The Green Seraph
Oil and Gold in linen
"2. Since, then, following the example of the most blessed father Francis, I breathlessly sought this peace, I, a sinner, who have succeeded to the place of that most blessed father after his death, the seventh Minister General of the brothers, though in all ways unworthy--it happened that by the divine will in the thirty-third year after the death of that blessed man I ascended to Mount Alverna as to a quiet place, with the desire of seeking spiritual peace; and staying there, while I meditated on the ascent of the mind to God, amongst other things there occurred that miracle which happened in the same place to the blessed Francis himself, the vision namely of the winged Seraph in the likeness of the Crucified. While looking upon this vision, I immediately saw that it signified the suspension of our father himself in contemplation and the way by which he came to it.
3. For by those six wings are rightly to be understood the six stages of illumination by which the soul, as if by steps or progressive movements, was disposed to pass into peace by ecstatic elevations of Christian wisdom. The way, however, is only through the most burning love of the Crucified, Who so transformed Paul, "caught up into the third heaven" [II Cor., 12, 2], into Christ, that he said, "With Christ I am nailed to the cross, yet I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me" [Gal., 2, 19]; who therefore so absorbed the mind of Francis that his soul w as manifest in his flesh and he bore the most holy stigmata of the Passion in his body for two years before his death.
Therefore the symbol of the six-winged Seraph signifies the six stages of illumination, which begin with God's creatures and lead up to God, to Whom no one can enter properly save through the Crucified. For he who does not enter by the door but otherwise, he is a thief and a robber [John, 10, 1]. But if anyone does enter by this door, he shall go in and go out and shall find pastures [John, 9]. Because of this John says in his Apocalypse [22, 14], "Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that they may have a right to the Tree of Life and may enter in by the gates into the City"; as if he were to say that one cannot enter into the heavenly Jerusalem through contemplation unless one enter through the blood of the Lamb as through a gate. For one is not disposed to contemplation which leads to mental elevation unless one be with Daniel a man of desires [Dan., 9, 23].
But desires are kindled in us in two ways: by the cry of prayer, which makes one groan with the murmuring of one's heart, and by a flash of apprehension by which the mind turns most directly and intensely to the rays of light [Ps., 37, 9].
4. Therefore to the cry of prayer through Christ crucified, by Whose blood we are purged of the filth of vice, do I first invite the reader, lest perchance he should believe that it suffices to read without unction, speculate without devotion, investigate without wonder, examine without exultation, work without piety, know without love, understand without humility, be zealous without divine grace, see without wisdom divinely inspired.
Therefore to those predisposed by divine grace, to the humble and the pious, to those filled with compunction and devotion, anointed with the oil of gladness [Ps., 44, 8], to the lovers of divine wisdom, inflamed with desire for it, to those wishing to give themselves over to praising God, to wondering over Him and to delighting in Him, do I propose the following reflections, hinting that little or nothing is the outer mirror unless the mirror of the mind be clear and polished.
Bestir yourself then, O man of God, you who previously resisted the pricks of conscience, before you raise your eyes to the rays of wisdom shining in that mirror, lest by chance you fall into the lower pit of shadows from the contemplation of those rays.
5. I have decided to divide my treatise into seven chapters, heading them with titles so that their contents may be the more easily understood. I ask therefore that one think rather of the intention of the writer than of his work, of the sense of the words rather than the rude speech, of truth rather than beauty, of the exercise of the affections rather than the erudition of the intellect. That such may come about, the progress of these thoughts must not be perused lightly, but should be meditated upon in greatest deliberation."
(The Prologue to St Bonaventure`s "Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum" ("The Mind`s Road to God") translated by George Boas ( July 1953)
"1. Now that these six considerations have been studied as the six steps of the true throne of Solomon by which one ascends to peace, where the truly peaceful man reposes in peace of mind as if in the inner Jerusalem; as if, again, on the six wings of the Cherub by which the mind of the truly contemplative man grows strong to rise again, filled with the illumination of supreme wisdom; as if, once again, during the first six days in which the mind has to be exercised that it may finally arrive at the Sabbath of rest after it has beheld God outside itself through His traces and in His traces, within itself by His image and in His image, above itself by the likeness of the divine light shining down upon us and in that light, in so far as is possible in this life and the exercise of our mind-- when, finally, on the sixth level we have come to the point of beholding in the first and highest principle and the Mediator of God and men, Jesus Christ, those things of which the likeness cannot in any wise be found in creatures and which exceed all the insight of the human intellect, there remains that by looking upon these things it [the mind] rise on high and pass beyond not only this sensible world but itself also.
