restricted access Dionysian Uplifting (Anagogy) in Bonaventure’s Reductio
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Dionysian Uplifting (Anagogy) in Bonaventure’s Reductio

Although many aspects of Bonaventure’s little classic De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam have been addressed in recent literature,1 the translation of the title remains problematic, not only from Latin into English but also from a Greek precedent into Latin. Calling it “On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology” always requires an explanation of the word “reduction.”2 How all the arts, indeed all of human learning, relate to theology and thus to God can hardly be considered a reduction in the usual sense. “Leading back” is better, because it suggests the overall theological structure, but is still an incomplete translation, as revealed by the Greek background. The Latin word family reducere in this case reflects a prior pattern of rendering a key Greek term in the Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy, the treatise indirectly invoked at the outset of Bonaventure’s work and generally agreed to be, along with Hugh of St. Victor’s commentary thereon, its key source. In this case the Greek behind the Latin can help our English translation.

The standard translation of De Reductione alternates between a simple transliteration for the title, “On the Reduction,” and flexible renderings of reducere as “leading back” or “bringing back.” Sister Emma Healy’s original choice of “Retracing” [End Page 183] for Reductio in the title3 nicely avoided the common misreading of “reduction” as a diminishment, and invokes the active movement of leading or bringing the arts back to their source, and to their culmination in theology. Gilson’s oft-cited comments about reductio are narrowly confined to logical categories and dialectic.4 The deeper structure here is Bonaventure’s thorough appropriation of the traditional “procession and return” as emanation, exemplarity and consummation, wherein the consummating return is a reductio, the leading of all things back to God. The entire treatise, and indeed Bonaventure’s overall framework or ordo,5 culminates in this reditus, return, or reductio, as is well known, but the prefix re- is not fully appreciated without some further Dionysian background.

In common Latin and English usage, “re-” inevitably suggests either “again” as in “re-write” or else “back” as in “return.” Reducere thus seems to be a matter of leading or bringing the arts (all human learning) or the soul “back” to their source in God, a movement that sounds backwards or regressive at first, but is in fact also progressive, since God is plainly both source and goal. There would seem to be no good alternative to translating re- as “back,” except that the Latin translation of Dionysius by John the Scot (Eriugena), well known to Bonaventure, shows another way. John not only translated The Celestial Hierarchy, but also explained some of his choices quite openly in his Expositiones, including his usage of reducere and cognates to translate a prominent Dionysian concept.6 Simply put, he used the Latin prefix re- to [End Page 184] translate the Greek ανά (“up”), meaning that reductio was used to translate “anagogy,” literally, “uplifting.” Thus could Eriugena translate “anago” as reducere, meaning “upward-leading” (reducuntur, id est sursumducuntur) and explain it accordingly: “re- is very often put for ‘upwards.’”7 For the opening of The Celestial Hierarchy, invoked in Bonaventure’s first lines, Eriugena accordingly translated the Dionysian language of anagogy into the Latin reducere. If re- translates ανά, then re-ducere is not simply leading backwards, but literally “leading back up” to God in the uplifting sense of the anagogical. I have elsewhere tried to integrate the Dionysian language of anagogy with the Neoplatonic concept of “epistrophe” (“return”) as in procession and return, exitus et reditus.8 The point here is to claim some of that spiritual “uplift” for the Bonaventurian language of reducere.

Bonaventure’s essay begins with the same biblical quotation from James (“Every good gift …” James 1.17) that opens the first chapter of The Celestial Hierarchy, thus linking his work to the Dionysian tradition including the commentaries by Eriugena and Hugh of St. Victor. (In thirteenth-century Paris, the Dionysian corpus routinely included these commentaries.9) Not only the Latin translation of Dionysius but further the expositions of John and the Victorine made an...