Knowledge, Creation, and the Sacred Light of Scripture (St. Bonaventure, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology, Part 5)

Knowledge, Creation, and the Sacred Light of Scripture (St. Bonaventure, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology, Part 5)

Sections 6-7

In sections six and seven, Bonaventure clarifies that although the “light coming down from above is fourfold,” there are nevertheless actually six differentiations of this light: sacred Scripture, sense perception, mechanical arts, rational philosophy, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy.[1]The significance of this revelation for Bonaventure is that these six illuminations parallel the six days of creation. Bonaventure argues that all the subsequent days of creation had their origin in that first light; in a similar way, “all these branches of knowledge are ordered to the knowledge of sacred Scripture; they are contained in it; they are perfected by it; and they are ordered to the eternal illumination by means of it” (45).

This conclusion in particular begins to get to the heart of Bonaventure’s central claim that all of the various arts have as their true telos God Himself, particularly as revealed in the light of sacred Scripture (hence the title, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology). For Bonaventure, then, all earthly knowledge has as its goal the knowledge of and love for God, since all earthly knowledge will one day pass away and give way to a seventh day of rest, which he calls “the illumination of glory” (45).

My official title at School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO, is Associate Professor of Christian Worldview. At our school, we require all 7-12 students to take a “Christian Worldview” class each year. Having a dedicated class for Christian Worldview is of immeasurable benefit as we are able to cover OT and NT survey, the story of the Bible, introductory worldview issues, church history and theology from the early church through the present, apologetics, discipleship, cultural engagement, and competing worldviews. But despite the innumerable benefits, there has always been and remains one particular danger: the danger I fear is that students (and perhaps teachers, also), neglect to demonstrate how each discipline finds its fulfillment in the Creator God. When a school has “Bible” classes as we do, it could become easy to divorce each subject from its theological and biblical foundations by omission. That is, since we assume (or even perhaps do) teach about these things in Christian Worldview, we may miss opportunities to help students see of the “light” of each art is derived from the true Light Himself. Unless our education in each art explicitly finds its telos in the God revealed in the Scriptures, our education fails.

[1]The first light was the mechanical arts which Bonaventure addresses in section 2; the second light (section 3) is sense knowledge/perception; the third light (section 4) includes the threefold division into rational, natural, and moral philosophy; the fourth light (section 5) is sacred Scripture. Thus, the four lights are actually six differentiations. See Parts 1-4 of this series for discussions of these previous lights.

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