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The Victorine Sub-structure of Bonaventure’s Thought

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 70, 2012
pp. 399-410 | 10.1353/frc.2012.0019

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Bonaventure’s well-known claims about Richard of St. Victor following Dionysius in contemplation through anagogy and Hugh of St. Victor as outperforming his medieval counterparts on all levels of spiritual interpretation, have sparked the imagination of Bonaventurian and Victorine scholars.1 As Bougerol astutely observed, Hugh’s influence directly relates to Bonaventure’s quest for sapientia as the goal of a fully Christian and fully human life. It is to Hugh’s Didascalicon and De sacramentis that scholars must look for the Hugonian seeds of wisdom sown into the Bonaventurian corpus. As for Richard, in what has become somewhat perfunctory, Bougerol cites the De Trinitate as the most obvious source of influence.2 In identifying sapientia as the primary locus of influence, Bougerol offers a way to tease out what Bonaventure might have meant in his praise for Hugh and Richard.

Following Bougerol’s insight, Grover Zinn, and more recently, Greg LaNave, have looked further into the influence of Hugh and Richard on Bonaventure. In an important article, Zinn argued that Hugh’s use of symbolism and the centrality of Christ as developed primarily in the De tribus diebus, De sacramentis, and De archa Noe provide background resonance to Bonaventure’s use of the three “eyes,” the triad of power, wisdom, and goodness, and the symbols of book and tree.3 For his part, LaNave suggests that Richard of St. Victor’s De arca Moysi and De duodecim patriarchis influenced the Itinerarium mentis in Deum in terms of a similar emphasis on six levels of knowing connected to the soul’s powers, the symbolic use of the cherubim and ark of the covenant at the final two steps of ascent (5 and 6), and a description of the soul’s reformation through justice and knowledge.4 Although LaNave does not delve deeply into Richard’s influence, his suggestions are helpful. The fundamental difference between Bonaventure and Richard, according to LaNave, is the figure of Francis as model for the journey into God. What remains central both to LaNave’s and Zinn’s claims of influence is the pursuit of sapientia, suggesting that Bougerol’s instincts were correct.

In this short article, I build on Zinn’s and LaNave’s work by providing further hints of a Victorine sub-structure to Bonaventure’s pursuit of sapientia. What I mean by sub-structure is a series of symbols and ideas found within Hugh’s and Richard’s writings that Bonaventure employs with great effect in weaving his own itinerarium to God. Moreover, these Victorine symbols and ideas related to sapientia may help to illuminate Bonaventure’s desire, in the Itinerarium and Collationes in Hexaëmeron, to forge a link between sanctitas and sapientia. It may be that Bonaventure’s fusion of theology and mysticism around the figure of Francis as a signal that the “end of rational theology is coming” owes just as much to the Victorines as to others such as Joachim of Fiore and Ps.-Dionysius.5

In what follows, I first plot out a trajectory in Richard and Hugh that Bonaventure seems to employ and offer some broad connections in terms of common symbolism. I then suggest a closer relationship to the Itinerarium by examining one specific area of Richard’s influence that illuminates sanctitas, sapientia, and their relationship to contemplation.

Richard’s and Hugh’s Trajectory and the Structure of the Mystical Ascent

In his trilogy on the moral life and contemplation, Richard utilizes a number of symbols to set forth a particular structure to the ascent to God. Chronologically, the first work is De duodecim patriarchis.6 Richard utilizes the birth of Jacob’s twelve sons through his two wives and their handmaids as symbols to describe the relationship between justice and wisdom. His ultimate aim is to argue that one cannot receive wisdom apart from pursuing justice. Prioritizing justice is necessary because the process of moral formation is the means by which wisdom gradually seeps into the soul and by which the soul positions itself through the proper ordering of the interior life to pursue wisdom. The journey culminates in the simultaneous death of Rachel, who symbolizes reason, and the birth of Benjamin, the symbol...



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