Bonaventure (1221-1274) on the Trinity

Bonaventure

In his Breviloquium, Bonaventure (1221-1274), the great medieval Franciscan theologian and Doctor Seraphicus (“The Seraphic Doctor”), offers a succinct description of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The parts in brackets I have added for the sake of clarity. This excerpt is from Part I, Chapter 3:

PART I, CHAPTER 3 – ON THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF THIS FAITH

  1. Sacred doctrine contributes to the right understanding of this faith by teaching that there are, within the Godhead, two modes of emanation, three hypostases, four relations, and five concepts; and yet in all only three personal properties.
  2. This should be understood as follows. The first and supreme Principle [i.e. the Triune God], by the very fact that He is first, is utterly simple; by the very fact that He is supreme, is utterly perfect. Being utterly perfect, He communicates Himself with complete perfection; being utterly simple, He remains completely undivided. Therefore, within the first Principle there are modes of perfect emanation which leave oneness of nature unimpaired. But the modes of perfect emanation are only two, through nature and through will; the first is generation [i.e. the Father generates the Son and the Son is generated by the Father], the second spiration-procession [the Spirit is spirated (breathed-out) by the Father and the Son and proceeds from the Father and the Son].Hence these are the two modes found here.
  3. Now, while two hypostases [i.e. the Son and the Spirit] necessarily result from two substance-producing modes of emanation, we must also posit that the original producing hypostasis [i.e. the Father] does not itself emanate from anything else, for then we should have an infinite series. Hence there are here THREE HYPOSTASES.
  4. Again, because each mode of emanation implies a twofold relation, there are here FOUR RELATIONS: paternity and filiation [between the Father and the Son]; spiration and procession [the Father and the Son spirate or breath out the Spirit, while the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son].
  5. By such relations, the divine hypostases are made known to us. But the original producing hypostasis [i.e. the Father] is shown to have no originator, which is the very reason for its characteristic excellence. Hence there are here FIVE CONCEPTS: the four relations indicated above, and unbegottenness.
  6. Furthermore, each Person enjoys one property through which He principally is made known. Hence there are here but THREE PERSONAL PROPERTIES, characteristically and principally indicated by the names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  7. The Father is properly the One without an originator, the Unbegotten One; the Principle who proceeds from no other; the Father as such. Therefore, UNBEGOTTEN ONE designates Him by a negation, but also affirmatively through inference, since it implies existence within the Father of fullness at its source. PRINCIPLE WHO PROCEEDS FROM NO OTHER designates Him by an affirmation followed by a negation. FATHER designates Him in a proper, complete, and determinate manner by affirmation and the positing of a relation.
  8. The Son is properly the Image, the Word, and the Son as such. Likewise, therefore, IMAGE designates Him as the expressed likeness, WORD as the expressing likeness, and SON as the personal likeness. Again, IMAGE designates Him as the likeness in the order of form, WORD as the likeness in the order of reason, and SON as the likeness in the order of nature.
  9. The Holy Spirit is properly the Gift, the mutual Bond or Love, and the Holy Spirit as such. In the same way, then, GIFT designates Him as the One who is given through the will; BOND or LOVE, as the One given through the will who is the Gift par excellence; and HOLY SPIRIT, as the One given through the will, the Gift par excellence, who is a Person.

Hence, the three names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, convey the personal properties of the three Persons.

This is what we must hold if we would rightly understand faith in the Holy Trinity.

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Bonaventure (1221-1274) on understanding Scripture

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“The source of sacred Scripture was not human research but divine revelation.  This revelation comes from the Father of Light from whom the whole concept of fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives.  From him, through Jesus Christ his Son, the Holy Spirit enters into us.  Then, through the Holy Spirit who allots and apportions his gifts to each person as he wishes, we receive the gift of faith, and through faith Christ lives in our hearts.  So we come to know Christ and this knowledge becomes the main source of a firm understanding of the truth of all sacred Scripture.  It is impossible, therefore, for anyone to achieve this understanding unless he first receives the gift of faith in Christ.  This faith is the foundation of the whole Bible, a lamp and a key to its understanding.  As long as our earthly state keeps us from seeing the Lord, this same faith is the firm basis of all supernatural enlightenment, the light guiding us to it, and the doorway through which we enter upon it.  What is more, the extent of our faith is the measure of the wisdom which God has given us. Thus, no one should overestimate his wisdom; instead, he should soberly make his assessment according to the extent of the faith which God has given him.

The outcome or the fruit of reading holy Scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life.  When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied Then, with all our needs fulfilled, we shall truly know the love that surpasses understanding and so be filled with the fullness of God.  The purpose of the Scriptures, which come to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the apostles to which I have referred.  In order to achieve this, we must study holy Scripture carefully, and teach it and listen to it in the same way.

If we are to attain the ultimate goal of eternal happiness by the path of virtue described in the Scriptures, we have to begin at the very beginning.  We must come with a pure faith to the Father of Light and acknowledge him in our hearts.  We must ask him to give us, through his Son and in the Holy Spirit, a true knowledge of Jesus Christ, and along with that knowledge a love of him.  Knowing and loving him in this way, confirmed in our faith and grounded in our love, we can know the length and breadth and height and depth of his sacred Scripture.  Through that knowledge we can come at last to know perfectly and love completely the most blessed Trinity, whom the saints desire to know and love and in whom all that is good and true finds its meaning and fulfilment.”

– Bonaventure (1221-1274), Prologus, Opera Omnia 5, 201-202