- Thinking in FranciscanPart II
[Original publication: "Penser en Franciscain," Études franciscaines, nouvelle série, 7, 2014, fasc. 2: 297–325.]
The following conversation between two scholars of St. Bonaventure, Emmanuel Falque (author of Saint Bonaventure et l'entrée de Dieu en théologie [Vrin, 2000] and many articles on Franciscan thinkers) and Laure Solignac (author of La Théologie symbolique de saint Bonaventure [Parole et silence, 2010] and La Voie de la ressemblance. Itinéraire dans la pensée de saint Bonaventure [Hermann, 2014]), took place September 5, 2014. During this conversation, the two philosophers tried to zero in on what it means to think "in Franciscan," which is less about determining what theses the Friars Minor posi tively defended and more about reaching further back, to the very dispositions and interior accents of the thought that has been grafted onto Franciscan life. This is a continuation of Part I, published in our last issue, Fall 2018.
To think in Franciscan, then, is to think in an incarnated way, and the conversion of the heart itself implies that of the senses. But can we go so far as to say that it is possible [End Page 147] not only to contemplate, but to "feel" God, as this magnificent passage from the Breviloquium seems to say?
Indeed, in Franciscan thought, the point is not only to "think God," or even simply to love him, but in a certain sense to feel him and to thus be transformed. Why is there this requirement, when, as Bonaventure says, following so many others, God, who is invisible, inaudible, impalpable,1 and so on, is not within reach of our senses? And yet, if man is destined for the resurrection and union with God in his corporal and spiritual integrality, it is fitting to begin the apprenticeship of "feeling God," which is all the more licit because the Word was made visible, audible, and palpable flesh …
The difficulty of this apprenticeship must not be minimized; it is indeed real. From the first chapter of the Itinerarium, Bonaventure describes the fallen human condition by underscoring that man became "blind," "bent over," "foolish," first because he was insensitive to the presence of God in the world. What is more, at the end of the same chapter, after having given a first series of instructions for feeling or sensing God through the mirror of creatures, Bonaventure exclaims: "Therefore, open your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, unlock your lips, and apply your heart so that in all creation you may see, hear, praise, love and adore, magnify and honor your God." And he adds: "Lest the entire world rise up against you."2 Thus, what Bonaventure calls "symbolic theology" does not have to do merely with wellbeing or personal development: it is our very lives and our salvation that are engaged in this affair, which is the primary and most accessible of the theological tasks.
It is clear that there is a mediation involved in this "feeling of God": God is not sensed directly, but through and in creatures. Moreover, the development of the spiritual senses begins with the five senses: feeling or sensing God presupposes learning well how to sense creatures—a task the human soul is well equipped for. It must allow "the whole sensible world … to enter into the soul through [End Page 148] the doors of the five senses."3 In De Trinitate St. Augustine explains that the soul is "capable of God (capax Dei)." For those who think in Franciscan, this implies being capable of the world and opening one's sensitive capacities to all creatures, following the wellordered procedures of symbolic theology…. If this work is carried out, man will be able, when the time comes, to develop his spiritual senses (al though they are already in operation during the preceding stage) and sense the Bridegroom, in an encounter that is described in chapter 4, §3, of the Itinerarium, in a passage quite similar to the one from the Breviloquium: "It is at this level...