The Bonaventuran Pope of Christian Unity

I posted this back in 2006 about how the “Pope of Christian Unity” is influenced by St. Bonaventure.  A few years have passed, so I think this should be reviewed and verified:

Are you looking for insight into how Pope Benedict is going to treat the SSPX or make other decisions concerning dissent or practices that require correction?  We can learn something about how Pope Benedict operates through a glimpse at how he studied St. Bonaventure.  As you know, today is the Feast of St. Giovanni di Fidanza, otherwise known as Bonaventure Bagnoregio (+1274), Doctor of the Church.

Way back when, His Holiness Pope Benedict explored St. Augustine’s theology of the House and People of God (Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustine Lehre von der Kirche, 1954).  Steeped in Augustine, Joseph Ratzinger made significant theological/ecclesiological contributions to the Second Vatican Council.  After his work on Augustine, Ratzinger turned his considerable attention to St. Bonaventure for his Habilitationsschrift (his second doctoral dissertation).  Ratzinger was interested in exploring questions having to do with the relationship of salvation history to metaphysics. In other words, how are God’s nature and this universe created under God’s plan related?   In short, Ratzinger (and many others) were interested in a theology of history.  It was natural to turn to St. Bonaventure for these questions.  His work called Geschichtstheologie des heiligen Bonaventura or (The Theology of History in Saint Bonaventure) was published in 1959.

Back in the 13th century, Bonaventure, in his role as a theologian and the Minister General of the Franciscans, had written about this subject as part of a response to the Calabrian writer Joachim of Fiore.  Joachim and his followers were creating great tensions amongst the Franciscans themselves and theology at large.  Joachim was making claims that the world was about to enter into a new “charismatic” phase, a reign of the Holy Spirit, during which people would receive unmediated graces.  For Joachim, St. Francis of Assisi had been the forerunner of this new age.  While St. Thomas Aquinas’ response totally rejected Joachim’s ideas, Bonaventure’s own response in Collationes in Hexameron sought to apply corrections to the theory.  The radical followers of Joachim were interpreting Joachim in a way that was contrary to the Church’s theological tradition.  Bonaventure, on the other hand, attempted to interpret Joachim’s ideas in a manner consonant with tradition.

In the 20th century, as a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger used the same technique as Bonaventure.   He sought to correct rather than reject.  For example, Ratzinger sought as a theologian to make good use of what could be salvaged from Liberation Theology which, as the Prefect, he had had to correct but also repress in some of its aspects.  For example, in his work A New Song For The Lord, Ratzinger lays the groundwork for a liturgical theology taking ideas from positive ideas gleaned Liberation Theology.    I think it is fair to say that, as Prefect, Ratzinger came to know Liberation Theology better than anyone else in the world, including its own proponents.   He was in a good position, therefore, to make judicious use of the good things that Liberation Theology produced while rejecting the dross.
Another example might be to go back to his first encyclical Deus caritas est and consider his discussion of eros and agape.  This and the exitus/reditus theme were constant considerations of the neo-Platonising theologians of the Augustinian tradition, such as Bonaventure.   But I digress…

This could be instructive about Pope Benedict’s modus operandi both as a theologian and as a disciplinarian and, now, legislator, etc.  It might be useful to regard Pope Benedict through this lens as he follow his dealing with the SSPX and matters of liturgical discipline, even curial appointments.  It might be helpful to keep in mind when thinking about how Pope Benedict acts to remember that he is in some respects “Bonaventuran” and decidedly eclectic in his influences.  I am not alone in making this observation.   There was an interesting article about this in Commonweal (not my usual reading material, please note) by Joseph A. Komonchak.

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  1. friarpark says:

    I know this is a bit off topic, but when Pope Benedict was elected Pope and the Cardinal was reading his name, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus commented that he knew what name Card. Ratzinger would pick and mentioned Boniface and then had to backtrack once he heard Benedict. I always wondered why Fr. Neuhaus said he would pick Boniface. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    And yes, Pope Benedict is the Pope of Christian unity. I am constantly stunned and awed by this man. Long live the Pope!!