In this passage Christ is the way and the door, Christ is the stairway and the vehicle, like the propitiatory over the ark of God and the mystery which has been hidden from eternity [Eph, 3, 9].
2. He who with full face looks to this propitiatory by looking upon Him suspended on the cross in faith, hope, and charity, in devotion, wonder, exultation, appreciation, praise, and jubilation, makes a passover--that is, the phase or passage [Exod., 12, 11] with Him--that he may pass over the Red Sea by the staff of the cross from Egypt into the Desert, where he may taste the hidden manna and with Christ may rest in the tomb as if outwardly dead, yet knowing, as far as possible in our earthly condition, what was said on the cross to the thief cleaving to Christ: ''Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
3. That was shown to the blessed Francis when, in the transport of contemplation on the high mountain--where I thought out these things which I have written--there appeared to him the Seraph with the six wings nailed to the cross, as I and several others have heard from the companion who was with him when he passed over into God through the transports of contemplation and became the example of perfect contemplation, just as previously he had been of action; as another Jacob is changed into Israel, so through him all truly spiritual men have been invited by God to passage of this kind and to mental transport by example rather than by word.
4. In this passage, if it is perfect, all intellectual operations should be abandoned, and the whole height of our affection should be transferred and transformed into God. This, however, is mystical and most secret, which no man knoweth but he that hath received it [Apoc., 2, 17], nor does he receive it unless he desire it; nor does he desire it unless the fire of the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ sent to earth, has inflamed his marrow. And therefore the Apostle says that this mystic wisdom is revealed through the Holy Spirit.
5. Since, therefore, nature is powerless in this matter and industry but slightly able, little should be given to inquiry but much to unction, little to the tongue but much to inner joy, little to the word and to writings and all to the gift of God, that is, to the Holy Spirit, little or nothing to creation and all to the creative essence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saying with Dionysius to God the Trinity:
"Trinity, superessential and superdivine and supergood guardian of Christian knowledge of God, direct thou us into the more-than-unknown and superluminous and most sublime summit of mystical eloquence, where new and absolute and unchangeable mysteries of theology are deeply hidden, according to the superluminous darkness of instructive silence--darkness which is supermanifest and superresplendent, and in which all is aglow, pouring out upon the invisible intellects the splendors of invisible goodness."
This to God. To the friend, however, to whom I address this book, let me say with the same Dionysius:
"Thou then, my friend, if thou desirest mystic visions, with strengthened feet abandon thy senses and intellectual operations, and both sensible and invisible things, and both all nonbeing and being; and unknowingly restore thyself to unity as far as possible, unity of Him Who is above all essence and knowledge. And when thou hast transcended thyself and all things in immeasurable and absolute purity of mind, thou shalt ascend to the superessential rays of divine shadows, leaving all behind and freed from ties of all."
6. If you should ask how these things come about, question grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the cry of prayer, not pursuit of study; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the wholly flaming fire which will bear you aloft to God with fullest unction and burning affection.
This fire is God, and the furnace of this fire leadeth to Jerusalem; and Christ the man kindles it in the fervor of His burning Passion, which he alone truly perceives who says, "My soul rather chooseth hanging and my bones death" [Job, 7, 15].
He who chooses this death can see God because this is indubitably true: "Man shall not see me and live" [Exod., 33, 20].
Let us then die and pass over into darkness; let us impose silence on cares, concupiscence, and phantasms; let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father [John, 13, 1], so that when the Father is shown to us we may say with Philip, "It is enough for us" [John, 14, 8]; let us hear with Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee" [II Cor., 12, 9]; let us exult with David, saying, "For Thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away; Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever [Ps. 72, 26]. . . . Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting; and let all the people say: So be it, so be it" [Ps., 105, 48]. AMEN.
1. "Mystic Theology," Ch. I [Migne, "Pat. Graec.," Vol. III, 997].
Chapter 7 St Bonaventure`s "Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum" ("The Mind`s Road to God") translated by George Boas ( July 1953)
A six-winged, nimbed seraph
Taken from the ceiling of the painted chamber, Palace of Westminster, during repairs in 1816.
