The Mind's Road to God

Author: St Bonaventure

The Mind's Road to God

St Bonaventura


This translation of St. Bonaventura's "Itinerarium Mentis [in] Deum" is
addressed to undergraduate students of the history of philosophy who may
wish to read a work of a great medieval Franciscan thinker. I have used the
Latin text of the Franciscan Fathers contained in "Tria Opuscula"
(Quaracchi), fifth edition, 1938. Biblical quotations are taken from the
Douay Bible, since that is a translation of the Vulgate, which, it goes
without saying, St. Bonaventura used. In order to make the translation more
readable, I have taken the liberty of breaking up a few of the longer
sentences and once in a while have inserted explanatory words and phrases
in square brackets. In two places, indicated in footnotes, I have made
slight emendations to the text. Students who approach this work for the
first time would do well to familiarize themselves with Giotto's painting
of St. Francis receiving the stigmata, for the "Itinerarium" could almost
be called a meditation upon the vision there depicted.

My deepest thanks are given to the Reverend George Glanzman, S. J., who
made a painstaking comparison of this translation with the Latin original
and suggested several revisions which improved my first draft. I have
accepted all of his suggestions gratefully but, of course, I alone am
responsible for the version as it now appears. Any errors in the
translation, footnotes, and introduction must be laid at my door.

G. B.


Biographical Note On St. Bonaventura


Selected Bibliography




I. Of the Stages in the Ascent to God and of His Reflection in His Traces
in the Universe

II. Of the Reflection of God in His Traces in the Sensible World

III. Of the Reflection of God in His Image Stamped upon Our Natural Powers

IV. Of the Reflection of God in His Image Reformed by the Gifts of Grace

V. Of the Reflection of the Divine Unity in Its Primary Name, Which Is

VI. Of the Reflection of the Most Blessed Trinity in Its Name, Which Is

VII. Of the Mental and Mystical Elevation, in Which Repose Is Given to the
Intellect When the Affections Pass Entirely into God through Elevation



St. Bonaventura, a native of Tuscany, was born Giovanni di Fidanza in 1221.
He entered the Franciscan order about 1242 and in the short space of
fifteen years rose to be seventh general of that order. Professor of
theology at the University of Paris, Bishop of Albano, and created a
cardinal by Gregory X shortly before his death in 1274, he was widely
venerated during his lifetime and is mentioned as a saint in Dante's
Paradiso. He was canonized in 1482 by Sixtus IV and a little over a century
later declared a doctor of the church by Sixtus V. He has usually been
known as the Seraphic Donor, probably because of his mysticism and constant
preoccupation with the vision of the Seraph which is described in the
Prologue to "The Mind's Road to God." In addition to this little treatise,
his major works are the "Reductio Artium in Theologiam" ("Reduction of the
Arts to Theology"), the "Biblia Pauperum" ("Bible of the Poor"), and the


There should be little need of apologizing for a new translation into
English of Saint Bonaventura's "Itinerarium Mentis [in] 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.
This assumption may be argued, but one can at least imagine why someone
contemplating this arrangement of classes within other classes, running
from the least inclusive to the most inclusive, would maintain that there
was logical priority in the more general. For before one can define, let us
say, man as a rational animal, it would be necessary to know the definition
of "animal"; and before one could define "animality," one would have to
know the definition of "living matter." This logical order of priority and
posteriority might be thought of as corresponding in some mysterious way—
and it has remained mysterious to this day—to some relationship in the
order of reality. The problem was to discover precisely what this
relationship was.

Plotinus answered the question by the invention of a basic metaphor. The
universe was subject to something which he called "emanation." The lower
classes flowed out of the upper classes as light flowed from a candle. Such
metaphors have been of the greatest influence in the history of thought,
both philosophic and scientific. Thus we have had such figurative terms as
"affinity" in chemistry, or the "life force" in biology, or the "life cycle
of a nation" in history, terms which were taken literally by some people
but which upon scrutiny turned out to be figures of speech. In Plotinus'
case there is little doubt that he believed emanation to be literal truth;
though when he came to explain how lower orders emanated from higher, he
could do it only by means of a more elaborate figure of speech or by having
recourse to what he thought of as a law of nature, namely, that all things
produced something and that what they produced was always "lower" than they
themselves. Thus, Being produced the kinds of Being, and each kind produced
less inclusive kinds; and so on down to the smallest classes in which
individual things were comprised.

This hierarchy of Being appears throughout the work of Saint Bonaventura,
though he did not derive it immediately from Plotinus. It had become a
medieval commonplace which few were willing to question. And yet he could
not accept the whole theory of emanation, since he was bound by his
religious faith to believe in actual creation out of nothing. The God of
Plotinus was The One from whom everything flowed like light; the God of
Saint Bonaventura was the personal God of Genesis. His metaphysical problem
was to accommodate one to the other. This accommodation appears most
clearly in the fifth chapter of the "Itinerarium."

The second hierarchy which was fused with the logical hierarchy was that of
value. There is no purely logical reason why the general should be any
better than the particular, though there are good traditional grounds for
thinking so. Plato, Aristotle, the Neo-Platonists, and even the Stoics had
a tendency to confuse goodness with the ideal or the general. In ancient
Pagan thought, there was a standard belief that no particular was ever a
perfect exemplification of its class—no triangle made of matter being a
perfect geometrical triangle, no human being a perfectly rational animal,
no work of art a perfect realization of the artist's idea. Arguing in this
way, one could see that no species would ever perfectly exemplify its
genus, no genus its higher order, and so on. Hence the process "downward"
from Being was degeneration. When one stops to think that the Christian
religion insisted upon man's nature as having been vitiated by sin—sin
which, though committed by our primordial parents, was nevertheless
inherited by us—one can also see why, to a Christian, the fusion of the
logical and the value-hierarchy was natural enough. We still look in vain
for the perfect exemplification of animal and vegetable species, though we
are inclined to believe that the species is an ideal formed for
intellectual purposes, and not to be expected to exist in anything other
than scientific books and articles. But to a Christian thinker of the type
of Saint Bonaventura, the species and genera were the ideas of God in
accordance with which He had created the world. It is they which are
responsible for the orderliness of the universe; they are sometimes called
by the Stoic term, seminal reasons. In the nineteenth century, when men
were as impressed by the regularity of scientific laws as they had been in
the thirteenth, people like Lord Russell found a religious satisfaction in
contemplating them, the only difference being that Lord Russell did not use
the Stoic term; nor did he think of scientific laws as the ideas in the
mind of God. If permanence and invariability are marks of goodness, then
indeed the more general the law, or the more inclusive the idea, the
better. And since the most general and inclusive term is without question
the term "Being," it would follow that "Being" was the best of all things.
In the sixth chapter of the "Itinerarium," in which Saint Bonaventura
discusses "Good" as the name of God, the importance of this fusion appears
most clearly.

The third hierarchy, as we have said, was that of reality. In common speech
we are accustomed to think of particular things in this material world of
time and space as more real than ideas, or logical classes, or mathematical
concepts, such as circles and triangles. We should, if untutored in the
history of philosophy, think that a given man, George Washington or Abraham
Lincoln, was more real than the idea of mankind though it is doubtful
whether we should proceed to maintain that the idea of "rational animal" is
more real than that of "animal." The fundamental question for a philosopher
is what we mean by the adjective "real" and whether we should give it a
meaning such that it may be used in the comparative and superlative
degrees. Saint Bonaventura was far from being unique in thinking that this
adjective was comparable; indeed such modern thinkers as Hegel and his
followers seemed to have taken that for granted. In any event Saint
Bonaventura did believe in its comparability, and he identified the
hierarchy of reality with those of logic and value.

This fusion of hierarchies lies behind the whole method of thinking which
is illustrated by the "Itinerarium," and it must be accepted by a reader
who wishes to study the work sympathetically. But along with this
metaphysical matrix a certain philosophical method is to be found which is
of particular importance in studying this work. That method is resident in
a theory of knowledge which makes true knowledge a matter of inspection, of
seeing. We all have to believe that certain ideas must be taken for
granted, whether they are the postulates of a system of geometry which we
accept merely for the purpose of deducing their consequences or whether
they are the simple matters of perceptual fact which we are likely to call
the truths of observation. Again, when we deduce a conclusion from a set of
premises, as in a simple syllogism or a bit of arithmetical reasoning, how
do we know that the conclusion is not merely logically entailed in the
premises, but true also to fact? Cardinal Newman, in his "Grammar of
Assent," distinguished between what he called "real assent" and "notional
assent"—the former being the assent which we give to propositions of
existence or, roughly, fact; the latter, that which we give to the logical
conclusions. Thus the following syllogism is logically accurate, but no one
would believe in the truth of its conclusion:

1. All triangles are plane figures.
2. John Doe is a triangle.
3. John Doe is a plane figure.

We should be obligated to maintain that the conclusion followed from the
premises, but we would not give real assent to it nevertheless. Just what
do we mean by real assent, and how does it arise?

