Bonaventure & Benedict
Robert P. Imbelli July 15, 2007 - 9:05am
Today, tucked into the celebration of "the weekly Easter," the Dies Domini, the Church also commemorates, with the entire Franciscan family, St. Bonaventure, theologian and pastor.
In 1959 the young professor, Joseph Ratzinger, published a significant study: The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure. This second thesis, or Habilitationschrift, is required for the aspirant to hold a chair in a German university.
(For an intriguing account of the drama of the dissertation's initial rejection and its refashioning and ultimate acceptance, see Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977.)
In his 1969 "Foreword to the American Edition," Ratzinger writes of his findings:
It became apparent that Bonaventure's theology of history presents a struggle to arrive at a proper understanding of eschatology. It is thus anchored in the central issue of the New Testament question itself. It became clear that the discussion which Bonaventure undertook with Joachim of Fiore -- the remarkable prophet of that period -- led to a change in the concept of eschatology which remains operative even today. Finally, it became obvious that the theology of history does not represent an isolated area of Bonaventure's thought. On the contrary, it is related to the basic philosophical and theological decisions which provided the basis for his participation in the bitter controversies of the 1260s and 1270s.
It was in these controversies that the question of philosophy and theology was handled, as well as the question of Hellenism and de-Hellenization, and the problem of whether faith could be translated into understanding. In many ways, those turbulent years, with the abrupt entrance of Arabian science into the firmly built structure of traditional theology, are similar to the post-Conciliar mood which we are experiencing at the present time.
It seems to me that Bonaventure could not remain silent concerning Joachim since he was Minister General of an Order that was torn almost to the breaking point by the Joachimite question. Hexaemeron [Bonaventure's last, unfinished work on the "Six Days" of creation] is the answer he gave to this problem as General of the Order. It is a critical discussion with the Calabrian Abbot and his followers. But the discussion is carried on in such a way that Joachim is interpreted back into tradition, while the Joachimites interpreted him against that tradition. Bonaventure does not totally reject Joachim (as Thomas had done); rather, he interprets him in an ecclesial way and thus creates an alternative to the radical Joachimites. On the basis of this alternative, he tries to preserve the unity of the Order.
Does one discern, in these words written almost forty years ago, a foreshadowing of the theological-pastoral program of Benedict XVI?
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.