat faded from view. At the same time, however, the more general topic of the relationship of philosophy and theology (which is one form of the debate about nature and grace) has lost nothing of its compelling interest. Moreover, theologians and philosophers both are interested in Bonaventure's contribution to the subject. (4) The difference between the debate now and 50 years ago is that the current conversation is not constrained by the concerns and categories of Thomism.

I contend that something has been lost by abandoning the earlier discussions. It is, of course, prejudicial to examine Bonaventure simply with an eye toward determining his adequacy with respect to Thomism. Nevertheless, when it comes to the question of the relationship of philosophy and theology, dialogue with Thomists remains key. A close examination of Bonaventure's arguments reveals that he is dealing with many of the same distinctions and categories that Thomists recognize. This is not to say that he entirely shares Aquinas's doctrine; yet the differences are all the more striking when the similarities are given their due.

In this article, I focus on the idea of "philosophical wisdom" as a way into the debate about philosophy and theology. The issues at stake become clearer when one is talking about the perfection of the natural knowledge of the created world. It is one thing to say that philosophical knowledge is possible without faith, but another thing to say that the perfection of that knowledge, philosophical wisdom, is also possible. To both Aquinas and Bonaventure, I put two questions: first, is philosophical wisdom possible? and second, if so, what lies at the heart of the conception of that wisdom--or, what is the fundamental intuition or conviction expressed in this doctrine? To anticipate: from a Thomistic perspective, it is clear that such a wisdom is possible; I argue that, in Bonaventure's perspective, such a wisdom is indeed possible, but only from a certain point of view.

The purpose of this article is to articulate a Bonaventurean contribution to the discussion of the relationship between philosophy and theology (and, by implication, a contribution to the understanding of the nature of theology). The point is not to compare two historical figures (that would require a great deal more exegetical analysis of Aquinas than is presented here), but to make an argument regarding the power of Bonaventure's thought today, seen in light of the Thomist tradition. …

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