Poet of the Trinity

Poet of the Trinity August 16, 2014

Book 6 of Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, is about the Trinity. The premise is that good is essentially “self-diffusive,” and thus the highest good must be “most self-diffusive.” This highest self-diffusion is not possible unless it is “actual and intrinsic, substantial and hypostatic, natural and voluntary, free and necessary, lacking nothing and perfect.” 

Perfect goodness requires that the good produce “what is actual and substantial, and a hypostasis as noble as the producer, as in the case in a producing by way of generation and spiration, so that it is from an eternal principle eternally coproducing so that there would be a beloved and a cobeloved, the one generated and the other spirated.” This is the Trinity.

Creation is “no more than a center or point” in comparison with the immensity of God’s goodness, and thus there must be a diffusion of good that is higher than creation itself, an entire diffusion of the Highest Good’s substance and nature.

All this is worked more or less in creedal terms, but Bonaventure’s Trinitarian theology is best expressed in poetry:

“If, therefore, you can behold with your mind’s eye

The purity of goodness,

Which is the pure act

Of a principle loving in charity

With a love

That is both free and due and a mixture of both,

Which is the fullest diffusion by way of nature and will,

Which is a diffusion by way of the Word,

In which all things are said,

And by way of the Gift, in which other gifts are given,

Then you can see

That through the highest communicability of the good,

There must be

A Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

From supreme goodness,

It is necessary that there by in the Persons

Supreme communicability;

From supreme communicability, supreme consubstantiality;

From supreme consubstantiality, supreme configurability;

And from these supreme coequality

And hence supreme coeternity;

Finally from all of the above, supreme mutual intimacy,

By which one is necessarily in the other

By supreme interpenetration

And one acts with the other

In absolute lack of division,

Of the substance, power and operation

Of the most blessed Trinity itself.”

Lest we think that we’ve followed the argument and understood the Trinity, Bonaventure insists that in fact we haven’t. This supreme coequality and coeternity, this highest self-diffusing goodness, exists in three persons with distinct qualities. To the poetic vertigo we experience contemplating God’s self-diffusive substance is added another layer of amazement: The reality of the Three Persons:

“For here is

Supreme communicability with individuality of persons,

Supreme consubstantiality with plurality of hypostases,

Supreme configurability with distinct personality,

Supreme coequality with degree

Supreme coeternity with emanation,

Supreme mutual intimacy with mission. . . .

For if there is here

Supreme communication and true diffusion,

There is also here

True origin and true distinction;

And because the whole is communicated and not merely part,

Whatever is possessed is given,

And given completely.

Therefore, the one emanating and the one producing

Are distinguished by their properties

And are one in essence.”

True ascent into God happens only when we consider both of these together. We cannot look with one, but must look with both faces of the cherubim at the indescribable glory of the Trinity:

“For if you are the Cherub

[you contemplate] God’s essential attributes,

And if you are amazed

Because the divine Being is both

First and last,

Eternal and most present,

Utterly simple and the greatest or boundless,

Totally present everywhere and nowhere contained,

Most actual and never moved,

Most perfect and having nothing superfluous or lacking,

And yet immense and infinite without bounds,

Supremely one and yet all-inclusive,

Containing all things in himself,

Being all power, all truth, all goodness. . . .

But if you are the other Cherub

[you contemplate] the properties of the Persons,

And you are amazed

That communicability exists with individuality,

Consubstantiality with plurality,

Configurability with personality,

Coequality with order,

Coeternity with production,

Mutual intimacy with sending forth.”

Creeds are perhaps already poetic, but for Bonaventure the creed certainly cannot be expounded upon prosaically.


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