The most obvious case of real assent occurs in the acceptance of the truths
of observation. If someone is asked why he thinks sugar is sweet, he will
tell you that it is because he has tasted it. If someone asks why a person
believes that the sky is blue, he will be told that the person has looked
and seen. Sensory observation looks like simple and direct and
incontrovertible knowledge. It is not quite so simple and direct and
incontrovertible as used to be thought, but we are dealing with the common-
sense point of view here, and from that it has all these traits. 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.[1] 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

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.


1. The student will do well to read Philo's "Allegorical Interpretation"
for examples of his method. The most readily available translation is that
of G. H. Whitaker in the Loeb Library. For a thorough study of the whole
matter, he should consult H. A. Wolfson s "Philo" (Cambridge: Harvard
University, 1949).

July, 1953


St. Bonaventura, "Breviloquium," tr. by Erwin Esser Nemmers, St. Louis an
London, 1946.

——, "Opera Omnia," As Claras Aquas (Quaracchi), 10 vols., 1937.

Dady, Sister Mary Rachael, "The Theory of Knowledge of St. Bonaventura,"
Washington, D. C., 1939.

De Benedictis, Matthew M., "The Social Thought of St. Bonaventura,"
Washington, D. C., 1946.

Gilson, E. H., "La Philosophie de St. Bonaventure," Paris, 1924.

Healy, Sister Emma Therese, "Saint Bonaventura's De reductione artium ad
theologiam" (commentary with introduction and translation), St.
Bonaventura, N. Y., 1939.

Prentice, Robert P., "The Psychology of Love according to St. Bonaventura,"
St. Bonaventura, N. Y., 1951.



1. To begin with, the first principle from Whom all illumination descends
as from the Father of Light, by Whom are given all the best and perfect
gifts [James, 1, 17], the eternal Father do I call upon through His Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, that by the intercession of the most holy Virgin
Mary, mother of God Himself and of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and of the
blessed Francis, our father and leader, He may enlighten the eyes of our
mind to guide our feet into the way of that peace "which surpasses all
understanding" [Eph., 1, 17; Luke, 1, 79; Phil., 4, 7], which peace our
Lord Jesus Christ has announced and given to us; which lesson our father
Francis always taught, in all of whose preaching was the annunciation of
peace both in the beginning and in the end, wishing for peace in every
greeting, yearning for ecstatic peace in every moment of contemplation, as
a citizen of that Jerusalem of which that man of peace said, with those
that hated peace he was peaceable [Ps., 119, 7], "Pray ye for the things
that are for the peace of Jerusalem" [Ps., 121, 6]. For he knew that the
throne of Solomon was nowise save in peace, since it is written, "His place
is in peace and His abode in Sion" [Ps., 75, 3].

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.




1. Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee. In his heart he hath
disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he
hath set [Ps., 83, 6]. Since beatitude is nothing else than the fruition of
the highest good, and the highest good is above us, none can be made
blessed unless he ascend above himself, not by the ascent of his body but
by that of his heart. But we cannot be raised above ourselves except by a
higher power raising us up. For howsoever the interior steps are disposed,
nothing is accomplished unless it is accompanied by divine aid. Divine
help, however, comes to those who seek it from their hearts humbly and
devoutly; and this means to sigh for it in this vale of tears, aided only
by fervent prayer. Thus prayer is the mother and source of ascent ("sursum-
actionis") in God. Therefore Dionysius, in his book, "Mystical Theology"
[ch. 1, 13, wishing to instruct us in mental elevation, prefaces his work
by prayer. Therefore let us pray and say to the Lord our God, "Conduct me,
O Lord, in Thy way, and I will walk in Thy truth; let my heart rejoice that
it may fear Thy name" [Ps., 85, 11].

2. By praying thus one is enlightened about the knowledge of the stages in
the ascension to God. For since, relative to our life on earth, the world
is itself a ladder for ascending to God, we find here certain traces [of
His hand], certain images, some corporeal, some spiritual, some temporal,
some aeviternal; consequently some outside us, some inside. That we may
arrive at an understanding of the First Principle, which is most spiritual
and eternal and above us, we ought to proceed through the traces which are
corporeal and temporal and outside us, and this is to be led into the way
of God. We ought next to enter into our minds, which are the eternal image
of God, spiritual and internal; and this is to walk in the truth of God. We
ought finally to pass over into that which is eternal, most spiritual, and
above us, looking to the First Principle; and this is to rejoice in the
knowledge of God and in the reverence of His majesty.

3. Now this is the three days' journey into the wilderness [Ex., 3, 18];
this is the triple illumination of one day, first as the evening, second as
the morning, third as noon; this signifies the threefold existence of
things, as in matter, in [creative] intelligence, and in eternal art,
wherefore it is said, "Be it made, He made it," and "it was so done" [Gen.,
1]; and this also means the triple substance in Christ, Who is our ladder,
namely, the corporeal, the spiritual, and the divine.

4. Following this threefold progress, our mind has three principal aspects.
One refers to the external body, wherefore it is called animality or
sensuality; the second looks inward and into itself, wherefore it is called
spirit; the third looks above itself, wherefore it is called mind. From all
of which considerations it ought to be so disposed for ascending as a whole
into God that it may love Him with all its mind, with all its heart, and
with all its soul [Mark, 12, 30]. And in this consists both the perfect
observance of the Law and Christian wisdom.

5. Since, however, all of the aforesaid modes are twofold—as when we
consider God as the alpha and omega, or in so far as we happen to see God
in one of the aforesaid modes as "through" a mirror and "in" a mirror, or
as one of those considerations can be mixed with the other conjoined to it
or may be considered alone in its purity—hence it is necessary that these
three principal stages become sixfold, so that as God made the world in six
days and rested on the seventh, so the microcosm by six successive stages
of illumination is led in the most orderly fashion to the repose of
contemplation. As a symbol of this we have the six steps to the throne of
Solomon [III Kings, 10, 19]; the Seraphim whom Isaiah saw have six wings;
after six days the Lord called Moses out of the midst of the cloud [Ex.,
21, 16]; and Christ after six days, as is said in Matthew [17, 1], brought
His disciples up into a mountain and was transfigured before them.

6. Therefore, according to the six stages of ascension into God, there are
six stages of the soul's powers by which we mount from the depths to the
heights, from the external to the internal, from the temporal to the
eternal—to wit, sense, imagination, reason, intellect, intelligence, and
the apex of the mind, the illumination of conscience ("Synteresis"). These
stages are implanted in us by nature, deformed by sin, reformed by grace,
to be purged by justice, exercised by knowledge, perfected by wisdom.

7. Now at the Creation, man was made fit for the repose of contemplation,
and therefore God placed him in a paradise of delight [Gen., 2, 16]. But
turning himself away from the true light to mutable goods, he was bent over
by his own sin, and the whole human race by original sin, which doubly
infected human nature, ignorance infecting man's mind and concupiscence his
flesh. Hence man, blinded and bent, sits in the shadows and does not see
the light of heaven unless grace with justice succor him from
concupiscence, and knowledge with wisdom against ignorance. All of which is
done through Jesus Christ, Who of God is made unto us wisdom and justice
and sanctification and redemption [I Cor., 1, 30]. He is the virtue and
wisdom of God, the Word incarnate, the author of grace and truth—that is,
He has infused the grace of charity, which, since it is from a pure heart
and good conscience and unfeigned faith, rectifies the whole soul in the
threefold way mentioned above. He has taught the knowledge of the truth
according to the triple mode of theology—that is, the symbolic, the
literal, and the mystical—so that by the symbolic we may make proper use
of sensible things, by the literal we may properly use the intelligible,
and by the mystical we may be carried aloft to supermental levels.