Painted when the room was restored after the Palace was destroyed by fire in the Reign on Henry IIIrd 1263
Painted panel; oil and gesso on oak
454 millimetres (inc.frame) x Width: 426 millimetres x Thickness: 21 millimetres (panel)
The British Museum, London
"In 1259 Bonaventure went up to Mount La Verna, as a pilgrim in search for inner peace. There he had the mystical experience of the speculation of a poor man in the desert.
On La Verna Bonaventure found the secret of the peace of the seventh day in the unitive experience of Saint Francis who met on that spot the Crucified Seraph and whose flesh was stamped with the holy stigmata.
The Itinerarium is certainly a work of great philosophical speculation, but at the same time Bonaventure is conscious that he had to face a mystery which one cannot penetrate except with the power of the sapientia crucis of Francis. The key for reading and interpreting the Itinerarium consists in this humble stooping towards the true wisdom which comes from the speculatio of Christ Crucified.
That is why Bonaventure admonishes us:
"First, therefore, I invite the reader to the groans of prayer through Christ crucified, through whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of vice so that he not believe that reading is sufficient without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without wonder, observation without joy, work without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, endeavor without grace, reflection as a mirror (speculatio) without divinely inspired wisdom."
The Itinerarium, which is the journey of the soul into God through six grades of spiritual ascent towards the seventh stage of mystical union, is built upon a seven-fold structure which is common in Bonaventure and in medieval theology, and which has as its centre the mystery of the cross revealed in the stigmatized body of Saint Francis.
On La Verna Bonaventure understood the dynamism of this experience of mystical union:
"This was shown also to blessed Francis, when in ecstatic contemplation on the height of the mountain where I thought out these things I have written there appeared to him a six-winged Seraph fastened to a cross."
Bonaventure tries to explain the mystical union of Francis with the Crucified through the category of a paschal experience. The point of arrival of the long journey of the soul in search for God is found in this transforming experience of Francis, which Bonaventure himself experienced and proposes to his readers:
"Whoever turns his face fully to the Mercy Seat and with faith, hope and love, devotion, admiration, exultation, appreciation, praise and joy beholds him hanging upon the cross, such a one makes the Pasch, that is, the passover, with Christ.
By the staff of the cross he passes over the Red Sea, going from Egypt into the desert, where he will taste the hidden manna; and with Christ he rests in the tomb, as if dead to the outer world, but experiencing, as far as is possible in this wayfarer`s state, what is said on the cross to the thief who adhered to Christ: `Today you shall be with me in paradise.`"
The icon of Francis as the exemplification of Christ Crucified, is represented by Bonaventure as the fruit of a long experience of prayer and interior searching. In front of this icon one has to stop and contemplate.
The Seraphic Doctor tries to explain how this contemplation comes about. He says that it is a question of the apex affectus (height of affection) which goes way beyond any operation of a rational kind, it is a docta ignorantia which hides the mysteries of theology in the most luminous darkness of a silence full of wisdom.
Bonaventure makes use of mystical terms present in the treatise De mystica theologia by Dionysius the Areopagite. In this way he arrives at the centre of the value of philosophical speculation which stops in front of the coincidence of opposites of the mystery of the cross, which is both darkness and light at the same time.
If the Itinerarium departs from the speculation of a poor man in the desert, who could well be an indication of Saint Francis himself, one could say that it concludes with the representation of this poor man as an icon of Christ, who is poor and naked upon the cross, of that Christ who is "the origin of all wisdom."
(Noel Muscat OFM Francis of Assisi and Bonaventre`s Theology of the Cross;
"There should be little need of apologizing for a new translation into English of Saint Bonaventura's "Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum," for it has been recognized by all serious historians of philosophy as one of the shorter masterpieces of medieval philosophy.
It sets forth in very few pages a whole system of metaphysics; it illustrates a philosophical method; it typifies the thinking of one of the great monastic orders of the West; it stands at the beginning of Renaissance science as one of those documents in which the future can be seen in germ.
Besides its importance as an outstanding work in metaphysics, a work comparable to Descartes' "Discourse on Method," Leibniz's Monadology, or Hume's "Enquiry" in its compactness and suggestiveness, it represents a strain of medieval thought which has been too much neglected since the publication of "Aeterni Patris," in 1879.
That encyclical with its emphasis upon Thomism has given many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, the impression that the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas is the "official" philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church.
