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On the Steps of Ascension into God and on the Sight of Him Through His Vestiges in the Universe


The Journey of the Mind into God, c. I, nn. 1-15

After leaving the Parisian chair, Bonaventura retires in meditation on Mount Verna, to embark on a contemplative itinerary that leads him to God. The first stage of this journey is the contemplation of the creatures. Bonaventure shows the reader the degrees of the ascent to God, degrees that man can know and travel through the prayer. The physical world is described as a mirror and as a book through which it is possible to reach God: «He who is not brightened [illustratur] by such splendors of created things is blind; he who does not awake at such clamors is deaf; he who does not praise God on account of [ex] all these effects is mute; he who does not turn towards [advertit] the First Principle on account of such indications [indiciis] is stupid.»

1. Blessed the man, whose assistance is from Thee, he has arraigned ascensions in his own heart in the vale of tears, in the place, which he placed them (Ps 83:6). Since beatitude is nothing other, than the fruition of the Most High Good; and the Most High Good is above us: no one can become [effici] blessed, unless he ascends above his very self, not by an ascent with the body [corporali], but with the heart [cordiali]. But we are not able to be raised above ourselves unless by means of a superior virtue raising us. For however much as interior steps are arrainged, nothing is done, unless the Divine Assistance accompanies. However the Divine Assistance accompanies those who seek it from their heart humbly and devoutly; and this is to long for it in this vale of tears, which is done through fervent praying. Let us pray therefore and say to the Lord Our God: Lead me forth, Lord, in Thy way, and let me step in Thy truth; let my heart be glad, that it fears Thy Name .

2. In praying this prayer one is illumined so as to become acquainted with [ad cognoscendum] the steps of the divine ascension. Since the university of things is the stairway to ascend into God; and among things there are a certain vestige, a certain image [imago], certain corporal things, certain spiritual things, certain temporal things, certain aeviturnal things, and for this reason [per hoc] certain ones outside of us, certain ones inside us: for this purpose [ad hoc], that we arrive at considering the First Principle, which is most spiritual and eternal and above us, it is proper, that we enter into our mind, which is an aeviternal image [imago] of God, spiritual and within us, and this is to step in the truth of God; it is fitting, that we transcend to the eternal, most spiritual, and above us by looking towards the First Principle, and this is to be glad in the knowledge [notitia] of God and the reverence of His Majesty.

3. This is therefore the way of three days in the solitude; this is the threefold illumination of one day, and the first is as vespers, the second as morning, the third as midday; this relates to [respicit] the threefold existence [existentiam] of things, that is in matter, in understanding and in the Eternal Art, according to what is said: Let it be, He has made and it has been made; this also relates to the threefold substance in Christ, who is our Stairway, that is the corporal, the spiritual, and the Divine.

4. According to this threefold progress our mind has three principle powers of sight [aspectus]. One is towards exterior corporals, according to that which is named the animal [animalitas] or the sensory [sensualitas]: the other within the self and in the self, according to that which is called the spirit; the third above the self, according to that which is called the mind. -- From all of which it ought to arrange [disponere] itself to climb thoroughly [conscendendum] into God, to love [diligat] Him with a whole mind, and with a whole heart, and with a whole soul, in which consists the perfect observance of the Law and, at the same time with this, christian wisdom.

5. Moreover since whatever of the aforesaid manners is joined together, according to which one happens [contingit] to consider God as the Alpha and the Omega , or inasmuch as one happens to see God in any one of the aforesaid manners [modorum] as through a mirror [per speculum] and as in a mirror [in speculo], or because one of these considerations is has been mixed up [habet commisceri] with another conjoined with itself, and has to be considered [habet considerari] in its purity; hence it is, that it is necessary, that these three principle steps ascend towards a group of six, so that, as God in six days perfected the entire world [universum mundum] and on the seventh rested; so the microcosm [minor mundum] is itself lead forth in six steps of illumination proceeding upwards [succedentium] in a most ordered manner [ordinatissime] towards the quiet of contemplation. In the figure of which one ascended in six steps towards the throne of Solomon; the Seraphim, which Isaiah saw, had six wings; after six days the Lord called Moses from the midst of gloom [caliginis], and Christ after six days , as is said in Matthew, led the disciples unto the mountain and was transfigured before them .