8. Therefore he who wishes to ascend to God must, avoiding sin, which
deforms nature, exercise the above-mentioned natural powers for
regenerating grace, and do this through prayer. He must strive toward
purifying justice, and this in intercourse; toward the illumination of
knowledge, and this in meditation; toward the perfection of wisdom, and
this in contemplation. Now just as no one comes to wisdom save through
grace, justice, and knowledge, so none comes to contemplation save through
penetrating meditation, holy conversation, and devout prayer. Just as grace
is the foundation of the will's rectitude and of the enlightenment of clear
and penetrating reason, so, first, we must pray; secondly, we must live
holily; thirdly, we must strive toward the reflection of truth and, by our
striving, mount step by step until we come to the high mountain where we
shall see the God of gods in Sion [Ps., 83, 8]

9. Since, then, we must mount Jacob's ladder before descending it, let us
place the first rung of the ascension in the depths, putting the whole
sensible world before us as a mirror, by which ladder we shall mount up to
God, the Supreme Creator, that we may be true Hebrews crossing from Egypt
to the land promised to our fathers; let us be Christians crossing with
Christ from this world over to the Father [John, 13, 1]; let us also be
lovers of wisdom, which calls to us and says, "Come over to me, all ye that
desire me, and be filled with my fruits" [Ecclesiasticus, 24, 26]. For by
the greatness of the beauty and of the creature, the Creator of them may be
seen [Wisdom, 13, 5].

10. There shine forth, however, the Creator's supreme power and wisdom and
benevolence in created things, as the carnal sense reports trebly to the
inner sense. For the carnal sense serves him who either understands
rationally or believes faithfully or contemplates intellectually.
Contemplating, it considers the actual existence of things; believing, it
considers the habitual course of things; reasoning, it considers the
potential excellence of things.

11. In the first mode, the aspect of one contemplating, considering things
in themselves, sees in them weight, number, and measure [Wisdom, 11, 21]—
weight, which directs things to a certain location;[2] number, by which they
are distinguished from one another; and measure, by which they are limited.
And so one sees in them mode, species, and order; and also substance,
power, and operation. From these one can rise as from the traces to
understanding the power, wisdom, and immense goodness of the Creator.

12. In the second mode, the aspect of a believer considering this world,
one reaches its origin, course, and terminus. For by faith we believe that
the ages are fashioned by the Word of Life [Hebr., 11, 3]; by faith we
believe that the ages of the three laws—that is, the ages of the law of
Nature, of Scripture, and of Grace—succeed each other and occur in most
orderly fashion; by faith we believe that the world will be ended at the
last judgment—taking heed of the power in the first, of the providence in
the second, of the justice of the most high principle in the third.

13. In the third mode, the aspect of one inquiring rationally, one sees
that some things merely are; others, however, are and live; others,
finally, are, live, and discern. And the first are lesser things, the
second midway, and the third the best. Again, one sees that some are only
corporeal, others partly corporeal and partly spiritual, from which it
follows that some are entirely spiritual and are better and more worthy
than either of the others. One sees, nonetheless, that some are mutable and
corruptible, as earthly things; others mutable and incorruptible, as
celestial things, from which it follows that some are immutable and
incorruptible, as the supercelestial things.

From these visible things, therefore, one mounts to considering the power
and wisdom and goodness of God as being, living, and understanding; purely
spiritual and incorruptible and immutable.

14. This consideration, however, is extended according to the sevenfold
condition of creatures, which is a sevenfold testimony to the divine power,
wisdom, and goodness, as one considers the origin, magnitude, multitude,
beauty, plenitude, operation, and order of all things. For the "origin" of
things, according to their creation, distinction, and beauty, in the work
of the six days indicates the divine power producing all things from
nothing, wisdom distinguishing all things clearly, and goodness adorning
all things generously. "Magnitude" of things, either according to the
measure of their length, width, and depth, or according to the excellence
of power spreading itself in length, breadth, and depth, as appears in the
diffusion of light, or again according to the efficacy of its inner,
continuous, and diffused operation, as appears in the operation of fire—
magnitude, I say, indicates manifestly the immensity of the power, wisdom,
and goodness of the triune God, Who exists unlimited in all things through
His power, presence, and essence. "Multitude" of things, according to the
diversity of genus, species, and individuality, in substance, form, or
figure, and efficacy beyond all human estimation, clearly indicates and
shows the immensity of the aforesaid traits in God. "Beauty" of things,
according to the variety of light, figure, and color in bodies simple and
mixed and even composite, as in the celestial bodies, minerals, stones and
metals, plants and animals, obviously proclaims the three mentioned traits.
"Plenitude" of things—according to which matter is full of forms because
of the seminal reasons; form is full of power because of its activity;
power is full of effects because of its efficiency—declares the same
manifestly. "Operation," multiplex inasmuch as it is natural, artificial,
and moral, by its very variety shows the immensity of that power, art, and
goodness which indeed are in all things the cause of their being, the
principle of their intelligibility, and the order of their living. "Order,"
by reason of duration, situation, and influence, as prior and posterior,
upper and lower, nobler and less noble, indicates clearly in the book of
creation the primacy, sublimity, and dignity of the First Principle in
relation to its infinite power. The order of the divine laws, precepts, and
judgments in the Book of Scripture indicates the immensity of His wisdom.
The order of the divine sacraments, rewards, and punishments in the body of
the Church indicates the immensity of His goodness. Hence order leads us
most obviously into the first and highest, most powerful, wisest, and best.

15. He, therefore, who is not illumined by such great splendor of created
things is blind; he who is not awakened by such great clamor is deaf; he
who does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb; he who does
not note the First Principle from such great signs is foolish. Open your
eyes therefore, prick up your spiritual ears, open your lips, and apply
your heart, that you may see your God in all creatures, may hear Him,
praise Him, love and adore Him, magnify and honor Him, lest the whole world
rise against you. For on this account the whole world will fight against
the unwise [Prov., 5, 21]; but to the wise will there be matter for pride,
who with the Prophet can say, "Thou hast given me, O Lord, a delight in Thy
doings: and in the works of Thy hands I shall rejoice [Ps., 91, 5]. . . .
How great are Thy works, O Lord; Thou hast made all things in wisdom; the
earth is filled with Thy riches" [Ps., 103, 24].


1. have translated the Latin "speculatio," which appears over and over
again in this work, in a variety of ways. St. Bonaventura plays upon its
various shades of meaning—reflection, speculation, consideration—for he
seems haunted by the basic metaphor of the universe's being a sort of
mirror (speculum) in which God is to be seen. The Italian and French
translators have the advantage of those of us who write English, for they
have merely to transliterate the Latin word. We have a similar difficulty
in the Latin word "vestigia," which I have translated traces. It will
hardly do to write vestiges or footprints, and traces is not much better.
St. Bonaventura simply means that by considering the work of art one will
know the artist. This handiwork shows traces of his workmanship. But we are
likely to think of traces as something which are left behind, whereas God
is not to be thought of as having created the world and then left it alone,
as Pascal said of Descartes' God.

2. Reading "pondus quo ad situm," instead of "quoad."



1. But since with respect to the mirror of sensible things it happens that
God is contemplated not only through them, as by His traces, but also in
them, in so far as He is in them by essence, potency, and presence; and to
consider this is higher than the preceding; therefore a consideration of
this sort holds next place as a second step in contemplation, by which we
should be led to the contemplation of God in all creatures which enter into
our minds through the bodily senses.

2. Let it be noted then that this world, which is called the "macrocosm,"
enters our souls, which are called the "microcosm," through the doors of
the five senses, according to the apprehension, delectation, and judgment
of sensible things themselves. This is apparent as follows: In the world
some things are generating, some generated, some governing the former and
the latter. The generating are simple bodies, celestial bodies, and the
four elements. For from the elements, by virtue of the light which
reconciles the contrariety of elements in mixtures, there can be generated
and produced whatsoever things are generated and produced through the
operation of a natural power. But the generated are bodies composed of the
elements, like minerals, vegetables, sensible things, and human bodies. The
rulers of the former and the latter are spiritual substances, either
conjoined entirely, as are the animal souls; or conjoined though separable,
as are the rational spirits; or entirely separated, as are the celestial
spirits, which philosophers call "intelligences," but we "angels." These,
according to the philosophers, move the celestial bodies; and thus there is
attributed to them the administration of the universe by taking over from
the First Cause, that is God, their active influence, which they pour out
in accordance with the work of governing, which looks to the natural
harmony of things. According to the theologians, however, there is
attributed to them the rule of the universe in accordance with the power of
the supreme God with respect to the work of reparation, wherefore they are
called "ministering spirits," sent to minister to them who shall receive
the inheritance of salvation [Hebr., 1, 14].

3. Therefore, man, who is called a "microcosm," has five senses like five
doors, through which enters into his soul the cognition of all that is in
the sensible world. For through sight enter the transparent ("sublimia"),
luminous, and other colored bodies; through touch the solid and terrestrial
bodies; by the three intermediate senses the intermediates, as by taste the
aqueous, by hearing the aerial, by odor the vaporous—all of which have
something of a humid nature, something aerial, something fiery or warm, as
appears in the smoke which is freed from incense.

