Bonaventure and Works


An unsettling train of thought has trickled out of the reading from the past couple of weeks. It has run more or less through the writings of Origen, Palamas, and Aquinas. The idea was expressed by Bonaventure in this way:

“the commandments of God are faultless because they contain nothing impossible. So in John 1 it says: ‘This the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.’ It says first: ‘This is the love of God.’ Indeed, to one who loves, the commandments of God are easy and pleasant; but to one who does not love, they appear difficult’” (24).

In each of these authors the Decalogue stood as an example of how one lives the life of the Christian life. All of which was well and good. This author would tend to agree, but with the exception of the finely nuanced work of Aquinas, all seem to see this life without much concern for difficulty. Elaborate rules were laid out and exposited without any concern about the do-ability of the task at hand. The above quoted passage being an extremely egregious example of the tendency.

Lest one would think the quote pulled out of context, Bonaventure continued later on to elaborate on the way in which the law worked. In Collation II the Trinitarian nature of sanctification is elaborated in a three-step process in which the majesty of the Father provided knowledge which led to completeness of worship in the Son which in turn led to observance of the commands of fear and love somehow within the Spirit. This motif is repeated throughout the book. Many of the authors prothemes alight on some three pronged statement boiled down to the discernment of God’s glory, the wisdom of Christ’s righteousness, and the spiritual task at hand.[1] Once again this was well and good, but concerns existed in the ease with which Bonaventure et al see the believer reaching for it.

One cannot help but wonder what exactly was within the framework of the author’s time. One of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be the views of the authors of the place of the Old Testament. One particularly interesting use of the Old Testament came in Collation I when Bonaventure used the Deuteronomic discussion of blessing and cursing to present challenge placed before humanity concerning the commandments. Less well understood sections can be found in the closing Collation when he elaborated on the ten ways of transgressing the Law as revealed by the ten Egyptian plagues; or elsewhere where the six days of creation were said to reveal the way to work righteousness. Throughout it all the premise that Old Testament applied the same to the Christian of the Thirteenth Century C.E. as it did to the Jew of the Thirteenth Century B.C.E..; or, possibly in an even more substantial sense.

In the sense of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, this may be truer than the modern church would like to believe. The Law has not passed away. Yet one cannot help but wonder about the easy possibility by which Bonaventure et al phrased it in their works. In a literal sense the commands are not so hard, this author has not murdered anyone, committed adultery, and so on. I can therefore agree with the Rich Young Ruler that ‘all of these’ he has faithfully keep since his youth. Yet were I to face the master himself, I do not think such an answer would get me any farther. Especially if one were to take the words of Christ in the Sermon, or the author’s belief that each of these existed as a synecdoche. I have not murdered, but I have cursed a brother. I have not committed taken my neighbor’s wife, but I have burned with lust in my heart. There is therefore one more thing lacking. Like Bonaventure I can trust in the power of Christ to raise us up to “newness of life” (101). Yet as Bonaventure then moved on to a small discussion of the sacraments and grace; this author must express his Protestant anxiety at such a cure. It seemed that just there laid the source of anxiety for this Low Church believer standing firmly in the Protestant Orthodoxy of the late modern period. I am not sure that our amorphous reliance on the Spirit Baptism has been an any better answer; but it is one of which I am more comfortable.


[1] The best examples can be found in the prothemes of Collation I and III.

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Historical Papers

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