Father Richard finds a hopeful vision for the cosmos in the teachings of 13th-century Franciscan theologian Bonaventure.
The lovely symmetry of St. Bonaventure’s theology can be summarized in what Bonaventure himself named as the three great truths that hold everything together for him:
Emanation: We come forth from God bearing the divine image, and thus our inherent identity is grounded in the life of God from the beginning (Genesis 1:26–27).
Exemplarism: Everything, the entire chain of being, and everything in creation is an example and illustration of the one God mystery in space and time (Romans 1:20). No exceptions.
Consummation: All returns to the Source from which it came (John 14:3). The Omega is the same as the Alpha and this is God’s supreme and final victory.
What a positive and safe world this describes! In Bonaventure’s teachings we have a coherent and grounded meaning the post-modern world no longer enjoys—and yet longs for. Note this is clearly not the later reward/punishment frame that almost totally took over when people did not experience God, but only believed propositions. Most people today are not sure where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going, and many do not even seem to care about the questions.
What if we could recover a view of the world and God that was infused with Bonaventure’s teaching? It would provide a foundation lacking in our often aimless and adrift age. It could hold our lives together during times of despair and cynicism. Is it possible for us to regain such a positive worldview again? Our later limited notion of individual salvation works much better if it is all held together inside of a primary cosmic salvation; the part then replicates the whole. Right now, it feels like we’re all on our own. There is no whole to be a part of!
Bonaventure described the great chain of being both in a historical and linear way—but also in terms of cosmic connectedness along the way. He was following Paul: “In [Christ’s] body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you will find your own fulfillment,” or “There is only Christ: He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 2:9–10, 3:11).
We were created in unity, proceed forward insofar as we are in unity, and return to God’s full gift of final unity, according to Bonaventure. It is grace before, during, and after.
For Bonaventure creation is quite simply the mirror and image of God, and he uses metaphors like footprint, fingerprint, effigy, likeness (vestigia Dei) to make his point. This unitive vision is similar to that of Jesuit priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin. These two teachers first gave me the confidence to believe and teach that “everything belongs.” Both describe and defend the universal belonging of all creation, and show us that such a cosmic divine victory makes the fear-based preoccupations of later exclusionary and punitive Christianity seem so small and unnecessary.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 166–168.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Madison Frambes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2023, naturally dyed paper and ink, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
The squares, circles, triangles, reds, blues, yellows, patterns and textures are all part of the same great whole.
Story from Our Community:
I have been receiving and reading the Daily Meditations for a few years now. Finding the CAC and Richard Rohr was one of the best things that happened to me. Today’s meditation on Gratitude came at the perfect time. I have really been struggling with the things that are going on in the world at this time—just typing that brought tears to my eyes. I have wondered what I can do from my small town to help change things. Being reminded of the power of gratitude and how it can move from my heart to action was just what I needed. Thank you! —Lora C.