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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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
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.
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].
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
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.