Rorate Caeli

The Pope speaks once more on SS. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure

St. Thomas reflects on two possible contrasting answers. The first says: theology is reflection on faith and the aim of faith is that man become good, that he live according to the will of God. Hence, the aim of theology should be to guide man on the just and good way; consequently it is, fundamentally, a practical science. The other position says: theology seeks to know God. We are the work of God; God is above our action. God operates just action in us. Hence it is essentially not of our doing, but of knowing God, not of our working. St. Thomas' conclusion is: theology entails both aspects: it is theoretical, it seeks to know God ever more, and it is practical: it seeks to orient our life to the good. But there is a primacy of knowledge: we must above all know God, then follows action according to God (Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 1, art.4). This primacy of knowledge in comparison with practice is significant for St. Thomas' essential orientation.

St. Bonaventure's answer is very similar, but the accents are different. St. Bonaventure has the same arguments in both directions, as St. Thomas does, but to respond to the question if theology is a practical or theoretical science, St. Bonaventure makes a threefold distinction -- hence he lengthens the alternative between theoretical (primacy of knowledge) and practical (primacy of practice), adding a third attitude, which he calls "sapiential" and affirming that wisdom embraces both aspects. And then he continues: Wisdom seeks contemplation (as the highest form of knowledge) and has as its intention "ut boni fiamus" -- that we become good, above all this: to become good (cf. Breviloquium, Prologus, 5). Then he adds: "Faith is in the intellect, in such a way that it causes affection. For example: to know that Christ died 'for us' does not remain knowledge, but becomes necessarily affection, love" (Proemium in I Sent., q. 3).

His defense of theology moves along the same line, that is of the rational and methodical reflection of faith. St. Bonaventure lists some arguments against engaging in theology, perhaps widespread also among some of the Franciscan brothers and present also in our time: reason empties faith, it would be a violent attitude toward the Word of God, we must listen to and not analyze the word of God (cf. Letter of St. Francis of Assisi to St. Anthony of Padua). To these arguments against theology, which demonstrate the dangers existing in theology itself, the saint responds: It is true that there is an arrogant way of engaging in theology, a pride of reason, which places itself above the Word of God. But true theology, the rational work of the true and good theology, has another origin, not the pride of reason. He who loves always wants to know more and better the one who is loved; true theology does not engage reason and its seeking motivated by pride, "sed propter amorem eius cui assentit" -- [but] "motivated by the love of him, to whom it has given its consent" (Proemium in I Sent., q. 2), and wishes to know the loved one better: this is the essential intention of theology for St. Bonaventure. Hence, in the end, determinant for St. Bonaventure is the primacy of love.

Consequently, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure define in a different way man's ultimate destiny, his full happiness: for St. Thomas the supreme end, to which our desire is directed, is to see God. In this simple act of seeing God all problems find their solution: let us be happy, nothing else is necessary.

For St. Bonaventure, man's ultimate destiny is instead to love God, the encounter and the union of his love and our own. This is for him the most adequate definition of our happiness.

In this line, we could also say that the highest category for St. Thomas is the true, while for St. Bonaventure it is the good. It would be mistaken to see a contradiction in these two answers. For both the true is also the good, and the good is also the true; to see God is to love and to love is to see. It is a question therefore of different accents in an essentially shared vision. In both the accents have formed different traditions and different spiritualities and thus they have shown the fecundity of the faith -- one in the diversity of its expressions.


  1. The catechism teaches we are to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him in the next. Notice that the first requisite is to know because we cannot love someone we do not know. So, once we know Him, then we can love Him and serve Him. It's just a matter of priorities IMHO. Of course, there is also the saying: "to know him is to love him" and that is as much if not more true of God than it is of anyone else.

  2. Anonymous8:34 PM

    A very nice post but perhaps we should be talking about the vicious attacks by the press on the Church which, not coincidentally, coincide with the Marxist attack on pro-life Democrats.

  3. Anonymous4:26 AM

    Those who would like to read St. Bonaventure in his own words can read his Commentary on the 4 Books of Lombard here

    The Holy Father paraphrases what Bonaventure says in his Proemium, Q. 2

    The allegation that Bonventure puts Love before Reason, made so as to contrast him with Aquinas, is an erroneous one, that does not exist in the texts. Bonaventure always speaks about knowing something before loving it. Those who assert otherwise, never have read him.

    Finally, if there are any interested in promoting the understanding of Scholastic Theology according to St. Bonaventure, please contact me through the site below.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo
    The Commentary Project

  4. Anonymous5:54 AM

    I don't know how many times I have read a homily of the Holy Father and felt I just learned vast amounts about my faith, amazingly distilled into a couple of paragraphs. He truly is an amazing homilist and has a remarkable clarity to his writing.

  5. The allegation that Bonventure puts Love before Reason, made so as to contrast him with Aquinas, is an erroneous one, that does not exist in the texts. Bonaventure always speaks about knowing something before loving it. Those who assert otherwise, never have read him.

    If you mean to say that Pope Benedict has alleged that St. Bonaventure puts love before reason, etc., then you have undoubtedly misread the Pope's words. There may be others who allege that about St. Bonaventure, but the Pope didn't say that.

  6. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Voltaire's ghost comes to Quebec

  7. Anonymous3:03 PM

    Jordannes, I was not refering to the Pope, I was averring to what Paul Haley might have been commenting about.

    The confusion about the primacy of love in the theology of Bonaventure lies in the minds of those who believe that "primacy" means a temporal order of causes, whereas the primacy Bonaventure teaches is that of the ultimate end and highest perfection, which is not first in the temporal order of created causes, though it is first in the eternal order of Divine causes.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

  8. Thanks for clarifying that for me.


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