Bonaventure’s Triple Way – Pt.3 – Prologue through Chapter 1.1

Bonaventure’s Conception of the Human Soul

States of being:
Modes of action:
Free will
Love / Charity
Spiritual exercises:
States of being:
Modes of action:
Free will
Love / Charity
Spiritual exercises:


According to Bonaventure, sacred doctrine (Scripture) is to be understood in a threefold manner:

  • Moral: relating to man – what we are to do
  • Allegorical: relating to Christ – what we are to believe and imitate
  • Anagogical: relating to the beatific vision – what we are to hope for and enjoy eternally

This threefold manner of understanding Scripture is in response to the three hierarchical actions of the human soul:

  • Purgation: cleansing, which leads to peace
  • Illumination: enlightenment, which leads to truth
  • Union: perfection, which leads to charity

The soul attains bliss when it has mastered these three hierarchical (ordered) actions. Therefore, a true understanding of Scripture and the merit of eternal life depend on our mastering of these actions.

Thus, the triple way (purgative, illuminative, unitive) extends to the following:

  • Reading/meditation
  • Prayer/contemplation

Chapter 1 – 1.1
The purgative way of meditation

The success of your mediation is dependent upon the fruitful use of three powers:

  • The sting of conscience, which corresponds with purgation
  • The light of reason, which corresponds with enlightenment
  • The spark of wisdom, which corresponds with perfection

Fruitful use of the sting of conscience is exercised in a threefold, hierarchical manner:

  • Prodding: recalling your sins (examination of conscience)
  • Sharpening: assessing your present state
  • Redirecting: making the good subject of your meditation

In recalling your sins, you must acknowledge and reflect upon these three faults:

  • Negligence in:
    • guarding your heart — for we must remain diligent in protecting our hearts
    • using your time well — for we must not waste time
    • intending your life’s true goal — for we must act with right intention
    • prayer — for good reading and good works depend on this
    • reading — for good prayer and good works depend on this
    • the performance of good works— for good prayer and good reading depend on this
    • repentance — for we must deplore sin
    • resisting temptation — for we must repel the devil
    • progressing to holiness — for we must advance from virtue to virtue
  • Concupiscence as regards:
    • lust — for what is sweet, soft, or carnal
      • 1.1.5.p1: “You are blameworthy when you prefer gourmet food, fine clothing, luxurious comforts. Not only is it reprehensible to desire all such willfully,[1] but a soul in quest of perfection will deliberately reject such cravings as soon as they are felt.”
    • curiosity — to know what is secret, see what is pretty, and possess what is precious
      • 1.1.5.p2: “Behind all these lie utterly reprehensible, deeply embedded vices of greed and curiosity”
    • vanity — to crave favor, praise, or honor
      • 1.1.5.p3: “All such things are empty and when sought render your life an exercise in vanity. They are to be fled as much as lust for women. Much is the guilt with which conscience should reproach your heart when such cravings are discovered in your life.”
  • Iniquity/malice in the form of:
    • anger
      • interior attitudes (affections of your heart)
      • expressions (body language)
      • words (your speech)
    • envy
      • silence at another’s prosperity
      • rejoicing at another’s adversity
      • callous toward another’s needs
    • sloth (boredom — the desire for some good without effort), from which come:
      • suspicions of evil
      • blasphemous thoughts
      • malicious detraction

In assessing your present state, your conscience is sharpened by reflecting upon:

  • Your death, which is:
    • indeterminable (unpredictable)
    • inevitable (certain)
    • irrevocable (bodily death cannot be taken away)
  • The blood of the cross, which was shed in order for our hearts to be:
    • aroused/vivified
    • washed/cleansed
    • softened/made fruitful
  • The face of the judge, who is:
    • infallible (without error — he cannot be deceived)
    • inflexible (unchanging — he cannot be manipulated)
    • inescapable (omniscient, preeminent, omnipotent)

In redirecting your meditation to the good, the sting of conscience is rectified by:

  • Zeal, as a counterweight to negligence
    • 1.1.9.p1: “Zeal is a certain liveliness or vigor of the soul, shaking off all negligence and carelessness and disposing the soul to undertake all work for God vigilantly, confidently, fittingly. This opens the way to all subsequent perfection.”
  • Austerity, as a counterweight to concupiscence
    • 1.1.9.p2: “...A kind of firmness or toughness of the mind restraining every form of concupiscence and disposing one to love and prefer the rough and hard, the poor and the vile.”
  • Kindness, as a counterweight to wickedness
    • 1.1.9.p3: “A certain gentleness of the soul excluding all wickedness and disposing the soul to benevolence, forbearance, and inner joy.”

[1]           Father Fehlner: “According to Bonaventure, followed by Scotus, appetite is a desire for some good... which satisfies a need or gives pleasure to the subject who desires it; whereas the will in itself is not a desire for some need, but a power to love the good for its own sake.”

Posted in Catechesis, Franciscan Literature.

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