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«Though he became Minister General of the Franciscan Order in 1257, Bonaventure’s heart never left the University of Paris, and during his ...»

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BONAVENTURE’S THREE-FOLD WAY TO GOD

R. E. Houser

Though he became Minister General of the

Franciscan Order in 1257, Bonaventure’s heart never

left the University of Paris, and during his generalate he

delivered three sets of “collations” or university

sermons at Paris. On 10 December 1270 Itienne

Tempier, bishop of Paris, had condemned certain

erroneous propositions. Bonaventure ruminated over

these matters, and in the Spring of 1273 delivered his magisterial Collations on the Hexameron.1 Left For Bonaventure’s dates see J.G. Bougerol, 1 Introduction a l’étude de saint Bonaventure 2nd ed.

(Paris: Vrin, 1988); J. Quinn, “Bonaventure” Dict. of the M.A. 2: 313-9. On the circumstances of the Collations, one friar noted: “But oh, no, no, no! Since the reverend Lord and Master who gave out this work has been elevated to a sublime position, and is leaving his way of life [as a friar], those attending his sermons have not received what was to follow [the missing last three collations].... This work was read and composed at Paris, in the year of our Lord 1273, from Easter to Pentecost, there being present Masters and Bachelors of Theology and other brothers, in the number of 160.” Bonaventure, Opera Omnia (ed. Quaracchi) 5: 450 n.

10; Coll. in Hex. ed. F. Delorme (Quaracchi: 1934) 275.

92 unfinished owing to his elevation to the cardinalate, in them he read the first chapter of Genesis spiritually, distinguishing seven levels of “vision” corresponding to the seven days of creation. The first level is “understanding naturally given” or philosophy, divided into logic, physics, and ethics. Physics includes all three areas of Aristotelian theoretical philosophy: metaphysics, mathematics, and natural philosophy. Metaphysics focuses on causal relations between God and creatures, and here “the philosophers—the finest and

the ancient philosophers—came to this conclusion:

there is a beginning and end and exemplar cause” of the universe.1 The moderns at his beloved University, however, had split into factions. The problem was one of emphasis. Which kind of cause has priority of place for the metaphysician: God as efficient or final or exemplar cause of creatures?

I. Metaphysics and the Existence of God An integral metaphysics conceives of God as cause in all three senses, to be sure; but God’s efficient causality serves mainly to connect metaphy

–  –  –

oped twenty years earlier. When commenting on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Bonaventure had selfconsciously eschewed arguments from efficient and final causality because at most they set up analogies of extrinsic attribution between creatures and God, where the analogue is not truly an attribute of God. A more positive theology requires argument through analogies of intrinsic attribution, where analogous attributes are really possessed by God and creature. Exemplar causality, a kind of formal causality in which God’s perfect possession of an attribute provides the ultimate causal basis for its presence in creatures, gives a proper foundation for such analogies. For guidance in developing properly metaphysical arguments for God’s existence securely based on exemplar causality, Bonaventure turned to the neoplatonic tradition.

When Augustine read “the books of the Platonists” the development of arguments for the existence of God took a decisive turn. The most

important lesson he learned there was methodological:

The trip to God takes a direction the reverse of what might seem natural: from the exterior world to the interior mind, and from the inferior human mind to the divine superior,4 thereby opening up three routes for proving God exists.

Augustine, Conf. 7.10, ed. L. Verheigen (Turnhout:

4 Brepols, 1981) CCSL 27: 103.

Bonaventure’s Three-fold Way to God 94 1) The first begins with creatures outside the mind and proceeds from effect to cause. Kant called such arguments “cosmological,” but to include any reasoning moving from real effects to God as cause the broader term aitiological argument is more accurate. While Aristotle had focused on the proximate causes of the motion of the heavenly spheres,1 aitiological arguments of neoplatonic inspiration moved in the line of formal causality and, because highly abstract, concluded to God as universal cause.

2) The second route also proceeds from effect to cause, but starts inside the human mind. Seeking the cause of intellectual truth present in his mind led Augustine to scout out this route in his illumination argument for God. These two pathways find their ultimate beginnings in the Platonic doctrines of participation and recollection respectively, and both proceed argumentatively from effect to cause.