There enter then through these doors, not only simple bodies, but also
composite, mixed from these. But since by sense we perceive not only these
particular sensibles, which are light, sound, odor, savor, and the four
primary qualities which touch apprehends, but also the common sensibles,
which are number, magnitude, figure, rest, and motion, and since everything
which is moved is moved by something, and some are self-moved and remain at
rest, as the animals, it follows that when through these five senses we
apprehend the motion of bodies, we are led to the cognition of spiritual
movers, as through an effect we are led to a knowledge of its causes.

4. As far as the three kinds of things are concerned, this whole sensible
world enters into the human soul through "apprehension." The external
sensibles, however, are what first enter the soul through the five doors of
the senses. They enter, I say, not though their substance, but through
their similitudes. These are first generated in the medium, and from the
medium are generated in the organ and pass from the external organ into the
internal, and from there into the apprehensive power. And thus the
generation of the [sensible] species in the medium and from the medium into
the organ and the reaction of the apprehensive power to it [the species]
produce the apprehension of all those things which the soul apprehends from

5. Upon this apprehension, if it be of the appropriate thing, there
follows delight. Sense, however, takes delight in an object perceived
through an abstracted similitude either by reason of its beauty, as in
sight; or by reason of its agreeableness, as in odor and hearing; or by
reason of wholesomeness, as in taste and touch, speaking with
appropriation.[2] All delight, however, is by reason of proportion. But since
a species is form, power, and operation, according to whether it is thought
of as related to the principle from which it comes, to the medium through
which it passes, or to the end for which it acts, therefore proportion may
be considered in similitude, inasmuch as it is a species or form and thus
is called "speciositas" [beauty], because beauty is nothing other than
numerical equality or a certain relation of parts with agreeable color. Or
else proportion may be considered as potency or power, and thus it is
called "suavity," for active power does not exceed immoderately the powers
of the recipient, since the senses are pained by extremes and delight in
the mean. Or it may be considered, by thinking of species, as efficacy and
impression, which is proportional when the agent by impression supplies
what the recipient lacks; and this is to save and nourish it, which appears
especially in taste and touch. And thus through delight the external
pleasures enter into the soul by similitudes in a triple mode of

6. After the delight of apprehension comes judgment. By this we not only
judge whether something is white or black, for this pertains to a special
sense, not only whether it is healthful or harmful, for this pertains to
the inner sense, but also why something is delightful. And in this act the
question is raised about the reasons for our delight which sense derives
from the object. This happens when we ask why something is beautiful,
pleasant, and wholesome. And it is discovered that the answer is equality
of proportion. equality, however, is the same in the great and the small,
and is not spread out through a thing's dimensions; nor does it change and
pass away when there is alteration through change or motion. Therefore it
abstracts from place, time, and motion, and thus is unchangeable,
inimitable, without ends, and in all ways spiritual. Judgment is,
therefore, an action which causes the sensible species, received sensibly
through sense, to enter the intellective faculty by purification and
abstraction. And thus the whole world can enter into the human soul through
the doors of the senses by the three aforesaid operations.

7. These all, however, are traces in which we can see the reflection of our
God. For since the apprehended species is a likeness produced in the medium
and then impressed upon the organ itself, and by means of that impression
leads to its principle and source—that is to say, to the object of
knowledge—manifestly it follows that the eternal light generates out of
itself a likeness or coequal radiance which is consubstantial and
coeternal. And He Who is the image and likeness of the invisible God [Col.,
1, 15] and "the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance"
[Hebr., 1, 3], He Who is everywhere through His primal generation, as an
object generates its likeness in the whole medium, is united by the grace
of union to an individual of rational nature—as a species to a corporeal
organ—so that by that union He may lead us back to the Father as to the
primordial source and object. If then all knowable things can generate
their likeness (species), obviously they proclaim that in them as in a
mirror can be seen the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the
Son, eternally emanating from God the Father.

8. In this way the species, delighting us as beautiful, pleasant, and
wholesome, implies that in that first species is the primal beauty,
pleasure, and wholesomeness in which is the highest proportionality and
equality to the generator. In this is power, not through imagination, but
entering our minds through the truth of apprehension. Here is impression,
salubrious and satisfying, and expelling all lack in the apprehending mind.
If, then, delight is the conjunction of the harmonious, and the likeness of
God alone is the most highly beautiful, pleasant, and wholesome, and if it
is united in truth and in inwardness and in plenitude which employs our
entire capacity, obviously it can be seen that in God alone is the original
and true delight, and that we are led back to seeking it from all other

9. By a more excellent and immediate way are we led by judgment into seeing
eternal truths more surely. For if judgment comes about through the
reason's abstracting from place, time, and change, and therefore from
dimension, succession, and transmutation, by the immutable, illimitable,
and endless reason, and if there is nothing immutable, inimitable, and
endless except the eternal, then all which is eternal is God or is in God.
If, then, all things of which we have more certain judgments are judged by
this mode of reasoning, it is clear that this is the reason of all things
and the infallible rule and light of truth, in which all things shine forth
infallibly, indestructibly, indubitably, irrefragably, unquestionably,
unchangeably, boundlessly, endlessly, indivisibly, and intellectually. And
therefore those laws by which we make certain judgments concerning all
sensible things which come into our consideration—since they [the laws]
are infallible and indubitable rules of the apprehending intellect—are
indelibly stored up in the memory as if always present, are irrefragable
and unquestionable rules of the judging intellect. And this is so because,
as Augustine says [Lib. Arb., II, ch. 4], no one judges these things except
by these rules. It must thus be true that they are incommutable and
incorruptible since they are necessary, and boundless since they are
inimitable, endless since eternal. Therefore they must be indivisible since
intellectual and incorporeal, not made but uncreated, eternally existing in
eternal art, by which, through which, and in accordance with which all
things possessing form are formed. Neither, therefore, can we judge with
certainty except through that which was not only the form producing all
things but also the preserver of all and the distinguisher of all, as the
being who preserves the form in all things, the directing rule by which our
mind judges all things which enter into it through the senses.

10. This observation is extended by a consideration of the seven different
kinds of number by which, as if by seven steps, we ascend to God. Augustine
shows this in his book "On the True Religion" and in the sixth book "On
Music," wherein he assigns the differences of the numbers as they mount
step by step from sensible things to the Maker of all things, so that God
may be seen in all.

For he says that numbers are in bodies and especially in sounds and words,
and he calls these "sonorous." Some are abstracted from these and received
into our senses, and these he calls "heard." Some proceed from the soul
into the body, as appears in gestures and bodily movements, and these he
calls "uttered." Some are in the pleasures of the senses which arise from
attending to the species which have been received, and these he calls
"sensual." Some are retained in the memory, and these he calls remembered.
Some are the bases of our judgments about all these, and these he calls
"judicial," which, as has been said above, necessarily transcend our minds
because they are infallible and incontrovertible. By these there are
imprinted on our minds the "artificial" numbers which Augustine does not
include in this classification because they are connected with the judicial
number from which flow the uttered numbers out of which are created the
numerical forms of those things made by art. Hence, from the highest
through the middles to the lowest, there is an ordered descent. Thence do
we ascend step by step from the sonorous numbers by means of the uttered,
the sensual, and the remembered.

Since, therefore, all things are beautiful and in some way delightful, and
beauty and delight do not exit apart from proportion, and proportion is
primarily in number, it needs must be that all things are rhythmical
("numerosa"). And for this reason number is the outstanding exemplar in the
mind of the Maker, and in things it is the outstanding trace leading to
wisdom. Since this is most evident to all and closest to God, it leads most
directly to God as if by the seven differentiae. It causes Him to be known
in all corporeal and sensible thing while we apprehend the rhythmical,
delight in rhythmical proportions, and though the laws of rhythmical
proportions judge irrefragably.

11. From these two initial steps by which we are led to seeing God in His
traces, as if we had two wings falling to our feet, we can determine that
all creatures of this sensible world lead the mind of the one contemplating
and attaining wisdom to the eternal God; for they are shadows, echoes, and
pictures, the traces, simulacra, and reflections of that First Principle
most powerful, wisest, and best; of that light and plenitude; of that art
productive, exemplifying, and ordering, given to us for looking upon God.
They are signs divinely bestowed which, I say, are exemplars or rather
exemplifications set before our yet untrained minds, limited to sensible
things, so that through the sensibles which they see they may be carried
forward to the intelligibles, which they do not see, as if by signs to the

12. The creatures of this sensible world signify the invisible things of
God [Rom., 1, 20], partly because God is of all creation the origin,
exemplar, and end, and because every effect is the sign of its cause, the
exemplification of the exemplar, and the way to the end to which it leads;
partly from its proper representation; partly from prophetic prefiguration;
partly from angelic operation; partly from further ordination. For every
creature is by nature a sort of picture and likeness of that eternal
wisdom, but especially that which in the book of Scripture is elevated by
the spirit of prophecy to the prefiguration of spiritual things. But more
does the eternal wisdom appear in those creatures in whose likeness God
wished to appear in angelic ministry. And most specially does it appear in
those which He wished to institute for the purpose of signifying which are
not only signs according to their common name but also Sacraments.

