Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Sapientia Omniformis (The Wisdom of Every Form) of Creation: Saint Bonaventure

Sapientia omniformis is the name Saint Bonaventure gives to the wisdom which is revealed in creation, as explained by Father Joseph Ratzinger.

It is in the sapientia omniformis that the letter of creation becomes understandable and speaks to us of the glory of the Creator...[W]e are threatened with the danger of remaining with the letter and of thus overlooking the true sign-value of things. Because of our situation in salvation history, this danger has become particularly acute. Indeed, wisdom raises its captivating and inviting voice in all things. But "we do not find her (wisdom), just as the unlettered layman is not interested in the contents of the book that he hold in his hands. So it is with us. The language of the universe has become like Greek, Hebrew, or some barbarous language; it has become fundamentally unknown."

So there is a striking parallel between the revelation of Scripture and that of creation. In both cases, the revelation is hidden behind the letters that veil it; in both cases, the unveiling of the revelation is the task of the Spirit who transcends the level of the literal in a living, existential movement which penetrates into the realm of the intellectual-spiritual. It is from this danger that the two basic religious errors arise. As regards the understanding of creation, the philosopher who forgets or even denies the possibility or reducing things to their true meaning represents that which the Jew represents relative to Scripture. It is the viewpoint of Bonaventure...that the contemplative power in man has been extinguished in the present historical situation so that the understanding of the book of creation will be inaugurated only with the healing and helping revelation of grace.

This conviction of the sign-character of the entire creation is the root of the Bonaventurian symbolism of creation...[T]he Itinerarium mentis in Deum...attempts to construct a "ladder" to the Creator from all the things of this world. "He who does not allow himself to be illumined by the glory of created things, is blind; he who does not awaken to their call is deaf; he who does not praise God for all His works is mute; he who does not discover the First Principle from all these signs is a fool. Therefore, open your eyes, call upon your spiritual ears; loosen your lips and apply your heart so that you may see, hear, praise, love, serve, glorify, and honor your God in all creatures, lest the entire universe raise itself against you. For therefore the earth will rise up to struggle with those who do not understand (Wisdom 5:21); but it (the earth) will be the foundation of glory for the wise who can say with the Prophet: 'For you have made me glad, O Lord, by your works; of the deeds of your hands I joyfully sing. How great are your deeds, O Lord. In Wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creations' (Ps. 91:5, 103:24)." This text shows more clearly than any analysis we might attempt how far Bonaventure has abandoned anything that might be called merely a Greek 'physical-theology' such as that which is often attributed to the unbiblical renewal of the Catholic theologia naturalis. Bonaventure's hymn of praise to the creator-God lives entirely from the spirit of the psalms. He does not deny the inheritance coming from Greece, but this heritage here enters fully into the service of the Christian faith.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Theology of History in Saint Bonaventure, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989, 84-86.
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