God works in mysterious way. I truly believe he puts you in specific situations at precise times to allow you to grow in trust and faith in Him. As members of the Church militant we are called to be in communion with the saints in Heaven—the Church triumphant. Over the course of the past several months, I believe God called me to learn more about St. Bonaventure. Having a background in theology, my inclination towards the Seraphic Doctor of the Church makes sense.
Rarely, does God act in such a plain or shallow sense. Along with being elevated to the status of Doctor of the Catholic Church, St. Bonaventure is also the patron saint of something quite ordinary, yet awkward at the same time—bowel movements. As a young child Bonaventure had a life threatening sickness affecting his bowels. This sickness almost took his life. The intercession of St. Francis of Assisi cured him. Because of this, the Catholic Church recognized Bonaventure as the patron saint of individuals suffering similar illnesses.
My youngest son struggles with digestive and bowel issues. During a particularly rough evening, my wife and I prayed to St. Bonaventure, as we tried everything else medically to help our son. Our pleas for help to the 13th century saint forged the beginning of what I hope to be a lifelong friendship.
While St Bonaventure wrote on various subjects this article will solely focus on arguably his greatest work—The Journey of the Mind into God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Bonaventure: Literary Work and Doctrine calls this work, “a manual for mystical contemplation.” Providentially, Bonaventure pondered this work at the same place whereby St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata—Mount La Verna in Italy!
Stepping up the Ladder of Learning
As a teacher of theology, St. Bonaventure provides a gradually and steady path, specifically six steps, to grow in awareness and knowledge of God. Bonaventure puts it this way,
For through those six wings there can be rightly understood six suspensions of illumination, by which the soul as if to certain steps or journeys is disposed, to pass over to peace through ecstatic excesses of Christian wisdom.no 3. The Journey of the Mind Into God
A prerequisite for beginning this journey is praying through Christ crucified. Jesus acts as a bridge; or, to use the imagery of Bonaventure, a ladder connecting us to the Holy Trinity.
Creation as Reflection of God
In Chapter 1 of The Journey of the Mind Into God, the Seraphic Doctor tells us that the first rung of the ladder to God is the created world. When we don the glasses of faith, we see nature pointing to the glory of God. Bonaventure refers to the created world as “the university of things” as a kind of stairway to climb toward God (Chapter 1 no. 2). Later in the chapter he describes the world as “a mirror through which we passover to God. Plants, animals, mountains, oceans, the moon and stars above point to a Creator—because of the beauty and order within nature.
Bonaventure draws us up the holy ladder in his next chapter.
It must be noted that this world (the universe), which is called the macrocosm, enters our soul, which is called the microcosm, through the gates of the five senses…Man, who is called the microcosm, has five senses like five gates, through which acquaintance with all things, which are in the sensible world, enters into his soul.(Chapter 2, no. 2)
Catholicism values the created order as not something to be jettisoned. The sacramentals utilize various forms of matter (things) because they hold intrinsic value and point had a higher order of being.
Human Mind—Mirror of the Trinity
Bonaventure brings the reader up another rung on the ladder of mystical contemplation by focusing on the natural powers of the human soul. According to the 13th century saint, the three highest faculties of humanity are memory, intellect, and will. He saws these three powers as a natural reflection of the Holy Trinity.
The Seraphic Doctor plainly declares, “According to the order and origin and characteristic of these powers (the soul) leads into the Most Blessed Trinity itself!” (Chapter 3 no. 5). As a perfect spirit, Bonaventure argues, God has memory, intelligence, and will. In the remaining chapters of The Journey of the Mind Into God, Bonaventure details how grace guides the soul in knowing and growing in knowledge of God, seeing God’s unity through His being, and finally viewing God as a communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity.
I had to read this work at least three times before I could write this reflection on St. Bonaventure’s gem of a work. This is not an indictment on his ability to write clearly or my ability to discern (at least I hope not!) Instead, any and all writings on the subject of God, in particularly a Trinitarian understanding of God has to be mysterious. “When you contemplate these, see, that you do not consider yourself able to comprehend the incomprehensible (The Holy Trinity). For in these six conditions (steps) you still have to consider what leads the eye of our mind vehemently into the stupor of admiration (Chapter 6 no. 3).
Journeying into God is not an easy task, but it will certainly end with both wonder and awe. St. Bonaventure’s closeness to the God is quite evident in this spiritual treatise. If you are a parent of young children, such as myself, perhaps you may not have time now to read this holy book. Bonaventure can still help you on your spiritual and parental journey, because at some point your kid will get severely constipated. Ask the Seraphic Doctor for help. Believe me, it arrives.
If you have more time available for spiritual reading, I strongly recommend you add The Journey of the Mind Into God to your top ten list!