The Unity of All Knowledge

Bonaventure gives us a glimpse into the medieval mind.

Bonaventura, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology. This brief work is remarkably profound, as Bonaventure (1221-1274) showed how all knowledge derives from and properly must return to God.

Scripture is the fount of all knowledge – “light”, in Bonaventure’s terms – and all that can be known can only be truly known in the light of Scripture. Moreover, everything that can be known – in any art or craft, and in all philosophy and ethics – is only truly known as it is returned or retraced (“reduction”) to its divine provenance.

Thus all that can be known is known truly when it is understood, used, and enjoyed in the light of Scripture, and when it discloses the revelation and wisdom of God to us in that light. Here is how Bonaventure ends his pamphlet:

“And so it is evident how the manifold wisdom of God, which is clearly revealed in sacred Scripture, lies hidden in all knowledge and in all nature. It is clear also how all divisions of knowledge are servants of theology, and it is for this reason that theology makes use of illustrations and terms pertaining to every branch of knowledge. It is likewise clear how wide the illuminative way may be, and how the divine reality itself lies hidden within everything which is perceived or known. And this is the fruit of all sciences, that in all, faith may be strengthened, God may be honored, character may be formed, and consolation may be derived from union of the Spouse with the beloved, a union which takes place through charity: a charity in which the whole purpose of sacred Scripture, and thus of every illumination descending from above, comes to rest —a charity without which all knowledge is vain because no one comes to the Son except through the Holy Spirit who teaches us all the truth, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

This lovely essay demonstrates the scope and focus of the late medieval mind, and encourages us to recover this sense of the unity of all things, and especially all knowledge, as deriving from and pointing to our Lord Jesus Christ, from Whom, through Whom, and for Whom are all things (Rom. 11.36).

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