13. From all this it follows that the invisible things of God are clearly
seen, from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that
are made; so that those who are unwilling to give heed to them and to know
God in them all, to bless Him and to love Him, are inexcusable [Rom., 1,
20], while they are unwilling to be carried forth from the shadows into the
wonderful light of God [I Cor., 15, 57]. But thanks be to God through Jesus
Christ our Lord, Who has transported us out of darkness into His wonderful
light, when through these lights given from without we are disposed to re-
enter into the mirror of our mind, in which the divine lights shine [I
Peter, 2, 9].


1. This may be a mistranslation. For St. Bonaventura may be talking about
our perception of the heavenly bodies. Since, however, he is listing the
three kinds of visible objects, one of which is clearly luminous, and since
the heavenly bodies are luminous, he must he speaking of some kind of
visible object which is not luminous. "Sublime" in classical Latin was used
for the air, and this usage survives in the English verb, "sublimate," "to

2. This is a technical term which is used when one appropriates to a
function what is really a trait of that which possesses the function. Thus
if a whole person has five senses, he touches as a whole, sees as a whole,
and exercises all his other senses as a whole. But we can speak of his
sight doing the seeing, his taste doing the smelling, and so on. This
becomes of importance when a Catholic theologian speaks of the Father as
creating the world, whereas he believes that all three persons of the
Trinity are always present in all the acts of the Trinity.



1. The two steps mentioned above, by leading us to God by means of His
Traces, whereby He shines forth in all creatures, have led us to the point
of entering into ourselves, that is, into our minds in which the divine
image shines. Now in the third place, as we enter into ourselves, as if
leaving the vestibule and coming into the sanctum, that is, the outer part
of the tabernacle, we should strive to see God through a mirror. In this
mirror the light of truth is shining before our minds as in a candelabrum,
for in it gleams the resplendent image of the most blessed Trinity.

Enter then into yourselves and see, for your mind loves itself most
fervently. Nor could it love itself unless it knew itself. Nor would it
know itself unless it remembered itself, for we receive nothing through
intelligence which is not present to our memory. And from this be advised,
not with the eye of the flesh but with that of reason, that your soul has a
threefold power. Consider then the operations and the functions of these
three powers, and you will be able to see God in yourselves as in an image,
which is to see through a glass darkly [I Cor., 13, 12].

2. The operation of memory is retention and representation, not only of
things present, corporeal, and temporal, but also of past and future
things, simple and eternal. For memory retains the past by recalling it,
the present by receiving it, the future by foreseeing it. It retains the
simple, as the principles of continuous and discrete quantities—the point,
the instant, the unit—without which it is impossible to remember or to
think about those things whose source is in these. Nonetheless it retains
the eternal principles and the axioms of the sciences and retains them
eternally. For it can never so forget them while it uses reason that it
will not approve of them when heard and assent to them, not as though it
were perceiving them for the first time, but as if it were recognizing them
as innate and familiar, as appears when someone says to another, ''One must
either affirm or deny," or, "Every whole is greater than its part," or any
other law which cannot be rationally contradicted.

From the first actual retention of all temporal things, namely, of the
past, present, and future, it has the likeness of eternity whose
indivisible present extends to all times. From the second it appears that
it is not only formed from without by images [phantasms], but also by
receiving simple forms from above and retaining them in itself—forms which
cannot enter through the doors of the senses and the images of sensible
things. From the third it follows that it has an undying light present to
itself in which it remembers unchangeable truths. And thus, through the
operations of the memory, it appears that the soul itself is the image of
God and His likeness, so present to itself and having Him present that it
receives Him in actuality and is susceptible of receiving Him in potency,
and that it can also participate in Him.

3. The operation of the intellect is concerned with the meaning of terms,
propositions, and inferences. The intellect however, understands the
meaning of terms when it comprehends what anything is through its
definition. But a definition must be made by higher terms and these by
still higher, until one comes to the highest and most general, in ignorance
of which the lower cannot be defined. Unless, therefore, it is known what
is being-in-itself, the definition of no special substance can be fully
known. For can being-in-itself be known unless it be known along with its
conditions: the one, the true, the good. Since being, however, can be known
as incomplete or complete, as imperfect or perfect, as potential or actual,
as relative or absolute, as partial or total, as transient or permanent, as
dependent or independent, as mixed with non-being or as pure, as contingent
or necessary (per se), as posterior or prior, as mutable or immutable, as
simple or composite; since privations and defects can be known only through
affirmations in some positive sense, our intellect cannot reach the point
of fully understanding any of the created beings unless it be favored by
the understanding of the purest, most actual, most complete, and absolute
Being, which is simply and eternally Being, and in which are the principles
of all things in their purity. For how would the intellect know that a
being is defective and incomplete if it had no knowledge of being free from
all defect? And thus for all the aforesaid conditions.

The intellect is said to comprehend truly the meaning of propositions when
it knows with certitude that they are true. And to know this is simply to
know, since error is impossible in comprehension of this sort. For it knows
that such truth cannot be otherwise than it is. It knows, therefore, that
such truth is unchangeable. But since our mind itself is changeable, it
cannot see that truth shining forth unchangeably except by some light
shining without change in any way; and it is impossible that such a light
be a mutable creature. Therefore it knows in that light which enlighteneth
every man that cometh into this world [John, 1, 9], which is true light and
the Word which in the beginning was with God [John, 1, 1].

Our intellect perceives truly the meaning of inference when it sees that a
conclusion necessarily follows from its premises. This it sees not only in
necessary terms but also in contingent. Thus if a man is running, a man is
moving. It perceives, however, this necessary connection, not only in
things which are, but also in things which are not. Thus if a man exists,
it follows that if he is running, he is moved. And this is true even if the
man is not existing. The necessity of this mode of inference comes not from
the existence of the thing in matter, because that is contingent, nor from
its existence in the soul because then it would be a fiction if it were not
in the world of things. Therefore it comes from the archetype in eternal
art according to which things have an aptitude and a comportment toward one
another by reason of the representation of that eternal art. As Augustine
says in his "On True Religion" [Ch. 39, 72], "The light of all who reason
truly is kindled at that truth and strives to return to it." From which it
is obvious that our intellect is conjoined with that eternal truth so that
it cannot receive anything with certainty except under its guidance.
Therefore you can see the truth through yourself, the truth that teaches
you, if concupiscence and phantasms do not impede you and place themselves
like clouds between you and the rays of truth.

4. The operation of the power of choice is found in deliberation, judgment,
and desire. Deliberation is found in inquiring what is better, this or
that. But the better has no meaning except by its proximity to the best.
But such proximity is measured by degrees of likeness. No one, therefore,
can know whether this is better than that unless he knows that this is
closer to the best. But no one knows that one of two things is more like
another unless he knows the other. For I do not know that this man is like
Peter unless I know or am acquainted with Peter. Therefore the idea of the
good must be involved in every deliberation about the highest good.

Certain judgment of the objects of deliberation comes about through some
law. But none can judge with certainty through law unless he be certain
that that law is right and that he ought not to judge it But the mind
judges itself. Since, then, it cannot judge the law it employs in judgment,
that law is higher than our minds, and through this higher law one makes
judgments according to the degree with which it is impressed upon it. But
there is nothing higher than the human mind except Him Who made it.
Therefore our deliberative faculty in judging reaches upward to divine laws
if it solves its problems completely.

Now desire is of that which especially moves one. But that especially moves
one which is especially loved. But happiness is loved above all. But
happiness does not come about except through the best and ultimate end.
Human desire, therefore, seeks nothing unless it be the highest good or
something which leads to it or something which has some resemblance to it.
So great is the force of the highest good that nothing can be loved except
through desire for it by a creature which errs and is deceived when it
takes truth's image and likeness for the truth.

See then how close the soul is to God and how memory in its operations
leads to eternity, intelligence to truth, the power of choice to the
highest goodness.

