256. Mysticism of St. Bonaventure. -- Intimate union with God is the term of all knowledge (De Reductione Artium ad Theologiam). It is achieved by a process with several distinct stages, all of which are described by St. Bonaventure, on the lines of the Victorine mysticism, in a comprehensive work entitled Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. Besides the eye of the flesh (oculus carnis) and the eye of reason (oculus rationis), there is also in every man an eye of contemplation (oculus contemplationis) (198).
Firstly, we may know and love God in Nature, which was made to His likeness (vestigium). This knowledge (cogitatio, theologia symbolica) we reach (a) by the external senses (per vestigium), and (b) the imagination (in vestigio). Thus the Saint completely justifies his holy founder's fervent outbursts of love for even the lowliest of God's creatures in the hallowed regions of Assisi.
Secondly, we may know and love God in His image (imago Dei), i.e., in our own soul. This is meditatio, theologia propria. We see God thus, through our soul (per imaginem) and in our soul (in imagine): (a) through our soul when its three faculties, memory, understanding and will, by mirroring the Blessed Trinity in us (St. Augustine), raise us up towards God. Memory preserves for us the Divine deposit of first principles. Will can be moved only by having presented to it the ideal good which is God. Understanding grasps the supreme and immutable truth of things only in virtue of an illumination from on high, which unites it with God (255, III.). The supernatural aid of Divine grace, though helpful to the advance of the soul along those first three stages, is not formally required until the fourth stage is reached. (b) For this fourth stage the preceding stages are but a preparation: here we see God in the soul (in imagine): for this, Divine grace and the theological virtues are communicated to us.
Thirdly and finally, after having learned to know God in His works, we attain to a direct knowledge of Him. His grace reveals Him to us successively (a) in His Being and (b) in the boundless Goodness of the Blessed Trinity: upon which revelation there follows a seventh and final stage of indescribable bliss and repose, the state of ecstasy which marks the culmination of the soul's ascent towards the Deity. Carried up to this highest apex of the mystic life (apex mentis), we are in the enjoyment of the Infinite. Here we have contemplation par excellence: the real object of the theologia mystica. We need scarcely observe that this outpouring of love between Creator and creature in no way compromises the substantial distinction between them (199-201).
Posterity bows reverentially before this great master of contemplative mysticism.
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