Bonaventure’s Vision of Reality


The spiritual vision of Bonaventure may be summarized in this very general formula:  God the Father is the source of all created reality; creation is established in accordance with the pattern of the eternal Son of God or the Word of God; and the fundamental purpose of this “external” activity of God is simply to be a gratuitous manifestation of divine love whose aim is to draw all created reality back into the infinite Goodness of God by means of the gift or grace of the divine Spirit.

Bonaventure believed that this vision was revealed by God through the law and prophets of the Old Testament and in the New Testament through Jesus Christ, through whom the eternal Son of God was present personally in the human, created order.

He believed further that the renewal of life offered by Jesus and made effective by the power of the Holy Spirit was continued in time through the activity of the church which was the primary (though not the exclusive) means of human accessibility to the divine life.

Moreover, he believed that Francis of Assisi was a magnificent exemplar of this possibility in his own time-period, so much so that Bonaventure became a member of the movement inspired by the life of Francis.

Finally, Bonaventure believed that in addition to the revelation of this vision of reality in the scriptures [i.e., the book of revelation], in addition to its being made actual in the life of the church, and in addition to its recent exemplary manifestation in the life of Francis, this vision could be discerned by the human mind by tracing the intrinsic order of the created world back to its fundamental grounds which bear the imprint of their divine source [i.e., the book of nature].


The intellectual vision of Bonaventure, of course, is simply his attempt to express rationally in light of the intellectual heritage of his day what this spiritual vision meant in general terms; it can be glimpsed in this formula:  the metaphysical (i.e., the underlying or deepest) structure of created being is understandable through emanation, exemplarity, and consummation.

Emanation means that the created world that we see around us and of which we are a part is not a self-sufficient world but rather is a world that is “grounded” in and “sustained” by a reality of an entirely different order, an eternal and necessary being whose principal “name” can be said to be “overflowing goodness,” a reality we recognize religiously to be God.

Exemplarity means that even though the world is completely dependent on the divine reality, it does have its own intrinsic order or pattern; but since this “pattern” is “grounded” in the divine, when we attempt to understand this pattern rationally we may discern, provided that we push our analysis “back” to its grounding principles, that the pattern is in fact a “trace” or “symbol” or “sign” or “image” of God.

The primary “symbols” of this feature of exemplarity are those revealed by God in the scriptures and present in the activity of the church and most fully in Jesus Christ [i.e., the book of revelation].

But in addition to these heightened instances of the symbolic force of the created order, this exemplarity is found in all levels of creation:  if we examine the natural order we discover that the patterns of nature, when traced back to their ultimate foundations, reveal a divine trace in these patterns [i.e., the book of nature]; if we examine our humanity and consider the grounds of our mental powers at their fundamental level, we discover that the powers of our conscious activity reveal a divine image; and if we consider created reality as a whole we discover at its core not only a rational pattern but a meaningful one that is good, and this, too, is a sign of the divine.

Consummation means that the world of our ordinary everyday experience not only is grounded in the divine reality and at its deepest level manifests symbolically the eternal exemplar, but that this world is so structured that it is inherently dynamic:  built into the very constitution of all created reality is a tendency toward a supreme fulfillment, a tendency that may be made actual because of  the gift of the loving presence of the divine reality to all creatures drawing them back into the Overflowing Good which is their Origin and Source.