St Bonaventure and the History of Salvation

Author: Pope Benedict XVI

St Bonaventure and the History of Salvation

Pope Benedict XVI

Preface of the second volume of Gesammelte Schriften by Joseph Ratzinger

The second volume of "Gesammelte Schriften", the "Opera Omnia" of Joseph Ratzinger, published by Herder, is a real "editio princeps" — a true first edition. After the "Theologie der Liturgie. Die sakramentale Begründung christlicher Existenz", which came out in 2008, the integral German text of the important thesis qualifying the young Ratzinger as a university teacher has just been published. Its focus is the understanding of Revelation and the theology of the history of St Bonaventure ("Offenbarungsverständnis und Geschichtstheologie Bonaventuras"). Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg together with the Viennese editor, Prof. Marianne Schlosser, and other members of the Institut Papst Benedikt XVI of Regensburg — founded by Bishop Miller — presented the book to the author on Sunday, 13 September, at Castel Gandolfo. The work is dedicated with "gratitude" to his elder brother Mons. Georg Ratzinger on his 85th birthday, to whom it was presented on Monday, 14 September, at Regensburg. The following is a translation of Benedict XVI's preface to his book.

After the publication of my writings on the liturgy, in the complete edition of my works a book now follows of studies on the theology of Bonaventure of Fidanza, a great Franciscan and Doctor of the Church. It was clear from the start that this book would also contain my studies on the Holy Doctor's concept of Revelation, conducted from 1953-55, together with the interpretation of his theology of history, so far unpublished.

In order to finalize this work, the manuscript needed to be revised and corrected according to modern editorial standards, something I did not feel capable of doing. The Viennese Prof. Marianne Schlosser, who has an extensive knowledge of medieval theology and especially of the works of St Bonaventure, graciously offered to undertake this noteworthy and far from straightforward task. She deserves my heartfelt thanks for this. In discussing the project, we immediately agreed that no attempt should be made to revise the book's content or to bring the research up to date. After more than half a century since the text was drafted, this would have meant, in practice, writing a new book. Rather, I wanted it to be a "historical" edition which offered as it were a text conceived in a remote past, leaving to research the possibility of still drawing useful material from it today.

Prof. Schlosser's foreword addresses the editorial work carried out. Together with her collaborators she devoted a great deal of time and effort to the preparation of a historical edition of the text, confident that it was theologically and historically worthwhile, making it available in its entirety to everyone.

In the second part of the book, The Theology of History in St Bonaventure is presented anew, just as it was published in 1959. The subsequent essays, with rare exceptions, are taken from the study of the interpretation of Revelation and of the theology of history. In certain cases they have been adapted, in order to make them self-contained texts, with slight modifications dictated by the context.

For the time being I had to forego my intention to update the manuscript and present it to the public as a book, together with my project for a scholarly annotated commentary of the Hexaëmeron, because my role as a peritus at the Council and the requirements of my academic teaching were so demanding as to make medieval research impossible. In the postconciliar period, the changed theological situation and the new situation in the German university so completely absorbed me that the work on Bonaventure had to be postponed until after my retirement. Meanwhile, the Lord has led me on different paths, so that the book is now being published in its present form. I hope that others will undertake the task of commenting on the Hexaëmeron.

At first sight, the presentation of the theme of this work might seem surprising and indeed is. After my thesis on the conception of the Church in St Augustine, my teacher, Gottlieb Söhngen, suggested that I devote myself to the Middle Ages and in particular to St Bonaventure, who was the most important representative of the Augustinian movement in medieval theology.

As regards the content, I had to face the second important question which is addressed by fundamental theology: the theme of Revelation. At that time, especially through Oscar Cullmann's eminent work, Christus und die Zeit [Christ and Time] (Zurich, 1946), the theological focus shifted to the theme of salvation history, particularly its relationship with metaphysics.

If neo-scholastic theology essentially understood Revelation as the divine transmission of mysteries that remain inaccessible to the human intellect, today Revelation is viewed as God's manifestation of himself in historical action, and salvation history is considered a central element of Revelation. My task was to attempt to discover how Bonaventure understood Revelation, and whether it gave him an approximative idea of "salvation history".

