How Do the Illuminations Lead to God? (St. Bonaventure, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology, Part 6)
After asserting that all six illuminations find their source in the Light, Bonaventure continues in the next sections to explain “howthe other illuminations of knowledge are to be traced back to the light of sacred Scripture” (47). In sections 8-10, Bonaventure looks at how sense knowledge leads back to Scripture and God Himself. This discussion includes three elements: the medium, exercise, and delight of knowledge.
First, Bonaventure explores the medium of knowledge. According to Bonaventure, the medium of all knowledge is “the Word begotten from all eternity and incarnate in time” (47). From all eternity this Word is a “Similitude, an Image, and an Offspring,” such that our faith in Him who unites to Himself a human form in the incarnation serves to lead our minds back to the Father (47).
Second, Bonaventure explains how in the exercise of sense knowledge is seen the pattern of human life. As we act in our senses we do so in proper relation to the object of these senses, but the ultimate object of these senses is the Word who created them and took them to Himself in the incarnation. Hence, all exercise of sense knowledge leads us back to the incarnate Word in whom our senses find their ultimate object and fulfillment.
Third, Bonaventure considers the delight of sense knowledge, which leads us to the “union of the soul with God” (49). Bonaventure says that our spiritual senses, like our earthly senses, “must seek with longing, find with joy, and time and again experience the beautiful, the harmonious, the fragrant, the sweet, or that which is delightful to the touch” (49). In short, our sense knowledge of all things parallels and finds fulfillment in our spiritual sense that is satisfied only in the Wisdom/Word of God.
For many today, one of the more difficult stumbling blocks for faith is the fact that knowledge has taken on a meaning that requires empirical, testable, and sensory evidence. Our culture has accepted a kind of methodological naturalism in which a thing can only be proven by scientifically testable evidence within our closed system. No outside influence (i.e., God) can be allowed into the equation at all. Since God cannot be known through the senses, they say, God cannot be proven, and a God who cannot be proven by such means cannot be a reasonable belief. Bonaventure’s teaching here is helpful in this respect as it reminds us that sense perception as knowledge must have some object. Moreover, this sense perception parallels the spiritual senses and proves rather to lead us to God, not away from God as many prefer to argue today. This is because the God who is the Light of all illuminations of knowledge, Himself took on flesh. John writes about this beautiful reality in 1 John 1:1-3.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seenwith our eyes, which we looked upon and have touchedwith our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (ESV)
Because the Word took on flesh and made Himself knowable by the senses of the apostles, we can know this Word, as well as all other Truth that flows from Him, by spiritual sense and the revelation of sacred Scripture.