The result of this miscomprehension has been disparagement of writings other than Thomistic. Yet even in the thirteenth century Catholic philosophers were far from being in agreement, either on matters of doctrine or method.
One has only to mention such figures as Alexander of Hales, the master of Saint Bonaventura; Roger Bacon; and the various monks of Saint Victor, to realize that the confusion and disagreement which certain writers of today find in our own time were just as characteristic of a period to which they refer as one of universal concord.
The metaphysical point of view of Saint Bonaventura can be traced back to Plotinus, if not to Philo. Fundamental to his whole system is that fusion of the three hierarchies of Neo-Platonism: the hierarchy of logical classes, that of values, and that of reality. Elementary students of logic are accustomed to the doctrine that individuals can be grouped into classes which belong to certain species; that these species are again susceptible to classification in certain genera; that these are capable of being grouped into still larger orders and families, until we come to the class which includes all other classes and which is usually called being. This hierarchy of classes in the textbooks of classical logic is called the Tree of Porphyry. In non-philosophic work we find the same sort of thing illustrated in the Linnaean classification of plants and animals. The higher up one goes in this hierarchy, the more inclusive are one's classes. Thus the class of vertebrates is more inclusive than the class of mammals, and the class of animals is more inclusive than the class of vertebrates.
If we assume, as most classical writers did, that such a classification reproduces the structure of reality, that classes are ordained by God and are not simply convenient groupings made by man for his own purposes, then we can see in this order of beings a scale of creatures which might be thought of as a map of all things, a tree not only of life but of all existence. But an added assumption is usually introduced into the discussion at this point, the assumption of both Plotinus and Saint Bonaventura, that the more general a class, the more real and the better.
... Throughout the "Itinerarium" Saint Bonaventura emphasizes that knowledge in the last analysis comes down to seeing, to contemplation, to a kind of experience in which we know certain things to be true without further argument or demonstration. On the lowest level, this occurs in sensory observation, on the highest in the mystic vision.
Along with this insistence on direct experience as the source of all truth runs a practice which goes back at least to Philo-Judaeus in the Hebraic- Christian tradition: the practice of the allegorical method. In Philo, who was mainly interested in the Pentateuch, the allegorical method was employed in interpreting Scripture. It was believed by him that if every verse in the Bible was accepted literally, then we should have to believe things which were contrary to reason.
Thus we should have to believe that God, Who is not in space, actually walked in the Garden of Eden; that He spoke as human beings speak with a physical voice; that He literally breathed into Adam the breath of life as we breathe our breath into things.
But to hold such beliefs is to deny the spirituality and ubiquity of God, and that is repugnant to our religious and philosophical theories. Consequently Philo maintained that these and similar texts must be interpreted allegorically, and he naturally believed that he had the key to the allegory.
Similarly the "Itinerarium," which begins as a meditation upon the vision which Saint Francis had on Mount Alverna, continues as an interpretation in philosophical terms, not only of the vision itself, but also of certain passages in Exodus and Isaiah in which details of the vision are paralleled.
The Seraph which Saint Francis saw, and which had three pairs of wings, has to be interpreted as a symbol of a philosophical and religious idea. The wings become stages in the process of the mind's elevation to God, and their position on the body of the Seraph indicates the heights of the stages.
Furthermore, it will be seen that even the physical world itself becomes a sort of symbol of religious ideas. This was in keeping with many traditions which were common in the Middle Ages--ideas that appeared in the Bestiaries and Lapidaries, and which we retain in weakened form in some of our pseudoheraldic symbols, such as the Eagle, the Lion, and the Olive Branch; or the use of certain colors, such as blue for hope, white for purity, red for passion. Among these more popular symbols was that of the macrocosm and the microcosm, according to which a human being exactly mirrored the universe as a whole, so that one could pass from one to the other and find corresponding parts and functions.
Much of this was undoubtedly fortified by Saint Francis' fashion of humanizing natural objects--the sun, the birds, the rain, and so on--in his talks and poems. Few, if any, of the saints seem to have felt such an intimate relationship with the physical world as the founder of the Order to which Saint Bonaventura belonged.
The full effect of this appears in the first chapter of the "Itinerarium," in which we are told that God may be seen in His traces in the physical world. This is the basis of what sometimes is called natural theology; for if we can actually see the traces of God about us in the order of natural law, then we have a start toward knowledge of the divine mind which is sure.