  2. Legisperitus says:

    friarpark: St. Boniface was known as the apostle to Germany. Cardinal Ratzinger had thought of using the name in recognition of that, but then changed his mind in favor of the broader appeal of St. Benedict, who was essentially the spiritual founder of Europe.

  3. Rouxfus says:

    The Holy Father dedicated two of his Wednesday audience addresses in March 2010 to St. Bonaventure, and I was struck by this observation:

    Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees. But in the night of the intellect, love still sees — it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God. St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees. The conclusive words of his “Journey of the Mind to God,” in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality: “If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).

    The texts: “On St. Bonaventure: ‘Proposing This Theme I Feel a Certain Nostalgia’ and “Theology According to Thomas and Bonaventure”.

  4. robtbrown says:

    Legisperitus says:

    friarpark: St. Boniface was known as the apostle to Germany. Cardinal Ratzinger had thought of using the name in recognition of that, but then changed his mind in favor of the broader appeal of St. Benedict, who was essentially the spiritual founder of Europe.

    Although I don’t pretend to know all of the pope’s reasons for the name, it must be mentioned that St Benedict was a man whose life was characterized by fuga mundi. And the name was taken by a man who thinks the detente between the Church and secular society has failed.

  5. FranzJosf says:

    Thank you, Father, for this post and the link to the Commonweal piece.

    If Mr. Komonchak summarizes the Holy Father correctly, I think that these two paragraphs are at the very heart of the current crisis of Western Civilization:

    The church lives today in a state of intellectual or cultural crisis. Once, theology could draw on a common intellectual heritage for the articulation of the Christian vision. This philosophical tradition focused on reality and the search for its truth. Linked up with Christian faith, it enabled theology to plumb the depths of reality and in the end to acknowledge the truth of things as they emerged from the hands of an intelligent and loving Creator. Theology can no longer presuppose that common cultural and intellectual heritage. Through various stages, philosophy abandoned the ontological and metaphysical attitude that once marked it. It became fascinated with phenomena and from emerging natural science borrowed a positivistic interest in facts as they appear; it grounded itself now, not in the reality of things, but in reflections on human consciousness. The rise of historical consciousness moved attention away from reality as created by God to reality as constructed by human beings. With Marx, attention has moved from attempting to understand the world thus created to seeking to change it. “Truth” now refers, not to reality as given, nor to what has been done, but to what remains to be done. Through all of these processes, philosophy has been dissolved into a multiplicity of philosophies.

    The tragedy of post-Vatican II theology is that, after dethroning the inadequate neoscholastic vision, it has turned, not back to the ancient wisdom displayed in the church fathers and the medieval masters, but to various forms of modern philosophy. It has therefore lost its critical distance and has become a handmaiden of the various forms of positivism, particularly by linking itself to other visions of the future, either the one liberals hope from technology, or the one Marxists hope from political and economic revolution. The results of this disastrous choice are all around us, in a church that has become indistinct from its surrounding worlds and has lost its sense of identity and mission, and in a world in which the triumph of positivism has led to ever growing dissolution and alienation.
    I would only add that I believe that the pernicious naivete of Marxism, and much else among other readical idealogies, finds its roots in three areas very much alive in today’s Academy, media, and popular conventional wisdom: 1) the French Revolution, 2) the hubristic We-Can-Achieve-Anything-and-Everything attitude stemming from the Industrial and Technological Revolutions, and 3) the currents of Romanticism in philosophy and literature during Marx’s life-time (he was very much a child of his time); we have yet to escape the excesses of Romanticism even among socalled post-modernists.

    The Holy Father is spot on.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I tried following the link to the article but it appears to be a broken link. Does anyone else have this problem?


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