3) 3) It is obviously impossible for an argument for God’s existence to proceed in the opposite direction—from cause to effect, if its starting point is some creature outside the mind.

But the neoplatonic movement from exterior to interior opened up the possibility of yet a third route to God, one which starts inside the mind, like the illumination argument, but rather than ask ‘Where do mental notions come from?’ this argument asks ‘Where do they logically lead?’ Such an argument proceeds from cause to effect, but at the conceptual level. So initially unpromising that Kant named it the “ontological” argument after the fallacy he thought it commits— treating existence as a predicate—this route might less pejoratively be called the noetilogical argument, based on how its proponents like Bonaventure thought it





Aristotle, Met. 12.6 (1071b3-27); 7 (1072a18-36); 81

(1073a14-1074b14). The argument in the Physics, 8.6 (259b27-260a5 and 8.10 (267a23-b7), seems to add efficient causality to the final causality of the Met., which has led commentators either a) to import efficient causality into the Met. argument or b) to separate the entities to which the two arguments conclude.

Bonaventure’s Three-fold Way to God 95 proceeds: through devel-oping the logical consequences of a notion.2 4) Once the noetilogical argument was first devised by Anselm, the fullest development of the neoplatonic approach to God stood ready to be realized if all three routes could be developed together by one and the same philosophical mind. That was not the mind of Plotinus, or Augustine, or Anselm himself; it was the mind of Bonaventure.

For the first time in the history of metaphysics he attempted to realize the full potential of the neoplatonic approach to God.

It is not obvious, however, that all three routes can be pursued together. Did not Anselm abandon the Monologion for the Proslogion and Aquinas think sound aitiological arguments require him to abandon Anselm? Modern students of Bonaventure have not been any kinder.

Interpreting Bonaventure as an Augustinian, in contrast to Aquinas’s “Christian Aristotelianism,” led I. Gilson to reduce Bonaventure’s other two routes to the one way of illumination. In Bonaventure’s aitiological argument Gilson thought the world of sense serves only to “bring into play notions belonging to the intelligible order which imply God’s existence,” so that the “idea itself must of necessity be our real, if unrecognized, starting point.” Consequently, “the second [aitiological] way reduces us to the first [illuminationist]” way. The noetilogical argument underwent a similar reduction. The “closely articulated, dialectical process” of Anselm’s argument “is now simplified by St. Bonaventure to the point of vanishing altogether.” Consequently, “St. Anselm’s

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A598/B626: “all2

existential propositions are synthetic”; “Logically, [being] is merely the copula of a judgment.” tr. Kemp Smith. This fallacy occurs when one takes is, which Kant thought merely the copula of a proposition such as S is P and reasons about it as though it were a predicate term P with content above and beyond its linking function. This “fallacy” is but one part of Kant’s wider claim that the only possible evidence for S is would be experience of S.

96 R. E. Houser argument from the idea of God is practically identical in St. Bonaventure’s eyes with St. Augustine’s argument from the existence of truth.” The illumination argument to which he reduced the others Gilson thought simply a quest for the efficient cause of the innate idea of God: “An idea which comes neither from things nor from ourselves can come from none other than God.” The net result is that “the proofs of God’s existence as St. Bonaventure states them...

seem so closely related one to another that neither we, nor even he, can easily make any rigorous separation between them.” Having reduced Bonaventure’s three routes to one, Gilson then undercut their philosophical value, concluding that Bonaventure’s arguments always presuppose faith and that “the very idea of a proof of God’s existence” in Bonaventure is different from the purely philosophical proofs of Thomas. Bonaventure’s routes to God were never meant to be philosophically rigorous proofs, but practical aids for the believer to use in returning to God.3 F. van Steenberghen found Bonaventure’s argu-ments as little convincing as Gilson and drew even harsher conclusions: Bonaventure may have intended his ways to God to be philosophical, but he treated them “in summary fashion,” a sign of his general philo-sophical superficiality. In saying the existence of God is evident to all Bonaventure made philosophical arguments for God superfluous.4 3 I. Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure, tr. Trethowan and Sheed (Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild, 1965) 110-126; from 3rd Fr. ed. (Paris: Vrin, 1953) 103-118.