It is only a start, Saint Bonaventura maintains, but it is the proper start. It means that one does not have to be a great rationalist, an erudite theologian, a doctor, to know religious truths. One has only to look about one and observe that certain laws obtain; that there is order; that all things are "disposed in weight, number, and measure." This can be seen; and when it is seen, one has a reflection of the divine mind in one's sensory experience.
One has only to contrast this with the method of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the "Summa Theologica," in which God's existence is proved by a series of rational arguments--where objections are analyzed, authorities are consulted and weighed, multiple distinctions are made, and the whole emphasis is upon reason rather than observation. Saint Bonaventura seems to have as his purpose a demonstration of God's existence and of His traits which is not irrational but nonrational. That is, he would be far from saying that his conclusions would not stand up under rational criticism, but would insist that his method, to use modern language, is empirical rather than rational.
To take a trivial example from another field, we could prove that a person had committed a crime either by circumstantial evidence or by direct testimony. If we can produce two or three persons who actually saw him commit the crime, we do not feel that we must corroborate what they say by a rational demonstration that he could have committed it, that he had a motive for committing it, that he threatened to commit it, that no one else could have committed it, and so on. We like to think that a good case gives us both kinds of evidence, but frequently we have to be satisfied with one type or bits of both types.
Saint Bonaventura might be compared to the man who insists on direct testimony; Saint Thomas to him who puts his trust exclusively in circumstantial evidence, though the comparison would be superficial. It would be superficial since both would agree that God's existence could be shown in both ways.
The method of direct observation by which one is made certain of one's beliefs leads step by step to the mystic vision. The mystic, like the strict empiricist, has a kind of knowledge which is indisputable. No one can deny what the mystic sees any more than one can deny what the sensory observer sees. The philosopher who bases all knowledge upon the direct observation of colors, sounds, shapes, and so on, has knowledge which he readily admits is uncommunicable, in spite of the fact that most of us use words for our elementary sensations in the same ways. But whether John Doe, who is looking upon a patch of red, sees precisely what Richard Roe sees, could be doubted and has been doubted.
For the psychological equipment, the sensory apparatus of the two men may and probably does contribute something to even the most simple sensory experiences. If Messrs. Doe and Roe are exactly alike in all relevant ways, then one may reasonably conclude that their sensations are exactly alike. But nevertheless Roe would not be having Doe's sensation, for each man is the terminus of causal events which diverge from a given point and which cease to be identical once they have entered the human body Thus a bell may be ringing and therefore giving off air waves. When these air waves enter the body of Roe, they are no longer the same waves which have entered the body of Doe for Roe's auditory nerves, no matter how similar to Doe's, are not existentially identical with them.
If we distinguish between existential and qualitative identity, and we all do, then we may say that Doe and Roe have qualitatively identical but existentially nonidentical sensations. Until Roe can hear with Doe's ears and auditory nerves and auditory brain centers, he will never experience Doe's auditory sensations.
Similarly with the mystic vision. If one man has such a vision, he is not made uneasy the fact that another does not have it. The other man has only to follow the discipline which will lead him to it. Saint Bonaventura traces the steps on this road, one by one, until he reaches his goal.
The mysticism of Saint Bonaventura was peculiar in that it was based on a theory of knowledge in which all degrees of knowledge were similarly direct, immediate, and nonrational. One sees God's traces in the sensory world; one sees His image in the mind; one sees His goodness in human goodness; one sees His powers in the operations of our own powers--it is always a question of direct seeing.
Thus we have the possibility of real, rather than notional, assent in all fields of knowledge. We are not forced to know about things; we can know them. We have, to use other familiar terms, direct acquaintance with, rather than descriptions of, them. In other words, there is never any real need for rational discourse, for erudition.
The simplest man of good will can see God as clearly as the most learned scholar. That made a philosophy such as this a perfect instrument for the Christian, for throughout the Christian tradition ran a current of anti-intellectualism.
Christianity was held to be a religion, not merely a body of abstract knowledge. It was an experience as well as a theory. A man of faith could have as certain knowledge of God as the man of learning. This did not discourage the Christian from attempting to build up rational systems which would demonstrate to the world of scholars what the religious man knew by faith. Far from it. But what Kant was to say of the relationship between concepts and precepts, the Christian could have said of that between faith and reason, or religion and philosophy: faith without reason is blind, reason without faith empty.
