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  • The Philosophical Sources of Bonaventure’s De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam*
  • Alexander Fidora (bio)


Bonaventure’s De reductione artium ad theologiam is a classic of medieval literature that every student of medieval philosophy or theology is likely to have read during his or her career. Given the scholarly attention the work has attracted, one might, therefore, be tempted to consider that there remains little to add to its interpretation. Yet, as Joshua C. Benson has shown in a series of articles, this is clearly a fallacy. In his inquiries concerning the literary genre of the De reductione, Benson has put forward strong arguments suggesting that the text in question formed part of Bonaventure’s principium, that is, his inception ceremony as a master of theology.1

While it is true that the principia express theology’s then-current self-image, some of them also consider other kinds of knowledge, for in their attempt to delineate theology and to demonstrate its preeminence, a number of graduating masters offered detailed comparisons between theology and philosophy, with a view to establishing a clear hierarchy between human and divine science. Bonaventure’s De reductione represents a highly eloquent example of this particular type of principium, which has been termed the “comparative” inception speeches.2 His treatise, which aims to trace the varied forms of human knowledge back to Holy Scripture and theology, is in keeping with inception speeches by authors such as Galdericus, the first Benedictine regent master of theology in Paris, [End Page 23] and Stephen of Besançon, Master General of the Dominican Order from 1292–1294.3 These scholars drew upon state-of-the-art philosophical discussions within the Faculty of Arts at the University of Paris: Galdericus’s account follows one of the most popular contemporary divisions of philosophy, that is, Arnulf of Provence’s Divisio scientiarum (ca. 1250), whereas Stephen of Besançon made use of another very prominent philosophical work, namely, De ortu scientiarum (before 1250), by Robert Kilwardby. Both of these latter texts belong to the genre of introductions to philosophy, which had gained wide popularity among Parisian arts masters during the first half of the thirteenth century.

Following up on Benson’s research, Jay M. Hammond has established a connection between this genre and Bonaventure’s De reductione. In an article that establishes April 1254 as the date of Bonaventure’s inception, he suggests, for both doctrinal and chronological reasons, that the anonymous “Guide de l’étudiant,” which belongs to the genre of introductions to philosophy, served as Bonaventure’s model for his division of philosophy. Yet, as Hammond himself notes, there are also discrepancies between both accounts.4 In what follows, I wish to pursue the route indicated by Hammond; in other words, to seek out contemporary philosophical sources for the De reductione’s division of philosophy. More precisely, I shall endeavor to show that the introduction to philosophy by one of the most prestigious arts masters of Bonaventure’s time, namely, Nicholas of Paris, presents significant similarities to the outline of philosophy offered in the De reductione. These similarities are all the more important since some of them refer to such distinctive themes of Bonaventurian thought as the “triplex veritas” and the “reductio ad unum,” thus pointing to how philosophy played a central role in the configuration of Bonaventure’s theology. [End Page 24]

The Platonic-Stoic Division of Philosophy: Logic, Natural Philosophy, and Ethics

Using as its starting point the light metaphor from the Epistle of James 1:17, the De reductione is structured around the presentation of four lumina, namely, the lumen exterius, the lumen inferius, the lumen interius, and the lumen superius. Bonaventure aims to show how the first three such, which correspond respectively to the mechanical arts, sensory knowledge, and philosophy, can be drawn back into the unity of the superior light, that is, the revealed truths of Holy Scripture and theology. The section concerning the third light, that is to say, philosophy, opens with the following division thereof:

Tertium lumen, quod illuminat ad veritates intelligibiles perscrutandas, est lumen cognitionis philosophicae, quod ideo interius dicitur, quia interiores causas et latentes inquirit, et hoc per principia disciplinarum et veritatis naturalis...


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