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Reviewed by:
  • Bonaventure
  • Jay M. Hammond
Christopher M. Cullen, Bonaventure, Great Medieval Thinkers Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-19-514925-4 (paperback); 0-19-514926-2 (hardback). Pages: xviii + 251.

This volume makes a valuable contribution to the "great medieval thinkers" series from OUP by providing an accessible introduction to the philosophy and theology of the great Franciscan St. Bonaventure († 1274). The Preface presents the book's organizing principle: "to analyze Bonaventure's thought by following his own division of the branches of philosophy and theology" (xi) as found in the Bonaventure's classic text On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology (text explained on 29-32; oddly the book never addresses the discrepancy in the dating of the text, c. 1254 or c. 1270). This text considers how the new core subjects of the arts, heavily influenced by Aristotle and expanding beyond the trivium and quadrivium, are illuminations that should lead back to theology, that is to Scripture, which "lies hidden in all knowledge and in all nature."

Part I, contains two chapters: the Introduction and another on the definition of Christian Wisdom, the ultimate goal of the Reduction of the Arts. Part II, "The Light of Philosophical Knowledge," contains three chapters on Bonaventure's physics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. Part III, "The Light of Theological Knowledge," includes seven chapters organized according to Bonaventure's Breviloquium: the Trinity, Creation, Sin, the Incarnation, Grace, the Sacraments, and the Last Things.

The preface sets out three claims that color the rest of the book. First, as mentioned, the book attempts an "introduction to the philosophy and theology" of Bonaventure, which the book calls "Christian Philosophy" (a term introduced by Étienne Gilson, Leon Veuthey and later adopted by John Quinn). Yet, I agree with the preface that "it is not easy to say precisely what this means in practice" (xi). Although Bonaventure did employ the phrase "Christian Wisdom" throughout his writings, he never used the phrase "Christian [End Page 541] Philosophy." More explanation of this key term would have been helpful because it seems to relate more to the neo-scholastic disputes of the early to mid twentieth century than to Bonaventure's thirteenth century thought. Second, the book claims that "his Commentary on the Sentences should have a priority of place in any accurate reading" of his thought. On this point the book delivers by citing more from the Sentence Commentary than any other of Bonaventure's works (139 times overall, 63 from Book II alone), but with the much shorter Breviloquium coming in a close second (128 times). Four works come in a distant third (Hexaemeron 38, Itinerarium 32, De mysterio Trinitatis 21, and De scientia Christi 21). Unfortunately little attention is given to Bonaventure's sermons, scripture commentaries, hagiographies and spiritual tracts. Third, whatever shortcomings the book has regarding the coverage of Bonaventure's many works, the book still fulfills its claim to provide "an overview of [Bonaventure's] synthesis," which is "an elaborate and sophisticated synthesis, created in a specific historical context" (xiv).

The book begins with an introductory sketch of Bonaventure's life framed by three key historic movements of the thirteenth century: the rediscovery of Aristotle, the emergence of the "universities," and the rise of the mendicant orders. These overlapping contexts are indispensable to understanding Bonaventure's writings, which the introduction surveys in general chronological order and according to genre. After reviewing his life and works, the Introduction concludes with a consideration of Bonaventure's influence. The Introduction is helpful in orienting the modern reader to Bonaventure's thought, particularly his unique synthesis of Augustine and Aristotle. However, some of the dating is imprecise. For example, in October 1255 (not 1256) Bonaventure responded to William of Saint-Amour's attacks against the mendicants with Q.1 De humilitate of his De perfectione evangelica. Thus, Bonaventure entered the secular-mendicant controversy before Thomas Aquinas and Thomas of York (12, 17). Likewise, Bonaventure most likely incepted into the Parisian consortium of masters in April 1254 not October 1257 (11).

While all of Part II provides good information on the intricacies of Bonaventure's philosophy, the sections explaining [End Page 542] his hylomorphic metaphysics (42...