Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bonaventura - The Other Option

To every system there are alternative approaches. This is so of Medieval theology. In contrast to the common-sense intellectualism of Thomas Aquinas was the mysticism of Bonaventura. Bonaventura stood firmly in the line of Bernard of Clarvaux.  This approach mainly left church teaching where it was and attempted to cultivate a deeper experience of God on a personal level. Therefore, rather than hoping that systematizing and understanding the faith will lead to a stronger Christianity, it looked for a deeper level of apprehension. Not that Bonaventura was totally free of the intellectualism of his time. He asked and tried to answer a number of highly technical questions that were better left well enough alone. But his emphasis was on developing techniques for prayer and contemplation that would deepen Christian experience.

Both of these approaches ultimately led to extremes in their later followers. Aquinas' systematizing led off into more and more abstruse and philosophical questions that made theology more obscure and a product of human wisdom. Bonaventura's approach led to more and more complicated and abstract mechanisms for producing in us the depth of experience desired. Bonaventura was still within the bonds of reason, and his methods, while not the only way to seek God, could still be used with profit by Christians today. But the later followers of this approach (those that did not go to the extreme of saying God is the sum total of everything) found themselves caught up in arcane esotericisms, seen as promoting a deeper relationship with God. But what was really needed was someone to question the underlying assumptions of the current theology and to test them by Scripture. Up to this time it was the ordinary people, such as the Waldensians, rather than the thought-out theologians who had recognized this. But that was going to change.    

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