The difficulty with the extremists who maintained that either one or the other faculty was sufficient was that faith and reason were both supposed to assert something. Whether you believed by faith or by reason, you believed in ideas which presumably made sense, could be stated in words, could be true or false. If you believed in one of these truths by faith, without reason, you were in the position of a man who had no knowledge of what he was believing nor why, nor even whether there was any good reason for believing in it rather than its contradictory. It was all very well for a man like Tertullian to maintain that there was more glory in believing something irrational--inept--than in believing something demonstrably true.
Most Christian philosophers were anxious to put a sound rational underpinning beneath their beliefs.
Similarly, if you had only rational knowledge, you were like a blind man who might be convinced that there were such things as colors, analogous to sounds and odors, but who had no direct acquaintance with them; or again like a man who had read an eloquent description of a great painting, but who had never seen it.
Though all Christians were in the position of maintaining that there were some beliefs, those in the mysteries, which could not be rationally demonstrated, nevertheless they all, including Saint Bonaventura, pushed their rational demonstrations as far as they were able. Thus Saint Bonaventura goes so far as to attempt a dialectical proof of the dogma of the Trinity (Ch. VI), though he realizes that such a proof is not sufficient for religion.
It is worth pointing out that Franciscan philosophy as a whole tended to put more emphasis upon the observation of the natural world than its great rival, Thomism, did. Even in the "Little Flowers" of Saint Francis, only in a remote sense of the word a philosophical work, there is a fondness for what we call Nature which led him at times close to heresy.
Later there were Franciscans like Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, and their great friend and protector, Robert Grosseteste, whose interest in what we would call science, as distinct from philosophy, was almost their main interest. Indeed, one might without too much exaggeration maintain that the impetus to the study of the natural world through empirical methods came from the Franciscans.
This appears in the early chapters of the "Itinerarium," where observational science becomes not simply the satisfaction of idle curiosity, but the fulfillment of a religious obligation. But it goes without saying that a man of science may discover truths which contradict what he has believed on faith and that a man of faith may look to science, not for everything which it is capable of revealing, but only for those things which corroborate his faith.
The best illustration of this conflict is found in the use made of arithmetic by allegorists, as early as Philo. Few mathematicians today would play upon the curious properties of numbers- -virgin numbers, perfect numbers, superabundant numbers, numbers which are the sums of such numbers as three and four--to prove religious truths.
Few men of religion would, I imagine, seek validation of their religious beliefs in the properties of numbers, finding it extraordinary that there are four Gospels, four points of the compass, four winds, four elements (earth, water, air, and fire), four seasons, four humors, four temperaments. But all men will usually feel uneasy in the presence of contradiction and will do their best to bring all their beliefs into harmony with one another.
The question reduces to the motivation of knowledge, the question of why exploration is pushed into fields which previously have been terrae incognitae. And when one compares science as it was before the fourteenth century and that which it became after that date, one sees that only a strong emotional propulsion would have produced the change of interest. That propulsion, we are suggesting, came from the Franciscans.
The student who has no acquaintance with the philosophy of Saint Bonaventura can do no better than to begin with the "Itinerarium." It is short and yet complete; it is typical of his manner of thinking; and it presents only the difficulties which any medieval philosophical text presents. There is no need to hack one's way through a jungle of authorities, quotations, refutations, distinctions, and textual exegeses. It is not a commentary on another man's book; it is a straightforward statement of a philosophical point of view.
It illustrates the manner in which its author's contemporaries and predecessors utilized Biblical texts, and it also illustrates the knowledge of physics and psychology which was current in the thirteenth century. It is thus one of those representative documents which it behooves all students of intellectual history to know. It should be read with sympathy.
One should accept its author's various assumptions, both methodological and doctrinal, and begin from there. There would be no point in trying to translate it in terms of the twentieth century, for the attempt would fail. But similarly one would not attempt to translate Dante's cosmology into modern terms nor justify Chartres Cathedral in terms of functional architecture as that is understood by modern engineers.
This book is a kind of prose poem, with a dramatic development of its own as one rises from step to step toward a mystic vision of God. That would seem to be the best approach which the beginner could make to it."
(Introduction to the English translation of St Bonaventure`s "Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum" ("The Mind`s Road to God") by George Boas ( July 1953)