The Veil : Contemplating the Christian Tradition


The Journey of the Soul into God

St. Bonaventure

In the beginning the First Principle, from whom all other [cunctae] illuminations descend as from the Father of lights, by whom is every best gift and every perfect gift, that is the Eternal Father, I do invoke through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the same Mother [genetricis] of Our God and Lord Jesus Christ, and of blessed Francis, our leader and father, to grant that the eyes of our mind (be) illumined to direct our feet in the way of His peace, which exceeds [exuperat] every sense; which peace Our Lord Jesus Christ has proclaimed [evangelizavit] and has given; the renewer [repetitor] of whose preaching was our Father Francis, announcing at the beginning and end of all his preaching peace, in every salutation choosing peace, in every contemplation longing towards ecstatic peace, as a citizen of that Jerusalem, concerning which that man of peace speaks, who with those who hate peace, was peaceable: Ask for those things which are for the peace of Jerusalem. For he knew, that the throne of Solomon was not but in peace, since it was written: In peace is made His place, and His dwelling in Sion.

When therefore by the example of most blessed Father Francis I sought with a panting spirit this peace, I a sinner, who, unworthy in all things [per omnia] ascend to the place of the most blessed father himself as seventh in the Minister generalship after his transitus; it happened that with the divine permission [nutu] about the (time of) the Transitus of the Blessed himself, in the thirty-third year (of its celebration, 1259 A.D.), I turned aside with the love [amore] of seeking peace of spirit towards mount Alverna as towards a quiet place, and staying [existens] there, while I considered in mind some mental ascensions into God, among others there occured that miracle, which in the aforesaid place happened to blessed Francis himself, that is, of the vision of the Seraph winged after the likeness [ad instar] of the Crucified. In consideration of which it suddenly seemed to me, that that vision showed the suspension of our father himself in contemplating Him and the way, through which one arrives at that (suspension).

For through those six wings there can be rightly understood six suspensions of illumination, by which the soul as if to certain steps or journies is disposed, to pass over to [ad] peace through ecstatic excesses of Christian wisdom. The way is, however, naught but through the most ardent love [amorem] of the Crucified, who to this extent [adeo] transformed Paul rapt to the third heaven into Christ, that he said: to Christ I have been crucified, now not I; but Christ lives in me; who also to this extent absorbed the mind of Francis, since the mind lay in the flesh, while he bore about the most sacred stigmata of the Passion in his own flesh for two years before his death. The likenesses [effigies] of the six seraphic wings intimates [insinuat] six stair-like [scalares] illuminations, which begin from creatures and lead through even to God, to Whom no one rightly enters except through the Crucified. For he who does not enter through the gate, but ascends by another way, that one is a thief and mercenary [latro]. If anyone indeed goes inside through the gate, he will step in and out and find pasture. On which account John says in the Apocalypse: Blessed are they who wash their vestments in the Blood of the Lamb, to have power in the Tree of life, and to step in the city through the gates ; as if he said, that through contemplation one cannot step into the supernal Jerusalem, unless he enter through the Blood of the Lamb as through a gate. For one has not been disposed in any manner [modo] to divine contemplations, which lead towards mental eccesses [excessus], except with Daniel one be a man of desires. Moreover desires are inflammed in us in a two-fold manner, that is through the clamour of praying, which makes one shout [rugire] from a groan of the heart, and though the lightning of speculation, by which the mind thoroughly turns itself [se convertit] most directly and most intensely towards the rays of light.

Therefore to the groan of praying through Christ crucified, through whose Blood we are purged from the filth of vice, I indeed first invite the reader, lest perhaps he believes that reading without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, circumspection without exsultation, industry without piety, knowledge [scientia] without charity, understanding without humiliy, study apart from divine grace, gaze [speculum] apart from divinely inspired wisdom is sufficient for him. — Anticipated, therefore, by divine grace, for the humble and pious, the compunct and devout, for those annointed with the oil of gladness both for the lovers of divine wisdom and for those inflammed with desire for it, I propose the following speculations to be free for those willing to magnify, admire and even take a taste of God, intimating, that too little or nothing is the proposed, exterior gaze [speculum], unless the mirror [speculum] of our mind has been wiped and polished. Exert yourself, therefore, man of God, before [prius ad] the sting of conscience bites again, and before you raise your eyes towards the rays of wisdom glittering in His reflections [speculis], lest by chance from the sight [speculatione] itself of the rays you fall into the more grave pit of shadows.

Moreover it is pleasing to divide [distinguendum] the tract into seven chapters, by previewing [praemittendo] their titles for [ad] an easier understanding of the things to be said. I ask therefore, that the intention of the one writing be thought of more, than the work, more the sense of the things said than the uncultured speech, more its truth than its charm, more the exercise of affection than the erudition of the intellect. Because as it is, one must not run perfunctorily through the course of these speculations, but ruminate (on them) with the greatest of lingering [morosissime]. HERE ENDS THE PROLOGUE.

Here begins the sight of the poor man in the desert.