It was a difficult undertaking. Medieval theology does not give any treatises de Revelatione (on Revelation), as is the case with modern theology. Furthermore, I immediately showed that medieval theology does not even have a term that expresses, from the perspective of content, our modern concept of Revelation.

As has been shown, the word revelatio,which is common in neo-scholastic and medieval theology, does not have the same meaning in medieval theology as it has in modern theology. I therefore had to seek the answers to my thesis in other forms of language and thought, and in the process the form of the proposition was also modified with regard to my first encounter with Bonaventure's works. In the first place, challenging research had to be done on his use of language. Our own concepts had to be set aside in order to understand what Bonaventure meant by Revelation. In any case, it has been demonstrated that the conceptual content of Revelation was adapted to a large number of concepts: revelatio, manifestatio, doctrina, fides,and so on. It is only these concepts and their usage viewed as a whole that reveal an image of how Bonaventure saw "Revelation".

From the outset it was clear that the doctrine of medieval theology had no concept of "salvation history" in the modern sense of the term. Nonetheless, there are two indications that the problem of revelation as a historical process was present in Bonaventure's writings.

In the first place, Revelation was presented as the dual figure of the Old and New Testaments, which posed the question of the harmony between the unity of truth and the diversity of historical mediation, raised since the patristic era and then treated again by medieval theologians.

To this classic form of the problem of the relationship between history and truth, which Bonaventure shared with the theology of his time and addressed in his own way, he also added his own new historical point of view, in which history, as God's far-reaching work, becomes a dramatic challenge.

Joachim of Fiore, who died 1202, had taught a Trinitarian rhythm in history. The age of the Father (Old Testament) and the age of the Son (New Testament, Church) must be followed by an age of the Holy Spirit, in which, together with the observance of the Sermon on the Mount, would be manifest a spirit of poverty, reconciliation between Greeks and Latins, reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and a time of peace would come. By means of a combination of symbolic numbers, the learned Abbot had predicted the beginning of a new age in 1260. Around 1240 the Franciscan movement came upon these writings, which had an electrifying effect on many: had this new age not begun, perhaps, with Francis of Assisi? Thus a dramatic tension built up within the Order between the "realists," who wanted to make use of St Francis' legacy, in accordance with the actual possibilities of the life of the Order as it had been passed down, and the "spiritualists", who focused instead on the radical novelty of a new historical period.

As Minister General of the Order, Bonaventure had to confront the tremendous challenge this tension posed, which in his opinion was not an academic question but, rather, a practical problem of his office as the seventh successor of St Francis. In this sense, history became suddenly tangibly real, and as such had to be confronted with practical action and theological reflection. In my study, I have sought to explain how Bonaventure met this challenge and the connection he made between "salvation history" and "Revelation".

I had not been able to take the manuscript in my hands since 1962 so it was exciting to reread it after so long. Clearly, the form of the enquiry and the language of the book were influenced by the situation in the 1950s. In the case of linguistic studies in particular, the technical means we have now did not exist then. This explains by the work has its limitations, and it is obviously influenced by the historical period in which it was conceived. Nevertheless, in rereading it I felt that its answers were well-founded, even if many details have been superseded, and that it still has something to say to us today. Above all I realized that the question of the essence of Revelation and its re-examination, which is the theme of the book, are still urgently needed today, perhaps even more so than they were in the past.

At the end of this preface, I would like to thank, in addition to Prof. Schlosser, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg. Thanks to the Institut Papst Benedikt XVI he founded, he has made the publication of this work possible and has actively followed the editing of my writings. My heartfelt thanks also go to the co-workers of the Institute, Prof. Rudolf Voderholzer, Christian Schaller, Franz-Xaver Heibl, and Gabriel Weiten. Last but not least I thank Herder, the publishing house which worked on the publication of this book with its characteristic accuracy.

I dedicate the work to my brother Georg for his 85th birthday, in gratitude for a lifelong communion of thought and activity.

Rome, Solemnity of the Ascension, 2009.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 September 2009, page 7

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