5. Following the order and origin and comportment of these powers, we are
led to the most blessed Trinity itself. From memory arises intelligence as
its offspring, for then do we know when a likeness which is in the memory
leaps into the eye of the intellect, which is nothing other than a word.
From memory and intelligence is breathed forth love, which is the tie
between the two. These three—the generating mind, the word, and love—are
in the soul as memory, intelligence, and will, which are consubstantial,
coequal, and coeval, mutually immanent. If then God is perfect spirit, He
has memory, intelligence, and will; and He has both the begotten Word and
spirated Love. These are necessarily distinguished, since one is produced
from the other—distinguished, not essentially or accidentally, but
personally. When therefore the mind considers itself, it rises through
itself as through a mirror to the contemplation of the Blessed Trinity—
Father, Word, and Love—three persons coeternal, coequal, and
consubstantial; so that each one is in each of the others, though one is
not the other, but all three are one God.

6. This consideration which the soul has of its threefold and unified
principle through the trinity of its powers, by which it is the image of
God, is supported by the light of knowledge which perfects it and informs
it, and represents in three ways the most blessed Trinity. For all
philosophy is either natural or rational or moral. The first deals with the
cause of being, and therefore leads to the power of the Father. The second
deals with the principle of understanding, and therefore leads to the
wisdom of the Word. The third deals with the order of living, and therefore
leads to the goodness of the Holy Spirit.

Again, the first is divided into metaphysics, mathematics, and physics. The
first concerns the essences of things; the second, numbers and figures; the
third, natures, powers, and extensive operations. Therefore the first to
the First leads Principle, the Father; the second, to His image, the Son;
third, to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The second is divided into grammar, which gives us the power of expression;
logic, which gives us skill in argumentation; rhetoric, which makes us
skillful in persuasion or stirring the emotions. And this similarly images
the mystery of the most blessed Trinity.

The third is divided into individual, family, and political [problems].[1]
And therefore the first images the First Principle, which has no birth; the
second, the family relationship of the Son; the third, the liberality of
the Holy Spirit.

7. All these sciences have certain and infallible rules, like rays of light
descending from the eternal law into our minds. And thus our minds,
illumined and suffused by such great radiance, unless they be blind, can be
led through themselves alone to the contemplation of that eternal light.
The irradiation and consideration of this light holds the wise suspended in
wonder; and, on the other hand, it leads into confusion the foolish, who do
not believe that they may understand. Hence this prophecy is fulfilled:
"Thou enlightenest wonderfully from the everlasting hills. All the foolish
of heart were troubled" [Ps., 75, 5-6].


1. In Latin, "monasticam oeconomicam et politicam."



1. But since not only by passing through ourselves but also within
ourselves is it given to us to contemplate the First Principle, and this is
greater than the preceding, therefore this mode of thought reaches to the
fourth level of contemplation. It seems amazing, however, when it is clear
that God is so near to our minds, that there are so few who see the First
Principle in themselves. But the reason is close at hand. For the human
mind, distracted by cares, does not enter into itself through memory;
obscured by phantasms, it does not return into itself through intelligence;
allured by concupiscence, it never returns to itself through the desire for
inner sweetness and spiritual gladness. Thus, lying totally in this
sensible world, it cannot return to itself as to the image of God.

2. And since, when anyone lies fallen, he must remain there prostrate
unless someone give a helping hand and he falls in order to rise again
[Isaiah, 24, 20], our soul has not been able to be raised perfectly from
the things of sense to an intuition of itself and of the eternal Truth in
itself unless the Truth, having assumed human form in Christ, should make
itself into a ladder, repairing the first ladder which was broken in Adam.

Therefore, however much anyone is illuminated only by the light of nature
and of acquired science, he cannot enter into himself that he may delight
in the Lord in himself, unless Christ be his mediator, Who says, "I am the
door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved; and he shall go in,
and go out, and shall find pastures" [John, 10, 9]. We do not, however,
approach this door unless we believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him. It
is therefore necessary, if we wish to enter into the fruition of Truth, as
into Paradise, that we enter through the faith, hope, and charity of the
Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, Who is as the tree of life in
the middle of Paradise.

3. The image of our mind must therefore be clothed also in the three
theological virtues by which the soul is purified, illuminated, and
perfected; and thus the image is repaired and is made like the heavenly
Jerusalem and part of the Church militant, which, according to the Apostle,
is the child of the heavenly Jerusalem. For he says: "But that Jerusalem
which is above is free, which is our mother" [Gal., 4, 26]. Therefore the
soul which believes in, hopes in, and loves Jesus Christ, Who is the Word
incarnate, uncreated, and spirated, that is, the way and the truth and the
life, where by faith he believes in Christ as in the uncreated Word, which
is the Word and the splendor of the Father, he recovers spiritual healing
and vision: hearing to receive the lessons of Christ, vision to look upon
the splendor of His light. When, however, he yearns with hope to receive
the spirated Word, through desire and affection he recovers spiritual
olfaction. When he embraces the incarnate Word in charity, as one receiving
from Him delight and passing into Him through ecstatic love, he recovers
taste and touch. When these senses are recovered, when he sees his spouse
and hears, smells, tastes, and embraces Him, he can sing like the Bride a
Canticle of Canticles, as was done on the occasion of this fourth stage of
contemplation, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it [Apoc., 2,
17]. For it occurs in affective experience rather than in rational
consideration. On this level, when the inner senses are renewed in order to
perceive the highest beauty, to hear the highest harmony, smell the highest
fragrance, taste the highest delicacy, apprehend the highest delights, the
soul is disposed to mental elevation through devotion, wonder, and
exultation, in accordance with those three exclamations which are in the
Canticle of Canticles. Of these the first arises from the abundance of
devotion, by which the soul becomes like a pillar of smoke of aromatic
spices, of myrrh and frankincense [Cant., 3, 6]; the second, from the
excellence of wonder, by which the soul becomes as the dawn, the moon, and
the sun, like the series of illuminations which suspend the soul in wonder
as it considers its spouse; the third, from the superabundance of
exultation, by which the soul, overflowing with the sweetest delight, leans
totally upon its beloved [Cant., 8, 5].

4. When this is accomplished, our spirit is made hierarchical to mount
upward through its conformity to the heavenly Jerusalem, into which no one
enters unless through grace it has descended into his heart, as John saw in
his Apocalypse [21, 2]. But then it descends into one's heart when, by the
reformation of the image through the theological virtues and through the
delights of the spiritual senses and ecstatic elevation, our spirit has
been made hierarchical, that is, purged, illuminated, and perfected.
Likewise the soul is stamped by the following nine steps when it is
disposed in an orderly way: perception, deliberation, self-impulsion,
ordination, strengthening, command, reception, divine illumination, union,[1]
which one by one correspond to the nine orders of angels, so that the first
three stages correspond to nature in the human mind, the next three to
industry, and the last three to grace.[2] With these acquired, the soul,
entering into itself, enters into the heavenly Jerusalem, where,
considering the orders of the angels, it sees God in them, Who living in
them causes all their operations. Whence Bernard said to Eugenius that—

"God in the seraphim loves as Charity, in the Cherubim He knows as Truth,
in the Thrones He is seated as Equity, in the Dominations He dominates as
Majesty, in the Principalities He rules as the First Principle, in the
Powers He watches over us as Salvation, in the Virtues He operates as
Virtue, in the Archangels He reveals as Light, in the Angels He aids as

From all of which God is seen to be all in all through the contemplation of
Him in the minds in which He dwells through the gifts of His overflowing

5. For this grade of contemplation there is especially and outstandingly
added as a support the consideration of Holy Scripture divinely issued, as
philosophy was added to the preceding. For Holy Scripture is principally
concerned with the works of reparation. Wherefore it especially deals with
faith, hope, and charity, by which the soul is reformed, and most of all
with charity. Concerning this the Apostle says that the end of the
Commandments is reached by a pure heart and a good conscience and an
unfeigned faith [I Tim., 1, 5]. This is the fulfillment of the Law, as he
says. And our Saviour adds that all the Law and the Prophets depend upon
these two Commandments: the love of God and of one's neighbor. Which two
are united in the one spouse of the Church, Jesus Christ, Who is at once
neighbor and God, at once brother and Lord, at once king and friend, at
once Word uncreated and incarnate, our maker and remaker, the alpha and
omega. He is the highest hierarch, purging and illuminating and perfecting
His spouse, the whole Church and any holy soul.

6. Of this hierarch and this ecclesiastical hierarchy is the entire Holy
Scripture by which we are taught to be purified, illuminated, and
perfected, and this according to the triple law handed down to us in it:
the law of Nature, of Scripture, and of Grace; or rather according to the
triple principal part of it: the Mosaic Law purifying, the prophetic
revelation illuminating, and evangelical teaching perfecting; or above all,
according to the triple spiritual meaning of it—the tropological which
purifies us for an honest life, the allegorical which illuminates us for
the clarity of understanding, the analogical which perfects us by mental
elevation and the most delightful perceptions of wisdom—in accordance with
the three aforesaid theological virtues and the spiritual senses reformed
and the three above-mentioned stages of elevation and hierarchical acts of
the mind, by which our mind retreats into itself so that it may look upon
God in the brightness of the saints [Ps., 109, 3] and in them, as in a
chamber, it may sleep in peace and take its rest [Ps., 4, 9] while the
spouse adjures it that it stir not up till she pleases [Cant., 2, 7].

