Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bonaventure in the Spiritual Exercises

On this feast of St. Bonaventure, I've always like this quotation in the Spiritual Exercises from the Rules for Thinking with the Church:

Eleventh Rule . To praise positive and scholastic learning. Because, as it is more proper to the Positive Doctors, as St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Gregory, etc., to move the heart to love and serve God our Lord in everything; so it is more proper to the Scholastics, as St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and to the Master of the Sentences, etc., to define or explain for our times the things necessary for eternal salvation; and to combat and explain better all errors and all fallacies. For the Scholastic Doctors, as they are more modern, not only help themselves with the true understanding of the Sacred Scripture and of the Positive and holy Doctors, but also, they being enlightened and clarified by the Divine virtue, help themselves by the Councils, Canons and Constitutions of our holy Mother the Church.
There are several brilliant elements that we can all take up as principles for our study. First, read the positive doctors. They move our heart and soul and affections toward God. Second, read the Scholastic doctors. Now, why did Ignatius think that his followers should read the Scholastics? He says, because they explain "for our times" what is necessary for salvation. In other words, they were good at explaining in the contemporary context the path to salvation using their method of disputation along with theology and philosophy. They found a pertinent pathway for combatting the errors of their time. Ignatius goes on to explain why they are so helpful. First, they are more modern and so have at their disposal a better understanding of scripture thanks to better knowledge of the context of the Bible thanks to better historical research. Second, because they are more modern, they have at their disposal new teachings of the Church to enlighten the way.

That is what a simple reading of this paragraph says. Now, I have heard several people read this paragraph as if Ignatius were advocating that we study only the positive and scholastic doctors. But that is not what he says. He says we should read those who best combat the errors of our time, taking into account whether they are more modern so as to write with better access to scriptural hermeneutics and the updated and re-articulated teachings of the Church. That is what he advises us to do. So, read Bonaventure and Thomas, please! But also read Jean-Luc Marion and Paul Ricoeur and Gabriel Marcel and John Henry Newman and all those other great Christian-inspired philosophers. That would be to read this paragraph obediently.

Markel, SJ

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