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Franciscan Studies 60 (2002) 139 READING BETWEEN THE LINES: APOPHATIC KNOWLEDGE AND NAMING THE DIVINE IN BONAVENTURE’S BOOK OF CREATION At the beginning of Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose, there is a moment when Adso is stunned by the incredible insight of his Franciscan master, William of Baskerville, who discerns in seemingly mysterious fashion the whereabouts of a horse missing from the monastery stables: “And now tell me” - in the end I could not restrain myself - “how did you manage to know?” “My good Adso,” my master said, “during our whole journey I have been teaching you to recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book. Alanus de Insulis said that omnis mundi creatura quasi liber et pictura nobis est in speculum and he was thinking of the endless array of symbols with which God, through his creatures, speaks to us of the eternal life. But the universe is even more talkative than Alanus thought, and it speaks not only of the ultimate things (which it does always in an obscure fashion) but also of closer things, and then it speaks quite clearly.1 William’s conviction that the world is a book which speaks of divine, albeit obscure, truths is rooted in the belief that the Word of God is the origin of all that exists. 2 While Umberto Eco’s use of the book metaphor in The Name of the Rose underlines its significance in medieval culture, it also reveals the contemporary attention accorded to medieval semiotics. This convergence of medieval and what is often termed “postmodern” hermeneutical interests, especially in the field of theology, is noted by Denys Turner in The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism. Once again it is possible to consider the world as a book of signs to be 1 Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983) 23-24. I would like to thank John W. Daniels, Jr. for his comments on the initial draft of this essay. 2 Eco, The Name of the Rose, 11. TIMOTHY J. JOHNSON 140 read and interpreted as opposed to the modern conception of the world as a fixed system of cause and effect to be verified by hypothesis and experimentation.3 Both medieval and contemporary commentators contend the world of signs speaks of something beyond or other than itself. For medieval writers in particular, the Book of Creation is incomplete because, as signifier, it points beyond itself to the signified, yet absent Divine Author of Creation.4 This absence encourages a “reading between the lines” of the text; that is, the recognition of the apophatic discourse necessitated by the intrinsic inability of the Book of Creation to lead the reader to absolute knowledge of the Divine Author. The result of such a reading is the realization that the ultimate knowledge of God, and thus the “naming” of God, is subverted in the darkness of divine mystery. This question of apophatic knowledge and naming of God, which is an integral thematic of “premodern,” or medieval theology, is mirrored in postmodern reflection as evident in the dialogue between Jean-Luc Marion and Jacques Derrida in God, The Gift, and Postmodernism. 5 3 Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 105-106. On signs and negative theology, also see: Kevin Hart, The Trespass of the Sign (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). On negative theology and Bonaventure, see: Marianne Schlosser, “Lux inaccessibilis. Zur negative Theologie bei Bonaventura” in Franziskanische Studien 68 (1986): 3-140. On Bonaventure and Semiotic Theory, see: Christopher Cullen, “The Semiotic Metaphysics of Saint Bonaventure” (Ph.D. diss, Catholic University of America, 2000). 4 Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984) 80-81. On the medieval view of the Book and Jacques Derrida’s understanding of “logocentricism,” see: Gerard Loughlin, Telling God’s Story: Bible, Church, and Narrative Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 97-103. On this theme with regard to Bonaventure, see: Ashylnn Pai, “Varying Degrees of Light: Bonaventure and the Medieval Book of Nature” in The Book...


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