7. Now from these two middle steps, by which we proceed to contemplate God
within ourselves as in the mirrors of created images—and this as with
wings opened for flying which hold the middle place—we can understand that
we are led into the divine by the powers of the rational soul itself placed
therein by nature as far as their operations, habits, and knowledge are
concerned, as appears from the third stage. For we are led by the powers of
the soul reformed by virtues freely granted, by the spiritual senses, and
by mental elevation, as appears from the fourth stage. We are nonetheless
led through hierarchical operations, that is, by purgation, illumination,
and perfection of human minds through the hierarchical revelations of the
Holy Scriptures given to us, according to the Apostle, through the Angels
in the hand of a mediator [Gal., 3, 19]. And finally we are led by
hierarchies and hierarchical orders which are found to be ordered in our
minds in the likeness of the heavenly Jerusalem.

8. Our mind, filled with all these intellectual illuminations, is inhabited
by the divine wisdom as the house of God; become the daughter, the spouse,
and the friend of God; made a member of Christ the head, the sister, and
the fellow-heir; made nonetheless the temple of the Holy Spirit, founded by
faith, elevated by hope, and dedicated to God by the sanctity of the mind
and the body. All of this has been brought about by the most sincere love
of Christ which is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is
given to us [Rom., 5, 5], without which Spirit we cannot know the secrets
of God. For just as no one can know the things of a man except the spirit
of a man that is in him, so the things also that are of God no man knoweth
but the spirit of God [I Cor., 2, 11] In charity then let us be rooted and
founded, that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the
length of eternity, the breadth of liberality, the height of majesty and
the depth of the wisdom which judges us [Eph., 3, 17 18].


1. Reading "unitio" instead of "unctio."

2. The translation of the names of the nine steps is based on St.
Bonaventura's "Hexaemeron," XXII, 25-27, where each is explained. Since
they are somewhat awkward in English, I give the Latin equivalents in
order. They are so similar to English words that the student who wishes may
retain them in transliteration in place of my rendering. They run:
"nuntiatio, dictatio, ductio, ordinatio, roboratio, imperatio, susceptio,
revelatio, unctio" (or "unitio," if my reading be acceptable).

3. St. Bernard of Clairvaux to Pope Eugenius III.



1. It happens that we may contemplate God not only outside of us but also
within us and above us. [Thus we contemplate Him] outside through His
traces, inside through His image, and above us through His light, which has
signed upon our minds the light of eternal Truth, since the mind itself is
immediately formed by Truth itself. Those who exercise themselves in the
first manner have already entered into the atrium of the tabernacle; the
second have entered into the sanctum; but the third have entered into the
Holy of Holies with the High Priest, the Holy of Holies where above the ark
are the Cherubim of glory overshadowing the propitiatory. By these modes we
understand two ways or degrees of contemplation of the invisible and
eternal things of God, of which one deals with God's essential attributes,
the other with the properties of the Persons.

2. The first way first and foremost signifies Him in Being itself, saying
He Who Is is the primary name of God. The second signifies Him in His
goodness, saying this [goodness] is the primary name of God. The former
refers above all to the Old Testament, which preaches the unity of the
divine essence, whence it was said to Moses, "I am Who I am." The second
refers to the New Testament, which lays down the plurality of the Persons,
by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Therefore our Master Christ, wishing to elevate the youth who had
served the law to evangelical perfection, attributed the name of goodness
principally and precisely to God. No one, He said, is good but God alone
[Luke, 18, 19]. Damascenus ["De fide orthodox.," 1, 9] therefore, following
Moses, says that "He Who Is" is the primary name of God. Dionysius,
following Christ, says that goodness is God's primary name.

3. If you wish then to contemplate the invisible traits of God in so far as
they belong to the unity of His essence, fix your gaze upon Being itself,
and see that Being is most certain in itself; for it cannot be thought not
to be, since the purest Being occurs only in full flight from Non-Being,
just as nothingness is in full flight from Being. Therefore, just as the
utterly nothing contains nought of Being nor of its conditions, so
contrariwise Being itself contains no Non-Being, neither in actuality nor
in potency, neither in matters of fact nor in our thinking. Since, however,
Non-Being is the privation of Being, it cannot enter the intellect except
through Being; Being, however, cannot enter through anything other than
itself. For everything which is thought of is either thought of as Non-
Being or as Being-in-potency or as Being-in-actuality. If, therefore, Non-
Being is intelligible only through Being, and if Being-in-potency can be
understood only through Being-in-actuality, and if Being is the name of
that pure actuality of Being, Being then is what first enters the
intellect, and that Being is pure actuality. But this is not particular
Being, which is restricted Being, since that is mixed with potentiality.
Nor is this analogous Being, for such has a minimum of actuality since it
has only a minimum of being. It remains, therefore, that that Being is
divine Being.

4. Marvelous then is the blindness of the intellect which does not consider
that which is its primary object and without which it can know nothing. But
just as the eye intent upon the various differences of the colors does not
see the light by which it sees the other things and, if it sees it, does
not notice it, so the mind's eye, intent upon particular and universal
beings, does not notice Being itself, which is beyond all genera, though
that comes first before the mind and through it all other things. Wherefore
it seems very true that just as the bat's eye behaves in the light, so the
eye of the mind behaves before the most obvious things of nature. Because
accustomed to the shadows of beings and the phantasms of the sensible
world, when it looks upon the light of the highest Being, it seems to see
nothing, not understanding that darkness itself is the fullest illumination
of the mind [Ps., 138, 11], just as when the eye sees pure light it seems
to itself to be seeing nothing.

5. See then purest Being itself, if you can, and you will understand that
it cannot be thought of as derivative from another. And thus necessarily
that must be thought of as absolutely primal which can be derivative
neither from nothing nor from anything. For what exists through itself if
Being does not exist through itself and of itself? You will understand
that, lacking Non-Being in every respect and therefore having no beginning
nor end, it is eternal. You will understand also that it contains nothing
in itself save Being itself, for it is in no way composite, but is most
simple. You will understand that it has no potentialities within it, since
every possible has in some way something of Non-Being, but Being is the
highest actuality. You will understand that it has no defect, for it is
most perfect. Finally, you will understand that it has no diversity, for it
is One in the highest degree.

Being, therefore, which is pure Being and most simply Being and absolutely
Being, is Being primary, eternal, most simple, most actual, most perfect,
and one to the highest degree.

6. And these things are so certain that Being itself cannot be thought of
by an intellect as opposed to these, and one of these traits implies the
others. For since it is simply Being, therefore it is simply primary;
because it is simply primary, therefore it is not made from another nor
from itself, and therefore it is eternal. Likewise, since it is primary and
eternal, and therefore not from others, it is therefore most simple.
Furthermore, since it is primary, eternal, and most simple, therefore it
contains no potentiality mixed with actuality, and therefore it is most
actual. Likewise, since it is primary, eternal, most simple, most actual,
it is most perfect. To such a Being nothing is lacking, nor can anything be
added, Since it is primary, eternal, most simple, most actual, most
perfect, it is therefore one to the highest degree. For what is predicated
because of its utter superabundance is applicable to all things. For what
is simply predicated because of superabundance cannot possibly be applied
to anything but the one.[1] Wherefore, if God is the name of the primary,
eternal, most simple, most actual, most perfect Being, it is impossible
that He be thought of as not being nor as anything save One alone. "Hear, O
Israel, the Lord our God is one God." If you see this in the pure
simplicity of your mind, you will somehow be infused with the illumination
of eternal light.