F. van Steenberghen, Aristotle in the West, 2nd ed.

4 (Louvain: E. Nauwelaerts, 1970) Bonaventure’s philosophy was “an eclectic Aristotelianism with neoPlatonic tendencies, put at the service of an Augustinian theology.” 162. Cf. 159: “The difference between the two lies in this: St. Thomas had meditated deeply on philosophical problems and had carved out a solid system of philosophy before using it in theology; while St. Bonaventure did not do this to the same extent.” Cf.

La philosophie au xiiie siècle (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1966) 268-271.

Bonaventure’s Three-fold Way to God 97 If Gilson’s Bonaventure was too fideistic an Augustinian, and van Steenberghen’s a failed Aristotelian, J. Seifert has recently attempted to restore the philosophical cogency of Bonaventure’s noeti-logical argument, though at the price of shaping Bonaventure too much in the image of Scotus and Aquinas.5 All these interpreters succumb to a common temptation: reductionism. The author of the De reductione certainly was not averse to reductionism, but of a positive kind, where analysis of one thing opens the mind to another, not the negative reduction which eliminates one in favor of the other. The liberal arts he so loved, for example, open the mind to theology and God, but Bonaventurean reduction does not destroy the liberal arts as distinct disciplines.6 The same thing holds true for the three routes to God. Reducing each argument to exemplar causality means merely that each takes the notion of exemplar cause as a principle; it does not mean that one route collapses into another. The way Bonaventure ranked them shows how different they are: Illumination (focusing on the human knower) makes us “certain” of God’s existence; aitiological arguments (employing Aristotelian demonstration) give us “more certain” knowledge of this truth; and noetilogical arguments (focusing on the known object) show that God’s existence is “a truth that is most certain in itself, in as far as it is the first and most immediate truth.”7

J. Seifert, “Si Deus est Deus,Deus Est,” Franciscan5

Studies 59 (1992) 228-9: “[T]he ‘(si) Deus est Deus’ must not be interpreted as a mere analytic proposition but rather as an expression of that identity with itself which only a meaningful, non-contradictory, and necessary essence possesses. [Avicenna/Scotus]... [I]n God alone essentia and esse are inseparably one.

[Aquinas]... Such a ‘having the ground of his own being within himself,’ which is the arch-form and the ultimate embodiment of the sufficient reason for being, is only possible in God because He alone is infinitely perfect. [Scotus]” On reduction, see Bougerol, Introduction 140-5.

6 De mys. trin. 1.1c (ed. Quar.) 5: 49; tr. Hayes 116.

7 98 R. E. Houser In an effort never before even attempted, Bonaventure self-consciously tried to hold together all three routes to God. To do so, he turned to Aristotle.

According to the canons of Aristotelian science, we come to know principles through insight coming out of induction, while we demonstrate conclusions deductively.8 These two modes of argument provided Bonaventure with two different models for mounting arguments to prove God exists. He construed both illumination and aitiological arguments as properly demonstrative. Since Anselm’s argument does not fit within the constraints of Aristotelian demonstration, Bonaventure re-interpreted it as an argument for a principle. In this way, he tried to hold together what might seem inconsistent: God’s existence is an axiom known to all humans, but it also can be proven noetilogically, and can be demonstrated empirically.

II. Bonaventure’s Illumination Argument

The demonstrative model requires middle terms to connect the subject and predicate of the demonstrated conclusion. Bonaventure’s illumination and aitiological arguments are demonstrations of the fact (quia), moving from effect to cause. The kind of causality both employ is formal, and both are based on the formality of truth, which has two senses: The ontological sense of truth exists in things, as a transcendental attribute “convertible with being” and serves as the starting point for his aitiological argument.

The epistemological sense of truth, which exists in minds, is the foundation for his illumination argument.9

The illumination argument starts from “affirmative” (and true) propositions:



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