6. Therefore alongside [iuxta] the six steps of ascension into God, there are six steps of the soul's powers [potentiarum] through which we climb thoroughly from the depts towards the hieghts, from exterior things towards things most interior, from temporal things we ascend together towards eternal, that is the sense, the imagination, the reason, the intellect, the intelligence, and the apex of the mind or the spark of synderisis. These steps we have planted [habemus plantatos] in us by nature, deformed by fault, reformed by grace; are to be purged by justice, exercised by knowledge [scientia], perfected by wisdom.

7. For according to the first institution of nature there was created a man fit [homo habilis] for the quiet of contemplation, and for that reason God placed him in the paradise of delights . But turning himself away from the true Light towards the completely changeable good [commutabile bonum], he was himself stooped down through his own fault, and his whole race by original sin, which infects human nature in a twofold manner, that is the mind by ignorance, the flesh by concupiscence; so that man thoroughly blinded and stooped down sits in the shadows and does not see the light of Heaven unless grace succors him with justice against his concupiscence, and knowledge with wisdom against his ignorance. Which is entirely [totum] done through Jesus Christ, who has been made for us by God our wisdom and justice and sanctification and redemption . Who though He be the Virtue of God and the Wisdom of God, (and though) He be the Incarnate Word full of grace and truth , has made grace and truth, that is has infused the grace of charity, which, since it is from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith , rectifies the whole soul according to its own threefold, abovesaid power of sight [aspectum]; He has thoroughly taught the knowledge of the truth according to the threefold manner of theology, that is, the symbolic, the proper, and the mystical, so that through the symbol we rightly use the sensible, through the proper we rightly use the intelligible, through the mystical we be rapt to super-mental excesses.

8. Therefore it is necessary that he who will to ascend into God, as a nature having avoided the deforming fault, exercise his above said, natural powers in accord with [ad] reforming grace, and this by praying; in accord with justifying purification and this in comportment [conversatione]; in accord with illuminating knowledge and this in meditation; in accord with perfecting wisdom and this in contemplation. Therefore as no one comes to wisdom except through grace, justice, and knowledge; so one does not come to contemplation except through perspicacious mediation, holy comportment and devout prayer. Therefore as grace is the foundation of the rectitude of the will and of the perspicacious brightening [illustrationis] of the reason; so at first we must pray, then live holily, third understand the spectacles [spectaculis] of truth and by understanding ascend gradually, and come at last to the exalted mountain, where there is seen the God of Gods in Sion .

9. Since therefore first one is to ascend rather than descend upon Jacob's stair, let us situate the first step of ascension at the bottom, by considering [ponendo] this whole world sensible to us as a mirror [speculum], through which we passover to God, the Most High Artisan, so that we may be true Hebrews passing over from Egypt to the land promised again-and-again to our Fathers, that we may be also Christians passing over with Christ from this world to the Father , that we may be also lovers [amatores] of wisdom, who calls and says: Passover to me all you, who desire [concupiscitis] me, and be filled full by my generations . For from the magnitude of beauty [speciei] and creature the Creator of these things could be familiarly [cognoscibiliter] seen .

10. Moreover the highest power and wisdom and benevolence of the Creator glitters in created things according to that which the sense of the flesh announces in this threefold manner to the interior sense. For the sense of the flesh either devoutly serves [deservit] the intellect in a rational manner as it investigates, or in a faithful manner as it believes, or in an intellectual manner as it contemplates. Contemplating it considers the actual existence of things, believing the habitual descent [decursus] of things, reasoning [ratiocinans] the potential excellence [praecellentiam] of things.

11. In the first manner the power of sight [aspectus] of the one contemplating, considering the things in themselves [res in se ipsis], sees in them the weight, number and measure; the weight in regard to the position [quoad situm], where they are inclining, the number, by which they are distinguished, and the measure, by which they are limited. And for this reason it sees in them measure [modum], species, and order, and also the substance, virtue, and activity [operationem]. From which it can rise together, as from a vestige, to understand the power, wisdom and immense goodness of the Creator.

