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St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio

Today the Church remembers one of the great theologians of the Church, St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. Canonized by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V, he ranks with St. Thomas Aquinas as one of the foremost scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages.  While the two of them agreed on much, there is one distinction between the two of them that gives us cause to ponder. That point is described by St. Thomas Aquinas as the "happy fault."

St. Thomas refers to the fall of Adam and Eve as a "happy fault" because it won for humanity so great a Redeemer.  Because Adam sinned, God sent his Son Jesus among us, so much did God love us.  This thought comes directly from the Gospel of St. John.

St. Bonaventure countered by saying that God loves us so much that Jesus would have come among us as the Incarnate Word of God even if Adam had not sinned.  St. Bonaventure maintained that God's act of redemptive love was not set in motion because of the presence of sin in the world but in spite of it.  God acts.  God does not react.  In philosophy class, God was often referred to as the “Prime Mover.”  In other words, God initiates events.  God’s motives for action are not caused by our action or lack of action.  We respond to God’s action.  Consequently, St. Bonaventure maintained that the Incarnation was part of God’s eternal plan and was not dependent upon the actions of any creature, human or otherwise.

Both of these men agree that the human family needed redemption; however, St. Bonaventure asks us to contemplate the possibility that Adam might have obeyed God's command and not sinned.  If that had been the case, would we have been denied the great privilege of God's presence in our midst in the person of Jesus?  Again, St. Bonaventure draws upon the Scriptures which tell us that we are formed in God's likeness and that Jesus, as God, preexisted humanity.  Indeed, for St. Bonaventure, it is Christ's human likeness in which we were formed inasmuch as the human body of Jesus was already in the mind of God before God created the universe.

Such discussions are, of course, extremely academic.  Sin entered the world, and we needed a Redeemer.  However, for me, St. Bonaventure’s contention that God’s love for us was the true motivation for the Incarnation speaks of the magnitude, as well as the permanence of God's love.  God loves us not because we need God to love us.  God loves us because God is Love.

In the Eucharist, we have the presence of God in our midst still today.  The altar is the table of God’s love.  All are called to partake of this bountiful love.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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