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The Univocity of Being

Monday, November 14, 2016

Nature: Week 2

The Univocity of Being
Monday, November 14, 2016

Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he [sic] shares existence, with the plants he shares life, with the animals he shares sensation, and with the angels he shares intelligence. Thus all things are transformed in Christ since in the fullness of his nature he embraces some part of every creature. —Bonaventure [1]

In the stories of his life, St. Francis is quoted as talking to or about larks, lambs, rabbits, pheasants, falcons, cicadas, waterfowl, bees, the famous wolf of Gubbio, pigs whom he praised for generously giving their bodies for our food, and hooked fish that he tried to throw back into the water whenever possible. He addresses inanimate creation too, as if it were indeed ensouled. His “Canticle of the Creatures” includes fire, wind, water, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and, of course, “our Sister Mother Earth” herself. He even told the friars to only cut down part of a tree for their needs so that it could sprout again.

So-called “nature mysticism” was a worthy entranceway for Francis, and then Bonaventure laid the theological foundation for the same by seeing all things as likenesses of God, fingerprints and footprints (vestigia Dei) that reveal the divine DNA underlying all living links in creation. John Duns Scotus would philosophically name this “the univocity of all being.” In other words, we may speak of all beings with “one consistent voice.” Dawn Nothwehr, a Franciscan sister, lovingly calls it “cosmic mutuality.” [2]

The Franciscan notion of the “univocity of being” gave an early philosophical foundation to what we now call the circle of life or ecosystems, holons and fractals (parts that replicate the whole), unitive or contemplative thinking, and mysticism itself. Duns Scotus believed creation was more than an “analogy of being,” as Thomas Aquinas taught; there was an objective continuity between Creator and Creatures.

Gateway to Silence:
Praised be You, my Lord, through all your creatures. —Francis of Assisi

[1] Bonaventure, “Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent,” The Works of St. Bonaventure (St. Anthony Guild: 1960).
[2] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader (Franciscan Media: 2003).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 46-47, 161, 176-177; and
Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 78f.

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