12. In the second manner the power of sight of the believer [aspectus fidelis], considering this world tends toward the origin, the descent and the end. For by faith we believe, that the ages have been made ready for the Word of life ; by faith we believe, that the seasons of the three laws, that is of nature, of Scripture and of grace succeed one another [sibi] and have descended [decurrisse] in a most orderly manner; by faith we believe, that the world must be terminated by a final judgement; adverting in the first to power, in the second to providence, in the third to justice of the Most High Principle.

13. In the third manner the power of sight [aspectus] of the one investigating in a reasoning manner sees, that certain things only are, morover that certain things are and live, but that certain things are, live, and discern; and indeed that the first things are the lesser, the second ones the middle, the third the best. -- Again it sees, that certain things are only corporal, certain things partly coporal, partly spiritual; from which it adverts, that some are merely spiritual as the better and more worthy of both. Nevertheless it sees, that certain things are mutable and incorruptible, as the celestial things; from which it adverts, that certain things are immutable and incorruptible, as the supercelestial.

From these visible things, therefore, it rises up together to consider the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as the existing [entem], living, understanding, merely spiritual and incorruptible and instransmutable One.

14. Moreover this consideration broadens according to the septiform condition of creatures, which is the septiform testimony of the divine power and goodness, if the origin and order of all other things is considered.

For the origin of things according to (their) creation, distinction and embellishment [ornatum], as much as it regards [quantum ad] the works of the six days, foretells the divine power, producing all other things from nothing, (the divine) wisdom distinguishing all other things lucidly and (the divine) goodness adorning all other things with largess.

Moreover the magnitude of things according to the quantity [molem] of (their) length, breadth and depth; according to the excellence (their) virtue extending far, wide, and deeply, as is clear in the diffusion of light; according to the efficacy of (their) most interior, continual and diffuse activity, as is clear in the activity of fire, manifestly indicates the immensity of the power, wisdom and goodness of the Triune God who in all other things by power, presence [praesentiam] and essence exists as One uncircumscribed.

Indeed their multitude according to (their) general, special and individual diversity in substance, in form or figure and efficacious beyond every human estimation, manifestly intimates and shows the immensity of the aforesaid three conditions in God.

Moreover the beauty [pulcritudo] of things according to the variety of (their) lights, figures and colors in bodies simple, mixed and even connected [complexionatis], as in celestial and mineral bodies, as stones and metals, plants and animals, proclaims in an evident manner the aforesaid three things.

Moreover the fulness of things, according to which [secundum quod] matter is full of forms according to seminal reasons; form is full of virtue according to active power; virtue is full of effects according to efficiency, manifestly declares the very thing.

The manifold [multiplex] activity (of things), according to that which is natural, according to that which is artificial, according to that which is moral, by its most manifold variety shows the immensity of His virtue, art, and goodness, which is for all things "the cause of existing [causa essendi], the reason for understanding and the order of living".

Moreover their order according to the reckoning [rationem] of duration and influence, that is by prior and posterior, superior and inferior, more noble and more ignoble, manifestly intimates in the Book of Creatures the primacy, sublimity and dignity of the First Principle, as much as it regards the infinity of His power; indeed the order of divine laws, precepts, and judgements in the Book of Scripture the immensity of His wisdom; moreover the order of divine Sacraments, benefactions and retributions in the Body of the Church the immensity of His goodness, so that the order itself most evidently leads us by hand [manuducit] to the First and Most High, the Most Powerful, the Most Wise and the Best.

15. Therefore he who is not brightened [illustratur] by such splendors of created things is blind; he who does not awake at such clamors is deaf; he who does not praise God on account of [ex] all these effects is mute; he who does not turn towards [advertit] the First Principle on account of such indications [indiciis] is stupid. -- Open therefore your eyes, employ your spiritual ears, loose your lips and rouse [appone] your heart, to see, hear, praise, love [diligas] and worship [colas], magnfiy and honor your God in all creatures, lest perhaps the whole circle of the earth rise together against you. For on this account the circle of the earth will fight against the insensate and against the sensate there will be the matter of glory, who according to the Prophet can say: Thou has loved [delectasti] me, Lord, in what you are to do [factura] and in the works of Thy hands shall I exult. How magnified are Thy works, Lord!  You have made all things in wisdom, the earth is filled with Thy possession.

English transl. by Alexis Bugnolo, The Franciscan Archive.

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