Philosophy as Prayer & Praxis – St. Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure Pic 2The Journey of the Soul into God


  1. In the beginning I call up that First Beginning from whom all illumination flows as from the God of lights, and from whom comes every good and perfect gift. I call upon the eternal Father through the divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the most holy virgin Mary, the mother of that same Lord and God, Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of blessed Francis, our leader and father, God might grant enlightenment to the eyes of our mind and guidance to our feet on the path of peace – that peace which surpasses all understanding. This is the peace which our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed and granted to us. It was this message of peace which our father Francis announced over and over, proclaiming it at the beginning and the end of his sermons. Every greeting of his became a wish for peace; and in every experience of contemplation he sighed for an ecstatic peace. He was like a citizen of that Jerusalem about which the man of peace – he who has peaceable even with those who despised peace – says: Pray for those things that are for the peace of Jerusalem. For he knew that it is only in peace that the throne of Solomon exists, since it is written: His place is in peace, and his dwelling is in Sion.
  1. Moved by the example of our most blessed father, Francis, I eagerly desired this peace – I a sinner who, unworthy as I am, had become the seventh general minister of the brothers after the death of the most blessed father. It happened around the time of the thirty-third anniversary of the death of the saint that I was moved by divine inspiration and withdrew to Mount Alverna since it was a place of quiet. There I wished to satisfy the desire of my spirit for peace. And while I was there reflecting on certain ways in which the mind might ascend to God, I recalled, among other things, that miracle which the blessed Francis himself had experienced in this very place, namely the vision of the winged Seraph in the form of the Crucified. As I reflected on this, I saw immediately that this vision pointed not only to the uplifting of our father himself in contemplation but also to the road by which one might arrive at this experience.
  1. For those six wings can well be understood as symbols of six levels of uplifting illuminations through which the soul is prepared, as it were by certain stages or steps, to pass over to peace through the ecstatic rapture of Christian wisdom. There is no other way but through the most burning love of the Crucified. It was that sort of love which lifted Paul into the third heaven and transformed him into Christ to such a degree that he would say: With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. This sort of love so absorbed the mind of Francis also that his spirit became apparent in his flesh; and for two years prior to his death, he carried the holy marks of the passion on his body. The figure of the six wings of the Seraph, therefore, is a symbol of six stages of illumination which begin with creatures and lead to God to whom no one has access properly except through the Crucified. For anyone who does not enter by that door, but climbs up another way, is a thief and a robber. But anyone who enters by that door will go in and out, and will find pastures. For this reason, John writes in the Apocalypse: Blessed are those who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb for they are nourished at the tree of life and they may enter the city through the gates. This is to say that no one can enter into the heavenly Jerusalem by means of contemplation except through the blood of the Lamb as through a door. For no one is disposed in any way for those divine contemplations which lead to ecstasies of the mind without being, like Daniel, a person of desires. But desires can be inflamed in us in tow ways, namely through the cry of prayer which makes us cry aloud with groaning of the heart, and through the brightness of contemplation by which the mind turns most directly and intently to the rays of light.
  1. Therefore, I first of all invite the reader to groans of prayer through Christ crucified, through whose blood we are purged from the stain of our sins. Do not think that reading is sufficient without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, circumspection without exultation, industry without piety, knowledge without charity, intelligence without humility, study without divine grace, the mirror without the inspiration of divine wisdom. To those who are already disposed by divine grace – to the humble and pious; to those who are devout and sorrowful for their sins; to those anointed with the oil of gladness; to those who are lovers of divine wisdom and are inflamed with desire for it; and to those who wish to give themselves to glorifying, admiring, and even savoring God, I propose the following reflections. At the same time I warn them that to have the mirror of the external world placed before them is of little significance unless the mirror of the mind is cleansed and polished. Therefore, O child of God, awaken yourself first to the remorseful sting of conscience before you raise your eyes to those rays of wisdom that are reflected in its mirrors. Otherwise it might happen that the very act of looking on these rays might cause you to fall into even more treacherous pit of darkness.

– St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum


– Lucas G. Westman


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