Bonaventure’s Triple Way – Pt.2 – Fr. Fehlner’s Intro (continued)

Bonaventure’s Conception of the Human Soul

States of being:
Purgative
Illuminative
Unitive
 
 
 
Modes of action:
Memory
Intellect
Free will
 
 
 
Powers:
Remembrance
Understanding
Love / Charity
 
 
 
Spiritual exercises:
Meditation
Prayer
Contemplation
States of being:
Purgative
Illuminative
Unitive
 
 
 
Modes of action:
Memory
Intellect
Free will
 
 
 
Powers:
Remembrance
Understanding
Love / Charity
 
 
 
Spiritual exercises:
Meditation
Prayer
Contemplation

Bonaventure’s notion of free will is significant because he teaches that human beings have the real power to choose between good and evil. This is a very bold understanding of human power that differs from other Catholic teachings:

  • Bonaventure leans far closer to Augustinians than the Dominicans of his day. To paraphrase the Augustinian belief: God does not move us to be righteous people by binding us in chains. He does so by transforming our hearts so that we may freely choose to be righteous.[1]
  • Augustine, On Reprimand and Grace, 14.45: “And how did [God] bring them? Surely he did not bind them with any physical chains. He acted within: he held their hearts; he moved their hearts; and he drew them on by their wills which he worked in them.
  • We have the real ability to make free choices—to choose between good and evil—we have a free will. However, we will fail to make good choices without divine assistance.

The more our hearts are transformed, the more we willingly surrender to the divine will. The more we willingly surrender to the divine will, the more we resemble the divine One himself. There is no better example of this than the Blessed Virgin Mary.

  • Because Mary was predestined to be Theotokos (Mother of God), she stands above all of creation in her reflection of the Blessed Trinity:
  • “It was fitting that the Virgin be the form and exemplar of all holiness.”[2]
  • “Mary is fittingly called the “bitter sea” because she purifies; the “illuminatrix” because she enlightens; the “Lady” because she perfects and consummates. Therefore, she is elevated above the angelic hierarchy purifying, illuminating and perfecting; and she is elevated above the human hierarchy purifying, illuminating and perfecting.”[3]

Notice the three actions ascribed to Mary: purification (purgation), enlightenment (illumination), and perfection/consummation (union). Thus we see that the Triple Way of the spiritual life is really a reflection of Mary’s interior life; in fact, our journey toward perfection in the Triple Way is really a concerted effort to follow Mary’s example—The Triple Way is an eminently Marian work.

Understanding this will allow us to reflect more perfectly on our own journey through the Triple Way. What made Mary the New Eve?

  • (Luke 1:30-38); “Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

“But Mary said to the angel,How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’”

As Mary shows us, humbly surrendering to the will of the Father is the mark of spiritual perfection. God will respond by transforming our hearts, and this transformation of heart is what allows us to be true instruments of God’s love—beings unbound from our sinful habits, in total freedom to live as true extensions of Christ’s body—this is aseitas. And so we pray after communion:

“Lord, take all my freedom. Accept my memory, my understanding, and my will. You have given me all that I have or hold dear. I return it to you, that it may be governed by your will. Give me only your grace and the gift of loving you, and I will be rich enough; I will ask for nothing more.”[4]


[1]              St. Bonaventure/St. Thomas Aquinas: We can choose to walk around the world with our eyes open or closed. Either is within our power. Closing one’s eyes and stumbling about the world would certainly lead to injury or even death. Whereas, opening one’s eyes is only helpful because the sun has illuminated the path we must take. See Summa Contra Gentiles, III.159.2: “But those alone are deprived of grace who offer an obstacle within themselves to grace; just as, while the sun is shining on the world, the man who keeps his eyes closed is held responsible for his fault, if as a result some evil follows, even though he could not see unless he were provided in advance with light from the sun." Domingo Banez and the modern Dominicans: In order to choose good over evil, God must give us an efficacious grace. If that grace is withheld, we will choose evil. It is difficult to see how God is not ultimately a guilty party in this scheme. St. Robert Bellarmine and the modern Jesuits: In order to choose good over evil, God must give us a grace which he knows we will not freely reject. If that grace is withheld, we will choose evil. It is again difficult to see how God is not ultimately a guilty party in this scheme.

[2]              Sermo II de Purificatione

[3]              Sermo I de Assumptione, p.2

[4]              Suscipe by St. Ignatius of Loyolla

Posted in Catechesis, Franciscan Literature.

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