7. But you have ground for rising in wonder. For Being itself is first and
last, is eternal and yet most present, is simplest and greatest, is most
actual and immutable, is perfect and immense, is most highly one and yet
all inclusive. If you wonder over these things with a pure mind, while you
look further, you will be infused with a greater light, until you finally
see that Being is last because it is first. For since it is first, it
produces all things for its own sake alone; and therefore it must be the
very end, the beginning and the consummation, the alpha and the omega.
Therefore it is most present because it is eternal. For since it is
eternal, it does not come from another; nor does it cease to be nor pass
from one thing to another, and therefore has no past nor future but only
present being. Therefore it is greatest because most simple. For since it
is most simple in essence, therefore it is greatest in power; because
power, the more greatly it is unified, the closer it is to the infinite.
Therefore it is most immutable, because most actual. For that which is most
actual is therefore pure act. And as such it acquires nothing new nor does
it lose what it had, and therefore cannot be changed. Therefore it is most
immense, because most perfect. For since it is most perfect, nothing can be
thought of which is better, nobler, or more worthy. And on this account
there is nothing greater. And every such thing is immense. Therefore it is
all-inclusive ("omnimodal"), because it is one to the highest degree. For
that which is one to the highest degree is the universal source of all
multiplicity. And for this reason it is the universal efficient cause of
all things, the exemplary and the final cause, as the cause of Being, the
principle of intelligibility, the order of living.[2] And therefore it is
all-inclusive, not as the essence of all things, but as the superexcellent
and most universal and most sufficient cause of all essences, whose power,
because most highly unified in essence, is therefore most highly infinite
and most fertile in efficacy.

8. Recapitulating, let us say: Because, then, Being is most pure and
absolute, that which is Being simply is first and last and, therefore, the
origin and the final cause of all. Because eternal and most present,
therefore it encompasses and penetrates all duration, existing at once as
their center and circumference. Because most simple and greatest, therefore
it is entirely within and entirely without all things and, therefore, is an
intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference
nowhere. Because most actual and most immutable, then "remaining stable it
causes the universe to move" [Boethius, Cons. III, met. 9]. Because most
perfect and immense, therefore within all, though not included in them;
beyond all, but not excluded from them; above all, but not transported
beyond them; below all, and yet not cast down beneath them. Because most
highly one and all-inclusive, therefore all in all, although all things are
many and it is only one. And this is so since through most simple unity,
clearest truth, and most sincere goodness there is in it all power, all
exemplary causality, and all communicability. And therefore from it and by
it and in it are all things. And this is so since it is omnipotent,
omniscient, and all-good. And to see this perfectly is to be blessed. As
was said to Moses, "I will show thee all good" [Exod. 33, 19].


1. The editors of the Latin text cite this as a quotation from Aristotle's
Topics, V. 5, but I have not been able to find the passage which might be
the source of it.

2. In Latin: "causa essendi, ratio intelligendi, et ordo vivendi."



1. After a consideration of the essential traits [of God] the eye of the
intelligence must be raised to look upon the most Blessed Trinity, in order
that the second Cherub may be placed next to the first. Just as Being is
the root and name of the vision of the essential traits, so Good is the
principal foundation of our contemplation of the divine emanations [of the

2. See then and pay heed, since the best which exists simply is that than
which nothing better can be thought of. And this is such that it cannot be
rightly thought not to be. For Being is in all ways better than Non-Being.
This is such that it cannot rightly be thought of unless conceived of as
both three and one. For the Good is said to be self-diffusive. The highest
good is therefore the most self-diffusive. The greatest diffusion, however,
can exist only if it is actual and intrinsic, substantial and hypostatic,
natural and voluntary, free and necessary, lacking nothing and perfect.
Unless, then, there be eternally in the highest good a production which is
actual and consubstantial, and an hypostasis as noble as the producer
through generation and spiration, so that it would be from the eternal
principle eternally co-producing and would be beloved ("dilectus") in
itself and co-loved ("condilectus"), generated, and spirated as are the
Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in no way would it be the highest
good, for it would not diffuse itself most highly. For temporal diffusion
in creation is nothing else than central and punctiform with respect to the
immensity of the eternal goodness. Whence also can some diffusion be
conceived as greater than that—to wit, that in which the diffusive power
communicates its whole substance and nature to another. Therefore the
highest good would not exist if it could lack that characteristic either in
existence or in thought.

If then you can look with the mind's eye upon the purity of goodness, which
is the pure actualization of the principle of Charity, pouring forth free
and due love, and both mingled together, which is the fullest diffusion
according to nature and will—the diffusion as Word, in which all things
are expressed, and as Gift, in which all other gifts are given—you may see
by the highest communicability of the Good that a Trinity of Father and Son
and Holy Spirit is necessary. Because of the greatest goodness, it is
necessary that there be in them the greatest communicability, and out of
the greatest communicability the greatest consubstantiality, and from the
greatest consubstantiality the greatest configurability, and from all these
the greatest coequality; and therefore the greatest coeternity as well as,
because of all the aforesaid, the greatest co-intimacy, by which one is in
the other necessarily through the highest degree of mutual penetration and
one operates with the other through the complete identity of substances and
power and operation of the most Blessed Trinity itself.

3. But when you contemplate these things, see that you do not think
yourself able to understand the incomprehensible. For you have still in
these six stages to consider what most strongly leads our mind's eye into
the stupor of wonder. For there [in the Trinity] is the greatest
communicability with individuality of the persons, the greatest
consubstantiality with plurality of the hypostases, the greatest
configurability with distinct personality, the greatest co-equality with
order, the greatest co-eternity with emanation, the greatest mutual
intimacy with mission. Who in the face of such great marvels would not
start in wonder? But we understand with greatest certitude that all these
exist in the most Blessed Trinity if we raise our eyes to the goodness that
excels all goodness. For if there is the greatest communication and true
diffusion, there is also true origin and true distinction. And because the
whole and not the part is communicated, therefore it is itself given as a
whole and not as a part. Therefore the one emanating and the one producing
are distinguished by their properties, and yet arc essentially one. Since,
then, they are distinguished by their properties, therefore they have
personal properties and a plurality of hypostases and an emanation of
origin and an order which is not of posteriority but of origin, and a
mission not of local change but of free spiration, because of the authority
of the producer which every sender has in respect to that which is sent.
Because they are substantially one, therefore it must be true that there is
unity in essence and in form, In dignity and in eternity, in existence and
inimitability While therefore you consider these things one by one in
themselves, you have a reason for contemplating the truth ; when you
compare them with one another, you have the wherewithal to hover in highest
wonder; and therefore, that your mind may ascend in wonder to wonderful
contemplation these things should be considered all together.

4. For these Cherubim signify this also, since they look at each other. Nor
is this free from mystery, that they look toward each, their faces being
turned toward the propitiatory [Exod., 25, 20], that there may be verified
what the Lord said in John, "Now this is the eternal life: That they may
know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom thou hast sent" [John,
17, 3]. For we should wonder not only at the essential and personal traits
of God in themselves, but also in comparison with the superwonderful union
of God and man in the unity of Christ's person.

5. For if you are the Cherub when you contemplate the essentials of God and
you wonder because the divine Being is at once primary and last Being,
eternal and most present most simple and greatest or unlimited, all
everywhere and yet never bounded, most actual and never moved, most perfect
and having nothing superfluous or lacking, and yet immense and infinite
without bounds, one to the highest degree and yet all-inclusive as having
all things in itself, as total power, total truth, total goodness, look to
the propitiatory and wonder that in it the primal principle is joined to
the last term, God joined with man formed on the sixth day, the eternal
joined with temporal man, born in the fullness of time of a Virgin—the
most simple joined with the most composite, the most actual with the most
passive and mortal, the most perfect and immense with the little, the most
highly unified and all-inclusive with the composite individual distinct
from all else, namely, Jesus Christ

6. If, however, you are the other Cherub when you contemplate the
properties of the Persons, you will also wonder that communicability exists
with individuality, consubstantiality with plurality, configurability with
personality, co-equality with order, co-eternity with production, co-
intimacy with mission, for the Son was sent by the Father, and the Holy
Spirit by both, Who nevertheless is always with Them and never withdraws
from Them. Look to the propitiatory and wonder because in Christ is a
personal union with a trinity of substances and a duality of natures, an
absolute agreement with a plurality of wills, a common speech between God
and man with plurality of properties, an equal worship with plurality of
ranks, an equal exaltation above all things with plurality of dignities, a
condominium with plurality of powers

7. In this consideration is the perfection of the mind's illumination,
when, as if on the sixth day, it sees man made in the image of God. If then
the image is an express likeness when our mind contemplates in Christ the
Son of God, Who is the natural image of the invisible God, our humanity now
wonderfully exalted, now ineffably united, by seeing at once in one Being
the first and the last, the highest and the lowest, the circumference and
the center, the alpha and the omega, the caused and the cause, the creator
and the creature, the book written within and without, it [the mind]
arrives at a perfect being in order that it may arrive with God at the
perfection of His illuminations on the sixth level, as if on the sixth day;
nor does anything more remain save the day of rest, on which, by the
elevation of the mind, its insight rests from all work which He had done.



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
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."[2]

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

1. "Mystic Theology," Ch. I [Migne, "Pat. Graec.," Vol. III, 997].

2. "Ibid."

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.

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210


Terms of Use      Privacy Policy