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  • Back to BaconDieter Hattrup and Bonaventure's Authorship of the De reductione
  • Timothy J. Johnson


When I first came across Dieter Hattrup's analysis of the De reductione I noted that the professor from Paderborn was trying, step by step, to trace the authorship back to friars influenced by Roger Bacon – a reductio ad Baconem, if you will. Hattrup's argument that Roger Bacon was indirectly involved in the composition of the De reductione evoked the fleeting memory of a pop culture game created by American college students in the 1990s called the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," whereby the characters in any given film must be linked to a film with the Hollywood actor, Kevin Bacon, by comparing no more than six films. To mention the esteemed theologian in such a fleeting cultural context is not meant to trivialize his argument in any way; rather, the intent is to underscore, admittedly tongue in cheek, the intricacies of his argument against Bonaventurian authorship of the De reductione as outlined in the monograph Ekstatik der Geschichte: Die Entwicklung der christologischen Erkenntnistheorie Bonaventuras1 and the journal article, "Bonaventura zwischen Mystik und Mystifikation: Wer ist der Autor von De reductione?"2 While Hattrup hesitates to claim Bacon as the author of De reductione, he does develop a systematic study that eventually leads, step by step, association by association, [End Page 133] back to Roger Bacon.3 This essay examines and disputes Hattrup's claim by analyzing the historical context of his argument, the chronology and sources in question, the theme of the fourfold light and scripture, and the relationship between the sciences and theology.4 The numerous questions raised will underscore the fragility of his argument. Subsequent essays will treat the contemporary theological implications5 as well as the literary-theological genre6 and academic occasion7 of Bonaventure's De reductione.

Historical Context

Before we examine Hattrup's argument against Bonaventure as the author of the De reductione, let us first evoke the historical situation he suggests as the possible origin of the text.8 In 1267, Bonaventure warns his Minorite confreres of the dangers inherent in the sciences in the Collations on the Ten Commandments, and then, once again in 1268 in the Collations on Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The brothers in Bacon's circle are concerned because they contend that the sciences must be cultivated and consequently compose the De reductione. Their intent is to demonstrate how the sciences are integral to theology, such that even natural philosophy [End Page 134] contains the wisdom of God. Hattrup sees this text stemming from Bacon's circle as a conscious attempt to subvert Bonaventure's understanding of the relationship between faith and reason in favor of the sciences by utilizing some of the General Minister's own language as mirrored in the Journey of the Soul into God and Francis of Assisi's experience of God in the natural world. The resulting text of the De reductione, according to Hattrup, is an intentional mystification of Bonaventure's own mystical or ecstatic methodology.

Hattrup suggests that the De reductione came to Bonaventure's attention in 1270, but he is preoccupied with affairs in the early 1270s and only returns later to address the dangers he recognizes in the De reductione in another collation series in May of 1273, the Collations on the Six Days, or Hexaëmeron.9 The General Minister warns of those who entered religious life as friends of the sciences, the "hospites scientiae." They must place limits on their efforts in these fields of inquiry and not promote them as essential to theological reflection, as posited by the De reductione, if they wish to remain faithful to the ascetical-mystical vision of the Minorite Order. Unable to finish the Hexaëmeron due to ecclesial obligations, Bonaventure died unexpectedly in July of 1274 at the Council of Lyon. The text of the De reductione, found among Bonaventure's other writings, was dutifully copied and included among the Seraphic Doctor's literary corpus since at first glance this kurze Denkschrift10 appears to be from the deceased General Minister.

Hattrup readily admits that the credibility of the historical...