Last night at my FB page, a person asked me if I was “giving up” on St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus. This inquiry is justified given recent posts highlighted St. Thomas and the Thomistic tradition.
A short answer to this question is, no. I am not giving up on St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus. After studying the thought of these two masters, there is simply no way I could ignore the entirely positive impact the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition has had on my faith. However, despite immersing myself in Franciscan literature, I cannot ignore the manner in which St. Thomas and Thomistic thought enriches and strengthens my faith as well.
I have been moved by all three of these spiritual and intellectual giants of the Catholic Church.
And although my personality tempts me to be a ‘strict-follower’ of a single thinker, my heart, soul, and intellect will not allow it. As soon as I flirt with the idea of being a “Thomist” I immediately think, “What about Bonaventure?” And if I say to myself, “I will follow Scotus,” I immediately think, “What about Thomas and Bonaventure?”
This pattern could mean a couple of things; I am too eclectic in my thought and interests to be systematically organized and aligned with a single Scholastic master, or I have finally intellectually and spiritually matured beyond the single team mentality. And of course, this is not to say that those who are on but a “single team” are immature, I am only analyzing myself at this point.
A contributing factor for my inability to “commit” to a single tradition is the fact that even within traditions there are competing interpretations of what constitutes authenticity, or what features of a system should be emphasized over others. For example, to be a Thomist isn’t as simple as just following St. Thomas. There are at least 6 different Thomistic traditions within the one singular heading of following St. Thomas. Another example is that within the Franciscan tradition there are discussions regarding how united Bonaventure and Scotus are in their thought. I have read authors who argue that Bonaventure and Scotus, although not entirely separate in their development, each lead their own distinct Franciscan tradition – the Augustinianism of Bonaventure and the Aristotelianism of Scotus. I have also read Franciscan scholars saying that they are basically united with no substantial differences. Moreover, the original lineage of the Friars Minor will most often strongly identify with Scotus rather than Bonaventure, while the O.F.M. Capuchins have selected the “older school” of Bonaventure rather than Scotus.
It is also worth noting that the true position of Scholasticism isn’t necessarily Thomism, or better put, the Scholastic tradition cannot be reduced to the system of St. Thomas Aquinas. Historically speaking, this would be an inaccurate representation of the medieval period. It is true, however, that the Church, in all of her wisdom, has selected the Angelic Doctor as the Universal Doctor for the Mystical Body of Christ. And it is equally true that the Church has identified the ancient philosophical traditions of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Neo-Platonism as the most appropriate handmaidens to Catholic theology. Despite the explicit endorsements of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is important to keep in mind that the same Popes who selected Aquinas’s framework for the Church, and provided essential Thomistic principles for Catholic philosophical foundations, also praised the spirituality and the intellect of other Scholastic masters such as Bonaventure and Scotus. Moreover, many of the famous (infamous) Thomistic theses and positions Pope St. Pius X authoritatively identified directly overlap with various positions of Bonaventure especially. In my view, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure are allied brothers in their respective systems of thought despite nuances that might make their way to the surface. However, it is important to note that there are followers of St. Thomas making nuanced readings of the Angelic Doctor, which is why there are various Thomistic traditions within the single tradition. Thomists don’t simply disagree with the systems of the Seraphic and Subtle Doctors; they disagree with other Thomists as well. It is unfortunate that these nuances often cloud the enormous amount of genuine overlap occurring between these two towering Doctors of the Church – Bonaventure and Aquinas. It is equally unfortunate that academics are almost entirely committed to magnifying these little differences at the expense of advancing Catholic theology and philosophy beyond petty disputes for the purposes of bolstering career and cementing bygone rivalries for generations to come.
Another point for contemplation is how the Scotistic system, based in his own principles and spiritual discernment, gave the Church the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Almost entirely on his own, he stood against the Dominicans of his era and successfully defended this controversial view. Consider for a moment that Scotus was able to see and articulate what three other saints and doctors of the medieval era missed. St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas all disagreed with Scotus on this eventual dogma of the Church. So it seems that there is obviously something worth considering and taking serious in the thought of the Subtle Doctor. Any theological movement claiming to be “Catholic” while simultaneously demonizing the figure that prophetically defended a future dogma of the Church is clearly motivated by something other than truth.
One last point on Scotus is the realization that his thought influenced some of the greatest saints in the Church. Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the great saint of Auschwitz, was a dedicated follower of Scotus. He also developed much of Scotus’s Marian thought and provided the Church with a glorious methodological consecration to the Blessed Mother. Although he is not a saint, Bl. John Henry Newman was also deeply influenced by Scotus’s articulation of the absolute primacy of Christ.
To singularly unite to a tradition is not as simple as it looks. Adopting a kind of intellectual tunnel vision, and focusing on theological conflicts, can lead to the detriment of missing out on the mystical wisdom of other Catholic traditions that have developed over the centuries in pursuit of the beatific vision. So I am not giving up on St. Bonaventure or Bl. John Duns Scotus. Instead of wasting my time squinting at the insignificant nuances creating faux-rivalries, I am committed to a Neo-Scholasticism that unites the best features of these traditions.
– Lucas G. Westman